Let’s Meet Philemon and Onesimus
Have you ever considered how a short note, a little letter, an email, or a text message could have lasting impact on those that receive it? That’s Philemon. It’s like a text message from Paul.
Of Paul’s letters, Philemon was the shortest he wrote (only 25 verses; 335 words). Philemon sits at the end of Paul’s 13 letters that are organized from longest to shortest. The longer letters were written to churches (Rome, Corinth, etc.) and the shorter ones were more pastoral and personal and written to specific people (e.g. Timothy, Titus, & Philemon).
I think it’s fair to say that in Paul’s greeting to Philemon we see things we are used to seeing in Paul’s greetings (vs.1-3). We are used to seeing Paul’s name at the beginning of his letters. We usually sign our letters at the end, but this is how one wrote letters in the first century. We are used to seeing Paul include Timothy. Paul & Timothy were BFF’s. They likely met Philemon in Ephesus 10-years earlier when he came to faith under Paul’s ministry. We are used to seeing Paul write from prison. Likely he is in Rome (or Ephesus). It’s where he also wrote the letters to the churches in Ephesus, Philippi and Colossae. We are used to seeing a network of names to whom the letter is addressed. And we’re used to seeing Paul’s trademark greeting, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”.
Paul addressed the letter to Philemon who lived in Colossae (modern-day Turkey). We don’t know a lot about him, but with a little detective work it is likely that he had sizable wealth (from a black wool business?). His wealth was seen in his home—it was big enough to host a small church and he had at least one house servant. Philemon likely funded part of Paul’s missionary journeys. And Paul refers to his generosity, hospitality, and good reputation. Philemon is just a good guy who shares his wealth and shares his faith. But their relationship went deeper than money as Paul considers Philemon a good friend, “a beloved fellow worker,” and a spiritual son (v.19). Paul gushes over Philemon like a sappy daddy (spiritual daddy).
Paul also mentions “Apphia our sister” (Philemon’s wife?) and “Archippus our fellow soldier” (Philemon’s son? and teacher). Paul seemed to know all of them both well (cf. Colossians 4:17). Philemon has a ‘family church’ thing going, but Paul doesn’t seem to have any concerns about that. He’s all smiles. What’s not to like when a family is following Jesus?
Although the letter was addressed to Philemon the bulk of the letter is about Onesimus. We do not know much about Onesimus either. We do know that he was Philemon’s slave, he committed some kind of crime, and ran away. Either he miraculous ended up in the same prison as Paul or it is more likely he found where Paul was being held (for preaching about Jesus) to ask for help. Paul not stifled by his circumstances continued preaching to his ‘captive audience’. Onesimus came to faith and Paul discipled him. As Paul learned Onesimus’ story he encouraged him go back and reconcile with his master, Philemon. So Paul sent him to Colossae with at least two letters in hand—a letter to the church in Colossae, in Philemon’s house, and another letter to Philemon himself. It was risky. Paul knew he may have sent Onesimus to his death sentence, but he also knew the kind of man Philemon was.
Can you imagine being Onesimus on that long trip from prison to Colossae? (The fear, guilt, and shame?) Could you imagine being Philemon as he answers the door and sees Onesimus standing there with two letters in hand? (The anger, betrayal, and confusion?)
This is not just a letter or story. It’s a visual of how the gospel affects relationships. The beauty is that this letter is true. It wasn’t burned or shred, but framed for all the church to read for all time. It was preserved for you read. It may be the shortest of Paul’s letters but it is one of the most personal, gentle, simple, purposeful, and powerful you’ll ever read. As one commentator said, “It is infinitely precious.”
Stay tuned for more…
Matthew is about a King
Recently, our family read through the Gospel of Matthew. It was wonderful to immerse ourselves into the life of Jesus. More than any other gospel Matthew displays Jesus as the King of all. He’s your king!
The images below come from the MATTHEW: FOLLOW THE KING Study Guide.
STORIES FROM THE KING ABOUT THE KINGDOM
GEOGRAPHICAL FLOW IN THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
THE OLD TESTAMENT FORECASTS THE KING’S CRUCIFIXION
PASSION WEEK TIMELINE
Have you ever met a hypocritical Christian? I have. Truth be known, I am one.
Let’s admit it. Us Christians are a community of hypocrites. We aren’t perfect. Far from it. We have an lofty standard God wants us to meet—holiness. That’s a really high bar. We sincerely want to meet that standard, but we fall short like a pole-vaulter trying to jump over Golden Gate Bridge. We sometimes act like we can make it on our own, but we often mask the truth that we struggle to be holy from our fellow Christians.
Why do we hide when we all struggle? Wouldn’t it be better if we admitted our mutual struggle and banded together to grow together? Of course! And Peter agrees too. He calls us to brotherly love from a pure heart and in the processes your display the good news to others around you (1:22-23).
“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” – 1 Peter 1:22-23, ESV
The way we fight hypocrisy is through abiding in the Word of God. The Word of God is our mighty weapon against slaying hypocrisy.
The Word of God is powerful because it is the Word is Truth.
Hypocrisy is the opposite of truth. Hypocrisy lives a lie and masks the truth. When we read the Word it reads us. We see who we really are and what we need to become. While not easy to swallow it is the truth.
Jesus was the Word in the flesh—the living Truth—to set us free from sin and hypocrisy. If you look at the first Jesus followers they were a mess. Peter was the biggest mess of them all, yet Jesus loves to redeem messes. A hypocrite must first admit, “I am a mess. I am not what I am, but I want to be as He is. Help me to love truth. I love You and I want to love others too.”
The Word is living and enduring.
There is no other book like the Bible on earth. It is the very words of God. It’s alive. The Spirit of God still gives life through it. While man and generation come and go (1:24-25; cf. Isaiah 40:6-8), the Word of God stands the test of time impacting generation after generation. If the Word has the power to change so many lives he has power to change my life too, even hypocrisy.
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” – 1 Peter 1:24-25
The Word is good and our source of growth.
The Word of God is like milk to a baby (2:2-3). A new Christian craves the Word. He can’t get enough. It is life-giving. No Christian is too old or mature to feast on the Word or drink its spiritual milk. It is the Word that gives him motivation and power to fight the hypocrisy he struggles to overcome (2:1). Remind one another of the tasty goodness therein and obey it.
“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” – 1 Peter 2:1-3
Christianity isn’t a solo or personal walk. It is a arduous journey we take together with other Christians. There are many personal aspects to the journey like our salvation and daily choices, but it’s in those parts that walk with one another our faith is accentuated and amplified. We grow as Christians by growing together. We fight hypocrisy by walking in Truth together.
Questions for Reflection:
- What is hypocrisy? How is hypocrisy a temptation? What are some ways that Christians struggle with hypocrisy?
- What are the implications of a life filled with 1 Peter 2:1?
- How does a vulnerable and open faith within the church help us overcome hypocrisy?
- What issues of hypocrisy do we need to deal with as a community?
- How are you banding together with your brothers and sisters as you fight hypocrisy in your own life?
- What is the purpose of loving one another? (see John 17) Why is love so important to Christianity? Where does true love come from? (1 John 4:8)
- How does abiding in the Word of God help us to love one another? (see Psalm 34)
- How can we encourage one another to renew a longing for “spiritual milk”?
- How does Isaiah 40:6-8 speak to the issue of our brevity and the Words eternality? Why is this an important truth to dwell on as we encourage one another?
- How does the way we treat other Christians (or non-Christians) reflect on our faith in Christ? How is the gospel preached in relationships?
- How has your faith in Jesus changed the way you relate to people? Are there any attitudes you need to repent of?
- What opportunities do you have to love one another in your community?
- What does it mean that God is good? What ways in the Bible do you see that God is good? What are some ways God has been good to you or your family?
Hebrews: Jesus is Greater
Do you realize what you have in Jesus, right now?
One of the greatest truths you’ll receive in your lifetime is this: There’s nothing in your life that’s greater than Jesus. Nothing.
It is possible to grow familiar with who Jesus is and forget what he has done, is doing, and will do. You can grow discouraged and apathetic and distant from Jesus, your first love. You forgot who Jesus is. And something else becomes greater than Jesus.
This is the message of Hebrews. Jesus is greater. He’s greater than your sin. He’s greater than your enemy. He’s greater than your failure. Jesus is greater and there is no other substitute.
Hebrews is not for the shallow of faith. The author will push you into he deep end of the promises and purposes of God. As you swim in the deep waters of this Hebrew you will appreciate more wholly your Rescuer and Redeemer—Jesus the Great.
Click here to Downloads the Hebrews Study Guide
James: How Faith Works
James knew that the world detested Christians, but he also knew the Christian faith was an active world-changing faith. It was a faith at work. In other words, faith had fruits of faith (i.e. works). It was a faith that looked like Jesus, talked like Jesus, and served like Jesus. With millions of Christians suffering persecution and isolation worldwide, what letter couldn’t be more applicable or encouraging today?
So what is faith, true faith? James shows us how faith works. He makes it clear that salvation doesn’t come through good works but that true faith produces good works. The journey of faith is like a construction site where one is continually sharpening their skills on the job and among others. Yet in the case of faith the site is the church among one another. It’s not an easy journey, it’s slow, and there are setbacks. The risks are great, but the reward is even greater because we are in Jesus.
Are you ready to grow in your faith? Then let’s go!
Click here to Download the James Study Guide
70 Portraits of Jesus in John’s Gospel
John—the beloved disciple of Jesus—writes so that people may believe that Jesus is the Son of God (20:31). John is a Jesus lover. And Jesus loves John too. This mutual love is seen in the way that John writes about Jesus. It’s as if he paints beautiful and endearing portraits of Jesus each able to stand alone for us to marvel at.
As John reflects on Jesus, you are meant to also. Think of yourself at an art gallery. Stand back. Take it in. Get swept up into the scene. Think long and lovingly upon each portrait as John paints it. Jesus will marvel you. He will leave an impression upon you. Each time you look at Jesus you will walk away in awe.
Click Here to Download the “70 Portraits of Jesus in John’s Gospel” Study Guide
Jesus, the I AM, calls for your attention
To get my attention, my daughters will repeat a phrase over and over again, “Daddy, daddy, daddy! Come see this. Come see this. Come see this.” It can be a new ballet twirl to Sophia getting a boo-boo. It can be highly annoying, but it is often a good of getting my attention.
When a phrase is repeated over and over again in Scripture it a clue that is is immensely significance. It is calling for your attention.
Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus makes many I AM statements. There are eight specific statements that John writes about.
- “I AM” [John 8:58]. Jesus makes a statement about his identity. He makes a direction correlation with himself and the covenant God [Exodus 3:13-14]. It is a statement of his the deity.
- “I am the Bread of Life” [John 6:35]. This statement is a metaphor directly connected to the miracle of feeding the crowds.
- “I am the Light of the world” [John 8:12]. This statement is a metaphor directly connected to the miracle of healing the blind man.
- “I am the Door” [John 10:9]. This statement is a metaphor directly connected to the parable, in which Jesus is the Door that the sheep must enter.
- “I am the Good Shepherd” [John 10:10]. This endearing statement is a metaphor directly connected to the parable, in which Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd that lays His life down for His sheep.
- “I am the Resurrection and the Life” [John 11:25]. This statement is a metaphor directly connected to the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead.
- “I am the Way the Truth and the Life” [John 14:6]. This statement is a metaphor directly connected to Jesus claim of equality with the Father and way to the Father.
- “I am the True Vine” [John 15:1]. This statement is a metaphor directly connected to the parable of Jesus being the source of all spiritual fruit.
Each metaphor is jam-packed with theology. Each “I Am” statement of Jesus’ is incredibly vivid and practical for the salvation and Christian living. They are useful for counseling believers or aid as stepping-stones to help unbelievers cross the river of unbelief.
An “I am” statement that came alive to me this week was “I am the Bread of Life.” I met an Syrian refugee living in Chad, Africa. He was alone. No family except a niece who he was caring for indefinitely because her parents are missing. They were hungry and desperate. I was near a large religious center in the throngs of Ramadan, a time when alms giving is at its peak, but still these Syrians were without.
I had very little to give and very little to say. Frankly, I wish I was more prepared and more to give. In the moment, I was able help meet a physical need, but like Jesus I wanted to meet a greater need. John 6:35 came alive and I pray he will nourish this Syrian family inside out. He can. And he’s capable.
Jesus provides. Without him we are hopeless and hungry. Without him we are gospel-starved and faith-famished.
The real miracle wasn’t Jesus transforming a little boys lunch to feed thousands of people, but that he gives a glimpse that he is the Life that can transform the world.
That should arrest your attention today too! And that’s just what Jesus’ I AM statements are meant to do.
Jesus as the Bookends of John’s Gospel
Bookends hold upright and support a row of books from end to end. Often times bookends are solid and sure. John’s Gospel has literary bookends that hold upright the content of his writing.
John begins his Gospel with this intended purpose: Jesus Christ has always been and He will always be. The Creator God is Jesus Christ. In contrast to the other gospels, John begins from eternity past by saying, “In the beginning was the WORD and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” [John 1:1]
John concludes the gospel with this intended purpose: Jesus is and will always be human’s means for eternal life. The gospel of John is through and through a call to believe that Jesus is who He says He is. For John says, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” [John 20:31]
All the content in-between the bookends of John 1:1 and 20:31 is proof that what John says about Jesus, the Son of God, is truth. There is no other source of writing in the Scripture that so clearly and effectively declares Jesus Christ as God than the Gospel of John. From beginning to end John helps us see the Jesus is God.
More on this in the weeks to come.
what wows you?
I got a question for you. What wow’s you? I mean, what really wow’s you? Is it being in the outdoors like the Teton Mountains, or being with 80,000 fans at a stadium, seeing an amazing magic trick, looking at art or listening music, or a friend giving you a surprise gift. There’s got to be something that really wow’s you and leaves you awed or speechless.
What if God just showed up in your bedroom and said, “Hey, wake up, you ready to see something amazing?” And there you were in the throne room of God. What would you be thinking? That’s kind of what happened to Isaiah the prophet. Would you roll over in your bed and say, “Hm. That’s cool. But I am not crazy impressed.”
“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings:with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said:“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” – Isaiah 6:1ff
Although none of us would say that to God, we often do when we read the Bible. Wouldn’t it be amazing to just see God? To be wowed by him? Did you know that you can? Every time you open the Bible you get a glimpse of God. Does that wow you? Often we become passionless in our walk and faith because we become Godless. Passion for God comes from knowing God.
Would you take up a challenge to read Isaiah? There might be a lot in Isaiah that can be confusing or cause you scratch your head. That’s okay. I am still digging and discovering new and wonderful things about God there. As you read (any Scripture for that matter) ask one question, “God, teach me about you?” I promise, you will be wowed.
2 Corinthians Study: Boast in Weakness
What does God want me to do with my money? How should I respond to someone who has wronged me? What is the purpose of suffering and hardships? Can’t I boast a little bit? These are some of the questions you will discover as you read through 2 Corinthians.
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church has a different flavor than the first. It is more personal and pastoral. You see Paul roll up his sleeves and wear his emotions on them. Paul loves the church and so should we. How can we love the church despite all its people problems? Paul gives us practical insights. There is something for everyone. Just take a look at this 2 Corinthians Study: Boast in Weakness…
1 Corinthians Study: making much of Christ in a messy church
Do you struggle getting along with others in church? You are not alone.
Paul’s first letter to Corinth is about dealing with relational differences, setting disputes, reinforcing God’s view of marriage and divorce, the essentials of public worship, the importance of Jesus’ resurrection, money issues, and so much more.
Are you looking for something to study from the Bible? With your family? With your small group? Click below to download a family worship guide 1 Corinthians: making much of Christ in a messy church.
Acts: Church, Missions & the Holy Spirit
The book of Acts is about the church in formation, the mission of Jesus unfolding, and a gospel of the Holy Spirit. It is an action-packed book, so much so that a friend recently said to me, “Someone could easily make a movie out of it.” It is full of suspense, imprisonment, shipwreck, and of course Jesus’ followers living their faith out loud. It’s a refreshing and invigorating book.
When’s the last time you read it? With your family? Click below to download a family worship guide on the Acts of the Apostle: Church, Missions and the Holy Spirit.
Luke: Discovering Jesus, the Son of God
For a few months, I have been studying the Gospel of Luke with some friends. It has been a joy to study the life of Jesus. Below is a Family Worship Guide that I created from our discussions. Just click on the image below. You will find questions with and without helps. I hope this is a blessing to you and your family.
Let me know if you would like to make changes or additions. This is certainly a work in progress.
Jesus, lion and lamb
Let’s say that the end of your life was in front of you. You knew it wasn’t years or months or weeks or even days, but it was hours, and your life would be over. You knew you were going to die, and you were right on the threshold of death, and it was going to be a painful, brutal, difficult, tortuous, public, shameful death. What would you be thinking about? What would you be talking about?
In Luke 22, Jesus is hours away from of His own murder. It is the dark season of His life (cf. v.53). He’s going to die soon. He knows it. And what does He talk about? What is He thinking about? The Scriptures. What gives Him confidence, what gives Him courage, what gives Him clarity? It’s the Scriptures.
One of the statements coined from the Protestant Reformation was tota sola Scriptura. It’s a Latin phrase that means all of Scripture is alone our highest authority. God’s Book is better in every way than every other book. His Book is a perfect Book. Even the best books that men write don’t compare to the book that God wrote. Scriptures are the standard to measure other books.
Now, what Jesus is going to do in Luke 22 is give a test in tota sola Scriptura. And He actually begins in Luke 22 by referring back to Luke 10. Remember, the person of peace passage, where Jesus told his disciples not to take anything, but rely upon God for provisions as they journeyed from town to town? Now Jesus will say something interesting almost seemingly contradictory,
“35 And he said to them, When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything? They said, Nothing. 36 He said to them, But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: And he was numbered with the transgressors. For what is written about me has its fulfillment. 38 And they said, Look, Lord, here are two swords. And he said to them, It is enough.”
Well, which is it, Jesus? Pack supplies or don’t pack supplies? Be ready or don’t be ready? Wear shoes or don’t wear shoes? Pack weapons or don’t pack weapons? Which is it? It all depends on the mission. Jesus says, “On this mission, take nothing; on this mission, take everything.”
On a side note, as I read this I thought, “What does ‘sword’ mean?” Well I looked it up in my super nerdy Bible dictionary and “sword” means sword. Certainly, Jesus didn’t say pack a weapon. Oh, but he did. Fourteen verses later, Peter is going to grab a sword and will cut a guy’s ear off (v.50). Ironic?
Commercial over. The truth is, sometimes you should raise money. Sometimes you shouldn’t. Sometimes you should pack supplies. Sometimes you shouldn’t. Sometimes you should defend yourself. Sometimes you shouldn’t. Sometimes you should rely solely on God your provider. Sometimes you should have a plan and be prepared. It all depends on the mission. So, consider what God is calling you to in that moment.
Jesus is going deeper than talking about material you need for you mission, but the mindset you have while on mission. In Luke 10, Jesus encourages His disciples to be like a lamb and let God be your shepherd who provides everything you need. But in Luke 22, Jesus encourages the disciples to be tough. Not just Ford tough, but ninja fighter tough. Get your supplies, money secured, boots polished, sword in sheath, off to conflict, kind of tough. Tough like a lion.
There is no contradiction between Luke 10 and 22. Jesus is both lamb or lion. When you read through all of Luke you see that Jesus is lamb and lion or both at the same time. Check it out:
Luke 4: Jesus is tested by Satan and uses the Scripture to His defense. He’s LION.
Luke 5: Jesus heals a paralytic and leper. He’s LAMB.
Luke 6: Jesus heals man with withered hand despite the religious critics. He’s LAMB and LION.
Luke 7: Jesus heals servant girl and widow. He’s LAMB.
Luke 8: Jesus casts out legion. He’s LION and LAMB.
Luke 9: Jesus feeds 5000. He’s LAMB.
Luke 11: Jesus preaches the woes. He’s LION.
Luke 13: Jesus heals disabled woman. He’s LAMB.
Luke 14: Jesus heals man on the Sabbath despite religious critics. He’s LAMB and LION.
Luke 18: Jesus lets the children come to Him. He’s LAMB.
Luke 19: Jesus confronts money changers in the temple. He’s LION.
Do you see a pattern here? Jesus is tough and tender. He is servant and sovereign. He is lamb and lion.
Back to the Reformers tota sola Scriptura. The Scripture is about totally about Jesus. All the people, stories, and principles are part of the subplot connecting to the main storyline of Jesus’, the Savior of the world. The Book doesn’t make any sense unless it’s all connects to Jesus.
On Sunday, I was had lunch with Mark and his family. They’ve lived in Africa for over two decades. There youngest son was born there and is now a young man. Mark shared how his first few years in Africa were tough, but as he saw the Word of God transform lives he has become more tender to God’s calling him there. He’s seen many Muslims respond in faith to the Book that points to Jesus from beginning to end.
In Luke 22:37, Jesus says. “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’” He quotes Isaiah 53:12. Jesus says the the whole book is now being fulfilled in His life. He came fulfilling everything that is written in the book that God wrote. Even on the brink of torture and death Jesus understands He is to fulfill what God has said. He came as the lamb of God slain for the sins of the world. And He has promised to come back as the Lion of Judah to restore the world. The Book says so. Tota sola Scriptura.
Questions for Reflection: How has Jesus made provision for you in your life? How does the fulfillment of the cross make provision for your sin? In what ways do you lack nothing and have everything? How does your worldly perspective affect your view of provision? In what ways have you submitted to the truth and power of Scripture in your life? What does it look like for the Scripture to be your tota sola Scriptura?