Tag Archives: God

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.

Advertisements

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.

 

IMG_7029

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

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?

Colossians 4:9-11; Brief Thoughts

and with [Tychicus], Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.

10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus.[1] These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.

Who are these people with Paul?

Onesimus – (Philemon 8-22).

Onesimus was a runaway slave who became a believer in Jesus and connected with Paul. In his letter to Philemon, Paul explains that Onesimus had become useful to the gospel witness and he pleads with Philemon to take Onesimus back as a brother and not a servant. Paul calls Onesimus “faithful and beloved,” the very same descriptors of Tychicus. These brothers are entrusted to deliver the message of God to the Colossians.

Consider for a moment that a former slave who has been transformed by the gospel  is delivering the message of Colossians. This letter is been focused on discovering the Christian’s new identity as it is in Christ. It is quite appropriate that a man who has had such a dramatic shift from slavery to freedom is responsible for delivering a message that speaks of a dramatic shift from slavery in sin to freedom in Christ. Onesimus is a living analogy for salvation.

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 to 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.

Jesus called Justice (Only mentioned in Colossians.)

This brother was among the faithful cohort of Paul. We know little about him because he is only mentioned in this one verse of Colossians. We know that he is with Paul as he writes Colossians. We know that he was Jewish (that is what “among the circumcision” means). And we know that he was involved enough to deserve mention in the letter. Beyond that, we can only know Justus through his relationship to the others.

Identifying these men as “among the circumcision” draws the mind of the hearer to the hostile circumcision party that is mentioned throughout Acts. The church at Colossae would have been well aware of the adversarial nature of the Jews. They would have noticed how Paul was frequently followed by wealthy Jewish leaders who wanted to push the gospel message out of the cities of Asia Minor. In his identification of these brothers as “among the circumcision” Paul is sharing a victory with the church! The gospel has converted and transformed even those who were adversarial to it!  The transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ transcends all boundaries. Even the most antagonistic can be transformed to become an encouragement and a fellow worker in the Kingdom of God!

[1] There are some other “Justus” mentioned in Acts. They are not the same as the Justus mentioned here. Both the names Jesus and Justus were common names among Jewish people in the first century and as a result it is easy to conflate the various men with each other.

Colossians 4:7-8; Brief Thoughts

Tychicus will tell you m all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts,

At the end of Paul’s letters, he often gives specific instructions to several people who are in the ministry with him. Most of us just fly past these people, but there is much to learn in understanding who these brothers are. It is especially valuable to consider how Paul thought of his contemporaries given the context of Colossians. When we consider our identity in Christ, it is helpful to see who are considered brothers and the character traits that define them. So, let’s take some time and look through these names.

Tychicus – (Mentioned in Acts 20:4, Ephesians 6:21, 2 Timothy 4:12, and Titus 3:12).

Tychicus was part of the group that was sent ahead of Paul to wait for him at Troas during Paul’s third and final missionary Journey. He often served as a messenger for Paul to the churches. Evidently, he was trusted by Paul to deliver messages to the various churches, particularly in Asia Minor. The moniker that follows his name in Ephesians and Colossians is “beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant” (v.7).

The term for “beloved” is unique to Christians. It comes from the word “agape.” This is the self-sacrificing love that is exemplified in Christ. It is the love that gives up its own privileged position and character for the sake of others. Tychicus’ character exemplified this and the affection of the church also seemed to reflect this kind of self-sacrificing love. Imagine the fellowship of such a brother – one who is identified as “beloved!”

The second descriptor for Tychicus is “faithful minister.” As a minister of the Gospel, Tychicus had proved to be consistent and faithful. His labors with Paul had served to validate him as a minister of the Gospel of Christ. Unlike Timothy and Titus, we do not have a letter or address to Tychicus would enlighten us to the difficulties he faced. Our limited view of Tychicus allows us only a glimpse at what it means to be a faithful minister. We can be sure that he delivered the messages that Paul sent him to deliver. It is apparent that people enjoyed Tychicus’ arrival and he brought encouragement to the church in his reports (Eph. 6:22). He was seen as an equal and fitting messenger to send to a pastor.

The final title given to Tychicus is that of “fellow servant.” It is so easy to fly past this phrase. Slow down and ponder this for a moment. Tychicus is a “fellow servant.” This man who brought the Word of God was a delight and encouragement to the greatest of missionaries, and was consistently delivering all that he was entrusted to deliver… this man is a “fellow servant.”[i] There is no title of hierarchy. There is no militaristic commendation given him. There is no praise or crown that sets him above those who receive the message he delivers. He is equal to those to whom he is sent. The playing field is leveled in the gospel. Paul is equally submissive to Christ as you and I. Tychicus, this man to whom was entrusted the very delivery of the Word of God, is simply another servant in the Kingdom.

There are no superstars in the Kingdom of God. Only Christ is the exalted One. Only Christ is the star, everyone else is supporting cast. A Christian’s aim is to make Christ famous. Indeed, Christ’s own example is one of humiliation. In Mark’s Gospel He states quite clearly, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). In John 13, Jesus shows His disciples that the greatest is the One who has made Himself the least and that they should do likewise. In Philippians 2 Paul heralds the greatness of Jesus’ humiliation and explains that Christians ought to have the same attitude. There is one King in the Kingdom of God. The rest of the Kingdom points to Him.

m For ver. 7–9, see Eph. 6:21, 22

[i] In 1 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul refers to the teaching that he had delivered to the Thessalonian believers as “the Word of God.”

Colossians 4:5-6; Brief thoughts

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. [i]

The final exhortation given to the church of Colossae is to “walk in wisdom” (v. 5). Believers ought to strive to live a wise lifestyle. The term translated “walk” refers to a general pattern of life. It refers to a lifestyle. It is not a term that is used in reference to moments or temporary struggles but is one that indicates a general practice of life.[ii] Generally, Christians ought to live a lifestyle that is characterized by wisdom. The word used for wisdom indicates a “skill in the affairs of life, practical wisdom, wise management as shown in forming the best plans and selecting the best means, including the idea of sound judgment and good sense.”[iii] A believer, who has understood what Christ has done to change and transform their own heart, will certainly exemplify such a life. They will strive to live a life of excellence and devotion, “as to the Lord” (Colossians 3:23).

The jury of a Christian’s life is the outside world. Even Christ echoed the sentiment of just judgment of the authenticity of believers when He said, “By this, all men will know that you are truly my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Our Lord and Master gave the world permission to test the veracity of our faith by judging our actions. Paul exhorts us to live wisely towards those who are outside the faith. Walking in such a lifestyle demands that we are careful with how we spend our time and what we give our attention to. Time is against us in this life. It does not slow down and it is easy to waste. So, Paul calls us to be attentive to the time we have and use it wisely.

The encouragement that follows wise living is that your speech would “always be gracious, seasoned with salt…” (v. 6a). What proceeds from the mouth, comes from the overflow of the heart (Mat. 12:34). The most tangible evidence for the purity and strength of the heart is that which comes from the mouth. If one is wise, then the tongue will speak wisdom. What is the evidence that comes from your mouth? What do your words reveal about your heart? Paul’s call to wisdom is particularly addressing the relationship between Christians and those who are outside the faith. The greatest testimony one can give to the transformative power of the gospel is the lifestyle they live. That lifestyle must be consistent with their speech. So a Christian’s speech ought to lead people to see the transformation that has occurred within their own heart.

Paul explains that this speech is to be “gracious, seasoned with salt” (v.6). Put simply, Christians ought to make the world better. Gracious speech is kind speech. It is a considerate voice amidst a world that denies kindness. Further, grace brings beauty and benevolence to the subject. If a person is consistently gracious to others, they will be an agent of refreshment and beauty to the world around them. This kindness that overflows from a wise lifestyle makes the difficulties of this world more palatable. Like salt in a meal, so the true believer’s speech brings taste to a tasteless environment.

Finally, wisdom dictates that one ought to be able to answer the questions and needs of the surrounding world. If your speech is flowing from a wise life and is “gracious” towards others, then you will be able to answer the difficult questions that are posed by an anxious world. This is not to say that Christians have all the answers, but that their lifestyle is supported by their public proclamation of truth. There are questions that are difficult to answer. Yet, the hope that covers a Christian’s life and the wisdom by which they maintain their consistency provides an answer. Though it may not answer every nuance of every theological inquisition, wise living and gracious speech give answer and evidence to a changed life wrought by Christ.

 

[i] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Col 4:5–6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[ii] Some translations attempt to explain this discrepancy by adding the word “practice” or “continuing” to their translations. For example, “no one born of God practices sin” (1 John 3:9 NASB).

[iii] Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.