Three Gospel Realities

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 9/2/2018

Throughout the Fall, we’re going to work through a book of the Bible called Colossians. To be precise, it’s not actually a book, it’s a letter written by the Apostle Paul to believers living in a Greek city called Colossae. So, if you were from Colossae, you were a “Colossian.” If Ephesus, you were an “Ephesian.” If Philippi, a “Philippian.”

Paul wrote to all these churches about the same time from his prison cell. So what’s cool is you can read his letters to Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians and Philemon and see the same themes. So if you’re unsure what Paul in Colossians flip to Ephesians!

Scholars aren’t sure whether Paul ever visited Colossae. Colossae was a declining community located along a east-west trade route. Colossae was situated next to the cities of Hierapolis, and Laodicea. These trade-route cities were quite affluent, but affluence means nothing to God.

You might recognize Laodicea from Revelation 3. “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

The opening verses of Colossians mention three men. There is Paul, who was appointed to be an Apostle “by God’s will.” (v.1) There is Timothy, who Paul warmly calls a “dear brother.” (v.1) Timothy had an intimate relationship with this congregation, (also Ephesus). Then there is Epaphras. In Colossians 1:8 Paul characterizes Epaphras this way: “You learned this [gospel] from Epaphras, our dearly loved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has told us about your love in the Spirit.” Epaphras was the church planter, a fellow servant, and faithful minister.

What I love about Paul is that for him, there were no little places, and no little people. These men labored shoulder to shoulder to ensure the gospel flourished just as much in a place of “decline” as a place of great “affluence.” Now more than ever, the Kingdom of God needs men/women who don’t see themselves as too big to serve in small places. The church needs faithful ministers to carry the gospel into each/every dark corner of our world.

Look what Paul says about the gospel in verse 6: “It is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has among you since the day you heard it and came to truly appreciate God’s grace.” The gospel isn’t just “germinating” or “bearing fruit.” It’s booming! Its flourishing! Like a sprawling orchard, its “growing” to its fullest capacity. If you ever feel that what you’re doing isn’t “big” enough, become a faithful minister of the gospel. Look what Paul is saying… the gospel is proving just as transformative in small places (i.e. Colossae) as big places (i.e. Rome). What impresses you more: one giant goliath mega-church, or hundreds of country churches? They are all indispensable.

This morning I want to talk about why the gospel is needed more than anything else in this world. The word “gospel” simply means good news. What’s the good news our world needs to hear more than any other news? In Colossians 1:3-6 Paul writes, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.”

In your study guide (or Bible) underline these three phrases: Faith in Christ Jesus. Love for All the Saints. Hope Reserved in Heaven. They are of paramount importance. While you at it, circle the word “because.” The word “because” describes the relationship of faith, hope, and love. I like the NIV translation here, which says faith and love “spring” from hope. First comes the proclamation of hope. Epaphras is a “faithful minister” because he preached hope, and helped the Colossians appreciate God’s grace. We don’t start by preaching faith, nor even love. Our first duty is to preach hope. And then from hope, springs forth faith and love.

Now you don’t have to be religious, to know how desperately people need faith, hope, and love. If you rob a person of faith, hope, and love you effectively destroy their peace. This isn’t just a Christian perspective, this is a secular perspective as well. But the question we want to address isn’t whether people have these needs, but rather, how it is that Jesus Christ so profoundly/tangibly satisfies these needs.

First, Consider the Reality of FAITH.

The opposite of faith is fear. From the beginning of time, people have searched for the most ultimate things in which to place their faith and confidence. This was the question that not only permeated Greek Culture (during the time of Paul), but that has pestered great Philosophers throughout history. Can we have any definite knowledge about the laws of nature, about the composition of matter, about the building blocks of life? In the words of Bertrand Russell, “Is man what he seems to the astronomer? A tiny lump of pure carbon and water impotently crawling on a small and unimportant planet?” Is it true? One rogue asteroid and we’re all finished?

There is more to this question of faith. Why do I exist? Does my life have grander purpose? Does my life have ultimate meaning or value? How can I live a truly confident life? How can I have certainty w/o hesitation? Must I be so paralyzed by worry/anxiety?

The one thing that seems to give people the greatest measure of confidence is affluence. Let’s see… affluence affords the security of a home, reliable transportation, tasty food, shoes/clothing that don’t wear out, competent care, lasting health, laughter and good friends, a measure of influence and power over others, a sense of personal well-being, a sense of control. If only I could achieve Financial Peace (Affluence), then maybe I won’t have to worry? This was the Laodicean’s error. They boasted in their affluence, yet in larger scheme of things, were “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind & naked.”

Notice how Paul points us to the only truly sufficient foundation for faith—a faith that is “in Christ Jesus.” Christ Jesus who? I’m glad you asked! The Jesus who is the image of the invisible God. The Jesus who is the firstborn over all creation. The Jesus by whom everything was created in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. The Jesus through whom and for whom all things have been created. The Jesus who is before all things. The Jesus by whom all things hold together. The Jesus who is the head of the church. The Jesus who was resurrected from the dead. The Jesus who is the fullness of God, and through whom God is reconciling all things, to be as they should be… yes, that Jesus! Personal affluence was never the gospel of the church. It’s always been that there is a personal God who is really there, who has spoken, who has revealed himself, who appeared, who dwelt among us, who died, was raised, ascended to the Father, and truly reigns.

Second, consider the Reality of LOVE.

The opposite of love is cruelty. Though we dearly want to love others with all our heart, mind, body, and soul we fall dreadfully short. And though we want others to love us the same, they too fall dreadfully short. We're not attentive enough, present enough, understanding enough, giving enough, strong enough. Our best love is soiled with selfishness, and all too often, shades of cruelty. To their shame, people have a been a huge disappointment to us. To our shame, we've been a huge disappointment to people around us.

But there is a larger problem with love in our world, it’s the problem of the savage man. Some of the most savage people in ancient Greece were the Olympians. The Olympians were great conquerors, who lived off the spoils of others. They gave no thought to governance, education, agriculture (sowing and reaping), trade, industriousness, honest work. If they weren’t given to violence and killing, they were given to feasting and play. They made music. They drank deep. They roared with laughter at whatever lame smith was waiting on their tables. Their philosophy was ‘eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.’ They were truly uncivilized brutes, utterly lawless, lacking virtue, lacking forethought, lacking any measure of civility.

Here is the problem of the savage in a nutshell—is there anything out there powerful enough to tame savage man? The best gospel the world can offer is tolerance. Tolerance is all about pursuing peace at all costs. We’re taught that tolerance is the best way to be in the world. Be quiet. Mind your own business. Don’t speak up, don’t judge, don’t stand on principle, don’t risk your reputation, be politically correct, don’t condemn, don’t impose your conscience/values/beliefs on others, don’t make waves. Look the other way, always. Tolerance only kicks the can down the road.

In stark contrast to the savage is the saint. In Colossians 1:6 alludes to the love the Colossians have “for all the saints.” In Colossians 1:8, Epaphras has been telling Paul about the Colossian’s profound “love in the Spirit.”

Paul most certainly had the Savage Man in mind when he wrote Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, bursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing…” Ah, but what can we do about it?

Galatians 5:16-17, “I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. The flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; they are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want.”

Galatians 5:22-25, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, we must follow the Spirit.”

I’m just going to be really blunt here. The Holy Spirit is powerful not just to tame savage men, but to redeem and sanctify savage men. Why is it today that we see so little love in the church? Has God’s Spirit failed us? Mostly certain not! It’s because God’s people are far more interested in being “consumers” of religious commodities than becoming consumed by the Spirit of the Living God. Where God’s people are consumed by the Spirit of God there is profound, transformative love. But where people resist the Spirit, there is the worst kind of savagery/scandal. The whole idea of being a Saint is that here in the midst of a world, filled with so much savagery and cruelty, we are a people, who are tangibly being strengthened by God’s Spirit, to fully love one another, and love each other just as purely/selflessly, as Christ has loved us! People yearn for such love, but where is such love found?

Third, Consider the Reality of HOPE.

The opposite of hope is despair. What comes of a nation whose children have been taught from birth that are nothing more than a “tiny lump of pure carbon and water impotently crawling on a small and unimportant planet?” That life has no purpose, nor meaning, nor significance. That you aren’t a living soul, you’re an infinitely improbable, cosmic anomaly—that scientifically you shouldn’t even be—and that no matter what you are now, you’ll no longer be, and so the best thing to do is grow up and face the truth, and get rid of your faith crutches.

Despair permeates the mind of modern man. Some people get driven so crazy in search for ultimate answers, they commit suicide. In death, they hope to resolve their existential crisis once and for all. Some driven to despair, they think nothing of taking their own life, or nowadays, taking as many people down as possible down. Abortion, Euthanasia, Suicide, Murder, Mass Murder… since there is nothing transcendent, eternal

One of the most common, everyday manifestations of despair, is the health craze in our culture. Now we should absolutely be good stewards of our bodies. But for many, their only hope is staying healthy. As health runs out, so hope runs out!

Here is the gospel of our age in summary: Be Healthy, Be Affluent, and Be Tolerant. Do you have a deeper hope than staying healthy forever? Is your faith rooted in anything deeper than personal affluence or achieving financial peace? Does your love run any deeper than tolerance, or the self-centric consumerism of our day, or the savage cruelty we’ve come to expect in our world?

Hope. Hope is this: You aren’t alone. God is there, yes when you pray. God has spoken. God has acted in history. God has appeared, and walked among us. In Jesus, God came near. Jesus didn’t just suffer like us, but for us. He died a real death, in our place, to take away our guilt, to offer complete forgiveness of sin. This Jesus was raised from the grave on the third day, to prove God’s power not just to conquer death but provide eternal life. This Jesus has ascended into heaven, to reign, and to reconcile all things to Himself. Christ’s desire is to present you holy, faultless, and blameless in God’s sight—if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in your faith. Our lives aren’t empty nor without significance and why? Because through faith, Christ dwells within you, Christ is your very life, by his Spirit… Christ is living his life out through you for his glory. Everything about your life matters for eternity… nothing you deposit is ever in vain. Hope is “being stored up”, “reserved”, for you in heaven.

A hope nobody can ever rob you of! Romans 8:38–39: “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The gospel has never been about health, affluence, or tolerance. The gospel is first and foremost about hope. And then from hope springs faith and love. Wherever this gospel is preached, anywhere in the world, even in the darkest places, it bears fruit and grows to its most extreme capacity.

Friends, that’s just the first eight verses. We’re just getting started…



Scripture Verses

Colossians 1:1-8

Worship Set

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Study Questions

  1. Read Colossians 1:1-8. If Paul were writing a letter to you based on the information he had received by one of your Christian friends, what in your life would he thank God for? In what areas might he pray for you to grow?
  2. Identify someone you know who appears to bring honor to God. What qualities, actions, or attitudes made you recognize this person?
  3. How are faith, hope and love related in this passage? How do they fit together? Why is each so essential to the spiritual life? What happens if one of the three is weak in a person's life? (See 1 Corinthians 13:13 & Ephesians 1:15-18.)
  4. The word gospel means "good news". What is the good news in 1:5? (See Romans 1:16-17, 1 Corinthians 15:1-6, & 2 Timothy 2:8.) Why is this message such good news?
  5. Who had taught the gospel to the Colossians? How is he described? What can we learn from the way the New Testament describes those who share the gospel?
  6. How to you hope the gospel changes you through this study? How do you hope others begin to see the clear mark of the gospel on you? What will need to change in your life to build such a reputation?
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