The Book of Colossians

God's Story in Scripture  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  46:18
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“To know and not to do is not to know”

Several years ago I heard that statement at a leadership conference. The speaker was challenging the group to put into practice the things that they were learning. But I think that phrase has so many ramifications throughout life.
The idea is that if we say we know something, but act contrary to that knowledge, then we really have not internalized that knowledge. We could apply this in a variety of areas:
School - being ready, doing homework, studying, talking to that new student.
Home - chores, listening to parents, spending intentional time with kids,
Work - being prepared, being diligent,
Health - not eating _____, exercising, getting good sleep,
Spiritual Life - reading scripture, praying,
We could go on - but the point that we need to see is that knowledge unapplied is not knowledge gained - it is merely trivia.
When it comes to life in the town of Colossae - this seems to be part of the message that Paul was getting to the Colossian believers.

Introducing Colossians

The book of Colossians is one of the four so-called “prison epistles” - along with Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon.
The church at Colossae was likely established by a man named Epaphras while Paul was in Ephesus. Epaphras travelled from Colossae to Ephesus and became a follower of Christ. He returned and shared the good news, leading several people to Christ there. At some point, news got back to Paul regarding the condition of the church and some of the struggles that they were facing, prompting him to write this letter.
There has been a lot of debate over the years regarding the exact nature of the challenges that plagued the Colossian church. Some have suggested an early form of Gnosticism - a belief that the material world is evil because it was created by a lesser deity. Tim Mackie, from the Bible Project, suggests that there were two major threats to the church or influences on it.
From a pagan stand point there was a “mystical polytheism” - a form of worshiping the pantheon of Greek gods.
From the religious stand point, there were Jewish Christians who were urging an adherence to the the laws of the Torah - namely circumcision, dietary laws, and the Sabbath - a special day of religious observance.
One influence would lead toward a false understanding of the world in which we live - resulting in sinful behavior. The other influence would undermine the knowledge of the sufficiency of the work of Christ - resulting in adherence to certain rules under false pretenses.
In response to these influences, Paul offers up this prayer:
Colossians 1:9–10 ESV
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
His heartfelt prayer is that rather than simply responding with action, that the Colossians would be filled with knowledge, wisdom and understanding. It’s not simply right action that matters, but right thinking - because ultimately knowledge should result in action.
He then supports this prayer with robust teaching about Jesus Christ as a means of shoring up their knowledge. He begins by establishing that ...

The Foundation of Our Knowledge is Jesus Christ

Whether Paul is countering a gnostic set of beliefs or the legalism promoted by some Jewish believers, he is urging the Colossian Christians to reconsider the foundation of their faith - Jesus Christ. He does this by discussing - who Jesus is, what he has done, and who we are in him...

Who Jesus Is

In Colossians 1:15-20 - Paul presents a beautiful poem that describes the nature and work of Jesus Christ. We read that a bit earlier in the service, so I won’t repeat it here. Essentially, Paul is communicating that Jesus is...
eternal - He existed from the beginning.
creator - all things were created through Him
sustainer - all things hold together in Him
the head of the church -
the reconciler between God and humanity
the eternal peacemaker
Jesus is more than merely a good man or a good teacher - he is God himself, incarnate.
In Chapter 2- Paul continues with a further description of who Jesus is:
Colossians 2:9 NLT
For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.
Over the centuries there have been various movements of people who have tried to explain who Jesus is. Some have elevated His deity and diminished his humanity. Others have tried to elevate his humanity and diminish his deity. It seems like Paul is helping us understand that we can’t diminish either - He is fully God in a human body. Just as we’ve been discussing with the kids in Kids Connection - Jesus - our redeemer is fully human and fully God.
There will always be people trying to reframe Jesus - redefining Him according to their agenda and standards, we must be careful to let scripture fully inform our understanding of who Jesus is.
Paul not only establishes the foundation of knowledge on the understanding of Jesus’ existence, but also on...

What Jesus has done

Some people see Jesus as a liberator. Others see him as a miracle worker and a good teacher. Still others describe his work as purely a redefinition of what it means to be human.
Paul helps us see that Jesus - by his life, death and resurrection:
He has delivered us from darkness:
Colossians 1:13–14 ESV
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
There is a transforming spiritual work that Jesus Has done. His life, death, and resurrection fulfilled the requirements for us to become citizens of God’s Kingdom. He is our citizenship exam, passport, covenant, and promise.
He reconciled us to God
Colossians 1:22 ESV
he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,
see also: Col. 2:14 - cancelling the record of debt
Those of you who have an accounting propensity can appreciate balanced books. Our spiritual ledger sheet was so filled with a negative balance because of our sin that there was no way that we could get into full balance with God.
We may look at our national debt as being an insurmountable figure. It is a lot of money - but relatively speaking - that debt pales in comparison to our natural debt before God because of our sin. Nationally, we can make cuts, print more money, take on fiscal responsibility to address the debt. Spiritually, there are not enough good deeds, or time or anything that can cancel our debt apart from Jesus Christ. He has balanced our account with God - through his blood.
He has circumcised us ( Col. 2:11) - Physical circumcision was sign that God required of the Jews in order for them to fulfill their part of the covenant. Paul is essentially stating that spiritually speaking, we all meet that covenant expectation in Jesus Christ. He is our identifying mark.
He has disarmed rulers (Col. 2:15) - Here Paul is probably referring to spiritual or demonic rulers. By replacing our unrighteousness with his, by cancelling our debt with his holiness, he has effectively rendered Satan and his forces powerless over God’s people. They may try to lie and cast doubt - but their power over us is nullified by Jesus Christ.
Beloved, I hope you hear that clearly. There are doubts that we will all face. We will continue to struggle with sin. We will continue to work through the sanctifying process of growing in holiness. But our shortcomings, sin, missteps, backsliding - does not negate Jesus’ work on the cross. Don’t let doubt or what others may say misplace your confidence. Jesus has paid your debt, eternally. Now we get to walk in that!
The foundation of our knowledge of Jesus and his work also results in an understanding of...

Who we are in Him

To some degree, we have already considered some elements of this - because naturally Jesus work has ramifications in our lives.
Colossians 2:11–14 ESV
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
Paul goes on to say that we are:
Citizens of a God’s Kingdom because of Jesus (Col. 1:14)
Raised with Christ (Col. 3:2) - from being dead in our sins, free from them
Alive in Christ (Col. 3:4)
One with one another because of Christ - no more dividing lines (Col. 3:11)
Chosen, holy, beloved (Col. 3:12)
Let that sink in for a moment. Jesus - the fully God and fully human redeemer has done all that needs to be done for our sin to be paid in full, He has changed our citizenship, identity, status before God, standing in the world.
Paul goes on to say that...

Full knowledge of Jesus protects us from captivity

Paul writes:
Colossians 2:6–8 ESV
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
Now that we know who Jesus is, what he has done, and who we are in him, we get to walk in that - confidently - on a firm foundation of this knowledge.
And yet there will always be people who will try to undermine our faith.
When Paul warns against people who would introduce a philosophy or deceit - he uses a word that connotes “booty” - like a pirates booty. Something that is stolen away against the will of the owner.
Freedom in India
Several years ago I was in a small village in India visiting with a pastor and their congregation. Indian-Hindu culture is filled with deities. In this village, they believed that there was a goddess over the kitchen and the only the woman of the house was allowed to be there. They would mark certain things indicating the area that was restricted. Eventually, the woman of the house became a believer in Christ. And yet her household was still held captive by the superstition that reigned in the village around the kitchen. She was held in a sort of bondage - freed by the blood of Jesus, but caught up by the pressure from the community to keep the status quo. Eventually, as she grew as a believer, she came to the firm conviction that this deity was nothing to fear and the pressure from the community was rooted in lies - so she turned over her kitchen - removing the marks of superstition. She immediately felt the freedom from the superstition - but the villagers feared for her. She was confident, though, in the truths that she had been taught from Scripture that she had been set free.
When we get away from our foundation in Jesus and begin buying into cunning schemes - we become the stolen treasure of the enemy - not eternally - but practically. We do become ineffective.
This is why we place so much emphasis on reading, studying, preaching, meditating, and applying the word of God. It reminds us of the truths of God so that we can walk confidently in them.
Paul also warns against people - even other believers - who will pass judgment because of debatable matters.
Colossians 2:16–18 ESV
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,
He goes on to talk about judgment that may come over certain festivals or religious activities. In response, Paul writes
Colossians 2:23 ESV
These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
In the Old Testament, God called the people of Israel out of obscurity into a special relationship with Him. He then gave them some laws as a guide for how to live as his special people. As the religious scribes and lawyers began studying and teaching the law, they added more regulations and guidelines as a sort of hedge around the law to keep people from breaking it. Jesus even acknowledged that some of those added rules broke the commandments of God as sort of unintended consequences - fixing one problem while inadvertently creating another.
The same things continued to happen in the early church and still happens today. Well-meaning people will place their own convictions about various things on others - causing guilt and casting doubt.
It happens from the conservative side as we seek to apply scripture - restricting behaviors, placing expectations on worship gatherings, etc. It happens from the liberal side as they seek to apply scripture - freeing behaviors and judging those who would limit them.
But it also happens from outside the church - as the general concensus of our society places (BLM, CRT, morals, freedoms, limitations - opinions)
When we hear these things from outside, from each other, we need to take a deep breath, pray, and think. Be reminded of what is true in Christ. Paul gives us this admonition:
Colossians 3:1–4 ESV
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Full knowledge of Christ is reflected in our behavior

“To know and not to do is not to know.” Knowing who Jesus is, what he has done, and who we are in him not only protects us from being held captive, but it should get reflected in our behavior.
As he did in Ephesians, he urges us to put off old behaviors and to put on new ones…
General Behaviors:
Col. 3:12-13 - Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patiences, forgiveness
Col. 3:14 - put on love
Col. 3:15-17 - peace, thankfulness, dwell in word of Christ, do everything “in the name of Jesus”
Notice, in all of these things, Paul is not speaking about specific actions - but speaking foundation-ally. All of those things will impact how we treat others. It will impact the actions we take.
More Specific Behaviors:
He gives some instruction similar to what we studied in Ephesians, but in an abbreviated fashion -
in marriage (Col. 3:18-19)
in parenting (Col. 3:20-21)
at work (Col. 3:22-4:1) - in fact he takes a bit of extra time to talk about slaves - I think in part because of the culture, but also because he was sending Onesimus, an escaped slave, back. We can read more about that in Philemon.
life in general - in prayer, wisdom and speech (Col. 4:2-6)

Closing thoughts

What we know will result in what we do. Be firmly established in who Jesus is, what he has done, and who we are in him - this will guide every part of life. It will also protect us from threats that seek to hold us captive.
Do the hard work of prayerfully thinking as issues arise - let our responses be based on the reality of who Christ is and who we are in Him.
Friend, if you are far from God, respond to Christ - he is the author of all life. He has made a way for you to be in a relationship with him - through his sacrifice. Respond today.
(Critical Race Theory - Just Thinking Podcast) - The Gospel is the answer to the problems that CRT tries and fails to fix.
Memory Verse:
Colossians 2:6–7 ESV
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
2 Corinthians 13:14 ESV
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
deSilva, David Arthur. An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods and Ministry Formation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.
Dever, Mark the Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005
Gromacki, Robert G. New Testament Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1974.
McNaughton, Ian S. Opening up Colossians and Philemon. Opening Up Commentary. Leominster: Day One Publications, 2006.
O’Brien, Peter T. “Colossians, Letter to The.” Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Wright, N. T. Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1994.
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