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