Pastor David B. Curtis

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The Priority of Scripture

Colossians 3:1-2

Delivered 12/29/2013

How many of you would like your life to be characterized by peace, joy, and contentment? If you really want these things, I can tell you how to get them. Are you interested? Think about it for a moment; if you have peace, joy, and contentment, does anything else really matter? People work so hard for these things, because they are of great value.

Paul had all these things, his life was constantly characterized by peace, joy, and contentment. If you know anything about Paul, you know that he didn't have good circumstances in his life, but yet he was at peace. Why? The answer is found in:

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21 NASB

Paul said that life to him was Christ. Paul lived only to serve Christ, commune with Christ, love Christ. He has no concept of life other than Christ. He is his reason for living. To Paul, Christ was life. Paul lived this out practically, because he knew that it was true positionally:

When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Colossians 3:4 NASB

Paul says to believers, "Christ is our life." He is the source of our life. Of course this is true of physical life, but he is talking here about spiritual life, everlasting life. Because this is true, Christ should be the goal of our life, the purpose and fulfillment of our life. Is this something that you would say about yourself? Let's ask the question this way: What would the people who know you best say is your life? If we asked someone who knows you well to fill in the blank, what would he put? For (put your name here) to live is _____________. Money? Prestige? Fame? Knowledge? Power? Work? Possessions? Leisure? Sports? Friends? Would those who know you best say that life to you was Christ? Why or why not?

When we can come to the point in our lives that we can say, "Christ is my life," then we'll also be able to say, "Life is good!" Believer, please remember this each time that you are unsatisfied with life—you are unsatisfied because something other than Christ is the focus of your life. Christ will never disappoint us!

Paul teaches in chapter 1 of Colossians who Christ is: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, by Him were all things made, and all things are sustained by Him. He is the head of the body, the Church. And just as He is the firstborn over all creation, so also He is the firstborn from the dead; therefore, Christ is supreme over all things.

In chapters 1-2, Paul also sets forth what Christ has done; He has reconciled them to the Father through His death, so that they might be presented pure and blameless in Him. He has spiritually circumcised and baptized them, granting them new life and forgiveness of sins. He has blotted out the Old Covenant Law that was against them. He has utterly defeated all of the enemies which held them captive: sin, death, and the devil are all defeated foes.

Once he teaches them who Christ is, and what He has done, and once he has taught them that as believers they share in all that Christ is and has done, he then tells them that they are no longer to live in the way they used to. The imperatives of the Christian life—the command to "seek those things which are above," for instance, are rooted in the new reality of who they are in Christ. Union with Christ is the heart and soul of Paul's Gospel. You can find it in every letter he writes. Since you have been united to Christ, live like it! Or to put it simply: Be who you are in Christ!

The first four verses of Colossians 3 are a hinge passage; they summarize the first two chapters of the letter, which concern doctrine: the truths of the Christian faith. And they launch us into the second two chapters of the letter, which concern ethics: how to live the Christian life. Let's examine verse 1:

If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Colossians 3:1 NASB

The word "if" is a first class condition in the Greek, it assumes reality; we can translate it by the word "since." "Since" (in view of the fact) you were raised with Christ. That God has already raised them with Christ is an assumed fact. We saw this in:

even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, Ephesians 2:5-6 NASB

It is a fact that God has raised us with Christ. It is something already done. There is no doubt in the "if" in the Greek here in Colossians 3:1.

Paul says they have been, "Raised up with Christ." The Greek word used here for "raised up with" is sunegeiro. The verb actually means: "to be co-resurrected." We must understand that "sun" prefix on the word sunegeiro shows not an exact likeness to the nature of Christ, but an association with Christ's nature.

We also see this positional association in Romans 6 (co-buried, co-crucified, co-resurrected with Christ); Ephesians 2 (co-quickened, co-raised, co-seated in heaven with Christ); and Colossians 2 (co-buried, co-raised, co-quickened). These all utilize the "sun" or "co- prefix" and all demand a positional stance of the believer with the reality of Christ. Christ was buried, raised, quickened, and is seated in heaven. The believer is co-buried, co-raised, co-quickened, and co-seated in heaven. In Christ is the reality; in the believers is the association with that reality. Believers spiritually are entered into Christ's death and resurrection at the moment of their salvation. It is an accomplished fact.

God sees things differently than we do. God's viewpoint here is positional truth. God views us as already dead (2:20), buried (2:12), and raised in Christ. God sees better than we do, but He expects us to see what He has done in Christ with the eye of faith. This has nothing to do with our feelings. We cannot taste, feel, or smell positional truth. Our position in Christ is infallible, unalterable, eternal, and exalted. God said it, and by faith we believe it.

Since we have been raised up with Christ, we are commanded to "keep seeking the things above." In order to obey this command, we need to understand two things: what the "things above" are, and what it means to "seek" them?

What are the "things above"? The Greek word translated "above" is ano. It is only used 7 times in the New Testament. If we look at a couple of its uses, it gives us a good idea as to what "things above" are:

Therefore the Jews were saying, "Surely He will not kill Himself, will He, since He says, 'Where I am going, you cannot come'?" 23 And He was saying to them, "You are from below, I am from above [ano]; you are of this world, I am not of this world. 24 "I said therefore to you, that you shall die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins." John 8:22-24 NASB

Here Yeshua says that the unbelieving Jews are from below, and that He is from above. The contrast here is between the natural and the spiritual. This is also seen in the use of ano in:

For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23 But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24 This is allegorically speaking: for these women are two covenants, one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above [ano] is free; she is our mother. Galatians 4:22-26 NASB

Here the contrast is between two covenants; one is fleshly (natural), and the other is spiritual. So "things above" are spiritual things as opposed to natural things.

In Colossians 2:18 Paul said that the false teacher was "inflated without cause by his fleshly mind." Their minds were centered on the flesh; as believers our minds are to be focused on "things above." "Things above" are spiritual things. We are to be seeking spiritual things, our focus is not to be on the physical, but on the spiritual.

In his book, What Americans Believe, George Barna states, "One of the most penetrating and inescapable questions that confronts Americans is: 'Why am I alive?'"

The answer he found was most surprising. "Most adults conclude that we exist to gratify the flesh. Sixty-three percent concur that the purpose in life is enjoyment and personal fulfillment." They are not seeking the "things above."

So, now that we understand that the "things above" are spiritual things, as opposed to the physical or fleshly, we need to ask: "What does it mean to 'seek' them?"

The word "seek" is an imperative, it is a command. This is the Greek word zeteo, and it is in the present tense, which indicates continuous action—"keep seeking the things above." We see this same word used in:

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. Matthew 6:33 NASB

The word "seek" here is also the Greek word zeteo, which means: "to seek, to desire to worship." It is a hungering, desiring, seeking; it is not laboring in a sweating way. It is a matter of a hungering, desiring, worshiping spirit; it is to seek with a desire to worship. So we are to seek with a desire to worship the things which are above. We are to be hungering, desiring, seeking the things above.

There's a very real sense in which the believer must be concerned with natural provision so that he continues to function properly. But the problem with being on the earth is that too often those things that we take for granted as being necessary elements of survival move to the center of our lives, so that we give more time to their construction than we do to the advancement of the Kingdom of Heaven.

So the believer is being exhorted to leave behind the concerns which he has over earthly matters and to fix his attention solely on the matters which are heavenly. Let me ask you this: Can we "keep seeking the things above" if we are not spending time in the Word of God? Since "things above" are spiritual things as opposed to natural things, how can we seek spiritual things apart from the Word of God? Where else do we find spiritual things other than in the Word of God?

Just to make sure we don't miss this, notice the next verse in Colossians 3:

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. Colossians 3:2 NASB

"Set your mind" is from phroneo and could simply be translated: "think." Once again, the present tense indicates continuous action—be continually setting your mind on the things above. Can we set our mind on things above if we are not in the Word of God?

Have you ever noticed how earthly minded we are? Most of the time our attention is centered on things right around us, and this shouldn't be surprising. After all, we are earth dwellers. We live on this planet at a certain time and in a certain place. We are physical beings in a physical world. It's natural for us to think about our jobs, our material possessions, our finances, our health, and the people who are important to us. We live in the dimensions of time and space, and we must function in this natural world by the physical principles that define it. But as Christians we are called to be continually seeking spiritual things. We can only live properly in the physical when we are seeking spiritual things.

This is one of the fundamental problems with the current condition of Christianity. Even though we have been placed into a spiritual realm, we still see through natural eyes most of the time. We are either not taught, or do not discover on our own, how to see into that spiritual realm and behold the power of God. So, many Christians live their entire lives without ever understanding who they are in Christ and what the provision is that Christ has made for them.

In the first two verses Paul says it twice: "Keep seeking the things above... Set your mind on the things above." In other words, concentrate your attention on eternal realities. And you can only do this as you spend time in the Word of God.

Obviously, the spiritual thoughts that are to fill the believer's mind must come from Scripture. The Bible is the only reliable source of knowledge about the character of God and the values of heaven. The Bible is the mind of God reduced to writing. We have what we need for the Christian life in writing. We have the Holy Spirit to help us understand it.

I have discovered an amazing secret of success: People who keep their priorities in order, keep their lives in order. People who have happy marriages are happily married, because they have made their marriage a priority. People who are in good physical shape are that way, because they have made their health a priority. If you keep your priorities in order, you can keep your life in order. Paul says, "Set your mind on the things above." This will only happen as we spend time with Yahweh in His Word.

If you really believe that this Book is Yahweh's Word to us, wouldn't you spend more time reading it. If you really believed that when the Bible speaks, Yahweh speaks; wouldn't you spend more time in it? Do you really believe the Bible is true? If you're not convinced, I can see how reading it would not be that important to you. How do we know that it is not just another book? There are many books today that claim to be the Word of God. The Koran, The Book of Mormon, and other religious works claim to be divinely inspired. So how do we know the Bible is true?

To me, the strongest evidence that the Bible is the Word of the Living God is its fulfilled prophecies. No other book in the world contains the kind of specific prophecies found all throughout the pages of the Bible. There is no comparison, for example, between the Oracles of Nostradamus and the prophecies in the Tanakh about Yeshua the Christ. The prophecies of the Tanakh are often so obvious that many secular scholars have unsuccessfully attempted to assign later dates to some of these prophecies to make it appear that the prophecies were made up after the events. That's how stunning some of these prophesies are.

Let me give you an amazing example from the prophet Ezekiel. He made a number of predictions about the destruction of Tyre. Tyre was a Phoenician stronghold. Tyre was a fairly significant city, a large city on the west coast of Phoenicia, now known as Palestine. And the word of Yahweh came to Ezekiel in verse 2 of chapter 26 telling about the destruction of the place:

"Son of man, because Tyre has said concerning Jerusalem, 'Aha, the gateway of the peoples is broken; it has opened to me. I shall be filled, now that she is laid waste,' Ezekiel 26:2 NASB

In other words, because Tyre mocked Jerusalem:

therefore thus says the Lord GOD, 'Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. 'They will destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers; and I will scrape her debris from her and make her a bare rock. 'She will be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken,' declares the Lord GOD, 'and she will become spoil for the nations. Ezekiel 26:3-5 NASB

That is some pretty specific prophesy. But he goes on:

For thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I will bring upon Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses, chariots, cavalry and a great army. "He will slay your daughters on the mainland with the sword; and he will make siege walls against you, cast up a ramp against you and raise up a large shield against you. "The blow of his battering rams he will direct against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers. "Because of the multitude of his horses, the dust raised by them will cover you; your walls will shake at the noise of cavalry and wagons and chariots when he enters your gates as men enter a city that is breached. "With the hoofs of his horses he will trample all your streets. He will slay your people with the sword; and your strong pillars will come down to the ground. "Also they will make a spoil of your riches and a prey of your merchandise, break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses, and throw your stones and your timbers and your debris into the water. Ezekiel 26:7-12 NASB

Now that's pretty detailed, folks. I mean, that is not some kind of general prophecy. This is very specific. This is a great Phoenician city. From the seventh century B.C., it controlled Phoenicia. It had strong walls, about 150 feet high and fifteen feet thick. And it was flourishing when Joshua led Israel into Canaan. Hiram the first was its king. He helped David build the palace. And according to 1 Kings 5:10, he helped Solomon build the Temple.

Here's what actually happened as verified by secular historians: In 590 B.C., Ezekiel makes his prediction. Four years later, in 586 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar attacks the coastal city of Tyre. Nebuchadnezzar came and laid a 13 year siege on that city. They were walled cities, so since he couldn't get into the city, he just cut off anything coming into the city, and they eventually starved. It took him 13 years from 585 to 573. Finally, the city surrendered, because they were all dying. And Nebuchadnezzar broke down the walls and the towers, destroyed the city, did every single thing Ezekiel said he would do, and he hadn't even read Ezekiel.

He got in the city. He didn't find the spoils. He thought he was going to find spoils, but they had used their fleet to take the spoils out. They took all the spoils to an island a half-mile off the coast because, Ezekiel said, that his army would receive no wages from Tyre. And that is exactly what happened. When he got there, they had taken all the valuables off to the island ,and Nebuchadnezzar had no naval force to go off and get it:

"Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made his army labor hard against Tyre; every head was made bald and every shoulder was rubbed bare. But he and his army had no wages from Tyre for the labor that he had performed against it." Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. And he will carry off her wealth and capture her spoil and seize her plunder; and it will be wages for his army. Ezekiel 29:18-19 NASB

The island then became the new city. And it flourished for 250 years out on that island.

Only part of the prophecy was fulfilled; the part about Nebuchadnezzar, the part about destroying the walls, smashing it down, slaughtering the people, not getting the spoil, but not all of it was yet complete. The ruins were still on the old sight. The rubble was still there. After 250 years, a 24-year-old by the name of "Alexander the Great" showed up. He had 33,000 infantry men, he had 15,000 cavalry. He had just defeated the Persians, and he was on his way to Egypt. He needed supplies. So he came by the now island city of Tyre and he sent word, "I want you to supply all of my men and all of my horses and all of my army." And they said, "Forget about it, you don't have a navy, and we're on an island, we're not going to help you at all."

He didn't like that. And it wasn't good to get Alexander mad. He didn't have a fleet, so he decided he had to get a way to go to that island, so he did what Ezekiel, the prophet, said would be done. It said that the place would be scraped bare as rock and all the rubble would be thrown into the sea. Well, what conqueror in his right mind would ever do that? Why waste your time once you've conquered the place, picking up everything and throwing it in the ocean—all the stone and all the rest of it? But that's exactly what had to happen. So Alexander did it. He took all the debris and built a 2,000-foot long, 200 foot wide causeway all the way to the island with all the debris.

Now the island had fortified itself as well with powerful walls that reached right down to the edge of the sea. And as Alexander got closer, he realized he's going to have to get over those walls. So, in order to pull it off, he built these massive towers 165 feet high, according to the record, 20 stories high, and they held artillery and they held a drop bridge. They just pushed the towers out the causeway, shot at the people from them, and when they got to the wall, dropped the bridges down and walked right in. In the process, of course, all the way along the people are throwing things and shooting things off the wall, and they invented what were called "tortoises"( big shells that they held over the workers who were building the causeway). It took him seven months. He went in and murdered 8,000 people, over a period of a few months; executed 7,000 more; sold 30,000 into slavery; and fulfilled every single detail of the prophecy. And though the city of Jerusalem has been rebuilt 17 times, Tyre has never been rebuilt. And that's exactly what God said, "You will be built no more."

Today, the original mainland site of Tyre is as "bare as a rock." And you know what they do there today? They dry fish nets there, just as Ezekiel said. There is a city named Tyre, but it exists only as a small fishing village down the coast from the ancient city. Ezekiel couldn't have guessed that those things would happen. The story of Tyre and others are evidence that the Bible is the Word of Yahweh.

Fulfilled prophecies from the Tanakh concerning Yeshua of Nazareth also point to divine inspiration. The writing of the Tanakh was completed several hundred years before Christ's birth, so there is no way any of these predictions could have been written after Yeshua was born.

There are over 300 prophecies that were literally fulfilled in Yeshua of Nazareth. What are the chances that so many prophecies could all come true in the life of one man? Peter Stoner, in his book, Science Speaks, says, "... the probability that any man might have lived down to the present time and fulfilled just eight of the prophecies is 1 in 10 to the 17th power. That's 1 with 17 zeros after it."

In order to comprehend this, imagine taking 10 to the 17th power silver dollars and laying them on the face of the state of Texas. They will cover the entire state two feet deep. Then mark one of the silver dollars and somehow stir the whole pile thoroughly, all over the state. Put on a blindfold, travel as far as you wish, and on the first try, pick up the marked silver dollar. The chance of that happening is the same as the chance of eight messianic prophecies coming true in any one man.

And remember, that's just for eight of the 300 that have been fulfilled. And that's why one researcher writes, "God designed fulfilled prophecy to be an open demonstration of the divine origin of the Scriptures." Since this book is the Word of the Living God to us His children, shouldn't we be spending more time in it?

What is it that keeps you from spending time in the Word? Whatever it is, it is keeping your mind on the natural, not the spiritual. Is it the newspaper, television, movies, video games, sports, hobbies? What is it that keeps you from spending time with Yahweh your God?

Most Christians spend little, if any time, reading the Bible. The sad fact is many of us, even in the Church, are Biblically illiterate. A pastor of a large suburban mainline Protestant church did a survey on his congregation's knowledge of the Scriptures. Here is what he found: a third could not identify Calvary as the place of the crucifixion; 43% did not know the significance of Gethsemane; 75% did not know the significance of Pentecost. He asked them, "How many people did Yeshua baptize?" The answers varied from zero to 5000. The number, of course, is zero. Only 58% in that mainline church could identify the four Gospels. Would we do any better?

Knowing how important it is, and that we ought to read the Bible, is no good unless we actually do so. As the New Year quickly approaches, I would ask you to commit yourself to regular reading of God's Word in 2014. Depending upon your reading speed, you should be able to read through the Bible in one year by reading about 15 minutes each day.

I challenge you every year to read your Bible. Some of you have accepted the challenge and have read through your Bibles. Some have taken my challenge much more seriously than others.

Robert writes:

"I would always be offended if someone disrespected the Bible. I would always admit that I truly believed it was God's Word, but yet, I never read it through! I decided if I really believed it was God's Word, really believed that was true, I was going to make adjustments in my life and devote the time to actually read it. I don't believe it's a question of time for any of us…it's a question of value! How much do we value God's Word?"

That is so true, if we valued spiritual things, we would be spending time in the Bible. Robert goes on to say:

"I have never considered myself to be a good reader. I used to have trouble reading even three chapters without getting tired. I kept hearing Pastor Curtis' voice in my ear encouraging me to read through the Bible. He said reading through the Bible would change my life dramatically. He was right!"

After starting at a super aggressive pace, Robert has slowed down his Bible reading to once a month. That is he reads through his Bible every month, twelve times a year.

Let's talk about Robert's wife, Sunny. She writes:

"One day my husband came to me all excited and told me I had to hear a podcast of this preacher. He told me he really preaches straight from the Bible. It was Pastor Curtis, and he was saying how we need to read the Word. He said, 'I'm teaching you, but you need to go over it and study the Bible for yourself.' He was so strong when he said we as Christians must read the Bible ourselves. So I started reading the Bible."

Did she ever! Unlike her lazy husband, who only reads through the entire Bible each month, she reads through her entire Bible 2-3 times a month. In 2013 she has read her Bible cover to cover 31 times. I think she took my challenge seriously.

Sunny writes:

"I'm always amazed at how much I learn about my Father by just reading His Word. Sometimes things just jump out at me. I read verses that I'm familiar with and I spot new things that I never thought of before. My love for my Lord and Savior has grown with each day, it's because I'm in His Word. I'm not saying reading through the Bible is the only way to grow spiritually, but I can't imagine anyone who wants to grow in Christ that would not have a desire to read the Bible."

Whenever I mention Robert and Sunny and their Bible reading schedule to anyone, the first question they ask me is, "Do that have jobs?" Fair question. Yes, they do. They are both high ranking black belts, and they own and operate karate studios. It is not a matter of time, it is a matter of value.

Sunny writes:

"People ask me, 'When do you find the time to read?' That's not the question, we all have time. Don't tell me you don't have time. I would rather they were honest and just told me they don't want to read it. We are all busy. We make time for what's important. I would like to encourage everyone, at the very least, to read fifteen minutes a day. Please, you won't regret it."

The vast majority of Christians haven't read their Bible thirty one times in their entire life. My point here is that if Robert and Sunny spend this much time in the Word as they maintain a busy schedule; can't you find 15 minutes a day? Seriously?

George Mueller—After having read the Bible through 100 times with increasing delight, made this statement:

"I look upon it as a lost day when I have not had a good time over the Word of God. Friends often say, 'I have so much to do, so many people to see, I cannot find time for Scripture study...' Perhaps there are not many who have more to do than I. I've had annually about 30,000 letters, as a Pastor of a church with1200 believers, besides, charge of five immense orphanages, the printing of millions of tracts, books, and Bibles, but I have always had a good season with God and His Word. The blessing I have received has been wonderful."

So I ask you, all of you, isn't it time to stop making excuses and make a commitment to spend time in God's Word? As believers we are to be seeing the things that are above, we are to be setting our minds on the things above. This will only happen as we spend time in the Word. It's time we stop playing church and spend some time getting to know our Father.

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

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