READ – Colossians 1:1-8
We’re beginning a new series on a small book in the New Testament. It’s a letter Paul wrote to a young church in the ancient city of Colossae (most historians think Paul wrote it in the 50’s – about 20 years after the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth).
The claim of Easter is that 2000 years ago Jesus – after being brutally tortured and put to death by the religious and civil authorities in Jerusalem – came alive, walked out of his tomb, changed the course of human history, and is now reigning as King of the world. Paul was an early follower of Jesus who was alive when these events took place and claimed to be an eyewitness of the resurrected Jesus. Paul is writing this letter to the Colossians to explain why Jesus matters. His main point is that Christianity is good news – gospel- and it matters for your personal life, your family, your relationships, your work, your neighborhood, and the entire cosmos. Jesus matters. For all of it. Colossians takes us to the center of ultimate reality and down into the nitty gritty of our lived experience. But right up front, Paul takes us back to the basics of the good news, the gospel. Paul shows us three things about the gospel. First, the gospel is something for your mind. Second, the gospel is something for your life. Third, the gospel is something for your heart.
1. SOMETHING FOR YOUR MIND
Paul talks about the gospel as the “word of truth” (v. 5). The gospel is truth – it’s something for your mind. That was a radically offensive, controversial claim in Paul’s day. Paul claiming that the gospel was not only truth, but The Truth would have been perceived as narrow, bigoted, and intolerant. Roman culture in the 1st century was pluralistic and inclusive. People were encouraged to dabble in all kinds of spirituality and religion – so long as you didn’t claim that your way was The Only Way. Everything was permissible, except intolerance. The problem? The Jesus that Paul and the Colossian Christians were following didn't claim to just know the truth or point to the truth, but to be The Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus made the extraordinary and unique claim that there was no other way to the divine than through him. That’s an absolute and exclusive claim to superiority. It’s a claim that was perceived as intolerant in the 1st century and that’s true of our modern society as well. Our culture invites and encourages us to be “post-truth” people where no religion or belief system is viewed as superior.
But being “post-truth” people is unworkable and unwanted. It’s unworkable because relationships and society must function on general principles of honesty and personal integrity. Without some objective facts and truth – there could be no mutual trust between people and relationships would disintegrate. Being a “post-truth” person is also unwanted – it’s undesirable. Without truth, you don’t know who you are from moment to moment – you don’t know why you’re here, why you exist, what you should dedicate your life and work to pursuing or why it matters. We can’t function and live without some absolute truth. What society needs is an absolute truth, a “word of truth,” that humbles people and whose fundamental is sacrificial love.
The gospel provides both. First, the gospel “comes to us” (v. 6, 8). It’s not something based in our intellect, pedigree, status, education, or morality. That’s deeply humbling. Second, the gospel’s fundamental truth is sacrificial love. At the center of the gospel is a man dying not just for his friends, but his enemies. So Christians must never disdain or disrespect other belief systems. Christians can never view themselves as superior even though the gospel claims superiority. We have a gospel that humbles us – a man dying on a cross for people that didn't believe or behave like him.
2. SOMETHING FOR YOUR LIFE
The gospel is something for your life. It’s truth, but also a force, an energy, a power. Paul talks about this later in Colossians 1:29 – the gospel energizes him for life and work. In v. 6, Paul talks about the power of the gospel to “bear fruit and increase.” The gospel is something for your life – it’s a kind of energy that God works in us. It brings change to our life.
Why should you want this gospel-energy? Because all of us have areas of our life that aren’t fruitful. We’re stressed, bearing a grudge, anxious, angry. All of us have pockets of our life that are out of sync or out of whack. Where are you feeling that this week? Why is it there? Paul is saying that wherever we are experiencing fruitlessness and frustration, it’s there that an application and use of the gospel is necessary.
What does that gospel-energy look like? The gospel’s power to bear fruit and grow is both personal and communal. Paul will talk later (Colossians 3-4) about what a life and church empowered by the gospel looks like. It looks like personal integrity and wholeness. It looks like truth-telling, peace-making, compassion-extending. It involves being a person of character and responsibility. It’s also communal. Rodney Stark in his book The Rise of Christianity makes a compelling case that Christianity changed the world because of its community values. The church was a community in which all races, ethnicities, and social classes were welcome, where women, slaves, and children were given unparalleled dignity, value, and a voice. A community like that changes the world.
Where does the energy to bear fruit and grow personally and corporately come from? It comes from the gospel. The gospel is not something you believe once and move on from. Rather, the gospel is the beginning and end of the Christian life. It’s not the door you walk through to move into something bigger and better – it’s the whole structure. In Christianity, the grace period never stops. The gospel is what rescues you and progresses you. It’s the tide that draws you in and the wind in your sails. How does the gospel’s energy work? We look at Jesus. What do you see? You see someone who was strong, extraordinary, and victorious. Because the gospel is true – all those things that characterize Jesus now are mine. When my gaze is directed at Jesus, I slowly become more and more like him – reflecting his moral beauty and holiness.
3. SOMETHING FOR YOUR HEART
Christianity isn’t based on our performance, but God’s grace. It’s not a story about our obedience, but God’s free generosity in Jesus. It isn’t about achievement, but receivement. It’s about grace from first to last. Jesus didn’t come merely to teach us the way, but to be The Way, the Truth, and the Life. He lived the morally perfect life we should have lived, died the death that we deserve so that we could be treated as he deserves. His resurrection is the vindication that means it’s all true, and so we can have hope.
Paul says that the gospel is hope “stored up in heaven” (v. 5). We need hope for death and life. Hope to know that death isn’t the end of the story. Hope to remain relentlessly courageous in pursuing the true, good, and beautiful. The gospel says we have hope “stored up in heaven.” Our hearts can now know for sure that we’ve already been received and approved by God. Our value and worth isn’t based on what we do or fail to do, but on Jesus – the One in heaven for us.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?
2. If there’s time, read through the entire letter to the Colossians as a group. What words or themes stand out? What is something that you found compelling? Something you have a question about?
3. The gospel claims to be not just a truth, but the truth. Why is that problematic in our culture? What are ways that we can humbly and winsomely communicate the truth of the gospel in a post-truth world?
4. What’s an area of your life or heart that’s fruitless or frustrating? How might the gospel speak to that? What are ways that you can apply and use the gospel to that situation, relationship, or feeling?
5. What is the gospel? What difference does its truth, energy, or grace mean to you?