Summary: When we think of God’s work in the lives of other believers, we should be moved to thankfulness for the faith, hope, and love that we see demonstrated in Christ followers.
Taking Time to Give Thanks
Several weeks ago, when we were organizing our file cabinet, I came across some love letters from Beth that I’ve kept ever since we were dating. When I found this folder, I immediately stopped working, sat down in the middle of the floor, and started browsing through them.
My favorite letter is dated June 30, 1983 and was sent to me when I was teaching at the Evangelical Bible College in Zimbabwe, Africa on a summer mission trip. Beth and I had met and become good friends the previous semester when we were at Moody Bible Institute together, and even though I wanted to date her, she had not yet seen the light! Things didn’t look very good because she was going out with some “dweeb” from another college. On top of that, she was planning to transfer to Nursing School in the fall and there was a chance I would never see her again.
Anyway, during the spring I found out that she had broken up with her boyfriend (actually, I pestered her roommate almost every day until she spilled the beans!). I had been praying for this relationship to tube out and was thrilled when it dissolved. But instead of immediately calling her for a date, I decided to wait until she told me this news herself. I thought that if she told me about the breakup, it would be a signal that she might be interested in me. I found out in March. April came and went. May went by quickly and then I left for Africa in June.
We both said we would write during the summer but I seriously doubted if I would ever hear from her again. She wrote several times and then I received a four-page epistle that changed everything. Let me read her closing lines: “Brian, one thing I may not have told you during spring semester but Rod and I haven’t been dating since about March. I mean nothing in telling you this other than just updating you because you are my brother and friend. In Jesus, Beth.”
I’ll never forget what I did when I read this. I was sitting on my bed in a dormitory in the middle of Zimbabwe. A number of my students were hanging out with me. I immediately started jumping around the room, shouting, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” My African brothers started hugging me without even knowing why I was so excited. I then looked up and Beth was walking toward me with her arms outstretched…Oh, I’m sorry that’s a scene from a movie.
A Love Letter
For the next 11 weeks, we’re going to focus on one of God’s love letters to us. For some of us, it will be like going back to look at something we’ve read before and maybe forgotten. For others of us, it will be like reading it for the first time. Please turn in your copy of the Scriptures to the New Testament book of Colossians.
The apostle Paul wrote this letter in A.D. 60. He had a long-distance relationship with his recipients because he was 1,000 miles away in a Roman prison. Colosse was located in Asia Minor, which is present-day Turkey. One of the unusual facts of this book is that Paul is writing to a group of people he had never met before. In fact, commentators believe that a man named Epaphras, who was converted under Paul’s ministry, started the church. The church was flourishing until some false teachers came and disrupted the growth and confused their theology. Paul’s purpose in writing was to encourage the believers and to combat errors in the church.
This false teaching was partly pagan and partly legalistic Judaism. This amalgamation of philosophies, beliefs, and errors is called “syncretism.” The Jewish element asserted that believers had to observe certain days, deny themselves some types of food, and follow various rituals. The pagan segment emphasized self-denial, the worship of angels, and a mystical wisdom that was available only for those who had special knowledge.
Paul recognized that the most dangerous part of this heresy was the deprecation of Christ, so he focused much of his attention on the supremacy of Jesus. In fact, Colossians is the most Christ-centered book in the entire Bible. That’s one of the reasons we’re studying it right now. In the midst of our cultural confusion about Christ, we must come back to His absolute superiority and preeminence. There’s a lot of mixing of views today, isn’t there? People borrow a little from this and a little from that. I call it “pop theology.” It comes from movies, MTV, books and philosophies that have their root in the same beliefs that surfaced in Colossae.
Colossians is one of Paul’s shortest letters but also one of the most exciting. We’re encouraged to explore the treasures of the gospel and to order our lives accordingly under the lordship of Christ. We’ll see that wrong doctrine always leads to wrong living. While we’re going to go through it section by section, it’s important to keep in mind that this is primarily a letter, meant to be read as a whole. Colossians 4:16 encourages us to read it out loud, which we will do throughout the series. In order to fully comprehend it, you might want to consider reading the entire book a couple times each week for the next three months.