Tag Archives: Holiness

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.

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Colossians 1:1-2; Brief Thoughts

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father

It is a tremendous relationship that Christians share. The unity expressed through faith is encapsulated by Paul in one simple word: “brother.” Paul’s address displays a familial relationship with those who share the faith. Indeed, so great is the tie that binds Christians that it is deeper blood connection. When Jesus is called upon by His own brothers and mother in Mark 3:31-35, He responds, “Who are my mother and my brothers?… Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34, 35). Jesus’ response elevates the position of faith above biological attachment. Further, His repudiation of His family’s request establishes a priority of fidelity within the faithful. Those who follow Christ share a spiritual connection that supersedes any other relationship.

Consider the power of this deep truth. Believers share a common connection that can and does supersede even their own family. Perhaps there is no greater example of this than in countries that persecute Christians. When a believer in Christ is forced to flee their home because of their faith, they choose the family of faith over their biological and environmental family. IN this way, the persecuted serve as the greatest examples of testimony for the “brothers” in the faith. They’ve rejected this life in favor of the next. They’ve surrendered this world in favor for Heaven. They’ve given their own familial titles up in their adoption into Christ’s. They have exchanged the life and attachments of this world, for the true life of Christ and attachment to Him.

How powerful to ponder that Paul calls Timothy and the Colossians, “brothers!” As members of the family of faith, Paul and Timothy can write to their family at Colossae and know that they are brothers. The use of the term “brother” is also profound. He does not refer to them as family or as his children (as is done elsewhere in Scripture. E.G. Gal. 4:19, 1 Thess 2:2, 7, and 5:5). He refers to them as brothers. It may seem semantics, but Paul is intentionally using the connection of brothers. Brothers share a unique bond. There is an equality among siblings that does not exist in the parental relationship or in the more general familial sense. Brothers labor together and utilize their gifts alongside each other. There is no actual hierarchy in brotherhood, only earned respect by diligent work. Paul considers Timothy and the Colossians to be brothers. What a phenomenal encouragement! Timothy and the Colossian believers are placed on equal footing with their missionary patriarch! How empowering to hear a man of Paul’s stature grant such a title as “brother” to other believers.

Such is the nature of the Christian faith. There is no hierarchy. Not really. Churches sometimes impose one out of a minor necessity of leadership, but there is truly no hierarchy. Christ is the head of the church. Not the bishop, not the pastor, not the elders, not the presbyters, not the pope. Christ! Christ is the head of the church. Everyone else is brother.

In the western church, there is an epidemic of poor leadership. Men take the position of pastor assured and self-confident that they are the head of their congregation. Now, don’t misunderstand. Many of these men are godly men who love and obey the Lord. But they believe themselves to carry some weight of authority because of their title. In truth, their title grants them responsibility… not authority. Simply because a man dons the name of Pastor does not grant him a position higher than the rest of the congregation. No. He must submit to the Scripture, the same way everyone else in the body does. The Scripture is the authority in the church and it is what directs the people.

To be fair, governance is a necessary component of church life, and there is much to be said about it. There are responsibilities that must be assigned within the church and there are structures by which the local bodies of Christ organize themselves. (There are different models of structure within the New Testament church, and that is a large topic that I will endeavor to answer only if people comment on this post asking me to do so.) The critical truth to grasp is the power of recognizing a lack of hierarchy within the people of God.

When the leaders of the church will recognize that they are leading from a position of equality with those they lead, they will empower and strengthen their brothers in the faith. When they insist that they have a position of authority beyond the Scripture, they will domineer their congregations and cause harm. When leaders recognize that Scripture places them on the same level as everyone else in the congregation, vision will rise from the community and churches will begin to see changed lives. It is no small matter to be called brother. Indeed, it is a deep and profound truth that could potentially save the western church. We are brothers laboring together.

Who’s in Charge?

If someone were to ask you, “who is in charge at your church?” What would be your answer? Is it the senior pastor? The Deacons? The elder board? Maybe the congregation? What would you say?

I remember the first time I was asked that question. I was a young seminary student and my professor asked the class, “Who is in charge at your church?” To be fair the question is a loaded one to begin with. First, take note that the question is not, “who makes decisions” or “who has the most influence.” It is who is “in charge.” “In charge” is kind of an ambiguous descriptor.  Second, take note that you have some ownership in this church. It’s not called “the church.” It is “your church.” So, who is in charge at your church? The burden is not to identify who should be in charge but who is in charge. This question is designed to make you answer quickly without much thought.

I remember thinking about staff structure, doodling something in my notebook, and anxiously looking around. I thought, “Well, we have a pastoral staff and a deacon body that kind of work together in submission to and under the direction of a congregation that has regular meetings?” Others fired off similar answers. The Bible-church guys spoke about elders. The SBC guys about their staffs. Others spoke about the power-broking members. And still others about deacons and senior pastors. Then the answer was given by a guy in the back.

I got the question wrong. I remember starting to tear up as I considered my answer. I was WAY off. I thought we could be in charge. In my simple answer, I recognized men as those in charge. The question threw me. The question referred to the church as mine, it asked who is in charge. The truth is: if the answer to the question is anything other than Jesus, then you don’t have a church… But, coming to some realizations can help you become one.

In order to answer the question of who is in charge well, we must recognize some things about God:

God is in Charge… of everything!

In Psalms 24 it says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it belongs to Him.” In Daniel 3:34-35 it says, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the hosts of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “what have You done?” Further in John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Not only is God in charge, but humanity is incapable without Him. Indeed, His church is incapable without the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. God is in charge, whether we like it or not. Practically, spiritually, and actually. God is in charge.

God Does What He Wants

He is not passive. He does what He pleases and He is constantly involved in what we do (c.f. Isa 45:5-7). Consider the testimony of the Old Testament. He radically saves His chosen from Egypt through signs and wonders. He leads them across the red sea. He heals them at the waters of Marah. He directs their every step into the promised-land. He confronts kings and destroys wicked people over sin. He directly intervenes on numerous occasions. And He identifies and calls a people to Himself. He is not passive. He has called His church, even now, to walk in holiness with Him and under His direction (1 Peter 1:15).

God Speaks Through His Word

He is not silent. God speaks clearly through the Bible. His words are recorded in the Scripture. The Lord values this truth so much that He insisted that His people cling to His Word (c.f. Deut. 8). They were to admonish each other with it and teach it to their children. When the people of God return from the exile, Ezra spends 13 years teaching the people the Scriptures. When Jesus begins His ministry, it is by opening the Word of God in Luke 4 and proclaiming the truth of Scripture. God is always speaking and He has given His people instructions. 2 Timothy 3:16 calls the Scripture, “God’s breath.” Think about that for a moment. God’s breath is what gave life to Adam and it is what animates our souls now! (The New Testament is included in the reference to Scripture. It self-identifies as such in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 and in 2 Peter 3:15).

God is Present

He is not distant. All through Scripture God is intimately involved with His people. He feels their pains, rejoices in their successes and interacts with their failings. He is not emotionally separated from us. One of the most profound illustrations of God’s intimate connection with those He loves is John 10:37. Jesus weeps with Mary because He knows the pain she feels and He feels it as well. Jesus is an infinitely personal God, who loves His people and is purposefully connected to them. In John 1 we are told that The Word (Jesus) came down and “dwelt” among us (John 1:14). Jesus purposefully made Himself nothing, became and man, took on our infirmities, lived a perfect life, and died in our stead (Philippians 2:5-11). Further, He promises He will never leave and that He will give a “Helper” to us who will dwell within those who believe (John 14:16; c.f. John 14). He is present within those who trust in Him.

This is Jesus… Your church belongs to Him… He is in charge.

Philippians 4:5-7; Brief Thoughts

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. 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.

When a believer in Jesus Christ is appropriately rejoicing and living a lifestyle thereof, that believer will be extraordinarily gentle or reasonable. The word translated “reasonableness” in the ESV or “gentle” in the NASB, implies a gracious patience towards others.[i] Consider for a moment the example of Jesus in the gospel of John. Judas walks alongside Jesus for 3 years and Jesus tenderly and lovingly addresses him while simultaneously waiting for the day when Judas will betray Him. His patience is remarkable. His compassion and display of kindness amazing. Jesus never scolds Judas, never outcasts him, and never reproaches him. In His final moments with Judas Jesus washes Judas’ feet and then explains that followers of Christ are to do the same (John 3:17). Followers of Christ are to serve the people who are going to bring about their demise. There is no greater measure of meekness than that of a believer who obeys Christ’s admonition to love others the way the Savior has loved His own.

Paul’s urging in verse 5 to “let your reasonableness be known to everyone,” (4:5) is founded on the simple phrase that follows it.[ii] If Christians really do believe that the Lord is nearby and is actively involved in the affairs and challenges that people face, then Christians can rest in the comfort of God’s sovereign activity and need not defend themselves. Resting in this profound comfort, Christians are uniquely suited to be gentle and reasonable. That characteristic is to be made known to everyone. The gracious kindness of believers ought to be obvious and pervasive to the surrounding world. Each and every person who comes in contact with a believer should be impressed upon with the reality of a life consumed by grace and gracious living, because “the Lord is near” (4:5).

Consider the power of this truth: that the Lord of all creation, the King of the universe, the Master and Sustainer of all things, is attentive to and involved in the life of the believer. With such an ally, what can overcome? It is in light of this great truth that Paul encourages us, “do not be anxious about anything” (v.6). Indeed, if God is present with His people even in the midst of suffering, then there is no need for anxiety about anything. When believers struggle with anxiety and worry over circumstance or suffering, they are to lean on the presence and comfort of God. The answer for a believer’s anxiety is knowing the living God. The closer a believer is to Christ, the less anxiety will attach to their hearts.

To be clear, anxiety is a deadly and exhausting opponent to anyone, including believers. It is a torment that is not answered so simply as: read your Bible and pray. For some anxiety must be addressed with all the tools God provides to overcome. It is in considering these which tools to use that one must be careful. If the tool leads you away from dependence on God’s character and sovereign work, then that tool will not be effective long term. The tools to address anxiety are myriad. Confession, community, study of the Word of God, prayer, singing and music, artistic expressions, and accountability are merely some of the tools afforded to Christians in the local church. These various tools must be motivated by a desire to know the Lord more deeply. In knowing Him fully, anxiousness will slowly become less prominent.

Paul focuses on the strongest tool given to Christians faced with anxiousness. He urges Christians to pray in the face of anxiousness. Take note the underlying characteristic of the prayers Paul encourages. He calls people to pray with thanksgiving. A spirit of gratitude must permeate Christian prayer. Contrary to logical sensibilities, Christian pray begins with thanksgiving. Supplication is made with thanksgiving for whatever the outcome may be. In this manner, Christians submit even their deepest needs to God and surrender their requests to His discretion and will. This is why knowing the character of God is so critical to a believer. The deeper the intimacy between the Christian and their Lord, the more confident and assured their prayers.

[i] Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 748). New York: United Bible Societies.

[ii] The NASB separates the phrase, “The Lord is near” as its own sentence. As far as translation is concerned, it is probably best to make this phrase a stand alone sentence. This way the reader will be responsible for discerning whether the sentence should be applied to the statements before, after, or both. It is best to leave this interpretive matter to the reader. Here I am reading this particular phrase as applying to the entire paragraph. It is my understanding that Paul is giving a foundational motive for the exhortations that surround this phrase.

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)