Colossians 4:3-4; Brief Thoughts

At the same time, pray also for us, that God may eopen to us a door for the word, fto declare the mystery of Christ, gon account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. [1]

Urging believers to remain consistent in prayer, Paul couples his exhortation with a practical request. Paul calls the believing church of Colossae to pray for him while he is in prison. It was a basic understanding of first-century Christianity that believers would think about and pray for other believers in prison (Heb. 13:3). Somewhere along the line, the modern Christian culture of the west has forgotten or at least neglected the normative understanding of suffering together in spirit. When in a modern church, one must not bring up suffering or imprisonment of believers. It will certainly make everyone uncomfortable to consider the weight of brothers and sisters who suffer persecution. Yet, for the early church, persecution was something in which to rejoice (see Paul and Silas’ example in Acts 16:16-40). Even Jesus’ teachings included an understanding that persecution would result in blessing (Mt. 5:10). So, it should be a primary delight of the Christian community to support the persecuted brothers in prayer.

Paul’s request seems radical in that he does not ask for freedom from prison, or health, or even favor from the prison guards. Rather, Paul’s chief concern is that he would be able to share the gospel. The very same gospel that landed him in prison. Unlike many modern pastors who seek lavish comfort, luxurious lifestyles, and easy circumstances, Paul longs only for the word of God to be made clear. It is this severe discrepancy between Paul’s faithful ministry and the modern charlatan that makes his request seem radical. Indeed, his request is actually simple and normal. A believer understands that God is sovereign over his/her particular circumstance. Therefore, a believer finds purpose even when imprisoned. So Paul seeks prayer support for the proclamation of the gospel.

There are three elements to Paul’s request for prayer support. First, he requests that there would be an opportunity, referred to as an “open door.” A door for the gospel may open, and yet a believer may fail to take advantage of that opportunity. Paul is willing to take the opportunity, he simply needs to have the opportunity placed before him. Further, he asks specifically that God would open the door. Paul recognizes that God must be the one moves in the heart of man to open the door to the gospel. It is a necessity for the Spirit of God to move in order for the gospel to permeate the heart of a man. No amount of clever argumentation or apologetic can open the heart of a man. The wickedness of the heart is too great, God must intervene. So it is God who opens the door for the gospel.

Second, Paul asks that they would pray that he declares the “mystery of Christ.” Paul elaborates on this mystery earlier in Colossians 1:26-27. The mystery that Paul proclaims is that of Christ making his dwelling place in the heart of those who believe. Once God has opened the door, Paul asks for prayer that he would take advantage of the opportunity.

Third, Paul seeks the covering of prayer “that [he] would make it clear.” He wants to speak the gospel with clarity and conviction. The gospel must be clear. In order for the gospel to be clear, the gospel must be what is preached. It is not good to teach people to simply behave better. It is not adequate to teach people how to feel better. It is not glorifying to God to proclaim something other than the truth of the gospel. The gospel must be presented clearly! That is, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared the Cephas, then to the twelve, then he appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time…” (1 Cor. 15:3-6). So Paul wants the gospel to be clearly presented no matter the circumstance. Whether in prison or free, the gospel ought to be preached with clarity, boldness, taking every opportunity.

e See Acts 14:27

f See Rom. 16:25

g ver. 18; Eph. 6:20; See Phil. 1:7

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Col 4:3–4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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Just short encouragement.

This is mere short encouragement for you today.

Christians are defined by their love for one another (John 13:35). Today, let these scriptures inspire you to love well:

  1. Be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50),
  2. Love one another (John 13:34),
  3. Be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10),
  4. Live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16),
  5. Cease to pass judgment on one another (Rom. 14:13) ,
  6. Accept one another (Rom. 15:7),
  7. Instruct one another (Rom. 15:7),
  8. Greet one another (Rom. 16:16),
  9. Serve one another (Gal. 6:2),
  10. Carry one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2),
  11. Be patient, bearing with one another in love (Eph. 4:2),
  12. Be kind and compassionate to one another (Eph. 4:32),
  13. Forgive one another (Eph. 4:32),
  14. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19),
  15. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21),
  16. In humility consider one another better than yourselves (Phil. 2:3),
  17. Teach one another (Col. 3:16),
  18. Admonish one another (Col. 3:16),
  19. Encourage one another (1 Thes. 5:11),
  20. Spur one another towards love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24),
  21. Cease to slander one another (James 4:11),
  22. Cease to grumble against one another (James 5:9),
  23. Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16),
  24. Pray for one another (James 5:16),
  25. Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another (1 Peter 5:5).

Colossians 4:2; Brief Thoughts

2Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

It is the nature of a Christian to pray. As we have seen in Colossians, the identity of a believer has been so adjusted and transformed that they are no longer the same as they were before Christ. The practices and normative behavior that held believers captive are no longer the dominating reality. That nature that was solely given to sin has now been enslaved to righteousness (Romans 6:18). Rather, they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and given a new nature that is in a constant state of being renewed and conformed to the image of Christ (Col 3:10). Along with the new nature and a progressively growing identity in Christ, Christians also have a unique connection to God. Consider for a moment the connection of a created being to the One true God who has created all things. This God does not have to lend His ear to His creation. He has no responsibility to allow a created being to engage with Him. Yet, He so deeply loves His own that He has made a sure connection to them. A connection that cannot be removed or taken from His people. There is nothing that can sever the connection of prayer from the believer to the very ear of God. The God of the universe engages with the lowly of creation, listening to them. When we lose sight of this great truth, our prayers will cease. When we forget the gravity and power of prayer, we will fail to exercise prayer in our lives. When we remember the great privilege of prayer we are inspired to pray all the more.

Paul’s admonition to the Colossian believers to “continue steadfastly in prayer” is an exhortation that could better be rendered, “steadfastly pray.” The Christian is to be faithful in consistent prayer. The connection between Christians and their God should be such a joyous occasion that the remaining steadfast in prayer is natural and a delight. Too often in the modern western church, self-professing Christians find it relatively impossible to maintain a consistent prayer life. So difficult a task for the average American Christian that our churches have books, work through campaigns, and even provide special classes for those who struggle to pray. Yet, prayer is to be as breathing for the Christian. As an infant learns to cry to their parent for milk, so a Christian prays. It is second nature for a believer to cry out to God. Still, because of our own weakness, Paul exhorts the believer to steadfastly pray!

How are Christians supposed to pray? By “being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” The term “watchful” means “To watch and refrain from sleep.”[1] This term bears with it the idea that the one who is watchful is striving to stay alert and aware amidst an environment that is tempting them to close their eyes and sleep. A Christian who has fallen asleep or given into sloth is useless in the Kingdom of God. They have shut their eyes to the leading of the Lord and as a result will not be effective. “Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, o Jerusalem,” cries the prophet Isaiah. In Romans 13:11 Paul reminds the faithful, “that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.” In Revelation 3:2, Jesus urges the church at Sardis to “wake up, and strengthen what remains!” Believers must strive to stay alert, praying for what God has directed. These prayers are offered with gratitude. It is a wonder to consider how a person could examine the world around them and remain watchful in prayer while simultaneously being grateful. When one examines the world around and seeks to be watchful, the troubles of the world will inevitably weigh the observer down. However, Paul admonishes us to pray with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for what? For the truth that God has not left the world. For the truth that God is present and active. For the truth that Jesus Christ the righteous has laid His life so that you might live free of sin and death. Further, gratitude stems from understanding God’s providence and sovereignty in all things. When a believer understands God’s sovereign provision and work in the world, they can rest in the confidence that God is working all things in His control according to His plan. We pray in gratitude because God is God and He is our God.

[1] Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

4 Ways to Encourage Your Pastor

I recently sat with another pastor who lamented exhaustion in his ministry. He was discouraged about the growth of his people and I felt deep sympathy for him. We’ve all been there. All pastors and church leaders feel the weight of discipleship of their people and all of us feel like failures at some time on some level. I began to think about the ways that I am encouraged by SGF and their faithfulness. Pastors need encouragement sometimes… So I thought I’d line out four simple things you can do to encourage your

pastor. Here goes:

jazmin-quaynor-36221-unsplash

1. Read your Bible and think deeply. Your pastor wants you to grow. Spiritual growth is done through study and engagement of Scripture. Basically, your discipleship is just that: yours. It is not dependent on some program, pastor, or community to push you to be a faithful disciple. While a good church, pastor, or community can aid in your growth as a Christian, your own personal discipline is not dependent on those aids. It is yours. Work hard and own it.

ben-white-292680-unsplash2. Attend church. I have a saying whenever someone apologizes for missing church. I say, “Its ok, we don’t take attendance.” I mean that! I think most pastors mean that. At SGF we don’t take attendance. We don’t judge your spiritual progress by your attendance at a particular worship service, meeting, or program. Our church seeks to measure success by asking the question: “are people growing to be more like Christ?” That being said, there is one easy, sure-fire way to encourage your pastor: attend. When someone attends faithfully, I feel tremendously encouraged. They don’t have to do anything else. Even though I am not critiquing their spiritual growth by their attendance, it still brings me great encouragement for them to simply attend. It tells me that the church matters to them. It tells me that they want to be a part of the community and enjoy gathering with us. Even if they do nothing else, a faithful attendee encourages my heart. So, attend church and your pastor will feel respected and loved. Attend… it’s that simple.

manki-kim-51020-unsplash3. Get out of your comfort zone and talk with other people about Jesus. When an athlete plays a sport, the competitive nature of his or her teammates propels them to work harder and make themselves better. I remember when I was in high school, one of the other point guards and I would have free-throw competitions. He and I would stand next to each other at the foul line, taking turns shooting until one of us missed. I remember the excitement of the challenge to be better. I remember the urging of the team around us. I remember feeling encouraged and strengthened to do better each time. I wasn’t trying to beat my teammate, I was trying to do better… to BE better.[1] It is the same way for your pastor. The more evangelical you are with your neighbors, the more he will feel convicted and propelled to share Christ in his own life. He is not trying to beat you in competition, he is trying to become a better disciple. When one of my people shares a story about their evangelistic encounters, I feel inspired and pressed to do more in my own efforts to spread the gospel. So get after it! Then share your stories of success and rejection with your pastor.

alexis-brown-82988-unsplash4. Disciple someone. Make the effort to know others deeply. As the pastor of a small congregation, I feel a great deal of responsibility for the discipleship of the people. Fortunately for me, our church is designed such that there is a built-in opportunity for meaningful conversation and relational engagement: we eat lunch every Sunday after church. To be clear, not everyone stays for lunch and this is in no way required. Eating lunch after church is simply a way to connect with people who may otherwise not get any discipleship. At these lunchtimes, I’ve witnessed as people speak with each other and have deep, meaningful conversation. Watching these conversations go one step further is a delight! When I hear of a member connecting to another person outside of Sunday lunch, I am ecstatic! When I hear of two or more people in my congregation getting together to learn and grow together outside of events, or when I hear of the text prayer needs that are being met, or when I hear of members loving and serving each other, I am overjoyed and relieved. You see, when the Church begins to disciple itself and not depend on the pastor alone, then “church” is working the way its supposed to work. So, make a regular meeting time with someone, work your way through a study with someone else, or just call other people from the church to pray with and for them. Do the work of discipleship and let your pastor know you are doing it.

I hope this list encourages you to love and encourage your pastor well! I wish every pastor could have the same experience of encouragement from their people that I do with SGF. If you want to encourage your pastor, try some of these things. Do you do anything additional to encourage your pastors? Let me know in the comments.

[1] My max free throws in a row was somewhere around 150. The guy I shot with usually won, but we were pretty neck and neck.

Colossians 3:22-4:1; Brief Thoughts

22 Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people- pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

4 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

Identity drives behavior. What a person identifies as determines how that person will behave. If a person identifies themselves by their occupation, they will build their self-worth and behavior around what is acceptable for someone with their occupation. Likewise, if someone finds their identity in a hobby, they will find their self-worth and value in that hobby. Christians are to find their identity in the God that they worship. Indeed, A Christian’s identity is to be so defined by Christ that all other titles fall into submission to Christ first.

In a world where people are so frequently defined by occupation, Paul urges Christians to remember that their LORD is Jesus, not man.

A quick note on slavery: human slavery was a common practice in the first century. It was wrong and it was not a Christian practice. When Paul writes to Philemon he encourages him to free his slave Onesimus.

Slavery is never a good thing and, in the context of Christianity, should be utterly rejected. However, the world in which we live will always be governed by sinful behaviors and oppression until Jesus returns.

In order to apply this particular text, it is best for the reader to consider the term “slave” to indicate some sort of employee relationship.

Those who serve in a position to a boss ought to serve with a special reverence. Christian employees ought to serve their bosses as though they are serving Christ, Himself. Each task should be undertaken as though the Lord has assigned it to them. This is, of course, the natural response of one who recognizes God as sovereign. If God is sovereign then there is reason for whatever circumstance one might find themselves. Further, if God is sovereign over me then I am a citizen of His Kingdom and my actions either defame or exalt His Kingdom’s reputation. So, the concern of a true believer is whether or not he/she is pleasing to the Lord. For the Christian is well aware that God is the Master of all things and He will reward and punish accordingly.

Paul issues a warning and encouragement in the last phrase of verse 25. Justice will be served on those who behave unjustly. God will right the wrongs that are done in this life. No matter how lowly a person is, justice is served. No matter how elite a person is, justice will be served. God will repay each according to their own deeds.

This ought to bring a terrifyingly sober approach to employee-employer relationships. First, to recognize that God is sovereign over one’s current circumstance ought to inform the effort with which one pursues excellence in their tasks. Second, Christians should recognize that their rewards for their labors come from God and not man. No matter how much a believer deserves recognition, they must learn contentment in and pursue only the recognition that comes from God alone. Finally, a believer must recognize that God is the ultimate judge and that He will handle injustice in His time and in His way.  Trust in the Lord, He will repay each according to their deeds.

Finally, employers ought to treat their employees with the same recognition that employees should submit to. Strive as an employer to treat those in your charge as Christ treats you. For He is your Master and He is your example. So, if you have a slave, it stands to reason that you should set that slave free and pay them a just wage. Further, if you have an employee who fails, it stands to reason you ought to forgive and help that employee succeed. If Christ is your master, then you should look like Him.

Colossians 3:20-21; Brief thoughts

20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.

The people who know you best are your family members. They see your brokenness, they are witness to all your failures and they are radically dependent on you for their own personal growth. Beyond the spouse, Children are the most intimately acquainted with the mother and father.

Echoing the fifth commandment, Paul calls children to “obey [their] parents in everything” (v.20). The Lord commands the children of Israel to “honor their parents” (Exodus 20:12). This is the first command with a resulting benefit or purpose, “that your days may be long in the land…” Likewise, Paul establishes that children ought to obey their parents because it is pleasing to the Lord to do so.

Children are not given an exception to obedience. They are to obey their parents “in everything” (v.20). It is the child’s responsibility to obey, in everything. That is to say, the child is to live in submissive obedience to their parents. The question in a wicked society is: to what extent does a child obey a sinful parent? No exemption is given in this text, though the Lord does give some principles that could be applied to this question in other areas of Scripture. One is that the Lord does not tempt someone to sin (James 1:13), but provides a way out when tempted (1 Cor. 10:13). So if an unbelieving parent demands a believing child sin, then the child should seek the way out. Further, if obedience to the parent is endangering the child or the child does not feel safe, that child should seek help from authorities or the adults who are aware should seek help from authorities. A gospel-centered community should be a place of safety and protection for children. Where orphans, widows, lame, and broken are left to their own struggles, there is no gospel.

The children are to obey and fathers are to be careful that they do not “provoke” their children. The term translated “provoke” means: “to stir-up, to exasperate, or to fight and contend” (Theological Lexicon of The New Testament). Fathers particularly can exasperate and domineer their children. Demanding obedience, they will unreasonably place restrictions on their children. Further, focusing on their desired outcome, fathers may unintentionally overlook the value of the moment by moment discipleship for which they are responsible.

In addition to demanding a particular outcome, fathers can sometimes confuse headship with mastery. Fathers are to serve as the head of the household but not as master. Fathers do not bear a whip, nor are they commissioned to drive their family to obey. Rather, “husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). The Husband does not lead his family by command, but by example. He walks in holiness, living a life of example and service to others (c.f. 1 Tim. 2:8, Eph. 5:25-33, and Titus 1:2). As the head of the household, he bears responsibility for the life of the household. It is, therefore, imperative that he lead his family well and intercede on their behalf with the heart of Job (c.f. the book of Job, take note of all the times Job prays for and intercedes for his children).

When a father fails to lead His children with love and compassion and instead domineers them, demanding obedience, he will inevitably drive them to discouragement. In effort to train his children to obey and to have a long life as promised in Exodus, fathers run the risk of discouraging the very obedience they desire to foster. So, fathers must take seriously the opportunity to speak with and engage their children on a deep level.

Here are some simple exercises and questions fathers can engage to learn how to better lead their children.

  1. Read one of the four gospels and take note of every time Jesus interacts with His disciples. How does Jesus teach them? How does He engage those He is trying to lead?
  2. Read Ephesians and Colossians and take note of every character trait that is used to describe a Christian. Ask yourself, “am I exhibiting these character traits in a manner that is visible, and am I able to be imitated?
  3. Consider how Jesus deals with you in your error. Are you offering your children the same grace and patience He offers to you?

In the same way that obedience is pleasing to God for children, so good leadership is pleasing to God as well. As believers, our chief delight is to please the Lord. So great is this delight that the more we please God, the greater our maturity will be.

Finish the Book! 3 tips to becoming a reader and a list of where to start!

“Leaders are readers!” – Harry Truman. Leaders read books that engage their mind and challenge them to be better. Likewise, good pastors read books. Books about theology, history, practice, church ministry, and the like flood the desk of a good pastor. Good pastors will try to read a variety of books from a variety of perspectives and they will strive to understand viewpoints that are well beyond their personal opinions.

I can remember seeing the library of a particular pastor I had come to admire. He had three small rooms lined wall to wall with books, categorized according to topic. In addition to the walls lined with books, he had free-standing shelving that filled the empty space with more books. He was asked how many of these books he had actually read. He casually said, “Every book, cover to cover. With the exception of the reference works and commentaries.” The reference works and commentaries lined one wall of one of the three rooms. Then, pointing to a stack of about 10 books, he added, “Oh! And that stack on my desk. I’m reading those now.” Such a wealth of knowledge had made him a powerful pastor whose knowledge was used by the Holy Spirit to touch the hearts of all he came in contact with.

Contrast the aforementioned pastor with a particular pastor I knew in seminary. Having found him in the library, I asked if he had completed the assigned reading for the class. “Sure. I mean I got the gist of it.” Slightly appalled I asked for clarification. His response: “Oh, I didn’t actually finish the books. I mostly just skimmed them until I got the idea.” I didn’t understand! I was unaware that we could just skim a book and say we got the material down. Over the next few weeks of coursework, my friend began to fall behind in the class discussion. His lack of knowledge began to show and his ignorance of the subject matter drove him further and further into unengaged silence in the class. I cannot help but wonder the effect that failing to finish the books that are designed to equip him for the ministry has had on his pastoral ministry.

Don’t get me wrong. Many pastors are descent pastors in spite of not being strong readers. They love people and engage well. However, one cannot help but wonder how much more powerful they would be if they were disciplined readers. Reading is a matter of training your mind. I am assuming that most pastors are reading their Bibles in significant measure. If that assumption is wrong, then those pastors need to leave the ministry. In addition to the Scripture, pastors would benefit from reading other books as well.

I was not always a reader. I preferred a ball and a hoop on a blacktop over a book in a chair. Yet, God drove deep into my soul the understanding of my own need for discipleship and the wealth of spiritual discipleship available to me in books. As I began to pastor I started to realize that godly men had laid their souls out on page for me! So I began to read the works of Ravenhill, Edwards, Spurgeon, Tozer, Piper, Bonhoeffer, and Murray. I experienced in those authors words that have accelerated my spiritual growth. So, read dear brother! Read! If you are not a reader, here are three tips for getting started.

  1. Finish the book. There is nothing more tragic than reading 3/4th of an author’s labor only to quit near the end. Finish the work! If you have ever read the likes of AW Tozer or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you know that the last chapters are paramount to understanding their efforts. Tozer particularly tends to put his greatest and most passionate applications at the end of his works. Read to the end, or you may deprive yourself of the best part.
  2. Vary your reading. I try to read one book that is an easy read (usually about ministry practice), one book that is a heavy read (usually theology), and one book for fun (often a book I’ve already read). In this way, I’ll feed myself a well-rounded diet of thought. Further, vary your perspectives. Read the heretics. Even if you spend the whole book fighting with them, read them. As a pastor, you will find it invaluable to be able to explain to your congregation members why you disagree with prominent authors. Do not be afraid of the heretic, they are here to sharpen you.
  3. Start small. I sometimes find myself reading 4-6 books at a time. If you’re not used to reading and engaging texts, don’t do that. Start small. Read one book at a time. Make your first work something easy but engaging. I’d suggest something from the Christian living section of your bookstore. As you get your feet under you as a reader. Read something heavier. Perhaps a puritan? Maybe something by Tozer? Go ahead! Dive in! But start small.

If you are not used to reading consistently and finishing the whole book here is a short list of books to get you started. I’ve broken them into four phases to kind of stair step you into reading larger more weighty works. Hopefully these help.

Phase One: Tuning your mind to enjoy reading spiritual material.

  1. Crazy Love by Francis Chan
  2. More than a Carpenter by McDowell
  3. Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron
  4. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

Phase two: Learning to engage deeper (a little).

  1. Don’t Waste Your Life by Piper
  2. Basic Christianity by John Stott.
  3. Knowing God by J.I. Packer
  4. Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris

Phase Three: Moving Towards personal practice

  1. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
  2. The Bravehearted Gospel by Eric Ludy
  3. Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
  4. Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray

Phase Four: Enjoying the journey of reading for worship.

  1. Heaven by Randy Alcorn
  2. The Holiness of God by RC Sproul
  3. Living in Light of Eternity by KP Yohannan
  4. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I John 4:7-12