As I posted a few weeks ago, in the beginning of January, I spent 3 and 1/2 days in northern Minnesota with about 40 other young people studying Paul’s prison epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. Though we should read the Bible daily, it is a valuable thing to we immerse ourselves for a lengthy period of time in the Word. When we focus on studying the Word with others for a period of time, looking from many perspectives and discussing questions and insights, not only does it make an impact on our lives, it also makes for great fellowship! Below are a few brief thoughts from that time.
• After spending over three days studying these books I felt like I moved backwards not forwards in my understanding of them! I love that. They are inexhaustible, and that’s the beautiful thing about studying God’s Word.
• It’s notable that Paul’s “prison epistles”—the letters he wrote while he was in undesirable physical conditions – are some of the most joy-filled and uplifting sections in all of Scripture.
• “Leftover grace.” This term was used as we were studying Ephesians 2. Praise God that He has way more grace than just the grace needed to save us! And this grace He will continue to give us forever! “…in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:7)
• Ephesians 4:15-16 – We are being fitted together with the brothers and sisters around us not just for now, but for eternity! Colossians 2 also speaks about how we are being knit together in love. Our love for each other, and our ever tightening relationships in the body of Christ is setting the stage for beautiful things ahead. Things are just beginning.
• One benefit of studying several New Testament books in a close time-proximity, is that the repetitious parts stand out. We are reminded that some commands God repeats frequently—and it’s important to take those commands seriously! The instruction to “give thanks” is a superb example of that.
• “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication …” (Phil 4:5-6) The girl sitting next to me turned and pointed out that we often connect the phrase “The Lord is near” with the previous verse, and do not notice that it’s an important introduction to the following verse. Because the Lord is near we do not need to be anxious.
• Just as Paul was interceding for Onesimus, so Christ intercedes for us. I suggest that you re-read the little book of Philemon and look for pictures of Christ interceding for us. Notice the phrases such as “Lay it to my account” (Philemon 1:18) and “Receive him as you would receive me” (Philemon 1:17).
• I love how encouraging Paul is as he exhorts. When there is a “don’t,” he gives a “do.” It is so important in discipleship not to simply tell people to refrain from the wrong thing but to help them wholeheartedly embrace the right thing. If you’ve never noticed this theme in Ephesians 4 especially, I highly recommend you read it with this perspective.