Scripture: from verse 17
See that you complete the task you were given in the Lord.
Observation: This is a reminder that Paul addresses to a specific person, but it applies to all of us. We are set a task. We have to complete it.
It’s easy to leave spiritual work half-done. If our work is to pray or to love or something like that, we may not see concrete results from our work. There may not be a physical sign that we are finished. So we tend to assume that we have finished as soon as we’ve done anything, when God may be calling us to keep going.
All we can do is wait for God’s peace to release us. If we are to pray, we keep praying. If we are to love, we keep loving. If we are to write or dance or eat or talk, we keep going until we are finished. We are accomplishing a great deal in the spiritual world as we do His will, and He can see it even when we cannot.
Application: Have patience and keep going. Wait for God to tell you what to do.
Prayer: Yeshua, thank you for giving me tasks to complete for you. Help me to be patient and persevering and accomplish what you want me to accomplish. Amen.
Scripture: verse 6
Let your conversation always be gracious and interesting, so that you will know how to respond to any particular individual.
Observation: I don’t know why we say the rules in Leviticus are strict. The most God ever said about our speech there was that we shouldn’t lie or curse each other. Here, everything we say has to be gracious and interesting and take into account the needs of the hearer.
I would say that I have interesting all taken care of, except it turns out not everyone is interested in detailed descriptions of our recent experiments with henna body art, or whatever it is that I want to talk about. I can’t exactly blame them, either.
Gracious is maybe a little easier, since it means being generous towards others and making allowances for their mistakes, and I’m usually sufficiently conscious of my own mistakes to not get too worked up about theirs. But sooner or later someone says something I disagree with, and then it turns out I’m not as good at gracious as I’d like to be either.
It has always been easier to follow the Law than to actually love people. I can avoid lying and cursing and even gossip and boasting (usually), but unless I’m genuinely paying attention to other people and taking an interest in what is important to them, I’m not doing God’s will. It takes thought, and patience, and God’s supernatural love to actually live the way He wants us to live.
Application: Rely on His love to help you love other people.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, I’m not as good at loving people as you want me to be. But no one is. Thank you for covering over my faults, so that I can be confident in your love anyway. Help me to be interesting and gracious and responsive to others’ needs. Amen.
Scripture: verse 2
Keep persisting in prayer, staying alert in it and being thankful.
Observation: The Bible tells us to keep praying over and over again. Which isn’t unreasonable, given that it is our main form of communication with the Maker or the Universe.
But staying alert in prayer seems a little different. I’m not certain what it means, to be honest. It implies activity and arousal and expectation. That nor only should we constantly be praying, but we should also be constantly paying attention to our prayers. Constantly looking for things to pray about, and constantly listening carefully for God to speak or guide or point His finger.
I’ve found I can learn a lot by praying. As I pray, God prompts me to pray in a specific way or over a specific aspect. Usually I can’t get it out of my head until I’ve prayed for it. After I’m done, half the time I realize that I hadn’t considered that element important before, or hadn’t even realized it was there. I didn’t know my friend was worried about an upcoming wedding until I prayed for her to be at peace. (I don’t think she did either!) I didn’t realize how jealous I was of my sister until I was praying about it. God uses our prayers to give us new information, if we’re willing to let Him.
I’m still learning about this. Sometimes I push too hard and fool myself, or I get scared and get stuck. But I keep going. God is good.
Application: Pray about everything, especially whatever you’re thinking about. Let God push your prayers around.
Prayer: Father, thank you for hearing my prayers. Thank you for giving me a line of open communication. Help me to listen to your prompting as I pray, and to use the knowledge I gain to better love people. Amen.
Scripture: verse 24
Remember that as your reward, you will receive the inheritance from the Lord. You are slaving for the Lord, for the Messiah.
Observation: Paul’s advice to slaves is not to rebel or attempt to gain their freedom. It is to decide that everything they do is done for the Lord, rather than for their masters.
In Leviticus I noticed that God says that we are His slaves. He bought us, and we belong to Him. We cannot be slaves because we already are.
God owns me. He will not share me or sell me and no one can do anything to me without His permission, because I am His property. He is my authority and He has my reward. Other people are kind of irrelevant, really. They don’t own me and He does. That His orders line up with their wishes a lot of the time is His problem, not mine.
There’s a lot of danger in that. If I do something wrong for a human, it’s not a big deal because they’re human too. But God isn’t human. He is Other. He is Holy.
But there’s safety in it as well. Because God has not chosen to treat me as a slave or a servant. He has chosen to treat me as a daughter. My mistakes are covered before I even make them.
And whether I make mistakes or not, I am protected. He is in charge of making decisions, and I don’t have to rely on my own limited understanding. Sometimes we make decisions together, but I’m still under His protection. He protects me and feeds me and gives me exactly what I need to be free.
Application: Trust God. Work for Him.
Prayer: Father, thank you for making me yours. Thank you for making me your slave and your daughter and your pet project. Help me to trust in your protection. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 16
let the Word of the Messiah, in all its richness, live in you
Observation: …which is kinda funny, since Messiah is the Word made flesh (John 1) and it gets all paradoxical. But when you’re talking about the Ultimate Source of Everything, a lot of words and titles start to get interchangeable. It’s all Him.
Anyway, Paul clarifies in the next verse that this means (at least in part) that everything we do or say should be done in Messiah’s name, acknowledging that God is our ultimate authority.
But that’s a lot of richness. The Word of Messiah is what created the universe out of nothing, after all. It is the Source of Sources and the Energy that fueled the first photons and the Knowledge of all the ages. I don’t think it’ll fit, to be honest. I’m not that big.
But the verse doesn’t say I have to try to cram all of that inside me. It says I have to let it live in me. I just have to make it welcome. I just have to make room, and acknowledge that my energy and my knowledge are flawed and incomplete. He’s the one who will come in and pour His riches over my poverty.
I don’t know how the Relevant Entity can possibly live in me. But apparently He wants to.
Application: Acknowledge that you don’t have it figured out. Allow Him to fill in the blanks.
Prayer: Yeshua, your richness is welcome in me. Thank you for helping me grow and teaching me to think more clearly and live more peacefully. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 15
let the shalom (peace) which comes from the Messiah be your heart’s decision-maker
Observation: Following God’s way brings peace. When we allow God to do the worrying for us, and we tell Him about our problems instead of allowing them to overwhelm us, He gives us peace that passes understanding (Phil 4:6-7). Therefore, if we aren’t at peace, something is wrong.
The something can be a lot of things, of course. God has a lot of work to do in us, rooting out old guilt and anger and debt and fear. And it takes time. But even with all that, we can move towards what gives us peace. We can learn to look for God’s peace in our hearts and recognize it and follow it.
Application: Learn to notice God’s peace.
Prayer: Yeshua, thank you for giving us peace (John 14:27). Help me to follow your peace and not be anxious about things I can’t control. Help me to allow you to handle what I can’t. Amen.
…but now, put them all away — anger, exasperation, meanness, slander and obscene talk.
Observation: It’s a good thing God says nothing is impossible with Him (Luke 1:37), because this sounds pretty impossible to me. We are new people, being remade and renewed by the knowledge of God, and that means giving up these things. It means being nice to people.
At a CBS recently, one of the questions was, “Why do people try to follow the Law when Yeshua has fulfilled the Law?” And the answer I came up with was that there’s always a Law to follow that is easier than actually loving people.
Loving people is hard. Loving a person may be fairly easy, but choosing not to be angry or mean or even exasperated with every single person you meet or see or pass while driving is very hard. Because people are crazy.
But God is great. That’s the point here. We don’t love people because they are lovable. We usually don’t know them well enough to love them. We love them because God is great. we love them because He does. We love them because His light makes all things lovable.
In photography, “magic hour” is the hour before sunset. (I believe the hour after sunrise also counts.) In college I called it the “glowing time” when I happened to take a walk during that time. Everything glows then. Houses and trees and rocks and sidewalk and everything. It’s beautiful because of the light that is on it.
I figure God is like that too. God is our permanent glowing hour. His light transforms the normal boring annoying people around us into glowing beings. So even when we can’t love them with out normal minds, we can look for God’s light. Because that is lovable.
Application: Look for God’s light when you are getting annoyed with people. Watch them glow.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, I am not very good at this. Especially over the internet. Help me to see your light on people. Amen.
Scripture: verse 2
Focus your minds on the things above, not on things here on earth.
Observation: “Above” is where Messiah is, according to the verse before. We are to focus on God and God’s plan, not the things we see around us.
In Next Level Living, the author comments that when things are confusing in the physical realm, it means that something is happening in the spiritual realm. We are sitting on top of a floating iceberg, quite certain that our little island of ice is the whole story, unaware of the giant mass of ice below the water. But it’s only by studying the giant mass that we can understand the little island.
I made a playlist of cheerful music recently for someone who is having a rough time with life at the moment. I included Creed by Third Day, which isn’t really cheerful. The lyrics are the singer’s creed: a simple list of the things he believes. But the more we think about God, the more we see from His perspective, and the more we can understand about the spiritual forces that underlie the events we see.
The song ends “This is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man.” The other advantage of focusing on God is that He is outside us, that He is objective and eternal and unchanging. He is our firm foundation, our secure footing. Without Him we have to rely on our own judgement and emotions and thoughts, and that’s a scary thought.
Application: Focus on God-things, not human-things. Look for the underlying spiritual happenings.
Prayer: Yeshua, thank you for seeing what I can’t. Thank you for guiding me through events far too complicated for me to understand and predict. Help me to value your perspective above my own. Amen.
Scripture: from verse 23
[Traditional rules ]have the outward appearance of wisdom, but they have no value at all in restraining people from indulging their old nature.
Observation: Here is the guideline we should be using when we choose what rules and traditions to follow: does it help me avoid my sin nature? Does it help me love others and love God?
I find it easier to love people after I post on this blog. Apparently spending a short time thinking about God’s grace and love helps me see others in a more gracious light. Sometimes I even do it right before a social situation that might be difficult, in the hope that I’ll navigate it more easily. It seems to help. So that’s why I do it. I miss days, and I will probably keep missing days for as long as I do it, but I’m not doing it as a demonstration of how disciplined I am. I’m doing it because it helps me to love better.
My husband keeps kosher (avoids eating the animals listed as unclean in Leviticus) because it helps him love God and love others. I don’t really get it, to be honest, but I keep kosher to support him. Because it’s good for our family and our community.
And there’s a lot of rules out there about what Christians should eat and not eat, wear and not wear, read and listen to and do and visit. I generally ignore them, unless I find one that helps me love God better. Because that’s the only thing that matters.
Application: Pursue love. Don’t worry about things that don’t help you love God and love others.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, thank you for being there to guide me. Please help me to live wisely. Amen.
Scripture: verse 16
So don’t let anyone pass judgment on you in connection with eating and drinking, or in regard to a Jewish festival or Rosh-Hodesh or Shabbat.
Observation: “So” implies that the previous passage laid the groundwork and gave the reasoning for this statement. The previous passage is about how Yeshua triumphed over earthly authorities and wiped away our bill of debt and freed us from sin.
Therefore, because you have been freed from sin and bondage to human tradition, don’t let humans pass judgement on you. (And, one would assume, don’t pass judgement on others.)
This doesn’t say that the traditions around these holidays are bad. They aren’t, and God calls some people to follow them at various times and for various reasons. But that’s between you and God and maybe your family.
How others worship is not my business. I do like to ask, because it’s really cool to learn about all the different things God has us do and how we’re all designed differently, but it isn’t my place to say someone is doing it wrong. It never has been.
Application: Don’t judge others for things that aren’t clearly sinful. We all do life a little differently. That’s cause for celebration, not criticism.
Prayer: Yeshua, thank you for being flexible, for meeting me where I am and with what I need instead of demanding that I conform to some model that I can’t fit. Help me to celebrate with other people and not be a stumbling block (Rom 14:13) to them. Amen.