Exceeding Abundantly Above, Part 6

Unlike this fellow, the believer's strength comes from God.

Unlike this fellow, the believer’s strength comes from God.

Thoro Harris was an amazing man who lived a fascinating life at a time when most black Americans didn’t. Born in 1874, Mr Harris would grow up to become not only one of the most prolific hymn and gospel song writers in American history– he wrote the lyrics for 587 songs, the music to 107 songs – but he was also a publisher of hymnals – publishing 16 hymnals. Oddly enough, even though we know him through his hymns, at the time he lived he seemed to earn a living selling books and handbooks door-to-door in Chicago, playing the organ in different churches, and he even bought a bed-and-breakfast, which he ran for some time, which is still in business today. You probably have some of Mr Harris’ hymns in your hymnal, and if you don’t, you probably sing some of his songs. He wrote “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” which has endured for generations and seen many incarnations, from his classic version to smooth jazz versions and even a beat-driven rock arrangement! But the lyrics to one of his hymns carries the thought behind this series, “Exceeding, abundantly above.”

Are you trusting Jesus,
All along the way?
Does He grow more precious
To your heart each day?
Are you His disciple?
Test His Word and see,
He will give the Spirit more abundantly.

For His matchless favor,
Magnify the name
Of our gracious Savior
Who from glory came;
Let the saints adore Him
For this wondrous Word,
Sealing our redemption thro’ the crimson flood.

Come to Him believing,
Hearken to His call;
All from Him receiving,
Yield to Him your all;
Jesus will accept you
When to Him you flee;
He will grant His blessing more abundantly.

More abundantly,
More abundantly,
That they might have life
And more abundantly;
More abundantly,
More abundantly,
That they might have life
And more abundantly.

“More abundantly.” That’s the only way God blesses His people. God does everything in a big way, including blessing us and answering our prayers. So far in this series, we’ve looked at five things God has done for us in a big, big way, “exceeding abundantly above” what we expected, according to Ephesians 3:20. They are:

• Romans 5:20 and Philippians 4:7. God has provided abundant grace to save us, which resulted in a life of abundant peace between God and man, and man and the world around him
• Isaiah 55:7 tells us that God has provided abundant pardon to forgive our sins and wash away our guilt.
• Psalm 36:8 speaks about God being our ultimate source of satisfaction.
• In John 10:10, Jesus talked about the kind of life that results in a personal relationship with Him: abundant life.
• Abundant joy was what Paul wrote about in Philippians 1:16. The joy that is available to any and all believers is objective – it doesn’t depend on your circumstances.

Whatever it is you need, God provides in absolute abundance. God is not a cosmic Scrooge who gives “just enough,” or “barely enough” of anything. Nor does any believer have to beg God for what he needs. Jesus talked about this many times during His earthly ministry, and one time He laid it on the line and said this:

“Ask, and you will be given what you ask for. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Anyone who seeks, finds. If only you will knock, the door will open. If a child asks his father for a loaf of bread, will he be given a stone instead? If he asks for fish, will he be given a poisonous snake? Of course not! And if you hard-hearted, sinful men know how to give good gifts to your children, won’t your Father in heaven even more certainly give good gifts to those who ask him for them? (Matthew 7:7 – 11 TLB)

In his letter to the church at Colosse, Paul wrote about another side to this “exceeding abundantly above” aspect of God’s character:

being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience… (Colossians 1:11. TNIV)

The word “abundance” isn’t in that verse, but the idea of abundance is – abundant power, which is available to any believer. Let’s take a look at this idea in context, and it all begins with a mixed up picture of Jesus.

A mixed up picture of Jesus

Paul, the man who wrote a joy-filled letter to the people in Philippi, wrote a serious letter of spiritual combat to his friends in Colosse:

I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. (Colossians 2:1. TNIV)

During this time, Paul was engaged in spiritual combat against one of the most formidable enemies of his life: Gnosticism. This was a strong, strange mixture of Jewish, Oriental, and Christian beliefs and practices. Paul didn’t call this weird religion “Gnosticism,” but that’s what we call it today and believe it or not, it’s alive and well in America and the Western church.

It’s a very subtle heresy that cleverly paints Jesus as not quite enough to be man’s Savior. It’s not that Gnosticism seeks to eliminate Jesus from the scene, but to say that you need a little more than just Jesus. Back in Paul’s day, Jesus was viewed by these heretics, not as the Son of God, but at a created being, greater than man but less than God. Today, in some churches, this element of Gnosticism isn’t taught or even believed, but the idea that He isn’t enough is. These churches today, like those of Paul’s day, stress the externals of religion – things like works of righteousness, ritualistic and repetitive observances, legalism, adherence to a list of do’s and don’t’s – plus Jesus Christ as the way of salvation.

To Paul, the notion that you need something in addition to Jesus to be saved and stay saved was unthinkable, and it should be to you too. This heresy ignores Paul’s firsthand knowledge:

I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:17, 18. TNIV)

That’s Jesus talking to Paul, and Jesus’ words bear witness to the truth: All anybody needs is Jesus; nothing and nobody else is needed. Man hates that, which is why the heresy of Gnosticism persists to this day. You’ll find virtually every denomination riddled with it. This dangerous heresy threatens the purity of the Christian faith and it was ripping the Colossian church apart at the seams. Paul took the matter in hand and met with Pastor Epaphras to deal with it. Among other things, he said this to the pastor:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form… (Colossians 2:8, 9. TNIV)

Did you catch what Paul thought was a threat to the church? Things like: “human tradition.” In other words, a church constitution and “books of order” which may have their place, should never take the place of the Word of God or get in the way of the work of saving souls. “Elemental spiritual forces of this world” is a mouthful, but whenever you hear about churches engaging in worldly pursuits, no matter how worthy those pursuits may be, those churches are dabbling in the “elemental spiritual forces of this world.” Jesus was not of the spirit of this world, and we shouldn’t be either. The church of Jesus Christ exists not sign up voters or raise money for a pet shelter or teach modern environmentalism, but to teach and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Period.

What the church needs

What the Colossian church needed, and indeed what we need today, are not new-fangled, hybrid philosophies of ancient heresies, but to live in the power of the God. This was the apostle’s prayer for his friends:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives… (Colossians 1:9 NIV)

Notice the very first thing Paul prayed that his friends would receive: knowledge. But not just any kind of knowledge. The Greek word used here is epignosis, which refers to a kind “super-duper knowledge.” This was what the false teachers claimed to have had, but Paul makes sure we understand that knowledge of the highest order is knowledge of God’s will and that only comes from the Holy Spirit – you can’t learn this kind of wisdom from a school or seminary, or from a Bible teacher or preacher. The wisest man on earth is the one who knows what God’s will is personally, and that can be any and every Christian because that is wisdom from the Spirit that dwells in all believers: the Holy Spirit.

Human wisdom – pagan wisdom – is ritualistic, legalistic, dealing in fantasies.

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. (Colossians 2:16 NIV)

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. (Colossians 2:18 NIV)

People have always been attracted to the bondage of false teachings and they inexplicably shy away from the freedom of the Spirit. Strange indeed.

…so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God… (Colossians 1:10 NIV)

Paul’s second request was that his Colossian friends should be pleasing to God. Now, that doesn’t mean what you may think it does. In the context of Paul’s reason for writing this letter, “pleasing God” means that they will stop bowing down before man – the false teachers – and trying to please them, but rather that they would pay attention to God’s will and obey that, even if it goes against what man says or wants.

His third request was that they “bear good fruit.” No Christian is mean to live a static life. We should be alive and vibrant and sharing their faith. Jesus is the Vine and we are the branches, meant to bring forth fruit. This is linked to the third petition: “growing in the knowledge of God.” There are no static Christians, either behaviorally or intellectually. We ought to be Christians all day, everywhere we go, not just when we’re in church or on Sunday’s. And our knowledge of God should be growing all the time, as we read, study, discuss, and live out the Word of God in our lives.

That brings us to Paul’s fifth request and our sixth “exceeding abundantly above” of this series:

being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience… (Colossians 1:11 NIV)

“Strength and power” in abundance, or as Paul put it here, “according to his glorious might,” is available to all believers. Just think about that for a moment. All the “strength and power” you’ll ever need is linked to God’s “glorious might.” Do you realize what that means? Spiritually speaking, you can be potentially as strong and powerful as your Heavenly Father! “Strength and power” are not ginned up in you; they come from the Holy Spirit in you.

And you’ll need that “strength and power” in order to live out your faith with “endurance and patience.” No Christian ever needs to be confused, depressed, discouraged, or discombobulated. We have access to the ultimate source of power that will keep us living on top of our circumstances, not under them.

In Paul’s brief prayer, look at the terms he used: “all wisdom and understanding,” “every good work,” “please Him in every way,” “all power,” “great endurance and patience.” What a breathtaking view of what the Christian life can be, if we would learn how to tap into the “exceeding abundantly above” promises of God!

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