Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Bethany Bullet - Week of September 18, 2016

“Follow the Leader…Lead the Followers…In Prayer”

I am not a good dancer.  Just ask my wife.  If you are a fan of Seinfeld, and I know at least one of you is.  My dancing abilities are comparable to one Elaine Benes, with all the kicks and the thumbs.  As George Castanza described it, “It’s more like a full body dry heave set to music.”

If Seinfeld is not your thing perhaps you remember the many, many times that Lucille Ball made her way to the club to dance on stage with Ricky and the band.  Quite often Lucy was one step behind and woefully off from the others on stage eyes fixed on the others trying to follow along.

Or, maybe you have seen the funny clips online of a dance or cheer routine where one member, usually in the back, has their eyes glued to one in the front searching desperately for someone to follow, and usually not doing well. 

You might be a great dancer, but I would bet that there is some skill or activity you wish you possessed that you need someone to lead and you could just follow. 

Perhaps it is singing or parenting.  It could be drawing or even cooking. 
The same could be said about our life of faith. 

Last week Pastor Kevin began our new series titled, “Follow the leader…Lead the follower,” and today we are going to talk about prayer. 

Few are the followers of Jesus who would claim they are good at prayer.  I know sitting in the pews this morning there are passionate prayer warriors, but there are many who struggle to pray. 

A recent Pew Research study showed that close to 60% of Americans pray at least once a day.  Depending on how you look at it, that is either encouraging, or discouraging. 

The biggest struggle many have when it comes to prayer is not being sure how to pray.

Our text reminds us that prayer should be a part of every believer’s life. 

From 1 Timothy chapter 2, “First of all, I encourage you to make petitions, prayers, intercessions, and prayers of thanks for all people, for rulers, and for everyone who has authority over us.  Pray for those people so that we can have a quiet and peaceful life always lived in a godly and reverent way.  This is good and pleases God our Savior.  He wants all people to be saved and to learn the truth.  There is one God.  There is also one mediator between God and humans—a human, Christ Jesus.  He sacrificed himself for all people to free them from their sins.”  (1 Timothy 2:1-6a)

Paul encourages the young pastor Timothy, and us today to “make petitions, prayers, intercessions, and prayers of thanks for all people.”

The words used here are not mutually exclusive but each have a special emphasis when it comes to prayer.  Let’s take a look at each one.

First, we can make petitions or requests to God in prayer.  We lay before God our needs.  Yes, God already knows our needs but we acknowledge Him as the one who alone can satisfy them.

The word translated as “prayers” is the most general of the four but prominent in this word is the element of devotion and reverence as we approach the Lord in prayer.

Third, intercessions include those things we boldly and confidently bring before God for the sake of others.

Finally, thanksgiving needs almost no explanation but perhaps has been lost in recent times.  I remember a time in my life when we not only began each meal in prayer, but we ended the meal as well by returning thanks to God for His gracious provision. 

It is interesting to note that Paul not only encourages prayer for personal things but for others, and he does not limit who we are to pray for by saying “all people.”  This includes those we might disagree with, those who are not believers and even those who are enemies of the Church. 

Through the power of prayer, many will be saved and learn the truth.

First takeaway — We are called to pray for all people.
When you walk into a church you enter a place of worship. When you bow your head or fold your hands you engage in an act of worship.

Prayer is an act of worship.  It is something done within the context of a relationship with Christ at the center.

Another recent study on prayer asked the question, “Where do you pray most often?”  The answers were interesting to me.  Only 4.4% of people said they pray most often in a house of worship.  Other places that were mentioned were: While traveling—9.8%, at work—3.8% and by far the most common place for people to pray most often was, at home—79.5%.

The second take away for this morning — Prayer is not limited to a location. 
Your car or your classroom, your dining room or deck can be a house of prayer.

OK, pastor this is all well and good but we still haven’t talked about the struggles that people face in prayer. 

Well, that will be our third take away for this morning and it leads right into our theme—Follow the leader… in prayer. 

In the Gospel accounts, Jesus says over and over again, “Ask.”

Prayer is asking God.

God invites you to communicate with Him just as you would communicate with a friend or family member who loves you and cares about you.

You wouldn't only call that person when you want something from them. You call to thank them, to compliment them, to share your joys, your sorrows, and your life-and to share theirs. The same is true of our prayer life with God.

Paul reminds Timothy, “There is also one mediator between God and humans—a human, Christ Jesus.  He sacrificed himself for all people to free them from their sins.” 

Many people struggle with prayer by simply giving it over to others. Letting the professionals handle the tough stuff.  I have been asked on many occasions to pray for someone and of course I will, with the help of God, hold that person or request in prayer, but Scripture is clear, your pastor is not your mediator.

Sorry to burst your bubble, my prayers are not a hot line to heaven; they are not heard by God before others or with more emphasis. 

There is only one mediator and His name is Jesus.  You can come to Him in prayer directly.  And you can also follow His lead for all are called to pray.

Jesus led by example.  He prayed for Himself and for others. 

Jesus also led in words.  When the disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray,” (Luke 11:1b) He gave them the words known today as the Lord’s Prayer.

If you are wondering how to pray, this is a great start.  Using the word’s taught by Jesus we can be bold in trusting these words in prayer. 

We can follow our Leader, Jesus in prayer.  We can use the words He taught us to begin a prayer life.
Each phrase is packed with powerful words from Christ himself and can guide your own prayer life. 

Let’s take a look at each petition. 

Our Father who art in heaven: We approach God as a good and faithful Father who loves us and seeks for us to be in a relationship with Him. God is good. He promises to show His goodness in our lives.

Hallowed be Thy Name: God's Name is holy. We, as His servants, want to honor His holiness and show the holiness of His Name in all we say, think and do.

Thy kingdom come: In addition to eagerly wanting Jesus to come back and restore all things, we pray that God's work is active in our lives.

We want Him to prevail with His blessing, His truth, and His mission. We also pray that our lives show what God's kind, gracious and righteous ways are all about to the world around us.

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven: God's will is for all people in the world to be saved through faith in Jesus Christ. Our text this morning reminds us of this.  We humbly subject all our wants and desires to

God's goals and desires for our lives and for the world.

Give us this day our daily bread: Jesus lets us know we can ask God to supply our daily needs. He cares about us to provide for us. No concern is too small for our faithful God.

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us: We depend on God for the forgiveness of our sins. We also ask that His forgiveness flow through us to others in our lives. We are asking that God's spirit of grace and compassion takes hold in our relationships.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: God doesn't tempt us, but He sometimes permits us to go through difficult times to teach us to rely on Him and not ourselves or others. Satan uses those same situations to tempt us to doubt our Father's love, and turn away from Him and His will for us. We pray that He keeps us from everything that would lead us away from His will. We also pray He would protect us and our loved ones from all evil and harm.

Martin Luther said this of the Lord’s Prayer in his Large Catechism, “So this prayer is far superior to all others that we might devise ourselves.  For in that case our conscience would always be in doubt, saying, ‘I have prayed, but who knows whether it pleases Him or whether I have hit upon the right form and mode?’  Thus there is no nobler prayer to be found on earth for it has the powerful testimony that God loves to hear it.  This we should not trade for all the riches in the world.”  (LC:23)

It doesn’t take a research study to know that it’s not just prayer that we struggle with.  Our battle with sin is real and our sinful nature follows after its own desires and thoughts all the time.  Another prayer we can say is, “Abide with me!”

When we ask God to be with us, to abide with us - He promises to come.  When He comes He brings with Him grace and mercy and love and forgiveness. 

It is the grace and mercy of God displayed on the cross that restores our relationship with God and is what makes prayer possible.  As Jesus died and rose again we have been restored, forgiven and renewed.  In that newness of life we can pray. 

When we struggle with prayer we can follow the leader as He leads His followers in prayer, and in turn we can lead others to follow the leader Jesus Christ. 
-Pastor Seth Moorman

Monday, September 19, 2016

The One Year Bible- September 19th

There is an art to discipline. Being a classroom teacher for many years always reminded me that for every student there is a way of dealing with his or her behavior. Sometimes they need to be yelled at, other times they need to feel loved. But there is always that one child where nothing seems to work. No matter what you say, they still make poor decisions; they still put their foot in their mouth. While reading through Isaiah, I get the feeling that the prophet tried everything to get the people to listen. He used harsh words, he used loving words, and nothing seemed to work. His message was very important for their well being. If they would listen, they would be saved. At times it seems like Isaiah (and the other prophets as well) just repeats himself. What else could he do? He was called by God to be His mouthpiece. Sometimes it comes down to being faithful to the calling you have received and not worrying about how the message is received. That’s my two cents for the day. On to the study...

Seth’s Thoughts
The Old Testament
The major theme of Isaiah is the proclamation of what will happen to those who do not put their trust in Yahweh. Isaiah has a simple message for all the countries: you will be destroyed. This same message is for Israel as well, with one caveat; there will be a remnant. This faithful remnant will return to the Promised Land ready for the coming of the Messiah. One neat thing I read this week revolved around the idea of applying the book of Isaiah to our lives in the 21st century. The book was not initially written to us, but it is preserved for us. The question is why? Many things come to light when answering this question. First of all, Isaiah’s warnings should ring true for us today. The same warnings he gave to Israel, we should heed today. We must put God first, and look to him for wisdom and strength. Second, Isaiah is preserved because of its wonderful Messianic prophecy. Can you imagine Christmas or Easter without quotes from Isaiah? A third thing I read, and I am still digesting, is the idea that just as Israel needed to watch its alliances with other countries, because of the problems that can develop (think about Isaiah’s warnings about Egypt), we also need to watch what things we ally ourselves with. We need to watch who we hang out with and spend time with. We must be careful of those close to us and their influence upon us. Chapter 36 begins a narrative section that gives some insights on the events from the reign of King Hezekiah. This is a neat section that shows how even when all seemed doomed, God rescued his people. Even after this, a few years later Jerusalem is destroyed and the people are taken into captivity.

The New Testament
I love Paul’s letter to the Galatians!! Many Bible scholars see the wonderful theology of Romans in an infant form in this smaller letter. Galatians shares many of the same themes and analogies as the longer letter to the Romans. Remember that Paul was not writing to one church. This letter went to all the churches in the area that Paul founded on his first missionary journey. I am sure Paul had fond memories of his very first mission trip and the people he saw and taught. These were memories he would cherish his whole life. I will never forget my very first class of students as a teacher. Some of the other years are a bit fuzzy at times but that first class will always be with me. Paul has some strong emotions for what he has heard from the believers in Galatia. Right from the get-go Paul tries to snap them out of the influence of a group known as the Judaizers. This group of people demanded that to become a Christian, one first had to convert to Judaism. The person must fulfill all the requirements of the law before being allowed to become a part of the community of believers. Paul was strongly opposed to any such group. He believed that these people were taking the free gift of God and turning it into a work. This was quite contrary to the message of Jesus Christ. The argument was settled by the church at the first Jerusalem council where it was agreed that one did not have to first become Jewish before believing in Jesus as the Messiah. The balance of the letter addressed this same issue. In Chapter one Paul lays it down, But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!(Gal. 1:8-9 NIV). Strong words from a passionate man. Paul goes on with saying that faith in the Law is worthless. Trying to gain salvation by the Law is hopeless for sinful people. Paul reminds the people of Abraham, the father of the promise. The Jews considered Abraham to be one of the big guys and we now live according to that same promise because of Jesus. In one of the best passages in all of Paul’s letters we find this, But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Gal 4:4-7 NIV). I could probably write a dissertation on these verses!!! To me they spell out the clear message of salvation. We were slaves, but Jesus adopted us as sons and we now enjoy all the blessing of being his own. I can’t imagine better news!!! Most of the rest of the letter spells out the difference between following the law and the ideas of the Judaizers in contrast to living in the Grace of Jesus Christ. One quick note on the fruit of the spirit; notice it does not say fruits (plural), it says fruit (singular). The Holy Spirit produces all of these things in our lives!!

Bits and Pieces
The Old Testament
We will be finishing up the first part of Isaiah and start the second (remember the divisions from last week). The second part, which starts at chapter 40 is more focused on future events. Isaiah will be writing about things that will happen beyond his own lifetime. There will be a lot said of Israel’s salvation and savior. The return from exile will be a major theme with an emphasis on redemption. Isaiah will still give warnings but his audience has changed and so has his message.

The New Testament
We will finish up Galatians this week and jump right into Ephesians. Here are the vital stats for the book of Ephesians:
PURPOSE: To Strengthen the believers in Ephesus in their Christian faith by explaining the nature and purpose of the church, the body of Christ
TO WHOM WRITTEN: The church at Ephesus, and all believers everywhere
DATE WRITTEN: About A.D. 60, from Rome, during Paul’s imprisonment
SETTING: The letter was sent with Tychicus to strengthen and encourage the churches in the area. Paul had spent over three years with the Ephesian church. Paul met with the elders of the Ephesian church at Miletus (Acts 20:17-38)—a meeting that was filled with great sadness because he was leaving them for what he thought would be the last time. Because there are not specific references to people or problems in the Ephesian church and because the words “at Ephesus” (1:1) are not present in some early manuscripts, Paul may have intended this to be a circular letter to be read by all the churches in the area.
KEY VERSES: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (4:4-6 NIV).
LAW THEMES:  Rivalry between believers; grieving the Spirit through unfaithfulness; marital unfaithfulness; spiritual warfare.
GOSPEL THEMES: Baptism; election by God’s grace; justification by grace alone; the mystery of Christ revealed; unity in Christ’s body.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Several pictures of the church are presented: body, temple, mystery, new man, bride, and soldier. This letter was probably distributed to many of the early churches.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Bethany Bullet - Week of September 11, 2016

“Follow the Leader…Lead the Followers”

All are called to follow THE Leader (Jesus); all who do, lead followers! 

Sometimes that leading is done intentionally and actively with those we have a relationship with.

+ Sometimes that leading is done unknowingly with those of whom we are unaware. 

 Sometimes that leading is done by example others see from a distance which we had no idea would make an impact. 

 Sometimes that leading is done from direct actions intended for a purpose. 

Yet, without exception, you can be sure that as one who follows THE Leader, you are one who leads followers.

-Pastor Kevin Kritzer

Monday, September 12, 2016

The One Year Bible- September 12th

This is my twelfth year in a row reading through The One Year Bible.  Each time I do it I see new things and my routine of reading is a bit different.   Most days I have been pretty good about reading in the mornings right when I get to the office.  As soon as I get in I close my door, and vow not to turn on the computer or listen to voicemail until I have done my reading.  This has worked pretty well.  I hope you are finding a time and a routine that is working for you.  It is amazing how God continues to speak to us through his word every day.  I hope you are finding that being in the word has been a blessing to you and your life with Christ.  On to the study...

Seth’s Thoughts

The Old Testament
The book of Song of Songs is unique to scripture. It my mind it is like a Broadway Musical (but rated at least PG-13). We have the lovely song of the young woman, with a response from her true love. The chorus comes in on occasion to fill out the story. I love the point, counterpoint of the verses and the overarching theme of love. On the surface this book is all about young love. Going a bit deeper, there is another story at work. A frequent image in the Old Testament of the relationship between God and Israel is that of husband and wife. God loves his chosen bride, Israel and would do anything to keep that relationship in tact. God continues to care for Israel no matter what. But Israel is unfaithful. She goes off and does he own thing. She gets into trouble and turns her back on God. But God’s love is amazing. It continues to love in all circumstances. This theme will be played out in the book of Hosea as well. This relationship is also seen in how Jesus relates to his bride the church. When all is going well, love abounds and beautiful music is made. But often times we, as the church, mess things up. We fall away and become unfaithful. The moral of all the stories is God is faithful no matter what. His love endures to the ends of the earth and conquers time and space.

The book of the prophet Isaiah is considered by many Biblical scholars to be the theological textbook of the Old Testament. Many key doctrines and themes that form the foundation of faith and relationship to God are found within its pages. Martin Luther says that the, “chief and leading theme of all the prophets is their aim to keep the people in eager anticipation of the coming Christ.” Isaiah is an amazing book. Let me give you a few of my personal insights and some key themes this week. We will have plenty of time to talk about this most wonderful book. First of all Isaiah did not sit down and write the book in one sitting. This is more like a journal of the prophet and his dealings with God and the kingdom of Judah. The events take place over the entire life of the prophet. It is important to have this perspective when reading. There is a marked division in the book. Chapters 1-39 are directed to the time of Isaiah. Chapters 40-66 are a vision of the future captivity in Babylon. The second part is filled with figurative language as Isaiah struggled to relate his visions to his contemporaries. I find it interesting to note that there are 39 chapters in the first part and 27 chapters in the second part of Isaiah. Remember there are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. Pretty cool, huh?? Some have even called Isaiah “The Bible in Miniature”. Now I would not press the analogy too far but it does make one stop and think. One other thing of note is the mention of “The Holy One of Israel”. Most theologians agree that this term makes reference to the Messiah. This is the one who will deliver the people from oppression and bring about an eternal kingdom. When you come across this term, spend some time looking at the context and see if you can see Jesus there. I will have a lot more to say in the next few weeks.

The New Testament
We will finish up 2 Corinthians this week, and what a finish. Paul gives some great instruction right at the end. One thing we have heard here at Bethany is the idea of “my stuff is not my stuff”. Paul tells the Corinthians just this same thing in Chapter 9. Giving to God comes from the heart. In chapter 10 Paul spends some time on boasting. He says that boasting about what has happened within the boundaries of the work of God is a good thing. We must rejoice in what God is doing, and we can boast in Him at all times. In Chapter 11 Paul gives his defense for being an apostle. Paul lays it all out on the line and asserts that his message is valid and useful. Paul’s over all theme here at the end is about being proud and arrogant. He gives us a glimpse into his personal life when he admits to some sort of “thorn in the flesh”. We are not sure what this was. Speculation ranges from an ulcer, to a mental disability, to a physical deformity. What is was is beside the point, the fact is it has kept him humble and focused in service to his Lord. Paul wraps it all up in Chapter 13. I love his closing words, Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”  (2 Corinthians 13:11 NIV). In just a few sentences, Paul summarizes what it means to live the Christian life.

Bits and Pieces
The Old Testament
Remember to read Isaiah like you just picked up the journal of the prophet. This week we will read entries that contain prophecies against Moab, Damascus, Cush, Egypt, Babylon, Edom, Arabia, Jerusalem, and Tyre. Isaiah will enter some songs of praise to God and deliverance of Israel. There will be woes to Ephraim, David’s city, the obstinate Nation, and to those who rely on Egypt. Chapter 36 begins a section of prose and gives some of the historical context for the prophecy. Keep looking for “The Holy One of Israel” as you read.

The New Testament
We move on to the book of Galatians this week. Here are the vital stats for the book:

PURPOSE: To refute the Judaizers (who taught that Gentile believers must obey the Jewish Law in order to be saved), and to call Christians to faith and freedom in Christ
TO WHOM WRITTEN: The churches in southern Galatia founded on Paul’s first missionary journey (including Iconium, Lystra, Derbe), and Christians everywhere
DATE WRITTEN: About A.D. 49 from Antioch, prior to the Jerusalem council (A.D. 50)
SETTING: The most pressing controversy in the early church was the relationship of new believers, particularly Gentiles, to the Jewish laws. This was especially a problem for the converts and for the young churches that Paul had founded on his first missionary journey. Paul wrote to correct this problem. Later, at the council in Jerusalem, the church leaders officially resolved the conflict.
KEY VERSE: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (5:1)
LAW THEMES: The threat of subtle false teaching; hypocrisy; works cannot justify; the Law’s curse; works of the flesh; the Law of Christ.
GOSPEL THEMES: One saving Gospel; God’s gracious call; justified through faith in Christ; the gift of the Spirit; adoption as God’s own sons; freedom in Christ.
KEY PEOPLE: Paul, Peter, Barnabus, Titus, Abraham, false teachers
KEY PLACES: Galatia, Jerusalem
SPECIAL FEATURES: This letter is not addressed to any specific body of believers and was probably circulated to several churches in Galatia.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

The Bethany Bullet - Week of September 4, 2016

“A Profitable Letter”

How much junk mail do you get at home?  Our house seems to be inundated with unsolicited advertisements, flyers, and offers for refinancing or to switch to a new TV or internet service.  How do you know what is useful?  Sure there are the predictable things in the mail: bills and invoices, catalogs and magazines but so much of what is delivered is just unprofitable junk that goes directly into the recycle bin.  On Sunday, we will looked at a letter written by the Apostle Paul that, on the surface does not seem to offer much.  It’s short and not filled with any verses that have become part of our collective memory.  But digging a little deeper, this letter is useful for us today and something we can hold on to. 

With the tidal wave of technology that has reshaped the communication landscape of the past quarter century, the one casualty I miss the most is the personal letter.  It is rare, if at all that our mailbox contains a personal letter.

Yes, birthday cards and thank you cards can be found, an occasional post card might inhabit the floor below the mail slot in our house, but a personal letter?  I’m not sure the last time I received one.

Email, texts, phone calls, posts, tweets, and snaps - they have all supplanted the personal letter as the primary and preferred forms of communication. 

I know that some people still write letters.  If you are one of them, you have my respect and blessing to continue.  If you haven’t written a letter in a very long time this message is not to convince you to start again. 

Today we will look a letter, penned by the hand of the Apostle Paul to a man named Philemon.  Many would say there is not much use to the few words of Paul to his friend but I would argue its content IS profitable to us today. 

The letter spans just 25 verses in length and is a deeply personal and very touching appeal from Paul to his “dear coworker” Philemon.

I’m not sure I have ever heard a sermon on this text before.  I am certain I have never used it in any of my sermons, but this letter struck me this week like never before, and I hope that the words of Paul, written in history and preserved in scripture will bring blessing to our time together. 

C.S. Lewis called Philemon, “the most beautiful and intensely human of all St. Paul’s epistles, full of charm and beauty.”

John Duncan, 19th century theologian and professor at the New College in Edinburgh Scotland describes the letter to Philemon as “the most gentlemanly letter ever written.”

Unlike Paul’s other letters, it seems that this one is hand written by Paul himself in its entirety.  This shows the deep, personal nature of the letter.

We don’t know much about Philemon other than what we can glean from this letter. 
·        He has a past relationship with Paul.  Perhaps he came to become a follower of Christ by his words directly or indirectly.
·        He was an active member of the church. 
·        He opened his home for worship
·        He seemed to have established a reputation as a generous, loving, hospitable believer and a devoted worker for the Lord.

After some greetings, thanksgiving and encouragement, Paul get’s to the heart of why he writes.  Feel free to follow along open up your Bibles to Philemon.  I’m starting at verse 8 reading from God’s Word Translation,

“Christ makes me bold enough to order you to do the right thing. However, I would prefer to make an appeal on the basis of love. I, Paul, as an old man and now a prisoner for Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my child Onesimus [Useful]. I became his spiritual father here in prison. Once he was useless to you, but now he is very useful to both of us. I am sending him back to you. This is like sending you a part of myself.  I wanted to keep him here with me. Then he could have served me in your place while I am in prison for spreading the Good News.  Yet, I didn’t want to do anything without your consent. I want you to do this favor for me out of your own free will without feeling forced to do it. Maybe Onesimus was gone for a while so that you could have him back forever— no longer as a slave but better than a slave—as a dear brother. He is especially dear to me, but even more so to you, both as a person and as a Christian.  If you think of me as your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.  If he wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me.  I, Paul, promise to pay it back. I’m writing this with my own hand. I won’t even mention that you owe me your life.  So, because we’re brothers in the Lord, do something for me. Give me some comfort because of Christ.  I am confident as I write to you that you will do this. And I know that you will do even more than I ask.” (Philemon 8-21)

Paul makes an appeal to his friend and fellow worker in Christ in the matter of a slave named Onesimus. 

Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon.  He knows it won’t be easy for any of the parties involved but he appeals to his good friend on behalf of another. It is very interesting to note that Paul could have ordered Philemon to “do the right thing” but he appeals to him “on the basis of love.” He did not command, he did not force an obligation or duty based on his apostolic authority; it was a matter of love that compelled him. 

We live in a society in which demands are more common than appeals.  Assertiveness, we are told, not tact, gets people ahead in life.  Here, Paul shows us a better way. The most powerful motivating force on earth is not intimidation or threat or assertion of what one perceives as one’s own rights, but love.  This is not my primary focus for today but it does set the stage for what is to come. 

Paul chooses his words very carefully.  As a faithful intercessor, he places himself between the one for whom and the one with whom he is pleading as he makes his request. With tender affection and beautiful tact, calling the runaway slave his own child and himself his father, Paul brings the subject of Onesimus directly before Philemon. 

Once he was useless to you, but now he is very useful to both of us.” (Philemon 11).  Paul uses a play on words here as the name Onesimus means useful or profitable.  Of course Onesimus had been untrue to his name.  He was a runaway and most likely a thief who owed his master a debt.  He was rather unprofitable and useless to Philemon.  Sending a runaway slave back to his master was a sure recipe for death as the standard punishment was for the runaway to be stoned.  There was nothing profitable or useful in a runaway slave.

But now, Paul informs Philemon, that Oneismus who has been instructed in the gospel and converted to Christianity has become truly useful.  He has already been useful to Paul, and he will again be useful to Philemon, if Philemon will receive him. Paul wished he could keep Onesimus, but knows the right thing to do.  As he sends Onesimus back to Philemon, Paul makes no attempt to excuse the past behavior of the slave who has been unprofitable. 

While Paul never comes out and says it, it is quite likely that Onesimus stole money from his master.  There was also the matter of service that Onesimus had been depriving Philemon since he was gone.  It’s no doubt there was a debt to be paid.  Paul was ready to assume the obligations of the father and would pay the debt himself if that meant that Philemon would receive Onesimus back.  Paul was serious about his offer.  There should be nothing standing in the way of full forgiveness and reconciliation. 

I know it doesn’t take a theologian to see where I am going with this.

Yes, Paul’s actions give us a good example on how to live and treat one another in love, but I’m not sure that is the primary reason this letter has been preserved for us in the pages of scripture.  Like many other places in Scripture, we can find ourselves in the story. 

I’ll only speak for me, but I would guess many could say the same thing.  I have been unprofitable to the Lord.  My words and my actions have not been useful in furthering God’s kingdom or giving Him praise.  Often have been the times I have run away from God, hiding and hoping that my past or the things I have hidden wouldn’t be remembered or seen.  I have sabotaged relationships and have taken that which is not mine, be it reputation or resource. I am in desperate need for one to intercede.  I’m guessing you could say the same. 

Paul’s deeply personal words to Philemon remind us of the deeply personal Word made flesh, whose life wrote the most beautiful letter ever written with nail scarred hands to preserve our lives and restore our relationship to the Lord. Paul’s eloquent intersession for Onesimus can be regarded as a reflection of our Savior’s intercession for us. 

Like Onesimus, we sinners have all wronged and run away from our heavenly master.  Like a runaway, we deserve nothing but His wrath, eternal condemnation, and death.

But, as Paul found and rescued Onesimus, Jesus has found and rescued us.  He identified himself with us by taking our nature and becoming our substitute.  He not only offered to pay, but DID pay our sin-debt on the cross to satisfy the father. 

His life is a love letter written to sinners, preserved in Scripture and brings to you the Good News that your sin is forgiven.  His hands wrote it on the cross and His resurrection secured the ending.   His life, death and resurrection are the most profitable words written to us.  Jesus is our profitable letter.

And Jesus still intercedes for you. Now as our great high priest He intercedes for us daily, for we are dearly loved; connected to Christ as brothers and sisters in the faith to be useful in the Kingdom. 

Speaking on the same topic, Paul said it this way to the church in Rome, “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34)

Martin Luther in a sermon on Philemon said that “We are Christ’s Oneisimi.”  We are dearly loved and seen as profitable and useful in the kingdom on account of Christ.

It is a tender and intimate God we have, who would send His Son to us; to intercede for us, to die for us and to rise again to bring us life.

This small letter, written by the hand of Paul himself, preserved in the pages of scripture IS profitable as it points to The Word made flesh by whose hands we have been freed and sent to serve.  As the Holy Spirit preserves us in the true faith, we can share this letter with others who need to hear it. 

-Pastor Seth Moorman

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