Colossians 1: Living the Life.
Colossae was a town in what is now modern day Turkey. It was located about 100 miles from Ephesus. Along with Laodicea and Herapolis it was part of an important trade route. Colossae slipped into a second rate position and did not grow as the others did. Its population diminished, and it did not experience the economical growth the other cities along the trade route did. However, there was a church there, started by Epaphras. Epaphras was converted under Paul’s preaching at the church in Ephesus, where Paul spent three years. Epaphras started the church in Colossae. He had come to Paul in the Roman prison to enlist his help in refuting the false teaching which was growing in the church. The purpose of this letter is to refute the heresy which is growing in the early church. To do this Paul will exalt Christ as the very image of God, the Creator of all things, and the fullness of deity in bodily form. In other words, the complete adequacy we have in Christ Jesus. He will encourage us to keep asking God to fill us with the knowledge of His will through spiritual wisdom and understanding. This is an ongoing process.
Listen to these verses in chapter 2 of Colossians and they will give us an insight into what Paul and Epaphras were dealing with:
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends upon human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Verse 8) This is how the world wants to conform us. Deception is the devil’s primary strategy.
“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.” (Verse 16) Astrology, Earth Day, Green Peace which worship nature.
“Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize.” (Verse 18) Interested in spiritual things, fascinated with angels and demons.
These were some of the false teachings which were creeping into the early church.
Now lest we think this is something that was a problem in Paul’s day and not ours consider the following:
- Jews believe in the Old Testament but not the New. Looking for the Messiah to come.
- Muslims, Islam believes in the Quran, and also believe the Old Testament and New Testament are divinely inspired, but have been altered and corrupted by Jews and Christians. They believe Jesus was a prophet and a great teacher who was born of a virgin and did many miracles. Ascended to heaven bodily but was not crucified and will return one day. They believe to call Jesus- God is blasphemy and the belief in the Trinity is blasphemy. They believe only Muslims will go to Paradise and all others to hell. They also believe Jesus will return at the time of the 12th Imam to rid the earth of infidels. They have an empty tomb for Jesus to be buried with honor. They are also looking for the return of Jesus.
- Mormons believe in the OT and NT, but also believe they have received additional divine, inspired scripture through Joseph Smith who received this from an angel on inscribed golden plates. These plates have been lost. Also Mormons do not believe in hell- what a convenient and attractive philosophy.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own bible, which is in many places very similar to our Bibles but does not accept the divinity of Jesus Christ. They believe only 144,000 will be exalted to heaven.
- Buddhism is the 4th largest religion almost 400 million followers. The Dalai Lama is their head, a Tibetan monk. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1959. He is welcomed in the highest offices around the world. He is like a rock star with many Hollywood actors and actresses following his every word. Buddhism believes in reincarnation. They believe in enlightenment, realizing the state of ‘nirvana.’ Nirvana is the freedom of one’s spiritual self from the attachment and affections of worldly things. They believe in kindness, tolerance and compassion. They believe Jesus was not the Son of God but was an enlightened master having lived several previous lives. Although he has some positive messages- the Dalai Lama is a false prophet of a false religion.
Each of these religions makes some true statements- but only the Holy Bible is truth. Jesus Christ is truth. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except by me.” (John 14)
We are moving toward a harmonizing of the schools of thought; a mixture and blend of different faiths and teachings. We must remember this: what we believe determines how we behave. We are told America is no longer just a Christian nation. We are told to respect these other belief systems. We are told we must live in tolerance of them. Religious tolerance has been redefined and interpreted to mean one religion is as good as another.
We are seeing this movement today in mainstream denominations who are not following the Word of God especially in areas of gay marriage. Our government has passed laws recognizing this union. We are being told and it is being taught in our public schools that marriage between those of the same sex is as honorable as marriage between a man and a woman. To not recognize this lifestyle and speak against it is recognized as hate speech. Yet we are instructed to speak the truth in love.
Epaphras showed up at the Roman prison to enlist Paul’s help. These new doctrines were being taught in the Colossian church and were creating problems. Thus the reason for Paul’s letter to the Colossians was to refute these false teachings and establish the truth of the gospel.
It is interesting when we look at the root of these false teachings and realize they are nothing new, but as old as the Garden of Eden. For it was there, the word of God was challenged as accurate and truthful. The serpent also indicated there was knowledge which would make one more like God.
The reason I mentioned those religions earlier, Judaism, Islam, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses was because they all contained elements of truth contained within the Word of God, but with additional special knowledge which had been revealed to their prophets which added to the Holy Bible and they all believed the Bible we had was not complete or contained errors due to men’s altering the content.
This false teaching in the Colossian church was a combination of Eastern philosophy and Jewish legalism with elements of what Biblical scholars call Gnosticism. (This comes from the Greek word- gnosis which means ‘to know.’ For example, an agnostic is a person who says we cannot know God. So a gnostic was a person in the know, having special knowledge. Do you see how the serpent used this false teaching and insinuation in the Garden to deceive Eve? He told her she would be like God and have special knowledge when she ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
What we see in this early church’s false teaching we can observe today. It is a clever and deceptive combination of many things: legalism, Eastern philosophy, astrology, angel worship, mysticism, with a dash of Christianity. Something for everybody. They do not deny the Christian faith, just claim they are lifting it to a higher level with additional truths.
Jesus said: “If you continue in my Word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8) ** We must know the truth in order not to be deceived by the enemy. **
So Paul is going to tell us, as well as the Colossians where true wisdom and knowledge can be found. His main theme is the preeminence of Jesus Christ. In other words, in the Lord Jesus Christ we have everything we need to be complete. We are complete in Him. We need nothing else added.
What Happened at Colossae? A Miracle!
Paul takes them back to what happened at Colossae. For it was the miracle we see over and over in the world today, the miracle of God’s Grace which can save us to the uttermost. Paul reminds them how their faith, love and hope came to be. Paul says you heard the Word of Truth, the Gospel which came to them. The Gospel is good news. Now we have seen in our lifetime the rise and fall of the evangelist in the Southern Baptist Convention. Those men who devoted their lives to travel from church to church spreading the Good News, the Gospel. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. We grew up in an era where we used to have revivals for a week; visiting preachers and evangelist who would come to our churches with their anointed preaching and using their spiritual gifts to spread the Gospel. Most larger churches today consider those types of services a thing of the past- we are too sophisticated and too cultured to have those types of services. For this reason, traveling evangelists are a dying breed.
The Gospel came to them because Epaphras had been saved under Paul’s preaching and teaching in Ephesus. He came back home to take the Gospel to his city and his loved ones. The Gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ, who was God in flesh, has solved the problem of sin through His death, burial and resurrection.
In reminding them of this, Paul is bringing them back to what should be the center of their attention: Jesus Christ. It was Christ who died for us, in our place, and rose again. These false teachers were not centering their teaching on Jesus Christ redeeming work. In its place they were offering man-made philosophy and works of the flesh which would make one superior in their spirituality. *Our faith must be in the Word of God which stands forever. Men have been trying to destroy Gods’ Truth ever since we have had it- but they have failed time and time again. “The grass withers and flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40)*
Paul reiterates what took place which resulted in their being saved. They responded in faith to the word of God to the gospel and believed the truth. Saving faith involves the mind, the emotions and the will. It means we lean our whole being, our whole self, mind, will and emotions upon this truth. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3: 4, 5) I believe these well know verses are a description of saving faith. It is whole hearted. And the false teaching wants to undermine- this whole hearted belief and have you lean on your own understanding as someone wants to enlighten you with special knowledge which takes away from the complete adequacy of Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone. In Him we are complete. Paul said this gospel was bearing fruit all over the world. This comes as a result of understanding God’s grace in all its truth. Paul commended Epaphras for his faithful ministry of Christ.
Did you also notice earlier, Paul wrote he had heard about their faith in Jesus Christ and of the love they had for one another and this faith and love sprang from the hope that is stored in heaven for each of them.
Faith comes from hearing and hearing the Word of God. (Romans 10:17) Our Christian lives, our life in Christ, starts with saving faith. This saving faith is only the beginning, we then walk by faith and work by faith. This faith gives power to our prayers and is also a shield which protects us from the fiery darts of the enemy.
Love is another evidence of true salvation. The unsaved person is mainly focused on loving self. And if we are not careful as believers, our old nature will rear its ugly head in this area in our lives. The bond which unites all Christians is love.
Hope is also a characteristic of a believer. If you are in this world without God, you are without hope for He is the God of all Hope. And the unsaved person looks to other sources for hope which will only disappoint. Faith in Christ alone is our hope. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1)
Here is there relationship between these three: The more we love someone, the more we will trust them. Love and faith encourage one another. Hope then grows out of love and faith. Did you notice how Paul phrased this: ‘the faith and love spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven.’ This hope is the anchor for our souls which will always hold. (Hebrews 6:19)
The essence of Paul’s prayer is simple: You do not need a new spiritual experience. You only need to grow in the experience you already have.
When an egg is first fertilized by the sperm, a new creature is formed. It has everything it needs to become a living, human being. The DNA contains a complete blueprint for this to happen over the next nine months.
When we are born again, we have been given everything we need for spiritual growth and maturity. We are complete in Him. It will take time to mature. This prayer is only three verses long:
“For this reason, 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. And we pray this in order that you may 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, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” (Colossians 1: 9-12)
Let’s break this down by looking at some key words: fill, knowledge, Gods’ will, spiritual wisdom, and understanding.
Fill, filled, full. To fill is to be fully equipped. When I get ready to travel, I have to check and make sure I have everything I need for my trip. I want to make sure I have my ticket for the airplane, my hotel reservations, car rental, all the materials needed for presentation, all of my personal needs, clothing, toiletries, meds, hearing devices. If I am driving I want to have my route planned through a print out of map quest; a full tank of gas. Oil checked, tires okay, etc. As a believer I have everything I need for the journey of life. However, to not know what I have is as foolish as for me to not know what I have for a trip I am taking tomorrow.
Paul says pray for God to fill you with the knowledge of His will. Do you ask God, your Heavenly Father to fill you with His will for you each day as you start out? Or do you start out and not have checked to see if you have everything for your trip? What is it we are to be filled with? To be filled with the knowledge of God’s will.
Scripture also tells us to be filled also has the meaning of being controlled. – ‘be not drunk with wine, where in is excess but be filled with the Spirit. ‘(Ephesians 5:18) When you are drunk, you are under the influence, controlled by alcohol. So the commandment is to be controlled by the Spirit.
So putting this together Paul is praying for believers to be controlled by the full knowledge of God. How can we have full knowledge of God’s will? We understand the will of God through the Word of God with the Holy Spirit as our teacher. This is why the study and obedience to God’s Word and the application of it to our lives is what will equip us to live the life God has for us.
This is a process and spiritual growth takes times just like physical growth and maturity take time. Knowing God’s general will and principles will lead one to spiritual wisdom and understanding. His general will is found in His word- for example the 10 Commandments tells us what his will is, sometimes expressed in the negative, i.e., thou shall not commit adultery.
His overall general will is best described in this way: “The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord thy God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. And the second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments all the rest of scripture rests.’ (Matthew 22: 37-40)
What these verses tell us is the key to spiritual wisdom or spiritual intelligence is by growing in the knowledge of God’s will by knowing the Word of God. Don’t look for a short cut- look for yourself. Study and meditation on the Word of God is compared to the process of rumination, the chewing of the cud as in sheep or cows. But you must do your own intake and your own chewing. Outside sources of materials, commentaries, trusted teachers are acceptable. But the intake for yourself with the Holy Spirit as your teacher and the Bible as your primary source.
When you read in the Bible something that God tells you to do – do it. You will gain understanding this way by experiencing the results of obeying God. You cannot learn how to swim by watching a video on swimming and practicing on the living room floor. You must get in the water. Dive in to the Word of God. You may only be able to ‘dog paddle’ but you will get better and better as you live out what you learn.
The result will be wisdom. Spiritual wisdom includes skill in living a life controlled by the Spirit. This means following God’s instructions, His design for living, thus avoiding those pitfalls and traps which cause us to stumble and ensnare us and keep us from running the race and living the life God has for us.
Listen to this advice:
“My son, if you accept my words, and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call our for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from His own mouth comes knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for He guards the course of the just and protects the way of His faithful ones.
Then you will understand what is right and just and fair- and every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.”(Proverbs 2)
Did you notice the ‘if’s and then’s’? If we search in God’s Word for wisdom and understanding- if we cry out for it and search for it like hidden treasure- then we will find it. This does not describe half-hearted efforts but whole hearted, intentional time spent in the study, meditation and applying of God’s Word. The Holy Spirit is our Teacher.
The promise is when we search with this type of diligence, we will be rewarded with knowledge, wisdom and understanding.
And these in turn will lead us on the right course. Wisdom will enter our hearts and this provides us with knowledge that is pleasant.
Discretion, good judgment will protect us and understanding will guard us.
Paul says “we pray this in order that we might 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, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that we may have great endurance and patience and joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.”
Living the life God has planned for you. What could be more deserving of your efforts and time spent in studying and learning the will of God!