Friday, November 30, 2012

The Lamb of God and Christmas' timing

Numbers 28:4 ‘You shall offer the one lamb in the morning and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight"

Today I want to talk about the centrality of the Lamb of God to Christmas.  Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God no less than 25 times in the New Testament.  Being that this title speaks primarily to His first coming, and being that Christmas celebrates God the Son coming to this planet as a virgin born baby, we simply propose that Christmas' center is the Lamb of God.  In thinking on this theme, we we want to look at how the Bible uses the Old and New Testament to show us some truths about how Jesus, the Lamb of God, is the focus for God's plan for the first Christmas.  In today's post we will deal with the centrality of the Lamb of God as He pertained to the timing of Christmas. 

The centrality of the lamb in communicating the timing of the sacrificial system
In Numbers 28 we see a summary list of all the major sacrifices and festivals that were to be celebrated by the Jewish people.  Lambs figured quite significantly into God's provision of the sacrifical system in the Old Testament.  For example, with regards to the timing of the sacrifices, Moses writes in Numbers 28:2 - “Command the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be careful to present My offering, My food for My offerings by fire, of a soothing aroma to Me, at their appointed time".  That phrase "appointed time", as well as the word "festival", communicate the combined idea in the Hebrew a dress rehearsal.  The sacrifices and feasts of Israel were like dress rehearsals, with Jesus Christ being the final and only performance of salvation.  As you go down through the remainder of Numbers 28, we see how lambs were significant in the daily, weekly, monthly and the annual Passover celebration:

-Daily there were to be two lambs offered, one in the morning, and one in the evening. (Numbers 28:1-8)

-Weekly, or every sabbath, two male lambs were to be sacrificed. (Numbers 28:9-10)

-Monthly, at the beginning of each month, the people were to sacrifice seven male lambs without defect, along with other types of animals.  (Numbers 28:11-15)

-Annually, once a year, at the Passover celebration, commemorating the Jews Exodus from Egypt, the Bible speaks of the people roasting a lamb for the passover meal and spreading its blood over the door posts of their homes. (Numbers 28:16; Exodus 12:1-13)

We could go further into the chapter, but the point is made: lambs were central to the cycles of time in the Old Testament sacrificial system (mentioned some 30 times or so in Numbers 28-29 alone). 

The Lamb of God - central to God's timing in accomplishing salvation
Truly the Old Testament is used to prepare for Christ's first coming in the New Testament, with His title "The Lamb of God" being no exception.  In the New Testament, the Bible is very clear about Jesus, the Lamb of God, coming at the right time.  We know that from eternity Jesus was regarded as the Lamb of God.  Consider for example Revelation 13:8 "And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." (KJV)  Being regarded as the Lamb of God in eternity, He came to become the Lamb of God in time.  Galatians 4:4-5 tells us: "when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, 5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons."

The timing of Jesus' coming into the world was no doubt perfect.  The first Christmas centered on the Lamb of God coming at just the right time.  In Luke 2:1-7, we see several indications of the timing of Christmas being centered around the Lamb of God - Jesus Christ:

1. The timing was right historically  - Luke 2:1-3 tells us of a census taken in the Roman world which prompted Joseph and Mary to go up to Bethlehem, some 90 miles from Nazaerth, where Joseph and Mary resided.  

2. The timing was right for His birth -Luke 2:5-7 tells us that Mary had reached full term with the God/man in her womb, revealing that the timing of His birth was right.

3. The timing of heaven and earth was right - Luke 2:8-20 that shepherds were in their fields, watching their flocks of sheep (lambs!), and suddenly the hosts of heaven made the announcement of Christ's birth. 

4.The timing of creation was right - Then in Matthew 2:2 we see the magi coming to worship the now two year old Christ child upon seeing a star which appeared over the night skies of Persia in their land.  For two years they traveled to see this wonder of wonders - the Lamb of God. 

God brought all this together to reveal this truth of the lamb of God coming at the right time that first Christmas.   

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Four ministries vital for spiritual formation

Ephesians 4:11-12, 15, 25 11And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ....15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ....25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.

Quick summary of the book of Ephesians - unveiling the Christian's true identity in Christlikeness: the aim of spiritual formation
In today's blog I want to do a thumbnail sketch of what I see the Apostle Paul outlining in terms of spiritual formation in the local church.  The whole book of Ephesians is all about revealing the identity of Christian as an heir of Christ, chosen by God in love (chapter 1), called by grace through faith, with such faith then expressed by the human will (chapter 2) to know the love of Christ (chapter 3).  With the Christian identity spelled out in Ephesians 1-3, the walking out of such identity is explained in Ephesians 4-6.  Thus believers are to walk worthily (chapter 4), walk in love (chapter 5) and walk in victory (chapter 6).  If any verse could sum up Ephesians, it would be Ephesians 2:10 - "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."

The four ministries vital for spiritual formation
Once I understand who I am and Whose I am in Christ in Ephesians 1-3, only then can I live out the expectations and commands of Ephesians 4-6.  The spiritual formation outlined in Ephesians 4-6 follows the major commands comprising those chapters:

1. "Walk in a manner worthy of the calling" Ephesians 4:1
2. "Walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind" Ephesians 4:17
3. "Walk in love" as beloved children of God Ephesians 5:1-2
4. "Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise" Ephesians 5:15
5. "Finally, be strong in the Lord"  Ephesians 6:10

These five major commands comprise in my mind the essence of spiritual formation in Jesus Christ in the local church.  Thankfully God has not left Christians by themselves to achieve this otherwise impossible mission. God has so ordained 4 major ministries to enable the local church to accomplish its goal as the number one community ordained by God to win souls to Jesus and to affect spiritual formation for its members.  Please take note:

1. Pastors - Ephesians 4:11.
Note the underlined word "pastors" in the beginning passage of today's blog entry.  The pastoral office is a distinct office from that of the "teacher".  The pastor's main role is to equip the saints, shepherd the saints, feed the saints, love the saints and lead the saints by God's Word.  A Pastor is vital to spiritual formation, since his ministry aims to exhort the heart, compell the will and nurture the soul of the saint of God. 

2. Teachers - Ephesians 4:12
In the passage above I also underlined "teachers".  Teachers are necessary to help train God's people in the realm of doctrine, application and God-focused thinking.  Often we see the offices of Pastor and Teacher overlap, sometimes being done by the Pastor who has teachings gifts, and by the teacher who can effectively shepherd those taught.  Men and women who teach God's word in the local church are invaluable in the Sunday School ministry, which is the chief strategic way to mobilize, train and disciple Christians to do Great Commission work.  More could be said but we will move onto the next major ministry in Ephesians 4: The Church Body.

3. The Church Body - Ephesians 4:12
In other passages such as 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and 1 Peter 4 we see God the Holy Spirit and God the Son gifting every Christian to minister and serve one another and reach out to the world.  Church body ministry is the direct result of consistent preaching and teaching of God's Word.  I don't doubt for a moment that Paul had this in mind, which is why He places body ministry right after the offices of Pastor and Teacher.  Christians cannot grow and spiritually transform without being regularly connected to the body of Christ - the local church. (Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24-25)

4. The Counseling Ministry - Ephesians 4:15,25
What a fine definition of counseling in Ephesians 4:15 and 4:25 - "speaking the truth in love".  In Ephesians 4:15 and 25 we find such a ministry being described.  Counseling is like preaching except rather than speaking to many it is one on one.  Counseling is also like teaching except rather than just aiming primarily at the mind and then the heart, it tries to connect on equal footings the mind and the heart.  Counseling is a major ministry of body ministry, since the work of ministry entails fatigue, need of wisdom, need of encouragement and conflict resolution.  Counseling ministry ideally would include the main efforts of the Pastor, as well as mature believers whom are walking with the Lord, regularly in the word and prayer.  Any Christian who desires to counsel must be submitted to the first three vital ministries if their counseling ministry is to flourish. 

As you can see, every Christian has a place of ministry: whether we are talking about Pastors, Teachers, Church members excercising their spiritual gifts or those who perform counseling.  The aim is spiritual formation in Christlikeness. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Suggestions for getting back into your Bible

Joshua 1:8 "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success."

How does one begin reading the Bible when they have never really read it?  Where do you begin and what suggested books or sections of the Bible would you read?  I have been asked questions like these and have found some helpful ways to "jumpstart" getting back into consistent reading and study of God's Word.  Below are some methods that either I have used or have heard from others in cultivating a consistent, daily time in the scriptures.

1. Read a Proverb a day. There are 31 chapters or Proverbs in the book of Proverbs.  Are you looking for wisdom in life or a greater effectiveness in your walk with the Lord?  Read Proverbs.  By reading one chapter a day for five minutes, you should be able to cover Proverbs in one month.  Once you have read through Proverbs in that first month of reading, read it again the second month - a chapter a day.  Then do it again.  I have done this and discovered something new and insightful from the Lord everytime I read.

2. Read 1 John in one week.  1 John is all about the Christian life and assurance of salvation.  There are some seventy statements in this little book that give you assurance of knowing who you are and Whose you are as a Christian.  There are five chapters, which means if you were to read a chapter a day, you could read 1 John six times in one month.  Make it your goal to read 1 John once a week, and watch your Christian life begin to soar as you discover more of who you are and Whose you are in Christ

3. Read five Psalms a day for a month.   As you read God's Word more, you'll find yourself wanting to read more of God's Word.  There are 150 Psalms.  Five a day for a month will get you through the book.  The Psalms speak to the personal and experiential side of your walk with God, and His thoughts toward you.

4. Read a chapter in each of the four Gospels per day.  The four Gospels introduce you to the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Matthew has 28 chapters.  Read a chapter a day and you'll get through Matthew in the first month, Mark almost twice in say the second month, Luke in the third month and easily John in the fourth month. 

The above plans are suggested reading plans which come highly recommended.  Whenever you and I make our intent to read and think on God's Word every day, growth and strength in faith will be on the way. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christians are more than "just forgiven"

Galatians 4:7 "Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God."

A true story about ex-cons
I'll never forget the time in the earlier part of my ministry when I had to do some hospital visitations. On the way into town there was a medium security prison that one would drive by before taking the "big right" in the center of town to access the medical center.  When I would drive into this particular town, I would see men with a worn back-pack, unkempt hair, untucked shirt, tatoos and a thumb looking for a ride.  No doubt I was witnessing those who had just been "released from the prison".

One day when I was waiting at the stop light adjacent to the prison, I spied a small door at the back of the facility.  I noticed a man coming out of the facility with the tell tale back pack - containing all of his worldly belongings.  It dawned on me that these men had "so-called" paid their debt to society.  They were, in the eyes of the law, "just forgiven" or "released". 

You could tell by the way they carried themselves that the so-called free air that they looked to breath was not true freedom. Why?  Those men had no home to go to.  They did not have family and friends waiting for them. Many of these men, some of whom I knew personally, lived from hotel to hotel, scraping and scrawling their way.  They still had a record, a past and a whole host of hidden offenses, hurts, pain and unreformed desires.  Despite being no-longer behind bars - these men were ex-cons - in need of true forgiveness and the victory of knowing Christ by faith.

The Bumper Sticker theology of "just forgiven" is not an adequate picture of true Christian identity
The story above reminds me of so-many Christians that I know (and on occasion what I may think of myself of I'm not careful), that walk around like they are "ex-cons".  I'm sure you have seen those bumper stickers that say "just forgiven".  Everytime I see one of those signs, I want to take a big black marker and write before that phrase "more than". 

Too often Christians today view themselves as having been forgiven of their sins and on their way to heaven, but in the the time being just scrawling by, scraping through from one day to the next, just forgiven.  The problem with such theology is that it tells only half the story.  The Bible describes this view of oneself in terms of a "slave mentality". 

When used in the positive sense, the term "slave" speaks of  Christians as slaves of righteousness, without any rights to their own, bought with a price by the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) Yet when used in the negative sense, the term "slave" speaks of a believer who is not aware of (or momentarily forgotten) who they are and whose they are.  In Galatians Paul is laying out the believer's true identity:

-You are no longer a slave but..
-a son, and if a son....
-then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:7)

Marvelously the Christian is not just merely "forgiven".  In fact, in Christ, the believer does not have a "record", "a past".  The rap sheet is clean since the past of the Christian was nailed to the cross and the Spirit of God united the Christian to Christ's righteousness - making him the "righteousness of God" in Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:21)  We are more than forgiven. 

Justified, adopted, united with Christ by faith - the truth behind "more than just forgiven"
Three biblical terms are used to demonstrate that you and I as Christians are more than "just forgiven".  We are first of all "justified", declared by God the Father to be free the penalty of the law's condemnation, and thus legally "right with Him".  To be justified means "just-as-if-I-never sinned. (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21)  In justification I'm made legally right with God at the moment of saving faith, credited with Christ's righteousness.  In adoption I'm declared relationally right with God at saving faith.  Passages such as Ephesians 1:3; Romans 8:16-17 and Galatians 4:1-7 speak of the incredible truth of adoption. 

Then thirdly, I am positionally connected to Christ by union with Christ - a work done by the Holy Spirit at saving faith.  Union with Christ is what the Spirit of God does in taking all of Christ's righteousness and work and applying it to me.  The second part of union deals with His erasing my past and forever welding my identity to Christ's humanity - as an heir of God and a co-heir of Christ. (compare Romans 6:1-11; 8:16-17; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; 2 Peter 1:3-4).    

It is in sanctification that I am becoming in experience whom God has declared me to be in position - more than just forgiven
To be positionally "more than just forgiven" is one thing, but what about an accompanying experience?  The Bible reveals that God has given us the Holy Spirit to work in us God's perfect and pleasing will as we simultaneously work out our salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12-13)  The Bible clearly tells you believer that because of the Spirit's ongoing work of sanctification, and your cooperation in that post-conversion work, you are "no longer under condemnation" (Romans 8:1) and "more than a conqueror" (Romans 8:37).  Jesus came to give us "life, life more abundantly" (John 10:10)  May you and I live today as Christians who are more than "just forgiven".   

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Holy Spirit's ministries to the believer

Romans 8:11 "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."

Yesterday we looked in detail at the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian.  So fundamental is that ministry that without it, no one can be a Christian nor can many other wonderful truths of the Christian life have their beginning and continuance.  In today's blog I want to take the remainder of Romans 8:9-17 and just list the chief ministries of the Holy Spirit enumerated by the Apostle Paul.  Perhaps in the fullest way possible we get an overview of the Christian life from inception to completion through the ministries of the Holy Spirit in the Christian.

1. The Spirit's indwelling - The Beginning the Christian faith-life.
Romans 8:9-11a "However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you...."

2. The Spirit's resurrection of the physical body - Completes the Faith-life
Romans 8:11b "He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."

As we have seen thus far, the "book-ends" of the Christian life are well represented in Romans 8:8-11: Conversion and Resurrection.  Much of what follows from Romans 8:12-16 represents the the faith-life that exists in between those two points: from the moment of saving faith until Christ's return and our life in a glorified resurrection body.  What ministries of the Holy Spirit are experienced by the believer in the here and now?

3. The Spirit's Sanctification of the soul - Progressing us onward and upward to live the Christian life and be like Jesus
Romans 8:12-13 "So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live."  Truly sanctification has its beginning at conversion, and progresses on in making us in experience who we are declared positionally to be by God the Father at conversion (called justification).  Since sanctification's aim is at the soul, its process is completed the moment I die and go to be with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6) 

4. The Spirit's leading of the Christian
Romans 8:14 "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.A Christian is a person who not only can hear God but follow God.  The Holy Spirit affirms His will to the Christian through scripture (Romans 10:17; 1 John 2:27) and confirms the Christian's understanding through circumstances (Acts 16:6-7); people (Proverbs 15:22; Proverbs 24:6) and peace (Philippians 4:6-7)  Though not mentoned in this text, a closely related work of the Spirit is His ministry of "filling", whereby the believer is under the influence of His work in their mind, emotions and will in obedience to God's Word.  Passages such as Ephesians 5:18 command us to be "filled with the Spirit". 

5. The Spirit's ministry of Adoption
Romans 8:15-16 "For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God."  It is the Spirit's ministry of adoption that welds together our position in Christ to our experience of Christ.  This truly lies at the center of know "who I am and whose I am". 

6. The Spirit's ministry of uniting us with Christ
Romans 8:17 "and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him."  1 Corinthians 12:12-13 states this ministry in similar thoughts: "For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit."

Romans 8:9-17 represents the best summary of the major ministries of the Holy Spirit you will find in consecutive verses anywhere in God's word.  My prayer is that your appetite has been whetted to consider these truths more fully. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Holy Spirit's indwelling ministry

Romans 8:9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.

God in us - The Spirit's indwelling ministry
Romans 8:9-16 gives us a full treatment and wonderful summary of the key ways in which the Holy Spirit works in the life of the Christian.  Most fundamental to salvation and the beginning of the Christian life is the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Simply put - the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is when God the Holy Spirit comes to live inside a human being at the moment of saving faith. 

Distinguishing the Holy Spirit's ministry in the Old and New Testament believer
All believer's of all ages were marked by the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives - however there was a major distinction that defined Old from New Testament saint.  In the Old Testament or Old Covenant period (Genesis-Acts 1) the Holy Spirit worked from "outward to inward", dwelling "with" or "upon" the believer. In the New Testament or New Covenant era (Acts 2 onward), the Holy Spirit would enhance His work and presence by coming to dwell "in" the believer.  Jesus in John 14:17 most clearly bears this distinction out: "that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you."

Scriptures that bear out the truth of the Spirit's indwelling ministry in the believer
Before we list a few thoughts regarding the significance of the Holy Spirit's indwelling ministry, it is vital to list some of the key verses which speak about it:
1. Ezekiel 36:27 "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances."

2. Romans 8:16 "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God"

3. 1 Corithians 6:19 "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body."

4. Ephesians 4:30 "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption."

5. 2 Timothy 1:14 "Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you."

6. 1 John 2:27 "As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. "

7. 1 John 4:13  "By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit."

The significance of the Holy Spirit's indwelling ministry
As you can see, quite a few passages underscore the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit.  The quantity of the passages above points to the necessity for you and I as Christians to consider more closely and carefully our Christian walk.  As we close out today's blog, I want to list some observations on the significance of the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit:

1. The Fundamental mark of Christian identity. Romans 8:9, 16; 1 John 4:13

2. The Foundation for the Christian life.  Ezekiel 36:27; 1 John 4:13

3. The Faith-life's source for guidance/understanding.  1 John 2:27

4. The Full-rights God has in owning us. 1 Corinthians 6:19

5. The Faith-life's responsibility to live the Holy life. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Ephesians 4:30

6. The Full-time home of God in us. John 14:17; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 2 Corinthians 6:16

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Church Steeple - A Poem

Today's post is some reflections on the place of the church and the Gospel which she preaches in the 21st century. 

The Church Steeple
The spire of hope, aiming to the sky
Overlooks the city, full of passers-by
Its white gleaming paint and golden cross
Pointing to hope for a humanity that is lost
The world is convinced that its message is no longer needed
They say the God of its claims went ignored and unheeded
Glamour and fame, bright lights and smart phones
Humanity defined as evolved flesh and bones
The steeple has seen many clouds go by
Suns have risen up and sunken in the sky
The Gospel preached under its point below
Has seen such claims come and go
An atheist said Christianity would be laid to rest
Yet his home became a Bible printing press
The church's identity rises no higher than the cross
The Savior will prevail despite culture's tempest toss
I fear not of skeptics ramblings, ebb and flow of culture's tide
The Steeple of the Gospel will stand and the Word will abide

Friday, November 23, 2012

The consequences of taking up offense

Mark 6:3 “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.

They thought they were dealing with a "safe" Jesus
Jesus was rounding out the first year of his public ministry.  His ministry circuit in Galilee would take him to Nazareth, the town where he grew up.  In Mark 6:1-2 we pick up the narrative: "1Jesus went out from there and came into His hometown; and His disciples followed Him. 2When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, 'Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands?"' These people had known Jesus from his childhood days growing up.  They were familiar with him - or at least they thought they were. 

Jesus crossed their line - they took up the offense
The people of Nazareth had drawn lines around Jesus, pigeonholed him and concluded he was just "one of the boys" so to speak.  Upon his return, Jesus very quickly shattered their pre-conceived notions.  The Bible tells us that they uttered what they thought they knew about Jesus.  Their description of Jesus was a view of Jesus that was safe, non-threatening and non-intrusive.    However it was very clear - they had drawn a line that Jesus had crossed.  The people of Nazareth took up the offense and chose to remain bitter, rather than get right and get better. 

As saw yesterday, offenses come in this world.  Whenever you and I get angry at someone, it can be over something petty or over something that is downright wrong they have done to us.  The point being is that a line has been cross - preceived or unperceived.  What happens when we bear the grudge?  Note some key characteristics of these people in Nazareth as a case study of the consequences of taking up offense:

1. Refusal to honor Christ's authority. Mark 6:4
Jesus stated that a prophet is without honor in his hometown.  This fits in line with the modern day saying of "familiarity breeds contempt".  Whenever we take up offense, we will find ourselves progressively refusing to give honor to Jesus Christ.  The Bible is the authority of Christ written, since it is classified as the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)  People who take up offense will over time grow cynical to either God's word or spiritual authorities who minister in the name of Jesus.  Clearly these people would not honor Jesus.

2. Restriction of God's power.  Mark 6:5
The scripture says "he was not able to do many miracles".  Because the people took up the offense against Jesus, the consuequence was the limiting of the demonstration of God's power in their lives.  Whenever we are either defeated in our Christian walk or see defeat in another person's life, it is guaranteed that somewhere in the past  that individual took up offense.  Its as if they shut off God's power in that area.  Jesus did heal a few people, but not many.  Unless the offended person forgives and puts off the malice and anger that they have been carrying around, the power of God will not be fully experienced in their lives.

3. Rejection. Mark 6:5
I would add this third consequence of taking up offense - rejection.  Rejection describes the spiritual dimension of operating in resentment. When I say rejection, I mean that a person who is bearing offense will not receive a legitimate offer of help.  I believe Jesus was restricted physically as well as supernaturally by these people.  Because they could not get past their perception of Jesus as "mary's son", they simply refused His attempts to minister.  No doubt the restriction of God's power led to so-few healings, but I would also suggest that practically speaking, these people left Jesus.  I have had times in my life where I bore up offense, and whenever someone tried to help me, I got angry and thought they were patronizing me.  I know what it is like, and can tell you plainly that only through the cross and forgiveness can the bondage of rejection produced by offense be broken. 

4. Repeats and grows worse if not let go. Matthew 13:53-57
In Matthew 13:53-57 we see Jesus return back to Nazareth after a period of time to attempt a second round of ministry.  Amazingly these people were still hanging onto their offense.  In fact the identicle words are repeated by them, indicating that they had not changed.  Matthew 13:56-57 states "And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief."

Whenever you and I take up offense, if left unchecked, our hurt and pain will start sounding like a broken record.  We will become "frozen" in the time and memory of those events.  An offense taken up years ago will still be fresh in the mind of the hurt person.  Presented with the same opportunity will issue forth the same response, the same hurt.  Furthermore, the hurt and pain can be repeated in others around us, which is why Hebrews 12:15 warns us to "not let a root of bitterness to rise up in us, lest we defile many". 

5. Root of offense is unbelief.  Mark 6:6; Matthew 13:57
So when did unbelief factor into the offense?  By the response.   You and I dear friend cannot, in a lot of ways, control others, nor our circumstances nor the level of hurt that may come at us.  However there is one thing we can control - our response.  If as a Christian I take my anger and resentment and "cast all my anxiety upon the Lord", the Bible promises "He will take care of you". (1 Peter 5:7).  Faith says: Lord, I don't know how to forgive, however you through me is more than able to love and forgive.  Thus I will be in you everything you want. Offense will prefer to "hang on" to the resentment, not ever speaking to God about it.  For those who have been truly hurt by careless or vindictive people, unchecked anger will lead you to conclude that God can do nothing about it.  This is why James 1:20 states: "the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God". (ESV) 

Forgiveness is the quickest route to be healed of the consequences of offense
James 4:6-7 tells us: "6But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” 7Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you."  I love this passage, since it states: "He gives greater grace" and "gives grace to the humble".  If we will but humble outselves to the Lord and say: "God, I don't know how, but you through me can teach me how", the promise is that His greater grace is there.  All we need to do is believe God, not doubt, and trust that what may not make sense emotionally is the only thing that makes sense in light of eternity.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32; Colossians 3:13)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

P2 The healing power of thankfulness

1 Thessalonians 5:18 "in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."

To all of my readers I wish a happy thanksgiving in the Lord.  In light of today, we continue on with where we left off, explaining 1 Thessalonians 5:15-22 and the healing power of thankfulness to the Lord.  One of the greatest graces given by God to the believer in Jesus Christ is thankfulness.  Yesterday we explored 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18, noting how thankfulness combats the consequences occur when we harbor resentment, bitterness or what the Bible calls: "Take up offences". 

1. Thankfulness is the antidote to seeking vengance, since through it I can carry out God's command to "seek after that which is good for one another and for all people."  (1 Thessalonians 5:15)

2. Thankfulness is the antidote to complaining, since through it I can carry out the command to "rejoice always". (1 Thessalonians 5:16)

3. Thankfulness is the antidote to prayerlessness, since through it I can cultivate a lifestyle woven with prayer. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

4. Thankfulness is the antidote to be out of God's known will, since by it I can instantly get back in step with God. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

What else this grace of giving thanks do for hearts that have been hurt and harmed? Today we will look at the remainder of 1 Thessalonians 5:18-22. 1

Other symptoms of taking up offense that can be healed by giving thanks to God

5. Thankfulness to God can be the antidote to not being able to hear God. (1 Thessalonians 5:19)
When Christians take up bitterness or resentment rather than forgiveness, they place a block between them and their ability to hear God.  When Paul speaks of "not quenching the Holy Spirit", He is saying "don't do anything whereby you would begin hindering the Spirit's work in your life".  Another set of passages, Ephesians 4:26-27 and verse 30 all state:  26 "BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not give the devil an opportunity....30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption."  The antidote in the Ephesians passage is to "be kind-hearted to one another" (4:32), which can very easily be fulfilled by being thankful for one another and to one another. 

6. Thankfulness to God can be the antidote to lack of interest in the Bible. (1 Thessalonians 5:20)
When you and I as Christian stop being a thankful people, it will greatly affect how we view the Bible.  The same affect occurs whenever we take up offense.  People that take up offenses demonstrate an increasing inability of not being able to digest spiritual truth. (Matthew 13:53-58; Mark 6:1-6)  Bitterness will never make it better, however forgivness will enable you to flourish.  This principle not only works in the realm of your emotional life and thought-life but also in your attitude towards God's word.  A person who comes into a church service with a bitter heart will despise the preaching of God's Word at some point.  What thanksgiving does is that that demonstrates that I am aiming to see God.  Guaranteed, whenever you come into a church service with thanksgiving, my friend you will be able to hear God. 

7. Thankfulness to God can be the antidote to wanting to live right and do right for God. (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22)
In this final observation on the healing power of thanksgiving, we are commanded to essentially: "hold to what is good and let go of what is evil".

Lets say I gave you a bag of broken glass to carry in one arm and a bouquet of flowers to carry in the other - how long could you enjoy the flowers?  I guaranteee you'd be so worried about the broken glass cutting you or coming out of the bag that the flowers would be the last thing on your mind. 

Whenever you and I harbor bitterness, we carry around in our hearts the broken glass of a former friendship, a soured business deal or misunderstanding.  Either we have to let go of that bag and "hold fast" to the sweet aroma of "every good and perfect gift coming down to us from God" (James 1:17), or else forget the flowers and carry that broken, which over time will cut and hurt even more.  This is Paul's point in 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 - "But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil." 

Only when I choose to thank God, rather than grumble, will I be able to begin healing from hurt.  Only when I forgive, rather than fight and snap at that person who intentionally or unintentionally hurt me, will I then see healing take place in my heart.  It all begins with thanksgiving to God in Christ, and ends with a heart healed and ready to move on in one's walk with the Lord. 

1 I find 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to be central to these bullet-point commands of Paul for two reasons.  First, the phrase "for this" in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 is a word that gives a reason for do a particular action.  Thus in giving thanks, I can go back and connect to the other commands in 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18, as well as those following the passage.  The second reason I find 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to be central to this string of commands is because it plainly states: "this is God's will".  What does it look like when I am functioning in God's will? I will look out for others, rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks, not quench the Spirit, hang onto that which is good and abstain from evil.  Thanksgiving to God gets me back into that pattern, a pattern that can be exited out of when I choose to complain and hold resentment.  These two reasons are why I have been laboring like I have been in today's blog and yesterday's.   

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

P1 - The healing power of thankfulness

1 Thessalonians 5:18 "in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."

Yesterday's blog defined and introduced the reader to the biblical teaching on "taking up offense".  When you and I take up offense, we choose to retain resentment, anger and bitterness, rather than "letting go" and forgiving.  In Matthew 18 and Luke 17 Jesus warns the reader about the dangers of offenses, how they are inevitable in this world and how easily they can be "taken up" and retained.

Today, in light of thanksgiving, I want to offer the reader a very effective antidote to the heart that is racked by resentment, bombarded by bitterness and refuses to quit rehearsing past hurts.  When coupled with a heart that is confessing of hurt and pain to God, the simplicity of giving thanks marks the first step towards enjoying God.  Lets consider some thoughts from 1 Thessalonians 5:15-22

How being thankful can bring healing to a heart that has taken up offense
In 1 Thessalonians 5:15-22 Paul lays out a series of commands, with the exhortation of 5:18 for thanksgiving being in the middle of the series.  I find it interesting that what Paul mentions in these verses deal with the debilitating affects that occur when we take up offense, with thanksgiving being the solution for each one:

1. How thanksgiving to God solves the need for vengance.  1 Thesslonians 5:15  
People who take up offense will over time become more and more caustic, finding ways to repay the evil that was no doubt unfairly done against them or perceived to have been done against them.  Paul says that rather than repaying "evil for evil", believers need to:  "always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people."  The way I begin to carry out 1 Thessalonians 5:15 is by giving thanks to God.  When I direct my thanks to God, I am expressing trust and appreciation to the only one who can heal the hurt of my heart.  The Lord in turn will teach me how to forgive as the Lord forgave me. (Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:31-32)  In the context of this passage, we are not just getting mere behavior modification, rather for all these commands there is the provision of grace of thanksgiving. (5:18)

2. How thanksgiving to God solves the lack of joy. 1 Thessalonians 5:16
Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 "rejoice always".  Whenever we take up offense, our hearts are characterized by complaining and lack of joy.  Whenever I have taken up offense, I discover myself complaining and being negative about everything.  The command to "rejoice always" can only be accomplished whenever we give thanks.  All of God's commands require His grace to carry them out.  Whenever you and I give thinks to God, we open the door for Him to release His power and grace into our lives.  Furthermore, whenever you choose to give thanks, you will find more things to be thankful for - leading you to be a more joyful person.  Again the command here in verse 16 is grammatically and in context connected to the command to give thanks in 5:18.

3. How thanksgiving to God solves prayerlessness.  1 Thessalonians 5:17
People who take up offense will soon be a people who struggle to pray or stop praying all together.  Paul states here in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 "pray without ceasing".  How is that possible?  It all starts with thanksgiving to God.  Naturally thanksgiving is a mode of prayer, since it is also the first step in praise to God. (Psalm 100:4-5).  If your prayer-life is dried up, thank God for what He did for you by sending Jesus Christ.  Scriptures such as Ephesians 1:7; Romans 5:6-10 and 1 Peter 2:22-24 are excellent passages to think on before praying.  I guarantee whenever you start thanking God, your prayer life will go from crawling to soaring.

4. How thanksgiving to God gets you back into the known will of God. 1 Thessalonians 5:18-19
1 Thessalnians 5:18 states: "to give thanks in all things, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."  I love passages that tell me what God's will is for my life.  Whenever you and I believer take up offense, hold the grudge and refuse to let go of past hurts, we begin to drift.  The known will of God is the Word of God. (Deuteronomy 29:29) When Christians finds themselves either wanting to hurt other people, complaining and not praying, then its a sure sign they are operating out of the known will of God.  What I find encouraging about the simplicity of thanksgiving is that it enables me to get back immediately to doing what the Lord saved me for - "to do good works", "to be zealous to do good deeds" and "to be the praise unto His glory". (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:14; Ephesians 1:12)

The truth of this section of scripture is so important that I would like us to continue on tomorrow.  May you dear reader have a wonderful Thanksgiving day tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Don't be offended

Matthew 18:7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! (KJV)

Matthew 18:7 "Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!" (NASB)

What it means to take up offense
What is Jesus referring to here when he warns about "taking up offenses" or "stumbling blocks"?  The Greek word used for "offenses" and "stumbling blocks" in this passage is the word "scandalon" from whence were derive our English word "scandal".  Offenses are those events or words that hinder or greatly diminish belief in the Lord.  To take up offense means to perceive the crossing of a line in a response of anger or bitterness.  Its another way of saying that I retain resentment, bitterness or a grudge rather than forgiveness.  Offenses or stumbling blocks cause by the wrongdoing of others are by nature contrary to God's word.  Thus in taking up an offense as one being wronged, my heart's responses to spiritual truth will be affected - often leaving me with a limited ability or no ability to appreciate Christ and His word.  As Proverbs 18:19 reminds us - "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, And contentions are like the bars of a citadel."

In what circumstances do offenses occur?
Often a stumbling block or offense occurs when a misplaced word or misperception of a person's actions or words results in you and I being bitter rather than forgiving.  Jesus is telling us here in this passage that "in this world it is inevitable, there will be offenses".  If you have not ever had the opportunity to be hurt, or be at the
receiving end of thoughtless words and deeds - just wait!  
In the parallel account of Luke 17:1-2 Jesus says:  "He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! 2“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble."

So its not a matter of "if offenses will come", rather it is more a matter of "when they will come".  You and I cannot control what people will say or what events will come into our lives.  We also are not living in a fair world, since our world is a fallen one.  The only thing we can control is our response.  Will you be bitter, or better?  Will you retain a grudge, or forgive as the Lord forgave you?  (Colossians 3:13) Unless the cross is in our center-line of vision, the vulnerability to taking up offenses will be pretty high. 

An illustration of someone taking up an offense
One day a man decided to take his friend from overseas to see a football game. The friend had never been to a game, nor was he familiar at all with football. As they were up in the stands, watching the game, the crowd around them was cheering, and the man himself was whooping and hollering, for the home team was winning. However his friend sat motionless with a scowl on his face.

After the game was over, the excited man asked his friend: "So what did you think of your first football game"? His friend sharply responded: I have never been so offended in all my life! Those fellows in the stripped shirts kept ever so often getting together in the middle of the field, stopping the players from playing. And you know what, I think they were talking about me!"

Now this illustration conveys the truth of what Jesus is teaching. The friend in our little story perceived a line had been crossed. He came to the game, not knowing what to expect. As he watched, he began to draw conclusions about what he thought he saw.  All we know is that the man chose to respond in anger and bitterness, resulting in his inability to appreciate the effort of the other man in treating him to his first football game.

The warning about taking up offense
Now Jesus is not dismissing from responsibility the one who says careless words or does thoughtless deeds.  Often when an offense is taken up, a legitimate hurt has been committed, and not just merely a misunderstanding.  Certainly those who are careless or reckless in their treatment of us should be held accountable for their actions.  The key of course is by whom should they be held accountable - us or God? 

Jesus is warning us who have been at the receiving end to be careful not to "hold bitterness" or "take up offense".  Again in Luke 17:3 we read - 3“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4“And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

So in this world of ours, and even in the church, the likelihood of someone saying something wrong, or not saying something that should had been said, can yield in us a response of anger or bitterness if we're not careful.  If we have taken strides to guard are hearts through reflecting on God's Word and God's forgiveness in Jesus Christ, the chances of taking up offenses will be greatly diminished.  More tomorrow....

Monday, November 19, 2012

Disappointment - His Appointment: An anonymous poem

Today's post features a poem I read recently that was written by an anonymous author.  I figured since we had been studying about forgiveness this past week, this poem would fit quite well.  May the Lord bless you on this day dear reader.

Dissapointment - His Appointment
Author: Unknown 
Disappointment - His Appointment
Change one letter - then I see
That the thwarting of my purpose
Is God's better choice for me
His appointment must be blessing
Tho' it may come in disguise
For the end from the beginning
Open to His wisdom lies
Disappointment - His Appointment
No goodwill He withhold
From denials oft we gather
Treasures of His love untold
Well He knows each broken purpose
Leads to fuller deeper trust
And the end of all His dealings
Proves our God is wise and just
Disappointment - His Appointment
Lord, I take it, then, as such
Like clay in the hands of a potter
Yielding wholly to thy touch
My life's plan is thy molding
Not one single choice be mine
Let me answer, unrepining
Father, not my will, but thine

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Having Zeal like Jesus

Numbers 25:11 (KJV) Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy.

When zeal for God intersects with youth
In Numbers 25 we find God's people reeling from the heels of compromise.  The Bible tells us that the people heeded the counsel of the pagan prophet Balaam and began to commit fornication with the women of Moab and spiritual fornication through the worship of Moabite deities. (Numbers 31:16; Revelation 2:14)  Needless to say God pronounced judgment upon the leadership of Israel, a plague broke out and the people were desparately weeping at the entryway of the tabernacle along with Moses. (Numbers 25:4, 9) To compound the situation, an Israelite man decided to flagrantly commit sin by parading both he and one of the women before the people who were gathered. (Numbers 25:6) 

Phineas, the young grandson of Aaron and son of Eliezer, the high priest of Israel, could not stand it any longer.  The Bible records his response in Numbers 25:8  "he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel." We know that Phineas could not had been older than 20, since his name does not appear in the census of men 20 years and older in Numbers 26.  He was but a youth, and yet he displayed the wisdom of the aged.  He was zealous for His God, so much so that God pledged he would have a perpetual priesthood. (Numbers 25:12-13)

What is zeal for God?
Phineas the youth, in the priestly line of Israel, a young lad, took up the cause as God's man - he was zealous for God.  In fact redemptive history has this to say about Phineas' zeal in Psalm 106:29-31"Thus they provoked Him to anger with their deeds, and the plague broke out among them. 30Then Phinehas stood up and interposed, and so the plague was stayed. 31And it was reckoned to him for righteousness, to all generations forever." What did Phineas exhibited that stands out in scripture in defining him with the zeal of God?

1. Promoted God's work.   Numbers 25:1-7 
The Lord said to Moses, who in turn told the judges of Israel, that all who joined themselves to the revelry of Baal of Peor and the immorality of the people were to be executed. (Numbers 25:4-5)  Phineas took up the cause of God's work.  Lest the plague be stayed, lest the rebels parading the cause of unrighteousness be ceased, God's work would be jeopardized.  Phineas, the youth of his time, promoted God's work.  But notice also...

2. Prioritized God's Word.   Numbers 25:8-9
Phineas did as God and Moses had told the judges - he went in and slayed those who were alligned with the rebellion against God.  He heard the word of God - and he acted accordingly.  Zeal for God does not know slow nor delayed obedience - only instant obedience to God's word.

3. Empowered by God's Holy Spirit.   Numbers 25:10-18
God said that Phineas did what he did with "His jealousy" (NASB) or as the KJV renders "His zeal".  Undoubtedly Phineas acted under the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  The "zeal of the Lord" or "jealously of the Lord" is used elsewhere to describe the power of the Holy Spirit. (Isaiah 9:6-7) 1

Phineas' zeal was like Jesus zeal
In John 2:13-17 we find Jesus at the beginning of His ministry.  We see Him going into the temple and throwing out the money changers
The zeal of God finds its zenith in the life of Jesus.  Phineas foreshadowed what would be the fulfillment in Jesus Christ.2  Jesus too exhibited zeal for God:

1. He promoted God's work John 2:13-16
He told those in the temple they were making the Father's house into a house of merchandise.  What was profane had trespassed on the grounds of the sacred.  Zeal for God draws the line between the two.  God's work needs zealous people who will defend and promote the glory of God.

2. He prioritzed God's word  John 2:17
In acting out Psalm 69:9, Jesus is placing God's word above popularity and favor with men.  The zeal of God consumed him.

3. He was empowered by the Holy Spirit  John 2:17
Luke 4:18 records Jesus at the beginning of His ministry as being empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Undoubtedly what he did in the temple was directed and empowered by the Spirit of God. 

Phineas' zeal for God was ultimately like Jesus' zeal.  As we close out this blog today, I want to urge you and I to have zeal for God like Jesus.  Two passages in the New Testament describe the kind of people Christians ought to be like with regards to zeal for God:

As Christians, may we have the zeal of Jesus
Romans 12:11 (NIV) "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord."

Titus 2:14 (NASB)  "who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds."

May we be those who promote the work of God, prioritze the word of God and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. 


The phrase "zeal for God" is used in scripture to describe the ministry of the work of the Holy Spirit.  Compare 2 Kings 19:31; Isaiah 9:7; 37:15.  I would suggest that since Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, and since Isaiah 9:6-7 predicts the Messiah with the phrase "zeal of the Lord of hosts", then it follows that "zeal of the Lord" refers to the activity of the Holy Spirit working in the Messianic ministry of Jesus and in the life of the believer who exhibits zeal for God.

2 Phineas is a type or shadow of Jesus Christ. Like Jesus, he made atonement, or satisfaction for the people. (Numbers 25:13; 1 John 2:2) Secondly, like Jesus, Phineas was declared by God to have a perpetual priesthood and covenant of peace. (Numbers 25:12; Hebrews 7:24-25) Phineas' priesthood in terms of its ongoing nature would last as long as the Aaronic priesthood, which terminated once Christ came. Thirdly Phineas' name in the Hebrew means "face open to God". 2 Corinthians 4:4 describes the glory of God being in rhe face of Jesus Christ. 


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Refreshing Benefits of Forgiveness

Philemon 20 Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.

For the past few days we have been exploring the major themes of forgiveness in Philemon.  Thus far we have discovered the following truths:

The hub of Christian identity is forgiveness - Philemon 1-3
The heart behind forgiveness is God's love - Philemon 4-9
The appeal to forgive finds its beginning and end in the cross - Philemon 10-19

In today's blog we want to round out this study of Philemon by noting the refreshing benefits of forgiveness.  As we saw in the above verse, Philemon's positive response to Paul's appeal to forgive Onesimus will undoubtedly "refresh" Paul's heart.  Forgiveness benefits both the forgiver and the forgiven in the following ways:

1. Godly living will flow from delight, not just duty. 
As Paul writes in Philemon 20-21: "Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say."  

2. Godly insights will become more available.
Philemon 22 tells us: "22At the same time also prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you."

3. Godly fellowship will grow sweeter.
We read in Philemon 23-24: "Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers."  Notice all of the wonderful people that can be opened up to us when we forgive.  Not only does forgiveness open our lives up to let the light of the Lord shine in, but also to let the fellowship of other Christians be more sweeter and precious.

4. God's grace will operate more freely.
We discover in Philemon 25: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit". When you and I forgive, its not that we have to beg God for the grace needed to live with whatever consequences or whatever cost forgiveness may have to absorb.  Rather, by forgiving, we are stepping into grace already available. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

The appeal to forgive

Philemon 10-11 "I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, 11who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me."

For the past couple of days we have been exploring the book of Philemon, noting the major themes of forgiveness.  No other book in the Bible is soley devoted the subject of forgiveness like Philemon.  At the heart of this short letter is Paul's appeal to Philemon to forgive his run away slave Onesimus.  If you will recall, Onesimus had stolen property from Philemon, ran away and ended up in the same prision situation as the Apostle Paul.  Onesimus' conversion to Christ prompted Paul to appeal to Philemon to take Onesimus back and regard him as a fellow brother.

The appeal to forgive expects a response
The word translated "appeal" in verse 10 is translated elsewhere in the New Testament as a "summons", a "call", an "urging" and an "exhortation".  This request by Paul carries with it the idea of an expected response from Philemon.  It shows us that true forgiveness in Christ is connected with the Divine calling of God on your life as a Christian.  We have seen already that forgiveness is at the hub of the Christian identity and that love is at its heart.  Now we can add another thought to understanding true forgiveness - namely that it is an appeal. 

For the remainer of this post I want to unfold the manner of the appeal to forgive written here by Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Note the following about the appeal to forgive:

1. The appeal to forgive comes from a mediator.  Philemon 10-13
The Lord is speaking through Paul to Philemon.  God is making His appeal.  He desires His people to be reconciled to Him and to one another.  Paul is functioning here as a mediator between Philemon and Onesimus, a role that he has done before in other letters to other churches. (compare Philippians 4:1-2)The Lord shows us that only with a mediator can forgiveness be possible. (1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 1:9-2:2; Hebrews 1:3-4). 

2. The appeal of forgiveness is to a willing heart.  Philemon 14
Paul's appeal is based in love, which we explored in the last post.  We won't write too much more on this point, only to note that love and forgiveness have this common trait - a willing heart.  What Paul is trusting God for and appealing to Philemon for is a willing heart to forgive.

3. The appeal to forgive acknowledges God's working. Philemon 15-16
We read in verses 15-16 of Philemon: "For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, 16no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord."  I love it when a biblical author writes a phrase like - "perhaps for this reason".  It clues us in on the fact that the events leading to Onesimus' incarceration with Paul and Paul's letter to Philemon were orchestrated by God. 

God was at work.  No doubt he had brought Onesimus to the end of himself.  Onesimus had been a runaway thief. Now Onesimus was a convert, a worshipper of Christ.  Philemon too was having a season as well.  God knew the timing that would be needed for Philemon to heal and for Onesimus to be brought to repentance.  Sometimes separation, distance and time are not always bad things.

Think about Jacob and Esau or Joseph and his brothers in the book of Genesis.  Those true accounts involved forgiveness.  Time, distance and separation were used by God to orchestrate events on both sides of the forgiveness event - both for the forgiver and the offender.   

4. The appeal to forgive points back to the cross.  Philemon 19-20
Paul states in Philemon 19b - "not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well." - aluding to Philemon's conversion to Christ under Paul's ministry.  As Paul begins to bring his appeal to a close, points back to the cross - the event upon which Philemon and every child of God leans on for salvation.

The theological concept called "imputation" or the crediting of Christ's work and life to a person at saving faith is found in verse 18, namely:  "But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account".  To impute means "to credit the work of another to another."  Thus Paul's statement is pointing back to what Jesus did when our sin was reckoned to him and in turn when He reckons to every believer His righteousness.  Faith alone is necessary and sufficient to receive what Christ has done and accomplished.  Paul tells Philemon to regard Onesimus as himself, and that he in turn is willing to take on Onesimus' debts if need be to make Philemon's forgiveness of Onesimus a reality.  Truly that is what Christ did for us - taking on my sin so that I by faith could be clothed in His righteousness. (2 Corinthians 5:21) 

The appeal to forgive truly has its beginning and end in the cross.