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What is Required? Philemon 8-9a; Brief Thoughts

8 Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9yet for love’s sake…

What is required of the Christian? Freed from the law of Sin and death, Christians now live by a law of Spirit and life (Rom. 8:2). Christians are no longer required to live by a law. Rather, they have been set free from the law and given the freedom to live in grace. The grace that Christians receive from God is astounding. God, the sovereign ruler over all things, sacrifices His own son for a people who utterly reject Him as God. Indeed, He saves those who are His enemies (Romans 5:10). He extends grace to those who despise Him and kneels down to serve those who fail Him (John 13:14).[1] His grace is extended to those who hate Him.

What is required of the Christian? Nothing… and everything. God offers redemption freely and without cost to the one who will believe. Though He requires nothing, it is a gift that surely demands everything. Grace is given freely with no invoice. When someone becomes a Christian, their hearts’ affections change. Christians surrender everything they have, which amounts to nothing, in order to find life, which is everything.

What is required of the Christian? The Lord answers the same question in Micah 6:8 – “To do justice and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8b). The Lord requires that you do what is just and live in humble obedience to Him. The Christian is to stand for what is just. Notice, Micah’s command is not simply to avoid injustice. He does not merely call His people to avoid what is wrong. Rather, He calls His people to do what is right! They are to actively pursue what is good and right. Justice is what is required.

Justice is required, but not as a term for admission into grace. Rather, justice and mercy are the evidence that grace has been given to the Christian. The Christian walks justly because he has been transformed by grace. Grace moves in the heart of a man to change from corrupt to clean (c.f. Col. 3:9-10, 2 Cor. 5:17, and Romans 6). God’s grace needs no demands of obedience. The magnitude of the gift of grace is enough to compel obedience to the precepts of God. The Christian stands for justice, not because he is commanded to do so, but because he, being born wicked, has been supernaturally transformed and made just by the grace of God. It is not by works or effort of their own that the believer is capable of doing what is just. It is because God is gracious to him.

It is important to note that Paul would not be out-of-line to command Philemon to set Onesimus free. He could, justly, demand that Philemon surrender his worldly rights in relation to Onesimus on the basis of his own citizenship in Heaven. But Paul acts towards Philemon with the same grace that God does towards us. He reminds Philemon that He could command what is required, but he would rather appeal to Philemon’s redeemed nature. A nature that has been granted to him by a loving and forgiving God. Philemon, once a slave to sin, must extend the same unmerited favor to those in his charge.

Paul’s appeal to Philemon is based on love. The term translated love in verse 10 is the word “agape.” Agape has a connotation of self-sacrifice and surrender. So here, when Paul states that he is appealing to Philemon for the sake of love, he is asserting a call to surrender the “rights” that Philemon considers himself to hold. Philemon was well within his rights to exact punishment from Onesimus. Onesimus had run away from the assigned position of a slave. The Bible does not tell us how Onesimus became a slave, but according to the social and political system of the first century, Philemon’s enslavement of Onesimus was seen as just. Yet, because Christians have a citizenship that transcends this world, a world in which slavery does not exist and is never acceptable, Philemon is behaving contrary to his citizenship.

Are there areas of your life where you have compromised the precepts of the gospel for the sake of social norms? Have you surrendered the rights that earthly citizenship affords for the sake of love? Remember, Christian, we are subject to a higher citizenship.

[1] Consider how Jesus engages with Judas.

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Brief Thoughts: Philemon 6-7

6and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. 7For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

The prayer of Paul for Philemon’s effectiveness draws attention to the practical outworking of the gospel. He specifically prays that Philemon’s faith would be “effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” Paul’s concern for Philemon is not that Philemon would chiefly understand the theology of the gospel. Nor is his interest that Philemon would necessarily grasp nuanced truths about God’s character. Rather, Paul’s words to Philemon directly connected to the reality of gospel effectiveness. For Paul, faith must have hands. Faith must change the way we work and walk in this life. So, the call to Philemon is that his faith would overflow through effectiveness. That is to say, that Philemon’s faith would be evidenced in his own life through the outworking of his own hands.

To what extent must faith become effective? Faith must become effective in “every good thing.” Consider that for a moment – “every good thing.” Christians do not get to choose the good they want to do. Believers in Jesus must pursue “every good thing.” This is what James explains when he states, “to him who sees what is good and fails to do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). Further, the word translated “full knowledge” indicates an active participation in the attainment of knowledge. In this simple phrase, Paul is urging Philemon to engage fully in learning the good things that Christ has birthed in the hearts of believers. Indeed, it is the good that is in us. The good that has been placed in our hearts when we were transformed through faith in Christ. This good does not spring from adjustments made to our actions, but from adjustments that have been wrought to our hearts. Christians do good because they are changed. Likewise, justice and righteous deeds ought to flow from within the heart of a believer.

From the overflow of the heart, the believer brings praise to Christ. These good things that are in us are present for the sake of Christ and His glory. James asks, “does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?” (James 3:11). Likewise, the words and deeds of a Christian must bring forth only praise to Christ. The world judges our Lord through our testimony. Therefore, we must strive to live a life that is above reproach and exalts the name of Christ at all times. For, “every good thing that is in us” is “for Christ.”

Philemon has been an exemplary brother in the past. His love for the saints and for Paul has been a model of charity and grace. Yet, even the most disciplined and loving members of the kingdom are susceptible to blind spots in their own senses. Because we live in a fallen world in which injustice is normative and sin is acceptable, it is easy to overlook errors that are so easily granted in our society. So it is with Philemon. He has accepted the practice of slavery and of exacting punishment from slaves who have sought freedom. Still, in many other areas of life, he was kind and gracious to the other saints. So Paul, before bringing up Onesimus and Philemon’s obligation to him, Paul reminds Philemon that he has loved the saints well in the past and his character is one of love and grace to the church.

What follows this encouragement and friendly urging will be a gentle, yet firm calling to abandon slavery and forgive Onesimus.

Brief Thoughts: Philemon 4-5

4I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints,

Philemon was a house church leader in Colossae. His prominence among the community of faith was one that held sway and influence over a number of brothers and sisters in Christ. So Paul begins his instruction to Philemon by reminding Philemon of their mutual relationship. Though Paul is in prison and Philemon is in comfort, they share a shepherding relationship in the church. Confrontation looming, Paul seeks to remind his brother, Philemon, of that relationship.

Paul begins to approach the issues that need addressing by praising God for the good Philemon has done. Invoking the authority of God and, thereby, passively reminding Philemon of God’s position in their relationship. Paul’s reminder to Philemon in verse 4 is a not-so-subtle attempt to remind Philemon that he is being brought before God. Anytime someone says they have been thanking God for you, it ought to make you examine yourself to see if there is anything God is going to correct. This is especially true when a man such as Paul reminds you that he has labored over you in prayer. As a student wanting to please his teacher, so Philemon must have had some desire to please Paul, the great missionary founder of the churches in Asia.

The reason for gratitude over Philemon is the news of his love and faith. Philemon has made sacrifices for the community. He voluntarily gives over his home and time to the work of the Lord. This is a unique sacrifice that should not be overlooked. While Philemon may or may not be an elder (scripture does not tell us if he held the title pastor), he is the host of the church. Hosts don’t get time off. Hosts surrender their own space so that the community can meet in their home. If someone else is tired or sick, they can stay home and just skip for the week. But the host cannot. So Philemon has shown himself to be loving and faithful.

Moreover, Paul is probably referencing even further dedication to the love of the saints and the provision of their needs. It is, no doubt, with great joy that Paul prays in gratitude for Philemon. His constant care and love for the church has made its way to Paul’s ear. Paul, who founded the churches of Asia and dealt specifically with riots, rejection, and all sorts of pitfalls, must find extreme delight in those who carry on the work when he is gone.

Take note that Paul is particularly struck by his love toward “Jesus and all the saints.” Philemon is gently reminded that his love for Jesus is good and that it extends to ALL the saints. Not merely those of high social standing or those who are in particular positions of prominence. The love of Jesus must extend through the hearts of His disciples to everyone. Jesus’ own words explain this even further in Matthew 25:31-40 when He speaks about the final judgment and the day that the King will say to those who are condemned that they have failed to provide for the least and therefore have failed to provide for Him. Loving the lowest in society is loving Jesus. There is no hierarchy in the Kingdom of God. There is only one King and He made himself lowest (C.f. John 13). We are to follow His example and be as He is.

The gospel is the great equalizer. Titles of “slave” and “master” are no longer applicable in the context of the gospel. Philemon’s relationship to Onesimus has transformed from slave to brother. To what extent does the gospel change society’s structure? To what end does the gospel defy the social morae’s of the time? In every way! The gospel defies injustice and demands that believers live above the base morality of society. When a believer is confronted with injustice they make war against it. Believers do not submit to the unjust luxuries of society no matter how integrated they may be. Slavery was an integral part of society in the first century. No matter how easy it made life or how dependent on slavery the economic structure may have been, Christians are called to live the gospel! That means there can no longer be slaves. The gospel must transform all of life. We should not be surprised if the gospel requires great cost from those who believe. After all, we are all once slaves, now free.

Philemon 1-2; Brief Thoughts

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2 and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

Paul and Timothy write to Philemon to encourage him to welcome Onesimus, the runaway slave, as a brother in Christ and to free him from slavery to sin and death. As they have been freed in Christ, so the gospel is one that should set every man free from slavery both spiritual and physical. In this simple letter, Paul endeavors to engage Philemon as a brother and encourage him to voluntarily forgive Onesimus and make him a brother, no longer a slave. Whatever offense Onesimus has caused, Philemon needs to be able to forgive it and do what is right. That is to say, Philemon needs to be able to forgive the past and free the slave – because that’s what the gospel does.

This greeting identifies Paul as a victim of circumstantial wickedness (imprisonment for Christ) like Onesimus (a victim of slavery). It also sets Paul apart from Philemon. Paul was alone with only Timothy to support him. Indeed, he had been abandoned by many! Contrary to Paul, Philemon is surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul even lists, specifically, a “sister and a “soldier.” A family member and a protector. Whereas Paul is condemned by soldiers of a wicked government, Philemon has a soldier of Christ in his home! Whereas Paul has only Timothy to console him, Philemon has an entire church! The stark contrast between luxury and prison cannot be lost. Paul is clearly making a point by asserting the blessings of Philemon. It is as if Paul is saying, “you have no reason for complaint about property, condition, or company.” It is no great thing for Philemon to release a slave in order to gain a brother.

Further, Paul knows that others are watching Philemon and he is reminding Philemon that he has the eyes of others upon him. The church that he labors to serve as a “fellow worker” is the very audience to which he is attempting to model Christ. So it stands to reason: if Philemon wishes to display the freedom of Christ and the love of Christ in his own actions, then it follows that he should forgive Onesimus and set him free. Paul’s greeting serves as both a loving salutation and a gentle reminder of the responsibility of one who leads the church.

Finally, Paul’s greeting to Philemon passively asserts the truth that no one in the church should compartmentalize their lives to allow un-forgiveness. Philemon is a part of a community. That community meets in his home and is intimately acquainted with him. Philemon cannot avoid them or live hypocritically before them. This is the nature of a healthy church community. A healthy church is one in which members of the body cannot hide from each other. They cannot simply pretend that they are holy and pursuing Christ in all areas of life and then simply go home and do as they please. Healthy communities engage each other on a level that does not allow for isolation and compartmentalization.

Unfortunately, compartmentalized faith is all too common in the modern western church. Men will serve as bastions of holiness in their church community while living a debauched life away from that community. Women will put themselves pillars of godly womanhood when present in their church, then they will gossip and slander others when away from the community. In a healthy church, this should not happen. A healthy church is in contact with each other in all spheres of life. The eyes of the church community are all looking out for one another and are helping to urge one another on towards unity. There is no hiding when you have surrendered your life to the exposing light of Jesus Christ. Love exposes our failures and redirects us to love one another through a personal connection.

Do you have a community like this? Philemon was held accountable by loving brothers and sisters. Such accountability would, no doubt, give him the support and love to forgive Onesimus and bring him into the community. Do you compartmentalize your faith from your everyday life? Strive to serve and love others in a transparent community of faith! Surrender your privacy so that you might delight in the community of Christ.

The I pastor strives to live in this sort of authentic community. If you live anywhere near Brazoria, TX, come join us as we struggle to live transparent lives worshiping the King of Glory together! We don’t always get it right, and we are far from perfect. Come walk this life in community. More info available here: www.sgfbrazoria.org

Thinking Through Ephesians! A free pdf sample

About 16 years ago I was asked to teach the college class at Highland Baptist Church in Waco, TX on a Sunday morning. It was a large crowd of roughly 1,000 students. My brother was the college pastor associate and had recommended me to teach. I had preached and led small group Bible studies before. I had spoken to moderately large churches, but never a crowd of such significant size and never without a strategic outline or material to follow. I called my brother and asked his advice. He said, “pick a passage of Scripture and teach what it says. No more, no less. Just study what it says and teach it.”

b7a26-bible-on-a-pulpitI taught on Ephesians 5:15-20. Teaching that passage began a mountain-top journey through Ephesians for me. It fast became my favorite book of the Bible. I began to trudge through the text verse by verse, line by line, phrase by phrase until I grasped everything I could. Sometimes I’d get stuck on one verse and write page after page. Sometimes I’d sit on the concepts of the book for a month before I penned a word. All the time, I sought to know Jesus deeply and engage His word and work in my heart and life.

 

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For roughly 14 years I would return to Ephesians every few months and write a little more. Then, a little more than two years ago I was challenged to blog more often. I decided that I would blog every day of the week save Sunday. I started to blog each day through the book of Ephesians, taking the notes I had collected and put them into bite-sized chunks for anyone interested. Somewhere within chapter two, my brother Jeff (who happens to be a great author! you can check out his stuff here: Jeff’s stuff), told me I should consider compiling them into a book.

Cover smallSo, for the last year and a half, my wife and I have edited this work for your joy. This book is the result of a 16-year devotional walk through Ephesians. It has been a delight and joy to write. I hope it is a joy to read as well.

For a free sample of a few chapters and the intro, click here.

To purchase through Amazon: https://goo.gl/fwKDxN

To purchase through Lulu.com:  https://goo.gl/yCoQJk

Thinking Through Ephesians. My New Book!

The book of Ephesians has long been my favorite book of the Bible. I can remember the night that it became my favorite book. After a particularly long day of work and classes at college, I had to deliver some bad news to a friend that I cared deeply for. I tried to honor the Lord as I told this friend that they had been rejected by an organization I was involved in. Looking back, it was not so traumatic. But in that moment of rejection, it felt as though I was delivering a proclamation of terminal cancer. After crying with and sitting beside my friend for a while, I went home. My roommates were either asleep or absent. Seeking some sort of comfort I sat down to read, pulled out a notepad and began to write out my thoughts on Ephesians. I was lost in the beauty and comfort of God’s word. My world was eclipsed by His word, and my soul was lifted.IMG_7029

Over the years I have returned to Ephesians and recorded thoughts about the text. Whenever I was depressed or dealing with stress, I opened this book and wrote. I did not set out to write a book or even to prepare to teach this text. I’ve never preached through Ephesians and I doubt that I will anytime soon. Rather, this work was a result of a deep desire to quell the depression of my own heart. The Word of God has that effect. He is faithful to work in the hearts of believers and He is faithful to pull us out of the pit and place us on the rock (Psalm 40:2).

Cover smallSometime in the fall of our first year as a church (2016), someone at SGF encouraged me to blog. I don’t remember who. It was a passing comment. So I decided to try and blog through a book six days a week. I had years of material through Ephesians, so I started there. After I finished chapter 1, six entries, my amazing author brother Jeff Elkins (links to his work here) encouraged me to consider putting these into a book. As a result, my journey with Jesus through the book of Ephesians is available for you to read.

These are simple thoughts from a simple pastor. While I have an MDiv and have some scholarly experience, this is not intended to be an academic work. This is a simple walk through a book by a normal man who struggles with normal problems but serves an extraordinary God.

You can purchase Thinking Through Ephesians for $9.99 through following links

Amazon.com: https://goo.gl/kShg9M

ebook format ($6.99): https://goo.gl/yWi5C1

Lulu.com: https://goo.gl/ig7YSC

If you want a signed copy or would like to purchase from me directly, please leave a comment or email me at novis_elkins@hotmail.com

I hope you enjoy this work as much as I enjoyed writing it.

 

Who are the people with Paul? Colossians 4:14; Brief thoughts about Luke and Demas

14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.

Who are these people?

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 such highly respected men. Often slaves served as physicians and the designation as “doctor” bore little more significance than asserting a special responsibility within a master’s household. 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 there is nothing specifically stated in Church history or the Bible.

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. As aforementioned, 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 in favor of the gods. 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.

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

Demas is referred to in Philemon as a “fellow worker.” He was part 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.

Consider the contrast between Luke and Demas for a moment. Both begin faithfully working alongside Paul. Luke’s life is turned upsidedown and radically changed by the gospel. (Especially if he was a slave as many speculate.) Demas’ ventures into gospel ministry for a time but refuses to let it alter his measure of value. 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?