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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

Luke 10:38-42: The better part

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’

41 ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’

Teresa of Avila commented:

“Believe me, Martha and Mary must join together in order to show hospitality to the Lord and have him always present and not host him badly by failing to give him something to eat. How would Mary, always seated at his feet, provide him with food if her sister did not help her? His food is that in every way possible we draw souls that they may be saved and praise him always”

Really, Mary and Martha belong together in the service of the Lord.

We are regularly tempted to ‘put asunder’ things ‘God has joined together.’

The above quote resonates with this other, longer quotation from Michael Martin on the most effective people in the world.:

“To really get things done in the world, we’re told, we need men and women of action. Modern Christianity has bought into this idea. Much of medieval Christianity, too, affirmed the dichotomy between “contemplation” and “service”; it just valued the former over the latter. Religious orders that had a charism of “contemplation” were thought to be following the example of Mary over Martha, choosing “the better part” (Luke 10:38–42).

But there are clues that this polarised way of understanding the Christian life is wrong. Some of those clues lie in the text of the New Testament itself. The Lord withdrew to pray before his great works: before the calling of the disciples and the Sermon on the Mount, before walking on the sea, before his Passion. Other clues lie in the lives of those who took Christ as their template, who sought to follow him with their whole selves.”

All effective Christian service flows from being at the feet of Jesus; from being with the Father in intimate, prayerful fellowship. Martha’s activism is needed, but frenetic work which does not flow from Union with Jesus, the Living Vine, is ultimately futile. Andrew Murray put this so well:

‘Do not confound work and fruit. There may be a good deal of work for Christ that is not the fruit of the Heavenly Vine.’

Philemon:22-25: Believing is seeing

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.

Just one more small, but important, detail before we move away from this wonderful letter:

It seems to me that verse 22 epitomises faith. ‘Believing is seeing’, and Paul saw himself as a guest in Philemon’s home, even as he was still a prisoner. He knew he was being prayed for and he believed in the efficacy of these prayers.

“Now faith is the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1: Berean Standard Bible).

Prayer: Lord increase my faith.

Philemon:17-21: Christ-like

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.

I have to say I doubt Paul ever had to put his hand in his pocket to make reparations for Onesimus. At least, I can’t imagine it. But we don’t know for certain. That he was sincere in offering to pay his bill, however, we do not doubt.

‘How Christ-like of him,’ though, is what I think when I read these words. Because it seems to me that when Jesus saw the enormity of my sin, there is a sense in which He said to the Father:

“If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.”

The Cross is the price Jesus was prepared to pay for the liberation of slaves. It is our loving path to where the home fires burn.

Philemon:8-16: Re-cycling

In line with all this I have a favour to ask of you. As Christ’s ambassador and now a prisoner for him, I wouldn’t hesitate to command this if I thought it necessary, but I’d rather make it a personal request.

10-14 While here in jail, I’ve fathered a child, so to speak. And here he is, hand-carrying this letter—Onesimus! He was useless to you before; now he’s useful to both of us. I’m sending him back to you, but it feels like I’m cutting off my right arm in doing so. I wanted in the worst way to keep him here as your stand-in to help out while I’m in jail for the Message. But I didn’t want to do anything behind your back, make you do a good deed that you hadn’t willingly agreed to.

15-16 Maybe it’s all for the best that you lost him for a while. You’re getting him back now for good—and no mere slave this time, but a true Christian brother! That’s what he was to me—he’ll be even more than that to you. (The Message).

In the Roman Empire a runaway slave could expect the death penalty, at worst, and the most severe punishment at best.

In the case of Onesimus, there may be an inference that not only did he abscond, but he also stole from Philemon as well (17-20).

But Paul’s letter exudes an atmosphere of mercy. He signals a clear expectation that Philemon will receive his runaway back – not merely as a forgiven slave (which would be radical anyway), but as a brother in Christ. He says that although as an apostle he could command this, he believes he doesn’t have to. He is shrewd in his handling of the situation, applying gentle pressure to Philemon. He reminds him that he owes him (19). Also, although this is a personal letter to Philemon, there is a local church listening in. So Philemon is, in a sense, being held accountable.

(It was impossible for Christians living under the tyrannical rule of Rome to campaign for the abolition of slavery. But it has been said that Paul, in his letters, sows the seeds of its destruction. It was truly radical that slave and master could be together in a church community and call each other ‘brother.’)

I believe the Bible teacher, David Pawson, made the point that Onesimus was ‘re-cycled.’ As we have noted previously, there is an interesting play on words with his name. It means ‘useful.’ He who had previously proved ‘useless’ (11) had now been made ‘useful’ by Jesus. Pawson said that this is what salvation achieves in us all. We are re-cycled.

We can only thank God for His mercy and grace.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for giving this runaway a welcome home, and a warm place in your family. Thank you so much for using me in your service.

Philemon:8-10: Spiritual children

That is why I am boldly asking a favour of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do. 9 But because of our love, I prefer simply to ask you. Consider this as a request from me—Paul, an old man and now also a prisoner for the sake of Christ Jesus.

10 I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Onesimus. I became his father in the faith while here in prison. (NLT).

It was a poignant, powerful and touching moment. ‘Who are your children?’ The preacher challenged us with his question. ‘Where are your children?’ Then moving over to another younger pastor and his wife, who were sitting on the podium with him that day, he threw his arms around them and declared, ‘Here are two of mine!’ I’ll never forget the seismic impact of this great preacher, senior leader, and genuinely humble man, being able to not only ‘talk the talk’ but clearly ‘walk the walk’ as well. He had led this couple to Jesus a few years earlier.

Philemon’s runaway slave, Onesimus, had encountered the apostle Paul in prison. But much more than this, he had met Jesus. Nevertheless, it was through running into Paul that he got to know Christ. Paul became his spiritual father.

Note: if you find yourself in a restricted place – somewhere you would rather not be – you may discover that God has some purpose in your being there.

Philemon 6: Word in Action

And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.(New Living Translation).

Looking around at different translations of verse 6, I get the impression that there are alternate ways of expressing what Paul is writing here. I’m quoting from the NLT because I think it quite succinctly expresses the heart of his letter. While acknowledging and affirming all that Philemon so lovingly does out of the overflow of his faith, he has a big ask of him regarding the runaway slave Onesimus. There is in this letter both the request, and the expectation, that Philemon will show great generosity of heart towards his former servant.

At the back of all of this there lies an understanding that theology is to be lived; truth is to be embodied. The more we understand who we are and what we have in Christ, the more this should affect our behaviour.

Paul calls for the Word in action.

How we treat people matters. Let’s tenaciously hold on to this. We can’t get away with saying we love God if we don’t love our brother (or sister) – even the one who has wronged us.

‘That’s the thing about faith. It works.’ Lauren Oliver.

Philemon:4,5 & 7: ‘Love Does’

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 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. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

(Every time your name comes up in my prayers, I say, “Oh, thank you, God!” I keep hearing of the love and faith you have for the Master Jesus, which brims over to other believers. And I keep praying that this faith we hold in common keeps showing up in the good things we do, and that people recognize Christ in all of it. Friend, you have no idea how good your love makes me feel, doubly so when I see your hospitality to fellow believers. The Message).

Someone observed that we are saved by faith alone. Nevertheless the faith that saves does not come alone. It does not turn up unaccompanied. Again and again in Paul’s letters faith and love ‘walk out’ together; they go hand in hand, arm in arm.

Philemon’s faith in Christ showed itself in love for others – and ‘Love Does.’

‘Love Does’ is the title of a book by Bob Goff.

Among other things, Philemon’s love overflowed in hospitality. He opened his home to the church, and to individuals, such as Paul (22). The apostle knew there would be a welcome for him at this address. Philemon was a human oasis in the desert of the world. To be around him was to find encouragement and experience refreshment.

In short, then, if we have faith in Jesus, this will spill over in love for others; and if we love them we will work for their benefit – even at cost to ourselves. (See verse 6 in ‘The Message).

Ethel Barrett correctly observed, ‘Christianity is as practical as a pair of shoes: not just for putting on and showing, but for getting up and going.’

Prayer: Loving Lord Jesus, in this new year help me to be someone who refreshes others.

A New Force

PHILIP YANCEY

The old man Simeon, who recognized the baby as the Messiah, instinctively understood that conflict would surely follow. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against…” he said, and then made the prediction that a sword would pierce Mary’s own soul. Somehow Simeon sensed that though on the surface little had changed – the autocrat Herod still ruled, Roman troops were still stringing up patriots, Jerusalem still overflowed with beggars – underneath everything had changed. A new force had arrived to undermine the world’s powers.

Not Hell

JÖRG ZINK

There’s nothing romantic about the Christmas story. If anything, it offers a slice of a brutal world in which a child is born on the street, so to speak, with next to nothing in the way of rights and security, and not even a home. He whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas said, even as a grown man, “I have nothing. I am nowhere at home. Even at night, I have no place to rest or lay my head”.…But now this man from Nazareth comes to us and invites us to mirror God’s image, and shows us how. He says: you too can become light, as God is light. Because what is all around you is not hell, but rather a world waiting to be filled with hope and faith.

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