Teachers Approved by God

According to Scripture, here are traits of true and godly teachers. This side of eternity no one except Jesus will exhibit these in full maturity. However, teachers/leaders should be marked by these more so than others around them:

  1. Honor/love God and men simultaneously – Do I bless God while cursing men? In other words, do I spend my time attacking, dismissing, or putting down other people, ministers, or ministries who are co-laborers for God? (James 3:9) See also Mark 9:38-41. (Note: There are Scriptural examples of criticizing “false teachers,” “false brethren,” and “false doctrine,” but these seem to be done with the utmost seriousness and care, and it doesn’t appear that there was ever a heart to do this to malign or “one-up” someone else).
  2. Meek and humble – Does my life and conduct show a meekness and humility, where I’m not spending my time and energy esteeming myself or my ministry above other ministers and ministries? (James 3:13)
  3. Not envious or self-seeking – Am I acting out of envy or self-seeking with my ministry, causing me to boast of myself and ministry, and causing me to dismiss, pervert, or minimize the truth for my own private agenda? (James 3:14). Similarly, is my ministry producing confusion and evil because of my own envy and self-seeking? (James 3:16)
  4. Godly motives – Do I teach and minister with pure motives to produce godliness, or do I have extra agendas with my ministry? (James 3:17)
  5. Encourage other teachers – Do I encourage other Christian teachers and ministers, promoting peace and unity? (James 3:17) Do I speak gently of other Christian teachers and ministers? (James 3:17) Do I show grace, and not a tendency toward fault-finding, toward other ministers and ministries? (James 3:17)
  6. Correctable – Am I willing to yield and be corrected? Have I taken my “I-have-to-be-right” to the cross? (Proverbs 9:8; Acts 18:26; James 3:17)
  7. Good fruits – Has my ministry produced good fruits, not promoting ungodly divisiveness, factions, or hypocrisy? (James 3:17) Am I a person of integrity, showing good fruit/character in my own words and deeds? (see Elder Qualifications)
  8. Teach according to Scripture (2 Timothy [esp. 2:15; 3:14-17]; Heb. 13:7)
  9. Lead people to Jesus/Scripture – Do I lead people to go beyond me and go directly to Scripture and Jesus? Do I cultivate dependence on Jesus/Scripture not on me? (Acts 17:11; 1 Cor. 1-4; Gal. 1:6-10; Heb. 13:7)
  10. Recognize the weight/responsibility of teaching (James 3:1)
  11. Driven to find and proclaim truth – this will look like a desire to learn, study, research God’s Word (Acts 18:24-26; 2 Timothy 2:15)
  12. Clear communicator (Acts 18:24-25; 1 Cor. 14:9; 2 Cor. 4:2)
  13. Careful/precise with words – e.g. not sloppy with words or inserting new definitions on established words (Ecclesiastes 12:10; Matt 12:36)

Matthew’s Plurals

Comparing different gospels’ versions of the same events shows that, at times, the number of characters described will differ. This generally reveals a difference in emphases, and is never a contradiction[1].

Even more curious, however, is the pattern observed by comparing Matthew, in particular, to the other gospels.

Consider:

MatthewOther Gospels
“command that these stones become bread” (4:3)“command this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3)
“there met Him two demon-possessed men,” (8:28)“there met Him…a man with an unclean spirit” (Mark 5:2 = Luke 8:27)
“who was demon-possessed, blind and mute” (12:22) “a demon…it was mute” (Luke 11:14)
“great multitudes” (13:2)a great multitude” (Mark 4:1; Luke 4:8)
they got into the boat” (14:32)He went up into the boat” (Mark 6:51 = John 6:21)
two blind men sitting by the road” (20:30)blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road” (Mark 10:46 = Luke 18:35)
“the donkey and the colt” (21:7)“the colt” (Mark 11:4; Luke 19:33 = John 12:14)
“when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants” (21:34)“at vintage-time he sent a servant” (Mark 12:2; Luke 20:10)
“said to the women” (28:5 = Mark 16:6; Luke 24:5)“said to her” (John 20:13)

As the chart above shows, Matthew recounts more than 1 character/item where other gospels focus on only 1 virtually every time[2]. This seems beyond coincidental if it was due purely to differences in memory.

However, there is one exception to this that happens after Jesus resurrects:

MatthewOther Gospels
“an angel of the Lord descended from heaven…the angel answered…” (28:2-5 = Mark 16:5-7)“two men [i.e. angels] stood by them in shining garments…they [the angels] said…” (Luke 24:4-7 = John 20:12-13)

Where Matthew (and Mark) record 1 angel speaking to the woman/women, Luke and John record 2.

We are not told why Matthew’s seemingly consistent pattern is broken following Jesus’ resurrection. From a human standpoint, there are lots of reasons (intentional and unintentional) that eyewitness accounts may differ in the details. But for those who recognize God’s ultimate design and intentionality in every word of Scripture[3], it is worth considering what the Lord may be revealing in Matthew’s details and patterns.

Why Does Matthew’s Pattern Exist?

First, it is important to stress that all four gospels—without exception—are truthful in every detail they give[4]. Thus, for instance, if Matthew says there were two blind men healed while Mark says there was one blind man healed, both are 100% accurate in their recording (though they obviously have different angles, themes, and emphases). In this particular scenario, such a seeming discrepancy is easily answered by noting that if 2 were healed, 1 was healed. It would only be a contradiction if Mark said “only one blind man was healed,” or something to that effect.

Holding firmly, then, that the gospels are historically reliable in every detail they record, we may also probe deeper to ask why God included these details in these ways. In other words, in addition to relaying history faithfully, what other things may God be revealing in these accounts and the way they are told? Such an inquiry, in fact, is firmly consistent with various New Testament uses of Old Testament stories, wherein the New Testament writer (while affirming the historicity of the story) sees types, shadows, and principles that have broader messages as well[5].

In consideration, therefore, of why Matthew might generally include more characters/items than other gospel writers (until the resurrection), we tentatively suggest that, perhaps:

  1. In general, Matthew may have been interested in reporting things more precisely. As eyewitness to most of the events, he may have felt compelled to relay more details than others (such as the total number of people present instead of just mentioning the most prominent character).
  2. Further than this, there may be a specific design and message behind Matthew’s numbering pattern itself. Namely, Matthew’s gospel, as a whole, reveals two simultaneous themes: (1) Jesus’ mission to the Jews pre-resurrection (Matt. 10:5-6), (2) Jesus’ mission to “all nations” (including the Jews) post-resurrection (cf. Matt. 28:16-20) (see Carson, Wessel, and Liefeld, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, 1984, 22–23). Thus, before Jesus resurrected, Matthew sees the Jews as Messiah’s people and the Gentiles as outsiders: two separate groups (e.g. Matt. 10:5-6). But after the resurrection, it is only Matthew who records Jesus’ “Great Commission” (Matt. 28:16-10), which He gave in Galilee (“of the gentiles” – Matt. 4:15). In fact, Matthew’s resurrection focus is almost exclusively on Jesus going to Galilee—where He would preach the “Great Commission (see more in Resurrection Harmonization and Reconciling Matthew’s and Luke’s Birth Narratives). This shows that Jesus is now focused on the nations (including Israel), so the two groups (Jews and Gentiles) become one entity (the people of Messiah, whether Jew or Gentile).
    • Along such lines, it is intriguing to consider that Matthew continually sees “two” (and/or multiples) in his narratives pre-resurrection, but then sees “one” in the post-resurrection narrative (in this case, one angel).Even more, sometimes the two characters themselves in Matthew’s narratives could serve as sorts of types/symbols of Jews and Gentiles, respectively. For instance, in his commentary on Zechariah 9:9’s prophecy, Albert Barnes notes:
      • “The word rendered ‘colt,’ as with us, signifies the young, as yet unbroken animal…Matthew relates that both [the colt and donkey/ass] were employed…But as the whole action was a picture of our Lord’s humility and of the unearthliness of His kingdom, so, doubtless, His riding upon the two animals was a part of that picture. There was no need of two animals to bear our Lord for that short distance. John notices especially, “These things understood not His disciples at the first” John 12:16. The ass, an unclean stupid debased ignoble drudge, was in itself a picture of unregenerate man, a slave to his passions and to devils, toiling under the load of ever-increasing sin. But, of man, the Jew had been under the yoke and was broken; the Gentiles were the wild unbroken colt. Both were to be brought under obedience to Christ.” (Barnes 1870).

Saying all this, we cannot be certain of the reasons Matthew’s accounts consistently differ from the others. These are given merely as possibilities, and nothing more.

However, we can be confident that such a phenomena does seem to occur in Matthew (for whatever reason), showing once again that the gospel accounts (including seeming discrepancies) were by design, not flawed happenstance.


[1] To be a contradiction, one account would need to say something akin to, “There was only one angel at the tomb,” while another account says, “More than 1 angel was at the tomb.” But if one account says, “There was one angel at the tomb,” and another says, “There were multiple angels at the tomb,” this is not a contradiction. For if multiple angels were at the tomb then, indeed, it is also true by necessity that one angel was at the tomb. Perhaps one angel was featured or emphasized more by one of the gospel writers, while they were not excluding the other angel. In fact, this happens all the time in modern storytelling. Consider, for instance, a man excitedly telling his wife that he saw a famous athlete at the marketplace, while in reality the famous athlete was at the marketplace alongside his wife. The man is not wrong to state that he saw the athlete, while ignoring the athlete’s wife, since the focus of his story was the athlete himself.

[2] In comparing Matthew 8:18-22 to Luke 9:57-62 we read of Matthew’s 2 inquirers versus Luke’s 3 inquirers. Though this does break the 2/multiple-to-1 pattern observed in the chart above, Matthew still records 2/multiple characters here (like he does elsewhere). It is Luke who, for untold reasons, breaks the pattern by showing 3 characters instead of 1.

[3] Cf. Ecclesiastes 12:10; Daniel 5:24-28; Matthew 4:4; 12:36; 2 Timothy 3:16.

[4] See John Wenham’s, Christ and the Bible, 3rd Edition (2009) and J. I. Packer’s, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God (1958) for more thorough treatments on the inerrancy of Scripture.

[5] E.g. Matthew 12:40; John 3:14-15; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Galatians 4:21-31.

Repetition in the Gospels

Any harmonization attempt of the four gospels will quickly reveal that similar events are repeated throughout Jesus’ ministry.

For instance:

Before attributing this to some sort of error or memory lapse by the gospel authors, we should consider that abundant repetition also takes place even within the same gospel at times.

For instance, Matthew records:

  • Jesus multiplying food in quite a similar manner on two different occasions (14:13-21 cf. 15:32-39)
  • Jesus prophesying His death on multiple occasions (20:17-19 cf. 26:1-2)
  • Jesus quoting Hosea 6:6 in different conversations (e.g. 9:13 and 12:7)
  • Jesus comparing and contrasting his ministry with John the Baptist on several occasions (e.g. 9:14-17; 11:1-19; 17:12-13; 21:23-27; etc.)
    • Even contrasting John’s ministry of fasting with His own “feasting” ministry in at least two places (9:14-17 cf. 11:18-19)
  • Jesus healing two blind men twice (9:27-31 cf. 20:29-34)
  • Jesus being offered sour wine to drink while on the cross two times (27:34 cf. 27:48)

Thus, one witness (i.e. Matthew) also shows abundant repetition within only his gospel. Among other things, this demonstrates that repetition is not necessarily the result of comparing faulty eyewitness testimonies. Even more, he (and other gospel authors) seldom states when such events are similar to other events found elsewhere[1].

From this we may infer that:

  1. God repeats Himself in word and action, as all good teachers do (cf. Kang, “Spaced Repetition Promotes Efficient and Effective Learning: Policy Implications for Instruction,” 2016).
    • This seems especially obvious in Jesus’ teaching ministry when we consider that He was an itinerant preacher and thus had many different audiences. Indeed, it would be strange if He didn’t repeat Himself and His message.
  2. Events that seem unusually repetitive to modern readers may not have been so to those living in that time and place.
  3. The motives of the original authors (especially including God, the ultimate Author) do not always match the expectations of the modern readers (such as mentions that such-and-such event is a repetition of another event).

[1] Even Matthew 16:9-10, which makes mention of two similar episodes, is actually a statement from Jesus’ own lips. It was not added because Matthew thought it odd that the episodes were similar, nor does Jesus make much of the fact that He did the same miracle on two separate occasions.

Large Church and/or Temple Gatherings

I’ve been discussing with a friend what larger gatherings looked like in the book of Acts and why/when they went to the temple. Here’s what I’ve found so far (not exhaustive):

Post-Resurrection Large Church and/or Temple Gatherings

  • Luke 24:53 – “they stayed continually at the temple, praising God”
  • Acts
    • 1:15-26 – chose a new apostle (120 gathered for that)
    • 2:1-41 – spiritual gifts; evangelistic message (with 1,000s gathered)
    • 2:46 – “every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts” – ambiguous on what they did there (potentially refers to daily prayers, see Acts 3:1)
    • 3:1 – Peter and John went to the temple for afternoon prayer
    • 3:2-10 – Peter and John heal lame man en route to temple
    • 3:11-26 – Peter preached to Jews in Solomon’s Colonnade
    • 5:12-13 – “all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them [presumably join their meeting at the Colonnade], even though they were highly regarded by the people”
    • 5:15-16 – sick and demonized were brought to be healed by apostles
    • 5:21 – apostles entered temple courts to teach the people
    • 5:42 – every day in the temple courts and houses the apostles taught and proclaimed the gospel of Jesus
    • 6:2-6 – all gathered to determine deacons

The Glorious Gospel: A Study in Colossians

Or see only the outline.

Colossians Overview

Col. 1:1 – 3:4Christ → In Christ → Christ in you — Doctrinal
Col. 3:5 – 4:18Life Application of Christianity — Practical

Key to Understanding

What is the normal Christian life?…it is something very different from the life of the average Christian.  Indeed a consideration of the written Word of God – of the Sermon on the Mount for example – should lead us to ask whether such a life has ever in fact been lived upon the earth, save only by the Son of God himself.  But in that last saving clause lies immediately the answer to our question.

The apostle Paul gives us his own definition of the Christian life in Galatians 2:20.  It is “no longer I, but Christ.” Here he is…presenting God’s normal for a Christian, which can be summarized in the words: I live no longer, but Christ lives his life in me.

God makes it quite clear in his Word that he has only one answer to every human need – his Son, Jesus Christ.  In all his dealings with us he works by taking us out of the way and substituting Christ in our place. The Son of God died instead of us for our forgiveness: he lives instead of us for our deliverance.  So we can speak of two substitutions – a Substitute on the Cross who secures our forgiveness and a Substitute within who secures our victory. It will help us greatly, and save us from much confusion, if we keep constantly before us this fact, that God will answer all our questions in one way and one way only, namely, by showing us more of his Son.

Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life

Objective of Colossians

“that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will…that you may walk worthy of the Lord…increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10, NKJV)

  1. Knowledge about God and His will — knowing
  2. Walking according to this knowledge — walking

Colossians 1:1-12 – INTRODUCTION

1:1-8

  • What did Colosse already have?
    • “faith in Christ” (1:4), “love for all the saints” (1:4), “the word of the truth of the gospel” (1:5), “fruit” (1:6), “the grace of God in truth” (1:6), “learned from..a faithful minister of Christ” (1:7), “love in the Spirit” (1:8)
    • i.e. The Gospel of Christ

1:9-12

  • What did Colosse need?        
    • More knowledge of God’s will (1:9); to be fully pleasing to God (1:10); to be more fruitful (1:10); to increase knowledge of God (1:10); to be strengthened by God, specifically in midst of trials (1:11); to be more thankful to God (1:12).
    • i.e. Proper Growth

We will see that Paul’s remedy for proper growth is nothing more or less than simply a presentation of Christ, and the believer’s position in Christ, and Christ in them.  When we see more of Christ, then the growth will happen fairly spontaneously. Hence the presentation of Christ that begins the letter to each of the seven churches of Revelation (see Revelation 2 and 3) – they are always shown a picture of Christ first.

“CHRIST”

What are we taught of Christ in this letter?

  • He is the image of God (1:15) – Everything Christ does, says, and is, is the very expression and image of God.
  • He is firstborn over creation (1:15) – This means that Christ had dominion over all things, and as the firstborn in a family is heir and lord of all according to the Old Testament law, so Christ is “heir of all things”. (see Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Colossians 1:15)
  • All things were created by Him (1:16)
  • All things were created for Him (1:16)
  • He is eternal (1:17)
  • He is the reason all things consist (1:17)
  • He is the head of the church (1:18)
  • He is first one to have new life (1:18)
  • He has all the fullness of the Father (1:19)
  • He is reconciling all things to Himself, by “the blood of His cross” (1:20)
  • He holds all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:3)
  • All the fullness of God dwells in Him (2:9)
  • He is head of all principality and power (2:10)
  • He sits in heaven at the right hand of God (3:1)
  • He is the life of Christians (3:4)

“IN CHRIST”

Along with speaking of the majesty, divinity, and power of Christ, Paul also focuses his attention on the position of all who believe in Christ, that they are placed “in Christ”:

  • “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight – if indeed you continue in the faith…” (1:21-23)
  • “In Him you were also circumcised…by the circumcision of Christ,” (2:11)

Who places us in Christ?

  • “But of Him [God] you are in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:30) – It is all of God that we are placed in Christ.

Where specifically do we find our position in Christ?

  • “in the body of His flesh through death,” “by the circumcision of Christ,” (Col. 1:22; 2:11) – The beginning of our position in Christ finds ourselves placed in his death, but we are also said to be placed in Christ’s resurrection and ascension as well (see Ephesians 1; Col. 2-3).

What is required of us to be placed in Christ?

  • “if indeed you continue in the faith” (Col. 1:23) – The only responsibility required of us to be in Christ is that we have faith in Christ – who He is and what He did.  This is why Jesus could say that the only work of God is, “that you believe in Him whom He [God] sent.” (John 6:29).

What does it mean to be in Christ?

  • At the risk of being overly simplistic, I will say that being in Christ means to be clothed by, through, and with Christ.  
    • God’s response to mankind’s first sin: “Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.” (Gen. 3:21).  Here, they were covered by the life of another. God could not accept their makeshift covering of fig leaves (which wither away after a season).  God Himself needed to cover them in the life of another, who was presumably slain. It is here that we first see the divine need to be covered by God to atone for our sins.
  • “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him…” (2:9-10) – To be covered by Christ means to be covered by the very fullness of God.  It means that who Christ is and what Christ did will be the very thing covering us, and the very thing that God sees when He looks at us. This is why Paul can say that we are “complete in Him”.  And in another place he says: “you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption –“ (1 Cor. 1:30). We could really add any other attributes of Christ into this sentence and be justified, since now we are in Christ, and therefore we are clothed by everything that is Christ’s.

How does our position in Christ affect our position with God the Father?

  • When Adam and Eve sinned, they instinctively knew they had to be covered by something to be in the presence of God – “the sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings” (Gen. 3:7).  However, the coverings they made for themselves were not adequate to bring them back into fellowship with God. This is why Adam and Eve still felt the need to hide from God after they clothed themselves, and God is seen asking, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:8-9).  The clear message is that they are no longer in God’s presence, even though they clothed themselves by their own resources. It was only in God’s clothing them with the life of another that they could have restored fellowship – but this was merely a foreshadowing of the restored fellowship brought by Christ who was slain, therefore neither the sacrifice nor the fellowship was perfect in God’s eyes, rather it was only pointing to the sacrifice and fellowship that would be perfect when Christ died.
    • In similar fashion, we see the entire Old Testament system of atonement predicated upon slaying the life of another who is perfect – e.g. “a lamb without blemish and without spot” – to atone for one’s own imperfections.  This all points to “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (1 Pet. 1:19)
  • Through Christ’s death and our faith in Christ, we are said to be “holy, and blameless, and above reproach” in God’s sight (Col. 1:22).  This can only be seen if our sinful life is clothed by a sinless life. This is why in another place Paul can say that we have the imputed righteousness of Christ (see Rom. 4:22-25).  In Christ is the only acceptable position in which anyone can stand in the presence of God.

“CHRIST IN YOU”

The mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints…this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col. 1:26-27)

Not only are we said to be “in Christ” by faith, we are also said to have Christ in us.  In fact, this is the very mystery which has been hidden for millennia. This is the mystery that was not fully seen in all the time of the Old Testament, but only came to be revealed at the time of Jesus, was later expounded by Paul and the other apostles, and continues to be revealed to all who seek His face today.

Jesus gave these promises to his disciples before He died:

  • He [The Father] will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth…He dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)
  • A little while longer and the world will see Me no more…At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. (John 14:19-20)
  • If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. (John 14:23)

All of these promises are really different aspects of the same promise, which is Christ dwelling in his disciples.  Here are His promises:

  1. The Spirit will be in you. (14:18)
  2. I will be in you. (14:20)
  3. The Father and the Son will live in you. (14:23)

We see, then, that by the Holy Spirit dwelling in us we have the very life of the Father and Son in us; we have divine life dwelling in us.  In light of the attributes of Christ listed throughout the letter to the Colossians, this fact of Christ’s very life living in us cannot be taken lightly at all.

Christ’s life living in us also explains the confidence Christ had in giving such strict standards of normal Christian living, such as those seen in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).  Throughout this sermon, Christ makes demands as tough (or even tougher) than the Old Testament law. Then Paul comes later saying repeatedly that it is impossible for man to fulfill the requirements of the law (see Romans, Galatians, etc.).  How can we reconcile the demands of Jesus in Matt. 5-7 with the inability of humans to achieve these things? It is only reconciled when we consider that Christ, the One who can perfectly fulfill all of God’s demands for us, is living in us through his Holy Spirit.  It is therefore not in our striving to fulfill God’s demands, but in our resting in a power living inside of us, that is greater than us. Just as Paul could say that his Christian life is lived by God’s “working which works in me mightily.” (Col. 1:29).

A life that perceives the revelation of “Christ in you” (Col. 1:27), is the only true beginning to living a life pleasing to God.  Paul sums up this sentiment in Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

“No longer I…but Christ lives in me.”  Not I, but Christ lives is the key to living the Christian life.

CHRIST…US IN CHRIST…CHRIST IN US

When we have thus viewed Christ, our position in Christ, and Christ’s life in us, we are prepared to continue on with the letter to the Colossians.

Now Col. 2 is a continuation of the truths of Col. 1, shown in the light of all other systems that fall short of this standard, including those that are supposedly “Christian”.

Col. 2:1-8 is a warning against any system that claims “Christianity”, but does not have the true power and position of us being in Christ and Christ being in us.  In other words, it warns against any system that is less than God’s full thought of what Christianity should be. Thus Paul warns against those who deceive with persuasive words and/or with man-made philosophy, tradition, and principles (see 2:4,8).  Or put in another way, he warns against any system that is not “rooted and built up in Him [Christ]” (2:7).

Col. 2:9-10 is the key to effective and victorious Christian living – it is done by the power of Christ, not man’s programs: “In Him dwells all…and you are complete in Him…”  All true power and wisdom and knowledge is found in Christ (Col. 2:3,10), and you have access to all this just by being in Christ and Christ in you. This is your answer to everything you need to live the normal Christian life.  

Col. 2:11-23 teaching specifically against all systems of legalism, including even living by the Old Testament Law.  Paul shows that Christians have had their old life crucified and buried with Christ, and have been given the life of another, Christ’s own life.  This all happened because Christ did everything and we simply trusted in this fact; it had nothing to do with following a system of commands, but had everything to do with Christ.  So, in light of this, he shows that it is ridiculous to think you will get anywhere in Christianity by applying your own strength in fulfilling any system of ordinances, rules, and regulations.

In fact, when a true Christian begins to live their life through these rules and regulations, striving by the power of their flesh, they are actually being “cheated” of their reward of living by Christ’s power and life (see Col. 2:18).  It is true, says Paul, that the Old Testament laws had a place in pointing us to Christ, as a shadow gives us a rough idea of what a person looks and acts like, but it would be foolish to live and depend on such shadows when the very substance has come.  It would rob God of all the work of Christ if we were to begin to build up a system of Christianity that does not find its power in Christ living in us. It is only in “holding fast to the Head [Jesus Christ]” that true increase happens in the life of any Christian or group of Christians (see Col. 2:19).

He ends this section by stating again that the only power to live a sinless life is in Christ.  In Galatians 6:14, Paul states that the world’s attraction has no hold over him, and in Romans 7:4, he speaks of the law losing power over Christians as well.  Both of these are true only in the cross of Christ. When the Roman soldiers (representing the powers of the world) “saw that He [Jesus] was already dead” (Jn. 19:33), by the power of God, all those who believe are just as surely marked as dead men, as they are now “in Christ”.  Since dead men cannot participate in any activities of the world, nor live by any of the ordinances of the law, Paul speaks of the foolishness of all who apply these rules to Christians. The key, to Paul, is seeing that we are already crucified in Christ. The only way to defeat sin is by death, and praise God that this is His very means to defeat sin in us: “our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with” (Romans 6:6).  Now with this in mind, we see Paul’s displeasure in seeking any way to defeat sin outside of Christ’s finished work. When we see our place in Christ, and Christ’s life in us, we will realize the futility of any life that is lived outside of Christ.

OUR LIFE LIVED ON EARTH

Col. 3:1-4 – We are only able to live lives on earth pleasing to God if we focus our attention on heavenly things, specifically the things of Christ.

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above…Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.  For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col. 3:1-3)

In this section, we see both that we died and were raised with Christ.  That is, our old sinful self is crucified in Christ, and the new life we have is nothing less than the life of Christ Jesus.  This is another reiteration of Paul’s emphasis on Christ, us in Christ, and Christ in us.

Now, in the context of these words, Paul is able to give us definite do’s and definite don’ts of Christianity.  Understand that these do’s and don’ts would be meaningless if understood on their own, without the background of the first half of Colossians.  They would slip into another system of legalism that would just make people feel condemned because they were incapable of achieving them. This is why he begins with these words: “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth…” (Col. 3:5).  He starts with, “Therefore”, because the reader needs to attach these new commands with what has been said previously. You see, it is only by seeing our Lord that we are able to truly accomplish a Christian life by the Bible’s standards. In an instant of seeing Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul’s life was forever changed far beyond what decades of living by the law could ever even fathom.

In Romans 8:13, Paul says: “If you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”  Comparing this with Col. 3:5 makes it unmistakable to realize that all of what he is about to say in the following verses in Colossians will be impossible if not done in light of Christ dwelling in us in his Holy Spirit.  It is only in the power of the Spirit that we can experience true death to sin.

Col. 3:5-4:6 – The Do’s and Don’ts

  • PUT TO DEATH: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language (3:5,8)
  • DO NOT: lie, be bitter towards your spouse, provoke your children (3:9,19,21)
  • PUT ON: tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, love (3:12,14)
  • DO: bear with one another, forgive, let peace rule your hearts, be thankful, have God’s word in you, teach and admonish with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, sing with grace, submit to your husband, love your wife, obey your parents in all things, obey your masters with your heart and sincerity in all things, do everything for others as if you were doing it for God Himself, give those who work for you what is just and fair, continue earnestly and be vigilant in prayer, give thanksgiving in these prayers, pray for all those ministering Christ to others, pray for doors to be opened for the word of God and that it would be made manifested through the speakers of the word, walk in wisdom toward non-Christians, redeem the time, answer each other with graceful words  (3:13,15-20,22-23; 4:1-6)

Instead of being a list of commands, these ordinances are better viewed in the context of Christ, us in Christ, and Christ in us.  When we focus on the heavenly things of Christ, these works should follow. They then become indicators of whether or not we live by the life of Christ or by our own strength – e.g. if I notice that I have difficulty being earnest in prayers, perhaps I have not given this area of my life over to Christ to have his way, and have not trusted that through his Spirit He will take me into the intercession that He Himself walked in.

Do not misunderstand me in all this.  I am not excusing any responsibility of fulfilling this list of commands, along with the other demands made of us in the New Testament.  Rather, I am confronting the means by which we can fulfill these demands. I have a very real concern that too many Christians are going about their Christian life by the wrong means and the wrong power.  They are making it much more like Judaism, fulfilling obligations by our natural energy and power, instead of Christ’s, and they are being “cheated of their reward” of living their life through Christ’s power (see Col. 2:18).  Christianity was never meant to be done by checklists of do’s and don’ts. It forever is meant to be done through the Person and work of the Lord Jesus, and our receiving of these.

HOW DO WE LIVE SUCH A CHRISTIAN LIFE?

We anticipate the logical question many will ask with this teaching, i.e. What does this mean and look like for us?

First, as was stated before, it is not the end goal that seems askew, but rather the means to achieving this end.  All Christians can agree that sinning is wrong to do, but there are many different opinions on how we stop our sinning.  To demonstrate this difference, we’ve used an illustration contrasting different methods used to cease from sinning:

Let’s imagine a Christian man has a terribly difficult time forgiving a man who he feels wronged him.  He knows that he is commanded to forgive all people, and so he sets out to achieve this.

Method 1- methods outside of knowing Christ, being in Christ, and Christ in us.

First, he talks to a friend about this problem and his friend suggests that he think about something else to distract him from the problem, and then it might just naturally go away.  So the man strives to forget about the situation by pursuing life as normal, and anytime a thought comes into his mind concerning this man, he tries all the harder to find something else to do to occupy himself.  But after a few weeks, he sees the man on the street, and realizes that he feels just as bitter and spiteful as ever. He knew that he had never forgiven the man, and realized this was wrong.

The man decides to try other approaches – such as imagining better qualities about the man, or forcing himself to love the man, convincing himself that he has forgiven the man, etc., etc. – to no avail.  He even tries to pray to God for forgiveness, but without the realization of Christ’s person and work, he only seeks this forgiveness as a thing in itself, and God cannot answer such prayers that do not give total glory to His Son.

Finally, the man just considers the matter useless, and believes that it will never be possible to achieve such a standard of morality in this lifetime.  He perceives the focus of Christianity to consist largely of what happens after he dies, and loses a desire to strive after holiness in this lifetime.

Method 2 – The New Testament method of striving to see Christ, knowing your position in Christ, and depending on the power of Christ’s life in you

First, the man focuses on the life of Christ and person of Christ, realizing that Christ was able to forgive people who wronged Him all the time, even showing forgiveness to His murderers.

Then, the man realizes that in Christ he is totally forgiven of all the detestable things he’s committed and held in his heart.  He sees that Christ has forgiven him of things that are far beyond what he is holding against this other man.

Finally, the man also sees that all of Christ’s forgiveness is possessed by the Holy Spirit, and this same Holy Spirit resides in his very heart.  He trusts that this life, not his own, will bring him to a point of true forgiveness, and prays to God that Christ may be manifested more fully in him, especially where it concerns this matter of forgiving the man.

In both of these scenarios, the man sets out to conquer his inability to forgive someone he feels offended him.  The end goal was the exact same, but we see that the means to accomplish this were vastly different.

The first method is a composite of different things I see happening in the church to fight sin.  I’m sure we could add other methods, but they all amount to the same thing: a victory outside of the Person and Work of Christ.  

The second method is what I believe Paul teaches in Colossians and all his letters in the New Testament.  It is a method that views the Person and work of Christ as the cornerstone and only source by which we can live the Christian life.  It is this method that I think Paul himself alludes to when writing: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and…I live by faith in the Son of God.” (Gal. 2:20).

God, may you reveal to our eyes more of your precious Son.  May we see His light and in Him find our light. Please reveal to us more of the great mystery of us in Christ and Christ in us, that we would not lose heart even in the most difficult of times and situations.  Forgive us for all the methods of man that we have sought in establishing our righteousness. May we trust your method is best. Praise you Lord. Amen.

God’s Heart Revealed in Matthew 25

In Matthew 25:31-45, Jesus gives a parable of the final judgment. In broad strokes:

  • God = “the King” who judges the nations
  • the righteous = “sheep” who inherit eternal life
  • the unrighteous = “goats” who inherit eternal punishment
    • the eternal punishment is depicted as “eternal fire” (v. 41)

On all counts, it is a very sobering parable.

But I’d like us to consider what we can learn of God by contrasting what is said to each group of people:

Sheep

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

Matt. 25:34, ESV

Goats

Then he [the King] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Matt. 25:41, ESV

Note especially the bold sections:

  1. The sheep are told to come (presumably into God’s presence). The goats are told to depart “from me,” assuming that, in some sense, they are being removed from God’s presence.
  2. The blessing comes from “my Father”. But the cursing is not said to come from “my Father.” It just says, “you cursed.” In other words, it is apparent that God is the blesser, but He is not as eager to be the curser.
  3. The sheep inherit eternal life. This is something that is their due by the fact that they are children of God. But the goats are not told that eternal fire is their inheritance. In fact…
  4. The kingdom of God was “prepared for you [the sheep]” while hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels.” It was not God’s intent and hope that people would dwell there.

All of these purposeful contrasts show that God is much more eager to bless and bring people into His presence than to curse and condemn people to hell. This doesn’t mean that He doesn’t curse (see Deut. 28) or is not the judge who sentences people to hell (see Matt. 10:28). He must do that as a righteous judge. However, these contrasts show that it is not his heart or intent to do these things. He longs for all to be in His presence.

He’s like a judge who must sentence his son to extreme penalty for a heinous crime. If he’s a good judge, he will follow through with this sentence, but with much anguish and tears in his eyes.

Compliments to Dr. Peter Williams for pointing these contrasts out to me.

For more on this parable, see Matthew 25: The Sheep & Goats (Apr. 29, 2019).

Brian