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Why study Colossians? Here’s a bit of the backstory. This is authored by Paul. It’s during his first imprisonment in Rome, so it’s sometime 60 to 62 AD. The recipient is the church at Colossae, which is in modern-day central Turkey. So it’s gonna be about, Ephesus is on the coast, about 100 miles inland East of Ephesus. Now, Paul did not plant the church, but when we read the book of Acts, we have reason to see when Luke says that the gospel went out to all of Asia that everyone heard, we have reason to believe that Epaphras, who is a native of Colossae, heard the gospel under Paul’s ministry and went back to his hometown and planted the church, but now Epaphras is neither in Ephesus or Colossae. He makes 1,000-mile journey to Rome to go see Paul. What he’s doing, he’s gonna let Paul know about a serious problem going on in his church. There’s some errant teaching, and Epaphras is very concerned about it enough to make such a journey. Paul is also concerned. It’s the basis of this letter.
Now, what exactly was the problem in Colossae? We don’t know. We don’t have the full picture. We don’t have a label for what’s going on. It’s not as if Paul comes out in the letter and says, “Hey, guys, you need to reject this,” fill in the blank, “theology.” The way that we might today say, “Hey, church, we’re gonna reject the prosperity gospel.” There’s a label, there’s a name we know that we’re gonna reject, but we don’t have that full picture. What we do have are elements of the heresy that he’s gonna bring out in the letter. Theologian Douglas Moo compiles a helpful list from Chapter 2 of Colossians. Moo says that, “Whatever this heresy is, these are some of the markers of it, that it’s a hollow and deceptive philosophy. That it’s dependent on human tradition. It is dependent on elemental spiritual forces of this world. It’s not dependent on Christ. It involves dietary restrictions. It involves the practice of Jewish holidays. It involves severe aesthetic discipline. It involves angelic beings, visions. It results in pride and results in a loosening of your connection with Christ.”
We can summarize the problem in three ways, that this heresy, this false and dangerous teaching did three things broadly: First, it diminished both Christ’s work and his divinity. There was a challenge to his person and to the work that he did. Secondly, it required works for salvation and continuing to walk in the faith. Thirdly, it elevated modern philosophy over the apostles’ teaching. Now, it’s not hard for us to see how this is a helpful and timely book for us in our day. The greeting of the book could easily take Colossae out and say to the church of the United States. For, in our culture, Jesus has just been reduced to another moral teacher, and if he’s good for you, then good, great. Or, secondly, while our culture may not use the term salvation very often, there are some people who still are concerned with morality and they’re gonna base their morality, as long as I’m a little bit better than the person beside me, then I’m good. Thirdly, the Bible is mocked and rejected as an ancient document that has no value for us today. So our culture is wholesale buying all these points as well. So this is a timely book for us.
So we’ll start reading Colossians 1:1 and 2. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will and Timothy, our brother. To the saints in Christ at Colossae who are faithful brothers and sisters, grace to you and peace from God, our father.” Paul, this is very standard for him, very standard for his greetings and he’s gonna say right at the beginning, he says, check out the name tag. I’m an apostle, not by my own will, but by God’s will. This is a unique role that he has. He’s gonna say, “To the saints in Colossae, faithful brothers and sisters,” this is a letter to family. This is a dear letter for brothers and sisters. And he uses his typical grace and peace. Grace, this Greek word combined with a Jewish idea of peace that when they’re together it’s no longer separated Greek, Gentile, or Jewish, but now grace and peace together are something uniquely Christian, distinctly Christian. So this is a letter to family, a letter directed to saints, those that have been set apart, made holy by God.
So I wanna make two big observations from our passage. The first one we’re gonna look at verses 3 through 8 and see how we are to grow in faith and love. This is the time of year where we’re all making goals, we’re making resolutions. This is something that, as Christ-followers, we can all get on board to say, “Yeah, we want to grow in faith and love.” We’ll read picking up in verse 3, “We always thank God the father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray for you, for we have a heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love you have for all the saints.” Paul and Timothy, they’re like, “We are psyched for you guys. We’ve heard from Epaphras about your faith. We’ve heard about the way you love one another and we are fired up about it.” Often, I have opportunity to meet with other pastors in the city or the state, and when pastors get together to talk, it’s always the same question, “What’s going on in your church?” And often, I hear train wreck stories about what’s going on. I hear stories of division, and gossip, and backbiting going on in the church and then they say, “Well, how are things going at TCC?” And I almost always say the same thing, “Our folks, they act like Christians. They just act like Christians. They have faith and they love one another.” The Colossian church was becoming known for these two Christian traits, having faith and loving one another.
Now, Paul’s gonna say in Galatians 5 that these ideas are not separate, that they’re really together. He’s gonna say in chapter 5:6 that it’s really Jew and Gentile, that’s not what matters anymore, that what matters is faith working through love. James will say the same thing that, “Okay, great, you have faith, but if your faith doesn’t lead to works, then really your faith is dead and it’s of no value.” So we see that faith and love are connected together and that real faith will always manifest itself in love. We’ll read on in verse 5 and we’ll see an important connection of, put the word “because” at the beginning of verse 5 in red so that you don’t miss it. How is it that they have faith that’s manifested into love for one another? Verse 5, “Because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.” You have already heard about this hope in the word of truth, the gospel. Hope gives rise to faith and love. Now, you know, maybe you think back to when you were in school. When you studied the material, you knew it backwards and forwards, what’s that gonna do? Your preparation is gonna give rise to confidence in the same way, here, hope gives rise to faith. The hope laid up for you in heaven. What’s reserved for us in heaven? What is this inheritance? It’s one day being face to face with our maker. No more sin, sickness or death. We will get to enjoy the place that Jesus has prepared for us forever with him.
So the first sub-point of how to grow in faith and love is to recognize that faith and love are born of hope. They’re born of hope. Now, this word hope is interesting. It gets tossed around in culture all the time. I had hoped this year that my football team was gonna do a little bit better than they did. A lot of you are hoping for a particular outcome next Monday night at the championship game. I thought I might get an amen for that. These kinds of hope, they often disappoint, because the outcome is not fixed. Nothing is determined. This is the idea in Psalm 33:16 and 17, “A King is not saved by a large army. A warrior will not be rescued by great strength. The horse is a false hope for safety. It provides no escape by its great power.” So we see that a hope founded on personal strength or cleverness is a false hope. Rather, biblical hope has to be fixed on something constant, something unmoving, something that will not change. It must be built on the character of God.
Lamentations 3 comes to mind. It’s one of my favorite sections of scripture, verses 1-20 are some of the most depressing, discouraging, saddening verses in all the Bible. And then we read in verse 21, “Yet, I call this to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the Lord’s faithful love, we do not perish. His mercies never end. They’re new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.” Jesus said in Matthew 6, in contrasting the man that built his house on the sand versus the man that built his house on the rock. We have to build our hope on the person of Jesus and on his work for it is fixed. We’re gonna see later in Colossians 1:27 that Jesus is called the hope of glory. And we know that this little church had their hope set on him because it was demonstrated in their faith and love.
Now, what I didn’t say in the introduction about this Colossian in heresy, what is very interesting to me about Paul’s strategy is that he doesn’t go point by point through the wrong teaching. You would almost expect him to write the book in a similar way that he did Romans, where he would develop a really coherent point-by-point argument. Or you might think it would read like a Jonathan Edwards or John Piper book where he would say, “Hey, you guys are wrong for diminishing Christ’s divinity and his work and here are the 25 reasons why.” Or, “You guys are wrong for elevating modern philosophy over the apostle’s teaching and here are the 25 reasons why.” Rather, what Paul does in this short letter is three things. He’s gonna describe the majesty of Christ beautifully. This is why scholars are gonna say that this is one of the most Christ-centered letters of the New Testament because he puts Jesus up on the pedestal for us to see in profound ways. So he’s gonna describe Jesus’ person. Second thing he’s gonna do is he’s gonna describe Jesus’ work in us. What does that work do to us? How does it change us? So, first is describing his person, second, describing his work, and then the third is just a therefore. Because of who he is and because of what he’s done, thirdly, you have to live differently. And I think this is actually really instructive for us, a helpful application. Rather than him giving a manual to say, “Hey, Colossians, if you hear this phrase uttered, what you actually need to do is counter it with this.” No, what he does is he lifts up Jesus. He says, “Perhaps, this is the most important thing for us, to really know and understand in a whole close who Jesus is and what he’s done.” Knowing Jesus really is what’s most important.
So we see that faith and love are born of hope. We’ll look forward in the next verses and see that faith and love are produced through the gospel. Colossians 5B and verse 6. “You have already heard about this word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. It is bearing fruit and growing all over the world just as it has among you since the day you heard and came to truly appreciate God’s grace.” Ephesians 2:12, Paul’s gonna describe someone that has not come to believe the gospel. He’s gonna say that, “At this time you were separated from Christ, that you were alienated from the Commonwealth of Israel, that you were strangers to the covenants of the promise and had no hope and without God in this world.” Talk about gloomy, bad news for everyone before salvation. Separated from God, without spiritual family or home, promises made not for us, without hope, but that passage goes on to say that those who were far off, what? That Christ has brought near and that in Jesus’ own body, that dividing wall that kept us separated from Christ, that kept us outsiders, that he demolished that body, that wall, in his own body. Now, we have this hope because the gospel is true. The Colossians had that hope because the gospel came to them. Here, let’s be reminded that the gospel came to us. None of us are able to put on our resume, search for the gospel and found it, looked for God and found him. No. The gospel came to us. God sent both the messenger and the message. This is why the Scripture is clear that we love God only because he loved us first. Here, would we be reminded that hoping in Christ is a reminder that we as Christians should be the least prideful, most humble people on the earth.
The gospel came to you and it’s doing the same thing all over the world. The gospel is not resting. It’s not lazy, it’s active, it’s moving, it’s going, and in the same way that it bore fruit in the Colossians, it’s being fruitful, bearing it all over the world. This year our church is gonna send families to go out in full service, full-time service. We got to hear from Miriam this morning. There are lots of folks that God has called to go to take this gospel out of Greenville to bear fruit in places that are remote, places that are hard to serve. We have folks going on short term mission trips, this summer we’ll send a team to Japan. We’ll send a team to Peru, to Argentina, to Salt Lake City, to Chicago, to Atlanta. If you have not made a plan to go on one of our trips, let me encourage you to give prayerful consideration to joining this active gospel that’s going out, to see what God is doing in the world. God is a missionary and he’s us to join Him in his mission of the active effective gospel going to the ends of the earth. And by the grace of God, the result in us, in those that the gospel hits, that there’ll be the result of visible fruit of love. That we will be more patient, more kind. That we will be less jealous, less boastful, that we will not seek our own advancement, but we’ll strive for the good of others. That we will not be so irritable, that we’ll not be so prone to keep an account of wrongs, and we’ll be more inclined to bear all things and endure all things for the sake of our neighbor. We read on in verse 7 that the saints of Colossae learned this gospel because Epaphras was a faithful brother. He taught them.
Going on the second major point of our passage. We’ve seen how to grow in faith and love. Secondly, how to pray and please God. We’ll see that in verses 9-14. Paul is gonna pray five things in this section, and if you want to know how to pray for yourself, how to pray for others, you want to know what it looks like to please God, let’s take note of these five things that he prays for. We’ll read verse 9 through 10A, “For this reason, also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will and all wisdom and spiritual understanding so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him.” What’s the first thing he prays? He prays that the Colossians that they would be filled with the knowledge of His will. He prays that they will be filled with the knowledge of His will.
What is God’s will? That is a question that has haunted many believers. The question behind the question is always, what am I supposed to do? What should I major in in college? Should I take this job or that job? Should I marry this person or that person or none of these people? Do I buy the blue car or the red car? Do I buy the house in town or the one out in the country? So often people think about God’s will as if it’s an Easter egg and God’s hidden it from us. Or we read the circumstances of life and say, “Well, clearly, because this happened, God is telling me to do this thing over here.” The problem is that it’s just so subjective and we’re left paralyzed. What do we do? And so, we read Paul praying for the Colossians to be filled with the knowledge of His will, we think, “Wow. That’s too good to be true. How can it be? How can we possibly have full knowledge of what God wills for our lives? How can we have such knowledge that it fills and controls even our lives?”
Let’s take note of the passage and we will see what God’s will is for us. Okay? He’s gonna say that we’re to have the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. These ideas of wisdom and understanding, they’re always demonstrated in application. You can turn back the clock to your elementary school days where you learned that the area of a rectangle is length times width. Okay? I have that knowledge. Now, understanding of it is a different matter. Let’s say that Holly and I go to Lowe’s and we’re wanting to buy some flooring for a particular room in our house, and we’re looking at it and Holly says, “Oh, I like this one. This box covers 25 square feet. How many boxes do we need to buy, Hugh?” And I’m like, “I’ve got no idea. All I know is the room is 10 by 15 but I have no idea how many square feet that is.” What’s happened? I’ve demonstrated that I have knowledge, but I don’t understand how to use the knowledge. The knowledge without understanding, without wisdom, is really useless.
So we know that knowledge of God’s will has street value. It has real value. It’s meant to be applied. So we read on, we’ll see that we’ve got this really important little phrase here, where Paul says that we’ve got this wisdom understanding so that you may walk worthy of the Lord. You may walk worthy of the Lord fully pleasing to Him. This knowledge of God’s will is to have effect in our lives so that we don’t do the things that we always naturally wanna do, that it changes the decisions that we make. It’s meant to change us. Now, this last phrase, being pleasing, fully pleasing to the Lord, how often is that value in our mind? How often are we evaluating the Lord’s pleasure in what we do? The way that we spend our money, our time, is it pleasing to the Lord? In the way that I speak to my children, is it pleasing to the Lord? The way that I treat those that are different than me, the way that my mind goes to these well-worn paths of thought? Church, let us make a goal in 2020 to be pleasing to the Lord, to evaluate what we do and say, and act, and believe, and think, and hold them up to this test, are we walking in a way that’s pleasing to the Lord? We’ll go on. We’ll see that the second thing that he’s gonna say for praying for the Colossian church, we’ll find in Colossians 1:10B, “bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God.”
So secondly, Paul’s praying they be filled with the knowledge of His will and praying that they would bear fruit and every good work. We please God when we bear fruit of good works. These good works don’t save us. The classic passage here is Ephesians 2 where Paul goes out of his way. He says, “You’ve been saved by grace alone, apart from works. It’s not by works so that nobody can boast.” But then we’ve got verse 10 that says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.” Works don’t lead to salvation, but good works come from salvation. Jesus says the same thing in John 15. He says, “I’m the vine and you’re the branches.” You can’t do anything unless you’re connected to me. And any of you branches that don’t bear fruit, I’m gonna cut you off. Any of you that are bearing fruit, I’m gonna prune you so that you bear more fruit. God’s will is that we bear fruit and God is glorified in it.
You can turn back to Colossians 1:10 to see that the third thing he prays is for the Colossians to grow in the knowledge of God. God is pleased when we grow in the knowledge of who he is. God is eternal. He is totally other. We could spend a hundred lifetimes growing in the knowledge of who He is and not even put a dent in exhausting that knowledge. For all of eternity, we’ll be learning and growing of who He is. As the Psalmist says, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.” Can you imagine how sweet it’s gonna be in heaven, that day by day we’re surprised more and more every day at how sweet he is and how good he is? The more we know Him, the more we’ll praise Him, the more we’ll love Him, and the more we’ll be thankful.
The passage goes on, verse 11, “Being strengthened with all power according to God’s glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.” This is the fourth thing that Paul prays. This power is given according to His glorious might. This is an important word to see that he’s giving this in accordance to His might. So what does that mean for us? How much power should we expect when we go to God in prayer, when we go to Him asking for help in being delivered from temptation, when we ask for help in enduring a difficult trial? We should expect the kind of power that’s in accord to His glorious might, and that glorious might knows no end.
We go on to verse 12. Eleven ends with joyfully picking up here, “Joyfully giving thanks to the father who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance of the light.” The fifth thing that Paul prays for here is that they would be found giving thanks to God for their salvation. We know that thankfulness is God’s will. It says so in 1st Thessalonians 5 that in everything we’re to give thanks. How much more so for the gift of our salvation? The way this section is gonna close out is the basis for all of these prayers. Twelve going forward, “Giving thanks to the father who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light, He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the son He loves. In him, we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” God has enabled us to share in the inheritance of the saints. Other translations are gonna say qualified. In the gospel, by His glorious might, God has qualified the disqualified. He has made us His own. He has brought us out of darkness. He’s rescued us from that domain and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved son. John 1, he says that he gave us the right to be called sons and daughters, to be given adoption. This gospel message is beautiful and amazing because it’s a message of rescue. We were without hope, alone in darkness, but the father came to us. He brought us into the kingdom and we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
In summary, if we’re gonna see how to grow in faith and love, if we’re gonna see how to pray and please God, it’s only gonna happen when we are pressing in to the hope of glory who is Jesus Christ. This time I’m gonna call forward our ushers for passing out the elements of the supper and invite the band to come up. We’re gonna remember Christ’s sacrifice for us. We’re gonna remember what he has done in laying down his life for us.
Lord Jesus, we come to you in glad-hearted worship for you are the hope of glory. We pray that by your grace that the hope of heaven, the assurance that your victory over the grave, your resurrection would produce in us the visible fruit of love, that we would be found filled, controlled by the knowledge of your will, bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of who you are, being strengthened according to your glorious might, and that would we be thankful in it. Father, I pray that this year that in our little church that you would continue to cause us to look up to you in hope that it would be our goal to please you and that, Father, you would continue your work of getting our eyes on the nations and calling us out of here to go. So, Lord, we thank you for this morning. We thank you for the time you’ve given us to gather. We thank you for our remembrance of your sacrifice, that your life was not taken, but you laid it down for us. We thank you, Jesus, and we pray in your name. Amen.