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Philippians Sermon Notes Week 05


Having the Mind of Christ, Part One

(Philippians 2:1-5)

A first grader was sitting with his family at the dinner table when he did the unpardonable:  He sneezed into his hands.  Right after the blessing.  Then he wiped them on his pants, and started to eat his macaroni and cheese.  Mom said, “Uh-uh young man.  You have germs on your hands now and you need to go to the bathroom and wash them.” He pushed away from the table, and stomped off to the bathroom muttering, “Jesus and germs, Jesus and germs.  That’s all I ever hear about around here and I can’t see either one of them!”

Well I hope this finds your home life less stressful than that!  Hopefully you’re seeing moments of joy break through even in the chaos of these days.

Let’s remember that we’re not just talking about ordinary joy here.  Ordinary joy comes to everyone at times if we’ll look for it:  the joy of playing with our kids or grandkids; of enjoying a good meal or watching a beautiful sunset.  These are gifts, and these are good.  But the quality of Christian joy is something more.

We are talking about embracing the joy that Jesus said “I give to you…” in John 15:11.  This is a joy that stays with you, regardless.  It’s the joy that helps you sing songs in the midnight of a prison cell or in your living room or a hospital room in the middle of a coronavirus outbreak.

We know that Paul had that kind of contagious joy.  We want to understand how to have a joy that will not be taken from us…a joy that Jesus had even as He faced the cross and His passion in Jerusalem.

The “hinge point” of this text and THE BIG IDEA of Philippians 2 revolves around verse 5:  “Have this mind in yourself that was also in Christ Jesus…”   If we don’t learn to think like Christ we will never know His joy.  If we want His joy that can’t be taken from us, we must embrace:

Now even as I write this, I am in a conversation with a person online about the frustration of social distancing.   Figuring out how to “embrace” the body in this time is tricky to say the least.  I know many watching would love nothing more than to be on our campus today.

But let’s remember that Paul was not physically with the Philippian church when he wrote this.   He was “socially distanced” in a jail cell hundreds of miles from them.   Let’s remember also that, in many places in the world today, contact between believers is illegal if not impossible due to persecution.

I will never forget the Iranian pastor who asked a group of believers gathered in Turkey for a time of learning, and prayer and encouragement, to please sing loud when we sing.  In Iran, small groups of believers gather in apartments for worship.  They have to whisper their songs, out of concern that their neighbors will hear and report them.  “Sing loud for us.”  Even isolation can’t keep us from worship!

But what Paul gives us in the first two verses are things that make Christian community strong and healthy, even when we can’t be physically with each other.

  • First, he speaks of ENCOURAGEMENT IN CHRIST
  • Next, he talks about COMFORT FROM LOVE
  • Then, PARTICIPATION (fellowship) IN THE SPIRIT.  “If any man…”
  • Followed by AFFECTION AND SYMPATHY (over 100 widows)
  • And finally, WALKING IN HARMONY

You know it’s interesting that all of these drain down to one bucket:  We are to be in unity, in harmony, walking in love.  Jesus said, “By this shall all men know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35). (Or Jim).   These verses tell us what that love looks like.  Joy comes when we embrace the body of Christ.  It is this that “completes our joy.”   

Until we embrace the MIND of Christ, we will not know the JOY of Christ.   Paul locates everything he’s said and is about to say “in Christ.”  If there is any encouragement IN CHRIST…  Christian joy requires a healthy relationship with Christ and with the body.

Christians are called to ACT like Christ.   Acting like Christ means we first begin THINKING like Christ.  If you or someone you know ACTS like the devil it’s because they are THINKING like the devil.   The enemy, by nature, is SELFISH, PROUD, and SELF SEEKING and when those attitudes characterize our lives, we are thinking the wrong way.

The mind of Christ, in other words, bears three fruits or life attitudes

  • Unselfish
  • Humble
  • Sacrificial

Paul refers to the MIND (lit. “Mind set”) three different times in the first five verses of Philippians 2.   There is a connection between how we THINK and what we DO.  If we are “like-minded,” we will have “the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”   Our fellowship as believers with each other and with Christ is rooted in how we think.


Our THINKING precedes our ACTING.  We will act exactly like we think…no more and no less.   I’ve been reading a book lately called The God-Shaped Brain.  What would our brains; our minds look like if they had not been distorted by sin?   How would our thinking, and then our acting and living be different?  How would we think if we thought like God created us to think?   “The mind set on the flesh is death but the mind set on the spirit is life and peace.” (Romans)

Part of what begins the moment we are redeemed is a process the Bible calls “the renewing of our minds.”  Think of it as a sort of rewiring of our brains; of our neural pathway and thought processes.  We all live with loose wiring and misplaced connections because of sin, and because we are born into and grow up in and live in an environment of sin.  Sin actually physically rewires our brains.  (PORN)

The God Who created you and wired up the three trillion plus nerve endings when He “knit you together in your mother’s womb” to begin with knows how to reconnect them properly.  But it doesn’t happen overnight.  It’s a process that we must cooperate with as we read God’s Word and stop believing lies that are hard-wired into us and then allow this process to transform us into thinking and then acting like Jesus.

“Let this mind (set); this attitude be in you which was also in Christ…”  Our attitudes are a reflection of how we think.  In a sense, the way we look at others is like looking at ourselves in a mirror.  These attitudes are characteristics of a God-shaped brain.



If we are selfish, we will be suspicious of others.  If we are of a generous nature, we will be more trusting.  If we are honest with ourselves, we are less likely to anticipate deceit in others.  If we are inclined to be fair, we won’t always feel we’re being cheated.  Looking at others is like looking at ourselves in a mirror.  In other words, if you want to know how you think, ask yourself what you think about when you think about other people.

When you look in that mirror, what do you see?  Do you see the things that reflect the attitude; the mindset of Christ?


Are you humble, or are you constantly seeking to exalt yourself?

Are you unselfish, or are you mainly concerned with what you want no matter what happens to others?

Are you sacrificial, or are you more concerned with losing or protecting your privilege… your possessions… or your life?

Now I can imagine some of you asking, ‘Ok Pastor.  I’m going to throw a flag here.  We’re in a crisis!  I have to take care of me and mine, don’t I?  I mean, on most days I’m a reasonably humble, unselfish, and sacrificial person.  But we are in a state of war right now!  Surely we get a pass on this don’t we?  How do we survive when everyone else is pushing themselves, protecting themselves, and not being sacrificial?


How would Jesus think about this present time we are in?  What would Jesus’ attitude be to others?   Are these attitudes just to be applied on warm spring Sunday mornings, as we gather in Bible study groups, and the birds are singing and the sky is cloudless?

Or is this the mindset most needed in a time like we are facing?

Again, I am challenging us in this study to experience joy.  I don’t want this to be a theoretical exercise.  And I never promised this was easy-peasy.  I want it to work in you right now!

Here is where it starts.  Finding joy…being joyful…means having the mind of Christ as we relate to God and to others.  And relating well to God and others embracing these 3 essential things:

Living Unselfishly :  Consider the interests of others ahead of yours

Allison’s gift…Joy comes as we live putting others interests first

Living Humbly:   Esteem others better than yourself…humility doesn’t mean we think less of ourselves; it means we don’t think of ourselves.

CS Lewis suggested that the first step of humility is admitting that we are proud!   “All of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for `God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’”   For the sake of our country, we had better begin to be humble!

Hold back nothing in your obedience to God

Until you figure out what you’re willing to die for, you’ll never learn what you are meant to live for.  “The Son of man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”  Jesus knew what He was willing to give everything for.


(Hebrews 12:2) “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  In Phil 2 we see Christ’s unselfish attitude, His absolute humility “making Himself nothing;” His sacrificial love.



There once was a town high in the Alps that straddled the banks of a beautiful stream.  The stream was fed by springs that were old as the earth and deep as the sea. The water was clear like crystal. Children laughed and played beside it; swans and geese swam on it. You could see the rocks and the sand and the rainbow trout that swarmed at the bottom of the stream. High in the hills, far beyond anyone’s sight, lived an old man who served as Keeper of the Springs. He had been hired so long ago that now no one could remember a time when he wasn’t’t there. He would travel from one spring to another in the hills, removing branches or fallen leaves or debris that might pollute the water. But his work was unseen. One year the town council decided they had better things to do with their money. No one supervised the old man anyway. They had roads to repair and taxes to collect and services to offer, and giving money to an unseen stream-cleaner had become a luxury they could no longer afford. So the old man left his post. High in the mountains, the springs went untended; twigs and branches and worse muddied the liquid flow. Mud and silt compacted the creek bed; farm wastes turned parts of the stream into stagnant bogs. For a time no one in the village noticed. But after a while, the water was not the same. It began to look brackish. The swans flew away to live elsewhere. The water no longer had a crisp scent that drew children to play by it. Some people in the town began to grow ill. All noticed the loss of sparkling beauty that used to flow between the banks of the streams that fed the town. The life of the village depended on the stream, and the life of the stream depended on the keeper. The city council reconvened, the money was found, and the old man was rehired. After yet another time, the springs were cleaned, the stream was pure, children played again on its banks, illness was replaced by health, the swans came home, and the village came back to life. The life of a village depended on the health of the stream.

Philippians Sermon Notes Week 04


Finding Joy in Confusing Times

(Philippians 1:21-30)

So last week I mentioned that I’m using Brut cologne as a hand sanitizer since the main ingredient in Brut cologne is alcohol.  Apparently that created a run on Brut cologne, so some guys called me and asked if Old Spice or Stetson would work.   Though they aren’t FDA approved, I’m sure they’d do fine.  I have found, full disclosure, that smelling Brut cologne has caused me to have flashbacks to the 60’s, and I’m having this unconscious need to listen to Bob Dylan music.

The classic little Charlie Brown cartoon offered this favorite of mine.  Charlie and Lucy are having a deep discussion about life.  Lucy says, “Charlie Brown, life is like a deck chair.  Some people set their chairs so they can see where they’re going.  Others set their chair to see where they’ve been.  And others so they can see where they are in the present.” Charlie was wordless for a frame, and then said, “I can’t even get mine unfolded!”

One of the last places we would expect to encounter joy is in the middle of a dilemma…a confusing, perplexing experience…tossed back and forth between options or opinions.   Quite a few of us are facing dilemmas today in the midst of our current situation, and you’re “trying to get your deck chair unfolded…”

Paul dealt with this very thing in 2 Corinthians 4…

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”  (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)

We are perplexed, but not in despair.

  1. Do I hunker down…or try to press on with life as usual?
  2. Do I stockpile as though the end of the world is upon us…or just live day-to-day?
  3. Which media reports do I believe…the conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated Twitter opinions or another source? Should I pay attention to them at all?
  4. How do I talk to my kids about all this? Do I tell them everything, or shelter them from much of what is happening?
  5. Do I spend my time and energy taking care of my own family, or do I see this also as a time of generosity and ministry to my neighbors who hurt just like me and try to reach out to them?

We could list more.  Again, we are living through times like we’ve never seen in our lifetime.  The uncertainty of it all produces a lot of dilemmas for us.  And times of crisis usually do.  They are “perplexing.”

Ideally, though, they force us to our knees in prayer.  Maybe we need to spend more time just focused there, rather than worry about  the storm blowing around us.    Every emotion you are experiencing right now…fear, anxiety, anger, depression, loneliness, frustration…should be processed before God in prayer.  Don’t dwell on it until you have prayed about it.

We stand in serious times, to paraphrase a famous quote of John Adams.  Most of us have never seen times more serious than these.  It seems almost hourly a new reality is revealed making our bad situation worse.

Let’s admit it.  We do find ourselves confused, perplexed, sometimes frightened, anxious, stressed and unsure what to do next.  Sometimes that is precisely where life circumstances bring us.  God knows right where you are today.  He is still on His throne and He is the One we should be looking to in this.


It may also help to realize that this is not the first time, nor the worst time the Body of Christ has faced on earth.  The church has continued and even thrived through far worse.  (The Black Plague, The Spanish Flu of 1918, the Nazi takeover of Germany in World War 2; not to mention wars, genocide, and persecution on a scale we have never experienced).


CS Lewis was a voice of stability to the British people during the Second World War.  His messages were broadcast over the BBC network and were eagerly heard by this beleaguered people.  After World War Two ended, Lewis continued to lecture and write.  In one essay, he responded to a question asked by an individual who was concerned of the possibility of a nuclear attack on London.

I will read his reply as he wrote it.  But as you hear it, just insert “coronavirus” wherever you heard the word “atomic bomb.”

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”  In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation.

Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways…It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty


God does not forsake His people.  The Lord is in the Heavens, and He does whatever He pleases.   He’s not afraid of catching the coronavirus, nor is He washing His hands and trying not to touch His face.  He’s not socially distancing from us!  Do not begin to believe God is absent from us, even though we are for a time absent from each other.    We should not let the prospect of what MIGHT happen dominate our minds and preoccupy and sideline our lives.

And as chaotic as all of this seems, God is working in the midst of our distress to bring His purpose to completion.  You and I get to be a part of that purpose, and whatever the coronavirus does to us as a child of God, we still win!

So let’s stop acting like we’ve already lost the war and everything important to us.  We haven’t.  God is still on His throne.  I am asking God daily to do a work that will be so amazing and undeniably His hand that no man or no country can take credit for it.  I am daily praying Ephesians 3:20 over us that we will see God do “exceedingly abundantly more than we could ask or imagine.”    “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.”  Habakkuk 1:5 ESV.    God is at work, in ways that we would not believe.

I want us to be delivered from this moment.  I truly do.  I want my granddaughter who is home watching Poppy preach on TV this morning (thinking it’s FaceTime) to grow up in a world without this pestilence.  But if not this it will be something else.  The world we live in… the world our Creator God entrusted to us…is  broken beyond our remedy.  We are seeing now what that truly looks like, without the candy coating of our daily lives and activities softening the reality.


Yesterday, the NYT ran a headline article which said,
“Coronavirus-weary people are seeking joy.”

In our study today, we hear again through the inspired Words of the Bible about a man who could be joyful in spite of false accusations, a prison sentence, and even possible execution for the crime of claiming that only Jesus was Lord… and not Caesar.

And we are looking clearly for the secret of his joy that was contagious.  Joy is more contagious than the coronavirus!  If we can choose joy in a time like this, well, some people will think we’ve just gone insane.  But others will want to know, “How do you do that?”

Well, we can do it like Paul did it.   People are looking for it now more than ever.


Paul was not suicidal, nor did he have some kind of morbid death wish.  Paul had hope.  He knew that when he went home, his suffering would be over forever.  The persecutors that sought to shut him up would forever be silenced.

Paul did not fear death.  He did not vacillate in what he believed about it.  He had a confidence that the life to come is “better by far” than his life here.  He had confidence that death was a beginning, and not an end;  a continuation of His walk with Christ only now with  face to face fellowship.   It is possible to walk in a fellowship with Christ that is so real, and so life-giving that you barely notice it when you die.  I think Paul was there.

But fear is indication of a problem.   We are ONLY to fear God.  Oswald Chambers said, “If you fear God, you need fear nothing else.  If you fear anything else you are not properly fearing God.”  Jesus said, “Fear Him Who has the power to throw both body and soul into hell.”

If we are fearful about everything happening around us, then we are not focused on the One we should TRULY fear.   Paul was not afraid.  He had a certain hope.  He knew, as he new that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” that death opened the door to a  lot of things for the faithful one who dies in Christ.

Death held an end of suffering for Paul; an end to pain and despair of imprisonments and illness and having nothing and no money and no family and no home.  Of course he looked forward to it!

What is your hope in today?  Are you hoping in government, in the United States, in science, in health care, in the economy?  I pray for all of these and those involved in trying to solve this crisis.  But all of these will fail us, if not this time, then at some point.  Only God is the rock we can anchor your hope to, and He never wavers and never fails.


CS Lewis’ 1948 article continues:

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are… going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.  (And they should not crush our spirits.)

Jesus used an interesting word in talking about the day of His coming.  He gave instruction to the disciples, and to us,  “occupy until I come,”

So how then do we live in this present distress?  What does it look like to “walk around” having a worthy life…to occupy until He comes?

Firm in one spirit:  Encourage each other  (…continue to be the church)

Defending the faith:  Engage the lost

Not being fearful of the enemy:  Enrage the devil by refusing to be afraid of his threats.


This part of Paul’s letter leaves them with an expectation.  He fully expected they would be victorious, no matter what happened to him or even what happens to them.  “It has been granted you that you believe and suffer….”. As your faith is a gift of God’s grace; (BUCKLE IN here; ) so is your enduring suffering well an evidence of faith.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean we won’t have problems.  It doesn’t create a guarantee for you that you won’t get this cursed virus.

But even if you do,  when you suffer as a believer you are showing the certainty of your faith and bearing witness to God’s goodness in the midst of it.

Paul had a certainty they would do this well.  I have the same confidence in you, and in this now temporarily scattered body of believers called Fruit Cove.

It’s our time to step up,.. Folks.

Welcome to the battle.

It’s our time to live a worthy life in a dark, dark time.  We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who are cheering us on!  It’s our time to choose to rejoice in the Lord, and having done all else, to rejoice!

  • Make sure your hope is in the right place—and fear is put in its place
  • Make sure you are living a life worthy of the Gospel—if not, course correct!
  • Make sure you are keeping your eye on the finish line, confident that the One Who began this good work in you will be faithful to complete it.

Philippians Sermon Notes Week 02

The Secret of Joyful Prayer

Philippians 1:3-11

So many of the activities we participate in to celebrate our faith are done mechanically, without much conscious thought or effort, and are often without much joy.   Among those activities is our prayer life.

It may well be we’re just doing it wrong.  The disciples asked Jesus in Luke 11, “Lord teach us to pray.’. Sometimes a person will say, “I tried praying. But God didn’t give me what I asked for.”  Well maybe He didn’t if your prayers included:

  • “Help me win the lottery”
  • “Bring my cheating boyfriend back to me”
  • “Help me lose weight while I eat whatever I want and never exercise”
  • “Bless me now, even though I’ve been ignoring you for years”
  • “Make me smart enough to pass the test I didn’t study for”

Why didn’t God answer my prayer?  Maybe what you wanted was not God’s will for you.  James wrote, “You ask, and receive not because you ask amiss that you may consume it on your lust.”

But maybe it was just dumb.  Now I’ve said many times in a lecture to seminary students, there are no dumb questions.  But there sure are some dumb prayers.

Maybe if we prayed liked Jesus taught us:

  • That the Father’s Name would be hallowed
  • That His Kingdom would come…it’s more important than yours
  • That His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven…and in me
  • That He would give us what we need for the day
  • That we would be forgivers of those who sin against us
  • That we/our family would be delivered from the enemy’s snare
  • That His kingdom would be our first priority now and forever.

If these prayers that Jesus taught us were the content of our praying, then prayer would begin to make sense…and even be joyful!

We try to turn our prayer life into a thing that enriches us…not as a means of truly hearing from God and aligning with His will.

Paul gives us a model of praying joyfully.  Now that isn’t to say that sometimes our prayer life isn’t marked with tears of sorrow at times or even by the pain of grief or guilt and shame over our sins.  We will at times agonize in intercession.  And the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus was heard through His “loud cries and tears.” (Hebrews 5:7)

But communion with our Heavenly Father should be marked with a sense of joy regardless of circumstances.  Jesus said, “My joy I leave with you.”  Let’s remind ourselves again that Paul wrote this letter from a prison cell awaiting execution.

Prayer should dry our tears, ease the heartache of grief and loss, and erase the shame and guilt stains of sin.  When this happens, joy remains.  But how do we pray with joy when it seems nothing is joyful around us?

Paul prayed with joy, first, because


When Paul prayed, he carried the grateful memories of the congregation that gathered in Philippi…a congregation that was marked by their love for Paul and their faithfulness to pray for him.

He offered his prayer “with thanksgiving,” which is a key to joyful praying.  His joy came from their fellowship (partnership) in the Gospel with him.

It’s an incredible thing to have people pray for you.  A friend shared a dream he had about me a while back.  In the dream, he saw me standing in the pulpit, and then kneeling down weeping.  During the dream, the church came around me, laying their hands on me.

I truly believe and will continue believing that I am standing here because of the prayers of God’s people…your prayers.  The grace of God holds me fast…but your hands and prayers for me keep me moving forward.  I never told you this, but throughout the first two-plus years after Pam’s death I never lost a night’s sleep, and until only recently I never even dreamed at night.  Never.  About anything.

Fellowship brings joy, and healing, and recovery.  We are not to live this thing alone, folks, though some of us try really hard to do that.

That’s one of the reasons we have Celebrate Recovery!

The joy comes along as a contagious experience of fellowship.  Paul could pray with joy, further, because he had


Not only did Paul experience joy because he knew he wasn’t alone, but also because he prayed with confidence knowing that, no matter what happened in his life or in theirs, God was working.  We all understand that God’s working doesn’t mean we are going to see everything go our way, or always experience sunshine and pleasant circumstances.  (“Even when I don’t see it you’re working…”) In fact the greatest work of God we have seen is His work of atonement at the cross and the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  “For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame.” (Hebrews 12:2)

But it is God’s energizing at work in us that brings to completion what He began at the moment of salvation.  If you can look back at a time in your life when you can say, “I know God brought that about…I know it is God Who saves me and that is not something I can do for myself…;” if you have that moment to remember then know this:  God has never, is not now, nor will ever give up on you.  He will never throw up his hands and say, “this one’s too tough…I’m gonna bail out.”  God doesn’t give up on what He starts.  This looks forward to Phil 2:12-13 which says,

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

This means something really important for us to take away today.

Our salvation, in Christ, is secure.  I hear people sometimes say, “I’d be a Christian, but I couldn’t live the life.”  Or, “I’m afraid I wouldn’t hold out.”  “I’d quit and then be a hypocrite.”

Well, you can’t live the life.  Christ -in- you lives out the life He wants you to live through the presence of His Spirit.  And you won’t hold out. Not in your own strength.   You are held in His hand, and Jesus said “No man can take them out of My hand.”  You are not holding on to God.  You’re not that tough.  He is holding on to YOU!  That’s our confidence, and our security.  He Who began the work will be faithful to complete it.

In Romans 8, we read of the ultimate plan that God has for our lives in Christ:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”   (Romans 8:28-29)

God’s plan…God’s will for your life is that, through every experience and circumstance, you are being sharpened and shaped to be more, think more, and act more like Jesus.

A sculptor chips away everything that doesn’t look like the image he or she is seeking to bring to the shapeless and formless rock.  The Divine Sculptor is doing the same in us as He “chips away” everything in us that doesn’t look like Jesus.

This is exactly what happens in the process of sanctification.  The Divine “sculptor” hammers away at all those dimensions of our life that keep Jesus from shining through!    In the hard and the good times, God is at work.  Nothing stops His Divine progress in our lives.


This affection for the Philippians, which interestingly could also mean “you have me in your hearts” can literally be translated “I have a heartache for you.”  Have you ever cared so much about someone that it hurts?  We hear songs that talk about that, and usually they’re sung when the two lovers are apart.

The Motown hit, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was written to describe the power of love drawing two lovers together, no matter the obstacles.   When you really love someone, it can physically hurt to be away from them.

That’s what Paul is talking about as he prays for them…this is a unique love that bound them together around their partnership in seeing the Gospel of Christ go forward.  But his heart was aching because of his separation from them.   He genuinely loved these people.


Christian friendships are not just coffee meetings and potluck meals.  They are marked by a “sameness” of experience…a similarity of a grace they shared in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   The Gospel is mentioned nine times in Philippians.

And that further bound them to a mission together to share that grace with others, in the same way it should bind us together.   A fellowship that is formed around a mission is different and deeper than a fellowship that forms around coffee and donuts.


This is strongly paralleled by what was written in Colossians 1:9-11.  A lot of the words are repeated in Colossians that are used here (by the dating of the letters, probably first).  ‘

  • He prays for their abounding knowledge
  • He prayed for the their growth in discernment
  • He prayed that they would be fruitful
  • He prayed that this would be to God’s glory
  • He prayed for the “good work”.

Someone has said that love is like a river.  Rivers can bring life.  I grew up around the banks of the Ohio River.  This river that I played in, drove over, and gazed into thousands of times in my life brought commerce, and recreation, and beauty and life.  But a river that floods over its banks doesn’t bring life.  It brings chaos and death.

The same river decimated my hometown more than once.    Love is like a river that “abounds” and flows. It brings life.  But even Christian love, like a river, needs to stay in its banks.  If there are no boundaries, and it loves everything indiscriminately …it will even love things it should not love.  Christian love is discriminating; distinctive; discerning.  It loves and approves “that which is best/excellent.”

I hear a lot of people say, “being a Christian just means you’re supposed to love.”  Yes, but love what?  What are the “banks” of love?  Love needs to be guided by “knowledge” and discernment and result in “the fruit of righteousness” or else it indiscriminately picks up garbage and pollution.   We are to be “pure” (our inner world)…below the surface where few if any people see…and “blameless” (our outer behavior) that we might be fruitful in our faith.  The same river that brought life and beauty to many people through the years today is polluted and filled with garbage.  You can still catch fish in it…but you’d better not eat them.

This is how we are to praying for each other.  Can you plug your spouse’s name into that prayer?  That SUE might be….that ROD might be…or your children’s names…that BETH might be…that DON might be…

We are all headed for the day of Christ.  He is coming.  Being ready doesn’t just mean BELIEVING…being ready means “bearing the fruit of righteousness” that will TRULY bring joy to our lives and glory to God as we wait for His appearing.

And folks, I’m not trying to be apocalyptic here, but things are not getting better and better in the world, are they?  We are seeing things that we never thought we’d see…and the world just seems like it’s on the verge of exploding into chaos.  Jesus predicted that His appearing would come after the birth pains of tribulation… the baby doesn’t come out on the first contraction.

But we need the wake-up call and the reminder on occasion that it won’t be long before Christ appears…and we need to be ready now.  If you’re dozing through life or barreling through it without giving a thought for your eternal destiny, maybe right now is a good time to push pause…to hear the alarm sounding…and get our lives right with the Lord.

Philippians – Sermon Notes week 01

Letter of Contagious Joy Series
Philippians 1:1-2 & Acts 16:6-10

We are overstocked on a lot of things in our world today: discontent, misery, grief, unhappiness, fear, anger, division, criticism, and death. But we are short of one major commodity that would make all these other things easier to bear, if not make some of them disappear completely: Joy!
Most of us can number on one hand, with a few fingers left over, how many people we know who are truly joyful. Joy and happiness are in short supply today. But people are looking!

Worldwide, people say the number one thing they are searching for is happiness. In the three hundred year storied history of Yale University, the most popular class they ever offered was on How to Find Happiness! And if you Google “happy hour,” you will find over two billion five hundred and eighty thousand options.

We are assured in our founding documents as a nation that “all men are created equal, and have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Well, we’re sure pursuing it, but few are finding it.

And so, with this series and over the next several months, I am going to drop us right in the middle of this conversation. What does the Bible say about happiness? Well really, nothing. Sometimes the word “happy” shows up in translations, but it’s translating the Greek word “joy.” Happiness comes to us from an old English word that is a shortened version of “happenstance.”

Happiness has to do with circumstance. Magazine covers promise us everything from happiness with weight loss to financial happiness to happiness in remodeling your house. But they’re empty promises. Happiness is circumstantial. Circumstances change.
I want to talk to you about how to find something that remains even when your circumstances change. Some of you might say,
“I was happy but then my job was eliminated”
“I was happy but then I was diagnosed with cancer.”
“I was happy but then my wife left me.”
In other words, life has kicked the happiness right out of some of us!

So let’s stay focused on finding joy. “Weeping endures for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” In spite of weeping, and loss, and illness, and loneliness, we can know JOY that the world can’t give us, and, as an old song says, “the world can’t take away.” And neither can your circumstances.
Joyful Christians are contagious Christians. You will spread this “virus” of joy if you have it. There is nothing more inconsistent than a person sharing Jesus and looking like they just gargled apple cider vinegar. Get joy and then give it away! The Bible tells us that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. If we’re short of joy, we are not connected to the source which is the Holy Spirit indwelling those who believe.

By the end of this study, I am praying that some of you who have come to believe you could never know joy will be smiling and overflowing. I want to encourage you, but more than that I want the Word of God to challenge us, change us, and drop us into a vast stockpile of joy.

Let’s start at the beginning. Philippians is one of the most-quoted, most familiar books in the New Testament. More verses in Philippians have ended up on coffee mugs, T-shirts, Facebook memes, and Christian art plaques than any other Biblical book.
“For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.”
“He Who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.”
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
“I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.”
“That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering.”
“This one thing I do, I press forward to the high calling of God in Christ Jesus my Lord.”
“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!”
“Do not be anxious for anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God…and the peace of God….”


Paul was first a missionary, but also a church planter. Church planting requires people to share the Gospel with, and a harvest to build on. When Paul, and Silas, and Timothy, a young Greek, left the mainland they journeyed out to sea.
They didn’t have a travel itinerary, so as they left Derbe and Lystra they attempted to go to at least two different places where God said “no.” They continued sailing and praying, and one night God sent Paul a vision of a man from Macedonia (Greece) saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (Some believe Luke was the man in the vision).

Pretty clear answer to prayer. And so they went following this vision. Paul’s clear ministry vision was “not to build on another man’s work.” He wanted to preach the Gospel where it had never been heard, and that led him to places he had never been and into experiences he had never had before. This is the first time the Gospel is proclaimed in Europe!

Now they had a plan. And that leads us to point 2:

This is the only one of Paul’s letters in the New Testament that is not corrective in nature or dealing with some divisive issue. It is a joyful letter. Obviously we can see that Paul had a deep affection for this little church. Part of his purpose was to thank them for a sacrificial gift they had given Paul while he was in prison.

Acts 16 tells us that the first person Paul preached to in Macedonia was not the man he had dreamed about. It was actually an Asian woman named Lydia, who dealt in purple cloth. She was a fashion mogul. She was wealthy; she wasn’t from Philippi, but she owned a home there, as well in her home in Thyatira. So here’s this lady, houses in New York and LA, wealthy and bright, and the Bible also adds she was “a worshiper of God.” Her foundation had been laid in Old Testament Scripture, and her heart was ready to hear the Gospel. When Paul arrived, she received Jesus and was baptized, along with her family.

Then we meet a person on the opposite end of the social spectrum. She was a slave girl. Not only was she physically possessed by men, but she was also possessed by a “python spirit;” she had the power of divination, a demonic gift that her owners exploited. She followed Paul and Silas and Timothy yelling out “these men are the servants of the most High God” until Paul could handle it no more. He cast out the demon, and she was became a believer. She was the second member of the Philippian church.

The third person was equally unlikely as the first two. The jailer, a former Roman soldier, had been given the responsibility of keeping Paul and Silas in custody. He threw them into the inner dungeon, a dark, damp, place and “placed their feet in stocks.” This, by the way, was a means of torture, not just securing them. It was an interrogation technique to place prisoner’s feet and legs in distorted positions causing cramps and sometimes paralysis.
But at midnight, the Bible informs us, Paul and Silas began singing praise through their pain. By the way, that’s a characteristic of joy. Joy isn’t having all of your circumstances line up just the way you’d like. It transcends them. But as they sang, “the place began to shake,” and the jail doors flew open. When the guard saw all the doors unlocked, he drew his sword to kill himself for failing to do his duty.

Paul stopped him. “We are all here” he said. And the jailer fell at Paul and Silas’ feet, saying, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

The jailer…blue collar…retired Marine…and his family became part of the church at Philippi. The most unlikely group possible of people to be in the same house group; to make up the first church on the European continent!

Right here is a problem we face. Do you know how easy it is to build a church where everyone is the same age, the same nationality, the same race, from the same background? Sociologists call this “the principle of homogeneity.” Like attracts like. Most churches are that. Caucasian churches attract Caucasian people. African American churches attract AA people; Phillipino churches… Baptist churches attract…well you get the picture.

But the “picture” that presents is not the Gospel. Now here me carefully. The most joyful and powerful testimony to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not churches that all see things the same way, want things the same way, or think about life in the same way.

The picture of heaven is “every kindred, every tongue, every race,” together. Ever think about that? You will be the same race in heaven that you are on earth? Different races are not a mistake, and not a curse. There is no preferred race. They are an indication of God the artist’s love of variety!
And He wants His church to reflect that variety and that glory on earth! Now I’ll be candid here.

It would be a lot easier to pastor this church if we all were from the same generation, saw things the same way, wanted the same things, liked the same music, and had the same background. We’d get along great! And thats how some larger churches grow. Some churches are begun with the intention of catering to ONE group of people. Just run the rest of them off. Again, much easier.

But my understanding of the New Testament shows churches that do the hard work of tearing down walls between people, forgiving, and messing up and forgiving again. (Ephesians 2:14-22)

I am praying that there will come a day in Fruit Cove that we will worship each week with 30 different nationalities and people groups. As America changes, and the world keeps coming to us, I think that day is coming sooner rather than later.


Paul begins his address to this beloved church with the reason for their joy: “Grace and peace….” He calls them “saints.” That doesn’t mean, as we normally think, that they all had accomplished some lofty ideal of humanitarianism or were even uniquely holy or godly people. Saints aren’t made of plaster. We become saints because of the grace of God…”by grace you have been saved, through faith….” They were saints, not because of what they had done, but because of Jesus. We are saved by grace, and justified by faith. And we are made holy by the same grace.

But the outcome of our receiving grace is “peace.” Now that doesn’t mean that we will never find life and even our hearts in turmoil.

But it does mean that the most foundational issue of life, being reconciled with our Creator, has been settled.

Jesus came as our reconciler, to bring us peace with God and this joy we’re talking about. You may have it all together like Lydia. You may have nothing like the slave girl. You may just be a blue collar working man like the jailer. But we all need this grace. We all need this peace.

And we all want joy. Here’s how you get it. Here’s how it starts. We admit our need. We have sinned, and fall short of God’s glory. We need a Savior:

Only Jesus can save us.

He stands ready today with grace…and peace. It can be yours.

Sermon Notes 08


There are no inconsequential or unimportant verses of Scripture in our Bible. Every word is God-breathed and Spirit saturated. Therefore each verse requires our attention…ideally.
The reality is, however, we tend to speed through sections like the one before us now. In Colossians 4:2-16 the brief letter ends. But it does not end with polite nods and social niceties. Paul reserves some very significant thoughts for his conclusion as the Spirit inspired him.

Some Thoughts about Prayer

Though we claim to believe in it, prayer sometimes falls to the list of “the last thing we do” when we are facing a crisis or problem in life. That was not Paul’s practice or belief. For Paul, prayer was the first, middle, and final thing to do!

We have already looked in detail at the prayer that Paul prayed for the Colossians in Chapter One. It would be a life-transforming event for us if we began praying for the spiritual issues of life with the same fervor that we pray for physical ones.

When a child has gone missing, or a young person needs a heart transplant, or a financial crisis is looming on someone’s horizon, calls for prayer abound in our mailboxes and on our social media pages. It becomes a matter of desperation for us when we are seeing the problem and feeling the potential impact of an impending disaster.

But when will we learn to pray with that same zeal and devotion and desperation over the spiritual condition of neighbors and the nations? When will our hearts burn and our internet accounts flood with requests of desperation for what we are feeling for a lost sheep in God’s fold?

Now we’re human, I can hear some say. Of course we are. But that doesn’t mean we should pray limited to our humanity! We are human, and frail, and weak and broken. Yet we have been given a “limitless reach” in prayer.

But listening to our prayer requests I wonder if we really believe that. When our prayer concerns go no further than Aunt Gertie’s upcoming appendectomy, our prayers may as well be written by the folks who write Hallmark get well cards!

What if we began to see our requests for prayer differently? I wonder if you really believed that, when you pray for a missionary in another country or for an unreached people group that your prayers literally shake the ground spiritually.

When we see the world in the grip of the evil one, have you seen your prayers as ICBMs dropped behind enemy lines? What if numbers of Christians gathered together in a meeting to pray for the persecuted believers in China, sending “weapons of mass intercession” against the persecutor seeking to keep the Chinese people from the Gospel?

Does Satan dread your prayer life? Or does it really just give him a good laugh? Now don’t misunderstand me. I believe all of life is to be brought under the concern and attention of God in prayer. Nothing is too big, or too small.

The problem is we get stuck on “the small stuff.” We can’t pray beyond Uncle Bob’s hangnail because our faith is small and won’t let us. We can’t believe the global impact we could have from little Fruit Cove Florida!

Prayer Matters

Prayer matters. Paul believed that. Wiersbe interprets these verses in the early part of Chapter 4 this way: Be faithful. Be watchful. Be thankful.

Be faithful. Our prayers should be “steadfast.” We are to “continue steadfastly” in prayer. REO White points out that the reason for this was two-fold in the early Christian church. (1) It was the only resource available to most of them, especially those who find themselves living in a pagan household in the midst of a pagan culture. (2) Devotional aids would be unavailable to these Christians who were poor and illiterate.

This is not to be seen as an admonition to “wear God down” with our words, though we can think almost of that very picture with the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. It’s not the persistence of our words that turn the corner in prayer, however. It is the posture of our hearts!

We are not to “grow weary” in prayer when answers do not come quickly. God’s delays are not always God’s denials. But it pleases God to see His children wait in faith. He doesn’t dangle the answer like a carrot to a horse, but sometimes He allows our heart to be tested as we wait.

This is a call not to quit in our praying; not to be discouraged when answers do not fly our way quickly. Be steadfast. Pray continually. Be devoted in prayer!

Be watchful. Jesus asked His sleeping disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night His passion began “could you not watch with Me…?” How often have we fallen asleep on the watch? Our prayers grow lifeless and listless. We lose the urgency and fervency of the early moments of our prayers. It requires effort to continue to “watch and pray….”—notice this— WITH Jesus!

Did you know that when YOU pray you are never praying alone? When you are watchful, you are watching WITH the One Who is our High Priest and Who “ever lives to make intercession for us!” I have walked into the Garden of Gethsemane, wondering “would I have gone to sleep with the rest?”

We sleep on the watch because we don’t really believe we are fighting a battle as we pray…and indeed as we live each day. But as we sleep the bullets fly overhead, taking out fellow soldiers in the war. Watch and pray! You need this. Your fellow soldiers need this. And Jesus is calling you to this. Be watchful. Be vigilant. The enemy prowls like a hungry lion.

The antidote is spiritual watchfulness.

Be thankful. The third component of a powerful prayer life is this: We pray with gratitude. This seems to be the missing element in many of our prayers. Gratitude should saturate everything we pray about. Paul has mentioned gratitude several times in Colossians. It was a word never far from the tip of his tongue or his pen. Be thankful. Be grateful. We are remembering the goodness of God, and His greatness as we pray. We are thankful when our prayers are answered, but we are to be also thankful when our answers are delayed, or the circumstances have shown we will not get what we asked.

I read an article recently that reminded me of something and I remind you of the same. The article pointed to our propensity to celebrate the goodness of God when we get what we were asking for and our circumstances turned out well.

But, the writer asked, is God still good when the unpleasant circumstance doesn’t change? When it seems our prayer is not answered? We do not tweet, text, or post on our social media pages our affirmation of God’s goodness when cancer takes our loved one, or the job we were hoping for falls through, or our son or daughter come home and tell us they are uncertain of their gender.

Is God still good? Well of course He is. But our enthusiasm in proclaiming this weakens when our circumstances collapse under us. And it communicates a message that God is good when He “works” for us, and maybe we live in uncertainty about His goodness when He doesn’t seem to work in our favor.

Be thankful. Be “devoted” in prayer, Paul tells us. Our “devotion” time is an affirmation of our faith, our steadfastness in prayer, our eagerness to watch and our determination to be thankful in all things.

Be purposeful. Our prayers should be purposeful. For too many, I fear, the purpose of praying is to “check the box” and “say” their prayers. Rather than believing they are literally grabbing hold of God’s altar—and not releasing it until they convinced God has heard—they believe God is “keeping score” in Heaven over their daily devotional time. Paul prayed with purpose. We have seen that clearly in Colossians and in several other epistles. Paul does not pray aimless, rote prayers. There is an agenda…an “ask.” Paul prayed because he knew God listened. And more often than not, God responded.

Now let’s not fall into thinking that says we can “make” God do something or bend God’s will to ours. That is absolutely not what the Bible teaches.

No we pray, in alignment with God’s will, for His kingdom to come. Paul could ask the Colossians with confidence to “pray for us” because he knew that he and his co-workers in the Gospel were seeking the agenda of the Kingdom first and not their own. As Richard Trench said, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance; it is laying hold of God’s willingness!”

It’s easy to miss something if we read this too quickly. Paul asked the Colossians to pray something VERY SPECIFIC for him. You would think Paul would say, “Pray for the prison doors to be opened so we can be free.” Many of us would, and no one would blame us. Who wants to be stuck in a prison cell…in this case on death row…when the whole world needed to hear the Gospel?

But Paul understood the will of God was not to cater to our needs for comfort or even the basic cry for freedom. He asked them:

And pray for us too, that God may open a door for our message…

Hardly the prayer we would expect for a man who had so many needs he could have requested prayer about. But his burden was first for a SPIRITUAL door of opportunity to be presented (implied: WHILE he was in prison) so that he may “proclaim the mystery of Christ.”

That jars me. It should rock us all to our core to examine why we pray; what we seek for in prayer. And as that opportunity came that Paul requested they pray about, the Colossians shared in the sweet fruit of spiritual victory that would abound!

Paul’s prayer request was (1) specific (2) measurable (3) urgent and (4) kingdom driven. It reminds us to check our motives and continually re-evaluate and “upgrade” our prayer life. It is far too easy to let it slip into tepid word, devoid of power. Far better to lay hold of Heaven’s altar of prayer and lay on it a sacrifice worthy of our God and King. Don’t bring the lame, blind, and sickly animal to sacrifice, the Old Testament prophets taught us. Don’t bring that which we would have nothing to do with anyway. And the same holds true for the sacrifice of our prayers. Do we give God the most useless scrap of our time when we pray? Do we bring to the Almighty requests that are almost an insult to His power and capability to do great things? Do we just “mark time” with our intercession, or are we bringing the best of our time; our thoughts; our faith? “Pray that I may proclaim it clearly,” Paul requested. Pray that my own faltering, stammering tongue and my lack of eloquence will not interfere with the lost soul hearing the message. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. As WE should.

It is also interesting to note in this passage that there is nowhere a request from Paul for his own release from prison or the death sentence. It is so hard, when we are shut up in our own “prisons” of physical disability, or circumstances that are less than pleasant or even situations that are critical, to believe that God may be using us in our finest moment.

Paul was not desperate for release. Luke tells us in the Book of Acts that Paul was imprisoned in Rome for two years before his trial. What a waste, we think in our humanity. “How much more could Paul have done if he was free?” Let’s get a petition, let’s go to the governor to appeal for Paul’s release! Isn’t that God’s will?

But let’s remember that, from this cell which had become a sanctuary…a place where ministry happened to many…a place where worship was continual…let’s remember that from here were sent letters that become some of the most precious parts of our New Testament: Ephesians; Philippians; Philemon. How much lacking would we be without these letters? And it was prison that served as Paul’s writing platform. His preaching would not have touched nearly the number of lives these inspired letters have changed over the millennia.

Don’t argue with God’s plan sometimes to restrict you; to slow you; to even lock you in for a while. Who knows what He will draw out of you in those seasons?

And that leads me to a personal request. Will you pray for me? For Fruit Cove? Let’s apply what we have learned. Will you pray for your pastor as I read, study, prepare, meditate, write long before I ever step into the pulpit on Sunday morning? Will you pray that I might “proclaim it clearly, as I should? And that every person who has the opportunity to share Jesus with a lost individual will do the same?

Will you pray for our church that a door of opportunity will open that we might preach the Gospel fully in our community and far beyond to the uttermost parts of the earth? Will you pray that, as Paul told the Colossians to pray that we might “behave wisely toward outsiders” (v 5) in our lifestyle and our language? Will you pray that we might “make the most of every opportunity?” Your prayers are not the least or the last thing you can do. They are the first and most important thing you can do!

In the closing verses, Paul mentions by name seven individuals who were with him at that time. Two of the men (Tychicus and Onesimus) were going to be the carriers of the letter back to them. Six of them were sending greetings (vv 10-14).

We do not know a great deal about most of them. But that’s ok. Heaven knows. Heaven knows the names of those who come and visit those in prison. “I was sick and in prison, and you visited Me” our Lord reminded us.

Greetings were also sent specifically to Laodicea, a lady named Nympha, and a leader named Archippus. Each of these places and all of these people would have been known personally to the Colossian church. Each of them had their role to play in history, and each now occupies a place in eternity. They are known to God and that’s what truly matters.

Paul was not a Lone Ranger practitioner. One of the great tragedies of our day, now resulting in some who attempt suicide and others who fail tragically in ministry, is the loneliness of those in ministry. But Paul’s model was not that of a Lone Ranger. He was a team player, and a team builder. We do not do the Gospel alone. We are part of a family; part of a body.

And together, the Gospel will be proclaimed; ministry will be carried out, and the mission accomplished.

The letter closes with a reminder that “I Paul write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.” (v 18) Paul ended where he began. The entire epistle is an argument for the principle of grace, that God’s salvation is free, and that He requires nothing but trust in the work of His Son, Jesus. It is grace that sustains the Christian’s life. With God’s grace, they will need nothing else! (Melick)

So may the grace of our Lord be with us all, and may we always make Christ Above All!

Sermon Notes 07


We have been walking through Colossians 3, and we notice something striking. Paul begins in vv. 1-4 talking about our individual relationship, one-on-one, with Jesus. “If you are raised…seek…set…” and live this way.

But what we see as the chapter continues is that walking with Jesus is not JUST walking with Jesus. We have relationships that must be paid attention to, and some of those are our “closest” neighbors-our family.

We were challenged by the words of Colossians 3:5-9 which exhort us to “strip off” the old behaviors and customs we practiced while living as “dead men walking.” Now that we are alive in Christ, we have “new clothes” we are to put on.

But if you look carefully, you see that the ethic that Paul lays out for those who have been raised in Christ move from our personal and inner moral purity outward to how this connects to others.

Chapter 3:15-17 talks about how we related in the church as we “let the peace of Christ rule” and “the Word of Christ indwell” us. And then how we are to honor the Name of Christ above all.

As Chapter 3 continues, we travel next to some needed conversation about how the “new family” looks in Jesus. If we have been raised, this should first of all and perhaps MOST of all affect how we live out family relationships: Marriage, parenting, and relating as children to parents, and even in our employment.

A Word to Husbands and Wives

Our culture, due largely to the impact of the postmodern philosophy that has torn the West apart over the last two or three decades, is now witnessing the tearing down of traditional structures of society like marriage.

Marriage has been moved away from its Biblical moorings and is now adrift in isolation. We are left to our own devices in trying to make sense of this basic relationship in human societies. And what we have come to, in the thinking of our culture, is the belief that marriage must exist, as everything else does, for our enjoyment and as something we should use to find personal satisfaction and joy and meaning in life. In other words, it is a commodity to be enjoyed or disposed of as the whim hits us.

When we pervert God’s good and sacred gift of a man and woman becoming one, what we end up with is an aberration of marriage that cannot stand. It is a testimony to the power of this relationship that, in spite of our attempts to unravel and redefine it and nullify it by cohabitation, still exists as a primary and important relationship in our culture.

But if we’re honest, we don’t really know why. So we blindly seek to “make it work” and “hammer it out” as best we can. The danger I am seeing is not simply the abandonment of our definition that it belongs to a male and female partnership, but the deconstruction of the marriage relationship as a place for us to go to lose ourselves in love and service to the other. This is a problem for heterosexual couples.

Until we come back to the understanding of marriage in the way God intended it in Genesis 1 and 2, we will continue to drift further away and flail and flounder trying to find ground to stand on. Maybe “flailing” and “floundering” describes your experience with marriage.

The other issue I see often today is that, even though two people are male and female, in love, and claim to be Christ-followers; their marriage often doesn’t reflect that. In other words, even when we get the gender issues right, we still haven’t gotten back to the heart of the issue.

Our missionary brothers and sisters are quick to remind us that, when people in the culture they serve come to know the Lord, it is some time before their marriage begins to reflect the Christian understanding of this God-ordained institution. This is an issue since they continually struggle to find marriages that can “mentor” new believers away from their old cultural understanding into the new “risen” life.

A few years ago, our church went to Dubai and held a retreat for 155 missionaries serving in the Red Sea region. We used a retreat center that was located on the Indian Ocean, and were in beautiful accommodations.

Across the street from the main center was a series of bungalows designed for visiting sheiks who would come and need accommodations for ALL of their wives (usually five or six) and their maid. They all required their own rooms. They served us well as space for our Vacation Bible School being offered to the missionary families!

I met an Emirate sheik while there; a young man wealthy beyond our definition of the word, and he was accompanied by his six burkaed wives. We only had a brief time to converse but it left me to image what would happen if this Arabian “rich young ruler” actually came to Christ. How would this affect his family life? He could not continue in relationship with six women, but divorcing them would ruin their lives socially. What would I say to him? And how long would it be until his new faith began to impact his “old clothing” of a Middle Eastern marriage with multiple wives?

Yet even among western Christians, there are many seeking to follow Jesus in the risen life but it has not yet affected how they see their marriage. It is a problem for us as well, in the USA. Maybe it also is for you.

It was certainly a pressing issue for the Colossian believers. The radical things that Paul was saying in this letter would have rocked most of them. It would not be hard to imagine that this was the first instruction most of them had received on the subject of how to live out their faith at home now that they were believers.

A Risen Marriage: The Christian Wife

Paul’s words, though separated from the original context, were incredibly elevating. We do not appreciate fully the radical nature of these thoughts. Though his statement begins, “Wives, submit to your husbands,” which the culture of that day would have also demanded, he turns things on their head with the next statement, which said “Husbands love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” (v. 18)

So this sets the stage for an upending of social conventions of his day. The same words have a similar impact on us today. In this text, the grammar of the sentence is making the wife’s submission a voluntary act, “as is fitting (proper) in the Lord.” This was not something to be held over her by social conventions, or forced on her by physical threat, or enforced on her by strength but was in reality a beautiful act of obedience to Christ.

Submission is an inflammatory word in our modern culture. It has to do we hear, by our definition, with a person being demeaned by an individual or system. This seems like anything but a radically freeing and fresh thing for women, but if it doesn’t seem like that it is because we are missing the point.

Again, Paul is returning drifting marriages to their moorings. He is anchoring the Biblical teaching of marriage back to the Creation account. Bruce says, (Paul) “does hold that there is a divine instituted hierarchy in the order of creation, and in this order the place of the wife comes next after her husband.” (NICNT)

That is not to suggest that women are created as inferior beings either spiritually or naturally. There is hierarchy, yet equality in the Trinity. Jesus is simultaneously equal to the Father and yet submissive to Him. (Hughes, Colossians) In the same way, equality and submission can beautifully co-exist in the same relationship, including marriage.

The idea of submission is repulsive to our me-first, flesh-exalting nature. Every time we encounter it, we run from it or seek to vilify the person using the word.

In our efforts to eliminate this word from the Biblical narrative on family and marriage, we have moved to the opposite extreme. And yet it takes only a few moments to catalogue in your memory the times in life you have “gotten creative” with what God clearly proclaimed and “done it your own way” (as my three-year-old granddarlin’ is fond of doing). And when she gets her own way, the problem she thought she could solve is made only more complicated.

Sometimes, when it is obvious that we have messed it up so bad, we have to return with our heads hung with the pieces of our life, our broken marriage, our frustrated relationships, back to the One Who does know how to fix it. When we have wrecked our lives with “do-it-yourself” fixes in sexual relationships, or when we have run our financial ship aground through ignoring the clear counsel of God’s Word on money, then we come to God with the pieces to fix them His way.

When we can finally admit that how we’re doing our relationships is broken and not working, then we come back to God with the pain and the pieces and say, “Please fix it.” And the first word we encounter in all of the Bible’s relationship advice is “submit.” “Be (willingly) in submission.”

That’s hard, and humbling for our flesh to take. In fact, it crucifies our flesh. It kills us. And then, when we are dead in this area, we can begin to “live risen” in our relationships.

Now again, this is not counsel to grab your wife and force her to submit to you. But there is nothing servile and menial about a wife who will willingly submits herself to a husband who loves her.

I’m not writing a relationship manual here, but I can hear some saying, “Yes but…”. “My husband doesn’t love me. He said so.” Or, “my husband is not a believer. What do I do?” Or worse, “My husband is already beating, abusing, or physically hurting me.” (To this last I would say WHY ARE YOU STILL IN THE HOUSE WITH HIM??)

But to the others, we need to remember that God’s Word is not circumstantial ethics, not limited to one historic era, and not culturally constrained. Your circumstances, while difficult, are not unique. They are not the first time these words have been spoken into a relationship with an unloving or uncaring spouse, or even into a household where one spouse is not a believer.

My counsel would be this. If your husband doesn’t love you, you will not make him fall in love with you by being arrogant and aggressive and angry toward him. While your flesh will be happy that you are asserting yourself, you will lose the war while winning the battle. Men just do not fall in love with women who seek to lead them or rule the household. Sadly, many women try to do this.

And men who are not believers need to see, in a way they cannot avoid, a transformation in their wife that involves this submission. We must remember that our submission is FIRST to the Lord, and then to your spouse. Don’t forget that. Your obedience to the Lord in this honors Him first by your willing trust in Him to change your husband’s affection toward you, or ultimately to see his heart turn to Jesus because you obeyed. (It may help to read 1 Peter 3 and see what the Bible says there about living with an unsaved husband).

A Risen Marriage: The Christian Husband

The exhortation which follows for the husband in 3:19 seems almost obvious. “Well, of course the husband should love his wife!” Yet as William Barclay reminds us in his commentary,

Under Jewish law, a woman was a thing; she was the possession of her husband, just as his flocks, or house or material goods were. She had no more legal rights than his flocks or herds….under Jewish law, a husband could divorce his wife for any reason or no reason, while the wife had no rights whatsoever to initiate divorce. In proper Greek society, the woman lived a life of total seclusion usually in a separate residence to her husband. She never appeared on the streets alone, not even to go to market. She would not join her husband for meals. From her there was demanded a complete servitude and chastity; but her husband could go out as much as he pleased, and could enter as many relationships outside of marriage as he pleased with no social stigma. In both Jewish and Greek culture, the privileges belonged to the husband and the duties belonged to the wife.”(Barclay)

In other words, love played no part in the transaction and relationship of marriage in Jewish and Greek culture in Biblical times, let alone the radical call to love the husband was issued to demonstrate in this verse. Further the husband was enjoined “do not be harsh with them.”

Lohse confirms that such a command does not occur in any extra-Biblical material of the day. It was a “new command” for a man who was a new creation in Christ. It was an ethical demand beyond any scope of thought in that day.

The love that men were called to show their wives was not erotic love, or even simply friendship love. It was self-denying “agape” love, which meant the husband was to care for and serve his wife as he sought her entire well-being, providing for and protecting her. It is a love that does not originate in the self-centered, broken heart of humanity. It was a love that must first be received from a Divine wellspring: The heart of God.

This love is like the love with which Christ loves His bride, the church. Ephesians 5:22-33 carries this further than the Colossians passage, but both were written from the same place at the same time.

1). The love of Christ was intimate.

The Biblical idea of “two becoming one flesh” is a deep and true picture of what marriage does. It causes one to enter the other, as portrayed in the act of physical intimacy, and share life mutually, one with the other. There is a sense in which a man can enter his wife’s emotional and mental processes as he comes to know and love her more deeply. He can enter into her spiritual life. All of this binds the two together as one, which is the truest description of Biblical marriage. The husband is called to love his wife “as his own body.” This also demonstrates to us the depth of our Savior’s love for His bride, the church, to the degree that He calls it “His body.”

Practically, these things mean we must spend time together. The best marriages are also growing and deepening friendships. While it may not have begun as that, it should certainly move toward it. Second, we need to listen to our wives. Howard Hendricks said that marriage is sometimes the “dialogue of the deaf.” We don’t listen to what the other is saying, even though marriage is indeed a lifelong conversation. Men can sometimes check out before they have heard their wives. There’s a reason it’s called “paying” attention! Effort is required. The Harvard Business Review has estimated that 65% of a successful executive’s time should be spent in listening. As the Proverb says, “He who speaks before listening—that is his folly and his shame.” (18:13). It’s probably not accidental that it uses the masculine pronoun with that proverb!

2). The love of Christ was sacrificial

Part of the issues confronted by our Western culture today is our radical individualistic mindset. We think of ourselves: “I” “me” and “mine” are the pronouns we are most often comfortable with, leaving little room for “the other.”

This impacts most of all our homes. Our marriage relationships have changed from a relationship that was entered into for the best interest of the community as a whole. Marriages were arranged between families for the good of the family and the whole community.

As societies became more “portable,” the mindset of marriage was focused on smaller family units, and centered often on child rearing and raising. The good of marriage was seen as for the good of the smaller family unit, with little regard for the larger family system.

Then, marriage became about the husband and wife. Numerous books and marriage manuals appeared to help husbands and wives “maximize” their experience is marriage, and the thought of procreation may not have had anything to do with the marriage at all. Everything was considered “what was in the best interest of the couple.”

In recent years, marriages have become drastically bride-centered. The community is often not considered, and the church is basically a backdrop for the inordinately priced wedding photography. The center of all attention and, for that matter, all concern with weddings now is the bride.

Along with that, we have seen couples become more and more focused on their personal fulfillment in the relationship; their needs, their desires and wants and expectations. When one mate does not fulfill that, they feel entitled to go and find a new one.

Running through all of this was the radical insurgency of the sexual revolution, which has single-handed torn many marriages to shreds. And yet, in spite of this “drift” away from the Biblical foundation of marriage, people still seek something they believe marriage can bring. The problem is that they have forgotten the Creator of marriage!

In such a cultural drift, the idea of love as sacrificial and self-giving is a foreign concept and difficult to accept. The expectation of the culture around them is that marriage, if its “done right” will lead to joy and bliss and continually satisfaction; not serving and sacrificing and self-surrender.

3). The love of Christ died for the beloved.

Perhaps the hardest thing for us to understand in our culture oriented against selflessness is that our purpose is to die. Not die in the sense of throwing ourselves in front of a runaway truck or a speeding bullet. But die daily. Giving ourselves away in little sacrifices that don’t make the headlines, and that maybe only we and God know about. “I die daily,” Paul said. We are to die to ourselves and our needs each day to our wife and family. And as we do, we will find the life and joy that marriage truly can bring…not by seeking and getting our own way, but by dying to it…every day.

A Word to the Children

The children of Paul’s day and, on the whole, throughout the Bible, get very little personal attention in the writings of Scripture. However, here in the midst of a culture dominated by Patria Potestes (“The Power of Father”) children are addressed and required to join the rest of the family system.

The Roman justice system of the day demonstrated one of its cruelest laws by placing absolute power and authority in the hands of fathers. A father could set a living newborn child out to die of exposure or to be eaten by wild animals simply because he did not want a girl (or any child for that matter), or that he did not wish a particular woman (even his wife) to bear the child. It was literally a license to kill the children of Rome without recrimination.

Children found to be deformed or lacking in some physical quality or having some level of special needs would be dispatched without a second’s thought. Children had no legal rights, and were not yet considered “fully” human.

How different the counsel of the Scriptures that elevates the dignity of every child, special needs, mentally challenged, or physically disfigured and calls each “the image of God.” That God has made each child “fearfully and wonderfully” and “knit them together in their mother’s womb.”

This placed a different demand on the parents of the day, and turned a spotlight on the child as one who could add to or detract from the family system. By the failure to obey, the family suffered. By their obedience, the family flourished.

And so children were given a significant role to fulfill. They were to obey. This would have been read in the presence of children old enough to understand the command “obey in everything.” They were probably younger children, still being supervised by parents.

The reason they were to obey was “for this pleases the Lord.” The assumption also was this would have been aimed toward children who knew they were “in the Lord.” It’s not that all the children were not called to obedience. That would be expected and enforced. But the children in mind here are children who understood that their obedience, though sometimes difficult, was a part of their testimony and their service to the Lord, the church, and the Kingdom. They have a responsibility in the family order. “Obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”

A Word to the Parents

The Biblical command once again upends the social order of the day by making the relationship between children and parents a mutual one. (Melick, NAC) Paul uses the term “fathers” (as ESV, NIV, etc.) but it was easily interpreted to encompass both parenting roles. Therefore “parents” is an easier interpretation to apply for our purposes.

It is far too easy for us to slip in this important responsibility of parenting. We can over control and become smothering and hovering, raising children who have no confidence in themselves. We can go to the other extreme and bring up children with a harsh hand and raise cowering and unconfident and discouraged children.

Either extreme is wrong. The second error is particularly called out as a danger for parents. “Don’t discourage” your children, Paul tells them. The word used is “embitter,” (erethizow) and means to be overly harsh and to discourage. “Do not be harsh” with your words, your punishments, or your expectations. Once the tender reed of a child’s self-worth is bent and broken, there is often no coming back.

We can over expect too much of our children in obedience, compliance, hard to understand commands, and by often reminding a child they are not good enough. All of these render the child “discouraged” and “embittered.”

I meet many such children in my counseling office and my role as a pastor, but now they are adults. A wounded childhood litters their past, and now they limp through their own failing efforts and raising children successfully. Sadly we tend to repeat sometimes the very thing we despised about our own upbringing!

That is not to be the case in the Lord’s household. Raise your children as the gifts they are. Correct them as their will requires it. Bless them, even when their efforts to obey or please you are feeble.

And as you do, they will grow to be children grateful for your careful hand, and will raise your grandchildren in a way that will thrill your heart!

A Word to Servants and Masters


Working for the Glory of God
Colossians 3:18-4:1

So today we salute the American worker. I know that, for some, the very last thing you care to think about on Labor Day weekend is, well, labor. But in reality, most of us have spent, or will spend, the bulk of our adult lives working. You spend between 150-180 hours a month on your job if you work full time. Some of you work more, if you are working two jobs or you own a business (which is like working two jobs)! You may be in a job that makes you thankful to wake up in the morning and get to it. You whistle while you work.

You may feel fulfilled in your work, or frustrated by it. It may be grinding, demanding, demeaning, or draining. It might be fulfilling and exhilarating, and you feel guilty taking a paycheck because you enjoy it so much. (Well, maybe not that much!)

The question is, how do we participate in the rat race without becoming, well, a rat? In other words, what difference does it make for you, as a Christ follower in your business, or on your work crew, or in your profession in how you see your job and the people you work around most days? Does God really care what kind of employee or employer we are, or is our working life just a throwaway…something we endure until we can retire or do something “meaningful” with our life?

One of the things we need to get straight in our thinking about this is why is work even a “thing” we have to deal with? Don’t the smart and fortunate people figure out how to drop out of the race and kick back into a leisure-saturated existence?

Some people think of work, and view work as a punishment, not as a God-given privilege. We are trapped into doing some menial, low-level subsistence job, or maybe we’re trapped by the lifestyle we want to live (or appear to live) and we don’t see a way out until the turn of the next century. Retire? Yeah right. Quit? No way.

Work is dignified by God’s participation in it

So work gets a bad reputation, and we sometimes add to the negativity of it when we complain and criticize our company or employer or employees. Christians somehow have come to believe that work came about as a result of sin.

Adam and Eve blew it in the Garden of Eden, and now we have to roll out of bed at 6 every morning and roll into the office or to our job site. It’s punishment because of sin, right? Many believe that.

But if you read carefully you will see that before sin ever entered the picture God created man, Adam, and put him immediately into the Garden to work it. Sin brought the curse of thorns and difficulty in laboring but God’s original intent was for His creation of male and female to have work.

I’ll take it one step further. When you die and go to Heaven you are not going to lie around on a tempur-pedic cloud all day and sip heavenly iced tea. You are going to be a worker! We are going to be kings, and priests, and rulers of angels and of God’s universe. Doesn’t sound like eternity on a cruise ship to me!

At the same time, God put a limit on labor. “Six days you will labor, but the seventh is a Sabbath…a time to rest for you and your household…animals, servants, and family.” But the emphasis is on “six days of labor.” It was never God’s intention for our work to own us.

Ok I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at the text in Colossians and see what the Bible says about our work.

God is a worker. A part of our need to work comes from being made in God’s image. In fact, Genesis 2:15 tells us that God made man and immediately put him to work caring for the Garden of Eden. Man was born a worker; not a tool for God to use as cheap labor, but a worker who did labor as a part of his makeup as a human being. In fact, only man is charged to occupy “work” in creation; plants don’t work-animals don’t work. God is glorified in our work! He dignified work by doing it Himself.

Now I know all of us, if you’re of working age, have had jobs we absolutely felt were not dignified. They are beneath us. I’ve had a few; I cleaned toilets in an office building. I scraped mortar off of bricks while freezing to death in the winter. I was a clown in a circus. I unloaded hardware and building supplies off train box cars and into warehouses in the summer. I pumped gas back in the days when that was done. I know that every job does not have a built-in glory with it. Some grew up with a strong work ethic. One guy said, “My Daddy only made us work half a day in the family business…and he didn’t care which twelve hours we did it.”

But unless you’re moving drugs for a cartel or robbing people at gunpoint or doing something illegal or immoral, your work is dignified because God created us to work. Work is not punishment for sin. Work was in place before God created a wife for Adam! Sin brought thorns and weeds to our labor, but labor is a necessary and important piece of our reflecting the image of God.  Creation: Two kinds of work. Victor Hamilton has written that, in Hebrew, there are two different words translated as “work” or “labor” in the Bible. The first word for “labor” is associated with artistry or craftsmanship; it is highly skilled labor. Artists, artisans, carpenters, skilled labor.

The other word has to do with labor as “back work,” or what we would call “manual labor.” It may or may not take a skill set to do that kind of work. Just show up with a capable body. But when the Bible talks about God working, it uses the second word to describe it.

God associates Himself as a laborer with us, all of the work we do is dignified, whether artisan or laborer; skilled or unskilled. All of it has the potential to reflect His glory since He gave it to us to do.

Work is empty when God is absent from it

But work can be empty when God is absent from it. Probably no one in the Bible had more skill and craftsmanship and wisdom than King Solomon. Solomon was into horticulture, and engineering, and writing books, and poetry, and music. He had accumulated huge sums of money and servants and he used both to build. He designed as an architect. He built huge channels for irrigation of farmland. Today if you visit the Holy Land you can still see some of the pools he built to store water for irrigation. And of course, he built the temple which in its day was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

All of which make your little backyard renovation and new crape myrtle tree look pretty lame by comparison. But here’s the thing. Somewhere in his life between the time of his coronation to the throne and his death, Solomon turned his back on God. He was doing these things with no consideration for the work of his hands pointing to the One Who made him.

His conclusion at the end of his life, a journal in the Bible that we call Ecclesiastes, was that “all the labor of my hands was emptiness.” You can spend a lifetime working and being successful, but if God is absent from your labor it will simply frustrate you with futility at the end. Whatever we live our lives for that is less than God will ultimately frustrate us.

Turning that around, however, when you are working the most menial of jobs, if God is in what you’re doing, it will somehow satisfy you. If we are simply working to spend what we get on ourselves, it will leave us empty and dry. Learn to live beyond your paycheck… (not your means)


Mike Ullman, former CEO of JCPenney, tells of a conversation he had with Starbucks founder Howard Schultz when he was first offered the JCPenney position. Mike had retired from a long and successful career in retail management a few years before and was reluctant to get back into the business. But Schultz said to Ullman, “This opportunity is made for you. They need to put service back into the mission of that company, and you’re the guy to do it.” He didn’t need the money or the recognition, but he agreed to take the role because he saw an opportunity to reorient twenty-five thousand retail employees to seeing that their work matters and that serving their customers is an honorable career. In short, he believed that God called him to a particular position of service.


Work is glorifying when God is the focus of it

The Letter to the Colossians, at the time Paul wrote it in the Roman Empire, was a radical social document. It was unheard of in the literature and writing of that day for a formal letter like Colossians to address women, or children, or the common laborers and even slaves in the empire.

But Paul addresses all three, and spends several verses speaking directly to “bondservants:”

“Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Colossians 3:22-24

“Bondservants” captures more the sense of the Greek text than the word “slaves.” At the height of the Roman Empire, the people who were considered slaves numbered over 60 million. That was around half of the empire’s population. These were people who had been captured and relocated in war, some who sold themselves or were sold as children to repay debt (hence the word bondservant), and some were made slaves as part of a prison sentence. But on the whole the “slaves” would constitute what we call “the working class.”

They would sometimes live in a household with a family and be a teacher to the children, or a nanny, or household servants who worked in cleaning or yard care; many of these people were highly educated and served as doctors or scribes who worked in libraries or school settings.

They were not always ill-treated but could be legally. Some of their circumstances were difficult, and in 1st Century Rome they were considered as human tools, not human beings. Yet at other times they were valued as members of the family. So Paul here is not addressing people who had no choice about doing their work. A slave, as we understand the term, would not have the options to do what Paul is telling them. These are workers, who worked every day for a living. Those were the ones he told:


Whether we act on this or not, God has an opinion and a position for you to fulfill. This is particularly something to think about as you are choosing a vocation on the way to college, or declaring a major to finish in. Have you prayed over this decision? There is nothing wrong with choosing careers in finance, or accounting, or business but is it possible God wants you to do something besides make money for you and yours? I’m not saying you’re wrong for being in such a career or wanting to be; I am simply asking for your motivation…and the simple question: Have you asked your Master?

Don’t despise your work, whatever it is. Obey…with sincerity of heart.

Don’t demean your boss, whoever they are. Work heartily, as for the Lord, not man. Your boss may be a bozo, like Michael Scott in the Office sitcom. Your job is not to judge your boss, but to serve the Lord by serving him or her.

Don’t diminish your testimony…you serve the Lord Christ!
“Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God!”

And a final word, though very important. It is a word to those who are “masters” or bosses or employers. If you are a person who has oversight of others…a business owner, or CEO, or supervisor or manager…there is also a word for you. It does not say you have to like everyone who works for you or never correct or chastise work that isn’t done properly. But YOU are commanded to “treat your workers justly and fairly.” And you are reminded that you, too, along with everyone else, have another Master Who is overseeing YOU in heaven!

In other words, just as your servants or employees will be held accountable by the Lord for their work, so will you be held accountable for your oversight and supervision. Paul’s example and personal feelings about this can be seen in the Letter to Philemon written at the same time as the Letter to Colossians.

In that letter, Paul appeals to a slave-holder, Philemon to forgive and receive as a brother a runaway slave named Onesimus. While Paul was not advocating slavery, he did advocate that the slaves not be treated as less than family when they were believers. This was an upending of the social order of the day, and eventually much of what Paul wrote in our New Testament letters served as the foundation of slavery’s collapse in Rome and other places around the world since then!

“You have been bought with a price. Therefore glorify God with your body,
which is the Lord’s.”

Sermon Notes 06


A New Life

A New Identity

A New Affection A New Destiny

A New Wardrobe

Off with the old

On with the new

A New Direction

Toward peace

Under the Word

With Gratitude

A New Life

The first section of Colossians 3 is one of the most stirring and magnificent sections in all of the Bible concerning the believer’s new position in Christ. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ set your heart on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” (vv 1-2)

We find in these opening words the reason Paul has so strongly warned the Colossians and, over 2000 years later, us as well that there is something far better than the dry bones of philosophy and legalism, mysticism and asceticism for the Christ follower to pursue. People today sell their souls far too cheaply to the flashiest bidder. We commit to style over substance, and to appeals to the external and physical rather than the inner unseen world. That is human nature; it should no longer be the nature of the Christian.

We have spent a lot of time trying to unearth those things that Paul is warning against. Now it is time to move into a description of that which is better by far.

If we know we are raised in Christ, then we truly have a new identity in Him. Now while we may still look the same physically, live in the same house, and remain married to the same person in reality the moment faith in Christ becomes a reality everything about us changes.

We have an immediate change in mindset…from an earthly focus to a heavenly one. This is not to say that we simply are to sit around and daydream about what we think heaven will be like, usually with images that are more informed by culture than the Bible.

This is not a recommendation to start decorating your mansion, or to wonder how close to Jesus’ house you get to live on Golden Street Lane. As tempting as it is, this is not even an admonition to think about those who have already gone to live in heaven with Jesus.

To “think with a heavenly mindset” is none of that. Paul gives us a hint of the right understanding by his reference to “where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”

This is also not to say we are to imagine a golden throne, with Jesus sitting nearby in a choir robe and a golden crown. The “right hand” was the place of all authority, all power. It is a reminder to keep our first affection, our first priority fixed on the One Who gave us new life from the dead.

It is important to remember that Jesus controls it all, is supreme over all, and is ruling from that seat of power in glory. Our minds are to be on Jesus, Who now is in Heaven.

My father in law used to have a dog who was totally obsessed with a tennis ball. He would rather fetch the tennis ball than eat, sleep or be petted. If we X-rayed his brain, it would be shaped like a tennis ball.

When Barney showed up, he would drop his iridescent green tennis ball at your feet, and wait anxiously for you to throw it as far as you possibly could. He would scamper to it, and bring it back and drop it at your feet. Wash-rinse-repeat. How long? Until your arm could throw no longer, and then he would search out another victim!

Barney and his ball were never separated, except for the few moments it was airborne as he ran for it. We could say that Barney’s mind was set on his tennis ball!

In the same way, our minds should be “set” on Jesus: knowing Him, serving Him, loving Him. When people see us, just like when we saw Barney coming they knew the tennis ball would be right there, we should be “carriers” of Jesus! Our identity should be of those who “in Christ” and those in whom Christ lives.

The implication of this is that our minds, our ambitions, our interests, our attitude should be of those who lived bound to the life of Christ. Our lives are bound up in His. We are not separate from Him.

This influences so many things. It is a reality we take to work, to school, and home with us. Our family sees it, as do co-workers and classmates and roommates. Christ is in us!

We are to tenaciously set our worldview on Christ. If we are dead to this world, and we have been raised with Christ, we have left behind the loves and domain of this world.

The passages in verse 1-2 are parallel commands. The word “heart” actually doesn’t appear in the Greek manuscripts. It is inferred by the translators, and agreement is that this is a correct understanding. Paul is not repeating the same command here, but giving two distinct commands.

First, our “hearts” are to be set on things above” and our “minds are to be set on things above.” One has to do with our affection and our love and desires. The second has to do with what we would call our “mindset.” We are to be “minded about things above” (from phroneo)

Paul said in Romans 6 that “the mind (phroneo) set on the flesh is death, but the mind (phroneo) set on the Spirit (things above) is life and peace.” So we can see the power of our minds set on Jesus to help us find life and peace. That is what Paul desires for the Colossians and, I’m sure, for us who would one day read these words.

Phroneo” is a word that occurs often in Paul’s writings, notably Romans 12:1-2 where we are called to “be transformed by the renewing of our mind” (phroneo) and the familiar passage in Philippians 2:5 where we are called to “let this mind (phroneo) be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” “

This has to do, not with affection and love but with thoughts, values, ideas, and focus. We are to set all of these and sift them through the Christ Who is “seated at the right hand of God.”

The imagery here is taken directly from Psalm 110:1:

“The Lord says to my Lord

Sit at My right hand

Until I make Your enemies

A footstool for Your feet.”

For the early church, this passage demonstrated the Deity of Jesus. It was focused on two possible meanings. First is the implication of the power of Jesus. In Mark 14:62, Jesus told the High Priest “You will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” Jesus is described by the apostles as the “One Whom God exalted to His right hand as Prince and Savior.” (Acts 5:31)

It may have also the idea of privilege or honor at work. The disciples sought to be seated “one of His right hand and one of His left,” with the thought being one of privilege. They wanted honor, not power. They wanted recognition, not the responsibility of ruling.

So to our passage, Paul’s desire was calling the Colossians to consider the implications of Christ’s rule in the world. This would be in keeping with much of what we’ve read over the earlier verses in Colossians.

As Christians, we live in two domains: one fallen and one redeemed. Our bodies, though in heaven, contain a mind and heart that can be more focused on the redeemed realm while living in the fallen one. But they were to guard themselves against allowing the fallen world order to pollute and preoccupy their thoughts and hearts.

Living risen means a heart that is set on heavenly things, and a mind that thinks the thoughts of a heavenly realm, not an earthly one. This does not imply we are to walk around with our eyes fixed heavenward and ignoring the realities of the world and its pain around us. But we are to think new thoughts and desire new things.

Live as a heavenly-minded person. We are to “seek” or literally, to “keep on seeking” the heavenly things and “keep on setting” our minds on them. This is not a one-time event. We continue to battle with being overtaken by earthly reactions and earthly thoughts. We must set and sometimes “re-set” our minds on these things. Lightfoot’s translation helps some here. He has this as “You must not only seek heaven, you must also think heaven.”

As a compass needle points north continually, so our minds and hearts should continually course-correct toward Christ and “where Christ is.” Only then will our behavior begin to be transformed as we act in accordance with where our heart is focused and our minds dwell.

These early verses of Colossians 3 tell us three things about the position of the Christian:

  1. You are raised
  2. You are hidden
  3. You are glorified

You are raised (vv 1-2). The comments above concern this aspect of the Christians new life in Christ. We are raised in Christ’s resurrection and live now in Him.

You are hidden (v 3). Salvation involves a double-imputation. At salvation, our guilt, our shame, and our sin debt was imputed to Jesus, Who “became sin for us, Who knew no sin.” And we were at the same time “imputed” His righteousness. We literally exchanged our lives on the cross and at salvation this becomes reality for us.

Now, when God views our lives, He doesn’t look through the laundry list of accumulated evil and bad things we’ve done. He sees the perfect righteousness of His Son wrapped around us and the blood of Christ covering us. We are hidden. Our lives have disappeared in Christ. “We have died, and our lives are hidden with Christ…”

You are glorified (v 4). Being glorified is an as-yet-unveiled reality. It is as good as done when we are saved, but the final “unveiling” of the glory will happen when Christ appears. This is an ongoing scenario in the New Testament, and is mentioned in several different places as we look forward to the consummate event of our salvation experience. In the meantime we walk the dirt road of sanctification; sometimes moving forward and occasionally taking two steps back. But we live now in the “not-yet fulfilled” part of our salvation when even our earthly bodies will be glorified in Christ. Nothing escapes God’s reach in salvation. Nothing will be left out as the redeemed are glorified and experience eternal life in a glorified creation.


At this point in Colossians, the theological section ends. The remainder of the letter will deal with the outworking of the theological teaching that Paul has been laboring in.

Lucas (BST) disagrees that the segment ends in verse 4 and pushes through to verse 8. His thinking is this section deals with the relationship between Christ and the believer. For the purpose of this study, we will end the theologian discussion at verse 4 and move in to more practical matters in the next segments.

Paul began this section with an earnest prayer for the real knowledge of God’s will to be revealed. He ends with a call for us to live in that reality, ultimately to be seen as Christ’s comes in His glory.

A New Wardrobe

We have in Chapter 3:5-11 a return to the image used in others epistles of putting off the old life like an old set of clothing and putting on Christ as your new clothing.

This image has an historic basis in baptismal practice in the early church. While we can’t say for certain this was how it was done, it is believed by several reliable historical New Testament scholars that part of the imagery of baptism was the discarding of an old robe or set of clothing that you wore coming into the baptismal font or body of water. Before entering you “discarded” or “put off” the old clothing and would then be given a white robe to wear after the baptism. This was a practice of churches in the second century; though we cannot be sure how far back the custom went.

Whether or not this is Paul’s thought it carries the idea well as he says to the believers in Colossae that they are to “put off” those things that characterized them before coming to Christ.

While our salvation is no doubt driven by the grace of God, that does not mean our efforts to walk in this reality are unnecessary or of no consequence. Obviously, we can continue living with elements of the old life clinging to us, but why would we want to do that? A part of the process of being sanctified is making what is true of us on the inside manifest on the outside! This is the definition of integrity; our inner world and our outer world “hold together.” There is no disconnect, and no confusion.

Putting Off the Old (3:5-9)

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 in sanctification that we begin to look like Jesus in practicality. 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 2:12-13)

So 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 spiritually, let’s LOOK new as well!

The first section in our scope of concern targets sinful actions. As a new person in Christ, our actions should reflect the discretion, self-control, and moral behaviors consistent with the teachings of Christ.

We are, first of all, to “put to death” the earthly things that are within us. Lest we miss the point, he begins to list for us five things that must be killed by us: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed, which is idolatry.

For Paul and the secular moralist writers of his time, using lists of five virtues or five vices was commonplace. Paul uses three sets of five in this part of Colossians. There was often overlap in the historic lists offered by moralist writers, particularly those relating to sexual mores, though Paul’s list was probably inspired far more by Old Testament legal codes. But this does imply the Christian should, as a baseline, be expected to adhere to the cultural morality of the day and exceed that. (Melick NAC V 22).

There is also another idea that needs some exploration. The AV translates the verse to say “put to death the members of your body” using the word mele as a reference to the location of sin. The idea of “members” of our body being connected to sin occurs primarily in Paul’s epistles in the New Testament. Rabbis of the day taught that there were 248 members of the body, connected to the 248 laws of the Torah. (Horst, TDNT)

The picture that is painted for us in this passage poses a logical question for us: Why would we let something that is dead continue to cling to our body? For the Jewish person and for many of that time, the decay of death was a vile and disgusting thing. Many Old Testament laws of purity talk about avoiding dead animals and people. You could not come into physical contact with a dead body and maintain ritual purity.

So we are to “cut off” the members of our body that are now dead and not allow them to pollute or corrupt the rest of our body. The “members” that are listed include these areas of sensuality and immorality and other types of moral impurity. They are things to be considered and treated as dead, no longer finding life within us.

This also follows very closely to the teaching of Jesus which said “If your eye offends you, pluck it out. If your right hand offends you, cut if off.” The statements, while misunderstood, have led some to do just that and “cut off” or “pluck out” the offending members of their body only to understand later that the problem lay, not in the physical member but within the heart.

We are to “perfect holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1). To “perfect” holiness means to see it brought to completion and to the fulfillment for which it was intended. Let it do its perfect work, God working in us with all the energy of the Spirit, and see holiness become an outward as well as an inner reality.

Sexual immorality. There is probably no intent of prioritizing or categorizing the sins on this list, but the issue of sexual immorality was a prevalent one in the culture of the day. It continues to be a prevalent issue today. In Biblical thought, “porneia” involved simply sexual intercourse or fornication. This could be broadened out to any number of illicit sexual behaviors, including adultery. However, adultery usually carried with it the stigma of breaking covenant law and the legal violation this presented. Sexual immorality while morally wrong was not considered legally wrong or even socially disreputable in most cases.

It is likely that, awash in a secular culture as we are, one could view more acts of immorality and impurity in an evening on TV than our grandparents saw in their lifetime! Twenty years ago, Psychology Today (by no means a supporter of Biblical morality), posted an article decrying the level of violence against women being portrayed in movies, and suggested that they should have a warning label posted on them. Their prophecy that the violence in movies would turn into real violence against women was, sadly, spot on.

We have reached a level of “porneia” (Greek for sexual immorality) in our culture that has exceeded anyone’s possible expectation. While much of this is acted out and portrayed in pornographic movies and video, it is far too often depicting real people in real situations.

While this kind of teaching should have its point directed toward the secular world, it is now as it was in Paul’s day needed as well in the Christian community. Pornography has become a rampant addiction for many who profess Christ. Its availability through computer access is rampant, with over 60% of websites devoted to varying levels of pornographic materials.

Though it is doubtful that Paul saw this coming, it was certainly something the Holy Spirit could foresee and these inspired Biblical words are targeting the same problem though a different delivery system. Sexual immorality should not be a part of a professing Christian’s inner or outer world, through actions or voyeuristic viewing on computers or television screens.

Impurity. Impurity (okatharsia) usually was tagged next to sexual immorality in most of the Bible’s lists of sins. It was the outflow of pollution and may have in mind the diseases that came from the filthy condition of prostitutes and brothels of the day. To come into contact with such constituted internal pollution and external defilement. In the AV it is translated “uncleanness.” It has to do with inner violations of thought and wicked intentions. Though the “members” of our body DO the defiling, it is the motivation of inner impurity that motives the defiling.

Passion. This is a word that builds on and goes beyond “impurity.” The word has to do with sensuous desires; and in reality covers a variety of emotional states and responses (Bruce). But in context the word has to do more with “dishonorable desires” than good ones. Left alone the word can be either good or bad desires or passions. Here there is little question but that it means wrong ones.

Evil desires. Building on “passion,” this moves from action to motive behind the actions. Evil desires always preface sinful action and behavior. Paul is urging that even the evil thoughts that we can tolerate must be put to death. These provide the wellspring for actions that are sinful.

Covetousness. The verse quickly adds “which is idolatry” (as also in Ephesians 5:5). What is there about covetousness which makes it idolatrous? Doesn’t there need to be a false god or false image worshiped to make something an idol? Yet isn’t this exactly what covetousness does…elevates a person, a position, an object…to the status of “god” in a person’s life?

Covetousness is insidious and hard to detect because we have made it a “respectable” sin. We do not consider our wrong desires for our neighbor’s spouse or house, their car or their job, their status or their looks as something so heinous. After all, doesn’t everyone covet something?

And the answer, of course, is yes. But when covetousness is equated with idolatry, the narrative suddenly becomes darker. Covetousness no longer has a cloak of “acceptability” draped around it. Calling it what it truly is… idolatry… strips the coat away.

Paul then issues in verse 6 a stern reminder that it has been true in the past and will be true still that those who do these things are the targets of the wrath of God. If we freely choose a course that puts us at odds with our Creator’s law, defying them flagrantly, we are doing the very things that incurred His wrath in earlier times.

A needed reminder follows in verse 7. He reminds them (and us) than “you once walked in these (in this way) in your lifestyle.” We can’t get too far away from the reminder that our present holiness and righteousness has not always been our state or condition. Once we were like those who are children of disobedience. This is not to bring us back into a state of condemnation or self-recrimination, but to remind us that the grace that saved us can also save them.

And so we are to “put off” or “put away” or “strip away” these outer garments of the old man, like an old suit of clothes that no longer fits. These things no longer “fit” you as a child of God! (v 8a)

From there the list is lengthened but tightly focused on the issue of our tongue and our use of language: “anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk from your mouth.” (v 8b) Our language is to be in sync with our new “wardrobe” of righteousness. These things that once flowed freely from our mouth should no longer be heard coming from us.

It should perhaps be noted as well that all of these terms flow out of the word “anger.” This may have less to do with our speech and more to do with our attitude toward those with whom we find ourselves in conflict.

Nothing sets a Christian testimony apart like the ability not to respond in anger when everyone else around you knows they would! The beauty of self-control, especially as it extends to our words and speech, may be what Paul was getting to here.

One admonition stands alone in this passage. That is verse 9, “Do not lie….” This certainly ties together with the passage later on Christian community, since it is “do not lie to one another.” Our attitude toward the truth is in view here, and our valuing of the truth is in direct proportion to our willingness to tell it. If we lie, we do more than simply speak an untrue thing. We devalue truth with every lie we tell. “You have put off the old self with its practices….” (v 9b)

Putting on the New

“…and put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (v 10) This conveys the following ideas:

It means that new life does not come from a daily, successful battle with temptation. The new life marks the starting point. We are not just giving up a few vices and adopting a few virtues. Our whole nature must be exchanged, not just revamped. (Schweizer)

We are “being renewed,” which implies a continual and ongoing process. We are always in need of more renewal. We must continually “kill” (mortify) the flesh, and continually actualize the already existing new creation.

The passive “being renewed” indicates that the renewal is not something that results from our own efforts. We are the workmanship of God, and our new nature comes to us as a gift from God. We must work out the salvation that God has worked in our lives.

Knowledge of God, of Jesus, and of God’s ways are crucial for living a life pleasing to God. The fullness of the knowledge of God comes as a byproduct of our renewal.

This renewal comes from our being joined to Christ, Who is the image of the invisible God. We cannot recreate the image of God with systems or lists of “do’s” and “don’ts.” (Garland, NIV Colossians)

In Colossians 3:11, we encounter a bit more of the social implications of what it means to say “Christ is all, and in all.” While we have dealt extensively and will deal some more with the personal and individual implications of this statement, the radical social impact also comes into view in verse 11.

Paul shows how walls should come down nationalistically (Greek or Jew), religiously (circumcised or uncircumcised) and socially (slave or free). These walls divide people into hostile groups built around their own preferences and class standings.

The reference to “Scythian, barbarian” is a subject of some debate. For years, Biblical interpreters have taken this to be a reference to pagan people (barbarians) who came from north of the North Sea. These people groups would have drifted in and settled in the Lycus Valley, some brought as prisoners of war and others bought as slaves.

Recent archaeological and literary studies, however, have shown that the Scythians were a people group unto themselves, and would not necessarily have been forced to settle in the Lycus River valley. Though not necessarily a slave class, they were not a respected group due to their pagan background.

Due to that status, the Scythians obviously had endured some prejudice and the Colossians needed the reminder that they were also people for whom God cared.

The final dividing wall of hostility was the wall between slave and free. Both obviously had ended up in the same church (See Philemon for a case study). This wall was one of the most difficult to tear down.

“Christ is all, and in all” has implications that transcend the individual, and the statement impacts the body life of churches still today. With this verse, the stage is set for a deeper dive into what “the new community” must look like. (vv 15-17)

Colossians 3:12-14 contain a further description of what the Christian’s “new garments” should contain. It offers a seven item list of things that should begin to characterize us as we “live risen.” These items are catalogued in three broad groupings:

“Compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience fill in the first list of virtues mentioned in these verses. All of this is aimed toward harmony and unity within the church, and the need for long-suffering within the group. These are individual characteristics that have implications for the broader life together in the church.

The second listing has to do specifically with forgiveness and “enduring,” or “forbearing and forgiving” which is putting up with people when they fail or don’t live up to expectations. The word forgiveness is based on the root word for grace, indicating the fundamental virtue necessary for forgiveness to take place.

The essence of Christian community is realizing that the church is made up of imperfect, flawed people who will offend each other and hurt and each other and act in unChristlike ways toward each other.

Community can continue only in the context of believers willing to “charisomai”, to forgive the offense of a brother or sister in Christ. As we have been forgiven, so we are to forgive, beginning with each other. God initiated forgiveness through Jesus even before confession occurred. (Melick NAS)

The third category is captured simply with the word “love.” We are, above all things, to put on love. It is this love, Paul tells us, that “binds all things together in perfect unity.” (3:14). It is this mutual love that binds them together in perfection, or completeness. (Or, “it is love that brings all things to an appropriate and logical end.)

A New Community

New people; people with a new identity and a new joy and a new purpose and even a new character will naturally create a new community. As they bind together there will come a spiritual synergy that will bear witness to something greater than the composite parts of the body. Indeed, that is exactly what the church is!

But each part must perform its role. This is why Paul began with character, and then moves specifically to conduct within the body. What does Christian community look like? How is it different from any other social group of people, religious or secular?

Let the Peace of Christ Rule

The first characteristic of the new community listed is peace. The community of believers is to be “ruled” by (an athletic term that means to “umpire” or “preside over,” as a judge) the peace of God.

It is the peace of God within us that keeps us in alignment with the will of God. Now peace can be counterfeited, and the discomfort of the Holy Spirit within us when we are being disobedient can be covered over by a false sense of security and peace. Jonah experienced such a “false peace” that, even while fleeing God’s mandate to go to Nineveh, he slept through a storm in the belly of the ship.

But God’s peace is to be the final “umpire” or “referee” in the church. His peace should be our spiritual GPS, knowing which way to turn and when to stop and when to move. He is to rule, not only in our hearts, but in His church.

Let the Word of Christ Dwell

The second command is in Colossians 3:16 and says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell richly in us.” To dwell means “to feel at home.” The Word of Christ should be a welcome guest in the hearts of believers, not an unwelcome intruder.

But the implication of this command is not simply an individual encouragement and admonition, but it literally says “Let the Word of Christ dwell AMONG you….” It moves then to a community command, and not just an individual mandate.

The Word of Christ is also a guidepost for the truth. The Gnostic intruders were bringing a false gospel to the Colossians. It is the Word of Christ that brings clarity and truth and must be the beacon we follow.

The Word of God is not the sole property of the preacher, and even one as esteemed as the Apostle Paul did not claim proprietary ownership of it. He encouraged the Colossians to “teach and admonish” one another with wisdom.

When we are doing this with “one another” it takes great humility and wisdom to speak it, and to receive it from one who is not “an authority.” It is hard to hear from a brother or sister in Christ who feels the need to “teach” you or “admonish” you. Our pride bristles.

But the Word of God is to be transmitted to “one another,” and not just from pulpit to pew. And all of us, whether trained or untrained, in positions of authority and leadership or with no recognized authority, are to be both carriers and dispensers of the Word of Christ “in all wisdom.”

The Word of Christ is not simply to be spoken however. It is also to be sung with “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” with gratitude. Music in the church has three audiences. We are to sing, of course, to God. Then, we are to sing to other believers. Finally, we are to sing to ourselves.

Music fails in its mission if those three targets are not in sight. Sometimes the music that is sung, especially in our day, can have little to know Biblical or doctrinal truth in view. It is seen as enough if some level of emotion is felt as the song is sung, even though the singer or songwriter has little or no understanding or training in the Bible.

We must be careful in such a day not to imbed in people’s hearts an untrue statement attached to a memorable melody. Music in the church has always been and will always been important as a means of communicating the Word of God to ourselves and to others, and as a primary way of offering worship to God. Every great movement of God in history has been accompanied by a rebirth or a “new song,” but it is still the same truth being communicated. We should not fall in love with the singer of the song or the style in which it is presented. But the truth should always be present in what we are singing in church, whether familiar tunes accompany it or not.

This is all to be done “with gratitude” to the Lord. Over and over the Book of Colossians returns to this theme of thankfulness and gratitude which we pass by too quickly. Our singing should be with thankful hearts and spirits. It is this accompaniment that most pleases the Father.

R.E.O. White, the great British preacher, used to say, “The surest sign you are carrying a full bucket is wet feet.” When our hearts are full to the brim with the Word of Christ, our feet will be “wet” with songs of praise to the One Who dwells within us.

Let the Name of Christ Overflow

The church is to be a place where the name of Jesus overflows in everything that is done, whether within the church or not. “Whatever you do…” We are to be people who “take the Name of Jesus with us” as we live together in unity, and love, and harmony with the Word of Christ indwelling us and His Name receiving glory for it all.

And one last time, Paul reinforces that this is to be done “giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” This overflow comes out of the fullness of His peace, the indwelling of His Word, and a continually growing gratitude in our hearts.

When the church looks like this, God will be glorified in it. When it is less than this, His Name is diminished among us. When we are not grateful and growing in gratitude, His reputation is tarnished among us.

May we always be people with wet feet, filled to overflowing with His presence among us!

Sermon Notes 05


If you ever visit the historic city of Krakow, Poland, you will see the beautiful spire of the St Mary’s church. But you will also hear something unusual. Every day, and it’s been so for the last 700 years, a bugle sounds and is always muffled or broken on the last note.

There is a reason for this tradition. The bugler commemorates a lone man who climbed the spire during the coming invasion of the Tartar army, and signaled the impending attack. Many Krakovians were saved because of his heroic act, and on the last note of his alarm an arrow penetrated his body. The last note was muted; broken as he died.

The people of Krakow still, even in the 21st century, commemorate his sacrificial act. It reinforces to us the importance of warnings we also must heed.

Paul speaks in Colossians 1:28 “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching every man…” Warning and teaching go hand-in-hand in apostolic writing and teaching. You cannot teach well without also warning; and every warning should contain an element of teaching and pointing to what should be thought or done.

When we arrive at the latter part of Colossians Chapter 2, we find a recurring them: That of warnings. In fact, from Chapter 2:8 forward, we are in a section that emphatically warns the Colossians from some very present dangers.

Chapter 2:8-10 A warning about “hollow philosophies”

Chapter 2:16-17 A warning about insurgent legalism, probably Jewish

Chapter 2:18-19 A warning about the danger of mysticism

Chapter 2:20-23 A warning about the vanity of asceticism

So with these warnings being prevalent and repeated, the thought of this section seems to be to flesh out the content and the danger of these four main warnings.

1. A Warning About Philosophical Deception. (Col 2:8-10)

Just as every person with the capacity for thought is a theologian, (they have some thought about God, even if just denying He exists), so every person is a philosopher. Not every person is a competent or thorough theologian or philosopher, but we all stab at and wrestle with these topics in our thinking.

Properly understood, the word “philosophy” is taken directly from Greek, and is a compound word that means “the love of wisdom.” However, loving wisdom does not necessarily make one wise. Philosophers are those who “love” the discipline to an extent that they make a lifelong study of learning, reading, and seeking to assemble a philosophical system that allows them to “make sense” of life.

While Christian philosophies and philosophical thinkers do exist, the vast majority of published philosophers has been and is agnostic or atheistic in their orientation. They find themselves with the difficulty of trying to make sense of life’s challenges and realities by creating a worldview with no God in it.

This is the position that led Paul to refer to “hollow philosophies.” These are empty arguments that are not based in the most fundamental of truths: that God does exist.

One of the most popular Christian philosophical thinkers of the last century was Francis Shaffer. Dr. Shaffer wrote extensively on philosophical thought from a Christian worldview. One of his most popular books was entitled, God is There and He is Not Silent. Other titles include, The God Who is There and How Shall We Now Live? The thinking of this brilliant man still impacts schools of thought and certainly had an influence on mine.

Other thinkers, like the late Norman Geisler, Voddie Baucham, Dallas Willard and Ravi Zacharias have actively engaged in philosophical defense, debate, and writing in the Twenty-First Century. I frequently encourage young men and women with the capacity to do so to explore deepening their philosophical reading with men like these. Still others could be mentioned, but to the point, all philosophy is not “empty” and “hollow.” When it is filled with thoughts of God, and is engaged in helping us understand more deeply Who God is and how God works in the world it can be a wonderful and exhilarating subject to read.

However, most philosophical thinkers and writers (I am thinking immediately of Richard Dawkins and other 21st Century atheistic philosophers) offer up the “hollow” and “deceptive” philosophies that Paul was warning against. These are prolific in our culture, and eagerly swept up by unsuspecting minds.

Of them, one commentary summarizes:

No wonder Bertrand Russell at the end of his life, 90 years of age, the vast majority of his life, at least 70 of those years, being spent as a philosopher, his last words were, “Philosophy has proved a washout to me.” That’s a long washout, 90 years. Thomas Hobbs, the famous English atheistic philosopher who fostered materialistic psychology and what is called utilitarian morality, when he was drawing near his death said this, “I’m about to take a leap into the dark. I shall be glad to find a hole to creep out of this world.” David Hume, the deistic Scottish philosopher was an immoral man in every sense of the word, totally indecent, completely dishonest. His biographers tell us that he was a teacher of immorality, a denier of God. And his death was so tragic that his attendants at his death said he agonized to the point that he shook the entire bed and demanded that the candles be lit all night, that he never be left alone for one moment, and his lips were filled with cursing and remorse until he died.

These atheistic philosophical thinkers attempt to provide a rational and intellectual basis for their argument of unbelief in God. It seems to buttress the argument of those struggling to make up their minds that God in fact does not exist, and if you come from a position of theism (you believe in a personal God) then you must be intellectually deficient.

This position is often the first salvo fired at incoming college students in our university system today. When professors and instructors have been steeped in the “hollow” philosophies in vogue today, these streams of thought will influence or even dominate the lectures they give.

Some philosophical positions, however, have more to do with ideas that have already seeped into the consciousness of the culture. The recent postmodern movement is one such philosophical movement that has literally swept much of the world. But philosophy drives many things: political platforms, educational institutions, and even the writing of school textbooks used by our youngest children.

But one important philosophy still remains with us. That is the position of scientific naturalism, which has a tremendous impact not just on science but on cultural morality, decisions as fundamental as abortion rights, gender identity issues, sexual mores, end-of-life medical decisions and in recent times, suicide.

This position, though not brand new, holds to the viewpoint as do many of the empty philosophies of our day that God does not exist. Therefore the universe around us is the ultimate reality. One of their most prominent spokesman would say, “The Universe is all there is.” In this system of thought, the material world is all that’s real and all that matters.

That has tremendous implications in how we see the world around us, since it is ultimately drilled down to an amoral system in which people are born at random and simply cease to exist at death. The question in such a system becomes, “What is right? What is wrong? Who has the ultimate authority to say?”

Without laboring this point, it is important to note that it is imbedded deeply into our thinking in the modern west, in everything from children’s cartoon scripts to the highest levels of education, art and medicine. If this life is all there is, the implications are tremendous…and dangerous.

That is a long way around the point, but the point is we HAVE been taken captive; kidnapped; plundered by this philosophy without realizing it. It filters into our minds and out through our thinking in ways that we are not even aware.

Paul said, “Don’t be taken captive” by such thoughts. This was the threat posed by the Gnostic intellects of the day. They wanted to “take captive” the minds of the new believers with their philosophical viewpoint. And theirs was likewise a very dangerous position that reduced Christ to the level of an angel, and not even necessarily a good angel!

No wonder Paul issue such a stern and fatherly warning to these new Christ followers. “Don’t let them kidnap your thinking…and plunder your faith.” “Don’t fall prey to the traditions of men….”

Our failsafe in such situations as they faced and that we face today is an absolute assurance in and knowledge of the truth of God’s Word. We are to be “rooted” (“earthed”) and “built up” through Christ and “established on” the bedrock of His Word.

We must stay alert for those who would seek to take us captive at the point of our faith, our values, and even the heart, mind and soul of our children if we allow it! Be alert.

2. A Warning About Legalism. (Col 2:16-17)

Perhaps no problem still dominates and intimidates the church today as does legalism. Legalism essentially is the idea that spirituality can be quantified. It is an exercise in pride and judgmentalism, claiming to be able to do with our hands what God could not accomplish in us through the new birth and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

Yet there seems to be an allure to it. This is most likely because it caters to human pride. Whenever judgmentalism is in play, pride is the motivator. We judge in an effort to make ourselves seem more righteous than the one we are judging. “While God may not agree, at least I know I’m righteous and the person I am judging knows I am too!” we seem to be saying.

Legalism, inherently, is joyless. If we continually live in the “Thou shalt not” sections of Scripture without the needed balance of God’s grace, we will create a picture of Christianity that is dependent more on the efforts of man and not the blessings of grace.

Legalism demands uniformity. Unity is not uniformity. The body of Christ is rich and radiant and multi-cultural and multi-racial and multi-dimensional. To seek to reduce all of that to one style of dress, one preferred manner of speech and even the same facial expressions is to rob it of the glory God intended for His people to reflect. Legalism demands this sameness as a matter of control and “keeping score.”

Legalism results in a superficial faith. Jesus railed against those who He called “whitewashed tombs” full of “dead men’s bones.” In other words, the external appearance looked clean enough, though within there was corruption. The focus is continually on the surface with the legalist. Conformity can be enforced and even established for a little while. But what is in the heart will always be made known.

Legalism, ultimately, is judgmental. It focuses on “keeping score” of violations of law and codes of behavior and punishing failure to conform successfully. Those in a legalistic religious system continually feel judged by those who feel superior to the stragglers.

Legalism is absent of joy, evokes condemnation and judgement, and focuses ultimately on the flesh either in a congratulatory manner when law codes are kept, or in self-recrimination and judgment of others when the laws are not kept.

Christianity is certainly not unique in producing the aberration of legalism. Islam and other world religions do the same to their adherents. In some Muslim cultures around the world, a Religious Police force exists for the purpose of punishing those who violate the laws of Islam. Punishment is swift, public, and can be brutal.

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 take from Scripture, but from the opinion and “traditions of man.”

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you…” Paul warns in 2:16. He specifically addresses five 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!

Paul also brought up the issue of special days. These days were designed to commemorate various aspects of the work of Christ, in the same way as the special diet was teaching God’s people about purity and holiness and the importance of abstaining from forbidden things. The Sabbath regulations pointed clearly to the Sabbath rest that God’s people would know. Lightfoot comments, “The setting apart of special days for the service of God is a confession of our imperfect state, an avowal that we cannot or do not devote our whole time to Him.”

But all of these things were a picture…a shadow of reality. Christ is that reality. When Jesus came, ALL of the law and all of the covenant requirements for holiness and purity were fulfilled in Him. “The reality, however, is found in Christ.”

I have used the image before of a man returning home after a long stay out of the country. While he was away, he only had a picture of his fiancée to remind him of her. But when he arrived, the fiancée was waiting for him. But how ludicrous would it have been for this man, now in the presence of his beloved, to continue to love her picture and kiss her picture when the person the picture represented was with him?

We would think the man was crazy! But in reality, this is exactly what those who were making their way into these early congregations were telling them. “Yes, you have the reality, which is Christ. But YOU STILL NEED THE PICTURE TO FULLY KNOW HIM AND LOVE HIM!”

To Paul’s astonishment and certainly to ours today, the believers kept falling for it! “Don’t let anyone judge you….” Paul warned. We need to be careful lest we fall into the same trap of judging others legalistically, or of being judged by them.

3. A Warning About Mysticism (Col 2:18-19)

“Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and the worship of angels….” (2:18)

Though some important translations, such as the newer CSB choose the word “condemn” instead of “disqualify” it is generally agreed that the Greek word used here, “kataBraBeuw” though very rare, carries with it the idea of “being disqualified” or “being ruled against,” rather than “condemned” which is more legal and the territory of jurisprudence. The RSV uses the word “disqualify” as well as the NIV and the ESV.

So for our comments, and to stay with the ESV translation, we will use the word “disqualify” as well. That said, I feel there are some strong reasons to see this word as stronger than that.

It is also important for us, before continuing in the textual comments, to consider the word “mysticism” in the context in which Paul used it. Christian mysticism has a long and even respected history throughout the church. Though some were Catholic in their belief system, others were not.

Mystics as people were often those who would seek to withdraw, and that fitting with their temperament would sometimes even be despondent. Many reported fits of depression and anguish of soul. The mystic was one who would intentionally seek out solitude and separation from others in an effort to seek out God.

Many would speak of deep and even rapturous experiences of long seasons of prayer and fasting, seeking the face of God. One mystic in the earlier years of the church, known as St John of the Cross, would sometimes journal and write of their experiences. His was entitled, The Dark Night of the Soul. I have heard many relate their experiences in that same dark night, and I dare say many have experienced it without quite knowing what it was or what to call it.

Others such as Teresa of Avila spoke of intense seasons of despair and depression and wrote out of her pain. The mystics were often reclusive, and did not hold official positions in the church. A man simply known as Brother Lawrence, a member of a monastic kitchen crew, wrote a small but powerful book entitled The Practice of the Presence of God.

While odd, the mystics could also be extreme in their devotion, such as Simon Stylites who separated from the world in such extremity that he lived on top of a pillar for forty years! I can’t image what would motivate this type of withdrawal, but we can’t discount his obvious devotion.

But we also must remember that Paul had his own “mystic” experience as he spoke of being taken up (“whether in the body or out of the body” he did not know) into the “third heaven” and seeing things which man should not utter. This was, literally defined, a “mystic” experience.

They all had something in common, and that was a desperation to draw closer to the God they loved and to know Jesus intimately. Their journeys were typically very inwardly focused, though some mystics would find their place in service to others in the name of Jesus while they sought Him deeply.

Whatever our opinion of them, they are acknowledged for their contribution to Christian history and devotional thought and writing. It is not such mysticism being condemned and warned against by Paul.

Gnostic Mysticism

The mysticism Paul was confronting in Colossians was a different type of mystical approach. While the ultimate goal of this mysticism was to put its adherents in touch with God, they were offering a path different than simply knowing Jesus and having a relationship with Him.

In fact this mysticism was a toxic mix of angelology, which was a way of systematizing angelic hierarchies or rule and ascetic practices that went from abstaining from food and drink to self-abuse of the body.

The Gnostics approach made them seem to be deeply devoted followers of God, but they had created a pathway, a man-made religion involving a combination of angelology, mystical thought borrowed from eastern religious beliefs, and asceticism.

Lest we think this type of thinking has left the mindset of modern culture, I call your attention to the Bethel Church movement in California, led by Senior Pastor Bill Johnson. His wife, Beni, “co-pastors” with him.

Beni Johnson also teaches some peculiarly unorthodox views of angelology, such as that there are “different kinds of angels: messenger angels, healing angels, fiery angels” who have “fallen asleep.” In a blog post she wrote, “I think that they have been bored for a long time and are ready to be put to work.” She relates a story about one of her students at the Bethel Supernatural School of Ministry who claims God told her to go to the chapel and yell “WAKEY WAKEY!” As Johnson says,

Nothing happened for about five minutes, so [the student] turned around to cross the road to go over to a shop. As she turned around, she felt the ground begin to shake and heard this huge yawn. She looked back at the chapel, and a huge angel stepped out. All she could see were his feet because he was that large. She asked him who he was, and he turned to her and said, “I am the angel from the 1904 revival and you just woke me up.” She asked him, “Why have you been asleep?” The angel answered and said, “Because no one has been calling out for revival anymore.” (Joe Carter)

This movement has drawn tens of thousands into its teaching and experientially-oriented worship services. It gets us painfully close to the kind of angelic worship and mystical experiences promised by the Gnostics of Paul’s day.

It was the opinion of those who follow such views that a run-of-the-mill, ordinary faith with no gigantic angels being awakened was a sub-standard belief system. The Gnostics were “disqualifying” the Colossians by demeaning their adherence to Jesus Christ as the One Who is Creator of and ruler of angels. “Was Jesus asleep,” I wondered as I read the blog post quoted above? Did He require a hapless girl to shout “Wakey Wakey” to make Him willing to pour and blessing and bring revival?

How easy we are to be “disqualified” by such teaching and drawn away by incredible stories of mystical experiences (Bethel also reports an occasional unexplained dropping of angel feathers and gold dust in their services). And people flock to be a part of such sensationalistic claims.

The danger of disqualification still confronts us today. We must not allow it. IN the same passage, Paul warns us about the false “humility” of these Gnostic prognosticators. While they posed in humility, Paul calls them out for the pridefulness with which they paraded their “humility.”

The flesh is a slippery thing. We can deceive ourselves or be deceived into a pretend humility while in the same moment demonstrating the greatest pridefulness for our supposed humility.

Paul said “they take their stands on things they claim to have seen” in the mysteries…things only they were allowed to see. Paul said they were “full of wind” (literally… “puffed up” in the AV). This was the act of pretending to be “bigger than life:” larger and more important than they really were. They were “inflated to no purpose” by their carnal minds.

Rather than being “connected” in a special way to mysteries of God, Paul points out in v19 that they were in reality “disconnected” from the Head. They had “let go” of the Head, which is Christ, from which the whole body grows. The picture means they are also disconnected from the body, which is the church.

IN summary, Paul is cautioning the Colossians about following windbag, prideful, beheaded, fleshly men who claimed to know mysteries that no one else could know. These are not the people to follow, and to do so is to disqualify yourself along with them.

4. A Warning About Asceticism. (Col 2:20-23)

Asceticism has its place in church history as well as mysticism. Most ascetic practices are misguided efforts to control and constrain the appetites and desires of the flesh, sometimes in the extreme. What is forgotten by those who practiced these extremities of self-abuse is that, no matter how much we “do not touch, do not taste, and do not eat,” the flesh always finds a way of expression.

Ascetic practices in the Middle Ages involved sleeping on beds of straw, wearing sackcloth next to the skin, rigorous fasting, self-flagellation, going without sleep for days, and the list could grow. The Catholic Church has maintained some of these practices, and only in the mid-twentieth century banned some of the most extreme.

While we cannot know for certain which ascetic practices the Gnostics were advocated that the Colossians adapt, Paul puts a definitive stop to all of them with his argument from this passage: “You have died to the elements of this world.” Or as Barclay translates it, “If you have died with Christ to the elements of this world, why do you keep on submitting yourselves to their rules and regulations, as though you still lived in a world without God?”

It’s important in dealing with this passage to remember that the Gnostics believed all matter was evil. Everything in this world was therefore polluted and not truly created by or connected to God. Therefore we have to get OUT of the world to find our connection with the true creator.

This then translated into practices of avoiding the things of the world, “Don’t taste, don’t touch, don’t eat” in an effort to show our determination to turn our backs on materialism. The body, being matter, needed to be controlled and abused, since it really wasn’t important anyway and is going to perish.

There is always a deceptiveness regarding man-made religious rules and man-created religious systems. They have no value in restraining the flesh, but only inflame it more. Paul himself said of the law that the more he sought to keep it, the more it inflamed him. When we try to do in our own strength what only Jesus can do for us that will always be the result.

Paul said, “If (since) you have died with Christ to the elementary principles (the ABC’s) of the world, why as if you are living in the world (under the constraint of the world’s rules) do you submit yourself to decrees…” We are not under the constraint of the world’s rules. Since we are dead in Christ, they have no power, authority, or dominance over us. We are not obliged to subjugate ourselves to them.

In Christ we are free…from ascetic practices which have an appearance of wisdom but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. The flesh will find a way, even in our religious practices, to rear its head.

Our fallen self will always prefer a way to work our way in to God’s favor than to have it bought and opened for us. The only way we can enter faithfully and completely into God’s presence is with flesh that has died. Religion continually resurrects our flesh with new ways to work, and therefore exalt our self, even at the cost of great severity to our flesh, and great sacrifice made (as long, of course, as we are being watched by others!)

Only as we have died in Christ…with Him in death, burial and resurrection…can we be pleasing to God. Only as we come, with the hymn writers verse, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Your cross I cling” as our boast will we enter the kingdom.

You will never begin with the flesh (our lost, carnal nature) and find your way to God. It is impossible, so why are you trying? Why are you giving yourself over to those who claim to have “a new revelation” or “a new way” to come to God?

Why are you seeking the favor of angelic beings, or approaching the saints or Mary or the spirits of the departed or the stars for access when it has been granted you by Jesus, if you know Him? We have already come to the pinnacle in Christ. We need search for no other way. Only in Him.

Child of God, be careful who you follow. Avoid the traps of legalism, and hollow pseudo-philosophy, and mysticism and asceticism and man-made religious systems. Only then can we relate freely to God as those who are IN CHRIST.

This passage is, according to many commentators, one of the most difficult in all of Paul’s letters to interpret. I found myself agreeing. Since we know little really of the Gnostics mystical religion, we can only deduct from what Paul wrote what they were perpetuating. Our history is sketchy at best, so the interpreter has to “fill in gaps” with some assumptions. I do not present this as the last word…just my attempt.

Sermon Notes 04


Paul returns to a controversial topic with Colossians 2:6 as he says “As you therefore received Christ Jesus as Lord.” Two camps divide on this thought. What is the implication of the Lordship of Jesus?

One viewpoint says there is no other way to receive Christ Jesus than as Lord. How does one come to the foot of the cross and give oneself to the Savior in an exchange of life; His for ours, and not then follow with submitting to His Lordship?

The other viewpoint, while arguable less well-received, is the position that receiving Jesus as Savior and making Jesus Christ Lord are two distinct acts. This viewpoint (as fiercely argued against by John MacArthur and others) separates an otherwise inseparable reality.

A.W. Tozer wrote that “there is a view that is popular in modern Christianity that one may receive Jesus as Savior and then, when it is more convenient, follow Him in Lordship.” This is an untenable position, according to Tozer and many others.

So why was Paul laboring this point as if one were possible without the other. Can Jesus be received in ANY way but “as Lord?” Maybe for Paul it was a reminder that Jesus did not just come to redeem, but to transform. Not just to “justify” us before God, but to transform us in sanctification and discipleship.

Some of the argument is dependent on our understanding of repentance. Has a person fully repented if they have not turned the entirety of life over in Lordship to follow Jesus? Repentance is not just the cleansing of past sins and failure, but also is to be a continuing posture for the person redeemed. We never stop repenting, if repenting truly means more than simply saying “I’m sorry for sin.” Our lifestyle is now one of repentance and turning “toward” Jesus as Lord.

Paul was probably also referring to their “receiving” as hearing the Gospel from Epaphras. “As you therefore received it…” with eagerness, with faith, with confidence. So continue in that same course and attitude as you had at the first.

But this could also have been a slap at the Gnostic heretics. The idea of “Lordship” had strong overtones, not only in religious circles, but political ones in the Roman Empire.

For the Roman, faithful to the empire, only the Caesar was called Lord. It implied ownership of and oversight of everything within the sphere of the empire.

The Gnostic heresy had reduced Jesus to a part of the puzzle, but Paul here reminds the Colossians that Jesus is OVER the puzzle; He is Lord of all…not a piece of life’s puzzle but the reason for it…and the Maker of it!

This verse is actually an excellent summary of the entire book of Colossians. (Lucas, BST). What does it look like to “live in Him?” When we “receive Christ as Lord,” there are demands this places on our lifestyle and choices, decisions, and thinking. We “live” in Him, but what are the implications and outworkings of that?

Lucas suggests that Paul is actually laying out three principles of Christian development here.

As you received……so live in Him

As you were rooted….be built up

As you were taught…be established.

We received Christ as Lord through no good work on our part. God does the work of opening our eyes, and minds, and hearts to Who Jesus Christ is. We received Christ the Lord by grace, but then we are to go on from there and LIVE in Him. What does that look like?

We are to be rooted in the truth….and so be built up. Our Christian growth depends, not just on our receiving Christ as Lord, but we are also to “earth” or “root” ourselves in the truth. We are to embrace the systemized teaching of Jesus Christ and the doctrine taught by the apostles, this Gospel “once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3)

We are to be taught…and so be established. We are to be established, like a strong tree deeply rooted and stable, and now as a building that is constructed.

We received; we are rooted; we are established in Christ. (BST)

“As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord…” (so Melick offers). The positioning of “Lord” at the end of the phrase is only done here by Paul in all of his epistles. The positioning emphasizes “the Lord.” Using the word “received” with its object being “Christ Jesus” is also an unusual positioning. Normally “received” has to do with “teaching,” or “doctrine” or “Gospel.” The implication of this is that the Colossians actually embraced HIM, not just the teaching about Him.

This is one of the oldest and simplest statements about what it means to be a Christian: “You have received Christ Jesus the Lord.” The journey for some from initially hearing and being exposed to Jesus/the Gospel to committing to become a Christian is on average four years. (Tidball, The Reality of Christ). We are not just “receiving a new teaching” or “embracing a new lifestyle” as we come to Christ. We are receiving HIM into our lives, a life eternal, a spiritual power and dynamic, and out of that decision we will live a different kind of life.

“As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in Him…” (2:6). We are making no cavalier or thoughtless decision when we say YES to Jesus. Paul puts no barrier in the way of that process: no formulaic prayer, no church or denominational issue, no promises to be made by us. Simply “RECEIVE” Him.

But once we have received, we must then also “LIVE” in Him. There is no way a person can be married and RECEIVE another into their lives without being changed by that transaction. As imperfect an analogy as that is, it makes the point that some change is expected.

Think then how deeply the change will be when we receive Christ. We are to LIVE in Him, being “rooted (earthed) and built up in Him…” (2:7)

We have two metaphors at work in this statement. One is taken from agriculture; the other from construction. But we are to be “rooted” (“once and for all having been rooted”) in Christ, and allow (as a new plant would do) our roots to grow deeply into the soil of Christian truth. At the same time (and in relationship to the depth of our root system) we can be “built up” in Him. The deeper the roots, the more solid the foundation and the taller the building. We grow taller as we grow deeper.

But we are also to be “strengthened.” Our strength is tied to our faith, but not just to our faith as in the faith that saves us. That faith is a gift, and is a constant, and cannot be forever lost. This is a reference to “the faith,” or the systematized truth of the Christian life. While we cannot lose “faith,” we can lose “the faith” by adulterating it with false teaching and watering down its truth.

It is precisely there that we have the ability to build spiritual “muscle.” We can “bulk up” our faith by adding knowledge and aligning life with the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. (2 Peter 1)

It is here that many fail. We want this part of the journey to be automatic, too. But it is here that discipleship becomes a necessity. In discipleship, we are introduced to and deepened in “the faith.” And it is here, again, the church has sometimes let down.

We must disciple our children, since we learn that by age nine or ten their worldview is set. They are making important and life-altering decisions out of a worldview that may NOT be Christian.

Parents must learn the art of discipling. Students need to be discipled. Adults must be discipled. Seniors must be discipled. It is here that the faith of the church is strengthened.
To stand firm in the day in which we are living, and to oppose the false doctrine and religious systems that would challenge our faith it is more important than ever.

But finally we are to be thankful. One of the primary marks of a mature Christian’s faith, according to Paul, was gratitude. We are to “overflow” in gratitude for the gift of salvation and for our growth in that grace. Gratitude is one of the hallmarks of the true followers of Jesus. The Gnostic teachers obviously promised their followers an “abundant” or “overflowing” life. Paul is saying, “You are to overflow…in gratitude for what God in Christ has done for you!”

Paul’s First Defense of the Faith

There are three primary warnings issued by Paul in Colossians:

1) Don’t let anyone kidnap you! (2:8)
2) Don’t let anyone condemn you! (2:16)
3) Don’t let anyone disqualify you! (2:18)

In Colossians 2:8-15, we encounter Paul’s specific defense against the threats encountered by the church in Colossae. These were the threats that were attempting to lead them out of freedom and into captivity. “Don’t be taken captive by anyone…” Paul warns them. And if we are wise, we will hear and heed the same words of warning.

We do know that at least one threat was the insurgency of the Gnostic heresy. This has already been discussed at some length. Then, there was the threat of human traditions. Finally we encounter with Paul what he calls “the basic (elementary or elemental) principles of the world.”

The Gnostic Insurgency: “Deceptive Philosophy”

Paul first of all tackles what he calls the “hollow and deceptive philosophy” that was being presented to them. What all this philosophy entailed we cannot be certain. But we know at least some dimensions of this was the philosophy of the Gnostic system.

Lightfoot translates this verse “I wish to warn you against anyone who would lead you astray by specious argument and persuasive rhetoric.” (Colossians 2:8). People who fall prey to “questionable arguments and persuasive speech” are those who are weakest in the faith.

Often cults and other anti-Christian groups attack the marginal believers; those who are not grounded and rooted and established in the faith. They are the “low hanging fruit” that are the easiest to reach for those with a “new” take on the faith.

The Colossian Christians were awash in different and “new” philosophical thinking. The trade route that Colossae occupied, both by road and by sea, brought people with new ideas, new thoughts, and new philosophies. Their arguments were “persuasive” and their rhetoric attractive.

Such threats are always present in the church of every era. We have our own particular “philosophies,” including the Prosperity Gospel movement. This movement is attractively packaged with clever rhetoric and charismatic personalities. But the content of this viewpoint is “specious” and “hollow.” There is no depth; no substance to it. Yet many are led astray by this modern day heresy.

Usually there is enough truth and enough mentions of the name Jesus to make it sound plausible, and even difficult to oppose. Who doesn’t want to get rich and never suffer? But this argument has led many out of a solid, Biblical-based ministry to follow its hollow philosophy.

The Jewish Threat: “Traditions of men”

It is commonly believed by Bible scholars and students that Judaism was a very real threat to the Colossian congregation. Most likely the Colossian congregation was populated by those with Jewish backgrounds.

As such, the Jewish community (remember, about 50,000 strong in the Lycus Valley) would have had a dramatic pull on those who had left the synagogue to follow Jesus.

Their demand that God’s followers must be circumcised was part of what Paul spoke about later in verse 11 when he said, “and you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands…” This would have stood in dramatic conflict with commonly held Jewish teaching and practice.

When the Jews left Egypt for the Promised Land, and before they entered it, they were marked and identified as unique by the mark of circumcision. In its day, it had a place and even was a necessity.

But we have entered the Promised Land through Christ. Our identity is not in circumcision or in any religious observance that can be performed externally. It is an inward circumcision, one of the heart, and this circumcision is effected by the Holy Spirit. As this happens, it will have outward effect, and so identify us as one of God’s people.

Paul was saying, in essence, that the traditions of men (i.e. the Jewish traditions) were not required to have a complete faith. They were just that: traditions. And they have no power to help us and no power to penalize us if we refuse to follow them.

“According to the rudiments of the world…”

The third threat Paul confronted was almost certainly mystical teachings which may or may not have been related to the Gnostics. The word “rudimentary” or “elemental” is a word, in the Hellenistic world of the day, to mean “the spirits of the world.” The NIV translates this phrase “the basic principles of this world,” but probably doesn’t go far enough.

This would have been a warning against following those who believed the stars or heavenly bodies controlled life. These were the superstitions of the world, like doing or not doing things on certain days.

Paul quickly turns to affirm that Christ is exalted “over every power and authority.” (2:10). And not only is that true, but since “in Christ dwells all the fullness of the godhead in bodily form, you have been given fullness in Christ, Who is the head over every power and authority.” (NIV).

In other words, spirits whether embedded in the earth and rocks and trees and plants and storms, or angels that dwell above you, can control your life. Jesus Christ created them, and He is the One Who has authority over them.

We seem to have an unbroken stream of entertainment offerings that focus on demonic spirits that control and take over lives of people, sometimes children and sometimes adults. There is a fascination with these kinds of movies and themes, and maybe a hidden fear is living in some that says, “Could such a horrible thing happen to me?”

The Bible does not “debunk” the reality of the unseen spiritual realm, whether heavenly or demonic. It simply says, “whatever is out there, God has control of it.” Whatever seeks to overwhelm or overtake your life, the One in Whom is all authority dwells within you.

So unless we can come up with some demonic or spiritual force that can overwhelm the Son of God, Who has placed Himself inside of the believer, there is no way such a thing can happen. That spirit would have to be so supremely powerful as to be able to send Jesus running!

In Haiti and other countries oppressed by the practitioners of Santa Ria, Voodoo, or other forms of witchcraft, we find people who are tied to these “elemental spirits” they believe they can control. Their practices are very much rooted in superstition, and no doubt have demonic forces empowering some of their activity.

Sadly some in those countries, sometimes even believers, think these forces can control their lives, usually for evil. To live in a world dominated by forces unseen where they feel powerless and fearful gives us something of the flavor and influence that the Gnostic and mystic practitioners were steeped in. They were revered for their mystical, occult, and magic powers.

But no such power, in heaven or earth, the Universe we see or the unseen world we don’t, now has or will ever have anything like that kind of power and authority! Jesus is Lord over all!

In summary, the philosophical threat Paul was confronting had three primary characteristics:

  1. The philosophy was human. It “depends on human tradition.” This is man’s attempt to control his world with a nonrevelational approach. It started with man, and always ended with man. You cannot start with man and end up with God!
  2. The philosophy was elementary. Originally this term referred to the four elements: earth, wind, fire, and water. Usually these were seen in conflict with each other. Sometimes these “elements” were signs of the zodiac or the powers that ruled the planets. Normally in Jewish teaching of the day, the “elements” referred to supernatural beings or demons. In Galatians, Paul called them “no-gods.” (Gal 4:9). Often Paul considered these spirits as angels that sought to control man.
  3. The philosophy was non-Christian. It was not “according to Christ,” and therein lay the danger. It was completely antithetical to the teaching of what Christ did on the cross to accomplish salvation.

Collectively, these three dangers comprised the “Colossian heresy.” (NAC, V 22)

The Presentation of Christ as Redeemer (Colossians 2:9-15)

The primary error of the Gnostic heresy was its effort to teach that the “fullness of God,” (literature of the time shows they frequently used the term “pleroma,” or fullness) was in fact distributed among heavenly powers.

Jesus, in their teaching, was one dimension of that. Paul corrects this view powerfully in his assertion that “the pleroma (fullness) of God in bodily form lives in Jesus.” Jesus is the pleroma. There is no other. In fact, he emphasizes the fact by a modifying word “all.” “All the fullness of deity dwells in Jesus.”

Legally I am told the word “all” is defined as “including everything and excluding nothing.” There is nothing about God in His nature, His character, or His being that is excluded from Jesus. Everything is included in Jesus. Lightfoot characterizes this as “in a bodily manifestation.”

Wiersbe interprets this to mean “all of God’s divine being and attributes” dwell bodily in Jesus. “Why,” Paul can be heard asking, “would you need anything else?”
If Christ is Creator (and He is), and all the fullness of God indwells Him (and it does), what else could we possibly need? Because in that “pleroma,” that “fullness,” Christ has come to “fill us full” with His fullness.

The fullness of deity was every bit God. However, Paul avoids the thinking of modalism in not saying Christ was all deity. The Father and Spirit are equally divine. Christ embodies the fullness of God, but does not exhaust the dimensions of deity. The Father and the Spirit still are active. The distinctions of the Trinity remain intact.
Though we will never exhaust the wonder and fullness of meaning of God’s fullness indwelling Jesus, we have to go one step further with Paul, because “you have been given fullness in Christ!” (2:9)

All that is in Christ now is filling the believer. This does not imply that any man is elevated to the level of Jesus Christ, nor that it means that we somehow become deity in this process. But as in Christ, the fullness of God dwells in bodily form, now Christ dwells in the believer. In the “form” of Christ, we have the reality of God. This passage reflects some of the highest Christology in Paul’s writings. (Melick)

These thoughts and Paul’s teaching here sets the table for the most mind-churning reality, that this One Who is the fullness of Deity bodily, Who is God embodied fully in flesh without diminishing either, now has taken up residence in us.

No other epistle delves more deeply into this “mystery” of being “in Him,” or “in Christ” that Colossians. This particular section uses that phrase seven times. The indwelling Presence of Jesus Christ in the believer is one of the hallmarks of this epistle.

Numerous times before this verse Paul has referred to the believer as being “in Him.” Now He reverses the reality slightly (holds it to the light in a different way) and says “and He is IN YOU.” This “in Him-in you” relationship is a philosophy that no man, no matter his level of brilliance, could have arrived at. There is no logical way that a human mind could generate the idea of this reality, that somehow God could not only dwell with or dwell among His creatures, but could actually embody them fully.

Scores of books have been written seeking to understand this. An entire movement broke out in the nineteenth century centered on this thought, led by Andrew Murray and other writers and preachers. But none have gotten to the bottom of understanding this truth. It is a mystery that can only be proclaimed, but not fully explained.

But with the “pleroma” of the One Who has all authority given dwelling with us, Paul dismisses any attempt to relegate Christ to a lesser being than He is. Gnosticism was one among countless attempts through the centuries to try and do this.

FF Bruce reminds us that Paul’s emphasis here was to point to Christ’s dominance and ruling over every power, every so-called spiritual authority, and every spiritual authority. None are exalted over Him. He is the ultimate and final ruler over them all. So Paul’s eagerness that the Colossians not be “taken captive” by those who would sweep them away through persuasion, threat or fear. The final authority lives in them through the Presence of Christ. There is none greater.

Before Paul returns to a final statement about spiritual authorities that would seek to usurp the place of Christ, he turns to deal with the essential matter of our salvation. Salvation, you remember, has three component parts:

Justification: Being declared “not guilty” by the verdict of God, the Judge of the Universe. “Who can bring an accusation against us? It is God Who justifies.”

Sanctification: The ongoing process of being conformed to the likeness and image of Christ. We grow in grace by learning and obedience and living out our faith. No one ever fully completes sanctification. It is a lifelong process.

Glorification: This is the final and eternal stage of salvation that happens when the believer is taken into the Presence of God at death.

Therefore it is true and proper that we can say “We have been saved “(past tense) through justification. We “are being saved” (by sanctification ongoing and “we shall be saved” at the final stage when our bodies rest in death and our spirits fly into God’s eternal Presence. And one day, even our mortal earthly body will be glorified (made like Christ’s).

The Implications of the Hidden Life

In 2:11-15, Paul turns to dealing with the implications of what it means to be “in Christ.” Along the way, Paul confronts the Jewish critics who were seeking to “take captive” the Colossian believers but seeking to return them to Judaism and its legalistic forms.

“In Christ: His Death, His Burial, and His Resurrection”

Paul deals first with the issue of circumcision. In the Old Testament, the rite of circumcision was an identifying marker for His chosen people. But with the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the marker for His people became being “in Christ.”

Old Testament circumcision cut away a small piece of flesh from a man’s body. Jesus underwent a circumcision of the entirety of His flesh for us on the cross. His body was “cut away” into death. Therefore no external marking is necessary to identify us with Jesus. With the arrival of the Holy Spirit, Christ is now in us.

“In Him you were circumcised….by the circumcision of Christ made without hands, by the putting off of the body of flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.”

As His flesh died on the cross, so ours must die in crucifixion of our self. And since we are dead, we are also “buried with Him in baptism…”

The necessity of baptism has been a subject of much debate throughout the years. Is it a symbol? A ritual? A cleansing act? Is it necessary for salvation to be effected?

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, a statement of common beliefs held by the Southern Baptist Convention, says this about baptism:

VII. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper. (Baptist Faith and Message 2000)

So Baptist belief is that baptism is not a sacrament (an act that imparts grace to the one who receives it), but is a symbol of the act of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

In fact, baptism properly administered, is an incredible picture of the Gospel. It is a visual portrayal of Jesus’ passion. As the one who has professed belief in Christ stands in the water, they are saying visually “I believe Jesus died for my sins.” Then, when they are placed under the water, they are saying, “He was buried.” And finally, coming out of the water, “and He rose again on the third day.”

But not only is the Gospel being proclaimed in baptism. The reality of our union in Christ through our faith in Him is also being proclaimed. The testimony we are sharing is, “In Christ, I was crucified. In Christ, I died and was buried. In Christ, I have been raised with Him through faith in Him.”

Baptism, therefore, is a proclamation of what the Gospel IS, and a proclamation of what the Gospel DOES. Baptism is certainly an important aspect of and, in fact, is the public profession of our faith. But we will not add baptism in the category of “necessary” for salvation since to do so would seek to add to what Christ has done for us on the cross.

“As the burial of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:4) set the seal upon His death, so the Colossians burial with Him in baptism shows that they were truly involved in His death and laid in His grave. It is not as though they simply died like Jesus died, or were buried as He was laid in the tomb…The burial proves that a real death has occurred and the old life is now a thing of the past.” (Peter O’Brien, WBC)

“…in which (in Him) you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, Who raised Him from the dead.” (Col 2:12 NASB)

“Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. The death He died, He died to sin once for all, but the life He lives, He lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”(Romans 6:8-11)

We must never forget that we actually have participated in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ! Our fullness includes this reality, and is born out of it. It should dominate all that is in us!

In Christ: Delivered from Death and Bondage (vv 13-15)

“Dead” is an apt description for the state of every person who is apart from Christ. They may look alive, but spiritually outside of Christ, every person is dead. Ephesians 2:1 states, “…and you were dead in (because of) your trespasses and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world.”

This word captures the reality of sin’s severity. “The wages of sin is death,” we read in Romans. Death was promised to Adam and Eve as a result of their rebellion against Him and disobedience in the Garden. Something that is dead cannot reproduce life. So every person, tied by the cord of the human race to our first parents, can only receive death from them. “In sin was I conceived…” the Psalmist says.

But this death is something that, while not physical YET, is a part of every human being’s existence. We are spiritually disconnected from our Creator, and alienated and hostile in mind against Him. We are also continually alienating ourselves from one another, thus providing that we have a problem we cannot cure ourselves.

We were dead, lifeless, and empty living in darkness. Without Jesus, we can do nothing to receive life. Only in Christ is this possible. Kent Hughes reinforces this idea:

“There must be a sovereign communication of life from God. When Elijah stretched himself upon the dead boy, his heart beat against the stillness of the boy’s chest until it kindled life. Even so, Christ must lay His life on our deadness, and then comes life!” (Hughes, Colossians).

Now our life is no longer empty. We are no longer in darkness. We are no longer lifeless. There is LIFE, LIGHT, and FULLNESS in Christ alone!

Not only have we been set free from death, but we have been set free from the bondage of our guilt!

“God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. (vv 13b-14)

Salvation begins at the initiative of God. We don’t just wake up one morning, decide we are terrible people because of our sin, and set out to knock on God’s door. The Holy Spirit “quickens” us (old English word for “make sensitive,” like the “quick” of your fingernail). As we are “quickened,” “made sensitive” to God we are awakened to the possibility of new life in Jesus.

We were dead…now we have been made alive in Christ! And as we are alive, and know the fullness of God through Christ, we find we are also being set free from the guilt that burdens us.

Being set free from our guilt is like being set free from the pull of gravity! It is elating to know our sin and guilt has been taken out of the way. “He forgave us all our sins…”

While “forgave” is past tense (already done) in English translation, the Greek is more definitive. It says “God has done something in the past (forgave you) that is continuing to work itself out in the present (we continue to be forgiven).

Some have mistakenly understood that this verse is teaching that all the sins forgiven at the cross that we had committed up until that time. If you continue to mess up, it’s your problem to fix! Those who believe this way find themselves entering a non-stop treadmill of trying to work for salvation, or believing they have “lost” salvation and need to “find” it again!

That is not what Paul is teaching, and it is not what God is doing. When Jesus died for you, remember, ALL of your sins were future. ALL of your guilt was future.

But when the Bible says, “He forgave us all our sins” this is a proclamation that the penalty due every sin we have ever committed or ever WILL commit in the future has already been paid for.

I’ve heard it explained this way. It is as though someone placed a $100,000 check in your account. It is there. It is good. But until you start writing checks or using your debit card, you will never receive the benefit of the gift.

We are to continue “writing checks” on the forgiveness that God has deposited in our “account.” “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just (righteous) to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

But further, Paul said that Christ forgave “the handwriting of ordinances” or “handwriting of debt” (ESV) that was against us. This was a common picture in Biblical times. Every criminal crucified had a “handwriting” of their crime nailed over their heads. For Jesus, the only crime that could be manufactured was “King of the Jews.”

In reality however, the debt of all our sin was nailed to Jesus on the cross. He paid the sin debt for every person who would believe. Another element was in play in this idea of our “IOU,” is the fact that the Romans would take a written legal charge against a criminal and nail it above the jail door until every last penalty was paid. When the criminal had done their time and paid for their crime, the jailer would take this document and write the word “tetelestai” over it. The word meant “Finished: the debt is paid.”

It is not a coincidence that, as Jesus hung on the cross and neared His death there, cried out the same word, “tetelestai:” which meant, “it is finished.” What was finished? Your debt. My debt. Our sin. Our guilt.

Written by the blood of Jesus across the “handwriting of debt” that was against us is the word “It is finished!” Once and for all eternity, our debt was paid by Jesus. He “set it aside, nailing it to His cross.”

But out of that victory, Jesus then “disarmed” the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame.” Paul here returns to the initial subject, that of those who would seek to enslave or “kidnap” the Colossian believers by the threat of deceptive or “hollow” philosophy.

Paul is saying here that these spiritual “emanations” have been taken captive by Jesus as a conquering general would take captives on a victory parade through the city. They would follow behind as shamed and defeated foes.

Jesus, by His victorious death and resurrection, “disarmed” and “shamed” these enemies who posed a threat to the believers in Colossae. He “triumphed over them in Him.” (v 15)

The victory of Jesus was not just over sin and not just to pay the “handwriting of debt.” His victory also conquered spiritual enemies in opposition to God, to the Gospel, and to believers. He “took them captive” and openly exposed them to shame in their defeat.

…so that at the Name of Jesus every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)

Sermon Notes 03


Colossians 1:24-2:5 comprises one of the more personal and confessional sections of the Letter to the Colossians. Paul began the letter with a claim to apostolic authority-“an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” (1:1)

Now, with this segment, Paul begins in earnest to exercise that claim to authority. He doesn’t do it as we might expect someone of his high profile to do, but instead speaks of his “sufferings” (v. 24), his “stewardship” (v. 25), and his “struggle.” (2:1)

These are all words which point, not to his strength, but to his weakness. But the things which some may believe disqualified him for his role as apostle (his suffering, his imprisonment, his struggles) are the very things he points to as things that legitimatize him.

All of this that he might “present everyone mature in Christ.” ( v. 28) He claims from the outset no personal, hidden agenda; no self-glorification. His message is not about himself, but instead about the One for whom he labors expending “all His energy that he powerfully works” within him. (v29). Paul does not even claim that “energizing” as coming from himself!

He does not lay out his degrees or experience, or his background as a rabbi. He doesn’t even defend the reason he has been imprisoned! Instead his focus is on “God’s mystery, which is Christ.” (2:2)

His Source For Ministry

Paul begins by telling the Colossians that his ministry was not conferred on him by the approval of man. It was not given him because of his educational credentials, though he could have appealed to that. It was Christ Who called him to this apostolic role, and it was Christ’s call which was the only credential he required.

I do not believe that Paul ever got over the fact that God chose him to fulfill this role. At the end of his life, he wrote his protégé Timothy and said “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service; even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor.” (1 Timothy 1:12-13)

In Chapter 1:21-23, Paul is not launching an accusation by saying “you were once alienated…hostile…doing evil…” He was speaking also of himself, and he well remembered what he was before he met Jesus.

We would be much better if we each did the same. “Remember what you used to be…” Paul was saying. We need to turn our backs completely on our former way of living that was anti-Christ and all things Christian, even if we simply lived apathetically toward the things of God. We do well to remember where we came from, and allow that memory to add an urgency to our efforts to reach the lost and live the Gospel out.

Paul’s call to ministry and salvation on the Damascus Road in Syria, as he was on a mission to wipe out the Christian movement, is one of the most dramatic conversion experiences we have in the Bible. None was going in a more violent, aggressive, and headstrong direction against Jesus than Paul.

But Jesus called to him while he traveled, and struck him blind in the middle of the road. (Acts 26:9-18) In that weakened state, God sent a man to him to explain what had happened three days later. Ananias, a faithful believer, prayed over Paul (then Saul), laid his hands on him, and caused him to receive his sight.

Paul never forgot what it was like to live in opposition to the Gospel. Now, he literally was pouring out his life to proclaim it to all who would hear. He knew he was unworthy; and he knew the grace of God that came to him could save anyone!

He was no volunteer to the ministry. Jesus violently confronted him and called him out of darkness and into light. And Paul never looked back.

His Suffering

Paul understood that ministry would equal suffering. Jesus told him “that I will show you many things you will suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9)

The enemies of the Gospel, the Jewish leadership and the false teachers beginning to infect the church in Colossae made much of the fact that Paul was a political prisoner of Rome. We can hear their arguments against the apostle: “So you are listening to advice from a man you’ve never seen and he’s being held prisoner in Rome for being a troublemaker?”

But in Colossians 1:24-27 Paul answers this criticism head-on. He doesn’t act like what he is experiencing is an aberration or a mistake. Instead, he says “I rejoice….!”

The ministry meant suffering for Paul. It does still today for many. Those going through persecution in Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea understand the price of ministry.

But rather than resenting his suffering, Paul said “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake…” Paul rejoiced because his sufferings united him, in a mystical way, with the sufferings of Christ.

Some have taught, notably the Catholic Church, that Paul is referring here to purgatory, where believers would go after their death to “finish (fill up) the sufferings of Christ for the church.”

This doctrine cannot be defended Biblically. There is no such place as purgatory discussed in the Bible. The idea that Christians need to go to a place of suffering to “complete” what Christ left undone is an affront to the completion of Jesus’ sufferings on our behalf.

But if this is not what Paul meant by “filling up what is lacking” in Christ’s afflictions, what does it mean? It could mean, first of all, that Ananias, at Paul’s conversion, told him he would suffer many things for Christ’s sake. (Acts 9:16) As we know now from Paul’s testimony and history, truer words could not have been spoken.

The sufferings he endured, however, were always understood as “for Christ’s sake.” Literally Colossians 1:24 interpreted Paul’s saying to mean “(he was) filling up in his turn the leftover parts of Christ’s sufferings for the church.” Lightfoot says it means to “fill up and even supplement” the sufferings of Christ. His suffering came to him for three reasons. One, because of his laser-focus on the church, which is Christ’s body. He suffered, not for his own person, but for the bride for which Christ laid down His life on the cross.

Second, his sufferings came because of the presence of Christ in him. Satan hates Christians, not for our own sakes, but because of the One Whose image they bear. It is the presence of Christ in us that the enemy despises. But we are the physical “bearer” of that image which so outrages the devil.

Third, Paul understood his sufferings “for the Gentiles.” In this instance, for the Colossians. It was for their sake he was in chains. He saw, behind the discomfort of a prison cell and the deprivation he experienced, the hand of God placing him there “for such a time as this,” to borrow the words from The Book of Esther.

Paul never saw suffering as useless or wasted. “I rejoice…” he said. The testimony the Romans and other persecutors throughout the centuries could not erase was the testimony of the joy experienced in the midst of suffering. It is not something the world ever understands. Only those whose lives are sold out to the One Who gave up His life for them!

Missiologist Nik Ripken reminds us that the persecutor’s primary goal is to silence the testimony of the believer. Their agenda is to silence the “word of our testimony” because this word has the power to tear down his kingdom!

Many speak of American Christians being persecuted today. Certainly we are more marginalized as a religious group, partly because we enjoyed a number of years in the mainstream of American culture.

There was a day when “going to church” was just expected of everyone. To say someone does not go to church was tantamount to disparaging a person’s character and morality. This belief led many to “attend” church services to cultivate their image in the community or even to further a business or political agenda.

As time went by, that centralizing of “church” attendance began to change, and as more and more cultures and nationalities have become a normal part of the American landscape, church attendance has become less and less necessary to many.

The conservative Christian movement in America has also gone through a time, due to alignment with conservative politics, that has identified the church too neatly with conservative and fundamental political agendas.

The rise of the Moral Majority lent itself to this cultural shift. As this movement lost favor in our culture, the church also lost favor. Still today we are aligned, in the minds of many people, with such conservative political views and politics whether we engage politically or not.

All of these and other cultural currents have moved the church to the sidelines in America, leaving us as a far less influential force to be considered. The ensuing years as the new millennium was born have moved us even further toward the margins.

With the loss of our high profile in American culture and the rise of a culture of sensitivity, offense and political correctness, it has become much harder to share our faith publically. Christians have become intimidated with the idea of talking about Jesus, fearing reprisals from the workplace, the loss of relationships and friendships, and now even the accusation of our viewpoint amounting to “hate speech.” We are intimidated into silence.

But we are not persecuted as a whole. While occasionally things arise that would fit the definition of persecution, these issues are usually more about marginalizing Christianity for unpopular and politically “incorrect” standards. But we are not persecuted for using the name of Jesus Christ in public. And as long as intimidation works to silence us, we probably won’t see outright persecution in America.

To summarize, then, the persecution that Paul and the early Christians were experiencing and that many today in various parts of the world still experience was directed toward their sharing the Gospel of Who Jesus is. “Do not speak any more in that name…” the apostles were threatened by the Jews in the Book of Acts.

Much of what Paul writes about suffering is related to sharing Jesus’ name. Much of what we experience today is cultural pressure to marginalize our influence in America, but is not directly an effort to keep us from talking about Jesus…just to keep us within bounds where we “belong.”

In Cuba on a visit with a Baptist group a few years ago, we were cautioned as we approached our vans that they suspected one of two drivers was a spy for the government. We were urged, whatever else we talked about, not to bring up the name Castro.

That was not a problem for us, since we were not there on a political mission. And it turned out that our driver was a spy for the regime. But the thought that entered the minds of several of our team was, “what if they told us not to bring up the name Jesus?” Would we have risked our freedom by refusing to be silent about the Name above every Name, or would the persecutors have won?

What price are you willing to pay to “fill up the measure of Christ’s suffering?” Would you refuse to speak in Jesus’ name or about Jesus for fear you will be misunderstood? Or for fear of offending someone? Or for fear you will miss a promotion at work? When the time comes and it is your turn to “fill up” the measure of the suffering of Christ for the church, what will you do?

Summary Statement

When Paul was Saul and had given himself to destroy the church, the resurrected Jesus stopped him on the Damascus Road and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Paul learned in that encounter that the unity of Jesus Christ to His body is so intimate that, when we suffer, Jesus hurts. When we hurt another Christian, it hurts our Savior.

And when we suffer because we are Christians, Christ is honored in our suffering. A Christian should never suffer “as a thief or evildoer” but it is an honor to suffer “as a Christian.” (1 Peter 4:15-16). Jesus blessed those who suffer for His namesake (Matthew 5:10-12).

But Paul also understood his suffering as “for the Gentiles (pagans, non-Jewish people).” Paul’s defense before the courts turned when he mentioned that he had been brought before the tribunal because of his desire for the Gentiles to receive this Gospel. These words infuriated the Jews who had accused him. They felt they were validated in their attacks against him because of his association with Gentile people.

Finally, Paul could rejoice in his sufferings because they “filled up the measure of the sufferings of Christ.” Much has been written trying to interpret these words. Paul here was by no means suggesting he was “adding to” Christ’s sacrificial work for us.

In fact Paul’s use of the word “afflictions” here (ESV, others) is employing a word never used to describe Christ’s suffering. The “afflictions” Paul was talking about were the “pressures of life” or “the pressures of ministry” he experienced because of his devotion to Jesus. (Wiersbe)

Jesus is close enough to His church to feel their pain, especially when they experience it because of their faith in Him. In this way we “fill up” the sufferings that God ordained for Christ to suffer on earth, and His body, as the continuing incarnation of Jesus, will experience before Christ’s return in glory.

His Message

Paul’s message was continually a Gospel-focused one. (See comments in Chapter 4). His desire was constantly to “make known the full Word of God” (v 25). His struggle as he explains it in Colossians 2:1-3 is that those who had not seen his face “may reach all the riches of full assurance and understanding and knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ…” (2:2)

Colossians takes on a religion based on their claim to have “a mystery” which they will reveal to you as you become their follower. They claimed to have “understanding” and “knowledge” of the mystery which was, as they defined it, “knowing God.”

Paul is taking their claim and turning it, against them and, at the same time, lifting up Jesus as “the mystery of God now revealed.” He desperately wants the Colossian and Laodecian churches to understand that, in Christ, the mystery has already been fully revealed!

In the mystical eastern religions in Biblical times, as well as ours, there is always a “secret code” or “secret ritual” or “secret name” or “secret number” that, when unlocked, solves all the mysteries of the universe. People still today seek out those religions and spend fortunes and lifetimes trying to purchase keys to unlock the mysteries of life.

But Paul is presenting, in Jesus, the mystery of God revealed, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1:27-28)

How profound! How simple! God has placed “the mystery” inside of the meekest and most inconsequential saint. Not the spiritually elite, or the remarkably intelligent, nor the influential leaders, but inside of all the Gentiles (pagans) lies the answer to life’s greatest questions: Christ. Is. In. You!

Paul expands this understanding in Ephesians 3:4-6

…the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members of one another’s body, and sharers together in Christ Jesus

Incredible statements. This mystery binds Jews and Gentiles together as one, to sit at the same table, share in the same body, and worship at the feet of Jesus Christ.

No wonder Paul longed to “have their hearts encouraged and joined together in love.” Grafting together two conflicting and opposing and hostile people to each other is no simple mission. But that is exactly what Paul sought to do, and weld them together with the fusion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This was a mystery. The fullness of God dwelt in Christ. That is profound. But another great mystery is also in play: “Christ is in you, the hope of glory. We cannot imagine the magnitude of that statement for Paul’s day, let alone our own.

The mystery, for those with “plausible arguments” that sought to destabilize young believers, was something to be discovered and looked for. The mystery, for Paul, was something that God had freely revealed as he proclaimed the word of God fully. (1:26)

Nothing is more worthy of our time, our “labor” (1:29), our love and our passion than this mystery. It is freely ours to freely share. Paul, though absent in body (2:5) was “with them in spirit” as they stand fast in the truth of this mystery, unshaken by arguments posed to them.

The Colossian church gave Paul cause to rejoice, finally, as he heard of “the good order and the firmness of (their) faith in Christ.” (2:5) Nothing gladdened the heart of the great apostle more than seeing their pursuit of the faith in the face of opposition and false teaching. This was the apostle’s heart and the engaging passion of his life, as the Word of God went forth and the Gospel was proclaimed.

It should also become ours.

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