Today Is The Day!

Hebrews is a letter of instruction & encouragement to Jewish or Hebrew Christians.  The letter is filled with inspired wisdom and is an inspiring witness for Jesus.

But there are certain things we don’t know about this letter:

  • We don’t know exactly who wrote it. It may have been written by Paul, or perhaps by Barnabas.
  • We don’t know exactly when it was written. It may have been written at this time, or perhaps several years later.
  • We don’t know to whom it was written. It may have been written to Jewish believers in Rome, or perhaps in Jerusalem, or perhaps in Cyrene in North Africa.

What we do know is that God has allowed this letter to be preserved for the encouragement & instruction of believers today.  This is how it begins (329).

The writer or the witness first emphasizes that God speaks to his created children, and that God speaks to us most powerfully through his son, Jesus.  It is through Jesus that we can best learn about God, hear from God & relate to God.

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As God, Jesus is greater than all the angels in heaven.  As a man, Jesus was lower than the angels.

In an extended commentary on Psalm 95, the witness emphasizes that, as a man, Jesus was greater than Moses – who, till that time, was widely regarded as the greatest hero of the Jewish faith.

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In that same commentary, the witness also emphasizes that the most important day for any Christian is today.

  • The past day when we first entered into salvation was undoubtedly important.
  • The future day when we will be taken to heaven is undoubtedly important.
  • But the present day — in which we show the world our faith in Jesus by the way we love other people – is the most important of all days. Only today, can our transformed lives give testimonies to the power of Jesus.

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God, please help me to love You today.

(329) Hebrews 1-3

Suffering In The Spirit

Continuing his first letter to Christian friends (328), Peter emphasizes the blessing of sharing in the sufferings of Christ.  We should thank God when we get to suffer for following Jesus.

suffering-joyfully

Enduring such suffering joyfully can be the most powerful witness for Jesus.

In church life, leaders are to model humble submission to God, rather than becoming spiritual dictators.  The humility of Christ is wanted for all members of any faith fellowship, especially its leaders.

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This is important because we have an enemy, who will use any device to destroy Christian fellowship.  Satan wants to devour us spiritually, as a roaring lion physically devours its prey.

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Remaining humble before God is our best defense against Satan.

At about this same time, Luke wrote his record of the acts of the Holy Spirit through the witnesses for Jesus, and the miraculous spread of the Christian faith from the Middle East into southwestern Asia & southern Europe.  His narrative began with Jesus’ return to heaven, and covered a period of about 30 years – up to the time of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome.

The book of Acts shows us how Jesus worked through his church then, and how he desires to work through his church now.  It is paraphrased in previous posts on this blog, and harmonized chronologically with letters from early Christian leaders.

God, please help me to love the joy of suffering with You.

(328) 1 Peter 4-5

Peter’s Call To Holiness & Readiness

There is widespread agreement that Mark’s gospel is based principally on Peter’s inspired recollection of his relationships with Jesus & the other 11 witnesses.

After Jesus returned to heaven, Peter was his witness primarily among the Jews.  However, he was also used by God to welcome Gentiles into God’s family, when he was led by the Holy Spirit to share the good news about Jesus with Cornelius.  Peter played a leading role in the church in Jerusalem.  Later, Peter served briefly alongside Paul in the Galatian region of Turkey.  Several 2nd & 3rd century Christian leaders record that that Peter eventually served as head of the church in Rome for 15-25 years.  Beyond all this, little is known of his travels as a missionary.

In any case, we do have two letters that Peter wrote to believers, dated between 60 & 65 AD.  The first was written to encourage Christians under the threat of violent persecution in various places in Turkey (327).  Peter intended that this letter would be shared with numerous Christian churches in that part of the world.

He begins by reminding the churches that Jesus has given us the hope of a far better life in heaven.  When suffering here on earth is endured in this hope, it actually strengthens our faith.  The secret of enduring is to focus on walking in holiness, not to focus on our suffering.

And the best way to walk in holiness is to love one another.  Love covers a multitude of sins – our sins & the sins of others.

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Peter refers to church members as living stones, whom God is using to build a spiritual temple here on earth.  Since we have been chosen by God for this, we need to let God use us for this; we need to cooperate with God.  Jesus is our best example of  such cooperation with God.

Following the example of Jesus, Christians are called to submit to human authority, even if it involves suffering.  Similarly, wives are called to submit quietly to their husbands, believing that God can use this example to win their husbands’ hearts.  At the same time, Peter admonishes husbands to remember always that their wives are equally loved by God; they are fellow heirs of God’s grace.

Peter then encourages the believers always to be ready to tell others why we follow Jesus.

We never know when those opportunities will arise.  When we live for God instead of for ourselves, it catches people’s attention.  And this often leads to opportunities to tell others about all that Jesus has done for us.

God, please help me to love holiness & readiness.

(327) 1 Peter 1-3

More From James’ Letter To Christian Friends

James made several more points in his letter to Christian friends who had been dispersed from Jerusalem to many different places (326).

  • Anytime we have an opportunity to counsel another person from the inspired scriptures, we must take great care to let the Spirit of God control what we say, how we say it & when we say it. Listen before speaking; love before judging.

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  • We need always to remember that prayer is not giving orders; prayer is reporting for duty. Listen to God!
  • As we draw near to God, he draws near to us. Whenever we find ourselves involved in any ungodly thoughts or actions, we simply need to stop.  It’s not complicated.  Just stop it!  And God will draw near.

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  • Whenever we find ourselves judging other people, we need to remember that God says, in effect: “You love ‘em, & I’ll judge ‘em.”
  • It’s OK to make plans, as long as we let God have the final say about those plans. (This is especially true for rich people, who are often tempted to think they have the means to implement any plans they may make.)
  • Be patient in waiting for Jesus to come back to the earth. Be prepared for Jesus to come back to the earth.
  • God hears the prayers of all who faithfully follow Jesus. Conversely, if we have not surrendered our lives to the absolute control of the Holy Spirit, God does not hear our prayers.

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James concludes by reminding us that we all can help God redeem backsliding sisters & brothers in Christ, by pointing them back to Jesus.  Always remember that God always wants to use us in this way.

God, please help me to love Your wisdom for every part of my life.

(326) James 3-5

Servants of Jesus: Luke & James

At this time, about 30 years after Jesus had returned to heaven from earth, Luke recorded his testimony of the good news of Jesus, which recounts key events in the life and ministry of Jesus on the earth (324).  Luke seems to have consulted many sources in preparing this testimony — including Peter, Paul & Mary.

Luke later recorded the acts of the Holy Spirit working through the apostles to spread the good news about Jesus into southwestern Asia & southern Europe.  He may also have served as pastor of the Philippian church for a time.

The inspired scriptures indicate that James was a close relative of Jesus.  Like most people, James didn’t realize that Jesus was the son of God until after he had been raised from death.  Then, James believed & became a strong witness for Jesus.  Eventually, he became a prominent leader of the Jerusalem church.

About 30 years after Jesus had returned to heaven, James wrote this letter of encouragement & instruction to Jewish Christians who had been dispersed from Judea to many foreign lands (325).  Some students of the inspired scriptures believe that James wrote his letter 20 years earlier, before the Jerusalem Council.  Either way, it’s likely that this letter was circulated among Christian churches in many different places.

James fills his letter with practical insights for Christian living, including the following:

  • God allows troubles to come our way – primarily to make us stronger & to help us grow up as Christians. But we must choose to let God make us better (& not bitter) through the troubles he allows in our lives.

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  • Faith — that God will answer with perfect wisdom — is the key to asking for & receiving godly wisdom. When we ask without faith, we remain without wisdom.
  • When temptation to sin rises from within, consider life above — which God promises in love.
  • We should desire only those gifts that God wants for us, never those things that we want only for ourselves. For example, we should hide the gift of God’s word in our hearts, so it can be the engine that drives our lives.
  • It’s not enough to hear or even to memorize God’s teachings from the inspired scriptures. It’s equally essential to do what God teaches.  Faith without obedience is meaningless & worthless.  (Conversely, obedience without faith is equally meaningless & worthless.)

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  • We are called to love, freely & completely, anyone else who also loves Jesus, freely & completely – without any partiality as to sex, race, nationality, age, occupation, income, residence, denomination or anything else.

God, please help me to love freely & completely.

(324) Luke’s testimony of Jesus is incorporated into previous posts on this site.

(325) James 1-2

Paul’s Letter To One Colossian Friend

Paul’s other letter from Rome to Colosse was intended for one specific friend – Philemon (323). It was sent by the same messengers — Tychicus & Onesimus — who carried the letter for the Colossian church body.

Onesimus was a slave who had run away from his master, Philemon, in Colosse.  Apparently, Onesimus had stolen something from Philemon before he ran away.

Eventually, Onesimus found his way to Paul, in Rome.  There, in that miraculous & marvelous way in which God can redeem the heart of any sinner, Onesimus had become a believer & had surrendered his life to Jesus.  Now, as he was about to leave Rome to go back to Colosse, Paul gave him this letter for Philemon.

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Paul’s opening prayer tells us that this letter is going to give us a very specific example of what living in the Spirit of Christ is like.  It’s going to be a call to Christian action on the part of Philemon.  Accordingly, Paul then appeals to Philemon to be merciful to Onesimus, who is no longer a slave but is now their Christian brother.

Paul backs up his appeal with his personal promise to repay Philemon anything he is owed on account of Onesimus.

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Effectively, Paul lays aside his rights for the benefit of his brother Onesimus – which is a great illustration of what Jesus has done for every sinner who has believed.

Subsequent church records indicate that Onesimus may eventually have gone on to become the leader of the church at Ephesus (after Timothy).

Onesimus may also be the person who first collected all of Paul’s letters — to assure they were preserved for future generations of Christians.

Thank you, Onesimus.  Thank you, Paul.  Thank you, Jesus.

God, please help me to love surrendering my rights to You.

(323) Philemon

Paul Instructs Colossian Friends

Next, Paul turns to the false teachings that were beginning to infect the church at Colosse (322).  He was concerned with religious rituals, or what we might call today denominational distinctives.  These may sound good at first, but if we cannot trace them back to the ministry & teachings of Jesus, then they’re only going to divide the body of Christ & lead us astray.

Paul first addresses the Judaizers – the folks who taught that a Gentile had to become a good Jew before he could become a good Christian, specifically by being physically circumcised.  In Paul’s view, this was Jewish rule-bondage at its worst.  We have a better, spiritual circumcision in Jesus; Jesus is all we need.

Then Paul addresses the pre-Gnostics — people who insisted on compliance with various religious rituals which had never been taught by Jesus.  Essentially, the pre-Gnostics claimed that Jesus had given them private revelations about the necessity of certain rituals — revelations that normal everyday Christians were too immature to receive.

Paul replied that such rules & rituals may seem godly, especially when they require strong commitment.  But Paul insisted that they offer no help in overcoming sin; nothing that we can do ourselves will overcome our sin.  For that, Jesus is all we need.

As in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul emphasizes that we must submit to the rule of our spirit rather than the rule of our flesh.  This is the key to our life in Christ.  This is how the new self overcomes the old self.  This is how we are able to live as models of compassion, humility, kindness, forgiveness & love.

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If Christ is our life, as Paul claims, how is that supposed to look in everyday life?  As in the letter to the Ephesians, Paul briefly tells the Colossians of the differences that Jesus wants to make in marriage, in parenting, and in the workplace.

Then Paul concludes by encouraging the Colossian believers to rely on God in every aspect of their lives, especially in their service for Jesus.  Pray about everything, Paul counsels; be guided by the Holy Spirit in everything.  After all, that’s what Jesus did.

God, please help me to love living in Christ.

(322) Colossians 2:16-4:18