Tag Archives: Apostle Paul

God’s People, part 287: Caesar’s Household

Read Philippians 4:21-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ” (Php 1:13).

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 287: Caesar’s Household. For most people who have not been trained in Biblical literature and Church history, it is not necessarily understood what Paul means by greeting Caesar’s household. Is he referring to Caesar’s immediate family and/or extended family? Could it be that Caesar’s mother, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles all knew Paul and believed in the Gospel? That would be incredible if it were true.

Or does “Caesar’s Household” mean something else entirely. Is it possible that Caesar’s Household is not referring to Caesar’s family but to a different group of people entirely? What could Paul possibly mean when he says that those in Caesar’s Household sends the church in Philippi their greetings? Clearly, here are a few things that need to be unpacked if we are to understand the meaning of Paul’s words.

First, this wording is a clue as to where Paul was writing from. We know that Paul was imprisoned when he wrote this letter; however, there is scholarly debate as to where Paul was writing from. The two options that are most prominent is that Paul was either writing from Caesarea prior to being sent to Rome, or that Paul was writing this in Rome. Caesarea was a prominent city in the ancient Roman Province of Judaea. It was built in honor of Caesar Augustus and, in 6 AD, it was made the capital of Judaea. The Roman governors were stationed there and would travel to Jerusalem only when occasion called for it, such as huge events like Passover.

While it is possible that Caesarea was the location, I find it less compelling than Rome. In Rome, Paul would have been much closer to the current Caesar, where his household (whoever they were) would have been living. To me, Rome is the location that makes the most sense. Again, Caesarea is quite possible, but the arguments for Rome seem the most convincing to me.

So, then, if Rome was the location of Paul’s imprisonment, the epistle (or letter) to the Philippians would have been written sometime after 60 AD, which is the year that Paul arrived in Rome. It is likely that the letter was written sometime between 60 and 62 AD, with 62 AD being the likely year it was written. This would have been toward the end of his first imprisonment in Rome, where he was under house arrest and was unhindered in preaching and teaching those who visited him.

Before we continue, it is remarkable to realize that Paul’s appealing to Caesar, as he did at the end of Acts, resulted in him being cleared of all charges and released from house arrest in 62 AD. Of course, he did end up in prison again after than, under the great persecution of Nero, where he was eventually martyred. Still, his gamble in Caesarea paid off and, as a result, the Gospel was spread even further in Rome.

So, who are among those in Caesar’s household? They were Caesar’s servants, some of his military officers and soldiers. In fact, his whole Praetorian guard, who where the equivalent to the U.S. President’s Secret Service, had heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and, no doubt, some of them had converted to the Christian faith. How incredible that Paul was able to utilize his house imprisonment to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to as many as he could. Such bold faithfulness led him to witness that message spread to even those who were charged with protecting Caesar? It is also no wonder, then, that Caesar would end up seeing Paul, and Christianity, as such a threat.

This should definitely challenge us, as Christians today. How bold are we in our faithfulness? How true to Christ’s Great Commission are we? In the U.S., and the Western world overall, we have come to view our religious beliefs as a private and personal affair; however, that is the antithesis of the Gospel. That is why Christianity is declining in the West and miraculously booming in other parts of the world such as Africa and Asia. In fact, those places are now sending missionaries to America. I know, as I have met and befriended some of them.

We as the Church in the West need to learn the importance of evangelism. We need to stop hiding Christ’s Gospel and to start really sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. We have to stop expecting people to come to us and start seeing the urgency of us going to them. It is then that we will begin to see the beginning of another Great Awakening of revival.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Oh, how great peace and quietness would he possess who should cut off all vain anxiety and place all his confidence in God.” – Thomas à Kempis

PRAYER
Lord, revive in me a passionate boldness in my faith. Amen.

God’s People, part 285: Holy Coalition

Read Romans 16:6, 8-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong, just as my Good News says. This message about Jesus Christ has revealed his plan for you Gentiles, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time. But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey him. All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen.”  (Romans 16:25-27, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 285: Holy Coalition. In today’s Scripture, Paul continues asking the Roman church to greet the list of people he was sending. Here is the list of people that Paul sends his greetings to in Rome:

Priscilla and Aquila, Epenetus, Mary, Andronicus and Junia, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, the believers in the household of Aristobulus, Herodion, the household of Narcissus, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus and his mother, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who meet with them, Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and to Olympas and all the believers who meet with them.

On top of those believers, some of whom we have already discussed, Paul sent the letter with Deacon Phoebe and asked the church to treat her with the highest of honor. This list of names are each of the people Paul knows in Rome, all of whom had been partners in mission and ministry. These were the people who carried on Paul’s work in Rome and how Paul, though he had never been there, had a connection to the believers in that city.

That is quite an extrodinary network Paul had built up; however, Paul continued by also sending the greetings of others who were with him in Corinth, where he wrote the letter. Those people included: Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, and Tertius. In fact, Tertius was the one who was pyhsically writing the letter as Paul dictated it to him. It is well established that Paul’s eyesight was bad and that he had people who would write down what he dictated to them. Sometimes, as we will see in future devotions, Paul would sign the letter in his own hand to prove to the receiving community that it was, indeed, him.

What we see at the end of Romans was an extensive network of people that Paul had worked with and befriended over his many years in ministry. Nay, this was more than a network, it was a Holy Coalition of believers, revolutionizing the pasgan Western world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What an amazing legacy we see! What a lesson for us, as modern Christians, to learn.

This should remind all of us that we are a part of a Holy Coalition of believers! We are a Holy Coalition of ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! You need not be ordained in order to be a minister; you merely need to follow Jesus and deliver the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who have not come to him as their Lord and Savior.

Who are in your Holy Coalition? Who are in your network of believers that you can join with in mission and ministry? We were not created to spread the Gospel by ourselves, but as a community of believers. It is in this Holy Coalition that we find the strength and the support to carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people. Let us continue to build up that Holy Coalition so that more and more people come to know, love, and surrender to their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It’s hard to survive alone on an island. This is especially true in our faith.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see the value of spiritual networking, or coalition building, and of being a part of your community of believers, that I might be supported in my mission to serve you. Amen.

God’s People, part 283: Epenetus

Read Romans 16:5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”  (Galatians 5:22-23, NRSV)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 283: Epenetus. There isn’t a whole lot to write about Epenetus, who is only mentioned in one verse in the entire Bible; however, it is important that we do mention him because of the distinction that Paul gives him in that verse. Paul wrote: “Greet my dear friend Epenetus. He was the first person from the province of Asia to become a follower of Christ” (Romans 16:5, NLT).

Thus, as can be seen from Paul’s own words, Epenetus was the first person to convert to Christianity in all of the Roman province of Asia, which includes modern day Turkey and Greece. Thus, in many ways, Epenetus was the beginning of Western Christianity. Prior to that, Christians were relegated to Judaea and Syria and the surrounding areas. There were, of course, Christians who spread the Gospel east into the continent of Asia; however, Paul was responsible for bringing the faith West through the Roman province of Asia to Rome.

Paul refers to Epenetus a dear friend, which makes sense given the amount of time he would have known him for by the writing of this epistle (letter). Epenetus would have first met Paul somewhere between 48 and 52 CE, either during Pauls’ first or second missionary journey. Traditionally, Epenetus was from Ephesus, though Paul does not specifically say that he was and, so, it is possible that he met Paul as early as 48 or 49 CE. By the time Paul wrote Romans, it was 57 CE and he had known Epenetus for many years.

Epenetus was among the group, led by Phoebe, bringing the letter of Paul to the Romans. Paul asks the church to greet him, stating that Epenetus was the FIRST to convert to the Christian faith in the province of Asia. This is important to Paul to mention because it meant that Epenetus was the first fruit of the mission to the Gentiles, a fruit that would not have been born had it not been for the receptiveness of Gentiles from the province of Asia, such as Epenetus.

There’s not much more to write about him, but it is clear that Paul was showing the Roman church the glory of God through Epenetus. We may start small, but God takes those small seeds and grows them into and untameable and luscious garden filled with the fruit of the Spirit. Apart from God, our efforts would be futile; however, with God, our efforts grow immeasurably.

This should challenge us. As Christians in the modern world, there are a host of challenges that might scare us from spreading the good news; however, do we trust that God can see us through those challenges and immeasurably grow our efforts. Let us be truthful, the challenges we have to day may be slightly different than the challenges in the first centuries of Christianity; however, that makes them no less challenging.

The question for us is this: will we persist in spreading the Good News to all people and communities we come across? If so, how will we spread it? Through personal witness, through acts of kindness, through generosity, through the way we conduct ourselves, or through other means? Our efforts may seem small and miniscule; however, through God, there is nothing that will be able to stand in the way of people coming to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Let us, then, accept this challenge openly and see it through, for Christ’s sake.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
There is no limit on Christ. Through Christ, all things are possible.

PRAYER
Lord, renew my faith in you so that I may take risks for your kingdom and bear witness to your miraculous work. Amen.

God’s People, part 282: Phoebe

Read Romans 16:1-2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  (Galatians 3:28, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 282: Phoebe. Throughout church history, women have often been seen as “less than” men when it comes to the titles, functions, and duties within the church. Utilizing verses from Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and a more-than-likely misplaced margin note accidentally inserted into 1 Corinthians, the church has told women that they are not to teach men, that they are to remain silent, and submissive to male authority. This, obviously, has hurt the church in more ways than one and, it has caused many modern women (and men) to leave the church.

Sadly, this ages old interpretation of Paul’s writing is inaccurate and has damaged the church’s witness to the world. Honestly, some of the most faithful and loyal witnesses of the faith have been women. It was Mary Magdalene who first preached the Good News to the disciples, making her the Apostle to the Apostles. In fact, Paul mentions numerous women serving in all sorts of capacities in his earliest of churches.

Take Phoebe for instance. In today’s Scripture reading, we see that Paul writes, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea” (Romans 16:1, NLT). Cenchrea was a village in the city of Corinth. Not only does he mention her at the top of his final greeting to the Roman church, which bears much significance, but he called her a deacon, which means that she was a leader in her church. If Paul were against women in leadership, this would certainly contradict his own mindset on the issue. The fact that Paul joyfully acknowledges Phoebe is proof that he never had such a mindset.

Let’s not stop there, though. Paul goes on to write, “Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been helpful to many, and especially to me”  (Romans 16:2, NLT). Paul mentioning her first in such a way indicates much to us. First, she was being sent as Paul’s emissary to the church in Rome, who clearly did not know Phoebe of Corinth.

Thus, he sends her with not only her name and leadership position (deacon), but he sends to them instructions on how she is to be treated as well. Deacon Phoebe was to be welcomed as one worthy of honor among God’s people. She was to be helped in whatever she needed or required, for she had been helpful to many, including Paul. There is no one else who Paul talks more highly of, in all of his letters, than Phoebe.

Phoebe was sent to deliver Paul’s letter to Rome and, with her, Paul sent an entire delegation to help her. Paul expected the men…and the women…to treat Phoebe as if it were Paul they were welcoming in. This, my friends, is more than enough evidence for us to recognize that Paul had a fairly egalitarian view when it came to serving Christ. While the majority of Pauls companions and co-workers were men, as was too be expected of the time he lived in, Paul mentions a number of women who were instrumental in leadership and in witnessing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This should challenge us. There are many Christians today that hold a “Complimentary View” of leadership. “Complimentary” is a nice word for a tired interpretation of the Bible. It simply means that God created men for leadership, and women to be subservient to men. People will try to smooth that fact over, but that is the truth of the Complimentarianism.

We as Christians need to see that Paul was, in fact, much more egalitarian in his view of leadership. I am sure Paul did not think of it like we do, and probably would not have used those terms; however, if someone showed themselves to be a leader, filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul did not restrict them or stand in their way because of their gender. As such, neither should we. Let us all work together, women and men alike, for in Jesus Christ we are one.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Let no one deem unworthy whom God has deemed worthy.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to see all through your eyes and give me the humility to treat all of your servants, women and men alike, with equality, equity and dignity. Amen.

God’s People, part 280: Believers

Read Acts 28:11-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.”  (Romans 15:24, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

The Appian Way

Part 280: Believers. It is often hard for us, as modern Christians, to picture what early Christianity was like. Too often, we think of an old-time religion where everyone got along, agreed with each other, and were monolithic in their understanding of Christ and his mission. I pray, that as we have been journeying through the New Testament in the Bible, you are seeing first-hand that Christians did not have it as together as we might have imagined.

Even among the Twelve Apostles, there were differences in understanding of what it meant to be a Christian. Peter, at first, sided with James’ brother that Gentiles could not be included into the The Way unless they first converted to Judaism. Jesus was a devout Jewish rabbi and he came to the Jewish people; therefore, Gentiles needed to first accept the God of Israel and convert to the faith of Abraham and the Laws of Moses, before they could truly follow the Messiah.

It actually does make sense when you give it thought from the perspective of Jewish followers of Jesus. Yet, Paul vehemently disagreed with James and the Apostles that supported him. For Paul, a former Pharisee, the question did not start with Moses’ Laws. Yes, for Jews (including Paul), those laws were sacred and holy and vital to the Jewish faith. Also, it is true that God made a covenant with the Jewish people at the base of Mount Sinai, where he gave them the Torah (aka the Law). With that said, the covenant made to Abraham predated the Torah, and it was in that covenant that God promised to bless ALL THE NATIONS as a result of Abraham’s faith.

Thus, it is FAITH that mattered most. It was FAITH from which we were saved. It was FAITH to which the Law pointed. Those who live in FAITH in Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the Law, are SAVED by virtue of their faith in God’s only Son, just as Abraham was saved by virtue of his faith in the only true God, as opposed to the Law. This was what Paul taught to the Gentiles, that it was their faith that saved them. That they were included into the family of God through their faith in Jesus Christ.

Truthfully, in today’s Scripture, we see the fruit of Paul’s labor. In their travels beyond Malta, Paul and his fellow travelers came across more Gentile believers in Jesus Christ. When a south wind blew their ship to the coast of Puteoli, which is now modern day Pozzuoli (a city and commune of the Metropolitan city of Naples, Italy), Paul, fellow travelers, and crew were greeted by a group of believers who invited them to stay with their group for a week.

From there, they traveled to Rome and were met by Roman believers who traveled the Appian Way and met them in the Forum. The Appian Way was an extremely vital Roman road that was not only well traveled, but was the very road 6,000 slaves were crucified along following the defeat of Spartacus in 71 BC. Even more believers joined them at the Three Taverns.

These believers came because of their faith in Jesus Christ and their love for Paul who had corresponded with them. Paul had not ever been to Italy or Rome, yet, it was his advocacy for Gentile inclusion that had helped churches form in places that he had yet to travel. Their faith in Jesus Christ and their inclusion into the family of Christ is what empowered them to meet Paul and care for him. Luke tells us that Paul found encouragement in their presence and thanked God for them.

The fact of the matter is this, Christian fellowship is more than just a friendly gathering of like-minded people. I am sure that Paul could have found theological or intellectual differences between those believers and himself. What mattered most was their common FAITH in Jesus Christ as Lord. That is what bonded them together in Paul’s time of need.

We, as Christians, ought to be reminded that our common FAITH goes a lot further than our differences. We have been included into God’s family through Jesus Christ our Lord and, truthfully, it is through Christian fellowship where we become encouraged and invigorated to carry on in the mission and ministry of Christ, no matter what our circumstances are. This is why being a part of a Faith Community is SO IMPORTANT. We were not created to be islands, but to be in communion with fellow believers, who share and encourage our FAITH.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God is so unique in giving His people ways to fellowship, witness, and remember what a mighty and merciful God He is.” – Monica Johnson

PRAYER
Lord, help me to open myself to Christian fellowship, that I might fully live into my Christian faith. Amen.

God’s People, part 278: Julius

Read Acts 27:1, 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 278: Julius. The previous few devotions have followed Paul from the Temple of Jerusalem through a couple of years of imprisonment and trial in Caesarea. We learned that Paul had not only used his Roman Citizenship to his advantage in terms of fair and just treatment under the law, he also used it to appeal his case to Caesar’s court in Rome.

This does not, by the way, mean that Nero Caesar (who was emperor at the time) would be the one hear his case; rather, appealing to Caesar meant simply that he wanted his trial to take place in Caesar’s court in Rome, where judges representing Caesar would hear Paul’s case. While it is possible that Caesar might have heard Paul’s case, it is very improbable that he had any personal invlovement.

Still, once the appeal had been made, Festus had only one thing to do and that was to send Paul to Rome. Of course, the quickest and least expensive way to transport a prisoner from Jerusalem to Rome was via the Mediterranean Sea. That is why Judaea was so important to Rome, because of its strategic location along the coast of the great sea.

Thus, Paul was put under the care of Captain Julius, who was to transport him on his ship from Judaea to Rome. I want to pause their for a split second. The number one responsibility of Julius was to ensure the safe arrival of Paul to Rome so that he may be tried in the Roman courts. Should Paul have pulled any shenanigans and escaped, Julius’ life would have been forfeit. It was NOT okay to fail Caesar.

So, it is curious to see how friendly Julius was with Paul. In fact, friendly does not do justice to the way that Julius treated this prisoner. He was not only kind to him, but showed him an exorbitant amount of respect and TRUST. For instance, while they were docked at Sidon, Julius allowed Paul to leave the boat and be visited and tended to by his friends.

If Paul had escaped, it would have been not been good for Julius; yet, the captain trusted Paul NOT to escape. This shows what a man of honor and integrity Paul must have been. Julius trusted him so much that he was willing to let Paul leave the ship to spend time with friends. Paul, as it were, would not forget that kind act of trust.

We do not know if Julius ever became a Christian or not. The chances are that he didn’t; however, Paul respected him and his entire crew. During a major storm, Paul not only comforted them, but assured them that God had shown him in a vision that NONE of the crew would be harmed. As it turned out, all of the crew indeed did survive the shipwreck. No one was harmed or died, just as Paul promised.

So, what do we make of this? Simple. Kindness goes along way. In regard to Paul, he was a person of honor and integrity and Julius could tell that about him, just as one knows that they are going to instantly click with someone they’ve just met. In regard to Julius, he was willing to give Paul his trust and, as a result, Paul was able to be cared for.

In Paul and Julius, we see models for how we ought to be. Paul shows us that we ought to be people of honor and integrity. Julius, though he may not have recognized it, placed his trust in God and did what he believed was right and just for Paul. His kindness not only blessed Paul but, in the end, it became a blessing to his entire crew. Let us, therefore be a blessing to others through our honor, integrity, and kindness through placing our trust in God and treating others as we would like to be treated.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We have committed the Golden Rule to memory; let us now commit it to life.” – Edwin Markham

PRAYER
Lord, help me to live by your golden rule, to be a person of integrity and honor, and one who shows kindness to others. Amen.

God’s People, part 275: Roman Citizen

Read Acts 22:22-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!””  (2 Corinthians 5:20, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 275: Roman Citizen. We’ve discussed Paul at length throughout Acts. Most of the Acts of the Apostles is focused, in fact, on Paul and his mission to the Gentiles.  We know that Paul was a devout Jew, a former member of the Pharisees, and a former persecutor of Jesus’ earliest followers. We know that when he “converted” to belief in Jesus Christ, he did not convert from one religion to another; rather, he saw Jesus as the the Jewish Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. Jesus Christ, for Paul, is how Abraham’s faith would become a blessing to all nations. It was through Jesus Christ as Messiah that all nations would confess and accept Lord and Savior.

For Paul the Christian faith was the Jewish faith. Christianity was not a separate religion, but the SAME religion. Of course, the Jews who disagreed with Paul saw it very differently; however, Paul was born, lived, taught, and died a devout Jewish theologian. In his very letters, he indicates just how Jewish he thought he was.

Yet, there is another aspect of Paul we have not discussed. Paul was not only a diaspora Jew from Tarsus, the capital city in the Roman Province Cilicia, but he was actually born a Roman Citizen. There are varying reasons suggested that could explain how Paul was born a Roman citizen. One such reason is that Tarsus was a freed city because it had aided Octavian (aka Caesar Augustus) and Antony in the civil wars and thus they were freed and considered to be a Roman city. Thus, most who were born within it were considered to be citizens of Rome.

There are other ways in which one could become a Roman citizen, such as performing a vital service for Rome or by purchasing citizenship at a hefty cost. In fact, the commander in our Scripture reading today said that he had purchased his citizenship; however, Paul, stated to the commander that he had, in fact, been born a Roman citizen. This proved, for Paul, to be quite a convenient fact that literally saved his hyde from abuse and torture.

The only reason Paul even mentioned his citizenship of Rome was because the commander had ordered him to be whipped. As a Roman citizen, Paul was afforded rights that non-citizens were not granted. He could not be punished prior to a fair trial and, as we will see later on in another devotion, as a Roman Citizen Paul had the right to appeal his case to the emperor.

Here’s the point that can be taken from the fact that Paul acknowledged his Roman citizenship. First, we do owe our allegiance to the government in which we live in. There is nothing wrong, for instance, for a Christian to also acknowledge and work within the confines of his or her earthly citizenship. In fact, under normal circumstances, that is how we ought to work. There is nothing wrong, even, with taking a healthy pride in where one is from.

With that said, Paul did not boast about his citizenship, nor did he use it to place himself above anyone else. First and foremost to Paul, he was a citizen of the Kingdom of God. He was of heaven even though he lived on earth. He saw his earthly dwelling as a diplomatic appointment, and he reminded all Christians that we were on Earth as God’s ambassadors.

Finally, given our divine appointment as ambassadors, we MUST remember that we ultimately represent Jesus Christ. What that means is that if our government calls us to do something that is against Jesus Christ, our allegiance is to Christ ALONE. Those who hold up Romans 13:1-7 as an absolute mandate to follow the government do so devoid of the context set in Romans 13:8-14. Therefore, Romans 13 is NOT a mandate to absolutely follow government; however, it is a mandate to follow government when doing so does not conflict with Jesus Christ.

Let us, therefore, remember that Christ is King and our mandate is to FOLLOW HIM. Being a law abiding citizen does, overall, honor Christ. With that said, we are called to follow Christ at all costs, even if it means disobeying our earthly rulers. Let us be a people who grow, like Paul, to understand when and when not to embrace our worldly citizenship so that we may further witness to the love of Christ and his supreme reign in the coming Kingdom of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
We are appointed as ambassadors of heaven, which means we should be representing Christ to the world around us.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to grow in my ambassadorship so that I may fully represent you in all that I do. Amen.

God’s People, part 273: Challenging Church

Read Acts 20:17-38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem.” (2 Corinthians 8:4, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 273: Challenging Church. As a pastor, I don’t talk about this much because I feel it can be a sort of self-serving pity party and, truthfully, serving Christ through serving the church is exactly what I have been called to do. In fact, I love what I do. With that out there, let me say this: the Church is challenging to serve. Deeply, profoundly, challenging. Rewarding? Sure! Absolutely. Still, with all of the “they will know we are Christians by our love” hymns aside, the Church can be a raw, messy, painful, and even brutal gauntlet at times.

This is true for being a part of the Church and/or serving in leadership positions, let alone pastoring a church. This is made all the more clear by today’s Scripture reading. In it, Paul was about to leave the Church in Ephesus, with whom he had spent the past three years with. He felt the call to go to Jerusalem and to share with the Church there all the things God had been doing in terms of his mission to the Gentiles. Yet, he knew that this encounter with the Church in Jerusalem was going to be met with great resistance. He had been haunted with visions of being beaten, imprisoned and, more than likely, dying.

To the Ephesian Church, prior to his departure, he said this: “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead”  (Acts 20:22-23, NLT). He continued on to say, “And now I know that none of you to whom I have preached the Kingdom will ever see me again”  (Acts 20:25, NLT).

We find a clue as to why in one of Pauls’ later, and most important letters, which he wrote to the Church in Rome while in Corinth. It may seem odd that he would journey further West to go back East; however, during his last missionary journey Paul was going church to church in order to collect the offerings that he promised the Jerusalem church. These offerings were, in part, a peace offering as the Jerusalem Church did not always see eye to eye with Paul. It was his way of saying, Llook, these Gentile churches, of which you’re suspicious, support you in the way Christ would have us support each other. Will you show your continued support for them?”

But Paul, a realist, knew that the support will not come cheaply. For the Jerusalem Church, they were afraid that Paul was compromising to many of the Jewish laws and traditions in order to build up a Gentile Church. They would want proof that he still followed the Jewish laws, as they were passed down from God to Moses to them. Paul even spoke of this reality at the end of his letter to the Romans, “Pray that I will be rescued from those in Judea who refuse to obey God. Pray also that the believers there will be willing to accept the donation I am taking to Jerusalem” (Romans 15:31, NLT).

How painful this must have been for him. Paul was a Jew to his core. He never rejected his Jewish faith. His only “conversion” had happened in his recognition of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah; yet, this Jewish Messiah had appeared to him and changed him and appointed him the Apostle to the Gentiles. The truth is, that when Paul reached Jerusalem with his donation, they did not accept it.

Luke recorded that James, Jesus’ half-brother, responded to Paul in this manner, “Here’s what we want you to do. We have four men here who have completed their vow. Go with them to the Temple and join them in the purification ceremony, paying for them to have their heads ritually shaved. Then everyone will know that the rumors are all false and that you yourself observe the Jewish laws” (Acts 21:23-24, NLT).

In other words, the Jerusalem leaders did not accept Paul’s gift; rather, they asked him to use it by paying for the four men and himself to undergo the purification ritual in the Temple. Paul, of course, did so to show them his love and Christian brotherhood. The second he was seen in the Temple, he was arrested by the Jewish authorities, and spent years in prison before being sent to Rome after Paul appealed to the Emperor. Paul’s journey, and his life, ended in Rome.

How painful it can be to be a part of the church. How even more difficult it can be to lead it. Why? Because the Church is made up of people like you and me. We each have our subjective perspectives, opinions and beliefs. Sometimes those align, but other times the collide. And religious beliefs are some of the most personal and intimate beliefs we hold. They inform us our identity…who we are at our core.

Yet, Paul’s example should challenge us. We should not avoid being a part of the Church simply because it is challenging; rather, what separates Christians from other human groups and institutions, is our willingness to persist in trials together for the sake of unity, charity, the Good News of Jesus Christ, the glory of God, and the coming Kingdom! All groups and institutions of human beings have conflict, it’s how we LOVE one another in spite of that conflict that proves we are Christ’s. Let us be reminded of Paul when we are burned by the church and despairing. Perhaps God has you exactly where you need to be to be an agent of change and an ambassador of love!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“They will know we are Christians by our love.” – Fr. Peter Scholtes

PRAYER
Lord, help me to love, especially when it is most difficult to do so. Amen.

God’s People, part 272: Eutychus

Read Acts 20:7-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.”  (1 Corinthians 2:13, NRSV)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 272: Eutychus. As a pastor, today’s Scripture reading is not a surprising one. Yes, there was pretty fabulous miracle that took place and all of that jazz; however, it’s what led to the need for a miracle that I am referring to. Before I dive into that, let me just say that one does not think of comedy when one thinks of the Bible. Typically, comedy seems a bit irreverent and not “holy” enough for our Western sensibilities.

I may sound like I am being facetious; however, I am not. I once was a at Methodist Annual Conference where the presiding bishop admonished people for laughing during “holy conferencing”. Now, to be fair, it’s not that this bishop viewed laughter as unholy, but rather he wanted to the atmosphere of the conference to be serious and raucus. Still, when we think of the Bible, we have the same thoughts as this bishop did with conferencing: it should be read and taken reverently.

That is what is great about Acts 20:7-16. It is a mythbuster if I have ever seen one. What do I mean by that? I mean that it is one of the more comical verses in the entire Bible, let alone New Testament. That a man died and needed to be resurrected is certainly not funny. That’s tragic. How he died, on the other hand, that is comical. It is also very relatable to both preacher and congregant.

Let me explain. In Acts 20:7-16, we hear of a story where the Apostle Paul, not really known for his brevity (minus his epistle to Philemon), was delivering a sermon at a household worship service. Well, this sermon started following supper (including Holy Communion) and continued onward till midnight. Okay, maybe that is not so relatable. I would smite myself if I carried on that long.

Well, Luke tells us Paul carried on this long because he was leaving the next day and let’s just say he was “caught up in the Spirit”. Sadly, as much as he tried, Eutychus fell asleep. I mean how dare him, right?!?!?! I mean which one of us would dare fall asleep during a 4 or so hour sermon. I mean, geesh!

Truth be told, as a pastor, I have seen countless people fall asleep during my sermons which average at about 16 – 18 minutes, give or take. Having someone fall asleep during a sermon is certainly NOT news to any pastor. Conversely, falling asleep during a sermon is not new to anyone who has listened to a sermon, myself included.

So, here is where the story gets interesting. Eutychus happened to be sitting in the window in the upper room where they were, catching the breeze and, before he knew it, catching Zzzz’s as well. That is not the wisest place to doze of as turns out and Eutychus fell three stories from the window to his death. Again, the death part is not funny, but the circumstances around his death are hilarious! Paul literally killed someone with his long, drawn out, and clearly boring (at least for Eutychus) sermon!

Anyway, that event, you would think, was the cue for Paul to end his preaching for the night; yet, that was not the case. Instead, he went down to the Eutychus, bent over him, and picked him up in his arms saying, “No worries, he’s just asleep.” Then they all went upstairs and Paul proceeded to preach to them UNTIL DAWN! Can you imagine that? No one threw him out, told him to shut up, said, “Hey Pastor! You remember now that service is only supposed to be an hour. Cut your sermon down or I’m going too another church and bringing my money with me!”

Nope, no one evidently did that (or Luke that part out of the story). Instead, they listened to him and when the morning came, Eutychus was fine with no injuries at all! Praise God for that! Still, you may be wondering what is the point of sharing this obscure, crazy story about a long and deadly sermon. The point is this, there is NO time limit, no time constraint, no limitation at all when it comes to God’s word. When the Spirit is speaking to us, we’ll listen as long as it takes. The reason Paul was able to talk that long and the reason all but one of them were engaged so long, is because they were all in the Spirit together.

We have lost that in the modern church, by and large. Everything is run on time and expectations. Services better be only an hour, sermons no more than 10-20 minutes, not too many, but not too little hymns, and well-crafted but brief prayers. We go, we half-listen (if we listen at all) the Scripture and Sermon, we give, we sing, and then we split. This is nothing like the early church was.

I am not saying that Christians ought to listen to 10 hour sermons, or should expect to be in church all day. Nor am I saying they should expect 10-20 minute sermons and be expecting to be out in an hour to get on to “more important” things. Instead, I am saying that, like the earliest Christians, we should be expecting the HOLY SPIRIT, and nothing else. Whatever happens following the arrival of the HOLY SPIRIT, one thing is for sure, it will be MIRACULOUS.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Christians not only follow Christ, but they dwell in His Spirit, and his Spirit in them.

PRAYER
Lord, open my heart to the expectation of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

God’s People, part 264: Philosophers

Read Acts 17:16-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Though the LORD is great, he cares for the humble, but he keeps his distance from the proud.”  (Psalms 138:6, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

The view of the Acropolis from the Areopagus

Part 264: Philosophers. As a person who has his BA degree in Philosophy, this has always been one of my more favorite encounters in the New Testament. Paul visiting Athens, the western philosophy center of the ancient world, is an epic example of how brilliant Paul was as an evangelist. It shows that Paul had enough cultural intelligence and competency to know how to engage people in a way that drew their attention.

Sadly, when we think of evangelism today we think of tracts being handed at random to people, we think of signs saying, “turn or burn”, and we think of religious fanatics going door to door to tell people about their Lord and Savior Jeeezusah!, without whom they’ll go to hell. Yet, when we look at Paul’s approach, particularly here in Acts 17:16-34, we see that Paul did quite the opposite.

Instead, Paul enters into Athens and the Areopagus with a measure of humility and appreciation of the culture and religion of others. That is not to say that Paul subscribes to their religious beliefs or practices, but he respects them and treats the human beings at the Temple in Athens and the Areopagus as humans created in the image of God. This is absolutely a must, and it is the approach that we see Paul employ throughout his ministry. He didn’t try to change the culture or the cultural traditions; rather, he inserted Christ into them. He invited people to believe in Christ and accept Christ, who accepted them regardless of where they were from or what their culture was or was not.

One great example of this was when he went before the council at the Areopagus and addressed the the leaders and Philosophers as follows:

“Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about” (Acts 17:22-23, NLT).

In that discourse with the “men of Athens”, Paul did not denigrate them, nor did he attack them; rather, he saw the value in their religiosity and used that at as the basis from which he shared the Gospel with them. In other words, he took the time to understand them before he embarked on a campaign to share who he was with them. He saw that they humble enough of a people to recognize that they don’t know the fullness of God. As such, he commended them on their setting up an altar to the “Unknown God”, and then proceeded to tell them about the God they did not know.

Of course, Athens being full of philosophers, Paul’s speech led to a ton of philosophical, metaphysical, and theological questions. Paul, of course, entertained those; however they did come a point when he realized that many of those philosophers were merely looking to engage philosophically and were not interested in believing Paul’s teaching on who Jesus Christ was. Again, Paul understood his audience and, instead of further arguing with them in order to force them to see things as he did, he simply walked away and did not return to entertain further useless philosophical debate.

Regardless, there were some who came to believe who Christ was as a result of Paul’s witness, including a woman named Damaris. Praise God! How awesome that Paul was able to understand and respect the culture of other people in a way that invited them to hear about Jesus in non-threatening ways. That, of course, led them to accept him. Again, praise God.

This should challenge us to really consider how we witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Do we spread “God’s love” through the bully pulpit, through Bible thumping and through a “holier than thou” approach? Or do we get to know the people we are witnessing to and, instead of trying to change their culture or who they are, bring Christ to them in a way that works for them organically and naturally. Obviously, there are certain theological and doctrinal tenets we need to hold on to; however, the best witness to Christ is to accept people as they are unconditionally and guide them to who Christ truly is. I pray we all take on Paul’s model of evangelism.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“He who is not a good servant will not be a good master.” – Plato

PRAYER
Lord, help me to have the humility to see your image in all people regardless of their beliefs or culture. Amen.