Sunday, July 19, 2009

Colossians 1:1-2: Christ's Greetings!

Apostle Paul
Opening thought: I am excited today, because today we start together a journey through one of the most Christ-centered books of the Bible – the letter from Paul to the Colossians. I’m going to give the Lord and you my best as we ask the Holy Spirit to open this letter to our understanding in the next several months.
When I correspond with many of my West African Christian brothers or sisters, they often begin their letters or emails with an arresting stylistic phrase that mirrors the way Paul begins his letters. Sometimes they are more formal, such as, “Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!” or “May you be blessed with the blessings we find in Christ Jesus.” Often, though, I see something more brief, such as “Christ’s greetings!” That is the title of today’s message because our text today is Paul’s greeting in his letter to the Colossians.

Pray & Read: Colossians 1:1-2

Contextual Notes: Paul wrote the letter to the believers in Colossae about A.D. 62 while he was under house arrest in Rome awaiting trial before Caesar’s court (Acts 28:16, 28-30). Therefore, it is one of the letters called “Prison Epistles” along with Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon. While in Rome, he received visitors from around the world including a man named Epaphras, the prayer-warrior pastor of the Colossian church. He had come all the way from western Asia Minor to Italy to find Paul because he needed help defending the believers from false teaching that turned them away from Christ toward two different directions. One was a loosey-goosey liberal philosophy that was fascinated with the mystical and being “spiritual” with no real clarity as to what they meant by that. The other direction away from Christ was a strict conservative point of view that wanted everyone to follow an enslaving set of rules based in Jewish dietary and non-Biblical religious laws which had a spirit of control at its root – i.e., control by the people who gave out the rules.
Paul is in his early to mid-sixties, has had a lifetime of experience as a Jewish scholar, a missionary, a church planter, and a business owner. A business owner? Remember, he made and sold those expensive Bedouin tents for a living, the first century equivalent of a camper. In that sense I guess he was the original Camper on Mission.
So what would a sixty-five year old with thirty years experience in these areas bring to focus with a church he did not plant and had never visited? His whole focus for the Colossians was Jesus Christ. When it comes down to the end of things, what matters, Paul says in Colossians, is being “in Christ,” being centered on Christ, being “with him.”

Key Truth: Paul wrote Colossians 1:1-2 to greet the Colossian Christians and demonstrate that we should honor Christ in our vocation, our character, and our witness.

Key Application: Today I want to show you what the Bible says about living in Christ.

Sermon Points:
1. In Vocation: Does your life follow Christ? (Col 1:1)
2. In Character: Does your life honor Christ? (Col 1:2a)
3. In Witness: Does your life reflect Christ? (Col 1:2b)

Exposition: Note well,

a. Letter writing: In the ancient world, the standard form for a letter was to put first who it was from and then next to say to whom the letter was addressed. There was a practical reason for this. Instead of folding a piece of paper and placing it in an envelope, the letters were rolled up for delivery by hand to the addressee, and it was rolled so that on the outside one could easily read the TO: and FROM: while the contents remained private. That is why the letter begins with the writer, “Paul . . .”

b. Apostle: means “One sent to execute a commission.” It is used because the apostles were sent out by Jesus Christ to preach his gospel, and to establish his church.[1]

c. APPLICATION: You may say, but the Apostles are dead and gone. Yes, that’s true, but God send out people every day to do his work. In Galilee after his resurrection, Jesus Christ commanded his followers to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matt 28:18-20) and in that sense we are all sent to execute a commission.

d. Will of God: not by his own choice or will, not self-appointed, but God-appointed. Christ submitted himself to the Father.

e. Timothy: Why does Paul mention Timothy? Pretty simple. They know him. He was from the city of Lystra in the region (Acts 16:1-3) and prominent at the great church at the large city of Ephesus downriver at the coast where he at one time would serve as pastor. Perhaps Timothy was Paul’s secretary who wrote down the letter (Col 3:18). Timothy was Paul’s closest protégé and friend.

f. APPLICATION: In your vocation, your life calling, does our life follow Christ? Are you where God wants you? Are you doing what you are doing these days because you decided yourself to do it or because the Lord called you to it? Did the Lord open to you the opportunity to be in the business you are in? Is your choice of education and school and major a choice that was submitted to him? Can you sit here and be honest with yourself before the Lord and say that you know you are in the center of God’s will for your life? If not, why not? Is what you are doing simply what you decided you wanted to do on your own without any submission to the Lord you claim, and you brazenly expect God to bless whatever you are doing? Then who is really in charge of your life? Who really is Lord? Today is a good day for you to submit your life afresh to the Lord, your vocation to the Lord, your education and major to the Lord. Some here may not know Christ as Lord. Did you know that it is God’s will that you become a believer? That he has great love toward you and wants you to receive him as Savior and Lord?

a. To saints: lit. “holy ones.” The word “saints,” ἅγιοι hagioi, means those who are holy, or those who are devoted or consecrated to God. The radical idea of the word is what is separated from a common to a sacred use.[2] Did you know that the Scripture calls a believer a saint? You don’t have to be made a saint by the Catholic church to be one. When you receive Christ as Lord and Savior, God designates you as a saint. You become a “holy one,” not because of anything you have done, but because Christ’s sacrifice has covered you and your sin. Are you comfortable being called a saint? You are one. You’re a saint. It’s the truth.
b. Faithful brethren: true and sincere believers in Christ, constant and persevering in the faith of him; faithful to the Gospel, and their profession of it, and to Christ, whose name they bore, and to one another, to whom they stood in the relation of brethren:[3]
c. APPLICATION: In your character, does your life honor Christ? In your work, do you work with the character of Christ? You know, your character is always showing. When you charge irresponsibly on your company’s account, your character is showing. When you take home supplies and tools that don’t belong to you, your character is showing. Do you tell off color jokes or laugh at them? Your character is showing. Do you have colorful language? Your character is showing. Are you being unfaithful to your spouse? Your character is showing.
a. The salutation, and which stands in this form in most of Paul's epistles
b. Grace: This word, χαρις means “favor.”
c. Peace: This word ειρηνη means “concord, safety, and prosperity.”
d. To you: Paul greets the believers at Colossae in these two ways, a Greek way and Jewish way. This was a multicultural church. He is greeting them in their culture and affirming their culture as part of whom they are. Culture and diversity are good things. The problem is when those words are hijacked by people who use them to stamp out the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. God created culture, not some self-declared elites in Chapel Hill or Washington DC, and culture is a beautiful vision of the variety of worship that may be offered to Christ. That is why it is just fine to tailor the worship style and music and the setting to the culture we are reaching whether on the mission field or among our own subcultures. (Rev 7:9). So then why aren’t many of our churches multicultural? Because it’s easier to associate with people like ourselves. The only problem with that is it does not mirror the example of the early church.
e. From God our Father: The father of all Christians. The teaching of the “brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God” is a false teaching that originated with liberal theology of the 19th century. If you are not a blood-bought believer in Jesus Christ, the Father is not your father (Col 1:21-22).
f. ILLUSTRATION: Do you think an Hispanic should have to learn the English language to become a Christian? That would be ridiculous, right? In the same way, we must change our methods to communicate effectively the timeless message of Christ among the nations. There are of course limits to contextualization, but God has given us opportunities for beautiful variety among believers around the world.
g. APPLICATION: In your witness, does your life reflect Christ?
Invitation: When the American evangelist J. Wilbur Chapman was in London, he had an opportunity to meet the founder of the Salvation Army, General William Booth, who at that time was past 80 years of age. Dr. Chapman listened reverently as the old general spoke of the trials and the conflicts and the victories he had experienced.
Chapman then asked the general if he would disclose his secret for success. "He hesitated a second," Dr. Chapman said, "and I saw the tears come into his eyes and steal down his cheeks," and then he said, "I will tell you the secret. God has had all there was of me. There have been men with greater brains than I, men with greater opportunities; but from the day I got the poor of London on my heart, and a vision of what Jesus Christ could do with the poor of London, I made up my mind that He would have all of William Booth there was. And if there is anything of power in the Salvation Army today, it is because God has all the adoration of my heart, all the power of my will, and all the influence of my life."
Dr. Chapman said he went away from that meeting with General Booth knowing "that the greatness of a man's power is the measure of his surrender."

[1] Barnes’ Notes, Romans 1:1.
[2] Barnes Notes, Rom 1:7.
[3] John Gill, Col 1:2.