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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:In the face of false teaching, fix your eyes on Christ
Text:Colossians 2:1-5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2014
Added:2014-07-11
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 131

Hymn 11:9

Psalm 36

Hymn 79

Psalm 117

Scripture readings:  Proverbs 2, Revelation 3:14-22

Text: Colossians 2:1-5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

What is the most dangerous false teaching threatening our church?  Or the Canadian Reformed Churches as a whole?  If we could identify just one false teaching that threatens to undo us and endanger our salvation in Christ, what would it be?  I don’t know about you, but a candidate springs readily to my mind.  There is a false teaching that has been vocally promoted in our circles for a few years now.  While things have quieted a little in the last while, this teaching is still out there and is still being pushed, especially on our young people.  If you haven’t guessed it already, the false teaching is theistic evolution. 

You already know about evolution.  Evolution is the theory that species evolved over billions of years.  Evolutionary theory tells us that human beings share common ancestors with primates, with apes and monkeys and so on.  For most people, evolution excludes God.  God cannot be included in any explanation of origins.  There is no spiritual aspect to reality, there’s only stuff, material.

What about theistic evolution then?  Theistic evolutionists include God in their explanation of origins.  They agree that there is a spiritual aspect to reality.  But they still maintain that species evolved over billions of years.  They believe that human beings developed from other creatures.  However, they say, all these processes were guided by God.  Theistic evolution sounds like a balanced compromise between what many scientists say and what religion says.

But for us, the big question always has to be:  what does the Bible say?  That’s where we start.  Think of what we just sang from Psalm 36, “in your light do we see light.”  It’s the light of God’s Word that illumines our darkness, which shows us the way we should go.  God’s Word is crystal clear about our origins.  We have noted many times before how Genesis 2 teaches that man was a special creation of God.  Genesis 2:7 says that God created man from the dust of the earth.  Adam and Eve had no ancestors, human or hominid.  This is why Luke 3:38 says that Seth was the son of Adam, but Adam was the son of God.

Someone asks, “Fine, but is this such a big deal?”  Yes, brothers and sisters, it is.  It is, because theistic evolution not only goes against the clear teaching of Scripture (which is bad enough), but it also undermines the gospel of our salvation in Christ.  In Romans, when Paul writes about our salvation in the Second Adam, he works fundamentally with the idea of the first Adam as a historical figure, and a real fall before which there was no death.  There is a lot more that needs to be said, but I want to assure you that this is one of those proverbial hills to die on.  A lot is at stake, which is why this is the most dangerous false teaching facing our churches right now.

Every age is faced with false teachings of one kind or another.  Theistic evolution seems to be the challenge for our day.  But false teachings have always been around in one form or another.  As we’ve been going through Colossians, we’ve already heard several times that false teaching was what led to this letter.  The Colossians were under attack by some kind of error that was threatening their very salvation.  Paul wrote to them to give them what they needed to take a stand against this error.  Our text this morning is right before Paul starts directly dealing with the false teaching threatening the Colossians.  He starts doing that in verse 8 and following.  So here he’s laying the ground work, preparing the way for the teaching that’s coming.  As you face false teaching, here’s something important to keep in mind.  Here’s where your focus needs to be.  So I preach to you God’s Word this morning,

In the face of false teaching, fix your eyes on Christ

We’ll consider the need for:

  1. Hearts to be encouraged
  2. Knowledge of God’s mystery
  3. Awareness of plausible arguments

In the verses before our passage, we hear the apostle Paul speaking about the great toil and struggle associated with his commission.  There he was speaking in more general terms.  In verse 1 of our passage today he gets more specific.  His struggle and toil were not just for the catholic church, the church in the broadest sense, but also for local congregations.  He also had a burden for the church at Colossae, the nearby church at Laodicea, and all those who hadn’t seen him in the flesh.  Incidentally, this is the verse where we learn that Paul and his readers are not personally acquainted.  He’s heard about them from Pastor Epaphras, but he’s never been to Colossae and doesn’t know the congregation personally.  But that doesn’t stop him from having a great struggle for them, a burden for them. 

What are some of the ways in which Paul made tremendous efforts for the Colossians and Laodiceans and others?  We know that he wrote letters, we have this one.  Later on in this letter, we learn that he also wrote a letter to Laodicea (4:16), though that letter no longer exists.  He also prayed.  Verse 9 of chapter 1 tells us that he prayed for the Colossians without ceasing.  He provided leadership for these local churches, advising men like Epaphras.  In his heart, he bore concern about their well-being, especially about the fact that false doctrine was bearing down on them.

That’s why he writes to them now.  According to verse 2, he wants to encourage or strengthen their hearts.  It’s important that we read that in the light of verse 5.  In verse 5, Paul again speaks of the fact that there is no physical connection between him and the Colossians.  He is absent in the body.  Yet they are on his heart, he’s with them in spirit.  Moreover, as he’s hearing from Epaphras (and maybe others) about the Colossians he’s led to rejoice over them.  He rejoices because in the church at Colossae there’s good order.  Things are structured well and things are moving smoothly – just the way they’re supposed to in the church of Christ.  But just as or even more importantly, he speaks of the firmness of their faith in Christ.  They are rock-solid in looking to Christ as their only Saviour.  By noting this, Paul is commending them.  That in itself is encouraging.  When someone tells you something positive about what you’re doing, that’s always encouraging, isn’t it?  Paul does that wherever he can in his letters and he does that here too.  But it’s not just a pat on the back; it’s also an exhortation to continue.  He wants to encourage their hearts so that they will maintain the good order they have, and most importantly of all, continue to have their faith firmly fixed on Christ.         

Good order connects to unity.  Without unity in a congregation, there really can be no good order, at least not in the long term.  The Colossians had good order because their hearts were knit together in love.  Verse 2 speaks of that as well.  The believers were “knit together in love.” That’s a remarkable expression.  You could also say they were welded together in love or they were bound together in love.  The image is of a really tight unity.  And it’s a unity in love – they really love each other in that church and that’s what keeps them tight.  Paul encourages them to carry on with that.  He encourages their hearts to maintain the unity of faith in the church in love. 

There’s a need for that because of the false teaching that threatens them.  If the church is divided even apart from the false teaching, the battle is lost before it’s even begun.  A house divided against itself can’t stand.  When the storms of false teaching beat down, the house is going to fall.  Love must bind brothers and sisters together so that they can weather the storm. 

That love is a fruit of faith.  As believers fix their eyes on Christ, the Holy Spirit continues his work in them, producing fruit.  Church members will never truly love one another unless they first fix their eyes on Christ.  Christ and his Holy Spirit is the source of the love that will keep believers in the unity of faith so that they can band together in the face of false teaching.

So let’s work with what God’s Word says to us here.  First and foremost, what about the firmness of our faith in Christ?  Would Paul write a letter to this church here and say, “I rejoice at the firmness of your faith in Christ!”  We hope he would.  I pray he would be able to do that.  But at the end of the day, each of us individually needs to hear the call to again firmly place our faith in Christ.  Brother, sister, do that.  Firmly rest and trust only in Jesus Christ for your welfare now and forever.  Fix your eyes on Jesus.  Each of us needs to pray for God to strengthen and firm up our faith even more.  Our steadfastness in the truth of God depends on it.

Then building on that and drawing from that, what about our being knit together in love?  Can it be said of us that we are tightly welded together in love for one another?  Again, we hope this is true and we pray that it is so.  But there’s also something here to strive for.  If we say that our faith is firmly fixed in Christ, with his Spirit in us, we should want to strive for greater love and unity in the church.  We would want to put to death anything that might undermine that unity.  After all, if we’re undermining that unity, we’re creating opportunities for false teaching to make headway among us.  The stakes are incredibly high. 

Now it’s easy to speak about love in the abstract and we’ll all nod our heads.  “Yes, we should strive to love one another.”  But that can easily just be empty talk.  How does it translate to life in the parking lot after church?  How does it translate to how we relate to one another at Bible Study?  Or when we’re socializing with one another in any context, even online?  Loved ones, we need to be conscientious about this again, because the stakes are so high.  If the church were just a club of some kind, we could perhaps afford to have some back-stabbing going on.  If the church were just a social opportunity or event, perhaps we could afford to allow judgmental and critical attitudes to go unchecked and unaddressed.  We could see people being lonely in the church and just think “who cares?” and let them be.  But the church is the body of Christ!  The church is a body that is constantly under attack and she needs all the resources of the body to be working together if these attacks are to be repelled.  When a human body attacks itself that’s often deadly.  It happens.  There are auto-immune disorders where the body turns on itself and unless it’s treated the result will be death.  It’s the same thing with the body of Christ.  If the body turns on itself, the result is deadly.  All the parts of the body have to function in unity and harmony.  It’s Satan who wants to turn against each other and bite and devour one another.  That’s a great way for false teaching to make headway.  So in view of that, for the sake of the gospel, let’s strive for love and unity with one another, showing grace and mercy towards one another, just as we have been shown in Christ.

Christ is at the heart of our passage.  Some commentators say that verses 2 and 3 are the high point of the letter to the Colossians, at least as far as the doctrine of Christ is concerned.  It’s not as exultant as verses 15 to 20 in chapter 1, but there is certainly a lot of weight in Paul’s words here. 

At the end of verse 2, Paul is still writing about his struggle for the Colossian believers.  He wants them not only to have their hearts encouraged and to be knit together in unity, but also for them to have all the riches of full assurance of understanding.  He wants them to have the full assurance of those who have correct understanding, because this is riches.  This is incredibly valuable, especially in the face of the false teaching threatening the Colossian church.  Correct understanding gives assurance, it puts you on solid ground so you can stand against the attacks of falsehood.

The correct understanding here ties in to the knowledge of God’s mystery.  The word “mystery” refers to something hidden which can only be revealed by God.  At the end of chapter 1 of this letter, it was the fact of Christ in the Colossians with his Holy Spirit.  The Messiah living in Gentiles with the Holy Spirit was unthinkable for thousands of years.  God had hidden it, but it was in his plan and in due time, he revealed it.  Here the mystery is again brought forward.  Paul wants to make sure the Colossians understand this mystery.

Unfortunately, I have to make a comment here about the text of the ESV.  I really don’t like doing this and I wouldn’t say anything if it wasn’t important.  There are a variety of readings in the Greek manuscripts for the end of verse 2.  I’m not going into get into all the technical details.  However, you do find a consensus among the majority of the manuscripts.  That consensus is reflected in the way that the New King James Version reads, “to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ…”  Do you see the difference?  The ESV only has “which is Christ.”  The New King James Version has “both of the Father and of Christ.”  Like I said, that reflects the consensus among the majority of manuscripts.  I believe that this is the way the text should read.  It should read, “the knowledge of God’s mystery, both of the Father and of Christ…”

That tells us that the mystery is related to both the Father and Christ.  Christ is at the center of it, but the Father has been involved too.  We could think of the fact that the Father sent the Son into this world.  But more in focus here is the fact that the Father hid this mystery in ages past, and is now actively revealing it.  He is actively revealing Christ as the Saviour and Lord, not only of believing Jews, but also of believing Gentiles, a Saviour for all who believe.

But not only is he a Saviour for all, he’s also where all knowledge and wisdom is deposited.  Remember back in Colossian 1 how Paul exalts Christ as pre-eminent in everything?  Here Christ is being exalted as the one who is the source of all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Here Paul seems to be drawing on what we read from Proverbs 2.  A lot of the language in our passage is reminiscent of Proverbs 2, especially if you read it in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint.  Look at Proverbs 2:6, for instance.  Proverbs 2:6 says, “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding…”  Later in Proverbs 2:10 we find that when the LORD gives these things, “wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.”  It’s hard not to see parallels with what Paul writes in Colossians 2.  If this is what Paul is drawing on, he’s saying that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of these things.  The knowledge, wisdom, and understanding written about in Proverbs are stored up in Christ, given from his treasury.

Paul says that wisdom is hidden in Christ.  In the Bible, such as in Proverbs, wisdom is knowledge applied.  It’s the practical and concrete application of what you know; it’s knowing how to use what you know. 

Paul says that knowledge is hidden in Christ too.  Knowledge here has a more intellectual character.  Knowledge is simply things that are known. 

And he says that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ.  It’s important that we don’t overlook that little word ‘all.’  Paul is not just writing about what some might call “spiritual” wisdom and knowledge.  He’s not just writing about what others might call “religious” wisdom and knowledge.  No, he uses the word ‘all’ and ‘all’ here means exactly what it says.  Every single piece of wisdom and knowledge in the universe relating to anything at all is hidden in Christ.  All wisdom and knowledge therefore have their source in Christ.  Yes, the truth of Christ being a Saviour for all is included in that, but it doesn’t stop there, no way!  It’s all-inclusive. 

Let me make this more concrete.  If you took physics in high school, you’ll have learned about different formulas.  These formulas are expressions of knowledge.  So, for example, force equals mass times acceleration.  Momentum equals mass times velocity.  These are concrete pieces of knowledge that exist in the universe.  But they also exist in connection with a person; they originate with a person.  These truths were hidden in Christ.  They are his truths.  They belong to him.  He is the Lord of these truths.  When you first see a physics formula, you might just see some letters or maybe some numbers after you plug them in.  But you should also see Christ the Lord, the one who owns and governs these formulas.  He owns and governs not only them, but every single piece of wisdom and knowledge in the universe, everything dealing with anything.  He is the Lord of it all.  Jesus Christ is not just Lord over the religious part of life.  He is Lord over physics, over chemistry, over biology, over French, over English, over history, over math, over absolutely everything.  Jesus is Lord over all – this is the point that Paul is driving home in verse 3.  All knowledge is personal, because it’s connected to the person of Christ, it’s deposited in him and received from him.

What do we do this?  How do we work with it?  Well, the first step is to acknowledge it.  As believers, we acknowledge that wisdom and knowledge about everything doesn’t come from us, it doesn’t come from within this world, it all has its origin in Christ.  He owns it.  He’s the Lord of it all.  We want to acknowledge that.  As Proverbs 3:6 says, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” 

But second, and just as importantly, his Word stands absolutely sovereign over it all.  If Jesus is Lord over all this knowledge, it stands to reason that his Word also has exclusive authority over it all.  If we put that in concrete terms, all knowledge has to be evaluated and interpreted through the lens of Scripture.  If there appears to be a conflict between some piece of knowledge and what Scripture clearly says, then Scripture stands absolutely supreme.  The way we worked with that knowledge must have been flawed somewhere.  Christ’s Word is infallible and inerrant, our human minds are not.   So I mentioned theistic evolution earlier.  Because he is Lord over all knowledge, Christ’s Word stands supreme over what scientists might conclude about origins.  If some scientists conclude that human beings and primates are descended from a common ancestor, we will evaluate that in the light of Scripture says.  Scripture says something different, therefore the scientists saying this must be wrong.  By looking to the Word of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, you can know this to be indubitably true.  We can apply it to theistic evolution, but lots of other areas in life too.  Loved ones, everything has to be evaluated and understood in the light of Christ’s Word.  Human beings are by nature liars and deceitful.  Christ’s Word never lies.  You can always trust it and you should always trust it.                                      

In the Colossian situation, they had these false teachers who were undermining Christ’s supremacy in their own ways.  They seemed to put the source of wisdom and knowledge here on this earth with human beings.  We can gather that by jumping ahead to verse 8 and its reference to human tradition.  Whatever the case may be, for them or for us, we need to know the truth about God’s mystery, the truth about Christ.  We need to know so that we will be able to resist false teachings.

Last of all, we also need an awareness of plausible arguments.  Plausible arguments are those that seem reasonable and believable.  Here we’re looking briefly at verse 4.  “I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.”  Paul is referring back to what he just said.  He tells them this so that they will be on their guard against those who might lead them astray. 

False teachers often come with what Paul calls “plausible arguments.”  No false teacher ever comes to a church and says, “Hey, everybody, I’m a false teacher and I’m here to lead you astray.  I’m here to destroy your salvation.  Listen to what I have to tell you…”  No, false teaching always comes subtly, it comes undercover, it comes in a sneaky way.   Plausible arguments always sound sensible.  The word in the original Greek was sometimes used outside the Bible for the arguments that merchants would make when they’re trying to sell you something.  “You need this product.  This product solve all your problems with x or y.  You’ll wonder how you ever survived without it.”  You know how advertising works.  Advertising is all about making plausible arguments so that you’ll buy the product.  False teaching works the same way.  It comes across as reasonable and fair-minded, maybe even balanced.  But in the end, it only deceives and leads you astray. 

The false teachings in the Colossian situation were like that.  They were subtle and smooth; there was an air of credibility about them.  Those teachings were easy to swallow, but they would lead the believers away from Christ and from the gospel.

False teachings have always been like this.  Think of the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Muslims and the way they argue against the Trinity.  They say that it is illogical for God to be three persons in one divine being.  We want to be logical, so there is a sort of persuasiveness about their argument.  Or you could think of the Arminian arguments against unconditional election.  They say that God is loving and kind and he’s like a gentleman, so he would never force someone to do something against their will.  We have to maintain the free will of fallen man.  Because these arguments appeal to a high view of human nature and a view of God that’s imbalanced at best, they’re persuasive to many people.  Many people find the Arminian view plausible and they are deceived by it.  Then, of course, there’s theistic evolution as well.  Theistic evolutionists argue that our churches are anti-science and we have to be more open to the findings of science.  We all use science in our daily lives, science has helped us fly to far off places, it helps us cure and treat diseases, and yet we are so biased against what most scientists say about origins.  They say we’re inconsistent.  If you accept science for one thing, you should accept it for everything.  Moreover, we should be open to finding ways to fit together what the Bible says with what many scientists say.  Surely we can have it both ways, can’t we?  And we should want to, because if we don’t, we won’t win people to Christ.  They’ll think we’re backwards stone-age people.  And if we don’t adapt the Bible to evolution, we’re going to lose our young people too.  It all sounds very persuasive, very plausible.  But the end result is delusion.  If you don’t think about all this with an open Bible, beginning with the Bible, you will be led astray.

The possibility of widespread apostasy is always there.  The Colossian church was strong when they received this letter from Paul.  He wanted them to stay strong and become stronger still.  We don’t know how things panned out in Colossae after this letter.  As I’ve mentioned before, in 61 or 62 A.D. a powerful earthquake hit the area and the city was destroyed.  The church disappears after that point.  But the letter to the Colossians was also meant to be read in Laodicea.  The letter speaks about them and it speaks to them as well.  It appears that the error threatening the Colossian church was also endangering the Laodicean church.  Well, as it happens, we know something about the later history of the Laodicean church.  We have a letter in the New Testament to this church, a letter from Jesus himself.  This church was not doing well.  They had become lukewarm in faith.  They were in need of discipline and chastisement from Christ.  Could it be because they failed so many years earlier to heed God’s Word through Paul to the Colossians?  Perhaps.  It could also be because they failed to heed the letter Paul wrote directly to them.  We can’t say for sure about them.  But what about us?  The question of our future as a church is still out there.  Faced with false teaching, will we stand firm, not only for the short term, but for the long haul?  Loved ones, our passage teaches us that the only way we will is by fixing our eyes on Christ, trusting him alone, following his Word alone.  AMEN.

Prayer:

Merciful Father in heaven,

You know us full well inside and out and the challenges we face.  You know our challenges individually and as a church.  You know the false teachings that threaten us.  O God, we need your help in resisting.  We have hearts that need to be strengthened and encouraged.  We need to look to Christ more consistently, acknowledge him as Lord, and live with him as Lord over all knowledge and wisdom.  We need to be discerning with plausible arguments that will delude us.  Father, we sincerely ask for your strength to meet all these needs.  Please strengthen us with your Spirit so that we can resist false teachings and persevere in your truth. 

We pray for your church here and elsewhere. We pray that you would preserve and keep her in your truth, united in love for one another.  Help us and our brothers and sisters everywhere to be on the guard against doctrines that will destroy us, robbing us of our gospel hope.  Please give wisdom, courage, insight, and every other gift needed to fight the good fight and to do it for the glory of your Name, and the advance of the gospel. Please bless the Canadian Reformed Churches, our sister churches and everyone else who strives to be faithful to your Word.   




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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