Oak Grove Baptist Church in Fincherville

Striving to become the church of choice for this generation.

The Book of Romans Lesson #1

An Apostle's Attitudes

Scripture Outline

  1. Paul's Realistic Appraisal of Himself (Rom_1:1-6)
  2. Paul's Deep-Rooted Appreciation of His Message (Rom_1:1-6)
  3. Paul's Warmhearted Interest in People (Rom_1:7-12)
  4. Paul's Enthusiastic Commitment to His Work (Rom_1:13-17)


Men of great achievement are usually men of Special Attitudes. A study of those whose lives live on, whose actions have changed the course of human experience, will show that they achieved what they did because they believed deeply in what they were doing and thought uniquely about the lives they were living. Paul the apostle, the former Saul of Tarsus, was such a man. Without him the message of the risen Christ could conceivably have found its place among the little known legends of the Middle East and been relegated to the position reserved for stories of fancy loved by poets and romantics, but largely ignored by men of action and purpose. But to a great extent because of Paul's life this was not to be. From one end of the Roman Empire to the other he traveled—preaching, teaching, founding churches, instructing leaders, nurturing the faltering, rebuking the disorderly, organizing, sustaining, challenging, and comforting. Wherever he went, people believed, groups of remarkably dedicated disciples were formed, and with unbelievable speed and effectiveness the church of Christ was taken from the position of a troublesome sect of Judaism to a lively force of committed people throughout the known world.


From Paul's fertile mind and fluid pen flowed letters of abiding value. Inspired as they were by The Holy Spirit, they have become the basis for preaching and teaching in the Christian church through the centuries. Where Paul has been taught, cultures have been changed. In places where churches stand and speak for the lifestyle purchased and provided by Christ and broadcast by Paul, society shows the indelible imprint of the great apostle. More than any of us will ever realize, Our Lives have been TOUCHED and TRANSFORMED not only by the Son of God, but also through The Converted Pharisee, The Proud Son Of Tarsus.

  1. What were the motivations and attitudes that drove him?
  2. Where did he find his vision and revive his spirit?


In the opening verses of the Roman epistle we may find answers to these questions.

It was customary in first-century correspondence to commence with the writer's name, to state the name of the recipient, and to bring greetings. Paul did this and much more, for in between the traditional and formal "Paul, a bondservantTo all who are in Romegrace to you and peace…" he wrote much that presents to us fascinating glimpses of his heart and mind and then allows us to learn much of his personal attitudes. There are four to which I would direct your attention.


Paul's Realistic Appraisal of Himself

It was during his first missionary journey in Asia Minor with Barnabas that the apostle became known as Paul rather than Saul. While some people see in this change of name an expression of humility (Paul means literally "little") wrought in the proud Pharisee by the risen Lord, it is more likely he adopted this Roman name to facilitate his travels throughout the empire—a practice not uncommon in those days.


His careful choice of the words "a bondservant of Jesus Christ" in verse Rom_1:1 is without doubt a clear statement of humble attitude and deep devotion. The Greek word DOULOS (translated "bondservant" in the NKJV) can be translated "slave" and, while there is no necessity to limit Paul's use of the term to this meaning, He Certainly Saw Himself as one obliged to serve Christ, and as a person without exclusive rights to his own life but as one who had been bought with a price. If Paul had not seen himself in this light but had concentrated more on his own rights and desires, he would never have accomplished what he did. Times without number his circumstances dictated that he should think of his own safety and well-being; yet he pressed on with phenomenal determination and total disregard for himself for no other reason than that he was not his own master—he was a servant of One who had never drawn back, even from a cross.


If there is a ring of humility in the use of the word "bondservant," there is a balancing note of authority in the following phrase"called to be an apostle." The status of apostle was something to which Paul held tenaciously. He knew that in this role he had the responsibility of founding churches in areas where Christ was unknown and, therefore, he had not only to speak with authority, but to be seen to act with authority. When he dealt with problems and countered error, he did not hesitate to remind his readers and hearers that they would disregard what he was saying at their own peril. They were dealing, he assured them, not with a "run-of-the-mill" itinerant preacher but with a divinely chosen apostle. To Paul, being "called" meant being selected and commissioned for a task by God Himself.


We should not overlook Paul's delightful balance here. If he had spoken exclusively of himself as servant, he would, no doubt, have been disregarded by the rebellious and discounted by the skeptical, but if he had thundered constantly concerning his apostleship, the timid would have been terrified. He was the "servant apostle" who lived in the challenging tension between personal humility and derived authority, in which, to a lesser extent, all of Christ's disciples are called to live.


Paul also had a sharply defined sense of destiny. He firmly believed that he was "separated to the gospel of God." There is a sense in which the word "separated" can relate to human actions, such as the consecration of a building to a special purpose or the ordination of a person to a specific ministry. Paul was "separated" or ordained along with Barnabas to the special ministry of outreach which the Holy Spirit had indicated to the church at Antioch that they were to fulfill. But this separation was not specifically what Paul had in mind. Writing to the Galatians, he said that his separation was "from [his] mother's womb" (Gal_1:15)—an act that only God could accomplish. His conviction was that God had set him apart from the day of his birth to be a "gospel of God" man. This meant, of course, that he looked at his heritage, his education, his personality, and his gifts as being part of the divine plan; and, while he never recovered from the horror of his abuse of privilege and the consequences of his brutal mistakes before he came to Christ, he saw even in these events factors that could equip him uniquely to make the gospel known. To Paul it was no accident that he had Roman citizenship, Greek culture, and Jewish training. God had separated him from the womb. The earliest days spent in cosmopolitan Tarsus, the student days at the feet of Gamaliel, the turbulent days invested in a burning desire to eradicate the mistaken followers of the usurper Jesus of Nazareth had not only left their scars; they had built into his character the very traits that would send him and his gospel to people living in ignorance of the salvation of God. For Paul no tantalizing horizons beckoned, no long-cherished dreams drew him on; he was a one-goal man. With fierce intensity and unshakable determination, he knew himself to be a man fashioned by God for a task formidable in the extreme yet glorious in its purpose.


Far from being overwhelmed, however, Paul demonstrated his sense of adequacy under the most trying circumstances and in the most discouraging situations. This deep-rooted sense of competence came from his understanding that he had "received grace and apostleship" (Rom_1:5). The apostleship, as we have seen, was the position of privilege and responsibility; the grace was the divine enabling for the task in hand. Grace was one of Paul's favorite words, and we will discover he used it in a variety of ways but always with the thought that it was a gift of God to undeserving people. To the apostle it meant that, along with the awesome responsibility of apostleship, he was also given by God all it would take to fulfill the responsibility. During World War II Churchill cabled Roosevelt, "Give us the tools and we'll finish the job." God had cabled Paul and said, "I've given you the tools (grace), now finish the job (apostleship)."


The extent of this job was made clear to Paul even as brave Ananias came to him in Damascus after the transforming encounter with the risen Christ. As Christ ministered to the stricken Saul, Ananias made it clear that the new apostle was to go as God's chosen instrument to the Gentiles. To Paul this meant simply a ministry "among all nations" (Rom_1:5). From the early days in Damascus, into Arabia, Cilicia, and Syria, he had seen people who needed Christ come to know Him. On into Achaia, Macedonia, and Galatia he had moved relentlessly, ranging by any means available from one region to the next with the great goal of "all nations" before him. Now at the time of this writing he was planning not only to press westward to Rome but on into Spain. Wherever he went the objective was the same—to bring people to "obedience to the faith." It is important to note that for Paul "faith" was considerably more than an intellectual assent or even an attitude of trust. Faith, in his preaching, constituted a life-style of obedience, so wherever he went he presented truth to which people should assent, promises they should trust, and commands they should obey. His goal and burning desire was to bring people to the point where they would "trust and obey" Jesus Christ.


Paul's Deep-Rooted Appreciation of His Message

In addition to Paul's view of his own special position in the purposes of God (Rom_1:1-3), the apostle had an undying confidence in the validity and relevance of the message he endeavored to communicate. On numerous occasions I have met salesmen who have been so enthusiastic about their products that they have been most convincing in their presentation. But often I have been amazed to discover them a few months later working for their former competitors. When I have inquired about their abandonment of their former superlative product and their subsequent endorsement of what was previously regarded as inferior, I have discovered their commitment was more to their percentage than their product. Paul could never be accused of such behavior. He showed himself to be unshakably loyal to the "gospel of God" (Rom_1:1).


The Greek word euangelion was used to convey the excitement and thrill associated with the announcement of good news. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, it is interesting to notice that euangelion is the word used to describe the announcement of the end of Babylonian captivity and the good news that former captives were now free to return to the beloved homeland from which they had been exiled for many bitter years. The Good News to which Paul was committed had a message even greater and grander—an exhilarating, exciting announcement that God Himself had procured liberty for people in spiritual bondage and reconciliation for those in spiritual exile. Wherever he went, Paul saw himself as the messenger of the kind of news that people needed to hear if they were ever to become free to be the people God intended them to be.

There was always CRITICISM of Paul's MESSAGE, particularly from his fellow Jews, who, as a result of the Dispersion, were scattered all over the regions in which he traveled. Many of them ACCUSED Paul of manufacturing his own message, but he was at great pains to show his critics that, far from being a new fad, his message was the one which God had "promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures" (Rom_1:2). Using the only Bible available in those days, the Old Testament, Paul delighted to do what his Master had done with the troubled disciples of Emmaus: "beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luk_24:27). The fact that Paul was able to show his critics that the gospel he preached was the fulfillment of what the prophets had predicted went a long way toward establishing the credibility of both messenger and message.


The central point of his gospel was that to which the Old Testament had pointed unerringly. From the earliest promise of God to Eve that her seed would bruise the serpent's head, down through the tortuous history of God's special people through whom the bruiser of Satan would come, the point of emphasis had never changed. Through solemn festivals, innumerable sacrifices, the giving of the Law, the deliverance from Egypt, God had spoken persistently through type, symbol, and figure of the blessing to be made available through the One who would come. Prophets who had bemoaned the condition of Israel and Judah had tempered their criticisms and sweetened their dire predictions with promises concerning One whose coming would introduce A New Era Of Blessing. Nothing delighted Paul more than to take the Holy Scriptures and show that God's dealings and promises were all "concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom_1:3) who indeed had come.


This coming of the Lord Jesus Christ had, of course, a human aspect, for He "was born of the seed of David according to the flesh" (Rom_1:3)—something that was easily proven by His genealogies such as the one found in Luke's Gospel. But Paul's message did not center around a mere man, even a man of such royal status as the House of David, for Paul knew that the significance of the gospel of Christ lay in the Person of Christ. If Jesus were only a man, His death was nobler than many and more gruesome than most—but nothing more. But the gospel of God has had as its central point One who was, in addition to being born of the seed of David, "declared to be the Son of God" (Rom_1:4).


The church of Christ has wrestled with the basic Christian doctrine that Jesus was both seed of David and Son of God for centuries. In early years the church fathers wrote learned treatises on the subject, arguing endlessly about the meaning of the Incarnation. The Gnostics, Who Believed that matter was essentially evil and spirit intrinsically good, were appalled at the suggestion That God Should Inhabit Human Flesh. For them the idea was so unthinkable that they went to great lengths to avoid the conclusion they had already rejected. Some insisted that the man Jesus was invested with the Spirit "as a dove" at the time of His baptism but the Spirit "returned to the Plērōma" before the Crucifixion. Others maintained that when Christ was born "he passed through Mary like water through a tube." Try as they would, they were unable to avoid the clear statement of Paul and the strong teaching of John that the inexplicable miracle took place in which God assumed our humanity, was tempted as we are, was touched with the feelings of our infirmities, and stooped to the point of bearing our sins in His own body on the tree.


Having contrasted "the seed of David" with the "Son of God" (Rom_1:3, Rom_1:4), Paul showed that the grounds for believing in the deity and humanity of Christ must be clearly understood. Christ, he said, was "declared to be Son of God" (Rom_1:4), and the word "declared" meant not only that a declaration was made about His deity but that certain things happened which clearly established His deity. First, His position as Son of God was established "with power," second, "according to the Spirit of holiness," and third, "by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom_1:4). The extraordinary power of the Lord Jesus was exhibited in many instances, as He conquered sin, death, disease, natural elements, spiritual forces of wickedness, and even Satan himself. The powerful work of the Holy Spirit in whose blessed fullness He lived and through whose eternal enabling He was able to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin was constant evidence of the uniqueness of His being. But it was in the "resurrection from the dead" (Rom_1:4) that both the power and the Spirit were seen to greatest effect in His experience. Man had done his foul worst and taken Christ into death via a cross and a tomb, but God had intervened and in a superlative display of the power of the Spirit had done His best. Man's worst produced a dead Savior—God's best, a risen Lord. With arms outstretched, the Christ of Calvary had intercepted Saul on the road to Damascus and in living testimony to His risen power had exploded all Saul's objections and shown Himself to be unequivocally the Son of God.


In his powerful explanation of the Resurrection addressed to the Corinthians, Paul made the uncontestable statement "if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty" (1Co_15:14). In the ongoing proclamation of the gospel he stated the converse—since Christ is risen, our preaching and our faith have validity, because in the Resurrection God clearly placed before a watching world the unique Son of God who was dead but now lives in the power of an endless life. That Christ Was Alive Paul did not doubt—how could he after being confronted by Him on the Damascus Road?—and having no doubts about the Resurrection, he had no doubts about Christ and the Good News of God centered in the person and the work of the One whom he delighted to call Jesus Christ our Lord.


The New Life in Christ

Scripture Outline

  1. Life Hidden with Christ (Col. 2:20-3:4)
  2. Put to Death the Old (Col_3:5-11)
  3. Put on the New (Col_3:12-14)
  4. The Fellowship of New Persons in Christ (Col_3:15-17)


Colossians 3:5-11

Put to Death the Old

Paul now moves to explain in specific terms what it means to live the new life in Christ. His words are sharp and incisive, leaving no doubt about the dramatic changes that are to be made in our lives.

"Put to death your members which are on the earth" (Col_3:5). "Put off" the evil ways in which you once walked (Col_3:8). "Put on the new man" (Col_3:10). Together these suggest the radical transformation that comes to those whose lives are hidden with Christ, who have died and are risen with Him.

Don't miss the radical nature of this by looking only on the surface. Paul is not talking about anything so superficial as Cinderella abandoning her servant rags to dress like a princess for the ball. If you want to go to fantasyland for a picture, Paul is talking about something like the prince who has become an ugly frog being kissed by a lovely maiden and becomes a handsome prince again. But this is nothing as peripheral as dress or appearance: it is our condition, our nature, that is changed. We are to "put to death" the "old man," and "put on" the "new man."

Popular talk illumines the image. When a person has been seriously ill and recovers, we say, "She is a new person." A person is depressed, down in the dumps, in despair, moping in self-pity; then something happens—he falls in love, a long-absent friend comes to see him, he has a career change, he experiences some success—and we say, "That made him a new man." At a much, much deeper level, we become new persons as we put off the old life and put on the new life of Christ.

"Put off the old man" (Col_3:9). Paul is talking about sin, the reality and ravages of it, its persistent power to delude us and entice us away from the new center of our lives.

You may, at first glance, discount Paul's specific sins that we are to put off, as echoes of a puritanism that we have long-since outgrown, as victorian as crinoline. But look again. Phillips translates the list: sexual immorality, dirty-mindedness, uncontrolled passion, evil desire, and the lust for other peoples' goods. Those sins are as modern as McDonald's hamburgers and disco dancing. Sexual immorality is rampant, destroying persons and shattering homes. In the name of self-expression and self-fulfillment we have created a promiscuous society driven by sexual passions. Witness the rampant proliferation of pornography, and the pervasion of sex symbols in advertising. Modern and relevant? Dirty-mindedness and uncontrolled passion?

Paul makes his call to put off the old nature and put on the new even more emphatic as he lists again some of the things that have to go from our lives. "But now you yourselves must lay aside all anger, passion, malice, cursing, filthy talk—have done with them (Col_3:8, NEB).

This is a vivid demand which is hard to take. Paul is calling for radical surgery. He is saying that we are to put to death every part of our being which is against God, and which prevents us from doing God's will. He said the same thing in Rom_8:13 : "For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live."

The truth is that we can't perform this surgery ourselves. This is where the power of Christ comes into play. The Christian life is no do-it-yourself, make-yourself-right, lift-yourself-by-your-own-bootstraps religion. It is a religion of the heart in which all that we are is yielded to the transforming, healing power of Christ.

Paul is driving home the point that the old life is dead; we must let it die.

The indicative of faith must be matched by the imperative of morality and ethics. The supreme reality for Paul was the union of the believer with his Lord. As indicated earlier, this was a reality of status—of position, not yet fully worked out in experience, in condition. "Believers were like immigrants to a new country, not yet completely habituated to its ways of life. They had accepted citizenship in a new world and must learn to live in it." So Thomas Aquinas would pray: "Give me, O Lord, a steadfast heart which no unworthy thought can drag downward; an unconquered heart, which no tribulation can wear out; an upright heart, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside."

That prayer reflects the stance of the person who would seek to put off the "old man" and put on the new, and leads to the positive expression of Paul's call.

Colossians 3:12-14

Put on the New

As indicated earlier, the put off—put on language refers to baptism; and baptism is the outward and visible sign of our dying and rising with Christ. The metaphorical use of putting on new clothing has its parallel in the Old Testament. "Twill greatly rejoice in the Lord … for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation" (Isa_61:10, RSV). "I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban" (Job_29:14, RSV). Putting on, then, has to do with a deep and transforming inner experience which reflects itself outwardly. Again, it is not simply a matter of having a new lifestyle; it is being a new person.

Our Identity

Before moving to his positive list—what new persons must put on—Paul addresses the Colossians as "the elect of God, holy and beloved." What we do flows out of who we are. Being and doing cannot be separated. "who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy" (1Pe_2:10). As Christians our identity is certain and clear. We are God's people; once without mercy, now the recipients of His unlimited mercy and grace.

Holy has at least two meanings. It has to do with our character—with how we act, with the attitudes and attributes of our lives. So, Paul urged us to put away the sins of our lives that we may be holy. Holy has also to do with "being set apart," dedicated. God lays His claims upon us, calls us; we respond in dedication. We now have a vocation—to be holy, to be His.

Both meanings of holy help to define our identity. But there is more: beloved.

Is there anything more important—to know that I am loved? To get in touch with the meaning of this, think of two or three persons who love you most. Get a picture of them clearly in mind. What do they think about you? How do they feel and act toward you? What do they do for you? Think about the strength you receive from these persons' love.

God's love for you is even greater than any of these persons you have thought about. The witness of Scripture is that God's love is unconditional, not dependent upon our merit. His love is a constant kiss of grace which can keep us going—no matter what.

Tender Mercies

Barclay calls what we are to put on, the "garments of Christian grace." This harmonizes with the NEB translation of the first part of verse Col_3:12 : "put on the garments that suit God's chosen people, his own, his beloved." The first of these is tender mercies.

The Greek word is oiktirmos. The way this word is rendered in different translations sheds a lot of meaning. What the KJV designates "bowels of mercy," Moffatt calls "tenderness of heart," the ASV "a heart of compassion," Phillips "merciful in action." TEV and RSV translate it "compassion."

This is a great word: "compassion." Mark used it to describe Jesus' feeling toward the people of Galilee. "He has compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd." Luke used this word to designate the action of the Samaritan for the man on the Jericho road, and the response of the father to his prodigal son.

Compassion begins with pity, but it is more. Compassion is that deep response we have when we do something about our feelings of pity. I can feel sorry for you and do nothing about it. Feeling sorry for you may result in my pitying you. But to be moved by your pain, to feel your situation so deeply that I seek to act in your behalf, is compassion.

Tender mercy, as the NKJV translates the word, suggests the deep feeling of love that has to express itself in action. Mother Teresa of India incarnated this grace and expressed it as vividly as any contemporary person. A conversation with the British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge portrays the meaning clearly.

Malcolm: Spending a few days with you, I have been immensely struck by the joyfulness of these Sisters who do what an outsider might think to be almost impossibly difficult and painful tasks.
Mother Teresa: That's the spirit of our society, that total surrender, loving trust and cheerfulness. We must be able to radiate the joy of Christ, express it in our actions. If our actions are just useful actions that give no joy to the people, our poor people would never be able to rise up to the call which we want them to hear, the call to come closer to God. We want to make them feel that they are loved. If we went to them with a sad face, we would only make them much more depressed.
Malcolm: Even though you took them things they needed.
Mother Teresa: It is not very often things they need. What they need much more is what we offer them. In these twenty years of work amongst the people, I have come more and more to realize that it is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience. Nowadays we have found medicine for leprosy and lepers can be cured. There's medicine for TB and consumptives can be cured. For all kinds of diseases there are medicines and cures. But for being unwanted, except there are willing hands to serve and there's a loving heart to love, I don't think this terrible disease can ever be

That is tender mercy: willing hands to serve because of hearts that go on loving.

Kindness

I had been living in my present home for about six months when the right time came—the time for me to share my faith with a neighbor. She was exasperated when I passed by. Everything had gone wrong during the day, and now her car wouldn't crank.

"You are so kind," she said, after we had gotten the car started. "It's good to know there are still Christians around." The perfect opening for me to respond and share.

In reflection upon that incident I was a bit amazed that she put being kind and being Christian together. Yet kindness is the second "garment of Christian grace" Paul calls us to put on. The Greek word is chrēstotēs or chrēstos, "good" or "useful." Jesus used it to describe His yoke: "My yoke is easy." Kindness, then is tender goodness, goodness that is for the well-being of the other.

The word "kindness" does not appear often in new translations of the Scripture. Does this mean that the word has lost a good deal of its meaning?

The writers of Scripture defined kindness as the virtue of the person whose neighbor's good is as dear as his own. Maybe that's the reason that in every psalm where the KJV refers to the "kindness" of God, the RSV translates it "steadfast love."

Humility

Paul said the person living a new life is to put on lowliness and humility—humbleness of mind. Micah placed humility alongside the great strength of character which enables a person to do goodness, and to love mercy (Mic_6:8).

There is an earthiness about this word. "Humus" is the root word for earth and out of that root the word "humble" comes. It has the dimension of meaning "of the earth."

The humble know who they are. Humility has nothing to do with self-depreciation, or cowering back, nothing to do with self-disgust at our shabby lives; nor is it a downcast, brow-beaten stance. The humble know who they are in relation to God and other persons. They have perspective, soundly estimating their strengths and weaknesses. They flaunt neither their strength nor weakness, but take their place in God's kingdom without fanfare.

The humble also know their source of power. God's presence and power in their lives gives them certainty and confidence—certainty and confidence not in the power they hold, but in the Power that holds them.

Meekness

The Greek word for meekness is prautēs, and the NEB translates it "gentleness." We do well to have such an alternative because "meekness" has lost its meaning in our modern day. We use the word condescendingly most of the time. We do not admire "meek" people, yet Jesus announced that the meek are among the blessed and that it is the meek who will inherit the earth.

Interestingly, and far from the modern image of meek, Aristotle defined prautēs as the happy mean between too much and too little anger. With that clue, we may say that the person who has prautēs is the person who is self-controlled, because he is God-controlled. With that as a clue, from the Christian perspective, we may say the person who has prautēs is a person who knows herself and operates out of the inner realization of God's control of her life. Thus meekness is very close to humility. When Christ is in control of our lives we do not have to control others. We can be gentle with strength.

Forbearing and Forgiving

In a recent copy session, our Upper Room staff was working on a very sensitive meditation about abusive parents. The point was made that we can be abusive in our language and attitude, as well as in our action.

I was convicted of my own sin. During the previous couple of days I had been abusive to my wife by silence, by shutting her out, by failing to be responsive to her need to share her life with me. I was going through a rough time, feeling a lot of pressure in some professional relationships and overwhelmed with some immediate tasks. So, I was down. She was up! Some marvelous things were happening to her, and she was experiencing excitement and joy. She bubbled over, and I allowed my downcast mood to block a positive response. I failed to share in her life. My responses were more like grunts than affirmations. Mostly, I was silent.

It hit me hard as our staff worked on the meditation about abusive parents, that many of us who are not violent in our actions, do violence to persons by our attitudes. Paul urged us to be forebearing with one another. To forebear has the negative meaning, "to refrain or abstain," or "to control oneself." But it also has the positive meaning of bearing one, or carrying. Thus one translator substitutes "affirming" for fore-bearing in this text. We are forebearing when we affirm, when we value and respect another.

When the copy session to which I referred earlier adjourned for lunch, I was alone with the knowledge that I had been abusive to Jerry by my silence. I could not live with that. I went to the phone, called her and asked her forgiveness. I experienced relief and knew that to a marked degree the tension that had characterized our relationship for the past few days would be relieved.

Forebearing and forgiving go together according to Paul: "Be forebearing with one another, and forgiving."

Forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel. At the core of our Christian experience of salvation is our acceptance of God's forgiveness extravagantly provided through Jesus Christ.

Now here is the rub: forgiven persons must always be forgiv-ing. As God forgave us, we must forgive others. Only the forgiving can be forgiven.

Charizomai, the Greek word used in this verse, is from the root word charis, which means grace; thus to "forgive" is to "give graciously." This forgiveness is gift, not accomplishment. When the gracious giving of our Lord in His suffering and death is real to us, when by faith we accept that for me, then we can forgive others. We are not doing it by our own design, or will, or power, but "even as Christ forgave you" (Col_3:13).

When we put on the "new man" all the rules change. Grudges have to go. Revenge is out of the question. We leave judgment to God. We are forbearing and forgiving.

Love

Paul crowns his "garments of Christian grace" consistent with everything he understood and experienced: "But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection" (Col_3:14). In his discussion of the word and gifts of the Holy Spirit, he said, "I show you a more excellent way" (1Co_12:31), and gave the Corinthians the "hymn of love" (1 Cor. 13). He concluded that hymn by naming the great trilogy of Christian graces—faith, hope, and love—and boldly underscored love as the greatest of these.

In his list of the fruit of the Spirit in Gal_5:22, Paul puts love at the top: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Some believe that rather than being a fruit of the Spirit, love is the fruit of the Spirit, and each fruit of the Spirit which follows in the list is another expression of love (see commentary on Gal_5:22).

Certainly in Paul's description of the "clothing" of the new person in Christ, love "binds everything together in perfect harmony" (RSV).

Colossians 3:15-17

The Fellowship of New Persons in Christ

Paul brings his discussion of the "garments of Christian grace" to a climax by saying, "Let the peace of God rule in your hearts" (Col_3:15). As with love, we must see this as a dynamic of the church as well as personal quality. With the two verses that follow, along with an earlier verse (Col_3:11), this word describes the fellowship of new persons in Christ.

The NEB renders this, "Let Christ's peace be arbiter in your hearts." This is a colorful picture when the literal meaning of the verb is understood. It comes from the athletic arena and Paul is literally saying, "Let the peace of God be the umpire in your heart."

Isn't that vivid? Our hearts are arenas of conflict and competition. All sorts of feelings clash within. Jesus met a man who dwelled among the tombs, bound in chains, who called himself legion, "for I am many." Peace ruled in that man's heart as Jesus healed him. He was then seen "clothed in his right mind."

We are a legion of passion and love, of fear and hope, of jealousy and trust, of cynicism and goodwill, of indifference and concern, of distrust and awareness. How are all of these feelings to be arbitrated, to be harmonized? What feelings are to be given reign? What or where or who is the umpire to settle the clashes?

"Let Christ's peace be the umpire." Not only is He the arbiter of all my inner clashings, of the civil war that rages inside me, in my interpersonal relationships, in my family, in the world and especially in the church; in Him we have the key factor for our getting along together—the peace of Christ. To know about the garments of grace is one thing, to wear them gracefully is another. We need to possess without parading these virtues.

Gospel, Grace, and Gifts

The body-life of the Christian congregation is described in verse Col_3:16. Here is an exciting rationale to guide us as we plan programs, design curriculum, structure our life, strategize for growth, and engage in worship in our local churches. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonish-ing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Col_3:16).

The centrality of the word is crucial. As much as pastor/teachers who are rooted in the word, the entire body needs to be immersed in the word, to the point that it dwells in us richly in all wisdom. Wisdom comes from abiding with Christ and allowing His words to abide in us.

Calling forth and affirming the gifts of all our people should be a primary modus operandi of the fellowship of new persons in Christ—teaching and admonishing one another. In the body of Christ every person is ministered to and is a minister. In Eph_4:11-12, Paul says that "His gifts were made that Christians might be properly equipped for their service" (Phillips).

Certainly our gifts are connected with the gospel. The "word of Christ" is a synonym of His living presence within us. We are admonished to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. The word for dwell is oikeō; oikos, a related word means "at home." Christ is to be "at home" in our hearts. Paul carries it even further. He says the word of Christ is to dwell richly, abundantly, without limits. The ministry that is given to all Christians, and for which the Holy Spirit gives us gifts, is that of sharing Christ. We are the communicators of our Lord.

That communication is not directed alone to those outside the fellowship, but is the dynamic relationship of persons within the church. We teach and admonish one another, presenting our learnings, sharing our insights, being with, holding responsible, challenging, supporting, questioning, guiding—all for the building up of the body, that we might all be equipped for ministry within and outside the church.

"With grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Col_3:16). Many translators substitute "thanksgiving" for "grace" in this verse, which may be more accurate. The word is charis, and the truth is the two meanings cannot be separated. In 2Co_4:15, Paul said, "For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more people it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God." So grace and thanksgiving go together. Add to that the fact that gifts of the Spirit, as talked about by Paul, charismata, have the same root word as grace and thanksgiving, and you have a rather complete picture of what the church is to be. In the fellowship Christ dwells richly, because of grace (charis). Our response is to be gracious, to be thankful (charis) and to express that in celebration of joy—psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, singing. We are a community of gifts (charisma), equipped by the Spirit to minister to each other and to the world, to share Christ within and outside the church. We are to be then a charis-matic people—grace-filled, grace-equipped, grace-celebrating—in whom Christ dwells richly and through whom grace flows to the world.

Everything about the church is to be Spirit-filled and Spirit-controlled. Our worship is to reflect the centrality of grace.

A Parable of the Kingdom

The church is to be a parable of the kingdom of God when everything is reconciled to Christ. For that reason Paul says within the church, "there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all" (Col_3:11). Barriers are shattered, walls of separation are brought down, and the peaceable kingdom is demonstrated, though in miniature, in the church.

Anyone who is joined to Christ is joined to all others who have a share in the new community. This does not mean that uniqueness and distinctiveness is obliterated; the church is not to be a nameless, faceless fellowship. Christians are not to be carbon copies of another, living a life of cookie-cutter sameness, devoid of individual qualities. The church is made up of all these people Paul named—and his list was not meant to be complete—but the differences personified in these people cannot be grounds for discrimination or division. The Spirit makes us one and in Christ we are of equal worth.

Paul concludes this section by restating the centrality of Christ. "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Col_3:17).

Colossians 3:18-21

A Christian Style of Relationships

Scripture Outline

The Family: A Place for Persons (Col_3:18-21)
Relationships Outside the Family (Col. 3:22-4:6)
The Game is for a Team (Col_4:7-18)

Paul turns from a practical description of the new life in Christ to talk very plainly and practically about a Christian style of relationship. He spells out the relational gospel for marriage, family, vocation, and our everyday life. Most of the conflict we know is interpersonal conflict. We can trace most of our difficulties to difficult people. We all expect people to perform according to our standard. We need desperately to love and be loved, but often we can't accept expressions of love offered us, and the way we want to express love may be a barrier rather than a blessing in our most intimate relationships.

When we get into the setting in which Paul was writing and understand his message in light of the fact that he was a mid-first century man addressing his contemporaries about applying their new faith to their circumstances and the social conditions of their day, we can get some light and guidance for our own life and times.

The Family: A Place for Persons

As in Eph_5:22, Paul centers his teaching to the Colossians about marriage and family in Christ and family members' mutual commitment to Him: "As is fitting in the Lord" (Col_3:18). (See Eph. 5:22-6:9 for the fuller testament).

Paul has often been criticized as being down on women. The truth is, he presented a radically new view of marriage and family which elevated women and children to a hitherto unthinkable level of equality. The Hebrew and Greek understanding of marriage reduced women to "things" to be used and enjoyed, not loved and cherished. Women were seen as totally subservient to men, not only in society but in the home. It was a man's world in every way.

Before Paul, Jesus' attitude toward women and marriage was revolutionary. He saw and treated women as persons of worth, not playthings for sexual gratification, or merely agents of procreation. On one occasion the Pharisees sought to entangle Him in a dispute about divorce. Too wise to be trapped, and too compassionate and committed to women to let the issue drop, He forced them to look at original and eternal intention for marriage (see Mar_9:2-9).

Paul built on these teachings and spelled out their implications for the early church. Also, he founded his teachings on the fact that the person in Christ has a new center of reference, a new Lord of life, and thus operates out of a totally new understanding of reality. People are brothers and sisters, all recipients of grace, and in the eyes of the Lord there is no distinction in worth between male and female.

Verses Col_3:18-21 put the emphasis on the value of persons. The family, then, is a place for personsnot just a place to eat and sleep, to watch TV, to rest from our work; not just a place where our lunches are fixed and our laundry done; not just a place where we park our cars and husband wife are sexually gratified in an "acceptable" sort of way.

A Center of Caring

To be a place for persons the family must be a center of caring. Paul specifies each person in the family—wives, husbands, children—as he gives specific instruction. We miss the total impact of this if we dissect it and see it only at a particular point. We are usually turned off at the first word, "Wives, submit to your own hus-bands, as is fitting in the Lord" (Col_3:18).

We will miss a huge part of the meaning of this and dwell on a distorted fragment if we do not see it in context. Submission was not a command only for wives in relation to husbands, it was one of the distinct markings of a Christian life style. "Be subject to one another out of reverence to Christ" (Eph_5:21, RSV) was a general admonition to all Christians. There was the radical nature of the gospel. Wives, children, slaves had been freed from the stations to which their culture condemned them. Submission became a matter, not of fitting into the way things were and had always been, but a matter of Christian life style. The instruction Paul gave to husbands about their wives and not being bitter toward them, of not provoking their children, also adds to this radical new understanding of the preciousness of persons and the fact that "stations" had been obliterated in terms of subordinate and superordinate positions in the fellowship of new persons in Christ.

We come back to the point—the family is to be a center for caring, caring for persons who are seen as unique and precious, all the recipients of Christ's love. The family as a center for caring makes it the place we can go and be when all other doors are shut. Because we care, we notice. Because we care, we listen. Because we care, we are honest. Because we care, we share. These are the things that enable us to grow. It is in the caring relationship that we are sustained. How desperately we all need it.

Everything said in this passage is centered in Christ. Paul has just finished saying, "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Col_3:17). There is no problem in a husband being the "head" of the household if the husband's life is centered in Christ Jesus, for then he will love his wife and children as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.

It is interesting to note that the word used for the attitude of wives in relation to the husband is different from that of children in relation to the father. Wives are to submit, children to obey. For the wife to respect her husband's position as head of the household does not imply inferiority of status. There is no reservation about "submission" if the quality of love in a relationship prohibits either partner from using the other selfishly, if love in the relationship is not only patterned after but is made possible by our response to the love of Jesus for us.

Discipline may become a harsh system which provokes and discourages children. Paul was aware of this, so he cautioned children and fathers. Obedience is the key word. But we must see obedience in the context of the all-pervading love of God. We trust God and can obey Him because we know He wills our ultimate good. As parents we may be able to demand obedience from our children—but that will be short-lived unless our children can trust us, and what will happen to persons in the process will be detrimental, even destructive, unless they are assured that we are committed to their ultimate well-being. Paul used two strong words here: erethizō which means "rouse to anger," athumeō which means "to be disheartened, to have one's spirit broken."

Parents' relationships with children shape their personality and especially influence how they relate to themselves and others. Paul was far ahead of his time in his concern about children. He knew that children could be robbed of their self-esteem, have their spirits broken early in life, and have to pay painfully, sometimes for a lifetime, for being emotionally crippled as a child.

When the family is a place for persons, it becomes a center of caring. Where Christ's love is communicated through parents' love, children are affirmed. In that caring context of love, children obey. A persistent style of disobedience on the part of children is usually a lack, or a distortion, or a perversion of love.

Where the family is the center of caring, the wife may be asked to be submissive to her husband—but submissive to his love, not his tyranny; a father has authority over his children, but it must be an authority that is trusted; thus authoritative, not authoritarian. The husband/father is to set the pattern of caring, loving as Jesus loved.

A Cameo of Community

The family is to be a place for persons which becomes a center of caring. That means it is to be a cameo of community.

Perceptive observances of the past thirty years of the human scene in the United States contend that there have been two dominant and ostensibly secular quests going on. One is the search for a personal lifestyle, a way of achieving a significant life as an individual. The other is a search for a sustaining community. Persons remain fragmented when the search is divided, for both needs are interrelated, and either is a search for a sustaining community. Persons remain fragmented when the search is divided, for both needs are interrelated, either depending on the other.

While these quests may be ostensibly secular, they are implicitly religious, and have been the major force of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The quest for a personal lifestyle that provides significance and meaning and for a sustaining community are satisfied in authentic Christianity. The family plays a significant role in both quests, especially in the search for sustaining community.

More and more, the pressures of modern living are forcing us to look to a smaller and smaller circle for our fundamental human satisfactions and self-worth. The mobility of our time, the moving in and out, the scattering of our energies, the severing of the larger family ties that has come through the move from a rural to an urban culture—all make us strangers to those around us. The family, often now reduced to a mother and father and children because geographical location excludes grandfathers, aunts, uncles, and cousins—that small family becomes the key to building community. This is the reason we talk about a cameo of community. The small family to which we belong is certainly not going to be adequate to sustain us as persons, but this core family should and can be a cameo of community, the place where we learn and practice what community is all about.

This calls for the kind of caring we have already talked about; it also calls for honesty of communication, transparency of character, openness to the necessity of difference, the willingness to risk the pain of conflict which is necessary for growth, the cultivation of freedom which is the key to personhood, and the insistence and commitment to responsibility which is the key to relationship.

Above all it calls for a commitment to Christ, and a willingness to be submissive to one another in reverence to Christ.

Colossians 3:22-25

Relationships Outside the Family

The Reality Above All Realities

Paul's treatment of the family is less full in Colossians than in Ephesians, but the matter of slave/master relationship is treated pretty much the same. Probably the case of Onesimus, the runaway slave from Philemon, was uppermost in his mind. Philemon was a member of the church in Colossae and Paul's letter to him was being delivered at the same time and by the same person delivering the letter to the church.

The reality above all realities is Christ. For masters this means that they are to "give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven" (Col_4:1). For slaves it means that what they do, they do "as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ" (Col_3:23-24).

There are some differences in the Ephesian and Colossian treatment of master/slave relationships. (1) It is dearer in this passage than in Ephesians that slaves are to serve not out of fear for their masters, but they are to reserve their fear for the Lord. (2) The reward of the slave is defined here in a way not mentioned in Ephesians. The inheritance, which is life everlasting in the presence of God, is the reward of the Christian, and the only reward worth seeking. (3) In Ephesians the master is reminded that God shows no partiality; in Colossians it is the slave who is addressed with this reminder.

These differences add no significant substance to Paul's teaching about the relationship of slave and master. They do serve to underscore the reality that Christ as the Lord of our lives is the shaper of our relationships. The fact that Paul in one case addresses the master, and in another case the slave, about the non-partiality of God, drives home the point. The master cannot think God is influenced by social position; the slave has no merit, nor can he trade on the fact that men may treat him as irresponsible chattel. The key to our relationship with God is our faith in the Cross of Jesus Christ; the key that is to shape our relationship to others is the indwelling Christ who empowers us to live a new life.

Do not criticize Paul for not seeking to change the whole system. Celebrate the fact that his teachings contain the ultimate charter of social equality: Before their common Master slave and freeman, female and male stand on the same footing. (See commentary on Eph. 5:22-6:9.)

Be Motivated by Prayer

Paul extends his instructions about relationships outside the family from masters and slaves to all "those who are outsiders" (Col_4:5). And his instructions relate to all relationships.

Be motivated by prayer, he says, "being vigilant in it with thanksgiving" (Col_4:2). To be bound with persons in prayer secures a relationship, keeps it whole and growing, in a way nothing else can. When I pray for another from whom I may be estranged, I cannot remain the same in my feelings and in my separation from that person. When I pray for another person about whom I genuinely care, or even for a person I may not know, the power of love and caring is so generated within me that it flows out into the life of the other, or is "passed on" to the other in ways I may not even recognize.

When I pray with another I am linked with that person in a way no other common experience can bind us. There is no partnership comparable to a prayer partnership.

Walk in Wisdom

"Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside" (Col_4:5). This has special meaning for those who would share the gospel. Paul's sense of urgency is unrivaled in Christian history. Yet he sounds a word of caution concerning our relationship with "outsiders." Phillips translates his word, "Be wise in your behavior towards non-Christians." How much of our "evangelistic witnessing" disregards the feelings and sensitivities of those we seek to win. Neurotically driven to "make our witness" and to save those who are lost, we forget that we do not save, God does. We have no power to convert; that is the work of the Holy Spirit. Our witness is not ours; it is our witness of Jesus Christ. If our words, and the way we present those words, do not reflect His love and concern, then we need not be surprised when they fall on stony ground.

Redeem the Time

This word of advice from Paul is connected with how we behave toward outsiders. Among the early Christians, as among those in the present, were persons whose fanatical behavior prejudiced outsiders against them. Paul wanted persons to be attracted to the gospel, not repelled from it. This is the key to understanding his words.

While it is true that the Christian is to use time wisely, there is more here than that. We are to live "existentially," alert to Christ and for Christ in every moment. This has at least two implications. The first is more obvious: We are to be alive to every opportunity to witness in the chance encounter, the unexpected turn in conversation, the opening that comes in the expression of a need or the asking of a question, the signal given by what may appear casual but reflects something deeper, the unplanned incident that brings the "outsider" into our life in a way that mind and heart can meet. We are to seize the critical moment when it comes.

The second implication is more inner-personal than inter-personal. Baths Mills described the critical moment this way: "Halfway through shaving it came. I should have scribbled it on the mirror with a soapy finger or shouted it to my wife in the kitchen, or muttered it to myself until it ran in my head like a tune. But now it's gone, with the whiskers down the drain. Gone forever, like the friends I never knew, the places I never visited, the lost life I never lived."

There are intersections upon which we sometimes come abruptly. We have to choose, and destiny is in the choice. There are flashes of insight that break in upon us, guidance, intuition, discernment, which, if we do not receive, record, and act upon, we lose.

Speak the Word of Grace

Paul's final word to guide us in our relationships was "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one" (Col_4:6). Be careful about your conversation, he is saying.

Paul was speaking in the context of how we relate in conversation to outsiders in our efforts to win them for Christ, but his suggestions are relevant to our conversation with all people. Here is a guide for personal evangelism and for the ministry of sharing, which is one of the most available and exciting opportunities we have. With very rare exceptions, all of us have the opportunity of speaking with people every day. How we speak and what we say can bless or curse, create or destroy. The Epistle of James puts it graphically: "The tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire" (Col_3:5-6, RSV).

Words can also bless and heal, encourage and give hope. I have among my treasured keepsakes a number of notes and letters which have come to me at the right time, doing what Eliphaz said Job's words had done: "Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees" (Job_4:4, RSV).

The fifties and early sixties were tough days for preachers in Mississippi. For me to function redemptively as a caring pastor and as a faithful prophet kept the inner and outer tension high. I failed often in both roles. I remember vividly one Sunday morning in the early sixties when I had pled the cause of love and of justice. Turmoil and tension, fear and frustration, anger and anxiety dominated the feelings of the people, surfaced above the concern for persons and commitment to the gospel of love, and charged the atmosphere so electrically that persons had difficulty speaking to each other and to me after the worship service. It may have been a sign of kindness that many of those whose anger and opposition was the most pronounced avoided greeting me at the door. I thought that was it. I had lost the cause. Would I have their ear again? Would they listen? Would I even retain my position as pastor?

Wearily I dragged myself across the lawn to my study in another building, to disrobe and debrief what was happening. On my desk was a note which said: "Maxie, I can't even tell you what I'm feeling. I don't know myself. I know that what I'm feeling is deeply wrong and what you were saying today was eternally right. I trust you, Preacher. Don't give up despite what we are saying and thinking and doing to you. You may save us yet!"

That word kept me going—for a long time. I can never think of my five years in that church in Mississippi without a picture of that man coming into my mind, and the memory of his words stirring in my heart. Words stir and sustain and encourage. They create and heal.

Now, a specific word about this verse as a guide to personal evangelism. (1) "Let your speech always be with grace." How you speak is vitally important. A loving spirit is essential. Do not take shortcuts, presenting a formula or a plan to win another, without taking the trouble and the time to make friends. Unfeeling invasion of the personal privacy of another will set up a bather for any sharing of Christ. If you want a formula, here is the best one I know: make a friend; be a friend; win the friend for Christ.

(2) Let your speech be seasoned with salt. There is a warning against our Christian witness being reduced to "sanctimonious dullness." Salty speech is earthy. It is rooted in where we live, and the content of it is personal. My best witness is not in my knowledge of doctrinal propositions, memorized scripture, or in a well-formulated, flawlessly presented "plan of salvation." Rather, it is the honest sharing of what Christ has done and is doing in my life.

In ordinary Greek this metaphor, "seasoned with salt," was often used for sparkling conversation. This ingredient should be present in our talk; we need to guard against stodginess or language that makes no sense to an outsider. But Paul is talking about more than wit or being a charming conversationalist. Remember Jesus' reference to the Christian as the "salt of the earth"? Though we must not bore our friends with pious platitudes, our talk should always contain that salty flavor which Christ gives our lives.

(3) "Know how you ought to answer each [one]." Stay centered on the person with whom you are sharing—her needs, concerns, hopes, desires. Remember and affirm the uniqueness of the person. Seek to bring out the specialness of the person, as salt brings out the special flavor of food. Give the person your full attention. Her agenda is more important than yours—if you really want to love that person with the love of Christ. If you respect the person, she will respect you and will hear what you have to say when the time is ripe for you to say it.

In all of this guidance there is an overarching ingredient to remember. Speech with grace not only suggests the way it should come through to the ears of the hearer—pleasant, interesting, charming, earthy—but also the way it comes through to the heart of the hearer—helpful, affirming, challenging, calling, inspiring, actually the word of the Lord. Because it is to be a gracious word, we can count on God's grace to guide our speaking, even to put the right words on our lips when we need them. We do not have to depend on our own resources for speaking. He who is Lord of our lives can certainly be Lord of our lips.


Conference Call Instructions

Bible Study Conference Call

Welcome, to the Oak Grove Baptist Church Weekly Bible Study Conference Call.

You can join the conference by dialing: (404) 891-6338 after prompted enter the conference ID# (which is the church telephone number) (770)775-4749. When prompted give your name and remain on the line for the conference to begin. The conference will begin when the host joins the conference and when two or more participants are online, please be patient while listening to the music.

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OGBC Highlights

 

  • The Hormel Food Ham Hock Cook off August 17-20, 2010 was a huged sucess. Thanks, to everyone who pariscipated in this event.
  • Our annual Women's Day Celebration on August 15, 2010 was a huged sucess. Sis Pamela Benjamin was outstanding. Thanks to the women of Oak Grove for a wonderful program.
  • Come and go with us to Villa Rica, Ga. Friday night August 20, 2010, 7:30 PM. Oak Grove will be closing out Revival at Bethsadia Baptist Church Pastured by Reverend Kenneth Bryant.

 

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