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Sermon Ross Woodhouse 20200209

 

THANKFUL TO GOD FOR YOU

Today we begin what will be a several months-long series in this awesome New Testament letter of Paul’s to the Colossian church. Before we get to the opening verses, as this is the beginning of the book, let me take a few minutes to give you an overview, some context and speak to my motivation for this series.

Colossians is one of four of Paul’s prison letters – the others are Ephesians, Philippians and Philemon. It is likely he wrote from prison in Rome to the church at Colossae, which was located about 160 km SE of Ephesus. Paul never visited the church prior to writing. Epaphras, a convert of Paul’s, planted the church, and as a young church they became a target for attack from false teachers – I’ll speak to this more in a moment. It was Epaphras reporting to Paul in Rome which sparked the need for the letter. We’ll see Paul’s letter speaks relevantly into our circumstances today. Different day and issues but the battle remains the same.

Part of the motivation for this series is recognising that in today’s world where we seek to live as Christ-followers, there is a constant deviation from the truth. The prevailing idea that “my truth is just as good as your truth if it works for me.”[1]

If I say my daughter is my biological child and you say she is yours, the fact you said that doesn’t make it true. Relativism doesn’t make any sense. It is a fallacy.[2]

But one of the greatest dangers and obstacles to mission we Christians face today is the thinking that Christ, His truth and His word are irrelevant – we need only read a newspaper column[3] and that is why many call today “post-truth”. For many, God’s truths are even dumbed down, altered, scripture is conveniently interpreted to fit a certain way of living as if it’s God’s responsibility to accommodate how I’ve chosen to live…

Jesus said “…the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37)

We must be convinced that there is one truth and his name is Jesus. He is truth, he defines truth. To know what truth is we look to him and what he says.

God’s word says (Colossians 2:8-10) “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ, you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.”

Another part of the motivation is from recognising what’s happening in the world and the anxiety and uncertainty such things can cause. It seems hardly a week goes by without some significant national or global calamity. We need to never be in doubt who is in control, who is supreme and sovereign. Nothing that happens in this world happens without Christ’s knowledge…assurance.

The Christian life, therefore, is about an implicit trust in him for all things, a life aimed at living life his way unto him for him.

Colossians 1:16-18, “…all things have been created through him and for him….so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” 

So with these two motivations in mind, we look to Paul’s purpose for writing this letter, which was/is to encourage Christians to keep looking to Christ, trust Christ, look to him as the only true Saviour (truth), he alone is all-sufficient and he alone is supreme (assurance).

Why was this necessary? Because of false teachers bringing their influence to bear on Christians with a false view of who Jesus was with their hollow and deceptive philosophies and human traditions (Colossians 2:8). So Paul’s task was to bring clarity around who Jesus is because everything – Christians and the church – is in proper alignment when Jesus is given his rightful place. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

We can only be in right unity and purpose and one with each other in our worship our ministry and mission when Christ has his rightful place – at the forefront of all our lives and all we do. If Christ is out of place, if he does not have supremacy, then everything else we do matters little…

Let me speak very quickly to what the two main issues were that Paul was addressing. This is important because it’s these issues that make the whole letter make sense[4]

Here are the two issues:

  1. Jesus was less than God, not supreme, not all-sufficient.
  2. There was a secret knowledge, a secret mystery available to only a select group of people in the church – so it may be that only 10% of us in this room would receive this secret knowledge about God that is otherwise to advanced for the average person in the congregation. So this would have been the Colossae spiritually elite small group

Paul writes to address these threats…speaking to the second one for a moment, this secret spiritual knowledge, the key, the code, the one answer. I’m intrigued by how relevant that is, to this day. 

Have you heard of a book titled, “The Da Vinci Code”? I could not find a precise amount, but as of 2009 80+ million copies had been sold, and translated into 44 languages[5]. Why was it so popular? People want answers, it told the world about “secret things”, codes, not provided for in the scriptures. This is the modern-day equivalent of exactly the sort of threat Paul wrote about. Dan Brown doesn’t have the secret code, and I would much rather have Colossians in hand than The Da Vinci Code. Isn’t that what the enemy would love to do, preoccupy us and distract us from the truth of God’s word?

There is no salvation in feel-good-about-yourself-philosophy, no salvation in man-made rules, no salvation in traditions, we cannot think-positively ourselves into the kingdom of God, there is no secret knowledge for certain individuals (see Colossians 1:26) and Jesus most certainly is God!

The hopelessness of the world and for the world outside of Christ is all the motivation we need to keep to the truth and stay true to the gospel. It is all the motivation we need for our ministry, mission and reaching others for Christ.

READ Colossians 1:1-8

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you.

In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.

You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.[6]

Someone might say Paul was so super-spiritual, an idealist, out of touch with the real issues and the normality of people’s lives, too pushy, to ‘judgy’? Fine for him to talk this way, he was an apostle.[7] This thinking/resistance comes from wanting to have our own brand of truth; one of the matters Paul was addressing. Paul is not self-absorbed or arrogant, just a man zealous for Jesus! Think of a rugby player fending off an opponent so not to be tackled, or tripped up. That’s what Paul is doing here.[8]

So how is it possible to apply these truths and live in the knowledge of the future prospect, of soon being with Christ in eternity, because that’s our goal. But we can tend to live, make decisions and be drawn into worldly ways of thinking and acting when Christ wants us to be free of self-centred worldliness. That’s where Paul leads us in Colossians.

 

Let’s look at the first two verses:

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.” (v.1-2)

Usually, a letter would have the name at the end, different in the 1st century, and this letter is not written by just anyone, not that Paul is better than anyone else, but he has God-given authority and apostleship. This gives what follows credibility, authority, a sign that it is important to listen.

We probably all have (or have had) someone in our lives we deeply respect for their wisdom, and sense of authority they wield. When these people speak, you know their reputation precedes them, and you just know you’ve got to listen because this will be gold.

Most of the church would not have met Paul but would have known his reputation.  And even though the letter touches a few raw nerves in places, Paul, in the middle of all the stuff they were dealing with, had this ability both to build into the people wisdom and correction at the same time. In the middle of hard times Paul says, you are “God’s holy people…faithful brothers and sisters…we thank God for you…(but) set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.”

…and that church, is precisely what we need to be and aspire to in this day, God’s Spirit helping us. We want God to say of us, as we fight for truth, you are holy, you are faithful…

 

The church was…

  1. Known For Their Faith

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus (v. 3-4a)

Epaphras had gone back to Paul in Rome and told him the church is dealing with this matter or fighting that issue, but Paul speaks of their faith, and that they remain strong in Jesus. And so what an encouragement for them to hear that commendation from Paul. He did not assume that they knew this for themselves, sometimes we can’t unless others help us. Some of us find it hard to encourage because we’ve rarely been encouraged. Our default should always be, to lift each other up. “…when I pray for you, I thank God for you…”.  You can’t imagine what that does for someone’s spirit. With the background of the letter in mind, we know Paul’s purpose for such words was to counter the opposition and maligning they were facing with possible resultant nagging doubts these Christians may have been developing.

It happens – Christians do succumb to doubts and criticism and disappointment from unmet expectations[9], it happens, today: I met someone like that several weeks ago! Faith isn’t to rise and fall dependant on our circumstances[10], because the object of our faith is Christ and the gospel…

Am I talking about faith that ignores hard times, sin and sickness and being so heavenly-minded that we are outside of reality? No! I’m talking about viewing matters of life through a lens of faith and knowing that in all things Christ is our sufficiency! Being over heavenly-minded is not our challenge, being worldly-minded is![11] Where is the Christian whose heart and mind are so set on the glory of heaven with Christ? This life is literally our preparation for that.

Faith is not an intellectual belief; faith is that I’m giving my whole self to trusting God. If there is a subtle message behind Paul’s encouragement, it’s not being so heavenly-minded that affects your faith and your love, it is being worldly-minded! Guard yourself…

Vincent J. Donovan tells of a conversation with a Masai elder about how the word for “faith” was to be translated into his language. The elder contended that the word chosen was unsatisfactory because it meant “to agree to.” He said that it was similar to a white hunter shooting an animal with his gun from a great distance. Only his eyes and his fingers took part in the act. We should find another word. He said for a man really to believe is like a lion going after its prey. His nose and eyes and ears pick up the prey. His legs give him the speed to catch it. All the power of his body is involved in the terrible death leap and a single blow to the neck with the front paw, the blow that actually kills. And as the animal goes down the lion envelops it in his arms (Africans refer to the front legs of an animal as its arms), pulls it to himself, and makes it part of himself. This is the way the lion kills. This is the way a man believes. This is what faith is.[12]

They had great faith and were known for it, but Paul wanted to further build that faith and confidence in God.

 

  1. Known For Their Love

“…we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus…and of the love you have for all God’s people.” (v.4b)

Their faith was expressed in their love for others. Their love for others said they had faith in Christ (see also v.8). This was their public reputation.

The Bible says: We know that we have passed from death to life because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death (1 John 3:14). Love is only love when others are involved.  To love is a reflection of our salvation; our response to the gospel, and an appreciation of his grace. To love is not optional. I love because to not love is to disobey obey a basic command, and to not love is to ignore Christ’s work of the cross, and Paul said to the church, you guys are doing it…

“By this, all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35). The world assesses our born-againness by our love for each other, that’s a high calling, isn’t it? Love is often determined first by how I feel about a person or a situation but biblical love considers Christ first. I love because he does, and he says to.[13]

I have thought about this a bit and wondered practically what does this look like. Here’s a little list. We love each other by –

  • Meeting together regularly (Hebrews 10.25)
  • Caring for each other (1 John 3:17-18)
  • Praying for each other (Ephesians 6:18)
  • Sharing our resources
  • By the way we talk with and about each other
  • By the way we deal with issues – not being easily irritated, or offended, not bearing grudges…[14]

 

  1. Known for bearing Fruit

“…the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world”  (v.5-6a)

Paul zeros in on where this faith and love come from – and I’ve already alluded to it – hope.  Hope motivates our faith and our love because the word hope here refers to the goal of our hope which is Christ and the reality of life eternal with Christ.

One of the reasons Karyn and I work with people who have lost loved ones to suicide is to try and bring hope[15]. We are not aloof, from how broken people can be, but we are motivated to persevere by the prospect of one person…wouldn’t that be great fruit?

This is what makes the gospel glorious, and is why Paul was so thankful to God for the Colossian Christians. Their hope motivated them to a deeper faith and a deeper love.

I think of Moses and what may have motivated him to leave Pharaoh’s court and become the leader of a bunch of grumbling, stubborn people, and be faithful to them for forty years.

“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (Hebrews 11:24-26)

Moses considered his decision and what he did to be of greater worth than all the treasures of Egypt, as tempting as that may have been. He set that aside and was transformed by the renewing of his mind. How? “…because he was looking ahead to his reward”. He had set his mind on his hope that was directed on the great promises of God[16]. Let me say it again: being over heavenly minded is not our challenge, being worldly-minded is! The only question that should be on our minds is how, here, do I give my whole to God, that stores treasure in heaven?

We’re all too aware the enemy works hard to dim or even sometimes destroy the believer’s hope. People walk away from Christ. We must do everything to safeguard our hope, invest in hope, be reassured in our hope, protect our hope. Christians with a lack of hope will also lack joy and purpose and will be prone to compromise. When we struggle to see the wonder and grace of Christ and the glorious life that awaits us in heaven, we inevitably will be prone to compromise, we have to find hope somewhere.

How is our motivation for Jesus, let alone hope in him? I’ll tell you how to answer that: look at your prayer life, your word life, your worship, service and giving life.

Reset and realign your hope in Christ, not on the temporary and failing pleasures of this world, trust in the heavenly promises of God and the gospel. We need to come to terms with this hope not only for ourselves, but our evangelistic efforts require it. The gospel is for all people, of all cultures and circumstances. We cannot be intimidated or set back by such talk as “this is a post-truth, or post-Christian world or the gospel has no relevance”.

It’s that hope of the gospel and from the gospel, that motivates love and faith that Paul says was bearing fruit throughout the world and having a universal impact.  As for our community?  People need Jesus more than ever…

 

  1. Known for understanding God’s Grace

“…you…truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.” (v. 6b-8)

This means from Epaphras and from the gospel they learned and understood God’s grace.  All that we have talked about was because they saw, felt, appreciated, understood and responded to God’s grace. That’s the key![17] They understood in detail John 3:16[18]

This was a church that came to terms with God grace. That’s a church that we could be thankful to God for! That’s who we are and that’s what we aspire to. I am certain that as we grow in our appreciation and understanding of God’s grace, fending off untruths and worldliness, living for Jesus, we will be known for our faith, love and hope!

 

Prayer

Not to us, not to us but you O God be the glory. God that you might visit with us, today, in the power of your Spirit, for the glory and honour of Christ, that we might be filled with your hope, that might see and understand your grace, be renewed and re-inspired in our faith. God that the bonds of worldliness might be broken off, so we might pursue Christ, only.

 

 

[1] Col, NIV Comms

[2] https://bible.org/seriespage/1-glory-gospel-colossians-11-8

[3] If you dispute this read the newspaper and watch the news for a week

[4] Now though Paul doesn’t explicitly state the issues we know that most if not all the letter is written to oppose this teaching…

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Da_Vinci_Code

[6] Paul was an encourager and exhorter…listen to this: To God’s holy people…faithful brothers and sisters in Christ…Grace and peace to you from God our Father…We always thank God…when we pray for you because…we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people …you truly understood God’s grace…we have not stopped praying for you…We continually ask God to fill you…You please him in every way, growing in the knowledge of God…he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom

[7] To question one’s belief system is to be unpardonably judgmental and intolerant – Col. NIV COMMS

[8] Anything that doesn’t honour or love Jesus, don’t listen to it, don’t believe fend it off. Paul was not about limiting what people do, rather promoting life in Christ.

[9] The church should have done this or been this and that for me, and you’re right they should have…but that isn’t a rationale to abandon Christ.

[10] If it does, our faith is in our circumstances, less than it is in Christ

[11] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-fruit-of-hope-love. We chase after things in this life at an alarming rate and cost, we risk gaining the whole world yet losing our soul because Jesus says put him first, we cannot serve two masters.

[12] Adapted from https://thepastorsworkshop.com/sermon-illustrations-on-gods-pursuit/

[13] Is there ever a time or a situation when Jesus would say you don’t have to love that person?

[14] We think and behave as if we have the right to hold onto grudges, to not forgive, to not extend grace, as these things are conditional. In Jesus, those “rights” were nailed to the cross.

[15] For a long time, I felt as though I could have been living in a bubble removed from reality

[16] Colossians 3:4, 24; Romans 8:18

[17] Why we need Jesus, what Jesus has done for us, what we must do, and how our lives change = gospel

[18] The gospel can only bear fruit successfully when people faithfully proclaim it and when others respond with understanding and obedience. (Col. Niv Comms)