Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Disciple-making Page 1 of 14

praying for churches
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Follow-Up: Praying for Churches

I began this series on follow-up noting Paul’s “anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). The basic premise has been that Paul addressed his anxiety or care for the churches by writing letters. Yet, the more I studied his letters, the more I noted that he habitually prayed for the churches. His letters not only sought to build the churches in the grace of God in Christ but also called on God to accomplish that growth. So, prayer is an essential part of following up with the churches we plant.

Interestingly, Paul teaches the Philippian church, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”1Phil. 4:6, ESV. The verb form in Philippians 4:6 and the noun form in 2 Corinthians 11:28 share the same root. So, was Paul’s anxiety for all the churches inconsistent with his teaching in Philippians 4:6? No, I think that Paul’s prayers in his letters show that he is practicing what he teaches. The range of meaning for the Greek word translated as “anxiety” includes both a healthy care (Philippians 2:20) and unhealthy worry (Matthew 6:25). Whatever the level of anxiety, turning to prayer is the appropriate response. That is exactly what Paul is doing.

Stott on The Christian Life: a book review

John Stott’s messages at the Urbana Mission Conferences greatly influenced a number of missionaries of my generation. So, when Stott on the Christian Life: Between Two Worlds by Tim Chester came out this past summer, I decided to review the book. It is #16 in the Crossway’s series, Theologians on the Christian Life. See my post a few years ago on this series, and why it is a valuable resource. Why should missionaries read this particular book? I will focus on some key themes that make this book (and John Stott’s writings) an important read for missionaries.

Shaped evangelicalism

Throughout the book, Chester emphasizes how Stott’s life and ministry has shaped evangelicalism. The author writes in the Introduction:

. . . the more I have explored his theology in its historical context, the more I have realized that it has been Stott, perhaps more than anyone else, who has influenced the evangelical world I inhabit. So it is not just that Stott reflects evangelicalism; evangelicalism reflects Stott. A contemporary evangelical understanding of the Christian life was not simply something Stott regurgitated; it was also something he significantly shaped. 1Tim Chester, Stott on the Christian Life, Crossway Books, 2020, p 12.

Shaped the Lausanne Covenant

reconciling believers
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Follow-up: Helping believers reconcile

Paul’s letter to Philemon is an example of personal follow-up. Unlike other letters that we have looked at in this series on Paul’s follow-up, it is addressed primarily to an individual. Paul writes to his friend, Philemon, that his heart might be refreshed (Phm 20). Specifically, he writes that Onesimus (Philemon’s slave) might be reconciled to his master now that he has become a believer. The letter teaches us that the gospel provides the basis for reconciliation of broken relationships. It also guides us in helping believers become reconciled.

Douglas Moo writes in his introduction to Philemon:

This short private letter stands, then, as an important reminder of the communitarian aspect of Christianity that many of us, in our individualistic cultures are so prone to forget. In Christ we belong to one another; we enjoy each other’s company and support; and we are obligated to support, to the point of sacrificing our own time, interests, and money, our brothers and sisters.1Douglas J. Moo, The Letter to the Colossians and to Philemon, Eerdmans, 2008, p. 378.

The Setting

The details behind the letter are not clear. We would like to have more details than Paul provides, yet Philemon and Onesimus clearly would have known those details. Likewise, the church in Philemon’s house would have known the general circumstances behind Onesimus’s absence. While this may frustrate our curiosity, we have enough information to understand how the gospel transforms and restores relationships between believers.

like your teacher
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What limits our disciple’s progress?

Over the years, I have recognized that many of those I have taught, coached or mentored have become better communicators and more effective leaders than me. I may have been their teacher, but their gifting and competency have surpassed my own. This has been a cause for celebration. I have even seen it as an indication of God’s blessing on my life.

Upon first reading, Jesus’ words in John 14:12 might seem to suggest that he had the same sentiments.

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. – John 14:12

However, I think D. A. Carson is right in saying that Jesus is talking about the greater impact the disciples will have once the resurrection has made it clear who Jesus is. The works of the disciples are greater than those that Jesus did, because in the light of his death and resurrection, these works will more clearly glorify him for who he really is.1D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, p. 496.

Like your teacher

In Luke 6, Jesus gives a more realistic evaluation of the potential of his disciples. But it is still a pretty lofty perspective!

The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher. – Luke 6:40

Syncretism
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Follow-up: Colossians – Avoid Syncretism

In this series on follow-up, we have been looking at how missionaries can continue to help churches they have planted after they no longer are resident where those churches are located. The letter to the Colossians was not written to a church that Paul planted like other letters we have looked at in this series. Rather, Epaphras, not Paul, planted the church in Colossae. This probably happened during Paul’s extended ministry at Ephesus (Acts 19). Paul describes Epaphras as “our beloved fellow servant” and “a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf” (Col. 1:7). Epaphras faithfully preached the Gospel in Colossae. But the new church struggled with staying true to the Gospel they heard from their missionary. Apparently, Epaphras had met Paul in Rome (Col. 4:12) and informed Paul of the false teaching threatening the church.

As with most false teaching, this false teaching appears to be a form of syncretism. Syncretism is a blending of teachings that significantly alters the original message. We find that it is a constant danger in proclaiming the Gospel. So, it is important that we learn Paul’s strategy for avoiding syncretism from his letter to the Colossians.

The Colossian Syncretism

Borrowing from other religions

Clinton E. Arnold provides a convincing case that the Colossian “philosophy” found its roots in the folk religions of the area. In his conclusion he points out:

Union with Christ
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Follow-up: Union with Christ

The book of Ephesians is different than the other letters we have looked at in this series on Paul’s follow-up with the churches he planted. For instance, there are no problems that he is trying to correct nor questions that he is answering. Also, it is less personal than his other letters.

Ephesians: A Summary of the Gospel

F.F. Bruce writes:

It [Ephesians] sums up in large measure the leading themes of the Pauline writings, together with the central motif of Paul’s ministry as apostle to the Gentiles. But it does more than that: it carries the thought of earlier letters to a new stage.1F.F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, NICNT, Eerdmans, 1984, 229.

Clinton E. Arnold offers a statement of purpose for the letter:

Paul wrote this letter to a large network of local churches in Ephesus and the surrounding cities to affirm them in their new identity in Christ as a means of strengthening them in their ongoing struggle with the powers of darkness, to promote greater unity between Jews and Gentiles within and among the churches of the area, and to stimulate an ever-increasing transformation of their lifestyles into greater conformity to the purity and holiness that God has called them to display.2Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians, Zondervan, 2010, 45.italics original

Partnership in the Gospel
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Follow-Up: Partnership in the Gospel

How does Paul follow-up with the church at Philippi? We have been asking this question in previous posts about Galatia, Thessalonica, and Corinth. Our source of information has been Paul’s letters to these churches. Today we will look at his letter to Philippi.

Philippians, a Friendship Letter

Many commentators have noted that Philippians has features common to friendship letters in the Greco-Roman world.1G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, Eerdmans: 2009, p6f. and Gordon Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, NICNT, 1995, p 2f. For instance, expressions of affection and terminology like “yoke-fellow” (Phil. 4:3) were common in letters between friends at that time. Yet the letter is more than just communication between friends. Gordon Fee writes:

But “hortatory letter of friendship” is only part of the story, and in many ways the least significant part of that. For in Paul’s hands everything turns into gospel, including both formal and material aspects of such a letter. Most significantly, friendship in particular is radically transformed from a two-way to a three-way bond – between him, the Philippians, and Christ. And obviously it is Christ who is the center and focus of everything. Paul’s and their friendship is predicated on their mutual “participation/partnership” in the gospel.2Gordon D. Fee, p 13.

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