Tag Archives: the gospel

Bible Overview Project: Jude

Jude by Joseph Novak

Jude: If ever the world is burned to ashes in a nuclear holocaust, let the last human being recite the epistle of Jude, and die.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary) 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Jude

Jude came from an important family:

  • The Lord Jesus Christ was his brother
  • Mary was his mother
  • James, the church leader was also his brother

Jude hadn’t always believed in Jesus (Jn 7:5;Mk 3:21), but after He rose from the dead, things changed. The world changed (Acts 17:6). His brother changed. Jude changed.

Now he shared this glorious salvation with people all over the world: Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female—all united in Christ. He  wanted desperately to write about it. But he couldn’t.

The church was facing a more pressing issue: people were creeping into the church unnoticed (Jd 4). These were not “seekers,” nonbelievers who were genuinely curious about Christianity.  They claimed to be believers. But they denied the exclusive authority of Jesus, twisting His grace into a license to sin all they wanted.

They were infiltrators. They indulged in sexual immorality, greed, and grumbling. They rejected the authority of the apostles, angels, and the Lord. They caused churches to split up into opposing factions.

The children of God needed to keep their eyes open for this kind of behavior in the churches. So instead of writing about the salvation they shared, Jude wrote a brief, hard-hitting letter to the churches of the world.

In just 25 verses, Jude covers a few important points for Christians to remember:

  • The threat to the faith. The ungodly people are perverting the grace of God and denying the only Master, Jesus (Jd 4). God will judge them, just like He has judged the unbelievers in the past (Jd 5).
  • Characteristics of the ungodly. Jude compares these unrestrained, divisive people to unruly angels, Sodom and Gomorrah, Cain the murderer, the profit-hungry Balaam, and the rebellious Korah. Jude brings in examples from both the Old Testament and other nonbiblical writings.
  • The apostles’ warnings. The church had been dealing with false teachers for a while—some people were even pretending to be apostles of Jesus, with the authority of Peter, James, Paul, and John (2 Co 11:13). The apostles had warned that “mockers” would arise, causing doubt and division in the church.

But Jude is more than just a detractor. He doesn’t just write a list of red flags. This is a letter that urges the Christians to “earnestly contend for the faith”—to fight long and hard on behalf of their Lord. And Jude tells them how to combat this attack:

  • Build themselves up in faith. They are to pray in the Holy Spirit, maintain themselves in God’s love, and wait for eternal life in Jesus.
  • Show mercy to others. They should have mercy on those who doubt, even on those who are stained by sin. They’re to be rescuers, snatching some out of the fires that will come.

Jude is a call to fight, but it’s not like any other battle cry in history. It’s a charge to delight in God and show mercy to others. This is how the church fights valiantly for the faith: by loving God and showing mercy.

Theme verse of Jude

[. . .] I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. (Jud 3b)

Jude’s role in the Bible

Jude is the seventh and last 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. We’re not sure when Jude was written.

Jude’s content mirrors the second and third chapters of Peter’s second letter. 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

One major difference between the two books is Jude’s use of apocryphal literature (Jewish writings outside of the Scriptures). Jude mentions events that aren’t recorded in the Bible, such as an argument between Michael the Archangel and the devil over the body of Moses, or Enoch’s ancient prophecies. These examples come from the Assumption of Moses and First Enoch. Jude’s intended audience was familiar with these pieces, and therefore would have appreciated the references.

But Jude also relies heavily on the inspired Scriptures, especially Genesis and Numbers. Jude references all sorts of Old Testament figures and events, including:

  • The Exodus from Egypt (Jd 5; Ex 12:51)
  • The generation of Israelites who died in the wilderness (Jd 5; Nu 14:35)
  • The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Jd 7; Gn 19:24)
  • Cain, the son of Adam, who killed his brother (Jd  11; Gn 4:8)
  • The prophet Balaam, who tried to curse the Israelites in exchange for money (Jd 11; Nu 22:31–33)
  • Korah, who rebelled against Moses and Aaron, but was swallowed up by the earth (Jd 11; Nu 16)
  • Enoch, the descendant of Adam and ancestor of Noah, whom God “took” from earth before he died (Jd 14; Gn 5:24; Heb 11:5)

Jude is only one chapter long, and it’s the fifth shortest book of the Bible (Third John is the shortest).

Quick outline of Jude

  1. The ungodly contending against the faith (1–16)
  2. How we should contend for the faith (17–25)

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Bible Overview Series: 2 John

Letters of John by Joseph Novak

2 John: Pure spiritual love is a delusion. Love has come among us in the flesh. It’s with our bodies that we walk in love’s way.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary) 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of 2 John

The apostle John had set several things straight in his first epistle. He’d told the churches how to know if they were of the faith, he’d dressed down the false teachings that were making their rounds, and he’d strongly urged the Christians to love one another.

He’d told them about truth, love, and obedience—now he writes to tell them what to do about it.

In Second John, the elder (2 Jn 1) briefly explains the relationship between the three:

  • Love and truth. John loves those who know the truth, because the truth “abides” in them (2 Jn 1–2). When two parties know the truth, love comes naturally.
  • Truth and obedience. God the Father commanded that His children walk in truth (2 Jn 4). When you know the truth, obedience comes naturally.
  • Obedience and love. The commandment that God gave isn’t anything new: “love one another” (2 Jn 5). A sure sign of obedience to God is love for His church, and a sure sign of love is obedience to God (2 Jn 6).

He then warns that “many deceivers have gone out into the world” (2 Jn 7), and that the Christians should watch themselves. They should beware of teachers who do not acknowledge Jesus’ human life and who deviate from the things He taught (2 Jn 8–9). Such people are dangerous: the church shouldn’t side with them, shouldn’t invite them in, and shouldn’t participate in their actions (2 Jn 10–11).

John is a bit cryptic in this letter, but he seems well aware of this. He would rather discuss this and more in person, so he lets the audience know that he hopes to visit soon (2 Jn 12).

Because truth, love, and obedience should be a part of everyday life, and the church needs to understand how.

Theme verse in 2 John

And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it. (2 Jn 6)

2 John’s role in the Bible

In addition to this one, John wrote two other New Testament letters, a Gospel, and possibly the prophetic book of Revelation. He was a leader in the early church, and he probably wrote his documents after most of the other New Testament books were already written.

John writes this second letter to “the chosen lady and her children”—which may refer to a particular church leader, or perhaps metaphorically to a local church or group of churches. John refers to this lady’s “chosen sister” at the end of this letter (2 Jn 13), which may be code for a greeting from the children of another woman, or members of another church or group of churches.

Second John is the fifth 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 scattered across the Roman empire. Second and Third John, however, are written to specific audiences.

Second John is the second shortest book of the Bible—Third John is the shortest (by word count). It’s only one chapter long, and has only thirteen verses.

This letter repeats many themes from John’s first letter, and Third John reflects these themes as well. Overall, the three letters from John give us an idea of what the apostle thought was most important at the time: sound teaching, obedience to God, and brotherly love.

Quick outline of 2 John

  1. Walk in truth (1–4)
  2. Love others and obey God (5–6)
  3. Beware false teachers (7–11)
  4. Look forward to a visit (12–13)

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: 1 John

Letters of John by Joseph Novak

1 John: Love is the order of things; hatred is rebellion against reality.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary) 

Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of 1 John

Peter was right: false teachers had arisen from among the church (2 Pe 2:1). Now some people were teaching that Jesus wasn’t human, denying that He was the true Messiah. It was probably easier to get away with than it ever had been: the apostles were growing older, and churches were springing up all over the Roman Empire.

Plus these teachers claimed to be Christians, which would have been very troubling for the young churches to hear. Whom can they believe, and how can they evaluate new teachers as they come?

The apostle John has the answers. He’s been with Jesus; he’s seen Jesus die (Jn 19:26); he’s seen the empty tomb (Jn 20:4–5). John knows the truth, and so he writes a letter to help the church know how to tell the children of God from the impostors.

John combats false teaching with absolutes: truth and lies, light and darkness, love and hate, sin and righteousness, Christ and antichrist. He shows the church how to tell if they are children of God and how to tell if a teacher is trying to deceive them.

This is a letter written from a wise and loving father to a troubled church. John writes to older men (“fathers”), young men, and children, but he addresses all of them as his “little children”—a term of endearment that a loving father would use for his child.

John’s letter moves around from theme to theme, but he makes three things very clear to the church:

  1. The children of God believe in Jesus Christ
  2. The children of God keep His commandments
  3. The children of God love one another

And John as far as John is concerned, the people he writes to are children of God (1 Jn 5:13).

Theme verse in 1 John

This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. (1 Jn 3:23)

1 John’s role in the Bible

First John is the fourth 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 scattered across the Roman empire. John’s next two letters, however, are written to specific audiences.

In addition to this one, John wrote two other New Testament letters, a Gospel, and possibly the prophetic book of Revelation. He was a leader in the early church, and he probably wrote his documents after most of the other New Testament books were already written.

First John is powerful. It’s also a bit odd. It reads somewhat like a letter, somewhat like a sermon, and a little like some passages from Proverbs. Most of our New Testament epistles begins with a formal greeting and end with a conclusion and instructions, but First John has neither of these characteristics.

Plus, John’s wise, fatherly writing style can wander from point to point: there are few obvious divisions in this letter. Plus, while many epistles contain a single statement of the author’s purpose in writing, John lists at least 12 reasons for penning this letter:

  1. So that he and the church may have joy (1 Jn 1:4)
  2. So that they would not sin (1 Jn 2:1)
  3. Because their sins are forgiven (1 Jn 2:12)
  4. Because they know God the Father (1 Jn 2:13)
  5. Because they know Jesus (1 Jn 2:13)
  6. Because they have overcome the evil one (1 Jn 2:13–14)
  7. Because they are strong (1 Jn 2:14)
  8. Because the word of God abides in them (1 Jn 2:14)
  9. Because they know the truth (1 Jn 2:14)
  10. Because no lie or false teaching can come from the truth (1 Jn 2:21)
  11. Because some would try to deceive them (1 Jn 2:26)
  12. So that they would know they have eternal life (1 Jn 5:13)

To be fair, these reasons are more fluidly interconnected in the text than a bulleted list like this makes them out to be.

First John’s role in the Bible is closely related to the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John is written to persuade non-Christians to believe in Jesus and find eternal life in His name (Jn 20:31). Conversely, the first letter of John is written so that those who believe in Jesus would know they have indeed found life in Him.

If you wonder how the teaching in First John played out in real life, you’ll love Second and Third John! These two very short letters apply First John’s general teachings of truth, love, and obedience to specific local church situations.

No other book of the Bible talks about love as often as First John. About one in every 50 words is a form of “love”—that makes for about 52 mentions of love in just five short chapters. And it’s no surprise: love is evidence of salvation (1 Jn 3:14), and John says that God Himself is love (1 Jn 4:8).

Quick outline of 1 John

Disclaimer: this may be the toughest book of the Bible to outline. With all John’s reasons to write, scholars have a hard time forming an outline from John’s letter. But the central focus of First John seems to be distinguishing the false teachers from children of God, so here’s my take:

  1. The children of God keep His commands (1 Jn 1–3)
  2. The Spirit of God affirms Jesus’ first coming (1 Jn 4:1–6)
  3. The children of God love one another (1 Jn 4:7–21)
  4. Things the child of God can know (1 Jn 5)

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 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)

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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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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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)

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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!

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Our Posture Towards Death

The following was a sermon given on Sunday, November 20th, 2016 at Nelson Covenant Church.

Today many within our community are still in shock at the news of the tragic death of Devon Dunkley this week.  Devon’s family is part of our sister church at the Junction, and he was a part of our youth group for many years.   This past Wednesday Blair invited me to share from the Scriptures at our youth group, and I thought it would be important to pass along those thoughts to our entire community this morning.

We have record of an early Christian community in the ancient city of Thessalonica.  These were new believers in Jesus, and after experiencing a series of deaths within their community, they were seeking to understand how they were supposed to process death as believers in Jesus.  Paul addressed their questions in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

What is our posture towards death?  How are we called to live as Christians in the face of death?

The first thing that must be said, is that We MOURN. We MOURN the loss that comes through death. 

“13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

Notice Paul doesn’t say, “You’re Christians—so you shouldn’t mourn!”  He says, “I don’t want you to grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”  Paul wants these early Christians to know that they will grieve and mourn, but their grief and mourning will take on a different shape.

I’ll expand on that in a second, but let’s stay on this first crucial point:  Christians MOURN the loss that comes from death.  Death is a monster, because it takes someone from us who was an image-bearer of God; someone who was valuable and loved, beautiful and good.  That’s why it’s important—critical—to mourn.

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Jesus taught, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4.  In the kingdom of God it’s not a virtue to remain stoic and unfeeling in the presence of significant loss.  We are not more spiritual if we can keep sorrow at bay, nor are we stronger if we manage to keep our grief contained and controlled.

Jesus wept in the face of tragedy.  When his cousin John was beheaded, Jesus mourned.  When Jesus was informed that his close friend Lazarus had died, he wept.

That we can allow the searing pain that comes from losing a loved one find expression through our tears and our crying out to God…reveals we are becoming more like Jesus, not less.

Christians mourn in the face of death.

But there is a second thing that must be said.  In the face of death, We MOCK. We MOCK the powerlessness of death.  Paul continues:

14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

And in 1 Corinthians 15:22–26 Paul declares:

22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

 

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I’ve been reading through St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation (written in the 4th century).  In a chapter on the resurrection Athanasius shares how he has witnessed the truth of Jesus’ resurrection transform how the Christians of his day responded in the face of death.  Specifically, he highlights how the resurrection has led to Christians “despising” death (and by “despising” he means mocking/belittling).  Listen to his words:

A very strong proof of this destruction of death and its conquest by the cross is supplied by a present fact, namely this. All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Savior, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Savior has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection.

“There is proof of this too; for men who, before they believe in Christ, think death horrible and are afraid of it, once they are converted despise it so completely that they go eagerly to meet it, and themselves become witnesses of the Savior’s resurrection from it. Even children hasten thus to die, and not men only, but women train themselves by bodily discipline to meet it. So weak has death become that even women, who used to be taken in by it, mock at it now as a dead thing robbed of all its strength. Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot the passers-by sneer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Savior on the cross. It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, “O Death, where is thy victory? O Grave, where is thy sting?

If you are a Christian, you serve a King who has broken death and trampled it underfoot.  When Jesus was resurrected, he overcame death’s power and signaled the beginning of the end of death’s rule and reign over God’s good creation.

Therefore, those in Christ are no longer held hostage by death’s power.  Death is a defeated foe, so that we now live without fear, knowing that “We are confident…and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:8.  Even more astonishing than the hope of life after death, is the hope of life after, life after death.  The Christian’s ultimate hope is that one day Jesus will return and bring full Restoration and Redemption to this broken world.  Then his kingdom will be fully established within the context of a new heavens and new earth, and “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

In light of this great hope, Christians mock death, seeing it for the temporary inconvenience that it is.

And so death causes us to mourn, but it ought never cause us to despair.  Christians must never be frozen by the fear of death, nor overwhelmed by a misunderstanding of its grasp.

Because of what Jesus has accomplished–for you, for me, for Devon–death does not have the final word.  It has been swallowed up in the life and victory of King Jesus; a life and victory that Devon now knows fully, even as he is fully known (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12).

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