the gospel of Christ /// 1:1-14
Thesis :: In this greeting and thanksgiving, Paul declares the purpose for the entire book. Specifically that the gospel of Christ has rescued us and is transforming the entire world.
Christ is all. He is “all”, and “in all”. Simply put… He is everything! Actually, the original is more simply put. He is all! What exactly does that mean? Christ is all. That sounds to me like some cheesy cliche. A trite way of saying, “Jesus is the answer”, or “It’s all about Jesus.” And if that’s true, well that’s great, but what does that mean?
If that statement actually means something, I mean, if it actually has meaning and it’s not just some trite saying, well – I think that the meaning of it is almost unapproachable. Christ is all… Wow! That’s pretty heavy. And if we were to go on elaborating on the weight of it, I wonder how long it would take before it crushes us.
This is the thrust of the entire book of Colossians. In fact, Paul uses the term “all” over 20 times in four short chapters. I believe He does this in order to get us under the weight of a statement like “Christ is all”.
Paul says… we can be filled with all spiritual wisdom and understanding (1:9), and strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance (1:11), to teach everyone with all wisdom (1:28) that we may reach all the riches of full assurance and understanding (2:2), being forgiven of all our trespasses (2:13), we may now teach and admonish one another in all wisdom (3:16), being fully assured in all the will of God (4:12).
And those are just the instances of Paul describing all that we have in Christ. When speaking of Jesus Himself, we learn that he is the firstborn of all creation (1:15). By him all things were created—all things were created through him and for him (1:16), he is before all things, and in him all things hold together (1:17). In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (1:19), and through him all things are reconciled to God (1:20). In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:3), and he is the head of all rule and authority (2:10), because Christ is all, and in all (3:11).
Those are all (no pun intended) very powerful, very audacious claims. Especially in our post-christian, post-modern culture. I wonder — to a world that does not even believe in truth, how will they respond to Paul when He tells us that in Christ we can obtain “all spiritual wisdom”. To a world that does not believe in absolutes, how will we respond to the fact that Jesus not only created all things and is the root of all things, but is currently holding all things together.
The greatest overarching theme of this letter is JESUS! It begins with the famous poem in 1:15 describing the supremacy of Christ, and carries through the book as Paul makes such comments as, ” Christ is all, and in all.”
Along with the theme that Jesus is supreme in all things, is the theme that He is sufficient for all things. He is all and in all so he is sufficient for all that we need. Christ fills up, completes and perfects. He is completely adequate. Colossians teaches us that Christ is sufficient to reconcile us to God, remove all of our sins, utterly destroy our enemies, fill us with all spiritual wisdom, knowledge, strength and power, make us holy and perfect, to qualify us to share in the inheritance of the saints, and raise us from the dead. He is completely adequate.
I wanted to begin our church with this series because Jesus is Supreme. And it is absolutely imperative that we make him supreme over all. MISSIODEI’s mission is CHRIST, COMMUNITY, and CULTURE, and so I thought it would be fitting to start with Christ and Colossians is the perfect book for that. However, I am so thrilled to tell you that as I started studying through this book I began to realize that we could actually outline the letter with CHRIST, COMMUNITY, & CULTURE. And so it is even more fitting.
I want to give you quick snapshot of the entire book and the next 10 weeks. The letter begins with a famous poem describing the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ. It then moves into an explanation of how the person of Jesus has redeemed a people for himself. We call that people the church or the community of saints, and he gives special instructions for this community. Finally, Paul explains how that community should live in their culture. For the Colossians that was Colossea and for us that will be our midwestern suburbia.
A very common structure of this book looks like this – it begins with orthodoxy, which means right thinking. Paul wants to teach us how to think correctly about Jesus. Next we enter into a section on heterodoxy, which is the opposite of orthodoxy. In this section Paul instructs the church how to uphold orthodox truths and not be tricked into believing unorthodox kinds of things. The third section can be characterized by orthopraxy, which means right practices. In this section we learn how the truth of Jesus should effect the way we live in our culture.
In Paul’s typical fashion, he opens this book with a greeting, an introduction, that always includes a greeting, thanksgiving and prayer. Today we are going to look at Paul’s introduction and we will see that in his greeting, prayer and thanksgiving, he is actually laying out an outline, or at least highlighting the major themes of the entire book.
Paul’s greeting is simple and typical. (vs 1-2) And the prayer is insightful. He is constantly thankful to God for the Colossians. And he defines God as the Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah. These are not just a “heaping up of honorific phrases, but a very precise statement of who Jesus is from God’s, and the church’s, point of view.”1 Paul is clearly defining who Jesus is as a member of the Trinity. In the next section of this chapter, Paul will launch into a poetic treasure explaining that Christ is the creator God and the sustainer God, and so very early in this letter he clarifies for us that God, as we normally talk about him, is the Father of Jesus, who has been elevated by God, the Father, above all other names. So, Jesus is God, or as Paul puts it, he is Lord and Messiah (ie… Christ).
Why is Paul thankful to God for the Colossians? Because of their faith, love and hope. These are now 3 famous Christian virtues that Paul seems fond of using to describe the marks of a true believer. One who is being transformed by Christ places his faith in Jesus as a savior, begins to grow in love for others and has hope that is out of this world. And that is a very specific kind of hope. Their hope is a correct hope. It is already, even now, in heaven. It’s not here. They are not placing their hope in a career, or materials, or even in their children. Their hope is in heaven. And, since their hope is in heaven, their lives here on earth has a specific purpose – to bear fruit. Or as we say it here at MD to engage their culture for Christ. (This gets unpacked in the next verse and in the last section of the letter.) So as I stated earlier – we can see here the outline of the entire book, Christ, Community, Culture.
Now all of that – the faith and love and hope is summed up in “the gospel”. Paul says in the last part of verse 5, “Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel.” Faith, hope and love spring from the gospel and this is huge. As Christians we are not simply living this ‘pie in the sky’ kind of life where we love Jesus, and love one another, and one day we’ll all be together in heaven — to be all lovey dovey on the clouds and the rainbows. To me that sounds so girly and it is not an adequate description of our existence. Paul very intentionally uses this faith, hope, love prayer as a bridge from a description of what the Christian life looks like “to a description of how this new life came about.”4 It came only because of the Gospel. And the Gospel is power! It is not girly and hippy love – it is power!
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16 ESV)
So — what exactly is the gospel?
Whether you know it or not, the definition of the term gospel has been a hotbed of controversy over the years. Some folks have defined it, incorrectly. Others have violated it. And still others are championing a clear definition. For instance there is a new book written by a pastor our in texas where i used to go to church on occasion, entitled the Explicit Gospel. The book is a call to explicitly define the gospel because so many church folks seem to have grown up in the church and yet can not define the gospel. It is amazing that something so simple and so powerful can so easily get twisted. For Paul, the gospel is the thrust of his entire existence. He lived only to proclaim and clarify the gospel. Philip Aurthur says, “He was a man of one thing, today’s church would be well served if modern believers had even a little of his clarity and intensity of focus.” I want MISSIODEI to have that clarity and intensity of focus. We must be focused on one thing – and that is the gospel.
So — what exactly is the gospel? Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples said it was something that angels long to look at.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10-12 ESV)
So what is it? Well, if were to take just this passage, Paul offers several context clues. It is something that has come, it bears fruit and increases in the whole world and it bears fruit in the individuals of collosea. It is something heard and understood.
The word gospel comes from the Greek word euangelion. It is literally translated as “good news” or “gospel.” It is a combination of angelos – the word for one announcing news, and the prefix en-, which means “joyful.” Gospel means “news that brings joy .” Now, in the ancient world, the word gospel was used even before Christ. So it was not always strictly a religious term like it is today. It was just a term that meant good news. Actually, it was a very special kind of good news. “It meant history- making, life-shaping news, as opposed to just daily news. For example, there is an ancient Roman inscription from about the same time as Jesus. It starts: “The beginning of the gospel of Caesar Augustus.” It’s the story of the birth and coronation of the Roman emperor. A gospel was news of some event that changed things in a meaningful way.”
Here is another example. Before people had texting machines in their pockets, or email, or the Internet, or the telegraph or even before the printing press – news would be spread by a Harold, also called an evangelist, who would travel by foot or by horse and declare in the streets, “The battle has been won the victory is ours and you are no longer enslaved by the evil Empire.” Pheidippides ran the 40 km (25 mi) from the battlefield near Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon (490 BC) So, “a gospel is an announcement of something that has happened in history, something that’s been done for you that changes your status forever.”
“Right there you can see the difference between Christianity and all other religions, including no religion. The essence of other religions is advice: Christianity is essentially news. Other religions say. “This is what you have to do in order to connect to God forever, this is how you have to live in order to earn your way to God.” But the gospel says. “This is what has been done in history. This is how Jesus lived and died to earn the way to God for you.” Christianity is completely different. It’s joyful news.”
But it is not just news it is also power. Paul tells us here in our text that it is something that has been heard and understood and it is something that bears fruit and increases and changes the whole world. It is not just a message that you hear but a message that when heard and understood, or received as true, it has the power to begin operating in your life, changing you and the entire world around you. It is power.
And, I think that this is also a part of the gospel story that has gotten twisted and redefined. Some folks tend to say that now that you have heard the gospel, you are supposed to do something in order to receive it or to accept it as true. You need to change your life. You need to do better, try harder and be gooder. Why, because I just shared good news with you. Now that doesn’t make sense. That doesn’t sound like good news to me. That sounds like fear controlling religion. Or as one pastor has called it “moralistic therapeutic deism”. I love the way Timothy Keller explains it in the Kings Cross:
“How do you feel when you’re given good advice on how to live? Someone says. “Here’s the love you ought to have, or the integrity you ought to have,” and maybe they illustrate high moral standards by telling a story of some great hero. But when you hear it, how does it make you feel? Inspired, sure. But do you feel the way the listeners who heard those heralds felt when the victory was announced? Do you feel your burdens have fallen off? Do you feel as if something great has been done for you and you’re not a slave anymore? Of course you don’t. It weighs you down. This is how I have to live. It’s not a gospel. The gospel is that God connects to you not on the basis of what you’ve done (or haven’t done) but on the basis of what Jesus has done, in history, for you. And that makes it absolutely different from every other religion or philosophy.”
So, what is the gospel. It is news. good news. About a historical event, or something that has already been done. Something that is finished and complete. It is good news for you because it has been done for you, and you get to reap the benefit as a free gift. It is not a message about something that you need to do, but a message about something that has already been done— for you. And that will change your life.
So, what about all the passages in scripture that tell us how we are supposed to live. What about all those rules and the ten commandments? Now if you preach the Gospel clearly, if you preach the gospel the way Paul clarifies and passionately proclaims the Gospel, then that question always follows. If you’re proclaiming the Gospel as a news event that happened for you and you get the benefit, the next question is always one about the rules. That’s why Paul in his letter to the Romans has to ask these hypothetical questions like, “Well, if grace abounds when I sin why not go on sinning?” A clear and correct presentation of the gospel is an extremely dangerous thing because it destroys religion and undercuts behavior modification.
Paul does answer those questions in Romans by saying something like this, the gospel doesn’t set us free to live our lives in anarchy. The gospel sets us free and gives us a new life. Look at the last part of this paragraph here in Colossians.
The gospel is news that evil has been defeated, that the dominion of darkness no longer has a right to our soul, and the the good and mighty prince has rode in, conquered the evil one, rescued us and taken us back home. Now that you live in this new home, why would you continue to do the things that evil one wants you to do? There is a huge difference between religion and gospel. Religion says you owe and you must do better, gospel says it has been paid – so you can live a new life.
When preachers preach and play that one string they have on their fiddle of you need to do this and stop doing this and pray more and give more and love more etc…. that message always produced condemnation, guilt, and legalism. It takes Christ off the throne as king and places man back on the throne where he need to pull himself up by his bootstraps and do better. Behavioral modification is the name of the game for the religious. Grace, forgiveness, joy and power is the name of the game for Gospel.
Now at this point I feel like I need to offer like 50 illustrations – but I don’t have time. I will give two. But i want you to know this. Because MISSIODEI church is a gospel centered church, you can bet your bottom dollar those 50 illustrations will get shared. That means that every sermon preached here will be saturated with the gospel. Wether were talking about marriage, or child raising, or money, or sex, or the bible, sin, heaven …whatever it will all be told thru the lens of the gospel. You are going to here the gospel every week here. Because we need to here the gospel everyday. The church needs to hear it – allot. In fact if you grew up in the church you might even need to untwist and untangle years of religion that has crept in to the good news of the gospel. So we need to hear it all the time.
I need it. I am constantly being humbled by the fact that I tend to use fear to discipline my kids rather than gospel. I want my kids to grow up living a full life in Christ because he has rescued them from darkness. I don’t want them choosing what is right only because they are scared that daddy is going to be disappointed or that God is going to send them to hell. That is not good news. I need to hear the good news and I need to see it modeled in parenting, and marriage, and money and sex. Don’t you? Because I always rush back to what I need to do and how I need to fix it. And so here is, I think , a good illustration. Remember, behavioral modification is the name of the game for the religious. Grace, forgiveness, joy and power is the name of the game for Gospel.
Conclude with an illustration from Les Misérables.