Vision

In Paul's second letter to Timothy he writes, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [and woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17) My prayer for this ministry is that by rightly dividing the Scriptures, I might be able to facilitate all those aspects of the Scriptures to the benefit of all those who visit this website.

Mission

The mission of this ministry is to be consistent with Jesus' original command to his disciples: "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'" Matthew 28:18-20

Personal Disclosure

I am a fellow traveler who doesn't have all the answers and still makes many mistakes. However, I am desperately in love with Jesus Christ, the one and only King of kings, and I am so amazed that he knows exactly who I am and yet still died on the cross for me, then rose from the dead and called me to be His follower!

God's Message To You

"Dear Child,

I wanted you to know just how much I loved you so I sent my only Son, Jesus, to tell you and show you. If you make the decision to believe in Him, then you and I will be able to spend eternity together! I Love You!" (John 3:16 paraphrase)

Method

“Here there is no unanchored liberalism—freedom to think without commitment.

Here there is no encrusted dogmatism—commitment without freedom to think.

Here is vibrant evangelicalism—freedom to think within the bounds laid down by Scripture.”

Dr. Vernon Grounds

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Freed From The Dark Side


(Audio version; Music: "Here I Am To Worship" by: Hillsong Australia and "Jesus, Light Of The World" by Third Day)











Introduction

My family didn’t go to the movies when I was growing up. I vaguely remember my sisters taking me when they were able to drive but I can’t really remember any movies specifically—at least not until 1977. That’s when one of the greatest movies of all time was released—Star Wars. Almost forty years later, it would be hard to find anyone, at least here in America, who hasn’t heard of Star Wars. Nothing like it had ever been produced before and although Sci-Fi films are produced almost annually now, Star Wars is still a favored film for many of us. The Star Wars franchise has produced the second highest gross revenue of all time in the US and Canada and the third highest gross revenue in the world. That’s pretty amazing considering the sheer volume of motion pictures that have been produced in the last forty years. It was recently announced that a new episode of Star Wars is scheduled to be released entitled, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” The premise of all the movies is as old as history—the battle between good and evil. Generally, the foundation of the movie is built on the idea the there is an unseen “Force” that flows throughout the universe that binds all things together. The Force can be accessed by a select few individuals in the universe that gives them special powers over mind, body, and inanimate objects. However, the Force is morally neutral—it can be used for good or evil depending on the individual who can access it. On the one side are the acting Jedi Knights who use the Force only for good; only for the benefit of others; never for their own gain. On the other side are a remnant of Sith Warriors and former Jedi Knights who, at some point, began using the power of the Force for their own selfish purposes of revenge and to take control of the universe. The Knights who abandoned their duty to use the Force for good were described as having surrendered their lives to the “Dark Side.” According to the premise of how the Force operated, anyone motivated by fear, anger, hatred, envy, jealousy or any number of ignoble traits was susceptible to be seduced to surrender to a life of evil by the Dark Side. All the succeeding episodes of the Star Wars franchise involved the struggle between those who were servants of the noble side of the Force and those who were servants of the Dark Side of the Force.

            There has always been an association between light/good and darkness/evil. Light and dark are popular themes of the Bible. Darkness, in the Scriptures is always associated with evil and light is always associated with good. John says, “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God (Jn 3:19-21).” So what is this “Light” that has come into the world? It is Jesus. Jesus is the Light that has come into the world. Those who refuse to come to Jesus don’t want the light of Jesus to expose their sins. Because they fear the light they try to keep to the shadows; they remain in the dark. Those who come to Jesus come into the light. In the light of truth that is Jesus, their sins are exposed and forgiveness of those sins becomes possible. Those who come to Jesus are motivated by doing good for others; serving others; caring for others; loving others. The light of Jesus has delivered them from a life of darkness—they have been Freed From The Dark Side.

Subject Text

Colossians 1:3-14

            3We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints—5the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel 6that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. 7You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8and who also told us of your love in the Spirit. 9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Context

            Colosse was a city located in the province of Asia Minor. The letter to the Colossians was written by Paul around 60 AD while he was in a Roman prison. It is believed that the church in Colosse was founded by Epaphras and some other converts from one of Paul’s missionary journeys to the province although not specifically to Colosse. Based on the time period, the believers in Colosse were first generation believers. Consequently, their lack of maturity in the faith left them particularly susceptible to false teachings. The Colossian church had been infiltrated by religious relativism. Believers tried to combine Christianity with paganism and secular philosophy. Yes I’m still talking about the Colossian church of the first century not the western Church of the 21st century even though the false teachings are virtually interchangeable with those of our own day. Not having the courage to insist on upholding the exclusive claims of the Scriptures, some in the Colossian church clearly believed it would be better to be more “inclusive” and “accepting.” The result was that the witness of the truth of Jesus Christ for some of them became diluted. However, not for all of them. It is clear from our Subject Text that some of them did not compromise their witness and received Paul’s commendation as a result.

Text Analysis

3We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints—

            There is nothing more rewarding for a pastor than to see those who have listened to his or her words, put those words into practice in their lives. It makes the hard work and sacrifice worth it. That’s the joy Paul expresses in vv. 3-4. Remember that Paul is sitting in a prison for preaching the gospel. There had to be some point at which Paul must have wondered if all the abuse, pain, struggle, and suffering was worth it. The Colossian believers’ continued faith in Jesus and their love for one another must have made his incarceration seem at least a little easier. Paul thanks God because he knows that nothing he accomplished would have been possible apart from God’s power and will in the lives of the Colossian believers. “The gospel should do for us what it did for the Colossians. The gospel of Jesus Christ, like a seed, is a dynamic force that shatters the hard, stony soil of sin and takes root as new life. By complimenting the Colossians on how the gospel had taken root and grown in them, as it has in all the world, Paul encouraged them to remain faithful to the message of truth they heard and not be seduced into error by the alluring lies of the false teachers. Paul assured the Colossians that when he prayed for them his prayers took the form of thanksgiving.”[1]

5the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel 6that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. 7You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf,

            I am convinced that there is nothing worse in life than living without hope. We were not created to live without hope—especially when the pain and suffering of this life becomes unbearable. The only way to endure life’s struggles is by holding on to the hope that one day things will change—strife will turn to peace, hate will turn to love, sorrow will turn to joy, sickness will turn to health, and death will turn to life. The hope for the fulfillment of all these things, not just some of them, can be found in the gospel. I have become more and more convinced hope is more powerful in our lives than anything else, even love. If you think about it, without hope, love cannot take root in our lives. Now I know that Paul says that our the foundation of our lives should be built on hope, faith, and love and that the greatest of these is love. I’m certainly not qualified to contradict Paul but I’d like to meet someone who has no hope yet can love God or people deeply. I suppose those people exist but without hope there’s no reason to love if you think about it. However, find a person who is hopeful and you’ll find someone with the capacity to love without measure. Paul makes reference to this very principle in vv. 5-7 when he says that the Colossian believers’ faith and love is a direct result of their hope—the hope of the reward that awaits them in the life to come when they spend eternity with God. Hope has nurtured in them the two most important aspects of the Christian life, the eternal aspect of faith in Jesus Christ and the temporal aspect of love for people. “Paul had not been to Colosse; he had heard of their trust in Jesus from Epaphras. He had also heard they loved all of God’s people and acted upon that love. Trust in Jesus refers to the vertical component of the Christian life; love refers to the horizontal component with other believers. The Colossians’ trust in Christ Jesus and love for others had reason: they were looking forward to the joys of heaven. Why have faith in Jesus Christ if there is no hope for a glorious future? Why love others if it doesn’t matter in the end? But looking forward to heaven makes all the difference…Paul spoke of the Good News as an entity unto itself—something alive, growing, spreading, bearing fruit, and spreading some more. Paul was not exaggerating when he wrote the words, all over the world. He did not mean that every location on earth had been evangelized, but that the gospel was making headway across racial, national, and geographical barriers throughout the Roman Empire. Indeed, nothing could stop it from changing lives everywhere.”[2]

8and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

Paul assures the Colossians that they are not alone in their faith journey but that people everywhere had received the same hope derived from the gospel message and that their lives were being transformed in the same way the lives of the Colossians were transformed. A hallmark of the transformation that is deeply rooted in the lives of Colossians is love—not necessarily emotional love but what Paul calls “love in the Spirit” in v. 8 as was reported to him by Epaphras. This is love that is derived from the power of the Holy Spirit that resides within each believer. This is a love that is particularly evident in its love for all other believers, known and unknown. However, this is also the power to love without condition; love that cares for those who are lost and separated from God by their sins; love that opens the hearts and minds of people who have lost their way; love that plants the seed of hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This power to love is a divine power that originates specifically from the Holy Spirit. “For Paul, then, love is never simply a self-attained virtue; it is the result of a transformed life filled with the Spirit of God, which pours God’s own love into the human heart. Lack of love therefore calls into question the presence of the Spirit in one’s life, and hence one’s whole relationship to God. The fact that Paul’s encouragements to love are frequently voice in the form of prayer reflects his conviction that love, like everything good, ultimately derives from God as a gift of grace. The key to loving is being filled with the Spirit of God.”[3]

9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,

            There is a dynamic component to our salvation. Not that it’s a moving target but that it’s an ongoing process. Specifically, we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. We have been saved so that our eternal place in the presence of Jesus is assured. We are being saved so that we have the power and ability to live in a way that brings honor to God. And although we have been saved in order to be able to spend eternity with Jesus one day and we are being saved so that our lives can bring glory to God, we will nevertheless become sick and die one day. Our salvation will only be complete when we are finally glorified with Jesus (Rom 8:16-17). Nurturing the ongoing process of salvation is what Paul is saying in v. 9-10 when he says that he is praying that the Colossian believers would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will that results from spiritual wisdom and understanding. Although Paul is praying for this outcome for the Colossian believers, they nevertheless have a duty to pursue that outcome themselves. It’s not something that happens while they are sleeping. Instead, nurturing spiritual wisdom and understanding of God’s will requires a volitional act on the part of believers. Knowledge and understand of God isn’t an accident and isn’t granted simply because we ask for it. Don’t forget, God deeply desires to be in relationship with us. And any healthy relationship requires intentionality. We can’t have a healthy and growing relationship with God if we won’t commit ourselves to learning as much as we can about Him, what it takes to be in relationship with Him, what it takes to love Him, and what it takes to bring Him glory.

Paul’s prayer for the Colossians is a direct frontal attack on the false teachers that have infiltrated the Church in Colosse. The only way for the believers there and by extension the believers everywhere and at all times is to be equipped with a knowledge and understanding of God that is rooted in His Word and revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. In essence, Paul wants them to know exactly why they believe what they believe. “The wisdom and understanding that Paul and Timothy desire to see in the Colossian Christians are inseparable from the knowledge of God and of his will—a knowledge which, as the prophets of Israel insisted, is of the essence of true heart-religion…This knowledge is not merely intellectual exercise, no theosophical gnōsis [Gk. “knowledge”] such as was affected by the teachers who threatened to lead the Colossian church astray. The Colossians must be impressed with the nature and importance of true knowledge before being warned against the ‘knowledge falsely so called’ which was being pressed upon them. True knowledge is found in practical religion; it is that knowledge which, as the OT wisdom writers affirmed, starts with a proper attitude toward God: ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge’ (Prov. 1:7). Right knowledge leads to right behavior: it was because the pagan world, according to Paul, ‘did not see fit to retain God in their knowledge’ that they were abandoned ‘to a base mind and to improper conduct’ (Rom. 1:28).”[4]

11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully

            Imagine the faith it takes to preach a message of endurance, patience and joy while sitting in prison and you’ll understand that that’s exactly what Paul is doing in v. 11. Paul’s prayer for the Colossians wasn’t so much about enduring any immediate physical threats even though that day would no doubt come for them as it had already come for him. Instead, he was praying that they would patiently endure the false teachers who were trying to lead them astray. For the Colossian believers as it is for us today, endurance or patience (also referred to as “long-suffering) is not a matter of personal bravery but a matter of strength derived from a deep and intimate relationship with God. “[Endurance] signifies that kind of perseverance which enables one to hold the position already taken in battle against enemy attacks from without. By this ‘endurance’ the Colossian community will stand firm in every respect—especially by holding against the pressure of evil forces…that would lead them astray as well as make them dispirited. This kind of endurance, however, does not derive from…stoical fortitude. Rather, as in the OT and later Judaism, it is seen to spring from God who is its source. Thus he may be petitioned for it, or thanked when it is evident in the lives of believers. At the same time Christians are summoned to endurance, and by it they prove their standing in the faith. With such endurance they persevere through suffering, as they directed their attention toward the final day. Long-suffering in both the Old and New Testaments is used of the patience of God and his people…Because of God’s dealings with his people this word, which was not very significant in secular Greek, was given a new and unexpectedly profound importance, so that the human attitude of ‘long-suffering’ is now set in a new light. God’s patience with his people means they ought to act in a similar manner toward others.”[5]

12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

            Knowing that the endurance and patience that is needed can only come by the power of God through the Holy Spirit, it is only natural to thank God the Father who sent the Holy Spirit to live within the hearts of all believers, when the fruits of the Holy Spirit become manifest in the actions and attitudes of believers. And this is exactly what Paul does in v. 12. Interestingly, a grateful heart is just another manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of the true believer. I want you to notice something else about this verse. What is the believer joyfully thanking God for? It’s not for delivering them from persecution, oppression, suffering, or struggle. Instead, they are joyfully thankful that God has granted them endurance and patience to hold-up under and stand against the struggle and hardships they face.

            As believers in Jesus Christ, we are co-heirs with Jesus of the kingdom if we accept that we are co-heirs in the suffering that comes with being followers of Jesus (Rom 8:17). This is the inheritance shared by all the saints: An inheritance of suffering before the inheritance of the kingdom of light. “Saints” according to the Bible are believers during all ages who have put their faith in God in the Old Testament and God as revealed in Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Sainthood is not conferred on someone by the Church as is practiced by the Roman Catholic church. That is a practice that has no biblical support and attempts to elevate prominent individuals within Roman Catholicism above other Christians. This is a false teaching and like any other false teaching, it undermines the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice equally for all people and the equality of all believers in God’s economy. Let me be clear—all Christians are saints! Paul says that we are “saints in the kingdom of light.” Here is how that works systematically: As I just explained, we are saints as believers in Jesus Christ—Jesus is the Light of the world (Jn 8:12)—As believers we are children of God (1 Jn 3:1)—As children of God we are children of light (1 Thess 5:5)—as children of light we will inherit the kingdom of light (v. 12). Light is used throughout the Bible to illustrate goodness and righteousness. “God takes the initiative in bringing Christians into the realm of his righteous presence…Here it refers to bringing one into salvation…God gives people what they need to be a part of his kingdom. The basic need is righteousness…When God qualifies people for his kingdom, he supplies righteousness, a necessary prerequisite for salvation. Since he declares believers to be righteous by his grace, he alone qualifies a person for entrance into the kingdom;”[6] the kingdom of light.

13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

            The existence of light necessarily implies the existence of darkness. If there were no darkness there would be no need for light. Darkness has always been the antithesis of light. From the very beginning, God had to introduce light in order to vanquish the darkness prior to creation. Darkness, however, does not have the power to overcome light. Let me explain: You can bring light into a darkened room but you can’t bring dark into a lighted room. Light can be transported in order to overcome darkness but darkness can go nowhere—it is stationary. Unfortunately, all things begin in darkness. Until we are born, we exist in darkness for approximately nine months and then are born into the physical light of the world around us. Until we are enlightened academically, we live in the darkness of ignorance. It is the same in the spiritual realm of our lives. Until we are liberated by the Light of the world that is Jesus from the death sentence resulting from our sins, we exist under the dominion of darkness; the lordship of Satan. When we turned our lives toward the kingdom of Light, we were rescued from the dominion of darkness. “Primitive thinking begins by dividing reality into a dichotomy between light and darkness, viewed as combatants in a perpetual battle for dominance. When light dawns, chaos is again averted…It is impossible to understand the biblical imagery of light without seeing it as the great antithesis and conqueror of darkness.”[7]

Application

            In the final climactic scene of the final Star Wars episode, the last remaining Jedi Knight, Luke Skywalker, comes face to face with the Dark Lord, Darth Sidious, and his protégé, Darth Vader. At some point prior to this scene, Luke’s mentor and teacher revealed to him that Darth Vader was once a Jedi Knight whose anger and hatred pushed him to the Dark Side of the Force where he became the manipulated pupil of the Dark Lord. Luke also learned that before he turned to the Dark Side, Darth Vader was originally Anakin Skywalker, Luke’s father. Convinced that there was still some good in his father, Luke set out to rescue him from the influence and grasp of the Dark Side. In the final scene, Luke’s love for his father and his willingness to die rather than kill him and give in to the fear, anger, and hate that leads to the Dark Side, served to bring clarity and light back into the heart and mind of Darth Vader who then sacrificed himself to save Luke from certain death at the hands of the Dark Lord. In the end, because of Luke’s love and hope that there was still some good in his father, Darth Vader destroyed the Dark Lord and was Freed From The Dark Side.





            In so many ways, the battle between good and evil; light and dark in the Star Wars films is the story of many of our lives and the lives of those around us. This morning before I began preparing this lesson, I was heartbroken when I read an article about the millions of Christians in Nigeria who are in danger of having their light extinguished by the dark evil of Islam. Christians throughout the Middle-East, North Africa, parts of the Philippines, and many other countries face the dark forces of Islam every day. However, the darkness and evil of Islam cannot be overcome with bullets and bombs. Instead, Muslims must be delivered from the dominion of darkness the same way as the rest of us—by putting their trust in the Light of the world that is Jesus Christ. Whether it is the simple hatred of unbelievers here in America or the brutality of Muslims virtually everywhere else in the world, it is all inspired and controlled by the very real Dark Lord of this world—Satan. However, Christians are not of this world. Instead, we are like aliens in a foreign land. Our true home as children of the Light is in the kingdom of the Light. Nevertheless, we were all at one point under the dominion of darkness desperately in need of salvation. When we became believers in Christ, we were rescued from the dominion of darkness; we were saved. In this same way all those who are under the dominion of darkness can be rescued by Jesus. Through faith in Jesus Christ, all those who are now servants of Satan, the Dark Lord, can be Freed From The Dark Side.

            Will you please make a commitment today to pray for all those who are being persecuted by the servants of evil who are influenced by the Dark Side that God would grant them endurance and patience? Will you also please pray for the evil servants of the Dark Side; that the darkness in their hearts and minds will be vanquished by the light of Christ? Will you please make a commitment today to share the hope of the gospel with someone who is lost and under the dominion of darkness? Will you let your words and your actions be the light in a dark world that illuminates the path to Jesus for someone who is a prisoner to darkness? There is only one way to eliminate evil and darkness from the hearts and minds of people who are lost in the dark—by bringing them into the Light that is Jesus Christ or by bringing the Light to them. Only through Jesus will they be able to see and think clearly. Only through Jesus can their sins be forgiven. Only through Jesus can they be transformed. Only through Jesus can they be saved. Only through Jesus can they be Freed From The Dark Side.





[1] Max Anders, Galatians, Ephesians, Pilippians & Colossians—Holman New Testament Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 1999), p. 278.
[2] Bruce Barton, Philip Comfort, Grant Osborne, Linda K. Taylor, and Dave Veerman, Life Application New Testament Commentary, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), p. 871.
[3] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 576.
[4] F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians—The New International Commentary of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), p. 46.
[5] Peter T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon—Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2000), p. 24.
[6] Richard R. Melick, Jr., Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon—The New American Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 1991), p. 205.
[7] Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, gen. eds., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1998), p. 509.