1 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
This Psalm starts with a request that is so relevant to our lives today. God, would you please protect or preserve me! Do this God please because I take refuge in You alone because I have made You my security!
The request reveals some underlying beliefs;
- David believes that God is able to preserve him
- David believes that God knows him personally
- David believes that God is a refuge worthy of trust
- David believes that God rewards & responds to personal faith
What we pray reveals what we believe. Prayer is not some cosmic game of darts or insurance scheme. Prayer is personal; prayer is powerful because God is personal, and God is omnipotent.
2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
The HCSB translation translates vs2 in the following way; “I said to Yahweh, “You are my Lord; I have nothing good besides You.” David uses Israel’s name for God and appeals to the personal, covenantal relationship God has established as the foundation for his appeal in prayer. He says essentially, ‘Yahweh; You are my LORD! And all the good in my life I attribute to You!’
Yahweh is the source of every good thing in our lives because He is good and because He established a gracious, loving covenant with us who believe in Him.
David declares that there is, in fact, NOTHING GOOD that is in his life that did not come from God. Or said another way, there is no good outside of God.
This declaration takes us back to the original sin. Adam and Eve believed the enemy when He tempted them with the insidious thought that God was not good – tempting them into thinking that there was something good, something better for their lives in disobedience rather than in obedience to God’s spoken word.
Brothers and sisters, there is never any good outside of our God. Sin promised good to Adam and Eve outside of God; sin always promises some good, some fulfilment but Scripture declares here that there is no good outside of God.
Is there any way in which at the moment the enemy is tempting me with something which might feel or look ‘good’ but is, in fact, just you looking for good outside of God and God’s will? See it for what it is, a lie and a trap. Declare today with David that there is no good outside of God and His will for your life.
4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.
Since there is no good outside of God, for anyone to ‘run after’ anything other than Yahweh is futile.
No other ‘gods’ or people or created things can deliver as they promise, can satiate our longings or be the sanctuary and refuge we need.
But note that sin isn’t just the absence of God. No sin is active; sin multiplies sorrow, and sadness! Sin results in multiplied sorrow since the good God had for you is forfeited plus, the path you chose outside of God and His revealed will for your life has no good in it anyway either (vs2). So to choose a lifestyle of sin and compromise only multiplies your sorrow and loss!
As a pastor for nearly 20yrs, I have seen the truth of this verse over and over and over again. Sin multiplies sorrow, don’t believe for a minute that you’ll be the exception.
5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
The better way to live is to resolve that God is our portion – He is enough for us. God ‘You hold my future’ the HCSB translation says.
In His sovereignty and His love, God has determined the details of our lives, where we live, the arrangements of our lives (work, family, job, timing…) and contentment with that which God has ordained is good for us!
This Psalm doesn’t bluntly declare that all circumstances we encounter and endure are good or pleasant. Rather it expresses faith (‘inheritance’ is in the future), for when good can’t be seen or isn’t being experienced, God is all we need. More than that, trust is expressed here that God has our good in mind somehow in whatever we are facing in the present.
7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
David knows what it’s like to need counsel in the night, to awake disturbed by worry but then to have God draw alongside us and settle us in our innermost being with His presence. Because God is our God, our everpresent Help in trouble, because God is always at our right hand, we can go back to sleep knowing; “I will not be shaken”!
Our fortitude is not in some stoic stand but founded on the firm foundation that God is with us always.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. 11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Exultation! Everything inside of us rejoices, peace comes upon us, because we know God is with us. We will never be abandoned even if we die. For even when we do die, God will resurrect us who have believed in Jesus to new and eternal life in God’s presence forever and ever – joy indescribable.
Thank God that because you have believed in Jesus your eternal future is secure, that even in death you can be secure because you know that death is not a termination but a transition to eternal life with God forever and ever!
1 O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath.
Do know that feeling? When you’ve done something deserving of punishment or someone’s anger – you deserve what is coming, and you know it. David seems to know that he has done something worthy of a rebuke.
The opening words of this lament is a frank acknowledgement that he is appealing to God asking for grace. David knows, that God never disciplines those He loves in unhinged anger, after all, then God wouldn’t be righteous or loving.
Rather, God disciplines His people because He loves us (Hebrews 12:5-11) and because of that unchangeable truth if and when God chooses to discipline us it is for our good, for our training.
The motive is not anger or frustration, and the aim is not punishment but loving training. And so, like David, when next we feel God’s discipline we don’t need to worry as His beloved children whether He is angry with us, we know the motivation for God’s actions towards us – and it is always His love.
2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
So David’s appeal is for grace. He knows that he doesn’t deserve anything; he is not standing on his rights but simply asking for grace. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve, which in this case sounds like mercy which is not getting what you do deserve!
David’s plea to God is not from a place of strength but acknowledging his weakness. He is languishing, his strength is failing him, and he has no hope of resuscitation.
Do you know that feeling? When the trouble you are in is so great that your bones feel uneasy, troubled. And so David, in addition to grace, appeals to God to heal him, to make him whole again. Only Creator God can also be re-Creator God; this hopeful desperate prayer is entirely reasonable when Almighty God is the One you’re praying to! David asks for God’s healing with confidence that radiates his belief in who God is.
3 My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord -how long?
The big question at this point in David’s lament is; “God you see my anguish of soul, but God You don’t seem to have done anything, haven’t responded, haven’t spoken yet – LORD how much longer will You be?”
How often isn’t our Father’s perfect & loving timetable not the same as the one we had in mind! What’s needed in moments like this is trust – when we can’t see & don’t understand. Are you in a moment like this? Does your soul echo the question of vs3? Right now is the time to trust.
4 Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
It’s like David is speaking to himself in between his lines of prose. He bounces back from vs3 with another faith-filled request for God to deliver him. His confident request is grounded on the certainty he has regained that God loves him in a way that is utterly steadfast and immoveable.
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?
Remembering God’s love, it feels like David’s lament for grace, healing and deliverance becomes a cheeky logical prayer argument. David says to God; “Listen I’m of more use to You alive than dead! After all God; if I’m dead I won’t be able even to remember You, and if I’m dead I can’t give you praise from down there in Sheol – so you might as well save me while You still can LORD.”
God can handle it all, though! God can handle our questions, our praise, our logic and our nonsense.
6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. 7 My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes.
Lament is exhausting, strength-sapping. David has cried so much that his couch is drenched. The continual river of tears have left their mark on his eyes & wearied him.
8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. 9 The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer. 10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.
Lament is replaced by confidence, David has reached the point in his lament where in his heart he knows that God has heard his cries and has accepted his prayer.
In once sense, nothing has changed, and yet nothing is the same. David is now certain that he and his God are reconciled since God has heard and accepted his request for grace & healing. And so David commands his enemies with the confidence of one who knows – God is on my side! The uncertainty of the future has become certain in an instant. No more details of the future are known, but this unshakeable truth is now certain – God is with me!
National Lockdowns and social distancing restrictions stopping churches from gathering for Sunday worship celebrations have the potential to expose & bring adjustment to some unbiblical patterns that have crept into the church of Jesus. Our passage for today says;
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. 17 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 3:16-17)
1. Corporate not Individual Faith
In our individualistic age, we need first to remember that these words were not written to individuals. “We are writing to God’s holy people in the city of Colosse, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.” (Colossians 1:2 in NLT) Why is this important?
We live in a self-obsessed age. The ‘god’ of our age in the Western world at least – is SELF. Sadly, as believers in Jesus, we are not immune to the influence of our age.
It is all too common to have individuals or families opting out of regular church gatherings be those physical or virtual due to lockdowns on a Sun or mid-week or for small group times of worship/prayer/God’s word/community/care.
They do so, rationalising their choice to themselves or others even though they are in flagrant disregard to the command of Scripture not to stop meeting together as the church (Hebrews 10:25).
The problem is that the decision making GRID they are using is too individualistic and is not Biblical – ‘This doesn’t suit me, I don’t have time, I don’t need this…service/prayer meeting or small group.’
But what is entirely missing is the biblical emphasis we see in our passage today – the very corporate nature of our faith! Biblically, we are a family, a body of believers. We are not individuals doing what serves us and suits us. We are to be those who think of others and their needs as more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4).
In Colossians 2:19 & 3:12-17, we see radiating out of Paul’s letter his understanding of the church as a body. The church as a community of faith formed by the Gospel and deeply interconnected.
- How are you engaging with your local church?
- Are you acting like an individualistic, selfish consumer connected to your church in whatever ways you decide while it still serves your needs expectations and desires?
- Or are you truly there for the whole body, playing your unique part, totally committed for the sake of the whole body?
- I urge you even in these unique times of social distancing, to repent of self-centred thinking and to ask God to help you to make your unique contribution for the sake of those other people God’s put you into contact with through your local church community.
- Get into a Community Group and show up each week when it meets, spend yourself for others and watch what God will do in and through you!
- Show up for church mtgs, prayer times etc. and reach out to others daily.
2. Saturated with God’s Word (vs16)
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (vs16)
The Apostle Paul’s desire for this church in Colossae (and for all church communities) is that it be one that is saturated with the Word of God!
As believers; we have an innate sense that reading the Bible would be good for us and would help us to grow spiritually. And although we might know that Colossians 3:16 urges us to let God’s Word dwell in us abundantly richly – the dangerous modern pattern is that we simply do not read the Bible enough!
Here are some thought-provoking statistics from LifeWay Research (@https://lifewayresearch.com):
- 88% of Americans own a Bible, and 80% consider the Bible to be a sacred book, yet only 20% of Americans read the Bible regularly.
- However, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible
- Less than a quarter of those who have ever read a Bible have a systematic plan for reading the Christian scriptures each day, and a third of Americans never pick it up on their own.
- 57% read the Bible 4 times a year or less!
We are increasingly in a pattern in the Western church at large of wanting to be spoon-fed Scripture once a week by our pastor through the preaching.
If God’s Word were equated to the physical food necessary for nourishment for health and growth – many believers would be on a habitual hunger strike! We would be we emaciated and weak due to our eating only once a week (assuming you come to church every week & that the sermons and worship are Scripture saturated, which is a big assumption)! Is it any surprise therefore that the Western church’s spirituality is so emaciated, weak & riddled with compromise?
I unashamedly want to inspire you to hit the reset button in your life and to inspire others around you in your church to do the same. Decide today to commit yourself to a personal habit, a personal devotion of reading, believing and applying God’s Word to your life and watch what God will do in you!
“When it comes to spiritual growth, nothing beats the Bible… Scripture reflection more than any other practice moves people forward in their love for God and love for others.” – Parkinson & Hawkins
Reflection on Scripture is the most potent spiritual practise you could give yourself to. Let the word of God dwell in you and in your church richly, abundantly, deeply. Make Scripture not just your daily pattern but make it central to your thought processes, decision making, your conversations with others.
Eugene Petersen said of Bible reading that we should “read the Bible with our ears!”. By this, he meant that we need to read listening to the One who authored it – God Himself. The Bible is no ordinary book, so why not try reading, asking the following three questions as you read:
- What have I LEARNT about God/faith?
- What is God SAYING to me?
- What am I going to DO now?
3. #Everyonehasacontributiontomake! (vs16)
As a church, when we all saturate our individual lives with God’s Word, things begin to change as a result in our community of faith.
- We all begin to teach and correct and counsel one another with all spiritual wisdom rooted in Scripture not the ideas of the world we live in or our opinions.
- We also lose our over-reliance on leadership to teach us once a week through the sermon, rather we start teaching one another from the treasures stored up in our hearts from our own Bible reading.
After all, God promised that we would all know Him (Jeremiah 31:33-34), that we would all be filled with the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29) and Jesus said; ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me’ (John 10:27).
- And lastly from our passage, we all begin to overflow with lives of worship and thanksgiving and praise to God. We won’t have an over-reliance on the worship band to gather us to worship, we will initiate worship in whatever context we find ourselves in, we will break out in hymns and spiritual songs filled with thankfulness to God because we are overflowing with these things because we have filled our own life-tanks and so aren’t relying on someone else to fill us, but we bring our plenty and splash it on everyone we engage with.
Colossians 3:16-17 teaches us that in a biblical church, everyone has a contribution to make! So, let’s all decide today to get into our Bible’s, to fill up our spiritual tank so that we have an overabundant supply to splash on to others in our church.
What a compelling, inspirational picture of what is possible in your church and in your personal life, if only you and I will allow these lockdown moments to jolt us into a personal and church-wide RESET! Let’s respond to God’s Word to us today and see all that God will do as a result.
Paul has been writing and exhorting the believers with many instructions to do & not do (see Colossians 1:1-13). But all get brought together by one exhortation – to love!
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:14 in NIV)
This makes me think of a piece of power cord transmitting power from some power generation plant thousands of kilometres away to my laptop via a wall plug and this power cord – allowing me to write to you.
That short power cord is made of multiple thin strands of copper wire that on their own would be of no use to me. Because on their own, none of them would be sufficient to transmit the electrical power current needed to run this laptop. More than that, if they were on their own trying to transmit electrical power, they would be more unsafe than helpful putting my household at risk of electrocution and or fire.
But when bound tightly together and ensheathed in a protective outer layer of insulating plastic, they are not only able to transmit the power needed but also are enabled to do so safely!
Similarly, Paul seems to be saying that in all these diverse exhortations he is making for godly living (Colossians 3:1-14), there is one exhortation (to be loving towards one another) that binds them all together.
And that one exhortation (to be loving towards one another) makes all the other exhortations work together, enabling them to transmit something greater and to do so safely!
‘Single issue Christians’ are like exposed copper wires in a power cord without the necessary insulating covering. Have you ever met one of these people? They are fixated on one issue or command or instruction in Scripture and seem almost always to be lacking the protective binding of love for other people!
Take, for example, the very clear command in this passage for believers in Jesus to ‘put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality’ (Colossians 3:5). This is like one copper strand of the power cord of this whole passage.
Now a single issue Christian would be 100% right that God’s will is abundantly clear all through Scripture that sexual sin is serious and that it is ungodly and unbefitting for God’s children to engage in ANY sexually immoral behaviour. That strand on its own can transmit the full force and power of that command.
What the Bible teaches in terms of sexuality is not hard to understand – i.e. no sex before or beyond sex with the man or woman you are married to as a believer. Despite the fact that modern sensibilities have changed, God’s commands have not changed one iota and God’s commands need no updating and never will!
Therefore someone who makes much of this one strand of teaching is 100% right, but as Dallas Willard famously said; “It is possible to be right and to be unlike Christ” This single strand of teaching on its own can hurt and damage people if not encased in God’s love!
In this fallen world, living amongst people who are messed up and have messed up and are still messing up, this Scriptural exhortation ought not to be watered down even 0.5%. It is still relevant and still needs to be applied to peoples lives, however, it ought to be done so with the insulating protective cover of God’s love.
So the command of God to remain sexually pure, exclusively faithful to and having sex only with your spouse, and waiting until they are your spouse before you do so – is still to be taught and obeyed.
But it is done best when this teaching is intertwined with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness and then encased in God’s incredible love. When that command is in that biblical power cord, the full power of the command can be at work without fear of fire or electrocution – harm being caused to anyone.
Don’t for a minute think I’m advocating some lax sexual ethic! After all, it is not loving to affirm someone in their lifestyle or behaviour when you know that their actions are in direct defiance of our Holy God and Father.
Many times in life, the most loving action is to stand up to someone, to risk offence and to tell them the truth but to so with all the imperatives in Colossians 3:12-17 tightly bound together and all of them encased, bound together in the insulating protective cover of love.
Brothers and sisters let us love one another not with the weak soppy ungodly modern idea that love = affirmation but with the transforming power of God’s word & God’s love.
- Who do you know you might need to challenge about one of the lifestyle sins described in this passage (or elsewhere in Scripture)?
- Pray now and ask God to tightly wrap all the head/heart/attitude directing imperatives around the strand of rebuke you know is needed from Scripture
- Then pray that God would encase everything in God’s love before you speak or act.
In his book Future Grace, John Piper shows how God’s grace to us in the past is the foundation for faith in both the present and future.
When when we consider what God has already done for us in the Gospel when we are secure in what has happened to us purely by God’s grace – that rock-solid assurance motivates and mobilises us to live a certain way in the present.
God’s grace motivates us! It doesn’t leave us unchanged and unmotivated to change; rather, it puts a fire inside of us that spurs us on to even greater life change.
However, what is critical is that the motive for that action & intentionality in us is not anymore to try to earn God’s favour or forgiveness but rather because those are ours already because of Jesus.
So we don’t have to get all knotted over whether we should take the imperatives of Scripture seriously or not, wondering whether they apply to us or not. Of course, they do! The issues worth considering are;
- Motive: Why do you do what you’re doing?
- Purpose: What you think what you’re doing is achieving?
All through a passage like Colossians 3:1-17, I see the Apostle Paul interweaving assurance & action like a tightly-knit garment that only makes sense when all the weaves remain together.
Read the passage, and look for all the assurances woven into its fabric. I count at least nine assurances in the past-tense, two assurances in the present & future tense.
These nine assurances inform us of the correct motive for our action, which this passage commands us to take in its thirteen odd imperatives.
Do you see what Scripture is teaching us? Present-day action and obedience are founded on past grace. We obey God’s word in the present because of what we know; God has already graciously done for us in the Gospel. Because we are so secure in grace and God’s love for us, we respond actively working to see our lives transformed more and more into the image of God’s Son, Jesus(vs10).
Because we are saved by grace we;
- Seek things that are eternal (vs1)
- Set our minds on things that are eternal(vs2)
- Put to death old earthly ungodly sinful practices(vs5-7)
- Put away ungodly attitudes and speech(vs8)
- Do not do certain things anymore (vs9)
- We put off the old sin-soaked life (vs9)
- We put on the new in-Christ-life (vs10)
- We put on God-like character traits since we are God’s chosen children (vs12)
- We forgive just as God forgave us (vs13)
- We put on love which sums up our new life (vs14)
- We let the peace of Jesus rule our hearts (vs15)
- We let the WORD of God saturate our daily lives (vs16)
- We give thanks in whatever we do! (vs17)
The Scriptures are jam-packed with imperatives, commands for us to obey, instruction that ought to be observed and followed. This passage alone is an example of that.
But notice that it’s the assurance of what is already ours, and what will be ours who’ve believed in Jesus that is the thing that motivates our action in response to God’s grace.
God’s grace teaches us (Titus 2:11), motivates us to work harder than anyone else at our growth in godliness (1 Corinthians 15:10), motivates us to really consider our lives carefully and the thirteen imperatives in this little passage that challenge us!
May your life and mine be an endless tapestry of threads of assurance that look back and stretch forward woven daily into action that’s inspired by the myriad of imperatives in Scripture and the voice of the Holy Spirit in the present.
Shadows point to something, represent something but aren’t the thing themselves. More than this, shadows are ethereal with no substance of their own, empty without that thing that’s having light shone onto it.
The Colossian believers were at risk from people making more of the shadows than the Saviour! This is still a challenge that can assault believers in Jesus.
Paul is adamant;
So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. 18 Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, 19 and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it.” (Colossians 2:16-19 in NLT)
Don’t let anyone look down on you or condemn you as less than them because of what you do or don’t eat or drink. Food is just that – food. It is not something that can earn you ‘spiritual-brownie-points’! The old covenant food laws were about purity and holiness (set-apartness), but they are a shadow. They existed prior to Jesus’ coming but now that He the bridegroom has come everything changed. True holiness is found through faith in Jesus, not in ritualistic, moralistic righteousness. True holiness (set-apartness) and is going to be found finally when we are glorified by Jesus at the return of Jesus for eternity with Jesus.
More than this Paul says, don’t let anyone be condescending towards you for not observing certain traditional days/celebrations in the calendar, or fasts either.
God instituted the old covenant festivals as a rhythm of rejoicing, thanksgiving, consecration, repentance and worship to God, a constant reminder of God’s covenant with His people and their specialness to Him. They were a grace to God’s people prior to Christ in the old covenant, but now that the Covenant Maker had appeared, He reinterpreted them and showed that they were all pointing to a life-giving relationship with Him made possible by His once for all sacrifice. They are shadows of an eternity of rejoicing, thanks, consecration and worship to God in eternity. The big idea here is that Jesus is the focus, not the festival! The festivals pointed to Him, and now He is here, He has come and revolutionised what following God looks like.
And finally don’t let anyone trick you, saying that they have visions of angels or special revelations as if these shadows were more important than the ONE TRUE REALITY – JESUS CHRIST. The people troubling the Colossian believers claimed ‘special knowledge’. Paul counters that praying that the Colossians would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and that they would have all spiritual wisdom and understanding because Paul had prayed for them not because they had some special angelic visitation or revelation (Colossians 1:9-11)!
People wrongfully often get off track so that they end up majoring in the minor and minoring in the momentous! People let the shadows (vs17) fascinate them when the ONE TRUE REALITY – JESUS CHRIST (vs17) is right there in front of them and available to them.
Friends, Jesus is our head. The most vital organ in the whole body, the organ that all other body parts are connected to vitally so that they all work together. Hold on to Jesus, who He is and what He has done for you and for me. Find your life-source in Him and Him alone, be more amazed by Jesus Christ, more in awe with Him than anything else. Jesus is all you need,
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. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent (Colossians 1:16-18)
So make much of Jesus – our SAVIOUR not the shadows.
How do you express or explain the wonders of the miracle of our salvation? Paul, in these verses, draws on five distinct word pictures in an attempt to make real to us the wonder of our salvation.
1. Circumcision (vs11)
Male circumcision was the mark of the covenant God had established between Himself and His people (see Genesis 17:10-14). It was the physical sign that this person was set apart for God, was part of God’s people.
Paul takes that whole concept of circumcision and applies it to believers in Jesus. Having believed we are spiritually circumcised, ‘cut off’ from the body of sin (Romans 6:6) that was ‘in-Adam’, and are now correctly described as being ‘in-Christ’ and free from the dominion of sin.
The moment of salvation cuts us off from our old life, our old habits, our old slavery to sin and so we are now free from sin and able to walk in obedience and love for Jesus. We don’t have to try to cut ourselves off from the old life of sin, we have been cut off from it by the finished work of Jesus. His victory is our victory and freedom. We now ought to consider that freedom and victory to be ours and live accordingly (Romans 6:9-11).
We who believe in Jesus and worship Jesus by the Spirit are God’s chosen people now, God’s circumcised ones (Philippians 3:3).
2. Baptism (vs12)
Colossians 2:12 and Romans 6:3-6 both teach that when we believe in Jesus and are baptised as believers, we are united with Jesus in his death and resurrection!
The symbol of baptism in water isn’t just a symbol, but somehow spiritually we are united with Jesus through baptism.
Our going under the water represents our unification with Jesus and His death, and our dying to sin and our old self so that the ‘body of sin might be brought to nothing’ (Romans 6:6).
Our coming up from the water represents our unification with Jesus in His resurrection and our being raised to new life through faith in Jesus (Colossians 2:12-13 & Romans 6:8-11).
Jesus’ death & resurrection remind us of our death to the old life of sin, satan’s control and fear of death and our new life (Colossians 2:13) and hope and freedom that was obtained for us by Jesus on the cross.
[Application point]: If you have not yet been baptised in water as a believer, note how the Apostle Paul has a high view of baptism as having not just symbolic but spiritual significance. I urge you to speak to your pastor about getting baptised in water if you have believed in Jesus.
3. A Record of Debt Notice (vs14)
The third word picture Paul uses is what was known as a ‘cheirographon’ in the Greco-Roman world of the day. This was a legal written note of indebtedness that someone would be given if they had a debt that was as yet unpaid.
Paul uses this metaphor to make clear that when we put our faith in Jesus the legal and moral debt that we owed to God, the debt we carried around with us as a ‘cheirographon’ – that debt was set aside in full.
We were duty-bound to pay that debt, but God set it aside when Jesus stepped in our place and said in effect; ‘I’ll pay for that in full!’ on the cross. When Jesus cried out on the cross in the moment of His death; ‘it is finished!’ (John 19:30) we can understand this to mean that He had paid the price for our freedom from debt in full. And because the price was paid in full, the debt is set aside (Colossians 2:14), the ‘cheirographon’ is annulled, and we are free! No more debt before a Holy God, free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last!
4. Crucifixion (vs14)
But what did God do with the ‘cheirographon’? In the time of Jesus and Paul, when someone was crucified, a note would be nailed to the cross to tell everyone what they were guilty of, being executed for.
We know that Pilate had a note nailed to Jesus’ cross that read; “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:37). This is ironic since this was both the charge against Jesus – that He claimed to be God, and also the truth about Jesus that He was God! This note above Jesus’ head as He is dying for us on the cross reminds Paul of the ‘cheirographon’ that God was setting aside through Jesus’ dying in our place for our sin.
Paul then says, God took that ‘cheirographon’ and nailed it to the cross, this is how God could set aside our debt, Jesus paid for it on the cross in full!
5. Victory! (vs14-15)
The death and resurrection of Jesus was the most glorious victory. In Jesus’ time when a military victory had been won, the defeated king or military officials and their soldiers would be paraded in humiliation and defeat behind the victorious king in a victory parade.
This is the picture in mind for Paul when thinking of the cross of Christ and its impact on our lives as believers. The devil and his devilish host have been utterly triumphed over by Jesus death & resurrection; they have been humiliated and defeated, put to shame openly by Jesus’ magnificent once and for all victory!
What good news this is for us who have believed in Jesus. We are on the winning side for eternity; the battle is won, we know how the story ends. His victory is our victory. So live in the good of His victory and never cower in defeat before satan, sin or death.
In the face of heresies, false teachings about secret truths and other such nonsense the apostle Paul wanted the believers in Colossae to remain on course as they walked with Christ Jesus.
Sadly it is all too common for believers to start one way only to go on some serious detours, getting lost along the way because they lost their focus and got their eyes off Jesus.
So, Paul writes to these believers;
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6-7)
How did you start?
The Apollo 11 space mission on the 20th of July 1969 aimed to hit a specific target in space orbiting the moon 383 000km away from the launch pad. At its maximum velocity, the rocket was travelling at 38 000km/hr. So just a slight deviation of trajectory would have been catastrophic to the whole mission. Getting the trajectory right at the start and remaining fixed on those coordinates was essential for the mission.
Similarly, if we misunderstand our salvation or lose sight of its magnificence or depart from it along the way – it can have a catastrophic impact on our spiritual trajectory.
Paul urges these believers to continue in their faith walk in the same way ‘as you received Christ Jesus’ (Colossians 2:6). It’s worth then pausing to think about how we received Christ if we are to continue in the same trajectory.
- Saved entirely by the grace gift of God (Ephesians 2:4-8) & so we must continue to work out our salvation and God’s purposes for our lives secure in the grace of God. God’s free gift of grace is not just how we begin our faith journey but is its entirety! God’s grace will teach us to renounce ungodliness & worldly passions, to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives, filled with good works in this life as we look forward to Jesus’ return (Titus 2:11-14).
- Saved by a sovereign work of God and so we can live secure knowing that God will complete what He began in us (Philippians 1:6). We can live in the confidence that our hope that we will persevere until the end is anchored in Jesus Christ who Scripture promises; ‘will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord’ (1 Corinthians 1:8-9). What certainty, what security!
- We were chosen & saved because of God’s great love for us, which God fixed on us before He even made the world (Ephesians 1:3-6)! So, because this is how God loved us while we were still his enemies, how much more do you think He loves us now that we are His beloved children? So, live in the goodness and the warmth of the love of God! Let that eternal, unchanging love transform and melt your heart to receive more and more of His love and then to love Him back with your whole life safe in the knowledge that you are loved in the most remarkable way.
- Saved by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3 & Romans 8:1-16) so continue in the enabling power of the Holy Spirit and don’t try to walk the Christian life in your own strength like the foolish Galatians did (Galatians 3:1-6).
Meditating on the wonders of our salvation does something to us. It grounds us, puts our roots down deep into the solid ground that will ensure we don’t get blown over in the storms of life (Colossians 2:7), it stabilizes us because we have foundations (Colossians 2:7) that are strong and secure because they are established in Christ.
Continue in that same trajectory
So, stay on track brothers and sisters. Keep meditating on the wonder of your salvation, thank God for it, mull it over, delight in it and then continue on the very same trajectory. Because then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness to God (Colossians 2:7).
[Mystery]: something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain…a religious belief based on divine revelation, especially one regarded as beyond human understanding. ‘Mystery’ is an important category for us who are so finite!
A few years ago, I resolved; ‘to be more in awe’. To be satisfied with being unable to explain everything and satisfied to embrace my limitations and the corresponding magnitude and magnificence of God and His ways.
There is a theme of mystery in the New Testament from the first to the last page. Need I to remind you of the incarnation, angelic visitations, a virgin birth, water into wine, dead people raised, people healed, demons banished, Jesus the God-man walking and talking to everyday people. The King of kings who came to die on a Roman cross as the atoning sacrifice & rise again three days later with a resurrection body and then ascending up into the clouds before His followers promising to send the Holy Spirit and one day return in glory! Mystery – embrace it, believer!
And then there is a mystery in the New Testament that has been revealed, the secret that has been finally told to everyone. God’s mystery, Jesus Christ! (Colossians 2:2)
Jesus is the mystery of God revealed. Paul is defending the church in Colossae from ‘mystery peddlers’, false teachers who were trying to peddle ‘secret teachings’, mysteries they claimed they had ‘special revelation’ about. Paul won’t have any of it. Jesus is God’s mystery revealed. Don’t waste your time with people who are more excited about some supposed new revelation, extra-knowledge they’ve gained that they want to share with you – Jesus Christ is God’s mystery revealed. In the past, God spoke in many ways, through many people & prophets but now;
“…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. 3 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, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Hebrews 1:2-4)
And what is the mystery which is Christ?
1. The Gospel of Christ: that in Jesus God has revealed a righteousness of God apart from the law (Romans 3:21) that for all who will believe in Jesus (Romans 3:22), Jew and Gentile (Romans 3:29-30). That those who believe are justified by God as a gift of grace (Romans 3:24), declared righteous before the Holy God because of the redemption from the slavery of sin, Satan and death that was made possible by the saving work of Jesus on the cross (Romans 3:24). This happened so that God could be both just and the justifier of anyone who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). Such people are therefore entirely free from sin and given new life in Christ, given the privilege of becoming the children of God (John 1:12) with the certain hope of an eternity in a loving relationship with God. What a glorious mystery revealed!
2. Christ is the King of all kings: The mystery of Jesus is that Jesus is not just the Messiah for the Jewish people. But that Jesus the promised Messiah came to save all types of people, to be King of all who would believe in Him. God’s chosen people had a history of thousands of years cherishing their chosen status, the honour of being God’s covenant people, awaiting a Messiah who was coming to reign and rule for them. The mystery of the New Testament is that God’s Messiah, Jesus came for Jews and Gentiles alike. In Jesus God has made;
“…known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)
“This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6)
Therefore through faith in Christ “you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:26-28)
Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah-King. Who has come and conquered the great enemies that stood against us and proclaimed the freedom of His kingdom rule and reign. He will come again for ALL who will believe in Him and reign with them forever and ever in a new heaven and a new earth. Magnificient marvellous mystery revealed.
3. Christ in us the hope of glory: A miracle happens when we put our faith in Jesus. We die to sin & we are made alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:7-11), we are those who have been brought from death to life, but the life we now live is, in fact, the life of Christ in us (Galatians 2:20)! One of the most profound and prolific statements used in the New Testament is the phrase ‘in Christ’, which appears 90 times. The life of Jesus pulsating through every believer is the source of our new way of seeing the world, our new desires, identity, sense of belonging & purpose, our sanctification our assurance, our peace, our relationships and our hope for the future…
In Colossians, it says; “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:26-27)
Do you want to grow as a believer? There is no secret knowledge you need to make progress. Because Jesus is God’s mystery revealed. The One; “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:3)
So make much of Jesus! Meditate on Jesus, worship Jesus, spend time with Jesus, love Jesus… Doing so will result in your encouragement, in your being knit together in love with others who love Jesus (the church), will result in you growing in assurance and confidence in your walk with God and will cause you to grow in your knowledge and understanding of God (Colossians 2:2). So make much of Jesus, God’s mystery revealed.
You know, one person’s redemption can become another’s challenge. No sin is unredeemable; no sin trumps God’s lavish grace (Romans 5:20). All sin can be repented of, and all sin will be forgiven if we truly repent (1 John 1:9).
Incredibly good news. But our good news can become another’s challenge!
Years ago in our church, we had a courageous person share about how they had committed adultery and one day God brought them to their knees in repentance so that they confessed their sin and received forgiveness from God.
But this confession of sin, this reaching out for God’s redeeming grace became a challenge for their spouse who now faced a new challenge – the problem of forgiving.
One person’s redemption can become another’s challenge!
I was in court once supporting a minor who had been sexually abused. The man who had perpetrated the abuse was there near to me. Looking smug, his lawyer was there too… I’m glad I didn’t own a gun that day because I wanted to dish out some instant justice as the sense of righteous indignation pulsed through me.
And then it struck me!
I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to consider; ‘What if this man calls out to God and asks God to forgive him of all his sin? What then? What will be required of me and of those I was supporting? Would Jesus forgive Him if he repented? And how would we have to change our feelings towards him if he approached us having repented?”
I knew the answers to my questions.
I knew if he repented and called on God for forgiveness, God would forgive him, and in that instant, he would become my brother in Christ. What he had done would not be changed in the slightest, and yet the way I related to him would be challenged in a whole new way…
And this is something like what Philemon faced with Onesimus. Paul wrote to Philemon challenging him to re-think, to forgive & to reconcile with Onesimus.
For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. (Philemon 15-17)
Paul wanted Philemon to receive him back not as a slave or an employee or as the scum of the earth but to receive him back as a brother in Christ (vs16), loved and honoured because Onesimus had accepted Jesus as his LORD & Saviour (vs17).
Onesimus had stolen from Philemon (vs18), so Philemon’s sense of having been wronged was understandable and yet the now the strong exhortation of the apostle Paul’s to him was – forgive & reconcile(vs15-18)!
Forgiveness is hard because forgiveness is unfair; it isn’t a response to deserved behaviour but undeserved behaviour. Forgiveness is hard because forgiveness is only necessary when there has been hurt, pain or a wrong committed. Forgiveness is not earned; it’s given.
What a challenge! So how can we grow in forgiveness?
Remind yourself of what you’ve been forgiven:
Unless we see the extent of the grace and mercy of God that has extended to us, we will be unable to extend grace and mercy to others in forgiveness.
Sitting in that court, looking at that man, I realised that without minimising his sin at all, my sin was just as bad as his, different but just as bad.
Like him, I was rotten to the core, and yet God had saved me! Not because of anything I had done or managed to not do, but purely because of His infinite grace and mercy. I sat there realising that God had justified me – the ungodly (see Romans 4:5). God did not justify me because I deserved it but purely because of His goodness and grace. I was no different from that man; I needed grace as much as he did.
And that realisation is the foundation on which forgiveness is built. We are to forgive others’ just as in Christ God forgave you’ (Ephesians 4:32).
Paul wanted Philemon to recognise God’s gracious work of redemption in Philemon’s life SO THAT he would see that extending grace and forgiveness to Onesimus was what God required from him now.
Paul writes to him;
“If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.” (Philemon 18-19)
Philemon is reminded that he owes God (and Paul) everything. So before he demands pay-back or withholds forgiveness from Onesimus, Philemon should pause and consider how God has treated him.
In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus connects our being forgiven by God with our forgiving of others! And in Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus similarly taught through a story of how serious unforgiveness on our part is when we have been forgiven by God! I believe Philemon knew the weight with which Paul was writing when He urged Philemon to forgive and to be reconciled to Onesimus.
Brothers and sisters, when we see the grace of God extended to us, it fills our ‘grace/mercy tank’ enabling us to then pay it forward and share the grace of God we have received with others, SO THAT we can be restored in our relationships with one another.
- Who’s your Onesimus?
- Ask the Holy Spirit to freshly reveal to you the depth and depravity of your own sin which God has forgiven you for.
- Now, prayerfully move towards forgiving your Onesimus as God in Christ forgave you.
You know, sometimes we don’t need a super-star to look at in Scripture! Don’t get me wrong, super-stars are fabulous, but we tend to create a “special” category for them, and if we are honest we often don’t feel we can relate to someone in that category.
And as a result, their lives can tend not to motivate us.
Listening or reading people like Tim Keller or John Piper I sometimes wonder if I should do something else! Their stellar gifts can seem quite out of reach, leaving me prone to feeling demotivated in comparison.
What about you? Do you know that feeling?
Yet, Scripture is full of some pretty ‘ordinary’ people, people so similar to us, weak people, people who made mistakes, not so famous people – but all transformed by God and used by God in some way or another!
In today’s passage, we are introduced to just such a person Onesimus. We know about him from this letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a church leader called Philemon, who leads a church that meets in his house in Colossae.
What’s the back story?
Paul seems to have lead Philemon to faith in Jesus (vs19). And having believed in Jesus Philemon’s life was transformed. His faith in and love for Jesus was known (vs5), and this love for Jesus led Philemon to love his fellow believers. So much so that he was known as one who refreshed and revived other people’s hearts (vs4-7) and now he and his whole family were living their whole lives for God’s mission with a church even meeting in their house (vs2).
But not everything was rosy! There was someone Philemon found difficult to love. Someone he had little time for. There is always someone isn’t there. That itchy neck person, that person who did THAT thing…!
For Philemon, THAT GUY’s name was; Onesimus.
He had been a slave of Philemon’s, he worked for him, but apparently wasn’t a very good or honourable employee.
Onesimus was so bad that although his name means ‘useful’ (vs11), it seems like he was nicknamed ‘useless’ by Philemon.
He wasn’t just ‘useless’ to his master, on top of this bad work ethic, it seems like Onesimus had also stolen from his master (vs18-19).
So, Onesimus was either dismissed & sent away by Philemon or, more likely; he ran away as such criminal actions against an owner would have been harshly treated in that society. Either way, Onesimus somehow ends up with Paul in Rome, where Paul has been imprisoned for the Gospel.
Maybe Onesimus remembered hearing Paul preach in the church that met in Philemon’s house; maybe he remembered hearing the letters that were read out containing the liberating truth of the Gospel? Maybe he longed for such freedom from guilt and shame for himself…?
Whatever it was, Onesimus finds Paul in Rome in prison, and Paul ends up leading him to faith in Christ, or Paul restores him to faith in Christ in Rome while in prison.
And because of that we now have this very personal letter in our bibles, so what can we learn from it. So what can we learn from this letter, this story?
1. The Gospel gives identity & belonging
Having run away, having stolen, having been called ‘useless’ when your name actually means ‘useful’, Onesimus must have had some real identity issues. Low self-esteem, nothing to be proud of, no hope for a future, a criminal on the run…!
But all that is about to change. You see the Gospel doesn’t just change our eternal address it transforms who we are!
“The Gospel doesn’t just change
our eternal address it transforms who we are!”
We don’t know anything about Onesimus’ nationality or parents, but it is highly likely that he was a foreigner probably brought to the Roman empire through war or slave-traders.
As a slave, Onesimus would not have much in the way of protection from exploitation/abuse would not have had much in the way of rights or any privilege.
But in the Gospel Onesimus becomes a son 3x over!
- The son of his human dad
- A son of God
- A son of Paul, his spiritual dad! (vs10) “I appeal to you for my child.”
The Gospel transforms identity/belonging, so much so that Paul says that when he sends Onesimus back to Philemon (carrying this letter we are reading), he says that he is, in fact, sending “my very heart”! (vs12)
This useless slave who had messed up monumentally – because of the Gospel becomes a beloved son 3x!
More than this, Paul writes to Philemon, an important man, a church leader a homeowner and Paul writes of how Onesimus has become to both of them (the apostle Paul and this leader) – a fellow brother (vs16) in Christ!
Our faith in Christ, our adoption as children of God, creates a new relationship of love & equality of value between us, a connection that is deep and eternal – brothers and sisters in Christ! Equal in the Lord.
The Gospel gives us a value that transcends social barriers that previously defined and divided us! This is so real for the apostle Paul that he writes to Philemon instructing him to receive Onesimus ‘AS YOU WOULD RECEIVE ME’ (vs16-17).
- I don’t know how you see yourself today.
- I don’t know if you can identify a bit with Onesimus?
- I don’t know if your identity feels like it is intact or in tatters?
- I don’t know if you feel useless, ashamed of things you’ve done or failed at?
- I don’t know if you feel like you don’t belong anywhere because of your family situation or a lack of a father or lack of parents….?
But what I DO KNOW is that the Gospel, the good news about Jesus transforms your identity and your sense of belonging!
- God wants you to belong!
- God wants you to KNOW Him as Father
- God wants to give you spiritual fathers and mothers, spiritual brothers and sisters wants to give you a place of honour in His household – the church.
The Gospel gives us identity & belonging!
2. The Gospel gives us purpose!
Rejection is a terrible thing. Imagine being called ‘useless’! Maybe you’ve been, or you are still at times called ‘useless’ by someone, a boss, a friend or family member…
As a rejected, runaway slave and fugitive – Onesimus seems purposeless. Seems like he is useless – having no useful purpose at all in life.
But having encountered Paul and the Gospel Paul writes; ‘formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.’ (vs11)
Paul wants Onesimus to continue to stay to help him with the mission of Jesus but sends him back to be of help to the church back in Colossae.
When Jesus begins to change us from the inside out, little by little, our character starts changing too. We begin to become trustworthy, faithful, reliable, on-time, helpful…
The Gospel is incredibly down-to-earth, practical!
It doesn’t just change our eternal address but changes everything in our lives – it makes us useful, helpful, reliable to others and in God’s service.
Onesimus was set free from slavery by the Gospel, but what was he set free for? Following Christ set him free from sin but in addition, set him free for good works (Ephesians 2:10) that God had prepared in advance for him to do. And so Onesimus becomes useful to in God’s church/kingdom (vs11). He gets a purpose!
Are you looking for purpose?
The Gospel is what gives you purpose. Onesimus was floundering until he found Christ! And as you follow Christ, as you begin to serve others because you serve Christ – your life too will get purpose, and your character will get transformed.
3. Transformation by Spiritual Fathering Mothering
It’s worth asking; ‘How did this all happen for Onesimus?” This all happened because the Gospel restored him not just to his heavenly Father but also gave him a spiritual dad too! Paul picked up on this guy, who was a bit of a wreck probably by the time he got to him.
Paul didn’t get too hung up with his own life challenges while he himself was in prison. Paul wasn’t too self-absorbed so that he missed the moment, rather he saw the young man in front of him in need of help! What a (personal challenge to us)
And so, Paul involved himself, fathering Onesimus in the Lord, in the Gospel – Paul loved him as a son. Paul spoke life, hope, faith and a future over him calling him ‘useful’ restoring dignity to him. More than this as we shall read in the verses that follow, Paul advocated/mediated for him, was willing to pay for him, trusted him.
Who is God calling you to invest your life into? Could you be used by God to redeem a life, from useless to useful, from rejected to beloved? Who is your Onesimus?
Conclusion & Application
- What’s God saying to you today?
- Are you like Onesimus in some way? Do you feel like you have lost your way, you’re ashamed, have messed-up, feel lonely, purposeless or lacking hope…? God wants to redeem your life, put you back together again! Pray now and ask God to begin a metamorphic process of Gospel transformation in your life. Reach out to a spiritual father/mother to walk with you today.
- Or have you walked with God for some time already, God has put you back together and so you’ve made some progress (not that we are ever totally right this side of heaven). Who is your Onesimus? Who is God calling you to invest your life into to see some other people’s lives transformed by the Gospel? What are you waiting for? Reach out to them today.
[In the month of April our church’s (Reconciliation Road Church) ‘s Bible Reading Plan we will be reading through the books of Philemon and Colossians. If you want to track with us you can download the BRP by following this link – RRC BRP for April]
Philemon is a very personal letter written by the Apostle Paul to someone called Philemon. Remarkably, the letter was read out to not just Philemon but also to the whole church that met in his house in Colossae!
In the next few days, we will uncover the vital issue the letter dealt with that needed to be challenged.
Today, however, we will concern ourselves with what can be gleaned from the introduction regarding a question that is so pertinent South African Christ-followers at present – what is a church?
We are on day 6 of a national lockdown (due to the COVID-19 pandemic). All public meetings have been banned, including church gatherings!
A unique situation indeed, one that strikes at the very core of what the church is. So in this unique time, it is worth considering what the church is?
Now, Philemon is not a treatise defining & describing the church – however, tucked away here in its introductory verses, are three answers to the question – ‘What is the church?’
What is the Church?
1. A Gathering/Community of Saints (vs1-2, 5&7)
The church is more than, but it can never be less than the gathering of those who have been rescued & redeemed by Jesus.
The church is a gathering, an assembly of believers in Jesus. People who have no righteousness of their own but through their common faith in Jesus are rightly referred to as ‘saints’ in Christ Jesus (vs5&7).
Meeting together as Christ-followers is integral to the church; it isn’t an optional extra that can be easily replaced by some online experience.
There are times when the church is scattered, but it is defined by its gathering together.
In our world so increasingly filled with isolated individuals, the church stands out as a community that gathers together physically in regular rhythms of meeting for worship, prayer, God’s word & fellowship – and those meetings shape and define us.
In this unique time, when we can’t meet physically all together as a church – we ought to feel like something is wrong. The present situation should rub us the wrong way; it should leave us feeling like something is not quite right. It should make us long for the day we can physically gather together in one place all together again – and not just in our homes tenuously connected by some online experience.
And yet from vs2 we can also be encouraged in this time of being apart, that there was a church that met in the house of Philemon!
So, may we remember at this unique time that Jesus promised that He would presence Himself anywhere where two or three people gathered together in His name are (Matthew 18:20).
And, so as you gather as the scattered church know this – Jesus is amongst you as you gather to worship, pray and listen to His word. So meet as the scattered church with faith and expectation for the presence of Jesus amongst you in your homes!
2. A Community of Faith, Love & Mission (vs5-6)
This church Paul wrote to, was known to him – it was a community and a family of faith. Philemon’s family are greeted in the letter, Apphia his wife & Archippus his son.
Paul knew the people in the church; he knew details about their lives. They were defined group whom this letter was addressed to(vs3), a community of faith working out their salvation and working out God’s purpose for their lives (vs6) alongside one another.
The Gospel always creates a community! Wherever the Gospel is preached and received a church, a community of faith is born. The Gospel had been preached in Colossae, and this community which had previously not existed was now a definable group.
In this church, there was faith and love (vs5). The church does not exist to meet our felt-needs. Rather, together, we as the church care for one another’s needs, loving each other as prompted by the Holy Spirit.
The church is not a building, a programme or a random group who all happen to Livestream at the same time!
The church is an identifiable community of people joined together by their common faith in Jesus, commitment to Jesus’ mission (vs6) and by their love, care and commitment to one another(vs5&7).
3. The church has defined leadership (vs2-7)
These people didn’t just meet in Philemon’s house; he led them. Philemon’s faith and love for Jesus overflowed into their lives so that they were encouraged and spurred on in their faith (vs5) and in sharing the Gospel (vs6). Leaders ought to inspire those they lead through their own devotion to Jesus, calling people to do what they are doing!
Philemon’s faith in Jesus and love for Jesus inspired the church he led (vs5) to follow. Similarly, at one point Paul as a leader wrote to the Corinthian church he helped lead, saying; “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
More than this, we read that their hearts were refreshed through his leadership (vs7). They were revived, encouraged, spurred on in their faith walk. Leaders have a crucial role in spurring on and encouraging believers in Jesus and urging them to urge one another as well!
In this time of church scattered, it is vital to remember the relationship God has established between a church and its leaders God has appointed.
It is not God’s will for people to float around leaderless, unaccountable and drinking from every stream of content. In God’s wisdom and love, God gives leaders, shepherds to His church for the good and the benefit of the church. Their role is to shepherd, guard, guide & govern the people God has entrusted to their care (1 Peter 5:1-5 & Hebrews 13:17).
At this time, may you know who it is you relate to as your leaders! God intends that you know your leaders and that they know who you are and that God has entrusted you into their care and that you are committed to them as your leaders.
In closing, these are not obviously all the answers to the question posed, however, they are some of what resides in today’s passage and are relevant to this present moment. God bless you and keep you!
To the believers in Colossae, Paul wrote; “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)
Later in the same letter, he writes again urging them; “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2)
And to the Ephesian believers, Paul wrote that having been filled with the Holy Spirit they were to be those who were; “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20)
Expressing thanks to God is a theme woven throughout the New Testament letters. Whether the writer is thanking God for salvation, encouraging believers in prayer or urging them to stand steadfast under trials – gratitude is the consistent thread and exhortation. These verses bring three things into focus for us believers;
1. Believers in Christ Jesus are to have a thankful predisposition, ‘be thankful’ (Colossians 3:15)
Christ-Followers are called to be characterised by thankfulness. Think about that for a moment, is thankfulness your predisposition, your default setting?
Or if you’re honest, do you find living in a state of thanksgiving a continual struggle?
The challenge in this verse is that the imperative is not conditional on something else being present. The context makes being thankful one of the things Christ-Followers are to ‘put-on’ since we are God’s chosen & beloved children (see vs12).
2. Believers in Christ Jesus are to pray prayers filled with thanksgiving continuously (Colossians 4:2)
If you did a quick ‘prayer-audit’ what would characterise your prayers the most? Are your prayers filled continuously with thanksgiving? Or might they be more characterised by complaints & requests for felt needs to be met or circumstances to change? Biblical prayer is filled with thanksgiving; it’s the way into God’s presence, always being grateful for Jesus and our salvation through our faith in Him. Psalm 100 as a helpful reminder as to how we ought to come to God in prayer.
3. Believers in Christ Jesus are to give thanks always and to give thanks for everything (Ephesians 5:20)
We find it relatively easy to thank God (if we remember to give thanks at all) when something has turned out well, or God has answered something we asked God for. But this passage challenges Christ-Followers to reach another level of thanksgiving entirely. The appeal is to give thanks ‘always’ and ‘for everything’! Those two words make this verse a challenging one.
The context of the passage gives us the key to understanding this verse. The context here is what the life of a Holy Spirit-filled believer will look like. John Stott says the following about Ephesians 5:20;
“The grumbling spirit is not compatible with the Holy Spirit. Grumbling was one of the besetting sins of the people of Israel; they were always ‘murmuring’ against the Lord and against Moses. But the Spirit-filled believer is full not of complaining, but of thanksgiving.” – John Stott
In the coming days of a state of lockdown (in South Africa due to COVID-19) may we be those who filled with the Holy Spirit have a general attitude of thanksgiving and not murmuring.
May our prayers be seasoned with thanksgiving to God because of the enabling power of God’s Spirit, helping us even amid human tragedy on a massive scale – to be still thankful.
One of the main ways God’s Spirit helps us with this is to remind us of our great salvation! We can always thank God the Father for giving us Jesus the ‘indescribable gift’ (2 Corinthians 9:15).
The Holy Spirit also reminds us that Scripture teaches us that regardless of the hardships we endure in this present life, they are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comprehension! (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). And the Holy Spirit fills us with joy and peace so that we may abound in the hope that is eternal and not limited to this short life (Romans 15:13)
- What can you be thankful to God for? Take time to consider this question and begin to express your thanks to God in prayer.
- Ask God to fill you again with the Holy Spirit so that your predisposition will be one of thanksgiving nor murmuring.
- Come to God in prayer starting with thanksgiving and with thanks shot through all your praying.
- Ask God to help you in the coming days that will most likely be incredibly challenging to be still thankful always confident that God is sovereign in all things.
I wrote in my journal this morning that I have noticed a certain word has crept into my vocabulary in the last week or so… It’s the word ‘unprecedented’!
Last night my whole family sat together in our lounge watching the news together – unprecedented!
We then went on to listen to our South African President make some rather unprecedented announcements about our country being in a state of national lockdown from Friday due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We will remember this moment. Such a drastic announcement with such wide-reaching implications for personal freedom, for businesses large and small, has a way of eliciting a reaction.
Some citizens are compliant, some complaining while others are combative about the measures announced last night.
So, what does Scripture have to say to us at this time? How ought we to respond?
Scripture in Paul’s letter to the Roman believers says the following;
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the One who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (Romans 13:1-5)
What is our biblically inspired response when the President has announced such dramatic limitations on human freedom and movement?
Essentially it ought to be; ‘Yes Mr President, you have my full cooperation!’
We respond in this way because we believe something – God is the One who ultimately appoints those in authority (vs1) and so to resist authority is to resist those which God has appointed (vs2). Therefore, we submit to authority ultimately out of reverence to God.
Government and authority structures can be understood as being part of the common grace of God. Without order, respect of authority and law, sinful human nature would quickly descend into terrible atrocities.
For example, at present, the military is about to be deployed in our country to maintain the rule of law and to ensure we as citizens comply with the restrictions introduced as part of the Governments efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic in our nation. Without police and the military presence of authority, sinful humanity will likely descend into sin and lawlessness.
Sadly, ‘authority’ is like a modern swearword! We hate the idea of authority rather loving freedom in its place.
However, authority, according to Romans 13, is good. It is part of the common grace of God (vs3), and those in authority over you are there as God’s; ‘servant for your good’ (vs4).
In this unique moment in our nation, may we as Christ-Followers be those who are fully compliant with the measures that have been introduced;
- May we support what our Government is trying to do for the benefit of the whole country by staying home and keeping our families at home too!
- May we be those who show remarkable selfless love at this time to others around us in a myriad of ways
- May we be grateful for the Government we have got
- May we be committed to praying for those in power during these difficult and challenging times
- May we stand in prayer with all those who will be called on in the coming weeks to work tirelessly to care medically for what is potentially hundreds of thousands of people.
- And may we be those who never let go of the certain hope that we have in Jesus!
[A little more for those asking; “But what about ungodly authorities?”]
God being sovereign over all authorities does not mean that all authorities are good or do good things all the time. Rather it means that God is the One who is in control always and that all authority is under God’s ultimate authority.
God’s good intention is that authority is for our common good (it is a form of God’s common grace), and so God can and does use the good that those in authority do.
However, God can use even the evil things sinful leaders do to fulfil His purposes in our lives and on the earth.
An example of this is 2 Chronicles 25:20 where it says; “But Amaziah would not listen, for it was of God, in order that he might give them into the hand of their enemies because they had sought the gods of Edom”. Amaziah would not listen to the advice given him so that God’s purpose would prevail.
Similarly, Scripture says of Pharaoh that God promised to harden his heart so that he would not let God’s people go (Exodus 4:21), but then Scripture makes it clear that Pharoah hardened his heart and would not let God’s people go (Exodus 8:15,32 & 9:34). This evil Pharoah was in authority under God’s control, and even the evil he did accomplished God’s good purposes in the end.
The challenge in Romans 3 is vs3-4. It is a challenge since authorities in their sinfulness do not always act for the good of those they are in authority over!
It’s helpful to remember that Paul is writing as a Jewish Roman citizen, he has experienced hostility from authorities towards Jewish people and towards Christians. Therefore, he is not naive concerning the experience of those who have lived under ungodly leaders. John Stott on this question from this passage writes;
“Paul means rather that all human authority is derived from God’s authority so that we can say to rulers what Jesus said to Pilate, ‘You would have no power [exousia, authority] over me if it were not given to you from above.’ Pilate misused his authority to condemn Jesus; nevertheless, the authority he used to do this had been delegated to him by God” – John Stott
So, in conclusion. The big idea of this passage is that governmental authorities are part of the common grace of God and are for our and societies good – that is God’s plan for humanity.
However, there are many moments in history when authorities in their sin have acted in ways that were not for the benefit of those under their authority.
And so there are times when to obey earthly authority would mean to disobey God. In those moments, I believe it is possibly justifiable to disobey earthly authority to obey God – but such situations are exceptional rather than the norm.
But in this time, with this COVID-19 pandemic let us give our ‘YES’ to our President and let us all play our part at this time of national threat.