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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Put to Death What is Earthly

"Put to death therefore what is earthly in you..." Colossians 3:5

"Put to death what is earthly": Impossible?

"Put to death" in the Greek is "nekroo", to deaden or subdue. It is derived from "nekros", dead, from a word meaning a corpse. In English we describe the decay of living flesh as "necrosis".

The Hebrew equivalent is "balah", to fail, wear out or decay.

"Earthly" means soil, implying the surface, or world, on which we live.

Paul uses "put to death" to introduce a long list of specific sins that a Christian is to "put away", "put off", and "do not":

  • sexual immorality
  • impurity
  • passion
  • evil desire
  • covetousness (idolatry)
  • anger
  • wrath
  • malice
  • slander
  • obscene talk
  • lying

Paul classifies these specific sins under the general category of "earthly", and he says that a Christian is to "put them to death": deaden them, subdue them, allow them to wear out and decay.

This seems impossible for me to do. It seems to ask me to ignore reality: my body's appetites and emotions still actively affect my thoughts, words and actions.

How can I put to death something that is very much alive?

First Things First: Our New Life in Christ

To begin to understand Paul's message, I'll first focus on the word "therefore", looking to see "why it is there for".

Paul has used the first two chapters of his letter to the Colossians to describe the wonderful new life in which God has placed those who belong to Jesus:

  • given hope of heaven (1:5)
  • placed in the kingdom of Jesus (1:13)
  • redeemed and forgiven (1:14)
  • reconciled with God (1:22)
  • made holy, blameless and above reproach (1:22)
  • buried, raised from death and made alive (2:12-13).

At the beginning of the third chapter, Paul groups all these aspects of our new life in Christ under the general term, "raised with Christ", and he urges his readers to keep their mind, will, and emotions centered only on this new life. He capsulizes our lives into three stages: our old, dead life, our new, living life in Christ, and our future, glorious life in heaven.

Upon this foundation, Paul then tells us to "put to death what is earthly", and he describes several specific sins.

Thus, "putting to death what is earthly" describes a mind that continually remembers the death of Christ (and our old life of sin), the resurrection of Christ (and our new life in Christ), and the future glory of Christ (and our hope of heaven).

"Putting to death what is earthly" is a constant, conscious conflict between the good of Christ and the bad of our old sin nature. Every attempt of our body to revive its sinful nature can be turned into a reminder to praise God for His work in Christ on our behalf.

Abraham and Sarah

Another way to start to understand the concept of viewing our old nature as being dead is to look at how Abraham responded to his encounter with God.

Abraham's given name was Abram, meaning "high father". When Abram was 75 years old, God gave him a specific promise that his family would grow to be a great nation. Abram and his wife had been married long enough to resign themselves to Sarai's barrenness, yet Abram trusted God to work a miracle despite their age and lack of fertility. Abram followed God's leading to the land of Canaan. (Genesis 12)

Abram experienced a crisis in faith, unable to escape the reality of his age and lack of children. He honestly confronted God in prayer, and God responded with a clear repetition of his original promise: Abram would be the father of innumerable generations. And Abram believed God. (Genesis 15)

Sarai, Abram's wife, did not believe. Her old, weak, barren body was all she could see. Her doubt spread to Abram, and he agreed that perhaps God meant for him to have children through another woman. Sarai selected a surrogate mother who gave birth to Ishmael ("God will hear"), who would legally be Abram's son. (Genesis 16)

Abram was 86 years old when Ishmael was born. Thirteen years later God appeared to Abram and renamed him "Abraham", meaning "father of a multitude". God told Abraham that his promise of a great nation was not based upon Ishmael, but upon a child that would be born from Sarai ("She who rules"), renaming her "Sarah", ("She who is queen"). (Genesis 17)

Sarah's name change is significant. Both names are from the same root word, meaning "one who rules". But her new name implies that her authority, her position, is based upon her relationship to her husband, the king. Sarah's old life ("Sarai") was based upon her own earthly strength, demanding obedience even from her husband. She was controlled by her own desires, seeing herself as the one who must decide.

God confronts this old life directly. He determines that Sarah would assume a new position, based not upon her strength of character, but upon God's sovereign choice: she will bear a child, even in her old age and barrenness. God would work a miracle. (Genesis 18)

A year later, when Abraham was 100 years old, Sarah conceived and bore a son, Isaac, "laughing". Sarah's mocking laughter when first hearing God's promise of a son was now turned to laughter of joy in His miracle of grace.

Abraham and Sarah's experience is a good illustration of how we are to "put to death what is earthly" and "seek the things that are above". Both Abraham and Sarah experienced an up-and-down faith in God. They had doubt in His promise...they depended upon their own intelligence and ability...they saw their weakness as the ultimate reality.

But God led them to see that their earthly mindset was dead: it was incapable of providing the glorious reality of God's promise of life. God was giving Abraham and Sarah a 25-year-long lesson on WHY and HOW to "put to death what is earthly":

WHY: God is sovereign and we are not
HOW: Look past our weakness and see God's strength.

Paul uses Abraham's experience to support his message to the church in Rome:

"He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb." Romans 4:19

Abraham considered his body, and that of Sarah's, to be as good as dead, incapable of reproducing. He was convinced that God was able to work a miracle, despite their dead bodies.

Paul's message to the church in Rome contains an entire section devoted to the concept of death and life. Chapter six describes the following situations:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:1-7)

Paul uses the fact that we are identified with Christ's death to show that we are free from the domination of sin.

"Set free" means to be regarded as just or innocent. It's the same word used earlier by Paul, translated as "justified":

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)

Paul shows that the result of our death with Christ is a godly life in Christ:

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Roman 6:11)

"Consider" means to estimate, to think and say words that are based upon the truth that Christ's death has justified us as being without sin. And our behavior should reflect what we say.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Romans 6:12-13)

We are told to consider our earthly lives dead, incapable of any brightness, lacking any hope of producing righteousness, yet still there is to remain a trust in Christ, that His glory will be our glory. Continuing to restrain our earthly appetite for sin ("putting to death what is earthly") is our faithful expression of trust that our true life is hidden with Christ.

Paul is building upon the "good order and firmness of faith" seen in the Colossians:

"For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ." Colossians 2:5

It was important for the Colossian church, and us, to remember that a joyful life of order and faithfulness depends upon seeing ourselves as immersed and controlled by the life of Christ in us.

"Putting to death" means having the same attitude as Abraham: my body is failing, it's decaying, it's capable of no good thing. If this is your attitude towards your personal "dirty rags of goodness", you are left with only one Source for life: Jesus Christ. This is exactly the position in which Paul is urging us to assume.

Fear

Paul introduces a note of fear into his argument:

On account of these [earthly sins] the wrath of God is coming. (Colossians 3:6)

He echoes this thought later:

For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he had done, and there is no partiality. Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 3:25-4:1)

Some manuscripts add "upon the sons of disobedience" to the end of this verse. We know that Paul is not saying that Christians who sin will feel God's wrath:

"He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son..." Colossians 1:13

"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." John 3:36

"Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God." Romans 5:9

So, why does Paul imply that fear is a good motive for putting to death what is earthly?

I think the fear that Paul speaks of is the same fear I feel when I stand at the edge of a cliff, protected from falling only by a sign that says "Danger!" and a short board fence. I am completely safe, but only if I do not breach that narrow defense.

God's salvation is complete and eternal, yet when I consciously sin, I am standing at the very edge of the precipice of God's wrath, standing in the very position of those who do not belong to Christ. Nothing of my own strength or wisdom or righteousness is keeping me from destruction...only the mercy of God's salvation. That is a frightening position.

Perhaps Paul is referring to this motive when he says "do not lie to one another":

"In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator." Colossians 3:7-10

Sin in a Christian requires a lie: "I have not been forgiven, not been given a new life in Christ and Christ is not my Lord." In order to sin, a Christian has to temporarily reject all that has made him a Christian.

John Piper related R. C. Sproul's experience to the godly effect of fear:

R. C. Sproul's greatest spiritual battle was addiction to smoking. He was a heavy smoker before he was converted to Christ at age 18, and his new life in Christ did not remove the addiction. He quotes W. C. Fields as saying "Quitting smoking is easy...I've done it a thousand times." R. C. said that was literally true for him. He struggled with addiction to nicotine for many years, praying for release. It wasn't until eleven years ago, about 1999, that he quit for the last time. That was the year that a medical examination showed a dark spot on his lung. And then it was easy to quit. It was "quit or stop breathing". The spot was not malignant, but it was enough to get his attention.

(Source: http://theresurgence.com/greatest-battle)

Piper's conclusion:

"Our addictions are as strong as our fears are weak."

(Source: http://twitter.com/JohnPiper, December 22, 2009)

I do not "fall" into sin. My sin is that of presumption:

"Do you suppose, O man---you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself---that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" (Romans 2:3-4)

To "presume" means to think against, to regard with contempt, to slight (Middle English for level, smooth, flat). In the Greek, it is "kataphroneo", related to the same word used in Colossians 3:1 for "seek", but with a prefix, "kata", meaning against.

Imagine someone planning to travel from Hermiston to Portland during the winter. A careful, prudent person would carry traction devices, a blanket, water, and phone. He would expect delays, possibly even danger, and prepare for the worst.

A presumptive person would carelessly glance at a road map and say, "It's a straight shot on a major freeway, smooth sailing all the way!" He would hop in his car and take off, with no planning or preparation. He would the journey as slight and not worth thinking about.

How many times do I enter sin in the same presumptive way! I see the temptation as being without consequence, without cost. But the reality is that sin has a tremendous cost: the pain and shame and death of Jesus to purchase our justification...the kindness and forebearance and patience of God in not destroying my life before opening my heart to accept Jesus as Lord...the separation and estrangement from God's Holy Spirit as I willfully neglect His comfort and guidance. Sin is never without consequence.

So, when my fear of consequences is slight, my addiction to sin is terribly strong. I cannot carelessly walk near the edge of the precipice without realizing the tremendous power and patience of God as He maintains a fence between me and destruction, as He holds the crumbling cliff edge together, as He gives me the very breath and muscle to even walk.

God, keep me from presumptive sin.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Seek the Things that are Above

Seek The Things That Are Above

"Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me." (Colossians, 1:28-29)

It's difficult for me to identify with this passage...I don't remember a time when I felt I was proclaiming Christ. I struggle daily with many things, but not with warning and teaching everyone about Jesus. How should a Christian tell others about Jesus? Is everyone a proclaimer like Paul was? Do we, do I, need to change things in our lives to make witnessing of Jesus a higher priority?

The word proclaim, translated from the Greek, means to make known by announcing in a public place. It comes from two words meaning "down" and "messenger". Messenger in the Greek is aggelos (ang'-el-os), which is often translated as angel. The focus of the word proclaim is importance. Public announcements imply warnings or opportunities that could affect many different people. The messenger has news that must be told to as many as possible.

Important news is often urgent: a major event will soon occur, or a major event has occurred and its effects will soon be felt. Do Paul's words imply urgency? Does the news of Christ's death, burial and resurrection require urgency? Should I, as a believer, urgently proclaim Christ as Savior and Lord?

The meaning of the Greek word for proclaim does not carry a sense of urgency. The message brought by the messenger was of tremendous importance, but not urgency.

Paul wrote to the believers in Colossae that proclaiming Christ involves warning and teaching. The word translated as warn means to put in mind. The word translated as teach means the same in English as in Greek: to make to know or show how. Again, neither word implies urgency...rather, they imply careful and thoughtful communication and guidance.

Paul wrote that he toiled, struggling with all Christ's energy, to present everyone mature in Christ. Toil in the Greek means to feel fatigue, literally "chopped" down by repeated pain or labor. The Greek word for struggle means the same in English: to put forth great efforts; literally, to compete in an athletic contest, such as the olympics.

Proclaiming, for Paul, meant tremendous effort and strain, but not necessarily urgency. From the beginning, the gospel was proclaimed carefully, almost slowly, rather than urgently broadcast.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a young girl named Mary...an angel appeared to a small band of shepherds out in the field...Jesus proclaimed his good news while walking...he taught in synagogues, on hillsides, and homes. (Luke 1:26-28, 2:8-9; Matthew 4:18, 5:1, 9:10)

Jesus was always in the right place at the right time, but he seemed never to rush or attempt to gather a crowd. Although crowds followed him, he often withdrew to be alone in desolate places and pray. (Luke 5:15-16)

With many people needing the gospel, Jesus still did not resort to urgency. Rather, Jesus asked God to raise up more messengers.

"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (Matthew 9:37-38)

Jesus told his disciples to be wise...he did not say hurry...he did not say be spectacular...he did not say act urgently.

"Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16)

Wolves rely upon strength and speed. Serpents move carefully but steadily. Serpents have no wasted motion, but they do not rush. They move fast only when striking, at the right time and place. Rather than urgency, Jesus desires wisdom and innocence.

CONVERSION: THE GOAL OF PROCLAIMING CHRIST?

Proclaiming Christ, then, is about warning and teaching others through wisdom. Proclaiming, or witnessing for Jesus, has the goal of maturity, rather than conversion. Conversion is the first step, but it is hardly the goal. Conversion, however, is often cited as the goal of witnessing.

"Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3)
"...whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." (James 5:20)

"Turn" and "brings back" are both from the same Greek word meaning to twist or reverse. The King James Version of the Bible often translated it as convert, and "convert" is a watchword of witnessing. Conversion has become the focus of many religions. It often is seen as the goal of witnessing, becoming almost a numbers game: “How many conversions can our church claim?”

Conversions, even baptisms, should be seen as the first essential step for a person's journey with the Lord. The first step...not the important goal. Paul did not even seem to count the number of conversions or baptisms that resulted from his ministry.

"I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else. For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel..." (1 Corinthians 1:16-17)

THE HIGHER GOAL OF PROCLAIMING CHRIST: MATURITY

Paul said that the goal of his preaching was maturity in his listeners. The Greek word translated as mature is teleios (tel'-i-os), meaning complete, from telos, meaning the point aimed at, or destination. It came from a word meaning to set out for a definite point or goal. We see the Greek influence in the English "telescope" or "telegraph". It's also related to the word, "toll", a tax paid for traveling over a bridge or road.

The Holy Bible often translates teleios as "perfect", which popularly implies no fault or error, entirely symetrical, or nothing lacking. Is that an appropriate translation?

"You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)

"Perfect" means having all the properties belonging to it, from a Latin word meaning to finish. "Mature" means full-grown, from a Latin word meaning ripe. Understood correctly, both "perfect" and "mature" are accurate translations for teleios. However, the image of ripening fruit seems much more fitting.

Maturity is a process that takes time. Each phase of a fruit's growth is carefully orchestrated by God's control of nature. In a sense, each day of a fruit's "conversion" to ripeness is perfect, even though the fruit is not yet mature. The budding flower, the tiny immature berry, and the fully ripe fruit are all seen at just the right time in the plant's life.

So with us. conversion begins the process, but Paul sees a point in the future when we will be finished in Christ. It is at this point that Paul is aiming when he warns and teaches. He is not satisfied with a person saying, "I accept Jesus as Lord and Savior." Paul continues to warn and teach, always with the goal of maturity in mind.

Perhaps an even better illustration of maturity is that of a journey. Imagine a young person setting off on a long journey, perhaps to find work and begin a family. The decision to begin walking is conversion, a turning away from the familiar and a turning toward a new destination. But the journey lasts for days, and each day brings new experiences. Each new experience brings a change in the young person. If the youth is seeking Jesus, the changes lead to maturity: strength, compassion, faith, and love.

We should not be satisfied with ourselves just being converted and baptized. We should awake each day with the goal of maturity in Christ in mind. "Lord, warn and teach me today, through your holy words and your God-directed circumstances I encounter today. I want to be ripened by you!"

If Jesus is your Captain, every day is perfect...perfectly designed to lead you to maturity.

UNDERSTANDING AND KNOWING CHRIST

We have seen that Paul proclaimed Christ by warning and teaching others, with the goal being maturity, being finished and complete. We have seen that “warn” means to put in mind, and “teach” means to make to know or show how. What do we put others in mind of? What do we show them?

"...to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Colossians 2:2-3)

Let's look at the essential phrase: "understanding and knowledge of Christ".

“Understanding” in the Greek means a mental putting together. The "together" part of the word is intimate, very close. Greek has at least three different prefixes that can be translated as "together": meta, meaning among or amid; para, meaning near; and sun, meaning union or joining. Paul implies intimate togetherness by using sun, literally meaning "joining together in the mind".

All that can be seen, described, and experienced of Christ is intended to become intimately joined together in our minds as our relationship matures. Christ becomes "systemic" in my mind, completely involved in everything I see, feel and experience. Nothing I encounter is separate from my relationship with Christ...He, and His concerns, becomes all I think and desire.

The word translated as “knowledge” means the same in Greek as in Anglo Saxon, from which we get the English word “know”...both the Greek and Anglo Saxon, in fact, appear similar: gnosis (Greek) and cnawan (Anglo Saxon). The words mean to perceive directly, recognize or discern. It is knowledge based upon direct experience. It is an intimate knowledge. A related word is used in reference to Joseph's relationship with Mary:

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son... Matthew 1:24-25)

WISDOM

One more word Paul used to describe Christ: wisdom.

The word translated as “wisdom” also means the same in Greek or English: the ability to judge soundly and deal rightly with the facts of life and conduct. It is from a word meaning practical skill, implying clearness. The Anglo Saxon word, "wise", means way of being or acting; "dom" means fact of being, from the same word as doom, meaning judgement.

Paul says that he proclaims Christ through wisdom, and wisdom, with intimate knowledge of Christ, describes the goal of maturity for every believer. The goal of listening to and reading and meditating upon Scripture is to develop clear, practical skill in dealing with the facts of life, and to join together intimately in our minds all that Christ is and desires.

REVIEW

  • Proclaim: to announce publicly, warning and teaching others
  • Proclaiming Christ is important, but not necessarily urgent.
  • Conversion: only the first step in our relationship with Christ
  • Goal of proclaiming Christ: maturity (fully grown or arrived at the finish)
  • Maturity includes understanding, knowledge and wisdom in Christ
  • Understanding: intimately putting together in the mind
  • Knowledge: direct, intimate experience
  • Wisdom: clear and practical ability to judge

Proclaiming Christ, warning and teaching others with wisdom, relying upon the power of God's Holy Spirit and striving to help others reach spiritual and social maturity all seem to spring naturally from hearts that are in love with Jesus. What do you feel you need to step to a deeper relationship with Jesus?

  • Prayer?
  • Confession?
  • Bible study?
  • A like-minded friend?
  • Alone-time?
  • Trials?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Plausible Arguments

"In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments." (Colossians 2:3-4)

WHO CAN YOU BELIEVE?

Politicians, preachers and peddlers are some of the most persuasive people we may meet. I can listen to an argument or sales pitch and be completely sold on it, and then listen to a different, contradictory presentation and be equally persuaded...who is right?

Competitive debate or rhetoric is based upon the art of persuasion, the forceful, charismatic use of words and appearance to move people towards action or emotion. Truth and objectivity are optional for a peddler (or politician, preacher or lawyer). Facts are tools that can be modified, exaggerated, obscured or concealed. The goal is to capture the affections, emotions and minds of the audience.

Have you ever met someone who consistently disagrees with you, always arguing against your opinions? That shows a heart more concerned with winning than with wisdom...a person intent upon appearing superior in every interaction.

Paul describes four harmful effects of plausible arguments, four different ways that the devil works in the world to weaken our faith and dishonor God:

  • Delusion (Colossians 2:4)
  • Captivity (Colossians 2:8)
  • Judgement (Colossians 2:16)
  • Disqualification (Colossians 2:18)

DELUDED BY PLAUSIBLE ARGUMENTS

"Plausible arguments" in the Greek means is pithanologia, meaning persuasive language. It comes from two words meaning to convince and to speak purposely. In English we use "pith", the soft interior of a bone or plant stem, to describe words that are essential and wise. We also use "logic" to refer to reasonable, careful expression of thoughts.

The definition does not imply anything specifically negative or false in the word for "plausible argument". It could refer to a completely true idea, one completely false or one with some truth and some deception. Paul used pithanologia only this one time...it appears nowhere else in the Bible. However, The "persuasive" part of the word, peitho, is used often, for good and bad, as is the "language" part, logos. Logos, or Word, is actually used as a name for Jesus.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1)

A plausible argument can be competely true, but Paul describes the sinister side of skillful persuasion: deception.

The Greek word Paul used for delude means to misreckon. It is from two words meaning near and to take inventory. Literally, it means to miscount something near at hand or important.

Imagine a manager of a warehouse, responsible for controlling the inventory of all the owner's products. The manager is lazy, or ignorant, or more likely, criminal, and he miscounts the inventory. He skillfully persuades the owner that the inventory is complete. The manager deludes his boss through a plausible argument.

Imagine a religious leader, responsible for teaching and warning his church in their relationship with God and others. He is lazy, or ignorant, or more likely, greedy for power, and he misrepresents the truth. The religious leader deludes the people through a plausible argument.

Only one other instance of the word Greek word for delude occurs in the Bible:

"Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." (James 1:21-22)

The word translated here as "deceiving" is the same Greek word that Paul used, translated as delude.

Just hearing the word of God, without acting upon it, without taking it in and truly receiving and accepting it as essential, will cause you to miscount truth, making you a deluder of yourself.

TAKEN CAPTIVE BY HUMAN PHILOSOPHY

Paul warned believers to avoid being ensnared by plausible arguments of human philosophy and religion.

"See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ." (Colossians 2:8) "Takes captive" means to lead away as riches taken in war (booty, from French butin), from a word meaning to strip away or flay. "Elemental spirits" would be better translated as "natural order", referring to purely physical life here on earth. Plausible arguments of philosophy, tradition, humanist hedonism and survivalism strip away mankind's true riches, the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Christ. They deny the need to accept Jesus as Christ and Lord. They deny that He is completely God, Ruler of all things, victorious over Death, Redeemer of those dead in sin. (Colossians 2:9-15)

JUDGED ACCORDING TO DIET AND HOLIDAYS

The Colossian church had been put into turmoil by questions of food, drink, and holy days. "Let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ." (Colossians 2:16-17) "Pass judgement" means to distinguish or decide. Paul warns the Colossian believers to avoid people who decide your worth or direct your life by condemning what you eat or drink, or what holy days you celebrate. He calls such concerns just shadows, just a faint representation of the real. Since Jesus is really alive and his Spirit really dwells within us, what we eat or drink or celebrate on earth has little effect upon our relationship with him. Plausible arguments try to influence outward appearances. They take things that are good, and elevate them to an importance that is beyond truth. We all eat and drink...we all celebrate special days, but they are just a shadow of what is truly important. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not depend upon what we eat or drink or what special days we celebrate.

DISQUALIFIED BY SPIRITUALISM

"Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind." (Colossians 2:18)

"Disqualify" means to defraud, to deceitfully deprive someone of something of value (a right, an interest, or property). The Greek word means literally to "award the price against". It comes from a word for an umpire or judge at athletic contests who awards the prize. Imagine olympic athletes competing in a race. The judge disqualifies the winner, awarding the prize to a slower runner who seemed to "suffer" more and he claimed to have divine visions, making his efforts more noble than the faster runner. The disqualified winner has been defrauded of his prize.

"Asceticism" means false humility. Paul used two words that we've translated as "asceticism": separarately they mean “to determine” and “humility". The word meaning humility is commonly used in the New Testament, almost always for good. Peter used the same word to encourage believers to demonstrate humility:

"Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (1 Peter 5:5-6)

Humility is a good thing...until it becomes motivated by pride. Paul is discerning the sin of pride, expressed through outwardly religious and spiritual demonstrations of humility. Humility is wicked when it puffs me up or encourages sensuality. Humility is perverted when it ignores the Lordship of Christ. Asceticism is a plausible argument that elevates my own personal strength and determination. Seeking visions unknown by others, adoring beings that are imaginary, devilish, or even spiritual servants of God, are the results of a sensuous mind, a mind set on gaining superiority and power...a mind taken captive by a plausible argument.

Paul describes some examples of false humility, religious asceticism:

"...you submit to regulations---'Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch' (referring to things that all perish as they are use)---according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stoppping the indulgence of the flesh." (Colossians 2:20-23)

Plausible arguments that persuade me to practice a religion based upon man-made rules or worship of anything less than Christ will cheat me of my true treasure:

"When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." (Colossians 3:4)

DEVILISH DECEPTION

What plausible arguments concerned Paul? How was the gospel being twisted or diluted, becoming deceptive? Paul wrote to the Corinthian church that he was afraid they would be led astray by the devil's cunning:

"But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough." (2 Corinthians 11:3-4)

Deceptive, plausible arguments are inspired by the devil, leading preachers to distort, conceal, or add to the truth of Jesus. The devil can inspire people with a false spirit, encouraging them to accept a plausible argument that contradicts or conceals the truth of Jesus.

"But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:6-7)

Paul warns that the gospel does not change...it remains the same from the time that Jesus began to preach it, through the times the Apostles taught it, and it continues the same for us now. Paul's clearest presentation of the gospel may be found in his first letter to the Corinthian church:

"Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures...he was buried...and he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures." (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

AVOIDING DECEPTION: SET YOUR MIND ON CHRIST

Paul reminds us that we are no longer alive in the world...our life is in Christ, Who is outside of this world.

"If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:1-3)

Our goals, our desires, our minds should look beyond plausible argument, beyond half-truths and natural, physical desires. Our faith is in Christ alone, our Hope of Glory. What did Paul do to help his listeners validate his arguments for God? Immediately before warning his flock about deceptive arguments, Paul shares with them his prayer that God would encourage and unify them in Christ. Paul bases his arguments for God upon the wisdom and knowledge hidden in Christ.

"For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Colossians 2:1-4)

Paul did not glorify himself. He did not establish himself as the "expert", nor did he try to prove his argument by material evidence, nor through vague spiritualism. Paul simply pointed to Jesus Christ as the source of wisdom and knowledge.

ACTING THE EXPERT

There is one instance in which Paul acts the expert, claiming authority by citing his education and experience:

Born a Hebrew, raised an Israelite, descended from Abraham, far greater labors and hardships than any other religious leader, visions and revelations, more than a "super-apostle", performing signs and wonders and mighty works...Paul boasted of his superiority over others. (2 Corinthians 11:22-12:12)

But his demonstration of superiority was a sham, a joke, a parody of how deceptive religious leaders were representing themselves to the people. Paul called his outburst of boasting foolish...he calls himself a madman for boasting of his human authority and knowledge. He said there is nothing to be gained by such boasting. The world relies upon plausible arguments and grand self-confidence to win friends and influence enemies, and Paul calls it foolish and mad. What did Paul rely upon to persuade people to love God? The gospel, prayer, and the Person called Jesus Christ.

"Of this (hope) you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing---as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth..." (Colossians 1:5-6)
"And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding..." (Colossians 1:9)
"He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation." (Colossians 1:15) Paul's argument was the gospel, preached with prayer, based upon the Person of Jesus Christ.

A SOLID LIFE IN CHRIST

The surest defense against falling for deceptive, skillful persuasion is a solid life in Christ. Paul was unable to be with the Colossians, but Epaphras had given him a good report, allowing Paul to know clearly how they were doing. He rejoiced in their "good order" and firmness of faith.

"For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ." (Colossians 2:5)

"Good order" in the Greek means a regular arrangement. Luke used this word to describe the scheduled service of Zechariah the priest:

"Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the presthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense." (Luke 1:8-9)

"On duty" is the same word that is also translated as "good order". "Firmness" means something established, from a Greek word pronounced ster-eh-os, meaning stiff, solid or stable. From this we get our word "stereo", short for "stereophonic", meaning recordings that sound life-like, full...solid. From the good report from Epaphras, Paul understood that the Colossian believers were solid in Christ. As a group they were committed to establishing personal habits that emphasized regular worship, prayer, teaching and fellowship. To describe a solid life in Christ, Paul imagined a person walking:

"Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving." (Colossians 2:6-7)

The act of walking is a good illustration of good order and firm faith.

  • moving, yet stable
  • best action for long journey
  • requires good balance
  • best for difficult terrain
  • best form of regular exercise

Spiritual walking emphasizes a life completely dependent in Christ. Paul identified four conditions that guarantee a person's walk with Christ is in good order and firm:

  • Rooted
  • Built up
  • Established
  • Thankful

A root is the unseen part of a plant that absorbs and stores nutrients and supports the upper structure of the plant. "Built up" refers to a house, designed and constructed from the ground upward. To be established means to be stable, especially when standing or walking. Thankfulness refers to prayerful expression of gratitude to God for things He's given that are good, undeserved, and happy. A plant can trace every part of its life back to its root: its stem breaks through the soil, allowing leaves to capture the sun's energy, sending strength to its flowers, giving birth to fruit that contains seeds for next year's plant.

The Spirit of Jesus is hidden in the unseen depths of the Christian's heart, directing his outward actions, moving him to express spiritual fruit: words and attitudes that honor God, drawing others toward reconciliation with their Creator. Without Jesus, no fruit, no life. A house begins with a foundation, solid ground that supports the weight of the structure, allowing the rooms to be safe, comfortable and beautiful. All the different compartments of a Christian's life: personal, family, work and community will be safe, comfortable and beautiful as long as they remain built upon the solid foundation of Christ. Without Jesus, nothing fits, walls crumble and life becomes precarious.

The opposite of stability and thankfulness would be turmoil and bitterness, a person lacking a close family or friends, lacking security or support. Without Jesus, life becomes a constant battle against trouble and disappointment, with no hope for happiness. James described one cause of instability as being filled with doubt:

"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." (James 1:5-8)

The Greek word for "doubting" means to separate thoroughly or withdraw from. It comes from two words meaning through (as a channel of an act) and distinguish or decide. A good example of this word is seen in Peter's attitude toward three men who came to him. Peter had just experienced a vision of the Lord inviting him to eat food that was unclean, saying "What God has made clean, do not call common." The Spirit of God spoke to Peter:

"Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them." (Acts 10:20)

Immediately after the vision, three men knocked at his door, asking him to come with them. They were Gentiles, non-Jews, people shunned by all devout Jews. "Hesitation" is the same word used by James, translated as "doubting". For Peter, to doubt or hesitate would mean that he would be looking at the men and deciding that they were not acting through God...he would be "through-judging" them, failing to see that God was behind them.

James is warning of the same doubting attitude. One who prays with doubt is one who fails to see God at the other end of the prayer line. They ask for wisdom, but they doubt that God will give them anything wise. This sets them up for double-mindedness and instability. Faith applies directly to the ability to discern truth, or the lack of truth, in a persuasive argument. We need wisdom, but we need God to direct that wisdom, and we need to trust that God is able to give good wisdom. If we doubt God's word, or if we reserve the right to decide if God is true or not, we will become double-minded, unstable and unable to sort out the deception in plausible arguments.

Mark describes a man in the middle of belief and unbelief, trusting that Jesus was the source of Life and Power, yet at the same time aware of how much he did not believe. The man had brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus for healing, saying "If you can do anything, help us!" Jesus responds: "If you can! All things are possible for one who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)

Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the child. The word used here for "unbelief", is not the same as used for "doubting". Mark used a word that means lack of faith or not convinced, but it was not the kind of doubt that causes us to shrink away from Jesus. The was not looking through and deciding that Jesus was false, drawing back and hesitating. Rather, he was reaching towards Jesus, trusting that He was true, and that Jesus would do more that just heal his child...he was looking toward Jesus as the source of truth for all issues in life...every part of his unbelief would be changed to faith in Christ.

WHAT DO YOU THINK:

In your heart, quietly in prayer, reach out to Jesus and offer him your unbelief. What areas of your life can you identify as being influenced by "plausible arguments"? What things have you been trying to rationalize as being good, but are actually a mixture of truth and deception? In what circumstances do you need to have Jesus be you all in all?

SALTY SPEECH

Rather than relying upon plausible arguments, Paul encouraged believers to be "salty". Paul asked the Colossian church to pray for him, asking God to enable Paul to make the gospel clear.

"Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison--that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." (Colossians 4:3-6)

"Gracious" in the Greek is charis, meaning gratifying, from a word meaning cheerful or calmly happy. The gospel is called "good news" for a reason: it gratifies our soul...it brings happiness to the despairing and lost. Our words, especially to unbelievers should ultimately encourage them and lead to hope for happiness. It makes good, biblical sense to "sandwich" bad news between good news at the beginning and good news at the end.

"Seasoned" means prepared, as with spices, from a word meaning to lift or sail away. "Salt" figuratively means prudence or the exercise of reason. Jesus said that his disciples were the salt of the earth, but he warned of the consequences if they lost their "taste":

"You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?" (Matthew 5:13)

"Taste" is translated from the Greek word, moraino, meaning insipid or without taste. It comes from a word meaning dull or stupid (as if shut up), from a word meaning to shut the mouth. From this Greek word we get our English word, moron, a person unable to reason or respond intellectually. Along with encouraging, good news, our arguments must be based upon reason and intellect. Ideas without foundation are empty. Repeating unsubstantiated legends is not better than a mouth shut tight. In our desire to speak of happiness and encouragement, we dare not simply say things that are pleasing, regardless of their truth.

Jesus spoke of saltiness in the context of prophets being persecuted. Why would speakers of encouragement be persecuted by the world? If the words reminded people of their sin and their guilt before God, and God's rightful doom of wrath, the world will respond with anger and rebellion. Salt adds flavor to food, highlighting subtle flavors not otherwise noticed. In a sense, adding salt to food introduces a tension: too much salt causes burning and retching...too little and the food is bland, not worth eating.

In the same way, "salty" words bring tension to the listener, joining good news with warning of danger, encouragement linked with reproach. Plausible arguments based upon deception will "sugar coat" their words, hoping to distract their listener from looking closely at facts and consequences. Speaking to others of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit brings forth words of encouragement and directness, honesty and reason...."seasoned with salt."

Plausible arguments are skillfully presented to persuade and influence others. Truthfulness is often set aside in favor of impact, popularity and logic. Facts are blurred, distorted or concealed. Salty speech does not mean to talk coarsely or to use blasphemy...it means using words and methods that are appropriate for each individual person. No single method or style of presentation works for every person...we all have unique experiences, preferences, education and cultures. Some people respond well to direct, tough "spicy" talk. Others listen closely if the message is smooth, gentle and compassionate. This "recipe" for encouragement requires the influence of God's Holy Spirit...it is beyond natural human ability to figure out what is required for each situation.

ARGUMENTS OF JESUS

To argue has a negative connotation, implying rebellion and a contrary attitude. Too often our arguments are emotional, biased and malicious. But the simple act of arguing is actually completely good and reasonable. "Argue" means to offer reasons for or against something, from Latin argutare, to make clear. Jesus argued in this way when the devil attempted to persuade him to dishonor God:

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God...You shall not put the Lord your God to the test...You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve." (Matthew 5:7)

The "salt" required for this argument with the devil was specific and direct application of God's commandments. Jesus did not "converse" with the devil...he did not ask probing questions to help the devil understand the issue...rather, Jesus used God's words as a sword, parrying and attacking the weak areas of the devil's "plausible argument".

Another argument is seen between Jesus and the Pharisees who attributed the healing power of Jesus to Beelzebul, the prince of demons:

"Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, 'Every kingdom of house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirt of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:25-28)

In this instance, Jesus salts his argument with more detail and explanation than he did with the devil. He continues the argument with an imaginative illustration to make his argument clear and memorable. The "flavor" of this argument is tailored to fit the mindset of his audience. An interesting "non-argument" is seen in the response of Jesus to his hometown crowd, friends and acquaintances he knew growing up in Nazareth:

"A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household." (Matthew 13:57)

Why didn't Jesus take advantage of the people's astonishment at his teaching? They had listened to his teaching and asked what seems to be a good question:

"Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?

But Jesus dismisses them, almost scornfully. In this instance, Jesus withheld any "salt" to his words...he even took his message off the table! The unbelief and willful ignorance of the people made any further attempt to argue useless. Sometimes, walking away is the best argument. There are many, many instances of Jesus arguing, and each episode is slightly different in tone, depending upon the "salt" required for each audience. At their last meal together, Jesus gave his disciples a warning to expect tremendous turmoil, even to the extent of abandoning the faith, when he is killed later that night. Peter protests, arguing that he's mistaken...he would never deny Jesus, even if it meant his death. How does Jesus respond?

"Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." (Matthew 26:34)

This is all that Jesus says to Peter. He doesn't reprimand him for contradicting him...he doesn't try to make him change his mind. He is honest and direct, saying it just one time and then letting it drop. Later, Jesus takes Peter and two others with him for prayer, a heartrendingly honest time with God. The argument between Jesus and Peter was tenderly and carefully salted, just for Peter. It was crystal clear and completely honest...it was just was Peter needed. So, how can we learn to "salt" our arguments to fit each different situation? We can't...we can only rely upon God's Spirit to direct us in every circumstance. Salt is absolutely essential to our words, but only the Salt of God will do.

CONCLUSION

"In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments." (Colossians 2:3-4)

Paul warned that Christians can be deluded by skillful persuasion, and this implies that we in turn could deceive others in the same way, perhaps even unknowingly. The only way to guard against the deception and maintain clear, honest and worthwhile communication with others is to walk with Christ, the only completely true and wholesome Communicator.

REVIEW

  • Four harmful effects of plausible arguments: delusion, captivity, judgement and disqualification
  • "Plausible arguments": persuasive language
  • "Delude": misreckon or miscount
  • "Takes captive": strips away valuable belongings
  • "Disqualified": defrauded of something valuable
  • The Gospel: Christ died for our sins, he was buried and three days later he rose from the dead.
  • The key to avoiding deception: set your mind on Christ.
  • A solid life in Christ: walking, rooted, built up, established and thankful
  • "Salty" speech: words that fit the situation, based upon reason and honesty

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Him We Proclaim

"Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me." (Colossians, 1:28-29)

It's difficult for me to identify with this passage...I don't remember a time when I felt I was proclaiming Christ. I struggle daily with many things, but not with warning and teaching everyone about Jesus. How should a Christian tell others about Jesus? Is everyone a proclaimer like Paul was? Do we, do I, need to change things in our lives to make witnessing of Jesus a higher priority?

The word proclaim, translated from the Greek, means to make known by announcing in a public place. It comes from two words meaning "down" and "messenger". Messenger in the Greek is aggelos (ang'-el-os), which is often translated as angel. The focus of the word proclaim is importance. Public announcements imply warnings or opportunities that could affect many different people. The messenger has news that must be told to as many as possible.

Important news is often urgent: a major event will soon occur, or a major event has occurred and its effects will soon be felt. Do Paul's words imply urgency? Does the news of Christ's death, burial and resurrection require urgency? Should I, as a believer, urgently proclaim Christ as Savior and Lord?

The meaning of the Greek word for proclaim does not carry a sense of urgency. The message brought by the messenger was of tremendous importance, but not urgency.

Paul wrote to the believers in Colossae that proclaiming Christ involves warning and teaching. The word translated as warn means to put in mind. The word translated as teach means the same in English as in Greek: to make to know or show how. Again, neither word implies urgency...rather, they imply careful and thoughtful communication and guidance.

Paul wrote that he toiled, struggling with all Christ's energy, to present everyone mature in Christ. Toil in the Greek means to feel fatigue, literally "chopped" down by repeated pain or labor. The Greek word for struggle means the same in English: to put forth great efforts; literally, to compete in an athletic contest, such as the olympics.

Proclaiming, for Paul, meant tremendous effort and strain, but not necessarily urgency. From the beginning, the gospel was proclaimed carefully, almost slowly, rather than urgently broadcast.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a young girl named Mary...an angel appeared to a small band of shepherds out in the field...Jesus proclaimed his good news while walking...he taught in synagogues, on hillsides, and homes. (Luke 1:26-28, 2:8-9; Matthew 4:18, 5:1, 9:10)

Jesus was always in the right place at the right time, but he seemed never to rush or attempt to gather a crowd. Although crowds followed him, he often withdrew to be alone in desolate places and pray. (Luke 5:15-16)

With many people needing the gospel, Jesus still did not resort to urgency. Rather, Jesus asked God to raise up more messengers.

"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (Matthew 9:37-38)

Jesus told his disciples to be wise...he did not say hurry...he did not say be spectacular...he did not say act urgently.

"Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16)

Wolves rely upon strength and speed. Serpents move carefully but steadily. Serpents have no wasted motion, but they do not rush. They move fast only when striking, at the right time and place. Rather than urgency, Jesus desires wisdom and innocence.

CONVERSION: THE GOAL OF PROCLAIMING CHRIST?

Proclaiming Christ, then, is about warning and teaching others through wisdom. Proclaiming, or witnessing for Jesus, has the goal of maturity, rather than conversion. Conversion is the first step, but it is hardly the goal. Conversion, however, is often cited as the goal of witnessing.

"Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3)
"...whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." (James 5:20)

"Turn" and "brings back" are both from the same Greek word meaning to twist or reverse. The King James Version of the Bible often translated it as convert, and "convert" is a watchword of witnessing. Conversion has become the focus of many religions. It often is seen as the goal of witnessing, becoming almost a numbers game: “How many conversions can our church claim?”

Conversions, even baptisms, should be seen as the first essential step for a person's journey with the Lord. The first step...not the important goal. Paul did not even seem to count the number of conversions or baptisms that resulted from his ministry.

"I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else. For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel..." (1 Corinthians 1:16-17)

THE HIGHER GOAL OF PROCLAIMING CHRIST: MATURITY

Paul said that the goal of his preaching was maturity in his listeners. The Greek word translated as mature is teleios (tel'-i-os), meaning complete, from telos, meaning the point aimed at, or destination. It came from a word meaning to set out for a definite point or goal. We see the Greek influence in the English "telescope" or "telegraph". It's also related to the word, "toll", a tax paid for traveling over a bridge or road.

The Holy Bible often translates teleios as "perfect", which popularly implies no fault or error, entirely symetrical, or nothing lacking. Is that an appropriate translation?

"You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)

"Perfect" means having all the properties belonging to it, from a Latin word meaning to finish. "Mature" means full-grown, from a Latin word meaning ripe. Understood correctly, both "perfect" and "mature" are accurate translations for teleios. However, the image of ripening fruit seems much more fitting.

Maturity is a process that takes time. Each phase of a fruit's growth is carefully orchestrated by God's control of nature. In a sense, each day of a fruit's "conversion" to ripeness is perfect, even though the fruit is not yet mature. The budding flower, the tiny immature berry, and the fully ripe fruit are all seen at just the right time in the plant's life.

So with us. conversion begins the process, but Paul sees a point in the future when we will be finished in Christ. It is at this point that Paul is aiming when he warns and teaches. He is not satisfied with a person saying, "I accept Jesus as Lord and Savior." Paul continues to warn and teach, always with the goal of maturity in mind.

Perhaps an even better illustration of maturity is that of a journey. Imagine a young person setting off on a long journey, perhaps to find work and begin a family. The decision to begin walking is conversion, a turning away from the familiar and a turning toward a new destination. But the journey lasts for days, and each day brings new experiences. Each new experience brings a change in the young person. If the youth is seeking Jesus, the changes lead to maturity: strength, compassion, faith, and love.

We should not be satisfied with ourselves just being converted and baptized. We should awake each day with the goal of maturity in Christ in mind. "Lord, warn and teach me today, through your holy words and your God-directed circumstances I encounter today. I want to be ripened by you!"

If Jesus is your Captain, every day is perfect...perfectly designed to lead you to maturity.

UNDERSTANDING AND KNOWING CHRIST

We have seen that Paul proclaimed Christ by warning and teaching others, with the goal being maturity, being finished and complete. We have seen that “warn” means to put in mind, and “teach” means to make to know or show how. What do we put others in mind of? What do we show them?

"...to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Colossians 2:2-3)

Let's look at the essential phrase: "understanding and knowledge of Christ".

“Understanding” in the Greek means a mental putting together. The "together" part of the word is intimate, very close. Greek has at least three different prefixes that can be translated as "together": meta, meaning among or amid; para, meaning near; and sun, meaning union or joining. Paul implies intimate togetherness by using sun, literally meaning "joining together in the mind".

All that can be seen, described, and experienced of Christ is intended to become intimately joined together in our minds as our relationship matures. Christ becomes "systemic" in my mind, completely involved in everything I see, feel and experience. Nothing I encounter is separate from my relationship with Christ...He, and His concerns, becomes all I think and desire.

The word translated as “knowledge” means the same in Greek as in Anglo Saxon, from which we get the English word “know”...both the Greek and Anglo Saxon, in fact, appear similar: gnosis (Greek) and cnawan (Anglo Saxon). The words mean to perceive directly, recognize or discern. It is knowledge based upon direct experience. It is an intimate knowledge. A related word is used in reference to Joseph's relationship with Mary:

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son... Matthew 1:24-25)

WISDOM

One more word Paul used to describe Christ: wisdom.

The word translated as “wisdom” also means the same in Greek or English: the ability to judge soundly and deal rightly with the facts of life and conduct. It is from a word meaning practical skill, implying clearness. The Anglo Saxon word, "wise", means way of being or acting; "dom" means fact of being, from the same word as doom, meaning judgement.

Paul says that he proclaims Christ through wisdom, and wisdom, with intimate knowledge of Christ, describes the goal of maturity for every believer. The goal of listening to and reading and meditating upon Scripture is to develop clear, practical skill in dealing with the facts of life, and to join together intimately in our minds all that Christ is and desires.

REVIEW

  • Proclaim: to announce publicly, warning and teaching others
  • Proclaiming Christ is important, but not necessarily urgent.
  • Conversion: only the first step in our relationship with Christ
  • Goal of proclaiming Christ: maturity (fully grown or arrived at the finish)
  • Maturity includes understanding, knowledge and wisdom in Christ
  • Understanding: intimately putting together in the mind
  • Knowledge: direct, intimate experience
  • Wisdom: clear and practical ability to judge

Proclaiming Christ, warning and teaching others with wisdom, relying upon the power of God's Holy Spirit and striving to help others reach spiritual and social maturity all seem to spring naturally from hearts that are in love with Jesus. What do you feel you need to step to a deeper relationship with Jesus?

  • Prayer?
  • Confession?
  • Bible study?
  • A like-minded friend?
  • Alone-time?
  • Trials?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Suffering and Rejoicing

IT FEELS SO GOOD TO GRIPE

It feels so good to complain! To have someone empathize with you...for someone who understands the pain and frustration...for someone who can nod in agreement and look amazed at the suffering you've endured.

But complaining is not entirely socially acceptable, is it? A friend can only stand so much of my griping...it starts to depress them! The second re-airing of my woes is more than the same friend can stand. There comes a time when the listener must politely edge away before being forced to shout, "Enough already! Get a grip! Buck up! Count your blessings!"

I'm reading Paul's letter to the Colossians and I am noticing how frequently, and passionately, Paul complains. But, in contrast to my complaining, Paul manages to make his griping holy and victorious. How does Paul get away with it? He almost brags about his suffering, but the way he does it, griping glorifies God and encourages his readers.

Let's look at Paul's suffering and rejoicing. First, we'll describe some of the troubles Paul went through. Then, we'll identify what gave Paul a reason to rejoice. Finally, we'll end by putting ourselves in his place.

THREE KEY IDEAS:

  • PAUL SUFFERED (and griped about it!)
  • PAUL REJOICED (continually!)
  • WE CAN REJOICE (believe it!)

PAUL SUFFERED

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church..." (Colossians 1:24)

This is the first hint in Paul's letter that he's had any bad times during his walk with Jesus.

WHAT DOES SUFFERING MEAN?

Suffering in the Greek is pathema, meaning "something undergone", hardship or pain; from pathos, "suffering or passion"; from pascho, "to experience a sensation or impression (usually painful).

English uses many words based upon pathema: pathetic, empathy, pathology, and others. They all imply pain, sickness or grief that is deeply felt. Paul is writing about the deep emotional and physical pain he's experienced for the sake of serving others. From the moment of Paul's conversion from enemy of God to child of God, Jesus had made it clear that Paul would suffer for his sake:

"He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." (Acts 9:15-16)

The words "chosen" and "suffer" remained in the front of Paul's mind for the rest of his life.

WHAT DID PAUL SUFFER?

Can we identify with any of the bad times he went through? How did he get through the depression, the frustration and the weariness of life without giving up like I sometimes feel like doing? How could he rejoice in what is obviously bad, wrong, unfair and even evil?

"Stoned and left for dead...arrested, attacked, stripped, beaten and imprisoned in stocks...Humility, tears and trials...I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ...I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God...I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God...In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 14:19; 16:19-24; 20:19, 20-21, 24, 27, 35)
"Hunger and thirst, ragged, buffeted and homeless...reviled, persecuted, slandered...scum of the world, refuse of all things." (1 Corinthians 4:11-13)
"Utterly burdened beyond strength...despairing of life...under sentence of death...afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger...treated as impostor, unknown, dying, punished, sorrowful and poor...Without rest...afflicted at every turn...fighting without and fear within...labors, countless beatings and often near death...39 lashes of the whip suffered five times...beaten with rods and stoned...shipwrecked three times...adrift at sea a night and a day...frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches." (2 Corinthians 1:8-9; 6:4-5, 8-10; 7:5; 11:23-28)

WE SUFFER FROM THE WORLD

Paul was not the first or only Christian to suffer. Since the horrific, unfair and unbounded suffering that Jesus Himself suffered, His followers would experience trouble. Jesus didn't say "if" we suffer as Christians, He said "when" you suffer:

"...persecuted, reviled, and slandered on account of Jesus...you will be dragged and delivered over to death...delivered up to tribulation, put to death and hated by all nations..." (Matthew 5:10-11; 10:18-21; 24:9)
"...the world hates you...they persecuted me...they will also persecute you...you will weep and lament...you will be sorrowful...you will be scattered and you will have tribulation..." (John 15:19-20; 16:20; 32-33)
"...mocking...they arrested them and put them in custody...they threatened them...filled with jealousy, they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison...they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus...they came upon him (Stephen) and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses...they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him...they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him...they cast him out of the city and stoned him...there arose on that day a great persecution against the church...they were all scattered...ravaged...dragged off to prison..." (Acts 2:13; 4:3, 21; 5:17-18, 40; 6:12-13; 7:54, 57-58; 8:1-3)

WE SUFFER INSIDE

These are violent, blatant acts of persecution without cause. Although I can see the potential of experiencing similar persecution in my life, to this point the extent of trouble as a Christian for me has been internal:

"Nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh...I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out...I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing...I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:18-19, 24)

SATAN PERSECUTES CHRIST THROUGH US

Much of what we suffer is instigated by the malicious hate of the devil.

"...a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me..." (2 Corinthians 12:7)
"You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?" (Acts 13:10)
"Satan, the deceiver of the whole world..." (Revelation 12:9)
"He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44)

Satan is the ultimate persecutor, the one who hates Christ and those who are Christ's.

FILLING UP WHAT IS LACKING

Paul said he was "filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions." Paul regarded himself as a target for persecution aimed at Christ. In the place of Christ, Paul was suffering pain and grief for the sake of the body of Christ, the church.

Paul deliberately examined his troubles and made a direct connection between his suffering and his Saviour. Jesus suffered injustly, overwhelmingly unfairly, all for the sake of those he loved, even his enemies. Paul recognized the hand of Jesus in every circumstance. He did not gripe about his suffering...he glorified Jesus for giving him the opportunity to serve others through his suffering.

WHAT DOES "LACKING" MEAN?

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church..." (Colossians 1:24)

The Greek word translated as "lacking" is husterema, "a deficit or poverty"; from hustereo, "to be later or fall short"; from husteros, "later"; from hupo, "under". Paul used "lacking" in referring to his great friend, Epaphroditus:

"Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me." (Philippians 2:30)

Paul was not reprimanding the Philippians for ignoring him, or for failing to adequately fulfill their duty toward him. Their "lack of service" was a simple statement of what the Philippian church was unable to complete.

CHRIST'S AFFLICTIONS WERE NOT INSUFFICIENT

Paul is not completing "some last little bit of suffering" required for salvation.

“Filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions” is a reference to the fact that the world is still persecuting Christ, still trying to murder the One Who claimed to be Son of God, even after His death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. In effect, Jesus is not here to "kick around anymore", so Paul (and many Christians) are suffering persecution from the world in His place. Before allowing Jesus to be his Lord, Paul, known then as Saul, violently persecuted the church:

"But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem...Suddenly a light from heaven flahed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?...I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.'" (Acts 9:1-4)

Paul's angry, violent persecution aimed at believers was actually rebellion against the Son of God: Jesus.

Understood literally, Paul, as a steward of God's Word, meant:

"I rejoice in the deep emotional and physical pain that I've experienced for your sake. For the sake of Christ's church I have endured the persecution that is still being thrown at Jesus."

GOD KNOWS THAT WE SUFFER

I can identify with Paul's experience. People suffer, even those in Christ, especially those in Christ. It seems the antithesis, the very opposite of what should happen to those who trust in the life of Christ and honor God as Father and Provider.

God's Word convinces me that He knows and even expects us to endure suffering for his sake. Our suffering comes from outside us, from the devil and from other people and sickness and accident and war and prejudice. Our suffering also comes from within us, from our sin and natural flesh. Christians suffer, and God knows it.

"...enduring sorrows while suffering unjustly...Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps...reviled, suffering, dying...since Christ also suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking...do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you...be watchful...your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." (1 Peter 2:19-24; 4:1, 12; 5:8)
"I know your tribulation and your poverty..." (Revelation 2:9)

PAUL REJOICED

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings..." (Colossians 1:24)

WHAT DOES "REJOICE" MEAN?

"Rejoice" in the Greek means to be cheerful or calmly happy. Paul calmly and happily endured tremendous persecution and hardship in order to preach and pastor Christ's church.

PAUL REJOICED IN GOD AS HIS FATHER

Paul believed God was his Father, which meant Paul would forever be under God's ultimate protection and providence:

"The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs...heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us...Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us..." (Romans 8:16-18, 35, 37)

PAUL REJOICED IN GOD'S COMFORT

Paul understood that sharing in the suffering of Christ, for Christ's sake, also meant sharing in Christ's comfort:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too...to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again...We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh...For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal...So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord...He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthinans 1:3-5, 9-10, 4:8-11, 17-18, 5:6-8, 12:9-10)

PAUL REJOICED IN INTIMACY WITH GOD

Paul calls the hardship he's endured "light momentary affliction", and he believed that it was preparing him for future glory beyond all comparison. Every hardship, every weakness, allowed Paul to become more like Jesus, not just in appearance or physical experience, but in perspective and attitude:

"It is my eager expectation and hope...that Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain...Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all...For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him...that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death...I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of having plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." (Philippians 1:20-21; 2:17; 3:8, 10;4:12-13)

PAUL LOOKED TO JESUS

Paul's hero was Jesus. Looking at Jesus brought comfort and encouragement to Paul:

"Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted...We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin...You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you know that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one...Look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God...Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed." (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15; 10:34; 12:2; 12:12-13)

PAUL REJOICED IN DEPRESSION

Paul experienced depression (drooping hands and weak knees) and said, "Look at Jesus." How is that different than saying "Buck up, count your blessings, don't worry and be happy!"? Blessings and troubles don't weigh the same! I can be surrounded by benefits, and still be weighed down by a single bad situation. Blessings are temporary...they can change quickly.

Jesus is above all weight and treasure. Jesus never changes. His work in our lives is always one of grace and love, no matter what our temporary situation may look, or feel, like.

But most importantly, looking at Jesus in the midst of trouble allows us to gain an intimate relationship with a holy God, the Eternal Creator, Sustainer and Sovereign God Who lives in the soul of every believer:

"They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes...Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Revelation 7:16-17; 21:3-4)
No more hunger or thirst...no more scorching heat...no more tears...no more death...all of this can be ours right now, if we look past what's happening to our physical body and mind, and look at our soul's relationship with Jesus. Nothing shall harm us, therefore nothing NOW can harm us!

WE CAN REJOICE

Finally, let's put ourselves in Paul's place. Here's a typical day of suffering for me:

1. Get up tired because I worked 12 hours the day before and I didn't sleep very well.

2. Get assigned a project at work that I don't enjoy and I find difficult.

3. Forget an important detail and have to re-do my work, losing time and making feel like I've worked all day without a break.

4. Apply for a transfer to a different department, but know that I don't have the experience and training that can compare with others who have also applied.

5. Spend frequent, intermittent moments regretting past mistakes and besetting sin experienced this week so far.

6. Get home tired and feeling unrewarded and inadequate.

7. Go to bed and sleep fitfully and lightly.

My days vary, just like yours. Some days seem better, with pleasureable events and met expectations. Others are worse, with bad news from family or friends, or sickness, or disappointments.

Nowhere does it seem that my typical day matches up with Paul's...neither the highs nor the lows. But, and this is an important "but", pain is pain. Paul was shipwrecked and beaten because he was preaching about Jesus, and I am tired and exasperated by working to support my family, and our suffering is real.

The important difference between Paul and me is that Paul connected his suffering with his service to Jesus. My natural focus tends to be on what I'm feeling, rather than why I'm doing what I'm doing. I imagine Paul saying to me, "Turn your gripes can into glorifying!"

REVIEW: TURNING GRIPES INTO GLORY

  • God knows and God cares

  • Suffering brings intimacy with God

  • Jesus provides comfort purpose
  • TWO SUGGESTIONS: CLARITY AND CONNECTION

  • Clarity: list down specific gripes (hardships)

  • Connection: list benefits of suffering
  • Caution: DON'T attempt to "outweigh" the bad by listing many good things. The goal is to identify the good that can be found in suffering, not the good that exists despite suffering.

    It's In The Valley That I Grow

    "Sometimes life seems hard to bear,
    Full of sorrow, trouble and woe
    It's then I have to remember
    That it's in the valleys I grow.

    If I always stayed on the mountain top
    And never experienced pain,
    I would never appreciate God's love
    And would be living in vain.

    I have so much to learn
    And my growth is very slow,
    Sometimes I need the mountain tops,
    But it's in the valleys I grow.

    I do not always understand
    Why things happen as they do,
    But I am very sure of one thing.
    My Lord will see me through.

    My little valleys are nothing
    When I picture Christ on the cross
    He went through the valley of death;
    His victory was Satan's loss.

    Forgive me Lord, for complaining
    When I'm feeling so very low.
    Just give me a gentle reminder
    That it's in the valleys I grow.

    Continue to strengthen me, Lord
    And use my life each day
    To share your love with others
    And help them find their way.

    Thank you for valleys, Lord
    For this one thing I know
    The mountain tops are glorious
    But it's in the valleys I grow!"

    Mary N. Nelson