June 23, 2010 David Balzer

Colossians 1:1-14: Being who you are

IDENTITY AND PURPOSE: Knowing WHO YOU ARE, and knowing WHAT YOU’RE DOING.

There’s a saying that if you AIM AT NOTHING, you’ll HIT IT EVERY TIME. Whether you’re big business, or churches, or just ambitious individuals.

Big business, for example, spends millions getting their corporate identity clear. What they’re on about, and where they fit in the market-place. PURPOSE STATEMENTS. What is our major focus? Why do we exist?

ANZ wants us to think they UNDERSTAND us. Their motto? “We know what you’re thinking.”

Woolworths are “the fresh food people”

Coles are working hard to make sure “down, down, Prices are down.”

Even TINY businesses are doing it. Like BC electrical contractors in Melbourne. Only 5 people in the company, but they’ve got a mission TOO. “To provide you, the customer, with peace of mind when it comes to all electrical requirements.” And they’ve got a vision too. “Our vision: to exceed client’s expectations using quality electricians,”

It’s important to know WHO YOU ARE, and WHERE YOU’RE HEADED. IDENTITY and PURPOSE.

Or what about us as a church? What’s OUR identity? Who ARE we? And what’s our PURPOSE? What are we HERE for? Where do we want to GO?

You need to know THAT/ before you can work out how to GET there.

SOME churches have the motto, “Growing followers of Jesus.” Who are they? They’re followers of Jesus who are GROWING. And what are they HERE for? To GROW MORE followers of Jesus.

Other churches use the slogan, CONNECT, GROW, SERVE. Perhaps doesn’t say so much about IDENTITY. But certainly explains PURPOSE. Their goal is to CONNECT to people, then GROW them in Jesus, and then to train and encourage them to SERVE.

IDENTITY and PURPOSE.

Obviously, for the Christian, the place to look for these things is the Bible. The Apostle Paul was someone who knew WHO HE WAS, WHERE he was going, and WHY he was going there. The focus of his life was the Lord Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who provided his identity and his purpose. And it’s dripping out of every sentence of this letter to the Colossians.

JESUS IS THE ANSWER TO EVERY QUESTION. THE SOLUTION TO EVERY PROBLEM. THE DESTINATION OF EVERY JOURNEY. LIFE IS BECAUSE OF JESUS.

That’s Paul’s message. That’s Paul’s LIFE. And he wants to hammer it home in this letter to the Colossians, because they’re being tempted by EMPTY promises. False ideas about how to live a rich, full and free life. Promises that DIDN’T include Jesus. Promises that, ultimately, were nothing more than empty lies.

But we’ll see more about those promises in the coming weeks.

And right from the very first verse, Paul shows us this focus. He defines WHO HE IS. His whole identity is tied up in Jesus. Look at v1.

(Col 1:1 NIV)  “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”

Paul’s an APOSTLE. – someone APPOINTED TO A SPECIAL TASK. In this case, God had appointed Paul to tell people about Jesus. That was his IDENTITY – who he was. And his PURPOSE – what he was doing.

Who he was, and what he did, was BECAUSE OF GOD’S WILL.

But it wasn’t just Paul. For him, EVERY Christian finds his identity in Jesus. Look at how he describes the Colossians. Verse 2

(Col 1:2 NIV)  To the holy and faithful brothers IN CHRIST at Colosse:

To be IN CHRIST is to be CONNECTED to Christ. Living within the sphere of his Lordship. Everything done in PARTNERSHIP with Jesus.

To be IN CHRIST means it’s Christ who shapes your thinking, your actions, your attitudes. It’s Christ who determines your goals. Who shapes your identity.

(pause) And notice what that LOOKS LIKE in the Colossians. verse 4.

(Col 1:4-5 NIV) … we have heard of your FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS and of the LOVE you have for all the saints– {5} the faith and love that spring from the HOPE that is stored up for you in heaven…

Faith, Love, and Hope. The three great Christian virtues. Faith in Christ Jesus. Love for Christians. Hope stored up in heaven.

Their PRESENT is sorted out – Living right with GOD (trusting Jesus). And they’re living right with PEOPLE (loving the saints). And their FUTURE is sorted out TOO. Solid inheritance stored away

And Paul’s THANKING GOD because the Colossians have it ALL.

It’s what he does at the start of lots of his letters. Gives us a look at his prayer diary. And as we look at the things he prays for, we learn a lot about who Paul is, and why he does what he does.

1. Paul was committed to prayer:

The first obvious point is that Paul was COMMITTED TO PRAYER. And he begins with THANKSGIVING. Look at v3.

(Col 1:3 NIV)  We ALWAYS THANK God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,

THANKSGIVING recognises our true position. That GOD is the one who does things. He’s Lord, and not us. He’s the driver, we’re the passenger. And so God is the one who deserves thanks.

And that’s HUMBLING.

Many MEN find it hard to PRAY WITH THEIR WIVES. Much easier for us to DO stuff. Or FIX stuff. I think part of the reason is that praying is A SIGN OF WEAKNESS. And we don’t like to admit weakness. Like not asking for directions. Prayer is a HUMBLING experience. It’s admitting that you need help.

But that’s the REALITY! We ARE helpless. God IS in control.

Identity and purpose start with a correct understanding of WHO WE ARE. And prayer helps us to do that.

2. Paul is committed to the Gospel

The second thing we learn about Paul is that he’s COMMITTED TO THE GOSPEL.

a. The gospel is the Word of Truth

First, the gospel is the word of TRUTH. See it there at the end of v5.

that you have already heard about in THE WORD OF TRUTH, THE GOSPEL

We can be confident that what God has done in Jesus IS TRUE. It’s good news that’s REAL and HISTORICAL and RELIABLE.

The gospel doesn’t need a SALES PITCH. We don’t need to disguise it behind a clever campaign. It’s TRUE!

b. the gospel is effective.

The second thing we learn about the gospel is that IT WORKS! It’s powerful and effective. Vs 6.

(Col 1:6 NIV)  ….  All over the world this gospel is BEARING FRUIT AND GROWING,

There’s a mulberry tree in the car park where my previous church meets. When it was full of fruit, the branches hung down low, heavy and full. The ground was covered with mushy purple fruit. The air was full of the sweet aroma of mulberries.

That’s the picture of the gospel. It’s bearing fruit and growing. All over the world, people can smell the sweet aroma of the good news about Jesus.

People hear the good news about sins forgiven. About a relationship restored with God. About a new attitude and victory over sin. About security and an eternal inheritance. Their eyes are opened, their hearts are softened. They recognise Jesus and they recognise themselves. And it CHANGES people.

And I can see how the gospel has changed people HERE. Changing attitudes, Giving a new joy, a new confidence. New contentment, new purpose.

And Paul is thanking God SPECIFICALLY for how the good news has worked at Colossae. The sweet fruit of this great message has been faith in Jesus, and love for all the saints.

c. the gospel is about Grace

The third thing we learn about the gospel is that it’s about GRACE. Verse 6. “Since the day you heard it and understood GOD’S GRACE in all its truth.”

Grace. God’s free!, undeserved! gift!

God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense (G.R.A.C.E.)

It’s how Paul said “Hello” back in v2. “Grace and peace to you” Normally we just skip over those words. But they’re a great greeting.

In other words, “May you experience God’s grace. May you UNDERSTAND God’s grace. May you GROW in God’s grace. May you REFLECT God’s grace. May you LIVE in God’s grace” – Grace to you.

And to understand God’s grace is what the Colossians did when they accepted the gospel. That’s the faith that trusts God’s gift. That recognises there’s nothing to add.

A number of years ago some people stayed with us. And as they were leaving, they offered us money in return for our hospitality. We wanted to give them our home as a GIFT, and so we said no.

But after they left, we found the money under the pillow. They wouldn’t accept our free gift. They felt they had to contribute something to their visit.

Grace is God’s free offer of salvation. FAITH is accepting the gift just as it is. Most people think that by slipping some money under the pillow, they can make SURE of eternal life. That’s UN-faith, not FAITH. There’s nothing we can slip God to make us acceptable.

The Colossians understood God’s grace in all its fulness. They realised it was useless to try to ADD anything to God’s free gift.

Paul’s PURPOSE and IDENTITY were bound up in that wonderful truth. The truth there was nothing of his own which counted as credit before God. He was God’s child solely because of God’s grace.

A strong sense of God’s grace helps me not to doubt WHO I AM – whether I’m really good enough to be a Christian. It’s confidence in God’s grace which enables me to know WHERE I’M GOING.

Do you understand God’s grace in its fulness?

3. Paul was committed to knowing God’s will

(pause) Paul’s prayer now moves from thanksgiving, to PRAYING FOR the church. God’s ALREADY done a lot for them. BECAUSE OF THAT, he’s going to give them much more. Verse 9.

(Col 1:9 NIV)  FOR THIS REASON (because of what God’s already done), since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and ASKING God to fill you with the KNOWLEDGE of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

They’ve already understood God’s grace. In other words, they understand THE GOSPEL. But now Paul prays for something different. He prays that they will be filled with the knowledge of GOD’S WILL. That they’ll know WHAT IT IS THAT GOD WANTS FOR THEM NOW.

The key to rich and real Christian living is A RIGHT KNOWLEDGE OF GOD’S WILL. In the face of louder and brighter promises all around us, knowing God’s goals for you will keep you on target. Keep you seeking the RIGHT things. And running from the WRONG things.

By knowledge of God’s will, we’re not talking about some super-spiritual insight. Knowledge of God’s will is simply an intelligent grasp of what God wants for daily living. It’s there for everyone to see. Because God’s TOLD us. It’s IN HIS WORD. There in v10. Once you KNOW it, you’ll

live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father.

Do you want to know God’s will for your life? What job to take. Who to marry. Where to live. What car to drive. What dress to buy. What shoes go with it.

Do you worry about whether you’re living in God’s plan? Perhaps you’re putting out the fleece like Gideon? Or waiting for a special sign, like Paul on the Damascus Road?

God MIGHT show you like this – but I doubt it!

God’s will for us (straight from v10 there) is that whatever ELSE we do,

1. we will live a life worthy of God

2. which is pleasing to Him,

3. bearing fruit in good works,

4. growing in the knowledge of Him.

5. strengthened to patiently endure

6. and joyfully giving thanks

God’s will is that our lives are WORTHY of him. Measuring up to his standard. That he not have any reason to be ashamed we’re his. And that involves living to PLEASE GOD. Not other people. Not ourselves. Not our appetites. Pleasing GOD.

And that’ll involve bearing fruit. Fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

And fruit OF THE GOSPEL. Other people whose lives are changed because of our testimony.

And God’s will for us is that we’ll grow in the knowledge of God. Of God HIMSELF. Not more facts about him. Not digesting great big books about him. But knowing HIM. The Pharisees in Jesus’ time knew all ABOUT God. But they didn’t KNOW him. Don’t let that be YOU.

And God wants you to be GROWING. Not static. Not stagnant. Stagnant water is DEAD water. You can’t ride a bike that’s STATIONARY. Same with the Christian life. There’s got to be PROGRESS, or you fall over.

And that’s part of the NEXT request. That we be STRENGTHENED WITH GOD’S POWER. Not power to defeat armies, or achieve business or relationship success. But power to patiently endure.

Which says it must be God’s will for there to be things in your life that REQUIRE endurance. God’s will for you ISN’T for everything to go smoothly. But that you patiently ENDURE it, with your eyes fixed on HIM.

And as you DO that, you GIVE THANKS for it. For it ALL. Because the TOUGH times will train you to rely on God. To hope for heaven.

And so you grow in your knowledge of God and his purposes. You learn that he’s faithful in tough times. Learn that he doesn’t desert you. Learn that he’s a Rock you can stand on. Learn that he’s the comforter who gives peace that the world can’t understand.

That’s what it means to grow in your knowledge of him. And that’s what God’s will is for you.

4. Paul had a strong motivation

The 4th thing we learn is that Paul had A STRONG MOTIVATION IN LIFE. Two powerful energisers. One looking BACK. And one looking FORWARD.

Sometimes very long coal trains will have an engine pulling from the front. And an engine pushing from the back.

It’s the same for PAUL. Something BEHIND him PUSHING him. And something IN FRONT PULLING him.

a) What God has already done.

Look at v13. It’s what God’s already done. Where we already are.

 (Col 1:13-14 NIV)  “For he HAS RESCUED US from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, {14} in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

That’s ALREADY DONE.

Do you remember the story of BRANT WEBB and TODD RUSSELL? Survivors of the Beaconsfield Mine disaster.

When they were finally rescued, when they emerged from the darkness of the mine into the bright glare of the TV lights, they said it was LIKE BEING RAISED FROM THE GRAVE TO LIFE! And now they’d got a second chance at life.

I can’t begin to imagine what they went through. But if it was me, my whole attitude to life would be different! My life would change! I’d been given a fresh start – a re-birth! If I’d been brought from a kingdom of darkness into a kingdom of glorious light, my whole orientation to life would change.

And that’s what God has done for us in Jesus. What he’s saved us FROM. From darkness – from aimlessness and judgment. And what he’s saved us TO. Brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. Into the LIGHT. Into purpose and direction. Into forgiveness and meaning.

If you’ve come to Jesus, then that’s what God’s done for YOU. If you HAVEN’T, then that’s what he’s OFFERING you. Brought from darkness into light. From sin and guilt to forgiveness and freedom. From aimlessness to purpose.

And as we focus on what God’s done. And as we give him THANKS for it. We’re MOTIVATED to live our lives in GRATEFUL RESPONSE. To live WORTHY of that.

 

b) What God will do in the future

(pause) Paul’s second motivation was for what God will do IN THE FUTURE. Look at verse 12, Paul describes OUR INHERITANCE.

(Col 1:12 NIV)  “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you TO SHARE IN THE INHERITANCE OF THE SAINTS IN THE KINGDOM OF LIGHT.”

For those of us who know Jesus, there’s an inheritance coming. It’s not a reward, or wages, or a superannuation payout. They’re all things you WORK for. That you EARN AND DESERVE.

But an inheritance is DIFFERENT. It’s based solely on your position. On your family relationship. If we are God’s children, then he has our family inheritance waiting for us in heaven!

It’s grace like THAT that affects your behaviour NOW. And I think that’s how we’re to understand verse 4 and 5.

(Col 1:4-5 NIV)  because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints– {5} the faith and love that SPRING FROM THE HOPE THAT IS STORED UP FOR YOU IN HEAVEN

Hope PRODUCES faith and love. Or, to put it the other way round. Faith and love are BECAUSE of hope.

By recognising that what’s kept in heaven for us is TOTALLY UNDESERVED, we trust Jesus even more completely. He’s the one who earned it for us.

And by recognising the GRACE of the reward, we are much more likely to treat others with the same graciousness. And so we love our brothers with the love that God showed us.

Faith and love inspired by hope.

(pause) Paul’s prayer shows us the Christian life. Shows us IDENTITY and PURPOSE. Who are we? We’re IN Christ. We’ve been rescued from darkness and brought into the kingdom of light.

And what are we HERE for? What’s our PURPOSE? To live according to God’s will. To be growing in love and faith and hope, bearing fruit in every good work. To be joyfully giving thanks. To be living WORTHY of God, and pleasing to him. To be strengthened with all power so we can patiently endure.

That’s what we’re HERE for.

Now we just need to come up with a catchy, punchy slogan that sums all that up.

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