I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Colossians 4:18
Two people will personally be delivering Paul’s letter to the Colossians -- Tychicus and Onesimus. These two men will soon set off for the long 1,200+ mile (yes…1,200+ MILES…with no car, train, or plane) journey from Rome to Colossae. Do you think they have any idea of the significance of what they were carrying? Did they take extra caution to protect it from the elements during the journey? Could they have even imagined the impact this little letter would have? And not just for the Colossians, but for the millions who have read it since and will read it in the future.
Paul closes with mention of more fellow workers, and a peek into the team performing a mighty work of God. Each with different skills and purposes. We need each other, friends.
Paul closes, “remember my chains.” How would you want to be remembered? For Paul, it wasn’t his conversion count, the churches he planted, or his beautifully written words. It was his chains. The length he would go to make the mystery of the gospel fully known. His joining of Christ in His suffering.
The letter complete. Rolled up tightly and handed to Tychicus and Onesimus. Packed safely in their satchel with provisions for the long trip to Colossae. Possibly a few tears. Covered in prayer, no doubt.
In this day of instant communication via a multitude of channels, it is hard to grasp how special these letters are. They can’t just FaceTime Paul with a question, or shoot a quick text to Luke asking him for advice, or post a message on Demas’s Facebook account to encourage him to stick with the ministry. It was a slow process of penning a letter, hand-delivering it hundreds -- even thousands -- of miles away, and then waiting for a word to travel back. I imagine it brought a savoring; a careful consideration and study of each and every word. Let us savor it with the same appreciation.
Questions: What seemingly hard or small or insignificant tasks are you currently engaged in? Could they possibly have an eternal significance that you just can’t see yet? How do you want to be remembered?
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 4:5-6
Our words lose their power when our walk doesn’t match up to our talk. It doesn’t mean we are perfect or anywhere close to it, but we do care about showing Christ and a life in Christ. At the same time, we aren’t called to just go out and live a good life but not talk about it with others. The talking part is critical too! Paul shares instructions for evangelizing to non-believers that includes BOTH walking AND talking.
Walk in Wisdom: John Piper said of wisdom… “Wisdom is knowing what to do for the glory of God when the rule book runs out…It’s having a feel for the moment, and having an eye for what people need and want”
Making the Best Use of Time: We should be walking in those open doors around us with a sense of urgency. We don’t want to miss opportunities that could be lost forever because we are too busy, too distracted, or too self-focused.
Gracious Speech: Kind, humble, accommodating. We can be gracious in our speech without compromising truth. In such a polarizing cultural environment, gracious speech is a breath of fresh air.
Seasoned with Salt: Salt is used to make bland things taste better, as well as a preservative. How can we speak in a way that is full of life-giving truth and worthy of “tasting” what we are saying? Truth in a manner that is appealing, interesting, relevant, and as appetizing as possible. A message that is preserved in the recipient’s head and heart. Something they will think about again and desire to know more.
Personal: Paul says we ought to answer EASH person. In other words, it isn’t just a canned speech or a set formula for everyone. It is based on relationship and knowing something about the person and where they uniquely are in their life. It involves listening and responding accordingly.
Question: Which of these 5 things is easiest/hardest for you?
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. Colossians 4:3
Paul’s prayer request while sitting in a Roman prison? Open doors to proclaim the gospel. The thing that got him in prison in the first place is the thing he is asking for prayers to be able to do more of. His blinding encounter with the risen Jesus not only changed his life, it changed his mission and passion.
Paul planted churches and he preached the Word to so many people in so many places who then planted churches. But now here he is in prison. Might he be thinking doors that were once open to him were now closed? What does he do with this time? He writes letters. Something he may not have had time to do if we were out planting more churches. I wonder what he thinks in heaven watching us today reading from one of the many letters he wrote from prison. These prison letters and the others he wrote make him the most influential writer of the most read book of all time. Oh, doors were open. He didn’t see it at the time, but the impact he had because of his passion, perseverance, and single-minded focus on Jesus regardless of his circumstances is mind-blowing.
If, like Paul, you feel all the doors around you are closed, let this encourage you that they are more open than you think. Be persistent. Keep praying. Do what God is telling you to do. Your obedience will have far more impact than you can see once God gets His hands on it.
But I suspect most of us recognize that there are open doors all around us, we just aren’t walking through them. Let’s decide to take mustard-seed-yeast-size steps through those doors. If we really believed the news was as good as we say it is, we would want it to be told.
Questions: What doors has God strategically placed around you? Are you eagerly walking through or are you scared to step in? Or, do you feel like all the doors are closed? Ask God to show you the open doors He wants you to walk through today.
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. Colossians 3:16
I used to think of music in a church setting as a kind of add-on thing to the main thing. Something to warm people up and kill time waiting for latecomers to arrive before getting to the good stuff, and then something to wrap the service up. But over time a shift occurred where I realized worship was an integral part of a Christian community coming together (I’m a slow learner!). The music isn’t for us as the recipient. God is the recipient…it is an act of worshiping God. We sing to Him. We lift our voices in unison – as a united people – in praise to God. It gets our soul in sync with Him in preparation to study His Holy Word. And we end service in response to the study of the Word, again praising and thanking Him.
Think about it…some people love to read, some hate it. Some people love to write, some hate it. Some people like to speak in front of crowds, some hate it. But everyone loves music. Not necessarily the same kind of music, but everyone likes music. In God’s creativity and love of order, God created music. Melodies and rhythms with endless combinations to tell stories, remember God’s Word, praise God. And God sings over us (check out Zephaniah 3:17).
When I focus on the lyrics, so often I am moved to tears as I join in worship at church. Our reaction to worship is a result of the spirit of God showing Himself and moving in and around us as we come together in joint worship. It is a beautiful thing to be in active worship to our God.
Through hymns and worship music, God’s Word is set to melodies that help teach us, heal our soul, remind us who He is, encourage us, and fill us with His goodness and wisdom. On a personal level, we get to intimately feel God near. Corporately we get to join others with one voice in united praise. And we do it all in the name of Jesus, with thankful hearts.
Challenge: Next time you are in church, intently listen to the lyrics. Make it your worship to God in preparation for the service.
… by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. That he set aside, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:14
The ultimate power the rulers and authorities thought they had over Jesus was death. The Jewish leaders got their way and witnessed the sentence and the crucifixion of Jesus. In their minds, they won. Their biggest threat was gone. But three days later, Jesus rose from the dead.
The worst they could do to Him had no power over Him. Little did they know, it was what He came for. It was always Plan A. They thought they triumphed over Him, but it was He who triumphed over them. It was not the end. In fact, it was just the beginning.
Just as legal wrongdoings require accountability and justice, so do moral ones. But we can never meet the demands. We would always be in debt. Just try to be holy for a whole day. Impossible.
Imagine being dragged from a jail cell, placed in a courtroom and having all of your sins read aloud. The guilt, shame, and panic unbearable. The anxiety waiting for the verdict and punishment you deserve. Then imagine Jesus walking in from the back of the courtroom, approaching the judge and taking the verdict and punishment upon Himself. The judge looks at you and simply says, you are free to go. Case closed.
The verdict of our sins slipped between the hand of Jesus and the cross. A nail securing it in place binding them together. The document covered in the blood of Jesus, unable to come loose. Then buried in the grave.
The message of grace, sacrifice, forgiveness, canceled debt, and freedom is so beautiful. How can we make it understood and make it stick? Because the truth is, THIS is what will make us want to walk out of the courtroom and do life differently. To live with a lightened load, to live with immense gratitude, to live telling others of the amazing gift we were given, to love more deeply.
Questions: How can we share the message of grace? How can we walk in freedom of one whose debt is wiped clean?
For in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Colossians 1:19
Holiness, wisdom, grace, creativity, authority, power, excellence, mercy, justice, love…all power and attributes. How tightly it all was squeezed into the constraints of human flesh during Jesus’s short 33 years on earth.
God actively and continuously pursues us. From the Fall in Genesis 3 to Revelation, God is drawing closer to us to bring us back to Genesis 1…the beginning, when God’s creation walked and talked and DWELT with Him without constraints. He longs to physically dwell with us again.
In the Old Testament, God dwelt in the tabernacle tent and later the temple. Tucked deep in the temple was the Holy of Holies behind a thick curtain that only the high priest…only once a year…could enter to make a sacrifice for the sins of the people. Access to the presence of God and the forgiveness of sins was only available via the high priest. And the forgiveness of sins was temporary. Then Jesus - God in the flesh – arrives on the scene. The presence of God – God Himself – getting closer to His people; dwelling with His creation.
Where God dwelt with the Israelites in the temple, He now dwelt in the human body of Jesus, God in the flesh. And when Jesus fulfilled His mission here on earth, the presence of God was released from the confines of the Holy of Holies. The curtain was torn in two, no longer separating God from His people. God is getting closer to His people. First in the temple, then in the person of Jesus walking AMONG His people, then via the Holy Spirit IN His people.
The entire Bible is the story of God’s plans unfolding. Redemption, reconciliation, restoration through Jesus. The promise of a new heaven and new earth – a new dwelling place with God for eternity – is in the final chapters of God’s word, where we will again dwell with God without hindrance forever. Until that day, let us dwell well in these earthly bodies.
Questions: Imagine what it will be like to once again dwell with God – face to face with the Creator of all things. Describe a hypothetical day in the life.
And he is BEFORE ALL THINGS…in him all things hold together…he is the head of the body, the church…he is the beginning…he is preeminent in everything. Colossians 1:17-18
Our culture doesn’t like to put other people first. We follow leaders only as long as they don’t disrupt our comfort or individual goals.
“I’ve discovered that the less some people know about Christ the more they like Him. The baby in the manger touches even the most cynical soul who has long since given up on religion. The secularist who is bent on reforming society quotes selected verses from the Sermon on the Mount with reverence. And the religious types use Him as their example of humility, sacrifice, and basic goodness. He is worthy to be spoken about in hushed tones. He is, say some, the first among equals. Yet in all this He is often dammed by faint praise. Since Christ said that the world would hate Him, we can be quite sure that when the world loves Him it is because they have made Him into something He is not. The biblical Christ cannot be dismissed; He stands in our path forcing us to make a decision, either to the right or to the left. In His presence neutrality is impossible. The babe in the manger quickly grows to become God, the King.” (Reference: Paul’s Letter to the Colossians: An Exegetical and Devotional).
We often love Jesus as long as He fits our narrative. We love pieces and parts of Him that can be used to our advantage. We want Him… and we want the world.
But that isn’t how it works with God. He is first. He is before all things. He is preeminent. He will not take second place, because He can’t. And with Jesus as the head, everything flows from that vantage point, not in addition to, or in conflict with it. We don’t have a little bit of Jesus here, and a little bit of sin there…nice and separate and compartmentalized.
Jesus has to be first. Not one of many, but THE ONE supreme and preeminent. Not one of many ways we can be saved, but the ONLY way we can be saved. Not one of many ways to God, but the ONLY way to God.
Question: Is Jesus before ALL things in your life?
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. Colossians 1:15-16
What we believe about Jesus matters. A lot. Part of the reason for Paul’s letter the Colossians was to clear up false teachings. Because when our understanding of who Jesus is shifts, it changes everything. Paul wants to be sure we know exactly who this person is that came to earth to save us.
Jesus is one of the persons of the trinity. There is only one God who exists as three persons…the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. These three persons are not just a part of God, but they are fully and equally God. They are not three different roles played by God at different points in time. There has always been and will always be three distinct persons existing in the one God. Modeling community; oneness. They are in full cooperation with one another and testify to each other. They function in different capacities, relating to us in different ways. All while still being fully God themselves. None were created. They were all there from the beginning. Equal in glory and equal in majesty.
Any lesser understanding of who Jesus is changes everything. He can’t simply be a good person or a good representative and representation of God… He must BE GOD. And Paul wants to make sure the Colossians – and us – know this.
We have the power of the Holy Spirit now and the hope for an eternal new dwelling because of the blood of Jesus on the cross. The final and faultless sacrifice all the others before pointed toward. The perfect lamb that was slain so eternal death would pass over us. The great high priest who WAS the sacrifice and who MADE the sacrifice.
Jesus – God the Son, the Redeemer – came to earth in the flesh to carry out the plan of salvation that was created and set in place from the beginning of time. He came to earth dressed like us to save us.
Challenge: Spend time today pressing into who Jesus is.
Do not be anxious about ANYTHING… Philippians 4:6
How, Paul? I don’t want to be anxious. What about this mess I am in? What about those health issues? What about this financial burden? What about that child who is wandering? What about my addicted friend who can’t seem to pull it together? What about the balls I am dropping, the deadlines, the school work, the laundry, the bills? How, Paul…how can I get to a place where I am not anxious about ANYTHING?
“…in EVERYTHING by PRAYER and SUPPLICATION with THANKSGIVING let your requests be known to God.” Pray. Ask. Remember gratitude.
“And the PEACE OF GOD, which SURPASSES all understanding, will GUARD your HEARTS and your MINDS in Christ Jesus.” Oh, how we need our hurting hearts and over-thinking minds guarded by the prince of peace.
Yes, there is hardship and suffering and evil and trials in this life. But there is also A LOT of GOOD. Paul goes on to say, “Finally, brothers, whatever is TRUE, whatever is HONORABLE, whatever is JUST, whatever is PURE, whatever is LOVELY, whatever is COMMENDABLE, if there is any EXCELLENCE, if there is anything WORTHY OF PRAISE, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
Paul closes the letter by saying that he has learned to be content in whatever situation he finds himself in. Whether brought low or abounding; whether in plenty or hunger; whether in abundance or need. He has learned the secret facing every circumstance: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13). He says God is willing and able to “supply every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19).
Challenge: Practice gratitude…start a gratitude list. Practice dwelling on the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy. It might mean turning off the news, taking a break from that group that tends to drag you into negative talk and gossip, or blocking a few social media feeds, but your heart and mind will be guarded, making room for the overflowing peace of God.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14
Like Paul, we too have an upward call from God. Like Paul, we were created with purpose for purpose. Like Paul, we have unique skill sets, experiences, personalities, passions, and callings. Things the Creator set into motion as part of His Creation.
You might be thinking Paul is killing it here, and you are still trying to figure it out, or just trying to stay afloat, or feeling like things are falling apart around you.
Even Paul is still pressing on...dwelling not on triumphs or missteps that are behind, but straining toward what lies ahead. We can be effectively living in our calling and still have work to do. As long as we are still alive, we beg God for discernment and open doors around our calling, and then we press into it.
When we are stepping into our calling, we are in sync with how we were created and we are in sync with our overarching mission of glorifying God in the best way we can. In our calling, we will find that contentment, peace, purpose, and joy our souls crave.
Paul encourages us to forget past failures, missteps, hardships, and missed opportunities. Mourn them and then move on. Likewise, don’t perpetually dwell on past success and accomplishments, always looking back. Instead, strain forward to what lies AHEAD. Press into the still small voice from God. Press on to the glorious work of God in your life.
Questions: Do you feel like you are living out a calling from God, pressing into the work He has for you? If you are unsure where to start, we have created some worksheets at www.butGodMinistry.com/PathToPurpose
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Philippians 2:3
Our culture tells us to look out for #1 (ourselves, of course!), that it’s all about our self-preservation and self-promotion. We should build our brand; our platform. But true to the upside-downness of the Kingdom of God, Paul says to look out for OTHERS first, count others more important, seek the interest of others over our own.
It isn’t about ignoring our well-being…that matters too. Paul follows the original statement with, “Look out not only to your own interests but also to the interest of others.” (Philippians 2:4) I think he is trying to say, “of course you need to look out for yourself, but it isn’t all – or even mostly – about you. Make sure you are looking out for others; in fact, make sure you are counting them more significant than yourself.”
WHAT IF we did this…what if we tried it for even one whole day? In all that we did, what if we put the interest of others above our own? What if we cheered more for others? What if we quickly volunteered for that thing no one wants to do? What if we went out of our way to meet the needs of others; to make their life easier even if it was inconvenient? What if we did that thing that never got done because no one stepped up to do it? What if we fed someone else before we ate a meal? What if we helped someone else get that thing we really wanted? What if we made a phone call to open a door for someone on a big dream or small need? What if we wished for the success of our neighbor more than us getting that thing we have been waiting on?
And then….WHAT IF others did the same for us? What an incredible, united, solid, healthy community it would be. But someone has to take the first step. Well, that first step was taken by Jesus. Jesus traded his holy residence for earth. Jesus traded his heavenly body for flesh. Jesus traded his throne for a cross. He looked out for us more than Himself. He took the first step, now we can do likewise. One day, guys. Then another. And another. Until it becomes a habit; becomes our life.
Challenge: Practice counting others as more significant today.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21
What are you living for? I mean, REALLY living for? Where do you spend your time? Where do your thoughts go? Play your goals out a few iterations…and then a few more…and then a few more. Where do you land? What are you really LIVING for? Because the core of what you are living for determines your course. Determines your joy. Determines your contentment. Determines your reaction to adversity and challenges. Determines where you will ultimately arrive. It’s the reaping and sowing truth embedded in creation.
Paul’s life is a beautiful example of living sold out for Jesus. For Paul, “to live is Christ.” He was all in for the Gospel. To know and tell of Christ…THIS is what he was living for. And with this strong and steady core, everything else flowed. He could have joy in the worst of circumstances because he KNEW God was sovereign and God would work it for good. He could brush off his enemies, like those in Philippi, because if the gospel was being rightly proclaimed, that is all that mattered. He could not fear what was around the corner, even death, because he knew “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” He was living for Christ. And in death, he knew he would be with Christ for eternity.
Preachers had come into Ephesus attacking Paul. They were filled with pride, envy, and selfish ambition. When self is the motive, scarcity mentality sets in and others become the target of destruction. “For me to get a bigger piece of the pie, everyone else must get less or none at all,” scarcity and selfishness chant. But Jesus was who Paul lived for, and like Jesus, he didn’t waste his time defending himself here or counter-attacking. He consistently called out false teachers. But in this case, the true gospel was being proclaimed even when the motives were whack. They were against Paul, not Jesus.
With Paul’s rock-solid core in Christ, if he was attacked, but the Gospel was rightly presented…so be it. Because THIS is what Paul was living for…NOT himself, his following, his reputation, his legacy, his comfort. His goal was Christ known.
Questions: What do you want to be living for? How is it going so far?
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Ephesians 6:10
You feel a little weak? A little unmatched? No worries! The strength of the Lord is where it’s at.
Put on the WHOLE armor of God. Some won’t do. A piece here and there won’t cut it in this fierce battle. We need the WHOLE armor of God.
All of this SO THAT you may be able to stand against schemes of the devil. He’s very good at his job. He has a ton of experience. He has a proven track record. Know your enemy.
For we do not wrestle against the flesh and blood, but against cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil. It’s not the person to the left or right. It’s not your boss or your employee or your co-worker. It’s not that girl who left you out or that guy who left you heartbroken. It’s not the politician in Washington, DC or the person behind the screen. It’s not your neighbor or your worst enemy. It’s not people who look differently or think differently or vote differently. It is the devil. HE IS THE ENEMY. He is waging war in places unseen to us using his weapons of lies, manipulation, oppression, comparison, critique, differences, strong opinions, entitlement, unforgiveness. Don’t waste your fight on flesh and blood. You’ll be fighting the wrong fight.
Suit up, friend! Your battle gear is there…it has always been there…but you need to take it off the shelf, dust it off and PUT IT ON.
The belt of Truth. The breastplate of righteousness. Shoes of the readiness given by the gospel of peace. A shield of faith able to extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one. A helmet of salvation. The sword of the Spirit. With lips of prayer. And eyes wide open.
This is how we fight the battles waging around us and in us. We have to be battle-ready, friends. Fully covered in the armor of God. There is no other way to win this war. Suit up!
Question: How can you put on each piece of armor today?
Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called. Ephesians 4:1
As Christians we talk a lot about eternity; about being saved and secure. Indeed, we eagerly wait to enter our forever home. But we also have purpose while we are here. Our lives aren’t about simply patiently waiting it out until we die or Jesus returns, whichever comes first.
We have been called. For here and now. Those ideas the Spirit plants in us, that passion to make a difference, that thing we love to dream about…God calls us to these things. It is part of the work He has prepared in advance for us to walk into. It’s often different in different seasons, but there is always work to do. A patient mom, a dedicated employee, a start-up entrepreneur, a student, a volunteer, a caregiver, a small group host, a teacher, a writer, a musician, an encourager, a doctor, a photographer...
Our purpose is to glorify God and one way we do this is by completing the work He gave us to do. By walking into our calling. John records a prayer of Jesus speaking to His Father, “I glorified you on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4)
Though we weren’t born to save the world through our death on a cross, we do have work that has been given to us by God. Stepping into this work – completing it – is how we glorify God. We miss out on glorifying God when we miss out on our calling – because of fear, insecurity, false humility, busyness, distractions, worrying about what others will think. We often miss our work because we are following the masses and chasing after others’ callings.
Our callings are worthy of some intentional walking. Let’s boldly walk in a manner WORTHY of the calling to which WE HAVE BEEN CALLED!
Questions: Are you walking in a manner worthy of YOUR calling? Are you walking with confidence that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do? Are you doing the things you need to do related to the work given TO YOU from God? Are you preparing the way you need to prepare? Are you tapping into the power of the Spirit for wisdom and discernment and guidance?
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Galatians 6:1
Paul has spent much of his letter to the Galatians addressing how they have been deceived by these false teachers requiring adherence to laws for salvation. But he also recognizes that we are sinful people who will mess up and fall to temptation from time to time. And though it doesn’t impact our salvation, it does diminish our impact. He says that in these cases we must – with gentleness – restore them.
Our lives aren’t meant to remain in a pit of sin and its effects. We must seek restoration and alignment with the will of God. The goal is always RESTORATION. We are called to restore – not ignore or destroy.
Think about how most interactions with sin are handled. They are often ignored, hoping it will all just go away, or terrified of the consequences of addressing it. Equally devastating, the alternative is often a brutal and public attack, or behind the back gossip, all with harsh judgment.
Neither ignoring or destroying leads to a restoring. When we are dealing with sin, it must be handled with gentleness. We are all prone to wander. Paul reminds us to keep watch on ourselves. As we seek to restore, we must examine our own shortfalls. Pride is a sneaky and destructive poison.
Paul also reminds us we are called to bear one another’s burdens. If we want to know how to love our neighbors, we can bear their burdens. We all have burdens and we weren’t meant to carry them alone.
Life is hard and full of trials. What if instead of piling on more burdens of legalism and striving to save ourselves, we bore each others’ burdens? What if we became burden-lifters by preaching the freedom found in Christ alone? What if we were a community that carried each other’s burdens and made life a bit easier and lighter?
Questions: When it comes to sin, is your natural tendency to ignore or destroy? How might Paul’s words change your approach toward restoration instead? Whose burdens can you help to bear today?
When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His son. Galatians 4:4
God is in control and His timing is perfect. He has the patience to wait for the perfect timing, and He has the power to put all things in place when the time is right.
Imagine that day in the heavenly realm when the Father looks over at the Son and says, “strap on that flesh…it’s go time.” The overwhelming joy and anticipation of the heavenly beings must have been about to explode.
The fullness of time had come. The precise and perfect moment ordained by God the instant Adam and Eve bit into that fruit had arrived. Everything that had to happen was complete; everything was in place, just as God had told His people for thousands of years.
It was time. It was just the right time. What we now celebrate on the same predictable and scheduled time each year wasn’t as perfect or predictable for everyone on that first Christmas.
Imagine Mary, joyfully planning and anticipating her wedding day. Her world is rocked by the visit from an angel. Imagine the shepherds going about their daily chores and responsibilities. An ordinary day. Every day the same, with risks of danger, mocked by others for their menial profession, and long boring nights keeping watch. This was no ordinary day as an angel comes into focus. Imagine the magi. Gazing at the stars and referring to their charts, as they had done countless times. But this night was different. “See that over there…something big is happening…this is the star of a king. We must go at once and find out where.” The fullness of time had come.
The timing on that first Christmas was perfect for a new chapter in the book of the kingdom of God. Enter the baby, Emanuel…God with us. The fullness of God in the fullness of time, coming as a baby to make us heirs to His kingdom; to His family.
Questions: Are you generally an impatient person? How does recognizing the truth of God’s perfect timing help you in the waiting?
But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? Galatians 4:9
Obedience minus relationship is just legalism. The more we impose Christian regulations on others as a requirement for salvation, the more we preach a false gospel and turn people away from the only One who can create a change in them.
When we preach a message of obedience before relationship, we are turning God-ordained ways of living into human precepts and teachings. This is what Paul is calling out. The false teachers with their religious requirements have the appearance of wisdom, but are of no value when it comes to making us right with God. They may carry an air of authority with smooth talk, charm, persuasive personalities, the appearance of devout spirituality and gifted speech, but when they add something to the work of Jesus for salvation, they preach a lie that mocks the sacrifice.
It is easy to be deceived because they aren’t atheists or followers of the many cultural “gods”. They are believers, but in their insistence on observance of laws for salvation, they miss the relationship. They miss the grace. The Pharisees were religious elites, full of Scriptural knowledge. They walked and talked with Jesus, but they missed Jesus. They missed their Savior.
Why then does legalism have such a strong appeal? Grace is hard for us to accept. It goes against the grain of our culture where we work and strive to achieve personal success. And we like to have some standard by which we can measure success. We like the checklists to know if we are doing okay. But these things take an elevated role and ultimately mock the work of Jesus. And left unchecked, they reek of superiority… creating more sin, rather than washing us clean. It is easy to see the sin and legalism in others, but hard to see it in ourselves. When we focus first on the rules, we lose our focus on Jesus. We need Jesus, not a checklist.
Questions: What is grace to you? Is grace a hard thing for you to accept?
For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. Galatians 2:12
Peter – who first received the revelation from God that He showed no partiality between Gentiles and Jews (Acts 10)– is happily eating with the Gentiles in Antioch…UNTIL…some men from the Jewish elite come to town. He slowly draws back, separating himself from the Gentiles, hoping to not get noticed; hoping to not be seen with “those people.” Old habits die hard.
Peter knows full well that nothing in the Jewish law is required for salvation. He lives in the freedom of the work of Christ alone for Jews and Gentiles alike, yet he quickly reverts to old ways when these men come to town.
Why? FEAR. The crazy thing is that Peter is one of the most prominent Christian leaders at the time. And even he succumbs to fear. It is a doozy of an emotion that causes us to do all sorts of things we don’t want to do and know we shouldn’t do. Fears cripple us and lead us down ungodly paths…fear of what these people will think, fear of being talked about, fear of missing out, fear of compromising our prestigious position, fear of not fitting in, fear of failing... So, what do we do?
The opposite of fear isn’t bravery. It is faith. We have to be secure in our beliefs. We have to be assured of the truth. We have to have confidence that God has our back; He is for us. We have to trust that God works all things for good. We have to believe that it is better to please God than man…even ourselves.
Peter’s small act of slipping away caused other believers – loyal, faithful co-leader Barnabas, and then the rest of the Jewish Christians – to follow and do the same. I’m sure Paul was nervous confronting Peter, but he wasn’t afraid. He had faith. He knew truth was on his side. This was one of those big issues worth fighting for and calling out. In God’s eyes everyone is equally clean by the blood of Jesus. The Gospel is for everyone.
Question: How often does fear play a role in your disobedience?
…yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. Galatians 2:16
Paul reminds us that if it were works of the law that saved us, no one would be justified. It is Christ alone that saves us.
To continue to rely on the law, or any part of us, to achieve salvation for ourselves is to look up at Jesus…body limp, beaten and bloody from head to toe, pressed up against the cross, and say, “I see you up there Jesus. You did your part. Good job. Now let me just add my kosher meal, circumcision and good works and we’ll be good to go.”
Pride makes us want to believe it has something to do with us. It is hard for us to ask for help and even harder to grasp the idea of grace – that something so precious, valuable, important is given to us freely and unearned.
Grace isn’t us doing our best on our own and then hoping God will patch in the holes. Grace is God doing it all. When we add anything to what Jesus did for us, we are in essence nullifying grace. There is only one name by which we are saved. There was only one plan that would work.
Justification is a legal concept. It is getting a favorable verdict in court on judgment day. Imagine being in court with a pile of charges rightly mounted against you. Though you tried to live a good life, you know you are guilty of all of these offenses and the judge will surely sentence you harshly. The little slip here, the falling into the bad crowd season there, the really stupid decision that day. But just as the judge is about to read your punishment, Jesus walks in and agrees to take the penalty for your offenses and you are free to go home; to start over with a clean slate, living a new life of freedom with no record of wrong. Amazing freedom. Amazing grace.
Questions: Do you believe that what Jesus did on the cross was enough for you? Do you believe your slate is wiped clean by the blood of Jesus?
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. Galatians 2:1
The false teachers are relentless, causing increasingly destructive division. Unity is a big deal to God. It’s time to confront this elephant in the room head-on. After 14 years, God tells Paul to go to Jerusalem.
Four times Paul refers to the leaders as ones who “seem influential” or “seem to be pillars”. If feels snarky, but Paul is recognizing their clout in the Church. These are the people looked to for guidance and authority.
Paul acknowledges their status, but says it makes no difference to him; they add nothing to what he received directly from God; God shows no partiality. These men may be Christian “super-stars”, have all the “followers”, bring in the big crowds, get all the attention….but, in God’s eyes, they are no better than Paul or anyone else who is doing what God called and ordained them to do.
There are no top dogs in God’s eyes, regardless of how it may look to the outside world. In fact, in God’s upside-down-first-will-be-last kingdom, the top dogs are likely on the bottom.
If you are abiding in God and He has given you a calling, you are just as important and qualified as anyone else fulfilling their God-given calling. If God is telling you to write, you are no less qualified than a best-selling author. If God is telling you to teach, you are no less important than a mega-church pastor. If God is telling you to start a non-profit, you are no less equipped than the founder of a multi-million-dollar organization. God shows no partiality.
Questions: Do you ever feel like you “less than” those around you doing things you want to do? Do you believe God shows no partiality and you are just as qualified as they are if He has given you the calling?
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10
Deep down, beneath all of the layers of what we tell ourselves, are we trying to please man or God? Whose approval are we really seeking in what we say and do and post and share?
Paul asserts that seeking the approval of man and trying to please man is a disqualifier for being a servant of Christ. They are incongruent. Mutually exclusive.
If I'm honest, more times than not I am seeking the approval of man. Maybe I feel like God already loves me no matter what…kind of like how we take things out on our family we would never do to our friends. They love us and are stuck with us. Is that how I treat God? But maybe it is even more offensive than that, based on pride, without even consideration of God’s approval. Do I put the majority of my efforts into pleasing others whose approval really means nothing, does nothing for my eternal salvation, and is certainly fragile and fleeting?
Is God getting second place to all of the false messages and enticing pulls of the world? Bottom line for us to remember: There is only ONE Gospel. There is only ONE to please. There is only ONE worthy of approval.
Here’s the really good news for us today: No matter how many times we mess up getting this right, we are an equal number of times loved and forgiven. That is the beauty of this message, this Gospel. Jesus saves, not us. Faith in what Jesus did secures our salvation, not us getting this or anything else right on our own. Nothing needs to be added to what He already did for us. Our job is to let our gratitude for this freedom overflow into our lives, seeking only His approval.
Challenge: If you feel tempted to be hard on yourself for falling short, breathe in the freedom of Christ. Go again, even if for the one-millionth time, and apologize to the One who was pleased to do the work He knew we couldn’t do for us. Rest in His still, quiet voice telling you, “I’ve got this; peace be with you.”
…I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Galatians 1:17
Upon his conversion, Paul tells us he spent three years in Arabia. Why Arabia? We aren’t specifically told, but we do know the desert is a special time of preparation in the Bible. Moses was in the desert 40 years prior to being called by God to set the Israelites free from Egyptian slavery. It would prepare him to lead the Israelites through the desert for 40 years before entering the promised land.
The Israelites’ time in the desert taught them who God was and what it meant to be set apart; what it meant to follow and worship Him.
David spent much time in the desert prior to becoming King of Israel, hiding for his life, but also drawing near to God. Here he wrote many of the Psalms.
Jesus, upon being baptized, immediately went and prayed and fasted in the desert for 40 days, overcoming temptation from the devil himself. Preparation for His public ministry.
Paul spends three years in the desert preparing for his calling.
Deuteronomy 8:2-6 gives some insight into what desert times teach us and prepare us for: They humble us (8:2), they reveal what is in our heart (8:2), they challenge us to keep His commands (8:2), they remind us that God alone provides all our needs (8:3-4), and they remind us to fear and obey Him (8:5-6).
I’m praying now for all those in desert times. That instead of fighting and lamenting it, you are able to embrace it. That you are drawing nearer to God and being filled with His love and knowledge and power while in the desert.
Questions: Has your world been rocked? Do you feel like you are going through a desert time? What might God be preparing you for? What can you be learning and growing in during this desert time?
…[God] was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone. Galatians 1:16
In the battle for the hearts and minds of the Galatians, Paul is relentless. It is him versus all the false teachers that came behind him. It is critical they remember where the true Gospel they heard and believed came from; that they don’t look at it as just Paul’s word versus another man’s word. It is God’s Word.
Paul reminds them it was not preached to him. It was not received by man. It was not something he was taught. It came directly from Jesus (Acts 9:1-19).
What Paul tells us about his actions after receiving the revelation from Jesus is not to be overlooked. He did not immediately consult with anyone or go to Jerusalem to confer with the other apostles.
Instead, he went away. Alone. To the desert in Arabia. For three years.
Paul’s world was rocked. Everything he thought was true was turned upside down. Paul knew all of the Jewish law, customs, Scriptures – most even by memory – but he didn’t know Jesus. He wanted to learn from Jesus – the One the law pointed to; the One who fulfilled the law.
Paul needed time to process and reevaluate everything about this new revelation. Like the apostles in Jerusalem -- the ones who walked with Jesus three years and were specifically appointed by Him -- Paul needed quality time with Jesus.
Paul eventually does consult with Peter and James, leaders of this new Christian movement, after three years. Paul knows consultation with wise and Godly counsel is important. But FIRST, he is alone with God the Son.
Challenge: Has God revealed something to you? As tempting as it is to run to another teacher or consult human advice, run to God first. Spend that quiet time in conversation with Him. Process it with God first.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 2 Corinthians 12:7
Paul pours out his life for Jesus. Paul suffers for Jesus. Paul counts his esteemed worldly knowledge as garbage. Paul is insecure. Paul is afraid. Paul loves so deeply. Paul is willing to look the fool to bring others to Jesus. He doesn’t care how he appears outside of the audience knowing Jesus sent him and believing the Gospel. Despite his intelligence and impeccable upbringing under the most respected teachers, he wants to be small so God can be even that much bigger. That’s who Paul is.
What does it take to get us there? What does it take for us to forgo all the worldly things we covet and build up and just be stripped down to Jesus in us? Certainly, Paul spent time with Jesus. He is so certain this is the prize; the life worth living for at all costs. He received unspeakable revelations. But for Paul, among other things, he tells us there was this “thorn in his flesh.” One he didn’t want. One he prayed to be taken away...three times.
Do you have a thorn? Have you been begging God to take it from you? Paul shares God’s response to his thorn, “But he [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I [Paul] will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’” 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
Sometimes we just flat out need it. Sometimes we need hard things to steer us on our God-ordained paths; to keep us humble; to keep us desperate for Jesus. As counter-cultural as it is, our weakness and reliance on God is what makes us strong.
We all have thorns. Some are meant to be removed. Some not. But all are meant to be used by God. Healing may be part of the plan. But if God says, “nope...this one stays. I’m using it.” We say, “your will be done.” And then we watch God do His thing!
Questions: What “thorn” are you living with? Have you asked God to take it from you? What might its purpose be?
For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. 2 Corinthians 11:4
The devil has a way of shifting our eyes from our purpose, from the abundance all around us, from the beautiful things available to us and laser-focusing them on that one thing we don’t have. He has a way of shifting our perspective and even our worldview. And it affects our desires, what we think joy and contentment look like, what we seek, who we follow.
THIS. This Paul is reminding the Corinthians is how Satan works. Deception wrapped in half-truths and enticing lures. Planting doubt. Conjuring up ideas of missing out; of God keeping good things from us.
THIS. This Paul is telling them is what we are falling for when we lean into those “preaching another Jesus” (2 Cor 11:4). Preaching a little truth – or even a lot of truth – with destructive lies woven in. Lies that get us off track. Lies that ultimately turn our face from the Gospel and from God.
God inspired so many warnings to be preserved in His Word. The devil is good at what he does. He is crafty and experienced and ruthless. He knows it only takes a slight shift to get us eventually completely off track before we even know it. So. Many. Warnings. And here again from Paul, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” (2 Cor:13-15)
This is how the devil works. He doesn’t come in a black cape and evil mask. He comes disguised as an angel of light. He comes in a form appealing to the senses. He’s no rookie. Be aware and alert and always in prayer for discernment. There is but one Gospel. One Truth. One Lord. One God. One Savior. One Messiah. One Christ.
Questions: How might we be easily deceived by the devil’s lies and manipulation? What can we do to protect ourselves?