Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mark – the persistent

Mark is an interesting man in the Gospels and the early Church. His family appears to be wealthy and their home was a focal point for support of Christ and then the fledgling Church. Mark is considered the scribe for Peter and the Gospel which bears his name. He was Jewish with good connections and the use of his Roman name, Marcus, indicates certain connections with that authority.

When Paul and Barnabas went on their first missionary journey Mark was a member of the team. The term used to describe his role was ‘under rower.’ He was there in the capacity to serve and to learn. It is thought that he had a doctrinal clash with Paul over the acceptance of Gentiles by faith and baptism and omitting circumcision and Law keeping. He left the team. When another mission trip was planned Barnabas wanted his cousin to have another opportunity. Paul was adamant in refusing to take him. This resulted in a schism between friends. Was he in the right but with a wrong attitude?

Eleven years pass and Paul writes to the church in Colosse and to Philemon and Marks name is in them. How did they get back together? The reason is unknown. The wonderful thing is that both must have changed. Paul’s in attitude but not doctrine and Mark seems to have matured in the grace of God and ministry. In 1 Peter 5:13 he is mentioned by Peter as being with him in Babylon. Later Mark is credited with giving Peter’s recollection of his time with Jesus in the Gospel by Mark. There is much for us to appreciate here in dealing with others. One of the biggest lessons is the giving and the accepting of forgiveness. This will always precede reconciliation and acceptance.

To Philemon this reinstated man is listed as a fellow-worker with Paul. The word for ‘work’ implies hard labour. To the Colossian church Paul says of Mark in 4:11 along with  others  as  being  like good medicine which soothes irritation. Was Paul speaking from  personal experience?  It must have irritated the apostle immensely to be confined to house arrest. It didn’t stop him from witnessing to and leading many Roman soldiers to faith in Christ Jesus. Each of us may well have a journey similar to Mark’s. How good it is to know the Lord doesn’t give up on us because of mistakes or immaturity. It’s also a joy to know that instead of causing irritation to others, as once we may have done, the Lord makes us as ‘medicine’ to soothe and encourage others.

From Paul’s final letter written during his second and fatal imprisonment Mark is mentioned. He is in Ephesus with Timothy and Paul would like both of them to visit him. Two words flow from Paul’s pen which reveal how much a previously fractured relationship had healed. Mark is profitable especially within the ministry. The word in Greek for profitable points to being advantageous. It’s used in 2 Timothy 2:21 and describes Mark journey well.  The young man who made things difficult on his first endeavour had had a great make-over. The word for ministry describes a Deacon. He had progressed from an under-rower into leadership. We may well see in Mark the evidence of a man whose commitment to Christ made him persistent to serve.

Acts 12:12, 25. 13:5. 15:37-39.  Colossians 4:10. Philemon 24.

2 Timothy 4:11. 1Peter 5:13.

Ray Hawkins. Sept. 25th 2016.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Onesimus - Fulfilled his name

He was a runaway slave from Colosse. Was he a slave due to war or because of bad economic choices or behaviour? How did he end up in Rome we will never know! For certain, he was a man with the threat of death over him. Somehow Onesimus met Paul. Was this one of God’s coincidental meetings not first with the apostle but with Epaphras. He was from Colosse (Colossians 4:12 Philemon 23). Did this man introduce Onesimus to Paul? It was to change his life in time and for eternity. This man whose name means ‘profitable’ was far from that to himself and others. When he believed that Jesus Christ could save him, change him and fulfil the meaning of his name. Now he must address his past and correct it in so far as possible, especially to Philemon, his master. All of us have to deal with issues from our Christless past as opportunity allows. This is the fruit of repentance. It isn’t always easy or pleasant but it is essential as a testimony to Christ’s grace and transforming power.

So, Paul sends Onesimus back to Colosse accompanied by Tychicus. In Colossians 4:7-9 this 'fellow-slave' appears to be, or had been, in the fellowship there. He had also a message to share with them about the Apostle's situation. Tychicus was the encourager. How did the congregation respond/react when Onesimus entered? One thing is certain, Philemon was a believer in good fellowship at the church. How easy it would have been for Onesimus to back-out of going there. He needed someone to stand with him and say a word on his behalf. The term is ‘paraclete’ and Paul did it through Tychicus. Would we take a risk like that for someone with a dark past? He would be under intense scrutiny in the early days of his return. He and the Church, along with Philemon would need the love, understanding and grace of Christ to embrace each other. Jesus saves the most unlikely, even the unlovely persons. Then He places them in a community where all have rough edges. This is where we all become what Proverbs 27:17 describes: ‘iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits (face in Hebrew) of another.’

The terms used about this once unprofitable person are most instructive. They remind us of the power of the Gospel when let loose in a person’s life. Onesimus is now faithful, a beloved brother and to Philemon he is called Paul’s ‘son’. The apostle urges the master of Onesimus to see him no longer as a doulos – slave –but as a beloved brother. The once unprofitable had the opportunity to be profitable in the employ of Philemon and to the Church. His status in the eyes of the World would not have changed but for the Christians he was a new man, a ‘freeman’ in Christ.

Without knowing the stories of those in our sphere of witness it is certain there will be those similar to Onesimus. What we share with them about Jesus Christ could be transforming here and now. This has happened many times in many places. It may also mean burying the seeds of God’s grace in someone’s heart which will bring new life later. This is one of a number reasons why Christians such as you and I are involved in this and other ministries. When young or old who have had a dark history come to faith they need a ‘paraclete.’ As their spokesperson you help them to integrate into the community of faith. If they have offended certain people you, as did Paul and Tychicus, seek ways to rectify that which had been damaged. This isn’t easy or necessarily short term. However, what a joy it is when the fruits of repentance and renewal begin to blossom and mature. 
Colossians 4:8-9. Philemon 8-16.                
Onesimus – the (un)profitable becomes profitable.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Tychicus - the reliable.

The Apostle Paul was no ‘lone ranger’ in mission. Neither does he presume to take all or even most of the credit for things achieved. He was a team leader yet very dependent upon each member of the team. Tychicus is one such person Paul points out to us through his letters.

We meet Tychicus and others after the riot in Ephesus. This was over Demetrius’ accusation that Artemis’ name was defamed. We will catch up with another team member involved later. Paul decided it was opportune to go to Macedonia and sent an advance party to make the arrangements. Part of Paul’s reason for this return trip which took him to Jerusalem was to bring relief money from the Gentile Churches to the believers in Judea. Tychicus would have been one of those entrusted with guarding and delivering this substantial gift of the brethren for their famine relief.

In four letters this man is revealed as someone who was dependable. The success of any venture is due in a big way to such people. We can plan, pray and perform but without a faithful and reliable team things can fail to reach their potential. In Eph. 6:21 Paul describes him as a deacon. This is a term for a drinks waiter but elevated by the fact that Jesus wore that title (Rom 15:8). Read the qualifications for being appointed a deacon in 1 Tim 3 and you get a measure of the man. In Col. 4:7. A lovely warm term of beloved brother (in Christ) is used alongside of a word despised by the World, doulos (a slave without rights). The Christian faith turns the estimates of the World upside down. It is a mark of honour to be a doulos of and for Christ.

Once again we read of Tychicus on the move. This time to Ephesus with a rather delicate responsibility (Colossians 4:7-9.) He was to accompany a runaway slave of Philemon’s, an influential church and community member. Onesimus had been converted in Rome under Paul’s ministry and was returning to put things right. (See next devotional). What was required was a man of tact and wisdom to prepare the way for the runaway’s restoration and acceptance. You and I may be called upon to represent someone someday who had similar failures, morally, spiritually but had been found by Christ and transformed.

 The apostle Paul experienced two imprisonments in Rome. In the first he wrote the above letters and 1 Timothy and Titus. In this letter Tychicus is once again facing the prospect of an assignment to Crete. He would replace Titus who was being recalled to discuss things with Paul. What does that tell us about our man under consideration? He was rather multi-skilled to say the least, and dependable. The final mention of this man is in a letter from Paul’s second imprisonment. This would culminate in his death under Nero. Tychicus was on the move again, this time to Ephesus.  It is there we have to leave him.

This man’s name means ‘Fortunate.’ How appropriate. He was fortunate to know and serve Christ. Fortunate to be a reliable team member. Fortunate to take risks to help others. He becomes an example for each of us as team members here at camp. May it be said by each of us “it has been our good fortune to serve with you.”

Acts 20:4.  Eph. 6:21.  Col. 4:7.  2Tim. 4:12. Titus 3:12   

Ray Hawkins 11.9.2016.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Epaphroditus - risk taker.

Those in a Roman prison usually had to provide their own necessities. Paul was a stranger in Rome without family and few friends. He relied upon the Churches in the area and beyond to meet his need. In Romans 16 is a fasciating list of such people who probably stepped in to help this outstanding servant of Christ. Epaphroditus steps into this scene as he brought Paul invaluable help, both physical and spiritual from the fellowship at Philippi, (Philippians 4:18). This was to the prisoner in home detention a sweet smelling savour, a sacrifice well pleasing to God.

Individually and as a Church we probably don’t have a conscious appreciation of the benefits our actions have upon others. Nor do we necessarily see it is as a sacrifice well pleasing to God. In many ways that is how it should be. As we do our daily rounds in our workplace, community and homes we should be a fragrance to others. The Lord will use your perfume to influence friends and family plus others to appreciate the Body of Christ and our Lord.

This man from Asia risked his life to serve. Was his sickness a result of whatever happened on his journey?  Was it something which infected his wellbeing from the city of Rome? For his home church to have had news of his condition means he suffered for a considerable period of time. I wonder who cared for him. So much is unknown, tantalizing and yet exciting as we reflect upon it. I imagine it would be the Christians in Rome who took him under their wing. Whilst our culture is different there is still a need for us to care for each other, especially within a team ministry setting.

Paul had a sense of the worth of those who serve with him or ministered to him on behalf of the Lord and the Church. Epaphroditus is called ‘brother (in Christ)’, Fellow worker, (yet he was a delivery man) and a fellow soldier (each of us have enlisted in a moral and spiritual warfare). Two other terms are applied by Paul to this man. ‘Messenger’ is actually apostle. He is on a mission. He is a sent one. This term doesn’t denote power or authority over others. Rather it speaks of mission. The other term is minister and comes from the Greek ‘Leitourgos.’ This defined a man who discharged a public office at his own expense. It was also applied to service to a god. The Church used this word to highlight the work of Jesus (Hebrews 8:2) Paul (Romans 15:16) and service to God by His people (Acts 13:2).

 We may see Epaphroditus simply as a messenger, Paul, described what Epaphroditus did as a priestly function. Whatever we do in Christ’s name and for Him is a priestly act. In many ways it would have cost this man money, time, absence from family and employment to mention a few things. Ministry in any shape will cost you and me in someway. However, when you consider what you are doing and why as well as to whom recall this to mind, it is ‘leitourgos’ a priestly function.

Epaphroditus' name means 'agreeable, lovely' in Greek and handsome in Latin. It is rather fitting that Christ had filled out these meaning within his heart, relationship and service. When Epaphroditus returned to the Church at Philippi imagine the stories he could share.  The trip to and from Rome and God's safe keeping on the road, Paul's ministry to the Praetorium Guards, the care received with gratitude, Epaphroditus's own sense of being prayed for and looked after. Along with that, meeting other believers and fellow servants of Christ associated with Paul and the ministry in which they shared.
By the grace of God we have the privilege of being called 'Leitourgos' even though we might think our role is unremarkable. When we give thegift of a cup of water in the Lord's name we express the aroma of Christ. We are unconscious of it, but the recipient is alert to it!

Reading:  Philippians 2:25-30
Ray Hawkins Sept 6th 2016.