Today we will begin a new walk together through the book of Colossians. It is exciting for me to begin a new book with you, having finished up the Beatitudes last time. For me, starting a new book is an adventure, and I am glad to share the adventure with you. Today I would just like to introduce the book to you, in case you are not already very familiar with it, and introduce the reasons why Paul wrote this letter to these particular people in the church of Colossae. My hope is that by the end of this message today that you will be as excited about going through this book as I am already!
I want to cover several things by way of introduction, but let me begin by saying that from what I have seen so far in this letter as I’ve read and studied through it, I think we today, you and me in our society, we may have more in common with the people to whom Paul wrote this book than perhaps any other of the New Testament letters. What I am saying is we are like the church in Colossae! We very much find ourselves today where they were almost two thousand years ago. It is really amazing! I think we will easily be able to relate to them and find Paul’s encouragement to them very fitting to our lives as a church and as individuals.
You really have to love that about the Bible, that is it’s relevance to us, even today. As we study through this book, the ancient will seem more modern than ancient. So we can read it, we will be able to study it and, I think, say, “Yes, I get this, I can relate to this, this is where we are in many ways today.”
Sometimes we may be tempted to say, “I don’t know if the Bible really hits where we are, I wonder if it is still relevant,” and we have people all around yelling loudly that is is not relevant for today, and so we may wonder, is it still helpful for today? We will find as we move forward together that it does hit where we are, it is relevant and helpful for today. As we go through this very book we will be able to agree with the writer of Hebrews when he said…
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
God didn’t put a time limit on that passage, like, “Well, it will be living and active for, say, 100 years or so.” No, it still is, as we will continue to see.
The Psalmist proclaims with great joy…
The sum of your word is truth,
and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. (Psalm 119:160)
Yes, even to the 21st century!
And Paul, writing to Timothy, said…
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The Word that we have is able to penetrate the heart and soul, is absolute truth lasting forever, and it is breathed out by God and profitable to give us direction and correction in this life! And since all of this is true, we can open up to places like Colossians and do it with great energy, excitement, and expectation to be led by the Holy Spirit to understand and walk accordingly.
Now what can we know that is specific to this book and that can help us in life today? Several things. One thing that we know is that at the time of this writing, the Colossians were facing one of the greatest challenges ever as a church. It was challenging because times for them were becoming very complex, they found themselves in a complex intellectual climate. That is where they were, this would describe ancient Colossae. What had begun very well in that region – that is strong, firmly based Christianity – had become or was becoming mixed with all kinds of confusion. The very existence of Christianity was being threatened by the confusion that was creeping in. I think just with that we can see parallels to today. Aren’t we becoming a society that is challenging the Christian faith on many levels? Aren’t we seeing a mixture of what the Bible says with what society as a whole finds acceptable? Don’t we see the Bible being discounted as old, ancient, and out of date? And the confusion at times is that many say, “Yes, I believe the Bible,” and yet their words are anything but Biblical. It causes confusion when people say, “I am a Christian, I believe the Bible,” but they speak as if they have never read it. Crafty arguments can be persuasive even when they do not reflect truth. Let’s be honest, we can fall prey to lies if we are not careful.
False teachers in Colossae were urging the church people to move away from their Christian roots and to accept other religious ideas. This is what was going on, and these are the things that Paul will address. What do we do when pressure builds to reinterpret truth so that it is more palatable to the masses? Will a little compromise here and there really matter?
Paul addresses this in part when he says…
4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. (Colossians 2:4-5)
Plausible arguments were competing with truth. Perhaps subtle, plausible arguments. And many plausible arguments are being made today regarding choices that we make. The human mind is capable of reasoning, arguing, of developing philosophies for life and living. Many of them sound okay, they make sense, we can even say, “Yes, if I were in control I may do it that way.” And yet Paul says, “Don’t let people delude you with those things, go to the Word of truth.”
Many times people will say things like, “Well, God would never do this,” or, “God would never do that.” And we think, “Yes, that makes sense.” And yet the Bible might teach otherwise. We have a lot in common with the Christians in Colossae.
Paul begins with a major theme of the centrality of Christ in all things. This will be the first major theme we look at. It is interesting that Paul starts here. He begins with the glory of Christ, with lifting up Christ. This is significant. What is the solution to getting off track and being deluded with philosophies that are anti-God? Glorying in Christ. Know Christ, be dazzled by Christ, fellowship with Christ, be sure He is first place in everything for you. And I mean the real Christ Jesus as He is in the Bible. Christ Jesus is to be everything to us! Paul says…
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)
If He is our all, we will go to Him, we will treasure His words, we will be rooted in Him. In fact Paul says later, in Colossians 2…
6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6-7)
How do we guard against false teaching, false teachers, those who might otherwise delude us with plausible arguments? We walk with Christ as those whose roots are in Him. Strong roots in Christ so that we will be built up in Him and established, firmly established in the faith. And part of that will be that we view the Bible with as much authority as He did.
If our roots are in the world, if that is what grips us, if we love other things more than Christ, then our roots will be there, our faith will be weak, and we may easily be fooled with crafty arguments. Whatever we are rooted in we will be like. Will it be Christ, or will it be something else?
And so Paul’s first solution to standing against what is false is to be rooted in truth, to be rooted in Christ as the One who is to be central to our lives. We will hit this really hard in the days ahead in our study. We will, I hope, crush the argument that we can be happy and content and even live effective moral lives apart from being captivated by Jesus Christ. Christ must be our all, and Paul will help us with this early in this book.
In our day, it is possible for just about anyone to speak as if they understand the Bible and Christianity. I have read many blog posts lately dealing with lots of the hot topic issues that we face – same-sex marriage, drug use, race relations, drug-induced abortion, views on health care, diet, traditional medicine vs. alternative methods, immunization vs. no immunization, world hunger, poverty, types of education, civil disobedience, and more. What I find most interesting in some of these type articles is not just the article itself, but all the “so called” experts that post comments. And that is where we are today, everyone can throw out their opinion in the marketplace of ideas, and many do so with great fervor. Many who post comments claim to be speaking on God’s behalf. But the interesting thing is they are saying things, often times, that God did not say. It is more like they give their comment in the context of saying, “This is what God ‘should’ say, or how He ‘should’ respond, or how I would respond if I were God, or this is a reasonable argument in my head, so I am sure God would agree with me.” But in most cases these responses have nothing to do with what God has actually said in His Word. And what is even more disheartening is when people claim strongly to be Christians, and they agree with anti-biblical thought because they, well, just think it makes sense, it appeals to their senses. What must God think about that? Attributing things to God that He did not say? And if we are not careful we can easily say yes too, because anti-biblical arguments can sound plausible.
For example, the biggest book to take the Christian community by storm, and maybe the movie as well, is one called, “Heaven is for Real.” The book and movie are about a 4-year old boy who claimed to have died and gone to heaven, then returned to tell about it. He, this 4-year old boy, has quite the stories to tell. What are we to do with this information, what are we to think about this little boy’s stories? And even more, what about the dozens of others who are making similar claims that may be consistent with this boy’s claims or may contradict them? Who is right, if anyone is right in this? Whose experiences are we to believe, or what place does experience – yours or mine – even play in the pursuit of truth? Do you see the complexity here? The truth is, no experience should overshadow the Bible, which is God-breathed. This is what Paul will argue in this book. I think what we do with these stories will reflect something about what we believe about the Bible, God’s Word, what Christ has confirmed for us, and the truths of who we say He is.
The focal text in Colossians is found in 2:8-3:4. Let’s read through that passage together…
2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
3:1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 2:8-3:4)
These important verses serve as, again, the focal point of the book. Notice how they intertwine steadfastness of a rooted faith with a high view and understanding of Christ. This describes well for us the Christian life. Not a fanciful, imagined, dreamed up Christian life, but a rooted, solid, Christ-centered Christian life that keeps us focused on Him, and as a result keeps us from falling prey to the many, the multitude of ideas that come at us rapid fire in this social media, connected, blog-filled society that we have built.
The Colossian church was being deluged with heresy. Human ideas were spreading in an attempt to reformulate Christian truth, to remake truth to be whatever best fit one’s purpose. I feel the same pressures in our day, but in Christ we can stand fast, stand fast in a world that is currently demanding that we change. Our change will be, should be, a further move toward Christ and Christlikeness, which means greater distinctions from this world’s philosophies, not more conformity to them. This will be our challenge, this is what was challenging the Colossian church too.
Paul then, after showing us the beauty of Christ as protection against false teaching, he goes on to remind us of practical aspects of this new life. He tells of things we are to put off and what we are to put on: put off the old life, put on the new life in Christ. And how we are to relate to each other as wives and husbands, children and parents, and how we are to view work, and how we are to view those outside the faith, and even how we are to communicate with each other.
It is a short book but it is a full book. There will be much here for each of us, and so I hope you will embrace it as God’s word to you!
As we journey together through this, I would really encourage you to begin reading it on a regular basis, become familiar with it, pray through it, asking God to enlighten you regarding His truths in it for you, and then each week coming here with great anticipation of what we will learn together as a church.
Sound good? Ready for all of that? Okay, so your assignment for this week: read the book of Colossians!