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Theological Essays

The Gospel Coalition has put out a great list of essays on a wide variety of Christian topics. Click on the link to open up a whole theological library of excellent resources!

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Cultivating Christian Fellowship

Greetings church family,

Considering our present national turmoil, it is strikingly clear that the Word of God has a very different plan for reconciling differences than do many of the citizens in our country today.  What has dominated the news for several weeks, even over the COVID-19 pandemic, is the recent explosion of racial tension and hostility over the death of a suspect being arrested by a police officer in Minneapolis.  The very troubling actions of that police officer will be examined and tried by the courts, as they should be.  But many in our culture have a drastically different view on how to reconcile an injustice and an offense against humanity.  Much of what we see on the news seems to suggest that injustice must be addressed with more injustices, that hatred must be answered with more hatred or that the only way to get one's point across is to cause violence, hostility and disruption upon the innocent.


The greater problem in all of this, that our secular culture cannot fully appreciate, is that man has an all-consuming problem with sin.  It is only in Christ that we can find forgiveness; and it is only in Christ that we can truly reconcile with the sinfulness of others.  The Apostle Paul, in writing to his beloved friend and brother in Christ, Philemon, teaches the church a more righteous way to reconcile differences.  In our last devotional look at Philemon, we gave some thought to the love of Christ actively applied to our relationships as believers.  We considered the gentle approach of a love that brings comfort; we discussed how Christian love will intervene in a dispute between two parties; and we learned how genuine love will encourage holiness and goodness in others.


Today, I would like to focus on two prominent themes as we give one final look at Philemon - Forgiveness and Fellowship.  The principle purpose of Paul in writing this letter to Philemon and the church that was meeting in his home, was to bring about reconciliation where offenses had occurred.  Forgiveness and restoration are critical to the fellowship of the church of Jesus Christ.  I encourage you to re-read the whole Epistle, with special consideration being given to vv. 17-21.


1. Equality of value:  In vs. 17, Paul exhorts Philemon to regard Onesimus as he would value Paul himself.  Paul uses the word 'partner' to describe his relationship with Philemon.  At the root of this word, is the word fellowship.  It is used here to mean 'one who fellowships and shares something in common with another.  One scholar puts the word 'partner' into this context: those "who have common interests, common feelings, common work."  What Paul and Philemon shared in this way, he wanted Philemon and Onesimus to enjoy as well.


If we stop for a moment and consider what Paul is asking of his friend in this, it should be very convicting to every one of us.  We all have our "close friends" within the church community; even at SPBC!  And these close friendships should be considered a blessing and a gift from the Lord.  As the Scripture says, "There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother," [Pr. 18:24].  This is especially true within the family of God.  Our bond in Christian friendships can be much closer and far more beneficial than even biological relationships because the Spirit of God now dwells within two believing friends, joining them together spiritually and in God's love.

But the practical application of what Paul asked Philemon to do, was to make Onesimus such a close friend to him, that it would be as if he received Paul himself.  And, remember, Onesimus had treated Philemon as an enemy.  Onesimus had not only run away from his duties as one of Philemon's workers, but he has stolen something of great value.  Then Onesimus was captured by Jesus Christ who made this runaway slave one of His own adopted family members.  Paul was instrumental in leading Onesimus to faith in Christ and he had placed him into Christian ministry.  Onesimus had not only become valuable in service to Paul, but he had become a valued friend.  Paul was reluctant to lose Onesimus for just that reason; but he knew it was the right thing to do.


In writing this letter to Philemon, he was exhorting his friend to forgive Onesimus and to be reconciled with him in Christ.  But Paul does not leave this as some kind of formal apology between two men who were at odds with each other.  He did not envision these two men merely expressing apologies, shaking hands and then going about their separate ways.  Paul wanted Philemon to accept Onesimus as a valued friend, just as he would receive Paul himself.  The special friendship that Philemon and Paul enjoyed, was now to be enjoyed by Philemon and Onesimus.  This would require a deliberate effort to love and appreciate one another, to value each other and to fellowship with one another as close friends would do - close friends in Christ!  


Imagine for a moment, what that would have required.  The past must be put behind them.  They look at one another as brothers in Christ.  They value each other as fellow-believers, or fellow-workers, maybe even as fellow-soldiers as we read at the beginning of this letter.  It is true that not everyone in the church community will be as devoted to Christ as both Philemon and Onesimus had become.  But true believers, even the less devoted ones, share in common something very priceless - it is our Savior.  If the Spirit of Christ is ours, should we not be able to value each other for that alone?  And perhaps within a valued friendship we can encourage one another to love and good deeds - as Heb. 10:25 directs.


We will still have our 'close friendships' within the church community; but consider what our fellowship can be if we begin to value one another with equality.  This is not the normal response of human nature; it is certainly not what we witness in our nation today.  Yet, perhaps, if we begin to cultivate this kind of value within the body of Christ, we can be an example to the world around us.  Certainly, we can be a testimony for the gospel that has made us all one in Christ - "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." [Gal. 3:28-29]


2. Burdens of sacrifice:  Paul continues his exhortation on Christian fellowship by calling Philemon to sacrifice of himself by shouldering the burden that Onesimus has caused.  He does not want Philemon to demand full re-payment of all damages when Onesimus returns to him.  By reminding Philemon that he was indebted to him, Paul was asking Philemon to forgive the debt of Onesimus.  Apparently, Paul had done a great deal for Philemon and he does not seem at all ashamed to bring up what Philemon owed him for his ministerial service over the years.  Regarding the offenses of Onesimus and what he had cost Philemon, Paul was asking him to let those go; forgive the debt and consider his own worth to Philemon as payment in full for Onesimus.


But Paul does not stop at this.  Paul tells Philemon that he will personally pay any remaining balance that was still owed.  I think we understand the general idea of what Paul is asking Philemon to do.  Paul had done enough for Philemon that he felt confident in asking that his own benefit to Philemon should cover anything owed by Onesimus.  But if this wasn't enough in Philemon's eyes, then he was to send Paul the bill and he would gladly cover it.  Philemon was encouraged to let the debt go because he also owed Paul.


What is taking place within this understanding of fellowship, is the bearing of one another's burden.  It is a willingness to make sacrifices of ourselves for the sake of other believers.  In this case, Philemon and Paul both were to be willing to make financial sacrifices for Onesimus, even though he was clearly in the wrong.  By all rights, Onesimus should pay back what he owed.  Yet, as a runaway slave, he had evidently used up anything he had for survival, even anything he had stolen from Philemon.  But as Paul wrote in vs. 16, Onesimus was returning, not merely as a slave, but a "beloved brother."


The motive to make sacrifices for one another is then love.  Philemon and Onesimus were not biological brothers (what is often called 'blood-brothers') - they were slave and master.  But the gospel forever changed their relationship.  They were now blood-brothers in a much stronger way than if they had been born of the same parents.  They were united in Christ, both having been purchased by the blood of the Savior.  It was Jesus Christ who made the greatest sacrifice for those two men, bearing the burden of their sins on Himself.  And God forgave a debt for them both that they could never repay; God's Son payed the full price for their sins purchasing for them eternal life.  

Whatever meager burden Philemon or Paul needed to bear for Onesimus, was nothing compared to the burden Jesus Christ had endured for their souls (and for ours).  How could Philemon not make this sacrifice for his beloved brother, Onesimus?  How could he not bear such a burden knowing what Jesus Christ had endured on the cross for him?  Does this not make us more inclined to bear the burdens of sacrifice for one another?


3. Hearts of refreshment: Finally, Paul again writes in vv. 20-21 of the kind of Christian fellowship that refreshes the heart (as he wrote of in vs. 7).  This is an expression that should characterize our fellowship at Summit Park.  Can we say that our hearts have been refreshed as we walk away from those times that we have spent together in Christian fellowship?  Paul was not shy in asking Philemon to treat Onesimus in a way that would refresh Paul's heart.  And while this letter was written to gently nudge Philemon in the right direction, in vs. 21 he used the word 'obedience' which has the meaning of compliance or submission.  


It is good for us to remember that where God's Word instructs us, it is never a matter of providing us with helpful suggestions.  It is calling us to submit to the righteousness of God's ways, and not our own.  When Philemon read these words, Paul knew that he would do more than was asked of him.  Paul was confident of this because Philemon was a man that was fully committed to walk in the ways of Christ.  And for Paul, this was what would refresh his heart - to hear of a man eager for reconciliation, quick to do more than necessary for restoration within the body of Christ.  He would be refreshed to hear of two men reunited and walking in Christian love.  This is a description of Christian fellowship as it should be. Holding grudges, getting even, revenge, making volatile demands, throwing bricks, looting and starting fires, may be the world's way of resolving conflict, but it is not the way of Christ.  Our hearts should be satisfied when the injustices of life are reconciled according to the will of God, and at the heart of this refreshing scene is obedience to our Savior.


Confession of sin, forgiveness and reconciliation was the purpose behind this short letter by the Apostle Paul.  But how that was to be accomplished was also important for the fellowship of the church there in Colossae.  Within the body of Christ, there is to be a richness of fellowship that values one another equally because we have all been made one in Christ.  The knowledge of His sacrifice on the cross for our sins is sufficient motive for each of us to be willing to sacrifice ourselves for the good of one another and inspire us to bear each other's burdens.  Finally, what should bring refreshment to our hearts is to be part of a church community that submits itself to the pleasure and purposes of Jesus Christ.


In His refreshing fellowship,

Pastor Monte



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The Remedy for “Racism”

To begin, I want to briefly clarify that the belief that there are different races is not a biblical one. There is only one race–the human race! As Acts 17:26 says, “[God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth.” Because of this, instead of using the term “racism,” I will refer to what has more accurately been called ethnic prejudice.


Having clarified that, what is the remedy for ethnic prejudice? Is there a solution for the hate many harbor towards those who have more or less melanin than themselves? Before we can answer questions such as these, we need to remind ourselves of what the root of sin is. Only after we have been reminded of what the root of sin is can we effectively deal with ethnic prejudice. So, what’s the source of sin? The answer to this question is found in Mark 7. Mark 7:14–23 says,


After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. [If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”] When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”


Did you catch that? The source of all sin is man’s sinful heart. Despite popular belief, the heart of man’s problems is the problem of man’s heart! It is not what is outside, but what is inside that makes men worse than beasts. J. C. Ryle, commenting on the passage above, wrote,


There is a deep truth in these words which is frequently overlooked. Our original sinfulness and natural inclination to evil are seldom considered. The wickedness of men is often attributed to bad examples, bad company, peculiar temptations, or the snares of the devil. It seems forgotten that every man carries within him a fountain of wickedness. We need no bad company to teach us, and no devil to tempt us, in order to run into sin. We have within us the beginning of every sin under heaven.


Amen.


Now, this truth has some very important implications. One is that in order to effectively deal with ethic prejudice, the remedy one uses must address the human heart. And the only remedy that does so is the Gospel! It alone is the power of God for salvation–salvation not only from the guilt of sin, but from the power of sin (Romans 1:16, 6:22).


Brothers, sisters, we have the answer to the problem of ethnic prejudice, hate, violence, etc. In short, it’s repent and believe in Jesus Christ! Let us, then, not waste our energies trying to fix the world’s problems in the world’s ways. The world is ignorant. The world is in darkness. But we are informed by the Word of God. We are in the light.

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Devotion for Thursday | How to Pray for Our Nation

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

— James 5:16


In recent days it has become abundantly clear to any Christian with eyes or ears that our nation needs the prayers of God’s people. But, how are we to pray? What are we to pray for? In this post I simply want to copy and paste some ways you can be praying for our country from the pen of the Puritan Matthew Henry.


(1) Thank God for his mercies to your land.

You have treated our nation so graciously.... Help us to regularly remind ourselves of your mercy to our land whenever we gather together for worship.

In your loving concern, set over us a good government that practises justice and opposes corruption. Give us governmental leaders who will be a terror to all those who do evil, and will praise and protect those who do good.


(2) Humble yourself before God for national sins that could easily provoke his wrath.

We are a sinful people, a people weighed down with guilt. We and our children are utterly corrupt. We have good reason to weep before you over the abominations regularly committed among us. Because so much iniquity abounds, the love of most has grown cold. Yet in your grace you have not forsaken us.


(3) Pray earnestly for God’s mercy toward your nation.


(i) Humbly ask God for the manifestation of his favour toward your nation, since every blessing depends on his grace.


Let righteousness go before you to determine the way of your dealing with our nation. Give the best for our people, whatever that might be.


(ii) Pray that the Gospel will always continue among your nation, and the means of grace remain available to all your people. Ask the Lord to allow a door to remain open in your nation for the spread of the saving gospel of Christ.

Let our people never know what a famine of the Word of God means. Do not force the people of this land to wander from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth seeking some word from you.


(iii) Pray for the outward peace and tranquility of your nation, and the continuation of its liberty. Ask for God’s abundant blessing on the fruitfulness of your land.

Let violence never be heard in our streets, invasion or devastation along our borders.

Let righteousness which exalts a nation abound among us. Deliver us from national sins which are a disgrace to any people. Let our peace be as the deep waters of a river and our righteousness as the mighty waves of the sea.


(iv) Offer your petitions for God’s blessing on all efforts to reform your nation’s lifestyle and to suppress its vices.

Let reformation begin with your church.

O righteous God who tests the hearts and motives of men, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end, and establish the purposes of the just. Motivate many to rise up on your behalf against those who practice evil. Help them to stand up for you against all workers of iniquity. Let those that are striving against sin never become weary or faint in their determination.


(v) Pray for the protection of your people as they enter the conflict against evil and untruth when it manifests itself within your own nation, among your national neighbors, and throughout distant countries.


We thank you for faithful witnesses for Christ who live in jeopardy of their lives as they stand in the frontline of the battlefield on behalf of gospel truth.... Give them all the skills and instincts necessary for the conflict that confronts them.


(vi) Pray for all those who work as public servants throughout your land.


Counsel our policymakers. Teach our governors wisdom. Give them an abundant share of the spirit of wisdom, understanding and knowledge that belong to Christ our sovereign Messiah. Make them quick to demonstrate that they understand the importance of fearing the Lord. Do not silence the lips of trustworthy advisors. Do not take away the discernment of the aged. In this day and age, do not let the things that could bring peace to your people be hid from our eyes.

Make it clear that you stand in the assembly of the politically powerful, that you judge the judges.


(vii) Pray specifically for magistrates, judges, and supreme court justices of the land.


Direct those that preside judicially over us to make just decisions, ruling in the fear of God. Let them always remember that they judge not for man but for you, the God who presides over them in their judgments. Let the fear of the Lord continually rest on them.


Appoint for our judges people who are capable of handling their responsibilities well. Make them incorruptible men of truth, fearing God and despising bribery.

Empower our magistrates to retain their integrity. Enable them to defend the widow and fatherless, do justice for the afflicted and needy, and deliver the poor and helpless out of the hands of wicked men. Let our rulers never be a terror to those who do good works but always to those who do evil.

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Anchoring Joy and Thankfulness Amidst Affliction PT.8

Now it will come about that

In the last days

The mountain of the house of the Lord

Will be established as the chief of the mountains,

And will be raised above the hills;

And all the nations will stream to it.

And many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,

To the house of the God of Jacob;

That He may teach us concerning His ways

And that we may walk in His paths.”

For the law will go forth from Zion

And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

And He will judge between the nations,

And will render decisions for many peoples;

And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not lift up sword against nation,

And never again will they learn war.

— Isaiah 2:2-4


‘Your kingdom come.

Your will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

— Matthew 6:10


How can we maintain joyful and thankful hearts in the midst of adversity? This is the question I have attempted to answer over the past couple of months. In short, we can do so by remembering that even the evil of affliction works for our good. As we have seen, hard times help us in a multitude of ways. They drive us to our knees in prayer. They push us to pick up the Book and plumb its depths. They bring us back to God when we have gone astray time and again. They aid us in getting an accurate view of ourselves. They focus our attention on the things that matter most. And they provide opportunities for us to clearly see our spiritual state. Truly the consideration of these benefits is enough to keep us from becoming bitter and complaining against God in the storms of life! But, since we need all the help we can get, let me briefly remind you of an eighth way God often uses headaches and heartaches for our good.


Not only does affliction help us with the above, it helps us to look and long for the return of Christ. This is because we know that at Christ’s Second Coming He will establish His earthly kingdom. Then, and only then, will our prayer for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven be answered. Christ’s coming kingdom is the solution for all that’s wrong in this sin-sick world. What C. S. Lewis wrote of the Great Lion, we can truly say of the Lord,


Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,

At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,

When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,

And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.


Adversity helps us to anticipate such realities all the more. Have we not experienced this in recent days? Who of us can watch the news without saying, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20)? And this is exactly where our hearts should be–in a place eagerly expecting and desiring the Lord’s return.

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Cultivating Christian Fellowship Part 3

Greetings church family,                       5/28/20

In our previous study of Philemon, we considered the evidences of God's grace that Paul witnessed in Philemon.  Faith and love, joy and comfort were qualities of fellowship that Paul commended in this man in the first 7 verses of his letter.  In our devotional time for this week, I would like us to develop a bit further the subject of Christian love that we find in vv. 8-16.  Please take a few minutes to read this part of Paul's letter before we move on.

Paul found himself in a difficult spot in mediating between two brothers in Christ.  Philemon was a trusted friend and a respected brother in Christ.  He had apparently come alongside Paul in the ministry at some point, because Paul refers to him as a "fellow-worker."  At the very least, Paul knew that Philemon had labored in the gospel ministry in some way for him to receive this kind of acknowledgement.  Onesimus, on the other hand, had come to faith in Christ rather recently.  And while his faith was new, he also had become a very useful servant of Christ in ministering to Paul's needs and assisting him in the gospel work that Paul was doing while in his chains.  

Philemon and Onesimus were, then, brothers in Christ and they both were faithful in service to Christ.  Yet, there were past sins that stood between them; sins that Onesimus had committed against Philemon while he was still an unbeliever.  In coming to faith in Christ, Onesimus was repentant before God and man for his sins.  He wanted to go back to Philemon and ask for his forgiveness.  These sins were painful and costly to Philemon, and he had a legal right to exact some strict disciplinary measures against Onesimus.  Paul then had the awkward task of stepping in between these two brothers and friends to initiate a process of reconciliation that would be done before the watchful eyes of the church.  It is the gracious work of God's love that takes the edge off of this difficult task; both in Paul's love for Philemon and his love for Onesimus.  Consider with me from this text, how the fellowship of God's love is meant to work among us:


 1) The comfort of love

An important detail that we do not want to miss is that Paul had the right before God to make certain demands of Philemon.  This was similar to Philemon who also had a legal right to demand certain measures against Onesimus.  Paul made the point in vs. 8 that he could demand that Philemon do what God required.  In other words, because Christ has forgiven us of our sins, it is required that we forgive each other where confession and repentance takes place - Col. 3:12-13.  If Philemon resisted the idea of forgiving Onesimus, Paul could order him to forgive; and if he still refused to do so, church discipline was the next step (Matt. 18). 

Out of Paul's love for Philemon, he chose to begin with the softer approach.  The word for "appeal" in the Greek means to 'call alongside' and can range in meaning from bringing comfort to the sharper approach of direct exhortation.  What is significant to Paul's meaning is that he has already used the noun form of this same word back in vs. 7 where he wrote, 

"I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love."  What Paul was saying in vv. 8-9 is that he could have come to Philemon with a stronger, more rigid and strict approach; but for the sake of love he chose to take the softer approach - a "comforting appeal" or we might say that Paul made a gentle request of Philemon.

This reminds me of Prov. 15:1, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."  Very often, when we think we are in the right (and we may very well be), we can approach a believer that we have an issue with, and we can presume we are justified to use a stern tone, a strong rebuke or a sharp Scripture verse to confront the wrong that was done.  Love teaches us a different approach.  Strictly speaking, we may have the rigid legal right to confront a wrong, but because of love, we are ordered by the Holy Spirit to begin soft and gentle.  After all, is it not our objective to win a brother back from a wrong that they may have committed? (see Matt. 18:15).  In the case of Philemon, he had not done anything wrong yet; but there was the potential for a wrong response on his part.  Yet the principle of a comforting love will be the same no matter if there is a wrong already committed, or merely the possibility of it happening.  Love starts off gently!

Many Christians pride themselves in being blunt, straight-forward and brutally "honest".  But few of these seem to find the value of learning the art of a comforting love.  A stronger exhortation may well be necessary where there is no confession, or where truth is stubbornly resisted.  But we can very often feel that a wrong deserves a harsh, direct confrontation.  What love demands of us is that we learn the art of a gentle approach.  Our tone of voice, our body language and carefully chosen words of grace are not merely good communication skills, they are the laws of love.  Col. 4:6 says it well, "Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person."


2) The intervention of love

Observe how Paul thrusts himself in between two parties in vs. 10, "I appeal to you (again, in love) for my child Onesimus".  Before I stress the doctrinal importance of intervention, it must be stated that there will be some things within the church community that we need to keep our noses out of.  Neither this passage, nor my words in this devotional should be taken to mean that we are to intrude into affairs that are not our concern.  So, be careful here and be very certain that you are on a solid biblical footing before you step in the middle of a dispute that you do not belong in.  In this case, Onesimus' sins were clearly exposed before the church and Paul; he had confessed them to a senior member of the church (an Apostle) and he was heading back to his master to make things right.  Biblical instruction was in order here; but it was to be directed by God's love.

Paul was used by God to bring Onesimus to faith.  He was discipled by Paul and useful in ministry for the good of the gospel.  Onesimus had confessed a wrong that he wanted to make right.  No doubt, he asked Paul for direction, for guidance and for assistance.  Knowing Onesimus' sincere heart of repentance, Paul could not help but write a letter encouraging Philemon to be reconciled to this new brother in Christ.  Paul's intervention not only gave counsel to Philemon, but it commended Onesimus in his Christian conduct and service.  This would help Philemon to see that his former slave's conversion was genuine and that he was no longer a thief and a rebellious scoundrel.  

Onesimus had proven himself to be a devoted friend and servant to Paul.  This would carry a great deal of weight with Philemon who also loved Paul deeply.  If you have ever had to write a letter of commendation for someone, you know this can either be easy or hard.  This was an easy commendation for Paul to write.  Onesimus was a useful servant to Paul and he would serve Philemon very well also.  Out of love for Onesimus and for Philemon, Paul chooses to put himself in the middle of this dispute to encourage reconciliation. 

This is very instructive to us as we will very often find ourselves in between friends who are in some kind of dispute.  Again, intervention should be carefully considered; but biblical intervention is an act of love where it's purpose and execution have the glory of Christ in view.  Where intervention displays forgiveness and restoration, where it encourages the unity of the body of Christ, where it exhibits the grace of God, every believer should be willing to take some risk and show love in this way.

We can often take the easier route and just conclude that two believers who are at odds with each other will just have to work it out on their own; and in some cases that is true.  At the same time, love demands that we intervene where it is biblically appropriate.  


See Phil. 4:2-3.  One pastor writes, "Risking my relationship with you for the sake of your relationship with another is proof of my love for you." [John Kitchen].  Intervention can be risky business to be sure, since we do not always know how people will respond.  Yet, it is also proof of our love for those whom we fellowship with, in the body of Christ.  


3)  The encouragement of love

Finally, observe how Paul's love for Philemon encourages a genuine loving response toward Onesimus.  Verse 14 encourages Philemon's love rather than coercing, or forcing love by Paul's demands.  Once again, Paul affirms the goodness that God's grace had accomplished in Philemon - vv. 3, 6.  He did not want to back Philemon into a corner, or cause him to feel pressured into forgiving his run-away slave.  Rather, out of love for this man, Paul writes that he wanted Philemon's consent before he pressed the matter any further.  The far better approach that love provides for is to allow fellow believers to practice the goodness of God within them without making demands.

This was especially important in a church leader like the Apostle Paul, who could have easily made strict demands of Philemon.  In the case of a stubborn, self-willed, professing believer, sometimes strict demands must be made by the church.  But where the goodness of God is clearly evident within a believer, the softer, gentler approach is the way of love.  Love will encourage others to do what is right and will allow them to walk in righteousness as an act of their own free will.  We do not want to be in the position of coercing the goodness out of others, which is nothing more than forced moral conformity.  Love encourages and allows the goodness of God to go to work on the believer's will.  Another quote from Pastor Kitchen, "Actions can be forced, but goodness can not."

This passage shows us the loving fellowship that should exist among us.  May God 

teach us to love in this way; bringing comfort, intervening where appropriate and 

encouraging goodness in one another - I Thess. 4:9-10.


In His love, Pastor Monte



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Part 7

”Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away....In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.”

— Mark 4:5–6, 16-17


In this short, devotional post I want to point out a seventh way the evil of affliction works for our good. Not only do hard times help us to pray more, to read our Bibles more (and better), to repent and return to God, to persevere, to become more humble, and to purify our hearts, but they help us to test the genuineness of our faith.


Adversity, you see, is much like the sun. By it’s heat we are better able to determine what type of soil we are. If the seed of God’s Word takes root and continues to bear fruit in our lives, we may conclude that we are what the Lord described as good soil. However, if the seed of God’s Word, after immediately springing up, is scorched by the sun and withers, we may conclude we are that rocky ground.


Brothers, sisters, you must know that many “worship” God, not because they love Him, but because they love His gifts. As soon as His gifts depart, such as good health and great wealth, they depart. It is not so with true believers. When everything is taken away from a sincere saint, he falls to the ground like Job and worships still. He says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21)! And if any should question his response, he asks, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity” (Job 2:10)? Such is the mindset of all God’s children.


The above is yet another reason to rejoice and give thanks when we find ourselves under the rod of affliction. It is an opportunity for us to prove what we profess!

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Cultivating Christian Fellowship

Greetings church family,


In our last devotion, we took a few minutes to hear from Paul who had written a letter of encouragement and exhortation to Philemon, a beloved brother in Christ and a faithful servant of the church. Without a doubt, Paul would have preferred to speak fact to face with Philemon about what was on his mind. But Paul sat in chains in Rome awaiting a verdict from Caesar regarding charges that had been brought against him. This imprisonment kept Paul from fellowship with the churches that he loved, including the church in Colossae. It appears that Paul had never been to that city, but he knew many of the believers who lived there and remained active in communicating with them. Please read again vv. 1-7


The Epistle to Philemon is a letter of instruction to Philemon in particular, Paul's beloved brother and fellow laborer in the ministry. But Paul also names a few others in the opening verses. In addition to Philemon, he writes to Apphia, Archippus and to the members of the church that met in Philemon's home. This is an important detail because the instruction that Paul had for Philemon he wanted the whole congregation to know about, and to be involved in. Philemon was then accountable before the church in this and in some measure the church would oversee the reconciliation that was to take place between Philemon and Onesimus. 


The multiple recipients of this letter further highlights the theme of church fellowship that I hope to communicate in these devotionals. When we think of Christian fellowship we generally understand this to be in the context of our physically being together, because generally speaking our fellowship as believers involves activities that we do while we are together. Unfortunately, during this time of social-distancing, we have been prevented from doing fellowship together as we are normally accustomed to. But this brief letter encourages us to cultivate rich fellowship qualities that will endure times of separation.


Last week we observed the thankful heart that Paul had for Philemon. This was personal for Paul and was expressed in his frequent prayers of worship to his God ("my God"). As I noted before, this letter is prominently about forgiveness and restoration. I envision Paul contemplating how to direct Philemon on the godly principles of reconciliation and his mind drifts back to how God had forgiven him in Christ and restored him to fellowship with God. So, he pauses in his writing to give thanks to his God for Philemon and for their mutual forgiveness and justification through faith in Jesus Christ. He gives thanks for the grace and peace that God has granted to these Colossian believers and prays that more will be received from the benevolent Father.  


Thankfulness to God for our forgiven state and that of our brothers and sisters at Summit Park, thankfulness for His many graces and gifts and thankfulness for the individual believers in our church assembly is not only prayerful worship that the Lord is worthy of, but it also cultivates within us a heart of fellowship and compassion for one another. This week I would like us to consider the established evidences of God's grace that Paul witnessed in Philemon and what this added to the heart of fellowship between these two men. It is these two points that I want us to consider about our own lives and how we are bound together in Christian fellowship.


1) Faith and love

Paul had heard of Philemon's faith toward Jesus and his love toward the saints - vs. 5. It is good to ask, "What was Paul hearing of Philemon that caused him to write this commendation?" And our text does not leave us without answers. This is important to me in that I want to learn from this kind of testimony what a commendable faith and love look like. I want to learn from people like Philemon and Paul; to see them as examples for my own faith and love. In truth, we have these kinds of men and women within the body of Christ today - we have them within our own church family.  


I do not believe that what Paul was hearing, were merely the testimonies of other believers who observed Philemon speaking the words of faith and love. Faith and love have a greater substance to them than mere words. As Christians, we know the language of Christianity. We are all taught how to live, to think and to speak the ways of the Christian. When we hear of an answer to prayer, we know how to say, "Praise the Lord." When others are facing trials and adversity, we know how to say, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding." When we hear words of encouragement from our good friends, we know how to say, "I love you."  


These words are good and proper to be sure. It is important to communicate these words of faith and love. But they also need to be more than just words. We have all heard the expression that "talk is cheap." What is meant by this is that if our lives are nothing more than spiritual words, but lack the substance of spiritual activity, such words that may commend us are empty. Both faith and love are to come from within and if they are genuine, they will bring about active gospel ministry.

When facing the challenges of life it is not uncommon for us to use words like, "I am just trusting in the Lord." Yet, so often, at the same time, we live in discouragement, frustration, fear, anxiety or depression. Some live with such internal turmoil that it even takes its toll on their physical health. Faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ must be more than just words. I have also witnessed many of us, (myself included) speak of our love for one another, but then we gossip, or we speak poorly of one another to others, or we are jealous or unkind, or we live distant and disconnected from those we claim to love. Scripture says that love is to be without hypocrisy - Rm. 12:9. Like faith, love for each other must be more than just words - love is to be practiced.


We have much to learn from Paul's letter to Philemon. What Paul was hearing about Philemon he commended him for, because Paul had witnessed in this man what others had also seen in him. Philemon was living in faith toward the Lord Jesus and he was practicing love toward all the saints (not just his favorite ones, or his closet friends). Verse 7 tells us that Philemon's love was being practiced as he refreshed the hearts of the saints; this was a man that ministered to troubled and hurting believers out of a genuine love for them. We are not told specifically what Philemon did to refresh the hearts of the saints. Perhaps he had shared some of his financial resources with those who were in need. Refreshing the hearts of the saints may be a reference to Philemon's faithful service to the church community in some way. Or Philemon may have been a very compassionate encourager of those who were going through hard times as he listened, counseled and gave sound biblical guidance. Whatever the case, Philemon's active love was very evident to the church in practical ways.


In addition, Philemon was commended for his faith toward the Lord Jesus. No doubt, this faith in Christ worked through his love for the believers. What is evident from vs. 7 is that this man was so committed to the gospel faith that he had in Christ that it had a profound ministry upon the church. Paul refers to this as the "fellowship of Philemon's faith." His active participation within the church was a reflection of his faith in Christ. When Paul heard of Philemon's active participation of faith, he prayed that God would use this to produce fruit among the believers in Colossae and even more so as Philemon learned more of the good work that the Holy Spirit was doing in and through him, for Christ's sake!  


What we observe from these inspired words is a very active relationship of love and faith within the body of Christ. This teaches us the importance of a faith in Christ that makes use of the good things that God works in every true believer; it teaches us the importance of loving each other in a way that refreshes the hearts of those who belong to the Lord. A productive faith and an active love establishes and builds upon our fellowship together as believers and it glorifies Christ.


2) Joy and comfort

Before we leave our text for this week, we also want to observe the effect that this mutually beneficial ministry had upon the isolated Apostle Paul. He is sitting in Rome, under house arrest and chained to a praetorian guard; unable to join in the corporate gathering of the church. But he received word from Colossae of the ministry of faith and love within the church. So, he prays that this ministry would be effective among the believers and that the name of Christ would be honored. Then Paul writes how this ministered to his heart in vs. 7, "I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, a love that has refreshed the hearts of the saints, my brother!" Paul had ministered hard for the gospel; and he presently sat in jail as a result of that ministry. What brought him joy and comfort was hearing that the church that he had labored for was prospering and united in love and faith.


I know this is an anxious time for so many people in our nation today, and even around the world. People are concerned for their health, or the health of their loved ones. They are concerned for their livelihoods and for paying the bills and feeding their families. Some are missing graduation ceremonies, or birthday parties or weddings. Most of us are anxious to be socially connected once again. But what brings us comfort and joy is to hear of the ministry of love and faith that makes use of the good things of Christ within us. We find joy and comfort in our troubled times from the fellowship of the church that is active for the sake of Christ and for the greater progress of His gospel. It is good that we pray for the success of faith and love in each other; it is also good that we rejoice with one another when the Lord accomplishes that success. May the Lord grant to us 'the knowledge of every good thing which is in (us) for Christ's sake.'


For His sake,

Pastor Monte

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Cultivating Christian Fellowship

Greetings church family,


It has been our hope that these weekly devotional messages have helped to keep us united in Christ, under the ministry of His Word, in light of the fact that we are not able to assemble as we would like. It needs to be said that the fellowship that we have together with Christ and His church is far richer and more essential than any other social gathering in our world. Our eternal union with Christ makes this so! For me personally, it helps to study the writings of Paul, and others, who experienced separation from the body of Christ and the fellowship of God’s people. With this in mind, I want to turn our attention to another message written by Paul during his Roman imprisonment, which kept him from the fellowship of believers that was so precious to him.  


I would invite you to read Philemon 1-7 before we move into our brief study. If you are feeling adventuresome, you may want to read the whole epistle. This book has some wonderful truths to encourage us as we shelter in place. From this brief letter, we can quickly observe the close fellowship of Christian love that Paul had with Philemon and with the church at Colosse, though it appears that Paul had not been to this city. At the end of the letter Paul lets the church know that he hoped to spend time with them, but his chains kept him from doing so at that moment; we are not sure that Paul ever made it to Colosse. Writing letters and sending messages by courier was what they had available at that time; in this sense, today we have many more resources to keep us connected.   


Paul valued Philemon, not only as a dear friend in Christ, but also as a co-laborer in the work of the gospel ministry. From the opening words of this letter, we can easily identify with the Christian fellowship of these believers, sharing the same desire to gather together in Christ that we have. Yet, because of the unavoidable separation, Paul must appeal to Philemon by letter, calling him to conform to the character of Christ in a matter concerning one of Philemon’s slave. Onesimus had run away from his master, Philemon, and had apparently taken something of value from him.  


Somewhere along Onesimus’ flight from Philemon, he encountered the Apostle Paul in Rome and became a believer in the gospel. Verse 10 indicates that Paul had the privilege of leading this runaway slave to Christ. He developed a close bond with Paul and became very useful in ministering to Paul’s needs while he was in prison. But Paul knew that there was some unfinished business between Onesimus and Philemon that must be taken care of as new brothers in Christ. Onesimus was sent back to his master to make things right, and Philemon was exhorted to extend forgiveness, to receive his former slave as a brother and that any debt owed was to be paid by Paul on behalf of Onesimus.


With this brief background in mind, I would like us to consider just one aspect of Christian fellowship that we would do well to imitate from the instruction of this letter. And this is something that we can cultivate to benefit our fellowship together, even while we are separated. We will consider more attributes of Christian fellowship in our next study, but for today please observe the heart of Christian gratitude demonstrated in Paul’s inspired words.


1. Thankful to “God”

One thing that separation cannot keep us from, and that we have even more time for is prayer. This has been highlighted in the devotional thoughts from Pastor Christian over the past several weeks. And one critical aspect of prayer is a heart of thankfulness to God for the fellowship that we have one with another. In the case of Paul, he writes that he was often giving thanks to God for the fellowship, the friendship and the shared ministry that he had together with Philemon, and by extension, to the rest of the believers in Colosse, some of whom he had never met. What I hope to highlight from the opening words of vs. 4 is that Paul’s contemplations on Philemon’s circumstances became an opportunity for worshiping God, “I thank my God always…” A grateful heart to God is a worshiping heart!


This letter was written largely to instruct Philemon on forgiveness and restoration within the body of Christ. Paul must direct Philemon on dealing with Onesimus in a way that was contrary to the cultural norms of the day, but that were consistent with what all believers have received from God through faith in Christ – that is, forgiveness and reconciliation. We can picture Paul processing what must be said to Philemon and then in the midst of his thoughts, he paused again and again to express gratitude to “my God.” Paul knew he belonged to the Lord God. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on his behalf, Paul was forgiven and restored to God as one of His own children. And so was Philemon, Apphia, Archippus and the other believers in the church. But so also was Onesimus! They were the Lord’s! The very thought of what Philemon must do with Onesimus brought Paul to thoughts of praise and worship, giving thanks to God for making Paul His very own.  


There are times when we need to deal with matters of forgiveness and restoration. Where this takes place, we are usually dealing with offenses or failures on the part of others within the body of Christ; and sometimes these offenses have been against us personally. As we give thought to such failures within the church community these can very often stir within us thoughts of resentment, bitterness, jealousy, frustration or even dislike toward others. It is passages like vs. 4 that should remind us that, as we are dealing with forgiveness and restoration toward others, God has done this for us and for the believers that we are dealing with. And because of this we are God’s children and He is our loving Father. This should move our hearts away from discontent and frustration toward our failing brothers and sisters, and should create within us hearts of worship instead. Grateful praise is then a significant part of cultivating Christian fellowship, especially as we remain apart and are thinking of one another. Let our thoughts of each other draw us to worshiping our God.


2. Thankful for “grace” 

The 2nd observation of our text is that Paul was grateful to God for His work of grace in Philemon. The context of Paul’s gratitude to God was that God had done wonderful things for Philemon and for the Colossian believers. Verse 3, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father…” What Paul saw in these believers was a work of God’s grace and for this reason, he was thankful to God for them. We will examine some of these “graces” in our next study, but for today it is important that we take time to consider exactly what God has done for each of us. What He has done for me, He has done for others in the body of Christ. God has poured out His unmerited favor on us in so many ways causing each of us to be rich as recipients of His benevolence. Paul had meditated on God’s grace and peace given to Philemon as he prepared to write to him about restoring his runaway slave. This meditation drew Paul to prayer, giving thanks to God. And apparently Paul did this a lot, (“always“)!


This kind of activity in prayer will be a reminder to us that what we have together in the church community is God’s doing. He has provided our salvation by His grace through faith; He has brought us together as one in Christ, He has formed us into a dwelling place suitable for His abiding presence (Eph. 2:1-22). He has poured out His love on us which is the bond of our unity (Col. 3:1-17). He has equipped us to minister together for His service and for our growth (Eph. 4:11-16). And to be sure, He has provided for our eternal destination together in glory (Eph. 1:11-14). As we give thanks to God for one another, our fellowship of Christian unity cannot help but be strengthened and built up. This is so because we are recognizing that we are a work of God’s grace, making each of us His workmanship.


This spirit of gratitude puts value on the members within God’s church. Imagine how this may have helped Paul to form the words that he would write to the churches, or to individuals like Philemon. He was writing to those with whom God had made a rich investment in, sanctifying these ones by His own Spirit. Perhaps before Paul ever took pen in hand, he paused and gave thanks to God for what He had poured out on Philemon and those within the Colossian assembly. How this would have shaped the very heart and spirit of this letter. Paul was writing to a man that was now rich in Christ. I hope we can see how this might influence our thoughts of one another while we are apart, and how this might bring us to our knees to thank God for one another because of His gracious work. 


3. Thankful for “you”

The 3rd observation of our text is Paul was thankful to God for a specific individual. Paul was not merely giving thanks to God for the many blessings of His benevolent nature, he was thankful to God for a man named Philemon. This is particularly relevant because Philemon was a man that needed some instruction on Christian fellowship himself. Philemon is highly commended in this letter and Paul was confident that Philemon would conduct himself honorably as a Christian man. But there was a rift between him and one of his slaves that needed to be addressed; and this required that Paul intervene. Onesimus was now a brother in Christ to Philemon.  


Philemon was likely a man that conducted his affairs with the secular world with great Christian integrity. But as a believer he was not united spiritually with the world; he was united spiritually with the church of Jesus Christ and Onesimus was a new member of that church. Onesimus was a runaway slave and a thief. There were legal matters that needed to be addressed by Philemon. One of his slaves had offended him and cost him financially. Paul knew it was necessary to direct Philemon in reconciling these two brothers in the Lord. Paul had some measure of confidence in Philemon, but he did not leave this matter to chance or to Philemon to sort out on his own. He needed apostolic instruction.


What I see in Paul’s message is that he was dealing with imperfect people, people that needed correction and instruction and yet he gave thanks to God for them. How this should remind us to pray often, giving thanks to God for one another. We can easily spend our time in isolation thinking about the abundant flaws and shortcomings that each of us have. But this will only be destructive to our union in Christ. Through prayer, we are far better to cultivate a heart of gratitude to God as we bring each other to His throne, thanking God for individuals that He has saved and brought within our church family. Let’s not be afraid to come to His throne with specific names.  


There is a need for correction and instruction in the body; and this will be directed at specific individuals within the church. But a grateful heart before God for these specific individuals can serve to keep us united in our fellowship. Do we thank God for the blessing of one another? …for the gifts He has provided in others within the church? …for the opportunity that we have to minister to one of His chosen ones who needs some direction? It is time well spent to offer grateful prayers to God for one another, building our bond of unity while we live in isolation. Our meditations of one another can be times of worship to God because we are His, and He is ours. Our gratitude for God’s work of grace toward us will cause us to value one another all the more. And, this should cause us to be grateful for individual members within the Summit Park Church community. Perhaps our meditation on the Epistle to Philemon can inspire a grateful heart of prayer in each of us, and for each of us!


Giving thanks for you all,”

-Pastor Monte

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