Our prayers can often become very narrow in focus, concentrating on our immediate circle and concerns. Paul sets us an outstanding example in relation to prayer. He always had a profound interest in congregations he had, by God’s grace, established (Corinth, Ephesus), but he also had a great concern for other congregations (Rome, Colosse). We will consider a striking example of his praying in Colossians 1:3-6 Gospel praying.
1. Consistent prayer
Paul has not met the Colossian Christians. The church was established by Epaphras (v7) and it was from him that Paul had heard of their faith (v4) and love (v8), probably when Epaphras visited him in prison in Rome (Philemon 23). On this basis Paul prayed – ‘We always thank God…when we pray for you’ (v3). Literally he says ‘praying’ – a present participle that implies constant, continuous prayer. It is chiefly to ‘the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ that prayer is addressed. This should be the pattern of all our praying for the Lord’s people – an informed, regular, disciplined ministry, a privilege and a responsibility. Note the importance of thanksgiving, delighting in what he is doing for brothers and sisters.
2. Gospel fundamentals
One purpose of Paul’s letter is to reassure Colossian believers of their standing as true Christians and also to confirm the accuracy of Epaphras’ message. Here Paul does this by describing three effects of the gospel:
(i). Faith: This flows from God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8). It is a faith that looks out from self and leans upon Christ (Acts 16:31). Personal commitment to the Saviour is required.
(ii). Love: after the vertical dimension, here is the horizontal dimension. Those truly touched by the gospel respond with self-sacrificing love for fellow believers. This is exemplified by Jesus who ‘died for the ungodly’ (Romans 5:6-8). Action is involved – ‘faith expressing itself through love’ (Galatians 5:6).
(iii). Hope: Christians are people of hope. Rooted in the certainty of the redeeming work of Christ, the greatest blessings lie ahead as our inheritance (1 Peter 1:4). Our Christian hope cannot fail or disappoint since it is founded on the promises of God.
3. Significant growth
Paul turns attention to the message that, blessed by God, will result in faith, love and hope – ‘the word of truth, the gospel’ (v6). There is verbal communication of the good news that has specific content – ‘truth’. It is not merely a matter of feelings or preferences. This is the truth about the way of salvation God has provided in Christ, lived out by believers. Paul has a big vision of the effects of the gospel all over the world (v6), as it had been at work in Colosse (‘among you’). It has a twofold effect:
Bearing fruit: in the lives of God’s people, the ‘fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
Growing: the spreading gospel brings in God’s elect as he build his kingdom.
In a measure we will see both as the gospel is proclaimed. We long for and pray for more fruit and greater growth as the Lord blesses ‘the word of truth’.
The Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness on account of their unbelief in the power of God to give them the Promised Land. During that time the people had time to consider their actions and the consequences – to think about the big issues of life and death. In that setting ‘Moses the man of God’ penned the only psalm attributed to him. We consider Psalm 90 Man’s fragility and God’s grace.
1. The eternity of God (v1-2)
Moses begins with a ringing affirmation of faith – ‘Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations’ (v1). The name used here indicates God’s sovereignty over all things. He is a ‘dwelling place’ – a place of security and wellbeing. This is full of assurance for his people. Our natural spiritual condition, expelled from paradise, is homelessness. The Lord promises his people ‘I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). The crucial truth about God here is his eternity. He stands behind and above the material creation, outside of time (v4). Time changes neither him nor his relationship to us.
2. The brevity of life (v3-6)
Against this theological background Moses presents a powerful picture of the brevity of life. ‘You turn men back to dust’ (v3) – recalling Genesis 3:19. The brevity of life is the result of divine action – the end of man’s life comes by his decree and at his time. God stands outside time – ‘a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone past’. In contrast – ‘You sweep them away as with a flood’ (v5 ESV). We are helpless and cannot turn the clock back. We cannot know when he has decreed our end.
3. The sinfulness of man (v7-12)
The brevity of life is traced to its source – ‘We are consumed by your anger’ (v7). Moses describes the solemn reality of man’s sinfulness and the consequent wrath of God. Death is rooted in God’s wrath, which is the response of a holy God to sin (see Habakkuk 1:13). Our days are limited, but it is not shortness that is the main issue. Note ‘trouble and sorrow’ (v10) and the reason for that – ‘All our days pass away under your wrath’. But there is a word of hope in v12 with its appeal to God ‘Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom’. By God’s grace our whole perspective on life and death may be transformed. Our situation is not hopeless.
4. The grace of God (v13-17)
Hope is found in looking in faith to the Lord. ‘Relent, O Lord!’ (v13) – total dependence on his gracious action is essential. He is ‘the Lord’ – now the covenant name. He will never forsake his people and saves every repentant sinner. ‘Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love’ (v14). This is the love we experience in Christ who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). We can ‘sing for joy and be glad’. He can revive the forgiven, who become fruitful workers. Trouble is not victorious over grace.
Imagine a doctor who avoided sick people, who exhibited distaste for contact with anyone who was ill. How long would he last as a doctor? His attitude would be in fundamental conflict with his calling. Jesus often drew on the everyday experience of his listeners to illustrate his teaching and so he uses the figure of the doctor to explain his saving mission. Consider Matthew 9:12-13 Calling the sick.
1. The criticism levelled at Jesus
The context of this encounter is the calling of Matthew (Levi) the tax-collector (v9). There is immediate obedience to Jesus’ call – ‘Matthew got up and followed him’. God’s grace was at work in a powerful way. In response Matthew arranges a banquet for Jesus and his disciples, along with friends and former work colleagues (v10). The latter were ‘sinners’ in the estimate of observant Jews and especially of the religious authorities. The latter are in view in v11 ‘When the Pharisees saw this’ – probably looking on, as they would not attend a meal involving contact with the ritually unclean. Their question is an accusation – ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ tax-collectors worked for the Romans and were notoriously greedy and dishonest. In the Pharisees’ view a godly teacher would avoid such people. If Jesus does not, what does that say about him?
2. The need identified by Jesus
Jesus has a striking answer to the criticism: ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick’. He casts himself in the role of a spiritual doctor coming to bring healing. If that is the case, where should he be found? He ought to be among ‘the sick’ – how else could he help them? Note 2 categories of people:
(i). The sick: this refers to ‘tax-collectors and sinners’. Jesus does not deny their sinfulness – they need a Saviour. Like all others, they are sinners (Romans 3:23). Their need is great and only the ministry of this doctor can deal with their plight.
(ii). The healthy: This could be those who are right with God by grace, but in context it refers to those like the Pharisees who were ‘healthy’ in their own estimate. They are confident of their own righteousness (Luke 18:9), but in fact they too are among the sick, though they do not realise or admit it. Their need is as great as the tax-collectors and others.
3. The mission fulfilled by Jesus
If the Pharisees believed that tax-collectors were sinners, what had they done to rescue them? Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’ to point out that ritual observances do not make up for self-righteous hearts. Jesus stands in complete contrast. His ‘coming’ (v13) indicates his divine origin and his coming to fulfil his messianic mission, including his suffering and death (16:21). Nothing less can heal our deadly sickness. He came ‘to call sinners’ – it is the call of the gospel, accepted by some (by the Spirit’s enabling) and rejected by others. By repentance (Luke 5:32) salvation is received and new life in Christ enjoyed.