Monday, April 7, 2008

Enjoying What Christ Purchased: The Benefit of the Knowledge of God's Will

Colossians 1:9-14

Scripture Introduction:

Do you ever get frustrated with trying to be a good Christian? Do you get a little down in the dumps because of your inability to follow Jesus as you ought to? Does your struggle with sin ever cause you to feel a sense of despair? I know it does me. Does your experience of Christianity sometimes feel the exact opposite of the abundant life that Jesus promised? Does it ever feel like rather than having a vibrant relationship with God you are barely trying to keep your head above the water? When you hear of the faith of the Colossians that can be “heard”, an active, lived out, visible type of faith, does that cause frustration? Do you ever think, heck, I am just trying to keep from denying Jesus altogether? Maybe you would not go that far, but certainly you would not define your relationship with Jesus as where it needs to be. Would we all not say that we ought to be reading our Bibles more, praying more, sharing Jesus with others, loving God more, loving others more.

What about trying to know God’s will for your life? All of those really tough decisions, what does God have to say about them? Does it sometimes feel like a Ouija board might be a better option to finding out what you should do with your life than prayer? Do you feel hopeless trying to understand God’s Word? Oh, the frustrations of the Christian life.

What about those dark times of the soul? I am certain that you have had those times when you wonder if you are even saved; those times when God seems a million miles away; those times when you are overcome with sin; those times when sin looks so good, yet its eating you alive, but you cannot seem to get rid of it, then you are plagued with guilt. As Church historian Richard Lovelace explored the centuries of Christians he found a theme in the lives of many great men and women that “below the surface of their lives [they] are guilt-ridden and insecure”.

Tonight we are going to discuss this very thing; how to live a Christian life that is above mediocre. We will discuss a few things that will help you to rise above these difficulties and live a Christian life that is a little more passionate, vibrant, and exciting. Rather than living our Christian lives in defeat, tonight we are going to discover how to live them in victory. Tonight we are going to talk about living a more full Christianity.

Before we begin, I need you to be open and honest with me. I need to ask a few questions.

How do you feel right now about this message? Are you pumped? Are you excited to know some of the keys to living a life that is pleasing to God? Do you have your pen and paper ready so that you can take notes to help you live a more abundant Christian life? Do you want the fullness of Christianity? Any guesses as to what these “keys” to living the Christian life are? Anyone want to take a guess at them? I am sure that you have heard them before.

Before we get into our text let me propose something to you. Together we have just preached a 21st century version of the Colossian heresy. It sounds different. Our advice sounds smarter and more spiritual, but on the surface it is really quite similar. Is that a little bit scary to you? Maybe you are a little confused and do not see the difference between the gospel and what I just said as our introduction. That should cause you to be a little concerned. Very few people would bite on these lies if they were not appealing and at least had a hint of truth. So how do you know? What will help you “make it”? What Paul prayed for the Colossian church in 1:9-14 (really it’s hard to discern where his prayer stops) is still a needed prayer for us in 21st century New London.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Sermon Introduction:

Paul’s prayer is not some canned prayer that he prays without thinking of his audience. This prayer is specific for the church at Colossae. Though it may be very similar to what he prays for other churches, the context will not permit us to divorce this prayer from the Colossians. Yet, at the same time, as we have experienced ourselves, we too need this prayer. We need that which Paul pleads with God for. The way I read this text is this way:

Request #1: Filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding

Fruit of Request #1:
Walking in a manner worthy of the Lord
which results in being fully pleasing to Him
Bearing fruit in every good work
Increasing in the knowledge of God

Request #2: That you may be strengthened with all power (which comes from God)

Fruit of Request #2:

The overall goal and ground of this prayer:
Thanksgiving to the Father for His glorious work through Jesus Christ

As we look at this we see two major things that Paul believes that the Colossians need, in order to remain faithful to Jesus in the midst of persecution, and to endure through this false teaching. Paul’s goal is always to see the churches to which he ministers be faithful to Jesus; Colossae is no different. These two things are the requests. Being filled with the knowledge of his will and being strengthened with power.

Many of you said that you were excited about a sermon that answers some of those penetrating questions that we asked earlier. Perhaps some of you felt your bubble burst as you realized that it was closer to a teaching of heresy. Yet, certainly heresy would not answer the deep questions of our soul better than the truth of Jesus. The good news is this; we are going to answer those questions tonight.

I fear, however, that if we jump right into looking at this text and making it practical and answering those questions, that you might go astray. I have yet to make it clear the difference between the Colossian heresy and the gospel.

The difference is in the way they are proposing to build a Christian. Or to steal an analogy from Paul, the way they propose to build a building. The Colossian heresy sees the gospel as the bottom rung. It is very important; they may even call it the foundation. Yet, they begin to build a building with their own bricks, their own mortar, their own putty; they use their hammer, and their nails. The gospel is there for the foundation. We build the house. It is as if they are saying, “Epaphras did a good job in getting you started. He laid a pretty good foundation. Now, let us help you build a really beautiful house. We will tell you now how to build a good house. Listen to us, we will lead you.”

Building a building the way that Paul did, the way that all those who treasure the gospel ought to is much different. Rather than seeing the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, given and crucified for sinners…Very God Himself, that came down and gave His life to die on a tree to condemn sin in the flesh, and would later rise from the grave to secure not only the forgiveness of our sins but also give us the gift of new life. This gospel, the glorious gospel that is preached and proclaimed by such men; this gospel that was bearing fruit throughout the world; this gospel that is penetrating the lives of those at Colossae; this gospel that is preached by such men as Epaphras; this gospel…rather than seeing it as a foundation, those that preach and proclaim the biblical gospel, those that live a biblical gospel, do not see it as merely a foundation. Those that live and breath the gospel see the insearchable riches of Jesus Christ in every brick that is laid in the building. Those that believe the gospel see the blood of Christ sealing one brick on top of another brick. Those that proclaim such a beautiful gospel see the glory of God in every ounce of mortar. The gospel permeates everything and does not serve as a mere foundation. The gospel IS the building, and it is built from the storehouse of God’s treasures.

What that means is this. The Colossians are promising a fullness to be added on top of Christ and His glorious gospel. That is their answer to your questions. All of these hoops and loops that you have to jump through to live the abundant Christian life. This teaching is still penetrating our churches today. 7 steps to living this way…8 ways to do this…the key to the Christian life…follow these steps, like prayer, bible reading, meditation, forgiveness, etc. etc. and you will live the abundant Christian life. The biblical gospel says this, your fullness if found in Jesus Christ alone. In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Is it really that simple? If so, why do we not experience it? If it really is already purchased in Christ, and we already possess it, that seems to be what Paul is saying, then why do we not experience it? Why does our Christian life seem to be one frustration after another frustration? The truth that we will proclaim tonight is this, the reason that we are often living in frustration is because we do not believe the gospel. We do not draw from the treasures that Christ possessed.

Jerry Bridges in his excellent work, The Gospel for Real Life tells the story of a slave. The Southern plantation owner that owned him left him a $50,000 inheritance. In those days that would be equivalent to about $500,000. The lawyer for the estate notified the slave of his inheritance. The money was deposited in a local bank, and the slave was told that he could draw from this $50,000 inheritance at any time. Weeks went by and the slave never came in to even get a dime. Finally, the banker calls upon him and reminds him of this $50,000. To this the former slave requested some of his inheritance. In a humble and polite manner, he says, “Sir, do you reckon I could get 50 cents to buy me a bag of corn meal”. He had never handled money so he had no comprehension of his wealth. He died having only drawn .50 from a $50,000 bank account.

Brothers and sisters we are like that slave. We live our lives as if the gospel is only good enough for withdrawing a bag of cornmeal. The truth is that Christ has purchased far more than $50,000. The unsearchable riches of Christ that are given to us, are just that…unsearchable; vast beyond number. So extensive that no man can comprehend it. The glories and beauty of Christ will take all of eternity to unfold and it has been given to us. And this not simply in the future. This is for today. We can draw from this account any day. Tonight we will look at these two things that Paul prayers for us, and see how this has been purchased by Christ.

I. Fruit-Producing Knowledge
The first thing Paul prays is that the Colossians might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. That is really a rather big statement. There are 5 packed words in this phrase that I see, so lets try to unpack them briefly. First to unpack is the word filled. It simply means to be permeated with, not merely tasting but basking in, soaking up, and overflowing in the knowledge of his will. Not being satisfied with only a drink of knowledge but with every drink you desire another. But what type of knowledge is this talking about? Is it mere head knowledge? The second thing for us to see is that this knowledge that Paul speaks of is not simple head knowledge but knowledge which springs forth into affection. You have heard me say it before that if your theology (or knowledge) does not break forth into doxology (or praise) then either your theology is wrong or you do not grasp it. The type of knowledge that Paul is speaking of here is the type of knowledge which causes your soul to break-dance. It’s knowledge which produces affection and action.

The third thing to consider is the “will” that is mentioned here. God’s will has in our day taken on a sort of mystical, crystal ball, definition. Paul’s readers would have had no trouble understanding what Paul means here. His prayer is not that the Colossians would be overflowing with an experiential knowledge of God’s plan for your life. Paul is not praying that the Colossians might know who to marry, where to get a job, where to shop for groceries, who to talk to, where to invest your money, etc. It certainly may lead to knowledge in these areas but that is not his primary intent. What Paul means by the “his will” in this text is the revealed will of God. Rather than spending their time trying to figure out the secret will of God it would be wise for us to spend our time trying to figure out how to root sin out of our lives and be obedient to that which God has already revealed. To sum up what we have so far what Paul is praying is that the Colossians might come to know through experience and affection the revealed will of God to an overflowing.

Yet, he continues and qualifies it. He says spiritual wisdom and understanding. These are our fourth and fifth phrases. Paul’s point here is simple. He is praying that this knowledge might also be the type that judges correctly in all spiritual matters. His prayer is that the knowledge of God’s revealed will, will help them to determine the best course of action. Not only that but that it will help them to have a worldview that is centered upon God’s revealed will. So then, what Paul is praying is that the Colossians might be overflowing with such an experiential knowledge of God’s revealed will that it might shape their worldview and cause them to make correct decisions. And as we will see in verse 10 is that this type of knowledge will produce things. There are two things for us to learn on this point.

A. We ought to vigorously pursue understanding theology

One of the reasons why we are often frustrated in our walk with Christ is because our theology is not very grounded. It is not that you need to know a ton of facts and remember the dates of things, or even that it is important to know such big terms as transubstantiation. Paul is not saying that you have to be a scholar that knows the original languages and could be able to write commentaries. This is not specifically what Paul is praying for. Yet, he does pray that they might be filled with good grounded theology.

There is an unbiblical “anti-intellectualism” that pervades Christianity today, and our community is not immune. Its cry is, “I don’t need all that theology, just give me Jesus.” It is championed by such men as the baseball prayer turned preacher that said, “If I had a million dollars I’d give $999,999 to the church and $1 to education.” This may sound very spiritual, but the truth is that it is creating what is called a false dichotomy. It is splitting up two things that are not to be split up. Did Jesus not say that we are to love God with our minds? Anti-intellectualism is a sin, because it is a refusal to pursue God and love Him with all of our minds.
Notice the results of Paul’s prayer that they be filled to overflowing with knowledge. It almost seems like Paul is saying that if they are desiring to please the Lord, if they want to bear fruit, and if they want to know Jesus more, then it will come through having a knowledge of God’s will; which means having good theology. Therefore, we ought to vigorously pursue understanding theology.

Going back to story of the wealthy slave that only used 50 cents of his inheritance, what would have helped him to enjoy his inheritance more? One thing would have been a better understanding of money. If he could understand the way that money works then he could have began to grasp his wealth: so it with us and Christ. We ought not to be satisfied with simply dipping into the well of the water of life. What Paul is praying for the Colossians is that they might be filled with this knowledge. Try not to think of it as if Paul is saying, filled up to the brim so that you’ll know everything and never need to ask another question. That is not what Paul has in mind. What he is praying is that they might be continually filled to overflowing with knowledge; constantly growing, constantly learning, and perpetually unfolding the glories of Christ.

How do you do this? Sitting under the preaching and teaching of the Word is something you are doing right now. That is a good thing. Also, reading good Christian books. I read a ton, if you need assistance in finding some good books, chances are that I will either have the book or know how to get it quickly. I can point you in the direction of some good books. In as much as it lies in his control a believer ought to be frequently reading to develop a better understanding of God. Listening to Christian books. Listening to sermons on your IPod. All of these are good ways to remain under the teaching of the Word.

Reading the Bible for yourself. Studying the Bible. Asking questions. Not being content with a cursory understanding but trying to penetrate to the core meaning of the texts. Do not let other people do the dirty work for you. Try to feed yourself a little. Try to even teach others. Get with a group of other believers and discuss difficult texts. Go to Bible studies. Start Bible studies. Do not be content with only having a little knowledge of God. It is imperative if we are to follow God and be faithful to Jesus that we have a growing knowledge of who God is.

B. Our vigorous pursuit of theology ought to result in action

There is another side to this though. You cannot simply pursue knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Simple intellectualism is no good either. Anti-intellectualism is a sin, but so is mere head knowledge. Scripture admonishes us to love God with our heart as well as our mind. If your theology does not break forth into affections and doxology then it is not grounded theology. Furthermore if your theology does not break out into affection which springs into action then it is simple emotionalism. You do not understand the truth nor is it actually the truth which is moving you.

The type of knowledge that Paul is praying for is the type of knowledge that causes you to act. Notice the “bearing fruit in every good work”. This is where I struggle. I can spend hours in my office reading books and soaking up knowledge. Yet, if that knowledge does not develop into affections and action then something is wrong with me. The study of theology is not the problem. This point is not to negate the first. Yet, we must apply that which we learn. We have to live out our theology.

Unfortunately, we are not going to have time to look at verse 11. Nor have we really exhausted these verses. Next time we will briefly revisit them, but will spend a majority of our time in verse 12-14. That is where we will turn now to sum up this section and introduce our sermon next week.

Understanding verse 12-14 will keep us from running off into do-goodism which will end in futility and even more discouragement. Do not take this sermon as if I am saying that the secret to the Christian life is to acquire knowledge. That is Gnosticism. The “mystery” of the Christian life is this, “Christ in you, the hope of glory”. Our union with Christ Jesus is the truth from which everything else flows.

What Paul is praying for is not that they might do something to attain something they do not already have. It is not as if Paul is praying that the Colossians might do some kind of work, be paid wages, add it to their account of knowledge, spend some knowledge, do some more work, etc. It is not a prayer that they might continually try to acquire more knowledge. That is not what he means.

The truth, and this is what Paul is saying in verse 12-14, is that Christ has already qualified us. Because of our union with Christ all that He has He graciously gives to us. Remember what 2:3 says, in Christ are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. So, what Paul is praying for the Colossians and how this applies to us, is that we might grow in our understanding of what Jesus has already purchased for us. Paul is praying that the slave might learn what it means to be free and have been given an inheritance.

Paul is proclaiming the gospel in verse 12-14. He is telling us of the work of Christ and what it means for those that are in union with Him. Verses 9-11 is his prayer that the Colossians might fully understand and live every day in light of what Christ has already done. May we understand the riches of Christ, and enjoy them to the glory of Christ.

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