The Good Gift of Hope

Colossians 1:1-8

3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.

Colossians 1:3-5

What you pray for the most betrays what you treasure in your heart

What are the things that occupy a majority of your prayer life? What are you most thankful to God for? Or what is the need that you most often ask God to fulfill? In the time you set aside to be together with the Almighty God your King, you bow your head to pray. And the Lord says to you: “Speak and make your request known before me!” What is the prayer item that occupies a majority of your prayer life? “Please Lord, give us a parking lot in this lunch time crowd.” “Lord would you help me do well in my exam today!” or maybe even “would you tell me whether this cute guy in church is the right one for me?”

Here is the truth about how we pray: what we pray for the most, betrays what we treasure in our hearts. In our passage today, we see Paul recording his prayers during his personal prayer time. These prayers of Paul give us an idea of just what was closest to Paul’s heart. They show us what prayer items were going through his head as he went on his daily activities.

One of the ways Paul describes his prayer is that he never ceased to pray (v 9). Prayer occupies a big part of the apostle’s life. It is a major part of what goes on in his daily activities. What Paul prays for the most, betrays what he treasures in his heart. What could have been so important to Paul that he describes his prayers as unceasing? We will be exploring the prayer Paul has for the Colossians, and the heart behind of prayer that comes with it. What are the motivations and desires behind Paul’s thanksgiving and petitions to God on behalf on the Colossian believers?

A. Give thanks for one’s faith in Christ Jesus

The first thing that Paul gives thanks to God for is for the Colossians’ faith in Jesus Christ (v.4). What is faith? It basically means trust. It is not just a declaration for a moment, but a lifestyle of trust in Jesus for the work that He had done on the cross to save. It is living according to the conviction that He continues to mould believers into His likeness, and He watches and protects them from the evil one.

Paul is praying and giving thanks to God for their faith because this lifestyle of faith in Jesus demonstrates God working in the lives of the Colossian believers. Without God, the natural man is left to himself. The natural man hates the things of God. He doesn’t love God, he doesn’t understand the things of God, and he will not seek after God (Romans 3:11). An act of God is required to lift a person out of this rut. It is the divine act of spiritual regeneration by the Holy Spirit that raises a person to spiritual life. And that is the reason why Christians can respond in faith. We can live according to a deep unyielding trust in Jesus for the work that He has done for us.

B. Give thanks for one’s love for the saints

The second thing that Paul gives thanks to God for is for the Colossian believers’ love for the saints. Faith in Jesus and love for the saints are two sides of the same coin. A believer who shows faith in Jesus will also demonstrate love for the saints. One does not come without the other.

When we speak of love as in “I love chicken rice” it is usually in the sense of a response. We find chicken rice pleasant; it tastes good and it makes us want to experience this enjoyment more. It is a response to something pleasant.

The love here is ‘agape.’ Some of us may understand this to be unconditional love. A better explanation is that Agape is a love of benevolence, based on loyalty or allegiance and not feelings – love one another just as I have love you. There is no greater love than a man laying down his life for his friends. One who loves like that seeks pleasure for himself through benefiting others. Christian love is not a response to beauty but rather one that desires to bring about something beautiful.

And the Colossians had love for all the saints. Their love was shown freely regardless of social status. This was not a love that expected anything in return. They were willing to be inconvenienced, which meant giving up their material wealth, their time and energy.

C. Give thanks for one’s Hope laid up in heaven

Paul thanks God for their faith in Jesus and their love for the saints, because of the hope laid up for them in heaven. This hope looks forward to the blessings they will obtain when they enter eternal life. It is the “totality of blessings that await the Christian in the life to come” (BGAD, Greek Lexicon).

Hope is the third part of the famous triad: faith, hope and love. These 3 are usually contrasted against one another. You might remember the passage that describes the greatest of these three as love (1 Corinthians 13:13). However, here in Colossians, hope is presented as the basis for which faith and love is possible. It is the foundation for which faith in Jesus and love for the saints can grow.

If there is no hope, there wouldn’t be a point to have faith or love. 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 presents this: “If Christ did not rise from the dead, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost… we are of all people most to be pitied.” If Christ was not raised from the dead, he is powerless against the power of death. There will be no hope for us beyond death if Christ is truly dead. Since there is no hope in such a Saviour, why would you put your faith and trust in Him?

But if Christ really did rise from the dead, then there really is hope in a life beyond death.

Paul also speaks of this hope as “laid up in heaven” or “stored up in heaven” (NIV). It is something that a Christian already possesses. It is true that we can only receive these eternal blessings on the day when Jesus comes again. But it is equally true that Christians currently possess these treasures. Eternal life is your possession, your inheritance, something you will inevitably obtain if indeed you put your hope in Christ.

Pray that God changes your heart and mind about the gift of hope

So dear Christian brothers and sisters, we come back to our question of what do you pray for the most? What is the treasure that you keep within your heart? If the hope of heaven is nowhere in your sights, then there is no basis for faith, and no foundation for love.

If you do not see the hope of the gospel as the wonderful gift that it is, that it is the power of God unto salvation, then turn to God in prayer. Our God can awaken your soul to see the wonders of Himself and the gift that He has given. May God change your heart and opens your eyes to the hope He has for all who believe.

– The End –

God’s Will for Your Life

Colossians 1:9-14

9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him

Colossians 1:9-10

God’s will for my life

What is God’s will for my life? Many Christians often ask this question with regards to wanting to know what God has in store for them as they navigate through the complexities of life. As Singaporeans, we can be generally very risk adverse people. Asking the Almighty for His divine guidance as to know what to do in life seems a perfect harmonious blend between our Christian lives and our Singaporean nature.

Paul gives us a very different picture and purpose for why we should find out the will of God. He describes the response of Christians once they have come to an understanding about the will of God: To walk in a manner worthy of God, fully pleasing to Him (v.10). Being filled with a knowledge of God’s will is not knowing God’s secret will in what we are doing in the future. The will we search for is God’s preceptive will; what God desires or intends for us to live as His people. We search for the preceptive will of God, not to give ourselves the assurance that we are doing the right thing, or that we may have a good and meaningful life. But we know God’s will and what pleases Him in order to lead a transformed lifestyle, living in a manner that is worthy of Him.

This can be seen as Paul’s prayer that the Colossians would be filled by God’s will comes immediately after he gives thanks for the Colossians’ reaction to the proclamation of the gospel in their lives (v.3-8 of last week’s SRD). This suggests that Paul is telling the Colossian believers that the Christian life doesn’t just stop at a heartfelt response to the gospel. A life truly impacted by the gospel would continue to be impacted by it and live in light of that. The natural progression for a Christian then who understands God’s will would be that he lives a life pleasing unto God (v.10).

What then is a life pleasing to God?

Paul gives us four indicators of a believer who is living a life pleasing to God. They are: “bearing fruit in every good work,” “growing in the knowledge of God,” “being empowered for endurance and patience” and “giving thanks to God” (vv. 10b–12a)

A God pleasing life: Bearing fruit in every good work

In v. 6, the focus of the same term of ‘bearing fruit’ was speaking about the extension of the gospel to many people. Here in v.11, however, it is speaking about the intensive growth within each believer. Fruit is borne with every good work. The good work is not bearing fruit. Doing good work does not necessarily count as a Christian bearing good fruit.

The mention of bearing fruit in the Bible typically speaks about the inward life of a Christian. The fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 speaks of fruit as inward qualities or character traits that are the result of God’s supernatural reshaping and transforming of human life. A life that exhibits this fruit pleases God.

But we would also do well to take note of the warnings about a life of fruitlessness. Jesus says in Matthew 3:10 Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. In contrast to a fruitful life that pleases God, a fruitless life will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

A God pleasing life: Growing in the knowledge of God

The second indicator of a true Christian is growing in the knowledge of God. The NLT translates this phrase as “learning to know God better and better.” Christians do not stop understanding about God once they have found out that they have eternal life through the gospel. True Christians not only love God, they treasure Him and want to seek to know Him more.

Jesus even mentions that to know God is what it means to have eternal life. He says in John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. Being satisfied and thinking that we already know all there is to know about God is not the mindset of a Christian. We would not make excuses like “doctrines are too hard to understand” or “I do not have time” because we see God as our treasure. It is really precious and important for us to know about God, to find out what He likes and dislikes, to want to live a life that pleases Him.

A God pleasing life: Empowered for endurance and patience

The third indicator of a life pleasing to God is being strengthened by God. The verse says “being strengthened with all power” but this strengthening is for the purposes of endurance and patience with joy (v.11).

The power of a Christian does not lie in physical might, the ability to influence, or political strength. God views a Christian’s power as the ability to endure, in being able to live out the difficult Christian life. A Christian who is powerful does and obeys all that He has commanded us to, even when life makes it difficult for us to do so. This demonstrates a life that is rooted in the gospel and committed to walking the narrow path. It is one whose conviction lies deep within his heart, and no one can ever take away the hope of the gospel. That is why he endures.

Persevering down the Christian life with joy only exhibits the Christian’s delight in obtaining these God given qualities. And these naturally result in a life of thanksgiving.

A God pleasing life: Giving thanks to God

Finally, a life full of thanksgiving to God pleases Him. Christians are thankful that they are granted the ability to live a life pleasing to God. They exhibit the ‘indicators of a life pleasing to God’ not because they have worked harder than anyone else, not because they have meditated on it harder, but because God in His grace gives these qualities to us. Recognizing this, we cannot help but respond in thanksgiving, and more trust in our Lord since the power of change does not come from us. The attitude of reliance and constantly recognizing God’s gifts and being thankful for them is a life that is pleasing to God.

Pray for a life that pleases Him

Let us be like Paul, not ceasing to pray for these things. If you have been a Christian for a long time, do not rest on your laurels. Recognize that God gives us these qualities but they are done through the means of prayer. If you have recently discovered the joys of knowing God for yourself, then know that God is actively working in His people. Those whom God has chosen, he will justify, sanctify and ultimately bring them to glorification. God will save us completely and infallibly and He is a mighty God that has promised to do so.

So wherever your lot in life, whatever your spiritual condition, turn to the author of your salvation and trust that He will save you completely.

– The End –

Jesus, Supreme Over All

Colossians 1:15-23

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.

Colossians 1:15-16

Jesus is Lord of all

This is a quote familiar to us: Jesus is either Lord of all, or He is none at all. ‘Jesus is Lord’ is the life cry of a Christian who has wholeheartedly devoted the entirety of his life towards Jesus. There is no middle ground, no compromise of living sometimes for Jesus and sometimes for ourselves. Declaring His Lordship shows that we willingly place Jesus as the highest authority in our lives and we subject ourselves under His teachings. He is Lord of all, or none at all.

This is the truth that Paul is declaring to the Colossian believers in our passage today. Paul is describing the superiority of Jesus Christ; Jesus is supreme over all of creation, and He is supreme over salvation. As we go through our passage, let us meditate on the superiority of who Jesus is and the implications on how we live and how we carry out our Christian lives.

Jesus is supreme because He is the perfect image of God

How do we come to understand just what the image of God refers to?

When you create a statue of yourself, you are creating that statue in your image. You are modelling the statue to reflect certain attributes about you that would remind people of you. Now imagine that you have create 1 million statues of yourself. There would be a lot of people doing a lot of remembering about you. This is what God has done when He has created us in His image. We bear His likeness, we are supposed to reflect what He is like. But because of the presence of sin, we have become corrupted images of God. We still bear His image, but this image is now spoiled…

In Jesus Christ, God’s image is reflected perfectly. Jesus is the flawless visible image of the invisible God. He is the perfect representation of the character and attributes of God in its fullness. Jesus is exactly how God would be like if God were in a human form. And He is in human form, in the person of Jesus Christ. This is what it means to be bearing the image of God; to be like Jesus. And this is the aim of all Christians; to become like Christ, to bear the image of God in this world, showing the rest of the world who God really is, giving Him the glory.

This is the reason behind the Christian saying that we are to become more and more like Jesus. God has created us to be His image bearers and to know how to do that, and we see the prime and perfect example in Jesus Himself. You can even say that in becoming like Jesus, we are becoming like God Himself in His morality and His attributes.

Jesus is supreme because He is the Creator

Many of us brush past the fact of Jesus as our creator. To some Christians, this might just seem like just another theological point to memorize so that we can give correct Christian answers. Jesus is not only our Lord, but He is our Creator as well.

Paul tells us here that Jesus is the agent of Creation. It is through Him that all things were created (v.16a). You can say that the person in the Trinity carrying out the work of Creation was none other than Jesus Himself.

Jesus also sustains creation as Paul saysin Him all things hold together (v.17). Hebrews 1:3 also says that Jesus upholds the universe by the power of His word. He is both the one who gives us life, and the one who sustains us as we continue to have life.

This is why we submit our lives to Him. Jesus made us and He knows how life should be lived. After all He is the one who is the Creator, He should be the highest authority in determining the best way to carry out our lives. Disobedience to Jesus is going against the created order, wanting to live life our own way apart from Him is going against the created order.

Not only that but Creation was made for the purposes of glorifying Jesus. Creation was created for Him (v.16b). Jesus created us for Himself, but the only way we can be united with Him is through His work to redeem us from our sins.

Jesus is supreme because He is our Saviour

Jesus has created us for His glory, but sinful man is not able to have fellowship with a Holy God. Thus, Jesus came to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross (v.20). Now reconciling all things does not mean that everyone in the world will get salvation. All things is a reference to all that God has created that has been infected by the results of man’s sin.

But you might ask, “why does the rest of Creation need to be redeemed?” This is because the extent of the effects of man’s sin does not stop at himself. There are great cosmic consequences for man’s self-indulgent act. The result of sin has also infected the rest of creation. Romans 5:12 tells us that it is through Adam’s sin that death came into the world. The whole of creation has suffered as a result of humanity’s fall in sin and is therefore in need of reconciliation.

This reconciliation is therefore found in the saving work of Jesus Christ. It is through Christ’s sacrifice that all things are redeemed. It is through the work of Christ on the cross that Jesus has brought his entire rebellious creation back under the rule of His sovereign power. Especially redeeming sinful man (who was supposed to be created in His image) but lived as though they were His enemies; as those who were alienated, hostile in mind, doing evil deeds (v.21).

But Jesus did not stop there. He did not pay for your sins to bring you back to ground zero and leave you there (probably to fall into sin again). Jesus bought you with His blood in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him.

The condition

All these wonderful promises of God will be given to you if you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you have heard (v.23). Paul is speaking of the people who continue living by faith, having trust in Jesus as a way of life. These would be the ones who share in the inheritance of salvation.

If you continue to think that you are a Christian because you said a sinner’s prayer, or raised your hands at an altar call, or invited Jesus that one time into your heart, you need to repent of this mindset. The Bible calls us to repent and believe. So Christian brother and sister, submit yourself to the Lordship of Christ. Give yourself and the entirety of your life to Him. One day every knee shall bow before Him whether willingly or unwillingly, so make Him the Lord over your life today.

– The End –

The Heart of a Disciple Maker

Colossians 1:24-29

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Colossians 1:27

Jesus and Paul the disciple makers

In the previous section, we get a peek into how Paul views his Master, the risen Christ. He presents Jesus as supreme over creation and supreme over the Colossian believers’ salvation. It is in this superior Messiah that the Colossian believers’ salvation is rooted in, and this same Jesus is working in their lives to “present them holy and blameless (v.22).”

In our passage today, we see something similar, where Paul is speaking of his own ministry in working to “present the Colossians mature in Christ (v.28).” Both Jesus and Paul are working towards that final presentation. You may even say that Paul is engaging in the same kind of work as Jesus. And both are working towards the same end: the spiritual maturity of all believers. Jesus made reconciliation possible through his death, sending the Holy Spirit, Paul works to build up the Colossian believers through his letters.

This is the same work that Christians are called to engage in today. If you are a Christian, this is the work you are called to do. The work of discipling is the work of pursuing your disciple’s holiness and striving for their maturity. It is the same work that Jesus is doing in the believer, and it is the same work that Paul was striving to achieve in the lives of the Colossian believers.

But what is involved when we do this work?

The work of a disciple maker: Making the mystery known

The first thing that Paul says he is striving to do is to make the word of God fully known regarding a particular “mystery”. Some people may take mystery to mean the mystery of God; that we should be meditating and stretching out our feelings to find out some hidden revelation or a wonderful secret about God. While it is true that there are mysteries about God that is beyond the comprehension of the human mind, these “mysteries of God” are not what Paul is referring to when he uses that word. In fact, Paul himself tells us what this mystery is. It is something that has already been revealed. It was a mystery in the past but is now revealed to all those who are Christians (v.26).

What is this mystery? It is Christ in you, the hope of glory (v.27). If Jesus is who you completely identify with to the point where you can say Christ is in you, there is hope for these people. There is a certainty that you can experience the final glory. It is a hope that is centered around the person of Jesus Christ.

Most of the time, Paul speaks of us being in Christ, which we usually classify this as the doctrine of having union with Christ. But here he reverses it to say that Christ is in you. Romans 8:1,10 shows us that either expression describes those who are recipients of the gospel and its effects.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)

But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness (Romans 8:10).

We as the covenant people of God can now completely identify with Christ as our representative. Romans 8:1 and Romans 8:10 both emphasize the intimate relationship between Christ and His people. If Christ is in you, God no longer condemns us on behalf of Christ, and we can live a life that is spiritually alive to righteousness.

Teaching our disciples these truths is an essential part of their Christian walk. This is the mystery you have to know: That having Christ in us means that Jesus will be our advocate. He will stand beside us in the day of judgement and defend us on the basis of His work on the cross. This is the hopeful message to a people in sin, whose only destiny was supposed to face the judgement of God and the fires of hell. Christians rejoice in this message, leading them to lead radically different lives, pursuing the life that Jesus had laid out for us.

But what would this radical life look like?

The disposition of a disciple maker: A Willingness to Suffer

Walking down this path of pursuit of the gospel, in discipling others to maturity in Christ, in working to make the word of God fully known, this is a work that takes up the entire of the human soul. Notice the language that Paul uses as he labours to do his work. Paul says that he rejoices in his sufferings and filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of the church (v.24). He is toiling and struggling with every ounce of his energy to do God’s work (v.29). Paul is not only willingly taking the suffering that comes to him through his circumstances, but he is also actively working and planning and using his energy in working out how to strengthen the Colossian believers.

This doesn’t seem like an easy life at all. The work of a disciple maker doesn’t seem like the good life that some preachers promise us. It doesn’t seem like the life that most of our peers and friends seem to be pursuing. It may not even seem like the kind of ideal life you would like to pursue.

Paul was in prison writing this letter. Jesus walked to the cross. These were done for the sake of rescuing your spiritual condition from the chains of sin and death. Jesus suffered the worst of human tortures to free His elect from the power of sin and death. Paul was anguishing over the Colossians’ exposure to false teachers while he was in prison, and sought to encourage his fellow believers away from apostasy.

The price of redeeming our spiritual soul is immensely costly. But most of us do not see the value in this. As a result, we don’t even take time to study God’s word, to grow in our wisdom and relationship with our God. We are satisfied with a “simple faith” and think that these higher Christian-ly duties are for the more “serious” Christians. Or we are too busy pursuing our other interests in the world. May those of us who have these mindsets repent of them and take on the disposition of a suffering servant for Christ.

– The End –

The Treasure of Wisdom and Knowledge

Colossians 2:1-7

that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Colossians 2:2-3

A faith shaking experience

Have you ever had a faith-shaking experience before? A chat with a friend who is well-versed in philosophy, watching a documentary on TV that exposes the Christian faith, an inspirational talk that helps you better yourself, making you wonder whether you really need Christ in your life, reading a fictional book that you know is just a conspiracy ttheory… or is it? Or maybe even witnessing a family member or someone close falling away from the faith? All these can be run-ins with circumstances life brings us that cause us to doubt and question our faith.

False teachers lead believers towards “wisdom” and away from Christ

As we come to our second chapter in Colossians, you can probably see similarities as to why Paul is agonizing over the lives of the Colossian believers (v.1). The church was under the threat of false teachers who were leading believers away with their plausible arguments (v.4), likely promising that the attaining of wisdom and knowledge that would lead to a fulfilling life. Being in a Greek culture that prized philosophy and the attainment of wisdom, an adherence to those philosophies would certainly put the church in a “better light” among the rest of the people within the city.

We do not have a record on specifically what these false teachers were teaching, but whatever it was, these teachings were promoting their own forms of wisdom, while leading the believers away from Christ.

One modern-day example that is of a similar nature is the theory of evolution. The theory of evolution has led many Christians to question the validity of the Bible. They digress into thinking that Genesis might not need to be interpreted literally, or that Genesis is written as a poem. An acceptance of the theory of evolution (a conforming to the wisdom of the modern world) has led people to change their view of the Bible. If Genesis is viewed as a figurative event, what is to stop people from applying this standard to the other books of the Bible as well?

The issue of unbelief of the heart

While there are arguments and scientific proofs to debunk evolution and to defend creationism, that is not the issue facing one who struggles between the two ends of the debate. The issue is a spiritual one. The unbelief of the heart can only be changed through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not something one simply changes by a force of will, neither is it an issue where you can argue someone into believing. It takes the Holy Spirit for someone to recognize the value of Christ.

That is why Paul speaks of Christ as the treasure of wisdom and knowledge (v.3). A heart that has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit recognizes this. Christ is who one needs in order to understand spiritual reality and to lead a life pleasing to God. If Christ is your treasure, there is no need for you to conform to the wisdom of this world.

The attaining of true wisdom and knowledge

At the same time, having faith in Jesus is also not intellectual suicide. On the contrary, it is true wisdom because these truths come from God. God is the one who rules over the earth. He has ordered, shaped and fashioned the way things are supposed to be run on this earth. That is why worldly wisdom apart from God is a fantasy. Paul even calls these systems of thinking a delusion (v.4).

No believer should throw his brain away when he takes up the banner of Christ in his heart. On one hand, we should have an inner commitment to obey God rather than man. On the other hand, we should also be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have. We shouldn’t be ignorant on real issues that might deter people to coming to faith in Christ.

Instead of succumbing to the wisdom of this world, we should be looking at these issues through a Christian worldview: what has God revealed in the Bible, and how do we apply this knowledge to the issues we are facing in life.

Central to this message is the mystery that is Christ (v.2). The good news of Jesus dying on the cross for us is the core to why and how Christians live our lives on earth. He died for us that we might live in newness of life. He took the penalty of sin and death away from us, that is why we owe Him everything and would do everything He commands. That would entail obeying the commandments of Christ. But these are not merely commands to be obeyed; they are how Jesus our Creator intended life to be lived. This is the path to having the highest quality of life here on this earth. This is true wisdom and knowledge that can be obtained - the wisdom and knowledge of the Creator Himself.

And that is the exhortation of Paul to the believers. Just as you received Christ, walk in Him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving (v.6-7).

– The End –

To pursue causes or to pursue Christ

Colossians 2:8-19

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Colossians 2:8

The fight for what you believe in

Protesting for almost 3 months and counting. That is how long the people of Hong Kong have been demonstrating against a government bill that is seen to threaten the citizen’s freedom. It is a cause that the people of Hong Kong believe very strongly in, and the protests do not seem to be slowing down any time soon. Fighting for what you think is right is something most humans do. While we may not have a cause that is on such a large scale, Singapore does have her own battles as well. Environmental activists fight for their belief that the earth is dying, Social Justice warriors fight for their belief that the wrongs of those who are oppressed should be righted, Philanthropists give away their wealth for their belief in giving back to society etc.

This is where Paul is warning the believers at Colossae to be careful about. He warns them not to be taken captive by these philosophies (v.8). The word “philosophies” in the Greek does not refer to how we use it; to describe entire philosophical ideas like Relativism, Nihilism, Marxism or Confucianism. It refers more generally to a system of thinking or how people think. It is speaking about a person’s general outlook on life; you can call it a belief system that they have, through which they see the world.

While Paul is not discrediting all forms of ‘philosophy,’ he is concerned about belief systems that are not reliant on Christ. Ways of thinking that may capture a person’s time, energy and attention, leading him away from Christ.

For example, a person may have a belief system that says that people should live the best life that they can and get rid of all negative influences in their lives. It may lead said people to make it their life goal to motivate themselves, raising their self-esteem so that they can become the best version of themselves. This mindset permeates through their work, their relationships and their private life with the belief that they can have a better life. But this way of thinking is not according to Christ. The Bible teaches us that God is in charge of our lives and that we should accept all things good or bad that the Lord brings our way because He knows what is best for us. A belief system that brings us further away from Christ is what Paul is warning us against.

What were some of these belief systems the Colossian believers were facing?

A belief system from tradition and from the elemental principles of the world

It is not stated explicitly what false teaching the Colossian believers were facing. It seems that these false teachers were not denying that Christ was central to God’s saving plan. Instead, they seem to be promoting certain practices that must be added on in order to achieve true spiritual fulfillment. They would say “yes you are a Christian because of what Jesus did, but to really be able to experience God fully and to have true spirituality, you should do __________.”

There are a few categories that Paul gives us that describe what these false teachers were promoting. They are belief systems rooted in traditions or elementary principles of man that are not rooted in Christ.

What are traditions?

Traditions are something that is passed down to us from previous generations. These are beliefs or ways of thinking that have been handed down to us from previous generations. It could be influences from our parents, bosses, teachers, the broader societal values or even leaders in church.

One such example could be placing studies above God. While no Christian worth his salt would ever admit to it, some may encourage their children to skip church so that they can have more time to study for exams. The Lord’s day is used for tuition time, and Bible studies and family devotions are seen as optional co-curriculum activities. These actions stem from the belief system that studying and achieving good grades are essential in the Singaporean society. This is an example of a belief systems that might have influenced us through society.

The church also has its own traditions. Having prayer meeting is a tradition. Singing 5 songs before our sermon is a tradition. Meeting our cell groups twice a month is a tradition. Having light refreshments after service while talking about how our week went is a tradition. Again, Paul’s point is not that we should get rid of all traditions, but that we should examine them carefully to see whether these traditions are ‘according to Christ (v.8), whether these traditions are consistent with the teachings of Scripture.

Mark 7:8 has Jesus answering the Pharisees regarding their Jewish traditions. 8 “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” Jesus was berating the Pharisees who were upholding their traditions that were in direct contradiction to God’s commandments. The commands of God in Jesus’ view take precedence over the traditions of men.

What we should be doing as a church is that we should examine our traditions to see if what we are thinking or doing is consistent with what the Bible teaches us. We need to study God’s word and know what is consistent with the Bible and measure the Godly standards against the traditions that we may be holding on to. We should be humble and always willing to be corrected by the living Word of God.

What are the elementary principles of the world?

Another characteristic of this philosophy that leads people away from Christ is that these are the ‘elemental spirits’ of the world. It can also be translated as the elemental/basic principles of the world. These are most likely referring to that which the false teachers were trying to promote. Questions in food and drink, circumcision and the celebration of holy days (v.16).

In one sense, you could call these teachings traditions, since they were promoted by those who were formerly Jews wanting to hang on to the Jewish customs and rites. However, Paul makes it clear that he views these things as elementary principles. These were the customs of the Israelites were given to them before Jesus came. There is now a new era of salvation that comes together with Jesus Christ, in whom all the rites of the Jews have now been put aside. A teaching that goes back to the old ways that are now obsolete in Christ is probably why Paul calls these the elementary principles of the world.

True Spirituality

Paul gives us the reason why we should not continue in our belief systems that are not according to Christ. That Christians are united with Christ. This means that we share in Jesus’ destiny, we are now tied to the person of Jesus Christ. Whatever is true of Jesus, will be true of us. Christ is the one universal Lord, and Christians, by identifying with Christ in faith, experience the benefits of that Lordship. Christians experience spiritual “fullness” (v. 10) because we are in Christ, in whom “all the fullness of the Deity lives” (v. 9). We were circumcised with Him (v.11), we died with Him (v.12a) and we will be raised with Him on the last day (v.12b).

So, a Christian united with Christ no longer has to hold on to the worldly philosophies. Jesus is supreme over creation and knows what is best for us. He knows how life should be lived and has laid out for us how we should think and we should be obedient to what he teaches. So, cling on to Christ. Hold on to the promises that are awaiting and live in a manner that shows your belief system being subject and being according to Christ.

– The End –

A different set of rules

Colossians 2:20-3:4

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

Colossians 3:1-2

Christians live by a different set of rules

A Christian is one who is dead to the world and alive in Christ. These statements are not merely Christian clichés that we hear every week to feel good about ourselves. They instead describe the life one lives once he has been transformed by the power of the gospel. Being a Christian is not just about “accepting Jesus into our hearts” and then resting easy for the rest of our lives because we are going to heaven. Being a Christian is a way of life. And here Paul is inviting us to consider the implications of living a Christian life that is united with Christ.

A Christian is one who is dead to the world (v.20). Now Paul’s concern in this verse is not simply to remind us of our death ‘in Christ,’ but to highlight the effects of that reality; that we have died to the elemental spiritual forces of the world. The emphasis here is that we have been liberated from the world. We no longer have to subject ourselves under its value system, we do not treasure what the world treasures, and we live by a different set of rules.

Now Paul is not implying that believers should not continue living in the physical world, isolating themselves and live in a cave far away from the material pursuits of life. The point he is making is that believers no longer count the world as their true home or the place that dictates how they are to live. By dying with Christ, we have been set free and no longer belong to the world. We are now free to live in the way Christ has commanded us to live.

A mindset for Christians: it’s not just about the rules

Paul goes on to list for us a set of rules that apparently the false teachers have been spreading around the church of Colossae, teaching them that a higher and more complete form of spirituality can be found through obeying these rules; do not handle, do not taste, do not touch (v.21). While we do not know what Paul was specifically referring to, we may have our own modern versions of rules like that (do not even taste alcohol, do not handle drugs etc.).

While it may be beneficial in avoiding alcohol and drugs, that is not the point. Paul is saying that the false teachers have been making far too big a deal of matters that do not get to the essence of true Christian spirituality: the change of heart and mind that leads to true holiness. The strict observance of these rules (no matter how spiritually sounding they are) does not make one a Christian. And more importantly, a Christian should not be living out his Christian life thinking that this strict obedience is the mindset a Christian has to adopt.

Jesus speaks against this ‘all about the rules’ mindset in his encounters with the Pharisees who were known for their preoccupation with their own rules of ritual uncleanness: ‘They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions” (Mark 7:7–8) Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees for upholding their man-made laws in place of true obedience to God and this is what we as Christians should be wary of.

The problem with man’s laws

Christians are people who are alive with Christ, we have been awakened to be God-glorifiers as God created us to be. The Holy Spirit awakens in us spiritual eyes that we may see the value of holiness, the depths of our sin and the desire to walk in a manner that is pleasing to God. Following man-made rules is of no benefit to the one who is beholding the beauty and glory of God. Why is this so? Paul gives us 3 reasons.

First is they are man-made. They are according to human precepts and teachings (v.22). God has already revealed sufficiently, what pleases Him and what does not. We do not add to His law by making up our own rules and enforcing them for some semblance of spirituality.

Second, they have an appearance of wisdom (v.23). To the man who is alive to the world, these rules seem harmless, wise even to be living according to these laws. But the nature of this mindset is now made explicit by Paul in the third reason he gives; that these laws have no value in promoting true spirituality (v.23). The claim of these false teachers to offer a wise and higher level of spiritual growth is nothing but a sham. True spiritual growth is given to us by God. And as we saw two weeks ago it is found in Christ: where all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (Colossians 2:3).

There is a place for obedience to God’s law. But it is not the end all be all of being a Christian. There is neither spiritual benefit nor any gained merit in God’s eyes in the obedience of these man-made laws.

How then should we live?

Remaining in Christ

If there is a rule that replaces all the other man-made ones, it is Paul’s exhortation to Christians is to remain centered on Jesus Christ. A Christian who identifies with Christ would adopt a new mindset that leads to a new way of life.

“Seek the things above (v.1)” and “set your minds on the things above (v.2).” A Christian is to be heavenly minded. For Paul is not saying that believers should seek to possess “the things above.” Rather, they are to seek to orient themselves completely to these heavenly realities. Believers “seek the things above” by deliberately and daily committing ourselves to the values of the heavenly kingdom and living out of those values. We live as though we already belong to the Kingdom of heaven.

Paul then concludes this section with an expression of confidence of the fact of Christ’s second coming, when believers will “appear with him in glory” (v. 4). Believers now live in anticipation of that fact. We are no longer living for ourselves. Our lives now belong to Jesus. He is the one whom we want to please and hear from at the end of the day, “well done good and faithful servant.”

Let us continue to pray that we as brothers and sisters would be granted this heavenly mindset from God that we may truly live a life that is alive to Christ and dead to the world.

– The End –

A life together with fellow Christians

Colossians 3:12-17

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Colossians 3:12-13

A house that does not crumble

When you want to build a house, you require different materials. A house is usually made up of various components such as bricks, steel bars and wood. These are all the strong materials that you would require to make a sturdy house. However, if you just tried to build a house with just these materials alone, it probably wouldn’t stay up for very long. You need one more component, something other than the strong stuff, you need the sticky stuff. Things that binds these components together. Cement for bricks, nails for wood, welding for steel bars and so on.

Now, the same thing will happen to the church which is a spiritual house. It consists of many individual components that called members. If these components are merely placed together without being properly bonded together, if will not take too much effort by the Devil or any stormy gale to blow the entire house down. It is only when the components of God's house are bonded well together, that the house will be able to stand firm and fulfill its purpose as a spiritual house for a long time.

Today we will be talking about just what is it that binds us together in building our spiritual house. That being the mindset that ‘Christ is all’. We have spoken in Chapter 1 the glories of Jesus Christ, that in all of creation, all of redemption, Christ is pre-eminent. Christ is all. In chapter 2 we reflected that once we prided ourselves in having wisdom like the Greeks, but now Christ is all. Once we reveled in our traditions or our religiosity, but now Christ is all. And today, since Christ is all, we reflect and meditate on how we should relate to our fellow brothers and sisters.

A broken community living with one another

The first thing Paul exhorts his readers to put on a whole bunch of qualities that he lists (v.12).

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

This gives us a bit of insight to the way Paul views his fellow believers. Firstly, he doesn’t think of believers as people who have everything going their way. Paul doesn’t have the mindset where once you become a Christian, everything will be going well in your life. He expects friction between believers, and interactions between sinful people. Which leads us to our second observation.

Secondly, Paul also sees that the Christian life is to be walked closely together among other Christians. In fact, you are walking so closely that you would be rubbing shoulders with those whom you have covenanted to walk together with. This is the background to how we should come to understand on how we should deal with each other: Bear with each other and forgive one another (v.13).

“bear with” (anechomai), indicates a somewhat grudging willingness to “put up with” difficult circumstances. So, Paul recognizes that a group of sinners coming together would produce the inevitable result of rubbing one other the wrong way. Thus, the command to bear with one another.

There is no moral obligation for you to ‘bear with’ your boss since you can just quit your job. You don’t have to ‘bear with’ your friends, since you can just stop hanging out with them. There is no legal or moral obligation to continue bearing with the nonsense that people bring your way, unless… unless they are a brother or a sister in Christ.

We are also to forgive one another. “Forgive” translates a Greek verb (charizomai) that conveys the idea that forgiving others is an act of grace, freely offered, often not deserved. Paul recognizes that in the Christian community there will be times when a person will have a grievance against someone else within the fellowship. In such cases, believers are to imitate their Lord, who has “graciously forgiven” them.

Paul also gives us the motivation. We are to forgive because the Lord has forgiven us. Christ knows all our faults, our quirks, our sins and the times when we betray Him. But He still walked to the cross to pay with his body and with his own life, to purchase forgiveness for all of us. If Christ is all, we would want and love to imitate our Lord.

A community bound together in love

Paul sums up these qualities saying “ And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (v.14).” Paul did not give us commands that they may only be outwardly fulfilled with deep resentment still residing in us. We are to relate to one another not just on an outwardly superficial level, but with our entire being.

Paul speaks to the inner thoughts of a person. That we should be loving one another, not obeying the commands of Jesus for show. This love comes supernaturally from the Holy Spirit. It is the love of God that we should be demonstrating to our fellow brothers and sisters.

The reason why love is the distinguishing feature of a true disciple or true Christian is that it is the most divine of all virtues. 1 Corinthians 13 calls it the greatest among the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love. 1 John 4:7-8 says “if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” This divine virtue called love must therefore be evident in your life if you are truly born of God.

Let us strive to love our fellow brothers and sisters with the love of God that He gives through His Holy Spirit. If you do not have this love, pray that God will give it to you, and look out for your fellow brother and sister’s need in showing love to them.

A new commandment I give you, love one another. By this all will know you are my disciples

- John 13:34

– The End –

Submitting Under Earthly Authorities

Colossians 3:18-4:1

23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

Colossians 3:23-24

A Christian is one who is submissive

The Christian life is one that prizes our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ above all things. The heart cry of a Christian is “Christ is all!” Clinging on to Christ as the most important and the most precious to us. Paul continues exhorting the Colossian believers to live the implications of a Christian life that is united with Christ: A life of submission.

Christians submit ourselves to the authorities as a way of life

Submission is not seen as a virtue in our modern society. Society teaches that it is good to be free from the control of others around us, free from the control of our government and finally free from the control of God. Our society typically prizes traits like strength, assertiveness, boldness, independence etc. Thus, in the eyes of the modern man, no one should not be submitting himself to anything or anyone.

This demonstrates our own sinful, independent spirit, thinking we know better. The idea of being under someone else rubs most of us the wrong way. Not having a Godward focus and not remembering the commands of His word, can easily lead us into the ways of this world; delving into protests of maintaining our rights and insisting on our own way.

However, the Bible gives us clear guidelines on the structure of authority in our lives. Every single one of us are under the authority of someone else — whether it be bosses, parents, church leaders, the government or your husband. God has made it very clear what we are to do; submit yourself to the authorities that God has placed over you.

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters (v.18-22).

Jesus Himself teaches us the way we should be living in this world. He gave us an example in His own life, where He who was in His nature God, did not grasp on to His status as God, but rather humbled himself as a servant, submitting Himself to do the will of the Father.

Christians submit because God has appointed the leaders over you

Christians submit under our earthly authorities not because we are unthinking sheep to be herded around. Neither do we simply blindly submit to any authority being placed over us for the sake of it. But we do this because God Himself has placed these authorities over us. Thus, when we submit to the authorities that rule over us because we are serving the Lord. Paul writes:

22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (v.22-24)

We do not simply work as the world does, for the sake of “eye-service” and “people-pleasing” (v.22). Many people work for the sake of earthly gains in the form of recognition from their bosses, for the benefits they derive from pleasing these bosses and for their own promotions that depend on theses authorities. But Christians are to “work heartily as for the Lord and not for men” (v.23). What drives Christians to work well is that we are working for the Lord.

Christians submit because God sovereignly rules over everything

Christians submit under our earthly authorities because we know that God rules over the whole universe. The way the world seeks a leader is to find someone who can liberate them that they may rebel against their oppressive rulers in order to free themselves. It is a political see-saw, with groups battling to see who can one-up their opposition in order to gain power of the other.

But God gives us a different worldview. He is the one who has all power. He freed us from our sins and we acknowledge Him as our King. But as the wisest, omnipotent, omniscient, holy King over our lives, He tells us to submit to our earthly rulers and to do so industriously, working hard under their rule.

God ruling over all is a great encouragement and a powerful motivation that allows a Christian to willingly be subject to the earthly authorities placed over Him. No one will be able to escape the judgement of God. Christians may suffer injustice at the hands of our earthly rulers, we may be unfairly treated or abused, but we willingly continue to subject ourselves under them because God is the final judge at the end of the day. Our missed opportunities of promotion, our lower salary, our longer working hours are not final. God will carry out justice at the end of the day and the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done (v.25).

Christians submit because ultimately, we trust God’s will for our lives

So, the ability to submit yourself is a question of faith and trust in God. The ultimate question is really not, “Can I trust the person in authority over me,” but, “Am I trusting that God is leading this person to lead me?” Yes, people are fallible, but God is infallible. He never makes mistakes. He establishes rulers and kingdoms. He is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. And he has put those bosses, elders, parents and husbands in the positions of authority they are in. Nothing takes him by surprise. And he can be trusted.

How we respond to difficult decisions made by the leadership over us is a test of Christian maturity. We can choose to humbly submit or make a respectful appeal, or we can choose to grumble, gossip, and slander the very leaders God has sovereignly placed in our lives. So in whatever situations you may be in, would you put your trust in the Lord of all the earth who will do right?

– The End –

Praying and Proclaiming

Colossians 4:2-6

2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving

Colossians 4:2

The call to prayer

Let us begin with a quote from a preacher who said this about prayer meetings: “You can see how popular the church is by seeing how many people turn up for service. You can see how popular the preacher is by seeing how many people stay for the sermon. But you can see in a church, how popular God is by seeing how many people turn up for their church’s Friday prayer meeting.”

1.1 Being persistent in prayer

Prayer is an integral part of a Christian’s life. And in our passage here, Paul starts us off by giving us a command “continue steadfastly in prayer (v.2).” But notice something, this first command is not a command directing us to pray. It is for us to “Continue steadfastly” in prayer.

Paul’s command for us to continue steadfastly in prayer not a plea for increased intensity or passion while praying, but instead to pray frequently and with perseverance. This is a plea for us as people in the church to be praying regularly.

Persistency in prayer does not mean praying out of habit at fixed timings. Every time before I eat, every time before I sleep, or right after I wake up. Prayer should not be reduced to just another item to be checked off on our to do list. That is legalism. If prayer is just a routine that you go through in your daily life then you might as well not do it. It is from the first recognition of your dependency that you will never fail to go to God in everything.

So, in light of the persistency of prayer, Paul gives us a couple of attitudes to have when we pray:

Keep yourself awake in prayer

Watchful – be awake. The word is usually used in the sense of being alert in the expectation of Christ’s imminent return. This is a call for Christians to watch how they live their own lives in light of the return of Christ. It is a vigilance to daily decisions.

One example is when Jesus was telling his disciples to be watchful and prayerful in the garden of Gethsemane, He told them to stay awake and pray that they might not fall into temptation. When we are being watchful in persistent prayer, it is telling us that in our prayers, we are to guard ourselves against sin. We are to keep ourselves alert to the sins that commonly tempt us.

We can assume that one of the great dangers of the Christian life is that some become drowsy or sleepy in their prayer life. The Bible says that Satan prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. If you want to know how to fight temptation, pray! And not just pray, pray persistently! God has given us the means to resist temptation, to resist falling into sin and that is through not just praying, but persistent prayer.

Being thankful in prayer

The second thing Paul says about prayer is having thankfulness. A heart of thankfulness is what drives your prayer. Thanksgiving is what produces and sustains a persistency in prayer to God.

Biblical thanksgiving is an expression of gratitude of what he has done for us in Christ. The gospel message is what fuels our hearts of thanksgiving to God that our hearts may never grow cold, that we can thank God in all kinds of circumstances that He brings to us.

Remember that Paul wrote this letter in jail. He knew first-hand the importance of thankfulness in spite of his circumstances. Here is a man who is thanking God that he is in jail because he did God’s work. And when we are filled with that kind of thanksgiving, then we will be awake in the Spirit to pray. Then we will naturally pray consistently. Because we understand what God has done for us. Thus we long to commune and pour out prayer to Him.

Prayer should not be viewed as a habit as in mindlessly going through the motion. It is not even a discipline that you force yourself to do it even though your heart is cold. Instead, it should be a response of gratitude and an outpouring of thanksgiving for the grace received.

So, if you feel that your heart has grown cold, pray! Hear the word of truth, and pray that God will make His word alive in you. We have been commanded by God to pray persistently and with thanksgiving.

A call to proclamation

We do not just have a command to pray but to pray towards a purpose. That is to pray for the ministry of the gospel. The responsibility to tell people what the word of God says does not lie solely on the pastor, but it falls to every single member in this community. Living our lives as generally nice people is not sharing the gospel. Paul’s exhortation here is to tell us that we should be living consistently with the message we proclaim.

He says “5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person .” The end goal is still to proclaim the gospel. But the manner in which we live our lives should not get in the way of this proclamation.

We proclaim God’s truth in a wise walk

“Walk” – Paul is addressing how your Christian walk is to be. There is a connection between the minister preaching Christ accurately and clearly, and the Christian’s duty to present accurately and clearly in their lives and how they live in this world. The general call is that you conduct yourself wisely to outsiders.

The details of your life matters. We are to glorify God in our bodies. What are your life preferences, priorities and even the way you speak. All these communicate something about what you think of God.

Wisdom in the Bible does not refer to the ability to say witty or mystical one liners that confuse your listeners. Wisdom refers to the a manner of life that fears God. (Proverbs 9:10). Living in a God-fearing manner gives people a taste of what a Christian life should be like. We study scripture and have accountability partners among our brothers and sisters for the sake of walking in the fear of God.

We proclaim God’s truth using the best use of time

Best use of time. Or (Redeeming the time). It could mean an all-encompassing general focus for the Christian life. But Paul applies it specifically in our interactions with unbelievers. Make the most of every opportunity that you have with unbelievers. It will mean that you watch how you walk and talk while with them. But that you also use every opportunity to give positive witness in word and deed to these people.

Gracious speech can refer to sharing the gospel. Or it can also be interpreted that in all that we say, we should be gracious in our manner of speech. Having received grace, we should be gracious people and that graciousness should show forth in the way that we talk. Our speech should exhibit a self control/peacefulness that is glorifying and honouring to God.

The call is to walk in a manner worthy. Not to talk in a manner worthy. Walking includes what we say. Unbelievers should already know that you are a Christian. Our lives are a book that is read by those around us, looking to see how much we fear God in our lives. Glorify God with your bodies that you may answer each person.

– The End –