Last Night we continued our study of Paul’s letter to the Colossian church, looking at the end of chapter 1 and beginning of chapter 2. Here is the study:
Paul is writing to a church he’s never been to. Colosse was a relatively unimportant city in the Roman Empire, located in the middle of Asia Minor. Many of the letters Paul wrote that we have in the New Testament were letters he wrote to churches he had founded, or at least visited, but Paul had never been to this church. It had been founded by someone else, but as we see from the letter, Pau, as a leader of the early church, still really cared about how the Christians in this city were doing. He considered them part of the family, so to speak.
Where we’re going to pick up in the letter, he’s already written about how Epaphras, who was probably the man who founded the church, told him about what a loving community these Christians had going on there. Paul wrote about how he prayed for them to grow and flourish spiritually even more, and at the end of the prayer he launched into a look at how huge Jesus really is—Chris was walking us through it last week—Paul talks about Christ himself being the one who holds together the entire universe, and how all of the fullness of God dwells in him.
So already in the letter Paul’s established this pretty positive tone—he’s totally excited about the church, and totally cares about what’s going on there. He’s praying for them, and he wants them to know how huge it is that they have begun to follow Jesus and have received new spiritual life. I think the other pretty fascinating thing we should remind ourselves of is that when we have a prayer written down in the Bible like we do here, we don’t just get the things Paul asked God for—we get the things that The Holy Spirit guided Paul to pray. In other words, we get what God wanted for the Christians there. And that reminds us again that this whole letter was God’s word to the Colossian church, and therefore it’s is also God’s word to us. If we want to know what God wants for us, we just read passages like Colossians chapter 1.
Then at the end of where we were with Chris last week, Paul says in verse 23 that he himself “became a minister” of the message of Jesus. This literally means that he became a servant of the message. That’s a pretty big thing to think through. It also has the sense of, the Message of Jesus is the thing he carries to people. And it’s almost like when he mentions himself again, his mind kicks back to what he had been talking about in verse 3 through 9—the things that Epaphras told him about the church, and how invested he himself is in this church’s well-being. So he changes gears in verse 24, and gets personal again, to try to really stress how much he cares about them, and what he really wants for them.
The Structure of this Passage:
I wanted to share something I noticed while I was reading this the other day. I missed it at first (and then I confirmed it in some books I’m reading about this letter). Notice the structure present in this passage:
Notice the structure, with “joy” on the outer layers, and “struggle” in the center. The first thing I think we see here is, this is a story of rejoicing—it’s all about joy, but right at the center there’s a struggle. If you’re familiar with Paul’s life, this makes total sense—and you know that in some sense the struggle led to the joy, and in some sense the joy leads to further struggle. But what we see about Paul’s life here is this huge lesson that sort of bubbles right up to the surface when we see it laid out like this—the secret to finding joy in life (or happiness, which is even smaller than joy) is not to eliminate struggle. It’s not to hope for an unending vacation by the pool—no it’s to find the right struggle. We’re going to struggle in life; the bible’s very clear about that. Struggle doesn’t mean God’s not with you—it means you’re alive. Because of what the world is right now, because of what human sin has done and is doing to it, there’s no life without struggle. What you want is a struggle that means something. A struggle that matters. So that in the end, after you’ve taken hits and been injured and lost things and suffered—you don’t wind up with nothing to show. God made sure it was written down, all over the bible, that if you choose to struggle his struggle, in the end—even though it would hurt and it would cost—it would be worth it.
So there was this huge struggle in Paul’s life, this physical, mental and emotional effort he was always expending for the things that mattered most to him. And that’s what made his story a story of joy. It’s kind of weird, but there more I sat with this pretty short passage the more I thought it could be a picture of Paul’s whole life. If you take 2:5 and 2:1, the Holy Spirit kind of led Paul to include people like us in Paul’s thought’s here—people he never saw, and people he wasn’t physically with. This is who he was—who God made him—and it’s all encapsulated here in this passage.
And so there’s a lot here. To get into it, let’s talk about what he was struggling for. When God confronted Paul, and changed his life and set him on a new course, what did that make Paul passionate for? It’s all over this passage.
1:25 He wanted to make the word of God fully known. There’s the idea that comes across in that English translation there—that he wants people to fully know what God has communicated in sending Jesus. Other translations bring out the idea that’s also here that Paul is saying that the word of God needs to be fulfilled—it needs to be lived out and carried out to its full conclusion.
1:28 He wanted people who had begun to follow Christ to move on and grow. He couldn’t rest if Christians had areas in their life that were staying like they had been before Jesus came into their lives. If you embraced the message Paul preached and experienced the new spiritual life that brings, Paul wanted you to grow—and keep growing to the point that you can be called “mature.” And it’s interesting, he talks about Christians being “presented.” This is the idea taught in the New Testament that believers in Jesus will appear before Christ at the end of time to give account for their life and receive rewards—Paul’s thinking, “I want everyone to show up ready to stand in front of Jesus!” And the way we’re ready is for us to become mature.
2:2 He wants their hearts to be encouraged, for them to have unity in love—in order to reach the “all the riches of full assurance of understanding.” This has got to be related to the maturity he wrote about in 1:28. Maturity for Paul looks at least partly like a community of Christians where people have relationships that close and encouraging—they’re knit together.
2:4 He wants them to be undeceivable. He says in this verse that this is why he has written what he’s written so far.
2:5 He wants them to continue to have a life together as Christians which makes sense once you know who Jesus is. That’s the idea behind “good order.” And he also wants them to continue having strong faith.
So for those of us here who are followers of Jesus, I think we should stop take note that God is not only interested in people “getting saved” but also in real growth and maturity happening then. Real forward motion. God isn’t up in heaven shrugging his shoulders all the time and saying, “well, no one’s perfect.” No, he’s calling us forward, and he’s all about us reaching real maturity—depth of character and heights of living that no one could dream of without God’s Spirit, but which every follower of Jesus is called to because of who God is for us.
So how does Paul work to help Christians move toward that goal? What does he do?
In verse 28 he tells us that he “preaches.” Or as ESV has it, he “proclaims.” In other words, he finds any and every opportunity to simply tell people the message. He’s a spreader. Sometimes it’s a dialogue, sometimes it’s telling a whole group of people, but he simply reports the message about Jesus—that God has come near and provided forgiveness for all our sins, and that God’s kingdom is coming and that Jesus is bringing it soon.
What this looks like is “warning” and “teaching” anyone who will listen. Warning about the repercussions of rejecting God’s message, and teaching people the implications of the message when they’re interested. Of course this also looked like the “struggling” and the “suffering” we’ve already looked at. This was an intense life Paul lived!
But there’s even more we can say about Paul’s message, and they’re some of the coolest things in here. In versed 26 he gives a pretty unexpected description for “the word of God” that he mentioned in verse 25. He calls it “the mystery.” If you look at verse 27 and chapter 2 verse 2 you’ll see he uses this word 3 times in this passage.
Mystery was a word that a lot of the ancient religions used—a lot of them had their own secret knowledge and practices that only people who were initiated into that religion could know. Those would be their “mysteries.”
In the New Testament it means something more like “a truth which had been hidden, but then was revealed when Jesus came.” Which is basically what it says in 26. In verse 27 Paul goes further—he says that this mystery is a reality which you could call “riches” and “glory”—and that those riches, and that glory, is Christ himself, in the Christians. What Paul found, and what he wants everyone to find, is how amazing it is to be… so identified with Jesus, so close to him, that you could find that Christ is in you. He’s in us. And so church is a bunch of people all together who all have Christ in them, so you can say that Christ is among them too. And when Christ is in you like that, it produces a hope for the further glory which God is going to bring and unleash in the earth. We really become people who want all the goodness and beauty and significance that God’s bringing. And the Spirit of Christ in us keeps reminding us and stirring up that hope.
He comes back to the idea of Christ as God’s mystery in 2:2 and 3, and he adds to the idea of “riches” and “glory”—he says that Christ is God’s mystery, and that in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. This is crazy! Doug Moo explains this verse this way: “Christ is the one in whom is to be found all that you need in order to understand spiritual reality and to lead a life pleasing to God.” That’s great right? This new revelation, which is open to everyone (and is now 2000 years old, for us), is that when you encounter Jesus you encounter the one who offers you everything you need. Humanity had no idea who would come to fix the world—and then Jesus showed up. He was pretty opposite of what people thought they needed, but he’s God’s solution. And every bit of wisdom and knowledge people really need—it’s all in Jesus, in who he is, in what he did, in what he taught, and in how he’s going to come back to finally fix the world.
And the whole point of this section of Paul’s letter is that this mystery is there for everyone to discover. It just needs people to go talk about it. But once you encounter this message, and really let it impact you, it changes you. God changes you. You realize how huge this all is, and how close God is and how knowing him is—well it’s riches and glory!
God begins to reprioritize life for you. Struggle becomes worth it. And God does bring you to new opportunities to join the struggle. But you also find something new—you find the power of God, through his spirit, working in you to power you forward. None of us are Paul, and none of us have exactly the same calling on our lives that Paul had, but as followers of Christ, we all have access to what he described in verse 29—the power of God working in us to propel us forward to do his work and spread his message. If we’ve been rocked by the revelation of who Jesus is, if we’ve come to find that he’s so close that he’s in us, we’ll also find that the Spirit of God becomes a new energy within us that enables to not give up in the struggle. Whatever God gives you to do, His Spirit will be in you giving you power to do it. This is a real experience that no one knows until God does this in their life. God is in us as the power we need, when we need it.
So you see why Paul would be so excited to share this message with everyone, and to see them not just get excited about it, but also press on and really get into the depths of it all—to mature in their apprehension of it. And I think now we’re set up to understand this sort of climactic statement in chapter 2 verse 4. He says “I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.” NKJ reads “that no one may deceive you with persuasive words.” Paul’s kind of coming back down to earth here and telling the Colossians why, in this specific case, he’s going into such detail about Jesus and his own motivation for writing to them. This verse kind of sums up everything that he’s written so far. He says, “My whole point in writing all this is to get you to the place where you can’t get messed up when someone comes with some argument or something persuasive to try to get you to think that you can find true riches and glory anywhere else other than in Christ.”
That’s exactly what the whole world preaches, isn’t it? It preaches to us about all these riches and all this glory—everything you could ever want, and you can have it….you can go try to get it all…and Jesus is totally left out of all their stories and all their promises. And then when it doesn’t work and life is still a struggle, everyone’s angry. And that’s the whole world—people still hoping to get it all if they work and luck out, and people mad that they’re not getting it. And lots of are sort of bounce back and forth between those two poles.
So here in this little section of this letter we have the example of Paul himself. He was a person who had used his life to actually oppose God and what God was doing in Jesus, and then God had confronted him, literally, visibly and audibly confronted him, and he had changed. And his life turned into this great example for anyone who’s tired of the false glory in this life and the promise of a life of fun and vacation that never really works out. Paul’s life is a witness to the fact that God has come near to us in Jesus. In fact, if you trust Jesus he’ll be so near to you that He’ll be in you—and you’ll know the power that Paul knew. You don’t have to chase things that promise to fill you and leave you empty. You can find everything that you need in Jesus.
And for those of us who’ve already found this to be true, let’s remember that Paul wrote verse 4 to Christians. As we’ll see later in this letter, he knew that they were right then in the middle of a battle where people were telling them things which sounded good—but which were moving them away from the wisdom of God in Christ. And we need this warning too, don’t we?
What arguments do we listen to? What types of things tend to make sense to us and start to pull us away from finding everything we need in Christ? What things catch our attention and hold our imagination by promising life and fullness—but they leave Jesus and his call and his kingdom out of the picture?
We’re going to keep looking into the things the Colossians were wrestling with, and the things they needed to know, but right here in these few sentences we get a view into the kind of life God calls us all into. It’s a life satisfied by who Jesus is, filled with his strength, with his presence in our hearts, and so it has the strength for the struggle God calls us to. It’s a life that’s knit together with other believers in real community. And so like he says in verse 5, things are in good order—and they’re strong. There’s struggle. There’s suffering. But there’s significance, and there’s strength. And so there’s joy.