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.
Every day we are faced with choices. We have relatively insignificant decisions like what we’ll wear or eat for breakfast. We also face choices that can have a significant impact on our relationships and the state of our hearts.
How we react to things people say and do is a choice. It can feel like we have no control over how we respond because things happen quickly. Someone says something, and it hurts us or offends us, and our thoughts and feelings run away with us. But you do have a choice. Hurt feelings or offences can be like little pet cubs that we stroke and feed. However, those little pet cubs that seem to comfort us grow into lions that devour us.
We are not perfect; nobody needs to be reminded of that. However, we can expect people around us to be perfect, and we don’t make allowances for people’s faults. Paul urges the Colossians not to do this, but instead to be quick to forgive and move on.
Next time you feel offended, stop for a minute. Remember, you have a choice with how you react. If it’s a silly little thing and you can move on, then do it; if it feels like something harder to overlook, ask the Holy Spirit to help you and speak to the person involved, if possible.
Forgiving others can be challenging, but if we don’t, we are the ones bound up in chains of anger and bitterness. Jesus forgave you and gave his very life to make that possible. I don’t think we need much more motivation than that to forgive. The Holy Spirit is your helper. When he sees a willing heart to obey, he rushes in to help us to do just that.
Read this excerpt from Corrie Ten Boom, author of The Hiding Place, as she recalls forgiving a guard from the concentration camp where her sister died:
It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavyset man in a grey overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear.
It was 1947, and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.
It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favourite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown.
“When we confess our sins,” I said, “God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.”
The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.
And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones.
It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp where we were sent.
Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course–how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
“You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.” No, he did not remember me.
“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein”–again the hand came out–”will you forgive me?”
And I stood there–I whose sins had every day to be forgiven–and could not. Betsie had died in that place–could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality.
Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion–I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
“Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.
And having thus learned to forgive in this hardest of situations, I never again had difficulty in forgiving: I wish I could say it! I wish I could say that merciful and charitable thoughts just naturally flowed from me from then on. But they didn’t.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned at 80 years of age, it’s that I can’t store up good feelings and behavior–but only draw them fresh from God each day.
I find her testimony so helpful because if we wait for the feeling that we want to forgive someone, we never will. Let’s rather do what our Father asks us to do and rely on him to help us to do it.
So, if we choose not to hold grudges, we need to replace them with something else. We have been given new life in Jesus; our Father is the King above all kings, and we have been adopted into his family. Since this is your new identity, choose to clothe yourself with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. That is who you are.
The reality is that we don’t always feel like these are easy choices to make, but remember, you are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus. This is not by your strength, but by just being with him and allowing him to change you and transform you.
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.
I find it such a comfort knowing that we have heaven to look forward to after this life. When I feel harassed and don’t have time for things I love to do, I think that I’ll have all of eternity to do those things. When I miss people who have passed on or friends who live far away, I am comforted to know I’ll see them again, and we will have eternity together. When I get frustrated at things in life that are difficult, I know I have eternity to look forward to without those things.
But, we still have to live and get through tough times and the daily struggles we all face. Our most significant comfort and encouragement of all is knowing that Jesus has given us a new identity. He has saved us from our sinful nature and given us a new nature. It’s like he took the old, dirty clothes we were wearing, and he has given us fresh clothes that are clean and new. The change, however, is on the inside. It’s our hearts that he has transformed.
So, in light of this, Paul encourages the Colossians to set their thinking on heavenly things. That is to put Him first in your life and to live a life worthy of his name.
When I think of putting Jesus first in my life, I imagine all areas of my life revolving around him. My thoughts, my priorities, my choices, my actions; I want them all to reflect that he is the one that everything is centred around. I don’t want to make any decisions or do anything without first assessing, “will this please Jesus?”. I don’t want to say Jesus is important to me, but there is no evidence of that in my time spent, my speech and the way I live.
I think it’s essential to look at your priorities and thoughts and ask yourself if they reflect someone whose focus is on things that are important to Jesus or things that the world says are important. They are very different.
You have been given a new life in Jesus. You, with the help of the Holy Spirit, now get to live in a new way. Your Father is the King of Kings, are you living a life worthy of him? In his letter to the Colossians, Paul lists several things that could be lurking in our lives. He is very definite about what to do about them; put them to death, get rid of them, have nothing to do with them.
This side of heaven, we will never be perfect, and we daily have to rely on the grace of Jesus. However, we are being transformed into his likeness as we spend time with him.
When you meet someone who is a Christian, you expect certain things to be true of them. People rub off on us as we spend time together. If we’re spending time with people who are into bad things, it rubs off on us. As we spend time with Jesus, he naturally influences us. We don’t have to try and be more like him; it will just start happening.
There is no better person to emulate. He is everything good. So, take Paul’s advice. Get rid of sin in your life, fix your eyes on Jesus and all that is important to him. It’s a choice you will never regret!
Paul is urging the Colossians to continue following Jesus. Here is how he suggests they do that. He uses the analogy of plants with roots and buildings on a firm foundation.
Both of those things take time to develop. I recently discovered that I could use the bottom of the celery I buy at the shops to grow another plant. I cut off the leaves and the stalks and then put the end piece in a little water. Over time it grew new leaves out the top and roots out the bottom. I have just planted it in the soil, and now I wait to be able to use it in my kitchen. The point of my story is that it has taken quite some time. The leaves didn’t grow immediately, and the roots took even longer to appear. I have no doubt it will be a few weeks before I can cut off some celery to use in cooking.
Similarly, building something takes time as well. Anybody who has been involved in any building project of any kind knows this to be true. If the process is rushed, essential details will be ignored, and the result will be a building that doesn’t last or one that presents problems over time, like leaking or cracking and unsightly parts to it.
I think Paul chose these analogies on purpose because following Jesus, allowing your roots to grow deep into him and building your life on him takes time. It takes time to read your Bible. There is so much to read and understand, yet as we daily read little bits, the Holy Spirit gently reveals more of himself to us and builds our knowledge and wisdom. It takes time to speak to him. Prayer isn’t always easy, but as we persevere, he rewards us with a sense of his presence and even in his grace answers our prayers.
We are all building our lives daily. The question is on what are we building? Are we trying to gain our sense of security from money, relationships or possessions? God is our rock, our refuge and fortress. He is the only secure thing that will not send our lives crashing down in a heap of rubble if we build on him.
We all have roots reaching out to gain nourishment for our souls. Are you reaching out to Jesus or are you reaching out to the things of this world that will never satisfy the longings of your heart, as Jesus will?
As you are faithful in reading your Bible and pouring out your heart to him, you will grow closer to Jesus, your faith in him will grow, and you will recognize a thankful heart in yourself. It can be disheartening when day after day it feels like you’re plodding through reading your Bible and trying to grow in prayer, but remember how slowly a building is completed and how many days a plant takes to grow to maturity.
One day, after many months of being faithful in following Jesus, you will look back and be amazed at how far you’ve come. So keep going!
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 preceding verses (vs1-6), John has made it clear that false teaching is invariably linked in part to erroneous teaching about who Jesus is and what He came to do.
Then starting in vs7, the apostle John contrasts false teaching with authentic godly life that results from right teaching and right believing.
Those who have accepted the Gospel, those who have been loved and accepted by God, in turn, love others with the same type of love with which they have been loved (vs7).
The connection between love for God and love for people is so strong that the apostle writes that anyone who doesn’t love other people can’t truly love God!
The Gospel doesn’t leave us unchanged; it doesn’t just cause our sins to be forgiven; the Gospel melts our hearts and changes our lives and our relationships.
True faith in Jesus Christ has to have an outworking. The overwhelming characteristic John highlights is love – because ‘God is love’ (vs8). Therefore, we will love if we are truly God’s children (‘born of God’ vs7) because God is love.
I can’t see it, but people tell me that my children look like me. The resemblance is there physiologically and in terms of things like temperament and personality. They share some of my DNA, and they grew up in close proximity and relationship. Similarly, the apostle John’s argument is that we who have truly been supernaturally born of God will resemble God because we have God’s DNA in us (1 John 3:9)!
True faith is not the attainment of knowledge, or experience but demonstrates itself as being true in God-like self-giving love.
And this is how we know what real love is – that God gave of Himself in sending His only Son into the world to save us (vs9). Love doesn’t start with us (‘I love God’); rather love was initiated by God when God loved us and sent His Son Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins (vs10)!
Brother or sister, we did not initiate reconciliation with God. We didn’t take the first step in love towards God. While we still sinners, still against God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Salvation is all God’s initiative; God has loved the unlovely and made us lovely and able to love others.
So, let you and I who have believed in Jesus love one another with the same love with which we have been loved – and as we do, God’s tangible presence will be experienced amongst us.
- Who are you finding hard to love right now? Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you about this person and your present struggle. What is the Holy Spirit speaking to you? And what ought you to do now?
- Look back on your spiritual journey of faith in Jesus – how have you changed when it comes to love for others? Be encouraged. We all mess up, but as you look back you will see progress. Now ask the Holy Spirit to make you more and more like your heavenly Father.
Sometimes it is possible to forget that the church isn’t ours. It is God’s people, brought together as His family, united by His blood, to advance His mission and magnify His glory. For sure, we are the church, strengthening and taking responsibility for its purposes on Earth, however it’s not ours to mold and change as our own. Don’t mess! This is God’s house!
Paul holds a deep concern for the church, as it is the household of God. This explains the whole letter, but verse 15 is especially helpful when reading chapters 2 and 3. Paul states that his purpose in writing is so that we “may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” If we read chapters 2 & 3 again, understanding that the church belongs to God, we will see that God himself cares deeply about how His church is being built. That’s why, at the very onset of its inauguration, in Matthew 16:18 we read that Jesus claims ultimate responsibility for building the church.
Paul’s deep concern for the well being of the church comes from remembering what the church is. In verse 15 we get three different descriptions of the church. It is the household of God, referring to the church as the family of God. Next is the church, meaning the assembly / coming together of God’s people. Finally we get the church as “the pillar and foundation”, because whilst in the world the church is meant to be both the firm foundation and the high tower of truth. These are awe-inspiring truths of who we are as the people of God, and it demonstrates how intentionally God is building His bride.
God’s concern for His people is shown in chapter three through his concern for the holiness of leaders. Found in the list of Elder and Deacon characteristic’s, we see practical examples of the kind of gospel transformation Paul has been exhorting throughout the book. These ‘qualities’ are also a direct contrast to the false teachers influencing the church in Ephesus. At the heart of the churches problems was a failure of leadership character, necessitating Paul’s detailed descriptions of what godly leadership should look like.
One of the fundamental problems behind all church failures (not just in Ephesus) is a failure of character, and this failure will always be found when leaders over-emphasize their importance in the church. Then egos begin to inflate (1 Tim 1:7), sound doctrine begins to wane (1 Tim 1:10) and church roles begin to get muddled as people are not guided into holiness (1 Tim 2).
When I was young up I had the privilege of growing up in a church plant with leaders who were clear that the church would not rise or fall based on their abilities. From my childhood onwards, I learnt that church leadership is about gospel transformation, internal character and spiritual dependence on the God who is building His church.
This chapter is a continuation of Paul’s concern for gospel transformation in the household of God. It is an incredible gift to the church from God Himself, as it will protect us from bad leadership and constantly point us to good leadership. But we also should be regularly asking the Holy Spirit to encourage and challenge us personally, trusting that God is transforming us as He is building His church.
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- Why do you think Paul is so concerned that Timothy establishes healthy leaders in the church?
- What does these two lists of leadership characteristic’s reveal about the heart of God towards His church?
- How could these lists help you to assess your own spiritual transformation?
These lists are incredible gifts to help guide us as we seek to grow more and more into imitators of Jesus, and they are worth our regular meditation. You may find it beneficial to ask others you trust to help guide you through them. Remember, God is transforming you. God is building His church. These character traits are not about performance, or striving to be better. They are about seeing an inner renewal by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.
 This is the ‘most likely’ understanding as verses 4, 5 & 12 use the same word is used to refer to family households.
 You can read 1 Tim 1:7 & 6:4-5 to see how different these church leaders were from the standard that God required in His household.
Reading the second half of this chapter is like walking across a cultural minefield in 2019. There are many different ideas that can offend our ideological sensitivities. This chapter should really come with a warning sign! Yet if we remember the setting Paul is writing into, then we shouldn’t be surprised. This is because 1 Timothy is a wartime dispatch sent to the frontlines. Timothy was sent to wage war in Ephesus, where a mix of different cultural values had combined to undermine the Gospel. Does this sound familiar to our context at all?
As you read through the chapter, you might be able to recognise a theme that runs throughout. For sure, you can easily spot the cultural mines of gender inequalities, or the potential kindling of a toxic purity culture, or perverse patriarchal preferences. However, if you haven’t prematurely stepped on one of these exploding mines, you may notice a road through the mines. A theme that will help guide us and helps us understand how the Gospel actually empowers us to engage our cultural sensitivities. The question when we look at the chapter is: what’s Paul’s purpose?
I believe its holiness. It’s living out this incredible good news (the Gospel) in a way that it affects our public worship. The Gospel transforms the believer’s hearts, lives and church experiences. Let me quickly show you why I think this:
- “First of all, then…” Just as we saw yesterday, what Paul is saying in chapter two is a continuation of his ideas from chapter one. He is talking about Gospel transformation and believers’ living holy and humble lives.
- “…rather she is to remain quiet.” Is Paul here silencing women and robbing them of agency? Well just before we hit a huge mine, let’s focus on the word quiet and its purpose in the sentence. In verse 2 Paul says that “we (all) may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified…” This shows that the word ‘quiet’ is linked to, and for Paul a synonym of, godliness. It isn’t a sinful or cultural attempt to undermine the dignity of women. We know that elsewhere Paul recognizes the important value of women’s contributions to church gatherings (1 Corinthians 11:2-5 & 14:26), and overall leadership (think of Nympha, Mary, Lydia, Phoebe or Junia). Therefore, Paul’s encouragement to pursue this ‘quiet’ holiness is something that every person should aim for. It externally displays our internal Gospel transformation.
- “I desire that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands…” Paul’s purpose is to encourage the holiness of men in the church! This is applied to the men of Ephesus with a specific instruction not to quarrel. So Paul’s desire for holiness involves a correction of the men first.
- “… but with what is proper for women who profess godliness” Paul’s purpose here is now to encourage the holiness of women in the church! He wants everyone to be holy! This desire is applied to the women of Ephesus with a specific instruction to stop being so focused on materialism and looking good to others that they take they’re eyes off of Jesus and ignore the Gospel transformation that should be taking place in their hearts.
- “Yet she will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith and love and holiness.” Its almost like Paul pre-empts some opposition (this is war after all) and so he repeats his goal, and in the bible repetition denotes importance. Paul is going to some lengths here to make his aims here – he loves everyone in the church and desires that they grow in holiness.
Once we see these things, hopefully a path begins to develop through the mines, and we can appreciate the heart and instruction of Paul here. It should show us one thing; Gospel transformation changes everything about us! Not one thing. Not most things. Everything. Our entire lives should be a display of this quiet, humble godliness that has been supernaturally worked inside of us by God Himself! Furthermore, this should be applied to our churches, as Paul is writing about the whole church in Ephesus. All people in the church, in every context of the church, should display this powerful and graceful transformation. Whatever we do, and however we do it, it just all be pleasing to the God who desires to use us to save others (verse 3).
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- Do you find 1 Timothy 2 difficult to read? Why do you think this is the case?
- How does Paul’s uncompromising call to holiness challenge the way you are living at the moment?
- Can your church be characterized by the Gospel transformation described the chapter?
Worldly cultures will try to dismantle your faith and knock you out of the fight. To put it another way, they will try to stop you trusting God. However as leaders we should read this chapter trusting and loving God, which develops some unshakeable beliefs. Belief’s such as the authority of scripture, the perfection (inerrancy) of scripture, the loving nature of God and his good desires for our flourishing. We cannot lead if we get knocked out of the fight. To quote Paul elsewhere, we should not be ashamed of the Gospel (Rom 1:16). Instead we should be of good courage and faith that God is working powerfully through His Word.
 The word ‘all’ isn’t in the original manuscripts of the bible, yet Paul is talking to both men and women here (as the gender differences only begin at verse 8) which is why I have added it in.
 This is a very challenging passage to read, with many different interpretations avaialbale. If you are confused or interested in RRC’s position, please do email the church office at email@example.com
 This verse is complicated and often misunderstood. Paul isn’t saying there is another way that women can be saved apart from Jesus’ atonement. He is actually referencing the atonement, by mentioning the curse of Genesis 3 on Eve and how He promises to crush Satan on the cross. If you are interested in this, I found this article by John Piper very helpful: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-are-women-saved-through-childbearing.
1 Timothy 2 is a fairly controversial book in the bible (as we will see in the days ahead), and yet it starts out with a relatively simple purpose. Paul says that people that have been changed by the gospel should be characterized by prayer and faith in the god who saves. This section flows from verse one, so lets unpack this a little:
Paul starts by saying “First of all, then…” This means that Paul is referring to all that he said in chapter 1, especially the contrast in character between the false teachers and those whose lives have been radically changed by the gospel. We must bare this contrast in mind when reading chapter 2.
“First of all, then, I urge that …” Just as in chapter one, Paul isn’t wasting time or mincing his words. Remember, this is wartime for the believers. The word ‘urge’ is the same Greek word that we find in 1 Tim 1:3 & 5. It is a command of urgency and importance. Furthermore, his use of the phrase “first of all” suggests that, whatever Paul is going to mention next, it is the most fundamental thing that we should focus on.
“First of all, then, I urge that “supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made…” The urgent command, of first importance to those who have put their faith in Jesus, is that they should pray. We must be a people of prayer. We should bend our knees and orientate our hearts to the one who gave us eternal life. Our lives should be characterized by our devotion to prayer. Paul’s purpose in mentioning different types of prayer is to highlight its importance and how often it should be a feature of our lives. At different times, as we are praying for different things or people, we should be praying different types of prayers.
I find this to be incredibly challenging, and I don’t think I am alone here! I think most of us will read about the importance and preeminence that prayer should have in our lives, and we will feel a sense of guilt or condemnation. We will say things like “I should be praying more” or “I should know what to pray for”, and too easily our prayers become about our performance rather than God’s grace. We can start to focus on our words rather than His glory. We forget that prayer is about experiencing the God who inclines His ear, and instead we try to strife and earn our way into the presence of God.
If this is you (which means you are like me!) then don’t miss the effect of prayer on the believer in 1 Timothy 2. Prayer should be an all-encompassing reality for the believer, but as we see in the passage, prayers from believers with a sincere faith will look a certain way. In verse two, we read that as we pray, we will be progressively transformed into quiet, peaceful, godly and dignified lives. In every way! So the cycle is that our prayers affect our lives, and our lives then affect our prayers. Our prayers will become peaceful – not condemning. Our prayers will become dignified – not self-deprecating. Our prayers focus on God and his marvelous grace – not our performance.
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- Why do you think that prayer is so important to Paul?
- Who does Paul urgently instruct us to pray for?
- What parts of your life might you need to change to be obedient to God’s Word regarding prayer?
This section is especially important for leaders to consider and apply to their lives. Leaders can be so easily shaped by the performance culture that is all around us – rather than be transformed by the humbling habit of regular prayer. If leaders do not regularly bend their knees in private, they should not open their mouths in public.
You are much, much worse than you think you are.
Of all the things that Paul talks about here, perhaps one of the most surprising is to see how he considers himself. In a direct contrast to the proud and arrogant false teachers waging war on the church in Ephesus, Paul recounts how undeserved his salvation is, and exposes the very worst parts of himself to everyone who reads 1 Timothy 1.
We know Paul’s background as a Pharisee who persecuted and murdered Christians. Which is why verse 13 is no surprise to us. Paul really was a blasphemer, a persecutor and an insolent opponent. It is perhaps understandable why Paul views himself as “the chief/foremost of sinners” in verse 15. He did do terrible things.
However Paul isn’t just talking about his past. In verse 15 Paul says “… I am the foremost…” where he is using the present tense. There are similar accounts in the bible where Paul exposes his unworthiness of Gods love, such “For I am the least of the apostles” or “though I am the very least of the saints.” These are all present tense statements, and they are so surprising! This is the super apostle Paul. This is the Damascus road guy! This is the church planter extraordinaire!
Paul is demonstrating a raw and vulnerable leadership that contrasts so heavily from other leaders. There is beauty in his humbled heart, his lack of ego, and his great desire that Jesus is ‘displayed’ through his ‘example’. Paul hasn’t developed an ego, he has developed a correct understand of how far away he was from God, before God intervened with his mercy. Paul was much worse than he ever thought possible, and God changed that to show the gospel’s power to transform the very worst of us.
Aren’t you utterly amazed, that even though you are (present tense) much worse than you ever thought, Gods arm was not too short to save you, and isn’t too short to preserve you now. Instead the grace of God overflows for us (verse 14) that Jesus would be displayed to those who will come to believe (verse 16).
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- As Paul got older, his conviction over his sin grew. Evaluate your life and ask if the same is true for you?
- How does an accurate view of our sin help to display Jesus?
- Why do you think Paul was willing to bear such a heavy cost so Jesus could be displayed?
Paul’s purpose for recalling his story was so that Jesus might be displayed. Paul was willing to take the cost of appearing unimpressive if it advanced the Gospel. He leverages his story for the sake of the lost. Leadership is all about sacrifice, leaving everything behind and taking every opportunity to make Jesus known.
 1 Corinthians 15:9
 Ephesians 3:8
 1 Timothy 1:16
 1 Timothy 1:13 & 16
Paul and his companions were convinced that the Thessalonians were true believers because:
- The Gospel proclamation was accompanied by signs and wonders & by the power of the Holy Spirit displayed (vs5).
- The Thessalonian believers received the good news about Jesus with full conviction. They weren’t uncertain about what they had heard & believed (vs5).
- These believers also began to imitate the faith and the life-example of Paul and his ministry companions; they learnt his ways and changed theirs (vs6).
- So much so, that they became an example to other believers elsewhere as the testimony of their faith spread (vs7-9).
True believers in Jesus, turn from worshipping anything else to worshipping and serving the one true God. More than this, they live then with eager expectation for the return of Jesus Christ the Son. The one whom God raised from the dead, the one who alone can deliver those who believe in Him from the wrath to come (vs9-10).
The Gospel doesn’t just change our eternal address it transforms our lives, our thinking, our speech, our lifestyles, our rhythms, our habits, our community…
What an amazing clear testimony these believers in Jesus had. The evidence of their changed lives testified loudly to the authenticity of their faith. People were speaking about the changes that had occurred in them.
When we truly make God the centre of our lives, everything begins to revolve around Him and find it’s proper perspective or orientation to Him.
Is your faith crystal clear like that of the Thessalonians? Is it evident to others that you have forsaken any other “gods”? And that in their place you are passionately focussed on, worshipping and serving God with your whole life?
This is the only “reasonable response” (see the NIV or ESV footnote of Romans 12:1) if you have grasped the wonder of who Jesus is and what He has done for you.
May you, may we live lives that are radically focussed on Jesus, worshipping and serving Him for His glory, while we wait for His glorious return!
Hezekiah was a mighty man of God, yet sadly his son Manasseh did not follow his father’s example. Even worse than that Manasseh actually undid all the good his father had done and re-erected altars to Baal and Asherah, he even had altars to these false gods erected inside the Temple! He burned his own son as an offering and consulted fortune-tellers and mediums provoking the Lord to anger.
How does this happen? Father follows God incredibly, and yet his son is evil personified.
Sadly, the bible has a number of this sort of one-generational God-following.
- Eli and his sons (1 Samuel 2:12)
- Samuel and his sons (1 Samuel 8:3)
- David and Solomon (1 Kings 11)
In Deuteronomy Scripture clearly portrays God’s plan for parent to teach God’s ways to their children, to ensure that God-following, that faith is not one-generational but is passed on.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
And yet this is dramatically not the case with Hezekiah and Manasseh. Seventy five years later Manasseh’s grandson Josiah who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, re-discovers the Book of the Law while he was repairing the Temple. His grand-father and father had been so ungodly that when the priest gives Josiah the Book of the Law it is simply referred to in the following way;
“Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” (2 Kings 22:10)
But when Josiah heard the words of the Book of the Law he tore his clothes, humbled himself and repented. And because of this God forgave him and granted him mercy (2 Kings 22:18-20).
We then read in 2 Kings 23 that Josiah went on to reform all of Judah, leading Judah to renew their covenant with the Lord. Josiah went on to purify the temple of Baal & Asherah worship and removed false priests and broken down the high places and even finally fulfilled the prophecy God brought against Jeroboam back in 1 Kings 13:11-32 and his rebel altar at Bethel.
Lastly Josiah restores the Passover festival which has not been mentioned in Scripture since Joshua 5:10-12. And so as the epitaph over Josiah’s life is a glowing one;
Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him. (2 Kings 23:25)
Hezekiah didn’t pass on faith to Manasseh, faith was lost for essentially 75yrs in Judah and then sadly Josiah although he followed God was another example of one-generational God-following as his son, Jehoahaz turned from the Lord again.
If you’re a parent – what can you do today, and do beyond today that can ensure that your God-following is not one-generational too?
And if your parent(s) have not followed God, can you believe God that you could be like Josiah and break with the past and follow God wholeheartedly and be used by God to accomplish amazing things?
Although I am a devoted Christ Follower, I am not a good person in and of myself! There are plenty of people who are more loving, more generous, more patient , more kind — than I am sadly. There are far too many times when I don’t like who I have become in this scenario or that one, when I’m provoked or prodded.
But then a passage like this one reminds me, that I was hopeless without Christ. I was more than hopeless, I was DEAD, living breathing but spiritually DEAD before I came to the point of trusting in Jesus and asking Him to be my LORD and Saviour (vs13).
Sometimes we look at people and think they’re ok, they’re not that bad really. But Scripture never allows for that false perspective – outside of Jesus we are all DEAD in our transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1 & Colossians 2:13), without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12), not one of us is righteous enough (Romans 3:9-12), everyone of us is morally corrupt and bankrupt (Romans 3:23). I was, we were or still are in a bad situation…
But God. “God made us alive together with Him” (vs13)! God forgave us all of our many sins, God cancelled the long list of all my, all our wrongs against Him and against others (vs13). What good news this is for a person like me, like you. God set aside our sin, by nailing it to the cross when God nailed Jesus to the cross, so that Jesus could pay the punishment for our sin (Romans 6:23) so that we could be ransomed, set free from the consequences of our sin.
And so now, I am free from sin’s consequences and I am free to love and obey and follow God, I am not under the control of sin or the devil anymore (like I once was – see Romans 6:15-23) but am under the loving command and control of Jesus Christ my LORD.
I still mess up, but praise God I am forgiven and I am able to continually keep becoming more and more like my LORD and Saviour Jesus, keep becoming more loving, more kind, more generous and patient…
But only because I have been ‘made alive together in Him’ (vs13) and because of that I have the life and the light of Jesus in my life which keeps having the effect of transforming me daily. Thank you Jesus!
Today we start our journey through the book of Colossians. There will be times when the reading for the day will only be just a few verses. I urge you in these days, to grow in reading & meditating on Scripture. I urge you to read, read again, to ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you (from even the smallest section), to wait and to listen to the Holy Spirit for revelation about God, about faith or about the implications of our faith in Jesus for our lives. Bless you.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. (Colossians 1:1-2)
Here in this greeting for the letter, I see a person with a name. Scripture is full of real people, individuals who were rescued by God, with real personal stories to tell, just like you and I. More than that, this letter is written by an unlikely person!
His name was changed, he used to be ‘Saul – the persecutor of believers in Jesus’ but had been renamed by God and became ‘Paul – the anointed preacher, discipler and church planter’. His name used to be feared by believers and yet God had transformed him so that now he was one of the leaders of the early church across the known world. God is in the business of changing people!
How have you been transformed by faith in God?
What change is there that’s still needed in your life?
Is there someone you’ve been praying for that really needs big change?
Remember that change, total transformation is what God does, so be encouraged and call out again to God for your life or the life of someone else.
‘Paul, an apostle’
Paul identifies himself as ‘Paul, an apostle’ (vs1) – what does this mean? At its most basic level it simply means ‘sent one’ or ambassador! Although the term means other more specific things in Scripture just for today I want you to see that this man Paul who did such amazing things for God is no different in one sense to you and I. We too like him are ‘sent ones’ sent by God into our 24/7 lives as God’s agents, God’s ambassadors.
What would change in your life if this truth were more front & centre for you?
Whom has God sent you to?
What are you doing about it?
‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father’
All Christ followers are united in their experience of the grace of God. God saved us not by our own merit but by His grace and God continues then to pour out into our lives after salvation His unmerited favour and blessing.
God’s grace is the very air we breath every day as believers in Jesus and grace not legalistic striving leads to us being at peace with God who has become our Father in heaven. We could never be at peace with God through our own effort, but because of God’s grace we have been reconciled to right relationship with our maker our heavenly Father and so we are a blessed people.
We start the journey with Jesus by grace and grace is what we need everyday to stay on the journey. As the great hymn from 1779 declares;
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun. (John Newton)