Colossians 1:13-29

This part of scripture is just amazing. Just read it yourself a few times. Really take it in.

Verses 13-14 tells us of a rescue story. One where people were in the kingdom of darkness but were bought into another kingdom. This is our rescue story!

Then the next section tells us all about Jesus, who he is and what he has done. This is what it tells us

  • He created everything
  • He sustains everything
  • He is eternal
  • He is the fullness of God
  • He rules over every authority
  • He is the head of the church
  • He reconciled everything—that’s everything— to God.
  • He shed his blood
  • He made peace

Then it reiterates how we were saved in verses 21-22:

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation…”

How amazing is Jesus and the work he has done!

Now Paul tells us his response to this, which is one we should all follow. Paul becomes a servant to this message and proclaims Christ.

Philippians 4

The first verse of this chapter is lovely. Paul address his readers as brothers and sisters whom he loves and longs for, then calling them dear friends. He tells them to stay firm in the Lord.

Theres also mention of Euodia and Syntyche, two women in the church who Paul addresses.

Then Paul reminds us again to rejoice. In face he says it twice. He tells us how to do it, pray with thanksgiving and not to be anxious about anything. He also tells us to be gentle to everyone. It’s interesting what Paul equates with rejoicing and what he doesn’t. Not being gentle and being anxious will rob you of joy. Praying, asking and thanking, brings reasons to rejoice. Then we will have peace which is incomprehensible in the situations we face. It’s also interesting that this peace guards and protects us.

Paul also tells us where to concentrate our thoughts. We are to think about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy.

Now in the previous post, I seem to have a bit of a rant about “positive psychology”. This is the idea that thinking about good things creates good things. But here it is, in the Bible. Paul thought about it first! It’s in fact proven that gratitude (or thankfulness) keeps you happier. And here Paul is saying it 2000 years ago.

However, given the context it and the words it uses, it’s pretty much telling us to place our thoughts on God, Jesus and all the good things they’ve given us. We are to think of all good things, and remember all good things come from God. Then, when we have remembered this, we can rejoice with thanksgiving.

Paul then tells us that he has learned to be content whatever the circumstances. And it’s no wonder. Paul has trained himself to do these things:

  • rejoice always;
  • be thankful;
  • be kind to one another;
  • look to God for solutions;
  • think about good things;
  • not to be anxious.

If we follow these steps, then I’m sure we can learn to be content in whatever circumstances too.

Philippians 1

First, does anyone else have trouble spelling Philippians? Is it two ls, two ps? Oh, you do? Great.

Philippians is a letter to former Roman soldiers who are now believers in the city of Philippi. They have been very supportive of Paul during his time in prison, which perhaps is why he writes so warmly towards them. I love how Paul says “I thank my God every time I remember you” and that when he prays for the he “always prays with joy”. What a lovely thing to say.

Paul also talks about God’s transforming work in believers:

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

verse 6

Paul again speaks of how we are currently redeemed and transformed, and will continue to be transformed until we are with Jesus in heaven. It’s such a hope-filled statement and reassuring to us as we struggle with our sinful natures.

Again, Paul writes a beautiful prayer for his readers:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.

verses 9-11

I pray this prayer for myself as well, and hope that it becomes a reality in my life.

After this, Paul encourages those in Philippi by telling how his hardships have served to advance the gospel. It seems passive at first, that it just sort of happened that way, but it was an intentional choice of Paul. It challenges us today to use our struggles and difficulties to advance the gospel and to proclaim Christ. It’s often the case that during struggles and hardships we become inclined to be self-serving, introspective and somewhat self-absorbed. However, during Paul’s time of immense difficulty, he still considered how this could be used to see Jesus proclaimed.

Such was his desire to see Christ proclaimed, he didn’t care that people were doing it to cause him trouble. He only cared that Christ was being glorified. Often, we question the motives of pastors or preachers. However, rather than focusing on that, perhaps we should pray that Christ is seen regardless.

Paul does not care whether he live or die. In fact, he would rather die because it would mean being with Christ. However, he feels that Christ still has a job for him to do here so that Christ’s glory may be further known. Paul wants to remain so “that through my being with you again your boasting Christ Jesus will abound on account of me” (verse 26). Isn’t it amazing that this is Paul’s first and foremost concern: Christ’s glory.

Because Paul is passionate about this, he extols his readers to live in a way that brings honour to Christ:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…

Verse 27

The “whatever happens” is a bit of challenge. On my bad days, on the days where the whatevers are unpleasant or exhausting or frustrating, I’m not sure my conduct is always worthy of the gospel of Christ. In fact, I’m sure the opposite is true. So, again, I pray that whatever happens, I live a pure and blameless life worth of the gospel of Christ.

Ephesians 5:1-2

Again, Ephesians 5 exhorts us to live carefully and wisely. Here, we follow God’s example because we are dearly loved children. That’s a really beautiful image. We are loved by God, and that love compels us to look to God and obey him and follow him. This very much reminds me of John 14.

In this chapter of John, the idea that obedience and love for Jesus and love for and from the Father are interconnected. Jesus’ words reminds us that we need to love him and that love is shown in keeping his commands.

“If you love me, keep my commands … Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them … Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

John 14:15-24

This passage in John also talks about how Jesus will send the Spirit to be with us. These ideas are also repeated in 1 John 4:

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:13-19

When we reread the first part of Ephesians in light of these verses, it’s easy to be encouraged.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:1-2

Therefore, it shows the importance of Paul’s prayer in chapter 3 for the Ephesians. So, again I pray that we can “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Yes, I pray that day by day I know more and more the love of Jesus and the love of the Father. And because of this knowledge of this love, I can follow God’s example and live a life of love. I pray that, through the power of the Spirit, I know the Father more deeply and completely. May my life be given up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

For the glory of Jesus’ holy name,

Amen.

Ephesians 3

Ephesians 3 again holds many blessings. The first section, which the NIV versions titles “God’s marvellous plan for the Gentiles”, is again a great encouragement. The main reason of this: I am a beneficiary of this plan. I am a Gentile. (I do in fact have some Jewish ancestry, but not enough to count.) Without this plan and without it being revealed to Paul, I would not have known the grace of Jesus. It’s wild to think that my parents, who told me the gospel, were told by someone else, who in turn, heard the gospel. Someone told them, and someone told them, and someone told them. If you go far back enough, it would have been the first missionaries around Europe that told them the gospel, and then eventually to the first Christians and perhaps even Paul. Isn’t it mad that nearly a thousand years ago Paul could have initiated the chain of people that would eventually reach me?

It’s perhaps why I think missionary work is so important, because we all can all thank a missionary at some point for spreading the gospel. I just wonder how my contribution in this chain will continue.

When I think of that, it becomes so much more personal when I read the following verses:

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ.

Ephesians 3: 7-8a

So tonight I am grateful for all the people who were servants of this gospel before me.

Then Paul prays a prayer and asks for various things for the recipients of the letter:

  • strengthened with power through the Spirit
  • Christ may dwell in their hearts
  • to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ
  • to know this love that surpasses all knowledge
  • to be filled with the fullness of God.

What amazing things to pray for! I definitely pray for them for myself!

Then this chapter ends with some very famous verses. These verses are such an encouragement, reminding us of the sheer, incomprehensible goodness of God and that his power is in us. He is definitely deserving of the glory.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever! Amen.

Amen, indeed.

Bible in One Year: Day 11

I didn’t manage to wake up at 5 am for this one, so it’s a good job that I’m doing it a couple of days early. I did find doing it just before bed seemed to be conducive to restful sleep.

I am really grateful for the devotions provided by Nicky and Pippa Gumbel. It does make the reading longer, as you have to read the devotions too, but they help prepare me to be more reflective before I start reading the passages. Also, using the YouVersion app means I can listen as I read, which means I’m less likely too skip bits or to read superficially. So, I’ve definitely found the experience meaningful and helpful.

Nicky Gumbel noted that the Genesis passage mentions success five times and that, in some way, all the passages were linked to success. Success is a blessing from God. It makes me wonder how much do I rely on myself for success and how much do I rely on God. Also, it makes me wonder how I measure success. At the start of the year, I did a couple of lessons about attitudes towards work with my students. I told them that their success is not up to them, so they needn’t worry about it. It’s up to God. It’s his problem so let him deal with it. They just need to be obedient and commit their work to God. I definitely need to preach to myself as well.

Psalm 8 repeats the idea of Genesis 1 that humans are the pinnacle of creation. It’s weird to think that humans are God’s greatest success. It’s strange that in one hand we have humanity as sinful and destructive and terrible, whilst in the other hand we have humanity as God’s pride and joy. There’s something to be learned in seeing the potential and the current reality and living in that tension. I think that’s something that as a teacher I have to attempt every day. I don’t think I manage it as well as I should.

I loved this bit of Psalm 8:

Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.

Psalm 8:2

How powerful are the praise of children and infants! God uses them so mightily: they defeat the enemy. As teachers, especially now as I work in a school that caters for the very little kids to the big kids, do we realise the amazing phenomenon that happens before us?

Matthew 9:16-17 has always been a source of confusion to me. I don’t really understand it in it’s given context. I think that’s an action point for a later date.

Verses 18-26 an interesting passage, as Jesus blesses the whole spectrum of the society of his day: the religious elite to the social outcast. I’m also amazed that people laughed at Jesus. I’m more amazed that we are fearful of being laughed at. Shouldn’t we expect it, after all? Also, if Jesus can deal with it, with the help of the Holy Spirit, so can we.

Again, my interest in mission makes the final verses of the Matthew reading particularly resonant.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 3Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Matthew 9:35-38

I love the sense of cooperation: we are to join in with God sending his workers through prayer and through being sent. It’s great that we can be a part of God’s global plan for the church.

I’m struck by how exceptional the characters are of the Genesis passage. The servant is faithful and obedient and wishes to be successful for the benefit of his master. Rebekah is awesome and generous. Pouring water for a bunch of camels is no mean feat. She gives a lot of herself to this complete stranger. Her brother seems like a great guy too: he cares for the servant and he considers his sisters thoughts and feelings.

It’s also amazing how quickly God answers the prayer: before it had even been finished. I wonder how often God sets into motion the answer to our prayers before we even finished (or, in some cases, started) praying them. As we don’t have the eternal and omnipotent perspective of God I guess we often don’t know.

Dear God

Grant us success. This is not for our benefit, but for the glory of your son, Jesus Christ.

In his holy name,

Amen.