Comments from Colossians (1:19-20)

For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20; New Living Translation)

Reconciliation. We reconcile bank accounts and we reconcile ourselves to the consequences of certain decisions. But the most difficult reconciliation of all involves two people or two groups laying aside their conflict and choosing to live in peace.

ReconciliationIn 1969, the state of California established a purely no-fault divorce law. This allowed a husband or wife to file for divorce on the simple basis of “irreconcilable differences.” No further explanation was required.

Reconciliation is difficult.

In 1996, with the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, the South African government set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It allowed both victims and perpetrators to tell their stories, because reconciliation initially requires truth-telling. The Commission served a valuable purpose in highlighting the evil of apartheid, even if full reconciliation remained elusive.

Reconciliation is difficult, whether it’s nation with nation, race with race, church members with church members, husbands with wives, or parents with children. What does it require?

Professor Miroslav Volf has written and spoken powerfully on this topic. He concludes that there are five basic steps to meaningful reconciliation.

1. Remember rightly. The memory of victims is very long, but not always right. Perpetrators’ memories are usually very short. We must remember rightly.

2. Forgive. Forgiveness is a gift, and means that we no longer count against the other the wrongdoing done to us.

3. Apologize. One of the signature marks of sin is that it never wants to be itself. It wants to explain, excuse, justify, or compare itself. An apology, on the other hand, requires specific naming.

4. Repair. For forgiveness to reconstitute relationships, repair is essential. This means making meaningful restitution.

5. Embrace. This powerful metaphor comprises four steps: First, open arms – it begins with vulnerability. Second, waiting – at least a moment. The other must come of their own freewill. This offers both freedom and respect. Third, arms close mutually. Authentic embrace cannot be forced or imposed. Fourth, opening of the arms again. The other person needs their own space despite the embrace – “letting go.”

This brings us back to the apostle Paul’s words to the Colossians. “Through Christ, God has reconciled everyone and everything to Himself.”

What an extraordinary act on His part. While He was the offended (not the offender), without blame, and without responsibility, yet while we were still sinners and enemies and hostile towards Him, “through Christ, He has reached out to us to reconcile us to Himself.”

Dealing with conflict right now? Can we take such high ground ourselves with each other? Christ’s example motivates us. Volf’s model (grounded in Scripture) guides us. May today be filled with reconciliation and hope.

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Comments from Colossians (1:17-18)

Christ existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. He is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. (Colossians 1:17-18; New Living Translation)

Christ is first in everything. To listen to a lot of our songs, our prayers, and our preaching it might seem otherwise.

Jesus FirstThe moral therapeutic deism of our day, which I’ve mentioned before, makes us first in everything. God has a plan for our lives. He exists to serve us and make us happy. If there’s a good reason for moral choice, it’s to enhance our own lives (not reflect the holiness of God). We don’t point to Him as much as He points to us. The old saying that “Jesus would have died on the cross for me, if I was the last person left standing on the planet” exemplifies this mentality.

Apparently, this self-centeredness dates back a long way; at least as far back as the first century and the Christians at Colosse.

The Apostle Paul uses these opening words of his epistle to drive home not just the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ, but also His primacy. He existed before all things. He is the beginning of everything. He is first. He deserves both priority and privilege.

Christ stands as first in the Church, and first among all who have been or will be resurrected.

But churches, just like individual people, have a way of getting distracted. Sometimes we count and compete. Sometimes we get so lost in the felt-needs of people walking through the doors, that we overlook the express call of God for us to worship Him. Banks of speakers, innovative lighting, and high-energy platform performers can reflect a subtle (or not too subtle) shift of attention from God and His Word, to the staff and their skills. It usually happens in small degrees over time.

But Christ is jealous. Jealous for His name; jealous for His fame; jealous for our worship; jealous to be first. While glory awaits us, He deserves His now.

He is head of His Church; not simply the object of our preaching, but the one with true authority. As the source of the Church, He takes responsibility for the well-being of the Church. He also has authority over the Church. How have we honored Him (above all else) in our congregations? What place does He have in our private lives?

First. Christ was first, is first, and will be first. Everything follows in His wake. Our own choices ought serve His purposes.

Today will present its share of challenges for each of us; financial strains, health concerns, marital conflict, workplace stresses, parenting challenges, and more. But in all of this, Christ ought remain first in our hearts. Will He?

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Comments from Colossians (1:15-16)

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:15-16; New Living Translation)

Supremacy of ChristThe sufficiency of Christ and the supremacy of Christ are under attack today, but not so much from advocates of false truth, fake news, or competing religions. The sufficiency and supremacy of Christ may face their greatest challenge from the dry-rot (the apathy) that has set in among His people.

It’s the age old “Christ-but” or “Christ-plus” mentality that has tempted Christians for centuries.

He is sufficient to save us but….I need drugs or alcohol to get me through the day; I need to make this sale however I can; I don’t expect much to change.

He holds supremacy over death and eternity but….can He get me a job? Can He heal my illness? Can He restore my marriage? Can He break my addictions? Can He conquer my fears?

In his letter to the Christians at Colosse, Paul begins to extol the all-sufficiency and supremacy of Christ. He’s writing to people who have started to doubt if Jesus really is enough.

Pragmatism values faith only if it works like we want it to. Hedonism values faith only if it minimizes our suffering and enhances our pleasure. Materialism values faith only if it produces wealth and prosperity. Humanism values faith only if we remain the primary center of attention.

Each of these, running rife in both the first and twenty-first centuries, ultimately dethrone Jesus. So, Paul forcefully declares again that Christ existed before creation; He produced creation; and He controls all of creation. Indeed, He is the reason and the purpose for creation. “Everything was created through Him and for Him.” Nothing lies beyond His control or falls outside His power.

That includes us. And as we declare that Christ is all-sufficient and supreme, we assert His unrivaled place in our lives.

Many people nod their assent to the all-sufficiency and supremacy of Christ, but live as though He is insufficient and non-supreme. On the one hand, we accept the historic teaching about Jesus as delivered to us throughout the ages. On the other hand, we may struggle to truly embrace the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ in our day-to-day decisions and actions.

When we relegate Him to the back-seat rather than the driver’s seat, we lose sight of our purpose and direction. We lose confidence and focus. Ultimately, we lose hope. Does that describe you?

May we trust His sufficiency and supremacy more deeply today than yesterday, and find great joy in being “created by Him and for Him.

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Comments from Colossians (1:11-14)

“We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.” (Colossians 1:11-14; New Living Translation)

Rescued from darkness. Purchased from slavery. Forgiven of sin.

Paul also uses words like redemption and justification to describe what God has done for us through Christ. It’s easy to forget the magnitude of what has really happened.

cross at sunsetJesus was not a slick snake-oil salesman hawking bottles of elixir to brighten our day. He did not die on the Cross so that we could join the church or clean up our act a little. He did not take on the form of a man and a bondslave so that we might discover our purpose and feel better about ourselves.

The Cross represents far more than just a low-point in human violence. It forms the hinge of human history. In that moment, we see God in His truest and fullest revelation. And He, for His part, does something unparalleled in its drama, purpose, and outcome.

Rescue. Purchase. Forgiveness.

The Cross alone forces back the darkness that envelopes the world and (sometimes) our own lives. Christ pays our ransom. He purchases us and redeems us on the Cross. He sets us free from slavery. No more slavery to sin, death, or Satan! He is Christus Victor.

The Cross alone makes forgiveness possible and permanent. Every offense we have committed and every good we have neglected is resolved by the One who hung in our stead. The Cross meets the profound need of every human heart for absolution.

Rescue. Purchase. Forgiveness.

Is anything as powerful, radical, transformational, hopeful, or eternal? When we grasp this and live in it, then Paul’s prayer for the Colossian Christians gets answered in our own lives. We become filled with joy, marked by gratitude, and empowered for endurance no matter what life brings our way.

We all know, and know all too well, that the prosperity Gospel rings hollow; much as we’d like to believe it. Hardship and suffering are not eliminated this side of the grave, even for the saintliest among us. The Gospel is not about changing our circumstances, but changing our status, changing our focus, and changing us.

While the world would reduce Christian faith to morality, doctrine, and the Church, the Cross preaches differently: rescue, purchase, forgiveness. This is the Gospel of Christ and the true promise of the Cross.

If Christ is your Lord, then these are your truths today. Live in them deeply, fully, and confidently.

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Comments from Colossians (1:9-10)

“We have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.” (Colossians 1:9-10; New Living Translation)

What a great prayer! “May God give you complete knowledge of His will, and give you spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Paul says if we have this, our lives will be good and growing in every way!

Gods WillBut who can know the will of God? Is this not one of the great conundrums of our faith? We want to know His will. Truly, we do. Should we marry this person, buy that car, go to this school, take that job, go to this church, etc.? But He seems uncomfortably quiet much of the time.

If growth and the good life come from “complete knowledge of His will,” which the Apostle Paul suggests, why does God keep it such a secret?

Perhaps He doesn’t.

We pray for His will and for wisdom, only to (seemingly) hit a wall. Paper does not float from heaven. We hear no audible voice. We don’t receive visions. But we earnestly and sincerely desire His leading.

Have we misunderstood the will of God? Are we looking for the wrong thing in the wrong places? Or are we simply out of touch? For many Christians, this can produce enormous frustration.

But we can have “complete knowledge of His will.” Paul lays it out explicitly (and in part) in his earlier letter to the Thessalonians.

This is God’s will for you, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3)

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Perhaps if we started to live more fully and intentionally into this general and revealed will, we’d grow and experience “every kind of good fruit.

To put it simply, when we pursue “the Thessalonian prescription” (holiness, purity, joy, prayer, and gratitude) every day and in every way, decision-making comes easy.

We live in a time when Christian leaders keep telling us that God has a particular plan for our lives, a plan to prosper us and use us to change the world. We like the sound of it. It puts us front and center in God’s mind and in our own eyes. We like that. A lot. Can we release this yearning for importance?

God’s will is less a mystery than we imagine, and more challenging than we have thought. Yet it yields life!

“May God give you complete knowledge of His will, and give you spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

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Comments from Colossians (1:7-8)

“You learned about the Good News from Epaphras, our beloved co-worker. He is Christ’s faithful servant, and he is helping us on your behalf. He has told us about the love for others that the Holy Spirit has given you.” (Colossians 1:7-8; New Living Translation)

Years ago, Jewish philosopher Eric Fromm (The Art of Loving, 1956) insightfully described different types of love. To paraphrase him loosely:

Eric FrommInfantile love says, “I love you because because I need you.

Adolescent love says, “I love you in order to be loved by you.

Mature love says, “I love you for the sheer joy of loving.

He concluded that many (perhaps most) of us get stuck in adolescent love for a lifetime. Consequently, when someone we love fails to reciprocate that love in meaningful ways, we move on to someone else. Many marriages founder at this point.

Fromm’s most poignant example of mature love is the love of a mother who gives herself unreservedly to her baby, when that small person can offer so little (or nothing) in return. The broken nights as well as the regular cry for warmth, food, and a dry diaper do not seem to diminish this maternal love.

This fairly accurately depicts the development of human love, but there’s good news: Divine love can pour into us and through us, and it changes everything.

Writing to the Christians at Colosse, Paul makes a passing (but vital) comment about “the love for others that the Holy Spirit has given you.”

God grants us the capacity to love beyond human norms. It’s the love that defies logic; an unstoppable love; an unquenchable love. It’s the love that reaches out to our enemies. It’s the love that does not depend on reciprocity. It’s the love of a Savior on the Cross who declares: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Cruciform love.

This “love for others that the Holy Spirit has given you” is neither infantile nor adolescent. It is maternal love on a grand scale. It does not arise from sheer will-power or effort on our part. It flows from a life in step with Christ.

How do we experience and express this kind of love? Only as we abide in Christ and walk by the Spirit. When we are out of step with Jesus, we gradually get out of step with everyone around us.

In our humanity we seem to fall in love and out of love all the time; in our marriages, families, and friendships. Fromm argued that true love is not something we fall into but a decision we make. He was partly right. But the choice is not just for love; it’s for Christ.

Need to restore or rekindle love for someone today? Let’s begin with a life more yielded to Jesus.

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Comments from Colossians (1:6)

“This Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.” (Colossians 1:6, New Living Translation).

Nothing changes until grace grips us. Herein lies one of the conundrums of Christianity.

Grace (2)On the one hand, Christian orthodoxy proposes and defends a certain set of beliefs about humanity, God, Christ, Holy Spirit, Church, and eternity. For two thousand years we have clarified and called people to a particular way of viewing the world and the cosmos. We have often set out to convince people that God exists, Jesus died for our sins, and the Bible is the “handbook for living.” If we can get people to pray a prayer accepting Christ, and agree on these fundamentals, we’ve more or less done our job.

On the other hand, this collection of convictions and code of conduct, seems strangely powerless in the lives of so many people. They may develop a few new habits and commitments (attend church periodically and give occasionally), but they continue to struggle with self-worth, destructive habits, addictions, and brokenness. How does deep, personal, lasting change happen?

Writing to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul says that the Gospel (Good News) is changing lives everywhere, bearing fruit all over the world. I’m sure he’d say the same thing today. But then he gives a clue to what fuels this powerful Gospel; as people hear and understand the truth of God’s wonderful grace.

Grace is the power — the secret sauce — of the Gospel, and it comes in various shapes and sizes.

Common grace is the food on our tables, the clothes in our closets, etc. It comes to people, regardless of faith. God makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust.

Saving grace is the glorious work of Christ to redeem us, to make us the children and people of God, and give us hope for eternity.

Transforming grace is the deep, inner work of the Holy Spirit within us to make us more like Christ; to push out the darkness and flood our lives with Light.

To live and stand in this grace (Romans 5:2) is to become people marked by gratitude, hope, and change. Legalism cannot do this and creeds don’t do this. Grace does. It releases us from bondage. It renews relationships. It changes our perspective. It heals our wounds. It invites us into the purpose and plan of God.

Nothing changes until grace grips us, and when grace grips a life and a community, nothing can stop it. Lives change; the world changes.

Have you been gripped?

“May we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)

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