Word and Deed

Some have estimated that the Old Testament has 613 laws by which the Jew was to pattern his or her life. Can you imagine?! The New Testament does not have an extensive code like the Old Testament. Paul summarizes the expectations of you and me as a disciple of Jesus very simply when he says in Col 3:17, “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.”

What does that mean? The word “whatever” includes everything. It is a reference to all “words” and “works.” Nothing is excluded.

What is Paul asking me to do? Our words and works are to be in harmony with the name of the Lord Jesus. The concept of a person’s “name” was a reference to all that the person represented. Paul also uses the description “Lord Jesus,” not just the name “Jesus.” This is significant because it shows the exalted position of Jesus. He is our Lord because he is God the Son.

Constable summarizes this concept by saying,

“We should say all words and practice all deeds in harmony with the revelation of Jesus Christ, namely under His authority and as His followers.”

This simple verse encompasses all of life. All of my life is to be lived in harmony with who Jesus revealed himself to be! I am to bring all of my words and works under his leadership because he is my God. The Bible makes no distinction between “secular” and “Christian” work. All words and all work should be done the same way, under the leadership of Jesus and in harmony with his will.

Father, thank you for making the expectations of a disciple of Jesus so clear. All of my life is to be lived for you and in harmony with who Jesus is and has called me to be. That is so simple and yet so hard. By your gracious enabling, help me to bring all my words and my works under your leadership and help me to live with the attitude of thanksgiving that is also mentioned in this passage.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

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A Soldier’s Discipline

When we consider how the church should stand in the midst of a world constantly on a downward moral spiral, Paul gives some great insight when he is commending the church in Colosse. In Col. 2:5 he says, “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.”

The Colossian church was a good church. It had apparently been started by Epaphras and had never met Paul. The church was functioning as it was designed to function and was not in chaos like the church at Corinth. Paul was not coming to rescue them because they were in error, but he is commending them for their growing faith in spite of those who wished to do them harm.

Although there are a number of things Paul mentions in this section to commend them, the two things in verse 5 impressed me today. Paul said he was rejoicing because of their “good order” and their “firmness in faith.”

The significance of these descriptions are captured well by Barclay when he says,

“These two words present a vivid picture, for they are both military words. The word translated order is taxis, which means a rank or an ordered arrangement. The Church should be like an ordered army, with every man in his appointed place, ready and willing to obey the word of command. The word translated firmness is stereōma, which means a solid bulwark, an immovable phalanx (a body of troops in close formation). It describes an army set out in an unbreakable square, solidly immovable against the shock of the enemy’s charge. Within the Church there should be disciplined order and strong steadiness, like the order and steadiness of a trained and disciplined body of troops.”

What a picture of the church as it is to be ready to stand up for and follow Christ and his will. So often the church hides and endures rather than stands fast and resists the moral decay that surrounds us.

Father, thank you for the example of the church at Colosse. They have modeled how we all should be arm and arm in your service ready and willing to do your will at a moments notice. May you help me to live such a ready a yielded life for your service.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Reversing The Tide

Some people in life are so influenced by their surroundings that they pursue a path that is in harmony with the heritage that was modeled to them. Other times, a rare few make heroic choices to reverse the path of their heritage and overcome the negative influences they suffered and take a new path.

This reality came to life for me when I was reading 1 Kings 15. This section introduces to us how the Kings of Judah would be evaluated. There were 19 kings of Judah. Of those kings, 11 were considered “bad” and 8 were considered “good.” This evaluation came from a comparison to David. They were considered “good” if they wholeheartedly followed God as David did, or they were considered “evil” if they departed from sole allegiance to God and worshiped other gods in place of or in addition to God. In our section, we have two “bad” kings and then one “good” king. How did Asa break the trend and become a good king?

To understand this section, it is helpful to remember how some of the people that are mentioned in this text are related to one another.

1) Rehoboam was a son of Solomon and became king of Judah after Solomon.
2) Rehoboam married Maacah who was the daughter of Absalom, one of David’s sons.
3) Abijah was the son of Rehoboam and one of Rehoboam’s other wives named Micaiah (1 Chron. 13:1). He became king after Rehoboam.
4) Asa was the son of Abijah and became king after Abijah died.
5) Maacah was Asa’s grandmother (not mother as some translations have it).

The choice of Solomon to have many wives caused him to depart from sole allegiance to God and resulted in him worshipping the other gods of his wives. This choice not only impacted Solomon but also set a new model for his decedents to follow. The fruit of this new model was tragic for his family and the nation.

This heritage impacted Rehoboam and Maacah. They continued this departure from sole allegiance to God. In fact, in 2 Chron. 12:1, 14, it says that when Rehoboam was established and strong as king, he abandoned the LORD altogether!

The influence of his household continued to the next generation and impacted Abijah the son of Rehoboam and Micaiah. When he became king, he made many idols and established male cult prostitutes (1 Ki. 15:12). And yet in the midst of this MESS, Asa became king of another generation. He put away the cult prostitutes, removed the idols of his father, removed his grandmother Maacah from the role of queen mother because she had made a particularly offensive idol. He also destroyed that idol!

Asa came out of the quagmire of his messed up family and turned out to be a great man of courage. Although he too had problems and made mistakes in life, what he did right is he put God back as his primary allegiance and he did this in spite of the years of poor modeling he had seen with his family!

Father, thank you for the great courage of Asa! What a man. He chose to follow you and you alone in spite of the years of idolatry that had been modeled for him through his parents and grandparents. Thank you for being “big enough” to help us to break free from our influences. May you help me to leave a legacy worth modeling rather than one that must be set free from!

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

A Real Rembrandt

Who is Jesus? Paul, in Col. 1: 15 says something very amazing about him. This verse says, “He is the image of the invisible God…”

What does it mean for Jesus to be the “image of the invisible God?”

The word translated “image” is very interesting. It means “likeness or resemblance.” Barclay notes that it was also used in Greek for “portrait.” Jesus is not only the representation of God the Father, but also the manifestation of him. Specifically Barclay states, Jesus is the portrait of God. In him, you see the personal characteristics and the distinguishing marks of God. If you want to see what God is like, look at Jesus.”

When we think of God and the truth that he is invisible and spirit, Jesus when he took on flesh, portrayed God the Father to us in a way that we could understand. Jesus is identical to the Father, that is why he can accurately reveal God to us. He does not reveal what God is like physically, but through taking on flesh, he is able to express the invisible God to us in a way we can see and understand him. When we see Jesus, we see God in action.

Constable gives two quotes that help to show that amazing reality of Jesus being the image of the invisible God. He says,

“The Greek word translated ‘image (eikon),’ … does not imply a weakening or a feeble copy of something. It implies the illumination of its inner core and essence.” (TDNT)

“To call Christ the image of God is to say that in Him the being and nature of God have been perfectly manifested—that in Him the invisible has become visible.” (Bruce)

Have you grasped the significance of this truth? The One who spoke the universe into existence, the One who has made man, has also sent his Son to reveal what he is like to you and me! Jesus is the masterful portrait of God to the world!

Father, what a great reminder of the uniqueness and greatness of your Son Jesus. There is no one like him that has ever lived. He took on flesh to accomplish our redemption but also to reveal to us in a way we could understand, what you are like. He is the magnificent portrait of you.

Thank you for caring enough about us to send your Son to us so that we can be saved from our sin but also so that we might know what you are like and have a relationship with you. May those truths always be fresh to me.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

“As Now So Then”

Today I was reminded of what a friend of mine told me many years ago, “as now, so then.”  Over the years, I have come to appreciate the truth of that statement. What did he mean by that comment? In effect he meant, what I am doing now, I will be doing in the future, if I do not make plans to act differently.

This reminder came when I was reading Ps. 95:7-11 which says,

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof though they had seen my work.
For forty years, I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.’ Therefore I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

What hit me about this story is that it is mentioned in three different time periods in the Bible. The first time was with the wilderness generation (Deut. 6; Ex.17). They chose to test God by being stubborn in resisting to believe his promises which really was a challenge to his character. The second time period this story is mentioned is here in the book of Psalms. This reminder was a few hundred years later when Israel was a major nation in the world. Even then they still could choose to rebel against God’s leadership if they stubbornly chose not to follow his Word. Thirdly, it is mentioned in the New Testament era in Heb. 3:7-12 showing that the choice to test and rebel against God is still something that can be done in the church age!

What is the point? Just as the wilderness generation was prone to choose to disbelieve God and his promises, so also was the nation of Israel at the height of its glory! Since the passage is in the New Testament, that tendency in us has not changed even with the birth of the Church. I, today, must be careful not to question God, his faithfulness, nor his ability to live up to his promises. I need to know that this is a real possibility for me today. In addition, I need to choose to live by faith in God and his promises.

Father, thank you for the clear teaching of your Word. Some things in life do not change with time. Just as the wilderness generation was in danger of responding to you and your promises with a lack of faith, so am I today. May you help me not to doubt you, your promises, your love, nor your ability to fulfill your promises. Instead, may you help me to live by faith in spite of my circumstances.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

A Mark Of The Church

When you think of what should distinguish the Church from other gatherings what comes to mind? There are a number of things that should set apart a local church body from other groups. Paul, in the midst of his very encouraging letter to the Philippians, says this in Phil 4:2-3,

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

Seemingly out of nowhere, after Paul’s exhortations for unity in the church (2:2), he brings up an apparent quarrel between two of the faithful and influential women in the church! Paul compliments them for the service, but also encourages them rather than commands them to “agree in the Lord.” This implies that they may have had a legitimate difference of opinion, but their lack of agreement was causing division in the church. As a loving brother, Paul pleads with them to come to an agreement in the Lord.

According to Zodhiates, the word for “agree” describes an “activity…(which) involves the will, affections, and conscience.” These women had to bring their wills, affections and consciences into alignment in the Lord.

Why would this be important? As Barclay notes, “A quarreling Church is no Church at all, for it is one from which Christ has been shut out. No man can be at peace with God and at variance with his fellow-men.”

The more I thought of this sudden issue brought up by Paul I realized that we know nothing else about these women. The additional words of Barclay on this passage are very challenging. He says,

“It is a grim thought that all we know about Euodia and Syntyche is that they were two women who had quarreled! It makes us think. Suppose our life was to be summed up in one sentence, what would that sentence be? Clement goes down to history as the peacemaker; Euodia and Syntyche go down as the breakers of the peace. Suppose we were to go down to history with one thing known about us, what could that one thing be?”

Father, how would someone summarize my life in one sentence? That is a very challenging thought! Will you help me to be a loyal, faithful and sacrificial servant of your church and not allow me to be the source of any quarreling or division. Instead, help me to model the unity you desire and also help to keep it in the local church in which I serve.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Join Me In…

If you could pick someone to be like, who would it be? There certainly can be many answers to that question, but Paul had an interesting perspective on that topic. Notice what he says in Phil. 3:17,

“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”

The first thing Paul tells us is to join in imitating him! The word translated “imitate” is describing “one who joins others as an imitator—‘to join as an imitator, to be an imitator together with others, joint imitator’” (Louw and Nida). In effect, Paul is saying to the readers that they should join together and unite in imitating him. The emphasis of the verb is something they should continually be doing. Therefore, Paul is saying, “join together with the other brothers and continually be imitating me and my life!” That is quite a statement. Most say, “do as I say, not as I do.” Paul is confident enough to say the opposite. “Do as I do.”

This may appear to reveal pride in Paul until the rest of the verse is considered. Paul is saying not only that we should imitate him but also others who walk according to the same model of life we see in Paul. Paul is not the only one worth imitating in the Christian life. There are many believers today who are worthy of imitating because their ultimate goal is to be like Jesus.

Paul uses phrase “keep your eyes on” to describe the kind of looking we should be doing in trying to find those worth imitating. This Greek word is where we get the English word “scope.” We are to “look intently or scope out” others who are living a faithful Christian life to see how we can model them as they follow Christ. This implies an intentional thought process. You and I should be intently observing and thinking about the example others in the faith have left for us to follow.

I have been very fortunate to have believers in my life that I have tried to model because they were trying to be like Jesus. There have also been men who I have read about but never met, that have influenced my life. An example of this would be Jim Elliot who was martyred as a missionary. In reading one of the books about his life he made a statement that has been with me for 40 years! He said, “He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” He was talking about not being afraid to even give up your life if need be in the service of Christ because of the certainty of what awaits the disciple of Jesus in heaven. He ended up doing that very thing when he was killed by the people he was trying to reach with the Gospel!

Father, I thank you that we have examples in scripture to follow and imitate. Great men and women who lived by faith. I thank you also that we have current and past believers that are still worth imitating as well. There is alway someone further down the road in his faith that is worth me modeling in addition to Paul as described in this passage. May you help me be someone worth imitating. May others be able to say they are trying to become like me because I am trying to become like Christ.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

The New Normal

In Phil. 2:1-4, Paul tells the readers that they could bring him great joy while he is in prison if they conduct themselves in a way that will maintain the unity of the faith. When Paul saw unity in disciples of Jesus it brought him inner joy.

How can that be our experience today? Paul makes it very simple. Notice what he says in verses 3-4,

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

In addition to his comments of not living in a way that is self-centered or leads to pride, Paul shares a couple of things that we can do that will allow us to experience unity.

Paul tells the readers that they should in “humility,” “count” others more significant than themselves. The word for “humility” describes “a quality of voluntary submission and unselfishness” (Friberg). This implies the equality of all believers, but the mature choice is to see the value in others and treat them and their needs above my own.

In addition, the word “count” literally is referring to leadership. Figuratively, it is describing “to lead out before the mind” (Zodhiates). Paul is challenging the Philippians to right thinking. I need to have my mind lead to appropriate action.

So what is all this saying? I should voluntarily choose to lead my actions with my mind in a way that sees the needs of others and treat them as more significant than myself. This does not mean others are more important or more valuable, but because I have a clear understanding or who I am, and what God expects of me, I can choose to serve others as an expression of God’s love to others. In fact, the rest of the chapter tells us that Jesus is the model for us in this area.

Father, how easy it is to look out for what “I want,” and what I think “I need.” Help me to change my focus and allow me to lead with my mind by thinking appropriately about the needs and interests of others. Help me to seek to serve others rather than my selfish interest on a regular basis. May that be my “new normal.”

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Learning From Solomon

Solomon is known in the Bible as the wisest man to ever live. He wrote 3000 proverbs and 1005 songs. People came to hear his wisdom from far and wide. He reigned when Israel was at its pinnacle!

As great as his wisdom was, today I was challenged by his failure. His fall is described in 1 Kings 11:1-9. What was his downfall? Note what part of this passage says,

“For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father…And the LORD was angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the LORD commanded.”

The passage reveals that Solomon did not fully depart from God, but he no longer exclusively followed him. He had disobeyed God by having many wives from other nations against God’s command (Deut. 17:17). God knew the result of such marriages would be following other god’s because of their influence. Solomon no longer had God as his number one allegiance. He was now riding the fence between living his way and God’s way.

The text is careful to point out that Solomon chose this disobedience even though God had miraculously appeared to him twice! Solomon, the wisest man to ever live concluded his great reign under God’s discipline because of his shortsighted and foolish choices. Even Solomon was not immune to living for himself even though he had unsurpassed wisdom. He clearly still had a fallen nature.

Father, it is easy to idolize those in scripture who seem to have it all together. Yet your Word doesn’t hide the failures of these great men and women. Solomon had a failure of his heart. He lost his number one allegiance to you. He took for granted all that he had and his failure became clear when he was older in age. He had grown dull in his heartfelt obedience. May you give me the grace to be faithful as I age. May you give me a strong heart that longs for you above my sinful passions all my days.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff

Walk Worthy

The few times I have been out of the country, I have always been thankful that I am an American. Our heritage, tradition, freedom and commitment to our citizens provides some peace of mind when on foreign soil.

The Philippians were proud to be Roman Citizens.  Their city was a mini-Rome. Paul reminds them and us in Phil. 1:27, that another citizenship we have as disciples of Jesus should influence how we live even more than our earthly citizenship. Part of this verse says, “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

What exactly does Paul mean by that statement? The words “let your manner of life be worthy,” translate one Greek word. As Constable points out, this is not the normal word for “conduct,” but it literally means, “to live as a citizen.’ This was a specially appropriate term to use in a letter to people who took great pride in their Roman citizenship (cf. Acts 16:12, 20–21). The Philippian Christians, however, were also citizens of a more important kingdom, a heavenly one.”

So then, Paul is reminding us that we should be living as  citizens worthy of heaven. This citizenship is made possible because of our belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Father, what a simple reminder of a very significant truth. I should be living as an alien here. My present conduct should be reflective of my true destiny and my citizenship in heaven. Help me to remember this truth daily. Help me to live in light of my future citizenship more than my present one.

Following Jesus with you,

Jeff