Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Righteous God

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness. (Psalm 4:1)

Simply put, righteousness is rightness. God always does what is right and He comes to set things right. Righteousness is a term that also relates to keeping covenant. That is, those who have been faithful in a covenant relationship are considered righteous, and fit for community. In calling on “God of my righteousness,” or more properly, “My Righteous God,” David appeals to the covenant God made with Israel, for God committed Himself to be good to, and set things right for, His people.

We can find out about the righteousness of God throughout that psalms. For example, the psalm writer says that the “right hand” of Yahweh is “full of righteousness” (Psalm 48:10), that is, everything He does is thoroughly and completely according to what is right. Another says that “the heavens declare His righteousness” (Psalm 50:6). The heavens, which witnessed the covenant Yahweh made with Israel, declare that He has done what is right according to that covenant. And David’s testimony is that Yahweh answers “by awesome deeds in righteousness.” He does right by His people through powerful acts of protection and provision (Psalm 65:5).

Yahweh, the righteous God, honors the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:6). He blesses the righteous and surrounds them with His favor, as with a shield (Psalm 5:12). David says that “the righteous God tests the hearts and minds” (Psalm 7:9), examining each of us in the deepest places of our being, to see whether we are upright or ungodly, straight or crooked, and He delivers those who are in alignment with Him (Psalm 7:10). Yahweh “judges” the righteous (Psalm 7:11), bringing justice and vindication to those who keep covenant with Him. Yahweh is “with” the generation of the righteous (Psalm 14:5). That is, He makes His presence, protection and provision known to them. He delivers the righteous out of all their afflictions (Psalms 34:19). He supports and sustains them (Psalm 37:17). This list could go on, for there is much more in the psalms about how God is faithful and right with those who know and trust and keep covenant with Him.

We see this same rightness and faithfulness carried over into the New Testament. Jesus teaches us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” with the promise that everything else that concerns us will be taken care of (Matthew 6:33). Paul says that the gospel of Jesus the Messiah is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (Romans 1:16-17). The rightness of God is revealed “through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).

God has now also made a new and better covenant through the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 8:6; Luke 22:20), just as He promised in the Old Testament. He reveals His righteousness in that covenant, and all are counted as righteous members of it who trust in Jesus. With David, then, we may each call on Him as My Righteous God.

Monday, February 27, 2012

I Will Build My Ekklesia

On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:18-19)
“Upon this Gospel I will build my Ekklesia.” That is essentially what Jesus was saying. The rock is the revelation* Peter received from the Father that Jesus is God’s Anointed King (see Upon This Gospel). The gospel is the proclamation that the kingdom of God, and its King, has come into the world to fulfill the promise God made to deliver His people and set the world right.

The English word “church” comes from the Greek word kuriakos, which speaks of “belonging to the Lord.” It is found only twice in the New Testament, in reference to “the Lord’s supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20) and “the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10). However, the Greek word translated as “church” is actually ekklesia (or ecclesia), and Matthew 16 is where we first find it in the New Testament.

Ekklesia is a compound word that literally refers to that which is “called out” (from ek, “out,” and kaleo, “to call”). It has also been translated as “assembly.” By the time Jesus first used it, it already had a well-established meaning.

In the Septuagint (the earliest Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures), ekklesia renders the Hebrew qahal, which usually refers to an assembly of the people of Yahweh, sometimes en masse but often in representative fashion. It is often seen as a deliberative body, agreeing together (1 Chronicles 13:1-4), making covenant as a body (2 Chronicles 23:2-3), deciding together about administrative matters (2 Chronicles 30:1-5), taking counsel together (2 Chronicles 30:23), acting together (Ezra 10:12 and Nehemiah 5:13). When the assembly says “Amen” together, as in Nehemiah 5:13, it is no small thing, it is a deliberative agreement and determination about what shall happen.

The primary meaning of ekklesia in Jesus’ day was much the same:
  • Thayer’s Greek Lexicon calls it “an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating.”
  • Vine’s Expository Dictionary calls it a “gathering” of citizens to “discuss the affairs of state.”
  • The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich gives its primary meaning as “assembly, as a regularly summoned political body.”
  • The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Longman and Wilhoit) considers it the “calling out of citizens for a civic meeting”
  • The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says it was “the designation of the regular assembly of the whole body of citizens in a free city-state,” that was called out “for the discussion and decision of public business.” The ISBE concludes with this, about the pre-Christian usage of ekklesia: “To the Greek it would suggest a self-governing democratic society; to the Jew a theocratic society whose members were the subjects of the Heavenly King. The pre-Christian history of the word had a direct bearing upon its Christian meaning, for the ekklesia of the New Testament is a ‘theocratic democracy’ (Lindsay, Church and Ministry in the Early Centuries, 4), a society of those who are free, but are always conscious that their freedom springs from obedience to their King.”
It is very significant, then, that Jesus says, “On this rock [the confession that Jesus is God’s Anointed King] I will build my Ekklesia.” He is not talking of a merely localized community of followers in Israel. The scope of it is no less than the kingdom of God, the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven. His Ekklesia is the community of those who belong to that kingdom, and to Him as King.

The Ekklesia is a divine community on a cosmic scale, as Jesus’ next words confirm: “And the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” The word “Hades” speaks of death, the place of death and the power of death. The “gates of Hades” includes the devil, who has the power of death — which power has been defeated in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah (Hebrews 2:14). Neither death, nor the devil, nor all the demonic forces can prevent the Ekklesia of King Jesus from fulfilling His purpose of manifesting heaven on earth.

Indeed, Jesus has given the keys to the kingdom of heaven to this divine assembly on earth for that very purpose: “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Binding are loosing are deliberative actions. The sense of “will be bound” and “will be loosed” is “will have been bound” and “will have been loosed.” The deliberative action of the Ekklesia in the exercise of these keys brings earth into alignment with the will of God in heaven. Jesus amplifies on this in Matthew 18:18-20.
Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.
The Ekklesia acts in the name of King Jesus to fulfill His purposes. Whenever it comes into agreement on earth about a matter, it is done for us by our Father who is in heaven. In this way, the kingdom of God is made manifest, the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven.

* Peter himself is also called a rock and, as an apostle, is foundational to the establishment of the Church. Paul says that the Ekklesia is built “on the foundations of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Upon This Gospel

Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:17-18)

Jesus asked the disciples what people were saying about who He was. “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets,” they answered. These were not bad answers. They all ran in the right direction, but they did not go nearly far enough.

“But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked. The first question was a setup but this next question was what Jesus was really after. How far had the disciples progressed in their understanding about Him?

Peter stepped forward and opened his mouth. No one was surprised, that was how Peter was. But what he said was a surprise, perhaps even to himself. He answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

Understand this in the context of a Jewish book written to a largely Jewish group of people. Understand it in the context of the messianic expectation of the Old Testament. Understand it, for instance, in the context of Psalm 2, a messianic psalm. There, God speaks of His Anointed, against whom the kings and rulers of the earth were conspiring (Psalm 2:2). But God laughs at them and says, “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion” (Psalm 2:6). Then David, the psalm writer, says,
I will declare the decree:
The LORD has said to Me,
“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will give You
The nations for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth for Your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron;
You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
(Psalm 2:7-9)
The Anointed, whom God calls “My Son,” is to be King over all the nations of the earth. Now, with that in mind, listen to Peter’s confession again: “You are the Christ [the Anointed One], the Son of the Living God.” He suddenly understood that Jesus is God’s Messiah, God’s Son, God’s King. The One Israel had long awaited, who would deliver His people and rule over the nations.

This has everything to do with the kingdom of God, His rule and reign over all the earth, which has been Matthew’s subject from the beginning of his gospel account. The genealogy in Matthew establishes the lineage of Jesus as the one who fulfills the promise God made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, then on through Judah, to King David and beyond. In Matthew 2, the magi recognize Jesus as a long-prophesied king. In Matthew 4, Jesus begins His ministry preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). His entire ministry is focused on the kingdom, teaching about it through parables and demonstrating it through healing, signs and wonders. At the end, after the cross and the resurrection, but before He ascended to heaven, Jesus declared to the disciples, “All power has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). The is the language of the King rising to His throne.

But in the middle of the book, Peter finally gets it. Not because he is astute. Not because he is impulsive Peter. It comes to him as a gift, a divine revelation. “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven,” Jesus said. It comes at a kairos point, a pregnant moment in a propitious time. Jesus has been preaching and teaching and saying and doing the kingdom all along, but now Peter finally recognizes that Jesus is the King. This is essence of the gospel, the good news proclamation that the kingdom of God has come to fulfill the promise of God, and Jesus is God’s Anointed King, come to set the world right.

Now Jesus can build on this revelation and, indeed, He speaks in terms of building. “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church.” This is where Peter gets his name, which means “Rock.” He has received the rock-solid, foundational revelation from the Father: Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus is the Anointed King. And on this rock, this revelation — this gospel! — Jesus builds His church, His ekklesia (or ecclesia).

We will look at what that means in the next post, I Will Build My Ekklesia.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Yahweh, Who Lifts Up My Head

But You, O LORD … the One who lifts up my head. (Psalm 3:3)

David was in quite a spot. His enemies were multiplying quickly and now they were coming against him. “Not even God can help him,” was the word being spoken over him. David might have let that bow him down, humiliated and without hope. He might have spoken in agreement with what was being said about him. But he took the opposite direction. Instead of agreeing with the pronouncement of the enemy, David pushed deeper into his covenant relationship with God and declared, “But you, O LORD, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head.”

In Psalm 27, David finds himself in a similar situation. But his confidence is in the LORD. All he seeks, all he needs, all he wants, is to dwell in the house of Yahweh and gaze upon His beauty. His faith is such that he declares how this situation will end: “And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me” (Psalm 27:6).

Sometimes it is the shame of sin or unfaithfulness that bows our heads, as when Ezra fell on his knees and spread out his hands to God, saying, “Oh my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6). Or when David prayed, in his penitence, “I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day” (Psalm 38:6).

Sometimes it is depression that brings one down, such as in Psalm 42 and 43, where the refrain throughout is, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance” (Psalm 42:5).

But where there is victory, where there is deliverance, where there is forgiveness, where there is hope, there is looking up. David’s daily habit was to bring his prayer and praise before God every morning. “My voice you shall hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up” (Psalm 5:3)

Psalm 110, a messianic psalm, portrays the divine King, refreshing Himself after battle and lifting His head up in victory: “He shall drink of the brook by the wayside; therefore He shall lift up the head” (Psalm 110:7). Jesus, God’s anointed King, has indeed won the victory for us, but it did not look like victory at the time because His head was crowned with thorns and bowed down.
Then the soldiers led Him away into the hall called Praetorium, and they called together the whole garrison. And they clothed Him with purple; and they twisted a crown of thorns, put it on His head, and began to salute Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they struck Him on the head with a reed and spat on Him; and bowing the knee, they worshiped Him. And when they had mocked Him, they took the purple off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him. (Mark 15:16-19)

So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. (John 19:30).
This did not look like victory on that terrible afternoon, but it was victory nonetheless because Jesus took on all the principalities and powers of the world and three days later was raised up by God from the dead. Now He is exalted at the right hand of the Father, far above every principality and power (Ephesians 1:19-21), and God has given Him the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9). God has also raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:4-6). His victory has become our victory — over sin, death, depression and all the powers that stood against us. Jesus’ head was bowed down that ours may be lifted up, and He is exalted that we may be exalted with Him and share in His glory.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Yahweh, My Glory

But You, O LORD … my glory. (Psalm 3:3)

The Hebrew word for “glory” is kabod, from a word that means to be heavy or weighty. It speaks of the manifestation and abundance of goodness. The psalms are full of references to the glory of the Lord, too many to even begin to list here. The glory of God, the “weightiness” of His great goodness, is very important.

It goes back to the beginning, when humanity was created in the image and likeness of God, that we might bear His glory and reflect His goodness on the earth. But as Paul said, we all have sinned and come up short of that glory (Romans 3:23). So God chose a man, Abraham, and from him created a covenant people, Israel, to reveal His glory to the nations and His goodness to all the families of the earth. But Israel fell under the weight of her own unfaithfulness and failed to show forth the divine glory.

So God promised a Messiah who would come forth from Israel, who would deliver Israel and establish His glory among the nations. This was Jesus who, being born of a virgin by the Spirit of God, was fully human and fully divine. As the “brightness” of God’s glory and the “express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3), Jesus fulfills God’s purpose for humanity, to bear the divine glory on earth. On the night before He went to the cross to defeat everything that stands against or comes short of that glory, Jesus prayed this for Himself and the disciples:
And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was … And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one. (John 17:5, 22)
This is true for every one who trusts Jesus. God has conformed us, in our inward being and by the life of Jesus at work in us, to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:28. That is, we are conformed to the image of the One who perfectly expresses the image of God and bears the brightness of His glory. God is now in the process of manifesting that image and glory in our outward being. The apostle John said, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Paul said, “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). When Jesus appears, His glory will be apparent in us as well. Peter says, “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Peter 5:4).

David called Yahweh, “My Glory.” Another psalm writer declared, “For the LORD God is a sun and a shield; the LORD will give grace and glory” (Psalm 84:11). God’s desire has always been to give us His glory — indeed, to come and be our glory. That is, to fill us with every good thing and display His splendor in our lives and in the world. He does this by filling us with Himself.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Colony of Heaven

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:20).

Paul knew very well about citizenship. Though he was from Tarsus, in Cilicia (Acts 21:39), he was a freeborn citizen of Rome. And he did not mind invoking its benefits, as we see in this vignette.

And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?”

When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, saying, “Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman.”

Then the commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?”

He said, “Yes.”

The commander answered, “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.”

And Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.”

Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him. (Acts 22:25-29)
Like the American Express ad says, “Membership has it’s privileges.” A Roman citizen had great status throughout the Empire, but Paul knew of a much greater citizenship, one possessed by every believer in Jesus: “For our citizenship is in heaven.”

It is important to understand that citizenship is not about where we are going — it is about where we are from. In Paul’s day, citizens of Rome were sent out to create colonies in every territory that was under Roman authority. They were to establish the life and culture or Rome throughout the empire.

Now think about our citizenship in heaven. Notice that Paul does not say that our “citizenship will be in heaven,” but “our citizenship is in heaven.” He is not talking about where we are going but about where we are from. “We are a colony of heaven,” is how Moffatt’s New Translation puts it.

The Greek word for “citizenship” is about commonwealth or community. It comes from a word that speaks of the administration of a city. To be a citizen of heaven means that our lives are now administered from there. We are no longer in bondage to the lusts and desires of the old way of life we used to know. We are no longer subject to the world systems that are manipulated by principalities and powers.

As a colony of heaven, we are here to establish the life and culture of heaven on earth. For all authority in heaven and on earth has now been given to King Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 28:18), and He has sent out His assembly, the Church, to disciple the nations and teach them everything Jesus taught (Matthew 28:19-20). The end result will be heaven and earth coming together as one (Revelation 21), the will of God being done on earth exactly as it is being done in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

It has already begun — the darkness is already fading away and the true light of King Jesus is already shining (1 John 2:8). Even so, it will not be full and complete until the King comes again. As we watch for that day with eager anticipation, we live out our citizenship here and now, enjoying the favor of heaven and imparting its blessing to the earth.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Yahweh, My Shield

But You, O LORD, are a shield for me. (Psalm 3:3)

The Hebrew word for “shield” is magen, from the word ganan, to defend, cover, surround, or hedge about. We find this name frequently in the Psalms, in connection with other names for God. He is called,

  • My Shield and the Horn of My Salvation (Psalm 18:2)
  • Yahweh, My Strength and My Shield (Psalm 28:7)
  • Our Help and Our Shield (Psalm 33:20; see also Psalm 115:9-11)
  • Yahweh, Our Shield (Psalm 59:11)
  • Yahweh God, a Sun and a Shield (Psalm 84:11)
  • My Hiding Place and My Shield (Psalm 119:114)
  • My Shield, in Whom I Take Refuge (144:2)
The first time we find the word magen in Bible, it is identified with Yahweh, who came to Abraham in a vision and said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward” (Genesis 15:1). Then He made him a promise: “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them … So shall your descendants be” (Genesis 15:5).

To Israel, the nation that came from Abraham, the nation through whom God promised to bless all the nations of the world, God said, “Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, the shield of your help and the sword of your majesty! Your enemies shall submit to you, and you shall tread down their high places” (Deuteronomy 33:29).

God made covenant with Israel by His personal name, Yahweh (the book of Deuteronomy is the document of that covenant). By calling Him Yahweh, My Shield, David laid hold of the covenant promise and received it as his own. What God was for Abraham and what God was for Israel, God was also for David. In Psalm 35, David calls on God to take up his cause and contend with those who were contending with him, “Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for my help” (Psalm 35:2).

Not only is God thought of as a shield but so are the kings and tribal leaders:
The princes of the people have gathered together, the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; He is greatly exalted. (Psalm 47:9)

O God, behold our shield, and look upon the face of Your anointed. (Psalm 84:9)

For our shield belongs to the LORD, and our king to the Holy One of Israel. (Psalm 89:18)
So David himself was considered to be a shield for his people, even as Yahweh was a shield for him. How much more, then, is King Jesus, the Son of David anointed to reign forever on his throne, a shield for all who trust in Him. He is our shield forever, in whom we can always take refuge and find protection, strength and help.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fulfilling the Ministry of Jesus

Having passed along the greetings of his ministry associates, Paul adds a few of his own:

Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house.

Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.”

This salutation by my own hand — Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Amen. (Colossians 4:15-18)
There are close associations between the believers at Colosse and those at Laodicea. For one thing, they are only about ten miles apart. For another, Epaphras actively ministered to both groups (as well as at Hierapolis). So, although Paul writes to the believers at Colosse, it is natural that he has them extend his greetings to those at Laodicea. Indeed, he wants to be sure that this letter itself will be shared with them all.

“Nymphas” appears to be one of these believers. Though the name in the NKJV and some other versions is masculine in form, there are also a number of other versions that render it as feminine, “Nympha,” including the NASB, NIV, ESV, LEB and CEV. The reason for this is that the early copies of this letter speak of the church that meets in “her” house. It is more likely that early copyists would have changed “her” to “his” rather than “his” to “her,” so “her” would more likely the original reading.

Churches did not meet in public spaces but in private houses. Nympha’s was one. Philemon’s was another. Paul’s letter to him is addressed, “To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house” (Philemon 1-2). Apphia might have been Philemon’s wife, and Archippus their son. The church met in their home.

Paul speaks of a letter he wrote to Laodicea, which he wants to be read at Colosse also, but this has never been conclusively identified. Some have suggested that it is the book of Ephesians, which is very similar to Colossians. Others suggest that it was the letter to Philemon, since he might have been closer to Laodicea and there was a church that met in his house. Or perhaps the letter simply no longer exists.

There is a personal word to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” This is not a suggestion that Archippus has somehow been slack in his duties. We do not know exactly what this ministry entails. Perhaps he is a pastor of the church that meets in his house, or maybe he is filling the position at Colosse left vacant by the absence of Epaphras, and Paul is giving him a word of encouragement in this new role. Paul has identified a number of things about which the believers at Colosse and their leaders need to be aware, and it appears that Archippus did indeed “take heed.” Church tradition has him as the first bishop of Laodicea and numbers him among the “Seventy Apostles.”

Finally, Paul closes his letter with a few words in his own hand. His letters were usually written down by an amanuensis, a secretary of sorts. His own handwritten words were usually brief. Here, they are quite simple: “Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Amen.” Paul wants to remind them that he needs their prayers. It is similar to the way the letter to the Hebrews closes, “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them — those who are mistreated — since you yourselves are in the body also” (Hebrews 13:3). The message is that we are all in this together. Paul would also want them to remember that he was in chains for their sake, as well as for the gospel of King Jesus the Messiah.

Paul also usually closes with a benediction, such as, “Grace be with you.” Simple but profound. It is not merely a custom, though. Paul really has the grace of God in mind, and it is for every believer just as much as it is for him. “Amen” affirms the truth of that grace and, indeed, of all he has written to them.

Focus Questions
  1. The early Church met in homes. Was this merely because of the times or were there advantages to it?
  2. Why did Paul want the church at Laodicea to read the letter he wrote to the church at Colosse? Why is this letter important for us today?
  3. What ministry have you received from the Lord and how do you know when you have fulfilled it?

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Standing Firm

Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis. Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you. (Colossians 4:12-14)
We met Epaphras at the beginning of this letter, where Paul called him “our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf” (Colossians 1:7). Here, we find Epaphras “laboring fervently” for them. This is from the same Greek word Paul uses of himself in Colossians 1:29, about “striving” according to the energizing power of God at work in him. The word is agonizomai. Although we get our English word “agony” from it, Paul is not speaking of intense pain but intense effort.

Epaphras has great fire, great passion for the Jesus believers at Colosse. He was the one who first brought them the proclamation about King Jesus the Messiah. He is not now present with them but with Paul in Rome, many miles away. What is his fervent labor for them, then? Prayer. He pours himself out for them in intercession, pressing his desires and requests for them before God. His purpose is the same as Paul’s: That they may “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” Or as Paul put it earlier, to “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28).

Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1:9 is that they would be “filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” Epaphras prays that they may stand in that, to be firm and confident, to come to maturity and fulfill the divine purpose destiny God has for them. His intense desire is not only for the believers at Colosse but also at Laodicea and Hierapolis. He holds all three cities in his heart with great zeal and gladly gives himself for them.

Luke was a Gentile who came to King Jesus, apparently through the ministry of Paul at Troas. He is the author of the Gospel According to Luke, and its companion piece, The Acts of the Apostles. It is not until Acts 16:10-11 that Luke begins speaking of himself as part of Paul’s missions (not by name, but by use of “us” and “we”). From then on, he was a fixture of Paul’s ministry and was with him near the end of Paul’s life. “Only Luke is with me,” Paul says in his farewell letter (2 Timothy 4:11).

All we know of Demas are Paul’s brief mentions in Colossians and Philemon, which are merely words of greeting, and this bit in 2 Timothy 4:10 that is quite telling: “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” Apparently the growing persecution near the end of Paul’s life turned out to be more than Demas was willing to bear.

Focus Questions
  1. Epaphras “labored fervently” in prayer for the believers at Colosse. What do you imagine that was like? How did that intense desire come about in his life?
  2. Who is there for whom you have great zeal and what is your desire for them?
  3. What do you suppose might account for the difference between Epaphras and Demas, or Luke and Demas?

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Not a One Man Show

Paul was no one man show. He always had partners with him, a team of associates who worked alongside him in ministry. During the times he was in prison for preaching the gospel, he relied on them all the more. Now, as he brings his letter to a close, he offers a few words about them.
Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts, with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will make known to you all things which are happening here. (Colossians 4:7-9)
Tychicus is from the province of Asia, in Asia Minor, likely from the city of Ephesus. Luke includes him in Acts 20:4 as one of those who accompanied Paul on his third missionary journey. Paul mentions him in his letter to the Jesus believers at Ephesus, using similar words as here. He is a “beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord.” Is there a higher acclamation than that? In the Parable of the Talents, the commendation of the Master was, “Well done, good and faithful servant … Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:21, 23). Paul is sending Tychicus to see how they are doing and to let them know what is happening with Paul.

Onesimus is the slave who ran away from Philemon and wound up with Paul at Rome, where he unexpectedly became a follower of King Jesus. Paul calls him a “faithful and beloved brother” and would like to keep him there with him in Rome, because he has become so helpful to the ministry there (Philemon 11-13), but he knows he must send him back home to Colosse to sort out his affairs with Philemon.
Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are of the circumcision; they have proved to be a comfort to me. (Colossians 4:10-11)
Aristarchus, a Jew of Thessalonica, is another one Luke mentions as part of Paul’s missionary team (Acts 19:29; Acts 20:4). He has been faithful through thick and thin. He accompanied Paul on his voyage to Rome, where it appears he was likewise imprisoned. He is known to the Jesus believers at Colosse and they are known to him. The early Greek Church identifies him as one of the “Seventy Apostles” and the bishop of Apamea. Tradition says that he was martyred along with Paul under Nero’s persecution.

Mark is John Mark, who was Barnabas’ cousin, or perhaps nephew (the exact intent of the Greek is uncertain here). He went out with Paul and Barnabas on a missionary journey (Acts 12:25) but soon turned back for home and for some reason did not continue on with them “to the work” (Acts 15:38). Because of that, when Barnabas wanted to bring Mark on another mission, Paul refused. The disagreement between Paul and Barnabas was so sharp over this that they split up, Barnabas taking Mark and Paul taking Silas (Acts 15:37-40). Paul eventually realized that Mark was beneficial to the ministry after all (2 Timothy 4:11). Mark also became very important to the ministry of Peter, who spoke of him as of a son. Early Church history indicates that the Gospel According to Mark represents the preaching of Peter. Paul instructs the church at Colosse, “if he comes to you, welcome him.” Perhaps they have been aware of the previous dispute over Mark, and Paul wants them to know that has all now been cleared up. According to Church history, Mark was martyred in the region of modern-day Libya, not very many years after Paul and Peter gave their ultimate witness by blood.

We know very little about “Jesus who is called Justus.” Aristarchus, Mark and Justus, the only members on Paul’s team who are Jewish, have stood firm with him in difficult times and have proven to be a great comfort for him.

Focus Questions
  1. Paul always had people around him who were associated with him in ministry. Why is this important and what are the advantages?
  2. How did Paul view their place in ministry — as under him, with him, both? How did they see their place in ministry?
  3. Who are you partnered with in the ministry of King Jesus? When things get tough, who are you there to stand with and who is there to stand with you?

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Walking in Wisdom, Seasoned With Salt

Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. (Colossians 4:5-6)
Paul concludes his instructions with a word on how believers should relate to people who do not know King Jesus or understand the faith. “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside.” It is a walk, a consistent pattern, a life of wisdom. Not the wisdom offered by the false teachers, the wisdom that is according to the principalities and powers and how the world has learned to operate under them, but spiritual wisdom — the wisdom that comes from God by the Holy Spirit at work in our spirits.

Ever since Paul heard of their faith, he has prayed for these believers to be filled with wisdom and understanding (Colossians 1:9). This is the wisdom that is able to bring every believer into maturity in our new life in Jesus the Messiah (Colossians 1:28). It is the wisdom that is found in Him, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3), the wisdom that abounds to us as we let the word that is from and about Him come and make its home in us.

We are to “redeem the time.” The word for “redeem” literally means to buy up from the marketplace. The word for “time” here is not chronos but kairos. It is not clock or calendar time but poignant time, a time that is ripe, an opportune time. This is not about time management but about preparedness. To redeem the time is to make the most of every opportunity. Thayer’s Greek Definitions offers this meaning: “to make wise and sacred use of every opportunity for doing good.” We do this by walking in the wisdom that comes from God. He will show us what to do or say, just as He showed Jesus (see previous section).

Our speech, our words, our communication, should always be gracious, “seasoned with salt.” Jesus said, “Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another” (Mark 9:50). If our words have no wisdom or grace, they will be tasteless and will not go down well, and they might be spit back at us. When they are seasoned with wise understanding and a gracious disposition, they convey the love of God in a way that might persuade the hearer and lead to their peace. In his letter to Timothy, Paul said, “a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

Walking in wisdom and speaking with grace, we will know how to effectively answer those with whom we engage. Peter put it this way, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). This is about making a defense, not being defensive. It is giving answer, a reason for the expectation we have in King Jesus. This readiness is not especially about studying rhetoric and engaging in debates, although those may be good things to study. It arises from knowing King Jesus the Messiah, who He is and why He came, understanding from the Scriptures what God is doing in the world, walking in the wisdom that comes from God.

Focus Questions
  1. What does “wisdom toward those who are outside” look like?
  2. Paul speaks of “redeeming the time,” or make the most of every opportunity. What sort of opportunities do you think he might have had in mind?
  3. What are some examples of speech that is “seasoned with salt”? What are some examples of speech that is not?

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Spiral of Watchful, Thankful Prayer

Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2-4)
Paul now moves on from teaching about household relationships to offer a few words that will help the believers at Colosse keep properly focused on Jesus.
To “continue earnestly” in prayer means to be devoted to prayer, attentive to prayer, always ready to pray. The Greek word comes from a root that means to be steadfast. It is in the present tense and indicates that our devotion prayer is to be a continual activity. Elsewhere, Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17; see How to Pray Without Ceasing).

Prayer is not simply about making requests. It is an act of worship, pressing into God with all our desires and concerns. It is an activity of the Holy Spirit at work in us. “For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26).

Prayer is not just for set times but for the thousand moments of each day. It is a constant fellowship with God, a running conversation with Him as we encounter the world together. Nor is prayer a private activity. We pray when we are together, we pray when we are apart, but our prayers always belong to each other because we belong to each other, and it is the same Spirit praying in us all.

“Being vigilant” speaks of watchfulness, wakefulness, always being alert. With all the miracles he performed, Jesus said that He could do only what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19). He judged only as He heard the Father judge (John 5:30) and spoke only as the Father showed Him to speak (John 8:28), so that He did only those things which pleased the Father (John 8:29). In other words, He learned how to watch the Father and listen for His voice. The focus of our watchfulness, then, is the Father, and on Jesus, who shows us the Father. The Holy Spirit is given to help us in this, of whom Jesus said, “ All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He [the Holy Spirit] will take of mine and declare it to you.” Being alert, in our prayer, to the works of the Father, the things of Jesus and the activity of the Holy Spirit, we will come to all the understanding and discernment that we need.

As we continue in prayer and watchfulness, we discover how much we have to be thankful for, about King Jesus, how God is working through Him in the world, who He is in us and who we are in Him. Giving thanks to God for all He does and reveals to us brings the cycle of prayer to completeness, spinning our spiral of worship forward. It is in this prayerfulness, this watchfulness, this thankfulness — this worship — that we keep our focus properly oriented on King Jesus.

Paul also wants the believers at Colosse to be sure to remember him in their prayers, that God would give him and his associates (whom he will mention shortly) an “open door” for the message of the gospel. His passion is to preach the “mystery” of the Messiah to the whole world, to proclaim that Jesus is not just King of the Jews but the Lord of heaven and earth who has come to bring the shalom, the wholeness that comes from God, into all the world. He desires, as he said earlier, “to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). It is for this that he has gladly endured the chains of imprisonment, and he has no intention of backing down from it. He wants to make the mystery apparent, that it may be seen by all. And he wants to speak it boldly as well as clearly (see Ephesians 6:20).

The “open door” Paul seeks might be release from prison so that he can have greater mobility to go forth. But his passion for the good news about King Jesus is such that he is ready for the message to go forth even if he himself remained in chains.

Focus Questions
  1. Is devotion to prayer a dull or difficult thing to do, or a source of wonder and amazement for you?
  2. How does watching or listening for the Lord play into prayer?
  3. Why is thanksgiving important to this kind of watchfulness and prayer?

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Onesimus and Philemon ~ Receiving a Brother

In his section on household relationships (Colossians 3:18-4:1), Paul gives extra attention to how slaves and masters who are believers are to share their new life in Jesus. Though he speaks in general terms, he also has some specific individuals in mind. There is a man named Philemon, a faithful follower of King Jesus, who hosts meetings of the church in his home in or near Colosse. At the same time Paul writes to the believers there, he also prepares a brief, personal letter to Philemon. Paul’s desire for him is, “that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus” (Philemon 6).

Philemon has a servant named Onesimus, who ended up in Rome, where Paul is imprisoned for preaching the gospel of King Jesus. Most likely, Onesimus had some sort of falling out with Philemon and ran away to make an appeal to Paul, because Paul exercised spiritual oversight for the church at Colosse. This journey took an unexpected turn for Onesimus, however, when Paul led him to faith in Jesus the Messiah.

Paul now writes Philemon seeking a kindly disposition towards Onesimus. He does not speak by spiritual command but by the appeal to love (vv. 8-9): “I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me” (vv. 10-11). Paul speaks of him as a son begotten in the faith by Paul himself. In his letter to the believers at Colosse, Paul speaks of Onesimus as a “faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you” (Colossians 4:9).

In Paul’s thinking, and indeed in the new reality of King Jesus, Onesimus and Philemon were on equal footing. It was the existing culture and economy — leftovers from the principalities and powers that Jesus disarmed — that needed to be addressed here. The old way of masters and slaves makes no sense to the new life we have in Jesus and so must give way. “I am sending him back,” Paul says and then adds, “You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart” (v. 12).

Paul wants Philemon to receive Onesimus, not as a runaway slave who has been returned and subject to severe treatment, but as dearly and affectionately as Paul himself has received him. An even greater desire, however, is that Onesimus be able to come again to Paul and assist him in the ministry of the gospel (v. 13). But Paul will not do that without Philemon’s consent, nor will he compel Philemon to do so (v. 14). His appeal is purely that of love and the order of new life in King Jesus, so that Philemon might receive Onesimus fully as a brother in the Lord.
For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave — a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (vv. 15-16)
Though we do not know for certain the outcome of this appeal, it is hard to imagine that Philemon would refuse Paul’s request — when you realize that someone is your brother, how can you any longer treat him as anything less? The historical tradition of the Church is that Onesimus was martyred for his faith shortly after Paul’s death. He has been canonized as a saint by several Christian communions and is remembered every February 15.

Focus Questions
  1. Paul wants Philemon to be effective in sharing his faith. How does his request of Philemon play into this?
  2. Though Paul had spiritual oversight of Philemon, he did not want to “command” him in this. Why not?
  3. What are other ways believers might treat other believers as less than brothers or sisters?

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Monday, February 6, 2012

New Life in the Home

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them.

Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.

Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.

Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 3:18-4:1)
When the word of Messiah is at home in us, it fills us with His abundant wisdom. Paul shows us now what this wisdom looks like in our domestic relationships. The form of instruction he uses here is that of the “household code.” This form was a common feature of Greek and Roman teaching on ethics. They outline the duties and responsibilities members of a household owed to one another and especially to the paterfamilias, that is, the father of the family, the head of the house. In other words, they define how wives should act toward their husbands, children toward their fathers and slaves toward their masters, and it was all rather one-sided.

What Paul does with the household code, however, is unexpected, unheard of, even revolutionary. Household relationships in this new life in Jesus is not a one-way street — it runs both ways. We see this here in his letter to the believers at Colosse and also, more extensively, to in Ephesians 5:21-6:9 (Peter has a similar code in 1 Peter 2:18-3:9).

Wives are to submit to their husbands. This is “fitting,” or appropriate for our new life in Jesus. Indeed, submitting to one another appropriate for all of us. In his letter to the believers at Ephesus, Paul prefaces his household instruction with the words: “Submitting to one another” (Ephesians 5:21) That is, every believer is to submit to each other.

This is revolutionary! For husbands, it means that they are now to love their wives and not be bitter or ill-tempered toward them or provoke them. This love is not just a matter of having kind affections toward them. No, this is the kind of self-giving love Jesus has for us. Indeed, in Ephesians, Paul adds, “Just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Jesus submitted His whole life for the sake of the Church, and that is how husbands are to love their wives, submitting themselves for the sake of their wives. Note also what Paul does not say. He does not say, “Husbands, rule over your wives,” or “Husbands, make your wives submit.”

Children are to obey their parents in all things. This pleases the Lord and is, indeed, in keeping with the Fifth Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).

But now there also is a word to fathers: “Do not provoke your children.” Do not be quarrelsome or contentious. Do not push them to anger, for example, by continual fault-finding or dealing unfairly or unreasonably with them. This is so that they do not become discouraged and no longer willing to try. Or they dishonor their parents instead of coming to maturity and walking in the favor and blessing of the Lord. The love of King Jesus expressed through fathers has much influence over this.

Now Paul speaks to the relationship between bondservants and masters. In his letter to the believers in Galatia, he said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). In other words, there is full equality for every believer in Jesus, regardless of ethnicity, social stature, or whether one is a man or woman. For servants and slaves, this was a new reality, one that undermines abusive institutions. Though they were still servants according to their present social structure, the old system that operated according to the principalities and powers, it was now King Jesus they were really serving. Just as Jesus came to be a servant and offer His life on the cross, and in so doing disarmed the powers, in the same way, those who belong to Him overturn corrupt institutions and power structures by serving as He did.

How much more true this was for masters who took Jesus as their own Master. They were now answerable to Him for how they treated their servants. Realizing that Jesus came as a servant Himself for their sake would present a tension that eventually pulls down the walls of corrupt systems. This would be heightened for believing masters who had believing servants — how could they now continue in a system in which they made slaves of their own brothers and sisters? Treating them justly and fairly must ultimately turn out to mean giving them their freedom.

Focus Questions
  1. How does the new version of the “household code” Paul presents demonstrate the “disarming of the powers”?
  2. How does it demonstrate the new reality of who every believer now is in Jesus?
  3. In what ways do these actually change societal structures?

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Word that Qualifies Us

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:15-17)
Paul continues his talk on what the new life we have in Jesus should look like on us, with everything bound together with love as the mature and complete expression of that life. Now he shifts the analogy. “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts.” The Greek word for “rule” is brabeuo, which speaks of a judge in an athletic competition. We came across it earlier, in Colossians 2:18, where Paul said, “Let know one cheat you of your reward.” There the form was katabrabeuo, to “judge against,” and Paul was talking about the false teachers who were trying to disqualify believers by teaching them they needed something besides King Jesus. But here, it is the peace of God that comes to make the decisions.

Being Jewish, Paul would have understood peace as shalom, the wholeness that comes from God. It does not come to condemn but to teach us how to live this new life in Jesus. The false teachers gave their pronouncement, “Disqualified.” But the peace of God speaks over us and declares, “Qualified!” God has called us together in one body — the body of Jesus the Messiah — so that we may know and enjoy this peace. This should lead us to a life of continual praise to God, and in a moment, Paul will tell us how we come into that.

Since we are the body of King Jesus, we should be attentive to His word. It is the word that comes from Him that guides us, not the word of angels, or the teachers of the “mysteries,” or the superstitions of folk religionists, or lists of rules and regulations. The word of the Messiah is the message of the Gospel, the teaching about who He is and why He came, the things He said and did — all that comes from Him and pertains to Him. It comes to fill us abundantly with His wisdom.

With this word and the wisdom it brings, we are to teach and exhort each other. The way we do this, Paul tells us — and here is something we were not expecting — is with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. This is worship, an activity of the Holy Spirit in us. It is only by the Spirit that we can say, with any conviction, that Jesus is Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3). In his letter to the believers at Ephesus, Paul speaks of this same activity coming as a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit.
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20)
On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus taught that Holy Spirit would take the things of Jesus and declare them to us (John 16:15). That is, He comes to teach us about Jesus. When we are filled with the Spirit, then, it will always be about Jesus. This is the grace of God at work in our hearts, bringing praise to God. Everything we say and do is to be done in the name of King Jesus the Messiah (not in the name of angels). In this way we give proper thanks to the Father through Him.

Focus Questions
  1. How does the peace of God rule in our hearts?
  2. In Ephesians 5, it is being filled with the Holy Spirit that leads to psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Why does Paul emphasize, here in Colossians, that it is being filled with the word of the Messiah that leads to those things?
  3. What does it mean to do all things in the name of King Jesus? Why is this important?

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Clothes for Your New Life

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. (Colossians 3:12-14)
Paul has shown us that the clothes of our old identity do not belong to the new identity of who we now are in Jesus the Messiah. They must be put off. But he does not leave us with nothing to wear. Now he speaks of what we are to put on, things that reflect our new life in Jesus. But first, he briefly reminds us of that identity: We are “the elect of God, holy and beloved.” Chosen of God. Set apart by God. Dearly loved by God.

Our identity as the elect of God is in Jesus the Messiah. He is the one God has chosen, the one He has anointed, the one He has established to have dominion over the earth. Jesus is the one of whom the Father said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Remember that Paul writes to the believers here as “saints and faithful brethren in Christ.” It is in Jesus the Messiah, the Elect One, that we ourselves are chosen, set apart and dearly loved by God. We are “accepted in the Beloved,” that is, in Jesus (Ephesians 1:6). Not just individually, but all of us together in Him.

These, then, are the kind of clothes we have now for our new life in the Beloved. Notice that, like the list of things we are to put off, these are all about our relationships and how we treat one another. Paul speaks over two dozen times in his letters about the ways we should treat each other, and several times about the ways we should not. (Search Paul’s letters for “one” plus “another.”)
  • Tender mercies. Not merely acts of mercy but an attitude of tenderhearted affection and compassion.
  • Kindness. Gentleness and goodness toward each other.
  • Humility. Not lifting ourselves up and looking down on each other.
  • Longsuffering. Being patient with each other.
  • Bearing with one another. Being tolerant toward each other, putting up with each other even when it is difficult (as indeed it sometimes can be).
  • Forgiving one another. Paul expands on this one, which should tell us something about how important it is. If we have a quarrel with or complaint against anyone, we are to forgive, just as Jesus has forgiven us.
All of these are expressions of love. Love bundles them all together. Jesus said that all the law and the prophets are fulfilled in the command to love God with everything in us and love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of that. The early gnostic teachers located perfection or completeness in understanding the mysteries, the secret wisdom they brought. But Paul identifies love, the kind that comes from God, the kind that Jesus demonstrated, as the bond of perfection. As we set our hearts to love each other with that kind of self-giving love, we are brought together into completeness and maturity, well-suited to the destiny God has for us.

Focus Questions
  1. Why does Paul spend so much time on how believers should treat each other?
  2. Why does forgiveness receive such prominence in this list?
  3. How do all these things tell us about love?

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Renewed Image

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. (Colossians 3:8-11)
In the previous section, the sins Paul listed were mostly of a sexual nature. It should be obvious that these do not come from the new life we have in Jesus but are alien to it. They are part of the old life and come under the judgment of God. But now Paul brings another list of things to “put off.” This list is mostly about our attitudes toward one another, how we treat each other. It largely concerns our communication — which is to say, our mouths and how we speak to one another.

The things in this second list might not seem as wrong to us at the things in the first. But for Paul, the things in this second list were just as bad, if not worse, than those in the first. For one thing, they are not as obvious and, consequently, are the kind of things that Jesus believers are more likely to get caught up in. We pretty know we should avoid the obvious sins, but the less obvious ones can slip in easily “under the radar.” However, they are just as destructive to our lives and just as harmful to our relationships with one another.
  • Anger and wrath. The Greek words for these are very similar in meaning. “Anger” appears to be a disposition, and “wrath” the expression of that disposition.
  • Malice. Ill-will toward others.
  • Blasphemy. Slander, speaking ill of others, whether about God or other people.
  • Filthy or obscene language. Weymouth translates this as “foul-mouthed abuse” (New Testament in Modern Speech).
Paul adds one more category of communication and sets it out by itself: “Do not lie to one another.” There is no room for deceitfulness with each other. His reason he gives here is this: “You have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man.”

“Put off” and “put on.” It is like a man changing out of filthy rags into a fine, new suit. He puts off all the old clothes and is made clean. Afterwards, he does not put those rags back on; they are fit only for the trash bin. No, he puts on the new clothes, the fine suit. That is what Paul pictures for us here. We have been washed clean in Jesus and made new with His life. The old way of life no longer fits. It does not reflect who we now are in Jesus and it stinks of death. We have put off the “old man” and put on the new — it happened when we received King Jesus as our own. Having put on the new man, why should we go back and wear any of the raggedy, stinking clothes of the old man.

This new life we have put on, the new person we have become in Jesus, is “renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” From the beginning of creation, God made man to be in His image, to be like Him (Genesis 1:26). When Adam rebelled against God, this image was marred in the fall, but in Jesus it has been made new. Now our thinking is being renewed, made new by knowing God through Jesus the Messiah.

In his letter to the believers at Rome, Paul speaks in a similar way about the renewal of the mind: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2). To be conformed to the world, the way it thinks and behaves, would not reflect who we really are in Jesus. We need to be transformed, so that our outward being reveals the true nature of our inward being and the new life we have. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds, to think God’s thoughts after Him, walk in His ways and fulfill the destiny He has for us.

God’s purpose, Paul tells us, is to conform us to the “image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). Jesus is the perfect image of God, and as we are conformed to Him, we are being conformed to the original image in which God created humanity — to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and have dominion (Genesis 1:28). In this way, the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven.

In this new life we have in Jesus, and the new creation of which we are now a part, it does not mater if one is a Jew or a Gentile. Those categories are no longer operative, the distinction between circumcision and uncircumcision no longer, the uncultured and the uncouth are both welcomed, and the slave is on equal footing with the free. All that matters is King Jesus the Messiah, who we are in Him and who He is in us.

Focus Questions
  1. Why must we put off these old ways of dealing with one another? What harm do they do?
  2. Why is there so often a difference between the new person we really are in Jesus and the way we act?
  3. Paul speaks often in his letters about the image of God. Why is image so important?

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Putting Old Ways to Death

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. (Colossians 3:5-7)
All our “side slips” (trespasses) have been forgiven. The indictment that accused and condemned us has been nailed to the cross in the body of Jesus. The principalities and powers have been disarmed. We are dead to all these things. But that is not a license to go back to the old ways of the world and the sinful behaviors that once held us in bondage.

The brief list of sins Paul gives here are mostly sexual in nature and were apparently at issue in the culture of that day, as well as in the false teaching that was being hawked.
  • The Greek word for “fornication” is porneia (from which we get the word “pornography”) and refers to any illicit sexual intercourse.
  • “Uncleanness” speaks of sexual immorality and the pursuit of such (see Romans 1:24).
  • “Passion” is lust or inordinate affection.
  • “Evil desire” is licentiousness.
  • “Covetousness,” or some versions say “greed,” is insatiable hunger or desire.
  • “Idolatry” is giving priority to anything other than God.
This list sounds very much like modern Western culture with its insatiable desire for all kinds of sexual behaviors and abuses, to the point where sex has become a very prominent idol. They are part of the old ways of a fallen world and God’s wrath will come on all of them. Such perversions and idolatries may have been part of who we once were, but they have no place in our new life in Jesus.

Some strains of the false teaching Paul has been addressing believed that matter is inherently evil and the physical body beyond redemption. Therefore, they said, it does not matter what one does in or with the body. But Paul will have none of that. The body is not beyond redemption, it will be transformed in the resurrection to come, when Jesus returns. For He is the “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18) and the guarantee of our own bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). So, yes! It does matter what we do with our bodies. We now have new life in Jesus the Messiah, as well as the promise of the resurrection of the body, and how we live now should demonstrate that reality.

Paul says, then, “Put to death your members which are on the earth.” These “members” are the appendages, the remnants of the way we used to live in the world before we receive His life. We are now dead to them. Though they still have a voice, it is an echo that no longer has any authority, and the only power it has over us is whatever power we yield to it. “Put to death” means to make it dead, deprive it of its power, destroy its strength.

How do we do that? Not by beating ourselves up, treating our bodies harshly or trying to keep a list of rules and regulations. As we saw earlier, such things “are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23). And Paul has already given us the answer: We are already dead to these things! We died to them with Jesus the Messiah. We have also been raised with Him and He is now our life. What is needed now is to live in the truth of that. In other words, it is a matter of faith — that is, believing the truth of who Jesus is in us and who we are in Him. In his letter to the believers at Rome, Paul put it this way:
Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:11-14)
To “reckon” means to account it to be so, to treat it as the truth that we are indeed dead to sin and alive to God. When temptation comes and the voice of the old ways tries to reassert itself, we do not have to let any of it in. It has been stripped of its power and we do not have to give any of it back. Instead, we answer with the truth: We are now dead to sin and alive to God (it helps to make this a personal declaration: “I am now dead to sin and alive to God”). Instead of yielding ourselves to the old, fading echoes of who we once were, we present ourselves to God, yielding ourselves to Him. The grace of God and the power of the new life we have in Jesus accomplishes in us what rules and regulations never could.

Focus Questions
  1. Why does it matter what we do with our bodies now?
  2. How do we “put to death” the remnants and silence the old voices?
  3. How does asserting the truth of who we are in Jesus help us?

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.