Colossians 2:1-5, pt. 1; Brief Thoughts

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. [1]

Often Paul’s expression of struggle is born from a deep concern for the hearts of those whom he writes. Paul’s concern is that the believers would be encouraged in their walk of faith and that they would be unified through love for one another.

Christians need encouragement. Indeed, all humanity was created to live in community together. It is natural to gather together with like-minded people for the purpose of encouragement and progress. When a person submits to Christ for the first time, they separate themselves from the world around them and become something new. Particularly in Colossae, when someone became a believer, they were separating from a vastly different religious background and community. As a person transitioned from pagan worship to Christianity, they would find themselves alienated and separate from the community that once surrounded them. Thus, Paul wants to encourage them. Christians do not journey alone and meeting and fellowshipping with other believers is a great source of encouragement.

The encouragement of believers stems from the common love that binds all Christians together. When Christ has invaded a heart, love begins to reign as the chief motivation for Christian action: that is, love for Jesus. The motivation prior to the life transforming work of the Spirit was love for self. Though it may have manifested itself in many variants, all actions committed prior to Christ, no mater how altruistic they may seem, were motivated by a love for self (c.f. Isa. 64:6). Once Christ rescues a man, love for self is replaced by a growing love for Christ. It is this common love that serves as the bond between Christians. It is this love that allows the Gospel to transcend all other divides. The love of Christ, birthed in the heart of Christians, unites believers the world over in a common filial relationship that overcomes every cultural barrier, racial distinction, economic disparity, and ideological difference. True Christians are not bound together because they share the same ideological principles. True believers are bound together because they share the same love!

Encouragement and unity serve to propel the Christian community towards maturity. As Christians live in love with one another and display the love of God on the earth to all those around them, they grow in their assurance. The Greek word used for “assurance” is a compound word from the word for “fullness” and the word “wear.” Christians who love each other will become fully dressed in the understanding and knowledge of Christ. A community that pursues the love of Christ will inevitably look more and more like the focus of their love. It is this “full-dressing” that Paul longs to see the Colossians exemplify.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are attending a fancy event. Everyone is dressed appropriately in formal attire. As you wait to enter the gala, you notice to the left a young man whose tie is untied and he has no jacket or shoes on. The young man comes to the entrance of the gala and nervousness begins to overwhelm him. You watch as he begins to realize that he is underdressed for the occasion. His eyes drift to those around him in comparative agony as he recognizes his inadequacy. Then you begin to see a group of fully dressed people gather around the young man. One man shows the young brother how to tie his tie, the next hands him a pair of shoes, and the one places a jacket on him. The young man’s inadequacies are overcome by engaging in the community of mutual love. So the young man is fully dressed for the gala. This is the way Christian community works. Through mutual encouragement, believers lift one another up in the understanding and knowledge of Christ.

This is why it is so important for you to find a healthy church that can encourage you in love. Seek out a church where the community will walk with you, bearing your burdens, teaching you how to live, and working with you that you may be fully dressed in the understanding and knowledge of Christ.

If you do not have a church that does this, you are welcome to join us at Sovereign Grace Fellowship. We strive together as a community to live out the love of Christ in our everyday lives. Come join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30 or for Bible study Thursday nights at 6pm. More information about us can be found on our website at www.sgfbrazoria.org

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Col 2:1–5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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Impossible Prayers

Recently I was challenged by a message by Eric Ludy. He spoke in the message about praying “impossible prayers.” His challenge to the congregation was to pray in accordance with God’s character. God is immense! God created and sustains all things. He is powerful beyond what we could ever think or imagine. So, if we believe this, our prayers must exist in accordance with this truth.

At Sovereign Grace Fellowship, We’ve asked all the members to join in by making a list of a few impossible prayers that they can pray. What is so powerful about prayer is that God uses it to change the pray-er. Not only does prayer affect the circumstances that one prays about, it also affects the one who is doing the praying. I thought I’d share some of my impossible prayers below as well as some of the effects that have resulted within me from praying this way.

  1. I pray that everyone who lives on my street would become believers in Christ Jesus. As I have prayed this, I find myself speaking more openly to my neighbors. I will see them outside and, instead of a simple wave and walk inside, I approach with the intent of spiritual conversation. This has extended beyond just my neighbors. I find myself talking about deep things with more and more people as I pray this prayer. The cashier at the store, the guy walking along the road, the city worker… every person I see and talk to becomes a valuable deep conversation. I’ve become “that guy.” My evangelistic zeal has increased as I beg the Lord to save my street.
  2. I pray that starvation and poverty would be eradicated in the United States and then that our country would use it’s resources to do the same in the rest of the world. As I have begun to pray for this on a regular basis, my own sense of gratitude has been developed. Sitting down to a meal, in a house is a pretty big deal now. The sorrow I feel for those who don’t have a place is only eclipsed by the gratitude that grows in me. I also have been more attentive to the needs of those who do not have food or a home. I know that I am more sensitive to the hunger of others now. I know that, though I have little, I have some and can help others who have none.
  3. I pray that every church in the west would teach the gospel with clarity and that the church would look completely different from the world. This prayer has made me less concerned with my own church’s numeric success. It has made me much more concerned with the salvation of souls and the discipleship of Christians. This prayer is really not a new one. It has kind of been a cornerstone of my life since the age of 22… So when we started SGF, we incorporated prayer for another church every Sunday. We receive no material benefit from these churches and we have no special connection to them other than Kingdom work. With our limited resources and size, we strive to partner with others in the gospel ministry in this way. As I have prayed for every church to teach and live out the gospel in a way that changes the perception of the church in the west, I find myself evaluating other churches based on their Kingdom efforts. Buildings, membership, and programs no longer impress. But, Kingdom work – that selfless effort of Christians to proclaim the gospel with no material benefit to ourselves, is all that matters.

So what are some impossible prayers you pray!? Post them in the comments.

Featured Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Colossians 1:26-29; Brief Thoughts

26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

It has always seemed peculiar to me that the gospel would be “hidden.” This glorious salvation in Jesus was hidden for ages past. As God sought-after man and the prophets proclaimed His glorious redemption, mankind persisted in seeking to justify himself by doing what was right in his own eyes. Every individual rejected the message of salvation that seems so plainly declared to those who believe. A willful blindness kept the mystery hidden. Willful in that no one sought to know God and thereby find righteousness (Romans 3). Blind in that they could not see (Isaiah 6).

Now, no longer are we blind! The Saints have seen the glory of God and His proclamation of love. The mystery that so plagued the desperate soul of mankind – the answer to that deep separation from God’s mercy and love – has now resolved in Jesus. This mystery is revealed, in Jesus, to the saints. The mystery remains hidden from the eyes of those who do not believe in Jesus. But to the saints, God has chosen to reveal His Glory. It is God’s prerogative to reveal Himself. So it is that God has determined that He would reveal Himself, not only to the Jews but to the Gentiles.

Consider for a moment the answer to the mystery – “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Jesus makes His residence in you. In His death, your sin and it’s nature is utterly obliterated (Romans 6:6). You have been rescued and a new nature has been placed within you (Colossians 3:10). Along with your new nature, the Holy Spirit lives within those who believe. Further, not only is Christ’s Spirit taking up residence within you, He has also covered you with His own righteousness. This covering is not merely a blanket that covers you but is a full replacement. He has taken your unrighteousness and put within you His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). In doing so, you have been enabled to stand before the Holy King! Finally, His presence within you is the “hope of glory.” His spirit is the guarantee of heaven and life for you (Ephesians 1:13-14). Isn’t it wonderful to know that the guarantee is based on His actions and not on our own?

This is the gospel – Christ died on the cross, taking the sins of those who trust in Him upon Himself; then, through the resurrection, He granted life to those who trust Him; He has taken up residence in those who trust Him, and works within them to conform them to who they have been designed to be. Paul states that this is a warning. Death exists as the first state of every soul on earth. There is the warning. You are dead and need life! The life that can only be found through faith in Jesus. Salvation is the message that Christians proclaim. Not health. Not financial gain. Not peace of mind. Not balance. But life! Life with Christ versus death without Him.  So, we teach the Bible. Faithfully and consistently. We teach carefully, with “all wisdom.”

Too often in modern churches, we have forgotten this responsibility. We have traded the sound and faithful teaching of the gospel for the entertaining engagement of a crowd. Yet, Paul reminds us of our goal: “to present everyone as mature in Christ.” Woe to the pastors who lose sight of this commission. Our goal as Christians is not to gather crowds. It is not even to work to gather converts. It is to present to God mature Christians. How glorious would the community of faith be if our focus was on maturing as obedient Christ followers!?  Keep this ever before your eyes! You are given the mission to make disciples and present them as mature to God.

It is not gathering crowds that Paul strives towards, It is so much greater! It is training and teaching the Gospel in a way that changes the soul and challenges the norm. It is developing disciples for His name and His glory!

Colossians 1:23-26; Brief Thoughts

23 the gospel… of which I, Paul, became a minister.

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 

There is much encouragement to be drawn from Paul’s own testimony of gospel ministry. The Lord has allowed Paul to partake in suffering, given him a unique ministry to the Gentiles, revealed deep truths to him, and empowered him to overcome trial and persecution.

It seems counter-intuitive to consider suffering a blessing. Yet, throughout the New Testament, Christians are given tremendous encouragement through suffering. Consider Acts 5, when Peter and John are beaten and expelled from the temple. They were beaten and yet it says that they were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41). Further, the epistles are rich with encouragement to consider suffering a joy and to think of trials as something that is good and God-ordained (c.f. James 1:2, 1 Peter 1:6-9). For Paul, suffering is a validation, joy, and commission given by Christ.

To be clear, Paul is not speaking of suffering a disease or calamity in one’s life. He is here addressing suffering that comes through persecution. Gospel ministry is validated for Paul when it is so strong and aggressive that it causes utter rejection. The fierce opposition of the gospel proves the strength of the message. Indeed, if the message were weak, it wouldn’t be opposed. When suffering comes as a result of calamity, we pray that God would be with us through it. When suffering comes as a result of our evangelistic zeal in the gospel ministry, we rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer.

The glorious ministry of suffering did not conclude with Christ. The Church continues the work of revealing God’s character on this earth. That is – the character of surrendering majesty and taking on humility for the sake of love. Christians are commissioned to surrender their own life for the sake of gaining God and, thereby, gaining real life (c.f. John 12:25). The joy of suffering for the gospel is found in the communion with God! When we share in suffering for His name, we share in His name!

Paul was given a special commission to be the apostle to the Gentiles. His mission was broad and yet reached specifically to the Colossians by God’s special providence. His mission? To make the gospel “fully known” to the Colossians. His work was to teach the complete gospel. He did not simply accept that easy message so common among the evangelical world in modern times. Paul’s message demanded complete surrender to Jesus as Lord and Savior. Jesus must be your master; He must be your righteousness. The gospel of Jesus Christ was hidden for ages past, though the prophets proclaimed it. The prophets of the Old Testament made prophecies through a veil that obscured some of the glory of God. With Jesus’ crucifixion, that veil was torn and the holiness of God was revealed in majestic forgiveness.

 

Colossians 1:21-23; Brief Thoughts

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

There is no merit within a man that does not derive its value from Jesus. As established in verses 15-20, Jesus is the agent and sustainer of all creation. Further, He is the one who brings reconciliation through His work. In order to understand what change has been wrought in the souls of those who believe, we must first begin by understanding that it is Jesus’ work that brings redemption.

Some people would dare to assert that they have achieved some state of reconciliation based on their own merit or decisive action. However, Paul’s words here describe the state of all of humanity before Christ. Every person is distant from God – the Author and Sustainer of life. Not only is all mankind held at a distance from God by sin, each individual person has waged a war on God’s righteousness and holiness. From the beginning, humanity has shaken its fist in the face of a perfect, holy, and just God. Rebelling both in mind and in deed. The rebellion of sin is not merely one of intellect, it progresses to action in “evil deeds.” The hostility that is conceived in the mind of a man against God becomes manifested in the actions of sinful rebellious deeds.

This description of man shows a complete deprivation of all semblance of righteousness. There is first distance/separation in the word alienation. The term for “alienated” means excluded, or estranged. It indicates a foreign nature in the one described. The one who is alienated is one who does not belong and has no place. Before Christ’s work, people have no place of belonging and no home with God. Further, every individual is at enmity with God, exercising hostility of mind in, and through evil deeds.

Christ does not allow such deprivation of spirit to remain in His created ones. Instead, He brings peace in His death. Taking upon Himself the sins of man, He bares those sins before God and dies in order to defeat the effects of sin. In His body, Christ dies that you might believe and thereby have life. Christ comes to those who reject Him and reconciles to Himself those who have waged war against Him.

Consider the lengths to which Christ has gone to reconcile you to God. He lived a perfect life, surrendering strength in favor of weakness while simultaneously holding all things together. He experienced trial, turmoil, and temptation on a level we cannot fathom and yet remained faithful and righteous. He commanded the waves to be still and materialized fish and bread at will and yet, He submitted to death at the hands of the very people in whom He breathed the very breath of life. Then He willingly died, surrendering to death that you might live. In His sacrifice, He carries upon Himself the death you deserve and frees you from the grip of sin. In His death, sin dies.

So, in this way, Christ takes the punishment for sin upon Himself and frees the souls of those who believe so that the faithful can stand, blameless before God. Jesus presents the believer to God as spotless and blemish free. Not only are those who believe presented as cleaned of sin before God, they are also proven to be free from sin as “above reproach!” Let that sink in for a moment: if you believe in Jesus, you can stand before God without even the possibility of question. You are “above reproach.” The adversary can say nothing about you. Accusers cannot speak against you. You stand before God, unable to be questioned. You are beyond the reach of accusation. In Christ, you have been granted a status that is beyond the reach of questioning. Note: this state is not due to your actions. It is because of Christ’s great sacrifice. In His work, you’ve been made “above reproach.” Because your condition is based on His actions, even your past sins cannot be raised in objection to you. You have been reconciled through Christ, completely.

That is if you remain. Many who claim Christ do not remain faithful. According to Paul, these people do not fall into the category of “reconciled.” Those who do not remain faithful to the gospel have not been reconciled to be presented to Christ. Hold fast to Christ as evidence that you have been reconciled.

Colossians 1:20; Brief Thoughts

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

A great war ended in one death. Indeed, the war that should have resulted in the extinction of all humanity. So great was the rebellion of man that the wrath of God against all injustice should have been exercised against the creatures who rejected His majesty. The depth of brokenness in man has set man against God. So small a creature, incapable of even the most simple of tasks. Mankind cannot even raise itself to do one thing that is truly good. Man is so completely depraved that we will shake our fists in the face of the God who created us while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge that He exists. Yet, God considers these insignificant creatures worthy of salvation.

Jesus, the Christ, is God made flesh. He came to earth from heaven and lived a perfectly righteous life. Then He surrendered His life to the hands of the creatures that He made and submitted to death. In His death, He took upon Himself the wickedness of all who believe in Him. Jesus willingly carried a cross and offered Himself up as the recipient of God’s justice on our behalf. You have only to trust in Him for salvation.

Through Jesus, God brought peace to the souls of mankind. Further, God ended the war that was waged so long ago and restored Sabbath rest in Jesus. Life is in the blood. In Jesus’ death, we find life. His blood was poured out that you may live. Trust His atoning work and be saved.

Take note of a few details. First, Jesus is the agent of reconciliation. In the same way that Jesus is the agent of creation. He is also the sole means of re-creation. That is to say, He is the ONE by which salvation is accomplished. There is no other way to be at peace with God. Jesus is the only one. Second, His atoning work is so great that it reconciles “all things.” Consider that for a moment. All things are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. God has determined that He will bring peace to all creation through Jesus’ atonement. ALL CREATION. He brings reconciliation to “all things, whether on earth or in heaven.” Creation was broken and separated from the love and mercy of God. That changes in Jesus. Now Sabbath rest is restored in Jesus… for all creation. Third, this reconciliation only comes through Jesus’ blood offered in sacrifice on our behalf. A death was required and God met the requirement for you. Whereas it was appropriate to slaughter mankind in order to sustain wrath and justice, God saw fit to sacrifice Jesus in your place.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Col 1:15–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Colossians 1:19; Brief Thoughts

19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. Perhaps one of the most difficult truths to grasp is the character and nature of Jesus. Jesus was most certainly a man. He was hungry, He was tired, He was thirsty, He got mad at a fig tree, and He was angered by false worship (Mark 11:12, John 4:6, John 19:28, Mark 11:12-25, and John 2:13-25). He felt the weight of humanity and temptation as any man (Hebrews 4:15). Indeed, He felt the weight of humanity on a deeper level than any other man. He is God in human flesh. He made Himself nothing, taking the form of a man upon Himself (Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus is fully man in which deity dwells.

It is not only that deity dwells within Him, but the fullness of deity. Jesus is God. In John 1, He is called “the Word.” As the Word, Jesus was present at creation and was the power by which God created all things. God spoke life into being. According to John’s gospel, Jesus is the Word by which God created. Further, when questioned by the Pharisees about His authority and ability to forgive sins, Jesus responds, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). In this simple, albeit grammatically confusing, statement, Jesus identifies Himself as one with the LORD of the Old Testament. It is widely believed that Jesus was invoking the divine name – Yahweh or Jehovah (c.f. Exodus 3). This is the name by which the Lord God almighty identifies Himself. He is separate from other gods because within Him is all life and the power of existence itself. Jesus claims the same power and nature as God the creator of all things. He is the fullness of God wrapped in the flesh of man.

Jesus needs no validation from mankind. Indeed, His pleas to us to repent and believe do not stem from a dependency on us for validation of His character. If a man does not repent, Jesus remains the fullness of God. If a man rejects the truth that Jesus is the Christ, Son of the living God, Jesus remains God. The truth of God is not dependent on the actions of man. Jesus is God incarnate.

Consider the beauty of this truth for a moment. God put on human skin and took upon Himself a frail human nature. He faced every temptation while confining Himself to human weakness. He came down from heaven to join us in the muck and mire of this earth. God has come down to earth to walk with us again in the garden of this earth.

Not only does God walk with us, He does so at His pleasure. All “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” in Jesus. Complete divinity was delighted to make its home in the man Jesus Christ. Jesus delighted God. The magnificent paradox of the Trinity is that God the Father can be one with the Son, remaining completely unique, and the Son can delight the Father without being separate. Wow! The delight of divinity is clothed in the weakness of human form.

 

I John 4:7-12