Peter and the Life of a Sojourner

In the Book of First Peter the apostle deals with the overarching idea of finding meaning in the Christian life,especially in the reality of being called to live out this life as Sojourners. In the first chapter of the Book he lays the ground work by grounding the reader in the fact that we have a special identity, one that was given to us by God at our new birth. This new identity entails not just a new home, but a new way of life. A life no longer grounded in the passions of the flesh leading to destruction but one grounded in the pursuit of the Lord.

In the middle of the first chapter (13-21) Peter begins to lay out a series of exhortations for how we are to be prepared to live out the Christian life. Each one of these exhortations helps us to see the way forward in living out the christian life especially in a world that is broken by sin. 1) Our Hope must be fully set on the Grace of God, 2) we are called to pursue holiness as a part of the journey, 3) we must remember that the Grace of God didn’t come cheaply, and 4) we do not travel alone.

Our Hope

To truly understand and experience the Grace of God we are called to place our full Hope in it, not a wishful hope but a fully ground and expectant hope. We do this by preparing ourselves for action. The Christian life is not a passive life but an active one. It sees the world for what it truly is and is prepared to endure trials and tribulations knowing that in it righteousness is grown and others come to faith. So we cannot be indulging in the worlds passions and at the same time be prepared for the assault that comes, nor as the text reminds us can we become intoxicated by the world and lose sight of the home for which we journey. To have your hope fully secured in the Grace of God is to be ready for action and sober of mind.

Holiness of God

It is only from a state of hope that we can truly understand what it means to love God and experience the abiding joy that obedience will bring. Therefore, with our minds sober and ready for action we can now clearly understand Peter’s words as he calls us to live out our lives in Holiness. This holiness is connected to the fact that we are the Children of God and as such we mirror Him to the world around us, just as we are images of your earthly parents and all those who have born our names in this world. We are His children who have been reborn out of the ignorance of the world. He has given us new minds and a new heart so that we may live out the faith in holiness, grounded in the grace of God. The call to holiness is a call to forgive and be forgiven, it’s a call to walk in the knowledge of God not the ignorance of the World, and it is hope not despair.

We as believers are being called into a new life reflecting on the grace of God and committed to the holiness that it produces in us. Too often this is where we begin to go sideways, We somehow think the Holiness of God is something we now produce, but in the text it is a result of the new birth. It is who you are. Therefore we are called to walk according to the character we now posses and stop living like who we were. We are the Children of the Living God, and with our Hope firmly secured in the grace of Christ we know we are Holy before God, therefore let us walk in holiness before the world, that they may Know the God we serve.

The Cost of Holy Grace

So why do we set our hope in the grace of God and live our lives in Holiness, because we have been purchased by the Blood of Christ. Peter Reminds us once again that it was the Blood of Christ given without respect for persons that set us free. We were bought not with money, but with blood, but not just any blood. We were paid for by the blood of the living God, who judges impartially and who loves us as well. So with a holy and hopeful fear we are called to live out the Gospel hope, knowing that it is He who has set us free, and it is to Him who we live our lives; no longer seeking the pleasures of this world, but living for the life to come as Chosen Sojourners, who by resting in the grace of God that paid for our sins are able to walk in Holiness, being always prepared for the trials that will come, knowing fully that it is God who sustains us.

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Knowledge of the Holy One

Certainly, spiritual well-being ebbs & flows for the saints this side of eternity; at least for this one it does. It was in an ebb that the Lord revealed to me that the biggest part of my problem was that I had focused on everything in life around me, except Him. Undoubtedly, this reality was not only a contributing factor…it was the chief.

Created with a hunger and thirst implanted in me at regeneration (Ezekiel 36:27), I began a personal study into the attributes of God (again) trusting that as I gazed upon the Creator, arrayed in all His glory, I could not but be pulled from my spiritual slumber. And that I was, and still am. How could one fix their eyes upon the Beautiful, the Majestic, “the Father of Lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:16) and not be in awe, not be changed, stirred, and moved? Certainly, Isaiah was in awe, changed, and moved as he cried out “Woe is me! For I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).

I asked, and am still asking, questions as simple as “Who is God? What is God like? and What is my appropriate response?” What a privilege and joy that God has, in his infinite, eternal, and unchangeable wisdom, chosen to make Himself known to us. This is the essence of worship, is it not? Revelation & Response: As God reveals Himself, all men respond either in worship of Him or of some lowly, unworthy created being or substance. Consider for a moment, the utter pointlessness of our existence if we could not know God and worship Him rightly.

Now some may want to take exception to such a statement to begin with. Some believe that the burden of proof lies with the existence of God not His attributes. But common sense dispels such objections as childish, at best.

Our mere existence points to an Existence greater than ourselves because we can know beyond doubt that something never came from nothing; it’s an impossibility, a scientific impossibility even. Calvin penned in the very first words of his Institutes, “Our wisdom insofar as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: The knowledge of God and of ourselves.” If we exist at all, then surely there is One who existed before us all, before everything, before anything! Before the tangible or intangible, before time, matter, or space, before a human thought was ever conceived, there was God; existing in perfect satisfaction within Himself and fully satisfied by His own existence.

It is this God that we need to know.

As A.W. Pink believed, “A spiritual and saving knowledge of God is the greatest need of every human creature.” It is with this prayerful intention that I embark to walk alongside the Publicans readership as we, together, mine the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable depths of The Holy One. Our journey will never be complete, could always go deeper, and will never exhaust the vast riches of the glories of our Triune God but I invite you to come along with me. It is my aim in the coming weeks to provide for you one attribute on which to meditate, grow, and praise the God who is.

Will you join me?

Will you take this journey with me?

I pray that you will; I know you’ll be blessed just as I have been blessed by a good God who gives good gifts! “[God’s] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…” (2 Peter 1:3). Oh, that God would grant to us high and lofty thoughts of Him that stir us to love and “good works which he prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10b).

Does the Nashville Statement matter?

Over the last few weeks within Christian circles a new document was posted online and began to be circulated and talked about on blog posts among pastors and other students of theology. Many big named pastors and scholars signed there names to it and have decreed it almost an anathema not to sign. With such strong endorsements and even partial condemnations against those who are reluctant to sign (many for very biblical and spiritual reasons) this document seems to be one of the most important reflections of Christian orthodoxy, exploring the depths of Scripture to come up with a true reflection of the state of who God is and a defense of orthodoxy, right?

Unfortunately, No.

Now today I don’t wish to bash this statement. It is on its face value a solid statement, dealing with human sexuality and the position of the church. However I would like to ask some questions about it.

First the teaching here is not new so is not necessary.

The Baptist Faith and message deals with these topics to a fair enough degree and is the standard for Southern Baptist Churches. The Westminster standards, the set rule of guidance for theology in conservative Presbyterian church, also address these issues to a degree and both these guiding documents root their discussion and application within Scripture. Throughout history we have guiding documents like these written by great men who in studying the Scriptures point us to these very truths from the Word of God, so that we may study the text they derived their theology from and see for ourselves the nature of their decisions. The Nashville Statement itself bears no Scriptural markers (in that there is neither proof text nor discussion to aid in its application).

Second on whose authority are we submitting to in signing this document?

With the last two references above we see standards of theology that are accepted in two of the major conservative portions of the evangelical world: Southern Baptists and conservative Presbyterians, and many of those baptist churches may even submit to the second London or even New Hampshire confessions. In either case, by submitting to those guiding documents of faith and practice, we place ourselves under their authority in so much as they point us to Scripture and to a proper understanding of God as revealed. These documents address these issues at least in principle as part of a robust theology, not a 14 point over arching rule. The Baptist Faith and Message and the Westminster standards were labored over by appointed and trusted leaders to study the Scripture and speak on behalf of their respected churches. As much as I respect a lot of the men and women who are apart of the CBMW they are a para church organization, with no theological authority or need to answer to anyone, as was seen in the debate over the ESS. It would be as if the Publicans posted a statement of faith and other evangelicals demanded that you sign it to be a true orthodox Christian. As much as I love these guys and trust them, we have churches and Elders who job that is at its core.

Third who is this statement for, the church or the world?

While reading the statement I was struck by the question “Who are they writing to in this statement?” When the Chicago statement on inerrancy came out in the early 20th century it was part of an extremely long debate within the church about the Bible and its authority. It was a discussion of what it meant to be part of the church, and it was intended to be a standard about how the Bible speaks of itself and how we respond to it. However with the Nashville Statement I am no so sure as to its audience. Is this written for the church to examine its members and deal with theses issues as sin that needs to be dealt with like Paul did with the sexual Immorality in Corinth (1 Cor. 5). If that is the case then again this seems a bit out of place in its direction as historically orthodox churches will continue to repudiate these things, in so far as repentance is lacking, within the church. Or is this for the world to be reminded once again they are sinful, at which point I would also appeal to Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 who tells us that he doesn’t attack the world for their sin, because God has already done so, and they know it. Is this just another way for us as Christians to keep seeing other people as no longer made in the image of God and in need of a savior. Everyone needs Jesus the only one who changes souls not us continually making them seem less than human. We all walked according to the desire of the flesh before we knew God, let us not forget that. This final point is why I am most concerned about who the audience is for this statement. The final three points seem to be reminders of the need of the Gospel for salvation rather than a reminder to believers of their identity in Christ and the hope that the gospel grounds them in a reality that is already theirs in Christ.

Now again as I said the substance of the statement is fine at face value, but as with anything that comes out claiming to speak for all of Conservative Christendom we must be discerning and question, not to cause problems but to understand, and a website that opens to a giant ‘Sign Here’ button above the statement rather than after, also tends to lend itself to a bit of a pause as to the full nature and purpose for this new document. At the end of the day whether you sign it or not, I hope your congregations and brothers and sisters in Christ know where you stand on the truth of the Gospel and the reality that sexual immorality in the church needs to be dealt with pastorally. As pastors we deal with real people everyday whose lives matter and who struggle with sinful lust and desires. We experience life with people who need to be told the truth of Scripture and pointed to the cross and their identity in Him. Let us be Ministers of the Gospel.

So whatever you do let your life in Christ be an example of Holiness and repentance. Let your words echo the gospel and orthodoxy, and as such look for the same in your fellow ministers who labor alongside you calling men and women to repentance and a life of faith in the salvific work of Christ.

Why the World Needs the Church

We live in a time of growing polarization on many levels. People are divided politically and culturally in this nation. The long-held ways of the past are constantly clashing with the new way of openness and diversity. Because of this, many in the church believe we should downplay our differences and speak only of our similarities with the world around us. After all, we’ve been out of touch with society in the past. But God’s Word has a completely different solution to the problem we face. Instead of minimizing our differences with the world, Scripture elevates them. In fact, the Bible teaches that it is our very separateness with the world that will most effectively impact it.

The World Needs our Gospel-Shaped Living

In Philippians 3:17-4:1, the Apostle Paul describes the difference between the world and the church. Here he gives us at least five reasons we are different from the unbelieving world in which we live.

We have a different enemy – The world is at enmity with the gospel itself. Paul says they, “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18). The Person and work of Christ has always and will always face opposition in the public arena. This is because the gospel message is a call to repent and surrender all allegiance of self to God’s commands, something the world cannot bring itself to do. Many people do not understand why they hate the gospel, they just do. Jesus said they hate “without a cause” (John 15:25). As the church, our enmity is not with sinners, but with sin and Satan. Although the world can’t understand how we can hate sin and love sinners, we must maintain this distinction.

We have a different future – In Philippians 3:19, Paul says, “their end is destruction.” The trajectory of the world’s manner of living is eternal torment in hell. Whereas, Paul says in verse 20, “But our citizenship is in heaven.” It can’t get any more different than that.

We have a different authority – We are told, “their god is their belly.” Sinful desires rule the lives of unbelievers and determine why they do what they do and how they do it. The church is dominated by the higher authority of God’s Word and is even commanded to, “put to death” our sinful desires.

We have a different source of confidence – Unbelievers are said to, “glory in their shame.” What ought to make them blush actually can be their greatest source of pride. This is why they call it “Gay Pride” instead of shame. But this applies to all worldly people, whether gay or straight. Men pride themselves on their sexual escapades or their extravagant lifestyles. Women pride themselves on the shape of their bodies or their fashion instinct. Yet as the church, our only source of boasting is to be the cross of Christ. Paul tells the church at Galatia, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

We have a different mindset – Also, we’re told at the end of verse 19, the world has, “minds set on earthly things.” In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul contrasted the mind set on the things of the flesh with the mind set on the things of the Spirit.

In these ways, it is pretty obvious how different we are from the world around us, yet that is exactly what the world needs the most. When Christ saves us, He transforms us so that the world will see more clearly it’s need for transformation.

The World Needs our Evangelistic Love 

Paul couldn’t speak of the unregenerate without tears in his eyes and we shouldn’t be able to either. In Philippians 3:18, he mentions his “tears” over those who turn aside from the gospel. I have had the chance to counsel a few parents who weep over the lost condition of their unbelieving children, yet who feel this annoys their children. But I encouraged these parents that their spiritual concern can weigh heavy on a child’s soul over time. Think about all the lost around the world with no one truly pleading for their spiritual well-being. Now think of those you know who are lost and how you’re concerned about them. The mere fact that God has placed these lost people around his redeemed people could mean he intends to save them. May our hearts break over the unbelievers around us.

The World Needs our Heavenward Longing 

When the world sees a group of people longing for a multi-cultural home of love and peace and joy outside this world, it makes them wonder. The world has been aiming for a utopia experience with shared love between all races and backgrounds and yet has never been able to achieve it due to sin. Paul says in Philippians 3:20-21a, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” We not only long for heaven itself, but for heaven’s King and our Savior, Jesus Christ. We also long for the new and glorified bodies we will be given at Christ’s return. As C.S. Lewis has so rightly put it, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” The world chases its pleasures and always comes up short; then they discover that their bodies are fading away too and can’t find any reason for hope beyond this life. Meanwhile, the church seems to have a serious certainty, even joyful eagerness to see this world come to an end and the next begin.

So embrace the difference Christ has made in your life, for it is an excellent evangelism tool for those around you. Let them see you living before them differently, loving them in an other-worldly kind of way, and longing for the consummation of Christ’s kingdom. 

After all, maybe God will use it bring the hope of the gospel to bear in their lives.

On Life & Theology With Costi Hinn

I recently had the privilege to sit down with Costi Hinn for a rare Publicans Blog interview. It was a pleasure to get to know the man and hear his heart for the Truth. He has been through a lot in his journey from heresy to faithfulness and we can learn much from him. He is not only a godly man, he’s a husband, father, and faithful pastor seeking to honor Christ in all he does. Our interview is below, enjoy!

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Adam: Thank you for joining me for this interview. I don’t think many of our readers will know who you are, even though they may recognize your last name. Could you briefly share about yourself and how God has brought you where you are now?

Costi: Thanks for inviting me to join you Adam. From what I’ve read and seen thus far, “The Publicans” is a blessing to a lot of people.

My name is Costi, but what sticks out to most people is my last name – Hinn. I grew up in the Word of Faith and Prosperity gospel movements and was born and bred to be a tongue-speaking, name-it-and-claim-it, healthy and wealthy charismatic Christian. Some people may have heard of Benny Hinn. He’s my uncle. I grew up traveling globally with him and my father (his brother), and even worked with him when I was 18. My job was to be a “catcher” at the healing crusades. In other words, I was supposed to catch people when they were “slain in the spirit” by uncle Benny’s hand, breath, or infamous white jacket. Though I had questions about the integrity of his ministry, and the legitimacy of the manifestations and healings occurring at the crusades, the pleasures of the prosperity lifestyle were enough to keep those questions at bay for a time. Luxurious accommodations, private air travel, and the finest things in life were, after all, the blessings of God for our faithful “ministry” work. I often justified any concerns with that belief. Furthermore, any confusing teachings or things that my uncle said in contradiction to the Bible were never to be challenged. We are taught strictly that one is never to “touch the Lord’s anointed.” That meant no speaking out against or challenging any preacher – no matter what shady things they did behind closed doors or said in error from the pulpit. I was completely blind to the truth and didn’t dare challenge the system. Eventually God saved me from my life of deception and suddenly the Bible that I had been reading most of my life made sense more than ever before! I experienced illuminating work of the Holy Spirit in a remarkable way. It was as though a light bulb just flipped on and it was obvious that I had been preaching, serving, and believing in a false version of Jesus Christ. Like many believers who have left false beliefs behind, it was a series of providential events in my life and exposure to faithful Bible teachers that led to my conversion. I’ll never forget the day I wept bitterly over the life of hypocrisy that I had lived. I repented of my sin, and walked away from my false beliefs forever. it was at that time that I committed to being discipled by the pastor who had been used to show me my errors, and reading voraciously to grow in sound doctrine. Shortly after, I enrolled in seminary. By God’s grace today I am fully committed to preaching the true gospel, and serving God’s people as a faithful under-shepherd for the rest of my life. I currently am on staff as an Associate Pastor at Mission Bible Church in Tustin, California. Our teaching pastor is my brother in the Lord and close friend, Anthony Wood. He’s the one who discipled me closely during my conversion.

Adam: Praise God! It’s encouraging to hear this. God has taken you through a complete theological renovation hasn’t He? I can only imagine the high cost you’ve experienced in turning away from what your family has taught you for so long. I’m guessing that you once rejected suffering as a lack of faith in God? If so, are you now encouraged by the numerous passages of Scripture teaching us that conflict and suffering will be a normal part of the Christian life?

Costi: Yes it’s been a total transformation of my desires, beliefs, and teachings. Only God could do such a thing. I wake up thankful every day that He graciously saved me. As far as my view on suffering in the past, it certainly was tied to Word of Faith theology. For example, if there is conflict in a person’s life the culprit could be the “spirit of strife” or they could be causing the conflict with negative confessions, negative thoughts, or lack of faith. The solution is (normally) to rebuke the devil, pray in the spirit (meaning tongues), speak positive confessions, or even sow a seed into a ministry that is seen as good soil. This couldn’t be further from the biblical view on suffering but I was honestly clueless. Since my conversion, a passage that has greatly encouraged me during conflict and temporal suffering has been Matthew 10:26-39. Jesus really is the dividing line – and serving Him faithfully is not going to lead to a cake-walk through this life. Since taking a public stand for the true gospel, I’ve been received death threats, threats of physical violence, cursed for “touching the Lord’s anointed”, been called a heretic, and more. I count it a privilege to experience barely a fraction of what better men of women have gone through long before I was saved. Ultimately, we are all standing on the shoulders of faithful generations who have stood for Christ before we did. I never intended to be divided with my family over doctrine, but I refuse to compromise the gospel or turn a blind eye when a false Christ is being preached.

Adam: Amen and well said. There is a lot of deep and good stuff here to chew on. It all seems to come down to right theology and the importance of it before, in, and after seasons of suffering. Having been corrected by God theologically you have found deeper and truer wells of joy, even in the midst of difficulty. What would you say to someone who thinks theology is too controversial or too divisive and therefore avoids it trying to have a simple faith, perhaps saying, ‘I don’t do theology, I just want to love Jesus’?

Costi: First off, to avoid theology because it’s hard, controversial, or divisive, in favor of just “loving Jesus” and keeping faith simple, is like keeping your marriage superficial and shallow for fear of ever having conflict. It doesn’t make for true relationship and is not a true relationship. Jesus can’t be loved without conflict of some kind. We will either be offending someone, or conflicting with our own sinful nature that doesn’t want to submit to Him. He said He would divide people (Matthew 10:34-36), He said if you love Him you’ll obey Him (John 14:23), and He said He was the only way to heaven (John 14:6) – which means all other roads lead to hell. You literally can’t love Jesus without controversy of some sort. Second, we all need to “do theology.” By definition theology simply refers to the study of knowing God and His nature. What better way to have a relationship and thrive in true worship of God than to know Him deeply! Theology also provides an amazing platform for growing in our faith. Wrestling with doctrines, being sharpened by sound teaching, and having our man-centered pride crushed by the notion that we exist for God’s glory is sanctifying for the Christian. Lastly, some people have a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to theology because of bad experiences. One of my seminary professors told us a story of how in his day, all seminary students tended to do was debate over non-essentials and forget about the Great Commission. I think there is a lesson there. Still, theology is the furthest thing from mere head knowledge that puffs up. To quote R.C. Sproul, “The purpose of theology is not to tickle our intellects but to instruct us in the ways of God, so that we can grow up into maturity and fullness of obedience to Him. That is why we engage in theology.”

Adam: I love these three things you state here, they’re absolutely necessary to keep them in view in order to do life glorifying God. Regarding your third statement here, what are the theological essentials we must never compromise on and what are the theological non-essentials we can afford to be a bit more open handed with?

Costi: Essentials are things like the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the Trinity, the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, salvation by grace through faith, the resurrection of Christ, the return of Christ, and you could certainly add several more to this list under those headings but you get the picture. As far as non-essentials, that list may look like the cessation or continuation of certain gifts, eschatology, ecclesiology, and church government structures. Again, several more could be added to this list but in general, these aren’t hills we should be dying on or spending our entire ministry solely focused on. I would clarify this list by saying that many of these non-essentials can easily become essential issues when they infringe upon the deity of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, the sufficiency of Scripture or other excesses being witnessed in the church today. In other words, there is a huge difference between Wayne Grudem and Bill Johnson, though they both would be considered “continuationists.” One is a biblically sound theologian, the other is a false teacher.

Adam: Knowing the difference between what hills to die on and what hills to not die on is indeed extremely helpful. Thank you so much for your time with me and answering my questions. One last question: if you were stranded on an island and were allowed to have 5 books with you, what 5 would you take and why?

Costi: Thank you Adam. I’d take 1) My Bible for obvious reasons. 2) A Bible handbook because I enjoy background and context 3) J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone by Iain Murray because Ryle is one of my heroes and I’d be stranded alone on an island 4) The Sovereignty of God by Arthur Pink for those days when I’d question why God allowed me to end up stranded on an island 5) Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley because I never get bored of reading about where we’ve come from as Christians. We are just standing on the shoulders of faithful men and women who stood boldly for Christ long before us.

Adam: Well said sir, I praise God for the testimony of His grace in your life and will continue to pray for you and your ministry. May the Lord bless, increase, and spread His fame through you in the years to come. Thank you for taking time to spend with us Publicans 🙂

Costi: It was fun Adam – I enjoyed it! Keep up the great work at The Publicans.

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You can find more from Costi Hinn on his blog Equip the Saint, you can find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/costiwhinn/, and follow him on twitter @costiwhinn.

Are you a Sojourner?

For most of us we may hear the word Sojourner and think about taking a long journey or maybe back-packing around Europe like a well off 20 something with lots of time on their hands, but in reality the idea of being a sojourner is one that strikes at the heart of the Christian faith. When we look around us each day and see the lives that we have built: our cars, our houses, our children, our friends, our family it is very easy to fall into the trap that this is what really matters. That this is our home, and that this is what we are striving to attain. However, biblically speaking, for those who are in Christ this is the furthest from reality, for those who are in Christ where we lay our heads down every night is not our home, but a temporary settlement. 

So today let us look at some facets of this reality that we must remember about the fact that we are sojourners in this life.

Our Citizenship is not of this world

Our lives are  on a journey from this Life to the next, but we are not traveling to a new kingdom or awaiting a change from national identities to our spiritual Christian identities.  We already have been changed. Our citizenship and eternal concerns are not with the decisions made here and now in these earthly kingdoms but with what is being done for the eternal kingdom. Too often the Christian Church seems more concerned with gaining political or temporary authority in this world, then with seeing lives transformed and shaped by the gospel, an event that has eternal rewards rather than the temporary gains of the kingdoms of this world.

We must remember that we serve an eternal kingdom that will not end, and kingdom that cannot be overthrown by any military force or weapon. Should the greatest armies of the world rise up against Christ and His bride their destruction is assured, for His Kingdom has no end. That is the Kingdom we belong too. Once there were citizens of Rome, no longer, there existed the great citizens of Constantinople the pinnacle of art and wealth, no longer, there once was a day where to live in almost any corner of the world you would find citizens of the British crown, no longer, the citizenships and kingdoms of this world are in flux, you may move tomorrow to New Zealand and find it so overwhelming amazing that you take up citizenship there forsaking your previous home. But our citizenship is not so fickle; our citizenship belongs to an eternal Kingdom, and includes believers from all generations who once sojourned in the countries and cities that now lie in waste. We don’t belong to the temporary establishments of this world, but to an eternal kingdom which changes who we are fundamentally.

Our Mission is not the World’s Mission

With the mission of God being so antithetical to the world it makes complete sense than that His children would share the same mission and engage in the same discipline. In the book of 1 Peter this is the essential theme that Peter wishes to strike with his audience that our mission is not of this world, nor is our mission a matter of happenstance. Peter opens by pointing out the reality that we have been called out by God for this mission, we are elect sojourners, and we are people who have our hope set on the Father, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, with full assurance in Christ’s blood which moves us towards obedience. This is an important thing to see that you didn’t stumble into your citizenship, this is not a mistake, you have been chosen and called to a new life, a new mission, once not looking for the things of this world to bring lasting joy and pleasure, but to God who brings eternal peace and joy in Christ.

With this in mind we see that our mission begins with our lives, we are being sanctified for obedience. Discipline is essential in any mission, it is the means by which we accomplish the goal set before us. In the case of our lives as sojourners it is found in living our lives in pursuit of God and his righteousness. It is acting and speaking in ways that reflect the truth of God’s work in us. We aren’t being conformed any longer to the passion that rage in us, but rather are being conformed to the Image of Christ who calls us to preach the truth and love our neighbors. While the world tells you to do whatever feels right to you, or will make you happy, God calls us to seek the good of those around us above ourselves, the mission involves sacrifice for the purpose of Christ and the hope that others may come to faith and be transformed.

Our Lives won’t be easy

Lastly, Peter continually reminds us that the life we live as sojourners here reflects the fact that this is not our home. When you think of home, where ever that may be for you, it brings to mind images of safety, comfort, peace, maybe a bed to lay down at night, or the old cliché “home is where the heart is.” For us our true home awaits us, and as such we are reminded that in this life easy is not a guarantee, rather Peter will show us that because we don’t belong here we will be treated as such. We will suffer for doing the God honoring thing, we will be persecuted for speaking the truth in love. Suffering is not an exemption for a believer but rather the expectation, so we are encouraged all the more that our persecution leads other to see the truth of God’s goodness and love.

Peter informs us that when we are persecuted especially, that our response should mere that of Christ and not the world. Our response to the trials and tribulations of this world is to be a light and a glimpse in the nature of Christ, not a proof that we are in the end just as selfish and egotistical as the world. We don’t punch back harder; when we get punched; our lives should show that it was unjustified to be punched in the first place. We should not fall into shame, but our lives should reflect the glory of God in such a way that we can be continually proclaim the gospel or as the martyrs of old sing the psalms while being put to the torch.

 

Reader, Don’t Miss This. There’s A Chance You Could.

In the beginning of John 6 Jesus performs a great miracle in taking a young boys lunch and making it into a meal for a multitude. That same multitude than seeks to make Him king, right after the miracle and even into the next day, because He seems (to them) to be someone who can truly take care of their needs. But Jesus didn’t come to meet physical needs or meet materialistic expectations. He came to meet the deepest need of man, the eternal satisfaction of the soul. This is why He worked the wonder of feeding the 5,000, to show that by being able to feed them physically for one evening, He is truly able and willing to feed their souls forever and ever. He even takes time to explain this to the multitude more clearly telling them He was the very manna from God, the true bread of heaven that gives life to the world. The multitude still didn’t quite see what Jesus was saying, so in response to the crowd’s obtuseness Jesus responds with some of the clearest and most powerful language thus far in John’s gospel.

This clear, powerful response is found in John 6:35-40. For us today, notice just v35-36.

After this multitude shows their shallow ability to understand what Jesus is saying He speaks in blazing clarity saying in v35, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to Me shall not hunger and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” They were comparing Jesus’ previous miracle to the manna given by God to Israel in the wilderness, but Jesus contrasts Himself with that manna pointing out that the true bread of heaven isn’t something they can pick up and eat, it is nothing less than Himself. “He Himself is the food, the bread of heaven come down to give life, and it is only from this bread that men truly obtain the satisfaction we desire.” (Leon Morris)

Becoming a Christian can be described in many ways: being born again, becoming a new creation, getting saved, leaving the old behind and pressing into what’s ahead, turning away from sin and turning toward Christ, etc. Notice here in v35 Jesus describes it in terms of coming to Him and believing in Him. When one comes to Him or believes in Him what’s in view here is a move away from a life that is characterized by hunger, thirst, famine, lack, and an inability to satisfy or quench the deepest desires of our soul. v35 says we move away from that kind of life only when we move toward Christ. This means when we move toward Christ we move into an entirely new kind of human experience. We move into a kind of life where hunger and thirst are no longer possible, where famine and lack have no place or room to settle within us, and where the inability to satisfy or quench the soul’s deepest desires is a thing of the past.

For when we come to Christ He saves us, and when Christ saves us, He becomes the very sustenance of our souls. Of course I do not mean that all hungering or thirsting or longing in the soul vanishes when we’re saved, not at all. In a real sense it’s at the moment of salvation where we, for the first time, taste a true hunger and thirst to know God more and more. Thus, a new kind of hungering and thirsting is created by coming to Christ. So what kind of hunger and thirst then has vanished forever, never to return again upon becoming a Christian?

The deep longing of an unsatisfied heart, that is no longer part of our reality.

One of Jesus’s parables puts this on display. In Matthew 13:44 Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all he has and buys that field.” Here we see what true conversion looks like. John Piper is so helpful here. In the second chapter of Desiring God, Conversion: The Creation of a Christian Hedonist he says we are converted when Christ becomes for us a treasure chest of holy joy. When we see Him, recognize His vast worth, and then, in our joy we let go of all we hold dear so we can have Him! A crucified, risen, and reigning Savior who pardons all our sins, provides all our righteousness, and becomes in His Person our greatest treasure. So saving faith, the kind of faith v35 speaks of that comes to and believes in Jesus, this kind of faith always involves a profound change of heart. It is not mere mental ascent to a certain set of doctrines. It is seeing Christ in those glorious gospel doctrines standing forth as supremely valuable and worthy of all the affection of your heart and soul. It is gaining a God-given new taste for the bread of heaven, and a new captivating sight of the beauty and glory of Christ!

Listen to John Piper describe this later in that same chapter, “Once we had no delight in God, and Christ was just a vague historical figure. What we enjoyed was food and friendships and productivity and investments and vacations and hobbies and games and reading and shopping and sex and sports and art and TV and travel…but not God. He was an idea, maybe even a good idea or topic for discussion, but not a treasure of delight. Then something miraculous happened. It was like the opening of the eyes of the blind during the golden dawn. First, the stunned silence before the unspeakable beauty of holiness. Then the shock and terror that we had actually loved the darkness. Then the settling stillness of joy that this is the soul’s end…And then, faith – the confidence that Christ has made a way for me, a sinner, to live in His glorious fellowship forever, the confidence that if I come to God through Christ, I will share in His holiness and behold His glory.”

Reader, please don’t miss this. There is a chance you could.

There is a chance you could be in church every week for your whole life and miss this. See v36, “But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe.” That v36 comes directly after v35 shows that it is possible to see Christ and hear His teaching and see nothing of value, worth, or anything that amazes your soul. You don’t want to be part of this group. v35 is not a distant, abstract reality that we cannot grab ahold of. It is an offer extended by God through Christ that the human soul can feast on forever! To not embrace this offer is the epitome of folly, and to go through life near to Christ, near His people, near His Word and yet miss seeing the glory of who He is, is a horrific tragedy. You don’t want to be found in v36, but in v35.

Sam Storms and the Truth of Repentance

This past week I finished up a preaching series through the book of Ezra, some of you may have remembered the post I wrote earlier in the summer explaining the books importance and why I was preaching it, if not you can link to it here. As the Series drew to a conclusion the main focus of the final chapters is the need for believers to examine sin in their midst and deal with it in a state of true repentance. Which begged the questions what is true repentance. I was going to put together a long article about the aspects of repentance, however Sam Storms already posted one last week that captures exactly how Ezra deals with sin and our own response to it.

I wanted to give you the full copy here below for your own edification and discipline.

10 Things You Should Know about Repentance

August 14, 2017 | by: Sam Storms

Can You Explain the Gospel?

There are many questions we have to answer each day: what will I wear to work or school? What’s for breakfast? Lunch? And dinner? What project should I tackle first? How will I respond to this e-mail?  How will I accomplish this task? What will I say to this co-worker? How will I help this customer, client, or student? How am I going to pass this exam when I didn’t study?

There are many questions to answer each day.

But what if someone were to ask you today for a definition of the gospel, how would you respond? What is the gospel? How do you put it into words? The answer to this question is of vast importance. The gospel is the central message of the Christian faith and is something that all Christians should know by heart. So what is the gospel?

The short answer: The good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection on behalf of sinners (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

To answer the question more fully allow me to explain.

It is important to know that the word “gospel” means “good news.” The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ. But before the good news becomes good news we must first know the bad news. The bad news is that all have sinned (Romans 3:23) and the penalty for that sin is death (Romans 6:23). We have sinned against an infinite God and we deserve an infinite punishment. There is nothing that we can do to fix this, no good work or righteous deed can take away the punishment we deserve (Romans 3:20; Titus 3:5). This puts us in a bad position. We have sinned, we deserve punishment, and we cannot make amends for our wrong doing.

But the good news of the gospel is that God sent His Son Jesus into the world (1 John 4:10) to live the life that we were supposed to live but failed (1 Peter 2:22), and to die the death that we deserved in our place (Romans 5:8). Then three days later He rose victoriously from the grave defeating sin and death (1 Corinthians 15). He then ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9-11) where He rules and reigns at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:20-23) and will one day return to judge the living and the dead (John 5:27-29).

And now all those who by grace turn from their sin and put their faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) in Jesus’ redemptive work will escape from that judgement, be forgiven of all their sin (Colossians 2:13-14), and will live for all of eternity with God (John 3:16). That is the gospel! That is the good news that we are to cherish each day. That is the good news that we are to share with this lost world.

The gospel is not only good news, it’s the best news! Let us never forget what God in His mercy has done for sinners like us.  Let your heart rest and rejoice in the graciousness of God.

Philemon Part 4: Confident in Grace

We’ve looked into this letter for 3 weeks now and today as we finish walking through Philemon we’ll focus our attention on Paul’s closing remarks in v21-25. 

Paul is Confident of the Grace of God in Obedience (v21)

v21 says, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” The first thing that ought to rise in your heart after hearing such a sentence is the question, “WHY?” Why is Paul confident that Philemon will not only obey his request and welcome in his runaway slave Onesimus unconditionally and wholeheartedly, but how can Paul be confident that Philemon will do even more than asks? I think, Paul’s confidence is not that he trusts in Philemon to obey him, but rather that he trusts in the work of God’s grace in the heart of His friend Philemon. What I mean by this is plain: Paul is trusting that the grace of God at work in the heart of Philemon will lead to what the grace of God at work in the human heart always leads to – obedience. Paul is so confident in God’s work inside the heart of Philemon that Paul is expecting Philemon to go above and beyond what he is asking him to do. Whether this means that Paul expects Philemon to send Onesimus back to him to continue alongside him in ministry, or that Philemon would free Onesimus from slavery we can’t be sure of. What we can be sure of from this v21 is the one thing we see, Paul is confident that the gospel of grace at work in human heart will lead to obedience.

Does this seem like a hard concept to you – that grace leads to obedience? I think that personally for many years I had trouble with this idea, that placing the two realities of grace and obedience together in unison doesn’t mesh well together, and so for many years I had a sort of false dichotomy at work within my own understanding. From people I’ve talked to this isn’t rare to me but seems to be common experience that we all naturally either want grace or we want obedience, we don’t want them together. We wrongly think that if we’re to live our lives under the banner of God’s grace we shouldn’t be concerned about obedience because God’s grace covers all our sin regardless of how much there is to cover. Or on the other side, we wrongly think that if we’re to live lives of obedience to God’s Word we won’t be concerned with God’s grace because obedience is all about being disciplined enough to do the right thing no matter what and that type of resolve is merely something I can create on my own.

Yet, if we merely hang onto grace we’ll have a deficient view of what the Christian life is supposed to be lived like. When God draws us to Christ He always draws us toward Christ and away from sin. God calls us out of sin, wickedness, and darkness to live new lives by His strength walking in the light, in obedience, and in holiness. Having this false dichotomy at work within us makes us miss the grand reality that when God through the power of the Holy Spirit works His grace into the human heart, obedience to the gospel is always the result. Thus, the realities of grace and obedience should never be separated but always held as they really are – inseparable. Paul is confident to expect such living in the life of his friend Philemon. Remember v8? Paul is asking Philemon to do what the gospel requires him to do. How can he confident that Philemon will actually do this in v21? He trusts in the power of God’s grace at work in the hearts of His people.

Paul is Confident of the Grace of God in Prayer (v22)

See the power of prayer. Paul in v22 states that God, through their prayers, will graciously give him to them. In this we see that our prayers in and of themselves contain no special power, save only for the grace of God working through them. Because of this we have such a special hope in prayer, for by our prayer, things really could change. Not because of anything in us, or that when I pray for you I bank on some kind of pastoral prowess in prayer – no, I have nothing of the kind. Rather, the power and therefore the privilege of prayer is seen not in the person praying, but in the Person being prayed to. Who are we speaking to? God Himself! With God all things are possible, and through prayer we offer up our desires to God, for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies.

There’s something about prayer that doesn’t feel sexy right? I mean if you were to ask 100 churches about how they plan to reach their communities with the gospel, 99 of them would probably respond by giving some sexy ministry philosophy saying “We’ve got this strategy, we’ve got this vision, we’ve got this outreach director, we’ve got a kicking praise band, etc., etc., etc.”

Where is the congregation willing to seek the face of God in prayer? Where are the people who understand that we’re at our strongest when we’re kneeling before our Father?

It’s nothing sexy, or showy, prayer doesn’t really contain much flair, but tell me this – what is more powerful than coming before the throne of God to adore Him and ask Him to give us the cities we live in? We don’t know if Paul was ever released from his chains to visit Philemon to see how things really played out in this situation, but that’s not the point here. The point is that without being told about that they are praying for him, Paul knows this Colossian church is praying for him, and that God by hearing their prayers may move in power and free Paul from his chains. His confidence in the grace of God through prayer is stunning to see, and from seeing it we should be rebuked for our prayerlessness, and freshly give ourselves to the pursuit of God in public and private prayer.

Paul is Confident of the Grace of God, Just (v25)

v25 is the end of this small letter and in it Paul says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

v25 is almost the exact same as the end of Paul’s greeting back in v3. These two verses (v3 and v25) form bookends to this book. The lesson here is that as Paul began with the grace of God, he wants to end with the grace of God and by so doing teach the Colossian Church and teach us, that the Christian life begins and ends with the grace of God. For while the sinner is lost wandering aimless in sin and darkness, God’s grace pursues, chases, grabs, and saves! The same grace that started our salvation in the beginning, sustains our salvation throughout our life, and finally secures our salvation in the end. Grace at the birth, grace in-between, and grace at the close.

We shouldn’t expect Paul to end any different either…grace gripped Philemon, and now if grace is to really get to the ground and make a difference, he must give the grace he received to someone as unworthy as he himself is – Onesimus.

Adopting the Divine Attribute

When God’s people hear “Be patient” (James 5:7-8) from the Holy Scriptures we must come armed with more knowledge and understanding than the world in our circumstances if we are to be obedient to this command. I may be entirely wrong about this assumption but I believe that the vast majority of the populace, even inside the church, view patience as an attitude toward a circumstance. But God’s Word deals with two primary kinds of patience, endurance for a season and mercy toward a people.

Thirty-six times the New Testament (ESV) uses the word patience, or a variant of that same root word. But of those thirty-six times, twelve of them speak directly to “enduring for a period of time.” The Greek word “Hupomeno” (transliterated) is used in these instances, but never of God’s patience. This seems to make sense to me as I consider the fact that God lives outside of time, has ordained all things, and is working all things together according to the counsel of his own will. However, when God’s patience comes into view the Greek word “Makrothumeo” (transliterated) is used; and that twenty-four times.

“Makrothumeo” is not a passive patience but an active patience. A patience that manifests itself in tangible ways. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament describes Makrothumeo as “to delay [God’s] wrath, i.e., its outbreak…to be longsuffering…” God’s Makrothumeo is made most fully known in His divine self-revelation to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7 when “The LORD passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…”

We find the manifestation of divine patience (Makrothumeo) scattered all throughout the New Testament:

Matthew 18:26 & 29—Patience manifested in mercy, grace, and the forgiveness of a debt owed. Makrothumeo of God the Father

1 Timothy 1:16—Patience manifested in mercy toward the Apostle Paul so that he might become an example of God’s patience to others. Makrothumeo of God the Son.

Galatians 5:22—Patience as a fruit produced by the Holy Spirit through the lives of believers submitted to His leading. Makrothumeo of God the Holy Spirit

Most interestingly, the Makrothumeo of God is commanded of believers. Literally, the manifestation of Godly Patience, exhibited in mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love is a non-negotiable for the Redeemed, the Called-Out-Ones, The Church! Stop right now and read James 5:7. Seriously. It’s Makrothumeo…

How do we handle persecution, hardship, trial, racism, neglect, sexism, transgenderism, LGBTQ, political differences, marriage problems, disputes with the neighbor, struggles with our kids, etc…? The Makrothumeo of God: mercy, grace, being slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love, and forgiving even as we have been forgiven.

As AW Pink reminds us in his Attributes of God, “When tempted to be disgusted at the dullness of another, or to be revenged on one who has wronged you, call to remembrance God’s infinite patience and longsuffering with yourself…Since this divine attribute is manifested only in this world, God takes advantage to display it toward ‘His own.’” We would be wise to do the same.

“Therefore be emulators of God…” (Ephesians 5:1).

Lord, let it be true of me first.

The Reality of Death!

“Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. If there is no other way to live.” – Paul Kalanithi

 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”–Jesus

Death is probably one of the most uncomfortable subjects in modern America. It is something we would rather just not talk about, yet it is one of the most common aspects of human existence. Everyone who was born is destined to die and yet we spend most of  our life running from this very idea trying to block it out with entertainment, with work, with sports, some with “religious” and spiritual exercises and yet at the end of the day death comes for us all. This may seem like a grim opening but it is a reality that we all must at some point deal with in this life.

The opening quote that I put on this blog is actually from a book called When Breath Becomes Air.  It was written by a Christian neurosurgeon before he died in his mid-30s. In it he wrestles with the reality of the fact that he has his whole life ahead of him and yet it is all gone in one moment, one doctors visit, but at the same time nothing was taken from him that wasn’t already certain. He wasn’t promised a long life with lots of Kids with his wife. He was never guaranteed that finishing top of his field in medicine would produce the life changing research he hoped would occur. His life had changed and yet it in some way it didn’t.

I just finish reading it a few days before my 32nd birthday, probably not the most exciting time to read a book about death, but it did make me think back over Scripture and what Scripture continually reminds us of the reality of death; from the garden of Eden were they were cast out and death became a reality, through to the Gospels and the book of acts as brothers and sisters of Christ lay down their lives for the sake of Jesus. Death is a common occurrence in Scripture, for it is the result of the fall and the painstaking reality of sin around us and the need for a reconciled relationship with God and for restored creation.

However as we await this great day, death should remind us of the greatness of our God all the more. We are not promised tomorrow as Paul’s quote points out. We all know that tomorrow’s uncertain, all we know for certain is that there will come a points when everything we know and love in this life comes to an end, and yet more and more we don’t think about it. We ignore the idea that it is possible, we let it sit in the back of our minds unattended. However I challenge you to think about it more often than not, not in a manner that leads to sadness put in a manner that leads back to Christ. Each and every day the opportunity remains for us to deny ourselves and the goals of the flesh to pick up or cross to follow Him and make Him the center of all that we do, all that we will be, all that we may love. The reality of death is the true reality that we have life, and as a believer the truest life possible.

Therefore, as Christians we of all people should be most acutely aware of death and all the more the return of Christ. In the Gospels Jesus is continually reminding his disciples that the return is at hand, and they will write to the church to continually seek first the kingdom of heaven, to look for the return of Christ, like a  thief in the night unknown to us. The question though is will we be found seeking, will we be found working, living, breathing for Him or for the world around us. The reality of the return or of our own death on this earth is the reminder that we are not our own we are Christ’s, we are here with the purpose and mission to glorify the name of our God, to seek the welfare of those around us for the good of God, and to call men and women to faith.

We are all aware that our time is coming short whether we were given 30 years or 90 years on this earth is blinking of an eye In comparison to the totality of God’s great universe. What will you do with that time? What will you do with the gift that God has given you today? How will you use that time for the growth of the kingdom. Will you invest in your family for the glory of God? Will you take the truth of God to neighbors and friends who you put off for fear of what they may think?

We have one life to live, one day to die or the return of Christ to come, Let us be acutely aware of that reality and by being aware of it may we live it out.

Philemon Part 1: Refreshed and Refreshing Others

The heart of Paul’s letter to Philemon has to do with the person of Onesimus. He was Philemon’s slave who had somehow wronged his master (v18), fled and through an unknown sequence of events met Paul in prison (v9), was converted (v10), and became a useful partner to Paul in the gospel (v11-13). But Paul knew the existing law in Rome demanded that Paul return the slave Onesimus to his rightful owner Philemon. In this letter Paul pleads with Philemon to receive Onesimus back (v17), to forgive him (v18), to treat him no longer as a slave but a brother (v16), and to return Onesimus back to Paul so he can continue to labor in ministry alongside him (v13, 21). We’ll get to all this soon in the coming posts, but today focus on verses 1-7, which is made up of 2 sections: v1-3 where we see the greeting, and v4-7 where we have Paul’s first remarks.

The Greeting (v1-3)

I think it’s fair to say that in Paul’s greeting to Philemon we see things we’re used to seeing in Paul’s greetings, and we see things we’re not so used to seeing in Paul greetings. We’re used to seeing Paul’s name at the beginning of his letters, this is simply how one wrote letters in the first century. We’re used to seeing Paul include Timothy with himself in greetings, (he does it in 5 of his letters), and he did it here because Philemon had probably met Timothy in Ephesus where Paul was being held in his Roman prison. We’re used to seeing names to whom the letter is addressed in Paul’s greetings, and we’re used to seeing Paul say v3. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” appears in the greetings of all 13 of his letters, and shows Paul’s affirmation of the deity of Christ by linking the Father with the Son.

We’re not used to Paul addressing letters to individual people. Of all 13 letters only 9 are addressed to churches while the remaining 4 are addressed to 3 different people: Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. v2 shows us Philemon was a personal friend of Paul’s in that Paul calls him a beloved fellow worker, which also means Philemon was a minister of the gospel as well. We see Paul mention “Apphia our sister” and “Archippus our fellow soldier” who very well could be Philemon’s wife and son who also knew Paul well. We actually here of Archippus in Colossians 4:17 where Paul calls him a fellow soldier and encourages him to fulfill the ministry he’s received from the Lord, which shows us that Archippus was undoubtedly one of the leaders in the Colossian church along with Philemon. We’re not used to Paul identifying himself as a prisoner in his greetings. Out of all his letters the only ones where he doesn’t introduce himself as “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus” are Philippians, both letters to the Thessalonians, and here in Philemon. Plus, only here in Philemon do we see Paul identify himself as a prisoner in the greeting. That he does this rather than identifying himself as an apostle is telling and purposeful, and it sets the tone of the whole letter.

By beginning this way the letter immediately feels personal, gentle, and more like a friendly appeal than a letter of full blown apostolic authority. Don’t get me wrong, the letter is still from Paul and Philemon knew that, but Paul is intentionally going out of his way to reduce the feel of ‘command’ here. It also would have reminded Philemon of the severe hardship Paul has had to face in preaching the gospel and in comparison with Paul’s suffering for the gospel the thing Paul is about to ask Philemon to do will seem very small in comparison to what Paul has gone through.

So you see, even in this greeting Paul is already at work, using gospel-logic to prepare Philemon for what he’s about to ask him.

The First Remarks (v4-7)

As Paul concludes his greeting, he begins with his first remarks, and these first remarks are exactly what you’d think they’d be if you were listening to a conversation between close friends as a fly on the wall.

Paul genuinely, warmly, and honestly expresses his affection for this man. Why? Paul’s not just buttering him up in preparation for what he’s about to ask him, no. He gives reasons for this affection in v5 and v7, and Paul prays for Philemon in v4 and v6. Look at reason 1 in v5 = Paul has heard of Philemon’s love and faith toward the Lord Jesus, and Paul has heard of Philemon’s love and faith toward all of the saints. Because of these things Paul says in v4 that every time he remembers Philemon he always thanks God. v7 contains reason 2 = Paul’s heart has received much joy, comfort, and refreshment through Philemon’s love for him and for Christ’s Church. Apparently to Paul, to the Church in Colossae, and to many others Philemon is like water to a thirsty soul, refreshing. Because of this refreshment Paul says in v6 that he prays Philemon’s knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ becomes full through the sharing of His faith. This means that Paul is asking God to refresh the one who has been such a refresher to others. And specifically that God refresh Philemon by making his knowledge of all the good things he has in Christ, full. Paul is asking God to give Philemon more of God. What a prayer!

Now, we cannot read to quickly through v4-7, as if there just mere niceties because if we do so we’ll miss what God means to teach us about Philemon, and we’ll miss what God means to teach us about what happens in our hearts if we truly love Him.

There are two implications for us here:

You cannot claim to truly love Christ if you have no love for His Church

This is precisely what Paul sees in Philemon’s heart, and what prompts Paul to thank God for His work in and through this man in v4-5. Christ and His Church are separate things and they are the same thing. They are separate things in that love for Christ and love for Christ’s Church are different loves. They are the same thing in that love for Christ leads to a deeper love for Christ’s Church. The principle at work here is this: the more you seek to love Christ the more you’ll find your heart beginning to love the very things that Christ loves. What does Christ love the most? His glory. What is the primary means Christ employs to display His glory among the nations? His Church. Therefore the more one grows in love for Christ, the more one will naturally grow in love for His Church. More so, Christ and His Church are intimately connected so that if you turn away from one you inevitably turn away from the other. God placed this twofold love in the heart of Philemon, and Paul loved it, and thanked God for it.

Has God placed it in you? What do you feel about the Church? Do you feel a love, respect, yearning, and desire to be in it and used by God so it grows more and comes to bring a lasting influence on the cities we live in? Or, do you feel somewhat neutral or disinterested in the Church? Are you just putting on a face and going through the motions, faking your Christianity before the eyes of the world? Philemon’s love for Christ and love for Christ’s Church shows us the normal pattern for all believers. If we truly love Him we’ll truly love His people.

The normal pattern for all believers is to be laboring within the Church

v6-7 show how Philemon was not only a spectator, attender, and member of the Church, but that he was involved in the lives of the people, being used by God to refresh His people. This is the normal pattern for all believers. I want to say something here that may catch you off guard. I once heard Mark Dever say, “If you aren’t helping others follow Jesus, I don’t know what you mean when you say you’re following Jesus.” Do you think Church is just about what you can get out of it? Is it just about how myself and the other elders, or the worship team, or the Bible studies cater to your needs? Is it just what we can offer your kids? I hope not. If you’re here and not seeking to help others follow Jesus, you’re nothing more than a barnacle on the bottom of the boat. If you’re a barnacle don’t be afraid you’ll still be loved for sure, but you can be sure of this – the Christians around you won’t let you settle for something less than Biblical reality, and because of that they’ll keep pressing into you in as many ways as they can think to get you moved from a barnacle on the bottom of the boat just along for the ride to a worker on deck.

In these 7 verses it is crystal clear that Philemon’s life has been radically changed because of the gospel. He now exists to serve His master, the Lord Jesus, by ministering to others. This is what the gospel does. Philemon’s not refreshing in and of himself. You or I are not refreshing in and of ourselves. The thing refreshing about Philemon is the gospel, flowing into him, and flowing through him to others.

May God do such a work in us.

Why Would you Preach That!

A little over a month ago I began preaching through the book of Ezra, that book right after Chronicles that deals with all the people coming back to the promise land, and rebuilding. No, not Nehemiah with the walls and all that really cool leadership lesson stuff. This book is about the depth of mercy God goes too in order to restore His people. In this little book we see the people broken down and defeated. They have acknowledged that they have sinned and God brings them home from exile. There is a lot to unpack in this book as we see them struggle with maintaining their convictions and following after God, yet God is long suffering and patient with his people, bringing prophets and men of the Word  again and again to point them back to the truth of Who God is and reminding them that God has a purpose for them.

Now I say all that to point to something that happened a week before we started preaching through the book. One of my members asked me honestly after reading the book what this has to do with the church and why we would study something like Ezra. Now I love my church and I totally see where he is coming from in that we don’t usually think about preaching through Old Testament texts like Ezra. We love texts on King David and even Nehemiah; I mean leadership lessons galore there. However there is just as much meat in the harder texts of the scriptures such as Ezra, the Minor Prophets (which I wrote on earlier in the year), Kings & Chronicles, Judges, Ruth or Esther.  These texts are often overlooked or simply relegated to Sunday School material, when they have some of the most amazing stories about the work of God in the lives of real people. In these lesser preached texts, we get to see God actually change things over the course of human history. This is where I explained the importance of Ezra.

For a church like mine in the midst of transition and revitalization we need to see the part of God where He is for his people. The story of Ezra shows a people who lost hope in their future. They didn’t see how God could us them anymore, even though He set them apart and had done great things in the past, for them it is simply past, but not with God. Ezra shows us that God works in long term swaths of history, what was once broken down and dying can be restored to new life through the preaching and teaching of the word of God (Ezra 5), through the faithful walking of His people under his word (Ezra 3,6,7) and through faithful obedience to the truth (Ezra 9-10). Ezra shows us that the Christian life is filled with ups and downs, but God remains and His people will be renewed. This is why Ezra was such an important book to be preached, not only for a church in transition or revitalization, but also for a church plant talking about what makes them a community of faith verses just a random group of people who meet and talk about God stuff, or even an established church who needs to be reminded of the Great work of God in the history of His people.

The lesser preached books, mostly it seems being Old Testament biblical narrative, are essential to our Christian faith because they are essential to the revealing of who God is and how God works. We can’t avoid them because they are hard and above all you can’t avoid them because they seem, irrelevant. If there is one thing we know to be true is that the word of God is never irrelevant and the narratives of the scriptures especially. God is the central figure in all of His word and the full revelation of Jesus begins in Genesis and is woven into the whole tapestry of scripture, to leave out large swaths of the story in preaching to our congregations is to miss out on the work of God and to deprive our people of seeing God’s work in the live so the saints through all of history. So For preachers; preach boldly the hard narratives and skipped over books, and for congregants; yearn for such preaching that shows the whole of God’s Word to be true and authoritative. Also pray for the Lord to open your own eyes to see his work through the lives of those who have gone before, through the struggles and victory of God’s people.

The Gospel Never Retreats

There sat the world’s most outspoken Christian evangelist, chained to two Roman guards behind a locked jail cell. If most of us found ourselves in Paul’s shoes, we’d have thought for sure this was a sad day for the Gospel. “Poor Gospel”, we’d think. “Your days of victorious spreading have now come to a screeching halt. I guess I might as well just retreat to the cold recesses of this cell and silently go over some memory verses to reassure me. There’s no point trying to preach now.” Yet the Apostle Paul knew better than all this. He wrote to the church of Philippi, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Php. 1:12-14).

We may be tempted to see such circumstances as hindrances to the gospel spreading, but Paul saw them as opportunities which served to advance the Gospel. Paul knew that God often allows the troubling trials into our lives for His own divine purposes. Paul knew after watching Stephen’s martyrdom that persecution has a way of lighting a fire under God’s people to spread the Gospel elsewhere. It was Paul’s travel companion Luke, who wrote, “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles…Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:1b, 4). So God could even use the terrible stoning of one of His own children to get the gospel beyond the confines of Jerusalem. An early Christian named Tertullian was right when he stated, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

What does this have to do with me, you may wonder. While you may not face much persecution for your faith at the moment, you probably do encounter “trials of various kinds.” In order for us to “rejoice” with Paul or “count it all joy” with James, we must understand that God allows all this to advance His Gospel, not send it in retreat. His Gospel knows no such thing as retreat. We must see every screaming toddler, every financial burden, every unexpected doctor’s call, and every natural disaster as events guided by the hand of our sovereign God to advance His Gospel. We must learn to behold the invisible King of glory as He sits on the throne of heaven, guiding all things according to His perfect counsel. All human authorities from ages past to today and into the future cannot stop or silence His gospel. North Korea’s emperor says, “No evangelism allowed!”, and South Koreans send thousands of Bibles into their territory via giant balloons. China says, “No other churches authorized!”, and hundreds of millions of Christians gather with greater earnestness in underground churches and in houses. As Paul said to young Timothy, “I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Tim. 2:9). No chains can hold back the gospel from going forth.

What should this mean for us?

Rejoice when you encounter obstacles that seem to stand in the way of Gospel advancement.

Rejoice not in the obstacles themselves, but in the God who secretly works through them and despite them to accomplish His purpose of spreading His glory.

Rejoice as you consider that God is currently making a way in your personal life and in the Church universal to extend His Gospel to those He will redeem.

Rejoice as you consider the words of Christ when he said, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd…My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:16, 27-28). Rejoice as you believe the promise, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).

May we keep our mind’s eye on the multitudes John saw around the throne praising the Lamb who purchased them with His blood (Revelation 7:9). Then, let us put on the armor of God and commit to advance Christ’s Gospel, come what may. Since the Gospel never retreats, may we never retreat in declaring it until the trumpet sounds and our King comes to rescue us.