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?

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