Colossians 1:3-14 (click to display NIV text)
November 4, 2012
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“We always thank God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people – the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven . . .”
Here is a picture I have shared with you before; it comes from Halloween many years ago, but in my mind has always been more about All Saints’ Day. I was at a high school football game in the town where we lived, and it was Halloween and also the last game of the season. In our town the football team never seemed to be the champion, but was never last place either. This night the team finished a 3 and 5 season with a dispirited loss. They seemed not to have much energy or enthusiasm for the game. Afterwards the crowd trudged away and headed home, with an attitude of both resignation and discouragement. Another season ended and not much hope for next year.
For some reason I stayed at the field with maybe ten other people as the band came out to play a final song. They were all dressed in Halloween costumes, the kind of creative costumes that only high school kids can come up with from attics and thrift stores. And they began to play, with no one there, they played for the sky above and they played every song they knew. On and on they went, and they never sounded better – beautiful, energetic, hopeful and fun music. I have never heard a band play any better than they did that night, and for a time that muddy, lonely field came to life.
Life is difficult. We do not always win. Sometimes we lack energy and enthusiasm. We trudge along, not really expecting things will improve. The hurricane and the floods on the East Coast this week left many people discouraged, hopeless, wondering what to do next. A major flood takes a great toll. There is a great deal of physical work to be done: cleaning, restoring, rebuilding. That can be exhausting. But the greater toll is emotional and spiritual. People will feel this for many months to come. The only way through it is faith, hope and acts of love.
So Paul writes to a little church in a small, insignificant town that will be destroyed by earthquake in another 5 years or so, and never rebuilt. He writes to them about how thankful he is for them, and for their faith and acts of love which spring from their hope. Faith and love springing from hope stored in heaven. Their hope is based in the resurrection of Jesus, and in the resurrection that awaits them. Peter O’Brian writes, “Hope is oriented to that which is unseen in the future, the content of which is defined as salvation, righteousness, resurrection, eternal life, God’s glory. It already lies prepared for them in heaven, it is a certainty. It is kept in heaven, where no power can touch it.”
The Colossian Christians, from one vantage point trudging along in their small, declining town, feeling pressure from a strange new philosophy that is attacking their faith, are from the Kingdom perspective a people of joy and faith, busy in acts of love, listening to the music of heaven, and playing it with lives of faith and service. The glory they do not yet see they nonetheless believe and tune their hearts to it. This is All Saints’ Day faith – to know there is something secure in heaven and from that to live an active faith filled with deeds of love. It is the witness of those who have gone before us that encourages us to live in this way.
Paul begins his prayer for the Colossian Christians with thanks. Paul is writing from prison. Things are not going well for him personally. But he prays with thanks for them, for their faith. He prays with thanks because the Gospel is bearing fruit, even in little places like Colossae. The music of heaven is not just for the big cities and the big churches and the places filled with energy and success. In the quiet little places you can hear it too. These people believe the Gospel and their lives are bearing fruit.
Paul also prays with thanks for Epaphras, a faithful minister of the Gospel. He was from Colossae, and he was the evangelist who began the church there. He caught the Gospel correctly and he passed it on in a way that showed a heart of cooperation and even submission. He did not try to outdo Paul or replace Paul. He served in harmony with Paul, and the music of heaven was played through him. So Paul is truly thankful. He gives us a good model for praying. First to give thanks for people, and then to pray for their needs.
In verse 9 Paul begins to pray for them, that they might live a life worthy of the Lord. Again, that is a good way to pray for people. What is worthy living? Paul prays that they will bear fruit in every good work. So we pray for each other that each one of us will find a personal, face to face ministry to be involved in for the glory of God. In our spiritual lives we need both nourishment and exercise in order to be healthy. Finding that place of service often requires discernment and prayer.
Then Paul prays that they will grow in the knowledge of God. How will we know God without time set aside to read the Bible, time set aside to pray and time set aside to study God’s Word in a way that goes beyond the collection of information to making changes in our lives? That is why Paul prays for endurance and patience. This is not easy, but it is important.
Finally, worthy living is a matter of giving joyful thanks to God. What did these people have to give thanks for? Paul lists four things. They are now qualified to share in the inheritance of God’s people. David Garland writes that this word “inheritance” comes from the Old Testament when the Promised Land was divided among the various tribes. Each citizen received a portion. Later they came to see God’s Kingdom in the same way. Paul proclaims that in Christ the inheritance comes to all who believe.
There is a richness in the language Paul uses here. Joyful thanks are given for the inheritance, for being rescued from darkness, for redemption and for forgiveness of sin. This is the music of the kingdom played in harmony. There are people who listen for the language of belonging, of inheritance. Am I truly accepted in Christ? There are others who listen for the language of rescue. Many live in darkness these days. C.S. Lewis wrote of the land of Narnia, which when under the control of the evil witch, “was always winter and never Christmas.” Various addictions feel that way to people. There are pathways in life which when taken lead to a darkness, a place of fear, of abuse, of neglect, of habitual sin that always ends in pain. The language of rescue is powerful in our day.
Others tune their ears to redemption, the freedom that comes from being purchased by Christ. This is the transforming work of Christ where all things are made new. Others, who are older, find their greatest need is for mercy. There is much to be forgiven for over the course of a lifetime. As the years go by mercy is what we long for, to experience grace when justice weighs heavy. The point is that all of these are ours in Christ: inheritance, rescue, redemption, mercy. This is where we lift our voices with joyful thanks. This is the music of the Kingdom. You are invited to sing.