1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ Grace and peace to you from God our Father. 3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
A blessed Sunday morning to everyone.
Our 2020 theme is ‘Keep strengthening our roots’.
As a faith community, we are only as strong as the depth of our roots. And so it is our desire to keep growing our roots into God’s Word.
We began this year with Ephesians and we have just finished Philippians.
Into the tail-end of this year, we will go through 2 further letters, Colossians and Philemon.
Both letters are written to the same audience. The church in the city of Colossae that meets in the home of Philemon.
We know this because Onesimus, who is one of the bearers of Colossians is from Colossae as Col 4:9 indicates.
Onesimus also happens to be a former slave of Philemon. And Philemon v2 tells us that a church meets in his home.
Col 4:9 and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.
Phm 1 To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2 and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house.
These 4 letters places Paul in a common setting. That of being in prison.
Yet, even in such challenging situations, Paul writes with thankfulness to God for all his brothers and sisters in Christ.
As our roots grow deeper into Scripture, may we be like Paul, thankful, even in challenging situations, for our brother and sister in Christ at Hermon.
In the midst of this ongoing pandemic, may our thankfulness, cause us to make the effort to keep meeting one another both online and offline.
May we endeavour to be an ongoing part of each other’s lives. (Pause)
Let’s begin with a short overview of the church in Colossae.
Geographically, Colossae sits within modern Turkey. It was about 19km east of Laodicea and 40km from Hierapolis. Laodicea was the capital of that region.
Colossae was a Gentile city with a significant Jewish population and it was about 205km from Ephesus.
Ephesus was where Paul spent over 2 years teaching and discipling. This we are informed from Acts 19
Acts 19:8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
It is very likely that Paul was able to evangelize and disciple both Philemon and Epaphras during his ministry in Ephesus.
Now for some of us, in the Colossian introduction of our bibles, there might be a suggestion of a particular heresy, pushed by false teachers, which led to Paul writing this letter.
Many commentators have argued persuasively however that there is no specific heresy that Paul is highlighting.
Because this is contrasted with Paul’s more detailed instructions on false teachers in his letter to the Galatians.
So here in Colossians, Paul is showing instead his general pastoral concern for a young church that will always be facing harmful influences both from within and outside.
I quote from Dick Lucas
“It was not that these Christians were so fickle and volatile that they were tempted so soon to give a fresh hearing to Jewish or pagan teachers: it was that the whole syncretistic religious environment in which their churches existed threatened the purity of the new faith.
Surely this must always be the case. The churches of Christ can never be immune from the intellectual and spiritual pressures and fashions of their time. While we see this clearly when we look back to earlier generations, it is less easy for us to recognize this frankly in our own time.”
If this is accurate, then this letter is even more applicable for us today. Thanks be to God.
Let’s go through the 8 verses with the 3 headings found in the sermon outline.
Thankful for receiving God’s Word (v1,7)
Many commentators have highlighted that for Colossians, the hinge in which the book turns is found in Col 2:6-7
Col 2:6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Remember when we went through Ephesians, we saw how the first 3 chapters were about doctrine and the last 3 chapters about duty. Something similar is happening in Colossians.
From the beginning right up to Colossians 2:5, Paul instructs regarding who Christ is and what it means to be ‘in Christ’.
And then from the hinge verses onwards, Paul helps us to apply the implications of being Christians to the very practical aspects of our lives.
And so taking Col 2:6-7 as the reference, I see this, giving us a picture of a maturing disciple. And this will be our focus as we go through Colossians.
This morning, let’s see why a maturing disciple is filled with thanksgiving.
My first point is a maturing disciple is thankful for receiving God’s Word.
In the Straits Times on 12 September, of a 60-year old educator who was nearly scammed of $35,000. This educator saw a pop-up message on the computer saying it was “at risk” and that help was needed.
A scammer, impersonating as a Microsoft technical support employee kept the educator on the phone for two hours. During which, the scammer managed to get the bank details and arrange a transfer of $35,000.
Thankfully through the quick action by the police, the money was eventually recovered.
The issue at hand is who is genuine and who is not.
Such incidences of a fake Microsoft employee make us skeptical of people. We are not sure if we can trust them.
For the young church in Philemon’s home, since they were grappling with various issues (which we will see in Colossians 2), Paul had to establish credibility with believers whom he has not personally met.
And so Paul writes:
Col 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, …. (and of Epaphras who was the primary evangelist) 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf.
Paul says, whatever I’m instructing is credible because of 3 reasons.
Firstly, I’m an ‘apostle of Christ Jesus’. I’m the ‘sent’ one. And I’m sent by Messiah Jesus.
The Messiah who is the promised one of the Old Testament. This Messiah, this Christ, is the one who has appointed Paul.
So Paul does not just share about Jesus, Paul speaks for and on behalf of Christ Jesus. Paul comes in the authority of the Messiah.
Secondly, Paul’s ministry is ‘by the will of God’. The will of God is God’s sovereign decree.
And so it means again, Paul’s communication to the Colossian believers is the expressed authoritative instruction of God the Father.
And finally, Paul says ‘and Timothy our brother’. Timothy will become Paul’s point person to the church in Ephesus a few years later. Timothy was a young and gifted pastor whom Paul left in Ephesus to guide from doctrinal error and false teachings.
Paul’s credibility is further backed up by a trusted apprentice who is solid in terms of his theology.
Someone who in the near future, would be within range for them to even consult since Ephesus was only 200 km away.
Now Paul with his authority established, endorses Epaphras in v7 – what you have learnt from Epaphras is credible, its genuine.
Epaphras is a beloved fellow servant and a faithful minister of Christ.
Paul vouches for Epaphras whom the Colossian believers are very familiar with. What Epaphras says is on point. Stick with it. He is a credible servant of Christ.
So what is the appropriate response from the Colossian believers and us today?
I submit, we need to be thankful that God speaks so clearly to the Colossian believers through his servants like Paul and Epaphras.
I trust that the bible we hold in our hands and have downloaded in our phones, is not to us, a great literature book of good suggestions.
Instead Scripture is held with reverence. For to us, Scripture, is the very communication from our Heavenly Father.
Can we be thankful that it is also a plumbline, our yard-stick which we can navigate against any false teachings that we have encountered and will continue to encounter.
Because God has preserved Scripture for us till today. And has given man the ability to translate it into multiple languages, this is a wonderful ongoing protection against dubious teachings.
Following from last week’s Missions Sunday, let’s be conscious that in every region we minister to, that we endeavour for them to have access to good translations of the bible in their own language.
Finally, can we pause now to thank God for the ‘Epaphras’ in our lives. The brother or sister in Christ who shared the gospel with you, who discipled you in the faith and even authors who have matured your faith through their writings …….
I pray that some of them are your fellow Hermonites and after this service, can I encourage us to send them a text message thanking them for how they have been part of your spiritual nurturing.
Thankful for who we are in Christ (v2)
Col 1:2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
This is identical to the start of both Ephesians and Philippians and so I trust that this is somewhat familiar to all of us.
And I think the significance is heightened by the fact of the composition of the audience.
Picture this. There are Jews who are not in Israel who want to keep themselves pure and untainted from the society.
There are Gentiles who are considered pagans, unclean ones to the Jews.
Then there is Onesimus a run-away slave who is now back in his master’s Philemon’s home.
And everyone is listening to the letter by Paul likely read by Tychicus who has carried the letter all the way from Paul in Rome.
To every one of them who is listening in, Paul says, you all, are saints in Christ Jesus. You all are faithful or believing family members in Christ.
And God the Father’s grace and peace has been poured out upon all of you.
Imagine a Jew standing beside a Gentile, he looks and thinks, Paul is saying, this Gentile is a saint as well. This Gentile is holy, this Gentile like me is set apart for the Lord.
Would it be equivalent for us Singaporeans to stand beside our foreign domestic worker who is a believer and say, we are fellow saints of the Lord.
Now a pagan Gentile standing beside a Jew, turns and says, wow, this person is also my faithful brother.
Jews typically looked down on Gentiles and can even equate them with dogs.
But now because we both believers in Jesus Christ, we are family.
Imagine Philemon and Onesimus hearing that together. One is master and another is a run-away slave.
And Paul says in Christ, you both are brothers. You both are family and of equal status before God.
Society and even Judaism will say that all the various people that compose the church in Philemon’s home are incompatible with each other.
Based on gender, based on race, based on social and economic class, everyone is different. They cannot mix.
Yet in Christ, as Ephesians has reminded us, by the blood of Christ, He has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.
Now, all this wonderful unity, forgiveness and acceptance by God, Paul says cannot be earned.
It is purely by God’s grace. God’s unmerited favor on all. Everyone is undeserving.
And God’s grace in Christ also brings us God’s peace. Once enemies of God, now we have been reconciled with God.
To Paul’s first listeners, I think there would be a gasp of breath, as they contemplate on what this means to them.
What this means to them individually and also corporately.
Today, we are going through a terrible economic and health crisis.
The news brings gloom with the retrenchment of employees and the closing of businesses. I pray that for those of us affected, we remember that our identify is not in our careers and our business. Our identity is in Christ.
As believers, remember we are saints. God views us as valuable, for He has set as apart.
For those of us who worry about the future, may the fact that in Christ Jesus, we have received God’s grace and peace.
Since God has given us the most costly of things in Christ Jesus, then he will be able to keep the promise which we receive at the end of Philippians.
Phil 4:19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Many of us may fret because of the health crisis. COVID-19 not only affects the old but also the not so old as well. In Singapore, we have also experienced a spike in Dengue.
If we were still enemies of God, death would be an eternal separation from God and lead to receiving the punishment of His wrath.
But in Christ, we now have peace with God and so death instead, becomes a door in which we enter into God’s holy presence. Our eternal destiny is something to look forward to.
Is this not the hope we can share with those anxious about COVID-19?
If you are not affected by the economy nor the health crisis, maybe its because you are a student.
Especially for those who are studying hard for the national exams, I pray that this will also be an encouragement for you.
Your grades do not define you. The gospel of Jesus Christ defines you, not just now but for all eternity.
In Christ, believers are saints, you and I are part of the family here in Hermon, you and I have been showered with God’s grace and peace.
Church, let us allow God’s word to shape our perspective of who we truly are and the response we should have to our current situation.
And by doing so, may it cause us to be thankful.
Thankful for Gospel Fruit (v3-8)
Our final section is that a maturing believer is thankful for Gospel Fruit.
Two main points – Gospel and Fruit. Let’s begin with Fruit.
In v3 to 6, we see that Paul is thankful for the testimony of the Colossian believers – we have heard of your faith in the Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.
Here is the gospel triad of faith, hope and love.
Paul is thankful that he hears of Gospel Fruit in the testimony of these believers.
We began with Paul establishing his credibility of a true messenger of God. We then understood the blessings we have received as children of God.
Now in this section, we are looking at the evidences that give us the confidence that we are children of God.
Paul says, you have, put yourself under the one and only true God IF this God is the r Lord Jesus Christ.
Remember, this is 60 AD and Jesus of Nazareth was crucified only 30 years earlier. This man, Paul says is both fully human and fully divine.
If I was in the 1st century, I’m not sure which is harder to accept.
Think about this …
For a Jew, they had to accept that Jesus of Nazereth, is the Messiah, even though he was rejected by all the religious leaders.
Or for a Gentile that this Jesus can be Lord and Savior yet he was crucified by the Roman soldiers.
Added to this ….
On the account of eyewitnesses (and they seem reliable), there is this incredulous fact that this Jesus also rose from the dead and he even ascended bodily into heaven.
Yet when they heard the Gospel of Jesus from Epaphras, all of them put their faith in Christ Jesus, who is the son of God.
I submit, to put your faith in Christ Jesus, the son of God, is evident then of a supernatural work of God’s grace in a person.
Then and now, humans are the same. Only till God opens our spiritual eyes, will we accept Jesus as Messiah, who is the Son of God.
And this vertical relationship is expressed through our horizontal relationships – the love that we have for all the saints.
May I highlight the word ‘all’. It means everyone.
Remember the composition of the church in Philemon’s home. This agape love cuts across all racial, social, economic and gender divides.
And agape love is self-sacrificial love for one another in the body of Christ. It has emotions, but it is more an action that is evident to others.
Now some of us could relate to agape love within our biological family and even with our close friends.
What Scripture testifies of the Colossian believers is that they are experiencing it within the faith community.
We don’t love every friend and every relative, but the Colossian’s do.
And why are they able to do so? It’s because the blood of Jesus binds them together. The same Spirit of God is at work in fellow believers.
And this is the distinguishing mark for Jesus. For He says Jn 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Finally, the evidence of ‘Hope laid up for you in heaven’.
The testimony of believers has firstly shown our vertical relationship with God and secondly, our horizontal relationship with others.
Now our Hope shows our relationship with time.
Christian hope we know is not optimism. It is quiet certainty.
God’s promise of salvation in Christ Jesus that has happened in human history, goes against all human understanding.
Because the impossible has happened, this shows us that His promises of the future are secure.
Heaven is not the icing on the cake, with the majority of blessings to be enjoyed in this earthy life.
No, the blessings on earth are but a foretaste of the abundant blessings we will inherit in Heaven.
This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
A maturing disciple, like Paul, seeks for and gives thanks to God – for evidences of the Gospel fruit of faith, love and hope in the faith community.
A maturing disciple, like Epaphras in v8, joyously shares such evidences with others.
A maturing disciples, is like the Colossian believers, for she is an integral part of a faith community. And as a part of the community, she is a contributing member of such testimonies.
Finally we come to the Gospel.
A few things we see Paul says.
As maturing believers, we need to be thankful for these characteristics of the Gospel.
Because it is the word of Truth, we have confidence in sharing it. Because it is the truth, we can share it plain and simply.
There is no need to add anything to the truth, nor are we to dilute it.
Because the gospel is the grace of God, it means that no one is underserving to hear it. It means we do not need to decide if one person should hear it and not another.
And we know from Eph 2:8-9 about grace – thanks be to God that there is no way we can earn our salvation. All we need is to receive Jesus by faith.
Because the gospel is God’s word, it is living and active and so as it is sowed and watered, it is God who will cause it to bear fruit. A farmer cannot cause the plant to grow only God can.
And so we as we sow the gospel seed, we can leave the growth to God’s timing.
And we thank God that it is also not one gospel for Asia, another for Europe and another for Africa.
No, it is the same gospel that is relevant for the whole world.
The same Gospel preached to the Colossian believers is still relevant for us 2000 years later.
Finally, the gospel needs to be shared and understood. And so we read in Isaiah:
Isa 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Church let us thank God for the clear and sufficient Gospel that we have received.
And let us thank God that He has given Hermon the privilege to share it with the countries in ASEAN.
In the current pandemic, I’m confident that we will shine brighter for Jesus, when we exhibit thankfulness to God because of the reasons these 8 verses have given us.
May the Lord bless our journey through the book of Colossians.
Let us pray – Heavenly Father, thank you for communicating to us so clearly in Scripture. Help us to receive it as your word in reverence and obedience. Transform our lives by the power of your Spirit. In Jesus Name, Amen.
Consider what it means to you to be a Christian (saints, brotherhood, grace, peace). Why should it result in thanksgiving to God?
Who has been your ‘Epaphras’? Would you thank God for him/her. Where and when has God put you in a position to be ‘Epaphras’?
How are you contributing to the evidence of faith, love and hope in the believing community of Hermon?