The following message was given by me at Stoke Canon Christian Fellowship on 14th June 2015. The accompanying reading was Colossians 1:12-20 & 2:6-13.
The letter to the Colossians is a masterly and majestic piece of literature. It is only short, so if you haven’t read it from beginning to end in one sitting, then I strongly encourage you to do so later this evening. It was written, scholars believe, in about AD 62, 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, when Paul was in prison in Rome.
The letter to the Colossians was written to counter a range of philosophies and ‘New Age’ ideas that had arisen about Jesus and who He was, and as such there are many parallels with the culture and ideas we see today. The Roman Empire of the time – although this would change dramatically only a couple of years later – was largely permissive and liberal with respect to religious belief. What you chose to believe in the comfort of your own home was largely up to you, provided you obeyed the rule of law. The empire was a melting pot of philosophies: worship of the old Greek and Roman gods for every occasion; eastern mysticism; Greek philosophies promoting ideals such as wisdom, stoicism, epicureanism, hedonism and anarchic tendencies. Judaism was a minor established religion and Islam was still several hundred years from being founded proper.
Into this heady mix came Paul and Christianity, and Paul wasn’t prepared to play the game of religious relativism – that might be true for you, but not for me. Paul steps in with an absolute conviction in a truth centred on the person and life of Jesus that was non-negotiable and would set the world free. It was and remains a joyous message – it is ‘good news’ – but to a world that does not want to hear that it is living a lie, it is also offensive. As such, Paul upset a lot of people and got into a lot of trouble, resulting in imprisonment.
In Colossians, Paul confronts us squarely with the central dilemma of faith: will we humbly accept all that Jesus is? Or do we refuse to let go and try to mould Jesus to our worldview?
Today, and back then, there are many who would neuter Jesus, rob him either of his divinity or his humanity, tame him, or present his as a protagonist for their own favoured philosophy or movement.
Let’s look then at the Jesus that Paul describes in his letter to the Colossians. Paul asserts that He is perfectly God and perfectly man:
He is the perfect likeness of the invisible God … He exists before everything else, and everything else holds together in Him … It is in Christ that godhead in all its completeness dwells in bodily form.
Paul emphasises that there is no other means of salvation than Jesus:
It was God’s decision to effect through Him an act of universal reconciliation to Himself of everything in heaven and on earth, and it was through His death on the cross that God did bring the whole universe into a right relationship with Himself … You were dead in sins; but God made you alive with Christ for He forgave us all our sins.
Paul talks about the transformation that marks out a true believer:
It is in your union with Him that your own life reaches perfect completeness … stripping off your lower sensual nature, for that is the circumcision which Christ effects on you.
Finally, Paul describes the hope we have:
In baptism you were buried with Him, and in baptism you were also raised with Him from the dead through your faith in the power of God, which was operative in raising Him from the dead.
What then is the application of this message for our lives today? First, I hope that everyone here knows Jesus as Paul did and can say ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Amen’ to each of the fundamental statements:
- Jesus is perfectly God;
- Jesus was perfectly man during His ministry on earth;
- Jesus is our only means of salvation;
- A true faith in Jesus transforms lives;
- In Jesus is our hope of a new, resurrected life.
If there is any point there that you are not sure of then please talk to me or my colleagues after the service – it is too important to leave to another time.
Second, we need to take a leaf out of Paul’s book and be bolder at stepping up and correcting those whose beliefs are at variance with those Paul affirms. We have all been guilty of staying silent when listening to someone explain their faith or beliefs about Jesus, simply because we don’t want to cause trouble or upset – that wasn’t Paul’s way, or Jesus’ way, and it shouldn’t be ours either.
Finally, this message is the difference between life and death – it is our duty to make our lives a little less comfortable and to proclaim the ‘good news’ to our neighbours. Don’t leave it to someone else – their salvation depends on it.
Christianity is not a ‘personal choice’; it is not something we practise behind closed doors at home and in church. Our lives must be a witness to our faith in Jesus.