Colossians 1. 3-8: Mystery of Faith
September 18, 2011 Series: Colossians
Topic: New Testament Passage: Colossians 1:3–1:8
Mystery & the Gospel
Epaphras, a Colossian who planted a church in his own hometown has to come visit the man who preached him the gospel at the Hall of Tyrannus in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul, while he is in his first Roman imprisonment. He brings disturbing news about false teachers poisoning the young church at Colossae, claiming that Epaphras himself did not preach the “full gospel” and that their faith is somehow incomplete. And their heretical solution to this supposed spiritual deficiency, is to institute the Jesus+ program—adding human philosophy, legalism, man-made religion, and some weird mystical junk—in essence claiming that Jesus alone is neither supreme nor sufficient to save. Paul’s letter to the Colossians begins by affirming the preaching of Epaphras by praising the Colossians’ historical reception o his gospel. In doing this, he sets forth the basics of Christianity, namely, what Christians believe, what Christians do, and why they do it.
Knowing that these false teachers are trying to add some things to Colossians’ Christianity, the question is begged, what are the bare essentials of Christianity? What is at the core, the basic beliefs, practices, or perspectives of a gospel identity? Obviously, there are many things each we could say—large books have been written on it. If we had to narrow down what it means to be a Christian to three words or phrases—and still remain biblical—what would they be? The world has an answer for what a Christian is; it is bit of an antagonistic and unbiblical one (narrow minded, self-righteous, hypocritical, foolish). The reason they probably have the wrong answer is because Christians don’t’ ever tell them the right ones and, instead, make things that are secondary in importance, primary. So, if you had to exclude charismatic experiences, denominational traditions, subjective emotions, political positions, theological labels, specific bible knowledge, moral standards, religious practices, or secret handshakes as primary descriptors, what would you say?
V. 3. Thankfulness & the Word of Truth
In verse 3, Paul begins by telling the Colossians how he has not ceased to thank God for the reported genuineness of their Christianity. His expression of gratitude provides us a summary of Christianity in three words: faith, love, and hope. This is not the first time that Paul uses these three words to summarize the heart of what it means to be a Christian. The same ideas are repeated in his letters to the Romans, Galatians, 1Corinthians, 1Thessalonians, and Hebrews. (Rom 5.2-5; 1Cor 13.13, Gal 5.5-6, 1Thess. 1.3; 5.8, Heb. 10.22-24). And in verse 5, Paul says that the Colossians’ faith, their love, and their hope came alive the first time they heard and understood the Word of Truth, the gospel. This not only affirms the work of Epaphras, by it reminds us of the mysterious power of proclaiming the news, certain truths about what Jesus did in history to reconcile us to God. The gospel is not advice on what to do to find God, it is what we accept has been done by God to find us. God’s choice to use the proclamation of the gospel to save men is mysterious. In Romans 1.16, Paul says that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation”. And again, in Romans 10, Paul writes, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
V. 4-5 Faith, Love and Hope
The gospel changes us. It’s not that faith, love, and hope suddenly appear—it is that they themselves are changed. Before the gospel, we put our faith in someone, we love some way, and we hope for some things. But the gospel changes all three radically. And it is likely, that, if you are struggling in your faith right now you have stopped believing, preaching, or living in the basics. Perhaps it is better to say, you have stopped believing some part of gospel.
FAITH in Christ
The gospel changes our FAITH. The word faith is overused in our culture to the point where it has little to no meaning, even for Christians. When things become difficult or trying, people will often say, “Just have faith!” By saying this, they intend to bring comfort by suggesting that everything is going to be “Ok” without any real basis for thinking that. A call to “have faith” correctly realizes that things are not as they ought to be, that you need to be rescued, that you must trust something outside of yourself for that. But we cannot just have faith in faith—stupid. Chance, dumb luck, or the power of positive thinking does not bring any change or comfort—in fact, if that is all there is, I am terrified. The power of faith is derived from the object of faith. So the question is…put faith in what?
And there are many things to put faith in. Paul says YOUR FAITH, not suggesting the Colossians save themselves, clearly saying their our minds and will are involved. We put our faith in things. There are tangible things like other people, government, sex, alcohol, money, even religion—but those are just covering for our true idols—the real reason we want these things. Some of our idols include approval, control, reputation, security, pleasure, knowledge, recognition, respect—all false saviors preaching false gospels. It’s quite simple. The Christian puts his faith in specific truths about who Jesus is and what He did for us. The Christians trusts that the Son of God came as a man, and as as my substitute lived the sinless life I should have, and died under the wrath of God I deserved. And through faith in him, our old life dies and we have a new life he lives through us. So the Christian does not pursue an idol to obtain one of those things; the Christian puts his faith in CHRIST JESUS IN WHOM he already has all those things! Faith, is finding all of WHO YOU ARE and WHAT YOU DO in Jesus. That even if you don’t get the approval of men, by faith, you know you are accepted by Jesus’; that even if you don’t feel secure right now, by faith, you know that you are protected by Jesus; that even you find yourself caught in sin, by faith, you know that you are forgiven by Jesus; that even if you find pain in this world, by faith, you can delight in Jesus. The world cries out to find identity and put faith in other saviors, so we must continually preach to ourselves, faith in the work of Christ. The Colossians didn’t need traditions, extra-biblical rules, or secret handshakes to complete their faith. Jesus completed it on the cross.
LOVE for the saints
The gospel also changes our LOVE. This is another idea that is been redefined by each new generation. Any common understanding of what is “love or loving” has been lost or twisted usually in an effort to make men feel better about sin. Much like the days of Rome, love in our culture is pretty superficial and self-serving. What is considered loving, or not, is dictated by how it makes people feel, as love never says or does offensive things. The individual is the authority for what is offensive so, with personal happiness as the goal, the standards ever-changing. Love then degenerates into little more than trying to provoke or avoid responses in others so that I, or someone else, can feel accepted or not be rejected. I don’t say this only about the non-believing culture. Christians are equally guilty of perverting the meaning of love to meet their personal preferences. Sometimes this means reinterpreting love to fit their comfort, and sometimes it means entire denominations redefining it all together to accommodate rebellious “loving” people who love everyone but Jesus.
Like WHAT we put our faith in, HOW we love is something we have control over. Without Christ, one’s love can never glorify God or fully satisfy. Through faith in Christ, love is renewed and empowered by gospel (2Cor 15.14-15). It is a love that is different, it is a love that is truthful, and if it is all like Jesus, it is a love that is both offensive and alluring at the same time. Yes, Jesus loved the world, and Jesus ate with sinners, but he also died for their sin. In other words, he loved them so much he didn’t want them to stay the same. And before Jesus was arrested, he told the disciples that their faith in him would be characterized by a love like his—that their love for one another would be the most powerful sermon they could preach. Paul didn’t simply admire that the Colossians were considered “loving people”; he praised them because their unity and love fellow believers. This kind of LOVE is one of the three foundational traits of a Christian—you love Jesus and you love the church. Why? Because Jesus did and, by faith, Jesus is living in us. Yet, many don’t feel love the church because they love themselves do damn much. They are not believing the gospel, somehow Christianity became inconvenient. The Colossians loved each other as Jesus had loved them—it was a mark of their faith in the gospel. And like Jesus, they loved: humbly, foolishly, sacrificially, generously, painfully, radically. And like Jesus, their motivation to love was out of a love for God. In other words, the aim love should be NOT for others to love us more, but for others to love Jesus more. That is gospel love.
HOPE in heaven
The gospel changes our FAITH, the gospel changes our LOVE, and the gospel changes our HOPE—our expectations for the future. Hope is more than just wishful thinking or optimism, it is the motivation behind why we believe or do anything. And unlike FAITH, and LOVE, we don’t have much control over HOPE—that is why it is hope. Hope is that yet unseen thing in which expectations, perspectives, and actions are centered—it drives everything. Everyone has a governing hope in their life whether it is to wealth, success, to be admired, leave a legacy, have good kids, fall in love, or live to be 120. If I we were to ask a 100 non-Christians what they HOPE for most in life, what they look forward to, what overarching expectation guides their life, they would name something similar. Another way to find out is to ask someone what they fear losing or not getting most; or what they find their greatest security in? Sadly, 100 Christians would say the same. This week I asked several people to try and come up with three ideas or practices that characterize Christianity. Surprisingly, everyone had some variation of FAITH in Christ or sharing the LOVE for God, but sadly, no one came up with anything that sounded like HOPE. For whatever reason, Gospel HOPE gets lost.
The gospel is not just the life and death of Jesus—it is his resurrection and his return. The gospel brings us a living HOPE because the King is alive and the King is returning and the King is restoring all things and the King will one day dwell in the presence of His people forever. Hope is one of the foundational components of the gospel—it is the motivating power that drives us to endure everything because we see beyond the moment. And a crushed, perplexed, beaten, stressed out, and imprisoned Paul is constantly writing about HOPE throughout his letters, reminding us and reminding himself that our decisions here have eternal significance, that anything we might desire in this life pales in comparison to the life to come, because this life is a vapor and this world is passing away. THIS IS NOT OUR HOME. In fact, in 1Corinthians 15:19, he says if we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. C.S Lewis wrote, “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak
And in verse 5, Paul seems to say that FAITH and LOVE originate with HOPE. That means that if your faith is full of doubts, or your love for others is imperceptible, then your problem is where you have placed your HOPE. It seems like we only realize the hopelessness of the world when we face our own mortality. Let’s just all believe that we’re dying—you are you know. And now that nothing in this world can help you, let us consider the hope that our King brings because he conquered sin and death through the resurrection. And in doing so, the gospel tells us that those who put their faith in him have an inheritance, what Paul calls an “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” waiting for us in heaven. We are a people who rejoice NOW because of what is coming THEN. Hope to be freed from this sinful flesh. Hope to be fully restored. Hope to be in the joy of His presence. A living hope changes everything: 1Peter 1.3-93 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
V. 7-8 Ongoing Gospel Growth (Sanctification)
6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,
Paul says that the gospel has provided a foundation of all that it means to be a Christian faith in Christ, love like Christ, and Hope in Christ. There is nothing else. And how they regarded themselves, how they treated others, and how they saw their future was completely different than the world. Their decisions were different. Their perspectives were different. Their actions were different. They had gone from being barren shrubberies to flourishing peach trees—to provide shade and food for others. And Paul says that their transformation began the moment they heard and believed. And it never stopped growing. Ask yourself, how much has your tree grown or how much fruit has been produced since you first believed? Perhaps you have tried to add something to the gospel. Fruitfulness comes from faithfulness to the gospel basics. A strong, productive, satisfying, and joyful life is not found in man-made religion, traditions, or rules that make you feel holy. It comes mysteriously through the gospel which causes us to trust in Christ’s sacrifice, to live in His love, and to hope for His return.
And if you have experienced this kind of radical grace, then it should be your desire that others experience the same thing—you can’t help but be fruitful. That was the heart of Epaphras. 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf…
On Tuesday night, I was reading part of this study guide to my two boys. At one point I asked my one of my sons if they could identify the reason why he has believed in Christ and why his friends, some of our neighbors, in fact most who had heard the news of Jesus had not. After a brief discussion, my oldest son said the reason was faith. I agreed; but then asked him why he had faith in the truth of Jesus and someone else did not. We ended up talking a lot about the definition of mystery: “a truth that one can only know by revelation and cannot fully understand.” We read John 3 where Jesus speaks to a Pharisee named Nicodemus who also wants to understand faith—Jesus tells him he must be born again. Nicodemus, a rational man, finds the idea of a grown man crawling up into a womb again absurd. Jesus tells him that it is a spiritual birth—one that he has as much control over as his own physical birth. My son and I both agreed that faith was mysterious—a gracious gift that comes only through revelation by the Spirit of God.
What is not a mystery is the means through which the Spirit works.. Epaphras heard preaching and was changed. And because he wanted more than anything for his lifeless hometown to experience the joy of life in Christ, he went home and preached. And though the Spirit may send men like Paul or Epaphras to plant churches, the same Spirit gives us the same FAITH, LOVE, and HOPE to share with others. We are all fellow servants, sent to make Christ known by what we believe and how we live. There is little mystery about how the gospel goes forth—but only those whose who find their life in Christ will ever say anything.