Series on Colossians #3
We are in the midst of a series of messages on the New Testament Book of Colossians.
So far, we have thought about much of chapter 1. To get us to today’s passage, which begins with the last part of the chapter, here is a brief summary of what has been presented in earlier messages in this series.
Paul, the author of Colossians, began his letter to the Christians in that city by complimenting them. They were displaying faith, love, and hope. They were bearing spiritual fruit. Paul expressed his appreciation for those qualities.
Paul also assured the Colossian Christians that he prayed for them. He prayed, for instance, that they would live lives worthy of Jesus.
Paul then reminded them of the greatness of Jesus. Including that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, that He not only created the universe, but even now holds all creation together, and that He is the head of the church, all of which make Jesus pre-eminent. Supreme over all. Nothing else is as important and no one else is as important as Him.
Because of who Jesus is, Paul instructed the Christians in Colossae to be firm, stable, and steadfast in their faith. Qualities Paul himself displayed, which is shared in today’s passage, which begins with verse 24 of chapter 1 of Colossians and continues through verse 3 of chapter 2.
For this message, some key words will be pulled from the verses. Words that provide the gist of what Paul taught in today’s passage. We will begin getting to those key words after a story. A sad story, but one that makes an important point.
On the morning of November 28, 1979, an Air New Zealand flight lifted off from Auckland Airport. The flight plan called for spending a few hours sightseeing over the Antarctic continent before returning to Auckland.
At the controls of the jet was a veteran pilot. He was assisted by two experienced flight officers. However, none of the three had ever flown over the South Pole.
Unknown to the pilot and officers, someone had accidentally modified the flight coordinates by a mere two degrees. That does not sound like much, but that error placed the aircraft 28 miles east of where the pilot and crew thought they were.
As they approached Antarctica, the pilot descended to a lower altitude to give the passengers a better look at the landscape. With the correct coordinates, that would have been fine. However, the aircraft's drift off course placed them directly in the path of a mountain. An active volcano that rises from the landscape to a height of more than 12,000 feet.
As the pilot flew, the white of the snow and ice covering the volcano blended with the white of the clouds above, making it appear they were flying over flat ground. By the time the instruments sounded the warning that the ground was rising fast toward them, it was too late. The plane crashed into the side of the volcanic mountain, killing everyone on board.
What happened was a terrible tragedy brought on by a minor error. A matter of only a few degrees. The point being that spiritually, we cannot afford to be off even a little bit in how we live. Otherwise the result can be devastating.
Paul knew that, which is why he worked so hard to persuade Christians to stand firm and stable. Which is what Paul himself did, and that does bring us to today’s passage. As mentioned, the passage begins with verse 24 of chapter 1 of the Book of Colossians.
Verse 24. “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.”
That is the first part of the verse. The two keys words are rejoice and sufferings.
Sufferings are what Paul experienced. He often wrote in other letters about how he suffered because of his ministry. He was argued against and threatened. He experienced shipwreck, beatings, and stonings. At the time he wrote Colossians, he was in prison.
But did we catch it? In spite of his sufferings - in fact, because of them - he rejoiced.
Isn’t that amazing? Suffering, as far as I see it, is not a pleasant thing. It is nothing I want to experience in any way. However, Paul seemed to be communicating, in this and other of his letters, that it is a privilege to suffer for Christ. Which again sounds very strange to me, but which is true when we remember Jesus suffered. He suffered greatly for us. All the way to dieing on a cross as the penalty for our sins.
Paul’s point is that suffering for Christ, which he did, is being more a part of Jesus, which Paul considered a privilege. A privilege for which he rejoiced.
But let’s catch this, too. Paul was willing to suffer, not so he could feel good about what he sacrificed. He had no pride in what he went through. He suffered for the sake of the Colossian Christians, that they would be able to continue to hear about Jesus and be persuaded to follow the Lord, thereby living lives worthy of the Savior.
All of which leads us to verse 25, where Paul wrote he became “a minister according to the divine office.”
Even in those words, Paul did not take credit for what he did. He knew he was who he was and what he was, that being a minister, because God appointed him to that position. God appointed him a minister so he could make God “fully known” to many people, including the Christians in Colossae.
Fully known are key words in that verse.
Fully known as in fully preached. Not just the happy teachings of Jesus, but even the teachings difficult to understand or follow. Including the teaching through Paul that suffering is a good thing.
Fully known as in the people not only learning, but then doing, the teachings of Jesus. Along with the teachings that come from Paul and other Bible writers.
Fully known as in not taking our Christian faith lightly or haphazardly, but being devoted to obeying and pleasing the Lord in all we do. Doing that, not just when we feel like it or it easy to do, but all the time.
In verse 26, Paul calls the Christian message a “mystery,” which is the key word in that verse.
What Paul meant is not a mystery in the sense we cannot possibly understand the Christian message, but that to understand it, God’s help is needed.
Which was certainly something needed when thinking of who the Colossian Christians were, along with many others to whom Paul ministered. Who they were were non-Jews, as in Gentiles.
That was very difficult for the Jews to comprehend since they thought God was for them and them only. But, as Paul taught, Jesus died for all people. It was that fact Paul preached to non-Jews.
It was a mystery that God so loved even Gentiles that He gave Jesus to die for them, but God had helped Paul understand that mystery, which is a word also mentioned in verse 27. It is what Paul shared with others so they, too, could understand the glory of Jesus and the hope only Jesus can provide. Hope for blessings now. Hope for an eternity in Heaven when this life is over. Hope for everyone.
Because of his ministry, and the ministry of Timothy, who was with Paul, he warned - this is verse 28 - “every man” [at that time, mainly men, but for today, men and women]. Paul warned as he taught so that everyone who heard him would be able to be presented “mature in Christ.”
Key words in that verse?
One is the word warning. In this and other writings of Paul, he warned people of things they were doing wrong. We will get to some of those in later messages in this series.
He also warned people to do what is right to do according to the Lord’s teachings.
Teaching. That is another key word. Not only telling, but also explaining, and not only explaining, but also providing examples of how to live. Paul did all that.
And mature in Christ. I am pretty sure none of us - me at least - will ever reach full maturity in this life. But we are all to be growing more and more Christlike so we can grow closer and closer to full faith and full love and full hope, more and more holy and blameless, more and more spiritually fruitful. Growth is what the Lord wants from us. That is why Paul taught the Colossian Christians - why he warned them and why God made sure this letter was in the Bible - so we, too, can be warned and taught what is right to do. So we can grow in Christian maturity.
Thinking of warning, here is something I found in a commentary.
The ministry of warning should be a recognized part of the work of the church and of each individual member. As a foghorn warns ships of deadly rocks, as a red light warns drivers and pedestrians of imminent danger, and as quarantine signs warn people of areas of disease, so we are to work to warn people who are in danger of facing the wrath of God. Wrath caused when people refuse Jesus or sin against Him.
And just as fog horns and red lights and quarantine signs work constantly and deliberately, so are we to be steady in warning those in spiritual danger.
Thinking of the spiritual warnings we are to give, they might be resented. I remember a time many years ago when I confronted someone who was living immorally. That person’s reaction to the confrontation was that I was nothing but a goody-two-shoes. Whatever that means. Which successfully got me off that topic.
When I got home, I caught myself, knowing I should not have backed down. The next day I arranged a second meeting. I once again warned that person that the behavior engaged in was wrong. That time I was not dissuaded from stating fact.
That person has never again come to this church. Which I regret. But the warning had to be given. That is what Paul did. That is what we are all to do.
Here is something else I found when studying for this message. If we saw on a river a boat full of people hastening towards a waterfall, surely we would warn them. That is how it must be when we know of people hastening toward spiritual danger.
For that - the last verse of chapter 1 and the first verse of chapter 2 of Colossians - Paul toiled with all the energy God gave him. He added, “How greatly I strive for you.” Key words being toil and strive.
Those words refer to struggling. To working to the point of agony. To fighting a hard battle.
What battles? I can think of this. Paul was in prison when he wrote to the Colossians.
It could have been easy for Paul to be concerned about only himself and his own safety and his own future, instead of being concerned about others. Or he might have been able to be granted physical freedom by recanting his faith.
Yet Paul knew the negative effect on the Christians in Colossae - and elsewhere - if he did turn away from others. If he did turn away from his faith. If he even pretended to turn away.
Paul still cared for the Christians in Colossae - and elsewhere. So he did stay true to his faith. Faith that included him using the energy God gave him to keep ministering to others.
Paul worked hard. He struggled and fought, even while he was in prison, to help other Christians, his hope being - verses 2 and 3 of chapter 2 - here are key words - that the hearts of his fellow Christians would be “encouraged,” that they be “knit together in love,” that they would have “knowledge” and that they would have “wisdom.”
Hearts encouraged so his fellow Christians would be able to meet every situation, even difficult ones, with spiritual confidence.
Knit together in love so they would be known to be Christians because of their love for one another. Love by which each Christian would be helped by every other Christian to grow spiritually.
Knowledge is knowing God’s word.
Wisdom is the ability to put God’s word to use, including the ability to give a reason for the Christian hope offered by God.
Which leads to a story about a high school earth science project.
For a final project, two friends built a stream table. At one end of the table a hose was attached. At the other end a drain hole was drilled.
After assembling the table, the friends raised the hose end, turned on the water, and watched as the stream created a path through the sand, directly to the drain at the other end.
That was of course expected. But the next part of the experiment was placing a rock in the stream and watching how the rock changed the path of the water.
The path did change, but the water still found the drain. Despite the rock, the water could not be dissuaded from reaching its goal.
I think that has a spiritual lesson in it. We know - we should know - we better know - where we are to be going. Where we want to go. For us, not a drain of course, but Heaven.
Sometimes it can seem easy to get to where we are going, but other times there things get in our way.
For Paul there was the rock of prison. For us there may be a rock of illness or financial problems or a bad work environment or a tough class at school or family issues.
The list of possible rocks in our paths could of course go on and on, but we need to be like the water in the science experiment. We need to keep going to where we need to be. Where we want to be.
That is what Paul did. That is what he wanted the Colossian Christians to do. That is what we are to do as well.
Let’s toil and strive to keep going ourselves individually. Let’s toil and strive in helping others to keep going and growing as well.
To be able to toil and strive, we must love Jesus. Let’s think about that as we sing today’s closing song.
By the way, if you do not love Jesus - if you have not accepted Jesus as your Savior - you need to change that. You can change that. You can do that right now by inviting Him into your heart and your life. Do that if you need to.
Verses 1 and 3 of My Jesus, I Love Thee.
My Jesus, I love Thee , I know Thou art mine;
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign;
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou:
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow:
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
Paul worked hard and suffered. We might suffer. Yet we, like Paul, can continue to toil and strive, helping ourselves and others, no matter what rocks may come onto our paths. Let’s do that, always remembering Jesus is worthy of our work, our worship, and our prayers. Amen.