QTVOTD: Starting Philemon…

Today I start a study of the book of Philemon. This is a letter from Paul, while he was in prison, to Philemon, Apphia (Philemon’s Wife), Archippus, and to the church who meets in Philemon’s house.

One of the primary subjects of the letter is in regard to Onesimus. Evidently Onesimus had escaped from Philemon in Colosse to Rome where he became a believer and associated with Paul. As a slave he was the legal property of Philemon. In addition, Onesimus had stolen some of Philemon’s goods. With this letter Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon, emphasizing that Christian conduct should permeate their relationship. Paul especially pleads for forgiveness for Onesimus, asking that he be accepted as a Christian brother. The appeal is written very tactfully and is organized in such a way as to build rapport, persuade the mind, and move the emotions.

4 I give thanks to my God for you always when I mention you in my prayers,
5 Because I continue to hear of your love and of your loyal faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and [which you show] toward all the saints (God’s consecrated people).
6 [And I pray] that the participation in and sharing of your faith may produce and promote full recognition and appreciation and understanding and precise knowledge of every good [thing] that is ours in [our identification with] Christ Jesus [and unto His glory].
 Philemon 1:4-6 [AMP]

I just love the heart of Paul in calling out his admiration and gratitude for Philemon in these first several verses. Paul does this in some of his other letters, but you get the sense that there is an enduring personal relationship between Paul and Philemon. When I think about all of the churches Paul influenced and the leadership he put in place at each one, the amount prayer had to have been staggering if he was continually praying for all of them in the way that he mentions here. That personal relationship must have meant a lot to Paul for him to thank God for Philemon each time he thought to pray for him.

These next 2 verses (5 & 6) have some interesting points. Love of Christ, Loyal Faith towards Christ -> sharing these attributes with all of the saints around him (Philemon) produce a recognition, appreciation, and knowledge of everything we good that we have in and through Christ Jesus. I like how the Amplified says “in our identification with Christ” and “unto His glory”.

Application:

There is no doubt what the focus is of Paul in this passage. Love, loyal faith, and recognition of ‘good’ is nothing if we don’t direct and appropriate them entirely in the context of Jesus and to glorify Him. Just in this opening set of statements from Paul, it helps me see that I must live every moment of my life with the context of my identity in Jesus and Jesus being the sole recipient of any glory. Paul mentions Philemon but the kudos he (Paul) gives is because Philemon is centered correctly on Jesus in recognition of good and works of love and loyal faith being birthed from a desire to please Jesus and be more like Him. I am still sitting here absorbing this…

QTVOTD: Returning Strays is a Noble Endeavor…

Today I conclude my study of James. This is Marianne’s favorite book of the Bible and I now understand why…there is just so much good instruction for us as believers in righteous living, exhortation, and admonishment. 43 days of study has been wonderful, and I am now faced with where to go next. I am going to study the super small book of Philemon, nestled between Titus and Hebrews. I’ll start there tomorrow.

19 [My] brethren, if anyone among you strays from the Truth and falls into error and another [person] brings him back [to God],
20 Let the [latter] one be sure that whoever turns a sinner from his evil course will save [that one’s] soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins [procure the pardon of the many sins committed by the convert]. James 5:19-20 [AMP]

James does not finish his letter with a typical epistolary ending…no, he finishes with a call to action. That call to action is to intervene on behalf of fellow-Christians who may be having a tough time with the spiritual matters he has been talking about.

Here is a small list of the many problems he has spoken about in his letter:

  • sinful speech
  • disobedience
  • unconcern about others
  • worldliness
  • quarelling
  • arrogance

To James, correct doctrine cannot be separated from correct behavior. What the mind thinks, and the mouth confesses, the body must do; anything less is worldly, sinful ‘double-mindedness’. Brothers and sisters in the community of believers who see one of their own wandering from the truth, should seek with all of their power to bring that person back to the faith from which they strayed.

…Now we get into some Greek ambiguity. Who has been saved from death…and whose sin? The one who has been saved from death is almost certainly the one who has sinned. Only the one who has wandered away is in danger of the judgement. James sees death as the final destination on the path which sinners have determined to take when they are turned back from that journey, they have saved their lives. It is difficult to know whether the sins which are covered are the sinner’s, the converter’s, or both.

The notion that our efforts to bring others to repentance will bring benefit to our own spiritual standing is certainly biblical. The Lord promises Ezekiel that he ‘will save his life’ if he is faithful in warning his people of their danger of judgment (Ezek. 3:21); and Paul tells Timothy that he will ‘save both himself and his hearers’ if he takes heed to himself and his teaching (1 Tim. 4:16). The ‘Blessing’ given to faithful believers must not, of course, be construed as a reward for their efforts. But the idea that God will treat us as we have treated others is inescapable in scripture and explicitly mentioned in James (2:12-13).

Application:

A personal reward should not be a driving factor for me to chase a wayward Christian and do my best to confront their sin and implore them to come back into the fold. I should do this out of love for my brother or sister in Christ, knowing the judgement and embarrassment that will come to that person if the Lord should return and find them chasing worldly pursuits. As a born-again Christian, saved by faith, and a recipient of the unmerited grace of God, I should seek to guide wayward Christians back to God through love, truth, and grace. It’s one thing to get up into someone’s grill and rebuke, it’s another to simply use the Word of God to shine a light on the unrepentant sin in one’s life and be there as a waiting accountability partner for that person’s willing road back to the safety of obedience and righteous living.

QTVOTD: Accountability, Accountability, Accountability…

James 5:16 [AMP]
Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart]. The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working].

One of the most important ‘One Anothers’! This verse gets to the heart of biblical community. THIS is why we need each other, need Life Groups, need accountability. Confessing our sim to God is a no-brainer but confessing our sim to each other not only makes it real but also grounds us into a reality of the separation it causes us to be from God Himself. When we lean into each other through this kind of openness, we have the support of our brothers/sisters in helping us glorify God through obedience to Him.

Additionally, prayer for one another is such a powerful tool. It causes a vested interest into the well being of our community of believers. It takes the focus off ourselves and puts it onto those in our sphere of influence. We start to look for the Hand of God working in the lives of those we are praying for and it grows our faith to see His hand work for the good of those we care about.

There is a lot here in the line “the earnest prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available”. Whoa!! First, ‘earnest’ -> resulting from or showing sincere and intense conviction. The Amplified above uses ‘heartfelt’ and ‘continued’; add in conviction and we start to see what it means to pray for people ‘earnestly’. Second, when prayer comes from a righteous man, a man close to God, who has a heart for right living; it says that ‘tremendous power’ is made available. I want this for my brothers in Christ! I want to be able to provide these types of prayers to the Father on behalf of the people closest to me!

Application:

The best thing I can do for my Christian Community of brothers and sisters is to pursue righteousness and conviction in my prayer life. As a Life Group leader, I need to make prayer a more poignant piece of our time together, praying for one another and supporting through extended prayer through the week.

QTVOTD: One of the Greatest Blessing of Eldership…

13 Is anyone among you afflicted (ill-treated, suffering evil)? He should pray. Is anyone glad at heart? He should sing praise [to God].
14 Is anyone among you sick? He should call in the church elders (the spiritual guides). And they should pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Lord’s name.
15 And the prayer [that is] of faith will save him who is sick, and the Lord will restore him; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. James 5:13-15 [AMP]

I am coming up on 2 years as an Elder at Canyon Hills Community Church. During this time one of the most humbling things, I get to participate in, is praying over the sick, infirmed, and people in painful circumstances. However, let’s focus on the primary points of this passage above which is with PRAYER. Pray when you are not feeling well or are being treated poorly, or even persecuted. Pray when things are going great and let God know how thankful we are of His blessing on us and praise Him. It is when someone has reached a place of illness that requires someone else to pray for (or over) you. In this case it is the faith of the elders as well as the prayer themselves that the Lord works through. As elders we also anoint with oil.

There are various reasons for anointing with oil in the bible but the one we hold to in this circumstance is ‘the setting apart’ of the individual, bringing God’s attention to them in their suffering. In some cases, in biblical times, it was used for hygienic or medicinal reasons, like with the ‘Good Samaritan’ when he washed the wounds of the wounded man and applied wine and oil.

I am just so grateful to have the opportunity to come to the Lord on behalf of a Saint in need and we have seen God do amazing things through these times of prayer. Sometimes it is healing itself, sometimes it is an equipping of that person for a work God has for them, and in others it has strengthened their faith then they had become disheartened and weak in spirit.

Prayer, prayer, prayer, and more prayer.

QTVOTD: YES, I Will Do That…

Today is my mom’s birthday! I love her so much and am so proud to be her son. She has been such a foundational part of my growth as a Christian man. Raising my brother and I in the ways of the Lord and doing her best. Love you Mom!

My mom and I
12 But above all [things], my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath; but let your yes be [a simple] yes, and your no be [a simple] no, so that you may not sin and fall under condemnation. James 5:12 [AMP]

This single verse by James sounds very close to Jesus’ teaching on the same:

34 But I tell you, Do not bind yourselves by an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is the throne of God;
35 Or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.
36 And do not swear by your head, for you are not able to make a single hair white or black.
37 Let your Yes be simply Yes, and your No be simply No; anything more than that comes from the evil one. Matthew 5:34-37 [AMP]

Our truthfulness should be so consistent and dependable that we don’t need an oath (eg. “I swear on my mother’s grave”) to support it: a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ should suffice.

‘Our mere word should be as utterly trustworthy as a signed document, legally correct and complete’

Mitton

Application:

This truth has a lot of what I call ‘Bleed Over’. Even when I am talking and say something like, “honestly, I really don’t care about that” or “to be totally transparent, it is not like me to be that way” it carries with it an air that I really don’t mean what I am saying even though that is emphatically what I am saying. The fact that I would think to caveat it with “honestly” or “to be totally transparent” means that even I myself don’t think it sounds truthful. Quite simply, coming through on my word is God honoring. This is what I should strive for when I make a commitment and even in my everyday conversations. I should never leave any room for reproach.

QTVOTD: Blessing Does Not Always Mean Happy…

James 5:10-11 [AMP]
[As] an example of suffering and ill-treatment together with patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord [as His messengers]. You know how we call those blessed (happy) who were steadfast [who endured]. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the Lord’s [purpose and how He richly blessed him in the] end, inasmuch as the Lord is full of pity and compassion and tenderness and mercy.

The prophets are an example of patience in the face of suffering. The way the Greek is written here would indicate that the prophets were afflicted and the manner in which they endured that affliction was through patience. The fact that these prophets spoke in the name of the Lord is added to make clear that the suffering endured by them was not a result of wrongdoing, but specifically of their faithful adherence to the will of God.

James now references Job. In my study of Job, just before doing this study of James, I became very familiar with Job’s suffering, but also his groveling, his complaining, and even his defiance in some cases. So it makes me wonder what James is talking about here in regards to being blessed. What can be said about Job is that he was steadfast in his faith, and even clung to God in his suffering. I like white one theologian (Barclay) said in a quote about Job, “Job’s is no groveling, passive, unquestioning submission; Job struggled and questioned, and sometimes even defied, but the flame of faith was never extinguished in his heart.”

What the story of Job shows us is the compassion that God had on Job’s life after he endured his suffering. So, ‘To be blessed’ is not, of course, the same as being ‘happy’: ‘happiness’ normally suggests a subjective, emotional reaction; ‘blessing’ is the objective, unalterable approval and reward of God.

Application:

As I think about patience and endurance through suffering, and that blessing does not necessarily mean happiness, at the end of my endurance I can rest assured that the Lord has a blessing for me if I endure this life’s afflictions well. At the end of the day, I must not wallow in my circumstance or situation that happens to be an affliction. I need to keep my eyes set on the ultimate prize, which is the blessing I will receive from God when I have completed the race.

QTVOTD: Grumble and Be Judged…

9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you [yourselves] may not be judged. Look! The Judge is [already] standing at the very door. James 5:9 [AMP]

When I first read this verse it kind of seems out of place; however, grumbling against others is a temptation that comes along with the pressure of difficult situations. How often have I come home and taken the frustrations of my day out on my family in either being withdrawn, sharp, or short tempered. So when I look at this verse in context with the ones preceding, it makes more sense if I see refraining from this kind of complaining or grumbling as an aspect of patience itself…patience is linked with ‘bearing with one another in love’ in Eph 4:2.

Usually the word ‘Grumble’ is used absolutely, but here in the Biblical Greek it has an object -> ‘against one another’. It could be that we believers should not grumble to others about ‘their’ difficulties, or that believers should not blame others for their circumstances. It might mean that James means both of these things. However, I then to lean toward it being a ‘grumbling/complaining in regard to one’s pressures created by current circumstances’.

As he did in James 4:11-12, he connects speaking against others with judgement. Here he warns that criticizing of one another places us in danger of judgement. This warning is similar to or influenced by Jesus’ well-known instruction of ‘Do not judge lest you be judged’. To reinforce further, James warns that this judgement is imminent. I’ll leave this one with a quote.

“The nearness of the eschatological day is not just an impetus to look forward to the judgment of sinners… but it is also a warning to examine one’s behavior so that when the one whose footsteps are nearing finally knocks on the door, one may be prepared to open…. The coming Lord is also the judge of the Christian.”

Peter Davids

Application:

A part of being patient as a Christian is to remember that my issues here are small relative to the greater glory that awaits; and the last place that I should be complaining or making a stink about my circumstances is to the ones I love and spend my time with here on earth. My heart should always be prepared for the coming of Jesus. How embarrassing would it be to be grumbling about a life circumstance only to at that moment, look up and see Jesus coming through the clouds to take me home. I would feel shame and know that even though Jesus has died for all of my sin, I would still have to stand and hear the recollection of that grumbling/complaining at the judgement seat…then to look at Him and see in His eyes that He indeed died for that sin too, that because of His sacrifice, I would not have to pay for that moment of grumbling and complaining…sobering…

QTVOTD: Be Patient, Jesus is Coming!

7 So be patient, brethren, [as you wait] till the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits expectantly for the precious harvest from the land. [See how] he keeps up his patient [vigil] over it until it receives the early and late rains.
8 So you also must be patient. Establish your hearts [strengthen and confirm them in the final certainty], for the coming of the Lord is very near. James 5:7-8 [AMP]

This passage follows the one about the ‘Rich non-Christians’. James is writing to his righteous Brothers and Sisters, most of them poor, who were suffering at the hands of those people mentioned in verses 1 – 6. The start of the word ‘So’ lets us know that in light of this oppression, the saints should be patient in their waiting for the Lord. If I put myself in their shoes, I would be anxious to see the Lord smite down the evil ones and rescue me for this persecution they were suffering under.

The metaphor of the farmer is a good one. The farmer has done the work of planting, he knows the seed is planted well. He waits faithfully on the falling of the rains in late autumn and early spring in the area of Palestine. In the Old Testament, ‘early and late rains’ refer to the faithfulness of God.

Now James says ‘you MUST be patient’ from saying ‘be patient’ in verse 7. Must is joined with the ‘Establish your hearts’ which means you must continually convince your heart that the promise of the Lord’s return and judgement of the wicked WILL INDEED come.

Application:

I believe the Lord’s return is very near and I feel a sense of immediacy in doing my part to grow God’s Kingdom before He comes. First – am I being patient with a heart that believes His return is near, so that I might have the freedom of thought and freedom from worry about those who persecute me and the who are wrecking the world. All of the action James talks about are internal to the Christian to correct – I must be patient, I must have faith, I must strengthen and confirm to my heart that God’s Word is true and He is faithful to bring about His will and purposes. This will free me from worry and fix my sights on my ministry rather than to be distracted by the worldly situation and circumstances.

QTVOTD: The Steamroller of Wealth…

4 [But] look! [Here are] the wages that you have withheld by fraud from the laborers who have reaped your fields, crying out [for vengeance]; and the cries of the harvesters have come to the ears of the Lord of hosts.
5 [Here] on earth you have abandoned yourselves to soft (prodigal) living and to [the pleasures of] self-indulgence and self-gratification. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
6 You have condemned and have murdered the righteous (innocent man), [while] he offers no resistance to you. James 5:4-6 [AMP]

This continues our passage from yesterday and again want to remind the reader that James is referring to rich non-Christians. What is scary about this passage is how it shows how wealth essentially depraves the un-redeemed mind; promoting inhumane actions and treatment of those who pose no threat to them. When a person treats the downtrodden in this way, James is saying that the Lord hears the cries of those who are oppressed and thrown down. The AMP version says here in verse 5 that the rich person has abandoned who they are in trade for a living of self-indulgence and self-gratification. You might be inclined to develop a dislike and detest people like this, but when I see that ‘abandoned yourselves’, I feel bad and almost pity the person who has chosen this lonely and alone state of life. It is as they have traded all that is available for them for eternity for a short window of pleasure and gratuitousness that does not last but a moment in the grand scheme of their eternal existence.

Application:

The potential for shortsightedness is a capability for all of us living under the sun. We can become consumed with our circumstances and situations so much that we lose sight of the ultimate hope and goal which is a promised life of Eternity with the only One that matters…our Lord Jesus Christ. I need to be better about pulling my head up out of the mire of craziness that can sometimes be work or busy-ness and realign my sights on the ultimate prize.

QTVOTD: Woe to the Rich…

​1 COME NOW, you rich [people], weep aloud and lament over the miseries (the woes) that are surely coming upon you.
2 Your abundant wealth has rotted and is ruined, and your [many] garments have become moth-eaten.
3 Your gold and silver are completely rusted through, and their rust will be testimony against you and it will devour your flesh as if it were fire. You have heaped together treasure for the last days. James 5:1-3

To James, the rich people pictured are clearly wealthy landowners, a class accused of economic exploitation and oppression from early times. Based on other writings of James I am pretty sure he is referring to non-Christians in this rebuke. The words James uses (miseries, woes) are traditionally used in the Old Testament in the context of judgment. This background makes clear that the misery that is coming on the rich refers not to earthly suffering, but to the condemnation and punishment that God will dole out to them on the day of judgment.

Additionally, it would be wrong to ignore the fact that ‘the rich’ and ‘the unrighteous’ are so easily connected; Scripture warns us that wealth can be a particularly strong obstacle to Christian discipleship. Jesus said Himself, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a wealthy man to enter the Kingdom of heaven”. In verse 2 James starts to talk about how the accumulation of wealth (things) actually leads to decay of belongings because they pile up unused…one of the worst visions of bad stewardship.

The move to the tarnish and rust being a testimony against the ‘Rich’ is simply because the rich have concentrated on the accumulation of earthly treasure to the exclusion of heavenly treasure; plainly indicating where their ‘heart’ is. Additionally, the wealth accumulated was put to ‘no use’ for the poor who needed it. The ‘devour your flesh as if it were a fire’ is talking about God wrath poured out.

Application:

I need to ask myself – “As a Christian, am I falling into sin by withholding God’s resources? Am I being a conduit for God’s resources and not a dam?” I need to walk forward from today looking distinctly at our spending and keeping an open eye to see the people God is putting in my path to help. My focus needs to be ‘riches in heaven’ not ‘riches on earth’. I definitely don’t see myself as a selfish rich person, but I do think that the blessings the Lord has given me in my job and salary can easily create an earthly comfort that keeps me from leaning into God for what I truly need…the Bread of Life.