Category Archives: Daily Devotional Guide

December 14 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

2 Chronicles 16; Revelation 5; Zechariah 1; John 4

 

beginning well does not mean ending well. Judas Iscariot began as an apostle; Demas began as an apostolic helper. We know how they ended up. Asa began as a reforming king zealous for God, a man who displayed formidable faith and courage when the Cushites attacked (review yesterday’s meditation)—but how he ends up in 2 Chronicles 16 is frankly disquieting.

The crisis was precipitated when Baasha, king of Israel, attacked some of Judah’s outlying towns and cities. Instead of displaying the same kind of resolute faith he had shown twenty-five years earlier, when he had to face the more formidable Cushites, Asa opts for a costly political expedient. He strips both the temple and his own palace of wealth, and sends it to Ben-Hadad, ruler of the rising regional power of Aram, centered in Damascus. Asa wants Ben-Hadad to attack Israel from the north, thereby forcing Baasha to withdraw his troops from the southern assault and defend himself in the north. The ploy worked.

This was also linking Judah with Aram in dangerous ways. More importantly, the prophet Hanani puts his finger on the worst element in this strategy: Asa is depending on politics and money, and not on the Lord God. “Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen? Yet when you relied on the Lord, he delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war” (16:8–9).

Even then the situation might have been retrieved: God so regularly listens to the truly repentant. But Asa merely becomes angry, so enraged that he throws Hanani the prophet into prison. His dictatorial urges multiply, and Asa begins to brutalize the people (16:10). Four years later he contracts a wretched disease, but instead of asking for the Lord’s help (let alone his forgiveness), he entrenches himself in bitterness and seeks help only from the physicians. Two years of disease later, he dies.

What about all those years of godly reform? We are not in the position, of course, to offer a final accounting: that belongs to God alone. But people can be on the side of goodness or reform for all kinds of reasons other than love of God; phenomenologically, people can have a heart for God for a long time (15:17) but wilt before demonstrating final perseverance. In a disciplined person, it may take a while before the truth comes out. But when it does, the test, as always, is fundamental: Am I number one, or is God?[1]

 

[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 13 Managing Your Time

Scripture reading: Ephesians 5:15–17

Key verse: Ephesians 5:15

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise.

Few of us think of time with eternity in mind. Mostly we talk of time as passing too quickly or of not having enough of it to do the things we want to do. There have been volumes written on the subject of time management. But even learning how to organize our time takes time to implement.

The apostle Paul admonished the Ephesian church to make the most of their time: “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15–16 nasb).

What did Paul mean when he said, “The days are evil”? He was underscoring the fact that most people have their minds set on things that are fading and contain little eternal value. Ephesus was a major seaport and the largest commercial center west of the Taurus Mountains. It also was a hub of pagan activity with the temple of Diana located there.

Learning how to correctly manage your time comes down to a matter of discipline. Are you focused on the things God has given you to do, or are you being drawn away by other activities?

The church in Ephesus was dear to Paul’s heart, and the believers there were sincere in their devotion to Christ. They refused to yield to the pressures around them, and as a result God gave them strength to overcome the enemy. Jesus will do the same for you.

Lord, teach me how to invest my time wisely. Give me the strength to overcome the pressures around me and set proper priorities.[1]

 

[1] Stanley, C. F. (2002). Seeking His face (p. 364). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

December 13, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

thirty days of jesus day 16

Deliverance

For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, (1:13a)

A second cause for thanksgiving is our spiritual liberation. Delivered is from ruomai, which means “to draw to oneself,” or “to rescue.” God drew us out of Satan’s kingdom to Himself. That event was the new birth. We are not gradually, progressively delivered from Satan’s power. When we placed our faith in Christ, we were instantly delivered. “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17). Believers do not need deliverance from the dominion of sin and Satan; they need to act as those who have been delivered (cf. Rom. 6:2, 7, 11).

Those who receive the Lord Jesus Christ have been rescued from the domain of darkness. Exousias (domain) could be translated “power,” “jurisdiction,” or “authority.” Our Lord used the phrase domain of darkness (exousias tou skotous) to refer to the supernatural forces of Satan marshalled against Him at His arrest (Luke 22:53). The triumph of the domain of darkness was short-lived, however. A few hours later, Jesus forever shattered Satan’s power by His death on the cross. You need not fear that power, for “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Through His death, Jesus crushed Satan and delivered us from his dark kingdom.

Transference

and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (1:13b, 14)

Paul continues the litany of blessings that draw out his gratitude by describing our new domain. Methistēmi (transferred) means to remove or change. It is used in Acts 13:22 to speak of God’s removing Saul from being king. It was used in the ancient world to speak of the displacement of a conquered people to another land. The verb speaks here of our total removal from the domain of satanic darkness to the glorious light of the kingdom of Christ.

Kingdom refers to more than the future millennial kingdom, when Jesus will reign on earth for a thousand years. Nor does it speak merely of the general rule of God over His creation. The kingdom is a spiritual reality right now. Paul gives us a definition of it in Romans 14:17: “The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The kingdom is the special relationship men in this age have with God through Jesus Christ. A kingdom in its most basic sense is a group of people ruled by a king. Christians have acknowledged Christ as their King and are subjects in His kingdom. They have been transferred … to the kingdom of His beloved Son. The Greek text literally reads, “the Son of His love” (tou huiou tēs agapēs autou). The Father gives the kingdom to the Son He loves, then to everyone who loves the Son (Luke 12:32).

Although Christ does not yet rule on earth, He is no less a king. In response to Pilate’s question, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “It is as you say” (Matt. 27:11). He reigns in eternity, rules now over His church, and one day will return to rule the earth as King of kings.

There is a tremendous responsibility that accompanies being part of Christ’s kingdom. As subjects of that kingdom, we must properly represent the King. Paul admonished the Thessalonians to “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12). Even their persecution was a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so they might be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed they were suffering (2 Thess. 1:5). The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28).

Before we could be fit subjects for Christ’s kingdom we needed redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Apolutrōsis (redemption) is one of the magnificent New Testament words expressing a blessed aspect of the work of Christ on our behalf. Alongside such terms as sacrifice, offering, propitiation, ransom, justification, adoption, and reconciliation, it attempts to describe the riches of our salvation. It means “to deliver by payment of a ransom,” and was used to speak of freeing slaves from bondage. The meaning of apolutrōsis is expressed in our English word emancipation. The Septuagint uses a related word to speak of Israel’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Apolutrōsis is used in several places in the New Testament to speak of Christ’s freeing us from slavery to sin. In Ephesians 1:7, Paul writes, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” To the Corinthians he wrote, “By His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). In the midst of perhaps the most thorough soteriological passage in the New Testament, Paul writes that we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).

Redemption results in the forgiveness of sins. Aphesin (forgiveness) refers to pardon, or remission of penalty. It is a composite of two Greek words, apo, “from,” and hiēmi, “to send.” Because Christ redeemed us, God has sent away our sins; they will never be found again. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). “He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Mic. 7:19).

So Christ’s death on our behalf paid the price to redeem us. On that basis, God forgave our sins, granted us an inheritance, delivered us from the power of darkness, and made us subjects of Christ’s kingdom. Those wonderful truths should cause us to give thanks to God continually, as did Paul in his prayer. And when we contemplate all He has done for us, how can we do any less than pray to be filled with the knowledge of His will?[1]


13 Not only has God qualified the Colossians to share in the saints’ inheritance, he has also “rescued [them] from the dominion of darkness.” This light/night dichotomy is found elsewhere in Paul (cf. Ro 13:12; Eph 5:8; Php 2:15; 1 Th 5:5) and is not uncommon in the NT, especially in the Johannine literature (cf. Jn 1:5; 3:19; 8:12; 11:10; 12:35–36; 1 Jn 1:5–7; 2:8–11; see also 1 Pe 2:9). This contrast, of course, is present at creation (Ge 1:1–5) and is given insightful expression in Isaiah (e.g., 9:2; 60:1–2). Although Colossians contends that Christ is superior to and more powerful than any other and all else (see esp. 1:15–17; 2:10), it nevertheless acknowledges the sinister power of lesser authorities that Christ, and through him Christians, must overcome and conquer (see esp. 1:20–22; 2:13–15; cf. 2 Co 10:3–6; Eph 6:11–12).

God facilitates and effects deliverance for believers through his Son. Paul describes this divine rescue mission as a transference from one “dominion” to another. God has brought Christians out of the orb of darkness “into the kingdom of the Son of his love” (lit.), into the realm and rule of God’s beloved Son. (Basileia, “kingdom,” GK 993, appears one other time in Colossians [4:11] and only fourteen times in all the Pauline letters; the term occurs some 162 times in the Greek NT and with some frequency in the Synoptic Gospels, Acts, and Revelation.) This precise description of Jesus is unparalleled in Paul (cf., however, Eph 1:6) and occurs only occasionally elsewhere in the NT (cf. Mk 1:11; 9:7 [and Synoptic par.]; 2 Pe 1:17). The Father loves his Son and demonstrates his love to humanity through the sending and giving of him (Jn 3:16; Ro 5:8; 1 Jn 4:10). The Colossians (and all Christians) are called to clothe themselves in such love (3:14; cf. 1:4; 2:2; 3:19).[2]


13  This inheritance is established in the realm of light; it is irradiated by the brightness of the Sun of righteousness, shining in his people’s hearts. It is contrasted with the realm to which they formerly belonged, the “dominion of darkness.” There is no need to see here a reflection of Zoroastrian dualism. Nor should we think in terms of Qumran influence, although parallels to this kind of language abound in the Qumran texts.55 The statement of an ethical antithesis in terms of light and darkness (light being the correlate of goodness and truth, darkness of evil and falsehood) is too widespread for us to assume in such a reference as this the influence of any one system of thought in which these terms played a prominent part. It may indeed be that the teaching to which the Colossian Christians were being exposed made play with “light” and “darkness” as it apparently did with “wisdom” and “knowledge”; but there is good biblical precedent for their use, going back to the separation of light and darkness in the creation story of Gen. 1:4. Other Pauline instances are 2 Cor. 6:14; 1 Thess. 5:5; Eph. 5:8–14.

The phrase “the dominion of darkness,” which is used here, appears in Luke’s account of our Lord’s arrest in Gethsemane, where he says to the men who have come to apprehend him, “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the dominion of darkness” (Luke 22:53). These words refer to the sinister forces marshalled against him for a decisive combat in the spiritual realm. The dark power did indeed have its brief hour of opportunity against the Son of Man, but it was only a brief hour, and it ended in the defeat of the dark power. By virtue of his conquest then, Christ vindicated his authority to raid the domain of darkness and rescue those who had hitherto been fast bound under the control of its guardians.58 Those guardians, “the world rulers of this darkness,” as they are called in Eph. 6:10, are probably the principalities and powers to which the Christians of Colossae were tempted to pay some meed of homage. But why should they do any such thing? They had already been rescued from the sphere dominated by those principalities, and translated into the domain of the victorious Son of God. No longer was there any need for them to live in fear of those forces which were believed to control the destinies of men and women: their transference to the realm of light had been accomplished once for all.

In the affirmation that believers have already been brought into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son we have an example of truly realized eschatology. That which in its fullness lies ahead of them has already become effective in them. “Those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). The fact that God has begun a good work in them is the guarantee that it will be brought to fruition on the day of Jesus Christ (cf. Phil. 1:6). By an anticipation which is a genuine experience and not a legal fiction they have received here and now a foretaste of the glory that is yet to be revealed. The “inheritance of the saints in light” has not yet been received in its coming fullness, but the divine act by which believers have been fitted for it has already taken place. The divine kingdom has this twofold aspect throughout the NT. It has already broken into the world through the work of Christ (cf. Matt. 12:28 par. Luke 11:20); it will break in on a coming day in the plenitude of glory which invests Christ’s parousia. Those who look forward to an abundant entrance in resurrection into that heavenly order which the present mortal body of flesh and blood cannot inherit are assured at the same time that this order is already theirs. This assurance they derive (as Paul says elsewhere) from the indwelling Spirit or (as it is said in v. 27 below) from the indwelling Christ.

It appears that Paul tends to distinguish those two aspects of the heavenly kingdom by reserving the commoner expression “the kingdom of God” for its future consummation, while designating its present phase by some such term as “the kingdom of Christ.” Thus, in 1 Cor. 15:24 Christ, after reigning until all things are put under his feet, delivers up the kingdom to God the Father; his mediatorial sovereignty is then merged in the eternal dominion of God.[3]


13 As noted in our schematic in the note at verses 10–12 above, Paul keeps unpacking in a series of subordinating clauses their prayer, and in v. 13 he parallels the Father’s work of qualification (v. 12b) with the Father’s work of rescuing and relocating in the kingdom of the Son in a way that evokes the exodus. In fact, one might say the parallel is precisely that: an exodus typology parallels the previous qualifying work. That is, the Father qualifies by rescuing. YHWH is the Redeemer (Isa 63:16; cf. Rom 11:26) and rescues, delivers, or saves someone—in particular, Israel (cf. Exod 6:6; 14:30; Matt 6:13). It may well be that the idea of redemptive rescue itself derives from a standard Jewish petition, with the gravity of meaning always shifting to the peril from which someone is rescued. In Paul’s letters, one is rescued from God’s wrath, or the judgment of God against the wicked (1 Thess 1:10), from wicked and evil people (2 Thess 3:2), the deadly peril of persecution (2 Cor 1:10; 2 Tim 3:11; 4:17–18), unbelievers (Rom 15:31), and death (7:24). But Col 1:13 fashions the peril in cosmic terms—“from the dominion of darkness”—and this cosmic rescue work of God emphasizes what has already happened. When redemption comes up, so does atonement, and the theory of atonement at work in this clause emerges from an exodus-from-exile theology.224 The same verb (ruomai) is found in two classic exodus formulations as translated in the LXX:

Therefore, say to the Israelites: “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem [lutroō] you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. (Exod 6:6)

That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. (Exod 14:30)

Hence, the “theory” at work is the classic theory, namely, that God ransoms us by Christ’s entrance into enemy territory to recapture the captives and take them into freedom—transporting them from enemy territory back home. We will include a full discussion of the principalities and powers below at 2:15, so for now all that needs to be said is that the “dominion of darkness” is the deep, cosmic, demonic personal realities capturing structures and society and people in this world systemically to thwart the good plan of God. That plan is to rescue people from darkness in order to relocate the rescued into the realm of the kingdom of the Son.

They have been rescued out of the “dominion of darkness.” The ancient world of both Greco-Roman and Jewish authors, including the New Testament, knows of a moral dualism depicted in terms of light and darkness (1 Thess 5:4; 1 Cor 4:5; 2 Cor 6:14; Rom 2:19; Wis 17:20; 18:4), but the imagery of light vs. darkness can come just as easily from apocalyptic thinking that divides the cosmos into those in the light over against those in the darkness. For instance, 1 Enoch 92:4–5: “The Righteous One … they [or he] shall walk in eternal light. Sin and darkness shall perish forever, and shall no more be seen from that day forevermore.” The imagery of light and darkness reflects boilerplate thinking, so it should not be pinned to any specific group in the first century. God’s rescue operation entails liberation for all believers from the “dominion of darkness,” the qualifying act of God that “transferred us” (CEB) or transported us into “the kingdom of the Son he loves.”230

What does Paul mean by “kingdom”? To begin an answer we ask, When is the kingdom? Paul’s usual emphasis is on the futurity of the kingdom, though at times the kingdom is present.232 In v. 13 “kingdom” is the inaugurated/realized reality of the eschatological plan of God, now at work in the world but that will be completed at the eschaton in the new heavens and the new earth. Some contend that the expression “kingdom of the Son he loves” expresses a basic tension between the now and the not yet of the New Testament, where it will be the fuller kingdom of God. This discussion about the now vs. the future does not go far enough in asking the even more important question. We come to another question, How is the kingdom present? This question is answered by nearly all with certitude: the kingdom becomes present in God’s redemptive act in Christ. Hence, “kingdom” is all but synonymous with “salvation.” But this conclusion leads to a further question: Where is the kingdom today? It is my contention, about to be defended, that the presentness of the kingdom, or the inaugurated reality of the kingdom, must be located in the church. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the Where question has sometimes been answered with “wherever good deeds are done.” Hence, kingdom becomes all but synonymous with ethics and social justice.

But the word “kingdom” in the Hebrew Old Testament through the Septuagint and into Josephus entailed more than the rescuing or redeeming act of God (salvation) and more than the justice of the kingdom (ethics). One can easily argue that the term never directly means either salvation or justice, though both are implicated in what kingdom means in the Jewish world. This term “kingdom” entailed five elements, without which we lose contact with what kingdom meant for Israel, for Jesus, and for the apostles:

  1. a king (here the “Son”),
  2. a rule (which includes governing, saving, rescuing, guiding, and protecting),
  3. a people (hence the term is often synonymous with “nation” and “Israel” or “Judah”),
  4. a land or place, and
  5. a law.

All five elements are present when Paul says they have been rescued from darkness and transferred into the kingdom of the Son. Robin M. Wilson says much the same in the following words: “It has been argued that the primary significance is that of sovereignty, the rule of God in the hearts and lives of men and women, rather than that of a realm or kingdom. This, however, may be to introduce a false contrast: sovereignty implies a territory within which that sovereignty is exercised, a community over which the sovereign rules, people who accept that rule.”

And Dale Allison has recently observed that “in both this age and the age to come, God’s kingship cannot be separated from the people of Israel, who in turn are inextricably bound up with the fate of their land and its capital, Jerusalem.” That is, this kingdom is more than a saving dynamic or the saving rule of God unleashed in the here and now in pursuits of justice, but the concrete reality of the redeemed people in fellowship under the King’s benevolent and protective rule. Witherington asks where Christ has “overruled” and poses two answers: through his death he now rules over the principalities and powers, and in the lives of believers he rules morally.240 I add a third: in the body of Christ, the church both universal and local. We speak here yet again however only of the inauguration of that rule, not the full realization of it.

The kingdom of the Son is the Son God “loves.” Undoubtedly we have echoes here of Ps 2:7 and Isa 42:1, both brought into view christologically in the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:11; Matt 3:17). Son refers to Jesus as King.[4]


1:13 / The second reason for thanksgiving is their deliverance from darkness and their transference to the kingdom of Christ. Darkness, in the nt, is a metaphor for evil, and those in darkness are without God and live under the rule of Satan, the evil one (Matt. 6:13). Paul, as a messenger of the gospel, was himself told: “I am sending you to them to open their [the Gentiles’] eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:17–18). Christians are described as those who at one time lived in darkness but in Christ have become people of light (Eph. 5:8; 1 Pet. 2:9; 1 John 1:5–7). In Colossians, Paul reminds his readers that they have been rescued from the dominion of darkness.

The positive side of God’s action is that he brought us (lit., “transferred”) into the kingdom of the Son he loves. The idea expressed by kingdom is that of a “rule” and is used as a counterpart to dominion. In other words, as the realm of darkness had a certain power, the transference is to the rule (power, authority) of the Son God loves (lit., “Beloved Son,” as used at the baptism and transfiguration, Mark 1:11; 9:7, and parallels; cf. also Eph. 1:6). The Colossians have been rescued from the sphere of darkness dominated by evil powers and transferred into the realm of the victorious Son of God.

The phrase kingdom of the Son he loves or the “kingdom of Christ,” is not common in the nt. Perhaps the apostle uses this expression to emphasize the present reality and sphere of their possession in Christ rather than the more common “kingdom of God,” which has a connotation of the future (1 Cor. 6:9; 15:50; Gal. 5:21; 2 Tim. 4:1, 18). Or, Paul simply may be preparing the way for the Christ hymn that follows. At any rate, it serves to remind the readers that they are no longer subject to evil forces; they have been delivered from these powers and are reminded to live victoriously in the power of Christ (3:1–4).[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1992). Colossians (pp. 40–42). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Still, T. D. (2006). Colossians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 285–286). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Bruce, F. F. (1984). The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (pp. 50–52). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[4] McKnight, S. (2018). The Letter to the Colossians. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (pp. 124–129). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[5] Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (p. 25). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

December 13 Godly Dependence

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:1–8

Key Verse: 2 Corinthians 5:7

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

So much is written about faith these days. We think and talk about trusting God, and try, even though we stumble at times, to walk by faith. Many times, it is our trying that trips us up.

God wants us to learn to live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). This means living with the idea that He is able to do what we cannot do for ourselves. What a victorious thought! It is also a marvelous invitation to experience freedom from doubt, worry, and disbelief.

Before we can trust God fully, we must come to a point of helpless dependence. It is here that we realize we simply cannot do it all, be all that is needed, and have all the answers. If we could, there would be no need for God. We would be in total control and very proud of it.

While God gives us the ability to solve many of the problems we face, His greater desire is for us to live our lives dependent on Him. Godly dependence is not a sign of weakness but one of immeasurable strength and confidence. There are problems in life that only God can solve, tasks only He can perform, and solutions that can only be discovered through the wisdom He gives.

The basic foundation to faith is this: trust God more than you trust yourself. When you do this, you gain wisdom and hope for the future.

Father, I want to depend on You even more in the days ahead. I know there are problems only You can solve, tasks only You can perform, and solutions that can only be discovered through Your wisdom.[1]

 

[1] Stanley, C. F. (2006). Pathways to his presence (p. 364). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

December 13 Tugging at Your Heart

Scripture Reading: 1 Timothy 1:18–20

Key Verse: 1 Timothy 1:19

Having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck.

The ship plunged through the wild waves. The captain standing on deck spotted the yellow flash from the lighthouse on shore. But instead of steering a straight course in its direction, the captain ignored its warning and veered away. Unless he changed his course, his ship and crew faced almost certain destruction on the surrounding rocks.

Does that seem to be an insane response? It’s something that people do all the time when they ignore the “flashes” of their God-given conscience.

The apostle Paul wrote to the young pastor Timothy about what happens to those who ignore the spiritual light of their consciences: “This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1 Tim. 1:18–19 nasb).

The believers who rejected the messages of their consciences experienced a period of brokenness because they didn’t pay attention to the spiritual danger signs along the way. Have you ever felt a tugging at your heart when you were about to move in a wrong direction? That is the action of the Holy Spirit, and He will never force you to pay attention. You must turn toward God’s light and heed His call.

Father God, help me turn toward Your light and heed Your call. Make me alert to danger signs along the way. Keep me from moving in the wrong direction. Guide my spiritual journey.[1]

 

[1] Stanley, C. F. (1999). On holy ground (p. 364). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

December 13 The Unchanging Promises

Scripture reading: 1 John 4:1–6

Key verse: 1 John 2:22

Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.

The Antichrist will be a very real person someday. He will enter as a peacemaker and exit as Satan in human form, banished to eternal torment by Jesus Christ. You can be certain that the victory Jesus secured almost two thousand years ago will extend to eternity.

The subject of the Antichrist sometimes scares Christians into less-threatening areas of study. But because you have accepted Christ as Savior, you are assured you will never endure the atrocities of the Antichrist’s reign during the Tribulation period. Jesus will have raptured you home before the Antichrist assumes power for seven years.

Yet today there exists the spirit of antichrist—that is, all things anti-Christian (1 John 2:18). As you sometimes strain to happily exist in an evil world system, remember the work and counsel of your Lord and Savior. Jesus promises that all authority has been given Him in heaven and earth and that He is with you always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:18–20).

Fortified with the unchanging promises of Jesus, you can remain steadfast in your faith, unbending and uncompromising in the face of temptation, oppression, and adversity. In a quickly dying world, live for Jesus. Be excited by the assurance that during the wicked reign of the Antichrist, you will be looking down on him.

O Lord, I praise You for Your unchanging promises. Help me remain steadfast in my faith, unbending and uncompromising in the face of temptation, oppression, and adversity.[1]

 

[1] Stanley, C. F. (2000). Into His presence (p. 364). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

December 13, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

thirty days of jesus day 17

18  Thus far Paul has set forth the doctrine of Christ in terms which he shares with other NT writers—terms which, in fact, may have belonged to a widespread Christian catechesis or confession, even if he stamps them with the imprint of his own experience and mind. But now he goes on to make a contribution to apostolic christology which is distinctively his own. This Christ, he says, “is also the head of the body, the church.”

Those who recognize vv. 15–20 as a pre-Pauline hymn incorporated into the argument of this letter believe, for the most part, that “the church” is a gloss added by the writer of the letter to make plain the sense in which “the body” is to be understood (which may be so), and many think that in the original form of the hymn the body was the kosmos. This letter certainly presents Christ as head of the kosmos in the sense that he is its creator and ruler—head, in particular, “of every principality and power” (Col. 2:10). But when head and body are used as correlative terms, the physiological relation is in the foreground, and it is not established that the kosmos was ever envisaged as the body of Christ in this sense.

The use of the body as a figure for the common life and interdependence of a political or social group was not unknown in antiquity. It finds classical expression in the fable of Menenius Agrippa, who persuaded the seceding plebeians of Rome to return and live among the patricians on the ground that, if the other parts of the body conspired to starve the belly because it did no work, they would soon find themselves suffering in consequence. Again, Stoicism viewed the divine power as the world-soul, informing the material universe as the individual soul informs the body130—a view succinctly summed up in Alexander Pope’s couplet:

All are but parts of one stupendous whole,

Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.

But we should look elsewhere for the source of Paul’s presentation of the church as not merely a body corporate but as the body of Christ—“one in Christ” (Rom. 12:5).

The first place (in chronological order) where Paul speaks of the church in this way is 1 Cor. 12:12–27. This section opens with the words: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all watered with one Spirit.” And it is summed up at the end (in v. 27) by the statement: “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” In these words Paul is concerned to impress on the Corinthian Christians the fact that, as fellow-members of the body of Christ, they have mutual duties and common interests which must not be neglected.

A year or two later, in Rom. 12:4–5, he declares that “as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Paul is here thinking of the variety of services rendered by the diverse members of the church, in accordance with their respective abilities, all together helping to build up the community to which they all belong.

In those earlier letters, where the terminology of the body and its constituent parts is used to express the mutual relations and obligations of church members, Christ is not said to be head of the body: the head is mentioned incidentally as one among many members of the body (1 Cor. 12:21). But in this letter (and also in Ephesians) Christ as head bears a unique relation to the church as his body.

The word “head” is used in a variety of figurative senses. Where it is used in relation to “body,” one naturally thinks of the organic connection of head and body, but even here it is relevant to bear in mind special senses given to “head” in Paul’s writings. Outstanding among these special senses is that found in 1 Cor. 11:3, where Paul teaches that “the head of every man is Christ, woman’s head is man, and Christ’s head is God.” In these three clauses “head” is best understood as “source” or “origin” (the statement that “woman’s head is man” being a reference to the formation of Eve from Adam’s side in Gen. 2:21–22). In our present text, where Christ is said to be “the head of the body, the church,” there is, over and above the obvious organic relationship of body and head, the thought that Christ is the source of the church’s life, and probably also (in accordance with another figurative sense of “head”) the thought that he is the church’s lord.

So far as the organic relationship is concerned, Christ and his people are viewed together as a living entity: Christ is the head, supplying life and exercising control and direction; his people are his body, individually his limbs and organs, under his control, obeying his direction, performing his work. And the life which animates the whole is his risen life, which he shares with his people.

When attention is paid to the way in which Paul develops the concept of the church as the body of Christ, it is improbable that he was indebted for the concept to Stoic thought, and still more improbable that he was influenced by gnostic ideas.137 He would have been acquainted with rabbinical speculation which pictured all humanity as members of Adam, and we know how he points the antithesis between being “in Adam” and being “in Christ.”139 But we need not think that his portrayal of all believers as members of one body, and that the body of Christ, was formed on the analogy of this kind of speculation. Rather, the rabbinical speculation and Paul’s portrayal are both rooted in the older Hebrew way of thinking which has commonly been called “corporate personality.” Men and women, by natural birth, share the life of Adam (whose name means “mankind”) and thus may be described as “in Adam”; heirs of the new creation, by spiritual rebirth, share the risen life of Christ (the “second man”) and so are “in Christ.” It is this existence “in Christ” that is given vivid expression in Paul’s presentation of the church as the body of Christ.141 The germ of this conception in Paul’s mind may indeed be found in the words of Christ which he heard on the Damascus road—words in which the risen Christ identified himself with his followers: “why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4; 22:7; 26:14).

The source of the conception, however, is less important than Paul’s intention in using it. He uses it when he wishes to bring out certain aspects of the relation between church members, or between the church and Christ; when he wishes to bring out certain other aspects, he uses other terminology. From other points of view, for example, the church is thought of as the bride of Christ, or as the building of which he is either the foundation or the chief cornerstone,144 and so on. Some theologians, indeed, treat the conception of the church as the body of Christ differently from those other conceptions, admitting that they are metaphorical while insisting that the term “body of Christ” is to be taken “ontologically and realistically.”

But if they were right, one could go on to make assertions about the church’s relation to Christ, on the analogy of the relation which the human body, with its parts and their functions, bears to the head, beyond what Paul has to say. It is better to recognize that Paul speaks of the church as the body of Christ for certain well-defined purposes, and to follow his example in using such language for these same purposes. It can be appreciated that those presentations which bring out the vital relation between Christ and the church are more adequate than others (there is no organic relation between a building and its foundation-stone or coping stone); for this reason the head/body and husband/wife analogies have an especially firm grasp on reality.

Thus, in speaking of the church as the body of Christ, one thinks of it as vitalized by his abiding presence with it and his risen life in it; one thinks of it as energized by his power; one may even (without transgressing legitimate bounds) think of it as the instrument through which he carries on his work on earth. But to think of it as an extension of his incarnation is to exceed the limits which the Pauline exposition of the body permits. There is substance in the argument that his incarnation cannot be dissociated from his atoning sacrifice, and that the sacrifice offered once for all can have no “extension” in the life of the church. Moreover, the view of the church as the extension of his incarnation takes insufficient account of the contrast between his sinlessness and the church’s sinfulness.

The conception of the church as the body of Christ helps us to understand how Paul can not only speak of believers as being “in Christ” but also of Christ as being in them. They are “in Christ” as members of his body, “baptized into Christ” (Gal. 3:27; cf. Rom. 6:3); he is in them because it is his risen life that animates them. Similarly, in the organic analogy of John 15:1–8, the branches are in the vine and the vine at the same time is in the branches.

(3) Second Main Strophe (1:18b–20)

It is the risen Christ who is head of the body which is the church. In resurrection as well as in creation he receives the titles “the beginning” and “the firstborn.”151 His resurrection marked his triumph over all the forces that held men and women in bondage. That first Easter morning saw the dawn of a new hope for humanity.153 Now Christ is “the firstborn among many brethren”; he is “the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep”;155 his own resurrection is the harbinger of the great resurrection-harvest of his people. But the coming resurrection is anticipated here and now by those who know him as the resurrection and the life and enjoy eternal life through their participation in him. He who has been “designated Son of God in power … by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4) exercises primacy in the new creation as well as in the old; the divine purpose is thus fulfilled “that he might be preeminent in all things.”158

19  The statement that God decreed the preeminence of Christ over every order of being is now repeated in different terms—terms which may have been calculated to appeal with peculiar force to the Colossian Christians in their present situation. “In him it was decreed that all the fullness should take up residence.” The impersonal “it was decreed” has been adopted as a provisional rendering. But the Greek verb is not impersonal: it means “decreed,” “was well pleased” and implies a subject. Then who or what was well pleased? When the good pleasure or will is God’s, there is precedent for the omission of the explicit name of God: “he was well pleased” would mean “God was well pleased” (cf. KJV: “it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell”). On the other hand, the clause as it stands offers an explicit subject for the verb: “the fullness was well pleased to take up residence in him” (cf. RSV: “in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell”).159 One cannot decide certainly whether “God” or “the fullness” is the more probable subject: P. Benoit, for example, prefers to take “God” as the subject; E. Käsemann declares this construction “not permissible” (on exegetical and theological, not on grammatical, grounds).161 Before it can even be considered which of the two constructions is the more probable, the meaning of “fullness” in this clause must be considered. So far as the letter-writer’s intention is concerned, its meaning is not in doubt: the sense is repeated more fully in Col. 2:9: “it is in him [i.e., in Christ] that all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form.” If then Col. 1:19 is construed to mean that “in him all the fullness of deity was well pleased to take up residence” (that is, presumably, at his exaltation), this is tantamount to saying that God himself (RSV “all the fulness of God”) was pleased to dwell in him. There is then no substantial difference in meaning between the two constructions.

The Greek word translated “fullness” (plērōma) is one that Paul and other NT writers use in a variety of senses. The peculiar force of its use here has been thought to lie in its probable employment in a technical sense by the heretical teachers at Colossae. In the mid-second century the word was used by Gnostics of the Valentinian school to denote the totality of aeons (divine entities or emanations),163 and it is conceivable that it bore some such meaning in incipient forms of gnosticism in the mid-first century. We must constantly remind ourselves that we have no knowledge of the Colossian heresy apart from inferences drawn as cautiously as possible from the argument and wording of this letter, but it would make sense in the present context if the heresy envisaged powers intermediate between the supreme God and the world of humanity, so that any communication between God and the world, in either direction, had to pass through the spheres in which those powers exercised control. Those who thought in this way would be careful to treat those powers with becoming respect. But the whole of this theosophical apparatus is undermined here in one simple, direct affirmation: the totality of divine essence and power is resident in Christ. He is the one, all-sufficient intermediary between God and the world of humanity, and all the attributes of God—his spirit, word, wisdom, and glory—are disclosed in him.

20  It was God’s good pleasure, moreover, to reconcile all things to himself165 through Christ. The fullness of the divine energy is manifested in Christ in the work of reconciliation as well as in that of creation. In the words that follow (vv. 21–22) this reconciling activity is applied particularly to redeemed humanity, but here its universal reference comes first into view. In reconciliation as in creation the work of Christ has a cosmic significance: it is God’s eternal purpose (as it is put in Eph. 1:10) that all things should be summed up in him.

If “all things,” in heaven and on earth, were created through him (v. 16), and yet “all things”—“whether the things on earth or those in heaven”—have to be reconciled to God through him, it follows that all things have been estranged from their Creator. In Rom. 8:19–23 Paul speaks of the creation as involuntarily “subjected to futility” but as destined to “be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Since the liberty of the children of God is procured by the redemptive work of Christ, the release of creation from its bondage to decay is assured by that same redemptive work. That earlier argument is akin to the present one, but here it is not simply subjection to futility but positive hostility that is implied on the part of the created universe. The universe has been involved in conflict with its Creator, and needs to be reconciled to him: the conflict must be replaced by peace. This peace has been made through Christ, by the shedding of his life-blood on the cross.

This note of universal reconciliation has been taken to imply the ultimate reconciliation to God not only of all mankind but of hostile spiritual powers as well—to imply, in fact, that Paul anticipated Origen in the view that fallen angels benefit from the redemption which Christ accomplished. If the present argument is accepted as Paul’s, however, it has to be understood in relation to his general teaching on the subject, and it is very difficult to press his language to yield anything like universal reconciliation in the sense in which the phrase is commonly used nowadays. It is contrary to the analogy of Scripture to apply the idea of reconciliation in the ordinary sense to fallen angels; and as for Paul, he thinks rather of hostile spiritual powers as emptied of all vitality by the work of Christ and the faith of his people.170 And even with regard to the human race, to deduce from such words as these that every last man or woman, irrespective of moral record or attitude to God, will at last enjoy eternal bliss would be (to say no more) putting on them a burden of meaning heavier than they can bear.

The peace effected by the death of Christ may be freely accepted, or it may be imposed willy-nilly. This reconciliation of the universe includes what would otherwise be distinguished as pacification. The principalities and powers whose conquest is described in Col. 2:15 are certainly not depicted as gladly surrendering to divine grace but as being compelled to submit to a power which they are unable to resist. Everything in the universe has been subjected to Christ even as everything was created for him. By his reconciling work “the host of the high ones on high” and sinful human beings on earth have been decisively subdued to the will of God and ultimately they can but subserve his purpose, whether they please or not. It is the Father’s good pleasure that all “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” shall unite to bow the knee at Jesus’ name and to acknowledge him as Lord (Phil. 2:10–11).[1]


2.0. Supreme in Redemption (1:18–20)

As outlined above, 1:18a anticipates what comes in 1:18b–20. The theme turns from creation to redemption or to new creation, but it does so by means of ecclesiology: “And he is the head of the body, the church” (1:18a). From ecclesiology, though, we do not first move to the cross as the means of redemption but to the resurrection (1:18b) and then to incarnation (1:19), to the redemption of reconciliation (1:20a), and this redemption is achieved through the cross (1:20b). As Colin Gunton once explained it, “the church is elected as the particular means by which particular anticipations of the promised reconciliation of all things in Christ are achieved.”

2.1. Anticipation (1:18a)

18a This Son (1:13), in whom we have redemption/forgiveness (1:14), who is the Eikōn and Prōtotokos (1:15), in whom all things are created (1:16) and in whom all things are sustained (1:17)—this Son is also the head of the body, namely, the church (1:18a).

What does it mean in this context to call Jesus the “head” (kephalē)? Paul uses this term eighteen times, some of which are no more than a physical head (e.g., 1 Cor 11:4), while others are metaphoric. The debate, fired up by evangelical complementarians, is whether it means “authority over” or “source of,” but that debate is mostly shaped by a theology of marriage and a fear of feminism rather than by what it means when Christ is the head. There is an order at work in 1 Cor 11 when Christ is seen as the head (11:3), but at work in that text is not just priority but also source, for in v. 8 Paul says “man did not come from women,” and this verse explains the glory of v. 7. Furthermore, for one important recent reading of this text, Paul’s orientation is not so much authority-submission as it is headship-hair-covering for all women and therefore an equalitarian move for women, including those who because of low status (prostitutes, slaves) were not entitled to head coverings. So we ought to draw a frown over the false dichotomy at work in the source-vs.-authority conversation, and even a question mark over our confidence of reading 1 Cor 11:1–16. When it comes to the Prison Letters, the term “head” trades off between the superiority/priority of Christ over all things (Col 1:18; 2:10; Eph 1:22) and the unity that Christ brings through his life-drawing redemption (Eph 4:15; 5:23; Col 2:19). A parallel Jewish text is found at the Testament of Zebulon:

Pay heed to the streams: When they flow in the same channel they carry along stones, wood, and sand, but they are divided into many channels, the earth swallows them and they become unproductive. And you shall be thus if you are divided. Do not be divided into two heads, because everything the Lord has made has a single head. He provides two shoulders, two hands, two feet, but members obey one head (9:1–4).

In other words, the “head” in this context is the one who grants and sustains life, while also creating a new kind of unity among the members.

The Son is therefore the redemptive, unifying Lord of the body, one of Paul’s favorite terms in his ecclesiology.342 While the word sōma/body was used metaphorically in the Roman Empire by a variety of thinkers and authors, most notably Livy and Epictetus, the term in Paul refers to the organic, unifying, and mutually supporting roles of believers with one another as they exercise the fruit and gifts of the Spirit so they can grow into one body in Christ. Unity emerges in our hymn at 1:20 and at 2:19 as well. One sees a similar emphasis on unity in 1 Cor 12–14; Rom 12, and Eph 4:1–16. Because the language of church-as-body is so typically Pauline, many have concluded that Paul transformed a prior pagan cosmic “body” into the church, and such scholarship points to the routine use of this term (Plato, Timaeus), as well as to its presence in part in Philo. In that case, Col 1:18a continues the theme of creation (body meaning cosmos) rather than expanding to redeemption. That proposal, however, founders on speculation about the tradition history of the hymn; as we have it, the hymn defines the body as the church, and that connection leads the reader (or listener) to the theme of redemption. In addition, others find here support for the transformation of the more democratic sense of “body” in the earlier Pauline letters (1 Cor 12; Rom 12) into a hierarchical arrangement (Christ, church as body, world), as well as into a different soteriology in the post-Pauline letters. One should not dispute differences between the 1 Corinthians-Romans correspondence and the Prison Letters, but to the degree that one can “Paulinize” on the basis of Paul in light of the ideas of one’s environment, one can posit that Paul himself (or Paul and Timothy, or Paul and his various co-workers) might work up over a decade an expansion of the idea of “body.” If our dating of Colossians is correct, namely in the Ephesian imprisonment in the early to mid-50s, then there is no discussion here: both the local and universal sense of “body” found their way into Paul’s letters at about the same time. It is as wise to divide in order to conquer as it is to unify to the same end.

The term “body” is defined by an epexegetical genitive: “the body, that is, the church.” Paul’s mission was not simply to increase the church’s numbers through evangelism but to get saved Gentiles at the table with saved Jews to form a new family fellowship called the church (ekklēsia). Perhaps most notable here is that “church” in the Prison Letters shifts in focus from local assemblies to the church universal (so also Eph 1:22–23). Such an expansion, however, is not innovative to the Prison Letters—the same sense is found at 1 Cor 12:27–28. Nor should one think Paul has dropped the local expression as the body: it is a particularization of the universal church gathered.348 In this context one must also think the term ekklēsia will have evoked a political assembly of citizens; as such, the co-opting of the term by Paul for a Christian kind of politics under King Jesus has overtones of a political alternative.

2.2. The Beginning and Firstborn (1:18b)

18b Already described and labeled as Eikōn and Prōtotokos over all creation (1:15–16), the exalted Son is now depicted in redemptive categories. In 1:15–17 there is a primordial or essential primacy, while in 1:18–20 the primacy is the achievement of the resurrection. In the second stanza, then, the Son is not only head over the universal church (1:18a), but three more successive descriptions are succinctly given:

He is (#1) the beginning [archē],

inasmuch as he is (#2) the firstborn [prōtotokos] in the resurrection,

so that (#3) he might have supremacy [prōteuōn]. (NIV)

The relationship of these three descriptions is not precisely clear from the grammar, but a reasonable proposal is that archē is defined by prōtotokos, thus making “beginning” a reference to the resurrection, with prōteuōn/supremacy describing his exalted status as a result of the resurrection. In other words, we are staring at an alternative way of stating what is found already in Phil 2:6–11: the Son’s humiliation unto death but subsequent resurrection and exaltation to the highest name.

The relationship of #1 to #2 shapes how one sees “beginning.” Is it temporal (he is before all things; Matt 19:4, 8; John 15:27; Heb 1:10; 2 Pet 3:4; 1 John 2:24), or is it priority over other archai (he is above all powers; Rom 8:38; 1 Cor 15:24; Eph 1:21; 6:12), or is he the source/founder as the creative initiative behind everything? The temporal sense fits best inasmuch as the next descriptor (#2) clearly focuses on temporal priority, and it also focuses on the life-giving power (thus, founder) of the Son’s redemptive work at work in the second stanza: the Son is the beginning of new-creation life as the first one raised from the dead, resulting in a preeminent status over all the redeemed. Yet, the close parallel to our passage at Ephesians 1:20–23, where archē refers to the powers of this age, leads one to hear also an echo of the “powers” (archai) at work in Col 1:18b: his resurrection and exaltation is thus simultaneously a victory over death and the powers.

Evoking a term in the opening sentence of the Greek translation of the Old Testament in the word “beginning” and therefore now opening up new creation, the Son is the beginning of new creation because he is the “firstborn [prōtotokos] from among the dead” (1:18b). At v. 15 the same word was used for the Son in his creative role, but here the term evokes the Son’s temporally prior and redemption-by-defeat-of-death role. We have here, then, new-creation theology that emerges from the Jewish belief in the general resurrection at the eschaton (1 Cor 15:23; Rom 8:29; Acts 26:23; Rev 1:5). Furthermore, following the crucifixion and prior to Easter, this text implies that Christ resided for a moment “among the dead,” evoking what is now called Holy Saturday, which focuses on the descent into Hades and its harrowing (also Eph 4:8–10; 1 Pet 3:19–20; 4:6). Jesus really died and was not asleep; his death led to his invasion of the realm of the dead in order to liberate his people from their temporary captivity. His liberation of the dead comes to expression in the appearing of the saints after his crucifixion, death, and entry into Hades (Matt 27:51–53). His resurrection is the vanguard of the general resurrection. Resurrection cannot be given too much attention either in the apostolic gospel or in Paul’s theology.

His death-defeating resurrection makes it possible for the Son’s exaltation. As this hymn puts it, “so that [in order that] in everything356 he might have the supremacy” (1:18b). His supremacy (prōteuōn) is both temporal and hierarchical, as is the case in the parallel hymn at Phil 2:6–11, where we read the best commentary on our term prōteuōn: “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow … and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” It is possible that prōteuōn is a title, The Preeminent One. Here we come face to face with the gospel itself, which is more than a message of salvation: the gospel is the declaration that Jesus of Nazareth, who lived, who died, and who is risen to the right hand of the Father, is the world’s true Lord and King.359 The gospel announces that Jesus is Prōteuōn!

2.3. The Reason: Redeemer (1:19–20)

The bulk of the second stanza (vv. 19–20) describes and extols the redemptive work of the Creator-Son of the first stanza (vv. 15–17). As the Son creates “all things,” so the Son reconciles “all things.” Reconciliation completes the work of creation. There are two foci for the source of the redemptive reconciliation of the Son: the fullness of God in the Son (1:19) and the cross (20); in other words, incarnation and crucifixion.

19 The first word of this verse in Greek (hoti) can be translated softly as “for” (NIV) or more strongly as “because” (CEB). Each explains the relationship of v. 19 to v. 18: that is, the Son is preeminent because God’s fullness dwells in him. But one might opt instead for a softer relationship and take all of v. 18 as grounded in the Father’s decision to locate all of the fullness in the Son. The sentence is not as clear in the original as the NIV’s translation might suggest: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.” The CEB’s translation is a little less expansive: “Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in him.” A wooden rendering would be: “Because/For in him was pleased all the fullness to dwell.” Strict grammatical readings insist that it was the fullness that is both pleased and indwells, but the more expansive translations turn the fullness into the fullness of God and make it God the Father being both pleased and choosing to indwell. The evidence that, in a kind of personification of the Father, the fullness (plērōma) was pleased to indwell boils down to just a few important parallels (1 Cor 10:26; Col 1:19; 2:9; Eph 1:23; 3:19; 4:13). We begin with Colossians, where the parallel expression in 2:9 has “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form”; here it is clear that the fullness is God’s/the Father’s. The same general idea is found at Eph 3:19 (“fullness of God”) and less clear but probably the same at 1:23 (“the fullness of him” or “the fullness of the one”). Because of the indwelling of God’s fullness in the Son, Eph 4:13 transfers the fullness to the “fullness of Christ.” Our conclusion, therefore, is that it is the Father’s fullness, or “God in his fullness,” that is pleased to become incarnate in the Son. Hence, the NIV’s “the fullness of God” makes explicit what is most likely at work in Paul’s syntax.360 The Father as the subject of “pleased” is found elsewhere in Paul (Gal 1:15; 1 Cor 1:21; 10:5), but its presence in the baptism of Jesus gives it a more concrete depth (Isa 42:1; Mark 1:11 and pars.).

But what might fullness (plērōma) mean? A handful of texts in the Old Testament sketch for us a good option: God’s glory fills the temple and in fact the whole earth, and thus glory is God’s extension of himself to fill other spaces (Ps 72:19; Isa 6:3; Jer 23:24; Ezek 43:5; 44:4). This usage approximates what Ephesians 1:23 says: “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Once again, Dunn finds similar ideas in Jewish wisdom. Thus, “For wisdom is a kindly spirit … because the Spirit of the Lord has filled the world, and that which holds all things together knows what is said” (Wis 1:6–7). It is entirely reasonable to speculate that the halakic mystics at work at Colossae were boasting that they had found “fullness” in their mystical encounters with the angels, leading to the inference that Paul’s locating the plērōma in Christ is a polemical move against the mystics (cf. 2:8–9, 16–23).

The term plērōma expresses Paul’s theology of incarnation with a powerful sense of revision: as Zion echoes temple and was the mountain where God was pleased to dwell (Ps 68:16 [LXX 67:17]; Isa 8:18), so now God dwells in the Son. Hence, we have here a christological revision of temple theology, with echoes of new-creation theology. This divine glory indwells364 the Son. The verb is only used three times by Paul, one in which Christ indwells the believer (Eph 3:17) and two in Colossians, where it refers to divine fullness indwelling the Son (1:19; 2:9). But the idea of God’s covenanted presence is found in a number of places in the Old Testament (Lev 26:12; Ps 68:17), reminding of the routine presence of God among Israel most especially in the tabernacle and temple, with its intensive manifestation in the glory of God filling the holy of holies. Hence, for Paul to speak as he does evokes God’s fullness taking on new form in indwelling the Son, that is, in the incarnation.366 Indeed, the language parallels the incarnational language of John 1:1–18. But in light of the mutual indwelling theme of John 10:38 and 14:10 as a paradigm of how Jesus and the earliest Christians thought of the relationship of the Father and the Son, we ought to think less of essences transferred from Father to Son, the way one might move water from a bottle into a glass, and more of the Father’s fullness indwelling and interpenetrating the Son alongside the Son’s indwelling and interpenetrating the Father (and the Spirit). In other words, it would be more accurate to think more in terms of perichoresis. Hence, Dunn’s summary does not take us far enough: “that the wholeness of God’s interaction with the universe is summed up in Christ” and that the “thought is not yet of incarnation, but it is more than inspiration; rather, it is of an inspiration … so complete … as to be merging into the idea of incarnation.”368 New Testament historical scholarship fears the use of later Christian theological reflection, most especially Nicaea and Chalcedon. That fear at times misses the organic flow from New Testament into Christian orthodoxy. In this case, I believe perichoresis attempts to unfold what is at work by logical implication in the Father’s fullness indwelling the Son.

20 We turn now to one of the great verses of the Bible about redemption by the Son, who earlier in this hymn is described as the Prōtotokos and the Archē. The Son’s redemption reconciles all things, which is a peacemaking work that brings together Jews and Gentiles into one family of God. The redemption here is less an ecotheology or a sociopolitical theology and more a theological and christological ecclesiology. Like the similar vision at Rom 8:19–23, Paul believes all of creation is out of sorts with its Creator, and all of creation is in need of reconciliation.

There is an emphasis in this verse on the Son as the means of reconciliation:

And he reconciled all things to himself through him—

[through him] whether things on earth or in the heavens.

He brought peace through the blood of his cross.

First, through him he reconciles, and second, he makes peace through his blood. Though not noticeable in the NIV or CEB, some manuscripts have another “through him” before “whether things on earth or things in heaven.” With or without this additional “through him,” there is an extraordinary concentration of emphasis here on Christ as the means of reconciliation.

The weight of this last set of lines in the second stanza stands on both “to reconcile” and “by making peace.” The second defines the first, creating a more robust understanding of the Son’s redemptive work. Atonement theories often creep into this text and take over the conversation. However important those theories may be in theological discussions, the fact remains that the means of reconciliation here is the Son’s blood/cross, but to speculate how that blood worked is beyond what this text states. The effect of atonement (reconciliation, peace) and the means of atonement (blood, cross) are the focal images but not the mechanics of atonement. The verb in Col 1:20 (apokatallassō) occurs only in the Prison Letters (Col 1:20, 22; Eph 2:16), but the cognate katallassō and the noun katallagē appear in crucial passages in Pauline soteriology (2 Cor 5:18–20; Rom 5:10, 11; 11:15).

The linguistic game this term and its cognates play is that, first, humans are out of sorts with God (enemies; see Col 1:21)—including the sense of captivity to the cosmic powers, which is the focus in this hymn—in need of reconciliation; second, the means of that reconciliation is King Jesus, who reconciles by means of his salvation-accomplishing events, most notably the cross and resurrection and exaltation to rule. In a number of publications resulting from extensive research, Stanley Porter has concluded that Paul adapted Hellenistic exchange language and stands virtually alone in describing a subject (God) effecting reconciliation by giving up its own anger through the cross of Christ. Paul, he concludes, innovates with his concept of reconciliation and seems to draw the term “reconciliation” into the orbit of the term “propitiation”; for Porter, this term expresses the heart of Paul’s missionary theology.374 I agree that reconciliation expresses the heart of Paul’s soteriology and missionary aims but am unconvinced that propitiatory soteriology forms the heart of Pauline theology and missiology or that such a soteriology is present in this hymn or letter. The heart of Paul’s missional theology is more christological, thus, God-in-Christ or theo-christology in Christoformity, and in our context there is a stronger cosmological victory at work in this term.

We turn now more to the meaning of the terms “reconciliation” and “peacemaking.” To begin with, we observe they are explicitly clarified by vv. 21–22, which read: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”

Christian instincts connect this alienation to the fall and original sin (Gen 3), but one ought at least to include the incident of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11), where God sets in motion—because of evil behavior—the division of humans by way of confusing languages. The reconciliation of our passage, then, includes the divided peoples of the Roman Empire, and it must be emphasized that that sort of reconciliation is the focus of Pauline ecclesiology in Colossians (see 3:11) and Ephesians (see 2:11–22). It makes no sense to pretend that God simply makes friends with us apart from the incarnation, cross, and resurrection, the latter two events focusing on death and the undoing of death, and therefore it makes no sense to speak of reconciliation until one admits there is need for such, namely, because humans are at enmity against God and have formed an alliance of enmity against God under the powers of this age, all manifested in “evil behavior” (1:21). And it makes no sense to think the reconciliation here is not also between people groups in this world—spelled out in Col 3:11 (and earlier in Gal 3:28). This much is at least clear in the term itself and in how Paul uses the term. Hence, if Col 1:20 can define reconciliation as making peace through the blood of the cross, 2 Cor 5:19 can do so by defining reconciliation as “not counting people’s sins against them.”

Reconciliation is reexpressed in the second term, “making peace” (eirēnopoieō), a verb used only here in the entire New Testament. The term expresses the sense of adoption into, and behaving like, God’s family. Though these terms are rare in the New Testament, the word “peace” (eirēnē) appears some forty times in the Pauline letters, and the gravity of eirēnē is that it expresses the fullness of God’s redemptive design and will for the churches. Peace and peacemaking are emphatic in the Prison Letters.380 The word “peace” becomes a central term in Christian greetings and, though here dependent on the Jewish greeting “shalom,” begins to take on some fresh colorations because of the reconciling work of the Son. Noticeably in our context, God effects reconciliation by conquering warring parties. That is, the world with its hierarchies and divisions is conquered in Christ so that in the body of Christ one can discover unity among all (Col 3:11).

What is the direction of reconciliation? God acts to reconcile things “to himself.” The simplistic notion that atonement entails divine child abuse of a father against his son, however important it might be to call attention to potential problems in the rhetoric of atonement,384 fails to account for the nuanced language one finds in a text like this. For here the Father originates and carries through redemption by means of the Son’s crucifixion in order to reconcile all things “to himself.” One might say the Father acts out of love and in grace to bring all things back to himself. Paul will write shortly to the Corinthians that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Cor 5:19), while in Ephesians 2:14–18 the accent falls on the Son reconciling Jews and Gentiles to the Father. Thus, “world” in 2 Corinthians probably means “Jews and Gentiles” and the other sorts of divisions one finds in Col 3:11.

But this redemptive, reconciling work of peace occurs through the crucifixion of Jesus, a crucifixion expressed in two terms: “blood” and “cross.” The term “blood” in the Bible, owing to the deep association of the ancient world, including Israel’s sacrificial system, is connected to death, to a life’s blood spilled on the altar, and to blood as that which satisfies divine requirements for reconciliation.387 Dunn, observing the Christus victor theme of victory over the powers in our text, sees the “blood of the cross” to be the bloody unjust death of Christ, an idea certainly at least at work in Col 2:15.

Our eyes keep being drawn to the object of reconciliation and peacemaking: “all things.” The theme of universal creation and redemption in Christ runs right through this glorious hymn, and once again there is a record of nearly the same conviction on Paul’s part in Rom 8:19–21, where “creation” will be “liberated from its bondage” and “brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (rooted in Isa 11:6–9; 65:17). But our text sees here the cosmic forces in the principalities and powers (Col 1:16, 20), in which case, one ought to think of this act of reconciliation alongside the triumph of Christ over the powers in Col 2:15 (see below). As well, one needs to connect this reconciling work to Phil 2:6–11, where Christ is the conqueror. Reconciliation encompasses the fullness of God’s triumph over evil in judgment, subjugation of the powers, and redemption for the saints. At work for Paul’s letter, however, is not just the cosmic powers but also their manifestation on earth: hostility between Jews and Gentiles. Hence, the reconciliation of all things in this text also includes the bringing into one body in Christ both Jews and Gentiles by faith.390 One needs to add some perspective because so many run from the word “all” straight into full-blooded universalism or the salvation of all humans and all powers and all supernatural beings. The universal scope of redemption needs to be kept in view in Paul’s magnificent vision of both God’s power and relentless grace, but the fact remains in Pauline letters that not all are saved and the enemies of God are defeated (see Col 2:15). Faith, the enduring sort, is required for salvation (Col 1:23; 2:9–13), and those who turn away from God in Christ will experience judgment (2 Thess 1:5–10).

The claims of this hymn are astounding and, apart from sharing Paul’s faith, which means grasping the reality of God in the cross and resurrection of King Jesus, one could conclude the man was imbalanced. What the apostle claims here is that the whole created order finds its only lasting peace in the ignominy of a bloody act of execution at the hands of violent Romans, an act God unzipped and reconfigured by raising his Son from among the dead. But let the note be emphasized: the whole of creation finds reconciliation in the death of this one solitary man, King Jesus, and it was the resurrection that generated that kind of faith. As Dunn frames it so well: “The vision is vast. The claim is mind-blowing.… In some ways still more striking is the implied vision of the church as the focus and means toward this cosmic reconciliation—the community in which that reconciliation has already taken place (or begun to take place) and whose responsibility it is to live out (cf. particularly 3:8–15) as well as to proclaim its secret (cf. 4:2–6).” This summary locates precisely where Paul and Timothy will now land: on a church that leads the world by becoming the gospel of reconciliation in the way it embodies the gospel.396[2]


1:18 / From cosmic sovereignty, Paul turns to discuss Christ’s preeminence in the church by using the head-body imagery. He has convincingly established Christ’s lordship over the world; now he establishes Christ’s lordship in the church.

If the church can be regarded as a Pauline interpolation, then an earlier version of the hymn must have proclaimed Christ as head of the body only. There is much speculation as to the source of the head-body metaphor in Paul’s writings. Some scholars are attracted to the idea of “corporate personality” in which all of humanity is considered to be “in Adam.” The counterpart in the nt is that, since all Christians are “in Christ”—that is, the church—they can be regarded as the body of Christ. Most scholars, however, believe that the idea comes from Hellenistic conceptions of the cosmic body.

In several Greek sources, including the writings of Plato, the Stoics, and the Alexandrian Jew Philo, there are numerous mythological conceptions of the universe as a body that is governed by a “head.” Here, the cosmos is filled by the deity and consequently viewed as the body of the deity over which there is “Wisdom” or “Logos” as its head. The common belief was that, just as a person’s physical body needs direction and guidance from the head, so the body of the cosmos needs a head such as Logos or Wisdom as a unifying principle.

What the Greeks attributed to Wisdom or Logos for headship, the early church attributed to Christ. He, in other words, is the divine Logos (cf. John’s prologue in 1:1–3) who governs the body (sōma) of the cosmos. It is quite possible that a Christian version of this hymn initially celebrated Christ’s headship over the cosmos. The new development in Colossians is that Paul interprets body not as cosmos but as church. In other words, although Christ is head of the whole world, only the church is his body.

The identification of the church as the body of Christ over which Christ is the head in Colossians (1:18, 24) and Ephesians (1:22, 23; 4:15, 16) is not the same as the description of the “body” in Romans and 1 Corinthians. In those two epistles (Rom. 12:1–8; 1 Cor. 12:4–31), Paul uses the concept of the church as the body of Christ and emphasizes the mutual relationships and obligations that exist among its members by virtue of their spiritual gifts. There the “head” is simply mentioned along with the other members of the body (1 Cor. 12:14–26). Only in Colossians and Ephesians is Christ designated as head over the church. The reason for this surely lies in Paul’s intention to proclaim the lordship of Christ over all things. He wants the Colossians to know that the church is the place where Christ exercises his sovereignty over the cosmos.

This Lord is the beginning of the body’s life, vitalizing and energizing it by virtue of his resurrection. Paul utilizes the phrase firstborn for the second time (cf. 1:15) in order to re-emphasize the priority of Christ. The final result of this is Christ’s absolute preeminence (so that in everything he might have the supremacy).

1:19 / Paul goes on to say that God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him. There are two significant problems connected with the translation and interpretation of this verse.

The first problem is with the meaning of fullness (plērōma). In 2:9, plērōma is equated with all of God’s nature as it dwells in Christ (“for in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form”). On this basis one is justified in giving it the same meaning as in 1:19 rather than seeing it in some Gnostic way in which plērōma is regarded as the totality or fullness of aeons emanating from God and filling the space between heaven and earth. Nevertheless, one aspect of the false teaching in Colossae was that it gave undue prominence to those supernatural powers that filled the universe by regarding them as intermediaries between God and the world. Paul corrects this by affirming that the full nature of God dwells in Christ exclusively.

The second issue centers around the subject of pleased. The Greek literally reads “because in him (Christ) was pleased all the fullness to dwell.” At least three possibilities have been suggested: (a) to make Christ the subject, thus giving the meaning that he (Christ) was pleased that all the fullness of God should dwell in him; (b) to make plērōma the subject, resulting in a translation adopted by the rsv (“for in him all the fulness was pleased to dwell”); and (c) to regard God as the subject. Hence the niv: For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him).

The main argument against this third view is the introduction of God as the subject in a hymn that concentrates on Christ (God has not been mentioned since 1:15). But the Greek text does permit it, and the meaning has support elsewhere in Scripture (cf. Christ’s baptism and transfiguration). These technicalities, however, should not detract from the essential truth that Paul wishes to stress, namely, that Christ is the dwelling place (katoikēsai, “to take up residence”) of God. As such, another factor of Christ’s sovereignty is established.

1:20 / A final tribute is given to Christ as the agent of reconciliation. God was pleased that his fullness should dwell in his Son (1:19). Now, God was also pleased through him [the Son] to reconcile to himself all things. Reconciliation implies an existing estrangement or hostility that needed to be corrected (1:12, 22; Eph. 2:16). The all things that are reconciled are clarified by the phrase whether things on earth or things in heaven. In other words, it is not just the church (humanity) that has been reconciled; the reconciliation wrought by Christ extends to the entire cosmic order. By doing this, Paul shows the Colossians that every part of the universe is included in the reconciling work of Christ. His love has no limits!

One needs to be careful not to push this language to the extreme. Some have understood it very broadly and believe that humanity and all spiritual powers—including the evil angels—are at peace with God. But such a teaching needs to be interpreted in the light of everything Paul, and indeed the entire nt, say about such doctrines as reconciliation and salvation. The main point Paul makes is that everything has been brought into harmony through Christ.

The third Pauline interpolation in this hymn includes the phrase by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (cf. Rom. 5:1ff.). This locates reconciliation in a historical act, accomplished by the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross. Paul will have no part of some cosmic drama that may have been perpetuated by the false teachers.

There is a question regarding himself. The rsv and niv are ambiguous enough that one may take it to mean either God or Christ. The same construction (eis auton) is used in 1:16, where Christ is the object. The gnb is probably correct in interpreting the verse to mean that reconciliation is to God (“God … brought back to himself all things”). Thus reconciliation is through Christ but to God![3]


18. The section showing the Son’s pre-eminence in the sphere of Creation has ended. Here, at verse 18, begins the paragraph describing his equal sovereignty in the realm of Redemption. We read: And he is the head of the body, the church. In the writings of Paul this expression is something new, whether we view it as original with him or as here taken over by him from a familiar hymn or saying. It is nowhere found in the earlier epistles such as Galatians, I and II Thessalonians, I and II Corinthians, or Romans. Yet, it would be unwise on this account to say that Paul cannot have been either the author or confirmer of the idea that Christ is, indeed, the head of the body, namely, the church. To be sure, in the earlier letters the apostle wrote not about Christ as the head of the church but about the church as the body of Christ (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:12–31, especially verse 27). His purpose was to show that in that one body there were many members (“foot,” “hand,” “ear,” “eye”); in other words, that in the one organism of the church there were many functions and talents distributed among a large number of believers, and that each “member” should use his gifts to benefit the entire body. He did not then specifically state that the head of this body was Christ. That was not the point at issue in these earlier letters. At Colosse, however, this headship or pre-eminence of Christ was distinctly the truth in need of emphasis, as has already been shown. It is for this reason that this particular aspect of the doctrine is set forth here in Colossians rather than in the earlier epistles.

Nevertheless, it cannot be truthfully maintained that the proposition “Christ is the head of the church” was absolutely foreign to Paul’s thinking previous to the time when he wrote his Prison Epistles. Is not a body supposed to have a head? Besides, had not the apostle written, “The head of every man is Christ” (1 Cor. 11:3)? Now if Christ is the head of every man in the church, is he not also the head of the church?

As head Christ causes his church to live and to grow (Col. 2:19; cf. Eph. 4:15, 16). He is its Organic Head. As head he also exercises authority over the church; in fact, over all things in the interest of the church (Eph. 1:20–23). He is its Ruling Head. It is doubtful whether either of these two ideas is ever completely absent when Christ is called head of the church, though sometimes one connotation and then again the other receives the greater emphasis, as the context indicates. And in such a passage as Eph. 5:23, 24 both ideas (growth and guidance) are brought to the fore.

Now if the Son of God is the Organic and Ruling Head of the church, then the church is in no sense whatever dependent on any creature, angel or otherwise. This is the clear implication over against the teachers of error. Does not the church receive both its growth and guidance from its living Lord? Is it not energized by his power and governed by his Word and Spirit? Hence, is it not true that in Christ it has all it needs, and also that without him it can accomplish nothing? Cf. John 15:5, 7.

“Thou, O Christ, art all I want;

More than all in thee I find.”

(Charles Wesley, in “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”)

And what could be a better illustration of the relation of Christ to his church than the underlying idea of the relation of the human head to the body? Advance in scientific knowledge has confirmed the adequacy of the figure used by the early church and by Paul. In a human individual it is to the head that the body, in large measure, owes its vigorous life and growth (the organic relationship). From the pituitary gland, housed in a small cavity located in the base of the skull, comes the growth hormone (and several other hormones). This hormone is known to be closely related to the health and growth of connective tissue, cartilege, and bone.

Consider also the other functions of the head, those related in large measure to guidance. It is in the head that the organs of special sense are mainly located. The brain receives impulses from the outside world (indirectly) and from inside the body. It organizes and interprets these impulses. It thinks. It reacts, and this both voluntarily and involuntarily. Thus it guides and directs the actions of the individual. In the cerebrum are located, among other things, the areas that control the various parts of the body. The cerebellum has been called “the co-ordinator and harmonizer of muscular action.” The medulla controls such actions as winking, sneezing, coughing, chewing, sucking, swallowing, etc. Here also the cardiac center regulates the rate of heart-beat, while the respiratory center is in charge of the activity of the respiratory organs.

Thus, indeed, when the triune God created the human body with its organic and ruling head, he so constructed that head that it could serve as an excellent symbol of the Organic and Ruling Head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ.

With reference to the latter the “hymn” now continues, Who is the beginning, the firstborn from die dead. By his triumphant resurrection, nevermore to die, Christ laid the foundation for that sanctified life, that hope and assurance in which his own rejoice (Col. 3:1–17; 1 Peter 1:3 ff.). This resurrection is also the beginning, principle, or cause of their glorious physical resurrection. Hence, from every aspect the statement is true, “Because I live you too will live” (John 14:19). He is the path-breaker, who holds the key of Death and Hades. He has authority over life and death (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:20; Heb. 2:14, 15; Rev. 1:5). It is he who “on the one hand, utterly defeated death, and on the other hand, brought to light life and incorruptibility through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). All this is true in order that in all things he might have the pre-eminence. It stands to reason that One who is Firstborn, Point of Reference, Agent, Goal, Forerunner, and Sustainer—Governor (verses 15–17) in the sphere of Creation; and Head of the Body, Beginning, and Firstborn from the dead in the realm of Redemption (verse 18), has the right to the title, “the One who has the pre-eminence—the divine sovereignty—in all things, that is, among all creatures.”

19. Note, however, the words, “that he might have.” These words show that this high honor possessed by the Son was a matter of design, the Father’s good pleasure. Hence, the text continues, For in him he [God] was pleased to have all the fulness dwell.

This delight of the Father in the Son was evident even during the old dispensation, yes, even before the world was founded (Ps. 2:7, 8; John 17:5; Eph. 1:9). During the period of Christ’s sojourn on earth it manifested itself again and again (Matt. 3:17; 17:5; John 12:28). It was indeed God’s good pleasure that in his Son all the fulness should dwell. The powers and attributes of Deity were not to be distributed among a multitude of angels. The divine supremacy or sovereignty, either as a whole or in part, was not to be surrendered to them. On the contrary, in accordance with God’s good pleasure, from all eternity the plenitude of the Godhead, the fulness of God’s essence and glory, which fulness is the source of grace and glory for believers, resides in the Son of his love, in him alone, not in him and the angels. It dwells in him whom we now serve as our exalted Mediator, and it manifests itself both in Creation and Redemption.

Explanatory passages are:

John 1:16, “For out of his fulness we have received grace upon grace.”

Col. 2:3, “in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are stored up.”

Col. 2:9, “For in him all the fulness of the godhead dwells bodily.”

20. Now both in Col. 2:9, 10 and here in 1:19, 20 the fulness which dwells in Christ is mentioned with a practical purpose. It is a source of blessing. Thus here in Col. 1:19, 20 we are told that it was the good pleasure or delight of God the Father that in the Son of his love all the fulness should dwell and through him to reconcile all things to himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, whether the things on the earth or the things in the heavens. Not only were all things created “through him,” that is, through the Son of God’s love (verse 16), but all things are also (in a sense to be explained) reconciled “through him” (verse 20). In both cases all things has the same meaning: all creatures without any exception whatever:

“There rustles a Name O so dear ’long the clouds,

That Name heaven and earth in grand harmony shrouds.”

This is the nearly literal translation of the first lines of a Dutch hymn:

“Daar ruist langs de wolken een lieflijke naam,

Die hemel en aarde verenigt te zaam.”

Some have objected to the lines for theological reasons.

Personally, I see no reason for rejecting the idea expressed in this poem. One might as well reject Col. 1:20! It is all a matter of interpretation. Thus, it is true, indeed that heaven and earth are not now united, and are not going to be united, in the sense that all rational beings in the entire universe are now with gladness of heart submitting themselves, or will at some future date joyfully submit themselves, to the rule of God in Christ. This universalistic interpretation of Col. 1:20 is contrary to Scripture (Ps. 1; Dan. 12:2; Matt. 7:13, 14; 25:46; John 5:28, 29; Phil. 3:18–21; 2 Thess. 1:3–10; and a host of other passages). It was Origen who was probably the first Christian universalist. In his youthful work De Principiis he suggested this thought of universal, final restoration for all. In his later writings he seems to imply it here and there, but obscures it somewhat by the suggestion of a constant succession of fall and restoration. He has, however, had many followers, and among them some have expressed themselves far more bluntly. Some time ago a minister told his audience, “In the end everybody is going to be saved. I have hope even for the devil.”

The real meaning of Col. 1:20 is probably as follows: Sin ruined the universe. It destroyed the harmony between one creature and the other, also between all creatures and their God. Through the blood of the cross (cf. Eph. 2:11–18), however, sin, in principle, has been conquered. The demand of the law has been satisfied, its curse born (Rom. 3:25; Gal. 3:13). Harmony, accordingly, has been restored. Peace was made. Through Christ and his cross the universe is brought back or restored to its proper relationship to God in the sense that as a just reward for his obedience Christ was exalted to the Father’s right hand, from which position of authority and power he rules the entire universe in the interest of the church and to the glory of God. This interpretation brings the present passage in harmony with the related ones written during this same imprisonment. Note the expression “the things on the earth or the things in the heavens” (or something very similar) not only here in Col. 1:20 but also in Eph. 1:10 and Phil. 2:10.

There is, of course, a difference in the manner in which various creatures submit to Christ’s rule and are “reconciled to God.” Those who are and remain evil, whether men or angels, submit ruefully, unwillingly. In their case peace, harmony, is imposed, not welcomed. But not only are their evil designs constantly being over-ruled for good, but these evil beings themselves have been, in principle, stripped of their power (Col. 2:15). They are brought into subjection (1 Cor. 15:24–28; cf. Eph. 1:21, 22), and “the God of peace (!) will bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom. 16:20). The good angels, on the other hand, submit joyfully, eagerly. So do also the redeemed among men. This group includes the members of the Colossian church as far as they are true believers, a thought to which Paul gives expression in the following verses.[4]


[1] Bruce, F. F. (1984). The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (pp. 66–76). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[2] McKnight, S. (2018). The Letter to the Colossians. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (pp. 154–167). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[3] Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (pp. 31–34). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Colossians and Philemon (Vol. 6, pp. 76–82). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

December 13 The Danger of Drifting

scripture reading: Romans 6:15–23
key verse: Romans 6:23

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Taking the small, inflatable raft, he went out just beyond the wave break where he could relax and enjoy the coolness of the ocean water. He had left his glasses with his wife on the beach. Though his vision was blurry, he kept telling himself, “I can still see the shore.” Soon, the sound of the lifeguard’s horn and shouts of onlookers signaled that he had drifted out into dangerous water, never feeling the silent pull of the ocean’s undertow.

Sin often operates this way in the lives of believers. Satan begins by tempting us to deviate only slightly from God’s principles. Then he watches for our reaction. Do we find sin palatable or nauseating?

Spiritual drifting begins with the words, “I know I probably shouldn’t do this, but I don’t see any harm in doing it just once.” Before you drift into harm’s way and away from the fellowship of God, ask Him to surface any area of sin you may be harboring.

Very few of us successfully resist rationalized sin the second time around. The man who eats a hot fudge sundae and concludes that it doesn’t make him fat is deceived. Make the wise choice to obey, and avoid the danger of drifting.

Heavenly Father, I don’t want to drift. Surface any disobedience or compromise in my life, and keep me from the deadly spiritual undertow of sin.[1]

 

[1] Stanley, C. F. (1998). Enter His gates: a daily devotional. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

13 december (1857) 365 Days with Spurgeon

The Holy Spirit and the one church

“These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.” Jude 19

suggested further reading: Romans 8:5–13

The Holy Spirit when he comes in the heart comes like water. That is to say, he comes to purify the soul. He that is to-day as foul as he was before his pretended conversion is a hypocrite and a liar; he that this day loves sin and lives in it just as he was accustomed to do, let him know that the truth is not in him, but he hath received the strong delusion to believe a lie: God’s people are a holy people; God’s Spirit works by love, and purifies the soul. Once let it get into our hearts, and it will have no rest till it has turned every sin out. God’s Holy Spirit and man’s sin cannot live together peaceably; they may both be in the same heart, but they cannot both reign there, nor can they both be quiet there; for “the Spirit lusteth against the flesh, and the flesh lusteth against the Spirit;” they cannot rest, but there will be a perpetual warring in the soul, so that the Christian will have to cry, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” But in due time the Spirit will drive out all sin, and will present us blameless before the throne of his Majesty with exceeding great joy. Now, answer this question for thyself, and not for another man. Hast thou received this Spirit? Answer me.

for meditation: When the Holy Spirit enters a person at the new birth, he begins to change that person for the better; but that involves declaring war on the flesh (Galatians 5:17). An intensified awareness of one’s sinfulness can be very distressing (Romans 7:24), but the believer can take courage in the knowledge that God is at work. Those who know nothing of these experiences since professing conversion should examine their professed faith, no matter what other experiences of the Spirit they may claim to have had.

sermon no. 167[1]

 

[1] Spurgeon, C. H., & Crosby, T. P. (1998). 365 Days with Spurgeon (Volume 1) (p. 354). Leominster, UK: Day One Publications.

13 DECEMBER 365 Days with Calvin

What It Means to Believe

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26

suggested further reading: Matthew 15:21–28

Jesus Christ is the head of the church, and for his sake God owns and accepts us as his children. Believing this means much more than people generally imagine.

Those who are not familiar with Holy Scripture may find it strange that we can receive blessing simply by believing. They may think faith is not enough of a virtue to earn us such a reward. However, believing in Jesus Christ is not equivalent to believing a story that we were told or that we have read; it means truly receiving him as presented to us by God the Father. We must embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as the one who has paid for our sin to reconcile us to God. We must entirely trust in him for salvation, assured that he has provided all that we need to gain our eternal inheritance.

If we are certain of these things, it will not surprise us that we become children of God simply by believing. Yet we must also remember that faith has no merit in itself; it is not a question of weighing our faith in the balance to assess its value as a virtue. No, we become children of God through free adoption.

If you are looking for the cause of this, I tell you the true source of salvation is in the mercy of God alone in choosing to take pity upon us. This is achieved by means of faith, as we have said before. When all our pride and vain presumption has been taken away and we recognize that we are lost by nature, then we take refuge in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is what Paul is teaching us here.

for meditation: Here Calvin brings together three mottos of the Reformation: faith alone, grace alone, and Christ alone. For Christ’s sake, faith and grace are best of friends, not competitors. Gracious faith, then, embraces Christ the way a ring embraces its diamond, as Luther put it. Faith gets all its value from its object, Jesus Christ. Even if your faith is as weak as a single strand of a spider’s web, if that strand is attached to the rock, Christ Jesus, your salvation is absolutely secure. If you are a believer, meditate humbly on your security in Christ today.[1]

 

[1] Calvin, J., & Beeke, J. R. (2008). 365 Days with Calvin (p. 366). Leominster; Grand Rapids, MI: Day One Publications; Reformation Heritage Books.

December 13, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

21 With this statement, the apostle seems to be getting closer to the difficult issue being faced in Corinth. As we have seen on several occasions in this letter, pride was indeed a problem among the Corinthians (cf. 1:29; 3:3–4; 4:18–19; 5:1, 6; 11:18–22). The apostle needs to get across that all of the members in Corinth need each other, and no one is dispensable.[1]


21 With this verse Paul returns to the personification of the parts of the body, but now to make a considerably different point. The thought probably flows out of the final statement in v. 20, the repetition of the theme of “one body,” although the emphasis on the need for diversity is certainly not lost. The parts of the body personified include three from vv. 15–16 (eye/hand, feet), but in a new mix that has one of the sensory organs (the eye) speaking to one of the external limbs (the hand), while the ear has been replaced by the “head,” which speaks to the feet. Both the direction and content of what is said imply a view “from above,” where those who consider themselves at the top of the “hierarchy” of persons in the community suggest that they can get along without some others, who do not have their allegedly superior rank. That this is the thrust of the present analogy is made certain by the rest of the paragraph. At the same time, of course, in its own way this new analogy continues the theme of the need for variety. Indeed, in v. 22 the absolute necessity of parts that others would scorn is specifically asserted.

It is common to see in this analogy a reference to those who speak in tongues as considering themselves superior to those in the community who do not. If so, then this is the only hint of such in the entire argument. Nothing in chap. 14 itself suggests as much. That guess, therefore, as common as it is, is probably considerably off the mark in terms of Paul’s own concerns. Since the implication of the analogy as Paul proceeds with it is that some people consider themselves superior to others, not that some gifts are superior, it seems more likely that one is to find the historical situation here addressed in a broader context within the church. But that context is not the problem of chaps. 1–4 since no hierarchy of persons is implied in those divisions and disputations. The most obvious setting, therefore, is that which immediately preceded this one, 11:17–34, where exactly this kind of problem is in view. In that passage the “haves” are abusing the “have-nots” at the Lord’s Table and thereby despising the church itself. This suggestion seems all the more probable in light of (1) Paul’s own use of “body” imagery in 11:29 to call into question their abuse of others in the church, and (2) the inclusion of “whether slave or free” in the affirmation in v. 13 about their common experience of Spirit as what makes them one body. The stench, it should be noted, is not simply in their pride. One can sometimes tolerate that in the “aristocracy.” Rather, it is both in their self-sufficiency and in their demeaning of others to the point of saying, “I have no need of you.”[2]


12:21 / Notice that in this imaginary dialogue, the head is but a part—though prominent—of the body. The head is not identified in any special fashion with Christ himself. Compare the similar images and uses of this metaphor in Rom. 12:3–8; Eph. 1:15–23; 2:15–16; 4:3–4, 11–12, 15–16, 25; 5:23, 29–30; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:9–10, 19; 3:15. The images are distinct in their various locations: 1 Cor. and Rom. understand that the church is the body of Christ, whereas Eph. and Col. present a development of that basic image so that Christ is the head of his body, which is the church. Distinctions exist and developments have occurred, so readers should perceive and take into account the nuances of the metaphors of the body, no matter who wrote the canonical letters attributed to Paul.[3]


21. The eye is not able to say to the hand, “I have no need of you.” Or again, the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

Once more Paul personifies members of the human body. The eye is speaking to the hand and the head addresses the feet. The message is that the eye and the head respectively want to be independent of the other parts of the body. They do not want to admit that their existence is based on the interdependent relations with other physical members. What would the eye achieve without the use of the hand? And what would the head do for lack of mobility? The picture that Paul draws portrays the absurdity of independence. The individual parts of the body all aid each other in the total functioning of the whole.

Notice that Paul uses the singular term eye not to call attention to the physical part of the human anatomy but to a person’s competence to see. The word hand also appears in the singular to express a person’s ability of touching, taking, holding, and giving objects. We always refer to dexerity by using the singular, for instance, sleight of hand. The word head must be understood as the collective part of the body that incorporates all the senses and the working of the mind.

What is Paul trying to say to his readers? This is the lesson: A member in the Corinthian church who had received the gift of healing, for example, should not feel self-sufficient and say to the other members, “I have no need of you.” This air of superiority flies in the face of Paul’s teaching on servanthood (9:19; 2 Cor. 4:5; Gal. 5:13). The person who has the gift of healing needs the supportive ministry of those who have received the rest of the spiritual gifts. In brief, within the church all the members need one another with all their expertise and ability for mutual edification. The revered Augustine aptly said:

God is not greater if you reverence him,

but you are greater if you serve him.[4]


[1] Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 368). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians (pp. 612–613). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[3] Soards, M. L. (2011). 1 Corinthians (p. 269). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, pp. 435–436). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

December 13 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

2 Chronicles 14–15; Revelation 4; Haggai 2; John 3

 

as we saw in yesterday’s meditation, Haggai 1 is set in August 520 b.c. Haggai 2 is set in the same year, but is broken up into two parts. The first oracle comes to Haggai in October (2:1–9); the second, in December (2:10–23). The first is measured encouragement to the remnant that is beginning the task of rebuilding the temple; the second promises blessing (2:10–19) and an ultimate “Zerubbabel” (2:20–23).

The first section promises that the new temple, “this house,” will be filled with more glory than the first. If this “glory” is measured in terms of wealth or political influence, that simply did not happen before the temple was destroyed in a.d. 70. But if instead the glory of “this house” is bound up with the coming of the Messiah who graced its structures and who was himself the ultimate “temple” toward which it pointed, the claim is not extravagant. The expression “the desired of all nations” (2:7), taken as a singular, has often been understood to refer to the Messiah. The Hebrew, however, is plural (“the desired things,” i.e., “the treasures”), suggesting a time when all nations will pay homage to the God of Israel. After all, as verse 8 reminds us, all the silver and gold are God’s anyway.

The words “give careful thought” now recur (2:15, 18), reminding the reader how Haggai has used this expression in chapter 1 to call Israel to reflect on the two decades that have elapsed since their return. God’s blessing on them has been restrained, almost miserly. “From this day on” (2:19), however, God will bless the people.

But the greatest blessing is still to come. God predicts that in the vague future, the prophetic “on that day” (2:23), he will overturn kings and kingdoms and make Zerubbabel “like my signet ring” (2:23). Why? Because “I have chosen you,” the Lord Almighty declares. This cannot be a simple reference to the historical Zerubbabel. Too many indicators point beyond him. God is referring to “that day.” Zerubbabel is not only the governor (2:21), but “my servant” (2:23)—a title used of David (Ezek. 34:23; 37:24), as well as of the “suffering servant” of Isaiah. “Servant” and “chosen” are juxtaposed in Isaiah 41:8; 42:1; 44:1. David, Judah, and Mount Zion are similarly “chosen” (Ps. 78:68–70). Recall, too (yesterday’s passage), that Zerubbabel’s grandfather was King Jehoiachin, so that Zerubbabel is in the Davidic line, the messianic line. So Zerubbabel (whose name still appears with honor in contemporary Jewish liturgies for Hanukkah) sets a pattern, part of a larger Davidic pattern, that points to the ultimate Zerubbabel, the ultimate David—King Jesus.[1]

 

[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 13 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

2 Chronicles 14–15; Revelation 4; Haggai 2; John 3

 

the reign of king asa of Judah is instructive on several fronts, and will occupy our attention both today (2 Chron. 14–15) and tomorrow.

Asa’s long reign began with ten years of peace (14:1), “for the Lord gave him rest” (14:6). During this time Asa “commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to obey his laws and commands” (14:4). The people sought the Lord, “and built and prospered” (14:7). At the end of ten years, Asa faced the devastating power of the Cushite forces (from the upper Nile). Asa could not possibly have forgotten how his grandfather Rehoboam was subjugated by Shishak of Egypt (2 Chron. 12). Asa’s own conduct is exemplary, a foretaste of how his descendant Hezekiah would handle himself centuries later when he faced the Babylonians: he called on the Lord, frankly acknowledging his utter powerlessness against such forces. “Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. O Lord, you are our God; do not let man prevail against you” (14:11). By whatever means (the text does not specify), the Lord answers, and Asa’s relatively tiny army crushes the Cushite host.

Enter Azariah son of Oded, a prophet with a message of encouragement for Asa and for all Judah and Benjamin (15:1–2). Reflecting on the terrible years of anarchy under the closing years of the judges and the opening years of the monarchy, when travel and trade were dangerous and when the Levites were not sufficiently disciplined and organized to teach the people, Azariah encourages king and people alike to seek the Lord, for “he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you” (15:2). Such a message strengthens Asa’s resolve. He proceeds against the remaining idolatry in the land and pours resources into the maintenance of the temple. This is the covenant community, and under Asa it begins to act like one. “They sought God eagerly, and he was found by them. So the Lord gave them rest on every side” (15:15) for a further quarter century, to the thirty-fifth year of Asa’s reign (15:19). The “high places” were not removed (15:17)—a residue of competition with the temple—but for the most part Asa was a straight arrow.

We should not be embarrassed by the blessing of God on integrity and righteousness. Righteousness exalts a nation: it lifts it up and strengthens its hand. This is not merely a sociological inference: it is the way God has structured things, the way he providentially rules. Inversely, corruption attracts the wrath of God, and sooner or later will bring a nation down.[1]

 

[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 12 The Process of Beautification

Scripture reading: Ephesians 5:1–14

Key verse: Ephesians 5:2

Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

Have you ever seen “before and after” photos in magazines? Cosmetics companies and weightloss plans often use this advertisement technique. Of course, sometimes the changes seem just a little too remarkable. Yet that’s what people love to see and experience, something that makes a change for the better.

The fifth chapter of Ephesians is a kind of spiritual “before and after” snapshot. It helps you understand what Jesus’ grace actually does in your heart and mind as you grow in your relationship with the Savior: “Do not be partakers with them [the evildoers]; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:7–10 nasb).

Can you remember what you were like before you accepted Christ as your Savior? For some people the transformation was radical and easily visible to others. But no matter what your story, you can certainly recall areas of darkness that were opened up to the light of Christ and made new.

The good news is that “beautification” is still taking place. You don’t have a final “after” picture because you are always in the process of becoming more like Him.

Thank You that You are changing me, Lord. I humbly submit to the beautification process that is making me more like You.[1]

 

[1] Stanley, C. F. (2002). Seeking His face (p. 363). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

December 12, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

thirty days of jesus day 14 propitiation

Perfect Love and the Coming of Christ

By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (4:9–11)

Jesus Christ is the preeminent manifestation of God’s love (John 1:14; cf. Rom. 5:8); He is God’s only begotten (unique) Son (Heb. 1:5), who came to earth in the flesh (Luke 2:7–14; John 1:14, 18; Heb. 5:5). The incarnation was the supreme demonstration of a divine love that was and is sovereign and seeking; it was not that [believers] loved God, but that He loved [them] and sent His Son to be the propitiation for [their] sins. The term propitiation refers to a covering for sin (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17), and is a form of the same word (hilasmos) used in 2:2 (for a more detailed explanation of this important word and its background, see chapter 4 of this volume). Hundreds of years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah foresaw His propitiatory sacrifice:

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. (Isa. 53:4–6; cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; 1 Peter 3:18)

By this the perfect love of God was manifested in [believers], John wrote, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that [believers] might live through Him. The apostle’s point is that since God, in sovereign mercy, graciously displayed His love in sending Christ, the saints should surely follow His example and love others with sacrificial, Christlike love (Eph. 4:32). The Father not only gave His children a perfect love when He redeemed them (Rom. 5:5), but He also gave them the ultimate model in Christ of how that love functions in selfless sacrifice. The cross of Christ compels believers to such love. Thus John exhorted his readers: Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (cf. John 15:13). The apostle really just restated his admonition from 3:16, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” No one who has ever savingly believed in Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and thus been granted eternal life, can return permanently to a self-centered lifestyle. Instead such persons will obey Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians to “be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:1–2; cf. 1 Peter 1:15–16).[1]


10 This verse extends the thought of v. 9 by emphasizing the sacrificial dimension of the incarnation. The first phrase, “this is love,” would normally introduce a test in 1 John, but here it refers to the two statements that follow about the love of God (as the NIV, “This is love:”; cf. Brown, 518). The second of these two statements, both of which are introduced by hoti, is a slogan closely related to v. 9 and to John 3:16, while the first statement is a sarcastic play on the true slogan to highlight God’s love in sending the Son.

John clues the reader that the first slogan is sarcastic by the introduction ouch hoti. John’s followers will recall that he did not teach them, “we loved God,” rather, he taught them, “God loved us.” The contrast between the two slogans is highlighted in the Greek text by a change in tense. In the first statement, the perfect tense of agapaō (“love”), which describes a state of being resulting from a past action, stresses that we did not love God before he sent his Son. Indeed, since the world hates God and wants nothing to do with God (see Introduction), and since even true believers were members of the world before their rebirth (see comment at 3:11–15), there is no way to argue that believers loved God at any point before their conversion. The sending of the Son was, therefore, an act of purely benevolent love, not motivated by anything believers had done, and not God’s requiting of a love they already had for him.

The second statement, however, which cites the true version of the slogan, switches to the aorist tense of agapaō, highlighting a specific act of love. The fact that “sent” (apostellō, GK 690) is also aorist suggests that the act of God’s love John has in mind is the incarnation. Even though the world did not love God, God showed his love for the world at the moment when he sent his Son into the world. Indeed, the world did not know what “love” was until Jesus came.[2]


10 In the preceding verse John has described the character of God’s love. Now he goes even further. Here, he says, is love—not just the love of God but love as such. There can be no explanation or definition of true love which does not start from God’s love. We cannot begin to understand love by considering the nature of our love for God. Rather love is to be seen in the prior act of God who loved us and expressed his love by sending11 his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. In this phrase we find the deepest meaning of the term “love”: love means forgiving the sins of the beloved and remembering them no more. This is what God has done for rebellious mankind: he pardons their sins against himself at his own cost. To remove this element from the biblical teaching on the nature of God’s love is to water down the concept of love beyond measure. It is true that some writers have denied that a loving God needs to be propitiated for human sin and have suggested that this makes him less than loving. They have not realized that the depth of God’s love is to be seen precisely in the way in which it bears the wounds inflicted on it by mankind and offers full and free pardon. The point was expressed once and for all by James Denney:

So far from finding any kind of contrast between love and propitiation, the apostle can convey no idea of love to anyone except by pointing to the propitiation—love is what is manifested there; and he can give no account of the propitiation but by saying, “Behold what manner of love.” For him, to say “God is love” is exactly the same as to say, “God has in His Son made atonement for the sin of the world.” If the propitiatory death of Jesus is eliminated from the love of God, it might be unfair to say that the love of God is robbed of all meaning, but it is certainly robbed of its apostolic meaning. It has no longer that meaning which goes deeper than sin, sorrow, and death, and which recreates life in the adoring joy, wonder, and purity of the first Epistle of John.[3]


4:10 / This is love is literally, “in this is love” (en toutō estin hē agapē). That is, “this is the essence of love,” or “love consists in this.” God’s action defines what authentic love is. But first the Elder must say that real love is not defined by our love for God. It is not that we loved God (ēgapēkamen, perfect tense, “we have been loving”). The opponents have claimed to love God, know God, live in God, walk in the light, etc. They have flaunted their “superior spirituality” (they don’t even sin; 1:8, 10) before the remaining Johannine Christians. But proud human love for God, even “Christian love” (note the “we”) is a poor model. The only true standard of love is God’s love; it is that he loved us (ēgapēsen, aorist tense, “decisively, once and for all, loved”), and, as the proof and expression of his love, sent (apesteilen, aorist tense) his Son. This is the definitive expression of love. While the primary reference of we and us in this verse is to those who claim to be Christians, the context supports a broader, secondary application to humankind generally (v. 9, “world”; 2:2; 4:15; John 3:16). On the sending of the Son, see v. 9.

The key word in the last phrase of v. 10 is hilasmon (niv, atoning sacrifice). It was used before in 2:2 with respect to Jesus’ effective provision for our sins. Given the reference to “the blood of Jesus” in 1:7, hilasmos must refer to Jesus’ death on the cross as a sacrifice for sins, analogous to ot atoning sacrifices. Such a sacrifice cleanses the beneficiary from the guilt of sin and effects reconciliation, or a restored right relationship with God, by averting God’s judgment on sin. It is, of course, as 4:9–10 make perfectly clear, God who has taken this action. God loved us and sent his own Son to reconcile us to himself through the Son’s atoning death for our sins. For our sins points to the need for an atoning sacrifice; without it we would be under God’s judgment and outside the sphere of life and salvation. We would not “have passed from death to life” (John 5:24; 1 John 3:14).[4]


10. This is love:

not that we loved God,

but that he loved us

and sent his Son

as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Consider the following points:

  • Proof

God’s love emanates from his being and radiates to and in us who acknowledge him through Jesus Christ. The Son of God is the visible proof of God’s love toward his people. Therefore John writes, “This is how God showed his love among us.” God sent his Son into the world. Note the wording. John mentions not the name Jesus or Christ; instead he uses the word Son to call attention to the intimate Father-Son relationship. God the Father sent his Son into the world. More than that, “he sent his one and only Son” (also see John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18). Jesus is not one Son among many others. The expression one and only “is used to mark out Jesus uniquely above all earthly and heavenly beings.”

God sent his one and only Son into our sinful world to give us life. If God the Father had given the world as a present to his Son, because he is the heir, God would have demonstrated evident proof of his love toward him. And we would have no difficulty understanding God’s act of love. But the text says that God “sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” God gave his Son to die on the cross so that we might have eternal life. He gave his Son to us. This message is too profound: we are unable to fathom the depth of God’s love for us.

  • Priority

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” John describes the matter first negatively and then positively. He expresses negatively that we did not love God. John does not say, “God loves us because we are God’s loving children.” No, the opposite is true, for Paul tells us that we have a sinful mind that is hostile to God (Rom. 8:7).

Positively, John states that love originates with God, not with man (refer to 4:19; 2 Thess. 2:16). God loves the unlovable. As an anonymous poet wrote,

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew

He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;

It was not that I found, O Savior true,

No, I was found, was found of thee.

I find, I walk, I love; but O the whole

Of love is but my answer, Lord, to thee!

For thou wert long beforehand with my soul,

Always, always thou lovedst me.

John concludes by saying that God “sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Earlier in his epistle, John wrote the same words (see the comments on 2:2; also compare Rom. 3:25). God’s only Son covered our sins and set us free from guilt. Note that in this last part of verse 10 the contrast is between God’s Son and our sins. God took the initiative in showing his love to man when he sent his Son.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2007). 1, 2, 3 John (pp. 167–168). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Thatcher, T. (2006). 1 John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 479). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Epistles of John (pp. 214–215). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[4] Johnson, T. F. (2011). 1, 2, and 3 John (p. 104). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[5] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 332–333). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

December 12 Stopping Short of God’s Plan

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 2:1–10

Key Verse: Ephesians 2:10

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

What would you think of a marathon runner who, only fifty feet from the finish line, decided to stop running without completing the course? How much esteem would you attribute to a football player who stopped five yards from the end zone? In the world of sports, fans rarely applaud half-hearted efforts. Instead, crowds cheer for those who defy all obstacles in their pursuit of victory.

The Christian life is like a sporting event in many ways. For this reason, the apostle Paul referred to one’s spiritual life as a “race” five times throughout his epistles. This race takes preparation, determination, and diligence, and it requires completion.

Ephesians 2:1–10 lays out God’s plan for His children. First, God demonstrates amazing patience toward sinful people. Second, He extends His saving grace to those who seek Him. For many people, these two steps are all that matter.

However, the third part of God’s plan is just as vital. The third step is to accept the responsibility that comes with salvation. While salvation cannot be attained through good works, a godly change in character is essential to the Christian life.

Have you allowed the grace of God to change your outward behavior, or have you stopped short of God’s plan for your life? Pray for God’s strength as you strive to finish the race.

Lord, I don’t want to stop short of Your plan. Give me divine strength to finish my race in victory.[1]

 

[1] Stanley, C. F. (2006). Pathways to his presence (p. 363). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

December 12 Beyond Ourselves

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 1

Key Verse: 2 Corinthians 1:12

Our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you.

Many secular books and talk shows feature individuals who have made a comeback of some kind. Men and women who were once trapped in a bad situation dug themselves out of despair through sheer willpower and made themselves what they are today.

Many say something such as, “I just reached within myself to discover a strength I didn’t know I had. When you understand how much power you really have, how much potential is locked within, you can release an inner force that helps you be successful.”

Does this lingo sound familiar? It is the cry of modern man depending on himself and making himself the measure of all things. These speakers don’t discuss, however, what to do when this self-generated energy runs out, when the problem gets too big for simple do-it-yourself answers. Human effort and power go only so far.

Can you imagine the apostle Paul saying that he had survived merciless beatings and shipwreck and public rejection through his own willpower? Absolutely not. Instead, Paul said this: “Our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you” (2 Cor. 1:12 nasb). This is your one sure hope as well.

Precious heavenly Father, I can’t do it in myself. I don’t have the energy or the wisdom. My confidence is in You. I am depending on Your power.[1]

 

[1] Stanley, C. F. (1999). On holy ground (p. 363). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

December 12 A Role Reversal

Scripture reading: Luke 16:19–31

Key verse: Hebrews 9:27

As it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.

What a role reversal! The poor man who once begged bread beside the rich man’s table is with God forever, and the rich man is in perpetual torment in Hades. It’s quite a stark image.

Jesus wasn’t emphasizing the difference between rich and poor, however. He was calling attention to the decisions they made in life. The rich man was so caught up in his wealth that he had no concern for his spiritual well-being. Even the presence of the poor man at his gate was not enough to stir his conscience and move him to compassion.

The verse that is the most gripping in this whole sad scene is the one in which the rich man cried out to Father Abraham for relief. Abraham replied, “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can these from there pass to us” (Luke 16:26).

In other words, there were no more chances. The rich man’s place in Hades was permanent and unchanging. His chance to make a decision to seek God was when he was still alive, and he turned a deaf ear. Part of his torture was living with eternal regret.

Are you putting off thinking about God until a better time? That “better time” might not come. Jesus is waiting to hear from you right now—don’t put off the decision any longer. Ask Him to come into your heart.

Dear Lord Jesus, come into my heart. Prepare me for eternity. Give me hope for the future.[1]

 

[1] Stanley, C. F. (2000). Into His presence (p. 363). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

December 12, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

The Purpose of God’s Testimony

And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. (5:11)

The purpose of God’s testimony through the water, the blood, and the Spirit is that sinners might receive eternal life. Eternal life involves far more than merely living forever in a chronological sense. The essence of eternal life is the believer’s participation in the blessed everlasting life of Christ (cf. John 1:4) through his or her union with Him (Rom. 5:21; 6:4, 11, 23; 1 Cor. 15:22; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:3–4; 2 Tim. 1:1, 10; Jude 21). Jesus defined it in His High Priestly Prayer to the Father: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). It is the life of the age to come (Eph. 2:6–7), which believers will most fully experience in the perfect, unending glory, holiness, and joy of heaven (Rom. 8:19–23, 29; 1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:20–21; 1 John 3:2).

The eternal life promised by God in the Old Testament (e.g., 2 Sam. 12:23; Pss. 16:8–10; 133:3; Dan. 12:2) and sought by the Jews of Jesus’ day (Luke 10:25; John 5:39) comes only to those who believe God’s testimony and place their faith in His Son. The gospel is exclusive; there are not many ways to God, but only one. In John 14:6 Jesus declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” “And there is salvation in no one else,” Peter added, “for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12; cf. John 6:68; 17:2; Rom. 6:23; 1 Tim. 1:16; Jude 21).[1]


11 Verse 11 summarizes the preceding verses by defining the “testimony” of God with a community slogan introduced by hoti (note the NIV’s colon): “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” In John’s mind, “Son” and “life” are synonymous terms, as indicated by the use of didōmi (“has given,” GK 1443). God “gave” life just as he “gave” his Son (Jn 3:16); in fact, John would say that life was given to the world in the form of God’s Son (Jn 1:4; 1 Jn 4:9). Notably, this slogan furnishes the creedal content of God’s witness without defining the means by which God has made this “testimony.” As indicated in the comment on v. 10, John probably has in mind both the work of God through the life of Jesus and the continuing proclamation of Jesus in the church under the Spirit’s influence.[2]


11 The question whether we accept God’s testimony or not is not a merely academic one. On our answer to it depends the question whether or not we participate in eternal life. For what God’s testimony means is that he has given us eternal life; but this life is given only in his Son.43[3]


5:11 / What is the testimony of God, which the writer has spoken of since v. 9? It is “testimony … about his Son” (vv. 9c, 10c). It certainly includes the idea that the Son of God is Jesus (v. 5), the one who came by both water and blood (vv. 6–8), which statements his opponents, the secessionists, deny. But the principal proposition in God’s testimony concerns the connection between his Son and life. This is the testimony presents the content of God’s witness, though, of course, it is not the whole content of what God has said concerning Jesus.

The testimony is contained in two closely linked affirmations: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. In 1 John 1:2 and 5:20 “his Son, Jesus Christ” is called eternal life (zōēn aiōnion). In 2:25, eternal life is what God has promised to those who acknowledge the Son (2:23) and remain faithful. “No murderer has eternal life in him,” but those who love their brothers and sisters “have passed from death to life” (3:14–15; cf. John 5:24). In the Johannine writings eternal life is a present spiritual reality, the qualitatively different life of the realm of God present in human beings who believe in Jesus. John 17:3 describes it as “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” It is a gift from God (also from Jesus, John 10:28; 17:2); in fact, v. 11 speaks of it as given (edōken, aorist) at a definite time in the past, undoubtedly in the “Christ event.” Yet it also continues to be given in the present in response to faith in Jesus. It is given, the Elder says, to us, i.e., to those who have remained in the community of the faithful, not to the secessionists; they have not remained (1 John 2:19, 23–27), and they do not have eternal life (1 John 3:14–15).

The second part of the content of God’s testimony is the connection between the life and the Son: this life is in his Son (cf. John 1:4; 5:26). It is in the Son for two reasons: because the Son is life (1 John 1:2; 5:20; John 11:25; 14:6), as are his words (John 6:63, 68). He also is “the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48), and, as “the light of the world,” he is “the light of life” (John 8:12). Eternal life is also in the Son, because it is through faith in the Son (or by coming to him, John 5:40; or by looking to him, 6:40; or by eating his flesh and drinking his blood, 6:54) that one receives the gift of life (cf. 2:25; John 3:15–16, 36; 6:47; 20:31). God’s free gift of an eternally right relationship with God is inseparable from knowing and trusting Jesus Christ.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2007). 1, 2, 3 John (p. 197). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Thatcher, T. (2006). 1 John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 496–497). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Epistles of John (p. 241). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[4] Johnson, T. F. (2011). 1, 2, and 3 John (pp. 129–130). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

December 12 A Winning Lifestyle

scripture reading: Hebrews 12:1–3
key verse: Hebrews 12:3

Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.

The writer of Hebrews noted that because we have “so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us” (12:1 nasb), we should not grow weary in the race of life, but have hope and not lose heart. Many godly witnesses are among us today as well. You can probably think of people who struggled against all odds and yet, though they suffered horrendous trials, remained faithful to Christ. What a witness and testimony to God!

Never forget that Jesus endured the pain and embarrassment of the Cross so that you might gain the victor’s crown. You don’t have to be supernatural to be a winner, but you must contain a supernatural faith in Christ to wear the crown of life.

The book of Hebrews provides three insights into gaining a winning lifestyle:

First, lay aside every encumbrance. That includes sin and anything else that holds you back from being all God wants you to be.

Second, run with endurance. Don’t give up. At times you may wonder whether you will ever see the finish line, but you will. God has promised it, so be faithful!

Third, fix your eyes on Jesus. Many, like Peter, take their eyes off Christ and focus on the shifting winds and swelling waves of life. But if you will keep your eyes firmly locked on Jesus, you will receive the conqueror’s garland.

Jesus, You endured the Cross so that I might wear the victor’s crown. Help me lay aside every weight, run with endurance, and keep my eyes fixed on You.[1]

 

[1] Stanley, C. F. (1998). Enter His gates: a daily devotional. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.