Monthly Archives: April 2015

A LOVING BROTHERHOOD

COLOSSIANS – LESSON 5

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,” Colossians 1:3–4 (ESV)

The apostle Peter wrote, “But living as servants of God, love the brotherhood”. 1 Peter 2:16b-17. For the most part the early church displayed brotherly love towards each other. It is no wonder that God, who is love, expects the church of our loving Savior, Jesus Christ, to love one another. The apostle Paul expressed his admiration and love for the church and for individual members of the church frequently. The book of Colossians is no exception.

The church in Colossae had members from every segment of society. That is as it should be with all congregations. There was Epaphras, Colossians 1:7, a beloved fellow-servant and a faithful preacher of the gospel. The apostle reminded the brethren that although Epaphras was with Paul he was truly one of “them”. He will be mentioned again in Colossians 4:13 as a hard worker and a man who prayed diligently on behalf of his “home” church.

Then there was Philemon. We read about him in the small one chapter book that bears his name. He was a church leader, a man who offered his own home as a meeting place for the church, Philemon 1:2. This man had a slave named Onesimus, a slave who ran away from him. This runaway contacted Paul at his prison house in Rome, was taught the Gospel, and became a Christian.

Severe punishment was usually doled out to runaway slaves. Sometimes they were even put to death. However, Paul requested that Philemon forgive this slave and allow him to stay with Paul as a co-worker. In Colossians 4:9 Onesimus is called “a faithful and beloved brother”. It is interesting that Paul sent this converted runaway slave back home, along with Epaphras, to deliver the book of Colossians to Philemon.

In Philemon 1:1 we are introduced to a fellow-soldier (preacher) named Archippus who served the congregation in Colossae. In Col 4:18, we see Paul encouraging this gospel preacher with these words, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord”.

It is interesting to read about some of Paul’s co-workers in Colossians chapter four. Here, and in other scriptures, Paul never elevates himself to a place of prominence while considering his helpers as mere underlings. To the contrary, Paul lists them as co-workers and fellow-soldiers. That is because of the mutual respect and love that existed among believers in the early church.

From this loving First Century brotherhood we can learn about the need to help those who are in need. Healthy congregations do not live in a world unto themselves. They co-operate with each other financially in many different ways. Here are a few examples from the early church:

  1. BENEVOLENCE: When sister congregations had financial needs, other churches sent funds to help them take care of their needs, Acts 11:27-30; Romans 15:25-29.
  2. LOCAL BENEVOLENCE: Individual members of a local church should rise up and donate funds in order to provide assistance for those of their own number who are in need, Acts 4:32-37.
  3. SUPPORT FOR PREACHERS: The early church co-operated with each other in supporting preachers and missionaries, 3 John 1:5-6. Paul asked the church in Rome to support him in a trip to Spain, Romans 15:24. Paul was also assisted financially by the church in Philippi, Phil 4:15-16. The church should spend money for the support of both local ministers and missionaries, 1 Cor 9:14; Acts 13:1-3.
  4. SUPPORT FOR NEEDY WIDOWS: In times gone by, widows suffered many financial hardships. Many First Century widows needed help from the church in order to survive. One of the first problem in the early church came about because some of the widows were being neglected, Acts 7:1-7. Read 1 Timothy 5:3-16 for guidelines for churches on helping widows in need. Perhaps churches of today need to speak with their widows in order to learn if they need financial assistance from the church. James wrote, “Religion that is pure, and undefiled before God, the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction,” James 1:27. To “visit” suggests supplying what is lacking. To leave a widow in her affliction is of no value to her whatsoever.

The important force behind the great relationship early churches had with each other was brotherly love. Jesus commanded us to love others as we love ourselves, Mt 22:39. Paul wrote that faith, hope, and love were the greatest attributes of all. However, love is the greatest of the three, 1 Corinthians 13:13. Love begins with a proper attitude. It is an acceptance of other people regardless of their race, financial prosperity, education, or anything else that might separate us one from another. Practicing the kind of love described in the Bible will cause us to stand apart from those in the world who do not know love as it is described in 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen.

I am so thankful the apostle Paul showed his affection for the brethren he served. He even loved believers he had only heard about – people he had never met. From Paul we can learn to feel the same kind of connection to those we know and to believers we hear about but have never met. Yes, we can love them all. Lord, I pray that each of us will increase our brotherly love. May the world know us by our love!

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STAYING THE COURSE (PART TWO)

COLOSSIANS LESSON 4

Last week we looked at a Gallup Poll that revealed the sad news that religion in America today has been in a decline for several years. We also observed that “ups” and “downs” in religion have been the sad story of mankind ever since God revealed His commandments to men. The only way to please the Lord is to stay the course.

Last issue we began a study of church problems from the book of Colossians. We touched on three problems they needed to overcome:

  1. Resist seductive teachings: Col 2:4.
  2. Don’t be taken captive by philosophy, Col 2:8.
  3. Don’t base religion on human tradition, Col 2:8.

Read on for more problems that lead to religious decline. The church in Colossae faced all of these issues. Many of them plague churches in the 21st Century as well.

  1. Issued in circumcision: Col 2:11. God commanded Abraham and all the males born through him to be circumcised. This law pre-dated the Law of Moses. However the Israelites were also commanded to circumcise their male children. Failure to do so was to depart from God’s commandments. Some Jews, who became Christians, tried to bind this law upon Gentile Christians but failed in their efforts, Acts 15:1-29. Paul would later teach that circumcision was not included as a commandment for Christians. Paul wrote, “For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God,” 1 Cor 7:19. God makes religious laws – not man. Doing otherwise leads to religious decline.
  2. They turned religion into rules keeping: Col 2:20-21. Of course there are rules to keep. The problem in Colossae was they were making rules in addition to those given by the Lord. They were teaching, “Do not handle. Do not taste. Do not touch”. We are not allowed to make religious laws that are based upon human precepts and teachings. Our rules do not come from modern day religious leaders nor do they come from society. They come from God’s word. This verse also brings to mind the truth that it is not by rules keeping (deeds) that we are saved. We are saved by grace through faith and not by the works that we do, Ephesians 2:8-10. Human rules lead to religious decline.
  3. Issued in laws governing food, drink and special days: Col 2:16. We humans sure do enjoy creating “special days”. While it is perfectly acceptable for individual Christians to have special days it is not right to make such days a commandment for others to keep. In Romans 14:3 we read, “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats.” He also wrote, “One person esteems one day as better than other, while another esteems all days alike,” Romans 14:5. The point is, when God has been silent on the matter, we have no right to command other people to observe our own peculiar ways of eating or of observe special days. Do not make laws where God has been silent. Doing so leads to religious decline.
  4. Issued in rigid asceticism: Col 2:18. Asceticism is self-deprivation for the purpose of cleansing drawing closer to God. Col 2:23 informs us that such actions give the appearance of wisdom by “promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” Hurting oneself for the purpose of enhancing one’s spirituality is something that came from pagan religions – not from God. Asceticism is never commanded by the Lord as an avenue for spiritual growth. Rigid asceticism leads to religious decline.
  5. Involved angel worship: Col 2:18. To see an angel would be an awesome experience. Twice the apostle John tried to worship the angel who brought him the vision contained in the book of Revelation. Here is John’s record, “I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow-servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God,’” Revelation 22:9. God is to be worshipped, John 4:23-24. Jesus is to be worshipped, Philippians 2:9-11. Angels and men are never to be worshipped. We must never put men into the place reserved for the Lord our God. Doing so leads to religious decline.

Religious decline happens when we allow society to govern our religious beliefs, when we have sin in our lives, and when we become ignorant of the teachings found in the Bible. The devil doesn’t mind if we worship just so we don’t do so according to scripture. To turn our decline around requires faithfulness by individual Christians and it also requires fervent prayer. Birge Niemann noted the following in an article he wrote some years ago.

“After two bitter years of civil war, President Abraham Lincoln designated Thursday, April 30, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer because, ‘we have forgotten God’. The declaration stated: ‘whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord’”. Power For Today, April, 13. 2010.

For sure, repentance and fervent prayer goes a long way towards restoring spiritual fervor. Let’s pray that our national leaders will come to understand that God only blesses those nations whose God is the Lord. Let those of us who are Christians restore our fervor by repenting of our sins, by becoming more diligent in Bible study, by worshipping faithfully, by praying without ceasing and by renewing our efforts to teach the gospel to the lost. Then we will see a renewal of religious fervor among ourselves and, hopefully, among the American people. I look forward to that day. How about you?

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STAYING THE COURSE (PART ONE)

COLOSSIANS LESSON 3

     In 2014 the Gallup Poll looked at five measures showing the decline of religion in America today. Go to http://tobingrant.religionnews.com/2014/08/01/five-signs-great-decline-religion-america-gallup-graphs-church/ to see the graphs for yourself. Below is a summary of the poll:

  1. Decline of Religious Identity: This identifies those Americans who say they have no religion. 20 years ago 1-in-20 Americans claimed to have no religion at all. Today, the number of people claiming to have no religion has grown to over three times that level.
  2. Decline of Church attendance: The number of people who attend church services dropped during the same period of time by 20% to a low of about 53%.
  3. Decline of membership: 20 years ago 7 out of 10 Americans said they were members of a church or other religious group. Today, only six out of ten people claim to be members of a religious organization.
  4. Decline of Religion’s Importance in life: As with others, this poll dropped about 10% since 1994.
  5. Decline of Religion’s relevance for today: This poll searched for the percentage of people who think religion is relevant for the problems of today’s world. This important measure of the value of religion to Americans dropped about 10% since 1994. It is sad to note the loss of interest in religion (church) in all five categories. It is likely that some groups are affected less than others but the steady decline of the importance of religion in America is a real problem that every congregation must face and overcome.

The “ups” and “downs” of religious fervor is not something new to human beings. A study of both the Old and New Testaments clearly shows there were numerous times when mankind failed to see the relevance of serving God. What do you think caused the great flood in Noah’s day? Or the problems of Israel during the period of the Judges? Or the time when Israel was carried away into Babylonian captivity? All of these recorded events came about because the people lost interest in God and His word. In their day, their attitude brought about a decline in religion that caused them to fail to see its relevancy. This attitude often brought the wrath of God upon them. Do you think God deals differently with men in today’s world?

The only sure way to please God is to stay the course. That is to say, we must do everything in our power to maintain our religious fervor and follow the instructions of the Holy Bible. Over and over again, God punished His chosen people because they failed to find any relevance in the religion of their day. The people in Malachi’s day said, “It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of Hosts?” Malachi 3:14. To them, religion just wasn’t relevant to their daily problems.

People of God had similar problems during the First Century. Many people think the churches established in the First Century were living during the golden age of Christianity. In some ways that is true. However, even the early churches had problems keeping their enthusiasm and interest up. I wonder what their polls would say about the relevance of religion in their day?

New Testament churches also had problems staying the course. A study of Colossians chapter two shows that those early Christians had some very serious problems that needed to be corrected. The world in which they lived was affecting their attitudes and their faithfulness to the Lord. Below is a list of some of their problems:

  1. Resist seductive teachings: Col 2:4. Just because something sounds good does not make it true. Paul warned the early church no to be deluded “with plausible arguments”. Far too often churches of our day try to adapt their teaching so that is more palatable to society. The church is not to bend to current cultural beliefs. Instead, we must bend our will to the standards set forth in the word of God.
  2. Don’t be taken captive by philosophy: Col 2:8. There are many brilliant men and women in this world who present human philosophy as the standard we should follow. Paul said, “See to it that on one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit”. Sadly, we live in an era where State and Federal lawmakers, along with state and federal judges are trying to change the laws that define human moral behavior. Television and the movies promote the most liberal views of sex. Many movies lower the standards of human behavior that are taught in Scripture. Regarding human behavior, Christians are considered to be living in a bygone era that no longer has any relevancy. Where do you stand? It is my conviction that it is not the place of Government to set moral standards. That is God’s business and He has already written on the subject. To change His moral decrees is to sin.
  3. Don’t base religion on human tradition: Col 2:8. There is no doubt that religion has its traditions. When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper He commanded us to take it until He comes, 1 Cor 11:26. The early church was ordered to keep the apostle’s tradition, 2 Thes 2:15. However, we are not to place human tradition on the same level as the apostolic doctrine. Jesus, Himself, condemned the religious leaders of His day for placing human traditions on the same level as God’s commandments. The Lord said, “In vain do you worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men,” Mk 7:7-8.

Next week we will look at the remainder of the issues that were troubling the church in Colossae. Continuing in these errors could only lead to a decline in the growth of the church. It is important to realize that when we turn from the truth by allowing the world to dictate our morality and our faith we will face God’s disapproval. Continuing in falsehood will eventually lead to spiritual decline and to God’s wrath. In some cases God removed such churches from the face of the earth (read Revelation chapters two and three).

Because it is so easy for believers to go astray, Paul often stressed faithfulness to doctrinal purity in his writing. He wrote to the Corinthian brethren, “Your restoration is what we pray for. For this reason I write to you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down,” 2 Corinthians 13:9b-10. I am for staying the course. How about you?

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CHRIST AND THE UNIVERSE

LESSON TWO

Oh, how I love the book of Colossians! Every chapter presents different aspects of the glory of Christ. The book demands that we follow the Lord and His teachings. It encourages us to change our lives to the point that Christ becomes our life. Old habits are cast away as we look to Jesus for spiritual leadership. Enjoy the glimpses of Christ that will to be shared in this article and in the ones to follow. They will not be exhaustive but, hopefully, they will stir up your minds to investigate more deeply the wonderful teachings found in Colossians.

This article is entitled: “Christ And The Universe”. Since the book contains only four short chapters you might want to read each chapter and make your own list of the verses that exalt Jesus or explain His authority. Today, we will center upon the teaching found in Colossians 1:15-17.

“ He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 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. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.                                                                                 Colossians 1:15–17 (ESV)

All of the points below come from the passage above. Through the Holy Spirit, Paul exalts Jesus as being the primary goal for the creation of the universe. You might want to read John 1:1-4; 14 and 1 John 1:1-4 for a more complete picture. The belief among Christians that Jesus is creator, and that He is God made flesh provides fellowship between God and the believer. Such knowledge also makes our joy complete. Now, to our text (Colossians 1:15-17):

  1. Jesus is the image of the invisible God: The word image is εἰκών (eikōn) in Greek. It means “likeness, having the same form as something else”. The English word “icon” comes from this Greek word. Thus, when you see Jesus, you see God. Isn’t that what the Lord meant when answered Philip in John 14? “Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus’ reply is startling. The Lord said, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” John 14:9-11. We learn from this passage that when a person sees Jesus he sees God. Of course, this speaks of the attributes and qualities of God. It tells us that the very essence of who Jesus was is an exact replica of God Himself. It means that Jesus is Deity (God). Jesus is not God the Father – He is God the Son. They are so united in thought, in purpose and in character that they are one. This absolutely declares to all men that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. He is God with us, Matthew 1:23. Jesus is God made flesh.
  1. Jesus created all things: Yes it is true! Jesus created all things in heaven and on earth. He created things that are visible and things that are invisible. The Godhead was involved in creation as shown in Genesis 1:1-2 where God and the Holy Spirit were involved in creation. Genesis 1:26-27 Scripture infers that Jesus also took part in the creation of the universe. This is inferred when the Father said, “Let US make man in our image”. Jesus is included in the word “us”. Read John 1:1-4 once more to see evidence from the Bible that Jesus created all things. This in no way excludes the work of the Father, or the Holy Spirit, from the creation process.
  1. Jesus existed before creation: Colossians 1:17 states, “He is before all things”. We learn from this passage that Jesus existed before creation. Some religious groups believe God created Jesus as an angel. However, scripture clearly tells us that before Jesus was born of Mary he had all of the attributes of God the Father. Jesus was equal with God, “Jesus Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” Philippians 2:5b-6. Jesus is eternal. Before He was born, Jesus lived in equality with God Himself. Thus, God came down and was born a man in order to shed His blood for our sins. A wonderful Savior is Jesus Christ our Lord.
  1. Jesus sustains the universe: The truth is: the universe is held together by Jesus, Col 1:17. We are able to live on this planet because of what we call the laws of nature. We have atmosphere that provides us with oxygen to breathe. Plant life provides oxygen to the atmosphere. Gravity holds us on this spinning planet and prevents us from flying into outer space. Gravity can also hurt you if you fall from a high place. There are many other laws of nature, all of which are sustained by Jesus. The reason everything works so well on this planet (and the entire universe) is that Jesus holds everything together by the power of His might.
  1. Jesus is the goal of creation: Look at the statement in Colossians 1:16 once again. “All things were created through him and for him.” Do you marvel at the idea that the world as we know it was created FOR HIM? No doubt many other points could be listed as reasons for creation, but Jesus is a definitely a primary reason why God created the heavens and the earth. When Jesus completed His mission (shedding His blood for all mankind) God highly exalted Him and gave Him a name above all names. One day all men, dead or alive, will fall on bended knee and “every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”, Philippians 2:9-11. There will be NO unbelievers on Judgment Day!

How wonderful it is that God included the book of Colossians as one of the books of the Bible. It contains only four chapters and 95 verses. That makes it shorter than the Sermon on the Mount. However, it is a powerful tool to help us become stronger and more faithful servants of the Lord.

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GOD AS SEEN IN COLOSSIANS

LESSON ONE

I have loved the book of Colossians for a long time because of the many wonderful teachings it presents to us. Therefore, my blog, “A Look At The Book” will concentrate on some of the things we can learn from this short book of only four chapters and ninety-five verses. We will not study the book verse by verse but topic by topic. At this point I do not know how long we will linger over the book but, for sure, it will be several weeks. Today we will look at some of things said about “God As Seen In Colossians”. It is not an exhaustive list but it is sufficient to help us see some of our Father’s wonderful characteristics.

GLIMPSES OF GOD FROM 1:1-3

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,” Colossians 1:1–3 (ESV)

Here are some truths about our holy God that we can learn from the first three verses of the book of Colossians.

  1. GOD HAS A WILL FOR MANKIND: We see that Paul, along with the twelve, received their apostleship by the will of God. It was not by their own will that they were appointed to be inspired leaders for the First Century church. It was not by the will of the people either. They were chosen by the will of God. That is the reason these men were so successful in their ministry. However when you study the will of God in other scriptures, you learn that He has a will for all of us. “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is,” Galatians 5:17. God’s will is found in the written word of God, the Bible. All mankind is subject to the will of God. Even Jesus was subject to it. On the night of His betrayal, our Savior said, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will but as you will,” Matthew 26:39. Jesus taught that doing the will of God is more important than mighty deeds and miraculous power, Matthew 7:21-23. The will of God is an important thing for us to study and to learn.
  1. GOD AS A FATHER: Paul clearly reveals the truth that God is the Father of us all. That is true because He is the creator of the world in which we live, as revealed in the first chapter of Genesis and confirmed in Acts 17:24. The Bible consistently confirms that the world came into being by the hand of God, not by chance. Our heavenly Father created us from the dust of the ground. A second idea is that God is our Father spiritually. When we obey the Gospel we are brought back to life spiritually and God adopts us as His children, Rom 8:16-17. Our Father God expects us, as His children to obey His will (the revealed will of God is found in Scripture).
  1. GOD IS A GOD OF GRACE AND PEACE: Sometimes we overlook the majesty of the grace of God. Thayer defines grace as “the kindness of a master towards his inferiors or servants”. Grace is sometimes explained by the phrase “unmerited favor”. Ephesians 2:8-10 shows us clearly that God is a God of grace. Paul wrote, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God,” Ephesians 2:8. God is also the provider of His peace. In Philippians 4:7 we are also told we can receive the peace of God that passes understanding. Christian peace comes from the Prince of Peace, John 14:27. When one has it he is at peace with God, with man, and with himself. Thank, you Heavenly Father for being a God of grace and peace.

MORE ABOUT GOD FROM 1:9-11

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy”, Colossians 1:9–11 (ESV)

  1. GOD IS THE SOURCE OF STRENGTH AND POWER: In these verses we see the Almighty providing strength and the power to His people. We are not speaking of supernatural power but, rather, the power to serve God in an acceptable manner. This power is given to those who have:
    1. Knowledge of His will (Bible study).
    2. Spiritual wisdom and understanding (received in response to our asking for wisdom, James 1:5).
    3. Walking properly. Thus, being people who are pleasing to God. See 1 John 1:7-9 for on this idea.
    4. Bearing fruit in every good work. “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples,” John 15:8.
    5. Increasing in knowledge. Isn’t it interesting to learn that our powerful God intends for us to increase in knowledge as we progress in our Christian life.
  1. GOD STRENGTHENS US HIMSELF: Power to serve does not depend upon human ability or strength. Paul asked that the Colossian brethren be strengthen in might by God Himself. Such a person not only receives the blessings noted above but they also become people who exhibit the following characteristics:
    1. Endurance: Meaning “patience endurance, holding out”.
    2. Patience: Meaning “forbearance”. The idea is to suffer or endure for a longtime.
    3. Joy: Meaning “delight, gladness”.

Thank, you dear Lord, for your mighty power; a power that fully equips us to become faithful, productive children of God. Help us; dear Lord, to continue to grow in knowledge and in every good work for the rest of our days on this earth. To you, dear Lord; we give the glory and the honor and the praise forever and ever, amen!

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