Skip navigation

I know it’s been a long time since I posted anything on this blog. What can I say? Life has been busy! And that is good.

If you’d care to catch up with what the author of Summathetes is currently up to, you might check the following:

http://romansversebyverse.wordpress.com
https://www.facebook.com/TheRiverUpstate
http://www.theriverupstate.org

Hope you will be able to join the conversation going on at one of those other blogs!

Grace!

Brian

Jesus is sitting with his closest friends and followers. The eleven are there–Judas, the one who would betray him, had already left.

Jesus wants to help these dear friends make sense of what he has been saying. He has told them he is going to be delivered over to the authorities, he is going to be tried and unjustly condemned, he will be horribly crucified, he will die. He has explained that one of their own will betray him, that all of them will flee, and that one of the leaders among them will swear with oaths that he doesn’t even know this Jesus.

Understandably, they are devastated. They had been living with Jesus for years–day in and day out sharing life with him, watching and participating in some incredible ministry. But that doesn’t look like it’s going to continue. And they are, with reason, distraught.

So he speaks to them words of comfort:

“Do not let you heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1).

Because of the way that Greek works, there is a little debate about whether Jesus is offering commands (as in “I tell you to believe . . .”) or whether he is affirming something (as in “You do believe in God . . .”). But regardless of how that debate is resolved, the essence of what Jesus said is clear.

In the way that Old Testament “saints” understood believing in God, Jesus wants these friends (and, by extension, all of his friends . . . including us) to believe in him. That “believing” is more than just affirming truth about God, agreeing with what God has revealed about himself. To believe in God is to trust in, rely on, depend on, look to, rest in him.

Like Abraham did when depending on God to provide a promised son. Like Moses did in trusting in God to deliver the children of Israel. Like David did looking to God in his battle with Goliath. Like Elijah did resting in God as he asked God to send fire from heaven in a confrontation with false prophets.

Here is the antidote for trouble-heartedness–even in the face of such startlingly troubling news as had been shared with the eleven: Depend on Jesus, rest on Jesus, look to Jesus, rely on Jesus, believe in Jesus.

That is not religious cliché. That is more than a pat answer. Coming to understand what that is like, how to live there, what that will mean, is the foundation for life in the midst of incomprehensible hardship. And Jesus begins his words of comfort with this invitation.

Jesus says, “Believe in me!”

It seems to me to be a fitting invitation at the start of this new year. In the weeks to come I’ll be living in Jesus word’s to his friends as found in the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-17). And we start here. The foundation for the coming year: Believing in Jesus.

It is true that we are all, in some sense, unique. Not only do we have different physical features, different life stories, but we also are gifted uniquely, differently. The Spirit does not distribute to each the same gift. The Lord does not anticipate that we will all serve in the same way. (For examples, see Romans 12:4–5; 1 Peter 4:10.)

This is a good thing. It is what makes the body work as a body. The differences, the uniqueness, should be celebrated. But, there is a potential downside to this diversity.

We might come to think of ourselves as so “one of a kind” that we don’t see how we really are like others in the body. We might overlook that there is a sense that we are like others in the body.

That over-priviledged sense of self-uniqueness can result in us creating distance between ourselves and others. It can result in our thinking of ourselves as breathing a rarer air than others. We might think “too much” of ourselves.

It is fascinating that the apostle Paul (who most would argue was marvelously uniquely gifted and called!) did not see himself that way. He  saw himself much like others–as is evident in what he writes at the close of his letter to his friend Philemon.

Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers. (Philemon 23–24)

Although Epaphras was not sharing in Paul’s imprisonment in an identical way, nevertheless Paul identifies him as a “fellow prisoner.” Paul sees himself as a “worker” for the Gospel (1 Corinthians 3:9), and he is not hesitant to identify others like Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke as “fellow workers.” Two of these–Mark and Luke–are better known, although though they didn’t have ministries that paralleled Paul’s; two of these–Aristarchus and Demas–are seemingly “minor characters” in the New Testament story. But Paul identifies all four as fellow workers.

The unique and marvelously gifted apostle Paul was not reluctant to see others in the same light as he saw himself.

There is something healthy about thinking of one’s uniqueness as not requiring the conclusion that there aren’t others who really are like us.

Even among good friends, it sometimes happens. Rather than simply living in the reality of the relationship, one or the other of those in the relationship presume upon the other. It’s the “Well, of course she will . . .” or the “I have no doubts that he would . . . .” It isn’t that we don’t, at times, have healthy expectations about the relationship we enjoy with others–but there are times we move past reasonable expectations and stray into an unhealthy presumptuousness. Rather then thinking what “might be nice,” we drift toward “what must be.”

I felt just a twinge of this in reading Paul’s letter to Philemon. At first read, it seems that Paul borders on presumption. But only on first read.

At the same time also prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you. (Philemon 22)

What does Paul have in mind?

He has been writing to a good friend–Philemon. He has been writing about Philemon’s run-away slave–Onesimus. Paul has asked to receive Philemon back as a brother in the Lord and anticipates that Philemon will do “even more” than what Paul asks with regard to Onesimus.

In one sense, this all makes sense. Paul is sending Onesimus back to his former master, Philemon. Paul writes to Philemon to clarify what has happened to the run-away slave who has come to faith in Christ. And Paul invites Philemon to treat Onesimus consistent with Onesimus’ new-found faith. That doesn’t feel too presumptuous, given how well Paul knows Philemon.

But then Paul writes: “Prepare for me a lodging.” It sounds like he is inviting himself over for stay! “Get ready to put me up for a while!” That borders on presumptuous  . . . at least at first read. But, when I look at it closer, I don’t think Paul’s is presumptuous . . . it’s a matter of perspective.

Paul knows Philemon–really knows this man well. He anticipates how Philemon’s love will overflow into his relationship with Onesimus. Paul affirms how Philemon’s life in Christ influences his relationships with others. And Paul knows that Philemon not only is praying for Paul’s release from prison but is hoping for Paul’s return to Colossae where Philemon lives.

So knowing what he does about Philemon, the call to “prepare for me a lodging” is only Paul affirming what he knows about Philemon. Seeing Philemon for the man that he is, Paul can rightly assume (not presume!) that Philemon will be delighted to have a place for Paul when he arrives.

And all this lead me to one simple thought: Have I lived so consistently and lovingly and graciously with others that they could rightly assume (with the right perspective) how Christ-like I would be in extending grace to them if I were given the chance?

I’ve noticed the tendency in myself–sadly.

I reflect on my interaction with other friends and followers of Jesus and I realize that I have a tendency to think the worst of them. Well, that may be a bit of an overstatement. But I do tend to think that others will often not make good choices, will often not follow through on commitments, will not give themselves fully to what Jesus wants for us, will settle for something a bit less . . . less than what I think I would do in the same situation. I have this tendency to think poorly of others. As if Murphy’s famous “law” (“If anything can go wrong, it will.”) has a corollary that plays out in the lives of Jesus’ followers (“If they can respond in a less-than-Christ-like way, they will!”).

I don’t think I typically come out and say that I think others will disappoint me, fall short of my expectations, and generally not live up to what I think they should in Jesus (as if I had been appointed the arbitrator of what should be done!), but I do find myself thinking that way. And I am sure that such an attitude impacts the way I relate to others . . . whether I want it to or not.

That is what struck me as so refreshing and healthy in reading Paul’s words to his friend, Philemon.

Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say. (Philemon 21)

Paul seems to have the very opposite tendency. He has the expectation that Philemon will “go above and beyond” what Paul might expect. Paul’s view is that Philemon is even a better man than he, Paul, imagines him to be. Paul seems convinced that the reality of Jesus’ work in his friend, Philemon, will result in Philemon living in ways that exceed what Paul might want for him.

This thinking is reflected in Paul’s words to the Corinthians when he writes:

I do not speak to condemn you, for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together. Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf. (2 Corinthians 7:3-4)

Paul is so confident in the Corinthians willingness and ability to live well in Christ that he doesn’t write to condemn them but goes so far as to insist that he boasts about them to others.

I do not think that Paul is just “rosy-eyed” when he thinks of Philemon or the Corinthians. I do not think he is subtly manipulating them telling them of his confidence as a backwards way of applying subtle pressure to get them to live well. I think that Paul appropriately expects even more from them than he can think.

And I believe that this confidence is not anchored in Philemon, himself, or in the Corinthians and their ability. I get a hint of the grounds of such confidence in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13).

Paul is confident in how the Philippians will live–and how Philemon will live and how the Corinthians will live–because he is certain of God’s faithful work in the lives of others (to both enable the growth and provide the “willing” for the work) and he is certain that what God has begun in the lives of others He will bring to a full and complete end.

He is appropriately expecting even more because he is so sure of the work God is doing in the lives of others. And that kind of confident expectation is appropriate . . . and healthy in our relationships with others who know Jesus.

%d bloggers like this: