Uncovering Treasures in Paul’s Shortest Letter

I have a confession to make, one that may sound a little strange: Of all the apostle Paul’s epistles, I think his shortest—the letter to Philemon—may be my favorite.

I’m glad it’s not the only Pauline letter that we have. But it would be a great loss to the church if this little book were not preserved in the canon.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve read through the letter countless times, and I can attest from experience that there are many treasures—unique pieces of insight and wisdom—just waiting to be uncovered.

The Background

The apostle Paul—under house arrest in Rome—dictated a letter to his friend Philemon.

Philemon, a wealthy Christian who hosted a house church in Colossae, had likely converted to Christ years earlier through Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.

After telling Philemon how grateful he is for him and what he prays for him, Paul brings up a name from Philemon’s past: Onesimus.

Onesimus was an unbelieving bondservant or slave who had left Philemon’s household. Reading between the lines, he may have run away—and may have stolen from Philemon in the process.

In the strange providence of God, Onesimus crossed paths with the imprisoned apostle 1,000 miles away in Rome. Through their conversations Onesimus came to trust Christ as Lord and Savior, becoming a spiritual son of Paul—just as Philemon had years earlier.

Now an old man, and dependent on others’ help due to his imprisonment, Paul longed for Onesimus to stay with him.

But convenience and comfort were not the ultimate drivers for Paul. The gospel was. Even though sending Onesimus away would be like sending his very heart, Paul saw the reunion of Philemon and Onesimus as an opportunity for both men to provide the church—and the world—with a living parable of gospel reconciliation and partnership.

Continue at: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/relational-warnings-wisdom-tucked-away-pauls-shortest-letter/

Why I would like to see a moratorium on using the word “literal” when it comes to biblical interpretation

~ Justin Taylor

I am not a fan of linguistic legalism, and I recognize the need for terminological shortcuts, but I am an advocate for clarity, and the use of an ambiguous term like literal can create confusion. It’s a single term with multiple meanings and connotations—which is true of many words—but the problem is that many assume it means only one thing. Some use it to mean the plain or natural sense of a word. Others use it to mean non-figurative. A lot of people treat it as the “actual” meaning of a term. Still others see the word as bound up with historicity. And of course the word is often used as a shorthand for the etymology of a word, or even a wooden translation. And this is just getting us started.

A moratorium on the word, therefore, would yield greater understanding and clarity, and less talking past one another.

Since I have no real authority to call for an actual moratorium (and it has little chance to be enacted), my alternative proposal is that when someone asks you if you take the Bible “literally” or a passage “literally,” you ask what they mean by the word and then proceed to answer in accordance with the definition they provide.

In order to show that the word literal and its usage has multiple meanings, shades of nuance, and varying connotations, consider this analysis from Vern Poythress. In it, he identifies at least five different uses of the term.

1. First-Thought Meaning (Determining the Meaning of the Words in Isolation)

First, one could say that the literal meaning of a word is the meaning that native speakers are most likely to think of when they are asked about the word in isolation (that is, apart from any context in a particular sentence or discourse).

This I have . . .  called “first-thought” meaning. Thus the first-thought meaning of “battle” is “a fight, a combat.” The first-thought meaning is often the most common meaning; it is sometimes, but not always, more “physical” or “concrete” in character than other possible dictionary meanings, some of which might be labeled “figurative.” For example the first-thought meaning of “burn” is “to consume in fire.” It is more “physical” and “concrete” than the metaphorical use of “burn” for burning anger. The first-thought meaning, or literal meaning in this sense, is opposite to any and all figurative meanings.

We have said that the first-thought meaning is the meaning for words in isolation. But what if the words form a sentence? We can imagine proceeding to interpret a whole sentence or a whole paragraph by mechanically assigning to each word its first-thought meaning. This would often be artificial or even absurd. It would be an interpretation that did not take into account the influence of context on the determination of which sense or senses of a word are actually activated. We might call such an interpretation “first-thought interpretation.”

Read more: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2017/02/04/why-i-would-like-to-see-a-moratorium-on-using-the-word-literal-when-it-comes-to-biblical-interpretation/

How To Use The Back Of A Napkin To Prove To A Jehovah’s Witness That Jesus Is God

https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2014/12/17/how-to-use-the-back-of-a-napkin-to-prove-to-a-jehovahs-witness-that-jesus-is-god/

22 Benefits of Meditating on Scripture

from Already Not Yet – Peter Cockrell

Young man reading small Bible

Justin Taylor:

Joel Beeke, in his essay on “The Puritan Practice of Meditation,” writes that “The Puritans devoted scores of pages to the benefits, excellencies, usefulness, advantages, or improvements of meditation.” Dr. Beeke lists some of the benefits as follows:

https://pjcockrell.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/22-benefits-of-meditating-on-scripture/

The Old Testament in 10 Minutes + the New Testament in 10 Minutes

A couple of fun videos from JUSTIN TAYLOR at Between Two Worlds.

Jason Derouchie (who teaches Old Testament at Bethlehem College & Seminary and is the editor of the highly praised What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible [Kregel, 2013]) and Andy Naselli (who teaches NT and theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary and is co-author with D. A. Carson and Doug Moo ofIntroducing the New Testament: A Short Guide to Its History and Message [Zondervan, 2010]) walk us through the whole Bible in 20 minutes:

See them at

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2014/02/07/the-old-testament-in-10-minutes-the-new-testament-in-10-minutes/

Eight Reasons Why My Anxiety Is Pointless and Foolish

by Justin Taylor

1. God is near me to help me.

Philippians 4:5-6: “The Lord is at hand; [therefore] do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

2. God cares for me.

1 Peter 5:7: “. . . casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

3. My Father in heaven knows all my needs and will supply all my needs.

Matthew 6:31-33: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

4. God values me more than birds and grass, which he richly provides for and adorns; how much more will he provide for all my needs!

Matthew 6:26-30: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

5. The worst someone can do to me is to kill me and take things from me!

Matthew 6:25: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” [I.e., you still have eternal life even if you have no food; you will still have a resurrection body even if you are physically deprived.]

Luke 12:4: “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.”

Luke 21:1618: “Some of you they will put to death. . . . But not a hair of your head will perish.”

Romans 8:31-323538-39: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

6. Anxiety is pointless.

Matthew 6:27: “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” [Answer: no one.]

7. Anxiety is worldly.

Matthew 6:31-32: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things. . . .”

James 4:4: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

8. Tomorrow has enough to worry about and doesn’t need my help.

Matthew 6:34: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Lamentations 3:23: “[God’s mercies] are new every morning.”

Union with Christ: A Crash Course

A helpful introduction of by Justin Taylor at TheGospelCoalition blog

James S. Stewart wrote that “union with Christ, rather than justification or election or eschatology, or indeed any of the other great apostolic themes, is the real clue to an understanding of Paul’s thought and experience” (A Man in Christ [Harper & Bros., 1955], vii).

John Calvin said that union with Christ has “the highest degree of importance” if we are to understand justification correctly (Institutes 1:737).

John Murray wrote that “union with Christ is . . . the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation. . . . It is not simply a phase of the application of redemption; it underlies every aspect of redemption” (Redemption—Accomplished and Applied [Eerdmans, 1955], pp. 201, 205).

Lewis Smedes said that it was “at once the center and circumference of authentic human existence” (Union with Christ [Eerdmans, 1983], xii).

Anthony Hoekema wrote that “Once you have your eyes opened to this concept of union with Christ, you will find it almost everywhere in the New Testament” (Saved by Grace[Eerdmans, 1989], 64.

If you want an introduction to the doctrine of union with Christ, John Murray’s chapter inRedemption—Accomplished and Applied is helpeful, as is Anthony Hoekema’s chapter inSaved by Grace. Below are a few notes on the latter:

The New Testament uses two interchangeable expressions to describe union with Christ:

  1. We are in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17John 15:4571 Cor. 15:222 Cor. 12:2Gal. 3:28Eph. 1:42:10Phil. 3:91 Thess. 4:161 John 4:13).
  2. Christ is in us (Gal. 2:20Col. 1:27Rom. 8:102 Cor. 13:5Eph. 3:17).

Three passages (John 6:56John 15:41 John 4:13) explicitly combine both concepts.

Hoekema says that we should see union with Christ “extending all the way from eternity to eternity.” He outlines his material in this way:

  1. The roots of union with Christ are in divine election (Eph. 1:3-4).
  2. The basis of union with Christ is the redemptive work of Christ.
  3. The actual union with Christ is established with God’s people in time.

Under the third point, he shows eight ways that salvation, from beginning to end, is in Christ:

  1. We are initially united with Christ in regeneration (Eph. 2:4-510)
  2. We appropriate and continue to live out of this union through faith (Gal. 2:20Eph. 3:16-17).
  3. We are justified in union with Christ (1 Cor. 1:302 Cor. 5:21Phil. 3:8-9).
  4. We are sanctified through union with Christ (1 Cor. 1:30John 15:4-5Eph. 4:162 Cor. 5:17).
  5. We persevere in the life of faith in union with Christ (John 10:27-28Rom. 8:38-39).
  6. We are even said to die in Christ (Rom. 14:81 Thess. 4:16Rev. 14:13).
  7. We shall be raised with Christ (Col. 3:11 Cor. 15:22).
  8. We shall be eternally glorified with Christ (Col. 3:41 Thess. 4:16-17).

And here’s a helpful quote from Sinclair Ferguson (in Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification [IVP, 1989], 58), explaining in a nutshell why union with Christ is the foundation for sanctification:

If we are united to Christ, then we are united to him at all points of his activity on our behalf.

We share

  • in his death (we were baptized into his death),
  • in his resurrection (we are resurrected with Christ),
  • in his ascension (we have been raised with him),
  • in his heavenly session (we sit with him in heavenly places, so that our life is hidden with Christ in God), and we will share
  • in his promised return (when Christ, who is our life, appears, we also will appear with him in glory) (Rom. 6:14Col. 2:11-123:1-3).

This, then, is the foundation of sanctification in Reformed theology.

It is rooted, not in humanity and their achievement of holiness or sanctification, but in what God has done in Christ, and for us in union with him. Rather than view Christians first and foremost in the microcosmic context of their own progress, the Reformed doctrine first of all sets them in the macrocosm of God’s activity in redemptive history. It is seeing oneself in this context that enables the individual Christian to grow in true holiness.

Go to http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2011/02/09/union-with-christ-a-crash-course/?comments#comments to read the many interesting and helpful comments.

The Bible Is Not Basically about You

by Justin Taylor

Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us.

Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out, not for our condemnation, but for acquittal.

Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void not knowing wither he went to create a new people of God.

Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us. And when God said to Abraham, “Now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me,” now we can look at God taking his son up the mountain and sacrificing him and say, “Now we know that you love us because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love from us.”

Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.

Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.

Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.

Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.

Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.

Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.

Jesus is the true and better Esther who didn’t just risk leaving an earthly palace but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.

Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.

Jesus is the real Rock of Moses, the real Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us. He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, the true bread.

The Bible’s really not about you—it’s about him.