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The Big Picture of Colossians    

Updated: Apr 30

(I worked off these notes for my sermon today. Here is the video link - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-bRaCHz3TE)     


Opening Prayer

 

The Whole is better than the sum of its parts.

 

The Whole is greater than any one of its parts.

 

The Whole is greater than any combination of its parts.

 

Detailed focus on any part of a book in scripture, while losing sight of the whole or the context or the bigger picture of that book in scripture will hinder our pursuit of Christ and His fullness.

 

While Paul’s letters to churches are indeed letters to churches;….. especially in some of them – like Romans, Ephesians and even Colossians there is a symmetry – a divine design and fitting together that must not be missed or overlooked.

 

As Joshua and I discussed in our staff meeting this last Monday morning my options for proceeding in our series in the book of Colossians we agreed that it might be best if I reviewed the book and helped us all see the big picture a little better – so that we have a better appreciation and grasp of each of its parts and how they fit in to the whole.

 

The letter to the church at Colossae as you know was written by the apostle Paul. The church itself appears to have been planted or started by Epaphras, who is mentioned twice in this letter.

We don’t believe Paul ever had the chance to personally minister there, but probably received regular reports from Epaphras and possibly others as to its health and progress in the faith. And it appears he may wrote more than one letter to them, though the Holy Spirit only chose this one to be in Holy Scripture.

 

While Paul’s every word penned in this letter was inspired by the Holy Spirit per II Tim. 3:16, it is helpful and necessary I believe to know and understand how this man was wired after God gloriously saved him and delivered him from his self righteousness, unhinged anger and violence towards believers.

 

 Paul as a believer and as an apostle lived his life and fulfilled his calling according to five priorities somewhat in this order: First he sought to know and walk with Christ (Phil. 3:7)

Second he sought to be conformed to the image of Christ or to become more like Christ (Rom. 8:29)

Third he sought to proclaim Christ and Him crucified as His primary message (Col. 1:28, 29; I Cor. 1:23; 2:2)

Fourth he sought to present every man complete in Christ (Col. 1:28)

Fifth he sought to proclaim Christ among the unreached – or where Christ had never been preached before (Rom. 15:20,21).

 

What about Colossae and the church therein?  Colossae was a city not too far from Laodicea and Hierapolis located in what would be known today as the nation of Turkey. The good news re: Colossae is Epaphras and perhaps another person or two were able to plant a church there and the church was growing in its faith in Christ and its love for all fellow believers (1:4). The bad news re: the church there is there were some among them (probably Jewish believers or perhaps Jewish nominal believers) who were walking in some level of deception and legalism and self righteousness, and who were trying to push that on the other believers in the church (2:8, 16-23).

 

Now for those who were strongly grounded in Christ and His righteousness – imputed to us by faith – and who were experiencing His presence and grace on a daily basis – these pushy folk would not have been a problem. But for those who were new believers, or for those who might have been going through a very difficult and confusing time in their lives – the thought that maybe there was some secret or some ritual or some observance that would make God be nicer to them and treat them better and help them more - - well that was a very tempting thought.

 

So if you were Paul - how would you write a letter to a church struggling with these issues?  How would you help this young church planted in a godless city known for its syncretism or its strong tendency to blend parts of various religions and philosophies into a convenient mix that would allow everyone to continue to live their own lives with a little taste of spirituality – very similar to what we find here on the Central Coast? 

 

Well let’s investigate this four chapter book going from the macro to the micro.

 

We are going to make a chart to try to make this easier to grasp and understand and remember.

 

So if I were to give this whole book or letter a simple title that would seek to tie it all together I would probably entitle it  – Complete in Christ - a phrase or concept that is mentioned once in chapter one and then again in chapter two.

 

After reading Colossians multiple times over the years and again this last week, I would then break it up into two major divisions - - the first two chapters I’ve noticed deal mostly with doctrine or beliefs or truth - - the last two chapters deal mostly with doing or behavior or the living out of those truths – based on the doctrine and beliefs and truths of the first two chapters.  Perhaps we could entitle the first two chapters – Christ’s Life in You; and the last two chapters – Christ’s Life Through You.

 

One of the things that has made this clear to me (and others) is there are a total of  31 commands in these four chapters. But there is only one command out of the 29 verses in the first chapter and only  4 commands out of 23 verses in the second chapter.  Paul is

not looking for or calling for action or activity in these first two chapters. He is more after foundational beliefs, truths and doctrines upon which righteous, godly and fruitful living will be based.

In chapter 3 things take a dramatic turn. Out of 25 verses there are 17 commands. And in chapter four out of 18 verses there are 8 commands. 

 

Now if this pattern was unique to Colossians we might not make too much out of it. But in the six chapter book of Ephesians the pattern is identical. The first 3 chapters are mostly about beliefs, doctrines, truths. The last 3 chapters are about behavior, doing, or walking out those truths - - how to live out those doctrines and beliefs in everyday life and in all human relationships.  In the book of Romans – the first 11 chapters are mostly about beliefs, doctrines and truth. The latter 7 chapters are about behavior or doing or the living out of those truths.

 

So this is a consistent Pauline pattern. In building Christ’s church we must start with what we need to know or believe; and out of that growing foundation of truth seek to walk out or live out those truths. Whenever we run too fast to do the stuff without building a proper foundation of knowledge and truth and understanding and ultimately intimacy, we sooner or later will short circuit what God is seeking to do in and through us.

 

Alright let’s see if we can get a clearer picture of each chapter as a whole unit.

Here’s a couple of chapter titles that I have found workable and in keeping with the material in each chapter. First if we were to go with the theme of the kingdom of God – it would look like this:

Chapter one – Christ the King and His kingdom

Chapter two – The Believer’s Position in the Kingdom

Chapter three – The Believer’s Practice in the Kingdom

Chapter four – Expansion of the Kingdom

 

If we were to go with the theme of Christ – it might look like this and I kind of prefer this one:

Chapter One – Supremacy of Christ

Chapter Two – Sufficiency of Christ

Chapter Three – New Life in Christ

Chapter Four – The Cause of Christ

 

How do you help a young fledgling church that has persuasive people in its midst trying to push their own form of legalism and self righteousness and convenient spirituality on everyone else?

 

Well you first build a strong foundation on the Rock.  Remember what Jesus said to Peter after he correctly proclaimed that Jesus was “…the Christ, the Son of the living God”? Jesus proclaimed,  “…upon this rock I will build My church;”  (Matthew 16).  What is that rock?  It is not a denomination; it is not a theological system; it is not 10 or 12 magical steps to help you overcome addictions; it is not a political party; it is not a philosophy of education; it is not a list of spiritual disciplines - - rather it is the revelation and knowledge of Christ in all of His glory and majesty.

 

Notice how careful Paul is with his opening comments in this letter to center everything on Christ –

Vs. 1 – he identifies himself as “…an apostle of Jesus Christ…”

Vs. 2 – he addresses the church at Colossae as  “…faithful brethren who are in Christ…”

Vs. 3 – he affirms Jesus’s deity by thanking “..the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

Vs. 4 – he affirms  “…your faith in Christ Jesus…”

Vs. 7 – he acknowledges the impact Epaphras has had among them – noting he is “… a faithful servant of Christ…”

 

And then starting in vs. 13 He introduces the concept of “…the kingdom of His beloved Son…” Jesus is the ruling King of an ever expanding kingdom;

In vs. 14 Paul proclaims what Christ provides that no other religious leader or prophet or sage ever could –

in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Only God’s blood is powerful enough and pure enough to forgive the multitude of our sins and replace our corrupt life with His pure and holy life.

Vs. 15 – "He is the image of the invisible God" or as John said in chapter one of His gospel – He – that is Jesus has explained God - - you see Jesus – you see God

Vs. 16 – He is the creator of everything that is in the Universe

Vs. 17 – He is eternal and "in Him all things are held together"

Vs. 18 – He is ...the head of the body/the church - - He will never allow a man; or a council of men to act as head over the church He birthed with His own blood.

Vs. 19 – "all of the fullness (of deity) dwells in Him"

Vs. 20 – all things that are estranged from God are reconciled in or through Christ

Individuals, marriages, and families that have been corrupted by sin and blinded by Satan and deceived by this evil world system can be made whole in and through Christ and Him alone.

 

As Watchman Nee the great Chinese pastor of a century ago proclaimed, “God will answer all our questions in one way and one way only. Namely, by showing us more of His Son.”

 

No wonder Paul says at the end of this glorious first chapter “We proclaim Him!”

 

Well then we get to chapter two and Paul shares of his great passion to see them firmly rooted in Christ (vs. 7) so that they can be ever more confident that they are complete in Him (vs. 10), and not give in to all of these so called believers who are trying to convince them that to really be spiritual they have to eat certain foods or abstain from certain foods; or they need to observe certain festivals or a specific day for the Sabbath; or who make too much of certain spiritual disciplines or supernatural experiences – all taking our focus away from all that we have and all that we are in Christ.

 

This is why the first two of our Core values as a church are to be Jesus focused and              

gospel centered. Only Jesus saves; only Jesus heals; only Jesus restores. Everything is held together in Him. Everything is made whole in Him.

 

So in chapter 3, after establishing all that Jesus Christ has done for us and all that the Father has done for us in Christ, Paul begins to show us how to take this from theory to practice. He is now ready to help us experience and know this amazing Savior and all of the spiritual blessings that are ours in Him in our every day life.

 

It is very instructive what relationship or what activity Paul starts off with. Actually its kind of shocking. And it is very counter culture if not even counter church culture. How could Paul waste so much ink on this when there are so many lost people going to hell, and so many poor people on the brink of starvation, and families are being torn apart by alcohol and drug abuse, and corruption is rife in the government, etc., etc.??

 

Vs. 1-8 have to do with our self life because as Jesus said if you want to grow effective in helping folks get the splinter out of their eyes, you need to learn as a way of life to get the beam or log out of your own.  For you and I to become ever more fruitful and useful in His hands in this broken world, we must give ever more attention to ourselves. And key to that whole process is understanding a pivotal concept in vs. 5.

 

In general in my Bible study and meditation I use the New American Standard version. But there are times when I see how they choose to translate a word or phrase and I walk away scratching my head. Vs. 5 is one of those. In the NASV vs. 5 begins, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, etc.” Since they chose to do this, even though the KJV, NKJV, RSV, Amp., ESV, NIV, & NLT chose to translate it more literally, they put a little one before the word “consider”, with a note in the margin that says, “Lit. put to death the members which are upon the earth”.   Now according to Romans 6, we are to consider ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God as a way of life, and that considering or mindset is key to our sanctification. But mortifying or killing our sin is not the same as considering.  The same Greek word and concept is found in Romans 8:13, and the NASV in that passage chose to translate it literally, “….if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”  I can’t give anymore time to this, but I wanted you to at least be aware of this issue.

 

In vs. 9-17 he begins a fairly long discussion about how our relationship with Christ and our riches in Christ should work out in our relationships with Christ’s body.

 

In vs. 18-21 he speaks to how our relationship with Christ should be lived out in our marriages and families. Joshua spoke to this last Sunday and I want to just reiterate two things he pointed out. One was that Paul spoke first and much more to our relationship with the family of God than he did to our nuclear family relationships. He was not in any way downplaying the importance of marriage and our nuclear families to God. But he was saying that one of the greatest resources Christ the master builder has provided for us to have healthy marriages and healthy families is a vibrant Spirit led and Spirit filled relationship with His body – the church.  The second thing Joshua commented on was the fact that Paul did not even address mothers in this letter. Nor did he in his letter to the church in Ephesus by the way. Does this mean mothers are not important to Paul and to God? Heavens no!  But it does mean fathers are more impactful to use Joshua’s wording. That’s why I’ve written 13 articles on my website so far on fathering with Lord willing 10 or so more to come.

 

But we must move on.

In vs. 22 – chapter 4:1 Paul addresses how the life of Christ within us should impact    slaves and masters in that day; employees and employers in our day.  Josh will probably speak to this in depth next week.

 

Starting in vs. 2 Paul kind of climaxes this letter with some instruction about the Cause of Christ  or  how the life of Christ within us can enable us to help fulfill the mission of Christ to the nations and significantly it starts with the primacy of prayer. This is the only verse in this letter where we are told to devote ourselves to something.

Please know that Paul did not leave prayer to the end as an afterthought.

No rather he is saying what makes all of this life in Christ and in His kingdom kick in is a lifestyle of devoted prayer. One of the reasons I think he saved this to close to the end though was because he wanted us to come to prayer as sons and not as orphans. He wanted us to come to prayer confident in our standing with Christ and His church and not begging Him to look in our direction out of insecurity and fear.

From there Paul speaks of the need to pray for he and his co-workers in their ongoing ministry in and from prison (vs. 3,4).

He gives some instruction about how we should conduct ourselves around the lost around us in vs. 5,6.

Then he gives them some updated info and instruction re: nine of Paul’s cherished co-laborers – 3 of whom were out of the church in Colossae. Most if not all of Paul’s epistles make it very clear that he was increasingly connected at the heart to a variety of other laborers in the harvest – always cherishing their contribution to what the Lord was doing in and through His church.

Well again Joshua will deal with this chapter more in depth.

 

Since today begins the National Day of Prayer week, this Thursday being the National Day of Prayer, I would like us to respond in prayer to whatever the Lord was speaking to you about this morning; and I would like for us to pray some for our nation.



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