The Futility of Fighting God’s Plan.

Jeremiah said to all the people and all the women, “Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who are in the land of Egypt. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: You and your wives have declared with your mouths, and have fulfilled it with your hands, saying, ‘We will surely perform our vows that we have made, to make offerings to the queen of heaven and to pour out drink offerings to her.’ Then confirm your vows and perform your vows! Therefore hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who dwell in the land of Egypt: Behold, I have sworn by my great name, says the Lord, that my name shall no more be invoked by the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, ‘As the Lord God lives.’ Behold, I am watching over them for disaster and not for good. All the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, until there is an end of them. And those who escape the sword shall return from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah, few in number; and all the remnant of Judah, who came to the land of Egypt to live, shall know whose word will stand, mine or theirs. This shall be the sign to you, declares the Lord, that I will punish you in this place, in order that you may know that my words will surely stand against you for harm: Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies and into the hand of those who seek his life, as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, who was his enemy and sought his life.” Jeremiah 44:24-30 ESV

The people have said, “We will not listen to your messages from the Lord! We will do whatever we want” (Jeremiah 44:16-17 NLT). They have dug their feet in and refused to budge. They were not going to repent or return to the Lord. They were not going to stop making sacrifices to their false gods. And they made their intentions very clear to Jeremiah.

“We will burn incense and pour out liquid offerings to the Queen of Heaven just as much as we like—just as we, and our ancestors, and our kings and officials have always done in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem.” – Jeremiah 454:17 NLT

No remorse. No fear of God. So, Jeremiah was left no other option but to give them the bad news regarding their poor choice. And to fully understand what Jeremiah tells them in these verses, you have to take a look back at an earlier statement they had received from God, back when they were still in the land of Judah and before the nation had fallen to the Babylonians.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

God spoke these words to the people concerning their upcoming fall to King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces, and their subsequent 70-year captivity in Babylon. God had let them know that it was all part of His divine plan for them. And that plan included a return to the land of promise when the 70 years was up. God had made a promise to the people of Judah.

“I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:14 NLT

Compare those words of promise to the ones Jeremiah delivers to the people of Judah who have stubbornly refused to return to Judah or to God.

“For I will watch over you to bring you disaster and not good. Everyone from Judah who is now living in Egypt will suffer war and famine until all of you are dead.” – Jeremiah 44:27 NLT

Instead of plans for welfare and hope, God's plans had turned to disaster and not good. Rather than freedom from captivity and restoration of their fortunes, God was going to bring war, famine and death. Quite a dramatic difference. But why? Because the people who were living in Egypt were those who had refused to listen to God and had decided not to surrender to the Babylonians as He had commanded. God had clearly told them that their only viable option was surrender.

“Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die from war, famine, or disease, but those who surrender to the Babylonians will live. Their reward will be life. They will live!” – Jeremiah38:2 NLT

And while it appears that some heeded the warning and did as God commanded, the majority of the people had not. And when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem, thousands were slaughtered and others were taken captive. Only the poor were left behind.

“Then Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, took as exiles to Babylon the rest of the people who remained in the city, those who had defected to him, and everyone else who remained. But Nebuzaradan allowed some of the poorest people to stay behind in the land of Judah, and he assigned them to care for the vineyards and fields.” – Jeremiah 39:9-10 NLT

Along with those who had been left behind, there must be added the ones who had fled to the hills and hidden from the coming disaster. They had refused to surrender, but had also refused to take the punishment that God had decreed. And many of these people were the very ones who had fled to Egypt, against the expressed wishes of God. He had told them exactly what He wanted them to do.

“Stay here in this land. If you do, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you. For I am sorry about all the punishment I have had to bring upon you. Do not fear the king of Babylon anymore,’ says the Lord. ‘For I am with you and will save you and rescue you from his power. I will be merciful to you by making him kind, so he will let you stay here in your land.’” – Jeremiah 42:10-12 NLT

But as we know, they had rejected God’s counsel. Even though He had made it perfectly clear what would happen if they did.

“If you are determined to go to Egypt and live there, the very war and famine you fear will catch up to you, and you will die there. That is the fate awaiting every one of you who insists on going to live in Egypt. Yes, you will die from war, famine, and disease. None of you will escape the disaster I will bring upon you there.” – Jeremiah 42:15-17 NLT

And now, the consequences of their choice were about to happen. And just in case the people don’t believe Him, God determines to give them tangible proof. He declares that the Pharaoh of Egypt would fall to his enemies, just as King Zedekiah had done. Their new homeland and place of refuge was about to get extremely unsettled and dangerous. Their self-selected promised land was going to lose its luster and prove to be no safer than the land of Judah had been.

The bottom line was that the people were going to fine out who was the real one in charge. Was it going to be them or God? Would they prove to be the ones who had the right god and the right solution to their problem? Or was God going to come out of this on top and in perfect control of any all circumstances in Egypt as well as Judah? God shared His opinion:

“Then all those who came to Egypt will find out whose words are true—mine or theirs!” – Jeremiah 44:28 NLT

When the dust settled, it was going to be perfectly clear who was in charge. His way always proves best in the long run. His will always gets accomplished. We can fight it and refuse to submit to it, but our stubbornness doesn’t make a dent in the sovereign will of God. We can choose to do things our own way, but the only only one who suffers any harm will be us. God’s will remains unchanged and undamaged.

They could have repented of their unfaithfulness to God, but they had refused to do so.

They could have surrendered to the Babylonians as God had commanded, but they had refused to do so.

They could have remained in Judah as God had told them to, but they had refused to do so.

They could have submitted themselves to the all-knowing, gracious, and loving will of God Almighty, but they had refused to do so. But their repeated refusals didn’t change God’s will, it simply exposed them to another aspect of it. Rather than blessings, they would experience the curses that came from disobedience. Rather than plans for welfare, a future and hope; they would experience disaster, war, famine and death. Either way, God’s will would be done.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


God's Will and Our Sin.

1 Chronicles 21-22, Colossians 4

Then David said, “Here shall be the house of the Lord God and her the altar of burnt offering for Israel.” – 1 Chronicles 22:1 ESV

David was enjoying tremendous success. God's hand was on him and he was having a field day against his enemies. But then something went terribly wrong. When you compare the two accounts of this event found in 1 Chronicles 21 and 2 Samuel 24, there appear to be some discrepancies. In the passage in 2 Samuel, we are told that God was angry with Israel, so he incited David to take a census. We are not told why this action was wrong. It could have been that David's desire to take a census of the people was in order to determine the size of his army. He could have begun to believe that his recent victories were due to his incredible leadership and powerful army. Knowing exactly how many soldiers he had at his disposal would have given David great pride and appealed to his ego. Rather than trust God, he would have been tempted to trust in his army. David would learn an invaluable lesson through this experience and later write, “Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:6-7 ESV). But at this point, David was trusting in his own military might.

Interestingly enough, in the 1 Chronicles passage, we get a different take on this scenario. It says that “Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1 ESV). In both cases, David gave in to the temptation and ended up taking the census, against the advice of Joab, his military commander. While these two passages seem to be in conflict with one another, it is probably nothing more than a matter of perspective. Either way, God was in control. He was the one doing the enticing, but the chronicler makes it clear that God used the “adversary” to accomplish His will. God wanted David to learn a lesson he would never forget.

What does this passage reveal about God?

But there was something even greater going on behind the scenes. This whole chain of events appears to be nothing more than David's unwitting obedience to the enticement of the enemy, but God was actually accomplishing His divine will through everything that happened. After David numbered the people, he immediately had second thoughts and realized what he had done. He admitted his guilt and asked God to take away his iniquity. But God was going to something even more significant. As a result of David's sin, God gave him three options from which to choose his punishment. First, he could choose three years of famine in the land of Israel. Or he could choose option number two and settle for three months of devastation at the hands of his foes. And lastly, he could decide to let God bring pestilence on the land for three days. Not exactly great choices. But David decided to take his chances with God, because he believed that God would show him mercy.

God did bring pestilence and many died that day. On top of that, God was poised to destroy the city of Jerusalem, but “relented from the calamity” (1 Chronicles 21:15 ESV). He stayed the hand of the angel of the Lord, who happened to be standing on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. Then God commanded David to build an altar on the threshing floor – right where the angel of the Lord was standing with his sword drawn. So David bought the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite and “built an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering” (1 Chronicles 21:25-26 ESV). And then God commanded the angel of the Lord to put his sword back in his sheath. God provided the means by which the sins of David could be atoned for and His own divine wrath satisfied. It would be on this very spot that Solomon would build the temple. “Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite” (2 Chronicles 3:1 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man's sin is no match for God's mercy and grace. David had angered God and there was nothing he could do to escape God's holy anger and judgment. So God stepped in and stopped the destruction long enough to provide a means of atonement. In the midst of the devastation and destruction, God extended mercy and grace. He is the one who told the angel to stop right on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. He is the one who told David to build an altar there. He is the one who answered David with fire from heaven, consuming the offering and accepting David's sacrifice. He is the one who forgave David's sin and restored the people of Israel. David's response was the begin an aggressive campaign to gather all the materials and develop the plans for the Temple. He knew God would not allow him to build it, but he would do all he could to make sure that it was a fitting structure for His gracious God. 

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

There are times when I think my sins are too much for God. I can easily convince myself that my screw-ups somehow mess up things for God. But this story reminds me that God is always working in ways of which I am ignorant and could not understand even if I knew about them. He is greater than my biggest spiritual failure. He can and does use me, oftentimes in spite of me. It is comforting to realize that I can't out-sin God. I can't screw up the plan of God. He is always interested in providing atonement, forgiveness, redemption, and restoration. He may let me experience some loss and go through some pain, but He will always lead me back to Himself. I must allow God to complete what He is doing in my life. When David arrived at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he was dressed in mourning clothes and pleading for God to turn His wrath fully on him instead of the people. He was willing to take full responsibility and complete blame for what had happened. But little did he know that this place of eminent destruction was going to become God's place of atonement and forgiveness for generations to come. The words of Paul in Colossians 4:1 seem appropriate in this context: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” Prayer that God would keep me from presumptuous, prideful sin. Prayer to thank Him for His incredible, inexhaustible grace and mercy.

Father, You are amazing. My greatest sin is not match for Your powerful mercy and grace. When I screw up, You step in and provide atonement for my sins and restoration for my soul. You work behind the scenes in ways that I can't see. You are always working, even using my sin to accomplish Your will. Never let me forget that. Amen

Heavenly Minded.

1 Chronicles 19-20, Colossians 3

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, Joab led out the army and ravaged the country of the Ammonites and came and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. – 1 Chronicles 20:1 ESV

There is an interesting omission in chapter 20 of 1 Chronicles. It starts exactly like 2 Samuel 11, but then leaves out the entire story about David and his elicit affair with Bathsheba. It is unlikely that the chronicler was attempting to cover up David's infamous sin, because it would have been well-known to all of his readers. More than likely, he omitted the details of this less-than-flattering event in David's life because his purpose for the chapter was to highlight David's victories over his enemies at the beginning of his reign. But that one phrase, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle” stands out. It tells us that Joab, the commander of David's army, led the troops into battle while “David remained at Jerusalem” (1 Chronicles 20:1 ESV). While David should have been busy defeating the enemies of God, he was falling victim to “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” (Colossians 3:5 ESV). David had been by God to be the king of Israel in order for him to lead the people of God. “You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel” (2 Samuel 5:2 ESV). But in the missing story of Bathsheba, we have a case of David losing sight of his real objective. He became distracted from God's intended purpose for his life. And while David would experience great victories in the years ahead, he would also suffer tremendous losses within his own household as a consequence of his sin.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The chronicler obviously knew well the sin of David with Bathsheba, but his real objective was to write of God's activity among His people through the kingship of David. In spite of David, God was still at work, providing the nation of Israel with victories over their enemies. He was still giving them His divine assistance in conquering the nations that occupied the land of Canaan. And His efforts would be so effective that by the time Solomon, David's son, took over the throne, his kingdom would experience a time of unparalleled peace and prosperity. But even Solomon with all his wisdom, riches, and obvious blessings from God, would prove to be unfaithful, allowing his love of women to lead to his worship of false gods. He would lose sight of the fact that God had given him wisdom in order for him to lead the nation of Israel wisely. God had blessed him with abundant resources that he might provide for the people of God. Both of these men were God's handpicked kings over His people. They were not to be like all the other kings of the world. They were never to forget that they had the God of the universe on their side and that their actions and attitudes were to reflect their unique relationship with Him. God wanted to bless their reigns and provide them with victories over their enemies, peace and prosperity for their people, and the assurance of His abiding presence.

What does this passage reveal about man?

David and Solomon both illustrate man's unique capacity to give in to focus on what is earthly. In Colossians 3, Paul provides a short, but relatively comprehensive list of what constitutes an earthly, rather than heavenly mindset: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and coveteousness” (Colossians 3:5 ESV). In his letter to the Galatians, Paul provides an even longer list of what he calls the “works of the flesh”: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, division, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV). Together, these two lists serve as a compendium of a life lived with an earthly, rather than a heavenly focus. So Paul tells us we are to put to death what is earthly in us. These are internal issues that emanate from within. Jesus Himself said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19 ESV). David's sin with Bathsheba was an outflow of an internal problem in David's heart. Solomon's idolatry and unfaithfulness was the direct result of a heart problem. James reminds us, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14 ESV). But Paul gives us the antidote to the problem. He tells us to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God ” (Colossians 3:1 ESV). He says to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2 ESV). Our focus, interest, and primary concern is to be on eternal, rather than temporal things. We are to desire the things of God instead of the things of this world. Paul would have us know that, because of our relationship with Jesus Christ, we have “put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self” (Colossians 3:9-10 ESV). The tense he uses in this sentence suggests that this is a past event. It has already taken place. We have been given a new life in Christ. We are new creations. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV). Paul's emphasis seems to be that we are to recognize our new identity as redeemed, renewed creations and live accordingly. In other words, our conduct should begin to reflect our new status as children of God. We are “being renewed” daily – an ongoing process by which we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Paul would have us remember that our job is to live in accordance with who we are in Christ. “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgiving each other” (Colossians 3:12-13 ESV). This is practical, real-life stuff.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

My relationship with Christ is to transform every area of my life. “In whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17 ESV). I am to live with a heavenly mindset, not an earthly one. I am to live a life that reflects my new identity in Christ and my new Spirit-empowered capacity to reflect His holiness and righteousness. I don't have to live according to my old sinful nature. Yes, it is still there and is alive and well. But God has given me a new nature that can effectively counteract my old nature. Paul puts it this way: “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16 ESV). I can live by the Spirit and walk by the Spirit. I can bear the fruit of the Spirit. But I must set my mind on the things above. I must seek God's will and saturate my mind with His Word. I cannot live like Christ if I attempt to exist on a steady diet of earthly things. If I fill my mind with the things of this world, I will bear the fruit of this world. So Paul encourages us to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16 ESV).

Father, I want to become increasingly more heavenly minded. I know that I have to live and exist in this world. Even Your Son prayed that You would not take us out of this world, but that You would protect us from the evil one. I pray that I could live in this world, but not be of it. That I could reflect my true identity as a child of God and a new creation, filled with Your Spirit and bearing the fruit that is evidence of His presence in my life. Amen

The Reign of Christ.

1 Chronicles 17-18, Colossians 2

I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever. – 1 Chronicles 17:13-14 ESV

David wanted to build a permanent structure in which to place the Ark of the Covenant. He desired to build a “house” or temple for God. But God let David know that He had more important plans for him. It was God's intention to build a house for David, but in a metaphorical sense (1 Chronicles 17:10). The “house” God promised to build for David had to do with a kingly dynasty. “When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom” (1 Chronicles 17:11 ESV). This son, who would turn out to be Solomon, would fulfill David's desire to build a temple for the Lord, and God promised to establish his kingdom forever. This is part of what is referred to as the Davidic Covenant. But we know that Solomon's kingdom did not last forever. His reign ended poorly and God was forced to split the kingdom of Israel in half, dividing it between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Both of these nations would eventually end up in exile, and the city of Jerusalem would like in ruins for years, with no king ruling from the throne of David. And yet God had promised David concerning one of his heirs, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you,  but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever” (1 Chronicles 17:13-14 ESV). The writer of Hebrews quotes these very verses when speaking of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. He saw Jesus as the fulfillment of this portion of the covenant God had made with David. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Hebrews 1:1-4 ESV). Quoting directly from 1 Chronicles 17, the writer of Hebrews says of Jesus, “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’? Or again, ‘I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son’?”

Jesus was to be the offspring of David whose throne would be established forever. David's “house” would be everlasting in nature, in spite of the sins of Solomon, the split of the nation of Israel, the failure of its kings, the fall of Jerusalem, or the exile of the people of God. The gospels of Luke and Matthew both make it clear that Jesus was a direct descendant of David and the rightful heir to the throne. The writer of Hebrews, quoting from another Old Testament passage, writes, “But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions’” (Hebrews 1:8-9 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

David's kingdom was a foreshadowing of a far greater kingdom to come. David was a mighty warrior, but he cannot be compared to the One who will come at the end of the age and who will fully defeat the enemies of God once and for all. In fact, Paul reminds us that with His death on the cross and resurrection to new life, Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15 ESV). Solomon was a wise king, but his wisdom is nothing compared with that of Jesus, the Son of God. Again Paul refers to Him as “God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3 ESV). David and Solomon were mere men who, in spite of their love for God and desire to live for him, were ultimately sidetracked by their own sin. But Jesus was sinless. He was the God-man, in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9 ESV). He “is the head of all rule and authority” (Colossians 2:10 ESV). He is “the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God” (Colossians 2:19 ESV). Jesus Christ was to be the fulfillment of God's promise to David. With His arrival on earth, Jesus would establish a different kind of kingdom, one that was of a spiritual nature. At His trial before Pilate, Jesus claimed, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36 ESV). When Pilate asked Jesus if He was a king, He replied, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37 ESV). Jesus was and is the king God had promised, and His kingdom is everlasting and eternal. There will be no end to His rule or reign. In the book of the Revelation, we are given a glimpse into the future, when God will establish a “new heaven and a new earth” and “the holy city, new Jerusalem” will come “down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:1-3 ESV). And there in the new Jerusalem will be a throne, upon which will sit Jesus Christ, who will declare, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

So much of what we experience in our lifetimes is temporal and a mere shadow of what is to come. This world is not all there is and is not all it should be. There is still the presence and reality of sin. The enemies of God still exist and stand against the people of God. Satan still has a powerful influence over this world. But God is not yet done. As His children, we must constantly remind ourselves of this fact. We must not judge the success of God's plan or the reality of Christ's kingdom by what we see going on at any given moment. There is much that must happen before God's plan is complete and Christ's kingdom is fully established on this earth. David's success as a king was completely dependent upon God. It was the Lord who gave him success and who made it possible for his kingdom to prosper. Solomon was given his wisdom by God. His kingdom was established by God. But both of these men would end up sinning against the very One who had set them on their thrones and given them their kingdoms. There is only one man who has lived His life faithfully in obedience and submission to God: Jesus Christ, the God-man. And Paul would remind us, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” (Colossians 2:6-7 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I am to “walk in him,” which literally means to “conduct my life” totally dependent upon Him for everything. He is not only my source of salvation, but my means of sanctification. He is my strength. He is my source of righteousness. He is my model for holiness and my reason for joyfulness. We have been “made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses” (Colossians 2:13 ESV). He has cancelled “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14 ESV). We must hold fast to Him, who is the Head, “from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God” (Colossians 2:19 ESV). He must reign and rule over our lives, and we must live our lives in such a way that we reflect our citizenship in His eternal kingdom.

Father, may I continually learn to live as if Jesus is the literal king of my life. May my thoughts and actions reflect His rule and reign over my life. I want to live as if He is the one who is in control over my life. Don't let me replace His rule with self-made religion or self-effort. I want to learn to submit to Him and willingly, joyfully obey His Lordship over my life. Amen

God of Our Salvation.

1 Chronicles 15-16, Colossians 1

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. – Colossians 1:15-17 ESV

In his second attempt to bring the Ark of the Covenant into the city of Jerusalem, David determined to do things God's way. He had learned a difficult, but invaluable lesson. Rather than obey God's written commands regarding the transport of the Ark, David had decided to do things his way and the results were disastrous. But he learned from his mistake and developed a deeper reverence for God and His law. This time, David used the Levites to carry the Ark, just as God had prescribed. He treated the Ark with the dignity and honor it deserved because it was a representation of the glory, splendor and presence of God Himself. David brought the Ark into Jerusalem with much pomp and pageantry, with music and praise, dancing and singing. There were offerings and sacrifices made to God. They sang a song of thanksgiving especially written for the occasion. The significance of this event was not lost on David or the people. For the first time in a long time, they were able to receive forgiveness for their sins. The Ark of the Covenant, upon which sat the Mercy Seat of God, was not only a representation of God's presence, but the means of propitiating or satisfying the wrath of a holy God against their sins. The Ark was the place of propitiation. It had been provided by God Himself for the people so that they could come into His presence, in spite of their sinfulness. The blood of an unblemished animal was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat to atone for the sins of the people, and to turn away the wrath of God. On the annual Day of Atonement, propitiation was made by means of a substitutionary sacrifice. The sins committed by the people that year were atoned for, and the wrath of God was turned away. The significance of this annual sacrifice and the Ark's role in it did not escape David, which is why his song of thanksgiving expressed such powerful praise to God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

David knew that the existence of Israel as a nation was due to God alone. Their presence in the land of Canaan was His doing. They had been the undeserving recipients of His covenant. They had enjoyed His protection and provision over the years. They had experienced “His salvation from day to day” (1 Chronicles 16:23 ESV). As a result, God deserved their praise, awe, reverence, allegiance, and unwavering fidelity. David knew that, without God, the nation of Israel would have been nothing. His kingdom would be non-existent. And without God's mercy, grace and forgiveness made available through the place of propitiation – the Mercy Seat – their sinfulness would have made it impossible for them to stand before His presence. David recognized God's unbelievable love, expressed through His provision of the sacrificial system and, most specifically, through the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat itself. That is why David would write, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth” (1 Chronicles 16:29-30 ESV). “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (1 Chronicles 16:34 ESV). God was worthy of worship, deserving of praise, and fully owed the thanksgiving and honor of His people for all that He had done for them. Not least of which was His provision for their forgiveness through the sacrificial system and the Day of Atonement.

What does this passage reveal about man?

While we may find it easy to stand in awe of God for His power or His creative ability expressed through nature, we tend to take for granted the provision of salvation made possible through His Son, Jesus Christ. The whole reason David was having to bring the Ark of the Covenant back was because years earlier, the people of Israel had attempted to use it as some kind of talisman or good luck charm. They were facing the Philistines in battle and decided to send for the Ark and bring it to the sight of the battle in the hopes that it would provide them with some kind of supernatural advantage over their enemies. The Ark of the Covenant was meant to be the place of propitiation. It wasn't designed to turn away earthly enemies, but to turn away the wrath of God. The Israelites didn't appreciate the significance of this holy symbol of God's mercy, grace and forgiveness. And because they failed to treat it with the awe, glory and honor it deserved, they not only lost their battle with the Philistines, but they had the Ark taken captive by their enemies. They lost their means of propitiation. With the loss of the Ark, they would experience the loss of their only means of turning away the wrath of God against their sins. They had taken lightly God's means of propitiation and would suffer the consequences.

Over in the book of Colossians, Paul reminded his readers that Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV). He is the creator of all things “in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (Colossians 1:16 ESV). In fact, “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19 ESV). But more importantly, He is the means of propitiation for the sins of man. His death satisfied the just demands of a righteous God. “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death” (Colossians 1:21-22 ESV). God, through Jesus, has reconciled or made right “to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Over in the book of Hebrews, we read these encouraging words: “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:24-26 ESV). God provided His Son as a propitiation for our sins. He became the Mercy Seat upon which His own sinless blood was sprinkled so that the justice of God might be satisfied and the wrath of God might be turned away. I stand in a right relationship with God due to the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. I must never take His death lightly. I must never treat His sacrifice flippantly. I must always remember the holiness, majesty and righteousness of God. I must never forget my own sinfulness and hopelessness apart from the mercy made available to me through Jesus Christ. I must “ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name” (1 Chronicles 16:28-29 ESV). I should “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (1 Chronicles 16:34 ESV). He has done for me what I could never have done for myself. He has provided a means by which my sins could be atoned for and my alienation from His holy presence resolved. “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Colossians 1:21-22 ESV).

Father, thank You Father for providing Your Son as the once-for-all sacrifice for my sins. Never let me take His sacrifice for granted. You have made me right with Yourself through the death of Your own Son. You expressed Your great love for me by offering Your Son on my behalf. And that incredible gift should result in my ongoing, unwavering love, adoration, worship and praise. Amen

Practical Piety.

Colossians 3:18-25

And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. – Colossians 3:17 NLT

So far in this chapter, Paul has reminded us that God has chosen us to live as holy people, set apart and distinctively different than the world around us. We are to live lives that exhibit tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. We are to make allowance for one another's faults. We are to forgive when others offend us, just as the Lord has forgiven us. We are to clothe ourselves with love, seek to live in harmony and peace, and allow the message of Jesus' life-changing power fill our lives and impact our relationships with others.

Now he gets practical and personal. He gives us concrete examples of what this kind of life looks like in the everyday world. Wives are to submit to he Lord. This is always a controversial and somewhat unpopular topic among Christians. In our modern-day context it sounds archaic and antiquated. It comes across as someone who is out of touch with reality. But before we get too bent out of shape, it might help to take a look at another one of Paul's letters where he addresses this same issue. "And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:21-22 NLT). Notice that Paul puts his statement within the context of mutual submission within the body of Christ, and under the headship of Christ. So when he tells wives to submit to their husbands, the issue is headship and God-given authority, not a matter of value or worth. The submission he is calling wives to is the same kind Jesus exhibited in relationship to His heavenly Father. It was done willingly and gladly. Paul told the Ephesians that wives were to submit to their husbands as if they were submitting to the Lord Himself.

Paul tells husbands to love their wives and never treat them harshly. In Ephesians, he takes it a step further, explaining that their love is to be like that of Christ's for the church. Christ died for the church. He gave up His life so that we might live. And His objective was to be able to present a church that without spot, wrinkle, or any kind of blemish. So the kind of love to which Paul calls husbands is difficult, if not impossible. There is no doubt that most wives find it hard to submit to their husbands because they fail to love in the way that Christ did. Many men find it difficult to love their wives, because they refuse to acknowledge their God-ordained authority and responsibility as the heads of their households. And some of those same men have failed to take seriously that God-ordained authority and responsibility, turning over the reigns of their home to their wives. Keep in mind, all of this is to be done in a way that it is accompanied by tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Children are to obey their parents. Not just when it's convenient or falls in line with their own desires, but at all times. In other words, always. They are to submit to their father and mother – willingly, gladly, humbly, and regularly. At the same time, fathers are not to aggravate their kids, driving them to despair or discouragement. Don't irritate them, or arouse within them feelings of bitterness or resentment. Some fathers are experts at exasperating their children by setting up unfair or double standards. They say one thing and do another. They live lives of hypocrisy, demanding of their children what they are unwilling or unable to do themselves. That can be discouraging and defeating for a child.

Paul tells slaves, of which there were many in the New Testament church, to obey their masters in every area of their lives. Many of these slaves had come to faith in Christ and yet were still required to live as slaves in the society in which they lived. In some cases, they could have actually attended the same church as their owners. And Paul calls them to live as redeemed slaves, serving their masters out of reverence and fear for the Lord. They were to submit to their masters, working diligently and recognizing that their efforts were to be done with a degree of integrity and consistency, marked by a new nature provided by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

In Paul's context, faith in Christ was to be lived out in the context in which one found themselves. He told the Corinthians, "Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you" (1 Corinthians 7:17 NLT). If you were a slave when you were saved, remain one. But be a redeemed, holy, set apart slave. If you were married, remain so. But live in such a way that God gets the glory. Submit, love, humble yourself, show mercy, extend kindness, and live in patience with one another. "Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ" (Colossians 3:24 NLT).

Father, this is difficult stuff. Living in submission, loving sacrificially and selflessly, obeying willingly, and serving faithfully are all hard things to do. But that is what it means to live differently and distinctively. You have called us to a higher standard, but You have also provided us with the Holy Spirit to equip and empower us to pull it off. So that at the end of the day, You get the glory. What a difference we would make in the world if we actually lived this way – in obedience to Your will and empowered by Your Spirit. Amen.

Heavenly Minded.

Colossians 3:1-17

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God's right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. – Colossians 3:1-3 NLT

There's an old saying that goes something like this: "Some people are so heavenly minded that they're no earthly good." The gist of that statement is that we can become so focused on spiritual things that we never do learn to live them out on a practical level. While I agree with the general idea, I think there are very few of us who suffer with this problem. In fact, I don't believe there are that many Christians today who are truly heavenly minded. Sure, we think of heaven on occasion, when a loved one is nearing death, we attend a funeral, or when we're going through a particularly bad spell of trials with no end in sight. But for the most part, if life on this earth is going well, we tend to think about the things of this earth. We enjoy the things of this earth. And before we know it, heaven becomes an afterthought. It becomes that nice reward that awaits us some time in the distant future. But for now, our minds remain set on earth. And that's understandable, because we're human. We have a human nature, which for the most part, is synonymous with our sin nature. It's what Paul called "the flesh." That part of us that is of this world, and longs for and craves the things of this world. In fact, our "flesh," as Paul describes it, is in love with this world, and it is opposed to the things of heaven. One of the greatest battles we face as Christians is an internal one. It takes place between our sin nature and the new nature provided for us by Christ's death and the Holy Spirit's presence in our lives. Paul told the Galatian church, "The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other…" (Galatians 5:17 NLT)

Paul knew full well what this war within was like. He shared his first-hand experience with it in his letter to the Romans. "…if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?" (Romans 7:17-24 The Message).

So what's the cure? Paul gives the answer in the very next verse: "The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does." Jesus provides the answer. He not only provided for our salvation, but He made possible our ongoing sanctification, by giving us the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit. We have a power source available to us that is like no other. It is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. But Paul reminds the Colossian believers that they have to reset their minds, reconfigure their thought processes. They need to focus their attention on the things of heaven – where Jesus Himself is and where our future lies. This world is not our home. We don't belong here. It is a temporary holding place, but is not intended to be our permanent residence. And it is not to garner all our attention. It should never distract us from the reality of heaven and the eternal nature of our souls.

Over in Romans 13, Paul warns his believing readers, "…make no provision for the flesh in regards to its lusts" (Romans 13:13-14 NASB). The Greek word translated "make no provision" means to "know ahead, to have forethought." It conveys the idea of preparing ahead to sin. We actually provide for sin in our lives by cultivating a climate in our minds in which it can grow and prosper. How do we do it?

-        By focusing our thoughts on the wrong things

-        By concentrating our attention on impure things

-        By participating in the “deeds of evil and darkness” that mark this world

-        By applauding evil and rationalizing our involvement with it

-        By glamorizing sin and growing complacent about wickedness

-        By refusing to expose sin in our own lives and the lives of those around us

-        By becoming lazy about our lifestyle and flippant about God’s will

-        By failing to recognize that we live in evil times

That's why Paul says, "Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth." This was a common theme for Paul. He told the believers in Philippi the same thing. "Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." (Philippians 4:8 NLT). The things we fill out minds with are incredibly important when it comes to how we live our lives. Paul reminds us to "put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you" (Colossians 3:5 NLT). So rather than feed the flesh, we need to starve it. He goes on and makes it even more specific. "Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires" (Colossians 3:5 NLT). And I don't think he is restricting our involvement in these things to the purely physical level. He is also addressing our thought lives. He are to have NOTHING to do with these things. That includes not watching others act them out on TV or in the movies we watch. He also tells us to refrain from greed because it reveals that we worship and love the things of this world. He warns against anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, lying and dirty language. All these things are characteristics of our sinful human nature. But we have a new nature and are being renewed into the likeness of Christ by the indwelling power and presence of the Holy Spirit. But we have to fix our minds on the things of heaven, not the things of this earth. We have to desire what the Spirit desires, not what the flesh desires. Paul makes it clear in Galatians 5:19-21 what the fruit of feeding the flesh looks like. But he also tells us what fixing our eyes on heaven looks like. When we live heavenly minded lives, we will exhibit heavenly minded fruit: tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, and peace.So what are you going to fix your thoughts on today?

Father, we are surrounded by the things of this world and it is so easy to become fixated on what we see. We can't see heaven and we can't see You. But give us a heavenly perspective that allows us to see the things of heaven more clearly with each passing day. Help us to live by faith, because "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see" (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). Amen.

Rooted In Christ.

Colossians 2:6-23

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. – Colossians 2:6-7 NLT

You can't ever get enough of Christ. I realize that might sound a bit heretical, but it is completely and solidly biblical. We are never to grow satisfied with a basic knowledge about Jesus. While a deep and intimate knowledge of Jesus is not necessary to enjoy a saving relationship with Him, once we have come to faith in Him, we are to grow in our knowledge of and relationship with Him. Peter put it this way: "…you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18 NLT). That's a command. And in another one of his letters, Peter wrote, "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation" (1 Peter 2:2 NIV). Both of these passages are fascinating if you take the time to think about what they are saying. In verse six of Colossians 2, Paul uses the word, "rooted." It is a Greek word that actually means "to take root" or "to strengthen with roots." It conveys the idea of a plant sending down a healthy root system in order to receive nutrients for growth, but also strength for future adversity. Paul tells us we are to sink our roots down into Christ. We are to be rooted in Him. In other words, we are to grow in our knowledge of who Christ is and what He has done for me. We are to grow in His grace and in the knowledge of who He is. Peter uses the term "grow" and it means "to increase or become greater." We are to grow in our knowledge of Christ. We are to grow in our salvation. But what does all this mean?

Think about when you came to Christ. How much did you really know and understand about Jesus and His gift of salvation? You probably had a fairly basic knowledge of who He was and what He had done. When I accepted Jesus' free gift of salvation at the age of seven, I had a very elementary and basic understanding of what I was doing. I knew and believed that Jesus was the Son of God. I knew that I was a sinner – from my own experience. I also knew that I couldn't be good enough to live the kind of life God expected of me. I couldn't even please my own parents. And I knew that Jesus offered me forgiveness of sin and eternal life, if I would simply place my faith in who He was and what He had done for me on the cross. So I did. But that was 51 years ago, and my knowledge of Jesus is far greater than it was then. I know so much more about Him, intellectually and, more importantly, experientially. I have a much more robust understanding of just how significant His death on the cross really was. I appreciate His grace and mercy far more than I ever did at seven. I have a much more sophisticated understanding of my own sin nature and my need for grace than I ever did. Because I have grown in my knowledge of Jesus and of my own salvation.

Paul tells us that if we will sink our roots deep down in Jesus, holding firmly to who He is and feeding regularly on the truth of what He has done, our faith will grow strong and we will experience an overflowing thankfulness for all that He has done and is doing in our lives. This is so important, because the world will constantly attempt to distract us from becoming rooted and grounded in Jesus. The enemy will try to get our eyes off of Christ and on to something or someone else that promises to give us hope, joy, peace, fulfillment, and happiness. Paul knew that the believers in Colosse were going to be bombarded by the temptation to buy into "empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world" (Colossians 2:8 NLT). These humanly, worldly alternatives to Christ would never be an adequate substitute for Christ. "For in Christ dwells all the fullness of God in a human body" (Colossians 2:9 NLT). Christ was all they needed. But they needed to grow in their knowledge of Him. They needed to continue to root their lives in Him. And so do we.

A growing knowledge of who Christ is and the significance of what He has done for us will help us discern false teaching, reject the accusations of the enemy claiming we haven't done enough, refuse the condemnations of others demanding we need to do more, and allow us to rest in the all-sufficient work of Christ on our behalf. "You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world" (Colossians 2:20 NLT). My roots continue to grow deep down into Christ. I am continually learning to root my hope and strength in Him and what He has done and is doing for me. I didn't save myself through self-effort and I cannot sanctify myself through self-effort. He saved me and is sanctifying me. He loved me enough to redeem me and He loves me enough to renovate me. He is all I need.

Father, thank You that Jesus is sufficient. I don't need to add my hard work and human effort to the equation. I don't need to keep a set of rules and live up to some human set of standards. My roots are set down into Christ and what He has done for me. It is all about Him, not me. He is my salvation and my daily source of strength. He not only saved me, but is sanctifying me each and every day of my life. Show me how to continually sink my roots into Him and build my life on Him, so that my faith will continue to grow and prosper – even in the midst of adversity. Amen.

Actively Caring.

Colossians 1:24-2:5

I want you to know how much I have agonized for you and for the church at Laodicea, and for many other believers who have never met me personally. I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. – Colossians 2:1-2 NLT

Suffering. Serving. Proclaiming. Telling. Warning. Teaching. Working. Struggling. Agonizing.

Look at all the present participles Paul uses in short passage. What it reveals to me is his undeniable commitment to the cause of Christ and the spiritual growth of those under his care – whether he has ever personally met them or not. Paul was actively involved in the spiritual well-being of others. His goal was their maturity or growth in Christ-likeness. So he was willing to suffer and serve, work and warn, struggle and agonize on their behalf, so that they might grow in love for God and for one another. He wanted them to increase in confidence and boldness, and live lives that were a testimony to the life-changing power of God.

I can't help but read the words of Paul and reflect on just how much I care about the spiritual well-being of others. Too often, in the church today, we become focused on our own personal spiritual health, but fail to show much concern for those around us. Paul could have easily grown content with the state of his own growth in Christ, knowing that he was making significant progress in his own spiritual development. But he knew that his growth was directly tied to the body of Christ. His spiritual gifts were given to him for the benefit of the body, not himself. God had called him, not just so that he might have a personal relationship with Him, but so that he might tell others of the same Good News that had completely and radically changed his life for eternity. So Paul was not content just focusing on his own spiritual development. He was obsessed with helping others grow and mature. It was his calling. It was his reason for being. And he was willing to burn himself out on behalf of others, so that they might experience all that God had in store for them.

Paul was gladly willing to suffer if it meant that others could benefit. Keep in mind that he was more than likely writing this letter while under house arrest in Rome. Paul knew what it meant to suffer. He had been beaten, tried unjustly, flogged, stoned and left for dead, and constantly harassed for his association with Christ. But he wrote, "I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church" (Colossians 1:24 NLT). As the head of the body, Christ suffers when we suffer. He indwells each and every believer and, as a result, is intimately involved in all of our suffering. Jesus told us that we would undergo trials and suffer as a result of our association with Him. He warned us that the world would hate us. "If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you" (John 15:18-19 NLT). And Paul knew first-hand the reality of this warning. But he willingly and gladly accepted it as a part of his calling as a minister of Jesus Christ.

What a model we have in this incredible man. Rather than put him on a pedestal and make him into some kind of unapproachable icon of virtue, we should imitate his actions and attitudes. We should model our lives after his. Paul did not see his salvation as a ticket to heaven or some kind of Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free card. He saw his calling as a privilege and responsibility that he took seriously. So he suffered, served, proclaimed, told, warned, taught, worked, struggled and agonized, so that others might grow. What about you? Are you actively seeking the spiritual well-being of others? Are you intimately and personally involved in helping those around you grow more Christ-like? What a difference it would make if each of us were to take personal responsibility for the spiritual health of the body of Christ just like Paul did. If I was willing to suffer physically so that others might prosper spiritually, the overall health and vitality of the body of Christ would increase exponentially.

Father, give me the same kind of zeal and determination Paul had. Don't let me become so myopic and self-focused that I lose sight of the fact that You have placed me in the body of Christ for a reason. You have called each of us to minister to one another. You have designed this thing to be mutually beneficial, not selfishly individual. Help me see the needs all around me and meet them, even if it means that I have to suffer as a result. Amen.

Members In Good Standing.

Colossians 1:15-23

Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. – Colossians 1:22 NLT

This next section of Paul's letter to the believers is Colosse contains some incredibly rich theological truths. In it, Paul provides us with what has been called "The Great Christology" or "Christ Hymn." In verses 15-20, Paul gives a clear and concise view of Christ's supremacy over all things. He reveals Christ's status as the very image of the invisible God, His role in creation, His headship over the church, His sustaining power over the universe, and His incredible work of reconciliation, made possible by His death on the cross. What is amazing to Paul and should be amazing to us, is that Christ – the all-superior, all-supreme Son of God, the Creator and sustainer of the universe – has chosen to provide a way for us to be made right with God. We were at one time strangers and enemies of God, as evidenced by our evil behavior, and yet, Christ died in our place and on our behalf, so that we might be reconciled to God. Paul reminds us, "You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions" (Colossians 1:21b NLT). Yet God "reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body" (Colossians 1:22a NLT). God did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He provided a means by which we could be restored to a right relationship with Him. He sacrificed His Son so that we might be made friends of God rather than enemies of God, children rather than strangers. "As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault" (Colossians 1:22b NLT).

That thought should blow every one of us away. It should boggle our minds and never cease to amaze and astound us. Look at what Paul says. We have access into the very presence of God Almighty, where we stand as holy and blameless, as if we didn't have a single, solitary fault. What an incredible truth. It is so incredible that many of us have a hard time believing it to be true. We focus on our sins and our faults and find it difficult to imagine that God can't see or refuses to see what is so clear to us: Our own sinfulness. But Paul is speaking about something called our "positional righteousness" made possible by Jesus Christ's death on the cross. His blood covered our sins – past, present and future. That's why Paul could write, "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1 NLT). Our sins have been paid for and forgiven. God sees us through the redemptive work of Christ and covered by His blood. Our debt has been paid in full. We stand before God as positionally righteous. This does not mean that we are sinless in actuality. It means that we have been justified by the death of Christ on the cross. Because of what Christ did for us on the cross, God is able to declare us legally righteous. Christ took on our sin and we took on His righteousness. It is what has been called "The Great Exchange."

But Paul goes on to remind us of another important reality. "But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News" (Colossians 1:23 NLT). It is our belief in and reliance upon this important truth that should motivate our desire to live righteous and holy lives before God all the days of our lives. Our positional righteousness, made possible by Christ's death on the cross in our place, should motivate us to live in practical righteousness. We should want to live as what God says we are: Holy and set apart for Him. So when Peter quotes God as saying, "You must be holy because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16 NLT), he is reminding us that we are to live out the reality of who we are. Our positional righteousness must become practical and present-tense. Our sins have been atoned for, so why would we ever want to continue to live in them? When God looks at us, He sees us as righteous. Paul reminds us to live as what we are. We must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Yes, we will struggle with temptation in this life. We will even give in to it and commit sins that contradict our righteous standing. But when we remember and recognize that we have been reconciled to God through Christ, it should provide us with the motivation to repent and return. Our sins can no longer condemn us. Our periodic acts of rebellion can't remove or separate us from the presence of God. Our place is permanent. Our position is secure. So we are to live like it. "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39 NLT).

Father, while I find the theology behind positional righteousness hard to comprehend, don't let me ever doubt it. Help me rest in it and cling to it all the days of my life. Don't ever let me go back to thinking that I have to somehow earn my right standing with You, because that is an impossible task. I am right with You because Jesus made it possible. Now help me, through the power of Your indwelling Spirit, to live as who You say I am – Your righteous, forgiven, holy child. Amen.

The Key To Pleasing God.

Colossians 1:1-14

Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. – Colossians 1:10 NLT

I don't think I've ever met an individual who claims to be a Christian who hasn't somehow aspired to live a life that is pleasing to God. In fact, most of us as believers know that our lives should be markedly different than those of non-believers. We recognize that God has a higher standard for us. So we go out of our way to try and attempt to live in such a way that our lives somehow bring glory to Him. What we usually end up with is some list of do's and don'ts that we use to determine our behavior and, ultimately to measure our degree of spirituality. Here's the formula most of us work from: More good behavior + less bad behavior = holiness. So we attempt to increase certain things in our life that we understand to be good, while eliminating other things that might hamper our holiness because they're inherently bad. So we read our Bibles and we give up smoking. We attend church and stop hanging out at bars. We listen to Christian music instead of rock or rap. But too often we miss the whole point. We can't actually increase our holiness through behavior modification. We can't sanctify ourselves any more than we could save ourselves.

That's why this passage in the very beginning of Paul's letter to the believers in Colosse is so important. He is writing to Christians and is confident that they have had a saving encounter with Jesus Christ. He refers to them as "God's holy people" (Colossians 1:2a NLT). He has heard great reports regarding their faith in Jesus Christ and their love for one another. And he offers up a prayer for them at the very start of his letter. That prayer is insightful and gives us a great glimpse into what Paul understood about the key to living a godly life. Notice that the verse above starts with the word, "then." Some translations use the words, "so that" or "in order that." But the idea is the same. Paul is telling the believers in Colosse that if they want to live lives that honor and please God, and if they want to live lives that produce every kind of good fruit, there is something they are going to have to have before that can happen. And that ingredient is made clear in Paul's prayer for them. "We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding" (Colossians 1:9 NLT). Paul tells them, "we have not stopped praying for you…" and the content of those prayers have been that they might know God's will and have spiritual wisdom and understanding. Those things are not just "nice-to-have-them-if-I-can-get-them" kinds of things. They are the keys to living a life that honors and pleases God. They are non-negotiables to to fruitful living.

Paul knew that in order for the believers in Colosse to live godly lives they were going to need to know the will of God. They were going to have to understand what it is that God desired for them. Over in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Paul wrote the Thessalonian believers that God's will for them was to be holy – set apart, devoted to God. His will for all believers is that they live lives that are distinctive and different, characterized by the Spirit's presence and God's righteous requirements. One of the primary ways in which we can know God's will is by reading and obeying God's Word. The Bible is the revelation of God and gives us a glimpse into His character and His expectations of mankind. As believers, we have the unique combination of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the Word of God that provides us with a way to know God's will, and a means to receive spiritual wisdom and understanding. Together, they provide us with divine insights into the will and ways of God. When I know His will and gain spiritual wisdom and understanding from His Word, I have what it takes to live a life that will always honor and please Him. I also have what it takes to produce the kind of fruit He is looking for.

Paul offered up a similar prayer for the believers who were living in Philippi. "I pray that…you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ's return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation – for this will bring much glory and praise to God" (Philippians 1:9-10 NLT). He prayed for knowledge and understanding. He wanted them to know and understand not only God's expectations, but His provision. God makes the life of holiness possible. He provides us with salvation and then gives us His Word and His Spirit to aid us in the pursuit of sanctification. When we discover His will through His Word, and rely upon His Spirit to empower us to obey what we see and hear, our lives end up bearing fruit that is Spirit-produced. Paul describes that fruit in Galatians 5. "But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). That kind of fruit honors and pleases God because it is fruit that is the by-product of His presence in our lives. We can't manufacture it on our own. So when it shows up, it is proof of His presence in our lives.

So if you want your life to honor and please God, producing fruit that is of divine origin, then you will have to know His will and possess a wisdom and understanding that is not of this world. That will require time spent in His Word. It will demand a submission to His Spirit's leading. It will take a willing obedience to and trusting faith in His will for your life. And it all starts in the Word of God. Go there. Spend time there. Get to know Him there. And "you will grow to know God better and better" (Colossians 1:10b NLT).

Father, never let us lose sight of the fact that Your Word is essential for living a life that honors and pleases You. We can't know Your will part from Your Word. We can't get to know You well if we refuse to spend time in the very book that reveals Your character to us. May we grow increasingly dependent on Your Word and Your Holy Spirit's leading, so that our lives might honor and please you, producing fruit that proves Your powerful presence in our lives. Amen.

Ken Miller Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Truly Wise.

Colossians 4

Live wisely among those who are not Christians, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and effective so that you will have the right answer for everyone. - Vs 5-6

In chapter 3, Paul urged us to "keep seeking the things above" and to "set your mind on the things above." Now as further proof that Paul is not encouraging some kind of heavenly-minded disengagement from the world, he tells us to watch our walk and our talk among the unbelievers with whom we live. So we are to keep seeking the things above, but to conduct ourselves wisely when it comes to our interaction with the lost here on earth. The kind of wisdom Paul is talking about is a heavenly wisdom. It comes from above. And we discover it by seeking the things above. Solomon said it this way:

For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. – Proverbs 2:6

So the kind of wisdom we need to live our lives alongside an unbelieving generation comes from God Himself. Earlier in chapter 2 of Colossians, Paul had told them that he wanted them to "have full confidence because they have complete understanding of God’s secret plan, which is Christ himself. In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:2-3). So the more we know Christ, the more access we have to the treasures of wisdom and knowledge we need.

Over in the book of James, we read about earthly wisdom versus heavenly wisdom. James flatly states that earthly wisdom is demonic. It's characterized by bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. But heavenly wisdom looks differently. James says, "If you are wise and understand God’s ways, live a life of steady goodness so that only good deeds will pour forth. And if you don’t brag about the good you do, then you will be truly wise!" (James 3:13). According to James, the wisdom that comes from above is "first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no partiality and is always sincere" (James 3:17).

So how are we to conduct ourselves among the lost? With wisdom. And what is the source of that wisdom? Jesus Christ Himself. How do we access it? By seeking the things above. By spending time in the Word. By getting to know more of Christ, so we can respond like Christ. Why is this so important? So that, as the New American Standard Bible translates verse 5 of Colossians 4, we will be able to make the most of the opportunity. So we will know how to respond to each person. To be able to give them the right answer, seasoned with grace. Grace is "that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm; loveliness: grace of speech; good will, loving-kindness, favour." That kind of response is NOT of this world. It is not natural. It is not normal. It is from above. And it only comes when we make the things above our highest priority.

Jesus told us that the world would hate us just as it hated Him. We are aliens and strangers here. This is not our home anymore. We are citizens of a new kingdom. But we still have to live here and God expects us to live as ambassadors of His kingdom. We are to be His representatives here on earth, extending His grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness to all those we meet. We are to love the unlovely, share the good news of the gospel with the condemned, share the forgiveness of God with sinners, and exhibit the wisdom of God among a people who desperately need a word from God.

Father, I want to live my life here on earth with wisdom. Your wisdom. I know I can only find that wisdom in Your Son and I get to know Him better through Your Word. Help me to keep my attention focused on Him. Help me to remember that He sits at Your right hand in heaven. That is where my focus and attention needs to be. So that I can respond to each person I meet here on earth with a right answer, seasoned with grace and filled with love. Amen


Things Above.

Colossians 3

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth. - Vs 2

You've probably heard the phrase, "He's so heavenly minded that he's no earthly good." It is commonly used when referring to someone who talks a lot about spiritual things, but it doesn't seem to make much of a difference in the way they live their lives. That's NOT what Paul is recommending here when he says, "Set your mind on the things above." I think he's talking about perspective and motivation. Because the rest of this chapter don't paint a picture of someone who's so heavenly minded that he's no earthly good. In fact, Paul goes on to tell the Colossians (and us) a whole list of earth-oriented actions to engage in. He tells them to…

…put aside (strip off) the old self with its evil practices (Vs 10)

…put on the new self (Vs 10)

…separate yourself from the deeds of the old nature (Vs 5)

…get rid of anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech, lying (Vs 8-9)

…put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience (Vs 12)

…bear with one another and forgive one another (Vs 13)

…put on love (Vs 14)

…let the peace of God rule in your hearts (Vs 15)

…let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise (Vs 16)

…do all in the name of the Lord Jesus (Vs 17)

Now that sounds like someone who is living a life that is doing some earthly good. But it begins with that change in perspective and motivation Paul mentioned in verse 2. I love how The Message interprets that verse.

Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ--that's where the action is. See things from his perspective.

Because we live on the earth, we can become obsessed with the things of this earth. If anything, we can become so earthly-oriented that we lose our heavenly perspective. As believers, the "chosen of God " (Vs 12), we are what Paul refers to as holy. We are separated from all that is unclean and set apart to God. We belong to Him. We are citizens of a new kingdom – His. So we are to think like citizens of that kingdom. We are to be heavenly-minded. We are to see things from God's perspective and to not forget that we live by a new set of standards and answer to a new King. Paul reminds us that we "have been raised up with Christ," so we should "keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God" (Vs 1). Again, I think The Message gives us some good insight into what this verse means:

So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, [act] like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides.

Another translation puts it this way, "If then you have a new life with Christ, give your attention to the things of heaven" (BBE). This is all about our new life in Christ. That's why Paul spends so much time talking about putting on and taking off. We are to remember that we are new creatures with a new nature. But because we live in a fallen world and still have our old sin nature to deal with, we have to go through the daily practice of putting on the new characteristics of who we are in Christ and remove the old habits and characteristics of our old nature. Charles Ryrie puts it this way, "become in experience what you already are by God's grace. The Christian is risen in with Christ; let him exhibit that new life."

This is practical stuff. This is here-and-now stuff. It will impact the way we live our lives. It will filter into our homes and relationships. It will change our attitudes toward work. It will change our speech and our conduct. In fact, Paul says, "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father" (Vs 17). When we set our mind on the things above, it will change how we live here below. Keeping our thoughts on heaven just means we are thinking about our real home. It means we are reminding ourselves of where the real authority in our lives is. When we hear all the bad news on the evening news, we are to think about Christ sitting on His throne. He's in control. When we feel tempted to get angry and act out of frustration because of something done to us, we are to think about heaven, and remember that we are children of God who have been offered forgiveness for our sin. Which should make us want to extend the same grace to others here on earth.

Bottom line: we are to live like who we are – the chosen of God. Citizens of heaven. But to do that, we have to let heaven be our motivation. We have to change our perspective from an earthly one to a heavenly one. We have to set our minds on the things above.

Father, give me a heavenly perspective. Let me see this world from Your vantage point. Give me heavenly eyes that see myself as who I am in Christ. Help me to see the world with new eyes, a new perspective – Yours. May my motivation for all that I do come from heaven, not this earth. Amen

Growing In Knowledge.

Colossians 2

I want them to have full confidence because they have complete understanding of God’s secret plan, which is Christ himself. - Vs 2

Knowing Christ is more than just a saving knowledge. It is more than just a belief that gets us forgiveness of sins and entrance into the Father's kingdom. Knowing Christ offers us so much more. Here, Paul says that it can bring us a sense of confidence. It is "the full wealth of the certain knowledge of the secret of God, even Christ" (BBE). That "full wealth" includes "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Vs 3). We are to aspire to a "complete understanding" of God's secret plan – Jesus Christ Himself. We are not to settle for a partial understanding, a mere passing acquaintance. We are to grow in our knowledge of Christ.

Paul supports this when he refers to the Colossians as being "firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith" (Vs 7). They were firmly rooted. That word means "to strengthen with roots, to render firm, to fix, establish, cause a person or a thing to be thoroughly grounded." They had a good foundation. But they didn't stop there. They were being built up in Him. This is a construction term. It means they were building on the foundation which had been laid. They had sunk roots and were now growing and prospering in their knowledge of Christ. Finally, Paul says they were being established in their faith. They were gaining stability in their faith. The word translated "established" means "to make firm, establish, confirm, make sure."

Knowing Christ is not a one-time event, but a lifelong process. We are to grow in our knowledge of Him. We are to grow in our intimacy with Him. We are to grow in our dependence on Him. We are to grow in our commitment to Him. Why? Paul tells us in a few short, but very important phrases:

in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form (Vs 9)

in Him you have been made complete (Vs 10)

in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision without hands (Vs 11)

…you have been buried with Him in baptism (Vs 12)

…you were also raised with Him through faith (Vs 12)

…He made you alive together with Him having forgiven us all our transgressions (Vs 13)

These are just a few of the things we are to know about Christ. He is our Savior, but do we know just how much He has done for us. He is the God of the universe, yet He took on human flesh just so He could pay a debt I could not pay. He took that debt and nailed it to the cross (Vs 14). He has forgiven all my sins – past, present, and future. He has removed the body of flesh from me so that I don't have to obey it anymore. He has done so much for me. And there is more that I still don't know yet, but He is waiting to reveal to me. Do you know Him? Are your firmly rooted in Him? Are you being built up in Him? And are you being established in your faith because of Him?

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him. (Vs 6).

Father, thank You for Your Son. Help me to grow in my knowledge of Him. That my roots may grow deeper, and I might be built up and established in my faith because I am increasing in my knowledge of and intimacy with Him.  Amen

Hope Of Glory.

Colossians 1

Christ in you, the hope of glory. - Vs 27

This is the gospel in a nutshell. Christ in me! Living in me. Transforming me. Empowering me. Redeeming me. Sanctifying me. And ultimately, glorifying me. In the New Living Translation verse 27 reads this way, "For this is the secret: Christ lives in you, and this is your assurance that you will share in his glory." Because Christ lives in me, I can rest assured that I will live with Him for eternity. But His presence in me is more than just a ticket to heaven, my hope of an eternity free from hell. It is my hope for a life of radical transformation here and now. Christ in me is the secret to God transforming me. Paul says that "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" (Vs 21-22). His death has put us back in a right relationship with God the Father. He has restored our fellowship with God, which had been shattered because of our sin. But now God sees us as holy and blameless and beyond reproach, because He sees us through the blood of Christ. We have been washed clean. We are what the theologians call positionally holy. But Christ in me also makes it possible for me to be made progressively holy. That is why Paul told the Colossians that he and Timothy had "continued praying for you ever since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you a complete understanding of what he wants to do in your lives, and we ask him to make you wise with spiritual wisdom. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and you will continually do good, kind things for others. All the while, you will learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with his glorious power so that you will have all the patience and endurance you need" (Vs 9-11).

Paul prayed for and expected life change in the Colossians because Christ was in them. He expected to see their lives characterized by moral discernment, an increasing Christ-likeness, fruitfulness, and power. Ultimately, Paul knew the secret to their changed behavior was the change that had already taken place within them: Christ was in them. He had taken up residence in them. Any change that was going to take place would be by His power, not theirs. That is why Paul so fervently proclaimed Christ, because he knew that Christ in us is the secret to changing us. So Paul exclaims, "We proclaim him by instructing and teaching all people with all wisdom so that we may present every person mature in Christ" (Vs 28). To be mature in Christ is to be like Christ. It is to allow the Christ in us to come out of us. It is to increasingly allow His character to become our character. Paul's goal was to "bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less" (The Message).

Father, I want to be like Christ. No more, no less. I want the Christ in me to flow out of me. I want others to see Christ in me. May my old self continue to die and my new self in Christ become increasingly more visible to all those around me. And may I increasingly understand that Christ in me is truly my hope of glory now and in the future. Amen