Bible Overview Series: 2 Peter

2 Peter by Joseph Novak

2 Peter: “Paul’s letters are hard to understand”: the calm judgment of a pseudonymous letter full of riddles and obscurities.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary) 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of 2 Peter

After Jesus rose from the grave, He had a special conversation with Peter about how the apostle would die:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God (Jn 21:18–19).

Peter knows that he will die for the Lord, and that his time was drawing near.

But there is so much the church needs to know and remember! False teachers are everywhere, causing divisions in the body of Christ (2 Pe 2:1–3). People will mock the promise of Christ’s return (2 Pe 3:4). There are those who twist the Old Testament, and even the letters of Paul (2 Pe 3:16).

The church needs to remember the Scriptures: the words of the Old Testament prophets and the words of Jesus that the apostles had passed on. Peter is an undisputed authority in the church, and so before he gives up his life, he writes a letter.

One last letter.

Second Peter is a last attempt to help the global church by reminding them of the truth. Peter explains several things that Christians will need to remember after he’s gone:

  1. Godly living is the evidence of salvation (2 Pe 1:10). If the Christians really believe what they say they believe, they will display moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, kindness, and love.
  2. Scriptural truth and prophecy are from God, not man. Peter and the rest of the apostles would die, but the word would remain forever (1 Pe 1:25). Furthermore, the teaching that Peter and the apostles had passed on wasn’t just something they’d dreamed up; they were eyewitnesses (2 Pe 1:16–18). And all those Old Testament prophets? They were under the influence of the Holy Spirit (2 Pe 1:21).
  3. False teachers will try to deceive the church. They’ll introduce divisive teachings that encourage people to indulge in the sins of the world: a twisted, disgusting take on Jesus’ grace (2 Pe 2).
  4. Mockers will discount the idea of Jesus’ return. Peter doesn’t know when Jesus was coming back; he just knew better than to doubt Him. Peter assures the church that Jesus is indeed returning, and His church should behave accordingly (2 Pe 3:14).

Peter had urged the church to stand firm in his first letter, but there will be no more letters from Peter. There will be no more sermons and no more miracles from the disciple who lead the church for over 30 years.

Second Peter urges the church to stand firm—because even when Peter is gone, the church must carry on.

Theme verse in 2 Peter

Remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles. (2 Pe 3:2)

2 Peter’s role in the Bible

Second Peter is the apostle Peter’s last reminder to the church. Tradition holds that he was crucified around 64–65 A.D., which means he would have written this letter about this time.

Second Peter is the third of the General Epistles (or Catholic Letters), the writings of apostles to the church at large. While Paul wrote to specific congregations and individuals, Peter, James, John, and Jude wrote to broader audiences across the Roman empire.

There’s one more “goodbye” letter in the New Testament: Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Both apostles, when they knew they were going to die soon, wrote letters to remind others of what was important.

This letter’s second and third chapters bear remarkable resemblance to the epistle of Jude. We don’t know if Peter borrowed from Jude’s letter, if Jude borrowed from Peter’s letter, or if both men were drawing from a prior discussion. Both letters, however, warn the church of two dangerous influences:

  1. False teachers who lead the people to indulge in sin
  2. Mockers who dismiss the idea of Jesus’ return

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Second Peter is its emphasis on the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament. Peter firmly believes that many of the books in our Bibles today are true:

  • Peter was an eyewitness of Jesus’ majesty when He was transfigured (you can read about that in Mark 9), and so he is not just following a made-up story of Jesus. He was there. He heard the voice of God affirming Jesus as His Son (2 Pe 1:17). Therefore, Jesus’ ministry validates the prophets’ writings (the Old Testament).
  • And even those prophets weren’t just making things up. They were “moved by the Holy Spirit” when they spoke for God (2 Pe 1:21).
  • Peter holds the teachings of the apostles in high regard—on the level of the Old Testament prophets (2 Pe 3:2). The apostles included JamesMatthew, and John, who went on to write some of the books in our New Testament.
  • Peter especially esteems Paul’s letters—even regarding them as Scripture themselves (2 Pe 3:15–16).

Peter had said in a previous letter that “the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Pe 1:25). Peter would die, but he believed the Scriptures would live on—and his last recorded words urge us to remember them.

Quick outline of 2 Peter

2 Peter displays some remarkable parallelism. Peter begins with a call to diligence in good works, reminds the reader that they can count on the prophets, and then warns that false prophets will arise. Peter then assures them that the old prophecies are true, and finishes with a call to be diligent and on guard.

  1. Remember to be diligent (2 Pet 1:1–15)
  2. True prophets and teachers (2 Pet 1:16–21)
  3. False prophets and teachers (2 Pet 2)
  4. Remember the true prophecies (2 Pet 3:1–13)
  5. Be diligent; be on guard (2Pet 3:14–18)

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Six Great Quotes from “The Courage to Teach”

I recently finished Park Palmer’s The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life.  It’s a powerful reflection born out of a lifetime seeking to understand the craft of teaching.

This isn’t a how-to manual filled with tips and tricks on how to teach effectively.  Those hoping to plunder Parlmer’s decades of teaching experience for practical nuggets will find themselves disappointed.  Instead, The Courage to Teach is offered as spiritual direction more than professional development.  It’s a rich work that attempts to give voice to the nuanced, mysterious, complex dimensions of teaching that those who care about communicating ideas to others often struggle to articulate.  It was a very satisfying and inspiring read.  I highly recommend it to teachers of all stripes and expressions.

Here are the six quotes from The Courage to Teach that I found particularly powerful:

1. “This book builds on a simple premise: good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher. The premise is simple, but its implications are not. It will take time to unfold what I do and do not mean by those words. But here is one way to put it: in every class I teach, my ability to connect with my students, and to connect them with the subject, depends less on the methods I use than on the degree to which I know and trust my selfhood—and am willing to make it available and vulnerable in the service of learning.”

2. “The behaviors generated by fear—silence, withdrawal, cynicism—often mimic those that come with ignorance, so it is not always easy for me to keep believing, when I look at some of my students, that anxiety rather than banality is what I am looking at. I need to keep renewing my insight into my students’ true condition in spite of misleading appearances.”

3. “The way we diagnose our students’ condition will determine the kind of remedy we offer.”

4. “If we embrace the promise of diversity, of creative conflict, and of “losing” in order to “win,” we still face one final fear—the fear that a live encounter with otherness will challenge or even compel us to change our lives. This is not paranoia: the world really is out to get us! Otherness, taken seriously, always invites transformation, calling us not only to new facts and theories and values but also to new ways of living our lives—and that is the most daunting threat of all.”

5. “Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together. The entanglements I experience in the classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner life. Viewed from this angle, teaching holds a mirror to the soul.”

6. “Truth is an eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline.”

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Does Your Coat Have Two Pockets?

“We need a coat with two pockets.  In one pocket there is dust, and in the other pocket there is gold.  We need a coat with two pockets to remind us of who we are.” (Hasidic tale)

Does your coat have two pockets?  I ask because many of us wear a coat with only one.

If we only carry around dust, we will live with the crushing awareness that we are fragile, vulnerable, small, dependent, and broken.  Self-loathing will inevitably set in.

If we only carry around gold, we will live with the crushing delusion that we are grand, glorious, and precious without qualification.  Narcissistic self-aggrandizement will inevitably set in.

Where can we find a coat with both pockets?  The gospel.

Only the message of Jesus’ incarnation, atonement, and resurrection provides us with such a coat.  In the gospel’s simple message we discover, as Timothy Keller notes:

“We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

 

We are broken, unworthy, lost, fragile and feeble creatures.  Dust.

We are loved, dignified, justified, redeemed, beautified, and glorious in Christ.  Gold.

Does your coat have two pockets?
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Who Defines Your Spirituality?

Spirituality is a buzzword that has settled comfortably within the cultural ether.  Many (most?) are comfortable using it, because the word has become highly customizable.  Once tethered to some formal religious tradition or ideology, “spirituality” (and what it means to be “spiritual”) has  morphed into an incredibly broad, and thoroughly personal concept.

Who defines your spirituality?  That is, whom do you empower to frame your understanding of one of the most important ideas within your life?  Our highest values and priorities are often connected to our ideas around what it means to live an authentic and vibrant spiritual life, and therefore it’s important to consider who we’ve given the keys to that kingdom over to.

A celebrity?  A spiritual guru?  Ourselves?

I believe that Jesus—because of who he is—should be the one defining what an authentic and healthy spirituality looks like.  And he does, but in a refreshing and challenging way.  One of the things that I’ve come to value about Jesus’ definition of spirituality is how much sharper it is when compared to contemporary definitions.  For Jesus, genuine spirituality is framed by the concept of discipleship; the process of learning how to align one’s life to what God values and prioritizes.

Jesus defined discipleship in its most basic form when he responded to a question posed by a religious scholar of the day:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

Jesus framed spirituality around two foundational principles: loving God thoroughly and intensely, and loving our neighbours as ourselves.  There are a few things I appreciate about this definition:

1. We are not the centre.  Most modern definitions of spirituality place us at the centre.  The self is understood to be the supreme source of truth, hope, and power.  There is a kernel of truth here.  Yes, human beings hold tremendous capacities due to the fact that they are image-bearers of God.  However, to localize the source of truth and hope within ourselves is, for Jesus, a magnificent error.   God and his kingdom are central to Jesus’ definition of spirituality.

2. One’spirituality has to find its place within a larger story.  By invoking the Shema (“Hear, O Israel…”), Jesus is implicitly teaching that spirituality that is healthy and hopeful must be grounded in a larger story.  The Bible reveals the larger story of Creation, Fall, Redemption to be the one that provides us with the cosmic narrative within which our individual expressions of spirituality can be located and established in meaning beyond, “this seems right/helpful to me.”

3. Scripture is our Foundation and Guide.  When asked, Jesus doesn’t turn the question around and ask the religious leader to search his own heart.  Instead, Jesus drives him back into Scripture.  It’s incredibly tempting to listen to spiritual gurus who would encourage us to look within and trust ourselves in the formation of a fulfilling and meaningful spirituality.  Jesus does the exact opposite.  He places our focus on the revealed Word of God, and challenges us to draw out its implications within our lives as individuals and communities.

4. There is/not a “one size fits all” spirituality that leads to life and wholeness.  To modern ears the idea that there could be one–and only one–valid expression of spirituality seems beyond ridiculous.  Could anything be more myopic and even irrational?

But Jesus consistently answers these questions the same way in the gospels, turning people’s attention back to this Great Commandment.  Why?  If it’s just one choice among many, why not switch it up once in a while and highlight some alternatives? But Jesus never does.  Whenever he’s asked what the priorities of one’s spirituality should be, his answer is always the same: Love God and love people.

Which seems incredibly restrictive and exclusive.  Until you realize just how vague that centre is.  Love God and people.  Ok, but how?  That is for us to experiment with and discover.  There are clearly boundaries to that exploration in the Bible (i.e. no need to experiment with whether loving your neighbour might include adultery), but Jesus’ definition of spirituality is (almost) alarmingly vague.  There is a dynamic and inexhaustible breadth and depth to one’s ability to express these two priorities.  These aren’t rules that you can easily check-off and complete.  They are principles and priorities that require continued practice, imagination, right intention, and humility before God and others.

The older I get the more I see the genius behind Jesus’ definition of–dare I say it–true spirituality.  It is accessible to everyone, and yet it rescues us from the self-centred (and therefore self-serving) definitions of spirituality that call out to us.

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Can a Five-Year-Old Become a Christian?

Last week I led my  five-year-old through a prayer to become a Christian.

The prayer was simple.  I explained to him that it was an “ABC” prayer.

  • Admit that he is a sinner who needs God’s forgiveness and grace.
  • Believe (trust) that Jesus died for his sins, and was raised from the dead to overcome sin’s power.
  • Commit to live for Jesus, serve his kingdom, and grow as a Christian every day.

This moment of prayer/decision hadn’t arisen from out of the blue.  For several months Brayden had been asking questions about Jesus/God/faith/Bible, and what it means to be a Christian.  Our talks usually occurred in his bed at night while we reflected on our day.

A few Fridays ago, among talk about Star Wars and Christmas, Brayden asked me if he was a Christian.

I told him that he was not.

“But you and mommy are Christians,” he replied, puzzled.

I explained that no one is automatically a Christian, because a Christian is someone who has personally decided to devote their life to Jesus.

He seemed confused.

“But I go to church” he said.

“Yes, you do, but you can go to church and not be devoted to Jesus.  Becoming a Christian only happens when we make Jesus our King and decide to live for him instead of ourselves.”

“I want to become a Christian.  When can I become a Christian?”

That was/is a good question!  Personally and pastorally, I hold the conviction that becoming a Christian is a serious, life-altering decision.  Like marriage, it should not be entered into “lightly or hastily.”  That’s why, regardless of what age one is considering embracing Christ as King and Saviour, I think it’s appropriate to provide some resistance so that we prevent people from making a rash or impulsive decision.  Jesus said “follow me” (Matthew 4:19), but we should do what we can to help people think through what that commitment will mean for them, both now and into the future.  As Brayden’s father, I felt it was important for him to wrestle for a while with the potential consequences of becoming a Christian before saying the prayer that could change his life forever.  That’s why, for several months I’d consistently pushed the decision (but not the conversation!) off to an undetermined point in the future.

It wasn’t just for Brayden’s sake that I was providing some push-back to his request: had a lot of questions that I felt needed to be answered before I could be confident that his decision to embrace Christ was legitimate:

  • Why did Brayden want to become a Christian?
  • Did Brayden know “enough” about what his commitment to Christ would cost him?
  • Did his age invariably mean that the decision was born out of complete naiveté?  He’s watched his older sisters talk about their Christian faith and grow in it; is it just “monkey see; monkey do” mimicry?
  • Is there any depth to his motivation?  Does he show a desire for discipleship?  When his definition of discipleship is “making good decisions,” does that show a sufficient or insufficient understanding of the foundation of a Christian worldview?
  • How much theology does he need to know before he’s ready to make a commitment of this nature?  If he can (barely) articulate the Gospel (Manger, Cross, Crown), can he legitimately embrace it?

These were some of the questions I was mulling over during the months I was pushing Brayden to think about becoming a Christian until a later time, when I could better determine if he was ready.

But a few weeks ago, Brayden wouldn’t let it go.  I went into my usual, “that’s great, let’s keep talking about it…” mode, but he kept pressing me.

“Why can’t I become a Christian now?”

A Scripture that God had used to rebuke me in the past came to mind once again:

“Who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” Acts 11:17

Indeed.

Brayden had shown a persistent desire to become a Christian for almost half a year.  We had talked about Jesus, God, the Bible, salvation, love, grace, and sin, all while snuggling in the warm blue glow of the nightlight beside his bed.  For months I had put a (necessary) speed bump in front of him, wanting to make sure any conversion would be from the heart, and not mere mimicry.

And here he was, resolute in the conviction that he was ready to give his life to Jesus.

Was I going to stand in God’s way?

Nope.  In that exchange what became very clear was that my little boy genuinely desired to give his life to Jesus.

Did he know “enough”?  Well, he knew the gospel.  That’s enough, isn’t it?

Did he understand what he was getting into?  Did I when I said my own unpolished and imperfect prayer at age 14?

Were his motivations and intentions pure?  Can I point to even one decision I’ve made that has been made with pure and right motives—even my decision to embrace Christ?

When God’s grace-filled invitation to new life intersects with a person’s humble and heartfelt response, we may find ourselves harboring lots of questions regarding what is “actually” happening.  That’s ok.  We’re entitled to our questions.  Those questions and hesitations are important and often valid and should be identified and addressed.

But, we must be careful to never allow our questions and hesitations to stand in God’s way.  None of us (however well intended) have the right to delay another’s response to the gospel until we’ve figured things out and are sure they “get it.”

Besides, you can never really “get” grace anyways.  That’s kind of why it’s grace.  It can’t be grasped.  It can only be received.

That night, Brayden didn’t fully understand God’s grace, but he “got” it.  Or more precisely, God’s grace “got” him.  He may not have grasped it in its totality, but it grasped him.

Can a five year old become a Christian?  Yes, a five year old can.

And that night, my five year old did. By God’s grace and for His glory.

 

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Bible Overview Series: 1 Peter

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1 Peter by Joseph Novak

1 Peter:  In the midst of a strange land all the strangers assembled in one place, and called it Home.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary) 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of 1 Peter

Christians just don’t fit in, and that’s not easy for the first-century church. Christians are suffering all over the world (1 Pe 5:1), and the Christians in modern-day Turkey need to know why. They need to know how to deal with it. They need to know how to live.

And they need to know it’s not it vain.

The apostle Peter writes these Christians a letter to address these issues in two ways:

  • Testify the truth. The more they know about Jesus, themselves, and the world, the better they’ll understand their difficult situation.
  • Exhort them to live accordingly.

The book reflects this focus. Peter explores a piece of doctrine, and then encourages the Christians to apply it to their lives. He makes four of these back-and-forth cycles:

  1. Peter begins his letter by calling Christians “aliens,” or residential foreigners to the Roman Empire (1 Pe 1:1, 17). He then goes on to explain the relationship between suffering and salvation: suffering lasts now, but it proves our faith so that joy and glory can come later.
    Therefore, Christians should be holy, or set apart (1 Pe 1:14). They should love one another and long for the word of God.
  2. After explaining why Christians are different, Peter goes into what the Christian family is: a spiritual house, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession (1 Pe 2:5, 9).
    Therefore, Christians ought to keep their behavior excellent, so that even their oppressors will glorify God. They should submit to authorities, submit to one another, honor their spouses, and demonstrate kindness—even when they’re suffering as Christians.
  3. And who set the finest example of suffering to glorify God? Jesus Christ.
    Therefore, the Christians should live for the will of God and use their spiritual gifts to serve one another and glorify God.
  4. And as if these folks had any more questions about suffering, Peter goes into it one more time. Suffering tests us. It’s a way that we identify with Christ. And it never gives us an excuse to sin—the suffering Christian will still do what is right (1 Pe 4:19).
    Therefore, church leaders should set a good example, and all Christians should humble themselves under God, standing firm as they  look forward to Jesus’ return.

To Peter, suffering is something the Christian should always see coming. We’re foreigners here, and we shouldn’t expect to be treated differently until our King claims dominion forever and ever (1 Pe 5:10–11).

Theme verse of 1 Peter

If anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. (1 Pe 4:16)

1 Peter’s role in the Bible

No other book of the Bible focuses on suffering and glory as much as First Peter. This epistle was written to give Christians a fuller understanding of what’s going on: the present sufferings and the glories to come.

First Peter is the second of the General Epistles (or Catholic Letters), the writings of apostles to the church at large. While Paul wrote to specific congregations and individuals, Peter, James, John, and Jude wrote to broader audiences across the Roman Empire.

This letter from Peter focuses on the sufferings and glory of Christ and His church. While Paul briefly explores Christian suffering with the Thessalonian church, Peter writes a whole letter on the issue. To Peter, Christian suffering isn’t just something to put up with—it’s something to expect.

Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you (1 Pe 4:12).

No suffering is enjoyable, but Peter actually calls it a blessing. Here’s a list of reasons why he sees it this way:

  • When we suffer as Christians, we identify with Jesus (1 Pe 4:1, 13).
  • After we share in His hardship, we will share in our King’s glory (1 Pe 5:10).
  • Suffering is an opportunity to prove our faith (1 Pe 1:6–7).
  • It’s an opportunity to do what is right—even when we are wronged (1 Pe 2:20).
  • Christ set an example of suffering for us to follow (1 Pe 2:21).
  • The way we deal with persecution will bring our persecutors to glorify God (1 Pe 2:12).
  • When we do what is right no matter what the circumstances, God is pleased (1 Pe 2:20)

And if anyone’s an expert on this, it’s Peter. He saw Christ suffer with his own eyes (1 Pe 5:1). He knew from early on that he would be martyred for Christ’s sake (Jn 21:18–19). And he’d caught a glimpse of the glory to follow (2 Pe 1:16–18; Mk 9:2–3).

This book was likely written in the early 60s, and the second book attributed to Peter was probably written a few years later.

Quick outline of 1 Peter

  1. Suffering proves salvation (1 Pet 1:1-12)
    Therefore:

  2. We are a holy people (1 Pet 2:4–11)
    Therefore, pursue excellent behavior:

  3. Christ suffered for us (1 Pet 3:13–22)
    Therefore:

  4. Suffering tests us (1 Pet 4:12–19)
    Therefore:

If you found this blog post helpful, please consider donating to help offset the costs of running this site. I will never have ads or charge a fee. However, it takes a lot of work to keep this site up. Thanks!

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Bible Overview Series: James

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James by Joseph Novak

James:  Faith is a picture taken by the beggar at your door, not a selfie.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary) 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of James

Imagine you grew up learning the Law of Moses, doing good works and observing the commands that God had given to His people Israel. Now, all of a sudden, you’re told that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah, the seeking savior whose death on the cross covers your sin. And all you have to do is believe in Him.

Now imagine seeing non-Jews grafted into the people of God (the church). They don’t all keep your Sabbaths. They’re not circumcised. They don’t even know the Law—but they’re just as much a part of God’s people as you are, because they had faith.

If this were you, you might wonder if God even cared about good works anymore.

The apostle James meets this line of thought head-on: “faith without works is dead” (Jas 2:17, 26). He writes a letter to the Christian Jews scattered across the world, encouraging them to keep the faith and press onward to good works.

In only 108 verses, James (also a Jew) addresses the trials his brothers and sisters are facing in the world, and sets out very, very practical approaches to Christian living for the people of God.

Theme verse of James

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (Jas 1:22)

Quick outline of James

  1. Trials and temptation (1:1–20)
  2. True religion (1:21–27)
  3. Favoritism and judgment (2:1–13)
  4. Faith and works (2:14–26)
  5. Teachers and the tongue (3)
  6. Submission to God (4:1–5:6)
  7. Strength and anticipation (5:7–20)

If you found this blog post helpful, please consider donating to help offset the costs of running this site. I will never have ads or charge a fee. However, it takes a lot of work to keep this site up. Thanks!

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Bible Overview Series: Philemon

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Philemon by Joseph Novak

Philemon: Then one day, for the first time in history, a slave and his master cried out in stunned recognition: “Brother!”

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary) 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Philemon

Philemon (fi-LAY-moan) is a good guy. He loves Jesus and the other believers (Phm 5). He as refreshed the hearts of many saints (Phm 7). He’s a church leader in the Colossae area (Phlm 2, Col 4:17). Paul even considers him a beloved brother and a fellow worker (Phm 1).

But he’s about to find himself in a very awkward situation.

Philemon owned a slave, Onesimus (oh-NAY-see-muss). Onesimus had run away from Philemon, and somehow met Paul in his travels. Paul shared the gospel with him, and Onesimus had been saved. Onesimus then stayed with Paul and assisted him while he was in prison (Phm 13).

But Paul sends the runaway slave back to his old master.

Onesimus is going to show up on Philemon’s doorstep with a note from Paul. This message urges him to do something unheard-of: forgive Onesimus and accept him as a brother, not a slave.

Theme verses in Philemon

“For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever,  no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” (Phm 15–16)

Philemon’s role in the Bible

For the most part, Paul’s letters fall into two neat categories: letters to congregations and letters to pastors. In our Bibles, the letters to congregations come first and the pastoral epistles follow. Then we’re left with Philemon.

Philemon is a hybrid. The main thrust of the letter is to Philemon, an individual church leader, but the letter is also addressed to Apphia, Archippus, and the church in Philemon’s house. The epistle is clearly not a private note to Philemon: Paul is publicly addressing the matter.

There’s a good chance that Onesimus delivered both this letter and the letter to the Colossians in the same trip. In that letter, Paul says that in Christ, there is no distinction between “Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11). The book of Philemon gives the Colossians (and us!) a tangible example of what that means.

Speaking of tangible examples, you might read Philemon as a case study of how Paul’s teachings played out in real life1:

  • In Romans, we see the divine mechanics of salvation. In Philemon, we see the social mechanics of salvation.
  • In First and Second Corinthians, we learn how church members should deal with interpersonal and cultural conflicts. In Philemon, we see Christians forgiving one another and deferring to one another.
  • In Galatians, we see the Godhead enacting salvation. In Philemon, we learn to view fellow believers the way the Godhead does.
  • In Ephesians, we see a high-level model of unity in the local church. In Philemon, the local church is called to witness two brothers overcoming their differences.
  • In Philippians, we’re told to have the attitude of Christ and put others’ interests above our own. In Philemon, we see what that looks like in relationships with other Christians.
  • In Colossians, we learn how to see ourselves in Christ. In Philemon, we learn how to see others in Christ.
  • In First and Second Thessalonians, we learn about a church that set a great example in anticipation of the Lord’s return. In Philemon, we learn about the example Paul expects a fellow laborer to show.
  • In First and Second Timothy, we see the general qualifications and duties of church leadership. In Philemon, we see a church leader put to the test.
  • In Titus, we see what the counter-cultural church should work toward. In Philemon, we see a counter-cultural church in practice.

This book has been cited through the centuries as a biblical argument against slavery. Paul does not make any direct attacks on the notion of slavery, but he does hold Philemon to a standard higher than that of the surrounding culture. Punishment for runaways was severe, but Paul told Philemon not only to withhold punishment, but to embrace Onesimus as an equal. And on top of that, Paul is willing to absorb whatever this might cost Philemon (Phlm 18).

And here’s another important aspect of Philemon: we see the early church handling ambiguous situations with complete love and deference:

  • Paul could have kept Onesimus with him, but instead Paul lets Philemon do the right thing on his own.
  • Onesimus could have run away again to start fresh, but instead faithfully brings Paul’s letter to Philemon.
  • Philemon could have made Onesimus a slave again (or worse), but we can assume he does as Paul requests.

It’s a marvelous example of how church leaders and members can approach difficult issues.

Philemon isn’t the shortest book of the Bible (that’s Third John), but it is only one chapter long (335 words).

Quick overview of Philemon

  1. Paul greets and affirms Philemon (Phm 1–7)
  2. Paul requests that Onesimus be accepted as a brother (Phm 8–19)
  3. Paul anticipates Philemon’s obedience (Phm 20–25)
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Bible Overview Series: Titus

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Titus by Joseph Novak

Titus:  Don’t adapt the gospel to your life. Adapt your life to the pattern of the gospel.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary) 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Titus

The churches on the island of Crete need leadership, correction, and order. Establishing churches is Paul’s forte, but Paul doesn’t sail to Crete to organize things. He already has someone on the island he can trust.

That man is Titus.

Titus is Paul’s partner in ministry (2 Co 8:23), a Gentile (Gal 2:3). Like Timothy, Titus is Paul’s child in the faith—he was introduced to Christ through Paul’s ministry (Ti 1:4).

Paul had left Titus in Crete with a purpose: to set up order in local churches (Ti 1:5). This short epistle unpacks that concept in Paul’s list of things Titus should do:

  • Appoint elders (Ti 1:5–16). Paul lists the qualifications of overseers: they’re to be upright, responsible, not divisive . . . there’s a whole list of things Paul expects of church leaders.
  • Instruct people to be sensible (Ti 2). Men and women of all ages have their parts to play in the church. Whereas the Cretans are known for being “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Ti 1:12), the Christians are to live sensibly, which in turn glorifies God (Ti 2:4, 8, 10).
  • Encourage good deeds (Ti 3). The Christians are saved, and they should behave like it—but why? Paul concisely argues for godly living: we do what is right in response to God’s kindness to us in salvation (Ti 3:3–7).

The book of Titus is a short guide to setting up order in the local churches of first-century Crete, but today it still gives us a theology of counter-cultural Christian living.

Theme verse in Titus

“For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you [. . .].” (Ti 1:5)

Titus’ role in the Bible

Titus is the last of Paul’s pastoral epistles—letters written to church leaders he knew. In contrast, most of Paul’s epistles were written to entire congregations. Paul also wrote to Timothy—twice.

Titus is clearly a man that Paul has come to trust. Paul seems to have begun planting churches on the island of Crete, but Titus is specifically responsible for maintaining Paul’s standard of teaching in that area. Titus’s role is similar to Timothy’s (which you can learn about in Paul’s first and second letters to him), but he seems to be facing different cultural challenges—namely the Cretans’ undisciplined lifestyles.

Titus gives us a concise argument for good deeds: the people of the Church should behave differently from the people of the world because God has changed them. Though we don’t all attend church in Crete, we have undergone the same transformation:

For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,  whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. (Ti 3:3–8)

The church behaves differently because God has made her different.

Quick outline of Titus

  1. Appointing counter-cultural elders (Ti 1)
  2. How the counter-cultural church should behave (Ti 2:1–10)
  3. Why the counter-cultural church should behave (Ti 2:11–3:15)

If you found this blog post helpful, please consider donating to help offset the costs of running this site. I will never have ads or charge a fee. However, it takes a lot of work to keep this site up. Thanks!

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Bible Overview Series: 2 Timothy

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Timothy by Joseph Novak

2 Timothy:  The dying apostle writes his will: “To my dear son Timothy I leave all that I possess: my gospel and these chains.”

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)


Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of 2 Timothy

Paul is about to die.

He had devoted his life to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. He had fought for sound teaching in the churches. He had trained pastors. He had corrected individuals, churches, and even apostles. He had testified before kings. Now Paul’s work was almost done.

But even though Paul would soon leave the world behind, he wasn’t leaving the world without a representative for truth. Timothy, Paul’s protégé, his son in the Lord, needed to carry on Paul’s standard of sound teaching (2 Ti 1:13).

Paul’s second letter to Timothy focuses on solemn charges to the younger pastor:

  1. Guard and fight for the gospel. Paul was appointed a preacher, apostle, and teacher of the gospel, and Timothy is responsible for guarding it (2 Ti 1:12–13) and entrusting it to others (2 Ti 2:2). The road ahead will be fraught with suffering (2 Ti 1:8; 2:3), but Paul encourages Timothy to be strong, and fight the good fight (2 Ti 1:7; 2:1).
  2. Pursue righteousness. There are a lot of people out there who will try to disrupt Timothy’s work and lead people into ungodliness. Timothy and the other believers are to accurately handle the word, avoid empty chatter, flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace (2 Ti 2:22).
  3. Continue in sound teaching. Apostasy is coming in the future, and Timothy must remember the Scriptures.
  4. Preach the word. Paul’s last charge to Timothy is to preach the word. Timothy is not only responsible for keeping church doctrine in line; he’s also supposed to bring that teaching to the lost.

Second Timothy shows us what Paul needed another preacher to know before he was taken from the world. Today, it’s a fine letter of advice for church leaders, and gives instruction to those who want to live godly lives.

Theme verse of 2 Timothy

“Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Ti 1:13)

2 Timothy’s role in the Bible

Second Timothy is the second of Paul’s pastoral epistles—letters written to church leaders he knew. In contrast, most of Paul’s epistles were written to entire congregations. Titus also received a pastoral epistle from Paul, but Timothy got two.

Although Titus and Philemon come after this letter in our Bibles, Second Timothy is probably the latest of Paul’s letters. We assume this because Paul wrote the letter near the end of his life (2 Ti 4:6).

Quick outline of 2 Timothy

  1. Guard and maintain the gospel (2 Ti 1)
  2. Fight and suffer for the gospel (2 Ti 2:1–13)
  3. Pursue godliness (2 Ti 2:14–26)
  4. Continue in sound teaching (2 Ti 3)
  5. Preach the word (2 Ti 4)

If you found this blog post helpful, please consider donating to help offset the costs of running this site. I will never have ads or charge a fee. However, it takes a lot of work to keep this site up. Thanks!

paypal.me/meredisciple

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