Title: In Christ, You Aren’t Who You Were…
Text: Colossians 1:9-14 (19-22)
Thesis: God makes it possible for us to know and do the will of God.
On Monday evening, November 19th at about 8 p.m., a grain bin measuring 100 feet in diameter and standing 90 feet high collapsed in Hillsboro, Iowa. Over 500,000 bushels of shelled corn spewed out like a tidal wave, shoving a nearby home off its foundation, caving in the walls causing the roof to fall in, and trapping the family inside the wreckage. (Golden Triangle Media.com, The Fairfield Ledger, 11/21/07)
The media reported that the family had complained to town leaders about the plans to build the new grain bin so close to their house but the town only required a set back from the property line, which the company met. Unfortunately, 30 feet was not far enough to save the Kellett family from the tsunami of corn that destroyed their home and nearly took their lives. (Dave Franzman, KCRG – TV9 News, Cedar Rapids, IA, 11/21/2007)
One lesson we can learn for future reference is: Do not build a humongous grain bin next to a family residence… or don’t build your house near a grain bin filled with over half a million bushels of shelled corn.
Jesus told a story about two men, both of whom built houses. One man built his house on sandy soil and the other built his on a solid rock. One house had a strong foundation and the other, not so much. When the storms of life came crashing down on the home with no foundation, it collapsed. But, when the storms of life came crashing down on the house built on the solid rock, it withstood the storm.
Jesus said, “Anyone who listens to my teaching and obeys me is wise, like a person who builds his house on a solid rock.” Matthew 7:24
This message was important to the people of Colosse and it is important to us because we, need to be reminded that despite the deluge of ideas, philosophies, beliefs, theories, and influences, Christ remains the absolutely supreme and solely sufficient in our lives.
Colosse was a small town on the south bank of the Lycus River in what we now know as Turkey… The Introduction to Colossians in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary describes Colosse as an “insignificant market town.”
Paul describes the Christians living in Colosse as faithful brothers and sisters in Christ (1:2). He tells them that he has heard that they continue to trust in Christ Jesus and to love all of God’s people, and that they are looking forward to the joys of heaven (1:4-5). He then tells them that the same Gospel that came to them is changing lives everywhere just as it changed their lives from the first day they heard it (1:6).
The reason the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Colosse is his concern that they are being influenced to live by “high-sounding nonsense that comes from human-thinking,” rather than simply living in obedience to Christ (2:6-8).
The fact that Paul referred to the danger of them being led astray by “empty philosophy and high-sounding nonsense” suggests that they were in danger of practicing a syncretistic faith, which implies that they were mixing and matching beliefs from Christianity, Judaism, and elements of paganism. Paul wants them to know that the Christian faith is about being under the guidance of Christ and Christ alone. It would seem that at the heart of their error was that their faith, as they were practicing it, “wore
the mask of Christianity. It did not deny Christ, but it did dethrone him. It gave Christ a place, but not the supreme place.” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Zondervan, pp. 167-168)
So Paul writes to encourage his Christian friends at Colosse, to let them know that he was praying for them… that God will help them have a complete understanding of what God Himself, wants them to know and do.
The first thing he desires for them and for us, is that we have discernment to know God’s will.
1. Discernment to Know God’s Will, 1:9-10
We ask God to give you a complete understanding of what he wants to do in your lives, and we ask him to make you wise with spiritual wisdom. Colossians 1:9-10 (Fill you with the knowledge of his will – NIV)
This text puts an unusual spin on the nature of prayer in that it is not so much about our getting God to listen to us but getting ourselves to listen to God. William Barclay said, “In prayer we are not trying to persuade God to do what we want Him to do, we are trying to find out what He wants us to do.” (William Barclay, Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians, p. 129-130)
There are two levels of knowledge in this teaching. The first level is that of simple knowledge… knowing facts, data, information, and truth. Then there is a second level of knowledge in which we think of in terms of understanding or wisdom. On this level we have knowledge and we understand how to apply or use the knowledge.
Paul’s intent is not only that his friends be knowledgeable of truth but also able to understand the implications of that truth and apply it to their lives. If we have knowledge that translates into understanding and application we know what to do with what we know.
In the case of a surgeon, the issue is not only the surgeon’s knowledge of the human body, but can the surgeon operate? In the case of a pilot, the issue is not the pilot’s knowledge gained in a flight simulator, but can the pilot land the plane? In the case of a theologian, the issue is not the biblical knowledge of the theologian, but can the theologian live the life of a Christian?
Paul’s concern for the Christians living in Colosse was that they know the will of God and know how to do or live out the will of God. If they knew God’s will, then they would know what and how to do it. There are three things he wants them to do with their knowledge of God’s will.
First, you will know how to:
• Live in such a way as to always honor and please God, 1:10a
What we know to be the truth of God’s Word and the expressed will of God must translate into obedience and action. Then the way we live pleases God. When we hit a snag, we ask God to give us wisdom so that we may know what we should do.
In James the scripture clearly states, “If you need wisdom or if you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking…” James 1:5-8 The text goes on to say that those who do not ask or who do not act upon the knowledge they receive, are living lives marked by indecision and uncertainty.
Over the years I have been privileged to have served as the Officiant for a lot of weddings. I carefully outline and print the order of service for the rehearsal so everyone who is in the wedding party can clearly see what the ceremony will look like and will be able to walk through the rehearsal with greater ease. I always conclude the rehearsal by saying something like this: “If in the course of the ceremony, you get confused or don’t know what to do… don’t do anything. Just look at me and I will cue you.”
That is essentially what Paul is saying we need to do when we don’t know what to do. Don’t do anything! Pray and ask God to give you clarity in your decision, so that what you do pleases God or reflects a life that is worthy of the Lord.
Second, you will know how to:
• Live in such a way as to continually do good, kind things for others, 1:10b (Some versions speak of bearing fruit…)
Paul places a great deal of emphasis on doing good works. In Ephesians 2:10 where he states, “God has created us anew in Christ, so that we may do all the good things he has planned for us to do.” He expressed a similar thought in Titus 3:8, “These things I have told you are all true. I want you to insist on them so that everyone who trusts in God will be careful to do good deeds all the time…”
Jesus often spoke of good deeds. A few weeks ago when I spoke on being dashes of salt and splashes of light from Matthew 5:13-16, we heard Jesus say, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Last week I referred to the story of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10 where Jesus told an inquisitive man who wanted Jesus to define the term “neighbor” so he could narrow down those toward whom he was expected to act lovingly. When he had identified the “man who showed mercy” as the neighbor, Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”
There is a reason why good works are important in the life of a Christian. William Barclay nails it in his little quote, “A saint is a person who makes it easier to believe in God.” (PreachingToday, William Barclay, Leadership Vol. 8, No. 2)
Ann Quindlen wrote an article in Newsweek Magazine in which she referenced the Church of the Holy Apostles in New York City. She reported that Holy Apostles has served lunch to the hungry of the city without missing a single weekday in 25 years. She quoted the rector of the parish, Rev. William Greenlaw who said, “You can’t get more biblical than feeding the hungry.
In 1990 the landmark church was nearly destroyed by fire but the congregation determined to rebuild in their current location… but instead of replacing the pews in the sanctuary, they left the space open for multiples uses.
Quindlen used the occasion of her essay to suggest that, “Instead of the performance art of the presidential debate, the candidates should come to Holy Apostles and do what good people, people of faith, do there every day – feed the hungry, comfort the weary, soothe the afflicted. And wipe down the tables after each seating.” (Ann Quindlen, Newsweek, Blessed Is the Full Plate, November 26, 2007, p. 98)
In addition to the 1,000 hungry folks who eat at the round tables in the sanctuary space at Holy Apostles… the good works of the faithful there have gotten the attention of at least one journalist who has passed word of their good works to millions of Newsweek readers.
When we listen to God we know how to please him and be blessings to others.
And third, you will know how to:
• Live in such a way as to learn to know God better and better, 1:10c
Paul is very wise in this third expression of knowing and doing. He has underscored the importance of pleasing God, doing good things for others, and now he speaks to taking care of oneself. Paul stresses the importance of continuing to grow in one’s relationship to God and the practice of faith.
He says we need to continue to know more and grow more in our knowledge of God and God’s will.
In order to help us understand this principle we can think of several examples… one would be the gas tank in your car. If you continue to drive the car without every adding gasoline, you will deplete your tank until it is bone dry and you will go no further until you get more fuel. If you have a water well with eight feet of standing water in it and begin to pump out the water faster than ground water can trickle back into the well, the well will run dry. The same principle applies to physical and spiritual resources. If you exhaust your body without replenishing your energy with food, water, and electrolytes… you will collapse and be incapable of continuing any activity. If you do not continually replenish your spiritual resources you will be incapable of coping with the circumstances of life or the people in your life.
It is always nice to know what we need to do, but how do we do it? We do it through God’s power.
2. Power to Do God’s Will, 1:11-12
We pray that you will be strengthened with his glorious power so that you may have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father… Colossians 1:11-12
Our ability to do the will of God is not propelled and sustained by our own whimsy, good intentions, or human effort. The bible says that the power to do God’s will is, as one commentator put it, “nothing short of divine empowerment.” (Curtis Vaughan, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 11, p.178)
This text carries the same impact as that of Philippians 4:13 where Paul states, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me the strength that I need.” We assume the power that comes to us from God, enables us to live on a level and perform on a level beyond what would otherwise be humanly possible.
The bible says we will be strengthened by God’s glorious power. But, how are we strengthened or in what ways may we expect God to empower us?
We will be:
• Strengthened – so that you may have all endurance… 1:11
When a person is strengthened for endurance, the implication is that that person will have the capacity or the ability to see things through. It means the Christian who is strengthened with the glorious power of God can wade into and through whatever situation or circumstance is thrown in his or her way. This person, by the grace of God, can echo the famous words of Winston Churchill whose entire commencement address to the graduating class of his alma mater consisted of the words, “Never, never, never, never give up.”
Through God’s power we will also be:
• Strengthened – so that you may have all endurance and patience or longsuffering.
When a person is strengthen for patience or longsuffering, the implication is that this person will have the capacity or ability to be patient and even-tempered with people who would otherwise drive us to despair, discourage us, defeat us, or disparage us. This is the power that both Jesus and Stephen drew upon when they faced their violent deaths at the hands of people who hated them, “Father, forgive them for the do not know what they are doing.”
And finally we will be:
• Strengthened – so that you may joyfully give thanks to the Father... 1:11-12
Interestingly enough this part of the text speaks to the demeanor or manner of the Christian who is slogging through a difficult circumstance or putting up with the antics of an impossible personality. Paul says that God will give us the power to do endurance and patience with joy. He means we will be able to keep our chins up and cheerfully face whatever and whomever along the way.
In the last three verses of our text we are told why it is possible for us to know and cheerfully and patiently do the will of God. If it were not for these two things, none of what I have been speaking of would be possible. We would be neither capable or knowing or qualified to do the will of God.
But we can because now, we are qualified to do so.
3. Enabled / Qualified to Do God’s Will, 1:12 - 14
…the Father, who has enabled / qualified you to share the inheritance that belongs to all of God’s holy people. Colossians 1:12
I had lunch with Doug White this week. His son has started a new business in which he certifies the conditions of automobiles needing repair while under warranty. He also will certify the condition of a car for someone before they purchase the car from a dealer or on line. I thought this sounded like kind of a fun way to make a living so I asked Doug, “What do you have to do to get a job like that?” And Doug said something like, “Well, you have to have completed a two year course in auto mechanics at a technical institute, have worked in a dealership as a mechanic and or as a service manager, you have to be certified in auto electrical systems, heating and cooling systems, suspension and steering systems, brake systems, transmission and drive train systems, engine mechanical systems, fuel systems, body and frame systems, diagnostic systems and… then you have to get people who believe you have sufficient knowledge and experience who will actually give you money to do their jobs.”
In other words, you have to be qualified before you can even begin to think about doing the job. That is true of just about everything… including the Christian life. We can do the Christian life, because we are now qualified to live it.
We are enabled or qualified because we have been:
• Rescued from the kingdom of darkness and reestablished in the Kingdom of Christ, 1:13
For he has rescued us from the one who rules in the kingdom of darkness, and he has brought us into the Kingdom of his dear Son. 1:13
One of the most amazing things I have observed in the course of my life is the idea that we can think like a Christian and live like a Christian and expect others to think and act like Christians, without being Christians.
When we are shocked by someone’s thought processes and their behavior and wonder how anyone could be so corrupt or calloused… we have to remember where they live. They live in a different kingdom than that of the Christian. The people who are not followers of Christ live in the kingdom of darkness and are under the influence or rule of Satan. It is only when we are brought out of the kingdom of darkness and reestablished in the Kingdom of Christ and are under the influence and rule of Christ, that we are qualified or enabled or even able to live the life of a Christian.
And we are enabled to do God’s will because we have been:
• Freed from condemnation and forgiven all our sins, 1:14
God has purchased our freedom with his blood and has forgiven all our sins. 1:14
When I was growing up my mother collected S&H Green Stamps and Gold Bond Stamps. Every week she would bring her stamps home from the grocery store and paste them in a stamp book. And then, when she had enough books of stamps she would take them in and redeem them. She would use her stamps to liberate a waffle iron or a Dutch oven.
Today we collect frequent-flier miles. When we get enough we use them to free up a free flight to some distant city. The theological term is redemption which means something or someone is released because of the payment of a price.
This is the idea conveyed in our text today. God used the blood of Jesus Christ to redeem us or free us or liberate us from our sin and sinful ways and wipe the slate clean.
Forgiveness literally means, “a sending away.” It means all of our sins are no longer hindrances or barriers in our relationship with God or our ability to know God’s will and serve him faithfully.
Because we have been reestablished in the Kingdom of Christ through the redeeming work of Christ, who purchased our freedom and removed the barriers, making us qualified to know and do the will of God.
We have learned this morning that we have been:
• Enabled by God, who brought us out of darkness into the Kingdom of his Son, to be
• Enlightened by God, who gives us knowledge and understanding, to be
• Empowered by God, to do God’s will.
From his hospital bed on the eve of open heart surgery, a man asked his cardiologist, “Can you fix my heart?”
The physician, known for being short and to the point said, “Sure,” and walked out of the room.
After the surgery, the man asked his surgeon, “In light of the blocked arteries I had when I entered the hospital, how much blood supply do I have now?”
The surgeon said, “All you will ever need,” and walked away.
Upon his discharge from the hospital the man’s wife asked the surgeon, “What about my husband’s future quality of life?”
The surgeon paused and then said, “I fixed his heart; the quality of his life is up to him.” (Bruce McIver, “Stories I Couldn’t Tell While I Was a Pastor” Guideposts, 1991, p. 244-247)
The quality of our faith is much like the man’s quality of life. Christ has fixed our hearts. But the question remains, will we be swept off the foundation of our faith upon which we listen to and obey the teaching of Jesus Christ? Or, will we let Christ be the enabler, enlightener, and empowerer of our lives?