Text: Col 1: 1-14
Proposition: Knowing the real Jesus will always help you see the counterfeit one.
Introduction: Epaphras was relieved to finally get to Rome, the trip had taken weeks and always on his mind was the increasing ruin that he had left behind. The only reason for coming to Rome was to find a man he barely knew. For months he had heard him teach in a small school not far from his home town. It had been there, sitting in the lecture hall of Tyrannus that Epaphras had first become a Christian. He knew it was God who was at work in him, it’s why he went back to his home town and began to teach others in his own house. Without realizing it the people that met there became a church, their faith grew and the Spirit of God galvanized them into a body of believers in Jesus Christ. So here he stood on the streets of Rome knowing that time was against him because of the crisis going on in the church. They were being torn apart by a belief that if they could get to the secrets about faith, the hidden knowledge that would really enlighten them, the ability to grow spiritually by self denial and good deeds, then that would take them higher spiritually than this Jesus ever could. Epaphras finds Paul under house arrest in Rome. It’s about AD63, some 30 years since the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Paul listens to the concerns of Epaphras, perhaps he and others discuss it and pray about it. Days pass and then Paul calls for a scribe and begins to dictate a letter. As he puts the words together the Spirit of God directs him, inspires him and creates this lasting antidote for deception, the letter to the Colossians.
I. Grace and Peace Push Back the Fog of Deception.
Paul begins by citing his apostleship, it is his stamp of authority as one sent to plant and establish the church. It’s quite likely that Paul has never met the church in Colossae, yet as an apostle he speaks with an understanding and an authority that are greater than any man could acquire by himself. These are God’s credentials put upon him, it’s by the will of God that he is in this position. So what is it that God would say to these people who are mired in such deception? “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s the first thing that God wants them to hear, it’s that gentle breeze that begins to move the fog. He calls them ‘saints’ and ‘the faithful brethren’. They are Saints not because they have attained some deep spiritual discipline by self denial or acquired knowledge. They are saints by God’s doing, they are set apart from the world by the calling of God on their lives. The term Saints refers to their relationship with God, faithful brethren speaks to their connection to one another. That’s what a church is, people who have been called by God to faith in Jesus Christ by which they grow and are strengthened through their relationships with one another. We can strive at that so much that sometimes we begin to believe that it’s up to us to do everything, that it’s up to us to save the lost, up to us to heal the sick, up to us to build the church and grow the body. We forget that Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” Deception of all sorts comes in because of the frustration of trying to make things happen. We tell ourselves we need to be more spiritual, that we need to know truth at a deeper level. That’s what the Colossian church was snagged up in, a combination of Judaism (don’t eat this or that, do’s and don’t about ways to please God ) and Gnosticism (a thirst for knowledge that would unravel the secrets of life). Gnosticism made it all the way to the 20th century, Carl Jung was a famous Gnostic who sought to develop the early theories of psychiatry, the secrets of the inner man. The driving force behind all this deception is not humility but rather pride. It is a thirst to know what others don’t know and thereby to gain a sense of power through mystery. It’s a man made power that is being sought because the power of God was seen as insufficient to meet the problems of their lives. When such a deception swirls around you like a fog there is no peace, there is little undeserved favour and that is the very thing that makes up this gentle breeze. It’s the very thing the soul hopes for, grace and peace, it pushed back the fog so that they could see these next words. “We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you…”. There are people out there who are so thankful for who you are and what God is doing in you that they are moved to pray for you relentlessly. As much as the deception deceives, the prayer intervenes, the thanksgiving an act of agreeing with God about His purposes and how He provides to meet those purposes in you. The message it sends is, “We are here with you.” That simple beginning prepares the way for God’s explosive word to enter in.
II. The Tiny Grain of His Word Has Three Inseparable Kernels of Life.
Many life sustaining things in this world are compounds, like H2O, water or N2, O2, Ar, Co2, the air we breathe. There is also a compound that sustains spiritual life which God has infused into the church. Paul writes that he gives thanks and prays continually “since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven…”. There it is, faith, love and hope. I suppose in the simplest of terms Faith is about God, in God, by God. Love is about people, for people and by people. Hope, that’s about where God and people are put together, reconciled, forgiven, heaven. Paul even says that faith, love and hope have been developing in them, “since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth.” Romans 10:17 says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Since the day they heard and knew the grace of God in truth… faith came to them through the wonder of hearing God’s word. Epaphras had told Paul about the way the Spirit of God moved in these people, enabling them to trust one another, to care for one another, to prefer one another in love. So Paul tells them just exactly what he is praying for when he refers them to God. What he is about to say begins to speak directly to the issue they are struggling with, the issue of deception that seeks to displace the person of Christ by replacing Him with the intoxicants of mystery and works. Paul says that there are four things he specifically has in mind as he prays:
1. That they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. This counteracts their thirst for hidden knowledge, man made mysteries, self analysis that never ends. The knowledge that they need to move forward in their lives does not originate from within them, it originates from within God and His will for them. Wisdom and spiritual understanding will give that knowledge context and direction. Not only can we know God, God has set it before us as our responsibility to do so.
2. That they would walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. This part speaks directly against the pull of the deception of Judaism. Worth was already something they had, that they could express or walk in. They didn’t need to wonder if they were good enough, if they somehow could make God like them more by acts of self denial or works that proved their goodness. If they would accept that the worthiness of Jesus had been extended to them in salvation then moving in that new identity of being worthy in Christ would accomplish things they had never dreamed of, that’s the ‘fruitful in every good work’ part that points to God.
3. That they would be strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy. This speaks directly against the thirst for power through mystery, power that is held by a few for self gain. The power of cult, the power of mysticism or self awareness is a fading spark next to the power that God uses as imparted might. The power of God is not used to bend spoons or predict lottery numbers or offer false hope in anyway. Instead it is the power to overcome. Patience and longsuffering with joy is how he describes it. This power out waits death, out suffers a prison cell because it didn’t originate in me. It’s God working in me to His glory, that purpose releases joy in me.
4. That God has qualified them to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. So what do you think makes up this inheritance of the saints in the light? For starters I’m thinking this is talking about heaven, not just streets of gold but the very presence of God with the saints, ‘in the light’. It’s described as a kingdom, he says God has moved us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Do you think there is a Switzerland between these two kingdoms? Can we somehow be not in the kingdom of darkness while we consider the idea of being part of Jesus kingdom? And what is it that qualifies us to be in Christ’s kingdom, it’s got to be the redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. God has qualified us!
Colossians is a letter about the truth of who Jesus is, truth that will set you free. Let’s continue in that pursuit next week as we look at Jesus, the Creator.