Summary: The power of the gospel in the world and especially in the lives of the Colossian saints.
Imagine writing a letter to a pigmy living in the deepest, darkest parts of Africa. In your letter you must describe life in the Lower Blue Mountains. What would you say? How would you describe the fabric of our society? What is our reputation?
There’s lots of good things to write about: Australian mateship in all its various forms. The Victorian bushfires and the incredible outpouring of generosity. We are a very open and friendly society. We have some friends from Austria across the road who are surprised that we so readily open up our homes to others. It doesn’t happen like that in Austria. We are a sporting nation: if it moves we chase it, if stays still we lift it, if it’s not too high we jump over it, and if its really high we climb it. Insulting our politicians is a national past-time. We love the great outdoors and only Australians glorify villains such as Ned Kelly.
And yet an honest report must probe a little deeper. Many in our society cheat in their tax returns. Alcohol and drug abuse ruins families. Domestic assaults are on the increase. There are high rates of divorce and too many children living in broken homes. Political correctness sends us around the twist. Road rage. The homeless. The scourge of cancer. The depressed and mentally ill.
My letter to Central Africa would be a mixed report of highs and lows. Another blank page and I can become a little more philosophical. My society has a reputation for greed, consumerism and denial of the supernatural. The only truth is there is no such thing as truth. In my world we dare not question the dream that humanity can save ourselves and that we are the masters of the universe. We disfigure and pollute the world in the name of progress.
So although I would report many good things, the unfortunate reality is that our world is rotten at the core. In Col 1:14, the Apostle Paul sums up the state of our world, it is the ‘the dominion of darkness’. Stamped across my letter to Central Africa are the words, ‘my society lives in the dominion of darkness’. And this is not just a summary of our society, it also sums up first century Asia Minor and the city of Colossae.
But the church is not like the world. Christians are people who have been rescued by God from the dominion of darkness—as Col 1:13 explains—the church is a people who live in the kingdom of the Son. Paul is thankful that the Colossian church has grasped the life-changing power of the gospel. They are in the kingdom and are struggling in a world of darkness. Have a look with me at Col 1:3–5, ‘We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints—the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven’.
These are words of re-assurance. Paul thanks God for the saints in Colossae because they have three things: a genuine faith in Christ, they have a love for the saints, and they hope for that which is stored up for them in heaven. Such praise and thankfulness from the apostle is re-assuring. For you see, some scoundrels in Colossae were raising painful doubts as to whether or not Epaphras had given them the whole truth. There were rumours circulating that Epaphras had not passed on a full and complete gospel. Maybe there was a spiritual experience that the Colossians had not yet entered into because Epaphras had it wrong? Is there something more than faith in Christ, love for the saints, and the hope of heaven? Is there something more to the Christian life than faith, hope and love?
Paul is thankful to God because the Colossians are the ‘real deal’: they have faith, hope and love. Epaphras didn’t get it wrong, ‘You learned the gospel from Epaphras’, Paul says in verse 7, ‘our dear fellow-servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf’. Epaphras was faithful and trustworthy, he didn’t leave anything out—he didn’t distort the truth. And the gospel flourished, producing saints with an unswerving faith in Christ, love for the saints, and a hope that will be realised in the heavenly reality.
Paul’s thankfulness for the Colossian church extends to every church which demonstrates the fullness of the gospel. What an excellent reputation for this church to have! A church known for its faith in Christ Jesus and its love for all the saints. A church that has its heart set on the realities of heaven. A healthy, vibrant church unscathed by the barbs of false teaching. We are invited to imitate the maturity of the Colossian Church. The gospel preached to the Colossians is the same gospel—the same life-giving word of God—which was preached to us. It is fundamental to the Christian life that we embrace the centrality of the Lord Jesus Christ who has reconciled us to God.