Hebrews 1:2-3, John 8:28

Jesus Speaks for God

Martin Luther tells a story about being up late studying the scriptures when he had a vision of Christ standing before him in all his radiant glory! After studying the vision with great interest Luther concluded that the Jesus of the Bible would not appear in such a way today. He was convinced that this visitation was a delusion or possibly a demonic apparition designed to distract him from the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the bible. He spoke to the vision and said something like, “The Christ of the Bible is sufficient for me.” After that, the visage vanished. The man who coined the phrase, “sola scriptura” stood by his conviction of the sufficiency of the Christ as recorded in the Bible. God speaks to us today, in these times, as the author of the book of Hebrews says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” Luther was convinced that Jesus alone, as revealed in the Bible alone, is sufficient for him. It is for me too! He didn’t need an angel or any other supernatural visitation to confirm for him the truths of the Bible and the reality of the sufficiency of Christ. God’s greatest communication to Luther and all mankind came from God’s Son who gave himself for us.

The author of Hebrews goes on to explain why Jesus and the message from God that he brings is the most important. The passage continues “but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power…”

In a very real sense, when Jesus speaks, God speaks. He doesn’t say, “thus saith the Lord…” as the Prophets do. He simply says it. My former seminary professor, Stanley Toussaint used to say, “if God has spoken, there is nothing more important than to listen to him. Let me say that again. If God has spoken, there is nothing more important than to listen to what he says.” God speaks to us all in Christ and through Christ. There is nothing more important than what He has to say. Jesus, Himself, made it clear that His words were God’s words. John 8:28 gives us Christ’s testimony. It says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”


Philemon 1:3-4

A Plea for Mercy

When Paul writes to Timothy, he sends a three-fold blessing of grace, peace, and mercy. In all the other letters he only commends grace and peace. This is the way he begins his letter to Philemon. He says, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers.” During this short letter, Paul is pleading for Philemon to have “mercy” on his runaway slave, Onesimus. I guess it’s not necessary to include that concept in the opening greeting since it will be the subject of the entire letter. Grace and peace are the twins that identify the Greek or Roman greeting along with the Jewish greeting of peace. The Roman and Greek greeting is a word that is usually translated as “hello.” But with just a one-letter change in the word, it becomes “grace” in Paul’s writings. Shalom, to a Jewish audience, is the normal greeting and is used for hello and goodbye, even in Modern Israel. But Paul uses it with the clear idea of how God’s grace through Jesus gives us peace with God. Richison observes, “A Christian can no more operate in the Christian life apart from grace and peace than he can run his car without gas and oil.  Grace is God’s favor and goodwill that He bestows on us because of Christ.  We do not earn or deserve this favor.  God is not only the Giver, but He also is the Gift.  Grace is personified in the person of Christ.”[1]

Philemon was a wealthy slaveowner in Colossae. Apparently, the Apostle Paul had led Philemon to faith in Christ. This letter is encouraging Philemon to have his newfound faith which brought him God’s grace and peace in Christ, affect the way he handled his relationships in the world. One of the great dangers of religion is that we can live two different lives. First, we profess our faith and perform religious rituals. Then we go about our lives as if nothing has changed. Paul was encouraging Philemon to allow his new faith to change his life. Colson tells the story of Mickey Cohen’s conversion, “Mickey Cohen was one of the most infamous gangsters of the fifties, and something of a publicity hound. On one occasion he visited an evangelistic meeting and there showed an interest in Christ. Christian leaders, realizing that Cohen’s conversion could have a great influence upon others, visited him regularly. One night after a lengthy conversation on Revelation 3:20, he opened the door of his life. There were great expectations, but as the months passed there was no substantive change in the gangster’s life. Finally, his Christian friends confronted him. Cohen responded that no one had told him he would have to give up his work or his friends. After all, there were Christian football players, Christian cowboys, Christian politicians; why not a Christian gangster?”4

In some of Paul’s letters, he asserts his authority as an Apostle. We see that in the letter to the Galatians where he even stands against the Apostle Peter on a particular issue. Some argue that Paul “pulls rank” on his readers when he does that, expecting they will listen and pay heed to his instructions out of respect. But this doesn’t seem to be the case with this letter to Philemon. Paul is interceding on behalf of Onesimus, a man in bondage. Paul himself is in bondage in a Roman prison. I like the way Exell put this thought. He writes, “Himself a bondman, Paul pleads the cause of that other bondman, whose story is the burden of the letter. It is when he is a much-wronged captive that he begs forgiveness for a wrongdoer, and when society is making war upon himself, he plays the part of peacemaker with others. As dewdrops are seen to best advantage on the blades of grass from which they hang, or gems sparkle brightest in their appropriate settings, so may we regard Paul’s imprisonment as the best foil to the design of this letter. Wrongs and oppressive suffering may drive even wise men mad; but here it only seems to evoke Paul’s tenderest feelings, and open wide the sluices of his affectionate sympathies.”[2] Although he doesn’t mention mercy in the letter to Philemon, he is taking up the case of Philemon’s slave and asking for mercy on his behalf.

[1] Richison, Grant. 2006. Verse by Verse through the Books of James and Philemon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems.

4 Charles Colson, Who Speaks for God? (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1985), p. 153.

[2] Exell, Joseph S. n.d. The Biblical Illustrator: Second Timothy–Titus, Philemon. Vol. 3. New York; Chicago; Toronto; London; Edinburgh: Fleming H. Revell Company.

Titus 1:1-2, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

The Encouragement of Eternal Life

Putting the first two verses of Paul’s letter to Titus together, we can see Paul’s three-fold focus regarding his life’s mission. Titus 1:1-2 says, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.” Paul calls himself a “servant” of God “for the sake of the faith of the elect.” This is “Evangelism.” Paul’s primary role as God’s servant is to bring those chosen to their full stature as believers in Jesus Christ. The mission always begins with evangelism. Paul is God’s servant in this respect. The second aspect is “Edification.” Paul is God’s servant, not only for the sake of the faith but also for the “knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness.” This speaks to me of building up the faith we profess through learning God’s word and growing in our understanding which will change the way we think and live. Paul wants to lead others to faith in Jesus and then help them grow in that faith. Thirdly, it’s “Encouragement.” Paul is God’s servant for evangelism, edification “in the hope of eternal life.” Paul charges those with growing faith to live their lives with an eternal perspective.

The resurrection is the key theme of Paul’s ministry. He preached it wherever he went. It was considered foolishness by the Greeks. He found himself laughed off of the stage at Athens. People listened to him until he got to the resurrection. People want to live for today. It’s hard to convince non-believers that there is something “more” than what this short time on earth offers. However, if Christ did not rise from the dead, there would not be any church. His closest disciples, Peter, James, and John had gone back to fishing after the crucifixion. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were discussing their disappointment at Jesus’ death when he appeared to them. The resurrection was the event that set the church on fire through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the resurrection that gives us hope. Jesus not only rose from the dead, he promised that we would rise from the dead also. That is our hope. Paul explained that to those in Thessalonica who had lost loved ones. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, he says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this, we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord, himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

Campbell says, “Hope, of course, in everyday speech refers often to something uncertain. You know how often we hope for something that we have no guarantee will happen—especially if it has to do with the weather! In the Bible, however, hope is always something certain. And that is how it is with the hope of eternal life. We can be certain that one day the more will be ours—the blessings of salvation in their fullest measure to be enjoyed forever and ever. For the God who does not lie promised eternal life to his elect before this world began. That was his eternal plan and purpose.” If then we believe in Jesus and trust His promise, “we can be certain that this eternal life will be ours.”[1]

[1] Campbell, David. 2007. Opening up Titus. Opening Up Commentary. Leominster: Day One Publications.

2 Timothy 1:2

Blessed are the merciful

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he commends grace, and peace, and adds mercy to make it a triad of blessings. He repeats that greeting in the second verse of his second letter. He writes, “To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” Stott says, “We may perhaps summarize these three blessings of God’s love as being grace to the worthless, mercy to the helpless, and peace to the restless, while ‘God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord’ together constitute the one spring from which this threefold stream flows forth.”[1]

Paul’s mention of mercy in his two letters to Timothy is compelling. Paul knew God’s mercy. He persecuted the church and participated in Stephen’s martyrdom in Acts chapter seven. Who knows how many more lives were affected by Paul’s attack on the believers before his conversion? He referred to himself at one point as the “chief of sinners.” That was in his first letter to Timothy. 1 Timothy 1:15-16 says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.  But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” At the beginning of Paul’s writing ministry in the book of Galatians, he defends himself as equal to all the Apostles, even Peter. In later books he calls himself “The least of the Apostles” (See 1 Corinthians 15:9). In Ephesians 3:18, he calls himself “the least of all the Saints.” But in the Epistles of Timothy, which were written just before his death, he refers to himself as the greatest of all sinners. I wonder if maturing in our faith may not be becoming better and better but just the opposite. Growing up entails a clear view of oneself in the presence of a perfectly holy God. Jesus told the story of the woman caught in adultery and publicly displayed by the religious leaders. They expected Jesus to have her stoned to death as the law required. Jesus hand them a stone and said, “you who are without sin, should cast the first stone.” The interesting ending of the story shows the crowd dispersing starting from the oldest. Isn’t it age and maturity that results in seeing ourselves as we really are?

I have received God’s mercy. He has forgiven many sins and even today helps me find forgiveness in my daily weaknesses. One commentator makes an interesting application regarding mercy. He writes, “God’s people often plead for his mercy (Gen. 43:14; Ps. 51:1). In the Gospels, Jesus’ mercy moved him to heal the sick (Matt. 9:13; 12:7; 15:22; 20:30). For Paul, God’s mercy brings salvation to sinners (Rom. 9:15). Peace and mercy are divine gifts that become elements of a disciple’s life. We then offer them to others, as Paul does here. Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the merciful.… Blessed are the peacemakers’ (Matt. 5:7–9). If we taste God’s mercy, we should also long to show mercy.”[2]

[1] Stott, John R. W. 1973. Guard the Gospel the Message of 2 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[2] Doriani, Daniel M., and Richard D. Phillips. 2020. 2 Timothy & Titus. Edited by Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani. Reformed Expository Commentary. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

2 Thessalonians 1:3

My Cup Runneth Over!

In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he thanks God for them, particularly mentioning their faith, love, and hope. In the third verse of his second letter to them, he says something similar, “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.” Unlike the first letter, Paul explains that his giving thanks for them seems to be a compulsion – it is a moral obligation. That’s what “ought always” (ophello) means! I have a moral obligation to thank God for you, and it is right that I do just that! It is my obligation to do that because God has answered my prayers for you.  As mentioned in I Thessalonians Paul prayed for them to “excel more in faith & love.” I am obligated to thank God for both your growing faith and love!

The phrase “growing abundantly” is one word in Greek. It’s to grow but with a preposition prefixed to the word. The preposition is “hyper.” It’s kind of like “super” growth. I used Miracle Grow on my tomatoes sometimes. I’m not sure that it works all that well every year, but I want it to. I think God wants our faith to be in the “hyper” growth mode. We planted pumpkins one year in Michigan. I got the seeds from a special catalog. They were super-growth pumpkins and these things never stopped growing.  One vine had three pumpkins. One weighed 108 pounds, one weighed 94 pounds, and one weighed about 75 pounds. They were huge. They were “hyper-growth” pumpkins.

One website asks a great question, “God wants us to have faith and to increase our faith. But how? It’s not something we can just wish for or work up on our own. How can we grow in faith?”[1] I don’t care too much for their answer. Although there is some truth to their three-step process to increase faith, I think it’s bigger than just doing these three things. They say we should “Ask God for more faith.” That’s good. Then we need to “Focus on obeying God.” Of course, we should do that. Finally, they tell us to “Put God’s Word into your mind.” The importance of the Bible in our growing faith cannot be overemphasized. I believe that is how we get to know God most. Like any relationship, we grow in trusting someone by getting to know them better. We grow in faith by recognizing God’s positive disposition towards us. God loves us and shows that love to us every day. He fills the world with color and gives me eyes. He fills the world with music and gives me ears. He fills the world with good things to eat and gives me the ability to enjoy them. Noticing how God’s everyday sustenance of our lives is a clear demonstration of His love for us helps our faith grow. Even when we suffer hardships, God is at work in making it come out in the end for our best. This is growing faith. The more we see God at work in the minor details of our lives, the my “hyper-growth” we will experience. When we see how good God is to us in our everyday life, we will naturally grow in our love for Him as well. It has a lot to do with how we process the world around us and our experiences in life. Some people see the glass as half full. Others see the cup as half empty. Not me! Like the Palmist in Psalm 23, “My cup runneth over.”

[1] https://lifehopeandtruth.com/change/faith/how-to-grow-in-faith/

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

Faith, Love, and Hope

According to the book of Acts, Paul narrowly escaped from Thessalonica. The Jews from Philippi came searching for him to kill him most likely. He was stoned on his first missionary journey at Lystra. He was beaten and imprisoned on his second missionary journey in Philippi, so I conclude that the enemies of the Gospel were out to silence him once and for all. They never go that job done! He continued his second Journey preaching the Gospel wherever he went and praying for those that he had to leave behind in places where he left believers. He left a small church in Thessalonica. In his first letter to them, he tells them in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Because of the enemies of the Gospel, Paul knew those he had to leave behind in Thessalonica needed prayers. His prayer begins with giving thanks to God for them. He thanks God for “all of you.” I think his prayer is very general in that he is thankful that God allowed him to be successful in planting the church in Thessalonica and he prays for the whole body corporately. But then Paul also says he “mentions” them in his prayers. Richison thinks, and he might be right, that this implies Paul prayed for each individual. He says, “He calls people by name in prayer. This is the only good — gossip on your knees! Paul loved God’s people enough to pray specifically for them by name.”[1]

Paul says his prayer of thanksgiving for them is because of three things: Their work of faith, their labor of love, and their steadfastness of hope in Jesus. Faith, hope, and love are a triad that Paul uses often. They represent the three most important qualities desirous of Christians. I think Holmes understands it correctly when he writes, “This familiar triad of faith, love, and hope (cf. 5:8; Rom. 5:1–5; 1 Cor. 13:13; Gal. 5:5–6; Col. 1:4–5; Heb. 10:22–24; 1 Peter 1:21–22) functions almost as a shorthand summary of the essentials of Christianity: faith as the assurance that God has acted in Christ to save his people, love (‘poured … into our hearts by the Holy Spirit,’ Rom. 5:5) as the present expression and experience of the restored relationship between God and his people, and hope as the confidence that ‘he who began a good work … will carry it on to completion (Phil. 1:6), and that the future, therefore, holds not ‘wrath but … salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Thess. 5:9).”[2]

[1] Richison, Grant. 2006. Verse by Verse through the Books of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems.

[2] Holmes, Michael. 1998. 1 and 2 Thessalonians. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Colossians 1:2

Grace and Peace from God

According to the first verse of Colossians, the letter is written by Paul, but Timothy is also included as one of the senders of the letter.  Timothy is a very important figure in Paul’s writings. Paul and Timothy were very close.  Timothy was in Corinth on the second journey when Paul wrote 1 and 2 Thessalonians. He was at Ephesus on the third journey when Paul wrote 2 Corinthians. He was in Rome during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, when he wrote Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. You might also notice that two of Paul’s later letters are addressed specifically to him, see 1st and 2nd Timothy. In many ways, Paul and Timothy had been chained together. Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “I would rather be chained in a dungeon, wrist to wrist with a Christian than to live forever with the wicked in the sunshine of happiness.” We all know that Paul was beheaded by Nero in about 65 AD.  According to Hebrews 13:23, Timothy was also a prisoner and very likely experienced a similar death.

In the second verse of the first chapter of Colossians, Paul extends a wonderful blessing to his readers. He says, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father.” Paul often wished these two things on his readers.  These two brief words contain everything we need to survive life’s trials, temptations, and troubles. He uses the same greeting for the Romans, the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Thessalonians, and of course the Colossians. His greetings to Timothy and Titus vary slightly but contain the same concepts. Grace and Peace! Who could ask for more? Grace is most clearly seen in Christ’s work on the cross for sinners. What is deserved, judgment is taken for us on the Cross. What we don’t deserve, forgiveness, happiness, and eternal life is procured for us on the cross. This is Grace. Paul wishes it for us all! John Newton wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace.” As he thought upon the words: “By the grace of God I am what I am,” he said, “I am not what I ought to be. How imperfect and deficient I am! I am not what I wish to be. Though I am not what I ought to be, I can truly say that I am not what I once was—a slave to sin and Satan. I can heartily say with Paul: “By the grace of God I am what I am!”

It’s the apprehension of Grace that settles God’s peace deep within our being. Paul’s prayer is that each of us will comprehend the marvelous depth of God’s grace and that it will settle so deeply within us that no external circumstance could ever unsettle it. He prays for us all in Philippians 4:7, “may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”



Philippians 1:1, Acts 16:10

Visionary Leadership

The letter to the Philippians was addressed from “Paul and Timothy.” But Paul had three companions. We know that Silas went with Paul on this journey from Antioch. On his way to Troas, Paul picked up Timothy in Lystra, had him circumcised to make him acceptable to a Jewish audience, and then brought him with him into Macedonia. In Troas, he picked up Luke as his third companion. The story in Acts 16:10, shifts from the third person plural to the first person plural meaning that the writer must have joined the group in Troas. Acts 16:11-12 says, “So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi.”  Paul did not plant the church in Philippi by himself. He had Timothy, Silas, and Luke with him.

Paul was a visionary leader. In Luke’s account recorded in Acts 16:10, he makes it clear that it was Paul that God called with the vision, but they all knew God wanted them to be in on it. Luke writes, “And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”  They didn’t just say, “Ok Paul we’ll go with you.” They didn’t say “Paul called us.” No, they said that through Paul’s vision “God called us.” They already understood the mission to “make disciples” by preaching the Gospel, but they needed strategic direction regarding the where, how, why, and whom they should try to reach. These three men experienced God’s call through Paul’s vision. They were visionary followers!

Every Christian is called to be a visionary leader. But most Christians don’t realize that calling because before anyone can be a visionary leader, they must learn how to be a visionary follower. Luke, the Physician, became the greatest apologist to ever live. His historically accurate and extremely detailed Gospel has convinced millions of the truth of Jesus Christ. After following the visionary leadership of Paul for many years, Timothy became recognized as the visionary leader for the Church at Corinth and later at Ephesus. Two books in the Bible were written to him! After following Paul’s visionary leadership, Silas became a visionary leader for the church at Antioch. It was Silas who carried the decisions of the Jerusalem Council to Antioch. Terry Muck said, “As editor of Leadership Journal for ten years, I visited hundreds of churches across the country and met thousands of pastors and lay leaders. Among the many things I learned, one issue stands out: how difficult it is to lead a church community today. It is not difficult, mind you, to grow a church, manage the day-to-day affairs of a church, or chair committees and task forces. True leadership, however, is another matter. It’s tough to lead primarily because people don’t want to be led.” If you can’t embrace the visionary leadership of someone else, you will never become a visionary leader!


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