Kyle MacDonald is a young Canadian who, in 1995, began with a red paperclip, and decided, as a social experiment, to see if he could swap his way to a house.
Over 12 months, and through 14 trades, he actually achieved his goal. He traded his way up from a red paperclip to a house on Main Street, Kipling, Saskatchewan, in Canada.
At the time, publicity built as one trade followed another, and he received crazy offers of all sorts of things, from all over the world.
At the end of the process, when Kyle moved into his free house, the town threw him a wild housewarming party, and 11 of the 14 people who’d traded were able to be there.
For the record, here’s how the trading went. A red paper clip for a pen in the shape of a fish for a doorknob for a Coleman gas stove for an electric generator for a beer keg and Budweiser sign for a snowmobile for a trip to Yahk, British Columbia for a 3 tonne delivery van for a recording contract for accommodation in a house for a year in Phoenix for an afternoon with Alice Cooper for a Kiss snowglobe for a movie role with Corbin Bernsen … for a house!
At some point I’m sure you all said, “Don’t trade! It’s not WORTH it! What you’ve got is great!” Personally I would have loved the snowmobile. And I know Judy wouldn’t trade the afternoon with Alice Cooper for ANYTHING. Same with Dave Hammond and the Kiss snowglobe. Or Ben Zamor and the recording contract.
“Don’t trade! It’s not WORTH it! What you’ve got is great!”
And while Kyle’s project was a bit of fun, and a social experiment. There’s a SERIOUS side to it as well. For many people, it’s a picture of their life. Because they go through life with the SAME BASIC GOAL. TRYING TO TRADE UP. Better job, better car, better house, better clothes, better guitar, better wife. From one thing to the next to the next. Never satisfied. Never content.
And it’s the same with RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE. You’ve only got to go along to the Mind Body Spirit Festival at Darling Harbour. Or tune in to Oprah most days, and you’ll see that people are HUNGRY FOR SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE. The bookshops are full of books on New Age spirituality.
Even CHRISTIANITY is affected. Whether it’s meditation workshops in the hills, or classical choral concerts in medieval cathedrals. Some Christians go for chanting and candles and traditional Latin services, others for stadium-sized concert-style church with electric guitars, thousands of people and slick production. And still others for prophetic ministry, or healing, or deliverance.
People are searching for a richer, deeper experience of God. Always looking to trade what they’ve GOT, for the next big thing. The next powerful technique to a fuller experience of God.
And normal Bible-believing Christians can sometimes think they can’t compete. When their message is that the Christian life is simply about trusting Jesus, following him obediently with the power of his Spirit, enduring difficulties, persecution and sickness patiently, and hoping confidently for eternity.
But Paul’s message for us, and for the Colossians he was writing to, is DON’T TRADE. The same thing we might have thought about Kyle Macdonald. “Don’t trade! Stick with what you’ve got! You can’t do better!”
He says, “What you’ve got in Christ is great. There’s nothing better. If it’s FULLNESS you’re after, then Christ is it!” You can see his whole argument summarized there from v8. In fact, it’s probably the key verses in the WHOLE LETTER. Ch 2 v8.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through HOLLOW AND DECEPTIVE philosophy, which depends on HUMAN tradition and the basic principles of THIS WORLD rather than on Christ. 9 For in Christ all the FULLNESS of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given FULLNESS in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.
Human inventions are HOLLOW and EMPTY. They look substantial on the OUTSIDE, but they’re full of empty promises. But when God made you his own, when he gave you Christ, you got FULLNESS. Because everything that makes God God – it’s all stuffed into who Jesus is. That’s pretty full!
And you’ve got all THAT if you’re IN Christ. If you’re connected to JESUS, then you’re connected to GOD HIMSELF.
And human ideas just can’t compete. That’s Paul’s message. That’s the contrast. Empty vs FULL.
Same with MEDICAL SCIENCE. Human inventions can’t compete with what God’s made. Medical inventions are EXTRAORDINARY. Bionic ears, artificial heart and lungs. Kidney dialysis machines. Genetic engineering is pushing the boundaries of growing new ears and skin and spinal cords.
But as clever as human inventions are. They’re NOTHING compared to the ORIGINAL. Compared to what God’s designed and made. Artificial ears, or eyes or intelligence are a pale, weak imitation of the real thing. Of ears that can appreciate a symphony orchestra or a buzzing bee. Eyes that can automatically adjust and focus better than the most expensive camera. The human brain that’s better than any computer at real, independent intelligence.
No one would EVER trade a healthy REAL organ for a MAN-Made one.
And it should be the same with KNOWING GOD. Human inventions are NOTHING compared to God-made. But people make up all sorts of ways to get to God. That’s what RELIGION is. But they’re all pale imitations of God’s way. In fact they don’t even WORK.
God’s way isn’t about us at all. Which is why it WORKS. It’s about HIM getting to US, rather than US working towards HIM. It’s about GOD bridging the gap in his Son, Jesus, in whom all the fullness of God-ness lives! Stick with the way God designed, rather than settling for the man-made substitute.
That’s Paul’s message, and his FIRST point is to encourage the Colossians to think back to when they were first baptised. The enthusiasm they felt THEN is the way they’re to CONTINUE. V6.
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,
“Receiving Christ Jesus the Lord” is probably talking about their baptism. Their public identification of belonging to Christ. Paul’s saying, “You recognised the value of Christ THEN. Make sure you continue the way you began!”
Elyse ran her school cross country carnival a few months ago. And I told her it didn’t matter if she wasn’t winning at the START. Because lots of people would go too fast too soon. And they’d run out of puff. And give up. Elyse needed to run consistently. To keep going the way she started. And it WORKED! She WON!
Paul’s warning is that we’re to keep going the way we started. Don’t run out of puff. Keep moving forward with the enthusiasm you had at the beginning. Don’t give up on what you BELIEVED AT FIRST. Keep that same GRATITUDE, that same TRUST. That same OBEDIENCE.
The same Jesus who SAVED you THEN is the one you need to FOLLOW TODAY and TOMORROW. You took him as your SAVIOUR, keep obeying him as your LORD.
It would be crazy to do DIFFERENT. (To let go of the One who’d saved you once you’re saved.) Like a rescued swimmer. The lifesaver drags him up onto his rescue board. The swimmer gets his breath back, then says to the lifesaver. “Thanks, I’ll take it from here.” He pushes the lifesaver off the board, then tries to steer his own way in to the beach. That’s just foolish.
And Paul says anyone who takes on Jesus as SAVIOUR can’t decide halfway through they want to finish the job themselves. We’re to CONTINUE to LIVE IN Christ, just as we RECEIVED him.
To live in Christ. In Greek it’s WALK in Christ. Paul goes on to describe what that walking LOOKS LIKE. Verse 7.
(Col 2:7 NIV) ROOTED and BUILT UP in him, STRENGTHENED in the faith as you were TAUGHT, and overflowing with THANKFULNESS.
Four words that describe walking in Christ. ROOTED, BUILT UP, STRENGTHENED and thankfulness.
ROOTED. It’s in a past tense. Something that happened ONCE. When the Christian was planted into Christ. When they trusted Jesus for the forgiveness of their sin. And for their future innocent verdict before God.
Then there’s BUILT UP – like a house that’s growing strong out of solid foundations. It’s in the PRESENT tense. Walking IN Christ is about BEING built up in him. Growing AS A PROCESS in your dependence and trust and obedience to him. Growing in your IMITATION of him.
Then there’s the THIRD term: strengthened in the faith. That’s THE INSTRUMENT healthy, mature Christians use to be built up in Christ. It’s about learning about your faith. Reading books, listening, singing, praying. Hearing how OTHER Christians are walking in Christ.
Being built up in Christ is about growing your FAITH-strength. And it’s just like PHYSICAL strength training. It grows with resistance training. It’s as faith is EXERCISED that it GROWS STRONG. As you step out into uncomfortable situations, as you begin that conversation, as you risk the friendship by introducing Jesus. As you give sacrificially. As you forgive the hurtful relationship and genuinely love that difficult person. And trust Jesus for the rest.
As you DO those things, you’re STRENGTHENED. And you’re BUILT UP IN HIM.
So, what does that all mean, PRACTICALLY? To be walking in Christ, rooted and built up in him?
I think it’s helpful to think of the CONTRAST. What are the OTHER THINGS people root their lives in? What foundations they build their lives on. And how well they compare.
There’s WORK, or FAMILY, or SECURITY, or HEALTH. Let’s try THOSE four on for size.
A man throws himself into HIS CAREER. He rises up the corporate ladder. Finds success in all sorts of ways. He thinks he’s got it all. But he arrives home late one night to an empty house. His wife has taken the kids and gone. And WORK as his life’s foundation suddenly seems shaky.
Someone else learns the LESSON from that man, so he takes a LOWER PAYING job. Shorter hours, less pay. And throws himself into his FAMILY. He does EVERYTHING for them. Nothing else matters more. But eventually the kids grow up, or rebel, or his marriage grows cold. And there’s nothing he can do about it. And FAMILY as his life’s foundation suddenly seems shaky.
Man number THREE observes the mistakes of the FIRST two. And decides they’ve been MUCH too short-sighted. So he throws his efforts into his future security – a comfortable retirement. He builds his investment portfolio, spreading the risk. He’s financially independent and SET… Until the global financial crisis hits, then his financial advisor defrauds him, and runs off to Bermuda with his wife. And SECURITY suddenly doesn’t seem so SECURE.
Then man number FOUR watches all of these mistakes. And decides that career, family and security are all passing. But as long as you’ve got your HEALTH, you’re happy. After all – what else IS THERE? And so he throws himself into healthy eating, exercise, vitamins, organic, massages, manicures, and regular medical checkups. He doesn’t work too hard, or stress too much. After all – that affects YOUR HEALTH.
Until one day one of those regular checkups reveals a shadow on an X-ray. The surgeon shakes his head – there’s nothing he can do. And suddenly HEALTH doesn’t seem so secure as a foundation to base your life on.
NONE of those things are worth rooting your life in. None are a foundation solid enough to build on.
In contrast, when you walk in Christ – when you root your life in him, and build it up in him. There’s STRENGTH and SECURITY. WHATEVER happens to health and work and finances and family. Jesus is the head over every power and authority. Over life and death and sin and judgment. And God has joined you to HIM. That’s a solid foundation!
And, as Paul finishes the idea in v7 – he adds OVERFLOWING THANKFULNESS. Gratitude for WHO you are, WHERE you are, and what you’ve been GIVEN.
And I’ve seen how that works for many of you here today. When all those other pillars of life fall over. You keep walking with Jesus. Secure, trusting, because his promises are sure.
When family splits up, when jobs are lost, when sickness takes those you love, or brings you to your knees yourself. You keep your eyes on Jesus, and walk through the dark valleys holding his hand. And you can look at them with a profound sense of THANKFULNESS. Because you’ve tasted that God is GOOD, and he’s RELIABLE. When everything else shatters. And you come through it all STRONGER and MORE CONTENT. Which seems CRAZY to people who don’t know Jesus.
Robert and Maureen spoke to me about it during the week. After all they’ve been through in the last year. Sickness, separation, death, travel and upheaval. That despite it all, there’s so much to be THANKFUL for. And that they’re trusting Jesus even more, rooted and built up in him.
They’re the signs of a full Christian life. Of the life God intends for his people. Not some OTHER HUMAN philosophy. That LOOKS impressive, but can’t deliver.
For Paul and the Colossians, that empty promise was, probably, JEWISHNESS. Best guess is – the same sort of Jews who’d invaded the Galatian church in Galatians 2, and the Antioch church in Acts 15. And the basic message in each of those places was that it was GOOD to follow Jesus. But BETTER to throw in Jewish law-keeping AS WELL. Like eating certain food, or getting circumcised.
b) already circumcised (11-12)
Which is why Paul brings up circumcision in v11.
(Col 2:11 NIV) In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ,
Don’t worry about the PHYSICAL act. That’s what the false teachers want to focus on. WAY more important is the SPIRITUAL circumcision Jesus did. When he cut away your old dead, sinful self. And gave you a new heart. And a new ability to follow and please God. Christians are ALREADY circumcised, so don’t listen to them, says Paul. He expands on the idea down in v13.
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the UNCIRCUMCISION OF YOUR SINFUL NATURE, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,
And then Paul paints a beautiful picture of what forgiveness of sins is like. It’s like God took the law. All of God’s regulations and “do’s” and “don’t’s”. The whole list the Jewish false teachers were holding up as the manual for how to get REALLY FULL of God. And he CANCELLED it. No longer valid. Out of date. Powerless. Like a driver’s license that’s expired. Useless.
And he cancelled it by nailing it to Jesus’ cross.
Just like the list of charges Jesus was punished for was nailed above his head. That’s the OT law that’s nailed there. YOU’VE broken every single one of them. But I’m going to charge JESUS with them. And HE’S going to die, instead. Verse 14.
(Col 2:14 NIV) having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against US and that stood opposed to US; he took it away, nailing it to THE CROSS.
Which means, that if you’re a Christian, those charges are POWERLESS to accuse you. Justice has been satisfied.
It was God’s amazing, profound victory. It looked like defeat. But rather than making a spectacle of JESUS, the cross made a public spectacle of HIS ENEMIES. Verse 15.
(Col 2:15 NIV) And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
The picture is of a defeated, foreign king. All the powers and authorities of the world. Being paraded through the streets for everyone to laugh at. An army THIS CLOSE to victory. But then it was snatched from under their noses. And now they’re the butt of everyone’s jokes.
And Paul’s point is that Christians are the ones on the winning side. We’re the victorious ones. We’ve got everything. Don’t trade.
3. Therefore don’t feel inferior (16-23)
And that leads into the next part of Paul’s argument. In v16. Notice the “THEREFORE”. Here’s the practical bit. What all the theology mean. V16
16 Therefore DO NOT LET ANYONE JUDGE YOU by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.
Since you’re victorious in Christ, THEREFORE DON’T FEEL INFERIOR. Other people reckon they’ve got the inside running on spirituality, or the victorious Christian life. And that you don’t measure up.
For Paul it was JEWISH legalism. For us, it might be drinking alcohol. Or working on a Sunday. Or speaking in tongues. Or reading a certain version of the Bible. Or attending Bible studies. Or even daily Bible reading.
The moment they become rules you HAVE to keep, rather than one way of pleasing God, they’ve lost ANY benefit.
But Paul’s point is that all of these things are nothing compared to the real thing. For the Jewish law, they’re like SHADOWS compared to the full life of walking in Christ. Verse 17.
(Col 2:17 NIV) These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
Don’t settle for the entrée, the OLD way of doing things, because it’s nothing compared to the main course. It’s what I do at parties. I fill up on dip. And when the beautiful hot food comes out, I’m too full to fit much in. Don’t trade the new in for the old.
The old PHYSICAL rules, by themselves, are useless because they only affect physical things. They concentrate on things of this age. They don’t affect what lasts.
It’s the SPIRITUAL things. Things to do with God, and godliness, which are important. True holiness, true life – full life – is found when we learn to walk in Christ. To sink our roots deep down into him. To follow in his footsteps.
We’ve already GOT IT ALL. We just need to WALK in it. Appreciate what we HAVE. Lean on him. Trust him. And overflow with thankfulness.