Ignore at Your Own Peril

20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
    in the markets she raises her voice;
21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
    at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
    and fools hate knowledge?
23 If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
    I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused to listen,
    have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
25 because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when terror strikes you,
27 when terror strikes you like a storm
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel
    and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
    and have their fill of their own devices.
32 For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
    and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” Proverbs 1:20-33 ESV

In order to help his son grasp the vital importance of wisdom, Solomon attempts to bring the inanimate concept to life by personifying it as someone traversing the streets of a busy city, desperately trying to get the attention of all those mindlessly going about their daily lives.

Wisdom shouts in the streets.
    She cries out in the public square. – Proverbs 1:20 NLT

From one place to the next, this “woman” directs her cries to three distinct groups of people: simpletons, mockers, and fools. A simpleton is someone who is naive and dangerously open minded. They lack discernment and the ability to determine what is right or wrong. These kinds of people are prone to believe just about anything and, as a result, are easily misled. You might describe them as gullible or an easy mark. And “Wisdom” questions why they seem to be perfectly fine with their simpleminded ways.

“How long, you simpletons,
    will you insist on being simpleminded? – Proverbs 1:22 NLT

But they show no interest in anything “Wisdom” has to offer. They display no desire to grow up or wise up. They’re confidently content and, in many ways, even complacent. To their own detriment. Wisdom sadly states the folly of their ways:

“…simpletons turn away from me—to death.” – Proverbs 1:32 NLT

The next group Wisdom addresses are the scoffers or mockers. These are boastful and arrogant individuals who dismiss the counsel of others. They are full of themselves and convinced that they have nothing to learn from anyone else. And Wisdom confronts them with a question that is designed to expose their stubborn resistance to input from others. The NET Bible Study Notes describes them this way: “They are cynical and defiant freethinkers who ridicule the righteous and all for which they stand.”

These people are scornful and dismissive of anyone who might try to point them in the right direction. You might say that they’re too big for their britches or too high and mighty to accept the counsel of someone they deem as inferior to themselves. Wisdom describes them as those who  “would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof” (Proverbs 1:30 ESV). Because they think they know everything, they’re unteachable and, therefore, incorrigible. The Proverbs are full of less-than-flattering assessments of this particular group of people.

…a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. – Proverbs 13:1 ESV

Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get an insult in return…
So don’t bother correcting mockers; they will only hate you. – Proverbs 9:7-8 NLT

Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out,
    and quarreling and abuse will cease. – Proverbs 22:10 ESV

The third group Wisdom addresses are the fools. This term is used throughout the Proverbs, but in at least five different forms. In this case, Solomon uses the Hebrew word, kᵊsîl, which refers to a “stupid fellow, dullard, simpleton” (Outline of Biblical Usage). He doesn’t have a mental deficiency, but rather he suffers from a moral one. And his immoral behavior brings him satisfaction rather than shame.

This kind of fool rejects the discipline of parents or other authorities in his life. He seems stubbornly determined to make the wrong kinds of choices, even to his own detriment. His focus is on whatever brings him immediate pleasure. And he is to be avoided at all costs. Wisdom summarizes the fool by stating that he despises knowledge. He finds it repulsive and rejects it as unworthy of his time or effort. In fact, another Proverb declares that “to turn away from evil is an abomination to fools” (Proverbs 13:19 ESV).

That’s why Solomon portrays Wisdom as summarizing the sad but unavoidable outcome of the fool’s chosen path of life.

“For they hated knowledge
    and chose not to fear the Lord.
They rejected my advice
    and paid no attention when I corrected them.
Therefore, they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way,
    choking on their own schemes.” – Proverbs 1:29-31 ESV

And the saddest part of all is that Wisdom has persistently called and pleaded with all three groups.

“Come and listen to my counsel.
I’ll share my heart with you
    and make you wise.” – Proverbs 1:23 NLT

But the simpleton, scoffer, and fool repeatedly reject the offer and seal their fate. When Wisdom calls, they refuse to come. When she reaches out, they pay her no attention. They arrogantly ignore her advice and spurn her counsel. And in each case, they make a choice to reject all that Wisdom has to offer. The simpleton could choose to become wise, but decides to remain just as he is. The scoffer could embrace all that Wisdom has to offer, but mocks her advice as unnecessary and unworthy of his attention. The fool could choose to learn and grow wise, but makes the painful choice to suffer the consequences of his folly.

So, eventually, the voice of Wisdom grows silent. She stops calling and offering. She stops pleading and promising. And sadly, the say comes when Wisdom stands back and witnesses the inevitable fall of the simpleton, scoffer, and fool.

“So I will laugh when you are in trouble!
    I will mock you when disaster overtakes you—
when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
    when disaster engulfs you like a cyclone,
    and anguish and distress overwhelm you.” – Proverbs 1:26-27 NLT

It is not that Wisdom takes joy in the fall of the wicked, but that the justice of God is always fulfilled. The opportunity to grow in wisdom was freely offered and summarily dismissed. The chance to benefit from all that God has promised was made available but rejected as worthless. And that bad choice has even worse consequences. And Wisdom reveals that the less-than-ideal outcomes facing all three are of their own choosing. They brought it on themselves.

“For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them…” – Proverbs 1:32 ESV

Yet, Solomon wants his son to know that there is hope. It doesn’t have to turn out poorly. The future doesn’t have to be bleak and marked by death and destruction. All he has to do is listen. That was Solomon’s original plea to his son.

“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
    and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
    and pendants for your neck.” – Proverbs 1:8-9 ESV

And what Solomon and his wife are offering their son is wisdom – the wisdom of the ages but, more importantly, the wisdom of God.

“…but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
    and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” – Proverbs 1:33 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Wisdom of God

The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:

To know wisdom and instruction,
    to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
    in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
    knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
    and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:1-7 ESV

The Hebrew Bible takes the title for this book from the opening line: “The Proverbs of Solomon, the Son of David, King in Israel.” But that is somewhat of a misnomer because many of the proverbs contained within the book were not actually written by Solomon. Many of the proverbs bear his name and authorship, while others are the work of others, such as Agur (Proverbs 30), King Lemuel (Proverbs 31), and various unnamed “wise men.” If anything, Solomon played the dual role of contributor and editor, collecting and compiling the 31 proverbs into their current form. It seems that many of the wisdom sayings found in the book that bears his name were composed long before Solomon was born. Some of them can be traced to earlier Mesopotamian and Egyptian books of wisdom.

This collection of wisdom sayings was intended to provide the people of Israel with time-tested maxims that they could use to manage their lives and relationships.

“The Book of Proverbs is about godly wisdom, how to get it and how to use it. It’s about priorities and principles, not get-rich-quick schemes or success formulas. It tells you, not how to make a living, but how to be skillful in the lost art of making a life.” – Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Skillful

Throughout the book, the topic of wisdom is elevated to a place of prominence and ever personified as a woman calling out to anyone who would avail himself of the gifts she has to offer.

Listen as Wisdom calls out!
    Hear as understanding raises her voice!
On the hilltop along the road,
    she takes her stand at the crossroads.
By the gates at the entrance to the town,
    on the road leading in, she cries aloud,
“I call to you, to all of you!
    I raise my voice to all people.
You simple people, use good judgment.
    You foolish people, show some understanding.
Listen to me! For I have important things to tell you. – Proverbs 8:1-6 NLT

In the first seven proverbs, the messages they contain are written from the perspective of a loving father addressing his young son.

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction – Proverbs 1:8 ESV

My child, listen to what I say,
    and treasure my commands. – Proverbs 2:1 NLT

My son, do not forget my teaching,
    but let your heart keep my commandments – Proverbs 3:1 ESV

Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
    and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
    do not forsake my teaching. – Proverbs 4:1-2 ESV

“In its basic form, the proverb is an ancient saying that takes wisdom and endows it with youthful vigor. In a few, piquant phrases the proverb capsulizes a practical idea or truth in such a way as to lift the common-place to a new level of mental consciousness. It reweaves the threadbare idea and shows the ordinary to be quite extraordinary.

“Fundamental to the proverbial form [genre] is the fact that it bears a truth that has been tested by time.” – C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Poetic Books of the Old Testament

Solomon had an affinity for this topic because he had been endowed by God with wisdom greater than that of any man who had ever lived.

And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all other men… – 1 Kings 4:29-31 ESV

And not only was Solomon wise, but he was also extremely wealthy and powerful. He had been born the privileged son of the powerful and popular King David. As the son of the king and the successor to his father’s throne, Solomon had been raised in the palace and surrounded by luxury. As he would later confess, his life was one of excess and unmitigated success.

I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!

So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. – Ecclesiastes 2:4-10 ESV

After ascending to his father’s throne, Solomon became a man conflicted by his unparalleled wisdom and his insatiable desire to find meaning in life. He had everything and, yet, he remained unfulfilled. He would later admit, “I am wiser than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. I have greater wisdom and knowledge than any of them” (Ecclesiastes 1:16 ESV), but this led him to lament, “The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18 ESV).

Solomon grew to recognize that wisdom alone was insufficient. Wisdom unapplied was not only useless but futile. It led to frustration and a life of fruitlessness. So, Solomon went about collecting the wisdom of the ages and compiled it into a concise compendium designed to provide insight and meaning for life.

Solomon makes it perfectly clear why he took the time to pen the Proverbs.

Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and knowledge, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young…” – Proverbs 1:2-4 NLT

It sounds as if Solomon is putting together a self-help manual aimed at teaching people how to get smarter so that they can be more successful in life. But then he qualifies his purpose statement with a non-negotiable requirement. It all begins with a healthy fear of God. The Proverbs are not just a collection of wise and pithy statements designed to increase our wisdom and improve our lives, but they are a reminder to make God the focus of our lives. He is the sole source of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. He alone gives insight to the simple and knowledge and discernment to the young.

The wisdom described in the Proverbs is a byproduct of a relationship with God. It cannot be achieved any other way. Ignoring God will leave us ignorant. When Solomon says that fools despise wisdom and discipline, he is describing those who reject God. By turning their back on God and refusing to live according to His terms, they reject the very things they need to succeed in this life. They miss out on the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding He alone can provide. But it all begins with a fear of God. The NET Bible describes the fear of the Lord this way: “The fear of the Lord is the foundation for wisdom (9:10) and the discipline leading to wisdom (15:33). It is expressed in hatred of evil (8:13) and avoidance of sin (16:6), and so results in prolonged life (10:27; 19:23).”

The fear of the Lord is marked by an understanding of who God is – His holiness, righteousness, wrath, justice, power, sovereignty, love, grace, and mercy. To fear God is to show Him reverence and awe. It is an acknowledgment of His majesty and might. It is a recognition of His holiness and hatred of sin. A healthy fear of God prevents us from taking God for granted and treating Him with contempt.

Solomon describes those who refuse to fear God as simpleminded, mockers, and fools. “They hated knowledge and chose not to fear the Lord” (Proverbs 1:29 NLT). To refuse to fear God is to refuse all that God has to offer – including wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Those who reject God “must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way, choking on their own schemes” (Proverbs 1:31 NLT). No one plans to live his life as a fool. Every person on the planet wants to live wisely and successfully. But unless they seek God and start with Him, they will never achieve their goal. “For simpletons turn away from me – to death. Fools are destroyed by their own complacency. But all who listen to me will live in peace, untroubled by fear of harm” (Proverbs 1:32-33 NLT). Wisdom is an attribute of God. He is all-knowing, all-wise. All that there is to know and understand is found in Him. Find Him and You will discover all you need to live a disciplined and successful life.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Live Like Who You Are

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:17-24 ESV

Paul has made perfectly clear his expectation of the Ephesian believers. They were to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 ESV). He was demanding that they display the kind of maturity that accompanies faith in Christ. Through the efforts of faithful apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers, they had been equipped to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11). And they were to busy about “building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12 ESV), so that  each of them might increase in maturity and no longer respond like gullible and easily manipulated children.

And this led Paul to call the Ephesians to put their pasts behind them. They were no longer to live according to their former standards or reflect their old way of life.

Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. – Ephesians 4:17 NLT

Here, Paul is referring to those who outside the family of God. His use of the term, “Gentiles” is meant to include all those who have failed to place their faith in Christ. Many within the congregation to which Paul was writing were actually Gentiles or non-Jews. But his point was that even those who were considered Gentiles before coming to faith in Christ, were now members of God’s family. They had been adopted as His sons and daughters and were His beloved children. And, as such, they were expected to live out their new identity as rightful heirs of the kingdom of God.

Paul was declaring that their new relationship with God should reflect a new allegiance that manifested itself in a new form of behavior. And the apostle Peter promoted this radical change in lifestyle as well.

So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. – 1 Peter 1:14-15 NLT

Notice the words that Paul uses to describe their former state as non-believers: Futile, darkened, alienated, ignorant, hardhearted, callous, sensual, greedy, and impure. Not exactly a flattering list of characteristics. But Paul isn’t emphasizing visible manifestations of outward behavior. He is stressing a way of life that begins in the heart and  flows out in tangible expressions of life change.

There is a link between verse 1 and verse 17 of chapter four. In both verses, Paul uses the Greek word peripateō, which can mean “to walk” or “to live one’s life.” In verse one, Paul urged the Ephesians to “walk (peripateō) in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Then, in verse 17, he states, “you must no longer walk (peripateō) as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.”

Essentially, Paul was telling the Ephesians that it was impossible to do both at the same time. You can’t simultaneously lead a life worthy of your calling and live hopelessly confused like the Gentiles do. It had to be one way or the other, and it was time for the Ephesians to make up their mind which way would characterize their lives. There was a real temptation for those Gentiles within the church in Ephesus to fall back into their old way of living. They were constantly surrounded by friends and family members outside the body of Christ whose behavior reflected their former lifestyle. And it was very tempting to look back on their pre-conversion life and view it through rose-colored glasses. But Paul wants them to see their past as what it was: Dark and far from hopeful. He reminds them that their lost neighbors are hopeless and helpless, trapped in an endless cycle of sin with no way of escape.

Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. – Ephesians 4:18-19 NLT

But the Ephesians knew better. Their eyes had been opened to the truth and their hardened hearts had been softened by the regenerating work of the Spirit of God.

…he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior… – Titus 3:5-6 NLT

They had been transformed from sinners into saints, from enemies of God into His beloved sons and daughters. And they were no longer trapped in darkness and blinded to reality of their own sin and their desperate need for a Savior.

…he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. – Colossians 1:13-14 NLT

So, in keeping with their new status as God’s children, Paul commands them to “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception” (Ephesians 4:22 NLT). They were to treat their former way of life like an old filthy garment and discard it. But removal of their old nature was not enough. It needed to be replaced with something better.

Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. – Ephesians 4:24 NLT

And Paul expands on this spiritual wardrobe change in his letter to the church in Colossae.

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. – Colossians 3:5-10 NLT

Out with the old, in with the new. That’s the gist of Paul is saying. The new lifestyle that God had made possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son was to be far from business-as-usual. By redeeming the Ephesians believers, God had spared them from the judgment to come. Their sins had been forgiven and their eternal life had been secured for them by Christ. And the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God was meant to act as a guarantee that God’s future promises would be fulfilled just as He had said. That’s why Paul encourages the Ephesians to “let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes” (Ephesians 4:23 NLT). Their ongoing transformation would be the work of the Spirit of God, not just the result of their own human effort.

When Paul speaks of putting off and putting on, he is not suggesting that the individual  believer has control over their own sanctification. He is not laying the heavy weight of spiritual maturity on the shoulders of the saints. But he is suggesting that they have a role to play. They must willingly submit to the Spirit’s leading as He lovingly guides their steps. That is why Paul used that Greek word, peripateō when addressing the believer’s relationship with the Spirit of God.

But I say, walk (peripateō) by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.   – Galatians 5:16 ESV

In other words, the believer is to live their life in accordance with the Spirit’s leading. And Paul goes on to explain how every Christian has a daily to choice to either live according to the desires of their old nature or in obedience to the Spirit of God.

The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other – Galatians 5:17 NLT

By submitting to the Spirit, the believer experiences the ongoing renovation of their thoughts and attitudes. They see things differently. They think about things in a whole new way. Their perspective changes. Their outlook on life takes on a whole new light because they no longer live shrouded in a veil of darkness. They are new creations and they should act like. They have new natures and their lives should reflect that reality. They are sons and daughters of God and their lives should bring glory to their heavenly Father.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

A Spiritual Wake-Up Call

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:9-16 ESV

In an attempt to encourage the Ephesian believers, Paul paraphrased a verse from one of King David’s psalms.

You ascended on high,
    leading a host of captives in your train
    and receiving gifts among men… – Psalm 68:18 ESV

As a former Pharisee and a student of the Hebrew scriptures, Paul knew that this passage was written by David as a praise song to God, thanking Him for His divine assistance against Israel’s many enemies. In verse 18 of David’s psalm, he describes gifts being given to God as an expression of gratitude and praise for His divine intervention in their military affairs. But Paul takes this Old Testament passage and repurposes it to drive home his point about God having given the gift of grace to all who believe in His Son (Ephesians 4:7).

“Paul made a valid application of Christological significance to the Old Testament passage. On the one hand, according to Psalm 68:18, God ascended Zion as a victorious king worthy of being the recipient of gifts of homage. On the other hand, according to Ephesians 4:8, Jesus also ascended to the heavenly Zion as the victorious Lord who lovingly bestowed on His church the gifts of ministry essential to her future well-being.” – Bibliotheca Sacra 148:591 (July-September 1991):335-36

In Paul’s application of this verse to the Ephesian context, he portrays Jesus as the one who, having accomplished a mighty victory over the enemy, ascended back into heaven. But rather than receiving gifts from men, Jesus poured out the gift of the Spirit on His church. This gracious outpouring of the Spirit resulted in the provision of divinely-enabled gifts to assist the church in its ministry. Paul mentions just a few of those gifts in verse 11 and explains their purpose.

…he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV

In his other letters, Paul provided a series of lists that contain other gifts provided to the church. They include the speaking gifts such as apostleship, prophecy, teaching, evangelism, exhortation, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues. But he also lists gifts of service that include leadership, helps, mercy, giving, faith, healing, and miracles. Paul fully believed that Jesus had provided His church with everything it needed to not only survive but thrive.

Paul was reminding his readers that Jesus, the Son of God, had descended from on high and taken on the role of a lowly servant. He had left His rightful place at His Father’s side and chosen to take on the form of a man. Paul eloquently described the “descent” of Jesus in his letter to the church in Philippi.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
   he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

And as a result of His incarnation and crucifixion, God raised Jesus from the dead and “elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names” (Philippians 2:9 NLT). And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell and equip His followers with the power to use their God-ordained gifts and display the fruits of a righteous life – all so that the body of Christ might be built up or edified. In his letter to Timothy, Paul described the church as the household of God and “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 NLT). Jesus poured out gifts on the church so that all of its members might be adequately taught and prepared to carry out His mission on earth.

And, according to Paul, the goal of this “work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12 ESV) is the spiritual maturity of every believer. It will continue unabated and uninterrupted until “we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT). This is a lofty and seemingly impossible goal. But Paul’s point is that it is the work of the Spirit, not the flesh. God sent His Son so that sinful humanity might be restored to a right relationship with Him. But Jesus sent the Spirit so that redeemed men and women might have the power they needed to experience the full potentiality of their new nature. Their spiritual transformation was to be ongoing and evidenced by an ever-increasing capacity to thrive in a hostile and often harmful earthly environment. 

In verse 14, Paul telegraphs where he is headed with this line of reasoning. He is preparing his readers to receive a stern but loving lecture regarding false teachers. And he does so by reminding them that their ongoing spiritual maturity is both non-optional and extremely vital. When the members of Christ’s body are growing effectively, they “will no longer be immature like children…tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching,” and they won’t be easily deceived by those who try to trick them “with lies so clever they sound like the truth” (Ephesians 4:14 NLT).

This was all intended as a set-up for Paul’s main point. He is preparing the Ephesian believers to receive his not-so-flattering assessment of their current spiritual condition. In a sense, Paul is describing them as immature children who are being tossed about by every wind of new teaching. Rather than growing up in their salvation, they have remained like helpless and defenseless children who lack discretion and discipline.

According to Paul’s assessment, the Ephesian church was not where it needed to be spiritually. The leaders of the church were not effectively doing their job of equipping “God’s people to do his work” (Ephesians 4:12 NLT). And, as a result, God’s people were not edifying one another and strengthening the body of Christ. Paul calls them to course correct, demanding that they “speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT). They needed to express their love for one another by being honest in their assessment of one another. There is a sense in which love must be hard and unforgiving, pointing out the flaws and failings of one another so that the body of Christ might be healthy and whole. Paul is recommending the truth found in Proverbs 27:6: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” He is echoing the sentiment expressed by King David in another one of his psalms.

Let the righteous man strike me; let his rebuke be an act of loving devotion. It is oil for my head; let me not refuse it.

Paul’s heartfelt desire was that the Ephesians would experience all the gifts that Christ had poured out on their behalf. He wanted them to experience the unity that Christ had died to make possible. He longed for them to display the spiritual maturity that the Spirit made available. And he prayed continually that their lives would reflect the character of Christ that God’s grace had made attainable. As far as Paul was concerned, there was no reason for the Ephesians to be living in doubt, fear, immaturity, disunity, or impurity. God had provided everything they needed. He had done His part. He had sent His Son and His Son had sent the Spirit. Now, it was up to them to live out what God had ordained for them.

He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. – Ephesians 4:16 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

But God…

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV

Paul put a strong emphasis on the future but he never forgot the past. When addressing believers, he strived to stress the eternal significance of their redemption. He wanted them to understand that their faith in Christ had both immediate and long-term implications. They could enjoy the present benefits of a restored relationship with God, as revealed by the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
But the Spirit was also intended as a sign or proof of their inheritance to come (Ephesians 1:13-14).

But Paul knew that, in order for believers to truly appreciate the present and future blessings of God, they must constantly recall their former condition as enemies of God. There was a time when all followers of Christ stood on the other side of the door of grace. As Paul will remind the Ephesians believers in the very next section of his letter, “In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope” (Ephesians 2:12 NLT). This is the very same message he gave to the believers in Galatia.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. – Galatians 4:8 ESV

Paul understood the power of recall. He knew that an accurate memory of the past was essential if the Ephesians were going to cultivate an appreciation for all that God had accomplished on their behalf. Looking back could provide a much-needed reminder of just how gracious God had been. Their salvation had been undeserved. They had been enemies of God, living in open rebellion to His will and ways. And Paul pulls no punches in describing the desperate state of their former condition.

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. – Ephesians 2:1-2 NLT

Paul believed that having a healthy and honest view of the past was essential for understanding the glorious nature of God’s gift of salvation. Jesus had not come to redeem the righteous. He had not sacrificed His life on behalf of the good and the godly, but for those who were sin-enslaved and recognized their need for a Savior. On one occasion, when the Pharisees ridiculed Jesus for associating with notorious sinners, He responded, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Mark 2:17 NLT).

Paul’s mention of the devil was intended to stress the former enslavement of the Ephesian believers. Before coming to faith in Christ, they had not been free to do as they pleased. They had been the slaves to Satan himself, “the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God” (Ephesians 2:2 NLT). In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul described the sinister role of Satan in sobering terms.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

And Paul’s obsession with Satan’s enslavement of the lost was well-founded. It was based on the message he had received from Jesus at the time of his conversion on the road to Damascus. He shared the details of this encounter in his trial before King Agrippa.

“And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. Tell people that you have seen me, and tell them what I will show you in the future. And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’” – Acts 26:15-18 NLT

Paul’s commission from Jesus had been to help set captives free. His entire ministry had been to bring good news, to open the eyes of the blind, and to set the captives free. And Paul knew that, in doing so, he was simply continuing the ministry of Jesus Himself. When Jesus appeared at the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, He had read a passage from the scroll of Isaiah the prophet.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
   and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

And when He had finished, Jesus had sat down and calmly but boldly declared, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT). Now, Paul was carrying on the mission that Jesus had begun. He had been tasked with the job of setting captives free and, somewhat ironically, his efforts had earned him imprisonment in Rome. Yet, he continued to use his pen to proclaim the glorious nature of the freedom made possible through faith in Christ. And he reminded the Ephesians that every believer, including himself, had at one time been a slave to Satan and an enemy of God, “following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else” (Ephesians 2:3 NLT).

But God…

Those two simple words form one of the most powerful and impactful sentences in the entire Bible. Paul reveled in the idea of God’s undeserved, yet undeniable intervention in mankind’s desperate condition.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) – Ephesians 2:4-5 NLT

Mercy, love, grace. Those three words form the foundation of Paul’s thinking on this matter. God showered sinful, enslaved humanity mercy (undeserved kindness). He poured out His unselfish, sacrificial love on those who deserved His justice and wrath. And it was all a display of His unmerited favor (grace) and lovingkindness.

Paul wanted the Ephesians to understand that their salvation had been totally undeserved. They had done nothing worthy of God’s love, mercy, and grace. Their transformation from enemies of God to sons and daughters of God had been the work of God alone. And Paul is unapologetic in his defense of God’s sovereign role in the salvation of sinful humanity.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. – Ephesians 2:8 NLT

This point is essential to Paul’s argument, which is why he repeats it three separate times.

It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved! – vs 5

So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us – vs 7

God saved you by his grace when you believed. – vs 8

For Paul, one of the greatest sins a believer can commit is to attempt to rob God of glory by taking credit for something He alone has done. That is why he places so much emphasis on salvation being a gift and not a reward. It is not earned or merited. It is not a form of payment for services rendered.

Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:9 NLT

And yet, believers find it so easy to take credit for something over which they had no control. Their only role was to receive that which was freely given. Their blinded eyes were opened by God. The chains that once bound them were broken by God. The sins that once condemned them were forgiven by God. Their remarkable transformation had been the work of a loving, gracious, and merciful God.

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. – Colossians 2:13-14 NLT

And there had been a divine purpose behind this radical reformation of their lives. The gift of salvation was not to be wasted or squandered. Their new identity as God’s chosen people was not to be taken lightly or treated flippantly. God had an objective in mind. His redemptive plan was not arbitrary or pointless. And Paul reminds the Ephesians that they were literal works of art, God’s “workmanship” (poieme). They were like priceless masterpieces, created by the hand of the Creator-God, and intended to bring Him glory. And the greatest way God’s people can bring Him glory is by doing what He redeemed them to do.

He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:9 NLT

No longer slaves to sin, the Ephesians were free to do the will of God. With their eyes opened, they could clearly see. With their chains broken, they could freely serve. With their former sins forgiven, they could gratefully obey. They were new creations designed to live new lives in the power of the Spirit of God. And God had important work for them to do.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Power to Spare

15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:15-23 ESV

After having summed up all the blessings that come by God’s grace through the gift of His Son and guaranteed by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, Paul expresses his profound joy for the faith of the Ephesian believers. They have been blessed by God and Jesus Christ “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3 ESV). They have been chosen by God and predestined for adoption as His children. They have been redeemed, forgiven, and have obtained an eternal inheritance as sons and daughters of God. And they had received the Holy Spirit as a seal and a guarantee of that inheritance, all because they had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed” (Ephesians 1:13 ESV).

With all that in mind, Paul tells the Ephesians how grateful he is for the faith and love they display because it gives evidence of their salvation. Their lives provide ample proof that they have been set apart by God, but Paul declares that he constantly prays that God will give them spiritual wisdom and insight so that they might continue to increase in their knowledge of God. Paul’s persistent prayer for them was for a growing understanding of who God was and all that He was doing in their lives. God had revealed Himself to them through His Son but there was so much more they needed to know. Even their knowledge of Christ was limited and in need of constant development.

Paul knew that their rudimentary knowledge of God and His Son had been sufficient for them to understand the nature of salvation. But there was so much more they needed to know if they were going to fully appreciate and appropriate their access into God’s presence. There was a natural and necessary progression that needed to take place in their relationship with God. And Paul continually prayed for God to do what only He could do: Make Himself known and knowable.

“To know God personally is salvation (John 17:3). To know Him increasingly is sanctification (Philippians 3:10). To know Him perfectly is glorification (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).” – Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary

Paul’s request entailed far more than mere mental assent. He was not interested in head knowledge, an academic understanding of God, and His attributes. No, Paul was praying for an intimate and intensely personal knowledge of God that would result in greater faith and an ever-increasing willingness to obey His will. Those who fail to get to know God well will always have difficulty trusting and relying upon Him. Their perceptions of Him will remain one-dimensional and prone to misunderstanding and susceptible to misrepresentation. Those who hold a shallow understanding of God will tend to have a faith that lacks depth and breadth.

Paul’s prayer included three specific requests. First, he asked that God would help them grasp the significance of the hope to which they had been chosen. God had elected them for a purpose and He had great things in store for them. And while their redemption and forgiveness of sins were remarkable gifts from God, there were far greater blessings awaiting them. This life was not all there was. Their current state would not be their final state. For Paul, the good news concerning Christ always included the initial gift of salvation but also the reality of the believer’s ongoing sanctification, and the hope of future glorification. Those who have been saved are in the constant state of being saved until God completes the process with the final act of their salvation – their glorification.

Secondly, Paul constantly prayed that they would understand their status as God’s inheritance. Not only would they inherit all the blessings God had in store for them, but they would one day be received by God as His inheritance. They belonged to God because He had purchased them with the blood of His Son. And yet, as long as they lived on this earth, they were physically separated from their adoptive Father. But Paul wanted them to know that the day was coming when they would be ushered into the very throne room of God and greeted with open arms by their Heavenly Father. The apostle John describes this marvelous scene in the book of Revelation.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” – Revelation 3:3-4 NLT

Third, Paul prays that they will come to “understand the incredible greatness of God’s power” (Ephesians 1:19 NLT) available to all those who have placed their faith in His Son. Once again, salvation from sins is a marvelous gift from God, but He has so much more He wants to do for His children. He has provided them with access to the full scope of His power and might through the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit. This was the “power from on high” that Jesus promised to give His followers (Luke 24:49).

In a sense, Paul is emphasizing the divine enablement available to all believers through the gift of the Holy Spirit. God has saved us from our past – delivering us from condemnation and death. He has guaranteed us our future – promising us the hope of eternal life. But He has also provided us with the power to preserve us for the present.

“By making us His inheritance, God has shown His love. By promising us a wonderful future, He has encouraged our hope. Paul offered something to challenge our faith: ‘the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe’ (Ephesians 1:19).” – Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary

The Ephesian believers had already experienced the love of God, as expressed through the gracious gift of His Son. And they had hope for the future because of the unwavering promises of God. But as they lived their lives in the present, Paul knew that they would need to avail themselves of the power of God so that their faith in God would continue to increase. Paul understood that faith, hope, and love were each essential to the Christian faith. That is why he wrote to the believers in Corinth, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT).

He prefaced this statement with an entire chapter on the preeminence of love. Spiritual gifts practiced without love were meaningless. Power displayed without love was potentially harmful, and not helpful. Knowledge of the secret things of God may be impressive but it would prove worthless without love. Faith that could move mountains but was unmoved by love for others was of no value. And then he added, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely” (1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT).

The day will come when the believer’s knowledge of God will be complete and perfected. But in the meantime, Paul desired that every child of God would grow in their knowledge and understanding of God and His ways. Paul wanted them to avail themselves of God’s power so that they might grow in their knowledge of His goodness and greatness. The very same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead was present in each of the Ephesian believers in the form of the Holy Spirit. They possessed all the power they needed to live the Christian life. That is exactly what Peter meant when he wrote, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

And Paul reminds the Ephesians that when Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of God’s Spirit, He returned to His Father’s side in heaven. And, as a result of His resurrection and ascension, Jesus enjoyed unprecedented authority, “far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come” (Ephesians 1:21 NLT). And the power that Jesus wields is for the benefit of the church, His body.

Paul wanted the Ephesians to understand that the power of God, delegated to His Son, was available to them through the indwelling presence of the Spirit. And the place where that power was to be on constant display was right here on the earth. The resurrection power of the Spirit of God was at their constant disposal. And every time the church avails itself of that power, the resurrection of Christ is visualized and God is glorified.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Let’s Get Practical

18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

1 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. Colossians 3:18-4:1 ESV

Paul now takes those other-oriented, selfless, and love-motivated character traits and applies them to everyday life. And since he was writing to believers living in Colossae, he customized his words for their particular context. He wanted them to know what seeking and setting their minds on things that are above would look like on a daily basis. He wasn’t promoting some kind of ethereal and impractical brand of religious pietism and asceticism. No, he was recommending a highly practical brand of faith that revealed the transformative nature of the gospel in everyday life. They were to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10 ESV). As chosen ones of God, they were to put on “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12 ESV). But none of these “add-ons” would be effective without love.

…put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony… – Colossians 3:14 ESV

And since God is love and He best expressed that love through the gift of His Son, Paul called the Colossians to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17 ESV). But what does that look like? How were they supposed to make these powerful admonitions practical? Well, Paul makes it plain and simple for them. And he begins with the family unit, one of the most foundational and universal arenas of relationship in this life.

The family was God’s idea. It was He who originated and ordained the union of one man and one woman, creating an indissoluble bond between them as husband and wife. The creation account found in the opening chapters of Genesis records God’s creation of the first marriage.

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
    because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. – Genesis 2:21-24 ESV

And Jesus Himself confirmed the validity of the Genesis account by stating, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6 ESV).

So, Paul begins at the beginning, with the family unit. He calls believing wives to submit to their believing husbands. But he adds an important, yet often overlooked, distinction: “as is fitting in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18 ESV). The New Living Translation puts it this way: “as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord.”

For Paul, the use of the word “submission” was directly linked to his call that all believers conduct themselves with compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. If ever there was ever a relationship where those characteristics were necessary, it was that of a husband and wife. So, he calls wives to lovingly, humbly, meekly, and patiently relate to their husbands in such a way that honors their role as the God-appointed head of the household. Paul provided additional insight into the headship role of the husband when writing to the church in Ephesus.

…submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. – Ephesians 5:21-24 NLT

The biblical concept of submission has nothing to do with superiority or inferiority. Paul is not suggesting that women are somehow second-class citizens. He is simply articulating the divinely-ordained concept of headship within the family unit. Just as Christ is the head of the church, the believing husband is given responsibility for the well-being of his family. And that responsibility comes with a heavy dose of accountability.

Paul made it painfully clear that one of the primary leadership responsibilities of a godly husband was to selflessly love his wife. And, once again, Paul provides further clarity in his letter to the church in Ephesus.

…this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. – Ephesians 5:25-26 NLT

In order to lovingly, graciously submit to her husband, a wife would have to surrender her pride and natural desire for autonomy. In other words, she would have to “put off the old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9 ESV). Submission doesn’t come naturally or easily. It requires a sacrifice of the human will. In order for anyone to submit in a way that “is fitting for those who belong to the Lord” (Colossians 3:18 NLT), they will have to “put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within” (Colossians 3:18 NLT). And according to Peter, submission isn’t something that is reserved for wives alone.

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God – 1 Peter 2:13-15 ESV

The life of a believer, regardless of their gender, is to be marked by an attitude of humble submission to others – for this is the will of God. And, according to Paul, one of the greatest displays of death-to-self was to be a husband’s selfless expression of love for his wife. He was to put his wife’s life ahead of his own. He was to be willing to die on her behalf.

At the core of Paul’s teaching on submission was the idea of humility versus pride. There was no place for self-aggrandizement in the life of a believer.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:3-4 BSB

Even children had a part to play in God’s divine order for the home. They were to obey their parents in everything. Why? Because this was pleasing to the Lord. It was in keeping with His divine will. And a child’s obedience was a form of submission to the God-ordained authority of their parents. Again, this is not normal or natural. As the proverb states, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child…” (Proverbs 22:15 BSB).

And it’s interesting to note that disobedience to children was one of the characteristics Paul listed when describing the future state of the world in the last days.

You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. – 2 Timothy 3:1-4 NLT

But, according to Paul, an obedient child is the byproduct of a loving and godly father.

Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged. – Colossians 3:21 NLT

That same proverb goes on to say, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” Yet, too much discipline, done in an unloving and heavy-handed manner can do more harm than good. It can cause a child to become discouraged. Discipline that is unloving and lacking in compassion can lead a child to become disinterested in trying to obey. It can actually result in rebellion rather than submission. So, Paul warns fathers to use their role as heads of their households with care.

Next, Paul moves from addressing the family unit to dealing with another relationship that was a ubiquitous part of the Colossian community: Slavery. While we find this topic uncomfortable and somewhat off-putting, it was a normal part of everyday life for the citizens of Colossae.

Scholars estimate about 10% (but possibly up to 20%) of the Roman empire’s population were enslaved. This would mean, for an estimated Roman empire population of 50 million (in the first century AD) between five and ten million were enslaved. This number would have been unequally distributed across the empire, with a higher concentration of enslaved people in urban areas and in Italy. – © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Slavery was an everyday part of daily life in Colossae. Yet Paul doesn’t attempt to address the moral implications of slavery. Instead, he tried to show the Colossian believers how their new identity in Christ should impact every area of life. The reality was that slaves were coming to faith in Christ and becoming a part of the local congregation of believers. It was highly likely that the church in Colossae had slaves attending worship services with their own masters. And this presented a particularly difficult problem for Paul and the leadership of the church. How were these people supposed to relate to one another? How was their mutual relationship with Christ to impact their interpersonal relationship with one another?

Paul addresses both parties. He tells slaves, “obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord” (Colossians 3:22 NLT). And he tells masters, “be just and fair to your slaves. Remember that you also have a Master—in heaven” (Colossians 4:1 NLT).

Notice his emphasis on God. Both parties were to recognize that their earthly relationship with one another had been dramatically altered by their new identity in Christ. While nothing had changed regarding their earthly status, Paul wanted them to know that God viewed them in a whole new light.

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. – Colossians 3:11 NLT

There is an invaluable and universal lesson to be learned from Paul’s words to slaves. These were individuals who had no choice regarding their condition. Their position as slaves required that they submit, whether they wanted to or not. But Paul challenged them to take a different attitude.

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. – Colossians 3:23-24 NLT

And this applied to every believer in the local church in Colossae. It’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2 ESV). A slave was to live his life with an eternal perspective, knowing that his current circumstance was temporal. There was a reward awaiting him that made his present suffering pale in comparison. And that heavenly-minded, future-focused perspective was to motivate the life of every believer in Colossae, regardless of their gender, race, or social status.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Addition By Subtraction

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 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 3:12-17ESV

In verse 5, Paul tells the Colossians to put to death (nekroō) give things: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness. Now, in verse 12, he tells them to put on (endyō) five things: compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. The first list was meant to represent the traits that characterized their old natures, prior to their salvation. It was not intended to be an exhaustive list and Paul was not suggesting that each of the Colossian believers had been guilty of all of these vices. He was simply pointing out the kinds of immoral behaviors that characterized their lives before coming to faith in Christ.

The first list seems to focus on sins that are particularly self-centered and focused on satisfying sexual passions or ungodly desires.

Sexual immorality (porneia) is a rather broad term that can refer to illicit sexual intercourse but was also used to cover such things as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, and intercourse with animals

Impurity (akatharsia) refers to uncleanness in any form, but in a moral sense: the impurity of lustful, luxurious, and profligate living.

Passion (pathos) was a word the Greeks used that had both positive and negative characteristics. But its presence on this list suggests that Paul is referring to depraved or vile passions.

Evil desire (epithymian kaken) is a craving for that which is forbidden. It is a legitimate longing that chooses an illegitimate object as its focus.

Greed (pleonexian) is the desire to acquire more by fraudulent means. It is a form of dissatisfaction that constantly craves more, even at the expense of others.

Not only are these traits earthly and immoral, but they are also self-centered and completely devoid of concern for others. They represent a blatant disregard for God and others and fly in the face of the greatest commandment as described by Jesus.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:37-39 ESV

Paul’s first list describes the me-focused state of fallen humanity. All those who have not experienced a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ are incapable of loving God and others because their sinful natures are driven by an uncontrollable and insatiable love of self. But even followers of Christ must recognize that the sinful characteristics that marked their pre-salvation state have not all been eradicated. The old sin nature remains and must be dealt with decisively and repeatedly.

“The Christian must kill self-centeredness; he must regard as dead all private desires and ambitions. There must be in his life a radical transformation of the will, and a radical shift of the centre. Everything which would keep him from fully obeying God and fully surrendering to Christ must be surgically excised.” – William Barclay, The Letter to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians. Daily Study Bible series

But there is more to the process than simply removing past bad habits. In a sense, Paul is telling the Colossians, “out with the old, in with the new.” They must replace the traits that characterized their former lives with healthy and godly alternatives. And Paul provides them with a list of five non-optional qualities that should mark their lives as God’s chosen people.

compassionate hearts (splagchnon oiktirmos) can be literally translated, “bowels of mercy.” In the ancient world, compassion was associated with the bowels but in our modern context, we associate that characteristic with the heart. It expresses a deep concern and care for those who are suffering.

kindness (chrēstotēs) is a form of moral goodness that expresses itself in acts of selfless sacrifice on behalf of others.

humility (tapeinophrosynē) refers to a humbleness of mind. It is to hold a humble opinion of oneself. Paul expressed it this way: “in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 ESV).

meekness (praotēs) is another relational word that conveys the idea of gentleness toward others. It is the opposite of arrogance or self-assertiveness.

patience (makrothymia) is “slowness in avenging wrongs.” It refers to one who willingly endures injustice and ill-treatment for the sake of others.

All of these traits are other-focused. They are relational in nature and intended to put the needs of others first. And Paul provided concrete examples of what these godly characteristics should look like in everyday life.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:13 NLT

Notice his emphasis on others. The Christian life is not intended to be a solo sport, but a team activity where brothers and sisters in Christ are expected to operate in a spirit of unity and cooperation so that, together, they reflect His goodness and glory. Paul was writing to a diverse congregation made up of Gentiles and Jews, the rich and the poor, slaves and freemen. But they were all one in Christ. And, as Paul told the congregation in Ephesus, their ability to achieve unity even in the face of diversity was a reflection of God’s work among them.

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. – Ephesians 2:19-21 NLT

And for Paul, the greatest proof of the Colossians’ Spirit-empowered transformation would be their love for one another. Rather than reverting back to their former self-centered and selfish lives, they were to love as they had been loved (1 John 4:19). God had sent His Son as a tangible expression of His love for them, and He ordained that His Son would sacrifice His life on a cross in their place. And that selfless act of love was to be emulated and passed on from one believer to another.

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. – Colossians 3:14 NLT

Love would be the glue that bound the body of Christ together. But it would have to be a selfless, lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of love that expected nothing in return. Jesus had clarified to His disciples the kind of love He expected them to have for one another.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35 ESV

And Paul is passing on that command to his flock on Colossae. Their lives were to be marked by love. But not only that, they were to be a people characterized by peace.

let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. – Colossians 3:15 NLT

The Colossian believers were surrounded by a constant state of turmoil that was producing in them a sense of anxiety. False teachers were causing them to question their faith. Daily battles with old habits were tempting them to question their salvation. Infighting and disunity marked their fellowship. But Paul called them to live in peace – a particular kind of peace – that came from Christ Himself. And Paul must have had in mind the words that Jesus spoke to His disciples not long before His death.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” – John 14:27 ESV

This promise was made in conjunction with His promise to send the Holy Spirit. One of the primary functions of the Spirit of God would be to bring peace to the hearts of Christ’s followers upon His departure. The Spirit’s presence within them would provide a sense of continuity and calm assurance that they had not been abandoned. Christ was still with them in the form of the Holy Spirit.

And Paul wants the Colossians to know that the Spirit was an ever-present reality in their lives that was intended to be the source of their peace and tranquility, even in the midst of turmoil and distress. And they were to be constantly thankful for the peace-producing presence of the Spirit of God. Not only that, they were to keep their hearts and minds focused on the truth regarding Jesus Christ.

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. – Colossians 3:16 NLT

That message needed no additions or addendums. The good news regarding Jesus required no “new” editions or updates. They were to teach it, sing about it, rest confidently on it, and constantly express their thanks to God thanks for it.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Live Like Who You Are

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 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 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.  Colossians 3:5-11 ESV

How were the believers in Colossae supposed to set their minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth? Was Paul suggesting that they be so heavenly-minded that they were no earthly good? Paul has just challenged them to adopt a Christ-focused perspective that highlights the eternal aspect of their relationship with Him. Christ is seated at the right hand of His Father in heaven, and one day He will return. His presence at His Father’s side demonstrates that He successfully completed His initial earthly mission. The apostle Peter spoke of Jesus’ exaltation when he addressed the crowds at Pentecost.

“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us…” – Acts 2:32-33 NLT

Jesus’ death was efficacious or effective. It accomplished the will of His heavenly Father and requires no supplemental aids or add-ons to increase its efficacy. And Paul assured the believers in Rome that, because Jesus died and rose again, they would enjoy eternal life with Him.

We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. – Romans 6:9-11 NLT

Paul picks up the same them with the believers in Colossae. He wants them to live according to their new status as spiritually transformed and adopted children of God. Jesus didn’t die so that they might have their best life now but so that they might enjoy glorified life forever. But Paul knew that this future-focused mindset was difficult to maintain while living in the present. That’s why he provides them with some practical guidance for navigating life in a fallen world. He is expanding the theme he began back in chapter two.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith – Colossians 2:6-7 ESV

For Paul, it was always about faith. He firmly believed and persistently taught that faith was the means by which we are saved and sanctified. And Jesus Christ is to be the sole focus of that faith. It is through Christ that we have access to the Father. It is because of Christ that we have the assurance of eternal life. It is thanks to Christ that we have the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. And look closely at what Paul told the Roman believers: “consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11 NLT).

Their union with Christ equipped them with unprecedented power to live godly lives – even in the ungodly environment of Rome. And the same thing was true for the Colossian Christians. Paul has already told them, “You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world…” (Colossians 2:20 NLT).

Paul was constantly admonishing believers for their tendency to regress in their faith. They seemed to have no problem believing that Jesus could save them but they had difficulty trusting that He could keep them saved. So, they kept reverting to their old lifestyles based on human effort and self-righteousness.

So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? – Galatians 4:9 NLT

Paul was calling for complete separation from and dependence upon the things of this world. If Jesus was to be the believer’s sole source of salvation and sustenance, why were they continually turning to the world for satisfaction, fulfillment, significance, and hope? Their actions were in direct conflict with their calling and expressed commitment to Jesus Christ. Their behavior was not accurately reflecting their belief in a transformed life. That is why Paul demands that they do an about-face, turning their backs on their former way of life and seeking things above.

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. – Colossians 3:5 NLT

Paul was well aware of the fact that his flock in Colossae was struggling with the ongoing presence of their sinful natures. And Paul was not exempt from this internal battle between godliness and wickedness. In his letter to the Romans, he divulged his own struggle with indwelling sin.

I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? – Romans 7:21-24 NLT

But Paul answered his own pleading question, joyfully declaring, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25 NLT). The solution to the problem of indwelling sin is Jesus. Because of Jesus, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to say no to sin and yes to God. His divine presence provides us with all we need to put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within us. That is why Paul told the Galatian church, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves” (Galatians 5:16 NLT). Then he went on to say, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there” (Galatians 5:24 NLT).

Because of their relationship with Christ, their former sinful habits had been nailed to the cross with Him. But every believer knows how easy it is to breathe life into those old, dead habits and “resurrect” them once again. So, Paul demands that they “put to death” those things. But how? Is he suggesting that this is an ongoing, daily action? Is it the fate of every Christian to live their entire earthly life in a daily struggle to put to death sin? The answer is found in the grammar of Paul’s statement. When he states, “put to death,” he uses the Aorist Active Imperative (AAM) tense. The action described by the verb indicates that it is a past event. It has already taken place. Paul is stating that our old sinful habits have already been put to death – on the cross. So, we must constantly return them to their rightful place – on the cross. Our present action is based on a past reality.

The action Paul is commanding is to be the natural result of belief. If we truly believe that Jesus “canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14 NLT), then we should confidently return those sinful habits right where they belong: to the cross. They are dead to us. They no longer possess power over us. but Paul has to remind the Colossians that their new life in Christ was meant to reflect a new way of living.

You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. – Colossians 3:7-8 NLT

They had been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. They had clothed in His righteousness. But, metaphorically,  they were constantly going back to the closet of sin and picking out old, soiled garments to wear. That’s why Paul had to remind them that they had “put off the old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9 ESV) and had “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10 ESV). But that past action required constant repeating in the present. They were guilty of reaching back into the closet and selecting one of their old, comfortably-fitting sins to wear out in public. 

Paul is describing the ongoing nature of sanctification or spiritual growth. The Christian life is not meant to be static or stagnant. Once saved, always saved doesn’t mean that there is no ongoing transformation that takes place in the believer’s life. Peter indicates that believers are to “grow into a full experience of salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 NLT). Paul told the Ephesians that they were to be “growing in every way more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT).

Growth in Christlikeness is non-optional for the believer. One of the primary roles of the Holy Spirit is to assist Christians in their knowledge of Christ and their ongoing transformation into His likeness. And this transformation is for all believers, regardless of their ethnic or cultural background. Each is to individually experience the Spirit’s transformative power so that, together, we might reflect that nature of Christ and bring glory to God the Father.

…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 2:5 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Rooted, Built Up, and Established

1 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. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 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.

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 2:1-7 ESV

In verse 29 of chapter one, Paul spoke of his ongoing “struggle” to proclaim the true gospel of Jesus Christ. The Greek word, agōnizomai, carries the idea of strenuous effort driven by intense zeal. Paul was a man obsessed with the idea of “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:18 ESV). And he poured out every ounce of his being to accomplish that goal.

Here in chapter two, he uses the root word, agōn, to describe the ongoing “conflict” in which he finds himself engaged. And he confesses that his efforts are on behalf of all those congregations living in the Lycus Valley. The errant teachings concerning Christ had impacted not only the church in Colossae but the one in Laodicea as well. And it’s likely that the nearby community of Hierapolis had also come under the influence of teachers making false claims that denied either the deity or humanity of Jesus.

The members of these three congregations had never met Paul face to face because, at the time of his writing of this letter, he had not yet set foot in the Lycus Valley. His knowledge of their situation had come to him through Epaphras and others. But like a true shepherd, Paul expressed his loving concern for these distant flocks, declaring his intense desire “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” (Colossians 2:2 ESV).

Paul was the consummate encourager. Yes, he often displayed a blunt, in-your-face style of confrontational leadership that could be withering in its intensity, but his ultimate goal was correction that led to further spiritual growth. Even in these verses, Paul displays the loving concern of a pastor who longs to see his congregants experience the full measure of their salvation. For Paul, coming to faith in Christ was not a one-time event but an ongoing experience that included the believer’s initial reconciliation to God as well as their ongoing sanctification and ultimate glorification.

The apostle Peter described this full-orbed approach in his first letter, encouraging his readers to “crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 NLT). And Paul warned Timothy that “in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons” (1 Timothy 4:1 NLT). And in a second letter to Timothy, Paul reiterated his concern about the danger of a feeble, non-growing faith.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

That’s why Paul told Timothy, “Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2 NLT). And Paul practiced what he preached. He was patiently correcting, rebuking, and encouraging the church in Colossae so that they might stand firm against the faith-deflating lies of the false teachers.

Throughout his ministry, Paul strived to keep Jesus Christ as the central focus of all his teaching. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, he referred to the doctrine of Jesus as the foundation upon which every other doctrine or teaching must rest.

I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 3:10-11 NLT

The teachings of Jesus were not the foundation. It was Jesus Himself. The deity, humanity, sacrificial death, Spirit-empowered resurrection, and promised return of Jesus formed the firm foundation on which every believer’s faith must rest and remain. But Paul had been forced to confront the Corinthian believers about their

I am afraid, however, that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may be led astray from your simple and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims a Jesus other than the One we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the One you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it way too easily. – 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 BSB

Paul did not want the believers in Colossae to make the same mistake, which is why he reminded them that in Jesus “lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3 NLT). Anyone preaching an undeified Jesus was proclaiming a lie and disseminating foolishness, not wisdom. Anyone who attempted to refute the humanity of Jesus and discount His sacrificial death on the cross was to be viewed as a liar and not as a messenger from God. 

But Paul realized that many of these false teachers were highly persuasive, using well-crafted and lofty-sounding arguments that seemed to make sense. And to make matters worse, these men were operating within the context of the local church in Colossae, while Paul was hundreds of miles away in Rome. He had been placed under house arrest by the emperor and was denied the ability to travel. So, while the false teachers mingled with the flock in Colossae, Paul was restricted to writing a letter. But he reminded them “though I am far away from you, my heart is with you” (Colossians 2:5 NLT). They were out of sight, but not out of mind. And Paul expressed the joy he felt when Epaphras informed him of their firm commitment to the faith – even in the face of false teaching.

So, Paul exhorts them to remain steadfast and unwavering in their faith. Despite all that was going on around them, they had all the truth they needed to survive and thrive. A new version of the gospel was not necessary. A different take on Jesus was not required. The key to their survival was not some new doctrine or novel take on the identity of Jesus, but a continuing faith in the Jesus that had made their salvation possible. Paul pleads with them to stay the course.

as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him – Colossians 2:6 ESV

They had received Jesus by faith and they would need to continue living their lives according to faith. Once again, Paul is insisting that faith is not a static, one-time act that results in salvation, but an ongoing lifestyle of complete dependence upon the saving work of Jesus that results in our ongoing transformation into His likeness that will ultimately result in our future state of sinless perfection that will take place at His return. Paul firmly believed that his faith in Christ was active and alive, determining every facet of his earthly existence, which is why he told the Galatian believers, “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20 BSB).

The author of Hebrews describes faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Faith is not wishful thinking. It is not some baseless, unfounded desire for that which has no substance or any chance of fulfillment. The author of Hebrews uses two powerful words to describe the nature of faith. The first is hypostasis, which means “confidence or assurance.” It carries the idea of something being substantive or real – that which has actual existence. The second word is elegchos, which means “proof.” Our faith is based on the belief that God’s promises are real, even when they are not visible to the human eye. Our faith is based on the trustworthiness of God, not the tangible, touchable display of that which He has promised. The Old Testament saints listed in chapter 11 of Hebrews displayed faith because they “died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it” (Hebrews 11:13 NLT).

In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul reminded them that had God promised them new bodies – “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1 ESV). In their earthly lives, they struggled with pain, sorrow, and affliction. But God had promised that they would day put on their “heavenly dwelling” and experience new life in His eternal kingdom. And then he assured them:

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 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. – 2 Corinthians 5:5-7 ESV

That is why Paul called the Colossians to live their lives focused on Jesus, “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” (Colossians 2:7 ESV). They were to keep their eyes fixed on “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV). Paul did not want them to get distracted or dissuaded from the truth regarding Jesus. They were to remain “rooted” in their faith. Like a healthy, fruitful plant, they were to sink their roots deep into the promises found in the saving work of Jesus Christ. Rootedness results in fruitfulness or, as Paul puts it, being “built up.” Paul uses a word associated with architecture, portraying the steady, sound construction of a structure built on a solid foundation. And finally, Paul uses the term “established” to describe the final outcome of our faith. The Greek word means “to make good the promises by the event.” It conveys the idea of the promise being fulfilled. The assurance and conviction of our faith will become reality. Faith has an object: Jesus Christ. But faith also has an objective: Our future glorification.

That is why Paul wanted them to remain firm in their faith. Because saving faith is an enduring faith that focuses on the unwavering promises of God despite the vicissitudes and difficulties of this life. The apostle John provides us with a timeless word of encouragement that points us to the day when all the promises of God will be established.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure. – 1 John 3:2-3 NLT

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