FAMILY RIVALRIES

Scripture Reading: I Samuel 1:1-8

“But to Hannah he gave a doublet portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb.” (I Samuel 1:5,6)

The opening chapter of I Samuel tells the story of Samuel’s family. His father’s name was Elkanah, who was a very religious man — “Now the man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh” (v. 3). Hannah and Peninnah were his two wives. Peninnah had children but Hannah had none.

I have ministered to many couples over the years who dealt with the same issue. They desperately wanted children but had not been able to have any. It was a great disappointment to them. Some got bitter at the Lord, others faithfully waited. Some adopted children. We can understand the pain and disappointment Hannah faced.

On top of that, she had a sister who would provoke her grievously. This went on for years — “So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat” (v. 7).

It is hard to understand why Peninnah treated Hannah so terribly. Perhaps it was because their husband seemed to show favoritism to Hannah — “But to Hannah he gave a double portions because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb” (v. 5). It may have been that Peninnah was jealous of her sister because of the attention Elkanah gave Hannah.

There is nothing more disappointing to a parent than to see conflict and rivalry between siblings. I’ve witnessed it in several families over the years. I know of families who have siblings who will not speak to one another and who actually hate each other. How sad!

The only hope for healing relationships like these is the gospel. Jesus can break down walls of hostility and bring reconciliation. “For He Himself is our peace, who has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility…and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:14,16). We need to pray for healing within families who are experiencing hostility and conflict.

Lord Jesus, I pray for families who are facing conflict and bitterness among siblings. I pray for healing and I know that You can bring reconciliation even in the most difficult situations. Thank You that You are our peace and that You have made peace with God on our behalf. You can also bring peace to broken human relationships.

Standard

THE MINISTRY AND GOD’S GRACE

Scripture Reading: Colossians 4:7-18

“Grace be with you.” (Colossians 4:18c)

Ministry is totally dependent upon God’s grace, just as every aspect of our lives is also. The book of Colossians begins and ends with a reference to God’s grace — “Grace to you and peace from God our Father” (Colossians 1:2b) — “Grace be with you” (Colossians 4:18c). And grace is found throughout Paul’s words to the Colossians.

By grace we have been delivered from the domain of darkness, and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (1:13).

By grace we have been reconciled to God through the work of Jesus Christ and made holy and blameless and beyond reproach in the sight of God through Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us (1:12).

By grace we have been called to faithful ministry — “And say to Archippus, ‘Take hold to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it'” (4:17).

The Christian faith is centered in God’s grace. We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8,9). God’s grace is sufficient for all our needs — “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9). God’s grace sustains us and upholds us.

Grace is what separates Christianity from all other religions. Every other religion teaches a works salvation — one has to earn the favor of a deity. But Christianity is about a God who comes after His people, delivers them, and saved them completely. Grace is the unmerited favor God gives people who do not deserve it. Thus Paul concludes his letter to the Colossians with words of grace — “Grace be with you!”

Heavenly Father, thank You for choosing me and for saving me. I know that my salvation is a gift from You. I could never earn it, no matter how hard I tried. But Jesus has made it possible through His sacrificial work on my behalf. Thank You for Your grace that brought me into the kingdom of Your beloved Son.

Standard

THE MINISTRY OF SUFFERING

Scripture Reading: Colossians 4:7-18

“I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.” (Colossians 4:18)

Some of the most effective ministry is done during times of suffering. Paul was imprisoned because of his ministry. Yet, he saw the blessings in his suffering. His suffering produced an abundance of fruit — “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well know throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brothers trusting because of my imprisonment have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear” (Philippians 1:12-14).

Paul was not bitter about his imprisonment. Instead he saw it as an occasion for ministry. He was able to share the gospel with the imperial guard, the soldiers who guarded the emperor. And he heard reports how other believers were being more courageous as they preached God’s Word in a pagan, hostile part of the world.

Throughout his ministry, Paul faced times of severe suffering — “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews forty lashes less one. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was caught at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from the Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, often without food, in cold and exposure. And apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (II Corinthians 11:24-28).

Aristarchus (v. 10) also suffered as a result of his faithful ministry. He was a Macedonian of Thessalonica. He was with Paul in Ephesus when a riot broke out. A silversmith named Demetris organized other people in his trade to resist Paul and his fellow workers, who had brought the gospel to Ephesus — “And the city was filled with confusion, and they rushed with one accord into the theater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia” (Acts 19:29).

Ministry may involved suffering and opposition. But as we trust Christ to lead and to empower, God will use our sufferings to make our ministries more real and effective. I know this for a fact. Some of the most effective ministry I have had came out of times of personal suffering and pain.

Lord Jesus, You suffered greatly in Your ministry. You met opposition, disappointment, pain and even death. Your ministry of suffering made my salvation possible. I thank You for boldly facing suffering so that I could experience the forgiveness of my sins and peace with God. Enable me and other believers to see our times of suffering as occasions for ministry to others.

Standard

THE MINISTRY OF SPIRITUAL FORMATION

Scripture Reading: Colossians 4:7-18

“And say to Archippas, ‘See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received from the Lord.'” (Colossians 4:17)

Every believer in our Lord Jesus Christ has been called into the ministry — “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received from the Lord.” We are all called to the ministry of spiritual formation. Spiritual formation involves learning how to grow in our walk with Christ. It is a vital part of sanctification. Spiritual formation requires the development of basic spiritual disciplines — Bible reading and meditation, prayer, Scripture memory, worship, and gospel-centered fellowship with other believers. In fact, spiritual formation is most effectively carried out in the context of relationships. True discipleship always takes place through relationships with other Christians. Notice how Paul’s life affected all the people listed in these final verses of Colossians.

Investing in the lives of others produces tremendous spiritual fruit. Do you realize that two of the four writers of the gospels are mentioned in this passage (Mark and Luke)? Think about the impact Paul had on these men. These life on life relationships produced faithful servants and ministers of Jesus Christ. The word “faithful” is found twice in reference to some of them — Tychicus and Onesimus.

The key to spiritual formation is to develop life on life relationships which are aimed at helping each other grow in our walk with Christ. We are develop relationships that involve doing life together as we talk about the deeper issues of life and as we share in the joys and struggles of life together. In order to do this we must be willing to be transparent and vulnerable. We must be honest with each other. We are called to encourage one another and to hold one another accountable for our spiritual formation.

God has called us into a community of believers (the church). We must seek to develop radical, gospel-driven relationships with others as we seek to grow in our Christian faith. We must take our spiritual formation seriously in order to enable us to grow to maturity in our faith. Remember that God’s goal for us is that we would be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29)..

Lord Jesus, thank You for providing the means for us to grow spiritually. Let me be consistent in my Bible reading and meditation. As I read the Scriptures, open my heart to hear them and enable me to grasp the truths you have for me in them. Let me invest in the lives of others as I seek to develop gospel-centered relationships that will help in my spiritual growth and calling.

Standard

THE MINISTRY OF PRAYER

Scripture Reading: Colossians 4:7-18

“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Jesus Christ greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” (Colossians 4:12)

A great example of the ministry of prayer is found in Paul’s words about Epaphras. Epaphras was most likely the founder of the church at Colossae (1:7). While Epaphras was ministering to Paul when he was in prison, he also ministered to the congregation in Colossae through his prayers.

Notice what Epapras prayed for the members of the church — “that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” In essence, his prayer sums up the entire epistle to the Colossians — that believers are complete in Christ — “And in Him you have been made complete” (2:10a). Epapras was praying that the Colossians would realize that Jesus Christ is sufficient for their every need. He also prayed that they would be assured in all the will of God.

Notice also the manner in which Epapras prayed — “struggling on you behalf in his prayers.” His prayers were fervent and sincere. They were not casual prayers but rather prayers filled with urgency and heart-felt love.

This passage convicted me of my casual and selfish prayers. I realize how important it is for us to struggle on behalf of others in our prayers. This is especially true for the prayers we offer on behalf of our spouses, our children, our grandchildren and other loved ones. We need to pray for their spiritual maturity and that they would be fully assured of God’s will for their lives.

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of prayer. Thank You for listening to my prayers, even though at times they seem casual and weak. I confess that most of the time I do not struggle in my prayers on behalf of others. Today I lift up those I love most to You. I pray for their spiritual maturity — that they would know Christ in deeper ways and seek to live their lives for His glory. I pray that they would know that Jesus is sufficient for all their needs. And I pray that they would be fully assured of Your will for their lives.

Standard

THE MINISTRY OF FORGIVENESS

Scripture Reading: Colossians 4:7-18

“And with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you.” (Colossians 4:9)

God has a clear design for ministry. His design includes the ministry of forgiveness and acceptance. One example of this type of ministry is found in Onesimus. Philemon, a member of the church at Colossae, was the master to his slave, Onesimus. Onesimus ran away and abandoned his master. While fleeing he met Paul who was in prison in Rome.

Onesimus became a believer. Paul encouraged him to go back to Philemon. Paul sent another letter to encourage Philemon to forgive Onesimus and to receive him back. Paul went so far as to tell Philemon that if Onesimus owed him anything to charge it to Paul’s account. The reason Paul said this was because Onesimus had embraced Christ and had become a “faithful and beloved brother.”

Paul sent Onesimus back and reminded the members of the church that Onesimus was now one of them. He was a brother even though he had been a runaway slave. This is the ministry of forgiveness and acceptance.

Another example of the ministry of forgiveness and acceptance is John Mark, whose name is found in verse 10. Mark is first mentioned in Acts during Paul’s first missionary journey. At some point he deserted Paul. Later Barnabas wanted to take Mark along on Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul disagreed and this created dissension between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-39). They split up with Paul taking Silas and Barnabas taking Mark.

Later, however, Paul forgave Mark and commended him to the church at Colossae (v. 10). But what is more amazing is that at the end of Paul’s life, he specifically asked Timothy to bring Mark to him (II Timothy 4:11). Mark is another example of someone who stumbled, but who had been forgiven and accepted into useful service again.

Are their any Onesimus’s or Mark’s in you life that need your forgiveness and acceptance?

Lord Jesus, You desire for us to dwell together in unity. But we all face conflict with others at various times. Give us grace to forgive and love to accept those who have wronged us. You give us the ministry of reconciliation. Let us seek to be reconciled to one another.

Standard

GOD’S DESIGN FOR MINISTRY

Scripture Reading: Colossians 4:7-18

“I have sent him (Tychicus) to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that has taken place here.” (Colossians 4:8,9)

When we read the final verses of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, we can learn about God’s design for ministry. Ministry is relational in nature. It involves a genuine concern for people. As you read the names Paul wrote in these final greetings, you notice his love and concern for people. Paul not only recorded their names, which have been preserved in sacred Scripture, but you can tell that he genuinely cared about them.

Ministry involves partnerships with others. Paul developed many co-laborers who faithfully served with him. He acknowledged their service. He could have easily taken credit for the successful ministry he had; but he didn’t. He recognized those who served with him and he honored them. In fact, Paul used a common word throughout the passage — “fellow.” He spoke of his “fellow servants” (v. 7), “fellow prisoner” (v. 10), and “fellow workers” (v. 11). Though Paul was unusually gifted, he shared ministry with others and gave them proper credit for what they had done.

As you study the passage carefully, you will see God’s design for ministry. Ministry involves partnerships with others. It involves encouragement. Ministry requires forgiveness and acceptance. Ministry must be undergirded by prayer. Ministry is about spiritual formation. It may involve suffering and disappointments. And the bottom line is that ministry is totally dependent upon God’s grace.

Lord Jesus, I know that you call all believers into ministry. Thank You for the ministry You have given me. Thank You for the many fellow laborers that You have brought alongside of me. Equip me for the tasks You have for me this day and may I be a faithful minister to those I come into contact with.

Standard

GOSPEL CENTERED COMMUNITY

Scripture Reading: Colossians 4:7-18

“Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.” (Colossians 4:7)

We are approaching the end of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. The letter was to be read to the members of the church at Colossae and to the members of the church at Laodicea. These closing words are rich and touching. Paul reveals his heart as he expresses his deep concern for the people to whom he ministered. He genuinely cared for them and he knew they cared for him.

It is tempting to skip over a list of names like these found in this passage; but it would be unfortunate to do so. In this list of names are found incredible stories about people’s lives and ministries. We must remember that the church is made up of people whom God uses to minister to one another. At the heart of these words is how these people encouraged each other in Christ. We are called to minister and to serve one another.

God calls His people to live together in a gospel centered community. He calls us to develop radical, gospel-driven relationships. Our love for one another must be a radical love patterned after the love Jesus has for us. We must be diligent to love and to encourage each other. We must be willing to be open and vulnerable.

Our relationships within the body of Christ are to be gospel-driven. We are to recognize our own fallenness. We must know our desperate need for Jesus. The cross must ever be before us. Then we can live out our brokenness by being gracious and forgiving toward others.

These last verses of Colossians are intensely personal. They were written from the heart. Take a few minutes and read them. We will be looking at some of the stories that are revealed in the names of the people listed in this passage.

Lord Jesus, thank You for calling me into a gospel centered community of believers. Enable me to establish deep relationships of love. Give me the grace to forgive those who offend me and grant me the power to encourage those in need. I know that you have called me to minister and to encourage those You bring into my life.

Standard

GRACIOUS SPEECH

Scripture Reading: Colossians 4:5,6

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6)

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” What a terrible lie this is! Some of our greatest hurts come from the words of other people. It is not only the words themselves that hurt others but it is also the way we say them. We can come across mean spirited and cutting with our words and tones. I have been deeply hurt by things people have said to me and I am sure that you have been also.

No wonder we are told to “let your speech ALWAYS be gracious, seasoned with salt.” Notice the word “aways” in the passage. Even when we must confront someone, we are do it in a gracious way. We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:5).

Read these words from Ephesians — “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:29,30). When we talk harshly to others, we grieve the Holy Spirit. Our words should build up others, not tear them down.

Our words and the way we say them matter to God. We must choose our words carefully and we must also strive to use the right tone when we speak them. We should never respond to others when we are angry or irritable. God wants us to be gracious, loving, thoughtful, and truthful when we speak.

Lord Jesus, grant me power to be gracious always in the way I speak with others. Let me choose my words carefully and let me speak them with the right tone. Let me speak the truth in love. Forgive me when I have said things that I should not have said. Forgive me, O Holy Spirit, for I know that I have grieved You with the harsh words I have said to others. Grant me grace to speak in a way that builds up others and not put them down.

Standard

GOSPEL-DRIVEN RELATIONSHIPS

Scripture Reading: Colossians 4:5,6

“Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:5,6)

Our church’s focus statement is — “Equipping the body of Christ to engage in radical, gospel-drive personal relationships.” We believe this is our calling as it relates to those both inside the church and outside the church. We are to make a serious effort to establish gospel-driven relationships with all people we come to know.

I believe this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote these words — “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” God’s people are called to be ambassadors for Christ — “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (II Corinthians 5:20).

In order to do this we must attempt to conduct ourselves wisely toward outsiders. We must not become stumbling blocks to them. Peter wrote these words — “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evil-doers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (I Peter 2:12). We are to be Christ-like in our conduct. Outsiders notice when we are not acting in a way that is consistent with what we say we believe.

It is not only our conduct that serves as a witness to others, it is also our speech — “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may now how you ought to answer each person.” When we talk to outsiders about matters of faith, we are to do so humbly, graciously, and in love. We must never be arrogant and prideful, or put others down. Rather we are to speak the truth in love. And we are to trust the Spirit of God to lead us in our conversations with them about our faith.

Our goal should be to develop gospel-driven relationships. Our focus should be to engage others in such a easy that we can be effective witnesses for our Lord Jesus by your conduct and by our words.

Lord Jesus, grant me the power to conduct myself wisely toward those who are not believers. Enable me to develop relationships with them that are gospel- based and gospel-driven. Give me wisdom as I seek to represent You to them and let my speech always be gracious and seasoned with salt.

Standard