Monday, December 31, 2012

Monday, December 31st

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Revelation 19-22
Today's  scripture focus is Romans 16:25-27

25 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, 26 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— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

This is a beautiful doxology, a declaration of praise to God.

MacArthur explains this doxology.....

The good news that Paul preached was that God has the power and God has the wisdom to take a vacillating, fallen, drifting, shiftless, misunderstanding, chaotic mind and settle it once and for all on the truth so that it can stand erect and say, "I know what I believe, I know in whom I have believed, I know what God asks of me and I understand His promises." Without the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, man has fallen, man is unsure, man is insecure, he is unsettled, he is crushed under the weight of sin. He is ignorant of truth and he is thereby unable to do his duty before God.
And frankly, in that fallen and unstable situation he has no defense against Satan. And really in that situation he has no defense against God either. The man without God is not established. The man without the gospel has no footing. He does not know what he believes.....God is able to take that fallen man, lift him up and set him on his feet.....The gospel alone establishes us....
We possess a gospel that establishes fallen man and we possess a gospel that is provided by an unfallen man, the God/Man, Jesus Christ...
Jesus Christ came and brought the saving gospel, something that had never been seen was seen, something that had never been known was fully known.  ....The prophets had said that a Savior would come, a Messiah, a deliverer, a King. The Scriptures of the prophets predicted it. But it was never made manifest. It was always hidden. It was always veiled....A mystery is something that was hidden in the Old Testament and is revealed in the New. And listen carefully, the gospel was the unfolding of a mystery, a mystery kept secret since the world began and now made manifest and by the Scriptures of the prophets. Yes, they spoke of it. And it was by the commandment of the everlasting God that it would now on God's schedule be made known. By the commandment of God it was made known in all its fullness....
What is this mystery of which he speaks?....The wonderful unveiled secret is that Jew and Gentile possess the Savior and are one in in Him. That is it. That is the sacred secret...the union of all believers in the body.....
Oh, he says, I praise God, I praise God, I do my praise saying, I give my doxology, because we have a gospel that lifted us up and established us in righteousness, because we have a gospel that centers on the work of Jesus Christ, a totally transforming work. And then I praise God because we have a gospel that is a mystery revealed, that is the revelation of a hidden secret and that hidden secret is that God would want the salvation that He desired to be made known to all the nations, that they all might be obedient to the faith. How marvellous....
"To God only wise." Why does he say that? Why doesn't he say only powerful, or only loving, or only gracious? I'll tell you why, because only an infinite mind could ever have designed such a plan. God only wise...there is no one who would be wise enough to ever accomplish such a saving work....the whole point of God saving men and the whole point of what he calls the fellowship of the mystery, that is Jew and Gentile loving one another in the church of Christ, the whole point is so that the principalities and the powers in the heavenlies might know the manifold wisdom of God....
what does this say to a believer? ....It says our hearts ought to be filled with... praise, first of all. It ought to be that it spontaneously rises from our lips that we praise God. It ought to be that as we would come to any thought about the gospel we would launch into the same kind of praise and doxology that Paul does.
Furthermore, it causes me to remember that Christ didn't do this wonderful work so that I could continue to live in sin, right? So the very reminder of this work calls me to a renewed commitment to holiness. I wasn't given the fullness of salvation by the perfect work of Jesus Christ so that I could give back God a disobedient life, was I? The Lord didn't do all of that for me so I could serve Him with a half of a heart. And furthermore, it reminds me that He saved us to put us in to a great fellowship and that I want to give all to that fellowship that is in me to give, don't you? I'm a part of the unveiling of the mystery hidden from ages past and now revealed. O my dear friends, should we not praise God that we are a part of what He has done? 

Praise His name!

Well, that brings 2012 to a close.  I have been so blessed to journey through God's Word with you all together this past year, and I am very much looking forward to beginning another New Year tomorrow!!

Tomorrow's scripture focus, new for 2013!: Esther 1:1-9
Esther passages follow Mark Driscoll’s sermon series    
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Genesis 1-2, Psalm 1, Matthew 1

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday, December 30th

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Rev 12-18 

Today's scripture focus is Romans 16:20-24

20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
21 Timothy, my fellow worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my relatives.
22 I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.
23 Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings.
Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.

Paul has just finished warning his beloved about heresy and false teachers.  We are to avoid them because they are completely self-seeking, self-serving and selfish.  We are to avoid them because they deceive the heart with their smooth talk.  We are to avoid them because if we fall prey to false teaching it will ruin not only our reputation, but God's, and He will be dishonoured.  We are to be wise about what is good, and we are to be ignorant or unlearned about what is evil.  Stay away from it!

But today's passage starts with hope.

Yes, right now we live in a spiritual battle, and we need to find against outright evil and the even more dangerous evil of false teachers.  But the time is coming when God will win the ultimate battle, and He will crush Satan under our feet (which means that we will reign too, we will be part of that victory) and we will have peace.  The God of peace will reign.  According to MacArthur, "soon" actually means fast - as in, when it happens, it's going to happen quickly.  That doesn't mean it will be soon.  But it will be fast.

MacArthur sums it up:
So he says, "Look, my caution out of love is this, find those people who cause division in the church by their heresies and their lies and their deception. Mark them out and stay away from them. If they're in the church," he said to the Thessalonians, "throw them out, for they do not serve the Lord Jesus Christ but their own body and they will deceive you with their smooth talk. And the sad result will be that your wonderful reputation will be lost and Christ will be dishonored. Just hold on to the truth until the God of peace wins the ultimate victory, bruises Satan, puts him under His feet and under your feet and it will come fast." 

And then Paul gives a benediction. 
The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

I know you need empowering grace. I know you need empowering grace to recognize false teaching. I know you need empowering grace to stay away from it. I know you need empowering grace to hold on in the battle until Christ defeats the enemy. And may that grace be with you. And "amen" means "so let it me...may it be...may it be."

And then we see Paul's companions who were with him in Corinth when he wrote this letter.

21 Timothy, my fellow worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my relatives.
22 I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.
23 Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings.
Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.

Timothy, of course, we know.  Timothy loved Paul, Timothy worked alongside Paul, Timothy stood by Paul.  And we read of Paul's love for Timothy many times throughout scripture - 1 Corinthians 4:17, 1 Corinthians 16:10, Philippians 2:19-22, 1 Timothy 6, 2 Timothy 1, 2 Timothy 2, 2 Timothy 4, 1 Thessalonians 3:2.

We're not totally sure who Lucius is.  It could be Lucius of Cyrene who was one of five men leading the church in Antioch in Acts 13, who may have come to Corinth to join Paul.  Or it could even be Luke (as Lucius is another name for Lucas which is how Paul referred to Luke, his beloved physician and companion).

Jason was Paul's host on his first visit to Thessalonica in Acts 17, and he was saved at that time.

Sosipater, also know as the shortened for Sopater, is also mentioned in Acts 20 and was likely one of the Bereans, the OT students who studied the scriptures to verify Paul's teachings.

And Tertius was Paul's secretary - and this verse makes it clear that he wasn't just a hired man, he was a fellow believer.  And what a privilege to be selected to be the scribe for Paul's letter!

Gaius was also known as Titus Justus (Acts 18:7, 1 Corinthians 1:14) and we know that he lived next to the synagogue and worshiped God, and that Paul was the one who led him to Christ and baptized him.  He was Paul's host and the host of the whole church.

Erastus was the city treasurer which is always a great place to have a believer!

And all we know about Quartus is that he was a brother in the Lord.

But we see that Paul was surrounded with a group of people who loved God and who loved and supported him.  It is so important for us to surround ourselves with godly people who will love and support us!

And v24 is not in all manuscripts but is essentially the same as v20 
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. 
Another benediction, flowing out of love for all these people.

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Romans 16:25-27

Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Revelation 19-22

Plans for 2013!

I am so excited about getting started with another year of studying the Bible in depth with you all.  Thank you, once again, to the regular participants this past year - Miriam, Kathryn and Pamela, and of course, to all of you who follow and comment, and who follow and don't comment.  I pray that this blog continues to be as much of a blessing to all of you as it has been to me!

Kathryn has decided not to continue posting for this upcoming year (we'll miss you!) but is still willing to guest post occasionally (thank you Kathryn!).  Tiffany is joining us this year, which is wonderful - welcome, Tiffany! Sandy is back with us after a short stint back in February 2011 (welcome back, my friend!)  And Tammi is back after a one year hiatus (yay!).   Miriam and Pamela, who have been with us from the beginning, are returning once again (thanks again ladies, for your continued participation!).  If anyone else is looking to contribute regularly, please let me know!

For 2013 we've decided to do something similar to this past year.  We will be studying a few books of the Bible in depth, using very small passages.  We will be following corresponding sermon series by a few of our favourite pastors including John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll and David Legge (optional).   We've decided to do these posts Monday to Friday only instead of the weekends.  (I also took Christmas Day and the the 26th off the schedule for next year).   This past year we studied Hebrews, John, Ecclesiastes, Matthew and Romans.  This coming year we will be doing Esther, 1, 2, 3, John, Jude, Habakkuk and Luke, with 3 Psalms added in at the end to round off the year.  Here is the schedule for this coming year.  (Link is in the sidebar as well, "Scripture Focus Reading Plan").

We are also including a Bible in a Year Reading Plan for those who would like to do that as well.  This is completely optional and absolutely not required, but I have posted it because, well, that's what this blog was started for and we've had one every year, and I believe a number of us are doing this again this year.  We've decided to go with this Bible Reading Plan posted by Faith Baptist Bible College.  This plan includes 2 chapters from the OT (straight through from Genesis to Malachi, skipping the poetry books), 1 chapter from the NT (straight through from Matthew to Revelation) and 1 chapter from the Poetry books every weekday, and then on the weekends it's the 2 OT chapters only (the Poetry section ends in early November already, so one less chapter per day from that point on as well)  You can print out this plan, double sided, and use the bookmarks in your Bible reading.  (Link is in the sidebar as well).

Daily posts should include that day's Bible in a Year scripture passage and today's Scripture Focus passage at the beginning of the blog post and the following days passages at the end of the blog post.  I have the template saved so it should automatically come up with you go to post - at least it does for me, so I'm hoping it does for you other posters too - if not, just copy and paste from the day before.  All you should have to do is look up the scripture passages in the plans, find them on Biblegateway and add that to your post.  If that is unclear in any way, or you need assistance, please don't hesitate to email me.  Please remember to add your name to the title of your post and the end of your post, so we know for sure who's posting.  Please remember to label your posts - select the book of the Bible we're studying in depth, and select your name as well (Tiffany - for your first post you'll need to create a new one - call it "Tiffany's Posts", thanks!).

I am looking forward to only having to post once or twice/week instead of 9 times every two weeks! :)

Posts can be as short or as long as you wish.  You may read the referenced sermons if you like, but you do not have to.  Your posts can be in whatever style you like - devotional, teaching, historical, theological - depending on the passage, depending on what you learned, depending on your writing style, depending on what you feel like writing that day, depending how much time you have for that day's post.  As you can see, we're flexible here and don't want anyone to feel intimidated or forced into any particular mold.  I love that each poster has their own unique personality and writing style as I find I learn more that way as well!

If anything is unclear, or you have any questions, please feel free to email me.

I am grateful to all of you who have committed to this journey together and pray that God will bless s on this year's journey and we pursue discernment together, as we learn together, as we grow together, as we get to know Him more together.  God bless you.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saturday, December 29 - by Pamela

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Revelation 6-11
Today's scripture focus is Romans 16:17-19

17 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. 18 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. 19 Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.

I like how this sermon explains Paul's warning message in this passage:

When you’re on the golf course and you see a ball that you just hit is lining up to smack someone a couple of hundred yards downrange, you yell out “FORE.”
When you’re working on a construction site, and you see something falling, you may yell, “watch out,” or “duck,” or, you may even yell, “HEADS UP!”
Whatever it is we say or yell, it’s intended to get the attention of those that are in danger of being hurt by something. It’s intended to grab someone’s attention and put them on guard. Paul, in these verses, is telling us, “HEADS UP!” Because we need to keep our wits about us in this world. He’s warning us to keep our eyes open and our minds focused, because 
not everyone that comes through the church door is seeking God!
not everyone that comes through the church door is looking to serve God!
not everyone that comes through the church door is humble and meek!

We live in a society that preaches tolerance. This mindset, and the constant persecution that Christianity receives by its lack of tolerance in the eyes of the world, has undoubtably caused divisions between Christians. It becomes easier to accept the ways of society than to take a stand against it. Paul issues the warning that we all need to have our "heads up" to the damage that it can cause when we fail to be strong against what the Word of God teaches.

We are all sinners and a slave to sin. It is our sinfulness and selfishness that keep us separated from God and when we do not repent of our sins we turn from God and our sin will threaten to overtake us. The problem is that usually we do not turn away from God alone and usually our example or our actions drag others along.

Again from this sermon:

Paul points out in these verses the qualities of the natural man. Or, the man that is without God. Now, we can safely assume that if there is someone in the church that is causing divisions and offences contrary to the Word of God, they are following the sin nature and he gives those characteristics that we will see develop or be exhibited in these kinds of people. In modern language these characteristics that Paul gives us are: Laziness, self-serving, vain, two-faced, hypocritical, and quick to condemn, and quick to hurt someone that gets in their way. These types of people are foul-mouthed, and quick to judge others, and they do not delight in following God’s Word, or having God’s Word placed before them in the form of rebuke or correction and we must be on our guard constantly. 

We need to make sure that we are not leading others into sin as well as making sure that we are not being lead by others away from God. We need to be aware of our actions and aware of our attitude and aware of the example we set for others. People are watching. Our children, our coworkers, our neighbours, strangers, family, and friends.

It reminds me of a joke I read recently:

A woman driving down the freeway in an SUV got so mad at the man in front of her who was driving the speed limit that she pulled up alongside him, honked her horn, screamed obscenities at him, gave him the finger, and waved a pistol. And then the blue lights behind her flashed and the police pulled her over and arrested her and took her to the station, fingerprinted her, and put her in a cell. After a couple hours, the policeman came and apologized. He said, "I'm very sorry. You see when I saw you do that, I noticed the 'What Would Jesus Do' bumper sticker and the chrome-plated fish emblem, and I assumed you had stolen the car."

We need to remember to "walk the walk" and to keep away from the things that society thinks is acceptable or tolerated. We are called to be different and Paul says we should be "wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil". Wouldn't it be awesome to be so focused on "what Jesus would do" that we wouldn't even consider any other alternative? What would that look like? What would that mean to the people around us?

But what about people who try to sway us from what Jesus would do?

Again from this sermon:
Paul says in the second half of verse 18:
by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
But they don’t stop there…Through their talk, through their actions, they practice deception. What should we do with them? What should be our reaction?
Well, if they’re in the church, we need to take them aside and talk with them and point out just whom they seem to be serving, which is themselves. If they are not in the church or have just arrived and are seeking to divide the people and corrupt the church what do we do?

Mark (identify) them

That’s it. We simply identify them, before everyone.
And, we…

Resist them

By staying in the Word we will be able to identify and refute, rebuke and correct those things that may be said or done in error, or for the wrong reason.
By staying close to God and walking in the Spirit, He will enable you and guide you. He will give you the choice that needs to be made. He will give you the discernment in a situation. He will allow you to resist and be wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.

Tomorrow's scripture focusRomans 16:20-24
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Rev 12-18

Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday, December 28th

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Revelation 1-5
Today's scripture focus is Romans 16:1-16

16 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.
Greet also the church that meets at their house.
Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.
Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.
Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord.
Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.
10 Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ.
Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus.
11 Greet Herodion, my relative.
Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.
12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord.
Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.
13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.
14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them.
15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them.
16 Greet one another with a holy kiss.
All the churches of Christ send greetings.

It's passages like these that make me so thankful that we've been doing this Bible blog together.  This is one of those passage that I would've totally skimmed over in my regular Bible reading, and according to MacArthur (and I'm sure, from your own experience!), I am not alone....

As we begin this chapter, I just kind of draw your attention to the fact that it is very likely a chapter that you have never studied. It may be a chapter that you can't even remember reading because as soon as you started it and saw all those names, you just skipped them over. It's not one of those most favorite chapters of those who preach and teach the Word of God and yet in many ways it ought to be. It is sad that it's neglected by many, in fact by most Christian teachers, because it is by far the most extensive, the most intimate and the most specific of all the words of personal loving greeting ever to come from the inspired heart and mind of the Apostle Paul. It's a rich and thrilling chapter. And it appears almost as an addendum to such a tome of theology that it gets overlooked.

We're not going to overlook it today!

In the last half of Chapter 15, Paul revealed a bit of his heart in regards to his ministry, and now he focuses on his relationships with people - his love, mutual accountability and dependence on fellow believers.

The names are often incidental.  Often we don't know who these people are at all.  But what the passage shows us is how the network of love between believers makes ministry possible.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.

Apparently it's widely accepted that Phoebe was the one who delivered this letter from Paul in Corinth (now Greece) to Rome (in Italy) - that's quite a journey and quite a privilege and responsibility to carry the one and only copy of this letter, the very Word of God such a long way.  It was common for believers to carry letters of commendation with them while they travelled so that they would be warmly received with hospitality and grace by their fellow believers in the towns they visited (hotels of that day were generally not safe places to stay).

She was commended as a sister - in other words, she was a fellow believer and therefore a part of the family of God and should be received as such.

She was also commended as a servant of the church in Cenchrea, which was likely a daughter church of the church in Corinth nearby.  She was likely a deaconess and may have ministered in ways such as caring for the sick, the poor, strangers, believers who had been imprisoned, widows, etc.  She was a faithful servant of God.

She was also commended for being a helper to many, including Paul.  This likely means that she was a lady of means and was a wealthy support of the church and perhaps Paul himself.

And for these reasons Paul asked the believers in Rome to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints - to receive her the way a believer ought to receive another believer.  And to help her in any way that she needed - and in this case she had likely come to Rome to deal with some sort of business transaction.  We are not only to be concerned with each other's spiritual needs, but with whatever needs we can help with, even if it's simply practical and has nothing specifically to do with the Kingdom.

And then Paul goes on to greet numerous believers.  One main point of that is that Paul did not think so much of himself that he forgot all the people that supported or helped him, or considered them inconsequential or inferior to him.  Not at all!  He remembered them by name and their names are preserve for all time in the Word of God.

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.

Priscilla and Aquila were tent makers, like Paul and they met at a synagogue where Paul and Aquila likely sat together (women on one side, men on another and often grouped by profession).  And they used their profession to support the proclamation of the gospel.  They instructed the apostle Apollos, they had a church in their home when they lived in both Rome and Ephesus.  And here Paul tells us that at some point they risked their very lives for Paul - and God mercifully spared both Paul and this loyal couple.  We don't know the details of this event, but we know they were willing to die for Paul.  Paul was thankful and so were all the Gentile churches because if Paul had died, there would have been no Gentile churches.  Amazing couple.

Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.
Epenetus was Paul's first convert, the first of those he offered up to Christ (remember Chapter 15?).  He was originally in Asia Minor (now Turkey) but had now moved to Rome, and Paul knew that.  As the first convert, he likely had a special place in Paul's heart.  And Paul kept track of his dear friend and knew where he was.

Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.
We don't know exactly which Mary this was, but likely this was a Mary that was known to Priscilla and Aquila in Rome (and they likely told Paul about her faithful and hard work) who had laboured long and hard for the church in Rome.

Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
Andronicus was a male and Junias was either male or female we don't know for sure, and they appear to have been relatives of Paul. And not only that, they had been in prison together with him due to their faith.  That would likely create a strong bond with someone pretty quickly I'd say!  They had become believers before Paul and were notable among the apostles and the first believers in Jerusalem.

Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord.
Paul did not shy away from declarations of brotherly love.  And here he bestows that love on a slave.  We don't know who Ampliatus was but apparently it was a slave name, and Paul's reference to him hear confirms the fact that in Christ Jesus there is neither slave nor free - the Lord does not show favouritism or prejudice and we shouldn't either.

Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.
Urbanus was a common Roman name so he was likely a native Roman Gentile.  Stachys is an  unusual Greek name that means "ear of corn" or "cob".  And we know Urbanus helped Paul and he greets both men - sending his love once again.

10 Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ.
Apelles was tested and approved.  To be proven trustworthy, what a wonderful thing to have said of you.

Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus.
Note that Paul does not greet Aristobulus himself which likely indicates that he was not a believer but members of his household were.  An example of the Word of God dividing a family as the Bible says it will.  There is some evidence that Aristobulus may have been the brother of Herod Agrippa I and the grandson of Herod the Great.

11 Greet Herodion, my relative.
And here we see that Paul had a Jewish relative who had some relationship with the family of Herod.  Christians among the Herodians!

Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.
Again, Narcissus was not likely a believer, but members of his household were.  There is evidence that Narcissus was secretary to the Emperor Claudius which means people paid him large bribes to make sure their letters got delivered to the Emperor.  When Claudius was murdered and replaced by Nero, Narcissus survived for awhile and was then forced to commit suicide and his household of slaves was absorbed by Nero.   So, again, likely there were believers in the highest circles of the Empire.

12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord.
Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.

Tryphena and Tryphosa mean delicate and dainty but they were working hard for the Lord.  Notice the slight difference in wording with Persis.  Perhaps Tryphena and Tryphosa were younger and are in the process of working hard in the Lord, while Persis has worked very hard in the Lord, which may indicate that she was older already.  And there will be some who are commended for working hard, and there will be some who are commended for working very hard.

13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.
We know from Mark 15:21 that Rufus' father was Simon the Cyrene who carried the cross of Jesus.  And Rufus was a believer, chosen in the Lord - which may refer to his salvation or may refer to some sort of service he was chosen for, we don't know.  And his mother was obviously the wife of Simon the Cyrene.  These are real people.  Can you imagine the stories Rufus was asked to tell about how his dad was chosen to carry the cross?  Amazing.   And Rufus' mother obviously held a special place in Paul's heart as well.  We don't know anything about Paul's biological mother but we know that this woman was like a mother to him.

14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them.
We don't know anything about these five men, but with the wording it is likely that they were leaders in the church at Rome.

15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them.

Who is Nereus? William Barclay again says, "In A.D. 95 there happened an event which shocked Rome. Two of the most distinguished people in Rome were condemned for being Christians. They were husband and wife. The husband was Flavius Clemens, he was the consul of Rome, the wife was Domatia and she was of royal blood. She was the granddaughter of Vespasian, a former emperor and the niece of Domitian, the reigning emperor in 95 A.D. In fact, the two sons of Flavius Clemens and Domatia had been designated Domitian's successors in the Imperial power. Flavius was executed and Domatia was banished to the island of Pontia...
And now the point. The name of the treasurer of Flavius and Domatia was Nereus. Is it possible, says Barclay, that Nereus the slave had something to do with the making into Christians of Flavius Clemens the ex-consul and Domatia the princess of the royal blood? Perhaps...perhaps. "Greet Nereus and his sister and Olympus and all the saints who are with them."

16 Greet one another with a holy kiss.
All the churches of Christ send greetings.

Obviously, this was a kiss of tradition, respect, honour, affection and love - this was not a romantic kiss, it was a holy kiss.  A visible, physical and tangible expression of love.

may I suggest to you that you're probably feeling in your heart what I felt that all of a sudden that early church has come to life and it lives and breathes just like our church does....We could as well describe ourselves here. Some of us who are laboring in the Lord, others labored much in the Lord, those who have endured hardship, those who are willing to give their lives, those who are beloved and well beloved, those who have been used by God to reach others for Christ, these are just people and Paul knows them and he loves them and if he could he would kiss them. I mean, we've all gotten letters from mom through the years with X's and O's on the bottom. We've gotten letters that say kiss everybody in your family for me. This is Paul, this is family, this is intimacy. This man knew what it was to stand for the truth but he also knew what it was to love his people. And that's the mark of the uniqueness of his wonderful character.

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Romans 16:17-19
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Revelation 6-11

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thursday, December 27 ~ Miriam

Today's passage from the Chronological Bible In a Year Reading Plan is 2/3 John.
Today's scripture focus is Romans 15:30-33.

30 I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. 31 Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there, 32 so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will,and in your company be refreshed. 33 The God of peace be with you all. Amen.

The first thing that stood out to me in today's passage was prayer.  I have been wanting for the past two years about working on my prayer life, but sadly I have made little progress.  I still find myself doing more text message-type prayers, rather than actually communicating with God.  As I think of things during the day, I'll fire off a short prayer, but rarely do I actually spend even a solid five minutes.  I get easily distracted, my thoughts spinning off in different directions, once I've sent off my brief one or two lines.  Paul says here "join me in my struggle by praying".  Doesn't that show how incredibly valuable prayer can be?  When we lift someone up in prayer, we join them in their struggle.  We can help to ease their burden.  It's like a dog sled team, if you'll forgive the metaphor.  One dog can effectively pull a sled, but six dogs or eight dogs can pull a much bigger, heavier sled.  This is definitely something I am going to have to put more dedicated effort into (praying, not pulling a sled... ha ha).  I want to uphold people who are struggling emotionally or physically or financially, or who are trying to follow the will of God but having a hard time knowing what that is or how to do it, or who are sad or lonely or in pain, or who are recovering from illness.  I want to strengthen the leadership of my home, my church, my community and my country by giving them to God in prayer.  I want to diligently pray for my husband, who believes in God but sees no need for God in his life personally.  I want to diligently pray for my children that they will learn to love God with all their hearts, souls and minds and that they will seek to follow His will.  The list goes on and on.

Mr. MacArthur, in his sermon on this passage, is mainly talking about following God's will, building on the verses from the last couple of days, however, he does talk specifically about prayer later in the sermon as well:

Prayer, beloved, is a battle. And I say this from time to time as we come to passages like this but I want to remind you of it. Prayer is a battle. I think sometimes we don't understand that because the battle isn't where we can see it. Prayer is a war waged against the forces of evil. In fact, Isaiah 64:7 speaks of, quote: "Arousing oneself to take hold of God in prayer." That's the idea of the Hebrew terminology in Isaiah 64:7, arousing oneself to take hold of God. And you remember, no doubt, reading Genesis 32:24 to 30 where it says that Jacob wrestled with the Lord and he wouldn't let go of the Lord until he was. . . what?. . . he was blessed. In Colossians 2:1 Paul calls prayer great conflict. He sees it as great conflict. It is not an easy thing, it is a conflict. He says, "I would that you knew what great conflict I have for you." What is he talking about in writing to the Colossians? I'm engaged in a battle, a prayer battle over your spiritual situation. And in 4:12 of Colossians, as I mentioned earlier, Epaphras, that wonderful man of prayer, is said to be always laboring fervently for you in prayer that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. Prayer is a battle, an agonizing experience.
Now I realize there is a certain paradox between the sover­eignty of God and fervent prayer, but the Bible teaches us to pray fervently. We go back to Luke 11 and remember the story of the man for as much knocking who was heard, because he gave much effort he finally received what he sought, and it's an illustra­tion of what we call importunity, or intensity in prayer. We remember James who said in 5:16 of his epistle, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." Even our Lord fasted and prayed for 40 days. It wasn't easy for Him.

Listen, beloved, serving in the will of God. . . listen carefully, here's the point. . . serving in the will of God, believing in the precision of gifts and callings, commitment to the providence of God as He works out the circumstances does not mean we don't pray. It never precludes that. And any theology that weakens a believer's commitment to prayer is her­esy. . . it's heresy.
Now we want to ask a question. Did Paul's prayers and those of his Roman prayer partners get a positive answer? Sure did. Did he experi­ence safety? Oh yeah. When he got to Jerusalem the mob tried to kill him and the Romans rescued him. And then there was. . . the Jews said, "Oh, we'd like you to transfer him from the jail and bring him over here and we want to discuss his case again." And the whole idea was to kill him on the way. But his sister's son heard about it and warned him and he was saved again. And then safety brought him to Caesarea and literally the whole Roman guard guarded him for two years to keep the Jews from killing him. They got the whole Roman army together to just answer that prayer. God does whatever He has to do. Yes the prayer was answered. He was safe.
Was he successful? Yes, he was successful. Yeah, when he got there they received him wonderfully. . . they received him. Chapter 21 verse 17, "And when we were come to Jerusalem the brethren received us gladly." Isn't that great? Their prayers were answered. The brethren received them gladly. The plots of the Jews were foiled. They never did kill him.
What about the third one, did he ever get to Rome? Sure he did. The Romans themselves sent him there so that he could have a trial before Caesar. After two years of being kept a prisoner for his own sake in Caesarea, they then sent him to Rome and even on the way to Rome I believe the devil tried to drown him. There was a terrible shipwreck. But not only did Paul escape but so did everybody else on board, Acts 27. He made it to Rome. Well that's the testimony to the power of prayer.

Here is the sum of the purpose of Paul's ministry. "I plead with you to pray for me that I might carry out my ministry." Why? For my own sake? No. For the sake of my safety? No. For the sake of evangelism? No. . . not really. "I want you to pray for me that I might continue to do my work for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of the Spirit." That's the purpose. You see, the thing that motivated Paul was not his own comfort, not even his own success as wonderful as that was in the spiritual dimension. The thing that moved and motivated the heart of the Apostle Paul was the Lord Jesus Christ's glory and his great love for the Holy Spirit.

And the bottom line is very simple. In your service or my service, what's our motive. . . what is our motive? Is our motive self-glory, a certain amount of self-esteem? Is our motive to be thought well of by people around us? Is our motive to do the best we can with the life we've got? All those have a place, I suppose. But the proper motive is to do what we do for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ. And see, Paul knew that if he went to Jerusalem, had all this money and these Gentiles going with him and if he got there with the money and with the Gentiles and ex­pressed love and if the church received them, and if his trip to Jerusalem was successful, Christ would be glorified. Why? For one thing, Christ desired Jew and Gentile to be. . . ­what?. . . to be one. And if Paul could pull that off that would be to the glory of Christ. For another thing, Christ desired the church to demonstrate love to its own, visible love so the world might see it. This would glorify Christ. Christ would be glorified if the ministry of the Apostle Paul could continue with success and that's his desire. He said, "Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do," 1 Corin­thians 10:31, "do it all to the glory of God." Always the supreme surpassing motive.

Well, that concludes my final post for 2012!  Unbelievable, that this journey has been three years long already and I feel as though it is only beginning.  Thanks to all who have participated, whether you have posted, commented, or simply read.  It is good to have companions.  May God bless you all richly in 2013.

Tomorrow's scripture focus:  Romans 16:1-16.
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage:  Revelation 1-5.