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Weekly Word

Entries in Gospel (20)

Tuesday
Dec112018

A Faith Anchored in the Word

Romans 10:13-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 9, 2018.

Today we will look at the importance that the Word of God has for the faith of a believer.  Although Jesus is the object of our faith, that is the one upon whom we are putting our faith, we would not even know who Jesus was and what he said without the writings of the apostles and the prophets.  Thus the Bible is a critical part of our faith.

It doesn’t take the place of Jesus, but rather represents the accumulated revelation that God has given to mankind.  We could not know Jesus without the light of truth that it shines upon us.  Thus, the Bible is God’s gift to mankind to act as a kind of spiritual litmus test for whether or not our faith is truly anchored upon God Himself and not something else.

Throughout history the false prophets and false teachers always claimed to have heard from the Lord, and to be exercising faith in Him.  However, the Word of God enables us to determine what is true and what is false.  Without its light we would be at the mercy of our own imaginations and the manipulations of others.

Let’s look at our passage today and hear the truth of the God.

Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved

Paul makes the statement in verse 13 that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.  It is a summary statement regarding what God was trying to teach us throughout the Old Testament.  God wants all who will come to Him by faith to be saved, whether Jew or Gentile.  This is the testimony of Scripture.  In fact back in verse 11 Paul states, “For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’”

In some ways we might get stuck on passages and places in the Bible that seem to say that only certain people can come near God (priests, the Holy of Holies, etc.).  Yet, a more careful reading will help us to see that the emphasis is on the fact that no one can just approach God in any old way they choose.  We must come to Him on His terms.  Those terms require a sacrifice for our sins, which was accomplished by Jesus.  So the point is not that God doesn’t want us near Him, but rather that He does.

We can now approach God, regardless of who we are, because of what Jesus has done, that is if we approach God through faith in Jesus.  There is no other way.

It is still just as dangerous today to try and approach God in any other way, than through faith in Jesus, as it was back in the days of Moses.  Our generation shouts out, “Surely there can’t be just one way.  Surely God will accept a good Buddhist and a good Muslim, and a good… (Fill in alternate way here).”  Yet, such statements do not represent trusting God, but rather, trusting our own minds, and we do so over the top of His proven Word.

How can I truly know that I am safe from Judgment before God?  I can know because God Himself has told us in His Word.  Some may mock this as circular reasoning.  “The Bible says it is the Word of God, but I can only know that by the Bible.”  In truth the generations that lived through these things have testified to us that these writings have proven themselves through prophecy, miraculous signs, and their life experience.  So it is not a circular reasoning, but a testimony given to us by many generations of what God said and did in their day.  Through it God is reasoning with you and with me.

In verses 14-15 Paul sort of reverse engineers the above statement.  Starting with the truth that people need to call upon the Lord in order to be saved, he then asks questions to reveal what it is that a person needs in order to get to that place of calling on the Lord.  To call on the Lord a person needs to have faith, that is belief in God.  In order to have faith in God they need to hear what God has said and done.  To hear what God has said and done they need someone to proclaim it to them.  And lastly, in order to have someone proclaim it to them, someone will have to send them.  Thus we have a cycle where Christians are sent to proclaim the Word of God, which is the Gospel, to people so that they will hear and believe.  If they believe in God then they can call on Him and be saved.  This brings us to the conclusion that people need to hear the Word of God and it is necessary for Christians to proclaim it.

God is faithful in every generation to send those who have already believed to go to those who have not heard.  He does His part, but it also takes believers who are willing to partner with Him and help in this necessary endeavor.  Now we must remember that the word “preach” simply means to proclaim the gospel.  It is not talking about having a pulpit in a church, although that is proclamation as well.  We are all called to proclaim the Gospel to those around us who have not heard the Gospel.  We also support in finances and prayer those who go into other cultures and share the Gospel, especially where there has been no witness of the Gospel.  Do we believe that those who have not heard the Gospel need to hear it if they are to be saved?

In our world today, the media castigate John Chau of Washington State who was recently martyred trying to take the Gospel to the Sentinelese on an island in the Bay of Bengal.  They paint him as a selfish person who endangered the inhabitants of the remote island with disease for which they have no immunities.  However, what does it profit a people to be safe from physical disease that attacks only the body, and yet still be at the mercy of sin, which destroys both body and soul?  Those people need the Gospel and the God of heaven cares about them.  If John Chau was selfish, he was selfish for a better resurrection.  He was selfish for pleasing the God who was calling him, rather than the world who would praise him if he balked and “came to his senses.”

Christians should be in their hearts a “going people.”  We must sense the call of the Holy Spirit to step outside of our comfort zone and proclaim the word of God to others.  Without it they cannot save themselves. Thus Paul quotes Isaiah 52:7, how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Gospel!

In verse 16, Paul recognizes that not all Israel, who had clearly heard the Gospel, obeyed it.  Yes, the Gospel must be obeyed.  It tells us to turn from sin and follow Jesus into eternal life.  Jesus does not lead us into sin, but away from it.  Hearing God’s Word must be mixed with faith and trust.  Thus when we believe in our hearts, we will act upon that belief.

Paul then emphasizes that faith requires hearing something to believe in, vs. 17.  The thing we need to hear and believe is God’s Word.  The Bible is God’s report on man (we are basically sinners in need of salvation) and a report on God (He is willing to save us if we will repent and turn to Him in faith).  It tells us how we can be right with Him.

There are many ideas and philosophies of this world that we are hearing today, but none of them can save your soul.  They may put a cell phone in your hand that enables you to surf the Web and interact with all manner of sin, delighting your flesh.  They may put a false sense of security within your heart and mind, but in the end they will fail.  Only Jesus can save you.

Let me close by recognizing that God was faithful to Israel, to make sure that they heard His Word.  Yet, many of them, even most of them, did not believe it.  Lest we focus on the sins of others, can we not see that America and every other nation on God’s green earth is guilty of the same sin?  We have heard the Word of God until it is coming out of our noses.  Yet, we do not believe.  The answer is not in giving up, but in becoming even more courageous and fearless in sharing the Gospel with the lost.  Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of salvation for everyone who believes.”  Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of the soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

Hear the Word of the Lord today and believe in the only God who came down to this planet and died in your place.  Let Him take your sins off of your shoulders and replace it with a burden that is light and easier to carry, the burden of sharing the good news with others!

Anchored in the Word Audio

Tuesday
Aug212018

Our Prayer Life and Personal Witness

Colossians 4:2-6.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 12, 2018.

Our world today has convinced itself that there is no eternity for us to face.  And so, people live lives that are focused on the fleeting thoughts and wants of this life, going here and there.  Today we need to hear Christ calling us to lift our eyes and see that there is a harvest all around us.  It is a harvest of people who have been made hungry for the Gospel because they haven’t found something that can satisfy their soul.

In our passage today, Paul is drawing near to the end of his letter to the Colossians, and encourages believers to be active in two different areas of life.  The first part is centered on our internal life and the second is focused on our external life.  When believers recognize the value that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has for us and the people around us, we give prayer and witnessing the proper vigilance that eternal matters deserve.

In our passage today, Paul turns from the relationship between slaves and their masters, and speaks to the group of believers as a whole.

Continue earnestly in prayer

If I were to summarize the book of Colossians I would say this.  Paul is concerned that believers understand the mystery of the Gospel of Christ enough in order to avoid deceptions and to be transformed into the image of Jesus.  It takes prayer to withstand spiritual deception, and it takes prayer to put off the old man and to put on the new man.  Thus in verse 2 Paul uses a verb that has the idea of continuing with strength.  Prayer is not just a passionless duty.  It is not enough to pray when you first get saved and then quit.  It is not enough to pray only in times of disaster and great need.  Believers must also continue strongly in prayer during all the times in between.

Paul emphasizes being “watchful” in prayer.  What are we watching?  We are being watchful of our lives, both external deceptions and our own internal deceptions.  We are watchful for those temptations that would seek to take us by surprise and by storm.  We are also to be watchful over one another, as spiritual brothers and sisters.  Jesus himself used the world “watch” in his last hours with his disciples.  He asked Peter, James, and John to watch with Him as He prayed.  Later, when He found them sleeping, He warned them to “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.  The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.”  Matthew 26:41 (NKJV).  They were going through a time of severe testing and strong temptation.  It was Jesus who not only made them aware of it, but also told them that they would only overcome those temptations through prayer.  Satan is often successful because we are not paying attention to spiritual matters.  When our flesh is strong then we are prone to take the bait that he is using for us.

Of course it is easy to let ourselves fall into a dire, and even hopeless, attitude.  Yet, Paul tells them to pray with thanksgiving.  If we only treat prayer as a Christmas list that we take to God, then we can get discouraged pretty quick.  God is not in the business of spoiling His children and turning us into entitled brats.  We would be no good to anybody, even ourselves, at that point.  However, when we learn to pray with other kinds of prayer, we become stronger spiritually.  In Scripture we not only see prayers of petition, in which we ask for things for ourselves, but also prayers of Adoration.  This is where we praise God for who He is.  We should also give up prayers of thanksgiving in which we thank God for what He has done and how He has blessed us.  There are also prayers of confession in which we repent before God concerning any areas of sin in our life.

Prayer may have a novelty feel to it at first.  In fact, we can do different things to try and maintain a feeling of novelty (turn down lights, play instrumental music, light candles, etc.).    However, none of these things will ever be able to overcome the reality that our flesh will quickly grow tired of prayer.  When our flesh realizes that God is not going to satisfy our every whim and desire, it either falls asleep or walks away.  So take time to be thankful in your prayers, but not just for the things He has given you.  Also be thankful for who He is and His character, His faithfulness and grace.  We are on the winning side.  So we need not be dire and glum, though the world around us is given over to darkness.  Rather we can pray with joy and thanksgiving in our heart.

Paul also asks that they would pray for him and his companions, especially that they would have an open door to share the Gospel.  Just as they needed doors, so we too need the Lord to open doors for us to share the Gospel.  We should not take it for granted, but labor for it in prayer.  Paul also asks that they would pray that he would have clarity in explaining the Gospel to others.  Many people have a superficial understanding of Jesus, if anything at all.  They need a clear presentation of the Gospel.  So wouldn’t God just open doors for us, why should we pray?  It is true that if you do not pray, God will still be busy working.  And, God will use others.  However, those others cannot take the place that God has given to me and you.  Without prayer, I will miss those opportunities and those opportunities will be missing in the lives of those I was supposed to impact.  Prayer puts us in the harness with the Holy Spirit to do the work that needs done to prepare people’s hearts, plant the seed of truth, water it, and harvest at the appropriate time.  Even though he was in chains, under house arrest, Paul knew that prayer could open up opportunities to share the Gospel.

Walk wisely around unbelievers

In verse 5 Paul reminds them to walk wisely among “the outsiders.”  This phrase is a reference to people who are outside the Church because they are not believers in Jesus.  Have you ever thought about how your actions can affect unbelievers?  We can be unwise and act foolishly around unbelievers and negatively impact how they view Christ.

Paul also connects to this the phrase “redeeming the time.”  This was a phrase that was used of a person who purchases an item at the perfect time, whether to get a deal in the marketplace, or to take possession of a desired item.  If we walk foolishly then we will lose time in drawing others to Christ.  That can be done by neglecting to look like Christ enough to be attractive to them or even neglecting to share when they are open.  But even worse, we can be offensive to them and drive them away from Christ.  Now, it is true that Christ is offensive to our flesh because He is spiritual.  However, we cannot walk foolishly, AKA unspiritually, and then say they weren’t ready.  We should always have our eyes open and be praying for opportune moments in the lives of people.  Wisdom understands what is important in life and takes care of eternal matters at the expense of the temporal ones.  However, folly takes care of temporal matters at the expense of the eternal.  We redeem the time when we walk in harmony with what God is trying to do in the lives of people around us.

Paul also instructs believers to always speak with grace.  In that sense grace means to speak in a way that is favorable to those who listen to us.  How easy it is to let our speech rush on leaving grace behind.  Even worse, we may pick up unfavorable companions such as: anger, pride, greed, etc.  Part of wisdom is to temper our speech, so as not to offend unnecessarily.  We must remove the obstacles of our flesh as much as we can.  Yes, none of us are perfect, and people can always find some reason to reject us.  But that is between them and God.  My focus needs to be on me.  Lord, help me to walk wisely before those who do not know you.  This connects to the last chapter’s focus on putting off the old man and putting on the new.

Paul also uses a phrase, “seasoned with salt.”  It is a reference to the fact that food is made tastier when it is salted.  Our speech can be plain food without any spice, or we can speak with creative flavor of a life lived in relationship with God.  In fact, Christ uses salt as a reference to believers.  He says that we are the salt of the earth.  Thus our speech should be such that it causes people to want to hear it, at least until they make a decision to either embrace Christ or not.

The combination of prayer, walking wisely, and speaking with grace, will put us in the proper place that we will learn how to answer each person we come in contact with (vs. 6)k  We must truly have a relationship with Jesus before we will learn how to answer those who ask us why we believe in Him.

May God help us to take time this week to pray.  May we pray for the wisdom to redeem the time in the lives of unbelievers.  The “New Man” takes time to pray and to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the lost around them.  May God help us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, by the help of His Holy Spirit.

Prayer Life Audio

Monday
Jun112018

Threats of Deception II

Colossians 2:11-19.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on June 10, 2018.

Today we will continue talking about deception, to which we are all vulnerable.  Christians are not supposed to be gullible, easily tricked people, at least in the area of doctrinal truth.  We of all people have been given a sure record of truth and warned to be on guard against the devil’s schemes.  It is sad that so many people get caught up in many different kinds of deception.  Let’s look at the next verses in Colossians 2.

Remember what you have in Jesus Christ

In verses 11-15, Paul reminds of what they had in Jesus.  Some of the deceptions that the Colossians were facing had to do with ritual observance of things in the Law of Moses.  We know that the Acts 15 council had settled the issue regarding ritual observance of the Law.  No Jew or Gentile could be saved by ritual observations.  Still, it was common for certain teachers to travel around attempting to draw Gentiles into the belief that they had to obey certain things in the Law of Moses.  It is possible that the deception was not about what was needed for salvation, but instead what would make you more spiritual.  Regardless, Paul point Christians back to Jesus and reminds us of the great spiritual advantages that we have in Him.

First of all, he brings up the issue of circumcision.  This was a powerful symbol of rejecting the world and our own sinful flesh.  It represented complete obedience to God and a change in identification.  It marked people as belonging to Him.  The people of Israel took great pride in this difference.  However, Paul reminds these mostly Gentile believers that they have a circumcision that was not made with hands (human hands).  In other words, it parallels the idea in the Bible that believers have a work that is done internally and with the help of the Holy Spirit.  This is much greater than a work done on the external by another human being. 

This is similar to how we are born into God’s Family, which is not by the will of man, but by the will of God.  Those who were born into God’s people of Israel because their parents decided to have a kid had a lesser status than those who were born into God’s people by the Holy Spirit.  Gentile believers (even Jewish believers) had a greater or higher circumcision in Christ.  They didn’t need to add a lesser circumcision.

Also notice that it is called a circumcision of Christ.  In Joshua 5 we find that the children of Israel who were being led into the Promised Land by Joshua had not been circumcising their children for 40 years.  Thus after they had crossed the Jericho river in miraculous style and were several miles from the walls of a formidable walled city-state, they stopped and Joshua had all the uncircumcised males circumcised.  This was a crazy move militarily.  But it was important for them to deal with their disobedience before moving forward.  Joshua is a type of Christ who is our great leader.  Jesus is leading us into the Promised inheritance that God has for us.  But first we must wait and be circumcised in our hearts with a spiritual circumcision.  Jesus teaches us the greater circumcision, that of the heart done by the help of the Holy Spirit.  Paul refers to it as a putting off of the body of the sins of our flesh.  Interestingly enough Paul even connects this to water baptism.

It is clear that water baptism symbolizes a spiritual death and a spiritual resurrection.  But notice that we are “dying” to our flesh and its desires.  We join Christ in putting aside the hopes of this flesh and its desires.  Instead our hopes and desires are in God alone.  Thus we are spiritually raised up to a new life by the Spirit of God.  This is a partnership of us and God.  In verse 13 Paul points out that though they used to be spiritually dead in an uncircumcised state, now through Christ they are spiritually alive and forgiven of every trespass.  Therefore those in Christ have received the higher spiritual reality that was symbolized by those lower, physical commands in the Law of Moses.  As a young Jewish boy would join the people of Israel by circumcision, so a young Christian joins the people of God by a spiritual circumcision which is symbolized by the act of water baptism.  In this ritual there is no distinction made between male or female.

Paul also reminds us in verse 14 that our record of debt has been cancelled.  He clearly envisions some kind of list of our sins or trespasses against God.  This list or record of our offenses would condemn us if it is allowed to stand.  We would be dead men.  Yet, Paul points out that Christ has moved this list from standing against us through two methods.  First he wipes out the charges (some versions say blot out).  Regardless, if Paul had written this in the 21st century, he would have probably said deleted.  Secondly, he takes this list of now blotted out or wiped out charges and nails them to the cross.  To Paul, Christ was not just dying for our sins on the cross.  In Him our sins are being nailed to the cross, where they will be left forever.  The charges themselves are dead and cannot stand against us.

This leads to a powerful statement in verse 15.  At the cross Jesus disarmed our spiritual enemy and triumphed over them.  Though Satan is still dangerous, he can no longer use our sin as a guaranteed way of slaying us.  Through Christ, the work of Satan and his minions is nullified and abolished.  The only way that Satan can destroy us now is by convincing us to not take Christ at His Word.  If he can con us into remaining in our rebellious, disobedient path then he wins by convincing us to do for him what he cannot do to us.

Reject the threats of legalism

In verses 16-19, Paul walks forward the threat of those who rely upon the observance of the Law.  Up to now he has only mentioned circumcision.  But verse 16 brings up the areas of what food and drink you consume, and what days you observe as holy.  Notice that it is introduced with the word “so.”  This point of rejecting legalism is strongly linked to the triumph that Jesus has obtained over our spiritual enemies.  The practical implication of His victory is that we cannot be judged on these ritual matters of the Law of Moses.  Neither can your past be held against you.

Now food and drink is mentioned because the Mosaic Law had much to say about foods.  There was a long list of prohibited foods that no Israelite was supposed to eat.  However, foods cannot make one more spiritual or more sinful.  In fact that was not the point of those Old Testament laws.  Similarly celebrating particular days as holy cannot make you more holy or the lack thereof make you unholy.  Just as our circumcision in Christ is spiritual, so the food that we eat is spiritual as well.  Jesus and His teachings are our spiritual food.  Instead of going back to the lesser symbol, Christians are called to press in to the thing that the lesser commands pointed towards.  Also, through Christ we have entered into the Sabbath of God (Sabbath means rest).  For the believer everyday is a day of rest because we are in Christ every day.  This does not mean that we have no decisions to make in these matters, but that the dietary and ritual commands of the Law are not binding on Christians.

Though Paul says “let no one judge you,” the point is not trying to stop their mental reasoning.  Rather, it is about not being influenced and deceived by the judgments that they do make.  In other words, let them think what they want, but don’t let it influence how you think and act.

In verse 17 Paul gives the spiritual truth that we are to use as our guide in these matters.  Christ is the substance and the Law of Moses is the shadow.  Clearly Paul is talking about the non-moral laws (dietary, ceremonial, and holy observances).  These things are not the substance of what God was concerned about, when He gave those laws.  They were a shadow that gave evidence to or pointed towards something of greater substance, which is Jesus himself.  Circumcision, feast days, Sabbaths, and food are not what are important.  It is what they are trying to tell us about Jesus that is important.  This is what we should follow.  The reality of Christ’s first and second coming is a substantial thing that caused a shadow to be cast back in time.  Because he was coming, God gave Israel commands that would prepare them and the world to receive Jesus.  Many of the laws were not moral laws inherently.  Of course once God commanded them, disobedience would be a moral issue.  But that is not my point.  My point is that the purpose for these laws that involved things that weren’t inherently sinful, was to help Israel see the shape and form of The One who was to come, Messiah.  Now it would be said to remain enamored with the shadow of a person when they have actually come into the room.

Legalism is really a form of stubbornness that refuses to enter into all that the Law was pointing towards.  Legalism honors Moses while dishonoring the God whom Moses obeyed.  Moses himself will stand up in judgment against those who use the Law as a means of righteousness because the Lord whom he followed was greater than all those laws.  However, all of this said, I must emphasize that these arguments cannot be used for the moral laws that are found in the Law of Moses.  Thus, no apostle of Jesus ever said, “Let no one judge you in sexual immorality, or in theft, or in murder…”  These actions are inherently sinful and will never be acceptable in God’s sight no matter how spiritual a person thinks they are.

In verse 18 Paul warns that to give in to this legalism would cause one to be cheated of their reward.  Deception has a cost and is a real threat to our stake in Christ.  Paul lists some of the things that the deceivers took delight in.  First, they love false humility.  The outward shows of devotion can be a cover for pride.  We should follow Christ and His leading and not the false humility of those who glory in their outward ritual observances.  Second, they loved to worship angels.  Though Paul does not go into detail, no being in heaven or on earth should be worshipped but the triune God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Thus those who develop great systems of heavenly or earthly beings to which they pray for help, may seem spiritual.  But they are not, because they resist the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Christ and His apostles.  Third, they glory in great visions of things they may or may not have seen that puff up their fleshly minds.  This is an area where charismatic Christians are very vulnerable.  We are sometimes so desperate to prove that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still in operation that we will put up with people who claim to have had visions of heaven, but are motivated by their sinful desires and puffed up pride.  We must be hungrier for Jesus and our relationship with Him, then for a spiritual gift that someone else claims to have.  The gifts of the Spirit are walked out in relationship with Jesus, who sent the Holy Spirit.  So how does this jeopardize our reward?

It does so by separating us from Christ and towards a person or system of fleshly works who cannot save us.  Thus what Paul says in the negative about these fleshly teachers, we should embrace in the positive.  We must hold fast to Jesus through whom we have true spiritual growth.  No matter what manner of persuasion or deceit comes our way, we must let nothing separate us from Jesus.  Of course deceivers often do not present themselves as a means of being separated from Christ.  However, they always promote teachings in such a way that Christ is never quite enough.  You also need this: (insert the current false teacher’s list here).  When we hold fast to Jesus and Him alone then we have the One who is the source of any true spiritual growth and any real spiritual inheritance that we may have.  He is the one who baptizes us in the Holy Spirit ad leads us forth in victory.  Let us reject all threats of deception and walk with Christ, who is the substance of all that the Law of Moses and the Prophets of the Old Testament pointed towards!

Threats of Deception II audio

Tuesday
Jun052018

Threats of Deception

Colossians 2:1-10.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on June 3, 2018.

The internet is filled with fascinating illusions and brain benders that demonstrate the ability of our mind to be tricked.  Of course this is one thing when you are looking at a picture and swear that two lines cannot be the same length, when they actually are the same length.  However, in life there are far greater odds at stake, and the deceptions that we face are just as easy to be accepted as truth.

God warns us about deception because truth is an essential part of His nature.  He is truth.  Thus as followers of The Truth and being aware that we can be deceived by those who have honed the art of deception, believers should be leery of those who come along offering something other than what God’s Word says. 

This is the heart of what the devil did with Eve in the Garden of Eden, and what he does with the world every day.  We live in a world drowning in deceptions that have been created and spun over the millennia.  In our passage today the Apostle Paul shows his concern for believers and churches that may perchance listen to those who would try and sway people from the truth that we have received in Jesus Christ.

Paul’s concern for the churches

In verse 1 Paul expresses his concern for the Christians in Colosse and the neighboring city of Laodicea.  Here is a link to a map that will help you see where these two cities are in what we call Turkey today.  It is believed that Paul did not travel through these cities, but that churches were started there by locals who had heard Paul’s preaching and were saved in neighboring cities like Ephesus. 

Chapter two picks up right where chapter one left off.  Paul tells them that he has been laboring and striving for them by the mighty working of Christ within him.  In verse 1 he calls it a “great conflict.”  Though this word could be used for contests of sports and gladiators, it is clear that Paul means it metaphorically (not to diminish the physical exertion he gave in ministry).   His concern for them internally causes him to fight for their faith and spiritual well-being.  In fact this letter is part of that fight.

It is important to have people in your life who are concerned for your faith enough to wrestle over how to help you.  It is also important, as we grow in Christ, to have that kind of concern for others.  Historically it has been called “carrying a burden” for someone else.  It can be from those who are responsible, like church leaders or even parents for their children.  But it can also be from those who are our friends and fellow believers in the Lord who are not directly responsible for us.

In verse 2 Paul lists concerns that he has for things they need to have.  First he wants their hearts to be encouraged.  The word translated “encourage” in this passage is more than emotional strengthening.  It includes exhortation and ultimately means to enable someone to face a challenging situation.  It is important for our hearts to be encouraged, comforted, and instructed, so that we may continue following Christ.

Paul also desires that Christians be “knit together in love.”  What is it that should hold believers together in a local body?  Paul does not lean upon coercion and domineering leadership.  Specifically it is the love of Christ within us that teaches us how to love each other, which results in a bond of Christ’s love between us.  This is what should hold us together.  Anything else will fall short.

Lastly, Paul desires that Christians attain to the understanding of the mystery revealed in the Gospel.  Back in chapter one he has already explained that the mystery he is talking about is no longer a mystery.  He continues to use such words because it was common in those days for traveling teachers to promise to reveal secret mysteries to those who would listen and pay them.  Paul is saying that there is no mystery to be found anymore.  We just need to understand the mystery that Christ and His apostles have revealed once and for all.  In fact, Paul wants Christians to have a full assurance or confidence that the Gospel we have received is itself the “riches” and “hidden treasure” (vs. 3) of wisdom and knowledge.

People do not need to search for or listen to groups or individuals that have a system of attaining hidden or occulted truth.  If you have ever been in a group like this then you know this is much more than learning as you grow, which is a natural form.   God has not called the Church to be a system of working your way to the top so that you can learn the secret.  It is important for believers to know and be confident in the fact that though we are bound together in the love of Christ, our walk is affected by our understanding of what we have in Christ, just as much.  In fact, without a true understanding of Christ we will fail at loving each other as we should.

His concern about deception

Having written about the things that he wants them to embrace, at verse 4 he speaks to things that he wants them to reject, mainly deception.  He is concerned that they resist deception and persuasive words.  Here the concerns are put forth in general terms. 

The problem with deception is that it always comes pretending to be the truth.  In 2 Corinthians 11:14 it says that, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”  Also, in verse 13, right before that, we are told that some people “disguise themselves as apostles of Christ.”  Not everyone who claims to be an apostle of Christ truly is, and not every angel that comes with a message of truth is actually from God and actually giving truth.  Paul recognizes that deception relies upon persuading people.  That is why he emphasized that they already had the understanding of the mystery that had been hidden in ages past, but now in Christ has been revealed. 

When Christians are persuaded that they have received the truth of the ages, then they aren’t open to the salesmen who come plying their wares.  A skilled deceiver has learned how to use people’s eyes and hearts against them.  The closer our relationship is with Christ the less likely we will fall to deception.

In verses 6-7, Paul gives us the key to not being deceived.  Ultimately he tells them to walk or live in the ways that they had been taught and received when they were first saved.  Of course, Paul knew that these specific believers had initially received the truth.  But what about the person who has grown up under deception or has fallen in with a person or group who has deceived them?  We can know the truth because it has been written down as the New Testament.  In spite of the conspiracy theories, the text of the Bible is the most accurate ancient book, which has been substantiated by thousands of manuscripts and millions of researchers.  Put your roots down into God’s Word and take time to search it out prayerfully, rather than looking all over creation for an answer. 

Yet, even the Bible can be used to deceive a person who is unskilled in its contents.  Thus it is important who we are receiving our understanding from.  In this regard you may feel that you are hopeless, but you are not.  If you truly believe in Jesus Christ then His Holy Spirit resides within you.  That same Holy Spirit will work to bring you to a proper understanding of the truth and to the right people to help you in that walk.  So trust Him and seek His leading.

In verses 8-10 Paul gets even more specific.  There were many “Philosophies” that were floating around in those days.  Asceticism focused on denying physical pleasures in order to become more spiritual.  Gnosticism focused on discovering hidden truths that were revealed only to the special initiates.  Dualism saw all physical material as evil and spirit things as good.  As the truth of Christ came into the Gentiles lands, it encountered strongholds of philosophies that would try and bring Christianity under their systems of thinking.  Even today we are in jeopardy of allowing the teachings of Christ to be subsumed into the philosophies of our age, whether that be a material-humanism, or a New Age “all roads lead to God” philosophy.  We even have a modern form of the ancient skepticism, which believes that truth is unobtainable.

Christians are to be watching and on guard.  Otherwise, we run the risk of being cheated out of the truth that we already have.  Deceit is always empty-handed in the end.  It promises the moon, but delivers gravel in your mouth (btw, if you check for your wallet it will be missing too).  Paul lists some of the tools that deceivers use in order to manipulate others.

First, there are the traditions of men.  Cultures and traditions are masterful ways of manipulating the feelings and desires of a person.  Secondly there are the elementary principles of this world.  It is possible that Paul means the elementary spirits of this world.  Regardless, you do not need those things.  What you really need is Jesus.  In Him is everything you could ever need.  If he is in you, then you have all you need.  What are you looking for?  If you are feeling dissatisfied with Christ, it has nothing to do with Him, and everything to do with your own heart.  Look deep within and ask God to help you see your heart and whether you are being played into deception.  It is only by His help and His Word that we are able to see and avoid the threats of deception in this life.

Threats of Deception audio