Lew walks us through the first fourteen verses of Colossians and into the context of Colossae, where a new form of heresy was sneaking into the church. Paul’s message was simple: “There is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby you must be saved ….” In short, everything you need is in Jesus.
In the first verses of this powerful letter, Paul gives a full-bodied picture of Christ, and then encourages the believers, prays for them, and reminds them of what God has done for them already, and where true wisdom and knowledge comes from.
If someone were to ask you today, “What is your favourite book of the Bible?” what would you say?
I would expect many to say something like this: “I can’t just narrow it down to one.” And I get that. I have the same problem. How am I to choose in the Old Testament between Genesis and Exodus or Isaiah and the Psalms? And how am I to choose in the New Testament between John and Luke or Romans and Ephesians? Even Jesus, it seems, had three favourite books.
But, if you were to ask the question in a little different way – I think I could manage. If you asked, for example, ‘what is my favourite Gospel?’ – I would say John for sure. And, if you asked ‘what is my favourite epistle not written by Paul?’ – I would say Hebrews. And if you asked ‘what is my favorite epistle that was written by Paul?’ I would tell you that it would be the Epistle to the Colossians.
A Common Theme
And then, if you really gave a little thought to it, something might spring into your mind. You might just see a pattern in my choices. Every one of these N.T. books that I chose has what one would call a strong Christology. What I mean by Christology is this: very strong concentrated teaching about the person and work of Jesus Christ! Simply put: Who Jesus was and what Jesus did!!!
Now this is abundantly clear in John’s Gospel. John says, he could have included much more information but “these things are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life through his name” (John 20:30–31).
It is also abundantly clear in the book of Hebrews. “God, who spoke in various times and in various ways in times past unto the Fathers through the Prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us by His Son. Who is the heir of all things and through whom he made the universe. He is the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of God’s person. He upholds all things by his powerful word. When he had by himself purged our sins he sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high and received a name superior to that of angels –SON.” It is all about Jesus.
And then you come to that little Pauline Epistle to the Colossians and with one simple little prepositional phrase, Paul gives you a full-bodied picture of Christ.
Turning to Colossians
“IN CHRIST” – 1] redemption, 2] creation, 3] reconciliation, 4] wisdom and knowledge, 5] the fullness of God in bodily form, … 6] reality!!! Everything you need to know about Jesus!!!
It is to this little book of Colossians that I want us to turn our attention today. And as we do that, there are a couple of things that we should know.
First, the city of Colossee had a historic and honoured past. It was in a rich area of Phrygia [Turkey now!!!] Colossee, along with Hieropolis and Laodecia were rich cities. They were tourist locations given that there were many thermal springs in the area. People came from all over to bathe in those springs and to see some interesting geological formations formed by the volcanic activity. But it was more than that.
Second, Colossee was a great sheep raising area. The volcanic soil was fertile and the result of that fertile soil was lush pasture for sheep. The wool was incredible and much sought after as were some of the dyes that were developed as a spin off industry from the wool business.
But Colossee had come under hard times. It became a bit of a backwater town. While the Apostle Paul had visited much of what was then known as Asia he had never been to Colossee [at least not that we know of]. In some senses then it seems odd that he would write a letter to this little church. But then, Paul was the “Apostle to the Gentiles” and for sure the church at Colossee was a Gentile church.
The Colossians Confusion
What gets Paul’s attention is that there is something brewing in Colossee. And what is brewing is dangerous! Very dangerous!!! It is called: THE COLOSSIAN HERSEY!
Now we do not exactly know what this heresy was since it is never spelled out in detail. But, we can get a good idea of what it was like as we study Paul’s response to some of its teachings. In the most simple description we might say that this Colossian heresy had two features:
First, there was a Jewish feature: There were many Jews in Colossee.
Jewish traditions abounded. And, after all, Jesus was a Jew. He came as the Jewish Messiah. He was to be the King of the Jews. So the question became how much of Judaism should be retained in the Christian church. Paul is used to this question and has already addressed it clearly in Galatians. His fundamental point was simple: If the Law could not save you – then it could not sanctify you. Simply put: the Law could make you guilty but it could not make you holy.
But the Jews were not quite so ready to give up Jewish tradition for Jesus. There were constant fights over such issues as circumcision, foods, sacrifices and religious feasts. Even questions about Jesus!! Messiah – maybe. Son of God??? Well – that is a little more difficult. But there was a second feature
Second, there was a philosophical feature. This problem had a bit of a long history. It came to the church from the thinking of Plato and Pythagoras. For these thinkers Matter was a problem. It was a limitation. It stunted ones spiritual experience and growth. It blocked truth. Simply put – it was evil.
Man’s soul was like a pea in a pod. It needed to escape before it could see reality; before it could move in the direction of the good, the true and the beautiful. Or as Plato put it – it had to get out of the cave before it could see clearly in the light of day.
At first, talking about this sounds like non-sense! Who cares if matter is evil? What’s the big deal?
Well, in actuality, it is a pretty big deal. You just have to ask yourself two or three questions to see how big a deal it really is!!!
1] If matter is evil – what about creation? Would a good God really create matter? And if He did, how could he be a good God? So, the issue of creation is at stake. Maybe God did not create matter –maybe it always existed, maybe God is just a tinker, not a creator.
2] if matter is evil – then what about Jesus? If Jesus is material, if Jesus had a real body then he must be evil. So how can Jesus be God? On the other hand, if he is not material how can he identify with human beings and what kind of body did he have if it was not material?
But this is just the beginning of troubles. If Jesus is evil what kind of relationship can he have with God. More to the point, if Jesus is evil how can he save anybody? And if Jesus cannot save anybody – how do we get back to God? To put it more simply – how do we get salvation???
The heretics answer to that question was – through the mind. Escape matter – pursue mind – pursue spirit!!! It all comes about though knowledge, special knowledge, spiritual knowledge, esoteric knowledge. Knowledge that comes from suppression of the flesh! Knowledge that comes from Meditation! Knowledge that comes from angelic beings! Or demonic beings! Or spirits! Or signs revealed in the stars! Or gurus! Secret knowledge! Special knowledge!
The heresy is GNOSTICISM. You might recognize it – it is very present in our contemporary culture.
It is this form of heresy that is sneaking into the church in Colossians. Paul calls it what it is – worldly philosophy and empty deceit! [Col. 2:8] In contrast to what Gnosticism is saying – Paul says one simple thing: “in Christ are hidden all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. 2:3
It is into this context that Paul writes this little epistle.
In the first two chapters of this Epistle – Paul says it all about Jesus. In Him:
- redemption 1:14
- creation 1:15
- reconciliation 1:19
- treasures of wisdom and knowledge 2:3
- fullness of God in bodily form 2:9
- reality 2:17
Every one of these things deserves our full attention. But I want us to see something else today. I do not want us to simply see Paul the Theologian – I want us to see Paul the Pastor. We will look at the first 14 verses of Colossians 1 as we do this.
As Paul writes them, he is worried. They are under attack by the Devil. They are in Danger. And no doubt, some are suffering with Doubt. I am sure we can all relate to that. Moments when the Devil causes us to think – this is too good to be true. But before Paul gives any kind of criticism of these Colossian believers …
He Encourages Them
He encourages them (vv. 1–8), They may be in danger but they are God’s children. They are the real deal. They are bona fide believers. Paul says I know about you! I know about your faith in Christ. I know about your love for believers. And I know that your hope is what is fueling your faith and your love.
And, what is that hope? Col. 1:27 Christ in you the hope of Glory. Their hope is Christ – who gives life to the dead. Their hope is Christ – who brings the promise of the coming kingdom.Their hope is in Christ who frees them from sin. Their hope is in Christ who rewards the righteous.
You see the Christian hope is nothing less than all of the promises of God coming to fruition through Jesus – now and forevermore!!!
Paul says – I see that in you!!! You are in the right place. You are on the right track. You are on your way.
But there is a big difference between being on the way and being there. [Any parent knows this – how many times on a road trip has your child asked you – are we there yet? Or for that matter, how many times did you ask your parents that question?]
So, the first thing that Paul does is encourage them!!! He points to the fact that they are not alone, this same faith love and hope scenario is taking place wherever the Gospel is preached. They are part of a much bigger thing.
He Prays For Them
But now Paul does a second thing: He prays for them (vv. 9–11). The prayer begins in verse 9.
Now this prayer is very interesting. In one sense, this prayer is the most basic kind of prayer. It is a simple prayer. Just two requests: 1] that they might know the will of God, and 2] that they might be able to do the will of God. You can’t pray a much better prayer than that!!!
But, those are just the basics. But, there is a much deeper part to this prayer.
Paul is saying to the Colossians – the Gnostics want you to have wisdom. I want you to have it more. In fact in verses 9, Paul uses three different words for knowledge.
- Epignosis – Knowing the facts [Knowledge]
- Sophia – Knowing the important issues, the first principles [Wisdom]
- Suneisis – knowing how it all fits together [Coherence]
But all of this knowledge is not about becoming smarter. It is about being prepared to live a worthy life: a life that is pleasing to God. And as you live a life pleasing to God something happens. You grow in the KNOWLEDGE OF GOD!!!
And now because you understand God’s ways you can live in patience and endurance. But how can you as a mere human being do this?
Paul Reminds Them
Paul reminds them (vv. 12–13). And what does Paul remind them about??? He reminds them about the activity of God in their lives. In point of fact – he reminds them of three things that God has done for them.
1] He has qualified you [ἱκανόω] [he has [aorist] made us fit! Not about our works. Not about our dedication. Not about our knowledge. It is about Him. He has qualified us for the hope of sharing in His inheritance [Christ’s inheritance]. We are people of God. We are children of God. As John puts it – not by the will of the flesh, not by the will of a human by the will of God.
2] He, himself, has rescued you [ῥύομαι] from the power or dominion of darkness. Note the emphasis here. You didn’t help him. The church did not help him. No one helped him. He HIMSELF rescued us.
3] He has translated us [transferred us μεθίστημι] into the Kingdom of the Beloved Son. Like Enoch! Like Elijah! One moment under the powers of this world! One moment the possession of the Devil! One moment a slave to sin! The next moment – a child of God in the Kingdom of Light, in the Kingdom of the Beloved Son!
God did it all!!! And only God could do it. It is a done deal. He has! He has! He has! You could not be any more secure than this. God has done it all. It is not about you!!!
But how did God do this?
Paul reminds them not only of the fact that God has done it but of HOW HE DID IT!!! He did it through the Son!!
Paul finishes this section by mentioning two things: 1] in Christ we have forgiveness, and 2] in Christ we have forgiveness.
Both of these could be very large topics but in one sense they are very simple. We will deal with the simple sense. Let’s think of a verbal picture.
We don’t use the word sin much anymore. But it is a root word for Biblical theology. Sin does horrible things: 1] it separates us from God, 2] it puts us under God’s judgement, and 3] it enslaves us to the Devil.
Maybe it is easier to understand it this way: A] We’re created created by God, B] we’re captured by the Devil. We are held hostage.
And, this case, God has two choices: 1] he can turn his back and say – suffer the consequences, or 2] he can ransom, redeem the hostage – and because God loves his creation, that is exactly what he does. He redeems us. He pays the ransom price. And that price is nothing less than the death of his Son. The Son’s life for our life!!!
That is why when Jesus dies on the cross he cries out tetelestai: PAID IN FULL. We are redeemed!!!
But that in itself is not enough. God could have just paid for us and then said “get lost” I have had enough of you! He could have done that. After all we had caused him enough pain.
But, we hear the Son praying on the cross – “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing”. We are not only freed, we are forgiven.
You want spiritual knowledge? Here it is – “in Christ all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3). The path to God is Jesus. The only path!!!
The Apostles’ message was simple: “there is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby you must be saved…” The reason is simple – everything you need is in Jesus.