A new creation focus through Colossians

Chapter 1
(Colossians 1:1-2) - God Bless Faithful Brethren
(Colossians 1:3-5) - Thanksgiving and Petition
(Colossians 1:5-6) - The Word of Truth
(Colossians 1:6) - Bearing Fruit
(Colossians 1:6-8) - Learning The Gospel
(Colossians 1:9-10) - Knowledge of God's Will
(Colossians 1:11-12) - God Qualifies Us
(Colossians 1:11-12) - Sharing in the Inheritance
(Colossians 1:13) - Transferred
(Colossians 1:13) - The Kingdom of Christ
(Colossians 1:13-16) - Who Christ Is and What He Has Done
(Colossians 1:17-18) - More about the Awesome Christ
(Colossians 1:19-20) - The Father's Good Pleasure
(Colossians 1:19-23) - Reconciled
(Colossians 1:23) - The Hope of the Gospel
(Colossians 1:24) - Rejoicing in Suffering
(Colossians 1:25,27) - Paul's Stewardship
(Colossians 1:26-27) - The Hidden Mystery
(Colossians 1:27) - How the Mystery was Hidden
(Colossians 1:28-29) - Complete in Christ

Chapter 2
(Philippians 2:1-3) - Paul's Struggle
(Philippians 2:4) - True Hidden Treasure
(Philippians 2:5-6) - Stability of your Faith
(Philippians 2:7) - As You Were Instructed
(Philippians 2:8) - Captivating Forces
(Philippians 2:9) - The Fullness of Deity
(Philippians 2:10-12) - Completeness
(Philippians 2:12) - Buried and Raised in Immersion
(Philippians 2:13) - Made Alive
(Philippians 2:14) - Debt Canceled
(Philippians 2:15) - The Great Public Display
(Philippians 2:16-17) - Christ is the Substance
(Philippians 2:18-19) - Early Gnosticism and Visionaries
(Philippians 2:20-23) - Failure of the Do Nots

Chapter 3
(Philippians 3:1) - Overcoming Fleshly Indulgence
(Philippians 3:1) - Raised Up with Christ
(Philippians 3:2) - The Proper Focus
(Philippians 3:3) - Died and Hidden
(Philippians 3:4) - When Christ is our Life
(Philippians 3:5-7) - Death to Earthly Members
(Philippians 3:8-10) - Out with the Old; in with the New
(Philippians 3:11) - The New Image
(Philippians 3:12-13) - The New Heart
(Philippians 3:14-15) - Love and Peace
(Philippians 3:16) - The Word of Christ
(Philippians 3:17) - Whatever You Do
(Philippians 3:18-21) - Working Like Slaves

Chapter 4
(Philippians 4:1) - Slaves and Masters
(Philippians 4:2) - Devoted to Prayer
(Philippians 4:3-4) - Prayers for Open Doors
(Philippians 4:5-6) - Making the Most of the Opportunity
(Philippians 4:7-9) - Paul's Condition in Rome
(Philippians 4:10-11) - Workers from "the Circumcision"
(Philippians 4:12-18) - Closing Greetings and Comments




God Bless Faithful Brethren

No congregation can exist for very long or accomplish anything of much value without a core of faithful brethren and sisters in Christ. Furthermore, the kingdom of Christ cannot advance in the world without the establishment and strengthening of local congregations. Hence it is that Jesus and His scriptures always encourage the movement of the new Christian from worldly values and commitments to the faithfulness of brethren who are totally committed to Christ and to the work of the local church. Without that successful transition, the great and lofty plan of the Savior of the world will fail. We welcome, then, the opportunity to examine these precepts through the letter of Paul to the church in Colossae.

It is exciting to think of the faithful brethren in Colossae. They were actively building the local congregation and prepared to work hard in spreading the gospel and supporting the truth-telling preachers and teachers of their day. Those same needs exist today. God bless the faithful brethren!



Thanksgiving and Petition

The apostle Paul was a man of prayer. Jesus Himself, of course, was the prime example of one who prayed on a continual basis, and Paul followed his Lord's example. Early on, even, in the church's history, the apostles were known to be praying men. When the widows in the early church in Jerusalem needed assistance in being provided with daily bread, the apostles involved the congregation in appointing seven men to meet these needs. "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables," they said. "But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:2,4). The word of God, in the first century, moved forward as it was bolstered by the prayers of the apostles and those faithful saints.

The existence of the congregation in Colossae was a result of Paul's labors - partly his own, and partly as a result of those whom he had by God's grace influenced. He was rightly thankful to God for their progress, and willingly petitioned the Almighty for continued growth of their faith, love, and hope as they followed Christ.



The Word of Truth

One of the fundamental and pernicious evils of this present age is the stated axiom, "There is no truth." Because most people would recognize the inaccuracy of the blatant statement - one instantly detected corollary would be that there are no lies, which people would know that to be false for the simple reason that they don't like people lying to them - the precept has to be propounded more delicately as "All things are relative." In other words, each individual may have what he perceives to be truth, but another person may perceive a different truth. Hence it is that Christianity is somehow supposed to "coexist" with Islam, Hinduism, and whatever other alien philosophy is the latest craze. The Bible, however, operates off the sound premises that there is truth and there are lies, that there is righteousness and there is lawlessness, that there is light and there is darkness. Satan, the penultimate liar, naturally has to attack these premises in order to impose his rebellious philosophy upon the world.

Those of us to whom the word of truth has come, those of us upon whom the ends of the ages have come, are certainly the most blessed of all that have ever lived! May we rejoice in that, and may we excited spread that good news wherever we go, for the glory of Christ!!



Bearing Fruit

The Bible reveals a carefully nurtured and orchestrated plan to reach all of mankind. The first consistent traction in God's interaction with the human race began with Abraham, through whom the nation of Israel would be descended, and through whom would come Jesus the Christ. One of the most interesting points concerning Abraham is the promise that was given to him, and, by believing in this promise, the patriarch was justified before God: "A father of many nations [Gentiles] have I made you" (Romans 4:17). The "father of the faithful" had faith that God would execute this promise through Isaac and hence was willing to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, believing that God would raise him from the dead in order to make good his offer to Abraham. Eventually, after all the appropriate groundwork had been laid, the Father sent Jesus to the earth as the Savior - not only of the descendants of Israel, but of all the peoples of the world. By the time that the apostle Paul writes to the Colossian brethren, the gospel was already reaching to the uttermost parts of the earth.

The gospel of Christ is truly amazing. Furthermore, the more a person can ponder over its plan, its growth, and its effects, the more clearly amazing it is. The word of truth, in spite of massive opposition from the forces of darkness, continues to reach into a pagan or confused denominational world, and draw truth seekers into its marvelous light. Moreover, after pulling them out of the muck, the gospel begins to transform its believers into the likeness of the character of Christ, and produce of the love of God in them. How great and how awesome is our God!



Learning The Gospel

The gospel must be learned, and therefore the gospel must be taught. Or, the gospel must be taught, and therefore the gospel must be learned. Unfortunately, the obvious has to be stated occasionally because the confusion factors emanating from the one who is the source of all lies and from denominationalism really obfuscate the truth. The relationship between immersion in Jesus' name and forgiveness of sins is obvious as stated in Acts 2:38, but confusion reigns in the hearts of those trapped in the errors of their denominations. Similarly, the underlying foundation of nearly all Protestant belief systems is that "unregenerate man" cannot understand the Bible, and the Holy Spirit has to "quicken" him - cause him to be "born again" - before he can make any sense out of the Bible. It is clear that this position means that man cannot be taught the gospel in order to obey it. This, of course, contravenes all scripture, beginning with the commission of Jesus as recorded in Matthew's gospel: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nationsÖ" (Matthew 28:19). The basic core is that followers of Christ and fishers of men must go out and set up Bible studies with lost people, and then teach them also to be followers of Christ. The gospel must be taught, and therefore the gospel must be learned.

The brethren in Colossae had been taught well, and had been willing to learn what was taught. It must have been very exciting for Epaphas to bring Paul the report of the faith of the Colossians, their understanding of the grace of God, and their love in the Spirit! May others be able to report these same things about our existing congregations in the twenty-first century.



Knowledge of God's Will

The remnant that had been left on the land by the Babylonians near the ravaged city of Jerusalem came to Jeremiah the prophet with a question: "What shall we do; shall we go down to Egypt?" Jeremiah inquired of the Lord and ten days later received the answer: "Stay in the land of promise, and do not go down to Egypt." But the Lord went on to say through Jeremiah, "So, I have told you today, but you have not obeyed the Lord your God, even in whatever He has sent me to tell you" (Jeremiah 42:21). They had said, "We will listen to the voice of the Lord our God," but they were only willing to listen if He told them what they already wanted to hear. The result was the sword, the famine, and the pestilence destroyed them when they went to Egypt.

Time and time again, the people of the Old Testament would not listen. So, under the terms of the new covenant, God has produced a special people - born of water and Spirit - who will listen.

The apostle, as he writes, cycles back around to "increasing in the knowledge of God." In the days when the New Testament was being written, that knowledge had to come through the apostles and those who were so gifted by the Holy Spirit through the laying on of the apostles' hands. Today that knowledge comes through earnest study of what is written in God's word, and by having a person's thinking challenged or expanded by others who have studied and expounded upon God's word. And that is the only knowledge that endures forever. "Heaven and earth will pass away," averred Jesus, "but My words shall not pass away" (Matthew 24:35).



God Qualifies Us

In athletics or warfare, sooner or later the contest is "strength against strength." In athletics, the contest really doesn't matter, other than for those emotionally involved, or in the character lessons learned. In warfare it is more serious, for there are those whose souls are launched into eternity on the battlefield, and the fate of nations hangs in the balance. Ultimately, the real "contest" is between Christ and Satan, and the warfare is spiritual. This is where "strength against strength" is especially going to count. "God," says the Holy Spirit, "has placed the members [Christians] - each one of them - in the body, just as He desired" (I Corinthians 12:18). In other words, as the All Wise conducts His warfare against the prince of darkness and his minions, He strategically places the Christians exactly where He wants them. It is important, then, that each of those so placed be strong and dependable.

No one should skip over the words "joyously giving thanks to the Father." When the disciple of Christ has the proper spiritual perspective, each day is a day of joy and thanksgiving. Such a people are guaranteed to be victorious, and to draw out of this world those that are attracted likewise to such joy and thanksgiving.



Sharing in the Inheritance

The continuing challenge for the followers of Christ is to keep their focus fixed on eternal things. The love of money, and the scramble for food, clothing, and shelter stand as an exhibit of how much pull the things of earth have. These things of the world have such gravitational force because they belong to the realm of what is visible, and therefore that which is obviously critical for sustenance and survival. The things of eternity, because they belong to that invisible realm, can seem not to be real because of the lack of tangibility. Hence it is that the faith of Christ draws children of God out of the traps that Satan has to offer through the sense gates, and helps them to see with spiritual eyes what is true and enduring. Esau, because he could not see this eternal value, sold the most important inheritance of all time for a pot of stew; Jacob instead became the ancestor of those who would become the base for God's plan to reach the world because he recognized the value of the promise to Abraham and Isaac. It is important to desire an inheritance; it just has to be the right one!

This "light" is unseen in the physical realm. But it is there, brilliant and transforming, revealed through God's Spirit-inspired scripture, seen by the eye of faith. And eventually the children of light will be revealed at Jesus' second coming. When this mortal will have put on the immortal, then our bodies will be transformed into conformity with the body of Jesus' glory. "Everything that becomes visible," averred Paul, "is light" (Ephesians 5:13). Then the true saints of God will be able to glory in His revealed presence. "And the city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb" (Revelation 21:23).



Transferred

It is an exhilarating moment when the prisoner steps through the gates of confinement into the openness of freedom! It was a time of great rejoicing when the Berlin Wall came down, or in those instances where slaves were emancipated! But those are mere freedoms in a physical world, used by God to set the stage for true freedom. Here is what Jesus, the great Emmanuel and Savior of the world had to say about this: "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin" (John 8:34). God's goal is to help the residents of earth understand that spiritual enslavement is really far worse than physical or political enslavement; if they can understand that, they will desire the freedom that results from participating in the life of Jesus. "If therefore the Son shall make you free," said the Christ, "you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). The gospel therefore paints a picture of each adult-minded individual in a sin jailhouse of his own making, follows with a description of Jesus' sacrifice and concomitant intercession as high priest, and details the belief and obedience required for the individual to thus enjoy the abundant life as a spiritually free follower of Christ.

The contrast between the domain of darkness and the kingdom of Christ could scarcely be greater. The saint, then, as he increasingly comprehends what Jesus has done for him in delivering him from that domain and transferring him into Christ's kingdom, marvels at the love of God. He willingly commits to serving Christ with every fiber of his being, and is willing to offer God the highest praise and ultimate gratitude!



The Kingdom of Christ

There are so many people confused by the teaching of modern false prophets, looking for the kingdom or reign of Christ to come in the future. But the kingdom is not a future event; the kingdom is now!

The kingdom is one of the great themes of the scripture. It first shows up in a prophecy given through Nathan the prophet to David the king. Through Daniel it was revealed that the kingdom would come in the days of the "iron" kings (the Romans), that it would eventually crush and put an end to all earthly kingdoms, that it would last forever, and would consist of people of every tribe and tongue. Thus the angel Gabriel informed Mary, concerning the Child that was about to be conceived in her womb, "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end" (Luke 1:32,33).

The kingdom, therefore, is not a future event where Jesus is going to come down and reign on the earth. The kingdom is now, it is the church, and it began as recorded in Acts chapter two. It is the centerpiece of many prophecies, it is the topic of the parables of Jesus, and it ends up as the "eternal kingdom" where the successful saints "shine forth as the sun" (II Peter 1:11; Matthew 13:43). What a blessing it is to be able to be delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of Christ. "Truly, truly, I say to you," averred Jesus, "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). If you have not been immersed into Christ, get that taken care of! NOW!!



Who Christ Is and What He Has Done

It takes some serious spiritual reflection on the truths of the Bible to begin to really assess the value of Christ and what He has done for mankind - especially for those who will follow Him. To understand the awe-inspiring positives of Christ 's rescue operation, mankind must understand the yawning darkness and destructive effects of being deceived by Satan. "The way of the wicked is like darkness," said wise Solomon, "they do not know over what they stumble" (Proverbs 4:19). "He who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes," was Jesus' clear comment (John 12:35). Jesus, therefore came to rescue mankind from the darkness, as He stated, "I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12). "While you have the light," was the Lord's exordium, "believe in the light, in order that you may become sons of light" (John 12:36).

The basic point of these descriptions of the Christ is to exposit just how amazingly awesome and powerful He is. He therefore, in the realm of faith - the realm which cannot be seen but only known by what is written in God's word - has the mighty and extreme power and authority to rescue saints from the dominion of darkness and get them transferred, as they are born again, to His kingdom!



More about the Awesome Christ

"The god of this world," asseverated Paul, talking about Satan, "has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (II Corinthians 4:4). The goal of this enemy is to reduce the name of Jesus Christ, if at all possible, to the level of an epithet, and to prevent people from having their spiritual eyes open and being able to see Jesus as He really is. Christ's spiritual face, shining more brightly than the sun, is presented to those who will be obedient to the scripture as the very face of the Almighty God. This face - "the glory of God in the face of Christ" - revealed to the inner man of those who have been properly immersed into Christ in accordance with the scripture, is the complete revelation of the great Jehovah, and is the "image of God."

Of George Washington, sometimes termed "the Cincinnatus of the West" because of his refusal to become king or maintain extended power, it was said, "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." His rock-like steadiness as Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the revolutionary war, his firm exuding of confidence during the trying days of the Constitutional Convention, and his superb service of the first President of the newly formed United States of America earned him the nearly republic-wide accolade. How much more, then, should Jesus - Creator, Sustainer, Head of the body, and First-born tram the dead - "might come to have first place in everything" for those making the claim to be His followers!



The Father's Good Pleasure

God, "the Father of all who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:6), is powerful and awesome! Only rarely was God referred to as the Father in the Old Testament writings: "But now, O Lord, You are our Father, we are the clay and You our potter; and all of us are the work of Your hand," is one of them (Isaiah 64:8). The prayers and teachings of Jesus, however, really brought the Fatherhood of the Almighty to the fore. "I praise You, O Father," stated He in one His recorded prayers, "Lord of heaven and earth, that You hid these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to babes" (Matthew 11:25). The "babes," then, are those who "humble themselves" to become like children in the sense of truly trusting the word of God, and not trying to lean on their own understanding.

Jesus' offering was not just for the things on earth. His death, resurrection, and ascension were universal; that is, they accomplished the reconciliation of "things on earth" and "things in heaven." This lets us know that there is not another planet out there with life; the plan of God was accomplished in its entirety through what took place on earth, to achieve heavenly purposes. "All things," in prospect, are reconciled to God through Christ. Everything about God was in Him, and He paid the full price to realize His earnestly desired reconciliation!



Reconciled

"The mind set on the flesh," asserted the apostle Paul, "is hostile toward God" (Romans 8:7). Hence it is, individual by individual, that the whole world - because people are much more interested in things of the flesh - ends up as an enemy of God, and engaged in open or passive rebellion. The size and scope of this enmity is not to be minimized. Jesus would have been perfectly justified, at any point, to carry out His desire, as He indicated during the days of His earthly sojourn: "I have come to cast fire on the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled" (Luke 12:49). But the loving God held His anger in abeyance, and instead offered Jesus Christ as a substitute for the sin of man. "It was the Father's good pleasure," the apostle had noted, "to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross" (Colossians 1:19,20).

This reconciliation between God and man - a reconciliation that God is willing to pay for - is the ultimate in marvelous. For a person to have once been a sinner and separated from Christ, but now to be a saint and ushered into the very presence of the great and awesome God of the Bible, is of sufficient import that the Christian should willingly fall on his face before the Father. Thus there is a warning condition: "if you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel" (Colossians 1:23). Pity the saint who would fail to recognize the greatness of his salvation, and be swept by the rip tide of the world back into a state of alienation.



The Hope of the Gospel

The gospel of Christ has indeed come into the world. The light is indeed shining in the darkness, prepared and sufficient to rescue the soul of anyone among the sons of men who shows a real interest in truth. But for that rescue operation to be affected, the individual must come to the same belief system as what is consistently termed "the faith" in the holy scriptures. The faith not only consists of the basic truths connected with Jesus, but also of all the elements incorporated into the terms of the new covenant. God, the Author and Perfecter of faith, therefore requires that saints "continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast" in for them to be justified in the Day of the Lord Jesus.

The apostle Paul was grateful to be a participant in spreading the good news of salvation through Christ, the blessing of the indwelling Spirit, and the hope of the resurrection from the dead. "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord," said he to Timothy, "who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service" (I Timothy 1:12). He was excited about the gospel (for which he dedicated every bit of energy in his life) as he spoke to the church in Colossae about the fact that it was proclaimed in all creation, "and of which I, Paul, was made a minister." Paul truly lived the abundant life promised by Jesus!



Rejoicing in Suffering

The distribution of the word of God is accompanied by suffering. Even those in the Old Testament who proclaimed the message of God paid the price of preaching to a rebellious people, as Stephen noted in his defense before the blood-thirsty Sanhedrin, "Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?" (Acts 7:51). John the Immerser had his head chopped off for calling Herod and Herodias to account because of their violation of Gods commands concerning marriage. The ultimate exhibition of suffering on behalf of the gospel was Jesus Himself. Facing continual conspiracies against His life, having to wend His way through tricky conversations and hostile encounters, and having to handle betrayal by Judas, the Lord allowed Himself eventually to be scourged and executed. For our benefit, and to demonstrate how to make suffering joyously a part of the abundant life which He promised, the scripture states: "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8). The author of that epistle also refocuses our attention on Jesus, "the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2).

The church of the living Lord moves forward through a sea of suffering. "If they persecuted Me," affirmed Jesus Himself, "they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also" (John 15:20). As Paul and the other apostles did their part in suffering for the sake of the body of Christ, so also must all others who believe through the word of those apostles. In a period of time when "evil men and imposters proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived" (II Timothy 3:13), modern Christians also need to step forward and be willing to do their share in filling up that which is still lacking in Christ's afflictions. Will we learn to run toward such suffering, or will we "shrink back to destruction" (Hebrews 10:39)????



Paul's Stewardship

Paul said that he suffered on behalf of the body of Christ, which is the church. It is worth the Christian's time to contemplate the apostle's motive in being willing to suffer so much for the sake of the gospel. From the time he first began to preach the gospel following his immersion at the hands of Ananias, he was persecuted and often nearly executed for offering proof that Jesus is indeed the Christ. Paul reminded Timothy of the challenges that faced him on his first missionary journey, of the "persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord delivered me!" (II Timothy 3:11). The second, third, and final journeys of the apostle were filled with the same. So what kept him charging again and again into such emotional and physical pain? His goal: to preach the gospel and save the lost.

There are many who have the mistaken impression that to preach the gospel, all that simply needs to be presented is the death, burial, and resurrection of the Christ. This perception results from a shallow reading of the scriptures, such as Paul's statement to the Corinthian church: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received," was his promulgation, "that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures" (I Corinthians 15:3,4). But from the time that the gospel was first preached as recorded in Acts chapter two, the gospel also includes the ascension of Christ, and the indwelling Spirit in conjunction with forgiveness of sins. Paul, in carrying out His stewardship to God, fully preached the mystery - the Spirit of God dwelling in the saints!



The Hidden Mystery

People are interested in secrets. One of the pulls of the forces of darkness is the supposed revealing of information forbidden to man, which is called divination. But God is pretty emphatic: "The secret things belong to the Lord our God." Moses informed the generation of Israel on the doorstep of the Promised Land, "but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever" (Deuteronomy 29:29). Hence, the children of Israel were not to consort with those who practiced divination, the sorcerers, the interpreters of omens, the mediums, or those who claimed to call up the dead. But God, in Old Testament times, had some things hidden, but later to be revealed to the children of the New Covenant. "Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man," Paul quotes from the prophet Isaiah, "all that God has prepared for those who love Him" (I Corinthians 2:9) - refers to the things hidden in the Old Testament but revealed by the apostles in the completed word of God, inspired by the Spirit of God. "For to us," emphasized the apostle to the Gentiles, "God revealed them through the Spirit" (I Corinthians 2:10).

The promise of the indwelling Spirit was openly prophesied to Israel, as was stated in Ezekiel's prophecy: "And I will put My Spirit within you," said the Lord God Almighty, "and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances" (Ezekiel 36:27). But what was hidden from the past ages and generations was that "God willed to make known to the Gentiles" the riches of the glory of the mystery.

Even at the beginning of the church as recorded in the second chapter of Acts, the mystery was still hidden. "For the promise," said Peter in the lead message, concerning the indwelling Spirit granted at a person's immersion in Jesus' name, "is for you and your children." But he did not stop there: "and," he added, "for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself' (Acts 2:39). The inspired gospel preaching, not yet understood by the apostle who preached it, anticipated the indwelling Spirit for the Gentiles. But it would take another ten to thirteen years before the gospel would go to the Gentiles, that they would be able to be indwelt by the very Spirit of God.



How the Mystery was Hidden

"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" exclaimed the apostle Paul to the Roman brethren. "How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!" (Romans 11:33). The Father, in His infinite wisdom and knowledge, decided to hide what He calls "the mystery" in the pages of the Old Testament writings, but to reveal it to the new covenant saints. The particular focus of this mystery is that Holy Spirit would indwell those Gentiles who would obey the gospel of Christ. The Jewish people, had they been good scholars of the Old Testament, would have anticipated that God would put His Spirit within them during the time frame the prophets called "the last days." But that the Spirit would indwell faithful Gentiles would have been beyond their comprehension.

"For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act," said the Lord Jesus through the prophet Isaiah. "For how can my name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another" (Isaiah 48:11). "Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it?" He queried. "Is it not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, and righteous God and a Savior; there is none except Me. Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other" (Isaiah 45:21-22). "Come near to Me," said Jesus the Savior, "listen to Me. From the first I have not spoken in secret, from the time it took place I was there. And now the Lord God has sent Me, and His Spirit" (Isaiah 48:16). But the mystery is now revealed; Gentiles have come into the body of Christ, and all Christians have been given God's glory through the Spirit. "You are blessed," said the apostle Peter, "because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you" (I Peter 4:14).



Complete in Christ

Jesus was a preacher during the time of His stay on earth. In His own home, as described in Mark's gospel account, many were gathered, filling the house and spilling out onto the grounds outside, and Jesus "was speaking the word to them" (Mark 2:2). God, as prophesied in Isaiah, anointed Jesus "to preach the gospel to the poor" (Luke 4:18). John the Immerser was a preacher, "preaching an immersion of repentance for forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1:4). Peter said that the risen Christ spoke to the apostles and "ordered us to preach to the people" (Acts 10:42). Paul said of the other apostles and of himself, "we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers" (Acts 13:32). Clearly the God who is over all ordained preaching, as the apostle Paul noted: "God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (I Corinthians 1:21). Paul thus noted that he "was to fully carry out the preaching of the word of God," not only the simplistic "death, burial, and resurrection of the Christ," but also "the mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."

God's goal is that each person be perfect or complete in Christ. The record of the human race's having perfect character based on their own effort is zero; it is clear then that they need to be "born from above," to be no longer "mere men." Moving past the elementary teachings about the Christ, they can press on to perfection (Hebrews 6:1); they can "perfect holiness in the fear of God" (II Corinthians 7:1). And the Supreme Potentate, in order to make this possible, also strengthens the leaders of the churches, working mightily within them so that they can be positive role models for the newer Christians coming into the fold of Christ.



Paul's Struggle

The battle for the mind is an intense one. Satan, the prince of the power of the air and the spirit working inside the minds of those who are disobedient, also throws every possible temptation in every possible way at the saints of God. He works inside the mind; he works through mass media, mass propaganda, and mass education; and he tries to take advantage of every weakness of the flesh that still has a hidden harbor in the life of the Christian. Men like the apostle Paul will work on themselves, and then labor intensively on behalf of others to assist in winning this war for the mind. For example, the apostle, after describing the beatings, the lashings, and the tribulations in the external realm connected with getting the gospel out to all creation, noted: "Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches. "Who is weak," he empathized, "without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?" (II Corinthians 11:28,29). He was not exaggerating when he spoke to the Colossian brethren about "presenting every man perfect in Christ." He was not engaging in hyperbole when he spoke of "striving" according to God's power to carry out this purpose.

All this springs from what the apostle terms "the full assurance of understanding." The experience of teaching the principles of God's word - seeing how they transform the lives and eternities of those so taught, - brings the confidence that the provisions God makes for the victories of the saint through His marvelous mercy and grace are absolutely true and not ever to be set aside. It is a struggle, but what a wonderful fight in which to be engaged!!



True Hidden Treasure

Many a grave robber worked over the tombs of the Pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings looking for hidden treasure. But one of the richest - the tomb of "King Tut" - was mostly missed because it was obscured by desert sand. But when Howard Carter and his sponsor were able to gain entrance to the actual chamber where the young king's mummy still lay, he could only marvel at the richness of the treasures within. Gold, silver, ebony, chariots - riches beyond what had been able to be garnered from the other tombs in the Valley - still amaze those who have the opportunity to see them or their replicas in person today. But these are earthly treasures of a dead king. What about the spiritual treasures of the eternal and living King!!!

"We speak God's wisdom in a mystery," the apostle Paul explained to the church in Corinth, "the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory" (I Corinthians 2:7). The Biblical world view - which focuses on what Christ has done, is doing, and will do - is antithetical to the world view presented to people by the forces of evil and darkness. Satan - the god of confusion and the god of this world - has been able to hijack the legitimate efforts of science and progress and turn them in an anti-biblical direction, to the destruction and devastation of those who do not turn to the Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and true knowledge. Keep digging!!



Stability of your Faith

The winds of evil and destruction are blowing with hurricane force over the entire mass of humanity. A Satanic cabal has been working for hundreds of years to take general control over the information and education channels, so that anti-Biblical prejudice is increasingly rampant across the globe. A belief in evolution is enshrined in the halls of academia, propped up and financed by the government of the U.S.A. The distorting effects of the Darwinian revolution pervade all aspects of public thinking, from dentistry to doctoring, from prescription pills to the cause of pilfering, from society's ills to sexual orientation. In working toward the eradication of the Bible as the base for Western Civilization, a kaleidoscope of celebrities, politicians, media moguls, and talking head professors are paraded before the public, almost all of whom attack the scripture - some with empty-headed bombast, some with carefully crafted argumentations and presentations. In the midst of these hurricane blasts, the saint needs to remember that in Christ "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." All the brethren also need to recall that the apostle also warned, "I say these things so that no one may delude you with persuasive argument."

The brethren were stable because they were willing to abide in the teaching or doctrine of Christ. Even though the picture of Christ in glory was already being attacked, the apostles' doctrine being challenged and twisted, and the only source of revelation being subverted, these blessed and faithful brethren were holding fast. May we imitate their faith in today's climate!



As You Were Instructed

"What do you have," Paul questioned the Corinthian brethren concerning their faith in Christ, "you did not receive?" (I Corinthians 4:7). As Jesus anticipated in His prayer on the west side of the Kidron, all who come to be Christians believe in Christ as a result of the word of the apostles (John 17:22). By setting it up so that everything comes back to the apostles' doctrine, the Lord successfully blocked the development of any contradictory or confusing teachings among those who are really interested in truth. No council of Nicea could later determine doctrines, or a meeting of minds at Augsburg, or Westminster, or even Nashville, for that matter. All need to be taught, but the teaching must always be checked against the infallible standard of the word of God and the precepts and principles elucidated especially in the New Testament writings.

Without the scripture, no one would know about the ultimate end of each person. Without the scripture, no one would know of the love of God, and His efforts to extricate man from the predicament he put himself in by his own sin. Without scripture, no one would know what a person must believe and do to be saved from his sins, and to have fellowship with the Father through the Holy Spirit. And without instruction, no one would know what the scripture teaches about those things. Each modern Christian must praise God, for he too is "established in [his] faith. just as [he] was instructed."



Captivating Forces

In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul had a serious warning for the brethren. They were "no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming" (Ephesians 4:14). The fact that there are so many such warnings in the sacred scriptures for the saints of God indicates that the danger of being sucked in by all sorts of deception lurks around the next comer. The prince of the power of the air not only works inside the minds of men, but he is aided by the unrighteous' selfish desires - desires so strong that they will engage in trickery and all out deception to pull people of out the light of Christ's revelation into the darkness of their own thinking and philosophies.

But the apostles and the entire word of God are clear that the philosophies of the world, the tradition of men, the elementary principles of worldly thinking can take the unwary saint captive. The focus instead is to be "according to Christ," the awesome Christ of glory, "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." In the face of these treasures from Christ, all the so-called learning and wisdom of the universities wither and blow away as the fluffy powder that they truly are. The "great philosophers" of the ages are calmly swept into the dustbin of eternity as nonsense, and the laws and regulations of men perish in the final collapse of this age. There is therefore no reason for the Christian to be taken captive by any of these.



The Fullness of Deity

Periodically the follower of Christ should stop for a moment and contemplate the awesomeness of God. He should take a short tour through the photographs from the Hubble telescope to begin to get a glimpse of the vastness of the universe, and to understand that this vastness is smaller than God. He should take a simple excursion through the workings of the cell to begin to get a smidgeon understanding of the marvels of God's engineering. He should take a visual flyby of the differing brightness and colors of the stars of the Milky Way, and take time to consider how many atoms it takes to make twelve grams of carbon. No matter which way and how far into the material realm a man might look, the evidence of a supremely amazing Creator is there. But the material realm, as awesome and marvelous as it is, is pale and uninteresting in comparison to the glory, the power, the intricacy of the spiritual realm. And it is to the spiritual realm the interest of the Christian is drawn, as he seeks to know the things hidden from the past generations, but now revealed through the writings of the New Testament apostles and prophets.

It is a challenge to try to think of all the awesomeness of God dwelling in the body of Christ, the true tabernacle, the church of God in Christ Jesus. Jesus, of course, in the last days of His living in the flesh, anticipated the total unity of the brethren in Christ with the Father, Son, and Spirit. "The glory which You have given Me I have given to them," noted the Christ in His prayer from the west side of the Kidron, looking past the cross, past the resurrection, past the ascension, looking to the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, "that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them, and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity" (John 17:22,23). "In Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form." Now!



Completeness

The scripture, in describing Christ, abounds in superlatives. The apostle Paul, in painting a picture of the Jesus who now is, stated that He is "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that named, not only in this age but also in the one to come" (Ephesians 1:21). Because language seems inadequate to address fully the awesomeness of the great and eternal God, these "over the top" statements are sprinkled through the sacred writings - after a while they could lose their intended punch for the reader if he is not carefully processing every word which proceeds from the mouth of God. But of all the elevated language, loaded with all the powerful expressions that words can bear, there is none more superlative than this statement to the Colossian brethren: "In Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form."

The loving Father earnestly desires that His spiritual children adopt and imitate His character, to be truly complete or perfect in Christ. Hence He arranged the spiritual circumcision to get rid of the old self, and to make way for the new self in the image of Christ. Similar encouragement comes from the writer of Hebrews: "Let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith" (Hebrews 12:1,2). The One who is "the head over all rule and authority" is the One who has made the saint complete, and who in all His fulness dwells in the collective body of Christ. How could any thinking Christian, then, be pulled back into the weak and elementary principles of the world?



Buried and Raised in Immersion

The apostle Peter said, "Immersion now saves you" (I Peter 3:21). The notes in The Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, New American Standard Bible, edited by Spiros Zodhiates, says this in its commentary on I Peter 3:21: "[Baptism] is the testimony of an already cleansed soul"; in other words, immersion does not save a person, it is merely the public declaration that this individual is already saved. Peter made the simple statement in a portion of a sentence; Spiros Zodhiates took a page and a half of his publication of the Bible to justify his contradiction of Peter. Some relevant notes on the same topic from the Zondervan NIV Study Bible state: "In NT [New Testament] times baptism so closely followed conversion that the two were considered part of one event ... baptism is not a means by which we enter into a vital relationship with Jesus Christ..." The thrust again is that - conversion or salvation occurs prior to immersion, and immersion is not necessary to have fellowship with Christ. These notes from these study Bibles are not aberrations; they are standard fare from the study Bible notes and sundry commentaries. Each individual who begins to look into this eternally vital issue is going to have to figure out whether they believe the apostle Peter or the commentaries. Indeed, all the writings of the New Testament are consistent, as is to be expected, with Peter's simple asseveration: "Immersion now saves you."

It is highly significant that - although the individual must personally believe the gospel of Christ, and be obedient to it in immersion - it is God who does the work! Immersion is not a work a believer does to try to earn his salvation; it is his willing participation in the plan and power of God. It is a marvelous plan, and it is energized by mega-power!!



Made Alive

"God was well-pleased," affirmed Paul to the Corinthian brethren, "through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (I Corinthians 1:21). The message is not peddled or sold; it is announced with all the necessary backing from Him who sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high. The word of God has to be sharper than any two-edged sword; it has to pierce dulled hearts, pry open deaf ears, and penetrate blind eyes. Blessed indeed, in the words of Jesus, are those whose hearts have been pierced as at Pentecost, 30 AD, and "your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear" (Matthew 13:16). Thus it is that those who have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God's Son have, had their understanding moved from the physical to the spiritual, and comprehend the power of the preached word to save and to strengthen.

All of this takes place in the realm of faith, the realm of the unseen. It cannot be overstated that all anyone can know about that realm is what is revealed in the word of God. "The word of God is living and active," but this is only seen by an eye trained by that word (Hebrews 4:12). "In the exercise of His will," said James, "He brought us forth by the word of truth" (James 1:18). "You have been born again," added Peter, "not of the seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, the living and abiding word of God" (I Peter 1:23). God has sent forth His word into the world, revealing the greatness of His salvation and His plan for spiritual union with those who are willing to walk in His ways. Those who were thus dead in their sins and transgressions have been made alive in Christ through their obedience to the gospel as revealed in the written word. "And this is the word which was preached to you!" (I Peter 1:25).



Debt Canceled

Indebtedness is a tremendously heavy burden. The proverb is indeed true: "The borrower becomes the lender's slave" (Proverbs 22:7). Those who have labored under the burden of debt have a good idea of what it would be like for all the past bills and borrowed money suddenly to be forgiven. No debt, no hold-over interest-everything paid in full! God, the ultimate teacher, allows indebtedness to occur in the physical realm to communicate what happens in the spiritual realm. The idea is that when a person sins against God he has placed himself in the position of such spiritual indebtedness that he cannot ever repay. Jesus, for example, told a parable of a slave who owed his king 10,000 talents. When he was, of course, unable to repay, the king graciously forgave him the debt. That slave, however, had a fellow slave who owed him 100 copper pennies, and threw him into debtor's prison until he would repay. When the king found out about the situation, he called the first slave into his presence, and angrily threw him into prison because of his unwillingness to forgive a fellow slave a small debt when he himself had been forgiven such a large debt. "So shall My heavenly Father also do to you," said Jesus, "if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart" (Matthew 18:35). The point is clear, that monetary debt is used to paint a picture of spiritual indebtedness occurring because of sin against God.

This is a powerful and life-giving principle, that the past for the one now called a saint is gone! There is no hold-over from the past preventing progress in the present. But as powerful and life-giving as that is, it is weaker than the next step revealed in the picture of God. Forgiveness is for the past; what provides power for the future?



The Great Public Display

In connection with Jesus' resurrection and His ascension to glory, Satan suffered a crushing blow and a tremendous defeat. "Through death," a process culminating in Christ's accession to the right hand of power, He rendered "powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Hebrews 2:14). The awesome spiritual battle between the forces of Michael the archangel and the hosts of the devil took place in heaven, resulting in the Satan's loss of access to the courts of glory and of his ability to have dominion over the people of God. What an awesome, unfathomable victory this was, and how important it is for the saints to begin to comprehend the Almighty's great power toward us who believe, and of His love toward those who potentially would obey the gospel.

The triumph of Jesus over Satan and his angels was one of total victory. A physical representation of the complete conquest of Christ is given in the description of the defeat of the last king of Judah at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon: "And they slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, then put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him with bronze fetters and brought him to Babylon" (II Kings 25:7). This is a portrait of absolute abjection. The saint of God has had presented to him the true picture of Satan's defeat through the resurrection and ascension of Christ; hence the terminology of public display is used.



Christ is the Substance

On what basis was the old covenant established? On what basis were the sacrifices instituted and the regulations for the people imposed? The old covenant was established on the basis of the priesthood of Moses, as contrasted with the new covenant's being established on the basis of the priesthood of Christ, as the writer of the epistle to the Hebrew Christians notes: "For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also" (Hebrews 7:12). Hence that which was established through Moses was replaced by that which is established through Christ. The law of Moses was supplanted by the faith of Christ.

The substance, clearly, is Christ, particularly Christ in glory. The grand event of the temple was the offering of the high priest of Israel on the Day of Atonement; this statedly prefigured the offering of Christ's own blood in heaven itself. The Passover pointed to the day of Christ's crucifixion as the ultimate Passover lamb. Pentecost, the Feast of the Beginning of the Harvest, set in motion the true harvest of the first souls as recorded in Acts chapter two. The Feast of Tabernacles, or the Feast of Ingathering in the fall, was a type of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, wherein all the redeemed have been gathered as the angels finished the final reaping of the souls of men. The Sabbath foreshadowed the rest that comes from the peace of being reconciled to God through the sacrifice of Christ, and the dietary regulations of clean and unclean set a basis for discerning of moral and immoral behavior. The saint of the new covenant, then, is to focus on the glorified Christ, and not get pulled back into the things of the physical covenant.



Early Gnosticism and Visionaries

In the religious realm there have always been those who drew attention to themselves or gained leverage by claiming to be visionaries. In the days of King Ahab of Israel, all the false prophets were claiming to have visions from God, encouraging Ahab to go to war against Syria. They gained earthly leverage and fame by telling the king what he wanted to hear. Of course, the true prophet of the Lord - Micaiah - had a different message that was not what the king wanted to hear, and was sent to suffer the privation of nothing but bread and water until the successful return of Ahab. As the Lord said through the prophet Jeremiah concerning all the false prophets, "I did not send these prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied" (Jeremiah 23:21). The apostle Peter brought the concept forward in his second epistle, "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies" (II Peter 2:1). The war for the mind and soul of each person on this planet is a fierce one.

The prize very obviously is the eternal life which comes through the proper resurrection from the dead. The battle for the soul is a fearsome one, in which the prince of darkness creates every possible form of diversion and false doctrine, appealing to every possible weakness of the flesh. Hence the apostle Paul warns them, and through them he warns us, of the tremendous dangers of the deceptive appeal coming through the visionaries of the day. The developing Gnosticism of his day has not died: it just morphed slightly and changed its name to Catholicism and Calvinism. Let no one defraud us of our prize.



Failure of the Do Nots

Doctrine of human origin, in order to have some pretense of holiness, always sets up a system of do's and don't's. The All Wise, anticipating the direction that false teaching would go, set up His own system of do's and don't's, the covenant which came through Moses. The apostle Paul, writing to the churches of Galatia, noted that "if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law" (Galatians 3:21), The point is that if God's law does not produce the righteousness that leads to eternal life, then any lesser man-made system of law will certainly not produce righteousness either. Hence, from even the strongest law position - that which was given by God - legitimate pressure cannot be put on new covenant saints to keep the Sabbath or the festivals or the regulations on food and drink. Much less, then, can disciples of Christ be pressured by those laws and regulations which come through the visionaries and the developing Gnostics of the first century.

Wherever the saint has not put to death his flesh, these man-made regulations have appeal. Hence Paul's deep and intense warning. "These are matters which have, to be sure," he avers, "the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence" (Colossians 2:23). The untaught or the unwary can be pulled into these doctrines, Thus, it is imperative that the saint of God become fully aware of the nature of the faith of Christ, and why it succeeds where everything else fails. These other systems have the appearance of wisdom, but really have no wisdom at all. The individual Christian, in order to successfully overcome his flesh, must know how to implement the principles of the faith, Furthermore, he must really increasingly understand the wisdom of God in order to articulate to others the principles of the faith, that other saints may begin to enjoy the victories over fleshly indulgence!



Overcoming Fleshly Indulgence

One of the characteristics of members of the human race is feeling frustrated over their own weaknesses of the flesh. Some, of course, never admit to having any such weaknesses, or refuse to ever try to deal with themselves. But there are those who at times in their lives, or when certain circumstances have occurred, who are willing to look at those moral or character failures, and who then are upset or angry at themselves for having falling short of the glory of God. They then, not knowing about the principles of God for victory, or not understanding how to apply those principles, are open to man-made "solutions." "These have," Paul avers, "the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence" (Colossians 2:23).

The transforming power of the gospel to change the inner man is found in the revelation of Christ in glory to the inner man. When a person is immersed into Christ, "the body of the flesh" is removed in a spiritual circumcision. The "veil is removed in Christ"; the inner man in conjunction with the scripture can see the glory of the Lord, and be transformed into that same image. The only "punishment" inflicted is that the old man of sin is crucified, or that the individual's spiritual heart is circumcised. This is the exciting prescription that will enable the sincere person to overcome fleshly indulgence.



Raised Up with Christ

One of the great challenges for Christians is to see themselves as Christ sees them. The god of this world - Satan - is doing everything he can to have the saints of God think lowly of themselves; if he can keep their picture of themselves in the gutter, he can keep stomping on them. But Jesus has called His sheep out of this world, and those who hear His voice truly learn to walk by faith rather than by sight. They learn to see themselves in light of the gospel. They are discipled by the word to understand where they really are in the realm of faith. They are step by step counseled by God's sacred script to focus on Jesus in glory, and to experience the transformation of character from the inside out.

Spiritually speaking, the faithful follower of Christ is already living in heaven. Earthly speaking, he is occupying space on the surface of planet earth. But in the realm of the unseen, in the realm that the scripture reveals, the saint is ushered into the very holy of holies, into heaven itself, seated with Christ on the throne, in the awesome presence of the Father. Hence, if he walks by faith rather than by sight, he fixes his attention on the things above where Christ is!



The Proper Focus

The outcast angel, Satan, is going down, down eventually to the hell fire prepared for him and his fellow rebellious angels. At the vortex of the downward spiral, the prince of darkness is sucking every possible member of the human race down with him, working in the minds of men wherever possible - twisting perception in their minds, getting their focus in the wrong direction. Christ, then, has come as light into the world, to enlighten and educate those who are willing in the ways of God and in the ways that are straight and true. To do that, the wisdom of God brought Christ into the world, and used Him as the Word, the vehicle of communication for this education and enlightenment of the willing. God wove His story in the matrix of human history so that its truthfulness might be established for the honest but probing inquirer. At the right time He sent His Son into the world, born as a baby, reared to manhood, anointed by the Holy Spirit in the waters of the Jordan, crucified on Calvary, raised from the dead, and ascended to the throne of heaven. This picture, portrayed through the records of the word of God, when obeyed by the trusting hearer of this message, delivers him from that dark downward pull and lifts him to the courts of glory.

The saint, then, is doubly exhorted to "keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God." If he can maintain this focus, his interests will be properly spiritual, his attitude will be great, and his habit will be one of prayer. This, therefore, is the "mind set on things above, not on the things that are on earth."



Died and Hidden

The great and loving God is totally committed to the spiritual success of each of His spiritual children. The Father is "not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). Saints are requested to pray for all men, even for kings and those in authority. "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior," asseverated the apostle Paul, "who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (I Timothy 2:3,4). Clearly, then, the earnest intent of the Creator is that each person be saved initially, and be able to stay strong in the faith to his last breath. Principles for the spiritual success of each saint, therefore, are going to be inculcated in the follow-up teaching of the word of God. The Almighty thus does His best to help each of His spiritual children to have success in overcoming the forces of despair and darkness that can overwhelm the disciple in his fight of faith.

If something is hidden, no one can find it. If it can be found, it is not hidden. The scripture is clear: the past life is hidden; Satan cannot bring it up as a point of discouragement. God is interested in the spiritual success of His children, and He is not willing that the past be used as a demotivating tool by the forces of darkness. Move on!!!



When Christ is our Life

Members of the human race are dedicated to many diversionary, earthly things. Some are dedicated to the continual rounds of beauty pageants; some to following the paths of the auto racing circuit; some to traipsing around the country from rodeo to rodeo. These are just some random selections out of the hundreds or thousands of things that occupy people's lives. For some, the family farm occupies their total interest and time. For some, the business enterprise constitutes their total focus. For some, the family Ė children, grandchildren, family reunions - take up the great majority of their interest and avocation. For some, the upcoming Communist revolution absorbs what author Benjamin Gitlow called "The Whole of their Lives." No matter what it is, it is what absorbs their life's focus: it is their life.

Such glory is worth going after. The sin of glory-seeking is not the seeking of glory itself; the sin is where a person might seek for that glory. "How can you believe," Jesus excoriated the Jews, "when you receive glory from one another, and you do not seek the glory that comes from the one and only God?' (John 5:44). Blessed are "those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality" (Romans 2:7). If Christ is indeed our life, then we will be revealed with Him in glory!



Death to Earthly Members

The war, observed the apostle Paul, is between the Spirit and the flesh. The human body is part of the material creation, subject to the laws of nature and the storms of an earthly existence. The body, then, operates on the basis of maximum benefit with minimum effort. This natural tendency leads to the formation of a spiritual type of "body of flesh" which develops when the descendant of Adam commits his first sin. In the initial stage of the spiritual war, the forces of darkness win as the flesh now takes ascendancy over the spirit of the man, his heart is corrupted, and he has now become locked into the domain of Satan. But the gospel of Christ comes to the rescue, as the individual now reaches for victory as he puts off the "body of the flesh" in his immersion into Christ. However, the battle still rages daily in the Christian as it raged daily in Christ Himself. "The flesh sets its desire against the Spirit," affirmed Paul to the Galatian churches, "and the Spirit against the flesh" (Galatians 5:17). Hence the need for continuing exhortation for the brethren in this spiritual war.

The scripture is emphatic that the deeds of the flesh are a part of the past life of the Christian. "In them you once walked," avers the apostle. "You were living in them," he stresses. "What benefit," the same apostle asked the brethren in Rome, "were you then deriving of the things of which you are now ashamed?" (Romans 6:21). After asking that probing question, he came back to the same point he had mentioned to the Colossians, "For the outcome of those things is death." The overall message of the word of God is clear: Put the past things to death, and continue to turn to God that you may live!



Out with the Old; in with the New

The scripture draws a clear line of demarcation; there is the world, and there is the church. One of the major thrusts of the epistle to the Colossians is laid out early and simply by the apostle Paul. "For He delivered us from the domain of darkness," was the apostle's description, "and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son" (Colossians 1:13). The apostle Peter is on board with the same theme, pointing out that the brethren are to "proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (I Peter 2:9). The apostle John likewise issues his similar exordium, calling the saints out of the world because "the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever" (I John 2:17). One of the goals of God is to help the saint move from an earthly focus to having his mind truly set on the things above.

Over and over and over again the new testament scriptures work on the idea that there is a totally new creation coming up out of that water. This new creation is not simply the old creature forgiven; this is a brand new being on the inside of that human shell, a treasure-powered son of God inside an earthen vessel. The focus of the word of God, and the interest of the heavenly Father, is on the continued development, use, and victory of that new creation. The old man of sin is gone; bring on the new creation in Christ Jesus!



The New Image

Many Christians, amazingly, have a hard time understanding the Biblical concept of the new creation. One of the reasons for that difficulty is that the formation of the new creation is entirely in the realm of that which is unseen, the realm of faith. Forgiveness of sins cannot be seen, which is why there can be all the fake "plans of salvation" that exclude the proper immersion. The indwelling Holy Spirit cannot be seen, which is why some people discount His importance. And the new creation cannot be seen, which is why many do not believe in the possibilities connected with it. "For we are His workmanship," asserted the apostle Paul, "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). These good works are not just helping little old ladies across the street; they have to do with carrying the gospel to the ends of the world in the face of all the opposition that the minions of Satan can offer.

One of the exciting things about this new creature in Christ is that the potential is open to all members of the human race, regardless of background or upbringing. This renewal, affirms Paul, is one "in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman - but Christ is all, and in all" (Colossians 3:11). God doesn't care whether a person comes from the North African coast, the Greek speaking part of southern Europe and western Asia, or whether he is from the steppes of what is now Ukraine: what is important is that he is a new creation in Christ Jesus. The Lord of all does not regard whether a person is of Jewish or Gentile background; what is important is whether that saint is being renewed in the image of the One who created him. The Almighty is not concerned whether the individual is male or female in the fleshly body, or whether the person is slave or free. What is important is whether he is a new creation in Christ Jesus, and whether that new creation is undergoing the continual processes of renewal. The message is clear: keep renewing the new creation!!



The New Heart

Since Christians are fantastic new creations in Christ Jesus, what should their behavior be? Over and over again, the new covenant writings stress that the old man of sin was done away with, and that a new being has come up out of the water. "As Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father," was Paul's reminder, "so we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4). "I have been crucified with Christ," was the apostle's personal application for the benefit of the Galatians, "and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 5:20). "God," emphasized Peter, "has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (I Peter 1:3). "Moreover," the Father had prophesied, "I will give you a new heart and put a new Spirit within you" (Ezekiel 36:26). The Almighty has done much to bring these new creations into existence, and therefore has much instruction for each.

The children of God work together inside the framework of what is called "the church of God" or "the body of Christ." As a result, they occasionally bump into each other in the process of getting that work done, and tempers could fly or jealousy could flare. Instead, these that put on the new heart are "bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so should you" (Colossians 3:13). Even if the complaint is legitimate, I the followers of Christ work it out, keeping in mind the big picture of how much Christ forgave I each of them. The cause of Christ is great, and the spread of the gospel is of utmost importance and urgency. It is imperative, then, that no deeds of the flesh interfere with the brethren's ability to work I together; it is critical that each saint of God continue to put on the new heart!



Love and Peace

The whole world craves love and peace. The problem is that the world wants love and peace on its terms, unaware of why there is a shortage of love and peace in the first place. Since sin entered the world through Adam - and the angel of darkness has been able to spread his fires of rebellion to engulf and inflame the masses of mankind - there has been a separation between man and God, a separation from the love and peace of Him who is love and who proclaims peace. Thus, in order for love and peace to be propagated, men have to, in the words of Jesus to the future apostle Paul on the Damascus Road, "open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God" (Acts 26:18). The true children of God have made this turn in their immersions into Christ, and therefore can experience the love and peace of God on His terms.

When the brethren in Christ put the proper value on the spiritual things accomplished by the All Powerful God through the Savior, then the goodness of God begins to flow through the body of Christ. The challenges of earthly existence fade when compared to "the things above, where Christ is." The saints, then, recognizing this truth in increasing degree, can fulfill the command to "be thankful."



The Word of Christ

"The voice of the LORD is powerful," said the sweet psalmist of Israel, "the voice of the LORD is majestic" (Psalm 29:4). "The voice of the LORD," added David, breaks the cedars of Lebanon in pieces, hews out flames of fire, shakes the wilderness, makes the deer to calve, strips the forests bare, "and in His temple everything says, 'Glory!'" Who is this LORD who has such a powerful voice? It is "the LORD who sits as King forever" (Psalm 29:10). It is the same as the Lord whom Isaiah saw sitting on His throne, who in despair cried out, "Woe is me, for I am ruined...for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5). This same LORD of hosts is described by the apostle John as Jesus in glory (John 12:36-42). So it was the word of Christ that brought the universe into existence, the word of Christ that thundered from Sinai, the word of Christ that brought new creations into existence in their immersions in Jesus' name.

One of the major ways in which this teaching and admonishing of the children of the faith is "with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts." It is patently clear that his is when the saints sit in their houses and walk by the way and when they lie down and when they rise up; it is not a verse referring only to the assemblies of the brethren. The continuing overall goal is that "the word of Christ" is to dwell richly within each disciple of Christ in every way possible, that each might be filled up to the fullness of Christ. Fill 'em up!!



Whatever You Do

"It was for freedom that Christ set us free," Paul reminded the Galatian brethren. Certainly freedom from sin was one aspect of the general liberty which Christ has brought to the saints. "Truly, truly, I say to you," was His gambit to the Jewish hierarchy, "everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin" (John 8:34). Could a man free himself from that slavery? Of course not; only Jesus can free the captive. "If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed," He informed them and the world (John 8:36). But in order to be so truly free, a person has to be able to handle the responsibility that comes with freedom. If a person has the liberty to decide whether to work or not to work, he has to be able to discipline himself to labor for his food or he will starve. Spiritually speaking, then, the saint of God is free to exercise a lot of liberty in the use of his time, money, energy, and talents. The Father's idea is that if a person is mature enough for the privilege of sonship in Christ, then he is mature enough to manage himself for the glory of God.

Saints of the church of the living God have immense freedom to go, speak, and accomplish things for the distribution of the gospel, the saving of souls, and conservation of the Christians. What great and encouraging words: "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus." So, let's go and do!



Some Family Dynamics

The backbone of every society, including the church of the living God, is the family. The devil, the god of confusion and the author of rebellion, therefore has always done everything possible to destroy the family unit. Men and women do not get married with the plan and intention of being miserable, but marriages often end up in divorce, or with major hard feelings or bare toleration between the husband and wife; from where did all this destruction come? The first family had to deal with the oldest brother in the family murdering the second son; the picture has not changed since the early chapters of Genesis, and whence cometh all this dissension and hatred? God, then, in bringing into existence "a new and living way," is also presenting instruction which will restore and enhance the happy family living experience.

These instructions will help the family on its positive course, and defeat the devil's destructive efforts. May the modem Christian family heed all this inspired advice.



Working Like Slaves

Some estimate as many as two-thirds of tile first century Christians were slaves. Onesimus, featured in Paul's epistle to Philemon, was a slave run away from a Christian master, and men with names such as Tertius (#3) and Quartus (#4) show up in the writings of the new covenant. Since some Christians were slave masters, and since some Christians were slaves, the word of God is going to have some instructions for both.

It is comparatively easy for moderns to look back at the Roman Empire days and say that the Christian slave owners should have simply released their slaves. Slave release was not easy to accomplish without the slaves being conscripted by someone else. Hence, often the best solution was for the slaves to remain with their kind and Christian master. "Were you called as a slave [did you become a Christian when you were already a slave]?" Paul posited in addressing the Corinthians. "Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that" (I Corinthians 7:21). If a slave, follow the instructions for slaves.

No matter what the saint's circumstance, he is working for God and he is to do his job well and with a great attitude. The best accolade is worth striving for, the words from the Lord Jesus at the culmination of judgment: "Well done, good and faithful slave!" (Matthew 25:21). It is indeed from the Lord Himself that faithful saints will receive the reward of the eternal inheritance, and it is because it is indeed the Lord Himself that they serve.



Slaves and Masters

As loathsome as it is, God has allowed the practice of slavery throughout the history of mankind. God has also allowed murder, thievery, lying, coveting, and adultery. Since man has free will, then all kinds of evil are allowed until Jesus comes and puts an end to it all. So slavery is a part of human existence. Slavery is usually thought of in terms of a slave master owning one or multiple slaves. But there is slavery on a larger scale than this, where the master is not an individual but a government. Under the yoke of the Babylonians, then of the Persians, the men of Nehemiahís day noted in their prayer to the Almighty, "But they [their ancestors in Israel] in their own kingdom, with Your great goodness which You gave them, with the broad and rich land which You set before them, did not serve You or turn from their evil deeds. Behold, we are slaves today, and as to the land which You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty, behold, we are slaves on it. And its abundant produce is for the kings whom You have set over us because of our sins; they also rule over our bodies and over our cattle as they please, so we are in great distress" (Nehemiah 9:35-37).

Just as God uses physical death to teach a message about spiritual death ó both a first and second death ó He also uses physical slavery to teach about spiritual slavery. Jesus, in discussing this with the higher ranking Jews, commented, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin" (John 8:34). Once enslaved, the question would be, how can a person be set free? "If therefore the Son shall make you free," Jesus adverted, "you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). The Son of God, of course, died and rose again to set men free from their slavery to sin. This becomes actuated on an individual basis, however, at the time of a personís obedience to the gospel. In immersion, the old self is buried and a new self is resurrected, "that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin, for he who has died is freed from sin" (Romans 6,7). That is freedom indeed!

All men will ultimately stand before the judgment throne of Christ, and they will be judged according to the things written in the books. The key, whether a person be slave or free, is whether his name is written in the Lambís book of life. Better to be a slave on earth and enter the courts of glory than to be a master and be thrown into the lake of fire.



Devoted to Prayer

What can be accomplished through prayer? "Then Joshua spoke to the Lord," noted the Old Testament records, "in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of the Lord, ĎO sun, stand still at Gibeon, and O moon in the valley of Aijalon.í So the sun stood still and the moon stopped until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies" (Joshua 10:12,13). That was an awesome prayer, with awesome results ó results that obviously only God could accomplish. There are many other prayers recorded in the Old Testament writings, wherein God did some great and mighty things in the physical realm to establish His power over all. Jesus Himself prayed some powerful prayers, including that which set the stage for His raising Lazarus from the dead. "Father," said He, "I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You hear Me always; but because of the people standing around I said it, that they may believe that You did send Me" (John 11:41,42). He was not kidding when He said, "If you have faith and Ö you say to this mountain, ĎBe taken up and cast into the sea,í it shall happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive" (Matthew 21:21,22). You just have to have a knowledgeable enough faith to know what to ask for and when.

Prayer - properly understood - because it can accomplish so much, is something the Christian really desires to do. Prayer is the means by which healthy praise and thanksgiving can be offered to the great and awesome God. And prayer is the mechanism though which God works to accomplish His great and mighty work in spreading the gospel and changing peopleís lives and eternities!



Prayers for Open Doors

The inspired record of the book of Acts, when looked at from the side of the disciples of Christ, is a record of prayer followed by preaching. The prayer was necessary, and really set in motion the conditions for the success they had from preaching the word. Before Jesus began His ministry, He prayed and fasted. Before the preaching on the Day of Pentecost, the disciples prayed. They prayed as recorded in the fourth chapter of Acts, and they were able to preach the word of God with boldness when the building shook; the apostles preached in the temple, were jailed, then preached again; "and every day in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ" (Acts 5:42). Before Paul and Barnabas were sent out on the first missionary journey, specifically targeting the Gentiles, the key brethren fasted and prayed. The example is pretty clear: get the praying in so the preaching can get going!

May God open for us the doors for the word, that we might speak forth the mystery, and that we may make it clear in our speech as well!!



Making the Most of the Opportunity

Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. That, of course, must be the mission of the church, and therefore the mission of every member of the church. One of the challenges is helping the brethren see that this too is their mission. When people first become Christians, they generally are focused on themselves; they want relief from a guilty conscience and forgiveness of sins. But as God continues their education or discipleship, His goal is to move them from that focus on themselves to a strong focus on others who are outside of Christ. To do that, God has to implant His love and care for the lost in their breasts. He has to give them the confidence and assurance that they are capable of carrying out His mission. He has to provide them with the courage necessary to face the obstacles and persecution often connected with seeking and saving the lost. He has to help them develop the commitment necessary for the patience needed in working with the lost and helping them understand their desperate condition. And God has to have the teaching in place that helps the saint develop the deep conviction of the truthfulness of Godís claims as revealed in the written word of God. As these qualities increasingly develop within the disciple of Christ, he becomes a more effective "fisher of men."

All these things fit the category of what might be called "skills." Basically, in the use of any skill, the more a person practices his skill the better he becomes. So it is with conversation; it is a skill. Hence, the more the saint practices his technique in getting the Bible study, the more effective he will become in so doing. This cumulative improvement in the skill set is even called in our vernacular "know how." God wants each of His messengers to get enough of that "know how" so that they can respond properly "to each person." So Ö letís get out there and "make the most of the opportunity!" ó for the glory of God, the salvation of the lost, and the expansion of Jesusí kingdom!!



Paulís Condition in Rome

Back in New Testament times, there was no Facebook or any such posting to let others know of their condition. Travel was slow, by comparison, and communication was therefore as slow as travel. The result was that much of what was going on was unreported and known only to the individuals directly involved. So any information transmitted would be of more importance and of necessity brief in comparison to what can be communicated when information transfer is easy. Thus, if the apostle Paul wanted the brethren to know what was going on in his life, he had to find trustworthy people who could have access to him in prison, who had the flexibility and the finances to be able to travel, and who would be received as trustworthy on the other end. When therefore the scripture lists someone as bringing a report from an important individual such as Paul, many factors had to align for that to happen, and as such it was worthy of note in what would become the inspired record.

The apostle was in no sense wanting, in Onesimusí case, to "throw him under the bus." Tychicus, likewise, a faithful brother and understanding the worth of each manís soul ó whether slave or free ó was willing to let this converted runaway have equal standing with him in the Lord. "They," affirms the apostle concerning both men, "will inform you of the whole situation here." Paul was thus demonstrating his trust in Onesimus, and showing the church at Colossae how teamwork can be accomplished in Christ. The brethren would then have the whole picture of Paulís circumstances through two faithful and beloved men! What edification, and what an example for present day Christians!!



Workers from ďthe CircumcisionĒ

Over the years, Paul was able to accumulate a team who worked with him in spreading the gospel. On his first missionary journey, Barnabas was at first the lead man, with Paul doing quite a bit of preaching also, and with John Mark as the young man who was necessary in doing all the daily chores. During that journey, Mark left them when they arrived on the mainland of what is now Turkey, and returned to Jerusalem. Paul was first known as Saul, and was listed secondly, as in "Barnabas and Saul." But on the western side of Cyprus, Paul received his apostleship from the Lord Jesus, evidenced in striking blind a Jewish false teacher. Luke, in the book of Acts, notes the change in Paulís status to a full-fledged apostle by changing Saulís name to Paul. Paulís position as an apostle of Jesus is subtly noted by the alteration in Lukeís description of that early traveling party: "Paul and his companions" (Acts 12:25-13:13). Paul and Barnabas separated after the first missionary journey, and on the second mission Paul was accompanied by Silas, who was a prophet, who was a Roman citizen, and who had been a leading man in the congregation at Jerusalem. After that Timothy was added to the contingent in Lystra, and Luke at Philippi.

Real names, real people, real situations Ö these are the things which give these letters credibility as authentic rather than the made-up fake letters which tend to circulate even to this day. In addition, modern Christians get a glimpse into the workings of Paul and his teammates as they worked to spread the gospel and strengthen the saints. These are instructive for positive modeling in working together today!



Closing Greetings and Comments

An insightful phrase or a positive comment can be words which help a person turn his life around, or help him stay on track. A special card, an encouraging text, a telephone call, or a meaningful post can be the difference between a day which isnít going so well and one which seems like it has cheerful rays of sunshine all through it. For those first century Christians who often underwent severe persecution, those expressions of love and encouragement would be especially uplifting.

"I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand" (Colossians 4:18). Sometimes the apostle dictated his letters; here, in prison in Rome, he sends at least his closing greeting in his own handwriting, in Greek capital letters according to the style of the day. "Remember," he pleads, "my imprisonment. Grace be with you."