|Series Theme: Meditations in Colossians 1|
CONTENTS OF CHAPTER 1 STUDIES
CHAPTER 1: Part 1: Introduction & Greeting
CHAPTER 1: Part 2: Stirred to Pray
CHAPTER 1: Part 2: A Vision of Purpose
CHAPTER 1: Part 4: The Wonder of Jesus
CHAPTER 1: Part 5: Our Salvation
CHAPTER 1: Part 6: Paul's Ministry
CHAPTER 1: Part 1: Introduction & Greeting (v.1,2)
Having come to the end of chapter 1 and taken 46 studies to do it, I need to say that I have found these studies of this chapter some of the most rewarding that I have ever done since I starting writing these meditations. I hope you get as much out of reading them as I have in writing them.
Meditations in Colossians: 1: By the Will of God
Col 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God
Well over 50% of Paul's letters start with this sort of greeting, acknowledging who he Paul is, someone called “by the will of God.” Because of these similarities, when you come to write about these different letters it is difficult to write originally, but perhaps it is a wider challenge to all of us not to take for granted the things we read regularly in Scripture or the things that occur more than a few times..
We call these writings ‘meditations' but they are often more ‘studies'. So often I try to meditate rather than study but as I progress I find I need to check out verses one against another and it turns more into a study. As we start this new series in this letter from Paul to the church in Colosse I have a feeling we may gravitate between study and meditation. Sometimes I go for ‘big sweep' meditations taking in a verse or a paragraph at a time. Here I feel we will slowly meander through this letter picking up and studying or meditating upon a word here and a word there.
How often we stumble across this phrase, ‘the will of God'. How often in Bible Study groups I have heard the ponderings: does it mean what God would like to happen or does it mean what God makes to happen? Can we thwart the will of God? Did Paul have any choice in becoming an apostle? Do I have any choice in becoming whatever I am in the Church?
The first thing that strikes me on this occasion is that the phrase, ‘the will of God' seems to convey a strong sense of foundation to life. Paul, for instance, wasn't a shopkeeper or, perhaps to be more Bible-specific, a full-time tentmaker, and he wasn't these things because somehow God wanted it like that and it would appear God engineered things at least to bring that about. We know much about Paul but there is also much that we don't know about him which leaves us speculating about parts of his life
He was a Jew, a Roman citizen, a Pharisee, well educated. How much say did God have in all those things? Well, to Jeremiah He said, “ Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." (Jer 1:5) In other words, even before he was conceived and certainly before he was born, Jeremiah was marked out to be a prophet. Paul himself wrote, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight,” (Eph 1:4) and theologians argue whether that means that God simply ‘knew' what we would eventually do and become, or that He made us do and become. Indeed, in that same letter Paul wrote, “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) There, at least, is a strong sense of God knowing and God going ahead of our lives, plotting them out for us to make them the best that they can be.
So God knows, God sees and God knows what could be the very best for us. So will He force that on me? It appears not, it appears that He wants my cooperation, for He has given me this thing called free-will, the ability to choose. The classic quote here has got to come from Joshua's challenge to his people: “if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." (Josh 24:15) We can choose, it appears, whether to follow God or follows myths. Ultimately it is down to us.
But then we find at least one instance of God giving a prophet direction and when that prophet turns round and runs in the opposite direction, God sends some severe circumstances to bring him to himself. That prophet of course was Jonah. And then you examine God's encounter with Moses at the burning bush (Ex 3 & 4) and you find the Lord laying out His plans for Moses and not taking ‘No!' for an answer!
Paul's case had been a pretty severe and dramatic calling, being blinded by God on the road to Damascus and it was then only when he was utterly helpless that the Lord sent little Ananias who was told, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel . I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." (Acts 9:15,16) Did Saul who became Paul have any choice? Oh yes, but perhaps it was more a case that God chose a man whose heart was for him already (although misguided) and who just needed turning in the right direction.
I wonder if that is how it is with us? The Lord sees and knows our potential; He knows our heart, our inclination and He calls us and points us in the right direction by His Holy Spirit when we surrender to Him, a direction that He knows will be the very best for us, the individual, and a direction that will be most fruitful and bring most blessing to us and to His people. But clearly we can back-pedal for some do. Clearly some can fall along the way after having had the most amazingly powerful and effective ministries. Would God make that happen? No, that would fly in the face of His love and goodness, but it does happen for the landscape is littered with casualties.
How fragile this ‘will of God' appears to be. We can receive it or we can refuse it, it appears. Is it God's will that people refuse Him and refuse to receive all His goodness for them so that He makes people be unbelievers? Peter had thoughts on that: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9) But not everyone does come to repentance so there is surely free will and free will does mean real, genuine ability to choose contrary to God's wishes. No, God clearly has wishes and knows what is best. That is His will. And then He offers that to us and we are allowed to choose. And that is His will – He allows and sometimes grieves.
But if this talk of being in God's will, living out my life and exercising the ministry He has given me, brings a sense of stability and security, it also brings a sense of challenge and responsibility. Comfortable and uncomfortable, this talk of ‘God's will'.
Meditations in Colossians: 2: We are holy?
Col 1:2 To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse:
How often, I wonder, do we pass over words in the Bible and accept that we really don't know what they mean? The word ‘holy' comes up over 580 times in the Bible but what does it mean and what are its implications? Paul writes to holy people at Colosse, so why are they holy? What does that mean? We're going to have to do a study here rather than just ponder on the word.
Essentially holy means to be utterly different . But how? The first (and only) reference to the word ‘holy' in Genesis is, “ God blessed the seventh day and made it holy , because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Gen 2:3) i.e. he made it special and different which in that case meant a day of rest, a day without work.
But then we find in Exodus it is used over 30 times, the first one being at the place of the burning bush where the Lord tells Moses, “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." (Ex 3:5) That is interesting because what we know of that was that God's presence was being manifest there so He could talk to Moses, and something strange was happening – a bush was burning without being destroyed. The presence of God seemed to make that place holy and because of His presence almost anything could happen!
Later at Sinai, the Lord said to Moses, “Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex 19:5,6) Again the implication is at the least, a different and special people, but it is only when we get into Leviticus that we find, “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy , because I am holy ,” (Lev 11:44) and we realise that holiness is a description of God and wherever He manifests Himself in our midst, that place is also holy. This is repeated in Lev 19:2 and then a little later on is expanded: “Consecrate yourselves and be holy , because I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the LORD, who makes you holy .” (Lev 20:7,8) and if we hadn't got the message, “You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy , and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” (Lev 20:26) and then, “Consider them holy , because I the LORD am holy --I who make you holy .” (Lev 21:8) This idea of making people, places or things holy is conveyed a number of times more in Leviticus especially.
But is not only the Lord Himself who conveys holiness, it is also His angelic representatives: “The commander of the LORD's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ." And Joshua did so.” (Josh 5:15) Later in the incident of the ark being returned from the Philistines, we find, “the men of Beth Shemesh asked, "Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?” (1 Sam 6:20) Now if it hadn't come through very clearly before in the verses we looked at, at least, the sense comes through now that because He is holy, there is an ethical or moral dimension added that implies He is perfect morally and anyone who gets close to Him to should be the same, complying utterly with His Law or His will, His design for mankind.
Yet when we start looking at the character or nature of God we find that His ‘utterly different-ness' is more than just moral perfection because Jesus taught, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Mt 5:48) and the word ‘perfect' means complete or whole. God is complete and whole and lacks nothing . He is also love and He is also good (those are also attributes spoken of Him in the Scriptures). This is brought into New Testament teaching by the apostle Peter, “just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy .” (1 Pet 1:15)
Now let's ponder on all this because of course we need also to remember that we are now those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It is His presence within us that makes us utterly different and we find that we are being changed by Him into His likeness (2 Cor 3:18). Thus He seeks to work His wholeness into our lives, His love, His goodness, His ethical perfection. Put like this there is no room for dodgy dealings, bad language, questionable relationships or whatever else the rest of the world might be into.
But even as we noted with the burning bush incident, where the Lord's presence is (and He is within us), then anything is possible! Do we limit Him I wonder by our unbelief, by our not realizing or taking hold of these things? I AM holy. He DOES live within me. He IS changing me into His likeness. Anything IS possible with Him. These things do not apply just to one or two very special people, the Mother Teresa type of people; this applies to all of us who call ourselves Christian. All the people who formed the church at Colosse were holy. All of your church are holy. If only we will realise it!
Meditations in Colossians: Meditations in Colossians: 3: Faithful?
Col 1:2 To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse:
Well, to see the meaning of ‘holy' we had to study some of the many references to it in the Bible but as we move on to consider what it means to be faithful, it might be more fruitful to meditate on it, ponder on and chew it over, rather than do an intellectual study of it.
I am called to be faithful to my wife. That means I am to remain true to her and not let my mind, my thoughts stray to any other woman. To be faithful means to remain true. Faithfulness is a building block of community, of civilisation, of humanity and the inference from the earliest chapters of Genesis is that faithfulness to one person is God's design for us. As we, as a society in the West, have drifted away from God so that particular foundation has been undermined. So often people do not remain faithful for life, just as long as it suits them, just as long as it takes them to get bored with this particular relationship that now calls for effort to be made. In the early days of young love the thought of faithfulness doesn't even arise for we are so taken up with one another that we can think of nothing else. And then the years pass, children arrive to make claims on us, age creeps up on us and we find we are different people and if we are careless and naïve we no longer put the effort in to expressing love like we once did. It is at this point that faithfulness becomes a challenge.
But we can also be faithful to an idea or a doctrine or an ideology. In recent years in the UK we have seen politicians jump ship and change parties. They no longer remain faithful to the party of their roots. It has always been so. Even that great statesman, Winston Churchill changed parties, more than once. Expediency can be a strong motivator to being unfaithful.
But sometimes it is right and proper to cease to be faithful to old ideas, old ways. We grow up and so our ideas and our behaviour changes. Sadly some may be brought up with good moral parents who seek to convey good standards but with the passing of years, insidious little temptations creep in and we compromise and before we know it we have moved right away from those ways we were taught. We have not been faithful to the way of our parents.
For those of us who are now Christians, there came a time when we were challenged about remaining faithful to our old ways. The word of God came to us as the Holy Spirit did His work and convicted us and we came to realise that we were in fact lost, helpless and hopeless. We turned from our life of self indulgence, self motivation, self gratification and self honouring and realised that remaining faithful to that way of life was only going to keep us locked in to a life of anxiety, a life of self-destruction, and so we turned to God, we received Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, and we embarked on an entirely new life empowered by His Holy Spirit, Our calling now is to remain faithful to Him, our Lord and God.
It is, for most of the time, the most natural thing to do, as we rejoice in His love and goodness, but then a snake slithers into our circumstances and whispers, “Did God really say….” and doubts are sown and we start wondering. “It's all right'” he continues, “it will be all right.” And there we are in the challenge to faithfulness. It happens most insidiously sometimes. Life gets busy, we have children and family makes more demands on us, we become successful in ‘our career' and even more demands are put upon us. Church life becomes a nuisance it seems, and the snake whispers, “Well, they don't care about you, and so much of a Sunday morning is a charade, a performance. You would be better off giving time to the family or catching up with that work on your laptop.” It sounds so sensible, so rational. And as the pressures build on us, whereas we once used to have a meaningful ‘quiet time' it became a quick glance and a couple of verses, someone else's comments and a muttered, “Lord please bless this day,” and then even that ceased. It all happened so subtly. “I'm still a Christian,” you exclaim but in reality it is little more than in name. Your call to be faithful to Him seems a long way in the past.
But then we look at the word again – faith-full, full of faith. Faith comes by hearing the word of God. We became people who respond to the word of God. We responded to it and were born again and became part of ‘the faithful'. And then the word kept coming and we kept responding and we were changed and so we carry on changing to become more like him. And then He spoke words or direction and calling to us and as we responded in faith He anointed us and equipped us for service and so we find ourselves called to remain faithful to our calling. Again the challenge will be there from the whisperer to ease up, step back, rest up, but we are called to be faithful, to remain true to our calling and true to Him who called us, empowered and equipped us. We are the faithful of God!
Meditations in Colossians: 4: Grace?
Col 1:2b Grace and peace to you from God our Father
In an earlier study/meditation I commented on how easy it is to pass over words in Scripture without really understanding what they mean, If that was true of ‘holy' it is as true of ‘grace'. When I was a schoolboy I remember chemistry classes and of playing with ‘quicksilver', mercury. (Health and safety probably prohibits it today but we were able to do it back then!) You have little globules of mercury on the bench in front of you and if you try to pick it up it splits into many more smaller globules and it seems to run away from you. Grace it like that. Not long ago I heard a preacher glibly talking about grace and I couldn't stop myself thinking, “From all I know of you and of this church, you really know virtually nothing about grace”. You see, I am sure we are not only to try to get a handle on it's meaning, we're also to let it impact our lives and our churches.
Now I am going to cheat here. I'd like to do a meditation but to talk meaningfully about grace means you really do need to see how it gets used in the Bible. My electronic concordance tells me that it occurs over 130 times in the Bible but only 8 of them are in the Old Testament. It is definitely a New Testament idea. When you start looking at what commentators say about verses including ‘grace' you so often find they hedge the issue and start sounding vague. So here is a selection of the use of the word ‘grace' and after each one is what I suggest the context and wider scripture suggest is how it is used in each case:
Acts 4:33 the apostles continued ….and much grace (power and goodness) was upon them all
Acts 6:8 Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace (goodness) and power
Acts 11:23 When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace (character and expression of God) of God, he was glad
Acts 13:43 Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God (the way of salvation).
Acts 14:3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace (His way of salvation) by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.
Acts 14:26 where they had been committed to the grace (sustaining an protective power) of God for the work they had now completed.
Acts 15:11 We believe it is through the grace (free gift) of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are."
Acts 15:40 Paul … left, commended by the brothers to the grace (safe keeping power) of the Lord.
Acts 18:27 On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace (saving mercy) had believed
Acts 20:24 the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace (free saving mercy).
Acts 20:32 Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace (His ongoing saving mercy), which can build you up
Now you may not agree with every one of those ‘interpretations' and I'm fine with that because although the Greek word ‘charis' generally means ‘loving kindness' its application is varied and open to interpretation. There are some things we can say about it, however, to draw some meaning to be applied to our lives.
First, it is used as an expression of God towards us. The nature of salvation, that it was freely given by God through Jesus, is an expression of His loving kindness. The work of reconciliation through the Cross and the forgiveness God can bring to us, are expressions of His loving kindness.
Second, by its very nature it cannot be earned. We can never do enough to cover the sins of a lifetime; only Jesus can do that through the Cross. He freely offers that work of propitiation, atonement, forgiveness and cleansing to us and all we can do is accept it gratefully.
Third, God's loving kindness is always expressed in a practical way, i.e. it is not just words but something that has practical impact on our lives. The old Sunday School mnemonic, “GRACE = God riches at Christ's expense” is better put, I believe, as “God's resources at Christ's expense” or all of God's power released to us as a result of the Cross, to enable us, change us, and equip us. So look at some of those verses we saw before, inserting this definition:
Acts 4:33 .and much evidence of God's resources was upon them all
Acts 6:8 Now Stephen, a man full of God's God's resources and power
Acts 11:23 When he arrived and saw the evidence of God's resources , he was glad
Acts 13:43 Barnabas, .. and urged them to continue with God's resources
Acts 14:26 where they had been committed to the power of God's resources
It doesn't sit very comfortably with some of them but it does enable us to see that (maybe expanding some of them a little) this ‘grace' thing is all about receiving and living in the wonder of God's provision of us, so when Paul says “ Grace and peace be to you from God the Father,” he is saying, may you know and experience all the wonder of God's salvation released to you as a result of the Cross and administered through the power of the Holy Spirit, His resourcing for you in any and every situation you find yourself in. We are above all else, a resourced people, resourced by God with all of His power released to us as a result of the work of Jesus on the Cross. The life we live today is all about receiving from Him the resources He wants ti impart into our lives. May it be so.
Meditations in Colossians: 5: Peace?
Col 1:2b Grace and peace to you from God our Father
Have you ever wondered why in so many of his letters the apostle Paul in his greeting to his readers seeks grace and peace for them, and now as we are considering it, specifically peace? A simple and short answer may be because peace is a part of the salvation package and as such is something we would want to ensure we all have. And that suggests it is possible that we do not appreciate and appropriate it, and that it is possible to lose it!
Perhaps a useful starting point would be to ponder on the absence of peace in the world. The absence of peace is anxiety, so why are so many people anxious? Let's look at the main reasons and then we'll see how the Gospel meets them. I am going to start out by suggesting that anxiety is a response to a fear and so if we can identify the fear, we will see the cause of the anxiety and then go on to see how the Gospel meets that with peace.
Fear of God: I think that the first fear that the world struggles with is this fear of or about God, which is why there are so many so-called ‘world religions'. An awareness that there is a hidden world, a world more than mere materialism, is prevalent in all cultures. Ours (temporarily at least) has the majority putting their trust in materialist declaring that there is nothing more that that which can be seen or touched, and yet increasingly there is a disillusionment creeping in that recognises that this is not fulfilling, and so we are gradually moving from getting our kicks from things and turning towards getting experiences, but that too will prove a hollow hope.
Yes, there are many who are honest enough to say that they sense that there is something more and they often tend to be superstitious, fending off the ‘who knows what' which is very similar to animists and the like from third world countries. The worry that many have is, if there is a God what will He be like? The enemy seeks to convey a distorted picture from a largely ignorant knowledge of the Old Testament and conveys that He must be a nasty God. Perhaps it is better to remain in ignorance of Him. And then Jesus comes and reveals a God of absolute love and at the heart of the Gospel is this, that “ perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment ,” (1 Jn 4:18) and we find that the perfect love who is God has come to deal with our punishment and suddenly we are presented with the wonderful possibility that we can be adopted children of a loving heavenly Father who just desires good for us. Peace!
Fear of who I am: Observe human beings and you observe people who are constantly striving to make something of themselves or present themselves well to all others. Yes, that is what we do, and then suddenly reality breaks through and we realise we are not the nice people we wish we were. We act with hostility towards others, we denigrate others, we are unkind or uncaring. We eat to much and wish we were thin. We smoke and justify why we can't give up. We drink too much and deny we have a problem. That's life in the human race and we could say so much, much more. We snap at loved ones and wish we could control our temper, and so it goes on. We buy self-help books or go on personal improvement courses but ultimately nothing seems to help. And then we are presented with the Gospel and with it comes forgiveness through the Cross and empowering by the Holy Spirit and we are ‘born again' and we are new people; and suddenly everything is different. “ since we have been justified through faith, we A have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 5:1) Peace!
Fear of my guilt being found out (about yesterday). We all of us have a past and many of us have things we would rather forget and things we dread might come to light and show us up in bad light. We were violent, we had an abortion, we stole something, we took drugs, we took a bribe to look the other way, so many things that can act as something nasty in a dark cupboard in the recesses of our memory. And then Jesus saves us and he not only deals with our present sins but all the sins of yesterday. Yes, we were wrong, yes we are sorry and yes, only he can wash us clean of the past. Today is another day, a new day and we are a new person: “ if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) That old sinner, that old guilty person has gone. They have died and are dead and buried. This person that is you today is a completely new person, cleansed, forgiven and given a new life and a new hope. Peace!
Fear of not coping (in today): But then we have anxiety about today, how I can cope, how I can cope with people, how I can cope with difficult circumstances, how I can cope with the pressures of life, how I can make the money go round, how I can cope with failing health, how I can cope …. with it all! And then I meet Jesus and I am told that I am “ God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do,” (Eph 2:10) and I realise that I am now living within his plans for me and he has it all mapped out and whatever he puts before me, he will give me the grace to handle (and I now know all about grace!) Suddenly I realise he is in charge and he cares for me, loves me, provides for me- and that includes all of today. Peace!
For of what might happen (tomorrow): And not only does that include today but it also includes whatever might happen tomorrow and I hear the same whisper that the apostle Paul heard, “My grace is sufficient for you,” (2 Cor 12:9) and the same word that came through the Hebrews writer, “ Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you,” (Heb 13:5) and I realise that he will be there tomorrow and his resources will still be there for me tomorrow, and as I browse the words of the New Testament, I find more and more verses that show he will always be there providing for me. Peace!
So there it is. No wonder Paul includes peace in his greetings, as one of the things he wants for us. We need it to handle the world and we handle the world because of what He has done for us and because of what He has said He will do for us. No wonder Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (Jn 14:27) Jesus was at peace knowing he was in his Father's plan, in control of all that went on, and knowing what would be the outcome. And he gives that peace to you and me – knowing that he is in control, he has a plan and we are part of it, he has done everything that needs doing to deal with our Sin, and he has given us his Spirit to empower us every day. Peace! Receive it, enjoy it, hold on to it!
CHAPTER 1: Part 2: Stirred to Pray (v.3-9)
Meditations in Colossians: 6. Thankful
Col 1:3 We always thank God , the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you
There are some things that sound very obvious when you read them until you stop and pause and reflect on just what is being said and then ask is it the norm as we know it? I find this with Paul's comment about always thanking God whenever he prayed for these Colossian believers. It sounds such a simple thing and yet I wonder about it when I think about the church in general.
Note three things before we stray into wider pastures. Fist he doesn't say he always prays for them here. He does later. He did say that to the Thessalonians but not to all the others. With a heart and a ‘parish' as big as Paul's it is realistic to accept that he couldn't pray for every church all the time, but just as the Spirit put them on his heart or when he especially had them in mind when he had either recently visited, wanted to visit or simply wanted to write. Second, note that it is when he prays for them as prompted by the Spirit (we assume) that thanks is a key part of his prayers for them. Third, we will see when we read on, that he has specific reasons for giving thanks and we'll consider them separately later on as we progress through this chapter.
Having said those things let's ponder on this idea of thanking God for others rather more widely. If we are honest, a) how much do we pray for other Christians and b) how often do we give thanks for them? I have sat in prayer meetings for many years and it is fairly rare for churches to genuinely pray for each other. Yes, there are churches that pray their way around the area, praying for neighbouring churches but (and I am trying to be honest here) I wonder how real are those prayers? Even more how real is it to suggest that we give thanks for one another? I believe the answers to these questions is, still trying to be honest, little prayer for others and even less giving thanks for them. Now there are simple and obvious (when you think about it) reasons for this and it is not being unkind, it is just stating obvious facts about modern life.
Fact number one is that in any area (and I am talking about the UK here, but it is often true of the USA as well and maybe other Westernised nations also) there are a lot of churches. In the small ‘town' where I live there are seven churches. In a seven mile radius I would guess at least fifty churches. In Paul's day there was THE church at Ephesus , THE church in Galatia and so on. The more congregations there are the less likely we are to pray for one another.
Fact number two is that you only give thanks for someone meaningfully when you know them. Paul had been to the places to which he wrote (or mostly) and, according to the accounts, mostly had spent some meaningful time with each of them and so would know the people and be able to put faces to them when he thought about them.
Fact number three is that you would give thanks for them when you knew what they were doing, how they were getting on and, especially, how they were a) growing and b) coping with the pressures of persecution and general opposition against them. These churches that Paul related to were new churches and therefore survival and growth were real issues. The day in which they came into being also had many competitors (pagan religions) and oppressors (from Judaism and from Roman emperors). The life of churches of that day was a crucial issue and of importance so that it was good to know how others were growing and coping. When you heard how they were doing, that was a cause to be thankful.
Fact number four is that you give thanks when you have meaningful relationships with other churches, especially when it was born out of your apostolic ministry. According to Paul's letters, there was a lot of coming and going among the churches from Paul and his apostolic team bringing input and encouragement. Although there is some input from ‘visitors' or ‘visiting speakers' few churches today have regular apostolic or prophetic ministry input and indeed I suspect many ‘church leaders' would feel threatened if such ministry came in and many churches ruffled at the strong discipleship encouragement that such ministries bring.
Thus we see that Paul's declaration about thanking God for when he prayed for these churches was founded on a) a limited number of specifically identifiable location churches, b) places where he had been to and so knew the people, c) churches that were in early days of growth and also suffered opposition and d) churches founded out of his personal ministry. These are the motivating factors behind Paul's prayer and specifically praying with thanks.
Perhaps the other almost too obvious to comment upon but vitally important fact is that there were things to give thanks for. Churches were growing, churches were standing in the face of opposition and there were good reasons to give thanks for them. How often today when we hear of what goes on elsewhere do we hear of strife or difficulty, upset and dissension. How rarely do we hear of churches that are abounding and expanding with new birth (instead of transferences). Perhaps today we should be pleading with God for all our churches, for there appear more grounds for that than for thankfulness. But perhaps that is overstating it. We can give thanks that brothers and sisters ARE there even if they are struggling.
Meditations in Colossians: 7. Visible Faith
Col 1:3,4 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus
I find every time I am examining one of these things the apostle Paul says, I am lining it up alongside the modern church and churches that I know. Paul had reason to thank God for these Colossians because he had heard of their faith. Now if someone said of you or of your church, “I have heard of your faith,” what could we take that to mean? They clearly have in their mind's eye things about you and about your church that are obviously visible. What sort of things might they be?
Well before we look at specifics, we need to remind ourselves what the Bible, and specifically the New Testament, says about faith. Giving a general description of faith, the writer to the Hebrews explained, “ faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11;1) That is the nature of faith – a way of seeing. He then goes on to show it is all about relating to the Lord. Faith is a relational thing.
The apostle Paul wrote, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ,” (Rom 10:17) i.e. faith comes as a response to hearing from God. Every act of faith is a response to what God has said. Faith is thus simply a response to what God says to you. So when we speak of a person who ‘has faith' we simply mean they are someone who has heard God and responds to Him. The response may be in the mind (Abram believed God and was justified - Gen 25:6) but what starts in the mind is turned into action (Jas 2:17) Thus when Paul says he has heard of the faith of the Colossians he will have in mind things he has heard about them, things they have done, so let's consider some of the things we may expect to ‘see' in believers.
1. Change of Life. When someone is ‘born again' they have been convicted by God's Spirit, have surrendered to God declaring their belief in Jesus' death for them, and have received His Holy Spirit and a new life. They are changed, they are different: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) When a person is born again we may expect to see a change in life. For each of us there will be different things that stand out. For some the positives will stand out – they become more compassionate; for others it will be the negatives they will be most aware of. For me the habit of swearing was broken, and lots more other things have changed over the years, but that was a big issue thing for me. And why do these people act like this? Because they heard God and responded to Him.
2. Change of Values. This new person suddenly starts thinking in a completely new way and that involves their moral or ethical values. The apostle Paul described our old life in the first part of Eph 2 and he starts out, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” (Eph 2:1,2) Previously we lived according to the standards of the godless world and at the beck and call of Satan (see also 1 Jn 5:19). He describes what went on in us: “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” (Eph 2:3) The values that we had were utterly self-centred. When we came to Christ that all changed, we become God centred and caring and concerned for others. Instead of inward looking we became upward and outward looking. We found we had become concerned for what God wanted and what God was doing in us and so things like reading the Bible and praying and worshipping became expressions of our life. We became more concerned for His will than what the world encouraged us to do. His values became ours.
3. Change of activity. Meeting with other Christians became a norm and we came to realise that we were the church and being a part of it, God had plans for us, to release gifts and abilities in us, and as we recognized and used them so we found He gave us opportunities to bless and serve others and we found joy in serving others. We looked for and took opportunities to share this new found love with others, we looked for and took opportunities to bless others, and every time we did, it was the Holy Spirit prompting and guiding, leading and equipping us to be a blessing to His world. Every time we did we were hearing God and responding to Him – that was faith.
Now I have written with the assumption that this is how it has been for each and every one of us who call ourselves believers, Christians, but it is possible you have looked at these three paragraphs above and questioned whether that has been your experience, that faith has not been a visible element of your life, that the likes of Paul would not be able to look at you and ‘see' faith. It has not been visible because it has not been there. To conclude may I give three quick reasons why that may be your case.
i) Never born again. Very simply you may never have come to the place of crisis where you surrendered your life to God and called out for the salvation that only the work of Jesus on the Cross can bring to you – forgiveness of your sins, cleansing and adoption as a child of God. But if this is what you want, why not do that today – come to Him in surrender, declaring your belief in Jesus as your Saviour and Lord and putting your life in his hands for the rest of your days on this earth. Do it today.
ii) Early days. You may be born again but you are only a young believer. That's OK, it is a learning process and we will continue to learn every day this side of heaven. Simply ask Him to take you on deeper in the knowledge of His love for you and His plans and purposes for you and be open to receive all He has for you.
iii) Slipped away. You might have found yourself reading this page and realised that that was how it used to be but for a variety of reasons you have stopped listening to and responding to God and life has gone cold and stale. It's not too late to change that. It requires confession, acknowledgement of failure and a desire to start again. You know it is that simple but, yes, it is hard to make that fresh commitment, but it is worth making. Why do you think you were reading this today? This is Him calling you back. Heed His call.
So there we have it, the possibility of being people of faith, people with visible faith. Don't let the enemy suggest this is for spiritual super-heroes; this is actually the normal Christian life as the Lord has spelled it out in the New Testament. Accept nothing less!
Meditations in Colossians: 8. Visible Love
Col 1:3,4 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints
We went to some lengths in the previous meditation to point out that the faith of the Colossians was visible; it wasn't just words, it was seen in action. Now Paul continues the verse to include, “the love you have for all the saints.” You don't say of someone, ‘we have heard of the love you have for people' if that love isn't clearly visible, that it is seen in practical ways, otherwise you wouldn't be able to say that.
Now before we move on to consider how this love is seen, we need, I believe, to pick up on two things: a) what love means and b) what the New Testament teaching is about it in our lives. You may think this unnecessary but it is to easy to take some of these things for granted.
First of all, what ‘love' means. Two definitions I have used elsewhere are first of all the dictionary definition: “warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for someone or something.” When it comes to God we may add to that, “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards others.” Look at those two definitions carefully and take them in. ‘Love' has a meaning.
Then comes the basic teaching of the New Testament in Jesus words, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' ….. and …`Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Mt 22:37-39) Love is at the heart of godliness. But then Jesus taught his followers, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (Jn 13:34) That was sacrificial love and a love that accepts others as they are and seeks their blessing at all times. (For a wider study on the instructions to love in the New Testament, look up the following: Jn 15:12,17, Rom 13:8, 1 Thess 3:12, 4:9 , Heb 13:1, 1 Pet 1:2, 4:8, 1 Jn 3:11,23, 4:7,11,12, 2 Jn 1:5)
So there we have the basic teaching, what love means and how we are to have it as the foundation in our lives. We are what we are because God has loved us and as a response to that we love others. But now here comes the crunch: this love is not merely words, it is practical actions, actions that can be seen and spoken about so Paul could say, “we have heard ….of the love you have for all the saints..”
Now the Greek word for God's love for us is so often the same word used as the love we are to have for one another so our second definition above can be used for the love we are to have for one another: “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards others.” Because many Christians have not thought down this path, I suspect that, if we are honest, this is not the quality of relationship that we find in most churches between all the members.
Selfless means we put others first. Sacrificial means we give up claims to our own wellbeing (and leave it in God's hands). Unrestricted means that with the enabling of the indwelling Holy Spirit there will be no limit to how we love one another. Good will means we are looking out for one another, seeking the best for one another, caring for one another, encouraging one another. If we look up the words ‘one another' or ‘each other' in the New Testament we will see a whole variety of ways that this is to be worked out practically: honouring one another (Rom 12:10), living in harmony (Rom 12:16), accepting one another (Rom 15:7), instructing one another (Rom 15:14), agreeing with one another (1 Cor 1:10), serving one another (Gal 5:13), being patient with one another (Eph 4:2), bearing with one another (Col 3:13), being kind and compassionate with one another (Eph 4:32), being forgiving of one another (Eph 4:32), submitting to one another (Eph 5:21), encouraging one another (1 Thess 5:18), spurring one another on (Heb 10:24), offering hospitality to one another (1 Pet 4:9), fellowshipping with one another (1 Jn 1:7), being kind to one another (1 Thes 5:15), and so on. All of these are very practical ways that we show love to one another. The comment was made of the early Christians, “See how they love one another.” May that we a comment heard again today.
Now we may confuse all this with having nice feelings towards other people but in any reasonable sized church it is not possible to have ‘nice feelings' about everyone; it is difficult to have such feelings about people you do not know. This is the value of house groups or home groups that tend to be much smaller where you can have the opportunity to get to know each person in the group. However in a larger church the call is still to love all the saints which means whenever you encounter another believer express love towards them. This means paying attention to them, showing interest in them, being there for them and, as the opportunity arises serve and minister to them. It means being openhearted to them, whoever they are. When we have churches like this we will be part way there to having people flock there to find this alternative community expressing something that is so rarely found in reality in the rest of the world. This is Jesus' design for his church; let's conform to that design.
Meditations in Colossians: 9. Hope
Col 1:4,5 we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints-- the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven
What is strange about these two verses, and which we often miss, is that Paul says that faith and love spring from the hope that is stored up for us in heaven. In other words, hope comes first and then faith and love follow. As we read on we will see that this hope comes with the Gospel and as we receive it, it releases faith and love in us.
Let's try and envisage how it works. There we were, before we came to hear about Christ and, as we noted in an earlier meditation we were filed with fears – fears about God, fears about who we were or weren't, fears about yesterday's guilt, fears about coping today and fears about what might happen tomorrow. At one level all those fears were rolled together into one ball. We feared we would have to face God one day, and we feared He would hold us answerable for all the things we got wrong yesterday, today and tomorrow, we feared He would condemn us and write us off as a bunch of sinners worthy only to be consigned to hell.
But then someone brought us the Gospel. We heard that Jesus had come to die in our place so we wouldn't have to go to hell, that he had taken the punishment for our sins of yesterday, today and tomorrow and he offered us forgiveness, cleansing and an opportunity to be declared adopted sons of God empowered by God's own Holy Spirit, and because these things were all present-today-on-earth things suddenly the future after death also changed. Yes, we would still have to face God but instead of being condemned we will be accepted, we were told, because Jesus had done everything that needs to be done to pay for our sins and, anyway, we would enter God's presence as His children, gladly welcomed into heaven. This was the Gospel – that the present has been dealt with so that there can be an eternal future free of fear and filled with blessing. The future is something to be welcomed, not feared. It is a future in heaven where there will be a glorious reality that makes anything we experience now look like it was in the shade.
That is what is the hope in the Gospel. Hope is the assurance of the future, something not yet received but something guaranteed to happen. When we were presented with this Gospel and we surrendered our lives to God on the basis of it, something amazing happened: we started thinking differently, we started ‘hearing' God and responding to what we were hearing – this was faith. And as we entered into this new life, a life empowered by His indwelling Holy Spirit. We also found His character coming out in us – love. We found we thought about God differently and we found we felt about people differently. It was Him working from within us and it was all released in us when we responded to the hope presented to us and we were born again by His working in us. Faith and love flowed from this hope.
Can we emphasise something we said above: hope is the assurance of the future. In everyday life we say things like, “I hope the weather will be nice for the picnic today,” or “I hope to be a surgeon when I grow up,” or “I hope Uncle Jack will leave me something in his will.” Each of these are an expression of our desire. I would like it to be sunny, I would like to become a surgeon, I would like to inherit something. They are things I want, things I would like, things I hope might come about. But of course we have no say, or perhaps little say, in bringing them about. I can't control the weather, I may not be bright enough to become a doctor let alone a surgeon, and Uncle Jack may have set his heart on giving everything to a local cat's home! But when it comes to our eternal future we are talking about something that is guaranteed – because God has said it.
How can we be sure that is what He will give us eventually? Because we can trust His word because everything He has done so far shouts at us, “This is a God who is love, who is good, who never lies, and who always has our good in mind.” We look at the first coming of Jesus and we see God's love and goodness manifested. We observe the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and we see power unleashed – on our behalf! We find His Holy Spirit working from within us, guiding us, leading us, blessing us, equipping and generally empowering us and it is all good. It is all as He has promised in His word. As we read about our eternal destiny His Spirit within us witnesses to this truth and we know it is true, we know this is how it will be. We have only been told the equivalent of the tip of an iceberg about this eternal future and so we are left wondering how wonderful it will be and from this standpoint, anything we see about that eternal future is as clear as looking through smoked glass or a poor quality mirror (1 Cor 13:12). Nevertheless He witnesses within us – it WILL be! That is our hope.
On a lighter note. Writers such as C.S.Lewis have speculated on the wonder of this eternal future, about what it will be like, about what we will be like. Again and again, I am sure we will fall short in our dreams of what it will be like. One day my wife and I were at an Air Show and watched in awe as an F111 fighter came as slow as it could over us with incredible power and noise. “Wow,” my wife went, “when I get to heaven I'm going to fly one of those.” I couldn't help the riposte, “Oh come on, when I get to heaven I'm going to fly like one of them!” We may both be wrong; it will probably be infinitely more glorious than anything our finite minds can comprehend.
And one more serious note with which to conclude: if this is truly what we believe, why do we try to hold on to aged loved ones who are tottering on the brink of death, why do we deny them entering into this wonder? The answer has got to be a selfish reason. Natural, but selfish. The hope we have is glorious, infinitely more glorious than anything we can presently experience or comprehend, so don't place too much value on the temporary, material things of today, and especially don't ever let the enemy make you think they are so important that you end up putting your eternal destiny in jeopardy.
Meditations in Colossians: 10. The Word of Truth
Col 1:4-6 we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints-- the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth , the gospel that has come to you.
We are familiar with understanding the word ‘Gospel' to mean Good News but here Paul also calls it “the word of truth” and it is worth pondering on the meaning of that. In prophetic circles we speak of someone receiving “a word”. We don't mean that they have received a single word but that they have received a collection of words – from a sentence to a whole collection of say ten paragraphs – that form a message from God. But note also that when Paul describes this word he calls it “ the word”. It is not just a word which would make it just one among many but it is a single unique message from God and there is no other message like it. But more than that, it is the message of truth which implies that it is a unique message that somehow encapsulates all that is vital in and for life.
Truth? That which conforms to reality, which is exactly true and does not in any way deviate from that which is. So here, says Paul, we have this unique message from God that conveys or sums up the will of God, the reality of the plans and purposes of God. You want to know if there is a God? Ponder on the Gospel message, Could this just be the planning of human beings or has it got an origin that goes beyond us? What sort of God is there if there is one? Ponder on the Gospel and see a God of infinite compassion, a God of love and mercy who plans from before the beginning of time to redeem mankind that has abused its free will and got into slavery to this thing called Sin, this inescapable propensity of godless self-centredness. You wonder if there is any escape from this self-centred godlessness that seems to lead to unrighteousness and self-destructive thinking and behaviour? After you realise that our state is helpless and thus hopeless, we hear the Gospel and grasp for it like a drowning person.
This word tells the truth? Listen to Paul elsewhere: “ Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved…… For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried , that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:1-4) There was the Gospel encapsulated.
It is all about Christ who the Gospels reveal is the unique Son of God who came to earth from heaven. Here he lived, growing from a baby to an adult and then at about the age of thirty started three years of the most remarkable ministry that the word has ever seen. The apostle Peter described him in his first sermon to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, first in human terms: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) Later he said the same thing to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38).
That is all implied in Paul's summary and is a prerequisite to the fundamentals of why Christ came: “Christ died for our sins.” Peter spelled it out again and again: “This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him,” (Acts 2:23,24 to the Jews at Pentecost) and “Jesus Christ of Nazareth , whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead….. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:10,12 before the religious leaders) and “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem . They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen….. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:39,40,43 to the Gentiles)
But the outworking brought so much more. We have seen the facts (the truth) of what happened – Jesus came, revealed the Father, was crucified and rose from the dead, all, we are told, the means to bring about the forgiveness of our sins. That is what HE did but then there is OUR response and then what HE does as a response to us! Our response, to the conviction by His Holy Spirit, is to surrender to Him, believe in Jesus (an early act of faith) and receive what he then imparts – forgiveness, cleansing, adoption and the impartation of what becomes the indwelling Holy Spirit in our lives. Thus we are ‘born again', made new, and He reveals a plan and purpose for our lives that we live out in our remaining years here on earth. But it doesn't stop there. We have received eternal life and the guarantee of a glorious future with Him in heaven after life on this earth. This is the package that we call the Gospel. This is what has happened to Jesus (it is true!) and this is what has happened to us (it is true!) This is the word of truth. Hallelujah!
Meditations in Colossians: 11. Fruit-Bearing Gospel
Col 1:4-6 the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing , just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it
The things we have been considering in recent meditations have been in respect of, or related to the Gospel. We saw that it conveys hope out of which spring faith and love and that it conveys the truth of God's will expressed through the life and work of His Son, Jesus Christ. Now Paul speaks of the effect of the Gospel , “all over the world.” should not be taken to infer that the Gospel had travelled all over the earth for it is clear from history that it hadn't yet, but is more likely to mean ‘wherever it had gone'. Wherever the Gospel had gone it had had effect.
That the Gospel had spread far and wide, there can be no doubt. The mighty Gospel ingathering of some three thousand souls on the Day of Pentecost would have included those who witnessed the Spirit's outpouring who we are told included, “ Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs.” (Acts 2:9-11) We tend to forget that when many of these returned home they went as believers and took the Gospel with them.
The disciples seem to have forgotten Jesus' words, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem , and in all Judea and Samaria , and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) and initially it was only persecution that drove some away from Jerusalem : “all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria ….. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8:1,4) The accounts then follow Philip in Samaria conducting an amazing signs and wonders ‘crusade' (Acts 8:5,6). Peter and John joined him and the Spirit was poured out on the Samaritans. Eventually the Lord told Philip to leave and go south where he encountered the Ethiopian official who left as a believer (see Acts 8:26-39), who, it is believed, took the gospel back with him to Africa . The church clearly grew and flourished throughout Israel (Acts 9:31).
It is interesting to note that although Philip ended up in Caesarea (see Acts 8:40) the Lord called in an apostle, Peter, to preach the Gospel and pour out His Spirit on the first Gentiles, Cornelius, his family and friends (Acts 10).
The next big move of God appears to have been in the north: “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia , Cyprus and Antioch , telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene , went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also , telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” (Acts 11:19-21) Then we find, “News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem , and they sent Barnabas to Antioch . When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord .” (Acts 11:22-24) Thus the church in Antioch ( Antioch was considered the third major city of the Roman empire after Rome and Alexandria ) was established (see also v.25,26). It was from Antioch that the Lord sent Barnabas and Saul (Paul) on what became Paul's first missionary journey.
The remainder of Acts follows Paul in his travels. Initially they went to Jews only, starting at local synagogues but when they were rejected we find, “Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: " `I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'" When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.” (Acts 13:46-49) This took place in Pisidian Antioch.
Thus we find in the early chapters of Acts the church largely focusing on Jews and Jerusalem until persecution drove the Gospel to Samaria and then to the north. From there the Lord propelled the Gospel out across Asia Minor , largely through the ministry of the apostle Paul, although others were clearly involved doing the same thing.
The Gospel was clearly bearing fruit and growing. The fruit was clearly people responding and turning to Christ and being saved. First Jews and then Samaritans and then Gentiles. The Holy Spirit took men who shared the Gospel and then He did His work of conviction and bringing people to salvation. One of the places where that had had happened was Colosse. (Several hundred years before Paul's day, Colosse had been a leading city in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey).but by Paul's day Colosse was just a second-rate market town, As we will see as we continue, the church there came about by the preaching of Epaphras (v.7) who eventually reported back to Paul in Rome who then wrote the letter we have before us. The church in Colosse was just one example of the Gospel bearing fruit and growing.
Meditations in Colossians: 12. The Truth of Grace
Col 1:6 All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth .
I am finding with this letter to the Colossians that there are words or phrases that I have for so long taken for granted but failed to consider in any depth. For instance in verse 6 above Paul speaks of the Gospel that the Colossians had heard and understood it as “God's grace in all its truth”. Now what does that actually mean? We have considered ‘grace' in the fourth meditation and noted a variety of meanings or applications of it, but there seems a different emphasis here.
Let's cheat, let's use the Amplified Bible: “ ever since the day you first heard and came to know and understand the grace of God in truth. [You came to know the grace or undeserved favour of God in reality, deeply and clearly and thoroughly, becoming accurately and intimately acquainted with it.]”
Our NIV verse above simply speaks of how they “heard it and understood”. The Amplified expands that to, “heard and came to know and understand” Observe the ‘came to know ' which makes us realise that when grace impacts our lives we not only hear it as someone speaks to us but we get involved with it in our minds and come to understand what it means and the implications of it.
Now why am I apparently backtracking in this verse? Because we are talking about truth and for truth to impact us we must first hear it, then absorb it and then come to a place of understanding it. There is something to be thought about, effort given to coming to see what it is really all about, coming to understanding what it means.
One of the things the enemy whispers into the ears of the unwary is, “It's all right, you don't need to worry about these things, they are things for the very religious or college professors, but ordinary believers don't need to worry over these things. The result is a shallow and therefore weak Christianity.
As the years have passed I have come to see more and more that those who stand strong against temptation and against deception are those who have spent time in God's word, not merely reading but seeking for understanding. That's why the psalmist wrote, “ Blessed is the man (whose)… delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”( Psa 1:1,2) He goes on to give a beautiful picture of what this person is like: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” (Psa 1:3)
In the Amplified version, after the expression, “ the grace of God in truth,” it goes on to point out that this means, “You came to know the grace or undeserved favour of God in reality, deeply and clearly and thoroughly, becoming accurately and intimately acquainted with it.” Grace is simply expanded to mean “undeserved favour of God in reality” i.e. in reality everything about our salvation is a pure gift of God and not deserved by us. We did nothing to ‘earn' it.
But look again at how it says we received this grace: “ deeply and clearly and thoroughly , becoming accurately and intimately acquainted with it,” and just in case in all of this you have lost the thread, we are looking at an expansion of “ you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth .” The compilers of the Amplified Bible know, as we said above, for grace to have impact in our lives we need to “deeply and clearly and thoroughly” ponder it, think on it, meditate on it, until we become “ accurately and intimately acquainted with it.” i.e. we correctly understand what it means, and become very closely or very clearly familiar with what it means.
Now yes, you can get by in your Christian life with a shallow understanding of this but you leave yourself vulnerable to deception and temptation. Why? Well when you understand something of the wonder of God's grace it will thrill you, strengthen you, encourage you, build you up and generally bless you. As a result of that you will stand with head held high, rejoicing in God's goodness to you and the enemy will run a mile!
So here's a final question: how much do you know of God's grace – (a) what it means and (b) by experience of it? A help with the first part may be to go back and reread Meditation number 4. You will know you have moved on in the second part when you find yourself rejoicing daily in the wonder of what God has done for you and you rest in His love and simply receive what He has for you, rather than struggling and striving to achieve. The experience of God's grace is all about receiving it from Him, allowing Him to lead you by His Holy Spirit and empower you to change to become more like Jesus, and to equip you to serve without struggle, and all this is made possible by what Jesus did on the Cross – and you cannot add to it – this is God's grace!
Meditations in Colossians: 13. Love in the Spirit
Col 1:7,8 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit .
I noted in the previous meditation that I am finding with this letter to the Colossians that there are words or phrases that I have for so long taken for granted but failed to consider in any depth. In this verse there is this simple little phrase which I am sure we take for granted – “your love in the Spirit ”. Love on it's own, is OK, but ‘love in the Spirit'?
We could go back to look at the original Greek but most of us don't have access to that so I prefer to recommend those studying God's word to check out other versions to see what alternatives others have come up with as a short cut. For example the Message Version, speaking of Epaphras says, “ He's the one who told us how thoroughly love had been worked into your lives by the Spirit .” The Living Bible says, “he is the one who has told us about the great love for others that the Holy Spirit has given you ,” both of which are helpful.
We know about love for we considered it being made visible in Meditation no.8 but the emphasis here seems to be on the work of the Holy Spirit. When I was a young Christian there was little talk about the Holy Spirit (in my part of the Church anyway) until we went through a period of refreshing that was loosely tagged, ‘the charismatic movement'. Various Pentecostal friends were more vocal about Him. We are, I believe, in a very different age where the third person of the Trinity has taken His rightful place in our understanding and you will find many references to Him in my writings.
He is the executive arm of the Trinity, the Spirit of Christ (e.g. Rom 8:9, Gal 4:6, Phil 1:19, 1 Pet 1:11). Most references to Him speak of “the Holy Spirit” or just “the Spirit” and occasionally as “the Spirit of God” (e.g. Rom 8:9, 8:14, 1 Cor 2:11, 2:14, 7:40, 12:3). He is the expression of God as we experience Him in daily life and now indwells us as Christians (1 Cor 3:16, 2 Cor 1:22, 6:16) but we are told by the apostle John that “God IS love” (1 John 4:8,16) and therefore the character of the Holy Spirit is love and we should not be surprised that the apostle Paul lists the first of the ‘fruit of the Spirit' as ‘love' (Gal 5:22)
Thus we may suggest that the more and more we know of and experience the Spirit, the more His love will be expressed in and through us. Even more, the more and more the Spirit is allowed access to our church life, the more and more His love will flow between His people. The Church and, more specifically, your local church, is supposed to be a community of love and unity. If we are open to the Spirit then He will not only be changing us into Jesus' likeness (2 Cor 3:18) but He will be bringing about a unity between us.
In his so-called ‘high priestly prayer' Jesus prayed, “ I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23) His desire that we may be one WAS fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Jewish believers (Acts 2), later on the Samaritans (Acts 8:14-17) and then on the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-46). We ARE united because all believers have the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9).
But note the end of that quote above: “ May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” The working of the Spirit brings God's love and He works to bring a unity among us. He sees us as one even though we may be split into many denominations or streams or groups or even isolated churches. His first recognition is of us as His children, those He has redeemed and in whom now His Spirit dwells.
We have already considered how this love is made visible when we considered verses 4 and 5 and the same thing now occurs here. Epaphras came to Paul and told him about the wonderful things that had been happening in Colosse and how these people became believers and how their faith was almost tangible and how their love also was so obvious and visible yet, as always, Paul wants to glorify God and so he knows that this is not a work of a mere man, as gifted as Epaphras was, but it was a work of God Himself by His Holy Spirit.
Any genuine local church, the gathering of God's believers, is a work of God by His Holy Spirit. We are what we are because of Him, not only because of what He did through Jesus on the Cross, but also what He went on subsequently to do through the ministry of His own Holy Spirit, convicting and convincing us and bringing us through to salvation and then commencing a life-long work of sanctification, and part of that is to work in us this “ love in the Spirit ” or, as the other versions say, love that has been worked into our lives by the Spirit, or love for others that the Holy Spirit has given us.
Meditations in Colossians: 14. Reasoned Prayer
Col 1:9 For this reason , since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you
People pray for a variety of reasons – but they always have reasons. Paul will go on to say what he prays as we read on, but for the moment he looks back. He prays because of the things he has been saying. What were these things?
Well in many ways this is a recap of what we have already considered, but it does make clear Paul's motivation. He started out by saying that he prayed for them (even though he has never been to Colosse) and always gave thanks for them when he prayed (v.3) and the reason he gave thanks for them was because of what he had heard about them – their faith and their love (v.4), which was their response to the hope of their eternal inheritance (v.5) that put purpose into their present lives and gave assurance about their life after death. This had come with the Gospel which had born the fruit of salvation in them, and in many other places in the world where it was preached (v.6). As well as releasing faith and love, this Gospel impacted their lives as they heard and came to understand the wonderful grace of God (v.7). This Gospel had been brought to them by Epaphras (v.7) who returned to Paul and told him of the love that was exhibited in them by the work of the Holy Spirit (v.8)
All of that explains why Paul now says, “ For this reason , since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.” The reason? What Paul had heard from Epaphras about them, the outworking of their having received the Gospel and of the work of the Spirit in them. As soon as Epaphras told Paul about them, Paul's spirit soared in praise (assumed) and thanksgiving (stated). But Paul is also an apostle-pastor and he knows what the people in this church need, and that is what he goes on to speak about and which we will consider in the coming meditations.
We did consider the thankfulness aspect of Paul's praying but it may be worth asking again, are we aware of our fellow believers in our area and do we have a sense of gratefulness and thankfulness for them? It is so easy to become isolated in my little church in our little corner and forget that we are part of the universal church where, although they do it so differently perhaps from us, the believers are nevertheless our brothers and sisters.
I have observed over the years that it is so easy to feel superior about what is happening in our church, where God is blessing, and assume that it is not so elsewhere. Such an attitude is accompanied by a lack of thankfulness for others. The fact that others worship in different ways to us and may be doing more/less to share the Gospel than us, means that sometimes we feel different from ‘them' and so we have negative feelings about other churches who we may either look down on or feel threatened by. Thankfulness is something to be worked on. I sometimes wonder if we ought to shut down our own building once in every two months and send our people to go and experience life with other believers elsewhere in our area. A challenge, a threat or an opportunity for blessing?
But we've noted that we are going to go on and see specific things Paul is going to pray for these people at Colosse and we may summarise it as praying for their blessing. We will go on to see a variety of things he wants for them but they are summarised as things that will build and bless them (and lots more! Exciting verses to come!) But this raises another question: are we passive about how we view our fellow believers? What I mean by that is are we happy to just observe them as they are, and happy that they stay as they are, or do we have a sense of the so many more things God wants to bring into our lives and the lives of those around us in the believing community?
In many churches we are just content to let the preacher bring his little message (which may be informative) each Sunday, but the thought of moving on, growing up, maturing, experiencing new gifting, moving into new areas of service and ministry etc., are alien to us. We are comfortable in our Sunday services, our prayer meeting and maybe even our Bible Study, but the thought of change and growth is both challenging and threatening and, for some of us, uncomfortable. Very often we lack vision of what could be and our faith level is sufficiently low as to be completely non-expectant – nothing is going to change today, tomorrow or next month.
But this non-expectant, passive, almost inert spiritual life is quite different from that found in the New Testament. Indeed it is alien to the things Paul is going to say in the verses that follow and so in order to appreciate them fully, we need to challenge ourselves now, before we get to them, are we willing to have our faith stretched to reach out and appropriate so much more than we might have at the moment? These following verses are absolutely dynamic and the potential if we will open our hearts to the Lord, is for our faith to be expanded greatly and our Christian experience deepened immeasurably. Because Paul is an apostle with a pastoral heart, he knows what is on his heart for these people he has never seen before, simply because they are new Christians and he doesn't want them to stand still. They are part of the army of God, the servants of God called to change the world, but before that can happen, various other things need to come into place first, and it is these things that he now goes in to pray for.
Are we ready?