9. Continue in Christ

CHAPTER 2: Part 6: Exhortation: Stand strong and free

Meditations in Colossians 2: 9:  Continue in Christ

Col 2:6,7   So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

You will know that I like link words, so I like “So then …”  It’s a short way of say, “Very well because of what I’ve just said, this is what should follow.” i.e. you’ve heard me speak about the mystery of Christ and also warning against wrong thinking that leads astray, so as a means of capitalising on the one and working against the other, this is what you should be doing. There is a logic or flow in Paul’s thinking and this is the natural follow-on to what I’ve just said.

He starts, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord,” and takes them back to the point of their conversion, of receiving their salvation.  There used to be a worry about new believers only receiving Christ as Saviour and not as Lord, and perhaps in some quarters that is still a valid concern. For Christ to be Saviour he HAS to be Lord as well. The ‘Saviour only’ approach focuses on the point of conversion but that is meaningless unless the life that follows is lived out under Christ’s direction for salvation isn’t just for a conversion moment, it is for being worked out in a lifetime. To get the fruits of salvation throughout the rest of your life, you have to let Christ lead you and be Lord. Christians live substandard lives and fail to appropriate all Christ has for them if they fail to let him be Lord of their life.  So when Paul says just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord,” he is subtly reminding them of the fundamental approach to life they have adopted – letting Christ be Lord, and that is for every day they have left on this earth.

But he then spells out what that Lordship means: “continue to live in him,” When we speak of living ‘in Christ’ we are saying imagine you are one with Christ, because you are; you are part of his body, the Church, and his Holy Spirit indwells you. Be aware of him, be aware that he speaks to us – through his word, through his Spirit – and that he is here for our good, guiding and directing us, so be aware of him and focus on him when you pray, for instance. Remain Christ focused is how we may sum thus up.

And then he expands on that: “rooted and built up in him.” When a plant is rooted in soil, it relies upon that soil for its nutrients and for water; it gets its life from the soil, being fed by it and by being supported by it. This is how we are in Christ; he is our foundation, he is the one from whom our life comes, he is the one who supports us, and this is not merely words but practical reality. ‘In him’ we are also ‘built up’. His presence, his life, supports and energises us.  This may sound obvious but remember that Paul is laying down the basics for a young church, for new believers as well as, at the same time, providing resources to help counteract false teachings that may come and seduce these people away from their experience of Christ.

There are two more things to encourage them to do this. First, be “strengthened in the faith as you were taught,” which is a natural continuance from thinking about being strengthened in your experience of being ‘in Christ’. Be also strengthened as you hang on to the teaching you have received concerning your faith. It is not only experiential via the Holy Spirit, it is also sustained by the practical teaching imparted through the church.

Then he adds, “and overflowing with thankfulness.” Now you may not think that that instruction strengthens new believers and counteracts false teaching, but it does! If you maintain a prayer life filled with thankfulness, it means that you are continually reminding yourself of all the good things that we have been considered in these studies in these two chapters. And if you are being thankful you will be thanking someone, and that someone is God, and so you will be continually be turning back to Him, focusing on Him, giving to Him and receiving from Him. Thankfulness sounds so innocuous but it is a key to good spiritual health, to remaining focused on God, to holding firm to the truth of all that He is, all that He has done and all that He has made you. Being thankful is a major element of a healthy life.

So there he is, calling on these new believers to remain strong as they walk out their new faith, by remembering who they are – those ‘in ‘Christ’, and what that means – we are founded in Christ and he is our resource and support and Lord, the bringer of all good things into our lives. Holding firm to this and to the teaching we have received, and maintaining an attitude of thankfulness, will mean that these new believers will grow, will be strong and will be able to stand against the wiles of the enemy and resist false teaching that undermines and seduces away from Christ. This is powerful stuff!

22. A Strengthened People

Meditations in Colossians: 22. A Strengthened People

Col 1:10,11   And we pray this in order 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, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might

Think about the taps in your bathroom. You turn them on and then get distracted and have to dash out for an hour. When you come back the taps are still running (and fortunately you had not put the plug in the bath!) Or suppose you go away for the weekend and leave a light on in your house. You come back several days later and find the light still on.  Now you are probably not surprised that water is still running because you know it comes from a large reservoir and you’ve hardly lowered the water level by a millimetre! Also you are not surprised at the light being on because you know your electricity comes from the National Grid and there are massive power stations  running constantly producing electricity. So why, I wonder, are some of us slow in turning to God to ask for strength and wisdom from the One who has all power, all knowledge, all understanding and all wisdom?

Now I came across a commentary that suggested that just KNOWING that you are loved and cared for and directed is strengthening. This commentator said, “when a person grows in the clear knowledge of God, his strength and courage increase.”  Now that is exactly right and Paul has just been saying we are to grow in the knowledge of God and we considered that that means knowing about (His word) and knowing personally (His Spirit). Without doubt (and I would be the first to shout it from the rooftops) reading, studying, meditating upon and absorbing God’s word does strengthen you and build you; no question of that!

However Paul speaks of “all power” and then “according to his glorious might”. The “all power” suggests any sort of power. My dictionary starts out defining power as “ability to do, act, or produce,”  and then goes on, “a specific ability or faculty [the power  of hearing]” So if you need strength, stamina, perseverance, patience, goodness, kindness, the ability to hear, the ability to speak, the ability to read His word, the ability to pray, the ability to worship, the ability to witness, the ability to care, the ability to love and so on, then the power to do all of these things is available from Him. Moreover, as we sought to convey in the first paragraph above, there is no limitation to His resources. The only thing that limits them is our unbelief, when we do not think to turn to Him and ask for help and we do not believe that such help can be forthcoming.

Now some of us get over spiritual and think that this cannot mean physical things because we are still hung over with that ancient Greek idea that has come down through the ages that there is a division between physical and spiritual and physical is bad and spiritual is good. But who made this physical world? Who gave us all these abilities to enjoy this material world? No, this is “all power” meaning all aspects of our lives – physical, emotional, mental, spiritual; the Lord is concerned for every aspect of our lives and has made provision through Jesus’ death on the Cross to provide for us.

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul wrote, “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:11) The ‘Spirit’ referred to there is obviously the Holy Spirit who now indwells us. Now most of the references that link Jesus’ resurrection to us, are about our eternal life, lived out after we leave this earth, but the context of Romans 8 is all about how we live out our lives NOW. The Holy Spirit is the power who enables us to live out our lives in God’s will, now, today, here at this moment. Where are these lives lived out? Through these physical bodies. The Spirit may empower our spirits but the reality or outworking is seen in the way our bodies work.

Yes, He imparts knowledge and understanding and wisdom into our minds but it is in our bodies that we live it out.  Hence in chapter 12 of Romans Paul said, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom 12:1,2) Do you see the unity there? We make an act of will to give our bodies over to be available for God to use, and so using these physical bodies for Him is an act of spiritual worship, and we do that as He teaches us and in our minds we come to understand His will for us.

This takes us back to our earlier verses: “we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord.” (v.9,10) As we come to see what His will is for us (knowledge) as he imparts wisdom and understanding, so we are enabled to live out our lives (physical, mental and spiritual) and be seen to be His children (worthy of Him). That is the framework for our lives which are then able to be lived out according to the power of the Spirit within us, i.e. strengthened with all power according to his glorious might.  Hallelujah!

10. Be an Example

The Anguish of Job – Meditation 10

Job 4:1-3 Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied: “If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? But who can keep from speaking? Think how you have instructed many, how you have strengthened feeble hands.

Job has just poured out his heart in anguish. He rues the day that he was born that allowed his life to develop to this day of pain. It’s a short-sighted cry but when you are in complete anguish that isn’t very surprising. When he comes to the end of his cry, there is a brief pause and then Eliphaz can’t hold himself back any longer. Remember, he is one of the three friends who have come to “sympathize with him and comfort him.” (2:11).

First of all he recognises that Job is in a state and therefore he launches out somewhat defensively: “If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient?” He knows that in Job’s state he might object to whatever comes. Yet, as we said, Eliphaz can’t hold himself back: “But who can keep from speaking?” Anyone watching you and listening to you Job, would want to help and say something, is what he is saying. This sounds just like a concerned friend but sometimes those who appeared concerned have another agenda!

See where he goes next: Think how you have instructed many, how you have strengthened feeble hands. Hullo? What is this saying? Think about where you’ve come from! See how he continues: “Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees.” (v.4) It looks like he’s saying, think about the sort of man you’ve portrayed yourself as, a righteous man who can straighten out others. Where is this going? “But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged; it strikes you, and you are dismayed.” (v.5) That sounds like a clear rebuke that says, you should not be like that, does your past count for nothing? Have you not learnt from what you have taught others? It gets worse: “Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?” (v.6) This sounds like a bit of a snide shot, as if to say, “if you are as righteous as you have thought you were, shouldn’t that be what you trust in?” Now that’s nasty because it could be taken in two ways. First, it is just as it comes and is therefore a challenge to snap out of it and trust in what he knows. Second, it could have an implied, barbed edge to it that suggests, well if this has happened to you, perhaps it shows that you were not as righteous as you thought!

That’s not nice! What do people in anguish need? Our church’s mission statement speaks of being a people that are “loving, accepting and caring.” It is that middle word that the person in anguish needs – acceptance. I remember once I was in rather a mess, mostly not of my making, but we needed help from outside and two people ‘helped’ us. One of them, when he first came, started out with, “Well, you blew it that time didn’t you!” As someone in deep anguish it wasn’t what I needed. The other man, fortunately, took me where I was and just lovingly accepted me and helped me through.

A couple of elderly good friends have loved and accepted us through the years and never uttered a single word of criticism. The hard nosed fundamentalists at this point say, “But you were probably wrong sometimes, you needed correcting!” No, I needed loving. I am a Christian and the Holy Spirit lives in me and He corrects me. When I am loved and accepted then I feel secure enough to come out from behind my defensive barriers and acknowledge failure and then let the Lord do His work. The second man and the elderly couple have almost certainly been the greatest agents for change in my life over the years. Why? Because they came without judgement and just loved and accepted us and their love has transformed us! We are utterly different people because of their love.

I sometimes see people from other churches, who live in an environment of harsh correction, living under preaching that is more focused on pointing out our failures than providing hope. For them Christianity is a struggle and guilt is always not far away. No, when we are struggling with life, we need hope and encouragement. When we are in the midst of a crisis we need loving acceptance that understands what we are going through. Eliphaz started out looking like he was there for Job, but his words had an edge that seemed judgmental.

We can all of us forget the fundamentals of life. Eliphaz pointed at Job’s past and assumed it made him less vulnerable in the present. It doesn’t matter who the great man of God is, we’re all vulnerable today. It’s not just the person who feels weak; Paul warned, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor 10:12). We are sometimes most vulnerable when we are feeling strong. The key point here though, is that even though you were strong last week, today we still need the Lord’s grace and protection just as much. Don’t ever take leaders for granted and think they don’t have the same struggles that you have; they do! Temptations come, potential crises arise, and anguish can be just over the horizon for any of us. Is this being negative about life? No, it is simply being real. There’s a whole lot more we could say in respect of guarding ourselves and getting the support of others in the body of Christ, but even the best of us come under pressure from the enemy.

A final point here, perhaps in preparation for what is coming: don’t make any assumptions about why a person is going through a crisis. We may jump to terribly wrong conclusions. Like Job it may be nothing to do with their sin. Yes, it may be because of their sin, but at that point they need gentle handling and heaven will be checking our motives and the way we speak: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Gal 6:1-3). There is enough there in those three verses to provide a week of meditations. Our goal – restore gently. Our danger – we might be tempted. Our approach – carry each other’s burden. Our folly – to think we are something better than others. Let’s learn how to be better comforters!