Tag Archives: Sunday School

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.

When to subject ourselves to the authorities, and when not to – Titus 3:1-8, Part 1

5 Aug
Photo by Jacob Morch on Unsplash

I recently heard what is reported to be a true story from a Sunday school teacher in Dublin, Ireland.  She writes, “I was testing the children in my Sunday school class to see if they understood the concept of getting into Heaven. I asked them, ‘If I sold my house and my car and had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into Heaven?’ ‘No’, the children answered.

‘If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the lawn and kept everything tidy, would that get me into Heaven?’ Again the answer was ‘NO!’

‘If I gave candy to all the children and loved my husband, would that get me into Heaven?’ Again they all answered, ‘NO!’

I was just bursting with pride for them. I continued, ‘Then how can I get into Heaven?’ A little boy shouted out, ‘You’ve got to be DEAD!’ **

It’s funny to hear things from a youthful perspective, isn’t it?  Yet when we tell the Gospel story, we can make it seem like what God really wants is for us to be dead.  You might think, “What?  How can you say that, Joel?”  What I mean is that we often start telling the good news of Jesus with, “When you die,” or “After you die.”   Have you ever heard the method of sharing the story of Jesus that starts like this: “Do you know where you’ll go when you die?” 

Is God only concerned with what happens when we die?  As we continue studying the letter Paul wrote to Titus, Paul will speak about this. Turn to Titus 3:1-8, which we’ll be studying in this series of posts.

In verse 1 Paul says to Titus, “Remind the people.”  Why do they need to be reminded?   Remember that Paul and Titus had been on Crete previous to Titus’ current trip.  They had seen people become believers in and followers of Jesus, and thus Paul and Titus had grouped these new Christians into house churches in various towns on the island.  During that initial trip, Paul and Titus had already taught the people what it means to know and follow Jesus.  Now Paul senses that the people need to be reminded.  So Paul is saying Titus, you need to remind the people in Crete of some stuff, and by extension you and I in 2019 need to be reminded of it as well. As we’ll see throughout this series of posts, God is definitely interested in what happens to humans after we die, but he is also very concerned with how we live in the here and now.

What do we need to be reminded of?  Paul has a list of six things in verses 1-2, and they all relate to how Christians live now.  In this post we’ll look at the first one in which he reminds them to be subject to rulers and authorities.  Paul was talking to a very different cultural and political context than our own.  Crete was a part of the Roman Empire in the first century.  Roman emperors would claim that they, the emperors, had become gods.  Thus the people should worship the emperor as their savior.  So in the Roman Empire there was a religion of emperor worship. 

Into that culture, Paul has been clear in teaching that Jesus is God, the true savior of the world. Just glance back at chapter 2, verse 13, where Paul says, “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  From there you can keep going back and see it in 2:10, and even at the very beginning of the letter in 1:4.  Jesus is God and he is the savior.  Not an emperor in Rome. 

One potential result of this teaching is that the new Christians on Crete could get the idea that they are free from having to obey Caesar or any ruler.  Caesar is no longer their lord.  Jesus is their Lord.  But that freedom in Christ could have disastrous consequences if not handled well.  Christians could believe they were above the law of the land, which could bring them into conflict with rulers, and that could be disastrous.  So Paul says the people need to be subject to rulers and authorities.  

I think it is best to see Paul as teaching that in the vast majority of situations it is right and good to follow the law.  Pay your taxes.  Obey traffic laws.  In a society that is attempting to base its legal system on justice, we can and should be subject to and obey rulers and authorities. 

But what about societies that are unjust?  Or what if one particular law is unjust?  That happens, right? It has happened many times in the history of the USA, and still happens today on the federal, state and local levels.  Thankfully we have a justice system to address this.  But justice doesn’t happen automatically.  It usually starts with individuals speaking up, and often practicing what is called civil disobedience to unjust laws.

The civil rights movement for example broke a ton of laws, but those laws were unjust.  Think of Rosa Parks, refusing to give up her seat on a bus.  What a wonderful Christian example of practicing civil disobedience to unjust laws.  In her case, the law of segregation, was unjust, based on racism and prejudice, and she was right to break it. 

We must remember that we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven first, and if human government creates unjust laws, we practice civil disobedience seeking to move our government and laws in the direction of justice.  In some places around the world, Christians have an exceptionally difficult time with this because in their countries it is illegal to practice Christianity!  We need to pray for the persecuted church.  Here in America, while our nation is far from perfect, there is still, enshrined in our Constitution, the pursuit of justice for all. So, Christians, let us be subject to authorities when they pursue justice, and let us practice civil disobedience when the authorities promote injustice.

**Thanks to Jim Ohlson for sharing this story with me.

Is Sunday the new Sabbath? – Luke 6:1-11

25 Mar

sabbath580Last week I introduced the next sermon in our series on Luke saying that Jesus told the Bible scholars they didn’t know the Bible.  In Luke 6:1-11 he really gets in their face.  At one point the Pharisees confronted Jesus’ disciples for rubbing grain in their hands on the Sabbath, saying the disciples were harvesting on the Sabbath.  It was more than likely just a little snack.  Harvesting?  Not even close.  So in response, Jesus says:

Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?”

Wow! That’s bold, because you know they did read it, and were quite familiar with the story.  What is he really saying to them, then?  Basically, he is saying that they are wrong in their view of the Sabbath and they should have known better because it was right in front of them all along in an old Sunday School story.  That story shows clearly that exceptions to the Law are needed and good when it comes to caring for people.  The very next episode, when Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, tells the same principle.

Jesus shows the Pharisees, and he shows us, that we cannot let our religious system become more important than God’s intent!

One of the big questions about Sabbath is how Christians should apply it.  What was God’s intent?

There are Sabbath principles that we need to adhere to. Remember that God’s OT Law was for Israel, not for us. That Law can be helpful to us, but only insomuch as we understand the heart intent of the law. We can apply the heart of the law to the church, to Jesus’ disciples. But we should not apply the law itself to the church.

When the first Christians tried to apply OT Law to the Christian Church, things got messy and the early church had to have a major meeting to discuss what to do. You can read about it in Acts 15. Some Christian Jews wanted the non-Jews who were coming to Christ to start following the OT Law, particularly in the area of getting circumcised. The Apostle Paul says “No Way!” And James, the brother of Jesus, who was the leader of the church at that point said, “Paul is right, we’re not going to bind people to that.”

But Christians through the centuries have still tried to take OT Law, which was only meant for Israel, and apply it to the church many times. One of the recurring mistakes has been when Christians and churches have taken Sabbath law and moved it to Sunday. Many Christians grew up in a day and age in which it was common practice to understand Sunday as the Christian Sabbath, so what I am saying here might be hard to fathom.

Consider this: Not only is the OT Law not applicable to the church as Law, but practicing a Sabbath day is not mentioned at all in the NT in connection with the Christian Church. It is the only one of the 10 commandments that is not somehow repeated in the Apostles’ teaching in the NT.   The early Christians chose to gather on Sundays not because they wanted a new Sabbath day, but because that was the day Jesus rose from the dead! They simply wanted to meet to celebrate his resurrection every week.  We should do the same. We do not gather for worship on Sunday because we are trying to obey Sabbath Law.  We gather together to worship, to fellowship, to refocus on the mission of God’s Kingdom, to practice rest.

So while we don’t apply the Law, we can and should apply Sabbath principles to our lives. The principles of rest from labor and gathering for worship should be very evident in our lives. It doesn’t have to be a 24 hour period. It doesn’t have to be Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. It doesn’t have to be Saturday. We Christians do not need to follow Sabbath law. But we should show that we are following the principle, that we are resting from our labor, that we are trusting in our God to supply our needs.

God required the Israelites to rest so that they would learn to trust in him. By not working that one day per week they were showing great faith in him, that he would provide for them. They could have increased their incomes by 1/7th if they would work that extra day. Imagine how much money you would earn if you increased your wages by 1/7th? That’s a lot of money!

This is why I have great respect for companies that close their doors out of a desire to live out Sabbath principles. They are showing trust in the Lord. Think about their earning potential if they would open their doors a 7th day! You ask any company how they would feel about an opportunity that has a strong potential to increase their income by 14%? They wouldn’t bat an eye. It would be an automatic “Yes! Let’s do it.” But those companies are closed, if they are doing so with the right heart motivation, to say “No Lord, we’re going to trust in you. That potential 14% is yours.”

That’s pretty awesome.

But does that mean Christian companies or owners that keep their businesses open 24/7 are sinning? Nope, not one bit. There is no Sabbath law for Christians. If a Christian wants to make a voluntary sacrifice to the Lord, such as closing their business on Sunday, that is certainly their prerogative, but it is not required. And we should not judge either way. Leave the judging up to the Pharisees.

Instead we should individually ask ourselves “How am I practicing the principle of Sabbath?”

I really struggle with this. When do I intentionally put rest in my life? My Pastoral Relations Committee last year required me to rest on Wednesday afternoons and once a month take a Friday for spiritual refreshment. I will be honest, and Michelle can vouch for this, I have done pretty bad at that. I want to do it. But it is hard.

It is really, really hard to unplug, to disconnect.

We got new cell phones this past week, and I have yet to add my email account on my phone. I am doing that intentionally. But I will tell you that I’m iffy about it. I argue with myself. What would it hurt? What if I get an important email I need to answer right away? Don’t get me wrong, I think answering emails and replying to texts promptly is important. I have my computer open 8-4 everyday (and often in the evening and on Saturday…and on Sunday…).  But an email that comes in at 7pm can probably wait til 8 the next morning, right?

I really struggle with the connected society we live in. Email, Facebook, texting, cell phones, etc, etc.

I get a sense that many of us need to apply Sabbath principles in the area of social connectedness. I get a sense that we need to disconnect. This is why I love that Twin Pines has a rule for summer camp about no electronics. We need more of that.

I often take my cell phone to the toilet so I can “redeem the time” and work on my cell phone in the bathroom. When do I ever just stop and think?

After the big snow storm a couple weeks ago, there was a full moon. At around 10pm, I was in our backyard dumping our woodstove ashes into our fire pit. The moon reflecting off the snow was so bright everything had distinct shadows. It was quiet. The sky was clear and you could see constellations.

I wanted to just stand there and look and think. I had that urge within that I need more Sabbath in my life. It was too cold, though, and I dressed only for a quick trip to the fire pit. I had to go inside.

But I could feel it. A need, a yearning for Sabbath. I really enjoy our technological and connected world. Technology amazes me. But in the backyard under that beautiful moonlit night, I remembered Sabbath. Frankly, I can forget about Sabbath. I can become accustomed to incessant work. Social media constantly with me on my phone. The TV seemingly always on. Emails flowing to my computer without end. When I open my computer I rarely have less than 20 emails needing attention each morning. And they do need attention, and I do need to reply. But after dinner time (when I am home) the emails can wait til the next morning. I can rest from that several hours a day.

How about you? Do you get like that about work? When do you rest? I don’t mean sleep. I mean rest from your labor to seek the Lord. Yeah, I do believe we can and should do this on Sundays. Not because that is the new Sabbath day. It’s not. There is no new Sabbath day. We meet on Sunday because that is day Jesus rose from the dead and we gather to celebrate him, to renew our focus on the mission of God’s Kingdom. And Sabbath principle, not Law, but principle, says that we should be passionately committed to opening up our schedules to actively participate in regular worship.

Sabbath is not a law that requires you to be in church every Sunday. But Sabbath principle says that we should be passionately committed to being there because we want to be there, we want to see our church family, we want to sing in worship, we want to give, we want to serve, we want to hear the word of the Lord, discuss it, and we want to refocus on his Kingdom. Sabbath principle is a heart that wants to worship because we love the Lord so much we want to participate in the gathered worship of his church.

I’ve heard it said that nowadays regular participation is once or twice a month attendance in worship. That concerns me greatly. In fact it could be argued that is an ignoring of Sabbath principle.

Do you need to gather for worship more? Do you need to rest and take a break to reflect on Him more? Do you need to show your trust in your loving God in this area?

What happens when Jesus tells the Bible scholars they don’t know the Bible?

20 Mar

grain-fieldThe religious establishment is on him.  They’ve been following him ever since he splashed onto the scene months earlier, healing people and preaching and gaining a following of large crowds.  These Bible teachers, these Pharisees, are the religion police of their day, and they have dispatched some agents to check Jesus out.  Now they’re following him everywhere.  In this passage, they are walking through a grain field.  And they confront his disciples for picking some of the grain…a major no-no?  So Jesus responds with with a story.  He even starts it off by saying “Have you never read…?”  And you know they read it many, many times.  But there he is taking the Bible scholars back to Sunday School.

Basically he is saying to them “You guys who are supposed to know this Bible inside and out, you missed something.”  I wonder how he said this.  I would love to know the tone in his voice.  Was there any sarcasm?  A twinkle in his eye?  Frustration?

I think the Pharisees are quite surprised by Jesus.  Take a look at Luke 6:1-11, and see what you think.  Does he surprise you?

He tells them a story from the life of Israel’s most famous king, David.  When you read it, my guess is that it would rank, for most people, in the category of little-known stories.  The bible scholars of his day would have been, or should have been, really familiar with it.  It’s a story when David was in a tough predicament and he did something unheard of.  Scandalous even.  And actually a priest let him do it!  A priest let David break the Law.  Shocking?  Not really, when you find out the details.  But why not?  We’ll learn more on Sunday.

And we’ll see why Jesus brings this story up on a Sabbath day in the middle of a grain field to confront the religious establishment guys who are ticked off.

Why are the Pharisees so upset?  Why does Jesus confront their Bible knowledge?  As we study this passage, perhaps we need to go back to Sunday School too.  It is possible that we might have a little learning from Jesus to do too.

If you’re not part of a church family, we’d love to have you join us at Faith Church!