Philemon 1

Philemon 1 is an interesting letter in many ways. First, it’s short but actually it’s the length of the average letter during the Roman times. Second, the subject matter is fascinating, and answers some of the difficulties we have with other passages written by Paul. In Titus, for example, Paul writes that slaves should obey their masters. However, here we see the same issue but from a different standpoint.

It seems that Philemon is a slave owner (which was exceptionally common in the Roman period), and Paul is writing on the behalf of one of his slaves. Onesimus appears to be Philemon’s slave, that has probably escaped and sought Paul out. Paul, from his imprisonment, has written to Philemon petitioning him to show clemency towards Onesimus and even to secure his release from slavery.

Philemon is a church leader, his wife is probably Apphia and Archippus is possibly a fellow leader in the church. Here we have a short insight into a house church set-up in the Roman Empire.

I think that this letter is particularly helpful in looking at relationships between believers and how to address issues effectively. I think it’s also interesting in how it treats the issue of slavery. He calls a slave his brother. Furthermore, it’s how Paul asks for obedience, which is definitely against our culture, despite the fact that Philemon was probably of a higher social status than Paul. So, it really makes me consider how well we respond to requests from leaders in church today.

Titus 3

Again, this chapter discusses the behaviour of those in Crete. But it also tells you the reason: because they have put their trust in Jesus. Our faith means there are implications in how we live. We should be obedient to authority and should live peaceably with one another.

It tells us how before we were enslaved by our passions, hatred and pleasures. But now, in our new life, we are free to be obedient to God. This idea is definitely counter cultural (at least in the west). You have curly calligraphy signs or t-shirts that tell us to follow our passions, listen to our hearts. But, when these are not in line with the will of God, they are foolish and they result in slavery.

Verses four to seven explain the mechanism of grace:

  • It is not through our deeds;
  • God our Saviour showed his love and kindness;
  • By the Holy Spirit with are given rebirth and renewal;
  • This power of the Holy Spirit is received generously through Jesus Christ;
  • We are justified by grace;
  • We become God’s heirs;
  • We have hope of eternal life.

The reason Paul reiterates this is so that they know why they seek to do good: because we are recipients of rebirth, renewal, love, kindness, grace and eternal life. When we devote ourselves to good, they profit not only ourselves but everyone. It ensures our lives are productive and that we are able to live according to the gifts we received. This is the witness we have available to us.

Verses nine to eleven talk about divisive, argumentative people. The fact that this is mentioned throughout Paul’s letters suggests it is not an isolated problem. In fact, it pretty much warns us it’s a problem we need to be prepared for. Churches will not be full of perfect harmony, it turns out, so we need to be on our guard against divisiveness.

So, I pray that I can be focused on doing good, promoting unity and having a productive life.

Titus 2

Here, Paul tells Titus how he is to instruct pretty much every aspect of society. He’s already discussed leaders and those who preach an incorrect message in the previous section. Now he discusses old men, old women, young women, young men and slaves.

What’s interesting about this chapter is that it discusses common stereotypes (older, gossiping drunk women; lazy, argumentative slaves), and tells them to counter these stereotypes in how they live. A lot of the ideals mentioned were in fact Greek ideals (being busy at home, for instance), so it’s perhaps a lesson of how we need to be seen as upright not only in a Christian context, but also the context in which we live. Titus was in Crete, a Greek island which had a reputation of being somewhat immoral. Therefore, it was important that the Christians there were an example.

The importance of this is in verse 10 and 11. We are to make the teachings about God attractive so that more may be saved. The grace of God is for everyone, therefore, we should let no one despise us. We were redeemed from wickedness, we are purified and should be eager to do good.

Titus 1

The first few verses of Titus are packed full of Biblical truths and also facts about Paul himself. We find this out about Paul:

  • He’s a servant and apostle;
  • He’s furthering the faith of God’s elect;
  • He’s furthering their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness;
  • He has a hope and promise of eternal life;
  • Preaching has been entrusted to him;
  • He is following the command of God

We learn these theological facts too:

  • God elects people;
  • God does not lie;
  • God promised eternal life from before the beginning of time;
  • God brought this to light;
  • God gives commands;
  • God is our saviour.

And all that is in just three verses.

Paul left Titus in Crete to appoint elders. Like in other books, Paul lists the requirements of elders. The list is quite long and I doubt I tick all the boxes (yet).

This chapter also talks about rebuking and silencing those who talk dishonestly. Verse 15 tells us, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure.” This is quite confusing, so I used my new subscription to Biblegateway.com to look at their study tools. It is referring to the idea that certain things are pure/impure. But because we have been sanctified by Jesus, these ideas no longer apply to us. And even what could be considered pure would be come impure by those who don’t believe, because they do not have the power of Jesus’ resurrection in them.

2 Timothy 3

This talks about the terrible times in the last days. I someways, the words seem scarily familiar. I’m not going to start shouting “the end is nigh!” on the street corner, but it does make me think about the state of the word. It’s also strange how something written thousands of years ago can go so far to capture the world today.

It characterises the people during these times as

  • lovers of themselves
  • lovers of money
  • boastful
  • proud
  • abusive
  • disobedient to their parents
  • ungrateful
  • unholy
  • without love
  • unforgiving
  • slanderous
  • without self-control
  • brutal
  • not lovers of the good
  • treacherous
  • rash
  • conceited
  • lovers of pleasure rather than God.

Now, that’s quite a list. I feel like, especially in the media, a lot of these attributes are present, if not even celebrated. Even a few powerful and famous people come to mind.

I think, however, the important message of this section is not giving us a way to point the finger. Rather, it is to check ourselves as Christ’s holy body and to make sure that we are far removed from these things.

In the second half of the chapter, Paul reminds us of his persecutions and tells us we will be persecuted. These types of statements always worry me, but not in the way you think. I have experienced very little persecution in my life, so it makes me wonder if I’m doing it all wrong.

The chapter ends with describing the importance of the Bible:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3: 14-17

Therefore, if we want to be effective in anything we do of any significance, it and we must be rooted in the word of Christ.

1 Timothy 6

Well, this book has not been short of difficult passages and has highlighted many areas in my Biblical that require more research and further reading. Chapter six is no different, and is perhaps a very difficult read, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

This chapter begins with a passage directed at slaves to be respectful to their masters. What we need to remember is that this was written during the Roman period, not during the Atlantic Slave Trade, so this context may help shed light on this. Apparently, around 10% of the entire population of the Roman Empire were slaves during the first century; in Italy is was as high as 30-40%. Also, Paul was written within the legal system of the Roman Empire. The Bible, in this passage, was not encouraging slavery, I believe, but just writing about it as an established fact. Remember, that during the first century, Christians were an oppressed minority, and often persecuted. Therefore, their options would have been restricted.

However, of course, the Atlantic Slave Trade did happen, many years later. Many people used passages (possible such as this one) from the Bible to condone it. However, the legacy of the likes William Wilberforce, whose religious convictions led him to fight for the slave trade to be abolished, is still important to remember. Wilberforce’s actions were very much led by his religious convictions. Interestingly, Wilberforce was also one of the founding members of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Church Mission Society. (I’m currently reading one biography of C.T. Studd and one of William Gladstone, but Wilberforce might be the next on my list.)

Next, this book discusses false teaching and the love of money. It talks about how false teachers cause discord and think godliness and serving the Lord is a means to financial gain. However, godliness should come with contentment, and we should be pleased if “we have food and clothing”. It does remind me of C. T. Studd, who gave away his entire inheritance whilst serving in China and seemed very content with his life because he had clothes and food. In fact, his letters home seemed to extol the virtues of the local Chinese food and how suitable the clothes were for the Chinese climate. Later in the chapter, it tells the rich not to put their hope in money. I know I’m often guilty of that. I think I need to do yet further reading on a Godly attitude towards money. (I need to start writing this list down somewhere!)

Lastly, Timothy is charged to fight the good fight and take care of what has been given to him.

1 Timothy 5

This chapter looks at how to look after others within the church. First, it tells us to be gentle when dealing with older men within the church – treating them with the same respect as we are to treat our fathers. Then older women are to be treated as mothers, and younger men and women as brother and sisters. Of course, the church is to be a family of Christ, so we need to actually act that way.

While the majority of the section is focused on the treatment of widows, and how they should behave, there are wider applications from it. First, that the serving of the Lord and doing good deeds is important; these good deeds include the raising of a family. Also, you need to look after your households, or those that have been put in your care by the Lord. This, of course, includes family members (parents, grandparents, etc.), but can also, I think, be extended to other people you share your lives with. In verse 16, it talks about when women have widows in their care. This could be widowed relatives (mother-in-law, etc.) but it sounds like something distinct from verse 8, as this type of relationship has already been mentioned.

We are also to treat church elders with a double honour, because of the work that they do. If they do something wrong, we are to rebuke them, but there is also a public element to this. I think this is to be done in the context of the church family you are in, rather than publicly. We need to take rebuking people serious, but also thoughtfully. I think twitter has led us to be quick to anger and slow to praise, which is the opposite of God’s character.

Verse 22 is somewhat confusing: “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.” This is probably one for further study. (Another one on my list of “Biblical things I don’t understand.”)

Verse 23 seems exciting, and seems to tell us to drink wine. Of course, that’s because wine was more sterile than water in those days, and was also often weaker.

The final two verses are a warning and an encouragement: your deeds will be noticed – good and bad; so you need to choose which type of deed you want to be seen for!

1 Timothy 4

This chapter of 1 Timothy starts with the warning about false teachers and liars, those that give meaningless advice and myths. Then it talks about training yourself to be Godly. This is quite an interesting concept. I’m currently reading Your Future Self Will Thank You, which is about self-control and discipline. Dyck writes that the modern church is often resistant to the idea of exerting effort to obtain Godliness and “there have been whole movements in church history defined by their belief that we progress in the Christian life only as passive recipients.” (pp. 141-142) But this verse, with the use of the word “train” definitely makes it sound something more intentional and strenuous.

1 Timothy is also helpful in reminding us the why of the training. It’s very clear about the reason for our efforts:

That is why we labour and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe.

(Verse 10)

Paul compares it to physical training, which is helpful. In order to become physically fit, it takes effort over a period of time, which is focused on the type and area of fitness or ability you wish to obtain. These are things I’m not very good at, it seems, so I have to be better at

  • focus,
  • prolonged perseverance,
  • effort.

(If you’ve surmised I’m unfocused, easily waylaid and lazy, you might not be too wrong.) Paul doesn’t stop there either, and encourages Timothy to set an example in speech, love, faith, purity, to devote himself to Scripture, teaching and preaching, to be diligent and to watch his life carefully. It’s quite a task, it seems. I could easily dismiss it as instructions for Timothy, but it would be lazy and silly. God wants us to devote ourselves to the gifts he’s given us and to consider our lives carefully.

There is also a lot riding on this: the final statement extolls Timothy to persevere so that he will save both himself and his hearers. I think I too often forget the task that I’ve been given and the significance of this. Often, you think, “Oh, it’s not a case of life and death” when deciding on whether to follow through with the task or not. Which is sort of right. It’s a case of eternal life and death, for both yourself and for those you are called to serve. That’s very sobering.

Dyck, Drew. Your Future Self Will Thank You. Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

1 Timothy 3

This chapter is quite daunting. It goes through the qualifications for serving in the church. It probably doesn’t look like the job advert you’d see in any newspapers or any employment website. This is about character, not achievements or success. So, no degree needed here, no flashy statistics about church growth, no dazzling 10-year plan.

Instead you need to be

  • well-thought-of
  • committed spouse
  • calm
  • patient
  • hospitable
  • sober
  • gentle
  • good parent with obedient children
  • not materialistic
  • long-time believer
  • sincere
  • honest

It’s quite a list! I wonder how many of those I’d feel comfortable saying I embodied.

This chapter also tells us that the Christian faith is mysterious (I’m starting to believe this) but these things are true:

He appeared in the flesh,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.

(verse 16)

This is what we believe about Jesus and continue to proclaim and live out.

1 Timothy 2

Well, it was bound to happen at some point. I’ve reached a controversial part of the Bible. This is probably a good time to address some things. First, I’d like to point out that this blog is really just for myself. I enjoy blogging and if you stumble across this blog then great. If you stumble across this blog, disagree, then you can walk away quietly. It wasn’t meant for you anyway. Why blog, then? I think I need a sense that there is an audience, whether fictive or not, to help me articulate my thoughts.

However, in this post, there’s not going to be much to disagree with, bringing me to my second point. I’m not going to engage too much with these sections, mainly because I don’t think I have the authority or the knowledge to do so. You could argue that it’s typical white male privilege or intellectual sloppiness, but it is one of the issues (one of the many topics of the Bible) that I’d like to research a bit more before giving my two cents on. What I have to say isn’t really worth much and it’s probably better to read and listen first.

So, this might be a bit of a post that talks more about how to address these types of issues rather than addressing the issues.

So, this chapter starts with encouraging prayers and petitions – for all people, which is interesting. Then it narrows its focus to those in authority. Luckily, I’m a day ahead on this one. Just as I process the Bible by writing (on this here blog), and have a book where I write out my prayers. I did pray for Donald Trump and for Boris Johnson. Whether you agree with them or voted (or would have voted) for them or not, you should still pray for them. I’m not sure Paul was a fan of the Roman rules (especially as they imprisoned and killed him), but he still said we should pray.

We should especially be praying, in the light of verse 4, for their faith and salvation. Trump says he’s a believer, although others argue his read the wrong book, and I don’t know about Johnson. Hun Sen (the leader of my adopted home) is Buddhist. But I should be praying for them and their salvation. For God is a kind God “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” What a wonderful saviour we have! A lot of politicians wouldn’t be on my priority list, but God still wants them.

I think it’s easy for us to think of them as different and somehow lofty and unreal. But they are humans, and God still sees them as people made in his image that have been corrupted by sin. God still sent his son to die for them, from dictators to incompetent leaders and everyone in between. God humbles rulers and exalts servants, so to him, we are all one and the same. And we should try to see our leaders with the same compassion and love as he does. I know I fail and get angry. But, it’s also worth praying that God softens our hearts too. Verse 8 tells us to pray, with raised arms, without anger or disputing. It’s a somewhat strange and alien concept in the age of twitter witch hunts and petty politic-fuelled squabbles. So, I think I should try to be better at this. So, I shall try (and probably fail quite often) to respond in prayer at the next frustrating twitter or facebook post than ranting and arguing.