Friday, November 9, 2012

Colossians 4:13-18

13 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. 17 And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”

18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

Paul notes that Epaphras continued working hard for those back at home, even while he was in Rome. Presumably this was through his fervent prayers as well as time spent consulting Paul about proper doctrine. Luke, Paul's physician, was a close companion and also a historian who would later record the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. When Paul wrote this letter, Demas was at his side and presumably still a trusted friend. Unfortunately by the end of Paul's life Demas had defected to worldly ways and forsaken Paul (2 Tim. 4:10).

Paul sends greetings to brothers in the city of Laodicea. (This is the church chastised in Revelation for being lukewarm - "neither hot nor cold".) In this time before the New Testament, one  body of believers would pass a letter on to the other cities in order to share information and doctrine. The letter to the Laodiceans has been lost to history, although another letter to the Laodiceans in included in some publications of the New Testament Apocrypha.

History tells us that churches did not own property for meeting until after 200 AD. Prior to this believers met at times outdoors or in synagogues, but often met in homes like the group mentioned as meeting at Nympha's house.

Archippus may have been the son of Philemon and Apphia and the leader of the church meeting in their home. Paul encourages him to fulfill his ministry as he combats the false teachers in Colossae.

Paul signs the letter with his own hand. This may mean that he wrote the whole letter, but more likely it means that he used an amanuensis (dictated to a scribe). Signing the letter would authenticate it and give emphasis to his words. He signs off by asking them to remember him and prays that they have grace.

As beleivers we should remember those laboring in our local churches and around the world, acknolwedging their service and lifting them up in prayer. We also should fervently pray for those persecuted and in chains around the world because of their boldness in sharing their faith. Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body (Hebrews 13:3).

The apostle had comfort in the communion of saints and ministers. One is his fellow-servant, another his fellow-prisoner, and all his fellow-workers, working out their own salvation, and endeavouring to promote the salvation of others. The effectual, fervent prayer is the prevailing prayer, and availeth much. The smiles, flatteries, or frowns of the world, the spirit of error, or the working of self-love, leads many to a way of preaching and living which comes far short of fulfilling their ministry. But those who preach the same doctrine as Paul, and follow his example, may expect the Divine favour and blessing.  - Matthew Henry

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Colossians 4:10-12

10 Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas’s cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him); 11 and also Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.

Aristarchus was a friend through thick and thin. He was with Paul during the Ephesian riot and when Paul was shipwrecked. Now he was imprisoned with Paul - still keeping the faith and sending greetings to the saints.

The fact that Mark was with Paul speaks of grace and restoration. Mark deserted Paul and Barnabus on their first missionary journey. Paul refused to take him on his next trip, causing a split between Paul and Barnabus (Acts 15:37-39). Barnabus did not give up on his cousin but continued to nurture and disciple him. As a result Mark was now strong in the faith and a help to Paul in prison. At the end of Paul's life, he requested that Mark be sent to him as Mark was useful to him (2 Tim. 4:11).

All we can discern about Jesus Justus is that he had both a Roman and a Jewish name - perhaps someone like Paul who was Jewish with Roman citizenship or perhaps someone of mixed Jewish and Roman ancestry. We do know that he was Jewish (from the circumcision) and as an encouragement to Paul must have been a follower of Christ.

The prayer warrior Epaphras was mentioned earlier in the letter as the one who had brought the gospel to Colossae. He understood the importance of prayer, praying that his fellow believers would stand perfect in the will of God and assured of their salvation.

We can learn much about Christian friendship from each of these four men. True friends stick together even in the hard times, leaning on each other as they follow God's will through the storms of life. True friends forgive, give second chances, and acknowledge when someone has allowed God to turn their life around. Even if you make less of a mark on the historic record, your service to God and man is equally important. And finally, we should pray fervently and specifically for one another, especially prayers based in Scripture.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.  - Ecclesiastes 4:9–12

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Colossians 4:7-9

7 Tychicus, our dearly loved brother, faithful servant, and fellow slave in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. 8 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are and so that he may encourage your hearts. 9 He is with Onesimus, a faithful and dearly loved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.

“Oh… a list of names in the Bible.”* eyes glaze over. Wait! There’s still some great stuff in Colossians!

Remember that Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter, and FedEx was not in existence. To get the letter to the Colossians, Paul needed trusted deliverymen. He needed men that he knew would truthfully relate what was going on as well as make sure the letter arrived safely. Paul was a mighty hero of the faith, but he wasn’t Superman. He worked with teams of people, training them in the faith so that the work would be carried on by many believers.

In these final verses Paul does more than wrap up his letter with personal greetings. We get a glimpse into his circle of encouragers and helpers at the time. These were real, ordinary people who partnered with Paul and God to see the extraordinary take place. Rarely does God call out “lone wolves” to do His bidding. Instead we work within families, churches, and other organizations. We draw strength from one another and receive confirmation of God’s direction.

Tychius seems to have a special place in Paul’s heart. He delivered this letter as well as the letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 6:21). Later on he was a relief minister for Titus (Tit. 3:12). At the end of Paul’s life, he send Tychius to care for his beloved church at Ephesus (2 Tim 4:12).

Onesimus was a runaway slave from Colossae whose story is told in the book of Philemon. In this small community, everyone probably knew what he had done. With this greeting as well as the book of Philemon, Paul is sending a message that Onesimus is more than a slave; he is a trusted brother and an equal through the transforming power of the cross.

We see underscored here both the importance of honest communication as well as having trusted Christian friends. It is imperative that we communicate news in a way that honors God, not in a gossipy or malicious way. It is important that we encourage each other with good news. And it is vital that we surround ourselves with those who will help us complete God’s purpose in our lives.

Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. - 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Colossians 4:4-6

4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to respond to each person.

Paul is arguably one of the greatest speakers of all time. He made it a point to be all things to all people. He sought opportunities through cultural and religious contexts to make clear the gospel of Christ. Whether relating to his fellow Jews or making known the unknown God to the polytheists in Athens, Paul always found a way to turn a conversation to the truth of Christ.
We are called to walk in wisdom, speaking words that are from the Holy Spirit rather than our own minds. Instead of wasting time mindlessly absorbing the culture we should use our downtime wisely – meditating and studying Scripture, praying for the unsaved, and seeking opportunities to engage those outside the faith. “Time” is also translated “opportunity” in other translations, and “making the best use of time” can be literally translated “buying up every opportunity”. Realize that every virtual or “real-time” conversation is a possible opportunity to speak Truth into the lives of others.

Rather than being argumentative with those of opposing views, we should be gracious. (This is especially apropos in America today as our nation awaits the results of an almost equally divided presidential election.) Always listen to others with the intent of understanding their viewpoint rather than constantly “turning your wheels” to think of a great counterpoint. When you are in tune with the Spirit, you will know how you ought to respond to each person.

Why would Paul write that our speech should be seasoned with salt? When something is properly seasoned with salt, it does not taste salty. Rather it somehow tastes more like the thing it is. Properly salted eggs somehow taste more like eggs. Properly salted meat somehow tastes more like meat. Salt is also a preservative, keeping things from spoiling. Properly salted conversation will be gracious, interesting, wholesome, and more like the speech of Jesus Himself.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16

Monday, November 5, 2012

Colossians 4:1-3

1 Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven. 2 Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; 3 praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned;

This is one of those times when I wonder what the guys who divided the Bible into chapters and verses were thinking. To me verse one fits in clearly with the preceding chapter. Slaves are told to obey their masters, and now masters are told to treat their slaves with justice and fairness, knowing that they also have a Master in heaven.

People like to be in charge of others. Since my six year old daughter longs to be in charge, she tries to boss her three year old younger brother around and manipulate him. He in turn bosses around the dog. (And you know they would both love to boss me around whenever possible!) Across America all sorts of people are running for all sorts of offices, possibly out of a servant’s heart but probably because they think things would be better if they were in charge instead of the other guy! In whatever positions of authority we find ourselves, we must remember that we too are slaves of God. Since we are all slaves, none of us is better than another. All of us are responsible for seeking justice and fairness in the world.

"Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies" (Westminster Catechism).

Our church is in the midst of a Prayer Awakening Revival, and our youth Bible Study lesson this morning was also about prayer. Years before Paul wrote this letter, Peter and John were arrested for healing a man and giving glory to Jesus. The ruling religious leaders were in a quandary. Many people had witnessed the healing of the man and were very excited. But the leaders could not allow political or spiritual instability in Jerusalem or growth of the Jesus movement. So they came up with what they thought was a great compromise. They let Peter and John go with the admonition to speak no longer in the name of Jesus. (The disciples made it clear that they would obey God, not the edict of the council.) When the two men returned to their prayer group, the whole assembly joined together in one heart to pray. They did not pray for deliverance, protection, or divine annihilation of their enemies. They simply asked God to take notice of their situation, consider the threats against them, and allow them to speak with great boldness. They requested signs and wonders to affirm that they were within God's will, not surprising since so many religious leaders were against them, and the whole place was shaken. All were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and began proclaiming Jesus. That's some sign that they were in the will of God!

It's unlikely that the walls of my church will shake in the midst of our prayer revival, but it is absolutely possible that my local body could be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, unable to do anything but proclaim the truth of Jesus. Paul instructs believers to be devoted to prayer, keeping alert with an attitude of thankfulness. Spiritually breathing throughout the day, we inhale the Word and exhale prayer. We keep alert for the answers to our prayers and how He would have us respond to the world around us. We maintain an attitude of thankfulness, even when the situation would seem dire to unbelievers - remembering that no matter what happens on this earth the grace and love of God for us was settled at the cross. Above all, our prayer should be that God will open doors for us and others to speak the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we must be willing to act when he reveals what He is calling us to do!

Prayer is the most important conversation that you will ever hold, the most important expression of the new life. You see, prayer is the divinely appointed weapon' against the sinister attack of the devil and his angels. Prayer is the vehicle for confession of sin. Prayer is the means by which the grateful soul pours out its spontaneous praise before the throne of God. Prayer is the voice of the weeping soul calling on the sympathetic high priest in the time of need. Prayer is the intercession of the concerned Christian who calls on divine resources in behalf of another's trouble. Prayer is the simple conversation of the beloved child with the caring Father as they talk of love.  - John MacArthur

Friday, November 2, 2012

Colossians 3:23-25

23 Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done, and there is no favoritism.

We memorized verse 23 in preschool choir last year, and now I can't read it without yelling the word "ENTHUSIASTICALLY!" Paul wraps up the theme from the previous verses; no matter what our role in life we are to do it to the best of our ability and to the glory of God.

This does not mean we are to do everything. "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength" is not a promise that you can perfectly juggle every ball thrown at you - home, work, church, etc. It does not mean that you will be able to make everyone happy. It does not mean that you will never disappoint anyone. Instead it is a promise that He will give you strength for each day to accomplish what you are supposed to accomplish. Many times when we are exhausted, it is because we are doing too many things that He has not called us to do. (Pointing fingers back at myself.)

Look not to the world for applause. Many jobs worth doing are thankless. What truly matters is not human acknowledgment but whether or not our hearts serve the Lord Christ. Do everything in love - whether cleaning toilets, relating to others at the office, or nurturing relationships with friends and family. Your reward is not financial or even of this earth. Your reward is hearing the words, "Well done my good and faithful servant" as you transition into life eternal. Remember who your real boss is!

No job in the body of Christ is better than any other. Some may be more glamorous, but there is no favoritism in Christ. Following James 2, we should view a homeless brother in Christ as highly as a wealthy congregant or preacher (sometimes more so - ahem). We know that God does not show favoritism between races or classes of people, although He does call some out for special purposes.

All who do evil will be equally punished. This may not ring true for some who see evildoers live lives of blessing on earth while many "good people" suffer. But all sin is punished. Even if someone "gets away" with wrongdoing on earth, the sin is punished in one of two ways. If the wrongdoer is a believer, his sins were taken and forgiven through the extreme punishment and death of Jesus. If the person is not a believer, his sins will be punished in the fires of Hell. I would say either option pays for any crime done on earth.

"Without love, everything is painful, everything is tiring, everything is burdensome. The Cross, taken up hesitantly, is crushing; taken smilingly, by free will, and with love, it will carry you much more than you carry it." - Fr. Jean C.J. d'Elbee

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Colossians 3:20-22

20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.

* Not a child, father, or bondservant? Keep reading! There's something here for you anyway!

As part of our Classical Conversations homeschool program, this year we learned the Ten Commandments. The longest part was, "Honor thy father and mother that thy days may be long upon the land the Lord thy God giveth thee." Paul notes in Ephesians 6:2 that this is the first command with a promise. What does honoring your parents have to do with a long life?

Let's get the fact out of the way that there are some awful parents out there. Some are abusive, some are neglectful, and some are simply not good role models. I think the assumption in Moses' day was that most parents followed the laws of God and had important knowledge to pass to their children. Hopefully you came from such a home and learned much truth in your formative years. If you did not, find an older person in the church to mentor you!

I try to avoid "Because I said so!" when my six year old daughter asks me why things should be done. I try to tell her the reasoning behind my decisions at least once. With her three year old brother I find myself counting backwards from 5 with the threat of time-out quite often to get him to complete tasks. Neither of them can see the big picture that I can see. If we get certain tasks done, things in the house will run more smoothly and leave more time for fun. If they learn character traits such as calm communication, peacemaking, patience, and love then they are more likely to be successful in life. If they honor us by staying away from harmful things like drugs and promiscuity, they are more likely to live long in the land. All of us should be examples to those younger than us of how to live for God.

I love to humorously quote "fathers do not exasperate your children" to my husband when I feel he is antagonizing the kids. But it really means that fathers who are constantly critical will have children who are embittered or discouraged. As we speak to others we should encourage much more than we critique. Positive reinforcement is much more effective in the long run than fault finding, no matter what the relationship.

Hopefully none of you are bondservants or slaves, but this was a common thing around the world in Paul's day. If even slaves were called to please their earthly masters to show their fear of the Lord, we are certainly called to please those in authority over us. It is said that your true character is shown when no one is looking, but truly only God knows whether your actions spring from love for him and sincerity of heart! Your motives in every action are as important as the action itself. Although there are times when we have to "fake it 'til we make it", our hearts and minds should be conforming into the image of Christ.

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.   - Titus 2:7-8

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Colossians 3:18-19

18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.

As a college student I loathed Paul. I thought he was the biggest chauvinist in history, and clearly passages about women submitting to men were only cultural and had nothing to do with modern society. I still believe that all Scripture should be studied within its cultural context – for example I almost always pray with my head uncovered, and I do speak in church. But I have come to realize that biblical submission is not the evil thing I once thought it was.

For one thing, if you want to scratch out the sections on wives submitting to their husbands it is only fair that we scratch out verses pertaining to the males. So my husband would no longer be commanded to love me and could be harsh with me. He wouldn’t be commanded to love me as Christ loves the church, a much stronger command in my opinion than my submission to him.

Also we take the word submission and for various reasons wrongly use it as a synonym for obedience – as a servant is obedient to a master. No Christian relationship should be like that. Christ never demanded groveling subservience from his followers. In fact, he made himself submissive, taking upon himself the form of a servant, even unto death. Husbands and wives equally “own” each other in a way, but husbands are not to be harsh taskmasters over their wives.

My outlook on submission as a good thing has changed for several reasons. For one, I now love the Bible deeply and am willing to come to it with as open a mind as possible – seeking truth rather than verses to back up previously held beliefs. For another I am married to a great man. Of course we have our squabbles, but as a rule we respect each other. He listens to what I have to say and values me as a person. But the few times that we have not seen eye to eye, I have submitted and let him have his way. And since I have this attitude, he knows that if I put my foot down about something and refuse to back down about it then it must be something serious. In those situations I always get my way!

I don’t have the answer of what women with jerk authoritarian husbands should do about this passage. I have a friend who says that she would probably be submissive to her husband if he would give her a choice in the matter rather than being so demanding. Some say that even in an abusive relationship women should be submissive. I say grab your kids and dog and get out of that house until he gets some counseling! Your allegiance is always first to God, then to family. If you are in a situation where the will of your husband contradicts the will of God, in my opinion you have to follow the will of God.

As a rule, women crave love and men crave respect. I think that is one reason wives are so often admonished to respect their husbands and husbands are admonished to love their wives. It works! And all Christians are called to submit to one another, counting each other’s needs above our own. Likewise we are called to love one another as Christ loved us. There really is no question biblically that this is how we are to relate to one another, whether spouses or brothers and sisters in Christ.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
 1 John 4:7-8

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Colossians 3:17

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

My daughter is convinced that Steven Curtis Chapman's Do Everything  is my favorite song. (This could be because when it comes on, I say "Mommy's favorite song!" She hasn't figured out that I have a million of 'em!) I love the message of the song. Whether I'm sweeping up cereal, flipping burgers, or making big trades on Wall Street, if I am a believer each action should be done for the glory of God just as much as a person feeding orphans in Myanmar.

There is no division between the sacred and the secular. Of course there are sacred things and moments that are set apart from others. (Weddings, baptisms, Lord's Suppers and the like come to mind.) But repeatedly throughout Scripture we are told that everything we do in life should be for God's glory. In 1 Cor. 10:31 Paul even reminds us that "whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."

So the cheeseburger and fries I picked up from the drive through are to be eaten for the glory of God? Yep. Smile at the cashier. Pay for the meal behind you, leaving a note with an invitation to church or to listen to the local Christian station. Skip the meal a couple of days a week and donate the money saved to World Hunger.

Clean my house to the glory of God? (I could do a little more of this!) Yep. Make your home inviting to others. Open it up for a Bible Study or fellowship with someone who could use a friend. Let your family see your joy in serving.

Make a business deal to the glory of God? Yep. Value honesty over your career. Never take advantage of others, especially the poor. Donate your earnings even above a ten percent tithe.

I suppose you could get a little crazy about it, thinking that God might care which pair of socks you put on to his glory. But overall this verse is about your attitude. No matter how menial or elevated the task, do your best. Keep the peace of Christ foremost in your heart, and let love cover all your actions! Serve one another humbly in love (Gal. 5:13).

With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. - Ephesians 6:7-8

Monday, October 29, 2012

Colossians 3:15-16

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

What is the peace of Christ? In John 14:27 Jesus told His disciples, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." His peace is not a peace as the world gives - not a tenuous cease fire, a compromise between warring factions, or even a feeling of tranquility. Jesus spoke these words to assure his disciples that although they were to face their toughest trial to date, the arrest and crucifixion of their teacher, that everything would be fine. He would give them His peace and the Holy Spirit to comfort their hearts. The peace of Christ doesn't mean that the life of a Christian will be easy, but it does mean that we will have supernatural comfort no matter our situation in life.

The apostle John records Jesus' words after telling the disciples that they would all betray him, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." When the storms of life batter us on every side, we cling to the knowledge that He has overcome the world. We proclaim our thankfulness in all situations, allowing God to work through trials to conform us into the image of Christ. Thankfulness focuses our eyes on the Prince of Peace and off worry about tomorrow and fears for the future which can destroy our spirits.

The word translated "rule" (βραβεύετω - brabeuetō) - is commonly used in reference to the Olympics or other games. It refers to an arbiter who would preside over the games, keeping order and handing out laurel wreaths to the victors. So the peace of Christ keeps order in our lives; keeping at bay our tumultuous emotions and passions, especially those pertaining to things of this world.

As a Music Minister's daughter, I love verse 16. The best way to memorize and retain Scripture is to memorize it in song. I can still sing Bible verses that I learned in preschool choir! The early church as a body would sing scriptural texts and some songs that became part of New Testament scripture. We are instructed to pray continually, but I find that I quickly run out of words when trying to have a lengthy conversation with God. But often throughout the day I sing songs to God in my heart, and He speaks to me by bringing certain songs to mind.

I love most types of music, and I love worshipping at our church where we blend old hymns with new music. There is a danger in what music we allow into our minds. Vulgar song lyrics from my teenage years are seared into my brain and will probably come out of my mouth if I live long enough to speak to my children through the fog of dementia. But there is also a danger in some "good" or "Christian" music. Many of the songs of today are emotion driven, and there is a place for that. But if you find yourself more prone to raise your hands in praise to certain music styles yet can't "get into" the words of some traditional hymns, you may need to pause for thought. The style of music is not the problem per se, but make sure that you are driven to solid doctrine and knowledge of God rather than an emotional experience. (Okay, off my soap box.)

Whatever style of music floats your boat, take time to "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:19-20).

Now enjoy my favorite hymn! The lyrics may have been written in the 6th century, but the words speak to us today!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Colossians 3:14

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

“And above all these” (Επι πασι δε τουτοις) means upon all or over all; in context of the previous verses an image jumps to mind of an outer garment enveloping the other clothing. Thinking of biblical dress, this could refer to the belt (girdle) or cloak (mantle). A belt was made of leather, 2 to 6 inches wide, sometimes with a shoulder strap to carry heavier items. A cloak was a robe worn over the other clothing as an outer garment for warmth and appearance.

Like a belt, love should encircle everything we do, holding any “weapons” we might use. As Christians we are to turn the other cheek, but when we do need to speak truths that could wound we are to do so in love. Like a cloak, love should warm every action we perform, thought we think, and word we speak. Everything we do should have the appearance of love. If the body of Christ surrounded everything with love, we would certainly live in "perfect harmony" – even if we disagreed.

If you were in the 1 John study, you will remember the repetition of the thought that true believers are known primarily by their love for God and others. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother (1 John 3:10). But it isn’t enough to merely complete biblical check off lists, striving to show the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness patience, and forgiveness commanded in the previous verses.

In recent times I have done many “good things”. (Don’t get excited, I’ve done my share of “bad things” too!) So last night when I was meditating on this verse and praying about the devotion, the Lord spoke a hard truth to me. Why do I often show compassion, kindness, and the rest? Obligation. It hit me like the falling wall of Jericho. I thought I had put some distance between myself and legalism, cultivating a desire to put into action the teachings of Jesus out of a deep love for him, not as an effort to maintain my salvation through my good works. But when I examined my heart, it turns out that many things I do are because I feel obligated, not because love overflows from my heart. For me it was a crushing realization.

Without love, though there might be other virtues, there is no truth or grace in anything we do. We must be willing to love as Jesus love. The more you learn to love as he loved, the more of this world you will find that you need to give up. There are few better examples of this love than Mother Teresa and her fellow workers in India. About her personal suffering she said, “"Without out suffering, our work would just be social work, very good and helpful, but it would not be the work of Jesus Christ, not part of the Redemption. All the desolation of the poor people, not only their material poverty, but their spiritual destitution, must be redeemed. And we must share it, for only by being one with them can we redeem them by bringing God into their lives and bringing them to God."

Without love, everything we do is selfishness, legalism, or hypocrisy. Even the greatest good we do stems from our own selfish desires to look good or assuage some unconscious guilt within our hearts.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:1-8

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Colossians 3:13

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Quick! Think of the person who most gets on your nerves! Some of you may have immediately had a name, image, or voice pop into your minds. Some may even have trouble narrowing down the list! According to this verse we must bear with each other - basically put up with each other! Reading from the previous verses we can assume this applies to the body of believers, but I would argue that if there is a non-Christian who irks you, God can change your heart toward that person as well. Obviously when you clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience it will be much easier to bear with others and forgive them.

We are to forgive as the Lord forgave us. So how did the Lord forgive us? He forgave us completely, casting our sins as far as the east is from the west. When we confess new sins he does not roll his eyes and say, "Seriously? Didn't we deal with this issue back in seventh grade?" He blots our our transgressions for His sake and remembers them no more. He even provided the sacrifice that would atone for our sins.

So how can we put this into practice? If there is someone in your life with whom you have trouble bearing, start by praying diligently for them. Examine your own heart to discern what it is that is bothering you so much. Sometimes people are just annoying, but often we can find sin in our own hearts that exacerbates the issue. At the least we are not seeing others the way God sees them.

If we are to forgive as the Lord forgave us, then we cannot keep score. When we forgive, we must truly forgive and let it go. This can be especially tough with family members or close friends, when an argument over a small thing can spiral into a throwdown over who has done the most wrong in the past decade. As Henry Ward Beecher said, "I can forgive, but I cannot forget, is only another way of saying, I will not forgive. Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note - torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one."

We must even be willing to pay a price. Yes, we cannot atone for sins, but we may share in the punishment at times. For example, sometimes when my 3 year old son is in trouble for making a mess of his 6 year old sisters' things, she will not only forgive him but help him clean up. This is such a model of Christian forgiveness! Serving the ones we find most difficult to forgive and put up with is the best way to change our hearts and outlooks.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other,
just as in Christ God forgave you.  
- Ephesians 4:32

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Colossians 3:12

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Another "therefore" - because you now wear the redeemed "uniform" of Christianity and have tossed the filthy rags of the old man aside, these are the things with which you should clothe yourselves. Your lives should exude compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

Show compassion - The nearer you draw to God, the more you should look on others as created in His image. If there is someone who "rubs you the wrong way" - especially if the person is in the body of Christ - examine your own spirit. Examine your own life for creature comforts you could give up to help those in need. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Eph. 4:32).

Be kind - As Mother Teresa said, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”

Humility - (Full disclosure, I just finished Mother Teresa's biography! So here's another quote.) “If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.” This is a quality missing from many today, including Christians and those in the ministry. But if we are to put on the uniform of Christ, we must put on his humility. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5-8)

Gentleness - Be calm and don't lose your temper. We are working on this every minute at our house. My young children are usually sweet, but suddenly they will be almost at death blows over a piece of lint! They are learning to stop and "use their words"; I am learning to very rarely scream at them when I am frustrated. I pull out my "Michelle Duggar" voice the more upset I become, and it works!

Patience - Bear any evil words spoken against you or deeds perpetrated against you as Christ bore His suffering on the cross. Pray for unbelievers without giving up hope. Believe that no matter what the trial, God has a plan for your life and will see you through.

People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
             ― Mother Teresa

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Colossians 3:9-11

9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

The previous verses dealt with what you “put off” as a believer. These verses are the bridge to the section of what you “put on” as a believer.

There is no question that as believers we are fully in Christ. We are not partially redeemed – some sort of old man/new man hybrid. Paul writes “seeing that you have put off the old self” – the assumption is that the old man is stripped off and tossed to the side. We are a new creation, and the deeper our knowledge, the more closely we resemble the image of our creator. We need no “special revelation” or communion with angels as some in Colossae believed. Each day we gain greater knowledge as we put into practice the spiritual knowledge we have already gained. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).

Although we are new creations, we can tend to fall into old patterns. Lying is often a manifestation of other sins. We lie to cover up wrongs we have committed, to avoid uncomfortable situations, or to receive and protect monetary gain. The more we lie, the more we must lie to cover up our sins. The only way to stop the downward spiral is to get off the staircase of deceit! As Matthew Henry said, “It is necessary to mortify sins, because if we do not kill them, they will kill us.”

This time of the year you will find sports on our television most evenings. Unlike my husband, I do not know many individual players. However, I can easily watch a game and know which players belong to which team. How? They wear the same uniforms! As believers our thoughts and actions are our uniforms. Although we have different nationalities, cultural beliefs, and life experiences, our uniform is the image of Christ. People should look at our lives and see the glory of Christ, not the filthy rags of our former existence. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16).

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. Romans 6:5-7

Monday, October 22, 2012

Colossians 3:7-8

7 You used to live this way, when you were alive to these things. 8 But now set aside these things, such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language.

Tonight in the van while watching a DVD my six year old asked, “Is ‘gosh’ a bad word? Because Franklin just said it.” Oh that naughty cartoon turtle. In an explanation I’ve given a million times before, I told her that it was not necessarily a “bad word” but that our family preferred not to say “oh my gosh”; instead we say “oh my goodness”. Of course she catches mommy saying this “Bad Word” sometimes, and little brother sometimes drops it off his lips like a swear word in a rap song.

Following the example of my parents, I set the standard for our speech high. For one reason some words just sound less vulgar than others. (We say “pass gas” instead of… well you get the picture.) But for another I want the kids to have some room to slip if they decide to rebel as teenagers. I would rather them say the word “butt” to be wild than other four letter words.

When we lived according to our earthly nature things such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language were embedded in our spirits. But being raised in Christ we are no longer alive to them. Although we may slip in these sins, in no way should we any longer persist in doing them. Rather we should each day become more like Christ. Anger is my biggest fault from the list, although I haven’t lost my temper since yesterday. Ahem. But when I do lose my temper I make sure I confess to God as well as my children (since they are usually the ones with whom I lose it). I hope one day to drown the monster of anger in the waters of my baptism. The longer I grow in Christ the less I sin, but the more my sins trouble me.

Blasphemy (βλασφημίαν) means all injurious and slanderous speaking (either against God or man). Have you engaged in any slander in your speech regarding the current election? Do you find yourself degrading others with your speech? Do you laugh at the crude jokes our society find humorous, even sharing them again with others? “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen… Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (Eph 4:29, 5:4). Our speech should be vastly different than that of unbelievers.

For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.Jesus

Friday, October 19, 2012

Colossians 3:5-6

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.

Yep, another “therefore”. Since you are dead to the world and will appear with Christ in glory, put to death the earthly and evil parts of your nature. Νεκρωσατε is the Greek word translated “put to death”. Some commentators believe the verb is used metaphorically meaning to “deprive a thing of its power, to destroy its strength” while others say mortify is used in its literal sense of “put to death”. (When they say “literal” I can’t help but imagining someone gouging out the eye that offends them.”) The point is that you have to take action. You cannot merely sit passively and hope that your behavior changes. You have to take steps to feed what is “heavenly” in you through prayer, reading Scripture, and practicing the fruit of the Spirit. Likewise you must starve your evil nature by fleeing from sin, recognizing it in your life, and confessing. We are engaged in a daily battle to become more like Christ, so put on your armor!

Don’t fall into a prideful trap of glancing at this as if it is an exhaustive list that you may have under control. Yes, you may not be “caught in adultery” but I bet you covet from time to time, and I can guarantee you deal with the occasional evil desire. Επιθυμιαν κακην joins two words and means and strong and vehement desire of any kind that is evil. That’s a pretty broad category! I personally sub in “temper” for “evil desires” and know I deserve the wrath of God.

Search your heart today and work to pull the weeds of sin from the soil of your heart!

Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Romans 6:13

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Colossians 3:1-4

1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

The "therefore" is "there for" the purpose of drawing us back to the thought of the previous verses - we were buried with Christ and raised to new life through His sacrifice and not through any human effort.

One of the biggest lessons I am learning is to seek the things above. The year started with having to put my dog to sleep, then the end of my Daddy's battle with cancer, and most recently a scare when it seemed that my husband's lymphoma was back. (It isn't!) God is teaching me that He will provide the manna I need for the day, and if I waste my time worrying over tomorrow's all I will receive is maggots! I am also more and more convicted about the vast amount of material things my family possesses and the fact that it is completely unbiblical to have this much "stuff" when others do not have their basic needs met.

We are called to walk through life on earth, not as secluded hermits but in the midst of the battle. We build and nurture relationships, lift each other up in the bad times, and celebrate the wonderful blessings of life. But through it all our hearts must be focused on Him, our treasures laid up in heaven, our time spent furthering His kingdom and not our own. When we set our minds on things above it not only prepares us for heaven, it gives meaning to our lives on earth.

Having a heavenly focus reminds us that no matter how dark the trial, the Light of the World is with us. Having a heavenly focus reminds us to see glimpses of heavens in the joys of this life. Having a heavenly focus turns our hearts to him with praise in the good times and the bad. We will spent eternity with Him in glory, and this life will seem less than a blink of an eye in comparison.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. - Philippians 4:8

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Colossians 2:22-23

22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

"All" refers back to the ordinances of men who taught "Don't handle! Don't taste! Don't touch!" These ordinances had value in keeping the Hebrew people a nation separated for God. However they were not meant to be forever binding. (See Peter's "pigs in a blanket" vision.) What goes into our hearts and minds is of much greater importance than what enters our digestive system. Any nontoxic food simply passes through our system, but what we allow into our thought process and worldview has lasting effects.

There will always be those with the "appearance" of wisdom. Charismatic leaders will gain many followers and seem to be speaking wise truths. Only a careful comparison with Scripture can reveal what is true wisdom and what comes from the commandments and teachings of men.

Those who denied themselves would seem pious and religious. (It reminds me of the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus instructed His listeners to pray, give, and fast in a manner that would not draw attention to their piety.) Today we may look at ascetics in other religion with admiration. We may view a Buddhist monk who lives a life of simple existence as wise and holy, but in the end the beliefs of the monk lead to death and are of no value. We may be impressed with our Muslim friend's fast during Ramadan, but this does not help us walk more closely with God.

No mere outward act, whether self-made religion or even biblical precept, can guard against fleshly indulgence. Anyone who has ever been on a diet can attest to this! That chocolate cake or chips and dip will call your name until you give in - unless you have an inner change in your willpower and values about food. Rules and ordinances have no real spiritual value unless they provoke a change in your heart and soul.

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. - 1 Timothy 4:8

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Colossians 2:18-21

18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”

Continuing the theme of the previous verses, Paul warns his readers against adding anything to the basic truth that Christ alone saves. The word here translated “disqualitfy” (καταβραβεύω) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament and combines the words for “judge/umpire” and “against”. The original readers would have had in mind the prizes at the Grecian games. Paul is admonishing his readers to be on their guard lest someone cause them to falter in their race, turn in the wrong direction, or give up the race entirely rather than pressing on to the crown before them. If they fell prey to these false teachers it would be like an Olympian who loses a race after being distracted by someone in the stands.

To make things trickier, many of these teachers were “insisting on asceticism and worship of angels” – a difficult passage to translate. Basically these particular teachers were not brash or abrasive. They came across as willing to deprive themselves of good things, perhaps like the Essenes or the Stoics. They appeared humble, modest, and spiritual even as they proclaimed their false beliefs with dogmatic certainty. False teachers today may initially come across the same way. It takes spiritual discernment to see the wolf beneath the wool. Rather than drawing strength and knowledge from the Head - Christ - these false teachers draw on their own thoughts and strength. They miss the strength and growth that comes only from being nourished by a relationship with God and knowledge of His Word.

We may not be tempted to follow Jewish dietary laws, but we may be tempted to fall back on other habits from our lives before Christ. Maybe we seek comfort in books, television, or movies instead of seeking shelter in the shadow of His wings. Perhaps we fall into old manners of speech – either debasing speech not worthy of sanctified lips or falsely pious language that disguises what is truly in our hearts. Some may mingle beliefs from other religions in with their Christianity. True believers have died to the world to become truly alive in Christ. So why do we submit to the regulations of worldly beliefs and influences? They should influence us no more than they influence a dead body in a crypt. Why put the shackles back on your feet when you could be dancing? (Cue the Mary Mary.)

(Crazy mom sidenote – I love Paul’s use of interjections here. “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!” His description of the false teachers sounds like me talking to my three year old!)

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? - Galatians 4:9

Monday, October 15, 2012

Colossians 2:16-17

16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day – 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

You know I’m going to say it; when you see “therefore” is in scripture, you need to look back and see what it is there for. Looking back at verse 15, we see that God “disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.” As I said in the previous commentary, I do believe that this verse applies to Satan and the powers of darkness. However, it also applies to any person teaching false doctrine. From these and other verses you can discern that a false teacher (or teachers) in Colossae were attempting to hold people to the religious requirements of Judaism. These requirements were no longer necessary after the death and resurrection of Christ, although of course it was still permissible to celebrate them. Many Messianic Jewish communities as well as other Christians today find meaning in celebrating Passover and other Jewish holidays through the lens of a Christian worldview.

The Jewish feasts and festivals were wonderful for many reasons. They were given by God, and most can be found in the book of Leviticus. They all had a purpose – events to celebrate and thank God for various harvests, take time to reflect and repent of sins, and remember God’s provision and salvation in the past. They were especially important in communicating spiritual truths to a society that was mostly illiterate. There are truths still to be found in these traditions recorded in Scripture, but they are no longer required of God’s children.

The traditions and teachings found in the Old Testament were a shadow of what was to come – Christ. The word σκια (shadow) is often used to express anything imperfect or unsubstantial, while the term σωμα (body or substance) was used in the opposite sense and expressed any thing substantial, solid, and firm. All of God’s revelation prior to the incarnation was perfect, but the purpose of the traditions and teachings that came before Christ was to prepare people and point the way to His coming.

Today there may not be much tension in Christian circles about whether or not it is required to celebrate Jewish festivals, but there are applications we can draw from these verses. Although believers around the world may differ in respect to some of our celebrations or traditions, it is important that we not look down on one another for observing them (or not observing them) unless they are forbidden in scripture. The important thing is that our focus is on Christ alone rather than other aspects of celebration. (As we are in the midst of the Halloween season, I think of how some Christian friends are very into the holiday, some celebrate through church outreach, and some choose to be totally against the holiday and spend time at home reading Scripture and doing other activities.) Regardless of how others may celebrate or not celebrate religious or cultural holidays, the only opinion that matters is that of Christ, not those around us. The Gospel can be communicated through any almost any cultural or religious observance, but none are necessary for salvation or justification.

Welcome people who are weak in faith, but don’t get into an argument over differences of opinion... Who are you to criticize someone else’s servant? The Lord will determine whether his servant has been successful... One person decides that one day is holier than another. Another person decides that all days are the same. Every person must make his own decision. When people observe a special day, they observe it to honor the Lord... Why do you criticize or despise other Christians? Everyone will stand in front of God to be judged... All of us will have to give an account of ourselves to God. So let’s stop criticizing each other. Instead, you should decide never to do anything that would make other Christians have doubts or lose their faith... Don’t allow anyone to say that what you consider good is evil... So let’s pursue those things which bring peace and which are good for each other... So whatever you believe about these things, keep it between yourself and God. The person who does what he knows is right shouldn’t feel guilty. He is blessed. But if a person has doubts and still eats, he is condemned because he didn’t act in faith. Anything that is not done in faith is sin.   - Romans 14

Friday, October 12, 2012

Colossians 2:13-15

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

I once was dead. I had no hope of life because of the crushing weight of my sins committed against Him. I deserved to be eternally separated from his holy presence. My body and soul cried out in transgression against Him. Nevertheless, He made me alive together with Him. He did not just give a semi-heartfelt, “That’s okay.” No, God found a way to bring me back into fellowship with Him. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, who walked the earth as a sinless man, God is able to remain good and holy (punishing sin) and yet merciful (forgiving my transgressions through no merit of my own).

God completely canceled my debt. I tend to beat myself up over my past transgressions, spending far too much time and energy wondering how things would be different if I had been obedient throughout my life. Only recently did I realize that hanging onto the guilt of my sins was really declaring that I did not believe that my “certificate of debt” had been paid. If I truly believe that my sins are nailed to the cross and I bear them no more, then I must stop beating myself up over past shortcomings. Although my life should bear much fruit I must also be careful to guard myself from doing “good deeds” to make up for “bad deeds” in my past.

There are various interpretations of verse 15, but it seems to me that it would refer to Satan and the powers of darkness. I’m sure I’m influenced by growing up with Carmen’s The Champion , but I have always imagined Satan as being completely shocked by Jesus’ resurrection. His plan to destroy Jesus’ power and authority didn’t work. Satan had no idea that he was not the one in control. He had no idea that Jesus willingly laid down His life, knowing that a greater triumphant victory was to result. The men who put Jesus to death had no idea that the gospel would spread in power and geography as a result of the crucifixion. The powers of evil were disarmed by His sacrifice.

The verb paradeigmatizó (παραδειγματίζω) means to put to open shame, make a public example of, or put to disgrace. Paul’s readers’ minds would jump to the celebrations of a Roman victory. A triumph would be decreed in the Senate, and the emperor would lead a procession in an open chariot, followed by bound captives stripped of their armor and dignity. Satan is a defeated, disarmed, destroyed foe, and Jesus has triumphed through His sacrifice! The bad guys never had a chance.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
- Ephesians 2:1-10

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Colossians 2:11-12

11 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, 12 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.

Yesterday a Germany's cabinet ruled that religious exceptions can be made to a law outlawing circumcisions. Earlier this year a court outlawed the practice, stating that it amounted to bodily harm to a person who cannot give consent. An immediate outcry from Jews and Muslims from around the world brought about a second look at the ruling. If the new law is approved, parents will be instructed on the risks of the procedure, and the circumcision must be performed by a trained professional.

American parents are divided on the issue of circumcision. A measure almost made it onto the San Francisco ballot last year that proposed a ban. Many are militantly against the practice, and many are fervently for allowing it - especially as a religious event in a boy's life. It is interesting that this surgery prescribed by God to Abraham thousands of years ago is still causing a stir today.

Many scholars speculate that one of the problems in the Colossian church was legalism. Perhaps some formerly Jewish believers were teaching that circumcision was necessary for the Gentile converts. We certainly know that this was the case in other cities in Asia Minor during the time of Paul's ministry. These verses seem to indicate that some proposed that faith in Jesus plus circumcision led to true faith and salvation.

We can easily shake our heads at this until we consider that for 1600 years the nation of Israel existed as God's chosen people, and circumcision was the sign of their covenant with God. This mark of the flesh indicated a man's security with God. It was an outward physical sign of an inward spirituality. It is a poor comparison, but the closest thing I have to an outward symbol of an inward truth is my wedding ring. I would be extremely reluctant to give up this symbol of my marriage, even though in truth the piece of metal has nothing to do with my relationship with my husband.

With the death of Christ there was no longer a need for physical circumcision. His atoning death surgically removed our souls from our sinful nature ("the body of the flesh"). When we walk with him we daily allow Him to remove the layers of sin that continue to be attached to our lives. The fruit we bear through our words, actions, and deeds are a symbol of our "circumcsed hearts".

Baptism is not required for salvation, but it is a powerful symbol which mirrors the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. As Christ was raised from the dead, so we are raised to new life through the power of God. We must be careful to not be legalistic in teaching that baptism or any other action beyond faith in Jesus is required for salvation. Otherwise we fall into the same trap as the Colossians.

Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. - Deuteronomy 30:6

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Colossians 2:9-10

9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;

The word "for" (here meaning "because") should send us immediately looking back to the previous verse to connect the verses and discern the meaning. No one should "take us captive through deception" because the fullness of the Divine nature dwells in Christ Jesus. There is no need to look elsewhere for answers or salvation. He is sufficient for all we need. Any earthly philosophy or theology that draws us from the full reliance on Him and the grace he daily bestows upon us should be refuted. Only He is worthy of worship and praise.

Many speculate that the Colossian heresy may have been pre-Gnostic and therefore have included thoughts that Jesus was not really a flesh and blood man. It is admittedly mind blowing to believe that Jesus was no less human than divine and no less divine than human. He was 100 percent both. Jesus was not a mirage, spirit, or phantom. No one saw him and yelled, "AHHHH! A GHOST!!!" Being fully human He ate, drank, slept, sweat, walked, and talked like any other man would. Being fully God He healed, raised from the dead, taught with authority, and pierced to the heart of the matter as only one who was divine could do.

In Him we have been made complete. We need not look to the world for our completion. Relationships will fail. Our friends may forsake us. Our spouses may let us down. Our children may avoid us. If we seek wisdom, we must look to Him. If we seek true love, we must look to Him. If we seek joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness... well, you get my point. Human relationships will ultimately fail us at least in part. Our identity and completeness is found in Him. No politician can save us, no human love can complete us. Only in Him are we made complete.

All fullness dwells in Christ—that is to say, it is never exhausted nor diminished. On the last day wherein this world shall stand before it is given up to be devoured with fervent heat, there shall be found as much fullness in Christ as in the hour when the first sinner looked unto him and was lightened.
- C.H. Spurgeon

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Colossians 2:8

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.

I'm trying to decide if I find it ironic or troubling that the first item to pop up when I searched for "Colossians 2:8" to get today's verse was an ad for Mormonism - an empty tradition of men that leads people from Christ! From Paul's day to modern times believers have been assailed with traditions and philosophies that were either totally contrary to the gospel or added other beliefs or works needed to attain true salvation.

The Greek for "captive" (sulagogeo) meant to carry off booty, to carry one off as a captive or slave, or to lead away from the truth and subject to one's sway. Satan intends to keep people from true faith. If he cannot keep you from faith in Christ, he will try to lead you away into a focus on good works or a focus on false teachings rather than on Holy Scripture. Every day of your life is a spiritual battle, and you must put on the armor of God and be alert for the one who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. From Genesis 3 until modern times Satan's power is deception, subtly or grossly distorting the truth to lead people away from God.

The NLT translates this passage as warning against "empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense". Although others may speak high sounding words that seem to be logical or may be more able to clearly articulate their position do not be carried away! Become so fully grounded in Scripture that you can immediately recognize false teaching for the poison it is, no matter how good it may seem or how closely it resembles The Truth.

Be on your guard lest some one take you as a captive slave away from the treasure of the kingdom of God!

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  - Ephesians 5:6

Monday, October 8, 2012

Colossians 2:6-7

6 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.

Our journey begins with hearing the gospel & receiving Jesus. Then as our faith deepens through studying the truth and applying it to our lives we become rooted and established. We begin to live in Him and draw our strength and being from Him. Then we can live in thanksgiving no matter what our circumstances.

The Greek word translated “walk” - peripateo (περιπατέω) – and translated in some versions as “live” literally means to “walk around” or “make one’s way”. Faith is not always a leap. Step by step each day we move forward toward the goal. We are not expected to sprint toward the finish line but to simply conduct our daily affairs with thanksgiving in submission to the lordship of Christ, with thankfulness in all circumstances, and with the love for God and others foremost in our minds and actions. When our roots are in Christ we will not be blown like an anchorless ship on the sea, at the mercy of the winds of life or the latest religious ideas. Thankful believer are not easily led away from Christ, but grumpy whiny believers will easily fall prey to false teaching as they seek whatever it is they think they are missing. Let us live lives overflowing with gratitude and thereby protect ourselves from the evil one!

How can we guard ourselves against a foul or frivolous mouth? How can we guard ourselves against a mouth that is foul with criticism and bitterness and blaming and defensiveness and disparagement and resentment and complaining and sarcasm and disrespect and ridicule and cynicism? And how can we guard ourselves against a mouth that is just flippant and trivial and silly and petty? The answer to both questions is, fill your mouth with thanksgiving.

When a group of people get together and the first people to speak, speak words of gratitude, the conversation seldom degenerates into muck-raking. The group is guarded from sin with gratitude.
- John Piper

Friday, October 5, 2012

Colossians 2:4-5

4 I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. 5 For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.

Before becoming a stay at home mom I was a high school history of the Bible teacher. I was shocked at the lack of basic knowledge teenagers from even devoutly Christian homes possessed. I am afraid that many of us in the American church today have shifted from a belief system founded on doctrine and knowledge to one of emotion and feeling. Of course God created us with the capacity to know and worship Him in spirit and in truth, but we must be careful not to trade the study of Scripture and doctrine for a faith dependant on “feeling the Spirit”. Neither should we simply assume principles and ideas to be true without being well versed in Scripture ourselves.

The only way to truly be grounded enough in our faith to stand firm against false doctrine is to obediently live the principles in our own lives, especially through troubled times. As John MacArthur says, “Now… assurance… comes from living it out... You receive the truth in your mind, your will is strengthened, it manifests itself in obedient love to others, and the result is a settled conviction that this is true. And so, behavior has a great deal to do with nailing down. Every good deed, every act of love drives another nail into your assurance.” When we have experienced the true treasure of Christ in our own lives, we will begin to treasure His teachings and more fully live out the truths of Scripture. Then we are less likely to be deluded by persuasive arguments from smooth talkers who seem to “know their stuff” more than we know ours.

The phrase “good discipline” (τάξιν) implies an orderly military formation. Despite the attack, the believers at Colossae were holding together in a solid front, neither breaking rank nor defecting. At times when our faith is tested or we are confused by persuasive arguments it is vitally important to have comrades with us in the battle who can instruct and uphold us.

Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ.  
- Ephesians 4:14-15

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Colossians 2:1-3

1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

The passion and love Paul has for fellow believers leap from the page. He describes his feelings as “struggle” or “conflict”. This continues the theme from previous verses, using the verb "agōna" ἀγῶνα (to engage in an intense physical or nonphysical struggle) from which we get the word agonizing. This is the verb used to describe Jesus' agony during the Passion. The word would also be applied to someone striving mightily in an athletic event, beating their body into submission to do whatever it takes to win. Now although I am competitive, I am no athlete. My husband would be a better example here. No matter how bad his knee, hip, or plantar fasciitis are bothering him, he does not notice the pain during a tennis match. He may come home and collapse in a writhing heap of agony, but during the match his focus is so singularly focused on the match, the opponent, and the goal of winning that the pain never enters his mind.

This must be how Paul felt much of the time. He endured beatings, shipwreck, ridicule, and imprisonment, but he kept his focus on the goal set before him. Knowing that we should probably mirror his passion and goals, let us look at the reasons for his struggle.

  1. for all those who have not personally seen my face - Paul's emotion is not personal love for friends and family, he is in agony over members of the body that he has never even met! We should have the kind of passion that brings us to our knees for believers around the world, especially those who struggle in persecution or are waging spiritual warfare.
  2. that their hearts may be encouraged (or strengthened) – the Hebrew idea for “heart” did not signify emotions as we would use it today. A Hebrew would use the word “bowels” as the seat of emotions. (Think “gut feeling”.) For Paul “heart” would indicate the seat of thought. So Paul is in agony that the believers at Colossae may be intellectually weak enough to believe the false doctrine and unable to refute it. We should be alert for believers in error about Scripture and willing to lovingly correct them. This does not mean we should argue about minor doctrines, but we should know the important doctrines of our faith well enough to refute false teaching with Scripture.
  3. knit together in love – I’m a failure as a knitter, but my friends who do knit can take simple thread and knot it together into beautiful creations. What creates this unity that knots believers together? Love! I can’t help but carry the imagery further and say that when part of the thread unravels it can cause an entire creation to fall apart or at least lose some of its beauty and effectiveness. Just so we have the responsibility to strengthen the bonds of love within the body of Christ and fight against anything that would weaken our being “one in the bond of love”.
  4. attaining… full assurance of understanding – in contrast to the false teachers who proposed that only certain people could possess the treasures of secret wisdom, Paul writes that the true treasure of wisdom and knowledge comes from faith in and understanding of Christ Jesus. Although some modern writers are wonderful, we must be careful that the majority of our time and effort are spent on reading and applying Jesus’ words rather than the latest self help guru or Christian writer. There is no need to search for deeper meaning elsewhere; you could study and apply Christ’s teaching for a lifetime and never exhaust the depth of material!
As believers we reach our full capacity as we grow in knowledge of God through Scripture and solid biblical teaching, link ourselves with other believers, and grow in our understanding of Jesus Christ!

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! - Romans 11:33

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Colossians 1:28-29

28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29 For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.

As I sit to write this devotion, I happen to be exhausted. In fact, my husband just woke me up for my turn at the computer, and I was contemplating not writing this devotion tonight. However, seeing the topic of tonight’s verse seems a sign that I should press on! Just forgive me if the words are garbled.

Paul was certainly called to be a special type of laborer of the Lord. But we believers are all ministers. We are called to not only bring the gospel to a world in need but to meet the needs of those around us, especially fellow believers. (Remember that whole “they will know we are Christians by our love” thing?) We are called to admonish and warn all around of the consequences of not following the strait and narrow path. We are called to teach other believers and help them become more like Christ.

Jesus may have described his yoke as easy and his burden as light, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that the Christian path is akin to lazily riding a gondola down a street in Venice; often it resembles paddling furiously against the rapids! Paul calls his work labor (to work to the point of exhaustion) and struggling (literally agonizing). In his writings we can discern his desire to expend all his energy for whatever time he had on earth to further the Kingdom of God. I imagine you have experienced days you might describe as exhausting and agonizing. Sometimes my days may be tiring because I have done the work God intended for the day, but other days I expend far too much energy "chasing my tail". The good news is that when we are laboring for his purposes we do not have to depend on our fleshly reserves of energy but on His power which works mightily in us. We can do all things that He has called us to do through the power of Him who gives us strength (Phil. 4:13).

The ultimate goal is to present all for whom He has given us responsibility as complete in Christ. The importance here is depth of ministry, not width. Invest yourself in the people God has put in your life, and I know it will make a difference in them and you!

               Fear not, for I am with you;
                      be not dismayed, for I am your God;

               I will strengthen you, I will help you,
                      I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.                   
                                    - Isaiah 41:10