Philemon 1

In 30 years of going to church I have never heard a sermon on Philemon. It sits tucked away in the New Testament hidden behind the Pastoral Epistles; just one chapter, Paul admonishing Philemon to accept the return of his runaway slave named Onesimus. What do we know about Philemon? Well for starter’s he was wealthy. How do we know that? The Bible gives us a couple indicators – he owned at least one slave (Onesimus), and he had a house large enough for the church to meet in (Phil. 1:2); in fact, it was the church at Colosse that met in his home. We know this because in Colossians 4:9 Paul tells the church that he is sending Onesimus back to them, and in 4:17 he sends greetings to Archippus. We know from Philemon 1:2 that Archippus is with Philemon and the rest of the letter deals with Onesimus’ return. What we have in the example of Philemon is a man who used his wealth for the benefit of the church and the expansion of God’s kingdom. Philemon’s reputation had become known to Paul all the way in Rome:
“I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints….Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.” Phil. 1:4-5, 7
​Paul commends Philemon that his faith in the Lord Jesus has led to a tangible expression of love toward fellow believers. In v. 7 Paul says that Philemon has “refreshed the hearts of the saints”, an interesting phrase; the word used for refreshed in Greek means to cease from labor, to give rest after toil. A plain understanding of Paul’s admonition is that Philemon was using his resources to bring relief to fellow believers. Perhaps he was opening his home to them, providing food, clothing, shelter. Remember, believers in 1st century Colosse would have experienced persecution for the belief in and proclamation of the name of Jesus, and would have had nowhere to turn for support. It would have been up to members of the local church to take care of their own, and this is exactly what Philemon was doing; this supportive activity would have put him at risk – (1) financially, because these Christians could not pay him pay back, (2) physically, because he would have been openly associating with the persecuted believers, inviting persecuting into his own life.
​Having pointed out Philemon’s love for the saints, he admonishes him to accept his runaway slave Onesimus back as a brother in Christ. After running away from Philemon, Onesimus found his way to Rome, where he met Paul and became a Christian.
“Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother” Phil. 1:15-16a
As the owner of a runaway slave Philemon was entitled to deal with Onesimus as he saw fit, which included beating or even killing him. Paul points out to Philemon that the running away of Onesimus led to his salvation, which has now fundamentally transformed their relationship from owner/slave to brothers in Christ. The forgiving of a runaway slave would have directly contradicted every cultural norm, and at the same time most vividly demonstrated the gospel. Paul adds in v. 20 that accepting Onesimus would have refreshed his heart.
This is one example of how relationships in Christ supersede every earthly relationship. Paul says it this way in Colossians:
“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” Col. 3:11
Because we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and on equal footing in Him, it is right and necessary for us to give ourselves fully to one another, whatever the cost. It is right and necessary to forgive and accept one another, just as Christ has forgiven and accepted us. In the letter and person of Philemon we get a glimpse of this ideal, don’t miss it.

Today’s author:  Joey Sutton

Read Philippians 3

Paul begins this portion of his letter by reminding the congregation at Philippi that people can think they are right with God and be absolutely wrong. That happens for lots of reasons. Paul uses himself as an example. By all human standards, especially Jewish, he was a devoutly “religious” person. However, he found out he was missing the mark of God’s standard. Verse 9 is his key statement: “not having a righteousness of my own derived from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith…”  How does that happen? He stated that earlier in his letter that we find in chapter two, verses 10-11: by surrendering our lives to the authority of Jesus. We then experience a “resurrection” by being transformed from being dead in our sins to life in Christ, something only God can do. Jesus told Martha before he raised her brother Lazarus back to life, “I am the resurrection and the life…”  (John 11:25). We become able to live the life God has always intended for us to live through Jesus as revealed by Jesus.

In our chapter for today in verse 16, the Greek is a little awkward for us to render into English literally; that is why you will read it differently in various translations. My preference is the New American Standard version which reads, “Let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.” We must capture the meaning Paul was intending; the Greek literally means something like “walk in line”. We can sort of understand that because we use similar concepts. If you visit MD Anderson hospital in Houston, for example, they have painted colored lines on the floors to help you find your way around that maze of hallways. You need to “stay on the line” to get where you want to go. Paul is telling the Philippians to “follow Jesus” because he leading the way for us. He is the “standard” for us to “live up to.” There will be those who will try to get us “off the line” in the wrong direction. Don’t follow them!!

Years ago there was a fad with the letters “WWJD” which was supposed to encourage people to stop and ask “What would Jesus do” before they acted in a situation. Before you could really do that, you really had to know what Jesus actually did as a reference. We find that answer as we study the Gospel accounts and the writings of those who first followed Him. We have a “line,” a “guide” in the Bible to keep us heading in the right direction. Jesus will “speak” to us through it to keep us “walking in line.” Our church offers great opportunities for Bible study. I encourage you to avail yourself to them!

Today’s author: Randy Babin

Read Philippians 1

Paul models a gospel-centered life all throughout his writings.  Everything that happens to him is viewed through the lens of the gospel.  That’s why he writes to the Philippian church with such indescribable joy!  Paul is writing to the church in Philippi from prison, but just look at his perspective in verses 12-18:

12 I want you to know, brothers,that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

What a way to live!  What a challenge it is to us believers who are not under constant fear of actual persecution for our faith.  Do we see our sufferings within the framework of the gospel?  When we do endure trials, do we ask for Christ to make much of Himself through our pain?  Can we honestly say “for me to live in Christ and to die is gain” (vs 21)?  These are the words of an admitted slave of Christ.  Can the same be said of us?

Today’s author: Kevin Slocum

Read Ephesians 5

When John and I traveled to Russia in the spring of 2005 to adopt our daughter Marina, we thought we were prepared to parent her. We were already Mommy and Daddy to three beautiful children. We’d worked diligently for two years to bring her adoption about, and in preparation for her arrival, we’d attended seminars, completed classes, and read dozens of books on adopting the post-institutionalized child.

What I didn’t know then was how difficult it would be to love a child who couldn’t love me in return. When she wasn’t an angelic photo on my refrigerator door, but a real, live human raging in my arms, foaming at the mouth, and attempting to claw my eyes out. Who was a stranger. My other children were soothed by my embrace; she would violently resist my affection.  My other children were in many ways governed by what would please us; she had no such desire. And whatever head knowledge I had gathered before the adoption (all of these behaviors were completely normal for a child recovering from severe, prolonged neglect), had definitely not prepared me for the heart-rending reality.  I’ve never admitted this before, but I clearly remember a moment–several weeks after returning home with her–when I leaned close after dressing her and thought, “She doesn’t even smell right,”  then instantly burst into tears with the guilt of having such a disloyal thought.

We kept showing her love, though. John did it better than me. If the other children were tossed in the air, she was too. If the others were tickled, she was tickled, too. Her response might be to stare blankly at him while the others showered him with squeals of delight and giggles, but he didn’t let it bother him. I mothered her even though I did not feel like her mother at all. And, little-by-little, she began to accept that love. The more ways she let our love in, the healthier and more stable she became. She began to act like the others, respond like the others, and do things she thought would make us happy, but the foundation of love had to be laid first.

These days, people never guess she was adopted. Recently, after watching Marina play basketball, a stranger commented that she could, “just tell she belonged to us.” People have told me that she has my mannerisms and that she gets her patience from her Daddy. I hear my voice come out of her mouth when she reprimands a younger brother. Now, this is not always a good thing, but it does speak powerfully of the bond I have with this child. She is my real daughter.

Ephesians 5 begins with two commands, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” I believe the power to follow all of the instructions that follow in this chapter is found right here.  Before you can tackle the deeds of darkness, you must know and remember who you are. You are a beloved child. Meditate on that relationship. You are the real child of God. Accept His love. Rejoice in it. Give thanks for it. And what about when you simply don’t feel His love? Go to the foot of the cross. Gaze on His sacrifice. Take it in. Stay as long as you need to be filled with His love. Only then will you be able to walk in love as children of Light.

Today’s author: Jessica Sullens

Read Ephesians 6

To fully understand chapter 6, we must return to chapter 4 verse 1, where Paul instructs the saints at Ephesus, and thus all believers, to ‘walk worthy of the calling with which you have been called.’ Paul often uses this term for ‘walk’ in his letters to mean ‘live’. Live your life, walk your everyday, as you come and as you go. We see this in Romans 6:4, “walk in newness of life”; 2 Cor. 5:7, “walk by faith”; Galatians 5:16, “walk in the Spirit”; Col. 4:5, “walk in wisdom”; and 1 Thess. 2:12, “walk worthy of God.” So, in Ephesians 4:1, Paul instructs believers to live a life worthy of the call of God, of His grace and love, and in chapters 4-6, he explains what that means and how we do it.
In Eph. 6:1-4, we find the continuation from chapter 5 of instructions on this walking worthy within the family context. Children, honor and obey your parents; fathers, raise children in the ‘nurture and admonition of the Lord.’ (see Deut. 6:7) One thing to notice in verses 6-8, Paul’s instructions to slaves and masters, is that we are to do all things for the Lord, not for men. Do your job worthy of the calling of God for God, to His glory, not yours and not to please men. Not for that promotion, or so everyone can see what a ‘good person’ you are; but as the servants of Christs, as to the Lord (v. 6; Gal. 1:10).
Now we come to probably the most well-known and most often quoted portion of Ephesians 6 – the armor of God. Paul has instructed us in the what (a life ‘worthy’ looks like this) and now he tells us the how, because let’s be honest here, without Christ we can’t do any of that other for any extended period of time. Our strength is in the Lord, not ourselves. We can only walk worthy in the power and provision of the Lord. Oh, and Paul reminds us that as we walk in the Spirit living this life that is worthy, not only are we learning to walk in newness of life, a whole new way of living, but we are also in a war – an all-out battle, every day. And the enemy, well he’s not the neighbor who drives you crazy, or the boss who you would like to scream at, or the relative who pushes every button, or even the person on the opposite end of the political or cultural spectrum. Nope, our enemy is not flesh and blood. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” (Eph. 6:12) and again in 2 Cor. 10:3, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.” Therefore, we cannot battle in our own strength, in the ways of men. We must put on God’s armor – truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the Word. Note, the Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God, and it is the only offensive piece of armor we are given. If we are to wield this sword, we must know the Word; we must be in it, and engaged in the study of it. And one last thing, PRAY – always, in the Spirit, with all perseverance. Not just when times are bad, or you need direction, but pray always, and keep praying. Pray for the saints because they are in this war too. They are fighting this enemy; they are walking worthy of the call. Pray, not as a last resort, not with a defeatist attitude, not when we have exhausted all our own means, but pray every day for the grace to walk lives that are worthy. Pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ to have the same; pray with alertness; pray without ceasing; pray because our enemy is real; pray for the utterance to speak of the glory and mystery of the gospel. For the good news is that Christ has defeated our enemy; and He is worthy. Paul knows this, and that is why he asks them to pray that he would speak the gospel with boldness, even though he is imprisoned for that very thing. See, for Paul, Christ is worth it: the prison, the beatings, the persecution, the hunger, the mocking, the stoning, etc. Paul knows that nothing compares to the glory and love of Christ Jesus. So, let that be our prayer – that we would open our mouths boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, because it probably won’t cost us much, well, when compared to Christ anyway.

Today’s authors: Sean and Rebecca Jamerson 

Read Ephesians 4

Have you ever, in some unforeseen, uncontrollable circumstance, had to miss a tooth brushing? How about two? How did you feel? If you are like me you were paranoid about your breath or your smile. Your mouth felt nasty, and you rushed for a tooth brush at the very first opportunity. I am continually aware of my breath. I constantly buy breath mints. I keep them at work, in my school bag, and in my car. I simply do not want what is coming out of my mouth to be offensive to others. I wish I were as careful with my words. In today’s passage I am reminded to safeguard, not the smells that come out of my mouth, but the words.

“Let no unwholesome (literally ‘rotten’) word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29

“Let no rotten word proceed from your mouth.” Well, what is a rotten word? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul gives us a checklist. First, are the words about to come from my mouth “good for edification”? Do they build up or tear down? Do they encourage or discourage? Are they soothing or do they bite? Second, are the words about to come from my mouth “good for edification according to the need of the moment”? Are they useful right now, at this moment? Is the recipient ready to receive the words I am about to speak? Is this the right time to speak? Not only am I called to examine the words I say, I am also commanded to prayerfully consider both the person and the circumstance into which I am interjecting the comments. Lastly, will my words “give grace to those who hear”? Will my words point others to Jesus?

Brothers and sisters, this commandment not only applies to the words I say, but also to the words I type. What I record forever on social media must be checked by the same criteria.  Before I post, tweet, or send I must ask the crucial questions I find in this Scripture. Are these words good for edification? Is this the right time to send them? Is this the right media or forum to discuss these things? If the words I need to say are really important face to face conversation is always best. If face to face communication is not possible—say the person lives in another state—a phone call is better than an email or text. Lastly, I must ask myself, “Do my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts dispense God’s grace to those who read them?”

Dear friends if my words are not “good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that they will give grace to those who hear.” They are not good for anything. They are rotten words. When I think about it, I am disgusted by what I let proceed from my mouth daily. Today, I am asking the Holy Spirit to remind me of this command each time I brush my teeth or reach for a breath mint.

Lord Jesus, teach me to guard my words today for Your glory and praise. Amen.

Today’s author: John Sullens

Read Ephesians 3

In Ephesians 2 we have seen how our salvation was ultimately and decisively effected by God and God alone.  Now Paul, in Ephesians 3, transitions from the ‘HOW’ into the ‘WHY’.  Paul writing from prison reveals the great mystery of salvation.  Firstly, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs with the Jews through Christ Jesus (v.6).  And secondly, that this mystery, this great salvation was not primarily for our benefit.

WHAT??

What if I told you…. what if the Bible told you, that God saved you not ‘primarily’ because of His great love for you (though He does love you dearly and unconditionally), but He saved you primarily so that He would receive greater glory.  Verses 9 and 10 lay all of this out for us:

 9 and ito bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery jhidden for ages in2 God, kwho created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold lwisdom of God mmight now be made known to nthe rulers and authorities oin the heavenly places.

God has saved us so that through the church the ‘rulers and authorities in the heavenly places’ might look at God and see wisdom.  That they may praise His name, and give Him glory.  Some think ‘rulers and authorities’ to mean angels and the host of heaven, and maybe they are included.  Paul writes about ‘rulers and authorities’ later in Ephesians, and it is helpful to look at that context to determine what Paul is meaning here.  Ephesians 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  So, angels and demons will finally understand the mystery and marvel at the wisdom of God.

And this was His eternal plan.  God didn’t create the world, and somehow man messed up and God had to come to the rescue.  No, verse 11 “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  God’s eternal plan was to gain glory and have angels and demons marvel at His wisdom.  And He chose to do this by creating a world that would fall, so that He “could” come in the flesh, and rescue His fallen creation.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me marvel.

Today’s author: Lane Owens