Tag Archives: The Apostle Paul

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 181: Rome

Read Acts 28:17-31

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, 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.

281: Rome. As was mentioned in the previous devotion, there was a church already established in the city of Rome. We know that this church was not established by Paul himself; however, word of the church and their faith had reached Paul and he very much wanted to visit them. We know this from his own writings to the church in his epistle to the Romans. In that letter, he wrote:

My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else…In fact, my visit to you has been delayed so long because I have been preaching in these places. But now I have finished my work in these regions, and after all these long years of waiting, I am eager to visit you. 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 15:20, 22-24, NLT)

Paul’s own words tell us that he had never been to Rome before and that someone else was responsible for bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to them, founding them as a church. By church, it is not meant that they had a physical location to worship at that we now commonly know as a “church”; rather, the church is the group of Christian believers that are gathered in a geographical location, who probably worshiped at multiple different houses throughout the city.

To the earliest Christians, the Church or ekklesia (Greek ἐκκλησία, pronounced eh-ck-lee-sia) means an assembly or gathering of people. It matters not where they gather, but what they are gathering for. In the Christian context, the church is a gathering of Christ followers. Thus, Paul was writing his letters to the body of Christians in the specific cities he addressed them to. In the case of Romans, Paul was addressing the body of Christ followers in the city of Rome, regardless of where they met and worshiped.

While we do not know who established the church in Rome, it is safe to believe that it was someone who may have known, or at least known of Paul. Paul writes his letter to a people he presumes will know who he is. Whether it was a close associate of Paul or some other Christian who spread the Good News there, it makes perfect sense that the Christian faith would spread quickly to the heart of the empire. After all, there was a large Jewish community within Rome and, no doubt, Christians would have traveled to, and been present in, the Jewish community in the imperial city.

Paul did eventually make his way to the believers. In our Scripture today, we see that Acts concludes with Paul under house arrest in Rome awaiting trial and, of course, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people while he waited. Paul was in the lion’s den, as it were, and yet he boldly proclaimed the Gospel despite his impending trial.

While Acts ends the story at Paul’s arrival, the truth is that the Gospel message would eventually cost Paul his life. More than likely, he was beheaded during Nero’s persecution of Christians. The reason was that Nero scapegoated Christians for a large fire that got out of control and burned half of Rome down. Historians contemporary to the time speculated that Nero started the fire himself; however, Christians received the blame and were put to death in the most horrific of ways, making Paul’s death look like a walk in the park.

Prior to his death, Paul was visited and cared for by friends and by other Christians in the Roman community. He was loved and cared for by his fellow sisters and brothers in Christ. This should challenge us to remember that the church is just that: a community of believers who are charged with visiting and caring for each other. The church is a community of believers called to live out their love for on another, despite differences that would otherwise separate and divide them. Let us, as Christians today, remember that the mission of the church is no different now than it was then. Let us visit each other, care for each other, and love each other just as the Christians in Rome did for Paul.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Love wins. Let us be on the winning side.

PRAYER
Lord, teach me to be like Paul and the earliest Christians. By your grace, help me to love and to care for my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ, living into Christ’s new commandment for those who follow him. 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.

The Unknown God

Read Acts 17:16-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22)

img_0775One of my favorite accounts of Paul is in Acts, where he traveled to Athens, Greece. There he walked among the temples and the markets, marveling at all of the different sights that he saw. Just think of a large city you’ve yet to visit and imagine what it would be like to go there for the first time. The towering buildings, the crowds of people bustling by, the bright lights and the busy roads. Paul would have been equally amazed upon arriving at Athens, the epicenter of western philosophy and cultural significance.

While walking through the temples, he saw the great statue of Zeus, as well as the statue of Athena, the patron goddess of the city of Athens. Paul even saw an altar that had inscribed on it: “to the unknown god”. Paul was taken back by that. These people had a god for everything and for every god they had a statue; however, they didn’t just stop there, they also alotted for gods they might not know. I can imagine the excitement welled up in Paul, who was a deeply educated person. I imagine that the creative wheels began to churn in his philosophical mind.

Before going on with this story, before I tell you what Paul did in response to this experience he had, I would like to tell you what Paul did not do. He did not scoff at or reject the Greek culture. He did not storm out of Athens in order to get far away from “those heathens” or “those pagans.” He did not march up to the town center and begin to tell the people there that they had it ALL WRONG. He did not tell them things in a language foreign to them, nor did he expect them to come to him to learn about what he believed in.

I raise up what he DID NOT DO because I find that those are the exact things many Christians and many churches are doing. We scoff and/or reject the culture. I have seen churches collect “secular” CDs and DVDs from their youth and destroy them so that they purge their youth of the secular culture. We  often look at non-Christians and/or those who do not attend church judgmentally, we approach people with different beliefs and let them know how right we are and how they should see things our way. What’s more, we also speak to them using church language if we speak to them at all. That leads me to my final observation, churches often expect people to walk through their doors seeking “the truth” rather than the church seeking to bring the truth out to others.

Paul did none of the above; rather, what Paul did was brilliant. He took something from their own culture and religion (the altar to the unknown god) and used it to spark a conversation that led people to a conversation about Jesus Christ. He did not scoff at them, but praised “how religious” they were. He did not judge them, but praised them for having such devotion that they would leave room for an god not known to them. He did not tell them what imbiciles they were and that they should listen to him and he spoke to them using their own language and their own culture as points of reference. Finally, he did not wait for them to find him, but he found them and intitiated the conversation.

This sort of ministry model is the one that the church needs to begin to master if it is going to reach those who are desperately in need of the hope, the healing, and the wholeness that Christ has to offer. The church needs to get off of its pedastal and humble itself so that it can effectively engage with people at THEIR  level. The church needs to heed Christ’s warning to “judge not” and start recognizing the good in people who are different from them. It needs to listen as much as it speaks and it needs to speak in a language that makes sense to the people it is speaking to.

Most importantly, the church needs to realize that it is NOT SOMETHING SPECIAL for spectators to come and see. The church, to the contrary, is the body of Christ and is called to be out where the people are. The church is called to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ out into the world. The building should be nothing more than a resource to help in that mission. I pray that you will read today’s Scripture and reflect on Paul’s ministry model. I pray that we all will be challenged to see the wisdom in it, so that we can all become better witnesses of God’s unconditional, inviting, and transformational love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Evangelism is not an option for the Christian life.” – Luis Palau

PRAYER
Lord, help me to reach people where they are, with words and deeds that they understand, so that I may effectively witness to the Gospel. Amen.