Legendary preacher, Charles Spurgeon told a story about two men in a boat on a river. They were caught in severe rapids. And they were heading toward even worse rapids ending in a waterfall. There was really no way they’d survive if they hit those rapids. The men realized their predicament and began to struggle for their lives.
As they were carried swiftly downstream toward the perilous rocks and the falls, some men on the shore saw them and they threw a rope out to them. By this time, the boat had capsized, and the men were struggling in the raging current.
Spurgeon went on to say that one man caught the rope and was pulled to shore. The other man, in a moment of panic, made a fatal mistake; he grabbed hold of a log that was floating by. One man was drawn to the shore because he had a connection with the people on the land. The other man clinging to the log was carried down the rapids, over the falls, and was never seen again.
The lives of those men from that moment were defined by their choices. Both men grabbed hold of something. The object of one man’s grasp was anchored to something solid; the object of the other man’s grasp was at the mercy of the current. One man’s choice led to life; the other man’s choice led to death.
Many people today are just like those two men. They’re adrift on the raging river of life, their boat is out of control. They’ve been offered a lifeline in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some will seize the opportunity for life, others will grab one of the “floating logs” the world offers and will ultimately perish.
Today, we begin a study in the New Testament book of Colossians. In the opening of this letter, written by the apostle Paul, we’ll learn how a group of people in Colossae responded to the choice that was offered to them and how it impacted their lives.
But before we get to that it is important that I give you some introduction to the book.
If you were to look at a map of the ancient world, you would find Colossae in an area called Phrygia in Asia Minor. Today, its ruins lie in southwestern Turkey. It was about 15 kilometers (9 miles) south of Laodicea, home of one of the famous seven churches from the book of Revelation. Colossians 4:16 states that this letter is also to be read in Laodicea.
Colossae was known for its syncretism, that is, its mixture of varied religious influences: Jewish, Gnostic, and pagan. Knowing this helps us understand better Paul’s concerns for the church as they’re expressed in this letter. Gnosticism was a religious system that elevated personal spiritual knowledge over biblical orthodoxy, as well as over church tradition and authority. One of the basic tenets of Gnosticism was the belief that physical matter is evil. As a result many Gnostic texts don’t deal with the concepts of sin and repentance, but with illusion and enlightenment.1
Since Gnostics believed that matter is evil, they tended toward two extremes. One group was licentious, their motto was “if it feels good, do it.” The other group was ascetic and concluded that because matter was evil only the basic things necessary for survival should be used. But both groups saw themselves as superior to the uninitiated who didn’t embrace their beliefs.
Add to this mix the Jewish believers who were trying to incorporate things from the Mosaic law as being necessary for salvation. And behind all this is a first-generation church made up of people primarily from pagan backgrounds with their experience and inclinations.
Most scholars believe this letter was written around AD 60 during Paul’s first imprisonment. Timothy is included as a writer. Perhaps he did the actual writing as Paul dictated.
The content of the letter seems to be aimed at refuting Judaistic tendencies, feast days, circumcision, food regulations, etc. However, we’ll notice in our study that Paul doesn’t argue against each of these individually. Instead, he shows how all of these laws have been fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, and how their faith in Christ has impacted their lives!
The preeminence or superiority of Christ, along with the practical outworking of that belief, is the central theme of this letter! I trust you will find this teaching practical and transformative.
Now, let me read our opening text, Colossians 1:1 to 8. And then we will discuss these verses under the title, “The Truth of the Gospel.”
In this text the apostle Paul lays out three foundational CONCEPTS that define “The Truth of the Gospel.”
The First CONCEPT (that defines the truth of the Gospel) is,
Faith in Christ
As Paul opens his letter, he addresses it “to the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ who are at Colossae.” He can address his readers this way is because of what he states in verse four. He is deeply grateful to the Lord for their faith in Christ Jesus and his intention is to encourage and bless them through this letter, even when he has hard things to say. The fact that they are one in Christ brings the apostle great joy and he assures them of his continuing prayers.
The words, “we heard of your faith,” seem to imply that Paul had never visited Colossae. Later, in his letter to Philemon, he states his desire to visit Epaphras, the founder of the church.
This may seem very basic to you, but faith in Christ is the foremost foundational concept that defines the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel is Good News and Jesus is at the center of that Good News; in fact, He is the Good News personified! In his first letter to the Church in Corinth Paul wrote, “we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Paul further stated in Romans 10:9 and 10, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Believing in Christ and His finished work of redemption is faith. The one who exercises sincere, obedient faith becomes a child of God! No ifs, ands, or buts about it. This was the position of the people to whom Paul was writing.
The exercise of faith in Christ by these Colossian Believers leads us to the second foundational concept that defines the truth of the Gospel.
The Second CONCEPT is,
Hope in Heaven
As the object of our faith is Jesus Christ, similarly, the object of our hope is Heaven – being in the presence of Jesus! The teaching that life here is temporary and Heaven is the ultimate goal of the Believer is central to the New Testament, beginning with the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels and following through the end of Revelation.
This hope the Colossian believers had, and which you and I share, is rooted in the truth of the Gospel, verse 5. It is NOT a “hope so” hope, that is, a probability of doubtful quality. NO, it is a sure hope. Paul states in Romans 5:5 that the hope we have “does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” The KJV says “hope maketh not ashamed.”
Have you ever spoken confidently about an upcoming event or plans you made, only to have the event cancelled or the plans fail? I have. How did you feel? Ashamed, right? We’re ashamed when something we’ve counted on and urged others to count on doesn’t happen. We realize our hope was misplaced and we’re embarrassed. But our hope in Christ isn’t like that.
After all, if we have no hope of heaven, that is, no resurrection of the dead, then our faith is vain. Paul states it this way in I Corinthians 15:19, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.”
In I Peter 1:3 to 5 we read about this hope. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
Did you catch that? Your hope, your inheritance is reserved, it is guarded, it is watched over by your Heavenly Father. What can be more secure than that? The Believers in Colossae had embraced this hope as being “laid away” or “stored away” for them in the future. And Paul commended them for embracing the hope contained in the Gospel. Which leads us to the final foundational concept that defines the truth of the Gospel
That Final Concept is,
Love for the Saints
This foundational concept defines the reality of the truth of the Gospel. Scripture is clear that we can make whatever claims of faith and hope we want, but if we don’t have love for our brothers and sisters those claims are meaningless!
Paul told the Colossian believers in verse four that he had heard of “their love for all the saints…” This love for their brothers and sisters validated the authenticity of their faith. It came about as a result of their faith and hope. Throughout the Scriptures, and the New Testament especially, the authenticity of our faith is directly connected to our treatment of others, particularly our treatment of our brothers and sisters.
The apostle John speaks in language that’s clear and unambiguous; “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” I’m sorry, but if you really embrace God’s
word as inspired and authoritative, then you can’t spin that; you can’t say it’s unclear.
So, the Gospel had come to Colossae through the preaching of Epaphras and when that word of truth was embraced, it brought forth fruit. When the Colossian people experienced the grace of God in truth, verse six, fruit was the inevitable result. That was true at the time this epistle was written and it is still true today. That fruit was love. Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” And Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22 that the primary fruit of the Spirit is – love.
If we have difficulty loving our brother or sister, perhaps we should be taking a look at the reality of our faith and our hope.
If Christ is truly the object of our faith, then, we owe everything we are and have to Him. He is the founder and the perfector or finisher of our faith. He is the initiator of the New Covenant by way of His blood, and He is the One who makes it possible for us to win the ultimate prize! Remember, “… we are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
If the object of our hope is truly Heaven, that too impacts our love for the brotherhood. If my focus is here on earth that leads me to be selfish, grasping, and covetous. If my focus is on my eternal hope through Jesus, that allows me to be generous, open-handed, and eager to share.
Epaphras is commended for being a faithful minister, one who truly embodied these foundational concepts that define the truth of the Gospel. Although you may not be a pastor/teacher like he was, you too can be a faithful servant whose life brings glory to God.
My prayer for you is that your faith and hope will bear fruit in love and give convincing evidence to those around you of the truth of the Gospel.