Tag Archives: Paul

Be a Refresher of Hearts! Philemon 1-7, Part 5

23 Aug

How do people come away from interacting with you? Think about some of the recent times that you have interacted with people. Maybe it was your family members. Perhaps it was co-workers. Or even social media posts. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the people who were with you, or who were reading your posts or viewing your videos. What impression did you give them? Were you complaining? Angry? Joyful? Hopeful?

We started this series of posts asking, “Are you able to see yourself for who you really are?” In this fifth part in our series on Philemon verses 1-7, if you read verse 7, you’ll see that Paul really encourages Philemon, helping Philemon see himself for who he truly is. It appears that Philemon was a really great guy. But how so?

Paul says that Philemon’s love has given Paul great joy and encouragement, because Philemon has refreshed the hearts of the saints.  I wish I knew what Paul meant by that, but it would appear that Philemon was a very loving, encouraging person.  He was full of faith, to the point that when people visited Paul in Rome on house arrest, they talked about Philemon. Paul was overjoyed to hear how Philemon was living out his faith.

It is amazing to consider that Paul would be able to say this while in prison!  Paul really wants Philemon to be happy to be holding that letter in his hands and reading it.  Why?  He’s getting there. Next week in the series on Philemon 8-25, we’ll get the answer to the question of “Why?”

For now, let’s consider what we have heard in verses 1-7.  The character of Philemon is quite impressive. If you want, go back and read the previous parts of this series, starting here.

What we saw is that Philemon has qualities that are worth emulating: faith, love for all the saints, love that gave Paul great joy and encouragement, and finally, because Philemon was a giver of joy and encouragement, he refreshed the hearts of the saints

In other words, Paul sees Christ in Philemon. 

Therefore I have a question we all should ask: do others see Christ in me?

They will see Christ in you if you are like Philemon.  Full of faith, having a love for all the people in the church family, love that gives joy and encouragement, so that people’s hearts are refreshed after spending time with you.

Think about that.  How do people react to you?  Do they come away from their interaction with you encouraged, joyful, feeling loved?  What about your social media posts?  What about your interactions on the phone?  How do you handle yourself in meetings? Would people say that you refresh their hearts?

If not, what do you need to confess? How do you need to repent? And what do you need to change in order to become more like Philemon, who was a refresher of hearts?

Defining true Christian fellowship – Philemon 1-7, Part 4

22 Aug
Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

What is fellowship? How does it look in your life, in your church? How do you know if you are doing it right? As we have seen in our study through Philemon verses 1-7, Paul has been giving his friend Philemon feedback on what Philemon has done with his life. Paul has many nice compliments for Philemon (see Parts 1, 2, and 3 for what we have covered previously). We’ve arrived at verse 6, and Paul is far from the end of his encouragement to Philemon. Is Philemon fellowshipping right?

In verse 6 we face a problem, though, as scholars tell us it is difficult to translate.  Here’s how the NIV 1984 translates it:

I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.

Paul, to Philemon (Philemon 6, NIV 1984)

When you read the words, “sharing your faith,” what comes to mind? Evangelism, right? Sharing the Gospel. Some kind of proclamation of the content of the good news of Jesus. But most scholars believe that is not what Paul is talking about. 

For the word “sharing,” Paul uses the word koinonia.  It is a Greek word that carries the idea of sharing.  But more commonly it is translated in the New Testament using the English word: “fellowship”.  Paul, therefore, is talking about the fellowship of our faith.

What is fellowship?  Churches are sometimes called fellowships.  Faith Church has a room in our building called a fellowship hall, and we also have a Fellowship Serve Team, which is responsible for, among many other things, administration of our kitchen and meals. So there seems to be a connection between fellowship and food.  Fellowship is not equal with food, but the two concepts are connected because of what so often happens around a table of food.  People talk.  People open up.  They share life.  Fellowship is about close relationship.

There are also times in the New Testament when this word is translated as “participation.”  In other words, there is no way we can truly have a fellowship of faith by just meeting together on Sunday mornings.  Sunday mornings are important, and they should launch us into a life of worship and fellowship.  This is why I really encourage you to participate in groups.  Place yourself in settings like Sunday School classes, and small groups, and ministry teams where you can develop deeper relationships.  But fellowship doesn’t stop there.  Fellowship means you invite people in your home, take them out to coffee or lunch, and going deep.  It is one reason why I love our informal runner’s group at Faith Church.  We train together, talk about how race prep is going, hang out, run races, and more than that, we share life. 

So if that is what fellowship is, sharing life together, what is Paul trying to say in verse 6?  One bible commentator, NT Wright explains this a lot more clearly. He points us to Paul’s mention of Jesus in verse 6:

“Paul uses ‘Christ’ here, as in some other passages, as a shorthand for the full and mature life of those ‘in Christ’, so that ‘unto Christ’ refers to the growth of the church towards that goal. Paul’s desire is that the fact of mutual participation, enjoyed by Philemon and his fellow Christians, will result in the full blessing of being ‘in Christ’, i.e. the full unity of the body of Christ.”[1] 

N. T. Wright

What a wonderful picture of what the fellowship of faith can accomplish!  Our fellowship motivates us toward discipleship. Again, Paul is setting a stage.  He wants Philemon to agree with him that all Christians can enjoy the mutual participation of being in Christ, just like Philemon and the other Christians in Colosse enjoy.  Paul is nearly ready to explain why he is talking about this.  He is building toward the “therefore” in verse 8.  For now, we simply need to see what Paul is saying as really important.  Churches should have as their goal that the people in the church grow a more and more mature life in Christ, such that all can mutually participate together in the blessing of being in Christ.  Paul is talking about the strong bond of a church family. 

How can you strengthen the bonds of your church family? Are you participating in a group? What will it look like for you to be more like Philemon?


[1] N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 12, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 183.

How faith works – Philemon 1-7, Part 3

21 Aug
Photo by Rachel on Unsplash

Have you wondered how faith works? What is faith? I long ago heard that faith is like sitting in a chair. You sit down, believing and trusting that the chair will hold you up. Of course, the chair might be poorly built, and when you sit on it, the chair breaks apart and you fall to the ground! While I get the chair illustration, it can still seem difficult to know if I am truly placing my faith in God. What do I actually do?

As I said in the previous post, Jesus has numerous really important purposes for this letter Paul is writing to his friend Philemon, and one purpose that is to explain how faith works. If you haven’t started with Part 1 of this series on Philemon 1-7, I encourage you to pause reading this one and start with Part 1. Then continue with Part 2. Ok, all caught up?

Now look at Philemon, verses 4-7, which is Paul’s brief introduction to the main part of the letter.  In this intro, Paul will set the tone for what he has to say to Philemon.  So let’s look at it closely.

Verse 4 is pretty straightforward.  Paul often talks like this in his other letters.  He tells Philemon that he thanks God for Philemon, as he remembers Philemon in his prayers.  What a wonderful example Paul sets for Philemon and anyone who would read this letter, even 2000 years later.  We should pray for people, and thank God for them.  How often do you pray for the people in your life, thanking God for them?  What if that became a new habit for you?   

Also, imagine how Philemon would have felt reading that.  He would love it.  It’s so encouraging.  Paul, the guy who was one of the foremost Christians of his day, even when he is hundreds of miles away in Rome, on house arrest, is personally remembering Philemon, praying for him, and thanking God for him?  Who do you need to write a note of encouragement to, just saying, “I’m praying for you, and I’m grateful for you”?  And then actually pray for them.  I think the note itself is a prayer too.  This day and age with texting, it is so easy to send a note of thanks and prayer for people.  A few weeks ago, someone put a card on my desk in my office.  It simply said, “You are loved and being prayed for you!”  It was anonymous.  They made sure the focus was on God, not on them.  It was really encouraging!

But Paul is not nearly done with the encouragement for Philemon.  Look at verse 5. There he explains the reason that he thanks God for Philemon.  Two reasons, really.  First, he heard about Philemon’s faith in the Lord.  Second, he heard about his love for all the saints.  So word got out.  People who visited Paul were saying to Paul that Philemon is the real deal. 

I always get a little weirded out when I hear that people are talking about me.  Whether that is good or bad.  It can just feel uncomfortable.  How about you? Do you feel that way when you find out people are talking about you? 

But it sure does help, though, to hear that they have good things to say about you.  Paul has heard people say very good things about Philemon: about his faith in the Lord and love for all the saints.  Those are two really important aspects of being a disciple of Jesus, so think with me about how faith and love work together in the life of a disciple of Jesus. Faith in God that shows it is true faith by loving people. 

I recently heard a talk about faith that was very helpful.  The speaker said that we so often think of faith as “assent,” meaning that faith is when we believe in or agree with certain ideas or concepts.  It is saying, “I agree or I believe that Jesus is God, that he died and rose again, and so on.”  But in the New Testament, when the writers, including Paul and Jesus himself, talked about faith, they were almost certainly not talking only about assent.  When they talked about faith, it included assent, but it went beyond assent to allegiance.  In other words, when we have faith in Jesus, we are saying, Jesus, you are the one true King, and I pledge my allegiance to you and you only.”  Paul says that is what Philemon was doing.  Philemon was showing that he was a true disciple of Jesus, by living out a faith that demonstrated love.

Paul is also setting a tone here.  He definitely wants Philemon to self-identify as a person who demonstrates faith in God by loving all Christians.  He has a reason for encouraging Philemon so much.  That reason will become very apparent in verse 8 when Paul says “therefore”.  We’ll get to that next week when we study the rest of the letter.  For now, observe what Paul is saying about Philemon, and ask yourself how that might apply to you.  How is your faith in the Lord?  How is your love for the people in the church?  Is your love and faith being talked about?  Are there ways you could improve? How so? What do you need to do differently?

Learning to see yourself for who you really are, and learning to see past your circumstances – Philemon 1-7, Part 1

19 Aug
Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

How do you come across to people?  Even if you think you know how you come across, what if your impression of yourself is wrong, or maybe even slightly off?   It is a sign of growing maturity to be able to have self-awareness.  Some humans are very self-aware, and others not so much.  It seems like a human tendency to think we know ourselves really well.  But do we?  Further, when we learn something about how we come across, how do we handle the new information?  If we learn something good, then we are happy.  But what if we learn that we come across negatively or harshly?  How do we handle that? 

This summer on the blog we are reading other people’s mail. Ancient mail.  Over the last few months we read Paul’s letter to Titus. The remainder of the letters are much shorter than Titus, and we’ll cover them in one or two weeks each.  Today we start the letter to Philemon.  This is another letter that Paul wrote to one of his friends, named Philemon, and as we’ll see, it is very personal.  As a result of its intimacy, you might even feel awkward reading it.  Especially because in this letter, Paul tells Philemon how he, Philemon, comes across to people. 

Feel free to open a Bible, and read verses 1-7.

In Verse 1 Paul describes himself using a curious phrase: “a prisoner of Christ Jesus.”  Wait.  A Prisoner of Jesus?  What does he mean?  At the time of he wrote this letter, Paul was a prisoner, literally in chains. 

Why was Paul a prisoner?  We learn from his writings that he was on house arrest. To get the full backstory, later today or this week I encourage you to read in the book of Acts, chapter 28, starting in verse 11, if you want.  But let me summarize.  Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem for preaching about Jesus, and then Paul made an appeal to the Roman Caesar by virtue of Paul being a Roman citizen. So the local authorities sent him to Rome to make his case to Caesar.  There on house arrest, he waited for his trial.  He was in chains, and guarded, but he could receive people.  So Paul kept his ministry going as best he could, meeting with his ministry associates and friends, and writing letters to them. 

Take notice that though Paul is a prisoner of Rome, he says he is a prisoner of Jesus!  Some translate this “prisoner for Jesus.”  No doubt Paul is a prisoner for Jesus.  Paul was put in chains because he was a Christian who was living out his Christian faith, preaching the good news of Jesus, starting churches around the Roman Empire.  Yet Paul sees himself also as a prisoner of Jesus, but in a good way.  Paul sees himself as fully and completely committed to Jesus. It’s like he is saying, “Rome may have me in chains, but it is really Jesus who has captured me.  Caesar is not my true Lord, but Jesus is, and I live to serve him.”

What I find so intriguing about this is how Paul sees beyond his circumstances.  Paul takes what was a really difficult situation, and transforms it into joy, saying he is a prisoner for the Lord!  This is a great example for us for how to use our minds to think differently.  Rather than fixate on our problems, we can recast them, thinking how Christ can transform our difficulties.  I will admit that this is very challenging for me. I find it almost instinctual to dwell on negative thoughts, locked into a pattern that feels inescapable.  How many of you struggle with worry and anxiety? I’m right there with you, especially at night.  Sometimes I’ll just lay there for an hour or more, tossing, turning, one negative thought after another. Paul is a great example and help to me, therefore, not allowing his circumstances to define his reality, but instead choosing to redefine that reality by Jesus.  He is a prisoner, yes, but of Jesus, for Jesus.

What situation is going on in your life that Jesus might want to transform? As we continue studying Philemon verses 1-7 in this series of posts, we’ll see how Paul continues allowing Jesus to impact his (Paul’s) difficult personal circumstances, and how Paul gives Philemon a true perspective on how Philemon comes across to people. From that, we’ll find there is much we can apply to our lives.

How church families can have harmony – Titus 3:9-15, Part 5

16 Aug

Are you a person of grace? Or is giving grace hard for you? As we conclude this series on Titus 3:9-15, we get a peek into the church family that Paul was a part of.  See verses 12-13.  There he mentions his friends who were members of his ministry network, in which he was sending people here and there to serve the needs of the various churches.  Who were these various people?  What did they do?  We don’t know a whole lot.  Artemas is mentioned only here.  Tychichus, however, is mentioned in numerous other letters.  Zenas is mentioned only here.  Apollos is missionary teacher like Paul, who appears in many places throughout the New Testament writings. 

What we do know, though, is that in verse 12, Paul really wants Titus to return to him.  You can see how important Titus was to him.  Titus will only be at Crete a short while after receiving this letter.  Also in verse 13, Paul says Titus and the people in Crete should help these ministers Paul mentions and see they have what they need. Then in verse 14, Paul continues the thought from what he says in verse 13: Christians should be productive to help support those in need. 

There are a number of principles, then, in verses 12-14:

First, devote yourselves to doing good.  We have seen this how many times now in Titus?  Paul repeats it again.  That means there should be no question about what flows out of Christian lives.  God’s goodness should be clear, abundantly clear in our lives. 

Second, Be mindful of the needs of others.  Paul says, “see that they have everything they need.”  Christians are distinctly other-minded.  This doesn’t mean that we neglect ourselves, but it does mean that we look out for and are aware of the needs of others.  Especially in our own church family.  Paul was asking the Christians in Crete to provide for those in need.  In that case it was the needs of his missionary friends.  But this can and should be expanded.  We are a church family that cares for one another.

The last two principles are very related: Provide for daily necessities and Live a productive life. These are very earthy.  Christianity speaks to the nitty-gritty of work and paying the bills and making ends meet.  Boring?  Maybe, but important.  Foundational, even, is the daily work of life, to the mission of the Kingdom of God.  Your washing dishes, mowing the lawn, and working your job are injected with meaning.  I get it that work can be dull sometimes, even soul-sucking.  But no matter what you do, when you see your work from God’s eyes, it is transformed into something vital.  I’m not just talking about paying jobs.  I’m talking about volunteering.  About the chores at home.  Yes, kids, even cleaning your rooms, cleaning toilets or whatever your parents consider to be chores. 

Finally, in verse 15, Paul shares greetings and grace.  He says, “Greet those who love us in the faith.”  Here Paul is focusing on encouraging the church who he had spent time with.  And lastly, he offers grace to all.  Grace has been a theme throughout Titus.  So vital.  Grace from Christ, that transforms.

Grace is favor, good will, from God. We don’t deserve it.  We didn’t earn it.  God gives it, and thus learn from God and give grace to the people in our lives. 

Giving grace can be costly.  It sure was for Jesus.  Who do you need to be gracious to?  Who is it that you perhaps don’t want to be gracious to? 

What will it look like for you shower grace on the people around you?  I think some personalities have a hard time with grace.  For others it is easy.  No matter if it is difficult for you, grace is the goal.  Practice grace to the people in your church family, even those who are difficult for you. Is there someone you need to give grace to even today?  Someone you need to make things right with?  Someone you need to confess to?  So often we just let things go and never deal with them.  I urge you not to avoid this.  Instead go to a person, make things right, be gracious.

A three-step process for resolving conflict in the church – Titus 3:9-15, Part 4

15 Aug

Has your church family experienced disagreements? Divisions? Has your church had to wrestle with how to respond? It can be really tricky, right? Emotions fly, people get offended, and it can seem that no matter what option you choose, someone will not like it, get hurt, and leave the church.

Okay, let’s turn off the pause, hit play, and continue with Titus 3:9-11. There were disagreements in the church, Paul says in verse 9, that were unprofitable and useless.  Clearly, then, Christians are to focus on what is profitable and useful. 

Remembering that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, we should want to live in such a way that even in our disagreements we should be Christ-centered.  There is a way to disagree that is loving and caring and in line with Jesus. 

Agree to disagree in love.  Recognize with humility that you could be wrong.  Remember that the other person is also made in the image of God, and is loved by God. 

Paul also teaches a method for addressing a situation when a person refuses to handle disagreement well.  Paul says, sometimes people are divisive, meaning that they can cause division in the church.  So in verses 10-11 he says, “Warn a divisive person once, and twice, then have nothing to do with them.” Paul is once again talking about church discipline, as he did back in chapter 1

Now, though, Paul mentions warnings.  Who does the warning? Paul doesn’t say specifically, but because the letter is to Titus, and Titus primary objective on his short trip to Crete was to appoint leaders, we could surmise that it was Titus and the church leaders who were to do the warning. Because Jesus also talked about something similar in Matthew 18:15, let’s determine if we can connect Paul’s teaching to Jesus’ three-step process, and perhaps we’ll have a better idea of how to handle this.  Go ahead and read Matthew 18:15-17.

See how Jesus’ teaching is similar to Paul’s?  Step 1, you approach the individual, and try to resolve it. If it doesn’t work, Step 2, take one or two other persons with you.  If that doesn’t work, Step 3, take it to the church. Churches have varying approaches to what body in a church should be responsible for Step 3. At Faith Church, our Leadership Team handles such concerns, and I recommend that for most churches some equivalent leadership group, comprised of spiritually mature leaders/elders, rather than the entire congregation, be tasked with Step 3.  So for Jesus, that’s how to resolve conflict in the church.

Back in Titus 3, notice what Paul says in verse 11: if a divisive person will not submit to this process, he calls them warped, sinful, and self-condemned.  They are not truly a Christian, as he said in Titus 1:16.  There he says that though they claim to know God, they show their true colors by their behavior.  It doesn’t matter if you say you are a Christian, or if you believe you are a Christian, when you do not act like one.  Paul says those people will do what they want to do.  Have nothing to do with them.  That doesn’t mean we can be unkind and unloving towards those people.  We should be kind and gracious and loving in all situations.

Paul doesn’t give us specific instructions for much for the nitty-gritty details of each situation.  Our Leadership Team has had to wrestle with these issues, and every situation is unique. Because of that uniqueness, we don’t always choose the same responses for each situation.  I can tell you this, though, that our Leadership Teams over the years have worked hard to preserve confidentiality, and we have prayerfully sought the Lord’s wisdom in the way forward.  That means we oftentimes take it slow, allowing time for prayer, for discussion, for situations to unfold.

Our heart’s desire, just like Paul’s is that all people in the church will grow closer to Christ, turn away from sin, and love and be loved in the fellowship of the church family.

Are you a Professional Weaker Brother or Sister? Titus 3:9-15, Part 3

14 Aug

Are you a Professional Weaker Brother or Sister? (Are thinking, huh?) I didn’t make up the title, but I’ve talked about it before, and I think it bears repeating in this series on Titus 3:9-15. If you are jumping into the middle of the series, I encourage you to go back and start with part 1 and then read part 2 before continuing here.

In this series we’ve been talking about how Christians can get along in a church family, even when they disagree. Sadly, Christians through the ages have developed a very divisive approach to various situations, and that approach has been described as The Professional Weaker Brother or Sister. 

The first problem is that Professional Weaker Brothers or Sisters do not believe they are weak, they believe they are right.  They believe they have the one and only correct view of the issue, and everyone else should view things their way.  They can make it seem like they are very spiritual and very committed to God, and in fact more committed to God than people who disagree with them.  They can promote abstinence in all kinds of situations, and condemn Christians who feel free to partake. 

In the situation Paul refers to in Romans 14-15 and 1st Corinthians 8 and 10, the Professional Weaker Brother or Sister would say, “eating meat sacrificed to idols is sin, and you should never do so.”  Another variation of the Professional Weaker Brother and Sister is “because you don’t want to be a stumbling block to anyone, you should always just abstain. Period.  It is wrong to eat meat.  Christians don’t eat meat.”  And then they try to convince others of their view, and judge those who disagree. 

Do you see what the Professional Weaker Brother or Sister has done?  They have totally scrapped what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 10 that eating the meat sacrificed to idols was okay.  And they have made a new law where Paul never made a law.  Their new law is “eating meat sacrificed to idols is a sin, and Christians should never do it.”  What is it called when you make a law and try to bind other people to it?  Legalism.  That is the very thing Jesus so strongly confronted the Pharisees about.  They had made tons of extra laws and were forcing the people to follow their laws, and God’s law essentially got lost in the process.

That’s very similar to what was happening in the church in Crete, as Paul mentioned in Titus 1:10-16. So-called Christians were telling the church that they needed to practice circumcision in order to be good Christians. Paul says, no way.

We Christians, then, should not be Professional Weaker Brothers and Sisters.  In fact, we should be like Jesus, and we should lovingly confront the Professional Weaker Brothers and Sisters, encouraging them to grow in their faith.  There is a reason, I believe that Paul uses the word “weak” for the person is that is less free, and that he uses the word “strong” for the person who is freer.  I don’t believe Paul is saying “weak” means “bad” or “wrong.”  Please don’t read me saying that Paul is teaching that those who are strong in faith are better or good.  All are equally loved and valued in God’s eyes.  But I do believe that there is an undertone in Paul’s teaching that those who are weaker should desire to move toward a position of strength.

The main idea is that those who are weak are not be to judgmental and self-righteous against those who are strong and free.  Likewise those who are strong in faith are to be self-controlled and humble about the use of their freedom, willing and quick to practice abstinence in a heartbeat, so as not to hurt those who are weak.  This is vital in a church family.  In our Faith Church family, we have plenty of areas where we disagree with one another.  That’s normal.  That’s families for you.  And in Faith Church we have those more on the weaker cautious side of faith, and we have those on the stronger freer side of faith.  I bet your church family is just like ours. Let us love one another with graciousness, even when we disagree.