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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Comments from Colossians (1:3-5)

“We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News.” (Colossians 1:3-5; New Living Translation)

Many of us share two common shortfalls: We struggle to trust Jesus deeply and we struggle to love each other lavishly. Want to have deeper faith and greater love? According to the Apostle Paul, it’s partly tied to “our confident hope of what God has reserved for us in heaven.

EternityThe Apostle Paul prayed for the Christians in Colosse and was thankful to God for them, though he had not met most of them. Their reputation preceded them. While Paul sits in prison (probably in Rome) writing to them, he can’t help but honor them for their renowned faith and love.

In 1994, Kim and I had just moved to Sydney, Australia where I was to start teaching in a Bible College. For years I had been the pastor of the churches we participated in. But now we’d be regular members of a church community.

We had only been in Sydney a few weeks when Kim made the shocking discovery that she had breast cancer. We knew almost nobody, and had visited the Epping Church of Christ just once, when we received the devastating news from the specialist. Over the next four months or more, we had people from that church drop off meals at our home nearly every night; often people we did not know.

We got to know them well, and love them deeply. But Kim and I joked that when we could finally “church shop” we got so smothered in love by this congregation that we had no chance to “shop around.” Apparently the Christians at Epping had taken a page from the playbook of the believers at Colosse two thousand years ago.

And Paul says that at Colosse this faith and love emerged from a confidence about eternity. They held fast to the promises of eternity that Christ had made. They had utter assurance that they would live forever in the Presence of Jesus and in a place He had prepared for them. They had no fear of death, nor felt compelled to cling tightly to the things of this present world. They were, in a word, free; free to trust and love like never before.

An eternal perspective has transforming power. We trust and love most deeply when we are certain about eternity. When our future is secure, we hold things more lightly and can love more extravagantly here and now. Right now, are your eyes above or below the horizon?

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Comments from Colossians (1:1-2)

“This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy.  We are writing to God’s holy people in the city of Colosse, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. May God our Father give you grace and peace.” (Colossians 1:1-2; New Living Translation)

Who are you, really?

Identity issues are front and center in our day, more than any time in living memory. Some people grapple deeply with their sexual identity (straight, gay, transgender, other). Others have more traditional struggles: Who am I? Does anyone care? Do I matter? What gives me value?

IdentityFor most of us, various elements shape our identity; male/female, husband/wife, father/mother, educated/uneducated, wealthy/poor, worker, homemaker, coach, teacher, volunteer, etc. Each “role” contributes to our identity, and represents another hat that we wear.

As the Apostle Paul opens his letter to the Christians at Colosse, his opening comments relate to identity; his and theirs.

On the one hand, Paul identifies himself as chosen by God to be an apostle (missionary). On the other hand, he identifies the Christians at Colosse as God’s holy people (saints) and faithful brothers and sisters because of Christ. Something quite dramatic had happened to him…and them.

Following Christ is not like taking out membership at the local gym or quilting guild. It makes a profound and fundamental change to everything. Elsewhere, Paul describes this change in dramatic terms: A new creation whereby old things have passed and entirely new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

We are no longer who we once were. Our redemption by Christ means that we have an entirely new vocation (calling) and identity. No longer do the usual categories apply in the same way. We are not primarily Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, citizen or refugee, slave or freeman (Colossians 3:11).

Our new identity transcends everything we have experienced before. It doesn’t eliminate everything else, but it relegates it all to a secondary position.

This may be one of the least understood and most poorly appropriated truths in contemporary Christianity. Our first and chief identity now rests as being the beloved people of God and therefore brothers and sisters to each other. Everything else springs from that starting point.

Some think of Christianity as a religious system. Others view it as nothing more than another government survey category. But Paul defines it in radical new ways. Christianity, first and foremost, re-defines our core identity. We are now the people and family of God. Until we embrace this identity deeply, the usual struggles will continue and we’ll treat each other indifferently.

Who are you, really? Christ alone gives us the clarity that changes everything.

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