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Sermon Notes 08

CHAPTER TEN

There are no inconsequential or unimportant verses of Scripture in our Bible. Every word is God-breathed and Spirit saturated. Therefore each verse requires our attention…ideally.
The reality is, however, we tend to speed through sections like the one before us now. In Colossians 4:2-16 the brief letter ends. But it does not end with polite nods and social niceties. Paul reserves some very significant thoughts for his conclusion as the Spirit inspired him.

Some Thoughts about Prayer

Though we claim to believe in it, prayer sometimes falls to the list of “the last thing we do” when we are facing a crisis or problem in life. That was not Paul’s practice or belief. For Paul, prayer was the first, middle, and final thing to do!

We have already looked in detail at the prayer that Paul prayed for the Colossians in Chapter One. It would be a life-transforming event for us if we began praying for the spiritual issues of life with the same fervor that we pray for physical ones.

When a child has gone missing, or a young person needs a heart transplant, or a financial crisis is looming on someone’s horizon, calls for prayer abound in our mailboxes and on our social media pages. It becomes a matter of desperation for us when we are seeing the problem and feeling the potential impact of an impending disaster.

But when will we learn to pray with that same zeal and devotion and desperation over the spiritual condition of neighbors and the nations? When will our hearts burn and our internet accounts flood with requests of desperation for what we are feeling for a lost sheep in God’s fold?

Now we’re human, I can hear some say. Of course we are. But that doesn’t mean we should pray limited to our humanity! We are human, and frail, and weak and broken. Yet we have been given a “limitless reach” in prayer.

But listening to our prayer requests I wonder if we really believe that. When our prayer concerns go no further than Aunt Gertie’s upcoming appendectomy, our prayers may as well be written by the folks who write Hallmark get well cards!

What if we began to see our requests for prayer differently? I wonder if you really believed that, when you pray for a missionary in another country or for an unreached people group that your prayers literally shake the ground spiritually.

When we see the world in the grip of the evil one, have you seen your prayers as ICBMs dropped behind enemy lines? What if numbers of Christians gathered together in a meeting to pray for the persecuted believers in China, sending “weapons of mass intercession” against the persecutor seeking to keep the Chinese people from the Gospel?

Does Satan dread your prayer life? Or does it really just give him a good laugh? Now don’t misunderstand me. I believe all of life is to be brought under the concern and attention of God in prayer. Nothing is too big, or too small.

The problem is we get stuck on “the small stuff.” We can’t pray beyond Uncle Bob’s hangnail because our faith is small and won’t let us. We can’t believe the global impact we could have from little Fruit Cove Florida!

Prayer Matters

Prayer matters. Paul believed that. Wiersbe interprets these verses in the early part of Chapter 4 this way: Be faithful. Be watchful. Be thankful.

Be faithful. Our prayers should be “steadfast.” We are to “continue steadfastly” in prayer. REO White points out that the reason for this was two-fold in the early Christian church. (1) It was the only resource available to most of them, especially those who find themselves living in a pagan household in the midst of a pagan culture. (2) Devotional aids would be unavailable to these Christians who were poor and illiterate.

This is not to be seen as an admonition to “wear God down” with our words, though we can think almost of that very picture with the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. It’s not the persistence of our words that turn the corner in prayer, however. It is the posture of our hearts!

We are not to “grow weary” in prayer when answers do not come quickly. God’s delays are not always God’s denials. But it pleases God to see His children wait in faith. He doesn’t dangle the answer like a carrot to a horse, but sometimes He allows our heart to be tested as we wait.

This is a call not to quit in our praying; not to be discouraged when answers do not fly our way quickly. Be steadfast. Pray continually. Be devoted in prayer!

Be watchful. Jesus asked His sleeping disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night His passion began “could you not watch with Me…?” How often have we fallen asleep on the watch? Our prayers grow lifeless and listless. We lose the urgency and fervency of the early moments of our prayers. It requires effort to continue to “watch and pray….”—notice this— WITH Jesus!

Did you know that when YOU pray you are never praying alone? When you are watchful, you are watching WITH the One Who is our High Priest and Who “ever lives to make intercession for us!” I have walked into the Garden of Gethsemane, wondering “would I have gone to sleep with the rest?”

We sleep on the watch because we don’t really believe we are fighting a battle as we pray…and indeed as we live each day. But as we sleep the bullets fly overhead, taking out fellow soldiers in the war. Watch and pray! You need this. Your fellow soldiers need this. And Jesus is calling you to this. Be watchful. Be vigilant. The enemy prowls like a hungry lion.

The antidote is spiritual watchfulness.

Be thankful. The third component of a powerful prayer life is this: We pray with gratitude. This seems to be the missing element in many of our prayers. Gratitude should saturate everything we pray about. Paul has mentioned gratitude several times in Colossians. It was a word never far from the tip of his tongue or his pen. Be thankful. Be grateful. We are remembering the goodness of God, and His greatness as we pray. We are thankful when our prayers are answered, but we are to be also thankful when our answers are delayed, or the circumstances have shown we will not get what we asked.

I read an article recently that reminded me of something and I remind you of the same. The article pointed to our propensity to celebrate the goodness of God when we get what we were asking for and our circumstances turned out well.

But, the writer asked, is God still good when the unpleasant circumstance doesn’t change? When it seems our prayer is not answered? We do not tweet, text, or post on our social media pages our affirmation of God’s goodness when cancer takes our loved one, or the job we were hoping for falls through, or our son or daughter come home and tell us they are uncertain of their gender.

Is God still good? Well of course He is. But our enthusiasm in proclaiming this weakens when our circumstances collapse under us. And it communicates a message that God is good when He “works” for us, and maybe we live in uncertainty about His goodness when He doesn’t seem to work in our favor.

Be thankful. Be “devoted” in prayer, Paul tells us. Our “devotion” time is an affirmation of our faith, our steadfastness in prayer, our eagerness to watch and our determination to be thankful in all things.

Be purposeful. Our prayers should be purposeful. For too many, I fear, the purpose of praying is to “check the box” and “say” their prayers. Rather than believing they are literally grabbing hold of God’s altar—and not releasing it until they convinced God has heard—they believe God is “keeping score” in Heaven over their daily devotional time. Paul prayed with purpose. We have seen that clearly in Colossians and in several other epistles. Paul does not pray aimless, rote prayers. There is an agenda…an “ask.” Paul prayed because he knew God listened. And more often than not, God responded.

Now let’s not fall into thinking that says we can “make” God do something or bend God’s will to ours. That is absolutely not what the Bible teaches.

No we pray, in alignment with God’s will, for His kingdom to come. Paul could ask the Colossians with confidence to “pray for us” because he knew that he and his co-workers in the Gospel were seeking the agenda of the Kingdom first and not their own. As Richard Trench said, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance; it is laying hold of God’s willingness!”

It’s easy to miss something if we read this too quickly. Paul asked the Colossians to pray something VERY SPECIFIC for him. You would think Paul would say, “Pray for the prison doors to be opened so we can be free.” Many of us would, and no one would blame us. Who wants to be stuck in a prison cell…in this case on death row…when the whole world needed to hear the Gospel?

But Paul understood the will of God was not to cater to our needs for comfort or even the basic cry for freedom. He asked them:

And pray for us too, that God may open a door for our message…

Hardly the prayer we would expect for a man who had so many needs he could have requested prayer about. But his burden was first for a SPIRITUAL door of opportunity to be presented (implied: WHILE he was in prison) so that he may “proclaim the mystery of Christ.”

That jars me. It should rock us all to our core to examine why we pray; what we seek for in prayer. And as that opportunity came that Paul requested they pray about, the Colossians shared in the sweet fruit of spiritual victory that would abound!

Paul’s prayer request was (1) specific (2) measurable (3) urgent and (4) kingdom driven. It reminds us to check our motives and continually re-evaluate and “upgrade” our prayer life. It is far too easy to let it slip into tepid word, devoid of power. Far better to lay hold of Heaven’s altar of prayer and lay on it a sacrifice worthy of our God and King. Don’t bring the lame, blind, and sickly animal to sacrifice, the Old Testament prophets taught us. Don’t bring that which we would have nothing to do with anyway. And the same holds true for the sacrifice of our prayers. Do we give God the most useless scrap of our time when we pray? Do we bring to the Almighty requests that are almost an insult to His power and capability to do great things? Do we just “mark time” with our intercession, or are we bringing the best of our time; our thoughts; our faith? “Pray that I may proclaim it clearly,” Paul requested. Pray that my own faltering, stammering tongue and my lack of eloquence will not interfere with the lost soul hearing the message. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. As WE should.

It is also interesting to note in this passage that there is nowhere a request from Paul for his own release from prison or the death sentence. It is so hard, when we are shut up in our own “prisons” of physical disability, or circumstances that are less than pleasant or even situations that are critical, to believe that God may be using us in our finest moment.

Paul was not desperate for release. Luke tells us in the Book of Acts that Paul was imprisoned in Rome for two years before his trial. What a waste, we think in our humanity. “How much more could Paul have done if he was free?” Let’s get a petition, let’s go to the governor to appeal for Paul’s release! Isn’t that God’s will?

But let’s remember that, from this cell which had become a sanctuary…a place where ministry happened to many…a place where worship was continual…let’s remember that from here were sent letters that become some of the most precious parts of our New Testament: Ephesians; Philippians; Philemon. How much lacking would we be without these letters? And it was prison that served as Paul’s writing platform. His preaching would not have touched nearly the number of lives these inspired letters have changed over the millennia.

Don’t argue with God’s plan sometimes to restrict you; to slow you; to even lock you in for a while. Who knows what He will draw out of you in those seasons?

And that leads me to a personal request. Will you pray for me? For Fruit Cove? Let’s apply what we have learned. Will you pray for your pastor as I read, study, prepare, meditate, write long before I ever step into the pulpit on Sunday morning? Will you pray that I might “proclaim it clearly, as I should? And that every person who has the opportunity to share Jesus with a lost individual will do the same?

Will you pray for our church that a door of opportunity will open that we might preach the Gospel fully in our community and far beyond to the uttermost parts of the earth? Will you pray that, as Paul told the Colossians to pray that we might “behave wisely toward outsiders” (v 5) in our lifestyle and our language? Will you pray that we might “make the most of every opportunity?” Your prayers are not the least or the last thing you can do. They are the first and most important thing you can do!

In the closing verses, Paul mentions by name seven individuals who were with him at that time. Two of the men (Tychicus and Onesimus) were going to be the carriers of the letter back to them. Six of them were sending greetings (vv 10-14).

We do not know a great deal about most of them. But that’s ok. Heaven knows. Heaven knows the names of those who come and visit those in prison. “I was sick and in prison, and you visited Me” our Lord reminded us.

Greetings were also sent specifically to Laodicea, a lady named Nympha, and a leader named Archippus. Each of these places and all of these people would have been known personally to the Colossian church. Each of them had their role to play in history, and each now occupies a place in eternity. They are known to God and that’s what truly matters.

Paul was not a Lone Ranger practitioner. One of the great tragedies of our day, now resulting in some who attempt suicide and others who fail tragically in ministry, is the loneliness of those in ministry. But Paul’s model was not that of a Lone Ranger. He was a team player, and a team builder. We do not do the Gospel alone. We are part of a family; part of a body.

And together, the Gospel will be proclaimed; ministry will be carried out, and the mission accomplished.

The letter closes with a reminder that “I Paul write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.” (v 18) Paul ended where he began. The entire epistle is an argument for the principle of grace, that God’s salvation is free, and that He requires nothing but trust in the work of His Son, Jesus. It is grace that sustains the Christian’s life. With God’s grace, they will need nothing else! (Melick)

So may the grace of our Lord be with us all, and may we always make Christ Above All!

Sermon Notes 07

CHAPTER NINE

We have been walking through Colossians 3, and we notice something striking. Paul begins in vv. 1-4 talking about our individual relationship, one-on-one, with Jesus. “If you are raised…seek…set…” and live this way.

But what we see as the chapter continues is that walking with Jesus is not JUST walking with Jesus. We have relationships that must be paid attention to, and some of those are our “closest” neighbors-our family.

We were challenged by the words of Colossians 3:5-9 which exhort us to “strip off” the old behaviors and customs we practiced while living as “dead men walking.” Now that we are alive in Christ, we have “new clothes” we are to put on.

But if you look carefully, you see that the ethic that Paul lays out for those who have been raised in Christ move from our personal and inner moral purity outward to how this connects to others.

Chapter 3:15-17 talks about how we related in the church as we “let the peace of Christ rule” and “the Word of Christ indwell” us. And then how we are to honor the Name of Christ above all.

As Chapter 3 continues, we travel next to some needed conversation about how the “new family” looks in Jesus. If we have been raised, this should first of all and perhaps MOST of all affect how we live out family relationships: Marriage, parenting, and relating as children to parents, and even in our employment.

A Word to Husbands and Wives

Our culture, due largely to the impact of the postmodern philosophy that has torn the West apart over the last two or three decades, is now witnessing the tearing down of traditional structures of society like marriage.

Marriage has been moved away from its Biblical moorings and is now adrift in isolation. We are left to our own devices in trying to make sense of this basic relationship in human societies. And what we have come to, in the thinking of our culture, is the belief that marriage must exist, as everything else does, for our enjoyment and as something we should use to find personal satisfaction and joy and meaning in life. In other words, it is a commodity to be enjoyed or disposed of as the whim hits us.

When we pervert God’s good and sacred gift of a man and woman becoming one, what we end up with is an aberration of marriage that cannot stand. It is a testimony to the power of this relationship that, in spite of our attempts to unravel and redefine it and nullify it by cohabitation, still exists as a primary and important relationship in our culture.

But if we’re honest, we don’t really know why. So we blindly seek to “make it work” and “hammer it out” as best we can. The danger I am seeing is not simply the abandonment of our definition that it belongs to a male and female partnership, but the deconstruction of the marriage relationship as a place for us to go to lose ourselves in love and service to the other. This is a problem for heterosexual couples.

Until we come back to the understanding of marriage in the way God intended it in Genesis 1 and 2, we will continue to drift further away and flail and flounder trying to find ground to stand on. Maybe “flailing” and “floundering” describes your experience with marriage.

The other issue I see often today is that, even though two people are male and female, in love, and claim to be Christ-followers; their marriage often doesn’t reflect that. In other words, even when we get the gender issues right, we still haven’t gotten back to the heart of the issue.

Our missionary brothers and sisters are quick to remind us that, when people in the culture they serve come to know the Lord, it is some time before their marriage begins to reflect the Christian understanding of this God-ordained institution. This is an issue since they continually struggle to find marriages that can “mentor” new believers away from their old cultural understanding into the new “risen” life.

A few years ago, our church went to Dubai and held a retreat for 155 missionaries serving in the Red Sea region. We used a retreat center that was located on the Indian Ocean, and were in beautiful accommodations.

Across the street from the main center was a series of bungalows designed for visiting sheiks who would come and need accommodations for ALL of their wives (usually five or six) and their maid. They all required their own rooms. They served us well as space for our Vacation Bible School being offered to the missionary families!

I met an Emirate sheik while there; a young man wealthy beyond our definition of the word, and he was accompanied by his six burkaed wives. We only had a brief time to converse but it left me to image what would happen if this Arabian “rich young ruler” actually came to Christ. How would this affect his family life? He could not continue in relationship with six women, but divorcing them would ruin their lives socially. What would I say to him? And how long would it be until his new faith began to impact his “old clothing” of a Middle Eastern marriage with multiple wives?

Yet even among western Christians, there are many seeking to follow Jesus in the risen life but it has not yet affected how they see their marriage. It is a problem for us as well, in the USA. Maybe it also is for you.

It was certainly a pressing issue for the Colossian believers. The radical things that Paul was saying in this letter would have rocked most of them. It would not be hard to imagine that this was the first instruction most of them had received on the subject of how to live out their faith at home now that they were believers.

A Risen Marriage: The Christian Wife

Paul’s words, though separated from the original context, were incredibly elevating. We do not appreciate fully the radical nature of these thoughts. Though his statement begins, “Wives, submit to your husbands,” which the culture of that day would have also demanded, he turns things on their head with the next statement, which said “Husbands love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” (v. 18)

So this sets the stage for an upending of social conventions of his day. The same words have a similar impact on us today. In this text, the grammar of the sentence is making the wife’s submission a voluntary act, “as is fitting (proper) in the Lord.” This was not something to be held over her by social conventions, or forced on her by physical threat, or enforced on her by strength but was in reality a beautiful act of obedience to Christ.

Submission is an inflammatory word in our modern culture. It has to do we hear, by our definition, with a person being demeaned by an individual or system. This seems like anything but a radically freeing and fresh thing for women, but if it doesn’t seem like that it is because we are missing the point.

Again, Paul is returning drifting marriages to their moorings. He is anchoring the Biblical teaching of marriage back to the Creation account. Bruce says, (Paul) “does hold that there is a divine instituted hierarchy in the order of creation, and in this order the place of the wife comes next after her husband.” (NICNT)

That is not to suggest that women are created as inferior beings either spiritually or naturally. There is hierarchy, yet equality in the Trinity. Jesus is simultaneously equal to the Father and yet submissive to Him. (Hughes, Colossians) In the same way, equality and submission can beautifully co-exist in the same relationship, including marriage.

The idea of submission is repulsive to our me-first, flesh-exalting nature. Every time we encounter it, we run from it or seek to vilify the person using the word.

In our efforts to eliminate this word from the Biblical narrative on family and marriage, we have moved to the opposite extreme. And yet it takes only a few moments to catalogue in your memory the times in life you have “gotten creative” with what God clearly proclaimed and “done it your own way” (as my three-year-old granddarlin’ is fond of doing). And when she gets her own way, the problem she thought she could solve is made only more complicated.

Sometimes, when it is obvious that we have messed it up so bad, we have to return with our heads hung with the pieces of our life, our broken marriage, our frustrated relationships, back to the One Who does know how to fix it. When we have wrecked our lives with “do-it-yourself” fixes in sexual relationships, or when we have run our financial ship aground through ignoring the clear counsel of God’s Word on money, then we come to God with the pieces to fix them His way.

When we can finally admit that how we’re doing our relationships is broken and not working, then we come back to God with the pain and the pieces and say, “Please fix it.” And the first word we encounter in all of the Bible’s relationship advice is “submit.” “Be (willingly) in submission.”

That’s hard, and humbling for our flesh to take. In fact, it crucifies our flesh. It kills us. And then, when we are dead in this area, we can begin to “live risen” in our relationships.

Now again, this is not counsel to grab your wife and force her to submit to you. But there is nothing servile and menial about a wife who will willingly submits herself to a husband who loves her.

I’m not writing a relationship manual here, but I can hear some saying, “Yes but…”. “My husband doesn’t love me. He said so.” Or, “my husband is not a believer. What do I do?” Or worse, “My husband is already beating, abusing, or physically hurting me.” (To this last I would say WHY ARE YOU STILL IN THE HOUSE WITH HIM??)

But to the others, we need to remember that God’s Word is not circumstantial ethics, not limited to one historic era, and not culturally constrained. Your circumstances, while difficult, are not unique. They are not the first time these words have been spoken into a relationship with an unloving or uncaring spouse, or even into a household where one spouse is not a believer.

My counsel would be this. If your husband doesn’t love you, you will not make him fall in love with you by being arrogant and aggressive and angry toward him. While your flesh will be happy that you are asserting yourself, you will lose the war while winning the battle. Men just do not fall in love with women who seek to lead them or rule the household. Sadly, many women try to do this.

And men who are not believers need to see, in a way they cannot avoid, a transformation in their wife that involves this submission. We must remember that our submission is FIRST to the Lord, and then to your spouse. Don’t forget that. Your obedience to the Lord in this honors Him first by your willing trust in Him to change your husband’s affection toward you, or ultimately to see his heart turn to Jesus because you obeyed. (It may help to read 1 Peter 3 and see what the Bible says there about living with an unsaved husband).

A Risen Marriage: The Christian Husband

The exhortation which follows for the husband in 3:19 seems almost obvious. “Well, of course the husband should love his wife!” Yet as William Barclay reminds us in his commentary,

Under Jewish law, a woman was a thing; she was the possession of her husband, just as his flocks, or house or material goods were. She had no more legal rights than his flocks or herds….under Jewish law, a husband could divorce his wife for any reason or no reason, while the wife had no rights whatsoever to initiate divorce. In proper Greek society, the woman lived a life of total seclusion usually in a separate residence to her husband. She never appeared on the streets alone, not even to go to market. She would not join her husband for meals. From her there was demanded a complete servitude and chastity; but her husband could go out as much as he pleased, and could enter as many relationships outside of marriage as he pleased with no social stigma. In both Jewish and Greek culture, the privileges belonged to the husband and the duties belonged to the wife.”(Barclay)

In other words, love played no part in the transaction and relationship of marriage in Jewish and Greek culture in Biblical times, let alone the radical call to love the husband was issued to demonstrate in this verse. Further the husband was enjoined “do not be harsh with them.”

Lohse confirms that such a command does not occur in any extra-Biblical material of the day. It was a “new command” for a man who was a new creation in Christ. It was an ethical demand beyond any scope of thought in that day.

The love that men were called to show their wives was not erotic love, or even simply friendship love. It was self-denying “agape” love, which meant the husband was to care for and serve his wife as he sought her entire well-being, providing for and protecting her. It is a love that does not originate in the self-centered, broken heart of humanity. It was a love that must first be received from a Divine wellspring: The heart of God.

This love is like the love with which Christ loves His bride, the church. Ephesians 5:22-33 carries this further than the Colossians passage, but both were written from the same place at the same time.

1). The love of Christ was intimate.

The Biblical idea of “two becoming one flesh” is a deep and true picture of what marriage does. It causes one to enter the other, as portrayed in the act of physical intimacy, and share life mutually, one with the other. There is a sense in which a man can enter his wife’s emotional and mental processes as he comes to know and love her more deeply. He can enter into her spiritual life. All of this binds the two together as one, which is the truest description of Biblical marriage. The husband is called to love his wife “as his own body.” This also demonstrates to us the depth of our Savior’s love for His bride, the church, to the degree that He calls it “His body.”

Practically, these things mean we must spend time together. The best marriages are also growing and deepening friendships. While it may not have begun as that, it should certainly move toward it. Second, we need to listen to our wives. Howard Hendricks said that marriage is sometimes the “dialogue of the deaf.” We don’t listen to what the other is saying, even though marriage is indeed a lifelong conversation. Men can sometimes check out before they have heard their wives. There’s a reason it’s called “paying” attention! Effort is required. The Harvard Business Review has estimated that 65% of a successful executive’s time should be spent in listening. As the Proverb says, “He who speaks before listening—that is his folly and his shame.” (18:13). It’s probably not accidental that it uses the masculine pronoun with that proverb!

2). The love of Christ was sacrificial

Part of the issues confronted by our Western culture today is our radical individualistic mindset. We think of ourselves: “I” “me” and “mine” are the pronouns we are most often comfortable with, leaving little room for “the other.”

This impacts most of all our homes. Our marriage relationships have changed from a relationship that was entered into for the best interest of the community as a whole. Marriages were arranged between families for the good of the family and the whole community.

As societies became more “portable,” the mindset of marriage was focused on smaller family units, and centered often on child rearing and raising. The good of marriage was seen as for the good of the smaller family unit, with little regard for the larger family system.

Then, marriage became about the husband and wife. Numerous books and marriage manuals appeared to help husbands and wives “maximize” their experience is marriage, and the thought of procreation may not have had anything to do with the marriage at all. Everything was considered “what was in the best interest of the couple.”

In recent years, marriages have become drastically bride-centered. The community is often not considered, and the church is basically a backdrop for the inordinately priced wedding photography. The center of all attention and, for that matter, all concern with weddings now is the bride.

Along with that, we have seen couples become more and more focused on their personal fulfillment in the relationship; their needs, their desires and wants and expectations. When one mate does not fulfill that, they feel entitled to go and find a new one.

Running through all of this was the radical insurgency of the sexual revolution, which has single-handed torn many marriages to shreds. And yet, in spite of this “drift” away from the Biblical foundation of marriage, people still seek something they believe marriage can bring. The problem is that they have forgotten the Creator of marriage!

In such a cultural drift, the idea of love as sacrificial and self-giving is a foreign concept and difficult to accept. The expectation of the culture around them is that marriage, if its “done right” will lead to joy and bliss and continually satisfaction; not serving and sacrificing and self-surrender.

3). The love of Christ died for the beloved.

Perhaps the hardest thing for us to understand in our culture oriented against selflessness is that our purpose is to die. Not die in the sense of throwing ourselves in front of a runaway truck or a speeding bullet. But die daily. Giving ourselves away in little sacrifices that don’t make the headlines, and that maybe only we and God know about. “I die daily,” Paul said. We are to die to ourselves and our needs each day to our wife and family. And as we do, we will find the life and joy that marriage truly can bring…not by seeking and getting our own way, but by dying to it…every day.

A Word to the Children

The children of Paul’s day and, on the whole, throughout the Bible, get very little personal attention in the writings of Scripture. However, here in the midst of a culture dominated by Patria Potestes (“The Power of Father”) children are addressed and required to join the rest of the family system.

The Roman justice system of the day demonstrated one of its cruelest laws by placing absolute power and authority in the hands of fathers. A father could set a living newborn child out to die of exposure or to be eaten by wild animals simply because he did not want a girl (or any child for that matter), or that he did not wish a particular woman (even his wife) to bear the child. It was literally a license to kill the children of Rome without recrimination.

Children found to be deformed or lacking in some physical quality or having some level of special needs would be dispatched without a second’s thought. Children had no legal rights, and were not yet considered “fully” human.

How different the counsel of the Scriptures that elevates the dignity of every child, special needs, mentally challenged, or physically disfigured and calls each “the image of God.” That God has made each child “fearfully and wonderfully” and “knit them together in their mother’s womb.”

This placed a different demand on the parents of the day, and turned a spotlight on the child as one who could add to or detract from the family system. By the failure to obey, the family suffered. By their obedience, the family flourished.

And so children were given a significant role to fulfill. They were to obey. This would have been read in the presence of children old enough to understand the command “obey in everything.” They were probably younger children, still being supervised by parents.

The reason they were to obey was “for this pleases the Lord.” The assumption also was this would have been aimed toward children who knew they were “in the Lord.” It’s not that all the children were not called to obedience. That would be expected and enforced. But the children in mind here are children who understood that their obedience, though sometimes difficult, was a part of their testimony and their service to the Lord, the church, and the Kingdom. They have a responsibility in the family order. “Obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”

A Word to the Parents

The Biblical command once again upends the social order of the day by making the relationship between children and parents a mutual one. (Melick, NAC) Paul uses the term “fathers” (as ESV, NIV, etc.) but it was easily interpreted to encompass both parenting roles. Therefore “parents” is an easier interpretation to apply for our purposes.

It is far too easy for us to slip in this important responsibility of parenting. We can over control and become smothering and hovering, raising children who have no confidence in themselves. We can go to the other extreme and bring up children with a harsh hand and raise cowering and unconfident and discouraged children.

Either extreme is wrong. The second error is particularly called out as a danger for parents. “Don’t discourage” your children, Paul tells them. The word used is “embitter,” (erethizow) and means to be overly harsh and to discourage. “Do not be harsh” with your words, your punishments, or your expectations. Once the tender reed of a child’s self-worth is bent and broken, there is often no coming back.

We can over expect too much of our children in obedience, compliance, hard to understand commands, and by often reminding a child they are not good enough. All of these render the child “discouraged” and “embittered.”

I meet many such children in my counseling office and my role as a pastor, but now they are adults. A wounded childhood litters their past, and now they limp through their own failing efforts and raising children successfully. Sadly we tend to repeat sometimes the very thing we despised about our own upbringing!

That is not to be the case in the Lord’s household. Raise your children as the gifts they are. Correct them as their will requires it. Bless them, even when their efforts to obey or please you are feeble.

And as you do, they will grow to be children grateful for your careful hand, and will raise your grandchildren in a way that will thrill your heart!

A Word to Servants and Masters

(LABOR DAY SERMON, 2019)

Working for the Glory of God
Colossians 3:18-4:1

So today we salute the American worker. I know that, for some, the very last thing you care to think about on Labor Day weekend is, well, labor. But in reality, most of us have spent, or will spend, the bulk of our adult lives working. You spend between 150-180 hours a month on your job if you work full time. Some of you work more, if you are working two jobs or you own a business (which is like working two jobs)! You may be in a job that makes you thankful to wake up in the morning and get to it. You whistle while you work.

You may feel fulfilled in your work, or frustrated by it. It may be grinding, demanding, demeaning, or draining. It might be fulfilling and exhilarating, and you feel guilty taking a paycheck because you enjoy it so much. (Well, maybe not that much!)

The question is, how do we participate in the rat race without becoming, well, a rat? In other words, what difference does it make for you, as a Christ follower in your business, or on your work crew, or in your profession in how you see your job and the people you work around most days? Does God really care what kind of employee or employer we are, or is our working life just a throwaway…something we endure until we can retire or do something “meaningful” with our life?

One of the things we need to get straight in our thinking about this is why is work even a “thing” we have to deal with? Don’t the smart and fortunate people figure out how to drop out of the race and kick back into a leisure-saturated existence?

Some people think of work, and view work as a punishment, not as a God-given privilege. We are trapped into doing some menial, low-level subsistence job, or maybe we’re trapped by the lifestyle we want to live (or appear to live) and we don’t see a way out until the turn of the next century. Retire? Yeah right. Quit? No way.

Work is dignified by God’s participation in it

So work gets a bad reputation, and we sometimes add to the negativity of it when we complain and criticize our company or employer or employees. Christians somehow have come to believe that work came about as a result of sin.

Adam and Eve blew it in the Garden of Eden, and now we have to roll out of bed at 6 every morning and roll into the office or to our job site. It’s punishment because of sin, right? Many believe that.

But if you read carefully you will see that before sin ever entered the picture God created man, Adam, and put him immediately into the Garden to work it. Sin brought the curse of thorns and difficulty in laboring but God’s original intent was for His creation of male and female to have work.

I’ll take it one step further. When you die and go to Heaven you are not going to lie around on a tempur-pedic cloud all day and sip heavenly iced tea. You are going to be a worker! We are going to be kings, and priests, and rulers of angels and of God’s universe. Doesn’t sound like eternity on a cruise ship to me!

At the same time, God put a limit on labor. “Six days you will labor, but the seventh is a Sabbath…a time to rest for you and your household…animals, servants, and family.” But the emphasis is on “six days of labor.” It was never God’s intention for our work to own us.

Ok I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at the text in Colossians and see what the Bible says about our work.

God is a worker. A part of our need to work comes from being made in God’s image. In fact, Genesis 2:15 tells us that God made man and immediately put him to work caring for the Garden of Eden. Man was born a worker; not a tool for God to use as cheap labor, but a worker who did labor as a part of his makeup as a human being. In fact, only man is charged to occupy “work” in creation; plants don’t work-animals don’t work. God is glorified in our work! He dignified work by doing it Himself.

Now I know all of us, if you’re of working age, have had jobs we absolutely felt were not dignified. They are beneath us. I’ve had a few; I cleaned toilets in an office building. I scraped mortar off of bricks while freezing to death in the winter. I was a clown in a circus. I unloaded hardware and building supplies off train box cars and into warehouses in the summer. I pumped gas back in the days when that was done. I know that every job does not have a built-in glory with it. Some grew up with a strong work ethic. One guy said, “My Daddy only made us work half a day in the family business…and he didn’t care which twelve hours we did it.”

But unless you’re moving drugs for a cartel or robbing people at gunpoint or doing something illegal or immoral, your work is dignified because God created us to work. Work is not punishment for sin. Work was in place before God created a wife for Adam! Sin brought thorns and weeds to our labor, but labor is a necessary and important piece of our reflecting the image of God.  Creation: Two kinds of work. Victor Hamilton has written that, in Hebrew, there are two different words translated as “work” or “labor” in the Bible. The first word for “labor” is associated with artistry or craftsmanship; it is highly skilled labor. Artists, artisans, carpenters, skilled labor.

The other word has to do with labor as “back work,” or what we would call “manual labor.” It may or may not take a skill set to do that kind of work. Just show up with a capable body. But when the Bible talks about God working, it uses the second word to describe it.

God associates Himself as a laborer with us, all of the work we do is dignified, whether artisan or laborer; skilled or unskilled. All of it has the potential to reflect His glory since He gave it to us to do.

Work is empty when God is absent from it

But work can be empty when God is absent from it. Probably no one in the Bible had more skill and craftsmanship and wisdom than King Solomon. Solomon was into horticulture, and engineering, and writing books, and poetry, and music. He had accumulated huge sums of money and servants and he used both to build. He designed as an architect. He built huge channels for irrigation of farmland. Today if you visit the Holy Land you can still see some of the pools he built to store water for irrigation. And of course, he built the temple which in its day was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

All of which make your little backyard renovation and new crape myrtle tree look pretty lame by comparison. But here’s the thing. Somewhere in his life between the time of his coronation to the throne and his death, Solomon turned his back on God. He was doing these things with no consideration for the work of his hands pointing to the One Who made him.

His conclusion at the end of his life, a journal in the Bible that we call Ecclesiastes, was that “all the labor of my hands was emptiness.” You can spend a lifetime working and being successful, but if God is absent from your labor it will simply frustrate you with futility at the end. Whatever we live our lives for that is less than God will ultimately frustrate us.

Turning that around, however, when you are working the most menial of jobs, if God is in what you’re doing, it will somehow satisfy you. If we are simply working to spend what we get on ourselves, it will leave us empty and dry. Learn to live beyond your paycheck… (not your means)

———————————————-

Mike Ullman, former CEO of JCPenney, tells of a conversation he had with Starbucks founder Howard Schultz when he was first offered the JCPenney position. Mike had retired from a long and successful career in retail management a few years before and was reluctant to get back into the business. But Schultz said to Ullman, “This opportunity is made for you. They need to put service back into the mission of that company, and you’re the guy to do it.” He didn’t need the money or the recognition, but he agreed to take the role because he saw an opportunity to reorient twenty-five thousand retail employees to seeing that their work matters and that serving their customers is an honorable career. In short, he believed that God called him to a particular position of service.

——————————————

Work is glorifying when God is the focus of it

The Letter to the Colossians, at the time Paul wrote it in the Roman Empire, was a radical social document. It was unheard of in the literature and writing of that day for a formal letter like Colossians to address women, or children, or the common laborers and even slaves in the empire.

But Paul addresses all three, and spends several verses speaking directly to “bondservants:”

“Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Colossians 3:22-24

“Bondservants” captures more the sense of the Greek text than the word “slaves.” At the height of the Roman Empire, the people who were considered slaves numbered over 60 million. That was around half of the empire’s population. These were people who had been captured and relocated in war, some who sold themselves or were sold as children to repay debt (hence the word bondservant), and some were made slaves as part of a prison sentence. But on the whole the “slaves” would constitute what we call “the working class.”

They would sometimes live in a household with a family and be a teacher to the children, or a nanny, or household servants who worked in cleaning or yard care; many of these people were highly educated and served as doctors or scribes who worked in libraries or school settings.

They were not always ill-treated but could be legally. Some of their circumstances were difficult, and in 1st Century Rome they were considered as human tools, not human beings. Yet at other times they were valued as members of the family. So Paul here is not addressing people who had no choice about doing their work. A slave, as we understand the term, would not have the options to do what Paul is telling them. These are workers, who worked every day for a living. Those were the ones he told:

  • OBEY IN EVERYTHING WITH SINCERITY OF HEART
  • WORK HEARTILY AS FOR THE LORD, NOT MAN
  • SERVE THE LORD CHRIST

Whether we act on this or not, God has an opinion and a position for you to fulfill. This is particularly something to think about as you are choosing a vocation on the way to college, or declaring a major to finish in. Have you prayed over this decision? There is nothing wrong with choosing careers in finance, or accounting, or business but is it possible God wants you to do something besides make money for you and yours? I’m not saying you’re wrong for being in such a career or wanting to be; I am simply asking for your motivation…and the simple question: Have you asked your Master?

Don’t despise your work, whatever it is. Obey…with sincerity of heart.

Don’t demean your boss, whoever they are. Work heartily, as for the Lord, not man. Your boss may be a bozo, like Michael Scott in the Office sitcom. Your job is not to judge your boss, but to serve the Lord by serving him or her.

Don’t diminish your testimony…you serve the Lord Christ!
“Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God!”

And a final word, though very important. It is a word to those who are “masters” or bosses or employers. If you are a person who has oversight of others…a business owner, or CEO, or supervisor or manager…there is also a word for you. It does not say you have to like everyone who works for you or never correct or chastise work that isn’t done properly. But YOU are commanded to “treat your workers justly and fairly.” And you are reminded that you, too, along with everyone else, have another Master Who is overseeing YOU in heaven!

In other words, just as your servants or employees will be held accountable by the Lord for their work, so will you be held accountable for your oversight and supervision. Paul’s example and personal feelings about this can be seen in the Letter to Philemon written at the same time as the Letter to Colossians.

In that letter, Paul appeals to a slave-holder, Philemon to forgive and receive as a brother a runaway slave named Onesimus. While Paul was not advocating slavery, he did advocate that the slaves not be treated as less than family when they were believers. This was an upending of the social order of the day, and eventually much of what Paul wrote in our New Testament letters served as the foundation of slavery’s collapse in Rome and other places around the world since then!

“You have been bought with a price. Therefore glorify God with your body,
which is the Lord’s.”

Sermon Notes 06

CHAPTER EIGHT

A New Life

A New Identity

A New Affection A New Destiny

A New Wardrobe

Off with the old

On with the new

A New Direction

Toward peace

Under the Word

With Gratitude

A New Life

The first section of Colossians 3 is one of the most stirring and magnificent sections in all of the Bible concerning the believer’s new position in Christ. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ set your heart on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” (vv 1-2)

We find in these opening words the reason Paul has so strongly warned the Colossians and, over 2000 years later, us as well that there is something far better than the dry bones of philosophy and legalism, mysticism and asceticism for the Christ follower to pursue. People today sell their souls far too cheaply to the flashiest bidder. We commit to style over substance, and to appeals to the external and physical rather than the inner unseen world. That is human nature; it should no longer be the nature of the Christian.

We have spent a lot of time trying to unearth those things that Paul is warning against. Now it is time to move into a description of that which is better by far.

If we know we are raised in Christ, then we truly have a new identity in Him. Now while we may still look the same physically, live in the same house, and remain married to the same person in reality the moment faith in Christ becomes a reality everything about us changes.

We have an immediate change in mindset…from an earthly focus to a heavenly one. This is not to say that we simply are to sit around and daydream about what we think heaven will be like, usually with images that are more informed by culture than the Bible.

This is not a recommendation to start decorating your mansion, or to wonder how close to Jesus’ house you get to live on Golden Street Lane. As tempting as it is, this is not even an admonition to think about those who have already gone to live in heaven with Jesus.

To “think with a heavenly mindset” is none of that. Paul gives us a hint of the right understanding by his reference to “where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”

This is also not to say we are to imagine a golden throne, with Jesus sitting nearby in a choir robe and a golden crown. The “right hand” was the place of all authority, all power. It is a reminder to keep our first affection, our first priority fixed on the One Who gave us new life from the dead.

It is important to remember that Jesus controls it all, is supreme over all, and is ruling from that seat of power in glory. Our minds are to be on Jesus, Who now is in Heaven.

My father in law used to have a dog who was totally obsessed with a tennis ball. He would rather fetch the tennis ball than eat, sleep or be petted. If we X-rayed his brain, it would be shaped like a tennis ball.

When Barney showed up, he would drop his iridescent green tennis ball at your feet, and wait anxiously for you to throw it as far as you possibly could. He would scamper to it, and bring it back and drop it at your feet. Wash-rinse-repeat. How long? Until your arm could throw no longer, and then he would search out another victim!

Barney and his ball were never separated, except for the few moments it was airborne as he ran for it. We could say that Barney’s mind was set on his tennis ball!

In the same way, our minds should be “set” on Jesus: knowing Him, serving Him, loving Him. When people see us, just like when we saw Barney coming they knew the tennis ball would be right there, we should be “carriers” of Jesus! Our identity should be of those who “in Christ” and those in whom Christ lives.

The implication of this is that our minds, our ambitions, our interests, our attitude should be of those who lived bound to the life of Christ. Our lives are bound up in His. We are not separate from Him.

This influences so many things. It is a reality we take to work, to school, and home with us. Our family sees it, as do co-workers and classmates and roommates. Christ is in us!

We are to tenaciously set our worldview on Christ. If we are dead to this world, and we have been raised with Christ, we have left behind the loves and domain of this world.

The passages in verse 1-2 are parallel commands. The word “heart” actually doesn’t appear in the Greek manuscripts. It is inferred by the translators, and agreement is that this is a correct understanding. Paul is not repeating the same command here, but giving two distinct commands.

First, our “hearts” are to be set on things above” and our “minds are to be set on things above.” One has to do with our affection and our love and desires. The second has to do with what we would call our “mindset.” We are to be “minded about things above” (from phroneo)

Paul said in Romans 6 that “the mind (phroneo) set on the flesh is death, but the mind (phroneo) set on the Spirit (things above) is life and peace.” So we can see the power of our minds set on Jesus to help us find life and peace. That is what Paul desires for the Colossians and, I’m sure, for us who would one day read these words.

Phroneo” is a word that occurs often in Paul’s writings, notably Romans 12:1-2 where we are called to “be transformed by the renewing of our mind” (phroneo) and the familiar passage in Philippians 2:5 where we are called to “let this mind (phroneo) be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” “

This has to do, not with affection and love but with thoughts, values, ideas, and focus. We are to set all of these and sift them through the Christ Who is “seated at the right hand of God.”

The imagery here is taken directly from Psalm 110:1:

“The Lord says to my Lord

Sit at My right hand

Until I make Your enemies

A footstool for Your feet.”

For the early church, this passage demonstrated the Deity of Jesus. It was focused on two possible meanings. First is the implication of the power of Jesus. In Mark 14:62, Jesus told the High Priest “You will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” Jesus is described by the apostles as the “One Whom God exalted to His right hand as Prince and Savior.” (Acts 5:31)

It may have also the idea of privilege or honor at work. The disciples sought to be seated “one of His right hand and one of His left,” with the thought being one of privilege. They wanted honor, not power. They wanted recognition, not the responsibility of ruling.

So to our passage, Paul’s desire was calling the Colossians to consider the implications of Christ’s rule in the world. This would be in keeping with much of what we’ve read over the earlier verses in Colossians.

As Christians, we live in two domains: one fallen and one redeemed. Our bodies, though in heaven, contain a mind and heart that can be more focused on the redeemed realm while living in the fallen one. But they were to guard themselves against allowing the fallen world order to pollute and preoccupy their thoughts and hearts.

Living risen means a heart that is set on heavenly things, and a mind that thinks the thoughts of a heavenly realm, not an earthly one. This does not imply we are to walk around with our eyes fixed heavenward and ignoring the realities of the world and its pain around us. But we are to think new thoughts and desire new things.

Live as a heavenly-minded person. We are to “seek” or literally, to “keep on seeking” the heavenly things and “keep on setting” our minds on them. This is not a one-time event. We continue to battle with being overtaken by earthly reactions and earthly thoughts. We must set and sometimes “re-set” our minds on these things. Lightfoot’s translation helps some here. He has this as “You must not only seek heaven, you must also think heaven.”

As a compass needle points north continually, so our minds and hearts should continually course-correct toward Christ and “where Christ is.” Only then will our behavior begin to be transformed as we act in accordance with where our heart is focused and our minds dwell.

These early verses of Colossians 3 tell us three things about the position of the Christian:

  1. You are raised
  2. You are hidden
  3. You are glorified

You are raised (vv 1-2). The comments above concern this aspect of the Christians new life in Christ. We are raised in Christ’s resurrection and live now in Him.

You are hidden (v 3). Salvation involves a double-imputation. At salvation, our guilt, our shame, and our sin debt was imputed to Jesus, Who “became sin for us, Who knew no sin.” And we were at the same time “imputed” His righteousness. We literally exchanged our lives on the cross and at salvation this becomes reality for us.

Now, when God views our lives, He doesn’t look through the laundry list of accumulated evil and bad things we’ve done. He sees the perfect righteousness of His Son wrapped around us and the blood of Christ covering us. We are hidden. Our lives have disappeared in Christ. “We have died, and our lives are hidden with Christ…”

You are glorified (v 4). Being glorified is an as-yet-unveiled reality. It is as good as done when we are saved, but the final “unveiling” of the glory will happen when Christ appears. This is an ongoing scenario in the New Testament, and is mentioned in several different places as we look forward to the consummate event of our salvation experience. In the meantime we walk the dirt road of sanctification; sometimes moving forward and occasionally taking two steps back. But we live now in the “not-yet fulfilled” part of our salvation when even our earthly bodies will be glorified in Christ. Nothing escapes God’s reach in salvation. Nothing will be left out as the redeemed are glorified and experience eternal life in a glorified creation.

TRANSITION

At this point in Colossians, the theological section ends. The remainder of the letter will deal with the outworking of the theological teaching that Paul has been laboring in.

Lucas (BST) disagrees that the segment ends in verse 4 and pushes through to verse 8. His thinking is this section deals with the relationship between Christ and the believer. For the purpose of this study, we will end the theologian discussion at verse 4 and move in to more practical matters in the next segments.

Paul began this section with an earnest prayer for the real knowledge of God’s will to be revealed. He ends with a call for us to live in that reality, ultimately to be seen as Christ’s comes in His glory.

A New Wardrobe

We have in Chapter 3:5-11 a return to the image used in others epistles of putting off the old life like an old set of clothing and putting on Christ as your new clothing.

This image has an historic basis in baptismal practice in the early church. While we can’t say for certain this was how it was done, it is believed by several reliable historical New Testament scholars that part of the imagery of baptism was the discarding of an old robe or set of clothing that you wore coming into the baptismal font or body of water. Before entering you “discarded” or “put off” the old clothing and would then be given a white robe to wear after the baptism. This was a practice of churches in the second century; though we cannot be sure how far back the custom went.

Whether or not this is Paul’s thought it carries the idea well as he says to the believers in Colossae that they are to “put off” those things that characterized them before coming to Christ.

While our salvation is no doubt driven by the grace of God, that does not mean our efforts to walk in this reality are unnecessary or of no consequence. Obviously, we can continue living with elements of the old life clinging to us, but why would we want to do that? A part of the process of being sanctified is making what is true of us on the inside manifest on the outside! This is the definition of integrity; our inner world and our outer world “hold together.” There is no disconnect, and no confusion.

Putting Off the Old (3:5-9)

There is something wonderful about putting on new clothes; a new shirt or coat or dress or pair of shoes. It makes you FEEL new, at least for a little while. But what we are dealing with in this text is not a temporary feeling, but a new creation from the inside…out!

Paul said in 1 Thessalonians “this is the will of God, even your sanctification”. Sanctification, you remember, is the ongoing “dirt road” process of “working out” our salvation. It is the process and progress of our salvation between justification and glorification. While we have nothing we can do to add to our justification or glorification, we have much to do with our sanctification.

It is in sanctification that we begin to look like Jesus in practicality. Sadly this aspect of our salvation is the most neglected by many. We so lean into the reality that we are saved by grace (and we are) and that our salvation is secure (it is) that we can almost ask the question, “Why go to the effort?” (We do). However we are reminded also of a promise that “He Who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

So in this section, Paul defines for us what sanctification looks like. It is a process of “taking off” or putting to death actions, attitudes, and behaviors that are part of our life before Christ. And then, it has to do with “putting on” those things that are like Christ.

In our testimony to a dying, lost and confused world, we must send a clear message that “if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation; old things have passed away and all things become new.”

In addition to being new spiritually, let’s LOOK new as well!


The first section in our scope of concern targets sinful actions. As a new person in Christ, our actions should reflect the discretion, self-control, and moral behaviors consistent with the teachings of Christ.

We are, first of all, to “put to death” the earthly things that are within us. Lest we miss the point, he begins to list for us five things that must be killed by us: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed, which is idolatry.

For Paul and the secular moralist writers of his time, using lists of five virtues or five vices was commonplace. Paul uses three sets of five in this part of Colossians. There was often overlap in the historic lists offered by moralist writers, particularly those relating to sexual mores, though Paul’s list was probably inspired far more by Old Testament legal codes. But this does imply the Christian should, as a baseline, be expected to adhere to the cultural morality of the day and exceed that. (Melick NAC V 22).

There is also another idea that needs some exploration. The AV translates the verse to say “put to death the members of your body” using the word mele as a reference to the location of sin. The idea of “members” of our body being connected to sin occurs primarily in Paul’s epistles in the New Testament. Rabbis of the day taught that there were 248 members of the body, connected to the 248 laws of the Torah. (Horst, TDNT)

The picture that is painted for us in this passage poses a logical question for us: Why would we let something that is dead continue to cling to our body? For the Jewish person and for many of that time, the decay of death was a vile and disgusting thing. Many Old Testament laws of purity talk about avoiding dead animals and people. You could not come into physical contact with a dead body and maintain ritual purity.

So we are to “cut off” the members of our body that are now dead and not allow them to pollute or corrupt the rest of our body. The “members” that are listed include these areas of sensuality and immorality and other types of moral impurity. They are things to be considered and treated as dead, no longer finding life within us.

This also follows very closely to the teaching of Jesus which said “If your eye offends you, pluck it out. If your right hand offends you, cut if off.” The statements, while misunderstood, have led some to do just that and “cut off” or “pluck out” the offending members of their body only to understand later that the problem lay, not in the physical member but within the heart.

We are to “perfect holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1). To “perfect” holiness means to see it brought to completion and to the fulfillment for which it was intended. Let it do its perfect work, God working in us with all the energy of the Spirit, and see holiness become an outward as well as an inner reality.

Sexual immorality. There is probably no intent of prioritizing or categorizing the sins on this list, but the issue of sexual immorality was a prevalent one in the culture of the day. It continues to be a prevalent issue today. In Biblical thought, “porneia” involved simply sexual intercourse or fornication. This could be broadened out to any number of illicit sexual behaviors, including adultery. However, adultery usually carried with it the stigma of breaking covenant law and the legal violation this presented. Sexual immorality while morally wrong was not considered legally wrong or even socially disreputable in most cases.

It is likely that, awash in a secular culture as we are, one could view more acts of immorality and impurity in an evening on TV than our grandparents saw in their lifetime! Twenty years ago, Psychology Today (by no means a supporter of Biblical morality), posted an article decrying the level of violence against women being portrayed in movies, and suggested that they should have a warning label posted on them. Their prophecy that the violence in movies would turn into real violence against women was, sadly, spot on.

We have reached a level of “porneia” (Greek for sexual immorality) in our culture that has exceeded anyone’s possible expectation. While much of this is acted out and portrayed in pornographic movies and video, it is far too often depicting real people in real situations.

While this kind of teaching should have its point directed toward the secular world, it is now as it was in Paul’s day needed as well in the Christian community. Pornography has become a rampant addiction for many who profess Christ. Its availability through computer access is rampant, with over 60% of websites devoted to varying levels of pornographic materials.

Though it is doubtful that Paul saw this coming, it was certainly something the Holy Spirit could foresee and these inspired Biblical words are targeting the same problem though a different delivery system. Sexual immorality should not be a part of a professing Christian’s inner or outer world, through actions or voyeuristic viewing on computers or television screens.

Impurity. Impurity (okatharsia) usually was tagged next to sexual immorality in most of the Bible’s lists of sins. It was the outflow of pollution and may have in mind the diseases that came from the filthy condition of prostitutes and brothels of the day. To come into contact with such constituted internal pollution and external defilement. In the AV it is translated “uncleanness.” It has to do with inner violations of thought and wicked intentions. Though the “members” of our body DO the defiling, it is the motivation of inner impurity that motives the defiling.

Passion. This is a word that builds on and goes beyond “impurity.” The word has to do with sensuous desires; and in reality covers a variety of emotional states and responses (Bruce). But in context the word has to do more with “dishonorable desires” than good ones. Left alone the word can be either good or bad desires or passions. Here there is little question but that it means wrong ones.

Evil desires. Building on “passion,” this moves from action to motive behind the actions. Evil desires always preface sinful action and behavior. Paul is urging that even the evil thoughts that we can tolerate must be put to death. These provide the wellspring for actions that are sinful.

Covetousness. The verse quickly adds “which is idolatry” (as also in Ephesians 5:5). What is there about covetousness which makes it idolatrous? Doesn’t there need to be a false god or false image worshiped to make something an idol? Yet isn’t this exactly what covetousness does…elevates a person, a position, an object…to the status of “god” in a person’s life?

Covetousness is insidious and hard to detect because we have made it a “respectable” sin. We do not consider our wrong desires for our neighbor’s spouse or house, their car or their job, their status or their looks as something so heinous. After all, doesn’t everyone covet something?

And the answer, of course, is yes. But when covetousness is equated with idolatry, the narrative suddenly becomes darker. Covetousness no longer has a cloak of “acceptability” draped around it. Calling it what it truly is… idolatry… strips the coat away.

Paul then issues in verse 6 a stern reminder that it has been true in the past and will be true still that those who do these things are the targets of the wrath of God. If we freely choose a course that puts us at odds with our Creator’s law, defying them flagrantly, we are doing the very things that incurred His wrath in earlier times.

A needed reminder follows in verse 7. He reminds them (and us) than “you once walked in these (in this way) in your lifestyle.” We can’t get too far away from the reminder that our present holiness and righteousness has not always been our state or condition. Once we were like those who are children of disobedience. This is not to bring us back into a state of condemnation or self-recrimination, but to remind us that the grace that saved us can also save them.

And so we are to “put off” or “put away” or “strip away” these outer garments of the old man, like an old suit of clothes that no longer fits. These things no longer “fit” you as a child of God! (v 8a)

From there the list is lengthened but tightly focused on the issue of our tongue and our use of language: “anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk from your mouth.” (v 8b) Our language is to be in sync with our new “wardrobe” of righteousness. These things that once flowed freely from our mouth should no longer be heard coming from us.

It should perhaps be noted as well that all of these terms flow out of the word “anger.” This may have less to do with our speech and more to do with our attitude toward those with whom we find ourselves in conflict.

Nothing sets a Christian testimony apart like the ability not to respond in anger when everyone else around you knows they would! The beauty of self-control, especially as it extends to our words and speech, may be what Paul was getting to here.

One admonition stands alone in this passage. That is verse 9, “Do not lie….” This certainly ties together with the passage later on Christian community, since it is “do not lie to one another.” Our attitude toward the truth is in view here, and our valuing of the truth is in direct proportion to our willingness to tell it. If we lie, we do more than simply speak an untrue thing. We devalue truth with every lie we tell. “You have put off the old self with its practices….” (v 9b)

Putting on the New

“…and put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (v 10) This conveys the following ideas:

It means that new life does not come from a daily, successful battle with temptation. The new life marks the starting point. We are not just giving up a few vices and adopting a few virtues. Our whole nature must be exchanged, not just revamped. (Schweizer)

We are “being renewed,” which implies a continual and ongoing process. We are always in need of more renewal. We must continually “kill” (mortify) the flesh, and continually actualize the already existing new creation.

The passive “being renewed” indicates that the renewal is not something that results from our own efforts. We are the workmanship of God, and our new nature comes to us as a gift from God. We must work out the salvation that God has worked in our lives.

Knowledge of God, of Jesus, and of God’s ways are crucial for living a life pleasing to God. The fullness of the knowledge of God comes as a byproduct of our renewal.

This renewal comes from our being joined to Christ, Who is the image of the invisible God. We cannot recreate the image of God with systems or lists of “do’s” and “don’ts.” (Garland, NIV Colossians)

In Colossians 3:11, we encounter a bit more of the social implications of what it means to say “Christ is all, and in all.” While we have dealt extensively and will deal some more with the personal and individual implications of this statement, the radical social impact also comes into view in verse 11.

Paul shows how walls should come down nationalistically (Greek or Jew), religiously (circumcised or uncircumcised) and socially (slave or free). These walls divide people into hostile groups built around their own preferences and class standings.

The reference to “Scythian, barbarian” is a subject of some debate. For years, Biblical interpreters have taken this to be a reference to pagan people (barbarians) who came from north of the North Sea. These people groups would have drifted in and settled in the Lycus Valley, some brought as prisoners of war and others bought as slaves.

Recent archaeological and literary studies, however, have shown that the Scythians were a people group unto themselves, and would not necessarily have been forced to settle in the Lycus River valley. Though not necessarily a slave class, they were not a respected group due to their pagan background.

Due to that status, the Scythians obviously had endured some prejudice and the Colossians needed the reminder that they were also people for whom God cared.

The final dividing wall of hostility was the wall between slave and free. Both obviously had ended up in the same church (See Philemon for a case study). This wall was one of the most difficult to tear down.

“Christ is all, and in all” has implications that transcend the individual, and the statement impacts the body life of churches still today. With this verse, the stage is set for a deeper dive into what “the new community” must look like. (vv 15-17)

Colossians 3:12-14 contain a further description of what the Christian’s “new garments” should contain. It offers a seven item list of things that should begin to characterize us as we “live risen.” These items are catalogued in three broad groupings:

“Compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience fill in the first list of virtues mentioned in these verses. All of this is aimed toward harmony and unity within the church, and the need for long-suffering within the group. These are individual characteristics that have implications for the broader life together in the church.

The second listing has to do specifically with forgiveness and “enduring,” or “forbearing and forgiving” which is putting up with people when they fail or don’t live up to expectations. The word forgiveness is based on the root word for grace, indicating the fundamental virtue necessary for forgiveness to take place.

The essence of Christian community is realizing that the church is made up of imperfect, flawed people who will offend each other and hurt and each other and act in unChristlike ways toward each other.

Community can continue only in the context of believers willing to “charisomai”, to forgive the offense of a brother or sister in Christ. As we have been forgiven, so we are to forgive, beginning with each other. God initiated forgiveness through Jesus even before confession occurred. (Melick NAS)

The third category is captured simply with the word “love.” We are, above all things, to put on love. It is this love, Paul tells us, that “binds all things together in perfect unity.” (3:14). It is this mutual love that binds them together in perfection, or completeness. (Or, “it is love that brings all things to an appropriate and logical end.)

A New Community

New people; people with a new identity and a new joy and a new purpose and even a new character will naturally create a new community. As they bind together there will come a spiritual synergy that will bear witness to something greater than the composite parts of the body. Indeed, that is exactly what the church is!

But each part must perform its role. This is why Paul began with character, and then moves specifically to conduct within the body. What does Christian community look like? How is it different from any other social group of people, religious or secular?

Let the Peace of Christ Rule

The first characteristic of the new community listed is peace. The community of believers is to be “ruled” by (an athletic term that means to “umpire” or “preside over,” as a judge) the peace of God.

It is the peace of God within us that keeps us in alignment with the will of God. Now peace can be counterfeited, and the discomfort of the Holy Spirit within us when we are being disobedient can be covered over by a false sense of security and peace. Jonah experienced such a “false peace” that, even while fleeing God’s mandate to go to Nineveh, he slept through a storm in the belly of the ship.

But God’s peace is to be the final “umpire” or “referee” in the church. His peace should be our spiritual GPS, knowing which way to turn and when to stop and when to move. He is to rule, not only in our hearts, but in His church.

Let the Word of Christ Dwell

The second command is in Colossians 3:16 and says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell richly in us.” To dwell means “to feel at home.” The Word of Christ should be a welcome guest in the hearts of believers, not an unwelcome intruder.

But the implication of this command is not simply an individual encouragement and admonition, but it literally says “Let the Word of Christ dwell AMONG you….” It moves then to a community command, and not just an individual mandate.

The Word of Christ is also a guidepost for the truth. The Gnostic intruders were bringing a false gospel to the Colossians. It is the Word of Christ that brings clarity and truth and must be the beacon we follow.

The Word of God is not the sole property of the preacher, and even one as esteemed as the Apostle Paul did not claim proprietary ownership of it. He encouraged the Colossians to “teach and admonish” one another with wisdom.

When we are doing this with “one another” it takes great humility and wisdom to speak it, and to receive it from one who is not “an authority.” It is hard to hear from a brother or sister in Christ who feels the need to “teach” you or “admonish” you. Our pride bristles.

But the Word of God is to be transmitted to “one another,” and not just from pulpit to pew. And all of us, whether trained or untrained, in positions of authority and leadership or with no recognized authority, are to be both carriers and dispensers of the Word of Christ “in all wisdom.”

The Word of Christ is not simply to be spoken however. It is also to be sung with “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” with gratitude. Music in the church has three audiences. We are to sing, of course, to God. Then, we are to sing to other believers. Finally, we are to sing to ourselves.

Music fails in its mission if those three targets are not in sight. Sometimes the music that is sung, especially in our day, can have little to know Biblical or doctrinal truth in view. It is seen as enough if some level of emotion is felt as the song is sung, even though the singer or songwriter has little or no understanding or training in the Bible.

We must be careful in such a day not to imbed in people’s hearts an untrue statement attached to a memorable melody. Music in the church has always been and will always been important as a means of communicating the Word of God to ourselves and to others, and as a primary way of offering worship to God. Every great movement of God in history has been accompanied by a rebirth or a “new song,” but it is still the same truth being communicated. We should not fall in love with the singer of the song or the style in which it is presented. But the truth should always be present in what we are singing in church, whether familiar tunes accompany it or not.

This is all to be done “with gratitude” to the Lord. Over and over the Book of Colossians returns to this theme of thankfulness and gratitude which we pass by too quickly. Our singing should be with thankful hearts and spirits. It is this accompaniment that most pleases the Father.

R.E.O. White, the great British preacher, used to say, “The surest sign you are carrying a full bucket is wet feet.” When our hearts are full to the brim with the Word of Christ, our feet will be “wet” with songs of praise to the One Who dwells within us.

Let the Name of Christ Overflow

The church is to be a place where the name of Jesus overflows in everything that is done, whether within the church or not. “Whatever you do…” We are to be people who “take the Name of Jesus with us” as we live together in unity, and love, and harmony with the Word of Christ indwelling us and His Name receiving glory for it all.

And one last time, Paul reinforces that this is to be done “giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” This overflow comes out of the fullness of His peace, the indwelling of His Word, and a continually growing gratitude in our hearts.

When the church looks like this, God will be glorified in it. When it is less than this, His Name is diminished among us. When we are not grateful and growing in gratitude, His reputation is tarnished among us.

May we always be people with wet feet, filled to overflowing with His presence among us!

Sermon Notes 05

CHAPTER SEVEN

If you ever visit the historic city of Krakow, Poland, you will see the beautiful spire of the St Mary’s church. But you will also hear something unusual. Every day, and it’s been so for the last 700 years, a bugle sounds and is always muffled or broken on the last note.

There is a reason for this tradition. The bugler commemorates a lone man who climbed the spire during the coming invasion of the Tartar army, and signaled the impending attack. Many Krakovians were saved because of his heroic act, and on the last note of his alarm an arrow penetrated his body. The last note was muted; broken as he died.

The people of Krakow still, even in the 21st century, commemorate his sacrificial act. It reinforces to us the importance of warnings we also must heed.

Paul speaks in Colossians 1:28 “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching every man…” Warning and teaching go hand-in-hand in apostolic writing and teaching. You cannot teach well without also warning; and every warning should contain an element of teaching and pointing to what should be thought or done.

When we arrive at the latter part of Colossians Chapter 2, we find a recurring them: That of warnings. In fact, from Chapter 2:8 forward, we are in a section that emphatically warns the Colossians from some very present dangers.

Chapter 2:8-10 A warning about “hollow philosophies”

Chapter 2:16-17 A warning about insurgent legalism, probably Jewish

Chapter 2:18-19 A warning about the danger of mysticism

Chapter 2:20-23 A warning about the vanity of asceticism

So with these warnings being prevalent and repeated, the thought of this section seems to be to flesh out the content and the danger of these four main warnings.

1. A Warning About Philosophical Deception. (Col 2:8-10)

Just as every person with the capacity for thought is a theologian, (they have some thought about God, even if just denying He exists), so every person is a philosopher. Not every person is a competent or thorough theologian or philosopher, but we all stab at and wrestle with these topics in our thinking.

Properly understood, the word “philosophy” is taken directly from Greek, and is a compound word that means “the love of wisdom.” However, loving wisdom does not necessarily make one wise. Philosophers are those who “love” the discipline to an extent that they make a lifelong study of learning, reading, and seeking to assemble a philosophical system that allows them to “make sense” of life.

While Christian philosophies and philosophical thinkers do exist, the vast majority of published philosophers has been and is agnostic or atheistic in their orientation. They find themselves with the difficulty of trying to make sense of life’s challenges and realities by creating a worldview with no God in it.

This is the position that led Paul to refer to “hollow philosophies.” These are empty arguments that are not based in the most fundamental of truths: that God does exist.

One of the most popular Christian philosophical thinkers of the last century was Francis Shaffer. Dr. Shaffer wrote extensively on philosophical thought from a Christian worldview. One of his most popular books was entitled, God is There and He is Not Silent. Other titles include, The God Who is There and How Shall We Now Live? The thinking of this brilliant man still impacts schools of thought and certainly had an influence on mine.

Other thinkers, like the late Norman Geisler, Voddie Baucham, Dallas Willard and Ravi Zacharias have actively engaged in philosophical defense, debate, and writing in the Twenty-First Century. I frequently encourage young men and women with the capacity to do so to explore deepening their philosophical reading with men like these. Still others could be mentioned, but to the point, all philosophy is not “empty” and “hollow.” When it is filled with thoughts of God, and is engaged in helping us understand more deeply Who God is and how God works in the world it can be a wonderful and exhilarating subject to read.

However, most philosophical thinkers and writers (I am thinking immediately of Richard Dawkins and other 21st Century atheistic philosophers) offer up the “hollow” and “deceptive” philosophies that Paul was warning against. These are prolific in our culture, and eagerly swept up by unsuspecting minds.

Of them, one commentary summarizes:

No wonder Bertrand Russell at the end of his life, 90 years of age, the vast majority of his life, at least 70 of those years, being spent as a philosopher, his last words were, “Philosophy has proved a washout to me.” That’s a long washout, 90 years. Thomas Hobbs, the famous English atheistic philosopher who fostered materialistic psychology and what is called utilitarian morality, when he was drawing near his death said this, “I’m about to take a leap into the dark. I shall be glad to find a hole to creep out of this world.” David Hume, the deistic Scottish philosopher was an immoral man in every sense of the word, totally indecent, completely dishonest. His biographers tell us that he was a teacher of immorality, a denier of God. And his death was so tragic that his attendants at his death said he agonized to the point that he shook the entire bed and demanded that the candles be lit all night, that he never be left alone for one moment, and his lips were filled with cursing and remorse until he died.

These atheistic philosophical thinkers attempt to provide a rational and intellectual basis for their argument of unbelief in God. It seems to buttress the argument of those struggling to make up their minds that God in fact does not exist, and if you come from a position of theism (you believe in a personal God) then you must be intellectually deficient.

This position is often the first salvo fired at incoming college students in our university system today. When professors and instructors have been steeped in the “hollow” philosophies in vogue today, these streams of thought will influence or even dominate the lectures they give.

Some philosophical positions, however, have more to do with ideas that have already seeped into the consciousness of the culture. The recent postmodern movement is one such philosophical movement that has literally swept much of the world. But philosophy drives many things: political platforms, educational institutions, and even the writing of school textbooks used by our youngest children.

But one important philosophy still remains with us. That is the position of scientific naturalism, which has a tremendous impact not just on science but on cultural morality, decisions as fundamental as abortion rights, gender identity issues, sexual mores, end-of-life medical decisions and in recent times, suicide.

This position, though not brand new, holds to the viewpoint as do many of the empty philosophies of our day that God does not exist. Therefore the universe around us is the ultimate reality. One of their most prominent spokesman would say, “The Universe is all there is.” In this system of thought, the material world is all that’s real and all that matters.

That has tremendous implications in how we see the world around us, since it is ultimately drilled down to an amoral system in which people are born at random and simply cease to exist at death. The question in such a system becomes, “What is right? What is wrong? Who has the ultimate authority to say?”

Without laboring this point, it is important to note that it is imbedded deeply into our thinking in the modern west, in everything from children’s cartoon scripts to the highest levels of education, art and medicine. If this life is all there is, the implications are tremendous…and dangerous.

That is a long way around the point, but the point is we HAVE been taken captive; kidnapped; plundered by this philosophy without realizing it. It filters into our minds and out through our thinking in ways that we are not even aware.

Paul said, “Don’t be taken captive” by such thoughts. This was the threat posed by the Gnostic intellects of the day. They wanted to “take captive” the minds of the new believers with their philosophical viewpoint. And theirs was likewise a very dangerous position that reduced Christ to the level of an angel, and not even necessarily a good angel!

No wonder Paul issue such a stern and fatherly warning to these new Christ followers. “Don’t let them kidnap your thinking…and plunder your faith.” “Don’t fall prey to the traditions of men….”

Our failsafe in such situations as they faced and that we face today is an absolute assurance in and knowledge of the truth of God’s Word. We are to be “rooted” (“earthed”) and “built up” through Christ and “established on” the bedrock of His Word.

We must stay alert for those who would seek to take us captive at the point of our faith, our values, and even the heart, mind and soul of our children if we allow it! Be alert.

2. A Warning About Legalism. (Col 2:16-17)

Perhaps no problem still dominates and intimidates the church today as does legalism. Legalism essentially is the idea that spirituality can be quantified. It is an exercise in pride and judgmentalism, claiming to be able to do with our hands what God could not accomplish in us through the new birth and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

Yet there seems to be an allure to it. This is most likely because it caters to human pride. Whenever judgmentalism is in play, pride is the motivator. We judge in an effort to make ourselves seem more righteous than the one we are judging. “While God may not agree, at least I know I’m righteous and the person I am judging knows I am too!” we seem to be saying.

Legalism, inherently, is joyless. If we continually live in the “Thou shalt not” sections of Scripture without the needed balance of God’s grace, we will create a picture of Christianity that is dependent more on the efforts of man and not the blessings of grace.

Legalism demands uniformity. Unity is not uniformity. The body of Christ is rich and radiant and multi-cultural and multi-racial and multi-dimensional. To seek to reduce all of that to one style of dress, one preferred manner of speech and even the same facial expressions is to rob it of the glory God intended for His people to reflect. Legalism demands this sameness as a matter of control and “keeping score.”

Legalism results in a superficial faith. Jesus railed against those who He called “whitewashed tombs” full of “dead men’s bones.” In other words, the external appearance looked clean enough, though within there was corruption. The focus is continually on the surface with the legalist. Conformity can be enforced and even established for a little while. But what is in the heart will always be made known.

Legalism, ultimately, is judgmental. It focuses on “keeping score” of violations of law and codes of behavior and punishing failure to conform successfully. Those in a legalistic religious system continually feel judged by those who feel superior to the stragglers.

Legalism is absent of joy, evokes condemnation and judgement, and focuses ultimately on the flesh either in a congratulatory manner when law codes are kept, or in self-recrimination and judgment of others when the laws are not kept.

Christianity is certainly not unique in producing the aberration of legalism. Islam and other world religions do the same to their adherents. In some Muslim cultures around the world, a Religious Police force exists for the purpose of punishing those who violate the laws of Islam. Punishment is swift, public, and can be brutal.

Some Christians designate themselves as the “religious police” whose role is to punish those who get “out of line” in their opinion. Much of legalistic belief today comes not from those things take from Scripture, but from the opinion and “traditions of man.”

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you…” Paul warns in 2:16. He specifically addresses five issues of eating and drinking, religious festivals, New Moon celebrations, or Sabbath observances. Basically, his warning addresses “diet and days.”

This clearly contains an obvious reference to the diet taught in the Old Testament and codified by the Jews as “kosher” foods. While few Protestant believers seek to follow Jewish dietary laws, we have our own “legalistic diets” that we’ve created.

If you are serving your family anything but organic, whole grain, farm-fed, free-range, single origin foods, you are in the eyes of some, poisoning them. Now I agree there are health benefits to food not polluted by antibiotics and hormone fed. I can even get a little misty-eyed over chickens kept and fattened up in cages in which they can barely move! And I like single-origin coffee that can be traced to the point of growth and knowing the coffee farmer is getting paid well for his or her work.

But while that is true, I have never been judgmental about people who don’t pay the exorbitant costs of organic or farm-raised food. And I have been more than a little miffed over fruits and vegetables that go bad before I even have a chance to eat them, since they contain no preservatives.

So I don’t judge you for eating non-specific sourced foods or drinking coffee from a fast food restaurant. More power to you! Enjoy! But please don’t judge me when I occasionally slip in to a burger joint for a preservative-filled hamburger from a hormone-fattened cow on not-quite whole grain bread. Sometimes, you just need a good French fry!

But I visit the fresh food and farm-to-table stores enough to have encountered those who would very quickly look down on me (judge me) for doing what I just confessed to you. And they will judge you as a parent for not feeding your children the very best and healthiest foods possible.

But RIGHT HERE IN THE BIBLE it clearly states you have Paul’s permission NOT to be judged and to reject their judgmental glances or opinions regarding your dietary choices. And I’ll try really hard not to judge you either!

Paul also brought up the issue of special days. These days were designed to commemorate various aspects of the work of Christ, in the same way as the special diet was teaching God’s people about purity and holiness and the importance of abstaining from forbidden things. The Sabbath regulations pointed clearly to the Sabbath rest that God’s people would know. Lightfoot comments, “The setting apart of special days for the service of God is a confession of our imperfect state, an avowal that we cannot or do not devote our whole time to Him.”

But all of these things were a picture…a shadow of reality. Christ is that reality. When Jesus came, ALL of the law and all of the covenant requirements for holiness and purity were fulfilled in Him. “The reality, however, is found in Christ.”

I have used the image before of a man returning home after a long stay out of the country. While he was away, he only had a picture of his fiancée to remind him of her. But when he arrived, the fiancée was waiting for him. But how ludicrous would it have been for this man, now in the presence of his beloved, to continue to love her picture and kiss her picture when the person the picture represented was with him?

We would think the man was crazy! But in reality, this is exactly what those who were making their way into these early congregations were telling them. “Yes, you have the reality, which is Christ. But YOU STILL NEED THE PICTURE TO FULLY KNOW HIM AND LOVE HIM!”

To Paul’s astonishment and certainly to ours today, the believers kept falling for it! “Don’t let anyone judge you….” Paul warned. We need to be careful lest we fall into the same trap of judging others legalistically, or of being judged by them.

3. A Warning About Mysticism (Col 2:18-19)

“Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and the worship of angels….” (2:18)

Though some important translations, such as the newer CSB choose the word “condemn” instead of “disqualify” it is generally agreed that the Greek word used here, “kataBraBeuw” though very rare, carries with it the idea of “being disqualified” or “being ruled against,” rather than “condemned” which is more legal and the territory of jurisprudence. The RSV uses the word “disqualify” as well as the NIV and the ESV.

So for our comments, and to stay with the ESV translation, we will use the word “disqualify” as well. That said, I feel there are some strong reasons to see this word as stronger than that.

It is also important for us, before continuing in the textual comments, to consider the word “mysticism” in the context in which Paul used it. Christian mysticism has a long and even respected history throughout the church. Though some were Catholic in their belief system, others were not.

Mystics as people were often those who would seek to withdraw, and that fitting with their temperament would sometimes even be despondent. Many reported fits of depression and anguish of soul. The mystic was one who would intentionally seek out solitude and separation from others in an effort to seek out God.

Many would speak of deep and even rapturous experiences of long seasons of prayer and fasting, seeking the face of God. One mystic in the earlier years of the church, known as St John of the Cross, would sometimes journal and write of their experiences. His was entitled, The Dark Night of the Soul. I have heard many relate their experiences in that same dark night, and I dare say many have experienced it without quite knowing what it was or what to call it.

Others such as Teresa of Avila spoke of intense seasons of despair and depression and wrote out of her pain. The mystics were often reclusive, and did not hold official positions in the church. A man simply known as Brother Lawrence, a member of a monastic kitchen crew, wrote a small but powerful book entitled The Practice of the Presence of God.

While odd, the mystics could also be extreme in their devotion, such as Simon Stylites who separated from the world in such extremity that he lived on top of a pillar for forty years! I can’t image what would motivate this type of withdrawal, but we can’t discount his obvious devotion.

But we also must remember that Paul had his own “mystic” experience as he spoke of being taken up (“whether in the body or out of the body” he did not know) into the “third heaven” and seeing things which man should not utter. This was, literally defined, a “mystic” experience.

They all had something in common, and that was a desperation to draw closer to the God they loved and to know Jesus intimately. Their journeys were typically very inwardly focused, though some mystics would find their place in service to others in the name of Jesus while they sought Him deeply.

Whatever our opinion of them, they are acknowledged for their contribution to Christian history and devotional thought and writing. It is not such mysticism being condemned and warned against by Paul.

Gnostic Mysticism

The mysticism Paul was confronting in Colossians was a different type of mystical approach. While the ultimate goal of this mysticism was to put its adherents in touch with God, they were offering a path different than simply knowing Jesus and having a relationship with Him.

In fact this mysticism was a toxic mix of angelology, which was a way of systematizing angelic hierarchies or rule and ascetic practices that went from abstaining from food and drink to self-abuse of the body.

The Gnostics approach made them seem to be deeply devoted followers of God, but they had created a pathway, a man-made religion involving a combination of angelology, mystical thought borrowed from eastern religious beliefs, and asceticism.

Lest we think this type of thinking has left the mindset of modern culture, I call your attention to the Bethel Church movement in California, led by Senior Pastor Bill Johnson. His wife, Beni, “co-pastors” with him.

Beni Johnson also teaches some peculiarly unorthodox views of angelology, such as that there are “different kinds of angels: messenger angels, healing angels, fiery angels” who have “fallen asleep.” In a blog post she wrote, “I think that they have been bored for a long time and are ready to be put to work.” She relates a story about one of her students at the Bethel Supernatural School of Ministry who claims God told her to go to the chapel and yell “WAKEY WAKEY!” As Johnson says,

Nothing happened for about five minutes, so [the student] turned around to cross the road to go over to a shop. As she turned around, she felt the ground begin to shake and heard this huge yawn. She looked back at the chapel, and a huge angel stepped out. All she could see were his feet because he was that large. She asked him who he was, and he turned to her and said, “I am the angel from the 1904 revival and you just woke me up.” She asked him, “Why have you been asleep?” The angel answered and said, “Because no one has been calling out for revival anymore.” (Joe Carter)

This movement has drawn tens of thousands into its teaching and experientially-oriented worship services. It gets us painfully close to the kind of angelic worship and mystical experiences promised by the Gnostics of Paul’s day.

It was the opinion of those who follow such views that a run-of-the-mill, ordinary faith with no gigantic angels being awakened was a sub-standard belief system. The Gnostics were “disqualifying” the Colossians by demeaning their adherence to Jesus Christ as the One Who is Creator of and ruler of angels. “Was Jesus asleep,” I wondered as I read the blog post quoted above? Did He require a hapless girl to shout “Wakey Wakey” to make Him willing to pour and blessing and bring revival?

How easy we are to be “disqualified” by such teaching and drawn away by incredible stories of mystical experiences (Bethel also reports an occasional unexplained dropping of angel feathers and gold dust in their services). And people flock to be a part of such sensationalistic claims.

The danger of disqualification still confronts us today. We must not allow it. IN the same passage, Paul warns us about the false “humility” of these Gnostic prognosticators. While they posed in humility, Paul calls them out for the pridefulness with which they paraded their “humility.”

The flesh is a slippery thing. We can deceive ourselves or be deceived into a pretend humility while in the same moment demonstrating the greatest pridefulness for our supposed humility.

Paul said “they take their stands on things they claim to have seen” in the mysteries…things only they were allowed to see. Paul said they were “full of wind” (literally… “puffed up” in the AV). This was the act of pretending to be “bigger than life:” larger and more important than they really were. They were “inflated to no purpose” by their carnal minds.

Rather than being “connected” in a special way to mysteries of God, Paul points out in v19 that they were in reality “disconnected” from the Head. They had “let go” of the Head, which is Christ, from which the whole body grows. The picture means they are also disconnected from the body, which is the church.

IN summary, Paul is cautioning the Colossians about following windbag, prideful, beheaded, fleshly men who claimed to know mysteries that no one else could know. These are not the people to follow, and to do so is to disqualify yourself along with them.

4. A Warning About Asceticism. (Col 2:20-23)

Asceticism has its place in church history as well as mysticism. Most ascetic practices are misguided efforts to control and constrain the appetites and desires of the flesh, sometimes in the extreme. What is forgotten by those who practiced these extremities of self-abuse is that, no matter how much we “do not touch, do not taste, and do not eat,” the flesh always finds a way of expression.

Ascetic practices in the Middle Ages involved sleeping on beds of straw, wearing sackcloth next to the skin, rigorous fasting, self-flagellation, going without sleep for days, and the list could grow. The Catholic Church has maintained some of these practices, and only in the mid-twentieth century banned some of the most extreme.

While we cannot know for certain which ascetic practices the Gnostics were advocated that the Colossians adapt, Paul puts a definitive stop to all of them with his argument from this passage: “You have died to the elements of this world.” Or as Barclay translates it, “If you have died with Christ to the elements of this world, why do you keep on submitting yourselves to their rules and regulations, as though you still lived in a world without God?”

It’s important in dealing with this passage to remember that the Gnostics believed all matter was evil. Everything in this world was therefore polluted and not truly created by or connected to God. Therefore we have to get OUT of the world to find our connection with the true creator.

This then translated into practices of avoiding the things of the world, “Don’t taste, don’t touch, don’t eat” in an effort to show our determination to turn our backs on materialism. The body, being matter, needed to be controlled and abused, since it really wasn’t important anyway and is going to perish.

There is always a deceptiveness regarding man-made religious rules and man-created religious systems. They have no value in restraining the flesh, but only inflame it more. Paul himself said of the law that the more he sought to keep it, the more it inflamed him. When we try to do in our own strength what only Jesus can do for us that will always be the result.

Paul said, “If (since) you have died with Christ to the elementary principles (the ABC’s) of the world, why as if you are living in the world (under the constraint of the world’s rules) do you submit yourself to decrees…” We are not under the constraint of the world’s rules. Since we are dead in Christ, they have no power, authority, or dominance over us. We are not obliged to subjugate ourselves to them.

In Christ we are free…from ascetic practices which have an appearance of wisdom but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. The flesh will find a way, even in our religious practices, to rear its head.

Our fallen self will always prefer a way to work our way in to God’s favor than to have it bought and opened for us. The only way we can enter faithfully and completely into God’s presence is with flesh that has died. Religion continually resurrects our flesh with new ways to work, and therefore exalt our self, even at the cost of great severity to our flesh, and great sacrifice made (as long, of course, as we are being watched by others!)

Only as we have died in Christ…with Him in death, burial and resurrection…can we be pleasing to God. Only as we come, with the hymn writers verse, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Your cross I cling” as our boast will we enter the kingdom.

You will never begin with the flesh (our lost, carnal nature) and find your way to God. It is impossible, so why are you trying? Why are you giving yourself over to those who claim to have “a new revelation” or “a new way” to come to God?

Why are you seeking the favor of angelic beings, or approaching the saints or Mary or the spirits of the departed or the stars for access when it has been granted you by Jesus, if you know Him? We have already come to the pinnacle in Christ. We need search for no other way. Only in Him.

Child of God, be careful who you follow. Avoid the traps of legalism, and hollow pseudo-philosophy, and mysticism and asceticism and man-made religious systems. Only then can we relate freely to God as those who are IN CHRIST.

This passage is, according to many commentators, one of the most difficult in all of Paul’s letters to interpret. I found myself agreeing. Since we know little really of the Gnostics mystical religion, we can only deduct from what Paul wrote what they were perpetuating. Our history is sketchy at best, so the interpreter has to “fill in gaps” with some assumptions. I do not present this as the last word…just my attempt.

Sermon Notes 04

CHAPTER SIX

Paul returns to a controversial topic with Colossians 2:6 as he says “As you therefore received Christ Jesus as Lord.” Two camps divide on this thought. What is the implication of the Lordship of Jesus?

One viewpoint says there is no other way to receive Christ Jesus than as Lord. How does one come to the foot of the cross and give oneself to the Savior in an exchange of life; His for ours, and not then follow with submitting to His Lordship?

The other viewpoint, while arguable less well-received, is the position that receiving Jesus as Savior and making Jesus Christ Lord are two distinct acts. This viewpoint (as fiercely argued against by John MacArthur and others) separates an otherwise inseparable reality.

A.W. Tozer wrote that “there is a view that is popular in modern Christianity that one may receive Jesus as Savior and then, when it is more convenient, follow Him in Lordship.” This is an untenable position, according to Tozer and many others.

So why was Paul laboring this point as if one were possible without the other. Can Jesus be received in ANY way but “as Lord?” Maybe for Paul it was a reminder that Jesus did not just come to redeem, but to transform. Not just to “justify” us before God, but to transform us in sanctification and discipleship.

Some of the argument is dependent on our understanding of repentance. Has a person fully repented if they have not turned the entirety of life over in Lordship to follow Jesus? Repentance is not just the cleansing of past sins and failure, but also is to be a continuing posture for the person redeemed. We never stop repenting, if repenting truly means more than simply saying “I’m sorry for sin.” Our lifestyle is now one of repentance and turning “toward” Jesus as Lord.

Paul was probably also referring to their “receiving” as hearing the Gospel from Epaphras. “As you therefore received it…” with eagerness, with faith, with confidence. So continue in that same course and attitude as you had at the first.

But this could also have been a slap at the Gnostic heretics. The idea of “Lordship” had strong overtones, not only in religious circles, but political ones in the Roman Empire.

For the Roman, faithful to the empire, only the Caesar was called Lord. It implied ownership of and oversight of everything within the sphere of the empire.

The Gnostic heresy had reduced Jesus to a part of the puzzle, but Paul here reminds the Colossians that Jesus is OVER the puzzle; He is Lord of all…not a piece of life’s puzzle but the reason for it…and the Maker of it!

This verse is actually an excellent summary of the entire book of Colossians. (Lucas, BST). What does it look like to “live in Him?” When we “receive Christ as Lord,” there are demands this places on our lifestyle and choices, decisions, and thinking. We “live” in Him, but what are the implications and outworkings of that?

Lucas suggests that Paul is actually laying out three principles of Christian development here.

As you received……so live in Him

As you were rooted….be built up

As you were taught…be established.

We received Christ as Lord through no good work on our part. God does the work of opening our eyes, and minds, and hearts to Who Jesus Christ is. We received Christ the Lord by grace, but then we are to go on from there and LIVE in Him. What does that look like?

We are to be rooted in the truth….and so be built up. Our Christian growth depends, not just on our receiving Christ as Lord, but we are also to “earth” or “root” ourselves in the truth. We are to embrace the systemized teaching of Jesus Christ and the doctrine taught by the apostles, this Gospel “once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3)

We are to be taught…and so be established. We are to be established, like a strong tree deeply rooted and stable, and now as a building that is constructed.

We received; we are rooted; we are established in Christ. (BST)

“As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord…” (so Melick offers). The positioning of “Lord” at the end of the phrase is only done here by Paul in all of his epistles. The positioning emphasizes “the Lord.” Using the word “received” with its object being “Christ Jesus” is also an unusual positioning. Normally “received” has to do with “teaching,” or “doctrine” or “Gospel.” The implication of this is that the Colossians actually embraced HIM, not just the teaching about Him.

This is one of the oldest and simplest statements about what it means to be a Christian: “You have received Christ Jesus the Lord.” The journey for some from initially hearing and being exposed to Jesus/the Gospel to committing to become a Christian is on average four years. (Tidball, The Reality of Christ). We are not just “receiving a new teaching” or “embracing a new lifestyle” as we come to Christ. We are receiving HIM into our lives, a life eternal, a spiritual power and dynamic, and out of that decision we will live a different kind of life.

“As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in Him…” (2:6). We are making no cavalier or thoughtless decision when we say YES to Jesus. Paul puts no barrier in the way of that process: no formulaic prayer, no church or denominational issue, no promises to be made by us. Simply “RECEIVE” Him.

But once we have received, we must then also “LIVE” in Him. There is no way a person can be married and RECEIVE another into their lives without being changed by that transaction. As imperfect an analogy as that is, it makes the point that some change is expected.

Think then how deeply the change will be when we receive Christ. We are to LIVE in Him, being “rooted (earthed) and built up in Him…” (2:7)

We have two metaphors at work in this statement. One is taken from agriculture; the other from construction. But we are to be “rooted” (“once and for all having been rooted”) in Christ, and allow (as a new plant would do) our roots to grow deeply into the soil of Christian truth. At the same time (and in relationship to the depth of our root system) we can be “built up” in Him. The deeper the roots, the more solid the foundation and the taller the building. We grow taller as we grow deeper.

But we are also to be “strengthened.” Our strength is tied to our faith, but not just to our faith as in the faith that saves us. That faith is a gift, and is a constant, and cannot be forever lost. This is a reference to “the faith,” or the systematized truth of the Christian life. While we cannot lose “faith,” we can lose “the faith” by adulterating it with false teaching and watering down its truth.

It is precisely there that we have the ability to build spiritual “muscle.” We can “bulk up” our faith by adding knowledge and aligning life with the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. (2 Peter 1)

It is here that many fail. We want this part of the journey to be automatic, too. But it is here that discipleship becomes a necessity. In discipleship, we are introduced to and deepened in “the faith.” And it is here, again, the church has sometimes let down.

We must disciple our children, since we learn that by age nine or ten their worldview is set. They are making important and life-altering decisions out of a worldview that may NOT be Christian.

Parents must learn the art of discipling. Students need to be discipled. Adults must be discipled. Seniors must be discipled. It is here that the faith of the church is strengthened.
To stand firm in the day in which we are living, and to oppose the false doctrine and religious systems that would challenge our faith it is more important than ever.

But finally we are to be thankful. One of the primary marks of a mature Christian’s faith, according to Paul, was gratitude. We are to “overflow” in gratitude for the gift of salvation and for our growth in that grace. Gratitude is one of the hallmarks of the true followers of Jesus. The Gnostic teachers obviously promised their followers an “abundant” or “overflowing” life. Paul is saying, “You are to overflow…in gratitude for what God in Christ has done for you!”

Paul’s First Defense of the Faith

There are three primary warnings issued by Paul in Colossians:

1) Don’t let anyone kidnap you! (2:8)
2) Don’t let anyone condemn you! (2:16)
3) Don’t let anyone disqualify you! (2:18)

In Colossians 2:8-15, we encounter Paul’s specific defense against the threats encountered by the church in Colossae. These were the threats that were attempting to lead them out of freedom and into captivity. “Don’t be taken captive by anyone…” Paul warns them. And if we are wise, we will hear and heed the same words of warning.

We do know that at least one threat was the insurgency of the Gnostic heresy. This has already been discussed at some length. Then, there was the threat of human traditions. Finally we encounter with Paul what he calls “the basic (elementary or elemental) principles of the world.”

The Gnostic Insurgency: “Deceptive Philosophy”

Paul first of all tackles what he calls the “hollow and deceptive philosophy” that was being presented to them. What all this philosophy entailed we cannot be certain. But we know at least some dimensions of this was the philosophy of the Gnostic system.

Lightfoot translates this verse “I wish to warn you against anyone who would lead you astray by specious argument and persuasive rhetoric.” (Colossians 2:8). People who fall prey to “questionable arguments and persuasive speech” are those who are weakest in the faith.

Often cults and other anti-Christian groups attack the marginal believers; those who are not grounded and rooted and established in the faith. They are the “low hanging fruit” that are the easiest to reach for those with a “new” take on the faith.

The Colossian Christians were awash in different and “new” philosophical thinking. The trade route that Colossae occupied, both by road and by sea, brought people with new ideas, new thoughts, and new philosophies. Their arguments were “persuasive” and their rhetoric attractive.

Such threats are always present in the church of every era. We have our own particular “philosophies,” including the Prosperity Gospel movement. This movement is attractively packaged with clever rhetoric and charismatic personalities. But the content of this viewpoint is “specious” and “hollow.” There is no depth; no substance to it. Yet many are led astray by this modern day heresy.

Usually there is enough truth and enough mentions of the name Jesus to make it sound plausible, and even difficult to oppose. Who doesn’t want to get rich and never suffer? But this argument has led many out of a solid, Biblical-based ministry to follow its hollow philosophy.

The Jewish Threat: “Traditions of men”

It is commonly believed by Bible scholars and students that Judaism was a very real threat to the Colossian congregation. Most likely the Colossian congregation was populated by those with Jewish backgrounds.

As such, the Jewish community (remember, about 50,000 strong in the Lycus Valley) would have had a dramatic pull on those who had left the synagogue to follow Jesus.

Their demand that God’s followers must be circumcised was part of what Paul spoke about later in verse 11 when he said, “and you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands…” This would have stood in dramatic conflict with commonly held Jewish teaching and practice.

When the Jews left Egypt for the Promised Land, and before they entered it, they were marked and identified as unique by the mark of circumcision. In its day, it had a place and even was a necessity.

But we have entered the Promised Land through Christ. Our identity is not in circumcision or in any religious observance that can be performed externally. It is an inward circumcision, one of the heart, and this circumcision is effected by the Holy Spirit. As this happens, it will have outward effect, and so identify us as one of God’s people.

Paul was saying, in essence, that the traditions of men (i.e. the Jewish traditions) were not required to have a complete faith. They were just that: traditions. And they have no power to help us and no power to penalize us if we refuse to follow them.

“According to the rudiments of the world…”

The third threat Paul confronted was almost certainly mystical teachings which may or may not have been related to the Gnostics. The word “rudimentary” or “elemental” is a word, in the Hellenistic world of the day, to mean “the spirits of the world.” The NIV translates this phrase “the basic principles of this world,” but probably doesn’t go far enough.

This would have been a warning against following those who believed the stars or heavenly bodies controlled life. These were the superstitions of the world, like doing or not doing things on certain days.

Paul quickly turns to affirm that Christ is exalted “over every power and authority.” (2:10). And not only is that true, but since “in Christ dwells all the fullness of the godhead in bodily form, you have been given fullness in Christ, Who is the head over every power and authority.” (NIV).

In other words, spirits whether embedded in the earth and rocks and trees and plants and storms, or angels that dwell above you, can control your life. Jesus Christ created them, and He is the One Who has authority over them.

We seem to have an unbroken stream of entertainment offerings that focus on demonic spirits that control and take over lives of people, sometimes children and sometimes adults. There is a fascination with these kinds of movies and themes, and maybe a hidden fear is living in some that says, “Could such a horrible thing happen to me?”

The Bible does not “debunk” the reality of the unseen spiritual realm, whether heavenly or demonic. It simply says, “whatever is out there, God has control of it.” Whatever seeks to overwhelm or overtake your life, the One in Whom is all authority dwells within you.

So unless we can come up with some demonic or spiritual force that can overwhelm the Son of God, Who has placed Himself inside of the believer, there is no way such a thing can happen. That spirit would have to be so supremely powerful as to be able to send Jesus running!

In Haiti and other countries oppressed by the practitioners of Santa Ria, Voodoo, or other forms of witchcraft, we find people who are tied to these “elemental spirits” they believe they can control. Their practices are very much rooted in superstition, and no doubt have demonic forces empowering some of their activity.

Sadly some in those countries, sometimes even believers, think these forces can control their lives, usually for evil. To live in a world dominated by forces unseen where they feel powerless and fearful gives us something of the flavor and influence that the Gnostic and mystic practitioners were steeped in. They were revered for their mystical, occult, and magic powers.

But no such power, in heaven or earth, the Universe we see or the unseen world we don’t, now has or will ever have anything like that kind of power and authority! Jesus is Lord over all!

In summary, the philosophical threat Paul was confronting had three primary characteristics:

  1. The philosophy was human. It “depends on human tradition.” This is man’s attempt to control his world with a nonrevelational approach. It started with man, and always ended with man. You cannot start with man and end up with God!
  2. The philosophy was elementary. Originally this term referred to the four elements: earth, wind, fire, and water. Usually these were seen in conflict with each other. Sometimes these “elements” were signs of the zodiac or the powers that ruled the planets. Normally in Jewish teaching of the day, the “elements” referred to supernatural beings or demons. In Galatians, Paul called them “no-gods.” (Gal 4:9). Often Paul considered these spirits as angels that sought to control man.
  3. The philosophy was non-Christian. It was not “according to Christ,” and therein lay the danger. It was completely antithetical to the teaching of what Christ did on the cross to accomplish salvation.

Collectively, these three dangers comprised the “Colossian heresy.” (NAC, V 22)

The Presentation of Christ as Redeemer (Colossians 2:9-15)

The primary error of the Gnostic heresy was its effort to teach that the “fullness of God,” (literature of the time shows they frequently used the term “pleroma,” or fullness) was in fact distributed among heavenly powers.

Jesus, in their teaching, was one dimension of that. Paul corrects this view powerfully in his assertion that “the pleroma (fullness) of God in bodily form lives in Jesus.” Jesus is the pleroma. There is no other. In fact, he emphasizes the fact by a modifying word “all.” “All the fullness of deity dwells in Jesus.”

Legally I am told the word “all” is defined as “including everything and excluding nothing.” There is nothing about God in His nature, His character, or His being that is excluded from Jesus. Everything is included in Jesus. Lightfoot characterizes this as “in a bodily manifestation.”

Wiersbe interprets this to mean “all of God’s divine being and attributes” dwell bodily in Jesus. “Why,” Paul can be heard asking, “would you need anything else?”
If Christ is Creator (and He is), and all the fullness of God indwells Him (and it does), what else could we possibly need? Because in that “pleroma,” that “fullness,” Christ has come to “fill us full” with His fullness.

The fullness of deity was every bit God. However, Paul avoids the thinking of modalism in not saying Christ was all deity. The Father and Spirit are equally divine. Christ embodies the fullness of God, but does not exhaust the dimensions of deity. The Father and the Spirit still are active. The distinctions of the Trinity remain intact.
Though we will never exhaust the wonder and fullness of meaning of God’s fullness indwelling Jesus, we have to go one step further with Paul, because “you have been given fullness in Christ!” (2:9)

All that is in Christ now is filling the believer. This does not imply that any man is elevated to the level of Jesus Christ, nor that it means that we somehow become deity in this process. But as in Christ, the fullness of God dwells in bodily form, now Christ dwells in the believer. In the “form” of Christ, we have the reality of God. This passage reflects some of the highest Christology in Paul’s writings. (Melick)

These thoughts and Paul’s teaching here sets the table for the most mind-churning reality, that this One Who is the fullness of Deity bodily, Who is God embodied fully in flesh without diminishing either, now has taken up residence in us.

No other epistle delves more deeply into this “mystery” of being “in Him,” or “in Christ” that Colossians. This particular section uses that phrase seven times. The indwelling Presence of Jesus Christ in the believer is one of the hallmarks of this epistle.

Numerous times before this verse Paul has referred to the believer as being “in Him.” Now He reverses the reality slightly (holds it to the light in a different way) and says “and He is IN YOU.” This “in Him-in you” relationship is a philosophy that no man, no matter his level of brilliance, could have arrived at. There is no logical way that a human mind could generate the idea of this reality, that somehow God could not only dwell with or dwell among His creatures, but could actually embody them fully.

Scores of books have been written seeking to understand this. An entire movement broke out in the nineteenth century centered on this thought, led by Andrew Murray and other writers and preachers. But none have gotten to the bottom of understanding this truth. It is a mystery that can only be proclaimed, but not fully explained.

But with the “pleroma” of the One Who has all authority given dwelling with us, Paul dismisses any attempt to relegate Christ to a lesser being than He is. Gnosticism was one among countless attempts through the centuries to try and do this.

FF Bruce reminds us that Paul’s emphasis here was to point to Christ’s dominance and ruling over every power, every so-called spiritual authority, and every spiritual authority. None are exalted over Him. He is the ultimate and final ruler over them all. So Paul’s eagerness that the Colossians not be “taken captive” by those who would sweep them away through persuasion, threat or fear. The final authority lives in them through the Presence of Christ. There is none greater.

Before Paul returns to a final statement about spiritual authorities that would seek to usurp the place of Christ, he turns to deal with the essential matter of our salvation. Salvation, you remember, has three component parts:

Justification: Being declared “not guilty” by the verdict of God, the Judge of the Universe. “Who can bring an accusation against us? It is God Who justifies.”

Sanctification: The ongoing process of being conformed to the likeness and image of Christ. We grow in grace by learning and obedience and living out our faith. No one ever fully completes sanctification. It is a lifelong process.

Glorification: This is the final and eternal stage of salvation that happens when the believer is taken into the Presence of God at death.

Therefore it is true and proper that we can say “We have been saved “(past tense) through justification. We “are being saved” (by sanctification ongoing and “we shall be saved” at the final stage when our bodies rest in death and our spirits fly into God’s eternal Presence. And one day, even our mortal earthly body will be glorified (made like Christ’s).

The Implications of the Hidden Life

In 2:11-15, Paul turns to dealing with the implications of what it means to be “in Christ.” Along the way, Paul confronts the Jewish critics who were seeking to “take captive” the Colossian believers but seeking to return them to Judaism and its legalistic forms.

“In Christ: His Death, His Burial, and His Resurrection”

Paul deals first with the issue of circumcision. In the Old Testament, the rite of circumcision was an identifying marker for His chosen people. But with the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the marker for His people became being “in Christ.”

Old Testament circumcision cut away a small piece of flesh from a man’s body. Jesus underwent a circumcision of the entirety of His flesh for us on the cross. His body was “cut away” into death. Therefore no external marking is necessary to identify us with Jesus. With the arrival of the Holy Spirit, Christ is now in us.

“In Him you were circumcised….by the circumcision of Christ made without hands, by the putting off of the body of flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.”

As His flesh died on the cross, so ours must die in crucifixion of our self. And since we are dead, we are also “buried with Him in baptism…”

The necessity of baptism has been a subject of much debate throughout the years. Is it a symbol? A ritual? A cleansing act? Is it necessary for salvation to be effected?

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, a statement of common beliefs held by the Southern Baptist Convention, says this about baptism:

VII. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper. (Baptist Faith and Message 2000)

So Baptist belief is that baptism is not a sacrament (an act that imparts grace to the one who receives it), but is a symbol of the act of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

In fact, baptism properly administered, is an incredible picture of the Gospel. It is a visual portrayal of Jesus’ passion. As the one who has professed belief in Christ stands in the water, they are saying visually “I believe Jesus died for my sins.” Then, when they are placed under the water, they are saying, “He was buried.” And finally, coming out of the water, “and He rose again on the third day.”

But not only is the Gospel being proclaimed in baptism. The reality of our union in Christ through our faith in Him is also being proclaimed. The testimony we are sharing is, “In Christ, I was crucified. In Christ, I died and was buried. In Christ, I have been raised with Him through faith in Him.”

Baptism, therefore, is a proclamation of what the Gospel IS, and a proclamation of what the Gospel DOES. Baptism is certainly an important aspect of and, in fact, is the public profession of our faith. But we will not add baptism in the category of “necessary” for salvation since to do so would seek to add to what Christ has done for us on the cross.

“As the burial of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:4) set the seal upon His death, so the Colossians burial with Him in baptism shows that they were truly involved in His death and laid in His grave. It is not as though they simply died like Jesus died, or were buried as He was laid in the tomb…The burial proves that a real death has occurred and the old life is now a thing of the past.” (Peter O’Brien, WBC)

“…in which (in Him) you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, Who raised Him from the dead.” (Col 2:12 NASB)

“Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. The death He died, He died to sin once for all, but the life He lives, He lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”(Romans 6:8-11)

We must never forget that we actually have participated in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ! Our fullness includes this reality, and is born out of it. It should dominate all that is in us!

In Christ: Delivered from Death and Bondage (vv 13-15)

“Dead” is an apt description for the state of every person who is apart from Christ. They may look alive, but spiritually outside of Christ, every person is dead. Ephesians 2:1 states, “…and you were dead in (because of) your trespasses and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world.”

This word captures the reality of sin’s severity. “The wages of sin is death,” we read in Romans. Death was promised to Adam and Eve as a result of their rebellion against Him and disobedience in the Garden. Something that is dead cannot reproduce life. So every person, tied by the cord of the human race to our first parents, can only receive death from them. “In sin was I conceived…” the Psalmist says.

But this death is something that, while not physical YET, is a part of every human being’s existence. We are spiritually disconnected from our Creator, and alienated and hostile in mind against Him. We are also continually alienating ourselves from one another, thus providing that we have a problem we cannot cure ourselves.

We were dead, lifeless, and empty living in darkness. Without Jesus, we can do nothing to receive life. Only in Christ is this possible. Kent Hughes reinforces this idea:

“There must be a sovereign communication of life from God. When Elijah stretched himself upon the dead boy, his heart beat against the stillness of the boy’s chest until it kindled life. Even so, Christ must lay His life on our deadness, and then comes life!” (Hughes, Colossians).

Now our life is no longer empty. We are no longer in darkness. We are no longer lifeless. There is LIFE, LIGHT, and FULLNESS in Christ alone!

Not only have we been set free from death, but we have been set free from the bondage of our guilt!

“God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. (vv 13b-14)

Salvation begins at the initiative of God. We don’t just wake up one morning, decide we are terrible people because of our sin, and set out to knock on God’s door. The Holy Spirit “quickens” us (old English word for “make sensitive,” like the “quick” of your fingernail). As we are “quickened,” “made sensitive” to God we are awakened to the possibility of new life in Jesus.

We were dead…now we have been made alive in Christ! And as we are alive, and know the fullness of God through Christ, we find we are also being set free from the guilt that burdens us.

Being set free from our guilt is like being set free from the pull of gravity! It is elating to know our sin and guilt has been taken out of the way. “He forgave us all our sins…”

While “forgave” is past tense (already done) in English translation, the Greek is more definitive. It says “God has done something in the past (forgave you) that is continuing to work itself out in the present (we continue to be forgiven).

Some have mistakenly understood that this verse is teaching that all the sins forgiven at the cross that we had committed up until that time. If you continue to mess up, it’s your problem to fix! Those who believe this way find themselves entering a non-stop treadmill of trying to work for salvation, or believing they have “lost” salvation and need to “find” it again!

That is not what Paul is teaching, and it is not what God is doing. When Jesus died for you, remember, ALL of your sins were future. ALL of your guilt was future.

But when the Bible says, “He forgave us all our sins” this is a proclamation that the penalty due every sin we have ever committed or ever WILL commit in the future has already been paid for.

I’ve heard it explained this way. It is as though someone placed a $100,000 check in your account. It is there. It is good. But until you start writing checks or using your debit card, you will never receive the benefit of the gift.

We are to continue “writing checks” on the forgiveness that God has deposited in our “account.” “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just (righteous) to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

But further, Paul said that Christ forgave “the handwriting of ordinances” or “handwriting of debt” (ESV) that was against us. This was a common picture in Biblical times. Every criminal crucified had a “handwriting” of their crime nailed over their heads. For Jesus, the only crime that could be manufactured was “King of the Jews.”

In reality however, the debt of all our sin was nailed to Jesus on the cross. He paid the sin debt for every person who would believe. Another element was in play in this idea of our “IOU,” is the fact that the Romans would take a written legal charge against a criminal and nail it above the jail door until every last penalty was paid. When the criminal had done their time and paid for their crime, the jailer would take this document and write the word “tetelestai” over it. The word meant “Finished: the debt is paid.”

It is not a coincidence that, as Jesus hung on the cross and neared His death there, cried out the same word, “tetelestai:” which meant, “it is finished.” What was finished? Your debt. My debt. Our sin. Our guilt.

Written by the blood of Jesus across the “handwriting of debt” that was against us is the word “It is finished!” Once and for all eternity, our debt was paid by Jesus. He “set it aside, nailing it to His cross.”

But out of that victory, Jesus then “disarmed” the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame.” Paul here returns to the initial subject, that of those who would seek to enslave or “kidnap” the Colossian believers by the threat of deceptive or “hollow” philosophy.

Paul is saying here that these spiritual “emanations” have been taken captive by Jesus as a conquering general would take captives on a victory parade through the city. They would follow behind as shamed and defeated foes.

Jesus, by His victorious death and resurrection, “disarmed” and “shamed” these enemies who posed a threat to the believers in Colossae. He “triumphed over them in Him.” (v 15)

The victory of Jesus was not just over sin and not just to pay the “handwriting of debt.” His victory also conquered spiritual enemies in opposition to God, to the Gospel, and to believers. He “took them captive” and openly exposed them to shame in their defeat.

…so that at the Name of Jesus every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)

Sermon Notes 03

CHAPTER FIVE

Colossians 1:24-2:5 comprises one of the more personal and confessional sections of the Letter to the Colossians. Paul began the letter with a claim to apostolic authority-“an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” (1:1)

Now, with this segment, Paul begins in earnest to exercise that claim to authority. He doesn’t do it as we might expect someone of his high profile to do, but instead speaks of his “sufferings” (v. 24), his “stewardship” (v. 25), and his “struggle.” (2:1)

These are all words which point, not to his strength, but to his weakness. But the things which some may believe disqualified him for his role as apostle (his suffering, his imprisonment, his struggles) are the very things he points to as things that legitimatize him.

All of this that he might “present everyone mature in Christ.” ( v. 28) He claims from the outset no personal, hidden agenda; no self-glorification. His message is not about himself, but instead about the One for whom he labors expending “all His energy that he powerfully works” within him. (v29). Paul does not even claim that “energizing” as coming from himself!

He does not lay out his degrees or experience, or his background as a rabbi. He doesn’t even defend the reason he has been imprisoned! Instead his focus is on “God’s mystery, which is Christ.” (2:2)

His Source For Ministry

Paul begins by telling the Colossians that his ministry was not conferred on him by the approval of man. It was not given him because of his educational credentials, though he could have appealed to that. It was Christ Who called him to this apostolic role, and it was Christ’s call which was the only credential he required.

I do not believe that Paul ever got over the fact that God chose him to fulfill this role. At the end of his life, he wrote his protégé Timothy and said “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service; even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor.” (1 Timothy 1:12-13)

In Chapter 1:21-23, Paul is not launching an accusation by saying “you were once alienated…hostile…doing evil…” He was speaking also of himself, and he well remembered what he was before he met Jesus.

We would be much better if we each did the same. “Remember what you used to be…” Paul was saying. We need to turn our backs completely on our former way of living that was anti-Christ and all things Christian, even if we simply lived apathetically toward the things of God. We do well to remember where we came from, and allow that memory to add an urgency to our efforts to reach the lost and live the Gospel out.

Paul’s call to ministry and salvation on the Damascus Road in Syria, as he was on a mission to wipe out the Christian movement, is one of the most dramatic conversion experiences we have in the Bible. None was going in a more violent, aggressive, and headstrong direction against Jesus than Paul.

But Jesus called to him while he traveled, and struck him blind in the middle of the road. (Acts 26:9-18) In that weakened state, God sent a man to him to explain what had happened three days later. Ananias, a faithful believer, prayed over Paul (then Saul), laid his hands on him, and caused him to receive his sight.

Paul never forgot what it was like to live in opposition to the Gospel. Now, he literally was pouring out his life to proclaim it to all who would hear. He knew he was unworthy; and he knew the grace of God that came to him could save anyone!

He was no volunteer to the ministry. Jesus violently confronted him and called him out of darkness and into light. And Paul never looked back.

His Suffering

Paul understood that ministry would equal suffering. Jesus told him “that I will show you many things you will suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9)

The enemies of the Gospel, the Jewish leadership and the false teachers beginning to infect the church in Colossae made much of the fact that Paul was a political prisoner of Rome. We can hear their arguments against the apostle: “So you are listening to advice from a man you’ve never seen and he’s being held prisoner in Rome for being a troublemaker?”

But in Colossians 1:24-27 Paul answers this criticism head-on. He doesn’t act like what he is experiencing is an aberration or a mistake. Instead, he says “I rejoice….!”

The ministry meant suffering for Paul. It does still today for many. Those going through persecution in Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea understand the price of ministry.

But rather than resenting his suffering, Paul said “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake…” Paul rejoiced because his sufferings united him, in a mystical way, with the sufferings of Christ.

Some have taught, notably the Catholic Church, that Paul is referring here to purgatory, where believers would go after their death to “finish (fill up) the sufferings of Christ for the church.”

This doctrine cannot be defended Biblically. There is no such place as purgatory discussed in the Bible. The idea that Christians need to go to a place of suffering to “complete” what Christ left undone is an affront to the completion of Jesus’ sufferings on our behalf.

But if this is not what Paul meant by “filling up what is lacking” in Christ’s afflictions, what does it mean? It could mean, first of all, that Ananias, at Paul’s conversion, told him he would suffer many things for Christ’s sake. (Acts 9:16) As we know now from Paul’s testimony and history, truer words could not have been spoken.

The sufferings he endured, however, were always understood as “for Christ’s sake.” Literally Colossians 1:24 interpreted Paul’s saying to mean “(he was) filling up in his turn the leftover parts of Christ’s sufferings for the church.” Lightfoot says it means to “fill up and even supplement” the sufferings of Christ. His suffering came to him for three reasons. One, because of his laser-focus on the church, which is Christ’s body. He suffered, not for his own person, but for the bride for which Christ laid down His life on the cross.

Second, his sufferings came because of the presence of Christ in him. Satan hates Christians, not for our own sakes, but because of the One Whose image they bear. It is the presence of Christ in us that the enemy despises. But we are the physical “bearer” of that image which so outrages the devil.

Third, Paul understood his sufferings “for the Gentiles.” In this instance, for the Colossians. It was for their sake he was in chains. He saw, behind the discomfort of a prison cell and the deprivation he experienced, the hand of God placing him there “for such a time as this,” to borrow the words from The Book of Esther.

Paul never saw suffering as useless or wasted. “I rejoice…” he said. The testimony the Romans and other persecutors throughout the centuries could not erase was the testimony of the joy experienced in the midst of suffering. It is not something the world ever understands. Only those whose lives are sold out to the One Who gave up His life for them!

Missiologist Nik Ripken reminds us that the persecutor’s primary goal is to silence the testimony of the believer. Their agenda is to silence the “word of our testimony” because this word has the power to tear down his kingdom!

Many speak of American Christians being persecuted today. Certainly we are more marginalized as a religious group, partly because we enjoyed a number of years in the mainstream of American culture.

There was a day when “going to church” was just expected of everyone. To say someone does not go to church was tantamount to disparaging a person’s character and morality. This belief led many to “attend” church services to cultivate their image in the community or even to further a business or political agenda.

As time went by, that centralizing of “church” attendance began to change, and as more and more cultures and nationalities have become a normal part of the American landscape, church attendance has become less and less necessary to many.

The conservative Christian movement in America has also gone through a time, due to alignment with conservative politics, that has identified the church too neatly with conservative and fundamental political agendas.

The rise of the Moral Majority lent itself to this cultural shift. As this movement lost favor in our culture, the church also lost favor. Still today we are aligned, in the minds of many people, with such conservative political views and politics whether we engage politically or not.

All of these and other cultural currents have moved the church to the sidelines in America, leaving us as a far less influential force to be considered. The ensuing years as the new millennium was born have moved us even further toward the margins.

With the loss of our high profile in American culture and the rise of a culture of sensitivity, offense and political correctness, it has become much harder to share our faith publically. Christians have become intimidated with the idea of talking about Jesus, fearing reprisals from the workplace, the loss of relationships and friendships, and now even the accusation of our viewpoint amounting to “hate speech.” We are intimidated into silence.

But we are not persecuted as a whole. While occasionally things arise that would fit the definition of persecution, these issues are usually more about marginalizing Christianity for unpopular and politically “incorrect” standards. But we are not persecuted for using the name of Jesus Christ in public. And as long as intimidation works to silence us, we probably won’t see outright persecution in America.

To summarize, then, the persecution that Paul and the early Christians were experiencing and that many today in various parts of the world still experience was directed toward their sharing the Gospel of Who Jesus is. “Do not speak any more in that name…” the apostles were threatened by the Jews in the Book of Acts.

Much of what Paul writes about suffering is related to sharing Jesus’ name. Much of what we experience today is cultural pressure to marginalize our influence in America, but is not directly an effort to keep us from talking about Jesus…just to keep us within bounds where we “belong.”

In Cuba on a visit with a Baptist group a few years ago, we were cautioned as we approached our vans that they suspected one of two drivers was a spy for the government. We were urged, whatever else we talked about, not to bring up the name Castro.

That was not a problem for us, since we were not there on a political mission. And it turned out that our driver was a spy for the regime. But the thought that entered the minds of several of our team was, “what if they told us not to bring up the name Jesus?” Would we have risked our freedom by refusing to be silent about the Name above every Name, or would the persecutors have won?

What price are you willing to pay to “fill up the measure of Christ’s suffering?” Would you refuse to speak in Jesus’ name or about Jesus for fear you will be misunderstood? Or for fear of offending someone? Or for fear you will miss a promotion at work? When the time comes and it is your turn to “fill up” the measure of the suffering of Christ for the church, what will you do?

Summary Statement

When Paul was Saul and had given himself to destroy the church, the resurrected Jesus stopped him on the Damascus Road and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Paul learned in that encounter that the unity of Jesus Christ to His body is so intimate that, when we suffer, Jesus hurts. When we hurt another Christian, it hurts our Savior.

And when we suffer because we are Christians, Christ is honored in our suffering. A Christian should never suffer “as a thief or evildoer” but it is an honor to suffer “as a Christian.” (1 Peter 4:15-16). Jesus blessed those who suffer for His namesake (Matthew 5:10-12).

But Paul also understood his suffering as “for the Gentiles (pagans, non-Jewish people).” Paul’s defense before the courts turned when he mentioned that he had been brought before the tribunal because of his desire for the Gentiles to receive this Gospel. These words infuriated the Jews who had accused him. They felt they were validated in their attacks against him because of his association with Gentile people.

Finally, Paul could rejoice in his sufferings because they “filled up the measure of the sufferings of Christ.” Much has been written trying to interpret these words. Paul here was by no means suggesting he was “adding to” Christ’s sacrificial work for us.

In fact Paul’s use of the word “afflictions” here (ESV, others) is employing a word never used to describe Christ’s suffering. The “afflictions” Paul was talking about were the “pressures of life” or “the pressures of ministry” he experienced because of his devotion to Jesus. (Wiersbe)

Jesus is close enough to His church to feel their pain, especially when they experience it because of their faith in Him. In this way we “fill up” the sufferings that God ordained for Christ to suffer on earth, and His body, as the continuing incarnation of Jesus, will experience before Christ’s return in glory.

His Message

Paul’s message was continually a Gospel-focused one. (See comments in Chapter 4). His desire was constantly to “make known the full Word of God” (v 25). His struggle as he explains it in Colossians 2:1-3 is that those who had not seen his face “may reach all the riches of full assurance and understanding and knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ…” (2:2)

Colossians takes on a religion based on their claim to have “a mystery” which they will reveal to you as you become their follower. They claimed to have “understanding” and “knowledge” of the mystery which was, as they defined it, “knowing God.”

Paul is taking their claim and turning it, against them and, at the same time, lifting up Jesus as “the mystery of God now revealed.” He desperately wants the Colossian and Laodecian churches to understand that, in Christ, the mystery has already been fully revealed!

In the mystical eastern religions in Biblical times, as well as ours, there is always a “secret code” or “secret ritual” or “secret name” or “secret number” that, when unlocked, solves all the mysteries of the universe. People still today seek out those religions and spend fortunes and lifetimes trying to purchase keys to unlock the mysteries of life.

But Paul is presenting, in Jesus, the mystery of God revealed, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1:27-28)

How profound! How simple! God has placed “the mystery” inside of the meekest and most inconsequential saint. Not the spiritually elite, or the remarkably intelligent, nor the influential leaders, but inside of all the Gentiles (pagans) lies the answer to life’s greatest questions: Christ. Is. In. You!

Paul expands this understanding in Ephesians 3:4-6

…the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members of one another’s body, and sharers together in Christ Jesus

Incredible statements. This mystery binds Jews and Gentiles together as one, to sit at the same table, share in the same body, and worship at the feet of Jesus Christ.

No wonder Paul longed to “have their hearts encouraged and joined together in love.” Grafting together two conflicting and opposing and hostile people to each other is no simple mission. But that is exactly what Paul sought to do, and weld them together with the fusion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This was a mystery. The fullness of God dwelt in Christ. That is profound. But another great mystery is also in play: “Christ is in you, the hope of glory. We cannot imagine the magnitude of that statement for Paul’s day, let alone our own.

The mystery, for those with “plausible arguments” that sought to destabilize young believers, was something to be discovered and looked for. The mystery, for Paul, was something that God had freely revealed as he proclaimed the word of God fully. (1:26)

Nothing is more worthy of our time, our “labor” (1:29), our love and our passion than this mystery. It is freely ours to freely share. Paul, though absent in body (2:5) was “with them in spirit” as they stand fast in the truth of this mystery, unshaken by arguments posed to them.

The Colossian church gave Paul cause to rejoice, finally, as he heard of “the good order and the firmness of (their) faith in Christ.” (2:5) Nothing gladdened the heart of the great apostle more than seeing their pursuit of the faith in the face of opposition and false teaching. This was the apostle’s heart and the engaging passion of his life, as the Word of God went forth and the Gospel was proclaimed.

It should also become ours.

Sermon Notes 02

The second part of Colossians 1 walks us into one of the deepest, most profound and glorious statements of the person and purpose of Jesus Christ given us in the Bible. In these verses are the most sublime expression ever spoken to humanity about the incarnation and the PRE-incarnate state of Jesus.

There is no way to overstate what we encounter in Colossians 1:15-23. In these verses we find ourselves confronted by the Deity of the Son of God and the proclamation of His supremacy over all creation. No place else in the Bible compresses this much doctrine and theology and truth into such a few verses.

While many of our Bible publishing houses try to set the verses apart to reflect their importance and their poetic style, some print the words as though they are simply prose. They are not.

According to Dr. AT Robertson, Paul’s exaltation of the pre-eminence of Jesus is in direct contrast with the Gnostics degradation of Jesus in their philosophy. (Robertson, *Paul and the Intellectuals*, p 40). This agrees with JB Lightfoot and other excellent commentators.

While these words are a tremendous exaltation of Christ for the Christian, (and some believe these words either became or came from a hymn being used as a teaching tool by the church in that time), they are at the same a polemic statement against those who would seek to reduce Jesus in any way. This reduction by the Gnostics and other advocates of religions serving other gods was exactly what Paul was attacking with these inspired words.

Let’s remember that Paul is not writing here in a vacuum. There was a very real threat growing that, were it allowed to go unchallenged, would lead to a very dangerous marriage of Greek philosophy and early Christian thought.

The Gnostic movement of the day (AD 60-62) was still in its infancy, but there were aggressive movements beginning to spring up. When false teaching is encountered, it must be addressed aggressively and immediately. To allow the leaven of half-truths and outright lies to ferment could pollute the whole loaf.

The Gnostics (the name means “the knowers” or “the knowing ones”) were considered the intelligentsia of the day. There were some truly brilliant thinkers who were involved in this movement. It seems to parallel roughly the movement of Scientology in our day, and Scientology seems to attract elite entertainment types and those who see themselves as very intelligent. While the claims made by L. Ron Hubbard and his movement are bizarre, the people attracted to it give it cultural legitimacy it doesn’t deserve. So with the Gnostic movement.

In a few basic statements, Gnosticism claimed to be a way to truly know God. They claimed that, since God was spirit and matter was evil, God could never touch the world directly. Therefore He put out a series of “emanations,” each a little further removed from God, until there was one far enough away that it could touch matter. It was that emanation that created the earth.

Another part of their teaching said that this creator-emanation had been so far removed from God that it was now hostile to God. Therefore the world, matter, and all that is in it is separated from God. The freedom for people came when they could be finally free from all “evil” matter in death. The Greek philosophers had long taught that the body was a prison house for the spirit, and death was the only way to be free from it.

We need to be aware at how closely some of our Christian thinking has come to this, and crossed over into Greek philosophy. Is the body a prison? Is this world something we should long to escape to arrive at a “purer” home in heaven? Many of our songs we have sung and sermons we have heard preached seem to affirm this.

But the Bible does not. The resurrection of Jesus PHYSICALLY as “the firstfruit from the dead” affirms the eternal plan of God to redeem the MATERIAL of the world as well as the SPIRITS of those who are human.

God’s plan is not ultimately to destroy the world and the universe, but to RESTORE it to its original splendor after it has been purified. We will live in a LITERAL and PHYSICAL world for eternity, not on a cloud floating in the sky.

And if you read the Bible carefully, you will see throughout that, while our desire is to get OUT of the world, God’s desire is to come INTO the world and to dwell with man here forever!

Christians are taken at death, not into a permanent dwelling place with God, but will be “in the Lord” or “with the Lord” until the day that Christ returns to bring the Kingdom of God in fullness. Then we will see our PERMANENT home established and “the dwelling of God will be with man” forever.

So we can see how much in conflict the Gnostic teaching was with Biblical thought. They also taught that Jesus was one of countless “emanations” that came from God, but was certainly not co-equal with God nor “God incarnate” in human flesh. That, to them, would be unthinkable.

The Gnostics believed that, with their superior knowledge and access to spiritual secrets, they could help you relate to a higher emanation…one close to God than Jesus Himself…if you would just follow them. Again, we can see how insidious and dangerous this philosophy was.

As we read the words of Colossians 1:15-20, let’s remember the context into which they were first spoken. Each statement was designed to attack another level of false teaching that was threatening this fledgling fellowship of Christians.

Jesus Himself said that “if I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto Myself.” This “lifting up of Jesus” is exactly what is lacking, sadly, even in many Christian gatherings today. When what we are about becomes anything less or other than Jesus, then we have, maybe unwittingly, done the same thing that the enemies of Christ seek to do: Make Him less than He is.

We must return in the church to doing as Paul and the early church did so fervently. We must make sure we are focusing on Jesus. D.L. Moody, before the beginning of the celebrated Chicago evangelistic campaign in 1873, had many come to him with ideas about how he should use his platform during the World’s Fair in Chicago. His response was, “I am going to make Jesus so attractive that men will turn to Him.” And in that campaign, thousands did. (Hughes, *Colossians*)

When we make much of Jesus, when we “make Jesus attractive,” people will come to hear about Him. Jesus promised that. Nothing else will do the same. Our focus must be to make much of Jesus!

15. He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.

16 For by him all things were created,
in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or rulers or authorities—
all things were created
through him and for him.

17 And he is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.

18 And he is the head of the body,
the church.
He is the beginning,
the firstborn from the dead,
that in everything he might be preeminent.

19. For in him all the fullness of God
was pleased to dwell,

20 and through him to reconcile
to himself all things,
whether on earth or
in heaven,
making peace by
the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:15-20 ESV

 

We sometimes hear this passage taught at Christmas as part of a series of messages on the incarnation.  That is certainly fine to do it there, but this is not simply a holiday devotion.  I think it best to treat each phrase of this great section independently and then pull the whole together at the end.

 

HE IS THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD

Christ is the Agent of Creation (1:15-16)

The Book of Colossians was written in a time of a proliferation of images.  The “social media” of the day was an image, or icon, of the Caesar (at the time of this letter, Nero).  This practice was common in the Roman world, and spurred Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees about taxation.  Jesus confronted them with a question:  “Showing them a coin, He asked, ‘Whose image is on it?’ And they answered, “Caesar’s.” “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that belong to God.”

Caesar’s image was stamped on all the coins.  It made his face and his image ubiquitous in the world, like getting millions of likes on a Facebook post.  It was everywhere!  And just to be certain the image was being circulated properly, (even among those who did not have money), statues and busts would also be erected everywhere; not only of the Caesar, but even of the Caesar’s family!

Historically it is also significant to note that Rome had just received a brand new Caesar.  He was said to be a spokeman that could “charm the birds out of the trees.”  He had led troops in battle as a commander of soldiers.  He was an artist, and an accomplished musician.  A violinist, in fact.  His name was Nero.

In the early days of Caesar Nero coming to the throne, there was a tremendous wave of excitement in the empire.  A new leader!  A winsome, multitalented, powerful leader who can lead Rome to a new day!  It was believed that Rome was the light of the world.  All of the hopes of the people of Rome were placed on Nero, before his power went to his head and he lost his influence and some argue, his mind.  Nero became the first Roman emperor to commit suicide.

But there is no wonder statues were erected and songs written about and to Nero.  People were eager to see the light Rome would now bring to the world.  Their hopes were destined to be dashed.

Icons (images, statues, stained glass windows) are still common in some Catholic and other Orthodox religious systems.  They represent a pope, an angelic being, or a person considered a saint in the depiction.  Many evangelical traditions have rejected this practice as the creation of a “graven image,” prohibited by the Ten Commandments.

As a bit of a tangent here, it should be pointed out that, in the Book of Genesis, man was created “in the image of God.” (Genesis 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 11:7). While man was created as a reflector and representative of God’s image, sin has marred our ability to do that perfectly and in fact man was never able to fully contain or reflect God’s image.  We do not perfectly reflect the unchanging and eternal-the “immutable”-attributes of a holy God.

So here, Paul borrows a common word from the Greek language in describing Jesus:  He is the “ikon,” the image of the invisible God.  Our Savior said, “No man has seen God at any time.  But the only begotten of the Father has made Him known.”  (John 1:18)

As we behold Jesus, we see the Father.  Jesus said to Philip during the Last Supper, “He that has seen Me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8). But this means more than revealing a physical image.  Jesus was not, and Paul was not saying “Jesus looks like God.”  That’s beside the point.

Paul is telling us that, in Jesus Christ, the very nature of God is being revealed.  We see, not the physical contours of the Father’s face, but the contours of His heart.  How does God think?  What is important to Him?  What does He want of us?  How do we live to please Him?

All of these questions, and more, are answered as we behold the face of God in Jesus Christ.  Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.”  God’s glory and beauty is radiating out through the person of Jesus Christ.  We are seeing in Jesus, not simply one of many steps to know God, but the only way to the Father.

This statement alone was enough to devastate the argument of false religions which claim other ways to God than through Jesus.  It certainly flew in the face of the Gnostics assertions.  But the argument goes even further with the next phrase.

 

THE FIRSTBORN OVER ALL CREATION

Now we need to be careful in our usage of language to state that this does not mean Jesus was created.  The idea of “firstborn” can be traced back to Psalm 89:27 where David is called “the firstborn of the kings of the earth.” While certainly David was not the “firstborn” in the sense of being born first in time, he was called the “firstborn” as an order of priority and privilege.  (Melick, New American Commentary, V 22)

This phrase has nothing to do with birth order, or order or hierarchy of time.  It is a word that means “prominent,” or “first in order of importance.”

The church has struggled at times throughout history to understand this phrase.  A preacher in the Fourth Century named Arius, who came from Alexandria in Egypt, taught that Jesus was the “created creator” and was one step less than God.  He did this in an effort to guard the church against the charge of polytheism.

Arius’ views were rejected by the church in AD 325, but some groups (including Jehovah’s Witnesses) continue to follow this flawed train of thought.  (Melick, New American Commentary, V 22) It is not commonly accepted Christian belief, however.  It would have been more in line with the Gnostics in Paul’s day!

Jesus was the One Who “created all things.”  We live in a galaxy called the Milky Way.  Our little “cul-de-sac” in the universe contains literally billions of stars.  We can only see a few hundred with the naked eye.

Each of these stars that pinpoint the darkness at night are orbs of fire and light, even the smallest of which dwarf our sun by comparison. Our ability to see with huge telescopes and send interstellar probes out on exploratory missions is still in its infancy.  We cannot even count how many galaxies exist, but of those we know about we’ve found we’re among the smallest.

Jesus created all of this.  He did it, we are told, by the power of “His Word.”  It is this that makes Him “most important,” or “most prominent” among all of creation.  Everything exists because He says so!

This also allows us to understand where we came from and why we are here.  We forget that the answer to those two questions will be the steering current for a human life.

If we think we are here by cosmic accident, and when life is over we just cease to exist, then everything between our birth and death is meaningless.  We have successfully indoctrinated most of our children with this view in our culture.  And we are reaping the whirlwind in skyrocketing suicide rates among young people and out of control addiction and substance abuse.

Without Jesus, LIFE MEANS NOTHING.  It is “just a vapor.”  A puff of smoke.  A cloud that vanishes in the heat of day.  We have no eternal destiny or purpose.  We have literally become complicit in the deaths of an untold number of young people by indoctrinating them with this lie that is commonplace in our culture, our media, our universities and our textbooks, that life is essentially random at the outset and meaningless at the end.

If Jesus is the “firstborn over all creation” then we have a Creator and we have a destiny and this means we have a purpose!  Without this understanding (which, by the way, is ridiculed in most circles that claim to be populated by the intelligentsia), our life is futile and suicide actually offers a plausible though tragic alternative to some.

This text teaches that in all of creation, nothing and no one is more pre-eminent; of higher priority or of more importance that Jesus.  Jesus was not a created being in His essence, though His earthly body was “prepared” for Him by the Father.

He could not be the perfect image of the invisible God if He was created by God.  My son has many of my qualities and physical characteristics, but our children cannot perfectly reflect their parents.  Most breathe a sigh of relief that this is true.

Jesus was “the image of the invisible God” and “the firstborn” (protokos, Gk) of all creation but as we will see next, “all things were created by Him.” He could not create Himself.

There is no way Biblically that an argument can be made to make Christ a created being in any way, though many through the years have tried to do just that.

 

FOR EVERYTHING WAS CREATED BY HIM

He is Lord of the Universe

(Colossians 1:16-17)

No doctrine has been more heavily debated than the assertion that the world was created and did not just randomly form in a collision of molecules and matter.  Both sides of this argue regularly lob shells into the opposing camp.

I do not wish in this section to dissect the views of those who reject the idea of creation.  While I vehemently disagree with any view that posits an argument against the creation claims of Scripture, many books have been written and sermons preached that critique these viewpoints.

Scientific or philosophical naturalism is a closed system that only allows things of the material world to be knowable.  The entire assertion of the Bible is that an unseeable, invisible God -Who is Spirit-created all things seen and unseen.  Scientific naturalism asserts the opposite; that those things that are seen (human beings) created the invisible (God).

Scientism claims precedence since they only allow that to be true which can be seen or proven or tested empirically.  Christian theism claims that the greatest truth that can be known is unseen to us.  So on the argument goes, and there is no reconciliation of it nor compromise to be found.

I will say that, if you are struggling with what you believe on the idea of creation verses evolution, or science verse faith, it is essential that you prayerfully resolve this tension.  If you reject God as Creator of all things, you have essentially made the truth of Scripture a non-starter and the things of God are reduced to fiction.

Can one be a faithful Christian and an advocate of science?  Absolutely!  Many are brilliant scientists, but none who believe the tenets of naturalism can hold to the truths of the Bible at the same time.  They are diametrically opposed positions.  And none who reject the hundreds of Scriptures built on a foundation that “God created…” can claim a faithful adherence to Holy Scripture. It is impossible to navigate the Bible and sidestep the understanding that God created everything.

These verses assert three things:

  1. Christ is the agent of creation (v 16).

“…everything was created by Him.” While God the Father was the architect of creation, God the Son was the implementer of the plan.  Jesus is the Word of God, and “by His Word all things exist.” (Hebrews 11:3)  The earth, the universe, and things visible and invisible were created by the Word.

The sheer magnitude of the universe is staggering.  The sun has a diameter of 864,000 miles.  That is one hundred times the size of earth.  Our sun could hold 1.3 million planets the size of earth’s diameter inside of it.

The star Betelgeuse, however, has a diameter of 100 million miles, which is larger than the area of the earth’s orbit around the sun!  The light that travels the distance from our sun to the earth takes 8.5 minutes to arrive.  By contrast, the same ray of light would take four years, traveling at 186,000 feet per second, to reach the nearest star, Alpha Centauri. (Colossians, MacArthur)

This verse strongly advocates against the Gnostic position that the material of earth was too evil for God to touch.  Paul advocates that Jesus made it all.  “By Him…” means “in His mind or in His sphere of influence or responsibility.”  Practically this means that Jesus conceived of creation and its complexities (Melick, NAC, V22).  William Hendrikson suggested that this means “Jesus is the cornerstone from which all of creation takes its bearings.” (Hendrikson, Colossians and Philemon, NTC) The phrase points to Jesus as the “detailer” of Creation.  In other words, Jesus “originated the details of creation and brought them into existence by His own creative energies.”

It was the Holy Spirit Who actually does the hands-on work of bringing these plans into reality.  Jesus was, we would say, the foreman of the construction process!  (Melick, Colossians, NAC, V 22) Creation was, in essence, the product of the Trinity in creative power.

But it’s also important to note the text says, not only “by Him,” but  “through Him.”  This means that Jesus was the effectual agent of creation, the One by Whom all things, seen and unseen, were brought into existence.

 

2. “Jesus is the goal of creation…” (v 16)

Finally, it was all done “for Him.”  Literally the phrase means, “unto Him.”  Jesus is the ultimate goal of creation.  Everything is moving toward a terminal point, or “Omega Point.” (Pannenburg, Systematic Theology V 1)  Jesus is that terminal point.

In the same way that a statue is conceived by an artist, and then crafted and shaped by his own hands, Jesus conceived of and crafted all things.  As we remember the artist as long as the statue stands, so we remember Jesus as we admire His handiwork in the universe. (Melick, op cit)

But not only did create the things that are seen, He also created those things that are not seen:  “…whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-“. So even the unseen things…powers, dominions, thrones, and authorities…have their existence because of Jesus.

Simply put, this indicates that Jesus is Lord not only of all the things we can see and study and understand with our minds and eyes and ears and hands, but He is even Lord of those powers we cannot see but are nonetheless real.

It is just the possibility of the existence of such a spirit world that the secular world and a naturalistic worldview seeks to discount.  And yet most thinking people have a sense (that God gave them) that such a world does exist and somehow has varying degrees of influence over us.

This is not to make us afraid, but to give us assurance that Jesus Himself is Lord of such a domain.  While we may not understand all of these unseen realities, Jesus created and controls even them!

These unseen realities are in all likelihood the various ranks of angels.  Paul says in a parallel verse in Ephesians 1 that Jesus “has been exalted far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named…” (Ephesians 1:21)  This is a crucial part of Paul’s argument against the Gnostic threat in Colossians, since even the angelic “emanations” which the Gnostic heretics claimed to control with secret names and rituals and knowledge were put in place and are ruled over by Jesus.

No domain escapes His rule and authority.  Nothing “in Heaven and earth” exists but that which Jesus created.  He is Lord and Creator of the seen as well as the unseen realities of the world and the universe.

It has become in vogue once again to hear intellectual discussions about the possibility of extra-terrestrial life existing somewhere.  The conspiracy theories around the celebrated Area 51, where it is suspected the government has hidden evidence of such life flare up every year or so.

I will sometimes be asked by an earnest person if I believe such life does exist.  Some of the most acclaimed intelligentsia of our day (Stephen Hawking and the atheist Richard Dawkins) have affirmed their belief in them.  In a sense, this is exactly what the Gnostic heretics were affirming as well, though their view was less “scientific” and more spiritual in tone.  My opinion is such an existence is doubtful, and the Bible does not affirm it at all.

But from this text (and no, this really isn’t a verse about UFOs) it can be implied that, were they to exist, (1) Jesus created them and (2) Jesus has dominion over them.  Now please don’t walk away thinking, “I didn’t know our pastor was a UFO conspiracy guy.” I’m not.  Again, my strongest opinion and assertion is that we are alone and the only living creatures out here as we circle on the third rock from the sun and as such are the sole focus of God’s reconciling work.

My certainty, however, is that nothing in this universe, known by us or not; SEEN by us or not, escapes the rule of Christ.  And since He made everything, He is the most powerful force that can be known.

So let me extricate myself from this argument with this:

“May the force —of Jesus— be with you!”

 

3. “He is the sustainer of creation...” (v 17)

The third assertion of these verses is that Jesus is the One Who not only CREATED all things that exist, and Who is not only the GOAL of creation and the point to which everything is headed, but Jesus is the One Who, by His personal presence and care, SUSTAINS all creation.

There is an order to creation, and a design that can only be attributed to One far greater than us Who set these things in place.  Max Plank, one of the founders of modern physics and a Nobel prize winner, wrote in his book Design in Nature:

According to everything taught in the exact sciences about the immense realm of nature, a certain order prevails in terms of purposeful activity.  There is evidence of an intelligent order of the universe to which both man and nature are subservient.  (Deyoung, p. iii)

This from a man who was not espousing a religious or faith-based position, but was simply an honest scientist making an observation about our known universe.  There is an order.  There is a design in nature.  There is a “purpose” in our universe that seems to be designed for the well-being of mankind.

We exist in the exact orbit around the sun necessary for life to survive.  A degree closer, and we would burn up.  A degree further away from the sun would cause the earth to freeze.  We live in world that is delicately balanced to preserve life, and all provisions are made for us:  oxygen to breathe, water to drink, and predictable seasons with periods of sunlight suitable for growth.

If you are ready to do mental gymnastics you can seek to calculate the chances that such a planet would exist in our universe, (though none other seems to), where humanity can flourish.  The mathematical odds alone are staggering and mind blowing!

And yet some find it easier to live in the odds of that happening by chance than to accept with simple faith that “all things were created” by God, and “He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together.”  We live in a world uniquely suited for us to survive and thrive.

If we live in a world with such delicate balance, how can it stay in place?  With asteroids, and solar flares exploding, how does it stay exactly where it does?

Well, science tells us there is an invisible force called gravity that we can’t see.  And there certainly seems to be that. And the spinning motion of the earth, combining with the gravitational pull of the sun, holds the earth in its perfect orbit.

I have no reason to question or doubt that.  The law of gravity seems pretty solid to me.  But with such a delicate balancing act, why don’t we get knocked off our orbit by some random space object flying our way?  Does it kind of make you lose sleep to know we are hanging by an invisible thread tied to….what?

Some friends got me a Christmas gift last year that is fascinating.  It is a globe that floats between two magnets.  When you put it in just the right distance from the magnets, the globe floats and spins.  But nothing holds it in place except for the invisible force of magnetic poles.

My granddarlin’ McCail was quite fascinated by Poppy’s new toy and her first inclination as a curious preschooler was to touch the globe with her finger.  And of course, it knocked the globe out of that magic, invisible place where it floated effortlessly and fell to the floor with a crash.

How has the earth, for as many years as it’s been around, ever been “knocked off it’s pins” by some force or power?  Because of Jesus.  “By Him all things hold together.”

And let’s turn the telescope around and observe a microscopic universe.  We are made up of atomic and sub-atomic material.  The more powerful we make the microscope to observe the world unseen by the naked eye, the more of that universe we discover exists.  We have not yet gotten to the bottom of the world of the atom and our atomic structure yet.  We just haven’t invented the lens that is powerful enough to see it through.

My suspicion is we never will.  What we do know, and scientific theory supports this, is that atoms defy anyone’s understanding.  How do they hold together?  Why do they not simply fly apart in a massive nuclear holocaust?  Scientists have dubbed this phenomenon “strong nuclear force.”  But they have no idea why it exists!

Physicist George Gamow, one of the founders of the Big Bang theory, wrote,

The fact that we we live in a world in which practically every object is a potential nuclear explosive, without being blown to bits, is due to the extreme difficulties that attend the starting of a nuclear reaction.  

Or maybe the fact that “by Him all things hold together.”  In other words, all things do NOT blow apart in multiplied trillions of potential nuclear explosions because Jesus is the “force” that is holding all things together.

I, for one, am not prepared to state, “well we’re just lucky it doesn’t happen.”  Is that the best we can do?  Or can we find the faith to believe that there IS a Creator Who put all things in place after the pleasure of His will and purpose and He knows how to keep it all from splintering into oblivion?

Gamow continued,

You grasp what this implies?  It implies that all the massive nuclei combined have no right to be alive!  It implies that they have no right to be alive at all, and if created should have blown up instantly.  Yet, here they are!

This unseen “force” that holds the nucleus of the atom together has been called Coulomb’s Law of electrostatic force.  That, combined with the laws of magnetism, are the theories science believes “hold all things together.”

Even honest scientists, on observation and setting aside their philosophical preconceptions, are amazed at the world and the universe we live in.  There are so many fundamental things that have no logical reason for existence!

It reminds us of the verse in Romans which, read properly, says it is impossible to be an atheist:

Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and   Divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

Unbelieving man willingly ignores the evidence before his eyes and chooses not to believe.  The same evidence is presented to every person.  But people will look at the same phenomenon, and some will allow it to lead them to belief and others will claim these things as “chance,” or “good fortune” or “luck.”  They willfully deny what is plainly before them.

The world we live in, created and upheld by the One Who holds all things together will one day be dissolved, when “the heavens will pass with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and all its works will be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10)

But until then, we live by the grace of the One by Whom “all things hold together.”  The One is Jesus Christ, our Creator and our Savior; our provider and our sustainer.  He is the One Who is “before all things and by Him all things hold together.”

 

HE IS THE HEAD OF THE BODY, THE CHURCH

He is also the head of the body, the church… (v 18)

Most of the metaphors for the church found in the Bible; a family, a vineyard, a kingdom, a flock, a building…are all found in the Old Testament.

But the picture of the church as the Body of Christ is uniquely a New Testament metaphor.  There is nothing else that defines the unity between Christ and His people as intimately as this.  The church is His body, a living organism that is tied to the living Christ.

As our bodies take our direction and find our fulfillment when connected to our brains, so the body of Christ finds its highest function when tied in an unbroken connection to the Head which is Christ.

But just as frail human flesh, sometimes the body refuses to do what the brain instructs.  Disease, dysfunction, brokenness all disrupt  this desired unity between head and body.  The results are sad to see.

Likewise, as the head of the body, the church is to move in complete harmony with Christ.  We become unmanageable, dysfunctional, and broken when we do not walk in harmony with our Head.

The disunity, argumentation, and unChristlike behavior that at times characterize the Body grieves our Head.  If we truly were looking to follow the Head the body would never behave in a dysfunctional or disjointed way.  Disunity would not happen if we were all following the direction set by the One Who is “the Head of the body, the church.”

I have always been attracted to the more organic images of the church as the body.  The church, in its essence, is an organism more than an organization, though qualities and ideas of both are present in Scripture.

There is a need for organizational guidelines and understandings for a group of people to function.  Some denominations have sought to simply related organically, but those usually fall short of what is needed to survive together.  Dimensions of both are essential for a church to flourish.

But I lean toward a preference for the organic comparison.  Just as it is hard for a body to function without a skeletal structure, so it is hard for a church to function without some sense of “skeletal” organization.

 

He is the beginning…

The church was not man’s idea, nor man’s creation.  Jesus did not come along and “adopt” a structure that was already in place.  He is the beginning.  This word can have either a temporal application (first in time) or a positional one (first in authority).  It is more likely the positional idea in view here, and that is modified by the second phrase:

 

The firstborn from among the dead…

This clearly is a phrase that asserts Jesus’ supremacy in His resurrection.  The idea of “firstborn” ties back to “the beginning” to help us understand clearly what is being said.

The statement is telling us that, through redemption and resurrection, the church had it’s beginning and Jesus being “the firstborn from among the dead” sets a new direction and new order for redeemed humanity.

The entire verse provides the reason that “Jesus is the head of the church.”  As it’s beginning due to His cross and His victory due to the resurrection the church now exists.  It is His church.  “I will build my church,” Jesus said, “And the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

No man is head of the church.  No group of people, no board of directors, no pope, no bishops or presbytery serve as the “Head” of the church, since His role is unique due to His sacrifice for it.  This assures His continuing authority, leadership, and care for “the body…the church.”  Only Jesus is the Head.  Our role is simply, as the Body, to follow.

 

that He might come to have first place in everything. (v 18)

At the end of all this, the purpose is “that He might come to have first place…” or, as some translate this, “the supremacy” in everything.

Let’s hear this first as a rebuke to the Gnostics who lowered Jesus’ position to one of the bottom levels in their hierarchy.  “How,” they reasoned, “could God make Himself known in a person Who occupied flesh?”  One branch of this movement, know as “Docetics” (“seemists”) argued that Jesus only “seemed” to have a human body, since deity could not be lowered to occupying flesh and blood.  Their writings reflect their effort to eliminate references to the reality of “God in flesh” in Jesus.

But Paul’s conclusion was that in all of this, Jesus is to have “first place” or “supremacy” in everything!  “Everything” extends the supremacy of Christ far beyond any conceivable scope and beyond.  He must have first place in everything!

  • First place in our family
  • First place in our marriage
  • First place in our profession
  • First place in our missions and ministry
  • First place in our thinking
  • First place in time
  • First place in love
  • First place in conversation
  • First place in pleasure
  • First place in eating
  • First place in play
  • First place in athletics
  • First place in our entertainment
  • First place in art
  • First place in music
  • First place in worship
  • First place in living
  • First place in dying
  • First place in His body, the church!

“It’s crazy if you think about it.  The God of the universe—the God Who created nitrogen and pine needles and E-minor, loves us with a radical, unconditional, and self-sacrificing love.  And what is our response?  We go to church, sing a couple of tunes, and try not to cuss.”  —Francis Chan

What should our response be?  We give Him the supremacy in everything!

 

FOR IN HIM ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD WAS PLEASED TO DWELL

In verse 19, we encounter one of the most mind-blowing realities we can contemplate about Jesus.  “All the fullness of God” was dwelling in Jesus.

In our human frailty and our sometimes apathetic attempts at understanding our Savior and our salvation though we plead it as the most important thing if we’re believers, we lose sight of important truth.

Jesus is God.  Not fifty percent God.  He was not a “hybrid” of God and man.  He was fully God, and fully human.  Both.  One hundred percent both.

That is the doctrine of the incarnation that we must think about other than a few weeks during Christmas.  God dwelt in Jesus.  The concept, if you seriously think about it, is mind numbing.  How can this be?

Wasn’t Jesus born in Galilee of a human mother?  Wasn’t He a Jew by race?  And wasn’t He a human being Who felt the sting of the lash and the piercing pain of the nails that tore His flesh on the cross?  How could that happen…to God?

But the Scripture here (and several other places) affirms that “all the fullness of God was dwelling in Jesus.” Everything there was about God was resident in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, Mary’s baby.

The Creator of the stars, the planets, the galaxies…was compressed into the fetus of a Jewish virgin named Mary.  To borrow from the age-old hymn, “How Can It Be?”

When false teachers arise with their doctrines to deceive, it is this truth that is attacked.  This truth is assaulted by half-truth and distortion.  “All the fullness of God” lived (and by the way, still lives) in Jesus.  He is “the exhaustion of God” to quote one theologian.

This statement too was an assault against the false teaching of the Gnostic heretics.  They taught that Jesus was one of the “emanations” that flowed forth from God.  All of the emanations together, they believed was the “pleroma,” the Greek word for the “fullness.”

But Paul says, “NO!”  ALL the pleroma of God is in Jesus.  ALL the fullness has taken up residence in Jesus.  He is not one dimension of the fullness of God, He IS the fullness of God!

Later this is reiterated in Colossians 2:9: “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…”. So this is no mistaken gloss or statement taken out of context.  It is reinforced over and again in Scripture.  The fullness of God lives in Jesus PHYSICALLY.

“The totality of Divine essence and power has taken up its residence in Christ.” (FF Bruce). Everything there is to know about God is found in Christ.  Everything there is to life is found in Christ.  Everything there is to salvation is found in Christ.

“Jesus Christ is the ultimate.  There is none before Him, nought beyond Him, and nothing without Him.  Other than Jesus will not do; less than Jesus will not suit; more than Jesus is not possible.  More than all in Him we find.  Everything of God is to be found in Him and little of God is to be found apart from Him.”  (Dermot McDonald)

There is nothing in this statement that says this indwelling of God in Christ was a temporary arrangement.  If this is true, the God Who is Spirit, will be visible in the Son throughout all eternity.

Our eternal life with God will be a life with One Who occupied and still occupies the body in which He was crucified, wrapped and buried in a borrowed tomb, and raised to life.  God never withdraws or abandons that physical, now glorified body.  We will see Him, relate to Him, love Him, and worship Him in our own glorified flesh forever.

 

and through Him to reconcile all things whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross. (v20)

 

Charles Wesley wrote the words to one of our more popular Christmas carols, Joy to the World

No more let sins and sorrow grow

Nor thorns infest the ground;    

He comes to make His blessings flow

Far as the curse is found.

 

Our understanding of salvation is typically very short-sighted.  In the songs we sing, the sermons we hear, and books we read there are dimensions of salvation that are overlooked or worse, disregarded as unimportant.

God’s eternal plan was, “through Him (Jesus) to reconcile all things…”  We sometimes mistakenly think that salvation’s plan was to save people.  And certainly that is so.

But what we fail to take into account is that, because of sin that came by man’s disobedience to God, ALL of creation…living and inanimate…all of the universe…is out of relationship with the Creator.

When our federal (representative) head, Adam, chose to follow the his own path in the Garden instead of God’s, everything that Adam had dominion over as the first created man fell with him.

God’s plan (2 Peter 3) is to finally and ultimately purify all that He created in the first six days and proclaimed was “good” (interestingly a word that also means “beautiful”).

But now, because of the blight of sin, “the whole creation groans,” and decays, and dies, and suffers with war, and cancer, and broken relationships, dashed hopes, weeds in our gardens and thorns in our hands.  “We who are in this tent do groan….”  Childbirth brings pain before it brings joy.  But creation is now in something like the pain of childbirth, and will sooner than later give birth to the joy God intended!  God never meant His creation to live in conflict with itself…or with Him.  His plan is to reconcile “all things” to Himself through the now accomplished redemption through Jesus “whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.”

 

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration (futility), not by its own choice, but by the will of the one (Adam) who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  (Romans 8:19-22)

And you…..

Now the focus shifts from “all things on earth and in heaven” to the personal reconciliation of alienated and hostile people.  You.  And me.

Who were once alienated and doing hostile deeds…

We have to acknowledge within ourselves that WE are the main thing that is wrong with the world.  WE are alienated from God and hostile to Him, and the fruit of that hostility is a mind that is turned away from the things of God and therefore “we do evil deeds/actions.”

Our actions flow from a mind that is corrupted by sin and a spirit that is living in hostility against the things of God.  We are alienated.  We have done it to ourselves.  And the proof is in the deeds we do.

But now… (Colossians 1:22 CSB)

The great reprieve comes here.  BUT NOW these things can be remedied.  NOW there is a way to turn away from our inner and outer hostility which characterizes our lives.  “Now is the accepted time…” Now the doorway to peace is open, through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

He has reconciled in His body of flesh by His death

We did not reconcile ourselves.  Estranged as we were from God, we did not even desire to reconcile to Him.  Even the very motive to seek reconciliation and the faith applied to make it true in our lives came from God.  It was His blood.  His flesh.  His body.  His plan.  But we live eternally as glad recipients of it!

In order to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach before Him.

God’s plan is not to redeem us so we could then spend the rest of our lives slavishly attempting to “clean up the mess” left behind.  Through the blood of Jesus, the sacrifice of the cross, we receive a sentence that says “you are holy, blameless, and above reproach” instead of one that says, “Condemned.”  This declaration is because of Christ’s sacrifice, not our own action.

 

If indeed you continue in the faith

Luther used the illustration of our salvation being like a dying patient taking a medication delivered by the doctor.  When the medicine passes the dying man’s lips and enters his body, he says, “He is cured.”  But it may be some time before the patient begins to demonstrate evidence of the cure the medicine is bringing.

That seems to be something of Paul’s argument here.  We have been “cured” from the curse of sin through the reconciling work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  However, it may still be the case that we still demonstrate symptoms of our former “sin sickness” that, while it cannot reverse the cure, it can keep us living in sin’s foul grip.

We are to “continue in the faith.”  We are to grow up in our faith (2 Peter 1). Some of that growth must be efforts we make to learn more about the “cure” we have received by God’s reconciling work.

We are to be “stable and steadfast.”  We are to set our face toward Jesus.  Many distractions and attacks will come our way to discourage us and seek to “destabilize” our beliefs and convictions.  But the greatest testimony we can bear to the truth of God’s Word is a stability that cannot be shaken.

We are not to “shift from the hope.”  We keep placing our confidence in Jesus Christ.  We are to keep our eyes on the horizon for His return.  We are to be a hopeful people, standing on a rock that cannot be moved.

Our hope is in “the gospel which we heard, and which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven.”  “All creation under heaven” is where the Gospel needed to be proclaimed, because only there are those whom God has chosen to be reconciled.  The stars and planets and galaxies above do not need the Gospel broadcast to them.  But people on earth do, that they might hear and be saved.

Finally, Paul concludes this incredible passage by affirming that he has been “made a minister” of this Gospel hope.  He is a servant of it, a proclaimer of it, and witness to it, and an apostle for it.

Sermon Notes 01 Colossians: Living Risen

Preface

The brief letter to the Colossians was etched deeply within my soul just a few weeks after becoming a follower of Jesus in late 1974. As a new believer, the Bible had just begun to make sense to me for the first time in my life.

Somewhere I ran across a pocket Gideon New Testament that I took into my office at General Telephone Company in Ashland, Kentucky where I worked as a Customer Service Representative. It was a low-level job, but I got my own small office and desk to go with it.

I kept the little Gideon Bible in my center drawer, and every time I had a moment and usually over every lunch break, I read it. I was soaking it up like a sponge!

The very first book of the Bible I read in its entirety was The Book of Colossians. I will never forget finishing those four chapters. I couldn’t have been more proud if I had just finished War and Peace.

But reading it through that first proud winter’s day was just the beginning. There were things I encountered in this little book that I needed to know about. I was learning and forming my understanding of Who the Bible said Jesus really was: “The image of the invisible God….” “The firstborn of all creation….” I read those four chapters continuously, returning to it like a favorite food dish. I couldn’t get enough of it!

I was wrestling with the concept of Christ being in me….ME…”the hope of glory.” And I was lost in the idea of “setting my mind on heavenly things, not on things of the earth” as we are told in the third chapter.

These thoughts I first encountered and contemplated while working in my cubicle office at the phone company never left me. And I have, in forty-five years of reading, studying, preaching, and research in the Scriptures, still not reached the bottom of their riches. I come back to these four chapters time and again.

So now, four and a half decades of walking with Christ later, I will attempt to put some of these thoughts in writing. Many authors, much more accomplished that I am, have written commentaries and studies on the Colossian letter. I doubt seriously that my thoughts will add anything to that which has already been written.

However this letter has been such a personal and constant part of my journey as a Christian, I find myself needing to share some things I have learned. And maybe as I hold this jewel up to the light, it will allow you to see a facet you might have missed.

And selfishly, I hope it might do the same for me!

Introduction

The Bible, while God-breathed throughout, is a book written by men “led by the Holy Spirit” who were living in a specific historical period of time. To correctly and aptly interpret it, it must be read and analyzed with that context in mind. God breathed His Word into an historic setting that spanned 1500 years— from the mountains and wilderness of Sinai, to the flowing waters of the Jordan River, to the rocky shores of Patmos. It was inspired and written on three continents, in three distinct languages, and by forty different human authors.

As a book written in history and containing history, it stands above any other surviving documents of the period or of most any other epoch of human existence. No other book compares with it.

We are left with over fifty-eight hundred documents, manuscripts, papyrus fragments, scrolls and other written sources, including pottery fragments! These sources agree in every major point, thus weaving an absolutely extraordinary historical record. No other historic document in our possession contains as much objective historic manuscript evidence as does the Bible. We do not have nearly that number of manuscripts of Plato or Aristotle’s philosophies, or of the writings of Julius Caesar. Of those we have, hundreds of years lapsed between their first being written and the date of the manuscripts, weakening the authority of these sources. In addition, archaeology has consistently supported the accounts of the Bible as historically valid, much to the ire of the Bible’s critics.

Many books have been written concerning the information above. It is not my intent to travel back through them, except to say that when I read or preach or teach the Bible, I stand with absolute confidence in its statements, doctrines, descriptions, historic and theological premises. Where science or historians or archaeology seem to disagree with the Bible, they consistently find themselves proven in error. History truly is “His story” and God has Divinely protected its transmission and preservation over the millennia. The Bible can be trusted, and is the most historically validated document in the possession of humanity!

The Apostle Paul

The Apostle Paul (formerly known as Saul the rabbi), was a man of his time. Though the Holy Spirit inspired the documents of the Bible, He did not pick up the chosen writers like some living “ink pen” and write the words of Scripture through them.

It came through their personalities (Paul’s writing differs greatly from Peter’s which differs greatly from John’s). You can see their fingerprints on the pages they wrote or dictated to a secretary who carefully captured each word spoken.

Paul was, humanly speaking, a brilliant man. Yet in spite of his background and education he claimed before one audience to “know nothing among you but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” He did not write Romans simply relying on a brilliant legal mind. The Holy Spirit overtook Paul’s intellect without destroying Paul’s individuality, personality, or background. God compressed personality, education, background, heritage, experience and Spirit into the vessel He used.

But Paul was also a man of his time. He could speak with eloquence of the nuances and idiosyncrasies of Jewish law as well as write with first-hand knowledge of the Olympic Games and other sporting events.

These things are influential and need to be kept before the reader as we move into the work of interpreting Colossians for our time. World history of the day must also be kept in view to get the best understanding possible of God’s Word.

Rome and Colossae

Paul and the Colossians were people of Rome. The Roman Empire stood for almost 1500 years influencing, challenging, and changing their world. The maps of Europe and Asia and some of Africa that we still use today contain delineations of countries put in place by Rome.

Many words we still use in our language today were inspired by usage in the Roman Empire, as are laws and understandings of law and justice that still impact the judicial system today.

The empire was, by some accounts, just over sixty years in existence when the words of Colossians were first written. Rome was young, and hungry, and had already conquered territories that expanded from India in the east to Great Britain to the west.

Rome also kept a relatively uneasy peace among the people’s conquered in its 4 million plus square- mile-empire which stretched from India to Britannia, the Netherlands to Africa. The “pax Romana,” (the peace of Rome) allowed for the employment of massive numbers of slave labor and unemployed soldiers in creating the Roman Road, of which “all roads lead to Rome” was speaking.

The empire wisely embraced a “laissez-fare” or “hands off” approach when it came to allowing existing religious systems to continue. In Rome’s view, this was added value in helping the peace continue. And in fact with a few insignificant exceptions, attempts to overthrow the Roman government were few and always failed.

In the same time frame, the Jewish religion grew aggressively. A few years ago, while visiting Macedonia, we were confronted in every small town with an Islamic prayer tower. I asked the missionary giving us the tour if the religion of Islam was prevalent there. He said, “Many of the prayer spires and mosques are not being used yet, but they intend for them to be.” The mosques reflect Islam’s determination to be a worldwide religion.

That was what the Jews did. They embarked on an aggressive growth campaign that involved building a synagogue in every city possible, even though a rabbi was not available to oversee it. These synagogues became vital for the propagation of the Gospel, as Paul was a trained and credentialed rabbi who would be eagerly heard by a Jewish audience, especially in those places without their “own” rabbi.

The Roman road system, some of which is still in use today (including some bridges!), provided ample freedom for Paul and other missionaries to move quickly into the world conquered by Rome. The trip that the leaders of the Colossian church took to Ephesus was about one hundred twenty miles in length, but could be accomplished in safety and relative ease, thanks to the Roman road system and the guards along the way who kept it free from highway bandits.

This may sound like a treatment of Rome that glosses over the abuses, and capricious cruelty and even the attempted genocide of some populations, including the enslavement of millions. Rome was not all good by any stretch of the historian’s pen. However, we need to acknowledge contributions of this culture where they were made. And there were many we still feel the impact of today. (Beard, SPQR)

Galatians 4:4 said, But when the time was fulfilled, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying, “ABBA, Father! So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. The timing for the propagation of the Gospel could not have been more perfect historically. It was “pregnant and about to give birth,” to capture the literal meaning of the phrase, the “time being fulfilled.” It was literally God-timed and God-birthed. The stage had been set for the Gospel to travel into the world!

As we read Colossians, one more historic reality needs to be considered, and that is the fact that Paul was in prison in Rome. The letters to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon were written during this same period of imprisonment, around 60-62 AD.

Not an uncommon practice in that day, prisoners would be allowed some freedom to entertain guests, receive gifts of food and clothing, and send out correspondence. I have often said that, had God not allowed Paul to experience occasional prison sentences, he would never have stopped long enough to write the many documents that make much of our New Testament!

And so as we begin our journey into the Colossian letter, let’s keep these things as an historic backdrop. They will help provide a sense of context to the letters on the pages of your Bible. This is real life we are reading about as first -century Christians grappled with the implications of their newfound faith in the resurrected Jesus.

My prayer, as you read the inspired words of Colossians, is that real life may be yours as you see again why Christ is above all!

CHAPTER ONE

A Culture on Fire

The fire was raging in the small town which was lodged in a valley between green rolling hills. It had started in a lumber warehouse and began to spread quickly from there. Local fire departments lined the hilltops with their shiny red trucks and lights and ladders and axes and water trucks, but by the time they arrived the fire had grown into an inferno.

That’s when an old firetruck belonging to a local volunteer fire department arrived and, without even slowing down, went over the crest of the hill and headed directly for the burning warehouse below.

The other firefighters that were on hand were so impressed with this little band of brothers in their rickety truck, bravely leading the way, that they followed them into the fire and, after a courageous battle, got it under control and saved the town.

The citizens were so grateful that the mayor awarded the volunteer firefighters the key to the city and a $10,000 check. After the enthusiastic applause died down, the mayor asked the captain of the department what they would do with the $10,000 check. The captain said, “Well the first thing we’re gonna do is get the brakes fixed on that old firetruck!”

In this message, I want to “drop you” into a fire that is burning in our culture. We are living today in what many would refer to as a postmodern” and “post-Christian” culture which essentially means the influence of the church and Christianity have run their course in America and the Western Hemisphere.

Maybe they’re just not looking in the right places! The “post-Christian” assessment seems true without question when you visit larger urban centers like London, Montreal, Chicago, Miami, and New York City. There you see once- thriving places of worship now abandoned or repurposed for entertainment uses or event sites. Many of the people encountered in those cities find little time in the course of their normal days to think about or consider the reality of God. To many gathering and working there, thoughts of God seldom consciously pass through their minds.

We must acknowledge that we have changed profoundly as a culture in the past few decades. Since my initial reading of the Book of Colossians in 1974, the first major stream of cultural shift that deeply impacts us has taken place. We have become much more multi-cultural as a nation, and as a result more and more religious systems are now competing for a hearing. This stream of change has had a profound impact on churches around the country.

Secondly, our morality has shifted, in the name of progress, to the point that a New York Times article a few weeks ago lamented the indecency of advertising on New York City’s subway system. When morality is becoming offensive even to those with no professed religious or moral persuasion, it is nearing a tipping point!

Philosophical naturalism is the third stream that has informed and led to the current state of our culture. Though naturalism itself is a broad term that has branches in literature, sociology as well as science, it is scientific or empirical naturalism that is of most concern to people faithful to God’s Word.

The impact and influence of scientific thought and achievement has been remarkable over the past two centuries in the west. We are bombarded daily with new scientific discoveries, to the point that no normal human being could completely comprehend the discoveries of just one day!

Remarkable, even amazing progress in fields of scientific study and research has accelerated the move of this philosophical viewpoint to the forefront, and influences everything from entertainment to education, and even government. Each of us has been impacted on some level whether we are aware of it or not.

This view may be summed up by the late Carl Sagan, who would begin every episode of the wildly popular PBS series “Cosmos” by stating, “The Universe is all there is. It is all there ever was. And all there ever will be. “Sagan, a cosmologist and astronomer, believed we were made of “star stuff” and that “we are a way for the universe to know itself.” (Sagan “Wikipedia”)

His views have influenced some of the most respected thinkers of our generation, including the late Stephen Hawking and Bill Nye. This system of thought eliminates the consideration of any reality apart from that which can be seen with our eyes, tested in a laboratory, or discovered through exploration as imaginations and fairy tales that no longer serve a purpose.

## Shifting Sands

I take the space to briefly point out these three prevailing streams of thought pouring into our thinking, our educational systems, the way our children are educated and trained in many public school and university classrooms, and the belief systems of many of those who govern us. They are significant because, as a result of their pervasive influence, the foundation of our worldview now sits on the shifting and sinking sands of science.

We have been, in my lifetime at least, a culture that believed in God without question; a Supreme Deity unseen and yet real, Who created all things. For many years, it was unheard of and untenable to argue against this belief at least in the world in which I was raised.

But with the rush of scientific achievement and discovery we have experienced, we have now convinced ourselves that we were naive at best and deceived at worst to ever have believed such an idea. The proponents of the naturalist position cannot answer the foundational questions, “Why are we here?” “How did we get here?” This has pressed those who support a scientific worldview to theorize that we are probably the result of an advanced alien species depositing us here millions or billions of years ago.

The outcome of such a view serves to undermine not only a Biblical view of creation, but even the very possibility of a Creator in the minds of many. Even as Christians, we find it more and more difficult to affirm the truth that “By faith we understand that everything was created by the Word of God created everything…” (Hebrews 11:3a). In fact that very assertion is what has caused many to reject all the claims of Christianity as antiquated and irrelevant.

This is a very simplistic snapshot of the problems facing us today as we seek to advance the Gospel of the Kingdom into a modern culture. The worldviews we operate from are not only different, but are in radical conflict with one another.

To borrow from the great Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer, “how shall we now live” in such a culture? Turning back the hands of time to a prior time is unrealistic and not a helpful alternative though some have proposed it as such. Running away and hiding in small enclaves of a remnant of believers is also not the prescription the Bible gives. Leaning on political forces and figures to resolve the issues and return us to a day when Biblical thought was prevalent is also not a realistic solution to our problems.

We must learn to confront the philosophies and false beliefs of our day, as Paul did in the Colossian correspondence. Christianity in our day is not the first to confront shifting cultural mores, or a plurality of religious views, or even the first to challenge prevalent anti-Christian philosophies and patterns of thought. (See Colossians 2:8)

Paul’s engagement of the fires burning in the culture of his day emboldens us to do the same. We cannot confront the viewpoints antagonistic to our faith while sitting safely on the hillside away from the flame and smoke of the inferno.

Paul brought with him the weapons of the Spirit, and wielded the sword of the Spirit in doing battle. We must stand on the same truth and the same bedrock that emboldened him as he did battle. We too must hold high the banner of the cross, not only upholding its truth but brandishing it for all to see.

We cannot hide our lights under a bushel and at the same time fulfill the mandate to be “a city set upon a hill.” The world around us is on fire. The culture that most of us were steeped in is collapsing on shifting sand.

As we go forward, we stand on the Rock that does not move. We have a firm foundation and, even though we walk through the fire, “the flames will not hurt us.” We hold high the truth that Christ is above all, and as we do, some will be drawn to it and others will perish in their rejection.

But having done all, we must stand. We must hold fast the truth we believe. And we must boldly and unapologetically engage our culture with the truth that will save those who will believe it.

“On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand.”

CHAPTER TWO

Colossae lay about one hundred miles inland from the much larger and more prominent city of Ephesus. Colossae along with Hierapolis and the more familiar city of Laodicea were located along the Lycus River valley, a busy shipping route.

At one time a prominent town itself, Colossae had, by the New Testament era, declined to the point that it lived in the shadow of the larger two sister cities. Much uncertainty exists as to why this happened, but it did. In all likelihood an earthquake that happened in the region around 4 BC devastated Colossae, Hierapolis and Laodicea. The latter two, more politically significant and self-sufficient financially, rebuilt after the disaster. Colossae never did recover, and in the New Testament era it was a simple market town.

Word had spread apparently, as we learn from the Book of Acts, “throughout all the world,” and that included to the little unimportant town of Colossae. Two men, Epaphras and Philemon, had found faith in Jesus.

Both men had given their lives to follow this risen Messiah named Jesus, and a church was born through their witnessing and teaching. In fact it is likely that Epaphras was also responsible for starting the churches in both Laodicea and Hierapolis. Both Epaphras and Philemon were recognized leaders in the city of Colossae. And both were troubled by strange teachings fomenting in Colossae.

Epaphras was Paul’s right hand in evangelizing the area of the Lycus Valley. The Colossians had been brought to the Gospel and taught the Word of God by Epaphras, a “fellow servant” (1:7) of Paul.
Philemon on the other hand was the host of the Colossian church, apparently owning a large enough home to accommodate the gathering. But he was also regarded as a leader in the Colossian community.
They visited Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome. Together they laid out their concerns about this new and erosive teaching that had taken root in their young church. Paul’s “letter to the Colossians” was a response to this visit, delivered later by Tychicus.

The Colossian Problem

There are a variety of opinions among scholars as to exactly what the “Colossian problem” was. The evidence in the pages of the letter does not clarify an answer for us.
Due to the presence of travelers moving merchandise through the Lycus Valley from different parts of the continent, new ideas would travel with them. Many of these were heard and brought into the church.

Obviously, Judaism had an influence on the new believers. By some existing tax rolls discovered in the area, it was estimated that there were upward of fifty thousand Jews living in the cities of the Lycus Valley. They may have been seeking to proselytize the new Christians into a more faithful Judaistic religion, or more than likely, were seeking to pull back the ones who had apostatized from the synagogue for a new belief system.

There is also evidence in Paul’s letter that eastern mysticism was also in play. This would have been a natural result of merchants from the east traveling through to the larger populations of Ephesus and surrounding cities. These would be steeped in thoughts of the power of the heavenly bodies on life, asceticism, and the worship of angels.

There are even some opinions, notably M.D. Hooker of Cambridge, who theorized that there was no false teaching in Colossae at all. Instead, new believers were under extreme influence from Jewish and pagan sources to leave their faith in Christ.

While I do not agree with her position, I do believe that sometimes the greatest problem we face in church today is the pull to go back into the world. The temptation to grow cold in our faith or to abandon it altogether has been a problem faced by Christians from the very beginning.

This is especially true of college students who walk into an academic environment that takes direct aim at assumptions and presuppositions their faith is built on. When those come under attack, these students will often retreat, having never been prepared to defend what they believe. They then reject it as intellectually inferior and look for something new. This story happens over and over again, and something akin to this was probably happening among the Colossian believers as well.

Other interpreters believe that Colossae had come under the sway of early Gnostic teaching. While Gnosticism as a recognized religious system had not yet fully appeared, the early seeds of this syncretistic philosophy had been planted.

As a simplified explanation, Gnosticism was a blend of Greek, Roman, and eastern-influenced philosophies. To the proponents of this system, matter (the material world) was seen as evil. For this reason, Jesus could not possibly be the Son of God in flesh.

Their teaching said that Jesus was one of numerous “emanations” that came from the Creator, but there were other steps that needed to be taken to truly find God. These steps could be taken through secret knowledge, or “gnosis,” that the initiated could learn. The other “emanations” from God were likely angels that the Gnostics knew how to contact. Jesus, in other words, was not rejected but relegated to a step on the ladder of spiritual enlightenment, but not enough in Himself to be considered “creator” or certainly not God.

They created fanciful and romanticized stories of Jesus walking on sand and not leaving a footprint, since He did not truly occupy a body of flesh but only seemed to do so. As ludicrous as these teachings may sound to us today, they had tremendous influence in swaying the belief of the early New Testament believers.

The danger, as those who have been long in the faith or the church world know, is far more insidious when it’s inside the church. Outside threats have always existed. Even the most immature believers know what to avoid when it comes to threats from those outside the community of faith.

Far more dangerous are teachings that come from inside the church; a little grace mixed with legalism, grace pressed to the limit and beyond with license and immorality; a belief that Jesus is not enough-that our efforts and work must somehow be added to assure salvation. A little truth mixed with malignant and devastating lies.

We are also victims of attacks from inside the church. High profile pastors and leaders fall prey to the seduction of immorality. Young leaders, given influential platforms but sometimes with little grounding in the faith, draw many after them and then abandon the faith. The foundation begins to be eroded as though by acid from within. Charlatans and phony religious leaders lead multitudes astray with charming and winsome public persona. We buy the packaging but never read the contents!

Today’s church is not the first to confront these problems. They have been a part of the attacks on the church since its earliest days of existence. And the solution was given in God’s Word over two millennia ago:

Jesus. Is. Enough.

CHAPTER THREE

I have on occasion received letters from prisoners incarcerated by the state. The letters are clearly from the prison; the prisoner’s number is clearly printed on the return address. The envelope has been opened and its contents read by a guard before being allowed to enter the US Mail, and is sometimes mangled and taped together.
Before I read a word, there is an immediate swell of suspicion that comes up inside of me. The men who write are normally men I know well from visits to their prison. But the stigma of prison remains in the correspondence.

I have often wondered how the people who first received and heard the letters of Paul, particularly those written from prison, would have seen them. Obviously, they knew or knew of Paul. But I wondered if some felt the stigma of Paul’s chains; of this letter written by a person arrested and held in jail or under house arrest by the Roman government?

And yet I also sincerely believe that Paul was imprisoned, not because Rome wanted him there, but because God did! In China today, it is just a given, because of their testimony to Christ, that every pastor would go to prison at some point. Those who had not been in prison yet were not given the regard of those who had spent months or years under arrest by the Chinese government. Even today, the Christians consider imprisonment as “seminary.” That is where their pastors go to learn to pray, to learn the Bible, to learn to minister.

Isn’t it interesting how God uses the unlikeliest of experiences from our perspective to do some of His greatest work! Paul was where he was by Divine appointment and for Divine purposes. His calling to go to prison for the Gospel was as important to Paul as the times he stood before people in public, teaching and preaching that Jesus was the Christ.

 

The Colossian Letter

Colossians 1:1-8

The need for this letter was born in a visit by Epaphras, the founder and pastor of several congregations in the Lycus Valley. This fertile valley, a notorious earthquake zone, was home not only to Colossae but also to the larger cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis. The Meander River also merged in this valley with the Lycus River.

Colossae was a Roman province founded prior to the reign of the Persian king Xerxes. It was in existence as a noted city a full five hundred years before we encounter it in the New Testament through this letter.

Epaphras was, in Paul’s words, a “dearly loved fellow servant” and “a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf.” (1:7). Epaphras had come to Jesus during Paul’s time in Ephesus. Only around one hundred miles from Colossae, Epaphras obviously traveled to Ephesus and heard Paul preaching.

From there, Epaphras became Paul’s lieutenant in planting churches in the Lycus Valley, where Paul himself had never been able to visit. He would bring Paul occasional reports concerning the welfare of the churches that had begun.

The Greeting

As was customary in his letters, Paul began his correspondence with his own name listed first. In the practice of the day, letters like this would be written on a piece of fabric or leather, or sometimes on a papyrus leaf which would then be rolled up like a scroll. The first thing the reader encountered then would be who the letter was from.

It is in the greeting that Paul introduces himself to an audience which had, no doubt, heard of Paul but had never seen his face. He does this in much of the New Testament correspondence, and certainly here he introduced himself has “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” Paul’s assertion from the outset is that he is one with apostolic credentials and authority, but is also under the authority of another, Jesus Christ. Paul’s testimony was never that he sought apostleship or even took it upon himself. He was called to that by Jesus Himself!

I sat on a denominational credentialing committee at one time as we were interviewing a gentleman who pastored a handful of people in a storefront ministry. He introduced himself to us as “Apostle _____”. As evangelical believers and Southern Baptists by tribal affiliation, we were not used to anyone taking the title “apostle” for themselves. So we asked the brother how he received his title. He said, “My wife told me I was an apostle.” And we asked, “How did your wife come to that conclusion?” And he said, “Well, she’s a prophet.”

Paul did not take this title to himself, nor was he told by his wife that he was an apostle! He was “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” This was no casual claim, but a life-altering one.

Along with his own name, Paul added “Timothy,” who was with him. Now that could sometimes mean “with him” as “in chains” or it could simply mean Timothy accompanied Paul in prison and would run errands for him and assist in bringing companionship and comfort. Paul said himself that “he had no one like Timothy” who would look after the things that concerned him. Obviously in this correspondence Timothy needed no further introduction than “brother.” He was apparently known already by the Colossians.

The letter was addressed “to the saints” (the “holy ones”) which was a typical address but here Paul adds “who are faithful brothers and sisters.” This bears down on the special nature of their circumstance as they stood strong in the pressures they were enduring. ( v2).

But they were also “the saints in Christ…”. Their lives were now located in Christ, and the things that were true of Christ are now true of them. Those two words indicate a transfer of spiritual “place” and ownership of another. While they lived “in the world” of Colossae, their lives were hidden in Christ.

Finally Paul gives his tradition greeting of “grace” and “peace” from God the Father. It has been mentioned by many that “grace” always preceded “peace” in Paul’s greetings. There is a sound theological reason for this. The grace of God always comes before the peace of God!

The Thanksgiving

Though Paul had no specific memories of time together or of gifts given by the church to thank them for, he “always thanked God” (v. 3) when he prayed for them.

Specifically, he thanked God for their faith in Christ (which he had heard by reports given), for their “love for all the saints,” (v.4) and for “the hope reserved…in heaven.” ( v.5). As to their hope, Paul returns to this subject briefly as he talks about the Father enabling them to share in the “saints inheritance in the light.”( v12)

Each of these three: faith, love, and hope stand as evidence and spiritual proof of the truth of the Gospel that they had received and “that has come to you.” ( v.6) It was a Gospel that was fruitful and growing all over the (known) world, just as it was among them since they first heard it and truly appreciated and received the grace of God. ( v6)

A Prayer for Spiritual Growth

Colossians 1:9-14

Paul’s writing and, I am equally confident, his life were saturated by prayer. Reading the prayers he prayed in his letters give us a brief glimpse into the mind and prayer life of a man who was literally taught to pray by Jesus Himself.

The prayers of Paul bear no resemblance to the mechanical and memorized rabbinic prayers typical of his day. As the other apostles had spent three years walking with Jesus before witnessing the resurrection, so Paul was given a three year period to walk with Jesus.

It was during those three years that Paul unlearned much of his deeply entrenched legalism and began learning the way of the Master. It was in those days that, no doubt, Jesus also breathed life into Paul’s own prayers.

They were fresh, and never selfish in nature. Often, as we hear in Colossians 1:9 and following, they are focused on spiritual growth and depth of understanding God and the way of the Kingdom. Much of how we pray today needs to be rethought in the light of Paul’s prayer life.

He prayed constantly, “since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you.” ( v9) We would do well to take time to learn what this means. Our prayers are often fitful, and short-lived, and usually turned toward ourselves more than others. Even when others are in focus, we are praying far more frequently for their safety or their physical rather than spiritual needs.

It may help us to personalize Paul’s praying like this:

“(I am) asking that (name here) may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that (name) may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might, so that (name) may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to the Father, Who has enabled (name) to share in the saints inheritance in the light.”

Now that will change one’s prayer life! Praying that prayer by putting the name of each member of your family, each member of your church staff, your pastor (!!), your Bible study teacher, or, really your own name will radically begin to alter the way you pray.

Look at everything that this prayer encompasses:

  • Growth in knowledge and spiritual understanding (seeing things from God’s perspective).
  • Praying for a worthy walk, conduct and lifestyle
  • Praying that their life may be pleasing to God
  • Asking that their life may be fruitful in every good work
  • Praying that they may grow in their understanding of God
  • Asking that they might have patience and endurance in affliction: Perseverance!
  • Praying that they might be joyful and filled with thanksgiving
  • Asking that they be made aware of their eternal inheritance from God

No less than eight areas are being prayed for which, for the average Christian, are seldom if ever mentioned when we pray for each other! We pray eagerly for physical healing, an end of discomfort or an unmet need, for our kids not to ruin their lives (or ours), or for an impending medical treatment.
Sometimes we pray for a missionary. How about praying for them like Paul prayed? Who needs this prayer more? Spend some time reflecting on and meditating on the eight statements of intercession in this prayer and come to your own conclusion: Could a more thorough-going prayer be prayed for a Christian than this one?

Paul prayed fervently and specifically for this young church. The text uses two different words to describe Paul’s praying. The first, proseuchomenoi or “praying” is the most common word Paul uses for prayer. It is the state of being in prayer, of “praying without ceasing.” This word is used to describe the posture of prayer, as well as the preparation for it. It is closely akin to praying as an act of worship.

The second word, aitoumenoi or “asking,” is a word that has more to do with asking for a specific request. Paul toggles between these two words as he talks about prayer in this passage. (Melick, New American Commentary Vol 32)

The theme of the prayer from verses 9-14 seems to move in and around the word “knowledge.” It’s important to remember that one of the present pressures being experienced by the Colossian church was brought by a mystery religion called Gnosticism. The word “gnostic” is the Greek word for “knowledge.”

This religion taught that the true key to spiritual enlightenment and freedom from the captivity of our flesh is spiritual knowledge. There were secret rituals and secret words that the initiated would know about, but if you were on the “outside” you would not understand.

Therefore “knowledge” and specifically spiritual knowledge was what their adherents sought. Paul is coming directly at this cult in Colossians. His prayer for the Colossian believers was that they would be “filled (to overflowing) with the “knowledge of God’s will” in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. (v9)

His second statement which directly assaulted the Gnostic view was that the believers would “grow in the knowledge of God,” (v10) a knowledge the Gnostics believed was only possible through their religious system and philosophy.

It is human nature to go searching for water in cisterns that have a crack in them. (See Jeremiah 2). We look in places that can never satisfy our hunger and thirst and live frustrated lives as a result. The Colossian Christians were tempted to go after these “empty cisterns” that can hold no water.

But Paul’s letter cautioned them that all they ever needed to know and all the knowledge of God they could ever want could be found in Christ Jesus. Yet we continually need the guardrails up to keep us from wandering off the ledge.

Colossians 1:9-11

The focus of Paul’s concern for the Colossians experience of a growing “power” and “might” was that they might have two particular strengths or qualities

The first was the strength of “great endurance.” This was the ability of a person to keep going under great stress or difficulty. It is endurance that allows a marathon runner to finish a race. Endurance or perseverance is the quality that will not allow one to quit. Warren Wiersbe in his commentary Be Complete, quotes Ray Edman who often told his students, “It is always too soon to quit.”

Patience has to do with one’s state of mind while they are persevering. It is the ability to be long-suffering, to not react too quickly when injured or be strive to change difficult circumstances and become bitter when they stay as they are. Patience does not always come along with endurance, but they should ride in tandem. Sometimes I’ll see someone going through a time of great distress and pressure, and they will lash out at people who try to get close. They are enduring WITHOUT patience. That is not Gods desire for us.

To endure without patience is to grit one’s teeth in bitterness while the storm passes. To endure with patience is to beautify Christ in the midst of the worst that life can bring. They belong together. Paul prays that both patience and endurance will be present in the Colossian believers.

Colossians 1:13-14

This prayer concludes by introducing a subject that gets expanded in the next verses. It is the subject of God’s rescue of the believers by “transferring us from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of the Son He loves.”

The picture has deep historic roots. It would have been not only commonly known by the readers but maybe even the experience of their family to be a part of a kingdom’s overthrow, probably by Rome.

It was the practice of that day to remove large swaths of population from their homeland and relocate them into another area. This would be done to lessen the possibility of a resistance movement arising, and also would be an effort to take skilled labor out of the defeated land, making it more difficult to rebuild. Paul uses this picture to describe our salvation, which was like being part of a kingdom that had been overthrown by a new king, and being moved into a completely new dominion. Spiritually, this is exactly what has happened to us.

Our old master, Satan, has been overthrown by King Jesus through His sacrifice and obedience on the cross. In that overthrow, the new King has taken those who will follow Him into a new kingdom, the “kingdom of the Son.” We have had, not our residence, but our spiritual identify and our eternity relocated by Christ’s sacrifice and His willingness to become the target of God’s wrath in our place.

It is “in Christ” (our new spiritual location) that we can know redemption; which is the forgiveness of sins. In the next section, we are introduced more fully to this King Who created and now rules all things.

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