This summer we are jumping into the book of Colossians. Why? Because the Bible is one of the primary ways God speaks to us today.
David wrote this.
How can a young person live a pure life? By obeying your word. NCV Psalms 119:9
In a world that sends you over 5,000 digital messages a day, how can you hear God’s voice? How can you even know what God thinks? The answer is, you can’t. Unless you are purposely disconnecting from our culture to engage God, it will be a struggle. And that is why we jump into scripture.
Today, I want to give you the big picture of Colossians and then jump into some of the details of Chapter 1.
To understand why this letter was written to the church of Colossae, you need to know what was happening. The church was mostly made up of first-generation Christians who were used to worshiping idols. They viewed Jesus and just another god. They struggled to see how unique Jesus was.
At the same time, some in this church were old school Jews that demanded that everyone follow the rules of the Torah. They were saying that grace wasn’t enough. To be perfect, to make it into heaven, they had to follow certain rules. Rules about diet. Rules about following the calendar of Holy days. Rules about circumcision.
Think about this, when you put idol worshipping Christians and mix them with rule following Jews, it created a mess in church.
While this is happening, Paul is in jail in Rome. The man who started the church in Colossae, Epaphras, he visited Paul in Rome and gave him an update on what was happening. Paul then wrote a letter to the church. We call this letter, Colossians. The point of the letter is to help this church restore Jesus to the center of their lives. To understand the supremacy of Jesus in their lives.
I have to say, it’s a letter to you and me about what it looks like to put Jesus at the center of our lives.
Here is what Paul said in Colossians. This is a quick overview of the letter.
26 This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. 27 God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. MSG Colossians 1:26-27
Here is the mystery of God, ready? Jesus lives in you. That’s it. It’s amazing. It’s simple. It changes everything. To those who worshipped idols and thought Jesus was just another god, this would have rocked their world. Jesus isn’t just another god, just another idol. No, Jesus lives in you. Jesus is unique. Jesus has power.
To the old school Jews, this would have offended them a little because to them, to be complete, you had to follow more rules. And Paul is saying, no, Jesus lives in you, that’s it.
Let me ask you what you think? Do you believe Jesus lives inside you? Do you think Jesus is just another god and Christianity is just another way to get to heaven? When Paul says, ‘Jesus lives in you,’ is there a part of you that wants to add to that? Something like, ‘Ya, but please add, you must follow the rules”?
Do you see it? This letter is written to us. It’s how we put Jesus at the center of our lives.
27 That is the substance of our Message. 28 We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. MSG Colossians 1:27-28
Do you see what Paul is doing? He is helping them focus on Jesus and what Jesus did.
Later in the letter, Paul says:
11 Entering into this fullness is not something you figure out or achieve. It’s not a matter of being circumcised or keeping a long list of laws. No, you’re already in – insiders – not through some secretive initiation rite but rather through what Christ has already gone through for you, destroying the power of sin. MSG Colossians 2:11-12
I want you to see something very important. Paul stays practical. Jesus is in you so stop believing you have to figure something out or achieve something to be an insider. If Jesus is already in you, Jesus has destroyed the power of sin. You’re in! And, don’t add anything to this message.
Then Paul goes even more practical.
5 And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. MSG Colossians 3:5-6
12 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. 13 Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. MSG Colossians 3:12-13
Again, this letter is about putting Jesus at the center of your life. And the reason I really like Colossians is because it’s so shockingly practical.
How many people view Christianity and think, I will never add up? I’ll never be an insider. Colossians teaches, if you think that, you are wrong. You don’t fully understand that Jesus lives in you. You’re in! Stop struggling. Stop thinking that you are an outsider.
How many people view Christianity as a complex, spiritual labyrinth that you will never figure out? Colossians teaches, it’s not. It’s simple. It’s practical. It’s about choices. Jesus lives in you, no more no less. How do we live out this, ‘Jesus is inside us”? We surrender our will and make practical choices.
That was a snap-shot of Colossians.
Let’s get into chapter 1. Colossians 1:3-12
3-5 Our prayers for you are always spilling over into thanksgivings. We can’t quit thanking God our Father and Jesus our Messiah for you! We keep getting reports on your steady faith in Christ, our Jesus, and the love you continuously extend to all Christians. The lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack, tightly tied as they are to your future in heaven, kept taut by hope.
6-8 The Message is as true among you today as when you first heard it. It doesn’t diminish or weaken over time. It’s the same all over the world. The Message bears fruit and gets larger and stronger, just as it has in you. From the very first day you heard and recognized the truth of what God is doing, you’ve been hungry for more. It’s as vigorous in you now as when you learned it from our friend and close associate Epaphras. He is one reliable worker for Christ! I could always depend on him. He’s the one who told us how thoroughly love had been worked into your lives by the Spirit.
9-12 Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul – not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.
When Epaphras visits Paul, he tells Paul about what is happening in that church. The good parts and the challenges. Paul begins his letter and tells the church, ‘Hey, I’m impressed with how you are living out Christianity as a church.’ You live with faith, hope and love. You are reliable and dependable. You live on purpose.
Paul continues. I pray that God will continue to give you wisdom to know what He is up to and how you can join Him. I pray that you will bring honor to God as you serve Him. I pray that you have the character to be able to live out what it means to be godly over time. I pray that God anoints you with a glorious strength to endure whatever comes against you.
What does this mean to us today? Most of your life is filled with ordinary moments. You have to take out the trash. You have to fix the cars. You have to buy the food, make the food, and clean up when you are done. As you grow older, date nights with your spouse may be shopping at Lowes. Most of your life is filled with ordinary moments.
Most of your Christian life is filled with ordinary moments. Paul said it like this, ‘We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard.’ You meet with God in the morning to pray and read scripture – that can feel ordinary. You serve in children’s ministry – that can feel ordinary. You set up and tear down – that can feel ordinary. And in our worst moments, we see people who don’t follow God and it seems like they are getting ahead in life, and you are losing. You read stories about people building arks, killing giants with a stone, raising people from the dead, not to mention Daniel with the loins and his friends in the fiery furnace. And we can wrongly conclude, something is wrong, my Christian life is so ordinary.
We fail to see the ordinariness of how long and hard it was to build that dumb ark [it wasn’t dumb]. We fail to fully understand how many ordinary years David was a shepherd to prepare for one moment in life. We fail to see the brutal life Paul lived and the tents he worked on to make money only focus on how God healed people through him.
Here is my point for you today.
Embrace and enjoy ordinariness because that is where you find God. Ordinariness isn’t not a sign that something is wrong, it’s a sign that you are humble.
That’s why Paul wrote this later in Colossians:
Be content with obscurity, like Christ. MSG Colossians 3:4
I want to give you two quick points about being ordinary.
What I have seen in all the years of being a pastor is, one of the biggest struggles Christians have is, Jesus isn’t enough. What I mean by that is that they may love Jesus, but they want more. So, when Sam and I offer them practical handles on how to slow down to be with Jesus, it’s almost disappointing. They want something exciting, something successful. Programs and activities. They want to be validated or noticed. They want rewarded or a title. They want to be viewed as the next ‘somebody’ or hero. They need control. As I talk to other pastors about this, they confirm, it’s hard for people to engage the ordinariness of the Christian life.
11 The more lowly your service to others, the greater you are. To be the greatest, be a servant. 12 But those who think themselves great shall be disappointed and humbled; and those who humble themselves shall be exalted. TLB Matthew 23:11-12
It’s so easy to miss this. I did. When I was younger, all I wanted was to be a success. I would have told you I wanted to be a success for God. Part of that was true. But over the years of setbacks and disappointments, I discovered something about myself. I wanted to be a success so that I could be validated, maybe noticed by others. How did I discover this about myself? I was jealous of others when I thought they were getting ahead. I was angry with God because no matter how hard I worked, it didn’t look the way I wanted it to look.
So, over the years I discovered the beauty of ordinariness. Not being the hero but the guy supporting those around me. Being with my daughters in every ordinary moment. Being with other pastors and sharing my hurts and strengths with them.
Can you connect with what I am saying? One of the biggest struggles Christians have is, Jesus isn’t enough. To them, there has to be something more. I think that is why Paul wrote, To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less.
The second point I want to make is this. One of the biggest struggles Christians have is, church isn’t enough. Christians struggle to see that they are the solution. Many come to church and think church is something others need to build for them. We call that consumerism. They don’t come to church to fully engage, they come to enjoy what others are doing.
Listen to how scripture explains your role in the local church.
3 I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.
4 In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. MSG Romans 12:3-4
6 …let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t. If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; 7 if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; 8 if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face. MSG Romans 12:6-8
I love that. Fully engage. Stop being jealous, don’t take over, love people. And you know you need a break when you get irritated or depressed by people. In that local church community, when you serve it, you will discover who you are.
I want you to see this. Serving is ordinary. Doing your part is ordinary. But that is where you discover who you are in Christ. This is why Christians looking for the bigger, better, more exciting can miss Christ.
Embrace and enjoy ordinariness because that is where you find God. Ordinariness isn’t a sign that something is wrong, it’s a sign that you are humble.
Paul opens this letter by saying, ‘You guys are doing great.’ And I pray that you have God’s glorious power to give you the character to be godly over a long period of time and able to overcome every challenge.
Let me ask you, is Jesus enough? Or do you need Jesus plus something?
Is church enough? Do you fully engage or do you view church as something someone else needs to build for you?
My prayer for you is Paul’s prayer for the church in Colossae. ‘We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard.’