Philemon’s Speck and Our Log

Scripture Focus: Philemon 15-16
Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

Reflection: Philemon’s Speck and Our Log
By John Tillman

Between Philemon’s time and now, many have struggled to live out Paul’s challenge to overcome the cultural mindset of slavery. It has been a struggle uniquely led by Christians.

However, when we look to the past, there is a temptation to sneer. Many modern moralists convince themselves that if they had lived in certain ages, they would have been on the “right side” of history and as a result they treat writers of those ages as hypocrites, refusing to learn from them.

This is foolish, arrogant, and is an attitude that is condemned by Christ himself.

Better that we remove the log in our own eye rather than seek to remove the speck from the eye of some deceased writer in another age.

In our own time, Paul’s challenge to Philemon is still applicable. Slavery may not be sociologically acceptable anymore, but it is still economically viable and, as a criminal enterprise, is alive and well. The United Nations estimates that over 89 million people are currently or have been enslaved in the past five years.

And though we may not have slaves, all of us have servants. Even those without in-home staff such as maids, butlers, chefs, or nannies, have an entire service industry taking care of everything we might need. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimated that in 2018 over 131 million people would be working in the service industries.

Our food is prepared for us, our coffee is customized for us, our packages are delivered for us, by servants. Yet our society denigrates manual labor of all kinds, and especially labor in the service industries.

We denigrate and look down on service so much that we use service jobs as a way to scare better grades into our kids. Service jobs are the stick that spurs youth toward the carrot of a better job after incurring massive debt attending college.

Our existence is supported by the labor of people who directly or indirectly serve us, just as Onesimus served Philemon. How we treat those individuals—both relationally and economically—shows whether we consider them part of the economic machinery or spiritual brothers and sisters.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not stray from your commandments.— Psalm 119:10

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 18 (Listen – 6:52)
Philemon (Listen -2:52)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read More about Taking Advantage of the Desperate
How are our socially acceptable, market based, and entirely legal interactions with humans dehumanizing them?

Read More about Slavery, Racism, and a Lone Christian Voice
In the late fourth century a lone Christian voice spoke out against the oppressive institution of slavery in a way that none had before.

Paul’s Stance on Gentleness

Scripture Focus: Titus 3.3-7
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

Reflection: Paul’s Stance on Gentleness
By John Tillman

Paul, rather than boast in his religious heritage and his austere religious lifestyle, included himself in this description of past sinfulness. He includes himself among those who were once foolish, disobedient, and deceived.

Paul’s discussion and confession of past sins and sufferings is intended as a contrast between how believers had previously been and how they were now. But it was not intended to inspire judgmentalism or separation from sinners. Rather, this passage is intended to inspire in its readers, mercy, kindness, peaceableness, consideration, and gentleness. The verses just prior to this, make this purpose clear:

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. — Titus 3.1-2 (Emphasis mine)

The implication Paul is making is that even when confronted with evil and sinfulness, we should respond with goodness and grace. When we face people who are violent rather than gentle, calloused rather than considerate, combative rather than peaceable, and slanderous rather than truthful, we should recognize these people are not our enemies. They are captives. They are enslaved and deceived victims of hatred and sin. It is our mission to save them from captivity, not destroy them. It is our mission to address their deception, not dismiss them as foolish or ignorant. It is our mission to demonstrate to them true love and forgiveness, not to enact retributive punishments upon them.

In hostage rescue training, military operators train relentlessly on breaching rooms that contain hostages and on attacking only the hostile hostage-takers, not the hostages themselves. This type of training is high-stakes and high-stress. Failure is literally life and death. 

Too many times when Christians address ideological opposition online or in person, we shoot the hostages. When we address arguments against faith, we must remember that the person making them, is loved by God and should be treated as such. Ad-hominem attacks, meanness, violent language, and unkindness are not rhetorical tools that should be in the arsenal of Christians in the public square.

May we confess our past and current shortcomings as Paul did.
May we constantly keep in mind the commands of Paul to his young spiritual leaders, Titus and Timothy, to teach gently and faithfully. 
May we tear down arguments and strongholds, but never people for whom Christ died.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
The Lord lives! Blessed is my Rock! Exalted is the God of my salvation! — Psalm 18:46

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 17 (Listen – 7:19)
Titus 3 (Listen -2:05)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Choosing Gentleness Over Violence
The language of many Christians and prominent Christian pastors has followed, growing combative, disrespectful, and even violent

Read more about Abandoning Human Vengeance
As Christians, we must identify ourselves as part of a new fringe that will not submit to the normalcy of hatred.

Praying for Repentance :: A Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: 2 Timothy 4.3-4
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

Reflection: Praying for Repentance :: A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Paul says that the “time will come,” when people will not put up with sound doctrine. He sounds like he is speaking of the future, but it certainly seems as if there were a lot of Paul’s past experiences in Acts that might be described as people not putting up with sound doctrine.

Being stoned, being beaten, being imprisoned, and being run out of town by mobs doesn’t exactly sound like acceptance or tolerance. Doctrinal diligence is needed in every age of the church. Defending correct doctrine is the task Paul is quite seriously commanding Timothy to prepare for. We need to prepare for it too.

But as we think of these people Paul writes of, who will gather teachers to suit their own desires, we need to think about our desires. As we pray for people who turn their ears away from the truth, we need to think about how often we turn away from facts that don’t fit our paradigms. Let us remember that people are not our enemies, only sin.

Let us pray for our culture and ourselves this weekend, a prayer of repentance. Our prayer today is based on yesterday’s readings from chapter 3, verses 2-5 and Paul’s description of sinful, self-interested people who are lovers of themselves. 

A Prayer for Repentance
Lord we remember your prophecy from yesterday’s reading about how sinful people would become. Empower us to confess and repent of these sins, reversing them in our lives to bless others. 

May we pray this passage not as an accusative attack against our culture, but as a lament for the condition of our own hearts and the heart of Christ’s church.

Lord rather then become like the people Paul warned Timothy of, 
May we be found by you and seen by the world as we are:
Showing love to outsiders
Shunning the allure of money and wealth
Praising others not ourselves
Being humble
Healing others in words and deed
Honoring our elders and parents
Living in gratitude
Being made holy by the Holy Spirit
Indwelt by love beyond ourselves
Forgiving
Truth telling and affirming
Calming
Tender and caring
Loving the good
Showing loyalty,
Sharing wisdom,
Shunning the spotlight
And sacrificing our pleasure to serve others.

May our repentance bring glory to Christ and not to ourselves and may Jesus’ name be praised.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Our God will come and will not keep silence; before him there is a consuming flame and round about him a raging storm. — Psalm 50.3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 14 (Listen – 5:06)
2 Timothy 4 (Listen -2:48)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Kings 15 (Listen – 6:21), Titus 1 (Listen -2:24)
2 Kings 16 (Listen – 3:46), Titus 2 (Listen -2:01)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Confessing, Instead of Weaponizing PropheRather than weaponize Paul’s words to attack our culture with an accusing cry, we should instead cry for forgiveness and mercy as we recognize that these faults are also in us.

#WeaponizingTheBible #ConfessingSin #KingdomOfPriests #Repentance

https://theparkforum.org/843-acres/confessing-instead-of-weaponizing-prophecy/

Read more about Praying as Priests
As followers of God today, a part of our identity is as carriers of the blessings of God that are intended for the world.

Confessing, Instead of Weaponizing Prophecy

Scripture Focus: 2 Timothy 3.2-5
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power.

Reflection: Confessing, Instead of Weaponizing Prophecy
By John Tillman

When we read Paul’s word to Timothy about people being “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, etc…,” does it not just sound like another normal Thursday on Twitter?

Some days we might find all of these descriptions in the trending topics alone, much less digging down into the @ replies of avowed trolls.

I suppose that every teacher of the Bible, in every age of the church has looked at these words of Paul and thought it a prophecy of his or her own time. It isn’t hard to imagine Paul, in a prophetic vision glancing over our collective shoulders at our social feeds and shaking his head. Calvin, Trotter, Lewis, and Corrie Ten Boom must have imagined Paul reading their news in like manner.

We can humorously rail on Twitter (and other social media and technology) as if it is the source of evil, but the joke is not merely on us, it is us. Evil is in us. Twitter is just a megaphone, amplifying the words of our hearts have always been spouting. Or to think of it another way, Twitter is a microscope allowing us to see deep into the heart of humanity and be shocked at the diseased and horrid condition of our souls.

It is helpful to remember also that Paul was not speaking to Timothy of dangers from outside the church. He was not speaking of governmental, or political, or cultural oppression and sin. He was speaking of sins and false teachings within the church.

We have written before that the best way to read Old Testament prophecy is to imagine yourself not as the noble, righteous prophet or the helpless faithful the prophet stands with, but as the target of the prophet’s message and the ones in need of repentance. New Testament prophecy is no different. Rather than weaponize Paul’s words to attack our culture with an accusing cry, we should instead cry for forgiveness and mercy as we recognize that these faults are also in us.

May we take a priestly stance, confessing the sins of our age. Through the power of the Holy Spirit may we repent each of the items in this prophecy, turning our lives into the antithesis of Paul’s vision and affecting our churches and communities around us with the overflow of God’s Holy Spirit.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call the Prayer
The Lord is King; let the people tremble; he is enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth shake. — Psalm 99.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 13 (Listen – 4:33)
2 Timothy 3 (Listen -2:21)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about How to Read Prophetic Judgment :: Readers’ Choice
We miss the point of prophecy entirely when we weaponize it to attack others.

Read more about Christian Pagans and Disasters
Attributing disasters to angry gods has more in common with the theology of the 1990 movie #JoeVersustheVolcano than it does the God of the Bible.

Choosing Gentleness Over Violence

Scripture Focus: 2 Timothy 2.24-25
The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.

From John:

Sadly this devotional from 2017 begs to be repeated. The world’s online language has gotten more, instead of less, brutal in two years. But worse and more shocking, the language of many Christians and prominent Christian pastors has followed, growing combative, disrespectful, and even violent, disqualifying themselves, according to Paul from being “the Lord’s servant…” May we repent and call our leaders to follow suit.

Reflection: Choosing Gentleness Over Violence

By John Tillman

When we discuss differences online, the overheated rhetoric of partisan headlines can become a part of our own speech as we share articles or videos that describe our opponents—not their arguments or political positions—as being destroyed, ripped, blasted, shredded. The more violent and dehumanizing the verb, the better.

This isn’t just verbal hyperbole. It is being borne out in actions as more and more people are physically assaulted following online interactions that lead to violence or threats of violence. These types of actions can be extreme and political, such as the attempted assassinations of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in 2011 or of Republican Congressional members in 2017. They can also be smaller in spectacle, and fly below the news radar.

Gamergate
was the name given to attacks on women critiquing the portrayal of female characters in video games. Though it started years ago, many of these attacks—threats, vandalism, hacking, and doxxing attacks—are still going on today. Women are also often attacked using these methods after reporting sexual abuse by powerful men.

We should resist the urge to shrug off these events with denial. Christians believe that God’s Word became flesh, yet somehow we are reluctant to admit the power of our own words to become physicalized into actions. What we say and how we say it matters because, as Jesus taught, the words of our mouths come from our hearts and reveal our inward sinfulness. Sticks and stones start as words and words start in our sinful hearts. This is true not only of the words we speak or type ourselves but the words we lend our digital voices to. By posting, liking, and retweeting articles about our ideological rivals being “destroyed” we are revealing not our ideological righteousness, but our theological sinfulness.

In Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, he encourages faithfulness to the Gospel, and fidelity to right teaching, but Paul specifically instructs Timothy not to be resentful or quarrelsome and to instruct opponents with gentleness. This was no low-stakes conflict that Paul was advising Timothy in. The very heart of what it meant to be a Christian and the definition of salvation through Christ was at stake. It was much, much more important than who misinterpreted whose tweet this week. Yet, still Paul’s charge was to teach gently.

We cannot continue posting and liking things that are resentful, quarrelsome, and the opposite of gentle, yet expect to represent Christ and the Gospel in the world. If we refuse to choose one or the other, we risk showing the world a resentful, quarrelsome, violent Christ.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer

Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 11-12 (Listen – 7:38)
2 Timothy 2 (Listen -3:17)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Abandoning Human Vengeance
As Christians, we have an opportunity to differentiate ourselves from culture every time vitriol spews.

Read more about Praise God for the Justice of the Gospel
Only Christ can stand, simultaneously offering forgiveness to all who seek it, destruction of evil itself, and restoration of all that is broken and lost.

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