46. The Energy of God

Meditations in Colossians: 46. The Energy of God

Col 1:29    To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me

There are some things that appear in the Bible that seem so obvious that they don’t even warrant us to pause over them, and yet the truth is that because they are obvious we miss them, taken them for granted and thus fail to appropriate them. Paul has been speaking about the Gospel which he has been called by God to deliver. Now imagine Paul sitting in a deckchair on a Mediterranean beach somewhere, relaxing in the sun and eventually finds himself thinking, “I really ought to share this wonderful Gospel with somebody one of these days.” Now I hope your response to that is the same as mine: “Paul, sitting in a deckchair relaxing? Wondering whether to share the Gospel? You’ve got to be joking! This is not the Paul I know and read of in the New Testament!”

Absolutely right! That picture is about as far from the real Saul of Tarsus as you can possibly get. Everything we read about this man says, no, he is all out for God, all out for the Gospel, all out for new believers, all out for the church! And he doesn’t sit around wondering about it; he gets up and does the stuff. If he can’t get to one of the churches he’s heard about, he’ll write to them – and he’ll certainly pray for them. Look at the words in this simple little verse: labour – struggling – energy – powerfully – works. This is all about strong action.

When he says, “To this end I labour,” he is speaking about expending energy to pass on the Gospel and teach the church. When he speaks of “struggling” he indicates and reminds us that it is hard work, often a battle. But then when he speaks of  “all his energy”, he is talking about the power of the Holy Spirit who is his resource provided by Christ to enable him to work out his ministry, and then when he adds, “which so powerfully works in me,” he acknowledges that the Holy Spirit is his motivating force, his driving force, his energizing force, his power force. He is what he is because of the indwelling presence of the Spirit acting like a power turbine providing all the energy he needs. But the Spirit is more than this for He also provides motivation and direction, He puts burdens on Paul’s heart which stir him into action.

Now we may be thinking, why isn’t it like that for all of us? There are two answers that come to mind. The first is that the energizing of the Spirit is directly proportional to our heart desires. There is a mystery here, why some people are all out for God, some are for Him  but to say they are ‘all out’ would be an over-statement, and then there are some who are definitely half-hearted and others who appear stationary. But why are we all different? I don’t know. As I said that is a mystery. What I do know is that the Holy Spirit will be there to take us as far as we want and I am sure that if we see little signs of His activity it is either out of ignorance or lack of will – our ignorance and lack of will, never His! If you truly set your heart to go all out for God, He WILL energize you and guide you and lead you out in new ways.

But there is a second thought: we DO get this energizing without realizing it. Despite what I have said above, I am sure the Lord takes us into what He sees we are capable of handling. For instance if, say, He took me into signs and wonders ministry, would my pride be able to handle it or would I become conceited, arrogant and brash? Is He saving me from self-destruction because He sees my heart could not handle that ‘success’? Is this a cop out? No, I don’t believe it is. The loving Lord gives us what He knows we can handle. Here’s a list of things that I believe the Holy Spirit will energize us into doing well: being a good wife or husband, being a good parent, being a good boss or worker, being a good servant in the church or the community, becoming a teacher of His word, becoming a prayer warrior, becoming an encourager, becoming a bringer of His prophetic word or words of knowledge, becoming a leader in worship, becoming a powerful deliverer, becoming a healer, becoming a miracle worker, becoming an evangelist…..

We’ll stop there. Here’s the point: as you read through that list you may have heard certain feelings about where you felt comfortable in that list. God gives us the faith to enter into the things He sees we’re good for. Check out how you feel about each of those things in that list. NO one thing is better or greater than any others in that list. You may be a husband or wife, but you may be called to be single. You may be a boss or a worker, but that is only what you are today; in five years time it may be different. The thought of ‘being out front’ at church may scare the life out of you, but you may be a bringer of grace, mercy and encouragement to others and that is just as great.

Listen to Paul’s words to the Romans: “think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”  (Rom 12:3-6) When we come to Christ, we come with good things and bad things in our lives and we start a life of change, but the Lord knows us through and through and He knows exactly what is best for us, what we are best at, how far we can go, what we can achieve and He loves every one of us exactly as we are.

There are some things we can be sure of: Jesus died for us, God loves us, and we are now indwelt by His Holy Spirit. But then life is filled with variables: who I am, my natural characteristics, my spiritual characteristics that He is working in me, the things He has on His heart for me, the things I find my heart rising to.  It is a complex mix but at the end of it, check out how open you are for Him to come in greater measure into your life, be aware of the heart yearnings that you have that may well have come from Him, and ask for revelation to recognize and understand more fully, his energy, which so powerfully works in me (and you!)

45. Paul’s Aim for the Church

Meditations in Colossians: 45. Paul’s Aim for the Church

Col 1:28    We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.

Perhaps there is nothing so dispiriting as church without an aim, a church that just exists and performs week by week where nothing changes and everyone is complacently happy and content with the status quo. It is a lifeless church. Perhaps it comes from an overstated view of the sovereignty of God – we don’t need to do everything because God is sovereign and He will do what He wants. Well yes He is, but it makes pointless all of the encouragements and exhortations in the New Testament which basically say, “You do….”  In other words we have a part of play. But simply fulfilling commands also becomes lifeless orthodoxy. Our activities and the changes that take place in our individual lives and the life of our churches should come from the vision that we have put before us in the New Testament.

In the previous meditation we considered Christ, the mystery revealed of God’s will planned from before the foundation of the world.  So when Paul now says, “We proclaim him,” we see he is referring to Christ, but the verse clearly does not merely mean revealing Christ for who he is, but it clearly goes on to speak of the effect of Christ’s work in respect of our lives. We see he describes how he goes about this: “admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom.” It is by correcting and challenging (admonishing) and by bringing instruction and guidance (teaching) with the insight God gives (wisdom). I have, sadly, been on rare occasion in a church where all you hear on a Sunday morning are mere platitudes and platitudes do nothing to admonish or teach, and leaders use platitudes simply because they have either  never seen the goal they should be aiming for, or they have but have backed away and opted for the easy life – for it is easier not to challenge or provoke people and risk their negative responses. It is easier not to teach and risk people reacting negatively, but the truth is that that IS our calling, to mature people – as much as they will allow us to be involved in their lives.

Paul was clear on his goal: so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” Now those who wish for the comfy approach say, “Well, yes, that obviously refers to the work of bringing people to Christ, for when we do that they are, as we saw earlier, perfect in God’s sight – “holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” (v.22) And that is exactly true, that is the first step of ministry. Of that there should be no doubt and that is exactly what the apostle Paul did, but remember what he said earlier, why he prayed for the Colossians: “that you may 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.” That is an ongoing work and when Paul, as he often did, stayed weeks or months with a new church, and when he wrote to churches he had never been to, he admonished and taught them and sought to enable them to grow in their new faith.

Do you remember Jesus’ teaching: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) ‘Perfect’ there means complete or whole. There is a sense that when we come to Christ and we receive his presence in the form of his Holy Spirit, we have everything we will ever need “in Him”. However we know from daily experience that this new life is a learning process and although we have taken the biggest step it has simply opened the way for us to enter a lifetime of learning and developing and growing and maturing, so when Jesus said, “Be perfect” he was speaking in a long-term goal way – work at it, receive from my Father all He has for you so that you will change and grow and develop.

Do you also remember Paul’s teaching about the Ephesians 4 ministries? What is their goal? “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:12,13) Now does this happen straight away or is it working towards a long-term goal? Both!  It happens straight away in as far as we each have His Holy Spirit within us with all the resources needed to do the will of God but there is a difference between a) having the resources, b) knowing you have the resources, and c) using those resources. Part of the teaching package is enabling people to come to a place where they realise who they are and what God has given them – (b) above. But part of the teaching package is then encouraging them into taking hold of and using those resources – (c) above.

Again, do you remember Jesus’ final words in Matthew’s Gospel, part of the so-called Great Commission: “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20) The first half is about bringing people to Christ and the second part is about maturing them in him. The teaching there is (c) above, using the resources God has given us to DO the things Jesus taught us to do.  So again we will suggest, Paul is not content to bring people to Christ; the whole tone of all we have read in this chapter is about his desire for these Colossians to grow and be seen to be perfect in who they are and that, as we said, is a long-term ongoing goal that should be before every Christian leader in their desire for their people. May it be so.

44. The Mystery

Meditations in Colossians: 44. The Mystery

Col 1:26,27   the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

For those of us who have habited church for any length of time and have heard the Gospel proclaimed many times, we almost certainly take for granted this revelation. However if we went back to say 100BC then this revelation did not exist; it had not yet happened and had not therefore been revealed. Even when Christ came, the early church struggled to understand the significance of his death and resurrection and only gradually did it become clear that it meant forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God and adoption as His children – all because of what Christ had done on the Cross!

To check the context remember the previous verse: I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness….” and this word, he now says, was a mystery. Paul uses this word ‘mystery’ a number of times to speak about the Gospel. Here he simply says it had been hidden for ages and generations but is now disclosed.

He used it in Romans to refer to what has happened and will happen to Israel (Rom 11:25)  but at the end of that letter he referred to it clearly as the gospel: “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him.” (Rom 16:25,26)

He also used it in respect of what will happen to us at the end (1 Cor 15:51) but it is not until Ephesians and Colossians that he really gets into his stride in using it: “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,” (Eph 1:9)  i.e. God’s will had been a mystery until Christ came. But then comes a longer explanation: “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 3:2-6)

First of all here he says that this mystery had been the administration of God’s grace, i.e. how God had come and expressed His grace. Second, that it was about the mystery of Christ, i.e. there had been hints through the Old Testament era of one who would come, a messiah figure, and yet it was unclear who or what he would be. Some scriptures seemed to indicate a suffering servant, and others a triumphant king. The third mystery was how God was going to deal with the whole world, that He has in fact dealt with Jew and Gentile the same way – through His Son’s death.

It comes up again a few verses later: “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,” (Eph 3:8-10) This mystery includes the unsearchable riches of Christ. We so often hear preachers using this word to mean the enormity of his riches that cannot be measured, but in fact in the context of this mystery, it is more likely to mean riches that had not previously been made obvious and were there like a treasure trove waiting for someone in the know to unearth it. This mystery here also extends to include the bringing about of the church (through the work of Christ) which will reveal the will of God to the rest of creation.

Paul also uses it in the same context near the end of his letter: “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains,” (Eph 6:19,20) but there he uses it to simply describe the gospel that needed revelation.

As we come into Colossians we find our present verse which describes this mystery as “Christ in you.” No one could have dreamt that one of the outworkings of the plan and will of God was that the Spirit of His Son would indwell every believer. In the next chapter he goes on to say, “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, (Col 2:2,3) or as the Amplified version expresses verse 3: In Him all the treasures of [divine] wisdom ([a]comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God) and [all the riches of spiritual] knowledge and enlightenment are stored up and lie hidden.”  The JBP version puts it more simply, “For it is in him, and in him alone, that men will find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” In other words the mystery is that if you go looking for wisdom and knowledge, you will only find it in a real sense in and through Christ.  He uses it just once more in Colossians:pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ,” (Col 4:3) There it is, very simply, bringing out into the open the wonder of Christ which spiritually blind eyes have not been able to see; this is the Gospel.

There is one more element; “the hope of glory” which refers to “the hope that is stored up for you in heaven,” (v.5) which we considered in some detail in the ninth of these studies. Just stop and think about it for a moment. If you lived say in 100BC could you have ever guessed that God’s will, the plan that the godhead formulated before the creation of the world, would include the Son of God leaving heaven and coming to earth, to reveal the Father, and to die on a Cross and be resurrected from the dead before ascending back to his place in heaven? Surely not!  But even more, could we have guessed the consequences of that – that our sins could be forgiven, we could be cleansed of them, the power of Sin broken over our lives, we be reconciled to God, we be adopted as children of God, we receive His Holy Spirit to guide, direct and empower our lives for the rest of our time on this earth, and then we be taken to heaven to enjoy the wonder of God’s presence in eternity? Surely not! You may take it all for granted today, but then, back there, you wouldn’t have had a clue, for it was a complete mystery to a wondering world. How incredible!

43. Commissioned

Meditations in Colossians: 43. Commissioned

Col 1:25   I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness

And so we come full circle. It is interesting to contemplate how Paul went about writing a letter like this, probably dictating it to a scribe-colleague. He must have had an overall idea of what he wanted to communicate and to whom he was writing. Thus, writing to a people he has never met, there are little comments designed to verify who he was and to give credibility and authority to his writing. Thus in the opening line of the letter we found, Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” and now we find the echo to that, “by the commission God gave me.”  No doubt Epaphras would have told them about Paul and the other apostles but time and again, Paul describes himself as one sent by God to bring the Gospel.

In a day when heresies were counter-attacking the true Gospel, it was important for credibility to be established. Although he had written to the Romans, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation,” (Rom 15:20) he was not averse to backing up his colleagues’ work with letters such as this and along the way he sought to verify his own credentials for writing. In defensive mode with the Corinthians he wrote, “men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” (1 Cor 4:1-4) There he strongly makes the point that he is answerable to God, a servant of Christ, entrusted with the wonders of the revelation of the Gospel.

We see Paul’s commissioning through the message of Ananias: “the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15,16)  Again and again in Scripture we see that it is God who takes the initiative with us. Do you remember His words to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew (or chose) you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jer 1:5) God knows what we are like and what He can do with us. This, I am certain, is the basis for His choices.

In a wider sense Paul wrote, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1:11-14) See there the things he says: 1. We were chosen (& predestined) by God.  2. The basis of His choice was His will worked out from before the foundation of the world. 3. This was brought into present day reality when we heard and responded to the Gospel. 4. When we did that he imparted His Holy Spirit to us who gave us a new life and equipped us with gifting to work out the will of God, in and through us today.

When the Lord apprehended Saul (as he then was) on the road to Damascus, He knew Paul’s background – “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless,”  (Phil 3:5,6) – and saw this man who was all out for Him, even though he was misguided, and so He takes him and puts him on the right track so that all of his endeavours from now on will be given over to sharing the Gospel. He had been confronted by the risen Christ and he will never be the same again. Now he knows the truth and the Holy Spirit within him will convey the truth more and more to his understanding.

When he says, “I have become its servant” he refers to the church (from the previous verse). He is part of the Church and as a servant of Christ, he also serves the Church and that is the reason why he now writes. He wants them to grow (v.9-12), not just stand still after their initial salvation. Paul always has a twofold goal: first to bring the Gospel to people for them to be saved, and then for them to grow in their faith, built up as children of God.

It is this that he has in his mind, I suggest, when he says, “to present to you the word of God in its fullness.”  The word is first to bring people to Christ, but it doesn’t stop there; the word of truth continues to come to guide and direct and develop and grow and mature people in the faith. The ‘fullness’ of the word is the continuation of the word to bring continual ongoing change in our lives to develop and mature us. A ministry that simply brings people to the Lord and then walks away is inadequate. Our concern should always be that those who come to Christ should now grow in Christ. Being an instrument to bring new birth is excellent but it is only part of the package, for these new believers now need the fullness of God’s word to take them on, bring them knowledge and understanding and help them grow in Him. May it always be so.

42. Suffering for the Church

Meditations in Colossians: 42. Suffering for the Church

Col 1:24   Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

And so the strange, even alien, phrases continue to appear before us in Paul’s writings, phrases and concepts we are so often happy to pass by with little thought. From the great and glorious paragraphs about the gospel, salvation and the wonder of Christ, for a moment it seems, we fall back to see Paul himself again. There has been much pure doctrine in the verses we have considered but every now and then Paul himself comes to the fore: We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,” (v.3) and we have heard of your faith,” (v,4) andwe have not stopped praying for you,” (v.9) and “This is the gospel….and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” (v.23) and then finally our present verse. Paul’s letter contain a lot of doctrine but also a lot of personal expression.

So he starts this verse with, “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you.” The truth is that the Gospel never comes easily. Paul’s focus there is on what was “suffered for you.”  Someone had suffered to get the Gospel to them there in Colosse and that person had been Epaphras (v.7). He had obviously brought the Gospel to them, established believers and then came under attack from the heresies of the day, so he returned to Paul in Rome (probably)  for him to write this letter countering so much of the heretical teaching that had been going on. It is a battle to bring the Gospel and a battle to hold on to the truths of it. Beyond this we don’t know what Epaphras went through. We do know that it would have cost time and energy to travel so slowly from place to place, often on foot, often by sea with its perils in the Mediterranean.

When we come to the middle part of the verse we come across an idea or concept that is alien to many of us: “and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.” Taking the latter part first, there is implied that for Christ to bring the Gospel to his world – whether in the single body during his earthly ministry, or his wider body, the church, throughout history – he (and we) will suffer afflictions. Now an affliction is simply something imposed on us from outside of us. A missionary in Africa or Asia might be afflicted with malaria. They may also be afflicted with persecution. Now I believe we may also stretch the word ‘affliction’ to include things we impose on ourselves by taking up the call to go with the Gospel, so we may speak of sacrifice of family ties, and home comforts, and the affliction of loneliness, misunderstanding and so on. These things are part of the package that goes with the Gospel being shared around the world.

Paul spoke of the things he suffered in the course of his ministry in an amazingly open outpouring: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Cor 11:23-28) His life and ministry may have been exceptional but these are the sort of things he refers to when he says, “I fill up in my flesh.” i.e. these are the things I have physically experienced. Read back over those verses above and see that so much of it involved physical struggles.

Modern sharing the Gospel across the world is mild by comparison. In the past when I have traveled abroad I was away from my family for up to three weeks (in a day before Skype or e-mails provided a link). In the middle of the night in Hong Kong, I suddenly became aware of the thousands of miles of rock between me and my wife as I imagined her on the other side of the globe. Sitting on a plane for ten to thirteen hours is tedious and tiring but nothing like the endeavours of Paul and his fellow apostles. When I first went east, I suffered culture shock, a relatively minor shock to the system. And then I came across some missionaries in preparation. One couple were about to make their way to Outer Mongolia where the nearest Westerners would be over five hundred miles away. As I encountered these and other similar missionaries getting ready for a life of privation, I recognized that I was in the company of a different brand of people. These were those who were giving up their lives, giving up their families, giving up their careers, to go and take the good news of Jesus to peoples who had never yet heard, and all they looked forward to was affliction! These are mighty people!

Paul finishes the verses with, “Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”   Christ is in the business of growing his body so that his Father’s kingdom may be expanded and the world blessed and his Father honoured. These afflictions come and are experienced that this end may be achieved. Jesus himself was misunderstood, reviled and rejected and then crucified. These were his afflictions  while he was on earth in a single body. Since then his body has received beatings and burnings, impositions and imprisonments, derision and death, and so even today in varying measures around the world, it continues. It is the cost of sharing and maintaining the Gospel.

41. The Ever-spreading Gospel

Meditations in Colossians: 41. The ever-spreading Gospel

Col 1:23b    This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

This is one of those verses that you have to point out to those who say we have to take the Bible literally throughout and say, no, the apostle Paul was not meaning for every word to be taken literally; he was using hyperbole, which is overstatement to make a strong point. He does that here when he speaks of “every creature under heaven” in the same way as in verse 6 he used the expression “all over the world” referring to the spread of the Gospel, Perhaps we might say, in his shoes, this Gospel has been shared far and wide all over the known world. In the eleventh study in this series we tracked the spread of the Gospel.

I suspect we take for granted the concept of this particular body or piece of knowledge that Paul shared that we call ‘the Gospel’, but there is specific content although that was not always completely shared when Paul referred to it. In an earlier study we summarised it as, ‘Jesus came, revealed the Father, was crucified and rose from the dead, all, we are told, the means to bring about the forgiveness of our sins.’ The other side of the verse about conditions that we previously just studied, Paul had outlined the Gospel: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” (v.21,22) These are the words he refers to when he now says, “This Gospel….”

It is interesting that although the word Gospel is used nine times in the four Gospels, it is rarely given content. Mark refers to it as, “the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” (Mk 1:1) and a few verses later says, “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near.” (Mk 1:14,15) At its most basic it was that Jesus , the Son of God had come and was revealing the kingdom of God, but of course at that point he had not died for our sins. That was remedied by the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost where he spelled out who Jesus was and what he had done when he had died on the Cross (Acts 2:22-24, 36-39) where he also speaks of the required repentance which will bring forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

When he shared with Cornelius and his Gentile family and friends, he began by speaking of, “the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” (Acts 10:36) He then spoke of, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him,” (Acts 10:38) explaining Jesus’ earthly ministry, and then added, “They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen,” (v.39,40 explaining the Cross and resurrection. He concluded with, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (v.43) When he got that far the Lord poured out His Holy Spirit on them as if to say, “That is enough Peter, and because they believe what you are sharing, here is my Spirit for them too.” So there is was: Son of God incarnate doing wonderful things, crucified and resurrected for the forgiveness of sins.

Writing to the Corinthians, Paul said, “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. ….. that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:1-3) That is perhaps the briefest version of the Gospel. There is more that can be added, as we’ll see when Paul continues, but these are the basics. This is the basic body of information that has been conveyed down through history to tell us what God has done.

This body of information, we saw earlier had gone with new believers from Jerusalem out to many other parts of the world. Philip preached it in Samaria and then Gaza (Acts 8:5,40) as did Peter and John in Samaria. The word spread and spread. In his book, Evangelism in the Early Church, Michael Green  highlights various factors that made it possible for the Gospel to be spread more easily: Roman peace and rule and their excellent road system opening up travel, the common use of the Greek language making communication easier across a big area and the widespread Jews who made the early link for such Jewish evangelists such as Paul. But it was the power of the Gospel that transformed lives together with Jesus’ instruction to go and tell the good news, and the power and direction of the Holy Spirit, that really catapulted the good news across the world.

40. Conditions

Meditations in Colossians: 40. Conditions

Col 1:23    if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.

When we were considering Jesus as the reconciler we had cause to note about the salvation he brings, that this does not apply to anyone but simply to those who will respond to it. It is not a universal salvation that means anyone regardless is saved.  There is a school of thought that says ‘once saved, always saved’. I do not believe Scripture confirms that. The word ‘if’ here indicates a condition.

Remember the previous verses laid out our salvation: “now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” (v.22) Jesus has done everything necessary to make it possible for us to be reconciled to God so that we appear holy in his sight etc. And then comes the ‘if’. In other words all that is true only IF we “continue in our faith”. Note the word ‘continue’ which suggests we started out right, giving ourselves to God through Christ, but then comes the possibility that we fail to “continue in our faith.”

Now we need to bring a word of reassurance here for scripture indicates it is possible to stumble and sin but yet be able to continue. The apostle John says, “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) That makes it clear that it is possible to stumble and sin, but that is very different from a life that turns away from God which is what is implied in our verse above.

Note the path that is implied in our present verse: “if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” Consider the opposites. It is possible to give up on your faith. Everything about the Christian life is faith and so if we give up on faith, we give up on our Christian life, our salvation. We become unstable in our thinking and our believing becomes movable and changing. No wonder our faith is undermined. We move away from the hope that the Gospel presented to us and so we have no assurance and rightly so because we have lost it.

Now for the faint hearted we should bring further reassurances. Yes, there is this possibility and it is a possibility of just drifting away from God so there is no reality of your salvation, and it is possible to be seduced away from God by the lies of the enemy, but realise that in each case we make an act of will to allow that to happen. If you don’t want it to happen, it won’t happen. Jude described God as the one “who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” (Jude v.24)

That is God’s intent and that is what He is continually working to achieve, but He will not override your free will. So if you want, you can walk away – and some do – and when you observe their lives you see dissatisfaction, anxiety, upset, fears ,doubts and all the fruits of the old life again. Yes, they did genuinely make a real commitment to Christ and were even all out for him, and yet somewhere along the way they got lost – but it was an act of their will that took them there. Remember the apostle Paul’s words, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38,39) No one and nothing can separate you from Jesus as long as that is what you want!

The writer to the Hebrew wrote some sobering words: “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance.” (Heb 6:4-6) Again this is not a one off or occasional getting it wrong; this refers to those who willfully turn away in their lives from God. Be under no illusions, these were born again believers for who else could have these fivefold description given about them:

  • who have once been enlightened,
  • who have tasted the heavenly gift,
  • who have shared in the Holy Spirit,
  • who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and
  • the powers of the coming age.

No, these were believers who had fully entered into the salvation provided for them but somehow they “fell away”, they gave up on it, they lost their assurance, their lost their joy and the many other fruits of knowing God. Possibly one of the most terrifying words of Scripture is found in judges, spoken about Samson who so presumed on God’s grace and thought he could get away with anything: “He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him.” (Jud 16:20) The truth is that God is holy and if we think we can get away with sinning continually, we are in danger of forfeiting our salvation. The condition is clear: IF you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.

A final warning and encouragement: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Cir 10:12,13)  We need to be careful not to fall (and stay down) – that is our part to play. But God will be there for us helping us overcome any temptation the enemy may put before us. Yes, the warning is there, but there are so many positive encouragements that we need not be faint hearted and can be sure that we will be able to say with the apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.” (2 Tim 4:7,8)   Hallelujah!

39. Reconciled to be Holy

Meditations in Colossians: 39. Reconciled to be holy

Col 1:22    But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

I do like ‘joining words’. ‘But’ sets off the present verse against the previous one. In the previous verse Paul had reminded us what we were like before we came to Christ, but he doesn’t want to leave it there. For every negative about our past there are many positives about our present and future and so Paul turns the coin over, so to speak, to remind them and us what God did about these helpless and hopeless individuals who he had described as “alienated from God and … enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.”  Yes, that’s what we had been like, but God didn’t leave us like that.

No, He came and “reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death.” We considered the theme of reconciliation in verse 20, seeing it was the bringing together of two people at odds with each other when the conflict is dealt with and peace is restored. This reconciliation between God and us was brought about by Jesus’ death on the Cross. Now we have touched on that a number of times and so don’t need to spend time on it now. It is the result of his work on the Cross which stands out in this present verse, that having dealt with our Sin, our sins and our guilt on the Cross, we stand before God with all those three things removed – at least from sight. The power of Sin has been broken, the sins that spoke against us have been removed, and the guilt that ensued has also been removed and transferred to the body of Christ on the Cross.

I don’t know if you ever watch those dramas where they jump back in time to do recaps in a person’s life. Well, when we came to Christ, there was immediately a jumping back in time so that all of those three things in your life were taken back and put upon Christ as he hung on the Cross. We’ve used the illustration before, that C.S.Lewis came up with, of the picture of God standing outside of time, looking down from above on a line that is history, so He sees both our present and any other moment in history. When He looks at us when we bow before him confessing our sins and believing in Jesus, His eyes take those things from us and He sees them being dealt with by His Son on the Cross. When He looks back to us, they are gone.

Now that is the truth that is conveyed in the Scriptures. We have it in our verse above: to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”   When He first created us in the form of Adam and Eve, we were holy, made in His image. Christ’s work on the Cross takes us back to that original state as far as God is concerned. When He looks back to us, so to speak, from Christ on the Cross He sees us as holy people, without blemish and free from any accusation from justice or from Satan. That IS how we are in God’s sight as a result of the work of Christ on the Cross.

Now this word ‘holy’ bears some further thought because I think most of us struggle with the idea that we are now to be considered ‘holy’, especially when we look at our lives and see how imperfect they are. How can we be holy?

The big call to holiness comes through the book of Leviticus which is all about ceremonial law which relates to maintaining a right relationship with the Lord. A number of times we come across the call to be holy. The call to be a holy people though came first at Sinai: “you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex 19:6) That was reiterated in the Law that was given there: “You are to be my holy people.” (Ex 22:31)

Although there are many more references to the holy in Exodus the force of it doesn’t really come until Leviticus when we find, “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground. I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.” (Lev 11:44,45) We did in fact look quite extensively at this subject of being holy right back in the second of these studies so I won’t prolong this too much here. The next call in Leviticus is, “The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: `Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy,” (Lev 19:2) and then You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” (Lev 20:26) The apostle Peter brings this into New Testament Christianity: “just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:15,16)

Now what all these references do is link us to God’s being. When we are linked to God we are linked to the holy – because He IS holy (separate, distinct, perfect, unlike any other). Through the work of Jesus on the Cross, that has been legally established: in His sight we ARE holy. That opens the door for us to be forgiven, cleansed and adopted and having been adopted as His sons or children, He places His Holy Spirit within us.

We are now truly one with him as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.” (Jn 17:20-23)

That reflects Jesus’ teaching at the Last Supper: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (Jn 14:16-20) He starts by speaking of the Holy Spirit and ends by speaking of his own presence being in them; it is one and the same thing. We ARE holy because Jesus has made it legally so, and we ARE holy because he indwells us by his Spirit. The Father sees us as holy and has given us the resource to live out this holiness. Hallelujah!

38. What we once were

Meditations in Colossians: 38. What we once were

Col 1:21    Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of  your evil behaviour.

We have commented before but it bears repeating, that the threads of these early verses of Colossians weave together in such a way that Paul basically repeats what he is saying but uses different language or concepts. He does it because he is a good teacher and, never having met these people at Colosse before, he wants to make sure they have a good foundation of the truth. He had started out saying how they had heard of their faith as they had received the Gospel (v.4-6), and  had then prayed that their lives might fully reflect the anticipated fruits of salvation that comes through that Gospel (v.9-12).

Each part seems to build on the previous part, so prayers of thanks turned into prayers of request for who the Colossians have now become. As an encouragement to build on that he points out that they had been delivered from the dominion of darkness into Jesus’ kingdom in which they now live (v.13) by Jesus work on the Cross, the work of redemption (v.14).  That leads him on to speak about the wonder of who Jesus was and what he had done (v.15-20). Throughout these verses we find little hints of some of the facets of our salvation, from where we have come, what has been achieved, what we’ve become; for example, “God’s grace,” (v.6 i.e. what we needed from God), “bearing fruit… growing,” (v.10 our need to change), “Rescued from the dominion of darkness,” (v.13 our plight and previous state), “to reconcile… by making peace through  his blood,” (v.19 what Christ had to do for us). In the course of pondering on these things we have observed some of the other Scriptures that stated what our old life was like, and we may need to visit them again.

To fully appreciate the wonder of who we are and what we have ahead of us (which is what Paul has been speaking about), we also need to reflect back on where we have come from and what we were. I remember in the early days of my Christian life having many opportunities to give my testimony and listened to the testimonies of many others. A danger, I came to realise, is that we can spell out so much of what our old life was like in our attempts to show how wonderful the change has been, that we hear more about the seamy side of life than the wonder of our salvation and the new life we now have.  Of course as a new Christian we did not fully appreciate the shear wonder of the life ahead of us, that was to come with the years. Beware the danger!

Paul’s objective at this point seems to be to remind (or teach anew?) the Colossians of the reality of what their state had been, by way of encouragement never to turn back that way. Hence, Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” It is almost as if he is saying to them and to us, “Do you realise that before you came to Christ you were actually alienated from God, at a distance from Him. It wasn’t a case of , ‘well, you were nice people but just needed a little help from God’. No, you were actually completely separated off from God. And why was that? It was because your very thinking was hostile to God, you were enemies of God even in your thinking. You were godless and self-centred and certainly didn’t want God lording it over you. Don’t you tell me what to do, was in the back of your mind even if you had never quite got around to saying it out loud. But it wasn’t merely in your mind or your thinking because what we think, we do. I’ve just said you were self-centred and godless ad that was reflected in the way you behaved and I’m sorry to have to say it but your behaviour was evil. Anything that is contrary to God or hostile to God is evil. It runs contrary to the way He designed us to be.”

Yes, this is what Paul is saying and he is trying to get us to face up to the reality of what we used to be like, to remind us of how we were so that we recognize the need we had and that we were helpless to change and were thus hopeless. These are the truths about all of us. Sometimes we forget what we were once like and we almost take pride in who we are – superior to the rest of our neighbours – but we forget that we were exactly like them once and nothing we could do in ourselves could change that. That is why it is a Gospel of grace; it is God’s grace that, despite our godlessness, despite our self-centredness, despite our hostility, despite our rejection of Him, still reached out to us. As Paul wrote elsewhere, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) We were still like all that when God’s plan of redemption was put into operation at the Cross. We had nothing to do with it and we certainly had no part in planning it, for we were utterly clueless as to our plight. No, it was all of God’s grace that reached out to us, while we were still in wrong thinking, wrong behaviour and rejecting God.

We need this salutary reminder, not only to help us see the wonder of God’s love, grace and mercy, but also to keep ourselves in perspective. I still need His saving grace every day to hold me as one of His children, to keep me from the wiles of the enemy and remind me that the ways of the world are folly and destructive – and that He knows best! He always has and always will! And if I need any reminding of that, I just come back to this verse that reminds me that I was alienated from God and was His enemy in my mind, my thinking, my attitudes and my evil behavior. That’s what I was like and I’m only not like that today because of what He has done for me on the Cross and what His Spirit is doing within me today. That is the truth!

37. Jesus the Reconciler

Meditations in Colossians: 37. Jesus the Reconciler

Col 1:19,20    For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

There are so many strands of the Gospel that Paul weaves together in this chapter and because there is such an interweaving we find ourselves covering the same ground again and again but picking out particular or different aspects. Even within these two verses Paul says the same thing twice, but in different ways.

When we speak of reconciliation we are referring to what takes place when two estranged people are brought together again. There had been a conflict between them but when they are reconciled that conflict is dealt with and peace is restored. In the following verse, as we shall see in the next meditation, Paul reminds us what we once were – enemies of God. We were self-centred and Godless and at odds with God, and we will consider that in more detail in the next meditation.  For now, let’s just take in this concept of reconciliation in general terms.

Paul speaks in these same terms to the Romans: For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom 5:10,11) There it is again. In our verse above it speaks of “making peace through his blood shed on the cross.” In these verses he simply speaks of “the death of his Son.”  We’ve seen it before so we needn’t go into it in detail: we were guilty and justice demanded our sins be punished, and so Jesus on the Cross took our punishment. Our sins and our guilt separated us from God. The sins and the guilt needed dealing with and Jesus did that. Once they were dealt with, we can be reconciled to the Father.

Paul also spoke about this to the Corinthians: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:17-21) What a passage! It starts out speaking of how, as Christians, we are new creations and ends with speaking of how in this we reveal God’s righteousness. In between is the message and the ministry that brought this about – through Christ and in Christ – the work of the Cross meant that He would no longer look on our sins because he “who had no sin”, on the Cross became  “sin for us”. Thus we were reconciled to God by justice being satisfied.

We should note in passing that this does not apply to absolutely anyone but simply to those who will respond to it. It is not a universal salvation that means anyone regardless is saved. As we’ll see later, the condition it that we receive this message and respond fully to it. But then in our verses above, there is an interesting and challenging phrase: “to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.”

The big picture is that when Adam and Eve sinned, not only was the harmony between God and us destroyed, but also disorder came into creation: “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope….We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Rom 8:20,22) God stepped back from mankind at the Fall, so His blessing on the world was no longer automatic, but He did it in the realization that the Godhead had planned from before the Creation for the redemption of the world through Christ. Now, Paul says, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed…. that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”  (Rom 8:19,21) Our salvation leads on to the world being restored but, he suggests, there is yet still a future dimension to this: “we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom 8:23)

To summarise this we might say that when Christ died on the cross, he made peace possible between God and us, and he restored the coming possibility of harmony in the physical world, though the full realization of this, it seems, will come only when Christ returns. The Cross not only dealt with our Sin, our sins and our guilt, it appears to have opened the way for the physical world to be changed as well. Maybe that is what we see in the Gospels when Jesus heals so many people, he is restoring them on the basis of what he is about to do on the Cross. I suspect there is yet much more that we have to learn about these things.