Seeing those children up here today with their families, young hearts that we’ve being asked to help shepherd and shape, I can’t help but think of the common warning, “handle with care.”
We’ve all heard, read, said, and maybe prayed those three words. Whether when passing a newborn to an excited older sibling for the first time, when packing and moving boxes of breakable and irreplaceable items, or when helping a vulnerable, ill, or discouraged loved one, the need is the same: to proceed with caution, to speak with compassion, to handle with care.
And the care with which we handle a situation reflects its perceived worth and fragility. We care for nearly unbreakable things if they’re expensive. Likewise, we care for inexpensive things if they’re delicate. But when something is both costly and vulnerable, we certainly handle with care.
We’re going to be reminded today that the good news of Jesus Christ is both. The gospel is precious and invaluable. But it’s also fragile. It can be distorted, attacked, obstructed, and obscured. So, we as recipients and beneficiaries of that gospel must protect it, defend it, and handle it with care.
After singing the praises of Christ (1:15–20) and calling believers to cling to Christ (1:21–23), Paul now describes new revelation given in Christ, revelation that was concealed but is now revealed. This is what the NT calls a mystery (1:26). But before we get to the content of the mystery, let’s notice the method of its revelation.
It’s ultimately from God (1:25a, 26–27a). It’s from God but through Paul. More specifically, it’s through Paul’s suffering (1:24a) It brings Paul joy to suffer for believers, those in 1st-century Colossae and those in 21st-century Oakville (see Acts 5:41). The revelation came through suffering.
The next phrase can be confusing (1:24b). Paul’s not claiming Christ’s suffering was incomplete. He just bragged the opposite (1:20–23)! So, what does he mean? Well, it helps if we keep reading (1:25).
Not only does this new revelation come through Paul’s suffering but through his serving and teaching, his stewardship and preaching. God gave Paul a commission, a task that he was to carry out faithfully and fully. What was it? The preaching of the word of God.
And this is what Paul meant by “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (1:24b). Christ suffered all that was needed to atone for the sins of the world but that news still must be proclaimed to the world, a task that brings more suffering. When a baby’s born there is joy at the finished work of the mother. But the joy can spread as the family proclaims the good news, filling up completed joy by spreading joy.
This is how the precious mystery was made known: from God through Paul, a man suffering, serving, and teaching.
Now to the content of the mystery. What was the new revelation? It’s that all people are invited into saving union with Christ (1:25–27).
Whereas in the past God’s saving attention and special revelation had been chiefly focused on the nation of Israel, now it’s been opened up. Whereas in the past, to rightly relate to God, one had to go through Israel’s Law, now, because of Christ’s death and resurrection the veil had been torn and victory over death secured for all who come by faith.
Now no one needs to make sacrifices because of the Great Sacrifice. No one needs priests because of the Great High Priest. No on needs the holy of holies to draw near the presence of God because the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit—he dwells in all who believe! Christ in you—Jew and Gentile alike (see also 1 John 4:13)! All people are invited into saving union with Christ through faith and, because of that, given hope of glory for the future!
This is the truth being made known to the world through the apostles’s suffering, serving, and teaching: all people—Jew and Gentile, male and female, rich and poor, citizen and alien, religious and irreligious—are invited to be united with Christ. What invaluable news.
And because of that, all people are admonished to mature in Christ (1:28). The universality of this good news is being screamed at us. “Every man“ (three times!). The apostles proclaim Christ to all so they would not only know that salvation is open to all, but that they all must grow up, mature, so they can all be presented complete in Christ.
And, finally, all people are called to participate in declaring Christ (1:29). Because the mystery now revealed is such good, glorious, and hopeful news, Paul labours—leaning on God’s power—to fulfil the stewardship he’s been given to steward. To proclaim it to all.
Really, this new revelation, this mystery, could be boiled down to a single word: All. All people, Jews and Gentiles, are invited into saving union with Christ. All people are admonished to mature in Christ. All people are called to participate in declaring Christ. All.
It’s the same good news today. We’re invited to be God’s heralds, telling all of Jesus’s divinity, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, intercession, and future coronation. We may suffer as we do, but we count it joy because of the beauty and power of the news.
Many are familiar with the marathon, the long-distance running race. But less know that, according to legend, the marathon “was inspired by the legend of an ancient Greek messenger who raced from the site of Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 40 kilometres … with the news of an important Greek victory over an invading army of Persians in 490 B.C. After making his announcement, the exhausted messenger collapsed and died.” He suffered to deliver news of victory.
We have news of the ultimate victory. Let’s get running. We’re all called to participate in declaring this Christ, and not only the glory of salvation to all, but the glory of maturity for all—all of our family members, all of our coworkers, all of our friends, all of our bosses, all of our church family, all of our government leaders, all of our neighbours, all of our online community. This mystery, this revelation that God has been kind enough to make known to us, is too good, too important, too eternally significant to keep to ourselves. It’s precious, so we handle it with intentionality, urgency; we handle it with care.
But it’s also fragile news and needs to be guarded. As we move into chapter 2 of Colossians we transition from revelation to protection.
It makes sense that something as powerful and beautiful as the gospel of Jesus Christ would attract opposition (2:1a). This same word—struggle—is used elsewhere to describe the battle to protect the gospel (see Phil 1:29–30; 1 Thes 2:1–2).
And in case we’re still wondering what kind of struggle Paul is talking about in Colossians 2, he brings clarity in 2:4. This statement is jarring. So far this letter has celebrated the faithfulness of the Colossians, the sufficiency of Christ, and the beauty of his revelation. But now Paul reveals the purpose for all that—there is a very real risk of becoming deceived, tricked, distracted, and lured away from Christ by persuasive argument, slick speech, thoughtful rhetoric, intelligent falsehood (see Rom 16:18; 2 Pet 2:1–3).
And nothing has changed. As precious as the gospel message is—and it is precious!—it’s also under attack and vulnerable today. Every generation, every home, every heart must be on guard so as not to be deluded by what may seem like good argumentation, sound reasoning, and thoughtful ideology but that which is, in reality, Christ-denigrating, soul-killing, joy-stealing, maturity-stunting deception.
It would take hours to deal with the various iterations coming from outside the church, worldly philosophies like progressive Christianity, social justice movements, critical theories, secular humanism, darwinian naturalism. But they also come from inside the church. There are dangers coming from the shelves of Christian bookstores the lecterns of Christian schools and the pulpits of Christian churches, including all forms of works-righteousness, prosperity gospel, and human strategies. Dealing with persuasive arguments and false teachings can be like playing whack-a-mole—you nail one and another pops up.
So, how do we protect ourselves and those around us? How do we guard the gospel entrusted to us, the mystery revealed and suffered for? Well, it’s here. In the church. Protection comes through loving relationships in Christ (2:1–2a, 5).
How do we possibly protect ourselves from all the false teaching and slick argumentation out there by people who have more letters behind their names that I do in my name? They’re bright and credentialed, convicted and convincing, popular and charismatic! I’m not match for that and, sorry to say, neither are you. There’s too much, it’s too powerful, and I’m too weak.
But together we stand a chance. When we’re part of a community built upon the sufficiency of our Saviour, we can find protection. When we’re part of a community that actually knows us and cares about us like Paul cares for these Colossians simply because they’re brothers and sisters in Christ, then we stand a chance. When we’ve been knit together in love, we stand a chance. When we have good discipline with one another and have stability in our (plural) faith, we stand a chance. Protection comes through loving relationships in Christ.
Protection also comes through faithful teaching about Christ (2:2b–3). It’s a perhaps over-used illustration for a reason, because it works: To best recognize counterfeit money you train yourself to expertly recognize the real thing.
So it is with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The more we as believers, we as Christian homes, and we as a church family, by God’s grace, grow in our knowledge of the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, true knowledge of … Christ himself, the more equipped we’ll be to recognize the counterfeits when they inevitably and aggressively arise. If we remain immature, we remain unnecessarily vulnerable and easy to fool—like a child who thinks their odd uncle actually has “got their nose.”
Protection comes through loving relationships in Christ, yes, but it also comes through faithful teaching about Christ, about how he is, what he has done, and what he demands.
HANDLE WITH CARE!
The gospel of Jesus Christ is precious. But it’s also vulnerable, breakable, distractible. So, we must handle with care!
We’ve been given a mystery to steward, the best news ever to propagate and protect. It is our job to be intentional with that task, thoughtful, cautious. We must know the gospel, teach the gospel, suffer the gospel, share the gospel, guard the gospel. We must handle with care!
While the Bible is just a book, perhaps we can use it as a stand-in, a symbol of all it contains—the gospel. And maybe this week we can use our physical Bibles to help us remember to handle with care the good news it carries. When you read it this week, when you place it, when you talk about it, be mindful of the call of this passage on our lives.
How am I growing in my knowledge of Christ so as to protect myself and my church family from lies? How am I contributing the the knitting together of this place in love, the protection of one another from what seeks to tear us apart?