Tag Archives: peace

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.

Philemon 3; Brief Thoughts

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

This simple greeting is so commonplace for Paul that our eyes sometimes fly right past it. Take a moment and look carefully. It is one of the most powerful and revealing greetings a heart can muster. Paul proclaims “grace and peace” (v.3). This opening greeting declares the intent of Gospel communication. Grace and peace. Paul has some strong words for Philemon. They are words that Philemon may be troubled by and tempted to reject. So Paul initiates his letter declaring that unmerited favor. Grace… that gift of life that cannot be measured by currency or value. That priceless free gift that costs us nothing and because of which we give everything. Paul begins by assuring the heart of Philemon: grace is found in this message.

Married to grace is peace. For indeed, peace is found chiefly in unmerited favor. Peace is something that is only available in complete surrender, in complete reliance on grace. Peace can only truly be found in the receipt of grace. Jesus Christ, the Lord of all, has taken your sins, died on the cross to pay the penalty for those sins, and has risen to overcome death. In His death, anyone who believes in Him is free from sin and, in His resurrection, all believers are given a new spiritual life that will go on for eternity! An eternity of peace with God… because of grace. We who were slaves to sin shook our fists in God face as enemies (Romans 5:10). God, “being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6). Trust in Christ to find peace.

Grace and peace. These words so often evade our homes and our work. These character traits seem ever one step beyond our hands. Beyond our work. Beyond our ability. Yet, they are available and are at hand in one moment of dependent surrender. This is difficult for humanity – surrender. It does not come easily to our rebel souls. It is counter to our nature. It is counter to our intuition. Indeed, we all are runaway slaves who need grace and peace from our master. And yet, through surrender to Christ, comes grace and peace. Grace and peace.

The second half of the verse reasserts the magnitude of Paul’s letter. Paul speaks directly for God, delivering his invocation of grace and peace “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” His authority is not found in his experience, though vast; nor his wisdom, though great; nor his fortitude, though considerable. His authority to write these words comes from the Lord, Jesus, master of all. He uses the word “Father” so you would understand the love of God. He uses the term “Lord” so you would recognize that Jesus is your King and master! What a great and powerful Lord He is! Grace and Peace await us. Submission to a loving Father who rules over all, from whom all grace and peace come. What joy!

Paul’s beautiful invocation would certainly pierce the soul of any Christian. Slaveholding Christians must recognize the inconsistency of serving a master who voluntarily sets them free while insisting on the captivity of their own fellow man. The Lord Jesus Christ has set you free from bondage and has given you freedom. This freedom was not granted because you have been good or made the right choices. Rather, the grace and peace of Jesus Christ transcend your own rebellion to bring freedom to your soul![1]

[1] This same sentence is addressed in similar language in “Thinking through Ephesians; a short devotional journey” by J. Novis Elkins.

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

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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.

 

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 3:16; Brief Thoughts

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 

If a person believes in a greater authority, then the word of that authority ought to be manifest in the life of that person. It is a reasonable measurement of authenticity to test them by the word of their professed authority. When someone submits to an authority, the word and directives of that authority are evident in their lives. Likewise, the word of Christ is manifest in the lives of those who profess Him as Savior and Lord. So Paul admonishes fellow believers to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” (v.16).

The word of Christ should be so ingrained in the heart and life of a believer that it is said to be alive within. Every thought and word that proceeds from the mouth of a believer ought to stem from the indwelling Spirit of the word of God. One of the greatest tragedies in the western church is the severe Biblical illiteracy. The word cannot dwell where it is not read. The average professing Christian in the west does not read their Bible on a daily basis. So pervasive is this truth that many pastors struggle to read even a chapter of the Bible each day. This should not be! True believers in Christ find their very animating breath in the Word of God (c.f. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). When Christians fail to read the word of Christ, they starve themselves of the breath of God and are spiritually suffocating. Alas, we live in a churched culture that values everything but the Word of God and we are watching the degradation of society as a result.

Not only are Christians to fill themselves with the word of God, they are to do so “richly!” By asserting this descriptor, Paul is calling the believer to more than mere engagement with Scripture. He is calling the believer to a feast! Believers do not merely read the word of Christ, they draw their life’s breath from the very word of God. The fullness of a believer’s inner being is found in and through their relationship with the word of Christ.

As the believer embraces the indwelling word, they begin to exhibit some evidence of that word in their life. The word of Christ begins to dictate the things they say and do to one another, leading them to teach and admonish brothers and sisters in Christ through that word. As the heart of a believer matures in their grasp of the word, wisdom will become common in their teaching and encouragement of each other. The beginning of wisdom is the “fear of the Lord” (Prov. 1:7, 9:10, and Psalm 111:10). As Christians submit to the word of the Lord in their lives, teaching and admonition pour forth from their mouth. As the word takes root in their heart, the overflow of the heart pours out onto the community around them. One of the greatest joys of Godly community is the unity of Christians as grounded in Scripture. Such a unity that is founded on the grace of Scripture, levels the Spiritual playing field among the community. When Scripture is the source of wisdom, hierarchy ceases to exist. All within the community are subject to the word of Christ indwelling them. So, Christians confront each other in love with the word of God. In beautiful, wise engagement with the community, true Christianity changes the heart of the individual as they engage together with the whole community.

This beauty of community centralized on the word results in a unique expression of singing. Singing is natural for Christians who stand in awe of God. Singing is a response that is birthed in the heart of one who has observed God. Once a person sees God, they cannot help but express something. Singing is the most common of responses for the human heart. The word of Christ, dwelling inside a Christian, will manifest itself in Song. This is why it is not abnormal for Christian communities to sing, produce, and embrace corporate worship in song. Christians sing, so, Christian, sing! And what should we sing? Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. What these terms mean are often debated. Some argue that Christians should only sing the Psalms and that these are the three types of Psalms in the book of Psalms. Others argue that Psalms refers to the Old Testament book, Hymns are dominantly theological, and Spiritual songs tend to be songs that give testimony to God’s work. Still, others explain that these are three different structural designs for musical expression. Whatever the case, the point of this passage is that the word of Christ manifests itself in singing. Indeed, when the heart is lifted to heaven on the wings of the word of Christ, a song will inevitably ensue.

Thankfulness results in as the culmination of a Christian’s abiding in the word of God. Recognizing the depth and greatness of God’s grace, Christians live a life of gratitude and love for God.

Are these manifest in your life? If you claim Christ, then feast deeply on the word of God and these will become the manifest evidences of the indwelling word of Christ!

6 Lessons from Tootie the Poot!

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Sometimes Daddy needs a break, so I told him to “Go out of office!”

I’m Tootie the Poots! You know, like Winnie the Pooh… except I’m not a bear, and I’m not a cartoon, and I am not full of fluff… and I’m a poot, not a pooh. I thought I’d share with you some of my thoughts on life today! So here goes… Let’s take a walk together!

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1. Stop and enjoy the soda Daddy bought for you. On the first day of the week, Daddy often takes us children on a long walk to get a soda (and sometimes a cookie). Often on the return journey, I simply stop walking and enjoy my drink. Everyone else is so busy trying to be in front or climbing some tree that they miss the joy of the soda right in front of them. Daddy got me this drink and it is DELIGHTFUL! So I stop and take in the gift of delight that is in my hands. Take some time and enjoy the soda that you were given. Don’t be so worried about getting back to the house to work or put me down for a nap. Just stop, sip, enjoy.

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2. Cookies are best when shared! I think we were made to share. Jo-Bits and I often share a drink and cookie when Daddy takes us on walks. He’s great! As we enjoy the gifts our Daddy has given us, Jo-Bits makes sure that I have enough. Daddy often asks us, “why do you look at your neighbor’s plate?” The answer is always the same – “to see if they have enough.” As I sit with others and share the cookie my Daddy got me, I get to see the delight on their face. Together we savor the sweetness and joy of the treat, laughing as the mess increases and chocolate covers our fingers and faces. It is as if these gifts we have were given to us so that we may enjoy and delight in each other.IMG_5953

3. Be alert and enjoy the world around you. See this cat!? I named him, but I can’t remember what I named him so I’m going to call him, Cat. On our way home from the beaver’s place, this charming fellow sought to join in our merriment. I’m closer to the ground, so I saw him first. Oh, what a delight it was to see such a funny creature looking back at me! We talked about stuff and I laughed at the jokes he told that no one else could understand. He stretched and rolled around on the ground and I think he told me he wanted me to scratch his ears. Big people, who aren’t as close to the ground, forget to enjoy these moments when we can interact with nature. Every day we are afforded the opportunity to delight in the creation. Daddy calls it the poetry of life, but I think it is just a pretty cool cat. You should take some time and talk to a cat.

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4. When you’re walking on a wet road and it seems slippery, just reach up and hold Daddy’s hand. Sometimes, the road we walk is wet and muddy. Cars disregard the cute procession of children walking along the side of the road. My shoes sometimes get muddy and I need a little reassurance that the ground is not going to swallow me whole. So I reach up and grab daddy’s hand! His hands are strong and I can trust them to keep me steady. I sometimes forget He is walking beside me, but then when I need Him most, I reach up and there is His hand… it’s like He knows my anxious thoughts and how to care for them. So, when the road gets troublesome, grab on to Daddy’s hand.

IMG_59355. Sometimes you have to get close to the dirt to see the wonders! Have you ever stooped down to see the bugs in action? They are amazing! I’m closer to the ground so I see them easier, but even I have to get close sometimes. Bend down low and look close! Daddy says, “God put those there so we would see how much He cares about little things.” I think God put them there so I could be amazed! Sometimes the things low in the dirt are the most worthwhile things to look at. The littlest and most insignificant among us often offer us the most beautiful and best expressions of praise to God. Take time to get close to the dirt, that is where you will see God working the most.

IMG_59226. Don’t worry about the big bad telephone pole, Jo-Bits – the warrior is walking with us! I have a brother. He is brave and destroys those things that scare me. I saw a spider on the telephone pole and I was a little worried that it might eat my face off. Fortunately for me, Daddy brought along my big brother Jo-Bits! He leaped into action with his plastic tube (he called it a light-saber) and decimated the enemy. My brother and I also fight and argue sometimes. Daddy says that is a good thing, because “if they won’t argue with you when you’re wrong, they won’t stand up for you when you’re right.” You see, when we walk together, we can trust in the ones we walk with to stand up for us in times of trouble. Jo-Bits is sometimes difficult and makes me scream, but when there’s a scary spider or caterpillar, or ant, Jo-Bits is there!