Tag Archives: Apostle Paul

A LOOK BACK: Just Who Do You Think I Am?

Read Romans 7:7-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NLT)

CrossRedeemed

If you were to ask any of the students I have had over the years for confirmation class, they would tell you that one of the major projects I have them do is write a theological essay on who people say Jesus Christ is, and to also write about who they believe Jesus Christ to be. This essay is based off of the two questions Jesus asked his disciples, “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is? Who do you say that I am’” (Matthew 16:13, 15b)?

There were no wrong answers, and it wasn’t anything they were graded on. The purpose of the required exercise was two-fold: 1) To help them develop the skill of critical theological thinking and the ability to articulate the Christian faith as they have been taught it. 2) To promote critical thinking around their own experiences with Jesus Christ, as well as to give them the opportunity to express those experiences and their own understanding of who Christ is in writing to themselves. Later in life, they can look back on those answers and see how their understanding has grown over the years.

Recently, while driving, I was listening to the Christian metal band Demon Hunter’s album, “Extremist.” The first song on that album is “Death”. This song, to me, is the opposite exercise. Unlike the exercise I have my confirmation students (aka confirmands) go through, this song is not asking the listener who they think Christ is, but rather it is asking that same question in regard to all of the other influences in their lives.

Actually, the song is a reflection, in part, on the tendency to idolize people like him, as if they are some sort of paragon of perfection. With that said, I also think that this song works beyond just Ryan Clark, but other people and/or influences in our lives that we turn to in order to be “saved” from ourselves and our circumstances. In the song, Ryan Clark screams, “I’m not your gateway. I’m not your prodigal son. I’m the vile lesser-than. Just who do you think I am? I’m not your standard. I’m not your vision divine. I am not sacrificial lamb. Just who do you think I am? I am death.”

Ryan is not stating that he is literally Death, as in the Grim Reaper. Nor is he stating that he is evil or that he has no part to play in helping others. That is not what he is saying at all; rather, he is stating that ONLY CHRIST is the savior. We all, including Ryan, are sinners and we are all in need of being saved. How do I know that’s what Ryan actually meant when writing the song? Here’s what Ryan has to say about it:

‘By our very nature, we are a sinful people. It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you stand on, that will always be the case. If you don’t see it, you’re not paying attention. There is no pretending to be impervious to it. The answer is revealed in the realization of its existence, and the understanding that you are in need of forgiveness. The wages of sin is death. Eternal death. My desire is to be an instrument for this revelation, but my words alone can only point the way. I am no savior.’

Amen. We are all in need of being saved and, for those who recognize that need, salvation rests in Jesus Christ who literally HELD NO BARS in ensuring that  salvation for us, should we desire and ask for it. Our way, apart from the eternal love that is GOD in Jesus Christ, leads to death. This need not merely be in some other-worldly sense either. Just look at the wisdom and “saving plans” of human beings running amok in the world. Look at the broken relationships, the drug addiction, the abject poverty, the abuse and oppression, the genocide and the governing for SELF-INTEREST. It is clear, we humans are not saviors, but lesser-than (to use the lyrics).

We are, apart from Christ, death. Yet, as Ryan rightly points out, those of us who are saved are called to point the way to Christ, who is the revelation of God’s unconditional, saving love. We may not be the savior, but we intimately know the savior and can introduce people to our Lord and Savior. If you feel lost in your life, if you feel surrounded by dead ends and hopelessness, there is a way out of such despair. There is a way to abundant and joyful life. That way is Jesus Christ and I pray that you two get in touch. Find a pastor or someone grounded in faith who can support you in that. If you are a person of faith, be willing to be the vessel that points the least, the last and the lost to the One who LOVES and SAVES THEM beyond all measures!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“He that falls into sin is a [human]; that grieves at it, is a saint; that boasteth of it, is a devil.” – Thomas Fuller

PRAYER
Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. May I always point to your saving grace. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: The Problem with Modern Love

Read 1 Corinthians 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7 NLT)

love

As a Christian pastor in the United Methodist Church, I have officiated in plenty of weddings and funerals. That just goes with the territory and, quite honestly, I am always honored when people seek me out to celebrate in their mutual love, or when people request that I be with them in their times of loss and grief. After all, did not the Lord Jesus Christ do such things?

As any pastor can tell you, one of the most requested (if not THE MOST requested) Scriptures for weddings is 1 Corinthians 13. Because that scripture talks about an enduring love, people automatically link it to the marital union between two loving partners. I think that this, unfortunately, does a disservice to what the Apostle Paul was actually writing about. I can assure you that, as a self-imposed, celibate man, Paul of Tarsus was not thinking about marriage when he penned those immortal words.

As such, whenever I am asked to utilize that particular passage at a wedding, I make a point of bringing the true meaning of the text into my message before tying it into the marital covenant. This is is important because there is huge problem with modern love. What I mean by this is that the modern understanding of love is shallow at best. It is all about peaches and cream, fuzzy bunnies and puppie dogs, kisses and hugs, compliments and unconditional affinity.

This modern understanding has been propagated by enless jewelry advertisements, happily ever-after romance novels/films, motivational speakers, prosperity preachers, societal pressures, and new age and/or civic theology that renders love into an emotional experience to be had within oneself. In a nutshell, love is rendered into a feel-good, warm and fuzzy experience centered around our over-inflated egos.

We tend to see love in those who make us feel good ourselves and in those who tell us how beautiful, great, smart, and awesome we are. Conversely, we tend to not see love in anyone who disagrees with us, calls us out for being wrong, encourages us to change course, or stands in our way from getting we want. After all, how could someone possibly love us and disagree with how great we are,    right?

Let me really clear about this: LOVE IS NOT ABOUT SELF-WORSHIP! It is not about us at all. LOVE IS ABOUT GOD. In fact, GOD IS LOVE. When Paul is writing about the characteristics of love, he is actually writing the characteristics of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. In other words, despite our often misconceptions of God, Jesus revealed to us that God was patient and kind, forgiving, slow to anger, and keeps no record of being wronged. God does not rejoice at injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out. God never gives up, never stops being faithful, is always hopeful, and endures through all things.

God loved us so much that, in order to redeem us in that love, God became a human being and lived among us. As that human being, God taught us what TRUE LOVE is all about. Love is sacrificial, it is in service of others, it holds people accountable to who they were created to be as opposed to who they are, and it is persistent in being present with others even when to do so comes at a great cost. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God, who is love. As Christians, we ough to be the embodiment of Christ, who is Lord, and bear that LOVE out into the world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Love is not just a verb, but a noun that calls us be verbs.

PRAYER
Lord, you loved me even when I have not loved you back. Help me to model that love in my life and act it out in the world. Amen.

God’s People, part 293: Philemon & Onesimus

Read Philemon 1

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 293: Philemon & Onesimus. Philemon is certainly Paul’s shortest letter and it is one of his most intriguing letters as well. It was most likely written by the Apostle during his imprisonment in Ephesus and it is a letter that bears so much import and urgency that Timothy was listed as one of the people sending the letter with Paul, possibly acting as a notary to verfiy authenticity.

What was so important that Paul drafted a quick and urgent letter, sending it with his most trusted disciple in order to ensure it was properly delivered? The letter was written in regard to a runaway slave named Onesimus. Before I get into the specifics, we need to acknowledge proverbial monster under the bed: SLAVERY. Slavery was a given in the ancient world. They were seen as a part of the natural order of the world. What’s more, though hard to do given our own Euro-American context, we have to lay aside our understanding of what slavery is.

In the ancient world, people were captured in war, or by their debts, and were enslaved. This wasn’t just a Roman reality, but an ancient world reality. There were slaves in Israel, in Mesopotamia, in Greece, in Rome, in Asia Minor, and throughout the entire world. There were elements of slavery that were similar to what we understand slavery to be. Slaves were not free to runaway, they were not free to do as they pleased, and they were expected to fulfill their role in society obediently. There were slaves that were beaten and abused and there have always been cruel slavemasters. Those are realities of human enslavement sadly.

With that said, especially in the context of the Roman empire, there was upward mobility for the slaves that excelled. Slaves could earn their freedom and become a part of free society. Some slaves even became members of the senate and other positions of power. In Euro-American slavery, there was no such reality. Slaves were not seen as people with potential, but animals who were nothing more than property.

That is what made American slavery so heinously distinctive from any other form the world has known. In fact, John Wesely once wrote to Wilbur Wilberforce, who successfully put an end to the British slave trade, “Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.” Wesley despised all forms of slavery, and having been the Rector of the Savannah parish in the Georgia colony, he knew full well that American slavery was “the vilest that ever saw the sun.”

What I have written, thus far, is only meant to provide historical context to the word slavery and what it meant in Paul’s time. I am certainly not justifying any form slavery in any society. All slavery is immoral, evil and in the spirit of antichrist. In Paul’s time, though, abolishment of slavery was not an issue even being thought of, let alone considered. What this means is that, while the letter to Philemon shows that Paul was ahead of his time, he doesn’t go as far as we in the twenty-first century would like him to.

Back to Onesimus, who was a slave owned by Philemon. He found Paul in prison and pleaded for his help because he ran away from Philemon and evidently stole something in the process. It’s unclear how Onesimus was being treated or whether or not Philemon was a cruel master. What we do know is that Philemon led church in his house and even Philemon converted to Christianity.

As a side note, it was not uncommon for mistreated slaves to run away and seek assylum from their master’s master. This was what Onesimus was seemingly seeking to do. Paul, being Philemon’s spiritual “master”, wrote a letter to him telling him that he had received Philemon and he was now sending him back home. (This is where we scratch our heads and say, “Really Paul? Was that a good idea?”) With that said, Paul did not leave it there; rather, he strongly appealed to Philemon to not only welcome Onesimus back mercifully, but to welcome him back as a Christian brother. You heard me right, Paul was telling Philemon that, being that Onesimus was a Christian, he should not be welcomed back as a slave. Paul uses judicious and rhetorical wording, but he is not being soft at all. He even wrote, “That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do. 9 But because of our love, I prefer simply to ask you…” (vv. 8-9a).

Again, we don’t find Paul taking on the whole of the Roman slave system, nor does he even address whether Christians should own a non-believing slave or not, but we do have Paul addressing slavery within the context of the Christian church. It’s a NO GO. Paul made it very clear that all Christians should be considered family, not owned as slaves. This does give us a pretty clear view of Paul’s thoughts on slavery, even if he does not go as far as we would like him to. What’s more, we do know that Philemon did as his teacher asked. We know this because Onesimus went on to be a prominent Christian leader and is probably the same person whom Ignatius (died 107 AD) named as Bishop of Ephesus.

What’s important to note here is that Paul, just like Jesus, saw justice to be a part of the Christian witness. We cannot be witnessing the power of Christ in the world, when we are living in solidarity with the world and it’s way of doing things. This should challenge us in our daily walk as well. Do we reflect Christ? Or do we reflect our world? Do we promote Christ, or do we promote partisan politics and our own twisted worldviews. For Paul, and for me, the answer is simple, if you are a Christian, you are obligated to foresake that which stands opposed to Christ. I pray we all seriously reflect on this.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I received therefore your numerous body in the name of God in the person of Onesimus, whose love surpasses words, who is, besides, in the flesh your bishop.” – St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch[1]

PRAYER
Lord, help me to incorporate justice into my Christian faith and give me the strength to fight for it. Amen.


[1] Srawley, J. H. with St. Ignatius. (1910). The Epistles of St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (Second Edition, Revised, Vol. 1 & 2, p. 42). London; Brighton: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

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.