Christ

To Live Is Christ (Philippians 1:19 – 26)

I will continue to rejoice because I know that through your encouragement and prayers and through the help of the Spirit of Jesus the Anointed, I will soon be released from this dark place. I don’t expect that dishonor and shame will plague me in any way, but I do hope that I will continue to be able to speak freely and courageously about Jesus, and that now and forever the Anointed One will be glorified and placed above all else through this body of mine—whether I live or die. For my life is about the Anointed and Him alone. And my death, when that comes, will mean great gain for me. So, if it’s His will that I go on serving here, my work will be fruitful for the message. I honestly wouldn’t know how or what to choose; I would be hard-pressed to decide. I lean toward leaving this world to be with the Anointed One because I can only think that would be much better. To stay in this body of flesh—even with all its pains and weaknesses—would best serve your needs. Now that I think of it, I am sure of this: I would prefer to remain to share in the progress and joy of your growing belief. When I return to you, we will celebrate Jesus the Anointed even more. (Philippians 1: 19-26, The Voice)  

Paul is using a metaphor featuring the commander of a vessel in a foreign port who feels a strong desire to set sail and go home; this desire is balance by his belief that he needs to stay longer in the port in order to fulfill the mission. Paul was not ‘at home’; he wishes to return (to his heavenly home), but he has not received his final orders, so he waits faithfully and productively. The NIV says the same thing with the classic usage we often hear: 

"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me." ( 21-26, NIV)

There are two words for "life" in the Greek: bios, from which we get our word ‘biology’ (or "the affairs of everyday life" - 2 Timothy 2:4) and zoe, which is the essence of life. It's the fuel on which our life runs. What gets us up in the morning? What motivates us? What brings us satisfaction and comfort? What inspires us and gives us hope? These ideas are all captured in this concept of life.

“For to me to live is Christ,” said Paul, and it seems to carry the idea that the fullness of life is in knowing Christ and making him known. Considering his audience in Phillipi, this might have been a difficult concept. There were at least five popular ways to finish that sentence:

  • The soldier: "For me to live is glory and fame."
  • The jailer: “For me to live is order and discipline.”
  • The slave girl: "For me to live is freedom from being controlled and abused.”
  • The merchants (such as Lydia): "For me to live is riches and comfort."
  • The Judaizers (which we will see later): “For me to live is obedience to the Law.”

These things had motivated them for so long. Never mind that it left them empty and grasping (because living for these things always does). Never mind that it failed to save, or that it was never enough. It’s what they had been raised to believe living was all about.

It’s as difficult a concept today as it was then. No one leaves that sentence blank. Everyone finishes it with something. For me, to live – for me to really feel like I matter, that I am somebody, that today was a good and meaningful day – is ________________.”

We aren’t Philippians, but what might we say? To live is fun, food, sex, kids, a spouse, entertainment, money, college, career, winning, reputation, health, control (or self-control), or pleasure?

What might we as Christians be tempted to say? To live is not to sin, or to be right, or to let our successful religious works be seen by others, or to never be uncomfortable, or to be free of the hardship and trials of life? In order to clarify your thoughts about this, ask yourself these six questions:

  • What am I most concerned about?
  • Would ruin my life if I failed at it or lost it?
  • What do I pursue to comfort me?
  • What is the focus of my hopes and dreams?
  • What makes me feel worthy? (What is the first thing I want people to know about me?)
  • What unanswered prayer might make me think about turning away from God? (this list is from Justin Buzzard, preachingtoday.com)

We are made to worship – to live for something. We all give more glory, weight and importance to something vs. everything else. The issue isn't if we are going to worship; it's what or who we're going to worship. And if we fill in this blank with anything other than ‘Christ,’ we have substituted an idol - “anything that gets more glory, more weight, more importance in our eyes than God does." (Darrin Patrick’s definition). And as Tim Keller likes to point out, the trouble with idols is that when they shake, you shake. We need something in which to put our hope that does not shake.

“For me, to live is Christ” is both Paul’s testimony and his reminder of where true life is found. It’s why Paul does not fear humiliation, persecution and death. Nothing shook him because his hope did not shake. His external circumstances changed, but not his internal focus.

That’s the good life. Paul’s showing them and encouraging them to, as David wrote, “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8) Then Paul shows them how to refocus. He spells out specifically (at least in this situation) what he means when he says” to live is Christ.” It’s not going to be a vague “Do better!” or an internal flexing of faith muscle. It’s much more precise – and perhaps harder - than the other options, but certainly better.

“To live is Christ” means serving Jesus through fruitful labor (v.22) for the growth and joy of others in their life with Christ (v.25).

If for me to live is Christ - if my only concern is fruitful labor for Christ for the growth and joy of others in their life with Christ – what might I expect to follow? How would this influence my view of life? 

  • There is nothing I could lose on this earth that would ruin my life. If I live so that Christ is glorified and others are built up in Christ, my reputation is insignificant. I don’t have to be noticed, appreciated, or applauded. There will always be someone to slander your reputation. If Christ increases, it just won’t matter how much I decrease. I am freed from the need to constantly build myself up impress others. My joy will come from seeing Jesus worshipped.
  • I would always recognize that the comforts of this life are fleeting at best, so I could enjoy them without depending on them (Mark 8:36). If my goal is ‘fruitful labor’ in the Kingdom, how concerned will I be about money and things (except for the purpose of furthering the kingdom of God)? I am freed from the anxiety of provision, or the jealousy of others who have more and better things. My joy will never come from my circumstances, but from my opportunities within those circumstances.
  • My dreams or hopes would always be about more fully loving God or serving others on God’s behalf (1 John 4:7; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:10; Ephesians 4:2). If my specific plans didn’t work out my ultimate plan would always be in place;
  • My self-worth would be grounded in the reality that I bear God’s image (Genesis 1:27); that His love is profound and eternal (John 3), and that in salvation I have been adopted into His family (Galatians 3:26);
  • There would be no unanswered prayer that would set me back because I would trust the unshakable character of God (Malachi 3:6);
  • If live to serve Jesus by serving others, my need for comfort or control become entirely secondary to the comfort and needs of others. My joy will come from being able to participate in the natural service of others even as God does a supernatural work within them.
  • I could stop running myself into the ground trying to be good enough or worthy enough and instead run the race of discipleship in which the joy of the Lord is my strength (Psalm 28:7; Nehemiah 8:10).

To live is Christ. Serve God and serve others. If this is our attitude, everything else falls into place. Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, once said, “I used to ask God to help me. Then I asked if I might help Him. I ended up by asking God to do His work though me.”

That’s the idea. To live is knowing Christ and making him known. It is the only path to Christian maturity, hope and joy.

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[1] http://kevinpierpont.com/to-live-is-christ-philippians-121/

What Is Christian Unity (Build Up Part 2)

 I got a lot of really good questions about unity after last week’s sermon. Does unity mean we never confront sin? Do we just ignore false teaching?  Does unity mean we avoid any type of tension at any cost? So this Sunday I am going to offer four points to clarify what biblical Christian unity looks like.

 1) Christian Unity Is Between Christians

As a prisoner of the Lord, I urge you: Live a life that is worthy of the calling He has graciously extended to you.  Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Tolerate one another in an atmosphere thick with love.  Make every effort to preserve the unity the Spirit has already created, with peace binding you together.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)

We should show Christian love to everyone, but we simply can’t have the kind of unity that should happen between disciples of Christ with those who are not also disciples.  I have great friends who do not share my allegiance to Christ. We unite around other things - a love of philosophy, sports, books, social issues - but we don't unite around Christ.Unity must be with regard to something. Saying "we are unified" as Christians doesn't mean anything unless we have a common cause, allegiance, motivation – in this case, the unity the Holy Spirit brings through Christ.

2) Christian Unity Has Boundaries.     

There are plenty of “secondary issues” within the faith that Christians legitimately disagree about and should not break our unity.

  • Is the earth old or young? 
  • How will End Times unfold?
  • How is the Holy Spirit active today? 
  • What is the purpose of church services and how should they be done? 
  • Does God predestine who will be saved, or do our choices make a difference?
  • Is Song of Solomon about marriage and sex or is it an allegory for Christ and the church?

Yes. Sure. Different perspectives are found within the boundaries of united allegiance to Christ (Check out Romans 14:1-12 for a practical example). However, there are things that will either make Christian unity impossible or will destroy unity within the church if left unchecked. 

Theological Boundaries (the person and work of Christ)

 The Bible clearly shows that Jesus was God in the flesh (a member of the Trinity), who lived, died and rose again. Sin destroys peace within us and between God and others, and  punishment is our just reward. God (through Christ) provided a way out of that penalty of eternal death, and Christ alone has brought salvation and made peace between us and God. Once we give our allegiance to Christ, we can be “conformed” to increasingly reflect His image but we will never be Him.[i] One day we will stand before God to give an answer for our lives. Those who enter into reward instead of  punishment will do so only because they have accepted Jesus' offer to pay their debt.

Christian unity is not possible if we don’t agree on these things, because these points are all integral to the person and work of Jesus. I can think of at least five different phrases I have heard about Jesus from others who claim allegiance to Christ that give me a lot of concern.

  • “I am a Christian because I follow Jesus’ teachings. I don’t think he was God, but He showed us how to live.”[ii]
  • “Jesus is one of many ways to God.”[iii]
  • “Jesus is only about love, not anger. We have to lighten up on all this talk about sin and wrath and hell.”[iv]
  • “You can be just like Jesus! You can be a little god too!”[v]
  • “Jesus and the Holy Spirit are just names or titles for different ways God has shown himself.”[vi]

 We can’t be in Christian unity if we are fixing our eyes on a different kind of Christ.

  • If he was just a good man, Jesus is not divine and should not be worshipped.
  • If there are many ways to make peace with God, then Jesus is not the only way and is certainly not the necessary way, and his death and resurrection were unnecessary.
  • If sin and its eternal consequences aren’t important, then Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection aren’t important, and the day of judgment should not concern us.
  • If we can become just like Jesus, then the bar for what it means to be God is incredibly low, and there is no way Jesus should be worshipped.
  • If there is no Trinity, then Judaism and Islam have been right about the nature of God all along, and Christ was not who we thought he was. If thats true, then his life, death and resurrection did not accomplish what we claim they did.

When Paul is writing about the importance of unity, he’s not saying that anything goes as Christians when we look at Jesus. He clearly calls out false teachers numerous times in his letters (Galatians 5:7-12; 1 Timothy 1:3-11; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:14-19). Even if we attend church together, if we are not united about the most important thing, we may be respectful friends who genuinely like each other, but we are not united around the same Christ.

Moral Boundaries (Committed Discipleship)

Christian unity does not require perfection. Sinfulness will always be present within our Christian unity on this side of heaven. When that happens, we don't just step over our brothers and sisters when they fall down, and we certainly don’t kick them while they are down. We don’t enable sin, and we don’t berate and humiliate sinners. We help them back up like we have constantly been helped up, and we revisit the foot of the cross not to regain our salvation, but to ask for the forgiveness only Christ can give.

However, unity doesn’t mean we act like sin is no big deal. Paul writes numerous times about how to confront sin in the context of church (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13); (1 Corinthians 5:6-7; (2 Corinthians 2:5-8). Why? Because sin can begin to permeate the church, and that will destroy our unity. There’s a reason God says not to do these things that goes beyond our individual holiness. True unity cannot be sustained if these things are allowed to flourish in a church.

Unity does not require that we overlook sin.  If we are going to be unified around Christ, we have to have a healthy respect for the reality and devastation of sin. The more our personal sin hurts others or draws others in, the more crucial it becomes to confront for the purpose of the individual and the unity of the group. If we overlook or enable these things, they will take our eyes off of Christ, our walk as a disciple will erode, our unity with others will crumble, and our witness for Christ will be compromised. So the fact that we are sinners is not the thing that divides us; it should actually unite us at the foot of the cross. It’s what we do with or how we respond to the sin that cannot help but bring disunity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together:

“Reproof is unavoidable.. Where defection from God’s Word in doctrine or life imperils the family fellowship and with it the whole congregation, the world of admonition and rebuke must be ventured. Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin. It is a ministry of mercy, an ultimate offer of genuine fellowship…”

As a church community, we are in this together. Unity requires a community of grace, forgiveness and hope that always points us toward a Christ who offers all these things to us. But sin corrodes, and it must be addressed.               

3) Christian Unity Confronts Tension

Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 

Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14)

Unity is not the absence of tension.  If it were, we would never be unified. We would always hide our true self from others, or avoid people or situations that make us uncomfortable, or never have the hard conversations about protecting doctrine or living holy lives.We must confront it instead of retreat from it. The Bible does not say blessed are the peacekeepers, it says blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Keeping peace is easy, passive, and ultimately destructive. Making peace is uncomfortable, but necessary and always fruitful. The unified do not hide.

We must learn how to say, “I love you and I am for you, so we must have this conversation.” Then we pray for wisdom, we may seek godly counsel, and we turn to the Bible for our foundational truths because it is” profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…”(2 Timothy 3:16)

 4) Christian Unity displays Christ-like love

“ Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind. But above all these, put on love! Love is the perfect tie to bind these together. Let your hearts fall under the rule of Jesus’  peace (the peace you were called to as one body), and be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-16)

Love is the ultimate gift of the Spirit as seen in 1 Corinthians 13.[vii] It’s the glue that is meant to hold the church community together. The Bible is really specific about what Christ-like love looks like (and I am pulling this list from 1 Corinthians 13).

  • Patient (good things take time)
  • Kind (it’s a basic human quality)
  • Content (not jealous)
  • Humble (not boastful or proud)
  • Decent (never rude or crude)
  • Other-centered (not self-absorbed)
  • Composed (not easily provoked or resentful)
  • Forgiving (doesn’t keep tally of wrongs)
  • Rejoices in Truth (doesn’t avoid it)
  • Rejoices in Justice (is not content to let injustice unfold)
  • Bears all things (endures and protects insults, burdens, and hardships)
  • Never loses faith (does not become cynical or jaded)
  • Hopeful (never forgets that Jesus saves)
  • Persevering (keeps going even when it's tough

This kind of love is the greatest gift given us to preserve the unity that Christ brings, Is far more than emotional connection. It comes from fixing our eyes on Christ and walking with others in loving, faithful discipleship. Paul gives an example of how this looks in Romans 12:14-18.

If people mistreat or malign you, bless them. Always speak blessings, not curses. If some have cause to celebrate, join in the celebration. And if others are weeping, join in that as well. Work toward unity, and live in harmony with one another. Avoid thinking you are better than others or wiser than the rest; instead, embrace common people and ordinary tasks. Do not retaliate with evil, regardless of the evil brought against you. Try to do what is good and right and honorable as agreed upon by all people. If it is within your power, make peace with all people.” (Romans 12:14-18)

This kind of loving unity will never compromise truth or holiness, but it will always guide the attitude and presence we bring to any situation.

 

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[i]  Paul’s Creed (from 1 Corinthians 15:3-11) often considered the earliest creedal statement: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.” Note the three key subjects: Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; the fact the Jesus died for our sins; and the reality of grace as the means of salvation.

The Apostles Creed(150 AD) reads: “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
 and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
[‘he descended to hell’ was added much later in response to doctrinal challenges].
The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
[‘the holy catholic (universal) church' was added in the 4th century], the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.” As a response to different doctrinal challenges, this creed is more broad (and more specific) than Paul’s.

 The Nicene Creed (325 AD) reads: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end. And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets; And we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. We look for the Resurrection of the dead, And the Life of the age to come. Amen.” This was written in response to the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ. In 381, it was revised to address the Macedonian heresy, which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit.   

[ii]  Google the term “moralistic therapeutic deism” to see this in action. Michael Horton provides a good overview of this position at http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var2=917

[iii] " I don't believe making disciples must equal making adherence to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts.” (Brian McClaren)  For a good response, check out a book by Ravi Zacharias called Jesus Among Other Gods.

[iv] The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement: "God is love". If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil (Steve Chalke and Alan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus, pp. 182-183).”John Piper has a good response at http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/defending-my-fathers-wrath

[v] “Man…was created on terms of equality with God, and he could stand in God’s presence without any consciousness of inferiority…. He made us the same class of being that He is Himself…. He lived on terms equal with God…. The believer is called Christ, that’s who we are; we’re Christ.” (Kenneth Hagin, Zoe: The God Kind of Life, pp. 35-36, 41).

“Why didn't Jesus openly proclaim Himself as God during His 33 years on earth? For one single reason. He hadn't come to earth as God, He'd come as man.”  Kenneth Copeland, Believer's Voice of Victory magazine, Aug. 8, 1988. p.8.

"The most remarkable "messiah" at (the time of the writing of this book) ... is to be found at camp Manujothi Ashram in the desert in South India. It is the extreme American evangelist, William Branham, whom Christians have to thank for this false messiah. His name is Paluser Lawrie Mathukrishna. When Branham was on (a) tour of India, Brother Lawrie became a disciple of his, and Branham described him as the "Son of God" and "Christ returned." (Kurt Koch, Occult ABC, 1978, p. 66) Read more at http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/thirdwaveteachings.html

This is also a key teaching of Mormonism. Here is a short but good response from Hank Hannegraaff: http://www.equip.org/perspectives/little-gods-are-we-little-gods/

[vi] This is a position called Modalism, which has been considered heretical (so far from orthodox Christianity that it cannot be authentic Christian belief) since almost the beginning of the church. Two popular names associated with this movement are Tommy Tenney (because of his Oneness Pentecostal roots) and T.D. Jakes (who is a Oneness Pentecostal). Here’s a link to a great article that gives a very thorough discussion of this issue: http://thecripplegate.com/modalism_oneness_and_td_jakes/

In an unusual (and false) twist, Benny Hinn has been promoting Tri-theism, the idea that each member of the Trinity is its own Trinity. ”God the Father, ladies and gentlemen, is a person; separate from the Son and the Holy Ghost. Say, what did you say? Hear it, hear it, hear it. See, God the Father is a person, God the Son is a person, God the Holy Ghost is a person. But each one of them is a triune being by Himself. If I can shock you - and maybe I should - there's nine of them. Huh, what did you say? Let me explain: God the Father, ladies and gentlemen, is a person with his own personal spirit, with his own personal soul, and his own personal spirit-body.” (Benny Hinn” program on TBN, 10/30/90) 

[vii]The apostle bookends his famous chapter on love (1 Corinthians 13) with these two (perhaps surprising) charges: “earnestly desire the higher gifts” and “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 14:1). God means that we desire all of his gifts, not to glut our selfishness, but to selflessly strengthen others — “so that the church may be built up” (1 Corinthians 14:5)… Desire all the spiritual gifts, knowing that “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13; cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:3). Compared to other “higher gifts” (such as tongues, healing, and prophecy† among others), love is “a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).” 

 Read the entire article at http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/10-reasons-to-desire-all-the-spiritual-gifts.

 

God’s Nature: Revealed in Christ (Colossians 1:15 – 1:23)

I am a big fan of Lebron James. But as I watched the playoffs this this last week, I thought, “Glory is hard taskmaster.” Lebron promised Miami a handful of championships, and now there is tremendous pressure on him to win. He gets high renown and honor if he performs up to expectations, but he can go from hero to zero over the course of just two games. He may look magnificent in the moment, but those moments fade, and then he has to look magnificent again by doing something amazing yet again.

But let’s be honest: We pursue glory (renown, recognition and applause) in our homes, our work place, our church, online, with our friends. We want to be renown for something. We might not say “Look at me!” but we think it and hope it.  And if being noticed become the most important thing – an idol, really - we will need to keep accomplishing things, and we will need to have people around us who notice.

In our homes: we want our spouse or our kids to be impressed by our magnificence. So we do more yard work, or cook more, or take them on a bigger vacation, or buy them stuff, or work harder at our job to make more money…. And it’s not that these things are necessarily bad. They just become bad if they become about us. Soon we realize we are running ourselves into the ground, and the family isn’t noticing. So we have to either remind them about everything we are doing, or point out all their failures so our successes look better.  

With our friends: We want them to be impressed with our magnificence. So we get the beach body abs, or the new car, or the degree, or the new job. And even when they notice, we are never satisfied with the applause, and our friends are growing weary of us, and we just keep pushing ourselves harder and others away. And it’s not that these things are necessarily bad. They just become bad if you make them an idol.

 In church: We are generous with our time and money, we read and study so we know a lot, we have grown kids God’s way and they are just a model of respect and godliness (at least in front of others), we lead, teach, worship or serve in some way that is powerful and moving.  And all of these are good things – unless we have turned them into something that is supposed to get us the glory and honor that is finally due to us. But we keep trying harder, thinking that one day God will reward our hard work and we will be NOTICED!!!  

There are so many good things God has given us or placed around us, and they are meant to be a gift to us and the world.  But if we simply pursue our own glory,  this “I”dolatry will drives us mercilessly. It will always fades always leave us empty, always take a toll on the people around us. This brings us to Paul’s letter to the Colossian church. Right after his opening prayer, he quotes what many believe to be an early hymn of praise:

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 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation, the eternal. It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes. He has always been! It is His hand that holds everything together. He is the head of this body, the church.

 He is the beginning, the first of those to be reborn from the dead, so that in every aspect, at every view, in everything—He is first. God was pleased that His full nature should forever dwell in the Son who bled peace into the world by His death on the cross as God’s means of reconciling to Himself the whole creation—all things in heaven and all things on earth." (Colossians 1:15-20)

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Christ is...

  • The eternal God in the flesh
  • Creator and sustainer of everything.
  • The Designer of Purpose
  • The Head of the Church
  • The Resurrector of the Dead
  • The Redeemer and Reconciler of all Creation

 He is preeminent, ultimately outstanding, first in everything, everywhere. Why does this matter? Because that kind of God is the only one who can do this:

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You were once alienated from God, wicked in your ways and evil in your minds; but now He has reconciled you in His flesh through His death so that He can present you to God holy, blameless, and totally free of imperfections as long as you stay planted in the faith. So don’t venture away from what you have heard and taken to heart: the living hope of the good news that has been announced to all creation under heaven and has captured me, Paul, as its servant...

  What I am talking about is nothing less than the mystery of the ages! What was hidden for ages, generations and generations, is now being revealed to His holy ones. He decided to make known to them His blessing to the nations; the glorious riches of this mystery is that Christ lives in you, giving you the hope of glory." (Colossians 1:21-27)

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 “The living hope of the good news” is that we have been reconciled to God through Christ who lives in us, giving us the hope of glory.Commentators note that this phrase probably has a dual meaning. First, “the hope of glory” refers to the promise our next life in heaven. Second, it also refers to the impact of God in this life as well. Dóksa ("glory") corresponds to the OT word, kabo ("to be heavy"). Both terms convey that there is infinite, intrinsic worth of God’s very essence that has a depth, permanence, and beauty beyond what we can imagine.

God alone can bear what C.S. Lewis called “the weight of glory” – and He chooses to pass it on to us. And I don’t mean the glory that we tend to pursue. This is a different kind of glory that is all about Christ. It’s the kind of glory that does not fade, and is not empty. So what are the implications ?

We are free from the burden of generating our own awesomeness. We don't have to worry about the applause of others – with Christ in us, we have the applause of heaven.  We are magnificent because Christ is in us, not because we had the biggest sales month or have kids whose hair is always washed or we look good in a swimsuit or we are a leader.  No one needs to notice. We no longer say “Look at me!”  We say, “Look past me!”

 We don’t need others to fail so we look better. We don’t need to impress anyone, and we don’t need to hold them hostage to our need for affirmation.  They can flourish and we will rejoice. “You have the spotlight! Well done.”

 Let’s just say, theoretically, that we were awesome for a day. And let’s just say that no one noticed. That’s okay. They weren’t supposed to look at us anyway. They were supposed to see Christ, and if I remember correctly, He is supposed to increase while we decrease. It’s when people look past us that they Christ in us, the source of our only true glory and our only true hope.