Monday, April 3, 2017

"Thanking God for the Gospel" (Colossians 1:1-8)

Paul once wrote a letter to the church at Colossae. 

Now, this is not so extraordinary a truth, after all, Paul wrote many letters (in fact, we have 13 of them in the New Testament). 

But this letter, what we now call the “book” of Colossians, was special for several reasons. First, it was written in 61 AD while Paul was in prison in Rome. In fact, 2-3 years after writing this letter, Paul will be taken from prison in Rome and beheaded by the Emperor in Rome, a tyrant named Nero.

The second reason this letter is special is that though Paul is writing it, he had actually never met the Christians in Colossae. You see, this church was in what is now modern day Turkey, and it was planted by a man named Epaphras, with whom Paul had shared the gospel while he was teaching in Ephesus. That’s why Paul writes in Colossians 1:7-8,

“You learned it [the gospel] from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit” (Colossians 1:7-8)

So…Paul writes a letter. And it begins like so many others that he wrote in our Bibles, in this way…
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse:Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Colossians 1:1-2)
So, let’s summarize what we know about this letter: Paul writes this special letter, in 61 AD…from prison…to people he does not know…and to a church he did not directly plant…and the question now is…why? Why did he write this letter? Well, as it turns out the Colossians church had a problem.

You see, the church at Colossae wanted more. They desired to know not only the crucified Christ, but also deeper spiritual truths. Yes, they believed in the gospel, yet they found themselves looking for something else. And so they dabbled.

They dabbled in Jewish philosophy and pagan magical practices. In their minds, and through the teachings of false prophets, because Jesus came in the form of a man, then (they thought) he must have been less than God. “God doesn’t come in flesh” they thought to themselves. Well, not only that, but also, in their eyes, the gospel was not sufficient to meet all their needs - yes, it could meet some needs perhaps, but not all. 

You see, the Colossian church wanted more. But you see, it’s not just a problem for the Colossians. We see the same thing happening in modern churches today. In fact, today, one can witness the extraordinary spectacle of church programs deliberately designed to cater to fleshly desire, sensual appetites, and human pride (anyone remember the church in Dallas, Texas whose minister and his wife slept in a bed on their church roof for 24 hours to promote a sermon series on sex - here’s the story on CNN). To achieve a kind of worldly appeal, church activities often go beyond the merely frivolous and it seems that no amount of horseplay is too outrageous to brought into God’s sanctuary.

Of course, I am not in favor of a stagnant church. My complaint is that these pragmatic and often sensational church growth strategies often downgrade God, the gospels, and the Bible to a subordinate role in the church, as if God, the gospel, and God’s word are not enough to redeem, sustain, and grow a church!

Well, the Colossian church wanted more. And so often we are tempted to undermine the sufficiency of Christ, the sufficiency of the Bible, because we think we need more too.

Well, because that is our temptation, let me invite you to hear the word of God. Let me invite you to comprehend the absolute, total, and complete sufficiency of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because of course the gospel is sufficient! 

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” (Romans 1:16, NKJV)

Dear friends, the gospel of Jesus Christ is sufficient for us as Christians and for that reason, Paul opens his letter thanking God for the gospel. In fact, the title of my message this morning is “Thanking God for the Gospel” and my hope is that you will see the sufficiency of the gospel of Jesus Christ for all of life and that you will be thankful too. So let us turn our attention now to two overarching reasons, articulated by Paul, that we should be thankful for the gospel. Take a look at Colossians 1:3-5…the first reason is that…

1) The Gospel Bears Faith, Love, and Hope
We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel…” (Colossians 1:3-5; NKJV)
So, why is Paul thankful. Well, first off, we see that the gospel produces faith, and Paul gives thanks for the faith of the Colossian Christians. Here he is giving thanks for saving faith. That is, faith which is more than just intellectual assent. Faith that is more than just agreeing on paper that Jesus suffered and died for your sin. 

Saving faith is a turning from sin and turning to God through Jesus Christ. It’s a recognition of your need for grace and a willingness to repent and commit your entire life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Saving faith is repentance. Repentance is an element of saving faith. Repentance calls for a repudiation of your old life and turning to God for salvation.

Paul in 1 Thessalonians describes salvation as a “turning from idols to serving the true and living God.” (1 Thess. 1:9). And of course, like repentance, obedience is also a part of saving faith. Obedience is the hallmark of a true believer. The great preacher W.E. Vine once said, “When a man obeys God, he gives the only possible evidence that in his heart that he believes God.”

If you are here this morning, knowing you need to repent and change and turn from your old life, knowing you need to obey to convicting call of God and His will for your life, you can do so confidently. With Jesus Christ as the object of saving faith, our faith is as secure as a house on a solid foundation, or a boat safely at anchor. Paul says that the gospel produces faith. My friends, let us be thankful for that. Paul was VERY thankful for that.

Which brings me to the next thing Paul is thankful for…Secondly, Paul gives thanks that the gospel produces love. You see, it is an evidence of the Colossian’s faith that they have love for all the saints. You know, one of the most basic commands in the NT is that we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, isn’t that right? In fact, on the night before He died, Christ told his disciples the following:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35; NKJV)
Do you see what Jesus is saying? Jesus is saying that the world will recognize that we follow Him based on how we love one another.
In the late 1800s Dwight L. Moody led a Sunday school for children. There was a child in his class whose family moved away to another part of the city. The little boy kept coming though, even though it meant a long walk of five miles each way. Every Sunday he walked past many churches who also had Sunday schools - so he could attend the church where Moody was minister. One Sunday he was asked why he went so far, past so many others. He replied, “Because they love a fellow over there.”
My friends, Jesus tells us we must love one another. The Gospel bears faith, love, and hope.

Thirdly, Paul gives thanks for the gospel for the fruit of hope in the lives of the Colossians. Now, Paul describes that hope as “laid up for you in heaven.” In fact, Paul uses the Greek word APOKEIMAI which means “in store” or “reserved.” In other words, the gospel gives us the hope and promise of a treasure reserved for us in heaven. You know, sometimes we Christians are so tempted to run around like rats in a maze, like proverbial chickens with our heads cut off, trying to squeeze everything we can out of this life. And what we fail to see is the hope - the treasure - which is…APOKEIMAI…laid up for us in heaven. 

Is that hope really laid up and reserved for ME you ask. Yes! Peter speaks of “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved for you in heaven” (1 Peter 1:4). The writer of Hebrews speaks of “laying hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil.” (Hebrews 6:18-19). In other words, hope is our Christian anchor chain, connecting us inseparably to the throne of God. So just like Paul and the Colossians, we need to thank God for the gospel which produces hope in our lives! 

Like Jim Elliot, the famous missionary and martyr who ministered to the Hourani people in South America, we must realize that “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

The Gospel Bears Faith, Love, and Hope. Now, the second overarching reason to be thankful for the gospel is…

2) The Gospel is Effective and Will Accomplish Its Purposes.

Let us hear Paul again…
“We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit. (Colossians 1:3-8; NKJV)
What’s Paul saying? He’s saying that the gospel is not merely a stagnant system of ethics; it is a living, moving, and growing reality which is effective and will accomplish the purposes of God to restore fallen humanity to a right relationship with God!

In other words, the gospel is God’s message of redemption, which bears fruit and spreads because when the gospel enters a divinely prepared heart - BOOM - it results in transformation and a fruit bearing life.

Look, faith…believing…has no intrinsic value in itself. It must derive value from its object. When someone says that he or she has faith the question which must be asked is: “Faith in what?”

“Faith in reincarnation?”
“Faith that God is good?”

“Faith in faith?”

What then? The reality is, salvation does not come by believing in belief, or even in a set of doctrines or creeds (important as those are). Salvation comes by believing in Jesus Christ.
When John Paton was translating the Bible in the Outer Hebrides, the Western Isles where Scottish Gaelic is spoken, he was searching for just the right words to translate the word “believe.” And he was so excited when it finally came to him. You see, he translated “believe” with the phrase, “leaning your whole weight upon.”
In saving faith, we lean the whole weight of our lives on the Lord Jesus Christ. And Paul was thankful for the good news of the gospel that we can lean the weight of our sin-ridden lives upon Jesus Christ so that we are born again as new creatures.

Paul was thankful that despite the false teaching in Colossae, the gospel had been believed and trusted in Colossae. Paul is grateful they believed the gospel message when Epaphras shared it with them.

Dear friend, do you understand the power of the gospel? The living gospel is the power that can transform your life! But not only that, as Paul notes in verse 6, the gospel goes “into all the world and is bringing forth fruit.” 

My friends, although salvation is only by God’s grace, our awesome God, our Heavenly Father, uses us as channels of that grace. And we, just like Epaphras in Paul’s day, can be witnesses for Jesus Christ.
John Welsh, who was the great-grandson of John Knox, was a preacher in Scotland during a time of great turmoil. After being ejected from his pulpit in the village of Irongray, he engaged in outdoor, “field” preaching. To stop this, the government offered 500 pounds for his capture. And on one occasion, being pursued with unrelenting rigor, he was quite at a loss as to where to flee, but he was willing to depend on Scottish hospitality, so he called at the house of a gentleman known to be very hostile to those who engaged in outdoor preaching. It was even known that he had been looking for Mr. Welsh, though he didn’t know what he looked like. Well, Mr. Welsh was kindly received by the man. And in the course of conversation Welsh’s name was mentioned and the man said how badly he wanted to apprehend him. 
Welsh, the preacher, replied to the man, “Well, I am sent also to apprehend rebels; and it just so happens that I know where this man Welsh is supposed to preach tomorrow. Come with me, and tomorrow I will give you the rebel by the hand.” 
The gentleman, overjoyed at this news, agreed to accompany his informant the next morning. Well, when they arrived, the congregation outdoors made way for Mr. Welsh, their preacher, and for his gentleman accomplice. Welsh told the man to sit on a chair near the front and then, to the gentleman’s utter astonishment, his guest of the previous night stood up and began preaching. Well, during the sermon, the gentleman seemed much affected; and at the close, Mr. Welch, following his promise, gave him his hand.
Upon taking Mr. Welch by the hand, the gentleman grabbed him by the arm too and exclaimed, “Mr. Welsh, you said you were sent to apprehend rebels, and I, a rebellious sinner, have been apprehended this day!”
Don’t you want this morning to be apprehended by the gospel? Don’t you want to give your life to Jesus Christ and be free of your burdens? You can do that this morning. In fact, the great Puritan preacher Samuel Rutherford once exclaimed, “They lose nothing who gain Christ.” Why don’t you fully surrender your life to Jesus Christ today?

Thank God that the gospel is effective and will accomplish it purposes. The miracle of the little church in Colossae was a testimony to that. 

We are God’s holy and faithful ones because of the gospel. We are brothers and sisters with a common Father. We are “in Christ” and are a part of the joyous mystery of His body. The grace of God has been poured out freely upon us. We have peace, God’s shalom, the well-being that results from divine grace and the presence of God. God has given us faith, hope, and love.

Let us, like Paul, give thanks to God for the gospel!