Monday, July 29, 2019
One of the things that I have listed far down on the description of myself on social media is “cinephile” which is just a fancy way of saying that I enjoy movies. Not only do I enjoy watching movies, I like to learn how directors use color, camera angles, costumes, cinematography, and cast to tell their stories. There are a couple of fascinating YouTube channels that feature such explanations that I’ll watch from time to time. However, often in order to explain a film and its success, these videos will often be made to reveal the end of the movie. In an effort to keep from spoiling the ending for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, a caption will appear on the screen that reads “SPOILER ALERT.” This means that something important is about to be revealed that might end up spoiling the ending of the movie and if you don’t want to know the ending yet, you might want to turn the video off. Something similar happens in the Book of Revelation (in fact, it happens several times). The apostle John ends up spoiling the ending for readers before getting around to describing that ending later in his work. Unfortunately, he doesn’t insert the helpful caption “SPOILER ALERT!” before divulging this material and yet, this is probably not a bad thing. After all, in knowing the end, the people of God are able to anticipate a great hope which is especially helpful as they endure the world around them. Let’s turn in our Bible’s to Revelation 14:1-5 and witness three elements of one of these apocalyptic “spoilers” and walk away encouraged by what is to come for those who are found in Christ.
a. ELEMENT #1: What is Seen-14:1
In an effort to ease us back onto the on-ramp in our journey through Revelation, I must remind us all about the unique genre(s) that John is utilizing in this work. The Book of Revelation is both prophetic (1:3), apocalyptic (1:1), and epistolary (letter-like) (2-3) in both its style and contents. It is prophetic in that it predicts what will occur in the future, apocalyptic in its record of cosmic conflict that unveils the person and plan of God, and epistolary in its appeal to specific audiences and how it is structured. Though these three styles are active throughout the book (often simultaneously), one might become more prominent and/or influential at times depending on what is being revealed, unveiled, or shared.
For instance, in Revelation 2-3 (which gives us the letters to the churches) the epistolary nature of the book is in greater view. In Revelation 4-5 (in the introduction of God and the Lamb in the heavenly throne room with the angels and other creatures) the apocalyptic nature of the book is in greater focus. In the breaking of the seals and the blowing of the trumpets of judgment, the predictive and/or prophetic nature of the book is highlighted. So where are we now? What are we dealing with as we reenter this book in chapter 14?
In Revelation 14, the reader finds herself in the latter part of one of John’s famous pauses that breaks up the chronological action of future events. Now that the reader has witnessed the seals and the trumpets (different judgments upon the earth), John takes time to describe other phenomena before he returns to the plotline of the prophecy. These pauses are primarily apocalyptic inasmuch as they reveal/unveil something about who God is, involve other-worldly beings, and often accentuate the cosmic conflict that happens when heaven and earth collide. So far, in this apocalyptic pause, the reader has been introduced to several characters that will play an important role during the coming tribulation: the woman (Israel), the dragon (Satan), Michael (the archangel), the beast from the sea (the Antichrist), and the beast from the land (the false prophet). As this literary pause moves from the character introductions of chapters 12-13 into chapters 14-15, John describes several scenes that look forward to the end of the evil world system. Eventually, in chapter 16, the apostle will return to the chronological action with the final set of judgments (the bowls of wrath that will lead to the final battle of Armageddon). That said, before these events even take place, John provides previews of what can be expected (spoilers if you will). This he is able to do under the control of the Holy Spirit because, from his vantage point, he is not limited to time and is seeing things, at least for now, from a higher perspective.
The first of these scenes that John describes for his readers is a preview primarily for God’s people. From the get go, a theme of victory comes into sharp focus—“Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion” (14:1a). This introduction contrasts an introduction made in chapter 13:1ff. There, the dragon (Satan) was standing on the shore of the sea awaiting the emergence of the beast (the Antichrist). Here the Lamb (Christ) is standing on Mount Zion awaiting the victorious saints. The symbol of the “standing” Lamb is an important theme. First seen in the Revelation 5:6-10 (the “Lamb standing as if slain”) the standing Lamb highlights the victory, power, and prestige of the risen Christ who will return for his people, judge the world, and create a new heavens and a new earth. These connotations of victory and power ascribed to the Lamb are reiterated by his location in this passage—“on Mount Zion.” In the prophetic Jewish tradition, Zion came to signify not just the Temple Mount, but the location where the Messiah would deliver his people and gather them to himself. It also points to the new Jerusalem of the future—a hope shared by nearly all ancient Jews, who longed for the restoration of their city and its sanctuary (remember, by the time this was written, Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed). With this single opening phrase, the reader sees the most victorious figure standing in the place of final victory. Not a bad way to begin a preview.
However, as the camera zooms out and reveals what surrounds the Lamb and Mount Zion, the viewer sees “with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having his name and the name of the Father written on their foreheads” (14:1). This group, introduced first in Revelation 7, includes those Jews whom Jesus saved and sealed during the tribulation period. Though made to endure the persecution and pressure of this period, the 144000 supernaturally persevere, and, at least here, are promised victory with the Lamb on Mount Zion. These are also marked for God, in contrast to those marked with the beast (see 13:16), demonstrating God’s ownership and security for them (see 7:3; 22:4). What a spectacle to behold: the people of victory in the place of victory with the protagonist who brings the victory in the end!
b. ELEMENT #2: What is Heard-14:2-3
Added to what is seen, the next element of this preview involves what is heard. The first sound that John makes out is “a voice from heaven” (14:2a). The source of the voice being “from heaven” demonstrates another apocalyptic theme that is pervasive in Revelation—divine interference in earthly affairs. Whether through action or word, the heavenly realm intersects the earthly realm again and again and again in Revelation as these two dimensions collide. This is no different here as heaven speaks in a big way.
The sound of the voice is so great that John describes it by means of three powerful similes—“like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing their harps” (14:2b). “Many waters” pictures the roar of the sea crashing against the shore—an image that will be called upon again in 19:6. Another image both 19:6 and 14:2 share is the sound of loud thunder. Both here and there the sea and the loud thunder are used in celebratory hymns of great victory: 14:2 describes the victory at mount Zion of the standing Lamb and 19:6 celebrates the victory of the Lamb at the wedding feast (for other celebratory hymns see 5:9; 14:2-3; 15:2-4; 19:6-7). This victorious motif is solidified by the third descriptive simile used to describe the sound of this voice from heaven—“and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing their harps” (14:2; see also 5:8; 15:2; 18:22). The combination of the loud noises and the harps emphasize the tremendous joy and worship that is transpiring in this vision (Osborne, Revelation, 527).
The victorious and worshipful tone is carried along by the singing that breaks out among those present—“And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders” (14:3a). As in Revelation 4-5, heavenly beings are shown worshipping the Lord in song in the throne room (complete with a reference to the four living creatures and the 24 elders surrounding the throne). However, instead of voicing the same song as before (see 4:8; 11; 5:9, 12, 13), here they sing a new song. This new song is perhaps inspired by the completion of victory that is predicted in this passage.
Next, John reveals that “no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth” (14:3b). Only this special remnant is invited to learn and join in this special chorus. Those who persevere the tribulation and are kept form falling prey to the deception of the dragon and his beasts praise the Lord in a special way in the throne room upon the completion of the Lamb’s victory. After all, any victory this remnant has enjoyed only comes because the Lamb has “purchased” them from the earth. The verb is defined as “to cause the release or freedom of someone by a means which proves costly to the individual causing the release.” This no doubt alludes to the redemption purchased by the Lamb on the cross. His sacrifice purchases all believers in general and, as far as the context of this passage is concerned, these 144000 in particular.
Victorious spectacles are met with victorious singing in this apocalyptic preview of final victory in the end. However, John continues in this preview by highlighting who is featured in this vision.
C. ELEMENT #3: Who is Featured-14:4-5
After revealing the spectacle and the chorus of singers, John’s attention focuses on those who are able to learn this new song—the 144000 envisioned with the standing Lamb. He describes this group in four ways. First, “these are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste” (14:4a). Though at face value this might appear to suggest that these are those who practice abstinence and refrain from sexual impurity, there is a more general idea in view. Throughout the scriptures in general and Revelation in particular, sexual impurity (acts of physical defilement) are often conflated with spiritual adultery (see the concrete metaphor of Hosea and Gomer for an Old Testament example). Consider the following examples from Revelation:
Revelation 2:14- “But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality”
Revelation 2:20-“But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.”
In all of these passages (and the Old Testament passages to which they allude) sexual immorality is juxtaposed with spiritual impurity. Therefore, to speak of these 144,000 and undefiled and chaste is to say as much about their spiritual condition as their sexual purity. Those who are worshipping the Lord in this new song of victory are those who are spiritually pure, and, by proxy, physically chaste.
They are also described as followers of the Lamb—“these are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (14:4b). Following after the Lamb is no small endeavor when one considers the context and who is in view. To follow the Lamb for these 144000 meant not following the beast or the dragon during the tribulation. This will led to the kind of extreme persecution and pressure that has never before been realized on the world’s stage. That said, following the Lamb/Christ in precarious and/or uncomfortable situations is nothing new. Many of apostles of Christ and Stephen in the Book of Acts followed Christ to their own executions. Even Jesus’ call to his disciples reads “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23).
On the call to follow Christ (i.e. the Lamb) Dietrich Bonhoeffer (shortly before he was hanged for conspiring the kill Hitler) writes: “The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call” (The Cost of Discipleship).
Those singing the song of victory are those who have made it their practice to follow the Lamb wherever he goes, even or especially when it requires their lives (see also Matt. 10:38; Luke 17:33; John 12:25-26; 13:36; 1 Pet. 2:21; Rev. 12:11). This means that this same chorus has chosen not to follow after inferior or easier pursuits wherever they might lead.
Not only are these described as pure followers, they are called purchased—“These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb” (14:4c). This idea builds off of Revelation 5:9 and 14:3.
Revelation 5:9-“Worthy are You to take the book and break its seals; for You were slain and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation”
Revelation 14:3-“no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth,…”
To be purchased means to be redeemed. Payment has been made that transfers ownership from one to another. In the case of the redeemed, transfer of ownership has been made from the lost world of sin and death to the Lord of light and life. The payment given for the transaction is the Lamb who was slain though is now standing. This group of the redeemed are called the “first fruits,” referring to the Old Testament idea of the first and best parts of the harvest offered to God. “In this context, the 144000 are the saints of the tribulation period seen as an offering to God guaranteeing the final harvest of all believers” (see 14:14-16) (Osborne, Revelation, 531). These are offered to God and the Lamb, demonstrated the shared divinity of the Father and the Son.
Finally, John describes this group of victorious worshipers as those who are true—“and no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless” (14:5). In contrast to all of the false teachers and liars prevalent in the world during the tribulation period (the Nicolatians in 2:2; the Antichrist, and false prophet in chapter 13; their followers, etc.), these are those who are blameless in what they say. While liars will be excluded from the eternal kingdom and thrown into the lake of fire (see Rev. 21:8, 27; 22:15), these truth-tellers will be victoriously worshiping their God in the heavens.
These 144000 are pure followers of Christ who have been purchased by the blood of the Lamb and speak the truth. During this tribulation period these will be known for their total commitment to God in Christ and will be found in the place of victory singing a victor’s song alongside the victor Himself in the end!
After taking in the elements of this preview—what is seen, heard, and who is featured—one might wonder why God revealed this to John and had him share this with the church. After all, the implications of what is seen, will be heard, and who will be featured in this passage appears to be limited to the remnant of 144000 who will persevere through this period of tribulation and ultimately be found victorious. Such a preview might prove helpful to them in the future as they come to know that regardless of what they might be made to go through, they have the hope of victory waiting for them in the end. However, is not this true for all of God’s people regardless of what age they are made to endure? Has not God promised victory for anyone who is found in Christ?
I Corinthians 15:57-“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”
Romans 8:37-“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”
2 Corinthians 2:14-“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere”
The hope promised to the 144000 in the end is similar to the victory God has promised all believers. God has not left us without something to look forward to—a hope to which we ought to fix our gaze.
However, how might we know if we are to enjoy this promised victory in the end in the midst of the world we are made to endure at present? Perhaps this passage helps us by sharing the characteristics of these future saints and encourages us to see whether or not the same might be said of us. Are you spiritually pure—committed to the one true God and his Christ? Are you following after Christ with all of yourself, having forsaken inferior pursuits? Have you been purchased out of your desperate plight where sin and death rule? Do you love and speak truth? These are the characteristics of the people of God—those who will know strength for each day and can cling to the bright hope for tomorrow. SPOILER ALERT: God’s people win in the end! Praise the Lord for the comfort that brings even now!
Monday, July 22, 2019
Today we are completing our “Thinking outside the walls of the church” series. Over the last several weeks we have taken a look at the strategy this church has in place for accomplishing our mission of knowing Christ, growing in Christ, and showing Christ to the world. For Crystal Spring Baptist, we believe that being a praying, caring, and sharing people are integral as we seek to join God on mission in our community and beyond. All of these, in some way, contribute to the task that God has handed us of making disciples in this world. However, I didn’t want to pass on the opportunity to end this series without reminding us of how our mission and its strategy includes the building up of the existing body of Christ. After all, in order for the church to be any good for those outside her walls, she must be a healthy body. A healthy church is a missional church. Paul discusses how to achieve the kind of health that allows a church to be focused beyond its walls in Romans 12:4-8.
I. OBSERVATION #1: THE MEMBERS OF ONE BODY-12:4-5
The church in Rome has been in the classroom for eleven chapters thus far in the book of Romans, learning the essence of the gospel and the greater nuances of its many implications. In light of everything Paul has covered up to this point, he encourages those reading this letter to get up and do something about what they have learned in verse 1 of chapter 12. In fact, if Romans 1-11 discuss how someone is saved, then 12-16 discuss how a believer ought to live in light of their salvation.
The first thing that Paul draws the reader’s attention to is the nature of the body of Christ. He states, “for just as we have many members in one body, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (12:4-5). The believer ought not think of himself as a solitary being, spiritually autonomous, or totally self-sufficient. Instead, a believer must think of his/herself as a member of a larger body. In fact, a prideful believer trying to go through life alone, is as ineffective at doing the Lord’s work as an arm would be detached from its torso and that from its brain or a solitary shipmate trying to run an aircraft carrier by his/herself. Similarly, believers in Rome ought to think of themselves as one piece of the greater body of Christ.
Continuing with his body metaphor, Paul suggests that while all are members, all “do not have the same function” (12:4b). Therefore, this idea of being a member of the body of Christ is not degrading to individuality or diversity. Though all are equally members, all have different functions that help contribute to the success of the entire organism. In other words, it is not as though all believers look the same, act the same, or serve in the same way. If this were the case, it would be like having nothing but legs or being totally covered with eyes (or nothing but captains or artillery men!). There is not just one right way to serve the Lord. Instead, all members serve the Lord in their own unique and God-glorifying way! Just imagine what this church would be like if all were preachers!!! Isn’t one enough! J Thank God for His diversity.
However, these many diverse members are not separate entities, but many parts of one united whole (cue the army slogan: From many, one). The church in Rome needed to understand that they depended on each other, leaving no room for pride. They were the “body” in Rome, a united whole of diverse individuals who were brought together, “in Christ.” This is the unifying principle. The unity of the church in Rome was possible only “in Christ.” One had to be a believer “in Christ” (that is understanding and accepting the grace of God for salvation described in chapters 1-11), in order to be a part of this body. The same is true of church’s today who accept the Bible as the Word of God.
What this verse describes is really an all for one and one for all mentality. Believers are all different members of one body that exists, in part, for the service of each of its individual appendages. For, not only are believers “one body in Christ,” they are also, “individually members of one another” (12:5). “No Christian is an Island” and to call someone a self-sufficient Christian is a contradiction of terms.
II. OBSERVATION #2: THE USE OF DIFFERENT GIFTS-12:6a-b
Now that the members of the body have been observed and attention has been drawn to their diversity and unity, Paul wants the church in Rome to also recognize that each member is gifted with its own skill set, “since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” (12:6a). Not only is each member of the Body of Christ different (as an eye is different from a nose or a leg different from a lung), each member is also uniquely gifted (as an eye is gifted to see and a nose gifted to smell, etc.).
However, how much good does a lung do if it is not actually being used to breathe? How far could anyone travel if the legs were not moving? How long would someone last if the liver failed to actually filter blood as it is designed to do? Not long. In fact, we would presume a body like this to be dead. Paul did not want to write to a corpse of a church. He also did not want to receive, in response to this letter, a death certificate from the local morgue in Rome. This is why he calls upon the church in Rome to actually “exercise them [the gifts] accordingly” (12:6b).
It would seem that the law of thermodynamics applies to the spiritual members of the church body. If an arm of the church is not moving properly, it will atrophy and die. This is why it is important for all members of the church to be actively exercising their gifts, abilities, and talents accordingly. A church cannot be rightly used to accomplish the mission of God and serve its members if its individual parts are not being put to good use. Instead, unused parts of a church body are signs of a dead or dying church.
III. OBSERVATION #3: THE VARIETY OF POSSIBLE SERVICES-12:6c-8
Up to this point, the church at Rome would have understood that each of them was a part of a greater whole and that each had been uniquely gifted to serve in discreet ways. However, a list of potential gifts had not yet been provided and many might have wondered, “What might my gift be?” A believer cannot be expected to exercise his/her gifts unless he/she knows his/her gifts in the first place.
This is why Paul provides a list to get the church thinking. This list is not the only list of spiritual gifts given in the New Testament (see also Eph. 4; 1 Cor. 12) and therefore should not be understood as an exhaustive representation of the possible gifts that God bestows. This also does not mean that every believer should expect all of these in his/her life. In fact, some argue that the first gift mentioned is not even available today. This is the gift of “prophecy,” “if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith” (12:6c).
This unique office, accordingly to Paul, needs to be exercised in proportion of faith, perhaps in the same way the lungs are encouraged to breath in proportion to the amount of oxygen the body requires. Depending on how one defines the word “prophet” here will determine whether or not this gift is available today. Regardless, prophets played a huge role in the early church and continue to play a role in the preserved words of Scripture, rendering them a very important member of the church body.
A possible gift for all believer’s to consider is service. This word, which is the same root word used in the word for deacon, describes somebody who is interested in the practical needs of others. Such a person in the life of the church at Rome, or in any church for that matter, might be likened to a set of arms that are judged by how well they are able to carry and handle different things. Someone with the gift of serving will be judged on how well they practically serve others (go figure).
Another possible gift for those in the church to look for is the gift of teaching. However, this gift is not for everyone.
James 3:1-“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”
Teachers are held to higher standards and will fall under greater scrutiny. Teaching was an ancient and honorable profession in the Jewish culture. In the New Testament world, teaching primarily involved moral instruction. Elsewhere, the Bible makes it clear that there are different requirements a teacher must meet. However, those who are called to this important task will be found faithful and judged according to how well they teach in the same way a brain is judged by how well it can interpret information. If you are a gifted teacher, you ought to be teaching.
If teaching provides guidance for what people ought to do, encouragement helps them achieve it. The next gift that Paul mentions is exhortation, “he who exhorts, in his exhortation” (12:8a). These are those who are natural born cheerleaders, offering aid by means of their words of encouragement no matter what the situation may be. These might be likened to a mouth that is only as good as what comes out of it. Encouragers in the church at Rome need not be silent. Instead, they ought to be affirming the work and serving by means of their sweet words so that the mission of God can move forward, even when things get tough.
Similarly, if a person’s gift is contributing to the needs of others, then generosity is what is demanded, “he who gives, with liberality” (12:8b). This gift is perhaps the most general as everyone in the body of Christ has something to give and is compelled to give at the very least, 10% of their income to the Lord. However, some love to give above and beyond and are always happy to give more to those who need it. This does not mean that others are not required to contribute. However, those who love to give ought not cease in giving of their lives to the Lord in service to the body of Christ.
Another gift that Paul takes time to mention is leadership, “he who leads, with diligence” (12:8c). Leaders are to carry out their responsibility with diligence. Although leadership in today’s world is often seen as the result of ambition, persistence, and good fortune, Christian leadership is essentially a service carried out for the benefit of others. Again, this is a gift with its own set of requirements and special level of scrutiny. Other passages demand that leaders meet these requirements and promise a higher level of judgment one day before God for them (see 1 Timothy and Titus).
The last gift that Paul elucidates is mercy, “he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” (12:8d). Though this gift seems emotive, “mercy” as understood in the first century involved caring for others in tangible ways, especially the less fortunate and elderly. Those who have a special place in their hearts for the afflicted need to be about the business of showing mercy in tangible ways with cheerfulness.
A couple of things are worth pointing out in this list of gifts. First, it is not as though Paul believed each believer only had one of these gifts and could neglect the others. Instead, Paul wants people in the church to play to their strengths and capitalize on their strong suits. Second, gifts are not static, they are variable. In other words, your gift could change over time or be altered depending on need. In fact, you may be gifted for something that you would not naturally enjoy because there is a need where you are at. Don’t think that God cannot move in your heart and life to use you in different ways at different times and in different situations. Ultimately, Paul’s message to the church in Rome is to use their gifts, whatever they are, in serving the church and seeing the mission of God accomplished.
These three observations have taught us several very important truths. First, we have learned that we are not on our own. Instead, we are all members of one body, working together to accomplish the mission to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ in the world while serving one another in the Lord. Though we are all equal in that we are all members of the body, we are different and uniquely gifted to perform varying roles in this god-glorifying enterprise. Whether you are an arm, leg, lung, mouth, head, or hand, you are necessary for the church’s survival as it engages the world for Christ.
In response to this, I encourage you to discover your unique giftedness and then exercise your giftedness in every way that you can. Ask yourself this morning—How am I serving? Friends we need all hands on deck—hands that fold to pray, care well, point the way to Christ, and serve each other in the process. This is paramount if we are going to be successful in the greatest mission of all.
Monday, July 15, 2019
Last week I was excited about the opportunity I had to watch the Wimbledon men’s final match with my good friend Micky who recorded it during morning worship. One of the many things I love about this particular tennis tournament is all of the pomp and circumstance and all of the special presentations that highlight traditions and contribute to the wonder of this competition (i.e. the long walk from the locker room to the court, the seating of the royals in their box, the dramatic reactions from the friends and family on the sideline, etc.). All of these work to convey something of the severity and significance of what is transpiring on the court. Romans behaves in much the same way for Paul’s original audience. In Romans, Paul makes presentation after presentation in this grand theological treatise, each with its own significance, message, and hype. Our passage for today is no different. In Romans 10:11-15, Paul gives TWO presentations concerning the scope and spread of the gospel that will leave us encouraged and challenged to couple our praying and our caring with sharing the best news of all with those around us.
a) PRESENTATION #1: Compendium of Salvation Candidates-10:11-13
After explaining HOW people are saved (Romans 10:9-10), he moves on to catalog the candidates for salvation, thereby answering “who can execute this procedure and have salvation applied to them?” Paul argued in verses 9-10 that those who confess “Jesus is Lord” and “believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead” will be saved. With only this to go on, it would seem that salvation is open to anyone who follows this process in faith. Paul verifies this in verse 11 with an Old Testament proof text—“For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed,…” (10:11). This quote from Isaiah 28:16 was also used by Paul in Romans 9:33. There, Paul was referring to the stumbling stone of offense and claimed that anyone who dares to believe in the rock that is Christ will not be disappointed. Here, Paul applies the same quote to the potential scope of salvation and adds a word to the Isaiah reference to this end “pax” (everyone/whoever). Neither the LXX nor the MT of Isaiah 28:16 contains this verbiage, meaning that it is from Paul. Progressive revelation, under the control of the Holy Spirit has determined that it is appropriate to reveal here that “Whoever believes in Him (and follows the process indicated in vv. 9-10) will not be disappointed.”
There is another important comment to make here concerning the connotation of the verb “disappointed.” This word implies shame. Here, Paul says that believers are not ashamed. A lack of shame and embarrassment can be promised to believers because Jesus took on the shame of sin on their behalf. Even further, Jesus overwhelmed the shame of His humiliating death by means of the empty tomb. Shame is no longer possible for those who place their trust in Christ! This is why Paul says earlier in Romans “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…” (1:16). Though, to be sure, a psychological benefit is possible for the believer given what Christ has already done, what is also true because of the empty tomb is a future vindication at the final judgment. Those who put their faith in Jesus as the resurrected Lord know present freedom from the shame that sin creates AND future victory from the condemnation to which sin inevitably leads on the Day of Judgment (Schreiner, Romans, 561).
In both 1:16 and 10:11, there appears to be universal efficiency inherent within the scope of the gospel. In other words, everyone is able to know the freedom of shame and sin by trusting in Jesus.
Just to be sure he was clear, Paul reframes his point in terms of ethnicity and heritage in verse 12—“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him,…” (10:12). Paul probably believed that this had to be said given the unusually acute Jewish pride among many in his audience. Here, Paul reminds the Jews that Jesus is the God of all people. As such, He can provide salvation to anyone who believes.
Romans 2:11-“For there is no partiality with God.”
Romans 2:28-29-“A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person's praise is not from other people, but from God.”
Romans 3:22-23-“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,…”
Romans 3:29-30-“…is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.”
These verses and many others indicate what Paul says in verse 12—“the same Lord is Lord of all (that is all people), abounding in riches for all who call on Him…”. His grace exists in superabundance—it is not limited to one people group or tradition. All who call on Him, Jew or Gentile, can experience His benefits.
To drive the point home, Paul picks up the same word he introduced in verse 11 (pax/whoever) and borrows “call” in verse 12 to say the following in verse 13—“whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (10:13). There is a beautiful parallelism that exists between verses 11-13 and verse 9-10. In 9-10, one was encouraged to “confess” and “believe” to be saved for “belief” results in righteousness and “confession” leads to “salvation.” Here, in verses 11 and 13, we have Paul explaining the scope of salvation with similar themes. In verse 11 Paul says “whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed” and in verse 13 he reveals “‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,’”. Therefore ANYONE who believes and confesses, trusts and professes, will be saved. This means that our mission to SHOW Christ and the calling to Share with others is as broad as can be. We are to share and show Christ to all!
b) PRESENTATION #2: The Process of Receiving the Gospel-10:14-15
After arguing that everyone regardless of background or ethnicity is a potential candidate for salvation, Paul gives a presentation of the process by which the gospel message is transferred to these candidates. This presentation is given in reverse order, beginning with the terminus and moving back to the inception (i.e. describing how the process concludes and then providing the logical depiction of the steps that lead to that end). What is communicated in these verses is equally applicable to both the Jews and the Gentiles as these steps of the chain must be realized if ANYONE is going to call on the Lord and be saved (Schreiner, Romans, 567).
The last two links of the chain described (offered first by Paul) take people from belief to confession. Paul asks “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?” (10:14a). This is the first in a series of rhetorical questions that all demand the same answer—“They can’t!” or “They wouldn’t!” Paul’s point is this: how will people confess Jesus is Lord if they do not believe this in their hearts first? After all, “out of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Here, confession is more than just a trivial statement made on a whim; it is a pledge of allegiance to the proposition that Jesus is Lord and to the person of Christ who is God made flesh. Such confession cannot be made from a heart that does not believe in Jesus first.
Next, Paul wonders ‘how will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?...” (10:14b). As Paul will say a bit later “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (10:17). However, this “word” or the contents of what is heard is what is supremely important. The message that must be heard is the word about Christ—His deity, death, and resurrection. In fact, the idea of “hearing” ‘can refer both to the act of hearing and to the message that is preached (as in the case of a judge awarding someone a hearing).Therefore, belief is dependent on the quality of the message going forth –a robust gospel message—and the apprehension of that message—hearing and receiving it. One cannot expect that people will believe in the gospel if they have not heard that gospel.
This also means that general revelation is not enough to save. In fact, in Romans 1, Paul was very cynical about the capacity for general relation to move anyone in God’s direction—"he does not contemplate the possibility that people will be saved by responding positively to natural revelation” at all (see Romans 1:18-32) (Schreiner, Romans, 567). Rather than be turned on to God, the lost who see God’s general revelation are prone to idolatry.
Romans 1:20ff-“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”
This is why what Paul says in Romans 10 is so important. People cannot believe the gospel rightly if they are not made aware of God’s special revelation as found in Jesus Christ and witnessed in His completed work!
Paul continues his presentation of how the gospel is received in the last part of verse 14 when he says “and how will they hear without a preacher?...” (10:14c). Taken with 1:18-32, it is reasonable to conclude that people are not typically saved apart from the proclamation of the gospel. Though there are exceptions, the ordinary means of salvation involves the preaching of the Word. Calvin puts it this way, ”The gospel does not fall from the clouds like rain, by accident, but it brought by the hands of men to where God has sent it.” (Calvin, The Epistle, 231).
This ought to provide a sense for why the church ought to be so passionate about local, regional, and global missions. We cannot expect people to respond to a gospel that they have not heard and we cannot expect people to hear it when people are not preaching. This is just as true for that neighbor down the street as it is for the pigmy in Papa New Guinea. In fact, both are just as lost and in increasing numbers both are just as ignorant of the gospel. Gone are the days in our country where we can assume that the majority of people have an awareness of Judeo-Christian values, let alone Bible stories, let alone the person and work of Jesus and its corresponding implications. Unfortunately, instead of hearing the truth proclaimed by faithful followers who know the gospel inside and out, the vast population is being told what to believe about Jesus from the history channel, mainstream media, and/or television personalities with no business behind the pulpit!
Paul understood this in the first century. In Rome, Christianity was an infant movement in a brave new world. In his day, people didn’t know about Jesus because He was a new phenomenon and word had not yet spread about His ministry and accomplishments. In the brave new world that is 21st century America, people don’t know about Jesus because He is “old news” and people could care less! Both contexts require preachers armed with the truth to share that truth in compelling ways so that people hear it, believe it, and confess it. However, Paul asks “How will they preach unless they are sent?” (10:15a).
A missionary does no good if he/she doesn’t make it to the mission field. Your witness and my witness will not be used if we fail to take that walk down the street, make that call to that loved one, or write that letter.
Imagine a church that was content with meeting, singing, praying, preaching, teaching, and very little else. This would be akin to a the men’s tennis finals competitors entering the court for the coin toss, warming up, only to then remain seated on their sideline chairs waiting for something to happen! Both scenarios are ridiculous!
This first step, shared last by Paul, is the step that so many forget about—being sent. Just as Jesus was sent and then sent the twelve to share his message so too are we to be sent in our respective worlds to accomplish our role of preaching the truth of gospel in whatever ways make sense for each of us. Then, and only then, can the gospel be received by those who will embrace it.
In a celebration of this crucial first step Paul writes “how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!...” (10:15). This statement is adapted from Isaiah 52:7 in which heralds were celebrated for having spread the news that the return from exile was at hand. There, salvation for the Jewish people involved returning to the land of promise. Applied to Romans 10, salvation for all people involves hearing, receiving, believing, and confessing the preached gospel. How wonderful are the feet of those who share this gospel!
In this passage Paul gives two important presentations—a presentation of potential salvation candidates and a presentation of how the gospel is received by these candidates. In so doing, Paul has provided reassurance and a challenge. First, people everywhere can be reassured that God does not play favorites when it comes to those who are saved. All have sinned and are, without distinction, in need of salvation. Similarly, people everywhere, no matter what they look like or what tribe they come from, can receive the grace of God that is found in the gospel. However, we also learn that for people to receive the grace of salvation people have to be sent to preach the truth. This truth must be heard, believed, and confessed thereafter. This requires that the gospel be shared by those who have already been transformed by it—that means you and me! This ought to propel us from our seats and into our mission field. As those who have been guided through this process ourselves by the grace of God, we are called to be God’s instruments through which the gospel enters our world and is proclaimed to those around us. Now that we know our mission, to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ and the first components of our strategy (to be a people of prayer and good care for others), it is high time that we share the best news of all—the only news that saves—with those God has placed around us!
Monday, July 8, 2019
So many details go into making any kingdom or country run smoothly. The success of any group is in direct proportion to the work that is accomplished by each of its members. In any kingdom, the king is sovereign to appoint different tasks for his subjects. In the same way, presidents or prime ministers often appoint cabinet members for specific roles in order to help things run smoothly. Several parallels might be drawn between such nations states and the kingdom of God. However, the kingdom Christ speaks of in Matthew 5-7 is a kingdom of perfection to look forward to—a kingdom for which we are all on mission today. As we continue to examine our mission (to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ to others) and strategy for accomplishing this, we are going to examine Jesus’ own words on the role each one of us plays as citizens in the Kingdom of God. In fact, in Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus reveals that while God’s kingdom subjects have so much to look forward to, this is no cause for them to sit still or grow comfortable. Jesus’ calling on kingdom subjects comes by means to two word pictures.
1) WORD PICTURE #1: The Salt of the Earth-5:13
The first image Jesus compares his subjects to are granular pieces of salt—“You are the salt of the earth” (5:13a). In light of the radically different lifestyle Jesus has called the Jews around him to emulate thus far in the Sermon on the Mount, what Jesus says next is striking. For many Jews in Jesus’ day, living a life of separation from the world and isolation from the lost followed repentance. So far in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus seems to be playing into this pattern as the beatitudes described a counter-cultural way of living. What Jesus has suggested so far goes might have suggested strict separation between God’s people the culture around them.
However, Jesus does not advocate for isolation or separation from what he preaches against. Instead, He encourages the exact opposite. Christians are called to permeate society as agents of redemption. Salt, while used for flavor, is primarily referred to here as a preservative. Salt is considered to be an antibacterial. That is why it is good at preserving products, especially food stuffs. How does it work? Anything that is called antibacterial is called so because it inhibits the growth of bacteria. Bacteria feeds off your food and cause it to spoil and salt prevents the moist environment that bacteria requires to thrive. This is because salt is very good at dehydrating and absorbing the water from anything it comes into contact with. In the same way, Jesus calls his disciples to target, arrest, and prevent moral decay in their world as they seek to advance the Kingdom.
After describing what a kingdom citizen looks like (in Matt. 5:1-12), here, Jesus delineates their calling. Believers everywhere are to spread themselves over and around the rotting and decaying world around them, confronting their culture and context, and act as a preserving and decontaminating agents through the redeeming power of the gospel. What a calling!
After painting this first word picture of the care God’s people are to provide, Jesus asks a pointed question—“but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?” This does not describe the scientifically impossible idea of salt becoming flavorless; rather, it exposes the common problem many Jews faced when salt was mixed with various impure substances and, as a result, became worthless as a preservative agent. With the call to be salt comes a warning. Although the subjects of the kingdom are called into the world as a preservative, they are also asked not to become defiled by that world—i.e. adopting its ways—and prove worthless / tasteless. The severity of this proposition is revealed in Jesus’ suggestion that if salt loses its saltiness, it is near impossible to ever get that back. If/when kingdom citizens are mixed into the world, they lose their effectiveness for the kingdom mission.
Not only are those who lost their saltiness ineffective, Jesus suggests that they are worthless—“it is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trample underfoot by men” (5:13c). Jesus answers the question that he posed earlier—" but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?”—by acknowledging that defiled salt is trash. In fact, besides just being fit for discarding, Jesus goes a step further and says that defiled salt deserves to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.
Luke 14:34-35-“Therefore, salt is good: but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
What both of these passages reveal is this: subjects in the kingdom of God who fail to act as they should in arresting corruption in the people, places, and institutions around them become worthless as agents of change and redemption in the mission of God. Those who advocate for peace and salvation but avoid the decomposing world around them prove impotent and unable to fulfill their divinely given role in the world. To be a preserving agent does not mean to be passive and hands off to the world. This is what the first century Jews were doing—those very Jews that Jesus was instructing in this passage. Jesus’ call of his subjects is to be change agents for the cause of Christ.
2) WORD PICTURE #2: The Light of the World-5:14-16
The second image Jesus places before his subjects is a light—“You are the light of the world” (5:14a). In fact, what Jesus calls his subjects here is exactly what the bible says of Jesus Himself later in John 8:12.
John 8:12-“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.’”
In the same way that Jesus shone brightly in the world he entered, his subjects are to reflect his light as his followers in the same world they are preserving around them. The “world” mentioned here is parallel to the “earth” mentioned in the previous verse and both speak not only of the planet, but the fallen systems thereupon. In the last verse the image of the world was of a decaying and rotting bacteria-infested piece of meat. In such a world, God’s people were called to be salt. In this verse, the world is a dark domain of wanderers. Amidst the darkness, the subjects of God’s kingdom are called to be lights that pierce through the darkness and illuminate Christ to all who are stumbling around.
Christ pushes the metaphor further suggesting that these lights cannot and should not be ignored or hidden—“a city on a hill cannot be hidden” (5:14b). “A city on a hill” refers to a collection of lights giving direction to the surrounding areas. Thus, the subjects described in the previous verses are to radiate together and, if acting as they should, should not be hidden or ignored by the world around them.
Lights for the gospel in a dark world ought never be hidden—the very idea to Jesus was preposterous—“ nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket,…” (5:15a).
One of the bad habits (I know it is a stretch to believe I was guilty of any of these) I had growing up was leaving a light on somewhere in the house. In fact, there would be many occasions that my dad or mom would get onto me about leaving a light on in the house because I was no longer using the room that was now burning electricity and contributing to the utility bill. By nature, however, even in the daytime, what happens when we enter a room, even for just a second? We turn on a light.
This was not the case in the first century. While we might be able to click on an off a light for the fun of it, in days prior to Edison’s light-bulb people lit a light for and on purpose. It took time and was not something someone did frivolously. To the primarily Jewish audience listening in the first century, Jesus suggests how silly it would be for someone to go to the trouble of lighting a lamp (getting the fuel, acquiring a flame, etc.) just to then cover it up. It is like me walking into a room, turning on a light, and immediately leaving the room with the light on. It is not being used! No one does that (or, at least, no one should!). In the same way, God does not illuminate people with his Spirit at salvation so that they can then be covered up and hidden from the lost world around them. That would be absurd.
The correct thing to do with a light is put it to good use by allowing it to illuminate the area around you and give direction to those who are in the dark—“ but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house…”(5:15b). (Interestingly, my parents never got onto me about being in a lit room, as long as I was in the room putting those photons to good use). The Jews in the first century would never cover a light. Instead they would allow it to take a prominent place in the house so all might benefit from it. In the same way, Christ did not create subjects in his kingdom to be hidden away. It is not his purpose to create undercover Christians. Rather, the proper place for His subjects is to be prominently placed so that Christ’s reflection might be able to bring direction and illumination to those still in the dark.
After making this case, Jesus provides some guidelines for the lights in his kingdom and instructs those listening in how to properly reflect the gospel. First he suggests that it being on mission as lights happens in public—“Let your light shine before men” (5:16a). This is a general term used for everyone around you. Second, being on mission as lights involves the demonstration of good works—"in such a way that they may see you good works” (5:16b). Christ realized, as should all who listen to his words, that one’s life and actions may be the only sermon a person witnesses in their lifetime. Good works reveal faith and true repentance in the life of a subject of the King. Jesus communicates here that although it is one thing to share the message of redemption verbally, he calls believers in this verse to be lights and not loud-speakers—demonstrating in acts of service what is being proclaimed and putting hands and feet to the words proclaimed. Third, Christ reminds that this should be done not in pride and religious arrogance, but in humility giving any and all glory to God who is in heaven—“ and glorify your Father who is in heaven…” (5:16c). Again, this is contrary both to the worldly behaviors and the corrupt religious system active in Jesus’ day (and in our day as well). The world is an expert at being self-glorifying. Similarly, the Pharisees of the first century were all about glorifying themselves through legalistic works and pompous platitudes. However, a subject of the King is a mirror, reflecting glory away from himself/herself and toward the Father in heaven.
Salt and Light. A preservative agent used as a catalyst for change and a light, amidst a dark world, guiding others out of the shadows. These are the callings placed on God’s subjects as they are about the mission of the Kingdom of God. For so much of Israel’s history, they had proven useless. In the popular religion of Jesus’ day, focus was on themselves and creating a holy bubble of belief rather than venturing out into the world or shining the light beyond the temple walls. Their salt was useless, and their light, wasted. Unfortunately, these trends are not specific to first century Jews. Many churches today take on the same traits Jesus teaches against here. Today, we must take a sober look at how we are behaving as God’s Subjects. Are we at all guilty of hiding ourselves in the four walls of our church, hogging the salt for ourselves and those already in the fold? Are we busy lighting regions of our lives, this community, or this world that are already well lit? We must determine to venture out, bringing the restoration and love that only Christ can offer to the decay and rottenness that we often times avoid. We must seek out the darkness and put our light to good use. We’ve learned today that being a disciple of Christ, being a subject of the King is not about being a lone-ranger, or secret-agent. It is about being in the open, standing in the gap, and being Christ’s ambassadors. Is it not about isolating ourselves in safety and the comfort of our religious system, it is about venturing out in the muck and mire and to there be the church to a dying and hell-bound world.
Monday, July 1, 2019
Last week we were introduced to our church’s mission to know Christ, grow in Christ and show Christ to others by taking a 30,000ft view of how this mandate is articulated in the New Testament. Over the next few weeks we are going to look at how this is accomplished. What is the biblically-prescribed means by which this mission is carried out? The answer to this question begins with prayer. Today we are going to take a look at one of Paul’s many encouragements to pray in Colossians 4:2-6. Colossae was a thriving city 100 miles east of Ephesus. Although Colossae’s population was primarily Gentile, there was a large Jewish settlement there. Colossae’s mixed population of Jews and Gentiles manifested itself both in the composition of the church and in the heresy that plagued it, which contained elements of both Jewish legalism, pagan mysticism, and early Gnosticism. After Paul greets the church at the beginning of this letter, he thanks them for their service and prays that the church will grow in wisdom, especially concerning what they know about the person of Christ. Next, Paul begins to describe Christ as the head of the church, Redeemer, Reconciler, and Sacrifice. After defending Christ’s unique identity, Paul delves into the implications that go along with this sophisticated Christology. He shows how believers ought to join Jesus’ mission over inferior movements that are connected to the flesh and this world. Finally, toward the end of this rally cry, Paul begins to give encouragements to the church. Three of these are presented in chapter 4 verses 2-6. All of them, interestingly enough, identify overflow out of a dynamic prayer life and all of them work to explain how to accomplish our mission well in a world that desperately needs him.
I. ENCOURAGEMENT #1: PRAY PURPOSEFULLY-4:2-4
As Paul draws his letter to a close, he calls upon the church in Colossae to first devote themselves to prayer (with consistent and constant intensity with the possible implication of difficulty), “devote yourselves to prayer” (4:2a). It is, in fact, the same verb used in Acts 2:42 to describe the early church’s devotion to the apostle’s teaching, fellowship and prayer. In light of all that Paul has taught in the beginning of his letter, Paul’s first encouragement to the church is to commit themselves to a life of fervent prayer. Why? Because showing Christ to others is predicated on one’s prayer life. One’s ability to demonstrate Christ to others is in direct proportion to his/her personal prayer life.
The Colossians were instructed to pray in a specific manner, with “alertness” or “watchfulness” and “with an attitude of thanksgiving,” (4:2b). Although prayer does require the individual to be awake (duh), when Paul says “keeping alert,” he is talking about praying with an acute awareness of whatever affects the spread of the gospel. This becomes exceedingly obvious as Paul will soon provide specific requests. Informed prayer is likely to be more purposeful, personal, and powerful.
Notice also that prayer is supposed to take place in the context of thanksgiving (1 Thess. 5:17). Thankfulness provides the proper context for good praying. No one depended on this context of thanksgiving more than Paul whose own circumstances were often anything but something for which to be thankful—he was writing this from a prison cell for crying out loud! However, to ensure a proper perspective in the midst of tribulation, Paul both modeled and urged that prayer be offered in an attitude of thanks. This kind of prayer sees clearly the obstacles and difficulties but recognizes that in spite of all of them, God is able to work.
The construction of these two verses may suggest a three-fold pattern in prayer life. First, an individual prays fervently, second, an individual watches or waits for a response, “keeping alert in it,” and third, the individual responds with thanksgiving upon answered prayer. The first element (fervent prayer) requires obedience, as a believer takes on the command to pray. The second (waiting for a response) requires faith as the believer anxiously seeks the fulfillment of the answer. The third (thanksgiving) encourages praise and adoration to God for having answered the prayer offered. While the world sleeps in their disbelief and ignorance, Paul calls Christians to keep awake and devoted to regular and steady prayer. Our kingdom-building mission cannot be successful without a strong connection to the King and this comes by a dynamic fervent prayer life.
In repeating the word “prayer” in verse 3, Paul emphasizes its importance, “praying at the same time for us as well” (4:3). In the spirit of being specific in their prayer lives, Paul gives them some specific requests of his. Listen carefully to what he asks the church to keep in mind.
First, Paul requested that the church in Colossae pray for an open door for the gospel, “that God will open up to us a door for the word so that we may speak for the mystery of Christ for which I have been imprisoned…” (4:3). Paul always looked for ways to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ. No one had better skills to turn any situation into an opportunity for witnessing. His success was, in part, due to the many prayers offered on his behalf for wisdom and opportunities. You want an opportunity to spread the gospel successfully? Pray for it! That is what Paul did and look how God used him! Paul instructs the Colossians to pray that he would find an open door. The apostle lived for such opportunities and realized that God alone provided these divine appointments, often, in response to the prayers offered.
However, what is this “mystery” Paul wanted to share? The answer is found in Colossians 1:26-27 which says “ the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The substance of Paul’s message, the mystery that he longed more than anything to disclose for people, was that by grace through faith, anyone can have Christ in them, the hope of glory. This was the kernel of truth that Paul hoped to share with those who were lost. This is the campaign slogan of the mission of God!
Paul’s second request was that he may proclaim the gospel as he should, “That I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (4:4). Paul not only looked for new doors to walk through but he also looked for ways to make the gospel understandable. He did not pray for a specific method of spreading the gospel, but for the wisdom to know what to say in specific situations, all while doing justice to the gospel.
In this first command given in this passage, Paul reveals that to show Christ adequately, one must adopt a dynamic prayer life which includes: praying for the lost, praying for opportunities to share Christ with the lost, and praying for wisdom so that the sharing done may be appropriate and winsome.
II. ENCOURAGEMENT #2: ACT ACCORDINGLY-4:5
Paul’s second command for the church is to live out the truth they are proclaiming, “conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders” (4:5a). The Colossians were to ensure that their lives, speech, and appearance reflected Christ in them (the hope of glory). To “conduct yourselves with wisdom” means to follow Christ as God’s pattern for full and authentic living. Paul knew all too well the importance of giving the world no reason to criticize the behavior of Christians. Blameless living alongside that comes with dynamic prayer life are two cornerstones of a good witness.
2 Corinthians 6:1-3-And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain— for He says, “At the acceptable time I listened to you, And on the day of salvation I helped you.” Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation”— giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited."
A blameless and prayerful walk naturally affords a believer the ability to make the most of every opportunity given to him/her to show Christ, “making the most of the opportunity” (4:5b). The word for “making the most” insinuates that every opportunity you have to spread the seed or water on planted ground needs to be snapped up, lest it be lost to something or someone else.
You may say to yourself, “Well, I have very little if any opportunities to share the gospel.” However, the very fact that you are left on this earth and here today suggests that your opportunities have not run out. (CONSIDER THIS: Perhaps you do not recognize the myriad of opportunities around you or aren’t being given more explicit opportunities because you have failed to pray for them). Time itself is an opportunity to seize for the kingdom of God. What are you going to do with it? Decide today to snap it up for all its worth for the glory of God. The time is near! Jesus could return at any moment!
Matthew 24:36ff- “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.”
One way to be ready is to be about the mission we are called to by praying for an opportunity to share the gospel and seizing every opportunity to make the most of it by acting accordingly.
III. ENCOURAGEMENT #3: SPEAK SWEETLY-4:6
Paul’s final command in this passage involves both the content of words spoken and the manner of speaking them, “Let your speech always be with grace as though seasoned with salt…”(4:6a). Here, two statements illustrate the nature of Christian speech. The first is “in grace.” “In grace” may reflect an idiom used in that day for charm or charisma. However, Paul wants it to mean more than just tactfulness. Ultimately, Paul is trying to get the Colossians to speak with grace as those who live in grace—i.e. to speak in a distinctly Christian way. While the world slanders and bludgeon’s people with their sharp rhetoric of negativity, division, and deception, a Christian’s words are to stand in contrast as a presentation given with grace.
1 Peter 3:15-“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
The second way Paul describes the speech of a believer is “with salt.” Salt was used in three different ways in the first century. It could preserve food, sterilize food, or season food. Here Paul is talking about the latter. Conversations are to be seasoned in such a way that they bring life and richness. Paul knew that a lengthy and laborious monologue is often useless in evangelism. Rather, Christians are to work at making their witness lively and colorful while at the same time making sure they stay true to the gospel.
This kind of speech is required “so that” as Paul says “you will know how you should respond to each person” (4:6c). Respond to what? If the first two commands (pray purposefully and act accordingly) are being carried out properly in the life of a disciple, outsiders will begin to ask Christians about their new life and its source. As these opportunities present themselves and people are engaged, believers must respond to each person as an individual. One technique or approach may not be suitable to each and every person you meet. Instead, each outsider must be given special and customized attention.
In this passage we’ve observed the unmistakable priority of prayer and two other encouragements that flow out of a dynamic ministry of intercession—an authentic and winsome lifestyle, and a proper and gracious presentation of the gospel. These were Paul’s instructions for the church in Colossae as they endeavored to show Christ to their brave new world. We must also take on the charge in our own lives. We too must devote ourselves to prayer in eager anticipation of an answer for those we know and for this community. We too must strive to live blameless lives in order to provide the kind of example that will make people stop and ask us what is different about ourselves and make the most of every opportunity to share Jesus Christ. Thirdly, we must speak boldly and graciously with those around communicate the flavorful truths of God’s Word. These three commands of Paul are paramount if we are going to adequately engage those outside the walls of the church and show Christ to others as individuals and as a church. May we not be caught prayerless, hesitant or unwilling to make that call, knock on that door, or engage those around us. May we instead choose to live with intercession as our habit, blamelessness in our character, and gentleness in our speech. Our mission depends on it! It is crunch time! His return is near!