Galatians 1:8-9; Brief thoughts

8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

The Gospel is simple. The Gospel is Jesus, come to earth, died for sins, rose up conquering death, and is coming back. It can be reduced to one profound and yet simple statement: Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. The profundity is discovered as the words are unpacked. The simplicity is that there is nothing else to do than believe this. If you could simply believe that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord, then you could have eternal life. Not merely life after this physical life, but much more! You can have life where death has reigned. Where the requirements of law and the bondage of sinfulness have restricted your own ability to love, you could have life and freedom from the dictates of the adversary. You could be free if you simply believe the gospel.

The gospel preached by Paul and his fellow-laborers to the Galatians churches was one of such magnificent simplicity. It requires nothing and costs everything. It is freedom and yet, if truly believe it, results in surrendering everything. Everything. All your good deeds and self-righteousness. All your worldly desires and self-interest. Everything. The gospel demands nothing, yet we are compelled to give everything out of a deep sense that joy is found in the surrender. So Paul called the Galatians to leave their legalism, their paganism, and their idolatrous attempts to find righteousness on their own. Yet, someone has come to teach them that they must submit again to a yoke of slavery to the law. These vile false teachers have taken the gospel and added the clause: you must obey the law. So their message became, in order to follow Christ you had to become Jewish first. They were teaching that one must be circumcised and obey the Law in order to be saved by Christ.

In righteous fury, Paul lovingly admonishes the Galatian believers telling them that anyone who would pervert the gospel ought to be cut off from the Kingdom of God. He uses the Greek word ‘Anathema’ meaning “cursed, cut-off,” or “banned from the camp.” This word implies damnation. The perversion of the gospel is so severe that it demands hell as punishment. Consider this illustration: You have labored for years to provide for your children. In love, you labored before their birth to give them everything they would need to live a lavish and comfortable life. You built them a home with a never-ending supply of food and delights. You serve them and raise them to see the wonderful gifts that you have for them. Then they come along and add locks on all the cabinets and refrigerator. They put requirements on their younger siblings. Requirements you did not impose. They say, “if you want to have Daddy’s love you must obey these rules that He did not impose and yet to which we hold.” Consider the gravity of such an offense. They have stolen your love for your children and turned it into something unrecognizable. They have perverted your love. So it is with the gospel and the Galatians. They have listened to a gospel that added locks to the open door. Paul is shattering the locks in this letter.

Take note of some specifics with regard to Paul’s words. Even if another gospel is proclaimed from heaven, it is not to be received! The power of the cross is so great that even the Heavens cannot proclaim another gospel. No angel, no heavenly being can change what God has done. Jesus is Savior and Lord and none can take that from Him. Second, not even Paul can change the gospel message. If Paul came and said, “that’s what I said, but now I’ve changed my mind,” then Paul would be wrong. Stick to the gospel that was taught at the beginning! Finally, if the new message contradicts the gospel of Jesus Christ, then it is to be rejected.

Three simple ways to recognize false gospels.

  1. Read the Bible and compare what you hear to what it says. Take the Bible for what it says and test all things by what it says (be like the Bereans, Acts 17:11).
  2. If the gospel message taught does not confess Jesus Christ came in the flesh and literally died and rose again, it is a false gospel (c.f. 1 John 4:1-6).
  3. If the gospel message is not evidenced by a life of love, then it is not the gospel (c.f. John 13:34-35).

There are certainly other ways to ensure that you will not be blown off course by false teaching, but none are so definite as knowing the scripture.

 

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Galatians 1:6-7; Brief Thoughts

6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – 7not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 

There are many modern gospels in the world in which we live. Many are obvious, insidious corruptions of the truth of the gospel. Often, false gospels bear an additional moniker at the beginning such as, “prosperity gospel,” “poverty gospel,” or “justice gospel.” These gospels obviously make Jesus secondary to another issue and contort the word of God to proclaim something other than Christ as ultimate. Anytime a word proceeds gospel, it is reducing the majesty of the gospel itself. These can be quickly identified and rejected soundly.

Some false gospels are less obvious. These are ones that espouse a Jesus plus something for salvation. Paul is dealing with this kind of false gospel in Galatians. The believers in Galatia were being instructed that they needed Jesus plus the law. Some Jewish brothers had arrived and were trying to blend Judaism with Christianity, insisting that Christians needed to adhere to the law of Moses in order to be saved from the wrath of God. Yet the gospel requires no law, no works to merit salvation, no extraneous duty laid upon vessels of mercy. The gospel of Jesus Christ is that He has done the work for you. You have only to trust in His righteousness for your salvation. Repent from sin and believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and God resurrected Him from the dead that you might have life!

Knowing that the gospel is a message of grace alone, it is only natural that Paul would be “astonished” (v.6). Indeed, why would anyone desert the one true God “who called [to them] in the grace of Christ”(v.6)? Notice the assumption in Paul’s language: believers are “called… in grace!” The very calling to faith has been an act of grace and is accomplished by Christ. The gospel is given freely to believers by the grace of Jesus Christ alone! Oh, dear believer, it is not your righteous behavior that grants you the grace of Christ, but it is the work and love of Christ! Not only is your own work not sufficient, but your own motivation is also insufficient to draw you to the gospel. In Romans 3:10-20 Paul explains the reality that no one actually seeks after God and even the base desire of humanity is one that denies the glory of God. So, if someone has been transformed by the gospel of Jesus, then it is astonishing that such a person would revert to so wretched a state.

The adversary cannot truly invent a different gospel. The work of the enemy is one of contortion of truth, not creation. No one can create out of nothing but God. Likewise, no one can bring salvation from death except God! He brings life from the dead and light out of darkness. He transforms the souls of men, redeeming the unredeemable. No, the adversary cannot create a new gospel, he must distort the truth and deceive the hearer. His tactics have not changed from Genesis 3. He still asks, “has God really said..?” (Gen. 3:1). He still adds a simple word to the consequence saying, “you shall NOT surely die” (Gen. 3:4). False gospels are dangerous because of one word misstated or one truth slightly slanted from the plumb-line. They distort the Word of God by simple and slight adjustment.

This is why it is so important for the believer to study the Word of God with great attention to what it says. The Word of God means what it says. It ought not to be dismissed or restated to mean something else. The Bible must be taken for what it says. I can remember a Sunday School class in which the teacher quoted Jesus and then stated, “that doesn’t mean what it says.” I have heard other preachers say such things as, “if this passage meant what it says, then we would have a serious problem.” In casual discussion with other theologically minded people I have been told, “I cannot accept what the Bible says about that because of my understanding of Jesus.” This is the way the gospel becomes distorted. The Bible means what it says. If you cannot accept what the Bible says, then you are beginning to believe a false gospel. Repent, believe the Bible.

Here are three recommended habits for developing a healthy understanding of the gospel.

  1. Do a “quiet time” or devotional daily. If you will simply read a little of the Bible each day, you will begin to see SOME growth in your life. Devotions are not intended for deep study, they are intended for setting your mind to follow after God. As you read, you will find that the message of the gospel becomes normative in your thought processes.
  2. Do a deep study once a week. People usually object to this one on two bases. So let’s address these.
    1. You have time for this. Don’t lie to yourself and say, “I do not have time to study the Bible in depth!” Do you have a regular show you watch? Do you have a regular activity that takes 30 minutes? You have time.
    2. Some people argue that they don’t have an understanding of how to do deep study. Well, go ask your pastor to help. In western churches, we have more resources than any other time or place in history. Buy good books and read good blogs that can help! (I recommend Precept Ministries International’s study materials for learning how to study your bible. You can find them here).

Get some material to help, set aside some time and get to work. Deep study is a delight to the heart of a Christian! Take some time each week and delight yourself in God’s word! In doing so you will develop a deep and mature understanding of the gospel.

  1. Attend and be involved in a church community. God designed the gospel to be lived out on this earth. You need other people to do that. One of the greatest and easiest ways to grow in your faith is to attend church and Bible studies. That’s right, attend. Attendance is the key. You cannot be successfully involved in a church community if you do not attend. Make the effort and attend. Otherwise, you will find your heart drifting away from the community of faith, no matter how dedicated they are to meet your needs outside of regularly scheduled gatherings. Attend a church community and do so faithfully. As you attend and intertwine your life with the lives of others, you will find that some people frustrate you, some bless you, some drive you insane, and some people are just kind of there. This is a tool for your growth, do not abandon the plate because you don’t like the vegetables. It is good for you, suck it up and keep going, eat the whole plate of food.

Galatians 1:4-5; brief thoughts

3Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of God and our Father, 5to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Grace and peace have been given to us from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ granted us grace and peace by willingly surrendering himself as a sacrifice for our sins. Note, Jesus “gave himself” (v.4). No one forced Jesus to surrender His life for believers. No one compelled Jesus to walk the earth in holy preparation for the day of atonement. No one coerced our Lord to the cross. He. Gave. Himself. It was by His own will that Jesus lay His life down (c.f. John 10:18). It was by His own will that He went to the cross.

His gift was not merely a general sacrifice or some sort of certificate of salvation. The substance of what Jesus gave is Himself. Consider that for a moment. “He gave HIMSELF” (v.4). Jesus is the payment for sin. He is the one who covers the cost and defeats death. No amount of self-righteous work can do this. No law can withstand abate the wrath of God. No good deed could overcome the darkness. But Jesus, the Lord of all things, surrenders and pays the price for our sin. He did not give us a get out of jail free card or a recommendation to our eternal job interview. He gave us Himself! He is the prize. He is the payment. It is He that rescues us. He is the gift. He is what is given.

He is given on behalf of our sins in order to rescue us. All men have failed to be holy (Romans 3:23). Some may argue that men cannot effectively know what it means to be holy until they learn and therefore cannot be held accountable for such a condition. Still, Romans chapter 1 argues that all mankind is aware of the “invisible qualities of God” and are thereby held accountable for their lack of recognition of God (Romans 1:20). Notice that God does not hold man accountable for a lack of perfection, rather, it is a lack of acknowledgment (Rom. 1:21). It is the rejection of God as God that leads to man’s sinfulness. Men reject the One true God who stands before them offering life. But men love their evil deeds more than the light of life (John 3:19). As a result of this rejection of God, humanity consistently defies the holiness and reality of God and His righteousness. Breaking the law of God, all humanity shakes their first in the face of an exceedingly patient God who will one day judge all of humanity deeds. Imagine a perfect judge examining all your secret moments. Imagine a judge who does not have error is responsible for judging your behavior. If God is the judge, then we have much to fear. This is a justifiable fear because His position as the righteous judge is secure. We have tried to save ourselves by being righteous on our own. Yet, the Scripture tells us that “no one is justified by the law” (Romans 3:20). There is no amount of good that can save you. There is only Christ and His act of righteous atonement. He is all that can save. Trust Him.

What does He save us from? This “present evil age” (v.4). His atoning work saves us from the current condition that we live in. Enslaved to sin and unable to be right with God on our own, Jesus is the remedy for that cancer. He rescues us from the death that so abounds in our souls. That emptiness that you feel deep within your heart when you look in the mirror. That evil you sense within yourself in moments of extreme honesty. Jesus comes to rescue you from that. To enable a believer to be righteous. The despair and desperation that overtakes our souls are driven from our hearts in His rescue.  A rescue designed by the Father’s will (v.4b). Consider for a moment the truth that the God of the Old Testament, who set forth the law is the God who desired to save you through Christ. It was the Father’s love that drove Christ to the cross. It was the love of God for the people of the world that directed the divine will of the Trinity to save humanity (John 3:16 states, “for GOD loved the world in that…”).

Consider the emphasis Paul makes on God’s relationship to us. He is “our Father” (v.3,5). Not merely the father of Jesus Christ, but ours. He is our Father. He has made us His children. Those who were once far off are now His. Those who were not His children have been adopted. Adoption, the act of grace that secures a family for an orphan. Likewise, humanity has been orphaned and left to die in our own sinfulness, so God intervenes and grants us son-ship from a world of slavery. God could rightly be named as “our judge” but Paul reminds us that God has chosen to call us His children because He is gracious and kind. So God is “our Father.” You cannot lose this relationship to God. He has made you His child, assuming you have believed in Jesus. He has made Himself your Father. No law can break that relationship.

All glory and honor and praise are due to the God who passed over the judgment of our wickedness in favor of Grace. He has called us, who were enemies of Him and His law, sons and daughters. He has granted us a status we could never earn. He has rescued us in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 1:2-3; Brief Thoughts

To the Churches of Galatia:

3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, …

Peace is never safe and grace always comes at cost to the giver. Law is always safe and order only costs the one on whom the law is imposed. Law and order provide a modicum of security at the expense of freedom and joy. But grace and peace offer freedom and joy to the recipient. Security and safety are not to be found in the adventure of grace and peace.

Grace is given by the Supreme Lord at cost to Himself. He has granted forgiveness of sins and has refused to hold those under grace to the Law. In such a great gift, God has granted freedom to those who believe. Grace is contradictory to the law. Law demands obedience in exchange for security, grace gives freedom at cost of control. God has determined that He will walk with man. He walks alongside mankind, engaging in the seemingly mundane designs of life. So Christ grants grace for freedom over law for control.

Peace can only be attained by risk. One must surrender and trust the One who promises peace. If you wish to know peace, then you must surrender your need to control the circumstances in your own life. This surrender of control and security in exchange for lasting, real peace seems difficult. Mankind is not inclined to “let go.” Every person desires to shape their own destiny and decide their own fate. The irony of such a struggle is that it is dependent on controlling external circumstances – circumstances that are decidedly out of a man’s control. These circumstances that we so fear are beyond our ability to control, yet they are held fast in the hands of the Almighty God. He has power over all things and keeps all things (Col. 1:17). Indeed, He is the only active agent that can change ANY circumstance. Thus, He is the only one who can guarantee peace. Yet the peace can only come when trust is given entirely to Him. A man must surrender his need to make himself righteous and trust that Jesus’ sacrifice will rescue those who believe.

Further, this grace and peace come from God who has a particular relationship with us. He is “our Father” (v.3). He is Lord over all, and He is our Father. He has an intimately personal investment in you as a person. He is the One whom you derive your character from as a believer. He is the One who has taken care of you. Think for a moment about Jesus’ example of fatherhood in Luke 11:1-13. God is a good father who gives good things to His children. He gives peace. In Luke, this peace is particularly through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Father gives the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit to grant peace and grace to those who believe! What greater peace can be given than the constant presence of the Father to guide and walk life with us!? There is no greater peace a person can have than the presence of the One who is Lord over all!

God the Father and Jesus Christ provide perfect peace and sufficient grace for those who believe in Christ Jesus. If you wish to have this grace and peace, you must trust in Jesus for salvation. This means that you admit that you have sinned against God- that means that you have broken His law and attempted to secure your own righteousness apart from Him (an impossible task). Trust in Christ’s atoning work for your sins – past, present, and future. Jesus died on the cross, taking the sins of those who believe upon Himself. In His death, your sin is defeated! Consider this for a moment: when Jesus died, all your sins were future sins. You trust in Christ, He takes ALL your sins upon himself. The Gospel is well stated succinctly by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-11.

To put it simply:

  1. Recognize you are a sinner in need of forgiveness from God.
  2. Trust that Jesus, who was perfect and sinless, died – taking sin upon Himself.
  3. Trust that Jesus overcame death by being resurrected from the dead.
  4. Surrender to Him as Savior and Lord.

You can pray to God and ask His forgiveness and He will give it. Place your trust in Him. There is no law that can save you, no amount of self-made-righteousness that can rescue you from your own wickedness. Only trusting in Christ can save you.

Galatians 1:1-2; Brief Thoughts

Paul, an apostle – not from me nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead – 2and all the brothers who are with me.

All the goodness and efforts of man cannot compare with the holiness of God and God’s own work. No amount of human strength can rescue the sinful man from their own disposition. No about of effort can redeem a man’s heart or rescue a man’s soul from death. Yet, the very word of God brings life. The Lord created the world with a word and brings life to the dead through very same means. God speaks, we breathe – that’s how it works.

Confronted by a leagalistic heresy, a mass of well-intentioned church people, and a culture that demanded religious observance and public piety, Paul wrote the church in Galatia about the miraculous and profound nature of salvation. There is no power that can free a man, no law that can restore a man to right relationship with God, only the gospel of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross can rescue mankind. One must trust Him for salvation. Thus, Paul begins his message to the Galatians by asserting his authority and message are from Jesus, not man nor any work of man.

Paul is an apostle. The word apostle means one who is sent. Paul has been sent by God with a message from God. He does not simply commend a message from God or reference a message from God. Rather, he brings the message from God. The words that proceed from the pen of Paul are words of tremendous conviction and are of a confrontational nature. Paul establishes, before engaging in the nuances of the Christian life, that this message comes from Jesus. He brings the word of the Lord to bare on the conscience of the reader.

Further, Paul’s apostleship did not come from his own ambition or from the urging of other men. Indeed, Paul’s original ambition was to remove every semblance of Christianity from the earth (Acts. 7:58-8:3). His own ambition was no longer a viable part of his life. He had surrendered his rights to promotion and self-exaltation in effort to see the gospel advance. Likewise, there were not many who believed that Paul should be in ministry. His history of persecution over the church was not lauded with tremendous zeal for him to begin Christian ministry. Indeed, it is much more likely that many were wary of his ministry given his history. Ananias, the first Christian to reach out to Paul even objected to the Lord’s command to go to Paul saying, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much even he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:13) Yet, the Lord saw fit to redeem and call Paul an apostle. No committee or vote was held, no church ordination, no seminary degree was required, only God’s calling an commission were present. Paul’s apostleship was unique from all the others. He was commissioned by Christ on a road and the Holy Spirit in the desert (c.f. Acts 9).

Paul was made an apostle through Jesus Christ. He did not merit the apostleship. He did not earn it through years of study. He was made an apostle through the work and effort of Jesus Christ and Christ alone. Note the name by which Paul calls Jesus – Jesus Christ. He is the Christ. The one whom the law points all mankind. The Savior. The bringer of freedom. The righteousness of God and salvation for all who believe. The Christ! The anointed one in whom freedom and Sabbath is found! Paul’s apostleship comes from this Lord. This King who rules over all with the word of grace and life. Further, it is not simply through Jesus, but also with the authority of God, the one who brings resurrection and life. Paul’s apostleship comes from the very seat of life and creation. The very hand that wrote the law on tablets of stone and lead the Israelites through the wilderness into the promised land is the same One who gave Paul the commission of “apostle!”

Consider the power of such an authority. Is there a greater authority available? Is there a power stronger than the one who can defy death? Is there a strength greater? No… no there is not. The mission and authority by which Paul writes is unparalleled.

Finally, Paul does not write in a vacuum. He writes with the witness  of the community of grace. He calls to a community within the context of a community of faith that loves him well. Consider the focus of this letter – the law verses grace. Where law is overcome by grace, community thrives. In a community of grace, the apostleship of all Christians is recognized and self-inflated piety dissipates into nothingness because Christ has covered all who trust in Him.

This letter to the Galatians is much more than just a commentary on the Law. It is about living in grace. Christ has freed us from the Law. He has freed us from sin and death and enabled us to live in right relationship with Him and also with each other. This repaired relationship is the context by which Paul writes.

Accepting The Cup

Great thoughts by Stephanie Elkins.

Moments Matter

Imagine for a moment that you are at a very formal dinner party and your very important host has personally poured individual cups for each of the guests. They are handed those cups, one by one, by the host himself. Some of the glasses are fancy, others are plain, some are fuller, some hold less, and some appear to even come with differing types of drinks in them. As the host makes his way around the table, you wonder a bit nervously what your cup will be like. Will you know how to hold the glass correctly? Will you actually like the drink? If so, how in the world can you appropriately ask for more? If not,…you know instinctively that in this setting, your tastes don’t matter. Whether you like the drink or not, your role and your responsibility is simply to take the cup, receive it graciously, and drink…

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Philemon 23-25; Brief Thoughts: The conclusion

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Paul concludes his great request by reminding Philemon that he is a part of a community of missionaries. His final greeting includes the names of brothers who have not yet abandoned Paul, but have remained in the mission field with him. His concluding remarks are both a gracious reminder that Christians are obliged to one another and a kind warning that, if Paul is not able to see Philemon, one of these other brothers will.

Grace and Peace are again reiterated to Philemon. As a bookend, Paul concludes his letter with the same greeting as verse three. This is exactly how we ought to address one another as Christians. Open with grace and peace, present concerns, and then close with grace and peace. Consider that for a moment – how often do we offer grace and peace before we lay our request before others? Further, how willing are we to grant grace and peace regardless of the answer or response we receive? Consider what it would look like if we actually did this.

Paul’s incredibly great letter closes with the same charity that he began with.

So who are these brothers?

Epaphras – (Colossians 1:7-8, 4:12, and Philemon 1:23)

Epaphras had a prominent role in the evangelism and teaching in the church at Colossae. His efforts helped to establish the church are mentioned earlier in this letter. Epaphras was a native of the Colossian church, so identified here as “one of you.” He certainly served the church well through teaching the grace of God thoroughly and with much affection. His affection for the church at Colossae is evident in his report to Paul in 1:8. Indeed, such affection for the community of faith is vastly increased when the community of faith has responded to the Gospel with love and affection. Epaphras must have felt a great deal of love for the faithful and he must have reveled in the encouragement from such a family as the Colossian church. This is precisely the encouragement that the churches should give to its ministers. Churches ought to so fiercely follow after Christ and exemplify the changed heart of Christianity that their ministers cannot help but speak of them to others.

In addition to serving the church of Colossae, Epaphras was a “fellow minister,” “a servant of Christ Jesus,” and “a fellow prisoner” with Paul. He was obviously one of the men that Paul utilized in the teaching of the church. He was also a man who exemplified Christian service to the extent that he was recognized as a “servant of Christ.” What a tremendous honor to be identified with such a title from the hand of Paul. His imprisonment and difficulties in his missionary journeys proved a testing ground for the fortitude of the brother who went along with him. Indeed, Mark left the missionary team in Pamphylia (Acts. 15:37-40), The Jews followed Paul from town to town attempting to crush his teaching (Acts 16-17), and, after this letter, Demas will abandon Him as well (2 Tim. 4:10), leaving Paul alone in prison. With this refining in mind, consider the honor given to Epaphras. He does not abandon the work and remains faithful even into prison.

Epaphras also had a deep love for the Colossian believers. He is described as “struggling on [their] behalf in prayer” (4:12). The term used for “struggle” is the same word that we derive the English word for agony. An apt descriptive term, Paul cites that Epaphras is in agony, striving and fighting on behalf of the Colossian believers. Such a labor is not foreign to pastors and ministers of the gospel. Indeed, it is common for a minister to labor in prayer and agonize over the souls of those they shepherd. Sleepless nights and severity of prayer are commonplace among pastors and disciple-makers alike. The content of Epaphras’ prayers for the church is that their character would be refined and that they would exemplify the will of God. That is to say, that they would exemplify the character and nature of God, living out His will on this earth. Epaphras’ prayer has nothing to do with their material well being or safety. Amidst persecution and difficulty, his prayer is that they would be faithful and strong. In their fortitude and strength they will live out the will of God, thereby testifying to His great grace and mercy.

The power of Epaphras’ prayer is only heightened by Epaphras’ own disciplined efforts. This is a man who puts into practice the strength he asks for others. May we all be so disciplined in our efforts toward gospel ministry that we are identified as serving the church in this way.

Aristarchus (Acts 19:29, 20:4, 27:2, and Philemon 1:24)

A Macedonian believer, Aristarchus was one of Paul’s “companions in travel” (Acts 19:29). He was present at the riot in Ephesus and spent significant time with Paul in Ephesus. In the midst of extreme danger, Aristarchus remained faithful to stand by Paul. Further, exemplifying the Macedonian spirit, Aristarchus has given all of himself to the mission of God. He has sacrificed his own comfort and position by following the Lord even to prison. This man is a bold follower of Christ who stands by Paul in some of the most difficult circumstances. Even in this letter, he is a “fellow prisoner.” What a great encouragement to have brothers such as Aristarchus who will serve even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Mark (Acts 12:12, 12:25, 15:37-39, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 24, 1 Peter 5:13)

John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, was greatly involved in the ministry of the early church. He was a member of Paul’s missionary cohort early on until he fell sick and had to return home. He and Barnabas worked to advance the Gospel apart from Paul for a time before they were evidently reunited at Paul’s request in 2 Timothy. Mark’s own journey was one of transformation. He went from being a nuisance to being a valuable part of the mission of God. In his first attempt to live on mission, he was overcome with sickness and then rejected by the leader of the mission. Yet, he persisted and grew as a disciple, faithfully proclaiming the gospel when given the opportunity. So, over time, he is transformed from the sickly and annoying boy that Paul does not want to bother with being one whose presence is requested because he is “useful” (2 Tim. 4:11).

So it is with many Christians. As we grow in the Lord we often find the journey to becoming useful to be a long and rather slow process. Most Christians are more akin to John Mark than Paul. We seldom have a Damascus road experience that changes us overnight. Most of us must walk through failures and successes and learn slowly. Although we have been changed in a moment, we still must grow into that change as Mark grew.

Demas – (Col. 4:14, 2 Tim. 4:9-10, Philemon 24)

Demas is referred to in Philemon as a “fellow worker.” He was one of the cohort of Paul that traveled and served with him. However, somewhere between the writing of Philemon and 2 Timothy, Demas fell “in love with this present world.” No matter the devotion he once showed, his faith did not prove to be genuine. It is valuable to recognize that Demas’ affections were for “this present world.” Demas lacked an eternal perspective and thought it better to achieve in this life rather than the next. Let this serve as a warning. Strive to maintain an eternal perspective, lest you fall away for the affections of this life.

Luke – (Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 1:24.)

Luke is often a misunderstood character in church history because of the position he holds as “physician.” In modern times, physicians are men of extreme education who are venerated as highly skilled purveyors of life. However, in the first century, physicians were not highly respected men. Often slaves served as physicians and the designation as doctor bore little more significance than asserting a special responsibility. Some have speculated that Luke might have been a freed slave that joined Paul on his missionary journeys after his master set him free. It is common to speculate that Theophilus, the one to whom Acts is written, may have been Luke’s master. However, fascinating these speculations, nothing can be proved.

As a physician, Luke serves as the prototype for medical missions. Moreover, he shows the value of maintaining a physician in the service of missions for the sake of tending to Paul’s ailments. The medical profession during the first century was not a highly regarded field. Often scorned as useless in favor of idolatry, doctors were considered a rejection of the cultic practices of common roman religion. While there were some places where physicians were employed alongside temple practices, most were rejected as superfluous. The fact that Luke is used by God in such a tremendous capacity as Paul’s traveling companion is a rejection of the power of idolatry.

Imagine for a moment: you enter a city and find a temple of idol worship that claims to heal the sick through observance of ritual sacrifice. People are sick and are clamoring for their false gods to answer their pleas. You happen to have a physician who knows that the answer is for them to eat some fruit, take a particular herb, and drink lots of water. People begin to get better as a result of the physician’s advice and now you have an open door to the gospel. The education and talents of a man rejected by the common practices of the world are thereby used to advance the Kingdom of Heaven!

Further, there is no doubt that Luke utilized his education to write both the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. His ability to write served to record the history of the early church and the story of Jesus. His ability as a physician, while not specifically stated, was certainly used to keep Paul and his companions healthy, and the surrendering of his gifts to God was used as a part of His mission. God used a talent often rejected by the culture of the time, to advance His kingdom.

Luke remained with Paul through Paul’s imprisonment. His affection for Paul as a brother is evident in his presence with him in Philemon 24 and in 2 Timothy 4:11. While everyone else left Paul in prison, Luke remained. He was devoted to Paul. More than that, He was devoted to the gospel work.

Consider the contrast between Luke and Demas for a moment. One surrenders everything in this life for the sake of following a gospel call that will inevitably land him in prison or end in death. The other abandons the glory of heaven for the glory of this life. Which one are you? Demas or Luke?[i]

[i] These entries were originally published on noviselkins.wordpress.com in the study through Colossians.

I John 4:7-12