Tag Archives: happy

Colossians 1:11; Brief Thoughts

11 Being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.

The second refrain describing the worthy life of a Christian is verse 11. This second refrain deals with the power that accompanies the knowledge of God’s will. The Christian is uniquely empowered by God, Himself. The power that accompanies the Christian life is not some sort of physical empowerment granting super-human strength or supernatural health. It is the power to endure. The power that the Christian is afforded is the power to withstand every trial. In truth, it is this power to endure that is the greatest power a persecuted Christian could ask for. The ability to see beyond circumstance and delight in suffering, the power to maintain faith in the face of certain death, the strength to press beyond all trial and revel in the goodness of God. This is the power Paul prays for. This is the power he exemplifies in his ministry and explains in Philippians 4.

Note the source of the power: “His glorious might.” It is not by one’s own strength or merit that the power to endure is granted. If it were, the Christian would be no better off than any other person. It is, rather, from the infinite power source of The Creator and Sustainer of all things that the believer draws their power. It is His glorious might that bestows the ability to endure with patience. It is because of His power that Christians are able to endure joyfully.

Consider that for a moment: the God of all things exercises His great might for the sake of His people. He makes available to His own, the infinite might that holds the stars in place. He provides power from His infinite resources with which He sustains all of creation. This God who sustains all things, commands the ocean’s movements, and holds the cosmos in place is certainly able to strengthen and hold in place the believer. What a tremendous power dwells inside the believer!

Paul does not pray for a portion of the power, but for all of it for the purpose of all endurance. Christians are not simply given strength for a moment or a portion. No, this is strength is sufficient for all. All power to face troubles and trials, all strength for the pursuit of holiness, all that is needed to overcome sin and press on. All: total, complete, everything necessary. All that is needed to endure is in the hands of the Father who dispenses that power. Not only does the strength empower endurance but also patience and that with joy.

Joy is a defining mark of Christianity. It is what distinguishes the Christian’s struggle from the struggle of the world without Christ. This joy is deep and abiding. It is profound and overcomes all difficulty. This joy is supernatural and amazing, but it is also subtle and often overlooked. The joy of a Christian is manifest in contentment and quiet peace. The joy of a Christian affords the believer the ability to look at every trial and say with confidence, “I need nothing but Christ!”[1]

Take heart brothers and sisters in Christ. You have been given the power to endure and that power is supported by the strength of the prayers of the saints.  Be bold in the gospel, be fearless in adversity, trust Jesus!

[1] For a more extensive discussion on the subject of Christian joy and happiness, I recommend Randy Alcorn’s book Happiness.

Advertisements

Colossians 1:2; Brief Thoughts on Grace and Peace.

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

There is no greater greeting than the common refrain of Paul upon those to whom he writes. Grace and peace are simply the transforming power of Christ in the heart of believers. It is the unifying echo of the soul, overflowing from the heart. Christians pour out grace and peace to one another.

Having received grace in the working of Christ, believers are uniquely equipped to dispense grace to others. Consider the magnitude of this grace that was received in the mercy of Christ. Ephesians 2 states it well when it speaks of the believer as formerly “dead in trespasses and sins.” Further, Romans 5 describes Christians as those who “were enemies of God.” Yet God provided salvation in Jesus Christ. Salvation is freely given to dead people who hated God. This is tremendous grace! If believers rightly understand the grace they have been granted, then their own lives will mirror that grace. Christians, above all others, ought to live a lifestyle that constantly exudes grace to others. No sin is unforgivable, no grievance too great to overlook, and no character defect too insurmountable. Christians must live a life of grace extended.

So it is that the common chorus of Christianity is Amazing Grace, and no greater grace ought to be displayed than that found within the local church body. For one who has received grace from Christ, there is no room for judgmental rejection of others. No despising weakness or rejection of the penitent admitted within the church, only the forgiving fortitude of grace.

Why is such a grace lost in the modern western church? It seems our churches have neither the grace to support the weaker brother nor the grace to confront the impenitent sinner. Yet true grace must exist in both measures. Christians must extend grace efficient to call one another away from death and toward holiness, and they must extend grace in such measure to forgive and overlook failing family. Imagine living in such a community that extends grace upon grace to one another. What a great triumph over human sinfulness! If a community lives in grace with one another, there will be no greater strength of community!

Paul also wishes peace on his readers. Peace that overcomes turmoil and surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7). The peace of one who is no longer at enmity with God. The peace of former rebels now called children. What a lasting and powerful exchange; death exchanged for life, labor for rest, war for peace. This peace is unique to the Christian experience. Peace with God is only available through Christ. Perhaps it is this offer of grace and peace is the purpose of Paul’s letter. The bulk of this epistle is about Christ and His character in the heart of a believer. In understanding Christ’s character and the implications of His life in the heart His redeemed, grace and peace abound.

O Christian, if you will seek to understand Christ’s work in your heart, there will be tremendous grace and peace.

Finally, note the source of this grace and peace: it is the Father. He, the one who rules over all things, is the provider and sustainer of this grace and peace. What greater source to have than the Father of life? There is none! He who called believers from death to life, who resurrected the soul and soon will do the same for the body, the God who called into existence all of creation. This God and King is the source of grace and peace to all who believe.

So rest, dear Christian, in the provision of grace and peace to you from the Most High God! Surely there is no greater peace!

When Someone Claims Divine Authority

moses_with_tabletsThe conversation began with the typical spiritual overtones I’d come to expect from this particular friend: “I have a word from the Lord for you.” I was in my first years of college, and this was a common refrain among many of my friends. Over the years, I have heard people make statements like this many times. Occasionally, the “word” they offered was productive and clearly from God. However, more often than not, what followed the opening claim to divine inspiration fell into two categories.

Let us call the first category: “Vague allusion.”

This is when the word that follows the claim is vague and can be interpreted in a variety of ways. The “word” they deliver is guised as having highly specific undertones, but the specifics don’t match any particular interpretation. I can remember when a well-meaning brother told me he had a vision for me! I excitedly sat to hear the vision as I had respect for this particular brother. He told me that I was standing before a blue background… that was it. The whole “vision.” On another occasion I was told that the “word” the Lord had for me was “peace.” No explanation… no attempt to understand the circumstances surrounding the supposed prophecy. Just, “peace.” Ok. So extrapolation and interpretation fall squarely on my shoulders. In Scripture this is the opposite of prophecy. Think about the prophet Daniel. He received the interpretation of the dreams, and that is what made him a prophet. Unexplained vague allusions are not prophecy.

Now don’t get me wrong. These are well meaning brothers and sisters who genuinely feel as though they are acting in obedience to the Lord. The trouble is in claiming the divine authority in connection with vague, easily misinterpreted statements. God is not vague. When we read prophecies in Scripture, they are not vague. And though Jesus speaks in parables, he frequently expected them to be understood by His disciples and if they were not, He often labored to explain them. Though the prophecies in Scripture may be complex and we may have difficulty understanding them, they are not vague. In fact they are often extremely specific!

The second common category is “Passively addressing offense.”

weneedtotalkIt was late and I was tired. I had been working long hours and had exhausted my mental reserves studying for various exams. My friend contacted me and told me that he had a “word” for me. He had been laboring over this for weeks and simply could not hold onto it any longer. “Brother, when you said that two weeks ago, the Lord was angered.” I can remember being mortified! I was literally trembling at the idea that I had displeased my Lord, so I asked for clarification. What was wrong with what I had said, specifically!? Can you point me to Scripture so I can know what not to do again? This was important! I asked what Scriptures I had particularly violated so that I might have some sense of clarity. None was offered. So I apologized for any offense and spent the next months in nervous fits. That is, until I realized what had actually happened. I had offended a brother and he felt the need to claim some divine authority in order to address his offense.

I spent months dealing with this particular offense. I wrestled and labored to discover my failing before God. The most difficult thing for me to understand was why God had not spoken to me, but had determined that I needed someone else’s voice.

Now consider for a moment: I’m a brash personality and I am naturally insensitive to the feelings of others. Couple that with the position of teaching the Bible, and I am a model example of how to offend people without really trying. So, it is not uncommon for me to have to explain myself to others. I don’t intend to offend, but sometimes I do. The trouble with the above example was where my friend had placed the offense. It is one thing to offend a brother. You can explain yourself and apologize and deal with the issue, but when you have offended the Lord, that is a different issue altogether. Offending the Lord requires repentance and knowledge of your own sin. In contrast to the above confrontation, The Lord is quite clear about the specifics of our sin against Him. There is no ambiguity with The Lord when He deals with sin. Consider when Nathan confronts David in 2 Samuel 12. After drawing David’s attention to the heinousness of sin, Nathan speaks directly and clearly to David. Likewise, God speaks plainly and His word cuts to the heart.

To be fair, there are times when people offer a “word” and it is actually consistent with Scripture and is legitimate. Apply those times appropriately. However, for those other times here are three things to look for.

Look for Scripture.

I’ve become inoculated to the claim to divine authority that is not accompanied by Scripture. You see, the Bible is the Word of God and He speaks to us through it. He is quite clear. So, if someone comes to me with a “word from the Lord,” I will strive to listen for Scripture or Scriptural validation of their claim. In the absence of that, I have learned to thank them for their voice, apply what is useful and dismiss what is not. It is important to remember that people who deliver “a word” to you are well-meaning, if sometimes misguided. The Lord speaks through Scripture. Test everything by the word of God (1 Thess. 5:21).

Look for specifics and clarity.

God is not vague. He is extremely direct. He does not muddy understanding of His intentions but clarifies it. When God speaks, He always brings clarity to confusion. When Nathan confronted David in 2 Sam. 12, there is no confusion. When Moses delivers the Word of God in Exodus 32-34, God’s voice is clear. When Isaiah speaks to Hezekiah, there is no confusion in His prophecy (Isaiah 37-38). Take a look at all the notable times when God’s prophets confront various kings in the Old Testament. Every time God’s prophets bring a prophecy, they bring clarity into a situation that is confusing. The voice of the Lord is no different in the New Testament. Consider when Philip was told to approach the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), or when Ananias receives a vision about Saul and argues with God about it (Acts 9:10-19), or when God tells Paul no after he asks for the thorn to be removed (2 Cor. 12:7-10). So, if someone claims to speak from the Lord, then clarity should follow. Further, when God addresses sin, He deals with specifics. The address of sin is always clear and the guilt is always obvious. He gave an entire law to His people and frequently names the specific sins and the manner in which they are committing them. So, when someone claims a word from God, look for specifics.

Look for opportunity to be holy.

The prophecies that are given to the people of God always have one thing in common: an urging to righteousness. God calls His people to repent from sin and obey Him. More than that, He equips them through His word to do so. The call of God on His people has not changed. If you believe in Jesus, He calls you to live righteously. (1 Peter 1:15)

Finally, be gracious to those who claim to speak from the authority of God. They seldom know the danger they bring upon their souls if they are found to misrepresent God. Be loving, honest, and extremely careful.

Philippians 4:8-9; Brief Thoughts

 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

In Matthew 15 and Luke 6, Jesus explains that what comes out of a person’s mouth is the result of what is in their heart. What a person’s inner being is filled with will overflow into their outward actions and words. Likewise, what a person fills themselves with will be made evident when they speak or act. So Paul tells his readers to think about good things. As an attentive reader, it is important not to overthink this particular list. Paul is not offering an exhaustive list of characteristics to meditate on. He is not charting out a legalistic set of standards by which to judge one’s mental processes. Nor is He providing some sort of pattern by which to evaluate one’s entertainment choices. He is simply listing off characteristics that are good. These characteristics should be considered when discerning what activities to engage in or what to occupy one’s thoughts.

Truth, honor, justice, purity, beauty, excellence, and value. What would a life that is consumed by meditation on these characteristics look like? To meditate on such marvelous subject matter changes the world. However, before it changes the world, such activity changes the meditator. The person who seeks to change the world around him must first seek to see the change within himself, for each person is a part of the world in which they live and if they cannot change their own part, then they cannot change the world around. If Christians will focus their attention on righteous virtues, they will begin to see the change that they desire in their world.

Examine this list closely. Ask yourself if these are the characteristics upon which you base your affections. For, if you will focus your efforts towards this sort of piety, then peace will be yours. Dear Christian, our brother Paul calls you to a life of obedience that will bring you peace. Direct your attention toward that which is righteous and good. Imitate Paul’s life and peace will abound. It is an intriguing thing to ponder – that the imitation of such a tumultuous life would bring peace. Yet, here is Paul’s claim. “Practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Could there be any greater peace than the presence of God?

Amidst suffering and struggle, this is the assurance we need: the God of peace is with us. We do not need assurance of our own strength or our own virtuous ability. We do not need self-confidence or motivational inspiration to soothe our troubles. We need His presence. We need to be assured that the God that we know and love is nearby and has not abandoned us. This is the theological foundation that will overcome our worries and strife. It is a pursuit of piety in the virtues that are listed that will establish this confidence within the core of our beings. The closer our pursuit of holiness, the bigger and fuller our understanding of God becomes, and the more intimate our fellowship with Him grows.

Paul encourages his readers to model what they have learned, received, heard, and seen from his life and testimony. Likewise, Christian, find older saints that you can learn from. Seek wise men and women who know the Scripture and teach it well. When you have discovered such a person, receive what is taught. Teachers are not perfect, so be discerning. Listen for what they teach that is based in Scripture and discard what errors may arise, forgiving the mistake. Learning does not benefit the one who will not receive the instruction. So, if we are to learn, we must be intentional about receiving what we learn.

In the western church, discipleship is often thought of as an intellectual exercise. We provide classes and instruction in front of a whiteboard for a group of students. Yet, in truth, the best form of learning is life-observation. We must submit ourselves to instruction, to be sure, but we also must be attentive to what we see and hear with regard to the teacher. Pay attention to the life of your leaders, imitate what you see and hear with regard to holiness. If your spiritual leaders are not practicing holiness, then it is time to find new leaders who know and follow after God. Practicing this pious pursuit of life will provide more assurance and confidence in the faith than any self-help or motivational book could ever bring.

Philippians 4:5b-7; Brief thoughts on thanksgiving

The Lord is at Hand, do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

How does one find perfect peace? In a world filled with violence, rejection, suffering, and turmoil, how can anyone find peace? First, peace is revealed in a trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is a general peace that accompanies belief. When a believer confesses faith, they are granted a sense of eternal peace through the assurance that they will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. However, the peace that Paul is proposing in verse 7 is a peace that is transcendent even of current circumstances. A prisoner who could not be overtaken or defeated by any circumstance, Paul gives the reader insight into how a person can achieve perfect peace amidst a life filled with suffering and strife.

Consider the exhortation of verse 6, “…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God” (ESV). At the root of Paul’s admonition is thanksgiving. The basis of approaching the Holy God of the Universe is to do so with a spirit of gratitude. The word translated as thanksgiving is the same word used to refer to communion in the early church fathers.[1] This word denotes a sort of connection with God that exalts Him as Lord and submits to His design and will. Thanksgiving necessitates surrender. So it is here, in order to find peace, one must be willing to surrender their own control. Prayers and requests must be founded on a motivation of gratitude no matter what the outcome of the prayers may be.[2]

In addition to a spirit of gratitude, the target of effective prayer and supplication is God. He is the one to whom Christians direct their requests in times of anxiety. It is a peculiar reality that Christians often do not pursue prayer as their first course of action. When anxious feelings strike the soul, the often Western Christians will set their minds to solving the problem. They will seek to gather information, speak to others, seek out counsel, identify the solution, and even attempt to escape their own predisposed condition. Paul’s instructions are vastly different. Christians are not supposed to be anxious, but are supposed to combat anxiety with prayer first and foremost. Believers are designed to lean on God for comfort, yet almost every Christian conference in the west deals with being a better leader or developing a better strategy. There is almost never an emphasis on simply obeying this simple exhortation: pray. Is it any wonder that the western church is fraught with anxiety? As a culture, western Christianity has attempted to address moments of trouble and suffering with their intellect, financial means, and talents. Paul says peace will come if we pray with thanksgiving.

Take note of the kind of peace that comes. It is not merely circumstantial or temporary. The type of peace that Paul is proclaiming is one that is transcendent. It surpasses understanding. This is the sort of peace that baffles the world. This is the sort of peace that challenges human concepts of comfort. This is the sort of peace that can lose everything and rejoice in the face of certain death. This is the peace only Christ can give. This peace is so powerful and profound that it will guard those who have it.

Paul cites that this peace will specifically guard the “heart” and “mind.” Take encouragement dear Christian. God is concerned about your heart. He has not left you to struggle. He walks through your pain and suffering with you to guard your heart. Trust Him. Nor has God abandoned you to your own reason. He guides you and leads you on in your search for understanding amidst pain. You have not been left alone. God has come and is here with you, offering you peace in surrender to Him.

[1] Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990–). Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. 2, p. 88). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

[2] For a more full explaination of the word for thanksgiving and the concept of eucharist, I highly recommend Ann Voskamp’s 1,000 Gifts.

Philippians 4:4; Rejoicing

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 

(Warning: the following article refers to happiness, joy, and gladness interchangeably… because they are interchangeable.)

Be happy! Be filled with gladness! The imperative of verse 4, taken by itself, would sound somewhat absurd to a group of Christians who are being persecuted. One would expect something like, “persevere” or “press on.” But Paul commands, “rejoice!” It seems absurd to adjure someone in a dire and desperate state as the suffering church of Philippi to be glad or happy, but that is exactly what this word means.[1] The call to rejoice is indeed a call to happiness in the midst of the world that attempts to deny that happiness.

Happiness and gladness have been dismissed by many in the Christian community as something trite that should not be pursued. It is as though happiness is considered selfish and the truly righteous pursuit of life is holiness. The Christian community has been taught that holiness is more important than happiness and that happiness and holiness are antithetical. However, when Paul exhorts us toward happiness, he encourages us to find our gladness/ happiness/ joy in Christ. Much of the Christian teaching in the world today separates happiness and joy. As if joy is some deeper more ethereal reality while happiness and gladness are fleeting emotions. However, the Bible is loaded with texts that talk about happiness. (Unfortunately, you’ll have to do a word search for “blessed” because even translators are uncomfortable with the word happy). A pursuit of happiness in God is central to the Christian life.[2] Rather than thinking of happiness and holiness as two opposing pursuits, Christians ought to recognize that the pursuit of holiness will bring the greatest measure of happiness. Happiness is not antithetical to holiness, it is the complement. Pursuing holiness and a knowledge of Christ is a pursuit of happiness. (For a more thorough explanation see footnote number 2 below).

Paul urges us to “rejoice in the Lord” (v.4). This rejoicing comes as an emphatic imperative. Christians have to be reminded to rejoice. Paul felt it necessary to emphasize the necessity of rejoicing. It is easy to forget that joy is found in a pursuit of Christ. When the surrounding world is constantly attempting to steal the attention of Christ’s followers from Him, it is necessary to bear constant reminder that joy/ happiness is found in Christ. In a world when fleeting desires are met with a swipe of a finger, the effort to know Christ more wars against the modern lazy tendencies.

Oh Christian, do not give into this world’s efforts to steal your happiness. Rage against the rulers who would insist that you belong to them and your desires will only be fulfilled in the pathetic offerings of self-indulgent, temporary satisfaction. Make war on sin and pursue holiness. In pursuing holiness you will find happiness/ joy. Pursue your joy in Christ and in knowing Him! Paul emphasizes rejoicing in the Lord because happiness/ joy is found in Christ.

Remember, Paul’s imperatives are exhortations. Meaning they are commands or statements that are based on a previously established or assumed truth. The assumption of this particular verse is that joy/ happiness is found in Christ. At this point in the reading of Philippians, it is difficult to argue that one will not find happiness in Christ. There is an overwhelming victory given to Christians through faith in Christ. Take a moment and skim back through this wonderful epistle. You will see, God has done and is doing more than you could ever ask or imagine. Trust Him for your joy.

 

 

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

[2] Alcorn, Randy. Happiness. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; (2015).  For a more full explanation of happiness in the Christian life, check out Randy Alcorn’s book, “Happiness.” Seriously… go by this book.

Alcorn, Randy. Happiness. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; (2015)

Alcorn, Randy. Happiness. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; (2015)