The book of Philemon provides an interesting perspective on what is truly important. Onesimus had run away from his master Philemon, but he had met Paul and became a Christian. Paul was now sending him back to Philemon with this letter. Philemon was probably rather upset by this, but in this letter, it is clear that Paul is trying to show him what really should matter to him.
Phm 1:15 For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;
Phm 1:16 Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?
Philemon could have potentially been upset in this situation, so Paul seems to be trying to stop that concern right from the beginning. He understood that Onesimus had run away, but now that he had become a Christian, there was a transformed relationship.
As Christians, we are part of a family. Family members do hurt each other every now and then, but there is also forgiveness there. Even though perhaps Onesimus had hurt Philemon in some way when he ran away, that really was not important now. Later in the letter, Paul offered to personally offset any cost that had arisen out of the situation, and he was more concerned that Philemon would be willing to recognize the transformation of Onesimus.
I think about this in our lives. Think about someone who hurt you in the past. Perhaps later in life that person became a follower of Jesus Christ. The fact of the matter is that someday you are going to be standing side-by-side with that person in heaven praising our Lord. If you are both followers of Jesus Christ, then that is a reality. If you can’t live with them here on earth, then there is something wrong.
Paul did not want Philemon to throw out Onesimus he wanted him to think about the significance of his conversion to Christ. He was now a brother, and that type of situation has eternal consequences.
Mentors are important, and as we enter 1 Timothy 1, Paul advises Timothy as to the seriousness of the battle that every Christian must face.
1Ti 1:18 This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare;
1Ti 1:19 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:
I know that the term culture war comes with some ideological baggage, but I don’t know how to describe this situation any better. After all, it is obviously the imagery that Paul is communicating to Timothy.
There is something serious about the way that the Christian needs to relate to the world. In a war, it is not simply a game of pickup basketball where it really doesn’t matter who comes out on top. If the Christian worldview is accurate, then decisions we make here on earth have eternal significance. The stakes are remarkably high. Denying Jesus on earth will result in an eternal separation from Him. Accepting Jesus will result in an eternity with Him.
As a result, this is not something that we ought to take lightly. I think that is what Paul is trying to tell Timothy. He needs to be bold in following Jesus Christ because if he does not, he will have made a terrible mistake or shipwreck as Paul says.
Therefore, I’m not saying that we need to pick up our weapons and go out and fight. Paul did not do that himself, so it would not make sense whatsoever for him to be advising Timothy to do that. Do not misconstrue what I am saying. However, we do need to have that kind of attitude. We need to understand the seriousness of a belief in Christ. As Paul wrote earlier, if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then all of this is foolishness. By implication however, if Jesus did rise from the dead, then we need to take that seriously, and we need to do whatever we can to communicate that truth to the world around us.
In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul speaks about how there is going to be a difficult time before Jesus will return. Many people are going to be deceived by this person who puts Himself in the place of God. Rather than debate the specifics of end times prophecy right here, I want to focus on the encouragement that Paul provides the church regarding this difficult situation.
2Th 2:13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:
2Th 2:14 Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2Th 2:15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.
Even though dark times are coming, we can be excited because we have hope. Paul was excited that, despite the fact that there would be problems coming in the future, it was still possible to praise God.
I know that it is easy to look at the world and think that is going the wrong direction. It is easy to lose hope. However, I think Paul would give the same advice to the church of today. God is still God, and we can still be thankful because God has allowed us to have this free gift of salvation. Jesus did not need to die on the cross. God could have left us in our sinful state. However, Jesus did die, and He did that to provide us with eternal life.
I think that what we all really need is a change of perspective. We focus on the negative, but we have been given the greatest hope, and if we hold to what we have been taught as Paul has advised, then we know that God wins. That is the end of the story. I would think that in our world of darkness, we as Christians should be the most optimistic people.
How do we reach other people with the gospel? How are we able to find that connection? In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul makes a really good point about how he gained credibility among the people of Thessalonica.
1Th 2:9 For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.
1Th 2:10 Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:
1Th 2:11 As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children,
1Th 2:12 That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.
They specifically did not want to be a burden to the people, so they made sure to work and essentially earn their keep. They didn’t want to look like conmen trying to benefit off of other people’s generosity. Rather, they wanted the focus to be on the message. They wanted the people to hear the Gospel.
I think about that for you and me since we probably are not traveling missionaries. How does this passage apply to us? We need to care about people. I don’t know that anyone wants to listen to anyone who doesn’t care about them. If Paul had not been willing to prove that he cared about the people and was only there to take advantage of the people of Thessalonica, then I don’t think that anyone would’ve listened.
If somebody has statistics, I would be very interested to see them, but I believe that most people are brought to Jesus by someone they have a close relationship with. I am sure that revival meetings and things like that have their place, and I know that they are effective for many people, but I still think that the true power comes from God working through a personal relationship.
As is typical of Paul, he is ending the book of Colossians with a list of proverbs that they could remember as the church continued to develop. One particularly stood out to me.
Col 4:6 Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.
After watching the primary debate last night and thinking about how important every word can be, it makes me think about us as Christians. We are also judged by the world around us as a result of our speech and our testimony. Therefore, Paul encourages the believers to make sure that they are always graceful.
What does Paul mean however by seasoning with salt? Salt enhances flavor. Therefore, we do need to care about the way that we say things. As we all know and have probably experienced, speaking the truth can hurt people, but there are ways of speaking the truth in love. That relates to the graciousness.
As an example, there’s no doubt in the Biblical testimony that stealing what does not belong to you is morally wrong. Imagine that you caught your child stealing something. There are a few ways you can respond. You can yell at your child and entirely belittle him. That is honest, but I don’t know it is gracious. Another approach is that you can clearly tell your child that that was wrong, but it can be done in a more sensitive way. The consequence is that need to change, and the message does not need to change, but one “tastes” better because of the way it was presented.
In our world today, Christians believe some things that might not be popular. We cannot compromise or lie about our convictions. We need to stand for truth, but at the same time, we need to find a way to speak to these issues that is compassionate.
It is easy to think that we have done all the right things and are going to get into heaven because of how great we are. After all, I think most of us think that we are pretty good people. However, in Philippians 3, Paul points out how that simply doesn’t seem to be the case.
Php 3:4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:
Php 3:5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;
Php 3:6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
Php 3:7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
Paul had a pretty impressive pedigree. However, they were all loss. They ultimately didn’t have any value because of that is not how you earn favor in the eyes of Jesus Christ.
Php 3:9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
Our righteousness comes from God alone. I think that’s hard for us to conceptualize because it doesn’t always make sense God would give that to us. We receive righteousness from God by faith. That’s it. In a world where there is always a price, there really isn’t one as far as God is concerned. God gives it to us freely.
Personally, this makes me think about gratefulness. God doesn’t have to help us freely. God could set conditions about certain laws we would not be able to break or something like that, but He didn’t. He chose to help us freely, and that is something we all ought to reflect on.
Responding to a call by God does not require human approval. Paul speaks about that in Galatians 1.
Gal 1:15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace,
Gal 1:16 To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:
Gal 1:17 Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.
Gal 1:18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.
Gal 1:19 But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.
If you are not self-employed, you all understand how we generally need approval before we do things on behalf of the company we work for. When I go to work, I can’t do whatever I want. I need to abide by the guidelines of the company because I am acting as a representative of the company. That certainly makes sense.
Paul recognized that he was a representative of Jesus Christ, and because he was called by Him, he did not need to go to Jerusalem get approval from the powers on earth. Clearly, he had been taught doctrine by the people in Damascus, so he was not going entirely off the deep end with his theology, but he knew that he had authority from the One who really mattered.
However, that’s not the end of the story. Paul eventually did go to Jerusalem, and he spent just over two weeks with Peter. Although Paul does not give us specific details, I’m sure they had one major topic of conversation. I’m sure that they were talking about the Gospel. If Paul had any unorthodox theology at that point, Peter definitely would have been the one to straighten him out, but there is no mention of that.
The importance of this meeting is that Paul understood the benefits of community. He could have continued doing his own thing in Damascus, but he decided to go to Jerusalem. He did not need the approval of Peter and the church authority at this point, but he nevertheless went to Jerusalem to presumably talk about the Gospel.
If that is what they were talking about, then it confirms an important detail for us. Given by the fact that it does not seem that Paul was criticized by Peter, they were preaching the same Gospel. By extension, that means that the training Paul received in Damascus and the teaching of the church in Jerusalem were quite similar. That is important because it shows an early unity of Christian teaching. At this point, we’re not very far after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, so it is significant that even at this very early point, people were preaching that which was agreed to be true.
The early church then seems to have been highly unified in purpose. It seems that they were preaching the same Gospel at least in Jerusalem and Damascus. They also understood that they were called by God and as a result needed to respond to His calling. Earthly authority has its place, but it is certainly not higher than God’s.
Celebration should be part of the Christian life. I heard that in the sermon at church yesterday, and that seems to stand out here in 2 Corinthians 8.
2Co 8:1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;
2Co 8:2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.
Paul was excited about what was happening in Macedonia. He was excited to see the grace of God inspiring these people to be joyful and generous despite their affliction and poverty. He wants to see that happen among the Corinthians as well. He wants to see this type of spirit spread. Even though we haven’t gotten there yet, one of the dimensions of the fruit of the spirit is joy. Paul was excited about this development.
I wonder then if maybe we need to spend more time on the positive. There are 10 million things going on in the world right now that are troubling, problematic, frightening or flat-out wrong. We need to be able to talk about those. We need to take stands on important principles. I don’t discount that whatsoever, but I will say that maybe we could also take more time talking about the positive.
God is great. He does great things all around us. It is like the old song about counting your blessings. I admit, I don’t do that as much as I should. However, why don’t we get excited about what God is doing? Maybe we just don’t see it. Maybe we don’t want to see it because it is easier to complain about what is going wrong. However, maybe a little bit of excitement and positivity is in order. We know who wins in the end. We know we are following the one who is going to overcome all of the evil in the world. Shouldn’t we be excited to be part of that?
In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul refers back to Isaiah, and he speaks about how Christians need to act in relation to the world.
2Co 6:14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
2Co 6:15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
2Co 6:16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
2Co 6:17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,
2Co 6:18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
I know that the first verses are normally used to speak about marriage, but I think the same concept can apply to people who are even unmarried.
First, a clarification. Does this verse mean that we need to pull out of society and only speak to those in our Christian community? I don’t think so. How would it be possible to reconcile that with the Great Commission? It is hard to make disciples if your attitude is that you can never associate with people who are not already believers.
However, think about two oxen who are yoked together. If one of them is stronger than the other, that one will have more influence over the direction of whatever they are pulling. For Christians, if we end up in any situation where we are being pressured to do things that we know are wrong, maybe that is the time for whatever relationship it is to come to an end. The old saying that seems to be applicable. “If someone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it as well?” If you are yoked, you would because you don’t have a choice. You do not want to become so tightly committed to someone who will lead you into bad decisions. Maintaining your ability to remain your own person and make your own decisions is vital. We don’t want to be that heavily influenced by the world. That is dangerous.
Moving on down to what Paul says at the end. He quotes Isaiah, and he could potentially be seen to encourage entire separation. Again, I don’t know that that is necessarily how we ought to understand this. Think about our world today. It is such a mess that I would be concerned if Christians were identical to the world. We ought to be separate in conduct. People ought to notice that we are following a different God than they are. We are not chasing the god of image, popularity, autonomy, greed, wealth or whatever else might become an idol. We are committed to a higher calling.
Christians relating to the world is a difficult topic. Obviously we need to be part of the world. We are here; where else are we going to go? Similarly, we are called to make disciples, so we need to have interactions with those who are not of the faith. However, when those interactions lead us to make decisions that go against our Christian testimony or are not at all distinguishable from our seriously messed up world, we have a problem.
God does not always give us everything we want. Even though we might desperately want something, God did not have to comply with our limited perspective. I kind of got that type of feeling from Paul in 2 Corinthians 2.
2Co 2:12 Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord,
2Co 2:13 I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother: but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia.
2Co 2:14 Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.
Paul went to a particular city because he saw an opportunity. God gave him some type of opening, and he went there because it was clear that that was where God was leading him. However, when he got there he was disappointed that he did not find his friend Titus. Paul certainly wanted to see Titus, and I am sure that they could have worked together to do powerful things in the city.
However, God did not have that lined up for some reason. The opportunity was still there, and interestingly Paul does not really mention how much success came about because of that opportunity. What I am trying to point out however is that even though Paul sincerely wanted to find Titus, God did not have to do what Paul wanted.
How often then do we demand things of God and try to force Him into our plans? It doesn’t work. God is infinite, and God has a perfect plan for everything in the universe. You and I might make plans, and I personally probably make far too many plans. However, if God has a different plan, ours need to go in the back seat by default. God’s plan takes priority.