JohnSWilson3 Blog

“…we came together to break bread.”
November 29, 2009, 10:20 pm
Filed under: E Acts

According to Acts chapter 20 that Luke wrote, Paul had been in Greece, specifically Corinth, for three months during the winter season and wrote his famous letter to the church in Rome. After the winter season traveling back to Jerusalem was still on his mind. His focus was on getting the collection that the Gentile churches had provided Paul and his companions and get it to the poor Christians in Jerusalem “by the day of Pentecost.” Paul was always focused on giving instead of receiving.

Just as he is leaving Corinth the Jewish leaders “made a plot against him just as he was about to sail for Syria.” So instead of going by ship to leave Greece he decides to hike north back through Macedonia. Paul has with him his “companions” those whom he has been training for years now in forming Christian communities through the proclamation of the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ. The sense of how Luke writes this is similar to how he describes Jesus who trained the first disciples. How important the living in community is to not just the body of Christ but for those whom God has called to proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus and gathering believers together under the Headship of Jesus Christ! These companions are also those whom Paul has brought with him to help him bring the collection of money to the church in Jerusalem “to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men” (2 Cor. 8:20-21).

Seven of these companions went by ship to Troas while Paul and Luke and some others went through Macedonia until they got to Philippi. Because of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Jewish Passover, Paul spent time with the church their, perhaps Lydia’s house, the jailer’s home, and I’m sure others to encourage them and to share Jesus’ life with each other.

Finally Paul, Luke, and some other of his companions sailed from Philippi to Troas. Sometime before Paul wrote his second letter to the church in Corinth Paul had returned back to Troas and was able “to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door” and a body of Christ was gathered to express the life of Jesus to one another and to their family, friends, and neighbors. Paul and his companions stayed in Troas for seven days enjoying life together with the body of Christ in each others homes. Surely, as he had mentioned to the church in Rome, he spent time with the church to mutually encouraging “each other’s faith,” building each other up in the Lord.

Because Paul was about to set sail for Jerusalem, and perhaps was not going to ever see the people who made up the body of Christ in Troas again, all of the body came together in one home “on the first day of the week…to break bread.” What a tremendously solemn occasion this must have been for everyone, knowing what was about to befall Paul. “Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.” They must have enjoyed a meal together with the Lord’s supper, talked to one another about the week’s time with each other and Paul, perhaps sharing testimonies of what God had been doing through each other, singing songs, hymns, and spiritual songs, and focused on encouraging one another.

Paul probably realized the immensity of the situation and led by the Spirit of Christ was consumed with sharing the revelation of Jesus Christ to the body! Perhaps he shared about the central themes of what he had written to the Galatian churches a few years ago, perhaps the mystery of Christ that he shared with the churches in Thessalonica and in Corinth, or perhaps the incredible salvation God has given us in Jesus Christ that he had written to the church in Rome. Perhaps Paul used this time for the believers to ask questions and allow Jesus to bring revelation as answers. Whatever the case, what an incredibly charged time for the church this must have been! How my own heart yearns for a revelation of Jesus that consumes me and the body of Christ whom I meet with in such a way! How the body of Christ desires a revelation of Jesus that would consume it so much so that it can never be the same!

The story that Luke tells us sounds very much like a story of the Old Testament prophets. Luke says that “there were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘He’s alive!’ Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.” What an amazing story! Why did this miracle happen? I’m sure there were many reasons, specifically to the building up of the body of Christ. Paul had been in Ephesus for a couple years before this time and it was said that the results of the miracles God had done through Paul was so that “the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.” They were opportunities to bring glory to Jesus and to build up the body of Christ. May Jesus so consume the body of Christ that His life is manifested in ways beyond our understanding!

It seems that the ending of his letter to the Roman Christians he had written a couple months earlier is fitting “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him – to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen!” Not only does Jesus want to be known to all peoples through His word but also as He manifests or reveals Himself through His body! When Paul was speaking to the church in Troas perhaps he was describing the wonderful salvation Jesus has given us because of His death on the cross for our sins and His resurrection from the dead, a life that is lived now through one another. Perhaps this was an event that God used to dramatically show the believers the power of God to do just that?! Something no one in the church would ever forget no doubt! “The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted”! Absolutely!

“…I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.”
November 27, 2009, 3:49 pm
Filed under: L Letter to Romans

It has taken me a while to get ready to write this blog on this latter section of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. Having seen conflict in one form or another as well as been in the middle of it I guess there is some pain you have to work through in the process. One thing that comes to mind is wondering whether it was necessary and the other is was it done properly.

Having read Paul’s letters and seen what occurred in the book of Acts Paul was not one to stay away from conflict, in fact he kind of put himself into the middle of it. But Paul couches conflict with this phrase “I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” It seems to me that there is a whole lot that could be said about this one phrase or proverb. And I am sure I will barely put a dent into it’s understanding. I get a sense that Paul had read the gospel according to Matthew which surely had been written by now. Paul would have read in that gospel how Jesus told his disciples “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” But there is also a sense that perhaps Paul also took what James had written as well: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” The conflict that Paul sees in the body of Christ are those from without and those from within. Jesus’ words describe conflict with those who do “not welcome you or listen to your words” and whom we are to “be on our guard against.” James’ words describe conflict with those in the body of Christ.

If anyone has had time to form real authentic relationships with others, or made an attempt to can tell you, there will be conflict. Is this perhaps the reason the church as an institution does more to prevent conflict by making its services as non-participatory as it can and why most people limit their relationships to just a few, if any at all, and those being primarily shallow in nature, and perhaps why social networks online are more palatable than face-to-face relationships? Jesus, James, and Paul sees conflict as necessary. Why did God allow Adam and Eve to choose between the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? So conflict must occur in our relationships within the body of Christ, not that we go out and look for it it, it just naturally occurs as people get to know each other. Growth is based on how we respond to the conflicts. As I’ve heard it said, “God brings sandpaper people into our lives to smooth out our rough edges.”

Looking at this section in the last part of the letter to the Roman Christians Paul says how important it is in conflict to “be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” Perhaps because when we find out each others differences we are tempted to judge one another, or think wrongly of someone and their motives. Jesus, in the His Sermon on the Mount told the disciples “do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Paul had said earlier in his letter similar words which seem to indicate that his section on being a living sacrifice plays an important role in conflicts. As I mentioned in a previous blog on Romans 12 Paul’s initial statement is the defining statement of the Christian life in the body of Christ. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” Paul goes further to describe the importance of not being conformed “to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” It seems that to Paul we are to be so Christ-centered as a body that when conflict occurs we will know God’s will in the midst of that conflict.

Perhaps the reason why conflict doesn’t really go very well in the church is because we are not as Christ-centered as we should be. Being Christ-centered means just that, we are “not to think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” To be Christ-centered infers that we will be focused on loving one another, because it is Jesus body, it is He who is loving us through one another. If we are not loving one another, then we are not loving Jesus! Paul said that “love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” Paul describes this love among the brothers and sisters as a sacrificial love, as love that offers “our bodies as living sacrifices” to one another.

This entire section and the one like it in what he wrote to the Corinthian Christians in his first letter speak volumes about how the body of Christ lives. We are to never “repay evil for evil” but to “be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge…” Isn’t this the first thing we are tempted to do? We get defensive and the conflict gets worse? But God says ” ‘If your enemy is hungry feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” I find it happens all the time in school, there are certain students who always seem to try and “push my button.” Students are not the only ones who do that, adults do it to. How do we respond? One word – “love.”

After having seen conflict in many different forms and instances and how to deal with them in principle Paul tells the church in Rome “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” Wow. This is the third time Paul says “I urge you, brothers.” The first was in describing the sacrificial life the body is to live among one another, the other was just a moment ago when he asked them to “join me in my struggle by praying to God for me” “by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit.”

Being Christ-centered means an absolute dependence on Jesus and His life in His body! Do we first go to Jesus in our conflict or do we try and figure out how to resolve it on our own, whether for good or ill? If Jesus is Head of the body then He is the One we go to! Especially in the matters of conflict. But Paul’s description of conflict here is of vital importance to the life of the body! Paul’s talking about someone who is causing divisions and putting obstacles in Jesus way of life we were called to live. Paul had dealt with this before in Corinth. in Corinth there were those who were attempting to make themselves head of the body instead of Jesus. In fact it seemed like this happened every where a Christian community was formed due to his preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. Something was behind the divisions and obstacles in keeping Jesus as Head of His body….”The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” Satan wants nothing more than to divide Jesus’ body and put obstacles in the way of the simple and pure devotion to Christ that occurs when believers gather together organically and share His life with one another. Paul says to “keep away from them.” Is it possible that a simple change that prevents Jesus from being Head of His body is really all that important? According to Paul it was! The reason to “be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” perhaps is because there may be some good things that someone in the body might want to do but does it keep our focus on Jesus, does it focus on being living sacrifices, does it focus on loving one another, or does it bring the focus on someone in the body other than on Jesus? Does it serve ourselves or does it serve the body?

The Roman Christians had some issues that they needed to work on as Paul pointed out early in his letter, and while Paul said “everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you” he wanted them to be careful about how they lived life together. Paul does not want us to be naive, but to have our minds controlled by the Spirit. He said that “those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” We therefore “have an obligation” to live according to the Spirit! “Those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned” we must “keep away from them” because their minds are controlled by the sinful nature and not the Spirit. Be careful of those who use “smooth talk and flattery” in an attempt to boost your ego or self. We are not to focus on our self! Paul said to the churches in Galatia “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Self is to be crucified! Self is to be made a “living sacrifice”! When someone tells me that the great commandment says to “Love your neighbor as yourself” and so we must be able to love ourselves so we can love our neighbor I heartily disagree! I think this is a misinterpretation of the intent of the scripture which was not self love but sacrificial love. Self love causes selfishness and egotism. As James says “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” Paul says to “live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” and “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying one another. Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing’ he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions.” How we need God’s grace in these matters!

Paul had described a list of disciples for the church to greet just before he gave this warning to the church. Perhaps this was meant as a contrast. Those who lived by the Spirit, lived a sacrificial life, who focused on Jesus being the Head of the body, who loved one another deeply from the heart, in contrast to those who lived contrary to this. The list of disciples describes believers who focused on sincere love. How sincere is our love for one another? Are we focused on what we want or the body of Christ? How do we respond to “smooth talk and flattery”? If there are those who do this can we “keep away from them”? We also need to recognize that the life in the body of Christ is a life in process. Some have not fully realized how their lives are in Jesus and so are still in process, like us all, in crucifying the sinful nature. Paul said to the church in Thessalonica in his first letter to “warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone, make sure nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” When we gather together in Jesus name, we may not always say and do things that are helpful to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore when a brother or sister in Christ says or does something not helpful to the body then love must prevail! We will be tempted to not say anything or do anything when we do not warn, encourage, help, and not have patience. “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” Paul in his second letter to this church says “if anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” Again the need “to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.”

Some are a little more ahead of us in the process than others. Advice and counsel is a good thing – seeking Jesus’ will together. Could this be the reason for conflict, to help us grow closer together with Jesus? It is Jesus who established us and enables us to live by His life. How often do we seek His advice in matters of His body? “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him – to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

“…she has been a great help to many people, including me.”
November 2, 2009, 1:22 am
Filed under: L Letter to Romans

In chapter 16 Paul provides a list of brothers and sisters in Christ whom he is grateful for. They are those who have learned to “put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” and those who have “clothed themselves with the Lord Jesus Christ”! These are men and women who have made “every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

The first is “our sister Phoebe” who is the person carrying Paul’s letter from the church in Cenchrea which is close to Corinth in Greece to the church in Rome. Because the Christians in Rome do not know her, Paul wants them “to receive her in the Lord” just like any sister of Christ, but because of her service to the church, Paul goes further and asks them also “give her any help she may need” because “she has been a great help to many people, including” Paul.

The next list of names is an interesting list of brothers and sisters. Paul does not address so many in any other letter except for this letter to the Romans. But this list of names are for people Paul knows and perhaps have just recently arrived or have only been in Rome for a short time because Paul asks the church in Rome to “greet” them. Others suspect that they may have been sent to Rome to help establish the church in Rome and lay a greater foundation for expressing Jesus Christ in this the imperial city of the Roman Empire.

Would you know that at the top of Paul’s list to help lay a foundation in Rome would be “Priscilla and Aquila,” Paul’s “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” who “risked their lives for” Paul. Both Paul and “all the church of the Gentiles are grateful to them.” But not just them but also “the church that meets at their house.” Is it possible that the church that met in Priscilla and Aquila’s home in Ephesus all together left to go to Rome to express Jesus together? Amazing! Perhaps the rest of the list of names are some of those who make up “the church that meets at their house.” They have been found by Paul as ones whom God has given “endurance and encouragement” and who has also given this transplanted church such “a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus” that they left all, forsook all “so that with one heart and mouth (they) may glorify God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” by expressing Jesus’ love to those in Rome so that others may know “the God of hope” who can “fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that (others) may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”! Is it possible that what Paul has been writing about in his letter has been a reflection of this church that left all to go to Rome?

As we look at these names and descriptions of members of this body of Christ, Paul names many of his relatives. His relatives include “Andronicus and Junias” who not only were his relatives but also “have been in prison with” Paul and whom Paul considered as church planters or “apostles” before he even became a Christian. I assume then that they were in Jerusalem “on the day of Pentecost” when the church was birthed by the Holy Spirit. The other relative of Paul that is mentioned being a part of this church is Herodion. Later in the letter Paul mentions also “Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my relatives” but they are still with Paul along with Timothy in Greece. As I reflect on this, how I desire to see my own father and siblings to be “in Christ” and involved in expressing Jesus Christ through His body the church. How I praise God for my wife and daughter whom God has touched with salvation and who desire to express Jesus to others! My boys are not to far off from belonging to Jesus and look forward to that wonderful day! Paul never does mention his parents, wife or siblings specifically and perhaps these relatives are not his closest kin.

Paul also mentions two “dear friend(s)” of his who also make up the church that planted itself in Rome. These are Epenetus “who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia” and “Stachys.” Paul also specifically mentions “Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord” and “Persis.” How wonderful to have “dear friends” in Christ! Those whom you can be so close to.

Paul also mentions those in this church who “work very hard in the Lord” such as “Tryphena and Tryphosa” and “Persis” who are all women, Persis, Paul’s “dear friend,” specifically who “has worked very hard in the Lord.” Praise God for women in the body of Christ who “work hard in the Lord”!

Paul mentions some entire households who went with this church to go to Rome, those of “Aristobulus” and “Narcissus.” Paul specifically mentions “Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.” How the body of Christ, the people of God, are such genuinely a family of God!

Other than Priscilla and Aqila and Timothy, Paul also asks the church in Rome to “Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ.” He also asks them to “Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ.” Perhaps Urbanus and Apelles has been part of Paul’s church planting companions in Ephesus and have been sent by Paul now as part of this church plant in Rome. Paul also mentions “Mary, who worked very hard for you.” It seems Mary is from Rome, and was the one who provided Paul some information about what God has been doing in the life of the early church plant, that had resulted from Christians from Jerusalem returning back to Rome to live Jesus’ life together.

Then Paul lists a few more brothers and sisters in Christ. All important who together make up the body of Christ who express Jesus love from house to house “so that all nations might believe and obey him – to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.” In this list of names of faithful followers of Jesus who made up such a devoted body of believers, I am reminded of what Paul was saying in chapter 12, and perhaps Paul was thinking of them, how “just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” and who are “devoted to one another in brotherly love” who are “never lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” who are “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” How they must have loved one another! Each of these followers of Jesus gave up their lives, they died to themselves, they offered their bodies as living sacrifices, so that others might hear and see the good news of Jesus Christ lived out in their daily lives. May we, God’s people, truly be about living “by faith in the Son of God, who (loves us) and gave himself for (us)” because we “have been crucified with Christ,” no longer living according to the flesh, but letting Christ live in and through us!