Posts Tagged 'spiritual strength'

Exceeding Abundantly Above, Part 6

Unlike this fellow, the believer's strength comes from God.

Unlike this fellow, the believer’s strength comes from God.

Thoro Harris was an amazing man who lived a fascinating life at a time when most black Americans didn’t. Born in 1874, Mr Harris would grow up to become not only one of the most prolific hymn and gospel song writers in American history– he wrote the lyrics for 587 songs, the music to 107 songs – but he was also a publisher of hymnals – publishing 16 hymnals. Oddly enough, even though we know him through his hymns, at the time he lived he seemed to earn a living selling books and handbooks door-to-door in Chicago, playing the organ in different churches, and he even bought a bed-and-breakfast, which he ran for some time, which is still in business today. You probably have some of Mr Harris’ hymns in your hymnal, and if you don’t, you probably sing some of his songs. He wrote “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” which has endured for generations and seen many incarnations, from his classic version to smooth jazz versions and even a beat-driven rock arrangement! But the lyrics to one of his hymns carries the thought behind this series, “Exceeding, abundantly above.”

Are you trusting Jesus,
All along the way?
Does He grow more precious
To your heart each day?
Are you His disciple?
Test His Word and see,
He will give the Spirit more abundantly.

For His matchless favor,
Magnify the name
Of our gracious Savior
Who from glory came;
Let the saints adore Him
For this wondrous Word,
Sealing our redemption thro’ the crimson flood.

Come to Him believing,
Hearken to His call;
All from Him receiving,
Yield to Him your all;
Jesus will accept you
When to Him you flee;
He will grant His blessing more abundantly.

More abundantly,
More abundantly,
That they might have life
And more abundantly;
More abundantly,
More abundantly,
That they might have life
And more abundantly.

“More abundantly.” That’s the only way God blesses His people. God does everything in a big way, including blessing us and answering our prayers. So far in this series, we’ve looked at five things God has done for us in a big, big way, “exceeding abundantly above” what we expected, according to Ephesians 3:20. They are:

• Romans 5:20 and Philippians 4:7. God has provided abundant grace to save us, which resulted in a life of abundant peace between God and man, and man and the world around him
• Isaiah 55:7 tells us that God has provided abundant pardon to forgive our sins and wash away our guilt.
• Psalm 36:8 speaks about God being our ultimate source of satisfaction.
• In John 10:10, Jesus talked about the kind of life that results in a personal relationship with Him: abundant life.
• Abundant joy was what Paul wrote about in Philippians 1:16. The joy that is available to any and all believers is objective – it doesn’t depend on your circumstances.

Whatever it is you need, God provides in absolute abundance. God is not a cosmic Scrooge who gives “just enough,” or “barely enough” of anything. Nor does any believer have to beg God for what he needs. Jesus talked about this many times during His earthly ministry, and one time He laid it on the line and said this:

“Ask, and you will be given what you ask for. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Anyone who seeks, finds. If only you will knock, the door will open. If a child asks his father for a loaf of bread, will he be given a stone instead? If he asks for fish, will he be given a poisonous snake? Of course not! And if you hard-hearted, sinful men know how to give good gifts to your children, won’t your Father in heaven even more certainly give good gifts to those who ask him for them? (Matthew 7:7 – 11 TLB)

In his letter to the church at Colosse, Paul wrote about another side to this “exceeding abundantly above” aspect of God’s character:

being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience… (Colossians 1:11. TNIV)

The word “abundance” isn’t in that verse, but the idea of abundance is – abundant power, which is available to any believer. Let’s take a look at this idea in context, and it all begins with a mixed up picture of Jesus.

A mixed up picture of Jesus

Paul, the man who wrote a joy-filled letter to the people in Philippi, wrote a serious letter of spiritual combat to his friends in Colosse:

I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. (Colossians 2:1. TNIV)

During this time, Paul was engaged in spiritual combat against one of the most formidable enemies of his life: Gnosticism. This was a strong, strange mixture of Jewish, Oriental, and Christian beliefs and practices. Paul didn’t call this weird religion “Gnosticism,” but that’s what we call it today and believe it or not, it’s alive and well in America and the Western church.

It’s a very subtle heresy that cleverly paints Jesus as not quite enough to be man’s Savior. It’s not that Gnosticism seeks to eliminate Jesus from the scene, but to say that you need a little more than just Jesus. Back in Paul’s day, Jesus was viewed by these heretics, not as the Son of God, but at a created being, greater than man but less than God. Today, in some churches, this element of Gnosticism isn’t taught or even believed, but the idea that He isn’t enough is. These churches today, like those of Paul’s day, stress the externals of religion – things like works of righteousness, ritualistic and repetitive observances, legalism, adherence to a list of do’s and don’t’s – plus Jesus Christ as the way of salvation.

To Paul, the notion that you need something in addition to Jesus to be saved and stay saved was unthinkable, and it should be to you too. This heresy ignores Paul’s firsthand knowledge:

I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:17, 18. TNIV)

That’s Jesus talking to Paul, and Jesus’ words bear witness to the truth: All anybody needs is Jesus; nothing and nobody else is needed. Man hates that, which is why the heresy of Gnosticism persists to this day. You’ll find virtually every denomination riddled with it. This dangerous heresy threatens the purity of the Christian faith and it was ripping the Colossian church apart at the seams. Paul took the matter in hand and met with Pastor Epaphras to deal with it. Among other things, he said this to the pastor:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form… (Colossians 2:8, 9. TNIV)

Did you catch what Paul thought was a threat to the church? Things like: “human tradition.” In other words, a church constitution and “books of order” which may have their place, should never take the place of the Word of God or get in the way of the work of saving souls. “Elemental spiritual forces of this world” is a mouthful, but whenever you hear about churches engaging in worldly pursuits, no matter how worthy those pursuits may be, those churches are dabbling in the “elemental spiritual forces of this world.” Jesus was not of the spirit of this world, and we shouldn’t be either. The church of Jesus Christ exists not sign up voters or raise money for a pet shelter or teach modern environmentalism, but to teach and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Period.

What the church needs

What the Colossian church needed, and indeed what we need today, are not new-fangled, hybrid philosophies of ancient heresies, but to live in the power of the God. This was the apostle’s prayer for his friends:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives… (Colossians 1:9 NIV)

Notice the very first thing Paul prayed that his friends would receive: knowledge. But not just any kind of knowledge. The Greek word used here is epignosis, which refers to a kind “super-duper knowledge.” This was what the false teachers claimed to have had, but Paul makes sure we understand that knowledge of the highest order is knowledge of God’s will and that only comes from the Holy Spirit – you can’t learn this kind of wisdom from a school or seminary, or from a Bible teacher or preacher. The wisest man on earth is the one who knows what God’s will is personally, and that can be any and every Christian because that is wisdom from the Spirit that dwells in all believers: the Holy Spirit.

Human wisdom – pagan wisdom – is ritualistic, legalistic, dealing in fantasies.

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. (Colossians 2:16 NIV)

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. (Colossians 2:18 NIV)

People have always been attracted to the bondage of false teachings and they inexplicably shy away from the freedom of the Spirit. Strange indeed.

…so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God… (Colossians 1:10 NIV)

Paul’s second request was that his Colossian friends should be pleasing to God. Now, that doesn’t mean what you may think it does. In the context of Paul’s reason for writing this letter, “pleasing God” means that they will stop bowing down before man – the false teachers – and trying to please them, but rather that they would pay attention to God’s will and obey that, even if it goes against what man says or wants.

His third request was that they “bear good fruit.” No Christian is mean to live a static life. We should be alive and vibrant and sharing their faith. Jesus is the Vine and we are the branches, meant to bring forth fruit. This is linked to the third petition: “growing in the knowledge of God.” There are no static Christians, either behaviorally or intellectually. We ought to be Christians all day, everywhere we go, not just when we’re in church or on Sunday’s. And our knowledge of God should be growing all the time, as we read, study, discuss, and live out the Word of God in our lives.

That brings us to Paul’s fifth request and our sixth “exceeding abundantly above” of this series:

being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience… (Colossians 1:11 NIV)

“Strength and power” in abundance, or as Paul put it here, “according to his glorious might,” is available to all believers. Just think about that for a moment. All the “strength and power” you’ll ever need is linked to God’s “glorious might.” Do you realize what that means? Spiritually speaking, you can be potentially as strong and powerful as your Heavenly Father! “Strength and power” are not ginned up in you; they come from the Holy Spirit in you.

And you’ll need that “strength and power” in order to live out your faith with “endurance and patience.” No Christian ever needs to be confused, depressed, discouraged, or discombobulated. We have access to the ultimate source of power that will keep us living on top of our circumstances, not under them.

In Paul’s brief prayer, look at the terms he used: “all wisdom and understanding,” “every good work,” “please Him in every way,” “all power,” “great endurance and patience.” What a breathtaking view of what the Christian life can be, if we would learn how to tap into the “exceeding abundantly above” promises of God!

REDEMPTION, PART 4

God Renews and Strengthens

Jesus Christ is our redeemer. But we were not redeemed just to save us from Hell. Christ’s redemption is not just for the future but for the here and now.

In 1 Corinthians 3:3, the apostle Paul makes a compelling statement:

You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?

The implications are startling. The unredeemed—the “worldly” as Paul calls them—are “mere men,” meaning by comparison the redeemed—Christians—are more than “mere men.” All human beings have limitations, but as Christians we are able to tap into a limitless spiritual reserve of power to help us live our lives in believers in an unbelieving world.

1. God is our strength, Isaiah 40:27—31; 41:8—10

a. Strength, 40:27—31

A common problem among the people of Isaiah’s day is a common problem among Christ’s people today: the perception that God is afar off. When injustice abounds and we are surrounded by trouble, it’s easy to forget the truth about God:

Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? (Isaiah 40:21)

This is God’s way of gently rebuking His children for not trusting in His sovereignty. God is supreme over all the earth, including all those who live on it. There is nothing that happens anywhere on the earth that goes unnoticed by the Lord. No human being is allowed to do anything not allowed by God. He alone has absolute control over human existence and there is no power in the universe that can challenge Him in this.

This is a truly majestic view of God, and such a magnificent God never fails to comfort His people. A series of questions and statements helps us grasp the grandeur of God and the strength that is ours through a relationship with Him:

Is our way hidden from God? (vs. 27, 28) If God knows, numbers, and shepherds the stars in the heavens, how can He not be mindful of His people? God’s children do not live at the whim of fate, nor are their rights disregarded. The fact is, God is an everlasting God who never sleeps and never lacks insight.

God’s strength is unfailing. (vs. 28b, 29) God upholds the stars but He also supports His weary people. He who is never weary has ample strength to share with those who need it.

God has unlimited insight. (vs. 28) No one can plum the depths of God’s understanding and knowledge. This reminds us of what James wrote:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)

God supplies supernatural strength. (vs. 30, 31) It’s natural to grow weary for all kinds of reasons. Even the strongest and most ambitious person will eventually grow old and get tired. But supernatural strength is reserved for God’s people, who are far more than just “mere men.” This super-charged, supernatural strength is available only to those who “hope in the Lord.” It doesn’t come automatically when you need it, it comes when you put your full hope and confidence in God to supply it. The context makes it clear that this strength is given for a purpose: to live a holy life for God.

b. God’s presence, 41:8—10

In the context of Isaiah, the election of Israel in the person of Abraham represents the pledge of its deliverance in the coming crisis. In Cyrus’ day, the people of Israel would be living in exile in Babylon, which itself was about to fall to Cyrus. God’s exiled people were filled with fear. This was perfectly natural, given their circumstances. But God gave them encouragement.

The most encouraging aspect of these verses is the persistent use of the personal pronoun “I” of God’s presence. God promises to do all kinds of things for His chosen people. Israel is referred to as God’s servant, which seems to indicate that this election was not to be an unconditional salvation but a special call to service. If this be true, then Israel, like believers, bear a responsibility:

Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall… (2 Peter 1:10)

But God’s presence is a guarantee that Israel, and believers today, will not fall. Strength comes from the divine presence.

2. Made righteous in Christ

a. It’s a gift, Romans 6:17—23

Before our redemption, we were slaves to sin. Our redemption freed us from that awful bondage. However, freedom from sin does not mean we are free to live as we please!

You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (verse 18)

We were once subjects of sin, but now we have become subjects of righteousness. This is a real paradox! We have been freed from sin and are now living in perfect freedom, able to serve righteousness. We are now able to live for God.

This is important because before we were redeemed, we were enslaved to sin and our wages would be death. But now, in our freedom we are made able to serve God in righteousness. And in return for our service, we are given, not wages earned, but a gift: eternal life.

b. It’s a life of righteousness, Colossians 3:1—8

As Paul makes clear to his friends in Colosse, the Christian life is a life “hidden with Christ in God,” but it is still a life lived out on earth, in front of everybody. So it’s important for the faithful believer to not only pay attention to his inner spiritual life, but also to his outward life as he seeks to clothe his faith in front of his fellow man.

Christians ought to live lives that reflect the grand spiritual reality of resurrection.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1, 2)

We have the promise of God’s help in living a righteous life, but we have a duty to “set our hearts on things above.” That means we ought to strive for heavenly things. The center of our lives, the focus of all we do, must be Christ and doing what brings Him glory. We are hidden in Christ—He is our safety and protection—but we must accurately represent Him on earth in our conduct, behavior, and attitudes.

3. Renewed in the inside

a. Renewed to reflect God’s image, Colossians 3:9, 10

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Living a righteous life means living a life that Christ would live if He were back on earth. One thing Christ wouldn’t do is lie. Grammatically, Paul tells his readers not to “lie to themselves,” suggesting that if you lie enough, pretty soon you won’t be able to tell the difference between the truth and a lie.

The “new self” is renewed “in [true] knowledge of its Creator.” The thought here is that the “new self” never grows old, tired, or bored, but is constantly renewed the more it learns of God. “Being renewed” is written in the present tense, meaning this spiritual renewal is constant and ongoing. It doesn’t happen at a meeting on Sunday night.

b. Renewed for glory, 2 Corinthians 4:16—18

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

It’s a fact of human life. Minutes after we are born, we begin to die. Life is the process of dying no matter how many pills you take, or how many greens you eat. Paul acknowledges this, but instead of declaring this truth in a defeatist, depressing manner, Paul is upbeat and positive! Yes, our bodies may be dying, but inside our spiritual self – our true self – is being renewed all the time. The weaker our physical beings become, the stronger our spiritual beings become. This is a profound thought. We are far more than what we can see with our eyes. Our essential person is the side of our being no man can see, and if you are a Christian, we have the promise that our essential person will never die, never grow old, never become weak or worn out.

In fact, according to Paul, God allows outward afflictions to do good things in our lives. It’s not that all problems are good, because very often our trials are the result of bad decisions we may have made. But there are things that happen to us for “no” apparent reason. When this occurs, we can be sure God is doing a work in us.

Paul gives believers a vital piece of advice: stop paying attention to what you can see. We are not to fix our constant attention on the things we can see around us. These are the things that are passing away. This includes our bodies, by the way. There is an obsession with health these days; just look at all the clinics and pharmacies in the average American town! But the Word advises us not to be overly concerned with things that are passing away. This, of course, does not mean that we shouldn’t try to live healthy lives. It’s hard to serve the Lord when you’re sick all the time, after all! But the point is, believers ought to be aware of their spiritual selves and the necessity of paying attention to it.

The truth is, everything changes in our world. Nothing ever stays the same. Cities change. Bodies change. The climate changes. Nothing stays the same or lasts forever. But we do, spiritually. So let’s pay attention to our new life, hidden in Christ. Let’s be aware of the special strength that is ours that enables us to live lives of righteousness that glorify God.


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