A life and death decision

At the end of his life, Joshua summoned all Israel and challenged the people to make a commitment to the LORD. The central point of Joshua’s argument was the covenant that God made with Israel at Mount Sinai which stipulated their “total consecration to the Lord as His people (His kingdom) who live by His rule and serve His purposes” (Major Covenants of the Old Testament, KJSB, p.16). When Moses told the people of Israel all the words of the LORD and all the rules, the covenant was confirmed by them. “All the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do’” (Exodus 24:3-4). Because God had kept his promise and had given the people of Israel all the land that he had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Joshua 23:9); Joshua said, “Now, therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness” (Joshua 24:14). Fearing and serving the LORD meant that the people worshipped God by living according to his Ten Commandments and the other laws that were recorded in Exodus 20-23. The Hebrew word that is translated serve, ʿabad (aw-badˊ) means “to work (in any sense)…When the focus of the labour is the Lord, it is a religious service to worship Him. Moreover, in these cases, the word does not have connotations of toilsome labour but instead of a joyful experience of liberation (Exodus 3:12; 4:23; 7:16; Joshua 24:15, 18)” (H5647). Joshua instructed the people to worship the LORD in sincerity and in faithfulness. Both of these words have to do with living by faith, or more specifically, living consistent with the truth of God’s word. “To walk in truth is to conduct oneself according to God’s holy standards (1 Kings 2:4; 3:6; Psalm 86:11; Isaiah 38:3)” (H571).

Joshua’s challenge eluded to the fact that the people were free to worship whatever gods they wanted to, but they could not serve God and others at the same time. Joshua instructed them to:

“Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)

“This challenge was similar to that issued by Moses to the Israelites on the other side of the Jordan (Deuteronomy 30:15-20). Joshua summarized the options that were open to the Israelites: (1) They could return to serve the gods of their ancestors. The expression ‘beyond the River’ refers to the Euphrates. ‘The gods that your fathers served’ is a reference to the ones worshipped by Terah, Abraham’s father (Joshua 24:2). They may have been similar to the images in Laban’s home (Genesis 31:19, 30, 34). Apparently there were some Israelites who privately worshipped these false gods (Joshua 24:23). (2) They could serve the gods of the Amorites. Although the term ‘Amorites’ often refers to a specific people, it was also used in a generic sense for all the people living in Canaan. (3) They could follow the example of Joshua and his family in serving the Lord” (note on Joshua 24:14, 15).

Joshua realized that not everyone in Israel was committed to the LORD. Joshua presented three options to the people as a way of acknowledging their divided interests. The Hebrew word that is translated choose in Joshua 24:15, bachar (baw-kharˊ) “denotes a choice, which is based on a thorough examination of the situation and not an arbitrary whim” (H977). Bachar is used in Deuteronomy 7:6 and 7:7 to signify God’s selection of the people of Israel as his treasured possession. Deuteronomy 7:6-11 states:

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.”

Moses pointed out that God’s selection of the Israelites was based on his love for them and that he was a “faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him” (Deuteronomy 7:9). The Hebrew word ʾaheb (aw-habeˊ) “means ‘to love; like.’ Basically this verb is equivalent to the English ‘to love’ in the sense of having a strong emotional attachment to and desire either to possess or to be in the presence of the object” (H157). The expected extent of the Israelites’ love for God was expressed in what Jesus referred to as the greatest commandment, which stated, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

When Moses presented the Israelites with the choice to serve God or not, he made it a life and death decision. Moses said:

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

Moses indicated that life must be chosen and equated life with “loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him.” And then, Moses told the Israelites emphatically that God is “your life and length of days” (Deuteronomy 30:20). At the end of his ministry, Jesus encouraged his disciples by telling them, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) and then went on to say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”

The Apostle Peter connected followers of Christ with the covenant that God made with Israel on Mount Sinai in his letter to the exiles of the Dispersion. Echoing God’s statement to his chosen people in Exodus 19:5-6, Peter said, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). Jesus also made it clear that his ministry was meant to bring to fruition what God had initiated on Mount Sinai when he gave the Israelites his Ten Commandments. Jesus told his followers, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

Jesus’ interpretation of the law was often challenged. When he was confronted by a rich young man about the way to get to heaven, Jesus explained that God’s standard was beyond what could be humanly attained by him. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Matthew 19:16-30)

Jesus’ statement, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” indicated that salvation was a divine act rather than a human one. The Greek word dunatos (doo-natˊ-os), which is translated possible, is derived from the word dunamai (dooˊ-nam-ahee). “Dunamai means to be able, to have power, whether by virtue of one’s own ability and resources (Romans 15:14); or through a state of mind, or through favorable circumstances” (G1410). According to Jesus, no one has the power; whether by virtue of one’s own ability and resources, or through a state of mind, or through favorable circumstances, to save himself, but God can save anyone that he chooses to.

The Apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Philippians that righteousness can only be achieved through faith in Christ. Paul told the Philippians:

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:1-11)

Paul said that as to righteousness under the law he was blameless, indicating that he had done everything that was required of him according to the law; and yet, Paul said, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7). Paul understood that it was not his own righteousness that mattered, but the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:9, Genesis 15:6).

The Israelites response to Joshua’s challenge was favorable. It showed that they were willing to abandon their false gods, but Joshua didn’t believe that their decision to serve God was sincere. Joshua 24:16-23 states:

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.”

Joshua’s cynical attitude may have been due to his experience wandering in the wilderness with the Israelites. Joshua’s statement, “You are not able to serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:19) was true in the sense that the people of Israel did not have the spiritual strength within themselves to obey God’s commandments; but the key to the Israelites’ success was not their spiritual strength, it was their continual pursuit of a relationship with God (Joshua 22:5).

Jesus’ parable of the ten minas revealed that Israel had actually rejected God because they hated him and that the people didn’t want to be subject to Christ. Luke 19:11-27 states:

As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas,and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’”

The wicked servant in Jesus’ parable characterized the Lord as a severe man that took what he had not deposited with him and reaped what he had not sown. Even though the wicked servant wasn’t faithful in his service to the Lord, he wasn’t punished, he merely lost out on his reward. Jesus’ concluding statement, “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me” (Luke 19:27) indicates that only those who have refused to serve him will be put to death when he returns. “No matter how much or how little one has, it must always be remembered that it has come from God. Each person is responsible to him for the way he uses what the Lord has given” (note on Luke 19:11-27).

Spiritual freedom

The Apostle Paul’s letter to a believer named Philemon contains important information about Paul’s attitude regarding spiritual freedom. Paul began his letter with the salutation, “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philemon 1:1-3). Paul wrote to Philemon while he was imprisoned in Rome, so his identification of himself as a prisoner was applicable to his circumstances, but Paul reversed the situation when he added the phrase for Jesus Christ. Even though Paul was imprisoned against his will, Paul believed that God was using his situation to further the gospel. Paul discussed this point extensively in his letter to the Philippians. Paul said:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. Only let your manner of life be worthyof the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:12-30)

Paul said that he expected his imprisonment to turn out for his deliverance (Philippians 1:19). Paul was not only talking about being released from prison, but was also talking about his “deliverance from sin and its spiritual consequences and admission to eternal life with blessedness in the kingdom of Christ” (G4991). Paul went on to say that it was his eager expectation and hope that he would “not be at all ashamed” but that Christ would be honored in his body “whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21). What Paul likely meant by to die is gain was that the believers’ victory over sin and death is not fully realized until we are all in heaven. Revelation 12:10-11 states, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

Paul was convinced that he would be released from prison and said, “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again” (Philippians 1:25-26). Paul echoed his confidence of being released in his letter to Philemon. Paul said, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you” (Philemon 1:21-22). The Greek word that is translated graciously given, charizomai (khar-idˊ-zom-ahee) is spoken “of persons, to deliver up or over in answer to demands (Acts 3:14; 25:11, 16) or in answer to prayer (Acts 27:24; Philemon 1:22). Charizomai is translated granted in Acts 27:24 in reference to the lives of those who were sailing with Paul to Rome being saved from death in a storm at sea. Paul encouraged his shipmates and told them, “For this very night there stood before me an angel of God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told” (Acts 27:23-25).

Paul’s faith in God made it possible for him to experience spiritual freedom even though he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul talked about the effectiveness of sharing your faith in his letter to Philemon. Paul said:

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. (Philemon 1:4-7)

The Greek word that is translated effective in Philemon 1:6, energace (en-er-gaceˊ) has to do with the internal work of the Holy Spirit. In reference to sharing your faith, energace means that your faith is “active, operative” (G1756). Energace is translated active in Hebrews 4:12. It states, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Paul’s letter was intended to activate Philemon’s faith in that Paul used his own situation of imprisonment in Rome to trigger a particular response from his fellow worker. The Greek word that is translated prisoner, desmios (desˊ-mee-os) means “a captive (as bound)” (G1198) and is derived from the word desmos (des-mosˊ), which is translated imprisonment in Philemon 1:10 and 1:12. Desmos refers to “a band i.e. ligament (of the body) or shackle (of a prisoner). Paul used the Greek word desmos in his second letter to Timothy. Paul said, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound in chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:8-9). When Paul said the word of God is not bound, he used the word deo (dehˊ-o), which appears in Matthew 16:19 where Jesus told his disciples, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Being loosed on earth speaks of persons bound in sin and wickedness, who are loosed through the preaching of the gospel and a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. This is what had happened to Philemon’s slave Onesimus. Paul wrote, “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 1:15-16).

“Paul acted in strict accordance with the requirements of the law in dealing with Onesimus, a slave who had run away from Philemon. First, Paul gave him shelter in his own hired house. He did not betray him as a fugitive nor did he send word to Philemon to come to Rome and take Onesimus back. Furthermore, Paul instructed Onesimus in the gospel, eventually leading him to salvation in Christ (Philemon 1:10). He then sent Onesimus back to Philemon as a trusted messenger and brother in Christ, bearing a request for Philemon to grant Onesimus freedom (Philemon 1:12). Paul did not accuse Onesimus of wrongdoing by running away from Philemon. Instead Paul stated that it was by the merciful providence of God that he had departed from Philemon. Paul desired for Philemon to receive Onesimus back no longer as a servant, but as a beloved brother and partner in Christ (Philemon 1:15-17)” (Introduction to the Letter of Paul to Philemon). Paul’s strict accordance to the Hebrew fugitive law (Deuteronomy 23:15-16), gave him the assurance that he was doing God’s will when he took Onesimus in and sheltered him until he had received salvation. Paul’s plea for Onesimus was based on his obedience to God’s word. Paul wrote to Philemon, “Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment” (Philemon 1:8-10).

Paul’s appeal to Philemon was likely prompted by the Holy Spirit. The Greek word that is translated appeal in Philemon 1:9, parakaleo (par-ak-al-ehˊ-o) is derived from the words para (par-ahˊ) and kaleo (kal-ehˊ-o) which “is used particularly of the divine call to partake of the blessings of redemption” (G2564). Paul wanted Philemon to voluntarily grant Onesimus his freedom (Philemon 1:18). The Hebrew fugitive law stated, “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him” (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). Paul was not required to send Onesimus back to Philemon, but he likely did it so that Onesimus’ testimony could benefit the spread of the gospel (Philemon 1:11). Paul told Philemon, “I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord” (Philemon 1:12-14).

The Hebrew fugitive law indicated that a slave who had escaped from his master was essentially a free person; he could not be imprisoned or returned to his master (Deuteronomy 23:15). This law illustrated the principle of being delivered from spiritual bondage and fits in with Jesus’ teaching about binding and loosing things on earth and in heaven (Matthew 16:19). Jesus told the Jews who believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-36). The Greek word that is translated free, eleuthero (el-yoo-ther-oˊ-o) means “to make free, liberate from the power and punishment of sin, the result of redemption (John 8:32, 36; Romans 6:18, 22). Jesus indicated that “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated slave, doulos (dooˊ-los) is the same word that Paul used in his letter to Philemon when he referred to Onesimus as a bondservant and said that he was sending him back to Philemon “no longer as a bondservant, but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 1:16). Paul indicated that Onesimus’ spiritual status had changed because of his faith in Christ.

Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that spiritual freedom means that we are no longer slaves to sin, but have become slaves of righteousness. Paul said:

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:15-23)

According to Paul, even though believers are free in regard to righteousness, our spiritual freedom is constantly being attack. Paul said, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). Wickedness embodies that character which is opposite the character of God and may be thought of as an opposing force to righteousness (H7562). Proverbs 10:2 tells us that “treasures gained by wickedness do not profit but righteousness delivers from death.” The Hebrew word that is translated delivers, nâtsal naw-tsalˊ) is translated escaped in the Hebrew fugitive law (Deuteronomy 23:15) and also appears in Exodus 3:7-8 where the LORD speaking to Moses out of the midst of a burning bush said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver (nâtsal) them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of the land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (emphasis mine).

God’s ability to deliver believers from wickedness is based on the authority that Christ has in the spiritual realm. Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians:

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:15-21)

Paul said that the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us is “according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19-20). The Greek words that are translated working and worked are both derived from the Greek word energes, the Greek word that Paul used in his letter to Philemon when he talked about the sharing of Philemon’s faith becoming effective (Philemon 1:6).

Paul indicated in his letter to the Colossians that the powerful working of God is connected with the believer’s baptism, when he identifies himself with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Paul said:

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:11-15)

According to Paul, believers have spiritual freedom because the record of their moral debt to God has been cancelled. When Jesus died on the cross, he disarmed the rulers and authorities that wage spiritual warfare against believers and through death destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Fellowship

The Apostle Paul talked about his ministry of reconciliation and told the Corinthians that, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” meaning that God was not counting people’s trespasses against them (2 Corinthians 5:19), but had made Jesus, the only person who ever lived a sinless life, to be the perfect sacrifice for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that God had already done everything that was necessary for them to be pardoned from their sins and concluded by stating, “Working together with him then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1). Paul indicated that he was co-operating with Jesus to accomplish the task of reconciling the world to God by preaching the gospel. The gospel and its result of salvation was the instrument that God chose to use to reconcile the world to himself. Because salvation is received by grace and is based on God’s free gift for the forgiveness of sins (G1656), Paul encouraged the Corinthians to act immediately and not let the opportunity they were being given pass them by. Paul referred to Isaiah 49:8, a verse of scripture that indicates the day of salvation is a specific period of time in which God’s grace is available. Paul stated:

For he says,

“In a favorable time I listened to you,
    and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2)

Paul’s emphasis on now being the favorable time and now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2) meant that there was no time to waste, immediate action was required. Paul’s final plea was directed at the Corinthians hardened hearts. He stated:

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also. (2 Corinthians 6:11-13)

A heart that is wide open is one that is able to be molded and shaped as when an artist is working with clay or wax (G4111). Paul’s use of the Greek word platuno (plat-oo’-no) may have been intended to draw attention to the fact that God was reaching out to the Corinthians in a distinct effort to bridge the gap between himself and the non-Jewish people groups. Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that we are all one in Christ. He said:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-22)

One of the main points that Paul made in his letter to the Ephesians was that access to God was being granted to everyone that chose to put their faith in Christ. Paul stated, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:8-12).

“The plan of the mystery” (Ephesians 3:9) that Paul referred to was a mechanism by which God could unite all believers into a sound whole. The Greek word that is translated plan, koinonia (koy-nohn-ee’-ah) literally means participation, but is also translated as fellowship, communion, and to communicate, thus it is used of the common experiences of Christian men and women and of the participation in the knowledge of the Son of God (G2842). In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked about the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ and said, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9). In other words, Paul was saying that God is able to overcome our unbelief and convince us of the trustworthiness of his Son’s death on the cross in order to pay the penalty for our sins. Paul used the word koinonia or participation to connect communion, a celebration of the Last Supper, to the enactment of God’s New Covenant through Jesus’ death on the cross. Paul said, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16, emphasis mine).

Partaking in communion essentially identifies you as a follower of Christ. The Greek word meta (met-ah’) which denotes accompaniment (G3326) is similar to the word sun (soon) which denotes “union; with or together (but much closer than 3326)” (G4862). Koinonia is derived from the Greek word sun and originated from “the idea of coming in contact with everything, not separated in the least” (G2839). The root word koinos (koy-nos’) “as an adjective, means ‘common,’ and is translated ‘unclean.'” The concept of fellowship seems to contradict what was originally established through the Mosaic Law. The primary objective of the Mosaic Law was to prevent people and things from becoming unclean and the priests that ministered in God’s tabernacle went to great lengths to separate themselves from things that were considered to be common (Exodus 19:22). Consecration, “the act of setting apart, being holy (i.e. withdrawing someone or something from profane or ordinary use)” (H6942) was a part of the initial process of setting up the tabernacle of God. Exodus Chapter 29 provides details about the consecration of priests and indicates that consecration and atonement for sin were closely related with regards to fellowship with God (Exodus 29:35-37).

After all the materials that were needed to construct the tabernacle were collected (Exodus 38:24-31), designated craftsmen began to work on the necessary articles of clothing and furniture that had to be created according to the instructions that Moses received from God on Mount Sinai. Among these articles were garments that had to be worn by Aaron and his sons when they entered the tabernacle. Exodus 39:1 states, “From the blue and purple and scarlet yarns they made finely woven garments, for ministering in the Holy Place. They made the holy garments for Aaron, as the LORD commanded Moses.” The Hebrew word that is translated Holy Place, qodesh (ko’-desh) is derived from the word qadash (kaw-dash’) which means to be clean (H6942). An important characteristic of God that differentiates him from other deities is his holiness. The song of Moses that is recorded in Exodus 15 refers to God’s holiness as being an indicator of his majesty or greatness. Exodus 15:11-13 states:

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
    Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
    awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
You stretched out your right hand;
    the earth swallowed them.

“You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;
    you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.

The holy garments that Moses wore were most likely symbolic of the righteousness of Christ that Paul talked about in the context of believers being renewed in the spirit of their minds. Paul instructed the Ephesians to no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds (Ephesians 4:17) and said, “They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:19-24).

Paul associated the believer’s righteousness and holiness with a new self that is created after the likeness of God (Ephesians 4:24). Paul used the Greek term that is translated self, anthropos (anth’-ro-pos) metaphorically of the internal man, meaning the mind, soul, the rational man “the hidden person of the heart” (G444). Two of the holy garments that Moses wore provide us with an example of how the new man may be connected to God and other believers and is thus enabled to act with them in a unified manner. The ephod, which was worn under the breastpiece, had two shoulder pieces attached to its two edges, so that it could “be joined together” (Exodus 28:7) Two stones with the names of the sons of Israel engraved on them were set on the shoulder pieces of the ephod “as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel” (Exodus 28;12). The breastpiece had twisted chains like cords, of pure gold. The two ends of the cords were attached to the settings of the stones of remembrance and attached in the front to the shoulder pieces of the ephod (Exodus 28:22-24). The unification of the ephod, stones of remembrance and breastpiece seem to suggest that the believer’s new self, the Holy Spirit and Jesus act like a seamless garment that encapsulates the believer’s heart and protects it from exposure to anything that might make it unclean.

The tabernacle of God was also called “the tent of meeting” (Exodus 40:1). God said, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22). The tent of meeting was an appointed place for God to communicate with Moses. An important aspect of fellowship is social intercourse and the partnership that exists between believers is based on companionship (G2844). Exodus 33:11 states, “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” The fact that God spoke to Moses face to face implies there was a relationship, but at that time, Jesus had not yet made a way for man to be intimate with God (Hebrews 9:12). Also, there is no mention of Moses going through a process of consecration, so it would seem that the relationship Moses had with God was what made it possible for them to bridge the holiness gap and have fellowship with one another. Hebrews 11:24-27 talks about Moses’ faith and suggests that he may have been communicating with Jesus when he talked to God face to face. It states, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.”

Paul warned the Corinthians about having fellowship with unbelievers and asked them several rhetorical questions to make the point that it was absurd for them to try and connect with unbelievers in the same way that they did believers in Christ. Paul said, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). Paul’s statement that “we are the temple of the living God” was meant to emphasize the point that God lives inside of believers through the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. It is impossible for us to separate ourselves from God. Paul stated in his letter to the Romans:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

Paul indicated that love is the essential ingredient that makes unbroken fellowship with God possible. The Greek word that is translated separate, chorizo (kho-rid’-zo) means to place room between (G5593) and is related to the word chasma (khas’-mah) which Jesus used to describe the permanent separation of believers and unbelievers in the afterlife. He said, “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (Luke 16:26).

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to enlarge their hearts so that God’s love could reach them before it was too late. He said, “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also” (2 Corinthians 6:11-13). Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that they could only receive God’s free gift of salvation by making room for him in their hearts. Paul talked about being unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14) because he knew that the Corinthians were trying to live with one foot in the world and one foot in the spiritual realm. They were compromising their faith by worshipping false gods like Belial (2 Corinthians 6:15). Paul touched on something in his second letter to the Corinthians that was explained more in depth in John’s first epistle. Paul asked, “What fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14) in order to point out that fellowship assumes there is an exclusion of contradictory activities. John also stated:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

The connection between fellowship and the blood of Jesus cleansing us from all sin may have to do with the body of Christ, which signifies his church, being defined as “a sound whole” (G4983). Because Jesus was crucified on the cross, his body became a sacred thing that was dedicated to God in its entirety. Each of us, as members of Christ’s body, receive the benefit and the effects of that sacrifice. Jesus illustrated this point in his celebration of the Last Supper with his disciples (Matthew 26:26-29). Paul mentioned the disciples’ Last Supper in his first letter to the Corinthians and referred to it as the communion of the blood and the communion of the body (1 Corinthians 10:16). The Greek word that Paul used that is translated communion is koinonia, the same word that is translated fellowship in 2 Corinthians 6:14. A key to understanding how communion/fellowship works may be found in Colossians 2:13-15 which states:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Paul indicated that believers are made alive together with Christ (Colossians 2:13). The Greek word suzetesis (sood-zay-teh’-o) means “to reanimate conjointly” (G4806). In other words, the body of Christ will be resurrected as a united whole due to our participation in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection through water baptism (Colossians 2:12). The ultimate goal of fellowship is to get believers from earth to heaven so that we can be with Jesus throughout eternity (John 14:1-3). Paul assured the Corinthians that if they shared in his sufferings, they would also share in his comfort (2 Corinthians 1:7) and said that they should not rely on themselves, “but on the God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).