Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Colossians 1:9-10 - What to pray for other Christians

One of the desires in the hearts of all Christians is the wish to please Jesus. But how can they do so? This concern is the heart of Pauls petition in these verses and in detailing his petitions he also informs us of the process by which we can have a way of living that fully pleases Jesus.
Often we are asked to pray for others or we sense a burden from God to pray for them. Sometimes we focus our prayers on certain details connected to a person or project and then anticipate seeing an answer at some stage. Obviously such concerns are always appropriate. Yet Paul here indicates that when we intercede for others, our desire should be that we want them to please Jesus.
Paul had little idea about the current concerns of the people in Colosse how could he, given that they were hundreds of miles away? Yet this request, connected to pleasing Jesus, was always relevant. In whatever state each of them was in, it was appropriate for Paul to pray that they would please the Saviour.

Not only is such a petition relevant, it is also an expression of brotherly love. Remember Paul had never met most of the Christians in Colosse. Yet there burned in his heart a longing that they would live in such a way that would please their common Lord. And his desire in this regard was pleasing to Jesus.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Colossians 1:7-8 – Epaphrus, a man of prayer

Epaphras was from Colosse and he had been the person who had taken the gospel there (Col. 1:7). At the time of writing this letter, Epaphras was a prisoner alongside Paul in Rome. It is clear from 4:12-13 that the Spirit wanted the Colossians and us to note what Epaphras was doing during his imprisonment – he was praying (Col. 4:12-13). How did he become such a person?
The basic requirement in becoming a man of prayer is to first become a Christian, to become a man of faith. Having done so, Epaphrus soon became a man on fire for the gospel. So he spread the gospel round his hometown and soon a small congregation began through his prayers.
One reason why he prayed so passionately was that he grasped he was a servant of Christ. Like everyone else, Epaphras had a brain, limbs, eyes and affections. The question is, what would he do with them? He knew the answer – he devoted them all to Jesus Christ and became his wholehearted servant. Epaphras recognised that he was owned by Jesus Christ.
This did not stop him having concerns, but he knew what to do with them. He prayed. False teaching about Jesus was affecting the little church in Colosse – the erroneous views may have come from mixing Christianity with ideas from local religions. Whatever the source, their presence in the church made Epaphras afraid that the church would go wrong, and therefore he prayed.
Moreover Epaphras developed a meaningful prayer life because he knew what spiritual loyalty required. He was loyal to Christ, he was loyal to Paul, and he was loyal to the Colossians. Paul had entrusted Epaphras with taking the gospel to Colosse, and he had not betrayed that confidence. Furthermore he was steadfast concerning the good things that were going on in the Colossian congregation – he told Paul about ‘their love in the Spirit’. What a beautiful description of a church! Right motives, right behaviour, right words towards one another. Epaphras delighted to tell others about their growth in grace, growth in answer to his prayers.
We should note what Epaphras was now praying for although he was in prison with Paul. He wanted the Colossians to ‘stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God’. The imagery of a person standing is a good one because it points to stability. Epaphras knew the secret of stability and assurance – it was connected to all the will of God. Therefore he prayed that the Colossians would experience it.

Paul says in Colossians 1:7 that the Christians in Colosse had learned a lot from Epaphras. We too can learn a lot from him in the matter of prayer.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Colossians 1:3-6 – Thanksgiving for the Spread of the Gospel

The second encouragement for thanksgiving that Paul mentions is the progress of the gospel, which he says has gone through all the world. Is Paul exaggerating when he says this is the case? No doubt he does not mean that every single person has heard the gospel. Yet he says again in verse 24 that the gospel has been proclaimed throughout the whole creation.
In the following century, the Christian apologist Justin Martyr, in his dialogue with a Jew called Trypho, said of the spread of the Christian faith: ‘For there is not one single race of men, whether barbarians, or Greeks, or whatever they may be called, nomads, or vagrants, or herdsmen living in tents, among whom prayers and giving of thanks are not offered through the name of the crucified Jesus.’
Paul was encouraged that the gospel spread quickly, and therefore both the global and the local encouragements stimulated him to pray. What would he think of how the gospel is spreading today?
We can summarise Paul’s thanksgiving in this way. First, it was genuine thanksgiving: he was not making a false claim when he wrote that he and his friends were praying frequently for the Colossians.
Second, it was grace-focussed thanksgiving: Paul’s gratitude did not focus on how well the Colossians were doing in earthly affairs but on how their faith and love was expressing themselves.

Third, it was gospel-stimulated thanksgiving: Paul received great encouragement from the progress of the gospel throughout the world. As he sent this letter, he was imprisoned in Rome, suffering for the faith. Yet he rejoiced that the gospel that pointed with certainty to a future world was very effective wherever it was declared.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Colossians 1:3-6 – Thanksgiving for the Colossians

Paul addresses God as the Father of Jesus, evidence of his own gratitude that he had been shown that Jesus was the Messiah and that through him it was possible for a sinner like Paul to have access to the throne of God.
As he wrote the letter Paul was encouraged by two spiritual realities, and we will think about the second of them tomorrow. The first was connected to what was taking place in the lives of the Colossians. Paul would have been informed of these spiritual developments by Epaphras when he arrived in Rome. He summarises their spiritual state by using the common New Testament triad of graces – faith, hope and love.
The first grace is faith in Christ Jesus. Paul has already described his readers as the faithful in Christ Jesus and now he stresses again the reality of their faith. It is important to observe the object of their faith, namely, Jesus. Sometimes we speak about faith as if the faculty of believing was all that mattered. Yet if the object is wrong, so too is the faith from a biblical point of view.
The second grace is love for all the saints. They now belong to the same family. This love is a miracle because it transcends all the barriers that usually divide people from one another (such as barriers of race, religion, status, and gender). Yet before their conversions, each of them had some form of separation. But now they were together and they showed this love by meeting together and remembering the Lord, and by serving one another in a variety of spiritual and practical ways. Love for the saints would stop them playing with false doctrine, and this was a danger in Colosse.
The third detail is the hope laid up for them in heaven. Paul indicates that this hope affects the other graces. It affected faith because hope reminded them that they would yet meet the One in whom they trusted; it affected love because it reminded them that they would spend eternity with the saints and therefore they loved all God’s people. What is the hope that is preserved securely for them in heaven?
I suppose many answers could be given to this question such as being with Jesus, reunited with Christian friends, enjoying eternal perfection, living in the new heavens and new earth. Of course, the difficulty is that none of them were actually true of the Colossians at the moment Paul was writing to them. Yet he says that there is something laid up for them in heaven. Perhaps the meaning of his description can be illustrated by a young person waiting until he is of age to enter his inheritance. The document entitling him to his inheritance will be in a secure place such as a bank or in a lawyer’s safe. He knows that it will be his, although he cannot yet enjoy it. In a far higher sense, each Christian has in heaven a guarantee that he or she will yet come into a God-promised inheritance.

Paul then says of this hope that it had been part of the gospel message heard by the Colossians. In other words, we do not preach the gospel fully if we do not include a reference to the assured promise of heavenly glory in the future. The gospel is more than saying that Jesus died so that we could live for him in this world, which is true as far as it goes. In addition, there has to be a focus on heaven, on the beautiful experience that awaits all who trust in Jesus.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Colossians 1:1-2 – Paul knew the resources for living

In his greetings Paul says that his readers are in Christ at Colosse, so we can say that they have a spiritual location (in Christ) and a physical location (in Colosse). They live in both worlds simultaneously.
Physically, they were in Colosse, a small town living in the shadow of its neighbouring cities. Yet it was a place of worldly influences that could distract the members of the Colossian church. The main influence there was a form of syncretism, the result of the merging of several religious ideas, including worship of angels and ascetism. There was a strong Jewish community there, and some of its ideas had contributed to the religious mixture that threatened the church. The members could not forget or ignore what was going on around them, but they would have been under pressure to conform.
The remedy for this danger was to discover what they had in their spiritual location. Paul summarises this location as ‘in Christ’ – this was the location of all their spiritual blessings. Wherever they were in Colosse, whatever they were doing there or whoever they were with, they were united to Christ at each moment. We can imagine a whole host of circumstances in which they could find themselves. At each moment they were to say to one to themselves, ‘I am in Christ, united to him.’
Paul highlights the resources available to them when he writes, ‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father.’ Again he is stressing the privileges of adoption. When we think of grace, we can see that it is fatherly grace, fresh grace, forgiving grace, and full grace. As a Father, he is full of pity; as a fountain, his grace is always fresh and free; as a forgiver, his grace is always full. What a wonderful encouragement to say to the Colossians as they looked ahead!
Paul also reminds them about the peace of the Father. Peace is reconciliation with God (pardon), harmony with one another (people), contentment with one’s situation (providence), submission to God’s will (practice) and anticipation of a perfect world (prospects). Peace must always be accompanied by grace – any other kind of peace is not what God gives to his people.

We have the same resources wherever we live.