Tag Archives: training

Colossians 1:18a; Brief Thoughts

18 And he is the head of the body, the church.

The Church is the collection of people who have united around the common faith that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. That is to say, Christianity is based on the truth that Jesus is the one who died for the sins of the world and who rules over all things. Here in the center of his hymn of praise to Jesus, having already asserted Jesus’ primacy in priority and time, Paul proclaims Jesus’ headship over the church.

Jesus is the head of the church. He is the first in priority over all creation, as such, He is the first in priority over the Church. He is before all creation and by Him, all things are created, likewise, the Church has existed because He called it into existence. He is the sustainer of all things and He is the purpose for all things, in the same way, the Church is sustained and derives its purpose from Him. Christ is the chief authority over the Church. It is His Church, He created it, He leads it, He is in charge.

In modern churches, the question of authority is often met with convoluted answers. When the question is asked, “Who is in charge at your church?” the answer usually asserts some sort of pastor, committee, deacon body, or leadership board. Seldom is the answer, “Jesus” or “God’s word.”  Yet, the truth remains – Jesus is the head of the Church. The direction of the Church is not determined by leadership or ecclesiastical polity. The direction of the church is established by Jesus Christ and His word. In general, churches have lost the fundamental understanding of authority. Many modern churches do not know how to answer the question of authority. Paul reminds his readers that Christ is the head of the church. The head of the Church is not a pastor or a deacon body or even an elder board. The head of the Church is Christ.  Though much of the Western Church has forgotten this simple truth, it remains true, nonetheless. Local churches must reeducate the congregations to understand this truth.

Re-education starts with a biblical ecclesiastical structure. In order to re-orient our churches, leadership must model submission to Christ through the word of God. Local churches must determine their leadership structure and function from the Scripture. (If you’re searching 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are good places to start.) Instructions to the congregation must be unambiguously directed from Scripture. Further, any engagement or discipleship of a believer within the community must be rooted in Scripture. Leaders must submit to Christ, recognizing that they have no authority apart from Him.

The local church and church leaders must also establish the Scripture as the central authority within their congregation. If Christ is the head of the Church, then His word must be placed at the forefront. Every congregation member must understand that they have equal spiritual authority to every other member, including the leaders. While there may be a pragmatic and structural leadership that is in place for the purpose of effective church ministry, the one supreme and primary authority is His word. The elders, deacons, pastors, committees, and directors have no more spiritual authority than any other member. They may have greater responsibility, but they share equal submission to the Word of the Lord.

Finally, the church must prize surrender. People, in general, do not value surrender. We often place a high premium on self-reliance, yet Christ models surrender. Surrender to Christ’s precepts and to the authority of Scripture must be seen as a high value. Surrender to Him as the head must be praised and acknowledged. In exalting surrender, the church will diminish pride and self-righteousness. In doing so, the church will lead the congregation to a fuller understanding of Christ’s headship.

Leaders, model Philippians 2 for your flock. Christ is the head… act like it.

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Colossians 1:17: Brief thoughts

17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Before the light burst forth into the void, before the waters that covered the earth laid their torrent upon the land, before the land rose to peaks and habitable pastures, and before the earth existed, Jesus, the Christ, existed. He was there before time. He was there before the fall of man that so grievously broke the communion of creation with Creator. He was present before the first leaf blossomed and directed the unfolding of all creation. His tender hand saw fit to mold the earth in the beauty of His love. Every blade of grass, every creeping animal, and every aspect of creation came into existence by His voice.

Jesus is before all things. He existed before time could measure existence. Further, He created all things and “In Him all things hold together” (v.17). In the beginning, God created an earth that was filled with beauty and was perfect. Mankind’s sin fractured and damaged that creation to the point of continuous slow decay. As a result, death entered the world and now death rules. However, Jesus’ grace upon creation has not ceased. So great was the sin of man that all of creation could have been justifiably obliterated. Yet, God saw fit to redeem His creation and in love worked to sustain that creation. In spite of man’s willful rejection of God, God acts in grace, even before Christ came to the cross. Jesus holds all things together, maintaining His creation. It is because of grace that the world does not spin out of control.

In saying that Jesus “holds all things together,” Paul is recognizing a kind of common grace to all mankind. God, in His infinite grace, allows wicked men to persist in living. He patiently waits for those who will repent and believe. His restraining hand holds back the effects of sin. In Romans 1:18-32, Paul repeats that God “gave [men] over” to their sin. In this simple phrase, Paul explains that God is restraining evil to the extent of restraining the consequences on the heart of men. So it is that common grace exists. This common grace is the grace to breathe air and live. This common grace is found in the ability to exist. It is called grace, because no one actually deserves life. The result of sin is death. The patience of God is common grace that does not demand immediate remittance of that debt. Man has rejected God. Still, Jesus holds all things together: this is grace.

Not only is Jesus sustaining life, He also makes sense of all things. In one sense He holds all things together, literally sustaining life. In another sense He holds all things together in that life has purpose and reason in Him. Jesus holds all things together because He is the purpose of creation. Creation exists to glorify God. In Jesus man is given the ability to glorify God. Thus, Jesus holds, within Himself, purpose. It is in knowing Him that trials and joys make sense. Without Him, nothing makes sense and all is meaningless. The life of a man is a vapor (James 4:14). In Jesus, life is eternal and has significance beyond the grave. Without Him, life is a meaningless mist that is here for a moment and is quickly dispelled by the winds of death. A man can either, delight in Jesus and live a meaningful life that extends beyond the momentary vapor of this temporal existence, or he can deny the truth of Christ and waste the vapor.

The glorious God of all creation has come to make Himself known to you. He is before all things. He has seen your every failing and rejection of Him. He has patiently waited for you to know Him. He holds you together. Further, He calls you to purpose. He has granted you some semblance of reason to your life. Praise God!

Colossians 1:6-8; Brief Thoughts

5… Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing – as it also does among you, since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8and has made known o us your love in the Spirit.   

Salvation comes by hearing the gospel (Romans 10:17). The gospel is the truth: that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world and was resurrected to bring life into dead souls. By His death, Jesus takes the just wrath of God upon Himself and by His resurrection, He extends eternal life to those who believe in Him (c.f. 2 Cor. 5:21). In one glorious moment, the believer is brought from death to life in the simple act of belief. From the dust of humanity, the individual’s desperate soul is pulled from the grave into the spiritual life of God. This life is granted by faith in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection (Eph. 2:1-8).

The Colossian believers heard the news of the gospel and believed. At some point, Epaphras (v.7) preached the truth to them, and they believed. As Paul elucidates the gospel’s story in the heart of the Colossians, he describes the gospel in active terms. Notice, the words “come… bearing fruit and growing” (v.6). These terms are actions that are accomplished by the gospel. The gospel “has come” upon the Colossians as if the message itself is alive and makes the effort to come and seek out the sheep of God. Indeed, so great is the power of God’s message of salvation that it is alive. It invades the soul, aggressively calling the dead to life. The message of God’s love for His people is so deep and profound that it takes on a personification that boggles the mind of man and can only be understood in active terms.

So great is the power of the gospel message that it bears fruit across the world. The gospel is not only viable where the individual who believes is, but is so great that it extends to the entirety of the earth. It is so powerful that it changes the world in which we live. The Colossians are reminded that the gospel is moving beyond what they can see. It is “bearing fruit and growing” across the earth (v.6). Take heart, dear Christian! God is moving through the gospel even where you cannot see Him.

The Colossian believers “heard and understood the grace of God in truth” (v.6). With the eyes of their heart enlightened to the truth, they have been able to grasp the grace that God grants to believers. They have been transformed in their reception from dead beings who were enslaved to sin into saints who delight in obedience. This gospel comes as truth! It is not speculation or desire that Paul expounds upon in this letter. It is the truth! Each dash of his pen draws forth greater understanding of the transforming power of the gospel.

The Colossian believers heard the news of Jesus from Epaphras, here identified as “fellow servant” (v.7). Epaphras has served as a sounding board for the Colossians and has heralded their love for the Spirit. Further, he has served the apostle as a minister on behalf of the Colossians. So great was the service of Epaphras to Paul that he is recorded as being Paul’s fellow prisoner in Philemon 23 and is cited as struggling in prayer alongside Paul in Colossians 4:12. He has been a faithful brother in the cause of the gospel and clearly speaks with great love for those whom he has taught the gospel. It is a great truth of the Christian faith that brothers and sisters hold each other in high regard and speak of genuine faith with great affection.

Epaphras’ love for his brothers and sisters at Colossae is indicative of the love that a teacher of the gospel has for those they teach. The teaching and receipt of the gospel of Jesus Christ are so transformative that a bond unlike any other is forged in the examination of the subject. When the gospel is taught, the student and the teacher are engaged in a spiritual exercise by which transformation or utter rejection must occur. When the hearer believes in the gospel, a life change occurs and the believer is grafted into a spiritual family that is united in the truth. The tender affection with which Epaphras speaks of his beloved family in the faith is not unique to him. It is the common affection of all believers toward each other. This is the foundational love that unites the church. It is this unique marker that should define Christian community.

O, Christian, seek out teachers who will unite their souls with yours in the gospel ministry. Teachers who will labor over you with the love and affection of Jesus Christ. Seek out community that will intertwine their lives to yours in the filial affection of faith. In this way, you will experience many teachers like Epaphras, and you will delight in the community of faith.

Colossians 1:5-6; Brief Thoughts

4… since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing – as it also does among you, since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth,

The greatest evidence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is love. It is not miraculous works, gifts, or charisma. Love is the distinguishing mark of Christianity. The Spirit of Christ indwells the soul of every Christian and manifests His love in unfathomable measure, amidst the world that rejects such love (c.f. Eph. 1:13-14). So great is this identifying characteristic that Jesus says that the world will know His disciples by their love for one another (John 13:35). The first-century church models this kind of love by sharing all their material goods in common and giving to any that had need (Acts 2:43). In history, true Christians have been at the forefront of social programs to aid the poor and downcast. True Christianity is marked by love for others.

This distinctive character trait seems conspicuously absent from many church congregations in the modern western church. Perhaps this missing trait indicates that the Spirit of God does not dwell in the heart of many self-professed Christians in the west. If the reality is that there is a lack of Spirit-indwelled believers in the west, then the impotence of the church is not surprising. It is not surprising because it is not true Christianity. Yet, there is hope! There is hope for salvation. Christ has died and been resurrected and His Spirit is present and active. Belief in this truth transforms the soul of the believer, leading to love. This belief recognizes Jesus as Lord and thereby demands repentance from sin and obedience to His precepts. Surrender to Christ, trusting that what He accomplished through the cross and resurrection is sufficient to atone for sin.

If we want to see love abound in the hearts of the people in the western church, the western church must begin to preach the gospel truth. True belief in Jesus is the same as surrender to Him. He is Savior and Lord: the basic confession of Christianity. If He is Savior and Lord, then He must be obeyed. If He is obeyed, then love will abound.

Such great love for saints is motivated by the “hope laid up for [Christians] in heaven” (v.5a). There is a tremendous truth to which Christians cling. The reality that life does not end at death for believers. Indeed, for believers in Jesus Christ, life begins when this world ends. Life is “birthed” when the earth is done. In Revelation 21, Jesus proclaims, “I am making all things new” and “it is born” (Revelation 21:5 and 6).[i] Life begins in eternity! What tremendous hope: that believers await eternal life, the true and everlasting life!

It is this hope that gives Christians the ability to love deeply. Knowing that their actions here on this earth are preparation for the life to come, Christians labor to love well. Indeed, the concerns and troubles that hinder love are removed from one who pursues heavenly dwellings. If one’s actions on this earth influence one’s life in the next, then one’s work will be dedicated to doing what is good for the next life. Further, if a person recognizes that their treasure is being held for them in the next life, then they will not war over treasure in this life. If they do, then they do not know.

The Colossians heard of the hope of eternity from Epaphras when he preached the gospel to them (v.7). They heard the truth, assimilated it, and it affected every aspect of their life. Their lives have been changed by the message of The One True God who brings salvation to all who trust in Him. In verse six, Paul explains that the gospel bears fruit when it is understood. The gospel changes the soul. One who has been confronted by the gospel of Jesus Christ and has understood it cannot stay in the same condition that they were in before faith. Christians change. They do not remain willfully disobedient to God, for He works in their hearts and is faithful to complete the work He began (Philippians 1:6).

O Christian, your soul is changed when you believe. Love deeply. Surrender your obsession with the things of this world and labor to love well.

[i] Verse six is commonly translated “it is done.” The Greek word used is the word for “born,” indicating that a birth has occurred. In a sense, “done” is a good translation. Indeed, the work has been completed on earth and the uniting of heaven and earth is now a reality. However, in the context of this glorious scene of Revelation 21, Jesus is proclaiming that He “IS making all things new.” Heaven meets earth at the end of the Bible and ushers in eternity. Christians would do well to recognize that the end of Revelation marks the beginning of life, not the end.

 

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.

Romans a Study-Guide for you

product_thumbnailI wrote this study guide for you.  I may or may not know you, but it is for you. I can say that with confidence because this study guide is literally just a guide through Scripture passages, and Scripture is for you. It contains no brilliant commentary or insights that I can add. It does not have thoughts about passages or quaint stories to bring texts to life. It is simply Scripture. Each day there are two Scripture passages to read (one in the morning and one in the evening.) The evening reading is repeated the following morning. Each day has five simple questions to ponder and room to write in the book. There are fifty weeks of Scripture (424 pages) through the book of Romans. I endeavored to break Romans down into easy portions for the reader. The cross-references are intended to aid in the study of Romans.

I felt compelled to write this study guide for three reasons: Scripture interprets Scripture, people don’t read their Bibles, and just for fun.

  1. Scripture interprets Scripture.

One of the basic rules of Biblical interpretation is that the Bible is the best tool for interpreting the Bible. It sounds simple enough, but it is rarely practiced. Often, people will read a passage of Scripture, pray, and then interpret what that passage means. While this is well intentioned, that passage has a context within the book and that book has a context within the entire canon of Scripture. So, in order to glean a deeper understanding of a text, the context must be consulted.

  1. People don’t read their Bibles.

I worked through this study guide because people don’t read their Bibles. Sure, they may have a devotional or a quiet time, but seldom do I find someone who has a deep love for actually studying and reading the Bible. It is a desperate state that western Christianity finds itself in when its adherents spend so little time reading their holy book. The western church has more information about the Bible than any other group in history. There are countless teachers, books, websites, and apps to help understand the Bible. Yet, the average Christian seldom reads the Scripture. As a result, when faced with theological quandaries and challenging life circumstances, western Christians have little to grasp hold of. I intend this work to offer some solution to that difficulty. It is intended to walk the reader through texts that help them understand the book of Romans.

  1. Just for fun.

The final reason I wrote this work is because studying Scripture is fun. While it takes work and one must put in the effort, Romans is one of the most enlightening books in the Bible. It is filled with truths about God and humanity. It walks us through a systematic understanding of salvation. It challenges the very nature of our devotion to God and our love for Christ. It shows us who God is and who we are. It is challenging, engaging, troubling at times, and it is fun! Personally, I loved going through these cross references to study Romans. The complementary texts brought clarity to Romans and helped me to understand some of the deep truths presented in Romans. To engage God in the safety of what He has said about Himself is awesome! So, go get this study guide and enjoy.

(pdf sample: Romans Study Guide sample)

Here is the link to purchase online: Buy

If you would like to purchase in bulk (the printer offers me discounts) please contact me through e-mail with the subject heading “Romans Study-Guide Bulk” at novis_elkins@hotmail.com.

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If you’d like to donate to Sovereign Grace Fellowship so we can give these away, you can do so here:  Donate

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!