Tag Archives: Thanks

Thinking Through Ephesians! A free pdf sample

About 16 years ago I was asked to teach the college class at Highland Baptist Church in Waco, TX on a Sunday morning. It was a large crowd of roughly 1,000 students. My brother was the college pastor associate and had recommended me to teach. I had preached and led small group Bible studies before. I had spoken to moderately large churches, but never a crowd of such significant size and never without a strategic outline or material to follow. I called my brother and asked his advice. He said, “pick a passage of Scripture and teach what it says. No more, no less. Just study what it says and teach it.”

b7a26-bible-on-a-pulpitI taught on Ephesians 5:15-20. Teaching that passage began a mountain-top journey through Ephesians for me. It fast became my favorite book of the Bible. I began to trudge through the text verse by verse, line by line, phrase by phrase until I grasped everything I could. Sometimes I’d get stuck on one verse and write page after page. Sometimes I’d sit on the concepts of the book for a month before I penned a word. All the time, I sought to know Jesus deeply and engage His word and work in my heart and life.

 

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For roughly 14 years I would return to Ephesians every few months and write a little more. Then, a little more than two years ago I was challenged to blog more often. I decided that I would blog every day of the week save Sunday. I started to blog each day through the book of Ephesians, taking the notes I had collected and put them into bite-sized chunks for anyone interested. Somewhere within chapter two, my brother Jeff (who happens to be a great author! you can check out his stuff here: Jeff’s stuff), told me I should consider compiling them into a book.

Cover smallSo, for the last year and a half, my wife and I have edited this work for your joy. This book is the result of a 16-year devotional walk through Ephesians. It has been a delight and joy to write. I hope it is a joy to read as well.

For a free sample of a few chapters and the intro, click here.

To purchase through Amazon: https://goo.gl/fwKDxN

To purchase through Lulu.com:  https://goo.gl/yCoQJk

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Colossians 3:17; Brief thoughts

17 And whatever you do, in word or deed do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

“whatever you do” has served in some cases as a justification for claiming Gospel-centric efforts in every sphere of life. In general, the Christian culture of the western church has used this phrase to point the church to consider everything they do as an opportunity for the gospel. Indeed, “whatever” describes any activity in which one engages. This word can be interpreted very loosely as a simple phrase meaning that any and all activity can be made to be holy. However, considering the context of this particular chapter, “whatever” seems to be a reference to that which was stated in verses 12-16.

As noted in earlier entries on Colossians, verse 12-17 provide an explanation of the marks of a Christian. Paul establishes that the new nature has come and is being conformed to the image of its creator in verse 10 and then explains what Christians do that evidence this reality. In other words, a Christian pursues holiness. Taken in this context, the “whatever” that Paul is speaking of is closely linked to a pursuit of holiness. So it is here that we should take a moment and ponder the divine truth that God begins and completes the work in His people and that the people of God actively pursue a holy life in obedience to His word.

Philippians 1:6 asserts that God began the work of sanctification and that God will complete the work. In Romans 6:16 Paul praises God that the Roman Christians have become obedient from the heart (the obvious implication being that God has wrought that obedience). Yet, the exhortation to pursue holiness remains in Philippians 2 and 3 as well as Romans 6:19-23. The work of sanctification is decisively a divine work that results in human effort. True Christians have been made holy and true Christians pursue becoming holy.

So, whatever actions a believer may undertake in pursuit of that holiness, as they strive to be more Christ-like, it ought to be done in the name of Jesus.

Names matter. When someone knows your name, they know something about you that is a unique identifier. Unlike simple descriptors of appearance, a name offers some modicum of identity and personhood. When we identify someone by another moniker, we de-humanize them. When someone is referred to as “that man” or “the one with brown eyes,” we strip them of their persona and individual uniqueness. Likewise, when we give someone a new name like “Little-John” or “Scrappy,” we are adding to their identity by granting them a new name that is perhaps more fitting. So Paul calls for Christians to find their personal identification in Jesus Christ our Lord.

A believer’s identity is wrapped up in the name and nature of Jesus. When people encounter a Christian, that believer should be so immersed in the pursuit of holiness that people cannot help but associate them with Jesus. In every activity and every discipline that a Christian pursues, a pursuit of living like Jesus must be apparent. Christian, you have been changed! Now live like it.

Some preachers enjoy waxing eloquently that you should be doing all your tasks “as unto the Lord!” Implying that somehow you could drink coffee in your half-awake stupor to the glory of God! While it may be true that you can pursue all activities with holiness as a motivating factor, it is a bit hyperbolic to apply every menial task to the glory of the Almighty. Though in some sense it may be true that believers bring honor to God by living a peaceful and quiet life, it is also true that one could over-think what it means to do everything in the name of the Lord. In short, God is less concerned with whether or not you decide to drink a Dr. Pepper over a Coke than He is that you actually engage your neighbors with the Gospel. So consider what you are actually doing to pursue holiness as you consider this verse. Remember that you have been made holy and are empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit to accomplish the work.

Finally, all is to be done with gratitude. The heart of Christian obedience is gratitude. Thankfulness is so critical to the sanctification process that Paul mentions it three verses in a row. In 15-17 Paul inserts the necessity of gratitude in a Christian’s life at the end of each exhortation. True believers do not pursue holiness out of obligation or requisite demand, but out of gratitude for what has already been accomplished. Indeed, this gratitude is precisely what drives a believer to live a holy, gospel-centered life.

Further, when a Christian considers the nature of grace and the mercy of God, they cannot help but be grateful. Such gratitude levels the playing field of community. When life is lived with a full understanding of what God has accomplished in the lives of those who love and serve Him, then there is no basis for arrogant self-exaltation. Understanding that grace is a continuous gift of God in the sanctification of the believer further diminishes any and all self-righteousness. When a person understands that their identity is wrapped up in Christ and that they are empowered by His working in their hearts, then there cannot be a “better than” mentality. Morality becomes something that is a delight for the individual, not an imposition on the community. Do you know this grace? Have you grasped the depth of what Christ has done for you? O Christian, grab hold of this great truth: God has made you holy, is making you holy, and will make you holy. You get to delight in the pursuit of holiness!

Colossians 3:16; Brief Thoughts

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 

If a person believes in a greater authority, then the word of that authority ought to be manifest in the life of that person. It is a reasonable measurement of authenticity to test them by the word of their professed authority. When someone submits to an authority, the word and directives of that authority are evident in their lives. Likewise, the word of Christ is manifest in the lives of those who profess Him as Savior and Lord. So Paul admonishes fellow believers to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” (v.16).

The word of Christ should be so ingrained in the heart and life of a believer that it is said to be alive within. Every thought and word that proceeds from the mouth of a believer ought to stem from the indwelling Spirit of the word of God. One of the greatest tragedies in the western church is the severe Biblical illiteracy. The word cannot dwell where it is not read. The average professing Christian in the west does not read their Bible on a daily basis. So pervasive is this truth that many pastors struggle to read even a chapter of the Bible each day. This should not be! True believers in Christ find their very animating breath in the Word of God (c.f. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). When Christians fail to read the word of Christ, they starve themselves of the breath of God and are spiritually suffocating. Alas, we live in a churched culture that values everything but the Word of God and we are watching the degradation of society as a result.

Not only are Christians to fill themselves with the word of God, they are to do so “richly!” By asserting this descriptor, Paul is calling the believer to more than mere engagement with Scripture. He is calling the believer to a feast! Believers do not merely read the word of Christ, they draw their life’s breath from the very word of God. The fullness of a believer’s inner being is found in and through their relationship with the word of Christ.

As the believer embraces the indwelling word, they begin to exhibit some evidence of that word in their life. The word of Christ begins to dictate the things they say and do to one another, leading them to teach and admonish brothers and sisters in Christ through that word. As the heart of a believer matures in their grasp of the word, wisdom will become common in their teaching and encouragement of each other. The beginning of wisdom is the “fear of the Lord” (Prov. 1:7, 9:10, and Psalm 111:10). As Christians submit to the word of the Lord in their lives, teaching and admonition pour forth from their mouth. As the word takes root in their heart, the overflow of the heart pours out onto the community around them. One of the greatest joys of Godly community is the unity of Christians as grounded in Scripture. Such a unity that is founded on the grace of Scripture, levels the Spiritual playing field among the community. When Scripture is the source of wisdom, hierarchy ceases to exist. All within the community are subject to the word of Christ indwelling them. So, Christians confront each other in love with the word of God. In beautiful, wise engagement with the community, true Christianity changes the heart of the individual as they engage together with the whole community.

This beauty of community centralized on the word results in a unique expression of singing. Singing is natural for Christians who stand in awe of God. Singing is a response that is birthed in the heart of one who has observed God. Once a person sees God, they cannot help but express something. Singing is the most common of responses for the human heart. The word of Christ, dwelling inside a Christian, will manifest itself in Song. This is why it is not abnormal for Christian communities to sing, produce, and embrace corporate worship in song. Christians sing, so, Christian, sing! And what should we sing? Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. What these terms mean are often debated. Some argue that Christians should only sing the Psalms and that these are the three types of Psalms in the book of Psalms. Others argue that Psalms refers to the Old Testament book, Hymns are dominantly theological, and Spiritual songs tend to be songs that give testimony to God’s work. Still, others explain that these are three different structural designs for musical expression. Whatever the case, the point of this passage is that the word of Christ manifests itself in singing. Indeed, when the heart is lifted to heaven on the wings of the word of Christ, a song will inevitably ensue.

Thankfulness results in as the culmination of a Christian’s abiding in the word of God. Recognizing the depth and greatness of God’s grace, Christians live a life of gratitude and love for God.

Are these manifest in your life? If you claim Christ, then feast deeply on the word of God and these will become the manifest evidences of the indwelling word of Christ!

Colossians 2:6-7; Brief Thoughts

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

“Walk,” meaning to conform one’s life in a certain direction or to follow a particular pattern. It is such as simple exhortation… walk. Throughout Scripture, God’s people are instructed to “walk.” Abraham is told to walk to a land God would show him. Moses and the Hebrews are forced to walk around in the desert. Joshua is told to walk around a city. The Kings are told to walk in the statutes that God has given them. The prophets call the people to return to walking in the way God has given them. Jesus calls his disciple to walk after him. And the Apostles call Christians to “walk in [Christ]” (v.6). The term “walk” is used 96 times in the New Testament and is commonly used to refer to a general pattern of life.

Paul exhorts Christians to live a lifestyle that is consistent with Christianity. Exhortations are instructions that are based on previously established facts or commonly held beliefs. Paul’s exhortations to “walk” are based on the reality of the indwelling Spirit of Christ in the heart of all who believe. Because Christians have trusted Christ and are subsequently changed by that faith, Paul says, “walk in Him.” In other words: live a lifestyle consistent with that claim of faith.

The life of a believer is one that is “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith…” and is marked by an abundant and prolific “thanksgiving” (v.7). First, the believer’s faith is “rooted” in Christ. Consider for a moment what it means to be “rooted.” This means that the source of nourishment and strength are drawn from a foundational relationship with Jesus Christ. For Christians the source of life in Christ. As it is with roots, so it is with Christians. The deeper the roots go into the foundation, the stronger the life of the plant. Further, any progress in growth as a Christian also results from Christ. Alongside being “rooted,” Christians are also “built up in [Christ].” Christians derive their strength and encouragement from Christ and knowing Him. He is the source of encouragement and strength.

Another defining Characteristic of those who “walk in Him” is that they are “established in the faith.” Christians have a strong faith. It is strong because it is not dependent on the work of the person, it is dependent on Christ and what He has already accomplished. Paul uses the term “faith” here to describe the collected system of beliefs and doctrines common to Christians. These doctrinal truths that Paul asserts the Colossians are established in are basic to all Christianity. The collected truths that Jesus Christ die for sins, has risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, and is returning one day to reclaim all creation for Himself, is made strong in the heart of a believer precisely because Christ’s Spirit has indwelt those who believe in Him (see further 1 John 2:27). Those who “walk in Him” are marked by a faith that is strong and growing.

Notice that this exhortation to “walk in Him” is followed by descriptors that are past tense. The characteristics of “rooted,” “built up,” and “established” are all traits that already exist in the life of one who is called to “walk.” The faith of a believer is the foundation and strength that one depends on in order to walk in the way of Jesus. It is because of the firm relationship and growing knowledge of Him that believers are able to “walk.”

Believers are marked by gratitude. Gratitude stems from an accurate understanding of God’s work with the heart. True believers recognize the worth they bring to the table of salvation. They know all too well what wretched beings they were before Christ. They are aware of the depth of their sin and disgrace and as a result. They are aware of the death that once claimed their souls. Christians know that they have been redeemed by mercy and not personal or corporate merit. It is not the merit of the Christian or the community that redeems the believer. It is the life and sacrifice and of merit of Jesus Christ. That is the motive for thanksgiving. Thanksgiving marks the heart of a believer. Imagine what this world would look like if every person who claimed the name of Christ were identified as incredibly grateful people who look and live like Jesus. Would it not be a sight to behold!?

 

Colossians 1:12; Brief Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colossians 1:3-4; Brief Thoughts

3We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,

There is little that can bring greater joy than the comfort and affection of brothers and sisters who have joined in the gospel ministry of love. The gratitude that springs from the soul when someone shares in the labor is tremendous. Paul is grateful for the Colossian believers. He is thankful for their faith and he is grateful for their expressed love to all the saints. Yet, Paul’s gratitude is not directed at the Colossians. Rather, his thanks-giving is directed to God. He is grateful to God for what God had done in the Colossians. The object of gratitude is “God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Indeed, God is the only appropriate recipient of gratitude for faith and love, for they only exist within the context of His mercy and grace. Christians are capable of faith because God has changed their nature in redemption (Col. 3:9-10). Christians are capable of love because God has first loved them (1 John 4:19). It is fitting to lavish gratitude upon the source of faith and love.

Further, Paul understands that the faith and love that has manifested itself in the Colossians is the work of God alone. In Philippians 1:6 Paul credits God with the work of salvation in the lives of the Philippians. In Ephesians 2 he explains that God has redeemed them from death and brought them to life. In Galatians 2:20 Paul states that he has been “crucified with Christ” and he no longer lives, but Christ lives in him. It is the Lord who changes the souls of men and it is He who works out faith and love in Christians.

Is there a greater motivation for gratitude than the actions of a God who births faith and love in the hearts of obstinate people? The actions of a King who calls friends from out of the midst of enemies and rescues those who hate Him (C.f. Romans 5:1-11). Could there be a more perfect target for thankfulness? Not only has God born faith in Paul, He has also done the same mighty work across the world! Two deep truths are present in this reality. First, God moves apart from any one individual. God moved in the hearts of the Colossians with such great power that Paul “heard of” their faith and love. He did not see it first-hand. The transforming power of Christ’s spirit in their hearts was so profound that Paul “heard of” it and was drawn to gratitude towards God for the work God accomplished. Paul did not have to be there for the gospel to transform the Colossians. Second, God is faithful to redeem even when we are not present to see it. Just because you do not see the movement of God does not mean He is absent or still. He is moving to redeem His people and one day you may be fortunate to hear of it.

The faith and love of the Colossians have been “heard of.” Consider that for a moment. What a great accolade for the Colossians. Their faith and love have reached the ears of other believers in far off lands! So great is their witness that they have garnered a reputation as faithful and loving. How tremendous! O that every Christian would have such a reputation among the masses. Imagine what it would be like if Christians were actually known for their love as Christ said they would be (c.f. John 13:31-35). To be as the Colossians were would be a beautiful sight to behold.

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.