The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: September 2018

Hidden Treasures in Christ

In 1945 a discovery was made in Upper Egypt–52 copies of ancient writings called the Gnostic Gospels.

“A few Gnostic scholars have gone so far as to assert that these recently discovered writings are the authentic history of Jesus instead of the New Testament . . .

“Their name comes from the Greek word gnosis, meaning “knowledge.” These people thought they had secret, special knowledge hidden from ordinary people . . .

“As Christianity spread, the Gnostics mixed some doctrines and elements of Christian­ity into their beliefs, morphing Gnosticism into a counterfeit Christianity” (Y-Jesus, Website).

According to [the 2006 movie],The Da Vinci Code, Jesus was really just a human being, married to Mary Magdalene, and he has a royal bloodline that continues to this day. The Church, in order to hide the true nature of Jesus, destroyed the earlier, Gnostic Gospels that had the evidence of Jesus’ humanity, and declared them heretical in a play for political power.

In Colossians, Paul confronts an early form of Gnosticism threatening the church.  He does so, however, only by inference.  Instead of tearing into Gnosticism point by point, Paul magnifies Jesus Christ.  “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (1:28,29).

“I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:1-3).

 Paul is “struggling”.  Greek agown, used of an athletic contest—a foot race or wrestling match.  Paul is“struggling with all [Christ’s] energy, which so powerfully works in [him].  He struggles to proclaim Christ, “admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone complete in Christ” (1:28,29).

 Proclaiming Christ is a “struggle”, because wherever he goes, opposition rises—“troubles, hardships . . . distresses . . . beatings, imprisonments and riots” (2 Corinthians 6:4,5).  He’s writing this letter from Roman imprisonment.

He wants the churches to know how much he is struggling for them.  Not for their pity.  He wants to be an example of a man fighting for the faith, so they may “be encouraged in heart and united in love”.  He wants to be their model.  In other words, stand together with courage and love against “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (2:8) that will draw them from Christ.

He wants them assured o f the truth.  He wants them “complete in Christ”.  As he writes, he wants them to “have the full riches of complete understanding”.  Interesting. Complete understanding requires not only that they continue in the faith, but that they continue together. This learning comes through the community of the church, through members practicing what they’re learning among each other.

All this has a yet-higher purpose: “in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”.  Paul jabs at the Gnostics.  Do they hold a deep knowledge of spiritual things? In “Christ . . . are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. 

 Hampton Keathley III (former pastor and Greek teacher at Moody Bible Institute) writes, “Paul meets the heretics on their own ground.  He has a secret, too.  It also is unknowable, except to the initiated. To understand the secrets of the pagan religions, one must enter the temples.  Likewise, the only way to understand the treasures of God’s wisdom and understanding is to enter Christ by faith. They are stored away in Him.  He is God’s great secret; leave the mysteries of men and come to Him who is the way, the truth, and the life is the apostle’s conviction.” 

“I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is” (2:4,5).

Paul tells them all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ “so that they may not deceive you by fine-sounding arguments”.  The church has all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Christ.  Why let smooth-talkers with seemingly plausible arguments  lead them elsewhere?

In fact, the churches aren’t being led astray.  Precisely what Paul means by “present with you in spirit”  is unclear.  What is clear is his “delight” at “how orderly . . . and firm your faith in Christ is”.  “ . . . orderly” and “firm” are military terms.  The New American Standard   translation hints at that:  “ . . . rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ”.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (2:6-8).

We’ve reached Paul’s conclusion.  His previous paragraphs have led to what he wants them to do now:  continue to live in Christ Jesus, just as you received him as Lord.  “Lord” (Greek kurios) is a loaded word.  Some Roman emperors adopted it–supreme ruler, no one as high.  To the Jews it was  the title of the God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush–supreme ruler who made outlandish, personal promises to his covenant people.

Paul’s central teaching of the letter, then, is that the Colossians should continue to live their lives in Christ (2:6). Just as they began by “receiving” Christ Jesus, the Lord, so they should continue to live their lives “in him.”

 * * *

Here’s one fascinating  take away from all this:  The treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. 

These days, “wisdom” and “knowledge” aren’t much sought after.  Our treasures are bursts of information on our phones that entertain or, better, save us money. But look at this treasure’s worth from this ligonier.org comment . . .

“Knowledge is equivalent to the intellectual content of the faith, and wisdom is the ability to see reality as God does, enabling people to apply knowledge in a life that pleases the Creator and creates godly abundance (Prov. 2; Eccl. 2:26). We are being told in Colossians 2:3 that everything we need to know about the Father and how to properly interpret reality and live to His glory is accessible to all believers in His Son. Matthew Henry comments, ‘The treasures of wisdom are hidden not from us, but for us, in Christ.’”

” . . . wisdom is the ability to see reality as God does”.  Reality is “the e state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional (theoretical) idea of them.”  The ability to see reality as God does (wisdom) is hidden in Christ.  What we see apart from Christ is partial reality–even distorted–like the Gnostics with their secret knowledge.

If true treasures are hidden in Christ, treasures that enable us to see reality and to know God, let’s step into our work boots, put on our gloves and start digging.

 

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The Silence of God

The silence of God.
Deafening.
Devastating.
All my life I’ve prayed.
Answers never came dramatically.
But I always had the sense that  God was there and in control,
through circumstances providing,
answering.

But now, silence.

Not me alone, I learn.

Joseph.
Sold by his brothers to traders,
who caravaned him to Egypt.
Camel clopping hoofs,
traders laughing.
Though the narrative says nothing,
surely in those frightening hours,
torn from home,
Joseph surely prayed.
But God’s response was .  .  . silence.

David.
The Psalms give glimpses
of 
his struggles with God’s silence,
as 1 & 2 Samuel tell the history–
a fugitive in the wilderness from Saul’s fury,
a dethroned king running for his life from his son.
” O my God, I cry out by day,
but you do not answer” (Psalm 22:2a).

“To you I call, O LORD my Rock;
do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent,
I will be like those who have gone down to the pit”
(Psalm 28:1).

“O LORD, you have seen this;
be not silent.
Do not be far from me, O Lord”
(Psalm 35:22).

“O God, whom I praise, do not remain silent . . . ” (Psalm 109:1).

So David prayed repeatedly to a silent God.
And all Israel chanted his prayers in worship.
Israel, God’s chosen, often heard God’s silence.

Asaph, of whom we know little:
“O God, do not keep silent;
be not quiet, O God,
be not still” (Psalm 83:1).

Of course, Job–
his suffering most heart-wrenching.
Family crushed
wealth robbed,
health gone,
helplessly dying in the dirt,
surrounded by three friends,
who searched for sin that caused such suffering.
From them an endless chain of words.
From God, silence.
” , , ,there was a time when God answered my prayers” (Job 12:4).
Not now.

And me.
The silence of God surrounds me.
I cup my ear to hear a word.
Squint my eyes to see his hand.
With David I pray,
“O God, whom I praise,
do not remain silent.”

What am I to do?
Not be silent.
Pray.
Trust.
Both are hard,
when God stays silent,
when he remains hidden,
when I feel he’s a father,
giving a stone, not bread.

But, listen,
I hear Joseph whisper,
“It was God who sent me to Egypt,
to save many lives.”
But Joseph knew only much later
that God’s silence was not for suffering,
but salvation.

And David:
“Blessed be the Lord,
for he has head the sound of my pleading . . .
So I am helped,
and my heart rejoices.”

I hold Asapah’s words,
and hear him as he writes in faith,
“Our God comes and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him
and around him a tempest rages” (Psalm 50:3).

And Job, whom the Lord reproved
out of the whirlwind:
“Who is this
that darkens counsel without knowledge?” (Job 38:2).

When I don’t humbly pray,
when I don’t persevere in trust through silence,
when I don’t credit God with being at work,
I’m a presumptuous fool.
The end will show the good of God.
His triumphant voice will shatter the silence.
‘Til then, I must seek to hear his voice
In creation, in the Gospel, in his Son.

Despite my deafness,
Francis Schaeffer’s words
are always wise and true:

“He is There,
and He Is Not Silent”.

 

 

 

 

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A Sit-Down with the Apostle

Wouldn’t it be fascinating to sit down with the apostle Paul as he reminisces about his life?  We’ll have to wait for the New Earth for that.  Best we can do now is to find those here-and- there spots in his letters where he writes almost “sit-down”.  Today’s text (Colossians 1:24-29) is one of those.

“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (1:24).

Paul never visited Colosse,  but he did suffer in nearby Ephesus (Paul refers to it in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11).  Among the listeners in Ephesus was a convert named Epaphras , who eventually carried the gospel to Colosse.

What’s surprising is Paul didn’t complain about suffering.  He says he rejoices.  Why?  Two reasons.  One, it was for the sake of Christ’s body, the church.  Paul honored Christ and loved his church.  Two, his suffering  “[filled] up in [his] flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions”.

John Piper has an interesting interpretation . . .

“What’s [lacking in Christ’s afflictions] is the in-person presentation of Christ’s sufferings to the people for whom he died. The afflictions are lacking in the sense that they are not seen and known among the nations. They must be carried by ministers of the gospel. And those ministers of the gospel fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ by extending them to others” (desiringgod.org).

“I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness–the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory(1:25-27).

Paul sees  himself as a servant of the church. Once he was the church’s chief persecutor.  But Christ appeared to him on the Damascus road,  blinded him for days.  In the road’s dirt, Paul began to become the church’s servant.

He received, he believed, a commission from God.  The Greek word is oikonomia–a term referring to household administration.  It became  more broadly translated as ” responsibility, trust”.  Paul traveled from city to city, carrying the conviction that God  had entrusted  him with the responsibility to fully present  his word.

He was, he realized, actually revealing a mystery “kept hidden for ages and generations, but . . . now disclosed to the saints”.  The mystery was staggering.  It was Christ, not just alive from the dead, not just with his people, but in them.  And Christ in believers brought “the hope of glory”.  Of that hope Sam Storms (pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) quotes Paul . . .

“I am confident that ‘this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison’ (2 Corinthians 4:17).  I have hope.  I am confident that ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us’ (Romans 8:18). I have hope. I am confident that when Christ who is my life appears, I ‘also will appear with him in glory'” (Colossians 3:4).

Amazingly, this hope includes Gentiles.  Not as tag-alongs, but as part of one new humanity in Christ (Ephesians 2:15).  The “hope of glory” made suffering now worth it.  And one new humanity in Christ offered hate-filled mankind oneness in new life and love..

“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (1:28,29).

 Two heresies threatened the Colossian church’s faith.   One, an early strain of Gnosticism–which promised spiritual knowledge can be apprehended intuitively by the initiated.   Two, extreme Judaism which promised good conduct merits God’s blessing, bad his curse.  If life seems cursed, you’re full of sin.  If it’s filled with blessing, you must be pleasing God. Paul’s answer to both is a Person–Christ.

His intent wasn’t just to refute error or even make converts. He wanted to “present everyone mature (or complete) in Christ.”  He was anticipating standing before the Lord surrounded by the fruit of his ministry.

That meant “labor”.  The Greek is energeo.   Energy.  ” . . . struggling” translates the Greek agnoizimy–to engage in an intense struggle against strong opposition.  Agonizing.

How could he keep going–and with joy?  He believed he had divine resource–Christ’s power (dunamis) which “powerfully (dunamis) works (energeo) within me.” 

Paul is convinced that his ministry, while it requires his own labor and resembles a struggling athlete,  is empowered by the Holy Spirit at work in him.

* * *

I want more “sit-down”.   This one’s over too quickly.  I’ve got questions.  How, Paul, could you continue to rejoice in sufferings?  How did the conviction that you were filling up Christ’s afflictions spur you on?  A ministry of the “mystery” to Gentiles added to your sufferings.  Where did your faith to endure come from?  As I ask that question, I know your answer.

Christ’s energy, powerfully working in your work.

I want that.  Writing’s becoming a chore as my eyesight worsens.  Doubts about my blog’s effectiveness and who it reaches nag me.  Weakness in my body wearies my mind.

“Jesus, in my struggles, in my labor which is far less important than Paul’s, would you powerfully work your energy in my work?”

 

 

 

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