What The Incarnation of Christ Teaches Us and Does To Us

Preaching, teaching or writing on the incarnation of Christ usually focuses on the Gospels. There is another verse that I think has so much to teach us about the incarnation and it comes from the Apostle Paul in Colossians. Paul appears to be addressing some false teaching in Colossae about the nature of Christ to which he replies,

“For in Christ, all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,” – Col 2:9

Jesus wasn’t part God, part man. Jesus was fully human and fully divine. That means Jesus had all the qualities of the immortal God wrapped into the body of mortal man. You can list all the attributes of God and assign them to the Jesus. I am sure that is not news to you at is point. Many people have made that point before. What is fascinating about all of this to me is the significance this brings to the actually incarnation/conception event in Mary’s womb in light of Jesus’ qualities as God. The incarnation takes all of the “fullness of God” and puts them into an embryo the size of a pin head in Mary’s womb. Not only do you end up with the smallest baby Jesus that you can imagine, you have 100% vulnerable divinity.

There is a tension that pulls between creator and created and between the all powerful God and the all vulnerable Jesus. Just a few verses before the scripture mentioned above, Paul wrote this about Jesus,

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” – Col 1:15-17

What does it say about a God who is willing to go from creator to created? What does it say about a God who is willing to step off the heavenly throne, put his immortality aside, take on flesh and be put in the womb of a woman he created?

As time passes and Jesus grows the vulnerability continues. He is ridiculed in his own hometown, misunderstood, mistreated, and homeless. After still a few more years and that same divine man is being nailed to a cross by men he created and loved. Finally, a body containing all the fullness of God dies and is raised back to life. Jesus, as God, endured all of that.

What does that mean for us? Paul tells us in the very next verse and at least for my tiny brain, the significance of all of this is mind blowing,

“and you have been given fullness in Christ.” – Col 2:10

In the incarnation Jesus empties himself so that we might become full. In the incarnation He steps down from heaven so that we might be raised up to be with him and he takes His place off the heavenly throne so that we too might be seated with him in heavenly realms (Eph 2:6). The incarnation of Jesus Christ is powerful, not just because it was his entrance into the world, but also because of the spiritual realities it opened the door to in the lives of those he came to save.

So here we are and we have been given fullness in Christ. God has placed us in a world that is lost and dead and aimless and empty. Will it be more alive when we depart than when we arrived? Will it be more filled with Christ’s presence due to our presence? Will we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and even suffer for the sake of Christ? Let us live out the incarnation of Christ through the fullness God has placed in each and every one of us so that the world will see God more clearly and that they too may receive fullness in Christ.


1 Corinthians 13…the Best Chapter on Spiritual Gifts in the Bible

Whenever I do a wedding there is this feeling that somehow you have to fit in 1 Corinthians 13 because the word “love” is mentioned so many times. Love have made this chapter one of the best known in the whole Bible. Really, I do my best to avoid that chapter at weddings. When you preach or teach 1 Corinthians 13 as if it were about love it really sounds kind of strange. I mean what’s love got to do with speaking in the tongues of men or of angels? What’s love got to do with prophesies? What’s love got to do with wisdom and spiritual insight? What’s love got to do with it? The follow up question to that is, Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken? Anyone?

The problem people have with 1 Corinthians 13 is a problem that people have with many verses in the Bible. It is a problem of stripping verses from their context, examining them in that isolation and coming to conclusions that were never intended by the original author. Read 1 Corinthians 11 through 13 all at once and see what chapter 13 is about. The NIV heading is “Love” but it is actually about the primacy of love in using our spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts in the early church were gifts given to people by the power of the Holy Spirit to do things they could not do otherwise. This included things like speaking in tongues, prophesy, extra wisdom, interpretation of those who speak in tongues, and many more. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul talks about problems of disunity and hostility in the church. Then in chapters 12 and 13 Paul gives us two things that, when properly understood, should bring unity and purpose back to God’s people. In 1 Cor 12 Paul writes about the unity of the body and how we all have different gifts but the leadership comes from the head of the body, Christ, and not ourselves. In 1 Cor 13 Paul talks about the fact that many people have gifts but they are all meaningless unless they are done lovingly. The point is, don’t get caught up in the gift. Get caught up in the one who gave the gift, God, and how He wants us to use those gifts in loving ways. Having great gifts is no excuse or substitute for treating people right. Do treat others poorly, no matter how great the gifts makes you nothing (1 Cor 13:2-3).

The whole spiritual gifts discussion in 1 Corinthians is a call back to love. While all the gifts they had may not be present in the same form as they were in the first century we still have something greater than all of that…we can still love. When we do the life and love of Jesus flows in us and through us and is more powerful than speaking in a tongue or having some great gift of wisdom. Christ is living in us and it will show. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor 9:15).

Review of Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell (Part 6)

Chapter 4: What Jesus’ Followers Said About Hell

In “Love Wins” Rob Bell appeared pretty thorough when he said he was going to tackle every occurrence of the word “Hell” in the New Testament. The problem was concepts are more important than individual words. It is entirely possible for to talk about hell without using the actual word in a given verse. In discussing Paul’s view on hell they cite a statistic that Paul talked more about God’s wrath and judgment more times than God’s mercy, heaven and forgiveness (p.98). If you turn to the end notes at the back of this chapter they give you a breakdown of the frequency of various terms and conclude that terms of wrath amount to over 80 times in Paul’s letters while “mercy”, “forgiveness”, and “heaven” occur 55 times total. So that statement is true if you limit Paul’s discussion of the positive workings of God in the world to those three terms but if you include just one more word, “life”, into the mix (the opposite of “death”) you have 76 more occurrences that outnumber the times he talks about things like death and destruction. Statistics like this don’t really mean much and what is really frustrating is that Chan is trying to counter Rob Bell’s tactics by talking concepts rather than just specific words but ends up making some of the same mistakes himself.

One thing I really like about Francis Chan is that he really tries to read the Bible and believe what it says through pretty simple interpretation…not many twists and turns and trying to fit things into predetermined outcomes and doctrines. He writes, “Just because some have swung the pendulum so far in the direction of wrath and judgment, let’s not swing it back too far the other direction and do away with what Scripture emphasizes. God is compassionate and just, loving and holy, wrathful and forgiving. We can’t sideline His more difficult attributes to make room for the palatable ones.” (p.101). I talked about that pendulum swing on at least a dozen occasions when I reviewed Love Wins. Here is one that falls in line with what C&S are saying,

“At the end of it all there were some good take away points about kingdom living and whether or not we are living lives that actually embrace God’s calling on us here and now. But in swinging the pendulum so hard it seems the pendulum knocked over several other biblical concepts and ignored many contexts, that seemed to be teaching the opposite of the points he made, along the way. It is hard to find balance when someone writes a book in reaction to theology/views they disagree with.” – LINK

It is so important that our theology is biblical and not reactionary to the theology we are combating against. One of the most important points in this discussion is that we never will completely figure God out. So we have to have humility about these things. We can’t erase a doctrine by cleverly manipulating a couple of scriptures. The judgment and wrath of God are all over both Testaments and just because they don’t sit well with us doesn’t give us the right to explain them away or ignore them.

A second point C&S make in this chapter is that in Paul’s writing God’s wrath is not corrective. It is retributive. In other words, God’s final wrath and judgment are never put in the context of turning hearts to Him from hell (corrective punishment). Instead the punishment is aimed at destruction of those who reject God. That is one of the points on hell that people have the hardest time with. It is hard to fit loving God together with vengeful God. One of the things that conflicts me a little about this book is how C&S take the retributive purpose of hell seriously and make bold statements about it only to backtrack and say things that would indicate to me that their real desire was that it just wasn’t so. Here are a few examples:

“I would love to think…that the Bible doesn’t actually say a whole lot about hell. I would love to star at my friend’s face when he asked that question we all fear – ‘Do you think I’m going to hell?’ and say, ‘No! There is no such place! Jesus loves you and wants to heal your pain and turn your sorrows into gladness!'” (p.108)


“While much of our church culture believes that talk of wrath and judgment is toxic and unloving, Paul didn’t seem to have a problem with these things. In fact, Paul believed they were essential truths.” (p.100)

And this…

“I really believe it’s time for some of us to stop apologizing for God and start apologizing to Him for being embarrassed by the ways He has chosen to reveal Himself.” (p.102)

Doesn’t that verse say that at the very heart and soul of Chan’s thoughts is that he really would erase hell if he could? Am I missing something there? I am not really sure how we take hell seriously but wish it away at the same time. I also don’t understand how C&S can say that God’s ways are higher than our own and it won’t always make sense but we have to believe and teach what we find in the Bible but, on the other hand, if I had my way I would take hell out of the Bible altogether…but I guess I will go ahead and preach it anyway. It keeps feeling like, in an attempt to ease people into the message, they keep making statements that negate other statements. If hell is God’s will and it is real and His ways are higher than our own, why wish it away? Why not instead conclude, I may not completely get it or how it all fits together but it is real and so let’s deal with it, teach it, preach it, warn, admonish, etc.?

What Was the Colossian Heresy and What Can We Learn from it?

In comments on the last post Philip mentioned Milton Jones’ interpretation of the Colossian heresy as something comparable to post-modernism. I have a great level of respect for Milton Jones. I haven’t read his book (that Philip linked to in his comment) but I did think this would be an interesting point to respond to in a post rather than a comment. In January I started writing curriculum on the prison letters of Paul. I really believe it is important to understand the occasion of an epistle if we are going to spend time teaching it and discussing it. So I really wrestled with the Colossian heresy for a while. After sitting at the feet of everyone from N.T. Wright to Benny Three Sticks and Peter O’Brian via their excellent commentaries, here was my take on the Colossian heresy from my Prison Letters of Paul small group curriculum,

“The Jews believed angels were involved in giving the law (Gal 3:19 for instance). It seems false teachers had come in and said that it was necessary to please these angels, principalities and powers if God was to hear their prayers (see 2:16-23). In order to please them they were taught to follow strict dietary (2:21)and holiness guidelines as well as the observance of special days (2:16). Paul is teaching them that such teachings are false and that Christ is still supreme with full authority over everything in creation that they don’t need to lean on such hollow and deceptive teachings (1:15ff, 2:8).”

I can’t say with certainty that I have it all right but that is the best I can come up with thanks to borrowing from a few scholars I highly respect and trying to put these pieces together in my own mind. It seems more appropriate to me to read their Jewish worldview into the text rather than to read a 21st century worldview into it. It makes more sense that Paul would be referencing things from their culture and not ours. Application can certainly still be made and the parallels connected appropriately to teach us something today about our own world. But as for interpreting what the actual heresy was we have to be careful to read the text from the right direction and not interpret it in light of the first “hollow and deceptive” teaching that we can think of in the world we live in.

If this interpretation of the heresy is correct, how do we make application in our world today? First, we have to listen to what Paul did say about the truth concerning Christ because Paul believed that if we have the truth we won’t be led astray by false teachings (Col 2:8-15). Postmodernism in and of itself is not a false teaching, as some have claimed. It is a worldview. It can lead to false teaching but it can also lead to some very profound insights regarding our faith. We cannot let our worldview “kidnap” (Col 2:8) us by leading us away from Christ and to something claimed superior or more sufficient than Christ. If we allow any worldview to do that we are in grave danger. That can happen with postmodernism but it can happen with any worldview, even modernism. You can get so caught up in figuring everything else, from the modern perspective, that you fail to see a need for Christ in your life. That is Paul’s point in the next verses (Col 2:9-10). The Gospel doesn’t need anything more to make it sufficient to bring us life and godliness because Christ is head over all things. In Col 2:11-15 Paul lays out all that Christ has done for us. When we read through that great list we should realize that our worldview must draw us closer to God and not further away from Him.

PS – If you don’t read Philip’s blog you should have a look. He is a great friend and a very insightful guy.

New Small Group Lesson Series – Paul’s Prison Letters

I just posted a series of 16 lessons on Paul’s prison letters. We are wrapping these lessons up in our LIFE groups and I wanted to share. You can find them here, in the small group lesson page or in the Bible class archive

Ephesians 5 – Husbands, Wives, and Mutual Submission?

I am in the process of writing small group curriculum for Paul’s prison letters. The text in focus right now is Ephesians 5:21-6:24 and part of that is Paul’s “household code.” Paul mentions three sets of relationships in chapters 5 & 6 that each have two parts: husbands & wives, children & parents, slaves & masters. Paul makes the point that in no relationship does only one party have an obligation to the other. All relationships are reciprocal and place requirements on both parties.

First, Paul calls on all Christians to view each other with an attitude of submission (5:21). Paul says that Christians should submit to each other out of reverence for Christ. That means that out of respect for Christ we love each other and see each and every Christian as someone Jesus died for. Because of that, we don’t abuse each other or take advantage of one another. We don’t always have to have our way on everything because other people are too important to just run over.

In 5:22 wives are told to submit to their husbands. There are a lot of opinions on what is going on in these verses. Is Paul starting out with the broader concept that all Christians are to submit to each other (5:21) and then starts going down the line of who is to submit to whom? If that is the case, wouldn’t you think he would say, “Wives, you submit to your husbands and husbands submit to your wives. Because as we all know all Christians are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

But it doesn’t read that way. Is it possible that all Christians are to submit to each other as a general purpose but not always in reciprocal or exactly equivalent ways? If you follow the interpretation that Paul is writing that all Christians are to submit to each other in the exact same ways: wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters we would very quickly see that the second two pairs don’t work out so well. Which then puts into question whether it is really intended in the first example as well (wives and husbands). The next thing you notice is that, although the husbands aren’t specifically told to submit to their wives, I think they are given the more difficult task (feel free to rebuke me kindly if you disagree on this as I can only see this best from a male point of view). 5:25 says the role of the husband is love their wives as Christ loved the church. Christ loved the church so much that he gave himself up for her. Christ died for the church because of his great love for the church. Men…treat your wives with that kind of love and desire.

This is more than jumping in front of a bullet or pushing your wife out of the way of an oncoming bus and letting it hit us. Just as Christ’s giving of himself was more than 6 hours on a cross so is a husband’s obligation to self-sacrifice for his wife a one time event. In fact, I think it is actually easier to jump in front of a bullet or a bus than to live each day in a self-sacrificial way. So, while husbands are not specifically told to submit to their wives, their leadership is characterized by total self-sacrifice.

What is more, when men lead their families with that kind of attitude (which I am still very much working on myself, by the way) then it will certainly make the wives obligation in 5:22, to be submissive to her husband, that much easier. So I am not so sure that this passage teaches mutual submission in the sense that we all submit to each other in precisely reciprocal ways but that as we each fulfill our role as God has defined it that behind it all lies an attitude of love, sacrifice and submission. It just shows up differently as differing roles are being lived out.

What is your take on the concept of mutual submission?

Gospel of John 20 – The Empty Tomb

1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

From bad to worse. First he had been crucified and now it seems his tomb had been desecrated! “They have taken the Lord…we don’t know where they put him!”

Dead men don’t move themselves. Dead men don’t remove their burial clothes. Dead men don’t leave tombs. But alive men do!

Mary went to get Peter and John. The last time Mary was with John was at the foot of the cross and now she sends him running to the tomb only to him there was no mistaking what happened to the body. “They” had nothing to do with it. Jesus was alive! Don’t you wonder if John’s mind went back to the last time he saw grave clothes off a formerly dead person was back in Bethany when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Unlike the others, John didn’t have to first see the risen Lord for the puzzle pieces to fall into place. He knew then and there that Jesus was alive. When Jesus said that if he was lifted up he would draw all men to himself (John 12:32) he was not speaking only of his crucifixion, which is the immediate parallel we draw when we hear the language of being lifted up. The cross is not very attractive. But Jesus was speaking simultaneously of being lifted up from death and the grave. The resurrection is the drawing force of Christ because in being raised from the dead he eliminated any and all obstacles that could keep mankind from having the same new kind of life,

14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. – Ephesians 2:14-18