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Posts Tagged ‘apostle paul’

(a meditation on the book of Colossians, chapter 1:13-14)

The claims contained in this couple of verses are absolutely mind-boggling. If anyone thinks Christianity is just another of many “religious systems,” this passage puts a stake through the heart any such notion:

13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

– You mean, He hasn’t given us a new set of rules to follow? Not the point.

– Jesus isn’t all about high ideals and a great example to follow? He is, but that’s not His main mission. 

– The Christian faith is not just one of many equally valid ways to get to God? Not even remotely.

Here is what this passage teaches, and it’ll rock your world once you begin to see your spiritual reality clearly.

1. We are under the dominion of darkness. Moral, spiritual darkness. That’s right, you and I are not free agents. We are in captivity – blinded and helpless to serve God. It’s called sin – and if the Scriptures are clear about anything, from Genesis to Revelation, it’s the sinful condition of all mankind. Including you. And me. And them. Everyone.

2. God delivers people through Jesus, His beloved Son. Was God content to leave us in darkness? No – He sent His Son to be the Savior, so that any who are willing to escape the clutches of darkness can call out to Him for rescue. Yes – any=you.

3. Salvation involves a very real, supernatural transfer. When Christ lays hold of a sinner who seeks Him, there is an actual regime change. We may not see it with physical eyes, the way we might see someone fly from one country to another on an airliner and seek refugee status, but it is just as real. The kingdom of darkness has lost a subject. The kingdom of God has gained a reborn child. And this is a permanent status change. You’ve been made a citizen of a different realm.

4. Entry into this new kingdom meets our most profound spiritual need. God hates sin, and uncleanness cannot abide in His presence. So He brings about redemption through Jesus Christ – all of our sins are punished in Him (our substitute) on the cross; so that we might experience full and free forgiveness and cleansing. You see, the doorway into God’s kingdom requires a payment for all our sins, a price we can never conjure up ourselves. Redemption is a gift of grace, not a wage we earn.

When we embrace Jesus Christ in the gospel (“good news”), we come under His loving, beneficial rule. He is our Lord, and we would have it no other way, remembering the cruelty and folly of our life under the dominion of darkness.

Militant Islam, on the other hand, would impose the rule of Allah on all, setting up the dominion of a Caliphate on earth. It is the kingdom of an iron fist. You will be transferred by force into the bondage of Shariah law, or be killed for resisting. Bad news, for sure. Jesus, on the other hand, does not move us from one form of darkness to another. His kingdom moves us into the realm of light, and grace, and love. That’s why His message of deliverance is good news.

Finally – and this is implied all over this passage – there is no Christianity without direct, powerful, divine, supernatural, and personal intervention. There are many “shells” of Christian expression that have abandoned the power of the gospel, for a mere outward form of empty words and powerless rituals. Where you find the captives being set free from sin and darkness, there you are seeing the gospel in action.

— Prior posts in this series —

Colossians 1:1-2: Why Listen to this Paul Character?

Colossians 1:3-8: A Harvest of Gospel Fruit

Colossians 1:9-12: Praying for Progress

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(a meditation on the book of Colossians, chapter 1:3-8)

As Paul begins his letter to the believers in Colossae, he does so with a heart of thanksgiving – because stuff is happening in that church! This isn’t some building with a sign “Christian Church” in front of it; sterile on the outside and sleepy on the inside. No, this is a group of people where God is actively at work. Gospel fruit is coming forth. Paul is encouraged because there is abundant evidence of supernatural life:

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

Here we see depicted the true evidence of the hand of God in a gospel work.

There is faith in Jesus Christ. Note: the Scripture no where validates faith in faith. Nor are we to have faith in one of a buffet line of possible deities. Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ (see our previous study on verses 1 and 2), sees that the gospel message has turned former pagans to the one true Savior, Jesus Christ.

There is love for the saints. Throughout the New Testament, one of the hallmarks of a true gospel work in the heart of men and women is holy, sacrificial love. Of all of the fruits of God’s supernatural work, a surpassing love among formerly selfish people shines brightest. This comes about by the indwelling of the Spirit of God – it is more than human affection.

There is hope for the future. Paul here is underscoring the objective hope of a resurrected future for all believers; but that message of God-secured hope also births a subjective sense of hope in the heart of the Christian.

There is increase. The gospel is not some set of dogmas, embraced but without any real effect. No, the work of Jesus Christ bears fruit; growing fruit, increasing fruit; wherever the gospel is embraced. Lives are changed.

There is truth. In our day, people love to separate “spirtuality” from truth (capital T truth). Paul knows of no such thing. The message of the gospel is specific, and a messenger such as Epaphras is considered faithful because he has not only embraced the truth, he is accurately teaching it to others.

We will always be surrounded by a culture that wants to use God-words (grace, love, truth, jesus, spirit, etc.) divorced from God-meaning. Those empty forms of belief or religion will never bear gospel fruit, because they deny gospel realities. No church is even close to perfect, but where the Spirit of Jesus dwells, we’ll see the evidence Paul describes above. The gospel is not mere words – it is power.

Transformation and orthodoxy and fruit-bearing all dwell together in the living church of Jesus Christ.

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(a meditation on the book of Colossians, chapter 1:1,2)

Paul opens his letter to the church at Colossae with some pretty audacious words:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Now, if I write you a letter, I’m just going to say at the end of it:

   -Steve

or, if you’re part of my professional network:

   -Warm regards, Steve Woodruff

or, if we’re in a particularly close relationship:

   -Love, Steve

That’s it. Just me, expressing my thoughts and feelings. No claims of authority or (capital T) Truth.

Not so with Paul in his letters to the churches. He regularly opens with expressions that show that he is no ordinary fellow, penning a few random thoughts. He wants his readers in Colossae to be very conscious, from the opening words of this epistle, that he is not speaking merely from and for himself.

He is an apostle (meaning a “sent one”). He was uniquely chosen and commissioned, along with a handful of others, to bear a message of good news to all the nations. He is not a news reporter, not a blogger, not Billy Bob down the street. He has been set apart as a special herald of a message that did not originate from him.

He is sent by Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself commissioned His apostles to go out and carry His message. Paul is therefore not representing himself, spewing his own opinions of dubious or limited relevance. Paul very self-consciously presents himself to the churches – including us, in this day – as a messenger from Jesus.

He is a message-bearer by the will of God. Paul did not elect himself to this position – in fact, he was a fire-breathing Christian-hater until the risen Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus, and God converted him into a believer and disciple. God chose Paul. God commissioned Paul. God gave him gospel revelation to proclaim to others.

He speaks blessing from God. It was a high and holy position to speak the authoritative blessing of God upon his people, and Paul, without hesitation, pronounces God’s grace and peace to these believers in Christ. Paul stands in the role of a fatherly prophet to the disciples, serving his and their great High Priest by bringing comforting words from God’s heart.

You and me? We can speak God’s truth to one another, but we can never occupy this place of apostolic authority. We can take each other (and even our pets!) out on a rowboat, but we’re not Noah. You can write poetry, but that doesn’t make you David the Psalmist-King.

Here’s the point: it has always been fashionable to try to undermine Paul’s authority (and therefore the authority of the New Testament) by claiming that Paul is only speaking his mind – not proclaiming the mind of God. As we’ll see throughout this letter, Paul gives us no such option – he very deliberately portrays himself in a position of authoritative Truth-telling, because that is the position God put him in.

The prophets of old, of course, did the same – and, sure enough, they were also questioned and rejected by unbelieving skeptics. But that didn’t change the fact that God chose to speak – with authority – through frail human vessels.

What an amazing and frightening privilege this was – to stand as God’s herald and speak His word. I write hundreds of words a day in blogs and e-mails and text messages and updates – but never with a sense that I am an Apostle speaking the fresh revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Paying me much heed, therefore, is quite optional. Paying attention to the revelation of God through Paul is a matter of spiritual life or death. Apostle-words are not optional.

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Scandalous Mercy

I am one small, finite, little-hearted, mortal human being, and my capacity for mercy toward others is really pretty meager.

The God who created all things, and whose language is that of infinitude, is not like that.

Let’s say you embezzled a hundred thousand dollars from an employer – knowingly stealing what wasn’t yours. Or you destroyed the reputation of a co-worker through gossip. Or you regularly lashed out in anger at those around you because of your petty and selfish heart.

Or you commited adultery – repeatedly. Or you curse(d) God on a regular basis. Or you were/are a card-carrying racist. Or you beheaded Christians in Iraq.

The zealous Jewish Pharisee Saul, who became the apostle Paul, was such a Christian persecutor. Yet Jesus Christ reached into his heart and turned him God-ward, forgave his sins, and gave him the commission to carry the gospel to the far reaches of the Gentile nations.

Scandalous mercy, that. How could such a murderous sinner find compassion from an offended and holy God?

Or how could good King David, having experienced all the rich blessings of God, turn around and commit adultery with Bathsheba, and try to cover up his foul deed by having her husband Uriah killed?

“God has taken away your sin,” said the prophet Nathan, once David woke up from his sin-soaked stupor and repented. Oh, David had to live with the consequences of his actions, and he experienced the sting of them for the rest of his days.

But where we might have given up and cried out for only justice, God’s heart swelled with both justice and mercy.

Justice carried out by substitutionary atonement – the death of one to cover the sins of another. The Lamb of God, to take away the sins of the world.

Mercy to receive back the transgressor – even, as the apostle Paul called himself, the chief of sinners. Yes, even your sins and mine. All of them. No matter how foul.

We cannot be severe enough in our assessment of our own scandalous state. We are all sin-infused hypocrites (thank you for the reminder yesterday, Scott Sauls). But God’s mercy is an ocean, not a puddle. Forgiveness even for THAT? Even for ME???

Yes. God is big enough to cover you. He’s got this.

Scandalous mercy for scandalous people. That’s the good news.

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The Goal of Stewardship: Fruitfulness *

What would the world be like if every single person was skilled only at plumbing?

We might have some great piping systems, but nothing else would be working!

Right now, I have some scattered carpentry work that needs to be done around the house. Who do I call for that? A truck driver? A graphic artist? A child?

No – someone who is gifted and skilled in that particular role, who can be fruitful in that type of work.

The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3, ties our fruit-bearing to our fulfilling the various callings and roles that God has given us:

5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted,Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

growing

It is especially important to note – this is Paul’s emphasis in the passage – that whatever our roles are in the planting, watering, harvesting, foundation-laying, building, etc. – it is GOD who gives the increase. He is the one who makes stuff grow.

And what a comfort this is when we’re tempted to take the burden on our own shoulders of “fixing” the world and creating fruit! We are to be faithful in our assigned place. God is faithful to bring forth fruit.

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Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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* This series is part of a 12-week study on the topic: Being Stewards of God <— (outline). We’re now in week 5, considering how fruitfulness is the goal of stewardship. If you’d like to receive these posts in your inbox, just put your email address in the Email Subscription box on the blog’s right sidebar.

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Some people think that the Christian faith is a combo pack of 2 very different things – an ethereal spiritual belief in unseen notions of forgiveness on earth and heaven at last, and a day-to-day striving to be moral, living up to a miserable standard of righteousness in order to earn that final reward.

Not a pretty picture. Definitely not appealing. But, fortunately, quite wrong.

The apostle Paul, in the book of Colossians, portrays faith in Christ as a true “package deal” – when Jesus enters into the heart and soul of a person, He comes not only with a gracious and amazing pardon, but with the strongest of arms to perform what no human will can achieve – straightening out a bent heart.

When Paul says, “you’ve been raised up with Christ…Christ is our life…put on the new self which is being renewed,” he’s talking about a powerful Savior taking up residence in the soul, not just to amplify the demands of a law we’ve always been inclined to break, but to actually make a moral change in the inclination – to unbend the heart. A Christian becomes progressively moral and upright in behavior, not through some pathetic self-effort, but through the indwelling power of God (which is why self-righteousness is an ill-fitting outfit for a humble believer).

And, when Paul writes, “consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry,” he’s not issuing a clarion call to grit your teeth, pretend to hate what you actually still love, and strive to practice what you really don’t desire. He’s talking about the unbending of the heart – a renewal that can only be divine, breaking the chains of immorality and liberating a new heart that IS moral – that IS inclined to love and serve its Master.

I know full well how far short I fall of God’s perfection, His laws and His ways and His example. In action, word, thought, and desire, I am bent beyond all human power to straighten. But the gospel is not merely about a band-aid of “…just forgiven.” It takes divine grace to wipe a filthy slate clean, and it takes divine power to unbend a heart like mine. And yours.

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