Tag Archives: family

How Jesus redefines “family” – Philemon 8-25, Part 3

28 Aug

How do you define “family”? Biologically? Qualitatively? Some other way? As we continue studying Philemon verses 8-25, today we’re going to see Paul explain how Jesus defines family, and get ready, it is shocking.

So what did Paul say?  Let’s continue his flow of thought from what we already learned in Part 1 and 2 of this series.  We’ve come to verse 13, where Paul admits that he wishes the runaway slave, Onesimus, who has now become a Christian, could stay with Paul. Already in Part 2 we saw how Paul describes Onesimus as “useful” to him.  So as Paul writes to Philemon, saying he wishes Onesimus could stay with him (Paul), that should show Philemon how highly Paul thought of Onesimus.  What Paul says next is where it really gets interesting: Paul writes that if Onesimus could have stayed with Paul, Onesimus would be taking Philemon’s place helping Paul!  That is a bold statement.  Paul is saying that a slave could take the place of his master.  In a slave society, that is laughable.  There is no version of slavery in which a slave could take the place of the master.  But when Jesus enters the situation, he turns society’s convention upside-down.  A slave, Paul is saying, a lowly slave who is transformed by Jesus, can become equal with his master.  Paul’s not done.  It’s going to get even more wild.

Next in verse 14, Paul quickly says that he wants to honor Philemon’s consent. Philemon owns Onesimus and thus Paul is legally bound to send him back.  Also, whatever Philemon chooses to do, Paul doesn’t want anyone to be able to say, “Paul forced this on me.”  Paul wants Philemon’s response to be Philemon’s own free choice.

Now read verses 15-16 where Paul says there might have been another reason for Onesimus running away.  Another reason? What other reason? Isn’t it fairly obvious, Paul? Think about it: normally when a slave runs away, there’s nothing but bad blood between slave and master.  In the master’s eyes, slaves are property that equal money.  Slaves create wealth for their masters.  Thus slaves who run away are seen not only as missing property, but also as missing income.  Add to that, slaves who runaway are disrespecting their masters.  Clearly, masters would often disrespect and mistreat slaves, which is precisely why the slaves wanted to run away in the first place.  So the slave/master relationship was often a fraught situation, and the relationship between Onesimus and Philemon was no different.  Philemon could easily be reading this thinking, “I know why Onesimus ran away, Paul,” and he was almost certainly not happy about it.  Paul is bold, then, in suggesting that there might be another reason. 

What is this other reason Paul hints at? He tells Philemon that it so Philemon could have Onesimus back for good, which is no surprise, but then he adds a shocker in verse 16 when says Philemon “might have him back for good–no longer a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.”  Do you see what Paul does there?  He totally redefines the relationship between Onesimus and Philemon.   Master and slave is gone.  Now they are brothers.  Dear brothers.  Totally equal.

This is exactly what Paul taught in other places:

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:26-28

Paul says the same thing in 1 Cor. 12:13. He also writes it in Colossians 3:11, which is interesting, because when Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon, almost certainly Onesimus and another ministry partner, Tychichus, were carrying the letter of Colossians with them too, a public letter which would have been read to all the Christians in Colosse, including Philemon.  So Paul doesn’t want this to be just a private matter between Philemon and Onesimus, he wants all Christians to know that in Christ, there is a total redefinition of people’s status.  No more ethnic stratification, he says, “neither Jew nor Greek.”  Nor more gender stratification, “neither male nor female.”  No more slave and master, “neither slaver nor free.”

All are one in Christ.

Paul was asking Philemon to embrace the full truth of Jesus’ teaching, that in Christ there is no more slave or free, Jew or Greek, but all are one in Christ.  All are equal.  Paul says in verse 16 that Philemon should consider Onesimus as even dearer than Paul does.  A brother in the Lord.  And a brother is family.  Does your definition of “family” need redefinition to make it the same as Jesus’? Does your practice of family need to change?

In the next post, we’ll see how passionately Paul continues to argue for this redefinition of family.

What that little pocket on jeans can teach us about church family – Titus 3:9-15, Part 1

12 Aug

Family.  Who do you think of when you think of family?

Growing up my family was my dad and mom, and my brother and sister.  Five people.  I’m so thankful that they are still my family. 

When my wife, Michelle, and I got married, though, we started our new family.  God blessed us with children, and eventually we became a family of six. 

A few weeks ago, our oldest son was married, and now we have a daughter-in-law, making our family seven. Although, it could be said that we have become a family of five, as my son and his wife started their family. (I think we’ll just go with “a family of seven”!)

Earlier in the summer my extended family got together at the beach for my parents’ 50th anniversary.  My parents were once just a family of two, but in fifty years time, their family was now more than 20, with all the spouses and grandkids. 

Furthermore, family is not simply biological.  Three of my nieces and nephews are adopted, and yet they are completely a part of my parents’ family. Also, one of my second son’s friends calls Michelle and me, “mom” and “dad” because of the close nature of our relationship. You may have relationships like that too. For those of you in church families, I hope that you experience that kind of closeness with the people in your congregation. In this series of posts on Titus 3:9-15, we will conclude our study through the letter Paul wrote to Titus, and we will see how Paul describes the church family he was a part of, and how that family was to relate to one another, in the difficult times and in the joyful ones.

When I read what Paul says in verses 9-11, it occurred to me that we might give these verses the following subtitle: How not to be a church family. Why?

Look at verse 9, for example. There Paul will tell Titus what the people in the church should do: avoid that which is unprofitable and useless.  It seems pretty obvious that people should avoid what is unprofitable and useless, right?  But it’s like we’re suckers for it, as much as we can get caught up in it.  Have you ever been involved in an unprofitable, useless discussion? Have you ever participated in an activity that initially seemed worthwhile, but in time was revealed to be a waste? For me it was phone apps and games. You can read about my personal journey to free myself of them here.

What useless or unprofitable activity is Paul talking about? He mentions three things: foolish controversies, genealogies, and arguments and quarrels about the law. Paul here is primarily describing theological controversies in the church, based in what he already said in 1:10-16 about the misapplication of the OT Law to Christians.  Now here in 3:9-11 Paul is saying that the controversies we get caught up in are often silly and thus should be avoided. 

Paul’s principle for Christians in a church family, then, is: “avoid what is unprofitable and useless.”  Let me make an analogy. Did you ever think about that small right front pocket in most jeans?  Why is it there?  Well, when jeans first became popular in the late 1800s, that pocket was pretty handy because lots of people used pocket-watches.  In time that pocket became part of what makes jeans uniquely jeans.  So though those mini pockets are rarely used anymore, clothing companies keep putting them there.  Here’s the thing, in 2019 you could say jeans’ mini-pockets are useless.  Even when cell phones were small, they didn’t fit in there. Try to put anything in there, and it’s almost impossible to get out. But if jeans didn’t have those pockets, they would look weird. That’s the funny thing about life.  We can get accustomed to what is useless, and normalize it!  We can accept it.  We talk about it.  Get excited about it. Or upset about it. 

How does this happen in church families? The classic example is the color of the carpet in the sanctuary.  In a building project one faction says the carpet should be tan, and another faction says the carpet should be blue.  They get angry, fight, refuse to agree, and the church splits.  Talk about useless and unprofitable. Sadly, there are many other such examples that church families have allowed to become divisive.

Paul says in the church, though, we should be people committed to avoiding what is unprofitable and useless.  He was mostly talking about conversations, beliefs, ideas, and practices of how we live out our faith.  The problem is that Christians will have differences of opinion about what is the profitable verses unprofitable, and what is useless versus what is useful.  At Faith Church we have a variety of opinions like this, as I’m sure you do in your church family.

So we need to agree to disagree, lovingly.  We can and should get along in a loving way, though you may have differences of opinion with those who think differently than you. As we continue this series of posts, stay tuned, because we’ll talk further about how Christians in a church family can navigate those differences of opinion in a godly way.

The one thing needed for a church to become a family

18 Jun

Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

One church I visited during sabbatical did something that weirded me out a bit.  You know what they did?  During the worship service they introduced themselves to new guests by saying, “We’re a family here, and we want you to be a part of our family.”

You might be thinking, “Joel, why did that weird you out? Don’t many churches say that?”

Well, as a first-time guest there, I have to be honest that when I heard them say they wanted me to be a part of their family, it felt intrusive and odd.  I thought, “Does this church really think that I could become part of their family after one visit?  I’m not part of their family after just one visit.”

Or how about Olive Garden Restaurants which once had an advertising slogan stating, “When you’re here, you’re family”?  That’s nice, but it’s not true.  Deep family-like relationships take time.  You can’t just walk through the doors of restaurant or a church and instantly become family, right?

Then it hit me.  I call Faith Church a family too!  Our church newsletter used to be called The Family of Faith newsletter.  We often start our weekly church emails with the line “Dear Family of Faith Church.”  I had to admit that though I felt weirded out at that other church, I still want Faith Church to be a family, not just a label, but an actual family.

I believe that identifying as a family and acting like a family is a primary distinguishing feature of what any local church should be.  But as I sat in that other church service, I had a whole new perspective.  You can’t just declare that people are your family, can you?

I know, I know, maybe I’m being picky.  Good for those churches or any organizations that want people to feel like family.  That’s really the important thing, right?  We want the people in our church to become like a family, to act like a family, and for new people to become part of the family.

This week we continue looking at 1st Peter, and we come to the end of chapter one, verses 21-25.  Remember that Peter is writing to Christians scattered around the Roman Empire. He has called them strangers and aliens.  But are they a family?  Read the passage and see what Peter has to say.

After you read the passage, look with me at the middle of the passage.  Did you see in verse 23 that Peter brings up the idea of being born again? What does “born again” mean?  This is the second time that Peter has mentioned this.  The previous time was in verse 3.  What does it mean to be born again?

Born again means a new beginning, a new life, but this time the Holy Spirit of God is with you, helping you and empowering you to be different.

It is an image that points to the transformation that we Christians should be seeing in our lives. And furthermore, just as we saw last week, our new birth in Christ means we have citizenship in a new country. In the same way, our new birth in Christ means we are born into a new family.

Now let’s go back and add verses 21 and 22.  Peter says that being born again starts with belief (which he mentions in verse 21).  Being born again starts with believing in God who raised Jesus from the dead, so that our faith is in God.  Belief, faith, and trusting in God is the critical starting point.  But it doesn’t stop there.  True faith in God, and the evidence of new birth, Peter says, is obedience to the truth (as he mentions in verse 22).  Put these two things together (belief in verse 21 and obedience in verse 22) and you get the words of the classic hymn “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

As we have seen so many times already in his letter, Peter is not teaching something new here.  He is repeating what Jesus taught him.  Jesus often told his disciples that they, followers of Jesus, first say, “Yes, Lord, I place my faith in you,” and then follow up that faith with action, obeying the teachings of Jesus.  When that trusting and obeying happens we can know that we have been reborn into a new family that resides in a new Kingdom.

What is so interesting, then, is that when Peter talks about obedience in verse 22, he mentions one thing that is the outflow of the obedience.  He has all kinds of actions he could choose from to illustrate obedience to Jesus here: Tell the truth.  Be honest.  Preach the Gospel.  Feed the hungry.  Clothe the naked.  Give to the poor.  He doesn’t choose any of those.  Later in his letter he’ll get to some of that.  But for now, he chooses one thing and one thing only to illustrate obedience to Jesus.  That means this one thing he chooses is probably very important for us to learn.  What is that one thing?  Look at the final phrase of verse 22.

“Love one another deeply from the heart.”

Once again, Peter is teaching something that Jesus taught him.  Check out Jesus’ teaching in John 13:34-35.  “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”

There you have it: Christians, followers of Jesus, are born again into a new family that is marked clearly by loving one another deeply from the heart.

Check back in tomorrow as we explore further what Peter meant by “love”.  It might surprise you.