Friday, December 12, 2003

The Jews and the Gospel

Paul in Romans 9 discusses the sovereignty of God in the context of broad, but not total, Jewish rejection of their Messiah. Although what Paul writes is important to the doctrine of Calvinism, Paul's primary application is to give perspective to the rejection. This is essay #3 in a series that explores the place of the Jews in the age of the gospel.. To start at the beginning, click here.

Prior to chapter 9, Paul has affirmed to his readers that there is some benefit to being Jewish. On many occasions, he has used the phrase "to the Jew first and also to the Greek." I believe that he does this, in part, because he already sees a certain arrogance arising among the Gentile believers. It is an arrogance that would grow through the years until the Church would officially teach that Judaism was dead and the Jews were under the wrath of God for being Christ killers. The suffering of the Jews at the hands of Gentile Christians is without excuse. It comes from ignoring Paul's admonitions in Romans 9 - 11.

Yesterday, I discoursed on Paul's observation that God chose some of Abraham's descendants to be under the covenant and excluded others. Isaac and Jacob were in. Ishmael and Esau were not. Paul further states strongly that the choice was God's alone. By extension, Paul uses this fact to imply  that to explain that the Jews of his day have received a hardening. Such talk always creates controversy. Most Christians would personally shy away from such strong statements concerning the choice of God over the lives of people. Nevertheless, Paul is quite strong and continues in an even stronger vein:

What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. (Romans 9:14-18)

So God showed mercy to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He did not show mercy to Ishmael and Esau. Although Abraham would have chosen Ishmael and Isaac would have chosen Esau, God chose otherwise and it was so. Paul would choose all of his people and would suffer eternal separation to do so, but that is not God's choice.

By this Paul underscores the fact that following Jesus' death and resurrection, God withheld his mercy from the Jews and began to show it to the Gentiles. Paul expressed his desire to suffer, himself, an eternal separation from God, if only that would help. Beyond that, Paul accepts God's choice. There is no injustice. In a sense, justice demands death for all. God's favor is always a matter of mercy. Indeed, according to Paul, God will sometimes harden a heart, such as He did with Pharaoh.

And, of course, such ideas create a tension in us and we want to turn the page and move on to something more fun, but Paul persists:

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 

And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. (Romans 9:19-24)

There are some who would say that men and women have no choice. That there is no free will. That there is no moral culpability. But Paul responds to the question, "Who resists His will?" by telling us that we must have the right attitude about the matter. Having the right attitude implies choice, because I am responsible for the attitude. God would not give a command if obedience were not possible. God would not give a command if disobedience were impossible. When Joshua  said to the Israelites, "Choose this day whom you will serve!" he was offering a real choice. There was a day when I knew the truth that Jesus wanted my life and I gave it to Him. It was my choice. After I had made it, I learned that I had been chosen from before the foundation of the world. That I chose Him because He chose me does not diminish my choice in any way. If I had spurned Him all the days of my life and died spurning Him. I would have chosen death and all could conclude that I had not been chosen by Him. There is a realm where the two truths come together, but it is not in the realm of time.

But note how Paul writes of God calling people from among the Jews and among the Gentiles. Paul seems far from a doctrine wherein God is about to end the Jewish Age. Indeed many believing Jews continued to live and worship as Jews, as this section in Acts makes clear:

After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 

After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 

And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. “What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 

“Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. 

“But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” 

Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them. (Acts 21:17-26)

As you can see form the above passage, Paul also continued to practice as a Jew. When he entered Jerusalem, he was under a Nazarite vow.

But back to Romans 9, Paul now shifts his focus to Old Testament predictions that the knowledge of God would spread to the nations, but that God would also always maintain a remnant in Israel of those who believe:

As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’ And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.” 

Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” And just as Isaiah foretold, “Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, We would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.” 

What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Romans 9:25-33)

So here we see that the problem of faith among the Jews is not that they had so much as rejected their Messiah, but that did not pursue righteousness by faith. In a curious way, the blessing from God of receiving the Law had become their weakness, because they depended on Law rather than faith. The Gentiles, who do not have the Law, more easily respond to the word of faith. They have stumbled, but, as Paul will say later, not so as to be beyond recovery.

Monday: The telos of the Law

Thursday, December 11, 2003

The Jews and the Gospel

This is essay #2 in a series that explores the place of the Jews in the age of the gospel.. To start at the beginning, click here.

Paul begins his main points in his letter to the Christians in Rome with these words:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

I can remember to this day the first time that I read, "to the Jew first and also to the Greek." This was such a strange phrase for my young Presbyterian mind to read. Did Jesus not start the Christian church? Why would Paul mention the Jews? Why would he suggest some form of pre-eminence for them? Were they not the ones who rejected their Messiah? 

It was years before I realized that Paul really meant what he said. There was and is still a great privilege to being a Jew, to be part of the lineage through which God has blessed mankind. As Paul also wrote in Romans:

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. (Romans 3:1-2)

Nevertheless, it is also true that the Jews in the first century did not all flock to the good news that Jesus the Messiah brought to them. On the other hand, it is often forgotten that for some fifteen years after the resurrection of Jesus, Christianity was predominantly Jewish. The first century Messianic Jews were concerned for their recalcitrant brothers and sisters. Indeed much of the book of Hebrews pleads with fellow Jews not to reject this latest Word from God.

In Romans 9, 10, and 11, Paul expresses his feelings about his people and the rejection by many of the Gospel. In these chapters, he comes to terms with the theological implications and what the future will hold. In the course of his teaching, he advises Gentiles to not be conceited, but to understand that they are not as natural a fit into the plans of God as the Jews are.

Paul begins with an outburst of sorrow:

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:1-5)

Is there any hint, in Paul's words here, that God intends to abandon the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob-Israel?

  • The adoption as sons belongs to them.
  • As does the glory of God
  • And the covenants: the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic
  • And the Torah, Prophets, and Writings
  • And the temple service
  • And the promises
  • And being the people from whom Messiah came.

This is a great privilege and according to Paul, these things belong to them. 

So what is the cause of Paul's sorrow to the point of wishing himself eternally cursed? It is because time after time many, if not most, Israelites in Paul's day were rejecting the message about Jesus. It was Paul's practice during his missionary journeys to enter the local synagogue and proclaim the gospel there. Often the synagogue would not hear the message and a church, separate from the synagogue, formed in the community. Some Jews and many of the righteous Gentiles formed the core of the new fellowship. 

I do not know about Paul's day, but when Christianity became dominated by the Gentiles, it became standard Doctrine that God abandoned the Jews because the Jews rejected Him. However, a careful reading of this section of Paul's letter to the Romans, shows this to be false.

The first point that Paul makes is that being part of God's covenant with Abraham has never been a birthright. It has always been a matter of God's grace and choosing:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:6-13)

Paul is observing here that Abraham had two sons. Ishmael was not a child of the covenant, but Isaac was. And Isaac had two sons. Esau was not a child of the covenant, but Jacob was. Paul further observes that it was by God's command and decree that the covenant flowed from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob. Indeed it is interesting to note that Abraham would have chosen Ishmael (Gen. 17:18) and Isaac would have chosen Esau (Gen. 27:4) Now this is a great passage for Calvinists, but Paul's primary teaching is not election as much as it is to state that each generation of descendants from Abraham to Paul's day and beyond would have similar sovereign choice. Some Israelites would be part of the covenant flow and others would not. 

According to Paul, even the current rejection is somehow part of God's sovereign choosing. And with that statement, Paul has raised a thorny issue, still argued to this day, and must leave his concern for his people and wrestle with the issue of God's sovereignty and election. Since it is part of Paul's argument, I will cover it as well. But as I do so, I will ask you to remember the context of this passage and its place in the overall structure of the Roman letter.

Before I leave, permit me to also begin developing the practical side of this subject. It is a bit of foreshadowing about what is to come later in this series of lessons, but it is important enough to sketch early. Let me start by placing a few verses side by side.

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies , then recognize that her desolation is near.  

Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. 

Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:20-24)

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” “This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” (Romans 11:25-27)

Can you see the connection between Jesus' words, "until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" and Paul's words, "until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in?" Now here is an interesting co-incidence. In 1967, you could have searched the world over and found few if any Messianic Jewish congregations. In June of 1967, the Jews took possession of  a section of Jerusalem for the first time since 70 AD. Shortly after 1967, young Jews began becoming believers and started forming Messianic Jewish congregations and these have spread all over the world.

Israel finds nationhood in a moment by the vote of the UN (Isaiah 66:8) in 1948. In 1967, she has part of Jerusalem. Since that time thousands of Jews have come to believe in the Name of Yeshua--as Jews not as Hebrew Christians. More Jews have been saved in the last 30 years than in the 1900 or so years before.

And so our modern world has a mix very similar to the world of Paul's day. Believing Jews and believing Gentiles. What are we to make of this? Does my systematic theology allow for these events? If preterist view that God ended the Jewish Age in a past Great Tribulation, then is this movement among the Jews even valid?

Whoa. This is getting long. More tomorrow.

Friday: God's Sovereign Choices

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

The Jews and the Gospel

The motivation for this series comes from a brief comment-exchange between myself and David Heddle over at He Lives. I would encourage you to read the original post (and indeed the entire series). In any case, here is my comment followed by his response:

Me: I have followed this series with interest, you have argued well for the weaknesses in some aspects of premillenial doctrine, but you are not correspondingly strong here. As bad as 70 A.D. might have been for the people of the time, can we honestly propose that it matches this description of the Great Tribulation, "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short."? (Matthew 24:21, 22)

Was 70 A.D. worse than what Nebuchadnezzar did to Jerusalem in 586 B.C.? According to Jeremiah you had the same famine, disease, and violent death. Jerusalem was laid waste and the temple destroyed. The Jewish people were scattered. There is no diffentiation of the 70 A.D. and 586 B.C. events. The latter is like no unlike a previous event.

Can we say that the horror of 70 A.D. was worse than the 6 million Jews killed in Germany?

David: Fair question. I think this was worse than either of those examples. For here we also have this parable-prophecy fulfilled:

14 "But when the vine-growers saw him, they reasoned with one another, saying, 'This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance will be ours.' 15 "So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 "He will come and (1) destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others." When they heard it, they said, "(2) May it never be!" (Luke 20:14-16)

Which is to say this tribulation is "more" than death to a large number of Jews, it marks the end of the Jewish age. I will talk about this more when I discuss the redemptive aspects of A.D. 70.

Besides the fact that I remain unconvinced that the end of the "Jewish Age" represents a "Great Tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will", I am fully convinced that the events of 70 AD did not represent the end of the Jewish Age.

Introductory Comments

One. I have the highest respect for David Heddle and encourage you make reading his blog a regular habit. He is more of a systematic theologian and I am more of an exegete. That he and I disagree sometimes is your opportunity to see both sides of issues presented in strong and well argued terms. As is often said, "If two people agree on everything, one of them is not needed." What is unique here is that neither he nor I are Biblical scholars by training. He is a nuclear physicist and I am a self-employed computer programmer. We do what we do because we love to do it. The internet and blogging have become a great equalizer in the dissemination of information. It should also encourage you to realize that it is study and common sense rather than seminary training that makes for Biblical scholarship.

Two. We tend to gloss over facts the contradict ideas that we favor. I have two illustrations of this. And I am sure that you can think of others.

  1. The first comes from the scientific community. In 1909, Charles D. Walcott discovered the fossils in the Burgess Shale. Gerald Schroeder has this to say about this discovery and its aftermath:

Other shale pieces yielded a variety of equally fantastic animal fossils. Walcott, meticulous as always, recorded their shapes in his diary. During the next decade Walcott collected and shipped between sixty and eighty thousand of these specimens to his institution in Washington, D.C.

That Walcott realized he had made a major discovery is obvious from the vast number of fossils he collected. Representatives of every animal phylum, the basic anatomies of all animals alive today, were present among those half-billion-year-old specimens. These fossils revealed an extraordinary fact. Eyes and gills, jointed limbs and intestines, sponges and worms and insects and fish, all had appeared simultaneously. There had not been a gradual evolution of simple phyla such as sponges into the more complex phyla of worms and then on to other life forms such as insects. According to these fossils, at the most fundamental level of animal life, the phylum or basic body plan, the dogma of classical Darwinian evolution that the simple had evolved into the more complex, that invertebrates had evolved into vertebrates over one hundred to two hundred million years, was fantasy, not fact.

Such a challenge to Darwinian evolution had its professional hazards. In those heady years of the ascent of Darwin to near sainthood, no scientist questioned the role of random evolution, and certainly not if that scientist was director of the Smithsonian Institution, the largest organization of museums and curators of its day. You see, Charles Doolittle Walcott was the director of the Smithsonian. And so, following modest disclosures printed in the Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, a publication of extremely limited circulation, Walcott reburied the fossils, all sixty thousand of them, this time in the drawers of his laboratory. The year was 1909. Eighty years were to pass before their rediscovery.


Was Walcott's act a conspiracy of silence? In some way it must have been, even if his goal was merely to keep the glory or thrill of the discovery for a time when he personally could accomplish the research effort required by his ancient trove. Walcott's administrative responsibilities were demanding. However, considering the importance Walcott ascribed to the Burgess fossils (remember, sixty thousand of them lined the drawers of his laboratory), the director of the largest system of museums in the world could certainly have mustered the budget to hire a brigade of graduate students for the work. Ironically, it was a graduate student, Simon Conway Morris, who eventually played a key role in the interpretation of these fossils. [Schroeder, Gerald L., The Science of God (New York, Broadway Books, 1997) 26, 27]

Charles D. Walcott, in 1909, found evidence that challenged the prevailing strength of Darwin's theory. He cataloged the results, but could not bring himself to face the conclusion. If he had, the 20th century might have taken different paths.

  1. The Net Bible, from which I often quote is a freely available modern translation of the Bible. One of its distinctive feature is some 57,000 translation notes throughout the translation. It is a fact that the translators came from a cessationist background. By this I mean that they tend to believe that the New Testament gifts of prophecies, healings, words of knowledge, and miracles ceased when the Apostles died away. It is interesting to turn page after page in the Net Bible and see voluminous notes (especially in light of this discussion in the Song of Songs). However, when you turn to 1 Corinthians 12 - 14, the quantity and quality of these notes drop of dramatically. Indeed the section wherein Paul speaks the most about tongues and prophecy, there are just 5 small notes having nothing to do with the content. The passage made the translator uncomfortable, in my opinion, and he quickly moved on.

Doctrinal Labels

If you say to yourself, "I am a Calvinist," and know the exact nature of Calvinism, that becomes a grid through which you read and interpret scripture. Its effect can be similar to the blindness Darwinism created in Walcott as he systematically catalogued and re-buried strong evidence against the theory. Dispensationalism, Armemianism, Calvinism, Pre-Post-A-Millenialism, Pre-Mid-Post-Tribulationism, Preterism, etc. all create grids which cause us to weight some scriptures more than others. For example, when David quoted Luke 20:14-16 above, I must confess that I had never connected that with the events of 70 AD. Is he right? I can certainly see where such a conclusion can be drawn, were it not for other passages that we will examine in this series. But it certainly gave me pause. That is a good thing.

I have personally disavowed labeling myself. Each of the "-isms" that I reference above belong to mature and solid men and women of faith. None of them are fatal to discipleship. If the topic were the physical sciences rather than religion, there would be great interest and effort devoted to creating a more inclusive theory, but religion prefers fences. I vote for change and the finding of a more inclusive theory. And so, I refuse to carry any labels about what I believe. I study the scriptures and see the difficulties and strengths that each of the viewpoints have and I strive to reconcile them. Often, I can only affirm certain essential pieces, so far.

Recent Historical Events

Several events have occurred in my lifetime that, in my opinion, must be taken into account. The first: In 1948, Israel became a sovereign nation again for the first time since Nebuchadnezzar sacked her. In the decades since then, Jerusalem has become "a cup that causes reeling to all the peoples around." (Zech 12:2). The second: Since the Jesus Movement of the early 1970's, when many young Jewish men and women became disciples of their Messiah, there have arisen Messianic Jewish synagogues around the world. Third: the spread of the gospel to all peoples, nations, and tongues is nearing completion. Fourth: denomination boundaries are less significant than they were in the past.

The Study Begins

And so, I am about embark on a study of Romans 9-11 and other passages with a view for seeing whether the Jewish Age is, in fact, over.

Thursday: Calvinist Heaven in Context

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Monday, December 08, 2003


Role Models

This the sixth essay in a series covering Paul's letter to Philemon.

Many study guides and commentators like to draw a parallel between Philemon and Jesus, Onesimus and ourselves. Such a comparison is useful, but I think it misses the main points of this book, which flow from the character qualities of Onesimus, Philemon, and Paul and without which the popular commentating would not be possible.

Onesimus - Became a Christian and was willing to return and accept the consequences of his actions, which may have been severe. This is what I call being radically saved. While Paul pondered how to help, Onesimus with a free will served Paul as a slave. I believe the character that Paul saw in the young man prompted him to seek his freedom. The good will showed to Paul and a lack of guile carried the day. Paul apparently also saw that Onesimus could become a free friend of his old master. This means that Paul saw no underlying bitterness or grudges. Onesimus accepted the wrong that he had done, was sorry, wanted to make it right, and placed no blame on his master. How often do we see such a change of attitude?

Onesimus is the model for Christian repentance and restitution to God and man.

Philemon - He was known for his ability to love others at cost to himself. He too was radically saved. Paul saw in him the ability to forgive Onesimus and to make the shift to freeing one who had wronged him. The problem with saying that Philemon is like Christ is that it elevates him so that he is no longer a model for how we should behave! One of the points of this book is that we should be able to forgive and elevate someone who has wronged us. This entire book is about going beyond accepted levels of mercy. Everyone of the following choices were legitimate for him:

  • Level 0: Philemon has Onesimus beaten or executed for stealing and running away. By this Philemon maintains discipline in the household and does not create any concerns among his slave owning friends and neighbors.
  • Level 1: Philemon accepts Onesimus back into his service without any punishment. He maintains discipline and creates only moderate concern for his neighbors.
  • Level 2: Philemon accepts Onesimus back into his service without any punishment and gives him his freedom when he has worked to repay the money he had stolen. Philemon might loose some control in his household and his neighbors might express some concern.
  • Level 3: Philemon frees Onesimus and sends him on his way. He will now have to pay close attention to his other slaves, many of whom are claiming that they, too, now have faith is Jesus the Messiah. His neighbors are furious.
  • Level 4: Philemon frees Onesimus and seeks friendship. There is no predicting how either his household or the neighbors will react. This course is outside their grid. For the slaves, conversions will tend to be real. The choice is too far fetched to affect the neighbors, who might think Philemon a bit crazy. Note that Onesimus at this juncture has the freedom to re-bind himself to Philemon as a bond-servant. a bind-servant in those days was a voluntary and permanent state of servitude. By this Onesimus would have, in love, helped out Philemon. Philemon, at this point, might also have returned his bond-servant, Onesimus, to Paul to help make his imprisonment more comfortable.
  • Level 5: Philemon frees Onesimus, they become friends, and Philemon provides the capital for Onesimus to start a business. Again, being beyond most people's imagination, the negative effects would not arise.

And so it could go on. Note that Paul's expectation was that Philemon would go beyond what Paul had asked. Is it not interesting that going beyond is one way to avert the negative effects of doing only just enough. And, to bring Jesus into it, is this not what our Father has done for us. we have wronged him and he has made us heirs of His Son.

Philemon is the model for Christian love and forgiveness.

Paul - I would like to be as wise as Paul. To be able to discern the possibilities in a complex human situation and effectively and succinctly guide a satisfactory conclusion is a great gift. To be sure, he was working with good material on both sides, but he was able to know that he had good material. I do not think that Paul was making a general case for Christian masters freeing Christian slaves--although the letter opens that door. Rather Paul shows us that he was able to look at a situation and seek the highest possible good.  We, on the other hand, tend to like simple rules, because they save time and they are safe. We prefer things like: If a slave runs away, he should be returned to his master who should show mercy appropriate to the situation. Paul saw the possibility of greater things and pressed for them with great skill.

Paul is the model for Christian pastoring.

And so we close this book. That we have it to this day tells us that Philemon did all that Paul had asked and more. It tells us that word about Onesimus and Philemon spread among the churches and that copies of this letter circulated broadly. As you you read it from now on ask yourself, "To whom must I return to make right a wrong that I have done?" "What people want and need my forgiveness and how can I bring them into free and open friendship with me again?" "How can I help two estranged parties choose the right thing?" Success is not guaranteed, but sometimes it will be there beyond our best hopes.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>