Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022


24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

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. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.[1]

Colossians 1:24-2:10

Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

This week, we go back and get some good context from previous passages to help us understand where Colossians goes next. You can find the full text of this Bible study, complete with links, here: https://justkeithharris.com/2022/05/25/refresh-restore-may-26/
  1. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)
  2. Refresh & Restore — May 19, 2022 (Jesus Over All 10)
  3. Refresh & Restore — May 12, 2022 (Jesus Over All 9)
  4. Refresh & Restore — April 28, 2022 (Jesus Over All 8)
  5. Refresh & Restore — March 31, 2022 (Jesus Over All 7)

Greetings Sojourners!

For me, this is a week of transitions. I am a public school teacher, so I have transitioned from the regular school year to summer. I will transition right back next week for summer school. I will also start my second trimester at William Carey next week.

This is also a good time to look at the transition Paul makes in the book of Colossians.

He spends so much time in the first chapter of Colossians sharing his love for them and the deep and beautiful Christological doctrines they need. I have tried to show how he moves out of those topics into why he was writing to them and the church at Laodicea in the first place: false teachers/false gospel had made its way into their churches. He has shown them Christ and shown them love because he was about to have to tell them some things that they needed to hear that they may not want to hear. Since this letter is also from the Holy Spirit to every believer from then on to Christ’s return, there are some things that we need that we may not want.

This did not get framed this way in my thinking until yesterday. Yesterday was supposed to be a quick and easy work day, wrapping up the 2021-22 school year and getting (just enough of a) head start on next year to dive into summer. I had met Jamie Harrison (he’s been the guy behind the guy as long as there has been a Just Keith Harris ministry) for coffee and to discuss the book we are reading together – Do You Believe? by Paul Tripp. Every teacher up and down the halls was laughing and jovial. There were just a few things on the agenda and the pace and atmosphere of the day reflected all of that. Until my phone starting ringing….

I had been discussing the last few things that needed to be done with our ELA specialist, so I silenced my phone. No sooner than I had hit the button, another teacher burst into my room: “Xander’s busted his head. He’s in Candice’s room. It’s bleeding pretty bad.”

I ran. My mind raced faster than my legs. There was a crowd around Candice’s door. Faces were pale – but, then again, seeing someone “bleeding pretty bad” will do that to you, especially with a head wound.

Candice had everything under control, of course. Xander, on the other hand, was in full blown freak-out. “Am I gonna have to go to the doctor?!?!” Our school nurse then arrived, checked him out, and, when we saw the wound, it was clear to everyone – we were headed to the doctor. We did our best to put our fear down and let just the mama- and daddy-ness show forth. With that, there had to be questions of what happened and how did it happen and how brother and sister had managed to produce such an emergency.

Long story short, what Candice and I had told both of them hundreds of times in their life – and Candice had literally just reiterated to them – was ignored. They were rough-housing. No one was angry (I am thankful that they do enjoy playing with each other), but the roughhousing ended with Xander’s hard head against a harder object with the skin of his forehead in between.

As I drove, faster than I liked – while Keri cried out of worry and Candice held a cloth and ice pack to his forehead – I could not help but ask the question that every parent (Lord knows my parents had to) asks: why didn’t they listen to us? I was not trying to assign blame or punish – it was an accident, after all, but I was scared myself. I could see Candice’s eyes in the rearview. She was scared. There were plenty of what-ifs. Our wonderfully precocious and hard-headed boy’s head is precious to us. That is why we tell him what not to do – and tell him again – and again – and will tell him some more once the wound is officially closed.

That is what God did for us in giving us his Word, what Paul was doing for the Colossian and Laodicean churches, and what God still actively does for His people through His Spirit when they read the Word or hear it preached. And that’s what we need to get today before we move on next week to Paul’s specific teachings regarding the false teachers in Colossae.

Context is Key

If you have been reading the Bible studies I send out or have begun and continue in them, you will notice that I talk about context often. I believe one of the most dangerous questions that a believer can ask is what a particular verse means to you. The Bible means what God meant. The original authors – inspired by His Spirit – meant what the context of the original writing meant. Jesus did not proclaim that He was a Truth or a Way to Life but the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). The Bible means what it means.

Today, that is a difficult concept for us. The idea of truth today is divided between two filters or lenses: moral relativism and post-modernism. Basically, moral relativism means that each individual gets to define their truth, and post-modernism denies the existence of truth outside of how an individual sees their truth. Yet the Bible defines itself outside of those filters. Look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

That sentence, in the context of the letter of 2 Timothy and that particular section shows us not only what that sentence means but, by doing just that, clarifies the importance of Scripture and context. Just prior to that sentence, Paul reminds Timothy of the “sacred writings” – Old Testament Scriptures – that he had been taught from by his mother and grandmother; Scriptures that “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). This emphasizes how important the Word of God is for a person being saved, namely that it is a necessity (Romans 10:17). Immediately after Paul defined Scripture, he charged Timothy (and every other pastor after him) “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus” to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:1). Again, the context matters. Scripture is essential to salvation and it is clarified to be the only substance of preaching.

Look back at 2 Timothy 3:16-17 again. God “breathed out” Scripture. He produced it. Now, this is where a lot of people decide that this is too much for them. God’s Word – just like He does – must be understood in faith. If a person does not believe in Jesus, naturally they are going to deny any divine origin of Scripture. Likewise, if you deny God’s Word by ignoring it, not believing it, or simply refusing to let it interrupt your “best life” (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help sticking that in), you probably don’t believe in Him. God “breathed out” His Word to be “profitable” in the lives of His people. It is profitable for “teaching” (teaching right belief), “reproof” (correcting wrong belief), “correction” (Holy Spirit conviction of behaviors and lifestyles contradictory to God’s standard), and “training in righteousness” (teaching us how the Creator meant for life to be lived). It contains everything that can be known about God. It is enough, through the empowering of God’s Spirit, to make every Christ-follower “complete, equipped for every good work”.

Consequently, the book that Jamie and I have been reading, put this in a more beautiful way than I have ever heard. I can give you thick, theological answers as to why Scripture is important. I can try to break it down as best I can (which is what I was trying to do above). But, Paul Tripp put it in a way that brings tears to my eyes and in a way that absolutely reflects the context we need to see for why Paul was writing to the Colossian church: “When you get the word of God, you also get the God of the word, and that is a beautiful thing.”[2]

So, as we look at some key phrases in the verses that our last few Bible studies covered, we will be able to understand the context better. Hopefully, this will help us understand what God would teach us through this study.

Reteaching and Remediation of Colossians 1:24-2:10

There was a time when how I taught the Bible and how I teach English was more independent from each other. I tried to be what the school of Education at Ole Miss taught me to be in the classroom and what New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary taught me to be in the pulpit. Well, I just do not quite fit either mold. So, now, I just teach how I teach in hopes of helping whichever context learn what they need to learn. I say that because school-teacher-me is leaking over into our Bible study today.

I have standards that cover various facets of 10th grade English. Whenever I teach the standards (central idea, theme, POV, rhetoric, etc.), it is not about my lesson; it is about what the kiddos need and whether they got it. In some cases where they do not get something, I just teach it again and try to change up my methods a little. But there are times when teachers need to break everything back down to square one and try a different approach. I am bringing a little reteaching and remediation to our Colossians study because God has allowed me a part in your walk with Him and I want to “present everyone mature in Christ” (1:28)!

I have picked out nine phrases or sentences from our passage from the past few weeks (you can find them here, here, and here) and what we started with today to help us have the opportunity to see what God wants us to get and the context that helps us get it the way He meant it. I’ll list the phrase or sentence and break it down as clearly and briefly as I am capable.

…in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the church…. (1:24) Our last two Bible studies looked at Paul’s sufferings. We need to understand that he was not being punished. He also was neither complaining about his sufferings nor bragging about his endurance. These people had never met him. He was an apostle – a specific office that only existed at the beginning of the early church (beginning in Acts and going until they died). He was given authority to teach them and help them have the necessary foundation. He was willing to suffer for the church – for them specifically, and they needed to know that.

I know that if Candice was to be in need and me not be available that I have folks who would do what needs to be done. My brothers, Kevin and Erin, have each dropped what they were doing and have come to her aid when it would take too long for me to get there. They would suffer for my kids. I have brothers at church who bear my burdens even when they have more on them than they should, yet they add mine without a thought. Knowing that impacted my relationship with them all. The Colossian church needed that with Paul – they needed to know that Christ would take care of His bride.

…to make the Word of God fully known…. (1:25) That is the point of the ministry of Paul as an apostle and Epaphras as their pastor. That is my goal in these weekly Bible studies. Full disclosure, if your pastor has a platform for ideals and not a pulpit for preaching the Word, you need to move on. The Word of God – all of it, not just the parts that make your heart flutter or your toes hurt – “fully known” is what is needed to be mature in Christ. You can have a PhD in the world issues, your preferred national platform, or the soapbox of your choice, yet being ignorant of the Word will matter more than any of them in the long run because there is no long run for any of them.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone, and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (1:28) Again, preaching and teaching the Word – and living it out through continual repentance and faith – is what is called for. If you want to grow closer to Christ, you need to be fed by His Word. If you do not want Him and His Word interfering with your life, that is a big deal – hence the “warning everyone” and “teaching everyone”. I hate being corrected. But I would hate it more to stand before Him and He tell me, “I never knew you; depart from me, you [worker] of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).

For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me. (1:29) The ministry of the Word – discipling other believers and helping them grow to maturity in their faith in Christ – IS WORTH TOILING. It is work. It is hard. But the strength comes from Christ.

…to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ…. (2:2) Preaching and teaching the Bible is not about knowledge. I mentioned earlier that I have things that my school kids need to learn. I help them get the knowledge they need, and that knowledge helps them on their way to the adult they are becoming. And I absolutely love teaching literature and writing. But the gospel is “riches”. I can take a Shakespearean sonnet and understand everything it has to offer. But reaching “all the riches of full assurance and understanding” is too lofty a goal for me to reach, yet it is so rich and valuable that I cannot help but pursue it and teach it and write about it.

I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. (2:4) There is a seemingly inexhaustible supply of people trying to “delude you”. False teaching will make sense. This is why spending time in the Word is so important. It is a lot like being able to tell the difference between scammers on the phone and legitimate callers. The difference is that false teachers do not want your social security number; they are after your soul. This is a good time to remediate something I said above: if you are letting “preachers” speak into your life about worldly things that, to an earthly extent do matter, at the expense of preaching the Word, you are victim of a false teacher – or at the very least a preacher who cares more for whatever he wants to talk about than the sheep in his care.

…as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him…. (2:6) This reiterates the importance of the Word in the life of the Church. The church in America is currently being called out for not “so walk[ing] in Him”. Receiving Christ means living like He has taught in His Word. When Roe v. Wade is appealed, are you willing to foster or adopt (James 1:22, 26-27)? I am a Southern Baptist and just read the report of how too many in my denomination cared more about getting sued or earthly liability than in caring for people they could have protected and most definitely should have ministered to (James 2:13-17). Walking “in Him” means being hated as He was hated. It means loving like He loved. It means living like He lived. And it may mean dying like He died. If you have not “received Christ Jesus the Lord”, though – if you have not been saved, you will walk away.

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. (2:8) Next week, we will dive in specifically to this and the rest of the paragraph that follows. It is our responsibility to “see to it that no one takes [us] captive”. This is important. We need to be testing the spirit of those claiming to preach the Word (1 John 4:1-6). We needed to be testing whether the Spirit be in us, too (Philippians 2:12-13). Test what you read here as well!

Wrapping Up

I hope this helps you understand the importance of the Word. I am praying for you, dear Sojourner. More than anything, I am thankful that the God of the Word is sovereign and omnipotent and cares for folks like you and me. Hallelujah, and amen!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2016. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Paul David Tripp, Do You Believe?: 12 Historic Doctrines to Change Your Everyday Life Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021, 38.

Refresh & Restore — May 19, 2022

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. [1]

Colossians 2:6-7

Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

This week, we go back and get some good context from previous passages to help us understand where Colossians goes next. You can find the full text of this Bible study, complete with links, here: https://justkeithharris.com/2022/05/25/refresh-restore-may-26/
  1. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)
  2. Refresh & Restore — May 19, 2022 (Jesus Over All 10)
  3. Refresh & Restore — May 12, 2022 (Jesus Over All 9)
  4. Refresh & Restore — April 28, 2022 (Jesus Over All 8)
  5. Refresh & Restore — March 31, 2022 (Jesus Over All 7)

Greetings Sojourners!

Suffering. Over the last few weeks of studying to write these Bible studies, I have found myself thinking about it again and again, and with it a question: is there anything in my life for which I would willingly suffer?

Of course, you can imagine the answers that would receive a willing yes – or at least ones that I would hope to say ‘yes’ to or that I at least should be willing to suffer for: Jesus, family and loved ones. But what is the likelihood that I – in the normal scope of circumstances and the trajectory of my life – would have to be willing to suffer. At most, the things in my life that approach suffering are mere shadows of it or discomforts.

Last week’s passage looked at how Paul suffered on behalf of the church and, more importantly, why he was willing to suffer. First, he found the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ” (Philippians 3:7) to outweigh the discomfort of worldly suffering. But, second, he toiled and struggled to “present everyone mature in Christ” (ch 1:28-29) so that “no one may delude [them] with plausible arguments” (ch 2:4). He was willing to suffer so that the church would grow closer to Christ and be presented “mature” (ch 1:28) – that the church would have the life that the Bible talks about (and live it).

As a pastor and teacher of the Word – as a disciple of Christ who is supposed to be making disciples (Matthew 28:19), that is pretty much the goal: to reach people with the gospel of Christ and help them grow closer to Him. But that leaves me with more questions. I’ll offer them to you as well:

  • Is this a goal (making disciples and helping them mature in their faith) that would drive you to be willing to suffer, or is spiritual maturity something you care about at all?
  • Do the lives of those who profess Christ make everything that Christ has promised His people – the lifestyle and character traits as well as the blessings – seem right and true?

This would be an easy place to turn and bash the church. Bashing, or even just bad-mouthing, the church is a popular activity even among those who claim to be a part of it. I wish I could say that I have not done it, but I have come to realize that how I view – more importantly how I treat – the church, the Bride of Christ, says a lot about me. I cannot imagine someone coming to me to bad mouth Candice. Wrath would be readily available and grace in short supply. The church is to Christ what Candice is to me – and more.

The longer I walk with Christ and the more closely I am grafted into that body through my local church, I find that I have great hope for the church: His name is Jesus. And I pray that He sees fit to use me to help her – to make a difference through the ministry of the local church He’s called me to serve.

But that is never easy. Suffering may be involved. It is good that the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ” is more and better than any bad suffering can bring.

I cannot think about people who love and care for the church and who would willingly suffer to see her members grow in maturity without my mind being drawn to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (pronounced BON-hoff-er). He was a pastor, a theologian, a teacher, a spy, and later a martyr under the Nazi regime in Germany. His story is now viewed as remarkable, but he would not have thought it so. He pastored and trained pastors, many of whom were imprisoned or martyred by the Nazis themselves. Much of his time and ministry was spent helping young ministers know and grow in Christ.

The aspect of his story that comes to mind here is when his compatriots convinced him to be smuggled to America so that he would be safe and be able to continue to serve God and be active in Kingdom work. When he got to America, things were so much more peaceful than in WWII Germany, but he had no peace. The only Kingdom work he could think about or focus on was back in Germany – back where nothing good awaited him. He fell under the conviction that he had left where God had called him to be. So, he repented. He got smuggled back into Germany where he would eventually be arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in various places until he finally reached the Flossenburg Concentration Camp in Bavaria.

That is the kind of hope that comes only from Christ. The “surpassing worth of knowing Christ” makes every other thing of considerable value to be counted as “rubbish” or dung (Philippians 3:7-8). Knowing Him and seeking His Kingdom is like discovering a treasure worth more than everything you own – worth so much that you would cash it all in to possess it; it is realizing that you have found a relationship with the One whose value so outweighs your own and rejoicing that He loves you despite your unworthiness (Matthew 13:44; Romans 8:31-39).

That is the hope that made Paul willing to suffer and follow Christ’s example and sacrifice. Suffering paled in comparison to seeing others come to know Christ and follow Him. Suffering on earth is temporary, but God’s Kingdom has no end! And that is the hope that I want to help point us to today. If you have “received Christ Jesus the Lord”, you can “walk in Him” by being “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith”.

“received Christ Jesus the Lord”

There are so many ways that people describe what it means to be in Christ – saved, born again, Christ-follower, Christian, etc. Sometimes it can feel like people are speaking Christian-ese or some sort of church language. To a certain extent, those terms are simply biblical ways to describe what happens when people repent of their sins and believe in Jesus, but that also sounds Christian-ese. Then, there are some who use these terms to camouflage their disbelief and navigate the waters of church culture. Even Demas was able to serve alongside Paul, completing “Christian” work until he “in love with this present world” abandoned him to go to Thessalonica (2 Timothy 4:10).

There are many today who once claimed Christianity but have abandoned the religion – or deconstructed their faith to construct something different in its place. Where I live in the southeastern United States was formerly known as the Bible Belt. There was a church on every corner and everyone seemed to know (at least) about Jesus, but that is not the case anymore. In fact, the predominant worldview in America as of 2021 is “moralistic therapeutic deism” which helps people speak of God generically and hold to whatever beliefs make them feel most comfortable, even attending churches for community when believing none of the Bible’s teachings.[2]

In a world where we sometimes casually speak about Christianity, especially in the church, I think it is helpful for us to look at what Paul means here when he says “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord” (v. 6). Jesus did not die for community. I like the way Jesus Himself put it: He came “to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). He is “Jesus Christ the righteous…the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1-2). He, “being rich in mercy”, came to make those who “were dead in the trespasses and sins in which [they] once walked” to be “made…alive together with Christ”, saving them by His grace (Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-5)! He died – and raised from the dead – for more than shallow religion offers.

Surely Paul would not willingly suffer – much less Jesus die – for people to generically call on Him as a label for their community while denying Him as Savior and Lord. In fact, the Bible speaks to this specifically. Paul clarifies this as a spiritual matter in 1 Corinthians 12:3:

“Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

Basically, one cannot decide to accept Christianity while rejecting – essentially saying “to Hell with” – the Christ of Christianity. He is the Lord of the saved and rejected by all others. Romans 10:9, the model for true belief and what it looks like to be in Christ, leaves no room for someone to claim Him without submitting to Him as Lord:

“…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Submitting to Him is the confession – not lengthy or difficult doctrines. Confessing to the world that He is your Lord – with your mouth and especially your life – and that you commit to believing what the Bible says about Him, namely His death and resurrection are the hallmarks of being saved. The language is important because it comes from the Bible. It is important because it teaches us how to be saved and, then, what it means to follow Him.

That word “receive” from our passage today is a good indicator of what it means to “be saved” and for Jesus to be one’s “Lord”. In the original language, that word meant “receive with or to oneself what is given, imparted, delivered over…to receive into the mind, be taught”[3]; it meant that something of value had been offered or taught to be implanted and become part of the learner. The message of the gospel tells the truth about man, sin, and gives invitation and opportunity to repent of sin and believe in Jesus – to have faith and trust that He is who His Word proclaims He is and that He will do what He promised, namely bring lost sinners from death to eternal life. For those who get “saved”, they hear this message and respond to its call in repentance and faith, or they remain in their sins by rejecting the message and continuing on unchanged.

To reject the message means it is not received. This is clear. There are people who seek after many religions or philosophies. They would reject the idea that Jesus is who the Bible says He is. But, to “be saved” is to “receive Christ Jesus the Lord” – to believe what the Bible says about Him and live life the Life He gives following His example and commands. This is not a legalistic set of laws but a response of love to Him who loved us and thankfulness toward Him for all He has done and is doing on our behalf (v. 7).

This is a good opportunity, dear Sojourner, to assess whether or not you have received Him.

Jesus Himself speaks about this in His Sermon on the Mount:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’[4]

These words give me pause every time I read them. They do today. Salvation does not fall on me and my works, though. It lies solely on Him. Have I received Him – not just using His name and trying to work in His name? The Bible is clear that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32, Romans 10:13) – those that call out to Him to save them, submitting to Him and trusting in Him as Savior.

Paul talks about a difference between the lives of the world and in those who have received or learned Christ in Ephesians 4. He describes those who have not received Christ as walking “in the futility of their minds” rather than walking in Him (Ephesians 4:17). He says that those who have not received Christ are “callous” – hardened due to “sensuality” and practicing all manner of “impurity” (Ephesians 4:19). Then, he issues one of the most chilling litmus tests for believers:

“But that is not the way you learned Christ – assuming that you have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth is with Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:20-24)

Paul – really the Holy Spirit appealing to the church through Paul – does not leave room for one to have “learned Christ” while living like the world. When he talks about “assuming that you have heard about Him”, it chills up my spine as I examine my own life. This is not a question of my perfection or track record – but His!

So, I ask you to examine yourself. Have you “received” Him? If so, He has surely received, saved, loved, and adopted you as His! If not, I invite you to repent and believe!

“rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith,
just as you were taught”

Until one has “received Christ Jesus the Lord”, there is no need to attain for maturity. Knowing Christ is not a class – although there are Bible teachers in churches who are meant to teach you what the Bible says for how to live your life. What I mean is that there is no program to progress through – no degree to attain. If one is not in Christ, he or she is dead. There is no maturity in death, only decay!

I find it interesting that Paul found presenting “everyone mature in Christ” (ch 1:28) as worthy of “struggling with all [Christ’s] energy” (ch 1:29) while all of our – honestly, I am speaking for me and the local church I serve – energy and focus goes elsewhere. We have to constantly be reminded that the Great Commission is about making disciples – not converts. Part of the reason is that making converts seems to be relatively easier – all we have to do is proclaim the gospel; Jesus does the saving!

Making disciples (discipleship) is difficult for us because it takes time. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we can travel somewhere, preach the gospel, and let someone else disciple the converts. But, unfortunately, we have many who profess Christ who no one disciples. They are handed a Bible, often given a job or ministry in the church, and wished good luck on their efforts. No one really took a concerted effort to disciple me until I had already been in ministry for over a decade and had burned out. To think, I was a little offended when an interim pastor approached me in my thirties and asked if I was interested in being discipled and growing in my walk with Christ. I am thankful for the offense, and, now, I seek to offend others in the same way!

I never realized what all it took to disciple someone – to truly labor and desire for their maturity – until a few years ago when my daughter received Christ. I also never fully understood the difficulties. She sees more of my walk with Christ than most anyone else, definitely more than anyone but Christ Himself and Candice. She sees my failings. She sees when I need to repent and whether or not I do. She sees when I read the Word and whether I worship God at home. What I try to teach her from the Word cannot remotely hope to compare to what she sees me living out. It is terribly frustrating at times, but, ultimately, it is a great joy to get to struggle and strive. I cannot imagine being satisfied with my own comfort if she would not be found mature in Him.

Paul did not have a wife or children. He cared that way for the churches he was called to serve. He looked at the Colossian church the way I look at Keri. He did not plant the church there, but the gospel he preached at Ephesus birthed that. Now, as I grow closer to Christ myself and mature to see more of what He has called me to, I understand more of what Paul wanted for the churches – and why he wanted them to be “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as [they] were taught, abounding in thanksgiving”.

Rooted

To be rooted in Christ lies in that foundation – “just as you were taught”. This reminds me of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-9. Some of the seed was sown on the hard packed earth of a path and was eaten by birds. Other seeds fell on shallow soil over bedrock; there was not enough depth for roots to develop that would sustain growth. Similarly, some seeds feel among thorns and were choked out. But the seeds that were sown on the good soil developed healthy roots, received all of the nutrients the soil offered, received all of the light and water they needed, and grew into healthy plants that multipled “a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:8).

Roots not only provide a means to gain sustenance but also support and strength. Think about how many times following a storm there are large trees whose roots snap off below the ground. The roots were enough to sustain the tree to grow large, but they never developed enough to withstand the pressure that comes with winds and storms. Yet there are very large and extremely old trees that line areas of the Gulf Coast in southern Mississippi. Their branches are gnarly as they have been whipped by hurricane after hurricane. Their branches bear the marks of the wind, but their roots have sustained them and held them safely in the ground.

So it is with Christ. To become mature, you must be rooted in Him. Like the branches of a grape vine have no hope of producing grapes without being attached to their vine, “apart from [Christ] you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The same gospel that brings the invitation to receive Christ also sustains. A Christian will never outgrow the truth of the gospel but, rather, studying and knowing it more means that our roots are dug deep into its good soil. Continuing to study the Word and walk with Christ draws sustenance and leaves us firmly planted in Him.

In the coming weeks of this study, we will look at the winds of false teaching that were attacking the Colossian church. There are similar winds today. The only way to withstand is to be rooted in Christ.

Built Up in Him

What good is a foundation if no one builds on it? What good are roots if there is no tree?

We looked earlier at some of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4. Earlier in that chapter, he spoke to this:

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

Disciples grow as they study God’s Word and put it into practice. That’s right: practice. Too many people have been allowed to profess Christ with their mouths on a single occasion and deny Him with their lives in every moment following it. (This typically cues a chorus of “Thou shalt not judge”.)

Paul illustrated being build up in Christ to the Ephesian church by talking about love being the catalyst. Jesus Himself said that all of the law could be summed up by loving God and loving people (Matthew 22:36-40). Love is an action. Love is a constant choice to remember what God did for us in Christ and to share that with others. Love requires effort. The church is not built with bricks and mortar but with those who have received Christ serving Him and sharing Him with others.

Established in the Faith

This word is more closely related to assurance – that one can know that they have received Christ. To be “established in the faith” is to have the Spirit of God in you, leading and guiding. Honestly, and I am trying not to generalize this too much, if any of the things written about in this Bible study (receiving Christ, being rooted, and being built up/growing in Him) are missing, there is reason for concern, especially receiving Him.

One of the greatest issues for people in the former Bible Belt is false assurance. If someone has been allowed to profess Christianity with no connection to Christ, no fruit for decades, there is little to convince them otherwise. Think back to that chilling warning from Jesus in Matthew 7; there will be people who have claimed Christ in name only who will not be welcomed into eternity with Him. This is why Paul was willing to suffer to see people presented as mature. They were faced either with assurance of faith in Christ or outed as frauds. Demas could only stay with him so long before his love for the world overrode his words.

It is an uncomfortable thing to be confronted with a harsh truth. The harsh reality that your life does not bear fruit of a relationship with Christ offers opportunity for repentance and faith – opportunity to receive Him. But it does no one any good to save their feelings on earth if only to allow them to die and go to Hell. One way is love; the other hate.

Maybe you do not feel as if you are “established in the faith”. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes our trees need pruning. Sometimes we need to be confronted with present sin and repent – to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). But, maybe, you have merely talked the talk. Maybe you learned enough Christian-ese to converse and fit in with the locals.

It is a good thing to be confronted with harsh truths. If you realize that you have never received Christ, it is not too late. The same words that showed us earlier what it means to believe show us how to receive Him now. Romans 10:9-10 says:

“…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

There is no better time for such a confession than right now. If you would like to talk, I would love to help you; feel free to reach out any time.

Wrapping Up

I have gone on longer than normal, but I definitely feel that this is important. Anything worth suffering over is worth our attention. And the state of our soul in the face of the holy and righteous God of the universe is worth attention.

I began by talking about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and how his repentance led him back to Germany and, ultimately, to Flossenburg Concentration Camp. But I did not tell you what happened to him there.

This is usually the part of the story where something inspirational comes, and that definitely happens here. But nothing comes out of the wings to save Bonhoeffer from the fate one would expect at a concentration camp.

As WWII was drawing to a close – Hitler had already committed suicide and the Third Reich was preparing to surrender, the Nazis still harbored great hatred toward Bonhoeffer. They hated him so much, in fact, that one of their last official actions would be to have him executed rather than letting him go free after the surrender.

The morning of his death, he was not sad. He preached a sermon to people in the camp with a fellow prisoner, a British officer, standing watch and Nazi soldiers waiting to accompany him to his execution. When he finished preaching, he went with them willingly. In the moments before his hanging on the morning of April 9, 1945, he bowed his face to the ground, prayed to the Christ he would meet face-to-face minutes later, and uttered the words: “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.”

From an earthly perspective, this seems like such a sad story. But, the longer I walk with Christ, it is a story of hope. How could a man not fight against his executioners? How could he proclaim the gospel truth to his killers on his way out of this world? Hope. Hope in Christ that comes from being “rooted and built up and established in the faith”. Hope that comes from receiving Christ Jesus the Lord.

I cannot boast of great courage like that in my future. I can boast only in Christ and the hope He gives me now.

I pray He gives the same and more to you.

Hallelujah, and amen.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2016. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Barna, George. Rep. American Worldview Inventory 2021, Release #02: Introducing America’s Most Popular Worldview – Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Glendale, AZ, 2021.

[3] Zodhiates, Spiros. 2000. In The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, electronic ed. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2016. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Refresh & Restore — May 12, 2022

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.[1]


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Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

This week, we go back and get some good context from previous passages to help us understand where Colossians goes next. You can find the full text of this Bible study, complete with links, here: https://justkeithharris.com/2022/05/25/refresh-restore-may-26/
  1. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)
  2. Refresh & Restore — May 19, 2022 (Jesus Over All 10)
  3. Refresh & Restore — May 12, 2022 (Jesus Over All 9)
  4. Refresh & Restore — April 28, 2022 (Jesus Over All 8)
  5. Refresh & Restore — March 31, 2022 (Jesus Over All 7)

Greetings Sojourners!

I have wracked my brain to think of how to introduce this week’s Bible study in some creative and catchy way. But all I can think is that I wish this section was not in the Bible. I know that sounds terrible.

This passage highlights an area of struggle – of inadequacy – for me. Simply put: I do not want to suffer. I want to be comfortable. I want to be free of anxiety and depression and anger and difficulties and…well, discomfort in general. To a certain extent, this means that I am just like everyone else. But, for me, specifically, this is part of the “passions and desires” of my worldly self that need to be crucified (Galatians 5:24).

When I read and study the Bible, I try to follow James 1:22 and be a doer of the Word who hears the Word preached (or comprehends the Word while reading) and actually does it. Unfortunately, that is hard. And I fail at that. A lot. And there are parts that I come to, like today’s passage where I just simply do not want to do what it says or participate in what it talks about.

The idea of suffering in Scripture comes up more than most people realize. Many do not see it because the verses that we pick out to focus on allow us to ignore the sections that deal with it. There is a form of false teaching that is quite prevalent today known as the prosperity gospel. It basically proclaims that God has health and wealth for you should you simply remain faithful. If you give money or support certain ministers or speak positive things into existence, then there is a blessing (in the form of, again, health and wealth) waiting for you.

What about Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego)? People talk about the wealth and prosperity they had in Babylon. They talk about the power to rule and govern that they received. What about when Nebuchadnezzar had the made eunuchs and stripped them of their God-honoring names for Babylonian idolatry? Were they not still slaves in Babylon, far from their home?

What about Jesus? He was poor and hated while on earth. Are we more than Him? No. Listen to Jesus’ words in John 15:18-21:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’”

That passage scares me. And it comforts me. I am frightened of suffering and persecution, but I long to be associated with my Savior. I do not invite suffering – and especially do not long for it – but am I willing to “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

Today’s passage specifically deals with suffering in a manner that continues in Jesus’ suffering during his time on earth (and for His Bride, the Church). We get to see Paul talk about why the suffering he is experiencing – remember, this is one of the prison epistles written prior to his martyrdom – are worth it because they help bring people to Christ and those who are in Christ to maturity.

Are we willing to suffer – or even be uncomfortable – for someone to know Christ? Is our desire for comfort greater than our desire for Christ?

I am asking myself these questions as I write and can assure you of one thing, I am not boasting of what I have or can accomplish in this week’s Bible study. If no one else needs to hear this, I write to myself.

Paul’s Example

To understand where Paul is coming from – his perspective on suffering, one must first understand his testimony. He was not born Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. He was born Saul of Tarsus, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4-6). He was the cat’s pajamas – all that and a bag of chips – or, to quote one of my sophomores – good, like great.

When the apostles were preaching in Jerusalem following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, the church was exploding. The church at the time was known as “the Way” (Acts 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22) because they were in consistently focused on preaching the gospel to everyone who listed and living it out in their lives. Thousands were being baptized and “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Those who were being saved were ecstatic. The Pharisees and Saul were irate – and murderously so.

Peter and John were arrested for healing “a man lame from birth” (Acts 3:2) and proclaiming the gospel in Solomon’s Portico (Acts 3:11-26). The powers-that-were admonished them to cease preaching, leveeing every threat they could muster of suffering and death, and Peter infamously replied: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). And speak they did.

From there, the church grew even more. It prayed for boldness (Acts 4:23-30), and God answered their prayer by granting that they “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). The status quo in Jerusalem was in the rear view at that point. The church was thriving and ministering to each other and those around them. The Holy Spirit was moving. But the chief priests and Pharisees were not willing to budge a single inch. Instead, they called in Saul of Tarsus.

Saul enters the narrative of Acts at the end of the life of a man named Stephen who was described as “full of grace and power…doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). Local synagogue members rose up against him trying to tear down his preaching, but “they could withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:10). They were not listening. They did not repent and believe at the gospel preached. They grabbed him and drug him before the council. Their anger was met with grace as Stephen’s face “was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). They leveed charges against him to the council, and he charged them all by preaching. They heard him and were “enraged” and “ground their teeth at him” (Acts 7:54). They heard but would not repent. They “laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58). They picked up heavy stones and threw them one by one to execute him.

I cannot imagine being in Stephen’s situation. I am afraid I would have faltered or given in or remained silent. Yet Stephen made two more statements: “Lord, Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60). The Lord granted his request and let him sleep while his body was murdered. The servant was not greater than the master. He received what his Savior received. He responded as His Savior responded. “And Saul approved of his execution” (Acts 8:1).

Saul went to work against the church in Jerusalem. His task was described as a “great persecution” where he “ravaged the church” (Acts 8:1, 3). He viciously attacked Christ’s bride. Yet her work continued. The work of the church did not stop in suffering but instead spread, “scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). It spread so that Saul got warrants for imprisonment and execution against the church in Damascus – that “if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1). His threat against the Bride grew until he came face to face with Christ on the Damascus road.

If someone had ravaged my wife and I found myself in a show down, there would be nothing but wrath and vengeance. I would do all I could to visit the terror she experienced back on the attacker and more. Jesus blinded him, humbled him, and introduced Himself to Saul. The Pharisee of Pharisees had to be led by the hand to Damascus. He sat there blind for three days.

Jesus spoke to a local believer named Ananias and gave instructions regarding Saul – that He had plans for him. Ananias, of course, was skeptical. Jesus was trustworthy, but Saul had a track record of evil against believers. And Jesus gives him a very odd response,

“Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)

What?! The King of kings and Lord of lords – the God who is rich in grace, mercy, and love sets out to make someone suffer for their sins?!

While Jesus was talking to Ananias, Saul was praying. He had been given a vision of Ananias coming to return his sight. Ananias was obedient. Saul’s sight was regained. The Holy Spirit filled Paul, and he was saved and baptized. That which sounded like a punishment – “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” – can it be a blessing? Can it be grace?

I think Paul (Saul made new) can speak best to whether this is grace or judgment. We looked earlier at Paul’s pedigree (“Hebrew of Hebrews”, etc.), now let us listen to the rest of the testimony:

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)

Paul knew what Christ’s salvation meant. He felt like he was the “least of the apostles” because he had “persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9). It is through Paul’s words that we know “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). He even described himself as being the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). He knew he deserved death and Hell. Yet Christ had saved him. The servant was not greater than the master. He received what his Savior received. And He was forever in awe of the love and mercy that Christ showed him – that Christ had forgiven the sins against His Bride and allowed Him to serve her and bring her members to maturity.

That’s good news.

What Does This Mean for Us – for the Church Today?

The example of a sinner as bad as Paul gives hope for a sinner as bad as me. I hear people often mention some wicked and wretched sinner in their area and tout that there is no hope for him or her – that God simply won’t fool with someone like them. Well, he saved Paul. He saved me. And, if He hasn’t yet, I pray that He saves you, too, despite your sins!

Usually, I give a better exposition and explanation of our passage, but I felt strongly about showing Paul’s history and example. I think that his example – and what he says here in this letter to the Colossian church shows us how we should be working for God’s Kingdom in our local church and the communities around it. So, we will break it down into some bite-sized chunks for us to consider.

  • (v. 1:24) Paul did not mind suffering for Christ because he got to follow after His example and care for His church.
  • (v. 1:25) Paul’s primary goal in his ministry was to be a good steward of what God had given him – the Word of God, and he intended to make it “fully known” to everyone he could.
  • (v. 1:26) The church now knows “the mystery” as God has revealed His full story. We have all the information we need. Everything that can be known about God is found in the Bible.
  • (v. 1:27) God’s people are no longer just Israel. He has made a way in Christ for all people to experience “the riches of the glory of this mystery” and have Christ, “the hope of glory”, in them – to be in Christ.
  • (v. 1:28) Spiritual maturity is a thing. Paul felt a sense of responsibility to help people grow in Christ. That is called discipleship, and it is the command of the Great Commission (“make disciples”, Matthew 28:19). Paul considered it worth suffering for, so maybe we need to repent of not discipling or not being discipled in the Word of God.
  • (v. 1:29) Paul spent his life and all his energy in this task. It was not enough. Nothing would be accomplished without the Spirit’s “energy that He powerfully work[ed] within [Paul]”. The same is true for us today. Our efforts are nothing without His strength (Philippians 4:13).
  • (vv. 2:1-3) Paul wants to make sure that all the churches he can are being discipled – not just the one’s he planted. There are three things that he desires for those who have not seen him “face to face”: 1) “that their hearts may be encouraged”, 2) that they be “knit together in love”, and 3) that they may “reach all the riches of full assurance and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. Basically, he desires that they know Christ and make Him known. Such is the essence of Kingdom work.
  • (v. 2:4) There are those who are seeking to tear down the church. They may attack it with the same persecutions that Paul once did. In the case of Colossae, they are attacking it from the inside with cancerous false teachings. This highlights the necessity of discipleship. If one is not rooted and established in Christ, they will be blown over and hoodwinked by false teaching. We will hit on this more in the coming weeks.
  • (v. 2:5) Paul is able to rejoice for the Colossian church’s “firmness” of faith because he trusts that God is going to work in His church by His Spirit and through the ministry of the Word.

Wrapping Up

While I do wish that this was not part of the reality of walking with Christ, I am immensely thankful that he saved a sinner such as me. I do not want to suffer and am not going to seek it out, but I pray that God receive the glory for whatever He chooses to do with my life.

I find that it is not suffering that causes me to stumble. It is aggravation. It is the discomfort. It is not fitting in and being an outsider because of what He has done in me. I want the epitome of the American dream with heaven as a nice retirement plan. But the servant is not greater than the master. If the world hated Him yet loves me, am I His?

I do not deserve the second and third and sixty-seventh chances that He has given me. I do not deserve Him. But He loves me and has given Himself for me (Galatians 2:20). That matters. The fact that I know the magnitude of His love because of the depth of my depravity and sinfulness means that there should be nothing more valuable than that love. I was His enemy; He adopted me into His family. I deserved wrath; He gave love instead.

The servant is not greater than the master. The world hated Him, so it will hate me, too. But, praise be to God, He loves me despite that hatred. His care is greater than the suffering. And, when it inevitably comes, may we be found like the disciples, “rejoicing [to be] counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name” (Acts 5:41).


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2016. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Refresh & Restore — September 2, 2021

Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

This week, we go back and get some good context from previous passages to help us understand where Colossians goes next. You can find the full text of this Bible study, complete with links, here: https://justkeithharris.com/2022/05/25/refresh-restore-may-26/
  1. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)
  2. Refresh & Restore — May 19, 2022 (Jesus Over All 10)
  3. Refresh & Restore — May 12, 2022 (Jesus Over All 9)
  4. Refresh & Restore — April 28, 2022 (Jesus Over All 8)
  5. Refresh & Restore — March 31, 2022 (Jesus Over All 7)

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. 12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.

17 “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ 24 And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ 26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”[1]

Acts 3:1-26

Greetings, Sojourner!

I am excited about the new series we are beginning today. It is almost like the idea of it has been picking at the edges of my mind for quite some time, and I hope over the next month or so we can see just how beautiful, awesome, hope-giving, and worship-inspiring the words “but God” can be.

While the phrase is just two words, it carries a lot of weight. The word “but” carries with it the idea that whatever comes after it cancels out what preceded it. In this case, whatever comes before is canceled out by God. “But God” carries with it the message of the gospel that shows us that whatever came before – sin, shame, guilt, condemnation, death – is canceled out through the death of Jesus on the cross and, most importantly, His resurrection from the grave! For those of us who live a lot of our lives in the whatever-came-before, there is perhaps no greater comfort than “but God”, knowing that He is a God willing to intervene and make the sad things come untrue in Him. May we find hope in this truth – truths, really – over the weeks to come.

To begin, we are going to look at a passage that we have looked at a couple of times already. It was in this very passage that the idea of these Refresh & Restore devotions came about. In this passage, we see two men whose testimony was “but God”. Peter and John, two ordinary fishermen from some backwater hamlet had their whole lives changed when they met Jesus. They followed Him and became fishers of men (Mark 1:17). Little did they know as they approached the temple to pray that they would reel in a powerful opportunity to see God move in the life of a man who desperately needed God to interrupt his status quo – and get an awesome opportunity to offer the same hope to others and preach outside the temple.

Paralyzed & Poor BUT GOD…

For a “man lame from birth” (v. 2), there were not many options to make a living, but he was blessed to have people who would carry him and putting him in the path of people heading to the temple. Imagine the conviction you would feel encountering a person laying outside your church building “to ask alms of those entering” (v. 3); surely we would be willing to help under any circumstance, but especially one so convicting! The Beautiful Gate was covered in Corinthian Bronze and richly elaborate. There was no better place for one seeking to be richly blessed by people who would be nearly guaranteed to help him.

He was more blessed than he knew when Peter and John walked up. He asked for monetary help from them, but they were poor themselves. BUT GOD moved in the paralyzed man’s life by having Peter and John share of Christ instead of coins – the power of the Almighty instead of alms! Peter’s words in verse 6 fire me up every time I read them: “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” Basically, “We’re as poor as you, buddy, except in one area – our God is rich in mercy and overflowing in love and power; in His name, come here!” The entire trajectory of this man’s life pivoted in this “but God” moment!

It seems so simple when we see the words written. Peter reached out and took the man’s hand in his, and “immediately his feet and ankles were made strong” (v. 7). Think of how much it takes to learn to walk for the first time – how long it takes to build the muscles, impulses from the brain, reflexes from so many unperceived impulses. Yet a lifetime of brain chemistry and years of physical therapy occurred in as much time as it took Peter to invoke Jesus’ name. And rightfully, the man’s first steps were not just walking but also leaping, and more than that praising God (v. 8)! As unexpected as this must have been for these three men, none of it was a surprise to God who prophesied such things would come about when He would intersect history in the person of Jesus:

Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

Isaiah 35:4-6

In Isaiah’s days, these prophesies gave hope but must have seemed so distant, but God gave hope in their fulfillment in the name of Jesus.

Guilty of Killing Christ BUT GOD…

As I said, we have looked extensively at Peter’s sermon before (here, here, & here) since we first launched this ministry. Today, I want us to look at the context of the hope that Peter offered in his sermon outside the temple.

The formerly-paralyzed man clung to Peter and John and followed them – actually ran – to Solomon’s Porch on the side of the temple (v. 11). Peter and John’s fishing expedition was about to cast a much wider net! The crowd could not help but recognize the drastic difference in the man and were rightly “filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him” (vv. 9-10). Peter began his second sermon, and the content was quite shocking and definitely much tougher than many typical evangelism sermons.

Some of those men in the crowd were in a crowd a few months earlier that was crying, “Crucify! Crucify!” That’s right. The Holy Spirit through Peter called them out by saying, “Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life…” (vv. 13b-15a).

Some, when looking at this passage see Peter seeking vengeance for His crucified Savior and friend. They see anger and empathize with the pain he must have felt. But we need to remember that God’s Spirit was at work this day, not the Peter who drew his sword in the garden. No, I believe that the Peter here today was in full remembrance of the sound of the rooster crowing to herald his betrayal of Jesus. I believe Peter remembered the forgiveness of Jesus when He asked him once for each denial whether he loved Him. I see Peter here essentially preaching to these lost men who voted in favor of crucifying their Messiah something similar to what he said to the paralyzed man. I hear him saying, “What I do have I give to you. I also betrayed the Holy and Righteous One and have experienced His grace.” I hear that in the way that he gave them the offer to “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…” (vv. 19-20b). Rather than vengeance, he offered the chance to “repent” or cease their sinning and “turn back” to the God they had sought to kill. He reminded them that while they were successful in killing Jesus that His death did not stick because “God raised [Him] from the dead” (v. 15). Essentially, he said you meant evil and committed great sin, but God has already undone it. They had great guilt due to great sin, but God offered grace to be found in the presence of Him who they killed.

There were many who entered the temple mount dead in their sins, but God gave life – that day alone – when “many of those who had heard the Word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand” (ch 4:4)!

BUT GOD Still Today

When Peter was preaching in Solomon’s porch and confronted those men of their sin, he said, “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer He thus fulfilled” (v. 18). It is because of this we can trust in what He says. If He will prophesy that He would take on our sin “for our sakes” (2 Cor. 5:21), we can trust that He, having our best interests at heart, will be sure to offer those who repent and trust in Him “times of refreshing in His presence” (v. 19) and, ultimately, will restore “all things about which God spoke” (v. 21).

Maybe you have yet to have that “but God” moment where God intersects Himself into your life. I cannot intervene for you. I cannot save you. I may not even be able to meet your physical or temporary needs. But what I do have, I give to you: the message of hope that comes from Christ alone.

Will you receive what He offers?


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ac 3:1–26.

Refresh & Restore — August 26, 2021

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[1]

Matthew 11:28-30

Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11) Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast

This week, we go back and get some good context from previous passages to help us understand where Colossians goes next. You can find the full text of this Bible study, complete with links, here: https://justkeithharris.com/2022/05/25/refresh-restore-may-26/
  1. Refresh & Restore — May 26, 2022 (Jesus Over All 11)
  2. Refresh & Restore — May 19, 2022 (Jesus Over All 10)
  3. Refresh & Restore — May 12, 2022 (Jesus Over All 9)
  4. Refresh & Restore — April 28, 2022 (Jesus Over All 8)
  5. Refresh & Restore — March 31, 2022 (Jesus Over All 7)

Greetings, Sojourner!

I. Am. Tired. And, chances are, you are too – even if you aren’t a teacher. We all have work at our jobs and work to do at home and work to put into…well, more work.

I use the idea of “teacher-tired” because of the amount of pressure that teachers put on themselves. Many teachers view what they do as more of a calling than a career. They get to mold young minds and influence the entire future of the students they teach. At the same time, there are other pressures that simply come with the job and compound with that internal stress. And, just like many of you have felt, it just seems like there is no way to get everything done. It feels like we are inadequate for the task, and that can be discouraging.

So, maybe you need to hear what I have to tell myself: it’s okay. It is! There are times where I am just not enough, and that’s okay, too. It’s okay because I have a reminder in Christ that He never expected me to be enough – and how I need a constant reminder that He is enough.

No matter what your work is, it is important to have the appropriate balance. Work is important and has a role in the world, but it is not one’s world. Many times we point to God’s cursing the ground and Adam’s “pain” in working among the “thorns and thistles”, focusing on the “sweat of [his] face in laboring (Genesis 3:17-19), but God had already given Adam responsibility to fill the earth and dominion over it before the Fall (Genesis 1:28, 2:19-20). So, work is not the problem; we are.

Lord willing, today’s devotion is meant to help you see that Jesus is enough and that He is able to help us when we feel we do not measure up – to put our work in the right perspective. That’s why I put His words from Matthew 11. They show His heart for us. They show His care for those who work and are weighed down with pressure, expectation, and responsibility. They show the hope that comes from putting our cares and burdens on Him and taking up His rest. And, as always, it is my prayer that His words will refresh and restore you.

Identity in Christ Over Ability

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”[2]

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Part of our problem – or at least what I have found to be true for me – is that sometimes we allow our work to become our identity. When we allow what we do to define who we are, our entire identity begins to crumble as soon as struggle sets in. As a teacher, there is a pressure to want every period of every day to go well – for every child to fully get everything I teach. Then again, I felt the same pressure when I was a full-time pastor, and I found myself completely burned out at nearly thirty years old. You see, I was my who-I-was ended up wrapped around my what-I-did, leaving every other aspect of who God had called me to be as His disciple, my wife’s husband, my children’s father, etc. woefully ignored. My entire identity was wrapped up in being Pastor Keith, and, when I quit, Pastor Keith stopped existing. I felt like I stopped existing.

Now, on the other side of that experience, I thank God for the burn out. I thank God for allowing my false identity to crumble. Rather than bitterness and hurt, I now understand David’s prayer to God to “let the bones that You have broken rejoice” (Psalm 51:8)! I thank God that He is bigger than my failures. And I can thank Him because when I got out of the way – when I hit the bottom – I found the Rock, Jesus! As embarrassed as I was of what I saw as failure, I found myself echoing the cry of David in Psalm 61:2-3: “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” He had been there all along – my strong tower even when my pride in accomplishment – and employment – was the enemy.

I found myself having to be corrected like Paul did for the Corinthians. According to “worldly standards”, I expected myself to be powerful, noble, and wise. Yet, all the while, I was foolish, weak, and low.

You see, when we pursue “worldly standards”, we boast in our own accomplishments. I remember a seminary professor once saying that we could not simultaneously boast in how awesome God is while trying to convince people how clever we are. The Kingdom of God is contrary to the standards of the world. When we are weak, Christ’s strength can be seen. When we are foolish, Christ’s wisdom can be shared. When we are low and bowed in worship, Christ is boasted in and exalted. Our posture of worship, our identity needs to be based in Him – in who He is, what He has done in our lives, and who He has called us to be.

So, maybe you find yourself feeling like a bit of a failure, but what a joy it is to be able to boast like Paul in the righteousness of God that He shares with His sons and daughters, in sanctification because we know He set us apart for His service fully knowing our flaws, and in redemption where His strength shines through and makes us new in Him!

Faith in Christ Over Feeling Like a Failure

[Humble yourselves], therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.[3]

1 Peter 5:6-7

If you haven’t already, you need to hear this: you are going to fail. I know that doesn’t seem very motivational, but it’s true! We all fail from time to time. I mentioned earlier that teachers put a lot of pressure on themselves to achieve and succeed. Yet every lesson in every class period of every week, day, and year is simply not going to be a homerun. For that matter, even professional baseball players don’t knock it out of the park with every swing – or even once in every game! We often look at failure as humiliating, but I would like to help you reframe your failures as lessons in humility.

Jesus does not expect us not to fail. That’s inherent in His invitation in Matthew 11, recognizing that we will find ourselves “heavy laden” and in need of His “rest”. We just talked about how our identities can be found in the wrong things, but our failures and successes can be wrongly founded, too. When – not if – we mess up, God is not standing in judgment over us to smack or smite us. No, if we belong to Him – if we have been saved by Him – we are adopted into His family. And just like a good Daddy, His hand is waiting to pick us up and dust us off. Now, that does not mean that our Heavenly Father does not meet us with discipline sometimes; in the verses that come before the 1 Peter passage, we are reminded of Proverbs 3:34: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Sometimes His grace grates upon our pride and we find ourselves humbled (not willingly but definitively). Yet in that humbling we find grace. In that humbling, we find the “mighty hand of God”, still bearing the scars of the nails He took for us, reaching out to show “He cares”.

It is in those moments that faith transcends feeling. It is our very hope and foundation. Knowing that He cares for His children no matter what frees us from the fear of failure. Just as my own children have asked me from time to time whether I would always love them, we need to be reassured. Thank God that He wants us to cast all our anxieties – all our insecurities on Him. And, most of all, we should be thankful that He cares for us.

Prioritizing Praise in Prayer Over Problems

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.[4]

Philippians 4:4-7

I don’t imagine it was too difficult to convince you that you have struggles and difficulties and failures, but it may take a bit more convincing that they are something to “rejoice” over! Let me clarify what the command is here in this passage. Paul is not saying that we rejoice in the difficulties but that we find joy “in the Lord” – in trusting that He, in His sovereign will and might, have the situation under control. We rejoice that He is “at hand” – that His return is imminent. And we rejoice in the fact that He cares enough to listen when we bring all our requests – that He will take our burdens (again, Matthew 11) and trade them for His peace. Even though He fully knows everything we need and even what we think and feel, He cares enough to want us to pray to Him about it.

So, where does the rejoicing come in? Well, look at the context of these verses: our “prayer and supplication” are to be accompanied by “thanksgiving”. In fact, He tells us that He expects all our “requests” to be accompanied by thankfulness. When we put our fears, anxieties, and needs up against all He has done and that we know He can do, they pale in comparison. And, based on the verses that follow, we can trust that the “peace of God” (v. 7) comes when we look at, learn from, receive, and hear from “the God of peace” who is with us (v. 9)! Knowing you are not alone helps; knowing that You are loved and watched over by the sovereign God of the universe heals.

Wrapping Up

As I stated earlier, we learn about work from the very beginning in the garden. That is also where we learn to rest. When God “finished His work that He had done”, “He rested” (Genesis 2:2). He did not rest because He was tired or needed a break. He rested because what He had done was good, and that day of rest began to be known as the Sabbath. While God did not need the Sabbath, He knew we would. And the only way we can truly have that Sabbath rest is to trust in what He has done, is doing, and has promised to do. No matter what your job is or what your responsibilities are, God is still God. There’s no work mess up that unseats Him from His throne. There’s no consequence or boss’ wrath that can undo who He says you are. In fact, one day all of the toil and responsibility and struggle will be gone, and only one’s relationship with Christ will matter. One day, all the days of trusting Him through toil and trouble will fade away when we see Him face-to-face. So, it is my prayer that you can come to Him to find rest – that you trade Him your labor and your being heavy laden and rest, and trust, and have faith in Him alone.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 11:28–30.

[2] Ibid., 1 Co 1:26–31.

[3] Ibid., 1 Pe 5:6–7.

[4] Ibid., Php 4:4–7.

Thinking on Loss, Burnout, & Gospel Recovery


Disclaimer – This post is filled with feelings of lost. Understand that if you are looking for typical JKH writing, this is not it. This is dealing with intense feelings and will likely be updated as these feelings continue to be dealt with.


This morning, I woke up with high expectations for today. An Uber was scheduled to pick my family up from our hotel and take us to Passion City Church in Atlanta, GA; from there we would take in our first Braves game. It has been a beautiful day filled with laughter and sunshine. We heard a riveting example of John 1:14 at church. We shared in ridiculously large pieces of pizza and great tacos. Then, about halfway through the game, I was confronted by the enormity and finality of loss.

If one could add together the analogies of the feelings of being hit by a freight train and having one’s train derailed, you might get close to what loss feels like. And, as jarring as mine was, there are family members and friends much closer to the friend I lost than I, and my heart goes out to them. I pray for them in the aftermath of this loss that they will continue to feel more and more through the next few days, months, and years.

I had not talked to this friend more than in a few passing conversations on Facebook in a few years. Every time we saw one another, we embraced and were thoroughly glad to see each other. I kept up with him through social media. He did the same with me. Again, passing messages and participating in each other’s social media presences was the limit to our interactions for a few years.

We knew each other well when I was youth pastor at Duck Hill Baptist and he was a youth. We spent hours together each week. We talked about the Bible, movies, books, food, and life. We experienced joys together, and we experienced hurt and loss. When he was in trouble during his high school years and on through early adulthood, he knew he could call me and did when he needed me. We stood in ditches together with backward-facing cars in tall weeds. We stood together when parents arrived after the wrong place and time had been experienced. We rode together after vehicles had broken, even after our friendship began to feel a bit more distant. Then, he grew up, and I left Duck Hill. He grew up, and time and distance grew us farther apart.

I have reflected a lot on those years spent at Duck Hill, wondering where I went wrong. So many of those youth went their separate ways, and friendships began to become distant as well.

I was burned out at the end of my time there and did not realize it until I fully burned out in Picayune, moving back here hoping to leave ministry behind for good. There were so many battles fought during those Duck Hill years, so many foolish idols taking center stage instead of what was important. In the past, angrily, I have pointed the finger so many places, but the only blame I can place is on myself for being sidetracked by the idolatry of others and creating idolatry of my own. The fight initially took my focus, but I made it my focus all by myself. And a lot of kids I was responsible for discipling took on the fight themselves and lost a little in the effort.

God graciously redeemed my burnout and lit a fire in my heart that was never truly there in those Duck Hill years. I get to do all of the things that I actively did during those years. I get to lead worship, get to disciple, get to preach and teach the Word. But I do not get to fight any more. God has allowed me to get to make contact with many of those former youth from that era, including the friend that I lost. And I have gotten to reflect with some of them on how I feel like I failed them. But, now, I am thankful to begin to see how God has redeemed even my burnout. I am thankful I got to share that with my friend while he was alive.

I cannot un-live my past. But, praise God, He is redeeming my present and holds my future. I cannot un-lose my friend. But I can redeem the time I have with my friends.

If you are reading this and you were a youth when I was a youth pastor, I want to share with you what I was too foolish to understand then. I was never meant to be your primary example; I was supposed to point you to Christ. I was not supposed to be a role model of works-based theology but a living embodiment of preaching the grace of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone.

I find my older, present-day self thinking more and more of the value of Paul’s writings in 1 and 2 Corinthians, namely these two passages that follow here.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31:

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

During those years at Duck Hill, I pridefully built up a workaholic persona that was “wise according to worldly standards” but foolish according to God’s. I prided myself on how much of the Lord’s work I could do in my own strength only to find out that the Lord deigned sometimes to bless my work with His strength and all of the other times I wasted by showing works over grace. I boasted how much closer to God I was than those who touted their idolatry only to make an idol of the fight itself. Thankfully, he has allowed me to be broken to the point of realizing that I am only “in Christ Jesus” because of His grace, mercy, and love. I no longer want to boast in my strength because “what is weak” has shamed me. I no longer want to boast in my wisdom because foolishness has shamed me. I want my only boast to “boast in the Lord” and Him alone.

The second passage is Jesus’ words to Paul (and what Paul learned through the experience), recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I cannot go back and undo my past. And I do not need to. My weakness, foolishness, and, yes, even my failures have been a proving ground for the grace of God. He has proven that He is enough while I am not.

It is tempting to make a plea to reach out and help those who I may have led astray following my early pastoral example. But my strength now is still weakness. But, praise be to God, I can rejoice in the words of Christ – that His grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in weakness. Rather than pointing you to me for more foolhardy examples, I point you to Christ and boast in Him. I pray you are able to find Him.

If you are reading this and have no idea what I am talking about, that is okay, too. Sometimes I get to write to get my feelings out because it is the only way I can. This is one of those times. I pray that God can use this foolishness for His Kingdom.

Songs for Sunday, June 20 – Father’s Day 2021

I have been blessed to be a father for a little over eleven years now and to be around the church my entire life. You would think the two would go hand-in-hand, but often the church clashes with fathers.

This Sunday around the country, churches will be trying to exhort and encourage fathers, but it will come across as more of a rebuke and a bashing of fatherhood. That’s not what we’re going for this Sunday at Christ Community Church. We are going to worship our heavenly Father for the work of His Son in the power of His Spirit – and, hopefully, encourage some earthly dads to learn from Him as we do.

One of the things that has changed my perspective from rebuking/bashing in the name of statistics/warnings to encouraging/exhorting in the name of discipleship is my own experience as a father. You see, I do not need statistics to tell me of fatherly failures – I have been one many times and, unfortunately, will fail again. I want to look briefly at two passages today that show me that there is hope in the Father to make me (and anyone who knows and follow Him) a godly father.

Galatians 4:4-7 tells us,

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

No matter how much of a failure I am as a father, I am a child of the King and He is not a failure. The fact that His Fatherly love sent His Son to redeem me is a gift sufficient enough to account for my continued failings. After all, if He can bring me from life to death, if He is willing – in love – to adopt His enemy as His Son, is redeeming my care, parenting, and discipleship of my children too big for Him to accomplish? No! He has not just redeemed me but given me His Spirit to know when to cry out to Him like a child to a Father. And that same Spirit works in my heart toward my own children.

Deuteronomy 6:4-7 says,

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Being a godly father begins when, because we have been adopted/born again/saved, we worship God and love Him. This is not a Sunday-only deal. When we look at Moses’ declaration to fathers in Deuteronomy 6, he illustrates that one loves “the LORD [their] God” while they are talking to their children, while they are going about their day-to-day, while they are laying down to bed, and when they get up in the mornings. Worship is a lifestyle, and the lifestyle of a dad is a classroom for our kids. God is calling us to love Him in such a way that even our failures (and necessary repentance) point to Him!

That’s good news because I have plenty of failures but the Father has plenty of grace! And the more time I spend with my Father the better my kids’ father will be because the time spent with one’s father forms their future – for good or for bad.

So, that’s what we’ll be singing about and to this Sunday morning. We’ll lift high the name of our King Jesus by looking at the glorious love of the Father. Amen.

Here are our Scriptures & Songs:

  • Praying Scripture | Matthew 6:9-13 (KJV for familiarity) —

Our Father which art in Heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil:

For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.
Amen.

  • Scripture Reading | John 14:1-6

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

  • Scripture Reading | 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

  • Scripture Reading | Galatians 4:4-7

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.


We invite you to join us this Sunday at Christ Community Church in Grenada, MS!

We have two services Sunday morning!

  • 8:00a for those who prefer greater social distancing and masks worn by all
  • 11:00a for everyone else

Refresh & Restore — June 3, 2021

This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.[1]       

1 John 5:6-13

Greetings, Sojourner!

As I sit and write to you today, I find my mind fixated on this past weekend spent at the Beautiful Feet ministry in Ft. Worth, TX. I could write to you about how jarring it is to see people living in such poverty-stricken conditions. I could write to you of the desperate situations that led many of the people that we met, talked to, and prayed for onto the streets, but, instead, I find myself thinking about John’s words in v. 13 of today’s passage: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” – and that is what stands out in my mind about Beautiful Feet – the eternal life offered and the example of those who are now believers.

This was my second time to go and witness the work that God is doing through Beautiful Feet (the Feet), but there were two things that grabbed my attention this time: 1) the impact that being saved (truly brought from death in sin to eternal life in Christ) has on people, and 2) the beauty of the testimony that God Himself bears about His Son. I believe both fit hand-in-hand (or in-foot, as seems appropriate here) with this week’s passage.

As John continues bringing his letter to a close, he focuses in on the testimony concerning Jesus. We focused last week on how God molds the beliefs of those who are “born of God” (5:1) to share in His love (5:2) and exhibit that love in keeping His commandments (5:3). This week’s passage shows the three-part testimony of the Son (water, blood, and Spirit) through the Father and what it is like for Him to be the object of our faith!

The Testimony of Water – He Was Born

When it talks of water here, it is referencing Christ’s birth (think of a mother’s water breaking when it is time for a baby to be born). The birth of Christ is important, and more than a mere holiday, because it shows His humanity. Part of that testimony is that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). We see in these verses that Jesus’ birth was one of extremely specific timing and circumstances – at just the right time in human history, “foreknown before the foundation of the world but…made manifest in the last times for” our sake (1 Peter 1:20, 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Because “sin came into the world through one man” (Romans 5:12), Adam, all men would inherit a sin nature and the struggles that come with it. None of the sacrifices of the Old Testament system could take away sin, they could only point to the One who could, Jesus. Sin produces death (Genesis 3, Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:1-2), and, as we have seen earlier in 1 John 1:9, we need God “to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” – to cancel “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” (Colossians 2:14). Our debt from sin needs to be paid, but everyone on earth is in debt just the same, unable to pay their own way much less anyone else’s.

The only acceptable payment would be via propitiation (2:1-2, 4:10), but no one on earth is worthy to make the sacrifice for us (Romans 3:10, 3:23). So, God Himself stepped down to sacrifice Himself (John 1:14) meaning that the eternal God willingly became mortal. He lived the life that no other human on earth was capable of living (1 John 1:8, 10) – sinless perfection (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15) as the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). And He, in the Person of God the Son – fully God and fully man – “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant…[and] humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-7), which is the second testimony.

The Testimony of Blood – He Died (Yet Lives!)

Blood was an important part of the sacrificial system in the Old Testament. Just as we saw our need for salvation through our forefather Adam in the first section, we see that the first physical deaths (God taking the lives of animals in the garden for their skins) were to cover the shame of Adam and Eve’s nakedness (Genesis 3:21). In the same way, our sin – and its shame – can be covered and cleansed by the blood of Jesus (1:7).

Jesus’ death on behalf of sinners shows love like nothing else (John 15:13). As I write this, it is Memorial Day, and I cannot help but think of those who gave their lives for the United States where I live. The way of life that is celebrated in America is bound up in the sacrifice of those brave men and women who died for their country and the ideals it represents. Their sacrifice points to the greater sacrifice of Christ, and we should be moved by and appreciate what He has done for us.

Think of the magnitude of His dying in our place: the God of the universe, “who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it” (Isaiah 42:5), “shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Just as it was important that He was born “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), we see that “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). He died the death that would provide cleansing of sins for all who trust (believe, have faith) in Him! Through His death, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, [makes] us alive together with Christ”, saving sinners by His grace (Ephesians 2:4-5). On the cross, He took the “record of debt that stood against us” because of our sin and “set it aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). The old hymn “It is Well” sums it up beautifully[2]:

“My sin – oh, the bliss of this glorious thought – my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more; praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh, my soul!”

We do not have to mourn His death – thanks be to God! Jesus did not stay dead, and we can rejoice with the angels who said, “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said” (Matthew 28:6)! The “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) was different than other sacrificial lambs – He is risen forevermore as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David”, the “Lamb standing as though it had been slain” on the throne (Revelation 5:5-6)! And through His death, and especially His resurrection, we see the victory that overcomes the world (5:4-5) and can echo Paul when He praises God for the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:57: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” who is alive and well!

The Testimony of the Spirit
(and the Evidence of Eternal Life Where He Abides)

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are irrefutable evidence from heaven, but He shows Himself to be true here on earth because His “Spirit is truth” (v. 6). This is important because His Spirit dwelling in those who are born again is how God abides in His children (4:16). If we claim to have Christ, we have His Spirit. Now, this is difficult because many people treat the Spirit awkwardly by either keeping Him at a distance and calling it reverence or treating Him like parlor tricks and calling it charisma. This is where last weekend at Beautiful Feet challenged what we far too often are willing to accept regarding being filled with God’s Spirit.

Beautiful Feet is more than a ministry that feeds hungry and clothes the poor. If you read the history of their ministry, you see their motto “Sharing the Gospel, Serving the Poor”, which is the entire scope of their ministry – the heart that God Himself has given them for the least-of-these in Ft. Worth. They want to share Christ with people in equal portion to the physical needs that they meet. They want to bless those who cannot bless them in return by giving them everything that Christ has to offer (and food, clothing, medical care – which pale in comparison to the gift of His grace). The thing that was most striking to me is the number of people who 1) are born again because they found faith in Christ through His grace and mercy and 2) those who are saved, after being discipled in the Word and finding employment and housing (which they desperately needed), are seen returning to the Feet to share the gospel (and meet physical needs) with others who were like them.

The Spirit is evident in their lives because they live out the gospel. The Spirit is not a parlor trick for them because tricks do not save (2 Corinthians 4:2); fake does not fool those who have been turned out on the streets; and only the love of Christ transcends “word or talk” to live in “deed and in truth” when sharing His love with others (3:18). God blessed these disciples through the Feet and servants of God who had “the world’s goods”, saw their brother and sister in need and opened their hearts because of the love of God poured forth in their hearts by His Spirit. These servants shared that love by laying their own lives down as worship – in response to the Life God gave them (3:16-17). How sad it is that this seems so foreign among church-people today!

Paul quotes Isaiah 52:7 in Romans 10:15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” This is more than a theme verse for this ministry – or evangelism in general; they literally seek to be God’s feet as part of the His body – the Church (1 Corinthians 12:12). And, in serving with them this weekend, I realized that my feet do not carry the gospel as readily as they should. Forgive the crude parallel here, but I need a bit of a spiritual pedicure – for Jesus to cleanse my gospel feet that I may have share with Him (John 13:8).

John says that “the Spirit and the water and the blood” testify to who Jesus is and agree (v. 8), but he tells us that the “testimony of God is greater” than that of men because “whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in Himself” (vv. 9-10). I have had to look at my life and ask whether it agrees with the testimony of God, and I am asking that He arrange my life so that it testifies more to Him than about me, that my feet can be about His business rather than shod in Sunday shoes in the comfort of a church building or propped up serving my own laziness. I ask that He help you to do the same in your own life and grant the repentance and cleansing to walk His gospel out in the community He has planted you.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 5:6–13.

[2] Horatio Spafford, “It is Well

Refresh & Restore — May 27, 2021

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?[1]     

1 John 5:1-5

Greetings, Sojourner!

Our study of 1 John is winding to a close; we are in the last chapter! I am thankful for the opportunity to look deeply at John’s heart for those he wrote to and God’s heart for us who read these words today. What good news it is that Jesus has provided for us to partake of His Life, Light, and Love and get to share it with others wherever He plants us!

As I mentioned last week, I am amazed at how God’s Word shows Itself to be eternal and prophetic by how what He wrote so long ago fitting perfectly with what we experience today. And, like the loving Father He is, God provides what we need in the midst of our experiences – before we need them, in the midst of our trials, and eternally as His children!

Today’s passage looks at some beliefs about God and how they are supposed to affect our lives. I would like to urge you to pause here and ask God that this be a time where you can look at your beliefs and make sure they line up with God’s Word. I pray the same thing for you as I do myself when reading the Word: if there be any beliefs out of sync with the Word God, He will grant repentance and correct them.

Jesus is the Messiah (v. 1)

One of the most beautiful things about John’s writings is how his love for Jesus – his amazement by Him through the years – shines brightly. That is why, as he begins to close his letter, he emphasizes Jesus so clearly. Here, he gives us a non-negotiable and necessary belief for followers of Jesus: “Jesus is the Christ” (v. 1). The word “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. It is the English form of the Greek word for Messiah – literally “anointed One”.

Part of Jesus being the Messiah is how God prophesied His coming from ancient times, fulfilling every one and bringing hope to those who trust in Him (Genesis 3:15, 2 Samuel 7:14, Isaiah 53, Hosea 3:5, Daniel 9:25). Even the Messiah’s mission was prophesied and laid out (Isaiah 42:1-7, 49:1-9; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12). But Jesus being the Messiah is more than keeping up with a long list of facts.

Believing that He is who the Bible says He is means more than intellectual knowledge! To genuinely believe that Jesus is the Christ to fully put your faith, hope, and trust in Him – not in knowledge but actual and indwelling hope. It is one thing to believe that a bridge will hold your weight; it is another thing entirely to drive a car across it. In the same way, it is one thing to know facts about Jesus; it is another thing entirely to live one’s life according to His teachings with the hope of eternal life – like we know that this world is not all there is. The difference is of eternal significance, as John noted in ch 2:2: “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist….” This means that there is no fence position in relation to believing (having faith/trust/hope) in Christ; you are either in Christ or antichrist.

God’s Children are Born of Him (vv. 1, 4)

The idea of being “born of Him” (v. 1) has been developed throughout 1 John. We see it first when John says, “If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him” (2:29) and will see it wrap up later when we study ch 5:18. The whole idea is wrapped up in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. It is talked about various ways: “born again” (John 3:3, 7; 1 Peter 1:3, 23) and “regeneration” (Titus 3:5), which mean the same thing. The term “born again” is used synonymously with being saved/being a Christian, but it actually means what it says: being born a second time.

To be “born again” begins with the fact that those who are in Christ were dead in our trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13). Belief in Him gives the gift of eternal life (John 3:16; Romans 6:23, 10:9) bring actual life to what was once dead (Ephesians 2:4-5, Colossians 2:13)! So, to say that we are “born of God” (v. 4) is more than simply a religious term – it is a statement of faith that originates in the Person and work of Jesus, God in flesh (John 1:14, 2 Corinthians 5:21), and culminates in our lives. I love the way that Danny Akin describes this:

“Jesus did not come to die on a bloody cross to make us kinder and nicer persons. He came to dramatically, personally, radically, and eternally transform us and make us new people. It is by the new birth that He accomplishes this glorious work. Therefore, you must be born again.”[2]

As always when studying these passages, we find ourselves needing to examine our own lives. These first two beliefs leave no wiggle room for us – no room for religious talk or labeling, only for being adopted by Him (Galatians 4:4-5) or left in our sins. Here is a good time to ask: Do you believe? Are you born of Him?

God’s Family is Defined by Love for Him, Love for One Another, and Keeping His Commands (vv. 1-2)

We have talked about this at length over the past few weeks, so I will reference you back to our studies from May 6, 13, and 20 for what it means to be loved by God and love Him. The difference today comes from what John says at the end of v. 2: “when we love God and obey His commandments”. He clarifies that one’s love for Him means that the individual will keep (follow, obey, live life according to) His commandments.

There is a danger here that we see very often, and it is known as legalism. Legalism is when one looks at the things that God has commanded (His Law) and wrap all our efforts into living them out for the purpose of earning our salvation. That is why I am glad that God lays out His Word as He has; before He mentioned keeping commandments, He clarified that there is no earning salvation (how does one earn birth?) but that it has its beginnings and endings in Him.

So, how does one balance keeping and following His commandments but not falling into legalism? Unfortunately, I cannot offer you much in the realm of practical suggestions here. I struggle with past legalism and can probably offer more ways to mess this up than I can living it out appropriately. But I am learning that the key to this is found in the end of v. 3: “His commandments are not burdensome”, which beautifully shows the heart of Jesus:

Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Legalism requires labor, but following Christ (including keeping His commandments) is a service of love and appreciation. Legalism leaves people “heavy laden”, but in Christ “will give you rest”. Legalism is a yoke that will break your back and your spirit, but the yoke of Christ comes with His strength, especially when our own is lacking because He promises that His “grace is sufficient” and His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I think that keeping the commands of Christ are like all that goes into bridal preparations for a wedding day. Normally, taking hours and hours to dress and primp and prepare would be a terrible burden. Hearing actors and models discuss all the time it takes to go through make up and costuming sounds like a laborious job, but brides willingly subject themselves to such things merely to get through a 30(ish) minute ceremony and reception. There is a whole industry devoted to helping people elope so that they do not have to go through the burden of such things! So, why would any bride do this? Simple: to please the groom – so that, when the doors open at the back of the church and she is presented to him, his knees will go weak and the moment will be seared into his memory forever.

For that bride, none of the burdens are burdensome. They are labors of love. It is the same for the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:27, 32). For those “born of God”, keeping His commandments – especially and specifically loving Him and people (Matthew 22:36-40) – begins out of the overwhelming love and appreciation we have for Him and flows into what naturally occurs over the years as we simply follow Him. Keeping commandments earns nothing but expresses affection from the Bride of Christ to her husband, Jesus Christ Himself.

(faith in) The Overcomer of the World (vv. 4-5)

Remember how we specifically defined the word “believe” above? The word for faith in v. 4 and believe in v. 5 are one and the same. So, when John says that “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” and that “our faith” is victory, he does not mean that we, in and of ourselves, have won anything. Rather, he is clarifying that we are believing – putting our faith – in the Overcomer Himself! Look at the confidence and strength in the way that Jesus talked about His victory (in past tense, no less) before He died on the cross: “take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33)!

Beloved, sojourner, I hope this devotion finds you well, but, more than that, I hope that it also has you to look at your beliefs and make sure they align with what God has for you rather than merely being religious.

As always, know you are loved and prayed for. If you have questions or prayer requests, feel free to reach out.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 5:1–5.

[2] Daniel L. Akin, Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2014).

Refresh & Restore — January 28, 2021

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.[1] 

1 John 2:7-11

Greetings, Sojourner – “Beloved”!

I am struck by the way that John writes to his original audience. He refers to them often as “little children” (2:1, 12, 18, 28; 3:7, 18); now, he calls them “beloved” (2:7; 3:2, 21; 4:1, 7, 11). He loves them, and it shows. But this word we see as “beloved” is more than a regular term for someone you care about. The love in it is the word agape – God’s never-ending, unfailing love. “Beloved” is a word that is unique to the Church. It is rooted in His love for us. It refers to those who love God and worship Him. And it is a greeting specific to the family of God – those united by their adoption through faith in Christ (John 1:12, Galatians 4:5-6).

I greet you the same today, beloved Sojourner, knowing that as we journey through this world that we are loved by God. That love is at the heart of John’s writing. It is one of the themes that we loop through over and over: life, light, and love, all of which we will see in today’s passage.

Before we get too far, I want to address the issue of following/keeping commandments. So far in 1 John, we have seen the importance of walking in the same way that Jesus walked (2:6) and how we should keep His commandments (2:3), His Word (2:4), and abide in Him through all of that (2:5). It is easy to get legalistic when we talk about being obedient and keeping commandments. So, I would like to revisit a statement from the end of last week’s devotion:

“We follow Him, learning from Him, and keep His commandments. We do not keep His commandments to earn our freedom but because of our freedom, in love and gratitude for what He has done for us.”

It is important that we do not fall back into trying to keep the Law (Galatians 5:1; Romans 6:14-18). Any reference to keeping commandments here speaks to following Christ and imitating Him (Ephesians 5:1) because He loves us and gave Himself up for us (Ephesians 5:2). We obey because we love Him (4:19) and trust that His Way is better than ours (John 14:6, Isaiah 55:9). To keep His commandments is not to earn salvation but to see that salvation has taken root in our hearts and lives (Colossians 2:6-7).

The commandment that John talks about here mirrors Jesus’ exact teaching:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

This was no doubt unforgettable for John as it was part of Jesus’ last supper with His disciples on the night before He was arrested, the day before He was crucified. That night would impact the rest of John’s life (1:1-3). It was that same “new commandment”, given straight from the mouth of God, that John references here: love others as Christ loved us.

You have no doubt heard this commandment before. It was Jesus’ upgraded version of the commandment found in Leviticus 19:18 – “You shall not take vengeance or bear grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself” – which has been a feature of many Sunday School lessons and sermons. Yet Jesus’ command, especially the way it is referenced in 1 John, is not based out of loving like we love ourselves or treating others how we would like to be treated. No, this is no “golden rule”; this is a heart overflowing with the love we receive from Christ.

Jesus’ love for us in salvation should impact the way that we interact with other people. Having received grace, we should be gracious. Having received mercy, we should be merciful. Having experienced the love of God, we should love others. But, as simple as that sounds, it is extremely difficult.

Part of the reason that this is difficult is because it requires more than just lip-service. Here where I live in the American South, “I love you” and “love” are thrown about casually. The love that Jesus commands of us is anything but casual. His love is a “greater love” (John 15:13). He loved us “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8). It is because God is “rich in mercy” and out of the “great love with which He loved us” that we have Life at all (Ephesians 2:4)! I speak from experience when I say that the true difficulty lies in acknowledging how difficult I am to love and how amazing the love of God is that He could ever love and save a “wretch like me”.

This is the reason that love becomes the defining characteristic of what it is to be a Christian. Just like Jesus told His original disciples that they would be known by their love for one another, the standard is the same for us. How we love God and share that love with others shows whether we are in darkness or light (2:7-8). In fact, hating our “brother” is an indicator that we live and stumble in the darkness (2:9-10).

Darkness is most definitely of Satan and not of God, but it also comes from our own sinful hearts. If we allow our hatred of someone – especially one close enough to be considered a brother in Christ (we will study more on this in the future) – to blind us, the darkness comes from that hatred; our own sinful hearts and desires have clouded our judgment and led us astray (Jeremiah 17:9).

If you are like me, this is where you start justifying your hatred. No, I do not know what they did to you. No, I have not experienced what you have. But God has (Hebrews 4:14-16)! He has experienced how I have sinned against Him (Psalm 51:4). His heart has been grieved time and again (Genesis 6:6, Ephesians 4:30).

And it is at the feet of the One who would be righteous to cast us out that we learn to love and forgive instead. Or, if our love for ourselves and hatred for others makes us unable (or unwilling) to forgive and let go of hate, we find that we truly abide in darkness and have not experienced the love of Christ at all (2:9, Matthew 6:14-15).

Rather than rationalizing your hatred, beloved, I urge you to repent – to not “abandon the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4). The beauty of repentance is that it is always met with love. Always.

If you look at today’s passage and feel more than a little inadequate, you are not alone. I remind you that we are incapable of following Christ’s commandments perfectly. Remember, when we sin we have an Advocate (2:2) to meet us where we are and carry us through. I believe that John included this next section (2:12-14) to illustrate that, no matter where we are in our walk with Christ, none of us have arrived:

12  I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
13  I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
     I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
     I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.
14  I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
     I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.[2]

John pauses here to give a special word to Christ-followers in every stage of walking with Him: “little children” who are just starting out with Him, “fathers” who have walked with Him for many years, and “young men” who are actively (and often through error and trials) seeking to serve the Lord.

To the children, he reminds them that they have been forgiven of their sins (2:12) and adopted by the Father into the family of God (2:13). When we sin and stumble, these things are easy to forget and necessary to remember to continue following Christ.

To the fathers (and mothers) in the faith, he reminds them that their relationship is grounded in “Him who is from the beginning” (2:13-14) – both the beginning of all things and the beginning of their walk when they were but children in their faith.

And to the young men (and women) who are in the midst of spiritual warfare and service of the Lord – not yet mature in their faith but actively walking with Christ, he reminds them that the evil one has already been overcome (2:13) and that the strength to win the battle comes from the Lord as found and taught from His Word (2:14).

Wherever you are on your journey – baby or an elder – Christ still has something for you. Rest assured, that His same new commandment still applies. Go out and find ways to “love one another” today.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 2:7–11.

[2] ESV, 1 Jn 2:12–14.