Keep on living established in Christ
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people – 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel
6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world – just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Friends, I have been looking forward spending some time together in Colossians.
We have had our home text for 2022, Colossians 2:6-7, on our hearts
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7)
In Governance Council meetings, Women’s Fellowship meetings, Sunday worship services, some bible study groups we have been listening to this word.
The artwork on your left reflects this home text: ‘Established in Christ’.
Here in Colossians, Paul uses plant/tree language to encourage God’s people to remain rooted, grounded, established in the good ground of Jesus’ death and resurrection for forgiveness and new life under any circumstances.
We need strong roots. There is a lot going on in these new times that if allowed, will pull you out of this fertile and solid ground. Roots can be weakened by forces outside of us and from within ourselves.
Paul writes to this little community to sure them up, encourage them, challenge them, help them get to the truth of who they are and who God still is for them and who he is calling them to be in the world. Same now.
This is a letter written to a young church that Paul did not plant and whom Paul has yet to visit. It is his words on how to begin, how put down roots and become firm in faith and love in all circumstances meeting all threats.
Paul is writing from not too far away – from the prison in Ephesus. So, ironically, this is a letter from a man who had been totally uprooted from his community encouraging God’s people to remain established in theirs.
Paul has recently heard from his co-worker, Epaphras, that a church has sprung up in Colossae. The gospel-transformed slave-owner, Philemon, who is from Colossae has taken the gospel of Jesus to his home-town.
Colossae itself was not a large place. Seems quite likely that there was a Jewish community in town. From the letter it may be understood that problems for the Christian community are coming from the Jewish community.
So this is an exciting moment of new church struggle. The new community of resurrection life is coming to terms with how to live the gospel where they live.
Paul says that they should not worry that he is in prison for the gospel. His imprisonment strengthens the gospel, not weakens it.
But the letter does show that it can be and often has been dangerous to be a Christian. It is dangerous for these Colossians.
Worshipping the gods of the local pagan community was a duty to be kept by all citizens. Paying correct homage and offering right sacrifices of goods and services to the gods was the way to keep evil away and keep prosperity up. Everyone had to keep the gods happy lest famine, flood, disease of military disaster comes our way…
Like all Roman/Greek towns and cities, Colossae would have had whole groups of people (priests) who interpreted disaster or trouble and prescribed acts of worship to mitigate the risk.
Someone who comes into town saying there is another God who is the ONLY God and says he and his family will not turn up to the usual weekend festivals and fairs of the gods would be putting the community under threat. If bad things happen, the towns-folk will know who to blame. ‘Christians to the lions!” like Nero in Rome in AD 66.
Paul encourages them to hold on to hope because life will be difficult. Being a person who puts faith in this risen Jesus and the One who sent him is not minor adjustment to my private spirituality without any real cost or danger. This is public faith said and done in real life, and the neighbours will notice.
And don’t forget, even Caesar himself is literally looking over you, via his face in statues and the coins in your pocket. Caesar is literally all seeing and knowing.
We see two threats to faith in Jesus’ hope and love here.
- The pull to the original Jewish faith from the local synagogue community
- The pull to be like the prevailing pagan culture with its many gods.
The Jewish community want you to adopt the law, be circumcised, eat and drink in certain ways and avoid certain people … To be a closed off club pretty much focused on yourselves and surviving … Earning your way to God’s grace and blessing by being very, very good.
The pagan neighbours want you to give up any trust that there is One God and go with the flow, slavishly pay the gods off enough to avoid disaster by your own effort, and hope it is enough … Do it your way and who cares if you are good or bad, as long as you are politically correct and spiritually diverse …
Paul declares that the gospel is neither. Jesus is God with us and for us. He is the centre. He is the Messiah/Saviour. He is the world’s true Lord/Caesar/Master and he rules not in human power and technology but in grace and forgiveness – for the Jewish people and pagan people – Jesus is for everyone.
His death and resurrection establish a whole new people; a community of the new creation not slavishly earned or freely flaunted or dependent on race or family tradition, but on pure gift of unearned love from this One in Three God calling his ew people to not merely exist to serve their own but to share this faith and love with anyone – to be outward looking and generously open.
Where does that calling begin? THANKSGIVING: Paul’s main theme here.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you
… that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 12 … giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.
Thankfulness shapes Paul’s encouragement and his call for these Christians to practice thanksgiving – or can we say THANKS-LIVING as a means of staying established, grounded rooted in Jesus.
Paul wants these gospel people to learn how to thank God from the heart, not just slavishly serve him out of fear or duty or the need to be seen to be good or anything else.
Thankfulness flows from the truth that God is revealing who he is in Jesus and is with them and transforming their lives into his new creation all the time, despite all threats.
Paul himself lives this thankfulness. Even in prison, he is full of thanks to the Lord for who he has made these people to be – ‘Holy people’, he calls them. This is a Jewish term. They are saints – holy, called, chosen people and they are non-Jewish!
They are a legitimate and true people of the Creator God. They are nothing less than Caesar (King) Jesus’ faithful family based on the King’s grace, reaching to the underserving and unable, giving a new state of peace that comes from that gracious love.
How do we resist the ‘Jewish threat’? A return to earning our hope and love in God by keeping rules and just surviving?
How do we resist the ‘pagan threat’ to give up Jesus, go with the flow, make it up as we choose and do enough to avoid disaster?
We live out thankfulness. We speak it and do it in THANKS-LIVING
And Paul shows his thankfulness.
He tells the little community that Epaphras (apparently, man of prayer) has come back with the good news that there is now a new community that is living as an unlikely family – Jews and Gentiles, slaves, free, people from different tribes/areas/backgrounds …
There is no other community like this new Jesus’ community.
‘The Word of Truth’ (1:5 ) had transformed people, producing fruit in all the world. Just like in Genesis 1, where God creates plants that grow, God has planted a human community that will grow.
Isaiah spoke that when the ‘Suffering Servant’ does his work a new covenant will be renewed and a whole new creation will come to be and now it is happening (Isaiah 52, 53, 55).
Thanksgiving turns to prayer. Paul’s three times or five times a day prayers from the Psalms also include a prayer for Jesu to give faith and love …
5 … that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel
As they practice thankful living, in faith and love, with any threat trying to rip them out of Jesus’ good ground, they are assured that they, this odd family will eventually inherit the world.
So, Paul prays for gifts from God for them
… to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives
That they can think things through. Not to assume they have arrived. Keep on listening and learning so they don’t head off into trouble.
Have a certain ‘settled wisdom”. Not assuming everything will be alright, but always think carefully and act wisely.
Stay grounded and rooted in the Jesus they already know so they continue to produce conduct worthy of him.
Be a silent witness to Jesus in the community. Be different people who when asked, say ‘we are following Jesus’.
… so that you may have great endurance and patience,
Perseverance in trouble coming. Being Jesus’ people needs determined, one foot in front of another, living, whatever the winds of culture are.
Knowledge of what God wants.
… growing in the knowledge of God
Seeing how God the creator sees his creation as he renews it from Jesus resurrection to the end. Don’t live on a couple of good ideas but being filled like a vessel with liquid. This is where wise living comes from.
Walk in the right way worthy of the Lord.
… live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way
There is a need for good conduct – not ern God’s goodness but to live it out because we have it.
With Jesus as our centre of love who delights when we take steps of his love in life.
… bearing fruit in every good work
Why? So, like a well grounded and watered tree with strong ties and connections; strong roots, we bear fruit: The Holy Spirit calling, teaching, blessing others through you.
… giving joyful thanks to the Father
Joy: not a superficial happiness, a fake smile, a fleeting experience – but a lasting joy in Jesus whatever we feel.
Learning to give thanks. (1:12)
Thanks for what? A new Exodus people!
… share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Friends, we are delivered from all evil not just a national evil.
We are gifted Baptism as a complete resurrection, not just the making of nation.
We are heading on with the goodness of God and his hope – We are on the way home to the promised land already transferred into this new community of forgiveness.
Jesus the King, who became king by defeating death itself, is re-creating this creation. We are part of that story no matter what. The Spirit is calling us in these days to learn to find your place in that story.