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I try really hard. Oh, you muse, you could be accused of more heinous crimes. After all, isn’t it all about trying harder to live for Christ? Isn’t that what we’ve been told for most of our lives from church pulpits and Christian books? You know, read your Bible more, pray more, minister more, give more, attend church more, serve on more committees (like we need more committees – ugh!). More, more, more! And then you will produce fruit for God and please Him.  

Some may be upset (it won’t be the first time) but I think this is all wrong, all backwards. This formula (interestingly, the Word of God is generally devoid of clear formulas even though our flesh loves them so) leads to exhaustion, bondage, powerlessness, and, eventually, joylessness in our faith. And it produces no eternal fruit or affirmation from God. That’s why I say that trying harder may be the problem. It is ethnocentric and not Christocentric. This is what Paul is getting at in Romans 7:4-6: 

“Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.  For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.  But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” 

Don’t get me wrong, there is a form human effort in our struggle to honor Christ but this only accomplished by His energy and His power at work in us. Self-effort alone will end in frustration and defeat. Notice the unique phrasing of Colossians 1:29: “I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” The human exertion I’m talking about is focusing adoringly on our Savior and reliantly on His Spirit and not our own energies and efforts (see Hebrews 12:2; Colossians 3:1-2).  

With this in mind, please ponder this series of statements. The first half of each statement is what we have been told and taught and may be experiencing. The second half is what must happen to truly serve and please God in His power. The first half is focused on self and the second half is focused on the Savior and the Spirit. I hope this makes sense…here goes! 

            Self-centered                                                  Savior/Spirit-centered 

It’s not just about serving more…          it’s about seeking and surrendering to Him.

It’s not just about reformation…            it’s about releasing everything to Him.

It’s not just about living better…           it’s about loving Him more.

It’s not just about works…                     it’s about worshipping Him.

It’s not just about religion…                   it’s about relationship with Him.

It’s not just about singing hymns…       it’s about being satisfied in Him.

It’s not just about activities…                it’s about adoring Him with all we are.

It’s not just about “fruit production”… it’s about faith in His power.

It’s not just about trying harder…      it’s about treasuring and trusting Him more. 

Please understand, I’m not suggesting we don’t give, learn, pray, and serve (or produce fruit). I’m saying this should happen not due to self-effort but supernaturally (notice I didn’t use the term naturally) as an overflow of our intentional focus on treasuring Him above all things and being totally dependant upon His Spirit for everything produced in and through us. In other words, living based upon the second half of these statements actually allows the first half of the statements to be divinely accomplished. But, as opposed to our own strength being at work, it is His. And if it is from Him it is real, of eternal value, and radically transformational!

You see, the first half of these statements is legalism. It is so subtle and insidious, however, that we may not recognize it as living under the law. But it is. Paul tells us that we are dead to the law through Christ’s sacrifice so that we can be given (as in a marriage; see the previous verses – Romans 7:1-3) to Jesus in love (Romans 7:4). We need not live in the flesh and produce lifeless and valueless fruit (Romans 7:5). We are to forsake living under the bondage of the law (which is man-centered works) to serve in the new and powerful way of the Spirit (Romans 7:6). In other words, out with the defeating, meaningless, and exhausting old way (rules based self-effort) and in with the freeing, dynamic, and transformational new way of living in and through His Spirit. 

As Terrence Kelshaw explains, “We cannot live the Christian life on our own or by our own strength. Jesus says, ‘I never said you could. I always said I would.’” This is why Paul tells us, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). So let’s be freed from the bondage of legalism and human effort. Let’s experience the freedom and usefulness in Christ that can only be known when we stop trying harder and start treasuring Him and trusting in His Spirit more.

“Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here. Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions–if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.  And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord” (Colossians 4:7-17). 

Recently a couple of advertisements for Christian programs found their way into my e-mail box. These programs are well marketed. They cast big names with much secular success. The speakers are former or current athletes, hyper-successful business folks, entertainers, and authors. Their message is simple: This is what Christianity has done for me. 

On the surface it might seem that these programs are offering a great message, but I’ve come to believe they may be using the wrong messengers. At they very least, they leave out several of the right ones. I don’t mean to condemn the folks who present their testimonies in such venues; in fact, I know virtually nothing about them. They may be genuine Christians that are striking models of what it means to “die to self and live for Jesus” (Galatians 2:20). But my concern is that they seem to be sending a message that secular success and “what Jesus can do for me” are the basis for following Christ. 

True, it does draw a crowd when celebrities proclaim their faith. But why are there so few missionaries and average joes and janes on the lecture tour? I think we are wise to heed Paul’s admonition in First Corinthians 1:19-31: 

For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.  

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things―and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God―that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” 

The early church was filled with “nobodies.” The list we see in Colossians 4:7-17 attests to this. Their names are rarely remembered and their deeds rarely recounted. They may not be easily recognizable but these folks – excluding Demas (see 2 Timothy 4:10)  – were completely reliable (Re-liable. Re means over and over again and Liable means responsible for). These disciples of Jesus were servants not superstars. They were seeking Christ not the spotlight. We must understand that God didn’t use the elite to build His church.  He used average folks. Yet they turned the world upside down for Christ. In doing so they were witnesses to the power of Jesus as they boasted only in Him. Notice that “God chose the foolish things …the weak things…” to bring Himself glory. 

Today He is using those who are in the trenches and are waging real spiritual warfare. Let us learn from those whose lives exemplify self-renouncement and the rejection of temporary gratification―those who have “given it all away to follow Him” (Matthew 9:21). I want to know the thoughts of those who have found God as their all satisfying treasure―those who have counted all else as loss (Philippians 3:8).  I want to be compelled to project “the first shall be last” (Matthew 20:16) and “the greatest of you will be the least and the servant of all” for His glory (See Mark 9:35). You see, I want to be like the widow giving her only two mites (Mark 12:42). These are they type of “nobodies” and servants that Jesus finds so very useful in His work. 

Understand that nothing is wrong with those that are wise and secularly successful embracing faith in Jesus. In fact, I praise God for it. We must not, however, allow ourselves to believe that God can use only those who have achieved success in the world’s eyes. Jesus came so that all types of folks would help build His kingdom. We need to be reminded that He chose the foolish, weak, lowly, and despised to be His people and to glorify Himself.  We need not be elite when we are empowered by Him. When He is our wisdom and strength He uses people just like you and me.

**** This is an excerpt from Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him published in 2009. It was originally entitled “Ricky and the Rascals”.

The most interesting congregation I ever led lived in a nursing home. Every Tuesday night that I was not traveling on business, I ventured to their building to share Jesus. Part of my ministry involved retrieving them from their small rooms and wheeling them to the recreation room where our Bible study was held. Though I sincerely wanted to build them up with time in God’s Word, I often found myself having to focus more on crowd control than spiritual edification.

One evening, for instance, a near melee broke out as two octogenarians struggled over the same walker. Apparently the “thief” desired the Cadillac-of-walkers model possessed by another woman. For the thief, the 1960s bicycle bell it sported proved too much temptation; ringing it would warn other residents of the owner’s slow approach. As the tussle ensued the women struggled back and forth like two three-year-olds battling over a toy. Both possessed a death grip on their claim. And when Mary, the owner, released her hands from the walker; the perpetrator flew backwards and crashed into the wall without ever releasing her prize. Chaos broke out before order was restored.

On another occasion, Martha, who interrupted every meeting with the same question -“Will I go to hell because I can’t stop saying god d***?” – became particularly unruly. Her sacrilegious and inopportune profanity paralyzed me. She even asked the question in the midst of Scripture reading. I never found a good retort for her outbursts even though I knew the question was inevitable. I often found myself wondering, What in the world am I doing here?

Another challenge to my nursing home ministry was named Ricky. He was our most faithful attendee, providing Bibles for those who met in the tiny space where we convened. All Ricky’s Bibles were the same translation: The Old King James. (Ricky claimed it was the same version used by the Old Testament prophets. All others were “perversions.”) Many evenings, Ricky managed to derail the progress of our meetings with his incessant questions about eschatology. He delivered them in what I like to call machine-gun interrogation style. After several run-ins with his questioning, I found myself fighting the temptation to leave Ricky out of our meetings all together.

Deserting our group was the easy thing for me to do. Unfortunately, “deserted” defined the situation of many who lived in that home. They had nowhere to go: their families had abandoned them. I rarely saw a family visitor as I rambled down the halls and peered into the rooms of that facility. Instead, I found the sad faces of many whose families found them disposable. The busyness and self-centeredness of many of their families and friends had left many of the nursing home’s residents almost completely without family ties, interest, or love. As much as they craved attention, they rarely saw genuine caring and compassion.

Today the room where I used to share Christ is locked. It now serves as the occupational therapy room; Bible study there has ceased. I have not, however, forgotten the importance of my elderly friends. There are more people like Mary, Martha, and Ricky in our institutions than we care to imagine. They may be rascals, but they have souls. Despite their contrary and difficult personalities, they need dignity, love, and—most importantly— Jesus.

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus explained that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” And in Luke 10:30-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christ encouraged His followers to show mercy to the hurting and the downtrodden. Our nursing homes are full of people who desperately need to hear about the love and hope that can be found in Christ. Their spiritual condition matters.

I want to encourage us as Christ’s followers to stroll the halls of our nursing homes and see the despair and despondency of lonely people forsaken by those they called family. In the name of Jesus, it’s the least we could do for least of these. In stopping in to say hello or to pass out small gifts and smiles, we can know that our efforts are unto Him. So many sit in a closet-like room silently pleading for someone to knock on the door and say a simple, “Hey, how are you?”  That someone could be you.

“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God–or rather are known by God–how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?  You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!  I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you (Galatians 4:8-11).

Interestingly, outside of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the word “celebrate”, or “celebration” is used only 1 time in the New Testament (ESV). It is found in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. This passage, 1 Corinthians 5:4, 7-8, makes it is clear he is writing with the New Covenant in mind. As discussed in the previous post, today the Old Testament celebrations (feasts and festivals) are to be viewed in light of their principles and not their actual practice. And, as we see from Galatians 4:8-11, Paul actually sees some inherent dangers in practicing religious rituals. Let me explain.

In verse 10 the “days and months and seasons and years”  involve various Jewish festivals and feasts. The “days” probably are the Sabbath observance. The “months” suggest the new moon rituals. The “seasons” infer the annual feasts as Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.  The “years” could be the Sabbatical Year,  the New Year celebration, and Jubilee.  It seems that, under the influence of Judaizers (legalists), the church at Galatia began to keep the Jewish religious calendar. The problem was that they were being led to believe these observances were a means to justify them before God, supplanting relationship with God though Christ alone. Paul says that this may cause them “to be enslaved by [the law] all over again.” Paul was so exasperated that he exclaims, “I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” So what’s the big deal?

Paul’s words siren the alarming warning that turning to the observance of lifeless ceremonial religion after conversion to Christ is actually tantamount to taking up the practice of pagan worship. In other words, when the practicing of obligatory religious exercises takes the place of Christ as the basis of relating to God, it is as heinous as idol worship. Pagan religions, Paul says, are based on weak and miserable principles. They are weak because they do not have the power to overcome the control and guilt of sin. They are miserable (impotent) because they cannot give us new life. In the same way, ritualistic religion, at its root, is a weak and miserable principle. Obedience to any law or ritual observance by itself is powerless to set us free from the chains of sin; it is actually its own form of bondage. And ceremonialism is unable to impart new life; spiritually dead people can go through the religious motions. So substituting the observance of religion (or ritualism) for relationship with God is essentially deserting the basis of our faith; Christ and His work.

Religion does not make us right before God. Observing holidays or ceremonies does not grant us any favor with Him. When we attempt to justify ourselves by what we do, not what He has done, we arrogantly expect our self-righteous performance to impress God. This is religion and, despite man’s attraction to it, religion really paralyzes us and keeps us from experiencing God and truly celebrating Him. In God’s economy of grace, no holiday, festival, or ceremony can replace the work of Christ in and for us. The New Covenant of Christ observes all things – including “days” – equally. We cannot make a superficial division between the sacred and the secular. Every day is God’s day and every aspect of our life is God’s possession. We do not honor God by merely observing certain religious days or by participating in certain ceremonies (like begrudgingly “going to church”). This is religion and, according to Paul, religion makes us slaves.

The antithesis to this kind of powerless religion is relationship; relationship with God through Christ Jesus. That is what Paul means when he states, “But now that you know God–or rather are known by God.” In Christ Jesus we know God! Even greater is that He knows us! We need no ritual, feast, or festival (which are pictures of Jesus but not the real thing) to have fellowship with and celebrate God. And replacing communion with Jesus with these worldly approaches to God is deception. Worse, they often hinder us from experiencing what we really need to celebrate God; Jesus Himself!

So this is how and why we celebrate, why we rejoice (a term used often in the New Testament). It is a perpetual thing: “All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast” (Proverbs 15:15). We see many New Testament examples of the joy of our hearts being made manifest with the praise and adoration that constitutes true spiritual celebration. It is Holy Spirit compelled rejoicing for who He is and what He has done for us. And all of this is fully realized when we are celebrating in Christ alone, from hearts that have been joined with His, not by religious ceremony, but by the binding power of His Holy Spirit. This is what Paul had in mind when He uses the words “celebrate” and “festival” in writing to the church at Corinth:

“When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:4, 7-8).

“And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground…the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading….Then [Nehemiah] said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:5-10). 

I know I’m dating myself but the 1980 Kool and the Gang Song Celebrate comes to mind when I think of a celebration. Its rhythmic chant tends to stick in your head. Unfortunately, I never really could connect with the song because I can’t dance (Trust me, I’m indescribably awful!). And the song tells me to dance. But I can identify with a New Year’s Eve party or the rejoicing that accompanies your team winning the Super Bowl (Yeah Packers!), NCAA Tournament (Go Vols! I still believe you can do it!), or World Series (poor Cub fans). Entire communities go nuts when that kind of thing happens. For many these are events deserving of a huge party. And that’s the point: we only celebrate those things we consider of great significance and worthy of our exuberant praise. And such should be the case with our faith as well; I think even more so! 

The Old Testament, like this example in Nehemiah 8 of Israel pausing to honor the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall destroyed by the Babylonians, is filled with feasts and festivals. They include Sabbath, Yom Kippur, Passover, Pentecost, Sabbath Year Feasts, Rosh Kodesh, Feast of Purim, and Jubilee (Ironically, there is no indication this celebration was ever practiced by the Jewish people. For a foreshadowing of my next post, see: I would urge you to find a Bible Encyclopedia and do some research on these events. I think you will find the principles in these celebrations quite insightful and practical. God instituted these and others as a means to praise Him, unify, restore and cleanse His people, and build their faith. There are striking themes in these celebrations; focus on God’s goodness, eating and drinking, rejoicing in community, rest from work, praise, memorializing God’s sovereign guidance, the reading of His Word, and blessing. These celebrations were designated for certain times to commemorate specific events. 

Here are some things that I gather from God’s intention of His people celebrating: 

  • We often fail to stop from our labors and celebrate God.
  • We need to occasionally pause and rest in God’s goodness.
  • Celebration is facilitated by community.
  • Setting apart a specific time to rejoice in the Lord is a valuable spiritual discipline.
  • We need to practice celebrating Him as an overflow of the joy He brings to us and for His mercies.
  • Today, for His children, Jesus is the sum and source of our ability to joyfully celebrate: “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:4, 7-8). 

This is why we have “Celebration Wednesday” at our house. It was strategically chosen to fall in the middle of our hectic work week, when we are often prone to lose sight of God’s overwhelming goodness towards us. During dinner Rebekah and I shut down any possible distractions (TVs, mobile phones, computers, etc. – OK, our cats are sometimes hard to herd) and, while enjoying God’s provision of food, we start with a Scripture that speaks to God’s goodness towards His children. Then we begin to recite lists we’ve made during the week or spontaneous thoughts on the blessings God has showered on us, both “big” and “small” ones. It is a very intentional time of rejoicing in God and His goodness. We verbalize His blessings and then have a time of prayer for the specific things we have recalled. Then she creates a journal entry to memorialize what we discussed and celebrated. 

I encourage you to try it. This practice is not intended to be some obligatory duty, some religious exercise devoid of deep-seated and sincere meaning. It is designed to reflect genuine joy and marvel over God’s guidance and provision. I know it encourages and edifies us. It helps us to see the bigger picture of life and focus on an infinitely generous, caring, and loving God. And that, my friends, is truly worth celebrating. Because, after all, He is worth celebrating!

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). 

Don, Sheila, and Karolyn are part of the community group that meets in our house. But because she is ill, Sheila hasn’t been able to attend yet. At our inaugural meeting Don explained, “Sheila is waiting on a liver and kidney transplant so she couldn’t make it. She wanted to be here and hopes she can come soon.” Karolyn is Don’s mother who has just moved here from Providence, RI to help with Sheila’s daily in-home dialysis. “I so love my daughter-in-law,” Karolyn tells us, “but I had a wonderful church and so many friends back home. I pray that I can find new ones here.” Further comments made it very obvious that, as a true servant, she relished the privilege of ministering to her son’s wife. 

The story only gets richer. Don fills us in: “We were married about 5 years ago. It was in God’s perfect timing because Sheila got sick soon afterwards. And she needed me to be there for her during these years of hospital stays, treatments, and waiting to get on the donor list. And there were all the trips to the Mayo Clinic.” Karloyn moved south when it got to the point it was too much for Don to fully keep up with Sheila’s healthcare and work to support his family.

Sounds tragic, doesn’t it? But having now met all 3 of them I have never once detected any doubt, bitterness, or resentment. They speak of their circumstances knowing their God is sovereign, that this is an opportunity to love and minister to one another. Their God and their faith are so much bigger than their situation and, I must admit, I’m blown away by their sense of God’s goodness and their love of Him and family. 

This became even more evident when I recently saw Sheila for the first time. She had, once again, been admitted to the hospital; the place where all the workers knew her by name. Sheila laughingly called herself a “diva.” She chuckled when she told us that, “They all know me by now and I’m not shy about telling them when I want something better than the hospital food.” Rebekah and I had just left Don at church. He was working at the volunteer table after the service and was signing up folks for community groups. We had gotten to the hospital before he could warn Sheila of our arrival. No matter; she greeted us as if she had known us forever (and will do so forever). She talked about the journey, their journey, and then said the most amazing thing. “I so appreciate your prayers but also pray for the family that will have to make the difficult decision to give away the liver of their deceased loved one.” You know, I’d never thought about it but the liver donor is almost always a dead person. And Sheila already hurt for those who would give her hope for physical life due to the death of someone so close. 

Don came in while we were praying. He thanked us in his ever-gracious way. Sheila said we were lovely people and wished she could just put us in her pocket! Then Don interjected, “Another family signed up for our community group today after the service!” There was genuine rejoicing in his voice. The rejoicing of one who truly knows the joy and treasure found in Jesus. No sadness was to be found in either one of these Christ-followers but a resonating sense of peace and eternal hope. There was no hint of panic or self-pity. There was, however, a calm sense of being held in the palm of their loving God’s hand. They knew what is true for all those who put their trust in Jesus – we are always healed; either temporarily in this life or permanently in the life to come. 

Due to Super Bowl 45 our community group was cancelled for that evening. Earlier that morning we had been informed that one of our pastors and his wife were going to lose their unborn son 7 months into the pregnancy. While holding Sheila’s hand as she lay in a bed filled with wires and tubes, Don uttered something that so typified this family, words that stunned me. “I wish we could meet tonight just to pray for them.” His words were so genuine that I immediately thought, ‘this was what true faith in God looks like.’ And this is what happens to people radically transformed by the Master; they ooze with compassion and selflessness. Those who have surrendered and sold out to Him and His promises want to be like their Jesus. Life is no longer about them: life is about Him and others. Don and Sheila and Karolyn are people whose lives demonstrate that Jesus is exalted in them above all else, lives that are real examples of Paul’s message to the church at Philippi:

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,  but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:1-11).

“Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these things” (I Timothy 6:1-2). 

Most of us have a boss. That, depending on who your boss is, can be good or bad, even great or awful. I’m extraordinarily blessed to have a boss who is a committed Christ-follower and lives out his calling in his management style and interactions with co-workers. Although we come from dissimilar theological perspectives, our worldviews are strikingly synergistic. In the end, our devotion to following Jesus supersedes other, more minor, differences. It is refreshing to know that I can openly share my faith with him and, likewise, he can with me. There is a certain underlying, unspoken respect that defines the way we work together for both the kingdom of God and the good of our employer. Some are not so fortunate. So Paul, writing to Timothy, gives us practical teaching regarding both situations; working for bosses who are believers and those who aren’t. 

First, Paul commands that those who work (and, in some capacity, we are expected to – see 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15) do so in a way that respects our boss and honors God; even if our supervisor doesn’t hold the same high view of Jesus and God’s word. I don’t think we can underestimate how critical it is to make our employment a platform for demonstrating the radically transforming power of God in our lives. It is often the best, sometimes the only, place we rub shoulders with folks, including our boss, that desperately need to see the difference Jesus makes in one’s life (see Titus 2:9-10). The way we work for and with our boss is often the litmus test for our ability to be salt and light to him or her and our work colleagues (see Matthew 5:13-16). It is here that we can most often season our sphere of influence for the glory of God and the spread of His Gospel (see Colossians 4:5-6). 

To the church at Colossae, Paul gave us some principles for the way we should work that are well worth remembering as we gallop off (or trudge off, as the case may be) to our place of business: 

“Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.  Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.  For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality” (Colossians 3:22-25). And for good measure he speaks also to the bosses: “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven” (Colossians 4:1). 

Here are some things that jump out at me, things I need to be reminded of daily as I encounter a world that desperately needs to see the work of Jesus in me: 

  • We are to treat our bosses, both lost and saved, with respect and dignity.
  • We honor God by working with industriousness, quality, sincerity, and purpose (heartily).
  • We are to work as if the Lord is our supervisor (Master).
  • We are to always remember that our greatest reward in not necessarily workplace success (a raise or promotion, for example) but an eternal inheritance that comes from the Lord Himself. It his gift of grace and a reward for faithful service. 

And, in an interesting twist, we see in I Timothy 6:2 that we are to serve and work even more diligently if our boss is a brother (or sister) in Christ. This is a double blessing. We not only get to honor him or her while honoring God but both us and our boss are blessed by our harmonious, Christ-exalting endeavors in our place of business. Thinking of my manager, I realize how true this is and how thankful I am that God in His mercy has granted me such a privilege, such a blessing. 

But there again, according to Paul, working is a blessing and a privilege. Whether managing or being managed we work for the King of kings. We have an opportunity to positively impact our supervisors, subordinates, and co-workers for His glory. We can be that “light set on a hill” that causes them to be drawn to and praise God by being respectful, faithful employees and producing Christ-exalting output. Think about it. We spend so much of our lives laboring: Shouldn’t our jobs be a pivotal means of blessing others and God? 

PS – for an enlightening perspective on worshipping God through our work check out WorkLife – – and sign up for their email subscription. The last one – Is your Work Sacred or Secular? – was quite good.

“At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison– that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:3-4). 

Before we start thinking that in the previous verse (4:2) Paul is seeing prayer only as a tool to have our personal wants and needs met, he now gives us a great priority in our praying; for the gospel to be spread. A dear friend of mine and faithful follower of Jesus once told me, “I don’t really get it but when I pray amazing things happen. When I don’t, nothing does!” Not being able to completely understand and certainly not adequately explain the nuances of the compatibility of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, I will leave this text as is. Paul calls each of us to pray for open doors for the God’s word and clarity in declaring the message of Christ our Savior. Which causes me to wonder: When was the last time we have done this? And when was the last time we heard a public prayer that was a cry to God for the advancement of the gospel message in powerful clarity? 

In language we can all identify with, it was not uncommon for Paul to describe opportunities to share Christ as an “open door” (see Acts 14:27; 1 Corinthians 16:8-9; 2 Corinthians 2:12). Being that these opportunities are precious, Paul says we should beseech God that the doors of evangelism be open wide. One of the great purposes in prayer is the privilege of looking to God for the spread of His kingdom. Jesus, in the model prayer, said to His Father, “Your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10). In His divine plan God has decreed that our prayers would be instrumental in reaching a lost world with the message of Jesus’ redemption and hope. This is why we see Paul asking for the church to lift its voice to their Lord and ask that He grant His sovereign leadership in the proclamation of the mystery of Christ and the empowerment of His messengers (see 2 Corinthians 1:11). 

Paul also sees prayer as necessary given the spread of the gospel and the preaching of the true message of salvation in Christ have obstacles. Paul is in chains because of his mission of hope. He knew prayer helps to fortify us as we swim against the broad, strong current of a culture that is destruction-bound (see Matthew 7:13-14). There is conflict and resistance in our crusade to proclaim the name of Jesus because, “…the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). This why Paul here describes the message we share, the good news of Jesus as, “the mystery of Christ.” Those who are spiritually blind, deaf, and dead in their trespasses and sins naturally erect barriers to the message of the gospel. Our prayers are involved in unleashing the power of God in overcoming these challenges. 

But Paul doesn’t want our prayers to open doors for just any kind of word being spoken about Jesus. It is not a false gospel that we should pray to be spread. Paul wants the mystery of Christ to be clearly and rightly proclaimed. In our contemporary Christian culture we hear and see many things called “the gospel.” But much of it is false, misleading, and deceptive. With the goal of increasing their own followers, many distort the pure truth of God’s message of salvation into an ethnocentric, therapeutic, and carnal journey of self-discovery and self-enrichment. But following Jesus is about dying to self, bearing the cross, sacrificing, loving indiscriminately, and serving selflessly. It is about treasuring Him above all things. This is the type of gospel Paul wants our prayers to plead for; one of clarity, power, and biblical truth. 

Again, I do not totally understand why God has chosen to use our prayers in His sovereign act of grace in saving sinners. I do know that, in the end, His redemptive work is accomplished by His own power alone and due to no merit or effort on our part (see John 1:12-13). Yet we are called to pray for open doors for the spread of the gospel in clarity and truth.  Based upon His word, we are to be just as persistent, watchful, and thankful in our prayers for Christ-exalting evangelism as we are for our own personal needs and wants (see Colossians 4:2).

Is this our prayer? How often do we passionately plead with God that His clear message of the gospel be proclaimed and doors be opened for His truth? I know for me, it’s high time that evangelism be put at the top of my prayer list, that I pray for the lost to receive the message and it be confirmed in them by the Holy Spirit. It’s also time I pray more often for those whose “beautiful feet” share this greatest of all messages (Romans 10:15). May we also pray that God would use us as well, that we be His faithful instruments in the expanse of His kingdom and the calling of the Great Commission (see Matthew 28: 18-20). That as we go doors will be opened. And that our going will be saturated in His authority, presence, and power.

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