Keys To Discernment: Why Paul Prays For Their Wisdom

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Although we’re getting into the meat of Paul’s letter to the Colossians today, our text will demand that we look at some background information on the false teachings that he addresses. I aim to demonstrate how he uses sound doctrine, rather than direct discussion of the errors at hand, to steer the Colossians away from faulty theology and practices.

We’ll most likely only get through two verses in this installment of our study, but (as usual) I’ll quote the whole passage for the sake of context.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. ~~Colossians 1:9-14 (ESV)

If you take verses 9 and 10 at face value, you could get a fairly accurate interpretation of them. Definitely, Christians should pray for each other along these lines, getting beyond the superficial prayers for health, finances, marriages and other temporal matters.  But how much better would it be if we prayed for each other’s spiritual development?

At the risk of sounding like a late night info-mercial, I’m going to say, “But wait — there’s more!” Paul’s not only modeling an important way we should pray for each other. He’s also attacking the pre-gnostic mysticism that threatened the First Century churches in that region.

That mysticism had too many facets to explain in this article; I’ll talk about specific aspects as they come up in the course of our study. Today, therefore, we’ll look at verses 9 and 10 in light of Paul’s introductory reference to the pre-gnostic ideologies that floated around Colossae.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; (ESV)

You can’t help but notice the emphasis on knowledge, wisdom and understanding, can you? Paul beats that drum quite forcefully. As we’ve seen earlier, this apostle has a habit of choosing his words with great deliberation, and these two verses are calculated to counter the claims of secret knowledge that the pre-gnostics purported to possess.

Those false teachers insisted that they offered insights into spiritual mysteries that required initiation into their group (sort of like our present-day Freemasons). Paul counterbalances this error by emphasizing that the Lord is the true source of knowledge, wisdom and understanding. Furthermore, rather than seeking the knowledge that would enhance their pride, Paul prays that they would be filled  with the knowledge of God’s will. He prays that they would be filled with spiritual wisdom and understanding.

The knowledge of God’s will, as well as spiritual wisdom and understanding, comes through the teaching of the apostles — which the Holy Spirit preserved for succeeding generations in the Bible. Thus Paul prays for the Colossians to be filled with sound teaching, not with the mysticism of the pre-gnostics.

Verse 10 elaborates on the knowledge that Paul prays for the Colossians to possess by mentioning its purpose. Whereas the knowledge of the pre-gnostics served only to inflate egos, the knowledge of God’s will enables Christians to walk “in a manner worthy of the Lord.” This phrase targets the pre-gnostic separation of the material and the spiritual that allowed people to claim spirituality while indulging fleshy appetites. Paul prays that his readers will be given a knowledge and wisdom that has implications on their behavior.

The spiritual wisdom Paul desires for his readers will cause them to please the Lord instead of pleasing themselves. Clearly, the apostle makes a distinction between the imitation knowledge of the false teachers in Colossae and the true wisdom that comes exclusively through the knowledge of God.

Interestingly, as Christians please the Lord and bear fruit for Him, we actually increase in our knowledge of Him. The pre-gnostics would never have thought that obedience could lead to even more knowledge. Paul cleverly strikes at their false teaching by simply informing the Colossians as to the nature of his prayers for them.

As I suspected, I can’t go past verse 10 today. Next Monday, Lord willing, we’ll continue with this passage, which is packed with some of the most glorious teaching I’ve ever read! Be sure to join me then.

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Keys To Discernment: Why Paul Wrote To The Colossians

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As a young Christian, I would get impatient when Bible Study teachers would spend time talking about the background to whatever book they taught. I just wanted to grab verses here and there that I could shoehorn into my immediate circumstances. Textual context only mildly interested me; I had absolutely no use for historical or cultural background, thank you very much!

So if you’re groaning at the title of this post, anticipating a boring history lesson about First Century Colossae, I understand. It’s not what you expected from a study on discernment.

Don’t close this article yet, ladies! You need to know that I’m writing a little about the background to this epistle precisely because it will enable us to see how Paul taught discernment without once naming the false teachers that he Continue reading

Intimacy With God May Be Less Complicated Than You Think

Pensive Woman02As my girlfriends and I approached our 30th birthdays, panic and despair set in. We watched other women in the church take wedding vows while we spent lonely Saturday nights without dates. We joked sardonically that we differed from trash because trash gets taken out once a week. (The men in the church failed to appreciate our humor.)

One friend met regularly with me for a while to talk and pray about coping with our singleness. She began encouraging me to develop intimacy with the Lord, explaining only that she sometimes fantasized about Him. I don’t know if those fantasies were romantic — and I don’t think I want to know. At the time, however, I desperately wanted Him to remove the pain and loneliness I felt.

My friend’s exhortations to cultivate intimacy with God left me with the impression that such intimacy came through mystical experiences. I assumed that I would feel His presence in a way that would obliterate my desire for a husband. Obviously, my motives for wanting intimacy with Him were entirely selfish.

Yet the Lord does call Christians to a type of intimacy with Him that has nothing to do with our romantic desires. Even better,  we don’t have to search for spiritual experiences in order to enjoy this intimacy. All we have to do is Continue reading

Flashback Friday: How Do We Hear The Holy Spirit?

In honor of the Truth Matters Conference on the sufficiency of Scripture, I thought this article  from August 31, 2017 might be appropriate:

Voice Of GodCharismatics have claimed personal words from God for years. That figures, since the bulk of charismatic theology (despite their insistence to the contrary) depends on exalting experience over Scripture. In light of that fact, I can almost expect them to believe that God speaks apart from the written Word of God.

A Facebook conversation with someone from the Charismatic church I belonged to in California reminded me recently that a primary argument for God speaking personally pits the living Holy Spirit against the “dead letter” of the Bible. It’s not a denial of Scripture’s authority. In this person’s mind, it’s not even a denial of Scripture’s sufficiency (though that’s pretty much exactly what he’s doing). Rather, it apparently adds a personal relationship with the Spirit that Scripture somehow can’t provide.

Of course, my friend hastens to add, the Spirit never contradicts Scripture. Which raises the question: Why would He then need to speak apart from Scripture in the first place? Why not trust Him to speak through the Bible He inspired?

The mere suggestion that God’s Word is a “dead letter” needing augmentation with personal experiences absolutely chills me. That very idea completely ignores what the Bible says about itself.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ~~Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

As we read God’s Word, the Holy Spirit uses it to convict us of sin, instruct us in righteousness and reveal Who the Triune God is. Through Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us what to look for in a spouse, how to conduct ourselves in business, how to order our families and what His Church should do. Above all that, He shows us His nature and His priorities. He lets us   know what angers Him, what pleases Him and what honors Him.

Certainly, during the course of a day, the Holy Spirit will bring Scriptures and/or Scriptural principles to our minds that we can apply. Even then, please notice, He’s speaking Scripture. He doesn’t, as some claim, direct us to brush a stranger’s hair or purchase an extra bottle of milk. Rather, He commands us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love others as much as we love ourselves.

Until we obey everything He tells us in His Word, what would be the point of Him speaking personally to us?

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Spiritual Warfare And Daring To Rebuke Satan

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There’s a popular notion, particularly in Charismatic circles, that Christians possess the same authority over Satan and demons that Jesus conferred on the First Century apostles. This line of thinking ignores the key point, however, that the apostles received the ability to perform signs and wonders in order to authenticate the Gospel until the New Testament canon could be completed.

Back in November of 2016, I wrote a Bible Study series on the book of Jude for this blog. Because someone recently challenged a statement I made regarding the nature of spiritual warfare, I thought I’d adapt the study I wrote on verses 9 and 10 as a response.

My challenger objected to my remark that spiritual warfare is about resisting temptation rather than about rebuking Satan. He cited Titus 2:15 (out of context, of course) as substantiation for the practice. Um, that’s a gross misinterpretation and misapplication of Paul’s instructions to Titus. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy!

Jude addresses the practice of rebuking the devil more directly than any other New Testament writer,so I believe we best serve this topic by looking at his words. Remember that Jude (a half-brother to Jesus) writes his epistle in order to delineate the characteristics of false teachers. We going to discuss verses 9 and 10, which I want to quote in their proper context.

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. 12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. ~~Jude 8-13 (ESV)

Instead of getting hung up on where this story came from or why Michael and the devil fought over Moses’ body, let’s give our attention to Jude’s meaning.

But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” ~~Jude 9 (ESV)

Jude’s purpose is to contrast the brashness of false teachers who dared to rail against the spiritual realm with the archangel Michael’s humility in deferring to the Lord in cursing the devil. This allusion should warn us not to think that we have the authority to rebuke the devil, since even the highest angel didn’t dare do so.

Michael surely would have had some measure of authority, given the fact that God dispatched him to fight Satan on other occasions (see Daniel 10:13 and Revelation 12:7 for examples). Yet he deemed it presumptuous to  rail against the devil on the basis of that authority. Jude’s point is that, since Michael didn’t rebuke the devil directly, false teachers greatly err in doing so. In fact, this sort of practice actually marks a person as a false teacher.

Maybe we should let that last point sink in. Instead of believing that the Lord gives all Christians the authority to hurl comments at Satan and his minions, shouldn’t we take note that false teachers perform and advocate this sort of behavior? If rebuking the devil identifies a person as a false teacher, perhaps we shouldn’t encourage it.

Jude goes on, in verse 10, to explain that the false teachers who rebuke the  devil don’t even know what they’re talking about.

But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. (ESV)

He shows the irony of their claims of mastery over the spirit world  when all the while their carnal natures consume them. Unlike Michael, who actually is a spirit, these people have limited knowledge of Satan and his demons, and as a result they lack the qualifications to enter into confrontations with them when they really should confront their own sinfulness.

Rebuking Satan appeals to human pride while providing a distraction from the true spiritual warfare of mortifying our sin and refuting false teaching. Jude 9-10, in exposing the wrong focus of those who rebuke the devil, reminds us to maintain a proper attitude. Let’s trust the Lord to rebuke Satan while we concentrate on resisting temptation and closing our ears to Satan’s lies.

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Throwback Thursday: Sending Something You Can’t

Originally published  September 8, 2016:

lilacsMany people, in all innocence, assure their friends that they will send “good,” “positive,” or “healing” thoughts to suffering people. Occasionally, they combine these thoughts with prayers, although typically they serve as substitutes for prayer. Recently I’ve been in some online conversations with fellow evangelicals about the meaning and appropriateness of this sentiment, and those interactions have caused me to think about whether or not Christians ought to use this phraseology.

In fairness, let me begin by acknowledging that many Christians (and indeed many non-Christians) use this type of phrase simply to express the idea that they’re sympathizing with the hurting person. I get that point. Perhaps they’ve heard these phrases and figure they’re nothing more than an updated way of saying “thinking of you.” What’s wrong with keeping up with the current vernacular?

When I hear this type of phrase, however, I generally connect it with either New Age philosophy or Charismatic theology, both of which tend to promote ideas that humans possess “creative” power. New Agers would say that all people have this power, whereas Charismatics would restrict this power to those who are “baptized in the Holy Spirit.”

Back in my Charismatic days, for example, someone in leadership over me said that she  considered a good thought to be equal to a prayer. At the time, I struggled with her comment, finding it both attractive and disturbing. Attractive, because praying doesn’t come easily for me. Disturbing because Scripture nowhere supports such an idea.

Thirty-one years later, I no longer feel attracted to the idea that thoughts have any  sort of metaphysical power. As I see it, the basic concept attributes abilities to man that belong exclusively to the sovereign Lord. In doing a preliminary Google search, I discovered that these types of phrases have their origin in a New Age practice known as Distance Healing.

Consider the following excerpt from a New Age blog post (which, please note, I do not endorse) entitled Sending Your Love From Afar: The Power of Distance Healing.

Visualize the person you want to heal. Feel the divine energy moving outward from you to that person. Do this from a state of mind of total relaxation and acceptance, meaning you do not doubt the effectiveness. You simply allow divine energy to do its work.

Icky-poo! Clearly, this method of “sending good thoughts” relies on the same lie that Satan told Eve in the garden:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. ~~Genesis 3:1-7 (ESV)

Even as Spirit-filled Christians, we must take great care to remember that we are not “little christs” in the sense that we have power to heal or alleviate the suffering of others,  especially by sending positive thoughts. Only the Almighty God has that kind of power. When we claim that our thoughts can have a healing effect, we essentially commit blasphemy.

Again, I realize that many people don’t understand that phrases about sending healing, positive or even good thoughts carry connotations of New Age ideology.  I’ve written this essay, not to shame anyone who has uttered these phrases without knowing their connection to Distance Healing, but to avoid them from this point forward, lest anyone mistakenly associate us with this worldly and demonic philosophy.

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