Tag Archives: Paul

Colossians 1:1; Brief Thoughts

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

Amidst a culture in which myriads of teachers are claiming to speak with Divine authority, Paul labors to explain that Jesus is the only Lord. Paul writes Colossians to a group of believers that are surrounded by teachers who would lead them into legalism by strictly imposing a variety of traditions upon the church. Paul’s answer to such legalistic nonsense is to write about the character and nature of Christ. So, Colossians stands as a book about Jesus in the hearts of those who believe. A book that tells the reader about Christ, and in doing so, about him or herself.

Religious people tend to gravitate towards rules and regulation. It is easier to engage a god who is managed by legislation than to live a life in intimate proximity to the God who does what He wants. So, the appeal of legalism is obvious. The appeal to confine God’s working to a prescribed set of traditional norms is obvious. The appeal of a God who submits to mankind’s methodologies and practices in order to approve of righteousness is obvious. The appeal is control. The god presented by legalism and some forms of traditionalism is a god that can be manipulated and follows our desired model of life. But that god, is not God.

Jesus is not controlled or manipulated by our desires and methodologies. He is much too big for that. This is why Paul spends the bulk of his letter to Colossians explaining the character and nature of Christ. The greater our understanding of Christ’s nature and character, the less we will rely on legalistic practices and traditions to attempt to control Him.

In verse 1-2 Paul begins his letter with the greeting common to his epistolary style. As usual, Paul identifies himself as “an apostle of Christ.” He is an apostle; one who has been sent. Paul’s authority and knowledge of Christ come from Christ. He has seen Christ and is now acting as a messenger on behalf of the Lord. Paul was not appointed by a committee, voted in by popular vote, or assigned this role by another apostle. Acts 9 and Galatians 1:11-2:10 describe Paul’s journey to apostleship. God appointed Paul. Indeed Paul was and is an apostle only “by the will of God.” The will of God is that which appointed and prepared Paul’s commission as an “apostle to the Gentiles,” (Rom. 11:13) and is that which maintains and sustains that current position.

It is a tremendous assurance to consider that one’s position in the work of the Kingdom of God is contingent on God’s will. A greater assurance cannot exist! God maintains the position of those whom He calls and places into position. Christians are placed in positions of service by the will of God. So it is with great confidence that Christians can rest content in their current position of service. It is also with great assurance that God is in control that Christians can submit to a lesser position or a time of wandering. The confidence of condition and the ability to be content rest solely in the understanding that God’s will both procures and secures our positions in His kingdom.

Consider that for a moment. Your value in the Kingdom of God is not contingent on your merit or ability, but on the will of God. It is not contingent on your striving, but on His power within you. Though you toil to minister the Gospel of Christ, you are empowered and strengthened by His power and His working within you. Your struggle is real and it is worked out in the context and protection of His will. You cannot break it.

Paul rarely writes these letters by himself. The letter to Colossians is no exception. Paul knows the value of community. When he writes to younger pastors, Titus and Timothy, he encourages them to appoint elders in the church to help in the ministry to the congregation. There is profound power in the community of the church. Paul knows the strength of a team. So it should be with the modern church.

 

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 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?

Philippians 2:25-30; Brief Thoughts

25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

Paul sends Epaphroditus bearing the letter. Paul hopes to send Timothy soon and Epaphroditus will be sent ahead to deliver Paul’s message to the Philippians. Paul views Epaphroditus as a “brother,” “worker,” “soldier,” “messenger,” and “minister.”[i] There is a comradery in Paul’s relationship with Epaphroditus that is common to all Christians and these five descriptors display that fellowship in various facets.

First, Christians have a familial relationship. The Scripture is clear, those who believe in Jesus Christ are brought into a family. God is Father to Christians. Jesus is brother. Believers are “fellow heirs” (Rom. 8:17). Christians have been adopted into God’s family (Eph. 1:5). The first connection made between people who believe is that of a family. It is particularly important to recognize the implications of this relationship. Family is not something you choose or something that is decided upon by one’s volition. Family is assigned and prescribed by parentage. The parents either bear or adopt the child. So it is with faith: God has adopted those into His Kingdom by His own volition. The parentage of the Christian is not dependent on the will or work of the Christian (Rom. 9:16). Rather, it depends on God. This should give Christians great encouragement: Christians cannot lose their place in God’s family, precisely because they are members of His family. What great security!

Second, Christians share labor in the gospel. Epaphroditus has labored next to Paul working for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was faithful to deliver the gifts that the Philippians sent to Paul and he has successfully related the concern of the Philippian believers to Paul. Ephaphroditus has served the congregation at Philippi and is anxious to return to the brothers and sisters.[ii] He is truly united with Paul in labor and mission.

Third, Christians are united in the shared mission of God’s gospel advancement. Paul recognizes that there is a military-like mission in which Christians are engaged. Christians are in the midst of a battle. It is not a battle against flesh and blood or rulers on this earth. But a battle against sin and rulers of darkness in Spiritual realms (c.f. Eph. 6).

The fourth descriptor is quite simple: Epaphroditus bears the message that Paul has written to the Philippians. Therefore this title needs very little attention except to illuminate that all Christians bear the message of the Gospel to everyone they encounter.

Finally, Epaphroditus serves as a minister to the Philippians. He is faithful to be concerned with their needs and to serve them in the gospel. The title of minister ought to be consistently exemplified in all Christians. Christians are changed by the gospel and, as such, live changed lives in relation to those around them. When the Gospel demands that a brother or sister in Christ lay down comfort or even life itself for the sake of ministry, then the Christian submits to the Gospel in joy and surrender. Likewise, The faithful Philippian minister has surrendered his life in favor of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

When Epaphroditus came to Paul, he fell ill. In service to relate the love of Christian brotherhood, he almost surrendered his own life. Yet, the Lord was merciful to him. Paul expresses that this mercy is shared. The loss of a brother, even to heaven, is still a difficult ordeal to walk through. So God spared Paul sorrow and Epaphroditus recovered. In his act of self-sacrifice, Epaphroditus is a hero. Paul admonishes believer to treat men who sacrifice comfort, and well-being in the face of the gospel ministry as heroes. One who is willing to lay down his or her own life for the sake of the gospel is worthy of a hero’s honor.

Who do you know that deserves such honor? How can you honor them? Get to work figuring that out.

[i] ESV

[ii] O’Brien, P. T. (1991). The Epistle to the Philippians: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 329). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.