Posts Tagged ‘Colossians’

The Kingdom of the Son He Loves

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Dunn wrote, “The implication, therefore, is not so much that the darkness has been already stripped of its power and banished. Rather, the darkness can be legitimately and authoritatively resisted, as having its license revoked” (78).

But can that really be said? Can we really say that darkness has power? Can we really say that darkness has not been banished? It seems to me that Paul is saying something quite the opposite: We have indeed been rescued from its power and authority. The dominion of darkness has no claim on the believer whatsoever. Darkness has been scattered and light has broken out all over. Perhaps Dunn gives darkness a little too much consideration.

Perhaps most don’t give it enough consideration. Indeed, the dominion of darkness can be seen all around us. It’s on the television in such innocuous places at advertisements. Darkness lurks in places we might not consider dangerous. And the darkness is dark.

But this darkness has no claim on the Christian. Why? We have been transferred out of that dominion. We no longer reside there. We no longer call it home, and we are no longer its prisoner. We may well feel the effects of its power, but we no longer suffer under the weight of its authority. The darkness is dark and perhaps getting darker, but it is no longer the only option available. I suspect there are many who are still living under the authority of the darkness. I suspect they do not even know they are. Some light needs to be shed.

Perhaps darkness ought to be called what darkness is and spotlights aimed in its direction. Are we children of light? Are we sparks of radiance that set the darkness on fire? If we have been rescued from the dominion of darkness, set free from its prison, are we so inclined to see others rescued too?

The thing is, this is an entirely passive operation. He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness. Those trapped in darkness will need far more than what we can offer. There must be a divine intervention. Someone outside of ourselves must brave the harsh realities of the enemy’s camp and bind up the Strong Man and then raid his house. This is not an operation for the fainthearted or weak or feeble. This is a work that requires a strong will and skill. He has rescued us.

I don’t suppose this means that he has any ambition for us to go back to that dominion and take up residence there again.

Who would want to? He has given us a new authority to live under: The Kingdom of the Son He loves. In this kingdom, life is different. Here there is forgiveness of sins and redemption. Here we have been placed in order to thrive and grow and live in the light. Here life is completely different from life there. Here there is light, and we can see. A certain amount of clarity has come over us and we see with unveiled eyes and hear with unstopped ears. There we wandered around in the dark with blindfolds around our heads. Our guides were blind themselves and had no other ambition but to lead us into deeper darkness. But He has rescued us from this dominion. At least we understand that the dominion of darkness was not quite as safe as some would lead us to believe. Rescue implies peril. Peril implies life threatening. And who would say that we were living in peaceful times when we were unredeemed?

The contrast is stark and cold. The dominion of darkness. Dominion is an unforgiving word. It even sounds relentless. Darkness hunted us down, captured us, held us captive and worse, we made very little attempt to escape on our own. We had to be rescued from it’s clutches because on our own it just wasn’t going to happen. He took the initiative to do what many of us did not want. As CS Lewis described himself a most ‘reluctant convert.’ On the other hand, there is the Kingdom of the Son he loves. He loves. Darkness is a dominion that operates on the principles of power, coercion, fear and brutality. But the Kingdom we are transferred to is based on Love, forgiveness, and freedom. The contrast could not be clearer: Love is the operating principle, the guiding factor.

The key is not the transfer is not the what, but the ‘whom’. In whom, he says. In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Our transfer from the dominion of darkness to the kingdom of the Son he loves was a positional transfer. We moved from one place to the other. Apart from this ‘in-ness’ there is simply no redemption because it cannot be both ways. Redemption, then, is not only something that we are or something done to us, but some place we are. In Christ…how many times does the apostle use this expression in his gospel? Over and over again we learn that salvation is positional. We are either in Christ or we are not. I don’t see how it can be both ways.

David Garland asks, “Have the believers forgotten what their Lord and Saviour had done for them? Can they be dissatisfied with that great work of redemption at the cross? Is Christ not sufficient both to pardon and to deliver them from all their sins? Then let them be filled with the knowledge and power for this-a life of increasing goodness and gratitude to the end” (43). It is important we not forget the transfer that has taken place and the position we have been transferred to. It is important that we do not forget that we have been transferred from a Place where love is not the controlling factor to a Person in Whom love is the controlling factor.

And here also we see the important feature: It is the Father’s love for the Son that dominates Paul’s thoughts here. Not our love. No, that is not sufficient to initiate such a rescue operation. It is the Father’s love upon which all these things are predicated and dependent.

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Day 10, Colossians 1:11-12: Strengthened with God’s Strength

“…being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.”

Well, I haven’t worked on this series of ’90 Days’ posts for a while, so I’m hopeful that I won’t foul up too badly. 😉

So, then, how do we ‘live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God’? Can we? Should we bother trying? We are weak people, weakened daily by the pressures of daily friction involving our friends, co-workers, family members and any and all in between; strangers and enemies too. The fact that Paul says we are ‘being strengthened’ (he says something closer, and rougher, akin to ‘by all power being continually empowered’) means that we are necessarily weak, prone to weakness, constantly being drained of whatever we may call power or strength.

I think it also means that we have no strength in and of ourselves. We constantly need to be replenished. We are wearing down constantly and but for the strengthening and empowerment of God we would likely whither into nothing. This echoes,  I believe, what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

And this is no mere strengthening or empowerment. No the apostle says we are being empowered according to his glorious might precisely so that we do not run out of endurance are flag in our patience or become wishy-washy in our joy or lackadaisical in our thanksgiving. Instead, we are strengthened with his strength so that we can persevere in joy and patience and thanksgiving and endurance. I wonder sometimes, when I am weak, do I remember that as long as I try to persevere and endure in my own strength I am doomed to fail? This is why He strengthens us.

We are the ones who grow bored in the flesh. Ailments, pressures, anxieties, people-the flesh has a way of wearing us down, burning us out, beating us up and we fail. But God strengthens us according to His strength, according to his glorious might. I wonder if this means that we always have enough strength even when we find ourselves particularly weak. I wonder if this means that our weakness isn’t quite as bad as we like to imagine it?

That’s not all, though. The Father has also qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. This is nothing less than an unqualified, unconditional expression of God’s grace. He has qualified us. He has qualified us. He has qualified us. It’s all quite remarkable as he will point out in verse 13. Not only qualified, made sufficient, but transferred from the dominion of darkness and into the kingdom of light (13). He has qualified us. This is no small, individualistic thing. We are in this together. We stand qualified together. What a great love the Father has showed us to qualify, make sufficient, those who were at once weak and defiled and slaves.

It was said elsewhere, “Once we were not a people, but now we are a people. Once we were not shown mercy, but now we have been shown mercy.” We are a totally new people, qualified by God (I believe he is talking here of an instant, the moment we first believed), and now continually strengthened by His glorious might.

So if we are qualified by God, who then has a right or an obligation to doubt or qualify our qualification? It is God the Father himself who has qualified us. We stand, even now, qualified by God. I read, “H.C.G. Moule therefore rightly argues that the reference is “properly to the believer’s position and possession even now. This Canaan,” he explains, “is not in the distance, beyond death; it is about us today, in our home, in our family, in our business,… in all that makes up mortal life” (pp. 65, 66).

Two of the biggest problems we face as Christians are thus weakness and anxiety. First, weakness of the flesh. This is an outer turmoil, so to speak. It comes to us in any of a million forms a day, but we are constantly being strengthened according God’s strength. Weakness will not trump God’s empowerment no matter how weak the weakness. Second, there is a sort of inner turmoil we face, which is, the constant anxiety over our salvation. Paul counters this by noting for the Colossian church that we are qualified by God. As such, our qualification neither rests upon our shoulders nor is rendered moot because of fleshly weakness. We can have such confidence in God’s work to qualify us. It is God who does this work for us. He qualifies us. He changes our status from unqualified to qualified. He rescues us. He, not we.

And finally, this is a community idea. We stand even now as those who have already inherited the kingdom of light. We already share in that blessing and we stand together. We are strengthened. We are qualified. We share in the kingdom. Maybe it would be a good idea for the church, for the saints, to celebrate the community aspect of our faith more often. I don’t mean in a superficial, and merely Sunday morning, kind of way, but an always, everyday, praying, encouraging, suffering kind of way. The practice of Christian faith must come alive and stop being stagnant. We share in the Kingdom of Light. The Kingdom of light is visible not only to the world around us, but also to one another.

Friends,

Here is the final sermon from my series of sermons covering the entire short letter of Paul to the Colossians. In this sermon I work through the issue of why Paul would write such a grand letter expounding on such high theological thoughts as the Supremacy of Christ and the Sufficiency of His Redemptive work and choose to end it by talking about such ‘low’ things as relationships in the church. The letter ends with a rather lengthy list of names of the various people that Paul worked with ‘for the Kingdom of God’ (his words). What I conclude is that it was grace that made such a diverse group of people able to use their various gifts to accomplish a single purpose. It was grace that bound the local church in Colossae to the larger church in the world exemplified in Paul’s references to Laodicea. And it was Grace that motivated Paul to continue working for the Kingdom of God despite the fact that he was ‘in chains.’ My point is that grace is sufficient not only in our salvation (justification; ‘in Christ’) but also in our daily living (sanctification; ‘in Colossae’). My focus is on grace. Grace Be With You.

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Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

I just finished up a 10 part series of expository sermons on the short letter to the Colossian Church. Some of the texts are found here, some of the audio, and I am still working on a verse by verse 90 Days with Jesus series here. Also, if you are interested, you can access the sermons by using the box.net service on the sidebar. I hope, after I edit a little, to have all ten sermons posted there for your perusal. Finally, you can also access them at sermoncentral.com.

Following is the conclusion to the last sermon.

At four significant points in this letter Paul has said something about grace. In 1:2 he greets them in the grace of God. In 1:6 he tells how they heard and understood the grace of God in the message of the truth. In 4:6 he says our conversation should be full of grace. And in 4:18 he writes that grace will be our constant companion in life: Grace be with you.

What I want to say is that those who have been infected or overpowered or overwhelmed or simply destroyed by God’s grace will not make sense to those who have not. We who have been conquered by grace see the world rather differently than those who have not. It is grace that has effectively wiped us out and is now in the process of rebuilding what was murdered.

But the beauty of grace, grace as our constant companion in life, is not that we have become something different, something new, something altogether perfectly human. That matters, but it is not the most significant aspect of grace. What these verses demonstrate is the broad range of God’s grace to radically challenge the very foundation upon which we have decided to live our lives, to destroy us, to recreate us, and to throw us into a heap called church and to expect us to live and grow and mature and become holy in the name of Jesus together. So what we see here in these last verses is as follows.

  • Onesimus—former slave
  • Paul—Pharisee, intellectual, apostle, in Jail
  • Mark—deserter
  • Nympha—a woman (not insignificant in those days)
  • Luke—a doctor
  • Epaphras—from Colossae
  • Tychicus—not from Colossae
  • Aristarchus, Mark, Justus—Jews
  • All the rest—Not Jews, that is, Gentiles
  • Archipus—one with work to do
  • The rest—encouraging Archipus to finish

And what matters is that all of these people Paul mentions are prisoners of Grace—captured as it were, unaware and yet fully aware. All of these people, and Paul writes that their constant companion should be the grace of God. All these people, thrown together into a mix, jumbled up out of what they formerly called life, now serving, wrestling, breaking down, building up, coming, going, staying, sharing, hosting, deserting, returning, hoping, dreaming, working, living, male, female, Jew, Gentile—all because of Grace. What else could hold such a group together?

And so I say to you the same. The supremacy of Christ, spoken and written of so loftily in this short letter, is best demonstrated when you and I are accompanied constantly by the grace of God. Grace at the beginning, grace at the end: May grace enclose you. Grace that you understand: May Grace constantly form you. Grace when you talk: May Grace govern all your relationships. And Grace be with you: May grace be your constant companion in this life.

As we begin a new week here on earth, we approach having no idea what is going on or what will befall us in the coming days. My prayer for all who live, and especially for the church, is that Grace will be your constant companion. Governing all that you are, directing all that you are becoming, creating all that you will be. Go in grace today and every day.

“Grace be with you.” (Colossians 4:18 )

Soli Deo Gloria!

Day 8, Colossians 1:9: The Will of God & Prayer

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

“The ‘knowledge of God’s will’ is more than simply an insight into how God wants his people to behave: it is an understanding of God’s whole saving purpose in Christ, and hence a knowledge of God himself.’ (NT Wright, p 57)

“For a theist who believes that God’s active purpose determines the ordering of the world, lies behind events on earth, and shapes their consequences, one of the most desirable objectives must be to know God’s will. The corollary, spelled out in the following phrases, is that such knowledge gives insight into and therefore reassurance regarding what happens (often unexpected in human perspective) and helps direct human conduct to accord with that will.” (James Dunn)

‘For this reason’ means something like, ‘because of what I have just said, thus…’. It means Paul had just given reasons for his actions on their behalf, namely, his constant prayers for them. Paul has taken time to reflect on the circumstances of the Christians in Colossae. He has noted that these are people marked by a peculiar love who have been forged in a hostile environment, who have been created by the Gospel. These are people who are like and not like the world. They have dual citizenship: They live in Christ and in Colossae. This unique living arrangement has its own unique set of problems that the apostle insists the Colossians can survive. In fact, he seems to be of the particular opinion that not only will they survive but they will also thrive: They, like the Gospel, will (and must!) bear fruit and grow (see verses 6 & 10).

But his constant prayers, it seems to me, are not merely some form of congratulations or some form of ‘hey I hope these get you through the night and day.’ If Paul prayed for the Colossian Christians it was not necessarily for their moral character or their physical well-being or that they would have some profound philosophical insight into their circumstances or even that they would have wisdom to make ‘hard decisions concerning life’. His prayers carried with them certain specific, precise, and unambiguous goals. This is not to say that the aforementioned categories are wrong or unnecessary or that they should be neglected. To be sure, they have their place as Jesus taught us to pray, “Father in heaven…give us this day our daily bread…” God’s kingdom people, shaped and formed, expanded and contracted as we are by the person of Jesus, cannot begin to function apart from grounding all aspects of our lives in prayer.

Thus he says, “we have not stopped praying for you and asking God…” Where does our ‘knowledge of the will of God’ come from? This knowledge that Paul is praying for must be the sort of knowledge that comes from some place outside of themselves. And neither is he content that this filling be fleeting or partial. I sense that he desires this knowledge to be complete. There is a divine element here: Paul is not praying for them just any kind of knowledge or wisdom or understanding. Paul is praying for a deep interaction between their brains and the Spirit of God. How else can we properly know the will of God unless it is God who gives us clarity? So he is constantly ‘asking God’ to fill them (for the important motif of fill/fullness in Colossians see 1:9, 19, 24, 25; 2:2, 9, 10; 4:12, 17.)

I think it is significant what Paul prays that they might be filled with. We often asked to be ‘filled’ with the Spirit; Paul prays that the Spirit will fill them with wisdom, knowledge and understanding. In other words, it is not just some spiritual experience that Paul is praying for the Colossians, but rather he is praying for the working of the Spirit in their lives. He wants them to experience the Spirit’s work which is itself a spiritual experience. I can see that, to an extent, a mere filling of the Spirit, progressing to some euphoric experience, could possibly be rather meaningless. But what about being filled with the fruit of the Spirit (Knowledge, wisdom, understanding) so that we might understand the will of God? And if we understand the will of God is this not a ‘Spiritual experience’? Note also the passive nature of the verb ‘to fill:’ we can seek it, but it is God’s prerogative to fill. This is why Paul is constantly praying and asking God to do just that.

Again I have to note that his prayer in this respect is most significant: knowledge of the will of God. This knowledge will be demonstrated in all, spiritual wisdom and understanding. ‘All’ and ‘spiritual’ govern both nouns: ‘wisdom’ and ‘understanding.’ In all things the will of God is to be determinative and it is fill us. Not an aspect of our lives is to be lived or thought apart from the will of God. However,

The reason so many Christian’s lives are messed up is because they did not take the time and do the work to discover God’s will for them. If you want to avoid life’s hardships, wrong turns and missteps, then I strongly advise you to find out what God’s will is for your life. (Here)

This is naïve at best. Knowing the will of God in our lives does not prevent hardships, wrong turns and missteps. Nor is the will of God something that we have to ‘find out’ about; the will of God is what God fills us with. There is a profound difference between ‘knowing about’ and being ‘filled with’ something. I defy this silly notion that we have to be slaving away on some great quest to know what God wants us to do or be in life. He has told us what we must ‘do,’ he has demonstrated to us what he expects, and he has shown us the steps he took to make that will known and efficacious. Frankly, the mystery is part of the adventure. Finally, the will of God is not something that is merely ‘for your life.’ The will of God, it seems to me, is far more comprehensive and expansive than the simple things in life that are summed up in one person’s daily decisions. There is a will for our lives but that will is wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. Our faith rests not in making every choice correctly, which is a dangerous and false doctrine called perfectionism, but in trusting the One who qualifies us (12) and rescues us (13) and redeems us (14) even when we make the wrong choices.

What we must not do, however, is assume here that Paul is constantly praying that God reveal his will for them in the sense that he wants God to tell them what step to take today, what road to travel tomorrow, or what highway to avoid on Friday. It’s not that he is asking God to show them which path to take in order that they can avoid hardships, wrong turns, and missteps. He is rather praying and asking that they will know God’s will which reassures, guards, and protects them regardless of how many missteps they take or hardships they encounter. Christianity is a combination of two lives lived: In Christ and in Colossae. Too many people, Christians foremost among them, wrongly assume that knowing the will of God is equivalent to ‘having all the right answers.’ It is not. I don’t think it is designed to either. Knowing the will of God, being filled with the will of God, means that we are filled with the strength, wisdom, understanding, and motivation to live our lives according to God’s purposes for all life in Christ. Being filled with knowledge of God’s will means having the singular focus of living for God’s purposes in life as opposed to our own.

Filled with the knowledge of God’s will is closely akin to ‘growing in the knowledge of God’ (v 10). What is the end? Well, it is actually several-fold and I will unpack these in subsequent posts, but suffice it to say that when we are fully in tune, constantly reminded of, and always anticipating God’s will in our lives we will a) live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way and bear fruit and grow in knowledge of him (10); b) be strengthened so that we might have great endurance and patience (11); c) give thanks to the Father (12). Knowing God’s will for us in Christ even while we live in Colossae gives us the courage we need to ‘walk about’ (‘live a life worthy’) in a manner that pleases Him in every way. This all, in other words, has something to do with our sanctification in Christ which is an ongoing process that will not culminate until death or the return of Christ.

I wonder if the Colossians were surprised at the contents of Paul’s prayer for them? He doesn’t pray that they will be magically shielded from all sorts of dangers. He doesn’t call down curses on the heads of the so-called ‘visitors.’ He doesn’t pray that God will heal them of all physical maladies and ailments. He doesn’t even pray that they will be protected from danger while they reside in Colossae. Instead, he prays simply that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, that no part of their existence would be left unscathed by his purposes, that they, like water jars filled to the brim with water (see John 2:7) would have no room left in their lives for the will of anyone or anything else. Filled. Completely.

I suppose it would shock most Christians if the preacher came to their hospital bedside and began to pray something like this, but here we see the ordering of priorities in church prayers: What matters? Does sickness and difficulty in life matter? Yes. Should we pray about it? Yes. The real question is not, however, if we should pray about such things but rather what are we going to pray about such things? If we have prayed that God fill us with the knowledge of His will, and He does it, then is there anything else left to pray about at all? I wonder if the church, as naïve as this may sound, can be content with a prayer the content of which is merely “I pray you are filled with the knowledge of His will.” If we are filled with His will then there is no room left not even for our own.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Day 6, Colossians 1:6: The Efficacy of the Word

“…that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.”

“Paul describes the effect of Epaphras’ preaching in Colosse in terms not of an emotional reaction, nor even of people ‘accepting Christ into their hearts,’ but of hearing truth and understanding it. The task of the apostolic herald is to announce truth: the word here translated ‘understood’ indicates that the response sought is an intelligent thinking through and recognition of that truth.”—54 (N.T. Wright)

It was the Word of truth, the Gospel, that had come among the Colossians. This is significant for a number of reasons, but I think it also raises a number of questions. Foremost among these questions is this: Is the Colossian response to the preached Word a paradigm of what should happen when the Gospel is preached among people? A sub-question might be, what is the point of preaching: Intellectual response or emotional response? Are the two responses mutually exclusive? Is the Colossians’ response the norm from which other responses are the exception? Just how much credit, so to speak, should we give the Word of God when it comes to conversion?

Whatever we may say, the apostle seems to be convinced that it was the Word of truth that opened the eyes of the Colossian pagans and brought them into the riches of God’s plan for their salvation. The apostle takes no credit, and barely gives Epaphras credit. The credit belongs to the Word of God. The Word has the remarkable power to open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, and soften the hardest of hearts. Yet it is the Word that is often neglected, supplanted, or misused. (A question I might ask in this regard is this: must the word be preached in a specific way in order for it to do its work or will any old method or manner accomplish the task? If we agree that the Word is effective, how must it be preached in order for it to be effective?)

“The addition of ‘in truth’ reinforces the overtones of 1:5 that their encounter with the gospel was an opening of their eyes and lives to reality, what actually is God’s purpose for humankind, a purpose of grace, with the further implication that this truth first learned thus should continue to be the touchstone of their ongoing discipleship.”—63 (Dunn)

Truth it seems requires an intellectual response and it requires an ongoing conversation. The Word of truth becomes the touchstone of our ongoing discipleship. We continue to return to the truth even as we never stray far from it. But Paul is also making, I think, more than a statement about our dependence on the Word of God. He is making a statement about the efficacy of the Word itself. The Colossians will continue to grow in the grace of God as long as they continue in the Word. The Word has not stopped growing among them since the day they heard of it. Again, here is an important point often missed in our modern hurry to provoke people’s emotions: We simply lack confidence that the Word of God will do its work.

James Dunn makes sense of the present tense participle with the preposition: “The opening phrase could be translated ‘which is present among you,’ recognizing the force of the present tense. But in this case it can also mean ‘which has come to you,’ (and so is present among you). And that makes better sense of the preposition, which most naturally has the meaning ‘to or into’.” (61; so, see Acts 6:7 for the Word grew).

How important is it then that the Word of God be among us? What matters among us: that the Word Grows. What is primary about us: That the Word produces fruit. So what needs to be among us: The Word.

We cannot, we must not, we dare not try to produce the sort of fruit among ourselves that is not derived from the Word of God. It is the Word of God that bears fruit among us so we are right to ask: “If there is fruit among us, is it fruit from the Word?” Knowing what we know, would we want fruit that is not of the Word? And if the Word is not among us, then what of the fruit that is being produced? But note also the power of the Gospel of truth, of Grace: Its effects are not only local (small) but they are worldwide (‘all the world’; large). In other words, the Word of God is big enough for the world, and small enough for the local congregation. The Word will do its work in any setting, in any context. Our responsibility is to trust the Word enough to let it do it’s work whether that work is to cause stumbling or bring salvation.

I fully understand the way of things: We want results. We are ‘now’ sort of people. Still I cannot help but believe that we are too easily sated with cheap imitations in the church. I cannot help but believe that are far less convinced of the power of the Word than God is. The Lord is quite content with the foolishness of preaching of his Word. Why we are less convinced will continue to be the mystery.

Finally, it cannot be a mere coincidence that what Paul writes about is the grace of God. They understood God’s grace from the preaching of truth. This must have been the content of Epaphras’ teaching of truth: God’s grace. I’m speculating here, but I wonder how much more the Word would be among us, grow among us, if the content of our message of truth was God’s grace? This word of Grace has continued efficacy among those who hear it: From the day we hear it this grace will be our hope.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

Here are some thoughts on grace. I just cannot believe, at times, how abundant God’s grace is. Strangely enough, I think it is the church many times that is most afraid of this grace. My prayer is that the church will learn grace not only saves but that it empowers us to live freely. Too often the church condemns to hell those whom God has not condemned to hell. The church needs to recover the message of grace and soon or there will be no one left to enjoy what God has planned for those who love him, for those He will save through Christ.

There is a real sense in which grace is simply wasteful. That which is freely given can be abused, discarded, and rejected; grace can be scorned. The irony is that for some reason we are prone to reject that which we have no inherent claim to in the first place. It is the Lord who gets the bad end of this deal so to speak. Grace scarcely makes sense to the saved, much less the lost. Sadly, it is Christians, the very ones who are the beneficiaries of this saving grace, who misunderstand it the most. I am included.

I have been preaching now for roughly 13 years. I have a Bible college degree. I have been a Christian since I was 13. I have hardly missed a day of worship, a summer of church camp, or a day of Bible school since I was 5. Despite this remarkable list of credentials, I am not convinced that I had any inkling of what grace really means until about two months ago. It was there in plain sight yet I missed it. I have preached sermons about it. I have claimed to be saved by it. Yet for all this I was still oblivious. It was one thing to believe that I was saved by grace; however, it was something entirely different to believe that I continued to be saved by it. I always thought that God did the hard part and it was up to me to work it out with fear and trembling.

I call it salvation hokey-pokey. And it is terribly difficult to stay in.

The problem is that I do not believe the Enemy had any intention of allowing me to know what grace was let alone see it in is abundance, sufficient for salvation and sufficient for living. That is a fine game for him to play: keep people blind, oblivious, working, working, working. People who are so busy working out (earning) their salvation have very little time left to actually enjoy it let alone give praise to the one who qualifies them for it in Christ.. As such I did not even realize that I was trying to climb out of a hole that I could never climb out of. I was trying too hard and enjoying no rest. It is not easy constantly reminding oneself of their guilt and thrashing about inside that guilt trying to make amends that can never be made, trying to win approval already granted, trying to re-qualify for a race already qualified for on the basis of someone else’s effort. Sometimes it is much, much easier to live by rules and regulations than it is to live by grace. It is nearly impossible at times to believe that God is willing to continue loving me in spite of me or precisely because of me. In this sense, grace seems wasteful. Now I am beginning to understand Annie Dillard’s words, “Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.” (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 82)

Needless to say, grace is now the prime-mover in my life. Whereas at one time grace was ‘there’, but not, now I cannot stop thinking about it. I see grace in places where I had not imagined it before. I keep finding myself talking about grace in sermons even when I had not planned on talking about grace. It is not nearly as difficult now to offer an invitation at the end of a sermon because now it doesn’t sound so formulaic, so contrived, so forced. Now invitations at the end, the beginning, or in the middle of a sermon are invitations not to a list of chores and a life of drudgery but rather to the freeing love of God both for salvation and being saved. Not only is this true, but even the manner in which I understand Scripture has changed. Again, I see grace where I had not seen it before.

Just this past weekend, I preached from Colossians 2:16-23. I took two extra weeks preparing for this sermon because I could not figure out what Paul was saying even if what he was saying was clear. The passage was not making sense until I remembered what Paul said at the beginning and end of the letter: Grace! (1:2, 4:18). It is rather simple to understand what Paul is saying in these verses (16-23) if they are approached with an understanding of grace: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthen in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (2:6-7, NIV). More than one commentator suggested these are the ‘theme’ verses of the letter. Not ironically, then, Paul next writes, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (2:8). This thought is continued in 2:16-23. His point, I believe, is that when we allow people to pile on us rule after rule after rule we are effectively and essentially declaring our independence from God’s grace. “These things are shadows…he has lost connection with the Head…they are destined to perish…they lack any value in restraining the flesh” (2:17, 19, 22, 23).

When we submit to those who impose such regulations we are declaring that Christ is not enough, that he is insufficient. This is not living in Christ as we received him. This is not living free. This is salvation by slavery which is no salvation at all. This passage, in my estimation, makes little sense apart from grace and 6 months ago it is likely I would have missed this altogether. In the grip of grace, preaching has taken on a whole new life, has a renewed stamina, and new vibrancy. Knowing and understanding grace has altered my objectives in preaching because preaching has taken on an entirely different meaning in light of grace.

Another aspect of my life that has been radically altered by grace is in my relationships with others. This has only just started working itself out in any tangible way, but this is of major importance in my work as a minister of Christ. In a word, I am free now to love without an agenda. Now I can be as much a giver of grace as a receiver. I can be free with everyone and demonstrate the same freeing grace that God has shown me. If grace happens to appear wasteful at the moment that is fine and presents no problems. I can love not because everyone is particularly lovable but because grace loves. Practically speaking, grace has not only freed me from judgment but it has freed me from judgmentalism and this, I should add, is as freeing as being set free. I did not even realize how judgmental I was until I learned that grace is not just for saving but also for living. People do not have to conform to my rules, my standards, my objectives in order for me to love them. My love for others is now proactive. It reaches out before being reached to. It is most remarkable being freed from the notion that others must live up to my standards of holiness and rightness in order to be considered God’s child. “Judging requires that you think yourself superior over the one you judge.” (William P Young, The Shack, 159) Colossians 2:16-23 taught me that if I am saved by grace, and so also everyone who is saved, then the only opinion of anyone that matters is that of Christ Jesus, and I am not Him.

There is an older couple who recently left the church I serve. Their departure has been terribly difficult for me because the rumor as to why they left evidently had something to do with the most recent church budget and a certain line that had something to do with my education expenses. I have put off visiting them for 4 months because I have had no idea what I should say and I did not want to say the wrong thing, and given the closeness of our relationship at one time and my typical prone-to-defensiveness, reactive nature, I was bound to say something wrong. What I have learned is that I can go to them without an agenda. I do not have to go and ‘win them back’ or ‘persuade them to return’. Nor do I have to think that they are somehow apostate because they have chosen to worship elsewhere—even if their reasons for doing so are strange. Instead, I can go to them and offer them my love regardless of the outcome of the conversation. I do not have to have a particular agenda in mind. I can love them, comfort them (the husband has cancer), encourage them, and pray for them. I can demonstrate grace because it does not matter if I am to blame or not. What matters is grace and it is grace that I will speak of when I visit them this week. “Let your conversations be always full of grace” (Colossians 4:6a).

I read a book last week called The Shack. This remarkable book contains a lot of dialogue, but one particularly short section near the end really rattled me.

“Mackenzie!” she chided, her words flowing with affection. “The Bible doesn’t teach you to follow rules. It is a picture of Jesus. While words may tell you what God is like and even what he may want from you, you cannot do any of it on your own. Life and living is in him and in no other. My goodness, you didn’t think you could live the righteousness of God on your own, did you?”

“Well, I thought so, sorta…” he said sheepishly. “But you gotta admit, rules and principles are simpler than relationships.”

“It is true that relationships are a whole lot messier than rules, but rules will never give you answers to the deep questions of the heart and they will never love you.” (William P Young, The Shack, 197-198 )

The hardest part of grace for me is God. I, after all, know exactly where I have been, what I have done, and those I have hurt. I know myself all too well and I figure that if I know myself this well then God can only know me better. What gets me is that he wants me to be saved. What gets me even more is that he went out of his way to make certain it was a reality. It is hard, very hard, unbelievably hard at times to think that not only do I not have to make up for my sins but that ultimately I cannot. If the enabling power of God’s grace has freed me to love people, and to preach graciously, how much more has it freed me from the guilt of sin? And yet it is this very guilt that I seem to be reluctant to let go of.

Yet there it is. Philip Yancey comments, “Grace means that no mistake we make in life disqualifies us from God’s love. It means that no person is beyond redemption, no human stain beyond cleansing…Grace is irrational, unfair, unjust and only makes sense if I believe in another world governed by a merciful God who always offers another chance…When the world sees grace in action, it falls silent.” (Philip Yancey, Rumors of Another World, 223) I think the reason why grace makes so much sense is because it makes no sense at all. “…God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to saved those who believe…we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks” (1 Cor 1:21b, 23, NIV). This is what the world finds so difficult to believe. It is also what the church finds so difficult to believe. We thus end up worse than those ‘visitors’ in Colossae who piled rule after rule upon the church, worse than the Pharisees who in their haste to make disciples of law and order instead made children of hell, worse than the Judaizers in Galatia who insisted on a “Jesus…and” plan of salvation. I suspect this has, based on this evidence, always been a problem among those God calls.

I, no less than anyone else, struggle with grace. But I am learning. I am learning that God will not fail to finish in me the good work he began. The church needs to awaken to this message of God’s grace that is testified to abundantly in Scripture. Grace has taught me that God loves me and wants to save me. The question is whether I will let him do so or not, and on his terms. Grace may be difficult to understand. It may be wasteful by human standards. At the end of the day, however, we have nothing else to cling to. I am learning each day to trust that God loves me and His word to us in Christ that by grace we have been saved through faith. I am learning to trust that if in the course of writing a paper or a sermon I forget to capitalize all personal pronouns relating to God, he will not hate me and hold it over my head until I confess. I am learning that grace covers a multitude of sins. I am learning to trust Him for that which I cannot trust myself. Living free is far better than living in guilt. It frees me to love without an agenda. It frees me to be loved.

Annie Dillard wrote, “So many things have been shown me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free.” (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 69)

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

The following is from James D.G. Dunn’s commentary on Colossians in The new International Greek Testament Commentary, Eerdmans1996. Dunn is commenting on Colossians 2:16: “Therefore, do not let anyone pass judgment on you over food and drink or in the matter of festival, new moon, or Sabbaths.”

“More noteworthy still is the use of the verb KRINO [a Greek word meaning ‘to judge’ pronounced kree-no-jerry], as in Romans 13:3-4, where it clearly indicates the tendency of the more scrupulous to pass judgment on others who do not live according to their scruples. Those who insist on a more restricted lifestyle for themselves do so because they think it an essential expression of their belief and identity as believers. They observe because they think God requires such observance. That conviction will inevitably result in them criticizing or even condemning those who claim the same fundamental faith loyalty but who practice a less restricted lifestyle. If God requires observance, then he disapproves of nonobservance, and those who ignore God’s requirements are to be condemned and avoided, despite their claim to the same fundamental faith. Such was the logic of the devout Jewish traditionalist, including the traditionalist Christian Jew. It is this attitude which is most probably in view here, judged to be more dangerous than the equivalent attitude critiqued in Romans 14 but requiring less forceful response than in Galatians, presumably because the circumstances in each case were different.”—173-174

 Soli Deo Gloria!

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Day 4, Colossians 1:4: Our Faith in Christ Expressing Itself in The Love of the Saints

“…because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints…”

“But Jesus’ glorious prayer ‘that they may be one’ is manifestly being answered to a superlative degree in the confessional church around the world today, as Christians bask in God’s love and understand that all of our love is but a grace-driven response to the intra-Trinitarian love of God which has issued in the glorification of the Son by means of the cross, in the Son’s perfect obedience to his Father, all the way to the cross…Or what shall we make of postmodern voices that, in the name of love, deny the exclusive role that Jesus plays in mediating God’s love to us? Will their siren tones increase love, or even our understanding of love? Sadly, no: they merely restore idolatry under a new guise. These voices are among the least tempered and least loving of our time, especially with those who do not agree with their vision…Christian love is anchored in the Godhead, anchored in eternity, anchored in Christ, anchored in the cross.” (D A Carson, Love and the Supremacy of Christ, in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, 99)

(You should get that book and read that chapter.)

I realize I am doing a dangerous thing by taking one verse at a time for mediation and thought. In taking one verse at a time I run the risk of oversimplifying Paul’s arguments or overcomplicating his exhortations or of being less faithful to the context than I should. It’s a dangerous method of meditation. So, remember that today’s verse was preceded by these words: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…”. Then he says, “Because…”

We have heard…he is praying a prayer of thanks because someone had heard something about someone. In this case, someone had heard about the faith of the Colossian church. This was no random faith. This was no easy believism. This was no mere acceptance of something as truth with absolutely no evidence to back it up. (That’s how unbelievers define the faith of Christians.) No, theirs was a real belief in someone real and historical. They had faith in someone that could be heard, and seen, and touched. Christians do no believe in just anything and everything blindly for nor reason or just because some ‘poorly translated, dusty old book’ says it. We believe because people have testified to the truth and history is on our side. But this was no small thing. Their belief was known. Someone heard about their faith. In other words, they were not ashamed of what they believed nor were they ashamed of the consequences that such belief had in their everyday lives. It produced the sort of love that got people talking.

About their faith…this is no mere faith in whatever happens to come along and stir up their interest. This is a specific faith in Jesus Christ. N T Wright wrote, “Faith is not just (as often today) any religious belief. It is defined as faith in Christ Jesus.” (51) Too often today people, even church folk, have faith in something or someone other than the true object of faith Jesus Christ. It was this specific faith that the apostle ‘heard’ about and which caused him to offer prayers of thanks to God. I wonder what the apostle would say about the faith that is demonstrated and proclaimed in many evangelical circles today? Would the faith we are known for be something worth bragging about, something worth hearing about, something worth preserving, something worth thanking God for? Can people in the church define the full nature of the faith they profess or are those who criticize Christians correct that most Christians believe in myths and fairytales? What do you think the apostle would say about our faith?

In Jesus Christ…It gets a little deeper, no? Just as the church is also found ‘in Christ’ so also is the faith that they demonstrate a faith that has a location: In Christ. But this is not all! It also means, I think, that we have put our trust and confidence in Jesus. In other words, we are counting on Him to bring about all that we hope for. David Garland writes, “A fallen humanity in a fallen world offers no hope. Many people today place their confidence in science, but all our great advances have produced as many problems as have been solved. In many ways, science has shattered hope. It has become more difficult for some to believe in a God that would care about or even notice our existence. Consequently, many people live without any hope of salvation in this life, let alone the life beyond.” (62-63) Everyone has faith. There is not a single person on this planet who has not put his or her faith in something or someone with the expectation that said faith will give them some sort of hope. But the Colossians were different from the world around in that they put their faith in Christ alone. What of the church today? Are we putting all our faith in one basket so to speak? But if we do not put our faith in Christ, where else can we put it? Who else will cause our faith to realize its hope? Who else is trustworthy to do with our faith, to bring our faith to its intended ends? Surely the one who is the beginning and end of creation is trustworthy to handle our faith? Will he let our faith fall or fail?

But I might also add this: Faith is not just the ‘sphere in which we live’ or the ‘manner in which we conduct ourselves.’ We don’t sit around in hopeful, eager expectation wishing and praying that Jesus would do something for us so that our faith will be sure. Instead, we put our faith in Jesus Christ in confidence that He has already done something. We put our faith in the Jesus Christ who has already accomplished a great work and finished it. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Our faith is confidence that what God has promised, Christ has completed and will complete. This is no empty promise devoid of power. Our faith is in this power we know will finish what was started.

Which prompted their love…David Garland asks well: “Is our love for the saints something worth broadcasting? Is it something worth talking about?” Again, we have to be most careful to define the sort of love that is being spoken of here. Love, in this case, is specifically defined as love that is based on faith in Christ Jesus: It is a sacrificial love being spoken of here. I don’t think for a minute that Paul is talking about merely saying, “Hello, I love you.” I suppose there is nothing wrong with telling people that, but mere words do not define Christian love. Those who belong to Christ, those found in Christ, those who put their faith in Christ Jesus cannot help but be people of love. Jesus said, “A new command I give you, love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this will all men know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” How can we claim to be the people of God if we do not love one another? How can we claim to be in Christ if we do not love one another? What does it say about our love for Christ if we do not love one another? What sort of faith are we demonstrating to the world if we do not love one another?

For all…here you can see that there are no exclusions to the love that the Colossians had even if the love they demonstrated was rather narrow and focused. There’s that word ‘all’ again. This word is anything but exclusive. It means that there is not a Christian brother or sister on the planet that we have a right to not-love. Dunn writes, “Presumably, therefore, this is what was in mind here—an active concern for one another among the Colossian Christians which did not stop short of self-sacrifice of personal interests—and not just for one another, if the ‘all the saints’ is to be taken seriously.” (58) We discriminate too much among ourselves. We think too highly of those we know and too little of those we do not. We think that we don’t have to love those who have different theological ideas from our own—even if those ideas happen to be decidedly wrong. But Paul writes that what defines us is our ‘faith in Christ.’ I see too much discontent, too much dislike—frankly, too much hate in the Church. There is no room for hate in the Body of Christ of which Jesus is the Head and in whom we live and move and have our being and place our faith and trust.

I think this hate must stop. I know it must. I understand well theological arguments and disagreements. I understand well that there are heretics among us. I understand well that there are plenty of people who are preaching a Gospel out of false motives. Yes, it is true: this and more is true, the Church is an ugly place at times. But what are the boundaries of our love? Does our love know boundaries? Did the love of God, the God who rescued us while we were yet sinners, who rescued us while we were still in the dominion of darkness, who rescued us while we were still enemies in our minds and doing evil works—did His love know boundaries? I ask you, should our love know boundaries when it comes to those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ? My contention is that it should not and that it will not if, in fact, we are people of grace. I’m not suggesting that we do not contend for the faith. I’m not suggesting that everyone who utters the name of Jesus is among the sheep and not the goats. I’m not suggesting, for a minute, that we should scuttle orthodoxy. May it never be! What I am suggesting is that we can engage people with differences in these areas in love, genuine, self-sacrificing love. We can love them regardless of how right or wrong they or we happen to be. It will not be easy and it may require some effort, but it can be done; that’s what grace is about isn’t it?

The Saints…Wright said it this way: “For Paul, the sure sign of grace at work was the fact of a loving community created out of nothing: of a love not restricted to those with whom one has a natural affinity, but which extends to all the saints.” (51) You understand that our love and affection for the Saints is evidence of the grace of God working among us? The saints, the holy ones, the call out and set apart ones, will factor prominently in these verses (2, 4, 12, 22, 26, 3:12). We are the saints and we are called to love one another. I don’t think this means we are to neglect the world at large, but I do think it means we are to have a special affection in our hearts for those who also share a hope in Christ, have placed their faith in Christ, and who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are the holy ones. Notice that saints is plural. This means that there is more than one, and we are to love them all. (As an aside, please do not misunderstand Paul here. He is not talking about some specialized group of people who have been canonized by the church. Paul here is talking about Christians. This holiness is our common bond with one another: We have, all Christians, been called out, set apart, and are being perfected in the image of holiness. The saints are all of us or they are none of us.)

So what does Paul write: We always thank God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray because we have heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all the saints. When was the last time you can say that you prayed such a prayer in the Name of Jesus? I wonder if we can say this about our church? Can we say that our love for one another is something to brag about? That is, is it something that people are talking about or hearing about in general conversation? Is our faith in the Lord Jesus a talking point? I notice that Paul does not say, “I thank God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because we have heard about your fantastic new multi-purpose, multi-media, multi-million dollar building.” No. He thanks God for something simple: I thank God for your faith in Christ which manifests itself among you as a sincere, self-sacrificing love for one another, indeed for all the saints. This is the evidence that God’s grace was truly working among them.

Would that our churches here in America could be known for something more than our political agendas. Would that our churches here in America could be known for something other than our budgets. Would that our churches here in America could be known for something other than our fancy campuses. Would that our churches here in America could be known for more than their television or radio ministries or their charismatic senior, executive, director of operations. Would that our churches here in America could be known for something as radical, as Biblical, as holy as our faith in Christ expressing itself as love for one another.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Day 3 Colossians 1:3 The Prayers we Pray

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…”

Prayer is language used in a personal relation to God. It gives utterance to what we sense or want to respond to before God. God speaks to us; our answers are our prayers. The answers are not always articulate: silence, sighs, groaning—these also constitute responses. The answers are not always positive: anger, skepticism, curses—these are also responses. But always God is involved, whether in darkness or light, whether in faith or despair. This is hard to get used to. Our habit is to talk about God, not to him. We love discussing God. The Psalms resist these discussions. They are not provided to teach us about God but to train us in responding to him. We don’t learn the Psalms until we are praying them.” (Eugene Peterson, Answering God, 12)

In a sense, much of what Paul writes in this first chapter is prayer. He starts a prayer here in verse 3, talks about many of the things he is thankful for, and then, in verse 9 starts praying all over again. Then in verse 10 he offers more prayer and I might go so far as to say that Paul will offer yet another prayer in verse 24. When he gets near the end of his letter (what we call chapter 4) he concludes with this exhortation, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray…Pray…let your conversation…” So he opens the letter with prayers, and he closes by inviting the congregation he is writing to to join him in his prayers.

The depth of the prayers that Paul offers in the first chapter though is simply astounding. Here we read of a man who is struggling mightily in his prayers for these people. There is a richness to his prayers that language barely expresses. He ‘invents’ words to capture his ideas. There is a vastness to his prayers, not content is he to merely pray about every broken bone and every dying person, Paul opens up the heavens and prays in cosmic, universal language to The firstborn over all creation, the Creator of all things, the Image of the Invisible God. Paul is not praying to some lesser deity about some lesser thing. Paul is praying about the church over which Christ Jesus himself is the Head. Paul is praying about the church and for the church to the one who ‘holds all things together.’ Paul is praying for the church to the one who is the beginning and end of creation. Do you think Paul is concerned for the church? And do you think we should be?

Yet how often are our prayers stifled by a cacophony of ‘organ recitals’? How often are our prayers muted by the overwhelming sickness and disease rampant among our members? How often do we pray in galaxy type language—borders wide, depth unimaginable, expanse limitless; Christ’s Lordship unquestioned? How often are our prayers constrained by time? How often are our prayers determined by the course of world events instead of being catalysts for world events? How often do we pray in the uncertainty of God’s will instead of praying for God’s will to simply be confirmed—regardless of what it is? How often do we pray prayers of thanks for others because we have heard of their faith and love that they have for the saints? You see, our prayers can be too limited and often are restrained and unrefined. Here in Colossians 1 we see an example of the sort of prayers that are refined by the Word of God and honed to a sharp perfection. Here are the prayers of the saints!

But he is also not merely content to pray to God. No, Paul also feels compelled to tell the church what he is praying forthem. And to this end we see the apostle’s agenda, that is, what he thinks it is important to pray for and about on behalf of the Colossian Christians. Don Carson well notes,

“Suppose, for example, that 80 or 90 percent of our petitions as God for good health, recovery from illness, safety on the road, a good job, success in exams, the emotional needs of our children, success in our mortgage application, and much more of the same. How much of Paul’s praying revolves around the equivalent items? If the center of our praying is far removed from the center of Paul’s praying, then even our very praying may serve as a wretched testimony to the remarkable success of the processes of paganization in our life and thought” (DA Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 96-97).

We will explore in more detail the specifics of the apostle’s prayer later as this series progresses so for now I’ll simply note a couple of the ideas.

He thanks God because of their faith which was, evidently, well known in the world at the time.

He thanks God for the love they have for the saints.

In verse 9, he prays specifically that God will fill them with ‘knowledge of his will’. In fact, he says, ‘we have not stopped praying’ this.

In 10, he prays that they might live a life worthy of the Lord, please him in every way, bearing fruit, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthen with all power so they might endure and be patient and joyful and thankful.

This is the tip of things, but as you can see the apostle’s prayer priorities are far different from the typical prayers that are uttered in prayer meetings or from the pastor on Sunday mornings. DA Carson calls this the ‘paganization’ of our christian prayer life and thought. I say it is the minimizing of our thoughts, or it is prayers to a lesser god. When our prayers are merely the same repetitive, boring pap that the pagan world offers, “Oh, god of wood and stone, let me win the lottery,” then our defeat is complete. But what if our prayers were suffused with the sort of language the apostle uses here: “I pray that you will be filled with the knowledge of God so that you might live a life worthy of God and please him in all things.” What do you suppose would happen if those were the sort of prayers, biblically informed and biblically formed, that we prayed?

What if? What if our prayers were prayed to the God who is the Creator of all things? What if our prayers were prayed for God to rescue people from darkness and bring them into the Kingdom of the Son he loves? What if our prayers were unmasked and unfiltered and unashamed of the glorious authority that is in Christ Jesus, the Head of the Church? What if our prayers were filled with the remarkable content of grace? What if our prayers were concerned more with the Gospel bearing fruit all over the world, and even among us, than with mere churchgrowth? (Don’t you think that if the Word grew and did its job church growth would be a necessary corollary?) What if our prayers were that the people of God be filled with wisdom and knowledge and understanding of God, God’s mystery in Christ, and God’s will? In other words, what I am saying is this: What if our prayers were Christocentric and not man-centric? What if our prayers focused and centered on God in Christ first and only on ourselves as a distant second or third? Do you think this would change the way we act, behave, live, and pray?

And what if we truly considered who it was that we prayed to? Paul is praying these things to the God who rescued the Colossians from the dominion of darkness and brought them into the kingdom of the Son he loves (13-14). Paul is praying to the God who reconciled us by way of the cross (22). Paul is praying to the God who has now made known the mystery of Christ in us (27). Paul is praying to the God who lives in fullness in Jesus Christ (19). Paul is praying to the God who defeated death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (18). Paul is praying to the God who forgives sins and redeems people (14). I could go on, but the point is clear: This is no pagan deity that Paul is praying to, and the nature of Paul’s prayers indicate that this is no God to trifle with. These are serious prayers. They further indicate that this God is powerful enough to effect the prayers that Paul is praying. There’s no point in praying such things if the God one is praying to is unable to hear them or answer them.

I also notice this. Paul is praying to someone specific: The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This goes along partly with what I just wrote, but in a different way. Paul is praying to the God of the Lord Jesus Christ. This means that he is praying to the God who acknowledges the work that Jesus Christ has done. He is praying to the God who acknowledges and confirms that Jesus is Lord. Arthur Patzia writes, “This emphasis upon Christ’s exalted status as Lord certainly would reinforce the idea that Christ is not an inferior deity but one in whom God himself is Found” (NIBC, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, 17) James Dunn notes, “God the Father is the one to whom prayer should properly be offered…just as he is the ultimate source (‘Father’) of all creation and all being, including the dignity and authority of Jesus’ Messiahship and Lordship.” (56) In other words, Paul is praying to the One who has acknowledged and established the authority (Lordship) of Jesus Christ. What if we prayed with the acknowledgement that Jesus truly is Lord and that we were praying under the auspices of his Lordship, because of his Lordship, and acknowledging his Lordship? Would this change our prayers?

Finally, there is this little word ‘always.’ There is a constancy about the prayers of Paul. This word ‘all’ (and its cognates) is used constantly in this first chapter and will play an important role in helping us understand the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ who is exposed in this letter. But for now, it is safe to note that Paul’s prayers for the Colossian church are specific in content, specific in direction, and specific in duration. If nothing else, we can say that the apostle was a man of prayer who believed that prayer made some sort of difference in the lives of those he prayed for.

And he wanted them to know it. This is the glory of it all: Paul wanted the Colossian Church to know what he was praying, to whom he was praying, and why he was praying it. I think by extension, he wants us to know as well so that our prayers will become biblically formed and biblically informed; that the language of Scripture will be the language of prayer. He fills his page with words and meaning and direction so that our prayers will not be the vacuous, meaningless devoid of content mumbling and ranting that Jesus warned us against in Matthew 6 when he said, ‘When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites or the pagans.’ Here the apostle is giving shape and content, focus and direction, meaning and purpose to the words that we dare utter back to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

Here I am again, overwhelmed at how freely flows the pen of the masters. I lament that we no longer live in a day and age when people are moved by such profundity–preferring instead to be captivated by smooth, earthly philosophies; guilt trips that impose on the grace of God. Here is Spurgeon, with whom I have not spent a great deal of my leisure time, but one who certainly understood well exactly what our culture continues to miss: The triumph over all the ills of our culture and world has already been declared in the Cross!

To the eye of reason the cross is the centre of sorrow and the lowest depth of shame. Jesus dies a malefactor’s death. He hangs upon the gibbet of a felon and pours out his blood upon the common mount of doom with thieves for his companions. In the midst of mockery, and jest, and scorn, and ribaldry, and blasphemy, he gives up the ghost. Earth rejects him and lifts him from her surface, and heaven affords him no light, but darkens the mid-day sun in the hour of his extremity. Deeper in woe the Saviour dived, imagination cannot descend. A blacker calumny than was cast on him satanic malice could not invent. He hid not his face from shame and spitting; and what shame and spitting it was! To the world the cross must ever be the emblem of shame: to the Jew a stumbling-block, and to the Greek foolishness. How different however is the view which presents itself to the eye of faith. Faith knows no shame in the cross, except the shame of those who nailed the Saviour there; it sees no ground for scorn, but it hurls indignant scorn at sin, the enemy which pierced the Lord. Faith sees woe, indeed, but from this woe it marks a fount of mercy springing. It is true it mourns a dying Saviour, but it beholds him bringing life and immortality to light at the very moment when his soul was eclipsed in the shadow of death. Faith regards the cross, not as the emblem of shame, but as the token of glory. The sons of Belial lay the cross in the dust, but the Christian makes a constellation of it, and sees it glittering in the seventh heaven. Man spits upon it, but believers, having angels for their companions, bow down and worship him who ever liveth though once he was crucified. My brethren, our text presents us with a portion of the view which faith is certain to discover when its eyes are anointed with the eye-salve of the Spirit. It tells us that the cross was Jesus Christ’s field of triumph. There he fought, and there he conquered, too. As a victor on the cross he divided the spoil. Nay, more than this; in our text the cross is spoken of as being Christ’s triumphal chariot in which he rode when he led captivity captive, and received gifts for men. Calvin thus admirably expounds the last sentence of our text:—”the expression in the Greek allows, it is true, of our reading–in himself;the connection of the passage, however, requires that we read it otherwise; for what would be meagre as applied to Christ, suits admirably well as applied to the cross. For as he had previously compared the cross to a signal trophy or show of triumph, in which Christ led about his enemies, so he now also compares it to a triumphal car in which he showed himself in great magnificence. For there is no tribunal so magnificent, no throne so stately, no show of triumph so distinguished, no chariot so elevated, as is the gibbet on which Christ has subdued death and the devil, the prince of death; nay, more, has utterly trodden them under his feet.”

Oh, thank God for the cross. This is why I love Forsyth, Wells, Bonhoeffer and Spurgeon. These men are and are not afraid of the cross. The understand deeply our utter hopelessness apart from it. They understand well that our triumph is the triumph of Christ alone. I hope that our generation will soon awaken to the Cross we have so frequently neglected.

Soli Deo Gloria!

jerry

Friends,

Every now and again I come across something that reminds me why I love reading. I’m in the process of preparing many things from the book of Colossians. Today, in particular, I’m preparing a study guide for a prayer retreat I will host this weekend. Twice today I have come across the name J C Ryle, once in a book by JI Packer (Prayer) and a second time at Monergism.com. At the latter, I was reading this sermon Christ is All when I came across this brilliant, masterful understanding of the purpose of Scripture:

In every part of both Testaments Christ is to be found,-dimly and indistinctly at the beginning,-more clearly and plainly in the middle,-fully and completely at the end,-but really and substantially everywhere.

Christ’s sacrifice and death for sinners, and Christ’s kingdom and future glory, are the light we must bring to bear on any book of Scripture we read. Christ’s cross and Christ’s crown are the clue we must hold fast, if we would find our way through Scripture difficulties. Christ is the only key that will unlock many of the dark places of the Word. Some people complain that they do not understand the Bible. And the reason is very simple. They do not use the key. To them the Bible is like the hieroglyphics in Egypt. It is a mystery, just because they do not use the key.

It was Christ crucified who was set forth in every Old Testament sacrifice. Every animal slain and offered on an altar, was a practical confession that a Saviour was looked for who would die for sinners,-a Saviour who should take away man’s sin, by suffering, as his Substitute and Sin-bearer, in his stead. (1 Peter iii. 18.) It is absurd to suppose that an unmeaning slaughter of innocent beasts, without a distinct object in view, could please the eternal God!

It was Christ to whom Abel looked when he offered a better sacrifice than Cain. Not only was the heart of Abel better than that of his brother, but he showed his knowledge of vicarious sacrifice and his faith in an atonement. He offered the firstlings of his flock, with the blood thereof, and in so doing declared his belief that without shedding of blood there is no remission. (Heb. xi. 4.)

It was Christ of whom Enoch prophesied in the days of abounding wickedness before the flood.-“Behold,” he said, “the Lord cometh with ten thousand of His saints, to execute judgment upon all.” (Jude 15.)

It was Christ to whom Abraham looked when he dwelt in tents in the land of promise. He believed that in his seed,-in one born of his family,-all the nations of the earth should be blessed.. By faith he saw Christ’s day, and was glad. (John viii. 56.)

It was Christ of whom Jacob spoke to his sons, as he lay dying. He marked out the tribe out of which He would be born, and foretold that “gathering together” unto Him which is yet to be accomplished. “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the law-giver from between his feet, until Shiloh come, and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.” (Gen. xlix. 10.)

It was Christ who was the substance of the ceremonial law which God gave to Israel by the hand of Moses. The morning and evening sacrifice,-the continual shedding of blood,-the altar,-the mercy seat,-the high priest,-the passover,-the day of atonement,-the scape-goat:-all these were so many pictures, types, and emblems of Christ and His work. God had compassion upon the weakness of His people. He taught them “Christ” line upon line, and, as we teach little children, by similitudes. It was in this sense especially that “the law was a schoolmaster to lead” the Jews “unto Christ.” (Gal. iii. 24.)

It was Christ to whom God directed the attention of Israel by all the daily miracles which were done before their eyes in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud and fire which guided them,-the manna from heaven which every morning fed them,-the water from the smitten rock which followed them,-all and each were figures of Christ. The brazen serpent, on that memorable occasion when the plague of fiery serpents was sent upon them, was an emblem of Christ. (1 Cor. x. 4; John iii. 14.)

It was Christ of whom all the Judges were types. Joshua, and David, and Gideon, and Jephthah, and Samson, and all the rest whom God raised up to deliver Israel from captivity,-all were emblems of Christ. Weak and unstable and faulty as some of them were, they were set for examples of better things in the distant future. All were meant to remind the tribes of that far higher Deliverer who was yet to come.

It was Christ of whom David the king was a type. Anointed and chosen when few gave him honour,-despised and rejected by Saul and all the tribes of Israel,-persecuted and obliged to flee for his life,-a man of sorrow all his life, and yet at length a conqueror;-in all these things David represented Christ.

It was Christ of whom all the prophets from Isaiah to Malachi spoke. They saw through a glass darkly. They sometimes dwelt on His sufferings, and some times on His glory that should follow. (1 Peter i. 11.) They did not always mark out for us the distinction between Christ’s first coming and Christ’s second coming. Like two candles in a straight line, one behind the other, they sometimes saw both the advents at the same time, and spoke of them in one breath. They were sometimes moved by the Holy Ghost to write of the times of Christ crucified, and sometimes of Christ’s kingdom in the latter days. But Jesus dying or Jesus reigning, was the thought you will ever find uppermost in their minds.

It is Christ, I need hardly say, of whom the whole New Testament is full. The Gospels are “Christ” living, speaking, and moving among men. The Acts are “Christ” preached, published, and proclaimed. The Epistles are “Christ” written of, explained, and exalted. But all through, from first to last, there is but one Name above every other, and that is Christ.

I charge every reader of this paper to ask himself frequently what the Bible is to him. Is it a Bible in which you have found nothing more than good moral precepts and sound advice? Or is it a Bible in which you have found Christ? Is it a Bible in which “Christ is all” If not, I tell you plainly, you have hitherto used your Bible to very little purpose. You are like a man who studies the solar system, and leaves out in his studies the sun, which is the centre of all. It is no wonder if you find your Bible a dull book!

This is simply wonderful, masterful, and beautifully written. Perhaps this will be a help to many who seem to think that the Scripture, written and preserved, is about something far less substantial, far less interesting, and far less able to save us from the coming wrath. This is why the Bible is always, always relevant and needs no help from us in order to be so. People will always be sinners: Jesus will always be the answer. I could only hope to be as faithful and eloquent as Mr Ryle!

Soli Deo Gloria!

jerry

Friends,

What follows are some preliminary notes and observations I have made from my study of Colossians 1. They are presented as is: Rough, un-edited, un-refined. I like to sketch out ideas and see how they develop later as sermons begin to grow inside of me. The thoughts below center around what I see to be the main problem in the church: We have given up ground (read: the world) because we have, to a large degree, abandoned the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This notion of mine grows out of much reading and observations of the current streams of thought. Particularly helpful were some books by David F Wells (see my Bookspage) a book by Aijith Fernando The Supremacy of Christ and my observations taken from reading several blogs in the blogosphere over the last year or so. Of course, my practical experience being a local preacher in a small church and from Holy Scripture’s own testimony about the Supremacy of Christ has played a vital role too. Again, these are preliminary thoughts and observations and do no constitute a comprehensive exegesis of Colossians. For now, they are for your perusal and consideration. –jerry

I think our world is terribly fragmented and at the same time, terribly united. It is fragmented in the sense that everyone wants power and fights everyone for it. Everyone is vying for the same supremacy. There is no loyalty amongst those who are fighting for power and supremacy. It’s all about who has the best economy, who has the toughest army, who has the best supermodels. Worse, it is about who has the largest attendance, who has the most radical-welcome-everyone-without-regard-to-repentance-from-sin policies, biggest, fanciest, most modernized, electronic buildings. The point is, everything is a pedantic competition and sadly, the church is not exempt. But it is far more insidious than mere swimsuit competitions or praise band wars. This fragmentation is the work of a much more sinister enemy than we can imagine.

On the other hand, there is a frightening amount of unity amongst the world’s powers. The one unifying element to all of this hubris is the desperate and violent antagonism demonstrated against Christ and His Church—and believe me when I say that this is from within the church as well as without! (Outside the church, it involves persecution; inside, a lack of grace.) In their efforts and climb towards world supremacy, the world’s Supers (including church super powers) do all they can to eliminate that which is not merely the competition, but the very antithesis of their actions. Those world Supers are traveling a path that leads to a consolidation of power into the hands of a few, and the church must be eliminated for that to properly happen (if the Church is eliminated, they reason, then Christ too). Christ works against that through the true Church, His remnant, so that the world will be brought under the rule of One: Namely, Jesus Christ the Righteous.

Thus we see that Christ must reign. He must be supreme in all things. The world will eventually come under his complete rule. He reigns now (Ephesians 1-2, Revelation 4-5), but all has not been brought under his authority just yet. There are enemies that must be subdued. Part of the proclamation of the church is this very thing: We are to announce the Supremacy of Christ in all things and not merely give lip service to this Supremacy. We contend that Christ is supreme in all things and that it is only fools who fail to acknowledge this. We in the church live under this supremacy already; we are working to bring the rest of the world under the dominion of Christ as He has commissioned and sent us out as the Father sent Him. (John 20)

Our text will be the short letter called Colossians. This most helpful letter is, if any book is, a detailed exposition of the Supremacy of Christ. Such supremacy begins insistently with the church of which he is the Head. If Christ is not the Head of the Church, if His supremacy does not center on the church, then the world will show nothing but contempt. My point is that it seems the church has quite forgotten this and the world has taken full advantage. The Church has failed to properly and boldly proclaim the Gospel of Christ which saves us and, as a result, the world has taken over and grown more and more hubristic. What I mean is that in relinquishing the message of Christ’s supremacy, the church has opened the door for others to usurp his rightful place. Thus we see the competition of the world’s powers for supremacy. The church must go back on the offensive and proclaim this message of Christ’s supremacy all over again and constantly. I think it is time to take back that ground we have given up to the world, that is, it is time to do what we are commissioned to do: Make disciples of the World by preaching the message that Christ has been given all authority in heaven and earth (Matthew 28).

People mock this, but they just don’t understand the power of this assertion and truth. If this fact is true, and I am contending it is in agreement with Scripture, then even the church must give up it’s silly ideas about itself being a kingdom in an of itself. We belong to Christ not the other way around. We are heralds and we must announce this message to those still enslaved by the dominion of darkness.

We must preach Christ to the Nations, among the Nations. We must preach Christ alone. We must dispense with the idea that we should preach something other than Christ, and we must dispel the notion (among Christians) that the proclamation of the Gospel is meant to be something that wins us friends. A proper proclamation of the Gospel sets the church against the world. It does not win us friends, but makes us an enemy of the world Powers that pursue their own ambitions of supremacy. The Gospel is not to be preached so that it will win us friends, or make us popular, or to enrich the church (or the inhabitants of the church). The Gospel is preached so that ‘they may be ever hearing, but never understanding; ever seeing, but never perceiving’ (Isaiah 6) The Message of the cross is foolishness, not friendship. The message of the cross is a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 1-2). It is in no way meant to be popular—it is meant to be exactly what it is: The Word of God.

That is, it is God’s Word to us. We have no right to preach other than what is written.

No one in the history of the world has ever found the Word of God to be a friendly announcement. It grates against the very things this world stands for. The Word of God condemns the ways of man, the sin of the world, and Justifies God and God alone. The world has no desire to come under the rule, authority, and dominion of Christ. It prefers to remain in and under the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13). It is the church’s job to be the light that we are called into (Colossians 1:12). This is the real battle: Light vs Darkness. But we know who will win and it can only be Christ who is supreme.

It is my contention that until the church figures this out in America the church will continue to grow and shrink. There will be a flock of undernourished people living large and enjoying their best lives now because ‘they enjoy the praise of men more than the praise of God.’ Jesus says, they have their reward in full. The church will continue to shrink too as the true Church of Christ is abandoned by those who think it irrelevant because it clings tenaciously to the Word of Truth, Jesus Christ (Colossians 1). These are perilous times for the church. The fruits are already showing. I fear the church has already become irrelevant by trying desperately to be relevant.

I fear for many in the church; we have already suffered great loss.

Soli Deo Gloria!

jerry

Friends,

I just read that Joy Behar recently made these comments on The View:

“Now that we have all of this medication available to us, you can’t find a saint anymore,” she said on ABC’s daily chatfest.”

“That’s why Mother Teresa had issues. Let’s not forget, she didn’t really believe 100 percent like those saints who were hearing voices. She didn’t hear voices,” Behar said.

“So the church said ‘OK, she does good deeds. Let’s make her a saint.’

“In the old days it used to be you heard voices. You can’t do that anymore.”

Admittedly, I have no context for these statements, and I’m not going to bother reading a transcript. All I wish is that people who wish to make comments about Christianity would at least take the time to read the Scripture. If they did, they might find this statement by the Apostle Paul:

To the holy (saints) and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse.

&

We always thank God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray for you because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love you have for all the saints

There is no such thing in the Bible as a special class of Christians known as ‘saints.’ The word ‘saints’ means ‘holy ones.’ There are more Scriptures too, but consider what Peter said:

But just as the one who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy because I am holy.'”

We are to be holy (saints) by a conscience decision of our own will, and we are not saints because we have been ‘beatified’ by some council of the church. The Church doesn’t make the decision as to who is and is not. We either are or are not by virtue of our relationship to Christ. So the Catholic ‘contributor’ Jonathan Morris who said, in response to Behar:

Nobody is beatified or canonized because they hear voices. People are declared saints because they have first of all exemplified a heroic living of Christian virtue.”

is no more correct than Behar. ‘Sainthood’ is a declaration of the life of a Christian. It is God who calls Christians saints, not a church council. It is is the Christian who makes a decision to be a saint, not a council who makes it for them. It is the sinner who decides he/she wishes to belong to Christ and thus become a saint by virtue of that connection to Christ. In other words, the little old lady whose name is never mentioned anywhere outside her local church is just as much of a saint (‘holy one’) as the woman of Calcutta (RIP) whose name is known everywhere on the planet. The only difference is that, apparently, the woman of Calcutta has to wait until someone in a church hierarchy declares it to be so while the the lady in the local church is because God has declared it so in Scripture.

I really wish people would learn how to read the Scripture before they presume to talk about it as if they know about it. Morris is just as ignorant as Behar and he doesn’t have an excuse.

Behar, in her ignorance, does not see that there are saints all around her, perhaps even Elizabeth Hassleback sitting next to her.

Morris, in his ignorance, thinks that sainthood is the end of Christian faith, or the goal we are striving towards. Evidently, he thinks sainthood is more precious than Christ himself.

I disagree with both of them.

Soli Deo Gloria!

jerry