Philemon 4-7

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
(Philemon vv. 4-7 NIV)

Last time we began our journey through the letter from the Apostle Paul to Philemon, a brother in Christ located in Colossae.

What a blessing to see Paul address Philemon as a dear friend and co-worker for Christ.  Paul did not use his authority as an apostle to introduce himself; he wrote as one close friend to another.

After his introduction in verses 1-3, Paul now turns to a short section of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for Philemon.  In verse 4, Paul says that whenever he prays for Philemon, he always starts by thanking God for him.

Do you have a friend like Philemon, where you begin your prayer by thanking God for the way that person lives his or her life for the Lord?  What characteristics about that friend bring you joy when you remember them and pray for them?

Paul noticed something in Philemon’s life that led him to praise the Lord.  Verse 5 holds the answer – Philemon’s love for God’s people and his love for Jesus.   Hmmm… sounds an awful lot like Jesus’ “greatest commandment” and the “second greatest commandment” to love the Lord and to love other people, doesn’t it (Matthew 22:34-40)?

Remember that Paul was locked up in Rome – he did not see these godly attributes in Philemon’s life first-hand; he heard about Philemon’s character and love for the Lord and God’s people through the witness of others.

When Paul prayed for Philemon, Paul said he thanked God for Philemon.  So what was Paul’s prayer for Philemon?  Verse 6 says that Paul prayed that Philemon’s partnership in the faith would be beneficial to help Philemon grow spiritually.

In verse 7, Paul closes out his thankfulness by saying that Philemon’s love for God’s people refreshed the people Philemon was ministering to and brought great joy and encouragement to Paul.

If you’re a bit cynical, Paul’s comments here might sound like a lot of rainbows, butterflies, and pixie dust.  Is Paul inflating Philemon’s ego, only to deflate it with the issue of Onesimus?  Or is Paul using exaggerated, effusive speech and being insincere about his comments toward Philemon in order to get something from him?

No, it seems that Paul is quite sincere in his words.  So why does Paul use such kind words with Philemon?   I believe one of the reasons is that Paul sees and hears of godly character traits in Philemon’s life, and it thrills Paul’s heart to hear of such a great example for so many.

Another reason I believe Paul uses these kind words is that Paul knows that Philemon is a kind and generous person that also knows how to forgive.  If Philemon knows how to love the Lord and to love God’s people, he also knows how to forgive himself and others.  And Philemon’s understanding of forgiveness is not just head knowledge – it’s heart practice lived out in real life before many who have witnessed this godly man’s actions as well as his words.

Lord, help us to live our lives in such a way that others give You glory for Your work in and through us.

Lord, we often fall short in the area of love for You and for others.  This shortfall includes forgiveness, for if we won’t forgive others, we have not loved completely.  You loved us so much that You forgave us of all our sins, and gave Your life as a ransom for ours.

Help us love unconditionally, following Your example as You loved us and continue to love us.

Lord, help us to remember that love is a verb (an action to be lived out), not a noun (a feeling or a thing).  Thank You for your example of loving well.

Blessings,
~kevin

Philemon 1-3

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Philemon vv. 1-7 NIV)

As we begin our study of Paul’s letter to Philemon, let’s take a look at the introduction (vv. 1-3) first.

In verse 1, Paul clearly identifies himself as the author of the letter.   This was the style in ancient letters – the writer would identify himself or herself immediately.

From history, we know that Paul founded the church at Colossae.  While Philemon was not mentioned specifically anywhere else in Scriptures, scholars believe that Paul personally led Philemon to the Lord during his time in Colossae.

How do you react when you get a personal letter from someone who has had such a major impact on your life?  Imagine being Philemon’s place for a moment, and how you would respond to receiving a letter from the “Paul” (your spiritual mentor) in your life.

Notice how Paul identifies himself – as a prisoner of Jesus Christ.  From the outside, it would appear that Paul was a prisoner of Rome.  But Paul’s body, soul, and spirit were captivated by Jesus Christ long before he became a prisoner of the Roman government.  Paul is not looking for sympathy – he is simply letting Philemon know what’s going on in his life.  This was likely no surprise to Philemon.

Also, I think it’s important to observe how Paul does not identify himself.  With most of Paul’s other letters, he identifies himself and his God-given authority as “an apostle of Jesus Christ”.  In this letter, however, Paul has no need to establish his authority with Philemon – this is a letter to a friend.

Paul also notes that Timothy, his young helper and minister of the Gospel is with him.  We know that Paul sent Timothy out to various churches to minister and teach; at this point in time, Timothy is back with Paul.

Paul then addresses the recipient of the letter – Philemon.  Notice how Paul addresses him – as a “dear friend and fellow worker”.  Coming from Paul, this is a huge compliment and vote of confidence.  In reading this greeting alone, Philemon likely had an extra spring in his step and incredible joy in his heart from Paul’s words.

In verse 2, Paul addresses two other people and gives them his greeting.  Scholars believe that Apphia was Philemon’s wife, and Archippus was their son who lived in Philemon’s house and was a part of Philemon’s house church.  No matter what Apphia’s and Archippus’ familial relationship may have been to Philemon, Paul addressed them from the spiritual context as workers in the house church that Philemon hosted.

Of these three (Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus), only Archipppus was mentioned elsewhere in Scriptures.  In Colossians 4:17, Paul encourages Archippus to finish the ministry that the Lord had given him – an encouragement to stay committed to Christ and His calling, no matter the difficulties or pain or hardship.

Paul also sent his greetings to the house church as well.  We don’t know if Paul knew any of the house church attendees or not.  But regardless, Paul knew that if they were fellow worshippers and followers of Jesus Christ and under the care of Philemon and his family, they were in good hands and Paul wanted to encourage them also.

Paul concludes his introduction and greeting with a blessing of grace and peace.  God’s Grace is the means of our salvation, and Peace is the result of receiving God’s grace.

And where do Grace and Peace come from?  None other than God the Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Whom has discipled you along your walk with the Lord?  And who have you discipled that you see growing in their spiritual journey?

Take some time to write three notes:

  1. A letter of thankfulness to your spiritual mentor for investing in you and your walk with the Lord.
  2. A letter of blessing and encouragement to those you have had the privilege of walking alongside in their faith journey.
  3. A letter of praise and worship or prayer to the Lord for His grace, peace, and leading in your life.

Blessings,
~kevin

Introduction to Philemon

Today we begin our study of Paul’s letter to Philemon, the one-chapter New Testament book tucked neatly between Titus and Hebrews.

We know that this book was written by the Apostle Paul, as he identifies himself at the very beginning of the letter.

We also know that Paul wrote this letter from prison, as he clearly states in verse 1.  Scholars guess that Paul wrote this letter along with the other so-called “prison epistles” (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians) around 60 – 62 AD.

The primary theme of the book is forgiveness, although Paul never directly uses the word (at least not in the NIV translation we are studying).

We know that Philemon was a house church leader in Colossae.  We also know that Paul had a major influence in Philemon’s spiritual life and growth as a follower of Christ.

The subject of the letter is Philemon’s slave Onesimus, who had stolen some money from Philemon and run away to Rome.  Paul’s letter does not state why Onesimus ran away; history tells us that runaway slaves were common in the day.

Again, the text does not give us the details, but somehow Onesimus meets Paul and Paul leads him to the Lord.  When Paul learns Onesimus’ story and finds out his master is Philemon, Paul is faced with a dilemma and knows what he must do – send Onesimus back to Philemon.

Here’s the link to Paul’s letter to Philemon – a mere 25 verses that you can familiarize yourself with before we begin our study in subsequent days.

As you read Paul’s letter to a dear friend, may you see God’s grace and forgiveness received and given to others.

Blessings,
~kevin

 

 

Zechariah Summary

As we wrap up this study of Zechariah, I felt I needed to pull together the “big picture” of the book, the summary of what we have discovered along our journey.

Did I miss something?  No.

Did I need to correct something I said?  Not that I know of.

Instead, I felt like I needed closure to the book – a way to wrap up what we have been reading and studying.

While preparing this study, I read the book multiple times and had an idea of what I thought it was about.

In the Introduction to Zechariah, I offered these thoughts:

“The major messages of the book are as follows:

Restoration of the Temple (chapters 1-  8)
Coming of Messiah first. and then His Eternal Kingdom (chapters 9-14)

There are a lot of important topics and key verses in this book.  The overarching theme, however, is the nations’ desire to know the One True God.”

After journeying through the book of Zechariah, I still love the theme that I saw in the Introduction:

20 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, 21 and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty. I myself am going.’ 22 And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him.”

23 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”
(Zechariah 8:20-23 NIV)

In this journey through Zechariah, I came across this summary of the book that provides such a concise synopsis that I wanted to share it with you:

“I close with this.
The theme of Zechariah, I’ll tell you in one word, “Christ.”
He’s the theme.

In chapter 1 He is the riding one.
In chapter 2 He is the measuring one.
In chapter 3 He is the cleansing one.
In chapter 4 He’s the empowering one.
In chapter 5 He’s the judging one.
In chapter 6 He’s the crowned one.
In chapter 7 He’s the rebuking one.
In chapter 8 He’s the restoring one.
In chapter 9 He’s the kingly one.
In chapter 10 He’s the blessing one.
In chapter 11 He’s the shepherding one.
In chapter 12 He’s the returning one.
In chapter 13 He’s the smitten one.
In chapter 14 He is the reigning one.

Zechariah saw Christ.
 I hope you caught his vision.
And I hope you know the Christ he looked forward to.”
(from John MacArthur’s sermon given October 30, 1977; online transcript at https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/2171/the-day-of-the-lord)

May we see Christ and His work in us, around us, and through us.

May we know Him as the One True God and as His followers, reflect His character traits and love for others.

Blessings,
~kevin

Zechariah 14:16-21

16 Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. 17 If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, they will have no rain. 18 If the Egyptian people do not go up and take part, they will have no rain. The Lord will bring on them the plague he inflicts on the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles.19 This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not go up to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles.

20 On that day holy to the Lord will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, and the cooking pots in the Lord’s house will be like the sacred bowls in front of the altar. 21 Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the Lord Almighty, and all who come to sacrifice will take some of the pots and cook in them. And on that day there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord Almighty.
(Zechariah 14:16-21 NIV)

Recapping quickly, we know that God is speaking about the future, both for Zechariah and for us.  Jesus comes back to earth.  He is crowned king of the world and wins the war against the nations that have gathered together against Him.

As we step into today’s text as we end the book of Zechariah, we see the Lord describing the character and nature of the new kingdom He has established.

Verse 16 is a bit confusing at first glance, so let’s step through it.  Verse 16 begins with “Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem…“.  Does this mean that God did not destroy all His enemies with the plague we studied during our last time together?  No.

Instead, God is saying that while all nations came together to fight against Him at Jerusalem, not all citizens of those countries participated in the battle.  There are many who came to Christ during the tribulation and refused to fight against the Lord.  Christ says they are survivors, and He protects them from the plague and ultimate destruction.

So how many survivors will there be?  Revelation 7:9-14 is a parallel passage, and states that there was “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language….”.  John’s description of the survivors?  Too many to count.

So let’s continue with the second half of verse 16.  What will these survivors do?  Come to Jerusalem year after year and worship God during the Festival of the Tabernacles.

So why the Festival of the Tabernacles?  Why not celebrate Jesus’ birth into humanity or His resurrection from the dead?  Remember what the Festival of the Tabernacles commemorated: God coming to live among His people while they lived in tents in the desert (Leviticus 23:33-43).  God told His people to construct and live in temporary shelters made of branches for seven days, celebrating God’s presence with them.  When God repeats His command to observe this festival in Deuteronomy 16:13-17, He says that it is for everyone, not just the Jewish people – including the foreigners (Gentiles) living in the land.

So the celebration continues as Jesus comes back to be king of the world and dwell among His people once again.

Verses 17 – 19 say that this worship is mandatory, not optional.  Jesus is king and ruler of the world.  Today the worship of God is optional – God gives each person free choice as to whether they worship Him or not.  But in that future day, with evil banished, worship is required for all God has done for each person.

God is not picking on Egypt when He talks about the punishment for people that choose not to come to Jerusalem and worship Him.  He is simply using them as an example of what will happen if they don’t.  God promises to bring about a drought on them if they don’t come for the Festival of the Tabernacles.  God uses Egypt as an example because of the natural rain and water provision from the Nile river overflowing its banks each year.  If the people thought it would not matter that a drought came and they would have enough water for the year, they are sadly mistaken.

Verses 20-21 end the book with a vivid description of God’s holiness.  At this point in history, everything is holy to the Lord… the decorative bells on the horses, the pots and pans used for cooking meals, everything.   We often divide our lives into “secular” and “sacred”, into “common” and “holy”, but in that day, there will only be “holy”.

The phrase “Holy to the Lord” was the inscription on the front of the high priest’s turban, signifying that he was special and set apart before the Lord.  Now God is saying that everything, even common cooking pots, are just as holy as the special bowls made specifically for service to the Lord in the Temple.

Verse 21 ends with the description of the people as holy.  Again, God was not picking on the Canaanites; He is saying that the uncleanness and moral bankruptcy normally associated with the Canaanites is now gone – no person has that designation anymore.

In that day, there will only be one designation.  Everything and everyone is holy.

Remember what Ezra said about Zechariah’s ministry?  He said that the people were greatly encouraged and prospered because of Zechariah’s and Haggai’s input into their lives.

I trust this study of Zechariah’s book has been as much of an encouragement to you as it has been to me.

Blessings,
~kevin

Zechariah 14:12-15

12 This is the plague with which the Lord will strike all the nations that fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. 13 On that day people will be stricken by the Lord with great panic. They will seize each other by the hand and attack one another. 14 Judah too will fight at Jerusalem. The wealth of all the surrounding nations will be collected—great quantities of gold and silver and clothing. 15 A similar plague will strike the horses and mules, the camels and donkeys, and all the animals in those camps.
(Zechariah 14:12-15 NIV)

Let’s do a quick review of our context.  The events we’re reading and studying are prophecy, set to take place in teh future, at the end of the world as we know it.  Judah will be surrounded and captured by a unified force of nations, and two-thirds of the Jewish people killed.  Jerusalem will be captured and half of its inhabitants exiled.

Just when it seems like life is over, Jesus shows up.  An earthquake shakes the whole world, and the land all around Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives transforms into a valley.  Jesus is crowned king of the world, and Jerusalem becomes His throne.  The city is secure, never to be overthrown again.

As we step into today’s text, the scene shifts from Jesus’ coronation and glory, to the fate of those who fought against Jerusalem.  Verse 12 says that the people who fight against God will be struck with a plague that will affect them physically.

Verse 13 says that the Lord will also strike them mentally as well as physically.  A great fear (a panic, sheer terror) will overtake them to the point that they turn on each other and start killing each other.

If we look back in Scriptures, we see God using fear and terror within an enemy’s heart to accomplish His purposes.  Judges 7:19-22 tell the story of Gideon’s victory over the Midianites.  God took an ordinary farmer named Gideon and used this man for His glory.

God told Gideon to pare down his army to a mere 300 men.  Clearly outnumbered by the Midianites, the only way Gideon and his men would win this battle was for the Lord to intervene.  God instructed Gideon and his men to carry trumpets and torches covered by clay pots.  While the Midianite army was asleep, Gideon and his men surrounded the Midianite camp.

On Gideon’s command, the soldiers threw off the pots covering their torches, raised the torches in the air, and blew the trumpets.  As you can imagine, such a commotion in the camp would create great confusion.  The Midianite soldiers, roused out of a deep sleep, grabbed their swords and rushed out of their tents.  In their confusion and terror, they turned on their fellow soldiers and started killing one another.

And God got the glory for defeating the Midianite army.

Verse 14 says that the remnant of people in Judah will fight in this battle as well.  Remember when we studied Zechariah 12:8-9?   God said that He would make even the feeblest of Jerusalem’s inhabitants like King David, the mighty warrior.  And those able-bodied warriors in Jerusalem?  They would be like angels, having supernatural abilities that would defeat any and all enemies.

And what would the result of this battle be?

Victory for the Lord and for His people.

The second half of verse 14 says that the fortunes of those enemies of God will now be given to God’s people.  In verse 1 of chapter 14, God has said that Jerusalem’s possessions would be captured by God’s enemies and the plunder divided within Jerusalem’s walls.  Now God is saying that they will get all their possessions back, plus all the gold, silver, and clothing of their enemies.  The text is clear – not just a few items, but “great quantities” of these treasures.  All the wealth of the world comes back to God, who owns it all anyway.

Lastly, the final thing to happen as part of this plague is that the animals of these enemies of God will fall under a similar plague as well.  Verse 15 says that all the animals in the enemy’s camp will be affected.  If the enemies of God had associated the fear and the plague with that particular location, they might try to run away.  But if the animals typically used for fast transportation (horses, mules, camels, and donkeys) were affected by this same plague, they were going nowhere except on foot.  And since this plague affects both their body and their eyesight, the people were not going anywhere, period.

In the end, God wins.

Hallelujah!

Until that day, may we be the light and life of Christ to the hurting and broken world around us, loving God, and loving our neighbors.

As followers of Christ, that’s why we’re here.

Blessings,
~kevin

Zechariah 14:9-11

The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.

10 The whole land, from Geba to Rimmon, south of Jerusalem, will become like the Arabah. But Jerusalem will be raised up high from the Benjamin Gate to the site of the First Gate, to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the royal winepresses, and will remain in its place. 11 It will be inhabited; never again will it be destroyed. Jerusalem will be secure.
(Zechariah 14:9-11 NIV)

As we saw in our last time together, the Lord gives us a glimpse into the end of the world as we know it.  The countries of the world show up at Israel’s borders and overtake the country.  After they kill two-thirds of the people there, they zero in on the city of Jerusalem, their final conquest.

God says that these enemy countries will overtake Jerusalem, then stop and count their plunder.  Just when it seems that Jerusalem is about to be wiped from the pages of history and forgotten forever, God shows up.

Jesus arrives on the scene.  As He steps out of heaven onto the Mount of Olives, the entire earth shakes with a record-breaking earthquake.  The Mount of Olives splits in two, a valley appears between the two mountains, and God leads the Jewish remnant through this newly-formed way of escape.  The earth goes dark – no sun, moon, or stars for light; at the evening, God’s glory provides the illumination for the earth.  Fresh spring water flows out of Jerusalem, both to the Mediterranean and to the Dead Sea.

As we open today’s text, we see even more changes.

First, Jesus is crowned King of the world.

Not just king of heaven.

Not just king of Israel and Judah.

Not just king of Jerusalem.

King of the whole world.

Take a moment.  Can you imagine that coronation ceremony?  It is hard to get our heads and minds around something that big and that grand.

The Lord says that on that day, there will only be one name spoken – that of Jesus.  All the other kings and rulers, all of God’s enemies will speak not of themselves or their countries or armies – only the name of Jesus.

The Apostle Paul sums up this event so well:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:9-11 NIV)

Okay, I don’t know about you, but I can stop right here at the end of verse 9.

But that’s not all.

Verse 10 says that all the earth around Jerusalem shrinks down to the level of the Arabah valley, leaving the city of Jerusalem sticking up as a high mesa.  This will be Jesus’ throne, sitting on the plateau, overlooking all the earth in every direction.

To put this in perspective, the Mount of Olives is about 2,700 feet above sea level.  The Arabah valley (at its lowest point) is 1,300 feet below sea level (at the Dead Sea).  Scientists tell us that the Arabah valley is the deepest land valley in the world.  Depending on how low the ground around Jerusalem shrinks down, Jerusalem could be as much as one-half to three-quarters of a mile higher than all the surrounding land.

Does the land around Jerusalem shrink away at the same time as the earthquake when Jesus steps onto the Mount of Olives?  Or is this a separate event that takes place when Jesus is crowned king of the world?  The text does not say.

And what happens next?  Something the world has longed for but never seen, has prayed for but never experienced.

Peace.

Jerusalem will be inhabited, never to be destroyed again.  Jerusalem will be secure.

This gives new meaning to the bumper sticker prayer, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem”, doesn’t it?

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Blessings,
~kevin