Friday, August 31, 2012

Philemon 17-20

Summary retelling of Philemon 17-20

Paul tells Philemon that if he considers Paul to be a partner in Christ, then he should receive Onesimus as Philemon would receive any brother in Christ.  If Onesimus has incurred a debt, Paul offers to pay the debt.  Paul reminds Philemon that since he learned about Jesus through a person who was a disciple of his, then technically Philemon is already in his debt.  Paul tells Philemon that he is expecting to have relief for Onesimus because he is anticipating Philemon’s response to Onesimus as an expression of forgiveness.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul is reasonably blunt as he gets ready to close out his letter.  Paul reminds Philemon that if he is genuinely in Christ and Onesimus is genuinely in Christ, then Philemon is expected to treat Onesimus as a Christian brother above all else.  There really isn’t any wiggle room for Philemon.  If Onesimus is repentant and comes to Philemon expressing genuine sorrow, Philemon must forgive and receive his runaway slave as he would receive any other Christian.

Why is it difficult to forgive, especially against sins that affect us personally?  Why do you think Paul needs to be a little forceful in his words to get this point across?

Second Thought:
Paul offers to pay Onesimus’ debt.  This is said for two reasons.  First, it is likely that Onesimus has incurred some debt – if nothing else he has lost time when he should have been working for Philemon but wasn’t there to do it.  Thus, it is likely that Onesimus has some sort of debt to Philemon and Paul doesn’t want materialism to get in the way of Christian brotherhood.  Paul is willing to give of himself to make sure that the things of this world do not interfere with people living spiritually.

Have you ever made a personal sacrifice to make sure that a stumbling block to spirituality was removed from the picture?  Why did you make the sacrifice?  How did it feel to give of yourself knowing that it would impact the spiritual lives of your brothers and sisters?

Third Thought:
Paul also talks about this issue of debt.  The greatest gift we can ever receive is salvation.  The greatest gift we can ever have is to be given the knowledge of God and to hear about His promises to forgive us and save us.  We are always in debt to God on account of the sacrifice of Christ.  We are also in debt to those people of faith who inspire us to live according to God’s ways.

How does the knowledge of your indebtedness to God make you feel?  In what way can it seem like a hopeless situation?  In what way does our indebtedness to God remind us of hope, grace, and mercy?

Passage for Tomorrow: Philemon 21-22

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Philemon 15-16

Summary retelling of Philemon 15-16

Paul tells Philemon that perhaps Onesimus ran away so that he could meet Paul, hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and then return to Philemon as a Christian brother rather than as a slave.  Paul’s hope is that Philemon will be able to show forgiveness to Onesimus and see him not as a slave who cannot be trusted but as a person who has repented of their sin and joined the ranks of the faithful.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
This idea that Onesimus ran away so that he could find Jesus through Paul is one to which we need to pay special attention.  We need to be clear that Paul is not saying that God called Onesimus to run away from Philemon and be disobedient.  God does not call us into disobedience – especially since the Greco-Roman concept of slavery was far different from the modern concept of slavery.  However, what Paul is really claiming is the God can redeem disobedience.  God may not have called Onesimus to be disobedient, but He certainly can work through the act to bring about reconciliation.  That’s what neat about God.  He can take a selfish act of disobedience and work it out for His glory.

Has God ever redeemed anything in your life that you did for all the wrong reasons?  How were you able to grow closer to God through such a time?

Second Thought:
Paul focuses Philemon’s attention to the reality that since Onesimus is a follower of Jesus Christ then Philemon and Onesimus will be Christian brothers forever.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that Onesimus will stop being a slave.  However, it does mean that Onesimus needs to respect and honor Philemon as his master and Philemon needs to remember to treat Onesimus as a brother, not as property.  Our faith may not change our station in life, but it certainly should change how we interact with the people around us and how they interact with us.

Does your faith change how you interact with the people around you?  Are there people in your life that you should interact with as a Christian brother or sister but you don’t?

Third Thought:
Paul sending Onesimus back to Philemon – and the fact that Onesimus actually did go back – is a huge sign of repentance.  Onesimus’ return is a huge time for Onesimus to confess his wrong to Philemon.  This is always the first step to restoring relationships.  We must acknowledge and confess our mistakes before we can ever hope to receive forgiveness and work on our life.

Is repentance easy?  Do you think it was easy for Onesimus to return to Philemon?  What do you think went through Onesimus’ head as he returned?

Passage for Tomorrow: Philemon 17-20

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Philemon 13-14

Summary retelling of Philemon 13-14

Paul tells Philemon that he considers Onesimus valuable enough that he would have liked to have kept him during his imprisonment.  However, Paul wanted to show respect and defer to Philemon’s judgment since Philemon is the master of Onesimus.  Paul wanted to give Philemon the opportunity to act out of Christian love rather than obligation. 

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul sees value in Onesimus, even though he is of the slave class.  Granted, we think rather lowly of the concept of slavery today, but in Paul’s day slavery was simply a way of life.  Paul could have easily looked past Onesimus as a slave.  He could have not even acknowledged his presence.  But to Paul, there is no class of people.  (Remember Galatians 3:28)  To Paul, there are simply people who humble themselves to God and people who rebel against God.  Anyone who humbles themselves to God has some value in God’s kingdom regardless of who they might be in this world.

What do you think this passage reveals about Paul as a person?  Was he the arrogant, chauvinistic, and elitist man that people like to claim him to be?  How does this passage inspire you to see people?

Second Thought:
Paul had plans for Onesimus.  Paul states quite clearly that he would have loved to keep him.  Paul could have certainly put him to work with respect to the spreading of the Gospel.  Again, this can speak to the way that Paul sees people.  Even though Onesimus was a slave, there were tasks that he could have accomplished for towards the proclamation of the Gospel.  Nobody is too small in stature or position within the kingdom of God.  We all have something we can accomplish.

Do you ever consider yourself too small to do anything meaningful for God?  Do you consider yourself too lowly in position, popularity, or influence to have any impact upon this world?  How do you think Paul would respond to such thoughts?

Third Thought:
Paul wants to give Philemon the opportunity to do what’s right by choice as opposed to obligation.  At first, it might seem like Paul is trying to manipulate Philemon into doing what he wants.  It might seem like Paul is saying, “We all know what you should do, but it’s really your choice.  But remember, we all know what you should do and we’ll be watching.”  However, I don’t think this is at all what Paul is attempting to accomplish.  What I believe Paul is attempting to do is to genuinely give Onesimus an opportunity to see Christianity at work in someone besides Paul.  He is trying to give Philemon the opportunity to work through love and let Onesimus’ former master show God’s love to Onesimus.  This isn’t really about Philemon’s choice as much as it is allowing Onesimus the opportunity to see how God’s people work together for the glory of God.

What is the value of having Philemon be the person who shows God’s love to Onesimus?  Why is it important for love, grace, and mercy to come down from the authority figures in our life?

Passage for Tomorrow: Philemon 15-16

Philemon 8-12

Summary retelling of Philemon 8-12

Paul tells Philemon that he is spiritual enough and well respected enough to order Philemon to do what he thinks is right.  However, for the sake of love Paul desires rather to ask Philemon to do what is right.  Paul again identifies himself as a prisoner for Christ.  In that light, Paul appeals to Philemon regarding Onesimus, whom Paul met during his imprisonment.  When Onesimus ran away he was useless to Philemon, but now that he has found Paul and found Christ, he is very useful to Philemon.  Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon, and Onesimus has become very dear to Paul.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul could have ordered Philemon to take Onesimus back and to forgive him for running away.  Remember, this letter is not just addressed to Philemon but also to Apphia and Archippus as well as to the whole congregation that meets in Philemon’s house.  Had Paul spiritually ordered it, there were witnesses who would have been able to enforce his will.  But that isn’t how spiritual people behave.  Spiritual people shouldn’t have to order someone into obedience to God.  We should receive correction and spiritual guidance with joy and we should desire to make the changes that are necessary.  This doesn’t mean those changes will be easy and it doesn’t mean they will be instantaneous.  But as spiritual people we should spiritually desire to make the changes that are necessary to transmit God’s love for us to the world.

Why do you think it is better to not order people around in faith?  How do you react when you are ordered around?  What is the benefit of having people who are capable of choosing to act spiritually rather than people who are simple forced into obedience?

Second Thought:
Paul has now twice spoken of himself as a prisoner of Christ.  Normally he calls himself an apostle, but here he has twice changed his title from apostle to prisoner.  Paul wants Philemon – a well respected member of the Christian community in Colossae – to see something.  Paul is a well respected Christian who is willing to give up his freedoms so that other people can experience God’s love and hear about him.  The mark of a Christian is not power or control – but humbleness in service to God.

Why do you think Paul would want Philemon to hear Paul’s referral to humbleness and servitude in his self-identity?  What is the benefit Paul can gain by modeling a servant nature?

Third Thought:
Paul speaks of Onesimus almost as a child.  Certainly, Onesimus is old enough to run away from slavery and make it to wherever Paul was being imprisoned.  It is likely that Paul is speaking of Onesimus here as a spiritual child.  Paul has done some discipleship training with Onesimus.  Paul has been able to talk with Onesimus and alter his thinking.  He’s been able to help God alter Onesimus’ life priorities.  When we make disciples, those who are disciples are like spiritual children – especially when their discipleship is new and fresh.  Yes, we hope that they grow and become mature spiritual beings who can then go and make more disciples.  But they will always be our spiritual children.

Have you ever had a spiritual bond with someone that in some ways feels close enough to be like family?  How do you feel about being that person who takes other people and teaches them about the faith and having people under you that look to you as a discipleship mentor?

One a side note, this is actually how the term “father” became used in some Christian faiths.  The person whom God used to help you become a disciple of Jesus was known as your father in faith.  Of course, this is not meant to conflict with Jesus’ teaching that we have but one spiritual father: God.  This is simply meant to show how when discipleship is done right a deep spiritual bond is formed – and at times that bond feels like the bond we have with biological family.  At times, that bond is stronger than the one we have with our biological family because it is a bond of choosing, not a bond of birth.  In some circles, the word “pater” is used instead of the word “father” when describing the one(s) who really helped to make a person a disciple of Jesus.  The word “pater” means father in the original Greek.  This helps to avoid confusion between our Spiritual Father (God) and our discipleship mentor.

Passage for Tomorrow: Philemon 13-14

Monday, August 27, 2012

Philemon 4-7

Summary retelling of Philemon 4-7

Paul begins his letter to Philemon with a note of prayer and thankfulness.  Paul includes Philemon in his prayers because he has heard about the love that he has for God and for Jesus Christ as well as all those who follow Jesus Christ.  Paul reminds Philemon that the sharing of his faith works in the people around him for the sake of Christ.  Paul tells Philemon that the report of his love has brought a great deal of joy to Paul because it is clear from what he hears about Philemon that Philemon’s presence among the faithful is a blessing to them.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul finds it easy to pray for Philemon because his love is so evident.  Paul isn’t saying that we should only pray for those in the world who love God.  But he is saying that it should be easy to pray for those who display God’s love so obviously.  We can pray for them easily because God is so clearly a part of their life.  We can pray for them because it is easy to rejoice in what God is doing through them.

For whom do you pray?  Do you pray for the people for whom it is easy to pray?  Do you only pray for these people?

Second Thought:
Paul is also quick to set up Philemon to remember that everything that a Christian does is for the sake of Christ.  Our faith, our journey, our witness, our testimony, our life – these are all focused on Christ and done for His sake.  Paul is remarkably singularly focused.

What parts of your life are done for the sake of Christ?  What parts of your life have little if anything to do with Christ?  Why do you think Paul spends so much time telling others how they need to be focused on Christ?

Third Thought:
Paul tells Philemon that people are saying that he is a blessing in their life.  Paul wants Philemon to realize that his presence is valued.  Paul also wants to establish the reputation within Philemon that will help him speak to the issue of Onesimus.  But in all of this, Paul is giving us a clear theological teaching.  Our presence should be a blessing into the lives of others.  It’s plain and simple.  We shouldn’t be living in such a way so that people regret that we are a part of their life.  We should be living so that people are glad to have our influence in their life.

Who do you think is genuinely glad to know you and have you as a part of their life?  Who are you genuinely glad to have in your life?  Why is it useful to us to think about the people in our lives that we consider a blessing?

Passage for Tomorrow: Philemon 8-12

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Philemon 1-3

Background on Philemon (Technically pronounced FILL – eh – mahn):

Philemon was a slave owner in the town of Colossae and he was also a Christian (In those days, slavery was a bit different and it was not uncommon for Christians to have slaves).  Onesimus was a slave that had run away from Philemon.  Paul came across Philemon and began to disciple him in the faith.  Paul encouraged Onesimus to return to Philemon and repay any debt that his absence incurred to him.  Paul wrote this letter to Philemon as a testimony to the faith of Onesimus so that Philemon would accept and be able to forgive his slave for running away.

Furthermore, since Philemon only has one chapter, the chapter number is omitted with respect to referencing it.  Thus, Philemon 1-3 means the first 3 verses of Philemon rather that the first three chapters.

Summary retelling of Philemon 1-3

Paul begins this letter by calling himself a prisoner as well as reminding Philemon that Timothy is with him.  Paul addresses Philemon as the recipient of the letter in addition to Apphia and Archippus – who were likely members of the church in Colossae.  He also addresses the whole church, which appears to be meeting in the house of Philemon.  Paul includes his traditional greeting of grace and peace from the Father as well as from Jesus Christ.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
We don’t know who Apphia and Archipus are.  There are some who suspect that Apphia is Philemon’s wife, and that could be likely.  If that is the case, then Archippus could well be the son of Philemon and Apphia.  However, they could equally as likely be leading members of the church that is meeting in Philemon’s house.  We don’t know.  What is important to realize is the inclusion of a woman in the greeting of this letter.  Remember that this letter is a letter to Philemon to help restore Onesimus.  Apphia and Archippus are likely being called out as witnesses to the letter in order to help Philemon “do the right thing” and respond to Onesimus in forgiveness.  So often Paul is painted as a male chauvinist, but clearly here in the greeting of the letter we see a place where the inclusion of a woman in the “power structure” of this process is desired.

What might be the point of Paul’s inclusion of Apphia?  Is he simply making a point that women can be a part of the leadership in the church?  What might a woman’s perspective bring to the case that Paul is hoping to bring before Philemon?

Second Thought:
Paul did not plant the church in Colossae, and he may have never visited there.  However, it is likely that this church was started by Epaphras, who was a part of the church that Paul founding in nearby Ephesus.  Thus, the people in Colossae would likely have a high opinion of Paul and his ministry.  This church in Colossae is evidence of the discipleship process.  When we make disciples, those disciples make other disciples.  Churches get planted and people start being obedient to God in places that we originally never went.  Following God and making disciples is all about empowering others to do the work of God.

Why is it important for spiritual leaders to empower others rather than to seek all of the control for themselves?  What happens when spiritual leaders try to possess power rather than distribute it to the whole people of God?

Third Thought:
The church in Colossae met in Philemon’s house.  They didn’t have a fancy building or particular synagogue to go to.  Philemon opened up his house so that people could hear about God.  It should not be our programs or our physical presence that brings people into relationship with Christ.  What brings people into a relationship with Christ is their ability to experience God through us.  It is the relationships and the fellowship among us that God will use to draw people to Him.

Is our culture a culture where relationships are stressed as important?  How many good, healthy, spiritual relationships do you have?

Passage for Tomorrow: Philemon 4-7

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Galatians 6:17-18

Summary retelling of Galatians 6:17-18

Paul calls for the arguments to cease.  He claims to “bear the marks of Christ.”  Then Paul wishes grace and peace of Christ to the Galatians and their spirit. 

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul genuine calls for a cessation of trouble.  The turmoil of the Galatian church has absolutely torn it apart.  It has resulted in confusion.  The work of God isn’t getting done because people are too busy arguing.  In the end, the Galatians are missing the point.  Yes, we need to understand God as well as we can.  But we cannot ever let our theological differences compromise our mission.  Those differences might determine how we do mission and with whom we do it.  But they should not ever get us to the point where we stop doing mission because we spend so much time arguing about our differences.

Do you think human beings tend to be argumentative or do we tend to be followers?  What conditions make us more likely to be argumentative?  What conditions make us more willing to follow?

Second Thought:
Paul claims to bear the marks of Christ.  Some people claim that this means Paul had stigmata.  This is a belief to which I do not attest.  The Greek word for “bear” in this sentence is a word that comes out of slavery.  It literally refers to the process that slave owners would use to brand their slaves – much like we brand horses and cattle today.  Paul isn’t claiming a physical brand, but rather a spiritual brand.  In other words, Paul is making the following claim.  “Anyone can see that disciples are being made and people are drawing closer to God through Jesus Christ.  Therefore, I am the slave of God.”  In a way, it is Paul telling the Galatians that they can argue over theology and legalism all they want, but the true disciple of Jesus Christ is branded by His call.  That call is to actually get out and make disciples.

Are you ready to make disciples?  If so, are you doing it?  If not, what can you do to make yourself ready to make disciples?

Third Thought:
Paul wishes the Galatian church grace and peace.  But notice that he wishes them race and peace to their spirit.  Paul knows that life will not be easy.  We will be in conflict with this world and the people who desire to live in it and who desire to live according to the ways of the world.  The goal of the Christian is not to live an easy life.  The goal is to live a life that is at peace with God, regardless of how easy or difficult that life happens to be on any given day.  When our spirit is at peace with the Lord, the rest doesn’t really matter.

What are the ways that you use to find peace with God?

Passage for Tomorrow: TBD

Friday, August 24, 2012

Galatians 6:14-16

Summary retelling of Galatians 6:14-16

Paul is clear that he has one thing in which he can boast: the death of Christ upon the cross.  He then says that because of Jesus the world has been crucified to Him.  In fact, because of the death of Christ Paul confesses that the things that he used to consider important – such as circumcision – are irrelevant.  The only thing that matters is being a new creation.  Then Paul gives a great conclusion: those who strive to be the new creation in Christ will know the peace and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul only boasts in the death of Jesus.  This comment – and comments like this one – is why I love Paul.  How many times do we hear people raving about their own success?  How often do we hear people talking about how great they are?  What does Paul say here?  He boasts about how great Jesus happens to be.  Life isn’t about Paul and Paul’s success story.  Life is about God and the redemption we have through Jesus Christ.

Is Jesus Christ the primary focus of your life?  If not, what are the things that distract you from focusing on Jesus?

Second Thought:
Paul speaks about being a new creation.  He doesn’t want to be the “old Paul” – the Paul who worried about the actions of other people.  Rather, Paul wants to be the “new Paul” – the one who is worried about following Jesus Christ and His leading.  Paul has genuinely been crucified to the world.  All that matters any more is that Jesus Christ’s agenda be followed.  Human traditions are nowhere near as significant as the ways of God.

What do you think it means to be a new creation?  What benefits are there to striving to be a new creation?

Third Thought:
Paul’s word of peace in this verse is great.  Those who strive after God’s ways – those that want to be a new creation – they will know God’s peace and mercy.  Those who strive after the ways of the world may not know.  Those who strive after human tradition may not know.  Those who only seek the understanding of the world may not know.  But those who genuinely seek to be crucified to this world will know God’s peace and mercy.  The promise is simple, but significant.

Do you know God’s peace and mercy?  What may occasionally keep you from feeling God’s peace and mercy?

Passage for Tomorrow: Galatians 6:17-18

Galatians 6:11-13

Summary retelling of Galatians 6:11-13

Paul throws in an editorial comment about the largeness of His handwriting.  He then begins to close his letter.  He reminds them that no regulations of the Law have been imposed upon the Galatians except by those who believe that the Law is a necessary part of salvation.  Paul adds that the people who believe the Law is a necessary part of salvation cannot even keep the Law if they wanted to do so.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul makes an editorial comment about the size of the letters of his printing.  There is something really neat about this statement – even if it isn’t the world’s deepest theological claim.  Paul wrote this letter himself.  He didn’t have someone write it for him.  He didn’t merely put His signature at the bottom of someone else’s letter.  This letter is touched by Paul – and the Spirit working through Paul.  This goes to show the personal relationship that Paul has with his disciples.

Do you think personal relationships with spiritual mentors are all that important?

Second Thought:
Nobody can keep the Law.  Period.  It doesn’t matter how good we are or how good we want to be.  Nobody can keep the Law.  Therefore, the people who seek to mandate obedience to the Law in order to be saved are merely trying to alleviate their own guilty conscience.  They believe that by pointing out how everyone else cannot follow the Law then they are demonstrating that they aren’t so bad.  It’s the age-old tactic of “elevating oneself” but putting down the people around you.

Have you ever felt someone trying to make themselves look good by putting down other people?  Why do you think this tactic is so common among human beings?

Third Thought:
As we come to a close on Galatians, I want to step outside the scope of the text for a moment.  I’ve spent a fair amount of time talking with words that may seem against the Law.  In truth, I am not against the Law at all.  I actually believe that we should strive to keep the Law as much as possible.  God’s ways are always better than our ways! Thus, what I am actually against is the belief that we must keep the Law in order to be saved.  In truth, we should want to be obedient to the Law as a response to God’s gift of salvation.  Our relationship with the Law is born out of grace and gratitude.

Do you think most people see the Law as something for which they should be grateful?  Why or why not?

Passage for Tomorrow: Galatians 6:14-16

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Galatians 6:6-10

Summary retelling of Galatians 6:6-10

As Paul concludes this letter, he adds that the one who is taught should share with the one who teaches.  Then Paul reminds the Galatians that we cannot make a mockery out of God.  We will reap the benefits out of whatever we sow – whether for the good or for the bad.  If we sow into what the flesh thinks is important, we will end up living for the flesh.  If we sow into what the Holy Spirit thinks is important, we will end up living for God.  Paul tells the Galatians to not grow weary in doing God’s work.  We should strive to do good to others, especially those who are in Christ.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul talks about how the people who are being spiritually blessed by another person should share with them.  We don’t exactly know what Paul imagines they should share. Perhaps Paul means daily upkeep items like food, water, and the ability to be clean.  Perhaps Paul means monetary support.  But one of my favorite avenues of thought is that Paul means that the person who is learning should share stories of the growth of their faith.  Nothing empowers a teacher in the faith like hearing stories about how God is working in the lives of others through their work in the Lord.

What stories do you have to share with others?  How can you share them?  With whom can you share them?  How does it feel to talk to other people about what God is doing in your life?

Second Thought:
Paul tells us that we cannot make a mockery of God.  In essence, Paul is telling us that we can’t get anything by God.  He knows what we are doing in life.  He knows what we think.  He knows the desires of our heart.  We can’t fool Him; He has a way of allowing us to “get what we ask for.”

Do you think about how God cannot be mocked?  Do you ever live as though you are “pulling something over” on God?  Do you ever do something thinking that you are going to get away with it?

Third Thought:
Paul has much to say about not growing weary in doing the right thing.  It is easy to compromise our faith and do whatever the world says is acceptable.  It is easy to do things according to the wisdom of the world.  Paul says we should not grow weary in good things.  This is pretty much the same thing that Jesus is teaching when He says that the path that leads to destruction is wide while the path that leads to life is narrow.  Far too many people give up on following God and abiding in His ways.

What are the places where you compromise often?  What are the places where you often succeed in refraining from compromising?

Passage for Tomorrow: Galatians 6:11-13

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Galatians 6:1-5

Summary retelling of Galatians 6:1-5

Paul admonishes the leaders in the Galatian church.  People who are found in spiritual negligence need to be restored to spiritual health.  Paul also warns the spiritual to keep watch, because as we restore spirituality it is far easier for us to fall into temptation!  Spiritual leaders should not think higher of themselves than they deserve.  Instead, we should test our own work and see what really stands the test of spirituality.  We all must bear the cross that God has asked us to bear.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
As I say in my summary, Paul admonishes the leaders.  But by leaders, Paul isn’t talking about the people with the “power” or the people who are “elected.”  Paul is talking about the spiritual.  The spiritual are the leaders of any congregation!  Think about it.  It must be this way.  If an elected person or a person with power is not spiritual, how can they ever hope to restore spirituality?  No, it is the spiritual people who are the true leaders, because only the spiritual can help to restore spirituality.  This is why it is so important to emphasize spirituality and living out one’s faith within our congregations.

Who are the people that look up to you as a spiritual leader in their life?  How can you continue to interact with them in a way to encourage them in their faith?

Second Thought:
Paul warns the spiritual leaders to be careful.  It is far easier to backslide than it is to grow in the faith.  Humanity has a tendency to seek the lowest expectations, not the highest.  So we must always be careful!  We should go out and help people, but we cannot compromise ourselves in the process.

In what areas are you likely to be tempted?  How can you set up your life so as to not be tempted as easily?

Third Thought:
We must test our own work.  We must carry our own cross.  In many respects, part of what Paul is saying coincides with Jesus’ admonition to “examine the log in our own eye rather than worry about the speck in our brother’s or sister’s eye.”  We need to worry about ourselves and our own pursuit of God’s ways before criticizing someone else’s potential failure.

Why is this piece of advice important?  What happens when we spend more time focusing on evaluating ourselves than evaluating one another?

Passage for Tomorrow: Galatians 6:6-10

Monday, August 20, 2012

Galatians 5:19-26

Summary retelling of Galatians 5:19-26

NOTE: In the following summary there are two lists.  Words in parenthesis are given to explain specifically what the Greek word used in Paul’s letter means because sometimes these words are hard to understand exactly in English.

Paul gives us a list of things that are “of the flesh:” sexual immorality (any and all sex outside of marriage), impurity (spiritual/ritual uncleanliness), sensuality (behavior lacking moral restraint), idolatry (worshipping anything besides God), sorcery (use of and enjoyment of magic and/or spells), enmity, strife (conflict), jealousy, fits of anger (passionate uncontrolled outbursts), rivalries (selfish ambition), dissentions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, and orgies (parties where drunkenness is encouraged, often resulting in sexual sin).  Paul warns people that those who participate in such activities will not inherit the Kingdom of God.  On the other hand, the fruit of the Holy Spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, joy, goodness (spiritual relationships with one another), faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh and its desires.  Those who are spiritual will live spiritually.  We should be able to live together in community, not provoking one another.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul gives a pretty good list of bad behavior.  What is scary is just how much of our culture falls onto that list.  How much of our culture (TV, music, advertisements, clothing, time spent together) is all about sexuality?  How much emphasis is put on behavior that is lacking moral restraint?  How much does this life focus on conflict and selfish ambition?  How often do we speak about dissentions and divisions?  How much emphasis do we put on alcohol?  Is there any doubt that with a world that enjoys so much that is on this list of bad behavior that we also have a world that is growing to more and more reject God?

How much are you pulled into desiring to do things on this list?  How hard is that struggle?  What can you do in this life to make sure that you have support in this struggle so that you can be successful?

Second Thought:
Paul also gives a great list of behavior.  We should love one another.  Each other’s company should bring us joy.  We should be able to live in peace with one another.  We should be able to be spiritual with each other.  We should be able to live lives that demonstrate self-control.  We should be able to be faithful to God and one another.

How easy are these things?  What can we do in life to make them easier and help us be more successful in the pursuit of these things?

Third Thought:
Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh and its desires (See Galatians2:19-20 for a review).  Paul really wants the Galatians to focus on how they live and making sure that they are willing to give up the ways of this world.  It is not a case of making easy sacrifices.  God calls us to give up the ways of the world entirely.  Following God requires a no-compromises kind of sacrifice.  It is difficult, because so few people want to do it.

Do you think it is intentional that Paul talks about following God in terms of “crucifying ourselves?”  Why do you think Paul would use a hard and difficult word like “crucify.”  Who might Paul be getting us to follow?

Fourth Thought:
Paul really slams those who provoke one another in the conclusion of this chapter.  Christians should not enjoy provoking one another into anger.  We should not relish the times when our words reduce one another to tears.  That is not a sign of spiritual behavior at all.  Rather, we should love and find people who can help us live in love.

Why do you think human beings have a tendency to speak malicious words?

Passage for Tomorrow: Galatians 6:1-5

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Galatians 5:16-18

Summary retelling of Galatians 5:16-18

Paul now begins the final conclusion of his overarching point to the Galatians: if you walk according to the Spirit, you will not be gratifying the desires of the flesh.  The desires of the flesh are against the Holy Spirit.  By definition, then, the desires of the Holy Spirit are also against the flesh.  Paul concludes this section by saying then that if we are following the Holy Spirit then we don’t have any need for the Law.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul’s first point is really simple.  It is blessedly simple!  If you are living by the Spirit you are not living to gratify the desires of the flesh.  The opposite is also true.  If you find yourself caught up in the desires of the flesh … odds are pretty good that you aren’t following the leading of the Holy Spirit.  It doesn’t get much simpler than this at all.  This is blunt, cut-and-dry, and black-and-white.

Are you willing to be honest about yourself and ask whether you are following the Spirit or your flesh?  Why is being honest with ourselves in this matter hard to accomplish?

Second Thought:
Paul’s second point is equally blunt.  That’s great for those of us who like bluntness!  The things of the flesh are against – in opposition to! – the desires of the Holy Spirit.  It isn’t like when we satisfy our flesh that we are simply putting God on hold.  When we pursue our flesh we are actually working in opposition to God.  That’s pretty serious if you think about it.

Why do you think that Paul makes such a serious point?  Do you agree with him?  Do you think everything done to satisfy the flesh works against God?  What happens to you if you believe that?  What happens to you if you don’t believe that?

Third Thought:
Paul then brings the Law back into the argument.  If we are under the Spirit, we are not under the Law.  Again, this makes a ton of sense.  One of the main uses of the Law is to curb bad behavior.  Another use of the Law is to expose what bad behavior we’ve done.  But, if we’re living according to the Spirit, then there is no bad behavior!  If there is no bad behavior, then we have no need to be under the Law!  Thus, we need the Law when we are sinful and do not follow the Holy Spirit.  But when we are genuinely following in God’s ways, the Law is not necessary.

Does it make sense that we only need the Law when we are bad and sinful?

Passage for Tomorrow: Galatians 5:19-26

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Galatians 5:13-15

Summary retelling of Galatians 5:13-15

Paul reaffirms the Galatians that God’s desire is for them to be in freedom.  However, he warns them to not use the freedom for the flesh.  Rather, we should focus on serving one another.  After all, when we love one another we are putting the Law into practice.  However, if we attack and bite at one another, we consume ourselves.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
God desires us to be in freedom, but He does not want us to use our freedom to accomplish what we want.  Essentially, we shouldn’t justify intentional sin by saying that we know that God will forgive us anyway.  However, we shouldn’t be afraid of trying new things and following God as He “does a new thing” among us.  We are free to follow God and follow Christ.  But we are not free to do as we please.

Do you see yourself as being “free?”  Do you think the typical American congregation emphasizes our freedom more or do they emphasize a bondage to “man’s priorities” more?  How can you practice being “free to follow God” without taking it too far so that you fell “free to sin?”

Second Thought:
Paul also spends a pretty good deal of time focusing on serving one another.  Paul says that when we serve one another we fulfill the Law.  The easiest way of thinking about this is through the concept of the self-monger.  The Law was given to us to help us stop being the self-monger.  The Law was given to us to help us realize just how sinful we are and how much we need to rely on God and not ourselves.  When we serve one another, we are putting the needs and priorities of other people ahead of ourselves.  In other words, when we serve one another we are practicing the opposite of being the self-monger.  Thus, when we serve one another we fulfill the Law because our service to another demonstrates our need to put the self-monger behind and lift up the agenda of God instead.

How neat is it to think of service as the fulfillment of the Law?  How neat is it to think of our service as actually fulfilling the Law?

Third Thought:
Paul then talks about the opposite of serving one another: attacking one another.  He says that when we attack each other we bite each other.  If we bite each other, we end up devouring one another.  We are consumed in the constant barrage of attacks.  Our spirituality is lost amidst the assaults we launch upon one another.

Have you ever been a part of a group that refused to do anything except fight amongst themselves?  How did that experience feel like you were being devoured?  How difficult was it to maintain your spiritual perspective in the midst of that experience?

Passage for Tomorrow: Galatians 5:16-18

Friday, August 17, 2012

Galatians 5:7-12

Summary retelling of Galatians 5:7-12

Paul reminds the Galatians that they were doing really well spiritually.  Then he asks them what happened.  Paul tells them that since Jesus Christ called them into grace, anything that is calling them out of grace and into the Law must not be from Him.  He warns the Galatians that it only takes a little bad thinking before too long you find yourself off track.  Paul then reassures them that he believes they will remember the truth and the one(s) who are leading the Galatians astray will be found out and punished.  Paul then reminds the Galatians that if we depend on anything but Christ for our salvation then the cross is pointless.  Finally, Paul uses a bit of word play to talk about the people in their midst who are asserting the need to be circumcised and he says that he wishes they would just go out and emasculate themselves and leave the Galatians alone.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul is blunt in reminding the Galatians that they were once spiritual.  He doesn’t let them off of the hook.  He doesn’t allow them to forget where they had once been.  The thing about being spiritual is that all backsliding is a bad thing and we should be held accountable for it.  Accountability is important, because all of us will backslide from time to time and we need relationships in our life to help us see when we are backsliding.

Who are the people in your life that hold you accountable?  Are there any areas in your life that you need someone to hold you accountable?

Second Thought:
Paul’s warning to the Galatians that a “little leaven leavens the whole dough” is significant.  His warning should be heeded.  The small changes we make in life begin to add up and soon we find ourselves compromising who we are and what we believe.  It is very seldom that we make a big drastic change for the worse unless we have some serious extenuating circumstance.  Usually what we end up doing is making many small unnoticeable changes and they cumulatively add up to a big change.  We need to be careful of such things.

Why is it so easy to lose sight of the little changes that make us worse?  What can we do to help prevent the little changes from accumulating?

Third Thought:
Again we hear Paul make a point on how important Christ is and how if we believe that salvation comes from anywhere else that we make the cross pointless.  Paul wants to adamantly drive home the point that the cross of Christ is the place from which our salvation comes.  Other things might be good (if done for the right reasons), but they are not the basis of our salvation. 

Why do you think Paul keeps coming back to this point again and again?

Passage for Tomorrow: Galatians 5:13-15

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Galatians 5:1-6

Summary retelling of Galatians 5:1-6

Paul next tells the Galatians that Christ came to set us free into freedom.  We should not look to embrace things that will enslave us spiritually anymore.  Paul says that if we believe that there are requirements to salvation like circumcision, then Christ is absolutely no use.  If we believe that salvation comes from keeping even one part of the Law, then we have to believe that salvation comes from keeping the whole Law.  That means that we are severed from Christ, because Jesus died under the assumption that nobody can keep the whole Law.  However, to those who can accept that no salvation comes from keeping the Law then we can anticipate salvation coming to us by faith.  In Christ our works do not count for salvation; our works demonstrate our response to our salvation that comes through Him.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
The focus of this chapter of the book of Galatians is freedom.  Christ came to set us free.  This doesn’t mean that He came to prevent us from having meaningful traditions.  Certainly God wants us to go about our faith in meaningful ways.  But it does mean that we need to understand that our ability to keep those traditions does not save us.  We should not let our traditions enslave us, we should let our faith and our spirituality inform and shape the things we do.  We should be free to follow the Holy Spirit and His leading.

Have you ever felt like there was no freedom in the church?  Why do you think we allow ourselves to forget about freedom and become enslaved to the things we do?

Second Thought:
Paul makes the point that if we believe anything saves us except Christ then Christ is of no use to us.  Fundamentally, this is a very significant point.  Jesus came to die for our sake because we cannot save ourselves in any way.  In order to benefit from grace, we must need it completely.  If we teach that anything that we do helps to save us, then we aren’t saved completely by Christ and we make a mockery out of why Christ came to die.  If we believe that anything that we do helps save us, then we are not saved solely by Christ’s work.

Why is it hard to teach that nothing we do can save us?  Why do we as human beings always want to put some kind of extra “thing” we must do in order to be saved?  If we cannot do anything to be saved, what then is the purpose for changing our life, doing good works, and living out our faith?

Third Thought:
Christ inherently brings hope.  When we teach and preach that it is only through Christ’s death that we can be freed from sin, then we inherently must hope that God will indeed free us from sin.  We must trust that God keeps His promises.  We must have faith in God’s love.  Thus, we see that we really only understand grace, hope, and trust when we put our trust in God.

What do you think about this idea of dependence of God bringing alive the concepts of faith, hope, and trust?  Does this make you want to rely even more on the fact that salvation comes only from God?

Passage for Tomorrow: Galatians 5:7-12