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Christian Hedonism

Paul wasn’t easily satisfied. It wasn’t enough for him to see people come to Jesus. It wasn’t enough for him to see people going to church.

Paul knew there was much more to the Christian life than these things. In today’s Bible reading, he tells us that he has prayed — and he will continue to pray — that the Christians in Colossae would grow to full spiritual maturity.

Full spiritual maturity is more than activity. It is more than doing. Full spiritual maturity is developing godliness in one’s life. Don’t believe me? Read back over today’s scheduled reading in Colossians 1, especially verses 9-14 and 24-29. Note how frequently Paul uses the word or concepts of all, fullness, completion, and maturity,

Application

Yes, the key word in the Gospel Message is DONE! We don’t have to do anything to receive the Gospel Message, to be saved, and to be securely and eternally sealed in Christ unto the Day of Salvation.

But Paul knew that you would need to grow. Do you know that you need to grow? Or are you content with knowing God just a little? Are you content in your relationship with God? Are you content with keeping God at a distance?

Or do you want to know God more every day? Do you want to become more holy in your behavior? Do you want to grow in intimacy with your Creator, your Father, your friend?

I pray that you would seek God with all that you are. That is His will for you in Christ Jesus. Seek Him and don’t stop seeking Him until you would “be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, so that you may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.” (Colossians 1:9b–12, CSB)

This devotional was originally published June 20, 2019.

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trophies

In today’s Bible reading in Philippians 3, Paul rattles off his Curriculum Vitae (resume):

“circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:5–6, CSB)

Paul says, “You may think you’re religious, you can’t top me!” And then he adds,

But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7–8, CSB)

In comparison with all of the awards, all the trophies, and all the diplomas Paul had earned and treasured in his “BC Days” as a very devout Jew, he says all of those admirable things weren’t worth a crap.

Yes, I just said that. I said it because Paul said it. And he meant it.

Elsewhere, Paul emphasized his Christ-centric message:

“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, announcing the mystery of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:1–5, CSB)

Paul could have come to the Corinthians with eloquent messages. He could have impressed them with all of his learning. Instead, he focused on Jesus. As a result, God showed up in demonstrable power from the Holy Spirit.

Application

We used to joke about how much we had learned in the cemetery, I mean the seminary. But as they say, there is an element of truth in humor. I can tell you from personal experience, reading (and amassing) a lot of theology books, learning Biblical languages, sitting in classrooms under world-class theologians, and writing a lot of papers doesn’t necessarily result in a closer walk with Jesus. In fact, sometimes these things can get in the way of a closer walk with Jesus.

Being a long-time believer and being a long-time church-goer doesn’t necessarily result in a closer walk with Jesus. In fact, sometimes these things get in the way of a closer walk with Jesus.

The only thing that will result in a closer walk with Jesus is spending time with Jesus. Spending time in prayer. Spending time reading His Word. Spending time studying His Word. Spending time memorizing His Word. Why?

Because we’re talking about a relationship. And the only way to grow closer in a relationship is to spend time together.

This devotional was originally published June 18, 2019.

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Get the big picture.

Yesterday, I said that believers tend to be shortsighted. As a result, we don’t always get the big picture. In today’s Bible reading, Paul tells the Philippians about the big picture.

Many of us enjoy reading our favorite authors and bloggers. We enjoy our listening to our favorite podcasts. We enjoy our favorite Bible teachers. The people, Bible teachers, podcasts, etc. that we align ourselves with could be called our “tribe”. Everyone is a part of a tribe.

We tend to think our tribe is the best. As a result, we don’t often associate with other tribes. We don’t read other authors. We don’t listen to other podcasts. We don’t expose ourselves to other Bible teachers.

I think one of the biggest downsides to all of this is, since we think our tribe is the best, we think the other tribes are less desirable and even to be avoided in some cases. Such was the case with some who were preaching the gospel in Philippi. Paul says,

To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. These preach out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. Philippians 1:15–17 (CSB)

Paul says, “Yes, some Bible teachers have wrong motives. Some are selfish. Some are vindictive and downright mean.” But look at his next statement.

What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice Philippians 1:18 (CSB)

Paul tells the church at Philippi to step back a bit and take a look at the big picture. He would say, “Not every one of these Bible teachers is correct in all they say and they way they say it. Not every one of these Bible teachers is even sincere and some even want to desparrage my name while I’m locked up in prison. But as you take a few steps back, you’ll see that Jesus is being lifted up, even by the meanspirited and envious ones. And that’s what matters.”

Paul knew that it wasn’t about him; it’s about Jesus. And so long as Jesus is being exalted, it doesn’t matter what people think of him.

The Christian group, Casting Crowns has a song that I believe Paul would sing if given a microphone. In “Only Jesus”, singer Mark Hall sings, “I don’t want to build a legacy. I don’t care if they remember me. Only Jesus.”

Application

I know it’s hard to give grace to other people, especially people who don’t always want the best for me. But Paul would say, “Don’t worry about that. Just keep your eyes on Jesus and aim to make His name famous.”

That’s a good reminder for all of us.

Enjoy the song I referred to earlier, “Only Jesus”

This devotional was originally published June 14, 2019.

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Holy Spirit

In today’s Bible reading, Paul talks about living a consistent Christian Life. (Ephesians 5:15-22) Nobody wants to see a hypocritical Christian. And nobody wants to live a hypocritical Christian Life. So how do you live a consistent Christian Life? Paul answers the question in verse 18.

And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit Ephesians 5:18 (CSB)

Paul contrasts getting drunk on wine with being filled with the Holy Spirit. Many years ago, I heard a preacher say, “Getting drunk on wine makes you do foolish things. Getting drunk on the Holy Spirit makes you do things that seem foolish.”

Being controlled by alcohol leads to reckless living. And Paul spells out what being controlled by (which is what the Greek word “filled with” means) the Holy Spirit leads to:

speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. Ephesians 5:19–21 (CSB)

Being controlled/filled by the Holy Spirit expresses itself in praise and thanksgiving to God. It also expresses itself in mutual submission to other believers.

In the following verses, Paul expounds on how being filled with the Holy Spirit and submitting to each other expresses itself: it bubbles up and overflows into marital relationships, relationships between parents and children, and relationships between employers and employees.

But what is being filled with the Spirit? First off, the verb expresses a continual process. In other words, you aren’t just filled with the Spirit once and that’s all you need. Paul says, “Keep on being continually filled/controlled by the Holy Spirit.” Being filled with the Holy Spirit isn’t a one-time experience; being filled with the Holy Spirit should be a moment-by-moment experience.

Next, being filled with the Spirit results in relationship changes, beginning with a believer’s relationship with God and extending to the believer’s relationships with other believers.

So how is someone filled with the Spirit? Some would say by someone laying their hands on you and you speaking in ecstatic words. But is that what Paul says? Look at what Paul tells the Colossians in a parallel passage:

Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:16–17 (CSB)

Just like being filled with the Holy Spirit is a continual, moment-by-moment process, letting the word of Christ live in us is a continual, moment-by-moment process: Let the word of Christ “keep on continually living in you”.

Notice: The expressions of being filled with the Holy Spirit are identical to letting the word of Christ live richly among you: relationship changes between the believer and God (praise and thanksgiving) and relationships with other believers. Just like he does in the verses following Ephesians 5:18, Paul spells out these marital, parent/child, and employer/employee relationships in the verses following Colossians 3:17.

So being filled with the Holy Spirit is the same thing as letting the word of Christ dwell in you. In other words, as believers spend time reading God’s Word, studying God’s Word, and memorizing God’s Word, our relationship with God and our relationships with other believers change. These changes won’t happen overnight. It’s a continual process as we keep on being filled and as we keep on letting God’s Word fill our lives.

Application

Are you keeping on being continually filled with the Holy Spirit? Do you let the word of Christ live in you? Do you read it? Do you study it? Do you memorize it?

How would you describe your relationship with God? Are you full of praise and thanksgiving to Him?

How are your relationships with other believers? Is your life characterized by mutually submitting to other believers? How is your relationship with your spouse? Your children or parents? Your employer or employees?

Again, being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting the word of Christ live in you is a continual process. Don’t be discouraged by the process. Trust the process. Spend some time in the Word today. And spend some time today just praising and thanking God.

This devotional was originally published June 12, 2019.

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free gift

Paul paints a pretty grim picture of fallen mankind in today’s Bible reading. We saw him paint the same picture a few weeks ago in the beginning few chapters of Romans.

He says we were dead. He says we were alienated from God. He says we lived according to our fleshly desires (that’s all we had!). He says we lived according to our enemy’s rules. We were by nature children of wrath. I can’t think of anything he could have missed. There is nothing positive that Paul says about us in our lost, fallen condition. Nothing. And then two of my favorite words….

But God.

While all of these bad things were true of us, God steps in and makes all things new. He makes all things good. He makes all things right so that we might be justified — to have a right standing before Him, not just on judgment day, but today. Jesus served as the final, ultimate, once-for-all atoning sacrifice that made all things right between a holy God and a fallen humanity.

In Romans 5:8, Paul puts it this way. “God shows His love for us us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.”

God made us alive. He raised us up and sat us next to Jesus in the heavenly places so that at some point in the future, he can display the immeasurable riches of His grace through kindness. (Ephesians 2:5-7)

And then in just two verses, Paul drives home the fact that all of this is a miraculous work of God. The only thing we brought to the bargaining table is the sin that made Jesus’ sacrifice necessary.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8–9 (ESV)

  • Grace is unmerited favor. He gave it because He wanted to.
  • We have been saved. This is a passive mood in Greek. It happened to us. We didn’t do it to/for ourselves; it happened from outside of us.
  • We have been saved. This is the perfect tense in Greek. Salvation is a done deal. There is nothing left for us to do to complete it.
  • Salvation is through faith and it (the process of salvation) is not of our own doing.
  • Salvation is the gift of God. It’s something given, not earned.
  • Salvation is not of works. Again, we didn’t earn it by doing anything for it. Otherwise, by definition it wouldn’t be grace, it would be “wages“.

SEVEN TIMES IN TWO VERSES!

No one can boast of salvation. Why? Because we were passive in the process when it happened to us from outside of us, not of our own doing, but rather was a gift that we didn’t work for.

Paul highlights the fact that this was a miraculous work of God because He wanted to do it (He wasn’t obligated to do it)!

Application

As they say, “If that doesn’t light your fire, your wood is wet!” How else could anyone respond to such a great salvation that God has given to His kids, but respond in joy and praise!

Spend some time doing that today!

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