Paul Instructs Colossian Friends

Next, Paul turns to the false teachings that were beginning to infect the church at Colosse (322).  He was concerned with religious rituals, or what we might call today denominational distinctives.  These may sound good at first, but if we cannot trace them back to the ministry & teachings of Jesus, then they’re only going to divide the body of Christ & lead us astray.

Paul first addresses the Judaizers – the folks who taught that a Gentile had to become a good Jew before he could become a good Christian, specifically by being physically circumcised.  In Paul’s view, this was Jewish rule-bondage at its worst.  We have a better, spiritual circumcision in Jesus; Jesus is all we need.

Then Paul addresses the pre-Gnostics — people who insisted on compliance with various religious rituals which had never been taught by Jesus.  Essentially, the pre-Gnostics claimed that Jesus had given them private revelations about the necessity of certain rituals — revelations that normal everyday Christians were too immature to receive.

Paul replied that such rules & rituals may seem godly, especially when they require strong commitment.  But Paul insisted that they offer no help in overcoming sin; nothing that we can do ourselves will overcome our sin.  For that, Jesus is all we need.

As in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul emphasizes that we must submit to the rule of our spirit rather than the rule of our flesh.  This is the key to our life in Christ.  This is how the new self overcomes the old self.  This is how we are able to live as models of compassion, humility, kindness, forgiveness & love.

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If Christ is our life, as Paul claims, how is that supposed to look in everyday life?  As in the letter to the Ephesians, Paul briefly tells the Colossians of the differences that Jesus wants to make in marriage, in parenting, and in the workplace.

Then Paul concludes by encouraging the Colossian believers to rely on God in every aspect of their lives, especially in their jobs for Jesus.  Pray about everything, Paul counsels; be guided by the Holy Spirit in everything.  After all, that’s what Jesus did.

 

(322) Colossians 2:16-4:18

Paul Encourages Colossian Friends

The church in the Turkish city of Colosse seems to have been planted by Epaphras, a dedicated co-worker of Paul.  Perhaps Paul had earlier sent Epaphras to Colosse from Ephesus, about 100 miles away.  But at the time of this letter, Epaphras was in Rome, with Paul.

Paul wrote two letters from prison in Rome to Colosse – one for the entire church there, and one for a specific member of the Colossian church.

In many regards, Paul’s letter to the Colossians was, like his letter to the Ephesians, intended for their general instruction, revelation & encouragement.  But this letter was also aimed at countering false teaching in the Colossian church.

Paul begins by thanking God for the believers in Colosse (321) — especially for their faith, love & hope:

  • Faith was the key to beginning & sustaining their relationships with God.
  • Love for God’s people is how they were showing their love for God.
  • Hope kept them focused on heaven & the life with God to come.

Then Paul offers an extended proclamation of the supremacy of Jesus.

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  • Jesus shares, with the Father & the Holy Spirit, the everlasting nature of God. He has always existed, and He always will.
  • Jesus created the universe from nothing.
  • Jesus walked on this earth, as a man, for a brief time, but then He returned to heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father in everlasting glory.
  • Jesus holds together everything in all creation.
  • Jesus is the head of the church, the body of Christ, displaying God’s glory on earth.
  • Jesus is the leader of all who will rise from the dead.
  • Jesus is the only way for men to find peace with God.

Paul was happy to share in the sufferings of Christ.  Once we have received the spirit of Christ & the hope of glory, and once our daily life is filled with doing our job for Jesus, then suffering or even dying is no longer such a big deal.

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(321) Colossians 1:1-2:15

Paul Encourages Philippian Friends

Paul had planted the first Christian church in Europe in the town of Philippi, in the region of northeastern Greece known as Macedonia.  Paul’s letter to the Philippian church is very upbeat & encouraging, despite his being confined in a Roman minimum security prison (320). How could this be?

  • First, Paul affirms his belief that God never takes a day off. In the lives of individual believers & in the life of the church, God continues faithfully to use every circumstance — even Paul’s imprisonment — for his divine purposes, .
  • Second, Paul can no longer imagine his life apart from Jesus. Whether he lives or dies, whether he is on earth or in heaven, Paul is totally OK with whatever God wants to do with him, just as Jesus was.

Paul portrays the “mind of Christ” as thinking of others before thinking of ourselves.

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In essence, this is what Jesus did when he gave up the independent use of his divine powers for three decades, in order to live on the earth as a man among men.  Jesus is our best model for humbly surrendering ourselves to God.

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Ultimately, Paul continues, all people — living & dead — will acknowledge Jesus as God. Until that day, our part as believers is to shine brightly for God in this dark world.  No matter how great the darkness becomes, the Holy Spirit gives believers greater power to continue shining brightly.  With Jesus, we can do anything.

Paul testifies that he has forsaken all in this world in order to devote himself completely to his job for Jesus.  He keeps his eyes fixed on the heavenly prize of life that will continue beyond his physical death.

From this eternal perspective, Paul exhorts the Philippians to rejoice as well, in every circumstance.  This can only be done by referring everything to Jesus.  Pray about everything, seek the mind of Christ about everything, Paul says.

Focus on the positive things that God is doing in the world, instead of focusing on the negative things that the world inflicts on itself.

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But, even in negative circumstances, Paul asserts that he has learned how to be content, always by relying on Jesus.  With Jesus, we can do anything.

 

(320) Philippians 1-4

Paul Reminds Ephesian Friends Of God’s Expectations

Paul then turns to how God expects his chosen people (his adopted children) to respond to his many blessings (319).

As to how we can cooperate with the Holy Spirit, Paul offers a couple of ideas.

  1. We have to start thinking of ourselves as one body, instead of as a bunch of unrelated people. God always gives us opportunity to get over ourselves.
  2. We have to let the Holy Spirit have his way, rather than trying to organize God’s church our way. The Holy Spirit can anoint & use whomever he chooses.  And the Spirit does not always choose to use the people we might think best-suited for leadership or service in the church.

Leading Spirit-led lives presumes submitting to the rule of our spirit rather than the rule of our flesh.  If each member is being ruled by his spirit instead of his flesh, then the body as a whole is becoming more mature & Christ-like.

In this context, Paul emphasizes that God provides spiritual gifts to every believer, including normal everyday men & women & kids.  God has chosen to do his work in the world through everyday people, until Christ comes again.

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God uses people to build up His church.  God uses His church to serve people in need — regardless of their relationship with God — which shows that we love them, which shows that we love God.

Paul then considers what Spirit-led living looks like in a few everyday human relationships – specifically, marriage, parenting & work.  In each case, the main idea is that our relationships in the world are opportunities for us to deepen & demonstrate our devotion to Jesus.  We show our love for God by being godly marriage partners, godly parents & godly employees.

Paul concludes the letter with a warning: God’s enemy, Satan, works overtime to undermine God’s work in the world.  But God has given us spiritual armor to defend against Satan’s attacks.

Metaphorically, the armor includes a belt, a breastplate, shoes, a shield, a helmet & a sword.  Spiritually, what these represent are truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation & the inspired scriptures – all to be employed prayerfully.

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So, essentially, Paul is encouraging the Ephesian believers to do the following things — all as guided by God in prayer:

  1. Stick to the truth about God.
  2. Refer everything to Jesus, who alone is righteous.
  3. Live peaceably with other people.
  4. Believe that all things are possible with God.
  5. Trust the power of the Spirit to overcome the power of sin.
  6. Share the inspired scriptures with other people.

 

(319) Ephesians 4-6

Paul Reminds Ephesian Friends Of God’s Blessings

While Paul was imprisoned in Italy, much of his job for Jesus was accomplished through letters to churches in Turkey & Greece.  One of these letters was written to the church in Ephesus, in western Turkey.

This is not a letter addressing specific problems – such as those in the church in Corinth, in Greece.  Instead, this is a letter of general instruction, revelation & encouragement.  The letter may have been circulated among several churches, beginning with the church in Ephesus.

Paul begins by proclaiming what God has done for us (318) — citing first three major spiritual blessings for Christians:

  1. Before time began, God the Father chose us to be adopted into his family.
  2. Jesus has made it possible for us to be adopted into God’s family.
  3. The Holy Spirit assures us that, as God’s adopted children, we are inheritors of heaven.

Paul reminds us that we all used to live in sinful rebellion against God, and we were all deserving of God’s wrath.  But God had a better plan for his people, whom he had originally created in his image.

By his grace (and not at all because of any natural goodness in us), God has provided for our salvation from our sins.  In other words, God saves us from ourselves.

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And he has done this for a purpose – specifically, that we would love other people in self-sacrificing ways, as an expression of our love for God.

This purpose extends both to Jews & to Gentiles, says Paul.  Indeed, the body of Christ is made up of all different sorts of people.

Jesus is the head of the body; he is in charge of everything.  People serve as parts of the body, insofar as we have surrendered control of our lives to Jesus.

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All the parts are intended to work together, under the direction of the head, to share the love of Jesus with the world.  But the only way that’s going to happen is by the power of the Holy Spirit — because, as sinful humans, we are not naturally good team players.

However, God’s Holy Spirit  can supernaturally change us into good team players.  And in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can work together — faithfully & effectively — to share the greatness of God’s love with the world.

Best of all, God will give more & more of his Holy Spirit to anyone who lives with more & more faith in Jesus.

 

(318) Ephesians 1-3

In The City Of Rome

From Puteoli the party went by land toward Rome (317). More local followers of Jesus met them along the way, at Appii Forum & at Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and was very encouraged.

When at last they came to Rome, Julius (the Roman officer) delivered his prisoners to the captain of the guard, who gave Paul separate living quarters & ordered Julius to continue to guard him.

After three days, Paul called the local Jewish leaders together & said to them: “Men & brothers, I have been delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans, although I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers.  When the Roman authorities & even King Agrippa had examined me, they wanted to let me go, because they found no cause for putting me to death. But the Jewish leaders there spoke against my release, so I was compelled to appeal to Caesar. I have called you here to let you know my situation.  It is actually for proclaiming the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain!”

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Then the local Jewish leaders said to Paul, “We have received no letters or personal reports from anyone in Judea about you. However, we do know that many Jews are opposed to the Christian way, so we would like to learn more about this from you.”

So on an appointed day, many local Jews came to Paul at his lodging.  Paul taught & testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them from both the law of Moses & the prophets that Jesus was the promised Messiah.

This went on all day; some were persuaded by the things Paul said, and others were not. Paul rebuked the latter group: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers, saying, ‘Go to this people and say: “You will hear but not understand; you will see but not perceive.  For your hearts have grown dull, your ears have grown hard of hearing, and your eyes have closed.  Otherwise you would see with your eyes & hear with your ears & understand with your hearts, and you would turn to God, who would heal you.”‘

“So know this: the salvation of God has been offered to Gentiles, because they are willing to receive it.”  After Paul had finished, the Jews left — having a great dispute among themselves about all that Paul had taught.

Paul remained in minimum custody in Rome for two more years.  He was able to receive any & all visitors.  To them all, he freely & faithfully & confidently preached the kingdom of God & taught about Jesus the Christ.

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(317) Acts 28:14b-31

On The Island Of Malta

Some of the soldiers proposed to kill all the prisoners, to make sure they couldn’t swim away & escape during the shipwreck (316). But Julius was determined to save Paul, so he vetoed that proposal.

Instead, he commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first & get to shore.  The rest made their way to shore by paddling on boards or other parts of the ship. Ultimately, everyone on board, including all the prisoners, escaped safely to land.

Malta, they learned, was the name of the island where they were shipwrecked. Because of the rain & cold, the natives kindly kindled a fire & made them all welcome. Paul gathered some kindling & was laying it on the fire, when the heat drove a snake out from the sticks.  The snake fastened on Paul’s hand, and the natives were sure Paul would soon be dead — assuming he was some sort of criminal, perhaps even a murderer.

But Paul simply shook off the snake into the fire, having suffered no real harm.

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When, after a long time, Paul’s hand didn’t swell up & he didn’t fall down dead, the natives changed their tune & decided Paul was some sort of god!

The leading citizen of the island, whose name was Publius, had an estate nearby.  He welcomed the shipwreck survivors & entertained them courteously for three days. During this time, his father lay sick with a fever & dysentery. The Holy Spirit led Paul to go in to him & pray & lay hands on him.

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Immediately, the old man was healed by the power of God!  When word of this got around, other sick people came from different parts of the island & they were also healed.

The natives honored their guests in many ways for the next three months.  When the weather broke & they were finally able to leave Malta, they were given all necessary provisions.

The Twin Brothers was the figurehead of the ship on which Paul’s party finally left Malta.  That ship had come from Alexandria in Egypt, had wintered on Malta, and was now headed to Italy.

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  • After sailing northward, they landed at Syracuse on the island of Sicily, where they stayed three days.
  • From there they continued northward until they reached Rhegium, at the southern tip of the Italian mainland.
  • After waiting there one day, the south wind again became favorable & the ship sailed further north to Puteoli, on Italy’s western coast. There Paul & his companions enjoyed the hospitality of local Christians for seven days.

 

(316) Acts 27:42-28:14a