Grace and peace to you from Him who is and who was and who is to come,
Pauls’ letter to the Colossians encourages us to think about the worthiness of Christ and the value of our Christian faith. That’s our topic this morning – the necessity of Christ and the benefits we receive from the faith he gives us through the Holy Spirit.
Christ is very dear to us; our faith is precious. The congregation at Colossae had the same high regard for God’s spiritual blessings to them. Paul began his letter by thanking God for the Christian faith and the Christian love they had for each other. He was pleased that the gospel bore fruit in their lives – and also all over the world.
Paul wanted the Colossian congregation to keep on bearing fruit, so he admonished them to continue living in Christ. You may have noticed four key phrases that Paul used at the beginning of our text this morning to describe mature Christian living. The first is “being rooted in Christ.” We think of a tree with deep roots. The roots anchor and support the tree. They also store food and serve as the means by which the tree receives oxygen and water. If you’ve ever studied biology or tended a garden, you’ll have had first-hand experience of how important roots are. Jesus is our root. He supports us and our spirits receive nourishment from him. He is our source. Just as it’s hard to take a tree with strong roots out of the ground, so it is hard to remove a mature Christian from Christ, since God is everyday rooting us more deeply in him.
The second key phrase Paul uses is “being built up in him.” Think for a moment of a new house going up in a subdivision. The construction workers build it up carefully piece by piece, according to a plan. So God’s Word builds us up. First by showing us our faults and our need for him, then by convincing us that God exists for us and that we are forgiven in Christ, and then by showing us that God’s forgiveness means our salvation, and then by sending us out to do good works that are pleasing to him. We are built up in Christ.
A third term Paul uses is “strengthened in the faith”. Everyone experiences buffets and blows. But since we are strong in the Lord, who suffered every calamity we suffer and yet came out triumphant, hardship doesn’t break us. In fact, it strengthens us, because it brings us closer to our Lord’s strength. The faith of the apostles belongs to us. James, the brother of our Lord, said, “As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have head of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” God uses our faith to strengthen us. It’s not an abstract or theoretical faith, but a living faith that will keep us close to the Lord until we reach our heavenly goal, so we ask God to give us strong hearts, not faint ones.
You may have noticed, by the way, that Paul wrote about teaching. We grow stronger as we stick with what we’ve learned from God’s Word. Excursions outside the Word may interest us for a time, but they weaken us in the long run. Strength comes from the God of scripture. We’ll go back to this point in s minute or two.
A fourth key phrase is “overflowing with thankfulness”. We Christians are grateful people. I once heard someone say that gratitude releases the power of God. We’re thankful to God for our salvation, for the blessings in our daily lives, and the hope that the Lord will go on treating us as his beloved children. Moreover, we don’t express our thankfulness drop by drop. Instead, it flows out of our hearts. As Paul said in another letter, “In everything, give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Thankfulness delights God and pleases our neighbors.
So Paul wants the gospel to flourish in the hearts of the Colossian Christians. They should be mature followers of the Lord, rooted in him like an old pine tree, built up in him like the sturdiest house, strong as Paul and the apostles in the true Christian faith, and overflowing with thankfulness. God will keep on establishing our lives in him, so long as we stick with him, for we are his children, who need daily building up and strengthening in Christ.
Now, I want to keep our focus on the Colossian congregation for a moment, because they had some difficulties that could happen to anyone. A few of the people paid attention to false teaching that somehow had got into the life of the community. These heresies took many forms. Some said that Christians ought to follow strict rules about food and religious customs. Some encouraged the worship of angels. Others emphasized human traditions and human wisdom, arguing that believers needed secret knowledge to live full lives with God. All of them tried to convince people that salvation required more than the life and work of Christ. Paul was concerned that a few people in the Colossian church had begun to think that something was lacking in the Christian faith, so he wrote to argue against false teachers who were ready to supply what they thought was missing.
As I say, this sort of thing can happen anywhere. Many features of the modern world tempt us to think that there’s something missing in the Christian faith. Advertising, marketplace values, emphasis on living by the letter of the law – all these features of present day life bring us benefits, but if we live for material things, we’ll come to think that new need more than Christ. Nobody openly persecutes Christians in North America, but trends of the time subtly work on us, so that we may think that Jesus is only for Sundays, and the rest of the week belongs to urgent practical matters.
With the power of Jesus on our side, we resist the spiritual temptations of the day and live rooted in him, established and built up in the sturdy Christian faith. In order for this centeredness in Christ to happen, the Lord convinces us that the Christian faith doesn’t lack anything, that Christ is all we need. This is the reason Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians.
He uses eight phrases in the first chapter to prove the sufficiency of Christ. We’ll look at each one briefly.
To begin with, Paul says that the fullness of the deity dwells in Christ in bodily form. This means that everything to do with God takes place in Christ. God’s power over nature, his wisdom, his forgiveness and compassion, his indestructibility all occur in Christ. Not a portion of God’s qualities, but all of them, dwell in Christ.
Paul affirms that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. this means that if we want to know who God is or what he thinks or what his nature is or his intentions for the human race we have only to look at what the Bible tells us about Jesus.
Thirdly, Paul claims that Jesus is the firstborn of all creation. He came before the stars and the light and all creatures. Everything else came after him.
Fourth, Paul tells us that Jesus created everything and that he is before all things. Jesus created all the angels and the rules and the basic principles of the world that the Colossian people were tempted to worship. Paul hints that there is no point worshipping something inferior when the real thing is available to us.
Then Paul states that everything holds together in Christ. The universe isn’t random disorder. It follows a rational plan with a set pattern and certain laws. Actions have consequences; causes have effects; decisions have outcomes. Everything that exists, everything that happens finds its purpose and meaning and place in the universe in Christ. He is like a thread that joins everything together.
Paul then tells us that Christ is the first-born from the dead. He is referring to Jesus’ resurrection. Paul means that God has power over death and that he uses his power first of all in the case of Christ and then on behalf of everyone who believes in Christ. When we look to God in faith, we look to the source of life and learn that he has conquered death for us. Besides that, Paul wrote that God reconciles everything to himself in Christ. He isn’t angry at the world; he see his creation as good; he takes delight in the people he has made. No barriers exist between God and the human race except the ones we human beings put up without knowing what we’re doing.
Finally, Paul declares that God has made peace through the blood that Christ shed on the cross. This is the central fact of the Christian faith. Christ’s death reminds us of our own sins. Because of the cross, we have a definite, unvarying approach to God. We lay our sins before him with the assurance that he will cast them away because of Jesus’ sacrifice.
So these are eight points Paul brings up to instill Christ’s worth in the minds and hesrts of the Colossian Christians and to assure them that nothing is missing from the faith God has given them. The fullness of divinity dwells in Christ. Nobody has done or can do more. To look beyond him is to trifle with the inferior.
Paul doesn’t end his argument here. He tells us that God passes the fullness of Jesus’ deity on to us. He releases us from the sting of eternal death; he puts off our old sinful natures and gives us new lives in Christ.
The various distractions that tempted the Colossians – ceremonies, strict rules, secret knowledge, and invitation to angel worship – didn’t make people alive. Christ made them alive.
It’s the same with us. We shouldn’t look for more from the marketplace or technology or advertising than they can provide. These features of our lives help us but they don’t bring us salvation or eternity. We are made alive in Christ. We don’t let the secular ways of thinking that surround us take over our minds. We learn from Paul that Christ is sufficient and that he will get us safely from here to life in eternity with him. In his name we give thanks. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.