Monday, July 16
Read: Colossians 1:24-27
Consider: “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious.” We hear that all the time. It usually means something along the lines of, “I believe in God and desire to know what is beyond me, but I’m not interested in church.” Even many church-going Christians have fallen into the trap of seeing the church as something man-made—something that may help them, but really isn’t central to knowing God. For many believers, a strong commitment to the church is seen as an option. They don’t embrace the church as the presence of Christ. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “I believe in Christianity, not church-ianity.”
Contrast that attitude with Paul’s words which were written from prison…
“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you…for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant…” (1:24-25)
Paul didn’t see the church as a nuisance. He didn’t view it as a smorgasbord from which he could pick what he liked and ignore the rest. He saw it as something for which he was willing to suffer, even to the point of death. For Paul, to serve Christ was to serve the church.
But, people say, today the church is corrupt. That’s true. In many places and at many times it is. But so was the first century church that Paul dearly loved. (Look at Acts 5–6, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Revelation 2–3 and many, many other passages that record the sins and frailties of the church.)
Others say that today the church has become an organization. So was the church that Paul served. Our first century sisters and brother didn’t have church buildings, but they did have meeting times, discussions about how to handle finances, bishops, deacons and pastors. Part of what Paul’s ministry entailed was giving structure and organization to the church.
In many ways the church has changed. Still, it remains the same. One thing that has never changed is the fact that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
We’re called to love the church—with all its shortcomings—in the same manner that Paul did and in the same manner that Christ does. Of all the depictions of the church, perhaps the simplest and most amazing is Paul’s when he described it as “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27).
Pray: Reflect on all that God has given you through the church. Thank Jesus for his church, which is his body. Ask him to show you how you are called to love the church. And pray that you can see the Body of Christ from his perspective.
Tuesday, July 17
Read: Colossians 1:28-29
Consider: Paul told the young Colossian believers that he labored and struggled to “present everyone perfect in Christ” (1:28-29). That’s not the only time the word “perfect” comes up in the New Testament. You may recall that when Jesus told us to love our enemies, he followed that by saying, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
What could that possibly mean? How is that even close to reality?
In the original language of the New Testament that word is teleios. Teleios does not mean “perfect” as in “flawless.” Rather, it carries with it the meaning of being complete. When an inventor “perfects” his invention, he is not saying it is without flaws. He is saying that it is completed and ready to be used. It is ready to be deployed for the purpose for which it was created.
Paul wants us to find our sufficiency in Christ. We will never be flawless, but we can discover that Jesus is all we need—we can discover that we are complete in Christ and ready to be deployed for him.
Teleios can also be translated “mature” (as the NIV translates it). Part of our maturity lies in understanding the “why” of our lives and giving our lives fully to Christ for that purpose.
Yesterday we saw Paul’s great love for the church and his passion for the church to fulfill our calling. He used a phrase which explains our purpose, both as a body and as individuals — “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27).
That is why we labor. We want Christ’s glory to be established and complete in us so that we can be the people he has called us to be.
Pray: “Lord, in a world that tells me all the things I need, help me to see that you are all I need. I am complete in you. I give myself fully to you to perfect your work in me and through me. Thank you for your presence in my life.”
Wednesday, July 18
Read: Colossians 2:1-5
Consider: There is that word again — “struggling.” That’s the second time that Paul has used it in just a couple of sentences (1:29, 2:1). We don’t always like that word when it comes to our faith. We want our relationships with Christ to end the struggle.
We are not exempt from struggle when we give our lives fully to Christ, particularly the kind that Paul was experiencing. He was laboring and struggling for the church. He wanted the body to be “encouraged in heart and united in love” (2:2). His passion fueled his hard work.
But what he was working for seems impossible to achieve. He wanted the church to have “complete understanding” and “know the mystery of God” (2:2). But isn’t that a contradiction? For if we had complete understanding it wouldn’t be a mystery. Part of the essence of mystery is that it cannot be explained—it cannot be known.
In the middle of this contradiction lies the truth. Right there in the middle of the unknown is the known.
“…that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.” (2:2)
The truth is Jesus. Jesus is the revelation of God “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3).
In this moment—at this time in our lives—we do not fully understand God. But God has revealed himself to us in Christ. So, we know the One who we are growing to know better, fuller and in greater intimacy.
In this manner we are complete, yet we are being made new. We are filled with wisdom, yet we are learning. We are mature, yet we are growing. We have the peace and security of the truth while experiencing the thrill and joy of discovery. To have that and to invite others to join us, is worth our striving, our labor and our struggle.
Pray: “Thank you, Lord, that I stand on a firm foundation while you stretch me to new proportions. Take me wherever you wish to take me. I’m yours, secure in Christ.”
Thursday, July 19
Read: Colossians 2:6-10
Consider: In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossian believers we saw Paul’s emphasis on who Christ is — “the image of the invisible God” who is “before all things” and in whom “all things hold together” (1:15-17). Paul emphasized that Christ is God, the Creator—that “by him all things were created” (1:16).
This is not simply some abstract theological concept that is interesting to ponder. In the passage we read today, we see that Paul connected this reality—that all the fullness of God lives in Christ “in bodily form” (2:9)—to our daily living. He said that because we have “received Christ Jesus as Lord” we can continue to “live in him” (2:6).
Our theology is a person. The word “theology” comes from two Greek words: theos, which means “God” and logos which means “word.” Our word from God is not a system of beliefs or ideologies. Our word is The Word which became flesh (John 1:14).
How do we make sure that we are not captivated by what Paul called “hollow and deceptive” philosophies (2:8)? We keep our paths straight by following The Word and not the words of human tradition.
Sometimes we see Christians wandering off into strange belief systems or committing themselves to man-made political philosophies. We see capitalism, socialism, nationalism, militarism and a host of other “isms” embraced under the banner of Christianity. Yet, these philosophies are not Christian. They are devoid of the love of Christ. They are not the self-emptying, lay-down-your-life-for-others-love that Jesus embodies. They are hollow, and they are deceptive. And when we give our best to them, we are taken captive by them (2:8).
Our word is The Word — “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27).
Pray: “Lord, it is so easy to slap the word ‘Christian’ on the beliefs of this world that I want to embrace. I can deceive myself into thinking that if they are attractive to me, they must be right in your eyes. But the ‘isms’ of this world always draw us away from the love that you embodied on the cross and that you want to embody in me. Teach me your ways. Give me discernment. I want The Word alone to guide my life and to claim my allegiance.”
Friday, July 20
Read: Colossians 2:6-7
Consider: You “received Christ Jesus as Lord” (2:6). Our New Testament writers do not use the term “Lord” as simply another name for God or Jesus. That word is laden with meaning.
In biblical times (and throughout most of history) the lord was the owner, the master of the estate. The servants worked for him to accomplish his work and his goals. Jesus and the New Testament writers use this term to speak of God as someone to whom we give our full allegiance. And we are his servants. But we are not those who have been coerced into slavery. We are servants by choice. We have been captured by the love of Christ which was shown to us when he gave himself fully to us.
So, when we say we have “received Christ Jesus as Lord” we are making a statement about all the priorities and values of our lives. We are no longer our own masters. We have stepped down from that role and given lordship over to him. And that means that we have some changes to make.
Many of these changes come over time as our Lord reveals to us the allegiances we need to sever and the baggage we need to drop. We do this in community as we journey together. Paul said it so beautifully and succinctly when he wrote…
“…as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught…” (2:6-7)
Rooted. Built up. Strengthened. Continuing—that is, growing and changing while living “in him.”
When we no longer give our allegiance to the “isms” of this world—when we are no longer taken captive by hollow philosophies—something beautiful takes place. We find it possible and quite natural to be “overflowing with thankfulness” (2:7).
I’ve never felt overwhelmed with gratitude to a political philosophy. The wisdom of the kingdoms of this world has never overtaken me with joy. But Jesus has. Any other “lord” becomes oppressive. But Christ always sets me free.
Pray: Reflect on the times that you were overwhelmed with thankfulness. Where did you direct your expressions of gratitude? I’m guessing it was at those times that you saw the Lord most clearly and began to grasp the meaning of his work in your life. Thank him today and let that same gratitude guide your heart throughout this day.
Saturday, July 21
Read: Colossians 2:9-15
Consider: On the eighth day of a boy’s life, according to Jewish custom and faith, he was to be circumcised. This was to be a sign “in your flesh” of the “everlasting covenant” God made with Abraham (Genesis 17:9-14). Over time, the terms “the circumcised” and “the uncircumcised” came to be used to distinguish between the covenant people and those on the outside. “Circumcision” became a code word of sorts to describe someone who was clean and stood in obedience to God. So, to call someone “uncircumcised” was to say they were sinners and did not have God’s blessing.
Paul used these distortions of the original meaning of the covenant to speak about a different kind of uncleanness in our lives—the spiritual “flesh” or the “sinful nature” (2:11). He spoke about the surgical work done on our lives “not performed by human hands” but “by Christ” (2:11).
What I love about Paul’s letters is the place to which he always returned. He described our faith as being “saved” (Ephesians 2:1-10). He referred to it as living a “new life” (Romans 6:1-11). He described it as keeping “in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). He called it the “circumcision done by Christ” (Colossians 2:11). But with all the images he used, he always returned to what actually happened…
“…you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead…God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins…” (Colossians 1:12-13)
It always comes back to resurrection. But resurrection is not a figure of speech. It is what God intends for his creation. It is what God did in Christ two millennia ago. It’s what Christ did in you when he forgave your sins and you accepted him as Lord. And it is what he will do when he restores his creation and makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).
Pray: “Thank you, Lord, for the surgery of forgiveness and healing you have done and are doing in me. Thank you that it is done for a purpose—new life. I praise you that raising the dead is what you do. Thank you for the new life you have given me and the new life you give me every day. Help me today to see that new life all around me and to walk in the power of your resurrection.”