Do you feel the tension of following Jesus? It’s the tension of being in the world but not of the world. It’s a pressure that we feel exerted on us by society, friends, family to share their values and not to stand out and be different.
We live with that tension all the time and feel it particularly when we talk about sex and relationships. The bible has a high view of marriage, the world doesn’t. The bible sees sex as an incredibly beautiful, enjoyable, relationship enriching gift to be shared within marriage, the world says sex is cheap, its sells and has no strings. The bible says God made man for woman the world says anything goes.
Or take money; the bible says it’s a gift from God to be used for us to steward, put to work and give away for God’s glory in the gospel. Society says money gives you status, value, worth, it gives you a reason to live.
Or take truth; the bible says Jesus is THE way THE truth and THE life, no-one comes to the father but through Jesus. Society says that is bigoted, narrow and offensive. The bible says everyone needs to hear the gospel, society says faith is private and personal so keep it that way.
Do you feel those tensions as you talk to your friends, or housemates, or listen to your lecturers or family?
Just look at the opening 2 verses of Colossians. Paul God’s messenger writes to those who are in Christ but also in Colossae. In other words Paul writes to those who like us live with the tension of being “in Christ” but also being “in” the world, who live with the tension. The Colossian church is a healthy church, it is growing in grace and maturity, and it’s not like Corinth or Galatia where there are major false teachings and moral lapses. But as in any church, as for any believer they have to live with that tension of being “in Christ” but “in” the world. Paul writes to help them with that, he warns in ch2 about the danger of religious traditions, sacraments, festivals, and special ecstatic visions because that is what Colossian society valued, he explains to then how to live differently from society – how to be in Christ in Colossae. But supremely he does it by reminding that they have everything they need in Christ.
As we look at Paul’s opening prayer we see some of the marks of a healthy church, of believers who thrive in Christ in the world.
1. They are changed by the gospel (3-8)
Paul begins by praising God that the gospel has borne fruit in Colossae, what does such fruit look like: “we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all his people – the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven...”
They believed in Jesus as God’s Messiah, God’s long promised Saviour king who died in their place for their sins and who, risen again, is now Lord of all. And that believe has resulted in concrete actions in their loving all his people, loving not selectively but as an overflow of the love they have experienced.
And both of these are a direct result of what? “the hope stored up for you in heaven” What is that hope? (21-23)It is that they are reconciled to God in Christ and will be presented faultless before him when he comes and (27)that they in Christ will experience and be part of God’s glorious reign and rule.
Their hope is not just distant it is present, it is of eternal life but it begins now with eternal living “in Colossae” but “in Christ.” That hope which has given birth to faith and love is the result of (5-8)having heard the gospel of grace from Epaphras – probably converted and discipled during Paul’s two years in Ephesus who carried the gospel to Colossae. And they are the fruit of the gospel.
A gospel which is at work and bearing fruit not just in Colossae but throughout the whole world(6). Through the gospel preached and proclaimed God works to produce fruit – people who understand, who put their faith in Jesus and are transformed.
Paul wants them to be as amazed as he is, to join him in praising God. We need to see what Paul sees, what he wants them to see, we need to understand the wonder of the gospel. It is an amazing thing that you and I have put our faith in Jesus; it is a miracle of God’s doing. Don’t take it for granted.
But notice too that the gospel believed brings transformation – hope produces faith and love for others.
The danger inherent in being in Christ but in the world is that we can feel the weakness of the gospel, maybe it’s as you chat to course mates, or friends, or family and you are made to feel different. Or it’s as you consider yourselves as a CU – so small compared to the number of students. Don’t doubt the gospel, the gospel bears fruit.
Epaphras went to Colossae as far as we know on his own, but with the gospel and through his faithful proclamation God worked. Our confidence comes not from our size, or power or influence but in the gospel.
“There was once a community where people took off their masks and shared their lives with each other, where they laughed, cried and served together. Where those who had more, shared freely with those who had less until socioeconomic barriers melted away. Where people related to each other in ways that bridged gender, age, and racial chasms. That was bold, creative and dynamic.
That community was the church and what united them was a belief that only one power existed that could conquer sin, wipe out shame, heal wounds, and ultimately change the world one life at a time – the gospel of Jesus.”
2. Holy Dissatisfaction
How do you define yourself? I guess most commonly you’d call yourself a Christian. But I think there is an inherent danger in that, it seems very final, I am a Christian, you either are or you are not, it seems to depend on looking back to a time when you trusted Jesus. But interestingly the bible only uses the term 3 times. And actually it underplays the ongoing change and transformation which the bible says is part of following Jesus.
(9)Paul shares not only his thanksgiving with them but his prayer for them. They are saints(2), they are faithful, they have borne fruit, they are being transformed by the gospel, they have faith, and they love because of their hope. And yet Paul wants more for them, he doesn’t want them to stop there; he doesn’t say that’s enough.
He wants them to go on and keep understanding more of the gospel, who Jesus is and its implications. So he prays continually “ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will though all the wisdom and understanding that the spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way:”
Paul wants to see them continually growing in understanding and application of the gospel and living to please God in everything. And notice that they have everything they need to do so, God has given them the Holy Spirit who can give them the wisdom and understanding they need. And notice it is not just knowledge he wants them to have, but applied knowledge of how to live to please God.
What will that look like? He gives them 4 things:
a. bearing fruit in every good work(10)
b. growing in the knowledge of God(10)
c. being strengthened so they endure(11)
d. and giving joyful thanks for their salvation and hope (12-14)
Paul prays for them but he also acts as he writes to them he is teaching them the wonder of their Saviour(1:15-23) and reminding them that God has given them everything they need(2:6-23). He fleshes out what bearing fruit in every good work will look like in society, in the church, in marriage, in the family and at work(3:1-4:1), and he exhorts them to know Jesus more fully and understand what it would mean to swap him for meaningless tradition as he strengthens them to endure.
The gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to transform and to continue to transforming as we cooperate with God’s Spirit as it unveils his word and highlights areas of transformation in our lives. (9-14)Would be a great prayer to pray as you study Colossians this term.
But as you start this series ask yourself this when did I last change? What has, or is, God calling you transform? What area of your understanding, of your passion, of your loving, of your actions, of your serving is God by his Spirit putting his finger on?
You are God’s people in Christ but also living where ever you are for his glory, and he has given you everything you need, Christ is sufficient, the Spirit is active, God’s gospel is powerful, will you listen, will you change.