Tag Archives: Good

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!

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Philippians 4:14-20 pt. 2; Brief Thoughts

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica was troubled, to say the least. He entered the local synagogue there and labored to explain who Jesus is and what Jesus had done. Though many of the Jews in Thessalonica believed, a mob formed and tried to seize Paul and Silas to bring them up on charges of treason against Ceasar and have them arrested or even killed. After some bribes were paid by the believers, Paul and Silas fled the city by night (C.f. Acts 17:1-9).

What a terrifying reality to face. Imagine entering a city and preaching the gospel message of Jesus Christ with some measure of conversion and success in persuasion, only to find out that a small minority of hateful people have rejected the gospel, formed a mob, and are seeking your death. Certainly, Paul knows what rejection feels like. From an external perspective, Thessalonica appears to be a failure in Paul’s missionary journeys. He was unable to peacefully develop a church community and faced such violence that he was forced to flee. His rejection was evident and the failure was palpable. Yet, the Philippians supported his efforts and maintained concern for his work. It was their contribution that permitted Paul and Silas to work in Thessalonica without cost (1 Thess. 2:9 and 2 Thess. 3:7-8). The Philippians have been consistently supportive of Paul’s missions from the beginning and have maintained that support even in locations where it seemed as if there was no fruit.

Paul did not have to produce reports for the Philippians or send them pictures and testimonials from the field. Instead, they pursued his work and his affection. They sent messengers to him with care packages and pursued him to learn about what was going on in the places he was ministering. While it would have been easy to discount Paul’s ministry at times and insist that they could spend their resources better elsewhere, the Philippians trusted in the Lord to fulfill the work and entrusted their resources to God’s minister. It is this sort of giving that validates the affection of the church for the mission of God. If the church is openhanded with its giving and actively involved in pursuing knowledge of the work, then that church is proving its own affection for the gospel ministry.

Epaphroditus traveled to Paul, risking his life for the opportunity to share in the work of the gospel through the gift of resources to Paul. It is a tremendous blessing to the missionary when others who are like-minded are willing to sacrifice in order to join in the work. This sort of support sends the message to the missionary that they are not alone. One of the most common hindrance to the Christian leader is a feeling of loneliness. In the face of rejection and seeming failure, it is easy to feel alone on the mission. When fellow believers pray, support, investigate, and get involved with the work, missionaries can rest in the confidence that they are not alone and they can lean on the emotional and material support of the broader family of God.

All this support is to the glory of God. Paul’s growing confidence in the Philippians is not only assuring him that he is not alone in the work. It is also fortifying his confidence in the sovereign Lord of all things. Through the provision of support for the gospel ministry, the Philippians are actually validating God’s own sovereign work. The surrender of possessions and commitment to Paul’s missionary efforts serve as validation of their affection, but also of God’s approval and efforts. So Paul’s extreme confidence in God’s provision and sovereignty is only strengthened through the efforts of the Philippians.

When a church submits to sacrifice for the work of the gospel, there will inevitably be a hesitancy to continue with the work as their own resources and ability to provide for their own work diminishes. In times when resources are depleting and efforts seem to be stretching too thin, the church needs the reminder of verse 19: God will “supply your needs.” It is a common struggle in modern western churches to place their security in their own supply of money and resources. Western churches are extremely wealthy. Even the poorest of churches in the west is more financially stable than the average church in the rest of the world. At first, this appears to be a benefit that God has lavished upon His people. However, a careful observer can see that wealth is not always a blessing. Attend one or two business meetings at a local church and the heart of the leadership will quickly be revealed. How much time is spent debating frivolities that cost money and how much time is given to prayer and reports from the mission field or church planting? Does the church spend the majority of its time debating how money is spent or do they spend their time praying and investigating where to send their money? When the money and resources are beginning to be exhausted, the church leaders should remind the people that God will meet their needs. It is confidence in the sovereign God of all things that will bring security, not money. Surrender the finances in obedience to God and He will provide your needs.

The above questions are good questions to ask. Though they are not exhaustive in their determination of the heart of a church, they will give some indication as to the church’s dedication to the mission and their confidence in God’s provision. When you are seeking a church to partner with in ministry, seek out the heart of the leaders in that church. Then see if the people are following the Word of the Lord. If their confidence is in the Lord and His word, then they’ll be able to lead well and the people will be able to join in the mission. If not, keep searching.

Philippians 3:17-19; Wolves, Brief Thought

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 

Wolves are horrible. They eat the sheep. They’re incredibly smart and maniacal. They work in teams and are just extremely dangerous and deadly when they are hungry. The Bible warns believers to watch out for wolves (c.f. Mt. 7:15, 10:16, and Acts 20:29). These are men and women who insert themselves into the community, claim the authority of God, and eventually bring destruction to the flock of God. Paul’s exhortation in verses 17-19 gives some insight on the identification of such wolves.

It is common in the western church to encounter wicked men who lead poorly and harm the flock of God. These men often appear to be incredibly godly men. Yet, they are wolves in sheep’s clothing knowing nothing about the Holy Spirit or the sincere love of Christ. Early in my ministry I was scarred by someone I thought to be a brother in the ministry. This man leveled me with accusations of failure and angry reproof without any righteous motivation. He did not scar me for my benefit or instruction. He attacked me and wounded me for his own gain and reputation among other wolves. Forsaking the glory, humility, and love of Christ, he reacted to me in anger and hatred. This man has been a source of tears and pain. I have wept over his sinful rejection of Christ’s love and subsequent display of self-righteousness. Paul was no stranger to such men. In his work he suffered rejection from Jewish leaders he once called brothers (Acts 18), materialistic Christians (2 Timothy 4:10), and even other so-called Christian leaders (Galatians 1-2). His warning to believers are born from experience. He admonishes the Philippians to remain faithful in following after his own example because there are many who will reject the cross of Christ and will lead others to do the same.

Identifying such people can be a difficult task. Verse 19 gives some instruction on the identification of those who would become enemies of the cross of Christ. Paul identifies wolves among us with three unique characteristics. Before he cites their characteristics, Paul proclaims their end. Wolves will be destroyed. There will not be rescue from the judgement for such as these. Their end is wrath and justice, not mercy and grace. Those who serve as enemies of Christ will find their end is destruction. There is no hope for those who reject the salvation of Jesus in favor of this world… there is only wrath.

The first of the three character traits that lead to this horrific end is a subservience to apatite. These are people who are enslaved to their cravings. They find it difficult to deny themselves their desires, even if those desires will harm them. Indeed, they worship their own satisfaction and everything they pursue is to that end. It is their apatite and self-satisfaction that drives their decisions and activities.

The second identifying mark is that they “glory in their shame” (v.19). Glory is an accurate representation of something. For example: the glory of a frog is that it jumps and is slimy. Glory is that which your identity is founded on. The glory of those who reject Christ is in their shame. They revel in shameful activities and give approval to them as though they were righteous.

The third character trait is an infatuation with earthly things and success in this world. Their focus is on this life and not the next. They want the approval of men and the wealth and prestige of the rulers on earth. An obsession with success according to the people of this world is the final mark of a wolf.

The difficulty in identifying wolves in the modern church is that so much of what they are calling success looks spiritual. It is common to find men and women who will seek the praise of other men and women through the auspice of leading in a church. They are governed by their apatite to be approved of and heralded as a great spiritual leader and they consider their divisive and deceptive actions to be wisdom and good business practice. Yet, they are wolves in sheep’s clothing, seeking their own advancement and not the Kingdom of God. Avoid these leaders, they will meet their end in destruction.

Be faithful, oh Christian, to maintain an eternal perspective. The admonition to keep your eyes on holy examples is imperative for the identification of other wolves to be sure. It is also critical that you do so for your own sake. You are just as wicked as the one who believes himself to be spiritual while feeding his apatite and hoping in this life. So stay faithful and consistent in your walk. In maintaining a persistent and faithful walk with Jesus, you will find yourself drawing closer and closer to the glory of Christ and thereby assuring yourself of salvation and keeping yourself from becoming or behaving like a wolf.

 

Philippians 3:17; Brief Thoughts

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 

Imagine a great forest. The trees are dense and the brush is troublesome to push through, but there is a path to walk. A path that has been worn from years of travelers who know the way through the forest. Those who have gone before have pushed through the brush and followed the path that was laid by the owner of the land. You see, the owner has a kingdom on the other side of the forest. He owns the forest and He owns the kingdom. The people who seek the kingdom walk the path. So, if a person seeks the kingdom, they too walk the path that has been worn by others. What Paul calls the Philippians to do is walk the same path.

Imitate godliness. Find men and women who follow Christ well and seek His glory, then copy their lifestyle. Examine those you admire. Be careful to ensure that those who are respected are worthy of such respect.

Two errors are common among young believers seeking worthy men to follow.

First, they will give too much respect to a leader without evaluating that person’s life. Often age is given credence over righteousness. Christians ought to be cautious when seeking those to imitate. Age does not automatically indicate maturity or wisdom. Indeed, Paul’s admonition to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12 seems to indicate that young men are capable of being the necessary example for the congregation. Sometimes experience is prized when the leader has done a poor job assimilating that experience to their life. Be careful not to give respect to someone who has simply had experiences. Be sure that they have processed those experiences and learned from them.

The second error that young believers fall prey to is in over-evaluation. With tremendous zeal to ensure that they are seeking leaders who are pursuing Christ, they set their standards too high and drift into legalistic judgment of those who could encourage their walk. It is important to recognize what Paul has already said about himself: he has not already obtained the resurrection and is not perfect. Seek men and women to imitate who are honest about their own flaws and are pursuing Christ.

When a believer finds a person whose life and efforts exemplify Christ, that believer should labor to become like Christ by following their example. Follow the example of those who have walked the path of righteous obedience. Find men and women who have led holy lives and have exemplified Christ. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul exhorts the believers to “imitate me as I imitate Christ.”[i] Paul’s exhortation to imitate him is based on the reality that he is imitating Christ. The goal of Christians is not to become more like holy men and women who have gone before but to become more like Christ. Sometimes it is easier to evaluate one’s own walk by examining and imitating the life of a fellow believer who has a faithful life. Believers should aspire to imitate godly men and women in so far as those leaders are imitating Christ.

Oh beloved Christian, find godly people to look up to. Find men and women who lay down their lives for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Find people who delight themselves in eternal truth and God’s provision for the soul. Find men and women worthy of respect. They will not look like the world. They will not have the trappings of this world and, at first, their lives may not be appealing. But, look closely and see that the holy ones who walk with Jesus are content when no one else is. Find them, follow their lead, and you’ll begin to walk through the forest with greater ease.

[i] This is my own translation.

Philippians 3:7-11 pt. 1; Brief Thoughts

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. [1]

Comparative analysis is necessary when determining the course of action that best serves to benefit the individual making the decision. On the one hand, there is option A with its benefits and on the other, option B with its own rewards. A wise person will weigh the cost of each option and select the one that reaps the greatest reward. So, Paul has considered the cost of following Christ and weighed the benefits on each side and has arrived at the conclusion of these verses. The apostle determines that his former victories and life are not worthy of comparison with the reward and benefit derived from knowing Christ.

Paul explains that he has surrendered all things to Christ. Take note the language he uses to describe this surrender, “I have suffered the loss of all things…” (v. 8). Paul does not diminish the feeling of loss or the pain of suffering. He admits that it is difficult to follow the way of Christ. Paul has suffered loss and pain in his efforts to know Christ. Indeed, a brief read through the book of Acts will illuminate Paul’s difficulty quite clearly. He has lost prestige, friends, community, wealth, and even physical well-being. Along with the suffering of loss, Paul’s opinions have been transformed and he now sees worldly gain as “rubbish,” meaning something that is revolting and worthy only to be tossed out (v. 8).[2] These accolades that so thrill the soul of men are now viewed through the lens of Christ. They are no longer appealing but now pale in comparison to the glory of Christ. The pain of suffering loss is not diminished by the mental ascent toward the value of rubbish. Rather, the perspective of Paul is transformed to accept the truth of God’s proclamation. God’s proclamation is always greater than man’s perceptions. So, when the truth of Christ is proclaimed, the hearts of believers rejoice. This rejoicing does not negate the reality of loss. Indeed, it heightens the depth of loss and the present desperation that only can be filled with Christ.

Paul explains two purposes for his surrender and suffering. First, so that he may be covered in Christ Righteousness. Second, so that he may overcome death and be resurrected from the dead.

Paul’s hope for redemption is found in Christ’s righteousness and not in his own works. He knows that in surrendering all things, he will be found in Christ Jesus. To “be found in Him” is a rather profound and intriguing statement. He states not that he wishes to be covered by Christ or that he wishes to be standing by Christ. He says he wishes to be “in” Christ. Paul wants to know Christ to such a degree that the character of Paul and the character of Christ are indistinguishable. That he would be found in Christ, dependent on a righteousness that he could not earn. His longing to be so associated with Christ is coupled with the reality that he will be covered in the righteousness of Christ.

It is necessary to pause here for your sake, oh reader. Sin has separated humanity from God. Every individual has been found guilty (Rom 3:23). No one has been righteous on their own and will not be (Rom. 3:10-20). The consequence of this sinfulness is death and hell (Rom. 6:23a). God, in His kindness and mercy, has provided a way of salvation for anyone who will believe (Rom. 6:23b, 5:8-10). The believer must confess with their mouth and believe in their heart, then they will be spared the punishment and judgment against them (Rom. 10:9,13) Once a person has believed in Christ, then there is no condemnation against them any longer and they are free to follow Him (Romans 8).

To attain this righteousness, it must be given by God. The righteousness that Paul seeks comes from God, not works of the law or merit earned in some sort of service. This righteousness is granted through faith in Christ. All other righteousness is “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6).

The second purpose for Paul’s surrender is resurrection. We will look more at this tomorrow.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Php 3:3–11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] O’Brien, P. T. (1991). The Epistle to the Philippians: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 382). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Philippians 3:4-7; brief thoughts

…put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

It is a common tendency of humanity to place upon oneself accolades based on performance. Human beings are accustom to receiving praise for a job-well-done even when the performance offers no actual basis for pride. The accolade brings pride in self which, in turn, gives the person heightened confidence the next time they face a similar circumstance. Religious people are no different. Like every other sub-group of humanity, religious people seek accolades of success and self-righteousness based on their own efforts. Religious people place confidence in their own efforts to be holy and righteous. The Buddhist is confident in his efforts to empty himself. The Muslim in his efforts to submit to Allah. The Atheist in his efforts to know science and think rationally. The hedonist in his efforts towards pleasure. The acetic in his efforts to deny himself. Almost all religious groups derive their righteousness from their own efforts. There is one exception: followers of Christ.

The followers of Christ do not place their confidence for righteousness in their own efforts. In complete defiance of common beliefs, Christians do not derive their assurance from their own efforts, pedigree, or self-made affiliations. The confidence of eternity and assurance of righteousness are drawn entirely from the work and love of Jesus Christ. No matter how great a man is, his righteousness cannot exceed or even match the righteousness of Jesus Christ. There is no place for arrogance in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Christianity is a beggar’s religion: people who could not, persist in their inability. In turn: a God who can do all things, works his pleasure of holiness in the lives of those who believe in Him. Look again at chapter 1:6. God begins the work, continues the work, and accomplishes the work.

In an effort to explain that Christians draw their confidence from Christ and His life, Paul testifies to his own worldly successes. Paul had good reason to believe that he was capable of righteousness. He was the quinticential Jewish Pharisee. He had the pedigree of righteousness and he knew the law. He was so zealous for the law of God, that he persecuted those who tried to defy it. His religious education was obscenely advanced and exceeds most of our modern PhD’s programs. Paul’s education and pedigree would have most-likely made him one of the most prominent rabbis in his time, had it not been for Christ’s intervention.

When Christ interrupted Paul’s pious religious attempts at self-righteousness in Acts 9, all of Paul’s self-righteousness was exposed for what human attempts at righteousness are: waste. Paul’s pedigree was better than ours, his education was more extensive, his position more holy, his work more devoted and zealous, and his life exemplified near-perfect religious adherence. However, when placed before a holy God and a perfect Savior, all efforts of self-righteousness become vain. Paul calls them “loss” in verse 7. Any confidence placed in human efforts will fail in the face of the perfection of God. Humanity will not be acceptable to the perfect and Holy Judge of all things.

Consider for a moment what it means that Paul, this incredibly religious person, throws off all his religious accolades for the sake of confidence in Christ. This man had more reason to place confidence in his ability and religious faith than most every person. Yet, all efforts of self-righteousness were cast off in the face of a loving, perfect, just, and holy Savior. Knowing Christ and resting in the confidence of His love for those who believe, is the central confidence of Christianity. It is good to know that He is good and that we can trust Him!

The confidence of Christianity comes from knowing Christ. For it is in knowing Christ that Christians are granted victory over this world. Where is your confidence?

The Seven “I Am” Statements, pt. 3

This is part 3 of a 3 part series, you can find 1 here and 2 here

I Am StatementsRight in the center of the “I am” statements Jesus proclaims something great about Himself. The first three statements are made as invitations to those who are religious and do not believe. They are repeated. They are pleading statements. They are spoken in earthly terms. The concluding three are spoken to those who believe. They are eternal in perspective. They are spoken only once. In the middle of the two sets stands a transition between the plea to follow and the commands to obey. Right in the middle the Gospel writer records Jesus as stating, “I am The Shepherd, The Good One!”

As we have seen in the “I Am” statements, Jesus connects Himself to Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 34, God scolds the leaders of Israel as false shepherds who are killing the sheep. He calls them wicked for slaughtering the fat ones for themselves, for ignoring the lame, and for selfishly providing for themselves alone. God then says that He will be the Shepherd of Israel and will be done with these hired hands!  Jesus connects Himself to this passage rather blatantly. When Jesus speaks of hired hands you can almost feel Him pointing at the priests and leaders.

The Shepherd of Israel has come and He is all powerful and King!

It’s fascinating that Jesus uses the word “good.” It’s fascinating that Jesus uses this word because it means “intrinsically good.” Let me back up for a moment.  In the New Testament there are two words we translate as “good.” The first is “agathos,” meaning benevolent or charitable. The second is “kalos,” meaning intrinsically good. Jesus says that He is Kalos! He is intrinsically good. Jesus is not merely doing good things or being nice as a shepherd.  He is the Good Shepherd.  He is the One, The Shepherd that is Good. It is not merely that He does good things or behaves in a good manner, He IS good. Thus the call of Jesus to follow becomes a call to have Him define what is good or not good.  It is a call to surrender your rights to choose for yourself good or evil. It is a call to submit to His definitions of good because He is Good.

The call to follow Jesus is the call to surrender what you think makes you good in order to obey the One who is good in Himself.  The Shepherd has come.