Altars and Tents

And Abram moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. (Genesis 12:8)

God had told Abram to get out of his country and go to the place God would show him. God’s commands rarely come with reasons, though sometimes we feel the right to demand them.

Though God rarely gives reasons, He often gives promises with His commands. Without going into great detail, God promised Abram a land, a nation, and a blessing. However, if he was to make them his own, he had to follow through and be obedient to God. Though his full obedience was a slow in coming, it came.

True faith will embrace both God’s promise and His command. The great Scottish preacher Alexander Maclaren said: “Some people’s faith says that it delights in God’s promises, but it does not delight in His commandments. That is no faith at all. Whoever takes God at His word, will take all His words. There is no faith without obedience; there is no true obedience without faith.”

Before Abram’s faith could fully inherit the promise of receiving a land, it had to obey God’s command to separate from his old country and his family. God still requires that those who will receive new life in Jesus separate themselves from the damaging aspects of their old life. You really can’t have it both ways. Either your faith will separate you from the world, or the world will separate you from your faith and your God.

Genesis 12:8 shows there are two emblems that can always be associated with a true man or woman of faith: the tent and the altar.

The tent speaks of someone who lives as a traveler; a person who is a sojourner or a pilgrim. They recognize that the land they are in is not their home; therefore they live in a tent, not a house. Every true man and woman of faith recognizes that this world is not their home; they are only visiting this planet. They are citizens of a better country, of a New Jerusalem that will come down from heaven, not one that can be built on this earth. They live and work on the earth, but always with the consciousness that they are really aliens and pilgrims; they will one day travel on to their true country.

The altar is the other mark of the man or woman of faith. It speaks of a life of worship and sacrifice. Though this world is not our own, while we are here we will worship our God, and give our life to Him as a sacrifice of service. The world will see our altars of worship, and they will testify to everyone that there are those who honor and worship God in this land, that there are those who will sacrifice in order to please their God.

May God grant us the power and the grace to be such examples, and to forever live lives that testify to the tent of the pilgrim and the altar of the worshipper.

Gambling on God

“Because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his own life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me.” (Philippians 2:30)

The Christians in Philippi had a close relationship with the Apostle Paul. They even sent a special messenger to Paul, carrying encouragement and support from the Philippians to Paul while he was still is prison. This messenger, named Epaphroditus, became sick while on his mission.

The noble heart of Epaphroditus was evident because he put the work of Jesus first, and his own personal safety and concern second. He was willing to do something extreme for God. Paul even wrote that Epaphroditus didn’t regard his own life – but when he wrote that, he used a special phrase worthy of our notice.

The phrase “not regarding his life” was used in Paul’s day as a gambler’s word. It meant to risk everything on the roll of the dice. Paul meant that for the sake of Jesus Christ, Epaphroditus was willing to gamble everything. What are we willing to risk for Jesus? People today will take incredible risks for fame, fortune, or just an adrenaline rush. Yet are we willing to risk anything for God? Perhaps that is a good way to find out just what our God is – our God is whatever we will take the biggest risk for. With that in mind, what is your God?

In the days of the Early Church there was an association of men and women who called themselves “the gamblers,” taken from this same Greek word used in Philippians 2:30. It was their aim to visit the prisoners and the sick, especially those who were ill with dangerous and infectious diseases. Often, when plague struck a city, the heathen threw the dead bodies into the streets and fled in terror. But the gamblers – these Christians who risked everything for Jesus – buried the dead and helped the sick the best they could, and so risked their lives to show the love of Jesus.

When a gambler takes a risk, there is always a probability that he will fail. The odds are always in favor of the house. But when we are God’s “gamblers” – as Epaphroditus was – we can never lose. What is God calling you to do that seems risky? For some of us, obedience in a particular area seems too risky – it’s too big of a gamble. But the only sure way to win is to put your wager on God and risk it all. We can never lose when we bet on God.

Take Heed to the Ministry

And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” (Colossians 4:17)

In the closing section of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he mentioned many fellow Christians by name. The number of names is impressive – 11 in total, as well as two references to groups of people. Some of the people named were with Paul and he sent a greeting from them. Others were in Colosse (or near by) and Paul wanted to greet them specifically.

The number of names shows us that Paul had a lot of friends and co-laborers in his work for God’s kingdom. The variety of names means that the gospel effectively reached people of all kinds. Here are mentioned a variety of people from different background and circumstances. It shows that one of the amazing strengths of early Christianity was that it drew people of all kinds together into one common faith.

Going from Paul we have a man carrying a letter (Tychicus) and an escaped slave returning to his work (Onesimus).

Staying with Paul were Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus (also named Jesus). These men were a blessing and a comfort to Paul during his imprisonment. Epaphras, who came from Colosse, also stayed with Paul, at least for a time. Doctor Luke and Demas were also with Paul and sent their greetings.

They all sent greetings to the church Colosse, but also to the church in the city of Laodicea. Special greetings went to Nymphas (we don’t know if this was a man’s or a woman’s name in this context) and the believers who met in their house.

Finally, there was a word to Archippus – or rather, a word they were supposed to say to Archippus. They were supposed to say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry”.

I suppose Archippus would be there when they read Paul’s letter to the congregation. Toward the end of the letter as this line was read, everyone would turn to Archippus and wish him just what Paul said. They would tell him to take heed to the ministry.

This encouragement to Archippus spoke both to him and also to us regarding some enduring principles of serving God.

  • God gives ministry to His people.
  • True ministry is received in the Lord.
  • Ministry may be left unfulfilled – if we aren’t careful.
  • One must take heed to their ministry in order for it to be fulfilled.
  • We should encourage others to fulfill their ministry.

Is there some way God has given you to serve Him, His people, and a world that needs Jesus? Then be an Archippus and take heed to your ministry, the one you received in the Lord.

Grace and Salt

Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. (Colossians 4:5-6)

In the previous lines Paul wrote about prayer in the Christian life. But the Christian life isn’t only lived in the prayer closet. There also must be practical, lived-out Christianity, which lives wisely toward those who are outside. How we speak has a lot to do with this, so we must let our speech always be with grace, seasons with salt.

In those early days of Christianity, lots of false reports went about regarding the followers of Jesus. Terrible lies about Christians were widely promoted. Yet the simple, wise living of everyday believers went a long way to proving those false reports wrong.

Christians are often judged by what they say and how they say it. Everything should to be marked with grace, which can mean both God’s grace and human graciousness. The idea of seasoned with salt is to speak with wit and humor. That’s a great combination – both grace and wit. William Barclay translated Colossians 4:6 this way: Let your speech always be with gracious charm, seasoned with the salt of wit, so that you will know the right answer to give in every case.

Our conversation will then be both pleasant and wise, and those who don’t yet know Jesus will like speaking with us. Ask for more grace and extra “salt” for your speaking, so much so that people want to speak with you.

All this helps us to know how you ought to answer each one. Paul believed that Christians would answer others from Biblical truth, and that they would work at knowing how to communicate those answers to those who are outside.

This section of Paul’s letter to the Colossians shows that God cares both about our personal prayer life and our interaction with the world. He cares both about the prayer closet and the public street, and He wants us to care about both also.

This is also an important idea to connect with the earlier passages of Colossians. Paul spent a lot of time in this letter explaining the truth and answering bad teaching. Yet all that correct knowledge was of little good until it was applied in both the prayer closet and the public street of daily life. We could say that here, Paul genuinely completed this letter. Now it is up to us to both pray and speak right, full of grace and salt.

Prayer, Earnest and Awake

Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2-4)

We know that the Apostle Paul prayed for the Colossian Christians. An example of his prayer for them is found in Colossians 1:3-8. Paul prayed for them, now toward the end of his letter, he told them to keep on praying themselves.

Specifically, Paul told them (and all Christians) to continue earnestly in prayer. This sort of earnest prayer is important, but does not come easy. Earnestly in prayer speaks of great effort that is steadily applied. Much of our prayer is powerless because it lacks earnestness. Too often we pray almost with the attitude of wanting God to care about things we really don’t care too much about.

Earnest prayer has power not because it in itself persuades a reluctant God. Instead, it demonstrates that our heart cares passionately about the same things God cares about. This fulfills what Jesus promised in John 15:7: If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you.

Our prayers are not only to be earnest, but also vigilant. According to William Barclay, the idea behind the word translated vigilant is awake. In a sense, Paul told us to not fall asleep in prayer. Sometimes, because of the tiredness of our body or mind, we struggle against sleep when we pray. Other times we pray as if we were asleep, and our prayers simply sound and feel tired, sleepy.

Our earnestness and vigilance should also have thanksgiving. God gives us so much and blesses us with so much, that we should always thank Him as we ask Him.

Paul went on to give them something specific to pray for –himself! He wrote, “meanwhile praying also for us.” Paul seemed to say, “As long as we are on the subject of prayer, please pray for us!” But Paul didn’t ask for prayer for his personal needs (which were many), but that God would open to us a door for the word. Paul knew that when God’s word was active and free to work, great things happened for God.

Finally, notice that Paul asked the Colossians to pray for his preaching, so that he could speak the mystery of Christ, and do it as he ought to speak. When Paul wrote this, he was in chains for proclaiming the word of God. He wanted Christians to pray that he would keep doing proclaiming God’s word, and do it better all the time.

Pray earnestly, pray vigilantly – and if you can, pray for me. If Paul needed that prayer, I need it much more. Pray that the Lord continues to give David Guzik open doors to spread God’s word, and that I may proclaim His word as I ought to speak. Thank you!

 

Undercover Boss

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:32-24)

This section of Paul’s letter to the Colossians reads almost like the book of Proverbs. It is filled with lots of practical, easy to understand instruction about a wisdom-filled life that glorifies God. In this part, the apostle wrote to bondservants – people obligated in employment to others. It’s not a perfect analogy, but the ancient bondservant-master relationship was something like the modern employee-employer relationship.

In that context, Paul told the Colossians (and us today) to do everything heartily, as to the Lord. The “do” in this context mainly has in mind the work we do, but it really can be extended to everything we do.

Whatever you do, do it heartily. Put some passion and effort into what you do. Don’t work or play like a robot, doing a job but with no heart. It’s been said that there are no boring days, only boring people. Whether at work or play, living life heartily reflects the glory of God and it gives Him glory.

Whatever you do, do it as to the Lord. Realize that in work your real boss is God. In recreation your real partner is God. He is Master and Lord over all, so all should be done as to Him. If God directly asked you to clean a window, you would do a great job. Doing everything as to Him makes a big difference in attitude and performance. No Christian should be a dishonest, lazy, or unreliable worker.

Whatever you do, do it not to men. It is likely that a flesh and blood human being is your supervisor or customer. Like all humans, they have their faults. This usually affects your attitude toward what you do for them. Yet the Christian does not ultimately serve men, but God. Lift your service to heaven; elevate it from earth.

Whatever you do, realize you will receive the reward. Sometimes hard work does not get rewarded on earth. But God knows how to take care of His people, and for them none of what they have done as to the Lord will go unrewarded. Do your work heartily and as to the Lord and you will always come out ahead.

At the end of verse 24 Paul repeated an idea when he wrote, for you serve the Lord Christ. According to Wright, this is an unusual phrase. Elsewhere in his letters Paul wrote the Lord Jesus Christ. It may be that Paul’s idea was that our true master, our true boss is Jesus. So remember whom you work for—you serve the Lord Christ.

If we think of Jesus as our true boss, remember that He was and is the greatest “undercover boss” of all time. He came to live, serve, and suffer among us. Jesus knew what hard work was like in all His years as a carpenter or builder. He did all His work heartily, as unto His Father. He can sympathize with you in the difficulties you have to doing whatever you do heartily as unto the Lord, and He can strengthen you to do it better. Then, at the end of it all, He rewards you for what He strengthened you to do! You’ll never find a better boss than Jesus.

A Word to the Family

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them. Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (Colossians 3:18-21)

Inspired by God, the Apostle Paul wrote to Christians, telling them about life in the Spirit. In this section he applied the idea of walking in the Spirit to the Christian family. There are specific things for Christian husbands, wives, children, and parents to keep in mind as they seek to live to the honor of Jesus.

We shouldn’t regard these things as the only message God has for the Christian family. There is much more, especially in the general instruction God gives regarding life in the Spirit. If we would simply live more faithful Christian lives, we would surely get along better in our families. You can find much more specific instruction on the Christian marriage in this audio teaching series. Here’s what we find in Colossians 3:18-21:

The word to wives is submit. The idea of submission doesn’t have anything to do with someone being smarter or better or more talented. It has to do with a God-appointed order. Men and women have absolutely equal standing before God (as in Galatians 3:28), but God appoints particular roles and functions. This isn’t submission that is demanded, but done because it is fitting the Lord.

The word to husbands is love. In the Christian marriage, this safeguards the instruction to the wife. Though wives are to submit to their husbands, it never excuses husbands acting as tyrants over their wives. A husband’s leadership in the home must be a leadership of love.

The word to children is obey. Children who are still in their parents’ household and under their authority must not only honor their father and mother (as in Ephesians 6:2), but they must also obey them, and in all things.

The word to parents is do not provoke. Children have a responsibility to obey, but parents have a responsibility to not provoke their children. Parents can provoke their children by being too harsh, too demanding, too controlling, unforgiving, or just plain angry. This harshness can be expressed through words, through actions, or through non-verbal communication.

In it all, we should also take away a point that is obvious but sometimes is overlooked. All this shows us that God cares about your family. Right now your family might be a blessing or a burden to you, but either way God cares. You can pray and boldly obey with that knowledge strengthening your faith every step of the way.

Do It All

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:17)

We are made new men (or new women) in Jesus Christ out of the free gift of His grace. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead works in the believer, bringing new life and a new heart. The changes of the new life don’t happen all at once, and the changing isn’t complete until we are glorified in heaven.

The new man needs instruction. He is ready to learn and instinctively wants to obey God, so he wants to be taught. That’s why the Bible gives new men and new women practical instruction on how to live – what to do and what not to do.

Every once in a while we read a wonderful summary statement, something that is easily remembered as a solid guide to how we should live as new men and women in Jesus Christ. Colossians 3:17 is one of those statements.

It first speaks to whatever you do in word or deed. That covers just about everything; every word spoken, every deed done. God cares about them all.

Here is what God wants us to do with every word and every deed: do them all in the name of the Lord Jesus. Simply said, the new man (or woman) lives his life, all his life, for Jesus. They are only interested in doing the things that can be done according to the character of Jesus, consistent with the honor of Jesus, and with the heart of Jesus. The new man only wants to do things that Jesus could put His name on, that Jesus would endorse.

This gives a wonderful guide for the tough choices we sometimes face. We wonder if something should be permitted or denied in our life. Ask the question: “Could Jesus put His name to this? Can I do this in the name of the Lord Jesus?” If you apply that to every word you speak and every deed you do, you will have a good guide.

You can only know that if you know something of Jesus, and the only truly reliable place to learn Jesus is from God’s word, especially the four gospels. The better you know Jesus through His word, the better you will be able to do everything in word and deed in His name.

For certain, sometimes you will get it wrong. Yet even in those times God will see and honor your heart, if the true goal was to say and do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.

The last aspect of this to think about is that we also do everything giving thanks to God the Father through Him. We say and do all things with an attitude of gratitude to God, remembering all He has done in the past and all He promises for the future. In the past, present, and future we all have reasons to be thankful.

Word and Worship

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3:16)

In Colossians 3 Paul described how the new man (or woman) in Jesus Christ lives. It’s a life with a high calling, marked by love, humility, patience, and peace. Because the new you is patterned after Jesus Himself, all those things that are in Jesus are in the new man.

Paul then told us a further way we should walk in the life of the new man. We must let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Simply said, the new man walks in the word of God and in worship with other believers.

Notice, the word of God – here called the word of Christ – is to supposed to live in those who are the followers of Jesus. It isn’t just that we are supposed to read and hear the word of Christ, though that is where it starts. The word of Jesus is to live in us, taking root and residence richly in our innermost being.

It isn’t only the word of God that should live in us, we also teach and encourage each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Since Paul wrote in this in the context of one another, the idea seems to be connected with congregational worship. The songs we sing together:

  • Should be Scriptural (coming from the word of Christ).
  • Should teach and encourage us (teaching and admonishing).
  • Should have variety (psalms and hymns and spiritual songs).
  • Should actually be sung (singing).
  • Should be sung with grace in your hearts.
  • Should be unto to the Lord.

When Christians gather for worship, they should sing. They should sing with the thought that they are all something of a choir, singing for the pleasure of God in heaven. It’s not that musicians on the platform sing for the pleasure of the congregation with God helping them. The idea is that the congregation sings for the pleasure of God with the musicians helping them.

We find another idea with the phrase, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. If we sing with grace in our hearts, some of that grace will be extended towards those musicians and singers who hope to lead us in congregational singing.

Finally, we notice the connection between the word and worship. Ideally, they are two aspects of ministry that work together in harmony and strength. If we love the word but don’t like to worship, something is wrong. If we love worship but don’t appreciate the ministry of the word, something is also wrong. They are both essential parts of the life of the new man or new woman in Jesus Christ.

Peace Rules

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

What rules in your heart?

For some people anger rules in their heart. For others it is passion. Some have comfort ruling in their heart.

In Colossians 3:15 the Apostle Paul told believers in Jesus that the peace of God should rule in their hearts. It’s a wonderful and remarkable statement.

First, it is the peace of God – not the peace of man, not the peace of surrender, not the peace of compromise. God’s peace is both the peace He has and the peace He gives. God lives in perfect peace. He isn’t anxious or troubled about anything. Jesus gave us the gift of God’s perfect peace (John 14:27), and by faith this peace can be ours and can rule in our hearts.

When peace rules in my heart, I can let God’s peace guide me regarding decisions and issues. One path may have God’s peace upon it and the other may be disturbed and conflicted. If I have no sense of God’s peace in any direction, perhaps it is time to wait altogether.

This may work in an individual way, where a person is guided and confirmed in direction by their sense of the peace of God. But the idea here is much bigger than the individual. Notice first that Paul wrote about hearts in the plural, not in the singular. It has the idea of hearts gathered together, not in isolation.

Even more, Paul added the thought to which also you were called in one body. When God called us together in one body, He called us together in peace. When peace rules among us, it means that peace should characterize the community of God’s people. If as a group of people we are characterized by anger and arguing, or by conflict and confusion, then it isn’t God’s peace.

When people look at our churches and our Christian communities, they should be able to say, “Look at the peace among those people. The peace of God certainly rules here.”

So if anything else has taken the rule over your heart, tell it to step aside. No longer should anger or passion or comfort rule in your heart. As the power of the crucified and risen Jesus fills your life, the peace of God will reign. And as Paul wrote at the end of Colossians 3:15, that’s something to be thankful for.