- The auditorium hums with conversation. There is a sense of anticipation in the air. When the lights dim voices hush and all eyes turn toward the stage. It is simply adorned with a lectern and after a brief introduction, the speaker appears. He is of average height with silvery hair and a neatly trimmed goatee, adorned in an ensemble taken from the Swiss Alps; an artist’s shirt, vest and knickers. He stands at the podium and speaks with clarity, authority and passion. I would not be able to quote to you word for word on what Francis Schaeffer spoke on that day. But I do remember the question at hand, “How then shall we live?” As Schaeffer looked out over the course of Western Civilization he was alarmed by its eroding foundation. His challenge then was that Christians must decisively engage the culture and redirect it back to God. He was not compelled by high moral standards but by what he felt the Scriptures exhorted us to do and he was concerned that the Church-at-Large was not living up to that mandate.
Like Francis Schaeffer, the apostle Paul was concerned for the churches he planted and how they interacted with their culture and one another. The church at Thessalonica is a good example of this. Paul had a brief but powerful ministry in this illustrious city according to Acts 17:1-10. One can still see evidence of its glory and power today as its main thoroughfare, the Egnatian Way, is still its main thoroughfare, passing by ancient ruins and modern shops alike. Paul followed his usual routine when he arrived there, first attending the local synagogue and engaging the devout Jews in discussions about the Scriptures (Ac. 17:2-3). There was a positive response from some as well as from “God-fearing Greeks”, those Gentiles who worshipped the God of Israel rather than engaging in the polytheism of their fellow countrymen (Ac. 17:4). However, just as soon as the church began to grow, opposition arose as well. A mob forms in the market place and storms the house of Jason who was one of the church leaders (v. 5-6) looking for Paul. While Jason is being questioned, Paul and Silas are escorted out of town (v. 10) to nearby Berea.
In spite of the short time Paul ministered there, the church at Thessalonica appears to have survived and thrived. Paul hoped to return there, but circumstances both great and small prevented him, so instead he relied on some of his co-workers, such as Timothy, to oversee the spiritual growth and nurturing of the Thessalonians. The two letters we have from Paul to the new converts here are on the whole very positive. They include thanksgiving for the believers (1 Thes. 1:2-10; 2 Thes. 1:1-12), an overview of their history and relationship with Paul and Timothy (1 Thes. 1:1-2:12, 2:17-3:10), instruction on godly living (1 Thes. 4:1-12; 2 Thes. 3:6-15), teachings on doctrinal issues (1 Thes. 4:13-18), the expectation of suffering and why it occurs (1 Thes. 2:13-16), explanations on the second coming (1 Thes. 5:1-11; 2 Thes. 2:1-12) and several exhortations, words of praise and prayers (1 Thes. 2:13-16, 3:11-13, 5:12-28; 2 Thes. 2:13-17, 3:16-18). While the overall tone of both letters is positive, the second letter has a greater sense of urgency in that some behavior and attitudes of certain believers in the body is causing problems. Paul repeatedly reminds the Thessalonians to “remember” and asserts there is much they “already know” and for that reason this behavior should not continue.
What seems to be causing problems within the Thessalonian church has been described as a negative mind-set towards holding a job. It has been speculated that some believers stopped working with the expectation that Christ’s return was imminent. This left other believers with the burden of caring for them. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart offer a scenario that is more accurate. Thessalonica being the chief city in Macedonia was populated by wealthy Greek aristocracy, who in general had a “disdain for manual work”. These believers seem to be using the return of Christ as an excuse to not do their part so Paul addresses the teachings that are encouraging this behavior. Paul states the Christ’s return is as sure as the believer’s salvation, but that the most must be made of the time while we’re waiting. Rather than retreating and waiting behind closed doors (so to speak) the church should be compelled into action, especially in proclaiming the Gospel message.
How do you spend the days when you are planning a special vacation? You are probably making sure you have secured lodging, put together the clothes to bring, and read up on the place you will be going. The same can be done as we await the Lord’s return. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and challenged them to be engaged in the Lord’s work and to be ready (1 Thes. 4:16-5:3; 2 Thes. 2:1-2). How about you? Do you need to be challenged as the Thessalonians were? Are you ready?
- Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
- November 1, 2015
Alexander followed his friend Didymus through the agora. As usual it was crowded and noisy. Shopkeepers stood by their wares calling out to potential customers. Along the fringe of the commercial activity, the philosophers and their schools of students proclaimed their opinions on life and truth. Skeptic, Stoic, or Epicurean, it didn’t matter which school of thought was being proclaimed, Didymus rejected them all. Instead, he had embraced the teachings of “The Way” (Acts 19:9, 23) and Alexander, for the most part agreed with him. But he didn’t see why these other philosophies didn’t have some truth in them too. Couldn’t one blend more than one philosophy into this religion of Jesus? After all, it didn’t matter how you ended up in heaven, just as long as you got there, right? Apparently no, for toady a letter had arrived from a teacher named Paul and now they were on their way to Philemon’s house to hear what it had to say.
The beautiful city of Colosse was nestled in the Lycus River Valley near the junction of the Lycus and Meander Rivers. The Lycus Valley was noted for two things: earthquakes and a high chalk content in its water. During its hey-day, two industries caused the market to hum. The first was textiles; the second wool dyeing. Colosse was so well known for these two related enterprises it had its own “brand” of wool. Paul never established a church in Colosse, but while he was based in Ephesus, residents of Colosse heard the Gospel and then brought it to the city where a mixed congregation grew. As it often happens in cosmopolitan places a large blend of religious philosophies were evident in the culture and their influence upon the church in Colosse was a cause for concern. Paul wrote this letter from his imprisonment in Rome around 62 AD.
It is obvious from reading this short but powerful book that Paul’s goal was first and foremost to refute the teachings of Stoicism, Skepticism and the Epicureans by examining the person of Christ. Secondly Paul wished to address the impact Christ then has on the way one lives. The book can be outlined as such: The faith and love of the Colossians is praised and Paul prays for their spiritual growth (1:1-14); Paul highlights some of Christ’s unique qualities which demonstrate His divinity and His humanity and establishes His role as Creator and Reconciler (1:15-23); In response to some of the philosophies which separated the material and immaterial realms and generated “mystery” religions (that is secretive societies that practiced hidden rituals), the blessings of the Gospel are not mysterious and they have been made known by Christ Himself (1:24-2:5); Man-made philosophies are worthless so be on guard that you are not taken in by them. Our focus is to be on Christ who was both God and man (2:6-15) and has removed the barrier between Jew and Greek as well as offering the forgiveness of sin; The worship of heavenly beings such as angels, practicing self-abasement, basing faith on legalistic lists of dos and don’ts or the observance of ritualistic practices have no intrinsic spiritual value and cannot subdue the sin which is part and parcel to our fleshly nature. Only Christ can do that (2:16-23); The Christ-follower sets his/her mind on the things of Christ and seeks to live as He lived (3:1-11); True spirituality is demonstrated in how one relates to other members in the body of Christ, and everything that a believer does should be done in His name and for His glory (3:12-17); The way we interact with one another (spouses, children, parents, slaves) must be dominated by love (3:18-4:1); Instructions on Christian conduct and wisdom (4:2-6); Greetings to specific people, up-dates on Paul’s activities in Rome, and a final blessing (4:7-18).
When I was teaching Apologetics to my high school students a few years ago I began to see how crucial our view of Jesus really is as Christians. For everyone has something to say about Him! Pop Culture philosophies and teachings about Christ still manage to tickle Christians’ ears (and books on them are even sold in Christian book stores!) and I’m alarmed at how many of them are accepted without question. Paul’s warning in Col. 2:8 seems just as appropriate today as it did when Paul first penned it. What we believe about Jesus will most certainly be borne out in how we live. What does your lifestyle say about your understanding of Him? Let Col. 1:15-19 be your guide in understanding Christ and Col. 3:1, 17 be your standard of Christian conduct. You will never be misled by following God’s Word, but as Paul points out in Colossians, following the prescriptions of man has no value. Christ is our standard and there is no one better than Him (Col. 2:9-10).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 10/25/2015
A soft Mediterranean breeze was blowing off the Aegean Sea when Paul arrived in Neapolis in 50 AD. He got off the boat and along with his traveling companions, set out on the road which led to Philippi. It was a dream come true (Read Acts 16:6-10). Crown jewel of the Macedonian territory, Philippi’s illustrious past was known by all. Established and fortified by Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great’s father, the city continued to play an important role in the region. It was a military town with all the benefits of the Roman Empire. But Paul’s reason for going there was not to enjoy shopping in the forum or taking in the entertainment at the theater. What he carried into the city that day was a message of hope. The first order of business was to find his Jewish brethren, but since there was no quorum for a synagogue, he found them gathered by the river which ran along the western side of Philippi. The small gathering was comprised mostly of women who had gone there to pray. Tradition and etiquette would have compelled them to ask the traveling rabbi to deliver a message and that is just what Paul did! Lydia, a well-to-do business woman, was the first to respond to the Gospel message and for a short time Paul continued to minister in Philippi through her benevolence. The affection between apostle and church ran deep. Of all the letters in the New Testament which were written by Paul, the letter to the Philippians is the most personal and affectionate.
Because of its more personal flavor, some people have trouble seeing structure in the letter. But we must remember that Paul was not writing this letter as a thesis. He is in Rome awaiting trial. The future is uncertain. At the same time the once relaxed atmosphere of religious tolerance throughout the Roman Empire has changed and persecution is on the rise. Therefore Paul is most interested in affirming the Philippians’ faith, reassuring them that Christ will see them through anything life can bring their way, and instructing them on how to live as Christ lived particularly in regards to one another. The book can be outlined as such: 1:1-11 (Greetings and thanksgiving); 1:12-30 (Results of Paul’s imprisonment); 2:1-18 (Teaching on how Jesus demonstrates the way we should live); 2:19-30 (Update on Epaphroditis and travel plans); 3:1-11 (Paul has set his goals on the person of Christ and desires to know Him even more); 3:12-4:1 (Seek maturity in Christ and citizenship in Heaven); 4:2-9 (Qualities the believer should aspire to) ; 4:10-23 (Expressions of appreciation and love for the Philippians’ concern for Paul).
Some of the most beautiful words about Christ in all of the New Testament are found in Philippians. Some call Phil. 2:5-11 a hymn of praise, which in fact it is, but it is also an amazingly concise statement concerning Christ’s deity, His incarnation, and His future exaltation. Paul’s passion in serving Christ is also evident in his own personal conviction so joyfully proclaimed in 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”. Yet Paul also struggles knowing that while death will unite Him with Christ for all eternity, it will remove him temporarily from being able to see his beloved “family” in Philippi. Knowing this, the bulk of the letter addresses the “practical theology of a Christ-centered life” as one writer noted. Six themes emerge from this: 1) Through Christ believers are able to bear the fruit of righteousness (1:11); 2) Believers should take advantage of every situation to see where Christ can be preached as Paul has found opportunity to preach even in his imprisonment (1:12-14); 3) Christ’s humility serves as an example for all believers to follow (2:1-5); 4) Power for living is found in knowing Jesus both through His sufferings and His resurrection; 5) Mature Christians have a goal which is becoming more like Jesus and they will press on toward that goal like a runner in a marathon; and 6) There are several outstanding qualities of Christian character. Among them are peace, joy, unity, and forbearance (4:1-13). Above all Paul shares two vital “secrets” to Christian living: being free of anxiety (4:6-7) because our focus is on Christ; and developing a Christian outlook by which life is approached consistently (4:8-9).
Philippians is a book loved by many Christians due to its upbeat and overall positive tone. As for me, I am no exception! It had a tremendous impact on me as a teen and still does to this day. I often find myself recalling the words of Paul concerning Christ, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ, Jesus” (2:5) and his advice on where my focus should be, “Whatever is right, whatever is true...let your mind dwell on these things” (4:8-9). Take time this week and read through Philippians several times. Think of yourself as being a part of that church and apply the principles written there to whatever situation you may find yourself in. It will be a powerful experience when you make it your own.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 10/18/2015
The city was filled with people and noise. Tychicus walked along the road from the harbor to his destination tightly clutching the scroll in his hands and pressed it firmly to his chest. He thought about the hours of thought and prayer that went into its contents. His eyes looked at the wealth and dark religion running rampant upon the marbled streets of Ephesus and wondered if it would be enough. The author of the letter, under house arrest and unlikely to be freed had poured his whole being into these words. It was true his passion and intellect was evident here, but the heart and soul of his words were purely Divine. Would the body of believers here understand this? Would these words illustrate to them the nature of what they believed, Who they believed in, and how they were to live in the face of an Empire that was turning against them? He prayed to God that they would.
The Letter to the Ephesians is one of the most theologically beautiful works of Paul. But it also is a bit of an anomaly. For the amount of time Paul spent in ministry there (a little over 2 years- Acts 19:8, 10), it seems impersonal as there are no intimate greetings like those in Colossians (Col. 4:10-17) or Romans (Rom. 16). In literary style it is far more in depth than the other Pauline epistles perhaps indicating Paul’s imprisonment has given him ample time to meditate and write as compared to many of the other epistles which were written during the height of his ministry and addressed specific situations which needed immediate attention. Unlike his usual rapid-fire points, Ephesians is a steady stream of thought which continuously flows from his pen and is seen in the fact that Eph. 1:3-14, 15-23; 2:1-9 and 3:1-7 are each one long, meandering sentence! Ephesians is Paul’s peak of eloquence.
Lawrence O. Richards noted that “Though institutional religion was a great success in Ephesus (the cult of Artemis was rampant there), and a source of both pride and profit, it failed to meet the deepest needs of the population.” We read in Acts 19 of Paul’s ministry which basically turned the city upside-down and initiated his departure for safety reasons (Acts 20:1). The church which Paul planted there stood in stark contrast to the massive temple to Artemis. While the pagan temple was magnificently built, extremely wealthy (it operated as a bank from which kings are recorded as taking massive loans), and powerful enough to run the city’s population of over 200,000 people, Paul illustrates the church as being completely different and describes the nature of the church using three analogies.
The first illustrates the Church as a body and Christ is the head of the body (Eph. 1:20-22; 2:11-18; 4:1-6, 15-16; 5:23). As the head of the Church, Christ joins together two groups that were formerly irrevocably separated (Eph. 2:16) and He is now exalted above all other spiritual powers (Eph. 1:22). The second pictures the church as a holy temple, but instead of being built with marble and concrete, it is built with people through the work of the Spirit (Eph. 2:19-22). Christ is the cornerstone of this structure (2:20) and He holds the building together (2:21). The third analogy speaks of the church as a family (Eph. 1:1-6; 2:19; 3:4-6; 5:1). This identity is based on the believer’s relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3-4).
Interwoven between these illustrations are practical instructions on how these truths should affect the way we relate to one another and to the world we live in. We are to recognize the work of the God-head in our salvation (1:3-14), the depths of mankind’s lost condition before God’s grace touched our lives (2:1-10; 4:17-24; 5:3-14), be able to reconcile differences with one another (2:11-22), minister to one another (4:1-16, 25-32) in the unity of the Spirit, understand authority (5:15-6:9) in relationship to Christ and His love for the Church, and to live diligently prepared for spiritual battle (Eph. 6:10-18).
Anyone who is a part of a body of believers knows “Life Together” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it is not easy. People have different tastes, different opinions, different styles, different feelings, and so on. Some of the smallest things can divide a church: music, prayer, sermon length, even the color of the carpeting. There are more serious divisions as well: doctrinal issues, worship styles and choosing leadership. Have you allowed small things to divide you from other members of the body? How are you serving your family of faith? Are you building up the church or breaking it down? May I challenge you to make Paul’s prayers for the church your prayer for YOUR church (Eph. 1:15-19; 4:14-19) and to live in community with your brothers and sisters as Christ did (Eph. 5:1, 25-27). May the words of Eph. 3:20-22 be ever apparent in you as you walk your journey of faith.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 10/11/2015
The Roman Empire was more technologically savvy than we realize but archaeologists have uncovered a number of surprises like heated flooring through the use of steam and a hydraulic method of cutting stone . And we may think we have cornered the market on communications with emails, texting and Twitter, but in Paul’s day, the letter was king. Letters in New Testament times kept people connected thanks to the Roman roads which criss-crossed the empire like our inter-state highway system covers the continental U. S. During his first missionary trip, Paul established churches in an area of Asia Minor known as Galatia. When Paul returned to Antioch after his first missionary trip word apparently reached him that a form of false teaching had affected those churches in such a way that it prompted him to address this issue head-on through a letter. The false teaching which Paul attacks as aggressively as chemo treatments attack cancer is perpetuated by a group known to us as the Judaizers.
There are three drastic assertions set forth by this group which Paul responds to in his letter to the Galatians. The first is his authority as a minister of the Gospel (chps. 1-2). The second is the truth of the Gospel which Paul preaches in regards to the Law (chps. 3-4), and the third is that without the guidance of the Law, Paul’s Gospel will lead to loose and immoral living (chps. 5-6). Paul refutes the first accusation by sharing his testimony and asserts that any man can be called by another man, but he has received his calling from Christ Himself (Gal. 1:11-24). On the second and third issues, Paul looks at the relationship between the Law and faith. He writes with two things in mind. First, he is disappointed with the Gentile converts for failing to recognize the obvious connection between their faith and Abraham’s, who like them was not a Jew when he entered into a covenant relationship with God (Gal. 3:1-6). With the Judaizers he is angered that they have not looked more thoroughly at the legalism their position has inspired (Gal. 3:15-29). Unlike the other epistles, there are no words of praise or thanksgiving over either of these two groups, thus earning this epistle the designation as Paul’s “angry letter”.
Much has been said about the Judaizers and none of it positive. But what is usually forgotten, even ignored, about them is that they were believers! The Judaizers understood that the Jewish people had a significant relationship with God through His covenants, and particularly through the Mosaic Covenant (a. k. a. The Law). Initially the Gospel stayed within the Jewish community, but when the Gospel expanded into the Gentile community, the question was not so much “Should the Gentiles be included?” but more, “HOW can the Gentiles be included?” In the Judaizers’ eyes, the solution was simple. A Gentile who believed in the Messiah, needed to go through the ritual of becoming a member of the Covenant community (that is become Jewish) much like Ruth’s pledge to Naomi (Rut. 1:16). But their emphasis on circumcision as proof of that covenant relationship (Gen. 17:9-14) became legalistic. The Judaizers placed more emphasis on the outward sign than the inward change of one’s nature. Paul however asserts that faith, not circumcision is proof of one’s relationship with God (Gal. 3:6-9). Using Abraham as an example, Paul reminds them that Abraham believed God’s promise before there was any outward evidence that it would be fulfilled. Abraham’s faith was rewarded through the birth of Isaac. The result of faith now is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who combats the desires of the flesh (and the immorality that comes from it) with the fruit of the Spirit and compels us to live in a manner that glorifies Christ (Gal. 5:16-25).
How do people perceive your relationship with God? Do they see your faith as a dogmatic practice of rituals whose symbolism they may or may not understand? Do you honor Christ by allowing His Spirit to guide the way you live or do you allow earthly desires to dominate your thoughts and behavior? Do you demand that others follow a specific program to determine whether they’re saved or not? Paul reminds us that Christ paid a great price to free us from “the Law” and the sin it temporarily addressed (Gal. 4:3-7). We now have the opportunity to make the most of our freedom in fulfilling the “Law of Christ” in the way we live (Gal. 6:1-10).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 10/5/2015
Ready for the Road Ahead began as a bulletin insert in 2010 and has since grown into a weekly on-line Bible lesson. I love to teach and have taught in both church and school settings. I hope these articles will both encourage and equip you as you follow Christ.