You in Christ
1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:
2Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
11In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory.
15For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
11Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)— 12remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
1For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—
2Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you, 3that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets. 6This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
7I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power. 8Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.
14For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8This is why it says:
"When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train
and gave gifts to men." 9(What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
17So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.
20You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26"In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold. 28He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. 4Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7Therefore do not be partners with them.
8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10and find out what pleases the Lord. 11Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:
"Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you."
15Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. 18Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body. 31"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." 32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2"Honor your father and mother"—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3"that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth." 4Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
5Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.
9And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
19Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
21Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. 22I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.
23Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.
1Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:
2Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
7It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. 8God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
12Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
15It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.
27Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel 28without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, 30since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
We have been looking together at the Scriptures, trying to gain a panoramic view of the Bible. I hope you have been following this through and checking it out in your own Bible, because that is a perfectly scriptural procedure, to check up for yourself on what any speaker says. They did that to the Apostle Paul in Berea, and he commended them for it. It is the right thing to do.
As you remember, the whole purpose of revelation, the aim of the entire Bible, the focal point of this tremendous book, is, as Paul puts it in Ephesians 4, that we might grow up -- might mature -- in Christ. God is not interested in forming chapters of the PWA -- the Pew-Warmers Association -- where people simply sit and sulk and sour. He is interested in having people grow in Christ, never staying the same but moving on. I am afraid that in too many places the theme song of Christianity is -- "Come Weal or Come Woe, Our Status Is Quo." This is what the Word of God is designed to avoid. It is aimed at keeping us walking in the Spirit. And a walk is not a sit-in. It is moving on with God.
We have already seen that the purpose of the Old Testament is to prepare us for truth. The purpose of the New Testament is to realize that truth. And in the New Testament, first of all, the four Gospels and The Acts present Jesus Christ to us. Then follow the thirteen letters of Paul. Following them we have the letter to the Hebrews and then the letters of James, Peter, John and Jude. These epistles are the explanation of Jesus Christ. We desperately need them, because here we find the answers to all the fine points of the Christian faith which puzzle us.
In our last study we looked at the first group of epistles -- Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians. These four letters set forth the theme "Christ in you, the hope of glory" -- i.e., the lost secret of humanity, which is God's indwelling of man. Man is to be the vehicle of divine life. Man's body and soul and spirit are the instruments by which God expresses himself. This is the way the invisible God becomes visible to men. This is the secret of successful living. Living on any other basis is a total failure -- and will prove to be so by experience if you attempt it. Only on this basis, which is what we were designed for, and made for, do we find fulfillment. Therefore, these four epistles are vital and foundational in our Christian experience.
The next group of epistles sets forth -- "you in Christ." Remember that in John 14 the Lord Jesus used the formula "I in you and you in me," John 14:20). When we talk about him in us we are talking about the indwelling life -- the walk in the Spirit. When we talk about us in him we are speaking of the relationship of the body of Christ -- the fact that we are members of his body. Our life is incorporated in the totality of life in the body of Christ. And we soon discover that we are not only Christians individually but corporately as well. We belong to each other as well as to Christ. By ourselves, we can never come to fulfillment and full development in our Christian lives. There are times when Christians have to be isolated and cut off from fellowship with other Christians for various reasons, such as work or military circumstances. If that condition continued for a long time, though, it would doubtless result in great weakening, for we need one another. We can never be complete in Christ without sharing ourselves with each other, and this corporate life is what these epistles take up.
This group of epistles comprises Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon.
They are like the best books in a doctor's library. Most of the books in a doctor's library aren't very interesting to a layman. This library is full of heavy tomes which have the most frightening titles. However, in any doctor's library we will also find a book on physiology -- meaning the entire science and study of the makeup of the human body. Ephesians answers to that; it is the study of the nature of the body of Christ. And you will find a book on pathology -- meaning the treatment of the diseases of the body and how to cure them. The book which answers to that is Philippians, the book on the treatment of the problems of the body of Christ. Then, there is a book on biology -- the fundamental study of life itself, what makes the cells of the body operate as they do. You have this in the book of Colossians -- a wonderfully detailed study of the body of Christ.
Let's now examine all of these epistles. In Ephesians we have the nature of the body. Someone has said that there are only two things essential to living. One is light on the mystery of life, and the other is life itself in order that we may master life. Light and life -- these are the themes of the letter to the Ephesians, where the body of Christ is set forth. The key to this book is found in the second chapter, Verses 19 through 22:
So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 RSV)
That is the life of the body. It is made up of the foundation and the membership functioning in the unity of the Holy Spirit, and all of this letter gathers around that theme.
When we come to the letter to the Philippians we find that here Paul, in a very practical way, is taking up the problems and diseases which threaten the body of Christ. As we run through the list, we can see they are very frequently experienced today. There is, first of all, discouraging circumstances. Have you found your spiritual life threatened by discouraging circumstances? Then read the epistle to the Philippians for the answer.
Second, there is the problem of divisive personalities. I often quote the little jingle:
To live above with saints we love --
Oh, that will be glory!
But to dwell below with saints we know --
Well, that's another story!
Unfortunately, it is too frequently true. In Philippi there were two ladies, among others, who were at odds with one another. We know their names -- Euodia and Syntyche, or as someone has rendered them, "Odious" and "soontouchy" -- "I beseech Odious and Soontouchy that they be of the same mind in the Lord." When you have "Odious" and "Soontouchy" together in a church, you have problems! This was the case in Philippi.
Third, there is the problem of deceitful teachers -- men who were going about deliberately teaching untruth, and doing it in the name of Christ. This was a problem then, and there is probably no problem more threatening to the Church of Jesus Christ today than this.
Fourth, there is the threat of destructive ambitions -- seeking to exalt oneself in the name of Christ. Paul speaks of his own problem of wanting to be something in himself, but learning to say at last, "Whatever gain I had, I count as loss for the sake of Christ." Finally, there are distressing pressures so great that you wonder if Jesus Christ is adequate. But Paul says to the Philippians:
...in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:12b-13 RSV)
That is the key to this epistle.
In Colossians we come to the setting forth of the power of the body of Christ. What motivates the body? What force ties all Christians together? What is the answer to our continual search for overall control of the body? We are always struggling with this, aren't we? Here we are, a local church. Under God we are trying to contribute to the total ministry of Christ's body in the world. But sometimes we get worried about the other members of the body and what they are doing, and we wonder who is keeping them straight. We are doing all right -- we presume! We are right on target. But what about the others? Who is regulating the other parts of the body? We get a wonderful answer in Colossians, where we learn that this is not a headless body. This is not a headless horseman chasing an Ichabod Crane. No, this is a body with a Head, and that Head is the life of the body. As we read of the Head and see him in action, we learn that in his sovereign, authoritative direction of the body he is keeping all of it united and correlated so that it is working together to accomplish his end. The key to this is Colossians 3:3:
For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3 RSV)
There is the answer to all of the problems of control in the body of Christ.
In the Thessalonian letters we have the hope of the body of Christ. This is a look into the future. In the first letter Paul sets forth the certainty of Christ's second coming. These people were troubled. They were wondering if some of them were not going to miss the coming of Christ, because some of their loved ones had died and they didn't know what had happened to them. The purpose of Paul's writing is to show them that Christ is coming, and that when he comes the entire Church will be together. None will be missing. And this coming is a bright and glowing hope in every Christian's heart, purifying him and leading him to walk softly and cautiously before Christ.
The second letter is largely centered around the time of Christ's coming -- not in the sense of date-setting but in a relative sense, with relationship to events in the world. The key to these two letters is found in First Thessalonians 5, Verses 23 and 24:
May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 RSV)
In Paul's letters to Timothy, the young man who had accompanied him on his travels, we have the ministry of the body. Referring to a doctor's library again, this is a study of neurology -- the science of nerves. In the body of Christ you find certain men who have been specially gifted by God to act as stimulators to carry the message from the Head to the body. That is exactly how the gifted men Paul refers to in Ephesians 4 serve. Paul says Christ has given apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors-teachers unto the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry. And here is one of them -- Timothy -- with special instructions on how to stimulate the body, how to mobilize its resources, how to instruct its leaders, how to correct and reprove and rebuke, where need be, and how to get the body to work. The first letter is a general teaching that covers most of the problems a young pastor would face, while the second letter is specialized instruction in view of apostasy and decline. What do you do in a church that is beginning to lose its life, where vitality is seeping away and the church is drifting into deadly formalism? The second letter of Timothy answers this question.
When you come to the epistle of Titus you find similar discussion of ministry, of the work of the body. Here the emphasis is not so much on the ministry of the nerves of the body as on the body itself, on what the body is supposed to do. The key to this letter is in the second chapter, Verses 11 and 12:
For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us[that is the end, you see, of the body's ministry]to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world[not out of it; right in it], awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:11-13 RSV)
When we come to the letter to Philemon -- one of the shortest books in the Bible -- we have a beautiful emphasis upon the unity of the body. This little book was occasioned by a slave who has run away from his master. He found Paul in Rome and, through the ministry of the apostle, had been led to Jesus Christ. Though he was a valuable man to Paul -- ran his errands and ministered to him in many ways -- Paul sent him back to his master, because he felt he had an obligation to do so and, further, because his master, Philemon, was a Christian. Paul sends this slave Onesimus, back to Philemon and writes this letter for Onesimus to take to Philemon. In it Paul urges Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ. In Verses 15 and 16 you have what serves as a key:
Perhaps this is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (Philemon 1:15-16 RSV)
In this epistle, more than any other letter of the New Testament, you see that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. All distinctions between Christians are done away with in Christ. We are all brothers and sisters together. There is to be no difference in our attitudes toward one another because of any superficial distinctions of background, training, color, education, or whatever. As Jesus said, in Matthew 23, "One is your Master, and you are all brethren," (Matthew 23:8). This letter, then, sets before us the unity of the body of Christ.
This is life in the body of Christ. I commend these nine epistles to you for your own study, so that you might see how to behave yourself in the church of the living God, which is the pillar and the ground of truth. It is for this purpose that these letters were written.
Our Father, we give thanks to you for these marvelous letters which have come to us. As we open this book, O Lord, we see that its very pages are soaked with the blood of men and women who have had to die in order for us to have it. We pray, therefore, that we may treat it carefully, and read it reverently and frequently, in order that we may arrive at the understanding of the truth you have for us. We thank you for it and for the warmth and fellowship and glory of life in the body of Christ, our Lord Jesus; for we pray in his name, Amen.
Message transcript and recording © 1964, 1995 by Ray Stedman Ministries, owner of sole copyright by assignment from the author. For permission to use this content, please review www.RayStedman.org/permissions. Subject to permissions policy, all rights reserved.