Tag Archives: Community

Colossians 1:18a; Brief Thoughts

18 And he is the head of the body, the church.

The Church is the collection of people who have united around the common faith that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. That is to say, Christianity is based on the truth that Jesus is the one who died for the sins of the world and who rules over all things. Here in the center of his hymn of praise to Jesus, having already asserted Jesus’ primacy in priority and time, Paul proclaims Jesus’ headship over the church.

Jesus is the head of the church. He is the first in priority over all creation, as such, He is the first in priority over the Church. He is before all creation and by Him, all things are created, likewise, the Church has existed because He called it into existence. He is the sustainer of all things and He is the purpose for all things, in the same way, the Church is sustained and derives its purpose from Him. Christ is the chief authority over the Church. It is His Church, He created it, He leads it, He is in charge.

In modern churches, the question of authority is often met with convoluted answers. When the question is asked, “Who is in charge at your church?” the answer usually asserts some sort of pastor, committee, deacon body, or leadership board. Seldom is the answer, “Jesus” or “God’s word.”  Yet, the truth remains – Jesus is the head of the Church. The direction of the Church is not determined by leadership or ecclesiastical polity. The direction of the church is established by Jesus Christ and His word. In general, churches have lost the fundamental understanding of authority. Many modern churches do not know how to answer the question of authority. Paul reminds his readers that Christ is the head of the church. The head of the Church is not a pastor or a deacon body or even an elder board. The head of the Church is Christ.  Though much of the Western Church has forgotten this simple truth, it remains true, nonetheless. Local churches must reeducate the congregations to understand this truth.

Re-education starts with a biblical ecclesiastical structure. In order to re-orient our churches, leadership must model submission to Christ through the word of God. Local churches must determine their leadership structure and function from the Scripture. (If you’re searching 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are good places to start.) Instructions to the congregation must be unambiguously directed from Scripture. Further, any engagement or discipleship of a believer within the community must be rooted in Scripture. Leaders must submit to Christ, recognizing that they have no authority apart from Him.

The local church and church leaders must also establish the Scripture as the central authority within their congregation. If Christ is the head of the Church, then His word must be placed at the forefront. Every congregation member must understand that they have equal spiritual authority to every other member, including the leaders. While there may be a pragmatic and structural leadership that is in place for the purpose of effective church ministry, the one supreme and primary authority is His word. The elders, deacons, pastors, committees, and directors have no more spiritual authority than any other member. They may have greater responsibility, but they share equal submission to the Word of the Lord.

Finally, the church must prize surrender. People, in general, do not value surrender. We often place a high premium on self-reliance, yet Christ models surrender. Surrender to Christ’s precepts and to the authority of Scripture must be seen as a high value. Surrender to Him as the head must be praised and acknowledged. In exalting surrender, the church will diminish pride and self-righteousness. In doing so, the church will lead the congregation to a fuller understanding of Christ’s headship.

Leaders, model Philippians 2 for your flock. Christ is the head… act like it.

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Colossians 1:17: Brief thoughts

17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Before the light burst forth into the void, before the waters that covered the earth laid their torrent upon the land, before the land rose to peaks and habitable pastures, and before the earth existed, Jesus, the Christ, existed. He was there before time. He was there before the fall of man that so grievously broke the communion of creation with Creator. He was present before the first leaf blossomed and directed the unfolding of all creation. His tender hand saw fit to mold the earth in the beauty of His love. Every blade of grass, every creeping animal, and every aspect of creation came into existence by His voice.

Jesus is before all things. He existed before time could measure existence. Further, He created all things and “In Him all things hold together” (v.17). In the beginning, God created an earth that was filled with beauty and was perfect. Mankind’s sin fractured and damaged that creation to the point of continuous slow decay. As a result, death entered the world and now death rules. However, Jesus’ grace upon creation has not ceased. So great was the sin of man that all of creation could have been justifiably obliterated. Yet, God saw fit to redeem His creation and in love worked to sustain that creation. In spite of man’s willful rejection of God, God acts in grace, even before Christ came to the cross. Jesus holds all things together, maintaining His creation. It is because of grace that the world does not spin out of control.

In saying that Jesus “holds all things together,” Paul is recognizing a kind of common grace to all mankind. God, in His infinite grace, allows wicked men to persist in living. He patiently waits for those who will repent and believe. His restraining hand holds back the effects of sin. In Romans 1:18-32, Paul repeats that God “gave [men] over” to their sin. In this simple phrase, Paul explains that God is restraining evil to the extent of restraining the consequences on the heart of men. So it is that common grace exists. This common grace is the grace to breathe air and live. This common grace is found in the ability to exist. It is called grace, because no one actually deserves life. The result of sin is death. The patience of God is common grace that does not demand immediate remittance of that debt. Man has rejected God. Still, Jesus holds all things together: this is grace.

Not only is Jesus sustaining life, He also makes sense of all things. In one sense He holds all things together, literally sustaining life. In another sense He holds all things together in that life has purpose and reason in Him. Jesus holds all things together because He is the purpose of creation. Creation exists to glorify God. In Jesus man is given the ability to glorify God. Thus, Jesus holds, within Himself, purpose. It is in knowing Him that trials and joys make sense. Without Him, nothing makes sense and all is meaningless. The life of a man is a vapor (James 4:14). In Jesus, life is eternal and has significance beyond the grave. Without Him, life is a meaningless mist that is here for a moment and is quickly dispelled by the winds of death. A man can either, delight in Jesus and live a meaningful life that extends beyond the momentary vapor of this temporal existence, or he can deny the truth of Christ and waste the vapor.

The glorious God of all creation has come to make Himself known to you. He is before all things. He has seen your every failing and rejection of Him. He has patiently waited for you to know Him. He holds you together. Further, He calls you to purpose. He has granted you some semblance of reason to your life. Praise God!

Colossians 1:16; Brief thoughts

16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

Jesus is God. He is not a created being, nor is He dependent on anything for existence. He is God and by definition, He has life within Himself. All life stems from Christ, for “by Him all things were created” (v.16). It is for this reason that we understand “firstborn” in verse 15 to be referring to primacy and priority rather than temporality. For indeed, Jesus is the creator and it is by Him that all things are made.

The extent of His creation does not simply end with what the eye can see. Rather, Jesus created everything! That which is visible: the trees, land, humanity, and the like; and that which is invisible: the spiritual realms, air, and those things which are intangible. Consider for a moment the breadth of this creation. Jesus has made that which mankind interacts with on a daily basis, both the known and visible parts of creation as well as the unknown and invisible parts. There is no thing in existence, no power that prevails on earth or heaven, and no being that has been that He did not create. Jesus has created all things.

So, Jesus created the dictator. He created the wicked politician. He created the spirits that manifest themselves in depression. He created the spirits that try to rule over humanity in His place. Jesus created these. It is difficult for any compassionate Christian to accept that Jesus created the Hitlers of this world. Yet here it stands in verse 16. Jesus created the thrones and dominions and authorities. There is no distinction of morality in this list. The only distinction made is that some are invisible while others are visible. Yet, this is the power of Jesus Christ in creation. He has created all things. Not only the things that accept His lordship and authority but also those that war against the King of Glory. He is creator over all. In this way, Jesus exemplifies an incredible benevolent love. He creates beings that will in no way accept Him as their creator and then allows them to persist. The fact that Jesus allows wicked politicians to take a breath in this life should astound the most reasonable of people. His love and patience are so great that He has created beings that exist to prove His patience. Romans 9 puts this thought in beautiful perspective when it speaks of men as clay in the potter’s hands, espousing that God has the right to create both righteous and wicked.

Not only does Jesus have the right to create whatever He pleases, He does so with an expressed purpose. All of creation has been drawn into existence “for Him” (v.16). There is a tremendous purpose for creation. It is the purpose of salvation to exalt the name of Jesus. Creation exists to show God’s character and to display His glory. All of creation, both that which is seen and unseen, exists to glorify Jesus.

Humanity, in general, denies this truth. Humanity attempts to place man at the center of creation as first priority (c.f. Romans 1:23). Yet, Jesus is patient. It is the denial of the truth of Jesus’ infinite worth and priority that causes so many of the problems within the western church. When churches focus their activity around the preferences of human agents and not around the exaltation of Christ, then the church becomes ineffective and worthless. It is the role of all creation to glorify Jesus. It is the role of the church to model how to do that.

Colossians 1:15; brief thoughts

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

Sin blinded the eyes of mankind so that no man could see God. The very image of God was marred and broken by the fall of man. In the beginning, God created mankind in the image of God and commissioned man and woman to spread His image and glory across the world (Genesis 1:26-28). Yet, Adam sinned and as a result, the image of God was shattered (C.f. Romans 5). As history has progressed, God’s image has become more and more depraved through the work and sin of man. Indeed, so great is the fall of man, that man no longer resembles the image of God.

The loss of this image is the loss of communion with God. God’s creation has been severed from Him by sin: the willful rejection of God by the beings that are supposed to reflect Him. God began His work with the intention of spreading His own image across the earth. His mission has not changed. Christ comes as the image of God. He is the perfect reflection of the glory and character of God. Being God, Himself, Christ is God. Thus, when you have seen Christ, you have seen the Father (John 14:9). That severed communion is re-created and restored in Jesus Christ. In knowing Jesus, we can know God.

The image of God is the son of God. He is the heir to all that God has. Jesus, being one with God, is also distinct as the second person of the Trinity. He is the Son. He is the image of God and bears the same essence as God, yet remains uniquely individual. His position in the Trinity is best understood in human terms as, Son. In this way, we can understand that He inherits all the wealth of God. This is what is meant by “firstborn.” This is not to say that Jesus was a created being. He was not created. He has been God from the beginning (c.f. John 1:1-5). He was not created but born. The terminology of birth here is specifically addressing priority. Jesus is firstborn of creation in the sense that He is the first in priority.[1]

Jesus is the image of God, and the firstborn. Consider for a moment the implications of such truth. In Jesus, men can see what is invisible. The invisible God of all creation is made visible in Jesus Christ. Further, He is the One on whom priority in all things rest. He is the first to be worthy. He is the first to be recognized. He is the first to be worshiped. He is the first to receive glory. He is the first to be honored. He is the first to speak. He is the first to whom one should listen. He is the first in authority. He is first in position. He is first in majesty. He is first in mankind’s affections. He is the first to work. He is the first! He is first. There are too many things and people to which western Christianity ascribes priority. Too many things take the place of first priority over following and knowing Jesus. Yet, Jesus remains first. If anything else stands in front of Him, then truth is lost.

Jesus is not granted the priority based on man’s acceptance of that order. Rather, Jesus is given priority because that priority is the truth. Jesus being firstborn does not depend on man’s opinion of His position or authority. He simply is firstborn. He is the Son of God. This is truth and it needs no validation from humanity. All the earth could reject Jesus Christ and still, He remains: the image of God, firstborn.

 

[1] For a fuller examination of this I recommend John MacArthur’s commentary on Colossians.

4 Observations from Piles of Trash

The smell of decay and death that flooded these homes slowly begins to fade. As the rivers have returned to the confinement of their banks and people have begun the marathon labor of restoring their homes, the remains of death line the roads. Putrid heaps of near toxic, mold-covered trash block the view of once beautifully simple homes.

FullSizeRender (2)Like many in my community, I have been working hard to help people remove waste from their home. Tearing out sheetrock, flooring, destroyed treasure, appliances, etc… It has been a grueling process. I had just completed yet another session of spraying someone else’s home with mold remediation when I was overcome by the view of the street. The devastation is so great that you can smell the decay from inside the car. I was paralyzed as the realization struck me: this is not trash on the side of the road, this is lives and history wiped out in a moment. Those carpets and walls are years spent with children and family. Those piles of trash are someone’s hopes buried inside a tomb of river water. As I struggle to understand and process such tremendous devastation I have been struck by a few observations:

  1. The value of life is not in “things.”

These heaps of destroyed dreams offer an image of life that cannot be easily dismissed. We invest our lives and money in material goods, building homes and putting our monetary resources into “things” that can be easily stripped from us in a moment.  It’s important to note, that the value is not actually in the “things.” The value of this life is not something that can be so easily destroyed. These things only have value because they represent experiences, moments, memories, and relationships. Those things cannot be stripped from you. Cling to those intangible realities of life.

  1. Restoration/ Redemption is painful

When tearing someone’s life apart in order to restore, the old must be torn (literally) from the framework of the home, in order to clean and redeem the home. Life is no different. Our lives are flooded with death and decay because of sin. Born into a world of death, we have only one hope. Jesus offers that hope. When we recognize our sin, admit that we have rejected life, and trust in Him to redeem our souls; then He works in our hearts and redeems. There is much work to be done in the life of a redeemed sinner. The old must be torn away. This process is hard and sometimes painful. It is painful because it is removing a part of who you are. Indeed, it is tearing down what you once thought wonderful, in favor of a potential of who you could be. But having a home that is livable is worth it. Redemption is worth it.

  1. You need help.

Many people where I live did not have insurance. More do not have true community. It has been beautiful to watch as the church community in my area has dropped the pretense and labored to serve the community. Churches in my town have lists of homes that are being worked through. As people have called, the church has answered! When disaster hits, we need each other. When the rivers rise and destroy, we need help. Often overlooked, this simple truth is a key tenant of Christianity. The Christian life is best lived in community together. We need brothers and sisters to help us identify what is waste and what is not. We need the help of Christian community to carry out demolition and drag piles of waste to the curb. We need each other.

  1. To be restored, your home will have to be gutted first.

The work of restoration begins when the house has been fully gutted and all the inner workings of the house have been completely exposed. So it is with life. In order for restoration and redemption to take place, transparency is necessary. You must be willing to be laid bare before the world. Our inner life must be completely stripped and the Spirit of God given rule over the reconstruction work of the soul.

Though I weep for those who have lost everything and yet I know there is hope. I know restoration of homes can and will bring life from death. The process is long and hard. Many will suffer depression and despair as their labor and life have been razed to the ground. Yet, as time progresses and the people of God serve and love their neighbors, life will be brought from death. Homes will be restored, memories will remain, and life will begin anew. This is the hope. Life springs up out of death. Redemption from the flood.

Colossians 1:12; Brief Thoughts

12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

The third refrain describing the worthy Christian life beckons the believer to gratitude. Indeed, one of the greatest hallmarks of the Christian faith is that of a cultivated gratitude for the presence and work of God. So it is with genuine believers that gratitude overflows from the soul into the world around them. In Ephesians 5:4, gratitude is urged as a defining character trait of the Christian’s speech. In Philippians 4:6, Christians are urged to combat anxiousness with gratitude. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul calls believers to “give thanks in all circumstances.” In 2 Thessalonians, the saints are encouraged to give thanks for salvation.  In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Paul calls for prayers of thanksgiving to be made for everyone, including pagan Kings. In 1 Timothy 4:1-5, Christians are urged to give thanks for everything they receive.

The spirit of gratitude, cultivated in the life of a believer is absurd. It is a spirit that thanks God for persecution, famine, destruction, as well as freedom, plenty, and life. This Spirit urged among the believers of the first century, no doubt, seemed even more obscene. As Paul urges Christians to express gratitude to God, the Christian religion is experiencing tremendous persecution. Yet, in the face of rejection and death, Christians are to say thanks. Thanks for destruction? Christians are to be grateful for the loss of everything? Truly? Yet, it is the Spirit of God that lives within believers and empowers such obscene gratitude. Though the world collapse and reject everything the Christian holds dear, still, the Christian contradicts such resounding rejection with love and gratitude. The Christian life is a contradiction of worldly values. Believers seek a value that stands in stark contrast with the values of this world and its systems. It is precisely this contradiction that is manifest in the Christian’s gratitude.

Where does such profound contradiction come from? A Christian’s faith results in gratitude for all things because a Christian’s faith is from the God who is over all things. It is “the Father” from whom the ability to respond in gratitude is received. It is also to Him that gratitude is given. He has granted life where there was death and brought light into darkness (c.f. Ephesians 2:1-8). The God of all things, the Maker and Sustainer of all life, has granted Christians an inheritance where there once was none.

Note: He “qualified” believers for this inheritance. The word used here means “to make sufficient” or “to render worthy.”[1] Consider that for a moment. God has made Christians worthy. He has, in His infinite grace, established those who believe in Him as worthy. Those who love Christ need not strive to be worthy. They simply are worthy. They are worthy because the Father has made them worthy. He has changed their condition from sinful, unworthy, and wicked to saintly, worthy, and righteous.

All mankind rejects God. There is no one who is righteous on their own, indeed, all are sons of disobedience (c.f. Romans 1-3 and Ephesians 2). Yet, God, in His kindness, saved those who believe in Him, granting orphans adoption. Forgiving those who deserve death. From this realization, springs gratitude. Mankind is wicked and deserving of death, yet God’s love and favor persist. No person can look upon the face of God, behold His majesty and glory and persist in self-righteous pride. No person can be confronted with the reality of His holiness and still deny His goodness and grace. In the face of such a God, the only acceptable response is gratitude.

Ponder for a moment the truth that He has changed the soul of those who believe. The very nature of the individual who confesses Christ has been displaced and replaced with a new nature that is entirely changed. A nature that has been made worthy of the holiness of God. A nature that has been qualified! Thus, the worthy Christian life is one in which this deep and powerful truth transcends our mundane existence and draws us to our knees in gratitude. This gratitude is present in the light!

The light… everyone can see the Christian. The flaws and weaknesses. The failures and trivial affections. Christians receive an inheritance as children of “light.” There is no hiding in the light. One is entirely exposed in the light. Even so, the stark contrast of the unworthy sinner who has been deemed worthy by God and the holiness of God must draw the Christian to gratitude. For such a change of condition is too great to be observed passively. It demands an exchange of self-righteousness for humble gratitude. Christians cannot stand in pride or pretense. They have been exposed before a holy and righteous King who has deemed them worthy by His own act of benevolence.

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

Brief Thoughts; Colossians 1:9-10

9And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

The heart of Christian unity is found in the prayers of the saints. It is a unique character trait of the believer that permits such a response to the report of love in the Spirit. There is no desire for them to excel in fame or prestige. There is no passing apathy resulting from a competitive spirit. There is no desire to direct their steps and take charge of them. On the contrary, Paul prays for them to know God’s will and understand it.

What a tremendous prayer! That the Colossians would “be filled with the knowledge of His will” (v.9). He does not merely pray for some knowledge or a provision of knowledge. Rather, Paul prays that they would be filled with knowledge. Further, it is not simply general knowledge that Paul seeks, but especially the knowledge of God’s will. The will of God: that sovereign desire that will be brought to fruition. Paul prays that they would be complete in their knowledge of God’s will.[1] Imagine what it must mean to be complete in the knowledge of God’s will. Such knowledge would bring tremendous confidence. That very confidence that is needed to face trial and the strength to overcome sin are wrapped in the knowledge of God’s sovereign will. Take note, it is not knowledge of the specifics of God’s plan or His direct intention. Rather, it is a knowledge of His will specifically. Christians do not require knowledge of every detail of God’s plan, only the full knowledge that He has such a will and can be trusted. As the Christian becomes more aware of and confident in God’s will, the strength of their walk grows.

The knowledge of God’s will is accompanied and processed by “spiritual wisdom and understanding” (v9). This is faith that is complete. Complete faith does not merely trust in the knowledge that God’s will is sovereign, it also understands it and responds to it in wisdom. Christians who trust in God ought to live as the wisest among mankind. The wisdom of Christians ought to exceed the wisdom of the world, precisely because the nature of Christian wisdom is spiritual. The wisdom of Christians extends beyond the temporal world and exists in spiritual realms. As a result, the wisdom of Christians comes from a source that both influences and alters both temporal and spiritual realities.

Paul’s desire for the Colossians is that their lives would reflect the holiness of God. Christians live differently from the world around them. They live a life that is set apart. A life that is in pursuit of holiness. So, Paul prays that they would have the knowledge to enable such Christ-like living. Knowledge is given to Christians for the purpose of a changed life. A person who claims to know Christ and yet remains unchanged and unholy does not know the Lord. An unchanged Christian is not a Christian at all.

The life that is worthy is here explained in three descriptions each beginning with a participial phrase. The first description bears itself out in three simple phrases of verse ten. First, it is a life that is pleasing to God. That is to say, it is a life that delights in the word of the Lord and pursues holiness. It is not merely a passing delight. The life that is worthy is one that is “fully pleasing!” It is a life that delights God in every aspect. The Christian life is one that brings joy to the Lord not only in the view of the public but also in the secluded moments of privacy. Second, it is a life that bears fruit that is displayed in the work of the Christian life. The fruit of a Christian is not measured in tangible numbers or acts of people. Rather, the fruit of the Spirit is evident in the character of the Christian (C.f. Galatians 5). Yet, the fruit of the Christian life is born out in the works that Christians do to love their neighbors. It is revealed in “every good work.” Note that it is every work, not merely the ones that have been performed for an audience or in view of specific groups. The fruit of a Christian is displayed in all the works that are accomplished both public and private. Further, Christ admonishes His disciples in John 14 that the world will know His disciples by the way they love. Christians who bear fruit, work. Finally, the worthy life is one that increases in the knowledge of God. A Christian who does not grow in their knowledge of God is either starving their soul or they have not been redeemed. Either way, they are missing the delight and power of the Christian life. The worthy life is one that is spent tenaciously pursuing God. The worthy life is one that lays its selfish desires aside for the sake of knowing the Creator of the universe. The worthy life is a life surrendered to the pursuit of God.

The life of a believer is a changed life. It is a life that both defies the calls to success from the material world around it and embraces a tenacious love for that world. The Christian life is a life altered by the creator of all things. It is a life that is radical in its love towards others, relentless in its pursuit of holiness, and constant in its praise of God.

Oh Christian, how beautiful a worthy life is! Consider what our world would look like if believers genuinely pursued Christ so as to live a worthy life. Such great love would be displayed that the whole world would be forced to take notice. Indeed true Christianity has this effect on the community that surrounds it. When believers work to live lives worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the world around them is made more beautiful by the outflow of love that results from their pursuit of God. Pray, dear Christian that you and the other brothers in the faith would be filled with the knowledge of God. In that knowledge, the world will see the glory of God!

[1] The greek word used here indicates a completeness or fullness.