You can detect a rip-current by spotting four characteristics. (1) Look for deep, dark-colored water at the shoreline. (2) Watch the waves roll in, but keep alert for areas with few waves— especially areas where the waves do not break. (3) Search for patches of water with a rippled surface, surrounded by smooth water. (4) Pay attention to sticks and leaves or foam washing out to sea. Four characteristics for detecting a rip-current— and that’s beneficial to know whether you head off to the ocean on spring break or dip your toes in one of the Great Lakes. Rip-currents can pull water out to sea at 8-feet-per-second. Ankle-deep water, moving fast enough, can sweep you off your feet and drag you hundreds of yards out into deep water. Rip-currents are powerful. Rip-currents are deceptive. Rip-currents are deadly.
So, no wonder Paul says: Keep Walking in Christ! Pay attention to what you take in spiritually. Opinions, advice, and behavior from so many around you leave an impact. Yet, Beware of deceptive philosophies. Expose and stay away from of destructive teachings. Rise anew in the results of baptism.
That is God’s passionate plea. Keep Walking in Christ because God joined you to Christ. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds… But now he has reconciled you (Colossians 1:21-22). You (and I) entered life as sworn enemies of God— but that has all changed! God reconciled you (and me). He fumed against Jesus, but turns to us in peace! Today you stand on God’s side, on the side of people loved by God. Colossians 2:6 highlights that key point: Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord… as you stand on the side of Jesus …walk in him[.]
To be clear, that word ‘walk’ means: “To behave/conduct yourself in a certain manner.” As someone God reconciled and as someone who loves God, evaluate your behavior— and this is how. Keep Walking in Christ …rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Understand, faith remains something constant. You either believe Jesus impacted your life or you do not; there is no middle ground or some partial-faith. Here, God points to your baptism and says: “Baptism attached you to Jesus’ payment for sin.” God points to the Word and says: “The Bible planted you into the conviction that Jesus is your Savior.” God’s Word, together with baptism, created faith.
Since this is where you stand, build. As a seedling, grow into a mighty tree. Or, like a tiny house set on a firm foundation, add addition after addition. Keep learning and rereading the miracles of Jesus you learned in Sunday School. Then add Bible teachings to those Bible accounts as you study in Catechism class. Then add more teachings, more understanding, more knowledge in Bible Class, in devotion time, in Bible reading. As you do, your trust in God grows, a desire to pray flourishes, trust in God’s power expands, and appreciation for God’s infinite love thrives. You grow closer to God from the firm foundation on which you already stand! So, Keep Walking in Christ.
Keep growing— not only by feeding faith, but also by protecting faith. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. Rip-currents are deceptive, powerful, and deadly. In the same way, what appears so acceptable and innocent in society can be spiritually devastating. In fact, this ‘philosophy’ is so common that you watch it on television commercials, in grocery stores, in your conversations— and you may never notice it. Start your favorite television show, and how many characters are sleeping together, living together, having one-night stands? God makes clear: “Honor the marriage bed for God will judge the adulterer and sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4). The world’s philosophy claims a right to use your body and shape your relationships however you want. With whom do you walk? The world which lives apart from God? Or, does love for God compel you to aim for marriage? FoxNews, CNN, MSNBC drum up a belief that you need the right President, the right Senate, the right Congress, and the right people who do the right things in order to save humanity. Worldly philosophy fears that America will teeter on the verge of collapse and the entire world will implode. Yet, your God says: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes” (Psalm 118:8-9). With whom do you walk? Do you live in constant fear because you set all your trust in worldly princes? Or, do you rely on God to be your help in both good and bad? Even churches in your area can become like this Colossian church. The pastor promotes himself to be the real guy to follow—the guy who will make the Bible more ‘relevant’ and promise life-changing challenges and unlock new meaning and new potential in life. The world in which we live is saturated with manmade philosophy and empty deceit. All these ways of life promise something of substance— a stronger faith or a tighter relationship or a closer walk with God, but they cannot deliver the promise! They promise much, but deliver nothing. All godless advice fails to provide real satisfaction because that advice does not come from God!
Dear friends, if the Bible speaks against your behavior, then listen! Recognize drifting from Christ. If you have to say, “I know God’s teachings on marriage, but it’s not convenient now,” then human philosophy is seizing you. If you think, “Well, only people can keep the world spinning,” then human philosophy is seizing you. If you muse, “Does baptism really matter?” then you are being deceived. That deceptive philosophy will seize you and rip you further and further away from Scripture to the point where your life no longer conforms to God’s teaching. And you will find yourself drifting without Christ. Just like a sneaky rip-current, that sneaky teaching will destroy you.
Keep Walking in Christ! Beware of deceptive philosophies. Recognize the spiritual danger. See such empty ideas as the garbage they are. Keep Walking in Christ as you Rise anew in the results of baptism.
The God who reconciled you has provided all you need for life and has handed real life to you. Listen to verses 9 and 10: For in him [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. God provides real satisfaction in relationships. He provides real trust for the future. He provides all you need in Scripture because God gives you Jesus.
See Jesus and you see true God and true man (at the same time)! As man, Jesus taught the Jews that no additional knowledge or rules are needed for heaven. Jesus, as true God, is enough to open heaven. As man, he lifted up worried eyes and said, “Trust in me.” As true God, Jesus has authority over wind and wave, over riots, over disease, over death. As man, Jesus sat with women who slept around and forgave them. As true God, he points back to Scripture and teaches a marriage God created at the beginning of the world. Your Jesus keeps you close.
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ… Just like circumcision removes flesh, God removed flesh from you, but not physical flesh. Jesus removed the sinful desires of the heart. That did not happen in an operating room; we do perform strange procedures in the lower level of the church. This all occurred at one moment, at one place, at one font. [You] hav[e] been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. At your baptism, God peeled off that old sinful self and he pulled you out of those waters spiritually alive. God has created in you a new desire— a desire that wants to shape life around the Word. Just as Jesus was buried, but rose again alive—never again to die, you also were buried under water, but rose again alive—never again to die.
Baptism has brought you into a different side. It has yanked you out of empty deception and hollow philosophies. [Y]ou, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Your baptism worked tremendous results. Satan cannot accuse the you of earning hell. Temptation cannot convince the you to follow it. The sinful nature cannot persuade you wallow in filth. You belong to the side of God.
Since this is what you are today, this moment, realize that you will stand out as different. Innocent-looking philosophies will always remain a part of our world. Each one will snatch at you in the hopes of taking you captive. Peer pressure to conform to an unbelieving world will squeeze you. Yet, stand firm. Resist. Do not budge. Do not conform. Remember who are and rise anew in the results of baptism.
If you find yourself entangled in a worldly philosophy, turn to the Word. Let God’s Word, his commands and his instructions, work in you the desire and ability to correct what is wrong. Let your love for Christ aim for God-pleasing marriage. Let your trust in Christ fuel an increased trust in him and increased prayer for world leaders. Let your love for Christ work in you contentment to set your heart on the same Word of God. Remember who are and rise anew in the results of baptism. Keep Walking in Christ. rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
(1) Deep, dark-colored water at the shoreline. (2) Waves that do not break. (3) Patches of water with a rippled surface, surrounded by smooth water. (4) Sticks and leaves or foam washing out to sea. Four characteristics for detecting a rip-current— and that’s good to keep in mind. Rip-currents are powerful. Rip-currents are deceptive. Rip-currents are deadly.
So, no wonder Paul says: Keep Walking in Christ! Pay attention to what you take in spiritually. Opinions, advice, and behavior from so many around you leave an impact. So, Beware of deceptive philosophies. Expose and stay away from of destructive teachings. Stay away—because you are different. Because Christ has canceled your debt, peeled away ungodliness, and has forgiven all our trespasses. Rise anew in those results of baptism. Do so, as you Keep Walking in Christ!
He did not really know his dad. I mean, dad was home— in fact, he was home every single night. He mowed the lawn and trimmed hedges. He repaired leaks and fixed squeaks. He drove to soccer practices and ball games. His La-Z-Boy conformed perfectly to his body. Yes, dad was home— but dad did not talk much. He never talked about work. He taught batting techniques, but never really critiqued anything. He never screamed or cheered at the game on television; he just watched. He was a quiet man.
Yet, every night, right before bedtime, little eyes watched his dad scribble in a journal. Each day ink filled another page. Each week more pages were used. Each year a new journal was needed— until they were needed no more.
Hours after the funeral dinner, that son sunk into the form-fitted La-Z-Boy. A box packed full of faded, fuzzy-edged journals lay open. He grabbed one written long ago and started flipping through it. “May 19th: Joe remembered his batting technique and scored the game-winning double. I could not be any prouder of him.” “June 28th: Bought Joe another ice-cream cone after he dropped the first one. Made his tears stop.” “August 23rd: The heat makes roofing unbearable. But I press on for my family’s good.” He leafed through journal after journal, until he came to the last one. On the last page, written just a few weeks earlier, was this sentence: “When I reflect on years past, I thank God for the blessings of wife and children— all of whom I love very much.”
Decades of wondering came crumbling down. These journals, this written word, reveal love once unknown. This child has in print a clear, plain declaration of his father’s love. He can return to these words again and again and find concrete evidence his father loved him.
The written word makes the unknown known. That very fact abolishes fear. It obliterates nervous worry. It ends baseless ideas the human mind makes up. God does not leave you wondering about his love for you. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. It tells of God reconciling you. It increases your grip on your future hope.
That makes the Bible important. From cover to cover are words that do not come from the opinions of men, but words God the Holy Spirit instructed men to write down (2 Peter 1:21). That means the Bible is God’s ‘journal.’ This contains his commands, his judgment, and his delight. Since you have this ‘journal’ you have insight into God’s expectation for you.
Yet, if you did not have the Bible, what would you have? A diseased, rotting faith— much like the faith of the Colossians. Remember the false beliefs polluting that congregation? A mixture of (1) Jewish and (2) pagan teachings. So, these Christians think God still requires Old Testament religious ceremonies and also concoct superstitious answers to the mystery of who God is and how God lives. This belief poisons them! It has actually led some to challenge the almighty, eternal power the Son of God has (read Colossians 1:15-20). These Christians downgrade Jesus from ‘Savior of the World’ to ‘Super Human Being.” If you treat Jesus as anything less than the Savior, you push away the payment he made for guilt. You start believing an idea not true.
That makes the Bible important. God is not sharing opinions; he reveals truth. He tells what he sees. In verse 21, he shares a very ugly, but very real, truth. You (that’s you and me) were alienated and hostile in mind, in your evil deeds. God makes clear: “You stood in this camp. You stood distant and far away. Just like a foreigner has a different culture than American culture, you had a different attitude than the attitude I expect.” That attitude? Evil! [T]he sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. [Since we are] controlled by the sinful nature, [we] cannot please God. (Romans 8:7). It’s impossible!
If you (and I) stand as alienated enemies of God, can we enter heaven without a Savior? No! Of course not! You know that; in fact, you confess: “I believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord.” You do not downgrade him… do you?
Well, what is your answer to this statement: ‘I am going to heaven because (fill in the blank).’ …“because I’m trying my hardest to be a good parent, a faithful church-goer, a good child”? …“because I am generous and giving”? …“because I’m better than criminals and sex offenders”? Did your answer contain that little word: ‘I’? Did the mental focus instantly shift to that little word: ‘I’? Are you going to heaven because you try? …or made a decision to believe in Jesus? …or because you are somewhat moral? Don’t you see what God clearly wrote in verse 21? You were alienated! You were saturated in evil! You could not, cannot, and can never approach God by you doing the action!
You see, like the Colossians, our minds can step off from the Bible. Yes, we have the Bible in our homes. We hear it in worship. We study it throughout the week. It sinks into our ears and hearts, but our sinful nature can blatantly ignore what God clearly reveals. The sinful nature wants to be sure it will enter heaven. So, you point to you instead of Jesus— and that happens because of doubt cannot trust that what God has spoken is truthful and reliable. That is a poisonous belief.
That makes the Bible important. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. God reveals that you (and I) stand in an evil camp, but in verse 21 he says: You were formerly alienated… That is what you were. Past tense. Formerly. At one time. But today, right now, right here, this moment: different.
Why? How? He has now reconciled you… To ‘reconcile’ means ‘bringing two opposing parties together’ or ‘to end hostility.’ Here, Jesus is the subject. The subject performs the action. The action affects the object— and you are the object. Jesus (did the action of) reconciling (the object:) you.
See when that took place? That verb ‘reconcile’ is past tense too— meaning, the action was finished long ago. Long ago, God directed his hatred of evil against Jesus. He found our doubting in his Son. He glared at our arrogant-self-worship in his Son. God made Jesus into his enemy, targeted him with wrath, and destroyed him. Jesus has now reconciled you in his fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.
God removes the mystery of what he sees in you. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. He puts it down in print so that you clearly know what he has done for you. You are presented: (1) Holy, that is, cleansed from moral filth. (2) Blameless: no shame lingers; no fault is seen, no motive for blackmailing. (3) Above reproach: no one can accuse you of evil before God. The relationship is clear: God has reconciled you. That changes your present and future. t increases your grip on your future hope.
Verses 26 and 27 explain how: The mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, [h]as now been manifested to His saints (The Bible reveals Jesus your Savior. You believe this. You are a saint, a ‘holy person.’) to [you] God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles [non-Jews] which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. So, what do you gain from the Word? Riches. Treasures. A fortune. God pours peace into your heart— peace that comes from sin forgiven. Shortly after our opening hymn, what do you hear? God, our heavenly Father, has been merciful to you. He has given Jesus, his Son, to be the atoning sacrifice for sin. Jesus ‘atones’—that is, Jesus makes you ‘at-one’ with God. Since you already stand at-one with God, you have no fear! No nagging guilt! No cringeworthy shame! God the Father says: “I see you holy, blameless, without reproach! This is what I see.” The Father’s love is clearly revealed in his journal, the Bible.
What joy! Your life is not chained to a set of rules and demands that will determine how much God loves you today. No! God has (1) already reconciled you. Therefore, (2) live as someone reconciled.
What does that look like? Well, if I go to your house, I do not open your refrigerator, grab a sandwich, sit down, and start eating. I am not welcome to take what is yours; your possessions do not belong to me. We do not have that close, open, confident relationship. (Usually you have that comfort with family and a close friend.) Now, if we have that close relationship, then I can walk into your house and raid your fridge without worry. We have this open, confident relationship.
So, God is ‘at-one’ with you. He harbors no anger, no grudges, no memory of wrong (Jeremiah 31:34). That means, you can read God’s promises and take them. Make them your own. Say: “This is what God is doing.” God will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways (Psalm 91:11). Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26). [C]all upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me (Psalm 50:15). Nothing in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39). In my Father’s house are many rooms… I am preparing one for you (John 14:2-3). This all means, that when we tremble about our standing before God, when we feel unworthy or wonder if God hates us, we have somewhere certain to turn— and that somewhere is not you. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. That increases your grip on your future hope.
For decades a son wondered of his father’s concern. Finally, he held in his hand the very thoughts of his father. These journals, this written word, revealed love once unknown. This child has in print a clear, plain declaration of his father’s love. He can return to these words again and again and find evidence his father loved him.
The written word makes the unknown known. That very fact abolishes fear. It obliterates nervous worry. It ends baseless ideas the human mind makes up. God never leaves you guessing about his love for you. The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. It tells of God reconciling you— which means, you have no reason to try to ‘woo’ God. Everything needed to turn God’s heart to you is done. What joy. What freedom for life! The Bible Makes an Unknown Relationship Known. It increases your grip on your future hope.
Every Memorial Day weekend, I drive out to Elm Creek, buy seedlings, and plant my garden. And every year the garden thrives. Vines stretch out. Plants grow thick and lush. I collect half-a-dozen cucumbers each day and pick cherry tomatoes and beans by the bucket full. This year was not like every other year.
A few days after putting the seedlings into the ground, the leaves turned yellow— like Post-It-Note yellow. But, the plants did not wilt; they did not shrivel up or die, they just stayed yellow— which was also strange. These yellow seedlings never grew; they never pushed out new branches and vines and leaves. For three weeks, I saw small rows of miniature yellow tomato, cucumber, and bean plants.
Now, usually yellow leaves signal something wrong with growing conditions. The soil could be too acidic. The plants may not be receiving enough sunlight. Overwatering and severed roots can stunt plant growth. If you boil all the symptoms down, the causes for poor growth come from poor soil. Plants need good soil to live, grow, and produce fruit.
For you to grow, thrive, and flourish in Christian living, you need good soil. You need a reliable source of comfort when feeling crushed. You need clear answers when confused. You need ever-constant strength when feeling exhausted. Where are you looking for direction?
Better yet, does your source produce good results? Drink deeply from this truth: Gospel-Fed Hearts Grow. God has transplanted you into light. His Word grows knowledge. His Word produces fruitful living.
The congregation in Colossae needed this reminder. (Now, Colossae sits in the southwest corner of present-day Turkey. So, picture Phoenix lying a little bit off the southwest American border.) An evangelist named ‘Epaphras’ preached and the Holy Spirit planted faith in each listener.
Yet, this young congregation gets sick very quickly. They feed on a strange mixture of Jewish and Pagan teachings. Jewish— like: forbidding the eating of certain meats, making Old Testament religious ceremonies mandatory, and creating rules in order to win God’s favor. Then pagan— like: worshipping angels (who are God’s servants [Hebrews 1:14; Revelation 19:10]) and creating strange ideas of who God is, what he does, and how he lives. Those false beliefs poison souls. It seizes attention away from the clear answers God wrote down in the Bible and sets personal beliefs on human opinion.
Epaphras and Paul see stunted, shriveling faith, and grow terribly concerned. So, they start right at the roots. After all, when my plants turned yellow, I did not treat the leaves; I started with what caused the leaves to turn yellow. I started with the soil. In the same way, when we drink in guidance for life, we need to make sure that this guidance comes from a healthy source. We want to remain spiritually healthy. Verses 13-14 say: [God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. We all entered this world rooted in this stinking soil, this domain of darkness. We were not just yellowed sick, we were spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3). That is how we started life. Enemies of God (Romans 8:7). Not going to heaven (Isaiah 53:5). Unable to do anything to change that dreadful status.
Yet, God did something: he ‘transferred us.’ With the pure life of Jesus in hand, he scooped you out of hell. He washed away the moral filth that soaks our minds. He clipped away our shameful regrets. He healed us from the disease called ‘sin’— a disease that would kill us. He transferred us into his kingdom. We have been moved from the column: ‘Enemy to be destroyed by God’ to ‘Child Loved by God.’
God’s Word, the Bible, tells you this comforting truth. That is the ‘gospel,’ the ‘good-news’ that Jesus rescued you. That ‘good news’ enters your heart individually. Because the Word of God has the power to change hearts (Romans 1:16). That Word, which was spoken at your baptism, has transplanted you into light.
Paul takes us right to the soil. He reminds you that (1) God has bought you and (2) transplanted you so that you may draw strength from God and his Word. When it comes to guidance and strength for life, look down and see where you stand planted. God has transplanted you into light. Rooted in good soil comes good growth.
My plants— well, the leaves remained yellow for several weeks. So, I treated the soil. I carefully dug up each seedling, filled the hole with black dirt, mixed in a little lime, and replanted each plant. A few days later those little plants began improving. Leaves changed from yellow to green and new growth appeared. When you have good soil, you have good growth.
You (and I), planted into faith, grow. Paul continues in verse 9: [We] ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… So, you, as a Christian, are planted in Christ, but you do not remain stagnant. You grow spiritually. You grow by learning God’s ‘will’— and that ‘will’ (God’s desires) are only found in the Bible. This is why your congregation presents and emphasizes opportunities to be in God’s Word. To be in Bible Class. To be in Sunday School. To be in Catechism class. To have personal, daily devotions. These are all opportunities to see God’s demands, hear God’s forgiveness, memorize promises of rescue, and find God-pleasing answers.
Maybe right now, your mind is already fabricating excuses as to why you just cannot possibly be in the Word like that. I mean, we still battle a sinful nature. A sinful nature that thinks it can handle every problem in life. A sinful nature that does not want to rely on the Bible verses memorized in Sunday School and in Catechism class. A sinful nature that defends its ungodly decisions. A sinful nature that only seeks its own interests. We may create every excuse as to why it’s impossible to grow in our knowledge of God, but we only hurt ourselves. The devil loves the excuses you (and I) make because they separate us God’s Word— the only weapon we have against temptation. The further we stay from the Word, the further we can drift from God!
That is why Paul prays: [We] ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… The more you read your Bible, the more you learn— and not just that, but the more you remember about who God is and what God does. The information gained from the Bible allows you to apply it to the many different situations of life.
This is where you find guidance. You know: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16). Apply that truth when frightened about death. Can you really know that you will be in heaven? Yes. Because God used baptism to save you (1 Peter 3:21). You know that God is with you to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Apply that truth when at a loss for answers. You do not know the future. You might worry the future will be bad, not pleasant. Yet, God has heaven in store for you. God uses even unpleasant things to increase your reliance on him.
You also use your knowledge to determine what is false and what is true. Someone might tell you: God will not give you more than you can bear. You would know that this is not entirely accurate. The Bible says: God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear and that when pressed down, his Word gives you strength not to fall into sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). A friend might say: I don’t need to be in a church to be a Christian. While that sounds a little true, you also know the Bible says: Let us not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). The more you spend in your Bible, the more you know. The more you know, the more you apply. That is how you grow.
A Gospel-Fed Heart Grows. God has transplanted you into light; he provides good soil. As a follower of Christ, you will grow in Christian living; His Word grows knowledge.
Right now my garden is growing. The soil is balanced. Plants draw nutrients from that soil. Yet, something else happens: those plants produce fruit— good, beneficial, pleasing fruit.
Paul points to the fruits that come from putting God’s Word into practice. Verses 3-5 say: We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. God loves the Colossians. He loves them so much that he still keeps the Word in their life. He uses the Word to correct their false beliefs. He does not hold their wrongs against them, but he cleanses them. He keeps them planted in this soil of faith. He keeps feeding them with his Word. That love has an effect: loved much, they love much.
Paul notes that in verses 5-6: Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing— as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth… The Word produces ‘fruits of faith.’ ‘Fruits of faith’ are the results that come from putting God’s Word into practice.
See what fruits it produces in you. God encourages us: Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said: ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5). We see that God has given house and home, possessions and vehicles, money saved and money spent— and does this all without our constant asking. The Word sinks in; the fruit of contentment grows.
God teaches: If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8). If we come through surgery, we thank God for another day. If we do not make it through surgery, we thank God for heaven. We will not leave this life a day sooner or a day later than God already knows. So, the Word sinks in; the fruit of trust grows.
God instructs: Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:22, 25). Husbands put the needs of your wife ahead of your own, just like Christ put your life ahead of his and died for you. Wives, listen to your husbands, just like you know God loves you and wants only the best. The Word sinks in; the fruit of stronger relationships grow.
Gospel-Fed Hearts Grow. God’s Word does something; God’s Word produces fruitful living.
For you to grow, thrive, and flourish in Christian living, you need good soil. You need a reliable source of comfort when feeling crushed. You need clear answers when confused. You need ever-constant strength when feeling exhausted. Where are you looking for direction? Drink deeply from this truth: Gospel-Fed Hearts Grow. Turn here. God has transplanted you into light. His Word grows knowledge. His Word produces fruitful living.
“We’re thankful you are here. After all, we are not that big. We used to be, but many are now gone. There’s not always many on Sunday morning. Someone young like you probably wants more activities. I’m sure one day you’ll be promoted into a larger church.” Those words have hit my ears probably half-a-dozen times each year for the past several years. (And I’m sure I will hear them again.) In those words you find genuine appreciation. Words aware of the past. Words dotted with fear. Why the fear?
You see, when we evaluate ‘church,’ we can find ourselves focusing on nonessential features. That happens when we carry a faulty definition of ‘church.’ So, let’s ask: Is Your Definition of ‘Church’ Right? In Isaiah’s prophecy God highlights two key features to find in this place. (1) Receive satisfaction with the nourishment God provides and (2) Flourish from the comfort God extends.
In order to find these features, we must first define [the word]: ‘church.’ The Bible defines that one little word in two very different ways. You discover both definitions here.
The first definition is what we typically call ‘church-spelled-with-a little-‘c’ (or, the [little-‘c’]hurch). The ‘[little-‘c’]hurch are the churchy items your eyes see. You see a building, an altar, and pews— furnishings associated with a church. You see individual people inside. You see a group of people, also known as a congregation. You see a pastor, Bibles, a message. Your eyes see a religious organization serving people. That’s the [little-‘c’]hurch, the visible church.
Isaiah sees that too. He sees Solomon’s magnificent temple. Glistening white columns tower overhead. Imposing bronze altars consume sacrifices. Smoky incense wafts into the heavens. Isaiah sees people stream into the temple courtyard with animal-sacrifice in hand. He sees priests reading from the books of Moses [the first five of the Bible]. Isaiah sees what you (and I) see: a [little-‘c’]hurch, a visible church.
God is not happy with this sight. Yes, masses stream to the temple—but they arrive for all the wrong reasons. Some come out of empty-minded habit. They stand in the courtyard, the priest reads Scripture, and they stare out the window, daydreaming about the house projects to do after the sacrifice. Others? Well, on the way out the door, they grab the first animal they see, drag it along so that they do not stand empty-handed when it is their turn to give their gift. Still others treat the temple like a good-luck charm. That God must protect Israel because he depends on the existence of this temple. Here stands a [little-‘c’], visible church, but what goes on inside is not good. God is not interested with simple, outward actions. God desires sincere inner motives. So he says: I will choose harsh treatment for them… For when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, no one listened (Isaiah 66:4). God makes it abundantly clear: the temple exists for God to come to Israel, not Israel coming to God.
Do you catch that? The existence of this [little-‘c’], visible church is not what you do for God. It is not about what you want found here. The [little-‘c’], visible church exists for God to come to you.
Still, inside each of us lies this little ego that seizes the opportunity to make church suit me. I just want everyone to see me step foot into a church. Then I look pretty moral, pretty respectable, pretty trustworthy before my community. I gain pride by being here. I want this place jammed-packed so that I look like I am part of some large movement. Then I feel popular, well-liked, well-respected. I come here Sunday mornings because this is my routine. This is my habit. I might forget every hymn by the end of the day. I cannot remember a lick of what the Pastor taught. But I can point to my church attendance; I can feel good that I do my part. Yes, that ego is even the reason we feel sad inside when what is seen does not match expectations. I want a certain-looking church so that my selfish wish-list is satisfied. At its very core I am ordering God to meet my wants, when the purpose for church is me receiving from God.
So, listen again to verses 10-11: “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance.” You realize that God does not describe the [little-‘c’], visible church here. No. God is using another definition for ‘church.’ This ‘Jerusalem’ is not describing a city on a map. Rather, it pictures every believer gathering in one family of faith (Galatians 4:21-31). We call this the capital, [big-‘C’]hurch. The [big-‘C’]hurch is seen with eyes. The [big-‘C’]hurch is faith.
God uses this [little-‘c’], visible church in order to bring you into his [big-‘C’]hurch. After all, here you receive from God. Just like an infant receives rich nutrients from his mother so that he may grow and remain healthy, you receive God’s Word meant to make you spiritually alive, strong, and healthy.
Sometimes you receive words meant to cut you (and me) down. Words that strip away self-righteous pride: I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine (Psalm 50:9-10). Words that inscribe what God demands from us: Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21) because God wants the heart (Psalm 51:17). Yes, you receive words meant to strip away pride. Because when pride is gone, you can see Jesus here.
You can see Jesus come to you and assure you that he has wiped away the demands you made of him. That he has washed you in the waters of baptism. That he has clothed you with his innocent life. That he has set you on the lap of his Father and that the Father cradles you as his adopted child.
That is the right definition of ‘church.’ Here, in this visible building, God comes to you individually so that you can (1) Receive satisfaction with the nourishment God provides. That you receive spiritual nourishment from the Word. Then when you leave here, you can (2) Flourish from the comfort God extends.
For thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees.” Do you see what you receive? Peace. Do you know what that means? Peace is God standing at-one with you. He does not turn his back, he faces you. He does not plug his ears because you broke your promises to quit doing wrong, he declares your shame removed. You can point at heaven and say, “That’s my home! I know that because God says it!” You can pray and say, “Amen! God hears me because he says he hears me!” You can confront struggles head on, saying, “God does not stand against me, but with me, because he extends peace to me!” Here, in this [little-‘c’], visible church you hear ‘peace.’ Those words hit your heart and keep you in God’s [big-‘C’]hurch. Since you stand at peace with God, your life flourishes.
God does not stop there. He takes his peace and combines it with comfort. As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. That is good. The devil will always try to convince you that what matters most about church is what is seen. That’s why you feel down at times, the devil tries to convince you that God lacks power. The devil knows that if he throws you into despair, then the Word does not sound so appealing. Then your time here is not spent growing, but rather spent holding onto past memories of what you once had. Yes, the devil knows that if he can get your mind off of the one thing church is all about, then he has gained the upper hand.
So, seize the upper hand back from him— and you can because Jesus has won. That, my friends, is something Satan has no answer for. He never will have an answer. Because the moment Christ cried out on the cross: ‘It is finished!’ it sealed the devil’s defeat forever. When Christ rose from the dead, he could sigh: ‘Peace be with you’ and the devil could not change the impact of those words. Everything written in Scripture is just another stinging reminder that the devil lost. It does not matter what is seen here, but rather what is heard here. When that Word is proclaimed here, the devil repeatedly hears his defeat.
Set your sights on God’s Word of comfort that tells you the way things truly are. Then you will flourish from the comfort God extends. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants…
Yet, there remains one final line, and it’s almost easy to gloss over it. [H]e shall show his indignation against his enemies. In the midst of this magnificent fanfare stands a sobering reminder: God will punish those who stand opposed to him; he will damn every nonbeliever to hell. That is not a pleasant message. It does not feel right to say that. It sounds harsh. It feels wrong to think that your neighbor, your child, your spouse could go to hell.
Realize that God makes this truth clear so that we can lead others to the comfort God extends to them. Last Thursday, you celebrated your freedom to do just that. The United States of America protects the freedom of religion. That means, you can bring others to your [little-‘c’]hurch so that God can bring them into his [big-‘C’]hurch, his family of believers. The words spoken here are what matters most.
That’s what makes this place so special. The world tends to examine churches by what is seen. Even we look for people, for activity, for success. Yet, that is not what God emphasizes in a church. He uses this place to bring his Word into many hearts, and he works through the Word to bring people into his family of believers.
So, back to those phrases.“We used to be big, but not so much anymore. Someone young like you probably wants more activities. I’m sure one day you’ll be promoted into a larger church.” No. That is not what I look for here. That is not important in life. What matters is that God’s Word is here. That’s what we look for. That’s what we cherish. That is the reason we are here. Let’s keep the Definition of ‘Church’ Right. Here you: (1) Receive satisfaction with the nourishment God provides and (2) Flourish from the comfort God extends.