Studies in Colossians: Successful Living

July 22, 2014

“To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily” (Colossians 1:27-29).
You probably have your own notion of what successful living is all about. You might be thinking in terms of a good retirement, a good job, a nice family, a big house, and lots of money. Although, all of these “things” can pose temptations and problems, none of these things are inherently wrong. The problem, though, is we buy into the idea that just because we are so blessed by “whatever,” then we think everything is OK with our lives. Jesus said: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15).
Paul says that that we can be “perfect in Christ.” Perfection in Christ means that we are striving for holiness, blamelessness, and we want to be without reproach (Colossians 1:22). The idea is that we seek the things of Christ. We can do that because the message of God has been proclaimed; in other words, as Paul did, we, too, teach and admonish each other about Christ’s wisdom. That is the wise way to live; that is what successful living is all about.
The word “perfect” was a favorite word of the Gnostics. Gnosticism was an intellectual movement that was especially strong in the 2nd c. AD. Many Bible scholars see the beginning stages of Gnosticism in the book of Colossians; especially do they see Gnosticism in 1st John, where some denied that Jesus had come in the flesh (more on that later). Gnosticism comes from the Greek word gnosis, meaning “to know.” The Gnostics taught that in order for one to be elevated spiritually, that person had to be “in the know.” Specifically, that person needed “to know” what the Gnostics knew. Whether Gnosticism was full-blown or only incipient in the book of Colossians, it still remained as a challenge to the completeness of Christ.
The main message of Colossians is: You are spiritually complete in Christ! In Christ you can be spiritually perfect—full-grown, mature. What a message this must have been for people in Colossae. These people were from pagan backgrounds. Their gods were arbitrary and capricious. For Gentiles, the gospel meant that they could be complete in Christ, Jewish objections notwithstanding. Christ saves all alike (Romans 10:12-13).
What is the point of this? Paul’s point is that truly successful living is about Christ, and only Christ. Any attempt to substitute the things of this life for Jesus will end in spiritual ruin. Preaching this message was what Paul’s life was all about. He didn’t talk about a good retirement, a good job, a nice family, a big house, and lots of money. He found completeness in Christ. Paul believed what Jesus said in Luke 8: 14: “Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.” Are there any 21st c. Gnostics in the kingdom today? Randy Harshbarger

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Studies in Colossians: How To Please God

June 25, 2014

“We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel” (Colossians 1:3-5).
In order to please God we must love God. We probably think that loving God is something that is easy to do. After all, God is love, His Son died for us, we are the recipients of His grace and mercy; so, yes, we will love God; that is something we all can do. But is it? There are at least two problems associated with pleasing God. First, we have to make a choice to act and think and live as God wants us to. Paying lip service to this kind of life is easier than the actual out-working of a life that pleases God. Second, the culture we live in can easily draw us away from a life that pleases God—that is, if we allow this to happen.
The tide of popular trends or public opinion can be strong. We are inundated by messages that constantly say that whatever lifestyle a person chooses to live is OK. This is nothing new. Isaiah said: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20). Add to this the “postmodern” message that says there is no such thing as absolute truth, and you have the formula for “anything and everything goes!” What at one time was wrong is now the “new normal.”
Making the choice to please God begins with seeking out God’s will for our lives. To put it another way: We need to study our Bibles more. This is more than just “daily Bible reading.” Serious, concentrated study is a good beginning place to regain our moral compass. The passage above from Colossians says that we recognize God as our Father and we recognize Jesus as Lord. Christians are people who belong to God in a special way, in a special kind of relationship. This relationship naturally flows from our faith, hope, and love—a triad of qualities mentioned often by the Apostle Paul.
Faith, hope, and love are the sphere in which we live before the Lord. Faith and love spring from hope. In Colossians, faith is tied to knowledge; we must know God and His will for our lives; we have faith in Him and in our need to obey that will. The special kind of love we should have for each other can encourage us and help protect us from the onslaughts of this alien culture we live in. When our lives are dominated by faith, hope, and love we are protected from the cesspools of this world. We are not naïve to this world; yet, we are not of this world. Let us “walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” When we do that, we are “strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy” (Colossians 1:10-11). Can you please God? Yes! But it is your choice. Randy Harshbarger


Studies in 1st John: Deep Certainity

May 27, 2014

“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:11-13).
The testimony that comes to us from God is the message about His son, Jesus Christ. We believe that testimony (have faith). When we do so, God gives us eternal life. 1 John 2:25 says: “And this is the promise that He has promised us–eternal life.” Eternal life is a promise from God. We are not in heaven yet; we live in hope of eternal life. John 17:3 says that to know the Father is to have eternal life; we know the Father—we are in an intimate relationship with Him; we have eternal life in prospect. It is eternal life—it anticipates heaven; it is sure because it is predicated on the testimony about Jesus. Our spiritual life, now and later, are in the Son.
Living a life of sin and darkness and walking in newness of life gives us assurance. What Jesus did for us by dying on the cross gives us life. When we accept Him as the Son of God and when we abide in Him, we have the life only He can give. “Having the Son” says that our relationship with Him is a close one. We come into this communion by faith and obedience. 1 John 2:23 says: “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.”
John wrote his letter to give assurance of salvation to his readers (5:13). “These things” encompass his entire letter. Over and again, he emphasizes the need to have faith in Christ. Rather than “believing every spirit” (4:1), we must believe the testimony about Jesus. Have faith in His name. “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment” (1 John 3:23). We believe in everything Jesus stands for. He is divine. He is the Son of God. He left heaven and came to this earth and lived as a man, among men. He claimed to be God in the flesh; He backed up that claim by working miracles, something only God can do. John says we should give credence to the false teachers who denied Jesus’ true identity. Rather, we acknowledge Him as “the Word of life” (1:1).
We want to know with confidence that our salvation is sure. We want to live confidently here on earth. We want to bask in the warm glow of God’s love and in fellowship with His Sons. Let us ask, though: Do we truly believe in Jesus and in the life He wants us to have? Is Jesus the center of your life? Are your actions, thoughts, and motives filtered through Him and His will? Does the thought of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for your sins vibrate in your innermost being? Does His word fill your heart and mind? We sing: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.” We can have that assurance when we give total commitment, total reliance, and total trust to the Son of God.
Randy Harshbarger


Studies in 1st John: Deep Love

May 27, 2014

“And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28). John says that the antichrists (2:18) cannot give hope. False teaching never gives true hope; false teaching will only result in spiritual ruin. Yet, John says that Christians can continue to have hope and confidence, but only in the Lord. When Christ returns we can stand before Him confident in the expectation of a heavenly reward. Because we have been “begotten” (born again), we continue serving the Lord; we look forward to the time when we will, with confidence, see Jesus. “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). How can we have this hope?
Abiding in Christ is an important concept in John’s writings. Abiding in Christ insures that we have a continuing relationship, fellowship, communion with the Lord. How do we do this? By remembering who Christ is; He is the very one John writes about (1 John 1:1-4). This sustained connection with Jesus results in true joy and hope. Ultimately, it results in a home in heaven.
At the end of this age, Jesus will return. We do not know when He will return. John says that this world is “passing away” (2:17). It is the “last hour.” The antichrists pose a spiritual threat. So, make sure you are abiding in Christ. That is what gives confidence in the day of judgment.
“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him” (1 John 3:1). Judgment is coming. Yet, we can have boldness—we don’t have to shrink back when Christ comes—because of the relationship of sonship. This is possible because God loves us. This is possible because we have been born again. This is possible because we practice righteousness. “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7). We endeavor to do what is right. We purify ourselves. We know God is righteous—that is, His character is righteous. But, through the gospel He provides a way for us to be righteous—acquitted of guilt. Too, Christ is the righteous one; He kept the commandments of His Father. The Father’s need for righteous satisfaction was met in Christ’s death. Growing out of the relationship Christ makes possible, is our need to act in certain ways. We must practice righteousness.
Are you a “born-again Christian?” “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.” We demonstrate that we are born again by acting like it. That gives us deep hope in Christ, our Savior. R. Harshbarger


Studies in 1st John: Deep Hope

May 27, 2014

“And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28). John says that the antichrists (2:18) cannot give hope. False teaching never gives true hope; false teaching will only result in spiritual ruin. Yet, John says that Christians can continue to have hope and confidence, but only in the Lord. When Christ returns we can stand before Him confident in the expectation of a heavenly reward. Because we have been “begotten” (born again), we continue serving the Lord; we look forward to the time when we will, with confidence, see Jesus. “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). How can we have this hope?
Abiding in Christ is an important concept in John’s writings. Abiding in Christ insures that we have a continuing relationship, fellowship, communion with the Lord. How do we do this? By remembering who Christ is; He is the very one John writes about (1 John 1:1-4). This sustained connection with Jesus results in true joy and hope. Ultimately, it results in a home in heaven.
At the end of this age, Jesus will return. We do not know when He will return. John says that this world is “passing away” (2:17). It is the “last hour.” The antichrists pose a spiritual threat. So, make sure you are abiding in Christ. That is what gives confidence in the day of judgment.
“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him” (1 John 3:1). Judgment is coming. Yet, we can have boldness—we don’t have to shrink back when Christ comes—because of the relationship of sonship. This is possible because God loves us. This is possible because we have been born again. This is possible because we practice righteousness. “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7). We endeavor to do what is right. We purify ourselves. We know God is righteous—that is, His character is righteous. But, through the gospel He provides a way for us to be righteous—acquitted of guilt. Too, Christ is the righteous one; He kept the commandments of His Father. The Father’s need for righteous satisfaction was met in Christ’s death. Growing out of the relationship Christ makes possible, is our need to act in certain ways. We must practice righteousness.
Are you a “born-again Christian?” “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.” We demonstrate that we are born again by acting like it. That gives us deep hope in Christ, our Savior. R. Harshbarger


Studies in 1st John: Deep Desire # 3

May 27, 2014

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” ( 1 John 2:15-17).
“Thou hast created us for thyself, and our heart is not quiet until it rests in thee” (words of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, AD 354-430). These words expressed the desires of Augustine’s heart. His expressed desire did not come easily. An early hedonistic lifestyle, though, soon gave way to his pursuit of God. And so, he came to realize that only in God can mankind find true rest. What do you find rest in? What are the pursuits of your life?
John says that the pursuit of this world can only lead to ruin. This world is passing away. Why, then, do we so enthusiastically chase after the things of this world? We sometimes think that these “things” will make us happy, only to soon realize that we are not happy, satisfied, or fulfilled. So, we start off on another pursuit of some kind.
The world we live in was created by the power of God’s word. Believing that is an important part of Biblical faith. Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” We must also have faith that this world will one day come to an end. “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).
It is not only this material universe that will be burned up, it is also the world of the flesh, of lusts, of pride. When these are the consuming elements of our lives, let us remember that they will come to an end. And we will come to that certain end, too. That is, we will pass into eternity having failed to hold on to God and His word. When we emphasize this world and its goods, we will lose them. In fact, we don’t know it, but we have already lost them. Jesus said: “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.”
What are the desires of your heart? You can participate in the blessings of Christ and anticipate heavenly joy when this world comes to an end. Serve God faithfully now. Blessings will come. Fellowship now with God is a foretaste of glory to come. That should be our consuming desire.
Randy Harshbarger


Studies in 1st John: Deep Desire # 2

May 27, 2014

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17). What are the desires of your heart? What do you get excited about? Is it sports? Education? Money? What takes up most of your time? What do you talk about more than anything else?
John says that the world of sin, of darkness, of the evil one is antagonistic to a right relationship with the Father. The world contaminates us and that relationship. What is this world John speaks of?
First, there is the lust of the flesh. The word lust is used here in a bad sense. It signifies something that is forbidden. “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves” (Romans 1:24). These are the passions of the flesh (2 Peter 2:18). John is not speaking about our need for water, food, or shelter; these are normal and natural. He means desires that are fulfilled in sinful ways. James speaks to this by saying: “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (1:14-15).
The lust of the eyes suggest that we might yield to temptation from things we see. Jesus said: “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). We might “see” and then be attracted to the flesh, to pride, greed, covetousness—the list goes on.
The pride of life needs some definition. Pride can mean arrogance, boastfulness, or ostentatiousness. John is saying that we can get caught up in this life—in the pursuit of this life whatever those pursuits might be—because we think that is what life is really about. “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). We seek the goods of this world (money, cars, houses, etc.) and then boast about it. Why? Because for us, these things are important. They show what kind of heart we really have. Rather than giving thanks to God for all that we have, we boast and act as if it is because of our own doing, our own power, that we have what we have.
Again, what is your heart’s desire? How you answer speaks volumes about who you really are. Randy Harshbarger