Beginning a series on the book of Colossians, Todd discusses the unmoving truth that is found in Christ and how Paul brought that to a city struggling against many different faiths. He challenges believers to make sure they know they are trusting in the right things and embracing the hope they have been given in Christ. Hold fast in Him and be fruitful.
Don't Let Them Fool You, Just Keep Trusting Him
From Futile Speculation to Futile Regulation: The Foolishness of Life Apart from Christ
Experts Are Everywhere but Can They be Trusted: How to Respond to Philosophy's Challenge
Our Journey to Get the Stain of Spaghetti/Sin Out of Our Lives
Why The Light Has to be Left On
What You Lose If You Leave This Chance To Serve This King
Our Colossal Christ and What You Must Quit When You Know Him
The First Thing We Ought to Pray for and Pursue
Investigating the Colossal Claims and Obligations of the Gospel
Well, the cat's out of the bag. The big secret's being revealed. CSI. I'll tell you what it's going to be. That's going to be a trigger for you these next weeks and months as we look at every fabric of this book called Colossians in your Bible.
As we investigate the truth that is there, this ancient document that will speak to us to allow us to discern what is true, we're going to look at it in a way that we hope every time you see these very familiar three letters that are blazing on your TV about five nights a week…we have CSI: Las Vegas, CSI: NY, CSI: Miami…I hope you think of CSI: Watermark, what we're doing right here.
You're not going to be able to stop thinking about what we're doing at church, because it's everywhere. The Colossians scene will be investigated, and we will discern from there what we can know about who is guilty and who has been delivered from guilt. That's the big secret. That's the hook.
We always try and use things, whether it's a song or stuff in the culture, that will force you to remember truths we've talked about in a way that will bless you and challenge you throughout your daily life. If you've got a Bible, welcome to CSI: Dallas. Here for the next few months, during our fall season, we're going to study the Colossians scene and investigate it and see what could be there.
How could something that existed 2,000 years ago that was destroyed by an earthquake… It's been preserved by security and by authority, who said, "No one go in there. I'm going to preserve it just like it was, the truths the folks who live there were wrestling with, so that years later those who want to investigate it can figure out what is true and what is not."
I watched one episode of this just so, with integrity, I could make sure we're tying it in. We know that much of that show is dark and deals with a lot of sexual stuff, certainly a lot of depravity, and things like that.
You're going to find out that this is a book that wants to speak into those who live in darkness and who, in depravity, are forced without hope to make choices that bring destruction to them and death to others and leave them separated from the God who is life. We're going to use the tools that we've been given and the evidence that has been, by grace, preserved, and we're going to go in there and figure out what was going on and what we can do with it today.
The one episode I saw was dealing at the very beginning with a body that had been, we later found out, thrown from the top of a building. The one CSI agent was walking up with a younger one, and he said, "What are you going to do?" He said, "I'm going to talk to this body," and he goes, "Well, that won't do you much good. The body is dead." He said, "Well, I'm not going to talk to it. I'm going to let it talk to me and tell me what happened."
So he got down there and looked at it and used his experience as an investigator to draw truths out that pointed to guilt so that truth might reign. That's exactly what we're going to do with this book. We're going to use skills, and we're going to learn habits that will allow us to go to this body of work which is not dead but claims to be living and active and can communicate to us truths that will deliver us from hopelessness and darkness into truth and life.
Are you with me? CSI: Watermark. The Colossians scene will be investigated. Turn there with me. What you're going to find is that this letter was written to a group of people 2,000 years ago who were dealing with something that is extremely relevant to us today. That's why we have to investigate it. It's in your New Testament about halfway through. You'll get around the books to the people who lived in a community called Galatia, some who lived in a little region called Ephesus, and some who lived in a region called Philippi.
Then you get to a group of folks who lived in a town called Colossae. Colossae is in what is modern-day Turkey. It's about 110 miles inland from, at the time, what was a major city, a city called Ephesus. Ephesus was visited by a guy named Paul. Paul was a guy who, by the grace of God (we're going to find out), had been trained as an individual who could communicate what was true in order to lead people out of darkness, death, and confusion.
He had been on a number of different journeys to tell people about the truth he had discovered and had been revealed by the grace of God so folks could walk in newness of life. He went to a town called Ephesus. While he was in Ephesus he bumped into a gentleman there by the name of Epaphras. Epaphras was in Ephesus for whatever reason but was from this town of Colossae.
Colossae was called that because it was a town that had a lot of large rocks, giant formations of stone. So we know that we get from the language that was prevalent in that day a word we call colossal, which means huge or large. Because there were large rock formations in this region of Turkey they called that town the colossal town or Colossae: the city of the large rocks.
So in this city that was full of big rocks, there were some big things that were going on. There was a lot at stake. What was at stake there was this man, Epaphras, had heard this truth that had been taught to him by Paul, this message of hope that took people out of their own systems of belief, out of their own worldviews, and out of their own creations of dealing with their guilt and their sense of sin in harming one another.
This man came and spoke of a guy who desperately wanted to have a relationship with the humanity he had created and the humanity who had left him. God still sought them, and Paul explained to him the origins of humankind, not as the Greeks did but as the nation of people known as the Jews knew.
Paul said that God had chosen a group of people to be messengers. A kingdom of priests. Folks that relate between God and man to tell the world how they might live in relationship with God. There were a lot of philosophers alive at that particular time. Especially around that region in Asia Minor, in Greece, and in Athens.
Those great philosophers, those lovers of wisdom, were men who were assigned to great thinking, and they were men who were assigned to answer the great questions of life. Who are we? Who are you? Why are we here? What does this all mean? Why is there evil? Where are we going? Is there any reason to hope?
These men…among them, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates are some of the more famous ones that we know about…were men that told people in their region what they believed was true. The highest goal of a philosopher was to discern all truth and to hear from a supreme intellect, if you will, a divine giver of wisdom.
Plato is well known for saying because we have not heard a still more-sure word from God, we are forced like a ship (he said a bard) which is making its way through a storm in the sea at night to trust only in the best opinions of men. In other words, there is no truth anchored in the heavens by which men might navigate by in order to find direction in life to get to their intended destination, which is what happens on a night in the ocean where there is no storm.
They had found out that there are things fixed in the heavens that are true, and they could navigate by them. Plato is saying, "There seems to be a cloud over us. We can't see truth that is anchored in the heavens, and as a result of that you've got to trust guys like me and Socrates and Aristotle. You have to trust in the best opinions of men unless you heard a still more-sure word from God."
Then all of a sudden, crashing onto the scene into this Asia Minor area, there was one who came and said, "There are some people who have heard a still more-sure word from God who don't have philosophers that ask these great questions because God in his kindness has pulled back the curtain and spoken to them and affirmed his word and authenticated his word by the signs that he brought about to show that this is true."
You'll find that throughout the scriptures there were four major times where miracles happened. They did not continue for long throughout those times, but whenever God was speaking to individuals, revealing truth in a way that he wanted it affirmed, you'll find miracles were at their height. The first time you really see miracles intervening largely in the course of humankind was around a guy named Moses. There were 10 major plagues that happened.
You guys have seen the movie, if you haven't read the book, and you know that Charlton Heston threw that stick down. It was all he had. God said, "I want you go take 2 million people that are being oppressed by the most powerful nation on earth, and I want you to lead them out." Moses said, "We have a couple of problems. First of all, I have a sp-sp-sp-sp-sp-sp-speech impediment. Secondly, I'm a shepherd. I don't think I can go riding in there on Fluffy the Sheep saying, 'Lead the cavalry charge. Let my people go.' All I have is a stick."
God said, "That'll do, because you don't just have a stick. You have me. You take that stick and lead the people out." We know that Moses, with the thing that God had given him, did some amazing things. Split seas, brought fear to powers, turned the Nile to blood, and delivered people from oppression. God used that to authenticate, "This is my man. I'm speaking to him and revealing things to him that I want you to take note of."
So miracles continued through the time of Moses in a way to affirm his leadership authority in the fact that he was, in fact, one in communion with God. You find that when Moses left, Joshua came on the scene. To affirm Joshua's leadership, God also did some miracles early on in his leadership.
What happened is through the law that had been communicated to these people, God said, "I going to choose you and use you. Not because you're better than anybody else, but because I love the world, I'm going to set you apart as a people and make you holy. You are to live differently. You're not going to exploit each other and harm each other and damage each other. You're going to love and serve each other.
You're going to treat people with dignity and respect. You're going to honor women and the weak in your society. You're going to love and honor me in a way that the world will take note of you and say, 'Why are you so different, set apart, and holy? Why are you saints? Why are you wise in the way that you live?' Your answer is to be, 'Because we have heard from God. Not from good thinking of men, but we have heard from God.'"
Those nations are to say, "Can we hear from God?" They can say to them, "Absolutely." It's not about being a Jew. It's about knowing who God is, and he has asked us, as he has blessed us and protected us and provided for us and shown us how to live in a way that would bring a blessing to us…shalom, peace, prosperity of life…to share shalomwith you.
God wanted Israel to be that kingdom of priests, that nation that would take truth and hope to a watching world, but they weren't faithful in that. They consistently left God and his program, so God sent to them prophets. Those prophets, when they early came on the scene (Elisha and Elijah), would come. They were men that God authenticated the fact that they were speaking for God to get the people of Israel back on course.
They were to be a kingdom of priests, and to begin to act in a way that God wanted them, as called-out ones, and to act by authenticating their message with miracles, signs, and works of wonder. You'll find that after the prophets came on the scene, some of the miracles left and God went to the spoken word.
He said, "I've already shown you I have prophets. When a man says, 'Thus sayeth the Lord,' if everything he says comes to pass, you'll know he's my prophet. If he's off on one thing, stone him. He's a false prophet." This is not about getting most of them right. If a guy says he has a relationship with me, and he's representing me, we get it right every time."
So the prophets continued. The people that were supposed to give hope to a lost and deceived world squandered again and again their opportunity to do that, until God finally sent his final prophet, the greatest revelation of who God was. One that when he came, he said, "To know me is to know the Father. To see me is to see the Father. I know there are a lot of ways that are out there that you guys think will lead you to life.
I'm telling you, God's about to make it abundantly clear there's one way. It's through relationship with him. It's specifically through the provision that he's going to make for you that has been anticipated through the revelation I have given my people before, and that is that innocent blood must be shed to satisfy my justice when men offend me and leave me."
This person who came said, "I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life." He, again, went to the religious leaders, the people that were supposed to be a kingdom of priests, those that were influencing them and telling others how they would represent God to our world, and he challenged them. He said some incredibly hard things to them, and they hated him for it.
Early on in the ministry of Christ he said, "I'm going to show you that I am who I said I am." You guys know as the prophet spoke to you before, that there would be a day that one would come who would be Prince of Peace. He would be mighty God. He would be a wonderful counselor. He would be the eternal Father. He would be your great delivering hope.
God would come. He would give sight to the blind. The lame would walk. The deaf would hear. The captive would be free. Jesus came, and he said, "Look what I'm doing. All of these things are happening, and you know who I am, and yet you reject me. Not because you don't like what I say and you can't see what I do. You reject me because it's going to alter your course, and you are not willing to humble yourself before God and be the people he's called you to. As a result of that, there's going to be great judgment."
This Jesus came, and he offered himself to these people and explained to them how theirs could be life again if they would just receive the provision of God through God's own sacrifice of himself for their sins. All their worship services were to anticipate the fulfillment had come. Mighty God, eternal Father, Prince of Peace was here because they were guilty to die in their place.
Early on in Christ's ministry he authenticated his words by his works. After Jesus, there were some who he sent out as apostles (men that were sent forth to declare the message of who he was). The Jewish people had rejected God's offer to allow them to be his spokespersons. A holy group of people set apart in such a way that the world would cock its head and watch the way they live with such love and wisdom and protection and shalom (blessing and peace of life) that they would say, "What is your secret?" They would say, "No. The question is, "Who is our God?"
Because they didn't do that, Jesus said, "I'm going to call out some other ones," and he formed what is called an ecclesiological body. Ecclesiastes, ecclesia, ekklesia, means in the Greek language called out ones, folks who'd been called out of darkness into light that they might be, as the Jews were, a kingdom of priests that would bring hope to a hurting and hopeless world who are without hope, it says, and without God. They were to be men that would go out and share that God had a message for the world.
Even though the Jews were to instruct the non-Jews, he said, "Because the Jews won't do their job, I'm going to make the Jews jealous by blessing people that will walk with me. I will call them out. Some will be Jews and some won't. The majority won't be, because for a while the eyes of the Jews will be hardened, and they'll be blinded. I will reveal my wonder of who I am to others, and they will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation of people," until the Jews figure out the reason those folks live lives that are filled with blessing and wonder and peace is because they have a relationship with a God they had moved away from.
When the apostles went out it was the fourth major time that there was a lot of miracles early on in the apostle's ministry to affirm that these men were who they said they were; men who were sent out by mighty God, eternal Father, Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, the Messiah to give hope to a watching world. Then, once they were authenticated, and their message was affirmed, and it was established, and the measure of truth (what was called the Canon) had been put together, you'll find the miracles taper off, because God doesn't do sideshows. God vindicates wisdom by her deeds, and then he calls people to respond to truth as he watches a group of holy ones live their lives in such a way that they would want a relationship with him.
Paul took this message (he was one of those apostles), and he told a guy named Epaphras in Ephesus about it. Epaphras was so moved, given so much hope, and his life was so transformed by this message of God seeking him…providing means for him to be restored into relationship with a God who loved him…that he went back to the city he was from and shared the hope of Jesus Christ, the gospel, the good news of who God was, where they came from, why there was evil, what God was going to do about it, where they were going, and how they should love each other because of the hope of what is to come and their faith in what has been accomplished.
Epaphras stayed there for a while. Paul, we know, had gone onto other places and was arrested in Rome. Rome would put up with almost anything. Rome was not threatened much by a new face. When they would conquer an area, they would let the religions or the ideas of that area prevail unless one of three things was going on.
1._ If it somehow threatened the peace or security of that region._ Rome was all about having control over the lands that it was in authority over and didn't want a bunch of civil wars and fighting. This, by the way, was the line of attack that the religious leaders of Jerusalem used against Pilate to motivate him to kill Jesus. Pilate said, "He's claiming to be your corrector and your prophet. You deal with him." The Pharisees said, "We can't deal with him. The people love him." Pilate says, "That's your problem."
They said, "It's about to be your problem. We know that Caesar has given you authority over this area. If you don't deal with Jesus in a way that we're unwilling to…if we deal with him severely the people will hate us…we're going to tell you that we will stir up trouble, and there is going to be a war amongst the Jews, those that follow after this one who says he is our hope and those who are entrenched in our traditions and legalism and our own systems of self-aggrandizement. It won't look good for you, Pilate, because there will not be peace where you're to govern."
They said to him, "If you don't deal with this Jesus, you are no friend of Caesar's. You'd better put out this man who says that we need to act differently than we act, or we will act differently than we've been." Rome would put down religions, faith systems, and worldviews when it threatened peace in an area.
2._ If their immorality was affecting society._ They would put down world ideas and worldviews and practices when their immorality was such that they could see its effect on society.What's interesting about that is we know Rome fell from within, not because of pressure from outside. Rome lived among this idea that many of us, even in this land, begin to have, which is, "Who cares what a man does in private as long as it doesn't affect what he does in public?"
So Rome said, "We don't care what you do in your bedrooms. We don't care where the orgies are. We don't care where the party is. We don't care where your values express themselves in your home, as long as it doesn't bring out destruction in the streets." What they could not tell was that immorality and inconsistency in the home lead to insecurity in the children, hatred of authority in the children, and future leadership that would have no mores of their own, which eventually destroyed their society.
In their limited thinking, they said, "Who cares what men do in their bedroom, and who cares what women do in their little societies as long as what's out here still seems appropriate and proper."The sickness and death that was hidden always comes out and destroys what they tried to protect. Rome, when they saw things in the street they thought needed to be put down, would put it down if there was religion that, in their mind, threatened again the peace.
3._ If civil order was being affected._ They would put down religions that they thought, in some way, affected civil order.That is one of the reasons that Paul got arrested. One of the times when he was preaching in Ephesus he caused such a stir amongst the land and the people that shops shut down. It says 20,000 people came to take him on in some square. He sat in a coliseum and they said, "Listen, you are threatening our industry and our commerce here in this little province of Rome."
"This guy Paul is stirring up trouble, and he's telling people they shouldn't worship at the Temple of Artemis. I make my living by selling little figurines of Artemis' temple." There were bad souvenir stands back then, and the guys who made them said, "Look. This is a tourist city. People come here to sleep with Artemis' priestesses, and they buy my little trinkets, and they eat my fish, and they stay in my inn."
Paul is saying, "That's crazy." Rome said, "Come here, Paul. We don't want to affect what's going on in the civic world that we're in. We get tax dollars from what's happening in with Artemis." So he was imprisoned. Somewhere along the way, Epaphras made his way back to Rome and told Paul, "I took the message you gave me in Ephesus, and I took it to this giant of a city (this town of Colossae). The people there are now being attacked."
It's interesting. They were being attacked because they believed in this message Paul had given them by others that lived in that town. "Look, we're threatened by you and what you say. Even though we say we want to discuss wisdom and what is true, spiritual seeking in this community is 'in.'" Just like it is today in America.
You don't believe me? You go look at your local bookstore and see all the books that are up there about spirituality. People love to read different books about this guy's idea and this gal's idea, and this is the meaning of life, and this is where you can go.
What is very "out" is those folks who take a stand and say, "This isn't spiritual seeking. This is spiritual finding. This is the way. This is the truth. This is the life. Quit looking, and start acting like you found it." Here's how you can know it's true: Investigate it. Test it. Scrutinize it. But quit saying you love truth without really investigating this, because this one passes the test."
That's not very "in" in our society. Folks go, "Wait a minute. I don't like you saying that because that means all of us are wrong." Let me just tell you something. Truth is always universal. There's an idea in our society today which says, "We're fine with you believing something's true. If it works for you, great, but don't tell me it has to work for me."
Note this, and I'll establish it again later. Heresy, lies, and philosophies are always local, and they're constantly changing. They change when the harm that they bring is manifest. Contrary to that, truth is always consistent. It never changes. It's not local; it's universal. Truth is always helpful, never harmful. Paul says, "Test it. See if it's so. Put it up against your way of living." Jesus said, "You don't like what I say? Let it flush itself out. Wisdom will vindicate itself by its deeds."
These people in Colossae were being attacked because they said they had found, by the grace of God, truth that lead them to the way, that God had come. They didn't need to listen to Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates anymore. People had traveled to the East and heard of Confucius already. Buddhists. Hinduism was already alive in that day and age.
Jesus still said, "Look. You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.This is truth; that is error." People said, "If you don't worship the gods of this region like we do… We believe the gods of this region are responsible for giving us prosperity and support. So your atheism toward our Gods… If there's trouble in this land, we're going to blame it on you."
It's interesting. There was an earthquake in Colossae shortly after the letter to the Colossians was written. Probably many locals there thought, "There we have it. There were a group of people here who were growing because of the way they loved one another. The gods of this region got angry and destroyed this city." So that error in that philosophy and that idea continued.
Paul wrote this letter to them and said, "I'm going to tell you. You have heard truth from Epaphras. This is a book about deciding whether or not you have trusted in the right things." People rejected the ideas of Epaphras, Paul, and Jesus Christ when they came because they say, "They are new and strange."
Guess why folks have a problem with truth you believe today? Not because it's new and strange. They will challenge you and say, "You shouldn't believe what you believe. That is old and familiar. Don't you know we've evolved past that? Don't you know that when they first thought these ideas, Darwin hadn't yet come storming on the scene? Don't you know now that we've scientifically proven that you can't believe what you believe?
Those ideas perpetrated themselves amongst society and people of the faith for a lot of years. Christians cowered to the ideas of evolutionism for a while until science caught up with that and exposed the harm in evolution, not just scientifically its error but philosophically its result. So other heresies continued to rise. A popular heresy that's on the stage again today is, "You believe what's good for you, I'll believe what's good for me, but don't tell me that there's absolute truth for all of us."
Well, we all know truth is true everywhere if it's true. It doesn't change, and it's always a blessing. One of these tests that you should always put on somebody's idea, on somebody's philosophy and its fruit, is, "If everybody believed it and lived that way, would this world be a better place?"
You can test that with sexual deviancies and you can test that with ideas about where we came from and where we are going and ask yourself, "If everybody embraced that wholeheartedly, not just philosophically but practically put it into play, what kind of world would this be?" When you do that with Christianity…
What would it be like if a group of people loved each other, did nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but with humility of mind considered one another as more important than themselves, who didn't merely look out for their own personal interests but also the interest of others, who didn't live as Confucius said, who said, "Don't do to others as you don't want them to do unto you," but were proactive, like Jesus said, "Do unto others as you want them to do unto you"?
What would that world be like? The answer is it would be heaven on earth. His kingdom would come. There would be order and blessing and love and community and honor and safety and prosperity like this world has never seen since we walked away from God's created will for us. This is a book that asked the question, "What is true? Are you trusting in the right things?"
We're going to investigate it because we're being criticized. Not because it's new and strange, but because we're still believing what is old and now familiar and tired. I'm going to tell you, every time you see CSI flash on your screen I want you to think back to what we're talking about right here. Should I believe it? Is humankind guilty? Has there been somebody who has been prosecuted by God so truth may reign. That's what we're looking at.
Colossians, chapter 1. Open up your Bible there with me. We'll just take a little reading right here. What we're going to do as we investigate this book is we're going to not speak to it, in other words force our ideas on it, but we're going to try and fair and say, "What is there that wants to speak to us?" You're never done investigating a scene until you ask yourself, "What did I learn from the evidence or the truth that was positioned there before me?"
You want to use every bit of the mind that God has given you to do this. So as we look at this, and today we'll just look at eight short verses, our goal is going to be not just to know the information so I can state what was there (observationally), I have to draw conclusions from it and say, "What difference is it going to make in my life?" Let me show you a few. I'll tell you what I'm talking about.
"Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother." I stop right there, and I read this… Our society's all about the celebrity, all about the stud, all about the guy that's out front. We think that Paul wrote most of our New Testament, that God used him to be a man who recorded evidences and truths that he wanted to preserve, so we could know as we investigate what is truth. Test it, verify it, and see if it is so.
We find out that in Paul's writings, Paul didn't write them alone. Paul was a man that locked arms with others. He knew two was better than one. Paul put into practice what Jesus established, which is that you don't go out alone. The person who goes out alone and tries to make himself a celebrity and set himself apart is a man that seeks his own desires.
Paul wrote this book with Timothy and with some others you'll see throughout the New Testament. Community was established then. Partnership and team ministry were in place. Paul used his gifts, specifically the way God had called him and raised him up, but he never operated in isolation, and neither should I, and neither should you.
He wrote it to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who were at Colossae. That word saints is sometimes translated as the word holy. He said, "You are holy people, but I don't want you separating yourself into some commune in the city of Colossae. That's not at all the idea of holiness there."
Paul said, "I know who you are. You're just as good as I am because of what Christ has done. The truth that transformed me is the truth that transformed you. I've never had a chance to speak to you, but the message that delivered me, the Spirit of God which changed my life, is the Spirit of God which has changed yours. You're just as loved and useful to God as I am because you are faithful to humble yourself before where God is revealed.
But don't pull yourself aside. Holy does not mean holier than thou. It does not mean you have your own little education centers and own little community centers and own little family life centers, and you don't interact with the community." He says, "No, quite the contrary. I want you to be in Christ but in the world, and in the world but not of the world."
Holiness, biblically, is never horizontal. It's never, "We don't want to go where those people are. Let's get away from them. Look at the things they do. Look at the things they drink. Look at the conversations they have. Let's not get near those wicked, ugly, fallen people. If they want to crawl over here to our cleanliness and righteousness, they can come."
Holiness is for you be in the world but not of the world. You separate yourself not horizontally or geographically. In other words the scripture says, "You set yourself apart by the grace of God as his Spirit lives in you and you are in Christ and live as he lived." Your life should be so different that folks did what they did with Jesus. They were always around him. They couldn't resist his gentleness, his wisdom, his love, his authenticity, his concern, the way he spoke forcefully to error and compassionately to hurt, and the way he loved like no one else had loved.
He said, "You get your marriages, and you live in a city that's torn apart where folks can't reconcile with each other, and you reconcile through hardship. You ask each other's forgiveness. You shine the light of God's Word on your heart. You do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit. You treat that person the way you want to be treated, and as you do that, the watching world will beg you for an explanation, just like God intended."
Sanctify Christ as lord of your hearts. In other words, become holy, and always be prepared to make a defense when someone asks you to give an account for the hope that is within you. Why do you love that way? I read a story recently about a nurse who was loving one of our soldiers whose leg had been exposed through shrapnel and bombs.
Infection had set in, and the leg was gangrenous. They were trying to preserve the leg, so daily they had to wet-to-dry pack that wound. He had an open wound in his body. Death was rotting in there. It stunk. Twice a day she had to go into that leg and remove that saline-soaked, iodine-soaked, Betadine-soaked gauze they put in there while it's wet. As it dries it adheres, and it affixes itself to the death that's in there.
They pull it out and rip the death out of there with it hoping that they can get the infection out so that body can begin to heal and save itself before we have to remove the leg and before the leg rots and kills the body. Somebody watched this nurse do this repeatedly. They finally walked by one day, just overcome with the nastiness of it and the stench of it and the wailing and the crying. The guy said, "I would not do that for a million dollars."
The nurse looked back and said, "I wouldn't do it for a million dollars either, but I'll do for love. I'll do it because I know this man risked his life for me to preserve the truth that will enable us to live in this world with security and not in terror. I'll do it because I know this man is loved by God and my tending to him in every way I can, through availing myself to all the medical information that have, I might preserve his leg in a way that he could live in the way that he was designed to live. I'll do it for love. I wouldn't do it for a million dollars. It's not worth it."
That exactly the way you and I… If someone looked at you and said, "I would not put up with that for a million dollars," do you know what we should say? "Neither would I, but for the cause and sake of Christ, to honor him, and to love as he loved, I will do it. I hope you are confused by it. As I live differently in your midst… When you pull back, I dive in. When other people want to peace-fake or peace-break, and when I peace-make, I hope you go, 'Why are you like that?'"
I got a call this week. I've talked about some good things my kids did. There was one of my kids who hurt a friend at school. One of my kids who was doing well in some things. He took his position of athletic prowess and being a kid that's a little more with it at his specific age. He hurt the feelings of another child. By the grace of God I found out about it. I got a chance to talk to that mom and say, "Hey, I have to tell you. I heard this happened." I talked to my son, and I said, "Hey let's talk about what happened right there? Did this happen?" He said, "Yeah, this is what happened."
I said, "Awe, man. You know what? You have a chance to love so differently than other guys your age do. You know stuff that other guys your age don't know. You're supposed to be so different in your class that teachers want to figure out what's going on in your little 8-year-old mind. Your classmates want to be around you. They're not even sure why, but they see it because you're kind to them and loving to them.
You reached out to the one that everybody else teases or the new kid who doesn't have friends yet. You're not the one who says no. You're the one who says yes. If everybody else says no, you go. You make it so fun over there the rest of the group joins you, and you pull them in. That's the way you love."
That parent begged me, "Please don't make a bigger deal of this. I just wanted to talk about this and figure out what we could do." I said, "I'll tell you what we can do. We can come over there and we can ask your forgiveness. We can talk about this, and we can help these young men grow, and we can see transformation happen in their lives." She had no category to put that in.
When that little 8-year-old showed up over there, knocked on that door and say, "Hey, my dad helped me see, and I think I hurt your heart. I wouldn't want somebody to treat me like that. I need to know. Will you forgive me? I don't want to do it again. If I do that again will you point that out to me? So someone else didn't have to tell my dad first." I have to tell you, I could see this mom watch her son be loved in a way that… She goes, "My kid did this," and "This is what kids do," and "I thought little girls did this. I didn't know little boys did sometimes."
I said, "Hey, let me just tell you something. I'm not mad at my son. Even 40-year-olds make mistakes, but when 40-year-olds make mistakes there's a right way to handle it, and when 8-year-olds make mistakes there's a right way to handle it. So he doesn't make these mistakes when he's 40, we're going to deal with it when he's 8. Trust me. Let me come over. We won't make your son embarrassed or feel like he was a tattletale to anybody. We'll make your son feel valued and loved, as I know my son wants him to be."
I have to tell you, that doesn't typically happen. The only reason it happened is because, by the grace of God, he said, "Todd, this is way you live. By the grace of God, buddy, this is the way we live, isn't it?" It changes people. It gives them a sense of, "What's your motivation for that?" To my knowledge, she has no idea what I do for a living.
I don't want her to know. I just want her to be curious about who I am so one day I can tell her, "Let me tell you why we want to be peacemakers and ask your forgiveness when we hurt you. God is real. Jesus is a lover who has forgiven us. He is true, and this is how his people live." This is what Paul says. He says in this letter, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father. We give thanks to God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ…" Watch this. "…praying always for you, since we heard of your faith…"
In other words, the fact that you rest in the finished work of Christ. Paul loved this little trilogy: Faith, hope and love. He said, " [We rejoice] since we've heard of your faith in Christ Jesus…" The fact that you rest in what God has done. "…and the love…" I'll talk about that in a second. "…which you have for all of the saints because of the hope laid up for you in heaven…"
In other words, because of the result of the promise of what Jesus said that he would do and accomplish for you, where he would place you, what forgiveness would accomplish, what eternity would be, and what the destiny of humankind (who humbled himself before God) is, you have hope. You are people of hope, even when death reigns in our mortal bodies. You are people of hope who sing where others cry. You have hope where others have despair. You have promise where others are gripping onto a fleeting world. You live in a different way.
Paul always said, "There's faith and there's hope, but the greatest of these is love." Here's why. Faith rests in what happened in the past. That's great. Hope responds to the promise of the future, but only love reveals what we have faith in and what we are responding in hope to. Paul said, "You can tell me all day long you're a people of hope and you're a people of faith, but if you don't love…if you're not in there where stink and death and rot and destruction and suffering is, doing something that you wouldn't do for a million dollars…it doesn't matter what your worldview is and what you say you have faith in or hope in."
The greatest of these is love, because love is the fruit of your faith. He's telling these friends right there, "I am so thrilled to write to you. I thank God because you're living differently in this world because you have faith in what Jesus has done, and you have hope of where Jesus is going to take you. You are set apart because you are faithful, and you are revealing the hope that is in Jesus Christ by the way you love others."
Is that true of us? It is all right there in this little book, so I had to stop and ask myself, "Is that who I am? Am I loving in such a way that it's a glory to God and that makes the world cock its head and say, 'Explain that to me. With gentleness and reverence, explain that to me'?" Here's another one very quickly. I love the way Paul starts this letter because our world is so about titles and so about self-advancement and so about impressing others with who we are. Paul started this whole book… He said, "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ…" You go, "Paul liked his title too."
"I'm an apostle, man."
"Who shared Christ with you?"
"Yeah. I was walking along, and Jesus just shone from heaven. He said, 'Paul.' Actually I was called Saul at the time. He gave me a nickname. It's Paul. What nickname did he give you? Oh, you didn't talk to him. I'm an apostle. What are you?"
When you read this what you want to do is you want to look at it and you want to go, "This is really not Paul in this particular point." He's just saying, "I've never met you. Let me tell you who I am. By the grace of God I'm one sent forth." But let me show you the characteristic and mindset of Paul. Let me show you his introduction to some other places that he wrote, other bodies of believers.
In Thessalonica (a group of folks that he had spent some time with) this is how he introduced himself. "Paul, not alone, not operating in isolation, not impressing you with who I am, but locking arms with others who, by the grace of God, have seen truth. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy…"
"Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy who?"
"Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy: brothers who lived among you and loved you."
Frankly, I don't like the title pastor. I sometimes swallow the word elder. Not because I'm embarrassed by it. I am grateful that God allows me to serve his people in those roles. I'll tell you, I don't ever like to be introduced that way. I have some friends and folks that are sometimes involved in other places, so whenever they see me they go, "Hey, Pastor!" Folks that hang out with us who are Baptists, they always go, "Hey, Brother!"
I just go, "Shh. Don't tell people. Let's just love them in such a way that they go, 'Who are you?' Don't give away my hand just yet. They'll think I have to be good because you pay me to be good. I want to just be good for nothing. I want to be good for no reason." I want to be good in such a way they go, "Why are you good?" I don't want to say, "Because it's my job to be good." I want to say, "Because Jesus Christ changed everything," in a very authentic way telling them that.
I can remember one of the very first weddings I did. My wife and I went to the rehearsal dinner together. We're walking around and we're looking at the nametags. They had written down "Pastor Wagner" on the nametag. We walked by, and we go, "There's a 'Parker Wagner' here," but we kept looking. We finally go, "Where are we supposed to sit?" They go, "You're up there," and we walk down, and we look close. It said, "Pastor Wagner," not "Parker Wagner." I just don't think in terms of titles. Here's why I think this is important.
Let me walk through and show you how Paul thought of himself. Here at Thessalonica where they knew him, he didn't even use a title. In Philippi, another place he spent some time, he said, "Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus." People are willingly serving and giving themselves to the leadership of Jesus Christ. To Philemon, writing a letter to a friend, "Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus." In fact, in 1 Corinthians 4, Paul said, "You want to know me? 'Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.'"
This is what I thought as I read this. Paul was not a guy that said, "This is Pastor Wagner speaking. I'm an elder at your church." If I have to lead out of positional authority, if I, in fact, find some meaning in the position or the title that I've been given…apart from the privilege of who Christ has called me to be, which is a servant of other men and women…if I have to lead out of positional authority as opposed to moral or relational authority, that my life is such that folks go, "I listen to you Todd because your life speaks and smells and reeks of wisdom," I'm not leading well.
I'll say it to you this way. That is why God is always more concerned with our task than he is with our title, so we ought to be as well. Let me say it this way. Great men are always more concerned with the task that they've been assigned than the title that they've been given. If you're a person who likes to operate by, "I'm CEO," or "I'm vice president of this, that, or this," then that speaks to an insecurity in your heart which isn't consistent with great leaders in other places.
There's nothing wrong with titles unless you live to find meaning and significance and have authority from them. That wasn't Paul's game. Paul said, "Let me tell you who I am. I'm somebody who loves you. My task is to help you maintain the truth that you've embraced." Paul wasn't concerned about titles. Let me show you what he was concerned with.
There is a form of writing called a chiasm in which men who investigate and study these things look at the details. Paul used a chiasm here in this first little section of scripture, from verse 4 through verse 8. I want to put it up there and show it to you this way for a reason. What you're going to see is there's an arrow here. He has a mirror. He says a statement here that he echoes right here. Underneath it he says this. He echoes it right here so that there's something in the middle that is sandwiched between these other ideas which aren't as important as the main idea.
This is what Paul was really concerned about. If you had to paraphrase verse 4 it would say, "We are thankful for the faithful love you have for all the saints." That's his introductory remark. His closing remark is, "We are thankful for Epaphras, the faithful minister, and your love in the spirit." You see that?
Underneath that, he has this other idea in verse 5. "You have heard and understood the truth of God's goodness in Christ." The second part of verse 6 (mirroring that) he says, "You have heard and understood the truth of the grace of God in Christ." There's something in the middle that he's saying, "This is the main thing that I want to wear you out about."
All over the world, the gospel is true and being told. It is universally true. This isn't some crazy idea that Epaphras got at the market in Ephesus. You need to know what is changing Ephesus has changed Colossae, it's changing Rome, it's transformed Jerusalem, it's made Philippi stand on its head, and Thessalonica is being completely and radically transformed. There's not a place the gospel hasn't gone that it hasn't been recognized as true and that it hasn't been universally fruitful.
So as he starts this thing, what he's trying to say is, "You want to know why I'm writing you? I'm writing you because there's a giant task, a giant truth at risk, and that is…Will you embrace the hope that you have been given? In this town, these people (Epaphras told Paul) are being threatened by the ic-asms and -osophies of their day. Paul's writing to say, "Hold fast, because you are the hope of Colossae. Hold fast, because you are the hope of the world."
What we're going to look at these next weeks is…Should we hold fast to who Jesus is? I mean, really hold fast to him, or is this just some cultural thing that's local to us in the West. Is it true that our belief in who Jesus was and the word of God is…? Is it true that the world needs this message or is this just our little white Anglo-Saxon belief? And is it wrong to impose this view on others? Paul says, "Hold fast, baby." That's the point of this book. "Hold fast and be fruitful."
Let me show you what happens if folks don't hold fast. In other words, if you are not consumed with the idea and convinced of truth (of the gospel), then this is always true of you. This is why Paul says, "Because I am thankful for the wisdom of God and the transformation it brings in my life, I will be consumed with it."
In other words, "I don't treat this as some idol thing. I'm thankful for something, so I fight to keep it. I'm thankful for the wisdom that you've received and the change in your life that has been brought about. So I fight to preserve it. I'm going to write you a letter while I'm in jail, and I count it a privilege to write you this letter."
I count it a privilege to work hard to give you guys encouragement every week so that you might hold to the truth we believe, or by the grace of God, have your eyes opened to the truth we believe so that you can increasingly respond to it in a way that the fruit of this truth (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control) can just ripple out through the city so the world goes, "Who are you folks?" We say, "It's not who we are. It's whose we are, and he loves you." If folks don't hold to the truth, if you're not fully convinced of the truth, then this is what happens.
1._ You will be easily swayed by culture instead of strongly influencing it._ This is why Paul says, "I am consumed with this," because if you guys aren't convinced of this truth…I'm going to give you a message to help you be convinced…then culture is going to influence you instead of you influencing culture.
2._ You will be a people that will continue to be anxious and depressed instead of being hopeful and different._ In other words, Paul is saying if you don't hold fast to the hope that you have then you're going to constantly be walking around insecurely still looking desperately for that something which will bring security and hope to you. You're going to be nervous that what you have isn't sufficient, and you're going to look like everybody else, as opposed to who you should be.
Not like those who walk according to the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the path of sinners, or sit in the seat of scoffers. You're different. You're somebody who should delight yourself in the law of the Lord and, on that law, you meditate day and night so you will be like a tree firmly planted by a stream of water, which yields its fruit in season and who, when the heat comes, its leaves don't wither. Whatever you do, you prosper.
Folks, if you don't hold fast to the truth of what Epaphras told you that has been revealed to you by God's Word, then you will be insecure, depressed, and not hopeful people. Your chance to be salt and light and deliver the people of Colossae out of darkness will be vanquished. That would be a terrible, terrible cry.
Paul says if you're not fully convinced of the truth of something, this is something else that's at risk, and you'll be unchanged in character. In other words, if your faith isn't sure and your hope isn't strong, then your love won't be real.
Let me make this very clear to you. Nominal believers, people who are dead folks even in alive churches and dead churches full of alive people, are all over this world today. People who are nominally Christian, who are nominally embracing Jesus Christ, but their lives are not radically changed. They are people who worship unenthusiastically, who are not filled with gratitude, and who are individuals who are unchanged in character.
If that doesn't describe the church of Jesus Christ today as the world knows it, who are unenthused with worship… They mosey in, they read their creed, or they arrive 20 minutes late every week to worship because, "I just want to be there for the other part," because we're really unenthused about declaring the greatness of our God. This isn't all we do in worship, but this is a big piece of it.
We kind of mosey in. You know? It doesn't matter if we declare together the greatness of our God and encourage each other that way, because frankly, "Let's get through this. Get to the action. Show me the funny clip. Let Ty get up there and spit. Let's get out of here and go on."
We don't live under this sense of thanksgiving for what God has given us, stewarding our life and strong response. Our character, frankly, isn't much different than our neighbor. Folks don't cock their head at us very much and say, "Explain that love to me. Explain the way you reconcile. Explain the way your marriage works. Explain the way you shepherd your children. Explain the way you love my child. Explain the way you serve this community," because we're nominal and because we're not fully convinced to the truth. Folks, that is tragic.
I want to show you what a fully-convinced people looks like. Some people think you shouldn't take this truth to other places because people at other places are living happily in their jungle. "Don't take your white-man's faith and shove it down their throat." There's a belief among some folks that these people who live happily in the simple life in the jungle would be better off left without the gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are people who believe that folks in your neighborhood who are seemingly going along and fine at life would be better off if you didn't tell them there's a God that they're accountable to, and if they don't rightly respond to God's gracious provision for them then trouble is brewing, and they are wrong.
I'm about to show you a short video of a group of people who before the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ went to them… This has been proven again and again by anthropologists. Folks who were living in isolation and in darkness, who through generations have passed down their rebellion against God and have embraced their cultural beliefs are always cultures of deceit, abuse of power, and hopelessness.
When folks die in their village, they invent stories that they know are hopeless or they just wail and try and move past it. This was true of the Mouk people that you're about to see. The people in this community lived in such deceit and oppression with one another that they would have this… The men had this mask that they made. They told the women that when somebody of the village died, the spirit would always revisit them.
So whenever there was somebody dead, in order to move through their hopelessness they would have, what is called, the spirit of the mask show up. There was a hut called the men hut that only the men could go in that this mask was kept in. One guy would get inside of it, and they would go and dance that night around the tribe. The women were told, "You have to prepare food for spirit of the mask."
This is a pretty barren place. They'd dig up roots and they'd prepare it. They'd make more food than any man in the village could ever eat. They would bring it to the men hut where the mask was taken. They'd put that food in there, and the men never could eat all the food. They would take the extra food and dump it out in the back. They couldn't take it back out to the women, because then the women would know it's not just spirits in there; it's just normal men.
They would throw this food away and not give it to their wives who worked hard to provide it. They threatened the women and said, "If you don't do this, we'll kill you. You have to honor the spirit of the mask, the spirit of the jungle, which will kill us all if you don't worship him." So the men would be in here because of their physical strength, and they would oppress the women and deceive the women.
The women knew it was the men. They could see their feet. They recognized that mangled toe or that scar, but they were scared because they knew if any woman challenged the spirit of the mask she was immediately killed so they wouldn't offend the spirits in the region. Women that saw the mask without a man in it were immediately taken outside and killed. There were known villages of other parts of the Mouk people that when they found out one woman there knew the truth about the spirit of the mask and they didn't kill her, they would go and destroy the entire village.
Then one day, somebody ran into an apostle whose life was changed, and as Epaphras went to Colossae to take a message of hope to his town, this man felt like he was compelled to go take it to the Mouk people. I want you to watch. When your belief moves from something more than nominal, you are anything but unenthusiastic in your worship, and you are filled with such gratitude that you celebrate even though you are typically a very quiet and still people. You watch their response, and then I will tell you next week of their character and how it's changed. Watch this.
Narrator: When the teaching finally started the entire village of 310 people gathered. We never mentioned Jesus Christ until after two months of teaching Old Testament foundational stories. Starting with God, we explained what he is like (his attributes). Then we told them about Satan and his fallen angels. The Mouk thought that hell is a fitting place for Satan and that God was right in preparing it for him and his demons.
From there we taught them about creation and Adam and Eve and man's choice to sin. We explained how God promised a Savior who would someday come to deliver us from sin. They developed a sincere reverence of God and feared daily that God might rightly destroy them because of their sin. They said, "We are just like those people in Sodom and Gomorra."
For two months we taught key Old Testament stories chronologically before we finally introduced Jesus Christ as the Savior born as a babe in this world. As we studied the life of Christ, they fell in love with him, and Jesus became the Mouk hero. They loved him, and they idolized him. Never during the weeks Mark taught did a villager miss a lesson, though he taught for three months, Monday through Friday, two times a day.
Villagers that were sick were brought on makeshift stretchers, and when an expectant mother was near delivery, they arranged for her to be close enough to the meeting to hear the story. A baby arrived in the middle of one of the sessions, but the teaching still went on. At times, the Mouk were so intense they stopped eating and would not even sleep. They spent every waking moment discussing the message and re-listening over and over again to the lessons recorded on cassette tapes. This wonderful Jesus was perfect, and he could do anything. He was God.
I told the story of Jesus appearing before Pilate. The people were very sober. When during our skit they saw people being spit upon, beaten and finally put to death, they were simply appalled. They were distraught. They couldn't believe what they were seeing. Our explanation and portrayal of Jesus Christ's resurrection was simple, but to them very powerful. The Savior was alive.
Then I went back into the Old Testament stories and beginning with Abel explained how Jesus was our acceptable sacrifice, just like Abel's sacrifice was accepted by God. When I finally reached the story of Abraham and Isaac, I said to them, "Listen. Just as a real lamb was substituted for Isaac, so Christ's death and blood has been shed as a substitution for you." At that point, the lights really went on. I could see and hear them responding all over the crowd. "I believe." "I believe." "I believe." I stood in their midst and asked them what they thought. From all over, responses came like this.
Male: I know I was born in sin. I believe Jesus paid for my sin, that he died in my place. He is my sin-bearer.
Female: I lived in fear trying to please the spirits, for I knew no other way to be free from sin, but God in his grace has sent you to us. I've heard it and believe the death and blood of Christ is payment for my sin. I believe it, and God has forgiven me.
Narrator: Village believer stating that he too believes that Christ has paid for his sins.It's true. It's good. It's very true. Village grandma rejoicing that she believes. So does he. Different ones giving testimony as to their belief in Christ as their sin‑bearer. Mark saying that if you really are believing then God's Word says that their sin is forgiven. It's good. It's true. Spontaneous rejoicing breaks out. This went on for two and a half hours.
[End of Video]
When people are fully convinced of the truth, they are anything but unenthusiastic in worship. They're overwhelmed with gratitude, and their lives are radically changed. Do you know why the village grandma got so excited when she heard the village leader confess Jesus Christ? Because she knew that the oppression was gone and life had come. That's the way your kids feel about you when you're really changed by this church. Not this church, but what the called-out ones believe. That's what your neighbors think. That's what this world is looking for.
The name Epaphras means lovely. Scripture says, "How lovely are the feet of those who bring good news." You saw the way they took this man when they celebrated and worshiped God, they thanked him. They put him up and lifted him like rushed for 300 yards in the Super Bowl because this was bigger than a fleeting, foolish athletic event. This was everything.
Here's my question: Who's going to think your feet are lovely? God might be stirring the heart of somebody in this room eventually to go and love the next Mouk people that are out there, but I wouldn't ever send you to transform the Mouk people if you won't cross, not the ocean that separates us from them, but the ocean of indifference in your heart, until you start loving the folks in your city, in your neighborhood, who you work with, those who go to school with your kids and with you.
I have to tell you. There is a colossal thing at risk here. I want to tell you, it's changing me, and I want you to know about the universal truth that God has revealed to all men. Can I be your friend and love you and tell you what it is? That's the deal. This is the message today. What you should do with the gospel and what the gospel should do with you.
Go. Tell those that you're in their path that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. As you do it, do it with lives that are changed by the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. If you want to know how you can receive forgiveness, we want to spend time with you right now. If you know that forgiveness has come, then go. Two applications today: come or go.
Have a great week of worship.
From a book that is 2,000 years old comes evidence that has been preserved about the greatest truth the world has ever known and how it can transform our lives. The book of Colossians walks through the radical change that happened to some in an ancient east Asian city, revealing the struggles they faced, the resistance they met, and the transformation they found as a result of the hope they had. Join Todd Wagner as he studies the Colossians scene to discern how their journey can reveal truths that can change us.