Embodied – Colossians 3:1-4

The following is the manuscript of a Sunday teaching I delivered on May 3, 2020.

Close your eyes.

Picture the first thing you will do after the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order ceases.

It might be a place you will go to eat. Maybe it will be a gathering with friends. Maybe it will be the gym where you go to work out.

How clearly can you see it?

Right now, some of you see this picture crystal clear. Some of you are distraught because you feel like you can’t picture anything. Whether you can picture it clearly, or can’t picture something at all, what will make that picture reality?

Acting on what you picture. As we will say in this series, it’s embodied–to give a tangible or visible form.

A vision, a dream, a thought becomes reality when it is embodied. Some of us are living in a dream world that we never expect to make it a reality because we are unwilling to take action. Some of us are living so firmly focused on the world around us that we never dare to dream of more–a picture of what could be thus is seemingly foreign. Some of us see both the dream and the reality and have no flippin’ idea how the two get bridged because we don’t see how the dots can get connected. All three of these disconnects prevent us from seeing the vision of God be expanded through people. That has already been God’s goal–his will and his way manifested through people.

In the same way, the reality of Jesus bringing heaven to earth through His Church right now, while not always seen with clarity doesn’t make it any less real. The reality in heaven must become embodied on earth. The vision made manifest is not always the most practical. It’s not always the most heroic. God’s will embodied is composed of men and women who learn obedience through the Holy Spirit wherever they are.

Paul is writing to a group of believers whom he wants to remind them that their experience can catch up to reality. Paul wants them to aspire to be like Christ because through Christ God sees them as actually like Him. Therefore, they don’t need external practices to make them appear to be what they in fact actually are. 

If then you were raised with Christ: Paul here begins a section where he focuses on practical Christian living, with a clear understanding that practical Christian living is built on the foundation of theological truth. Because we know that Jesus is really raised from the dead, then our identification with Him becomes real. Now, if you are skeptical about the claim of the reality of Jesus’s resurrection, on this week’s episode of the mid-week podcast we will cover some basic evidence of the resurrection. 

It is only because we were raised with Christ that we can seek those things which are above. The idea of being raised with Christ was introduced back in Colossians 2:12, where Paul used baptism to illustrate this spiritual reality. Now, seeing that we are raised with Christ, certain behavior is appropriate to us. An inward resurrection drives external resurrected living.

“The opening verses of chapter 3 sustain the closest connection with the closing verses of chapter 2. There the apostle reminds the Colossians that ascetic regulations are of no real value in restraining indulgence of the flesh. The only remedy for sinful passions is found in the believers’ experience of union with Christ.”

Because we were raised with Christ, we should act just as Jesus did when He was resurrected.

  • After His resurrection, Jesus left the tomb. So should we – we don’t live there any more.
  • After His resurrection, Jesus spent His remaining time being with and ministering to His disciples. So should we – live our lives to be with and to serve one another.
  • After His resurrection, Jesus lived in supernatural power with the ability to do impossible things. So should we – with the power and the enabling of the Holy Spirit.
  • After His resurrection, Jesus looked forward to heaven, knowing He would soon enough ascend there. So should we – recognizing that our citizenship is in heaven.
  • After His resurrection, Jesus knew he would return to judge the earth and make it new. So should we — actively demonstrate what this new earth will be like so that more people will get to experience it.

To emphasize the implications of Christ’s resurrection, even more, Paul added the phrase, sitting at the right hand of God: Our attention is to be focused on the sovereign rule which Christ now exercises. The command to aspire to the things of heaven is a command to meditate and dwell upon Christ’s sort of life, and on the fact that he is now enthroned as the Lord of the world.” (Wright)

The logical conclusion, of your being risen with Christ, is that… Set your mind on things above: 

“The believer is to ‘seek the things… above.’ The word ‘seek’ marks aspiration, desire, and passion…. In order to seek these things the mind must be set on them.” The best Christian living comes from minds that are fixed on heaven. They realize that their lives are now hidden with Christ in God, and since Jesus is enthroned in heaven, their thoughts and hearts are connected to heaven also. Paul has now flipped the object that was hidden. The mystery of Christ has been made known to us so that we can be hidden in Christ.

Actively look & do not settle. This is not passive. 

Inevitably I end up coughing loudly or knocking something over to reveal my location so I can extricate myself from said contorted position. Horrible game. This, I think, is the kind of seeking we sometimes employ when attempting to “seek the things that are above.” We give the search little attention – 10 minutes in the Word here and there, a brief pause to pray or meditate – but are ultimately distracted by other things and aren’t fully invested in the search.

See, my kids might look for me for a few minutes but ultimately if you offered them a snack or a video game they’d abandon the search immediately without bothering to inform me. Isn’t that often what our seeking looks like? Half-hearted, easily distracted. 

We just got finished with looking at how the ascetic practices and rules will not curb self-indulgence, meaning, these won’t effectively move our eyes from self to what is above. So what will?

First, seeking God in a distracted world begins with picturing the end. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory: The promise of the return of Jesus is not only that we will see His glory, but so that we also will appear with Him in glory. Christ who is our life:  Sometimes we say, “Music is his life” or “Sports is his life” or “He lives for his work.” Of the Christian, it should be said, “Jesus Christ is his life.” There is a nuance between “Church is his life” and “Jesus is his life.” In our community groups, we will take a look at this nuance.

On that day, all will see the saints of God for what they really are, not as they merely appear to this world. “Paul, the prisoner, an eccentric Jew to the Romans and a worse-than-Gentile traitor to the Jews, will be seen as Paul the apostle, the servant of the King. The Colossians, insignificant ex-pagans from a third-rate country town, will be seen in a glory which, if it were now to appear, one might be tempted to worship.”

Second, Encounters with believers who embody the character of Christ. [One of my first encounters, in-laws with cars. Everyone had their own car.]

While ascetic practices won’t curb self-indulgence there are good practices that put us in position to be changed. Ultimately, these practices won’t bring change because that only comes from the Holy Spirit. What do other people’s encounters with you communicate about your encounter with Christ?

‘Earthly things’ are not all evil. Even things harmless in themselves become harmful if permitted to take the place that should be reserved for the things above.” When good things become God things in our lives, the people we encounter will be directed to something temporary instead of the intended eternal.

This is why we talk about progress over perfection: Disciplacing the temporary things that aren’t connected with Jesus from the driver’s seat of our lives. If we are connecting with Jesus, then the next interaction with the person should be different than the next.

Imagine what our world might look like if people saw Jesus as clearly in your life as they see a video on a smart phone. Imagine if their interaction with you catapulted their lives in a community of people who began to shape their life for the better. People would begin to experience Jesus wherever they lived, worked, or played.

 If this sounds like pressure to you, then please know this…we won’t get it right. Together we must return to the core of who Jesus is…a Savior who forgives us and then gives us the motivation to try again. Today, you have begin to experience newness of life through Him.

Substance – Colossians 2:8-10

The following post is the manuscript from the talk by Kyle Davies delivered Sunday, March 8, 2020, at Generations Church.

We are going to start off by having a little fun today. We are going to begin with a little exercise. I am going to throw nines dots up on the screen. I want you to draw nine dots on your teaching time notes. Maybe you’ve seen this before, your goal is to draw a line through all nine dots without picking up your pencil and in less than 4 total straight lines.Nine dot

As you begin, I want to recap our series Substance to this point. If you are new you can always go back and listen to last weeks on the podcast. Kaleb gave us a good start – get connected to Jesus. “Paul apparently being convinced that true gratitude for God’s grace is an important offensive measure against the false teaching.

Paul develops a powerful positive theological argument against false teaching by rehearsing the completeness of the spiritual victory we share in Christ.

Christ is substantive. Specifically in Colossians 2:17, the substance is the Messiah. This is important because Paul, who writes most of the back section of your Bible, is writing to a group of people who are being pressured to believe and live out that Christ is not enough.

Paul knows what they have been initially taught because he led Epaphras to follow Jesus and Epaphras started this new church community.

What has happened is teachers have come in after the fact and attempted to influence this church in another direction.

Here’s their basic message: We have some additional practices that will add to your life and help you be fulfilled.

Let me elaborate on that a moment: We know following Jesus is hard. It’s difficult. And you might not always feel like you are fulfilled when you are following Jesus. The reason you might feel this way is because some others, us specifically, have these incredible experiences that move us closer to God. You don’t have to feel insecure about missing out on these experiences. We can help you experience these same incredible moments. So, just let us give you some practices and you’ll be able to have these great experiences and minimize any suffering. We will make sure that you measure up, that you are satisfied, and that when others ask you about following Jesus you can point to these experiences through the practices that we will give you.

These false teachers are attempting to give these Colossians believers additional practices or additional rules that are not dependent on Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and return. This is an attempt to coerce the Colossians believers into believing that true spiritual fulfillment is not found in Christ alone.

Now, you may be wondering “why” well our Scriptures don’t give us the clear “why.” Let’s revisit our activity for a moment.

Did anyone get frustrated and look up the answer? In our culture and our time, we have a propensity for wanting to get things right.

When we open our Bible and begin to walk with Jesus sometimes there is clarity about what right is. Sometimes there is a mystery that makes it hard to apply the principled way of Jesus to different situations throughout our week. No two situations are exactly identical. To avoid true dependency on Jesus, we opt for some rules. Even if it’s simply to rebel against them. We like to know the boundaries of play.

Many times we say in safe comfortable predictable patterns because it’s easier to play by a set of rules that we make up and that we establish rather than take a step dependence upon God each and every day. Even if this set of rules says that we cannot know for sure.

It’s easier to live by a set of rules we make up because we can establish the mark for success, eliminate failure, and know the standard. Change is difficult. It’s messy and often unclear.

Let’s go ahead and look at the solution to the nine dots. What you see here is that you actually have to think outside the box to accomplish the task. My guess is your brain made some assumptions about the process.

Paul’s words here in Colossians 2 begin to address these additional rules that we put in place in our own lives because of our propensity for achievement, approval, control, or satisfaction.

While the desire may be different for each of us

Paul addresses these additional rules. These rules can be both assumed or articulated.

These rules…….Take you captive. They hold you prisoner. The philosophy is the product of mere speculation and does not put adherents in touch with divine truth. Ambrosiaster commenting on Paul in the 300s: “Paul calls this tradition of philosophy fallacious and inept, because it is not worked out according to the power of God but according to the weaknesses of the human mind, which restricts the power of God to the limits of its own knowledge so that no one will ever know that is is possible to do anything other than what the carnal reason suggests.”

Common to both Jews and pagans was the basic idea of cause and effect and in a sense it rules nature and the minds of men. We live under the idea that we get what we deserve; when we are good, we deserve to receive good; when we are bad, we deserve to receive bad. Paul warned the Colossians to not subject themselves to this grace-eliminating kind of thinking, and to consider themselves dead to it.

….Tell lies. They are deceitful. They give you a false sense of success. They misrepresent what it means to follow Jesus for yourself and for others. They seem to be arguing that certain practices must be added in order to achieve true spiritual fulfillment. One cannot add to Jesus without, in effect, subtracting  from his exclusive place in creation and in salvation history. The phrase “based elements of the world” conjures up the idea of spiritual attunement to air, earth, fire, and water. They may have felt they needed to appease these spirits or Gods in these natural sources.

Paul is not actually attempting to deny their reality, however, their preoccupation with rules about material things, was like the pagans, and were thus in need of pleasing. Thus, putting them in the place of Christ. The false teachers are proclaiming and demanding a doctrine and demanding practices that do not depend on Christ.

….Give you less authority We have authority in Christ: Christians need not fear these powers, therefore, because they are firmly under the control of their own head, the one in whom all the fullness of deity had come to reside. The Colossians believers will have no interest in listening to the false teachers once the realize that they are already filled. Paul says that this is a fact to be enjoyed, not a status to be achieved.

Sandwiched in the middle of these reasons, Paul writes a statement that proves why these are true.

Read verse 9. “FULLNESS” Jesus claimed to be God, received worship as God, and was crucified because of his claims to be God. We will touch on this more next week. God has taken up residence in and therefore revealed himself in a body. Meaning, there was never a time in Jesus’ earthly existence where he ceased to be God.

Picture this: You go to the Pacific Ocean with a  friend—two finite dots alongside a seemingly infinite expanse. As you stand there, you take a pint jar and allow the ocean to rush into it, in an instant the jar would be filled with the fullness of the Pacific. But you could never put the fullness of the Pacific Ocean into the jar. Thinking of Christ, we realize that because he is infinite, he can hold all the fullness of Deity. And whenever one of us finite creatures dips the tiny vessel of our life into him, we instantly become full of his fullness.

From the perspective of our humanity, the capacity of our containers is of great importance. Our souls are elastic, so to speak, and there are no limits to possible capacity. We can always open to hold more and more of his fullness. The walls can always stretch further; the roof can always rise higher; the floor can always hold more. The more we receive of his fullness, the more we can receive.

Paul is not advocating the view, so common in his day, that true spirituality was to be found by abandoning or by strictly subduing the body. Rather, god has chosen precisely a body in which to take residence and through that body, sacrificed on the cross and raised from the dead to win ultimate victory  over the powers of darkness.

When we fail to understand Jesus, we succeed in limiting ourselves.

So what: We underestimate what God wants to do through us. When we don’t know how to cope with that reality we begin to draw lines, boundaries, and form rules.

We underestimate what God wants to do through us.

  • —By limiting ourselves to our own rules
  • —By misunderstanding the person of Jesus
  • —By playing by manmade rules

The substance of life is Christ. This is why at GenChurch we have a value Spirit over Self. Daily depending of Christ is very different than depending on the rules you establish.

For example, Damien Lillard on playing outside the Three Point Line because of size. He can’t drive inside. He can’t play defense. It’s limiting.

This is what we do to ourselves when we depend on other rules of life. Fulfillment isn’t found in a formula. Christ’s fullness in you provides fulfillment.

Now what: How do I begin to depend more on Jesus?

  • Identify your influences (TikTok, Facebook, Fav news channel)
    • You will hear a certain perspective and rhetoric about their way of thinking. The greatest challenge here is distinguishing between what sounds right and is actually Christ-like.
    • I mentioned GaryVee – His line “don’t you just want to be happy” is easy to pick on.
    • Because in the pursuit of your happiness you may actually treat others poorly. You may make unethical decisions and sacrifice morality for the sake of personal satisfaction.
  • Connect w/ Jesus because he brings freedom and we will get it wrong

Give Over Get – A Shift

Generations Church is a community of everyday people committed to expanding God’s family together because of Jesus for generations to come.

We have five values that help us accomplish our vision.

  • Spirit over Self
  • Give over Get
  • Story over Sin
  • Progress over Perfection
  • Send over Stay

Our values are structured as a choice.  Too often we have been conditioned to choose the latter of the options (in our values) because we follow faulty maps. We need a shift in our thinking, more than that, we need a shift in our living.

We are going to take a closer look at our value Give over Get – Looking to make a difference in the lives of others and our community through generous living rather than always wanting to receive more.

Before I tell you what this series is, let me tell you what it’s not about. This series isn’t about getting more out of you. In some ways, this series will help provide a common language to give a reason for why this church community differs from other communities in the world.

We pick up the story of Jesus on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover. He has been explaining and demonstrating that his way is upside-down. It’s a re-orientation of all our common social values. In this section of Luke, following Jesus is like a journey where you learn as you go. If you are following Jesus, you common assumptions and actions will be challenged. Jesus is being openly opposed.

Our desires must reflect our destination. Jesus’s destination is Jerusalem. 

  1. What Is Life (12:13-14)

The person is looking for an authority to help this man get what’s his rather than deal with the loss of life(Jesus’ disciples went out ahead of him announcing “good news to the poor that the Kingdom of God is here—Jesus is going to usher in this new way that renews God’s commitment to Israel that his blessing will go through them to all nations while also portraying Jesus as the wise and good King)

Jesus had just taught on our great value to God and on the importance of standing for Him. In the midst of this teaching, a man interrupted Jesus to ask that He take his side in a financial dispute.

According to the law of the day, the elder brother received two-thirds of the inheritance and the younger brother received one-third (Barclay). This man did not ask Jesus to listen to both sides and make a righteous judgment; he asked Jesus to take sides with him against his brother (“Tell my brother to divide the inheritance”). Obviously, Jesus’ previous words about the need for full commitment and God’s care for us didn’t penetrate this man’s heart. He felt he needed to fight for what was his. “If each of them learned the real meaning of life, and sought as its chief endeavor to be ‘rich toward God,’ the question of possessions would settle itself. The one would be eager to share, while the other would be careless about receiving.”  We often mask our covetousness by claiming we are on a righteous crusade.

  1. Life Is Not Defined by a Lot of Stuff (12:15-21)

Greed means wanting what doesn’t belong to you. “He then told them, ‘Watch out and be on guard against all greed, because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.'” Storage businesses appear to be one of the fastest-growing businesses in the country because we covet and hoard, then we buy more space so we can continue coveting and hoarding.

As we move ahead to verse 19, the parable illustrates that some people think a good life is relaxing, eating, drinking, and being merry. The man was a fool – not because he was rich, but because he lived without any awareness of and preparation for eternity. The people who define life by what they possessed and enjoyed will be called fools. This can manifest itself in the search for the perfect vacation or perfect dream house. We have been conditioned to pursue the upgrade.

The man’s problem was not in that he had some treasure on earth; but that he was not rich toward God. This isn’t an attack on having possessions. It’s an affront on being rich towards ourselves and being rich toward God. When we live for the upgrade the upgrade will consume us.

  1. Life Is More Than Food and Clothes (12:22-24)

In this next section, Jesus turns to the disciples — they are in relationship to Him. He challenges them not to worry. This statement on worry is referring to the consumption of stuff; it is not dealing with anxiety. Research clearly shows that worry deteriorates our immune systems; people under constant worry show lower T cell counts, essential for immune response. Prolonged worry has been shown to affect the brain, making a person less able to respond to future stress. And stress also is related to sudden heart failure. When we worry in relation to our stuff, it communicates a connection to our identity. An identity based on material items can be taken away because these material items can be taken away.

Jesus is reminding His disciples. Your life is more than those things. Life is not defined by the things we have; life is worth more than all our things.

I read of a man who stood to speak at a funeral of a friend.  He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears but said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars…the house…the cash.  What matters is how we lived and loved and how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change?  For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.

To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile…remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?

by Linda Ellis

  1. Life Is Wasted by Worry (12:25-28)

We are tempted to think that worrying is the same thing as thinking or planning or even protecting ourselves. Yet take careful note: the birds don’t worry, but they do work. Birds don’t just sit with open mouths, expecting God to fill them. God provides. The worry many people have over the material things of life is rooted in a low understanding of their value before God. They don’t comprehend how much He loves and cares for them. God cares for the flowers, but that means that every day for the flowers is not sun and sweetness. If every day was sunny, and there were never clouds and rain, the flowers would die quickly.

One of the ways God provides is through people. We have seen God provide through people right here in Generations Church. In order to see God provide, we must be willing to express our needs. We also must be willing to GIVE OVER GET to help those in need.

  1. Life Is for Seeking God and His Kingdom (12:29-31)

The purpose of life is to seek God and his kingdom, not things and our needs. The mystery of life is that when we seek God and his kingdom he provides our needs. We receive a kingdom in exchange for worry. Jesus contrasted the life of those who do not know God and are separated from Him with those who do know God and receive His loving care. Those who know God should seek after other things. This is why we use the value GIVE OVER GET. Throughout your day you will face choices, will I be like everyone else, or will I make the choice that communicates something different?

  1. Life Follows Treasure (12:32-34)

The kingdom is not like an Easter Egg Hunt. When we realize this, then the world’s possession and our needs lose their grip on us. Jesus didn’t just tell them to stop worrying; He told them to replace worry with a concern for the kingdom of God. A habit or passion can only be given up for a greater habit or passion.

What is Jesus really saying? The command to give away what we have is a test of discipleship, and it is also a tool to train us as disciples. It points to giving as an antidote or cure to covetousness. “Readiness to respond to the call of renunciation is a sign of genuine conversion, a sign of undivided loyalty to Jesus, a sign of unwavering faith in Him.”

We can use this life’s possessions to bless the needy because we know the Father gives us a kingdom and a treasure that cannot be taken away, stolen, or decay.

We all have areas of our lives where we feel the pressure of this truth. Give over get isn’t simply an amen to affirm your generosity when you have the means. It’s a choice to make when it challenges your circumstances.

Our desires must reflect our destination. People will come into contact with this and ask “well aren’t you concerned about ___.” We must be able to give an answer that says, “I GIVE OVER GET because of Jesus.”

In the coming weeks, we will get very practical as we apply this to every area of our life. Your connection with God and connection with others will enable you to choose to GIVE OVER GET when you would rather opt-out. In a repeat of a similar challenge from last week, develop a deeper connection this week.

Wait…There’s More

Generations Church is a community of everyday people committed to expanding God’s family because of Jesus for generations to come.

We (our teaching team) has been teaching through Colossians 1 as Generations Church began weekly services.

Let me give you the “previously on…”

We live in a world with faulty maps. These maps don’t just guide us they shape us. God sent Jesus into the world. Jesus is a map that shows us what God is like and what humanity looks like in proper relation to God. In this midst of this world, we are called to embody the mystery of Jesus made known. We must begin following the map and then inviting others to journey with us. Both our destination and the map is Jesus. Paul is sent into the world to share this message with people (Gentiles) who are included in God’s family because of Jesus.

We have been using Colossians as help to communicate some essentials to a new church. Paul has not met these Christians in Colossae. A coworker Epaphras started the church. He is concerned about the false teaching influencing other Christians in the region.

One theologian puts it, “The epistle is a vaccination against heresy, not an antibiotic for those already afflicted.” So, the false teaching has not taken hold but Pauls’ words are used as preparation against the heresy.

For I want you to know how greatly I am struggling for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person. I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of complete understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery—Christ. In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with arguments that sound reasonable. For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ. – Colossians 2:1-5

You may be wondering why I just listed Colossians 2 as the teaching text when the series is from chapter one. 

If you look at your Bible, how do they divide it up. Prior to us adding chapters and verses to help in dissecting and understanding and translation, the contents were a single letter. The contents are still a single letter but appear less so due to these additions.

You may recognize Laodicea. For those of you who don’t no fear, Laodicea is mentioned in the very last book of the Bible for being lukewarm (see Revelation 3). They have drifted into apathy about their faith.

While we don’t know exactly what has happened to the Colossians community. It’s important to see that between Paul’s letter and John’s letter something happened within the region. 

Paul has commended the Colossians for their faithfulness and impact on the world. It’s worth noting what an inability to discern false truths and apply the wisdom of Jesus produces—a muddy version of Christianity. Paul has told these Christians that the mystery has been made known—thus clear to them—but their inability to keep growing and applying and discerning has resulted in paralysis.

Paul has used himself as an example of what struggling and suffering looks like He has followed Jesus. We do not know what happened with the other believers. However, as Paul leads into direct countering of false teachers, we see a description of what Paul is ultimately working for in their midst. Paul almost goes, “Wait…there’s more…” I’ve told you how the access the knowledge of God and even given you some application. We see Paul go from observation to the specific application. Identify the solution. It’s like going from the observation “dude your broke”…to “let me help you budget and figure out where you are spending unnecessary money.”

Here we get a pastoral capstone of Paul’s goal from his opening words that the mystery of how God would rescue and renew his creation is made known in the person and work of Jesus:

  1. Encouragement of the Church
    1. This is more than “atta boy” this is a sense of putting strength, or courage, into them.
    2. It’s reiterated in a different way in verse 5 with the word “strength”
    3. Paul uses the word heart-basically at the core of the person. Just as suffering has afflicted his body and worn it down, Paul knows that the inner resolve must be able to cope and have resilience when the social pressures and likely physical ones come when they apply the way of Jesus to every aspect of their lives.
  1. Being United In Love
    1. “This describes a person’s rugged commitment to another person in three ways: in presence, in advocacy, and in the mutual direction of development toward Christlikeness.”
      1. Presence
      2. Advocacy
      3. Development toward Christlikeness
    2. Let me reiterate the point in an inverse way – what Paul is describing is not simply tolerating someone else but a commitment to one another. as a team.
    3. When you know someone’s story and they know your story, and there are differences, but you choose to connect relationally and appreciate the difference rather than stay on opposite sides of the room.
    4. To be knit together in love does not mean they will all be committed to becoming loving people so much as committed to one another.
  1. Having the Full Riches of Complete Understanding
    1. Paul’s aim is knowledge, and what he wants for them is to be complete, full, or certain in their understanding of this knowledge, and this kind of completeness is the riches for which he is laboring.”
    2. Paul here puts a pastoral capstone on this idea of “known”
    3. “Riches” can refer to the gospel response in generosity to others.
      1. This is why for the next several weeks we will look at one of our values give over get.
      2. & to the mystery of God’s redemption expanding to the Gentiles. So, the focus for Paul, as is the case in his mystery of uniting Jews to Gentiles and Gentiles to Jews, is a fellowship that exhibits a supernaturally based union through the Spirit. 
      3. Love and knowledge for Paul manifest themselves within the church. It’s not merely a “rah! rah!” they show up in practice when people interact with each other.
        1. Reduces the distance that sin, emotional vandalism, creates.
      4. Teams have gone through training camp, practice, refinement.
      5. The church isn’t always known for that. We will fall back into old patterns if we do not have some different community habits.
      6. End to gossip.
      7. Using your gifts (Jenene)
  1. Having the knowledge of the mystery of God
    1. That the hidden plan of God to expand his family to all people has been made manifest in Jesus (see Isaiah 33:5-6).
    2. The mystery of God, the one formerly hidden by now disclosed, is Christ the final treasure, and in that treasure is both wisdom and knowledge. If the mystery was hidden in the deep recesses of God’s plan, the wisdom and knowledge expressing the truth of that mystery are in Christ himself.
    3. Paul contests any view that revelation about God’s truth and the gospel can be found in any other location than Christ.

As we look at these last two verses, we sense a switch in Paul. Everything he has said to this point is made abundantly clear—he doesn’t want these believers to be deceived—it’s not even foolish arguments—these are arguments that sound reasonable.

On the other side of our Give Over Get series, we will see how Paul counters these “reasonable” arguments. Here’s what may surprise you, and at the same time may not be all that shocking…these “reasonable” arguments are still put into effect today. They show up in the books you read, in the news you watch, in the social media you follow, in the cultural sayings regurgitated in everyday conversation.

Here’s what happens..like I briefly mentioned earlier. The gospel accomplishments in our culture aren’t always dashed away by false teaching, they are slowly eroded by teaching that that sounds right but has no connection to the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.

Paul is rejoicing because of what he has seen in the Colossians thus far.

If I may assume the first-person stance in this pastoral moment by Paul.

Just like Paul, I can’t physically be with you always. Here’s the beauty. You don’t need me to be physically present with you always.

I am able to hear the vision and values in your conversation.

While we have seen great growth and promise thus far, we still have blind spots. We still have areas of our life untouched by Jesus. We have areas of our church that don’t function as well as they should.

If we do not re-engage with what the vision for the church, then we may just drift into luke-warmness like the Laodiceans.

Here’s is how we will combat that…call or message someone in our church this week. If you need a name or a number, Jon and I will help you. It may lead to you grabbing a meal with each other.

You take the initiative. Don’t wait to see who reaches out to you.

”The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Making Christ Known Through Suffering

Sunday I preached one of the most difficult sermons to date at Generations Church. Not only did my teaching text have a difficult verse, but it also had a difficult meaning an application. I have written out a portion of my sermon that covers suffering for the sake of others.

The letter of Colossians is written to a church by the apostle Paul. He wants this church to know that they have been following the real Jesus. The feeling that they are missing out on a fuller spiritual experience has been evoked by false teachers through a cheap trick.

Paul can’t counter these false teachers in person because Paul is in prison. For those who may not know the backstory for Colossians, Paul didn’t plant the church. But, Paul introduced Jesus to a guy named Epaphras who then started this church. This church is filled with people from different backgrounds and ethnicities.

So far in this letter to the Colossians: he has praised this church for their impact on the world. He has reminded them that they aren’t missing something. It’s not Jesus+. After this long build-up, Paul as he often does gives them an example of sorts. This example comes from his life.

Paul is a guy who had power. He had comfort. He was in control. He had the approval of others. He gives that up when he encounters Jesus. Here’s how he describes what he is doing to the followers of Jesus…

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for his body, that is, the church. 25 I have become its servant, according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.

– Colossians 1:24-26

This first verse is difficult. Is something missing in Christ’s sacrifice for us? The short answer is no. Nothing is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

Paul’s point is that he is suffering for the sake of others so that Christ is made known and mature believers are grown.

Paul’s claim is steeped in the backstory of God’s chosen people. Israel’s experiences of affliction throughout its history—particularly Egyptian slavery, the Babylonian exile, and subsequent oppression under the Syrians and Romans—is understood as part and parcel of God’s redemptive purposes. The age of suffering was limited, and the age to come would dawn soon and God would judge the measures used.

Paul is not attaching atoning value whatever to his own sufferings for the church. The term ‘afflictions of Christ’ speaks, rather, of those ministerial sufferings which Paul bears because he represents Jesus Christ.

Christ’s sufferings climaxed in the cross are all-sufficient. Peace, reconciliation, and right standing with God are its results. At the same time, Paul is also convinced that this gospel must be proclaimed, received in faith, and implemented in everyday life in order for God’s redemptive purposes to be achieved.

The type of suffering that Paul is speaking to is the result of the verbal proclamation of Jesus as King that’s a direct assault on one’s culture. This is not the general consequences of living in a fractured world.

The reason the Colossian people are suffering and the reason for their prior success in impacting others are their following Jesus. However, there were these teachers who advocated they missed part of the gospel because of their suffering. Let’s get rid of it through intense self-discipline and seeking individual spiritual experiences. They could be described as ascetics or mystics. Here’s where they differ from the core of the gospel.

Ascetics focus on their holiness, on their spiritual growth, and on their perfection. These mystics focus on spirituality removed from community. Paul followed in the footsteps of Jesus and was an others-centered person. Paul found holiness, spiritual growth, and maturity when he pursued these things for others.

Here’s the temptation as you focus on resolutions or goals….If your goals and resolutions are purely for yourself and have no benefit to others, then you’ve missed the “for” aspect of faith. Read those verses again. Suffering “for” the body. I was given a commission “for” you.

A self-focused lifestyle is a Jesus+ lifestyle. A Jesus+ lifestyle doesn’t work when suffering comes because whatever you have added to Jesus will tell you it’s not worth it.

The cost of suffering begs the question: What type of motivation does one have to willingly put themselves out there in the awkward and uncertain?

Paul’s goal is to make God’s message fully known. In part, the message holds a “mystery that’s been hidden for ages and generations.” Paul is referring to the process by which God was going to rescue and redeem his creation. The mystery was “when” and “how.”  The mystery was not the “what.” In Jesus, what was once pixelated is now in 4K.

Paul is now working to advance this message and bring clarity to the mystery by participating in God’s mission. Here’s an example of how these principles are applied because as American Christians we don’t always understand suffering. The following was taken from two separate articles.

“Over 100 members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China, were arrested beginning Sunday, December 9, 2018. Among those taken away were Pastor Wang Yi, senior pastor of Early Rain, and his wife, Jiang Rong.

On December 26, 2019, Wang Yi was secretly tried at the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court. On December 30, the court announced that Wang Yi was sentenced to 9 years of criminal detention and fined 50,000 RMB. This is the longest sentence given to a house church pastor in a decade.” You can read Wang Yi’s full statement on Civil Disobedience here. I have quoted the portation I read below.

On the basis of the teachings of the Bible and the mission of the gospel, I respect the authorities God has established in China. For God deposes kings and raises up kings. This is why I submit to the historical and institutional arrangements of God in China.

As a pastor of a Christian church, I have my own understanding and views, based on the Bible, about what righteous order and good government is. At the same time, I am filled with anger and disgust at the persecution of the church by this Communist regime, at the wickedness of their depriving people of the freedoms of religion and of conscience. But changing social and political institutions is not the mission I have been called to, and it is not the goal for which God has given his people the gospel.

For all hideous realities, unrighteous politics, and arbitrary laws manifest the cross of Jesus Christ, the only means by which every Chinese person must be saved. They also manifest the fact that true hope and a perfect society will never be found in the transformation of any earthly institution or culture but only in our sins being freely forgiven by Christ and in the hope of eternal life.

As a pastor, my firm belief in the gospel, my teaching, and my rebuking of all evil proceeds from Christ’s command in the gospel and from the unfathomable love of that glorious King. Every man’s life is extremely short, and God fervently commands the church to lead and call any man to repentance who is willing to repent. Christ is eager and willing to forgive all who turn from their sins. This is the goal of all the efforts of the church in China—to testify to the world about our Christ, to testify to the Middle Kingdom about the Kingdom of Heaven, to testify to earthly, momentary lives about heavenly, eternal life. This is also the pastoral calling that I have received.

For this reason, I accept and respect the fact that this Communist regime has been allowed by God to rule temporarily. As the Lord’s servant John Calvin said, wicked rulers are the judgment of God on a wicked people, the goal being to urge God’s people to repent and turn again toward Him. For this reason, I am joyfully willing to submit myself to their enforcement of the law as though submitting to the discipline and training of the Lord.

At the same time, I believe that this Communist regime’s persecution against the church is a greatly wicked, unlawful action. As a pastor of a Christian church, I must denounce this wickedness openly and severely. The calling that I have received requires me to use non-violent methods to disobey those human laws that disobey the Bible and God. My Savior Christ also requires me to joyfully bear all costs for disobeying wicked laws.

But this does not mean that my personal disobedience and the disobedience of the church is in any sense “fighting for rights” or political activism in the form of civil disobedience, because I do not have the intention of changing any institutions or laws of China. As a pastor, the only thing I care about is the disruption of man’s sinful nature by this faithful disobedience and the testimony it bears for the cross of Christ.

As a pastor, my disobedience is one part of the gospel commission. Christ’s great commission requires of us great disobedience. The goal of disobedience is not to change the world but to testify about another world.

…The Bible teaches us that, in all matters relating to the gospel and human conscience, we must obey God and not men. For this reason, spiritual disobedience and bodily suffering are both ways we testify to another eternal world and to another glorious King.

This is why I am not interested in changing any political or legal institutions in China. I’m not even interested in the question of when the Communist regime’s policies persecuting the church will change. Regardless of which regime I live under now or in the future, as long as the secular government continues to persecute the church, violating human consciences that belong to God alone, I will continue my faithful disobedience. For the entire commission God has given me is to let more Chinese people know through my actions that the hope of humanity and society is only in the redemption of Christ, in the supernatural, gracious sovereignty of God.

If God decides to use the persecution of this Communist regime against the church to help more Chinese people to despair of their futures, to lead them through a wilderness of spiritual disillusionment and through this to make them know Jesus, if through this he continues disciplining and building up his church, then I am joyfully willing to submit to God’s plans, for his plans are always benevolent and good.

Precisely because none of my words and actions are directed toward seeking and hoping for societal and political transformation, I have no fear of any social or political power. For the Bible teaches us that God establishes governmental authorities in order to terrorize evildoers, not to terrorize doers of good. If believers in Jesus do no wrong then they should not be afraid of dark powers. Even though I am often weak, I firmly believe this is the promise of the gospel. It is what I’ve devoted all of my energy to. It is the good news that I am spreading throughout Chinese society.

I believe we need to take a sober look at our lives. We can learn from our brothers and sisters in places like China and the Middle East.

Our priorities as followers of Jesus must be to not live in a space that we can meticulously control or pursue comfort but to live and work for a coming kingdom.

In our country, the type of religious devotion present by both Wang Yi and the Apostle Paul seems so foreign.

Christianity is the only religion in the world the proposes an argument to endure suffering for the sake of others. We serve a suffering Savior. We have a hope of vindication on the other side of suffering. May we live our lives in such a way that it communicates everything we do is “because of Jesus.”