Thursday, December 29, 2011

Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 1

    1 Thessalonians 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. From Paul, Silas, and Timothy. To the church in Thessalonica, the people of God the Father and of the Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that God will be kind to you and will bless you with peace!
  2. We thank God for you and always mention you in our prayers. Each time we pray,
  3. we tell God our Father about your faith and loving work and about your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
  4. My dear friends, God loves you, and we know he has chosen you to be his people.
  5. When we told you the good news, it was with the power and assurance that come from the Holy Spirit, and not simply with words. You knew what kind of people we were and how we helped you.
  6. So, when you accepted the message, you followed our example and the example of the Lord. You suffered, but the Holy Spirit made you glad.
  7. You became an example for all the Lord's followers in Macedonia and Achaia.
  8. And because of you, the Lord's message has spread everywhere in those regions. Now the news of your faith in God is known all over the world, and we don't have to say a thing about it.
  9. Everyone is talking about how you welcomed us and how you turned away from idols to serve the true and living God.
  10. They also tell how you are waiting for his Son Jesus to come from heaven. God raised him from death, and on the day of judgment Jesus will save us from God's anger.

    The Christians in Thessalonica to whom this letter was addressed and sent had become "an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia." (1:7) But the testimony of their faith was not limited to the region of Macedonia and Achaia, but was known "in every place that your faith in God has gone out." (1:8) It might be assumed that the Thessalonian's great faith and testimony was largely due to a receptive environment to the gospel in which they lived and thus a freedom in which they could exercise their faith. But the opposite was true in their case and is most often the case.

    The Thessalonia Christians had not only received Christ but became imitators of Christ "in spite of severe persecution." (1:6) Those in the Thessalonica church who were Jews would have experienced the hatred of their unbelieving Jewish brothers, and those who were Gentiles would have had to go against the strong current of paganism in which they had grown up. But in spite of these obstacles it was with joy that they "welcomed the message." (1:6)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Reflections on Colossians 4

    Colossians 04 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Slave owners, be fair and honest with your slaves. Don't forget that you have a Master in heaven.
  2. Never give up praying. And when you pray, keep alert and be thankful.
  3. Be sure to pray that God will make a way for us to spread his message and explain the mystery about Christ, even though I am in jail for doing this.
  4. Please pray that I will make the message as clear as possible.
  5. When you are with unbelievers, always make good use of the time.
  6. Be pleasant and hold their interest when you speak the message. Choose your words carefully and be ready to give answers to anyone who asks questions.
  7. Tychicus is the dear friend, who faithfully works and serves the Lord with us, and he will give you the news about me.
  8. I am sending him to cheer you up by telling you how we are getting along.
  9. Onesimus, that dear and faithful follower from your own group, is coming with him. The two of them will tell you everything that has happened here.
  10. Aristarchus is in jail with me. He sends greetings to you, and so does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. You have already been told to welcome Mark, if he visits you.
  11. Jesus, who is known as Justus, sends his greetings. These three men are the only Jewish followers who have worked with me for the kingdom of God. They have given me much comfort.
  12. Your own Epaphras, who serves Christ Jesus, sends his greetings. He always prays hard that you may fully know what the Lord wants you to do and that you may do it completely.
  13. I have seen how much trouble he has gone through for you and for the followers in Laodicea and Hierapolis.
  14. Our dear doctor Luke sends you his greetings, and so does Demas.
  15. Give my greetings to the followers at Laodicea, especially to Nympha and the church that meets in her home.
  16. After this letter has been read to your people, be sure to have it read in the church at Laodicea. And you should read the letter that I have sent to them.
  17. Remind Archippus to do the work that the Lord has given him to do.
  18. I am signing this letter myself: PAUL. Don't forget that I am in jail. I pray that God will be kind to you.

    Paul completes his statements to Slaves and masters from chapter three in the first verse of this chapter by telling masters (or employers) to be fair with their slaves, providing them what is right. Whether or not the master is motivated to fairness out of concern for the slave, he should be motivated because he too has a "Master in heaven" who he wants to be fair with him. A further thought that Paul doesn't mention in this letter but does in others is that the Christian slave and Christian master both serve the same heavenly Master making them brothers in Christ. This should be a further motivation to fairness.

    Paul then turned to the subject of prayer, instructing the Colossians to "Devote yourselves to prayer." (4:2) Not only should they devote themselves to prayer but they should be vigilant in it, or as Paul says, "stay alert in it." Prayer is the means by which the Christian remains attached to his source of strength. Jesus used the illustration of branches attached to a vine. As long as they remained attached they were healthy and produced fruit, but cut off from the vine they died. Then He said, "I am the vine; you are the branches." (John 15:5) Jesus is the Christian's vine to which he must remain attached through prayer. Paul encouraged the Colossians to devote themselves to prayer not only for their own benefit, but also that "God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah." (4:3) So prayer works beyond oneself to influence the world around him.

    As was his practice, Paul concluded the letter with greetings and a blessing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Reflections on Colossians 3

    Colossians 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. You have been raised to life with Christ. Now set your heart on what is in heaven, where Christ rules at God's right side.
  2. Think about what is up there, not about what is here on earth.
  3. You died, which means that your life is hidden with Christ, who sits beside God.
  4. Christ gives meaning to your life, and when he appears, you will also appear with him in glory.
  5. Don't be controlled by your body. Kill every desire for the wrong kind of sex. Don't be immoral or indecent or have evil thoughts. Don't be greedy, which is the same as worshiping idols.
  6. God is angry with people who disobey him by doing these things.
  7. And that is exactly what you did, when you lived among people who behaved in this way.
  8. But now you must stop doing such things. You must quit being angry, hateful, and evil. You must no longer say insulting or cruel things about others.
  9. And stop lying to each other. You have given up your old way of life with its habits.
  10. Each of you is now a new person. You are becoming more and more like your Creator, and you will understand him better.
  11. It doesn't matter if you are a Greek or a Jew, or if you are circumcised or not. You may even be a barbarian or a Scythian, and you may be a slave or a free person. Yet Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
  12. God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient.
  13. Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you.
  14. Love is more important than anything else. It is what ties everything completely together.
  15. Each one of you is part of the body of Christ, and you were chosen to live together in peace. So let the peace that comes from Christ control your thoughts. And be grateful.
  16. Let the message about Christ completely fill your lives, while you use all your wisdom to teach and instruct each other. With thankful hearts, sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.
  17. Whatever you say or do should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks to God the Father because of him.
  18. A wife must put her husband first. This is her duty as a follower of the Lord.
  19. A husband must love his wife and not abuse her.
  20. Children must always obey their parents. This pleases the Lord.
  21. Parents, don't be hard on your children. If you are, they might give up.
  22. Slaves, you must always obey your earthly masters. Try to please them at all times, and not just when you think they are watching. Honor the Lord and serve your masters with your whole heart.
  23. Do your work willingly, as though you were serving the Lord himself, and not just your earthly master.
  24. In fact, the Lord Christ is the one you are really serving, and you know that he will reward you.
  25. But Christ has no favorites! He will punish evil people, just as they deserve.

    Paul gave practical instructions for how a Christian should conduct himself at home and at work. However, it first needed to be set in the context of a Christian's new nature in Christ. A Christian is not one who has taken vows of membership in an exclusive club with certain privileges while his life otherwise remains the same. The one who has received Christ by faith is a new creation. The old person and its nature have died and the nature of Christ becomes the new nature of the believer. Therefore, Paul tells the Colossian Christians to "Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth." (3:2) This is because they "have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God." (3:3) It is not that they were to live as if they don't belong in this world but to live according to their new nature which is in Christ and has its basis in heaven.

    This being the case, they were to wrap their minds around this new reality in which the old nature had been put to death along with Christ's death on the cross by mentally putting it to death. This meant also putting to death the behaviors of that old nature which includes "sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry." (3:5) The Colossians may have naturally understood that these behaviors should not belong to their new lifestyle, but to these Paul added other behaviors that are a part of the old nature but not of the new nature, and those are "anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language." (3:8) These may not have been as obvious in the minds of the Colossians. The new man with his new nature is continually being "renewed in knowledge according to the image of his Creator." Therefore, the new nature or image of the Christian should be that of our Creator. In other words, the goal that Christ has made possible for us is to be what God created us to be when He made us in His image. This includes becoming, as was His intent, one creation undivided by national, religious, cultural, or social distinctions. Christ should become "all and in all." (3:11)

    As a new creation made in God's image, the believer in Christ exhibits new qualities in place of the old. Therefore, anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language are replaced by "heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." (3:12) Furthermore, we are to be "accepting (of) one another and forgiving one another." (3:13) And all of this is to be cloaked in love which is "the perfect bond of unity." (2:14) In short, we are to "do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." (3:17)

    When we are exhibiting this new nature with these new qualities, what will it look like in real life? Paul gives an example of it at work in the home and in the work place. This is a good place to start since these are where much of our lives are lived and since this new nature will not likely be exhibited at all if not at home or at work. In the home, the wife will cooperate with the order of creation in which the woman was made for man with him as her head by being submissive to her husband. However, Paul placed the limit on this submissiveness to be that which "is fitting in the Lord." The basis of the wife's submission to her husband is her submission to the Lord. So she is first in submission to the Lord. Therefore, her submission to her husband should not conflict with her submission to the Lord. Next, the husband is to love his wife and not treat her in a way that will embitter her. Then the children are to obey their parents in everything which is pleasing to the Lord. Conversely, disobedience to parents is said in the Old Testament to be rebellion against God.  Finally, slaves are to obey their human masters in everything and work wholeheartedly out of respect or fear of the Lord whether or not it comes from respect for the master or boss. Respecting the master is not the condition for obedience or wholehearted work, but rather respect for the Lord. All of this should be read by the present-day Christian as applying to their place of work.

    Though the home and work are used as examples by Paul, he goes on to say that "whatever" we do should be done "enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men." (3:23)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Reflections on Colossians 2

    Colossians 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I want you to know what a struggle I am going through for you, for God's people at Laodicea, and for all of those followers who have never met me.
  2. I do it to encourage them. Then as their hearts are joined together in love, they will be wonderfully blessed with complete understanding. And they will truly know Christ. Not only is he the key to God's mystery,
  3. but all wisdom and knowledge are hidden away in him.
  4. I tell you these things to keep you from being fooled by fancy talk.
  5. Even though I am not with you, I keep thinking about you. I am glad to know that you are living as you should and that your faith in Christ is strong.
  6. You have accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord. Now keep on following him.
  7. Plant your roots in Christ and let him be the foundation for your life. Be strong in your faith, just as you were taught. And be grateful.
  8. Don't let anyone fool you by using senseless arguments. These arguments may sound wise, but they are only human teachings. They come from the powers of this world and not from Christ.
  9. God lives fully in Christ.
  10. And you are fully grown because you belong to Christ, who is over every power and authority.
  11. Christ has also taken away your selfish desires, just as circumcision removes flesh from the body.
  12. And when you were baptized, it was the same as being buried with Christ. Then you were raised to life because you had faith in the power of God, who raised Christ from death.
  13. You were dead, because you were sinful and were not God's people. But God let Christ make you alive, when he forgave all our sins.
  14. God wiped out the charges that were against us for disobeying the Law of Moses. He took them away and nailed them to the cross.
  15. There Christ defeated all powers and forces. He let the whole world see them being led away as prisoners when he celebrated his victory.
  16. Don't let anyone tell you what you must eat or drink. Don't let them say that you must celebrate the New Moon festival, the Sabbath, or any other festival.
  17. These things are only a shadow of what was to come. But Christ is real!
  18. Don't be cheated by people who make a show of acting humble and who worship angels. They brag about seeing visions. But it is all nonsense, because their minds are filled with selfish desires.
  19. They are no longer part of Christ, who is the head of the whole body. Christ gives the body its strength, and he uses its joints and muscles to hold it together, as it grows by the power of God.
  20. You died with Christ. Now the forces of the universe don't have any power over you. Why do you live as if you had to obey such rules as,
  21. "Don't handle this. Don't taste that. Don't touch this."?
  22. After these things are used, they are no longer good for anything. So why be bothered with the rules that humans have made up?
  23. Obeying these rules may seem to be the smart thing to do. They appear to make you love God more and to be very humble and to have control over your body. But they don't really have any power over our desires.

    Paul comes directly to the issue at hand: the presence of false teaching among, but not from, the Colossian Christians. It was a teaching that developed out of Judaism becoming what eventually is known as Gnosticism. It stressed observance of Old Testament laws and ceremonies, emphasized a special knowledge, involved worship of angels, stressed a special privilege for those who belonged to this philosophical elite, but included a teaching of Christ. However, it denied Christ's deity.

    It does not appear that the Colossians had yet embraced this false teaching and this letter from Paul was aimed at exposing the folly of the teaching and at furthering their understanding of true Christianity. Paul, in fact, spoke of his "rejoicing to see your good order and the strength of your faith in Christ." (2:5) And so he encouraged them to continue walking in Christ in the same manner in which they received Him and not be taken captive "through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ." (2:8) This is a good test of true Christian teaching. Any teaching not based on Christ is false even if it includes Christ. It is based on Christ if He is seen as the embodiment of "the entire fullness of God's nature." Nothing less will do. Nor will anything in addition to Christ be acceptable. It is not Christ plus circumcision or Christ plus special observances either of food and drink or of festivals or a sabbath day. It is Christ alone. Everything else that comes from Old Testament practice is only "a shadow of what was to come." The substance of what they alluded to is the Messiah." (2:17) Since we now have the Messiah we don't need these other things. He alone is sufficient.

    Therefore, the Colossians should "let no one disqualify" them as true Christians or from being truly spiritual by "insisting on ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm and inflated without cause by his fleshly mind." (2:18) "All these regulations" are "human commands and doctrines." Though they "have a reputation of wisdom . . . they are not of any value against fleshly indulgence." (2:22, 23) Only Christ can free us from the enslavement of sin.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Reflections on Colossians 1

    Colossians 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. From Paul, chosen by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from Timothy, who is also a follower.
  2. To God's people who live in Colossae and are faithful followers of Christ. I pray that God our Father will be kind to you and will bless you with peace!
  3. Each time we pray for you, we thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  4. We have heard of your faith in Christ and of your love for all of God's people,
  5. because what you hope for is kept safe for you in heaven. You first heard about this hope when you believed the true message, which is the good news.
  6. The good news is spreading all over the world with great success. It has spread in that same way among you, ever since the first day you learned the truth about God's wonderful kindness
  7. from our good friend Epaphras. He works together with us for Christ and is a faithful worker for you.
  8. He is also the one who told us about the love that God's Spirit has given you.
  9. We have not stopped praying for you since the first day we heard about you. In fact, we always pray that God will show you everything he wants you to do and that you may have all the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives.
  10. Then you will live a life that honors the Lord, and you will always please him by doing good deeds. You will come to know God even better.
  11. His glorious power will make you patient and strong enough to endure anything, and you will be truly happy.
  12. I pray that you will be grateful to God for letting you have part in what he has promised his people in the kingdom of light.
  13. God rescued us from the dark power of Satan and brought us into the kingdom of his dear Son,
  14. who forgives our sins and sets us free.
  15. Christ is exactly like God, who cannot be seen. He is the first-born Son, superior to all creation.
  16. Everything was created by him, everything in heaven and on earth, everything seen and unseen, including all forces and powers, and all rulers and authorities. All things were created by God's Son, and everything was made for him.
  17. God's Son was before all else, and by him everything is held together.
  18. He is the head of his body, which is the church. He is the very beginning, the first to be raised from death, so that he would be above all others.
  19. God himself was pleased to live fully in his Son.
  20. And God was pleased for him to make peace by sacrificing his blood on the cross, so that all beings in heaven and on earth would be brought back to God.
  21. You used to be far from God. Your thoughts made you his enemies, and you did evil things.
  22. But his Son became a human and died. So God made peace with you, and now he lets you stand in his presence as people who are holy and faultless and innocent.
  23. But you must stay deeply rooted and firm in your faith. You must not give up the hope you received when you heard the good news. It was preached to everyone on earth, and I myself have become a servant of this message.
  24. I am glad that I can suffer for you. I am pleased also that in my own body I can continue the suffering of Christ for his body, the church.
  25. God's plan was to make me a servant of his church and to send me to preach his complete message to you.
  26. For ages and ages this message was kept secret from everyone, but now it has been explained to God's people.
  27. God did this because he wanted you Gentiles to understand his wonderful and glorious mystery. And the mystery is that Christ lives in you, and he is your hope of sharing in God's glory.
  28. We announce the message about Christ, and we use all our wisdom to warn and teach everyone, so that all of Christ's followers will grow and become mature.
  29. That's why I work so hard and use the mighty power he gives me.

    The Colossian church was evidently not one of the churches started by Paul but was instead started by Epaphras who served with Paul. In this first chapter of his letter to the Colossian church, Paul gives instruction regarding characteristics of a life pleasing to God along with an unprecedented listing of the characteristics of Christ.

    Paul prayed for the Colossians that they might "walk worthy of the Lord" and be "fully pleasing to Him." (1:10) A life fully pleasing to God will have these characteristics: bear fruit in every good work, grow in the knowledge of God, be strengthened with all power, and with joy give thanks to God. (1:10-12) God has rescued us from "the domain of darkness" that we might live this life which is "in the light." In rescuing us from the domain of darkness, He "transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves."  In Him we have "redemption, the forgiveness of sins." Too many have accepted this redemption and forgiveness of sins without thought concerning the life we are meant to live as a result of our redemption. We are rescued from darkness that we might live in light.

    Concerning God's Son, Christ Jesus, who has made possible our redemption, He is: (1) the image of God, (2) the Firstborn over Creation, (3) Creator of the universe, (4) Head of the church, (5) Firstborn from the dead, (6) the fullness of God, and (7) the Reconciler of all things. This is the most complete listing of Christ's characteristics found in scripture. This is who Christ is apart from His incarnation when He became the man, Jesus, who walked the earth. It gives us a perspective of His humility in "assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men." (Philippians 2:7) Having come as a man, He became "obedient to the point of death - even to death on a cross." (Philippians 2:8)

    Despite Christ's standing in all of these characteristics, the Colossians "were once alienated and hostile in mind" to Christ because of their evil actions. (1:21) This is true not only of the Colossians, but of all people until they come to faith in Christ. But through His death, and our faith in Him, He has "reconciled you" to God. It worthy of note that we are reconciled to God and not God to us. It is our sin that separate us from God, not God, who through any action has separated Himself from us. His desire and purpose in creating man was and is to have fellowship with all people. It was His provision, through Christ, that has made possible this fellowship which is otherwise broken due to our sin.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Reflections on Philippians 4

    Philippians 04 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Dear friends, I love you and long to see you. Please keep on being faithful to the Lord. You are my pride and joy.
  2. Euodia and Syntyche, you belong to the Lord, so I beg you to stop arguing with each other.
  3. And, my true partner, I ask you to help them. These women have worked together with me and with Clement and with the others in spreading the good news. Their names are now written in the book of life.
  4. Always be glad because of the Lord! I will say it again: Be glad.
  5. Always be gentle with others. The Lord will soon be here.
  6. Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God.
  7. Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel.
  8. Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don't ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.
  9. You know the teachings I gave you, and you know what you heard me say and saw me do. So follow my example. And God, who gives peace, will be with you.
  10. The Lord has made me very grateful that at last you have thought about me once again. Actually, you were thinking about me all along, but you didn't have any chance to show it.
  11. I am not complaining about having too little. I have learned to be satisfied with whatever I have.
  12. I know what it is to be poor or to have plenty, and I have lived under all kinds of conditions. I know what it means to be full or to be hungry, to have too much or too little.
  13. Christ gives me the strength to face anything.
  14. It was good of you to help me when I was having such a hard time.
  15. My friends at Philippi, you remember what it was like when I started preaching the good news in Macedonia. After I left there, you were the only church that became my partner by giving blessings and by receiving them in return.
  16. Even when I was in Thessalonica, you helped me more than once.
  17. I am not trying to get something from you, but I want you to receive the blessings that come from giving.
  18. I have been paid back everything, and with interest. I am completely satisfied with the gifts that you had Epaphroditus bring me. They are like a sweet-smelling offering or like the right kind of sacrifice that pleases God.
  19. I pray that God will take care of all your needs with the wonderful blessings that come from Christ Jesus!
  20. May God our Father be praised forever and ever. Amen.
  21. Give my greetings to all who are God's people because of Christ Jesus. The Lord's followers here with me send you their greetings.
  22. All of God's people send their greetings, especially those in the service of the Emperor.
  23. I pray that our Lord Jesus Christ will be kind to you and will bless your life!

    Paul's tone throughout this letter shows a special affection for the Philippian Christians and we get a hint in this last chapter of a significant reason. Throughout Paul's hardships in the "early days of the gospel . . . no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you alone." (4:15) They were also one of the more spiritually mature churches among those resulting from Paul's ministry. But they were not perfect. Chapter two points to some selfishness among the members, and now in chapter four Paul addresses a contention between two women in the church. These women, Euodia and Syntyche, had "contended for the gospel" at Paul's side, but now they were contending with each other. In Paul's concern for them he asked an unidentified person whom he addressed as "true partner" or "loyal yokefellow" to help these women.

    Beyond his concern for the contending women in the church, Paul gave words of encouragement. First he says, "stand firm in the Lord" and then "rejoice in the Lord always." (4:1, 4) Keeping centered on the Lord helps to put everything else in its proper perspective. Whether it be interpersonal relationships or threats to the gospel, keeping focused on Christ is the best solution. We see this in his next word of encouragement, "Let your graciousness be known toeveryone." Why? "The Lord is near." (4:5) If the fruit of Christ's Spirit is produced in us, we will display graciousness rather than contentiousness.

    Paul's next words of encouragement aim to keep them from worry. "Don't worry about anything," he tells them. The solution is prayer through which they should make their petitions and requests "made known to God." (4:6) Excessive worry is not fitting for a Christian. It shows a lack of faith or trust or at least a failure to grasp the extent of God's love. Our worry displays our fear that whatever problem or threat we face will not be taken care of by God. This is either because we don't trust that He can handle it or we doubt He cares enough to do so. But Paul is saying that when we take our petitions and requests to God in prayer we don't have a reason to worry. Thus we can trust both that He is able and that He wants to address our concerns.

    Paul's final word of encouragement is to let their thoughts dwell only on those things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. Only these thoughts will lead to peace. It is this type of mindset they have "learned and received and heard and seen" in Paul. If they will "dwell on these things," the "God of peace will be with you." (4:9)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reflections on Philippians 3

    Philippians 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Finally, my dear friends, be glad that you belong to the Lord. It doesn't bother me to write the same things to you that I have written before. In fact, it is for your own good.
  2. Watch out for those people who behave like dogs! They are evil and want to do more than just circumcise you.
  3. But we are the ones who are truly circumcised, because we worship by the power of God's Spirit and take pride in Christ Jesus. We don't brag about what we have done,
  4. although I could. Others may brag about themselves, but I have more reason to brag than anyone else.
  5. I was circumcised when I was eight days old, and I am from the nation of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin. I am a true Hebrew. As a Pharisee, I strictly obeyed the Law of Moses.
  6. And I was so eager that I even made trouble for the church. I did everything the Law demands in order to please God.
  7. But Christ has shown me that what I once thought was valuable is worthless.
  8. Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ
  9. and to know that I belong to him. I could not make myself acceptable to God by obeying the Law of Moses. God accepted me simply because of my faith in Christ.
  10. All I want is to know Christ and the power that raised him to life. I want to suffer and die as he did,
  11. so that somehow I also may be raised to life.
  12. I have not yet reached my goal, and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running and struggling to take hold of the prize.
  13. My friends, I don't feel that I have already arrived. But I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead.
  14. I run toward the goal, so that I can win the prize of being called to heaven. This is the prize that God offers because of what Christ Jesus has done.
  15. All of us who are mature should think in this same way. And if any of you think differently, God will make it clear to you.
  16. But we must keep going in the direction that we are now headed.
  17. My friends, I want you to follow my example and learn from others who closely follow the example we set for you.
  18. I often warned you that many people are living as enemies of the cross of Christ. And now with tears in my eyes, I warn you again
  19. that they are headed for hell! They worship their stomachs and brag about the disgusting things they do. All they can think about are the things of this world.
  20. But we are citizens of heaven and are eagerly waiting for our Savior to come from there. Our Lord Jesus Christ
  21. has power over everything, and he will make these poor bodies of ours like his own glorious body.

    Paul, in chapter three, holds before the Philippian Christians the proper target at which they should aim. First, however, he tells them at which target not to aim. This target is fleshly attainment. It was the target of which the judaizers were boasting. With strong words, Paul denounced them as "dogs," evil workers, and those "who mutilate the flesh." Though they boasted of being the "circumcision," Paul told his readers that they are the true "circumcision" who "serve by the Spirit of God." Therefore, he said, "boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh." (3:3)

    If fleshly attainment were the proper target, Paul had the judaizers outstripped: "circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, persecuting the church; as to the righteousness that is in the law, blameless." (3:5-6) Few of the judaizers could boast of anything near Paul's attainment. But Paul told the Philippians that this is not the proper target. He considered all of this "a loss because of Christ." (3:7)

    What, then, is the proper target at which to aim? It is "God's heavenly call in Christ Jesus." (3:14) This is the prize Paul had set as his goal - to be like Christ. This is the mark of spiritual maturity, and "all who are mature should think this way." (3:15) Paul could legitimately encourage the Philippians to "join in imitating me," for what they would be imitating was he goal of becoming like Christ. To put it in perspective, he pointed out that their citizenship was now in heaven. As such, things of the flesh do not have the significance as "God's heavenly call in Christ Jesus." Thus, this should be their target rather than aiming for fleshly accomplishments. One day our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, will come and "will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subject everything to Himself." (3:21)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reflections on Philippians 2

    Philippians 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Christ encourages you, and his love comforts you. God's Spirit unites you, and you are concerned for others.
  2. Now make me completely happy! Live in harmony by showing love for each other. Be united in what you think, as if you were only one person.
  3. Don't be jealous or proud, but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves.
  4. Care about them as much as you care about yourselves
  5. and think the same way that Christ Jesus thought:
  6. Christ was truly God. But he did not try to remain equal with God.
  7. Instead he gave up everything and became a slave, when he became like one of us.
  8. Christ was humble. He obeyed God and even died on a cross.
  9. Then God gave Christ the highest place and honored his name above all others.
  10. So at the name of Jesus everyone will bow down, those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.
  11. And to the glory of God the Father everyone will openly agree, "Jesus Christ is Lord!"
  12. My dear friends, you always obeyed when I was with you. Now that I am away, you should obey even more. So work with fear and trembling to discover what it really means to be saved.
  13. God is working in you to make you willing and able to obey him.
  14. Do everything without grumbling or arguing.
  15. Then you will be the pure and innocent children of God. You live among people who are crooked and evil, but you must not do anything that they can say is wrong. Try to shine as lights among the people of this world,
  16. as you hold firmly to the message that gives life. Then on the day when Christ returns, I can take pride in you. I can also know that my work and efforts were not useless.
  17. Your faith in the Lord and your service are like a sacrifice offered to him. And my own blood may have to be poured out with the sacrifice. If this happens, I will be glad and rejoice with you.
  18. In the same way, you should be glad and rejoice with me.
  19. I want to be encouraged by news about you. So I hope the Lord Jesus will soon let me send Timothy to you.
  20. I don't have anyone else who cares about you as much as he does.
  21. The others think only about what interests them and not about what concerns Christ Jesus.
  22. But you know what kind of person Timothy is. He has worked with me like a son in spreading the good news.
  23. I hope to send him to you, as soon as I find out what is going to happen to me.
  24. And I feel sure that the Lord will also let me come soon.
  25. I think I ought to send my dear friend Epaphroditus back to you. He is a follower and a worker and a soldier of the Lord, just as I am. You sent him to look after me,
  26. but now he is eager to see you. He is worried, because you heard he was sick.
  27. In fact, he was very sick and almost died. But God was kind to him, and also to me, and he kept me from being burdened down with sorrow.
  28. Now I am more eager than ever to send Epaphroditus back again. You will be glad to see him, and I won't have to worry any longer.
  29. Be sure to give him a cheerful welcome, just as people who serve the Lord deserve.
  30. He almost died working for Christ, and he risked his own life to do for me what you could not.

    In the reflections for chapter one I stated that the Philippians were a more spiritually mature group than some of the other churches to whom Paul wrote. Even so, they were not without their faults, nor are any of us. A fault Paul addressed in chapter two was that of selfishness. In particular, those guilty of this fault focused more on themselves than on others. If individuals are focused more on themselves than on others they will not have a love for the same things, their thinking will be divided, and they will not have a common purpose. None of these are possible because their love and thoughts and purpose is more on themselves. There can be no commonality in this. Thus, Paul encouraged them to bring him joy by "thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal." (2:2) Their self-centeredness was leading instead to rivalry.

    Rather than conceit Paul admonished them to have humility. Actions motivated from conceit lead to rivalry. Those from humility lead to considering "others as more important than yourselves." (2:3) A common idea of humility is to refrain from speaking too highly or too much of oneself. This tends to be a false humility, though. Paul defined humility as considering "others as more important than yourselves." This is very different than refraining from boasting. It changes not only our selfish actions but also our selfish attitude.

    The truest example of humility is Christ. If anyone ever had a reason to think more highly of themselves than of others, it was the One who was and is equal with God. But rather than using this to His own advantage, Christ "emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men." (2:7) And it goes further. His humility extended to the "point of death - even death on a cross," considering the needs of others more important than His own life. If one wishes to be exalted, let it come from God who will exalt them for their humility toward others rather than from self exaltation. But Christ, who is the supreme example of humility, will also be supremely exalted to the point that one day, "every knee should bow--of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth--and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (2:10-11)

    In addition to his admonishment toward humility, Paul further admonished them to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Notice he did not say "work FOR your salvation," but "work OUT your salvation." This is another way of telling them to put their salvation into action. Through God's enabling, they will both "will" and "act" for "His good purpose."

Monday, December 19, 2011

Reflections on Philippians 1

    Philippians 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. From Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus. To all of God's people who belong to Christ Jesus at Philippi and to all of your church officials and officers.
  2. I pray that God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ will be kind to you and will bless you with peace!
  3. Every time I think of you, I thank my God.
  4. And whenever I mention you in my prayers, it makes me happy.
  5. This is because you have taken part with me in spreading the good news from the first day you heard about it.
  6. God is the one who began this good work in you, and I am certain that he won't stop before it is complete on the day that Christ Jesus returns.
  7. You have a special place in my heart. So it is only natural for me to feel the way I do. All of you have helped in the work that God has given me, as I defend the good news and tell about it here in jail.
  8. God himself knows how much I want to see you. He knows that I care for you in the same way that Christ Jesus does.
  9. I pray that your love will keep on growing and that you will fully know and understand
  10. how to make the right choices. Then you will still be pure and innocent when Christ returns. And until that day,
  11. Jesus Christ will keep you busy doing good deeds that bring glory and praise to God.
  12. My dear friends, I want you to know that what has happened to me has helped to spread the good news.
  13. The Roman guards and all the others know that I am here in jail because I serve Christ.
  14. Now most of the Lord's followers have become brave and are fearlessly telling the message.
  15. Some are preaching about Christ because they are jealous and envious of us. Others are preaching because they want to help.
  16. They love Christ and know that I am here to defend the good news about him.
  17. But the ones who are jealous of us are not sincere. They just want to cause trouble for me while I am in jail.
  18. But that doesn't matter. All that matters is that people are telling about Christ, whether they are sincere or not. That is what makes me glad. I will keep on being glad,
  19. because I know that your prayers and the help that comes from the Spirit of Christ Jesus will keep me safe.
  20. I honestly expect and hope that I will never do anything to be ashamed of. Whether I live or die, I always want to be as brave as I am now and bring honor to Christ.
  21. If I live, it will be for Christ, and if I die, I will gain even more.
  22. I don't know what to choose. I could keep on living and doing something useful.
  23. It is a hard choice to make. I want to die and be with Christ, because that would be much better.
  24. But I know that all of you still need me. That's why I am sure I will stay on to help you grow and be happy in your faith.
  25. (SEE 1:24)
  26. Then, when I visit you again, you will have good reason to take great pride in Christ Jesus because of me.
  27. Above all else, you must live in a way that brings honor to the good news about Christ. Then, whether I visit you or not, I will hear that all of you think alike. I will know that you are working together and that you are struggling side by side to get others to believe the good news.
  28. Be brave when you face your enemies. Your courage will show them that they are going to be destroyed, and it will show you that you will be saved. God will make all of this happen,
  29. and he has blessed you. Not only do you have faith in Christ, but you suffer for him.
  30. You saw me suffer, and you still hear about my troubles. Now you must suffer in the same way.

    The opening of Paul's letter to the Christians in Philippi reveals a more spiritually mature group than his letters to the Galatians or Corinthians, or even the Ephesians. While these other groups were in a struggle for their faith, being pulled away from it by Judaistic infiltrators who wanted to impose upon them legalistic practice of the law in addition to their faith in Christ, the Phillipians were evidently solid enough in their faith that Paul felt it had been given to them to suffer for Christ. (1:29) He spoke of this as a sign of God's favor rather than of His disfavor. In addition, Paul expressed confidence that the work God had begun in them would be brought to completion.

    Paul was in prison, likely in Rome, at the writing of this letter and wanted to assure the Philippians that his imprisonment served a good purpose and not his detriment. Though he had been imprisoned to stop his preaching it had the opposite affect. He continued to preach, or bear witness to Christ, in prison and its impact was further reaching than before. It allowed him to share Christ with the imperial guard assigned to him plus it gave confidence to other Christian brothers in the area to "speak the message fearlessly." (1:14) True, not all who were emboldened to speak the message did so out of pure motives, but "whether out of false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed." (1:18)

    It was possible that Paul's imprisonment could lead to his death. But again, he did not want the Philippians to be concerned. His concern was not that he might die but that in his death he not "be ashamed about anything." Rather, his hope was that "Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death." (1:20) It was not dying that concerned him, for to him, "dying is gain." His concern was that in the process of dying he might not endure it in a way that brought glory to Christ. In truth, he was torn. In death he would be with Christ, but in living he could better serve the Philippians. In the midst of expressing his thoughts of being torn he seemed to receive confidence that this imprisonment would not lead to his death, "Since I am persuaded of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your advancement and joy in the faith." (1:25)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Reflections on Ephesians 6

    Ephesians 06 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Children, you belong to the Lord, and you do the right thing when you obey your parents. The first commandment with a promise says,
  2. "Obey your father and your mother,
  3. and you will have a long and happy life."
  4. Parents, don't be hard on your children. Raise them properly. Teach them and instruct them about the Lord.
  5. Slaves, you must obey your earthly masters. Show them great respect and be as loyal to them as you are to Christ.
  6. Try to please them at all times, and not just when you think they are watching. You are slaves of Christ, so with your whole heart you must do what God wants you to do.
  7. Gladly serve your masters, as though they were the Lord himself, and not simply people.
  8. You know that you will be rewarded for any good things you do, whether you are slaves or free.
  9. Slave owners, you must treat your slaves with this same respect. Don't threaten them. They have the same Master in heaven that you do, and he doesn't have any favorites.
  10. Finally, let the mighty strength of the Lord make you strong.
  11. Put on all the armor that God gives, so you can defend yourself against the devil's tricks.
  12. We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world.
  13. So put on all the armor that God gives. Then when that evil day comes, you will be able to defend yourself. And when the battle is over, you will still be standing firm.
  14. Be ready! Let the truth be like a belt around your waist, and let God's justice protect you like armor.
  15. Your desire to tell the good news about peace should be like shoes on your feet.
  16. Let your faith be like a shield, and you will be able to stop all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
  17. Let God's saving power be like a helmet, and for a sword use God's message that comes from the Spirit.
  18. Never stop praying, especially for others. Always pray by the power of the Spirit. Stay alert and keep praying for God's people.
  19. Pray that I will be given the message to speak and that I may fearlessly explain the mystery about the good news.
  20. I was sent to do this work, and that's the reason I am in jail. So pray that I will be brave and will speak as I should.
  21. I want you to know how I am getting along and what I am doing. That's why I am sending Tychicus to you. He is a dear friend, as well as a faithful servant of the Lord. He will tell you how I am doing, and he will cheer you up.
  22. (SEE 6:21)
  23. I pray that God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ will give peace, love, and faith to every follower!
  24. May God be kind to everyone who keeps on loving our Lord Jesus Christ.

    In the previous chapter Paul began an example of Christians walking in love through mutual submission in their relationships. The first relationship he discussed in that chapter was that of husband and wife. This chapter discusses two other relationships: parent and child and master and slave.

    Mutual submission in these relationships is based, first of all, on one's service to the Lord. Therefore, children are to obey their parents "in the Lord." Furthermore, it is right for them to do so and it is a commandment with promise. The promise is "that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land." (6:3) Paul's word to parents is directed specifically to fathers who had the legal responsibility in his day with the training of the children. Fathers were not to provoke their children to anger and to "bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." (6:4) Paul is addressing Christians with instructions that could only apply to Christians. Those who are not already in service to the Lord, and thus believers, would not be motivated by mutual submission to another as service to the Lord.

    As for the third relationship, that of master and slave, Paul's instruction was again for mutual submission. Slaves were to obey their masters and masters were to "treat them in the same way," that is with respect, recognizing that they both had the same Master who is in heaven. Master in heaven will act justly with both slave and master, rewarding where reward is due. Both slave and master were to treat the other with respect out of service to Christ. Though many are critical of Paul for not denouncing slavery, he served slaves better by giving instructions that would improve their lot, both in the present and the future. In the present their lives would be peaceful and they would be treated well, and in the future they would have the Lord's reward. Denouncing slavery would only incite them to rebellion against a system that would not be changed in their lifetime. Paul's mission was primarily to change hearts through the gospel which would eventually have its impact on culture.

    Paul then gave instructions for Christian perseverance. To persevere, the Christian needs "the full armor of God" which will enable him to "stand against the tactics of the Devil." (6:11) At issue is more than good intentions or self-discipline or personal effort because the "battle is not against flesh and blood." (6:12) The Christian is up against "the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens" (6:12) which takes the matter of perseverence beyond the abilities of the individual in his own effort. The armor of God includes __ pieces of defensive gear and one offensive piece. For defensive purposes, the Christian needs the belt of truth, the armor of righteousness, the sandals of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation. For offensive purposes he needs the "sword of the Spirit, which is God's word." (6:17) All of this should be enfolded in "pray at all times in the Spirit." (6:18)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Reflections on Ephesians 5

    Ephesians 05 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Do as God does. After all, you are his dear children.
  2. Let love be your guide. Christ loved us and offered his life for us as a sacrifice that pleases God.
  3. You are God's people, so don't let it be said that any of you are immoral or indecent or greedy.
  4. Don't use dirty or foolish or filthy words. Instead, say how thankful you are.
  5. Being greedy, indecent, or immoral is just another way of worshiping idols. You can be sure that people who behave in this way will never be part of the kingdom that belongs to Christ and to God.
  6. Don't let anyone trick you with foolish talk. God punishes everyone who disobeys him and says foolish things.
  7. So don't have anything to do with anyone like that.
  8. You used to be like people living in the dark, but now you are people of the light because you belong to the Lord. So act like people of the light
  9. and make your light shine. Be good and honest and truthful,
  10. as you try to please the Lord.
  11. Don't take part in doing those worthless things that are done in the dark. Instead, show how wrong they are.
  12. It is disgusting even to talk about what is done in the dark.
  13. But the light will show what these things are really like.
  14. Light shows up everything, just as the Scriptures say, "Wake up from your sleep and rise from death. Then Christ will shine on you."
  15. Act like people with good sense and not like fools.
  16. These are evil times, so make every minute count.
  17. Don't be stupid. Instead, find out what the Lord wants you to do.
  18. Don't destroy yourself by getting drunk, but let the Spirit fill your life.
  19. When you meet together, sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, as you praise the Lord with all your heart.
  20. Always use the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to thank God the Father for everything.
  21. Honor Christ and put others first.
  22. A wife should put her husband first, as she does the Lord.
  23. A husband is the head of his wife, as Christ is the head and the Savior of the church, which is his own body.
  24. Wives should always put their husbands first, as the church puts Christ first.
  25. A husband should love his wife as much as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it.
  26. He made the church holy by the power of his word, and he made it pure by washing it with water.
  27. Christ did this, so that he would have a glorious and holy church, without faults or spots or wrinkles or any other flaws.
  28. In the same way, a husband should love his wife as much as he loves himself. A husband who loves his wife shows that he loves himself.
  29. None of us hate our own bodies. We provide for them and take good care of them, just as Christ does for the church,
  30. because we are each part of his body.
  31. As the Scriptures say, "A man leaves his father and mother to get married, and he becomes like one person with his wife."
  32. This is a great mystery, but I understand it to mean Christ and his church.
  33. So each husband should love his wife as much as he loves himself, and each wife should respect her husband.

    Paul continues in chapter five with his practical application of the gospel which he began in chapter four. He begins this section with an exhortation to "be imitators of God." (5:1) How is it possible to imitate God? By walking in love. Though verse two seems to begin another thought, the "and" should be understand as "that is." So we could read it as "be imitators of God . . . that is, walk in love." As God's "dearly loved children," we should naturally imitate His love for us. Our example of God's love toward us is the Messiah who loved us supremely by giving Himself for us.

    What follows in chapter 5 are not additional thoughts but a continuation of this thought to be imitators of God's love. Therefore, Paul's caution against impure living contrasts his exhortation to walk in love. The two lifestyles are incompatible. The impure lifestyle that includes sexual immorality, greed, etc., is a lifestyle of self-gratification rather than of love. Self-gratification is not even love toward oneself. It is a lifestyle harmful to oneself and others and disqualifies one from "an inheritance in the kingdom of the Messiah and of God." (5:5) Not only should those in Christ walk in love, but they should be who they are, which is children of light. Rather than living a lifestyle of impurity, which is a lifestyle of darkness, those in Christ should "walk as children of light" (5:8) resulting "in all goodness, righteousness, and truth-- discerning what is pleasing to the Lord." (5:9-10) Walking in the light will make everything clear.

    Following Paul's discussion of a lifestyle that is contrary to imitating God's love, he gives an example of walking in love. How does one walk in love? By living in mutual submission to others. We best understand this by considering the greatest act of love, which is to give one's life for another. This is what Christ did for us. The next greatest act of love is to give up one's will on behalf of another. This is what is involved in mutual submission. Thus, Paul applies our walking in love to a lifestyle of mutual submission, making the application in three different relationships. The first of these is that of husband and wife. The other two relationships follow in chapter six. First, he tells wives to submit to their husbands. Their primary motivation in doing so is as a submission to the Lord. This teaching of wives submitting to their husbands has been so misapplied that many avoid this and similar passages or consider the teaching irrelevant or even erroneous. But the concept of wives submitting to their husbands cannot be taught apart from the concept of husbands loving their wives as "Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her." (5:25) Together it is a beautiful expression of God's love. But the submission without the love often becomes abusive.

    Paul's comments to the husband are actually more extreme than those to the wife, though this is not always considered. The wife is to submit to her husband and respect him. Looking to him as her head as Christ is head of the church. The husband, on the other hand, is to love the wife enough to give his own life for her and enough to put his relationship with her before his relationship with his own parents. Historically, this teaching has been greatly ignored by many if not most cultures.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reflections on Ephesians 4

    Ephesians 04 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. As a prisoner of the Lord, I beg you to live in a way that is worthy of the people God has chosen to be his own.
  2. Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other.
  3. Try your best to let God's Spirit keep your hearts united. Do this by living at peace.
  4. All of you are part of the same body. There is only one Spirit of God, just as you were given one hope when you were chosen to be God's people.
  5. We have only one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.
  6. There is one God who is the Father of all people. Not only is God above all others, but he works by using all of us, and he lives in all of us.
  7. Christ has generously divided out his gifts to us.
  8. As the Scriptures say, "When he went up to the highest place, he led away many prisoners and gave gifts to people."
  9. When it says, "he went up," it means that Christ had been deep in the earth.
  10. This also means that the one who went deep into the earth is the same one who went into the highest heaven, so that he would fill the whole universe.
  11. Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers,
  12. so that his people would learn to serve and his body would grow strong.
  13. This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him.
  14. We must stop acting like children. We must not let deceitful people trick us by their false teachings, which are like winds that toss us around from place to place.
  15. Love should always make us tell the truth. Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head
  16. of the body. Christ holds it together and makes all of its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of love.
  17. As a follower of the Lord, I order you to stop living like stupid, godless people.
  18. Their minds are in the dark, and they are stubborn and ignorant and have missed out on the life that comes from God. They no longer have any feelings about what is right,
  19. and they are so greedy that they do all kinds of indecent things.
  20. But that isn't what you were taught about Jesus Christ. He is the truth, and you heard about him and learned about him.
  21. (SEE 4:20)
  22. You were told that your foolish desires will destroy you and that you must give up your old way of life with all its bad habits.
  23. Let the Spirit change your way of thinking
  24. and make you into a new person. You were created to be like God, and so you must please him and be truly holy.
  25. We are part of the same body. Stop lying and start telling each other the truth.
  26. Don't get so angry that you sin. Don't go to bed angry
  27. and don't give the devil a chance.
  28. If you are a thief, quit stealing. Be honest and work hard, so you will have something to give to people in need.
  29. Stop all your dirty talk. Say the right thing at the right time and help others by what you say.
  30. Don't make God's Spirit sad. The Spirit makes you sure that someday you will be free from your sins.
  31. Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don't yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude.
  32. Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ.

    Paul explained in chapter three the unity of Jewish and Gentile believers. This was a mystery that had not been previously revealed. In chapter four and following Paul addresses practical applications of the doctrines he mentioned in the first three chapters. The first of these is how to maintain the unity between Jewish and Gentile believers. This unity involves changes in attitude that reflect the fruit of the Spirit. They are to demonstrate "humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love." (4:2) They were to take on these attitudes recognizing that they are united as believers in one and the same body, and in one Spirit, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all." (4:5-6)

    Another contribution to the unity are the gifts given to the church. Christ gave to the church gifts such as apostles, prophets, evenagelists, pastors, and teachers "For the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith." (4:12-13) This unity is attained or maintained as they come to unity of understanding in the faith. Thus they will no longer "be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit." (4:14) Such volatility in their faith will not attain or maintain unity. While this unity is built on a mature understanding in the faith it is founded on "speaking the truth in love." (4:15)

    This is the positive side of Paul's exhortation to unity. On the negative side, their unity will be destroyed if they should revert to walking "as the Gentiles walk, in the fultility of their thoughts." Those who walk in this lifestyle "are darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them and because of the hardness of their hearts." (4:18) Paul reminds them that they have been "renewed in the spirit of your minds" and they should no longer walk in this lifestyle. They have now put on the new man that is created in God's likeness. It is important to note that while man is created in the likeness of God, this likeness is not fully realized until an individual puts on "the new man" with the regeneration that takes place through faith in Christ Jesus.

    The chapter concludes with a list of negative behaviors to avoid. No stealing, no rotten talk, and don't grieve God's Holy Spirit. Do away with bitterness, anger, wrath, insult, and slander. Paul does concede that anger has its place, but it should not be allowed to lead one into sin. A good rule is to not "let the sun go down on your anger." (4:26) Finally, the Ephesians will not go wrong if they are "kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Reflections on Ephesians 3

    Ephesians 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Christ Jesus made me his prisoner, so that I could help you Gentiles.
  2. You have surely heard about God's kindness in choosing me to help you.
  3. In fact, this letter tells you a little about how God has shown me his mysterious ways.
  4. As you read the letter, you will also find out how well I really do understand the mystery about Christ.
  5. No one knew about this mystery until God's Spirit told it to his holy apostles and prophets.
  6. And the mystery is this: Because of Christ Jesus, the good news has given the Gentiles a share in the promises that God gave to the Jews. God has also let the Gentiles be part of the same body.
  7. God treated me with kindness. His power worked in me, and it became my job to spread the good news.
  8. I am the least important of all God's people. But God was kind and chose me to tell the Gentiles that because of Christ there are blessings that cannot be measured.
  9. God, who created everything, wanted me to help everyone understand the mysterious plan that had always been hidden in his mind.
  10. Then God would use the church to show the powers and authorities in the spiritual world that he has many different kinds of wisdom.
  11. God did this according to his eternal plan. And he was able to do what he had planned because of all that Christ Jesus our Lord had done.
  12. Christ now gives us courage and confidence, so that we can come to God by faith.
  13. That's why you should not be discouraged when I suffer for you. After all, it will bring honor to you.
  14. I kneel in prayer to the Father.
  15. All beings in heaven and on earth receive their life from him.
  16. God is wonderful and glorious. I pray that his Spirit will make you become strong followers
  17. and that Christ will live in your hearts because of your faith. Stand firm and be deeply rooted in his love.
  18. I pray that you and all of God's people will understand what is called wide or long or high or deep.
  19. I want you to know all about Christ's love, although it is too wonderful to be measured. Then your lives will be filled with all that God is.
  20. I pray that Christ Jesus and the church will forever bring praise to God. His power at work in us can do far more than we dare ask or imagine. Amen.
  21. (SEE 3:20)

    In the opening verse of this chapter Paul started to voice a prayer on behalf of the Ephesian Christians, but interrupted it to explain why he was a "prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles." Why was he a prisoner? Because of his faithful stewardship of the "administration of God's grace that He gave" to Paul for the Gentiles. God revealed to Paul a mystery that had not previously been revealed which he was to make known to the Gentiles. The mystery was this: "the Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and partners of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." (3:6) The mystery in this revelation that had not previously been made known was not that Gentiles would be saved, but that believing Jews and Gentiles would be joined together. Paul's faithfulness to deliver this message had stirred up the Jews to the point that Paul had been arrested and was a prisoner at the time he wrote this letter to the Ephesians.

    Paul's calling was actually two-fold: First, to "proclaim to the Gentiles the incalculaable riches of the Messiah," (3:8) and to "shed light for all about the administration of the mystery hidden for ages in God." (3:9) This uniting of Jew and Gentile in the church was to make known through the church, "God's multi-faceted wisdom . . . to the rulers and authorities in the heavens." (3:10) With this understanding of Paul's mission and reason for imprisonment, Paul asked that the Ephesians not be "discouraged over my afflictions on your behalf." They were not to be discouraged over it primarily because these afflictions were for his glory and not his detriment. (3:13)

    Finally, Paul moved on to his prayer on behalf of the Ephesians. He prayed that God might "grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God's love, and to know the Messiah's love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God." (3:16-19)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Reflections on Ephesians 2

    Ephesians 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. In the past you were dead because you sinned and fought against God.
  2. You followed the ways of this world and obeyed the devil. He rules the world, and his spirit has power over everyone who doesn't obey God.
  3. Once we were also ruled by the selfish desires of our bodies and minds. We had made God angry, and we were going to be punished like everyone else.
  4. But God was merciful! We were dead because of our sins, but God loved us so much that he made us alive with Christ, and God's wonderful kindness is what saves you.
  5. (SEE 2:4)
  6. God raised us from death to life with Christ Jesus, and he has given us a place beside Christ in heaven.
  7. God did this so that in the future world he could show how truly good and kind he is to us because of what Christ Jesus has done.
  8. You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. This is God's gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own.
  9. It isn't something you have earned, so there is nothing you can brag about.
  10. God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That's why he sent Christ to make us what we are.
  11. Don't forget that you are Gentiles. In fact, you used to be called "uncircumcised" by those who take pride in being circumcised.
  12. At that time you did not know about Christ. You were foreigners to the people of Israel, and you had no part in the promises that God had made to them. You were living in this world without hope and without God,
  13. and you were far from God. But Christ offered his life's blood as a sacrifice and brought you near God.
  14. Christ has made peace between Jews and Gentiles, and he has united us by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated us. Christ gave his own body
  15. to destroy the Law of Moses with all its rules and commands. He even brought Jews and Gentiles together as though we were only one person, when he united us in peace.
  16. On the cross Christ did away with our hatred for each other. He also made peace between us and God by uniting Jews and Gentiles in one body.
  17. Christ came and preached peace to you Gentiles, who were far from God, and peace to us Jews, who were near God.
  18. And because of Christ, all of us can come to the Father by the same Spirit.
  19. You Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens with everyone else who belongs to the family of God.
  20. You are like a building with the apostles and prophets as the foundation and with Christ as the most important stone.
  21. Christ is the one who holds the building together and makes it grow into a holy temple for the Lord.
  22. And you are part of that building Christ has built as a place for God's own Spirit to live.

    The theme of chapter 2 is the reconciliation of mankind to God and Gentile to Jew through Christ Jesus. Paul is addressing Gentile believers who are called "the uncircumcised" by the Jews. Though there was a great separation between Jews and Gentiles, which Paul refers to as a "dividing wall of hostility," (2:14) both Jew and Gentile had one thing in common: they were "dead in your trespasses and sins." (2:1) In this state they "walked according to this worldly age, according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain, the spirit now working in the disobedient." (2:2) But in Christ Jesus, both peoples - Jew and Gentile - were freed from this lifestyle in which they were contolled by "the ruler of the atmospheric domain," or Satan, and made one people - God's people. So, while they were once dead in trespasses and sins, they had been "made ...  alive with the Messiah." (2:5)

    This salvation from being dead in sin to being alive with the Messiah is possible by God's grace: "For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift-- not from works, so that no one can boast." (2:8-9) In this new state of being alive with the Messiah we are a new creation - God's creation - "created in Christ Jesus." Furthermore, the purpose of being created in Christ is "for good works." (2:10) Thus, we are not saved through our own good works, but our salvation, which is made possible through Christ's work on the cross, produces good works. And these good works were prepared by God "ahead of time so that we should walk in them." It should be noted that God has prepared these good works for us to walk in, not work in. He does the work. It is not that we do work for God but that He performs His work in and through us.

    So, in Christ Jesus, both Jew and Gentile are made "one new man from the two." (2:15) The result is peace between the two, reconciliation with God, and the two are made into one body, the church. This body, the church, is "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone." So now, the two people belong to the same body, and both have a common heritage.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Reflections on Ephesians 1

    Ephesians 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. From Paul, chosen by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. To God's people who live in Ephesus and are faithful followers of Christ Jesus.
  2. I pray that God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ will be kind to you and will bless you with peace!
  3. Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for the spiritual blessings that Christ has brought us from heaven!
  4. Before the world was created, God had Christ choose us to live with him and to be his holy and innocent and loving people.
  5. God was kind and decided that Christ would choose us to be God's own adopted children.
  6. God was very kind to us because of the Son he dearly loves, and so we should praise God.
  7. Christ sacrificed his life's blood to set us free, which means that our sins are now forgiven. Christ did this because God was so kind to us. God has great wisdom and understanding,
  8. (SEE 1:7)
  9. and by what Christ has done, God has shown us his own mysterious ways.
  10. Then when the time is right, God will do all that he has planned, and Christ will bring together everything in heaven and on earth.
  11. God always does what he plans, and that's why he appointed Christ to choose us.
  12. He did this so that we Jews would bring honor to him and be the first ones to have hope because of him.
  13. Christ also brought you the truth, which is the good news about how you can be saved. You put your faith in Christ and were given the promised Holy Spirit to show that you belong to God.
  14. The Spirit also makes us sure that we will be given what God has stored up for his people. Then we will be set free, and God will be honored and praised.
  15. I have heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God's people.
  16. So I never stop being grateful for you, as I mention you in my prayers.
  17. I ask the glorious Father and God of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you his Spirit. The Spirit will make you wise and let you understand what it means to know God.
  18. My prayer is that light will flood your hearts and that you will understand the hope that was given to you when God chose you. Then you will discover the glorious blessings that will be yours together with all of God's people.
  19. I want you to know about the great and mighty power that God has for us followers. It is the same wonderful power he used
  20. when he raised Christ from death and let him sit at his right side in heaven.
  21. There Christ rules over all forces, authorities, powers, and rulers. He rules over all beings in this world and will rule in the future world as well.
  22. God has put all things under the power of Christ, and for the good of the church he has made him the head of everything.
  23. The church is Christ's body and is filled with Christ who completely fills everything.

    Paul's letter to the Ephesians opens with a rather complex description of the salvation they possessed as a result of their faith in Christ Jesus. Because of their faith, they were among God's elect whom He chose "in Him (Christ), before the foundation of the world." (1:4) God's choosing of His elect is based, not on a capricious choice of some over others, but on the elect's choice of Christ Jesus. God chose the elect "in Him," that is, in Christ Jesus. If we choose Christ, He chooses us. It is an arrangement God established before "the foundation of the world." Therefore it was predetermed, or predestined, before creation and the existence of man. This predetermined plan not only made Christ the source of man's salvation but brought "everything together in the Messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth in Him." (1:10) Man does not share in the things of God apart from Christ.

    According to God's plan, when an individual believes in Christ as their source of salvation, they are "sealed with the promised Holy Spirit." (1:13) This seal of the Holy Spirit serves as a down payment or deposit of the believer's inheritance, guaranteeing the believer's inheritance of salvation and heaven. The chapter concludes with Paul's prayer for the Ephesians that they may fully realize what they have in Christ Jesus. Specifically, his prayer is that "the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe, according to the working of His vast strength." (1:18-19)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reflections on Galatians 6

    Galatians 06 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. My friends, you are spiritual. So if someone is trapped in sin, you should gently lead that person back to the right path. But watch out, and don't be tempted yourself.
  2. You obey the law of Christ when you offer each other a helping hand.
  3. If you think you are better than others, when you really aren't, you are wrong.
  4. Do your own work well, and then you will have something to be proud of. But don't compare yourself with others.
  5. We each must carry our own load.
  6. Share every good thing you have with anyone who teaches you what God has said.
  7. You cannot fool God, so don't make a fool of yourself! You will harvest what you plant.
  8. If you follow your selfish desires, you will harvest destruction, but if you follow the Spirit, you will harvest eternal life.
  9. Don't get tired of helping others. You will be rewarded when the time is right, if you don't give up.
  10. We should help people whenever we can, especially if they are followers of the Lord.
  11. You can see what big letters I make when I write with my own hand.
  12. Those people who are telling you to get circumcised are only trying to show how important they are. And they don't want to get into trouble for preaching about the cross of Christ.
  13. They are circumcised, but they don't obey the Law of Moses. All they want is to brag about having you circumcised.
  14. But I will never brag about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his cross, the world is dead as far as I am concerned, and I am dead as far as the world is concerned.
  15. It doesn't matter if you are circumcised or not. All that matters is that you are a new person.
  16. If you follow this rule, you will belong to God's true people. God will treat you with undeserved kindness and will bless you with peace.
  17. On my own body are scars that prove I belong to Christ Jesus. So I don't want anyone to bother me anymore.
  18. My friends, I pray that the Lord Jesus Christ will be kind to you! Amen.

    In the previous chapter Paul contrasted living by the law, which is enslaving, with living in the Spirit, which gives freedom. He pointed out that the whole of the law is to "love your neighbor as yourself." (5:14) By doing this one fulfills the "entire law." However, loving our neighbor is not accomplished in the flesh. That is, by our own efforts. It is only possible if we live in the Spirit. This is revolutionary. Living by the law not only enslaves us in that we are unable to fulfill the law on our own, but our primary point of failure is in failing to love our neighbor which is also the primary point in fulfilling the law. Rather than loving our neighbor, living by the law pits us against our neighbor.

    Paul further points out this contrast between living by the law and living in the Spirit in the first verse of chapter 6 concerning someone who is "caught in any wrongdoing." Those who live by the law would be prone to mete out some type of punishment. If the wrongdoing were serious enough, they would stone them to death. But in contrast, those who live in the Spirit are to "restore such a person with a gentle spirit." (6:1) He adds that those who are spiritual who are to restore the wrongdoer should also watch "out for yourselves so you won't be tempted also." As the spiritual person gently restores the wrongdoer he is reminded of his own vulnerability to being drawn into wrongdoing which both motivates his gentleness toward the wrongdoer and encourages his vigilance in avoiding the wrongdoing himself.

    Paul carries this theme further. Those who are spiritual should not only gently restore those caught in wrongdoing but should also help them carry their heavy burden. This is in contrast to being critical of them. Those who live by the law are prone to criticism of those caught in wrongdoing because they perceive they are made to look better. The primary difference, however, is that the infractions of the one caught in wrongdoing are outward and visible and those of the one pointing the finger at the person who is caught are inward and not visible, but very present none the less. Paul tells the Galatians that those who are spiritual should "examine his own work." If anyone has reason to boast, it should be in "himself alone and not in respect to someone else." In other words, don't build yourself up by pointing at the wrongs of others. Do so by your own merits rather than another's demerits.

    Concerning this point, Paul says, "Don't be deceived: God is not mocked." We may fool ourselves into believing we are better than we are by pointing at the wrong of another, but God is not fooled by this. We will not mock Him in this way. Instead, we will all reap what we ourselves have sown. If we sow to the flesh we will "reap corruption from the flesh," and if we sow to the Spirit we will "reap eternal life from the Spirit." (6:8)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Reflections on Galatians 5

    Galatians 05 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Christ has set us free! This means we are really free. Now hold on to your freedom and don't ever become slaves of the Law again.
  2. I, Paul, promise you that Christ won't do you any good if you get circumcised.
  3. If you do, you must obey the whole Law.
  4. And if you try to please God by obeying the Law, you have cut yourself off from Christ and his wonderful kindness.
  5. But the Spirit makes us sure that God will accept us because of our faith in Christ.
  6. If you are a follower of Christ Jesus, it makes no difference whether you are circumcised or not. All that matters is your faith that makes you love others.
  7. You were doing so well until someone made you turn from the truth.
  8. And that person was certainly not sent by the one who chose you.
  9. A little yeast can change a whole batch of dough,
  10. but you belong to the Lord. That makes me certain that you will do what I say, instead of what someone else tells you to do. Whoever is causing trouble for you will be punished.
  11. My friends, if I still preach that people need to be circumcised, why am I in so much trouble? The message about the cross would no longer be a problem, if I told people to be circumcised.
  12. I wish that everyone who is upsetting you would not only get circumcised, but would cut off much more!
  13. My friends, you were chosen to be free. So don't use your freedom as an excuse to do anything you want. Use it as an opportunity to serve each other with love.
  14. All that the Law says can be summed up in the command to love others as much as you love yourself.
  15. But if you keep attacking each other like wild animals, you had better watch out or you will destroy yourselves.
  16. If you are guided by the Spirit, you won't obey your selfish desires.
  17. The Spirit and your desires are enemies of each other. They are always fighting each other and keeping you from doing what you feel you should.
  18. But if you obey the Spirit, the Law of Moses has no control over you.
  19. People's desires make them give in to immoral ways, filthy thoughts, and shameful deeds.
  20. They worship idols, practice witchcraft, hate others, and are hard to get along with. People become jealous, angry, and selfish. They not only argue and cause trouble, but they are
  21. envious. They get drunk, carry on at wild parties, and do other evil things as well. I told you before, and I am telling you again: No one who does these things will share in the blessings of God's kingdom.
  22. God's Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful,
  23. gentle, and self-controlled. There is no law against behaving in any of these ways.
  24. And because we belong to Christ Jesus, we have killed our selfish feelings and desires.
  25. God's Spirit has given us life, and so we should follow the Spirit.
  26. But don't be conceited or make others jealous by claiming to be better than they are.

    Man perpetually struggles with the idea of salvation by faith alone. Our minds automatically tell us that sin is wrong and that it separates us from God. It also tells us that something is necessary to atone for the sin to renew our relationship with God. But it doesn't make sense to us that the only thing we can do to atone for our sin is to have faith in Christ's sacrifice of Himself as an atonement for our sins. Therefore, people are continually stumbling over the issue of legalism - the fulfillment of certain outward rituals and actions to atone for our sin and to please God.

    This was the struggle the Galatians were having. And they were stuck where many Christians become stuck. Having gotten beyond the first obstacle, that salvation is by faith in Christ, they were stuck on the issue of maintaining that salvation through their own efforts. That is, through legalism. So, through the influence of Judaizers they were on the verge of resorting to the Mosaic law and the ritual of circumcision as a means of maintaining their salvation. This fit well with their pagan background with its ritual practices of cutting and marking.

    Paul warned them here that to fall in with the Judaizers and resort to the law and circumcision would be to again submit to a "yoke of slavery." (5:1) Anyone who depended on the law was obligated to keep the entire law, which is impossible. Thus they become enslaved to a system from which they can never be free. Furthermore, in doing this, "Christ will not benefit you at all." (5:2) Turning to the law will count Christ's sacrifice as useless and of no benefit to them. The two are not compatible.

    Instead of turning to the slavery of the law, Paul told them they are called to the freedom of faith in Christ. This freedom in Christ, however, is not, as some fear, a freedom to opportunities of the flesh. Instead, it is a freedom to "serve one another through love." In so doing, they will satisfy the entire law which is "fulfilled in one statement: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (5:14) On the other hand, an obsession with fulfilling the law leads not to loving the neighbor but to conflict of which he cautioned them in verse 15: "But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another." The heart of the law is love for God and for our neighbor, but we don't arrive at that outcome through an attempt to keep the law. Instead, we satisfy the law by attempting to love our neighbor. But this is only possible if we "walk by the Spirit." (5:16) Again, we are back to faith in Christ whose Spirit will lead us to love our neighbor if we walk in the Spirit.

    If we will walk in the Spirit, Paul says, the fruit that is produced in us will be "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control." (5:22-23) The presence of this fruit in our lives will break no law. But it is not attainable in the flesh.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Reflections on Galatians 4

    Galatians 04 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Children who are under age are no better off than slaves, even though everything their parents own will someday be theirs.
  2. This is because children are placed in the care of guardians and teachers until the time their parents have set.
  3. That is how it was with us. We were like children ruled by the powers of this world.
  4. But when the time was right, God sent his Son, and a woman gave birth to him. His Son obeyed the Law,
  5. so he could set us free from the Law, and we could become God's children.
  6. Now that we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. And his Spirit tells us that God is our Father.
  7. You are no longer slaves. You are God's children, and you will be given what he has promised.
  8. Before you knew God, you were slaves of gods that are not real.
  9. But now you know God, or better still, God knows you. How can you turn back and become the slaves of those weak and pitiful powers?
  10. You even celebrate certain days, months, seasons, and years.
  11. I am afraid I have wasted my time working with you.
  12. My friends, I beg you to be like me, just as I once tried to be like you. Did you mistreat me
  13. when I first preached to you? No you didn't, even though you knew I had come there because I was sick.
  14. My illness must have caused you some trouble, but you didn't hate me or turn me away because of it. You welcomed me as though I were one of God's angels or even Christ Jesus himself.
  15. Where is that good feeling now? I am sure that if it had been possible, you would have taken out your own eyes and given them to me.
  16. Am I now your enemy, just because I told you the truth?
  17. Those people may be paying you a lot of attention, but it isn't for your good. They only want to keep you away from me, so you will pay them a lot of attention.
  18. It is always good to give your attention to something worthwhile, even when I am not with you.
  19. My children, I am in terrible pain until Christ may be seen living in you.
  20. I wish I were with you now. Then I would not have to talk this way. You really have me puzzled.
  21. Some of you would like to be under the rule of the Law of Moses. But do you know what the Law says?
  22. In the Scriptures we learn that Abraham had two sons. The mother of one of them was a slave, while the mother of the other one had always been free.
  23. The son of the slave woman was born in the usual way. But the son of the free woman was born because of God's promise.
  24. All of this has another meaning as well. Each of the two women stands for one of the agreements God made with his people. Hagar, the slave woman, stands for the agreement that was made at Mount Sinai. Everyone born into her family is a slave.
  25. Hagar also stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and for the present city of Jerusalem. She and her children are slaves.
  26. But our mother is the city of Jerusalem in heaven above, and she isn't a slave.
  27. The Scriptures say about her, "You have never had children, but now you can be glad. You have never given birth, but now you can shout. Once you had no children, but now you will have more children than a woman who has been married for a long time."
  28. My friends, you were born because of this promise, just as Isaac was.
  29. But the child who was born in the natural way made trouble for the child who was born because of the Spirit. The same thing is happening today.
  30. The Scriptures say, "Get rid of the slave woman and her son! He won't be given anything. The son of the free woman will receive everything."
  31. My friends, we are children of the free woman and not of the slave.

    Any religious system apart from faith in Christ Jesus is enslaving. One is a slave to it in their effort to gain a salvation that it can never attain. Paul is saying here that this is the case with the law of Moses, in fact the whole Mosaic system. It was enslaving. He compared it to the son of a land owner. While he is a minor child he is no different than his father's slaves. He has no access to his inheritance and is under guardians and stewards. This is the case for those under the law. They have no access to what God wants to give them. But through Christ, God's son, we receive adoption as sons along with Christ, and receive "the Spirit of His Son into our hearts" who gives evidence to us that we are sons of God. Through Christ "you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God." (4:4)

    Having come to faith in Christ, the Galatians were now contemplating going under the law. Paul wanted them to understand that this was a return to slavery after they had just come out of slavery to idolatry. It was exchanging one slavery for another. Paul begged them to be like he was. He had become like them who as Gentiles were not under the law. But now they wanted to be under the law and he wanted them to do as he had done and exchange the law for the promise and again be free.

    Paul illustrated the difference between being under the law and being under the promise by comparing it to the difference between Ishmael, Abraham's son by the slave Hagar, and Isaac, Abraham's son by Sarah and through the promise. Though Ishmael was Abraham's son he was still a slave and would never be Abraham's heir. In fact, Abraham had to cast Ishamael away because the two sons, the one of slavery and the one of the promise, could not coexist. This is all true of those under the law and those under the promise through faith in Christ. Those under the law were slaves to the law and would never be God's heirs. In fact, there could be no coexistence between the law and the promise. They are mutually exclusive.

    The Galatians may have been among the first, but have certainly not been the last to gain salvation through the promise, that is, through faith in Christ, and then attempted to attain spiritual maturity through the law. Whether it is the law of Moses or some other legalistic system, it is the same. The two cannot coexist. Adding law to the promise is to go into slavery, losing the freedom from the law that Christ gives.