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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson


December 2022

Philemon:1-5: Words of affirmation and blessing

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 

As Paul open this letter – his shortest recorded epistle – he does so with words of affirmation, appreciation and blessing.

The blessing comes in the form of a short, simple (yet profound) prayer (3).

The words of affirmation are for certain personal characteristics (1b, 2a) and qualities (4,5).

I often think of the story of the Scottish minister who was told, as a boy, by the local sweet shop lady, ‘Flattery is like perfume sonny. It’s okay to sniff the bottle, but don’t swallow the contents.’

The same goes even for sincere compliments. There are good and godly ways to encourage people, and it seems to me Paul repeatedly got the balance right. He found a way to let them get a good sniff of the bottle while always giving the glory to God.

(By the way, Philemon was not, as far as we know, a major leader in the church, but he was probably a wealthy man who had a house big enough for the church to meet in. Nevertheless Paul called him a ”fellow worker.”)

PRAYER: Lord, please give me words to encourage, lips to bless in prayer, and a heart that always seeks to honour and glorify you above all.

Philemon:1-3: People matter

 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

People matter.

Names matter. We tend to like it when people remember and use our names and affirm and appreciate our personal characteristics.

Team matters.

As far as I can calculate, in his New Testament letters Paul mentions over 55 people by name. Some were foes but most were friends. The lists, as here, include both men and women. Paul was not a ‘lone ranger’ leader – trying to do everything by himself. He recognised the importance of fellowship in the gospel.

Recently I read a quote from Henri Nouwen, in which he was saying that we are all gifted, and if we bring our own contribution to the table we needn’t be envious of anyone else, nor threatened by them. We can co-operate and collaborate rather than compete.

‘We do not have to think alike to think together.’ Rick Rigsby.

‘Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.’ Helen Keller

Philemon: Divine appointments

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Paul’s Plea for Onesimus

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

He was a young man from Tehran, and he came to England to study the English language at a small school, within a theological college, situated just outside a leafy Surrey village. In his first year he found himself sharing a tiny dormitory with a ‘radiant’ Christian man. About eighteen months after meeting this man he was to say to him one day, ”Anthony, many times you talked to me about Jesus. But one day I saw Jesus in your face, and now I want to become a Christian too!’

This was a ‘divine appointment.’

”Not only in the words you say,
Not only in your deeds confessed.
But in the most unconscious way
Is Christ expressed.

Is it a beatific smile?
A holy light upon your brow?
Oh no, I saw His presence when
You laughed just now.

To me twas not the truth you taught,
To you so clear to me so dim.
But when you came to me
You brought a sense of Him.

And from your life He beckons me,
And from your lips His love is shed.
Til I lose sight of you and see the Christ instead.”

Paul was a prisoner when he met Onesimus, the runaway slave, but it was a ‘divine appointment.’ Paul saw himself as Christ’s prisoner (1,9). He knew that all of his life was under Christ’s sovereign control, and if he was a jailbird the Lord had His reasons. Certainly one of them was so that he would encounter Onesimus, who formerly had been ”useless”, but once he was converted began to live up to his name (which actually means ‘useful’; see v.11).

You never know who you might run into whose life may change because of the meeting. Or it might be you who will be changed. Possibly both of you!

“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.”
(Proverbs 16:9, NLT).

Someone prayed this great prayer:

”Father, thank You for ordering my steps. Thank You for divine appointments that keep me on the right path. Help me to discern the opportunities You have placed in front of me and see clearly Your hand guiding me in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Lamentations 4:14-22: Practical atheism

Now they grope through the streets
    as if they were blind.
They are so defiled with blood
    that no one dares to touch their garments.

15 “Go away! You are unclean!” people cry to them.
    “Away! Away! Don’t touch us!”
When they flee and wander about,
    people among the nations say,
    “They can stay here no longer.”

16 The Lord himself has scattered them;
    he no longer watches over them.
The priests are shown no honor,
    the elders no favor.

17 Moreover, our eyes failed,
    looking in vain for help;
from our towers we watched
    for a nation that could not save us.

18 People stalked us at every step,
    so we could not walk in our streets.
Our end was near, our days were numbered,
    for our end had come.

19 Our pursuers were swifter
    than eagles in the sky;
they chased us over the mountains
    and lay in wait for us in the desert.

20 The Lord’s anointed, our very life breath,
    was caught in their traps.
We thought that under his shadow
    we would live among the nations.

21 Rejoice and be glad, Daughter Edom,
    you who live in the land of Uz.
But to you also the cup will be passed;
    you will be drunk and stripped naked.

22 Your punishment will end, Daughter Zion;
    he will not prolong your exile.
But he will punish your sin, Daughter Edom,
    and expose your wickedness.

If we compare verse 17 with Habakkuk 2:1, we see that Habakkuk was looking for his answers from the living and true God, and he got them, even though he had to wait. But the people of Judah were focussed on foreign ‘gods’ – in this case, hoping for help from some other nation. Here was part of the grave sin of the false prophets, that they encouraged the people to believe that such ‘foreign aid’ would come. But it didn’t – not in any lasting way.

It is a constant danger for the church – and I think especially so in the generally affluent and comfortable west – that we are far too self-reliant. We are too clever by far; too trusting of our own resources. This regularly shows itself in a form of ‘practical atheism’, where we say we believe in God, but it doesn’t translate into committed, corporate prayerfulness.

Are we looking in the wrong direction for our help?

Lamentations 4:1-

How the gold has lost its luster,
    the fine gold become dull!
The sacred gems are scattered
    at every street corner.

How the precious children of Zion,
    once worth their weight in gold,
are now considered as pots of clay,
    the work of a potter’s hands!

Even jackals offer their breasts
    to nurse their young,
but my people have become heartless
    like ostriches in the desert.

Because of thirst the infant’s tongue
    sticks to the roof of its mouth;
the children beg for bread,
    but no one gives it to them.

Those who once ate delicacies
    are destitute in the streets.
Those brought up in royal purple
    now lie on ash heaps.

The punishment of my people
    is greater than that of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment
    without a hand turned to help her.

Their princes were brighter than snow
    and whiter than milk,
their bodies more ruddy than rubies,
    their appearance like lapis lazuli.

But now they are blacker than soot;
    they are not recognized in the streets.
Their skin has shriveled on their bones;
    it has become as dry as a stick.

Those killed by the sword are better off
    than those who die of famine;
racked with hunger, they waste away
    for lack of food from the field.

10 With their own hands compassionate women
    have cooked their own children,
who became their food
    when my people were destroyed.

11 The Lord has given full vent to his wrath;
    he has poured out his fierce anger.
He kindled a fire in Zion
    that consumed her foundations.

12 The kings of the earth did not believe,
    nor did any of the peoples of the world,
that enemies and foes could enter
    the gates of Jerusalem.

1But it happened because of the sins of her prophets
    and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed within her
    the blood of the righteous

”Bad will be the day, for every man when he becomes absolutely contented with the life that he is living, with the thoughts that he is thinking, with the deeds that he is doing, when there is not forever beating at the doors of his soul some great desire to do something larger, which he knows that he was meant and made to do because he is still, in spite of all, the child of God.” Philips Brooks

”After forty-five years in ministry, here is what I have seen to be true: Jesus Christ came to comfort the troubled and trouble the comfortable.” Francis Frangipane

Complacency is spiritually dangerous, both for the individual, and for the collective soul of the church.

So is apathy.

Yesterday I read that ‘Christianity Today’s’ book of the year has been announced, and it is Uche Anizor’s Overcoming Apathy: Gospel Hope for Those Who Struggle to Care. I have made a mental note to have a look at it. Apathy is not the same as complacency, but they are surely related? First cousins I would say. Both share a similar numbness towards things which matter.

One thing leaders must not lose sight of is the fact that they set the ‘tone’ for church life. They cannot afford to be complacent or apathetic. The ‘atmosphere’ of the shepherd’s own heart will prove infectious – for good or ill. But in the case of Judah’s leaders, their failures went way beyond complacency and apathy. They were in outright rebellion towards God’s Word, and responsibility for the terrible judgment that fell upon the people is laid squarely at their door.

It is a serious sin indeed to lead people into error. Peter writes about those who ”distort” the Scriptures ”to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).

Lamentations 4:1: Has the shine gone off your salvation?

How the gold has lost its luster,
    the fine gold become dull!
The sacred gems are scattered
    at every street corner.

This is about how their sins had cheapened them and caused them to lose their beauty. They had come to be treated as worthless objects are when thrown onto a rubbish heap. As Warren Wiersbe observes, no-one is made more attractive by sin

But I also remember a friend of mine talking about how ‘the shine can go off’ your salvation. I think you will know what he meant. I know I do.

As an old hymn puts it in one of its verses:

Where is the blessedness I knew
when first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
of Jesus and his word?

Or, more recently a contemporary pastor, Mark Buchanan, expressed it in this way:

‘I long to get back to a place I was at a few years ago, where every day I heard God. I was more vigilant then, I think, more expectant and hungry. I was the hunter hunted. I was the man in the woods who depended on the keenness of his senses in order to eat and not be eaten. My pursuit of God had an end-of-the-world kind of desperation. Like Rachel crying to Jacob, ”Give me children or I die,” I cried to God, ”Give me your Spirit or I die.” I was spiritually lean, wily, stealthy, alert, and yet also vulnerable, wide open. A child and warrior both.

Somewhere I got dull. The child got old, the warrior timid. Again, I think I know how this happened – a combination of growing responsibility and increased privilege – but so what? Somewhere, I started to play things safe. I started to fall back on tried, tired methods of doing things and stopped asking God each day whether I should fight or not fight, go up or go down. I got formulaic in my thinking. I got hidebound in my routines. In the spring, when kings go out to war, I started to stay home, wander bored and restless on the palace roof, looking for something to make me feel young again.’ (‘The Rest of God’. p.154).

It may be that more than one person reading this will want to pray today:

Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
” (Psalm 51:12).

Lamentations 3: 49-66: Let us draw near…

My eyes will flow unceasingly,
    without relief,
50 until the Lord looks down
    from heaven and sees.
51 What I see brings grief to my soul
    because of all the women of my city.

52 Those who were my enemies without cause
    hunted me like a bird.
53 They tried to end my life in a pit
    and threw stones at me;
54 the waters closed over my head,
    and I thought I was about to perish.

55 I called on your name, Lord,
    from the depths of the pit.
56 You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
    to my cry for relief.”
57 You came near when I called you,
    and you said, “Do not fear.”

58 You, Lord, took up my case;
    you redeemed my life.
59 Lord, you have seen the wrong done to me.
    Uphold my cause!
60 You have seen the depth of their vengeance,
    all their plots against me.

61 Lord, you have heard their insults,
    all their plots against me—
62 what my enemies whisper and mutter
    against me all day long.
63 Look at them! Sitting or standing,
    they mock me in their songs.

64 Pay them back what they deserve, Lord,
    for what their hands have done.
65 Put a veil over their hearts,
    and may your curse be on them!
66 Pursue them in anger and destroy them
    from under the heavens of the Lord.

Jeremiah seems to move seamlessly from a call to the nation to wholeheartedly turn to God, to an intensely personal prayer, acknowledging how God met him when he was in the dungeon. Verse 57b reminds me of James 4:8, which says:

”Come close to God, and God will come close to you.”
(New Living Translation).

This is an exceedingly precious promise. I can understand J.Oswald Sanders saying:

“We are at this moment as close to God as we really choose to be. True, there are times when we would like to know a deeper intimacy, but when it comes to the point, we are not prepared to pay the price involved.”

What do you think? How much of God do you want?

Lamentations 3:40-48: Hearts and hands

Let us examine our ways and test them,
    and let us return to the Lord.
41 Let us lift up our hearts and our hands
    to God in heaven, and say:
42 “We have sinned and rebelled
    and you have not forgiven.

43 “You have covered yourself with anger and pursued us;
    you have slain without pity.
44 You have covered yourself with a cloud
    so that no prayer can get through.
45 You have made us scum and refuse
    among the nations.

46 “All our enemies have opened their mouths
    wide against us.
47 We have suffered terror and pitfalls,
    ruin and destruction.”
48 Streams of tears flow from my eyes
    because my people are destroyed.

‘God sees hearts as we see faces.’ George Herbert

I had scribbled a note in my Bible, at some point, next to verse 41a: ‘hands without hearts is not worship.’

Although God desires outward change, He also wants inward renewal. Jeremiah is calling for sincere repentance, and it must start with the heart. ‘The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.’ Christianity is fundamentally a religion of the heart.

Jeremiah says, ‘Look, the situation is serious. Let’s not merely lift our hands in some outward formality of prayer, but let our cries rise from our breaking hearts.’

Something of the desperate times they were in is conveyed in verse 44. If we cherish sin in our hearts the Lord will not listen (Psalm 66:18). Something has got to happen in the hearts of the people if there is to be any remedy. Cosmetic change will not do.

So it is for us.

What needs to happen in your heart today?

Titus 3:4-8a: Christmas according to Titus!

 ”But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.”

Note here:

  • All three Persons of the Trinity are involved in our salvation;
  • Paul has no doubts as to the identity of Jesus (compare verses 4 and 6, where God is our ”Saviour” and so is Jesus

This is one of Paul’s ”trustworthy” sayings, and in it we find his comment about ”the kindness and love of God our Saviour” appearing. How did His kindness and love ‘appear’? The answer is in the Incarnation; in Jesus. As Michael Green says, ‘Jesus is the window into God.’ We especially see God’s love and kindness in Jesus humbling Himself to become a slave, and going to the Cross to ‘wash’ the feet of His disciples (See John 13/Phil.2:1-11).

” But when God, our kind and loving Saviour God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Saviour Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this.” (‘The Message’).

This is the message of Christmas according to Titus, and it makes for a very happy Christmas (and a wonderful new year!) if we believe.

Let’s never forget that ‘He was born to die.’ Let us joyfully add, ‘that we might live.’

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