Christian Slavery or Christian Love?

Continuing my study of small books of the Bible I decided to look at the book of Philemon. I must confess I couldn’t even remember the name of this book and were it was in the bible, other than I knew it started with a P and was in the New Testament. I just remembered that it was the one about the slave who was sent back to his master. I was looking at this book again because I remembered it had to do with reconciliation, mercy and goodness, which I’ve been thinking lately.  This unassuming book written by Paul to a house Church leader, Philemon, is well worth the read. It examples how goodness, mercy and love are meant to be lived not just taught.

It’s so simple in its story yet so rich in its message. Onesimus, a slave who ran away from Philemon, is being sent back to Philemon, his Christian master, by Paul after having met the apostle Paul and having his life changed. This letter was written by Paul on behalf of Onesimus. Paul is entreating Philemon to take his former slave back and treat him well. That’s it, that’s the extent of the story, a runaway slave who became a Christian is being sent back to reconcile and serve his Christian master again.

The depth of the book however is so rich and touching. Paul is appealing to Philemon to take back Onesimus and treat him like a brother rather than a slave. The amazing thing is that Paul, knowing the character of Philemon, knows that he will not only great Onesimus as a brother but will even do more than that,  but treat him with love. He will not do the minimum required in reconciliation but that Philemon so reflects the character of God that he will do so much more.

Phil: 21 “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.”

It is a stunning account of reconciliation of the indebted to his debtor, the transformation of a useless slave to a useful brother.

This book does not recount the gospel explicitly, nor is it full of theological discourse or apologetics but it is full of love and Christian principles. It is the application of the Gospel to life. As Christ forgives us, us who had been indebted to Christ unto death, so to is a Christian asked to forgive the slave who ran from his rightful master.

It may be noted that essentially Paul is sending a runaway slave back to his master, back to slavery, but we cannot use this as a justification for slavery, as some might, we must use it to breakdown the barriers of slavery and reconcile slave to master not to equal footing but to brotherly love. If a man loves his slave as a brother and a slave loves his master likewise what risk of inequality is there? None!

We are all slaves to sin set free by another, Jesus Christ, in Christianity. The issue is not slavery, its bigger than that, it’s about love.

Jesus Christ is our master who lovingly reconciled us to him but did so much more. God the father has made us co-heirs with Christ, adopted sons and Daughters of God himself, adopted into the family of God by faith alone. When you think about it we should be slaves who grovel before him and plead for mercy but should not receive it because we are not owed it nor do we deserve it because of our sin. Yet, God in his goodness, love and mercy came to us even while we were still disobedient slaves, and didn’t even recognize our need for forgiveness and mercy, and he died on the cross for us.

A man might treat a good slave with kindness but what kind of man would treat a disobedient slave with mercy and elevate him as a brother? Christ would and so should we.

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Hey Jude!

I really wanted to study an entire book this week and I must admit that I chose Jude due to it’s length but also due to my lack of knowledge concerning its content. The book has very similar content to material written by the apostles but uses some unique references to apocryphal writing. Jude doesn’t appear to use the apocryphal works in a canonical or authoritative way but rather as examples.

I want to note that the book of Jude has very similar, and parallel teachings, as 2 Peter 2 does and upon reading the two the similarities are absolutely evident. However, in my brief study of Jude I don’t spend time examining these similarities but rather I am simply outlining the key points and thoughts of Jude itself.

The Book of Jude

The Book of Jude was written to contend against those who have snuck into the church, those ungodly people who are set aside to be condemned (3-4). Why are they condemned? Because they reject all authority including Jesus Christ’s, they change the faith to fit their desires of sexual immorality and reject truth based on their “dreams” or visions. (4) They use visions as their basis of authority. They blaspheme out of their innate sinfulness (7-8). They are compared to the unbelieving Egyptians (5), and the angels who rebelled against God (6), they are guilty of like sins to those of Sodom and Gomorrah (7), They are useless, not producing any good works (12) and finally they are easily swayed, this way and that, by their own false teachings and feelings. (13)

Jude tells us that these ungodly men will suffer destruction; in fact it is for one’s like this that God is coming to judge the world. They will be judged for their actions, their unbelief and their blasphemy against God (14-15.) Jude summarizes who they are, they are “…grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favouritism to gain advantage.” (Jude 16)

These people have so offended God that their destruction is assured. They deserve nothing else. How could God do anything but destroy them is a question we have to ask ourselves?

Now Jude turns to the true holy followers, to those who are part of Jesus true disciples and tells them they need to remember that the apostles said that people like this would come (17-18). The ungodly cause division and so not have the Holy Spirit, but you those with the Holy Spirit must keep themselves in God’s love, they must build their faith through prayer in the Holy Spirit waiting on the mercy of God (19-21).

The holy are also encouraged to have mercy on those who doubt, which are not the same as those who reject and blaspheme (22).

In closing Jude acknowledges that Jesus Christ is able to keep his chosen from stumbling and able to present them blameless to God, and that he is glorious, majestic, has dominion and authority over all time (24-25).

Thoughts on Jude

Jude is writing to a church with some very big problems. These ungodly are as terrible and as opposed to God as you can get, yet they have made their way into the Church. Jude is trying to shine some light on them, to make the faithful aware of them, to cause the faithful to contend against them and save those who might be swayed by them to their destruction. It is interesting that Jude makes no mention of trying to save them but rather assumes that those who have crept in to the church have no hope but are doomed to certain destruction, yet he contends for those who are still on the fence. Jude wants the faithful to build their faith and save those they can while handing the ungodly over to God for judgment.

It is interesting that Jude identifies these individuals’ sins, exposing them, but makes no mention of expelling them. Perhaps, by his appeal to the beloved he hopes, when he says to contend, that he desires them to step up and remember the truth about their faith. Although there is no direct admonishment to throw out the ungodly from their midst there is definitely an indication that they must separate themselves from these people doomed to God’s judgment by keeping themselves in the love of God. His language is so strong concerning these individuals you are almost astounded by his lack of instruction as to how to handle them other than to look to their own faith and save the doubter.

Due to Jude’s use of language concerning the ungodly, who assumed authority through visions in verse 8, referenced as “Shepherds feeding themselves” in verse 12, that they are in fact the leaders of this church and Jude is instead writing to the congregation. Whatever the case it is clear that Jude is intent on God being the Judge and the faithful are to strengthen their faith and save those who can be. The mercy Jude talks about does not seem to be for the ungodly among them but rather the unbeliever or the doubters; a unique distinction, mercy for those who are in doubt but destruction from God for those who claim to be part of the body but clearly live in sin and rebellion against him.

John’s Gospel: Spoiler Alert

Have you ever read a book where they tell you the big secret right at the beginning of the book and then spend the rest of the book laying it out for you?

In John’s Gospel, the apostle John, a close friend of Jesus and one of the people who knew him best writes some pretty crazy stuff about him. It’s pretty crazy because a lot of people today just think Jesus was a good teacher and don’t want anything to do with that born again stuff, but the same guy who is going to tell you what Jesus taught, the same guy who is going to write all those cool things that Jesus said to all those religious guys, who we love to beat on because we like that Jesus would stick it to the “man,” is going to lay out at the very beginning something that might not be very easy for some people to take.

Chapter 1 in John’s gospel starts off by a making a connection back to Genesis, the first book in the bible and he writes this. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1.1-2)  Then in verse three he goes on to talk about creation. “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” What John is saying is that whoever he’s going to call the Word wasn’t only with God but was God and was the one responsible for all of creation. Nobody else is responsible for creation except God.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1.14) The Word came and lived with us, and John is saying I saw it, we saw it. I met him, the Word, and I saw his glory, the son of God. He’s talking about Jesus that teacher that we like to hear about when he is saying things like love your neighbour and feeding lots of people but who we don’t really want to kneel down and worship or call God.

You see we can’t just take the gospels and say wow look at Jesus’ cool radical and new ideas about love, kindness, mercy and grace, without taking everything else the Gospel writers wrote. Jesus was a real man who really lived and only the craziest and most out to lunch historian will tell you he didn’t live at all. So we go to the writings about him, to his friends and the disciples of his disciples who tell the story of his life. We need to realize that these writers were just as serious about the stuff we might think is crazy as they were about what Jesus taught. For these guys the two are linked and can’t be separated. To John, the guy who sat beside Jesus, talked with Jesus, ate with Jesus, walked with Jesus and recorded all of his teachings wanted you and me to know something, that Jesus is God.

Jesus isn’t a Prophet, he isn’t a teacher, he isn’t a political or social radical, he is God, the king of kings, the creator in who we have life and he is the one who brings light to the darkness.

You see another thing happened in Genesis, we rebelled against God, we became sinners and we brought darkness into the world. This darkness this sin has consumed the world and because of our sin it means we are going to die rebels to God. But what John also wants you to know is that Jesus is the light and that darkness, our sin, isn’t going to overcome him. Jesus goes on to bleed for you, he goes on to die for you!…

Jesus is the light and he overcame sin and now you and I we can get on our knees and apologize to the king of kings for our part, for our sin and Jesus that same king of kings, that same God who was responsible for creating you will forgive you. He’ll forgive you!

That’s crazy! That’s the crazy truth that John wants you to understand about Jesus. If you think you know Jesus and what I’ve written about him doesn’t seem to line up with the Jesus you know then I think you should try and get to know the Jesus John knew. It may be more radical and crazy, but it’s the truth.

(Taken from a community group lesson I’m writing for the church)