Last week, we started a short sermon series going through the book of Colossians. Here are my notes, if you care.
In order to understand our study over the next several weeks, we need to lay some groundwork about the book of Colossians. Who wrote it? Why? What’s found in there? Why is it still important today?
And so let’s do that…
This letter was written by the apostle Paul…as is stated in the first verse of the first chapter. Paul wrote a large number of the books we have in the NT…starting in the year 48 or 49 AD and clear through to the end of his life, around the year 67 or 68 AD.
Between the years of 59 and 62 AD, Paul was put in prison for the first time in Rome…he was actually imprisoned a couple of times. But this was the first time he was imprisoned, and we can read about that imprisonment in the book of Acts. It tells us that, actually, Paul was under house arrest. He had a place to live, but was under guard. He could welcome guests. And, he wrote letters to churches during this time. He wrote this letter to the church in Colossae, as well as writing a letter to the church in Ephesus (the book of Ephesians) and a letter to the church in Philippi (the book of Philippians). He also wrote a letter to Philemon, what we call the book of Philemon. Most agree that this particular letter was written around the year 60 AD.
What about the recipients of the letter? Well, there was a church there in the city of Colossae. Paul was writing to the Christians who made up this church, but, ironically enough, he had never met them.
Paul spent three years in the city of Ephesus—preaching and teaching and building up the church there. And while he was there, he met a young man named Epaphras who was from Colossae.
Epaphras’ name is a shortened version of the name Epahproditus, which comes from the name of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. Epaphras, then, we can determine, suggests that he was a Pagan and, when he met Paul and heard the gospel, converted to Christianity. And after his conversion, he went back to his hometown of Colossae—and started the church to whom Paul is writing this letter.
Paul says some pretty nice things about Epaphras in this letter to the Colossian church that Epaphras started.
In 1:7 Paul calls him a “dear fellow servant” and a “faithful minister.” And, in the letter to Philemon, he mentions that Epaphras is a “fellow prisoner.” Chances are that there were some issues that were coming up in the Colossian church that Epaphras noticed…and he approached Paul to ask for help. The result is this letter.
And what were the problems? Well, as we read through the book together, we will see several issues float to the surface…but they can all be categorized under one idea: false teaching.
False teaching was infiltrating the church in Colossae. There were teachings about following ceremonies and strict rules about what kind of food was OK to eat and what kind of drinks were OK to drink. There were rules about religious festivals and circumcision. There were false teachings coming down about worshiping angels. There were teachings coming down about secret knowledge…that only certain people would have the secret knowledge of God revealed to them. There were teachings that human wisdom and human traditions were greater than God.
And so, Paul’s main thrust of this letter is to refute all of those false teachings…and he does that in one simple way: to remind us of the adequacy of Christ.
And that’s going to be our main point too throughout the course of these next few weeks…Jesus is sufficient. Jesus is adequate. Jesus is all that we need.
And this is hard for us to grasp…because we think we need so much else. The people who understand the sufficiency of Jesus the best, are those people who don’t have anything else.
I am reminded of a song by one of my favorite groups, named Caedmon’s Call. They took a trip, as a band, to India…where they encountered poverty like they had never seen before. And they wrote a song about a lady they met…who didn’t have much. She had 8 sons. Her house consisted of bricks on a dirt floor. Her kids went to school because they had been adopted by someone in a foreign country who supported them with a monthly gift. And she kept telling them, Jesus is all I need.
Here are some of the lyrics:
She bragged about her boys
How they’re growin’ into men
How they learned to praise the Lord
Old Style Ecuadorian
To buy the new guitar
They had to sell the swine
Said, “My boys go to school on a foreign angel’s dime.
This world calls me poor
I bore my babies on this floor
He always provides
Sure as the sun will rise.
So I’ll sing Him songs of praise
‘Cause I know He’ll keep me in His gaze.
Jesus is all I need.”
And doesn’t this idea echo Jesus’ teachings throughout the entire NT? That those who are in the best position are in the most humble position? They realize that Jesus is more than enough…we will come back to this idea over and over again.
This morning…let’s read together the entirety of chapter 1. And we will do this each week: next week, we will read chapter 2, then 3, and on. If you want to get more out of our time together in this book, go home with your Bible and read it with me throughout the week.
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father. 3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all his people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true word of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world— just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, [b] who is a faithful minister of Christ on our [c] behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit. 9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, [d] 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you [e] to share in the inheritance of his people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 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 and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of [f] your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. 24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
This morning, I think that we can find, in these words we just read, some ideas that Paul would want to convey to us today, if he were writing a letter to the Benson Church of Christ.
He would want to remind us of some things that we already know…but that we just need to remember. Nothing new…nothing revolutionary…just a process of taking us back to a place where we have been and reminding us of a few simple ideas, as a church.
This church is in transition…and when things are in transition, the road tends to get bumpy. It’s like a boat…and the boat has gotten caught up in a storm on the sea. It can throw you around and you can feel helpless and like you have no real direction.
But there is always an anchor…there is always something to hang onto that reminds you of who you are and why you are where you are and what you are to be doing while you wait out the transition.
And that is God’s word for us today.
The first thing Paul would remind us of is this:
Faith, hope and love still remain.
Look at verses 3-6 again…
Colossians 1:3-6 (TNIV)
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all his people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true word of the gospel 6 that has come to you.
The faith and love that spring from the hope…this is an interesting idea. That hope is the start…and from our hope springs forth faith and love.
Hope motivates, according to Paul…2 things: 1) our faith in Christ and 2) our love for people.
How does hope motivate our faith? Well, without a hope in heaven or without a hope for the Kingdom of God, what reason is there to have faith?
And how does hope motivate our love? We know that God is love…and we know that the greatest 2 commandments are about love; loving God and loving people. And to have hope in God is to have hope in the God of Love. If we have hope, we believe that one day, all of the hatred and tastelessness and strife and anger and hurt and tears will fade away. When we have hope, we are testifying that God’s way of love is the best way…hope is the certainty that in spite of the world’s ways and standards, God’s way of love has the last word.
Do we have hope?
I Peter 1:3 (TNIV)
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…
Do we have a living hope? Hope is not wishful thinking, but a firm conviction…
Is your hope alive today?
Remember at the beginning of this message, when I stated that those who understand Christ’s sufficiency the best are those who have nothing else on which to lean? The same is true for hope.
G.K. Chesterton says this:
“Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all…As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.”
I ask again…is your hope alive today? Is your hope alive when all that is left is hopelessness?
I Corinthians 13 is the most famous passage of Paul’s that mentions these three virtues…faith, hope and love.
It’s interesting to think about, but someday…there will be no need for faith or for hope. No need for faith, because we will see God face to face. And no need to hope, because we will have obtained the thing we have hoped for for so long…being with Christ. But you know what remains…as Paul says? The greatest of these…LOVE.
Even though faith and hope will fade away…love with remain.
Paul would remind us today, as a church, that the virtues of faith, hope and love still remain today and are to still be what we are about.
The next thing Paul would want to remind us of is:
The gospel is still changing lives today.
Colossians 1:6 (TNIV)
In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world— just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.
The gospel is still bearing fruit and growing…and Paul says to the Colossians that it is doing so throughout the whole world. And he also says that it’s been doing continually.
Do we really believe that the gospel, the Good News of Christ, can change lives? Do we believe that?
Then let me ask this:
When is the last time you shared it with somebody?
If we believe in the gospel as having the power to change lives, shouldn’t we give it to others?
I heard this story:
Charles Bradlaugh, an avowed infidel, once challenged the Rev. H.P. Hughes to a debate. The preacher, who was head of a rescue mission in London, England, accepted the challenge with the condition that he could bring with him 100 men and women who would tell what had happened in their lives since trusting Christ as their Savior. They would be people who once lived in deep sin, some having come from poverty-stricken homes caused by the vices of their parents. Hughes said they would not only tell of their conversion, but would submit to cross-examination by any who doubted their stories. Furthermore, the minister invited his opponent to bring a group of non-believers who could tell how they were helped by their lack of faith. When the appointed day arrived, the preacher came, accompanied by 100 transformed persons. But Bradlaugh never showed up. The result? The meeting turned into a testimony time and many sinners who had gathered to hear the scheduled debate were converted.
I believe that the gospel can change lives…and change cultures…and ultimately, the world.
The gospel can change a sinful man into a good man. And if he shares with another and another, slowly the culture and society in which these people live begins to change. And as societies and cultures change, so does the world.
Romans 1:16 (TNIV)
16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…
And this gospel, which we have received divinely, is passed on humanly. The next verse, verse 7 in Colossians 1 says:
Colossians 1:7 (TNIV)
7 You learned it from Epaphras…
We each have to share it…if we believe it has the power that we say it has.
Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), the world-famous violinist, earned a fortune with his concerts and compositions, but he generously gave most of it away. So, when he discovered an exquisite violin on one of his trips, he wasn’t able to buy it. Later, having raised enough money to meet the asking price, he returned to the seller, hoping to purchase the beautiful instrument. But to his great dismay it had been sold to a collector. Kreisler made his way to the new owner’s home and offered to buy the violin. The collector said it had become his prized possession and he would not sell it. Keenly disappointed, Kreisler was about to leave when he had an idea. “Could I play the instrument once more before it is consigned to silence?” he asked. Permission was granted, and the great virtuoso filled the room with such heart-moving music that the collector’s emotions were deeply stirred. “I have no right to keep that to myself,” he exclaimed. “It’s yours, Mr. Kreisler. Take it into the world, and let people hear it.”
What else would Paul want to remind us?
Prayer still works.
Colossians 1:9 (TNIV)
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.
Paul says to the Colossians, ever since we have heard about you and your faith in the power of the gospel, we haven’t stopped praying for you.
And then, typical of Paul, he tells us how he prays for the church.
If you want to start praying powerfully for Benson Church of Christ, learn something here from Paul. This is what he prays:
Colossians 1:9 (TNIV)
We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives…
This is the bulk of Paul’s prayer…that the saints in Colossae would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will through the power of the Holy Spirit.
That they would understand what God wants of them…His will. And that the understanding would come through the wisdom and the understanding (the power) that the Holy Spirit gives.
If you want to pray for BCOC…you can start by praying for her leaders…your elders and deacons…and then praying for each other that all of us would know God’s will through the power of the Holy Spirit.
One of the purposes of prayer is to know the will of God. Prayer is not so much to make God listen to us, or for us to persuade God to do what we want—but we are to be listening to Him and finding out what He wants of us.
And so we pray that we would be filled with the knowledge of His will…and for today’s purposes, that’s what we are going to call the internal part of our prayers.
And if there is an internal, there must be an external. For Paul’s prayer for the Colossians, there is:
He says, I pray that you are filled with the knowledge of God’s will…
…and then, picking up in verse 10.
Colossians 1:10-12 (TNIV)
10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you [e] to share in the inheritance of his people in the kingdom of light.
I pray that you are filled with the knowledge of God’s will (internal) so that (external)…
And then we see how being filled with the knowledge of God’s will translates in our lives…
· So that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.
· So that you may bear fruit in every good work.
· So that you may grow in the knowledge of God.
· So that you may be strengthened with all power.
· So that you may have great endurance and patience.
· So that you may give joyful thanks to the Father.
Are we praying this way for our church? For her leaders? For each other?
Are we praying that we will live a life worthy of God? That we will bear fruit? That we will grow in knowledge? That we will be strengthened and have endurance and have patience?
If not…we must start.
I want to point something out to you (thanks to my friend Vic for pointing this out!):
Paul states “we have not stopped praying for you.”
That word “for” means “on behalf of” or “for the sake of” or “over”—and so, we could translate this passage, “we have not stopped praying on your behalf” or “we have not stopped praying over you.”
The Greek word for “for” is huper—h-u-p-e-r…
And from that Greek word huper, we have our word today that is “hyper.” And it means the same thing…over or exaggerated.
The word hyperactive means overactive.
Hyper means overly, or seriously or obsessively concerned…
So…Paul really is saying “we have not stopped praying hyper-ly over you.”
And I have to ask? Is our prayer life hyper? Are we praying in a hyper way for BCOC?
Paul would remind us that prayer still works…prayer still changes…and he would remind us that we are to be hyper about praying for the internal and the external for BCOC, just as he was doing for the church at Colossae.
Finally, I think Paul would remind us of one more thing…and that is something we have talked about already this morning.
Christ is still sufficient.
I mentioned at the beginning of the message that there were some false teachings that had snuck into the church at Colossae. There were lots of different types of false teachings, and we will see some of these…but some of the false teaching in the church at Colossae was tinted with a philosophy called Gnosticism.
Gnosticism didn’t gain the most popularity until about the 2nd century AD—so what Paul was dealing with in Colossae was a very early form of Gnosticism.
Gnosticism, in its simplest form, had some basic ideas:
· It valued knowledge above all else, including faith. The Greek word for “knowledge” is gnosis…where we get the name Gnosticism.
· Gnosticism believed that spirit is good, but matter is evil. Therefore, anything that is a spirit is better than anything that has physical matter—including our bodies.
And these two ideas have great ramifications:
These guys valued knowledge above all else…they believed that the true God was very distant. They believed that he put out a series of emanations, or discharges. And with each discharge, God as we know Him became less and less good. And so, with each level of knowledge that we attain, we get a little bit closer to the real God. And several Gnostics felt that the Real God had revealed knowledge to only them…thus, bringing them closer to the Real God.
Also, if the spirit is good and the matter is evil, that makes all of us inherently evil. The Gnostics believed, then, that Jesus wasn’t actually a human…because then, he would have been in a body, and bodies are evil. They believe he was a ghost…that when he walked, he wouldn’t leave footprints, because he technically didn’t have a body.
Also, if matter is evil, we have two choices…we can deny our bodies food and drink and become ascetics. Or, we can take the opposite approach and do whatever we want to our bodies, because it doesn’t matter.
And so, what Paul is faced with is sharing with the Colossae church, which is being influenced by obviously false teachers…and that is not so different from our world today. We have all sorts of influences telling us strange things about Jesus…that he was married and had children; that his bones were found in some grave box; that he was a good man, but never the Son of God…and we could go on and on.
But, what Paul does—and what he would remind us of today—is that those teachings are wrong. That Jesus is still sufficient.
Listen to his words—and see if you can hear how they are directed towards the lies of Gnosticism…and how they are still relevant today:
Colossians 1:15-23 (TNIV)
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 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 and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of [f] your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Do you see the ways Paul refutes all the bad Gnostic theology?
Many seem to think that Paul is quoting an early Christian hymn that declares the supremacy of Christ. And it’s broken into two parts: 1) Christ’s supremacy over creation and 2) Christ’s supremacy in redemption.
Jesus is supreme over creation because he created it.
Jesus is supreme over creation because he sustains it.
Jesus is supreme over creation because he holds it all together.
Jesus is supreme over all thrones and powers and rulers and authorities.
Jesus is supreme over death—and if you can be supreme over death, you can be supreme over anything.
Jesus is supreme over our sin—that we have been given peace with God through Jesus’ blood shed on the cross.
Jesus is supreme over the fact that were far from God—and now, by Christ’s physical body (Gnostic ideas?), we have been made holy in his sight, free from blemish and accusation.
And Paul would tell us today…remember this. And hold onto this, church.
Notice verse 23…
Colossians 1:23 (TNIV)
He says that our reconciliation, our holiness, our being free from blemish and accusation are there…IF…
23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.