Pauline epistles

Meet my son.....Epaphras?

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. (Colossians 4:12)

            I have never met an Epaphras. I have met several men named Peter, Paul and Timothy. I know several Johns and even a few Judes, but I do not know an Epaphras. It may be that Epaphras is one of those names that is just too hard to pronounce or unbecoming of our American sensibilities or it could be that we do not really understand the impact of Epaphras’s life in the history of the church?

            Charles Bridges wrote an excellent book on the Christian Ministry. His reflection on Epaphras is a helpful reminder for pastors,

Probably the laborious fervency of Epaphras’ secret exercises were as fruitful as his public work; and who knoweth, but we shall find that our must successful efforts for our people were the hours---not when we were speaking to them from God, but when we were speaking for them to God?[1]

We may be remembered by this world because of our public work, but we may be most effective in our secret exercises in prayer alone with God.

            One day when we stand before God all our labors will be revealed. The world may not remember Epaphras, but his prayers and his life were remembered by God. Dear friends, let us struggle in prayer for our people so that they may stand mature and fully assured in the will of God. We may not name our son’s Epaphras, but let us model his prayerful life for our families, our churches and for the glory of God.

 

[1] Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry. Pg 149.

Exemplary Giving

“In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them....maybe you can hire The A-Team.”

One of my favorite TV shows growing up was the A-Team. As a 12 year old boy, I was drawn to its cool theme song, multiple explosions, and the fact that there would be at least one a car flipping over during the pivotal chase scene. Each episode was the same. Someone had a problem and they reached out to the A-Team. The A-Team would begin to try and solve the problem before hitting some sort of snag in the plan. The snag would then cause everyone to pull together and build some secret traps or special device to ensure victory.

            As I look back, I am only moderately impressed by the action sequences, the cheesy one liners and the explosions, but I still appreciate how everyone pulled together to snatch victory out of apparent defeat. Their success was only possible because everyone was willing to use their individual gifts to work for the corporate good. A team will always be more successful when everyone is willing to sacrifice for the mission. The early church understood their mission. We know that they understood the gravity and the responsibility of the mission given by King Jesus because of their willingness to work together to complete their mission. The early church was willing to give to complete the mission.

            The Apostle Paul traveled to preach the gospel to Gentiles. He traveled to plant churches. He traveled to encourage and strengthen the churches. He also traveled to collect money for the struggling saints in Jerusalem. One of the reasons Paul traveled on his missionary journeys was to organize a collection for the saints in Jerusalem. The saints were shut out of society and therefore could not earn and income. The only way the church was able to survive was by the generosity of believers in other cities.

            This morning, I want to encourage you to exemplary giving. We have a mission to make disciples, but in order to fulfill our mission we all are going to need to come together individually for the corporate good. Over the last several months, I have witnessed our congregation grow in unity. I do believe we are on the way to becoming an exemplary church, but we have hit a financial snag and have to pull together so that we can continue to complete our mission.

Exemplary Giving is a Sign

            How you handle money is a sign of whether you are a follower of Christ. We are called to be kingdom citizens. We have been rescued from the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of the Beloved Son. We are now citizens of the kingdom of God. Are you living like a kingdom citizen? Paul writes to the wealthy Corinthian church saying he is sending for the collection of the saints. 2 Corinthians 9:1-7,

Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:1-7)

Paul had confidence that the Corinthian church would give to the need of the Jerusalem saints. He was confident and boasted in the willingness, but they had to actually give to prove their willingness. Paul implies that if the Corinthians didn’t give, both Paul and the Corinthians would be humiliated. Their giving would be a sign as their willingness to support the mission of the church. Would the church fulfill the promise that they made? It was a matter of their word.

            I believe there are many Christians who say they are willing to give, but the reality of the numbers claim that many Christians should be humiliated by what they give. According to a study last October (2014),

·         Only 3-5% of Americans who give to their local church do so through regular tithing.

·         When surveyed, 17% of Americans state that they regularly tithe.

·         For Christian families making less than $20k per year, 8% of them gave at least 10% in tithing. For families making a minimum of $75k or more, the figure drops to just 1%.

·         The average donation by adults who attend U.S. Protestant churches is about $17 a week.

·         37% of people who attend church every week and identify themselves as Evangelical don’t give any money to their church.

·         97% of Christians who tithe make it a top financial priority to give to their local church.

·         People who tithe regularly typically have less debt than other demographics – 8 out of 10 have zero credit card debt and 28% of them are completely debt free, including not having a mortgage.

·          77% of those who tithe give 11%–20% or more of their income, far more than the baseline of 10%.

·         If Christians followed the Old Testament standard of giving across the board, then $139 billion would become available every year for additional ministry work.[1]

The tithe or 10% was part of the Old Testament law. We are no longer bound by the law of Moses for we are no under the law of Christ. Romans 7:4, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” We have died to law through the body of Christ so that we might belong to Jesus Christ. We are now under the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).

            And if we have a better law than the law of Moses, then why did Old Testament saints give more than today’s Christians? If Christians gave according to the law, then $139 billion dollars would be available for God’s mission. Paul makes it pretty clear, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” We no longer have to give, but we get to give. For we get to reap a harvest of righteousness for the King of glory.

            I have heard this verse used often as an excuse of why people are not required to give their tithe to the church. And they are right, we are not required to give. But in not giving we reveal our hearts do not have God as our supreme treasure. Jesus said,

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:19-24)

Jesus then goes on to say how seeking after the things of this world, food, drink and clothing, is a reflection of the citizens of this world not those of the kingdom.

            A lack of giving is a spiritual problem. God loves a cheerful giver. He does not love a reluctant one. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart. And if you have decided in your heart not to give, this may be an indication of a lack of love for God or his gospel. God does not want your money, He wants your heart. He will use your money to get to your heart.

Exemplary Giving is Sustaining

            God sustains your giving. God supplies seed to the sower and bread for food and he will multiply both.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, (2 Corinthians 9:8-13)

There are many tangible benefits for being generous.

I just want to draw out one application of this text. Verse 12, “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying for the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgiving to God.” The giving of the saints was necessary to supply the needs of the saints. There are needs for ministry that must be met by the generosity of the saints. And when needs are met with generosity it leads to thanksgiving to God. It is a privilege to meet the needs of the saints for it encourages others to glorify and give thanksgiving to God.

            Have you ever had your needs met unexpectedly? Maybe you were facing a big house repair and you were unsure how it was going to be paid when a contractor shows up at your house and he tells you the work has already been paid for by someone else. What do you think the response will be? It will be joy and thanksgiving and giving glory to God. When we give to meet the needs of the saints it leads to God’s glory. It is a privilege to give. The Bible often pictures the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as an offering to pay off debt. Jesus gave his life as a ransom to buy us back from slavery and death. How much joy and thanksgiving and glory has Jesus’ payment brought into our world? The Bible says for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross. Jesus knew the great privilege it was to pay for the sins of the world because it resulted in the glory and honor and praise of God the Father.

            Do you see the motivation to give is not from guilt? We give for God’s glory. We give because God is our greatest treasure. And we give because our giving will result in others glorifying God. Giving to God’s people leads to God’s glory.

Exemplary Giving is Simple

Paul ultimately does not praise the Corinthians for their gift, but gives thanks to God for His surpassing grace and inexpressible gift that rests upon the Corinthians.

By their approval of this service (giving), they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Cor. 9:13-15)

The Corinthians give in response to the surpassing grace of God that rests upon them. God has given them an inexpressible gift so they are simply acting in kind. God gives to us so that we can give to others.

            Giving, like most of the Christian life, is simple, but it is not easy. It is more blessed to give than to receive. Money brings great temptation. Paul warns Timothy, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10) Do you love money more than gospel? Do you love money more than God’s glory?

            How you handle the gift of money is a sign of your treasure. God has given to us so we could give to others. God is generous with us, lavishing his grace upon us, so that we could lavish the riches of his grace on others. If you read the Bible, it should not take long for you to be convinced of the many benefits of giving. Giving is simple, but not easy. We have to decide in our hearts to give. A good starting point for Christians is to give their tithe (10%) to the local church. We know from Scripture that members are responsible to support the preaching ministry of the local church. 1 Timothy 5:17-18, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:17-18) “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” (Galatians 6:6) 1 Corinthians 9:9-12

Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?

Even here Paul uses the law as an example implying from the law that it is right to support teaching elders in the church. Yes, we are not under the law of Moses, but the law of Christ which is more excellent than the old covenant, for it is enacted on better promises (Hebrews 8:6). If we are now under the law of Christ, our giving should reflect that reality. If we gave according to the Old Testament standard, there would be $139 billion available for the ministry of Christ. Is Christ not better than the law?

            If you do not tithe, I am pleading with you to start today. Maybe you haven’t tithed because you never saw its importance or were never taught that you should. Or you haven’t tithed because you are struggling with debt and barely making ends meet. Whatever the reason, I am urging you to start tithing to your church. If you need help creating a budget, we have gifted individuals in this church that would be more than happy to help you on a path to wise financial stewardship. Your money shows what you value.

Someone once shared with me how they had never tithed because they never thought they could afford it. He really wanted to buy a new car so he started to rearrange his finances so that he could afford the car payments. After he bought the car, he realized that he could do the same thing with his tithe. It wasn’t an issue of ability, but of desire. Giving is simple, but not easy. Today, purpose in your heart to give.

Exemplary Giving is Sacrificial

            We have been entrusted with the gospel. We have a mission to make disciples of all nations. Over the last several years, our church has been slowly depleting its savings. We have been spending more than what we have been taking in. We have been slowly bleeding like a soldier in the field. We need to apply a tourniquet to the wound. Our finance committee wants to set our budget at our expenses, but to do so we would have to make cuts that would significantly impact our ministry. In order to set a realistic budget for our church, we are going to need a little over $27,000 more per year. We are trusting in God to provide for the needs of the church, but as we saw in our text this morning, God provides for the needs of the saints through the saints.

            Many of you are already giving sacrificially to the budget, and we are grateful for your sacrifice. We are grateful that because of years of wise financial stewardship we are in a better financial position than many churches. We are debt free and have some reserves, but we are not currently meeting our expenses through our weekly giving. We have cut our expenses by almost $30,000 already, which still leaves a gap of $27,000. We need to come together to meet this gap so that our ministry will continue to move forward. Everyone is in a different financial situation so we are asking everyone to look at your situation and see how God has blessed you to meet our shortfall.  We cannot move forward with a budget at our current expenses unless our church body is willing to sacrificially give to our needs. We need $27,600 to fill our budget gap. It may sound like a lot, but that is only 25 people giving $10 more a month, 20 people giving $30 more a month, 15 people to give $50 more a month, and 10 people to give $70 more a month. We need everyone to come together and look for places in your own budget to sacrifice so we can meet the difference in between our receipts and expenses. We can meet the goal if we all do our part.

 

            We are asking each family to make a pledge on what they plan to give next year. We want you to be praying over the next several weeks and we will collect the pledges on December 6th during our morning service. The goal is realistic, but it cannot be met unless we are all willing to sacrifice together. We are trusting in God to meet our budget through the generosity of the saints. Pray for God’s hand to be upon our church. We cannot out give God. He has given us so much and He promises to give even more. Let me close with one of my favorite Scriptures, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)

 

[1] http://healthresearchfunding.org/21-tithing-statistics/ accessed 11.14.2015

An Exemplary Hope

How do you handle death? Everyone deals with death differently. According to Mental Health America, they provide a list of emotions that one feels when encountering the death of a loved one: denial, disbelief, confusion, shock, sadness, yearning, anger, humiliation, despair and guilt[1]. As one has encountered death often, the list is extensive, but not complete. They also provide a list for those to help others with the grieving process: share the sorrow, don’t offer false comfort, offer practical help, and be patient. Again, they provide a very helpful list, but it is not complete. The one thing that is missing from both lists is hope.

Death and hope are not naturally placed together, but for the Christian they are inseparable. We are called to hope in the face of death and we are called to help others hope as they face death of those they love. Churches are places of hope. We are called to be a hopeful people. Even in the worse moments of life, Christians are called to hope. And the hope of Christians by no means lessens the pain of death. All death is awful. Death is sign of the curse and consequence of human rebellion. Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Death is a constant reminder of the curse. We will face death, but how will we face death as church?

An exemplary church lives with an exemplary hope. We want to have hope always on our lips for we have been born again to the living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading in heaven (1 Peter 1:3). We will not escape death as a church. And we truly love one another, we will experience deep sadness when we face death as a congregation, but we must face that sadness with hope.

Hopeful Grieving

The Thessalonians were a young church and they believed in the resurrection. Remember back to 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” They waiting for their deliverance on the return of Jesus Christ, but there were some people that were concerned about those who died before Jesus returned. Paul writes to give the church hope, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” (1 Thess. 4:13)

Jesus redefined death for his followers. Jairus’ daughter was sick and near death and he asked Jesus to come and heal her. When Jesus and Jairus arrived at the house, they told them that she was dead, but Jesus said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” (Luke 8:52) And taking her by the hand he called, “Child, arise,” and her spirit returned and she was restored to her parents. Death for Christians was redefined as sleep for those who go to sleep will one day wake up. Paul is teaching these young Christians how they should think about death. Those who die in Christ are not dead, but are asleep.

Paul does not say that Christians shouldn’t grieve, but should grieve entirely different than the world. We look at death through the knowledge of Christ. We have facts. We believe in specific knowledge of the future. 1 Thessalonians 4:14, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” The facts that Christians believe is that Jesus lived in history and died in history and was raised in history. They did not believe in a spiritual resurrection, but a bodily resurrection. And the fact that Jesus body was raised is a sign that our bodies will be raised as well. This is a central theme in the New Testament.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:5)

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:21-23)

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

Christians always live in the hope of the resurrection. Do you believe this?

By saying that believers live in the hope of the resurrection, Paul is also saying that those who do not believe in Jesus have no hope in death. There is a resurrection promised for everyone. Jesus says in John 5,

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:25-29)

What will happen when you die? You will experience a resurrection, but what kind of resurrection will you experience? If you were to die today, how confident would you be that you would experience the resurrection of life 50%, 85%, or 100%?

I have done a lot of funerals where the family had certainty that their loved one was a believer in Christ through their word and deed. And I have done others, when the family did not have confidence in their loved one’s faith. The family did not have hope. It is a completely different kind of grief. They are not comforted with truth, but come face to face with the reality of death without God. Atheists comfort themselves about the prospect of death by believing that they cease to exist or that they become part of the earth and the circle life. Although they may look for comfort elsewhere, the reality is that in death they will meet God and answer for their sin alone. And to stand in death alone without Jesus means they will be put in Hell.

Hell is not something that is often mentioned in general yet alone mentioned during death. There is no hope for those who do not have Christ, because they will have to face God themselves. When we try to erase Hell, we darken our understanding of God’s power. Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” God is so glorious and so holy that any sin against His name deserves to be punished severely. Great American Theologian Jonathan Edwards writes,

Rebellion against God’s authority and contempt of his majesty, which every sin contains, is an infinite evil, because it has that infinite aggravation of being against an infinitely excellent and glorious majesty and most absolute authority. A sin against a more excellent being is doubtless great than against a less excellent; and therefore, sins against one infinite in majesty, authority and excellency must be infinite in aggravation, and so deserves not a finite, but an infinite punishment, which can be only by its being infinite in duration.[2]

A crime against an infinite being deserves infinite punishment. So an exemplary church must believe in an exemplary hope, but also must believe in a total lack of hope for those who do not have Christ. This is the Christian message.

And when we understand how horrific the punishment of hell truly is, we only can then understand how glorious the hope we have in Christ. We cannot have one without the other. Beloved, since we believe Jesus died and rose again, even so, with Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. Death may be hard, but we bear it with hope. We must face death as a community with a hopeful grieving.

Hopeful Gazing

When will this glorious hope be finally realized? On the day of our Lord’s return. We keep our hopeful gaze on his coming. We long for our Lord’s return. We, ourselves who have the firstfruits of the Spirit of God, grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:24-25, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” And what do we wait for? Paul declares it to us by a word from the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16, “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-16) We wait for the blessed hope the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Paul mentions the Parousia or The Coming of Jesus Christ four separate times in this letter (1 Thess. 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23). The coming of Christ was meant as an encouragement for the Thessalonians to stand firm in the face of persecution. And here Paul uses the coming of Christ to comfort his brothers and sisters who have seen dear friends fall asleep in Christ. There is no need to worry about those who have fallen asleep for their resurrection will precede those who are left until the end. Those who are asleep will be the first in the resurrection. The church should be comforted because those who have died will not miss anything. Paul does not explain in this letter where Christians are in the intermediate state between their physical death and the physical resurrection. We must focus on what Paul does say rather than on what he doesn’t.

Paul uses three prepositional phrases describing the Lord coming, “a cry of command, a voice of an archangel and the sound of the trumpet of God.” Scholars debate on the exact nature of how these are connected, but most see them as connected to calling the dead in Christ to their resurrection. Christ descended from heaven issuing a cry of command through the voice of an archangel and the sound of the trumpet of God. Therefore Christ calls the dead via the archangel and the trumpet. The trumpet is a common symbol throughout the Old Testament to inaugurate the Last Day (cf. Ex. 19:16, 19; Is. 27:13; Joel 2:1; Zp. 1:14–16; Zc. 9:14).[3] The trumpet calling the dead to life is also consistent with 1 Corinthians 15,

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53)

This promise of an imperishable body is only for those who are dead in Christ. “In Christ” being an abbreviated way of defining believers.

Do not lose the intent of the passage. Paul speaks about the coming of the Lord as an encouragement for the church. It was not written to garner debate and disagreement about the timing of the Last Day, but to encourage the saints to press on even in death because one day God is going to come again. We all may differ slightly on how we view the sequence of the end of history will occur, but there should be no disagreements that we all believe that Jesus Christ will come again and close all of history.

Hopeful Gathering

Paul offers one more encouragement to the Thessalonians. He not only wants them to see that those who have fallen asleep will not miss out on the resurrection, but they will not miss out on the glorious gathering of the saints in heaven. 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” Let us first deal with the content of the verse then we can look at the main intent of verse.

The idea of a rapture has come from verse 17. The word “caught up” comes from the Greek word harpazo which is translated rapio in the Lain which is where we get our English word rapture. As we have seen in verse 16, it does not appear that this is a silent event, but a loud visible cosmic declaration of the coming of the King of kings and the Lord of lords, Jesus Christ. The saints will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air or the clouds. Daniel mentions that the Lord will be coming in the clouds and the angel said after Jesus ascended into heaven that they would see him return in the same manner. The term “meet” comes from the technical greeting of a visiting dignitary to a city. The city officials and citizens would meet the dignitary on the road and then be ushered back into the city with great celebration and fanfare. The word is used with a similar meaning elsewhere in the New Testament[4]. Although the passage does not clearly state what happens after the alive and sleeping saints meet the Lord together in the air, it is a logical deduction that they met Jesus in the air to usher him back to the earth. We do not have time to unpack how this passage relates specifically to the millennium and the tribulation, but appears based on this passage alone that Paul is describing the Last Day and consummation of history.

It would be easy to get lost in the details, but we have to continue to focus on the Holy Spirit’s intent through Paul to encourage the church of the Thessalonians. There are two main encouragements from this verse. First, all the saints of history will be reunited as it says, “caught up together with them.” We have not lost those who have fallen asleep. Their sleeping will one day end and w all will be reunited together. How comforting and encouraging is that truth!!! We will see all those we have lost in Christ again. It is hard to quantify how encouraging that is. One of my favorite things to watch is military reunions. I love to watch children run to their dads and wives run to their husbands. The joy and happiness is so overwhelming that in almost every reunion I see, I am moved to tears. Can you even imagine how glorious our reunion will be with the saints who fallen asleep?

The second encouragement from this verse is that we will be with the Lord. The text says we will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Our Savior who for our sake, became sin who knew sin. Our King who bore our sins in his body on a tree. Our Messiah who took our shame nailing it to the cross. Our Prince who delivered us from God’s wrath. Our Lord who cast our sin as far as the east is from the west. On that Day we will always be with Jesus and all his saints. Do you long you to see Jesus? It will be glorious to see our love ones, but it will be even more glorious to see the King of Glory.

Jesus is our only hope in life and in death. On November 15, 1982, Atheist and Russian General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev was buried at the age of 72. Then Vice President George H.W. Bush attended the funeral. Five years later when giving a graduation address, Bush recalled that day,

(At the funeral of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev,) things were run in military precession; a coldness and hollowness pervaded the ceremony – marching soldiers, steel helmets, Marxist rhetoric, but no prayers, no comforting hymns, no mention of God. The Soviet leaders took their places on the Kremlin Wall as the Brezhnev family silently escorted the casket around to its final resting place. I happened to be in just the right spot to see Mrs. Brezhnev. She walked up, and took one last look at her husband and there – in the cold, grey center of that totalitarian state – she traced the sign of the cross over her husband’s chest.[5]

There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all, hoped that her husband was wrong. She hoped that there was another life, and that that life was best represented by Jesus who died on the cross.[6] She knew that the only hope in the face of death was Jesus. She knew people in atheistic Russia didn’t want to think of Jesus, but she also knew that the only way to bring hope in death was to share the hope of the cross.

An exemplary church will regularly speak of our exemplary hope as we face death. 1 Thessalonians 4:18, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” Is there anything that could be more encouraging than sharing real hope?  Let us commit ourselves to the unwavering hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13) Believe and share the gospel of hope.

 

[1] http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/coping-loss-bereavement-and-grief accessed 10.17.2015

[2] Jonathan Edwards, quoted in Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell by Owen Strachan and Douglas Allen Sweeney. Moody Publisher, Chicago 2010

[3] Wanamaker, C. A. (1990). The Epistles to the Thessalonians: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 173). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

[4] “To meet” the Lord translates a term used only two other times in the New Testament. In the parable of the ten maidens the maidens are called out to “meet” the groom and join the marriage procession (Matt 25:6). Outside Rome some Christian brethren came to “meet” Paul and escort him back into the city (Acts 28:15[4]

[5] http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-903380 accessed 10.18.2015

[6] Gary Thomas, in Christianity Today, October 3, 1994, p. 26.

A Forgiving Friend

Pastor Dave's New Book, "A Forgiving Friend."

"Mark Twain writes, "Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it." Forgiveness is one of the most beautiful and powerful aspects of our human experience. Although forgiveness is so beautiful, it also is extremely hard. If you have ever been severely wounded by a close friend or spouse, you know how difficult it is to extend forgiveness. The pain of forgiveness sometimes outweighs the pain of the wound, but without struggling through the painful process of forgiveness we will never experience true peace. Forgiveness is hard, but necessary. And because it is hard, we need faithful friends and need to be a faithful friend to encourage forgiveness when the wounds seem too deep to overcome. The Apostle Paul provides a wonderful example of a forgiving friend. He steps into a very real conflict between two close friends with gracious words that encourage reconciliation. In the book of Philemon, God gives us a picture through the apostle Paul, of how real people should deal with real sin and work for real reconciliation in a community of real people. Pick up this book and be encouraged to become a forgiving friend for your good, the good of the others and the glory of God."

You can purchase it here: http://amzn.to/1Mnrogo

An Exemplary Love

On June 28, 1919 Harry married Bess. Harry and Bess attended school together from elementary to high school, but Harry claimed he fell in love with her when he was 6 years old in a Sunday School class in Independence, MO. Sadly, Bess spurned his advances throughout school. It wasn’t until a “chance” encounter when Harry returned a dish for his aunt to her neighbor and Bess opened the door that their romance began. Their relationship of love grew for one another and after Harry’s service in the war, they married and would spend 53 years together as husband and wife. During their courtship and marriage, Harry wrote 1,300 letters to his beloved Bess almost every night he spent away from her[1]. Harry loved Bess. And Harry was a very busy man, as he was the 33rd President of the United States of America. Harry Truman wrote to his beloved Bess during times of campaigning, diplomacy and war.

            On June 28, 1948 on their 29th Anniversary, Harry was in Washington and wrote to Bess in Independence, “You still are on the pedestal where I placed you that day in Sunday school 1890. What an old fool I am.[2]” Harry Truman did not need to be told how to love his wife, for it was clear to everyone around him that he loved his Bess. There are 1,300 letters documenting various ways he expressed his love to his wife. His love was undeniable. Could the same be said about our love? Is our love undeniable?

            Love is the distinguishing mark of a Christian. If a person does not love, then they do not know God. The Apostle John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8). Love is the undeniable mark of the Christian faith. Therefore love should be the undeniable mark of the Church. Are we known for our love? Is the love in our congregation undeniable to those inside and outside our congregation?

            The Thessalonians were known for their love. If we want to become an exemplary church then we must have a love that is undeniable to others. In our text, we will see one theological aspect of an undeniable love. Then, we will focus on three specific applications on what that love will look like to those around us.

Powerful Love of Others

            Paul is closing the letter with specific exhortations to the church. He begins the final section of the letter with highlighting the importance of sexual purity. The church must have a different sexual ethic than the world. Remember the church would have been full of young believers since it was only a few months old and those young believers would need to be taught and re-taught on how to live for Christ. After addressing sexual purity, Paul makes a sharp transition to address brotherly love. 1 Thessalonians 4:9, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia.” The Thessalonians had been taught by God to love one another.

            The first theological truth is that true love is supernatural. It is a gift from God. We cannot love without God powerfully changing our hearts. In John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” We were born sinners, born in the flesh with a heart against God. Our natural desires were to serve ourselves. Ephesians 2:1, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.” Ephesians 2:3 says that we “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” The fact that the Thessalonians love each other like a family was a demonstration of the power of God, because of the total depravity of the human heart.

            If we understand how sinful our human hearts can be, we will be amazed at the power of God’s regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. R.C. Sproul helps us understand the difference between total depravity and utter depravity. He writes,

The Bible teaches the total depravity of the human race. Total depravity means radical corruption. We must be careful to note the difference between total depravity and "utter" depravity. To be utterly depraved is to be as wicked as one could possibly be. Hitler was extremely depraved, but he could have been worse than he was. I am sinner. Yet I could sin more often and more severely than I actually do. I am not utterly depraved, but I am totally depraved. Total depravity means that I and everyone else are
depraved or corrupt in the totality of our being. There is no part of us that is left untouched by sin. Our minds, our wills, and our bodies are affected by evil. We speak sinful words, do sinful deeds, have impure thoughts. Our very bodies suffer from the ravages of sin.

Perhaps "radical corruption" is a better term to describe our fallen condition than "total depravity." I am using the word "radical" not so much to mean "extreme," but to lean more heavily on its original meaning. "Radical" comes from the Latin word for "root" or "core." Our problem with sin is that it is rooted in the core of our being. It permeates our hearts. It is because sin is at our core and not merely at the exterior of our lives that the Bible says: "There is none righteous, no not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one." Romans 3:10-12[3]

We are sinful to the core which is why we need conversion. We need God to teach us how to love for this is exactly what he did with the Thessalonians.

            If you are not a loving person, it may be because you have never experienced the new birth. Churches may not be full of love, because they may be full of people who have not experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in conversion. Conversion is not a mere modification of behavior, but a radical transformation of the heart. Our passions change. Our desire change. Our very core changes. We no longer are set against God, but are brought into his family. We are changed from enemies to sons and daughters adopted by his grace. We must repent of our sins and trust in Christ. And when we turn from our sins, we are transformed from the inside out.

We even see that in how Paul defines love in saying, “now concerning brotherly love,” he is redefining how we are called to treat one another. We are a family. A family of people who have been born of God whose hearts have been transformed to love another. We are taught by God to love. It is supernatural. One sign of this supernatural love is how we treat all the brothers. The Thessalonians were loving all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Jesus says,

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:43-47)

Do you love all? One of the marks of an exemplary church is when people love those who are not like them. When the rich love the poor and the young love the old, and the singles love the married, and black loves white. An exemplary church is full of undeniable love for all the brothers.

            So the first theological aspect of love is that it comes from God. We must be born again. Jesus tells Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” If you want to love, you must believe in Jesus Christ who died for sinners. He died and rose again so that for whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life. The first step of love is conversion. We love, because God first loved us.

Peaceful Love of Others

            There is always room to grow in our love for one another. The Thessalonians had an undeniable love, but are told to continue in that love. 1 Thessalonians 4:10-11, “But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs.” Christians are called to aspire to live quietly. This is a very interesting phrasing by Paul because he puts to opposite ideas together. We are to aspire or work eagerly to live quietly and at peace. They seem at odds, but Paul’s focus is that the church would live in such a way to make the gospel attractive. Although we could make an application from verse 11 to the church, I think the primary focus is how the church interacts with the world.

            Christianity had a bad reputation in the first century. The Jews were constantly bringing rumors before the Romans that Christians were stirring up trouble and causing dissension in society. Paul wanted Christians to strive to be at peace and lead a quiet life so they would be able to draw more attention to the gospel. Christians are called to engage in our society and live as good citizens so that we give a good witness to the world. Christians are not primarily called to transform the culture, but to be a different culture. The greatest impact that Christians will have on the world will be through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We, therefore, have to be very careful in how we engage with our culture. We are called to promote justice and truth in every area of life, but we do so with wisdom and grace. We must live well before our culture, meaning we must strive to be at peace within our neighbors so that people will listen to our message.

            Who do you think will have a great impact in their workplace for the gospel: the employee who is constantly challenging his boss to change their business practices or the one who faithfully does their job without grumbling? I believe Christians should focus much more on being good and faithful employees than working to transform their work culture because I believe the best way to transform their work environment is by being a faithful employee. Christians do not have a great reputation in our culture. We need to be wise in how we interact with others so that the gospel will be attractive. The main goal of Christians is not social revolution, but to adorn the gospel and draw people to Jesus Christ. It does not mean we should not care about society, but rather societal transformation should not be the main goal.

            The second exhortation Paul gives to the church is to mind their own affairs, or mind your own business. We should be focused on what we are called to do rather than focusing on what we think others should or should not be doing. We do not know exactly the context in which Paul gives this exhortation. It could be a general statement or referring to something specific going on in the community that he knows about from Timothy’s report. Either way, Christians are called to love others by keeping their own affairs in order without meddling into other people’s problems. We should avoid gossip and talking poorly of our brothers and sisters. The best way to enter into the affairs of our brothers and sisters is through prayer. Let us first bring our brother and sister’s needs before the Lord.

            As our culture continues to evolve and drift away from traditional Christian values, it will become even more important that Christians are careful in how we interact with the world around us. We are called to be in the world, but not of the world. How should Paul’s exhortation to aspire to live a quiet life and to mind our own affairs govern our cultural involvement? We should think about the various applications of these twin truths for our jobs, our neighborhoods, and our politics. An exemplary church should be known primarily for their love for Jesus, one another and the lost rather than their love for political or social change.

Productive Love of Others

            Paul gives one more exhortation for the church to “work with their hands, as we instructed you.” There were some of the Thessalonian believers who had a heightened eschatology. They believed that the Lord was going to return very soon so they stopped working and were depending on the welfare of other Christians in the church. They were idle.  We read in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12,

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

Everyone was responsible to work to care for themselves and to contribute to the needs of the church. Those who were not willing to work (not those who can’t find work) needed to be admonished to get busy.

            Greek culture degraded manual labor thinking it was only fitting for slaves. Christians viewed manual labor as an honorable pursuit. Many Christians probably were slaves and were exhorted to work hard for their master and the sake of the gospel (Titus 2:9-10). Many Christians have adopted the Greek culture’s perspective of manual labor, viewing it as a degrading task, but working with ones hands is a noble undertaking. We should not avoid hard work, but rejoice in the gift of work. Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

            Love should be expressed in being productive for the sake others. Lazy and idle people are not loving others. Proverbs 18:9, “Whoever is slack in his work, is a brother to him who destroys.” There were some among the Thessalonians who were depending on the labor of others and not contributing to the needs of the community. Love for others is an undeniable mark of a Christian, so one’s willingness to work and serve others is an indication of that love. One’s lack of work is an indication of their lack of love. This is not referring to those who can’t work because of physical disability. It is referring to those who have the ability, but choose to remain idle.

Proper Love of Others

            Paul provides the purpose for these expressions of love. The theological principle is that Christians love because God has taught them to love by the Holy Spirit. Those who are born of God love others. He gives three specific expressions of that love to aspire to live a quiet life, to mind your own affairs and to work with your hands. Then he gives the purpose for those expressions in 1 Thessalonians 4:12, “so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

            There is a direct link in how the church lives to how it is viewed by society. Paul cared about outsiders. Paul gave his life so that others would come to faith in Christ. He was beaten, stoned, and suffered a lack of food so that non-believers would come to Christ. Christians have a mission. We are called to go and make disciples of all nations. We want the world to come to Christ and one of the best ways for us to make an impact in the world is to be an exemplary church. When the church is full of love,  the world will know what it means to follow Jesus. Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The world will know us by our love. It is that simple.

            And yet we have to know what love is. Love is aspiring to live a quiet life and to mind our own affairs and to work with our hands so that outsiders will see their need for the gospel. A church should have a love that is undeniable so that those on the outside of the community will realize what they are lacking and be attracted to the gospel. Jesus Christ has taught us to love. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18)

            Let me close with a story that illustrates this principle from someone’s personal experience. Jason Helopolous writes about how the Lord used the “strange love” of the church to draw him to Christ:

As a freshman college student and self-declared atheist, I attended a campus Christian fellowship to fulfill a promise to a Christian friend. I only had the intention to go once. It was merely duty and upholding my word, nothing more. I went begrudgingly, but I went. My life was never the same.

I walked into a room full of Christians and was struck by what I observed. Here was a diverse group. They were from every walk of life. I remember scanning the room and labeling people in my mind, “There is a jock, over there is a geek, and walking in the door is a boy scout.” But what struck me was that they were together. They weren’t just together in the same room, they were together in every sense of the word. They were actually talking with each other and genuinely seemed happy to be together. There didn’t seem to be division. Even in my atheist mind, I knew what I was seeing: they loved one another.

I had no categories for this, so I kept returning to find out why they had love like this for one another. Over the course of a few months I found the answer, or more accurately stated, the answer found me. One of the best evangelism programs you can start at your church is to pursue loving one another well. At some point they will have to hear the gospel proclaimed from your lips or the pulpit, but that “strange love” will set the table before them. People will know that you are His disciples, because it is a shocking love. It has a gravitational attraction, because it is a love that is foreign to this world. A love that the inquirer, if seeking an answer, will find comes from heaven[4].

Beloved, God has given us a mission to make disciples by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  God will use the undeniable love of a local church to draw people to Christ. Beloved, let us be a church that lives out a faithful gospel witness in word and deed.  

 

 

[1] http://www.smithsonianmag.com/ist/?next=/history/harry-trumans-adorable-love-list-to-his-wife-bess-15753530/ accessed on 10.10.2015

[2] http://www.archives.gov/calendar/features/2004/02.html accessed 10.10.2015

[3] http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sproul/depravity.html accessed 10.11.15

[4] http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2014/01/31/simple-evangelism-in-the-church/ accessed on 2.6.14

An Exemplary Comfort

 

            Douglas Maurer was 15 years old was he was diagnosed with Leukemia. The doctors told him that his chances of survival were slim and that he would have to endure three years of chemotherapy. The side effects would be severe. He would go bald and his body would bloat. It was a lot for a 15 year old to take in and the diagnosis sent Douglas into a deep depression. His aunt tried to encourage him by sending flowers to his hospital room. She told the clerk at the flower shop that the flowers were for her nephew who was battling leukemia.

            When the flowers arrived at the hospital there was an additional note from the clerk at the flower shop.  It said, “Douglas—I took your order. I work at Brix florist. I had leukemia when I was 7 years old. I’m 22 years old now. Good luck. My heart goes out to you. Sincerely, Laura Bradley.” Douglas was surrounded by millions of dollars of hospital equipment and the best doctors in the country, but it was the note of a 22-year-old clerk making $160 a week that gave him comfort and the will to carry on in midst of his trials[1].

            What brings you comfort during trials? The Bible promises that we will face trials and persecutions.  “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:13). Acts 14:22 says that Paul and his travel companions went about “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12) We know that trials are promised to us, but when trials come where will we look for comfort? Will we find comfort in our bank accounts or health? Will we find comfort in our possessions or accomplishments? There may be more than one place to draw comfort, but God’s Word shows us where we can find comfort. I pray that from this text you will find comfort and the will to carry on in the hope of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Comforted by the Faith of God’s People v. 6-7

Acts 17 shares how Paul and his companions came to Thessalonica preaching the gospel, causing an uproar and forcing them to quickly leave the city. Paul had been concerned for the faith of the Thessalonians, fearing that they had walked away from Jesus because of their persecution. When his grief and worry had reached an all-time high, he sent Timothy to find out how they were doing. Timothy came back with a good report. 1 Thessalonians 3:6-7,

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you, for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.

Paul and his companions were suffering emotional distress because they were worried about the church. They were worried that the afflictions they were facing had caused them to abandon the faith and they were worried that their afflictions would cause a break in their relationship. Paul is overwhelmed with joy when he learns that the Thessalonians are standing strong in their faith and that their love for them had not changed. 

            Why was Paul so comforted by the faith of others? He was under his own distress and facing his own affliction. Paul had his own pressing concerns, except that the pressing concerns of his life was the faith of others. Paul lived for others. He did not count his life as anything, but was glad to lay it down so that others would have faith in Christ. This concern was not unique to the Thessalonians, but was the pattern of Paul’s entire ministry.

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, Savior; (Titus 1:1-2)

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. (2 Corinthians 1:24)

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, (Romans 1:1, 6)

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:3-5)

Our hope is that as your faith increases, (2 Corinthians 10:15b)

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:17-18)

Paul lived his life for the faith of others, so it was only natural for him to find comfort in the faith of others during his affliction. His trials were worth it if others had faith. He said, “Even if I am to be a sacrifice for your faith, I am glad and rejoice!!” Think about that!! He was comforted by their faith because he was consumed by it. The faith of the saints was Paul’s driving passion. Is it yours?

            My heart has been comforted by the faith of the saints of Park Baptist Church: the faith of those who believe in Jesus despite their bodies being ravaged by cancer, the faith of those who believe in Jesus despite an absent spouse, the faith of those that leads them to sacrifice time in our gatherings to serve our kids in the nursery or children’s church, the faith of those which leads them to labor for hours in preparing Sunday School lessons, and the faith of those which leads them to give sacrificially. I have been comforted by the faith of those who stand up to unethical practices at work and the faith of those who open their lives to the hurting and those who visit the sick. One of the greatest joys of my life is to see the faith of the people of Park Baptist Church. You exemplify a pure and sincere faith in Jesus Christ. Your faith in Jesus has comforted my soul so many times and in so many ways.

I have been so comforted by your faith, but have you been comforted by the faith of these fellow saints? Have you noticed how much our young people are growing in their knowledge of the Word? Have you noticed how much compassion and tenderness our seniors have for one another? Have you noticed the boldness growing in our ladies? Have you seen the steadfastness of our men? Have you noticed how people have started to gather more frequently? When you see the faith of the saints, are you comforted? One of the reasons we are not comforted by the faith of others is that we are not looking to be comforted by their faith. It may be because we haven’t been trained to look, or that we are too consumed with ourselves.

            Do not miss that Paul and his companions were also comforted because of how their faith in God was expressed in love towards them. They were comforted in how people they loved also loved them. Timothy reported that the church always remembered them kindly and longed to see them. (1 Thess. 3:6) Their comfort was connected with their relational unity with God’s people. Their lives were intertwined. This is what I pray for our church. I pray that our lives would be so interconnected that we would experience comfort and joy when we see the faith of others even if our lives are filled with distress and affliction. And I also pray the opposite would be true. I pray that when we see a lack of faith in our brothers and sisters lives, that our hearts would grieve. Does your heart hurt when you see others walking away from the faith? Or withholding love from the body? Or absent from our gatherings? Would your desire for their faith in Christ be so great that you would have the courage to admonish or rebuke them? Would you love them enough to discipline so their soul could be saved on the last day?

            The Christian life is others-focused. If we do not find comfort in the faith of others, it may say more about our own faith than we would care to admit. Be comforted by the faith of God’s people.

Comforted to Persevere for God’s People v. 8-10

If our eyes are looking and longing for the faith of others, then it will be natural for to find courage to press on in living for the glory of God. 1 Thessalonians 3:8-10,

For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?

I can imagine Paul, Silas and Timothy sitting around a room thinking and reflecting about the Thessalonians faith finding the resolve to continue to press on for the faith of saints.

            Paul and his companions are looking and longing for the faith of others, but it is the faith of the Thessalonians that to pushing them on to persevere. Eunice Smith has been a great encouragement to our church family. She has demonstrated a lifetime of service to the church and a sincere faith in Christ. Over the last several years, her hearing has gotten so bad that she barely could hear what was happening in the service. At 95, she would get in her car and drive to church. She barely heard anything that went on in the service, but that doesn’t mean that she got nothing from the gathering. Her presence and her faith spurred others on to persevere. Her example and presence, and others like her, is a constant source of perseverance for the saints.

            Mrs. Eunice’s faithfulness to Jesus has given the saints of Park faith to press on toward the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Her faith has spurred the saints of Park to continue in the faith. Beloved, your faith does a lot more than you realize. I hear stories upon stories of how you have been encouraged by others in the church. You will never know how much your life and faith in Christ means to others this side of heaven. We only see glimpses. My friend CAM Wagner died a little over a year ago with leukemia. He had a lot of friends and family visit him in his last months. He told one of his friends, “I am so blessed.” His friend gave him a quizzical look thinking that a strange thing for a dying man to say. He said, “Most people never get to see how much others love and care about you. I get to sit in this hospital room and hear how my life has impacted others. I am blessed.”

Friends, you are blessed. Your life matters to the people of God. Your presence and faith in Christ is a source of joy and perseverance for the saints. Do not let your eyes define the impact for your faith. Things are happening through your faith that you may never see, but one day all will be revealed. Until then, stand firm in your faith for the faith of others. Give others the opportunity to say, “For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.” And this perseverance is not mere drudgery, but done in joy. Listen, “What thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God.”

I have been accused of being too church-centric in my teaching and preaching. Some have said that I focus too much on church, but the Christian life cannot be lived faithfully outside the fellowship of the church. Our lives are meant to be lived for the faith of others. Hebrews says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) There is an imperative that Christians should meet together in the faith (i.e. go to church), but notice the why we should go. The text begins, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” which will be encouraging one another to persevere as the Day of the Lord is drawing near. Do you notice the reason why you are to go to church? You are to encourage others to have faith until the Last Day. Beloved, you have the great privilege to help others safely enter the Sabbath rest of the people of God, to see Jesus face to face, to enter into the eternal joy of the kingdom of God, and to enjoy the pleasures at His right hand for all time. What a privilege!! Why would you forsake it?

The faith of the Thessalonians comforted Paul and his companions to persevere in the faith and to continue to serve the Lord in the midst of much affliction. Be comforted by encouraging others to persevere in the faith.

Comforted by the Beauty of God’s Plan v.11-13

            God’s plan is so beautiful. There is nothing more precious and more glorious that God’s plan to redeem the world through Jesus Christ creating a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. This is a great prayer to offer to the Lord for the church. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13,

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

We were filthy, unrighteous sinners. We were mockers and rebels. We were haters of God and children of the Devil. We were…But now in Christ, we have been justified through his blood, sanctified by His Spirit and declared blameless before God, adopted as his children and co-heirs of the world to come. Never stop marveling at the gospel. Never stop beholding the glory of our Savior displayed in his death and resurrection.

            Friend, if you are not in Christ, the Bible says you are in sin. And to be in sin is to one day stand before God alone and pay for that sin. The punishment for sin is death in Hell for eternity. Our sin makes us unholy and therefore unfit for heaven. And yet, God sent his Son, the Righteous One, to suffer for the unrighteous to bring them to God. Jesus died for you. He died to bring you to God. His resurrection is a promise of a future resurrection for all those who turn from their sin and trust in Him. Friend, behold the beauty of the Savior and be comforted in Him. Turn from your sins and trust in Christ. You can be declared holy and blameless before God today in Christ.

            One of the greatest things of this letter is that it continues to lift our eyes to the Day of the Lord. Christians live for two days: today and that Day. 1 Thessalonians is a great help to lift our gaze to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. I want you to notice how Paul connects our life together now with our holiness on the last day. See how verse 12 and 13 are linked together,

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

There is a connection with the love we have for the saints and our state on the last day. The Lord wants a supernatural love for one another. A supernatural love has to come from Him. The Lord increases our love for one another. The Lord creates love in our hearts for our brothers and sisters. It is not natural. It is a work of God. And that love is a sign that God is working in us to establish our hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father. Do you see how our love for each other and for all is a sign that God has saved us?

If you do not love the church, what confidence should you have before God on the last day? The message of Christianity has not changed since the beginning. 1 John 3:11-14,

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. (1 John 3:11-14)

Love is the mark of a Christian. Therefore love should be the mark of a Christian community.

            The love we have for one another is not only for us, but for those watching on the outside. Francis Schaeffer writes,

One cannot explain the explosive dynamite, the dunamis, of the early church apart from the fact that they practiced two things simultaneously: orthodoxy of doctrine and orthodoxy of community in the midst of the visible church, a community which the world could see. By the grace of God, therefore, the church must be known simultaneously for its purity of doctrine and the reality of its community. Our churches have so often been only preaching points with very little emphasis on community, but exhibition of the love of God in practice is beautiful and must be there.[2]

As Christians behold the beauty of God’s plan, we will become a beautiful people which will display God’s beauty to the world. Love and doctrine must always be linked. Love without doctrine and doctrine without love are false representations of church. We must be full of grace and truth.

            One night at an evangelistic meeting in Chicago, Booth Tucker preached on the sympathy and comfort of Christ. Someone came up to him after the meeting and said, “If your wife had just died, like mine has, and your babies were crying for their mother, who would never come back, you wouldn’t be saying what you’re saying.” The man was not comforted with Christ and did not believe Christ was sufficient for his trials and distress. In our trials, will the comfort of Christ be sufficient?

Sadly, Tucker’s wife was killed in a train wreck a few days later. Her body was brought to the same building where he gave his last sermon. After the service, a grieving Tucker looked down at his wife and then turned to those in attendance and said,

The other day a man told me I wouldn’t speak of the sympathy of Jesus if my wife had just died. If that man is here, I want to tell him that Christ is sufficient. My heart is broken, but it has a song put there by Jesus. I want that man to know that Jesus Christ speaks comfort to me today.[3]

Our greatest comfort should always rest on the comfort given to us by Jesus Christ. He is enough. Our greatest distress has already been conquered in the cross. Jesus overcame the grave and promised us a glorious resurrection.

            We are going to face distress and anguish in our souls, but God has provided comfort in Christ. He has comforted us in the gospel and through his church. Therefore let us press on in our faith in Christ, our love for the saints so that God will establish our hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father on the last Day. 

           

           

 

[1]https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1982&dat=19870706&id=H5BRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=pjMNAAAAIBAJ&pg=2685,604423&hl=en accessed 9.24.15

[2] http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/brothers-build-a-gospel-culture accessed 9.27.15

[3] https://bible.org/illustration/christ-sufficient accessed 9.27.2015

An Exemplary Reception (1 Thessalonians 2:13-16)

              How do you view the Bible? What place does the Bible hold in your life? It may be easy rattle off how important the Bible is, but what do your actual day to day activities reveal about your view of the Bible? Stop and really think about that question. A recent study commissioned by the American Bible Society reveals some interesting facts regarding how our society views the Bible[1]. The percentage of people who are skeptical of the Bible has doubled in the last three years. And of those who are skeptical of the Bible, 2/3 of them are under the age of 48. Of the Millennials, ages 18-29, surveyed nearly 40 % say they have never read the Bible. And even though skepticism of the Scriptures is on the rise, almost 80% still hold a favorable view of the Bible with almost 90% of homes owning a Bible. The average household owns more than 4 Bibles, but only 37% of Americans read the Bible more than once a week.

            An interesting fact revealed in the survey that 62% of people surveyed want to read the Bible more, but admit that busyness with job, family, and activities continue to squeeze out their Bible reading. People are also finding communion with God outside of the Bible. Only 56% of those surveyed say that reading the Bible draws them closer to God. And only 30% of Millennials believe the Bible has too little influence in society. If you were surveyed and were honest, what would your answers reveal about your view of the Bible?

            One of the most important marks of an exemplary church is how people receive the Bible. And I am not only considering what a church says they believe about the Bible, but what they actually believe about the Bible. There are many churches that would attest to a high view of Scripture, but in analyzing their practices the Bible may actually play a small part of their congregational life. As a pastor, I am constantly praying that the Word of God is more cherished and more loved by our congregation. All Christians should cherish and delight in God’s Word. If we are going to grow as an exemplary church, then we must grow in our knowledge and love of God’s Word.

            The Thessalonians were praised because of how they received the Word. 1 Thessalonians 2:13, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as what it really is, the Word of God, which is at work in you believers.” The Thessalonians were defined in how they received the Word of God. Beloved, we will be defined in how we receive the Word so I pray that we will receive the Word as what it really is, the Word of God.

Receive the Word as the Word of God

            It would be beneficial for us to establish what we mean by the Word of God. There may be those who say they believe the Word of God, but may not believe the Word like the Thessalonians believed and like we are called to believe the Word.

We are to receive the Word of God as True

In developing our doctrine of Scripture, we begin with 2 Timothy 3:16-17,All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” There is much that can be cleaned from this verse, but I only want to establish that Scripture comes from God. If Scripture comes from God then it must be true.  Romans 3:4b, “Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” Paul begins his letter Titus affirming the truthfulness of God’s Word by connecting it to God’s Character. “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; (Titus 1:1-3). If God is true then God’s Word is true and therefore it is trustworthy.

We are to receive the Word of God as Perfect

            Psalm 19:7-9, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.” We can trust the Bible because it is true and it is perfect. The first article of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 begins this way, “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.” We cannot waver on the perfection of the Bible. This does not mean that every translation is perfect.

The Bible was written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. Our English Bibles are mere translations. The Autograph, or the Original Manuscript, does not exist, but that does not mean we cannot trust the Bibles we hold in our hands. We can and we should. We should believe that even when we encounter things that are difficult and/or apparent contradictions that after all the facts are on the table the Bible will be perfect. J.I. Packer notes, ““One cannot doubt the Bible far-reaching loss, both of fullness of truth and of fullness of life. If therefore we have at heart spiritual renewal for society, for churches and for our own lives, we shall make much of the entire trustworthiness—that is, the inerrancy—of Holy Scripture as the inspired and liberating Word of God.[2]

We are to receive the Word of God as Authoritative

            We receive the Word of God as true and perfect and therefore we receive the Word as the supreme authority in our lives. The Bible is the final standard on which all opinions and behavior should be tried. Different churches place the final authority in different places. The Catholic Church places Scripture and Church Tradition at the same level. Liberal Protestant churches place Scripture and Human Reason at the same level. Conservative and Historic Christian churches place Scripture above all other authorities. Much of the division in the church is the result of how each church or denomination handles the Word of God. Conservative churches may disagree on interpretations, but we are all working off the same standard.

            God speaks, we listen. God speaks, we obey. Sadly, many churches claim that Bible is the main authority in their church life, but their practical decisions are governed by pragmatic concerns. The question we should be constantly asking is, “What does the Bible say?” I know many bible-believing Baptist Churches that place tradition over Scripture. Remember the Bible is God’s Word. To ask, “What does the Bible say?” is to ask, “What does our Lord and Savior say?”

            Pastors have been commissioned by God to declare His Word to His people. Titus 2:15, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” Beloved, do you delight in God’s authority? The fall of humanity began with four little words, “Did God actually say…?” Rejecting God’s authoritative Word will bring nothing but pain and destruction in your life and the lives of those you love.

We are to receive the Word of God as Sufficient

            We all may want to say that the Bible is sufficient, but there have probably been times when we wanted a little more revelation from God. Listen to how Pastor Kevin DeYoung helps us diagnose our view of sufficiency,

Have you ever wondered if the Bible is really able to help you with your deepest problems? Have you struggled to know what to do with your life, and wished you had some special word from the Lord? Have you ever thought to yourself that the biblical teaching on sexuality needs updating? Have you ever wished for a more direct, more personal revelation than what you get from slowly reading through the Bible? Have you ever secretly wanted to add something to the word of God—you know, just to make things safer? Have you ever wanted to take something away to make the Bible more palatable? Have you ever assumed that the Bible doesn’t say anything about how to worship God or how to order his church? Have you ever felt like the Bible just wasn’t enough for living a faithful life in today’s world? If you can answer yes to any of these questions—and we all will at times—then you are struggling with the sufficiency of Scripture.

The Bible is sufficient as it is for all of life. Even the verse I quoted above, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The Bible is relevant and contains all that we need for life and godliness.

            There is a growing movement of people desiring to hear a special revelation from God.  Many Christians put more stock in movies like Heaven is for Real and 90 minutes in Heaven than the book of Revelation. If you want a special word from God, read your Bible. I mean that with all seriousness. God’s word is sufficient for all. Do not look for a “special” word from God, but rather look to the “special” Word from God.

We are to receive the Word of God as Good

            A regular argument put forth in our culture is that the Bible is outdated. The common refrain repeated again and again is, “We are modern people and need to adopt modern views on life and sexuality.” It may sound sophisticated, but it is masking an attack on the goodness of God’s Word and the goodness of the God who gave the Word. People have denied sin and believe that God is withholding something good from them in telling them no. The argument is not new, for the same tactic was used in the Garden of Eden when, “the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ (Genesis 3:4-5) Satan wanted Eve to believe that God was withholding something good from her, attacking the goodness of God’s Word. We are so easily tempted to doubt God’s goodness.

            The God’s Word is not withholding anything from us, but protecting us for God knows what is best for us. Listen to the voices of those who speak against God’s Word and notice the undercurrent of pride. They doubt the goodness of the Word, because they believe they know better way. We must hold fast to the goodness of God’s Word.

We are to receive the Word of God as Active

            The Word of God is powerful. It is powerful to save and it is powerful to sanctify. At the end of 1 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul adds a profound encouragement, “which is at work in you believers.” For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12) God’s Word changes us. God is actively working on us through His Word by His Spirit.

            Do you ever feel stagnate in your Christian walk? Or maybe you have felt discouraged with particular sin struggle? Beloved, know that God’s Word is actively working in your life. There is a real, profound affect that happens to us when we read and meditate on the Word of God. We cannot comprehend the immediate and long term benefits that come from the Word. Psalm 1:1-3, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” The delight and meditation on God’s Word leads to prosperity and fruitful labor.

            We do not fully understand or appreciate the importance of the Word of God for if we did we would make every effort to hear, read and meditate on it. The number one stated reason people don’t read the Bible is busyness.[3] The unstated reason is that we do not believe in its power in our lives. When you commit to a new activity how often do you ask the question, “How will this affect my or our family’s Bible intake?” God’s Word is life-changing and powerful. It actively changes us. It takes our eyes off of ourselves and fixes them on God’s glory. What in your life hinders you from reading the Word?

We are to receive the Word as Christ-Exalting

            Undergirding our entire doctrine of Scripture is the motivation to exalt the living Christ. We live to make much of Jesus Christ. We proclaim Him. We desire to grow up into full maturity to be like Christ. When we receive and obey the Word, we make much of Jesus who has given us His Word. Jesus said,

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:7-11)

When we receive the Word of God, we receive Jesus. To deny the Word is to deny the Savior.

            We must receive the Word of God as what it really is: the Word of God. For if we do not receive the Word as the very living words of Almighty God we will not be ready for the trials that may be coming.

Receive the Word as Worthy of Trials

            Persecution comes in many ways. It may come with a raise of an eyebrow from your college professor, whispers from colleagues, denial of promotion at work, outright scorn and ridicule by a family member, jail time, or even death. Are you ready to receive the Word as worthy enough to hold on to regardless of what comes? The Thessalonians were. 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16,

For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!

The Thessalonians faced physical persecution from their own countrymen. Those who were once their friends and family became their persecutors. And in the face of persecution, they remained steadfast because they had received the Word of God as the Word of God which was worthy of trials.

            If the Bible is God’s Word then we must stand on it. And the best way we stand is to trust and obey God’s Word. We make reading God’s Word primary in our lives. We make the hearing of God’s Word primary in our lives. We make obeying God’s Word primary in our lives. An exemplary church delights in the Word and will stand in the face of persecution. Jesus shows us how of the word is sown on the soils of different hearts,

And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.

Beloved, persecution and tribulation will come more and more to Christians in America. The question is, “Will you endure?” The only way you will endure is if you count the Word of God as worthy of the trials they bring.

Receive the Word as a Witness of War

            We are in a war. We battle with the spiritual forces of darkness every day. And the battle is from without and within. First, it is clear from the text that there is a battle from outside the faith for those who oppose the message of the gospel. People want to silence Christians because the message of the gospel is the power of God for salvation. There is an active opposition to the gospel by real people, but our battle is not against them. Ephesians 6:10-12,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

When people oppose the gospel, they are under the influence of the evil one captured to do his will. Satan is a deceiver. He opposes all mankind by hindering people from hearing the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He may do it through national laws and company policies, but his aim is to hide the gospel remedy for the cancer of sin.

            The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope for our world. We all have sin and need a Savior. Jesus Christ lived and died to destroy the works of the devil. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us to reverse the curse of sin and give us hope for eternal life. Faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is man’s only hope before God. Therefore to oppose the gospel is to oppose all mankind for it is our only hope. Do you know this hope? Do you believe in this hope with all your heart?

            Those who oppose the gospel will one day bow. The text seems to imply that the Jews were facing some real life trouble. We do not know exactly what their trouble was, but Paul knew their trouble came from their opposition to the truth. The Word is a witness to the war of this world.

There are those who work for the gospel and those who work against the gospel. The challenge is that there are things in our own heart that wage war against our soul. Peter writes, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:11) One of the passions of the flesh that wage war against our soul is the desire for the acceptance of the world. The battle rages every time you have the opportunity to share the gospel. How many times have we had the opportunity to share our faith only to let fear of judgment or awkwardness allow the opportunity to pass? Do not let the love of the world and the acceptance of those who stand opposed to God hinder you from sharing the gospel that others may be saved. Let us speak not to please man but to please God who tests our hearts.

            Last year a missionary captured a video of Chinese believers receiving the Bible for the first time. As they were handed the Bible, they brought the bibles to their faces and wept. One of the Chinese believers said, “Thanks be to God, we need this book so much. When I see this book, I think of the brothers and sisters who have helped us and brought this to us with their blood and spirit. This is what our church needs so much right now.” Beloved, this book is what our church needs so much right now. Will we receive this Word as it really is, the Word of God?

 

[1] https://www.barna.org/barna-update/culture/664-the-state-of-the-bible-6-trends-for-2014#.VfQm3vlViko accessed 9.12.2015 All following statistics will be taken from this survey.

[2]  I. Packer, Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1996), 55.

[3] https://www.barna.org/barna-update/culture/664-the-state-of-the-bible-6-trends-for-2014#.VfQm3vlViko

A Friend's Reminder (Philemon 17-25)

Human beings naturally forget. We have developed techniques to increase and enhance our memory. The calendar, whether electronic or paper, helps us recall the important dates and events in our lives. The strength of the calendar is not in having a calendar, but using it to recall important details. The more we look at the calendar, the more we bring the calendar to our minds and therefore we remember. Reminders intentionally bring the important things to our minds so that we can remember them. We all have different techniques to remember. Whether you are Michael Scott trying to remember people’s names or a student creating an acronym to remember the parts of the circulatory system, we all use different reminders to remember important details of our lives. Regardless of the technique, the key is that we have reminders that force us to recall important details.

            God has built in a weekly reminder for his people to recall and remember what he has done for us. Every week we remind our hearts of God’s goodness through the fellowship of the saints, and the singing, praying, and the preaching of God’s Word. God wants us to remember, so he has given us reminders so that we would never forget what has done for us. He has given us two physical reminders in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism where we actually get to participate in symbols that portray God’s love for us in Christ. There are also reminders in the natural world. Each day the sun rises declaring his glory over the earth. Every night the sun sets showing our utter dependence upon him. Our world is full of reminders of God’s sovereign power.

            And yet, we are a forgetful people. Deuteronomy is full of references where God tells his people “take care, lest you forget.” Even the title “Deuteronomy” means “the law again”. The whole book is the retelling of the law so that the people would not forget. And with so many reminders, God’s people forget. The Apostle Peter summed up his ministry as one of reminding the people so they could recall the great works of God. 2 Peter 1:15, “And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.” The job of parents and pastors is that when we are gone, those under our care will be able to recall the things of God. The Apostle Paul is nearing the end of his letter to his friend, Philemon, and wants to remind him of his responsibility in the gospel to forgive his repentant slave Onesimus. I pray that as we look closely at Paul’s reminder to Philemon that we would be reminded of our responsibility in the gospel to forgive our repentant brothers and sisters.     

Reminder of Partnership

            Paul ends his letter by reminding Philemon of their partnership in the gospel. The most important aspect of Paul and Philemon’s relationship was their partnership in the proclamation and the spread of the gospel. Verse 17, “So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.” Paul reminds Philemon of their partnership in the gospel and then tells Philemon that Onesimus is one of us. Paul is saying that, “Onesimus holds the gospel as dear as we do Philemon. He is one of us.” And with that one sentence, Paul is bringing the crux of the whole letter to the forefront. Will Philemon act as a prosperous businessman or a partner in the gospel? What will be his main allegiance? What will be the driving force for his decisions?

            It would be very hard for Philemon to remain a partner in the gospel if he did not live for the gospel. Philemon has sacrificed his money, his time and his resources so that people will know more about Jesus. He has opened his home to the church so that people will hear and believe the gospel. The question is not what has Philemon has done, but what will he continue to do? As Christians we do not live in past, we live in the present. We do not ask “Did I obey Jesus yesterday,” but rather “Will I obey Jesus today?”

            It may be easier to pacify our consciences to think about all the things we have done in our life for the Lord, but God wants to know if we will remain with him? Will you abide with Christ? Paul again uses Greek word koinonia translated “partner” here. At very key points throughout this letter, Paul uses this word to highlight the importance of fellowship among believers. Christians are called into the fellowship of the Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the saints. How we interact and receive God’s people will be one of the greatest markers if we truly have fellowship with Jesus? If we have true fellowship or partnership with other believers, we should be confident that we have partnership with God. And if we do not have fellowship with others, how can we say we have fellowship with God?

            The first command used in this letter is the word receive. Paul says if you are my partner in the gospel than you must welcome in, take in, gather together and bring along your fellow partner Onesimus. There is no exclusion from the receiving of a repentant brother. All sinners who turn away from their sin and trust in Christ as their Savior should be received into the fellowship of the church. Onesimus was a thief. He had taken from Philemon, disrespected him and his family, but he had repented. Onesimus came to Christ. He too was a partner in the gospel therefore Paul uses the imperative to show there is only one option for a true partner in the gospel…to welcome the errant brother. Jesus says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) Forgiveness is an essential mark for Christians. It is a non-negotiable. If you want to be one who has fellowship with Christ and his people, then receiving the repentant brother is essential.

            What sin is unforgivable? What action would restrict fellowship in the church? There are all sorts of horrific sins that we can imagine, but if someone truly repents, they, too, can be forgiven and restored to fellowship of the church. The church welcomes into fellowship repentant sinners. Friend, if you are in sin, as Christ’s ambassadors, we implore you to be reconciled to God. Turn from your sin and trust in Christ. Christian, if you are in sin, turn to Christ and be restored into fellowship of the saints.

Reminder of Payment

            Paul continues to charge Philemon to forgive Onesimus, but does something profound; he offers himself up for the sin of another. Verse 18, “If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.” (Philemon 1:18-20) Most of Paul’s letters were written by someone else, so scholars believe that when he says, “I, Paul, write this with my own hand,” that would have been a contractual arrangement. The reader of the letter would have seen the handwriting change putting additional weight and force upon the reality of Paul’s statement.

Paul offers up himself to pay for Onesimus’s crimes. Friend, this is exactly what Jesus Christ does for us. We are the ones who have sinned and rebelled against God. We are the ones who have robbed God of his glory by living for ourselves and our agendas. We are the ones who deserve to pay. We are guilty. And yet, Jesus steps forward and stands before the father saying, “If they have wronged you at all or owe you anything, charge that to my account.” Jesus paid the full price for our sin on the cross. He died in our place. He became our substitute paying for our crimes. And upon his death, God raised Jesus from the dead accepting his sacrifice on our behalf. So now we have hope because Jesus gave himself up for us. Paul is acting in the way of Christ. He is laying his life down for Onesimus.

Christian, are you willing to act like Paul here? Are you willing to pay the price for someone else’s sins? There is a story of a good king who cared well for his people. He was kind and fair and always did his best to provide for his people. One day, one of his men informed him that someone stole food from the palace. He gathered the whole town together and pleaded with them for the person to confess, saying, “I have always provided for your needs. If you needed anything all you had to do is ask and I would have provided it for you. But because I am a just king, anyone caught stealing will receive 10 lashes.” A week went by and someone stole from the treasury again. The good king again pleaded with this people to not steal, but bring their request to him again pleading with them to confess. He increased the lashes to twenty for the one caught stealing. A week went by and a servant came to the king and saying, “The thief has been caught, but it is your own mother.” Pain gripped the king’s heart. What was he to do? He promised that anyone caught stealing had to be punished.

      The day arrived when his mother was to be punished. The whole town was wondering what the king was going to do. Would he let his mother go free or would he have her punished? His mother was walked into the center of the town and tied to a pole. The guard looked at the king and the king nodded his head for him to begin. The guard looked on in shock, but right before the first lash was struck, the king yelled, “Stop.” The king walked over to his mother wrapped his arms around her and said, “Now you may begin.” The guard began to whip the back of the king to pay for his mother’s crime. Friend, this is what Christ has done for us. He was beaten in our place. He was whipped that we might go free. And this is exactly what Paul is doing for Onesimus.

      Paul is asking to credit Onesimus’s thief to Paul. Would you be willing to do the same? Would you be willing to pay someone else’s debt? Why would Paul do that? Because he knows how he was forgiven. Paul writes of himself, “formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:13-15) Never forget that you have been forgiven, for this is what Paul reminds Philemon of, saying, “your owing me even your own self.” Paul reminded Philemon of how he came to Christ under Paul’s ministry and encourages him to repay him be welcoming Onesimus.

Philemon should forgive Onesimus, but that does not make it easy to forgive. Forgiveness is not easy. Forgiveness is supernatural. We need divine help to forgive. Would you readily forgive someone who stole $20 from you? What about $20,000? Forgiveness is hard, but worth it, for we have been forgiven of a great debt. Here this story from Jesus,

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-35)

Friend, we forgive because we have been forgiven.

Reminder of Preparation

Paul adds another reminder to Philemon as he closes this letter. Paul tells Philemon to prepare for his coming. Philemon would eventually have to look his dear friend Paul in the face and explain how he handled Onesimus. It may be subtle, but knowing that Philemon would have to confront Paul most likely encouraged Philemon’s obedience. This was not a threat, but a reality. Philemon would be held accountable for his decision to forgive Onesimus. Paul was confident based on Philemon’s character and partnership with the gospel, but this is no slam dunk case of forgiveness. Philemon would eventually have to explain his decision to an elder brother in Christ and a dear friend.

            In this way Paul is modeling how one day we are going to stand before God. As Philemon had to prepare for Paul’s coming, we have to prepare for the Lord’s coming. Have you ever had projects around the house that needed to get done, but you never quite had the motivation to complete? Then you discover your in-laws are coming in town for a visit in a month so you scramble to finish all the unfinished projects in preparation for their coming. When anybody of importance comes to your home, you want to be prepared for their arrival. Friend, this is how we should be for Lord’s return. We should be prepared for the coming of the King. We are going to be held accountable for the decisions in this life. Philemon will be held accountable for his forgiveness as we will be held accountable for our own. Are you prepared for the coming of the King?

Reminder of Perseverance

            Let me encourage you to pay attention to the names Paul highlights as he closes this letter. Verse 23, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philemon 1:23-25) We have the benefit of the hindsight. We can look at these names and know if they persevered in their faith.

Did Philemon forgive Onesimus? We cannot be sure for the New Testament does not explicitly tell us, but we can assume since the letter was preserved that he did. Church tradition states that Philemon eventually would become the pastor of Colossae, and along with his wife Apphia, was martyred for the Gospel. He persevered until the end.

A man named Onesimus eventually became the pastor of Ephesus a couple of decades later. We cannot be sure this was the same Onesimus, but we know that this Onesimus also laid his life down for the gospel dying for his faith. This Onesimus persevered until the end. 

Paul, the peacemaker, would also lose his life for the gospel being beheaded during his last Roman imprisonment, but blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God. Paul persevered to the end.

Luke would go on to write half the New Testament and according to tradition died at the age of 84. Luke persevered to the end.

Mark, the author of the gospel that bears his name, was reconciled to Paul. He was with Paul and Barnabas during their first missionary journey only to leave and return home. On the second trip, Mark wanted to rejoin the mission and Paul refused. The disagreement became so sharp that Barnabas and Paul split company and went in opposite directions. We know that Paul reconciled and forgave Mark at the end of his life as he wrote in 2 Tim 4:11 that Mark was, “very useful to me in ministry,” asking Timothy to bring Mark to him. Mark would eventually travel to Alexandria and became the pastor there before also being martyred for his faith. Mark persevered to the end.

Epaphras, a fellow prisoner with Paul, was most likely the pastor of Colossae. Tradition says he was released from his imprisonment only later to be arrested and martyred for his faith. Epaphras persevered to the end. Aristarchus mentioned here and in Acts endured persecution for the gospel. He later became the pastor in modern-day Syria and he too was martyred for the gospel. Aristarchus persevered to the end.

Do you see a trend here? These men held the gospel so dear that they would rather face death than deny the gospel. In persevering to the end, they persevered in forgiveness. They chose to die rather than to withhold the forgiveness of the gospel.

There is one more name on the list that should serve as a warning to us all. Demas, once a partner in the gospel laboring for the forgiveness of the saints, is said to have fallen in love with this world deserting Paul and the gospel. His love did not persevere. It has been said of the two thieves at Calvary, “One was saved that none might despair, but only one that none might presume.”

We have been studying the story of another thief who was reconciled to God by Calvary. Onesimus is a reminder of God’s offer of forgiveness. Philemon is a reminder of one who extended forgiveness. Paul is a reminder of one who encourages forgiveness. Demas is a reminder of one who walked away from forgiveness. What do you need to be reminded of today? We all need reminders to persevere in the gospel. And I pray that this short letter has reminded you of the beauty, the power and glory of the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and would remind you to persevere until the end. 

Disappearing Parts (1 Cor. 12:21-22)

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. 

~1 Corinthians 12:21-22

Beloved,

This fall, 

Back to the Future 

celebrates its 30

th

 anniversary. In that film, Marty McFly monitors a family snapshot while revisiting his parents’ past of  the 1950s. His siblings gradually vanish in the image, a sign Marty has seriously altered time. At the flick’s climax, Marty’s own arm starts to fade, making it impossible for Marty to play his guitar during the Enchantment under the Sea dance.

What if, like Marty’s, our limbs suddenly disappeared?  Imagine if our right hand faded every third week, or our left leg vanished twice a month. We might function, but what a struggle! Also, our body would have no choice but to compensate for those missing parts.  A man can survive without a leg, but would he flourish?

How difficult is it, then, for people or groups to function when participants are absent?   What if they’re missing like McFly’s arm and fingers? What’s the impact on the church and the lost that the church is to serve?

The church is called the body of Christ. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12) As individual parts, we make up the whole body of the church. We’re distinctive, functioning uniquely but we’re one in the body. Some of us are hands while others are eyes. Some are feet. Some are ears. All of the parts of the body are indispensable. They’re essential for us to flourish as a whole.  We cannot say to one another, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, we should say, “I need you for we are not the same without you!” The church cannot function well if its individual parts just disappear.

God’s children are vital to church life. Do you know how indispensable every member is? God gives gifts to his church. God calls individual members to be part of the whole body of Christ. Are you a dependable part? Or are you a disappearing member?

We need you! We need each other! Every person that’s a part of the body of Christ is needed to participate and activate in order to have a well-functioning church. Are you playing your part?  God has placed you in the church body for a reason. We need all our eyes, all our fingers, and all our legs to do all God has called us to do. Make our church gatherings a priority for we need you!!

A Friend's Appeal (Philemon 1:8-16)

            In 1905, Thedore “Teddy” Roosevelt, became the first sitting president to visit the post-Civil War South. Roosevelt was raised in New York and the impact of the Civil War had a drastic impact on his life. His father sided with the Union while his mother, Georgia born and bred, leaned towards the confederacy. Teddy’s Uncle James Roosevelt was a prominent leader in the Confederate army. Growing up as a child during the Civil War helped shape Teddy’s future bravado in dealing with foreign affairs, but not for the reason many may think. Teddy Roosevelt had a deep respect for his father. In his 1913, autobiography, Roosevelt wrote,

My father … was the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness. He would not tolerate in us children selfishness or cruelty, idleness, cowardice, or untruthfulness.

[1]

His sister Corinne later recounted how Teddy said that he never made a serious decision for the country without first thinking what step his father would have taken. Although he dearly loved his father, there was one thing for which he probably never forgave him.

            His father, Thedore Roosevelt Senior, was a wealthy businessman and paid $300 for someone to take his place in the Union Army. It was a common practice of the day and Roosevelt Sr. was probably convinced by his wife, Mattie, not to fight in the conflict against her family and to risk losing his life, leaving her distraught. Regardless of the reasons for Roosevelt’s decision not to fight, it deeply affected young Teddy. His sister Bamie wrote that Teddy, “felt that [father] had done a wrong thing in not having put every other feeling aside to join the fighting forces.” And his sister Corrinne added that he was determined to build a strong military reputation for himself to compensate, “for an unspoken disappointment in his father´s course in 1861.

[2]

” It would not be a stretch to say that Teddy’s unforgiveness of his father’s decision shaped his political life. One act of unforgiveness changed the direction of Teddy Roosevelt’s life.

            I wonder how many of us are like Teddy Roosevelt.  We may be appear well-adjusted and successful, but in reality are driven to make a name for ourselves because of our own unforgiveness. Maybe our lives have been controlled and shaped because we have been unable to forgive or maybe because we feel unforgiven? Are there people in your life you have not forgiven? I heard a story this past week of a man whose whole life was shaped by his anger towards God. He lost a child and for years could not forgive God for allowing it to happen. Friends, forgiveness, or the lack there of, will have a dramatic impact on the direction of your life.

            The Apostle Paul knew that, which is why he penned this brief letter to his friend, Philemon. Paul loved Philemon dearly and wanted him to forgive for his own good, for the good of the church and for the glory of God. I pray as we look at Paul’s friendly appeal for forgiveness that you would be challenged to pursue forgiveness with the people in your life.

Appealing for

Love

’s Sake

            Paul begins this plea by not appealing to his status as an apostle, but rather on the basis of love. Philemon 8-9, “Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus.” Paul was not afraid to command Philemon to obey his words. There are times throughout Paul’s letters that he uses his position as an apostle to command obedience, but here he appeals on the basis of love. He wants Philemon to make the right decision for the right reason. God cares why we do what we do. If Paul commanded Philemon, Philemon could have begrudgingly obeyed, but that would not be complete reconciliation. As we will see, Paul wants Philemon to be fully reconciled with Onesimus.

            Paul is giving Philemon an opportunity to show him love as well. He writes, “I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus.” These words would have been weighty for Philemon. The impression is that he does not have a lot of time left on the earth. He is an old man facing the end of this life stuck in a Roman prison. Philemon’s love for Paul should encourage him to honor Paul’s request. I know of many stories within this church when a father looked at his child and said, “Take care of your mother when I am gone.” The love that a child has for their father motivates the child to care well for their mother. Paul is appealing to Philemon’s love for him as an old man who has labored well for the gospel even to the point of imprisonment.

            This is instructive for us because we also should want people to love others from the heart rather than out of mere duty. We obey the Lord out of love. It is a joy and a privilege to be able to obey God. We should not obey begrudgingly, but should delight in honoring our Master and our Savior. We cannot make anyone do anything. We cannot control a man’s will. We, therefore, should not try to constrain a man’s will by force, but appeal on the basis of love: love for one’s fellow man, love for one’s fellow brother or sister in Christ and love for our Savior. The basis of our Christian obedience is love. We love God and others, because He first loved us. When we were sinners deserving of wrath, God gave us mercy in Christ. Love should be the motivation for the entire Christian life.

Appealing for a

Son

’s Sake

            Paul appeals on the basis of love for someone he loves and who has become like a son to him. The English translations of the text change the word order to make it sound more like we speak today, but the original Greek places Onesimus’s name at the end so it would read, “I appeal to you for my child, whose father I became in my imprisonment – Onesimus.” It appears that Paul kept Onesimus’s name out of the letter until he had sufficiently appealed to Philemon. You can almost imagine a collective sigh or gasp among the people when his name is mentioned. It is like the buildup of the NFL Draft when the commissioner walks to the podium and says, “With the first pick of the NFL Draft the Carolina Panthers select out of the University of Manitoba, Onesimus Smith.” Sounds of shock and disbelief would most likely fill the room. With the calling of Onesimus’s name, things just got a lot more interesting.

            Remember the congregation would be listening to this letter and they would have known the back story of Onesimus. Onesimus was one of Philemon’s slaves who appeared to have stolen from Philemon (we see that alluded to in verse 18). We do not have exact details on why Philemon left, but we can assume that he left because he desired a reconciliation with his master. There was a law in the 1

st

century Roman Empire that a slave could appeal to a friend of their master if they believed they were being mistreated. The Apostle Paul would have been well-known to Philemon as he would have heard his name often during their church meetings in the house. It appears that Onesimus left Philemon’s house in search of Paul, for if he was looking to escape with Philemon’s money or goods, he would have pulled a Jonah and gone in the opposite direction of Paul. Although it is possible that Onesimus randomly and by Divine coincidence ended up in the same prison cell as Paul in Rome with God orchestrating his steps. It is possible, but unlikely. Onesimus went in search of Paul so Paul could help bring about an earthly reconciliation with Philemon.

            Onesimus met Paul and was reconciled to God. Paul says that Onesimus became my child clearly referring to him becoming a child in the faith. Onesimus wanted reconciliation with Philemon only to discover his reconciliation with God. Friend, before we move on, have you been reconciled with God? Do you know of your need to be reconciled to God? The Bible says that everyone has stolen from the Lord. We all have robbed him of His glory and therefore deserve to be punished for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Isaiah 42:8, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” God has to rightly punish those who steal his glory. It is a matter of His justice. And yet, God meets the demands of our thievery by sending his Son to die between two thieves on dark Friday afternoon. Jesus called out on the cross, “It is finished,” and gave up his spirit. He paid for our sin in full. And we know God accepted that payment for our sin by raising Jesus from the dead. Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Majesty on High ready to forgive anyone who would turn from their sins and trust in Christ alone for salvation.

            Friend, Onesimus was a thief, but he was a forgiven thief. Jesus paid for this theft on the cross so Onesimus could be a free man. So Onesimus, a slave, had to go to prison to find freedom. Friend, you can find freedom from your sin today by trusting in Christ. Let me appeal to you as a friend: for love’s sake come to Christ. Come to Christ and experience freedom.

            We know that Onesimus truly believed because of the change that happened in his life. Onesimus literally means useful. It was a common name of a slave so Paul is using a play on words in verse 11, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is useful to you and to me.” Something happen to Onesimus when he heard the gospel. He believed and his life was changed. He was serving Paul in the same manner Philemon was known for serving Paul; with love. Roman prisons were awful during the 1

st

century. Our prisons today require three meals a day for every prison. A Roman prison did not offer food or blankets to its prisoners. If they did not have someone on the outside to care for their needs, they would starve or freeze to death. So Onesimus is one who is no longer stealing, but giving back to those in need. Reminiscent of Ephesians 4:28, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Onesimus was changed.

            Paul desired to keep Onesimus with him, but preferred rather to send him back to Philemon. Verse 12-13, “I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel.” (Philemon 1:12-13) First notice, how Paul speaks of Onesimus, “sending my very heart.” Have you ever led someone to the Lord or watched someone grow tremendously before your eyes? Have you seen someone grow and development from immaturity to maturity? If you have, you probably know what Paul is talking about here. Paul dearly loves Onesimus as he dearly loves Philemon. He has seen them both come to Christ and grow in their love for Jesus and his people. Paul notes that the care he has received from Onesimus is similar to the service he would have received from Philemon himself.

            Isn’t it remarkable that a wealthy businessman and a slave have become equal through the cross? The cross is the great equalizer. The cross does not value the wealthy over slaves, but all can be useful in the kingdom. This equality makes Christianity revolutionary. Mrs. Lavinia Bartlett was a lay teacher at the historic Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. She began her ministry with 3 prostitutes that she met on the street. After six months her class grew to over 600 people. Women with social and moral problems were repenting of their sins and coming to Christ. After 16 years of labor, Lavinia Bartlett died leaving scores of her students in her wake. Her faithful teaching led countless women to the mission field and to become teachers. Metropolitan Tabernacle was known for their young gifted preacher, Charles Spurgeon, but the women were drawn to the humble wisdom of Mrs. Bartlett. Over a thousand people attended her funeral showing their appreciation of her influence on their lives. Mrs. Bartlett did not look at people’s worldly value, but their value in God’s kingdom. Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. Are you seeing people like Paul saw Onesimus or how Mrs. Bartlett saw those prostitutes? Are you seeing people through the lense of the cross?

Appealing for the

Spirit

’s Sake

            Paul wanted to keep Onesimus, but instead sent him back to Philemon. This may appear strange in our understanding of slavery. If one escaped from slavery, why would they be sent back their master? Is Paul affirming slavery? Paul did not outright oppose slavery, but he undermined its practice. The reputation of Christians among the world was that of insubordinate rebels. Christians were characterized as those who stir up trouble in towns and bring social unrest, seen repeatedly in the book of Acts. Paul wanted Christians to honor the government so that there could be a great spread of the gospel of Christ. Paul encouraged slaves to submit to earthly masters so that they could adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. And yet, although Paul did not directly oppose the institution of slavery, he undermined it in this letter to Philemon.

            Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon so that Philemon could act out of his own accord by the Holy Spirit. “I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. (Philemon 1:13-14) Paul wanted Philemon’s goodness directed towards Onesimus to be done freely without compulsion. The goodness shown from Philemon would have been a sign of the Spirit’s power at work in his life. Only the power of God can change someone’s heart to extend true mercy and grace to someone that does not deserve. Onesimus was a thief and a useless one at that. How could Philemon welcome him back? He could only do it by the power of the Holy Spirit. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7) Those who are born by the Spirit of God love one another.

            Paul was giving Philemon an opportunity to show the goodness of his conversion freely asking him to love a repentant brother in Christ. Onesimus is no longer a bondservant, but a brother in Christ. Do you view conflict and reconciliation as an opportunity or trial? I think most people view conflict as something that is only negative, but conflict in the church always comes with an opportunity. Peter makes this point in his first epistle in that how we experience trials now prove our faith in Christ, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7) Philemon is given an opportunity to show his faith in how he handles this conflict with Onesimus, and the church has been given the opportunity to witness a display of the Spirit’s power. By keeping Onesimus with him, Paul would have robbed the church of sweetness of seeing true reconciliation.

            Paul is giving Philemon a chance to show what really matters in his life. What matters more: his runaway slave or his repentant brother? How about you? What matters most in your life? Maybe the conflict in your life is giving you an opportunity for you to learn what really matters in your life and to show that to the watching world. Friend, if you have the Spirit of God, then you have the power of love! I appeal to you to be reconciled to those in your life so that you can display the manifold wisdom of God displayed and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Appealing for

Sovereignty

’s Sake

There are always things happening that we do not understand. Although we may not always understand, we can trust that God is moving in ways far greater than we can imagine. We do not always know the why, but we do know that God is working for our good, for He works all things for the good those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Paul doesn’t give a definitive reason on why Onesimus stole from him, but he gives him a “perhaps.” Paul writes, “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (Philemon 1:15-16) Paul reminds Philemon to have an eternal perspective. Forgiveness has eternal ramifications. Paul encouraged Philemon to look past what he lost in Onesimus’s sin, but rather what he gained in his repentance. Philemon may have lost Onesimus’s labor temporarily, he may have lost the money Onesimus stole temporarily, so that he could have him back forever. Do you see how Paul is encouraging him to think with an eternal perspective? How many times do we need this reminder?

            Beloved, we do not always know the plan and purposes of God. God’s ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Paul cannot give Philemon the exact reason for the conflict with Onesimus, but he says that “perhaps” something far greater than you can imagine is going on. Friend, can I encourage you to dwell on the “perhaps” in your life? No one can give you the exact reason why you are dealing with relational conflict, financial problems, marital strife or physical pain, but “perhaps” God is using your struggles for eternal purposes. Perhaps you may be suffering temporal loss so that you can receive eternal rewards. Jesus Christ suffered temporal loss as he gave up his spirit that dark Friday afternoon. And yet, looking back we know his temporal loss brought eternal gains. His temporary death led to eternal life. His temporary pain led to eternal payment. His temporary struggle led to eternal salvation for all who would trust in Him.

            Friend, you may be struggling today, but perhaps God is using your temporary pain to bring eternal pleasure. As Spurgeon said, “God is too good to be unkind. He is too wise to be confused. If I cannot trace His hand, I can always trust His heart.” God is good and He is moving in ways we cannot imagine. Let me encourage you to trust God’s heart. We will face temporary trials, but God promises an eternal resurrection. Perhaps God wants you to view your struggle today in light of the God’s promise of tomorrow. Charles Bridges writes, “That which should distinguish the suffering of believers from unbelievers is the confidence that our suffering is under the control of an all-powerful and all-loving God. Our suffering has meaning and purpose in God's eternal plan, and He brings or allows to come into our lives only that which is for His glory and our good

[1]

.” Our pain is not pointless, but under the sovereign power of Almighty God. Will you look at your pain through the “perhaps” lenses of God’s sovereign all controlling power? We do not live in the temporary, but set our hearts on the eternal. Jesus did not come to solve our temporary problems, but to give us His eternal presence.

            Following South Africa’s Apartheid, Bishop Demond Tutu established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. During the Commission’s hearing, both blacks and whites testified to their crimes of murder and torture. The crimes recounted were horrific and heart-wrenching to hear. Two of those people who came to share their stories were Mrs. Calata and her daughter. One writer recounts her testimony,

Mrs. Calata's husband had been an advocate for black South Africans in rural communities. Because of his work, he'd been arrested, detained, and tortured by the police numerous times. But one day he disappeared. On the front page of the newspaper, Mrs. Calata saw a photograph of her husband's car on fire. She cried so loudly during the hearing, describing the autopsy's report about his torture, that the commission had to be adjourned.

[2]

When they reconvened, her daughter testified. It had been years since her father’s murder and she had become a young woman. She pleaded with the commission to find her father’s killer, but not for the reason you may think. She said, “We want to forgive, but we don't know whom to forgive.” Rather than seek out vengeance and revenge, Mrs. Calata and her daughter were looking to forgive.

            Paul wanted Philemon to do the same. He appealed to him as a friend not to look for vengeance, but to extend mercy. He wanted him to do what God had done for him in Christ. An eternal perspective, which brings our minds to the reality that one day we are going to stand before God to give an account for our own forgiveness and how we have forgiven others, should lead us to look for an opportunity to forgive. Paul appealed to Philemon and I appeal to you. Will you look not to vengeance but to show mercy? Will you choose to follow Christ? Will you forgive?

[1]

Jerry Bridges

,

Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts

[2]

http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2009/september/1092109.html accessed 8.9.2015 7:49

am 

[1]

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/nov/13/theodore-roosevelts-divided-house/?page=all

accessed 8.6.2015 9:12 am

[2]

Ibid.

Ken Kryvoruka

[3]

Jerry Bridges

,

Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts

[4]

http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2009/september/1092109.html accessed 8.9.2015 7:49

am 

The Friend’s Welcome (Philemon 1:1-7)

Have you ever forgiven someone? Have you ever hurt someone and needed forgiveness? Have you ever been hesitant to forgive someone? Is there someone in your life today that you haven’t forgiven? Is there someone today that you need forgiveness from? Have you ever encouraged a friend to forgive and/or help them see their need of forgiveness? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then Paul’s letter to Philemon is for you.  If you answered “no” to any of these questions, I would wonder if you know any actual people.  Philemon is a short letter written from a friend to a friend encouraging the forgiveness of another friend. The heart of this letter is about reconciliation to God and to each other which is at the very heart of the Christian life. In the book of Philemon, God gives us a picture through the apostle Paul, of how real people should deal with real sin and work for real reconciliation for the glory of God.

             I pray as we study this letter over the next several weeks you will desire to reconcile with those from whom you need forgiveness, extend forgiveness to those who need it, and, most importantly, you will experience the sweetness of your own forgiveness in Christ Jesus. And it all begins with a friend’s welcome, Philemon 1:1-7,

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and 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. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

Paul begins his letter to his beloved friend Philemon, reminding him of their common faith.

A Common Faith

            This is the only time in any of Paul’s letters where he begins with the title, “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus.” Paul may have wanted to remind Philemon of his chains and what he was risking for the gospel, but he also was writing more as a friend to a friend that his customary servant or apostle title. He was not writing to Philemon commanding his obedience, but as a friend encouraging his obedience. Paul wrote the letter from a Roman prison because one of Philemon’s slaves, Onesimus, ran away from Philemon’s house. Onesimus eventually ran into Paul, whether by accident or intentionally is unclear, and became a believer of Christ. Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon so that they could be reconciled. We will look more at the relationship of Onesimus and Philemon next week, but for today we want to zero in on Paul’s relationship with Philemon.

            Philemon came to Christ under Paul’s ministry, most likely in nearby Ephesus. We do not know the specifics of his conversion, but know that he developed a close relationship with Paul, most likely as they labored together for the gospel. Philemon was probably from Colossae and a leader in the church, as the church met in his house. He was probably a successful business man having a house large enough for the church to meet in as well as the ability to own slaves. The impression from the letter was that Philemon was not only a patron of the Lord’s work, but also was actively involved in the mission himself, being labeled as a fellow worker.

Philemon was far more than just one of Paul’s colleagues, but a dear friend. Paul calls Philemon our beloved fellow worker. Beloved means dear one or dear friend. By using beloved Paul is showing his deep affection for Philemon. Philemon and Paul would have been dear friends. There is a great level of intimacy here. Paul also addresses Apphia, a feminine name, most likely Philemon’s wife. Paul is addressing a matter of the home so it would be natural to include her in the correspondence. Archippus is most likely Philemon’s and Apphia’s son. He is probably at least a teenager if not older as he was labeled a fellow soldier and is told in Colossians to fulfill his ministry. Paul is a family friend and addresses his letter to the family, but notice he doesn’t only address it to the family. The end of verse 2, Paul adds a 4

th

recipient of the letter “and the church in your house.” The implication of the church being addressed was that this personal letter dealing with Philemon and his family would have been read out loud in front of the entire church.

There are several applications that I would like to make from this implication. First, Philemon would have likely recognized the church’s right to take an interest in the affairs of his household and for the church give appropriate guidance. Philemon was probably a leader in the church so how he conducted the affairs of his home were important to the life of the body. The interconnectedness of the church strikes right at the heart of individualism. Philemon knew that how he conducted his personal life would reflect upon the church and the gospel of Christ. Do you view your personal life the same way? Do you invite the church into the important decisions of your life? Where to work, where to live, who to date, what ministries to participate in? Do you delight in the counsel and advice and the influence of the church, or would you rather the body to stay out of your affairs?

A few months ago a friend shared of a couple going through marital problems. I asked if they talked with their pastor and she said, “No. She said that she would never talk to her pastor about that.” Beloved, do not shield your lives from each other. God has designed, as this letter shows, that the church should be intimately involved in your life. We should not get angry when people step into our lives, but rejoice that someone loves us that much. Paul shows Philemon how much he needs the church in his life and in doing so shows us our need as well.

Friend, if you are not already, have you ever considered becoming a member of a local church? Do you realize how important the church is for your soul? God has created us for each other. He says that once we were not a people, but now we are a people. Jesus gave his life as a ransom to purify a people for himself who are zealous for good works. He purchased the church with his own blood. When people do not make the local church a vital part of their lives they may not fully understand what Jesus died for. He did not just die to save you from your sins, but so that you could be the righteousness of God. Jesus died and rose from the dead so that we could live a new life as a part of his resurrected people, the church. Do you realize without connecting yourself to a church and willingly submitting to the teaching of the elders you are hurting yourself? And you are hurting the church. How much stronger would churches be if people laid down their individualism for the corporate community? American individualism may be great for career or image, but it flows against the interdependence of the Christian life. Christian, consider joining a local church, and if you want to talk more about that I would be happy to set up a meeting with you.

If you are not a Christian, I want you to pay particular attention how Paul finishes his customary greeting. It may appear like a simple greeting, but it is filled with two of the most precious words that shape a Christian’s life, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is a customary greeting for the day, but grace and peace are deeply profound theological words that shape the Christian life. Friend, if you are not a Christian, please understand why Christians love grace and peace. Grace is the unmerited favor of God. The Bible says we are sinners and have rebelled against God. We all know that we have not lived perfect lives. We have done or said things we regret. Our conscience condemns us. We know we are sinners and deserving of eternal hell because of our sin, a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. But here is the good news, while we are deserving of hell, God gives us grace through the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins. And after he was dead and buried, God raised him from the dead accepting his sacrifice for sinners. So we bring our sin, our shame, our guilt and regret to God and he gives us grace, unmerited favor. Jesus has made peace for us through his blood on the cross. God gives us grace by making peace. Non-Christian, please know that the grace and peace we have received is also offered to you. All you have to do is confess your sin and turn to Christ. Trust in Jesus as your only hope before God. Friend, the reason this letter is so important is because it speaks about forgiveness and we all need forgiveness. Before we can extend forgiveness, we first must receive forgiveness from God. Are you ready to receive forgiveness?

The former president of World Vision Bob Seiple shares a story of a woman named Mary as she visited in a Lebanon hospital. In the 1980’s, during civil war, Druze militia slaughtered 33 of her Christian relatives in a single day. A young man about 20 came up and said, “Renounce the cross of die.” And Mary said, “I was born a Christian and I will die a Christian.” And he shot her. The bullet passed through her jaw and neck. The soldier then carved a cross on her chest with a knife. The next day they came back and discovered her alive and miraculously brought her to a hospital. Seiple recalls her conversation with Mary who was a quadriplegic asking why would they shoot you one day and try to save your life the next. She said, “Sometimes bad people are taught to do good things.” Seiple responded by asking, “How do you feel about the person who pulled the trigger? Who made you strapped to a wheel chair? A ward of the state? How do you feel about the man?’ She said, “I have forgiven my enemies because Christ has forgiven me. And I am looking for the man who hurt me so I can tell him I forgive him.

[1]

” Beloved, when we understand that we have been forgiven by God, how can we not forgive those who sin against us? Forgiven people forgive.

Grace and peace might be a customary greeting, but to a believer they remind us of the common faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ that saves us from hell. Philemon and the church would have treasured those words as Christians do today.

A Common Mission

Paul was in a Roman prison because he was arrested for preaching the gospel. Philemon, a fellow worker, would have known the risks of partnering in the same mission. He opened up his home for the church to meet in his house. His wife and his son were intimately involved in the mission of Christ. It appears that Archippus may even have been given a unique task to be fulfilled separate from the work in Colossae. Paul reminded Philemon of their partnership in recalling how often Paul prays for him in his work. Paul writes, “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers.” Paul often thanked God for how he was moving in churches. Paul’s focus was to give praise and thanks to God, because he knew that all good and perfect gifts come from above. Paul knew this in his own life for he said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)

The credit for Philemon’s life and faithfulness goes to God. Thanksgiving should be a common part of the Christian life. Thankfulness is one way Christians keep their hearts focused on the gift of God’s salvation. Thankfulness creates humility in the life of the believer. If you struggle with pride, spend more time in prayer thanking God for his work. Your thanksgiving will cultivate humility in your heart. And this is what Paul is trying to get Philemon to remember. Paul is thanking God for how God has changed and transformed Philemon’s heart for the same God who changed him also changed Onesimus. Paul wisely helps Philemon remember that God is the one who desires all the praise and thanksgiving for his life. In a way this is preparing his heart to live on the basis of that thanksgiving.

When Paul prayed, he thanked God for Philemon’s life because Philemon loved the saints and his strong faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Philemon trusted Jesus Christ as His Savior and it was evident to everyone around him. His faith was manifested in love towards others. There is no such thing as faith without love. If people claim to have faith, but do not love the brothers then their faith is dead and futile. The Christian faith should always be expressed in love for others, which is one of the reasons why the church is so important. The natural life will always lend itself toward self-preservation. We naturally look out for our own interests and do things that serve ourselves and our families, but when we come to Christ that changes. Christians primary motivation is no longer self-survival and to care for ourselves, but to love others. The love we have for one another proves that we are disciples of Jesus.

When we are tethered to a specific people in a local church, we are forced to sacrifice our own desires for the body. We give our time every week to one another as we gather in worship. The simple fact of showing up to the gathering is a statement that we care more about each other than we do about ourselves. When we use our gifts to serve the body we show practically that the “us” is more important than the “I.” This was Philemon’s testimony and is the testimony of every faithful believer in Christ. I want people to be more heavily invested in the local church, not only because I want the local church to grow, which I do, but I want Christians to experience more of God.

The love that we experience from the saints in the body of Christ pales in comparison to the love we have experienced from God in Jesus Christ. We are fundamentally always forgiven sinners. Our rebellion and sin was so great that we deserved to pay for it for all eternity, but that great debt we owe was forgiven by God through Christ. When we understand how much we have been forgiven, we will gladly and happily give ourselves in love for others. Jesus gave himself for us so now we give ourselves to one another. Paul prays for Philemon that he will experience the full knowledge of every good thing when he shares his faith. Many Christians read verse 6 and interpret the sharing of faith as a reference to evangelism. And it is true that when we share the faith with non-Christians we are reminded of God’s faithfulness and grace given to us, but I think Paul is not referring to sharing one’s faith with non-Christians here. Paul is focusing on Philemon’s sharing of his faith with other Christians.

The Greek word for sharing here is koinonia, which means “fellowship”. Paul wants the sharing or the fellowship or the participation of his faith among the saints to become effective so that he will experience the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. Paul wants Philemon to experience more of God as he loves the church. Fellowship, koinonia, is a key word in this book. It appears at very specific points in this letter, because the issue Paul is addressing is not sharing of one’s faith with non-believers, but with believers. Paul is primarily concerned with how Philemon will share his faith with his brother Onesimus. He wants the church to have true fellowship so people within the church can more fully experience the love of God in Christ.

Beloved, do you realize how important is the fellowship of the saints? We have been called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ and one another. 1 John 1:6-7, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus is Son cleanses us from all sin.” Isn’t it interesting that living in an interdependent fellowship with one another helps us walk in the light and cleanses us from sin? I think most Christians underestimate the importance of the local church for their spiritual growth. Many are so focused on their own individual spiritual growth that they forsake the church, and in doing so cripple fellowship with God. When we are walking in the light, walking with Jesus, we have fellowship with God and with one another. This is what Paul wants for Philemon and I want for you.

How are you sharing your faith with the people of Park Baptist Church? How are you loving each other? Are you spending time in prayer together or the study of the word? Are you intentionally using your words to encourage one another? Are you using your gift to serve others? Are you regularly praying and thanking God for members’ faith in Jesus and their love for the saints? The fellowship of the church should not be first thing to cut out of your life when things get busy. The church should be central in your life because it is the primary way you will experience the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.

A Comforting Joy

            Paul finishes his friendly welcome to Philemon with a personal note of what Philemon’s live has done for Paul in verse 7, “For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” Paul was filled with comfort and joy because how Philemon loved others. What a great example Paul gives for us. His primary cause for joy and comfort was not Philemon’s love for him, but in how he has refreshed the saints. You can hear how dear Philemon was to Paul even how he addressed him, as “my brother.”

            Paul encourages Philemon before he exhorts him. It is a great example in how we should look how God is moving and growing in someone’s life before we point out what they are lacking. Paul wants to show Philemon the cause for his joy so that Philemon will be spurred on to continue to refresh the hearts of the saints specifically in how he forgives and reconciles with Onesimus. Philemon’s relationship with Onesimus has far-reaching ramifications beyond their personal relationship, but will have an impact with the fellowship, koinonia, of the church and the witness of Christ lived out for the gospel. Paul was reminding Philemon to continue in love so his life would be marked by Christ’s forgiveness.

            Friend, do you realize how important forgiveness is? Forgiveness will have ramifications for eternity for yourself and for others. Friend, we will all one day stand before God and the reality of our forgiveness will be all that matters. We may want to pursue many things in this life, but are we pursuing that which will matter most at the end of life? D.A. Carson wrote a book about his dad, an Ordinary Pastor, who was not well known, but well loved by God. He finishes his book writing about his father’s death and the most important thing about his father. He writes,

When Tom Carson (he) died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on the television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation. In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.

But on the other side, all the trumpets sounded. Dad won entrance to the only throne-room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man—he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor—but because he was a forgiven man. And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.

[2]

Friend, will you hear the same words? Our entrance into glory is not the basis of great works, but on the forgiveness of a great God. On the day judgement the most important thing will not be your accomplishments, but your forgiveness. Are you forgiven? And if you are forgiven, will you also forgive?

[1]

Bloomberg, Craig. Interpreting Parables. Pg 321-322

[2]

Caron, D.A. Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The life and reflections of Tom Carson.