Sunday, January 17, 2021

Prayer as God Intended

 “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”

‭‭Colossians‬ ‭4:2‬ ‭ESV‬‬


Even though most of us pray, we’d also readily admit that it’s an area of struggle. Even though we pray, we go through dry spells, where prayer is infrequent at best. And, as we pray, our attitude is often not what it should be.


Prayer, for many of us, is merely an obligation. It’s nothing more than an item to check off of our to-do list for the day. Knowing that God desires that we pray, and knowing that he’s called us to pray, we reluctantly give ourselves over to it.


Prayer, for many of us, also tends to be offered up as an act of wishful thinking. Although we certainly desire the things for which we ask, we are not confident that God will answer our prayer. In fact, we tend to believe that the odds of God answering our prayer are about equal to those of us winning the lottery.


However, although it’s true that God desires that we should pray, and although it’s true that we’re called to prayer, we’re called to do so with a very different attitude than that which I’ve just described. Prayer is to be not to be a chore or an obligation. Nor is it to be an act of wishful thinking.


 We see this in the above passage where we’re called to continue steadfastly in prayer. We’re called to be devoted to prayer. In other words, it’s not to be infrequent. It’s to be regular. It’s to be something to which we’re loyal and dedicated. It’s to be something with which we busy ourselves.


We’re called also to offer up our prayers with an attitude of faith. And this is very different from wishful thinking. We certainly desire those things for which we pray. However, we do not doubt that the Lord will answer our prayer. We fully trust that he will.


We see this as we’re told to be watchful in prayer with thanksgiving. Knowing that God has heard our prayer, and believing that he will answer it, we eagerly expect his blessing. We confidently expect that he will supply our need, just as he’s promised. And, for this reason, we’re able to have an attitude of thanksgiving before God has even answered our prayer. We’re able to thank God for his answer to our prayer which we know we’ll receive.


Thursday, January 07, 2021

Serving Others in Service of God

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”

Colossians 3:18-4:1 ESV

 

Even if we believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, and even if we believe that God’s Word is infallible, there are still passages that we can find difficult. In fact, there are passages that make us struggle and cause us to cringe. In short, even knowing that it’s the Word of God, we have a hard time receiving it as such.

 

I think we can all agree that the above passage is one of them. It addresses some rather touchy subjects. The truths it delivers are not politically correct today. And we often want nothing more than to ignore or to explain them away.

 

Wives are called to submit to their husband. They’re called to subject or to subordinate themselves to their husband. Husbands are called to love their wives and not be harsh with them. They’re to love their wife with a Christlike love, seeking to bless their wife at their own expense. Children are called to obey their parents. Bondservants are called to do the same with their master. And masters are to treat their bondservants justly and fairly.

 

We’re called to do so not only by way of eye service. We’re to do so not only when we’re being watched.  And we’re to do so not only as people-pleasers. We’re called to do so with sincerity of heart. In other words, we’re not only to go through the motions. We’re to gladly and willingly embrace our vocation.

 

We’re to do so, fearing the Lord. These are instructions that have been given to us by none other than God himself. And by refusing to live as we’ve been called is sinful in the eyes of God.

 

This, you see, is precisely the rub. Even knowing the command of God, we don’t feel that our husband is fit to place ourselves under. Even knowing the command of God, we don’t feel that our wife is deserving of love. Even knowing the command of God, we don’t feel that our parents deserve our obedience. Even knowing the command of God, we don’t feel that our masters are deserving of obedience. And even knowing the command of God, we don’t feel that our servants deserve fairness.

 

As we deal with this internal struggle, we must bear in mind who it is that we are serving. Sure, it’s true that we’re serving these people. But, ultimately, we’re serving the Lord.

 

Therefore, we’re to do all things as for the Lord. We’re to do them in his service. We’re to obey God’s call for his sake.

 

We’re to do so, even when it’s hard. We’re to do so even when it seems that there’s nothing in it for us. And we’re to do so because we know the source of our reward.

 

We’re to do so knowing that, even if we receive the appreciation of those whom we serve, it’s from the Lord that we’ll receive the inheritance as a reward. We’re to do so knowing that our reward isn’t given to us by man. We’re to do so knowing that from the Lord we’ll receive salvation.

 

And we can do so even if our circumstances are not ideal. We can do so having confidence that God is the judge. We can do so knowing that he will hold the wrongdoer to account. And we can do so knowing that his judgment is equitable.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The New Life

 “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 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.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Colossians 3:12-17 ESV

 

It’s safe to say that we all love passages like the one above. Its words appeal to us as we seek to live the Christian life.  However, we tend to believe that these are things we can accomplish with our own strength and willpower.

 

Prior to our salvation, all we will do is sin.  Prior to salvation, all we can do is sin. We naturally desire only to satisfy our sinful passions. We naturally desire only to feed our sinful lusts.

 

However, once we are saved, God enables us to live according to his will. He empowers us to live according to his will. Even though we’ll never do so perfectly, because of the sinful nature we still possess, it is now possible.

 

This is the context of the above passage. In it, Paul is telling us how we’re to live.  However, he is not telling us to do these things by our own strength or ability. That, after all, would be impossible.

 

The “then,” in verse 12, points us back to what he shared earlier. Paul told us that, in baptism, we were raised with Christ. He tells us that, in Christ, we were given a new life by God. And, as a people who have been raised with Christ, as a people who’ve been given a new life, we’re to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Having been raised with Christ, having been given a new life, we’re to bear with one another and to forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us.

 

As a people who have been raised with Christ, as a people who have been given a new life by God, we’re to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. Whatever we do, in word or deed, is to be done in his name. And we’re to do all things, giving thanks to God.

 

Although our lives once centered around our sinful desires, they now center around Jesus. While, prior to our salvation, all we wanted to do was to satisfy these sinful desires, we now long to glorify Jesus. And while we once depended only upon ourselves to accomplish the goals we’d set for ourselves, we now depend upon Christ to make this possible.

 

As we, then, look at the call placed upon us in this passage, we must not look at it as a list of things that we do to make ourselves Christian. We must not look at it as a list of things we do to accomplish our salvation. We must look at it as works that God has empowered within us that he might be glorified.

 

It is, once again, encouraging a life of ongoing repentance and faith. It is encouraging us to turn away from the sin that characterized our life before we were saved. And it’s encouraging us to live the new life that was given to us and that is empowered within us by the grace of God.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Put to Death

 “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”

Colossians 3:5-11 ESV

 

Even though man is in bondage to sin, we love it. Even though we are dominated by sin, we long for it. And even though we are thoroughly controlled by our sinful nature, we enjoy it.

 

In fact, we live for our sinful desires. Our life revolves around their gratification. All of our strength and energy is devoted to their satisfaction.

 

This is true also for many of us who profess the name of Christ. Even knowing what Christ has done for us, we continue to pursue the desires of the flesh. Even confessing faith in him, we ignore his Word in favor of our passions.

 

However, just as good works naturally flow from the believer in Jesus, so too does repentance. As a believer in Jesus, we will hate our sin. And, as a believer in Jesus, we will naturally turn from our sin.

 

Paul’s “therefore”, in verse 5, points us back to what he previously stated. It points us back to the fact that we have been raised with Christ. It points back to the fact that we have been given a new life in baptism.


It also points us back to his call to seek the things that are above. We're to seek the things of God rather than those of the world. We're to seek the things that are of God rather than those that result from our sinful nature.

 

For this reason, we are to put to death that which is earthly in us. We are to put to death that which is worldly in us. And this, of course, speaks to those things which are not of God. It speaks to those things that are opposed to the Lord and his will.

 

Paul goes on to list several examples of these earthly or worldly things that are to be put to death. And these are examples. What I am saying is that this list is not exhaustive in any way, nor are they worse than others addressed elsewhere in Scripture.

 

He says that we are to put sexual immorality, or fornication, to death. This is a broad term referring to various types of sexual immorality. We are to put impurity to death, which is a general term referring to uncleanness or immorality. We are to put passion to death, which refers to feelings or affections which cause the mind to suffer. And we are to put evil desires to death, along with covetousness.

 

These are not things that we can take likely. They are not matters that God can just overlook. Paul tells us that, on account of these, the wrath of God is coming. In other words, it is because of sins like these that God’s judgment is coming.

 

These were things in which we once lived, in our old life. They are things that characterized our lives before we were brought to faith in Christ. But now that we are in Christ, these are things that we must put away.

 

Paul then goes on to list more of the sins that must be put away. He mentions anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk. And he tells us that we are not to lie to one another.

 

We are not to do so because we are being made holy. We are not to do so because we have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. We are not to do so because we are being transformed into the image of God.

 

This is true of each and every one of us. There is no difference. No matter our background, Christ is all and in all.

 

Repentance, then, is mandatory for the believer in Jesus. It is not optional for the person of faith. However, that being said, it is not a work by which we are saved.

 

It is the natural result of the new life provided to us in Christ. Because we have died and been raised with Christ, we put to death the deeds of the old nature. Because of the salvation we have graciously received from God, we want nothing more than to put off the old self with its practices.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

None of Our Concern

 “Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?””

John 21:22-23 ESV

 

We have a tendency to compare ourselves with others. And this is true in many ways. It is true when it comes to our appearance, our weight, and even our intellect. However, this also happens in terms of our faith.

 

In the church, we will often compare our gifts with those of other believers. We will compare our position or our station with that of others. We will compare our perceived influence with that of others. We will compare our calling with that of others. And we will compare our circumstances with those of others.

 

This often leaves us discouraged. It leaves us disheartened. And it does so because we feel that we have received the short end of the stick. We believe that others have it so much better than we do.

 

In John 21, Peter was doing the very same thing. After Jesus invited him to affirm his love for him, and reinstated him to his prior ministry, he gave to Peter some disturbing news. Jesus told Peter that he would die for his faith. He told Peter that he would be crucified.

 

He then called Peter to follow him. And although this spoke to the ministry he was to carry out, it also spoke to his death. Jesus was calling Peter to lay down his life for him. He was calling Peter to follow him in death.

 

Seeing John following behind them, Peter asked about him. He wanted to know if John would suffer the same fate.  He wanted to know if he too would die for his faith. And Jesus responded with the words we see above.

 

Jesus asked Peter: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?  And, based on this statement, a rumor circulated among the disciples. The saying spread that John would not die.

 

However, as it is clarified for us, this is not what Jesus meant. Jesus was telling Peter that John’s future and that John’s calling was none of his concern. It was none of his business. He was simply to follow Jesus.

 

The same thing is true for each one of us. Although we like to compare ourselves with others, their calling, their circumstances, and their future, are not our concern. They are none of our business. We are to simply follow Jesus. We are to carry out the calling he’s given to us.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Not this Life, but the Next

 “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “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. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.””

‭‭Revelation‬ ‭21:1-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬


As we read the above text, I think we can agree that it captures that for which we long. We want to live forever in a place where God dwells with us. We want to live in a place where there is no more death. We want to live in a place where there is no more mourning, crying, or pain. And we want to live in a place where God himself has wiped every tear from our eye.


However, it increasingly seems like we understand this place to be the world in which we now live. It seems as if we are looking to worldly means to attain for us this blessing. And it seems that the only thing that matters to us is the here and now.


It seems more and more that our focus is upon this world. It seems more and more that our focus is on this life. It seems that, more and more, we are seeking to erase the consequences of sin and to create some sort of heaven on earth.


It seems that we trust in the goodness of human nature to get us there. It seems that we trust in our ability to improve and to grow to get us there. It seems as though we trust in the right leader to get us there. It seems that we trust in military might and adequate policing to provide these blessings. It seems that we trust in medicine and medical technology to get us there. And it seems that we trust in the right degree from the right school to get us there.


Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that we cease our efforts to improve the world in which we live. Nor am I suggesting that we cease all efforts to love our neighbor and to both help him and to advocate for his welfare. After all, we’re called by God to minister to the needs of those around us with the gifts and the blessings he’s entrusted to us.


However, we must understand that the blessings for which we long will only be received at the time of Jesus’ return. They will be experienced only in the new creation that will accompany him. We must understand that they will never be attained in the here and now.


Our hope, then, is found in Christ and in no one else. It’s found not in this life, but in the life that’s to come. And it’s found not in this world, but in the next.


For this reason, we must trust in Christ and anticipate his return. We must believe his promise and hope for its fulfillment. And we must know and believe that, by his death and resurrection, he’s done everything necessary to provide for us these blessings.


This is the purpose of the Advent season, into which we just entered. We remember the anticipation of the saints of old for the coming of the Savior. And, in the same way, we both anticipate and long for his return.


Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Who Are You?

 “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:1-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬


You are what you eat. This is what we’re often told. In other words, what we do makes us who we are.  


If we eat unhealthy, if we’re constantly eating junk food, we’ll be unhealthy. But if we eat healthy, if we eat a balanced diet, we’ll be healthy.


In the same way, our tendency as believers is to think that we are what we do. We think that what we do makes us who we are. We think it’s behaving as a Christian that makes us Christian. We think that, as we act in a way that is holy, we become holy.


So, as we read the passage above, we understand it to mean that, as we seek things that are above, we are raised with Christ. We think that, as we seek the things of God rather than the things of the world, we are saved. Again, we believe that what we do makes us who we are.


The problem with this is that, before we come to faith in Christ, and before we receive the grace of God, we cannot live for the Lord. We cannot live according to his commands. Before we come to faith in Christ we cannot and will not desire the things of God nor seek them.


We cannot do so because we are dead in sin, and there is no life in us. We are in bondage to sin. Sin is our master, and all we can do is sin. We can seek only to satisfy its lusts and desires.


Paul, however, states the opposite. He’s stating what’s already true of us. And, based on this, he calls us to live accordingly.


If we’ve been raised with Christ, we’re to seek the things that are above. And the “if” in this statement isn’t conditional. It’s a statement of reality.


We have been raised with Christ. As we saw in chapter 2, this happened to us through baptism. And because we’ve been raised with Christ, we’re to seek the things that are above.


Later, he states that we’ve died and that our life is hidden with Christ in God. Again, this is our state. And based on this state, we are to set our minds on the things of God rather than those of the world.


This means that we don’t focus on the things of the world, believing that they’ll make us holy. We do not depend upon the things that we do to bring us into a right relationship with God. And it means that we also do not pursue the desires of our sinful nature. 


We, instead, love the things that God loves. We desire the things that God desires. And we seek the things that God seeks. In short, we live a life of ongoing repentance and faith.


We do these things because this is who we are in Christ. We do these things because God has saved us. We do so because God has restored us from death to life. And we do so because our life is found in him.


Seeking the things of God, then, is not what makes us a Christian. They are the things that we do because we are a Christian. They are the result, they are the outflow, of the work of God in our life.