The Wisdom of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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 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.

 

Thy Will Be Done

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Colossians 4:2-6 ESV

Paul has emphasized the believers’ relationship with one another. He encouraged them to “make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you” (Colossians 3:13 NLT). They were to patiently and lovingly respond to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, forgiving as they had been forgiven, and seeking to promote an atmosphere of Christlike peace and harmony.

Now, Paul calls on the Colossian believers to make prayer a priority in their lives. And Paul practiced what he preached. He opened his letter with several statements concerning the ongoing prayers that he and Timothy prayed on behalf of the Colossian church.

We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Colossians 1:3 NLT

…we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. – Colossians 1:9 NLT

We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. – Colossians 1:11 NLT

Prayer was a vital part of Paul’s ministry. With responsibility for the spiritual well-being of so many congregations spread over such a large geographic area, Paul was limited in his ability to make personal appearances. So, he utilized prayer as the means by which he called on the power of God to protect and provide for his far-flung flocks. Paul understood the power and necessity of prayer. He considered it the most vital relationship a Christian could cultivate in their lives. The author of Hebrews, whom many believe to have been Paul, wrote, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16 BSB). Paul wrote something similar in his letter to the church in Ephesus.

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. – Ephesians 3:12 NLT

Paul was committed to cultivating the interpersonal relationships of the Colossians believers. He wanted them to live out their Spirit-transformed lives by displaying Christlike behavior toward one another. But he also desired that the Colossians maintain a healthy and ongoing dialogue with their heavenly Father. For Paul, prayer was the primary way for a believer to express their dependence upon God. He viewed it as far more than a means of getting what we want from God. Prayer was a way for the believer to align their will with that of the Father. It was to be an ongoing form of two-way communication between the Heavenly Father and His child. Through prayer, petitions could be shared and directions could be received. For Paul, prayer was an expression of faith. It displayed the believer’s dependence upon and trust in God. It was a privilege provided by a gracious God that allowed His children to call upon Him at any time. It was to be a delight, not a duty.

Paul was familiar with the proverbs that promoted the efficacy of prayer.

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him. – Proverbs 15:8 ESV

The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous. – Proverbs 15:29 ESV

He would have known what King David had written concerning God and the prayers of His people.

The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
    he also hears their cry and saves them. – Psalm 145:18-19 NLT

And he would have concurred with the words of James.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power to prevail. – James 5:16 BSB

So, Paul begins to close out his letter to the Colossians with an emphasis on prayer. He urges them to devote themselves to the practice of prayer. And he warns them to be “watchful” (grēgoreō), a word that carries the idea of being alert and ready to see how God will answer their prayers. And when God does answer, they are to express their gratitude for His gracious intercession. Prayer requires faith but not blind faith. It has God as its object and, therefore, answers to prayer should come as no surprise. Prayer and thanksgiving should go hand in hand because God is a faithful God who longs to fulfill the desires of His people.

That’s why Paul asks the Colossians to pray for him. He understood the power of prayer and was not ashamed to request their prayers on his behalf. But Paul was specific in terms of his prayer request. He wanted them to pray that God would open up additional opportunities for him and Timothy to share the good news concerning Christ. At first glance, this seems like an unnecessary prayer. The spread of the gospel was God’s will. He didn’t need to be coerced or cajoled into opening up new opportunities for unbelievers to hear the news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. According to Paul’s letter to Timothy, God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4 ESV). So, why was it important that the Colossians pray this prayer on Paul’s behalf?

It seems that Paul wanted them to pray in keeping with the will of God. It was clearly God’s will that many would be saved and the Colossians had the opportunity to align themselves with God praying for His will to be accomplished. In doing so, they would be setting their minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:2). They would be praying in keeping with God’s revealed will.

What makes Paul’s prayer request even more fascinating is that he shared it while under house arrest in Rome. He didn’t ask them to pray for his release. He didn’t covet their prayers for protection or provision. They would have known about his predicament. And by focusing their attention on the spread of the gospel, Paul was helping them to understand that God’s will trumped his own. If God deemed it necessary for Paul to be released in order for the gospel to be spread, He would make it happen. But Paul’s prayer request was selfless in nature. He wanted the good news to go out and for God to get the glory.

Paul also wrote a letter to the believers in Philippi while imprisoned in Rome. And rather than requesting that they pray for his release, he declared God’s sovereign will concerning his imprisonment.

I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear. – Philippians 1:12-14 NLT

And Paul went on to express the tension he felt regarding his ongoing imprisonment and possible death and the thought of release and continued ministry.

For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. – Philippians 1:20-24 NLT

Paul longed to be with Jesus but he was also committed to the work to which he had been commissioned by Jesus. So, for Paul, it boiled down to the will of God. The gospel must go out and if God wanted Paul to be an ongoing participant in that mission, God would orchestrate Paul’s release. And if God should set Paul free, he asked that the Colossians pray for him to have clarity when proclaiming the message of the gospel.

And he reminds them that they too must live out their faith, constantly mindful of its impact on “those who are not believers” (Colossians 4:5 NLT). As they prayed for God’s will to be done, they must also live their lives in accordance with God’s will for them. They must be salt and light. They must live wisely and circumspectly, always recognizing their role as Christ’s ambassadors on earth. That is why Paul encourages them, “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone” (Colossians 4:6 NLT). Their words were just as important as their works. Their daily interactions with the unsaved would be vital to the continued spread of the gospel. And their patient and loving treatment of one another would go a long way in demonstrating the life-changing nature of the good news.

In a sense, Paul is encouraging his flock in Colossae to practice the model prayer that Jesus gave His disciples.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:10 ESV

Their petitions and their actions were to be in keeping with the will of God. They were to pray and behave in ways that aligned with God’s revealed will for the world. So, that the gospel could continue to spread and the lost be restored to a right relationship with God.

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.

 

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.

 

The Reality and Reliability of Reconciliation

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. – Colossians 1:21-23 ESV

Paul knew it was essential that the Colossian believers fully understood who Jesus was and what He had done for them. Their concept of Jesus was far too limited and had allowed false ideas about His identity and accomplishments to filter into their beliefs about Him. After Jesus resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven, there was growing speculation as to His true identity and its implications for mankind. In His absence, His disciples continued to spread the news concerning the coming kingdom of God and the sole means of gaining entrance into it: By placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ.

But there were others who had begun to formulate their own concepts concerning Jesus and the implications of His life and death. The disciples had clearly spread the news that Jesus had risen from the dead and had returned to His Father’s side in heaven. Paul had boldly proclaimed the nature of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection to the believers in Corinth.

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. – 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 NLT

But there were those who had begun to refute the disciples’ teaching concerning resurrection, declaring it improbable and even unnecessary. That’s what led Paul to warn the Corinthians about this dangerous heresy.

…if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:16-19 NLT

There were others who had begun to spread the idea that Jesus had not been a real, flesh-and-blood human. Because these people deemed the flesh to be inherently evil, they could not accept the idea of deity taking on humanity. So, they rationalized it away by claiming that Jesus had only appeared to have a human body. So, His “death” was just a fiction. This heresy was later deemed Docetism, which comes from the Greek word dokein, which means “to seem.” But by voiding the humanity of Jesus, these false teachers were actually eliminating the heart of the gospel message. Without the humanity of Jesus there is no gospel. That is why the apostles boldly preached the reality of Jesus’ humanity.

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. – 1 Peter 2:24 NLT

The doctrine of the bodily death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus became the litmus test for determining the veracity of those claiming to be teachers.

Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here. – 1 John 4:1-3 NLT

So, as Paul continues the introduction of his letter to the Colossian believers, he stresses the humanity of Jesus, reminding them that they had been “reconciled in his body of flesh by his death” (Colossians 1:22 ESV). For Paul, that point was essential, because it explained how sinful human beings could be made right with a holy and righteous God. He even stressed the nature of their pre-conversion state, describing them as “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Colossians 1:21 ESV). This concept of alienation and hostility was a common theme for Paul. He repeatedly stressed the formerly hopeless and helpless condition of those who now enjoyed a right standing with God. He wanted them to consider the almost incomprehensible scope of Christ’s sacrificial death and all that it had accomplished on their behalf.

since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. – Romans 5:9-11 NLT

The physical death of Jesus had made possible their spiritual transformation from enemies of God to friends of God. They had been reconciled to a righteous God by the undeserving death of His righteous and sinless Son. Paul reminded the believers in Rome of the remarkable nature of Jesus’ selfless sacrifice of His own life.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

And Paul told the believers in Colossae that, because Jesus had died in their place, He had been able to present them to God the Father as “holy and blameless and above reproach” (Colossians 1:22 ESV). Jesus had taken upon Himself the penalty for their sins and, in exchange, had placed upon them His own unblemished righteousness. Paul fully understood the significance of this “great exchange,” and boldly proclaimed His appreciation for it and his unwavering dependence upon it.

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. – Philippians 3:9 NLT

For Paul, belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was essential for living the Christian life. He called the Colossians to reject any false teaching that might undermine their faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ and urged them to remain committed to the good news just as they had heard it from Epaphras.

…you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. – Colossians 1:23 NLT

Paul knew that false teachers would be a constant problem in the church. Each generation of believers would face a new wave of plausible but unreliable doctrines concerning the saving work of Jesus. He also knew that immature and poorly informed Christians would be easy targets for false teaching, ending up “tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching” and tricked by “lies so clever they sound like the truth” (Ephesians 4:14 NLT). For Paul, the best defense against false teaching was the truth. And he declared his firm commitment to continue doing what he had always done: Preach the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ to any and all who would listen.

The Good News has been preached all over the world, and I, Paul, have been appointed as God’s servant to proclaim it. – Colossians 1:23 NLT

Paul wanted the Colossians to know that they had been reconciled to God through the physical death of Jesus Christ. He had been a real man who lived a real life and died a real death on the cross – in their place. And by placing their faith in the substitutionary death of Jesus, they had been made right with God. Formerly enemies of God, they now enjoyed a new status as His sons and heirs. And no false teacher or faulty doctrine could take that away from them.

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 Faithful Few

13 “Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? 15 And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’”

16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. 17 “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. – Malachi 3:13-18 ESV

The returned exiles found life in Judah difficult and far below their expectations as God’s chosen people. After having made the arduous journey from Babylon to their former homeland, things had not turned out quite as they had hoped. From their perspective, God had not done His part, having left them relatively defenseless and struggling to make ends meet while the nations around them prospered and threatened their very existence.

As a result, they had taken matters into their own hands, compromising their convictions by worshiping the false gods of their pagan neighbors. They defended their actions as just and necessary, even convincing themselves that they were better off because of the things they had done. To them, God was part of the problem, because they believed His laws to be too restrictive and any attempt to keep them to be far from beneficial.

“What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the Lord of Heaven’s Armies that we are sorry for our sins?” – Malachi 3:14 NLT

This attitude led them to minimize their need for obedience or repentance. They refused to alter their behavior or even admit that they were out of step with God’s will. Instead, they arrogantly boasted about their decision to live their lives in a way that was antithetical to the commands of God.

“From now on we will call the arrogant blessed. For those who do evil get rich, and those who dare God to punish them suffer no harm.” – Malachi 3:15 NLT

They had come to the conclusion that God was either powerless to do anything about their behavior or altogether indifferent as to what was going on in Judah. Having wrongly determined that God was not keeping His end of the covenant agreement, they had chosen to go their own way. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

But years earlier, God had delivered a powerful indictment against such flawed thinking. This was not the first time that the people of Israel had decided to establish a code of conduct that was diametrically opposed to God’s law. Long before God brought the Babylonians to destroy Judah, He had warned His people about their arrogant tendency to establish their own standard of righteousness.

What sorrow for those who say
    that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
    that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes
    and think themselves so clever. – Isaiah 5:20-21 NLT

Spiritually speaking, things were looking bleak in Judah. But according to Malachi, things were not yet hopeless. He indicates that there were a faithful few who remained committed to maintaining their covenant relationship with Yahweh. Evidently, this righteous remnant regularly met together to encourage and motivate one another to remain faithful. While everyone around them was compromising their convictions and joining in the spiritual apostasy of the prevailing culture, these few were determined to stand their ground in the face of overwhelming odds. And God took notice.

God was anything but indifferent or distant. He heard their discussions and took note of their plight. And Malachi indicates that He had each of their names recorded for posterity.

In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and always thought about the honor of his name. – Malachi 3:16 NLT

These people stood out from the crowd. They were outliers in the midst of a nation that had sold out and given in to moral compromise. While everyone else was calling evil good and good evil, this small contingent of believers remained dedicated to God, choosing to show Him reverence and honor by living according to His will rather than their own. They too were suffering, but they refused to blame God. Their lives were just as difficult as anyone else’s, but they were unwilling to turn their backs on God or blame their circumstances on Him. He had repeatedly proven Himself to be faithful and they were willing to continue placing their trust in Him.

And God responded, “They will be my people” (Malachi 3:17 NLT). Having recorded their names in His scroll of remembrance, God assures that their faithfulness will not be forgotten or go unrewarded. He doesn’t promise immediate deliverance or a timely display of compensatory blessings. No, He indicates that their reward will come in the form of deliverance on the coming day of judgment.

“On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient child. – Malachi 3:17 NLT

Malachi opened this chapter with a reminder from God concerning the coming “messenger of the covenant,” stating, “who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap” (Malachi 3:2 ESV).

And God vowed that, in that coming day of judgment, He will hold the people of Israel accountable for their actions. Their conduct will be exposed, judged, and condemned.

“At that time I will put you on trial. I am eager to witness against all sorcerers and adulterers and liars. I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me.” – Malachi 3:5 NLT

God is warning of a future day of retribution and reward that will take place at the second coming of Christ. The tiny remnant who honored and revered His name in the face of growing opposition will stand before God and be rewarded for their faithfulness. But all those who chose to treat His law with disdain and dishonor the holiness of His name will be held accountable.

Before His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus provided His disciples with a vivid description of His return and the day of judgment that will take place for all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike.

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. – Matthew 25:31-33 NLT

There will be a separating of the sheep and the goats, the righteous and the unrighteous. This judgment will not involve those who came to faith in Christ after His ascension. But it will include all the Old Testament saints and everyone else who has lived since the beginning of time. That small remnant of faithful Yahweh followers will be included in the vast crowds that will stand before the Lord. And they will find that their names have been recorded in God’s scroll of remembrance, deeming them free from condemnation and worthy of the reward of eternal life.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.’” – Matthew 25:34 NLT

The key differentiator between the sheep and the goats will be their behavior. But it will not be their behavior that saves them. It will be their faith in God as illustrated by their willingness to live in keeping with His will. These individuals will have displayed a trust in God that manifested itself in a selfless display of care and concern for others. Rather than putting their own needs first, they will have sacrificed their security and comfort for the benefit of others. These people are the ones who offered the full amount of their tithes and offerings so that all the oppressed among them, including the widows, orphans, and foreigners might be cared for. And that is exactly what Jesus describes in His depiction of the day of judgment.

“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:35-40 NLT

The righteous remnant will be rewarded. Not because they have a righteousness of their own, but a righteousness based on their faith in the promises of God. Their unfailing belief that God was faithful and true motivated them to live their lives in keeping with His commands and trusting in His future reward.

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.