Colossians 1. 1-2: Intro
September 11, 2011 Series: Colossians
Topic: New Testament Passage: Colossians 1:1–1:2
Today, we begin a study of the letter to Colossians. A 50 page study guide has been prepared, so please take one, read one, and use one with your family over the next 16 weeks. We will go verse by verse through this letter. This sermon, as does every first sermon in a new series, will feel a bit more academic than normal as it is important to know understand the context in which this 2,000 year old letter was written. So, we’ll begin with the first verse and talk about WHO wrote it, then move into the 2nd verse and talk about WHO RECEIVED it, and finally end with WHY we should care about it all.
V.1: Who is writing: “Paul” Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
This letter was written around about 30 years after Jesus rose from the dead, by a man named Paul. Before Paul was the Missionary, Church Planter, New Testament writer, and Christian Martyr, he was Saul, a devout Jewish Pharisee. Born to a Father who was himself Pharisee, in a family from the tribe of Benjamin, baby Saul was circumcised on the 8th day, according to Jewish law, launching him on the path of become a law-loving, Moses worshipping, self-righteous jerk. He was educated according to the strictest manner of the Jews, being taught by the famous and well-respected Rabbi named Gamaliel. Saul was a self-described “Hebrew of Hebrews”, and in his piety Saul viewed himself “blameless” due to his fanatical devotion to keeping the over 600 laws of God—and a few he made up. His Jewish identity, the Mosaic Law, the feasts, festivals, O.T. narratives, and the commentary of the Rabbis, served as the supreme power governing POWER in his decisions and permeated even the smallest aspects of his life. And when he was probably close to 30, this blind devotion, this misguided worship of religion, inspired an unquenchable zeal that led to him becoming one of the most feared persecutors of the early Christian church—a group of fools following a criminal who had threatened to destroy everything he loved. So, he was the first Christian terrorist and he filled all of Judea with dread by killing or arresting people of “the way”, delivering many men and women to death or to prison.
Saul began to terrorize the church immediately after it started in Jerusalem. In Acts 8, we see his efforts caused many to flee from the city, ironically, forcing the gospel to go throughout all Judea. Saul followed them, having obtained authorization to arrest Christians, and he traveled north from Jerusalem to the city of Damascus. On the way, Saul encountered the resurrected Jesus face to face—and everything changed. That zeal, passion, that violent devotion to the idol of religion was overwhelmed by the gospel of grace. Jesus had transformed him, commissioned him, and sent him as his messenger, his apostle, to the non-Jewish world. In Acts 9.15, a Christian named Ananias is told that Paul, “is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” The book of Acts is a narrative of the apostle’s Paul dramatic shift in allegiance for the next 20 years.
- First Missionary Journey (Acts 13.1-14.28) – Paul and Barnabas were commissioned by the church of Antioch for their first missionary journey. This year long trip resulted in preaching, stoning’s, new converts, new church plants, and new elders.
- Second Missionary Journey (Acts 15.39-18.22) – Paul’s wanted to revisit all of the cities he and Barnabas had been to. This second trip began with a dispute between Paul and Barnabas, so they separated. From Jerusalem Paul left with a man named Silas, and later added a young man named Timothy from Lystra (who had watched him stoned on first trip). This mission lasted just over four years and ended at Antioch. It was during this time that Paul wrote his first letters, Galatians and 1 & 2 Thessalonians.
- Third Missionary Journey (Acts 18.23-21.16) – He left from Antioch on his third trip (lasting about four years), stopping first in Ephesus where he remained for two years . His lectures in Ephesus at the Hall of Tyrannus were so effective that Luke could say, “All the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” Many works were launched by those who heard and believed the gospel. Among them were two Colossians named Epaphras (1.7; 4.12) and Philemon (Philemon 19). Epaphras led the mission to plant the church in his hometown of Colossae and Philemon most likely hosted the Colossian church in his home for a time (Philemon 1,2). It was also during this journey that he wrote 1 & 2 Corinthians and Romans.
For many years, just as Jesus had said, Paul served as a powerful instrument for the gospel to reach the Gentiles, Jews, governors, and Kings. And, just as Jesus said, Paul suffered greatly for it. 2Corinthinans 11.24ff records his resume of pain: 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
V.1 “by the will of God” -
And yet, despite the “cost” of his apostleship, all the damage to his reputation, his rejection by his Jewish brothers, suspicion from Christian brothers, his emotional sanity, his physical health, his material wealth, he describes himself as one chosen: “BY THE WILL OF GOD.” He believed God had placed him, in every moment, in every circumstance, leading him at every step of the way. He begins many of his letters in somewhat the same way: called by God’s will, set apart for the gospel, made a servant of Christ, an apostle by command of God. It goes without saying that Paul was a transformed man, that he viewed his life and the world entirely different than he once did, and it impacted every part of his entire life, and it is a way entirely foreign to a lot of us.
And at the time Paul actually wrote this letter, he is experiencing his first imprisonment in Rome. How he got there is described beginning in Acts 21 with his wrongful arrest in Jerusalem. Throughout the duration of his ministry, Paul spent over five years as a prisoner or in prison. Yet, despite being crushed, persecuted, and imprisoned, Paul never ceased in his gospel work and never doubted God’s sovereign control over every circumstance: Philippians 1.12-14 12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Paul view life through a different lens, a man who could write about his contentment: in Phi.4 (written from prison), “12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Paul had learned a secret, a mystery.
What was the secret? Why did he appear to be so unfazed even appreciative of his unjust, unfair, and uncomfortable circumstances? More than that, Paul seemed to view his smallest irritations and greatest sufferings as part of God’s desired plan! As he writes this letter, how could he believe so strongly that this PRISON was exactly where God wanted him to be? What about your imprisonment? Many of us feel imprisoned by our lives, whether it be in our jobs, our relationships, our finances, even our physical bodies. Not literally a prison, but those areas of your life where you feel things are not as they ought to be, where you are unfairly treated, where you feel hopelessly lost? It’s in prisons like this where we begin to question whether we are in God’s will, begin searching for something to blame, a way out, a new “call”, or worse a new god with false promises. How would our life change if we could believe like Paul—that God had placed you, in every moment, in every circumstance, led you at every step even to this moment? If you believed that you were ______________ by the Will of God. That God not only had you, but wanted you there.
JESUS BECAME SUPREME
What changed in Paul, is that he put his faith in Christ. More than ascent to some facts, where Paul had once held religion, Paul now held Jesus Christ as Supreme. More than some words, more than an idea, more than a good life, or humble example….Jesus was the greatest of all things. Viewing Jesus this way means that Jesus becomes the center to all of life, more precious than anything, more desirable than anyone, worthy of giving the smallest parts of our lives in worship to. Jesus as supreme is a heart-transforming, priority rearranging, paradigm shifting, and life-changing truth. When I trust that Jesus is superior to me and my plans in every way, then I submit to him as the ultimate governing power in every area of my life. Jesus’ death becomes my supreme motivation. Jesus’ resurrection becomes my supreme hope. And Jesus’ life becomes my supreme example and power to live and love to the glory of God.
JESUS BECAME SUFFICIENT
Jesus is not only the greatest thing I or anyone could have, he is the only thing I need—more than power, wealth, relationship, health, fame. Jesus becomes enough, he alone becomes deeply satisfying for anything I might need or want. Paul had such a deep belief in the gospel that the best the world had to offer did not ALLURE him. He had such a deep belief in the gospel that the worst the world had to offer did not SCARE him. Christ’s sufficiency means that if I get Jesus, I can lose everything else and still be more than ok. That our ultimate joy, our personal value, our purpose in life does not come from title, other people, success, or pain-free existence but from the conviction that I am known, forgiven, and loved by Christ my Creator. That the gospel, the truth of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection not only once and for all restored our relationship with God, but that our lives continue to be renewed through that same gospel. In other words, the gospel is supposed to transform every aspect of our lives whether that be in prosperity or poverty, our health or suffering, injustice or favor, in our sorrow or joy. A loss of this deep conviction is why he writes to Colossae—people he has never met.
V.2 Colossae, Marysville, and America 2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father
If the ancient city of Colossae existed today, it would be called Marysville. It was located next to water, on the southern bank of the River Lycus in what is modern day Turkey. It is many miles east of the thriving city of Ephesus (Seattle), resting in a fertile valley once known for producing figs and olives (strawberries). In Roman times, this once populous and wealthy metropolis has declined in commercial and social importance. At the time of the letter, Colossae exists as little more than a small unimportant town. And with the expansion of the Roman Empire, the world has been exposed to diverse and colorful ways of thinking, believing, and living. The noise of this global culture is threatening the faith of this young church. Epaphras, the Colossian who planted the church, has come to Paul in Rome because false teachers are challenging the Supremacy and Sufficiency of Christ. No one is sure exactly what the “Colossian heresy” is or who is spreading it. But Paul’s letter reveals the heresy to be like some sort of spiritual buffet with everything from Jewish legalism to secret handshakes and angel worship.
Colossae is our culture
So…a prisoner who has less than NOTHING in the eyes of many, whom these people have never met in person, writes a definitive response to anyone suggesting a life in Christ is somehow incomplete. And because the culture of Colossae is not much different than our own, it is a letter for us. Today’s global world offers its own false gods and the opportunity to build-a-kingdom to suit your individual lifestyle. And it is an opportunity that most of us have, in one way or another, bought into individuals and families and communities. The unique characteristic of this global world, is that you can make your own value system, its own definitions of love, its own view of authority, its own understandings of family, its own perspective on suffering, establishing its own “god given” rights, with its own source of hope, its own promises of prosperity, and its own set of guidelines to govern our decisions and interpret our circumstances.
There are different kingdoms with different idols, all vying for supremacy: material ones, social ones, relational ones, even religious ones. And at the core of all of them, even some so-called Christian ones is a denial of the gospel and a rejection of Jesus alone as supreme and sufficient in and for what we think, do, and say. Instead of Christ, we make supreme in what we believe will bring us peace, true contentment, and our devotion to that god permeates everything. It is the kind of perverted devotion, that destroys lives. It is the kind of devotion that shapes a worldview so powerfully, that it would lead someone to fly airplanes into buildings in honor of their god. And though it might disgust us to make such seemingly ridiculous comparisons, motivated by false gods, we pursue with equally great zeal equally horrific things in the eyes of a holy God. There are more people than we can count who have sacrificed, ruined, and destroyed their own lives and the lives of others in pursuit of what they believe will make them happy apart from God and His Word.
Conclusion: The Mystery of the Gospel
Ironically, Paul ends by offering a greeting of GRACE and PEACE, the very thing that is the core of this “supremacy” problem. The Grace of God speaks about God’s Work, specifically his unconditional love toward men through the cross. PEACE speaks to the new relationship that comes as a result of that, a relationship characterized by contentment—a state of being regardless of circumstance. The problem is, the world is full of options trying to achieve God’s peace part from God’s grace.
In this letter, Paul is going to put forward the secret, the MYSTERY that God has revealed as the key to contentment in all area of life—the gospel. Though there is much about God that remains shrouded in mystery, there is much He has revealed through His Son Jesus. The dictionary defines Mystery as: “a religious truth that one can know only by revelation and cannot fully understand.” We will never receive the truth of God unless he opens our eyes, and we will never stop learning how the depths of the gospel apply to our lives here on earth.
What is not a mystery is that living a life like that, one radically shaped by Jesus, is hard. Other priorities—even important and good ones—compete for our attention. Temptations and opportunities to live for ourselves hit us daily. Worldly philosophies distract us and the false promises of sin attract us. So, my expectation is that God will help us see there are many things vying for supremacy in our lives, all trying to govern our decisions and interpret our circumstances. My hope is that, if you have believe the lies, if the Lord Jesus Christ is not Supreme or you doubt he is enough, God will open your eyes to see that any attempt to be satisfied apart from him will only destroy you and those you love. And my prayer is that God will use our study of Colossians to make us all more Christ-Centered, more God-glorifying, and more content in than when we began.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!