Monday, March 13, 2017

Scripture Reading Leads to Growth

                I’m not much of a gardener or a green thumb.  I’m good with grass.  I can keep a yard looking great most of the time.  The times that I do struggle with my yard are when there are periods of drought.  It’s the same reason that I’m not very good with plants.  I’m not a waterer.  My idea of watering is for it rain every few days.  Occasionally, I’ll remember that something needs to be watered outside and I’ll give it a quick shot with the hose.  The truth of the matter is that I still probably don’t give plants enough water even when I do water them.  Well, the reality is that plants have to have water in order to grow.  That’s a fundamental need that they have in order to not only grow, but to not die.

                When it comes to our faiths, we need God.  We have to have God in order to not only grow in our relationship with Him, but we have to have Him in order to not spiritually die.  The question becomes how we receive God.  Well, God enters our hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit.  However, this is something that we have no control over, just as we have no control over how much it rains.  This is entirely a work of God.  However, there is another way that we receive God (or at least an understanding of Him) that places the burden upon us though…reading our Bibles.  You see, the Bible is fundamental for Christians.  Scripture is how we grow in our understanding of who God is, what He has done for us, and how we are to respond to Him.  Seriously devoting ourselves to a careful reading and study of His Word is how we grow in our faith. 

                Two texts that I think about quite often when it comes to what we do with Scripture are found in two Pauline epistles.  First, Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  Obviously, this verse has in view an aspect of preaching.  Well, preaching in its most fundamental and basic concept is and ought to be a study of God’s Word presented to God’s people.  The other text that often comes to mind is 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”  Every word, every punctuation, every “jot and tittle” as one of my seminary professors used to say (he’s from Belfast), is inspired and useful and beneficial for our growth as Christians. 

                Do you spend time in Scripture?  Let me ask that a different way; do you spend time studying Scripture?  I’m not talking about blowing through a daily reading of a chapter or two of God’s Word.  I’m talking about marinating over a text.  I’m talking about reading and re-reading and re-reading a text and wrestling with it both contextually and practically.  I’m talking about examining God’s Word and trying to discern what earth-shaking and life-saving truth exists within a passage.  I can already hear a lot of folks saying that they don’t have time for such a thorough handling of Scripture.  Ok, that’s fine; then just read less per day in order to read deeper.  We would be better served to only read a few verses a day and seriously wrestle with what God’s Word is actually saying than we would be with only a surface reading of an entire book in a day.  I want to challenge everyone to read God’s Word daily, and to read it seriously.  I want to challenge you to become so familiar with your Bible that it becomes almost an extension of yourself.  Also, feel free to bring it to church (a novel concept).  I can’t tell you all of the wonderful notes that I have written in the pages of my Bible that were penned during a good sermon or a time of profound teaching.  You wouldn’t show up for a Biology class without a text, nor would you show up to your Literature class without your copy of A Tale of Two Cities.  So, why would we show up to study God’s Word without the text?  I can promise you that as long as I’m the pastor of this church, we’re going to be studying God’s Word.  So, you might as well bring the book that we’re going to be using.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Colossians 3:18-4:6 "And Furthermore"

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                Amy and I were talking in the car last weekend on the way to meet some friends at the Global Wildlife Center over in Folsom.  The kids were in the back seat occupying themselves and it gave us the rare opportunity to talk to each other without too many interruptions, which is a good thing considering all of the things and all of the changes that we have going on in our lives right now.  We were asking questions back and forth and one of the questions that she asked me was what I was preaching on the next few Sundays.  “What do you mean, I’m preaching on what the following text is?”  I told her that we were covering the new-self last Sunday, Christian relationships the following Sunday, and Paul’s farewell the next Sunday.  “Really?” she asked.  “What?  I’m confused.”  “We’ve got family coming to town and you’re doing the wives submit to your husbands and children submit to your parents passage?  I’m pretty sure one or both of our parents heard that when you preached through Ephesians.”  Two things; it never hurts to hear it again, and at least I know that Amy’s paying attention to my sermons.

                In all seriousness, we’re at a place here in Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae where he’s already given the theology portion, that Christ should be supreme in your life.  He’s talked about both the supremacy of Christ and the sufficiency of his death.  Paul’s already given the application of that principle in the form of the old self vs. the new self, i.e. that Christ changes who we are.  When we’re in this relationship with Christ we’re very different than we were before.  Now, Paul is giving somewhat of a series of case studies and some additional words as to what this change ought to look like.  As I’ve already mentioned, this is a much-abbreviated text from the similar one contained in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus.  And I said when we looked at each of these three relationships, marital, parental, and occupational, we can’t see the word “submit” and our minds immediately go on the defensive.  We can’t simply understand submission as something that is inherently bad.  Instead, we have to take these various calls for submission and obedience in their proper context.  It’s hard for me to fathom that the Apostle Paul would have promoted a structure where husbands, parents, and masters had complete dominion over their respective counterparts without some reciprocity, accountability, or restraint.  I don’t think that such a system would be keeping in step with God’s created order either, i.e. not a biblical system.

                I want you to pay attention to a brief little statement here that Paul makes, and really there’s not much attention given to it in many commentaries for some reason, but I find it crucial to our understanding of this text.  Paul says, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”  It’s this “as is fitting in the Lord” that I want to give some attention to this morning.  The relationship of husbands to wives, wives to husbands, parents to children, children to parents, masters to slaves, and slaves to masters are all to be held in the context of keeping in line with God’s commands.  If you recall, I said back during our in-depth look at these relationships during our study of Ephesians, these aren’t biblical stamps of approval for those in positions of authority to demand whatever they want of those in various relationships with them.  I hesitate using the phrase “underneath them” because it tends to imply a certain level of superiority and inferiority that quite honestly I don’t think exists.  Husbands aren’t superior to wives.  Parents aren’t superior to children.  Nor are masters (or bosses) superior to their slaves (or employees).  The issue is one of authority, nor superiority.  And ultimately the questions that must be answered are:  Am I showing the proper amount of respect to the other person?  And am I keeping in line with God’s will for me in my particular role?  You see, we can see in each of these three relationships that are listed here that there is a responsibility on behalf of both the one in authority and the one under that authority.  Submission and love, obedience and respect, justice, and fairness are required from all parties.  There’s a responsibility there for everyone involved.  And in addition to it being “as is fitting in the Lord”, I also think that each person in these relationships should be guided by verse 23, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”  I think that when we’re working for the Lord and not for ourselves, even though we may be in some type of supervisory role, it doesn’t even feel like it.  I don’t want to speak for my wife, but I will.  We’re both trying to raise our children in the Lord, and she will fully tell you that her belief (formed by Scripture) is that the husband/father is to be the leader of the family.  What I also hope that she would tell you is that she hasn’t spent one moment feeling as if she was inferior or underneath me in our task of raising our children and strengthening our family.  It’s really more of a partnership than anything else, but someone has to be in the position of authority.  I know that it’s difficult for us to understand because it’s not how our minds work, but it’s just the way that it is.  It’s sort of (on a smaller level) like how we struggle with the concept of the Trinity, all three being equal but having this hierarchy or subordination amongst themselves.  It’s just another example of a heavenly concept that we’re too sinful to fully grasp.

                So, that’s Paul’s first instruction here in light of this new self life is that we are to fill our proper place in all of our relationships and roles while remaining faithful to God’s revealed will for us.  The next thing that Paul gives to his audience is a list of various instructions.  “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving…prayer also for us…walk in wisdom toward outsiders…let your speech always be gracious…so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”  Now, these are just some of the words spoken here by Paul, but two things really seem to stand out here:  prayer and sharing the gospel.  And I want to take just a moment and talk about these two aspects of the Christian life and relate them back to what we’ve already said about these various relationships. 

                There’s no denying the essentialness of prayer in the Christian life.  I don’t think there’s any need for me to start throwing any number of the vast volume of verses commanding prayer at you this morning.  We need only look to the example of Jesus to see the importance of prayer.  Jesus was constantly in prayer.  He was regularly retreating off by himself for a time of prayer.  We looked at Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer of John 17 during our Lenten season and saw the type of intimacy that existed between God the Son and God the Father, especially in Jesus’ prayer life.  However, despite our knowing full-well the fundamental importance of prayer to the Christian, it is commonly one of the most often overlooked aspects of a person’s faith and a church’s operation.  How often do you pray?  Are there days (or even weeks) where you go along without praying?  When you pray, what do you pray for?  Do you thank God for what He’s done, confess your sins, or sing adoration for Him?  Or is it simply just a list of the things that you want to see happen in your life and in the lives of those around you?  Do you treat God as if he’s just some glorified genie, because that’s not the type of prayer that the Apostle Paul has in mind here.  Paul’s talking about a prayer life that is rich and fruitful.  Paul’s talking about a prayer life where we speak openly and intimately with God and not just at Him.  There’s a great difference between speaking with someone and speaking at them isn’t there?  I had a seminary professor who is a brilliant man, a world-renowned theologian and preacher, who would always tell us that the prayer ministry was the most important ministry in the entire church.  And he would always follow that sentiment by saying, “Yet, sadly, it is typically the least attended and spoken of ministry within the life of the church.”  Friends, prayer is crucial to our being in this relationship with Christ.  J.C. Ryle says of prayer:  Prayer is the mightiest engine God has placed in our hands.  It is the best weapon to use in every difficulty, and the surest remedy in every trouble.  It is the key that unlocks the treasury of promises, and the hand that draws forth grace and help in time of need.  It is the silver trumpet God commands us to sound in all our necessity, and it is the cry He has promised always to attend to…Prayer is the simplest means that man can use in coming to God.  It is within reach of all.

                The other thing that stands out in this list of final instructions given by Paul in addition to the need for prayer is the need for proclaiming the gospel.  We can call it evangelism, outreach, witnessing, conversations, or whatever other title you want to give it.  Basically, we need to be talking about it.  I’ve said numerous times (and this isn’t unique to me) that the gospel isn’t some wonderful secret that we’re to keep to ourselves and cherish, but a story that is to be told and spread.  Now, yes, our faith is something we should cherish, but it’s also something that we need to be talking about as well.  How do you think word spread about Christ during his life?  People were talking about him and his works and his ministry.  How do you think news of his resurrection traveled as far as it did?  People were talking about it and people were going to remote places of the earth and speaking of the miraculous things that Jesus had done.  The problem, in my opinion, that we run into today when it comes to talking about Jesus isn’t that we’re afraid to talk about him, it’s that we’re afraid of coming across as ignorant.  Now, it’s not ignorance for believing in him, it’s an ignorance of what we know.  Far too many Christians are walking the face of this earth armed with a handful of Bible verses that they repeat frequently with virtually no other knowledge of Scripture.  One of my favorite things to do is when someone throw one of those one-liner verses out at me is to go back in my Bible and look at the context that it’s in.  If you recall, last summer when we looked at commonly misinterpreted verses, quite often the main reason for misinterpretation was because we rarely consider the context.  We don’t really know what Scripture says because we haven’t really spent the time studying it like we should.  What’s sad is that we would never dream of operating on someone without proper study and training, build a house without the know-how, or anything like that, but we don’t hesitate when it comes to Scripture.  Again, I applaud the willingness to speak, but Paul is calling us to not only speak, but to speak with knowledge.  In order to effectively witness to someone, you have to know about what you’re witnessing to them.  Otherwise, you’re not proclaiming Christ, but you’re proclaiming your opinion of Christ.

                So, how does this notion of the supremacy of Christ resulting in our change from old self to new self all come together with these relationships and the need for prayer and speaking knowledgably about Christ to others?  Well, let me see if I can sum up all of this with the time I’ve got left.  First off, the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ is what makes us this new creation.  When we’re found in Christ then we’re an entirely new creation.  We’ve covered that.  Secondly, the newness of our being isn’t just something that happens within us, but it radiates through every part of us, including the way that we relate to others; hence the reason for this list of various relationships and the roles that we might find ourselves in while in these relationships.  But still, why the seemingly random instructions about prayer and wise speaking about the gospel?  How do you think it is that we gain insight into what God wants us to do and how He wants us to conduct ourselves?  In other words, when we want guidance from God, where do we go?  Well, obviously we go to Him right?  And how do we go to God, through prayer and the reading of His Word.  Both of which are made available to us through the work of Jesus Christ.  You see, in order for us to lead Godly lives, we have to know what a Godly life ought to look like.  In order for us to exercise proper Christian love, authority, and respect, we have to know what they look like.  And unfortunately, we can’t figure out what they look like on our own.  We need help; help that can only come from God.  I know that we’re a people who like to figure stuff out on our own.  I’ll admit that many times I’ll foolishly lie to someone and tell them I know what I’m doing simply because I want to figure it out on my own without someone having to show me like some kind of a moron.  However, we can’t figure this one out on our own; we just can’t.  God is the only one who can show us exactly how we are to live, and He reveals it to us through reading and proclaiming His Word and spending time speaking with Him in prayer.  Again, speaking with, not at Him in prayer. 

                Remember, Paul’s fighting this false teaching that is promoting the notion that the believer does something to gain holiness and righteousness.  Are there things that we can do to honor God?  Yes, but only God can grant us holiness and righteousness.  It’s through our responses to God’s generous blessings that we do good works and that we have this desire to be drawn closer to Him.  In other words, it’s a work of God in us and not our working in ourselves.  If you hear nothing else of what I’m saying this morning then hear this:  your salvation is a work of God in you and not your figuring something out.  We need to thank God for this gift.  We need to seek His will daily through study and prayer.  And we need to respond by showing the love of Christ through each and every aspect of our lives.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Colossians 3:12-17 "The New Self"

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                Last Sunday, we talked about how when we enter into a relationship with Christ that we are changed.  When we’re found in Christ, we’re just different than we were when we weren’t in this relationship.  Our motives and our desires, really everything about us is different in that instead of being centered around earthly things, we are to be centered around heavenly things.  To use Paul’s words, we are to set our “minds on things that are above, not things that are on earth.”  We commonly refer to this change that occurs as rebirth or regeneration or being born again.  But basically, again using Paul’s language, it is the taking off of the old self and the putting on of the new.  I know that some of you probably feel like I talk about this all the time, but that’s because it is so prevalent in Scripture and especially in the texts that we have looked at over the past several years.  When we become Christians, we die to self and live for Christ.  By definition, that’s going to change a lot of who we are, and possibly the entirety of who we are.  You are either in Christ or you’re not, and Paul, in our text for today, tells us what being in Christ, having put on the new self, ought to look like.

                “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another...”  Now, there’s a little more to this list, but I want to stop here for just a second and make some observations.  First, Paul’s introducing this by saying “Put on.”  This is an imperative verb that’s saying very clearly, “Do this!  Do this because you are God’s chosen people.”  And that’s the second thing, this use of the phrase “God’s chosen people.”  Remember, Paul is battling against a teaching that is promoting some sort of mysticism, teaching that the people there can do something in order to gain some special insight into God’s true nature.  As John Calvin famously said, “Every addition to God’s Word is a lie.”  This false teaching is promoting the notion that the righteousness of the believer is the key to knowing God and not God’s own righteousness.  Paul’s making it very clear that it is because of the fact that God has graciously chosen to reveal Himself to us that we can know anything about Him.  So, because God has so lovingly revealed Himself to us and made Himself known to us, we are to respond emphatically by doing certain things, some of which Paul lists for us here.

                Paul says that we are to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, and patient.  Now, we’re not going to look at each of these words individually because of the time that it would take, but we can and do gain a sense of the type of mindset or attitude that we are to have by looking at this list as a whole.  We are to care for people.  We are to care for them and love them intimately.  We are to seek their good above our own.  We are to seek the best for those around us not so that we might have a better life or a more comfortable setting, but because we want what is best for them.  We love them and so we serve them, but serving doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it means.  I know that I’ve said this so many times that some of you might be able to finish this statement, but love doesn’t always mean easy.  Just because you love something doesn’t mean that it’s all rainbows and sunshine.  I love my wife; I love being married to her.  However, marriage is hard.  I love my kids, but parenting is hard.  Sometimes we have to make difficult decisions.  Sometimes our love for our children is shown through encouragement, but other times it’s shown through discipline.  Quite honestly, it’s been a little bit of both lately.  When we discipline, it doesn’t mean we don’t love them.  In fact, it is a sure sign that we do love them.  Also, I love being a pastor, but ministry is hard.  I don’t like having to talk with someone and tell them how what they’re doing or what they plan on doing is in direct conflict with God’s Word.  However, I have to do that; it’s part of my calling.  I don’t rebuke or correct because I dislike someone or because I enjoy correcting them, I do it because I love them and I want to see them grow in their faith and their relationship with the Lord.  I want to see them not go down some path that follows a false religion, one of those self-made religions that Paul spoke of earlier in this epistle.

                Paul continues on in this list, “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”  So, not only are we to love someone, but we are to be understanding and forgiving when they fail as well.  That’s difficult for me as I’m sure it is for many of you as well.  When someone gets angry with us because we’re trying to show them love and help them and they get upset with us, then we are to be patient and forgive them.  This too is a tough pill for us to swallow.  I can remember when I was a kid in high school; I was on a youth trip to serve in the slums of Jackson, MS.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with Jackson’s statistics, at one point it had the highest murder rate per capita in the U.S.  An overwhelming majority of her citizens who didn’t reside in one specific area of the city lived below the poverty line.  I’m talking about a truly depressed area.  Anyways, we were serving at a local homeless kitchen and one of the men who was there eating started complaining to a friend of mine about how terrible the food was as if we were the ones that cooked it.  My friend started getting all upset about it, “Can you believe this guy.  We come over here to help him and all he does is complain.  It’s things like this that make me not even want to waste my time in coming here.”  Now, that’s not a response that is foreign to us is it?  And we can all understand exactly why my friend would feel that way.  Maybe you’ve felt that way about someone or something in your life.  However, can you hear Satan at work in those words?  Don’t you think he would like to see nothing more than Christians resisting the call to serve because we don’t feel gratitude?  Don’t you think that Satan loves it when we hold a grudge against someone without seeking a resolution to it?  Don’t you think that Satan gets joy when we withhold forgiveness from someone who has wronged us?  Now, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here.  I’m not saying that forgiveness is easy.  I’m just saying that we are commanded to strive for forgiving others.  We have to forgive others because we too have been forgiven.  That’s part of this new life that we have.  That’s part of this relationship that we’re engaged in with Jesus Christ.  Paul says it emphatically, “so you also MUST forgive.”   There’s no conditional aspect of this forgiveness; it’s a requirement.

                He continues, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”  Again, don’t think that love means always condoning and accepting.  Instead, understand love as being the driving principle behind everything that you do.  Don’t do it for personal gain, self-improvement, or any other reason other than love for someone else and adoration for God.  “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another…”  You see, both teaching and admonishing, instructing and rebuking, are mentioned here as being acts of love.  I know that I’m harping a bit on this notion this morning, but it really is so foundational and fundamental to our understanding and application of the gospel.  God loves us; we are to in turn love each other.  I’ve read the golden rule.  I know the entirety of the Great Commandment.  I understand all of this and I know that many, some of you even, will be quick to quote 1 John 4:8 to me, but don’t think for a second that love is only acceptance and encouragement.  Love means doing whatever is best for someone.  Love means making the tough choices.  Love means being the bad guy sometimes.  Now, my wife will tell you that far too often I embrace the role of bad guy, but ultimately she will admit that it comes from a place of love and compassion.  It’s only when we are exercising biblically faithful love that we will come to this place of doing whatever it takes in order to seek the best for someone we care about.  A love that seeks only to encourage isn’t biblical love, it’s worldly love.  And unfortunately, that’s as far as some people get in their relationships with other people and even themselves.  There’s a difference between biblical love and worldly love.  There is, in fact, a lot of differences, but the most glaring and important of which is that one finds it’s definition in God, whereas the other is defined by man.  When we love someone in the biblical sense, then there are no lengths to which we won’t go for them.  And if we need an example of what this might look like, look no further than the example that is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  God loves us so much that He went to the length of sacrificing His Son on our behalf.  And to think, many of us don’t even consider the possibility that God might be calling us to sacrifice anything on behalf of someone else.

                Paul even touches on worship briefly when he talks about singing with thankfulness in our hearts.  This new life, this new self that comes about during our change, our rebirth, is something that not only affects the way that we live, but it also affects our worship.  Even the act of worship is so much sweeter when we are found in Christ than it was before.  Even though we’re doing the same things basically, the impact of this change upon our hearts is so amazing that it’s like we’re worshipping for the first time.  It’s like it’s an entirely new experience with an entirely new meaning and purpose.  This new life that is found in Christ Jesus is so powerful that it literally changes everything.  Hopefully not drifting off too far here, I have a good friend who recently grew a beard which he proceeded to shave into a mustache.  He sent a few of us a picture of his new facial hair and he just looked odd, and we all gave him a hard time about it.  The next morning, I get back from my morning run to find this message, “Well boys, the air smells crisper and my bacon tastes better through my new mustache filter.”  Now, that’s a silly example, but I look at our being found in this relationship with Christ in kind of a similar fashion.  The world just feels different and we relate to it differently when we are found in Christ.  Even if we find ourselves in the same settings or situations, it’s just different with Christ.  It’s better with Christ.

                Paul closes this notion by saying, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  Now, he’ll expand upon this in our text for next Sunday.  But for now, he’s wrapping all of this up for us in a nice little package isn’t he?  Do you remember the story that I told you last Sunday about my lawyer friend who said that he worked really hard at keeping his work-life separate from his faith-life?  Well, in case you don’t, I’ll sum it up by saying that we don’t have different lives in our life, it’s just life.  And the purpose, the driving force behind our entire life, all aspects or areas of it, ought to be proclaiming the gospel and seeking first the righteousness of the kingdom of God.  Paul’s closing this section about taking off the old and putting on the new by saying that whatever you find yourself doing or wherever you find yourself, work for the kingdom and give thanks to God.  For some of us it’s easy.  As a pastor, it’s pretty easy for me to work for the kingdom.  As a teacher, a business owner, or a stay at home parent, it may seem tougher at first, but there are no shortage of ways in which the gospel can be proclaimed through your life.  Setting work aside (since I’ve said that it’s all part of life), think about how you relate to other people in a general sense.  Do other people know your faith by how you act and how you treat them?  I read a quote this week that said, “I don’t need everyone to hear me say I’m a Christian, but I need everyone to see Christ in me.”  Now, I wouldn’t say that I don’t need to proclaim my faith, but I get what the quote is striving for.  Is that the way that you live your life?  Is your life so devoted to Christ that it radiates from your person?  If someone were going to describe you to someone else, how far down the list would they go before anything about your faith comes up?  You see, our relationships and our interactions with others are the strongest witness opportunities that we have.   When we are found in Christ, everyone around us ought to be able know that by how we live.  What do your actions tell?  Are you living out your faith for all to see?  Or are you hiding your new life in old, grave clothes worn by the dead?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Colossians 3:1-11 "Christ Changes Things"

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                Any biblical scholar, any Christian, or anyone who just reads the New Testament can tell you that there is a pattern that exists in all of Paul’s epistles, and it’s really a simple pattern.  First, he gives the facts, and then he gives the application.  In other words, he gives the doctrine or theology portion first in his letters, and follows that up by explaining what it all means for Christians and how what he has previously said ought to affect their lives.  In nearly every one of his letters, there is a universally acknowledged point at which Paul moves from theologian to pastor.  In Colossians, we are at that point.  The shift occurs between chapters two and three where Paul goes into the mindset of telling us why what he’s given thus far is important.  And I would remind you that what he’s given us so far is all about Jesus.  He’s spoken of the supremacy of Christ and the sufficiency of his death.  He’s spoken of the fact that Jesus’ death needs nothing else added to it, especially nothing that we can offer, in order to save us.  And he has spoken of the fact that we have a great freedom because of Jesus Christ.  We ended our time together last Sunday by saying that we are to respond to this freedom with joy, adoration, thanksgiving, and a desire to share this wondrous news.  Well, in our texts for the next few weeks, Paul’s going to tell us exactly what that response ought to look like.

                Paul begins all of this by telling his audience that if we’re really Christians, then we ought to seek the things that Christ would seek.  And that may seem like an obvious statement to us, but how often do we see Christians who are able to embrace their faiths in certain settings while easily laying them aside in others.  I had a conversation with someone a while back who is both a devout Christian and a defense attorney.  I asked him, not judgingly, if he ever had any issue with the fact that some of the people that he defended were actually guilty.  Was he ever bothered by the fact that his job was all about seeing folks not get the punishment that they deserved?  Now, I know that in some cases his clients were probably innocent, but certainly not all of them.  Mainly, I wanted to know how all of this interacted with his Christian faith.  He responded by telling me that he worked very hard at keeping his work-life and his religious-life separate, which is a common thing that we hear isn’t it?  Now, I didn’t push the issue any farther because it just wasn’t worth it at the time, but I was fascinated by that fact because, biblically speaking, it’s all life.  In reality we don’t have work-life, church-life, family-life, etc.  I mean, we do have different aspects of life, but it’s all part of our life as a whole.  What we seek in all aspects of life ought to be the things of Christ, i.e. the proclamation of the gospel and the righteousness of the kingdom of God.  That shouldn’t change depending on where we find ourselves and who we find ourselves around.  In other words, the things of this world shouldn’t be our primary motivations, but it is those things that we would consider of God that ought to be our motivation.

                Also, we can take Paul’s charge to seek the things that Christ would seek and say that we need to emphasize seeking ALL that Christ would seek.  This means that we can’t just seek some of the things that Christ would and did seek.  Did Christ seek social justice, care for the poor, and a certain civility and morality amongst everyone?  Of course, but he also sought sinlessness, repentance, and hearts that longed for God above all else.  Recently, it seems to be getting overlooked that when Jesus ate with sinners and forgave them of their sins, he also charged them to go and sin no more.  Are we to seek social change for the good of all humanity as part of our faith?  Yes, but we are to seek an adoration for and an obedience to Christ as well.  We can’t just pick and choose which parts of the Christian faith we want to adhere to; we are to follow all aspects of Christ’s teachings and God’s commands.

                Paul says, “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”  Paul’s acknowledging the pull of earthly things, but he’s also telling all Christians that they are new people in Christ.  Your old life may have been about these things, but that’s not who you are anymore.  Your old life might have revolved around your social calendar, your wealth, your power, your status, or any one of a list of things, but not anymore.  When you’re a Christian, your life is to revolve around Christ and no other.  I love my wife and I love my kids, but I’m commanded in Scripture that not even they are allowed to be the center of my world; that is a place reserved for only God.  Putting anyone or anything else in the place of God is, in essence, making whatever or whoever that is the god over your life.  I firmly believe that there is a place in all of our hearts that only God can fill.  We can try all we want to fill it with something else, but we’re never going to be whole or complete without God in His proper place in our hearts and our lives.

                Paul even gives us a list of many earthly things that are values of the flesh and not of heaven:  sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness.  Paul calls us to put these things to death, meaning that he wants us to eliminate them from our lives.  He wants us to do so not only because they are opposed to God, but also because they can become idols in our lives.  People can become worshippers of these sinful areas of human nature, which would take their worship away from God.  Now, there’s a few questions that some of you may have about this that I’m going to answer real quickly.  The first is that didn’t Paul just get done condemning asceticism and legalism, two belief systems that have more to do with outward things?  And now it seems like he’s calling for outward changes to take place in our lives.  In a word, Yes.  However, remember what we said last time, our outer behaviors are to be a reflection of our inner desires.  If we desire the things of God, then there is no way that we could demonstrate it through any of the ways listed above.  We’re not going to honor God through sexual immorality or covetousness.  In fact, as we’ve noted already, these are things that are directly opposed to how God would have us live our lives and honor Him.  Even the list that Paul gives later on containing anger, malice, and slander, none of these things can bring honor to God.  Basically, Paul’s point is that if you are truly following God, then it should be an inward change that has outward consequences and results.

The second question that you may have comes by way of something that I’ve already said.  I said earlier that my family can’t be the center of my world.  I said also that work or friendships shouldn’t be the center of our worlds either.  Now, if we compare those things to the lists that Paul gives us, it seems as if we’re talking about two completely different things here.  Obviously anger, wrath, impurity, evil desires, or malice ought not to be our goals, but do we really put those into the same category as our families or our jobs?  After all, aren’t we encouraged by God to seek to build strong families?  Aren’t we commanded to work; wasn’t that part of our created order, the cultural mandate?  Aren’t friendships encouraged in Scripture?  And my answer to all of these questions would be yes.  However, I think that much of how we interpret these things hinges on the word used at the end of verse 5, idolatry.  As we said earlier, nothing can take the place of God in our lives.  It doesn’t matter if it’s something bad (like what Paul has listed here) or something good (like our families and friends), we can’t let it take the place of God.

As we’ve spent time working our way through the Old Testament in Sunday School, we’ve seen a number of common themes or threads run throughout the entirety of the Old Testament.  We’ve seen God’s faithfulness to His people and His covenant promises.  However, we’ve also seen God’s people’s unfaithfulness to Him as well.  We’ve seen how people who have a special relationship with God are so quick to set that aside and worship the newest and shiniest thing that comes along.  We’ve seen a people who were expressly forbidden from worshiping idols bow down at the feet of a golden calf, a bronze bull, or other man-made idols.  We’ve seen people who cry out for God as being all that they need devote themselves to things like food, riches, or social status; worshipping the gifts instead of the gift giver.  Even this morning we talked about a man who was anointed by God as the king of Israel becoming so drunk with power that he began to place himself above God’s authority.  It goes to show us and warn us that even the noblest and upright person can fall victim to the tentacles of sin.  That is, they can if they are left to fight against sin on their own, but we’re not.

You see, that is the beginning of Paul’s application of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ.  Remember, I told you back at the beginning of this series that this epistle was written about the same time as the epistle that Paul wrote to the Ephesian church.  And in that epistle, which we looked at last fall, Paul spoke about this distinction known as the old self and the new self.  This distinction was about the way that when we enter into a relationship with Christ, we stop being someone who is dead to sin and become someone who is alive in Christ.  We stop being alone and are now in union with God.  We spoke back then of how the language that Paul uses in Ephesians is that of taking off grave clothes and putting on a new life in Christ.  Well, Paul, here in Colossians, brings up this distinction between old and new.  He says, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of the creator.”  Now, we’re going to look at what Paul tells the Colossian church the new self ought to look like next Sunday when we look at the second half of chapter 3.  But we can tell pretty clearly without much hesitation that Paul is saying that the way we act when we are in a relationship with Christ is to be completely different than the way that we acted before entering into that relationship.  It’s so different that we virtually become a new person; hence the reason why we refer to this as rebirth or being born again.  We become an entirely new creation in Christ than we were before.  All of the other things, the other distinctions that we create amongst ourselves are gone.

Do you know the old saying “There are two types of people in this world…”?  Well, we can say with absolute certainty that that is a true statement.  There are two types of people in this world, those who are in Christ and those who aren’t.  There are those who are wearing the old grave clothes of dead men and those who are adorned with the newness of life in Christ.  The only distinction that exists in this world is whether or not we are in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.  “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”  Nationalities, ritual observances, social positions, nor any other distinctions exist for those found in Christ.  In the next verse Paul will simply refer to Christians as “God’s chosen ones.”   Remember, Paul is trying to combat against and denounce a false belief system that teaches exclusivity amongst God’s people.  This false teaching was promoting the fact that there are distinctions amongst the people of God; those who have been enlightened and those who haven’t, those who have denied themselves to extremes and those who haven’t, and those who have been given visions and kept certain rules and those who haven’t.  You see, Christianity may be seen as exclusive in that not everyone is found in Christ, and that is true.  However, for those who are found in Christ, there is no distinction to be made.

Now, I don’t want it to seem like it’s some great secret that we are privy to that no one else is, because it’s not a secret.  The good news of what we celebrate today through the partaking of the elements on the table before us isn’t a secret.  It’s something that many know about but fewer understand their meaning.  Not these elements themselves, but what they represent, the body and blood of Christ, the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross, give us the ability to take off the old and put on the new.  Christ gives us both the desire and ability to change from darkness to light.  As we prepare ourselves to receive these elements in just a few moments, I want all of you to understand that because of what we remember this day, we are able to overcome sin and be adorned in a newness of life that is found only in Christ.  We’ll look at what the new self looks like a little more in a week, but for now, let’s focus on putting to death those things in our lives that separate us from God.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Colossians 2:6-23 "Freedom in Christ"

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                As I’ve mentioned several times over the first few weeks of our study of the book of Colossians, this letter is about Jesus, plain and simple.  Paul was writing to a congregation, a group of Christians, who were, many unknowingly, being swayed away from Jesus Christ.  They were being swayed by a false teaching that still claimed Jesus, but had all of these other rules that went along with it.  They were teaching that there were all these other things that you had to do in order to have true saving faith.  And on the surface, we may say that that’s not too dissimilar from what many Christians today think, even the seemingly theologically sound ones.  However, I would remind you that there is a great difference between doing things in response to God’s work in your heart and doing things in order to earn God’s work in your heart.  On the outside they may look the same, but it’s the heart, the mindset, the motives that matters.  When the Old Testament prophet Samuel was looking at the sons of Jesse to see which one was to be anointed as Israel’s king, the Lord told him, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature…for the Lord sees not as man sees:  man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 

So, Paul was having to remind these Christians that our salvation isn’t based upon the outward things, but upon what’s inward.  It’s based upon our faith in Jesus Christ, which itself is a work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers.  Paul never condemns doing good works, but he’s trying to make sure that these people know that their good works are the responses to salvation and not the reasons for it.  And honestly, that’s a very freeing reality isn’t it?  And that’s exactly what Paul gives to them (and us) in our text for today.  He gives us a vision of the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus and the many different avenues that that freedom takes.  Now, don’t think that our freedom in Christ is limited to only these areas that Paul discusses, but what he’s doing is showing us that it’s a complete freedom, in need of nothing else added to it.  The work of God is both complete in its atonement for our sins and our being sanctified and brought to saving faith.

The first freedom that we have is from enticing words and vain philosophies.  Paul mentions things like philosophy, deceit, human tradition, and elemental spirits.  And there’s a bit of a wide range of interpretation out there when it comes to what exactly Paul has in minds with each of these designations, but what’s important isn’t really what’s on this list, but what follows this list.  Paul says that they’ve been following these things and been paying attention to all of these things and not living according to Christ.  I love what the Apostle Paul says here:  “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” In other words, he’s calling for anyone who would be more captivated by anything other than Christ to wake up.  You don’t need anything other than Christ to be saved because Christ is the “fullness” of God.  And of this fullness of God, John Calvin writes, “that God is wholly found in him, so that he who is not contented with Christ alone, desires something better and more excellent than God.  The sum is this, that God has manifested himself to us fully and perfectly in Christ.”  Through this fullness, we have great freedom in Christ from the things of this world.

Paul also says that we have a freedom in Christ that frees us from the judgement of others.  There’s this section here where Paul talks about circumcision and uncircumcision and what it all means in the grand scheme of things.  Now, sometimes we will see people interpret this as a debate similar to that which we find in Galatians over whether or not circumcision is still required of God’s people (which it’s not).  However (and I’ll come back to a few things), look at what Paul says after talking about all of this.  Beginning in verse 16 we find, “Therefore, let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.  These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”  Again, he’s saying that while there was once a distinction to be found between circumcision and uncircumcision, Christ has changed that.  It’s no longer the outer circumcision that matters but the inward one carried out by the Holy Spirit.  Paul knows that it’s hard for these folks to shed the notions of asceticism and pragmatism, but they have to.  And the reason why they have to do away with such thinking is because, in Paul’s words, God set all of this aside by “nailing it to the cross.”  Now, even though the phrase “canceling the record of debt” is used here, I don’t want anyone to think that God just absolved or waived the debt.  This is a legal and financial usage of the term canceling.  It’s not just canceling, but canceling the record.  In other words, it means that the debt has been paid and the record restored.  And because of this payment on the part of Christ, because of this restoration of our standing with God, we have a great freedom to not be constrained by the legalistic tendencies that so plagued the early church, and in some cases still do.

A third way that Christ gives us freedom comes in the area of worship.  Now, let me be very clear here, I’m not talking about some biblical justification for doing whatever we want to and substituting it for worship.  Nor does our text say that there is no proper way to worship God.  I think that Scripture is very clear that there is a call for corporate worship, on the Sabbath, with such elements as praying, singing spiritual songs, giving alms, and the reading and proclaiming of God’s Word.  What our text actually does is simplify worship.  “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels…and not hold fast to the Head.”  Basically, Paul is saying that any worship that doesn’t revolve around Christ or any worship that isn’t solely devoted to Christ isn’t worship at all and it’s not worth your time and energy.  Asceticism (giving up earthly pleasures to a severe extreme) and worshiping angels (creatures lesser than Christ) isn’t really worship, because it’s not about Jesus.  It’s nothing short of foolishness to worship something lesser than the only One who is worthy of worship.  When I was a little kid, I would spend a lot of time playing card games and board games at my grandmother’s house.  Now, we played by the rules, except for when my youngest cousin who was too little to understand was over there.  However, she wanted to join in, so I was forced to play, even though she was just making up rules as she went along.  And it used to drive me insane, because it was foolish for us to even be playing the game when we weren’t really going by any rules.  It’s not monopoly if you’re allowed to just keep taking money from the bank or skip a payment just because.  I sense the same frustration in Paul here.  “Yes, I know that they are claiming Jesus, but it’s not really worshiping and following Christ if you’re worrying so much about earthly things and worshiping angels.”  Paul is simply trying to tell them that true worship is about God alone and the revelation that we have of Him in Christ Jesus.

So, we’re free from earthly teachings, judgements of others, and empty worship.  That’s what Paul’s given us thus far.  And we could say that this fourth freedom that Paul gives is either a different aspect of freedom or a summation of all that he’s given us thus far.  However we want to classify it, it is a freedom from the doctrines of men.  Now, what do I mean when I say the doctrines of men?  Do I mean things like the Trinity?  Do I mean everything that is termed or coined by mankind?  No!  The Trinity, while never specifically called that in Scripture, isn’t a doctrine of man.  The Trinity is a doctrine, a teaching, from God.  What I’m talking about here are the things that Paul mentions:  no touching, no tasting, and all of the other regulations that many errant religious leaders tried to place on the people of God.  They may have seemed on a surface level to be honoring God, but we see clearly from Jesus’ earthly ministry that many of them miss the mark entirely with what God truly wants from us and how He actually wants us to live.  We need not look any further than the numerous erroneous views of the Sabbath that existed amongst the Pharisees and the scribes and the other religious leaders for an example of this. 

I love how Paul attacks such an understanding of God’s commands for us.  He says, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgences of the flesh.”  In other words, “sure, they may look like they’re doing something, but they’re pretty much worthless.”  And I think that this designation of “self-made religion” is a fascinating one for us today.  You see, we live in a world of self-made religions.  We might even be tempted to say that we live in a time of self-made Christianities, although I think that it stops being Christianity by the mere fact that it is self-made.  What I’m talking about is that audible dart that is someone saying, “Well, my Jesus” or “the God I worship.”  I’m sure that many of you in here have heard those words before.  They’re usually followed by someone telling us how they have taken the God of Scripture or Jesus as he’s revealed in the gospel accounts and reworked them so that they fit into the worldview of that person.  In other words, they are the ones who choose which parts of God’s will are applicable and which parts aren’t based on how they view the world.  You see, these folks are doing the same thing that the false group in Colossae was doing.  Sure, they were still claiming Jesus, but they had so badly strayed from who Jesus really is that it really wasn’t even in the same stratosphere as true Christian worship and discipleship.

And the most terrifying thing of all is that when it isn’t true Christian faith, then it is “of no value in stopping the indulgences of the flesh.”  It’s of no value for defeating sin.  It’s of no value in cleansing us of our sins.  And if it can’t cleanse us of our sins then we have no hope of salvation.  A religion that is man-made is of no value regardless of how appealing or exciting it may seem.  Go build a mansion on eroding soil or shifting sands or marshland.  They may look great, but without the firm foundation that is required then all of these houses are virtually worthless.  Any faith, any system of belief that isn’t built upon Jesus is worthless from a salvation perspective.  And the only way in which we build our faiths, our lives, upon Jesus is by his calling us to be in submission to him.  We hear his voice, and it stirs within us this want, this desire to serve him and love him and rejoice in His holy name.  And so we submit, we set aside our own wants and our own desires and the things that we hold dear and we seek first the righteousness of the kingdom of God and not the righteousness of self.  That’s the only way that we can overcome sin in our lives.  It’s not by living perfect lives or denying ourselves everything or anything that we really control.  It’s about Jesus.  It’s about his death being sufficient to save us from our sins.  It’s about the freedom that we have in the death and resurrection of Christ.  We have died with Christ.  Through saving faith we are raised up again with Him and are made heirs with Christ Jesus.

Again, don’t hear me and think that I’m saying that it doesn’t matter what we do.  In fact, it matters very much what we do because it is a reflection of our hearts.  If I were to ask one of my kids if they understand that running isn’t allowed in the house and they tell me that they understand but they leave the conversation by sprinting away then I know that they don’t get it.  I know that while on the outside they say something, their mindset really hasn’t changed.  And so I don’t want you to understand freedom in terms of some ability to do whatever we want to do and consider yourself saved.  Instead, I want all of us to see the freedom that it is to be found in Jesus; to no longer be under the dominion of sin and death.  We are free in Christ Jesus.  However, that freedom (as it usually does) came at a great price, and that price was the life of the Son.  May we all remember each and every moment of every day that the freedom that we have in Jesus was purchased for us at a great price.  It’ all because of the Father’s love for His children, and our response ought to be joy, adoration, obedience, and a stirring in our hearts to share this news with everyone else.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Colossians 1:21-2:7 "Christ Did It All"

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                Last week we began our series on the book of Colossians, Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae.  In looking at the majority of the opening chapter of this book, we noted that, while containing Paul’s introduction, it was primarily about Jesus.  It was a reminder to these Christians who Christ really was.  In particular, it was about Christ’s supremacy, his supremacy in creation and his supremacy in redemption; fundamental and foundational beliefs that were being overlooked and forgotten.  I chose to begin the reading of our text this morning with a rereading of the portion that deals with Christ’s supremacy in redemption as a means of reminding all of us of something specific:  that Christ’s death is sufficient.  I made a statement last week that if we feel like we have to do anything else other than have faith in Christ (which is a work of God in our lives itself and not something that we take the lead on) in order to be saved then it is as if we don’t think that Jesus’ death was enough.  If we think that we contribute to our salvation, then it is as if we don’t believe that God could do it without our help.  Our good works, our right actions, our observance of certain rituals, or even our “accepting” of Christ as it’s commonly referred to don’t earn us our salvation, God grants it to us.  And I think that if Scripture is abundantly clear on one thing above all else, it is that God doesn’t need us to help Him.  Many times in Scripture and in our own lives, we see God working in spite of man’s sinful actions.  And so, as we make our way through our text for today, I want all of us to keep in the forefront of our minds the understanding that Christ’s death is not only sufficient, but that it is sufficient and effective all by itself.

                Remember, Paul’s writing this letter to a group of Christians who are falling victim to a school of teaching that is telling them that they are in need of doing certain things in order to gain their salvation and to have an assurance of that salvation.  They’re still worshipping God, just devaluing what happened upon the cross.  So, after reminding them of the work of Christ in redemption that they are devaluing, he moves on to talk about his own personal testimony of sorts.  He talks about the fact that he has had the privilege of doing some outstanding things for the sake of the kingdom.  He’s planted churches, suffered for the sake of the gospel, lived as a minister, given up a lot of worldly things, been faithful with what God has given him, and the list goes on and on.  We could sit here and go on for hours and hours about the wondrous things that the Apostle Paul has done for God’s kingdom, yet none of those things have anything to do with his salvation other than being the joyous response to the good news that God has chosen to save him.  None of the things that Paul did with his life in any way earned him his salvation.    As I pondered over that idea this week it really hit home with me; something resonated with me; that a lousy guy like myself who really hasn’t accomplished a great deal for the sake of the kingdom is in the same boat as someone like a Billy Graham or a Charles Spurgeon or R.C. Sproul, or even the Apostle Paul himself.  All of these folks who have done this wonderful work for the sake of God’s kingdom, “leading” massive amounts of people to Christ, providing invaluable resources for generations and generations of Christians, their salvation is based upon the same thing that mine is, the righteousness of Christ.  Now, that’s not something that I just realized, but it’s something that still amazes me every time I think about it.  To think that our salvation is based upon the same thing as a John Knox or a Martin Luther or a John Calvin ought to just leave everyone of us in awe.

                So, Paul, as he’s talking about his own experience and how it doesn’t account for anything in terms of salvation, dealing with the legalism part of this false teaching in Colossae, takes aim at the mysticism portion of this problem.  As he was writing of his being a minister, Paul wrote, “I became a minister…to make the word of God fully known, 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.”  And this may not sound like pointed language to us, but we have to remember the context here.  In pagan religions, the “mysteries” were secret insights that were given to a select few, typically after they had paid some amount of money.  Paul uses the term mystery here in an intentionally ironic manner directly aimed at these pagan religions, particularly mysticism.  He uses this term mystery to speak of the revelation of God that has been made available to the nations, Jesus Christ.  Remember, Paul has already referred to Christ as the “image of the invisible God.”  We noted that Christ is the visible revelation of God who otherwise remains invisible to us in our state of sin and corruption. 

                You see, we so often forget that really until the time of Christ, God was, to use Paul’s words here, “hidden” from the Gentiles.  God was “hidden” from those who were outside of His chosen people of Israel.  Up until this point, those outside of Israel had virtually no clue about God’s saving purpose for them.  It seems so very clear to us as we look back upon Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament that Jews and Gentiles were to be united in the coming Messiah, but it wasn’t so clear in the moment.  For example, the prophet Zechariah spoke of the coming king saying, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!     Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”  We read those words and we see that clearly when Zechariah said that the coming king would speak peace to the nations that that is referring to God’s kingdom being expanded to include more than just Israel.  However, we simply can’t overlook the fact that that concept was a foreign one during that time.  Most every Jew thought that the coming Messiah was there to restore God’s people, the Jews, and not that he was coming to bring those outside of God’s people into the fold and to reveal God to them.  We cannot have hindsight vision when it comes to trying to understand the mindset of those believers who lived during and on the heels of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  We have to try and understand the circumstances in which they were living.

                Paul is deeply worried about this congregation.  He cares for them.  He loves them; even though, as we see in the first verse of chapter two, he’s never met them face to face.  He says that his hope is that “their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  Paul wants them to be strengthened and united in their commitment to God and to each other.  He wants them to be encouraged and to grow in their faith and in their knowledge of God.  And the only way in which they can do that is through Christ, the visible revelation of God, the treasure of wisdom and knowledge.  They can be strengthened through the church, the bride of Christ.  They can come to the Father in prayer through Christ.  Paul knows without a shadow of a doubt that as their commitment to and understanding of Christ deepens and grows that they will see the error of this system that is teaching them that their actions matter in terms of salvation.  He knows that as they grow in their understanding of Christ that they will have an assurance of their salvation because in the one whom they are trusting for their salvation, Jesus, there is nothing but assurance and certainty.  And that’s just as true for us as it was for those Christians in Colossae.  Think about it for a second, if our salvation was based upon anything within us or that we needed to do, even our saying “Yes”, then there is a certain level of uncertainty isn’t there.  Even in something that we’ve done a thousand times, there still exists the possibility of a mistake.  However, when it comes to Christ, there is only certainty.  Once we are truly in Christ, that’s where we remain.  Jesus even said as much during his earthly ministry.  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.” (John 10:27-29).  We don’t earn our salvation; God gives it to us through Jesus Christ and the work of His Holy Spirit.

                If you’ve noticed, Paul has kept using the words mystery and hidden here to convey a specific idea, and we find out what that is in verse 4.  “I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.”  Now, I said earlier that he uses “mystery” and “hidden” ironically to get at the mysticism folks, but there’s also a certain aspect to which these terms do apply to the Christian faith as well.  Several years ago, I had a friend who wanted to talk to me about my faith.  He wasn’t a non-Christian, but he wasn’t really a devout Christian either.  We all know this type of person.  They believe in God and that Jesus was the Son of God (although they’ve never really given any thought to what that means).  They know parts of the Bible, but have no idea what the Bible really says.  They pick and choose the verses that they like or that agrees with their thinking; that type of Christian.  Anyways, my friend asked me, “Tommy, can we sit down and have a logical conversation about God and the Christian faith?”  I told him, “absolutely not.”  Now, y’all know me and so does he.  He thought I was just messing with him or that I was joking that the two of us weren’t capable of logical thoughts and conversations.  “No, I’m serious” he said.  “Me too,” I replied, “there’s nothing logical about God and His relationship with us and what He’s done for us.”  I went on to tell him about how logically speaking; breaking a law or a covenant should result in punishment, especially when that law or covenantal agreement is perfect.  Logic dictates that after Adam and Eve sinned that we would find only condemnation and that that would never change.  However, God does something illogical (if I can use that term) and there is this plan for our redemption and our salvation.  Paul is telling his audience, and us, that we need not be swayed by logical arguments and ear-pleasing words.  If we can understand it completely, then it isn’t worthy of worship.  Personally, I’m glad that I can’t fully understand God because it is just one more assurance that I have that the God that I worship is greater than myself.

                Finally, Paul gives them what is sometimes referred to as the summation of the central theme of this whole epistle when he says, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”  Now, I’m going to come back to this passage during our next time together, but I think that it’s truths are crucial for our fully grasping what Paul is saying in our text for today.  Paul is concerned about these Christians remaining faithful to Jesus Christ while also calling them to grow, but grow in the right way.  Because that’s the entire issue at hand isn’t it?  These folks have come to know Christ and now they are looking to grow in their knowledge of him.  Meanwhile, there is this group of folks who are telling them that they grow by doing these certain things, that they earn their way to salvation by doing certain things.  Paul doesn’t rebuke the desire for growth within this congregation; he simply wants them to go about it the right way.  And any teaching that is promoting that we have anything to do with our salvation is not the right way.  Paul encourages them to live in Christ, to walk in Christ, to build everything that they have upon him, but to do so out of love and thanksgiving for what he has done for us already, not so that we might complete his already completed work.

                I know that we’re going to end things much the same this week as we did last week, but that’s just the nature of this epistle.  Paul is, if nothing else, hammering home this point to the Colossians during the first part of his epistle.  We don’t, nor can we, add anything to the work of Christ.  I heard a speaker at a conference one time say that God had cast the nets and all we as leaders had to do is reel them in.  I won’t tell you my reaction to that statement because there isn’t enough time left, but let’s just suffice it to say that I didn’t agree.  Friends, any understanding of Jesus Christ that has in view the mindset that we must finish what Christ started is an understanding that doesn’t understand who Jesus is and what Jesus did.  I know that’s a bit of a tough, so let me put it this way.  Christ’s work is enough.  What’s the song that we’ve sung numerous times here?  Jesus Paid It All; it doesn’t say Jesus paid most of it and we have to finish the job.  Jesus, completely, totally, eternally, and in all humility paid the price that was owed for our sins.  Our job, as it were, is to rejoice in it, to live in it, and to respond as Paul says, “abounding in thanksgiving.”