Pouring Contempt On All My Pride

Whether we admit it or not, all of us struggle with the sin of pride. As I confess my sins during my daily prayer time, I often see how they all emerge from the root sin of pride. I also see how pride keeps me from fully appreciating the wonderful work Christ did for me on the cross.

Pride tells us lies about ourselves. It tells us that Jesus saw something in us deserving of His love. It tells us that we participate in our salvation, if only by exercising our wills to accept Him. It tells us that our obedience to Him makes us righteous.

The cross, on the other hand, tells us that the Prince of glory died and turned our richest gains into loss. It tells us that even if we possessed the entire realm of nature, it wouldn’t be enough of a present to offer Him. It tells us that the love of God demands everything from us, even though we have absolutely nothing worthy of His love.

Keys To Discernment: Qualified By The Lord (Reboot)

Week after next, I will resume writing fresh installments for this Bible Study series on Colossians. As most of you know, I’d begun writing it in January, but at the end of February a compression fracture in my back forced me to take a furlough from it. For about a month now, I’ve been rolling the installments out again to provide continuity before we dive back in. Occasionally, I add comments to my original posts, so you might just want to read these reboots.

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Have you ever noticed the way your pastor uses the pastoral prayer at the beginning of your church’s Sunday service as an opportunity to share spiritual truths? He doesn’t do that by accident. He’s so committed to your spiritual development that he takes every possible opportunity to expose you to sound doctrine.

The apostle Paul uses prayer to begin his letter to the Colossian church, eager to steer them away from the false teachings of both the Judaizers and the pre-gnostics that threatened the churches in Asia Minor. We started examining his prayer last week, so let’s look at the passage again and pick up where we left off.

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.

13 For He rescued 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 (NASB)

Verse 11 shows Paul praying that, as the Lord fills them with knowledge, wisdom and understanding, the Colossians, will be strengthened. But he hastens to explain that the strength must come according to His glorious might, not from the knowledge in and of itself. The pre-gnostics maintained that knowledge brought power, but Paul turns it around to teach that knowledge comes through God’s glorious might.

Remember that all false teachings point to human achievement instead of looking to God’s grace and providence. The Judaizers and the pre-gnostics each believed that their systems would bring them spiritual prestige. Paul corrects their error immediately by affirming that the strength isn’t originated in them. He puts the spotlight solely on God.

Moving on to verse 12, we learn that the Father qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints of light. Man, do I wish we had the time to unpack everything in this verse! For purposes of our particular study, however, it’s best to concentrate on how Paul uses his prayer to repudiate the wrong idea that salvation depends either on human effort or on the attainment of special knowledge.

The fact that the Father Himself qualifies us for salvation turns both heresies on their heads, doesn’t it? It increases the emphasis on God that we just saw in the previous verse. Paul makes sure that his original readers see that neither works nor mysticism gives them any claim on eternal life. Only the gracious love of God the Father makes us worthy to receive the inheritance of His kingdom.

Verse 13 describes how the Father accomplishes our qualification. He personally delivers us from the domain of darkness and transfers us into the kingdom of His Son. We make absolutely no contribution, either by religious rites or by obtaining secret knowledge. Paul again deliberately keeps the focus on God, beginning to demonstrate the contrast between the false teachers that inhabited Colossae and the purity of the Gospel.

In fact, verse 14 introduces the doctrine that God’s Son is our source of redemption, providing the forgiveness of sins. Paul adds this clause quite cleverly, attacking both the Judaizers and the pre-gnostics deftly.

Keep in mind that the Judaizers, although they acknowledged that Jesus died for their sins, still insisted on Jewish rituals (especially circumcision) to achieve right relationship with God. To them, Paul insists that forgiveness of sins can be found only — and completely — in Jesus Christ. It is in Him that we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. His New Covenant renders the demands of the Old Covenant unnecessary.

Remember also that the pre-gnostics believed in a complete separation between the physical and the spiritual. Thus, sins they committed physically weren’t actually sins as far as they were concerned. Redemption came through their secret knowledge and they had no need for forgiveness.

Do you see how succinctly Paul addresses both groups of heretics in one small statement? Forgiveness is necessary in dealing with sin, and it can only come through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Paul wants the Colossians to understand this fundamental point so that they can stand against both groups of false teachers.

Like the First Century Colossians, we are bombarded with teachings that take the emphasis off of Christ. Subtly, they suggest that we must add works or have deeper spiritual experiences before we can really know the fullness of the Christian life. We also must keep returning to the basic Gospel message that Jesus atoned for our sins. Clinging to that truth will protect us from a large amount of false teaching.

Today we have watched Paul call out false teaching simply by infusing his pastoral prayer with sound doctrine. Next week we should arrive at my favorite passage of Scripture, which describes the supremacy of Christ. We’ll see how Paul silences false teachers by exalting His deity. I look forward to studying this passage with you.

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Keys To Discernment: Why Paul Prays For Their Wisdom (Reboot)

As I’ve mentioned before, I had started posting these Bible Studies back in January. At the end of February, a compression fracture in my back forced me to discontinue it. About a month ago, I felt well enough to resume it, and I decided to run the original installments again just to reestablish some continuity. However, I’m augmenting these reruns with a few additional comments to provide clarification or because I missed something earlier.

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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.  Therefore these two verses encourage us to pray for each other far more deeply than we generally do.

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Thoughts About Thinking: Maybe Highly Educated Non-Christians Aren’t All That Smart

Digital drawing of girl in graduation cap and gown

When I lived in Memphis, two friends often volunteered to drive me to church in the wheelchair accessible van that I had. One friend had a Master’s Degree (in what, I don’t know) while the other had only completed a GED.

The three of us always found it amusing that the one with the GED consistently had to show the one with the Master’s Degree how to use the tie-downs to secure my wheelchair. Consistently, I said. Every. Single. Time. We’d say, “So much for higher education!”

Thankfully the one with the Master’s Degree had a good sense of humor.

As cute as this story is, it illustrates a point the apostle Paul made about the disparity between human wisdom and the wisdom of God.

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Secure — By His Grace

Isn’t it easy to make ourselves responsible for procuring and maintaining our salvation?  Something in us insists on taking at least a small portion of credit for our acceptance into heaven. Certainly, I spent years figuring out theological systems that allowed me to view myself as a contributor to my standing before God.

Thankfully, the Lord used His Word to convince me that He both initiated my salvation and will carry it to completion. He alone deserves all the glory.

This realization humbles us, which explains why so many of us fight against it. Surely, there must be some little way we cooperate with the Holy Spirit! Just a little? But no, Christ claims all the glory. His mercy takes us from start to finish.

Precisely because everything about our salvation emanates from His mercy and grace, we enjoy absolute security. Nothing can rob us of the security that He has bought us with His blood and therefore He will keep us for Himself. He will not permit anything — including ourselves — to interfere with His eternal purpose for us. We can rest secure in His grace.

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Responding To The World’s Sin On Social Media

Hope in the LordI can’t remember anything about the show I watched on TV that evening 40 years ago except for that few seconds. An old man sat in his rocking chair, excitedly reading his Bible. As I recall, he read a chapter on Israel’s conquest of Canaan. He sat on the edge of his seat gleefully shouting, “Get ’em, Lord!”

It turned my stomach and broke my heart. What a horrible characterization of Christians!

Over the years, I reassured myself that the scene from the TV show merely betrayed Hollywood’s well-known bias against Christianity. That theory definitely has its merit. Even in its early days, the film industry had a certain animosity towards Biblical thought. By the 1980s that animosity was beginning to get less covert. So course the writers of that show would depict a Christian character as a vengeful old man who got his jollies from the destruction of sinners.

Lately, as I scroll through things Christians post on Twitter and Facebook, I find myself wondering if Read More »

She Thought Speaking Forcefully Would Attract Them To Jesus — In My Dreams!

Soccor Mom 01Dream analysis has no place in Biblical thought. It’s a construct of Freudian psychology, developed by a man who was openly hostile to religion of any type. So please don’t misunderstand my article — I mention last night’s dream only to make a point about what sharing the Gospel.

It was one of my crazy dreams about Boston in which the places bear absolutely no resemblance to the way they are in real life. Nevertheless, John and I cut through a non-existent (in real life) red brick alley to get to one side of Quincy Market to the other so that I could get a cannoli. As we approached the cannoli stand, we Read More »

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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Before We Discern The Sins Of Others

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We all enjoy letting people think that we are “in the know,” don’t we? By billing ourselves as having the gift of discernment, we indeed can puff ourselves up…at least in our own eyes. But the same Bible that  commands us to call out false teachers and correct sinners also admonishes us to maintain an attitude of humility.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. ~~Galatians 6:1-5 (ESV)

When we have concerns about a person’s ministry and/or personal conduct, therefore, we must first examine ourselves. Why do we feel the necessity to call attention to Read More »