There is something wonderful about putting on new clothes, a new shirt or coat or dress or pair of shoes. It makes you FEEL new, at least for a little while. But what we are dealing with in this text is not a temporary feeling, but a new creation from the inside… out!
Paul said in 1 Thessalonians, “this is the will of God, even your sanctification”. Sanctification, you remember, is the ongoing “dirt road” process of “working out” our salvation. It is the process and progress of our salvation between justification and glorification. While we have nothing we can do to add to our justification or glorification, we have much to do with our sanctification.
It is through sanctification that we begin to look like Jesus in reality. Sadly this aspect of our salvation is the most neglected by many. We so lean into the reality that we are saved by grace (and we are) and that our salvation is secure (it is) that we can almost ask the question, “Why go to the effort?” (We do). However we are reminded also of a promise that “He Who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” (Philippians 1:6) We are not made new by our own strength any more than we are saved or glorified or resurrected by our own strength.
In this section, Paul defines for us what sanctification looks like. It is a process of “taking off” or putting to death actions, attitudes, and behaviors that are part of our life before Christ. And then, it has to do with “putting on” those things that are like Christ.
In our testimony to a dying, lost and confused world, we must send a clear message that “if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation; old things have passed away and all things become new.”
In addition to being new, let’s LOOK new as well!
Some Christians designate themselves as the “religious police” whose role is to punish those who get “out of line” in their opinion. Much of legalistic belief today comes not from those things taken from Scripture, but from the opinions and “traditions of man.”
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you…” Paul warns in 2:16. He specifically addresses issues of eating and drinking, religious festivals, New Moon celebrations, or Sabbath observances. Basically, his warning addresses “diet and days.”
This clearly contains an obvious reference to the diet taught in the Old Testament and codified by the Jews as “kosher” foods. While few Protestant believers seek to follow Jewish dietary laws, we have our own “legalistic diets” that we’ve created.
If you are serving your family anything but organic, whole grain, farm-fed, free-range, single-origin foods, you are in the eyes of some, poisoning them. Now I agree there are health benefits to food not polluted by antibiotics and hormone fed. I can even get a little misty-eyed over chickens kept and fattened up in cages in which they can barely move! And I like single-origin coffee that can be traced to the point of growth and knowing the coffee farmer is getting paid well for his or her work.
But while that is true, I have never been judgmental about people who don’t pay the exorbitant costs of organic or farm-raised food. And I have been more than a little miffed over fruits and vegetables that go bad before I even have a chance to eat them, since they contain no preservatives.
So I don’t judge you for eating non-specific sourced foods or drinking coffee from a fast food restaurant. More power to you! Enjoy! But please don’t judge me when I occasionally slip in to a burger joint for a preservative-filled hamburger from a hormone-fattened cow on not-quite whole grain bread. Sometimes, you just need a good French fry!
But I visit the fresh food and farm-to-table stores enough to have encountered those who would very quickly look down on me (judge me) for doing what I just confessed to you. And they will judge you as a parent for not feeding your children the very best and healthiest foods possible.
But RIGHT HERE IN THE BIBLE it clearly states you have Paul’s permission NOT to be judged and to reject their judgmental glances or opinions regarding your dietary choices.
And I’ll try really hard not to judge you either!
“Now I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the church…” (Colossians 1:24)
Last week in our study through the Book of Colossians, we encountered a phrase that has been somewhat controversial in our efforts to interpret it through the years. There is no commonly agreed upon understanding of Paul’s words.
Through the years, the Catholic Church has used this as a springboard for understanding the teaching of purgatory. The doctrine of a “place” where Christians go after death to “complete their sufferings” before being suited for Heaven is one that Protestant scholars and pastors have long rejected.
So if that’s not what Paul was saying, what did he mean by “filling up Christ’s afflictions?” And what does this say about the reasons we suffer?
- It could be a direct reference to the prophecy spoken over Paul at his conversion when Ananias told him that he would suffer many things because of the name of Christ. This was certainly true as we read some of Paul’s more personal sections of testimony and the difficulties he encountered.
- Some believe this is a reference to a teaching championed by the Jews that God would only permit so much persecution and suffering by His chosen people before the end (apocalypse) came. The more suffering, the sooner God would bring judgement to the world. This teaching is spelled out more fully in the apocryphal books (the intertestamental) books that we do not accept as authoritative parts of the Bible.
- It is certainly possible that this is a reference to the fact that our suffering in our bodies has a direct connection to Christ suffering with us. Jesus is seen as connected intimately to His body on earth, so that every slight, every pain suffered, every effort of persecution was felt by Jesus as well. As His people suffer, so Christ suffered.
- It is not a reference to somehow completing something lacking in Christ’s sacrifice and atonement for us. Christ suffered completely, and alone on the cross. We cannot add to the pain inflicted on Jesus on the cross by our sufferings in the present. We are not assisting in the atonement by suffering.
Paul’s use of the word “affliction” is never tied to any reference to Christ’s atoning work at the cross.
- It is absolutely true that the sufferings endured by believers “fill up, complete or round out” the reflection of Jesus in the Christian’s life. Every portrait ever drawn or painted has areas of light and areas of darkness. Both are necessary for a complete picture to be seen. Both sorrow and joy are necessary for the “portrait” of Jesus to be seen in our lives.
Maybe more than any other interpretation #5 seems to make the most sense to me. Our suffering as believers is necessary for the image of Christ to be etched into our lives. Christ is seen fully in our joy and in our tears. We can rejoice in our suffering knowing that, even then, Christ is more fully seen in us and through us as the Body of Christ, the visible representation of Christ, on earth.
And so, with Paul, we can rejoice even in our suffering, knowing that none is in vain; none of wasted, and nothing is random. God always sees to that!
“…that He might have first place in everything.” (Colossians 1:18)
Jesus is to have “first place” or “supremacy” in everything! “Everything” extends the supremacy of Christ far beyond any conceivable scope. He deserves to have first place in everything!
First place in our family
First place in our marriage
First place in our profession
First place in our missions and ministry
First place in our thinking
First place in time
First place in love
First place in conversation
First place in pleasure
First place in eating
First place in play
First place in athletics
First place in our entertainment
First place in art
First place in music
First place in worship
First place in living
First place in dying
First place in His body, the church!
“It’s crazy if you think about it. The God of the universe—the God Who created nitrogen and pine needles and E-minor, loves us with a radical, unconditional, and self-sacrificing love. And what is our response? We go to church, sing a couple of tunes, and try not to cuss.” —Francis Chan
What should our response be? We give Him the supremacy in everything!
SEPTEMBER IS SUICIDE AWARENESS MONTH. THE FOLLOWING POST IS DIRECTED TOWARD THIS PROBLEM AND DEALS DIRECTLY WITH A VERY PAINFUL REALITY. PLEASE BE ADVISED THERE IS STRONG CONTENT INCLUDED.
Without Jesus, LIFE MEANS NOTHING. It is “just a vapor.” A puff of smoke. A cloud that vanishes in the heat of day. And no, this is not an article about “vaping.”
We teach our children that life has no eternal destiny or purpose. We’re not sure why we’re here or where we’re going when life ends. We have literally been made complicit in the death of an untold number of young people by feeding them this lie that is in our culture, our media, our universities and our textbooks.
If Jesus is the “firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15 b) then we have a Creator and we have a destiny and this means we also have a purpose! Without this understanding (which, by the way, is ridiculed in most circles that claim to be populated by the intelligentsia), our life is futile and suicide actually offers an out to a boring, difficult, or hopeless experience.
Do we have anything, as Christians, that offers an alternative to such a despairing view of life? Can we push back against a culture that tells our children that suicide is romantic and even heroic?
If you are a Christian parent still raising your children (they are still under your roof and care), when do you plan to talk to them about why they would not want to end their life by their own hand?
Hopefully your son or daughter doesn’t, but you can rest assured their friends are talking about it. Social media is talking about it. The celebrity culture they follow is immersed in it. And if you do feel the need to talk to them about why it’s important that they do not pursue this option, what do you plan to say?
An answer is in the paragraph below. Try this as a conversation starter:
“Jesus is the One Who made you. You are not a random accident. Jesus has a plan and purpose for your life that’s bigger and better than you could dream. Since Jesus made you, He also owns you. Your life is not your own. It’s HIS property that He has loaned you and one day you will give an account to Him for what you did with it. And what’s more, you are PRECIOUS to Him; so precious in fact that He died on the cross and went to the grave to buy you back so you could be with Him forever!”
Have a serious conversation between yourselves, Mom and Dad. It’s time for us to stand up and defend our children from this demonic onslaught for which the teaching of false philosophies in our culture has paved the way. And then think about having that conversation with your children. If nothing else, your offering the conversation opens the door for them to talk to you if they find themselves deeply troubled and thinking about it.
It is past time for the church to step up and acknowledge the reality that is now part, not only of our culture’s experience, but even of the church. There are those among us who are hurting and who see ending their life as the only way to end their pain. And church people are not immune.
Show them there’s a better way. Show them life is worth living. Show them Jesus. Is. Better.
If you know of someone struggling with thoughts of taking their life, or you are having those thoughts, please use the Suicide Hotline Number below. God loves you. We care about you, and stand available to help and counsel in your distress.
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255
Paul was addressing some very specific issues in the church at Colossae, as he did with all the letters we know he wrote. His theological training was the finest of his day, but his writing normally stayed very connected to the earth.
As far as we know, Paul never set foot in the city of Colossae. (Colossians 2:9). Located some eighty miles inland from the city of Ephesus, Colossae as a city was overshadowed by Laodicea and Hierapolis. This would place the city in the western part of modern day Turkey.
Though it was what we would today refer to as a “small town,” Colossae was located at an important point geographically. A well-traveled trade route went through the city and brought with it travelers and ideas primarily from areas to the East. These ideas imported by those coming from different parts of the world had begun to impact the thinking of believers in Colossae.
As a young church (probably less than five years old), their teaching and preaching about Jesus and the Scriptures was not well developed. The conflicting ideas, religious systems, philosophies of the travelers as well as the presence of a Jewish synagogue began to threaten the spiritual health and vitality of the young believers.
Two men, Epaphras and Philemon, traveled to meet with Paul about the problems they were seeing arise among the Christians in Colossae. Paul sent them back with his response and authority, and with instructions that they were to share with the other churches in the Lycus Valley. The letter to the Colossians came later with Tychicus.
The danger, as those who have been long in the faith or the church world know, is far more insidious when it comes from inside the church. Outside threats have always existed. Even the most immature believers know what to avoid when it comes to threats from those outside the community of faith.
Far more dangerous are teachings that come from inside the church; a little grace mixed with legalism, grace pressed to the limit and beyond toward license and immorality; a belief that Jesus is not enough-that our efforts and work must somehow be added to assure salvation. A little truth mixed with malignant and devastating lies.
We are also victims of attacks from inside the church. High profile pastors and leaders fall prey to the seduction of immorality. Young leaders, given influential platforms but sometimes with little grounding in the faith, draw many after them and then abandon the faith. The foundation begins to be eroded as though by acid from within. Charlatans and phony religious leaders lead multitudes astray with charming and winsome public persona. We buy the packaging but never read the contents!
Today’s church is not the first to confront these problems. They have been a part of the attacks on the church since its earliest days of existence. And the solution was given in God’s Word over two millennia ago:
Jesus. Is. Enough.
Sunday I gave an outline in the message for a way to interpret and understand the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew. The outline is from Life’s Healing Choices that will be used by our Celebrate Recovery ministry when it begins at the Cove in January. The reality is there are eight “bases” we all need to touch as we run through life. Make sure you don’t miss any!
Realize that you are not God.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit….”
Earnestly believe that God exists and that He cares for you.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Consciously choose to commit your life to Christ’s control.
“Blessed are the meek….”
Openly examine and confess your sins and faults.
“Blessed are the pure in heart….”
Voluntarily submit to God-driven change.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”
Evaluate all of your relationships.
“Blessed are the merciful….”
Reflect daily on your relationship with God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
Yield yourself to God to become an instrument of sharing the Good News.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake…”
While this is an outline used to help us in recovery, there is another eight-letter word that we also see at work here. It is the word “disciple.” This is a path to healing… but also a path to discipleship. Where ever we find ourselves, there is something here to help us in drawing near to God!
For more information or to view the message, visit our website at fruitcove.com/sermons
Though we don’t know exactly what it was, the Apostle Paul struggled with what he called his “thorn in the flesh.” It was a persistent, nagging, unrelenting pain. We are never told what it was, so all we can do is speculate.
Whatever it was, he referred to it as “the messenger of Satan sent to buffet me….” While the devil was the source, God’s will for Paul permitted this pain to visit his life, and caused him to cry out to God for it to cease.
But God did not give Paul his request. Instead, He gave Paul an unusual measure of His grace to sustain him. “My grace is sufficient for you…” God said to the great apostle.
Pain is not random in the child of God’s life. Clearly, God had a plan and a reason for this pain to remain with Paul. Paul’s interpretation of it was that it had come to bring him humility.
Some of us today are struggling with a “thorn:” a persistent, painful circumstance in our mind, body, family or circumstance. And the fact that God will not remove it is not an admission that God is weak or our prayers ineffective.
God heard Paul the three times (sometimes I’m confident there were more) that he cried out for mercy. And he received mercy, though not in the way he had asked. Instead of relief, he got strength to endure. Instead of a painless life, he received one that was grace-filled to overflowing.
Instead of the pride that comes with physical wholeness and health, he received humility that made him more like Jesus.
“My strength is made perfect in your weakness…” God told Paul, and He tells us. And with His strength, we can always be content.
Last week, we discussed in this column that the call to care like Jesus involved the sacrifice of our time. You cannot truly love someone to whom you aren’t willing to “give” your time.
But caring like Jesus also means being willing to get our hands “dirty” with the hard work of serving others. Loving like Jesus means, as He did, we must be willing to walk with people in hard places: hospitals, convalescent homes, courtrooms, jail cells, and other places where human need is crying out for attention.
It also means we are willing to walk with… and let me be clear that this means IDENTIFYING with… others in their distress. I remember the first time I sat with a family in a courthouse hallway awaiting a sentencing hearing for their errant son who broke the law and got caught.
In those places, the people waiting outside in the hallway are all lumped into one to the people who walk by. I felt the disgust, the “shame on you,” the judgement, and the disdain of the “nice” people who traveled up and down the courthouse environment. The family I was with was not well dressed (and for one, not well bathed). Their hair was not beautifully coiffed, and their clothing was older and not stylish. And I realized, “They think I’m part of the people … of this family… that I’m sitting with.”
I wasn’t… really. But it was in that moment that I realized, as a person seeking to care like Jesus… that I was identified as if I myself were waiting for a hearing before the judge. And it was uncomfortable. And it was an education.
If we are going to care like Jesus, our hands will not stay clean, nor our clothes spotless. We will find ourselves being identified with people mired in sin, and sometimes that mire splashes onto us.
Squeamish people cannot care like Jesus. We cannot follow One Who became “at all points like as we are, yet without sin” without being identified with the hurting for whom we are caring.
The world will not be won to faith in Christ by people determined to “keep their distance” and never walk with people into the raw pain of their world. We must “keep ourselves unspotted from the world” of course. But that doesn’t mean we keep ourselves apart from a sinful world.
We must bring the presence of Jesus, living within us, into that brokenness. And sometimes that’s hard, and distasteful, and dirty. But if that’s what it means to care like Jesus, then that is what we must do.
I thought about the verse that says, “He was numbered among the transgressors” as I sat in the Jefferson County, Kentucky courthouse that day long ago.
And I knew that it was a price I was willing to pay to follow My Lord.
“Jesus loves me, this I know.” Well, how exactly do we “know” that Jesus loves us? If you are familiar with the Bible and the Christian faith, you will answer, “by what He did.” And you would be correct.
Christian love is about more than “feeling” in love. We are called to love people all the time for whom we have no particularly “loving” feelings. So Christian love may or may not involve the engagement of loving emotion.
Yet, we are also called to love…and care…for people as Jesus did. It must be true of us as well that our feelings must be laid aside in favor of our actions toward others. And if we sit and wait for our feelings to give us direction, we will never get around to the hard work of “doing” love.
One of the most difficult and yet most important ways our love flows out is in the sacrifice of “our time.” We must remind ourselves that, when we came to Christ, everything about us became His property. We willingly signed it over with all the “bad” stuff in our lives. He owns it all. “You are not your own, you have been bought with a price.”
Therefore one of the highest prices we will pay
for Christian discipleship and learning to care like Jesus is the willing sacrifice of time. It takes time to invest in others in discipleship, and it takes time to step into the pain of other people and it takes time to stop and pray with a hurting person. Jesus didn’t just give His life when He came, He gave His time.
And if we are going to learn to care like Jesus, the first sacrifice we will make is the right to claim time as “ours.” Give it to Him. He knows how to make better use of “our” time than we do!