Monday, August 20, 2018

Colossians Words Day 20: Perfect/Complete

Day 20 ~ Perfect/Complete

We now come to our last word for our Colossians Words challenge. This word serves as a set of bookends for the whole book and is found in 1:28 and 4:12. The Greek word for the word perfect means that something is brought to its end; it is finished, complete, mature, fully grown.

"He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ." Colossians 1:28

"Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured." Colossians 4:12

In these two verses Paul describes not only his purpose (and that of his disciples), but the purpose of the gospel of Christ. The gospel is not simply a prayer to be uttered for eternal security, although it includes that. The gospel is the call of God to people to become His holy people through faith in Christ Jesus, and to become fully complete in Him as we live out a life of faith while here in this life, in preparation for eternity.

This is a theme in much of Paul's writing:
"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledgethat you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."Ephesians 3:16-19

"So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." Ephesians 4:11-13

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.Only let us live up to what we have already attained." Philippians 3:12-16
Pastor and commentator, Bob Utley, says, "God's goal for the church is that every believer be mature in Christ."
So we see this message in some of the other words we focused on in this letter:
"For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives" Colossians 1:9
"..and in Christ you have been brought to fullness." Colossians 2:10
"But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—" Colossians 1:22
"Christ is all, and is in all." Colossians 3:11
To be filled and have the fullness of Christ has the sense of completeness, having completely all that we need to be God's holy (perfect and without fault) people, who are reconciled (have complete peace restored) with Him through Christ, who is all and is in all. He is perfect and complete and we are called to be like Him.

Look again at how Paul declares this complete message in 1:28:
"He is the one (He is all, complete) we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone (all people) with all wisdom, so that we may present (as holy) everyone (all God's people) fully (abundantly complete)  mature (complete, perfect, whole) in Christ." Colossians 1:28

You are complete in Christ!

I have studied Colossians many times over the past 20 years and each time it amazes me that I continue to see new things in it about God, about our identity in Christ, and about the gospel. This book holds such deep truths about Christ, not truths to be known simply in an intellectual manner, but truths to be known - Ginosko known, experiencially through our relationship with Christ - that results in changed lives that express who Christ is in the world around them. I continue to grow in my amazement over all that Paul fit in this small letter to the Colossians, and pray that we are each profoundly changed by the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ in you the hope of glory!

Please do not feel that you have to be finished in this words challenge or in your creative responses to it simply because this is the last word presented. Please take your time in the Word and in connecting with it creatively. My motto in every study is not that you get through the book completely, but, rather, that the book gets completely through you. 
The complete list of words with their Bible study devotion is found here, which is also found under "Words Challenges" on the top menu. Continue to share your creative works in the Facebook group and on Instagram - #colossianswords. The Facebook group will remain open for sharing, conversation, and will be where I will continue conversations about future Words challenges. I also welcome any questions and dialog about the words and Bible passages we have gone through. I'm so happy we have gone through this journey together and look forward to staying connected with you through social media.
You can also join the other group I co-lead with Bernice Hopper and Valerie Sjodin, Everyday Journals - Living Your Word of the Year. Our theme for September will be " A Time For...". We will explore seasons and where we are at with our word for the year, as well as get into Ecclesiastes 3.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Colossians Words Day 19: Thankful

Day 19 ~ Thankful

In the beginning of the letter we saw in Paul's prayer for the Colossians (1:9-14 - see Day 5:Wisdom) that he asked God to fill them with the knowledge of His will. Paul prayed this so that, filled with the knowledge of God's will,  they would be able to live in a manner that is worthy of the Lord and that pleases Him in all ways. One of the ways Paul listed as evidence that one is living in a manner worthy of the Lord is a life of gratitude, continually giving thanks to the Father (1:12). Paul weaves this call to thankful, grateful living throughout his letter.

In 2:6-7 Paul's call on Christ followers is to "live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." Our faith in Christ is not only a set of beliefs that we commit to with our minds. It is also a lifestyle that we submit to that  transforms who we are and how we live. While grammar can be boring and at times hard to grasp, there are times when the knowledge of the grammar used in the Greek can help us gain a deeper sense of what God is calling us to. Here in this verse, Paul lists four ways we are to live in Christ - rooted, built up, strengthened, and overflowing with thanksgiving. These four words (participles) are in the passive voice in the Greek, which means we do not produce them. They are produced in us by God. We play a role in that we must do what is necessary to keep ourselves connected to and positioned before Christ for transformation (look at the metaphor of the vine and the branches in John 15:1-8 for a picture of this). Also note, that of the four things listed, the first one, rooted, is a perfect tense, which means it is a past completed action that has continuing effect. You have been rooted in Christ. You are thoroughly grounded in Him and will continue to be. You have a firm foundation of faith in Him. The next three things are present tense, which means they are ongoing processes produced in us by God. They continue to grow as we continue to grow in our faith. So we will continually be built up and strengthened and we will continually overflow with thanksgiving.As we grow in our faith our lives will express these qualities produced in us by God. The words are passive, but we are not to be passive. Paul calls us to "continue to live in Him". We play a part in God producing these things in us by faithfully living and growing our faith in Christ. I love the word Paul used to describe the thanksgiving that God produces in us - it is overflowing - great quantities of gratitude and thanksgiving bubble up in us and overflow in our lives. What an awesome picture! Am I participating in the life of faith God calls me to in such a manner that gratitude to Him bubbles up and overflows in my life? Sounds like a great thing to pray for!

This leads Paul then to call to us to "be thankful" (3:15 & 4:2) and to "do all things , whether in word or in deed, in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (3:17). This one of the ways we obediently live out our lives in a manner worthy of and pleasing to the Lord. Giving thanks becomes both an expression of who we are in Christ and an expression of praise and worship to God for His rich blessings to us through Christ.

If you are behind or just joining in, you can find a list with links to the previous words here.

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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Colossians Words Day 18: Obedience

Day 18 ~ Obedience

It is not always easy to read and understand Scripture written over 2000 years ago to people living in a different time and in different cultures. This is the case with the passage where today's word, obedience, is the topic. In this passage, Colossians 3:11-4:1, Paul addresses people living within the cultural norms of the day, and so his admonitions to wives and to slaves and masters seem not to fit within today's cultural norms. The Colossians lived within two dominant cultures: The Roman culture, which had a hierarchical order, ranking every relationship in order, and the Greek culture which had a "household code" ordering both the household and the state. So, while in this new life they live as Christians who are all seen as equal (Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:28), Paul recognizes that for many, they still live with those who are not Christ followers and they still have to  live within the norms of the culture. Paul encourages them to view how they live, despite having to still live within cultural norms, as those who now belong to and are in Christ. So his encouragement in 3:17 to do all things "in the name of the Lord, giving thanks to God the Father through him", is then expressed to specific groups of people in the household in 3:18 - 4:1. 

"Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.
Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven."  Colossians 3:18-4:1

While today we do not live within the cultural norms Paul was writing to, we can still gain valuable insight for how we are to live within our own culture. Paul's bottom line to those living in the first century remains the same for us living in the 21st century: Obedience to the Lord. In our daily lives - in our families, our jobs, our schools, our homes, our neighborhoods and communities - we can live with Paul's encouragement as our guideline:
  • Live in a manner "as fitting to the Lord" - 3:18.
  • Do what "pleases the Lord" - 3:20.
  • Live and act "with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord" - 3:22.
  • Work (live out) "whatever you do, with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men" - 3:23.
  • "It is the Lord Christ you are serving" - 3:24.
  • God is our "master (Lord) in heaven" - 4:1.

Because we are in Christ, we are God;s chosen people who are holy and dearly loved. Our response to His great love for us is willing and thankful obedience to His will and to His way of living.
"...With sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord - whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord." Colossians 3:22-23.

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Colossians Words Day 17: Prayer

Day 17 ~ Prayer

Paul begins and ends most of his letters with a focus on prayer. To Paul, prayer is not simply a task we do to check off on our spiritual checklist; or something we turn to only in times of great need and desperation. To Paul, prayer is a lifestyle. A lifestyle modeled after Jesus Christ. Even the Son of God, who was himself God, found it vitally necessary to his life to pray to the Father. Prayer is a lifestyle, and prayer is about relationship with and dependence on God the Father.

"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful." Colossians 4:2

Paul's letters are filled with exhortations to and examples of his lifestyle of prayer - his devotion to prayer:

"For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to..." Colossians 1:9

"God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that..." Romans 1:9-10

"I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may..." Ephesians 1:16-17

"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people." Ephesians 6:18

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." Philippians 4:6

"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Paul says here, in Colossians 4:2, that we are to be devoted to prayer and we are to be watchful. Another term for this would be keeping alert. Jesus told his disciples in the Garden at Gethsemane, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14:38. Prayer helps us guard against temptation. It helps us keep our eyes open to God's activity in the world. It helps us keep our focus in God.

The other aspect of prayer that Paul calls us to is to be thankful. Thanksgiving acknowledges our reliance on God. It helps keep us in a posture of humility before God and in submission to His will. Commentary author, Marianne Meye Thompson says of this verse:
"One prays not in a spirit of fear, anxiety, or impatience, but with thanksgiving, in acknowledgement of one's need for others and reliance on God. Thanksgiving accompanies prayer because prayer and gratitude both manifest and grow out of the humble, open posture of trust in God which lies at the heart of the life of faith."

I have often struggled in my walk with Christ with prayer being an afterthought, something to turn to when I have exhausted all other activities or when I am desperate. I think it is a fault of being strongly independent. But in recent years, even in recent months, the practice of thanksgiving has moved prayer to the front of the line. Turning to God first with thanksgiving,  whether the situation is good or bad, has actually caused me to pray more often and more immediately. An attitude of thanksgiving helps bring God to my mind and helps me stay focused on Him, and has led me to prayer more often. Being thankful takes the focus off whether or not the prayer in answered and keeps the focus simply on God - praising Him and worshiping Him. As Paul says in the passage above in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 - "this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Colossians Words Day 16: In Christ/With Christ

Day 16 ~ In Christ/With Christ

The phrases "in Christ", "with Christ", "in him", "with him", And "in whom" are all ways that Paul points Christ followers to the reality that we have a spiritual union with Christ. We are one with Him. How are we united with Christ? 
"When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins." Colossians 2:13
We are forgiven our sins through Christ and then made alive with Him. In other words, we have a new life. Our old life is exchanged for a new life, a spiritual life. Union with Christ is our source of life and our means by which we live life.

"In Christ", along with the other phrases that express this, is language that Paul uses frequently in his letters. "In Christ" on its own has been noted over 165 times in Paul's writings. The sheer frequency with which Paul point outs this union with Christ expresses it important for our life with Christ. Let's look at what these phrases reveal in the book of Colossians and then, simply meditate on what this means for us.

In Christ:

  • All things are held together - things that were created by Him and for Him. (1:17)
  • Dwells the all fullness of God. (1:19)
  • Are all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge. (2:3)
  • All the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. (2:9)
  • Is found the reality of what was promised. (2:17
In Christ we:
  • Are holy and faithful brothers - family. (1:2)
  • Place our faith. (1:4 & 2:5)
  • Are being made perfect/complete. (1:28)
  • Have redemption. (1:14
  • Live (2:6)
  • Are rooted and built up. (2:7)
  • Have been given fullness (2:10)
  • Are circumcised, the sinful nature is put off. (2:11)
With Christ we:
  • Are buried in baptism. (2:12)
  • Are raised through faith in God's pOwer. (2:12 & 3:1)
  • Are made alive. (2:13)
  • Died to the basic principles of this world. (2:20)
  • Have our life hidden - kept secure. (3:4)
  • Will appear in glory. (3:4)
Our union with Christ means we are in Christ and Christ is in us.

"To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."  Colossian 1:27

"Christ is all, and is in all." Colossians 3:11

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Colossians Words Day 15: Life

Day 15 ~ Life

We all love before and after photos. Our love affair with this is evident by the number of remodeling shows on TV and the abundance of weight loss and plastic surgery ads in the commercials. We like to see what a house or a room looked like before and then its dramatic transformation after. Company's pitch their products for weight loss by using photos of the former overweight person, now skinny. Contrasts of before and after work work well in sermons and Bible study as well. The New Testament writers used contrasts often to capture the attention. Contrasts such as light and dark or old and new, are often used in the Scriptures to open eyes and help us choose wisely between one way of life or another. Paul uses the contrast of death and life in Colossians to help his readers understand who they are in Christ, contrasting their former way of life with their new.

Yesterday we went through Colossians 2:9-23 and saw how Paul used this contrast in that portion of the book. Today we will continue our exploration of this death/life contrast by digging into Colossians 3:1-10. 

"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator." Colossians 3:1-10
Contrasts are a fun way to do Bible study. Making a list of what is being contrasted and seeing them side-by-side can open our eyes to the Biblical truths the author is trying to express.

Paul's focus in Colossians 3 now shifts to how we live as those who have Christ in them. He begins chapter 3 saying, "Since, then you have been raised with Christ.....", echoing how he began his previous thoughts in 2:20-23. There he had stated that "since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world", meaning the traditions and practices of man and religion, seen in both the Jewish religious practices and the Greek secular practices, have no place in their new life. He goes on to ask them why they continue to practice them, living as if they belong to them instead of to Christ. These things, Paul says, "are destined to perish with use". In other words, they bring death, not real life. Why? Because they "have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence" (2:23). This is the problem with practicing anything in order to gain favor with God ; there is no real value in the practice. The practices alone cannot bring us life. Instead what we practice should be a result of the favor we have with God through Christ; out of obedience to and gratefulness for that favor we have received through Him. It is not what we do that brings us into restored peace with God and gains His favor. It is only through what Christ has done on our behalf. Our "doing" is in believing and accepting the accomplished work of Christ in His death and resurrection. Remember back to 2:17, Paul said that these practices, even good things like observing the Sabbath Day, were merely a shadow of what was to come. They were practiced in anticipation of and preparation for the arrival of Christ, the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world. Paul makes it clear that "the reality is found in Christ" (2:17).
So Paul says that since you died with Christ, and since you have been raised with Him to new life, then live for Him. In the last two chapters of the book Paul will give some descriptions of what living for Christ looks like in everyday life.

As is Paul's way, he begins his explanation of living for Christ by once again reminding them of who they are. He calls them to seek things above "where Christ is seated at the right hand of God", again drawing their attention back to His supremacy. Those who live for Christ seek the things of Christ, "not earthly things" (3:2). Why? Because "you died with Christ" (3:3), you are to no longer live in a manner that reflects your former life. Remember Paul's prayer for them at the beginning of the letter, that God would fill them with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that "you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way" (1:9-10). Now, in this new life, "your life is now hidden with Christ in God" and when He appears for His second coming "you also will appear with him in glory" (3:4). In Christ, we are secure. The word hidden has the sense of something put in hiding in order to protect it. In other words, secure. Look how Paul then contrasts hidden with revealed. At a time in the future, when Christ returns/appears, our life will appear in glory. We will share in His glory, much as now we share in His fullness.

So now, in 3:5 Paul makes an appeal to put to death those things that belong to the earthly nature. Our new life cannot be real life when we live in this manner. He goes on in verse 7 to remind us that walking - a word Paul often uses in place of the word live - walking in these ways is a part of our former way of life. We must now "rid yourselves" of the ways of our old life. Why? Because, verse 8 reminds us once again, now using old self/new self for the death/life contrast, that we have taken off or removed the old practices and now have a new life. In this new life our new self is"being renewed in knowledge in the images of its Creator". The goal of this new life is to become Christ-like. We ourselves, in Christ, have a before and after life transformation.

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