February 3, 2019
Colossians 1 – New Identity, Deep Roots – Part 5
It’s certainly been a cold week-hopefully everyone’s stayed warm. Granted we haven’t gotten the snow I keep hoping for-but we’ve been gloating to our families about the temperatures here-4 degrees is no heat wave-but back in the Midwest it got really cold. I called Dave and Brenda to make sure they were alive-and they woke up to -27 (but by the time we spoke it was up to -17!) Now in Monica’s hometown where her sister lives the windchill was -50 and my sister lives in Minneapolis where it got down to -56. At one point it was 70 degrees warmer here! Another friend of ours who lives in WI posted some pictures of the inside of their house-pics. She said it’s a tad bit cold-and this was her clue to not even peak her nose outside her house! When it’s that cold you have to be fully committed to go outside-covered head to toe with hats, gloves, boots, scarves, facemasks, snow pants. So speaking of fully committed would anybody ever commit themselves to do this-the New Year’s Day Coney Island Polar Plunge-pic? You’ve got to get out there in your suit and run right into the water-talk about being committed. Here’s a pic-if you’re in your suit you’re fully committed-although this guy in his coat might be a little more smart! But here’s what you’re in for-pic. Not sure if he’s shouting with excitement and adrenalin or from being frozen. I’ll do a polar plunge if anyone’s interested-I’d commit to that. But that’s what we want to talk about this morning-being fully committed.
When was the last time you were fully committed to something? Probably not a polar plunge-but what was something you totally got into, something you gave a 110% to, something you dove into with both feet? Maybe it was a new job or a new career that you fully committed to, maybe it was your favorite sport you wanted to excel at, maybe it was your studies in school that consumed you, maybe it was a charity or political cause you committed to, or maybe it was a new exercise routine or a new diet you wanted to commit to. I’m always jealous of the actors who have to gain weight to play a role. I heard that Christian Bale had to commit to gaining 40 lbs to play Dick Chenny in the movie Vice. Would’t that be great to commit to! Another bowl of ice cream-absolutely! But when was the last time you were fully committed to something? Because we all know how different it is being fully committed to something versus just committed (where commitment can wain). And it’s no different spiritually.
I believe it’s safe to say that when we think about committed people, no one was more fully committed to the cause of Christ than Paul. It’s easy to think that Paul was wired up as a super-Christian from the moment he was born-living on a completely different spiritual level than normal people-but that’s not the case. Paul was definitely committed, but Paul was just a regular guy who allowed Christ to take over his heart. Turn to Acts 22-we’ll begin there before getting to Colossians. Now Paul started off as a well-educated scholar with a promising career-much like a young lawyer today just out of law school, success on the horizon, ready to work at his first law firm. When Paul was speaking his case before the people of Jerusalem he reminded them of this-Acts 22:3. Paul was like a physicist studying under Stephen Hawking, or a computer guy having interned under Steve Jobs, or a quarterback having trained under Tom Brady, Paul was prepared to become a Pharisee extraordinaire, he was on the fast track to success and accolades. And he was proving it-22:4-5. Paul was focused on his work, completely dedicated to his Jewish purity and heritage. He was like the theological police, wiping out anybody who thought differently-which was mainly Christians-followers of the Way. So what would make someone this dedicated do a 180? What would cause someone with such a promising future in Judaism, with such a prominent career ahead of him, to drop it all and fully commit to the very thing he was persecuting and trying to eradicate?
Nothing short of the Lord’s call in his life that changed him from the inside out-22:6-8, 10. So Paul goes into Damascus and hears his instructions-22:14-15, 21. And this is exactly what happened. With uncompromising commitment, Paul went on to minister to the Gentiles-to all the non-Jewish people throughout the ancient world during his missionary journeys when he planted churches and spoke about Jesus-from Cyprus, Tarsus, Ephesus, Laodicea, Thessalonica, Athens to Corinth, eventually to Rome. Yet as Paul went to all those places his commitment was severely tested. As we know, his call to go to the Gentiles wasn’t an easy road. Look at what he says in 2 Cor 11:24-27. If I’m in Paul’s shoes, this is when I rethink my commitment. This is when I question whether this was the right career path for me, the right road to go down. Wouldn’t you when you read that? This is when you ask God if you misunderstood him, or if you heard Him wrong. Lord, I thought you wanted me to go to the Gentiles, but clearly being stoned and shipwrecked and floating adrift at sea wasn’t the open door I was expecting. Maybe you’re calling me to something else, maybe I should go back to my scholarly work or find a new job altogether. My commitment would run very thin in the face of this kind of suffering. I would be extremely tempted to give up and throw in the towel. So why didn’t Paul give up amidst all this suffering? Why did he remain fully committed when everything appeared stacked against him?
This is where we want to look at what Paul says in Colossians. Turn there in your Bibles and look at v. 24. And right away you can’t help but notice that Paul didn’t say-I lament my sufferings, I’m in agony here, I’m going to quit in the face of my sufferings. What did he say-I rejoice in my sufferings. This is incredible, talk about commitment! Now I don’t believe Paul was some weirdo who loved suffering and rejoiced in experiencing pain-rather Paul was able to look beyond his suffering and rejoice in something very great. Go back to the verse-v. 24.
Paul was able to identify and share in the sufferings of Jesus-obviously we think of what Jesus suffered on the Cross. As a Christian, Paul was able to face similar suffering. He understood that Jesus died on behalf of the church, so if he’s a follower of Jesus, why should his experience be any different? Why should he feel the right to be excluded from suffering if Jesus, the very Son of God, wasn’t? It’s the same truth that Peter spoke of-1 Pet 2:21. We do what Jesus did, we go where Jesus went-which includes suffering. Now Paul’s phrased it in an interesting way-that he, himself in his own body is filling up what’s lacking in Christ’s afflictions. And that doesn’t mean that Jesus’ saving work on the cross was somehow deficient or lacking-as if we need to make up what He avoided. We can all picture the agony of the cross and what Jesus endured. He fully felt the pain of sin and death-so what Paul is referring to is that broader suffering the body of Christ will experience. Paul is describing a very close connection between Christ and His people. As He’s phrased it-the church is Christ’s body. So just as Jesus suffered, His body, the church, you and me, will suffer. Remember how Jesus phrased it-John 15:18-21. We suffer and face persecution precisely because we belong to Christ. So Paul can say that he’s filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions because there are a lot of afflictions Christ’s body is going to experience in this world. R. Kent Hughes, 248.
What an encouragement that we’re not alone in our suffering and struggles-but that truly our sufferings are Christ’s sufferings. Paul was willing to suffer because he was firmly committed to Christ, committed to following in His steps, committed to what Jesus was committed to-which is His body, the church-v. 24c. Paul’s motivation for suffering was the benefit and blessing of the church, the very thing that Jesus suffered and died for. Paul’s not one of these people who say-the church has a lot of problems, lots of issues, it’s a faulty institution so I’ll let them figure it out, who needs the headaches. No, Paul realizes that the church is the body of Christ, which means to serve Christ is to the serve the church. There are plenty of people who call themselves Christians, but they’re not interested in the church. But how can that be? To be a Christian is to be a part of Christ’s body, which is the church. So the church is absolutely essential and it’s why Paul is so committed. His motto is-whatever it costs, whatever God calls me to do, I’ll do, even if it’s suffering. He’s basically asking God-How much would you have me give of myself? Yet for most of us we reverse the question to ask-How much will I get out of serving God? We’re willing to serve the church if there’s some reward or benefit that we get out of it. We’re willing to serve if it’s doing something we like. We’re willing to serve if people acknowledge us or praise us for it-Hey, thanks for noticing-but inside we’re saying-Oh I know I did a great job and I hope the rest of you notice it and say something! We’ll serve if it makes people think we’re really spiritual, we’ll serve if it’s fun or if we can be with the people we like. We’ll serve if it’s convenient or fits into our schedule or doesn’t take too much effort. But if it’s hard, if it’s fearful or stretches us too much, if serving requires any measure of faith, or even an ounce of suffering or struggle-then forget it, we’re out. But I don’t see that example in Col 1. In fact, Paul is saying that suffering is part of the deal. So Pt1:Our Commitment: no longer What will I get out of it? but How can I give of myself? That’s such an opposite way of thinking-and yet how often do we need to remind ourselves of that. It’s not what will I get out of serving the church, how does it benefit me-but how can I give of myself? v. 24-25. Did you see those two words-for you. Paul wasn’t making his ministry about himself-but for them.
And do you realize that Paul is writing these words from prison, from under house arrest? Glance at the very last verse of Col-4:18 He’s not a free man-day and night there’s a guard chained to him. So don’t you think that after all Paul had been through, after all his sufferings, and now that he’s a prisoner, that Paul deserves a break? A little time off? That he’s earned a leave of absence from the ministry to live out his days in peace, that Paul could say to the Colossians-Hey, guys it’s time for me to hang it up. Take care of yourselves because I’m out. Everywhere I go is a dead end, so I’m going to be done. I need some me-time. We say that sort of thing-and Paul had every right to say that, none of us would argue with him if he did. But he didn’t. He stayed committed to the ministry and to the church-why? Look back at chapter 1 because Paul uses a very important word that answers the question of why he stayed committed and steadfast despite the struggles-v. 25-and what is that word? Look at the next verse-v. 26. Paul is laboring and struggling and serving the church in order to make this great mystery known.
Anybody like to read mystery novels? Anybody ever cheat and read the last chapter first so you know the mystery? When I was in school I read lots and lots of Hardy Boys mystery books. Maybe you remember reading these, or maybe you read the Nancy Drew series for girls. But I remember being at library time in school looking through the shelf of Hardy Boys books and what caught my eye was the cover of the one entitled The Mystery of the Haunted Fort. It looked really spooky and great-the only problem was that the Haunted Fort was #50 in the series-and since I like to go in order and appreciate a good series-I said to myself that if I want to read #50 I better start at #1 and work my way through. Even in 3rd grade I was thinking that there would be lots of character development and changes that would occur over 50 books-that if I jumped in at #50 I would miss all the things the Hardy Boys learned and experienced. There wasn’t-these were all stand alone novels-nothing that happened in any novel carried over to the next. I should have stopped-but it didn’t matter to me because I was fully committed to the Hardy Boys mystery books in order to reach mystery #50! I wouldn’t be deterred. And that’s Paul-nothing would deter him. He was fully committed-but not to a mystery novel-but to the mystery-v. 26. So what is it-v. 27. That’s the reason Paul is committed no matter the circumstances, that’s why he’s willing to suffer and endure all kinds of abuse and afflictions at the hands of men, that’s the truth that motivates and compels Paul to serve the church, that’s what changes everything-the amazing mystery of Christ in you! As our series in Colossians is entitled New Identity, Deep Roots. There is nothing deeper or that makes our identities more new than that.
So Pt2:Our Identity:no longer the abilities in me but Christ in me. And that’s a fundamental shift in our thinking. It means that as a Christian you’re not the same old you. The burden doesn’t rest on your shoulders anymore. Someone’s moved in, taken up residence in your heart, and changed you from within. Think back to when you were first married-and I’m particularly addressing the men. You said your vows, you kissed your bride, you were joined together in holy matrimony. And maybe you had a honeymoon, but when all the festivities were done and you returned home at some point it hit you that you have a new roommate-your wife-and things started changing. No longer were your walls plastered with old sports posters, your wife had framed pictures to hang up and shelves with candles on them. You had new bedding with all kinds of decorative pillows (because no guy buys decorative pillows), you had curtains hanging up and things started to coordinate and match. Instead of eating from plastic bowls and cups you actually had dishes, instead of pizza or fast food every night you shared meals together. I can still picture my dirty college apartment and the smell of that place and my grubby roommate. Do you know what I’m talking about, men? Your wife brought a radical, but refreshing change to your life. So thank her.
But that’s what it’s like with Christ only on an infinitely greater scale. With Him in your life there’s been a radical change. Your identity’s totally different because of this incredible fact-Christ is now in you, living within you. Don’t miss the magnitude of what this is saying. This is the great mystery that’s finally been revealed to all Christians, Jew and Gentile alike. This is what Paul suffered so much to proclaim, this is why he labored so tirelessly. To declare that not only are you saved and forgiven in Christ, but that you now have the wonderful, unheard of, unimaginable privilege of Christ dwelling within you. That you’re no longer old, ordinary you. Something extraordinary has happened. You’re no longer your broken-down self, stuck in that slavery of your sin, just trying to get on as best you can muster. There’s been a much needed repair job. When you repented from your sin and trusted in Christ, your life was forever altered; your heart has massively expanded. The Spirit of the Eternal Son of God has made His dwelling within you. Look back in the chapter because this is who we’re talking about-Col 1:15-17, 19. And now He dwells in your heart by faith. That’s who lives within you. The indwelling Spirit of Christ has taken up residence within you.
When was the last time you really considered that? When was the last time you realized that the essence of your new identity as a believer is this truth: Christ in you? Too often we define the Christian life as how hard we’re trying, how good we’ve been behaving, how many sins and bad habits we’re avoiding, or how much we’re doing for God. We make ourselves and our own efforts our hope-well, hopefully I’ve done enough, hopefully God’s happy with me. But self isn’t the source of our hope at all-instead who is-v. 27b. He’s our hope. His indwelling presence in our hearts now is the guarantee of our glorious hope in eternity to come. So He’s the focus, He’s the one you’re trusting in, He’s the one you’re hoping in. Look at Rom 8:10-11 NIV. Three times in these two verses it says that Christ, His Sprit, is in you. He’s changing you, shaping you, giving new life to you. That means following Christ isn’t just a list of do’s and don’ts, it’s not how much theology you understand or how much Bible knowledge you can master, it is a living, daily, real relationship with Christ who’s Spirit is inside you, transforming and changing you. And that’s the mystery that Paul’s proclaiming, that’s what he desperately wants the Colossians to know-v. 28. Paul desires that every believer-both back then-and you and I today, would walk with Christ, would grow in Christ, would let Him change us from the inside out to become a people of love, joy, peace, patience; to let the person of Christ be displayed in all we say and do-precisely because Christ is in us. It’s hard to hide what’s in here-it just comes out. If you’re a big Patriots fan or Rams fan it’s going to come out today as you watch the game. And if you’re not a fan of either team that will come out too because you’ll spend all your time chowing down on SuperBowl snacks instead of actually watching the game. But who you always comes out. So if Christ is in here, in your heart, then to every day say-Yes, Lord, I want to experience your presence, I want to let you live through me, to walk with you and know you. It’s a relationship.
That’s Pt3:Our Hope:no longer an abstract belief but a real relationship with Christ. Believing in Jesus isn’t like believing in the Constitution or believing in gravity where we know those things exist-they’re out there-but they don’t tend to impact us in a personal way. Belief in Jesus isn’t some abstract concept, He’s really there. He’s someone you can experience and know in a personal way-and that changes everything-v. 29. Paul is applying the very truth He just said in v. 27 about Christ living within us to say that you no longer need to rely upon your own strength, your own abilities, your own wisdom, instead you’re to completely rely upon Him who’s within you. It’s His energy, not yours; His powerful work, not your efforts. How could Paul stay fully committed and serve when he suffered so much? How could he carry on and endure through all those afflictions when any sane person would give up? Because Christ was working within him; because Christ’s energy was coursing through him. And it’s no different for us.
Maybe you’re sitting here this morning thinking there’s no way you could ever live your life like Paul. You run from suffering at the drop of a hat, you shiver and quake in your boots just thinking about how God might use you. You say-There’s no way I could serve God like He wants. But is that because you’re looking at yourself? When fears and doubts start consuming you, when the excuses start mounting, is that because you’re evaluating your strength or your ability? What happens when you forget your strength, when you forget your ability and start thinking about Christ’s energy that He’s powerfully working within you? That’s when everything changes. Maybe there’s a relationship in your life that’s just a mess. There’s somebody you need to forgive, someone you need to reach out to, but you’ve been telling yourself for so long that you can’t. The walls of bitterness have become like concrete bricks and you say-I can’t forgive that person, not after what they did; I can’t love them, it’s just too hard. Well it is too hard for you, but not for Christ who lives within you. Because of Him you can forgive and love and reach out. Because of Christ powerfully working within you relationships can be mended and repaired, reconciliation is possible as He works through you. Or what about sin? Maybe there’s a sin issue, or a temptation, that you’re too weak to conquer; that every time you face it you fail. You’ve tried so hard, over and over, but every time you give in so you’ve concluded that victory’s impossible. The sin is too big and you’re too weak, you’re just not strong enough to overcome it. Well, that’s true, you’re not strong enough-but in Christ victory is possible. With His energy within you you can turn away from sin, you can say no to the temptation and do what’s right.
In the midst of daily life, where do you first turn for strength? Is it to Christ, or is it yourself? Probably most of us turn to our phone-let me Google that or see if Siri can help me! But I’m sure if we took a poll this morning, a lot of us, including me, would answer self. We turn first to our own strength, or lack thereof. I can’t do that, God, it’s too hard. I can’t be stretched that far, I can’t give like that, I can’t love those people, I can’t serve that way, I can’t take that step of faith, I just can’t do it. And that’s totally true, you can’t. There’s no way, you are too weak. But that’s where the message of the gospel is so good. Because where you can’t, Christ can. Where you fail, Christ succeeds; where you lose, Christ wins; where you fall, Christ stands and endures. The big question is do you and I truly believe the words of Scripture that says it’s all of His energy that He’s powerfully working within you. Because it didn’t say He’s slightly working within you, He’s not halfway working or sort of working or even partially working within you, but it says He’s powerfully working within you. What would happen if you lived in His powerful strength and not your own? What would happen if you put verse 29 into practice in your life? What would happen if you let go, if you gave up control, and let Christ in you, take over? What if you let His powerful energy, His strength, deal with the challenges you face? It’s like coming up to a yield sign when you drive. What are supposed to do? You yield to the other car; you hold back and let the driver to your right go first. What if you yielded to Christ and let His strength, His energy, go first? What if you said-Okay Lord, I can face this, not because I’m strong, but because You are? What would happen? What would Christ do through you as you remain fully committed to Him?
Here this morning reflect upon this truly magnificent truth-that the mystery of the gospel that has remained hidden but now revealed is Christ in you, the hope of glory. And that’s all possible because of the Cross, because Christ gave us up His life for us to save us so that He could dwell within us. And that brings us to communion.