Number Your Days And Live Wisely

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Today is 1st January, 2018. Happy New Year to you dear reader. I have no doubts we all have plans for this new year and most importantly plans to please God if you are a believer. Indeed this is the period of the year many resolutions are made towards that.

In this article, I want us to briefly look at a prayer prayed many centuries before our time, yet with profound lessons to aid us in this new year. The prayer is Psalm 90. It is one of the wonderful prayers in the Bible from which we are able to glean some lessons useful to go through this new year.

I will attempt to address what I mean by number your days and live wisely.

Psalm 90

Live Coram Deo

Living Coram Deo is simply living our lives with the consciousness of the presence of God that our everyday lives are open to God. This therefore calls for a life of intergrity and wholeness in Christian attitude. For the believer and even the unbeliever; we cannot live anywhere but in the full glare of God’s presence.

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where y shall I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me ( Psalm 139:7-10).

In Psalm 90, the Israelites have been wandering in the wilderness enroute to the Promised land since they set off from Egypt. A lot has happened during these times. Moses in vv. 1-11 acknowledged God’s hand and presence in their sojourning all those years: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” (v.1) Here is an affirmation of God as the Israelites’ very existence and a truth we must acknowledge and live by with the understanding that our whole lives are before God; the Creator to whom we owe our lives and to whom we must seek for direction.

Dependence On God

To live Coram Deo also necessitates dependence on God. He knows what we don’t know which calls for us to seek his guidance. In verses, 12, Moses aptly captured this when he prayed; “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” and this verse is where the title of the article comes from. Now this prayer is one for direction and guidance from God. It was a prayer of dependence on God. God created us and until we have learnt to depend on him, we will forever live a self-destructive life. It was St Augustine, in his Confessions who said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” This is a good place to ask “What place has God in your life?” Since God created us, we must live our lives to please him.

Consider That Life Is Fleeting

Wisdom demands we acknowledge the brevity of life. 2017 has just passed with the speed of light. Some of those we started the year with have passed on into eternity. Life is short. We are not here to stay forever. We are on borrowed time. Human life is so fragile; like leaves, today we are, tomorrow we are gone. Moses tells us this brevity of life in v.5: “You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.” Not oblivious of humanity’s frailty, Moses prayed for wisdom to number their days.

Be Wise

Moses’ prayer is a prayer asking for wisdom not to be wasteful of the few days humankind has on earth. Our days are limited and we must not lose sight of this. Every passing day brings us close to eternity. Wisdom is the right application of the knowledge we possess, in this case our understanding of the brevity of life and living accordingly. When we pray for God to teach us to number our days; we are in effect praying for wisdom: “that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (v.5). Proverbs 90:10 tells us “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Do you fear God? Do you have a relationship with him or you are only living your life to please your self? Let not this year be a self-pleasing life for “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&41).

In the New Testament, James tells us that “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God. ” He didn’t stop at that; he assured us that that prayer would be answered: [God] gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:5). Paul in his letter to the Ephesians admonished them saying “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph.5:15-16 KJV).

Your life is not your own. You are accountable to God who made you. In 2018 and beyond, make it a point to live a life pleasing to the Lord.

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Revelation: Hearing God

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The word revelation is used loosely in our time in relation to Christian theology. Some speak of God speaking to them, giving them a revelation through dreams, visions and prophecy. Someone may approach you and say God has revealed something to him about you. How are we to respond to such extra-biblical revelation?

The answer is to understand what revelation is, how God has spoken through the ages and how he speaks today. Such an understanding will free us from the error and danger of men and women who come with what they term revelation. One place in Scripture we can turn to in further answering the question about revelation is Hebrews 1:1-2.

Long ago, at many times and a in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things,  through whom also he created the world.

When we say Revelation, we are speaking of how God has made himself known in human history. R.C. Sproul aptly says “Everything we know about Christianity has been revealed to us by God. To reveal means “to unveil.” It involves removing a cover from something that is concealed.” [2] Theologians identify two avenues by which God has revealed himself in human history, namely, General Revelation and Special Revelation.

General revelation, is, as named, general and is available to all. This revelation of God manifests in the world around us. God has revealed himself to all human beings through nature and no one has an excuse to deny the existence of God. Any denial is actually a suppression of the truth (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:19-21).

Special revelation on the other hand is how God has revealed himself to humankind apart from nature and through special means unavailable to all. Special revelation is therefore salvific; that is, it leads to salvation. The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) highlights the inability of people to come to faith through General revelation: “Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation” (WCF 1.1). Special revelation varies in nature and this is precisely the point of the text when it says “at many times and in many ways.” Some of these many ways include theophanies, dreams, visions, and through prophets.

Clearly, we note that God is not a silent God but a God who has through human history revealed and made himself known specially: “God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” This sets a contrast between the prophets of long ago and Christ in these last days as God’s means of revelation.  Prophets held a high place in Jewish religion for it is through them God spoke to the Old Testament people. “Our fathers” also in the text is to be understood as the Patriarchs of the Old Testament, who are the progenitors of the recipients. So God at a certain point in history; the past, revealed himself to the Jews by Prophets all recorded in the Old Testament.

In the the Old Testament which is also the Hebrew Bible or Tanak, the Jews have three main divisions — Torah (Law), Neb’im (Prophets) and Ketubim (The writings). You will recall when Jesus spoke with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, he preached to them about himself from Moses (the Pentateuch or Torah) and all the Prophets (Luke 24:27). Prophets indeed held a high place in Jewish religion. When Paul said in 2Timothy 3:16 that “All Scripture is breathed out by God…”, he was speaking primarily of Old Testament Scripture made up of the writings of prophets–Major and Minor. It is in the same sense Peter’s words were written in 2 Peter 1:20-21.

Now moving from a lesser argument, that is, God speaking through the Prophets at different times and many ways, the author turns to a greater argument–Christ as the final agent of God’s revelation. Sinclair Ferguson in his book From The Mouth Of God identifies how God’s revelation of himself moved progressively to its culmination in the person of Christ.

First, it is historical: God has been active in history in order to show his power and love. Second, it is verbal: God has provided his own interpretation of his actions. He has given us a permanent record of his words … through…the pages of Scriptures. Third, it is progressive and cumulative. God gave his revelation in different ways and at different times. But now he has given his final revelation in these last days. Fourth, it is Christ-centred: God’s revelation reached its fulfillment when he spoke his final word to us in his Son, Jesus Christ. [3]

As we have seen, God’s revelation in the past (long ago) has been through agency of prophets through various means. But in these last days (the very day Jesus touched down to the earth until now) God’s revelation of himself culminated in the person of Christ: the God-man, the Immanuel. Christ is superior over all other forms of revelation. God has spoken his final words to us through Christ.

Since God’s final revelation has come, the implication therefore is that revelation has ceased for there is nothing new to reveal about God that has not been revealed in the person of Christ. And all of God’s special revelation has been recorded in Scripture to teach, reproof, correct, and train us in all ways necessary to please and glorify him. We therefore don’t need a prophet to speak into our life for direction or even a dream or vision to guide us. God’s written word is sufficient for in it we hear God’s word revealed through the Son: “This is my beloved Son: hear him” (Luke 9:35 KJV). Hearing the Son is only possible through the written word.

…therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased (WCF 1.1)

I will finally conclude with the words of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones as quoted in John MacArthur’s book, Strange Fire:

Again, we must note that often in the history of the Church trouble has arisen because people thought that they were prophets in the New Testament sense, and that they had received special revelations of truth. The answer to that is that in view of the New Testament Scriptures there is no need of further truth. That is an absolute proposition. We have all truth in the New Testament, and we have no need of any further revelations. All has been given, everything that is necessary for us is available. Therefore if a man claims to have received a revelation of some fresh truth we should suspect him immediately. [3]

Notes

1. Sproul, R. C.. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith ( United States Of America: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992), Kindle Edition

2: Sinclair B. Ferguson, From The Mouth Of God: Trusting, Reading, And Applying The Bible (Edinburgh: The Banner Of Truth, 2015), 7

3. John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending The Holy Spirit With Counterfeit Worship (Nashville: Tennessee, Nelson Books, 2013), Kindle Edition.

—- Adapted from article originally posted by author as Christ:God’s Final Revelation  on Sovereigngracegh.org

In Memory Of The Man R.C Sproul.

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Those thinkers who are most widely regarded as the titans of classical Christian scholarship fall heavily on the Reformed side. I am persuaded, however, that this is a fact of history that dare not be ignored.

—R.C.Sproul, Chosen By God

In memory of Dr R.C. Sproul, tonight, I will listen again to Election, preached from Rom. 9 by Dr. James Montgomery Boice+ at a Ligonier conference; a message which finally shattered my resistance to Reformed theology and Calvinism. The intensity in Dr. Boice’s voice and the authority in his preaching was like a dagger driven into my heart. I will afterwards look for every message I could lay hands on preached by Dr. Boice.

One day, I was heart broken to have learnt Dr. Boice had long gone to be with the Lord. Perhaps, he would have been my favourite preacher if he were alive. Now God, through Ligonier, led by Dr. Sproul led me to the message which changed my life. Ligonier became a source of spiritual nourishment online. I subscribed to TableTalk Magazine, I registered as a student on Ligonier connect, I bought and read a number of books by Dr. Sproul (kindle editions) —What Is Reformed Theology?, Chosen By God, Everyone Is A Theologian, Essential Truths of The Christian Faith, Knowing Scripture (my favourite) and many of the free crucial question series. I also received as a gift, Reformation Study Bible from a St. Andrews Church member whose Pastor was Dr. Sproul.

Far away in Africa without the benefit of meeting Dr. Sproul or sit under his ministry in person, God’s providence made available to me through the internet Dr. Sproul’s rich, biblical expository preaching. At a point in his illness, I personally felt Dr. Sproul should stop preaching. But true to his words —“I’ll retire when they pry my cold, dead fingers off of my Bible ” — Dr. Sproul marched on with the gospel.

Dr. Sproul’s ministry has truly had profound impact in my life. Knowing Scripture, a book by Dr. Sproul opened my eyes to biblical hermeneutics. I learnt the difference between eisegesis—reading into the biblical text what’s not there—and exegesis; reading from Scripture what Scripture teaches. This man is the one who taught me —from a distance— how to properly handle Scripture. Though sad, as believers we know he has gone to be with his Saviour and Lord. He has by now heard the words ” Thou good and faithful servant.”

My prayer goes out for his family, friends, ministry partners that the Lord will comfort them. Amen.

What Has This Got To Do With Christmas?

Genesis 3:8-15

 

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I have been given this text to read as one of the lessons in a community carol’s night organised by our resident’s association. The first question I asked when I had the text was “what has this got to do with Christmas?

However, reading and pondering the text, it is as relevant as any other account of the birth of Christ in the gospels. If you are familiar with Genesis 3, that is where the fall occurred; sin entered the world and thus all of humankind became sinners.

In Genesis 3 also, God announced his redemptive plan for salvation. In that pronouncement, Christ—the seed of the woman was revealed. The seed of the woman shall bruise Satan’s head, and Satan his heel.” (Genesis 3:15). Theologians call this (v.15) protoevangelium; that is, the first gospel. The bruising of the heel of the seed of the woman paints a picture of the passion of Christ and bruising the head of the Serpent is the victory Christ won over the devil in his Crucifixion (1Corinthians 2:8; Colossians 2:14-15).

The point is that Christ’s incarnation which we celebrate as Christmas was for the purpose of destroying the work of the devil and deliver sinners from bondage (1John 3:8; Hebrews 2:14-15). This is why we celebrate Christmas: the ‘seed of the woman’, prophesied in Genesis 3:15 was born to bring hope to a dark dying world burdened with sin. Of course, we know the date of his birth is only commemorative, but he was born and the importance of the season is that his birth was God’s plan from the beginning by which he will reconcile sinners to God.

Genesis 3:8-15 has everything to do with Christmas. The deliverer from sin and destroyer of Satan’s work was revealed.

The Light Of The World

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Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Light dispels darkness. Where there is light, darkness cannot be present. Metaphorically, Christ speaks of himself as the light of the world. This points us to the fact that there is darkness in the world. He goes on again to say whoever follows him will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of the world. This also means is anyone not following Christ is in the darkness which is in the world. Again, anyone who follows him has come out of the darkness of the world.

Here we see a contrast between light and darkness.

Now the ” I am the light of the world” is one of a number of “I am”  statements by Jesus  Christ recorded in John’s gospel. These “I am” statements are not a simple first person pronoun usage; rather, they point us to Christ’s divine identity and his saving relationship with sinners in a fallen world (John 4:26; 6:20; 8:28, 28, 58; 18:5). You may also be familiar with some of these specific metaphorical rendering of the “I am” statements:   “I am the bread of life, the door of the sheep, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth, and the life and the true vine (John 6:35; 48, 51; 10:7; 11; 14, 11:25; 14:6; 15).

All these words were spoken in various contexts where they addressed specific needs ultimately pointing to our need of a Saviour.  “I am the light of the world” is an identification with divinity –Jesus is God— which we can trace back to John’s prologue : “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it … The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:4-5, 9).

Now if Jesus says he is the light of the world, it means that;

The World Is In Darkness.

Darkness here depicts a world of sin and ignorance; lack of knowledge of God. Darkness contrasting with light is the realm of evil; the kingdom of darkness. The whole world, Jesus said lies in wickedness (1John 5:19). In the beginning, God created a perfect world and he saw that all he made was good (Genesis 1:31). However, this perfect world was plunged into sin when Adam disobeyed God’s command subsequently inflicting the world with sin causing a separation between God and man (Romans 3:23). This darkness is a universal darkness. Every human being is affected by the effects of this dark sinful world. It is called total depravity. We are all badly hurt by the sin problem

Life Without Christ Is A Life of Darkness.

If the world is in darkness, it follows that everyone who enters it enters a world of darkness–filled with sin and ignorance of a knowledge of God. We all enter the world corrupted by a sin nature. Burk Parson in a sermon notes that “we enter the world dead on arrival.” Further, there is a kingdom of darkness ruled by Satan and any person who enters the world is automatically under the bondage of Satan and until they come to faith in Christ, they are doomed for destruction and under Satan’s rule. Paul says this clearly when he described the former world of the believer which is the present world or reality of the unbeliever. They are dead in trespasses and sins. They are following the course of the dark world which is  sin and bondage under Satan’s rule (Eph 2:1-3).

If you don’t know Christ and have no relationship with him as your Lord and Saviour, this is your world. You are dead in sin and living in darkness.

Life With Christ Is A Life of Light.

Where light is, darkness gives way. Because Jesus is the light of the world, the darkness of the world must give way. So if a person walking in darkness encounters Christ and comes to saving faith in him; they are rescued from darkness and brought into the light; the light of the world, Christ Jesus. Just as darkness depicts sin and ignorance, light represents righteousness and life. When we come to Christ who is the light of the world, our dark; sinful and ignorant life is illuminated with light, which is the life of men.

All human beings are in bondage to sin until they come to faith in Christ. Are you burdened with sin? Are you heavy laden with guilt? Christ calls you to come into his life. He will forgive you of your sins and bring life into your dark world. Come; Christ calls

The Author Of Eternal Life

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And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him (Hebrews 5:9).

The text is speaking about Christ. Indeed, the whole of the book of Hebrews speaks of Christ and his superiority over all things. Christ offers salvation and eternal life. But one may ask, why Salvation?

Salvation is needed because of humanity’s sin problem. We trace the sin problem to Eden where the fall of Adam became the fall of the whole human race. The image of God, in which we were created was defaced. We are alienated from God because of sin. Our mind lacks understanding, our hearts corrupted and hardened by sin and and only Christ can save us from this alienation.

Why Is Christ Fit To Offer Salvation?

1: He is a Perfect Saviour

Among many meanings, the word perfect denotes completion and fulfillment. Christ was made perfect in the sense that he fulfilled all of God’s plan for salvation. He kept and fulfilled all of God’s law that we couldn’t keep.

2. Christ is the author of Salvation.

Only through him can sinners be saved. He went to the cross for sinners. And he has a name above every name. In his name salvation is offered.

3. He paid the ransom

Christ gave his life as a ransom for our sins. He paid the debt of sin we owed.

The Call To Obedience

You don’t own your soul and without Christ you are lost eternally. And the salvation Christ offers is salvation of the soul—eternally. Seek Christ to save your soul. Those who hear him take his word preciously and obey the gospel.

The good news is this: you are helpless, bound for hell and a Saviour in Christ comes to appease for your sins and offered salvation. Come to Christ. Look to him for your salvation. Jesus shows us abundant love and mercy. While we were sinners he died for us.

—This is a summary of sermon notes I made of a sermon preached by  Pastor Ferguson Kcofie  on 26/11/2017 @ Truth Missionary Baptist Church, Dansoman-Exhibition. Truth MissionaryBaptist Church is a Reformed Baptist Church in Accra-Ghana and is the church I attend.

Also, the notes are mine and hence solely liable for any misinterpretation of doctrine or the sermon which may appear in this summary.

Philemon: A Practical Letter For Christian Living

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Download PDF or Word Document of article.

Philemon 1:1-25

There are twenty-seven books of the New Testament divided mainly into; The Gospels (Synoptics and John), Acts, Paul’s Epistles, General Epistles and Apocalypse/Revelation. Majority of the NT are epistles (Paul’s and others’) forming twenty-one of the twenty-seven. Paul wrote thirteen 13 letters–some to churches, pastors and individuals. Further, four of Paul’s letters are called prison epistles because they were written in Prison; namely: Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon. Philemon is an epistle and to study it we have to approach it as a letter. In doing so, we will seek to answer five questions: Who wrote Philemon, when and where was Philemon written, Who was/were the recipients, Why was it written and what can we learn from it? Answering the first four questions will lead us into a proper application—what we can learn from Philemon.

Who Wrote Philemon?

Letters in the New Testament world were written just as we write letters today, albeit with some differences. Letters in the then world starts with a greeting and salutation where the author(s) introduce themselves. Sinclair Ferguson in his book Let’s Study Philippians notes that “Letters began with three words: (i) the name of the writer; (ii) the name of the recipients; (iii)’greetings’.” [1] We see examples of these standard openings of epistles identifying authors in some of these epistles: 2 Timothy 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; 2 John 1:1. Now in answering who wrote Philemon; let’s look at verse 1: “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother…” Clearly, we see Paul introducing himself as the author. Timothy is also introduced to us as a co-author. Timothy, was Paul’s protégé who was being raised as a Pastor

When and Where Was Philemon Written?

Paul’s opening words “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus…” is no “spiritual language”. He wrote from prison (vv.1; 9; 10; 22). And Philemon as has been identified earlier is one of the four prison epistles. It was believed to have been written in Rome (Acts 28:16; 31) in A.D. 62

Who Was The Recipient?

Philemon, the name of the letter, is the recipient: “To Philemon our beloved fellow worker…” (v.1). The letter was also perhaps to be read by others as they have been included in the recipients: “…and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house” (v.1). Philemon was a wealthy and generous man who was hosting a church in his house. It is to be noted that “The early Christians met in believers’ homes” (1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15). [2] Again, Philemon was converted under Paul’s ministry. We know this because Paul mentions it in v.17 pointing out to Philemon that he owes him his very life: “A reference to the fact that Philemon was converted through Paul’s ministry, so that Philemon “owed” Paul something far greater, namely, his eternal life.” [3]

Why Was The Letter Written?

Philemon had a slave–Onesimus– who run away with stolen money from his master. However, in the course of his “runaway life” Onesimus encountered Paul’s ministry and was converted. He served Paul in his imprisonment for some time. However, Paul knowing the right thing to be done sent Onesimus back to his master. And the letter to Philemon accompanied Onesimus’ return. Paul wrote appealing to Philemon to receive Onesimus back. Now, there is a clarification which needs to be done concerning slavery as it occurred in New Testament. This is necessary because one may ask why Paul, an apostle will want a slave to return to his master when he has had the opportunity to escape. Also, the repulsive imagery of slavery in a modern world may be imposed on the New Testament hence losing entirely the lessons contained in this letter. To this, I quote the below for clarification.

People became slaves in various ways: Many were prisoners taken in war; others were kidnapped by slave hunters; still others were enslaved through debt; and, of course, there were the children born to slaves. The slavery many English-speaking readers of the Bible are most familiar with is that of the blacks in America, but the Roman situation was more complicated. Within the general category the most burdensome form of slave life was endured by those who did heavy manual labor, e.g., in the mines, building construction, and the rowing banks on ships. By contrast many who worked in households for understanding masters would not have been much worse off than servants in wealthy British homes at the end of the last century known to TV watchers through “Upstairs, Downstairs.” On a particularly high level were the very well-educated slaves who administered their master’s estates or businesses, instructed the children, and even earned their own money. These would have been the group from which many emerged by gaining or being given freedom.[4]

How Do We Apply The Letter To Our Lives? (What Can We Learn From it?)

Having explored the first four questions, we can now go further to find out how the letter is relevant or can be applied to our live. Below we will identify some lessons in the text relevant to our Christian living.

Christian Interpersonal Relationships

Christians relate in divers ways with one another (Ephesians 5:1-33; 6:1-9, Mark 12:33) and the heart of the letter is about Christian relationships and reconciliation when things go wrong. One of the first lessons we learn in our relationship with each other is the place of intercessory prayers for each other (James 5:16). Paul tells Philemon “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers” (v.4). This teaches us about gratitude to God for our fellow believers and we must make it a point to remember all believers—those we know and believers in general—in our prayers. People often ask us to remember them in our prayers and yet many are guilty of not honouring this request. It shouldn’t be so. Let’s get involved in each other’s life through intercession. We must also pray for the needs of those who minister the gospel. We see this in Paul’s closing words in Philemon: “…for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you (v.22). Paul here asks for prayers for his release.

Philemon also teaches generosity towards one another marked by love and faith in Christ. Christian relationship must be characterised by love that shares—Koinonia (vv.5-7; 1Corinthians 13, Philippians 1:5). Philemon, as a person is presented to us as a generous person: “For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (v.7). He was a generous man concerned with the upkeep of the saints. Not only that, he had opened his home for Christian fellowship. His faith in Christ overflowed into generosity towards the saints and in service to the Lord.

Christian relationship is also not manipulative. Paul, though he was an apostle, he found it necessary not to impose his will on Philemon with regards to the return of Onesimus. Paul tells Philemon”…though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you…” (vv.8-9). The subsequent verses were all appeals from Paul for Philemon to receive Onesimus—not “by compulsion but of your own accord (v.14). A window is opened here for us to see into Paul’s heart. He practices what he preaches. Remember in 1 Corinthians 13:5, Paul has written that love is not selfish—it doesn’t insist on its own. Here is Paul living what he preaches. He could use his apostolic office to get what he wants; but rather, for love’s sake he appeals to Philemon. In our Christian relationships; especially in places of leadership, we must ensure we are not abusing our authority over those God has given us responsibility over.

Finally, Christian relationships must be marked by forgiveness and not be vindictive (vv.17-19). In the New Testament Hellenistic world, a captured slave who attempted running receives a harsh punishment. According to John MacArthur, recounting the lives of slaves in the then world, points out that “Their master’s had virtually unlimited power to punish them, and sometimes did so severely for the slightest infractions.”Paul however calls for something radical than what the culture promotes. He calls for reconciliation, especially so because Onesimus is now not just a slave, but a fellow believer. Christian relationships must be that of forgiveness. We have been forgiven and reconciled to God and we must in that same spirit seek to forgive one another. In the prayer our Lord taught the disciples, he taught them and by extension us to pray “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12; see also 18:21-22).

Christ Saves

When Onesimus escaped from his master, he was an unbeliever. But now he is returning to his master not as a returnee slave so to speak; but as a brother in the Lord: “no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother–especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (v.16). This is the beautiful message of the Christian gospel! It reconciles. It bonds together in love people from all status of life: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). What happened to Onesimus? He encountered Christ and was changed. Sinners need to come to faith in Christ to be forgiven, cleansed of their sins and above all be reconciled to God for eternal life. What Onesimus had in common with his master was that they have all come to faith in Christ through the gospel. We see Onesimus’ life transformed by Christ to the point that Paul wrote “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me” (v.11).

The Providence of God

Though not directly, Paul teaches the providence of God in this letter. Paul links Onesimus’ salvation to his running away. He run away to be saved so to speak: “for this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever” (v.15). Perhaps, if he had not run away, he wouldn’t have been saved, Paul seem to be saying. I see Paul trying to bring Philemon’s attention to the fact that whatever happened was for a reason, that is, Onesimus’ salvation. What Paul asserts here can be compared to the narrative of Joseph and his brothers. What happened, according to Joseph was meant for good by God for the sake of posterity (Genesis 50:19-21). We also read in Romans 8:28 that “for those who love God all things work together for good.”

As believers, we must come to the point of looking at our world through the lenses of God’s providential ordering of events to the accomplishment of his will: “God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.” [5] The believer doesn’t live by chance but by the divine ordering of our God and King.

Christians And Suffering

There is a world of erroneous teaching out there that Christians must not suffer. But the Bible doesn’t teach such. Paul says in Philippians 1:29 that “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” This is the testimony of Scripture. If we are followers of Christ, we are going to face all categories of suffering however Christ promises us his peace (John 16:33).

In this letter, we see a clear picture of Christian suffering. Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter. Philemon, a faithful brother in the Lord had also may have encountered an emotional suffering pertaining to his runaway slave. As Christians, we must not, in any way expect our lives to be rosy without any setbacks or suffering for that is not promised in the Bible. This doesn’t however mean the Christian faith is all gloomy for we have also been promised joy and peace in the Lord (John 14:27). However, this promise of peace is at the backdrop of suffering. We will suffer, but Christ is with us and we can have peace in whatever situation we find ourselves.

Keep Hope Alive

Despite the challenges and problems we will encounter in our Christian walk, we must not lose heart. We must continue to hope and believe in God in all of life’s circumstances. And Paul clearly points to the hope he has of been released from prison. He wrote: “At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you” (v.22). Though he was in prison, Paul didn’t become despondent. He kept hope alive.

In fact if you read through his prison epistles, they exude with joy. In Philippians 3:1 he says “rejoice in the Lord”. In Ephesians he breaks forth with praise: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:3). Finally in Colossians 1:24 he says “Now I rejoice in my sufferings….” With Paul’s hope of release from prison, we can learn something about our own situations. We must keep hope alive in Christ. As believer’s, what we have is a living hope and we must never cast it away in whatever situation

 

Notes
1. Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Philippians ( Edinburgh: The Banner Of Truth, 2005), 1
2. R.C. Sproul, (Ed.), The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015), 2189.
3. Notes on Philemon 1:18-19 in ESV Global Study Bible,2012
4. Raymond E Brown, S.S, An Introduction To The New Testament ( New York, Doubleday, 1997), 503-504
5. John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2005), 1827-1828
6. Westminster Confession of Faith, 5.1