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

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