Tag Archives: Bible

Thinking Through Ephesians! A free pdf sample

About 16 years ago I was asked to teach the college class at Highland Baptist Church in Waco, TX on a Sunday morning. It was a large crowd of roughly 1,000 students. My brother was the college pastor associate and had recommended me to teach. I had preached and led small group Bible studies before. I had spoken to moderately large churches, but never a crowd of such significant size and never without a strategic outline or material to follow. I called my brother and asked his advice. He said, “pick a passage of Scripture and teach what it says. No more, no less. Just study what it says and teach it.”

b7a26-bible-on-a-pulpitI taught on Ephesians 5:15-20. Teaching that passage began a mountain-top journey through Ephesians for me. It fast became my favorite book of the Bible. I began to trudge through the text verse by verse, line by line, phrase by phrase until I grasped everything I could. Sometimes I’d get stuck on one verse and write page after page. Sometimes I’d sit on the concepts of the book for a month before I penned a word. All the time, I sought to know Jesus deeply and engage His word and work in my heart and life.

 

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For roughly 14 years I would return to Ephesians every few months and write a little more. Then, a little more than two years ago I was challenged to blog more often. I decided that I would blog every day of the week save Sunday. I started to blog each day through the book of Ephesians, taking the notes I had collected and put them into bite-sized chunks for anyone interested. Somewhere within chapter two, my brother Jeff (who happens to be a great author! you can check out his stuff here: Jeff’s stuff), told me I should consider compiling them into a book.

Cover smallSo, for the last year and a half, my wife and I have edited this work for your joy. This book is the result of a 16-year devotional walk through Ephesians. It has been a delight and joy to write. I hope it is a joy to read as well.

For a free sample of a few chapters and the intro, click here.

To purchase through Amazon: https://goo.gl/fwKDxN

To purchase through Lulu.com:  https://goo.gl/yCoQJk

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Who are the people with Paul? Colossians 4:14; Brief thoughts about Luke and Demas

14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.

Who are these people?

Luke – (Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 1:24.)

Luke is often a misunderstood character in church history because of the position he holds as “physician.” In modern times, physicians are men of extreme education who are venerated as highly skilled purveyors of life. However, in the first century, physicians were not such highly respected men. Often slaves served as physicians and the designation as “doctor” bore little more significance than asserting a special responsibility within a master’s household. Some have speculated that Luke might have been a freed slave that joined Paul on his missionary journeys after his master set him free. It is common to speculate that Theophilus, the one to whom Acts is written, may have been Luke’s master. However, fascinating these speculations, nothing can be proved as there is nothing specifically stated in Church history or the Bible.

As a physician, Luke serves as the prototype for medical missions. Moreover, he shows the value of maintaining a physician in the service of missions for the sake of tending to Paul’s ailments. As aforementioned, the medical profession during the first century was not a highly regarded field. Often scorned as useless in favor of idolatry, doctors were considered a rejection of the cultic practices of common Roman religion. While there were some places where physicians were employed alongside temple practices, most were rejected as superfluous in favor of the gods. The fact that Luke is used by God in such a tremendous capacity as Paul’s traveling companion is a rejection of the power of idolatry.

Imagine for a moment: you enter a city and find a temple of idol worship that claims to heal the sick through observance of ritual sacrifice. People are sick and are clamoring for their false gods to answer their pleas. You happen to have a physician who knows that the answer is for them to eat some fruit, take a particular herb, and drink lots of water. People begin to get better as a result of the physician’s advice and now you have an open door to the gospel. The education and talents of a man rejected by the common practices of the world are thereby used to advance the Kingdom of Heaven!

Further, there is no doubt that Luke utilized his education to write both the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. His ability to write served to record the history of the early church and the story of Jesus. His ability as a physician, while not specifically stated, was certainly used to keep Paul and his companions healthy, and the surrendering of his gifts to God was used as a part of His mission. God used a talent often rejected by the culture of the time, to advance His kingdom.

Luke remained with Paul through Paul’s imprisonment. His affection for Paul as a brother is evident in his presence with him in Philemon 24 and in 2 Timothy 4:11. While everyone else left Paul in prison, Luke remained. He was devoted to Paul. More than that, He was devoted to the gospel work.

Demas – (Col. 4:14, 2 Tim. 4:9-10, Philemon 24)

Demas is referred to in Philemon as a “fellow worker.” He was part of the cohort of Paul that traveled and served with him. However, somewhere between the writing of Philemon and 2 Timothy, Demas fell “in love with this present world.” No matter the devotion he once showed, his faith did not prove to be genuine. It is valuable to recognize that Demas’ affections were for “this present world.” Demas lacked an eternal perspective and thought it better to achieve in this life rather than the next. Let this serve as a warning. Strive to maintain an eternal perspective, lest you fall away for the affections of this life.

Consider the contrast between Luke and Demas for a moment. Both begin faithfully working alongside Paul. Luke’s life is turned upsidedown and radically changed by the gospel. (Especially if he was a slave as many speculate.) Demas’ ventures into gospel ministry for a time but refuses to let it alter his measure of value. One surrenders everything in this life for the sake of following a gospel call that will inevitably land him in prison or end in death. The other abandons the glory of heaven for the glory of this life. Which one are you? Demas or Luke?

Colossians 4:9-11; Brief Thoughts

and with [Tychicus], Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.

10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus.[1] These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.

Who are these people with Paul?

Onesimus – (Philemon 8-22).

Onesimus was a runaway slave who became a believer in Jesus and connected with Paul. In his letter to Philemon, Paul explains that Onesimus had become useful to the gospel witness and he pleads with Philemon to take Onesimus back as a brother and not a servant. Paul calls Onesimus “faithful and beloved,” the very same descriptors of Tychicus. These brothers are entrusted to deliver the message of God to the Colossians.

Consider for a moment that a former slave who has been transformed by the gospel  is delivering the message of Colossians. This letter is been focused on discovering the Christian’s new identity as it is in Christ. It is quite appropriate that a man who has had such a dramatic shift from slavery to freedom is responsible for delivering a message that speaks of a dramatic shift from slavery in sin to freedom in Christ. Onesimus is a living analogy for salvation.

Aristarchus (Acts 19:29, 20:4, 27:2, and Philemon 1:24)

A Macedonian believer, Aristarchus was one of Paul’s “companions in travel” (Acts 19:29). He was present at the riot in Ephesus and spent significant time with Paul in Ephesus. In the midst of extreme danger, Aristarchus remained faithful to stand by Paul. Further, exemplifying the Macedonian spirit, Aristarchus has given all of himself to the mission of God. He has sacrificed his own comfort and position by following the Lord even to prison. This man is a bold follower of Christ who stands by Paul in some of the most difficult circumstances. Even in this letter, he is a “fellow prisoner.” What a great encouragement to have brothers such as Aristarchus who will serve even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Mark (Acts 12:12, 12:25, 15:37-39, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 24, 1 Peter 5:13)

John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, was greatly involved in the ministry of the early church. He was a member of Paul’s missionary cohort early on, until he fell sick and had to return home. He and Barnabas worked to advance the Gospel apart from Paul for a time before they were evidently reunited at Paul’s request in 2 Timothy. Mark’s own journey was one of transformation. He went from being a nuisance to being a valuable part of the mission of God. In his first attempt to live on mission, he was overcome with sickness and then rejected by the leader of the mission. Yet, he persisted and grew as a disciple, faithfully proclaiming the gospel when given the opportunity. So, over time, he is transformed from the sickly and annoying boy that Paul does not want to bother with to being one whose presence is requested because he is “useful” (2 Tim. 4:11).

So it is with many Christians. As we grow in the Lord we often find the journey to becoming useful to be a long and rather slow process. Most Christians are more akin to John Mark than Paul. We seldom have a Damascus road experience that changes us overnight. Most of us must walk through failures and successes and learn slowly. Although we have been changed in a moment, we still must grow into that change as Mark grew.

Jesus called Justice (Only mentioned in Colossians.)

This brother was among the faithful cohort of Paul. We know little about him because he is only mentioned in this one verse of Colossians. We know that he is with Paul as he writes Colossians. We know that he was Jewish (that is what “among the circumcision” means). And we know that he was involved enough to deserve mention in the letter. Beyond that, we can only know Justus through his relationship to the others.

Identifying these men as “among the circumcision” draws the mind of the hearer to the hostile circumcision party that is mentioned throughout Acts. The church at Colossae would have been well aware of the adversarial nature of the Jews. They would have noticed how Paul was frequently followed by wealthy Jewish leaders who wanted to push the gospel message out of the cities of Asia Minor. In his identification of these brothers as “among the circumcision” Paul is sharing a victory with the church! The gospel has converted and transformed even those who were adversarial to it!  The transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ transcends all boundaries. Even the most antagonistic can be transformed to become an encouragement and a fellow worker in the Kingdom of God!

[1] There are some other “Justus” mentioned in Acts. They are not the same as the Justus mentioned here. Both the names Jesus and Justus were common names among Jewish people in the first century and as a result it is easy to conflate the various men with each other.

Colossians 4:5-6; Brief thoughts

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. [i]

The final exhortation given to the church of Colossae is to “walk in wisdom” (v. 5). Believers ought to strive to live a wise lifestyle. The term translated “walk” refers to a general pattern of life. It refers to a lifestyle. It is not a term that is used in reference to moments or temporary struggles but is one that indicates a general practice of life.[ii] Generally, Christians ought to live a lifestyle that is characterized by wisdom. The word used for wisdom indicates a “skill in the affairs of life, practical wisdom, wise management as shown in forming the best plans and selecting the best means, including the idea of sound judgment and good sense.”[iii] A believer, who has understood what Christ has done to change and transform their own heart, will certainly exemplify such a life. They will strive to live a life of excellence and devotion, “as to the Lord” (Colossians 3:23).

The jury of a Christian’s life is the outside world. Even Christ echoed the sentiment of just judgment of the authenticity of believers when He said, “By this, all men will know that you are truly my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Our Lord and Master gave the world permission to test the veracity of our faith by judging our actions. Paul exhorts us to live wisely towards those who are outside the faith. Walking in such a lifestyle demands that we are careful with how we spend our time and what we give our attention to. Time is against us in this life. It does not slow down and it is easy to waste. So, Paul calls us to be attentive to the time we have and use it wisely.

The encouragement that follows wise living is that your speech would “always be gracious, seasoned with salt…” (v. 6a). What proceeds from the mouth, comes from the overflow of the heart (Mat. 12:34). The most tangible evidence for the purity and strength of the heart is that which comes from the mouth. If one is wise, then the tongue will speak wisdom. What is the evidence that comes from your mouth? What do your words reveal about your heart? Paul’s call to wisdom is particularly addressing the relationship between Christians and those who are outside the faith. The greatest testimony one can give to the transformative power of the gospel is the lifestyle they live. That lifestyle must be consistent with their speech. So a Christian’s speech ought to lead people to see the transformation that has occurred within their own heart.

Paul explains that this speech is to be “gracious, seasoned with salt” (v.6). Put simply, Christians ought to make the world better. Gracious speech is kind speech. It is a considerate voice amidst a world that denies kindness. Further, grace brings beauty and benevolence to the subject. If a person is consistently gracious to others, they will be an agent of refreshment and beauty to the world around them. This kindness that overflows from a wise lifestyle makes the difficulties of this world more palatable. Like salt in a meal, so the true believer’s speech brings taste to a tasteless environment.

Finally, wisdom dictates that one ought to be able to answer the questions and needs of the surrounding world. If your speech is flowing from a wise life and is “gracious” towards others, then you will be able to answer the difficult questions that are posed by an anxious world. This is not to say that Christians have all the answers, but that their lifestyle is supported by their public proclamation of truth. There are questions that are difficult to answer. Yet, the hope that covers a Christian’s life and the wisdom by which they maintain their consistency provides an answer. Though it may not answer every nuance of every theological inquisition, wise living and gracious speech give answer and evidence to a changed life wrought by Christ.

 

[i] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Col 4:5–6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[ii] Some translations attempt to explain this discrepancy by adding the word “practice” or “continuing” to their translations. For example, “no one born of God practices sin” (1 John 3:9 NASB).

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

Colossians 3:13, Brief Thoughts

13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

The final three marks of the new nature of a Christian listed in verses 12-14 are identified as longsuffering, forgiveness, and love (in verse 14, to be considered in the next post).

The seventh character trait Paul exhorts Christians to is that of long-suffering. The Christian community ought to be the most welcoming and hospitable group that one can identify with. As believers, Christians have experienced a forgiveness that transcends all reason. They have been forgiven an offense that is so great as to warrant eternal damnation. Further, they were not seeking to be forgiven, nor acknowledging their need for forgiveness (Rom. 3:9-20). Instead, it was lavished upon them by the grace of God (1 John 3:1). In this forgiven state, Christians must recognize that they were in no way better or wiser than another person. Rather, they were enemies of God whom God bore with great patience until the day of their repentance (C.f. Rom. 5:8 and 2 Peter 3:19). In this recognition, there is no one that Christians are incapable of “bearing with.”

Accompanying the long-suffering of a Christian community is forgiveness. True believers forgive. As mentioned with long-suffering, Christians forgive much because they have been forgiven much. Jesus explains that one who recognizes the depth of forgiveness they have received will lavish love and forgiveness upon others because they have experienced it themselves (Luke 7:47). Therefore, a lack of forgiveness might serve as a test of the authenticity of one’s faith. Christians forgive, it is part of their nature to do so.

Living in community together guarantees that there will be conflict. When human beings gather together, whether, for worship, labor, or leisure, there will inevitably be opportunity for sin and subsequent complaint against others within the community. Though in an ideal situation, no one will feel the need to complain against another brother or sister, we live in a sinful world in which ideal situations do not truly exist. When one person is upset by another, there is struggle and frustration. However, God has renewed the spirit of Christians and given them new natures from which Christians can love each other in spite of sinful desires that cause quarrels (James 4). So, Christians ought to be marked by a forgiveness that transcends their own need to be right or their need to fulfill their own desires.

This overcoming of desires in favor of forgiveness is only achievable when the community realizes that God has empowered every individual to forgive the way Christ has forgiven. Consider for a moment what extent of love and forgiveness that Christ has poured out upon those who believe. The eternal Christ made Himself mortal and put on human frailty (Philippians 2:1-11). He lowered Himself from exalted heights to love a people who despise and reject Him (John 13). He lives perfectly, forgives extravagantly, serves humbly, and surrenders Himself to the charges of the wicked, in order to save the lowly. After accomplishing all of that, He grants those who believe in Him a new nature that is clean and then consistently renews that nature after His own image until He completes it (Col. 3:9-10 and Philippians 1:6). This is why Christians must forgive – they have been forgiven.

It is not enough for a Christian to forgive alone. They must forgive in the same way Christ forgave. A Christian’s forgiveness must transcend the simplistic forgiveness that the world affords. The forgiveness of the world is transactional – I’ll forgive A if B is done. The forgiveness of Christ says I’ll forgive A no matter what. The forgiveness of Christ does not complain about past grievances or hold a record of wrongs. The forgiveness of Christ separates the sin from the person as far as east from west. This is a mark of Christianity – the Christian forgives with love. If someone claims Christ, but cannot forgive in this way, then that person needs to examine themselves to see if they really know Christ, for it is by the fruit of our hearts that we testify that He has changed us and that He is our Lord.

Colossians 3:9-11; Brief thoughts

9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in the knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

The most damaging subterfuge a Christian can suffer is that of self-deception. When a true follower of Christ agrees with a lie, that believer denies the power of their own identity as granted by Christ. In that denial, Christians fail to exercise their God-given strength and power to overcome sins. The acceptance of falsehood brings further damage when the Christian begins to believe deceptions that are about their identity. One of the greatest attacks of the adversary is the attack on the Christian’s victorious nature.

For many Christians, the identity that has been established for them through the work and efforts of Christ has been masked and held captive by an erroneous belief that their “old self” or “sin nature” or “flesh” has some authority or ability to conquer them. However, when confronted with these verses in Colossians, Christians are empowered to trust in the power of Christ within them!

In order for truth to reign as truth in the life of a Christian community, it must be ever present on the lips and in the hearts of believers. This is why Paul admonishes us not to lie. The one who has trusted Christ has removed the garment of the old self. The word for put off indicates a removal as if stripping off clothing. So here, one who has believed in Christ Jesus has taken off the old and has dressed in the new. It is important to recognize the tenses used in this passage. The putting off of the old is a past tense verb that focuses on a single time action.[1] So the Christian has “put off” the old self and has dressed in the new nature that has been given to them in Christ Jesus. This changing of one’s spiritual clothing occurs when Christ has redeemed the Christian. Indeed, it is part of the justification of a believer. (Ongoing sanctification is present at the end of verse 10, we will address that below.)

Someone will object at this point, “But if I have been given a new nature, why do I still struggle with sin?!” This question presupposes that one requires an “old self” in order for sin to be present. Consider for a moment the state of our first patriarch, Adam. Adam need not have a sinful disposition to rebel against God’s command. He had no need for original sin to derive sins origination in himself. He simply volitionally chose to sin. So it is with one who has been given a new nature. We sin because we choose to do so. If it were not so, then why would Paul assert that this new nature is “being renewed?” Being renewed is a present tense passive verb, indicating a continuous action being done from an external source. If a sinful nature were required for sin to exist, then the new nature would not need continuous renewing. Yet, Paul’s reminder is that sin is still present in this world and therefore still effects a redeemed Christian but, not in the same manner with which it used to rule over that Christian. Rather, now the Christian is capable of overcoming sin! Praise the Lord!

Christians are given a new nature that they must now learn to live in. Much like the fairy tails in which a prince or princess is plucked from the position of a pauper and thrust into a royal court, a Christian must learn to live in the royal court of God’s majesty. The one who was once a slave must now learn to live as one who has been made free. The adjustment to freedom from sin takes time. This is called sanctification and it provides the evidence of salvation. Once one has been justified in Christ and the old clothes have been cast off, now the believer must learn to live in their freedom, pursuing the fulfillment of God’s image on this earth!

What a joy to be free from sin and to know that we have been set free! We have been set free! Because of the atoning work of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection, we have been set free from sin and are made new! Do not believe the lie that you are still bound! You are free.

In this freedom, all worldly definitions of your identity fall by the side. All definitions that would confine you to this life are removed. Indeed, your nature is no longer bound to cultural identities or monikers of society. Your identity is found in Christ and in Christ alone. So, Christians regard each other as family, no matter the background or history. Christians are united in the restoration of the image of God within their souls! What a freeing delight to ponder. No matter what your background or difficulty may be, you’ve been granted freedom in Christ Jesus to live as the image of God on this earth, unhindered by any nature, history, cultural baggage, or generational sin. You have been set free in Christ Jesus, live like it!

[1] This is called an aorist tense in Greek. The aorist tense can be used rather loosely in translation, however, it typically indicates a past tense action that happened once. The emphasis of an aorist verb is most often on a single time action.

Featured image Photo by Paweł Furman on Unsplash

Colossians 3:1-4; Brief Thoughts

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

What one believes has a profound effect on how one lives. If someone claims to adhere to a religious system or a set of moral principles, then those principles and that system ought to be played out in everyday life. So it is no different for the Christian. If someone claims to believe in Christ, identifying Him as their savior and lord, then that person must have a lifestyle and a perspective that is influenced by that belief. Moreover, if that belief is based on a present reality, then that belief must alter the perspective of the adherent.

From the outset of chapter three, Paul challenges the faith of the reader. “If then you have been raised with Christ” is Paul’s gentle way of asking if you really believe. Because, if you really believe then what follows is a potential. However, if one has not been raised from the dead with Christ, then they cannot do what Paul is exhorting them toward in the following verses. In order to do what Paul urges Christians towards, you must first be a Christian.

Perhaps the most valuable shift a Christian can make in their life and their pursuit of holiness is in their perspective. It is easy for a man to be consumed with the affairs and activities of this life, yet in Christ, we have been given an eternal life that exists beyond our present condition. So it must be that Christians turn their focus to eternity and view their present circumstances through the lens of Christ and His resurrected status. Take note that Paul does not say that your mind ought to be set on Christ’s work of atonement or His life on earth. Paul calls you to think about eternal/heavenly things because that is where Christ is seated. Christ is currently seated next to the Creator of all things and the Lord of all Lords. He is currently on a throne… on THE throne. So, Christian, shift your perspective to that understanding.

Jesus is not fighting a war, He has already claimed victory over the darkness and is seated as King! Though there are battles that rage on this earth, He has defeated sin completely, overcome the bonds of death, settled the debt of the law, and has risen from this earthly dominion, thereby making Himself King over all things. He has resurrected from the dead and, if you have believed, you have been raised victorious over sin with Him!

In light of Christ’s victory, the Christian is to “set [their] minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (v.2). This is perhaps one of the most unsettling character traits that a Christian can exemplify before the lost world. The eternal perspective of a Christian makes much of what is considered so precious on earth, worthless and vain. Further, it gives value to things that are commonly disregarded or might better be thrown off or set aside. When suffering arises in the life of a Christian, it is “momentary and light” (2 Corinthians 4:17). When a believer can make the choice between material gain or investing in things that have spiritual significance but no material reward they will choose the spiritual (Romans 15:26-27). When a believer considers their actions, they do so on a different values system than that of the world surrounding them.

The perspective of a Christian would not be possible were it not for the reality of death. Those who have trusted in Christ Jesus have put to death the things of this world. They have put to death that nature that once bound them to sin and law (c.f. Romans 6 and Galatians 5). That sinful nature that bound humanity to this earth has been done away with (Romans 6:1-11). After trusting in Christ, the life of a Christian is hidden with Christ. This is not to say that life is postponed and Christians are now in some sort of earthly purgatory. Rather, Christ has secured eternal life for those who believe and, as a result, the life of the believer is secured in Heaven with Christ. To put it simply: people on this earth cannot see heaven. The life of the believer has been secured by Christ, who is in heaven. Therefore, the proof and security of the believer are “hidden” from the eyes of the world. Now, take a moment and revel in this truth: one day Christ will return and unveil the eyes of all humanity. Life will be made manifest in the presence of our King and we will rejoice in the full revelation of life in Christ! There is much to be said about the glorious day when Christ returns, but for now, let’s set our minds on the spiritual truth of Christ’s victory over death and that coming day when He will return.