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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Grace and Peace
Text:Colossians 1:1-2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:01/11/2015
Added:2015-02-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Pastor Ted Gray
01/04/15 – a.m.
 
Grace and Peace”
Colossians 1:1-2
 
Most of us are familiar with the critique of the Bible given by many people. “The Bible is an interesting book,” they might say, “but it’s not really relevant for us today. It was a different world back then and what was written to the people in biblical times doesn’t apply to us and the world we live in now.”  
 
By contrast, Scripture teaches us its relevancy in many passages including  2 Timothy 3:16-17: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. That was true not just in Timothy’s time, but today as well. As we begin a study of the letter to the Colossian church we once again see the relevancy of Scripture to our church and to our individual lives.
 
Timeless Relevance
 
First, the letter to the Colossians is uniquely relevant to us today because it addresses a small struggling church. The city of Colossae was a city that was overshadowed by its two nearby neighbors, Laodicea and Hierapolis. The three cities had been part of Phrygia (present day Turkey), but as the Roman empire expanded those cities came under Roman rule. Even so they were far from Rome. Rome was about 900 miles away as the crow flies but 1300 to 1400 miles away by foot.
 
Both Laodicea and Hierapolis had economies that could be sustained in unique ways. Laodicea was a center for producing black wool which was in great demand. Laodicea was also near main trade routes – the equivalent of our interstates – so it was easy to transport the wool to other cities, even far distant ones.
 
Hierapolis was known for its hot springs. People would flock to those springs. The hot water could ease sore joints and many people drank from some of the springs believing that the hot water had medicinal power.
 
But Colossae was a town in decline, similar in some ways to the ghost towns in the western United States. The ghost towns sprang up suddenly in the rush for gold, and the prospect of other economic opportunities, but in the course of time they could not survive.
 
When Paul wrote this letter to the church at Colossae, around the year 60, the town was already in a state of decline. The church itself does not appear to be a large, thriving church. But then  virtually all churches, when compared to the populations of the cities they are in, are small. God’s people have always been a minority, a remnant. And those in the world have always looked at Christians as being strange and even dangerous. Even today true Christianity is a minority in most nations. And in the United States the average church has less than 100 people in attendance.
 
This letter reminded not only the citizens of Colossae, but also reminds us today, that although we are in the eyes of the world small, struggling, and insignificant, we are yet blessed with the greatest blessing the world can ever know: God has willed His salvation for us. He works in us by His Spirit through the Word and gives us His grace and peace.
 
An Apologetic Against Heresy
 
Secondly, the letter to the Colossians, like all of Scripture, has been relevant in every era of time because in every era of time heresy has infiltrated the church in some way. It was true in the first century in Colossae and it is certainly true today in the twenty first century in the United States  and around the globe.
 
The heresy facing the Colossians involved a mixture of Jewish legalism and pagan idolatry. The Jewish legalism centered around the Old Testament ceremonies, special religious days, restrictions on food and other Old Testament regulations that were part of the ceremonial law which pointed to, and were fulfilled, in Christ.
 
There was also an emphasis on angel worship. Some teachers had taught that being in Christ was not enough. In effect they said, “It’s good to believe in Christ but it’s a better to believe in the power of angels, too. Full communion with God comes through angelic worship alongside of Christ.”
 
Those type of heresies, and others, including Gnosticism, caused Paul to write the letter even though most likely he had never actually visited Colossae. As such, the letter served as an apologetic – meaning a defense of the faith – for the Colossian church.
 
The Bible continues to be the best apologetic book that anyone can buy. When we had a short series on apologetics we saw that apologetics is a defense of the faith. And while evidence that God exists is certainly in the world, we saw that the best way to defend our faith is with the Word of God. Whether facing heresy in the first century or facing heresy and false teaching in the twenty first century we find the Bible to be the best tool to expose error and reveal truth.
 
The Preeminence of Christ Jesus
 
A third characteristic of the letter to the Colossian church is the way that it extols the total supremacy – the preeminence – of Jesus Christ. While there are many eloquent descriptions of the supremacy of Jesus throughout the Bible, this first chapter of Colossians contains some of the most beautiful, all encompassing descriptions of Jesus found anywhere in Scripture. Consider the description found later in this chapter:
 
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities –  all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  And He is the Head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.  For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.  (Colossians 1:15-20).
 
Some scholars have pointed out that the terminology in those verses doesn’t sound Pauline. They say, “When you read Romans and some of the other letters that Paul wrote you can see similarities in style that you don’t see here.” Because of that they try to attribute the letter to a later time period and a later writer. However, wiser commentators point out that Paul used this lofty, unique and beautiful language to show that the various heresies could never measure up to the supremacy of Christ.
 
I trust that you see the relevancy of the letter, and I hope that you look forward to the study of the letter. Like all of God’s Word it speaks to us in every sentence. It speaks to us not only in those eloquent verses on the preeminence of Christ but also, even in the introduction, it teaches us about our relationship to the Lord and gives us great encouragement.
 
God’s Will for Our Salvation
 
For instance, we are reminded in the introductory remarks that we are believers in Christ by God’s will. Did you notice in verse 1 how Paul introduced himself?  He wrote, Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother.
 
In a very general sense some might say that we are all apostles because we are sent by God into the world to be ambassadors for Christ. The word “apostle” is from the Greek word meaning “one who is sent away.” But in a theological and technical sense there are no apostles today. That is also why Timothy is not regarded as an apostle but rather as a brother (v. 1). To be an apostle three things were required: An apostle had to have been an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:21-22; 1 Corinthians 9:1). Secondly, an apostle was directly chosen by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:24-26; 9:15), and thirdly, an apostle was given the power to perform miraculous deeds (Acts 2:43; 2 Corinthians 12:12).
 
But Paul didn’t seem to meet all those requirements – until you remember his experience on the road to Damascus. There he met the Lord Jesus Christ in a unique and powerful way (Acts 9:1-9). He was changed from Saul of Tarsus to the Apostle Paul. And because of that unique experience he called himself  “an apostle abnormally born.” (1 Corinthians 15:8).
 
But in this introduction to the letter he points out that it was not of his doing that he became an apostle. Rather, it was by the will of God. The same was true for Timothy being a brother in Christ. Timothy found salvation because that was the will of God for him.
 
There is great comfort and security in knowing that we are in Christ Jesus not because of our work, or our personal decision, perceived merits, or any other thing we have done. But rather we are in Christ because of God’s will, because of His good pleasure and sovereign grace. We are who we are as Christians because of God’s gracious will for our lives.
 
The doctrine of election, which many professing Christians try to explain away, is woven throughout the Scripture, and we find it even in this opening address of the apostle Paul. Because it was God’s will for Paul to be an apostle, God called him. God convicted him. God converted him. And God began the good work of sanctification within him. Paul could take no credit, as he points out in many of his letters. All the credit for our salvation – and thus all praise, adoration, honor and thanksgiving – goes to God alone.
 
Holy and Faithful
 
But when God calls us He also specifies what type of people we are to be.  First, we are called to be holy as the NIV translates verse 2, or “saints” as the ESV puts it. The same Greek word is used in both translations. To be holy means to be separate, specifically to strive, as God works within us by His Spirit, to separate ourselves from sin and devote ourselves to Christ. That is also, in a nutshell, God’s will for your life and mine. His will is that we are holy, sanctified people of God.
 
So often we question what God’s will is, perhaps in regard to a vocational calling or whom we should marry, or where we should live.  And it is true that in all these areas we seek God’s will as we consider His providence in our lives.
 
But the ultimate will of God for you and for me, and for every true believer, is our holiness. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says,  for this is God’s will for your life, that you are sanctified. Our sanctification comes when, by God's enabling Spirit, we more and more put to death our old sinful nature and grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is part of what it means to be holy, part of our sanctification. The Apostle Paul explains that thoroughly, as we will see, in chapter 3.
 
The Bible speaks of those who by God’s grace through faith in Jesus seek to be holy, as “saints.”  Saints are not special people commissioned by the Roman Catholic church, but rather each person who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ with saving faith and thus strives for holiness, is considered a saint.
 
I did not meet my father-in-law until the week before my wife and I were married. I knew he had been active in the church where my wife grew up but I was a little surprised when I first met him and he extended his hand to me and said, “Hi. I’m Saint Raymond.”
 
That is an accurate description of every true believer in Jesus Christ.  Every true believer in Jesus is a saint.  Every true believer will strive to live a  holy life of sanctification.  Although none of us reach perfection in this life, if you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thus strive to live a godly life, then you too are considered a saint.
 
A second adjective used by the apostle is the word “faithful.”  He writes  to the holy and faithful brothers in Christ. It would have been very easy for the Colossian church to be unfaithful. Its neighboring towns, Hierapolis and Laodicea, were prosperous and certainly could entice Colossian Christians with the treasures of the world.
 
Hierapolis represented the pleasures of the world. William Hendrickson, the well-known commentator, writes: “Hierapolis became a famous spa, a city full of self-made baths. By the thousands people would gather here to drink the healing waters and to bathe in them. The ‘flowing rills’  of the city became its ‘jewels.’” (New Testament Commentary, Colossians, page 12).
 
Meanwhile, the nearby city of Laodicea offered all the wealth of the world. The jet black wool that it produced was sought after. There were many merchants willing to pay the highest price for wool. They could then use the trade routes to sell the black wool for even more money in distant towns and cities.
 
Yet, most of you know the pronouncement that the Lord Himself gave against the church at Laodicea. They were the lukewarm church and the Lord rebuked them, in Revelation 3:15-16: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of My mouth.”
 
A deadly consequence of material wealth is that it so often leads to spiritual apathy and lukewarmness. But, by contrast, many of the Colossians were faithful. Admittedly, some were drawn into the false teaching that was permeating the church, but as Paul writes to them he points out their faithfulness.
 
In that regard they set an example for us. We too live in a culture that beckons to us with materialism and entertainment, with prosperity and the premise that man is the measure of all things. Our culture has a mind-set that by our own ingenuity we can enjoy life apart from the “restrictive rules” of God. God is often portrayed as a tyrant, and many in our culture, especially the so-called “new atheists” teach that any belief in God is a dangerous detriment to the good of society.
 
In such an environment we are called to be faithful with our eyes always upon Jesus. Hebrews 12:2,3: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
 
Keeping our eyes upon the Lord is crucial. The only way that the Colossians, and you and I today, can be holy and faithful – saints of God – is by being “in Christ.”  In verse 1 Paul had told how he was in Christ Jesus by the will of God, and as he writes to the Colossians he points out that they are holy and faithful in Christ. The name of Christ is brought up 29 times in the four chapters of Colossians. It reminds us of just how crucial it is that we are “in Christ” which comes by saving faith in Christ alone for our salvation.
 
There are many people who try to live a good moral life, living by the Golden Rule, doing unto others as they would like others to do unto them, and yet are not “in Christ” with saving faith. All the good works in the world cannot make someone holy and faithful, a saint of God, saved from sin. It is only those who are in Christ who, by His grace and sanctifying Spirit, are holy and faithful. And even then our holiness, our sanctification, and our faithfulness are always marred and stained by sin in this life.
 
As such, we are to examine ourselves to see whether (we) are in the faith; test yourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). Are we “in Christ” wholeheartedly or is our profession of faith merely on our lips, but not within our hearts?
 
Those who are truly in Christ by saving faith not only have the vertical relationship with the Lord, but also horizontally we are blessed to be brothers and sisters in God’s family, the true church. The church at Colossae seems to have been a small church but also a church of close ties. That is often the case with small churches and certainly the case in our church. Although we are small in the eyes of the world we have a closeness to one another because of our common faith in Jesus Christ which causes us to be adopted into God’s family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ who share each others concerns and joys.
 
Being a part of God’s family is one of many great blessings that we as Christians have. The blessings of being adopted into God’s family include a whole multitude of blessings. As John 1:16 puts it:  From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another.
 
God’s Grace and Peace
 
One of the great blessings mentioned in our text is the blessing of knowing the truth and comfort of God’s grace. In verse 2 the apostle writes, Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
 
We only know the grace of God the Father when we have faith in His Son, which is given us by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. And to know God’s grace is to know salvation. To know God’s grace is not to have some fuzzy knowledge of His mercy to us but rather as verse 6 says we must understand God’s grace in all its truth.  That is part of the reason why Paul wrote the letter to the Colossians, and to us, so that as we study the letter we come to know God’s grace in all its truth. By knowing His grace and truth we are protected from the false teaching that is all around us, even as we are drawn closer to our God.
 
The familiar greeting which Paul uses in verse 2 also speaks of the peace that we have from the Father through faith in the Son by the Holy Spirit’s work. Only a Christian knows that peace which transcends and surpasses all understanding. It is a peace we have with God as we are reconciled to Him through faith in Jesus. It is also a peace with others in the fellowship of believers, and thirdly, when we are in Christ by saving faith in Him then we have peace with our circumstances, no matter what they may be.
 
Just this past week we had a surprise in our church family as one of our members, who in many ways has been a picture of health for someone his age, needed open-heart surgery. Was there concern? Was their apprehension by him and his family?  Of course there was, as it would be for any one of us in that situation. Yet what marked the hospital room before and after the surgery was the knowledge that our lives are in God’s hand including the number of days ordained for us to live.
 
The surgeon had come in and said many times over how lucky it was that he was brought into the hospital before a major heart attack took his life. But as his wife said, “I knew it was anything but luck, it was by God’s gracious providence.”
 
And with the knowledge that our lives are in the hand of our God, we experience peace in every aspect of life. It doesn’t mean that times of doubt, or turmoil, or wavering don’t enter our thoughts. But it does mean that through all the hard circumstances of life we do indeed have a peace that surpasses all understanding, which guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
 
So many years ago, in the declining town of Colossae believers were greatly encouraged by God’s grace and peace. May you and I, striving to be holy and faithful, know that same grace and peace from God our Father, through faith in His Son, indwelt within us by the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 
 
                                                                                                          - bulletin outline -
 
 
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. - Colossians 1:1-2 (ESV)
 
Grace and Peace”
Colossians 1:1-2
 
I. All of Scripture is relevant and useful (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The letter to the Colossians uniquely relevant to us today:
       1) It addresses a small struggling church
 
 
 
       2) It was written to refute false teaching (2:8, 16-23)
 
 
 
       3) It extolls the total supremacy of Jesus Christ (1:13-19, 2:9-10)
 
 
 
II. We are believers in Christ by God’s will (1) and are called to be:
       1) Holy (NIV); “saints” (ESV) (2a)
 
 
 
       2) Faithful (2a)
 
 
 
       3) Brothers – and sisters – in Christ (2a)
 
 
 
III. The blessings of being adopted into God’s family include, among a multitude of blessings  (cf. John 1:16):
      1) Knowing the truth and comfort of God’s grace (2b)
 
 
 
      2) Experiencing God’s peace (2b) in its every aspect
 
 
 
 
 
01/11/2015 – a.m.1`



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 01/1, Rev. Ted Gray

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