Monthly Archives: December 2014

Fully Mature

FULLY MATURE

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (Colossians 1:27-29).

Fully mature! Paul’s goal was to present everyone fully mature in Christ by teaching and admonishing them with the truth in the hopes that they would respond and become what he urged them to be.

Of course he had no guarantee that they would respond to his teaching as fully as he hoped. All he could do was to provide the food; whether they ate it or not was up to them. He had two powerful weapons with which he contended – the Word of God and prayer – and he used them both with all the energy which the Lord provided.

The Scriptures present God’s Word as a weapon.

‘Is not my word like fire,’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?’ (Jer. 23: 29).

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Heb.4: 12).

By prayer, Paul interacted with the Father through the Holy Spirit, discerning His mind and becoming one in spirit with the Father so that the Father’s will would be done on earth as it is done in heaven. Although he could not make anyone respond, he trusted his weapons to break down opposition and resistance and open up the channels of the heart for the light of God’s truth to penetrate and transform.

What was his goal? Fully mature in Christ! Those two words open up a world of meaning for those who aspire to maturity in Christ. It is the Father’s purpose to restore every believer to the image of His Son.

For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Rom. 8: 29).

God’s goal is that every child of God become an exact replica of His Son. What does He mean by that? Jesus was the perfect and model Son. He was submissive and obedient to His Father, serving Him by doing what the Father wanted. He lived in union with and dependence upon the Father. He refused to do anything the Father did not tell Him to do and He did everything to protect the unity He had with the Father, even to laying down His life to fulfil the Father’s will.

Yet is was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, He will see His offspring, and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand. (Isa. 53: 10).

Surprisingly enough, it seems, maturity is not about learning to be independent, as we train our children to be, but about growing in dependence upon Him as our source. Paul contended with the energy supplied by Christ through the Spirit. The secret is ‘Christ in you’. If we are ever to come anywhere near to maturity in this life, we must learn to become one with Jesus, living in union with Him in our everyday walk, doing His will in His way.

Working for Jesus is not what we are called to do. It is a mistake to think that our job is to be busy doing His work. We are called to live out His life wherever we are, because that is His work. It is Christ in us, being Himself through us that will accomplish His will. Working for Jesus does not mean doing what we think He wants us to do in our way. Working with Jesus means allowing His Spirit to recreate us in His image so that the world can see who He really is.

Paul called it a ‘mystery’? This doesn’t mean that it cannot be understood. It means that this truth was hidden until the moment when Jesus revealed it to His disciples to whom He gave the responsibility and authority to interpret His ‘yoke’. It was their duty to ‘bind’ it on all His followers and to free them from the ‘yoke of bondage’.

As I have explained many times, Jesus’s ‘yoke’ was His way of interpreting the ‘Torah’, God’s teaching in the books of Moses, and the way He lived it in His own life and taught it to His disciples.

It is only by following His way that we can every hope to become ‘fully mature’.

SCRIPTURE TAKEN FROM THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Christ’s Suffering Made Perfect

CHRIST’S SUFFERING MADE COMPLETE 

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His body, the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the Word of God in its fullness – the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. (Colossians 1:24-26).

What was Paul talking about? It almost seems as though he was telling the Colossians that Jesus’s suffering for their salvation was not complete – that he, Paul, had to complete His suffering for the salvation of the church. For Paul to mean that is unthinkable. He wrote a whole letter to disprove the teaching of the Judaizers that Gentiles needed to become Jews before they could become Christians. He contended vigorously for the sufficiency of Christ’s death for our salvation.

If that was not what he meant, what did he mean? I am indebted to John Piper for his explanation.

http://www.desiringGod.org/conference-messages/filling-up-what-is-lacking-in-christs-afflictions

Jesus’s suffering on the cross was sufficient for the salvation of the world. There is nothing that needs to be added to what He has done to make us more acceptable to God than we are through Him. To try to add anything is to cancel out grace and put us back where the Jews were, trying to earn God’s salvation through good works or keeping the Law.

However, believers are called to suffer for Christ because, in that way His suffering becomes visible and real to the world. When people are willing to suffer joyfully and even to lay down their lives for Jesus, unbelievers begin to realise that they have a concrete reason for believing in Him. No one would go that far and suffer that much for a lie.

When a minister of the gospel is willing to lay aside his comforts and go to the remotest corners of the earth to carry the gospel to people who have never heard, to do without their comforts and live like they live, they are able to see the love that Jesus had for them, that He came from the Father to give His life for the world.

Paul recognised that Epaphroditus, as a representative of the Philippian church, had come to ‘complete what was lacking’ in their service to him (Philippians 2: 30). They could not all go to him in person, but they could send their representative to help Paul on their behalf. In the process, he became ill and almost died, but that was part of the expression of their love for Paul. Epaphroditus was not acting on his own – the Philippians were ‘in’ him, suffering for them as he ministered to Paul.

In the same way, Paul’s suffering was his way of showing people wherever he went that he was willing to forfeit his ease and comfort and suffer just as Jesus gave up His place and glory in heaven with the Father in order to show His love for them. Jesus’s death on the cross was much more than just a fact of history or a doctrine of the church. It was made real by those who laid down their lives to carry His message to the world.

‘His sufferings are completed in our sufferings because in ours the world sees His, and they have their appointed effect. The suffering love of Christ for sinners is seen in the suffering love of His people for sinners.’ (By John Piper © 2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: www.desiringGod.org )

Paul knew that suffering was to be part of his calling. Ananias was sent to restore his sight after his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road and to give him his commission:

. . . The Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’ Acts 9:15, 16.

Whatever form our suffering takes, if it comes to us in the course of our obedience to Jesus, and not the suffering that is part of the fallen world, we are also, in our place of witness, ‘completing what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.’

SCRIPTURE TAKEN FROM THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Once . . . But Now

ONCE . . . BUT NOW

Once you were alienated from God and enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1: 21-23.

If Paul had not brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Colossians, he certainly intended that they get it loud and clear through this letter! He wanted to be sure that they had it straight, that there would be no doubt in their minds about who Jesus is and on what grounds they could be assured of their salvation.

The Gnostics had tried to lure them away with their airy-fairy ideas about emanations, demiurges and special knowledge only accessible to a select few. Paul’s message was good news for everyone without exception, even the inanimate world and the world of creatures, because Jesus came to set everything right by sacrificing Himself for all of Creation.

Like the entire universe which was thrown off course by Adam’s disobedience, the Colossians were at enmity with God until they heard and believed the good news. Jesus’s message, which became Paul’s message when it was entrusted to him, was a message of reconciliation and hope; not hope as in ‘I hope it will happen,’ but hope as in ‘I know it will happen because God has said so, but not yet.’

What is the hope of the gospel? Holy, without blemish and free from accusation! But how can it possibly be that we, fallen and mortal beings, can ever hope to be perfect, like Jesus? Everything that Jesus is has been given to us as a free gift – His nature, His sinless perfection, His righteousness and His holiness are all ours now, and that’s how the Father sees us. Paul used a little two-word phrase to describe our standing before God – ‘in Christ’. Until we understand the significance of these two words, we will always be insecure, based on our unstable behaviour.

God does not judge us by our behaviour but by our standing – which Paul described as a ‘standing in grace’ (Romans 5: 2). We would never dream of rejecting our two-year-old child because of his immature behaviour. He is our son; he has a standing in the family which he can never lose. It is our responsibility as parents to bring him up to be a mature adult. With love and patience we teach him, correct him and discipline him towards the goal of who he is – our son.

And so it is with God and us. We are His sons and daughters. We have a standing in His family which has been secured by the death of His Son. Since He is God, He already sees the end result, perfect and complete in Christ, and He guides us towards the goal to become what we already are, replicas of Jesus, through discipline and training (Romans 8: 28-29).

There is a question which believers often ask and to which Paul gives a clue here, something to consider seriously. ‘Can I lose my salvation?’ He does not give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. The issues go much deeper than that. However, he does use the little conditional word ‘if’. He does not envisage believers skating as close to the edge as they can. Why would we want to do that?

We cannot be in Christ and in the world at the same time. If we are ‘in Christ’ it means that we have chosen to enter through the narrow gate and to make the day-by-day, moment-by-moment choices which keep us going in the right direction (Matthew 7: 13-14). Wrong choices will take us off course and lead us to the wrong destination.

he solution to going the wrong way is to ‘continue in the faith, established and firm, and not move away from the hope held out in the gospel.’ Jesus called us to follow Him. As long as we keep following, we will not be in danger of getting lost, but if we lag behind or wander off course, who knows where we will land.

Apostle John puts it even more clearly.

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2: 15-17).

SCRIPTURE TAKEN FROM THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Supreme In Everything!

SUPREME IN EVERYTHING!

And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in haven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. (Col. 1: 18-20)

What does ‘supreme’ mean? The dictionary says, ‘Highest in rank or authority’ or ‘greatest of the great’. How does Jesus fit the criteria?

He, not some lower-ranking god who is far removed from God, is the Creator of the universe. The consistent witness of the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments is that Jesus is the Creator of all things. It was Jesus who, in the Old Testament, was called ‘the angel of the Lord’, and who, as Jesus Himself said, appeared to Moses at the burning bush (John 8: 58); and to Isaiah in the temple. (Isa. 12: 39-41)

It was Jesus, whom the Bible called ‘the Word’ (John 1: 1), through whom God created the universe and everything in it, both seen and unseen, and to whom God gave the authority to rule (Eph. 1: 22) for the sake of the church. Jesus is the beginning or initiator of Creation and the sustainer of all things. He holds everything together by His powerful word. (Heb 1: 3)

Just as Jesus is the initiator of Creation, so also He is the initiator of the New Creation, the church. The church came into being through Him. He shed His blood to reconcile God’s alienated children to Himself and to bring them back into His household to be His beloved family once again. The church is the visible representation of His kingdom on earth. He is the supreme Head of the church. (Col. 1:18)

He is also the firstborn from among the dead. He raised dead people to life again during His sojourn on earth but they were doomed to die again because of sin. Jesus’s resurrection from the dead signified that He had beaten sin. Sin killed Him but sin could not hold Him in the grave. Without the resurrection, His death would have been no different from the death of any other human. His death would have been proof that the devil still has the power of death.

But death could not hold Him in the grave. He busted out of death into a resurrection life that can never die again. He became the prototype of all those who believe in Him, the firstborn from among the dead. He fulfilled the requirements of the firstfuits, which guaranteed God’s blessing on the rest of the harvest.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfuits of those who have fallen asleep. For, since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. (1 Cor. 15:20-21)

The resurrection is the final proof that all Jesus ever said, did or promised is authentic. Because He lives, we shall live also. (John 14: 19) Paul was writing to counter the nonsense people were teaching for which they had no authority except the fanciful imagination of human minds. He not only had the backing of the ancient Scriptures but also the historical truth of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection to write what he wrote and teach what he taught without fear of contradiction.

What other religious teacher could claim what Jesus claimed and then pull it off to prove that He spoke the truth? Did Buddha, Mohammed, Joseph Smith or any other person who made great claims, ever do that? Did any of them say they would be killed and raise again? To try to disprove the words and works of Jesus, some even declare that the Bible has been corrupted and is no longer the truth. On what grounds? No amount of maligning the record can disprove the resurrection.

Millions of people throughout the centuries after Christ have trusted Jesus’s word and committed their lives into His hands. The early Christians and many since have paid for their faith with their lives. Even today, thousands die brutal deaths rather than deny their faith. Why? Are they sacrificing themselves for a lie? No. They are convinced that Jesus spoke the truth and they have staked their destiny on it.

Jesus said to her (Martha), ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ (John 11: 25, 26)

SCRIPTURE TAKEN FROM THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

The Song Of Creation

THE SONG OF CREATION

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities: all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Col. 1: 15-17)

Paul was up against a group of people who were already corrupting the gospel and down-playing Jesus by false ideas they were propagating across the empire. Their teaching was what was the beginning of Gnosticism, a philosophy which was a mixture of existing religions and which taught that to be “saved” one needed to have secret “knowledge” – (gnosis is the Greek word for knowledge) into which only a few select people were initiated.

They taught that matter is evil and spirit good implying, on the one hand, that Jesus could not have been fully man, and on the other hand, that Creation was the work of a lesser god, called a demiurge, not the Supreme Being who could have nothing to do with matter; that between God and the created world there existed a series of lesser beings, the last being the creator of the universe.

Paul jumped right in by stating two facts clearly: that Jesus is the ‘firstborn’ over all creation – not, as some have interpreted, the first of God’s creatures, which would contradict Paul’s statement that Jesus is the image (copy or likeness) of God, but the prototokos or prototype of creation. ‘Firstborn’ refers not so much to the first one born to parents, but the one who had the authority and responsibility in the family.

Jesus is both firstborn over and agent in creation. Everything was through Him and for Him and He holds it all together by His powerful word.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. (Heb. 1: 3)

Gnosticism as a philosophy is not as rife today as the teachings of evolutionists. Who is right? The evolutionist who states categorically that everything in the universe came into being by chance, or the Bible and those who believe it, that Creation is God’s handiwork and that Jesus Christ is the Word through whom everything was created?

Paul had no problem in believing that God created the universe and neither did David. There were no scientists in their day trying to make them believe otherwise.

David spent time watching sheep in his youth. In the summer time he must have often sat out under the stars. There were no city lights to dim his view of the heavens. He was captivated by the splendour of the dome above him and, because of his knowledge of the writings of Moses, he had no need to ask, “Who made all this?” There could only be one answer; not chance but God – the God of his forefathers whom he worshipped.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words, no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world. (Psa. 19: 1-4a)

Nowadays we know that the stars are not silent. With the invention of the radio telescope, astronomers are able to listen in to their music. The Velar Pulsar drums out a perpetual rhythm to God who made it. David got it right, after all. The stars are proclaiming the glory of their Creator.

The creatures on earth are not silent either. They have ways of communicating that fascinates scientists. Who knows what whales and dolphins are singing about, or the songbirds which lift their voices to the heavens? They may be saying something to their own kind, but sometimes they warble just for the joy of being alive. Have you ever heard the song of crickets played at ultra-slow speed? It sounds like the song of angels!

Unlike us humans, who make every excuse not to acknowledge and worship our Creator, the inanimate and animal world have never questioned their origin, or thought up a lame reason why they are here. They do what they were created to do, to honour their Creator, and to do what they were created to do – to show God off by being themselves.

When we acknowledge Jesus and put Him in His rightful place, the entire universe is right-side-up, a glorious creation of God and awaiting its restoration to perfection just as we, God’s children are doing.

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.