Battle-Ready

14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.  Ephesians 6:14-18a ESV

Two times Paul told his readers to put on “the whole armor of God.” He was not providing them with a menu of optional items from which to choose. It was not up to them to decide which piece of God’s divine equipment they were interested in wearing or utilizing. But the sad truth is, that’s exactly the way many of us as Christians approach this passage. Whether we intend to or not, we jeopardize our spiritual well-being by self-selecting the armor of God we want to put on. But Paul would have us understand that when it comes to divinely ordained weapons of our warfare, it’s all or nothing. He tells us to “put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm” (Ephesians 6:13 NLT).

Paul uses two Greek words, ἀνθίστημι (anthistēmi) and ἵστημι (histēmi). The first means “to stand against” and the other means “to stand” (“G436 – anthistēmi, G2476 – histēmi – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). To withstand in the evil day carries the idea of being able to stand your ground in the midst of battle. You find yourself under attack. The enemy has you surrounded, but you refuse to surrender your position. You resist. It is a defensive posture, not an offensive one. The enemy is bringing the battle to you.

Jesus told Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18 NET). Satan is out to destroy God’s people and so he launched a constant assault against the church of Jesus Christ. And the enemy is clever. He knows that the quickest way to destroy the church is by infiltrating its ranks. That way, he can  attack from without and within. But Paul calls us to stand our ground, to resist. James uses the same Greek word, ἀνθίστημι (anthistēmi), when he writes, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 ESV).

And Paul calls us to stand. It means to stand firm, immovable, and prepared for action. But how are we to pull that off? What is the secret to standing firm? Paul makes it quite clear. It is the whole armor of God. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes for your feet comprised of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. These six items are the indispensable equipment for every soldier of God. You can’t survive without them. It isn’t a question of whether the enemy will attack and you will see battle. It is inevitable and unavoidable. He brings the war to your doorstep each and every day. And God has given us all that we need to withstand and stand firm in the heat of the battle.

The belt of truth is the first and most essential piece of equipment. It most likely refers to the truth as revealed in God’s Word. Truth is key to standing up to the lies of the enemy. Remember, the goal is to “stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11 ESV). That word “schemes” means “deceit or trickery.” Satan is a liar. He is cunning and clever, and he uses falsehood as his primary weapon of choice. So, truth is going to be one of our greatest assets as believers.

The breastplate of righteousness probably refers to the righteousness of Christ. Like the armor of a Roman soldier, this breastplate would provide protection from the neck to the thighs, covering all the vital organs. As believers, we are covered by the righteousness of Christ. It is His righteousness that has made us right with God. When the enemy attacks and hurls darts of accusations against our self-righteousness, we are protected or covered by the righteousness imputed to us by Christ at His death. Satan can accuse us, but he cannot harm us. Christ’s righteousness is readily available to us and provides us with protection from the relentless assaults of the enemy. He is out to put a dagger in our hearts, robbing us joy, peace, contentment, and any hope of living the abundant life that Jesus promised.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. – John 10:10 ESV

No soldier would dare go into battle without shoes. How can you stand firm without proper footwear? And Paul describes these shoes as “the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15 ESV). The gospel of peace (the Good News) is what provides us with the ability to stand firm, without slipping or sliding in uncertainty or losing our spiritual footing. Because of what Christ accomplished on the cross, we have peace with God. We are His and He is ours. That is why Paul so confidently claimed, “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 ESV).

The shield of faith is not something you wear, but something you hold. Like all of the other pieces of armor, it is given to you by God. It is His armor. Our faith is not self-manufactured, but it is a gift of the Spirit, provided for us by a gracious and loving God. As long as we stand behind our faith, we are safe. It is when we set aside our faith that we become vulnerable to the darts of the enemy. Faith is our trust in God and in His promises regarding us. He will not leave us or forsake us. He has prepared a permanent place for us. He will fight our battles for us. He has placed His all-powerful Spirit within us. And we must trust in these truths at all times. A weak shield is of little use in the heat of battle. Strong faith in a strong and faithful God will provide protection each and every time, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

The helmet of salvation protects our mind. It is the awareness and recognition of God’s ongoing saving work in our lives. It not only refers to our coming to faith in Christ, but to our ongoing sanctification and the daily saving work of God in our lives. Through His Son’s death, he saved us from sin and death, but He is also saving us from the flesh, the world, and the enemy. We must keep our minds focused on the saving work of God in our lives. We must constantly remind ourselves that He is faithful and strong, and that the battle is already won.

The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. It is designed for hand-to-hand combat. The Scriptures are what we are to use when the enemy gets up close and personal. God’s Word provides us with the truth we need to deflect the lies thrown at us by Satan. It is both a defensive and offensive weapon, allowing us to protect ourselves, but also to bring harm to the enemy. Referring to the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “when he comes he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment” (John 16:8 NLT). The Spirit of God and the Word of God are essential in our fight against the forces of this world.

Finally, Paul tells us to keep “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:18a ESV). Prayer is nothing more than communication with God. Like a soldier out on the field of battle, timely communication from headquarters is the key to victory. We must listen to our heavenly commander, the Lord of Hosts. He is the captain of the armies of heaven and He has a battle plan in place. We are not to act as freelance mercenaries, operating based on our own agenda and implementing our own battle plan. It is through prayer and the reading of God’s Word that we receive instructions. It also provides us with a means of sharing our own needs and news from the battlefield. Staying in touch with God is essential to our survival.

The battle is real. The enemy is powerful. But our God is great and our armor is time-tested and proven reliable in the heat of battle. It has been made by God. It has been given to us by God. And our victory is assured because of God. “But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world” (1 John 4:4 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.

 

Grieving Rather Than Growing

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4:25-32 ESV

Paul wanted the Ephesians believers to live in the present and not the past. They were to embrace their new identity in Christ and to to consider the deceptions and lies that had characterized their former lives as dead and discarded. Those things had been “put away” (apotithēmi) or “cast off,” and replaced by the truth of the gospel. And because they had been equipped by the apostles,  prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers God had provided, they were able to build up the body of Christ by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 5:11-15).

As members of the body of Christ, they were to dwell together in a spirit of mutual love that was based on the reality of the life-transforming power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Their lives were to be characterized by truth and not lies. There was no place in the family of God for deception or falsehood. Christianity was not to be a competitive sport or a comparative religion where spiritual  status was measured by merit or social standing. It was to be a community of undeserving recipients of God’s grace, who had been filled with His Spirit, and equipped with spiritual gifts intended for the good of whole body.

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

What Paul describes in verses 25-32 is a lifestyle of radical change. The characteristics that marked their old lives were to be done away with. Lying, anger, stealing, and abusive language had no place within the body of Christ. And the Ephesians were not the only congregation to have received that message from Paul. He penned the very same sentiment to the believers in Colossae.

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 3:8-10 NLT

Paul used comparative language to make his point to the Ephesian church. Rather than lie, they were to tell the truth. Instead of allowing anger to consume them, they were to resolve their disagreements quickly. Those who had once made a living from theft were to earn their way and share their resources with others. Foul and hurtful language was to be replaced with words that were helpful and encouraging. Again, Paul was calling them to do an about-face, to make a radical change in their behavior that reflected the revolutionary alteration God had made to their nature.

For Paul, a believer whose life failed to reflect the change brought about by the saving work of Jesus Christ was an anomaly and an unacceptable probability. That is why he continually stressed his expectation of tangible transformation in the lives of those to whom he ministered. .

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. – Philippians 2:1-4 NLT

According to Paul, not only would failure to experience life transformation result in a lack of fruit and effectiveness, it would also end up bringing sorrow to the Spirit of God.

…do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. – Ephesians 4:30 ESV

One of the primary roles of the Holy Spirit is to empower and equip the believer for a life of godliness. It is the Spirit who makes possible the believer’s sanctification or growth in Christ-likeness. So, when a believer fails to experience or exhibit life change, it grieves (lypeō) or saddens the Spirit of God. His greatest desire is to continually transform the believer into the image of Christ. The Spirit is a permanent resident in the life of every believer and will accompany them all the way to their ultimate glorification. He acts as God’s seal of approval, ensuring that the believer’s future status as a citizen of the coming kingdom is assured. Or, as Paul put it to the church in Corinth, the Holy Spirit is our guarantee of all that is to come.

It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us. – 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NLT

…we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5;4-5 NLT

And Paul shared this incredible news with the Ephesians as well.

The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. – Ephesians 1:14 NLT

That’s why Paul insists that the Spirit would be grieved by their failure to submit to His  life-transforming power. While glorification is the ultimate outcome of the believer’s faith in Christ, God wants to begin the process in this life. That’s why Paul insists that their present conduct should reflect a hope in the promise of their future state. They have the Spirit of God within them and the power of God available to them. So, their lives should reflect that reality even now. Paul would have fully agreed with the words of the apostle Peter:

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

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 Petition for Continued Transformation

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV

Paul had been given the responsibility “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things,” (Ephesians 3:9 ESV). The mystery Paul was tasked with revealing was the church, the body of Christ that was to be comprised of people from all the nations of the earth. It would combine both Jews and Gentiles into a single, unified family of adopted sons and daughters of God. And the Jews and Gentiles who made up the church in Ephesus had been woven together into God’s glorious, multicolored tapestry of redemption.

And with that thought in mind, Paul offers up a powerful prayer on behalf of his brothers and sisters in Ephesus. He knew that their unity was under assault. He was well aware of the pressures they faced, living in a pagan culture where their faith in Christ made them outliers and, at times, social pariahs. Followers of Christ were often considered counter-cultural and even a threat to the status quo. Many of the believers in Ephesus had walked away from their former faith systems and, in doing so, had alienated family and friends. By placing their faith in Christ they had turned their backs on the false gods of the prevailing culture and were attempting to trust their lives to a Savior they had never met and a God they couldn’t see.

So, Paul shares with them the content of his prayer for them. In doing so, he lets them in on another secret or mystery. While they had been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), redeemed through His blood, forgiven of their sins (Ephesians 1:7), promised an inheritance (Ephesians 1:10), saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8), and reconciled to God (Ephesians 2:16), they were not yet complete.

Their salvation, while fully paid for by Christ and sealed by the presence of the Spirit of God, was to be constantly evolving. Their faith in God was to be constantly increasing as their knowledge of Him continually grew. Salvation was not a static, once-in-a-lifetime experience, but a dynamic process that resulted in the ongoing transformation of the believer’s life into the likeness of Christ.

There was to be a progression from immaturity to maturity and spiritual infancy to adulthood. Peter put it this way: “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 NLT). In the very next chapter of this letter, Paul states virtually the same thing. He describes the role of Christ-appointed apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.

Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue 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. Then we will no longer be immature like children. – Ephesians 4:12-14 NLT

For both Peter and Paul, faith in Christ was about growth in Christlikeness. It was not enough to simply know about Christ. The Christian was expected to become like Christ – to bear His likeness. In fact, the first time the term “Christian” is used in reference to Christ’s followers is in the book of Acts.

For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. Acts 11:26 ESV

The Greek word for Christians is Χριστιανός (transliteration: Christianos; phonetic pronunciation: khris-tee-an-os’) and combines Christos (anointed) with the suffix meaning “follower”; i.e. follower of Christ (Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary). So, Christians were followers of the anointed one. But Jesus expected His disciples to do far more than follow Him. At one point He told them, ““A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (Matthew 10:24-25 ESV).

C. S. Lewis described this Christ-emulating behavior as only he could

“Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has – by what I call ‘good infection.’ Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christ is simply nothing else.” – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

But Paul knew that growth in Christlikeness was impossible without divine aid. That’s why he prayed that God, “according to the riches of his glory” (Ephesians 3:16 ESV), would empower the Ephesian believers “with inner strength through his Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16 NLT). Paul makes it clear that Christlikeness is the work of the Spirit of God. It can’t be self-manufactured or produced through human effort.

Belief in Christ was to result in behavior that emulated that of Christ. But that kind of behavior modification was only possible through the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit. His power alone could transform mere mortals into sons and daughters of God whose lives reflected the character of Christ. It began on the inside, in the inner being. It was not about outward modification of behavior but about the transformation of the heart. Paul’s prayer was that the Ephesians might know what it was like to have Christ dwell in their hearts through faith. Unlike other religions, Christianity is focused on the “inner” man. It is not about adhering to a list of do’s and don’ts or keeping a codified compendium of rules and regulations. No, Christianity is about the power of God transforming the hearts of men so that they might model the life of Christ – from the inside out.

ultimately, Paul wanted the Ephesians to know just how much God loved them. They had been given the Holy Spirit so that the nature of Christ might be revealed in them and the fullness of God might be experienced by them. Their God was not distant and unknowable. He had saved them so that He might have an intimate and personal relationship with them. And it all began with His Son. Paul told the believers in Colossae, “in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority” (Colossians 2:9-10 NLT). And Christ had taken up residence in their lives through the indwelling presence of the Spirit.

Paul wanted the Ephesian believers to grasp the full significance of their salvation and to experience the full force of God’s love for them. Paul didn’t want them to settle for less. His prayer was that they would “experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully”… and “be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Ephesians 3:19 NLT).

And he closed out his prayer by declaring his firm assurance that God was ready, willing, and able to do all that he had requested.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. – Ephesians 3:20 NLT

It wasn’t a matter of whether God could or would answer Paul’s prayer. The whole purpose for the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God was so that the children of God might be transformed into the likeness of the Son of God – all for the glory of God. And that’s why Paul ends by declaring, “Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:21 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 Now…

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:11-22 ESV

Paul was addressing a congregation that was likely comprised of both Jewish and Gentile converts to Christianity but, because of its location in Ephesus, there was likely a much higher percentage of non-Jews in the fellowship. And at this point in his letter, Paul focuses his attention on those whom he calls “Gentiles in the flesh” (Ephesians 2:11 ESV). He is not using the term “flesh” (sarx) to refer to their sinful natures but as a designation of the physical characteristics that differentiate them from Jews. Not only did Jews and Gentiles have distinctively different physical characteristics, but Gentile men were uncircumcised. Paul even points out that Jews, who bore the sign of circumcision that had been ordained for them by God, derogatorily referred to all Gentiles as “the uncircumcision.”

Among the Jews, the rite of circumcision had been faithfully practiced ever since the day God had prescribed it to their forefather Abraham.

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” – Genesis 17:9-14 ESV

For the Jews of Paul’s day, circumcision had become a point of pride because it “marked” them as God’s chosen people. They viewed circumcision as a badge of honor that separated them from the rest of the nations of the world. It was a physical “sign” of their unique status as those who had been set apart by God as His prized possession.

Prior to the coming of Jesus, the focus of God’s favor seemed to have remained upon the Jewish people. They were still considered the apple of His eye and the designated recipients of His covenant blessings. But for generations, they had lived in open rebellion to His will and in violation of His law. Even Jesus said of His fellow Jews, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8 NLT). Yet, despite their disobedience, God remained committed to keeping the promises He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. – Genesis 17:7 ESV

But with the coming of Jesus, God began to do a new thing. Jesus was born a Jew and began His public ministry by proclaiming the arrival of the kingdom to His own people. But as the apostle John records, the reception Jesus received from His fellow Jews was less than enthusiastic.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:11-13 ESV

From the moment Jesus was born, He had been ordained by His Heavenly Father to be the “offspring” of Abraham who would fulfill God’s promise to bless the nations. Jesus had been sent to the Jews, but His message of repentance and reconciliation had always been intended for all mankind. At one point, He revealed to His Jewish disciples that His coming death would be for the benefit of all men, not just those of the circumcision.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.” – John 10:14-16 NLT

And Paul wanted the Gentiles in his audience to grasp the significance of their former status as uncircumcised outsiders. They had not been part of God’s chosen family. Paul reminds them that they had been “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). Their pre-salvation condition had been dire and hopeless. As Gentiles, they were separated from Christ, the Messiah of Israel. They were not beneficiaries of the covenant promises. They were considered unclean and unholy outsiders who were unworthy of the blessings that God had promised to the seed of Abraham. 

Yet, with two simple words, Paul reminds them of the marvelous transformation that had taken place in their lives.

But now…

Something incredible had taken place. They were no longer separated, alienated, estranged, hopeless, and godless. The great chasm that had once existed between them and God had been removed. They had “been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 ESV). Even though uncircumcised, they had been welcomed into the presence of God because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, had become the Redeemer and Savior of all men. Not only had Jesus made it possible for sinful humanity to be restored to a right relationship with God, but He had arranged a way for Jews and Gentiles to live as brothers and sisters within the family of God.

For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. – Ephesians 2:14-15 NLT

For Paul, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus had eliminated the former burden of trying to keep the law as a means of attaining a right standing with God. He had come to understand that the law had never been intended by God to produce righteousness in men. In fact, in his letter to the Romans, Paul asserted that “no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20 NLT). 

Paul knew that, like circumcision, the law had become a point of pride among his fellow Jews. They viewed themselves as more righteous because they had been given the Mosaic Law as a guide to living. But what good was the law if it was not obeyed? What good was the rite of circumcision if it didn’t result in a set-apart life? That’s why Paul asserted that ethnicity, physical markers, and outward observance of religious rules were not the signs of righteousness. It was a changed heart.

The Jewish ceremony of circumcision has value only if you obey God’s law. But if you don’t obey God’s law, you are no better off than an uncircumcised Gentile. And if the Gentiles obey God’s law, won’t God declare them to be his own people? In fact, uncircumcised Gentiles who keep God’s law will condemn you Jews who are circumcised and possess God’s law but don’t obey it.

For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people. – Romans 2:25-29 NLT

With His death on the cross, Jesus reconciled Jews and Gentiles to God and to one another.

Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. – Ephesians 2:16 NLT

Through the sacrificial death of Jesus, God created “one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16 NLT). There was no longer any distinction between Jews and Gentiles. There were only those who were saved and those who were lost. The Gentiles in Paul’s audience could rejoice in the fact that they had been brought near to God through faith in Christ. And the Jews in his audience could rest in the fact that they no longer had to try and earn their right standing with God. It had been accomplished for them by Christ. And Paul sums it all up with the good news that “all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us” (Ephesians 2:17 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.

 

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.

 

A Trifecta of Blessing

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:3-14 ESV

After a brief salutation, Paul begins his letter with a virtual flood of carefully crafted words designed to express his deep admiration and appreciation for the saving work of God the Father as expressed through the sacrificial life of the Son and empowered through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Greek, these 12 verses form one long but eloquently worded run-on sentence. It’s as if Paul were speaking the words, and in his excitement, the thoughts in his mind literally explode from his lips without leaving him time to catch his breath.

He is a man possessed by and obsessed with the incredible nature of God’s redemptive plan for mankind. Unable to contain his enthusiasm for all that God has done, Paul explodes in a flood of praise and worship for each member of the Godhead, outlining the vital role that each played. This punctuation-free praise song to the Trinity is designed to instill in the Ephesian believers a deep and abiding awareness of the divine nature of their salvation. They had been chosen, predestined, and adopted by God the Father. They had been redeemed out of slavery to sin by the precious and priceless blood of Jesus Christ. And they had received the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God as a sign of their new identity as God’s children and as a proof of the promises to come.

For Paul, it all begins with God the Father, who made the determination to send His Son as the solution to mankind’s sin problem. And, according to Paul, God came up with that plan “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV). In other words, long before God made the universe or fashioned Adam out of the dust of the ground, He had come up with the plan to send His Son as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of a not-yet-existent humanity.

God had not been caught off guard by Adam and Eve’s rebellion. He had actually made provision for their fall and had a predetermined plan already in place long before they made the fateful determination to disobey His command. And Paul wanted the Ephesians to know that they had been blessed by God in Christ. Jesus was the sole means by which God had chosen to redeem fallen mankind. Together, the Father and His Son made possible the reconciliation of a guilty and justly condemned humanity – and that included the believers in Ephesus. They had been blessed by God in or through Christ “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3 ESV).

Paul emphasizes spiritual blessings in order to accentuate the eternal nature of the gift the Ephesians had received. God had not sent His son to die so that men and women might have their best life now. The sacrificial death of Jesus was not meant to pave the way to an earthly life marked by health, wealth, and prosperity. His precious blood was spilled so that a spiritual transformation might take place, turning former sinners into sons and daughters of God, holy and blameless in His sight. All “according to the purpose of his will” and “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:5-6 ESV). This radical transformation of sinners into saints had been God’s idea and had only been possible as a result of His grace or unmerited favor. No one deserved to be saved. No one had earned the right to be redeemed.

Paul stresses that God “lavished” His grace on mankind. The Greek word, perisseuō, conveys the idea of a superabundance of grace. God poured out His grace in such a way that it overflowed and exceeded all expectations and requirements. It was, as Jesus told Paul, an all-sufficient grace.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV

Paul knew that the Ephesian believers were grateful for the forgiveness of sins that came with their faith in Christ, but he wanted them to understand that was just the tip of the iceberg. Paul doesn’t underestimate the value of forgiveness but stresses that God was “so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins” (Ephesians 1:7 NLT). But God’s grace didn’t stop there. He also showered His children with “wisdom and understanding” (Ephesians 1:8 NLT), so that they might know “the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ” (Ephesians 1:9 ESV). And by disclosing this previously undisclosed mystery, God revealed His “plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10 ESV).

In other words, God’s plan of salvation includes far more than forgiveness of sins. As great as that may be, it pales in comparison to the future God has in store for His children. Forgiveness of sins does not eradicate the presence of sin in the life of a believer. Life on this earth will always be marred by the persistent presence of sin. Believers are no longer slaves to sin but they are not free from its influence. Paul described his own experience with sin in his letter to the Romans.

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. – Romans 7:18-20 NLT

And that’s why Paul places so much emphasis on the inheritance that awaits the believer.

…because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan. – Ephesians 1:11 NLT

It is the promise of this future inheritance that should motivate the believer in this life. It is the assurance of coming glorification that should encourage a life of faithfulness as we wait for God to fulfill the final phase of His grand redemptive plan. That is why Paul reminded the believers in Corinth to focus their attention on the hope to come.

We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:2-5 NLT

In his letter to the Ephesian believers, Paul reiterates the role of the Holy Spirit as the downpayment or guarantee of their future glorification.

The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. – Ephesians 1:14 NLT

And the gift of the Spirit had been poured out on Jews and Gentiles alike. The body of Christ was made up of people of all ethnicities and backgrounds. It was just as Paul had told the Christians living in Galatia.

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. – Galatians 3:26-29 NLT

While God had set apart the Jews as His chosen people and had ordained that His Son be born of the seed of Abraham, He had always planned for His gracious gift of redemption to be for all mankind. The Jews were a means to an end. They had been blessed by God so that they might be a blessing to the world. And God had accomplished that blessing through the gift of His Son and guaranteed the eternal nature of its consequences through the gift of His Spirit.

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.

 

A Future-Focused Faith

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Colossians 3:1-4 ESV

Paul’s opening statement in chapter three is meant to convey an assumption that Paul has made regarding the members of the Colossian church. He is not questioning their salvation, but instead, he is stating that because they are believers, they must have a completely different perspective about life. The opening verse might be better translated, “Since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above…”

Their new relationship with God the Father, made possible by the atoning work of Jesus Christ, should give them an eternal, rather than temporal, outlook on life. Their hearts and minds should be focused on all that the death and resurrection of Jesus accomplished on their behalf. They were no longer of this world. In fact, what Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi was true for them as well: “…we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Philippians 3:20 NLT).

Paul was constantly encouraging Gentile believers to embrace their new identity as citizens of God’s eternal kingdom.

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. – Ephesians 2:19 NLT

No matter what their ethnic identity may have been, they were now members of God’s family and shared in the glorious inheritance reserved for all His children.

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. – Romans 8:15-17 NLT

But Paul knew that the Colossian believers were struggling to accept and adapt to their new identities in Christ. Because of their earth-bound existence, they were prone to view life through the lens of the here-and-now. They were stuck on an earthly plane and having a difficult time visualizing the spiritual benefits of their relationship with Christ. But Paul reminded them that their Lord and Savior was no longer on earth but was “seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1 ESV).

Paul’s mention of Jesus’ presence at His Father’s side was intended to remind them that this present world was not their final destination. Peter would have told them that they were nothing more than “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT) in this world. According to what Jesus told His disciples, God had a far better destiny in store for His children.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:2-3 ESV

Peter described this place as “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4 ESV). And the apostle John recorded in the book of Revelation the vision he received of this future residence for God’s people.

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 22:2-4 ESV

So, when Paul writes, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2 ESV), he is attempting to focus their attention on the glorious future God has in store for them. They were not to confuse this present world and their current lives with the coming Kingdom of God. And like the apostle John, Paul wanted his readers to reject the temptation to live as if this world was their home.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

Paul knew how difficult it was to live in this world while maintaining a healthy distance from all its temptations and allures. That’s why he emphasized having a “heavenly” perspective that focused on the reality of things to come. In a sense, Paul is describing the life of faith. As the author of Hebrews describes it, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Faith is living with a future-focused perspective that believes in and waits on the final fulfillment of all the promises that God has made.

And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently). – Romans 8:23-25 NLT

Paul constantly repeated this refrain to the various flocks to whom God had made him a shepherd. He told the Corinthians Christians:

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT

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 5:6-7 NLT

And Paul reminded the Colossians believers: “your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3 ESV). This rather enigmatic statement carries a profound truth that Paul thoroughly embraced and constantly taught. And in his letter to the church in Rome, he expounded upon the profound nature of our union with Christ.

…have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. – Romans 6:3-8 NLT

Christ didn’t save the Colossian believers and then abandon them to fend for themselves. They were united with Him in His death and His resurrection. His death broke the chains of sin that had once held them captive and trapped in a life of slavery. They had died with Christ and were now united to Him in His resurrected state. That is why Paul could so boldly and joyfully state, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT).

Paul states that the Christian’s life is “hidden with Christ in God.” The Greek word is κρύπτω (kryptō), and it conveys the idea of concealment. He is trying to let the Colossian believers know that their lives are being preserved by Christ in heaven. They were to live their lives as if they were already seated by His side in heaven. Their destiny was assured. And while they were temporarily stuck on earth, they could live as if they were already citizens of God’s eternal kingdom. From a faith-based perspective, they were as good as there. Their sins were forgiven, their future resurrection was assured, and their eternal state was fully secure. All because of the matchless love of God in Christ.

…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!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:4-6 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.

 

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

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 Mysterious Ministry of Spiritual Maturity

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. – Colossians 1:24-29 ESV

As a faithful minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, there were times when Paul found his ministry to be difficult, but he was pleased to be able to suffer on behalf of His Lord and Savior. He viewed the trials and tribulations that accompanied his mission to be in keeping with the suffering experienced by Christ as He carried out His own earthly mission. Paul was well-acquainted with suffering. In fact, he wrote his letter to the Colossians while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial before the Emperor. He was able to share with the believers in Corinth a long and far from exhaustive list of painful encounters he had endured as a messenger of the gospel.

I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.  – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT

But Paul wasn’t complaining about his lot in life. No, far from it. He was expressing his right to be treated as a legitimate spokesman for Jesus Christ. Like His Savior, Paul had faced a barrage of persecutions and personal attacks and, on top of all that, he had been forced to carry “the daily burden of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28 NLT). He was a faithful shepherd and caretaker for the flock of Jesus Christ who took his role seriously and faced persecution joyfully.

I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake…” – Colossians 1:24 ESV

Paul saw his sufferings as an opportunity to experience in some small measure “Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24 ESV). He was eternally grateful for the pain that Jesus endured on his behalf so that he might be freed “from this life that is dominated by sin and death” (Romans 7:24 NLT). And Paul was more than willing to suffer “for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24 ESV). It was the least he could do.

Paul understood that he had been made a minister of the gospel and given the responsibility of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world. His job, while far from easy, was accompanied by great joy because he was able to witness firsthand the transformative nature of the message of salvation. Paul states that his message to the Gentiles was a mystery to God’s chosen people, the Israelites. The people of Israel had no concept that their long-awaited Messiah would be the Savior of the entire world, not just their own people. Even the disciples of Jesus had found it difficult to watch Him minister to Samaritans, Syrophoenicians, and even Romans. They had no category in their concept of the Messiah that accommodated a ministry to the Gentiles and yet, Jesus had told them, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:14-16 NLT).

This mystery had remained hidden for generations and had not been revealed until after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Even on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, they began to minister to those who had gathered in Jerusalem for the annual feast. And the crowd was made up of  “Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5 ESV). Luke goes on to describe them as “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians” (Acts 2:9-11 ESV).

The crowd consisted of native Jews as well as converts to Judaism from a wide range of nations and ethnic groups. And when they heard the gospel message presented by Peter, they responded en masse.

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. – Acts 2:41 ESV

Many of those individuals who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost would return to their native countries, carrying the gospel message with them. And the apostle Paul would later join their forces and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the Gentile world. On his missionary journeys, he would encounter converts to Christianity who had heard the message of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone from their converted friends and neighbors. As Paul later told the believers in Ephesus, the mystery of Gentiles being grafted into the family tree of Abraham had been revealed and was making an impact on the world.

God gave me the special responsibility of extending his grace to you Gentiles. As I briefly wrote earlier, God himself revealed his mysterious plan to me. As you read what I have written, you will understand my insight into this plan regarding Christ. God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit he has revealed it to his holy apostles and prophets. – Ephesians 3:2-5 NLT

God had always intended to redeem people from every tribe, nation, and tongue. His Son would be the Messiah of Israel, but as God had promised Abraham, his offspring would prove to be a blessing to the “nations.”

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

Jesus, a son of Abraham, had been the fulfillment of that promise. Paul made that point perfectly clear to the Gentile believers in Galatia.

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. – Galatians 3:9-11 ESV

It was through Christ, a Jew, that “the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14 ESV). And Paul was proudly declaring that message of hope to the Gentile world and gladly enduring suffering in order to do so. It was his privilege and honor. Jesus had died to make salvation possible, so the least Paul could do was suffer to make it available and accessible. And Paul wanted the Colossian believers to know that their hope was based on the reality of Christ’s presence within them. He had died, been raised to life, and now was seated at the right hand of God the Father. But following His ascension, Jesus had sent the Spirit of God to indwell His followers. In that sense, Jesus would not only be with them, but in them.

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.” – John 14:16-17 NLT

Paul’s life mission was to proclaim this life-altering mystery of  “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:28 ESV). And he did so, “struggling with all his energy,” knowing that “he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29 ESV). And Paul’s ministry and message were comprised of both warnings and teachings. There were dangers to be avoided and lessons to be learned. There were false teachers who could undermine the hope of the gospel and there were constant temptations that could derail and diminish the witness of God’s people. Paul’s goal for the Colossian believers was nothing less than spiritual maturity. He would not settle for mediocrity or partial transformation. Since glorification was the ultimate goal of salvation, Paul remained committed to the ongoing sanctification of all those under his care. His lifelong objective was to one day be able to “present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28 ESV). That lofty goal will never be achieved in the believer’s lifetime but we have a firm promise from God that it will take place one day.

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

According to Paul, it is inevitable and unavoidable because it is the work of God.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. – Philippians 1:6 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.