by Pastor Cherie Dearth
First I’d like to tell you a little bit about the Colossians. Colossae was a town about 120 miles east of Ephesus, which was on the Aegean Sea, across from Athens. So it’s well up the coast from Jerusalem and Judea. Quite a ways East as well, in modern Turkey. So Colossae is about 120 miles east of that inland.
Paul founded many churches around the Mediterranean, but this was not one of them. It was founded by Epaphras. Paul has not even met these people. Paul is probably in prison at this time in Ephesus. In fact, this letter is referred to as one of the prison letters, along with Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon. So why is Paul writing to the Colossians?
Paul had received word that some other teachers had come through, and told the Colossians that their original teaching was incomplete. They needed to know more, do more, if they were going to have a genuine relationship with God. When Paul hears this, the hair on the back of his neck stands up, and he knows that he has to write to help this very new Christian Community. He has to write, because Paul is at the very least under house arrest and not able to go to see them in person, so he writes this letter. This week we’re going to focus on the opening of the letter.
Colossians 1:1-14 NIV
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all 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.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
How many of you have seen or at least heard of the movie Animal House? I’m not recommending it as your pastor. It certainly has more than a few things about it that are contrary to a Christian way of life. If you haven’t seen it. It’s a film about a fraternity house at a small ivy league College in the 1960s. They were known for at least a couple of things. One, big drunken parties; two, being in trouble with the college. These two things are not mutually exclusive.
After a particularly festive party the fraternity leaders were called into the Dean’s office. They were very used to this. They were already on probation, but the dean announces to them that they have been on double secret probation with special penalties. But the fraternity didn’t even know about the double secret probation. Because they didn’t follow the rules under the double secret probation, the dean is shutting down the fraternity house.
So for the Colossians, Epaphras came and taught them but went back to see Paul in Ephesus. Meanwhile, another teacher or perhaps several teachers come and tell them, No! You have to do these special, secret things to have a full relationship with God, to have salvation.
So we’re going to go through this letter. We’re going to see what Paul has to say about this.
Starting with verse 1: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother...” Paul does not know these people, so he’s introducing himself. A pretty standard greeting.
Continuing with verse 2: “To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful Brothers and Sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father…” To God’s holy people in Colossae, Paul considers them holy already, not doing any of the things the new teacher said. Paul would have called them false teachers.
What have they been teaching the Colossians? The message of Jesus Christ’s death and Resurrection, to forgive sins and bring new life was not enough. They needed some secret knowledge to have a genuine relationship with God. It was a form of Gnosticism. Gnosis itself means secret knowledge in Greek. In verse 2 Paul already implies that they don’t need any of that by calling them God’s holy people. It’s already done.
Continuing with verse 3: “We always thank God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for God’s people- The face and love that spring from The Hope stored up [… past tense, already existing…] for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the Gospel.”
But how can they be sure? Paul tells them in the next verse.
“The true message of the Gospel 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.”
By the fruit they already have seen in and among each other since their conversion. We talked about fruit in the spring after Easter. It’s not something we can make happen if we just try harder. It’s something that is produced in and through us with the help of the Holy Spirit. It happens as a result of your greater knowledge of God, and your behavior changes as a result. You start doing things and thinking about things you’ve never done before, thinking about people and how to make their lives better. This is fruit. We stop doing things that we know are wrong. Maybe we’ve always known they were wrong. This is fruit. We need to continue growing and learning about God through the rest of our lives.
Continuing with verse 7, “You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of Your Love in the spirit. 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 [… They didn’t need anything new or special…] Then fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the spirit gives.”
They didn’t need this secret knowledge the other group told them about. They needed to focus on learning about God, knowledge that was open and available to all.
They did not need any special experiences to prove they were saved. Many of us still think that that kind of thing is necessary to be assured that we are really saved. They’ll want to be re-baptized. It’s totally not necessary.
Sometimes this can be a concern of people who were born and raised in the church. They may not have a spectacular conversion experience like Paul on the road to Damascus. They weren’t knocked off their horse, so they think that it wasn’t authentic. Paul, himself, is saying that this is not necessary. The only thing necessary is that you believe the gospel, the good news. If you’ve forgotten what that is, Paul will remind us before the end. But you don’t need some specific kind of experience. It might be spectacular, but it might be realizing that you’ve known it, known God, as long as you can remember. Both of those are valid, and everything in between. Important thing is accepting the gospel and a continuing relationship with God.
Continuing with verse 10: “So that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you might have great endurance and patience.”
Verse 12: “And giving joyful thanks to the father […we can’t do this on our own. God does it in Us. – giving joyful thanks to the father, who has qualified – past tense. Has already happened…] Who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the Kingdom of light?
And here’s that review of what the gospel is in case you forgot. And to tell you the truth it can be easy to do for at least a couple of reasons. One, we refer to different things by that name, “the gospel.” There are the books of the Bible about Jesus earthly ministry. Jesus refers to bringing good news, or the gospel, to the poor, the brokenhearted, and so on. His good news is that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.
Two, there’s how we use it in our culture today…. It’s the gospel truth… It’s used as an adjective to describe a level of truth or a category of its trustworthiness. It’s so true, that it could have come out of the Bible. It is so true, it could have been said by Jesus himself. It’s the gospel truth.
And then there’s the kind of gospel Paul is talking about, the gospel Jesus meant when he told us to go to all the world.
Continuing with verse 13: “For he, [God, for God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
And that’s the whole thing. We only need that, no bells and whistles, no secret handshakes.
With that we are adopted into God’s family. We become children of God. With God’s help we learn more and more about God and what it means to live as his child, as a member of the family.
There is no double secret probation. You are a child of God. No matter how young or old you are. You will always be God’s child. What more could you need them that? That’s the good news, the gospel!
And all of God’s people said… Amen!