Posts Tagged ‘Hope’

Introduction to Colossians

Introduction to Colossians

© C. O. Bishop 5/25/2018 Cornell Estates 5/27/2018

Colossians 1:1-8

Introduction:

The epistle to the church at Colosse is written by the Apostle Paul, as were more than half the books of the New Testament. It was written about the same time as the epistles to Philemon and to the church at Ephesus, evidently, as it was carried by the same messenger(s). We must bear in mind, though, that, while the human writer is Paul, the true Author is the Living Word, the Lord Jesus. So, this is the Written Word of God, and we will approach it with that in mind. All scripture must agree with the rest of scripture. Whenever we think we may have found a contradiction, we can rest assured that, with more careful study, we will confirm that the discrepancy was just due to our own misunderstanding.

Are there different styles of writing from one human writer to another? Certainly, there are, just as the marks left on wood by my hand-plane are different than those left by a drawknife or a scraper…or a saw, for example. But my hand was the one guiding each tool, and I can accurately claim to have “handcrafted” the resulting project, regardless of what it is. I’m the maker!

God’s Word bears the stylistic and vocabulary-related marks of his various chosen tools, the writers of the Bible. But it is truly all “One Book, by One Author.” And it has one central theme, the Person and Work of Christ. In fact, the entire Bible is structured around God’s redemptive plan for the fallen human race: and Jesus is that plan.

This epistle is not nearly so personal as the one written to the church at Philippi, as Paul did not know the people in this church as intimately as he did those at Philippi. He knew them mainly by reputation, evidently, through Epaphras, who, it seems, may have planted that church. The result then, can be seen even in the opening greeting: it is not nearly so tenderly, and passionately worded as is the letter to the believers at Philippi. The people at Philippi were his intimate friends and fellow-laborers. That church was his only regularly supporting church, even though, ironically, it was not his “home-church” He was initially sent out from Antioch, but his relationship with Philippi seems to be the closest he had with any individual church.

So, while the greeting to the church at Colosse is not “cold,” or impersonal: it is simply to a group with whom he had less close ties, so it is a little more reserved. Paul begins by introducing himself and Timothy to the believers at Colosse:

Sent From God –To You!

1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother,
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul introduced himself simply as “an Apostle of Jesus Christ (a “sent one”) by the will of God (not self-appointed), and Timothy, our brother. No special accolades, no boasting about his great education, or his other credentials, nor even a list of all the churches he had personally planted (and there were many): He was “sent by God”…and that was it. The same was true for Timothy: He was just a faithful brother. Do you see the simplicity of service, here? It is a privilege to serve: just do it!

I think it is noteworthy that the letter is not addressed to the “Pastor”, nor to the “Deacons and Elders”, nor yet to the “Church Board of Trustees”, or any such thing. It is to the “saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse.” It is to the Church, proper. All the church epistles are addressed to the churches, not to the leaders, nor any sort of authority figures. By the way, the Bible knows nothing of friars, abbots, sextons, monks, cardinals and popes, etc. They are entirely invented by humans.

Position and Condition

The letter was to the “saints” (the word “saints” means “holy ones”…they were made holy by their position in Christ) and the faithful (believing) brethren “in Christ.” That is a key phrase: our position in Christ along with His indwelling Holy Spirit in us, is all that sets us apart from the World around us; just as Noah’s position inside the Ark was all that set him apart from his neighbors who were outside. Consider the end result of our position, and that of Noah. All in the Ark lived because of their position inside the Ark. All in Christ live (eternally) because of our position in Christ.

What does it mean, to say that the believers, the saints, the “holy ones”, are “holy” before God? It literally means that we are “set apart” for God’s service. It means that we are His private, personal property, and that we are for His service and His pleasure. We often forget this truth, and think that we are here to please ourselves. We forget that we are called to “be holy as He is Holy.” It does not mean we wander around with a halo over us, and our palms pressed together, or any such silliness: it means that we belong to Jesus Christ; and it makes perfect sense that we should actively seek to serve Him, as His chosen vessels for the Gospel; His ambassadors to the lost World around us.

Paul focused on that one positional attribute that all believers share: We are in Christ. And, as we can observe in Colossians 4:16, this epistle was intended to be a “circular letter:” It was to be read in other churches as well. It is to us, as believers in Christ. We are in Christ, by the new Birth, through Faith, so this letter is addressed to us, personally. As we study, try to keep in mind that this is literally God’s letter to you! Take it personally!

Also, consider this: Paul’s position in Christ was more important than his specific task, as an Apostle. And, an Apostle was not more “in Christ” than any other believer. The first concern is our position. But once that position is secured (and it is a permanent change), our condition before the Lord becomes our first concern. Am I walking with Him? And, finally, am I exercising my gifts? Am I doing what He has called me to do? Part of being “faithful” is being committed, and reliable. Yes, the word “faithful” means “the believers”, but the kind of faith God calls us to exercise is also intended to produce “faithfulness”, in the sense of reliability. Can God count on you to obey Him on a daily basis? Can others count on you to be the man or woman of God you are called to be? Can they trust you to live a Godly example for them, both in words and actions?

Grace and Peace

In verse two, as in virtually every Pauline epistle, is Paul’s opening blessing, praying for God’s sustaining Grace in the lives of the believers, resulting in His abiding Peace. These two ideas always come in that order: Grace, then Peace. In Salvation, we received saving Grace, through faith, and it resulted in Peace with God. On a daily, living basis, we receive God’s sustaining Grace, again through daily renewed faith, and it results in the Peace of God. Both flow from the Father and the Son, to us. “Grace be to you, and Peace.” Always in that order!

Thanksgiving and Prayer—Faith and Love

Paul may not actually have known these people, personally: but he said that he and Timothy had been praying for them, and giving thanks for their walk with God ever since they had heard of their faith in the person of Jesus Christ, and their love for the believers around them.

We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,

This is how we are supposed to respond to other believers, based on our faith in Christ, and our position in Him. Jesus gave us the commandment that we are to love one another as He loved us. These believers were doing exactly what Jesus said to do, and Paul and Timothy were overjoyed to hear of it. Keep in mind, too, that Salvation is a gift, not a reward. Faith in the Gospel brings Salvation, which gives us Hope. Obedience brings reward.

Our Hope and our Coming Reward

Paul and Timothy gave thanks especially because of the Hope that was secured for these believers, including the reward that was in store for them in Heaven. Paul reminds them that they (the believers) already knew about this, too.

For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;

What is the “Hope that is laid up for us in Heaven?” Our hope is eternal life with Christ; being finally separated from our sins, and the trials of this life. We hope for a new body, free from the ravages of age and disease, and for the literal, physical presence of the Lord Himself, the fulfillment of all the promises of God. We look for a new heaven and a new earth, where the damage done by man is all in the forgotten past, and Joy surrounds us like the air and the sunlight.

All this and more is “laid up for us”…it is on deposit, credited to our account, since the moment we each trusted Jesus’s blood at the Cross as full payment for our sins. Eternal Life is already ours. Reward is accumulated as we allow God the freedom to use our lives.

I remember, when I had first trusted Jesus as my Savior, but still knew almost nothing about the rest of the Bible, a friend, who knew I was just recently saved, asked “Are you looking forward to going to heaven?” I replied honestly that I wasn’t even sure whether I believed in a heaven or hell; I only knew that I needed Jesus now! But as I began to read His Word, I soon came to see The Bible as “first and final authority,” in all things, so that I eventually saw that, “if God says it; that settles it,” whether I personally believe it or not. And, as it happened, it turns out that the Bible does have a fair amount to say about both heaven and hell, so that I gradually came to understand a few things about eternity. And, yes, I eventually understood that my “hope” had been “laid up for me in heaven,” immediately, when I first believed, though I knew nothing about it. Later, I learned that there was a reward involved, too, though I still don’t really feel I know much about that part.

The Gospel and the World

Paul also says that that Gospel had been going out to the whole world just as it had come to Colosse. The Gospel is for everyone, but not everyone has heard it.

Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:

What is the “Gospel”? We hear the word used in a lot of ways, including the idea that “gospel” must mean “truth,” because people say, “No, really, that is the gospel truth!” when talking about things that have nothing to do with the Bible, but which they believe to be absolutely true. The Greek word translated “Gospel” is “euaggelion”, which means “Glad tidings”—good news. The Gospel of Christ, as it is presented in the Bible, has to include at least the following things:

  • The fact that Jesus Christ died for our sins, in fulfillment of scripture (fulfillment of God’s eternal promise.)
  • The fact that he was buriedreally dead, pierced through by the Roman spear, after dying on the Cross. Dead and buried, wrapped up like a mummy, and interred in a rock tomb with a heavy stone for a seal. This also fulfilled prophecy.
  • The fact that He rose from the dead after three days and three nights in the tomb, also in direct fulfillment of scriptural prophecy, and the fact that he was seen alive by many witnesses, over a period of forty days after his resurrection.

Why do I list these three things? Because, in 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4, Paul listed them in that order, as being the core truths of the Gospel of Christ: the “Good News” which, being believed in, has the power to save those who believe. (Romans 1:16) When I review, in my own mind, any recent conversation in which I attempted to share the Gospel with an acquaintance, I’m questioning whether I really offered that person “the Gospel:” Did I really include the death, and burial and resurrection of Christ, or did I just tell them “how wonderful the Christian life is?” (Sorry, that is not the Gospel…and not really even true, in many respects: Paul says, over in Philippians 1:29, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on his name, but also to suffer for His sake.” That doesn’t sound very “wonderful” to most people.)

The Gospel is the Good News of Eternal life in Christ, and how it was purchased for us by the death, and burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the Christ. The Messiah. And, being believed in, it is the Power of God to save sinners…and it is the only thing so described in the scriptures. If I leave out the necessary ingredients, is it still the “Gospel?” Can I still expect it to work to change lives, if I leave out those key points? The answer to both questions, is “NO!”

Faith and Responsibility

So, why did I mention that “not everyone has heard the gospel? Because Paul pointed that out, too, over in 1st Corinthians 15:34, saying “Awake to righteousness and sin not, for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.” Our faith brings responsibility.

Paul is only reminding these believers, at Colosse, of things they had already been taught: He says that Epaphras taught them these doctrines, earlier. And that he (Epaphras) was also the one who told Paul and Timothy about their vibrant faith:

As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;
Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.

So, evidently Epaphras is the one who led them to Christ, and who planted that church, and who had continued to serve them, teaching and encouraging and helping them mature in their faith…and the church was doing well. Notice that Paul uses Epaphras as an example: he calls him a “dear fellow servant” and reminds them that Epaphras has been a “faithful minister of Christ” to them. He was a faithful servant of Christ, bringing them the message of salvation, and training them up as men and women of God. The word “minister” means “servant.” It is not a special “religious” term. It was and still is used in many walks of life to mean a servant. Epaphras served Christ by serving them with the Word of God.

Now, he had the opportunity to report to Paul and Timothy what GOD had been doing in Colosse. He was not claiming personal credit for the changes in their lives. Only the Holy Spirit could make those changes happen. And Paul and Timothy were rejoicing with Him for God’s victory at Colosse.

Paul was very encouraged to hear of the inroad of the Gospel in that town. He wrote this letter to encourage them and to help them to become more established in their faith. He goes on to say that, ever since he heard of their new-found faith, he had been praying for them: Next time, we will see what sorts of things Paul prayed for, in the lives of these believers.

Lord Jesus, open our hearts to your word. Fill us with your Spirit, and let us grow in faith, as these believers were growing in faith. Teach us the meaning of practical holiness, and remake us all into your image. Allow us to serve as your ministers, bringing your Grace to those around us.

 


Unity Despite Differences

Responding to Differences with Unity

© C. O. Bishop 10/21/16 THCF 10/23/16

 Romans 15:1-7

Introduction:

1We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.
For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.

Romans 15:1-7 concludes Paul’s argument in Romans 14:1-23. I have no idea why the translators (or Erasmus…whoever) chose to place the chapter division at Romans 14:23 instead of seven verses later. The second word, “then”, shows that it is definitely a continuation of the idea being taught all the way through chapter 14. It is actually the conclusion of the context, though the concept in verse 23 has such impact that possibly they chose to end the chapter on that note just to maintain the impact of that statement. I just don’t know.

But Paul says, in v.1-3, “We then who are strong ought to bear (endure) the infirmities of them that are weak, and not to please ourselves.” I wonder how far this can be taken. Doesn’t this ultimately pool infirmity and ignorance, so that the whole body grows weaker? Or is it really a matter of “bearing up under” their weakness, while they get stronger, and not causing them to stumble as they are trying to grow? That is what these two chapters are about.

Partnership and Fellowship

Imagine a team competing in an obstacle course. By the rules of the game, the whole team has to complete the course; so it would be of no use for the strongest to simply rush ahead, saying “See you at the finish line!”. On the other hand, the weakest member may not be able to complete the course at all, without significant help. And even if he can, the others are not promoting group success if all they do is stand around and criticize the weaker member. So, what is the solution? (It is interesting: in the context of sports, even amongst unbelievers, no one ever has a problem with this question.) Teamwork is the solution.

The weakest member in that team on the obstacle course is being helped along by all the others, and he in his turn is helping where he can, and willingly accepting help from the others because it helps the team effort by hastening his own success. His pride does not induce him to reject their help, because, if he did, they would all lose. Their pride does not induce them to say, “Well, you just need to work harder!” They all know that all of them are part of the team, and all have value. All have to succeed, or none will. They are all partners in this struggle. Incidentally, that is what the word “fellowship” means…”partnership;” having something in common.

So, in terms of the church: while we are each individually accountable to God, we are also collectively accountable. We are a single organism: our testimony and health as a local assembly is dependent upon how we deal with one another. What did Jesus say about that? “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have Love (Agapé) one for another.” It seems to me that there are two forces at work, here: the one says, don’t put a stumbling-block before your neighbor. The other is the need for edification…building up the brethren. We have to grow!

Corrective teaching can be used to build up the believers, but it has to be done very gently. I know of a pastor who gave correct teaching (not even intended to be “corrective”) regarding the Bible’s stance on alcohol. He did not mean to cause division, nor to give any cause for offense, but a couple who held to total abstinence were so offended that they left the church. They were gone for over eight years, before finally returning, realizing that their response had been wrong.

He never condemned them at any level…but they condemned him. He had reached out to them, but they were adamant, and refused restoration. When they finally recognized that their bitter condemnation of another servant (the pastor) was sin, they repented, and apologized to him for their bitterness, and came back and reestablished fellowship with the other believers there.

We have vegetarian acquaintances who have frequently eaten at our house. When they eat with us, we serve them and ourselves food that does not contain meat. We have had vegetable soups, grilled cheese sandwiches, fruit, peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies, tea, coffee, etc. We have never placed anyone in the uncomfortable position of having to refuse the food we offer. On the other hand, they are fully aware that we habitually eat meat, when they are not there… and they are not offended by that. It is OK for them to choose vegetarianism. There is no call for corrective teaching: there is nothing to discuss. We simply serve a meatless meal when they visit. Now: some of these are not even believers…how much more should we be moved to accommodate our brothers and sisters? We are not to risk losing fellowship over things that God does not condemn. We are partners in much deeper matters than food.

No Meddling!

 Romans 14:1 through 15:5 make it pretty clear that neither those who are strong nor those who are weak are to try to “twist the other person around” and force the others to live as they themselves do. We are to love one another, and accept one another, appreciating our differences in gifts, and our variety in expression.

Let’s take another example: I personally have no desire to drink wine (or any other alcoholic beverage), but I do not condemn those who do. I do see it as a potential hazard, and in our culture especially, I see it as a possible snare and potentially destructive to our testimonies. But there are those who condemn the use of alcohol entirely, and they condemn anyone who believes otherwise, as well. How does that square with this passage? This is a good example of the need to compare scripture with scripture:

There is no question that the normal drink in the time of Christ was wine, not water, nor even grape-juice. Wine was the only means by which fruit juice could be preserved. It was seen as a normal beverage, but one that had to be taken in reasonable quantity…Drunkenness was spoken against as early as the time of Noah, and was warned against in the Proverbs, 1700 years later, as also in the epistles to the church, another 700 years after that. There is no question in any dispensation, that drunkenness is sin.

But: gluttony also seems to be sin, and no one condemns another person for “eating lunch.” Excess in eating may be sin; but food is necessary. Excess in wine is sin, but the use of wine is not only permitted, it is blessed by God, and even commanded by Him under certain circumstances. Some believers may feel uncomfortable with that statement, but God’s Word makes that completely clear. (Judges 9:13; Psalm 104:14, 15; Deuteronomy 14:26)

When Jesus turned water into wine (John 2), it was not only definitely an alcoholic wine, but apparently a supernaturally aged wine, so that it was seen as superior to what the householder had been able to offer on his own. (And, by the way, the exact same Greek word (oinos) is used for that wine, as is used for the command not to be drunk with wine (Ephesians 5). Either Jesus created alcoholic wine for that wedding, or we are commanded to not get drunk on grape juice.) This should never be a source for contention!

But: we believers are continually seen by unbelievers as tearing each other up over peripheral issues like this, while absolutely wallowing in sin that is specifically forbidden. What do I mean?

What Really Bothers God?

Take a look at Proverbs 6:16-19…God says there are several things he really hates. Pride and haughtiness (arrogance) is one of them. Gossip is one of them. Spreading discord (stirring up trouble) among brethren is one of them. Lying is another. But all of these things are commonly seen in Christian circles among those who would be completely shocked to see one of their members buy a bottle of wine or smoke a cigar, or whatever thing they think “ought not to be done.” Some take it even further and condemn coffee, or even the use of anti-depressants, or other things about which the Bible is utterly silent.

Some churches establish dress-codes, including limits on hair-length for men, grooming codes (Trim that beard, mister!), or forbidding make-up on women, etc. This entire attitude is expressly forbidden by Romans 14 and 15.  Dr. McGee makes an interesting point: He says if you were at dinner at the home of someone who had household help (cooks, butlers, etc.), and if the cook were to serve you cold biscuits (his example), you would never consider criticizing the household staff (aloud, at least), because they don’t work for you!

But we seem to forget that the believers around us also do not work for us. We are each accountable to God. If the Scripture really is silent about an issue, or at least does not forbid it, we had better do the same. Don’t condemn what God doesn’t condemn. Do not deny someone else’s freedom, nor use your freedom in such a way as to damage another believer.

Isn’t it interesting:  In Genesis 18:25, Jesus is identified by Abraham as being “the Judge of all the Earth” (compare John 1:18, John 5:22); but, during his earthly ministry, he condemned very few: mainly just those who were busy condemning others. He endured the natural perversity of the human race in order to offer Himself for our sakes…and he did not endure the vicious, self-righteous condemnation that the Pharisees, Scribes, and Lawyers, along with the Priests and Temple Rulers pointed at everyone they didn’t like. Does that mean that the Judge of all the Earth doesn’t care about sin? Absolutely not! He cared about it enough to condemn the whole world for sin (Romans 3:19), and to substitute Himself for the whole world, so as to die in our place (1st Peter 3:18). So, what can we learn from this? Verse four begins to give the answer:

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

v.4: The Old Testament writings are for our learning, that we, through patience (endurance) and comfort of the (Old Testament) scriptures might have hope. I think (in context of the previous chapters) that Paul is pointing out that the Old Testament writings do NOT place us back under the Law. We are to learn from them, not be oppressed or enslaved through them. Remember what James and Peter said, in Acts 15:10, 19—Peter said that the Jews were “tempting God”, by placing a yoke (a burden) on the Gentile believers, which none of the Jews, either present day or at any time in history, had been able to bear. The Jews, born and raised under the Law, had uniformly failed to keep it. But now they were insisting that the Gentiles keep the Law to be saved. Peter pointed out the failure in logic, and James decreed that “…we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God.” (Wow! That is a really good thing to hear! A Comfort, in fact! It gives me Hope, so I can Endure!)

It is so easy to fall into a trap of “adding things to faith.” We are saved by Grace, through faith…plus nothing. The result is to be good works “…which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10) This by no means disposes of the Law…we are to study it and learn from it. But we are not to use it as a weapon against one other, nor allow the enemy to use it to enslave us again. (Colossians 2:20-23 reiterates this message.) Our interaction with the Word of God should produce Endurance, Comfort and Hope, not guilt and hopelessness.

Conclusion: The Goal is Unity.

Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus:

Paul says that we are to be like-minded toward one another “according to Christ Jesus”. We are to glorify God with full unity. That is tough to do when we are always sparring, jousting and bickering over petty doctrinal issues, or even behavioral issues.

Notice: Unity and conformity are not the same idea. Legalists preach conformity. Christ preaches unity, based upon the Agapé love.

Jesus endured our natural stubbornness, and wrong-headedness, loving us through the Cross. Shouldn’t we “Forbear one another in Love”, as we are commanded to do in Ephesians 4:2? We are to put up with each other’s quirks and habits, and value one another for who we are in Christ!

In v. 7, Paul concludes that we are to “receive one another” (present tense) as Christ received us (past tense) to the Glory of God. How can that include the rejection and condemnation that is so prevalent among churches? Do you see why the unbelievers might see us as hypocrites? And yet, there is a difference between hypocrisy and failure. A hypocrite is pretending to be something he is really not. So, a person who seems to be quite pious, and whose life may meet every outward requirement for holiness, may in fact be a counterfeit, and only doing all the things he does because it gains him a good standing with others like himself, and he may even be convinced that it gains him a good standing with God. But it does not. Jesus pretty harshly condemned that sort of “outward show” of religiosity.

On the other hand, a believer, who truly has been born of God, and who truly desires to serve God with his life and live a blameless, committed lifestyle, may fail frequently and be deeply grieved by his own failure. He is not pretending at all. He is a saved sinner, still struggling with the reality of his old sin nature. Paul went through this struggle also (Romans 7). Can’t we at least appreciate that a brother or sister is trying? That he or she has a love for God, and a hunger for God’s Word? Can’t you extend to him the same grace that God has extended to you, forgiving his failures, and bearing with him in his imperfection, as God bears with you in yours?

There is not a single one of us who was required to “clean up” before being saved. We do “wash up” before “coming to the table”—either the Lord’s Table or the Word of God. We call it “confession.” But confession is all the “washing up” required of us. 1st John 1:9 tells us that this is how we restore fellowship with God. Here are three things to remember:

  1. Faith in the shed blood of Jesus for our sins is how we were born into the family of God, establishing the basis for fellowship with God and with other believers. (John 5:24)
  2. Obedience (walking by faith) is how we keep peace in the family (1st John 1:7) and maintain fellowship with God and each other.
  3. Confession (again, by faith) is how we restore fellowship with God (and others) when we have sinned. (1st John 1:9)

If the issue in question is not actually spelled out in the Bible as sin, don’t add to another believer’s burden. We are already completely accepted in the beloved (Ephesians 1:6). So we must completely accept one another, particularly in the vast areas of liberty where God’s Word does not command the body of Christ in any specific way. And what will the result look like?

That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The result will be that the church (or the family, or whoever else is in view) will actually bring honor and glory to God, not cause offense and shame. Romans 2:24 tells us that the name of God is blasphemed among the people of the unbelieving world, specifically because of the inconsistencies that the world sees in the lives of believers. Paul’s conclusion?

Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.

That is pretty clear: If you have any confidence at all that Jesus has received you, then you need to apply that same level of acceptance to the brothers and sisters around you, and receive them as well. We have the assignment (Ephesians 4:3) to “keep (maintain) the Unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace.”

That is an order, folks! And, it applies to every Christian relationship. Let’s take it seriously.

Lord Jesus, we ask that you would shine the light of your Word, administered by your indwelling Holy Spirit into each of our hearts, and allow us to see our own behavior and heart attitudes for what they are. Bring us to repentance for the hardness of our hearts, and teach us to love the brethren. Allow us to maintain the unity that your Spirit provides, so that unbelievers will be drawn to You and not be turned away.


Justified by Faith

Justified by Faith—What Then?

© C. O. Bishop 9/27/15 THCF 10/4/15

Romans 5:1-11

Introduction:

We have been studying the book of Romans, and have just completed chapter four, where we examined the question of “What saved Abraham?” We were able to determine that it was definitely faith that saved Abraham; that God definitely accounted him righteous based strictly upon faith. We saw that we are saved by the same means. When we placed our trust in Jesus as our savior, we became children of God, and were permanently counted righteous by the Holy God who had once condemned us as lost sinners. The righteousness of Christ was posted to our individual accounts as we trusted in Him.

That is our foundation: the righteousness of Christ. The rest of the epistle to the Romans is building on that foundation-stone, the Person of Christ in the individual’s life. So, the first thing Paul addresses is that particular aspect of our new life in Christ.

We ARE Justified, and we HAVE Peace with God

5

1Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

Therefore (on the basis of all that we read in chapter four) being justified (declared righteous) by faith (not works), we have (present tense) peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Now there is an awful lot in that verse alone! Notice this is peace with God. Peace between us and Him; He is no longer condemning us as lost sinners, as in Romans chapter three. We are no longer at war with one another. (Did you know that you were an enemy of God, by birth? Take a peek at verse ten, down below! It says that “when we were enemies” he died for us!) But now, we have peace with God through our Lord (Greek; “kurios” — master) Jesus Christ. Later on we will look at a different kind of Peace—the Peace of God. But this Peace is peace with God.

This is a positional truth: my position has changed: my location has changed, so, as a result, my standing has changed. I am now in Christ, so my standing has been changed from “dead in sins” to “alive in Christ”. I went from being condemned by God as a lost sinner to being declared righteous by that same Holy God, on the basis of faith in the blood of Jesus. I went from being an enemy of God by natural birth, to being a child of God by spiritual re-birth. I have peace with God, and it cannot be lost. Romans chapter four states that God will never again impute sin to me. He sees me as permanently righteous. Where? How? In Christ, through Christ, by means of Christ. (By the way, in case anyone is wondering, “Christ” is just the Greek form of “Messiah”— the anointed one.)

Consider, then: my standing has been permanently changed to being “In Christ”. But what about my “state?” My condition? My condition can change from day to day, or even from moment to moment. In fact, the Peace of God, that we mentioned a moment ago is completely conditional. It depends upon my “state”, not my “standing”. My standing is permanently perfect in Christ. My state varies wildly, like Oregon weather. But, in reality, my “state” or condition only has two possibilities, as well. I am either in fellowship, or out of fellowship. There is no “in-between.”

We will address the issue of fellowship more fully as we read more.

We HAVE Access to God

By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

In Hebrews 10:19-22, (turn there) we see that we are invited to “draw near” to God “through the veil, that is to say, His flesh”.  Remember the tapestry they called the “veil” in the temple? It was a thick opaque fabric that hung from floor to ceiling (60 feet tall), between the Holy of Holies and the rest of the Holy Place. Only the high priest could enter there, and that only once a year. There was no other approach to the Ark of the Covenant; the Mercy Seat—the throne of God. And the priest had to go under the veil to enter.

When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. The way was opened for any believer to enter. We are told in Hebrews 10 that the veil represented the body of the Messiah. When he died, the veil was torn; and the way to God is open. We are to enter through that veil: through his broken flesh at the Cross. There is no other access to God. The access we have, initially, at salvation, is by faith in Jesus and his shed blood. The continuing access we have as believers is by the same means. The reason we can speak in prayer, and know that God hears us, is because we have access to him via the Lord Jesus Christ. We enter His presence in the sure knowledge of his sacrifice giving us access to the Father. This is why Jesus said (John 14:6) “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” He meant it quite literally.

This is both a positional and a conditional truth. Because I am in Christ, positionally, I have access to God, and He will never condemn me. He is literally my Father, now; whereas, before I was in Christ, He was only my creator. He is available to me regardless of my condition. But, if I am not in fellowship with Him, then I still cannot approach Him in prayer without confessing my sins. Psalm 66:18 says “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear me.” It is not that He cannot hear me; it is that He will not listen, if I am in sin.

1st John 1:5-7 states three things:

  1. God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all
  2. If I say that I have fellowship with Him, but I walk in darkness, I am lying. I can’t have fellowship with God when I am in sin…when there is unconfessed sin in my life.
  3. If I walk in the light as He is in the light, I can have fellowship with him (and with other believers.)

There are two uses of the noun “light”, in scripture. One is in regard to natural light—photons—physical light. The other has to do with spiritual light; moral light—the continuing knowledge of God. Jesus is the Light of the world in the second sense, and will someday be the light of the world in the physical sense as well. I think the scripture makes it clear in Genesis that He was originally the physical light of the world, but gave that function to the heavenly luminaries on the fourth day of creation. They will not be needed after the New Heaven and New Earth are in place. The Lamb will once again be the light.

So: for the moment, the light in which we are to “walk” is the light of God’s Word, illuminated by the Holy Spirit. We are told that if we do not walk in the light, we cannot have fellowship with God. (By the way, this is an eternal truth. There has never been a time when a person could be in sin and have fellowship with God. Amos 3:3 indicates that two cannot “walk together, except they be agreed”.)

We have access to God by faith. We come to him, knowing that we are saved, but still sinners. We approach through confession (1st John 1:9) believing that he will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Then we can bring our worship and praise and thanksgiving, or make our petition, praying for others or ourselves.

It helps me to remember the proper order of things when I think of the admonition that we are to “cast” our cares upon Him. (1st Peter 5:7) Using the letters of the word “CAST” in an acrostic:

  • C (Confession)
  • A (Adoration—worship, praise, etc.)
  • S (Supplication…intercessory prayer, prayer for mercy, blessing, specific needs, etc.)
  • T (Thanksgiving)

Now: does my prayer have to take this exact form? Of course not. But if I am hiding sin in my heart, I need to be aware that God does not obligate himself to listen to other issues. The sin issue must be dealt with first. After that, we are free to bring our thoughts and concerns to Him. By the way, this is how we receive the Peace of God. (Philippians 4:6, 7) “Be careful for nothing, but in every thing, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God, and the Peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Do you see how that is a conditional Peace?

He gave a command: “Be anxious for nothing, but in every thing, by Prayer…”  Do you see how, if you do NOT obey the command, you will not receive the Peace? So, the condition was obedience…obedience to a specific command.

Before we move on, let’s compare the two ideas; position and condition: When we say that salvation is “positional, not conditional” do we mean that there are no conditions to be met in order to be saved from our sins? No—there were two conditions: Jesus said “He that hears my words” (there’s the first condition) “and believes on Him who sent me” (there’s the second condition) “HAS everlasting life.” There’s the promise. But the fact is, after having met those two conditions (hearing the Gospel and believing in it), there are no more conditions. The transaction is permanent. And our standing in Him is secure forever, because it is unconditional. My state is another matter, entirely, and depends on how I am responding to Him right now.

But our future is secure, and we hope in the Glory of God

We Hope in the Glory of God

We know that the Glory of God is what sustained the nation of Israel during their flight from Egypt; in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. His glory stood between them and the pursuing army the night before they crossed the Red Sea. His glory filled the tabernacle, so that none could enter, on the first day is was completed, and His Glory shone from Sinai, filling the sky and air with thunder and dark clouds. Later, that same burning glory shone from the newly completed Temple that Solomon had built.

The disciples were witnesses of his personal glory: God the Son, in His glorified body, on the mount of transfiguration. We will be transformed to be like him, in our new bodies. And, today, the hope of his glory now sustains us, as we live in a life that is not particularly glorious, and is sometimes filled with grief and pain, disease, and death. We know how life got that way, and are looking forward to seeing the end of the story, as we have already been told how it ends.

We Glory in our Hard Times

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
And patience, experience; and experience, hope:

And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

Meanwhile, knowing the glory of God, in the dimmest sense, we ourselves can, and should glory in tribulations, knowing that the hard times we now endure will have wonderful results; increasing our patience, building experience, and deepening hope. The hope we have in Christ affects us in a positive way, not negative. Even if we hope for things we do not live long enough to see, we are not made ashamed, because it results in the Love of God flowing through us by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Consider how many millions of God’s saints have lived their whole lives in hope of His coming, knowing it would happen, but not knowing when…just like you and I. In fact, even the Old Testament believers were looking for the coming Messiah. Job said “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand upon the earth in the latter day…” Job lived about 2000 years B.C.! And he was living in hope, waiting for a coming Redeemer. The effect upon his life was that he trusted God in the hardest of times. His testimony was good, and he has eternal reward.

But where did we start out?

Remember Where We Started

For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Paul briefly reminds us that it is specifically through Jesus’ death that we have access to God. He says that we had nothing to offer—we were without strength. And, as a final reminder of our real (former) position outside of Christ, he reminds us that we were not “innocent bystanders”, but decidedly ungodly. We were not “nice little misguided waifs”, but hell-bound sinners!

We would find it a hard decision to deliberately give our life for someone else. All our training and nature says “preserve self at all cost”. Even if we could see that the person involved is a valuable, righteous person, and a good man, to boot, it would be hard. Military personnel receive rigorous enough training that they might do so. A parent might do so, for a child; or a spouse for his or her partner. These are all examples of responding to the need of friends, family, etc. But Jesus did not die for “good people”, or for his friends—he died for bad people, his enemies: us.

What is the Result?

Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.

10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
11 And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

So (Paul’s logic continues), since Jesus deliberately died for us when we were lost, rebellious, hell-bound sinners, how much more, now, as the children of God, will we not be kept by Him? He did the hard part of the work to save us when we truly were of very questionable value. Now, since we are the literal children of God, He sees us as being of unquestionable worth… not because of anything we have done, but because of the new creation He has made in us. He will not lose us under any conditions. Paul says that as we were reconciled (permanently) with God through his death, we shall (continually) be saved by his life. As a result, we rejoice in God, through Christ, because we now have that reconciliation. He has declared us righteous, and we are already reconciled to God…whether we feel that way or not.

Jesus spoke briefly on this subject, too: He said that He knows His sheep, and they hear His voice, and they follow Him, and He gives them eternal life, and they shall never perish.

Do you see why this is a critically important doctrine to a believer? Paul is making a point of letting us know the logic of and the security of the believer’s standing with God. He is arming us against the creeping, whispering fear that comes to the believer and suggests, “Well, now you’ve done it! God will never forgive you now! You promised Him you would never do that again, and here you are again, wallowing in sin! You may as well just give up!” (From whom do you think that attack is coming? God is giving you the defense against that attack!)

If you understand that Jesus died for you when you were an enemy of God, and utterly lost, and that as a re-born child of God, you are infinitely more precious to God now than ever before, then you should be able to see that He will never allow you to be lost. He will continue to keep you in Christ, and will continue to shape your life into His own likeness, rebuilding you to be to His Glory.

Let’s daily learn to trust Him more, and allow him to shape us in that way.

Lord Jesus, give us the Grace to trust in your mercy, and in your Love. Teach us to walk with you by faith, and to be a blessing to those around us as a result. Help us to grow to be the men and women of God that you have called us to be.


Dealing with Grief and Avoiding Despair

Dealing with Grief: Avoiding Despair

© C. O. Bishop 12/27/14 THCF 1/4/15

Job 1:1-23, 2:1-10, 19:25; Daniel 3; Habakkuk 1-3

Introduction:

This past week, the week of Christmas, some neighbors around me had terrible things happen. One, an elderly man, the day after Christmas, lost his workshop to a fire, including tools, a classic car, racing motorcycles, and other things that had been his joy and private hobby for many years. One may philosophize, saying, “Ah, but no lives were lost!” Yes, that is true, but we humans hope to leave some heritage to grandchildren (if we have any) and that car and the motorcycles, his skill in building a race-bike, and whatever racing trophies he might have had were part of his legacy in his eyes. His most prized memorabilia were destroyed in the fire. Those cannot be replaced.

Far worse were the circumstances of another family nearby who, two days before Christmas, received the news that their youngest son (16 years old) has inoperable cancer, and that his only hope is very aggressive chemotherapy, as the tumor is on or very near his heart. He is still alive, but only a miracle can save his life. They will remember this grief and pain every Christmas for the rest of their lives. If God miraculously heals this young man, then they will also have the joy of remembering God’s supply.

How does one deal with such things? How can one endure the loss and not collapse under the weight of the grief? How can one find comfort, and even joy, in the face of such circumstances? How did people in the Bible deal with such things?

What about Job?

Job is the first person who comes to my mind: though his “friends” goaded him into some wrong statements, it is good to note that God (prior to his testing) said that he was a righteous man, a “perfect and upright man”. So the accusations later leveled by his friends were completely false. They were wrong, pure and simple. Not only were they wrong about Job, they were wrong about God…God says so, in Chapter 42. So, then, whenever we study the book of Job, we will do well to carefully examine who is talking, to see what God says about their comments.

Since today we are only touching on Job’s initial response, we will only hear four voices—God’s, Satan’s, Job’s and that of his wife, whose name is not recorded here. God makes authoritative statements regarding Job; Satan questions Job’s motives and character, thus saying God is wrong; God allows the test, and both Job and his wife respond. She broke under the pressure: Job did not. It is important that we do not join Satan or Job’s sorry “friends”, in accusing Job. If we differ from what God says, God is not wrong; we are.

Job’s response is one of the best recorded, in terms of handling grief: Job tore his clothes and shaved his head, in the classic reactions to grief for that time; but rather than railing against God, he fell on his face and worshipped God for His unchanging goodness, and for his authority. He made the statement that we so often piously quote at funerals: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away…”, but he continued with the part we very seldom include: “…blessed be the name of the Lord!” This was not a religious platitude; it was pure worship. He confessed that his maker had the authority to take away, as well as to give: he worshipped God, in spite of his grief. God’s comment, twice in these chapters is that “…in all this Job did not sin with his lips.”

Later, under goading from his friends who wrongly believed that “bad things only happen to bad people”, Job made another famous statement of faith: “I know that my Redeemer liveth and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth…and that… I shall see him with my eye, and not another…” Job rested his faith in the coming final justice. Eventually, it is true, the friends goaded him into self-justification, but they and not he were judged for their actions. God corrected him, but rebuked them, saying, “My wrath is kindled against thee…for you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.” That is a good final note on Job’s life and discourse, and a cautionary note about Bible study. It is important to check who is talking in scripture…about two thirds of the book of job is recording the words of his friends, and God says they were wrong! We need to read carefully, and not make assumptions.

What can we learn from Job? First, that he was submissive to God’s will in his life: if he could have changed the circumstances, he would have—he loved his children and prayed for them daily, and offered sacrifices on their behalf; but when they were taken, it was through what even today, many people call “an act of God” (or, as the atheistic, secular world may say, an “act of nature”.) Job knew that there was nothing he could have done to ward off such an occurrence, nor certainly anything he could do to undo the damage. He was grieved at the loss, but accepted it as being from God, and stated that God had the authority to bring calamity as well as blessing.

He also knew that calamity is not always the result of sin…which his detractors had not learned. This is a hard one for us, too, even as New Testament believers: we tend to think that bad experiences must be punishment for some sin, even though both the Old Testament and the New Testament clearly teach that this is not necessarily the case. In Job’s case he had the confidence of a steady walk with God to bolster his spirit: he knew that the calamity was not punishment. It was only the accusations of the men he thought were his friends that moved him to defend against false accusations, and eventually he was bordering on self-justification, so God stepped in and stopped the test.

I can either rest in the character of God (bless God for his goodness, as Job did) or I can tear myself apart, looking for the hidden cause, the secret sin that must be the root of the calamity. I can worship, or I can wail. In a sense, as long as I choose to worship, I can still wail…but to God, not at Him.

One more thing to point out, here: Job evidently understood positional truth and the security of the believer, because he said that he knew (not just believed) that he himself, with his physically resurrected body, and his own eyes, would see his redeemer “at the latter day” when his redeemer was to stand upon the earth. How could he make such a statement if not for knowing the security of the believer? He did not just know that Jesus would make a triumphant return to Earth as the king (he is referring to the second coming, not the first) but he also stated that he himself would be there to see it, in a physically resurrected body. That is confidence…that is faith, the assurance of things hoped for; the sure knowledge of things not seen.

What about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego?

This is may not seem exactly the same thing, as what they faced was execution for Godly behavior, under an ungodly King. But consider: any “fiery trial” we may imagine can be seen in parallel to theirs. They had no children, nor would they ever, as they had been made eunuchs by this king’s decree; they were captive servants under a terrible regime. They were in imminent danger of being burned alive for refusing to commit idolatry, but they stood fast. Remember what they said: “We know that our God is able to deliver us…but if not (in other words, if He chooses not to deliver us)…we still will not worship your idol!” They chose to stand fast whether or not God would defend them. They were willing to die before disgracing their God.

We can choose to stand fast against the temptation to abandon faith, to question God’s character, to deny Him His due in our lives. Or we can give in, hoping to gain some peace of mind, as at least we will no longer find ourselves trying to justify God in circumstances that are beyond our understanding. I have known a number of believers to fall prey to this very thing. They felt they could no longer defend God’s actions so they joined his attackers.

God doesn’t need my defense. He is perfectly capable on His own, and has proven it on countless occasions throughout history. The three Hebrew youngsters were right and they knew it, but they also knew that God had made no promise to them, personally, to deliver them from harsh circumstances. So they took their stand with God, choosing to risk being incinerated rather than deny the God of their salvation. It seems that they shared Job’s confidence in the goodness of God, regardless of circumstances, and, that, like Job, they knew that the things that God does are not always explainable in human terms. Many times they are beyond our comprehension. I can either accept that truth, or, childishly, insist on an explanation.

God is not obliged to explain his actions, any more than I am obliged to explain to a saw-blade why I am filing away a portion of each tooth, to make the remaining portion sharp and usable. God can prune his vineyard, shear his sheep, sharpen his tools, and discipline his children. Discipline, again, does not mean punishment—it means training. Even in school, we might ask what discipline a student is pursuing…it means “what specific training are they hoping to attain?” A wrestling or football coach may demand that the members of his team run laps around a practice field as part of the discipline of their sport. It is not punishment at all, though it may feel like it. It is training, and has the goal of excellence in the sport.

In the case of Job and the Hebrew teenagers, we saw that God did reward them with a defense and a response of blessing. But what if He does not? Can we find joy in the person of Christ, even when the circumstances admit no compromise, and will certainly end in ruin?

What about Habakkuk?

Habakkuk was confronted with the evil of his own nation. He cried to God for Justice, but what he got was Judgment…and it was Just. God let him know that He, God, was about to judge the nation of Judah, using the Chaldean nation as the instrument of His judgment. Habakkuk knew that this judgment would result in utter catastrophe for Judah, as the Chaldeans (also called Babylonians) were a ruthless people. He protested that the punishment was too great, and that the “cure” was worse than the “disease”. But he was wrong and God was right (no surprise there….) God corrected his thinking, and declared that the judgment was coming.

Habakkuk accepted the coming judgment and declared that, though all the circumstances in which he usually found happiness and sustenance should fail, he himself would still find joy in the LORD (Jehovah); and that he would rejoice in the God of his salvation. That may seem a “pat answer” but you want to remember that Habakkuk was going to be right there in the judgment…there was no guarantee of a free pass through the judgment for him. He was about to see his whole way of life destroyed, and a high percentage of the people he knew and cared for destroyed, and all the rest enslaved. (By the way, this is the captivity that took Daniel and his friends, resulting in their castration and enslavement…this is not a theoretical test. It was the real thing.) We never heard from Habakkuk again. We don’t know what happened to him, whether he even survived the siege or possibly died before it began. But he had taken his stand with God, and chose to find joy and comfort in the person of his Creator and Savior.

The last phrase in chapter 3 of Habakkuk states that “He maketh my feet as hind’s feet, and setteth me upon my high places.” A “hind” is a type of deer that loves to climb in mountain crags. It is extremely sure-footed, and so “stays above” all the trouble below it. We might liken it to a mountain goat, here in the Americas, or an ibex (steinbok) in the Alps. The point is that while Habakkuk set himself to find Joy in the eternal God instead of the circumstances, he also placed his trust in his savior to keep him confident in Christ, not affected by circumstance.

That is easy to say, of course, but remember that these fellows made these statements while confronted with the loss of all that was dear to them, and probably their own lives, as well. Job had already lost all his children, and all his belongings, and his wife and  friends seemed to conspire against him…she begging him to give it up and die (possibly, from her perspective, for his own good) and his friends urging him to confess nonexistent sins. The Hebrew children were facing the furnace in person. They could feel the heat, and knew that execution was imminent. Habakkuk only knew for sure that the destruction and captivity of his people was inescapable, and that everything he loved in life was about to be taken away. This was not a “maybe”—it was a definite event about to happen. Each of these believers chose to find their peace in Christ.

So…What about Us?

We, too, can choose to trust God. We can choose to find our joy in Christ. We can choose to believe that His Justice is greater than our sense of what is “fair”. We can choose to believe that His Love (demonstrated at the Cross!) is greater than our feeble affections, though we may love with all our hearts. Feelings may be strong, but actions are what get things done, and God acted! He went to the Cross in the person of Christ, and personally paid the price of our sins. Just “feeling sorry for us” would not have accomplished anything. He acted on our behalf.

I don’t know whether I would choose well under the circumstances I listed above: The loss of a shop building or other belongings might discourage me for a while, but the loss of a child or of my wife would surely destroy me, if it were not for the person of Christ. I hope that I would be faithful to trust Him even in hard times. So far, I have been able to do so…but, honestly, my circumstances have been pretty easy compared to what some believers endure.

We can pray for one another, and go to one another in time of need, encouraging those who suffer, helping those in need. We can support one another as we endure hard times. We can share with one another, working together to overcome adversity. But ultimately, our trust has to be in the One who created, saved and sustains us. We have to practice this daily, in the small things, to prepare ourselves for the hard things to come. Can you do it? Will you?

Ultimately we have to be committed to trusting Him even if he chooses to not rescue us from our trial. Job said (Job 13:15), “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” That has to be the “bottom line” for us as well, or we will be enslaved to circumstances. When we only recognize blessing if it is something we like, we are enslaved to circumstances. That is not OK.

The blessing and mercy of God may include our early “graduation” from the “school” of life. The son of Jeroboam, in 1st Kings 14:13 was rewarded for his good by an early death, as the prophet said: “because there is some good found in him toward the LORD God of Israel.” He was the only one of Jeroboam’s household who received a proper burial, and his early death was provided so that he escaped the coming judgment. We do not always know God’s purpose, but we do know His character.

Learn early to trust the Lord in every circumstance, so that when the hard times come you are already fortified against them. Otherwise they will come without warning, and you will be overwhelmed. Choose continually to find your Joy, Comfort and Peace in the Person of Christ.

God give us Grace to trust you in every trial, to seek your Light no matter how great our darkness, and to seek your Love though all others have deserted us, and to find our Joy in You.

Amen!


Comfort through Christmas–all Year

Finding Comfort in Christmas Throughout the Year

© C. O. Bishop


To those of us who have lost loved ones, as well as those who suffer from depression, or the loss of a job, etc., Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the worst. Our society has taught us to expect sunny feelings of joy and happiness, and to expect to give and receive wonderful gifts, and that everyone will love one another, and politicians will all tell the truth… and that Santa Claus is coming

To those of us who hurt, or who have suffered loss, all of the above seems a cruel hoax. And in some ways it is, even if those responsible meant no harm. We have been given false expectations, and have been taught to turn our eyes away from the real truth. Let’s see if we can turn that around, just for a moment, today…

The First Christmas

Consider the first Christmas…the real one…the one no one really noticed except some farmer types…shepherds, actually. It happened in a barn; a stable, if you want to be specific. No tree, no tinsel, no eggnog. “No crib, for a bed”…the only “gift” in sight was a baby. “For God so loved the World, that He gave his only begotten son…” (We don’t think of it often, but the wise men showed up quite some time later—not that day…probably not that year. But when they did, they brought gifts to HIM, and not to one another.) But those who were there—those shepherds— were overwhelmed with joy. Why?

Why The Joy?

How is it that without any of the things we think ought to be there, the partakers of the first Christmas were filled with joy? Mary was having her first baby…do you think maybe she would have liked her Mom, or an Aunt, or someone to help her? How do you suppose Joseph felt about the accommodations? And the shepherds still had to go back to those sheep, and the smelly, hard job that was their whole life. No day off for Christmas…no bonus; no free turkey, or ham, or whatever. Just… great joy.

Do you suppose they understood a little about what had happened? They were all orthodox Jews, and they, with their forefathers, had been waiting for the Messiah for thousands of years. The promises were there, for anyone to read. And the angels that showed up clearly told them that this was it: The real fulfillment of God’s real promise. Did they understand it all? Nope. They almost certainly did not. In fact, they may have had some real disappointments a few years down the road. They thought he was come to be a king (He was!), and a deliverer (he was!). But they thought he would throw the Romans out of Israel, and reign there in Jerusalem in their lifetimes. (He did not, and He never said he would.)

Their disappointments were based on false expectations, just like ours. But those who remembered could look back with wonder and recall the voices of the angels, praising God, and announcing the Holy birth. They did not cease to believe in the goodness of God, and his faithfulness.

Remember the Promise

We have forgotten what was really promised, and more specifically, how we are to take part in it. There is no promise that we will live lives free of pain. Quite the opposite…we are told that it is given unto us “…on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on His name but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29) That’s not what we really wanted to hear, huh?

So what really was promised, and how do we take part in God’s real Christmas? How can we find Comfort in Christmas?

To begin with, immediately after Adam and Eve fell into sin, as recorded in Genesis, God provided a plan of redemption. He said that a person would come, called the “Seed of Woman”, and this person would undo Satan’s work, done through the serpent.

The promise was repeated, with more and more details, until just before the time of Christ (actually, the last detail was given 400 years before his birth), when they pretty much knew all that was to happen regarding the Messiah. They did not understand it all, any more than we can claim to understand it all today.

But the believers, mostly Jews, had come to believe in the character of God, and they believed His Word was true. They believed his promises. When he told them to place their trust in His redemptive plan, and it involved a blood sacrifice, they brought that blood sacrifice, as directed. Did they understand it? Did they really know that all those little Lambs were pointing forward to the True Lamb of God? Somehow I doubt it.

The Promises Were Fulfilled

When Jesus was introduced by John the Baptist, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” some people may have understood the intent; most folks probably did not. But many believed that He was the fulfillment of God’s Promise. We can look back and see that they were right. He fulfilled God’s Word to the letter…even that thing about the “Seed of Woman”. (Who else in history has only one human parent?)

Jesus was born in obscurity, with shepherds rejoicing, and precious few others even taking notice. He preached in a tiny nation for three years or a bit more. He had twelve devoted followers, about ten times that who were part-timers, and thousands who claimed allegiance to him. But he was betrayed by one of those “inner-circle twelve”, Judas Iscariot, and he died a criminal’s death, condemned by Jew and Gentile alike. He was attended at His death by only one of his twelve disciples, and a few women, including his mother.

He was lent a tomb by a rich man who secretly believed. It turned out Jesus only needed it for three days and three nights, just as predicted. He was physically resurrected that third day, in spite of efforts aimed at preventing such an occurrence, and he showed himself to all his disciples, on one occasion to 500 people at once. He ascended back to God, physically; bodily, and promised to return in the same manner: Physically…Bodily.

Believing the Promise

We, who do find comfort in Christmas, whether Jew or Gentile, do so because that day was the beginning of all that was to follow. We find hope in the Christ, in the Cross, and in the empty tomb. We find hope in his resurrection, and in his promised coming again.

We find hope in His written Word, where He promised personally, that “Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)

We look back to that first Christmas and the unspeakable gift of God’s Son, and we find comfort in the Goodness of the God who gave the Gift. When we suffer losses, we look back to what our redemption really cost our Lord, and our Heavenly Father.

How can one take part in God’s real Christmas? Jesus said “He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed over from death into life.” (John 5:24)

Notice the tenses there—he covers my present, saying that because I have heard his word, and believed the promise of God, I have eternal life now…I don’t have to wait ‘til I die to see if I got “good enough grades”. He covers my future, promising that I will never be condemned by God. He covers my past (perfect tense), saying that I have permanently crossed over from being spiritually dead, to being spiritually alive.

Finding Comfort in Christmas

This is the hope of all believers. And those of us who believe, and who have lost one or more believing loved ones, have the sure hope of seeing them again. Some we are not sure of, because we can’t see their hearts, but God knows, and His justice is perfect. He loves them more than we ever could; and we rest assured that he has done right by them.

Christmas, the way the World presents it, can be very depressing, quite honestly. But the way God presents His gift it is a never-ending source of joy—not seasonal at all.

If you would like to know more about how to experience God’s joy, I’d be happy to chat with you.

To each of you, in the name of the Christ of Christmas, I wish a truly joyous Christmas season that will last throughout the year.

Blessings upon you all.