Summary: The Spirit provides Christians with an inner strength that enables us to endure with patience and joy.
Colossians 1:1-14 “Inner Strength”
Our text today contains one of my favorite Bible verses. It was a passage of scripture that I learned when I participated in a weekend retreat in high school. The verse is Colossians 1:10, “To lead a life worthy of the Lord fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” For me, this verse is a succinct description of what the life of a Christian—the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ—is to be like.
At first glance, this style of life appears to be a lot of hard work. It is a way of life that goes against our natural inclinations, and it doesn’t seem to be very exciting, fun, or appealing. This certainly isn’t Paul’s view and it isn’t what he wants to communicate with his readers. Paul understands that the life he describes is not one that is attained by discipline and hard work. Rather, it is a life that is the fruit of discovery.
THE CENTRALITY OF THE GOSPEL
We are not sure of the Colossian context to which the letter was written, even after hundreds of years of research. We do know that there were influences that were attempting to get the Colossian church to add things to the gospel of Jesus Christ. There could have been some seduction by the infamous circumcision party. Also, the Greek/Roman mystery cults and philosophical schools were alluring. Just like in our world today, there were other gospels being preached.
Some are saying that God's love is not so free, but depends on religious rites and achievements which must be performed if we are to be sure of getting past the powers which hold sway in this universe. The result can be religious preoccupation with our own destiny. We can become busy trying to justify ourselves. We can do that by performing religious rites or doing many other things "religiously". We can even make ourselves busy with overwork (even with church work!) to achieve that sense of being valued and ultimately coming through and finding a place of worth.
While Colossians 1:1-14 does not develop around an explicitly stated question it, too, is an introduction of sorts to the implicit question that drives the letter: Will you hold fast to the true word of the Gospel, or will you be seduced by religious fads and philosophical deceits?
The gospel that the Colossians is to hold true is the good news that because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection we have the forgiveness of sins, new life, and adoption of God’s children.
The author prays that they may have knowledge and strength to hold fast against the dangers. He also wants them to be relieved of the stress and anxiety which these troubles have brought so that can have joy and thanksgiving (1:12). This is about a sense of peace. It depends on believing in God as the one who alone holds the future and makes a place of belonging for us.
What is described, proclaimed, in Colossians is not "as may appear at first blush" primarily a call to action or right behavior, but a description of the reality of the life that is enabled (Colossians 1:12) by the gospel. Paul writes, “Giving thanks to thanks to the Father, who HAS ENABLED you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He HAS RESCUED us from the power of darkness and TRANSFERRED us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we HAVE redemption ... “
What Christ has done is past tense—a completed action. What we have been given by grace through faith is past tense—also, a completed action. The Christian life is not a religious, self-improvement program where we strive to become better people. No, indeed! The Christian life is a life of discovery—realizing what we have been given—and living it it’s reality. The Christian life is yielding to the empowering, transforming touch of the Holy Spirit.
As a pastor, I have been at the bedside of many people who have had heart bypass surgery. After the surgery, these people are placed on a breathing machine, or ventilator. The machine helps them breath. Some patients, when they regain consciousness, attempt to control their breathing. They end up fighting the machine, and it is very uncomfortable and scary. It is better if they can simply relax and let the machine breath for them. The Spirit’s work in our lives can be compared to a ventilator. If we begin to work hard and be in control—if we, in a sense, hyperventilate—when fight against the Spirit and are unable to experience the transformed life that is ours through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is not proclaimed in order to equip and elicit a response, rather, the fruits of the Christian life are declared (not exhorted but declared) in order to proclaim the gospel in reverse. What has already been proclaimed is reclaimed in order to praise the Colossians' faithful living, faithful living which is only possible because faith has been quickened by the word which has already been preached and presumably heard and, by the power of the Spirit, received through faith.