Forgiveness and reconciliation are free, but not without cost …

Thirty years prior to writing to Philemon, Paul learned about forgiveness. Acts chapter nine covers Paul’s conversion to Christ. In that single chapter in Acts we see Saul (later to become Paul) — the great persecutor of the early church — meeting Christ, receiving His forgiveness and eternal life, and being forgiven and accepted by the church in Damascus. Remarkable! Forgiveness and reconciliation were free by God’s grace, but not without cost.

About 30 years later, Paul writes to his fellow believer and friend Philemon. He writes to him about forgiveness and reconciliation. Paul knew the subjects well. He had been on the receiving end of them. He was certainly qualified to speak to and instruct Philemon on these topics.

With that context in mind let’s set the stage with the main characters of the Book of Philemon and the story line. We will do so by answering a few questions. The answers will help you unpack Paul’s letter to Philemon and give you a peek into the beauty and power of this small, New Testament book.

1. Who was Philemon?

Paul had met and led Philemon to Christ (Philemon verse 19) while at Ephesus years earlier. Philemon and Paul became close friends. Years later, Philemon was a prominent member of the church at Colossae. The church regularly met in Philemon’s house (Philemon verse 2). The letter was for him, his family, and the church. It was written at the time of Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. So, it is known as one of Paul’s “Prison Letters.”

We also know that Philemon was wealthy. He had a large house (Philemon verse 2) and at least one slave — Onesimus. He most likely had several slaves.

2. Who is Onesimus?

He was a slave that had run away from his owner and fled to Rome. In Rome, he met Paul. This is clearly God directing Onesimus’s life. Rome was a huge metropolis. For Onesimus to met Paul (a prisoner) was remarkable.

To gain a better grasp of the story, let’s see what slavery looked like in the Roman Empire in 62 A.D. Slavery was common in the Roman Emprise. One-third of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves. Slaves were not just common laborers in the Roman Empire. They could be very well-educated and serve as teachers, accountants, musicians, and even doctors. Slaves in those days were not considered persons, there were considered tools of their owners. Slaves could be bought, sold, inherited, exchanged or used to pay a master’s debt. Slaves could learn the trade of their owners and at times, even become a loved part of the family.

While this might sound counterintuitive, some people in those days chose slavery over poverty. To be a slave meant a secure home, food, and work.

As the New Testament was written, we see a change in the way that slaves were viewed and treated (thanks to the Gospel). They were seen as spiritual equals to their owners. (Philemon v 14, Gal. 3:28, Ephesians 6:9 and Col 4:1)

So, Onesimus was a slave, who had run away, and according to Roman Law deserved severe punishment. Thankfully, he met Paul, came to know Christ as Savior, and was being sent back to Philemon to be forgiven, restored, and to fulfill his obligations.

3. What is the book about?

The book is about Paul sending Onesimus back to Philemon. Although Paul longed to keep Onesimus with him, he wrote to Philemon to encourage him to forgive Onesimus, receive him back (without punishment), and treat him as a Christian brother.

He sent Onesimus back to Philemon. This was dangerous due to roaming slave catchers/bounty hunters in that day. So, Paul sent Onesimus with Tychicus. Tychicus was also delivering the letter to the Colossians church from Paul (Col 4:7-9).

There is a lot going on here. Tychicus is taking two “prison letters” from Paul. One was to taken to the Colossians church (the letter of Colossians) and one to Philemon. Rather than peppering you with more facts, please take this background information and re-read Philemon in mind. You will see the book of Philemon open and sense the beauty and power of the message of grace, forgiveness, and friendship that are in Christ.

I will post again on Saturday. We will use our outline of the Book of Philemon to begin to break it down into three sections for further study.

Enjoy it! It’s a wonderful book that shows us God’s grace in Christ.

Odd name, short book, great message …

Please pardon my tardiness. My intention was to post this introduction to the study of the Book of Philemon last week. Then, I had the fortune of receiving the flu. To be clear, I did not “get” the flu. To “get” suggests that deliberate action was taken in order to obtain something. No such action was taken. Instead, I received the flu. It is unclear whom I received it from. Whomever it was, thanks, I pray that your your tax returns will be delayed and your toe nails will thicken to the point of being untrimmable. There. Did I mention the Book of Philemon is about forgiveness? Oops.

After spending two and a half days in bed impersonating a tranquilized, but shivering, 182 pound sloth, I now am getting back to semi-normal, or at least as normal as I was to begin with.

So, all of that to say, my apologies for the post being a few days behind schedule.

Even though the Book of Philemon is only one chapter with 25 verses — it’s body of water might be short in width, but it is great in depth — it contains plenty of lessons and truths that will take us the rest of the month to examine.

You won’t be surprised if we take an odd route into it, will you? So, let’s clear the path with this thought: How do we see and know Jesus through this book. Our continual goal in studying God’s Word is to get to know Jesus better, and grow in our relationship with HIm. Remember that having eternal life is knowing Jesus and God the Father.

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. – John 17:3

The word for “know” in John 17:3 means to have an intimate relationship with someone, not just an acquaintance.

Jeremiah also points out the importance of knowing God, not just knowing about Him.

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” – Jeremiah 9:23-24

In sum, we will study the book of Philemon to get to know Jesus better and become more like Him.

On to Philemon. Below is a suggested outline to aid in your reading:

  • Paul’s Greeting – verses 1-3
  • Forgiveness requires Christ-like character. 4-7
  • Forgiveness requires Christ-like actions. 8-18
  • Forgiveness requires Christ-like motives. 19-25

The outline shows us that forgiveness is a critical theme in this book. It is, and it will astound you.

Verses 15-16 are key verses in Philemon. They show God’s providence, grace, and forgiveness!

For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, 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

As a smart reader you already see how this book shows us glimpses of Jesus, and will help us to become more like Him.

Between now and Tuesday, please read Philemon a couple of times. On Tuesday, I will post some background information that will help sort out who the main characters are (Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus) and some context that will tie the ends together. Then, we will dig in.

Truths flapping in the breeze …

We all like for things to end well. A book, a movie, or a story pleases us when it ends warmly. We like resolution, especially resolution that makes us happy. This allows us to tidy up the story, smile, and walk away.

Bible reading isn’t like that. We can never bring the Truth to resolution. Instead, it un-resolves us. God’s Word takes us apart, then stitches us back together, not in ways that we determine, or appreciate, at times. It’s this work in us that makes us more like Christ, whole, joyful. Those three are themes in the book of Philippians. Philippians is rich in truth for daily living. Truth that undoes us, then re-does us (yes, I know that is bad grammar, but it seems the best way to state it.). Let’s gather up the bits that we have whittled on in our month-long study of Philippians:

Chapter One:

  • We are to be thankful.
  • We are to “partner” in God’s work with others — pastors, fellow believers, your church.
  • We are to trust God as He does His sanctifying work in us, and submit to Him as He does.

Chapter Two:

  • We are to look out for fellow believers.
  • We are to surrender to God’s work in us. (There’s that one again … hmmmm)
  • We are to pour ourselves out for others.

Chapter Three:

  • We are to rejoice — find joy and contentment, and express it — in all things.
  • We are to forget the past and press on to the future. We do this through Christ, our Redeemer, Forgiver, Sustainer, and Power.

Chapter Four:

  • We are to seek unity in Christ.
  • We are to grow in knowing peace in Christ.
  • We are to develop strength in Christ.

Each of those truths alone stand out as day, week, or life-changing. As we survey them we see that they are made of solid granite, yet dripping with mercy. God wants us to live them out. By His grace and the power of His Spirit we can. As we close the study of Philippians there is an important application to make: As each of these truths flap and snap on the clothesline in our hearts and minds we must resist the urge to unclip them, fold them crisply, sort them into neat stacks, and put them away. Tucking truth away is a sure way to spiritual stagnation. We must allow the truths we learn to hold our attention.

We must restrain ourselves from seeking to resolve the truths of God’s Word or conform them to our wishes. They cannot be tamed, or domesticated. Let the truth roust and rough-house about with you. Let it do it’s firm, yet merciful, transforming work in you. As God’s Word rubs hard on us, pricks us, and nudges us, we change; we grow; we become more like Christ.

Thank you for being a part of this “virtual” study. My prayer and goal for this study has been to offer a small ray of light on this book. I hope that it has been helpful to you. I have not yet settled on our next study. So, stayed tuned. We will take a week or so off and then begin to walk through another short book of the Bible together.

Thanks again for reading along, your feedback, and comments. Catch your breath, we will begin another study in a week, or so. And, remember to let the loose ends of the truth dance in the wind …

The Two R and Rs we need …


The current situation we are all in is likely stressing you. It is stressing us all.  That is because we are not designed to live this way. Two internal mechanisms that God installed in each of us have been short-circuited.

God wired us for rhythms (not the toe-tapping, keep-time-to-music variety) and relationships. Let’s look at those two areas to see how important they are, and why it is important to restore them.



“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” Exodus 20:8

Notice the cadence that our week is to follow: six days of work and one day of worship and rest. Every week. Every month. Every year. You might say that God wired us to keep the beat of 6/7 time — six beats per measure of a week, with a long sixth note that rests through Sunday.

As you read your Bible you will notice that God designed seasons of life, appointed times of feasts and celebrations, and prescribed points in time for resetting life.

“And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years …” Genesis 1:14

When we see a sunrise, or look into the starry night we are reminded of cycles and rhythms.

“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places. “These are the appointed feasts of the Lord, the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them.” Leviticus 23:3-4

Days and nights, months, four seasons, appointed celebrations … can you feel the gentle hum of the rhythm that He composes?

The arrival of quarantines, social distancing, and postponement of worship services has disrupted the rhythms of our lives. It is more significant than we think. We can’t go to eat together, worship together, or even laugh and talk at ball games or kids’ events. To not be able to do these things affects us more than we think. The 6/7 rhythm that God implanted in our souls is now 1/7, or 3/7. We are off kilter. Just knowing this helps us to establish temporary rhythms until we can return to familiar ones.



We are created to relate. We are to relate to God first, then others second. While our relationship with God can grow deeply during trying times, our relationships with others can be strained. Currently, we are are advised to stay away from each other to promote public health. Social distancing can strain our relational souls. While we follow those guidelines for preventing illness we can still reach out to each other in meaningful ways.

The New Testament lists over 30 “one another” statements/commands. You are likely familiar with many of them. The relational cues from the New Testament are critical to our relationships, and to our spiritual growth. Having studied these “one another” statement for years — and polishing up a book manuscript on them, shameless teaser, sorry — I can tell you that our “one anothering” has deep roots in us, by design.

Here are some examples:

  • “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12
  • “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 1 Thess. 5:11
  • “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,” Ephesians 4:2

These are just a few of the beautiful admonitions that God gives us on how to relate to, treat, and help each other. Take some time and look up (i.e. Google) each of the verses in the New Testament that contain “one another.” You will be surprised how many there are, and how they enrich our lives. It is well worth your time to study them. I promise. Or, wait for the book to be published. Better yet, get a head start and go ahead on your own.

Remember, God has designed your life for rhythms and relationships. During these disruptive times, try to regain some rhythm and develop your relationships as best you can. Reach out to someone  by phone. We need to hear each other’s voices. Offer encouragement, pray for others, and then let them know that you are there for them. We need each other … more than we think.

Let’s get our souls tapping in time to God’s rhythms and lives re-connecting to “one another.” We will all be better off, and better for it.

Hang in there. God’s is nearer than we think and aiding and protecting us in ways we do even know yet. Let’s follow His R and R during these unusual times. It will help us and honor Him.


Pesky questions yield powerful answers …

Let’s take a different approach in this post. Our working outline for Philemon divides the short book into four sections. Let’s use that outline to generate questions that will aid our reading and study of the book. Rather than sharing facts or context, I will offer questions that you can use as tools to break down what you are reading. Sound good? Let’s give it a go.

Here is our working outline:

Paul’s Greeting – verses 1-3

In the greeting or conclusion of many of Paul’s letters he often specifically names or refers to fellow believers. Take a moment and look at some of Paul’s letters to see this common practice of his. Why do you think that Paul consistently did this?

Forgiveness requires Christ-like character. 4-7

These verses show us the stellar character of Philemon. How many Christ-like traits can you spot in these verses? As you spot them, jot them down. Use them as you pray and ask God to develop those same characteristics in your heart and mind.

Forgiveness requires Christ-like actions. 8-18

Paul had led Onesimus to Christ. As a brother in Christ, Paul then began to help restore Onesimus to Philemon. This would not be easy, or simple. Is there a fellow believer in your life that needs your help or encouragement? Take a moment and pray about it. Be still. Wait. I am certain that God will bring someone to mind. Then, consider calling them or sending them a note to encourage them. When someone needs our help it rarely happens at a time that suits our schedule (Paul was in prison after all, not exactly a place of convenience or comfort). We have to go out of our own way it we want to be useful to others.

By the way, there is a great play on words in verse 11. In the original language of the New Testament the name Onesimus means “useful.” In verse 11, Paul says that because of his disobedience “Useful” was no longer “useful” to Philemon, but now, in Christ Onesimus is “useful” again. Ponder on that one for a little while. There is a great lesson and it is beautifully crafted. God’s word reveals His truth and Himself, and God does it with amazing images, language, and word play. In your daily Bible reading keep your antennae perked to spot how God uses words cleverly to convey His truth.

Forgiveness requires Christ-like motives. 19-25

For the sake of Onesimus and Philemon, Paul was willing to do, or pay, whatever it took to re-connect the two. He was putting his money where his motives were. Paul longed for their reconciliation. He was willing to go to any lengths to see it through.

Is there an act of service, or sacrifice, that you need to consider for a fellow believer? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to see it through?

Sometimes, pesky questions give us powerful answers — answers that move us toward Christ and shape us to become more like Him.

This ain’t easy, and wasn’t meant to be …

As described in the post for the outline, this chapter is rich with verses that impact your daily living. Let’s take them out into the light for a closer look. We will use the outline as a guide and add some meat to its bones.

Just a heads up, Paul is dealing with some real life issues in chapter four. And, he doesn’t line it with lace and velvet. He is writing while in prison and suffering for his faith. This chapter has stout lyrics set to a terse tune. You might feel a couple of “ouches” along the way. There are on purpose. So, to reflect the tone of the chapter, I have written with a serious disposition as well.

Each Christian should be:

Seeking unity in Christ: verses 1-5

Where two or three are gathered together … someone will fuss. Paul implored two ladies in the church at Philippi to bury the hatchet, and not in each other’s back. They were feuding and it was time to stop. He longed for them to walk in unity, and he admonished them to do so.

Paul does not instruct them to be of the same opinion, or “perspective,” (I am so tired of that word, it seems like a $52 word for opinion or personal preference). He told them to be “of the same mind.” This more than just agreeing. This means that they are to agree in thought AND attitude. This is a commitment to God’s Truth and submitting to it to direct their thoughts and actions. It is a surrender of self and determination to be like Christ.

Also, the Philippian believers were to rejoice “in the Lord.” Genuine joy does not bubble up from warm, fuzzy circumstances. It comes from knowing, trusting, and relying upon God and His promises. The way verse four is constructed means that the rejoicing is to be continual, or a deliberate ongoing action.

Knowing peace in Christ: verses 6-9

Here are eight critical words: God does not want you to be anxious! He wants you to have peace. You thoughts and attitudes will be determined by what you focus your mind on. If you focus on yourself, your situation, or your ability to take care of yourself, you actually should be worrisome and anxious. We cannot take care of our lives. God can, and must. Verse six shows us how to avoid worry and anxiety:

1. Follow His command. God grants us the power obey. You must commit to changing the way you think and what you think about. God does not magically change it. You must work on it. He will provide grace, strength, and wisdom. But, you must work at it. Memorizing key Bible verses is a great way to catalyze, then augment this. Did I mention that you must be disciplined in your thinking and work at it? Pause here for some self-examination … then work at it.

2. Pray. Duh! When you begin to fret or fume, you can stop it, quit focusing on self or the situation, and pray. Pray through your memory verses. Pray about the situation. Pray for power to overcome your anxiety. Then, move on. Remember Philippians 3:13-14 — forget the past and press on. Did I mention to work at it?

3. Be disciplined. Here’s the itchy reality: if you do not commit to changing the way you think or what you focus on, do not memorize verses, decide to focus on self rather than praying, and keep going back to whatever bothers you, then you do not want God’s peace. He doesn’t magically change all of this for you. You have to want it. You have to be disciplined in pursuing His peace. It’s a process, not an event. It requires focused effort, not hoping and waiting. Did I mention that this takes work?

Notice what His peace does for us in verse 7: it guards our hearts and minds. It doesn’t zap our hearts and minds, or put sprinkle magical, Heaven dust on them. It guards your mind and heart; it stands guard as you do what you are supposed to: fill your heart and mind with Scripture, pray, forget the past, focus on God’s word, and press on. Speaking of what we should focus on, verses eight and nine follow up on seeking God’s peace by telling us what to focus our minds on:

  • Things that are true (God’s Word); not things that exist in our mind and might not exist in reality. Have you ever kept track of things you worry about. It has been stated that 90% of the things that we worry about never actually happen.
  • Things that are noble, reverent, dignified; not things that are irreverent, or profane, or folly
  • Things that are fair and morally pure; not immoral or unfair things
  • Things that are pleasing and grace-based, not things that are upsetting or un-winsome
  • Things that are worthy of honor and praise.

If you memorize God’s Word, focus on these types of things (not on, ahem, Netflix or Facebook), commit to turning away from worry/anxiety when it springs up, and to praying, you will come to know the peace of God. If you don’t do these things, well, then you are asking for what you will get — frustration, worry, and fretfulness.

Before we leave this section, it is important to see that unity among believers comes through:

  • Having the same mindset in Christ. 3
  • Having ongoing joy in Christ. 4
  • Culitivating and demonstrating gentleness toward others. 5 (Note: developing gentleness is an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, and discipline.)
  • Developing a non-anxious, peaceful mind. 6-7
  • Focusing on things that honor God and are wholesome.

Growing in strength in Christ: verses 10-13

Growing in Christ means pushing through our own emotions, thoughts, and motives. We must press on. Notice that Paul says in verse 11 that to be content in whatever circumstance required him learning to do so. Again, there is not a one time balm that God rubs on our minds for this. Paul said that “I have learned in whatever state I am in, to be content.” He learned it! Cringe alert: even though he had a hard life and was treated unfairly, Paul never felt sorry for himself or played the victim. He kept pressing on (Chapter 3:13-14). Did I mention that he worked at it?

So, the context for verse 13, which is often quoted, is one of learning to endure and gaining strength from Christ as we learn to press on and be content. I once saw a coffee mug in a Christian book store in Memphis that had a picture of a man playing golf along with Philippians 4:13 quoted on it. I laughed out loud when I saw it. Composing from a prison cell, Paul was not writing to the Philippians to say that Jesus would give us strength to improve at our hobbies, or be more successful in our leisure, or have an easier time with our easy lives. Paul was saying, “Hey, I am in prison for Christ, but I have learned to be content in whatever situation am I in because I draw strength from Him as I suffer for Him.” Jesus doesn’t care about anyone’s golf game. Really. He’s bigger than that. We should be too.

Receiving provision from Christ: verses 14-20

It is through fellow believers that God often provides. Notice how the Philippian believers had helped Paul by encouraging him, serving alongside him, and supporting him financially. We should do the same for other believers.

I will save a summary and wrap up for the post on Friday on application for chapter four. In the meantime, as a way to tie chapter four together I offer these wise words shared by a saint from years ago regarding living the Christian: God will provide the fish. But, you have dig the worms, bait the hook, and go fishing!

Well said. When it comes to developing unity in Christ, knowing peace from Christ, and growing in strength in Christ, did I mention that … you have to work at it?

It’s within reach …

As I peck on the keyboard for this post it is raining and thundering. Rain pattering on the roof is a calming sound. It always makes me smile. If you listen closely, rain never sounds quite the same way twice. It is a wonder each time.

Reading through Philippians is new each time as well. With each read, and re-read, there is something new to discover and apply. God’s Word is that way. It is a living and active Word (Hebrews 4:12). In Philippians chapter four you will find that truth re-affirmed.

In the final chapter of Philippians you will be encouraged, helped, and offered hope. See if you can spot where each those elements emerge. To aid you, here is an outline that divides the chapter into its main parts:

Each Christian should be:

  • Seeking unity in Christ: verses 1-5
  • Knowing peace in Christ: verses 6-9
  • Growing in strength in Christ: verses 10-13
  • Receiving provision from Christ: verses 14-20

This chapter has top-notch memory verses that offer blue-ribbon insight for daily living. Among them are:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

As you stroll trough the aisles of chapter four you will discover an abundance of truths ready to be taken in, pored over, and acted upon.

In the post on Tuesday, we will unpack some key verses in the chapter and begin applying what this great chapter shows us.

On a different note, as this is the last chapter in Philippians, and a new month begins soon, do you have suggestions as to what we might study together in March? We can study another short book in March, or spread a longer one over March and April. Please post your thoughts in the comment section and let’s find another book to walk through together.

I’m going to log off and listen to the rain now …

His Light shrinks the shadow of the past …

As we have ventured through chapter 3 with the outline and commentary from this week, we can now take specific points for application. Sometimes application comes through further explanation. In this case I think it comes best through questions generated by the text. Let’s use our outline for chapter three and face some serious questions freshly squeezed from the text of the chapter to aid us in applying its truths.

Believers should be:

  • Rejoicing: verse 1

Is your mindset or attitude determined by your circumstances, or worse your mood, or do you exhibit joy and contentment in any situation? Keep in mind that the Bible shows God’s most faithful people having plenty of precarious times. Rarely do we find a hero of the faith whistling while walking down easy street.

James 1:2-3 reminds us that we are to trust God and His Word and exhibit joy in anything we face.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2-3

  • Counting accurately: verses 2-11

Are you counting on your religion, religious experiences, or religious traditions for security and stability? They are wobbly legs at best. What is one thing that is keeping you from relying on Christ alone? (You know the answer in general here, it’s pride, but think on what some specific barriers might be).

“And he (Jesus) said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” Mark 7:6-9

  • Pressing on: verses 12-16

Growing in Christ is not an experience; it is a daily discipline. It is not a passive process; it is an active, ongoing process.

Are there things in your past that hinder you? Are you holding onto something from your past and marinating in it so that you can feel sorry for yourself? God grants us freedom from the past and our mistakes by grace in Christ. Why hold on to something that He has forgiven and wants to remove from your mind, heart, and life? God promises freedom and joy, please do not forsake it and continue to soak in the past. I have to ask a hard question here: do you hold on to something from the past so that I can serve as an excuse?

Jesus did no go to the cross so that we could ignore what He has purchased and provided for us. He died so that we could forget the past (an ongoing process) and press on to the future by holding on to His promises. Go on, be free!

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

Jesus wasn’t kidding then, He isn’t now either. You can be free.

  • Watching: verses 17-19

Who are you looking to for motivation to grow in Christ? Look to Him. Also, take time to read biographies of great Christians of the past. An untapped resource that we have nowadays is the biographies of our spiritual ancestors such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Bunyan, John Owen, C.S. Lewis, etc. Check out John Piper’s book entitled 21 Servants of Sovereign Joy. It is a collection of short biographies of 21 faithful believers throughout the ages.

  • Waiting: verses 20-21

As we anticipate our Lord’s return, we should do so expectantly, while exacting in our growth in Him.

Soak in these truths, not the past. Let Him help you to move forward, and to keep pressing on. Jesus came to us, taught, died, and rose again so that we can be free from the past and ourselves, and to be free to pursue Him earnestly and persistently.

Shedding the past, pursuing the future …

We are at the midpoint of the book. The road we are on makes a sharp right, and uphill. Chapters one and two offered generic instruction and admonition. Chapters three and four shifts to specifics. The first word in chapter three, “finally,” begins that transition and cranks the steering wheel firmly to the right onto and by creating a higher road toward more specific principles for believers to grasp and grow in. For an exploration of this higher territory, we will use our outline for a map:

Believers should be:

Rejoicing: verse 1

We are to rejoice “in the Lord,” not in fleeting things such as ourselves, our stuff, or our situation. It is important to note that the Bible almost never mentions happiness. When it does it refers to a “blessedness,” or “blessed happiness,” that comes from knowing God and His Word, not from easy and fun times. Instead, the Bible focuses on joy and contentment. Both of those are rooted in Christ, trusting His promises, and walking with Him. Both of them endure, and they overcome circumstances.

Counting accurately: verses 2-11

  • Don’t count on yourself – 2-6

Paul describes for us that even through he was well-qualified to look inward for help or stability; he did not trust in his heritage, reputation, or himself. He counted on Christ. Before becoming a Christian Paul had an impeccable and impressive reputation as a zealous Pharisee and religious leader of his day, but apart from Christ it meant nothing. We cannot trust our religious heritage, or religious traditions, we must trust Christ. Do you have a religious tradition or experience that you hold onto more firmly than to Christ?

  • Do count on Christ – 7-11

There are some fascinating terms in these verses used to illustrate what Paul is saying in this section. While not present in English translations, the original language that Paul wrote in (Greek) uses accounting terms in verses 7. The term in verse seven for “gain” refers to a sizable profit by a businessman, and “loss” refers to a business that lost it profits, or ruin.

Paul knew that his reputation and religion apart from Christ equaled zero on the God’s spiritual ledger.

Paul could count his losses as gain because he saw what he had lost as something that could have been a barrier to knowing Christ and walking with him more intimately. The term for “knowing Christ” in verse 8 means more than having knowledge of (head knowledge), it means a relationship with experiential, intimate knowledge.

The word for rubbish is very specific, but not palpable term. It means manure or human waste. So, Paul was saying that he counted all that he left and lost as crap. Literally. He removed “crap” from his life so that he could know Christ better.

In verses 8 and 9 we see that we have more that forgiveness in Christ, we also have righteousness from and in Christ. The great news is that the righteousness of Christ is attributed to all who are in HIm by faith. This imputed righteousness is not one that we can attain or earn, it is granted to us in Christ by God’s grace. So, when God views you, He sees you as forgiven because of Jesus and clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. That demonstrates why we can have an eternal relationship and standing with God in Christ — it is all because of Who Jesus is and what He has done on our behalf!

Pressing on: verses 12-16

In these verses Paul uses specific Greek terms to make his point. He paints the picture of a sprinter exerting great effort and doing his best to reach the finish line. The word used by Paul for “pressing on,” has the idea of running hard and then stretching for the finish line.

In verse 13 he reminds us again not to rely upon ourselves, but to rely upon Christ and His Spirit for our growth.

One key to becoming more like Christ is outlined in verses 13. It has a two parts. First, we must forget the past. Those in Christ who are chained by their past are so because they choose to be (that sounds harsh, but it is biblical accurate). Christ sets us free completely from our past. To say that He does not is to say that He cannot. He offers forgiveness for and freedom from our past, all of it! Second, we must press on, which takes daily effort. Effort that is focused on reading His Word, praying, and living out what He teaches and directs us toward.

Watching: verses 17-19

Paul was an example, though he would admit, an imperfect one. We sometimes look to Christ who is perfect and can grow frustrated by our lack of growth. On the other hand, we can be encouraged to press on by the growth of a fellow flaw-ridden follower of Christ. We are to watch and learn from both.

Waiting: verses 20-21

All of this is possible because our Lord and Savior has made us children of God and citizens of His Kingdom. We look forward to the day when forgetting the past and pressing on toward growth in Him is no longer needed because we are with Him. As the old hymn says, “what a day that will be!”

Your past will fade and your shackles will weaken …

In chapter three of Philippians Paul is opening the vault revealing his innermost moviations. What Paul shares divides the chapter into five small sections. Each section contains just a few verses, but each of them are industrial grade in strength.

Chapter two instructed us to look beyond ourselves, love others, and sacrifically serve others; that prepares us precisely for chapter three. Chapter three points us to Christ. — knowing Him now and looking for His return.

Outline: Believers should be:

  • Rejoicing: verse 1
  • Counting accurately: verses 2-11
    • Don’t count on yourself – 2-6
    • Do count on Christ – 7-11
  • Pressing on: verses 12-16
  • Watching: verses 17-19
  • Waiting: verses 20-21
  • As this chapter holds many high caliber verses, please take special note of verses 8-10 and 13-14. Each of those verses set us free from clinging to trivial things, relying upon ourselves, and aiming for the wrong things. They move us from fancying trinkets and replaying the past to loving Christ enough to forsake anything for Him and finding our freedom in Him.

    “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,” Philippians 3:8-10

    “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

    Using the outline provided, take several, slow, measured reads through this chapter. It is a volcano of truth, ready to erupt.