You Believe In Christ!
Dearly loved people of God, faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:
Reading the opening lines of this letter aloud is very stirring. It feels like a mouthful of glorious phrases. Reading it in a service like this is rather humbling: after God’s Word has focussed our attention on Jesus like this, what is a preacher supposed to say?
If the sermon is supposed to echo the passage we just read, then my job is to echo “the true message of the gospel,” so that you, like God’s holy people in Colossae “truly understand God’s grace.” Those are phrases that jump out of the first paragraphs, as I read them.
Paul has good letter writing form, you’ll notice as you read the opening. He gives his greeting, then launches into giving thanks to God the Father, and continues on to describe how he prays for his faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.
Greeting, Thanksgiving, Prayer are standard in the letters in the Bible and in other letters we’ve found from these days in the Roman Empire.
We learn some things about the recipients as well. These people lived in Colossae, a once-important city in Asia Minor, but a city that is beginning to wane in importance and prominence. Neighbouring Hieriopolis and Laodicea are on the rise. It was still a happening city in Paul’s day, but it kept dwindling until 500 years later the site was abandoned. Nothing left but a hilltop and a few blocks that haven’t been scavanged for other building projects.
If you’ve read through the book of Acts, you may remember that on Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came in power after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, there were people in Jerusalem from Phrygia - that’s this part of Asia Minor. Maybe Epaphras was one of those people in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. We don’t know.
But Paul definitely views Epaphras as a colleague. He calls him “our dear fellow servant” and “a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf.” See, Paul didn’t plant the church in Colossae, Epaphras was used by God to proclaim the true message of the gospel. When they heard the gospel, the believers in Colossae put their faith in Christ Jesus. God’s love for them overflowed for all God’s people. That’s part of Paul’s thanksgiving message - he has heard from Epaphras how the believers’ faith and love spring from their hope in Christ, stored up in heaven.
We don’t know
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So what is Paul’s main hope for them?
Note to every student of the Bible: if you want to know the main goal of a letter in the Bible, read the prayer section very closely. Paul has already given thanks for their response to the true message of the gospel, he has celebrated that the gospel is bearing fruit among them, as in the rest of the world, what more does he ask God for?
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,
Knowledge, wisdom, understanding for living a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing him in every way and giving thanks to the Father, why?
and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.
It is God who has qualified the Christians in Colossae to share in the Kingdom of light. It seems there was concern that, having started by faith in Jesus, the Colossian church starting to get distracted from the heart of the gospel. So, after opening the letter in proper letter-writing format, Paul shines the spotlight on Jesus Christ.
It’s interesting, but not surprising I guess to see this happen in the church. I’ve heard it called mission drift. It’s not unique to the church. When businesses grow, sometimes they get involved in all sorts of sidelines that aren’t necessarily part of the original plan. Reviewing, restructuring, and renewing the business often requires people to ask, “What’s at the core of our business?”
It seems Paul is doing the same.
What’s at the core of our faith?
What’s the true message of the gospel?
What knowledge, wisdom, and understanding does the Spirit give?
Paul sings the praises of God the Son. At the heart of the whole account of how God rescued humankind from the dominion of darkness is God the Son. It is in Jesus Christ that we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
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.
See, there’s a danger of loosing sight of the gospel in all our busyness with life, even in our busyness in church work. The default of the human heart and mind is self-reliance. Long time ago, our first parents chose disobedience by telling God, we want to gain knowledge of good and evil our own way,. Humankind has been in rebellion ever since.
We like to think we’re pretty good at being good. As I wrestled with this passage and sermon this week, I recognized this in myself. I was kind of proud of being a good as a kid, as a teen, and at college. Being good was always important to me - do any of you have that?
For me it was important. If I was going to be a minister, I wanted to look like minister-material.
So it was a little shocking after seminary at one of my interviews for a call to ministry when someone said, “My daughter was at college with you. She said you were a real party-animal.”
That sent a horrible shock through me. I hastened to assure the search committee that was not me! I was always a good kid! I have no idea why their daughter would say I was into the party scene at college. I can recall how horrified I was to be described that way.
Yet the gospel message in Colossians reveals that even our best goodness falls short of the righteousness that we were created for. Our best efforts fall short of God’s expectations.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.
Apart from God’s grace, every thought is tainted by selfishness, every good deed is tinged with pride. We cannot make up for our obvious sins by good deeds because even on our best days we sink deeper and deeper in debt to God. That’s why the next part of the gospel message is so important:
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—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.
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—
Doesn’t that shine with God’s grace?
It’s astounding what God has done. God the Son is the firstborn over all creation. All things have been created through him and for him. Everything depends on him.
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 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.
Any goodness we now have, and love for our family or neighbours springs up from the love God has for us.
Our hope for salvation, for life, for the church, for the world is dependent on Christ.