Sunday, 12 April 2015

Sunday Thoughts - Reading about Jesus in the Old Testament

In Colossians 3:16, Paul also says that the word of Christ should dwell in us richly. He means the word of Christ must live in our minds – often when we read the Bible, it goes in one ear, but instead of dwelling, it goes out the other. We are to be like the psalmists who meditated on God’s word day and night (Ps. 1), who hid God’s word in their hearts that they would not sin against God (Ps. 119:11), and who discovered that God’s word was a lamp to their feet and a light to their path (Ps. 119:105).

An obvious matter that should come to mind is how the Colossians could do this when they did not possess individual Bibles. Before the invention of the printing press, it was not possible for believers to have personal copies of the Scriptures, and in any case most of them would not have been able to read one. The answer to this situation was that the Scriptures were read publicly in church gatherings (a blessing is made on the person reading and those listening in Revelation 1:2: ‘Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it’), the contents were remembered (memorised), and they were repeated again and again by the believers.

Of course, the best way for us to remember it is to read it. I recall being told by someone that there are more words in our daily newspapers than there is in some of the larger books of the New Testament. There is no reason why we cannot read some of the books of the Bible in one sitting.

Paul here is speaking about the scriptures that the Colossians would have had – the Old Testament, and he calls it ‘the word of Christ’. This can mean that it belongs to Christ or it is about Christ, and both aspects are true. Because it belongs to him, obeying it is an aspect of acknowledging his Lordship; because it is about him, it means that he is found on very page. So, in a sense, having the word of Christ in our hearts is the same as having Jesus in our hearts. He shows himself in the Bible, he speaks to us in the Bible, and we have a living relationship with him through the Bible.

We should not be surprised at Paul’s teaching here because he is saying what Jesus himself said about the Old Testament when he spoke to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus on the day he arose from the dead (Luke 24:27) and what he taught the apostles when he met with them later that day (Luke 24:44). He made the same teaching to his opponents when he rebuked them for searching the scriptures and failing to see that they were about him (John 5:39).

Right away, we face an important challenge – how much of the Old Testament do we know?

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Sunday Thoughts - The Attire of Christlikeness

In Colossians 3:9-14, Paul calls on his readers to get rid of old clothes and to put on new clothes. The old clothes are sinful thoughts and actions and the new clothes are good thoughts and actions. We were born wearing the old clothes, and they are nothing but rags, but we can get a free set of new clothes from the heavenly store. The new clothes are fivefold – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, and they are worn long with love and forgiveness.

Sometimes, the owners of an earthly store arrange a special day when their privileged guests can observe a model wearing the latest designs and so give them an example of how to wear the attire. And if they need to consider the presentation in more detail, the owners will provide them with a DVD that they can watch at home in order to know how to best put on the new wardrobe.

Similarly, there is a model in the heavenly location and he is the Owner’s Son and he wears the attire all the time. In the heavenly store one will not find new fashions, but neither will one find dated items either. And the Owner provides an equivalent of the DVD, and that is the records of Jesus in the Gospels and we can go through each of them and discover how best to wear the heavenly wardrobe.

So how did Jesus wear the item of a compassion heart? On one occasion, he used his tongue to show compassion when he taught those he saw as sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). He also used his tears at times, as when he wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). And at other times, he used his hands as when he broke the few fish and rolls with which he fed the 5,000. There were many other ways by which he showed compassion, but these are three that we can imitate – we can tell the truth of the gospel to those who are deceived by sin, we can weep over the perishing, and we can use our assets and possessions to bring relief to those in need of it. And if we find ourselves forgetting how it should be done, we can take out the Gospels and see how Jesus did it.

Or we can look at some of the ways in which Jesus showed kindness. Kindness is the practice of goodness – it is the display of grace in all kinds of situations. A way of seeing kindness in Jesus is to focus on incidents when it was unexpected, when it was shown to those who would not have received kindness from others. One such person was the woman of Samaria – how kind Jesus was with her, a social outcast despised by her neighbours, but to whom he gave the water of life (John 4). Another was Simon Peter – how kind Jesus was to a failure when he restored Peter to the work of an apostle (John 21). Or we can think of the criminal on the cross – what kindness Jesus showed to him when assuring him of a place in heaven (Luke 23). Of course, we can see Jesus showing kindness in other ways than just to those who did not expect it. But you will see them in the Gospels.

Then Paul mentions humility. In Matthew 11:29, Jesus described himself as gentle and lowly in heart, and both these character traits are mentioned here by Paul. We see many example of humbleness of mind in the Saviour. His birth reveals his humble beginnings. Although all things are his, he made himself nothing. He identified with his people when he humbly went to the Jordan and was baptised. And the best-known occasion is when he washed his disciples’ feet in the upper room. Humility is the willingness to perform what others think is beneath them, and Jesus was constantly marked by gracious humility as he lived a servant lifestyle.

The fourth characteristic is gentleness. One way by which we can look at this feature in the life of Jesus is to consider his work as shepherd of his people. He gently guides them to waters of rest when they are struggling to cope with the pressures of life. When they fall, he gently restores them. The grace of gentleness is perhaps the hardest to live out in today’s pressurised world, but it is how Jesus expects his people to live.

The fifth aspect is patience (or long-suffering) and Paul connects it to bearing with one another and forgiving one another. How patient Jesus was with his disciples, and with us! We tend to confuse patience with placidity whereas it is better to link it with perseverance. How long are we to bear with one another? As long as we will know one another. Of course, it is easier to persevere with a person if we do not hold grudges against him or her. I suspect that the failure to forgive in the past is at the root of many church troubles.

Paul informs the Colossians of the level of forgiveness they have to show – ‘as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.’  That is a high standard, but I don’t think it should be a difficult standard to follow. How can one who is forgiven innumerable sins by Christ not forgive one or two faults in another Christian! What was the Lord’s forgiveness like? First, he desired to forgive – this was true of him before he came into the world and remains true of him. Second, he delighted to forgive; he fully forgave all who asked him for pardon, and he gave his forgiveness joyfully. Third, he forgives permanently – Jesus does not remind us of the sins he has forgiven. We will remember them with shame, that is true. Yet if we imitated Jesus in desiring to forgive, in delighting to give pardon, and in forgetting the faults of others, we would be very attractive.

I hope we are wearing our best clothes today, the attire of Christlikeness.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Sunday Thoughts – Responding to the fullness of Jesus

When we read Paul’s statement in Colossians 1:19 about the fullness of God dwelling in Jesus we should ask ourselves what that should mean for us. Here are some suggestions.
First, Jesus can meet the needs of everyone personally. Since he is divine, he has sufficient spiritual resources to provide for each of us exactly what we need at any given time. And he also knows how to give his grace in a manner that suits all of us.
Second, Jesus meets the needs of everyone exclusively. No-one else can meet our needs. We cannot even imagine that Jesus can meet 99%, so we can then use others for the remaining 1%. No, Jesus is the exclusive Saviour, not merely at the beginning of the Christian life, but all the way through it. And he will be the endless source of heavenly provision in the eternal world as well.
Third, Jesus can meet the needs of everyone simultaneously. This application has two sides to it. On the one hand, Jesus can meet the needs of all his followers at the same time (there are no queues at the throne of grace, composed of persons waiting their turn). Millions of his people on earth, as well as those in heaven, receive from him at the same time. On the other hand, each of them can receive a wide range of spiritual blessings simultaneously. Each may have an awareness of certain needs, but Jesus sees all that they require and gives that to them. Our prayers for divine help are never limited to our perceptions.
Fourth, Jesus can meet the needs of everyone permanently. This is perhaps the biggest challenge we face because we are bombarded with reports of new techniques and new discoveries about how to live the Christian life. There is only one way to live it, and there will never be another way, and that is by depending fully and always on Jesus.

Fifthly, there are no valid excuses for failing to receive from Jesus. His grace is available and all we have to do is ask for it. Our failures are our own faults, but the wonderful reality is that our faults can be forgiven by Jesus.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Sunday Thoughts - Thinking of the fullness of Jesus

Paul wanted the Colossians to appreciate that Jesus possesses all the fullness of God (Col. 1:19). Therefore the range of provisions found in Jesus is very wide and we can only focus on a few of them. One way of doing so is to arrange these provisions under his three offices of prophet, priest and king.
Jesus, as our prophet, teaches us the will of God for our salvation and does so by enlightening our minds concerning the teachings of the Bible. He comes to us by the Holy Spirit who takes the things of Christ and reveals them to us. Understanding the Bible in this way is not dependent on our intellect, nor is it a merely academic appreciation of possible views. As Jesus teaches us who he is and what he has done, we not only understand it, but we respond in worship and love. Further we will want to know more and will delight to have his instruction throughout our lives. We will come to the Bible prayerfully and expectantly in order to discover more about God’s gracious purposes.
Jesus as our priest helps us. A priest in Israel had to offer sacrifices for sin and show sympathy with the worshippers, encouraging them by assuring them of God’s provision and abilities. An example of this is Eli’s words to Hannah when he encouraged her about her longing for a son from God (1 Sam. 1:17-18). Jesus has offered the needed sacrifice and he always urges us to consider what he has done when we are concerned about our sins. The best, indeed the only means of finding consolation and pardon with regard to our sinfulness is to consider the sufferings of Jesus on the cross. Yet we need other aspects of his comforting sympathy and Jesus is always full of rich comfort and consolation. He can provide peace, assurance, guidance, fruit etc.
Jesus as our king protects us from our enemies and rules over us by his commandments. We have powerful enemies, determined to get us to disobey God’s commandments and sin. Some are external to us (the devil and the world), others are internal (sin and its desires), but more often than not they combine against us. Only Jesus can defend us, and we are to be strong in the Lord when tempted by Satan; we need the weapons of the Spirit that Jesus provides in order to be kept from falling. In one way, the Christian life can be summarised as follows: our spiritual enemies attempt to get us to sin, Jesus as our King enables us not to do so and instead he helps us to keep his Word.

Within these three areas of prophet, priest and king, Jesus reveals the limitless fullness that he possesses as God. Paul knew that grasping this was essential for the Colossians if they were to live in a holy manner. The same is true for us.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Sunday Thoughts - Jesus is fully God

There are many Bible verses that stress the deity of Jesus. Jesus reminded his disciples that those who saw him saw the Father (John 14:9). The apostle John writes that he and his fellow-disciples saw the glory of the Unbegotten Son when they saw Jesus performing divine actions and heard him teach profound truths – they realised that he gave out of his fullness to them and to others (John 1:14-16). Paul begins his letters by stating that Jesus is as much the source of grace and peace as is the heavenly Father. The first chapter of the Book of Hebrews highlights several ways that reveal Jesus is fully God. In the Book of Revelation, the river of life flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Rev. 22:1). We should approach these verses with admiration of and dedication to Jesus.

Paul reminded the Colossians that in Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Col. 1:19). Why is this the case? Out of many possible answers we can select three suggestions.

First, Jesus has this fullness in order to achieve great purposes. After all, his actions are divine actions. Paul has already shown in this chapter of Colossians that Jesus, before he became a man, had created all things and upheld all things. After he became a man, without ceasing to be God, Jesus has this fullness in order to be head of the church (as Paul states in the previous verse), and he has this fullness in order to be the Reconciler (as Paul mentions in the next verse). So Jesus has the fullness of God in order to accomplish great things.

Second, Jesus has the fullness in order to bring pleasure to God. Here we have a reference to the eternal purpose of God – he does what brings him pleasure. When he was on earth, Jesus always did what pleased the Father, even when living as one who was also a real man. And Jesus will continue to please the Father throughout the endless future because of the divine fullness which dwells in him.

Third, Jesus has the fullness in order to help empty sinners. This aspect is seen in the connection of this verse to the previous one which says that Jesus is the head of the church. He possesses all that God has in order to bless sinners whom sin has emptied of all capabilities and resources. As the apostle John wrote, ‘We have all received out of Christ’s fullness.’