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Monday, May 24, 2010

Continuing in Prayer, Part 2: The Mystery of Christ

Continuing in Prayer, Part 2: The Mystery of Christ

At the same time, 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. Colossians 4:3-4 (ESV)

It seems odd at first glance to see Paul describing the gospel as a mystery. For modern readers, a mystery is what hides a crime. Why would Paul use this word?

What do you think? Describe your experience before coming to Christ. In what way was the gospel a mystery to you?

Mystery: mysterion (a secret), from muo (shut the mouth), through the idea of silence imposed by initiation into religious rites. We use the words, mum or mute, as well as mystery - all related to this same Greek word.

Jesus referred to His parables as the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, truth that is not available unless explained by the Spirit of God. (Matthew 13)

Understanding hidden truth from God is a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 13). Paul recognized the need for God's Holy Spirit to teach us, but also saw clearly God's desire to verbalize that truth through the ministry of people. God uses people to preach the truth, which requires God's Spirit to enable people to understand that truth.

Paul first mentioned the mystery of Christ to the Colossians in the first chapter:

I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:25-27 (ESV)

Truth is truth. Since eternity, Christ as Creator and Redeemer has been an established fact. But truth that is not known or understood is a mystery. God has deliberately kept this truth hidden until the right time. The coming of Jesus Christ to earth was the unveiling of hidden truth: Jesus is Lord, our hope of glory.

Since it is God's Spirit Who reveals truth and makes human hearts to see and love the truth, we would expect a preacher or teacher to enjoy an easy, successful ministry, right?

In the second chapter of Paul's letter to the Colossian church, he says that his ministry is a struggle:

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 2:1-3 (ESV)

What is this struggle that Paul describes?

Struggle: agon (an assembly or contest, implying an effort or anxiety.) It is related to the English word, agony.

Paul admits to facing tremendous conflict and anxiety as he obeys Christ in his ministry of preaching the truth. Despite knowing that it is God's Spirit Who must do a supernatural work in the hearts of his hearers, Paul still must go through the real, earthy, gritty task of competing with human philosophy, ignorance, rebellion, apathy, lust and delusions.

And so Paul pleads for the Colossian church to support him in prayer, that God would indeed do the supernatural work of opening doors and providing clear arguments.

Door: thyra (a portal or entrance). We use the word thyroid because the gland that has a large influence over our growth is shaped like an arched door or shield.

The door-shaped, shield-like thyroid gland can remind us of the need for God's Spirit to supernaturally open our hearts and minds to His truth, allowing us to grow and mature. Paul knew that, as a human, he could not open a person's door to spiritual understanding, although God had commanded him to bring the message of truth. Paul knew that God alone can open hearts and minds, and so he asks Christians to surround themselves with this attitude of dependence upon God's Holy Spirit: Pray for me!

What do you think? In serving the Lord, has it been your tendency to gradually drift into complacency, waiting for God to initiate opportunities, or has your tendency been to run ahead of the Lord, relying upon your natural talents, volunteering for too many projects?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Continuing in Prayer, Part 1: Watchful Thankfulness

Continuing in Prayer, Part 1: Watchful Thankfulness

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. Colossians 4:2 (ESV)

What do you think? Does the Bible teach that Christians should pray a certain amount of time each day, or a specific time of the day? Does "continue steadfastly" mean lots of prayer, or does it mean heartfelt prayer?

Paul urges the Christians in Colossae to pray, but not simply pray. He says they should continue steadfastly in prayer. What did he mean?

Continue steadfastly: proskartereo (to persevere, be constantly diligent, adhere closely to), from "forward to" and "be strong".

Being watchful: gregoreo (to keep awake, to watch), related to ageiro (to gather), as in collecting one's faculties.

With thanksgiving: eucharistia (gratitude, grateful language), from "good" and "favor".

Paul defines steadfast prayer as being watchful and thankful in prayer. He connects these definitions with the words in and with, which are actually the same Greek word, translated into two different English words.

"In" and "with" are from the same Greek word: en (a fixed position, implying instrumentality or rest).

The New Testament uses at least three Greek words of position:

eis (to or into)
en (fixed position or rest)
ek (from or out)

In this verse Paul uses the middle word, en (fixed position). Watchfulness and thanksgiving do not lead to prayer, nor do they result in prayer, but rather they rest in prayer.

The prayer that Paul desires is prayer that is permeated with the attitudes of watchfulness and thanksgiving. The attitudes do not cause the prayer, but the prayer is weak without the attitudes of watchfulness and thanksgiving.

Continuing steadfastly means prayer that is strong, always looking forward to Jesus, rather than backward to our own weak capabilities or situations.

And this brings us full circle back to Paul's original exhortation:

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17 (ESV)

Watchfulness motivates us to constantly compare our actions and and desires with those found in Jesus.

Thankfulness motivates us to constantly depend upon God's creation, calling, knowledge, adoption, justification, and glorification:

We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:28-30 (ESV)

It is all of God. God awakens our heart and mind and reveals all that He has done and all that He has provided on our behalf. Watchfulness and thankfulness support a strong, forward-looking dependence upon God.

What do you think? If you were to follow a watchful, thankful Christian all day long, what would you see? What would you hear?