These are my sermon notes for August 1, 2021. This is the first sermon in a series on the letter to the Colossians, Christ Over All.
Colossians: Christ Over All
Thanksgiving for the Colossians
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father. 3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
Billy Joel, “Allentown”
Colosse was a little like Allentown.
The City of Colosse:
- In central Turkey, about two hours from the coast.
- Once large and prosperous with a thriving wool industry,
- On a trade route between the coast and the euphrates river – remember Turkey borders both Iraq and Iran.
- Had been eclipsed by two sister cities — Laodocea and Hieropolis.
- Laodocia was the district capital
- Hieropolis had a healing spring which drew in the crowds in a time before modern medicine
- By Paul’s day, Colosse was the least significant of the cities whose churches Paul wrote.
Important to note:
- Paul himself never visited Colosse
- The church was founded by Epaphras around the time that Paul was in Ephesus (see – Acts 19:10)
- Paul in Ephesus two years
- Training elders to plant churches
- Result = “all the residents of Asia (Turkey) heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (19:10)
Key Issue: idolatry and superstition
The believers in Colosse lived in a world not unlike our own.
- First, they were subject to financial forces and it was therefore not easy to live in a city whose fortunes had reversed.
- It was also a context that was highly diverse in terms of religious belief and practice.
The Colossian Christians were being influenced by a rival religious belief that kind of married Jewish beliefs with Greek philosophy and held that the world was full of spiritual forces.
These forces needed to be placated to avoid bad things happening. This was done through veneration, food sacrifices, ascetic practices, and honoring certain days of the week.
Perhaps you can see the problem: the world is full of evil forces and faith in Christ is not enough to protect you from evil or to sustain you through suffering. They said you needed more.
It was Jesus plus this practice, that food sacrifice, that observance, etc.
It’s been ten years since I’ve been in Turkey. One of my most poignant memories is seeing charms to ward off the “evil eye” all over the place.
You’d see one hanging in every window, in every stall, in every public place. You’d see them on people’s wrists or necks. This wasn’t about good luck, it was about protection from evil. And this is common to many countries.
It is, however, profoundly un-Christian to think in these sorts of ways about how the world works and how God works in the world.
The point of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is that we are now united to Him and, now, no evil can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38).
The point isn’t that once we become a Christian we are now protected from all suffering, pain, and disappointment. Hardly!
The point is that we have God’s promise that he will sustain us through the suffering and that there is a purpose and plan that is being accomplished by means of this suffering.
It’s also to say that we should put our earthly experiences into perspective.
No matter how bad things become for us while we live, we have the hope of everlasting life on which to rely.
And if we keep that perspective then we’ll have hope and we won’t despair or find ourselves cowering in fear.
Jesus himself says,
“But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Luke 2:5).
It’s the same truth that Martin Luther captures in his hymn, “A Mighty Fortress”:
“the body they may kill/God’s truth abideth still/his Kingdom is forever.”
Paul begins his letter–which will later on offer some corrections–by praising the church for the areas in which it has been faithful.
So in the time remaining to us, we’ll highlight some of the key points on this introductory section of the letter.
- Faith and love are the overflow of hope (v.5a)
We sometimes think that being a Christian starts with faith and love and that somehow we sort of produce these things ourselves. We “decide” to believe the message of Christ and to love God.
It can seem that way experientially, if we don’t stop to think about it, but the Bible tells us that God is working in us before we believe the gospel and love God.
Often the first thing that we experience when we consider the claims of Christ is a sense of despair–how can we be reconciled to God? How can our sins be dealt with?
And that gives way to hope: a glimmer of hope that Jesus is the way, that through Jesus our sins can be forgiven and we can find real life in Jesus Christ.
That hope that we experience is actually the first sign of the new life that God gives to his children that enables them to respond to the offer of the gospel.
We call it regeneration, being born again–something that God does to us and in us and that we experience as being able to respond to the offer of the gospel and believing.
We cannot experience hope absent God’s work of grace in our hearts.
And the hope we experience gives way to faith and to love which are the results of the operation of God’s grace in our hearts, giving us new spiritual life, moving us from darkness to light, and from death to life.
As Alistair Begg put it,
“What kind of wonderful God is this who reaches down into the lives of people, picks them up, grants them faith, and changes them!”
- Hope is founded in the message of the gospel, which is the message of Christ (v.5b)
The hope that the Colossians experienced came from the message of the gospel.
R.C. Sproul explains the gospel like this:
“God is holy and He is just, and I’m not. And at the end of my life, I’m going to stand before a just and holy God, and I’ll be judged. And I’ll be judged either on the basis of my own righteousness–or lack of it–or the righteousness of another.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness, of perfect obedience to God, not for His own well being but for His people. He has done for me what I couldn’t possibly do for myself. But not only has He lived that life of perfect obedience, He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy the justice and the righteousness of God.”
Illustration: In Olympic terms:
- Have to swim the 100m freestyle.
- Need to get a 1.0 min time to be spared.
- Give you a choice: you can swim or Caleb Dressel can swim for you? His time can become your time thus sparing you.
- Corollary: your time becomes his time and he dies.
This is the message of the gospel – the great exchange that is pictured for us in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper.
The body and blood of Christ, shed for you.
- The message has been proclaimed to them and to the whole world (v.6a)
Paul has used the city of Ephesus as a regional hub for training and sending Christian workers into Asia/Turkey to preach the gospel and to establish and grow churches.
Paul had a missionary strategy that targeted the major cities of the Roman world. And then from those major cities were sent missionary pastors to establish congregations in other cities.
Paul is probably using hyperbole when he says that the whole world had received the gospel. What’s certainly true is that the early church had a presence in many/most of the major cities of the Roman world.
Notice that Paul points to the importance of the proclamation of the gospel.
We have to be a church that is all about the gospel–the work of transformation from the inside out.
- The proclamation of the message produces fruit, Epaphras is a fruit of the gospel (v.6b)
The preaching of the gospel produces fruit–that is change–in people’s lives. Epaphras is an example of this fruit.
We don’t know much about Epaphras. Douglas Moo notes,
“… we can infer that he was a native of Colossae and that he was perhaps converted by Paul himself during the apostle’s ministry in Ephesus. The mention of a co-worker at this point in a Pauline epistle is unusual, and the strength of Paul’s endorsement of him is also striking.”
There’s something special about someone from Colosse becoming a follower of Christ, being trained by Paul, ministering with Paul, and then starting the church in his hometown.
It’s a sign of the Holy Spirit’s work through Paul and in the Ephesians community that Epaphras was called and sent back to Colosse to start a church.