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 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….

Philippians, chapter 1

We all enjoy good news and there is no better news than the Good News of Jesus Christ. As you read and study God’s word always remember His love and care for you!

Philippians 1

In school we all learn the basics of letter writing. There are different styles and rules for writing formal letters and more personal letters. Several of the interesting archaeological discoveries of the last century or so have included a trove of different types of letters from the Roman and Jewish world of the New Testament. One of the lessons we learn is that the NT letters are not just pseudo-religious literature but deeply personal letters that resulted from a real and personal connection shared between our Savior, the human authors, and the saints in every congregation.

Paul begins this letter as befits that connection and the real sense of love that is shared by those in Christ.  From Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, along with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:1-2).

As children of God we are called to see and think the best about our brothers and sisters. No matter what struggles and even many times failures we have as God’s family, we are God’s chosen, holy ones. While hard to live up to on our own, the reality is that we accomplish this role, not because of our own greatness, but because of God’s wonderful grace and the same shared grace of our family in Christ.

Paul and Timothy in their first real work together had established the congregation at Philippi. Together they still work and encourage, not as bosses, but as servants of the Savior. They write uniquely to a congregation that continues to be led by elders (episkopos meaning overseer, bishop, guardian) and deacons (diakonos meaning servant, minister).

But notice, too, that the leadership is named second to all the saints. In Christ’s church the real “boss” is always God and every member is most important as a part of God’s family.

The address is tied into the uniquely Christian blessing of grace and peace. Only when we see the importance of working together will we ever appreciate God’s plan for His family, the church. Every single complaint and whine about me, me, me is always going to be wrong. Just as other NT writings demand both that leaders be honored and be servants to all, so, too are we only right with God when we put Christ and His church first and ourselves last.

I thank my God every time I remember you. Always in every prayer of mine for all of you I pray with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all share with me in the grace of God. (Philippians 1:3-7)

Thanksgiving, just like prayer, Bible reading and study and other things, is a way of life for God’s people. If we are not grateful people, then we are really not Christ’s family. A real Christian always has the joy of Christ, no matter how difficult the challenges. When we fail to see the good, the blessings, the joy then we need the eye exam for, in Christ, we are missing the whole picture.

For God is my witness that I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may determine what is essential, and so be pure and without blame on the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:8-11)

When we possess the joy of Christ we pray for our brothers and sisters. Yes, no one gets to heaven on the works of someone else. But it’s important for us to also remember that no one gets to heaven by themselves, either. We must bless each other, or we fail to bless God. Interestingly, Paul ties all this into purity. When we are a blessing to the church, God’s family, then we are filled with Jesus and honoring God. Paul is not belaboring the point; he’s showing just how vital it is to us all!

Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has turned out to advance the gospel even more, so that it has become known throughout the entire palace guard, and by everyone else, that my imprisonment is for Christ, and that most of the brothers, having gained confidence in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare more than ever to speak the word of God without fear. To be sure, some are proclaiming Christ out of envy and strife, but others out of goodwill. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of a sense of hostility, not sincerely, intending to increase my distress while I am in prison. (Philippians 1:12-17)

We are sometimes amazed by people that seem to see the good in everything. But when we begin to appreciate how great our God really is, we begin to understand that He really can bring His good from all things for His people. Over the centuries God has shown that He can even use people that imagine they are harming God’s cause and people to bring His blessings. There are no events, no people, no power that can ever stop our God. So often for us that is hard to remember, but it is always true!

What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed;  and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice. For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. It is my earnest expectation and hope that I will in no way be put to shame, but that with complete boldness, now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

If I am to go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; yet I do not know which I would prefer. I am hard pressed between the two, in that I have the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is much better by far, yet for your sake it is better that I remain in the flesh. So, convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that when I come again to you, your boasting in Christ Jesus might abound because of me. (Philippians 1:18-26)

Not only is there joy and blessings no matter whatever happens to us on this earth, but Christians absolutely cannot lose with Christ! Literally, the worst that could ever happen to us on this earth is for us to leave and go home to be with God. That’s actually what we are here for, our greatest purpose is to be with God. Until that time we are blessed with family that blesses us and we can be a blessing too, but we can never lose that joy and fullness in Christ!

Wait, a minute, are you saying we can never be lost? Honestly? Well, God says that the only way His people can lose… is to be quitters. Paul puts it like this:

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or remain away, I may hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way frightened by your opponents. This is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you — and that from God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him, since you are experiencing the same conflict which you saw me in, and now hear that I still face. (Philippians 1:27-30)

For a Roman soldier, like many of those in Philippi, there was nothing worse than fear. The solution to fear in combat is training. Training until the discipline is so deeply ingrained in each soldier that they will stand side by side in the worst heat of battle. Only when they do so, is victory assured. Fear is the enemy of victory. Faith, side by side with fellow faithful soldiers, defeats fear!

There is no easy way out. There is no reward for nothing. But in Christ, with Christ’s family we face the greatest challenges Satan and the world have to offer… and we will always emerge as victors!

—Lester P. Bagley

11/24/19 ~ The Unused Cup

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

Hopefully, we’ve all noticed that frequently our visiting preachers remind us of the importance of God’s “Great Commission” to His church, His family. All the things we do as God’s family to encourage each other, to honor and praise God, to help those with physical needs must be focused on saving souls!

If we feed the hungry but fail to point them to salvation in Christ, we’ve wasted our time. If we praise God with our lips in “worship” but fail to bring the lost to Him, we’ve wasted God’s time. If we make each other “feel” better without drawing closer to God in obedience then we are merely serving Satan, not the Lord.

If we would actually accomplish God’s will we must do God’s will! One of my favorite stories is a great lesson in keeping our priorities right. Let’s remember…

The Unused Cup

James A. Garfield, twentieth President of the United States, resigned as an elder of the church of Christ in 1881 to take office. His statement to the congregation was, I resign the highest office in the land to become President of the United States.

Thirty years earlier at age 19, he was planning to take a riverboat trip with friends but injured his foot while chopping wood. While his friends were on their trip a preacher came to town and James Garfield, as he put it, surrendered my heart to the Lord and was baptized into his kingdom at the age of 19.

Eight years later in 1853, he began preaching and continued to faithfully serve the Lord. He was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1862 and, in 1880, became the first sitting member of Congress to be elected to the presidency. He remains the only sitting House member to gain the White House.

The first week after his inauguration as President of the United States, a member of his cabinet insisted on an urgent meeting at 10:00 Sunday morning to handle a threatened national crisis. Garfield refused to attend because he had a more important appointment. The cabinet member demanded to know what it was. The president replied, I will be as frank as you are. My engagement is with the Lord to meet Him in His house at His table at 10:00, and I shall be there. He then left with Mrs. Garfield and went to Sunday morning worship.

President Garfield’s appointment at the Lord’s table was a reference to the Lord’s Supper, the memorial of the sufferings of Christ observed by Christians every first day of the week (Acts 20:7). The Apostle Paul gave the following instructions to Christians concerning their appointment at the Lord’s table:

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

An invitation has been extended to each one of us as humans to come in obedient faith (Acts 16:30-31), confessing Jesus as Lord before men (Romans 10:9-10), turning away from sin in repentance (Acts 17:30-31) and being immersed for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38) so that we, too, may take our reserved seat at the Lord’s table with those who will inherit eternal life. 

Consider the declarations of your “Unused Cup”…

“I am an unused cup for communion… left last Sunday from the worship service, giving testimony of an appointment unkept, a trust broken….”

“I was filled in anticipation… that some Christian would drink of my contents and be reminded of the price of their redemption.”

“Here I sit— unused… Yet I bear witness of a love extended, a fellowship desired, and a grace made available. This is the NEW covenant in my blood, Jesus said.”

“Here I remain… reminding one and ALL that God’s gift MUST be claimed. He forces neither Himself nor his blessing on anyone — but He eagerly awaits acceptance.”

“There is a cup for YOU each Lord’s dayand no one else can ever use it! It is a sacred appointment that each of us has with the Lord to do this in remembrance of Him (cf. Hebrews 10:24-29).”

Yes, there IS an appointment to be kept for the child of God at the Lord’s Table AND there is ALSO a seat reserved for YOU! The Lord’s Table is set… Will you keep YOUR appointment?  (Or will you betray him?)

— Lester P. Bagley

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Sunday 8/4/19 ~ The Gift of Giving

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From the Preacher’s Pen… As we continue our look at God’s gifts to us remember the gift of labor that helps us to find value as we grow and learn. Friendship teaches us to be a part of a team that we might accomplish more together than separately, and money teaches 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, know and understand in order to grow. God’s gift of learning shows that He treats us like adults as we grow to better know, understand and teach others and dreams teach us of the beauty of hope and faith.

Last week we looked at the gift of a day, today, the time that God gives us that must not be wasted. With all these great gifts it’s time for us to remember…

The Gift of Giving

Winston Churchill said, You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give. That statement is never more accurate than in the life of a Christian.

It was the Apostle Paul that informed us of something Jesus said that is not explicitly mentioned by any other New Testament writer. The setting is Paul meeting with the elders of the Ephesian congregation as he is on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. Paul reminds them both of the time they’d spent together as he taught them, and of their responsibility to now assume the duty, the responsibility of teaching the souls God has entrusted to them. He tells them, In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35).

Jesus illustrated this lesson many times but perhaps nowhere more poignantly than as He washed the feet of the 12 on the night of His betrayal. Even Judas Iscariot was treated as an honored guest by the Savior (John 13). Hours before Jesus would shed His blood for their (and our!) sins, He was giving to others rather than having them serve Him.

Recall, too, that the disciples had often debated which one of them was the greatest. Jesus had more than once caught them in the debate and taught them that the greatest giver or servant was the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Of course, Jesus would be the one to lay aside His Godliness to take the role of a servant in giving His all for us (Philippians 2:5-8). The repeated lessons by Jesus highlight the importance of giving over receiving.

Consider another example: Many Christians mistakenly speak of tithing as their manner of giving to the Lord. Under the Law of Moses, the basic responsibility of giving was explicitly spelled out as one-tenth of everything that they gained. (As an aside remember that the tithe did NOT include the additional gifts of thanksgiving and free-will offerings.)

But for us under the New Covenant God never commands a tithe, a tenth for our gift. Instead, He asks us to show our understanding of our greater blessings by giving as we prosper or as we have been blessed (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:2).

When you really think about it, only the most selfish would dare to give God a tenth and suggest that we are cheated and much less blessed than those under the Old Covenant! In fact, Paul would underline this lesson again by praising Christians that, before they gave even though in poverty, first gave themselves to the Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:1-5).

We may well enjoy and be able to live with what we are given. But we will never have real life and real joy until we learn to give purposefully and cheerfully (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:7). If you look closely at Paul’s use of those terms you will also notice that he prefaces them in verse 6 with the reminder that the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

Until we learn and apply God’s gift of a generously giving heart to our practical lives, we are simply being greedy misers. Appreciate God’s gifts by sharing, for that is the living fulfillment of the Great Commission!

— Lester P. Bagley

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6/9/19 ~ The Gift of Money

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From the Preacher’s Pen… A few weeks ago we looked at the gift of labor. God has carefully designed us in a unique way to work. Unlike plants or even animals, we are not made to be comfortable with simply existing. We have minds that inquire and learn. We have the ability to grow our abilities and do either good or evil with our lives. God gives us the gift of work that we might both learn and be fulfilled. And, of course, the ultimate work we can do is, just as it was with Jesus (cf. John 9:4), the work of our God.

The next gift we looked at was that of friendship. While the wrong friends can lead us astray, God nevertheless designed us as human beings to be part of a team. Whether as husband and wife or coworkers in the Lord’s service, we always work better together.

Next, we need to consider a most unusual gift, that of money. A gift or a curse, you may well ask. So let’s examine what God says about…

The Gift of Money

As we did with the gift of friendship, let’s begin with the negative side of this gift. We know that the love of money (the New Testament word is also used for covetousness) is the root of all sorts of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Of course, loving anything more than God is idolatry and Paul’s discussion of this subject is well worth keeping in mind (cf. 1 Timothy 6:3-10).

But there’s much more to the story. Remember there were women who were not just disciples but financial supporters of Jesus’ ministry (cf. Luke 8:1-3). Since they were doing this out of their own pockets, they were obviously women of considerable means. Jesus never condemned them for being wealthy and there is certainly no hint that their money was bad or evil in any way.

Rather than setting a percentage and taxation system the way the Old Law did, God tells us to give as we have been prospered or blessed by Him (1 Corinthians 16:2). We are to give willingly of what we have, we are not expected to give what we do not have (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:12). And we are to give purposefully, intentionally and not grudgingly or of necessity (2 Corinthians 9:17).

All this plainly tells us that we give of and because God has given so richly to us. God is not a stingy God (cf. Malachi 3:8-12 and Luke 6:38). Money, like all our other blessings, is a gift from God. How we use it determines whether we bless God or Satan.

Perhaps one of the most balanced and wise comments on God’s gift of money comes from Solomon: Keep deception and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, that I not be full and deny You and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God (Proverbs 30:8-9).

Clearly, there is a right balance of useful money and idolatrous money. The question for us becomes: How will we use this gift, this blessing?

Many times a good lesson can be taught to us by our children. Watch children that are taught to be generous. They will ask if they can help someone in need! They will happily share whatever they have. They learn that lesson even when they have little and they see what they do have as a gift for sharing.

Do we see the good that can come from being generous with the gift from God? Solomon said the generous man will be prosperous (Proverbs 11:25) and be blessed (Proverbs 22:9). And Paul challenged Timothy to teach Christians to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share (1 Timothy 6:18).

And again the question for us is: How will we use this gift, this blessing?

— Lester P. Bagley

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6/2/19 ~ The Happiness of Serving

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In serving others man finds some of his greatest happiness. But many a person’s selfishness will not let him consider this, much less try it. Man so limits his happiness through his selfishness and fears that they keep him from launching out by faith into that which is good. The selfishness which is in man causes him to be afraid that he will find happiness in making others happy. 

But he is so self-centered that he is willing to suffer in order to maintain that selfishness, for with it he feels so self-reliant that he can take care of his own needs. This way he protects himself from being vulnerable to trusting in others who may betray him. His fears keep him from being good and consequently from being a true friend to another. And this puts fear in the hearts of the others who would be his friends and consequently causes them to have fears and apprehensions that encourage them to maintain their own lives and also live within their own little spheres of self-reliance, selfishness, and fears. 

It is the fearlessness of the few who launch out by faith into the good that makes this world have hope and faith in mankind. It is those who will risk their lives, who will return a lost wallet, who will stop to help those who have just had an accident, or who will reach down to help an employee who is having a hard time trying to overcome the hurdles of acceptance within the company. It is these few true Christians who show they care for others more than themselves who restore faith in the hearts of many men that there is good, there is hope, there is something out there that might make the world better. We call that spirituality and being like Christ.

  • ~ Malcolm E. Parsley
  • Nearly 60 years as a missionary in Korea

11/11/18 ~ Armistice Day

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From the Preacher’s Pen…

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians living in the capital of the Roman Empire reminding them to not only pay their taxes but to give honor to all those to whom honor was due (Romans 13:7). The peace that Rome had brought to the world of the New Testament times translated into freedom that allowed the rapid spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the world.

That peace was purchased at the cost of countless lives of brave soldiers. Many of those Veterans would go on to become followers of Jesus and thus serve in both earthly and eternal ways.

Today (Sunday) is a very special day. It is set aside for remembering the sacrifice of our Savior. And it is also a special date set aside for remembering the sacrifices of all those veterans who have served us. Let’s take a moment to remember this…

Armistice Day

One hundred years ago today the First World War ended. The designated time was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The day would become known as Armistice Day. The war was called the War to End All Wars. It was not.

Slightly less than 21 years later the second World War would “officially” begin (September 1, 1939) with Germany’s invasion of Poland. In 1954, following the Korean War, Armistice Day in the USA was renamed Veterans Day to honor all veterans.

While Memorial Day honors all those who died in military service, Veterans Day honors all who have served, and currently are still serving in the Armed Forces. That means this day is host to a range of emotions from the sadness of lost lives to the joys of victory, even if that victory has never been fully realized in world peace.

As Christians, we of all people on this earth can understand and share the feelings of such a day. For us, it is not 11-11-11 but One.

The first day of the week brings to our remembrance the most horrible battle in all of eternity when Satan seemingly triumphed in the death and burial of Jesus.

The first day of the week brings to our remembrance the real victory of Jesus’ resurrection.

And, perhaps above all else, the first day of the week brings to our remembrance that another day is coming. That day will bring the only real, eternal peace that we have ever known. That day will begin with the triumphant return of our Savior to escort His own to eternal life and it will never end.

So for now, we remember. To those who have faced the horrors of war and the losses of friends and family, there is no forgetting. But there is something special in taking this unique moment of remembrance. There is something that brings a momentary comfort to the pain, the distress and points us to a more joyful memory of faithfulness in service.

Those words, those thoughts, those emotions are true for both our earthly remembrance of Veterans as they are for our weekly spiritual remembrance. May we remember, this day and always, the sacrifices of those who serve us with honor on this earthly plane. May we remember, this day and always, the sacrifice of our Savior who served and died for us that we might be with him throughout eternity.

~ Lester P. Bagley

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