Colossians 4b

Have you taken time to talk to your Heavenly Father today? Have you taken time to listen to His words to you? Communication is always important and failure to connect with God is a good way to ruin what could have been a good day. Take time to read your Bible and pray… today!

Colossians 4b

Paul always closes his letters with greetings from those with him and to other Christians known to the recipient. It is easy for us to neglect these endings as unimportant personal notes. To do so is to miss much of the richness of Christian fellowship with God’s family, our family! One preacher friend of mine many years ago highly recommended a diligent study of just these closing remarks as a sermon series and important lesson for us all.

Colossians 4:10 Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also  Barnabas’s cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him); [11] and also Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me.

Aristarchus is no stranger to the Christians of this region having been (apparently) one of the converts in Ephesus and working with Paul ever since (cf. Acts 19:29; 20:4; 27:2; Philemon 1:24), even to accompanying him to Roman imprisonment. While there is no record to suggest he is a literal prisoner with Paul, his faithfulness to stay with and work with Paul even in prison is acknowledged.

The next faithful co-worker is John Mark. The last we’d heard of him (Acts 15:39) was when he caused the split between Barnabas and Paul at the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey. While Scripture is silent over their contact during the intervening years, the lesson is plain: Do NOT allow disagreements, even harsh ones, to keep coming between faithful members of God’s family! Forgiveness and reconnection may take time, but if both parties are really faithful, it’s always worth the effort.

Jesus who is called or also named Justus is sometimes a shock to people. It is worth remembering that the name Jesus is another form of the Hebrew name Joshua also often transliterated as Yeshua. It was then, as it is today, a popular name among god-fearing people. The uniqueness of our Savior’s name is often (as Paul has done frequently in this letter) spelled out as the Jesus who is the Anointed (as King) one of God (Christ). This Jesus or Joshua is also a fellow preacher and brother known sometimes by the name, Justus.

Notice, too, something that Paul tells us here. Aristarchus, Mark and Jesus/Justus are the only ones currently with Paul that are Jews (from the circumcision). That becomes important when you continue reading and learn that Epaphras, Luke and Demas (verses 12 and 14) are in the other (Gentile) category. People often ask why we would think Luke was a Gentile and the answer is: Because Paul said he was.

Colossians 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. [13] For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis. [14] Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas.

The New American Standard calls Epaphras a bondslave while the King James uses  servant (as does the NIV) and the New King James uses bondservant. What is interesting is that Paul uses the exact same word (doulos) that he’s used in Colossians 3:11, 22; 4:1 where the word is nearly always translated as slave (KJV and NKJV use servants and bondservants). Since this word most often refers to slaves the reminder is again given that we all choose a master to serve, either God or Satan. Which one do people see you serving? Epaphras has already been introduced (Colossians 1:7) as apparently the preacher that started the work in Colossae and perhaps Laodicea and Hierapolis as well.

It sometimes surprises Christians in today’s world that preachers feel such a strong spiritual connection to congregations that they’ve worked with. After all, we hire and fire preachers today without much thought that they might have actually been something much different than simple employees for our whims. And we certainly don’t imagine that after all the problems we’ve caused for them that they might actually be laboring earnestly for us in their prayers, do we? After all, we know that New Testament preachers were greatly concerned about congregations, even those that had done wrong (cf. 1 and 2 Corinthians and Galatians). Perhaps it is high time we as preachers and congregations both get back to the Bible in ALL our attitudes and actions.

Next, Paul mentions his close friend Luke. It is certainly possible that Luke’s Gospel has already been circulating among these congregations and they are either eagerly awaiting his follow up book of Acts, or have already received it.

Finally, Paul includes the (then) faithful preacher Demas. What a sad footnote he becomes in the history of the Lord’s church. A once faithful preacher, fellow worker with the Apostle Paul and brother in Christ that would go on to become forever after known as a deserter (2 Timothy 4:10). Above all else, we need to remember NOT to be a Demas!

Colossians 4:15 Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church  that is her house.

When we have joint singings and fellowships with neighboring sister congregations do we realize that such actions are actually scriptural? Colossae and Laodicea (about 12 miles apart) seem to know and interact with each other in a similar way.

Nympha, a feminine name, is changed to the masculine name Nymphas in many later manuscripts (especially those used for the King James translation) and there are also some early manuscripts that use their house rather than her or his house. Also difficult to know is the location of this person/group of Christians. Are they at Laodicea or perhaps just part way between Colossae and Laodicea? In the end, we are left wondering about details that everyone in the these two congregations understood perfectly.

Worthy of note, too, is the designation of the church being IN the house or the equally probable idea that a Christian home with a Christian family actually constitutes a group of the Called Out People of God (the New Testament meaning of church). We may well be adding something to Scripture to make all the unfounded claims about the New Testament House Church Pattern as advocated by many twentieth century writers when all God is really trying to point out that a family of Christians is a special thing without reference to the place of worship. We certainly KNOW that this is true of the church at Corinth as Paul specifically  mentions  their  coming  together  for  worship  and  the  Lord’s  Supper  (cf.    1 Corinthians 11:17-22 where Paul makes this clear) is something other than someone’s home or House Church.

Colossians 4:16 When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea. [17] Say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.”

Since the earliest copies of Ephesians lack the destination city, it is carried by Tychicus who is also coming to Colossae, and the letter lacks the usual personal greetings to a destination congregation, most conservative scholars have concluded that the letter was intended to be shared among the congregations in the area of Ephesus. That makes it  likely that the letter coming to Colossae for their attention is what we call the Ephesian letter. Also, Paul makes it clear that Colossians is intended for other congregations. After all, God’s word and His dealing with both problems and concerns is really for us all!

Archippus is also mentioned in Paul’s accompanying personal letter to Philemon (Philemon 2) where Paul says that letter is to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church that is your house. That has led many to conclude that Archippus is the son of Philemon and known to the congregation as a faithful Christian, perhaps a deacon or preacher in the congregation.

It is easy for us to become comfortable with the denominational idea of a single preacher / leader / pastor for a congregation that does all the work. Such is NOT the case in the New Testament church. Those with elders (the actual Biblical “pastors” of the church), were equipped with preachers by definition (cf. 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9) and oftentimes one or more of them filled the full-time role of “preacher” (cf. 1 Timothy 5:17). Nearly every New Testament “missionary” was a team effort so it should be no surprise to us that preaching and teaching in a congregation is also a team effort.

Having noted these facts, whatever the exact details of Archippus’ status, as a preacher and thus leader within the congregation, he is (like all such) deserving of utmost encouragement in the job! Just like elders, we have the responsibility to make their job easier by the service we give to them and the Lord (cf. Hebrews 13:17).

Colossians 4:18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you.

Since Paul often used a “secretary” to write (called an amanuensis, cf. Romans 16:22), he adds his own personal greeting and concludes with the Christian blessing of God’s grace. Never forget who you are and what you have to share that is so precious in God’s eyes!

—Lester P. Bagley

Colossians 4a

Several have mentioned that they are learning new things and seeing fresh lessons in their reading of God’s word. One the powerful things about the word of God is its ability to be fresh, relevant and applicable to us each time we read it. Don’t miss out!

Colossians 4a

Colossians 4:1 Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.

Just as Paul pointed out the responsibility of slaves and servants to do right in their service, so he also points out that masters have a similar duty. Just as servants working here on earth do their work for earthly people just like they would do it for the Lord, so, too, should masters or bosses should remember that they have (and work for) a greater boss in heaven.

Note the word Paul uses here is kurios, the exact word also translated as Lord. The reference is literally to any kind of a boss or higher-ranking person and is used as a term of respect and acknowledgment of that higher position rather than a term for God. Our God is certainly our (and everyone else’s!) ultimate Lord. But we mustn’t imagine that every time we see the word “Lord” that it means God.

The real lesson here is that we ALL have the responsibility to act like Jesus. It doesn’t matter whether you are the boss or the lowliest employee. The same holds true even for elders as they are counseled to not “lord it over the flock.” Do remember that this certainly does NOT imply that Christians do not have to actually obey their bosses or their elders!

Colossians 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; [3] praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; [4] that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.

Here’s in interesting thought: As we are talking about responsibility to do our best in  every job that we have, Paul links that to our life in Christ! Christian life is a part of every day, every hour, every task we do. It is who we are, and prayer and thanksgiving to God needs to be a part of us always.

It is also important to keep in mind, as Paul requests here, that our prayers need to include others and their faithfulness. Also, once again, Paul reminds us of the importance of the message we carry to the world. This is the mystery of Christ that Paul calls foolishness to the world in 1 Corinthians chapter 1. Because we know the truth, we have a responsibility to share the Good News.

Colossians 4:5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. [6] Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.

Dealing with people that are not a part of God’s family is always a challenge! We are constantly struggling to balance the pigs (cf. Matthew 7:6) and the possibles (cf. Jude 22- 23). Being wise in our dealings with the world is going to bring us to opportunities. They need to be our focus rather than the swine.

Verse 6 includes an interesting analogy that has passed into common speech. Never forget that, just as well-seasoned food is tasty, we may also season our words to make them a better tool in outreach.

Colossians 4:7 As to all my affairs, Tychicus, our beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord, will bring you information. [8] For I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts; [9] and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of your number. They will inform you about the whole situation here.

Tychicus had worked with Paul for some years (cf. Acts 20:4) and evidently is personally delivering this letter and the letter we title Ephesians to the congregations in the region of Ephesus and Colossae (cf. Ephesians 6:21). He would continue to be a coworker (Titus 3:12) even to the end of Paul’s life (cf. 2 Timothy 4:12).

Also travelling with Tychicus is Onesimus, a slave owned by Philemon of the Colossian church. Many, if not everyone, in the congregation would have known Onesimus and certainly by now would have known much of the story of the runaway slave. What has changed drastically is that Onesimus is now a Christian returning home to be a faithful coworker with his master and the church.

Such has always been the story of God and His dealings with people. Prodigal sons come home. Lost sheep are found. And even runaway slaves become fellow slaves of Christ with their old masters.

Never forget the changes that God can bring to any life. No one is unworthy. No one is too far gone. No one so sinful that Jesus cannot forgive and change their life from slave to a child of the King!

—Lester P. Bagley

Colossians 3b

Have you read your Bible today? Have you spent time in prayer? Have you been a help or a hinderance to your Savior? It’s a choice we all have to make each and every day. What’s your choice today?

Colossians 3b

Paul has gone to great lengths to deeply impress Christians that ALL Christians are as united in Christ as He is in us. Nothing of this earth’s criteria matters in the least to God. To Him we are either IN Christ and Christ is IN us, or we are nothing.

So what does God expect of us that He regards so highly?

Colossians 3:12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; [13] bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. [14] Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. [15] Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.

We need to realize how precious God’s children are to Him. If you want to get a mother or dad really mad at you, bully their children. If that angers us, imagine the anger of an all- powerful God against those that would harm His children. Check out 2 Thessalonians 1:5- 10 for Paul’s discussion of this very matter.

Now take that a step further. How does that oh-so-protective Heavenly Father expect His precious children to behave toward each other? That is Paul’s lesson here. Chosen of God, holy and beloved is how God sees each and every one of His saints. So we are called to act like it.

Actually, it’s much more than just any acting. We are admonished to put on the right attitudes. Two important lessons are being taught here. First, it is a choice for us whether or not to actually look like our Savior. Children often play dress-up and proudly display the fact that they look like mommy or daddy. We have to make a choice to look like Jesus every day. Otherwise, we choose to look like someone else.

Second is that we, having made the choice will dress right. You cannot imagine a soldier putting armor on the wrong way or putting on a suit and tie imagining that it’s just as good as armor! You can’t pretend to be the Light of the World while acting like the dregs of the world.

Note, too, that we can choose to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient. When we are anything other than Christ-like, that is a choice, too!

The ultimate reason for making the right choice is because that’s the choice God has made for us. In Matthew 6:12 Jesus taught us to seek forgiveness from God as we have already extended forgiveness to others. If we fail to treat others right in God’s eyes, then prevent Him from treating us right!

Ultimately, it all comes down to love, that commitment form of God’s love that allowed Him to love us while we were still in sin (cf. Romans 5:8). When we clothe ourselves with God’s own love then we truly look like Jesus to the world and to God.

Having done this, we find the real peace and the reason we are called and finally, the real reason for thankfulness. So many look for the shortcuts to peace and joy, but there are none. The only way is through loving like and being loved by Jesus!

So how on earth do we accomplish all this? Paul has an answer for that:

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. [17] Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

God’s indwelling Holy Spirit is found in God’s word. That is the first ingredient that we have to instill in ourselves. Paul said, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe (1 Corinthians 1:21). Peter preached to those who’d been listening to God’s word, Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). And Paul would also write, So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

Only by hearing the word of God that is taught or preached to us (either by reading the New Testament writers directly or by preaching/teaching from an individual) can we come to the faith to obey the word. And only in repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins can we not only BE forgiven but also receive the present, the gift of God’s own Spirit, His word living within us.

One of the confusing arguments some have is whether the Holy Spirit IS the word of God or is IN the word of God. Reality, like many things about God is a bit more complex. No one HAS the Spirit of God and contradicts or goes against God’s word. Peter assures us     (2 Peter 1:19-20) that God’s word is given by the Holy Spirit to be written down and given to us.

Since God doesn’t contradict or fight against Himself (cf. context of Matthew 12:25), His word IS our source of all knowledge of God’s will for us. That being said, the only way for us to have God’s word installed/instilled in us is by reading and study.

Doesn’t that seriously amplify our urgency for reading and studying God’s word? In doing so we are adding to the Holy Spirit that lives in us. Who would want more of God’s help and presence in their life?

Have you ever been told that “if you are smart” you will do something? If a driver is smart they won’t drive down the wrong side of the road. That’s the way to stay alive. If a Christian is smart, they will be continually in God’s word. That’s the way to eternal life!

So, if the word of Christ is richly living in us and we are being wise in God’s definition of wise, then we will teach and encourage each other with thankful singing. How can a Christian ever say, “I love God” and not “love singing?”

Before you answer, check Paul’s answer. If you are thankful and that’s what fills your heart, then you will! Apparently, just listening to others sing doesn’t fulfil God’s requirements. We need to participate just as we need to participate in all the other good deeds of serving our Savior. DO all the good things and be thankful, that’s where we find the real peace of God!

Next, Paul reminds us that there’s something to work on for every single one of us: Colossians 3:18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. [19] Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. [20] Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. [21] Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.

Before we complain that God has never heard of “equal rights” we must remember that as Lord God He gives us all a position of responsibility. Wives have a responsibility, just as husbands do. Notice that each of the responsibilities are reciprocal as they represent commands give to all of us as Christians. Are any of us supposed to do things that are unfitting or unbefitting to the Lord? Can any of us do the right things and feel bitter about them? Even our giving to the Lord has to be without grudging (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:7)!

Colossians 3:22 Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. [23] Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, [24] knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. [25] For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.

Slavery has a long history. Virtually every human society has practiced slavery and within each it has varied from the most degrading humanly possible to extremely well valued and treated. Just like in everyday life, the hateful bullies have always been there as well as the extremely compassionate.

But there is one serious thought for Christians to consider before we judge too harshly either way. Those that serve God faithfully are often described (many times by themselves) as slaves. Perhaps even more pointedly, the wicked and disobedient are also slaves (cf. Romans 6:19). So in reality we have to make a choice as to who is our master!

Having said that, Paul’s instructions to slaves and servants (Paul’s word here is the common word for slave that included a lot more than we typically think of) is extremely pointed. No matter who or what those you serve are like, your responsibility is to be Christ like!

Since our own Savior set aside His Godhood to become one of us and die for us (cf. Philippians 2:5-8), we are called to do the same. Not just in service to God, but in service to sinful men that we might redeem some of them. In all this we are really serving the Lord our Savior!

Paul also sneaks in a negative reminder. All who do wrong will be caught and punishment will never be spared to those that imagine they are somehow special. God knows how to punish fairly all those that deserve it.

Our mission is to live in such a way that when God and everyone else looks at us they see Christ instead of us. Now there’s a challenge!

—Lester P. Bagley

The Lord’s Supper

 

The more we struggle to have fellowship together the more with either grow stronger or die. It all works just like bodily exercise and that’s exactly what Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:8. If challenges make you work harder at prayer, reading and studying your Bible, and appreciating your dependence on God, then you will grow stronger. Are you working out and growing?

The Lord’s Supper

As designated by Jesus, the Lord’s Supper is made up of two parts or components. Let’s take a moment to think about those parts and how they relate to God’s word.

The first part of the Lord’s Supper

The bread that reminds us of Jesus’ own body given for us on that cross. In John 6:48ff Jesus taught even before His death about the association of His body and blood with salvation. In a discussion about the Manna as the original Bread-of-Life Jesus extends the comparison to His own body being the new Bread-of-Life for those who would live forever.

The picture that Jesus puts forth causes many of His disciples to reject Him (cf. John 6:60- 66). Certainly without the rest of the picture of Jesus’ atoning death it was a difficult concept.

Jesus’ final night before His death is spent with His disciples celebrating the Passover feast. Passover was instituted as a memorial feast to remind the Jews of God’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage (cf. Exodus 12 and especially note verse 15). Jesus uses this occasion to fulfil and renew the Old Testament picture by instituting a new “feast” for us to remember God’s deliverance of His people from the bondage of sin.

Luke 22 sets the stage for that night as it tells usNow the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching (verse 1). Following the events in Luke 22 we come to that night of the actual celebration of Passover and Jesus showing the New Covenant fulfilled meaning.

So, what kind of bread does Jesus use for that institution of and demonstration of the New Covenant fulfilled Lord’s Supper? Go back and check Exodus 12:15 again. There was NO leavened bread in ANY Jewish house in all of Jerusalem the night Jesus instituted this Supper! The ONLY possible conclusion is that Jesus used and demonstrated for us the use of unleavened bread for that commemorative supper.

What’s the big deal? Strangely enough, one of the early changes to New Testament practice seems to come as some churches began using leavened bread. By the sixth and seventh centuries it appears to be common practice in most churches.

Why? Apparently (from early Christian commentators) they wanted it to symbolize the risen Christ, so they used raised bread. Their reasoning also extended to the expressed desire to differentiate the Lord’s Supper from the Jewish Passover. Remember those “Judaizing” teachers Paul dealt with (cf. Galatians 5)?

Let’s back up a minute and ask a different question: Was there a purpose or meaning for Jesus using unleavened bread that might be important to God?

(6) Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? (7) Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. (8) Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)

Paul seems to give us a few good reasons to do it God’s way. First, Christ IS our Passover. He’s the fulfilment of the Old Testament example. It was, as so many other things there, pointing us to Jesus.

Second, while the primary focus of the bread we share is the body of Christ sacrificed for us, it is also a reminder of purity.  As God’s children we are called out of this world to BE God’s light, God’s family, God’s example in this world. If we are contaminated by even just a little of the world does it matter? The Holy Spirit seems to think it does!

Finally, the impurities themselves of malice and wickedness that Paul cites, we are purified and made sinless by Jesus. We cannot be half and half. We must have the right ingredients of sincerity and truth. The right ingredients matter!

So the bread we partake of is a picture of Jesus, the ultimate Bread of Life (better than Manna!). It is a reminder of our salvation from sin by Jesus’ sacrifice. It is a foreshadowing of the ultimate Passover when those purified by Jesus will be eternally passed over by eternal death. And it is a reminder of our call to holiness in being pure as we live for Him who died for us.

Do we appreciate how all this is tied into the Bible? Without time spent in reading and study of Scripture, we would never possess the information to see the big picture of what God is showing us in that little piece of bread.

So what about the cup?

Let’s begin with a few minor details. Again, does it matter if we use fruit of the GRAPE vine or could we use watermelon juice or something else. Should we just casually call it wine, if grape juice is the right thing, as many people do?

You may recall that words matter. They always have and they always will. No one bakes a chocolate cake by claiming that onions mean the same thing as chocolate. So what is the Bible telling us?

A little digging into the Jewish world of the New Testament shows us two things to answer these questions about Jesus’ words. First, “fruit of the vine” is a term that always, only means “grape vines.” While it is true that other things grow on vines, that’s never what this term used in the New Testament refers to. So we have to go with God’s definition.

The second problem is also simple. There is NEVER a single reference in the New Testament to the liquid used as “wine.” No Greek copy ever uses the specific word for wine, always and only the generic term “fruit of the vine.” In Jewish references to the Passover, comments are made regarding use of fermented or unfermented as being up to individual families’ taste or desire. The only specific set forth in Scripture for the Lord’s Supper is that it is juice of the grape. That’s what God says so it must be important.

Yes, but what does it MEAN? Certainly, like the bread, there are some lessons of importance that God is trying to get across to us!

Paul gives us a starting point: (23) For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; (24) and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” (25) In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” (26) For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

The cup (to be more specific, the fruit of the vine contents as the vessel itself has no significance) is the representation of Jesus’ blood of the new covenant. But what does THAT really mean?

To understand and appreciate where God is coming from we must go back to what He told His people beginning with Noah after the flood. Genesis chapter 9 begins with God’s blessings to Noah and his family as they begin their lives again on a renewed earth. He tells them that both plants and animals are for their use and food. But, in verse 4 God begins a short lecture about the blood of those animals.

Blood is life! There are many body parts and organs that you can live without. But without blood you are dead. In Genesis 9:5-6 God tells them that human lifeblood is so precious that He requires it as the ultimate payment for taking a life.Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man (Genesis 9:6).

Many years later God would give what we now know as the Old Covenant or the Law of Moses. In Exodus 24 Moses shared with the people of Israel all the law and words of the Lord and then offered the first sacrifices of that law. The blood of those first offerings was saved and half of it sprinkled on the altar with the sacrifices. But the other half of the blood was sprinkled on the people as Moses spoke: Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words (Exodus 24:8).

God actually went into some further detail with the priests and all of Israel about the importance of this picture:  For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement (Leviticus 17:11).  For as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off. (Leviticus 17:14)

That was the blood of life, the blood of the old covenant. Centuries later Jeremiah the Prophet would proclaim that a new day and a new covenant were coming (read Jeremiah 31:31-34). That New Covenant would be better, greater, stronger and more powerful as in it the Lord would forgive sin and remember it no more!

Jesus’s words (cf. Matthew 26:27-29) as He institutes the Lord’s Supper harken back to all that history. This cup is the picture, the new reminder of that new Covenant as Jesus had been teaching. Remember John 6?  So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:53-54)

Here it is, the blood of life, of Jesus’ own life and not just some animal. And he gave it, not on a human altar but on that cross as He died in our place for our sins.

Is it any wonder that Paul would continue in 1 Corinthians by saying: Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:27)? How on earth could we ever be worthy of such a gift, such a covenant?

The honest answer is that we cannot! But it was God’s gift to us to make us worthy. Paul continues: A person must examine themselves, and in so doing they are to eat of the bread and drink of the cup (1 Corinthians 11:28).

Paul’s exact words are important. We must examine ourselves! And we MUST eat and drink! It’s not an option but a God given requirement to partake and do so correctly each time!

After all, Jesus did it and did it right for you, to make you a child of His family, bound by His covenant to be with Him forever. And that’s why John would later tell us: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

It’s not about us, for none of us could ever be worthy. It is ALL about Jesus our Savior who has given His own body and blood to purchase us and redeem us from sin and death.

May we all join in partaking, in sharing this gift, with each other and with our Lord and God. May we remember the price He paid for our sins. And may we remember that in Him we all together walk for eternity in light.

Let’s celebrate this greatest of all announcements!

—Lester P. Bagley

There’s a stirring deep within me.
Could it be my time has come
When I’ll see my gracious Savior
Face to face when all is done?

Is that His voice I am hearing?
“Come away, My precious one.”
Is He calling me? Is He calling me?

I will rise up, rise up,
Then bow down
And lay my crown
At His wounded feet.

I will rise up, rise up,
Then bow down
And lay my crown
At His wounded feet.

There’s a stirring deep within me….

Useless Prayers

The last few months have really brought home to us just how blessed we were. We see the lesson repeatedly in life that we don’t really appreciate what we have until we lose it. Our times together in fellowship were nice before the virus but were sorely missed and even more appreciated when we lost them for a time. Hopefully the same has held true for our time spent in Bible reading, Bible study and in prayer.

Useless Prayers

What a title! Is there really any such thing? Doesn’t God always hear our prayer? Can it really be true that God would not listen to and help us?

Have you ever heard or used the phrase, In one ear and out the other? Often it is said by a parent to a child and we have probably all both heard it at one time and repeated it ourselves.

Yes, God, being God, hears all prayers even as He knows all things that happen and, more importantly, knows all hearts and intents. So in a sense, if God ignores our prayers it is as though the request has gone through Him without catching His attention or intention to answer.

The obvious next question is really, Does or can that happen? So let’s begin with a few Scriptures:

  • He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, Even his prayer is an abomination. (Proverbs 28:9)
  • If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear; (Psalm 66:18)
  • When he is judged, let him come forth guilty, And let his prayer become sin (Psalm 109:7).
  • The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight (Proverbs 15:8).
  • The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination, How much more when he brings it with evil intent (Proverbs 21:27)!
  • They cried for help, but there was none to save, Even to the LORD, but He did not answer them (Psalm 18:41).

The prophets also frequently warned God’s own chosen people of the danger. If you do not love and obey the Lord then He will not even listen to you. Check out just a few examples:

  • So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. (Isaiah 1:15)
  • Therefore thus says the LORD, “Behold I am bringing disaster on them which they will not be able to escape; though they will cry to Me, yet I will not listen to them (Jeremiah 11:11).
  • Therefore, I indeed will deal in wrath. My eye will have no pity nor will I spare; and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, yet I will not listen to them (Ezekiel 8:18).
  • Then they will cry out to the LORD, But He will not answer them. Instead, He will hide His face from them at that time Because they have practiced evil deeds (Micah 3:4).
  • They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from the LORD of hosts. (13) And just as He called and they would not listen, so they called and I would not listen,” says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 7:12-13)

We often hear how willing God is to heed and save those that call on Him. But that  NEVER means, in God’s terms, that you can call on Him without obedience. God makes no bargains to save us any way other than that He has set forth in His word!

God puts this bluntly in Proverbs 1:28 when He says,Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently but they will not find me. If we are not willing to obey God’s will it is useless to seek His help!

Oh, but that’s all Old Testament teachings. Now, in the New Testament God has changed and we can fool Him. Isn’t that true?

Of course not! Listen to Paul: (6) For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, (7) and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, (8) dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (9) These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)

Did you catch verse 8? Yes, those that spurn God and do not know Him will pay the penalty of eternal destruction. But so will all those that do not OBEY Him.

Without obedience and faithful service to the Lord, He will not heed or answer our prayers. God actually hates those prayers and they become sin. Remember Psalm 109:7 (above)?

If our allegiance is not to the Lord then we are presumptuous in even making a request to God. If we desire God’s blessing then we need to get out hearts and lives right with Him.

The vital thing for us is to know and obey the word of God. Never stop listening to Him. Never stop doing His will. Peter puts it like this: For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil (1 Peter 3:12).

—Lester P. Bagley

Philippians chapter 2

How’s your Bible reading going? As life begins to get back to outside activities and people are less constrained inside all the time, we need to be extra cautious. Not so much about a virus, but cautious that we do not ever forget to take time to spend with God!

Philippians 2

Paul often constructs amazingly complex sentences that are filled with important meaning. He does so here as he begins chapter two. So if there is any encouragement in Christ, if any comfort from love, if any fellowship in the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, united in spirit, with a single purpose (Philippians 2:1-2).

Encouragement is paraklēsis. It’s the word that formed Joseph the Levite’s name given him by the Apostles (Acts 4:36) and is frequently used (some 29 times) in the New Testament. It’s about as positive a word for encouragement as you can imagine as it carries the idea of earnestly calling for cheering, supporting, joyful, glad, help. It’s also pretty obvious what the Apostles were trying to convey in giving this “name” of superlatives for encouragement to “Barnabas.” Now Paul begins his appeal to Christians uniting in service with “any” ultimate goodness of encouragement in Christ!

The second standard is any comfort of or from love. Love, of course, is the word used of God’s selfless concern of commitment to us, even when we didn’t deserve it. The comfort (or consolation in some translations) is paramythion, a gentle cheering, encouragement.

The third standard then is any fellowship in the Spirit. Paul often put the arm-twisting pressure on Christians to live up to the standard they are called to in Christ. Here he’s asking his audience to check and see if they are really a part of God’s family.

The fourth standard is any affection and compassion. Compassion is pretty much the exact idea of the Greek word, but affection is splanchnon, a word the King James often translates (precisely and literally, I might add) as bowels. To the Greeks the tenderest affections come from the intestines. As humorous as we might find that, our use of the heart (a muscle that pumps the blood around your body), is just as funny, isn’t it?

So, Paul has loaded up his call for Christians to truly be united in every conceivably good and positive way possible to work together in the Lord. That’s Paul’s challenge to us all. Yes, it’s a mouthful and complex but his purpose is to have Christians begin with the understanding that God’s people are truly living, working, thinking as God’s family here on earth. Jesus simplified this to you are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).

If we are to live our lives on this earth as the human representations of God, then we must act like it toward one another. Christians that don’t love (totally committed to) the church, the body of Christ are total failures! But failure is not an option and not at all Paul’s point here.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each person should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Your attitude toward one another should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who, although he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man. And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross! Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven, and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:3-11)

Live up to God’s standard! Our job is to BE Christ Jesus living here on this earth! Read John 14:19 where Jesus promises to live in His disciples, even though He’s no longer “living” in this world; also note 2 Corinthians 5:15; Galatians 2:20 and 1 Peter 4:2. This really IS our purpose as Christians. Paul’s portrait of the humility and true greatness of Jesus is purposely painted here for us to grasp the importance of being just like that!

So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more now in my absence, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work on behalf of his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like stars in the universe, holding fast the word of life, so that I may have reason to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:12-18)

There is nothing sadder than to see Christians act just like the world. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves! No grumbling, no arguing and none of the other sins that are identifying marks of the world that follows Satan. No excuses! Live and die as the light of God shining in this world of darkness!

Paul loved to brag about his faithful fellow workers in Christ and he does so now on Timothy and Epaphroditus, one of the members of the church at Philippi. And Paul, just like when he’s bragging about his Savior, doesn’t cut any corners. After all, Christians who live and act like Christ are the greatest people on this earth.

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be encouraged by news about you. For I have no one else of like mind who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all look out for their own interests, not for those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven character, how as a child with his father he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel. Therefore I hope to send him just as soon as I see how things will turn out for me; and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming soon.

In the meantime I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, as well as your messenger and minister to my need, because he has been longing for all of you and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill; he almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me as well,  so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may no longer be anxious. Therefore welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and hold such men in honor, because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you were not able to give me. (Philippians 2:19-30)

We have every reason to be proud of those we work with in God’s kingdom. After all our God has done for us, after all the blessings He’s given us, after all we’ve promised to do in service to Him, there really isn’t any room for self. Imagine a congregation that puts God first in everything, a group of Christians that so loves the Lord and each other that they give their all just like Jesus gave His all for us. What could they accomplish together for the Lord? What can we accomplish together for the Lord?

—Lester P. Bagley

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Persistence

Are you tired of being confined? Are you ready to get out and be with people? Are you missing seeing and being with someone? Do you remember that the Lord has been right there with you every moment? Are you still reading His word and listening to His direction? Never give up on the one who loves you most!

Persistence

Speaking of giving up, are you a stubborn person? Or are you persistent? Or perhaps, are you faithful? We sometimes associate the exact same traits with either a negative attitude or with a good and positive one. It’s important for us to realize that God does the same thing.

The New Testament talks a good deal about persistence and illustrates for us how it can be either a wrong attitude or a right one. The word epimenō means to continue, to stay, to persevere, to adhere to, continue to embrace, to persist in something. If you want to check all of its usages it is used in: John 8:7; Acts 10:48; 12:16; 15:34; 21:4, 10; 28:12, 14; Romans 6:1; 11:22–23;  1 Corinthians  16:7–8;  Galatians  1:18;  Philippians  1:24;  Colossians  1:23  and 1 Timothy 4:16.

Paul uses it in the negative sense when he asks, What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? (Romans 6:1) For a Christian to persist in sinning can never be a good thing. Paul goes on in that chapter to point out that in Christ we are to live or persist in Christ rather than in being like we were in the world.

Later in Romans Paul calls us to observe both the good and bad, the positive and negative of “continuing” or persisting in God: Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. (Romans 11:22-23)

If we persist, are stubborn about staying with God and following His word then God’s blessings will be on us. If we persist in being stubborn about disobeying God, then there is no hope for us. The choice is ours to have holy faithfulness or to have the unholy persistence that is sin.

The New Testament frequently uses this same word for an extended stay with someone. When Peter baptized Cornelius and the other first Gentiles of the church, they asked Peter to stay with them. On several occasions Paul stayed an extended time in one place to preach or with those he’d recently converted to Christ. If someone staying and living in your home with you and your family is persistence, then do we see God’s picture of Him staying and living with us in our lives?

In Colossians 1:21-23 Paul tells Christians that, although once unholy apart from Christ, we are now holy and blameless and beyond reproach if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel  that you have heard. That kind of persistence is what we also call faithfulness, the kind that lasts and is truly stubborn in the right way.

One last passage to note is 1 Timothy 4:16. As Paul encourages his younger co- worker to stick to the job of serving Christ he says, Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.

Being faithful to God is not an easy task for us here on this earth. The history of humanity is strewn with those who gave up, the quitters that failed God. We need the positive stubbornness that persists, keeps on following Jesus no matter how hard, no matter what happens. We are called to be faithful until death (Revelation 2:10) in order to receive that Crown of Life.

Paul sums up this persistent, stubborn, faithful way of life like this: Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13)

—Lester P. Bagley

10/6/19 ~ The Glory of God

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

There are so very many things about God that we fail to understand! Even when God does reveal a portion to us as human beings it is difficult to fully appreciate it. Still, it is important that we keep looking and learning. After all, can you imagine what medicine would be like today if doctors quit learning and researching a few hundred years ago?

Let’s look a bit deeper at God and especially from the standpoint of a word the Apostle John emphasizes:

The Glory of God

Let’s begin with a Hebrew word used to describe the divine presence of God, Shekhinah. Now this word is never used in the Bible, rather it is a term used to describe the presence or dwelling of God with His people.

The root word comes from the concept of settling, inhabiting or dwelling. Other words derived from this root include the concept of neighbor and, especially, a holy place such as the Tabernacle or Temple.

You probably recall that those holy places were described as the evidence of God dwelling among His people. Since the Jews frequently associated this word with the Holy Spirit and Jesus tells us, For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst (Matthew 18:20), we should also get the idea that this concept is an important lesson for us as Christians.

With this understanding in mind, it should become more readily apparent what John said: And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). The New Testament writers wrote of actually seeing and experiencing the presence of, the Glory of God here on this earth. They wrote as eyewitnesses for us to learn the reality, the truth of what God has done for us.

With Jesus’ first miracle John reminds us: Jesus did this, the first of his signs, at Cana in Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him (John 2:11). In Jesus’ presence here on earth and in the works (miracles) that He did, the Glory of God is actually seen by humans.

Later, as John concludes the New Testament, he reveals this statement from Jesus to His people (His church): Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me (Revelation 3:20).

Acts 2:38 reminds us that with baptism comes both forgiveness of sins AND the gift of God’s own Spirit to live in us. Paul affirms this repeatedly as he reminds us that we are the temple of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit and that Christ lives in us.

We have not only seen the Glory, the divine presence of our God but He actually lives in us to help us serve Him!

It is only when we begin to appreciate all this that God’s horrendous declaration of those who spurn Him chills us with its great meaning. John tells us: for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God (John 12:43).

Look at that statement again. The word approval in the NASB or praise (KJV) is really the word glory in Greek. Now, do you see how great a curse this statement truly is? Those that fail to faithfully believe in and obey Jesus love the glory of men rather than the glory of God!

 Could we possibly become so proud of the presence, the glory of other people that we spurn the glory of God? How incredibly sad!

One day the glorious presence of God will be revealed and seen by all the world. That day is not about God’s glory being seen by us so much as it is about His being seen and acknowledged by the rest of the world.

Christians, as those who belong to Christ, already have seen the glory of the Lord for He lives in them and directs their lives. When we remember that, we will live like it and truly let our light, the light of God Himself, shine out in our lives to enlighten the world.

— Lester P. Bagley

 

 

9/29/19 ~ The Blessing of Forgiveness – Psalm 32

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Several of the Psalms are described as a Maskil. The word seems to be derived from a verb denotating to be wise. Thus the meaning suggests a contemplative or thoughtful Psalm such that considering and obeying it will make us wise.

The term is used in superscriptions (usually labeled verse 0) of Psalms 32, 42, 44, 45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88, 89 and 142, as well as within Psalm 47 (verse 7). Let’s take a look at the very first usage and see what is so important that God is suggesting we think seriously about:

The Blessing of Forgiveness – Psalm 32

0 A Psalm of David. A Maskil.

1 How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! 2 How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!

3 When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. 5 I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”; And You forgave the guilt of my sin. 6 Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found; Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him. 7 You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance.

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. 9 Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, Otherwise they will not come near to you. 10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked, But he who trusts in the Lord, lovingkindness shall surround him. 11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones; And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.

Perhaps one of the first questions we should ask is: What was the occasion that brought David to write this Psalm? It is clearly a psalm about sin and forgiveness and many claim that it is simply one of David’s psalms after his sin with Bathsheba. Others suggest Psalm 32 is related to David’s movement of the Ark of the Covenant, the time of Absalom’s rebellion or his ill-conceived census of the nation.

What we do know for certain is that David wrote seven psalms known as penitential, repenting of sin (Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143). In each case he is struggling with one or more sins in his life that, as all sins do, has brought despair and sickness to body and soul.

Sin will do that, you know! And, as David so well points out for us, the only cure for sin is getting it out, confession that it might be forgiven.

Paul uses this Psalm in Romans 7 to remind us that forgiveness of sin is not because of anything wonderful that we do, but because of our great God. David fully agrees!

Forgiveness is healing that we all desperately need. And David closes with some important advice for us to learn:

Don’t be like a dumb animal. And don’t be like a dumb, wicked human, either. As Paul would put it to the Corinthian church, Now I rejoice, not because you were made sad, but because your sadness led to repentance; for you were made sad as God intended, so that in nothing you suffered loss by us. For sadness as intended by God produces a repentance that leads to salvation, leaving no regret; but worldly sadness produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)

When sin comes into our lives, as it will do for every one of us, our only hope is to turn to the Lord. For those that persist in sin, there is only the insult of stupidity. For those that repent and return to God, there is love, joy and rejoicing.

Never make fun of those who repent. For they are doing exactly what we must all do if we are to be right with our Lord. And, above all else, may we learn to appreciate, to treasure and be ever grateful for the blessing of forgiveness! Again, the choice is ours. What will you choose?

— Lester P. Bagley

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Sunday 8/11 ~ The Gift of Love

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From the Preacher’s Pen… As we conclude our look at some of the many gifts that God has given us, it’s time to see, realize and appreciate…

The Ultimate Gift, the Gift of Love

Think back at the many gifts that God has given us — given us that we might learn to be like Him here on Earth and eternal life might be truly meaningful in Heaven. God gave us the gift of labor, not as punishment for sin, but rather that we might grow and learn the true value of all things.

Friendship teaches us to be a part of a team, to work together that we might accomplish much more than any individual ever could. Money is a gift to teach us what we may accomplish in doing for and helping others rather than selfishly doing only for ourselves.

The gift of family gives us a glimpse of the Heavenly relationship envisioned by God for His people, while gratitude helps us to be truly thankful and enables us to count our blessings as we realize how rich and numerous they really are. The gift of laughter gives us a view of God’s own real joy and the gift of problems allows us to experience and truly see the challenges of growth.

God’s gift of learning shows that He treats us like adults as we mature to better know, understand and teach others. Dreams teach us of the beauty of hope and faith that we might aspire to greater things. The gift of a day, today, the time that God gives us that must not be wasted. Last, we saw the gift of giving that allows us to see the joy of sharing as we help others.

Each of these gifts helps us build more than just a passing knowledge or even a passing relationship with God. Each gift helps mold us into those that not only appreciate God’s grace and gifts but into those that reach out to others with the same joy that they might also be a part of God’s family.

cover-hands reaching each other

All this brings us to the ultimate gift. That is NOT just the gift of experiencing God’s love, but of becoming like God in caring for others more than we care for ourselves. Living in God’s love is not living for ourselves but for others!

Consider how God shows us the ultimate gift: But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16) We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Did you notice how God moves from showing and teaching us about the ultimate gift to challenging us to do the same? We can never be stingy recipients. God’s gift is NOT for us to hoard; in fact, it becomes useless that way.

You may recall that the New Testament word most used for God’s love is actually about commitment. God LOVED us, was committed to our salvation even when we were unlikable, unlovely, contaminated by sin.

And He calls us to LOVE in exactly the same way! A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (John 13:34). And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:2). By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another (John 13:35)

Let me suggest that you read two longer passages carefully: 1 John 4:7-12 and Ephesians 3:14-19. Why? Because without showing this love you will never see Heaven, you will never even really know God and His infinite love, grace, and mercy. Moses puts it like this: Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:9).

Jesus says it this way: If you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15). This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (John 15:12). And John summed it all up like this: Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18).

We are surrounded by God’s wondrous gifts. Let us learn and practice the lessons that we might live as heirs of the King, as those whose responsibility here on earth is to declare the glorious deeds of the one who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

— Lester P. Bagley

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