Colossians 1:1-14 Common English Bible (CEB)
From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Timothy our brother.
2 To the holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
3 We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you. 4 We’ve done this since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all God’s people. 5 You have this faith and love because of the hope reserved for you in heaven. You previously heard about this hope through the true message, the good news, 6 which has come to you. This message has been bearing fruit and growing among you since the day you heard and truly understood God’s grace, in the same way that it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, who is the fellow slave we love and Christ’s faithful minister for your sake. 8 He informed us of your love in the Spirit.
9 Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. 10 We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God; 11 by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience; 12 and by giving thanks with joy to the Father. He made it so you could take part in the inheritance, in light granted to God’s holy people. 13 He rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. 14 He set us free through the Son and forgave our sins.
Unintended consequences …. Or “the best laid plans of mice and men.” A man is faced with the task of putting a new roof on the family home. He has gotten the materials and the tools and is ready to begin. The layers of shingles are going on well. As he moves up the roof he realizes that the roof is a little steeper than is comfortable to stand. So, he decides that a safety rope would be a good idea. Throwing the rope over the peak, he looks to tie it to something solid. The young trees are to small. He finally decides the car bumper will be sturdy enough. Finishing the plan by tying the rope around his waist he is ready to resume work safely. Later that morning his wife comes out to say that she is going to the store. She asks if he needs anything. He says he could really use some more nails, could she stop by the hardware store and pick up a box. All is good until she gets in the car and drives off. Hopefully the broken leg and bruised ribs will heal soon so he can get back to the roof!
Intentionality tries to look at all the consequences to anticipate possible problems. But there is another side to intentionality. It is deciding what you want and devising a plan to get it. When I preach, I don’t just get up here and start talking. I have an objective in mind and each point I make hopefully moves the sermon a little closer to the objective. When I am done, the question that was in my mind when I started should be answered. Today is all about intentionality.
The Book of Colossians, as a whole, presents a stunning vision of Christ: Jesus is portrayed as the fullness of God. He is also shown to be an agent of creation and redemption. Finally, Jesus is the One who empowers the church for Christ-like living.
As usual, Paul utilizes a predictable letter form. It begins with a greeting that identifies himself as the writer and, in this case, the Colossian church as the immediate recipient. These letters were intended to be read in gatherings of the church and shared freely amongst believers. Then Paul moves on to giving thanks for brothers and sisters faithful following of Jesus Christ. He always concludes this opening section with a prayer for the people. The Colossian church was a congregation of believers, strong in their faith. Paul says, “We’ve done this [given thanks and prayed for you] since we heard of your faith in Jesus and your love for all God’s people.” This is not a “Pygmalion” type of statement where Paul is trying to point to something good and hope they grow into it. Paul doesn’t say anything he doesn’t mean. Paul attributes their faithful state to hearing of the hope they have in Christ Jesus. The message of that hope has been bearing fruit among them since they truly heard and understood. The are powerful words of praise and encouragement for the Colossians.
Then Paul moves on to the prayer. ‘I want more for you!’ is the essence of the prayer. The whole rest of the letter, in one way or another, addresses the themes he has introduces in the thanksgiving and prayer. Paul wants them to be intentional in they Christian growth. Let’s hear that prayer one more time. Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. 10 We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God; 11 by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience; 12 and by giving thanks with joy to the Father.”
Filled – Paul wants for them to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. This is a very practical knowledge. Unlike the Gnostics, believing there was some mystical knowledge that only a few could attain, spiritual knowledge, wisdom and understanding was for everyone and its purpose was to grow them as Christians. Did you catch the connecting words – intention laden words – “So that…” He says he wants this knowledge for them so that they can live lives more reflective of the Lord. Lives that are walking closely with the Lord produce the fruit of that walk. A love for all of God’s people attend that walk. The works that come from that kind of walk build others up and help make God’s people strong and resilient. Those kinds of works are contagious as they lead others into intentional living. He continues with another “so that.” He wants us to be able to endure everything that is ahead and to have patience. Remember that Christianity in those days was a dangerous undertaking. And Paul doesn’t want just endurance, but joy and lives that bubble over with thanksgiving. This isn’t just existence, but thriving in a life of faith.
So… I could say the same about this congregation! You are an amazing group of followers of Jesus Christ. Your love and faith are so evident. Yet, I pray the same for this congregation! I pray for your growth, and that your growth will further affect this community. I want you to shine in this world so other will see your faith and seek a relationship with the Savior.
My suggestion is that we have to get practical and intentional in our growth. The cornerstones of our spiritual growth fall into four general categories. We need to have an intimate and working knowledge of God’s Word – the scriptures. Study, both personal and corporate, are important avenues for wisdom and spiritual knowledge. Likewise, prayer is what advances our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is our conversation with God that can reveal God’s heart. Regular conversation with God is essential. Worship is a third cornerstone. In worship we acknowledge God’s greatness and power, God’s willingness to help and strengthen, God’s passion for relationship with us. Worshipping together brings strength to believers as we experience commonalities and uniqueness in our individual faith journeys. Finally, there is the cornerstone of serving God in what we do. Even though we have heard it so many times, it is powerful to remember that we are God’s hands and feet in this world. God has entrusted us with the work begun in Jesus Christ and there is no “plan B!”
To be intentional in these cornerstones means being aware of our expectations – and God’s expectations – and how those expectations are being fulfilled. Expectations of these cornerstones may or may not be conscious to most of us. It is better if they are conscious expectations rather than vague impressions. What do you expect when you go to God’s Word? What you pray? When you worship? When you serve? If we clarify our expectations, the we are more prepared to answer, were they fulfilled? It has been an educational foundation for centuries that the best method is to write things down. In so doing we are more likely to remember them – to be aware of them.
Insights from Scripture – write them down! When you are studying, keep a notebook close at hand. Jot down those insights you receive. Even jot down those questions or doubts that arise. It is like connecting the dots in those old childhood puzzle pages. You connect one to two and two to three and so on until the picture emerges.
The same can be said about Prayer. Impressions, needs stated, answers from Prayer – write them down! They become patterns of the heart. When I am aware of what I have been asking God for over time, it is clearer when God is sending answers. I have long believed we are better at asking for what we need than we are at thanking God for needs received. A praise list should always be a part of our life pattern.
How about in worship! During worship, we will frequently experience inspirations, challenges, calls, comforts, insights, questions, and even doubts. Write them down! They are the seeds of growth.
Finally, how can we be intentional about service? How is God calling me to be involved in serving others? Am I using my God-given gifts for the best? Write down what you believe your gifts are and how you see yourself using them throughout a day or week. Do I find myself taking on tasks that really are not in areas of my strength? Am I letting some of my gifts go unused?
Today I want to focus on Worship. I want to challenge you to be intentional about worship. Come with the expectations. Do you come with the expectation of meeting God in worship? On a given morning, do you come with a specific need – like strength for a difficult choice or peace about some decision that you are facing? Write them down. This may be difficult at first. But I believe that if I am aware of my needs as I come to worship God is more able to meet me in those needs. Then, what did you come away with? God can and wants to speak to you through music, prayers, scripture, and maybe even the sermon. What insight did you receive in worship today? Was there something in the prayer this morning that tugged at your heart? Did someone in your life come to mind as you worshipped today? Those kind of things can be lost if we don’t write them down.
Did you notice your bulletin this morning? We put in insert in called, “Worship Notes:” If you want to experience God in action, I have been mulling over this “intentional” issue for some time. A conversation a couple of weeks ago clarified a way to move toward a more intentional spiritual growth as a congregation. The just this last Tuesday someone approached me about liking to take notes on the sermon, but there isn’t enough blank space in the bulletin. I myself am one of those who regularly takes notes as I am listening to a sermon. So, in the bulletin is a sheet for just that purpose. There is space to write notes, insights, challenges, and the like. There will also be some prompts like: “Did a word or phrase in one of the songs this morning mean something special to me? Writing things down is one way to maximize impact of worship. I would suggest you start a file of worship notes. You never know what a pattern may emerge that makes a big impact on your spiritual life and service.
Another ideas might be a Journal. This maybe a better way of collecting your thoughts, insights, inspirations. Everything would be in one place.
The same could be said about each of the cornerstones I mentioned: prayer, study, and service. It is all a part of intentional spiritual growth. With Paul, I pray ” for you and ask for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. I pray this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God; 11 by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience; 12 and by giving thanks with joy to the Father.
Galatians 6:1-16 CEB
Brothers and sisters, if a person is caught doing something wrong, you who are spiritual should restore someone like this with a spirit of gentleness. Watch out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted too. 2 Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are important when they aren’t, they’re fooling themselves. 4 Each person should test their own work and be happy with doing a good job and not compare themselves with others. 5 Each person will have to carry their own load.
6 Those who are taught the word should share all good things with their teacher. 7 Make no mistake, God is not mocked. A person will harvest what they plant. 8 Those who plant only for their own benefit will harvest devastation from their selfishness, but those who plant for the benefit of the Spirit will harvest eternal life from the Spirit. 9 Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. 10 So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith.
11 Look at the large letters I’m making with my own handwriting! 12 Whoever wants to look good by human standards will try to get you to be circumcised, but only so they won’t be harassed for the cross of Christ. 13 Those who are circumcised don’t observe the Law themselves, but they want you to be circumcised, so they can boast about your physical body.[a]
14 But as for me, God forbid that I should boast about anything except for the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through him, and I have been crucified to the world. 15 Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t mean anything. What matters is a new creation. 16 May peace and mercy be on whoever follows this rule and on God’s Israel.
Comparisons. We make them every day. We compare prices, we compare quality. We even find ourselves comparing ourselves to others. How do we stack up? It seems that most of the time comparisons are a comparison “upward”. No one ever looks at a day-laborer or someone in an unemployment line and says, “I’m just as good as they are.” We tend to look at the corporate mogul or the owner of a company and say, “I’m just as good as they are.” Sometimes it is envy. Other’s just wishful thinking. Often it is a low self-esteem that leads us to compare. “I’m just not as good a Christian as old what’s-their-name.”
I invite you to hear Galatians 6:1-5 in The Message by Eugene Peterson. “Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.
Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”
I love what Paul says in the 4th verse, “Don’t be impressed with yourself, and don’t compare yourself to others.” Self-worth and self-esteem are powerful motivators when present. Yet, they are probably humanities greatest struggle. For instance, we look at Paul and say, “Wow, I wish I had his confidence!” He always seemed to look “God-Good!” [Of course, any time we get to thinking too much that way we need to go back and re-read Romans 7 and Paul’s struggle to do what is right and refrain from doing the wrong things!] Charles Cousar, who wrote the volume on Galatians in the series, Interpretation, in a reference to verse 14, says, “Though crucified to the world, [Christians] are not immune to doubts and fears, to the anguish of uncertainty, to questioning their own commitments.” Am I following Christ the way I should?
To that tendency, add people around you who are pressing you to fit in with their view of Christianity and we see a bit of what caused Paul to write to the Galatian church. The presenting issue that Paul is addressing. There were Jews following Jesus, and now there were Gentiles following Jesus as well. Faith is an accumulation of learning and experience throughout a lifetime, and there were Jews following Jesus who believed that every new convert had to follow not only Jesus’ ways, but had to conform to the laws and practices of being a faithful Jew. After all, Jesus was a Jew. The more extreme they were in being a good Jew, the more they wanted Gentiles to fully conform with their way of thinking. It got to the point that circumcision, for instance, became a prerequisite to salvation. Paul has had it! Jesus had been pointing to matter of far more importance than rituals and old symbols. In 6:17 Paul says, “From now on, no one should bother me because I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.” Eugene Peterson says it this way, “Quite frankly, I don’t want to be bothered anymore by these disputes. I have far more important things to do—the serious living of this faith.” He is so tired of them, he takes pen from his scribe and writes in his own handwriting staring in verse 11 – with big letters no less. Uncertain Gentiles were confronted with Jews trapped in the letter of the Law – the old covenant - found themselves trying to look good in other’s eyes. Those law-bound Jews were trying to look good as well by boasting of their lineage.
So, what does it take to look “God-good?” … to be seen and recognized as a follower of Christ? Paul would possibly reduce what he has said to three words: ACTIONS, MOTIVE, and SOURCE
ACTIONS: Our living, looking God-good, involves our actions being other’s centered. So often Jesus was trying to get his followers to see that faith is not about living for yourself, worrying only about your own salvation. Instead it is about living for others, beginning with God and spreading out to those around us. Paul starts this passage with the example of restoring a fallen one. Right now, they might need forgiveness more than critical comments or judgements about their mistakes. We are to embody a spirit of gentleness. He speaks about carrying each other’s burdens. We are to help each other carry the burdens of difficult times. We are not meant to exist in isolation from one another. I do want to mention what seems to be a contradiction between verse 2 and verse 5. In verse 2, Paul says, “Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.” It is an imperative statement leaving little room for debate. Then, in verse 5, he says, “Each person will have to carry their own load.” One understanding is that verse two talks about daily life as a part of the community of Christ. And that in verse five, Paul is referring to the load of living out what God has created us to be. We are each to develop the gifts and grace that God has given us, becoming the “best me I can be.” We are each responsible for building our own relationship with God – living into our own salvation.
Paul continues this idea of our actions making us “God-good.” This time he speaks about what we plant in life. If we plant selfishness we will harvest devastation. Peterson says, “Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.” Weeds or real life?!
It seems that every time we turn around there is another talent reality show. For contestants it is all about how will a “Judge” perceive you, respond to your talent. What does a person with talent look like? Movie star quality? Young? Do you remember Susan Boyle? She did an audition in 2009 for Britain’s Got Talent. Simon Cowell’s face said it all. She walked on stage and Simon did the little eye roll. It seemed to say, “you have no business being on this stage.” Then she opened her mouth to sing “I Dreamed a Dream” The result was jaw dropping! She said later in an interview, “I know what they were thinking, but why should it matter as long as I can sing? It's not a beauty contest.” She put herself out there knowing the gift she had to offer!
Second, Paul speaks about MOTIVE. In verse12 Paul says, “Whoever wants to look good by human standards will try to get you to be circumcised, but only so they won’t be harassed for the cross of Christ.” Again, The Message doesn’t mince words. “These people who are attempting to force the ways of circumcision on you have only one motive: They want an easy way to look good before others, lacking the courage to live by a faith that shares Christ’s suffering and death. All their talk about the law is gas. They themselves don’t keep the law! And they are highly selective in the laws they do observe. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast of their success in recruiting you to their side. That is contemptible!” Their actions were self-centered and self-motivated. They might go about restoring one who has fallen into sin, but it is for their sake not that of the sinner. It is not about another “notch in our cross”, “another one saved.” [Though counting the “fruit” of our labors is good as a way of remembering God’s faithfulness.] We are not to fit the pattern of the world. Romans 12 says, “Be not conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Putting other people’s well-being at least equal to our own is a motive for looking God-good.
Finally, what is our source? Years ago, I was invited to rethink self-sufficiency. The writer I was reading suggested substituting “Christ-sufficiency” for “self-sufficiency.” Paul, as he wrestled with his “thorn in the flesh” speaks of the sufficiency of God grace to sustain him. Gods power is made perfect in my weakness. It changed the way I viewed myself and drew me closer to God.
In verses 14-15, Paul states clearly that Jesus Christ and the cross have set him “free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate.” [Peterson] God is the source of his confidence and motivation and actions. The closer we are in our relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit the better we will be able to live triumphant lives, centered lives, fulfilled lives. Looking God-good I experience myself as a creation of God, sufficient for all I will face in life through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s closing prayer is in verse 18 in The Message sounds like this. “May what our Master Jesus Christ gives freely be deeply and personally yours, my friends. Oh, yes!