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Daily Bible thoughts 918: Wednesday 8th July 2015: Colossians 4:16-18: And finally…

Colossians 4:16-18: And finally…(click here for passage)

There are three clear exhortations in the final verses of this wonderful letter:

  • Read it (16): It is important that Paul’s letters are read. Still today their contents are to be digested by the churches. Don’t neglect the Bible as a whole. Don’t let the Apostle Paul stay on the shelf! (This verse shows that there was another letter written by Paul to a neighbouring church at Laodicea. These letters were to be swapped over and read by both churches.) In living the Christian life we don’t make it up as we go along. We are not left to our own devices to decide what is right and wrong. We have authoritative documents, and they are to be obeyed and not merely considered.
  • Stick with it (17): Jesus said: ‘’No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’’ (Luke 9:62). Did ‘’Archippus’’ feel like giving up? And what happened to ‘’Demas’’ (14)? There surely is a warning in his story (2 Tim.4:10)? All kinds of forces can combine and conspire against those in Christian service, causing us to feel tempted to drop out of the race. The way to persevere is to ‘’fix’’ our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). If anyone could have given up it was Jesus. Nobody suffered like He did. But He ‘’endured’’. (By the way, we are all in Christian service!!)
  • Remember them (18): This is a touchingly simple comment coming at the end of the letter. There is no self-pity in it. It is the briefest reminder of his sufferings. He wanted their prayers, as we have seen. ‘’Remember to pray for me in this jail.’’ The Message. He also wanted them to remember his love for them; his heart for the church as a whole; and the cost of being a Christian. In a way those ‘’chains’’ sum up a whole way of life. Paul was chained to Christ, and as His ‘prisoner’ he knew perfect freedom.

‘’When Jesus bids a man come and follow Him, He bids him come and die.’’ Dietrich Bohnoeffer.

Daily Bible thoughts 917: Tuesday 7th July 2015: Colossians 4: 12, 13: The hard work of prayer.

Colossians 4: 12, 13: The hard work of prayer.(click here for todays passage)

In Paul’s ‘final greetings’ section of the letter to Colossae, he lists a number of people, most of whom are not well known. One of them was ‘’Epaphras’’. Here are four things we can say about this man:

  • He was a faithful witness (1:7): It is generally believed that Epaphras was the ‘church planter’ in Colossae. It’s thought that he was probably a convert from Paul’s two year ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19). He went back up the Lycus valley to his home city of Colossae, and there he founded a new Christian community. (He may also have started the churches ‘’at Laodicea and Hierapolis’’.) Having found Jesus for himself, he did not keep Him to himself. This one ‘beggar’ told other ‘beggars’ where to find bread. (2 Kings 7:9).
  • He had a servant heart (12a): This is evident not only from what Paul said about him, but also in view of the picture of the man that emerges as we read between the lines. He was a willing servant of the church because he knew himself to be, first and foremost, Christ’s slave.
  • He was a praying man. He had the spirit of prayer about him. He prayed ‘’without ceasing’’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Paul said, ‘’He is always wrestling in prayer for you…’’ He wanted this church he had founded to grow; he deeply desired that the congregation would develop spiritually. Much vital pastoral work is carried out on bended knees.
  • He was a hard worker. The implication in the passage is that he worked hard in prayer. He laboured and toiled in the place of prayer. He put his back into it. Like Paul himself, he worked hard in God’s strength (1:29). He had a good mentor as he set out to follow Christ. Prayer is hard work. It is not glamorous. This may explain why it is not popular with many, and why prayer meetings are often poorly attended. I find that many people love to hear about prayer. But the doing is another matter. To make matters more difficult, we have invisible spiritual enemies who are committed to keeping the ‘missile’ of prayer on the launch pad. They know full well what it will do to their domain if it blasts into the air.

It will be obvious from these words that Epaphras combined evangelism, discipleship and prayer in a balanced ministry.. It is important that we too hold these things together. Our entire work must be undergirded by prayer. Without it we will lack power, and we will not see eternal fruit for Jesus. As someone said, we must work like it all depends on us, but pray like it all depends on God.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, please pour out the spirit of prayer on your church. Help us to be like Epaphras: vocal in witness, faithful in service and earnest in prayer.

Daily Bible thoughts 916: Monday 6th July 2015: Colossians 4: 7-15: No unappreciated people.

 Colossians 4: 7-15: No unappreciated people.(click here for todays passage)

We have noted before that Paul was a team player. He valued other people in the church who worked alongside him and he affirmed their contributions. Most of the people who appear on this list, with a couple of notable exceptions, were not well known. But all of them were significant; each of them mattered. Paul loved them and was thankful for them.

What an unselfish man Paul was! Although a prisoner, he did not curl up in a ball of self-pity. His letters to the churches at Colossae, Philippi and Ephesus (plus the personal one sent to Philemon) show that he was still outward looking, and concerned for the well-being of others. These were all written around the same time, when he was under house arrest. He was thoughtful and considerate, as (10b) shows.

Whatever is going on in your world, try to keep considering others. The temptation to close in and become self-focused may be very great, but you will grow and you will be blessed if you continue to love and serve. Don’t think about what you’re getting but concentrate on giving.

And here’s a thought, why not take some time this week to drop a line or two to someone who has been a great help to you? So you love them and value them? But do they know what you think about them and feel for them? They are not mind readers. Some things definitely ought to be expressed in ‘’the living years.’’

Let no-one feel unappreciated in the church family. May no one in your world fail to feel your love and gratitude.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the people you have put around me, now and in the past, who have made my ministry possible.

Daily Bible thoughts 897: Tuesday 9th June 2015: Colossians 2:20-23.

Colossians 2:20-23.

All that we need is all that He is!

Let’s be wary of living our lives by any form of teaching that is not Biblical. Man-made rules will not change us. At times they can be appealing, but they just don’t work. They might seem to for a time, but they are not radical enough (23). They don’t go sufficiently deep.

Some professing Christians have rules for themselves and they are zealous about trying to impose these on their fellow believers. God made you and they have a wonderful plan for your life! Their mission is to make you in their own image.

But true religion is not about rule-keeping; it’s about Jesus. It’s about keeping company with Him; ‘abiding’ in Him; drawing from Him all that is in Him. All that we need is all that He is. That’s the message of Colossians, as we’ve been seeing. We will not grow by keeping human rules but through vital ‘’connection’’ with Christ our Head (19). Only the Lord Himself can deal with our flesh life; our own going struggles with ‘’sensual indulgence’’ (23). Strict rules will never cure the real sickness of our souls.

‘’If the Colossians were to fall victims to the false teaching and voluntarily place themselves under rules and regulations…which were imposed by the principalities and powers, then this would be to go back into slavery again, a bondage to the very powers of the universe from which they had been freed when they died with Christ in his death. Not all Christians are free from superstition, which can exert more influence than their faith…The taboos left untouched the problems of sensual indulgence.’’ Peter T. O’Brien: ‘New Bible Commentary’, p.1271.

‘’Pleasure in God is the power for purity. The vice-grip the pleasure of sin exerts on the human soul will be broken only by trusting God’s promise of superior pleasure in knowing Jesus. The only way to conquer one pleasure is with another, greater and more pleasing pleasure.’’ Sam Storms: ‘One thing’, p.128.

The Christian life is not about following rules, but abiding in Christ.

All that we need is all that Jesus is.

Prayer: Let there be no going back, for me, to that futile realm of religious rules and works. Jesus you have set me free. Thank you.

Daily Bible thoughts 896: Monday 8th June 2015: Colossians 2:16-19: Focussed on Christ

Colossians 2:16-19: Focussed on Christ

Here are some further reasons to keep your focus on Jesus:

The ‘reality’ we find in Him (17). The Old Testament ceremonies, rituals and symbols were but ‘’a shadow’’ of things to come. But Jesus Christ is the substance. All these things find their fulfilment in Him. Let’s not allow ourselves to get preoccupied with secondary matters, but always concentrate on Jesus. He is central. The so-called ‘Colossian heresy’ was taking people back into the shadows from the brilliant Sunlight of noonday. Would you rather have the shadow of the man you love, or the man Himself?! Now the Colossians had Christ, surely they would not let Him go for lesser things? Religion is no substitute for reality.

Verse 16 is interesting. You can’t stop people judging you. We are almost incurably judgmental, even though we shouldn’t be (see verse 18 also.) One sign that you have lost vital connection with the Lord Jesus (19) is that you start to try to do His job for Him. You want to run other people’s lives; tell them what to do. The judgmental people Paul writes about here were, of course, heretics. But you don’t have to be into heresy to be judgmental. (Verse 16 shows that there was a Jewish flavour to this heresy. But the eighteenth verse reveals that there was also an esoteric quality. There were people who were asserting their spiritual superiority over others on the grounds of heightened spiritual experiences. They were into visions; they believed they had joined in with the angelic worship of God. In short, they regarded themselves to be in the ‘first class compartment’ of spirituality, and proudly looked down on others who didn’t have what they had. They were the spiritual elite.)

He is the Head of the church (19a). Therefore He is your Head. Let Jesus run your life; allow Him to tell you what to do. Get your orders from Him. ‘’So don’t put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or holy days…Don’t tolerate people who try to run your life, insisting that you join their obsession with angels and that you seek out visions. They’re a lot of hot air, that’s all they are.’’ The Message.

Growth comes as you keep connection with Him (19b). The growth of the church (and of individual Christians) is God’s work. God gives the growth (1 Corinthians 6, 7). God causes you to grow, but it’s all about ‘’connection’’ with Jesus. As you ‘’abide’’ in Him (John 15) you will grow.

Don’t lose touch!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to never move away from you

Daily Bible thoughts 894: Thursday 4th June 2015: Colossians 2:6-12: Sitting on a fortune.

Colossians 2:6-12: Sitting on a fortune.

Many years ago I heard a story about an old lady who lived in poverty in a simple cottage. Someone visiting her, who knew that her son was a successful business man, asked, ‘But doesn’t he ever send you any money?’ ‘No’, replied the poor woman, ‘but he does send me pretty coloured pictures from all over the world. Would you like to see them?’ Her friend was intrigued, and replied that she would. So the elderly lady disappeared into another room, and then returned carrying a big cardboard box which she proceeded to place on the coffee table. As she removed the lid, her visitor could see that the ‘pretty coloured pictures’ were currency notes from many different countries where her son had travelled. The old lady was sitting on a fortune whilst living like a pauper!

Now whether the above story is true, partially true or apocryphal, it makes an important point. We Christians are incredibly rich, spiritually speaking, yet we may not realise what we have ‘in the bank’, and fail to draw on it in our day to day lives. We are richer than millionaires but appear like tramps!

If two verses can be used to sum up ‘Colossians’, then surely (2: 9, 10) get the job. Paul’s concern was to focus the attention of these Christians on Jesus. He was saying to them, ‘Christ is all you need.’ ‘Everything you need is to be found in Jesus.’ The false teachers, who were having some influence in the churches of that region, were arguing that you need Jesus plus certain other things. Paul’s counter-argument involved an adamant ‘NO!’ to their message. ‘All that you need is in Jesus’, he taught.

  • In Jesus you get started as a Christian, and it’s in His strength that you will grow in this joyful, thankful Christian life (6, 7; 11, 12). Notice that the metaphors ‘’rooted and built up’’ (7) are drawn from agriculture and architecture. They both speak of growth and progress. Conversion is Christ’s work in us (11, 12). It involves being baptised, in which we totally identify with Jesus in His death and resurrection.
  • By looking to Jesus you can be protected from erroneous doctrine. Keep your eyes on Him (see also 3:1-4)
  • Through Jesus we can be winners (10b). He is ‘’the head over every power and authority.’’ This has implications for us. A song says, ‘Jesus is the Winner Man’. In Him we also can be winners. We can say ‘No’ to the fierce pull of temptation; we can overcome in every battle.

Every good thing is ours in Jesus, and In Him we find all we need to live the Christian life.

As I sit in my house right now, I know that I am surrounded by great (potential) power, through the electrical wiring system. But I cannot benefit from it without having to do something: put a plug into a socket and flick a switch. Something similar has to happen with us on an on-going basis. Otherwise we may find that, although we live close to immense power we do not benefit from it.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, teach me all that I am and have in Jesus.

Daily Bible thoughts 886: Wednesday 27th May 2015: Colossians 2:1-5

Colossians 2:1-5

‘’I want you to realize that I continue to work as hard as I know how for you, and also for the Christians over at Laodicea.’’ The Message.

It is sometimes a good thing for people in local churches to catch a glimpse of something of the cost of ministry to their leaders. It will help them to appreciate that their leaders are authentic, that they love them and want the very best for them. We have already seen that Paul’s ‘struggle’ was carried out in God’s strength (1:29). This wasn’t simply a matter of expending human energy. But we should not fail to note that Paul twice speaks of his ministry in terms of ‘’struggling’’ (1:29; 2:1). He did not have a casual or careless approach to his life’s work. His imprisonment was one mark (scar even) of this intense struggle. As he gave himself so totally to this work he had certain clear objectives in mind:

  • Their encouragement (2a): In this world, many discouragements come the way of believers. Who can keep going without being hooked up to a saline drip of encouragement? We need regular ‘drips’ of encouragement into our veins. Paul could have said, ‘Where’s my encouragement coming from? Here I am in prison for Jesus, who’s going to encourage me?’ But he focussed on encouraging others.
  • Their unity (2b): The Roman soldiers carried shields (Ephesians 6:16) which interlocked at the edges, so that they could form a ‘wall’ against the enemy. Paul was delighted with what he already knew about their togetherness (5), but what is good can always be better, and so he prayed.
  • Their spiritual understanding (2c, 3): If we have Jesus we have everything we need. We find all meaning and purpose in Him. He’s the One the human heart is thirstily seeking, even when we don’t know that it’s Jesus we want, and we’re searching in all the wrong places. Paul wanted the Christians he served to grasp as fully as possible all the riches that are in Christ. He wanted them to know Jesus more and more. (Notice the implication that encouraged and united Christians are in a good place to grow in spiritual knowledge.) ‘’I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God. Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery. All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and nowhere else.’’ The Message.
  • Their protection from doctrinal error (4): As you know, the churches in the Lycus Valley region were being affected by false teaching. As with their unity, Paul was convinced of good things regarding their faith (5). Nevertheless, he was concerned that they should be protected from heresy.

So, there was a price tag attached to Paul’s ministry. Recognise that all true leaders in the church will experience something of cost, and feel the heat of the battle. Pray for them.

Prayer: We pray for those called to leadership in your church that they will fight in your strength and not their own. May their hearts be encouraged today.

Daily Bible thoughts 879: Monday 18th May 2015: Colossians 1:21-23

Colossians 1:21-23

‘’Once…but now…’’

Have you ever seen those successful slimming photos that tell the story, in a snapshot, of ‘before and after?’ In these few verses Paul writes about how someone’s situation radically alters through coming to know Christ. ‘Every picture tells a story’, and here are two contrasting landscapes.

‘’You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted.’’ The Message.

Our pre-Christian state is described in (21). It was stark and it was dark. We were ‘’enemies’’ of God, and that is not a good place to be. The gospel call to repent (i.e. to change your mind) is indispensable because fundamentally the problem of ‘’evil behaviour’’ stems from a mind at war with God (Romans 8:7). To be ‘’alienated’’ in any situation is not a happy place to be. Thank God this is no longer our story. This is the ‘before’ photo and it’s one to keep in your wallet! I’m not proud of mine. How about you?

The emphasis on ‘’Christ’s physical body’’ in (22) is important. Reading between the lines, the false teaching that was infecting the church in Colossae may have denied the reality of the incarnation. There was a belief that matter is evil, and that God could not and would not contaminate Himself by coming into contact with it. But Paul emphasises that God really and truly did become a man (see 2:9) and that He was crucified in a body. Look at the great difference the cross makes. We no more face alienation and accusation, but we are brought into a place of acceptance with God, where we have a clean record in His sight. This is the ‘after’ picture, and it’s one you will want to take out of your purse and pass around the room. But the reason for doing so will not be pride, but praise for the One who has changed everything, at such great cost to Himself.

The gospel call is to repent of sin and believe in Jesus, in order to be saved ‘’through his blood’’ (20). But also embedded in it is the call to persevere; to endure to the end. I don’t want to get into a debate about ‘once saved, always saved’ etc. I just want to highlight the fact that the New Testament regularly warms of the possibility of drifting away from our faith moorings, and repeatedly exhorts us to keep going. We surely have to heed these calls, and take them seriously? Also, the parable of the sower highlights the uncomfortable truth that many who profess faith do not press on in the faith. I understand that Colossae was located in an earthquake zone, so Paul’s words in (23) would resonate with the Colossian Christians.

Just one other thought: if the gospel message is to be ‘’heard’’, it must be ‘’proclaimed’’ by those who are willing to be its ‘’servant’’. Paul was such a person (23b).

Prayer: Thank you Lord for your ‘amazing grace’.

Daily Bible thoughts 878: Friday 15th May 2015: Colossians 1:18-20

Colossians 1:18-20

‘’…so that in everything he might have the supremacy.’’ (18b) Jesus should hold the same place in the church; in our lives, that He does in the universe. This is the position of supremacy. ‘From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone.’’ The Message.

Yesterday we looked at Christ, supreme in creation (15-17). This next section shows Him to be supreme in the church, the new creation. The false teachers infecting the church at Colossae with their heretical germs, were very wrong about Jesus. Paul wanted to remind the Christians just who ‘’He is…’’ (The expression is repeated several times in 15-20.)

‘’And he is the head of the body, the church…’’ (18a) I understand that the emphasis in the original language is that ‘He, and He alone’, is the Head. This has profound implications for how we lead the church and run our lives. What part does prayer play; being still before the Lord and listening to Him? The church is not a constitutional monarchy and Jesus is no figurehead King. He must rule absolutely.

‘’…he is the beginning…’’ (18) As Jesus is the beginning of the Universe, so He is the beginning of the church. If He were not building us, we would not be built! As someone pointed out, Jesus is ‘’the beginning’’ of the church, and it has no ending!

‘’…and the firstborn from among the dead…’’ (18) In this context, ‘’firstborn’’ points to the fact that Jesus was the first (and most important) Person to truly rise from the dead (Some others may have been resuscitated, only to die again, but Jesus arose to a new order of life), and there will be many more to follow (See also 1 Corinthians 15:20 for a similar thought.) Because He lives, His people will live also. Jesus has beaten death, and in Him we are overcomers too.

‘’…so that in everything he might have the supremacy.’’ (18b) Such a Jesus surely could not possibly hold any lesser place. This is the place He holds in the universe and over the church, regardless of our response. But will we put out the ‘white flag’ and fully submit to His rule?

‘’For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him…’’ (19) In those times, when a ship had all its crew on board, that ship was said to have ‘fullness’. Paul is saying, if you like, that all of God is ‘on board’ Jesus. This was a vital point to make because the false teachers saw Jesus as just one of a series of ‘emanations’ from God. ‘They didn’t deny Him’, someone said, ‘but they did dethrone Him!’

‘’…and through him to reconcile…’’ (20) The Jesus who made ‘’all things’’ (16) has made it possible for ‘’all things’’ to be reconciled to God through the peace-making mission of the cross. The universe can and will be restored through Jesus’ great sacrifice. ‘’Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe – people and things, animals and atoms – get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross.’’ The Message.

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