Thursday, July 31, 2008

Colossians 2:1-5

Day 8

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.

Paul had never met the Colossians, nor had he visited Laodicea. Yet he tells them he is struggling on their behalf, in order to encourage them. Have you ever put yourself out for a stranger, someone you have never laid eyes on? It is hard to conjure up sympathy for someone you have no investment in, whether in time or emotion. Yet Paul seems fairly passionate about the Colossians. How was this possible?

I think the answer lies in the verses that we viewed yesterday. Paul had a purpose and a singular passion: to present every man complete in Christ. Paul’s purpose and calling was much broader than any individual or even a specific church. Paul’s purpose was to build The Church. The encouragement of the Colossians was an important part of the overall picture.

How did he intend to encourage their hearts? He is targeting three things for the Colossians.

1. Having been knit together in love:
Unity is a big theme for Paul. He stresses it in most of his letters in the New Testament. For instance, when Paul first wrote the Corinthians, they were up to their ears in serious problems. There was incest in the church. People were abusing the Lord’s Supper. Spiritual gifts were being exercised inappropriately. People within the body were suing each other. But after his introduction in his letter to them, what problem does Paul tackle first? The division within the body takes center stage.

Unity is an outward expression of a healthy body. Unity means its members have decided that to love each other is more important than to struggle over differences in doctrine or opinion. They have decided to esteem the other as more important than themselves. And they have placed Jesus Christ where He belongs: at the head of the body. They are acting in submission to Him.

2. Attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding:
The Colossians needed understanding. They were being influenced by false teachers who were mixing truth with false teaching. Paul was praying that they would have a great understanding of the truth, so they could meet the false teachers head-on with full assurance.

3. Resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge:
Again, Paul is working against the false teachers in this phrase. The heresy going around the church in Colossae taught that only a select few could ever gain the mysterious knowledge needed for salvation. Paul is stressing that ALL of them can know Christ.

One last observation: Paul expresses two marks of a mature Christian. He rejoiced to hear of the Colossians’ 1. good discipline, and 2. the stability of their faith. The discipline was an indicator that the Colossians had their actions under control. The stability was a comment on their character. They knew who they were and Whom they served.

How do you fare in the marks of a mature Christian? Does discipline mark your life? Would those around you consider you a stable person, especially in the area of your spiritual life? Make a list of those areas in which you wish to see improvement. Commit them to prayer.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Colossians 1: 28-29

Day 7

We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.

In the section preceding this one, Paul wrote about the mystery that was now known: Christ in you, the hope of glory. He now writes about his ministry, in which his sole purpose is to proclaim the formerly mysterious messiah, Jesus Christ, to every man.

It is interesting to note just how Paul proclaims Christ. He was a great preacher; you would think that proclaiming Christ would involve a soap box, a street corner, and a crowd. While at times Paul did preach to a huge audience, this is not how he defines proclaiming Christ in this particular letter. How does he proclaim Christ? “Admonishing every man and teaching every man. . . so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” A better word for admonish would be counseling, while teaching involved instruction. Paul proclaimed Christ by encouraging each person he worked with through personal interaction and instruction to exhibit Christ in their lives. In other words, Christ is made manifest to the world through His Church. He is proclaimed every time a life is changed.

I have a friend named Mike who came to know the Lord through the ministry at Trinity Community Church. The change in him was instantaneous. He was so enthusiastic about God, his relatives started showing up on Sunday morning as well. His sister told me, “Mike was so completely transformed, we had to come here and find out what made such a drastic difference in him.” Christ was effectively proclaimed through the changed life of one He saved.

Paul’s goal was to make every man complete in Christ. The idea of being “complete in Christ” is akin to maturity. How do we as Christians get to that place, finally mature in Jesus Christ?

A look at the Greek word translated “perfect” helps us understand what Paul is saying. The word is teleios, and has a lexicon meaning of “having attained the ending or purpose; complete, full grown, mature, or adult." Philippians 1:6 tells us that “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” James (1:4) wrote that the times of trials in our lives will have their “perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Becoming complete (or mature) is a process. Maturity comes through learning the Word of God and through the experience of living out its truths in our lives.

Notice also two things we learn about Paul. First, his keen sense of purpose. Paul lived each day with the goal of presenting every man complete in Christ. It is an all-encompassing goal. Included in Paul’s purpose is his dedication to bring men along from new birth to spiritual maturity.

Later in his letter, Paul urges the Colossians to make the most of every opportunity given them. This was a man who lived by that rule. Paul wrote the Colossians from Rome, where he was imprisoned. He was under house arrest, chained 24 hours a day to a member of the Praetorian Guard (kind of like the Navy Seals of the Roman army). Can you imagine being a member of that guard, chained to a man with such focused intent to bring every man to completeness in Christ? Paul wrote the Philippians that his cause had become known throughout the whole Praetorian Guard. No doubt. This was one focused guy.

The second thing we see about Paul is how he is going about accomplishing that purpose. Paul writes he is “striving according to His power, which mightily works in me.” Paul found some time ago that the key to success was total reliance on the power of the Lord. After struggling with a “thorn in the flesh,” Paul had learned the hard way how to rely on God. He wrote to the Corinthians: “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

A sense of purpose and the power to pull it off. We all need both of these things if we are to be effective in our walk with the Lord.

Could you verbalize, as Paul did, your purpose in life? Spend some time thinking about this and try to write it out in one sentence. Then pray for the power to fulfill this purpose.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Colossians 1:24-27

Day 6

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.


What is the “mystery” Paul is referring to here?

The Greek word translated “mystery” is musterion, and has a lexicon definition of something that was previously unknown but now revealed. There are over 20 times where this word is used in the New Testament. It can refer to as varied a subject as the mystery of God’s will to the mystery of the power of lawlessness. So we have to look at the context to figure out what mystery Paul is talking about.

The mystery was concealed from previous generations in ages past. It remained unknown until Paul’s generation, when it was revealed both to God’s saints and among the Gentiles. Paul identifies the mystery as “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Until Christ’s resurrection, God’s plan of salvation was kept shrouded from view yet in plain sight. Certainly the pieces of the mystery were all given within the Old Testament writings. The messiah was promised after the very first sin was committed (Genesis 3:15). Again in Genesis 12, Abraham was promised that “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”(Genesis 12:3) The messiah would come through the line of Abraham. Many years later, Abraham’s grandson Jacob prophesied over his son Judah, “the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh [messiah] comes”(Genesis 49:10). Four hundred and thirty years later, God’s instruction to the Hebrews as they prepared to escape the slavery of Egypt included a Passover meal, where a lamb was slain and its blood smeared on the doorpost to save the lives of those inside the house (Exodus 12). Later on, once the Hebrews were safely in the desert, the Law was given which required sacrifices to be made, blood to be shed as atonement for sins committed. All of this was a picture of and preparation for the Savior who would come and shed His own blood to atone for us on the cross.

Yet there were confusing aspects to the prophecies about the messiah. Mixed in with the many predictions of the messiah made by the prophets were also predictions of a glorious kingdom, in which the messiah would reign, as every knee would bow to him. Israel would be restored to the land after a long period of exile. We know now that there would be two comings of Christ, one to save us from the consequences of our sin, and a second to establish an everlasting reign on earth. As they say, hindsight is 20/20.

While the religious leaders of Jesus’ day paid great attention to prophecies of a political reign and restoration to the land, they largely ignored the many predictions of a suffering messiah (Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, for example). And so they were unwilling to accept Jesus as their messiah.

Jesus finally revealed the mystery to his disciples shortly after the resurrection. In Luke 24:27, we read, “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” Once the many prophesied events had taken place, He was able to show them from the Old Testament alone God’s plan of salvation which had been in place all along. The mystery was revealed.

Now Paul speaks of the mystery here in Colossians. What was once “hidden” has now been “manifested.” The messiah had come and made atonement for once and for all. All who believed in Him would receive eternal life. His Spirit would come to dwell within every believer as a seal, a promise, that one day all believers would share in His glory and inheritance (Ephesians 1:14). Christ in you. The hope of glory. All that had once been a mysterious shadow within the pages of the Old Testament was now perfectly clear.

Spend some time thanking God for His amazing plan of salvation which was conceived before the very first sin. Though thousands of years, He patiently wove the events of history to get the world ready for the day His Son would come to earth. It is truly remarkable what He accomplished, and all on our behalf.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Colossians 1:21-23

Day 5

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach--if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.


Paul has provided a beautiful before and after picture for believers of all time. Notice how he compares our lives before and after Christ:

Engaged in evil deeds

Beyond Reproach

Also noticeable is the mention of the “fleshly body” of Christ. Once again, this was in response to the false teaching threatening the church. The philosophers of the day (Platonists) believed that the body and everything physical or material was evil. Therefore, Christ could not have had a physical body, since a physical body could not be anything but evil.

Paul and the other apostles wrote against this false doctrine. For example, in John’s first letter, he strives to disprove this. He reminds his readers: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life. . .” (1 John 1:1) Four out of five senses are mentioned! Those who knew Jesus personally in the flesh, which by definition included the apostles, testified that Jesus was God in the flesh.

The conditional clause “if you continue in the faith steady and steadfast” gave me pause, because at a first read it seems like our presentation as holy, blameless, and beyond reproach is conditional on our remaining steady in our faith. Could any part of our salvation rest on our own shoulders? The answer is an unequivocal NO, according to the rest of the New Testament! A closer look at the grammar of the clause in the Greek reveals this is a first-class conditional clause. This means the writer assumes the answer is positive. Paul assumed the Colossians were true believers, judging by their faith, love, and hope he mentions at the beginning of the letter. He does not wonder at the outcome. Their position in Christ is secure. The words which are translated "if indeed" could almost be translated "since then."

Paul gives us two lists in these verses. One list tells who we are in Christ: reconciled, holy, blameless, and beyond reproach. The second list tells us what those who are in Christ do: continue in the faith, firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel.

The only way we can remain unmoved in our hope is by making sure our foundation is sure. Many of us remember singing about the parable of the foolish man building his house on the sand as children. The first storm came along and swept the silly man’s house from its foundation. Yet the wise man’s house, built instead on solid rock, remained unaffected in the storm. The foundation we must build on is the hope of the gospel. Our salvation is in Christ alone. It does not have anything to do with who we are or what we have done. It was supplied purely by the grace of God. When Satan comes along and attacks us, whispering doubts in our ears about our salvation, a man who has built his house on a less solid foundation will surely falter. Our house of faith must rest on the rock-solid foundation of Christ alone.

What are things that cause you to doubt your standing with God? Have you moved away from the rock-solid foundation in any subtle ways?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Colossians 1:15-20

Day 4

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or in heaven."

A few verses ago, Paul urged the Colossians to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” He explained that we have been transferred into the kingdom of light, and that darkness has no place in our lives anymore. This is the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Now Paul takes a paragraph to give the Colossians a better picture of that Son, Jesus. They needed this information because of the heresy being taught within their community.

To understand why Paul emphasized what he did, we need to take a look at the false doctrines that were being taught. The bad teaching going on in the first century church was the precursor to the later second century philosophical teaching known as Gnosticism. The main thrusts of this heresy were these:

  • Gnosticism’s roots were in Judaism. Its proponents taught that the Old Testament Law must be observed. Paul taught that we are no longer under that Law but now live under grace (Galatians 3:24-26).
  • The philosophical part of Gnosticism stressed a “deeper knowledge” only given to a select few.
  • This idea of “a select few” bred the idea of exclusivity. The Gnostics believed it was a privileged, small, exclusive group who actually possessed this.
  • Angels were believed to be deity and were thus worshipped.
  • The deity of Christ was denied.

As an answer to that last pillar of this false teaching, the denial of the deity of Christ, Paul writes a portrayal of Jesus Christ that can only describe one who is fully God. Take a minute and read through today’s passage again and make a list of all of the things that make Jesus fully God.

Finished?? Here is what I came up with:
1. He is the image of God.
An image is something visible. God, a omnipresent, invisible spirit, became visible to mankind in the person of Jesus. Hebrews 1:3 tells us Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being.

2. He is the firstborn of all creation.
Firstborn here does not mean created first, because that would contradict other Scripture that tells us that created creatures are not to be worshipped (Exodus 20:4-5) yet the angels worship Christ (Hebrews 1:6). Christ was not created, He is eternal just as God the Father is eternal. If Paul meant “first created,” he would have used a different Greek word-- but He called Christ “firstborn” instead.

Instead, Paul used “firstborn” to indicate a position. Christ was BEFORE all creation, and He is SOVEREIGN over creation. The term "firstborn" would have had that nuance of meaning for Paul’s readers because of what it meant to be a firstborn in the ancient world. Remember Jacob and Esau and all of the strife over the birthright? Being a firstborn son gave privileges and wealth that the other siblings would never share. It also made you head of the family. This is what Paul is referring to here.

3. He is creator of all things.
Notice the word ALL. Paul follows this by giving an all-encompassing sweep of things that are created: in the heavens, on the earth, visible and invisible, and man’s domain. All of this was created THROUGH Him and FOR Him. John 1:3 echoes this thought: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”

4. He is the sustainer of all things.
I once asked my secular physical science teacher why the nucleus of an atom holds together. It is comprised of tiny particles called protons that repel each other, being of the same electrical charge. Yet the force that is needed to split the nucleus of an atom is considerable. He answered, “It is nuclear energy that holds it together.” When I questioned what that was or where it came from, he didn’t have an answer. “We’re not sure,” he apologized. “It is just something that we assume and is always present.”

I know what holds the nucleus of an atom together. Jesus, the creator, continues to sustain what was created. He is actively involved with His creation to this present day.

5. He is head of the body.
Christ is the head of the church. The church is often called the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 4:12, Ephesians 4:12). The head contains the brain, without which the body ceases to function. Christ gave life to the church by dying to save it. He continues to provide life to the body and retains His position of authority over it.

6. He is the firstborn of the dead.
Paul wrote the Corinthians: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith is also in vain. . . if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless . . . and we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:14-19) Christ proved we can be resurrected from the dead by blazing the trail before us. If He couldn’t raise Himself, how could we trust Him to raise us? His resurrection proves that God is able to save us as well.

: :

Put all of the above together, and Christ cannot be anything but deity. Paul ensured his readers would understand this truth in spite of the teaching that had been circulating contrary to this fact.

Meditate on these attributes Paul teaches us about Christ’s deity. Think of the ways the “fullness of God” dwelled in Jesus. Spend some time in prayer praising Him for all of the ways He demonstrates He is God.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Colossians 1:13-14

Day 3

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

In the verse preceding this passage, Paul identified his fellow believers as “saints in Light.” Now he tells us why. We were not always people who walked in light. Before God saved us, we were walking around in darkness. Paul is speaking of a spiritual darkness here-- the kind that comes from complete blindness.

When I was teaching, every year we took the fifth grade to the Crystal Grottoes Caverns, located near the Antietam battlefield. It was a fascinating walk underground, and I never tired of marveling at the amazing rock formations and multi-colored mineral deposits year after year. One of the most talked about parts of the tour was when our guide led us into a large “room” and then turned off the lights. At that point we were 55 feet below the surface. Not one speck of light from the sun above could penetrate down to where we stood. The guide, of course, warned us ahead of time that we must remain perfectly still, and not move while the lights were out, lest someone get hurt. When the light snapped off, we were in total darkness. No matter how hard we strained, we could not see our own hand in front of our face. I was always glad that the guide had warned us ahead of time to remain still, because if a fifth grader made a sudden move toward me, I never would have seen it coming. I was blind to what was around me. The reality was that I was in a room full of children and parents. Yet from what my eyes could perceive, nothing existed outside of me.

That is the kind of darkness we were in, and it is the kind of darkness that so many continue to dwell in today. They can’t see the nose in front of their face. The spiritual realities that exist are something they cannot see, for they are blind. In the absence of light, sight is impossible.

Paul tells us that this utter darkness is what God rescued us from. It was where we dwelt. The darkness was our reality. The best part is, once He plucked us from darkness, He placed us into the kingdom of His beloved Son, the kingdom of light.

Light exposes every flaw. I used to prefer to entertain after sundown, because then the dirt in the corners of my home was not so noticeable to my guests. Everything looks better by the soft light of a few well-placed candles! But in the brightness of daylight, every speck of dirt is apparent. To be a sinner plucked out of the ignorance of darkness and placed in the brightness of the Light is to have our sin exposed. Not a pretty thought. When Isaiah stood in the light of the glory of God, he threw himself to the ground and cried, “Woe is me! For I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts.” Our sin becomes glaringly obvious when illuminated by the presence of light.

Yet the light that God transferred us to was not a harsh, condemning light. Instead, it was a warm, welcoming glow, because as He transferred us, He gave us redemption and forgiveness for our sins. We need not shield ourselves from the reality that sudden sight will bring. As we slowly open our eyes, squinting against the glory of the light of God, we are astonished to find that instead of the filthy rags we wore, we are robed in garments that are new and clean and white as snow.

From darkness into light. I stopped at just two verses today, because the picture Paul is painting here is so vital to the point he will make later on in his letter. This will become apparent as we read on together in the days to follow.

You are a son or daughter of the King who rules the Kingdom of Light. Live like a prince or princess today. Reflect the glory with which your adopted parent surrounds you. We are no longer in the darkness. We dwell in the light!

How can I demonstrate to others the kingdom I now represent? How can I be an instrument of God’s light to a world still living in darkness?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Colossians 1:9-12

Day 2
Read Colossians 1:9-12

In the previous verses, Paul affirmed his knowledge of the authenticity of the church at Colossae. He mentioned three key ingredients to an authentic Christian: faith, love, and hope. Did that group of characteristics sound familiar to you? They are also listed at the end of 1 Corinthians 13: “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Now that Paul has validated what is going on in the church at Colossae, he tells them what he is praying for them. This is typical Pauline style writing-- Paul often begins his letters to the churches with a prayer for them. Paul’s prayer for the Colossians is all about their walk with God. The idea of walking infers motion. When we follow God, we are rarely standing still!

Paul qualifies the kind of walk he has in mind.

1. In a manner worthy of the Lord:
If we want our walk to be worthy of Him, we need to follow our perfect example in Jesus Christ. He walked on earth for 33 or so years, giving us a role model to follow. Paul urged the Philippians to do this very thing: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus . . .” (Philippians 2:5) Our goal is to walk in as perfect an imitation as we can manage. The very things that marked the life of Jesus should be prevalent in our lives as well: humility, submission, obedience, love, integrity, and a sense of purpose. All of these are just outward manifestations of what has already happened within the heart of the believer.

2. Bearing fruit:
Again, the idea of fruit implies movement, or active production. In this case, the fruit Paul is talking about will be produced “in every good work.” In other words, as we serve the Lord, the outcome of that service will be the fruit that we bear.

What is the fruit? Paul defines fruit in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are all qualities that result from growth within. We often think of fruit as outward accomplishments, achievements that we have made in the name of the Lord. Yet the Lord is more interested in the inner fruit that we bear. Service is actually a means to that end, and not an end in itself.

3. Increasing in the knowledge of God:
As we walk with Him, God enriches our lives with circumstances and experiences which will force a greater dependence on Him. When we need, we go deeper. As we cry out to Him, a greater intimacy results. We increase in the knowledge of God’s faithfulness, His goodness, and His sufficiency.

4. Strengthened with all power:
We do not walk alone. We are never expected to do all this in our own strength. Ephesians 1:19-20 tells us about the power available to us: “. . . the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places . . .” We have great power available to us-- resurrection power!

5. Joyously giving thanks:
As we walk, our inward attitude should always reflect a gratitude for what God has done for us and what He continues to do in us. Much of our thanksgiving focuses on the hope we have for the future, since the Father has “qualified us to share in the inheritance of the Saints.”

Back at the beginning of this passage, Paul prays that “you would be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk . . .” We have no excuse not to be knowledgeable about spiritual things here in this country. The internet and libraries are full of great writings about Scripture. Scripture itself is readily available to us for our study. But the point Paul is making is this: the knowledge is not an end in itself. It is to enable us to walk.

The Dead Sea is a great example to us of what happens when there is input with no output. The Jordan River flows through the valley, collecting the waters from the surrounding mountains of Israel, in a southern bound current. All of that water empties into the Dead Sea, carrying with it mineral deposits from the land through which the waters traveled. Yet the Dead Sea has no outlet to the sea. It is a dead-end road. The water molecules quickly evaporate in the dry desert climate, but the minerals are left behind. As a result, the Dead Sea gets saltier and saltier every year. No life can exist within its waters-- the mineral content is just too high to sustain life.

We, too, must have output as we grow in the knowledge of the Lord. It moves us ahead in the process of our sanctification. Without output, without a walk worthy of Him, knowledge becomes a source of pride and even a stumbling block to us. They must go hand in hand.

What does my present walk with God look like when compared to the standard Paul prayed for the Colossians?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Working Through Colossians: Summer Study Notes

Dear Readers:
I will be using my blog for the remainder of the summer to bring you short devotionals to assist you in working through the book of Colossians. Be sure to tune in every day for a short Bible reading and devotional that will hopefully help make the words Paul wrote to this vibrant church come alive for you.

Day One:
Read Colossians 1:3-8

Three things marked the people of the church in Colossae:
1. Faith in Jesus Christ
2. Love they had for all the saints
3. Hope laid up for them in heaven

While Paul had never personally visited Colossae, his fellow worker Epaphras had brought him news of this vibrant, growing community. These three characteristics were proof to Paul that they were the real deal. They are vital for all true believers to hold in their hearts. Let’s take a closer look at these to see why.

1. Faith in Jesus Christ:
In Acts 16, the Philippian jailer cried out in desperation, after seeing the power of God at work within the walls of his prison and in the men he had charge over. “What must I do to be saved?” he begged.

The answer was simple. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Paul reiterates this truth in Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Faith goes beyond just knowing Jesus died and rose again. It is an active trust that Christ’s sacrifice paid for your sin when you were helpless to make things right with God. Believing this simple truth marks you as a believer and the real deal.

2. Love for all the saints:
Once believing in Christ for our salvation, the forgiveness, grace, and mercy we have received spurs us on to do the same for the people in our lives. John made it clear in his first letter that love must mark all believers: “If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us.” (1 John 4:12-13)

On the night Jesus was about to be arrested and tried, He drew aside to pray. He spent much of His time praying for His disciples. Of all the things He could have prayed for, it is interesting to note what He requested: “. . . that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” The unity that Jesus prayed for could only be demonstrated by love for each other. It is the selfless motivation that puts someone else above our own desires and even needs.

Love is the outward characteristic that marks the believer as the real deal.

3. Hope in heaven:When the writer of Hebrews described the heroes of faith that we can look to for inspiration and encouragement, he was careful to point out where their focus was: “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth . . . they desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13, 16)

Their hope was in heaven and in the glory that awaited them there. This same hope must be a characteristic of any believer: our focus and future.

Paul works on the theme of a heavenward focus later on in his letter to the Colossians. When our eyes are on the goal of a bright future in the presence of the Lord, we are the real deal.

Two more quick observations I would like to make:
By naming these three characteristics of a believer, Paul also encompassed the past, present, and future. The faith they held had already occurred, and it was a step they had made in the past. The love they continued to demonstrate was their present reality. And their hope in heaven summed up the future.

Do you remember the once popular J-O-Y acronym? Jesus, Others, Yourself? This fits the very characteristics Paul identifies. Faith in Jesus, loving others, hope for yourself. They are in the right priority order as well as chronological order.

Where in my own life do I see these three characteristics of a true believer demonstrated?
How can I make them more evident to those around me?