E. L. Lovering, Ilfracombe
Nowhere in the New Testament is the Christian experience described as a life of ease, complacency and leisure, but rather as a course to be maintained and a conquest to be won. It was Paul's observation that in a race, all run, but only one receives the prize, a fading wreath. He would not run aimlessly, nor fight like one beating the air, but would bring his body under complete control in order to keep himself from being disqualified after having called others to the contest, 1 Cor. 9. 24-27. At the close of his life he was able to say that he had fought the good fight, run the full distance and kept the faith, 2 Tim. 4. 7. Cod 'will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life', Rom. 2. 6, 7. This can only apply to those who have believed and proved the power of Cod unto salvation, but in a day of easy and shallow profession, it seems important to emphasize this aspect of truth. We shall now consider some aspects of the faith in which the Christian is exhorted to continue.
In My Word
Jesus said to the jews who had come to believe in Him, if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free', John 8. 31, 32. It would appear from this dialogue that this belief was little more than an emotional attraction born of an admiration for Christ's personality and teaching. The one essential for discipleship was not attraction or admiration but to 'abide in His word'. This must involve four things. It means constant listening to His word, so that no decision is taken until first His voice has been clearly heard. It involves constant learning from Him, for a disciple, mstheies, is literally a 'learner' and this requires a disciplined life. The shut mind is the end of discipleship. Further, discipleship means constant study of the word in order to ascertain its meaning. Lastly, it involves obedience to His word, for we study not for academic satisfaction or intellectual appreciation alone, but to find out Cod's will, the truth designed for action. To be able to discern the real issues and values of life brings freedom. It was the Jews' claim that they had never been in bondage to anyone, though they had known bondage in Egypt, Babylon and Syria and were even then subject to Rome. It was however true that they had never been subdued. Christ was lifting their thinking to a higher level, from the material to the spiritual. True discipleship brings freedom from fear, for the disciple never walks alone; from self for the power of the Master is at his disposal; from the opinions of others for he knows His Lord's approval; from sin, for 'if the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed'.
In My Love
'As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love', John. 15. 9. It is not 'continue to love Me' but continue in the possession and enjoyment of My love to you. This is evident from the next words, 'If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love'-the obedient spirit of true discipleship, cherishing and attracting the continuance and increase of Christ's love; and this, He adds was the secret of His own abiding in His Father's love. The Father's love for the Son defies description and yet this is the measure and nature of the Son's love for His own. Christ is worthy of the Father's love but we unworthy of J lis love at all, are loved in spite of our unworthiness. It is His desire that we should remain in that love and in so doing bear fruit well-pleasing to the Father. As branches of the True Vine this is the sole purpose of our attachment to Him. The one proper use of the vine is to bear fruit, failing that, it is good only for fuel, Ezek. 15. 1-5. To abide in His love is to keep His commandments and this is His commandment, 'that ye love one another, as I have loved you'. The law of abiding in love is always that of obedience, and in this obedience there is the promise of His friendship, 'Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you'.
In The Faith
'Continue in the faith, grounded and settled and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel', Col. 1. 23. The Colossian heresy has been listed as one of the great problems of New Testament scholarship but it is clear that it attacked the total adequacy and unique supremacy of Christ, thus striking deep into the foundations of the faith which Paul describes as the hope of the gospel, which they had heard, which was universal and of which he had been made a servant. It has been suggested that the heresy of Colossae which evoked this epistle was a local development arising out of the peculiar situation of the city. Colossae was on the trade route from the East along which the Oriental religions as well as Oriental merchandise were transported to Rome. The Colossians were Phrygian Gentiles, 1. 27, whose religious antecedents were highly emotional and mystical. They were seeking to attain the fulness of God and when teachers came among them with a philosophy that promised a mystic knowledge of God, they were entranced by it. Among its tenets were a voluntary humiliation, probably by ascetic practices, 2. 18, 20, 21, the worship of angels who may have been reputed intermediaries between God and man, 2. 18, and abstinence from certain foods and ceremonial days, 2. 16. It is quite likely that in these teachings there was also a strain of Jewish legalism, brought in from contacts with the Jewish population of Asia Minor. Paul's references to ceremonialism, 2. 11 and to the fact that the ceremonies and feasts were a shadow of things to come, 2. 17, sound more like Judaism than heathenism. The Colossian heresy then, was centred about the person of Christ. The answer to this heresy lay not in extended argument but in a positive presentation of the person of Christ. Paul pointed out that all philosophies, spiritual powers, ceremonial observances and restrictions were secondary to the pre-eminence of Christ. As the cultures and religions of the world become more intermixed, is not Paul's exhortation equally important and relevant today.
'Continue stedfastly in prayer, watching therein with thanksgiving', Col. 4. 2, rv. Paul constantly emphasised the duty and privilege of prayer. When prayer seems unavailing, the remedy is not to stop praying but to persevere in prayer. The verb behind the words 'continue stedfastly', proskartereo, is several times used with the same construction as here and always in relation to prayer. Acts 1. 14; 2. 42; 6. 4; Rom. 12. 12. The expression evidently denotes an attitude of consistent piety rather than an uninterrupted prayer. Coupled with persevering prayer there must be patience and perception, a vigilance which is literally 'wakefulness'. Perhaps Paul was thinking of the time on the Mount of Transfiguration when the disciples fell asleep and only 'when they were awake' they saw the glory, Luke 9. 32; or the occasion in Gethsemane when they could not watch with Him one hour. Matt. 26. 40. In healthy Christian living, prayer is vital and requires discipline and watchfulness.
In all our praying there is room for praise. Dr. Hanoinv Moljlk writes, 'too often is thanksgiving forgotten, especially when the believer is under trial; let him recollect its preciousness and its power and never pray without it. If there is nothing else for which he can give thanks, he has always God in Christ, and he has that "blessed hope" and he has the trial itself, which is sure to be somehow "precious", 1 Pet. 1. 7. Paul had begun the letter by assuring the readers of his constant prayer for them. He now closes by eliciting their constant prayer for him, and his request is specific, 'that God may open unto us a door of utterance'. There is always purpose in prayer, not firstly for self but the good of others and the glory of God. Paul did not ask for his release from prison or a successful outcome to his coming trial but for strength and opportunity to do the work Cod had entrusted to him, to speak the mystery of Christ and that he may do it effectively and plainly. Prayer should essentially be for power and not always for release, for it is conquest not release that should characterise the Christian's life.
In a Godly Heritage
'Continue thou in the things which thou has learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou has learned them; and that from a child thou has known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus', 2 Tim. 3. 14, 15.
How precious is a godly heritage! In view of the increase in evil men and imposters who sought to deceive while being themselves deceived, Paul appealed to Timothy to remain loyal to all the teaching of a godly family tradition. This was equivalent to loyalty and confidence in the holy scriptures, in their origin, authority and finality, vv. 16, 17. We should never forget our debt to those of a previous generation who through their loyalty, courage and even martyrdom preserved for us the holy scriptures and secured the liberty to read them. Let it be remembered that all scripture is inspired by God and profitable in preparing us for the tasks we must undertake. Therefore, forgetting the things which are behind and stretching forward to the things which are before, let us press on toward the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, Phil. 3. 13, 14.