Text: Colossians 1:1-14
Title: The Power of the Gospel
Most of the time, when we’re speaking or writing, we tend to put the most important information at the front end then move on from there. At the beginning of this letter, Paul and his partner Timothy give a warm greeting in the first verses, then go on to talk about the gospel message. That message, of course, is that Jesus came in the flesh, lived a sinless life, died a torturous death in our place, and then rose from the dead three days later. When we acknowledge that all this is true, and we ask Jesus personally to forgive our sins, we move from death to life, or darkness to light.
In this opening passage, Paul commended the Colossians because their lives displayed the power of the gospel among them and through them. Not only did they trust Christ initially to be saved, but they continued to live out the message and share it with each other.
What was true then can still be true today. Our lives, individually and corporately, can display the power of the gospel. This might lead someone to ask, “How can our lives display the power of the gospel?” In the passage before us, we see results of the power of the gospel.
[Read text, Colossians 1:1-14, English Standard Version. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise stated, are from the ESV.]
Once again, our lives, individually and corporately, can display the power of the gospel. The first result of the power of the gospel’s power in our life is this:
1. THE GOSPEL GIVES US HOPE (3-5).
Take a look at verse 5 and notice the phrase “…because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” Paul is saying that the faith and love they show each other comes from the hope they have of one day being with Jesus in glory. But what exactly is hope? We use that word a lot. Someone invested in stocks says, “I hope the market turns around.” A student who didn’t study for a test might say to a friend on the School bus, “I hope we have a substitute today who forgets to give the test.”
You see, our use of the word hope is usually based on uncertainty. Suppose an engaged couple says, “We have an outdoor wedding planned for Saturday, we hope it doesn’t rain.” In saying this, they are saying that the possibility of rain is there, but their preference is for no rain.
But when the New Testament uses the word hope, it is based on certainty. It’s stating an absolute fact, but that fact hasn’t occurred just yet. Let’s go back to that engaged couple. Suppose it’s Friday night, and one of them “I hope tomorrow is going to be Saturday,” we’d think that a little strange. Of course tomorrow’s going to be Saturday! It might rain, it might not. It could be cold, it could be hot. But no matter what, the day after Friday is Saturday, and nothing can change that. When Paul uses the word hope, he is doing something like that. He is stating a certainty that has not yet occurred.
Not only does he mention the hope, but then he says it’s “laid up.” That word in the Greek means something that is put away for future use. Most of us are probably saving for retirement in one way or another. I happen to have an account with our denomination’s Guidestone agency. When I attended the Southern Baptist Convention last month, I spent a little time with one of their staffers who told me that I’m on track to a fairly comfortable retirement because I’ve been socking it away over the years. That money is put away, I can’t get to it now, but it will be there when I need it.
Now here’s the difference between heaven and banks: heaven will never be robbed, and its value never fluctuates. Now in the bank of heaven there are all sorts of riches and blessings that we can only imagine. The point is, they are there in our name, and we will have full access to them in the next life.
When I come to retire, most of the money I take out of my account will be money that I put in. But when I get to heaven, I won’t be collecting on what I did as much as what God did. The hope we have isn’t based on what we’ve done, but what God’s done.
Let’s look at a couple other times that Paul used the word hope in connection with the future. In Romans 4:18, speaking of Abraham, the Bible says, “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, ‘So shall your offspring be.’”
Then over in First Thessalonians 4:13, we have the beginning of that beautiful passage that I like to read at the graveside of a believer: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” He then goes on to explain that the dead in Christ will rise up, and living believers will be taken up at Christ’s return, ending with “…and so we will always be with the Lord.”
Our hope is rooted not only in God’s promise for the future but on His performance in the past. God never broke a promise, He cannot lie, and that’s never going to change. If you’re saved, if you’ve trusted in Christ alone for the forgiveness of your sins, then this same hope that the ancient Christians had is yours as well. And this hope for them resulted in “love…for all the saints” (verse 4).
The bottom line is this: Hopeful people are helpful people. When we can look to a bright future with Christ, we then are free to love and help others. The old Baptist preacher, Vance Havner, was well known and much loved by many, especially near the end of his life. He said, “I’m homesick for heaven. It’s the hope of dying that’s kept me alive for this long.”
The hope that is already laid up for us in heaven gives us strength for this moment. And because of that strength, we can move on to the second result of the gospel’s power:
2. THE GOSPEL HELPS US GROW (6-8).
Notice in verse six where Paul writes, “…in the whole world it [the gospel] is bearing fruit and growing” Now that phrase “whole world” is what Greek scholar A. T. Robertson called “legitimate hyperbole, for the gospel was spreading all over the Roman Empire.”
Another example of hyperbole would be in Matthew 2:3 where “he [Herod] was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” In other words, not absolutely every person in Jerusalem was worked up over the Wise Men coming from the east, it only seemed that way.
But why would Paul have said this? Well, the book of acts has often been outlined according to 1:8: “ [Y]ou will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” The book of Acts covers the gospel spreading in Jerusalem in chapters one through seven; the gospel’s spread in Judea and Samaria is detailed in chapters eight through twelve; then the ends of the earth are taken up from chapter nine through the end, or chapter 28.
When Paul wrote Colossians, he was in prison at the end of the book of Acts. Paul knew the history that had preceded his work. Added to that were the many churches founded under his leadership, and this one, which was not founded by him. No wonder he saw nearly all of civilization as having been exposed to the gospel in some way.
But this growth doesn’t only come from the proclamation, but the proclamation must be understood, according to the end of Colossians 1:6. The Greek verb that we translate as understood carries the meaning of “making its influence felt, know exactly, completely, through and through. (BDAG, 3rd ed.)” This verb is also put in such a way that there was a particular moment in the past when the light came on for the Colossian Christians. I would submit that “understood” is a quick way of saying when they got saved.
For real growth to occur, we can’t just understand the Bible’s message on a cognitive plane, but the meaning of the word has to penetrate our thinking, our emotions, our experience, every part of who we are. A true understanding of the gospel requires that one give his entire life over to Christ, and allow Christ to have all of him.
It’s sad that a lot of people think they’re saved because they have what they consider to be an adequate understanding of the gospel. They know that Jesus is God’s Son, sent to die and rise again. They may have even prayed a prayer and walked the aisle, yet they are not saved. Why aren’t they saved? They aren’t saved because they confused knowing Jesus from a distance with knowing Jesus personally.
I know a fair amount about President George W. Bush. He is the son of former President George Herbert Walker Bush and is now married to Laura, and they have young adult twin daughters. I also know that in his youth, George W. Bush was a little wild and crazy, and that a conversation with evangelist Billy Graham played a part in him getting things right spiritually. Not only do I know all this, but when the Southern Baptist Convention met in Texas back in 1997, then Governor Bush made an appearance to welcome us to Dallas. When he was done, I made my way backstage and was able to chat briefly with him and shake his hand.
Even though all that’s true, I really can’t say I know President Bush. Not only that, but I’m sure if someone mentioned my name to him, he’d respond by saying, “Who?” Likewise, many church members and cultural questions “know” Jesus in the same way I know the President, and this is nothing short of tragic.
In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus warned of the awful fate of people like this: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Another part of growing is mentioned in verse six as “bearing fruit.” Now that can apply to evangelistic success, or many people getting saved. It can also apply to an individual bearing spiritual fruit. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” In other words the growth can be plural and personal. As in salvation, we continue to grow in Christ as we encounter Him in the Word, prayer, and fellowship with believers. May I humbly suggest, however, that the plural growth that pleases God will not come to a church where the individual members are not growing personally?
How about you, are you growing? Can you look back over the last few weeks, months, or years and honestly say that problem areas of life are less of a problem? Can you say you know Jesus more deeply and have a greater love for Him today than you did before?
The power of the gospel is evident in the hope we have and the growth we experience. There is another result of the gospel’s power working in us:
3. THE GOSPEL CHANGES OUR LIFE (9-11).
Verse ten says that a goal in life is “…to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” According to A. T. Robertson, the grammar indicates this phrase expresses “…purpose or result.” In other words Paul could be saying that we have “all spiritual wisdom and understanding” so that we will be able to walk worthily, or, he may be saying that walking worthily brings that wisdom and understanding.
Let’s set that aside a moment to look at the word “walk.” Walk in the New Testament is used literally and metaphorically. In the literal sense, we are told that Jesus and others walked from place to place. But when “walk” is used as a metaphor, it refers to one’s daily lifestyle and conduct. In other words, Paul is saying, “Let all your words, actions, and agendae be pleasing to Christ.” But is this a result of something, or the purpose? Even though Greek scholars can debate whether this phrase expresses purpose or result, one can’t help but notice that the words about walking are wedged in between “be filled with the knowledge” and “increasing in the knowledge.” I would suggest that the answer is “both.”
Some years ago, I heard a testimony from the wife of an older minister who was something of a mentor to me. This lovely lady shared about her habit of watching a certain soap opera that did anything but please the Lord. More than once, she fought off the nagging thoughts that she shouldn’t be watching it. One day when she was praying, she said she got the distinct impression that God was saying something like, “Until you change this behavior, I really can’t give you any more light.” So, she obeyed. When the time came for the broadcast, she busied herself away from the one-eyed monster. After a few days, she said she was much closer to God, and that He was again making many things plain to her.
A preacher from the nineteenth century, Bishop J. B. Lightfoot, put it this way: “The end of all knowledge is conduct.” More recently, John Maxwell has said, “You haven’t really learned anything if it doesn’t change your behavior.”
Isn’t this obvious from other fields? Think about it, you can’t go on to algebra until you’ve mastered basic arithmetic. You can’t go on to advanced algebra until you’ve mastered beginning algebra. Knowledge in just about any field requires a foundational knowledge perfected by experience before moving on to greater knowledge.
In the study of artists and musicians, we often make reference to their works in terms of time: early, middle, late, etc. The difference between these is change. In the same way, our lives have to continue showing change from the old to the new, from the immature to the mature, from the grayness to the glorious.
Paul says in verse 11 that all of this comes about “according to his glorious might.” Robertson says that the Greek wording is an “…an old word for perfect strength… In the New Testament it is applied only to God.”
This power to change is guaranteed by the very person and glory of God. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 says. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
The results of the gospel’s power in us are shown by our having hope, experiencing growth, and positive changes in our life. We’ve all heard the old saying, “Save the best for last,” and that seems to be what Paul did here. The final result of the gospel’s power is that:
4. THE GOSPEL CANCELS OUR PAST (12-14).
Verse 13 says that God “…has delivered us…and transferred us. The Greek word for “deliver” means “to rescue from danger (BDAG)”. It’s a word one might use in connection with saving someone’s life from a fire or drowning. Being saved from a fire’s not a bad example, because the gospel saves us from the eternal fire of hell.
We were separated from God by two things: Our sinfulness inherited from Adam, and our sins that we committed on our own. When the iron curtain was standing, many people contained by it knew what freedom was and wanted to experience it. But they couldn’t really live in freedom until they got out of the oppressive country of their birth, the only home they had ever known.
So, at great expense and risk to their lives, they managed to leave, defecting to the west, where they could live a free life. In the same way, God bore all the expense, He took all the risk, so that we could “defect,” or be delivered from the kingdom of darkness.
Not only were we delivered, or saved, but God then transferred us, or moved us from there, to His glorious kingdom. Imagine a family whose modest 1,200 square foot house caught fire. For whatever reason, they were unable to get themselves out of there in time, and were doomed to die. But then, a brave firefighter moves in, finds them, and brings them out, setting them on the lawn away from the blaze.
Once the fire is out, the firefighters pack up and go, leaving the family outside on the lawn. That’s not the way it’s done, but even if it were, we would say the firefighters were wonderful for saving those lives.
But suppose they brought the family out of their little house and said, “Look, your home’s gone and can’t be rebuilt. But we have a beautiful 3,000 square foot home across town that’s just been built. It has all the latest appliances, technology, gizmos and gadgets that everybody wants. It’s bought and paid for, but just sitting there empty. We’ll take you there tonight so you can get cleaned up and get some rest. Sometime in the next few days we’ll meet with you to sign the papers so you can take full ownership.”
Well, that’s what God did for us! He not only delivered us, but He transferred us! He took us from the kingdom, where the wicked ruler kept us in a state where sinning was the easiest and best way. Because God let His son, Jesus, die on the cross for our sins, the debt of those sins has been paid. God can look us in the eye and say, “The damage has been taken care of, the bill’s paid in full, now come over here and live with me.”
The great hymnwriter, Charles Wesley, puts it this way: “O for a thousand tongues to sing/My great Redeemer’s praise,/The glories of my God and King,/The triumphs of His grace…He breaks the pow’r of cancelled sin/He sets the pris’ner free;/His blood can make the foulest clean, His blood availed for me.”
Not only do we have a glorious future, but our gloomy, gory past of sin and regret is cancelled out. And how was it done? It’s all possible because of Jesus, or the “beloved Son” as Paul calls Him in verse 13. Because of what Jesus did, dying on the cross, shedding His blood, lying in the tomb for three days then bursting out never to die again; because of all this, you and I can have His eternal life and strength and glory in our lives on a daily basis.