Series on Colossians #5
“Therefore.” That is the word that begins the passage for today’s message. A passage that begins with verse 16 of chapter 2 of the Book of Colossians.
“Therefore” is a connecting word between what comes before it and what comes after it.
What is before the word “therefore” - right before that word - was Paul, the author of the Book of Colossians, reminding the Christians in the city of Colossae that Jesus is the one who had cancelled their sins. That Jesus had done that. Nothing and no one else.
Interestingly, there were false teachers who had entered the Colossian church. False teachers who were trying to convince others in the church that rules or knowledge or angels or philosophy or human traditions were just as good as Jesus. That those other things at least had to be added to faith in Jesus. That those other things were also determining factors in reaching Heaven.
But Paul said, “No.” Again, nothing and no one but Jesus - Jesus and Jesus alone - is the Savior from sin.
Paul reminded the Colossian Christians that Jesus was and is enough. He reminded them they already knew that fact. “Therefore” - verse 16 of Colossians 2 - “let no one pass judgment on you” about things other than accepting Jesus. Do not let anyone turn you away from the fact that Jesus is enough.
As mentioned, there were many other things false teachers were trying to promote, some of which Paul brought up earlier in the letter - things like rules or knowledge or angels or philosophy or human traditions - and some others he mentions in today’s passage.
But let’s think for a moment about rules. Jewish rules. Rules Jewish leaders had developed to try to explain what God meant by His Old Testament laws.
Such as this one. When some of us were on the trip to the Holy Land a few years ago, we were in Tel Aviv on a Sabbath Day. The elevator system in our hotel had one car set up for that was programmed to stop at each floor all the way up and all the way down. Why? It was because to this day there are some Jewish sects that do not allow a button to be pushed for or in an elevator car. Pushing a button is considered work.
Jesus Himself had taught against having so many rules. In one of His sermons, He said, “Woe to you who depend on rules. You load down people with burdens they can hardly carry.”
Jesus certainly did and does want Christians to behave well, but salvation was and is to be based on Him, not on rules. That is what Jesus meant when He added that He had come so that we might have life to the full.
Other things taught as being as important as Jesus and His sacrifice? Things in today’s passage?
One centered on what food and drink were consumed. There were some foods that were forbidden in the Old Testament.
By the way, part of what the false teachers in the Colossian church presented was that the Jewish laws applied not only to Jews, but that they had be followed by Gentiles who had been converted to Christianity. The false teachers were trying to convince others in the church that to become a Christian, a Gentile first had to become a Jew. That is not true, but that is one of the things the false teachers were teaching.
Another false teaching centered on festivals. Some false teachers said that to be truly spiritual, people had to observe all the rules for all the yearly Jewish feasts. They taught that obedience to those rules, not simple acceptance of Jesus, was necessary to be right with God and reach Heaven.
There were some false teachers who claimed to be spiritually superior because of special visions they claimed to have seen. When others said they had not seen the visions, those who claimed they had could turn up their noses, as if to say, “Of course you did not see what I saw. You are not spiritual enough.” Their claims were for the purpose of stifling discussion so their way would be taken or their teaching would be accepted.
Self-abasement is on the list. That was a ploy especially of those who promoted worship of angels. Their wording was that all of us are too unworthy to even think of approaching God. Actually, that is true, but it is not angels that are needed to approach God. Who is needed is Jesus.
Puffed up. That is also on the list. It refers to someone actually following all the rules and regulations and allowing that to cause pride - a feeling of superiority over those who are less strict or disciplined.
There were many different styles and teachings the false teachers in the Colossian church used. Many of them had a certain appeal. After all, does it not make sense that the harder we work or the more we abase ourselves, the more spiritual we should be?
That may seem appealing. But it is wrong. As Paul went on, “The substance of faith [the substance of being in a good relationship with God now and the substance of the promise of one day being in Heaven] belongs to Christ,” who, Paul had taught earlier and teaches again in verse 19, is “the Head.” Jesus is the Head of the church, which is to be His body. In Jesus and Him alone we are to be spiritually nourished. It is Jesus who is to knit us together. It is through Him that growth comes.
Verse 20 starts with the word “if.” It is the first of two times that word is in today’s passage. A word that in this passage is of equal importance to the word “therefore.” Jesus died as the perfect Savior. Therefore, do not think you have to follow the teachings of any teacher who says Jesus is not enough. Now the word “if.” If you are a Christian. That is what Paul wrote to the Colossian Christians. It is a statement that applies to us as well.
“If with Christ you died to the things of the world,” which they claimed was the case, “why do you live as if you still belong to the world?” Why do you submit to the regulations and all the other things taught by the false teachers?
In other words, why do you even consider returning to the slavery of rules? Why do you not eagerly live as if you are a believer in Jesus?
That might be a rhetorical question because I am not sure Paul expected an answer. In fact, there was no answer that could have been given because there is no acceptable answer to that question. But again in verse 23, Paul admitted the false teachings being promoted in the church in Colossae were attractive. He conceded they had and have the appearance of being wise teachings.
Speaking of that, I know I have to be careful in at least one area. It seems I feel a lot more spiritual if I work a lot of hours in a week than I do if the number of hours is diminished. It seems I look at the number more than how those hours are filled. Plus, I have to remind myself that Jesus loves me. He loves me the same no matter how many or how few hours I work.
Any kind of false teaching may have the appearance of wisdom, but, as Paul wrote, “Every false teaching is of no value.”
So - now looking at the first verse of chapter 3 - “If.” There is that word again. “If you have been raised with Christ,” then do this. “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”
I found this devotional story. The author refers to a headline in his newspaper on the Monday morning following an Easter Sunday. The newspaper’s lead headline was Entire World Celebrates the Risen Christ!
However, also on the front page and on many of the inside pages, a number of smaller headlines shared less rosy messages. The year is not given in the devotional, but here are some of the other headlines - Trouble in Vietnam, Blacks and Whites Clash in Chicago, Egypt Issues Ultimatum to Israel.
The author of the devotional writes, “How ironic.” The major headline declared the entire world celebrated Jesus, but the rest of the paper reported how people and nations were continuing to disregard the blessings and grace which Christ, by His death and resurrection, offers.
What is going on in the world is evidence of all sorts of problems, including, I dare say, problems from some who claim to be followers of Christ, but who are going after things other than Jesus. Those who do not seek the things above - the things of Jesus.
The warning in the devotional is this. There are some who go through the motions of religion, claiming to honor the risen Christ, but are not rooted in Him and built up in Him and established in Him. Those who claim to be His followers, but do not act that way. The warning? May we not be like them. May we instead live every part of our lives in ways that prove we belong to Him. That we belong to Him because we accept Him as the one and only and all-sufficient Savior.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” - the place of honor and the position of mercy.
Verse 2. “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Which is not a call to remove ourselves from life, but to see everything against the background of eternity so we will no longer live as if this world is all that matters.
Examples of setting our minds on things above? Giving being more important than getting. Serving being more important than ruling. Forgiving being above avenging.
Verse 3. “For.” This time not “if,” but “for.” Since you truly have died, in a spiritual sense, “your life is hid with Christ in God.” It is buried in God and Jesus. The challenge is the same, which is to live like that is true. We are to live lives worthy of the Lord.
And listen to verse 4. What a promise. “When Christ, who is our life, appears [when He comes again], those who believe in Him - those who accept Jesus as the one and only thing needed for salvation and stand strong against any and all false teachings] will appear with Him in Heaven” for all the rest of eternity.
Concerning keeping our minds and sights on what is above, two stories.
It is reported that one of the most difficult lessons to teach new pilots about landing on short, hazardous airstrips is the need to keep their eyes on the good part of the strip rather than on the hazards on either side or at the end of the runway. The natural tendency is to concentrate on the dangers. But a pilot who keeps his or her eyes on the hazards will sooner or later hit them. Only if the attention is on what is good - where he or she needs to be - can landings be consistently successful.
The point is that instead of concentrating on any false teaching, we need to focus on the positive things of Christ. When Jesus and His interests are the focus of our lives, the lure of the old life does not disappear. It remains in the corner of our eyes. But we can land squarely in the center of God's will, which is of course where we want to be.
The second story. An eagle was captured when it was quite young. The farmer who snared the bird put a restraint on it so it could not fly, then turned it loose to roam in the barnyard.
It was not long until the eagle began to act like the chickens in the barnyard, scratching and pecking at the ground. The eagle that had once soared high in the sky seemed satisfied to live the barnyard life of the lowly hen.
One day the farmer was visited by a shepherd who had come down from the mountains where many eagles lived. Seeing the farmer’s eagle, the shepherd said, “What a shame to keep that bird hobbled here in your barnyard. Why don’t you let it go?”
The farmer agreed, so he and the shepherd cut off the restraint. However, the eagle continued to wander around, scratching and pecking as before. That continued until the shepherd picked up the eagle and set it on a high stone wall.
For the first time since its capture, the eagle saw the grand expanse of blue sky and the glowing sun. Suddenly it spread its wings and with a leap soared off into a tremendous spiral flight, up and up and up. At last the bird was acting like an eagle again.
The point is that we can become comfortable in the barnyard of life. And hey, there is nothing wrong with farming. But spiritually, we can scratch and peck into all sorts of false teachings that attempt to diminish Jesus.
But if we do that, we are refusing to claim the lofty position God offers us who are His children. The position that comes to all who accept Jesus as Savior.
Jesus wants you - He wants me and He wants us - to live in a higher realm. So let’s seek and set our minds on the things that are above. Let’s do that individually. Let’s help each other do that. Like the eagle in the story, let’s soar to great spiritual heights.
To be able to do that, we need the help of the Holy Spirit. To invite the Holy Spirit to help us, our closing song is the hymn Spirit of the Living God. We will sing it twice, the first time prayerfully and individually, the second time with celebration and changing “me” to “us.”
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me,
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on us,
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on us.
melt us, mold us, fill us, use us.
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on us.
Lord, help us to rely on You and You alone. With Your help, may all of us who claim You are our Savior live our lives in ways that prove our faith in You. You tell us how to do that, which is to seek and set our minds on things that are above. Things that please You. Thank You for the Holy Spirit. May we allow You to melt and mold and fill and use us. Thank You. Amen.