Categories
Theology

The Supremacy of Christ in Colossians 1-2

Colossians 3-4 is filled with practical exhortation for Christian living. But before Paul lists imperative after imperative, he sets forth the supremacy of Christ as the foundation for Christian experience. It’s beyond a doubt that the big theme of Colossians is “Jesus is Supreme.”

  • It is through Christ that believers have been delivered from the domain of darkness into God’s kingdom (1:13).
  • It is in Christ that believers have redemption and forgiveness (1:14).
  • Everything exists through Christ and for Christ (1:15-16).
  • Everything is held together by Christ (1:17).
  • The church exists because of Christ’s resurrection from the dead and the entire cosmos will be reconciled to Christ (1:18-20).
  • In Christ the fullness of God’s presence dwells (1:19; 2:9).
  • Personal and corporate reconciliation to God only comes through Christ (1:21-23).
  • The glory of the mystery of God’s inclusion of the Gentiles in his redemption is Christ, the hope of glory (1:27).
  • Christ is the subject of Christian proclamation and instruction (1:28).
  • Christ himself is actually the substance of God’s mystery (2:2), and in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:3).
  • It is by faith in Christ that believers are to walk and be built up and established (2:6-7).
  • Believers are filled in Christ (2:10).
  • Christ is the head of all rule and authority (2:10).
  • In Christ believers are spiritually circumcised (2:11).
  • As evidence of this spiritual circumcision, believers are baptized and raised in Christ through faith by God’s power (2:12).
  • In Christ believers are made alive (2:13).
  • In Christ God has triumphed over and crushed and put to shame his enemies (2:15).
  • Christ is the substance of all Old Testament shadows (2:16-17).
  • Christ is the head of the body, and the body grows only through its union to him (2:19).
  • Believers have died with Christ to rules and traditions influenced by demonic and pagan forces and man-made religion (2:20-23).

Christ is supreme, indeed.

Categories
Theology

An Interview with the Apostle Paul on Faith, Works, Law, and Gospel

Thanks for joining me this morning as I interview the one and only, Apostle Paul. Paul, thanks for joining me today and helping me understand Galatians 3 a bit better. What a wonderful section, by the way! Well, anyway, let’s get started. Can you tell me the audience you have in mind?
Those who have been bewitched and are deserting him who called them in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.

Wow, strong language. Why is this such an important issue to you?
It was before their eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.

Interesting. Well, note-to-self: a “different” gospel lacks the grace of Christ and the cross of Christ. I’ll remember that. What was your central concern as you wrote this portion of the letter?
Let me ask you…do we receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?…Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit and works miracles do so by works of the law or by hearing with faith?

I see. Let me try to sum that up: your central concern seems to be that faith, not works, is the foundation for the Christian’s life in the Spirit and progress toward perfection. Why is this the case?
[It was this way for]…Abraham [who] believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.

What does Abraham have to do with this?
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

Now Paul, I’m a Gentile (Polish, German, and Italian mainly, with a bit of Serbian). And the Galatians, they were Gentiles too. Why involve this Jewish patriarch?
[Because] the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Earlier, you mentioned that we do not receive the Spirit by works of the law. What would happen if I relied on works of the law?
All who rely on the law are under a curse.

Why?
It is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

But aren’t the most righteous people in the world those who live by the letter of the law? I mean, doesn’t their morality merit favor with God?
It is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

But isn’t the law of faith?
The law is not of faith, rather, “The one who does them shall live by them.”

This all seems like terrible news–no one can be perfect. How then can we be redeemed from this curse of the law?
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.

How did Christ become a curse for us?
[As] it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”

Of course! But going back to Abraham again: what then does this have to do with him and his children?
[This was] so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Can you give an illustration or example to help me understand?
Even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.

I’m not following you.
The promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

I’m still lost, Paul. Can you explain further?
This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Now I understand. So, just as a human covenant cannot be changed, so God’s promise (his covenant) to Abraham cannot be made void just because of the law–which came more than four centuries later anyway. In light of this, what is the purpose of the law?
It was added because of transgressions.

How long would the law be in effect?
Until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.

Paul, I get the Abraham tie-in. But, angels? What gives? 
An intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Alright, so the law, given by angels, is not the fullest and final revelation of God. God’s ultimate revelation of himself comes from himself—in Christ—not from someone else. If all this is true, then wouldn’t it seem that the law is contrary to the promises of God?
Certainly not!

Why?
For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

Why didn’t God establish a law that could give life and righteousness?
The Scriptures imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

So that brings it back to your central concern: faith is foundational in the Christian life. Those who trust in Christ receive the blessing promised to Abraham. You sure do tie up all your loose ends, Paul. But what about before Christ came and the possibility of faith in him?
Before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

Since we now know Christ and have faith in his finished work, does that change things with the law?
Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

Does that change the way God views us?
In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

We are sons of God, baptized into Christ, and clothed with Christ. Awesome! What then are the implications of this for everyday life?
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Marvelous. Beautiful. To close, can you sum up your argument in 140 characters or less? (That’s a popular way people express themselves in the 21st century.)
If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Thanks, Paul, for joining me! Again, Galatians 3 and this interview have proved beneficial to me, and I trust it will do the same for our readers. Praise God! 

Categories
Ministry Theology

Some Characteristics of Paul’s Missionary Methods

The apostle Paul is the greatest missionary Christianity has ever known, behind only the Lord Jesus himself. Paul used many missionary methods in his journeys. Of course, all of his methods and strategies were subject to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This may actually be considered the supreme characteristic of Paul’s methods. Aside from this however, Paul’s methods contained a number of others which still inform our missionary efforts today. Here are five, and each of them build upon the previous one.

  1. Paul committed to preaching Christ where he has not already been named. In Romans 15:20, Paul makes clear that this is his intention and goal in his ministry. Paul saw himself as a minister of the gospel who would reach new people and not build on someone else’s foundation (Rom. 15:20; 2 Cor. 10:16). He was not a “pastor” in our modern sense. He was a multi-church planter who constantly moved from one location to another. This does not mean that in our day we should not plant churches in already reached areas; Paul’s time and ministry was unique as the church was in its formative stages. However, the principle still remains: there is great importance for the church to recognize and send those whom God has called to a Pauline-type ministry to spread the gospel among the unreached. This leads to a second characteristic of church planting.
  2. Paul’s missionary ministry focused on church planting. Paul’s goal was not to simply evangelize people in order to gain a host of individual converts. His goal was to evangelize and gather God’s people into local congregations. As mentioned above, Paul was not a planter-pastor who planted a church and stayed there for a long period of time. Once a church was established and functioning, Paul and his team moved on. This informs our missionary efforts today, reminding us that establishing local bodies of worshipers, not simply getting individuals saved, is our main task. This leads to a third characteristic of how converts and congregations were established.
  3. Paul’s preaching centered on the story of Jesus. Paul was less interested in evidential apologetics and philosophical debates and more interested in simply sharing the story of God’s work in the world. His goal was to “preach Christ” (1 Cor. 1:24; cf. Col. 1:28) as the center and climax of God’s unfolding story of redemption. In our day, preaching denominational distinctives or simply external morality should not be the content of missionary preaching. As Paul did, so too we preach Christ and the fact that he is the fulfillment of God’s redemptive drama. This characteristic leads to the next, which answers the question, “What happens after people believe in Jesus?”
  4. Paul desired to develop believers so that they might experience their inheritance in Christ and be ready for his second coming. Paul did not want shallow Christians. His goal was not to gain converts but to make disciples. He wanted mature believers who knew of the incredibly spiritual riches they had in Christ. The letter to the Ephesians, particularly 1:3-14, shows Paul’s heart to develop Christians to, in a sense, become what they already are in Christ. Paul wanted believers to be ready for Christ’s return (1 Thess. 3:13), and he was confident that God would provide everything necessary to make this happen (Phil 1:6; Phil. 2:13). The churches needed godly leadership to accomplish this, which is the last characteristic.
  5. Paul worked to develop local leaders over local congregations. Paul appointed and empowered elders in Ephesus to watch over and care for the flock (Acts 20:28). The pastorals explicitly show Paul’s effort to establish local leadership in churches. This is particularly important for our contemporary situation. Churches may mature and be effective with foreign leadership. However, for local churches to truly thrive and operate optimally there must be godly, indigenous leadership. Only then will the local believers “own” the life and ministry of the church.

These five characteristics are not exhaustive, of course. But they do provide a good “big picture” structure of Paul’s ministry. If you are a missionary, does your work reflect this model? What are some other characteristics of Paul that are essential to biblical missions? Let’s pray that all of our modern missionary efforts to unreached and under-reached people’s reflect God’s work through the apostle Paul!

Categories
Life

Weekly Spurgeon

From Morning and Evening

“I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”
– Philippians 3:8

Spiritual knowledge of Christ will be a personal knowledge. I cannot know Jesus through another person’s acquaintance with Him. No, I must know Him myself; I must know Him on my own account. It will be an intelligent knowledge–I must know Him, not as the visionary dreams of Him, but as the Word reveals Him. I must know His natures, divine and human. I must know His offices–His attributes–His works–His shame–His glory. I must meditate upon Him until I “comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.” It will be an affectionate knowledge of Him; indeed, if I know Him at all, I must love Him. An ounce of heart knowledge is worth a ton of head learning. Our knowledge of Him will be a satisfying knowledge. When I know my Saviour, my mind will be full to the brim–I shall feel that I have that which my spirit panted after. “This is that bread whereof if a man eat he shall never hunger.” At the same time it will be an exciting knowledge; the more I know of my Beloved, the more I shall want to know. The higher I climb the loftier will be the summits which invite my eager footsteps. I shall want the more as I get the more. Like the miser’s treasure, my gold will make me covet more. To conclude; this knowledge of Christ Jesus will be a most happy one; in fact, so elevating, that sometimes it will completely bear me up above all trials, and doubts, and sorrows; and it will, while I enjoy it, make me something more than “Man that is born of woman, who is of few days, and full of trouble”; for it will fling about me the immortality of the everliving Saviour, and gird me with the golden girdle of His eternal joy. Come, my soul, sit at Jesus’s feet and learn of Him all this day.