Scripture And Divine Guidance

Old Dusty Book

Who do I marry? What work or profession must I take on? Where should I live? etc. are some of the legitimate questions Christians ask. Believers must seek to please God in all they do and hence these questions are commendable. However, these questions tend to be answered in ways that I believe are dangerous to believers. Many books, supposedly answering these questions inundate the shelves of Christian bookshops. One such title reads, “Are You Still Single? Prayers to Locate Your Divine Spouse.” These and many more are bestsellers because people are indeed looking for answers to life’s questions and somewhat these titles promise to offer them their answers. But are they the right answers?

As believers, God has given us his Word as the means by which we will please him and every other “How Tos” not faithful to Scripture are to be avoided. And many of these “How Tos” are indeed unfaithful to Scripture. The Old and New Testaments; that is the whole Bible has been given to us “to be the rule of faith and life.”1 A rule, by dictionary definition, is “a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct over an area of people”. It is also “control of or dominion over an area or people” Following from this definition, the Word of God then becomes our explicit or understood regulations or principles governing our conduct. The word of God has control of or dominion over us. This simply a means Scripture has an overarching authority over the believer. If Scripture is the word of God (and it is), then we are to submit our whole lives to its obedience, for in the obedience of Scripture we obey God.  Everything we need to live lives pleasing to God is addressed in Scripture. Is this not an over-stretch you may ask? No, it is not. The Bible indeed has all the answers for our lives.

Perhaps one of the places in Scripture where Scripture testifies of itself is Psalm 119. In this Psalm, David speaks of all what the word of God does for the believer. He places a premium on the Word and in this Psalm, David celebrates the Word of God. The Word keeps us pure, he says. There are wondrous things in the Word to behold, he beckons. The Word is to be treasured above all riches, he admonishes. How relevant all these are to someone who wants to please God by his word! The question remaining unanswered so far is how the word of God gives us guidance. To this I turn to the Westminster Confession of Faith:

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed.2

There are two important things to be noted in the words of the confession in terms of knowing those things which please God and serve as a guide for our lives. Firstly, there are those things expressly set down in Scripture and secondly, there are those things by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture. In other words, there are things that are so plain in Scripture we don’t need second thoughts or opinions to obey them; and there are those things we cannot clearly see stated in Scripture but can know them as we study and apply Scripture.

I will describe this as moving from the known to the unknown: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deut. 29:29)

Expressly Set Down In Scripture

Whatever is expressly set down in Scripture simply indicates things that are clear and unambiguous. They are things that are revealed and ought to be obeyed. They are so plain it will take only disobedience not to see them. One of the characteristics of the Bible taught by the sixteenth-century Reformers is what they call perspicuity of Scripture. “What they mean by that technical term was the clarity of Scripture. They maintained that the Bible is basically clear and lucid. It is simple enough for any literate person to understand its basic message.”3 Of course, this doesn’t mean everything in Scripture can be easily understood. But at least, the very important things we need are explicit.

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.4

One of the clear teachings of Scripture about our conduct as believers is in 1 Thess. 4:3 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” God demands nothing but a sanctified life; that is, a life separated from any form of ungodliness. The text actually goes on to list all that is in view here by our sanctification: “that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” (vv.4-7) The list here is not exhaustive, albeit it tells us clearly what God demands from us. It guides our conduct. The popular verse, Romans 12:1-2 is another place we see an explicit teaching of Scripture: “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”.

There are indeed many other teachings of Scripture on money, relationships, employment, marriage and any other thing we may call practical issues of life. We are to be good stewards of our finances. We are to love one another as ourselves. As Christians, we are to marry Christians and of course we are to marry from the opposite sex and not same sex. In matters of employment, we are to firstly work and work as unto God and not as to men. These are basics indeed and if we commit to obeying these, other areas of our lives would be less blurred.

Deducing from Scripture by Good and Necessary Consequence

The Scriptures are to be studied and its lessons applied to our life. Any believer who doesn’t make the study of Scripture a part of their life will surely walk about not knowing what God requires of them in any sphere of life. All Scripture, Paul tells us, is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (1Timothy 3:16-17) If Scripture is profitable, then we are to study it and apply it to our lives. For example, studying Scripture will lead us to make a good choice of a marriage partner. God’s word has already laid down many things to look out for when one is considering marriage. As I mentioned earlier, first consideration for marriage is that a believer marries a believer of the opposite sex (this emphasis is important as marriage has taken on an unbiblical outlook). This is a non-negotiable and anything contrary to it is unbiblical. This is a general rule, but how does one narrow down to specifics? Well, if you find a Christian and you both love each other, nothing prevents you from marrying.

Many believers are postponing important life decisions because somehow they want to hear God speak to them. Well, God has spoken in Scripture (Heb. 1:-2), they are simply not listening. Stop postponing life decisions. Make decisions as long as they don’t violate what God has clearly revealed in Scripture.

Waiting for this will of direction is a mess. It is bad for your life, harmful to your sanctification, and allows too many Christians to be passive tinkers who strangely feel more spiritual the less they actually do5

I will conclude with the last part of the Confession which is very instructive: “according to the general rules of the word.” (1.6). Whatever decisions we must make should be guided by what Scripture clearly teaches and we will not go wrong. Let Scripture be your guide in your decision-making. Say with David “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Notes:

  1. Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) (1.2)
  2. WCF (1.6)
  3. R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009), Kindle edition
  4. WCF (1.7)
  5. Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009), Kindle edition

—originally published on The Gospel Network by author as Divine Guidance

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The Great Work Of Salvation

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Israel was carried into captivity from their land of habitation into foreign lands. (Ezekiel 36:16-20) because of sin. Ezekiel as a priest and prophet of God was among those carried into captivity hence the scene of his prophecies is that of captivity (Ezekiel 1:1). In Ezekiel 36, God announces a restoration of the nation Israel despite their sin and rebellion: “I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land” (v.24). In these prophetic words of restoration, we learn many lessons about how God restores and reconciles sinners unto Himself.

1: Salvation Is A Work of God

God speaks through the prophet Ezekiel saying “I will…” In this phrase appearing about six times in the text, we notice that every action towards the restoration of the Israelites was solely a work of God. Salvation is monergestic as opposed to synergistic. God was restoring Israel for the sake of His name not because of any meritorious deed by them.

In an earlier verse, He told Ezekiel “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name …” (v23). God acted in the interest of Israel “for the sake of [His] holy name”. David in Psalm 23:3 echoes this same truth: “He restores my soul. He leads me in the path of righteousness for his name’s sake”. (see also Ps.115:1).

No Place For Boasting

“For His name sake”

Here is an overarching theme of the Bible. Everything God does is to “the glory of God alone”—Soli Deo Gloria (Rev 4:11). There is no room for boasting in ourselves and our good deeds because salvation is “not a result of works” (Eph 2:9). It is by “grace” we “have been saved through faith”, It is not our own doing (v8). We owe our salvation to the glory of God. We are saved “to the praise of his glory”(Eph. 1:12, 14). The grace of God strips us off of all avenues of boasting. God saves on the merit of His grace. John Piper rightly noted: “When it comes to being a candidate for grace, your background has nothing to do with God’s choice.

Simply, we contributed nothing towards our salvation.

2: Cleansed By The Water Of The Word And Of The Spirit

Like the Israelites, we are also a people unclean by nature and in captivity to sin. We need cleansing and restoration. The Bible records that God created Adam and Eve and gave Adam a commandment to keep (Gen 2:16-17). Adam disobeyed God and by his disobedience, sin entered the world (Gen 3). Now, Adam in the garden of Eden was acting as a federal head for all of humankind therefore his fall became the fall of all who will ever walk this earth (Ps 51:5, Rom 3:23, 5:12), except Jesus who lived a perfect life without sin. In Adam, we are all separated from God by virtue of an inherited sinful nature and total depravity. As Adam was driven away from the presence of God (Gen 3:23-24), sin has driven us away from the presence of God and like the Israelites, we are under captivity and bondage to sin.

To The Rescue

However, despite our captivity and bondage to sin, God didn’t leave us in a hopeless state. He sent Christ to die in place of sinners to reconcile us unto Himself. God cleanses us from our sin by the water of the word and of the Spirit. Wherever the word of God goes forth, the Spirit of God follows to do His work (Acts 2:37). In John 17, what is termed Jesus’ High Priestly  Prayer, He prayed that the Father sanctifies the disciples in the truth, because His word is truth(v17). Peter taught that, we are “born again not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God”(1Pet1:23). The Spirit convicts sinners of sin when the word is ministered. The sinner is brought to a point of self-awareness of their sinful nature then they are brought to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing.

3: Regeneration

As said previously, all humankind are sinful, born in sin from the womb. The Christian, prior to his salvation was “dead in…trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) If we were indeed dead in trespasses and sins and separated from God then the sinner can’t save herself. Dead men have no life neither can they inject life into their deadness. To be dead in sin is to not possess the ability to choose God; the inability to come to life by ourselves: To be alive therefore and come to salvation, we need an external influence to resurrect and give us life from our deadness (Jn. 6:44).

4 Alive To God

What God does in regeneration is to infuse life into our dead heart through His Spirit. Our cold, dead, unresponsive heart to divine truth is made alive to divine truth. Our unyielding heart now willingly yields to God. God’s Spirit then indwells the sinner as a guarantee one has been born of God and they belong to Christ (Eph1:14. Rom 8:9).

If God doesn’t intervene in a sinner’s life, there will be no spiritual life and spiritual birth. We must therefore pray that God will intervene in the lives of unbelievers so they will come to a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus.

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.

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

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

The Son Of God Is Not Called Jesus Christ. He is called Yeshua Hamashiach—Owusu Bempah

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A video has been making the rounds with Rev. Owusu Bempah of Glorious Word Power Ministry International purporting “that the real son of God is called Yeshua Hamashiach reiterating that Jesus Christ was an impostor. “The son of God” he said, “is not called Jesus Christ. He is called Yeshua Hamashiach.” The video and transcript can be viewed here.

Now, his statement doesn’t deserve a response because it is not an issue at least at the level of Christian scholarlship. It is simply a case of ignorance. But considering that he is a so called Reverend and the number of controversies he stirs in this country, it is right to put the issue in its right place.

In the first place, the name “Yeshua” is the English transliteration of the Hebrew word ישוע. Now unless one has the ability to read Hebrew, that word is meaningless. Yeshua in Hebrew simply means “Saviour” and the Greek transliteration is “Iesous” from which we have Jesus—the English transliteration. So unless you are reading the New Testament in Hebrew, there is no point for a Hebrew word —ישוע–Yeshua in an English Bible especially so when the New Testament was originally written in Greek.

He went on further to say that “The name Jesus Christ was given by Constantine”. This is incredibly ludicrous.  Yeshua Hamashiach, again is another transliteration from Hebrew to English. In English it means “Jesus The Messiah” which is English transliteration of the Greek Iesous Cristos; also a transliteration of the Hebrew Yeshua Hamashiach. Mashiach means “anointed”. John recorded this in Christ’s discourse with the woman at the well:

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he. (John 4:25-26).

He continued Jesus Christ is not the name of the son of God. There was this man who came called Nero who was killing the followers of Jesus Christians who were not even called Christians but Nazarenes.  He could feed them to lions and other dangerous animals but their numbers increased.

There’s some truth in the above. Historically, it is true there was a man named Nero who persecuted Christians. An online article “Who Was Nero?” captures something about Nero worth considering:

Nero took the throne approximately two decades after Christ was crucified. Although still in its infancy, Christianity was spreading rapidly during this time. In fact, approximately fourteen of the New Testament’s twenty-seven books were written in whole or in part during Nero’s emperorship. Also during Nero’s reign the apostle Paul was confined to house arrest in Rome (AD 60—63), where he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Nero was the “Caesar” to whom Paul appealed for justice during his trial in Caesarea (Acts 25:10–12).²

Rev. Owusu Bempah in his statement also claims Christians were called Nazarenes. That is also false. The name Christians—believer and follower of Christ — was first used in Acts 11:26. The word is another Greek-English transliteration meaning follower of Christ: Christos; a Christian, i.e. Follower of Christ — Christian. ³

Before the name Christians (Acts 11:26), The followers of Christ were called People of the Way (Acts 9:2). Remember Christ said he is the way, the truth and the life ( John 14:6).  There are men on pulpits who don’t know what they believe. However, these men are drawing crowds and leading people astray. These things could have easily been cleared if Owusu Bempah had spent some time reading around. We live in sad times as a Church in this nation. I pray God gives us discerment and raises preachers who will only preach the truth and not engage in “irreverent babble, [which] will lead people into more and more ungodliness” (2Timothy 2:16).

Notes

1:https://mobile.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Jesus-Christ-not-the-son-of-God-he-was-an-impostor-Owusu-Bempah-597752?video=1

2:https://www.gotquestions.org/who-was-Nero.html

3: http://biblehub.com/greek/5546.htm