You know, sometimes we don’t need a super-star to look at in Scripture! Don’t get me wrong, super-stars are fabulous, but we tend to create a “special” category for them, and if we are honest we often don’t feel we can relate to someone in that category.
And as a result, their lives can tend not to motivate us.
Listening or reading people like Tim Keller or John Piper I sometimes wonder if I should do something else! Their stellar gifts can seem quite out of reach, leaving me prone to feeling demotivated in comparison.
What about you? Do you know that feeling?
Yet, Scripture is full of some pretty ‘ordinary’ people, people so similar to us, weak people, people who made mistakes, not so famous people – but all transformed by God and used by God in some way or another!
In today’s passage, we are introduced to just such a person Onesimus. We know about him from this letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a church leader called Philemon, who leads a church that meets in his house in Colossae.
What’s the back story?
Paul seems to have lead Philemon to faith in Jesus (vs19). And having believed in Jesus Philemon’s life was transformed. His faith in and love for Jesus was known (vs5), and this love for Jesus led Philemon to love his fellow believers. So much so that he was known as one who refreshed and revived other people’s hearts (vs4-7) and now he and his whole family were living their whole lives for God’s mission with a church even meeting in their house (vs2).
But not everything was rosy! There was someone Philemon found difficult to love. Someone he had little time for. There is always someone isn’t there. That itchy neck person, that person who did THAT thing…!
For Philemon, THAT GUY’s name was; Onesimus.
He had been a slave of Philemon’s, he worked for him, but apparently wasn’t a very good or honourable employee.
Onesimus was so bad that although his name means ‘useful’ (vs11), it seems like he was nicknamed ‘useless’ by Philemon.
He wasn’t just ‘useless’ to his master, on top of this bad work ethic, it seems like Onesimus had also stolen from his master (vs18-19).
So, Onesimus was either dismissed & sent away by Philemon or, more likely; he ran away as such criminal actions against an owner would have been harshly treated in that society. Either way, Onesimus somehow ends up with Paul in Rome, where Paul has been imprisoned for the Gospel.
Maybe Onesimus remembered hearing Paul preach in the church that met in Philemon’s house; maybe he remembered hearing the letters that were read out containing the liberating truth of the Gospel? Maybe he longed for such freedom from guilt and shame for himself…?
Whatever it was, Onesimus finds Paul in Rome in prison, and Paul ends up leading him to faith in Christ, or Paul restores him to faith in Christ in Rome while in prison.
And because of that we now have this very personal letter in our bibles, so what can we learn from it. So what can we learn from this letter, this story?
1. The Gospel gives identity & belonging
Having run away, having stolen, having been called ‘useless’ when your name actually means ‘useful’, Onesimus must have had some real identity issues. Low self-esteem, nothing to be proud of, no hope for a future, a criminal on the run…!
But all that is about to change. You see the Gospel doesn’t just change our eternal address it transforms who we are!
“The Gospel doesn’t just change
our eternal address it transforms who we are!”
We don’t know anything about Onesimus’ nationality or parents, but it is highly likely that he was a foreigner probably brought to the Roman empire through war or slave-traders.
As a slave, Onesimus would not have much in the way of protection from exploitation/abuse would not have had much in the way of rights or any privilege.
But in the Gospel Onesimus becomes a son 3x over!
- The son of his human dad
- A son of God
- A son of Paul, his spiritual dad! (vs10) “I appeal to you for my child.”
The Gospel transforms identity/belonging, so much so that Paul says that when he sends Onesimus back to Philemon (carrying this letter we are reading), he says that he is, in fact, sending “my very heart”! (vs12)
This useless slave who had messed up monumentally – because of the Gospel becomes a beloved son 3x!
More than this, Paul writes to Philemon, an important man, a church leader a homeowner and Paul writes of how Onesimus has become to both of them (the apostle Paul and this leader) – a fellow brother (vs16) in Christ!
Our faith in Christ, our adoption as children of God, creates a new relationship of love & equality of value between us, a connection that is deep and eternal – brothers and sisters in Christ! Equal in the Lord.
The Gospel gives us a value that transcends social barriers that previously defined and divided us! This is so real for the apostle Paul that he writes to Philemon instructing him to receive Onesimus ‘AS YOU WOULD RECEIVE ME’ (vs16-17).
- I don’t know how you see yourself today.
- I don’t know if you can identify a bit with Onesimus?
- I don’t know if your identity feels like it is intact or in tatters?
- I don’t know if you feel useless, ashamed of things you’ve done or failed at?
- I don’t know if you feel like you don’t belong anywhere because of your family situation or a lack of a father or lack of parents….?
But what I DO KNOW is that the Gospel, the good news about Jesus transforms your identity and your sense of belonging!
- God wants you to belong!
- God wants you to KNOW Him as Father
- God wants to give you spiritual fathers and mothers, spiritual brothers and sisters wants to give you a place of honour in His household – the church.
The Gospel gives us identity & belonging!
2. The Gospel gives us purpose!
Rejection is a terrible thing. Imagine being called ‘useless’! Maybe you’ve been, or you are still at times called ‘useless’ by someone, a boss, a friend or family member…
As a rejected, runaway slave and fugitive – Onesimus seems purposeless. Seems like he is useless – having no useful purpose at all in life.
But having encountered Paul and the Gospel Paul writes; ‘formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.’ (vs11)
Paul wants Onesimus to continue to stay to help him with the mission of Jesus but sends him back to be of help to the church back in Colossae.
When Jesus begins to change us from the inside out, little by little, our character starts changing too. We begin to become trustworthy, faithful, reliable, on-time, helpful…
The Gospel is incredibly down-to-earth, practical!
It doesn’t just change our eternal address but changes everything in our lives – it makes us useful, helpful, reliable to others and in God’s service.
Onesimus was set free from slavery by the Gospel, but what was he set free for? Following Christ set him free from sin but in addition, set him free for good works (Ephesians 2:10) that God had prepared in advance for him to do. And so Onesimus becomes useful to in God’s church/kingdom (vs11). He gets a purpose!
Are you looking for purpose?
The Gospel is what gives you purpose. Onesimus was floundering until he found Christ! And as you follow Christ, as you begin to serve others because you serve Christ – your life too will get purpose, and your character will get transformed.
3. Transformation by Spiritual Fathering Mothering
It’s worth asking; ‘How did this all happen for Onesimus?” This all happened because the Gospel restored him not just to his heavenly Father but also gave him a spiritual dad too! Paul picked up on this guy, who was a bit of a wreck probably by the time he got to him.
Paul didn’t get too hung up with his own life challenges while he himself was in prison. Paul wasn’t too self-absorbed so that he missed the moment, rather he saw the young man in front of him in need of help! What a (personal challenge to us)
And so, Paul involved himself, fathering Onesimus in the Lord, in the Gospel – Paul loved him as a son. Paul spoke life, hope, faith and a future over him calling him ‘useful’ restoring dignity to him. More than this as we shall read in the verses that follow, Paul advocated/mediated for him, was willing to pay for him, trusted him.
Who is God calling you to invest your life into? Could you be used by God to redeem a life, from useless to useful, from rejected to beloved? Who is your Onesimus?
Conclusion & Application
- What’s God saying to you today?
- Are you like Onesimus in some way? Do you feel like you have lost your way, you’re ashamed, have messed-up, feel lonely, purposeless or lacking hope…? God wants to redeem your life, put you back together again! Pray now and ask God to begin a metamorphic process of Gospel transformation in your life. Reach out to a spiritual father/mother to walk with you today.
- Or have you walked with God for some time already, God has put you back together and so you’ve made some progress (not that we are ever totally right this side of heaven). Who is your Onesimus? Who is God calling you to invest your life into to see some other people’s lives transformed by the Gospel? What are you waiting for? Reach out to them today.
In the preceding verses (vs1-6), John has made it clear that false teaching is invariably linked in part to erroneous teaching about who Jesus is and what He came to do.
Then starting in vs7, the apostle John contrasts false teaching with authentic godly life that results from right teaching and right believing.
Those who have accepted the Gospel, those who have been loved and accepted by God, in turn, love others with the same type of love with which they have been loved (vs7).
The connection between love for God and love for people is so strong that the apostle writes that anyone who doesn’t love other people can’t truly love God!
The Gospel doesn’t leave us unchanged; it doesn’t just cause our sins to be forgiven; the Gospel melts our hearts and changes our lives and our relationships.
True faith in Jesus Christ has to have an outworking. The overwhelming characteristic John highlights is love – because ‘God is love’ (vs8). Therefore, we will love if we are truly God’s children (‘born of God’ vs7) because God is love.
I can’t see it, but people tell me that my children look like me. The resemblance is there physiologically and in terms of things like temperament and personality. They share some of my DNA, and they grew up in close proximity and relationship. Similarly, the apostle John’s argument is that we who have truly been supernaturally born of God will resemble God because we have God’s DNA in us (1 John 3:9)!
True faith is not the attainment of knowledge, or experience but demonstrates itself as being true in God-like self-giving love.
And this is how we know what real love is – that God gave of Himself in sending His only Son into the world to save us (vs9). Love doesn’t start with us (‘I love God’); rather love was initiated by God when God loved us and sent His Son Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins (vs10)!
Brother or sister, we did not initiate reconciliation with God. We didn’t take the first step in love towards God. While we still sinners, still against God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Salvation is all God’s initiative; God has loved the unlovely and made us lovely and able to love others.
So, let you and I who have believed in Jesus love one another with the same love with which we have been loved – and as we do, God’s tangible presence will be experienced amongst us.
- Who are you finding hard to love right now? Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you about this person and your present struggle. What is the Holy Spirit speaking to you? And what ought you to do now?
- Look back on your spiritual journey of faith in Jesus – how have you changed when it comes to love for others? Be encouraged. We all mess up, but as you look back you will see progress. Now ask the Holy Spirit to make you more and more like your heavenly Father.
Sometimes it is possible to forget that the church isn’t ours. It is God’s people, brought together as His family, united by His blood, to advance His mission and magnify His glory. For sure, we are the church, strengthening and taking responsibility for its purposes on Earth, however it’s not ours to mold and change as our own. Don’t mess! This is God’s house!
Paul holds a deep concern for the church, as it is the household of God. This explains the whole letter, but verse 15 is especially helpful when reading chapters 2 and 3. Paul states that his purpose in writing is so that we “may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” If we read chapters 2 & 3 again, understanding that the church belongs to God, we will see that God himself cares deeply about how His church is being built. That’s why, at the very onset of its inauguration, in Matthew 16:18 we read that Jesus claims ultimate responsibility for building the church.
Paul’s deep concern for the well being of the church comes from remembering what the church is. In verse 15 we get three different descriptions of the church. It is the household of God, referring to the church as the family of God. Next is the church, meaning the assembly / coming together of God’s people. Finally we get the church as “the pillar and foundation”, because whilst in the world the church is meant to be both the firm foundation and the high tower of truth. These are awe-inspiring truths of who we are as the people of God, and it demonstrates how intentionally God is building His bride.
God’s concern for His people is shown in chapter three through his concern for the holiness of leaders. Found in the list of Elder and Deacon characteristic’s, we see practical examples of the kind of gospel transformation Paul has been exhorting throughout the book. These ‘qualities’ are also a direct contrast to the false teachers influencing the church in Ephesus. At the heart of the churches problems was a failure of leadership character, necessitating Paul’s detailed descriptions of what godly leadership should look like.
One of the fundamental problems behind all church failures (not just in Ephesus) is a failure of character, and this failure will always be found when leaders over-emphasize their importance in the church. Then egos begin to inflate (1 Tim 1:7), sound doctrine begins to wane (1 Tim 1:10) and church roles begin to get muddled as people are not guided into holiness (1 Tim 2).
When I was young up I had the privilege of growing up in a church plant with leaders who were clear that the church would not rise or fall based on their abilities. From my childhood onwards, I learnt that church leadership is about gospel transformation, internal character and spiritual dependence on the God who is building His church.
This chapter is a continuation of Paul’s concern for gospel transformation in the household of God. It is an incredible gift to the church from God Himself, as it will protect us from bad leadership and constantly point us to good leadership. But we also should be regularly asking the Holy Spirit to encourage and challenge us personally, trusting that God is transforming us as He is building His church.
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- Why do you think Paul is so concerned that Timothy establishes healthy leaders in the church?
- What does these two lists of leadership characteristic’s reveal about the heart of God towards His church?
- How could these lists help you to assess your own spiritual transformation?
These lists are incredible gifts to help guide us as we seek to grow more and more into imitators of Jesus, and they are worth our regular meditation. You may find it beneficial to ask others you trust to help guide you through them. Remember, God is transforming you. God is building His church. These character traits are not about performance, or striving to be better. They are about seeing an inner renewal by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.
 This is the ‘most likely’ understanding as verses 4, 5 & 12 use the same word is used to refer to family households.
 You can read 1 Tim 1:7 & 6:4-5 to see how different these church leaders were from the standard that God required in His household.
Reading the second half of this chapter is like walking across a cultural minefield in 2019. There are many different ideas that can offend our ideological sensitivities. This chapter should really come with a warning sign! Yet if we remember the setting Paul is writing into, then we shouldn’t be surprised. This is because 1 Timothy is a wartime dispatch sent to the frontlines. Timothy was sent to wage war in Ephesus, where a mix of different cultural values had combined to undermine the Gospel. Does this sound familiar to our context at all?
As you read through the chapter, you might be able to recognise a theme that runs throughout. For sure, you can easily spot the cultural mines of gender inequalities, or the potential kindling of a toxic purity culture, or perverse patriarchal preferences. However, if you haven’t prematurely stepped on one of these exploding mines, you may notice a road through the mines. A theme that will help guide us and helps us understand how the Gospel actually empowers us to engage our cultural sensitivities. The question when we look at the chapter is: what’s Paul’s purpose?
I believe its holiness. It’s living out this incredible good news (the Gospel) in a way that it affects our public worship. The Gospel transforms the believer’s hearts, lives and church experiences. Let me quickly show you why I think this:
- “First of all, then…” Just as we saw yesterday, what Paul is saying in chapter two is a continuation of his ideas from chapter one. He is talking about Gospel transformation and believers’ living holy and humble lives.
- “…rather she is to remain quiet.” Is Paul here silencing women and robbing them of agency? Well just before we hit a huge mine, let’s focus on the word quiet and its purpose in the sentence. In verse 2 Paul says that “we (all) may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified…” This shows that the word ‘quiet’ is linked to, and for Paul a synonym of, godliness. It isn’t a sinful or cultural attempt to undermine the dignity of women. We know that elsewhere Paul recognizes the important value of women’s contributions to church gatherings (1 Corinthians 11:2-5 & 14:26), and overall leadership (think of Nympha, Mary, Lydia, Phoebe or Junia). Therefore, Paul’s encouragement to pursue this ‘quiet’ holiness is something that every person should aim for. It externally displays our internal Gospel transformation.
- “I desire that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands…” Paul’s purpose is to encourage the holiness of men in the church! This is applied to the men of Ephesus with a specific instruction not to quarrel. So Paul’s desire for holiness involves a correction of the men first.
- “… but with what is proper for women who profess godliness” Paul’s purpose here is now to encourage the holiness of women in the church! He wants everyone to be holy! This desire is applied to the women of Ephesus with a specific instruction to stop being so focused on materialism and looking good to others that they take they’re eyes off of Jesus and ignore the Gospel transformation that should be taking place in their hearts.
- “Yet she will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith and love and holiness.” Its almost like Paul pre-empts some opposition (this is war after all) and so he repeats his goal, and in the bible repetition denotes importance. Paul is going to some lengths here to make his aims here – he loves everyone in the church and desires that they grow in holiness.
Once we see these things, hopefully a path begins to develop through the mines, and we can appreciate the heart and instruction of Paul here. It should show us one thing; Gospel transformation changes everything about us! Not one thing. Not most things. Everything. Our entire lives should be a display of this quiet, humble godliness that has been supernaturally worked inside of us by God Himself! Furthermore, this should be applied to our churches, as Paul is writing about the whole church in Ephesus. All people in the church, in every context of the church, should display this powerful and graceful transformation. Whatever we do, and however we do it, it just all be pleasing to the God who desires to use us to save others (verse 3).
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- Do you find 1 Timothy 2 difficult to read? Why do you think this is the case?
- How does Paul’s uncompromising call to holiness challenge the way you are living at the moment?
- Can your church be characterized by the Gospel transformation described the chapter?
Worldly cultures will try to dismantle your faith and knock you out of the fight. To put it another way, they will try to stop you trusting God. However as leaders we should read this chapter trusting and loving God, which develops some unshakeable beliefs. Belief’s such as the authority of scripture, the perfection (inerrancy) of scripture, the loving nature of God and his good desires for our flourishing. We cannot lead if we get knocked out of the fight. To quote Paul elsewhere, we should not be ashamed of the Gospel (Rom 1:16). Instead we should be of good courage and faith that God is working powerfully through His Word.
 The word ‘all’ isn’t in the original manuscripts of the bible, yet Paul is talking to both men and women here (as the gender differences only begin at verse 8) which is why I have added it in.
 This is a very challenging passage to read, with many different interpretations avaialbale. If you are confused or interested in RRC’s position, please do email the church office at firstname.lastname@example.org
 This verse is complicated and often misunderstood. Paul isn’t saying there is another way that women can be saved apart from Jesus’ atonement. He is actually referencing the atonement, by mentioning the curse of Genesis 3 on Eve and how He promises to crush Satan on the cross. If you are interested in this, I found this article by John Piper very helpful: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-are-women-saved-through-childbearing.
1 Timothy 2 is a fairly controversial book in the bible (as we will see in the days ahead), and yet it starts out with a relatively simple purpose. Paul says that people that have been changed by the gospel should be characterized by prayer and faith in the god who saves. This section flows from verse one, so lets unpack this a little:
Paul starts by saying “First of all, then…” This means that Paul is referring to all that he said in chapter 1, especially the contrast in character between the false teachers and those whose lives have been radically changed by the gospel. We must bare this contrast in mind when reading chapter 2.
“First of all, then, I urge that …” Just as in chapter one, Paul isn’t wasting time or mincing his words. Remember, this is wartime for the believers. The word ‘urge’ is the same Greek word that we find in 1 Tim 1:3 & 5. It is a command of urgency and importance. Furthermore, his use of the phrase “first of all” suggests that, whatever Paul is going to mention next, it is the most fundamental thing that we should focus on.
“First of all, then, I urge that “supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made…” The urgent command, of first importance to those who have put their faith in Jesus, is that they should pray. We must be a people of prayer. We should bend our knees and orientate our hearts to the one who gave us eternal life. Our lives should be characterized by our devotion to prayer. Paul’s purpose in mentioning different types of prayer is to highlight its importance and how often it should be a feature of our lives. At different times, as we are praying for different things or people, we should be praying different types of prayers.
I find this to be incredibly challenging, and I don’t think I am alone here! I think most of us will read about the importance and preeminence that prayer should have in our lives, and we will feel a sense of guilt or condemnation. We will say things like “I should be praying more” or “I should know what to pray for”, and too easily our prayers become about our performance rather than God’s grace. We can start to focus on our words rather than His glory. We forget that prayer is about experiencing the God who inclines His ear, and instead we try to strife and earn our way into the presence of God.
If this is you (which means you are like me!) then don’t miss the effect of prayer on the believer in 1 Timothy 2. Prayer should be an all-encompassing reality for the believer, but as we see in the passage, prayers from believers with a sincere faith will look a certain way. In verse two, we read that as we pray, we will be progressively transformed into quiet, peaceful, godly and dignified lives. In every way! So the cycle is that our prayers affect our lives, and our lives then affect our prayers. Our prayers will become peaceful – not condemning. Our prayers will become dignified – not self-deprecating. Our prayers focus on God and his marvelous grace – not our performance.
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- Why do you think that prayer is so important to Paul?
- Who does Paul urgently instruct us to pray for?
- What parts of your life might you need to change to be obedient to God’s Word regarding prayer?
This section is especially important for leaders to consider and apply to their lives. Leaders can be so easily shaped by the performance culture that is all around us – rather than be transformed by the humbling habit of regular prayer. If leaders do not regularly bend their knees in private, they should not open their mouths in public.
You are much, much worse than you think you are.
Of all the things that Paul talks about here, perhaps one of the most surprising is to see how he considers himself. In a direct contrast to the proud and arrogant false teachers waging war on the church in Ephesus, Paul recounts how undeserved his salvation is, and exposes the very worst parts of himself to everyone who reads 1 Timothy 1.
We know Paul’s background as a Pharisee who persecuted and murdered Christians. Which is why verse 13 is no surprise to us. Paul really was a blasphemer, a persecutor and an insolent opponent. It is perhaps understandable why Paul views himself as “the chief/foremost of sinners” in verse 15. He did do terrible things.
However Paul isn’t just talking about his past. In verse 15 Paul says “… I am the foremost…” where he is using the present tense. There are similar accounts in the bible where Paul exposes his unworthiness of Gods love, such “For I am the least of the apostles” or “though I am the very least of the saints.” These are all present tense statements, and they are so surprising! This is the super apostle Paul. This is the Damascus road guy! This is the church planter extraordinaire!
Paul is demonstrating a raw and vulnerable leadership that contrasts so heavily from other leaders. There is beauty in his humbled heart, his lack of ego, and his great desire that Jesus is ‘displayed’ through his ‘example’. Paul hasn’t developed an ego, he has developed a correct understand of how far away he was from God, before God intervened with his mercy. Paul was much worse than he ever thought possible, and God changed that to show the gospel’s power to transform the very worst of us.
Aren’t you utterly amazed, that even though you are (present tense) much worse than you ever thought, Gods arm was not too short to save you, and isn’t too short to preserve you now. Instead the grace of God overflows for us (verse 14) that Jesus would be displayed to those who will come to believe (verse 16).
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- As Paul got older, his conviction over his sin grew. Evaluate your life and ask if the same is true for you?
- How does an accurate view of our sin help to display Jesus?
- Why do you think Paul was willing to bear such a heavy cost so Jesus could be displayed?
Paul’s purpose for recalling his story was so that Jesus might be displayed. Paul was willing to take the cost of appearing unimpressive if it advanced the Gospel. He leverages his story for the sake of the lost. Leadership is all about sacrifice, leaving everything behind and taking every opportunity to make Jesus known.
 1 Corinthians 15:9
 Ephesians 3:8
 1 Timothy 1:16
 1 Timothy 1:13 & 16
Paul and his companions were convinced that the Thessalonians were true believers because:
- The Gospel proclamation was accompanied by signs and wonders & by the power of the Holy Spirit displayed (vs5).
- The Thessalonian believers received the good news about Jesus with full conviction. They weren’t uncertain about what they had heard & believed (vs5).
- These believers also began to imitate the faith and the life-example of Paul and his ministry companions; they learnt his ways and changed theirs (vs6).
- So much so, that they became an example to other believers elsewhere as the testimony of their faith spread (vs7-9).
True believers in Jesus, turn from worshipping anything else to worshipping and serving the one true God. More than this, they live then with eager expectation for the return of Jesus Christ the Son. The one whom God raised from the dead, the one who alone can deliver those who believe in Him from the wrath to come (vs9-10).
The Gospel doesn’t just change our eternal address it transforms our lives, our thinking, our speech, our lifestyles, our rhythms, our habits, our community…
What an amazing clear testimony these believers in Jesus had. The evidence of their changed lives testified loudly to the authenticity of their faith. People were speaking about the changes that had occurred in them.
When we truly make God the centre of our lives, everything begins to revolve around Him and find it’s proper perspective or orientation to Him.
Is your faith crystal clear like that of the Thessalonians? Is it evident to others that you have forsaken any other “gods”? And that in their place you are passionately focussed on, worshipping and serving God with your whole life?
This is the only “reasonable response” (see the NIV or ESV footnote of Romans 12:1) if you have grasped the wonder of who Jesus is and what He has done for you.
May you, may we live lives that are radically focussed on Jesus, worshipping and serving Him for His glory, while we wait for His glorious return!