Saturday, June 7, 2008

Truth Matters

Truth Matters
Colossians 2:1-5
How to be anchored in a shaky world

Scripture Introduction:

Is this true or false?

1) Each person has the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

2) Everyone is born into a state of innocence (that means that Isaiah is innocent and sinless)

3) Jesus is 100% God and 100% man.

4) The Israelite people in the Old Testament that we will meet in heaven are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ.

5) It is a sin to not be joyful.

6) God gave us commandments in the Old Testament and the New Testament. We have the ability within ourselves to obey the commandments of God.

7) God is the one that saves people. When we see a movement where people are getting saved then this must be a work of God. Regardless of the methods used, as long as the end is biblical, then the means are unimportant. In other words the end justifies the means.

8) God says that salvation does not depend upon man’s desire or effort but on God who has mercy.

9) God desires to be worshipped with all of our being. Therefore, it is not only okay it is commanded to aim at the highest affections provided that we are affected by nothing but truth, and that our affections are in proper proportion to the nature of what they are affected with.

10) Even though it is not a biblical passage, it is a biblical concept that God helps those that help themselves.

11) You are saved by faith.

12) In Matthew 17:20 Jesus says that “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Therefore, what Jesus is teaching is that if we have enough faith we can really do anything, and nothing will be impossible for us. If we have enough faith we can be healed from sickness. We can name what we want (such as the mountain moving) and if our faith is strong enough (even that of a mustard seed) we can claim it as ours.

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Sermon Introduction:

Do you care whether you got this right or wrong? Does it really matter if you missed a few? I mean if you believe that God exists and that Jesus died on the Cross then does it really matter what you believe here? Is it not enough to believe the bare minimum truth of Jesus? Yes and No. Yes, it does not require a Ph.D. to be saved. But, no, these things are not unimportant. They do have a bearing on your relationship with God. Some of them may not determine your eternal salvation—some of them do. But all of them have a bearing on your relationship with God.

Postmodern thought will tell us that truth really does not matter. Postmodernism asserts that there is no such thing as absolute truth. The infiltration of postmodern thought is obvious, and it is in obviously in our camp. The effects of this way of thinking are obvious when people arrive at the Scriptures of God and ask the question—what does this mean to me? Truth becomes something subjective. Truth is something that you define. Truth is not something that is objective; out there that someone else defines. These statements are either absolutely true or absolutely false. Now we may not fully know that answer to them but if revealed to us truth is possible.

So, in order to combat potential postmodern thinking let me share 2 simple reasons why the truth is important. There are more but these two are enough.

1) When Jesus makes an absolute claim like John 14:6 it does not matter what you believe about absolute truth. What Jesus says here cannot be half true and half false. It is an absolute claim. No man comes to the Father except through me. Jesus is claiming to be the only way to God. That is an absolute claim. You can reject that but it does not take away the claim of Jesus. You can accept it and it does not make it true. That statement is either true of false based on whether it is true of false. If that statement of Jesus is true then it demands something of you. Take your chances but this statement alone lets us know that truth is important. In fact if this statement is true then your very soul hangs on whether or not you believe and accept this truth.

2) Jesus also said that the truth will set you free. Freedom is found in truth; the truth of God, the truth about Jesus, etc. Therefore, if you want freedom you ought to pursue truth. These statements matter.

Truth is also important in the mind of Paul. That is why we have this letter to the Colossians. Remember the setting. A group of false teachers were promoting strange doctrines. They were teaching that Jesus was not quite enough for a full experience. “If you really want to be spiritual then follow these truths”, say the false teachers. If truth were unimportant to Paul then he would not be laboring in prayer as he is. Look at 2:1 and remember 1:29. Paul said that he toils and struggles in his ministry. Remember that the word there for struggle is the where we get our word agony. In 2:1 we see the same word. In fact Paul’s thought here is connected to what we talked about last week. Paul is saying in v.1 that he struggles in prayer for the Colossians (and all the others that he has never seen). There could easily be a sermon in there about prayer—but we will save that for another time.

The words here for Paul are very passionate. If you want a couple of more modern (well 16 and 1700’s) examples of this consider the prayer life of David Brainerd (1718-47), missionary to the American Indians…Brainerd frequently wrote in his Diary of "wrestling" with God in prayer. The entry for Monday, April 19, 1742, reads in part, "God enabled me so to agonize in prayer, that I was quite wet with sweat, though in the shade, and the wind cool. My soul was drawn out very much for the world; I grasped for multitudes of souls" (The Life of David Brainerd, Yale:162).[1]

This praying of Brainerd is the same type of prayer that Paul was praying for the Colossians. Why? Truth. Look at verses four and five. Everything that Paul said up to this point is governed by this desire; even his explaining the excellencies of Christ in verses 15-20, but especially 2:1-3. In verse 4 and 5 Paul is saying that he is saying all of this so that no tricky person may deceive them into accepting persuasive arguments that end up distancing them from Christ.

The word there for delude (or deceive in the NIV) is a neat one. It means to come alongside the truth. That sounds good doesn’t it? But this is not good. It’s like a counterfeit. Its only acceptable if it really looks like the truth. So, what is happening is that it is looking like the truth thing but its foundation is wrong. The word for delude means that they have figured wrong in their foundation, therefore it leads to false reasoning, and it causes them to focus on that which is beside the truth instead of the truth itself.

And we learn even more about this by understanding what the word for plausible (or persuasive in the NIV) means. Pithanologia was used in secular Greek of the law court and refers to the lawyer’s persuasive speech and its power to influence an audience towards an unjust verdict. In Classical Greek the word referred to the use of probable arguments as opposed to demonstrable arguments. Paul’s point is that even though the arguments seem to make sense (sound reasonable), they are in the end false and the Colossians must not surrender to the glib, sometimes convincing arguments of the false teachers, but remember that, in having Christ, they have all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.[2]

So, what is it that causes Paul sweat in his prayer life? Truth. The eternal truth of God and the sufficiency of Christ is being called into question in Colossae. And Paul’s hope is that they might remain confident. And I love Paul’s encouragement here. In verse 5, he almost apologizes for not being there with them—remember he is in prison. Then he qualifies that by saying even though in my flesh I am not with you I am in spirit. Now notice what he says at the end. I am rejoicing (prisoner Paul rejoicing again) to see your good order (or discipline in the NIV) and the firmness (or stability) of your faith in Christ. It’s as if Paul is saying even though I cannot see it with my eyes I know that you are staying faithful. Those two words together “good order and firmness” are military terms. Put together it provides a picture of a well-ordered immovable army.

When we go back to verse 2 we see the power that Paul put on prayer. He is struggling in prayer that the Colossians hearts may be encouraged and then in verse 5 we see his confidence in the finished product. The word in verse 2 for encouraged actually means braced. It is another term for immovable. Paul’s prayer and hope for the Colossians is that they might be anchored around the truth. Truth is important to Paul and it ought to be important to us.

Our world is just as shifting as Paul’s and that of the Colossians. We saw earlier all of the different beliefs that are permeating our world. With the continuing rise of postmodernism our world threatens to become even shakier. What then do you do in shaky world? How can you have confidence with some many question marks around us?

In this text we will see three things that will anchor us in a shaky world.

I. In a shifting world we are anchored by unity

In verse 2 Paul says that his struggle for them is that their hearts may be encouraged. He knows that if their heart (and by this he means all of them—not simply their emotions) is braced the rest of them will be braced. This is where the battlefield is centrally located—for our hearts. So Paul prays that it might be braced, invigorated, cheered, enlivened, strengthened, encouraged.

Then, do you see the comma after that and that little statement, “being knit together in love”. I used to read that the wrong way. Before I really studied this text I read that statement as being a part of Paul’s prayer. It is not. That is not what tense it is in. It is in the aorist tense and the passive voice. Let me explain what that means. It means that this “being knit together” is something that has actually already taken place—that is what the aorist means. And because it is in the passive voice it means that it is something that has already been done to them by somebody else. Why does that matter, you ask? Because Paul is saying that the way their hearts are going to be braced is by their hearts being knit together in love.

Now, what does it mean for their hearts to be knit together in love? What Paul is saying is that I know that you will be braced because I know that Jesus has glued you guys together in love. Christians are like snowflakes. Really fragile alone and probably will not make it alone. But when snowflakes stick together look what happens: they are really hard to get rid of. We will not be dragged into heresy too quickly if we stick with other believers. Paul knows this, which is why he reminds them that they have been knit together in love.

Now the key here, and this is really what Paul is driving at, is that they are not to pursue unity for the sake of unity and to the expense of truth. Just because these false teachers are creating disunity and schism does not mean that we ought to readily accept their beliefs for the sake of unity. That is never a wise thing to do. Unity is to be centered on the truth. As A.W. Tozer wisely suggested:

Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become 'unity' conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.

Therefore it is not unity for the sake of unity that we ought to pursue but the one that has knit us together. Look at this parallel passage in Ephesians 4, start at verse 11—you will probably remember it from last week. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness and deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together (same word as our knit together) by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Paul is saying the same thing in Ephesians 4. Unity results in maturity and remaining steadfast in the midst of a shaky world. What does this mean? It means that if you are going to make it you cannot be a renegade believer. You need other Christians. You need other believers to keep you pure in doctrine and not tossed back and forth. You need other believers to keep you in check.

I am reminded of the story of a wise old pastor. One of his members no longer felt the need to go to church. He had his Bible, his TV preacher, and his Jesus. He didn’t need any of those hypocrite Christians at the church. He just needed himself and Jesus. One evening the pastor decided to make a visit. As they sat by the fireplace talking, the pastor getting an earful about how this man does not need church, the pastor calmly took some tongs by the fireplace and took a piece of coal and moved it away from the others. They continued chatting until the minister pointed to that loan piece of coal. It was once hot, shining, and smoldering—at least while in fellowship with others. But once the pastor pulled the coal away from the others it grew cold and its fire died. The point was well made. Christians are like coal, together we glow, apart from one another we grow cold.

Therefore, one way for us to be anchored in a shifting world is fellowship and unity with other believers…being knitted together in love and united around Christ. This will keep you anchored.

II. In a shifting world we are anchored by assurance

But Paul does not stop there. He moves on and says “to reach all the riches of understanding”. Now, the truth is this should not be thought of as a second point divorced from the first point. This is actually connected again to our being knit together in love.

Imagine with me a war scene. You have a group of soldiers that are trapped in a bunker, surrounded by enemies on every side. Their only hope of survival is the darkness that covers them through the night and the promise that in the morning a wave of fellow soldiers will come and rescue them. However, during the night things get a little shaky. The surrounding explosions give light on the bunker—much like a lightning storm in a dark house. Every few minutes they are exposed, which will cause much insecurity.

Now imagine with me two different responses to this situation. Response #1 is a group of soldiers that are not united. Half of them believe that the darkness will hold out long enough to preserve them before the backup comes. The other half has absolutely no assurance. So a few hours before daylight these soldiers decide to abandon the group and seek refuge in the nearby woods. Almost instantly they are exposed and killed.

Response #2 is a group of soldiers that are united. But even in a very united group you have always got a few people that are insecure. These fearful men are having a very difficult time trusting in the cover of darkness and more than anything trusting in the promise of rescue tomorrow. And the woods are looking pretty promising. But do they go? Nope. Why? Because all of the other soldiers encourage them, build them up, and reassure them of the promise. They are united (having been knit together as a platoon). By the time morning comes these men are fully confident of the promise, and shortly after the sun peaks over the horizon helicopters come to the rescue.

Now, in our midst are some of you that will fall into the first platoon. You are not knit together in love—you are not united and you will go your own way and it will be to your detriment. That saddens us. There will also be those of you like the fearful men in the second platoon. If you are going to stay it will be up to the rest of us to convince you and bring you to full assurance. What Paul is saying in this text is that his hope is that they might be encouraged because they are knit together in love and that this might lead to their coming to a fuller grasp of who God is.

His reasoning is that the more confident and certain you are the less likely you will be to get plucked out by these false teachers. Or as he said in Ephesians 4, tossed to and fro by every wave and carried by every wind of doctrine. When you are shaky and do not have assurance this is a very real possibility. Hopefully brothers and sisters in Christ will be used to bring you through times of doubt.

Thankfully, even if we (as other believers) drop the ball you are not alone. God is not going to leave you. If you are truly his then he will bring you through the pit. And I think he gives us a clue as to the means he uses to do this from this text. Notice what this is full assurance of understanding. What that means is that God will absolutely convince you of the gospel. You will be overflowing in confidence that the gospel is true. How? By being immersed and convinced of the Word of God.

As Sam Storms says,

Although we can have full assurance of eternal life the moment we trust in Christ (John 3:16), our confidence grows and intensifies in direct proportion to our cognitive grasp of the broad expanse of what God has revealed. Knowledge is the soil in which the seeds of peace and certainty germinate.

For some, ignorance is bliss. But not when it comes to the assurance of faith. Ignorance of God and his revealed Word is the breeding ground for heresy and skepticism. As our understanding deepens, so too does the peace and tranquility of "knowing that we know" that God is true and will do what he has said he will do.

Simply put: defeat doubt by immersing your mind in the Word of God. This is the ordained means by which the Spirit will indelibly imprint on your heart the joyful and undeniable assurance that what God has said, God will do.

Therefore, if we are to have any anchor in a shifting world it will be the anchor of our assurance. This anchor will come through being encouraged and brought through trials by other believers as well as our being brought through by the powerful Word of God. Again this encourages us to actively pursue fellowship with other believers and to passionately seek out God in His Word. If you want to survive and remain steadfast you will need to be anchored. Our only certain anchor is on God and His Word.

III. In a shifting world we are anchored by knowing Christ

Now, I absolutely love how Paul drives this home at the end of verse 2 and all of verse 3. The last thing and the big goal for Paul is that the Colossians might be anchored by the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is obviously Christ.

The false teachers are saying that Christ is not sufficient and that they need more. They are encouraging these believers in Colossae to pursue a secret knowledge and a special wisdom. They would have used this word here for knowledge in their teaching. The word is epignosis. It means “full knowledge”. Paul decides to bust the word out himself and use it to point to Christ. “Oh, you want to talk about the epignosis? You want to talk about full knowledge do you? Here is the storehouse of all knowledge!”

Do you see Paul’s argument? He is ripping a hole right through any philosophy or teaching which finds knowledge outside of Christ. Any teaching which has as its goal something other Christ is full of it. Any type of garbage that may be given to you that tries to convince you to pursue knowledge apart from Christ is just that—garbage. Nothing means anything apart from Christ. Nothing is true apart from Christ. Christ is the center, the fountain the storehouse of all that is good, all that is true, all that is pure, all that is pleasurable, all that leads to happiness, Christ is the storehouse of all of this.

He is not proclaiming that people that do not know Christ cannot solve a math problem. That is ridiculous. What Paul is saying though is that ultimate meaning cannot be found in anything except Christ. Even the atheist solving the math problem is doing so out of the storehouse of God’s common grace and wisdom and knowledge.

This, brothers and sisters, is the foundation of everything that we have said up to this point. Our unity is based on our drawing from the storehouse of Christ’s knowledge. Our assurance comes from being grounded in the precious gospel of Jesus Christ. Our only anchor in a shifting world will be to know Christ. This is the essential thing in your life; whether or not you know Jesus Christ. And remember this word is epignosis. It is not simply intellectual assent or acknowledging that some carpenter lived 2,000 years ago and died on a Cross. This is full knowledge. This is that the gospel goes deep in your heart and changes everything. It changes the way you think, the way you live, the way you do everything.

Do you see how our knowledge of Christ keeps us from heresy? If we are so overwhelmed by the treasure of Jesus Christ then heresy will look stupid. You could bring the most prominent intellectual atheist in here tonight and he could have the most plausible sounding arguments, but he would not convince me, because I have tasted and I have experienced the beauty and the treasure of Jesus Christ. If you taste and know that the Lord is good—and if you have experienced Christ you do not want to go back. Oh, you might be tempted and enticed occasionally—but ultimately you know where the fountain of life is and you drink from it.

Do you not also see how knowing Christ keeps us from sin? What will rip the power of lust from our lives? A superior pleasure in Jesus Christ. Until you see Jesus Christ as more precious to you than the fleeting pleasure of lust you will remain ensnared. And when you fall you can look back and see that the reason you fell was because you did not treasure Christ at that moment. I would venture to say that you were not even giving much thought to Christ—at least not an accurate one. How will you quiet that loneliness inside of you that just has to have a boyfriend—that just has to be loved? It will be quieted by the superior pleasure of knowing Jesus Christ. How will you overcome the initial fear of sharing the excellencies of Christ with someone? It is by having more pleasure in Christ than fear of looking stupid. What will conquer pride? What will conquer greed and covetousness? What will conquer helplessness? What will give security? What will produce God-honoring joy? What will create a radical missionary? What will keep you faithful in the midst of persecution? What will drown out the cries of the world? What will keep you from a wasted life spent on the American dream of comfort, security, luxury, and recreation? What will cause you to thirst after God so hard that you spend hours in prayer and Bible study? What will birth in you passionate worship? What will conquer sin? The superior pleasure of knowing Jesus Christ.

But do we really believe what Paul is saying here? Do we really believe that Christ is the storehouse of all wisdom and knowledge? Do we really believe that Knowing Christ is the highest good? Do we really believe that it is only in Christ that we will find treasure? Oh, brothers and sisters we ought to spend our closing moments getting really honest with God. We ought to spend our closing moments in repentance for not treasuring Christ as we ought. We ought to spend our closing moments and the time that we have at home passionately pursuing God and striving to treasure Christ more. Struggle with Him in prayer until he grants you a heart that treasures Christ. Never settle until you treasure Christ.

This will be your anchor in a shifting world—knowing Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Do you know Him? Has the gospel touched the depths of your heart? If you do not know Christ there is no other place to be seeking. This text tonight is urging every one of us to passionately pursue Christ: either for the first time in salvation or the continual pursuit of the believer.

[1] Quoted from Storms, Sam.
[2] Taken from PreceptAustin

Are You a Faithful Minister?

Are You a Faithful Minister
Colossians 1:24-29
3 Qualities of a Faithful Minister

Scripture Introduction:

I am not too fond of suffering. I am assuming that none of you are. It is built in us to avoid suffering and pain. Yet, sometimes people willingly suffer. Sometimes people willingly take on pain. Imagine with me that I ask you to make a list of things that you would be willing to suffer and sacrifice for. What would be on your list? Would you be wiling to die for these things? Now let me qualify this a little bit. Whatever is on your list must also be what you will dedicate the remainder of your life on earth to.

I would imagine that your lists are pretty short. I would guess that right now you probably have friends, family, and many of you probably put Jesus. As we read our text tonight in Colossians 1:24-29 I want you to look for Paul’s list.


Sermon Introduction:

What would you say that Paul’s great passion is? Who would Paul be willing to die for and dedicate his entire life for? There really are two answers. One is the obvious one…of course we know that Paul’s main dedication, and the biggest place in his heart is for Jesus. Did anyone pick up on Paul’s other great passion? It is intimately related to Paul’s love for Jesus. If you love Jesus you will love what Paul loves. In fact if you do not love what Paul loves you have to begin to wonder how deep your love for Jesus really is. Let me give you an example of this. I am not a perfect example of this either; sometimes I am too selfish to be a good example. There are some things that my wife loves that I do not particularly care about. Like musicals, shopping for antiques, and going for walks. I have tried to grow to like these things as well because they are dear to my wife’s heart. Because I love my wife, I try to love the things that she loves. Actually, she is probably a better example of this than I am. She can tell you the quarterback for the Browns—I still think Bing Crosby is a black guy.

The thing that is dear to Jesus’ heart and thereby is dear to Paul’s heart is the Church. Did you write that on your list? I do not think that I would have. I would have written Jesus, but not His Bride. Something tells me that our hearts may not be where they need to be concerning this matter. If we really love Jesus, like Paul did, then we are going to love the Church like Paul does--and even more—we will love the Church like Jesus does. Not the building but the people. Not the structure or the organization but the mission, the fellowship--those with the self-sacrificing conformity to the shared vision of spreading the glory of Christ to the nations. The church is all of those that Paul made reference to in 1:18—all of the called out ones that have been redeemed and reconciled. All of us—warts and all. Jesus loves the Church, do you?

Let me bring you up to speed on where we have been in Colossians. The Colossians church is struggling with a group of heretics. These unbelievers are spreading a false doctrine through the church that seems to say, Jesus was great and wonderful, but if you really want to have spiritual life then do these things. Those that did not accept this heresy seem to have been getting discouraged. Paul writes to encourage them to press on and not give way to these damnable teachers. He begins by assuring the Colossians and letting them know how he prays for them. Then he lets them know what he prays for them, and this moves him into expounding on the glorious gospel. He prays that they may give thanks to the Father that has qualified them and delivered them; verses 15-23 are Paul explaining that. In verse 23 Paul urges them to remain steadfast and not shifting from the hope of the gospel. Then he qualifies what he means by gospel…that which has been proclaimed throughout all creation, and the gospel of which I, Paul, am a minister.
Paul is going to discuss his ministry with us tonight. That statement probably does not cause you to jump out of your seat for joy. Perhaps you are wondering what this has to do with you. There are two questions that this text (and maybe a couple others) will help us answer tonight. 1) Have you been given a stewardship? Or, to put that another way: Has God called you to be a minister? 2) Are you being faithful to God’s calling? We will try to answer the first question briefly and then give 3 qualities of a faithful minister to help you gauge whether you are being faithful to your calling.

When you think of the word “minister” you probably think of me, or Kevin, or another pastor. Most assume that ministry is reserved for those that went to college or seminary to become a minister. Most assume that ministry is what we pay the pastor to do. There is a sense in which certain men are called out to do special works of service. Look at Ephesians 4:11-12. It says that God does call out certain people to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. I am in that list. You may not be. Now, notice what our task is? Verse 12, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry…” What is the work of ministry? The word ministry simply means servant. It is your service to the body of Christ, the church. It is my responsibility to prepare you for that work. This is one place in Scripture that answers our question. If you are a saint (that means a holy one—one that is called out by God—someone that is reconciled and redeemed) then, yes, you are called to be a minister.

You can learn about what one thing that everyone is called to do. One spot you can see this is in Matthew 28:18-20. You can write that one down. Tonight we are going to look at 1 Peter 2:9. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (this is describing who God has made us to be through Christ)…and now the why…”so that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”. Does that sound familiar? We learned a few weeks ago that this is exactly what God has done in the life of believers…called us out of darkness and into his light. What then are we to do in response? What is our service? It is to proclaim his excellency to the nations.

On the wall in my office you can see a typed sheet of paper that says, “My mandate”. It reads: So live and so study and so serve and so preach and so write that Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen God, be the only boast of this generation. That is also your mandate. That is what it means to proclaim his excellencies to the nations. You can substitute some of your words. Perhaps God has not called you to write. Then you put the word administer medicine, or clean the house, or care for my child, or teach students, or play guitar, or crunch numbers, or practice law, or work at McDonalds, or plant turnips. Whatever it is that God calls you to do it is to be done to proclaim his excellency.

Now are you being faithful? There are 3 marks in this text of a faithful minister. Paul was a faithful minister. He ran the race. He finished the course. He stayed true to Jesus and His gospel. Certainly, Paul had his failures. He was human. But he was faithful. Are you faithful?

I. The faithful minister is called

If you are a Christian you are called. You can say like Paul, “the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship of God that was given to me for you.” The word there for stewardship means manager of a household. The idea is that God has given you something to manage (your calling—your ministry). You will be accountable to God with how faithful you have been to what He has called you to do. Sometimes it is difficult to discern that specifically. Let me give you four broad categories. I am convinced if you are passionate about fulfilling your duties in these four areas the specifics will work themselves out.

Called to proclaim

Notice at the end of verse 25 that Paul says he is called to “make the word of God fully known”.
This is one of those areas where your calling, and mine, is a little differently than Paul’s. There is something specific here about Paul’s calling. He was a woodcutter. He preached Christ in places where Jesus was never proclaimed. He had a unique ministry. But so do you. What you and I hold in common with Paul is that we are called to proclaim (in some shape and form) the word of God to people.

Notice all of things that Paul does not mention in this text. It does not say that he is called to build large churches. It does not say that he is called to put together a budget for the churches. It does not say that he is called to be in charge of the churches. There are tons of secondary things that a minister is called to. But the ultimate thing that a minister is called to do is be faithful to proclaiming God’s Word which reveals Christ. That is why our services on Wednesday night are centered upon Christ and His Word. This is what I am called to do. And in a different way this is what you also are called to do.

Do you see what this would mean for your life? Do you see that this means that you and I are not allowed to simply check in to work, do our job, and check out? We are not called to merely go home, eat supper, watch TV, and fall asleep. This is not what your life is about. Your life is about proclaiming the word of God to people. Making God known to others. Those that do not know God, and sharing in unfolding the excellencies of Jesus with other believers. Your life ought to be centered around the word of God. Is it? Are you being faithful in this? How can you faithful administer God’s Word to others if you do not know it and cherish it yourself?

Called to unveil

Do you realize the daunting task of Paul in this text? It is to make the word of God fully known. How in the world do you do that? And then Paul uses all these big terms like “mystery hidden for ages and now revealed to us”. And he speaks of the “riches of the glory of this mystery.” Do you realize how jam-packed that statement is? It’s as if Paul is saying that his task is to explain to everyone possible (difficult) how beautiful Jesus is (impossible). I am called to tell people about the greatest treasure this world has ever known; in fact this treasure is infinite in value and worth and beauty. How can you possible be expected to do that? And this is why I love Paul. He is both simple and complicated at the same time…which is in itself complicated.

Paul sums up his preaching and ministry beautifully in 1 Corinthians 2: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”. That’s it. That is what Paul spent his entire life unveiling. This is the great mystery that was hidden for the ages that Paul speaks about here; the fullness of the gospel.

The great and majestic God that is the firstborn of all creation--the one that everything was made by, through, and for—this God, has became a man and he was crucified. But his death was not meaningless. His death was to make peace between God and His Bride, the church. As Paul has already said in Colossians, he has qualified you, he has transferred you from darkness to light, he has redeemed you, he has forgiven us our sins, he has reconciled us, and he will present us holy and blameless in his sight if we persevere. All of this is great and glorious, and now Paul extends it to the heart of our Christian life—Christ in you, the hope of glory!

The hope of glory (that means the hope of heaven) is Jesus Christ. The object of heaven’s worship is Jesus the Christ. In all of his majesty and splendor and radiance and holiness and beauty and greatness and transcendence and love and justice and mercy and grace and joy, all of who he is as the hope of glory; greatest treasure ever…God Himself…catch this…”in you”. This friends is the gospel and it is what Paul gave his life to unfold, and it is what Paul along with us will spend eternity unwrapping and relishing in. That this very God is so glorious and is so filled with love that He became a man, gave His life for rebel sinners, and his union with us is so personal and so scandalously intimate that we can say Jesus lives in my heart.

That is what you are called to unveil. The gospel. In all its brutality. Even though it borders on unbelievable, this gospel, unhindered, unadulterated, is what you are to proclaim; a bloody Cross, a bloody Savior, and a royal King that has risen from the grave. The minister is called to preach Christ, nothing more, nothing less. Is your life about unveiling the beauty of Christ? Are you unwrapping and relishing in the glory of Christ yourself? If not, how can you proclaim it to others?

Called to warn

Notice how Paul preaches Christ. He warns everyone and teaches them with all wisdom. Just in case you thought this was a nice cushy little mission, Paul throws in a bold and passionate word, “warn”. Why is a warning necessary? This word has “the connotation of confronting with the intent of changing one’s attitudes and actions”.[1]

You do not warn somebody and confront somebody unless there is a perceived danger. You are not passionate about changing someone’s attitude and actions unless you perceive their attitude and actions as detrimental to their soul. (At least you should not). The reason the gospel minister warns people is because to not embrace and treasure this gospel is damnable. That is why Paul is warning the Colossians. That is why he is teaching them the truth of the Gospel. That is why he is willing to be in prison as he is writing this letter. It is an urgent message and to reject Christ is to forsake your own life and spend an eternity separated from all that is good.

Just as a side note, this is why sometimes I may seem overly serious. This is why a minister ought to be grave in his preaching, or as one put it, preach with a blood-earnestness. This message is very important. To heed it is life. To reject it is death. Do you take the gospel seriously? Are you passionate about warning and teaching? Not simply warning, but also teaching? How can you teach if you do not heed the warnings yourself? Are you faithful?

Called to lead in holiness

Lastly, the minister is called to lead in holiness. Notice that the goal for Paul is to present everyone mature in Christ. What is in view is the final day when we stand before God. Ultimately we know that we will be presented clean and holy and blameless and pure before God if we remain faithful to Christ and His gospel. We discovered this two weeks ago.

Simply put a minister is not truly being faithful to his calling unless he is leading people towards holiness. You too must be holy. How can you lead others towards holiness if you yourself are marred with sin? Leading others to holiness is again leading them to Christ. Yet, let us not think this is passive. You must pursue holiness. Is your goal for other people that they might be holy? Are you concerned with making certain that your brothers and sisters in Christ are growing in holiness and love for Jesus? Are you concerned with being holy?

These are four broad categories to let you know if you are being faithful to your calling. There is another aspect to a faithful minister, to which we now turn.
II. The faithful minister is crucified

Turn back now to verse 24. This is a really difficult text. It is actually quite shocking. If you read it with any understanding you will shout out a, “what the heck”. First, notice the first part of the verse. Paul is saying that he is rejoicing in his sufferings. He is in prison as he is writing to the Colossians. And he is doing it with joy. Unfortunately we are not going to camp out on that point.

Now look at the second part of this verse. Paul is saying that somehow through his imprisonment (and probably overall suffering in ministry) that he is filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of the church. What in the world does that mean? What is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? And how does Paul “fill it up”? It sounds like Paul is saying that his suffering is adding to Jesus’ suffering, and this is what he is actually saying.

There are a few different ways that we could interpret this. One we could say that Jesus’ suffering on the Cross was not enough to save every single person and Paul’s suffering is helping with that. That is obviously not the case. Paul has labored to show that this is precisely not the gospel—this sounds more like the false teachers view instead of Paul’s. Another interpretation would be that there is a total amount of suffering that Christians are predetermined to suffer. Christ is in that line. Paul is in that line. Imagine a bucket. It has a set amount of suffering that must fill it. Christ suffering added to the bucket. So does Paul’s. Another interpretation is similar. It says that Paul is simply saying that his suffering corresponds with Christ’s suffering. So that when Paul suffers Jesus suffers. Jesus suffered so Paul will suffer. If Christ really is “in you” then what happens to you happens to Jesus. Both of these views are possible, but not likely in the context. There are a couple of others but we will not dig into them. If you are really curious I will provide some more information afterwards.

I spent a fair amount of time looking over these various options and weighing them. The one I have settled on is John Piper’s view. I had to be cautious with this, though, because I have so much respect for Piper I did not want to be biased towards his view. So, I asked Pastor Kevin how he interpreted the verse. He had no concept of Piper’s view and he said pretty much the same thing. This helped me to have more confidence. In a quick way this is how Piper explained it:

Christ has prepared a love offering for the world by suffering and dying for sinners. It is full and lacking in nothing—except one thing, a personal presentation by Christ himself to the nations of the world and the people of your workplace. God's answer to this lack is to call the people of Christ (people like Paul) to present the afflictions of Christ to the world… In doing this we "fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ." We finish what they were designed for, namely, a personal presentation to the world of people who do not know about their infinite worth. But notice how Paul says this in verse 24: He says that it is in his sufferings and in his flesh—that is, his actual, suffering body that he does his share in filling up the afflictions of Christ. So Paul sees a very close connection between his sufferings and Christ's afflictions. What this means, I think, is that God intends for the afflictions of Christ to be presented to the world through the afflictions of his people. God really means for the body of Christ, the church, to experience some of the suffering he experienced so that when we offer the Christ of the cross to people, they see the Christ of the cross in us. We are to make the afflictions of Christ real for people by the afflictions we experience in offering him to them, and living the life of love he lived.

At the end of the sermon in which that quote is found John Piper tells three stories of people suffering for Jesus’ sake. I want to tell you of a Masai warrior named Joseph. TELL THE STORY OF JOSEPH.

We know very little of this in our culture. We do not have to suffer for the gospel. Some of this is God’s blessing to us. And, sadly, some of this is because of our unfaithfulness. Are you willing to suffer for the cause of Christ? Are you willing to suffer for the Church?

It may not mean what it does for Joseph. It may not mean whips and scars. It might mean loneliness. It might mean poverty. It might mean sacrificing time and feeble desires. I very seriously doubt that we will be willing to die for Christ if we are not willing to live for him. If Christ holds no dearer place in your heart than a person, a computer screen, a controller, a relationship, etc. then we know nothing of what Joseph knew. If we are to know Christ deeply and if we are to proclaim him deeply, then we must suffer deeply.

III. The faithful minister is carried

Ministry is tough. It is tough for me and this is what I do all day. I can only imagine how hard it is to carry on your ministry without having 40 hours a week to spend in prayer and bible study. Your ministry and my ministry are tough to carry out. I have only skimmed the surface of what it means to suffer for Christ. All I know is that I am not being as faithful as I ought to be. I would venture to say that I am not the only one. Brothers and sisters I need to repent. God has been dealing with me on this for awhile now. This text confirmed it in my heart. Kevin’s sermon really spoke to me last week. I need to take the gospel far more serious than I do now. I need to love the Church like Paul did. I need to be more faithful in my calling. I repent.

This last point is encouragement to those of you like me that need to repent of not being faithful in your ministry. In verse 29 Paul says, “For this I toil (the “this” of course being everything we have talked about), struggling with all the energy that he powerfully works within me”.

The first part of this shows that Paul knew from experience what we often experience—this is tough and we really mess up at it. Notice the word “toil” and “struggle”. Those are not easy words. They are not fluffy. Struggling may not even be a strong enough word. The Greek word is agonizomai. It is where we get our word agony. That means that ministry causes tears. It causes strain. It causes sweat. We fall. We need times of repentance. It breaks our heart. Ministry makes men like Joseph. Yet, we are not left alone. It is not like this is God saying, here is your job go do it. Notice the end of verse 29.

The struggle and the toil is with the energy of Christ that he powerfully works in us. This means that Paul gets after it and gives everything that he has. He agonizes in ministry. But all the while he knows that his agonizing is done by the power of God working in Him. I do not fully understand all of the intricacies of what is taking place here. But I do know that often we either exalt man’s struggling at the expense of God’s power, or exalt God’s power in such a way that it cripples man’s toiling. Paul believes in both. As Sam Storms points out, “The presence of God's power does not preclude Paul's personal struggle or energetic striving or laboring. Rather, it makes it possible. God's power is not designed to eliminate our responsibility to work hard but to enable us to fulfill it. Paul is able to work hard because God is working hard. The latter doesn't destroy or undermine the former.”

So, brothers and sisters tonight I exhort you to labor faithfully in the ministry that God has called you to. Be faithful in proclaiming, unveiling, warning, and leading in holiness. Be faithful in the midst of hardship. Faithfully minister, as one that is crucified with Christ, and one that has lost his life for the sake of knowing Jesus. And do so not in your own strength as if you are bringing something to Jesus—but do so with the strength and the power of Christ so that He and not your receives all the glory for your toil.

[1] Melick, 242

Must I Endure?

Must I Endure?
Colossians 1:21-23
How to Heed a Warning

Scripture Introduction:

Tonight we will be looking at Colossians 1:21-23. As you are turning there I want you to fast forward in your minds 5 years from now. Almost all of you will be graduated from high school. Now, let me ask you a question. If the picture of you five years from now is that you have completely abandoned the faith, what are we to think? If you do not continue in the faith but reject Christ until the day of your death, will you be saved?

Read Colossians 1:21-23

Sermon Introduction:

As we study the Scriptures this evening we will have an answer to the question we asked a few moments ago: If you do not continue in the faith but reject Christ until the day of your death, will you be saved? As you might expect this is a very debatable topic.

The question: What does Paul mean in verse 23 when he says, “If indeed you…” Is our hope of seeing God resting on conditional promises? There are at least four answers to that question which we will look at.

Loss of salvation view

An adherent of the loss of salvation view would take Paul’s warning here as absolutely legit and completely literal. Paul means what he says. If you continue in the faith then you will be ultimately saved and all of these promises are yours. If you do not continue in the faith then you will have lost your salvation. This is no mere hypothetical situation either says the loss of salvation guy; look at 1 Timothy 1:19 and 2 Timothy 4:10. Here are examples of people who have made shipwreck of their faith. They have lost their salvation.

It seems that the situation in Colossae is very close to the situation facing the believers that Peter wrote to in 2 Peter when he says, “but false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction”. The phrase” Master who bought them” seems to be referring to a believer that has been reconciled. The swift destruction would be referring to hell. Sounds like loss of salvation to me.

Paul is even more specific in Galatians 5:4 when he says to some in the church of Galatia that they have “fallen away from grace”. Sounds like a loss of salvation. These are only a few examples among a whole host of warnings and a few actual examples of people falling away. Why then should we try to play games with the text and switch it to mean something else? Paul is serious, if you do not endure to the end you will not see God, we cannot be certain that any believer will endure to the end; therefore we ought to be careful to heed this warning.

Loss of reward view

Now wait a second says the loss of reward guy. How then do you explain John 6:37-44 and 10:28-30? Listen to these words of Jesus:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.”

If Jesus says no one can snatch me out of the Father’s hand then I believe Him. If Jesus says that he must present those who are his to His Father and not lose any then I believe Him. Therefore, we ought to heed the wards of Jesus. Paul must mean something different here in Colossians 1:23. To say that one must do good works to enter into heaven, or one must persevere until the end to obtain eternal life, is contrary to the message of grace which permeates the whole New Testament. If salvation is truly by grace through faith, then works can play no role in the outcome.[1]

The presentation in view in verse 22 is not speaking of our ultimate judgment; it is speaking of the believer standing before Jesus in what is known as the Bema Judgment. What is at stake is not salvation and entrance into the Kingdom. What Paul is saying in this text is that if the believer continues in the faith then he will hear a well done good and faithful servant from Jesus. If he does not continue then he will be stripped of his rewards but will not forfeit entrance into the Kingdom because that, as we have seen from the above verses is not possible; once you are saved you are always saved.

Test of genuineness view

Now wait a second I have something to say here as well. I agree with the last guy that we ought to heed what Jesus says in John, as well as what Paul says in Philippians and Romans. All those whom God has predestined will be glorified. All those who are Jesus’ sheep will not be snatched out of his hand. They will endure to the end. But I also agree with the first guy that if you do not persevere to the end you will not be saved.

Take a look at 1 John 2:19. The reason why these people did not remain in the fellowship is because they were never genuinely saved in the first place. And so it is every time in Scripture that we see someone “fall away”. All true believers will be empowered by God and endure to the end and thus be saved, if someone appears to fall away it is because they were not saved in the first place. To say that someone can be saved and not persevere is to do injustice the text and Colossians 1:23 is one place you are doing an injustice. How do I understand Colossians 1:23? Listen to what Lewis Johnson says, “But what about the “if”? we hear someone say. Is not the whole program in jeopardy? Does it not all depend upon us ultimately? Suppose our faith fails? Now, we must not dodge the “ifs”’ of the Word. They are tests for professors. If faith fails, that is the evidence that the faith was not valid saving faith (cf. 1 Jn. 2:19). On the other hand, the genuine believer will persevere in faith, not by human strength, but by divine strengthening. . . .[2]

Means of salvation view

I agree with the third guy except on one minor point. I agree with you that all those who are elect will persevere to the end. Those who are genuinely saved will persevere to the end, they will produce good works and they will continue in the faith. Those who do not show evidence that they were not truly saved. However, I think you are not giving the full weight to what Paul means in Colossians 1:23.

The error that you make is assuming that Colossians 1:21-23 should be understood retrospectively. What I mean by that is that you are assuming that Colossians is something we look back upon after we have already endured or fallen away. If you endure then you look back at Colossians and say, “see my faith was genuine”, or you look back after falling away and say, “well I guess it must have been gas”. The truth of the matter though, is that Colossians 1:21-23 is prospective. Paul is not saying this looking backwards, he is looking forward. It does not say, “Your perseverance reveals that you are really part of the people of God.” It merely says, “If you remain in the faith, you will be presented before God’s presence blameless.” By switching the text, you fail to communicate the function of the warning, for Paul does not summon us to look back and see if we are genuinely Christians. He calls us to remain faithful to Christ in the future and threatens us with eternal destruction if we do not remain in the faith. Contrary to the tests of genuineness view, I believe Paul means exactly what he says: “If we fall away from Christ, we will face eternal destruction.” That message should be preached from our pulpits, taught in our seminaries and colleges, and reflected upon in private devotions.

So then how ought we as believers receive these warning passages? In our journey in the Christian life we receive them just for what they say. When we read the warnings in Hebrews, 1 John, Revelation 2-3, etc., we take seriously the threat that if we do not endure, we will be eternally damned. The warnings remind us that falling away from the living God has eternal consequences. They shout out to us “Danger!” They are akin to a sign on the road which says, “Go no further. Steep cliff ahead.” Any driver who wants to preserve his life takes heed to the warning and turns around. Similarly, the warnings and admonitions in scripture call out to us, “Danger! Do not fall away from the living God. If you deny him, he will deny you.” It is precisely by taking the warnings seriously that we avoid eternal destruction. The label “Poison!” on a nottle seizes our attention and awakens us to the peril which awaits us if we swallow its contents. Thereby we take special care when handling such a container and do not put it in the same cupboard with soft drinks. The warnings in the scriptures are also intended to arouse us from lethargy and propel us onward in the pathway of faith. They provoke a healthy fear(Heb 4:1!), so that we are not casual and relaxed about entering the heavenly rest. Of course, this fear is not the same thing as the paralyzing fear which suppresses all activity (1 Jn 4:18). It is the same kind of fear which causes us to put on our seat belts when we drive and which causes us to place railings where a fall would be deadly. Fear in these instances does not paralyze us but actually contributes to our confidence when driving or climbing. Similarly, hearing and obeying the warnings in scriptures does not sap us of confidence and assurance. It is the pathway for full assurance in the faith.[3]

Those are four of the possible interpretations. We could look at a couple others but those are not as popular or as plausible. Our conclusion is that both 3 and 4 are correct at different times. Sometimes it is retrospective (determining if profession is legitimate) and sometimes it is prospective (potential, likely, expected—an actual if). Here in Colossians 1:23 I believe number 4 is correct. This is not as much a test of genuineness view as it is a means of salvation. Now certainly all those who do persevere will show their genuineness but I think we ought to heed this verse as it says. Unless you endure, you will not see God.

So what does this truth mean for your life? How do you apply such a text, which says, “Unless you endure, you will not see God”? The first one is obvious but I think overlooked in Christian circles. Believers and unbelievers alike ought to heed this text: unless you endure, you will not see God.

Heed the conditional clause

Some people will hear the glorious truths of the gospel, those that have been spelled out in Colossians 1 and will assume that it gives them a license to live as they want. The logic will go: Since Jesus has delivered me, since I am redeemed, since all of my sins are forgiven, since I am reconciled, and since he will present me holy and blameless and above reproach then it really does not matter how much I sin this side of glory. My sin does not matter, therefore I can live as I want and know that Jesus will forgive me in the end.

There are many people that see so little of the beauty of Christ in salvation that the gospel sounds like a license to go on sinning. All my sins have been atoned for, I am clean, I am forgiven, and therefore the gospel has no bearing on my life now. The gospel was something that I took care of a long time ago. A few years ago I prayed to receive Jesus. I’ve checked that off my list. I have settled with Jesus. Therefore, things like holiness and continuing in the gospel really do not matter, remember the Bible teaches once saved always saved.

For such a theology Colossians 1:23 cries out IF, If you endure. If you endure in the faith then you can apply the promises of God. If you endure then you can claim to be truly forgiven and truly clean. Heed the truth of this text and throw off the sin that entangles you and fight the fight of faith. Fight to continue in the faith. Do not get arrogant and conceited and figure, “oh, I would never fall”. No, look at all of the poisonous bottles around you and cling to dear life for Jesus. If you have been trusting more in the promises of assurance than trusting in Jesus then you really ought to repent. “If all you can see in the cross of Jesus is a license to go on sinning, you do not have saving faith. And you need to fall on your face and plead that God would open your eyes to see the compelling glory of Jesus Christ.”[4]

Your only hope of enduring is the gospel

Now some people will take what I have just said and get all confused. You will divorce this call to endure from the power and the promises of God. Do not do that. That is not the way you heed the warnings. You heed the warnings by running away from their danger and falling into the arms of Jesus. What does that look like practically? I want to give you four recommendations that come from this text; some directly and some indirectly.

Fight with the confidence of God’s sovereignty

There is a very good reason why I reject the loss of salvation view; it is contrary to the Scriptures and contrary to what God has done in salvation. If salvation is something that we do and something that we choose then I would very quickly change my view to a loss of salvation. Their logic is really good. Since I chose Jesus I can also unchoose Jesus. If God was a gentleman and would not infringe upon my free will then ought we not also to rightly assume he will not do that after we are saved? If we want to turn away from Jesus then certainly he would not force us to remain believers; this would be denying our free will.

Those that believe this often have really good intentions. They want to preserve holiness. They do not want to give people a license to sin. They also want to preserve the love of God and the freedom of mankind. They want to keep all sorts of distance from God and the causes of evil. Their intentions are often good, but their theology is, as I have seen, not biblical.

Look at who took the initiative in Colossians. Look at our part in this salvation process. All I see here in this text is that we had sin. We were alienated, we were hostile to God. We were in the domain of darkness. And look what God has done, he has delivered us, he has redeemed us, he has reconciled us. Look at the contrast between verse 21 and verse 22. You=alienated. God=reconciled. This same thing is seen in Ephesians 2. You=dead. God=made alive. This is why Paul can assert so confidently in Philippians 1:6 that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Listen to the solid logic of John 6:39-40. “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Notice what Jesus is saying here, God’s will for him is that he might not lose anything that has been given to Jesus. He gets even more specific in verse 40, everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him; these are those that the Father has given me. I will lose none of them. And then listen to verse 44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day”. Who are those that will look to the Son? Those the Father draws. Those the Father draws the Son will keep. If any lose their salvation then Jesus Christ is not faithful to his calling. He has disobeyed the will of God. He is not faithful to God and he is no longer a faithful advocate. But take heart Jesus is faithful! He will not lose any of us. What God has started God will finish. You can rest assured in the promise of God that no one can snatch us out of His hand, and nothing can separate you from the love of God. How do you heed the warnings? The first way is to fight with the confidence of God’s sovereignty. It is God who works in us, it is God who will change us, it is God who will plead our cause, it is God who will bring about our righteousness, Remind yourself of what Micah the prophet said, “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise…” Trust that the Lord who saved you will plead your cause; which leads to our second way to heed the warnings.

Believe the gospel enough to “sin boldly” and have “gutsy guilt”

Perhaps you remember our sermon on Micah. In it we encouraged you to “sin boldly”. Those are words used by Martin Luther. We also used John Piper’s phrase of “gutsy guilt” and “bold brokenness”. Part of remaining stable and steadfast is remembering where God has brought you from. It is remembering that you are but dust. It is reminding ourselves of what Charles Spurgeon said, “If our sin is small then we have a small Savior, but if our sin is great [and it is] then we have a great Savior”.

Instead of hiding and pretending like we do not have sin we acknowledge sin. It’s living like Luther:

“If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly,  but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness,  but, as Peter says,  we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.  No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small? Pray boldly—you too are a mighty sinner.”[5]

Sinning boldly is acknowledging with great boldness that you are a sinner. And then it is taking that sin boldly to the Cross. It is not trying to atone for your own sin but giving it to Jesus. Which leads to our third way to heed the warning:

Preach the Gospel to yourself daily

Remind yourself of these great truths every day. You need the gospel daily. Do not live on day outside of the realm of the gospel. This is what Paul is trying to get the Colossians to see. Notice the shocking statement he makes at the end of verse 23. “Not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” He is urging them to remain steadfast to THE GOSPEL. This same gospel that has been preached through all creation (no certainly Paul does not mean the gospel has penetrated every place on the planet) is the same gospel that is your hope. There is no other gospel. There is no other hope. THIS is THE gospel: God has created you, God has told you which way to live, we have rebelled—we are sinners with wicked hearts that do not and will not love God, God requires absolute righteousness we have none. Because of His great love God the Father sent His Son Jesus Christ to redeem those fallen sinners that would one day become His sheep. By his death on the Cross he has taken our guilt and gave us His righteousness. So that in our place He stood condemned and he has given us what God requires—absolute righteousness. Those who respond to this gospel in repentance and belief receive all the promises of the gospel.

It will take an eternity for us to fully understand and rejoice in the gospel and its Savior. Do it each day. Remind yourself of each component of this gospel. God. Man. Christ. Response. Everyday. There is no other gospel. There is no other answer to your questions. It all comes back to the gospel. It really is that simple. Which leads to our last way of heeding the warning:

If it is not gospel do not go down that path

Look at verse 22 and then we will close. Notice what we will be. Notice why he reconciled us: “In order that” (that points to the reason for our reconciliation) now what is that reason? Holy, blameless, and above reproach. That is your gospel destination. To be holy, blameless, and above reproach. This means purity. This means a lack of sin. This means no condemnation. This means being clean before God and free from a heart that desires less than Him. But it also means that our desires will be what they ought. To truly be holy means that you will love what you ought to love. To truly be like Jesus means to love God with all of your being. That is our destination. That is where we are going. Therefore, if anything is contrary to this then do not go down that path. You know it is not what God intends for you. If it is not holy then do not do it. If it does not look like Jesus then do not go down that path. Pursue Jesus Christ and him alone.

Oh, may we constantly trust in the promises of God and heed the warnings. And may we do so in the power and grace of Jesus Christ.

[1] Schreiner, 34-35
[2] Schreiner, 37 quoting Lewis Johnson
[3] Schreiner
[4] Piper, Dealing with the guilt of sexual failure

Jesus, Lord of Reconciliation

Jesus, The Lord of Reconciliation
Colossians 1:18-20
Be Reconciled

Scripture Introduction:

Tonight we will continue in our study of Colossians. We will be reading chapter 1 verses 15-23, and focusing on verses 18-20. Do you ever notice how sometimes passages of Scripture leave out really big things? Tonight in our text there is a really big skip in one section. Paul is assuming something, try to listen closely and see if you can find it. Remember the context. Paul is just finished praying for the Colossians and reminding them of the mighty work of God in saving them and transferring them into the kingdom of His beloved Son. Then, as we noticed last week he talks about this beloved Son as the Lord of all creation. That is where it starts in verse 15, now as we read Colossians 1:15-23 see if you can pick up the big skip, as we will call it.

Read Colossians 1:15-23

Sermon Introduction:

If Colossians 1:15-17 were the only verse then what would we assume about the world? I, personally, would assume that God is in charge, so everything must be neat, orderly, and appropriately worshipping and obeying the Creator. Last week we discussed that all things were created by, through, and for Jesus. We could assume then that everything rightly surrenders to its Creator. Our experience and verse 18-20, however, will not allow that.

At first mention of the word “church” we know that something is different. The word church means, “called out ones”. Called out of what exactly? This shift is even more drastic in verse 20 when Paul uses the word reconciled. Reconciliation assumes something. It assumes that someone or both parties are estranged from one another. Somebody is ticked off and not talking to the other person. There is a breach between two people. There is a chasm that separates them. Something is messed up. Reconciliation is fixing the screw up. It is bridging the gap. We are left to wonder, though, what caused the gap? Why is there a need to be reconciled?

By the way, this question is not a mere philosophizing question that has no point in the “real world”. This truth touches you every day. Why do we have such difficulties in our relationships? Why can people not just be nice? Why is it that every time I try to pet a squirrel it runs? Why would my face get gnawed off if I tried to cuddle a badger? Why do I sometimes have a nagging feeling in my heart that not everything is okay? My guess is that, unless you have successfully seared your conscience, you know what has happened between verses 17 and 18. And I would also guess that you have a disturbing suspicion that it the problem lies somewhere in the mirror. If that is your suspicion it is confirmed in Scripture. We need to be reconciled, everything is not alright, and the problem does not lie in the Creator, the problem is with the creation.

Why a need for reconciliation?

One verse down confirms this truth; we are the problem. Scripture declares, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds…” This is the problem; this is why we need reconciliation. As we learned last week, God has created us. God has created us for His glory. As our Creator we are accountable to Him. Whatever He says goes. He has given us the way of life. Love Him perfectly and love others completely. We have rebelled. By rebelling, and we see this in the first man created, all of creation is thrown into turmoil, we have become “alienated and hostile”.

Rewind with me to the beginning of time as we know it. Genesis 1:31 is a very happy verse, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Now fast forward about a thousand years to Genesis 6. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart”. Can you fathom that verse? God is well pleased with his creation. Then 1,000 years later it seems as if he wishes he had never made it. What happened in between? Our answer is in chapter 3.

Adam and Eve are still in the beautiful Garden of Eden. God opens up all of the garden to them, he encourages them to eat of any fruit in the garden…except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Do not eat that one; if you do surely you will die. We know the story from there. Eve gets duped by the serpent. Adam does not man up and eats the forbidden fruit. They both rebelled from their Creator. They cherished the forbidden creation more than the available Creator. Does not our heart today still reflect this? Is it not still true that we desire the forbidden fruit over that which is available? We would rather go after the mysterious and forbidden than obey what is gloriously revealed.

We also know the result of that fateful moment. You can read Genesis 3 to see the punishment. But it’s really not all that necessary. Just look around you. Stuff is obviously messed up. Relationships are broken. Marriages fail. People are unfaithful. Work is difficult. Life is tough. Things are not fair. Attend a funeral and open up your eyes to see its reality…that is the reality of Genesis 3. What you experience every day is what the Scriptures declare, once Adam went after the forbidden fruit instead of the glorious God, everything in creation was turned on its head.

People would now fight each other. Death would happen. You could no longer ride a deer. Instead of ground that would easily produce food, you have to sweat and toil and labor. Your job is no longer fruitful and fun. It is toil. You do not much care for work. Trees do not sway quite as they ought. Tornadoes happen. Hurricanes happen. Calamity, calamity, calamity. Listen to how the Scripture says it in Romans 8:20-22, “For the creation was subjected to futility (that means emptiness), not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” It is obvious all of creation needs to be reconciled. Including you.

What type of reconciled?

It appears that this is precisely what has happened on the cross. All things have been reconciled.
This is what verse 20 says. The way this verse sounds, however, poses a small problem. Can anyone see it yet? First of all, it does not seem to match our experience. Things are still jacked up. So, maybe this reconciliation is future. There is a sense in which that is true. It will probably have a more fully expression in the future. The text though seems to be pointing to reconciliation as something that has been achieved, and achieved historically on the cross.

The second problem deals with our Christian theology. Verse 19 says much of what we talked about last time. The fullness of God is dwelling (permanently resides in) this beloved Son. In other words Jesus is God. And (God was pleased) through him (Jesus) to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven...Let’s stop there for a second. What does it mean to be reconciled? It means that things are set right. Does it not? And what exactly is going to be reconciled? Everything. That sounds as if everything is going to be made right, in the sense that everybody is going to be saved, even Satan. But that clearly cannot be the case. Jesus himself said that not everyone would be saved. Just look at Matthew 7. The closing book of the Bible, speaks of people that will be thrown into the lake of fire. Clearly they will not be “saved” or reconciled in that sense. So what then does this verse mean?

There are quite a few explanations for this, of which I will give you two. The first explanation is that if you look in verse 15-17 you see a universal scope; it is talking about every single solitary person (all of creation) that has ever been created falls under this category—they were created by, through and for Jesus Christ. Then, we notice a change in thought in verse 18. Paul starts talking about the church. The scope here is limited. The “all things” in verse 20 are things that deal with the church. All those that are Christians and all of the elect angels will be rightly reconciled to God. This could very well be the correct interpretation. I do not think it quite seems to fit with the context and it seems to neuter what Paul is saying in verse 19-20 a little much. But I could be wrong and this could be the correct interpretation.

The first option says that we do not rightly understand “all things”. We have to modify, based on the context, what we mean by “all things”. The second option, and the one I believe to be correct, says that we are not rightly thinking about the word reconciliation. Based on the context we ought to modify what verse 20 means by reconciliation.

Reconciliation at its most basic level simply means restoring something that is broken. We typically think of it in regards to relationships. But we know that the “all things” in this text will not be brought into a right relationship with God. Colossians 2:15 says that the spirits (those spoken of here and in verse 16) will be subdued, that means brought into subjection. They do not voluntarily bow to Jesus but they are brought to submission by his work on the cross. We see this also extended to humanity. As one commentator puts it:

“Thus reconciliation may be effected by voluntary submission to Jesus, which brings the blessings of salvation, or by involuntary submission, being conquered by the power of his might. Reconciliation must be defined…as all things being put into proper relation to Christ….In the end, everyone and everything will be reconciled in this sense. Everyone and everything will be subordinated to Christ.”[1]

This I believe is confirmed by verse 21, where it seems to speak of a different type of reconciliation that happens “now”, but awaits a more full expression in the future. And it is also very close to what Philippians 2 (among other places in Scripture) affirm about all things being brought into subordination to Christ. “Therefore God has highly exalted him (Jesus) and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

What does that mean? It means that someday every person is going to acknowledge the rightful Lordship of Jesus Christ. We can speak of reconciliation as a present reality, because the Lordship of Jesus was fully established on the cross, and we can speak of it as future reality because every person will bow a knee on that day; not only every person in here but also every spirit. Every demonic force will bow. Even Satan himself will bow before Jesus Christ and confess Him as the Lord. And God the Father will be clapping in applause every second.

Some will bow willingly, others will be bow begrudgingly only minutes before being thrown into the lake of fire, to suffer eternal torment. This includes Satan, and this includes everyone whose name is not found in the Lamb’s book of life; those that does not willingly bow their knee to Jesus prior to that great day. Therefore you are urged today, to voluntarily submit to the Lordship of Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:18-20 further confirms this. “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

I am not sure if we really understand what it is that God has done and what he is offering to us. Every analogy that we could give would falter at some point. I could speak of one of you abusing and then murdering my son and years later I seek reconciliation with you. But that falls on a couple of accounts. One I am not without guilt myself. Two I did not create you, and you are not accountable to me. Three, I lack the capacity to truly be reconciled. There is no analogy which can accurately paint a picture of the infinite distance between us and God apart from His act of reconciling. And there is no story which can beautifully enough convey to you the unrelenting love of God to reconcile completely rebel sinners.

I have sinned against God. Even if we sum up the Law as Jesus did, to love God perfectly and love others completely it is obvious how messed up I have been. I have rebelled. I deserve hell. Really, I deserve hell. My heart even beating this second is an act of grace. Before I came to Christ God would have been perfectly just to have killed me and sent me to hell forever. I have been a rebel, this is true.

The problem is much more severe than just “my sins” separate me from God. It is not just that. Before Christ I separated me from God. As we read earlier every intention of my heart was wicked. It was not like I could just say I am sorry, I will try to do better. I want to become a better person. I will try harder, please just forgive me when I mess up. That is not the case; even if I wanted to “try to do better”, I would not succeed. I may try for awhile, but sooner or later it is back to my old way of living. The problem is that without Christ its not just that I sin it is that I am a sinner. What I mean is simply this we are not necessarily sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. The problem is that unless something happens to my heart I will remain in a state of enmity towards God.

But do you realize what God has done. He has taken the initiative. We will look more at this next week, but notice what verse 21 says. What is our problem? We are alienated from God and we are hostile in mind. Our hearts and our minds are at enmity with God. But what did he do, “he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”

We were sentenced to death and God had every right to condemn us and throw us into hell. Our sin and our rebellious hearts stood opposed to Him. But out of his love he made a way of peace. Look again at that passage in 2 Corinthians. Now notice verse 21. Apart from Jesus Christ we have two big problems: The sentence of our sin and the truth that we must be fully righteous. Look what Jesus has done in verse 21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”. What does that mean? It means that Jesus took care of both problems. He has taken care of our sin. He was punished where I should have been punished. In my place He stood condemned. And he has also taken care of our second problem. In Him we are righteous. God credits to our account the righteousness of Jesus, the one who knew no sin. I am forgiven because he was forsaken. I am accepted He was condemned. .

That is why Paul implores us in verse 20 to be reconciled to God. It means this: sign the peace treaty. God has signed his name to it. He has made the way. Now you sign it. Sign the peace treaty. Acknowledge your sinfulness, trust in His mercy, and live now as a right son or daughter instead of a rebel. Believe the gospel. That is what it takes to be reconciled.

What does it mean to be wholly reconciled?

We have kind of taken this passage backwards. We have camped out on verse 20 and skipped over verse 18-19. These, in a sense, point us to what it means to be reconciled. Paul is talking about the same thing that he mentioned in verse 13-14. We have been transferred into his kingdom and we have been redeemed. He is now opening up for us more of who this beloved Son is. Who is your King?

First of all we have seen that our King is the Lord of Creation. Tonight we see that our King is also the Lord of Reconciliation. He is the “head of the body, the church”. We can spend a ton of time speaking about the implications of this. If he is the head then that means that Jesus is in charge of the church, not the pastor, not the deacons, and not even the democratic vote, or if you are catholic it’s not the Pope. If he is the head then that means that he is the source. If that Jesus is the source it means that the church is his idea, not the idea of man. It also means that he is the creator of the church. And sense the church is made up of individuals this probably has something to say about the sovereignty of God in our salvation. This also has a vertical impact. It means that we are the body. It means that we ought to be united. Other places in Scripture discuss this. It also means that we ought to be connected to the body. Jesus being the head means that he is the organic head (meaning he causes it to grow) and he is the ruling head (meaning he tells it what to do). If you are not connected to the body then you are not rightly under submission to Christ nor are you going to grow as effectively. This is why church is important. By church I mean far more than meeting on Sunday and Wednesdays. The church is people not a building. It’s not a place you go, it’s a thing that you are. Those are only a few of the implications that we cannot much drive home, but only mention them in passing to spur some thought for later.

The key thing I want you to catch at this time is that if Christ is the head and we are the body then what does that mean about our unity with God? I do not want to stretch this too far and fall into a heresy that says that we are, or will become “little gods”. That is far from what the text is asserting. The text is saying that Jesus is in charge of the physical creation and the new creation. But part of what that new creation entails is that we, the body, will become like the head. As verse 22 says we will become holy and blameless and above reproach. That is really good news for those of us that continue to screw up and are burdened by our sin. Some day the body is going to look like the head wants it to.

Furthermore, this promise is confirmed even more beautifully in Paul’s next statement, “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead”. Remember last time what we said, “first born” means? It is, in this context, first in rank. Meaning that even though there have been a few others that have been resurrected from the dead, such as Lazarus…Jesus is the one that matters the most. In fact his is the one that made all the others possible.

We are going to look at this better in a few weeks. For now let us look at what this means for reconciliation. If we are rightly reconciled to God, (by that I mean freely submitting to Him, or signing the peace treaty) then it means that we are brought back into a right relationship with God. If you rewind again to the creation story you notice something about God. He really loves to give us things. He likes to bless us. Or as Jesus said in John 15, I have come that they may have life and life abundantly. Would it surprise you if I said that God is passionately pursuing your joy? Part of the reason for this reconciliation that God has initiated is because God wants us to be filled with joy. Our rebellion tells us that joy is found in created things rather than the Creator. We rebel from the source of true joy.

Now, what does this have to do with Jesus being the “firstborn from the dead”? It means this: that what Jesus instituted by his resurrection is given to us. The new life that Jesus secured through his death is given to those that are “in Christ”. If you are reconciled to the head then you also have been given the gift of new life. You have been reconciled to God. We will spend more time on this in the coming weeks.

I want you to notice one more thing about this reconciliation. Notice the tense. Is it past, present, or future? This reads as a past event. On the cross Jesus Christ accomplished this act of reconciliation. He signed the peace treaty. Certainly, the Holy Spirit is still working to accomplish this work of redemption. He is still working on hearts to urge them to “be reconciled to God”. Sign the peace treaty. But this act of reconciliation is a completed act. What does that mean? It means that as soon as you sign the peace treaty the benefits of the reconciliation that was accomplished at the cross are certain. It means that you really are at peace with God. God’s wrath is no longer against you. You are not God’s enemy, nor will you ever be. You are free. You are clean. You are forgiven. You have been reconciled to the Father. That peace treaty analogy is only so complete. In the real world if someone breaches on a peace treaty then it’s cancelled and nullified. It is honestly not so with this peace treaty. This one has been sealed and set permanent by the blood of Jesus cross. It is finished.

If the Holy Spirit has already drawn you to Jesus Christ, if you have already “signed the peace treaty”, then I urge you tonight live like that. Live as one that is reconciled. Live as one that has been set free. Part of what that means is living in unity with the body. One of the things that you may need to do is be baptized. It is part of your identifying with the body of Christ. Part of your signing the peace treaty is you saying that you would no longer rebel and that He would be your King. Your King says that you need to identify with Him in baptism. But there are other things that the King is asking you to do. Missions. Giving. Loving. This is why a few weeks ago we saw that Paul prayed that they may be filled with the knowledge of His will. We know that signing the peace treaty means that we will do what the King asks us to. Knowing the knowledge of His will is doing what the King asks you to. Perhaps you need to repent. Maybe your life does not look like one that has been reconciled to God. Turn away from sin and come back to Jesus.

Perhaps there are some that have never “signed the peace treaty”. I ask you; tonight will you sign the peace treaty? Has God done a work of grace in your heart so that you see your need for reconciliation? Do you know tonight that you are lost and not in a right relationship with God? Your only hope is Jesus. Your only hope is the finished work of Jesus on the Cross. Your only hope of reconciliation is signing the peace treaty that is offered. You are not in a spot to draw up different terms. You are not in a place where you can negotiate. You either accept what the Father has written; that you are accepted wholly by the blood of Jesus Christ, not by works but by grace through faith, or you do not. You cannot do anything but sign. Will you tonight trust in Jesus Christ? He is offering, lo, he is commanding you to repent and to sign the peace treaty. Will you do it?

“We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God”.
[1] The NAC Commentary. Melick, Richard. Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. p.227