I’ve been changed
1Thessalonians 1: Something happened in you.
The Apostle writes two letters to the church at Thessalonica, a city of Greece that still exists today: Thessaloniki. Bible scholars tell us that these letters are some of the earliest writings of the New Testament, penned a mere 20 years or so after the ascension of Christ. Jesus promised that he’ll come back and it’s that promise that drives these letters. When the gospel was preached at Thessalonica a few years earlier it was wonderfully received. People believed and in believing their lives were changed right then. As our Lord put it, they were born again and thus made new. Not only were they changed in the present, but their view of the future was changed too. Now, every day contains in it a sense of anticipation as they “expectantly…await the arrival of…Jesus.” That expectancy drives them, flavoring their lives in positive ways. No life situation is forever and a better day will begin any moment now. This has made these made new people into optimists who are admittedly curious as to exactly how it will all come about. Today, I’m 2000 years distant from these believers. Still, I have this in common with them: I too look forward to that day with both optimism and a certain measure of curiosity as to how it will all play out in the end.
Take Away: Christians anticipate the Second Coming even though we admit we don’t know exactly how it will all play out.
The secret to evangelism
Colossians 4: Make the most of every opportunity.
Believers aren’t supposed to create closed communities of the faithful. Rather, we’re to live right out in the open, rubbing shoulders with those outside the faith, making friends, sharing in their lives. I don’t think this means that believers are never to “retreat.” After all, Jesus at least attempted to get the disciples away from the crowds sometimes. Still, he always went back to them, loving them, and, apparently, liking those who weren’t his followers. Paul urges the Colossian Christians to not only stay involved in their community but to make the most of that involvement. Interestingly, his directions for them aren’t as evangelistic as you might think. He describes “making the most” as being “gracious in your speech” and tells them that their “goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation.” Apparently, our influencing others for Christ doesn’t necessarily start with a “spiritual conversation” at all. Instead, it starts with friendship, respect, genuine interest. In fact, Paul specifically warns them not to “put them down” or “cut them out.” In light of these instructions, becoming a “friend” to someone just so we can tell them about Jesus is off the table. My seizing the moment starts, instead, with my making some genuine friends outside the body of believers. Then, I make sure I’m always gracious in my conversations with them, wanting the best for them. Real friendships are the secret to evangelism.
Take Away: For church people it’s a big challenge to make good friends who are outside the church. Still, it’s a key component to evangelism.
Dressing like a Christian
Colossians 3: Dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you.
For many people the phrase “dressing like a Christian” dredges up a lot of old guilt and maybe resentment. We were raised in church traditions that stressed externals and the weight of that emphasis fell especially on the girls and young women. Looking back, I feel somewhat charitable toward those who stressed such things. I think, by and large, their hearts were in the right place. After all, they wanted to live holy, clean lives and our personal holiness ought to be evident even in the clothing we choose to wear. However, the years have pretty much proven that traveling that road leads to the city of legalism which is quite distant from the city of love and grace. In this passage we’re told that there’s a wardrobe that’s appropriate for God’s people but it has nothing to do with how much or little skin is shown. God’s people are to be characterized — “clothed in” — “compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.” We’re to be known as “even-tempered, content…quick to forgive.” The absolute necessity for all followers of Jesus, Paul says, is the “basic, all-purpose garment” of love. He emphasizes love by saying, “don’t leave home without it.” So, there I have it. My Christianity isn’t seen in what I wear, but it is seen as these positive characteristics are on display in my life. It was easier to focus on “covering up” but such an emphasis totally misses what it really means to dress like a Christian.
Take Away: Christ should be seen in our lives, not so much by what we wear, but by the display of Christ-like characteristics.
The mystery has been solved
Colossians 2: We’ve been shown the mystery!
A new church has started down the block and old First Church seems dull in comparison. New Church not only offers a different style of music, but there’s a lot of talk about amazing spiritual experiences and hitherto unknown secrets being revealed. The folks at First Church can’t help but notice what’s going on down the street. How come their pastor never tells them some of these secrets to success? Why doesn’t he lead them into the mysteries of the spiritual? Something like that is happening at Colossi and Laodicea. Those with a different approach to God have come to town claiming that their way unlocks doors that have before been locked. If the Christians listen to them they can go beyond where they are and press on to spiritual power and authority beyond what they’ve ever imagined. The Apostle tells them that that’s completely wrong. The great mystery, the wonderful secret to spiritual power and success has already been explained to them. It can all be summed up in one name: “Jesus.” To be connected to him is to be connected to all there is of God. He warns them that to rush off down some other road is a “wild-goose chase.” Paul urges them to focus only on Jesus and, in him to be dominated by the love of God. The mystery has been solved and the secret has been revealed. His name is Jesus.
Take Away: Our religion isn’t bound up in mysteries. Rather it’s all about relationship: knowing Jesus as Savior, Lord, and Friend.
The heart of it all
Colossians 1: We preach Christ.
The Apostle sits in a jail as he writes this letter to the Christians in the city of Colossi, located in what is now the nation of Turkey. He wants his readers to stand firm for Jesus over the long haul, not in some grim, miserable, “unto death” sort of a way, but with joy and confidence and strength. In fact, Paul wants them to be absolutely focused on Jesus and not allow themselves to journey down “dead-end alleys.” They’re to be so in love with Jesus, so impressed with him, that they can’t imagine anything but living in him and for him. Actually, all Paul wants for them is what he has for himself. He’s bought into Jesus, “hook, line, and sinker.” In his mind Jesus towers above all else; always has – always will. He tells them, and us, that the world exists only by Jesus. He’s “supreme,” “God’s original purpose,” and gives everything in creation “its proper place.” When Paul preaches, he has only one subject: Jesus. When his ministry is finished, the result, he hopes, will be many mature, settled followers of Jesus. How important this message is today. We’re pulled this way and that. Decisions are demanded of us. The circumstances of life threaten to erode our souls. At the end of the day – at the end of life – what’s going to matter? In Paul’s words I find the answer: “Christ! No more, no less.”
Take Away: I want the compass of my life to always point to Jesus.
Can’t we all just get along?
Philippians 4: I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up.
Everything we know about Euodia and Syntyche is found in this passage; there’s not much. Two women have some differences, about what, we don’t know. These women have partnered with Paul in proclaiming the Good News. They’re faithful laborers in the vineyard of the Lord and their names are in the book of life. Paul urges a third party to get involved, helping them work through their differences. That’s about it. Paul doesn’t take sides and he declares both of these women as “okay” in both his eyes and in the eyes of the Lord. So, what do we have here? First, there’s the reminder that even the best of God’s people can sometimes fail to get along. God’s people, even the saved and sanctified ones, don’t always agree and sometimes their disagreements can be intense. Second, when we do disagree we’re to do all we can to work through it. That doesn’t necessarily mean that one person yields to the other, although it may mean exactly that. At some point, two Christians need to say, “We’ve got to work through this, otherwise, we’ll be diminished for it and Christ’s kingdom will suffer.” Third, sometimes it takes a third party, a mutual friend, respected by both to get the ball rolling. To tell the truth, I wouldn’t want to be Syzgus here. His name means “yokefellow,” thus, “co-worker.” What man wants to get between two women who need to “iron out their differences and make up”? The answer is: the kind of man who’s a real friend of, and is respected by, both women. Paul gives this good man the assignment of bringing these two together to work things out, not because their salvation’s in jeopardy, but because the journey is better together than it is apart, and, because when we’re real “yokefellows” we can accomplish more for God.
Take Away: If there’s an unresolved issue between you and a fellow Christian, don’t pass “go” and “don’t collect $200” until you’ve gone to them and worked it out.
What does it mean to have a genuine relationship with Christ?
Philippians 3: I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally.
A friend of mine commented that he was preparing to do a certain thing. His intention wasn’t to do something bad but it seemed to me that there was a superior course of action. In an off handed remark I asked, “Have you asked the Lord about it?” His response was, “Oh, the Lord understands.” Later, I found myself thinking about the exchange in view of my own life. How often do I do whatever I want to do with the attitude: “It’s okay, the Lord understands.” Tell you what; I don’t treat my wife that way. When I’m thinking about taking some out of the ordinary action I talk it over with her. Most of the time I could probably go ahead and she would “understand” but the thing is that we have a relationship with one another that includes our respecting each other and valuing one another’s opinions on things. Surely, I should have a similar respectful, intimate relationship with the Lord. There’s a place for prayers along the lines of, “Lord, I’m thinking about doing this, what do you think?” The Apostle says he gave up a lot of stuff that he might have a personal relationship with Jesus. If I want to have a vital, real, living relationship with Jesus one of the things I must give up is having a self-willed, presumptive attitude toward him.
Take Away: Do we treat the Lord as a real person or as some abstract idea?
Thank God for spiritual heroes
Philippians 2: Give him a grand welcome, a joyful embrace!
When the church at Philippi heard about Paul’s imprisonment they wanted to do something tangible to help him. They decided to send one of their own, a man named Epaphroditus, to Paul, likely carrying an offering for him. The arrival of this good man warmed Paul’s heart, greatly encouraging him. Then, to his dismay Epaphroditus became ill, sick enough to die. Although it was touch and go for a while Epaphroditus recovered completely. Now, Paul’s writing a letter to the Philippian church and he intends to have Epaphroditus deliver it, returning home. The Apostle tells them that Epaphroditus is a real hero, a great man of God. He urges them to give him a hero’s welcome, telling them “people like him deserve the best you can give.” As I read about Epaphroditus today I’m reminded of some spiritual giants I’ve known in my life. A few of them are well known, at least in some circles. They’ve received a fair amount of deserved recognition. Several, though, never made it to the big stage. In my case, they’re some pastors I’ve known, either during my growing up years or as co-workers in the Kingdom. Some of these good people never pastored large churches and as far as I know never received any denominational rewards. Still, they’ve encouraged me and I’ve seen in them the heart of Jesus for their people. Today I remember a pastor who took time to sit down with a boy to explain sanctification in a way he could begin to grasp. I also remember a pastor who always had a smile on his face and a kind word to say to others even though he was going through some hard times. These are spiritual heroes who deserve a “grand welcome, a joyful embrace!”
Take Away: Thank God for the spiritual heroes who have influenced your life.
Watching others preach the gospel
Philippians 1: I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives.
The first one out there, traveling from city to city preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ was Paul. He’s already a living legend among the Christians. For over twenty years he’s been faithful through thick and thin, through good days and bad. Actually, he doesn’t label “good and bad” as most people do. Right now he’s in jail and you’d think he’d call that “bad.” Instead, he happily explains that his being locked up has resulted in a lot of good things. People who wouldn’t have heard the gospel otherwise have literally come to him asking him to tell them about Jesus. Others, who’ve been timid about their faith before have been inspired by his faithfulness and have stepped forward to tell others about the Lord. A few have mistakenly concluded that with Paul locked up there’s a leadership void and are trying to fill his shoes, preaching about the Lord in hopes of gaining a leadership foothold in the church. That last group causes the great Apostle to reflect a bit on what it’s all about. Obviously, he doesn’t want false teachers out there preaching a false gospel. However, these folks, he’s concluded, are on target with their preaching and are only off target with their ambitions. Paul’s conclusion is that that stuff doesn’t matter as long as the gospel’s being preached. I can’t help but be impressed by Paul’s mature, focused attitude here. He’s willing to give up his freedom and his reputation if it serves to advance the cause of Christ. I’m reminded today that the Lord can accomplish great things through a person who doesn’t necessarily need to get the credit for what’s done.
Take Away: We do our best, leaving the results in the hands of the Lord.
Not a walk in the park
Ephesians 6: Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own.
Several years ago a popular song included the phrase “I beg your pardon; I never promised you a rose garden.” Know what? That’s life in general and, in light of this passage, the Christian life in particular. Paul writes this passage from jail. He warns his readers that they have an enemy who’s intent on destroying them. Their spiritual journey is no game and how they live in the here and now has eternal consequences. If a person starts out living for the Lord thinking it’s going to be a stroll in a rose garden they’re in for some unpleasant surprises. The Apostle focuses on spiritual adversaries, unseen but real. It’s not unreasonable to add the common inconveniences and out and out tragedies of life to this mix. I’m not to be naive about all this. There are times when it becomes clear that I’m up against far more than I can handle. Happily, the Lord hasn’t put us out here in real life without some resources. Paul urges us to take advantage of many powerful resources that are at our fingertips. He reminds us that “Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words.” He directs us to God’s Word and prayer. It’s no rose garden, but I have everything I need to live a victorious, overcoming life.
Take Away: Life isn’t always easy but it’s important to remember the Lord’s faithful provision for us.