Friday, September 28, 2012

Colossians 1:23

if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

The “if” should send readers back to remember the previous verse. (Hint – it was about being reconciled to God through Christ.) We have to be careful not to read into this verse that one can lose one’s salvation for mistakes made. It also does not mean that we will be presented as holy and blameless only if we remain perfectly faithful, as if our justification depended on our earthly thoughts and deeds. The Greek here is not an expression of uncertainty. It might be less confusing if translated “but”, “since”, or “however”. Paul is sure that since the Colossians have experienced life changing salvation they will remain faithful to the faith which saved them rather than following the latest trends of religious belief.

Paul also mentions that this gospel had been preached to every creature under heaven. Since every creature had not literally heard the truth of the gospel it can be inferred that Paul was countering the idea that true spiritual knowledge was something available only to a select few. We are all called as ministers to proclaim the good news to every creature under heaven.

Jesus said, "For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Mt. 7:14). Life is not easy. I myself have endured many things this year that could have knocked my faith. Instead I have not only continued, but the trials have strengthened my faith, making it established and firm. Only trials give you real established roots, so never be moved from the hope held out by the gospel. You not only have the hope of eternal life, you can be assured that God is sovereign and in control of your life!

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised him. - James 1:12

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Colossians 1:21-22

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—

In Preschool choir a few weeks ago I introduced the concept of reconciliation. Standing on a line of tape, the kids and I took steps further and further from the “God side” for each wrong thing we admitted to having done. We kept naming things and taking big steps until we reached another line of tape. We stood on the new line and turned to face the starting line. One by one we kept thinking of good things we could do to try to get back to God. The good deed gave us an opportunity to take one huge leap towards the “God side”. Thankfully I had positioned the tape far enough away that no one quite made it! Then I laid a paper bridge between the two lines labeled with the single word “Jesus”. Only He could bridge us back into reconciliation with God. We walked back to "God" and had a big dance celebration. Powerful stuff goes on with my 3-6 year olds!

Of course I had one girl who would admit to nothing, so as I told her mom I eventually pulled her into sin to get my analogy to work. But if we are honest, we have all experienced the emptiness of being separated from God because of our sin. We were alienated from God, even enemies because of our evil thoughts and deeds. Our entire way of thinking was hostile to God and contrary to His truth. We were shut out with no hope of getting back to His side of the tape. Yet despite our unworthiness, He reconciled us through the death of Jesus. He paid the price for our sins and became the bridge that allows us to return to God. In fact, the Greek word here is Apokatallasso (ἀποκαταλλάσσω), "to reconcile completely". The prefix “apo” added to the word for reconcile is basically like saying “super reconciled”. Rather than being reconciled as separated spouses who may or may not split up again, we are grafted permanently as sons and daughters of God. Remember, the false teachers at Colossae taught that you needed more than Jesus to be reconciled to God – you had to add angel worship and secret knowledge. Paul’s use of “apo” at the beginning of the word would be a strike against this train of thought. Christians today may not look to angel worship or secret knowledge, but far too many people believe the way to reconciliation must combine the forgiveness through Christ as well as good works.

We look forward to the day when we will be presented before God, holy and blameless without reproach. We will stand before God and take on the righteousness of Christ Jesus. Regardless of the sins in our past, through Christ’s sacrifice we are now holy, blameless, and without reproach before a holy God!

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.   
 - Romans 8:1-4

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Colossians 1:19-20

19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

The fullness of God dwelt in the body of Jesus. He was the full embodiment of God’s attributes and grace. Through His sinless life, death, and resurrection God is able to reconcile to himself all things. Part of the Colossian heresy were teachings that Jesus was not God, that “simple” Christianity was not enough for salvation, that in addition to faith in Christ one needed special visions worship of angels. They twisted Scripture to meet their own purpose and prove their superiority.

As a stay at home mom I am somewhat of a reconciler. I am constantly saying things such as “keep your hands in your own space”, “please take turns with that piece of lint over which you are screaming”, and “STOP HITTING YOUR SISTER WITH A BROOM!!!” (Ok, I lost it a bit on that last one.) “Say you’re sorry… ok say ‘I forgive you.’” But I can never truly make peace. Something else will happen within the next hour! The only true peacemaker is Jesus Christ. By taking the judgment that should have fallen on us, He satisfied both God’s justice and His mercy. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Colossians 1:17-18

17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

We all know people who believe Jesus was a “good man” or “good teacher”. However these verses teach that Jesus was not created; he simply took on flesh at the incarnation. Some in Colossae were teaching that He was created at some point in history as an emanation of God. Paul instructs them that Jesus existed before all things; He is the Word through which creation was created. In him all things hold together – he gives all things their unity and meaning. He sustains and controls the universe.

He has the preeminence – the first place in everything. It is not the pope, not the pastor, not the bishop, not the deacons, not the elders who are the head of a church. Church leadership is important, but the head is Christ Jesus. Church leaders can provide leadership and biblical guidance, but believers are led by the Holy Spirit within. Too many seminaries teach that churches should be run like businesses, with the pastor as the CEO. I will always regret not speaking up in a leadership class when a professor said that the first thing a new preacher should do is to basically fire all the other staff and let them reapply for their job. Apparently some believe that senior pastors can speak for the Holy Spirit better than He can speak to you. Although a church leader may have insight to share, those abiding in Christ will know the will of the Holy Spirit for themselves as they follow their head, Jesus Christ.

Some scholars waste their time arguing whether “head” signifies “origin” or “authority”. Whatever the meaning here, Christ is both the origin of the Body as well as its authority! The church as a whole is a Body. “Christ is like the Head, and we are the limbs, and the organs, and those parts that function in response to the domination of the brain” (MacArthur). Some members of the body may be doing their job better than others, but we will all function correctly when we follow the “brain’s” leading.

Christ is to have preeminence in all things. Does he have first place in your time? your media choices? your relationships with family and friends? Search your heart for the areas in your life where He is being relegated from the first place status He deserves.

“In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign,does not declare,'That is mine!'”     - Abraham Kuyper

Monday, September 24, 2012

Colossians 1:15-16

15 He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation.
16 For everything was created by Him,
in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or rulers or authorities—
all things have been created through Him and for Him. 

The Greek word for image, eikón (εἰκών), implies more than a shadow or copy of the original. The word signifies an exact replication of the original. In the birth of Jesus the invisible God became visible in human flesh. “Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God” (J.B. Phillips). Colossians, like any city saturated with Greek and Roman mythology, would have had no shortage of images of gods. People seem to have a need to see something with their own eyes. Converting from a polytheistic religion of stone gods to one of the one invisible God would have been difficult for many. It would be easy for some to follow false teachers who were saying that Jesus was fine, but he was equal to any number of spirits flowing from God. (Does this remind you of today’s theology of “all paths lead to heaven”?)

Sometimes we minimize or disregard the glory of God. After Moses was in God’s presence his face shone so brightly that people could not look at him. It is a huge deal that through Jesus people could look on the face of God. I’m currently reading Mother Teresa’s biography. The author writes that people were touched forever by even a simple half smile from her. Being in her presence gave people a small sense of being in the presence of God. Although we can never be an exact replica of God, we should daily be becoming more like him. (Read 2 Corinthians 3 for more on that topic.)

Some Colossians were worshiping things such as angels; Paul points out that all things visible and invisible were created through Christ and for Christ. He is the divine, so why worship His creation? Many today are tempted to worship angels, demons, or saints rather than worship the God who created them. Even those of us who do not blatantly worship such things may be focused on our family, jobs, or life situations to the extent that it affects our worship of God. Jesus rules all things visible and invisible. He knows your hearts desires and is in control of the madness that may be swirling around you. Through “good” and “bad” times in your life, remember that the Spirit is conforming you into the image of God!

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 
2 Corinthians 3:18

Friday, September 21, 2012

Colossians 1:13-14

13 He has delivered us from the tyranny of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.

(Wouldn’t you know that after I wrote yesterday about my growth in the area of keeping my temper that I lost my temper COUNTLESS times that afternoon? Read my confession here.)

Some people claim they would never embrace Christianity because they don’t want to submit to the authority of Scripture. But those who have not been conveyed into the kingdom of the Son are under the tyrannical authority of darkness and slaves to sin. Not only are we rescued from the brutal dictatorship of Satan, but we have entered the kingdom of God as heirs! (Personally I’d be thankful to be even the street sweeper in heaven!) The sacrifice and blood of Christ was the redemption price to purchase our freedom from the bondage of sin and set us free into His light. Our sin debt has been paid because of His grace!

The word “redemption” is apolutrósis (ἀπολύτρωσιν): a release effected by payment of ransom, literally "buying back from, re-purchasing what was previously forfeited". It is the word used for both the Exodus from Egypt and the Jewish return from Babylonian exile. Like the Israelites who complained in the desert and wanted to return to the “flesh pots of Egypt”, at times believers pine for an easier (fictitious) life they lived in the past. We may fear the very evil power from which we have been delivered. We waste energy on regret rather than believing that we are truly forgiven. What a blessing that although we forfeited our rights as children of God, He counted the cost and repurchased us from a life of sin!

"The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." – Jesus, John 8:35-36

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Colossians 1:11-12

11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.

There has never been a day when I did not need power according to the might of God! I believe the only real way to attain joyous steadfastness (longsuffering, endurance) and patience is through the power of the Holy Spirit as you walk through various trials. If you never suffered and walked through trials, you could possibly have a Pollyanna-esque joy and happiness, but only testing by fire refines true character.

This has been a year of refinement in my own life. My everyday responsibilities of homeschooling, housekeeping, church, and all the other balls in the air are trying enough, but my Dad's cancer and death as well as other trials that have come my way have given me a glimpse into Job's psyche the day his world fell apart. But through all of this I have finally experience real joy and peace that passes all understanding. I am almost always able to deal with daily situations with a kind voice that is not raised, even when my three year old repeats the same bad behavior for the millionth time that day. I am patient with my strong willed six year old as I try to train her character. Sometimes I am consciously pulling out my “Michelle Duggar” voice to avoid yelling, but it has become almost second nature for me to bridle my tongue. I truly do not worry about tomorrow, knowing that it will bring enough trouble of its own, and trust God to provide the manna I need for today. I have been transformed from a wild child with a temper into a creation that much more closely mirrors the image of God.

Of course I am not even close to being perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, it’s just that I can see such growth in my own life. Only through the blood of Jesus am I qualified to share any eternal inheritance. Only through the power and grace of God do I have access to my earthly inheritance of walking in His light, truth, and peace. An inheritance is something you are given, not something you earn. Through God’s grace we are grafted into His family, receiving the inheritance promised to Abraham as well as the privilege of being transformed into the image of God from glory to glory through the power of the Spirit.

Ephesians 2: 4-5 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Colossians 1:9-10

9 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;

If you’re starting your morning devotion before your first cup of coffee kicks in, you may not remember for “what reason also” Paul is praying for the Colossians. It is because he has heard of their love in the Spirit from Epaphras! Rather than focusing on praying for those who were struggling, Paul here is focusing on prayers for those doing well. Often in our prayer life we focus on the negatives. As believers we should lift one another in prayer as we all grow to be more like Christ, whether we are strong in our walk to the Celestial City or stumbling on the pathway.

Spiritual wisdom, sophia, means wisdom, insight, or skill. Understanding, sunesis, literally means “a running together”. Figuratively this is the ability to “put two and two together” and come to true conclusions about life. Having both sophia and sunesis allows one to apply spiritual knowledge to practical everyday situations and react accordingly, not being led astray by false teaching, circumstances, or the heat of the moment. As believers we do not need a secret spiritual knowledge available only to a few; we need knowledge of scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit within us.

Only when following God’s will and the leading of the Holy Spirit when we walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, please Him in all respects, and bear good fruit. Good works are not a means to earn salvation; instead they are a natural outgrowth of daily walking with God. The more we understand about God’s character and grow in our knowledge of Him, the more we will become convicted about areas of sin in our lives and live to bring glory and honor to Him. In both trees and men the fruit produced reveals the quality of life within. What fruit will grow in your life today?

All spiritual behavior is to be evaluated on the basis of absolutes established in the Word of God. This is a book of absolutes. This is a book of principles. This is a book of laws, if you will. And the first thing that is the objective in the Christian life… is to learn those absolutes… The only way to have right behavior... is to have right knowledge. 
- John MacArthur

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Colossians 1:5-8

5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

Continuing to verse five one discovers that the Colossians have love for all the saints because of the hope laid up for them in heaven. Faith, hope, and love appear together throughout Paul’s letters and are foundational to Pauline theology. Biblical “hope” isn’t wishful thinking – crossing our fingers that things will work out on the other side. No, biblical hope is a strong confidence and eager expectation that the promises of God will be fulfilled in this world or the next. This hope springs from the word of truth, meaning the gospel – the good news that Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sin as was raised on the third day.

Paul tells the Colossians that this gospel is bearing fruit and increasing all over the world. It was a movement of God, not just another mystery religion in Asia Minor. The believers in Colossae were a part of the larger body of Christ. All other religions are based on the belief that you can perhaps earn favor through a mixture of your human effort and some amount of grace earned through divine favor. Paul will teach his readers that the true grace of God is unmerited favor. Grace is God giving us the opposite of what we deserve – eternal life rather than death.

The gospel had been planted in Colossae by Epaphras, who was now bringing a report to Paul. Although there was some concern over heretical teaching, the report from Epaphras told Paul of their great love in the Spirit. Rather than dwell on the negative, Epaphras delighted in sharing the positive. In turn Paul speaks highly of Epaphras. As believers we should speak of one another faithfully, speaking freely of how we see the Spirit at work in their lives rather than picking apart each flaw.

Have hope today that God is at work both now and in your future! We know His promises are true and that through His grace our lives secure in His hands. Although our world may teem with spiritual darkness we know that the gospel of Christ is moving mightily through the nations.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Colossians 1:1-4

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—

As was the custom in this time period, Paul states his authorship at the beginning of the letter. He instantly asserts that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ, not simply one among many philosophers stating an opinion, and that he received this authority directly by the will of God. We learn that Timothy is with Paul at the time of the writing of this letter. Paul describes his readers as “saints” or “holy” (set apart by and for God), “faithful”, and “brothers and sisters in Christ”. He then gives a standard greeting of grace and peace.

Rather than immediately confronting the false teaching at Colossae, Paul first points out the positive things in the church body that are a result of the transforming power of Christ. He commends the Colossians for their reputation of showing faith and love. The false teachers at Colossae were convincing many that the evidence of spirituality was the ability to follow rules, understand secret knowledge, or have ecstatic experiences. But Paul believed as Jesus taught, “They will know you are My followers by your love” (Jn 13:35).

There have always been false teachings within Christianity – those who would directly contradict scripture or add additional teachings. Thankfully there have also always been those who would stand up for truth against heresy. As believers we must know our theology and understand Scripture so that we will not be led astray, no matter how enticing the false teaching.

It strikes me that Paul prays often for the believers at this church even though he has not met them. We should lift up believers from around the world, especially in this day and age when we can so easily connect and understand prayer needs as well as praises. Take time today to pray for the worldwide body of Christ as the Lord moves mightily among the nations!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Colossians overview

As we begin our study of Colossians, you may find some background information helpful in understanding the book and the culture to which it was originally written. The city of Colossae was 10 miles east of Ephesus in modern day Turkey. The area was prone to earthquakes. Once an important city, at the time of Paul it had become a small market town focused mainly on the production and export of wool products. The city ceased to exist by around 400 AD. The population was a mixture of Jews and Gentiles. A man named Epaphrus founded the body of believers there, probably during the time Paul was ministering in Ephesus. (Random trivia fact – Philemon and Onesimus were from Colossae.)

The book of Colossians was written by Paul around 60 AD and is possibly the first of his prison epistles written from Rome. The letter was written to confront false teaching which grew out of a mixture of Judaistic teaching and other philosophies. False teachers were convincing members of the church that more than faith in Christ was needed. These heresies negated the glory of Christ and the sufficiency of His sacrifice. In fact, “Christ” is the most repeated word in the book of Colossians. Paul emphasizes the role of Christ as the head of the church.