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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
Title:A Spiritual Parent’s Pride and Joy
Text:Colossians 1:1-8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Running the race

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

TH 53 - Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
Psalter 297 - The Praise of the Redeemed
Psalter 163 - Satisfaction in God
TH 600 - He Leadeth Me 

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

What causes pride in parents? It could be the academic achievements of their children, or them excelling in sports, in music, in their career. But to the most thoughtful of parents, these things are not as important. A smart child who turns into a criminal is no joy at all and a talented soccer player who can’t balance his accounts is no pride at all.

I remember distinctly, my father being worried for me, especially in my early 20s. But there was one time when he was finally assured that I had matured. I was speaking to a family friend - a rabid atheist. An uncle - I’m uncle age now, so I can say this. And this uncle had a few too many whiskeys and became belligerent - not sparing the son of his host. But somehow in speaking the gospel, by the grace of God, I stood my ground. And while he spoke more and more harshly with personal attacks, I spoke more and more calmly with precision and compassion. Now, I know it was the work and restraint of God’s Spirit. But I remember distinctly the satisfaction that Dad had, in watching me hold my own. He thereafter said to me that he was no longer worried for me. Of course that assurance lasted for only a month. But his pride in me was so evident that I remember it till now. There are things that cause pride and joy in a parent - to know that his child has grown in maturity, thoughtfulness, usefulness, discernment, compassion, and responsibility.

Similarly, there are characteristics that give cause for spiritual parents or leaders and other Christians to have assurance, pride, and joy. Sure, sometimes we can be mistaken in what they are. There are many Christian leaders who will be happy if their members are very knowledgeable in doctrine and active in service. These things are good yes; but we all know that we can fight bitterly over theology and have politics in committees. We can do spiritual things very carnally. So what was it that gave Paul cause to rejoice? What made him a proud and thankful parent?

And in this first message of Colossians, I’d like to focus on the characteristics that give a spiritual parent or leader cause for joy. I’d like to explore this in 2 points. Firstly, the fruits that cause thankfulness. Secondly, the reasons for such fruitfulness.

Firstly, the fruits that cause thankfulness. Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians. He was like their spiritual parent. As an apostle, verse 1, he was sent to minister the Word. But the New Testament never recorded that he visited Colossae. This letter hints that he knew them only by reputation - verse 4 says he heard about their faith. He didn’t found the church, but it was likely founded when Paul was in Ephesus - only 150 km away. Acts 19:10 says that during his 2 years there, the gospel went into the region. Likely, Paul’s co-worker, Epaphras, in verse 7, planted and pastored the church. Yet Paul felt like a spiritual parent. That’s why he wrote to them. In Colossians 1:28, he said he would labor so that they would grow up. These are the words of parents. Similarly Paul said in Galatians 4:19 - “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” So Paul had parental affection towards the Colossians. 

And what he heard of the Colossians, gave him reason to be thankful. Verse 3 - “We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you.” They had a good reputation. News of their maturity had reached him. In the book of Revelation, Jesus told the churches what he thought of them. One church nauseated him - he wanted to throw up. He had something against another church, because they lost their first love. He promised yet another church rewards because they were reputed to be faithful. And here, Paul was thankful for the Colossian’s mature reputation.  

Verses 3-6 tell us that they were known for 3 things. We give thanks to God since we have heard of your faith in Christ (v 4), love for the brethren (v 4), and your hope in heaven (v 5). These were the fruits they were bearing - faith, hope, and love. And if our church at large would consecrate herself toward these goals, there would be great spiritual growth.

So they were known for their faith in Christ (v 4). This was their reputation. Laodicea, just a few kilometers away, was known for being lukewarm; but they for their trust. The fact that they from Colossae was significant. Colossae was not a large cosmopolitan city, but a small one with a small town mentality. It was suspicious of new things - especially Christianity. When Paul and Barnabas preached in Athens, the philosophers there said they’d be interested to hear more. But not Colossae. The Christians were persecuted. But despite this, the church was known for her faith.

And faith in Christ is not a nebulous thing. The Bible tells us that faith manifests itself in various ways. Here are some. True faith is accompanied by repentance. Faith isn’t merely agreeing with what the Bible says - it’s responding with repentance. James 2:19 says, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.”  The demons’ know, but their knowledge doesn’t lead to repentance. Genuine faith on the other hand requires forsaking of one’s sins - growing in holiness.

True faith also requires commitment. 2 Timothy 1:12 says, “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” Paul was in prison when he wrote this. He was threatened with death for his faith - but he would stick with Christ. And this was the challenge in Colossae. Their family and friends would’ve called them to abandon Christ. But they committed. It’s easy to follow Christ when things are well. What if your life was threatened? What if you’re suffering? Would you stick it out with him? They had the reputation of faith - they forsook the world.

They were also known for their love for Christians. Verse 4 says, “and of the love which ye have to all the saints.” What is clear is their love was not restricted to the Colossians - but all saints - including those in other places. Interestingly, it does not say it was their love for all the saints, but it says it was their love to all the saints. This word was used to imply love towards - it shows action, not just affection. They loved not in word or tongue, but in deed and truth (1 John 3:18). How? While we’re not exactly sure. But if it was love toward the saints, we surmise it has to do with giving.

And according to the context, this may be correct. When Paul wrote to them, he was in prison. So what was likely, was they supported him financially. They took care of his needs when they heard of his plight. As God had been lavish in his love to them, they were in turn lavish in demonstrating God’s love to him. Christians can never do enough for other Christians - the gratefulness that we have towards God will always be manifested in our love to one another. When our brethren in Myanmar were suffering, our deacons came together to demonstrate love by giving.

They were also known for their hope - a hope reserved for them in heaven. Now, I want to get a bit technical here because I think it is important. The way Paul expressed himself has important lessons. Why were the Colossians faithful to God? Why did they follow Christ despite challenges? Why did they love the brethren by giving? Because of their hope in heaven.

Let me read it in the NKJV - from verse 3 - “We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven.” It was because of their hope in heaven that spurred them to be faithful and loving. If your hope is in heaven, that you’re going there, that the better life is there; then you’re willing to part with what you have to help others. After all, riches here don’t compare to riches in heaven. The early church was characterized by giving. And if life beyond is better because of Christ, then you cling to Christ here - no matter the persecution. The early church was characterized by tenacious faith - they kept on believing. But when you have no hope beyond this one, then you have no faith or love.

DL Moody once quoted a legend of a swan and a crane. A beautiful swan came to a lake where a crane was wading about seeking snails. The crane asked the swan - “Where do you come from?” The swan replied - “from heaven!” “Where’s heaven?” “Why, have you never heard of heaven? It’s the most wonderful place.” The swan told the crane of the streets of gold, the gates and walls of precious stones; the river and tree of life. But the crane was not interested. Finally the crane asked, “Are there any snails there?” “Snails?! Of course not.” “Then,” said the crane, “you can have your heaven, I want my snails.” Hope in heaven drives our spiritual life. But if we love our snails, we will never understand heaven.

But what was the reason for this fruitfulness? That’s the second point. How did the Colossians have this hope which spurred their faith and love? Was it simply by sheer obedience? “God commands faith - alright, I’ll have faith! God insists I love others - okay, I’ll give!” Sometimes in our Christian life, we can be like our children.

Children, why do you study hard? Why do you, in front of others, show good manners and behavior? One of the common reasons is because Mom and Dad demand it. They will scold me if I don’t. Many children operate by law. And we parents are very much at fault. Johnny! Stop pulling your sister’s hair. You’re supposed to love her. I’m gonna smack you if you don’t show some tender love! We are at fault. We parents forget to inspire our children. But just imagine if they were inspired, rather than guilted. 

Similarly in our spiritual life. Imagine if we are inspired rather than guilted. And these Colossians were inspired. Why were they faithful? Why were they loving? Why did they have hope? It’s because they heard that God loved them and sent a savior to save them from their sins. And so they were inspired to live for God - not guilted. What they heard gave them desire. It fueled their faith, hope, and love.

My father used to work for the United Nations and my parents would frequently have diplomats from other countries at our house. My mother recounted one experience with the North Korean diplomats. They were invited to our house for dinner. And they were proudly North Korean, always praising their leader, who at that time was Kim Il Sung, whom they called their Great Leader. They were fiercely proud, even to the point of being belligerent about it. They would never tolerate any criticism. They were very faithful.  

But the interesting thing about these North Koreans, was they were always accompanied by someone called a minder. His job was to mind the diplomats, to make sure that they didn’t defect. The diplomats were faithful – but out of fear. They served their leader because of great terror. Their leader was a dictator and a tyrant. Their loyalty was not by inspiration, but trepidation.

Not so for the Colossians. They bore the fruit of faith, hope, and love because the gospel came to them. And wherever the gospel went, it bore fruit, verse 6. Because along with the gospel, the grace of God also came. So when a person believes the gospel, he is inspired, the grace of God works in his heart to change him. Turn to Titus 2:11-13 - when the gospel is preached and believed, then “the grace of God that brings salvation to all men appears, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.”

Since the day the Colossians heard and believed the gospel, and truly understood the grace of God, they changed. They grew. It was God’s grace working in them to give them faith, hope, and love. We see this in the early church. 

Acts 4:32-33 says, “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.” It was the grace working in them. But it was also lastly because of the minister of God.

Verse 7 says, that they had learned the gospel from Epaphras, a faithful minister of Christ sent to them, to minister the gospel and the grace of God. Growth and maturity happens by the gospel, by responding to the grace of God, through the ministry of faithful men. Epaphras was such a man - he brought the gospel to the Colossians. He also had a heart for those cities around Colossae. Paul says of him in Colossians 4:13, “For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.” He got the message out to neighboring cities. While Paul himself commended Epaphras, it seemed clear that what Epaphras was proud of, what gave him great joy was the Colossians. Verse 8 says, that Epaphras, as a proud spiritual parent, had told Paul of the love the Colossians possessed - a love produced by the Holy Spirit.

Dearly beloved, these verses here are so rich and pregnant with teaching. But I don’t have the time to go deeply. But what we see in this passage is the gratitude, the pride, and the joy that Paul and also Epaphras had toward God for the Colossians. What are you known for? What is your reputation? 

There are some important points of application that can be drawn from this passage. Firstly, these were the fruits that Paul commended. Yes, knowledge is important. Knowing the Scriptures and the doctrine of the church is important. Official service is important. These are things that Paul commends elsewhere. These are things that Jesus himself commends. To the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2, Jesus commended them for their discernment but rebuked them for leaving their first love. To the church of Thyatira, Jesus commended their service - I know your works, charity, service, etc - but you are not holy. You have given into unholiness. 

As a conservative church, we engage much in theological discussion. These are good. They sharpen us. We have various causes we are interested in - and rightly so. But have we allowed conflict to characterize them? Or pride? Precise in doctrine, unloving in character? We are concerned about Christian service - there are a hundred and one committees. But have we soothed our conscience by our busyness in them, and not pursuing after a deeper walk with Christ? Busy in service, lax in devotion. How have these things possibly have hindered us from pursuing after faith, hope, and love? Remember that the work of faith requires repentance.

Secondly, does the wonder of the gospel, the love of God, his grace in saving sinners like us - do these thing fuel our Christian living? Or are we simply doing it out of obligation? Because of the hope that is laid up in heaven, we live by faith, we love others. Because Jesus lived by faith and because he loved us. Dear friends, who are serving, fall in love with Jesus again. Dear friends who should be serving more - let Christ who came to minister be an example to us to minister.

And thirdly, I suppose a reminder to us ministers - that when we labor, let us labor that these fruits may be produced in the people. And let all of us remember, that Christ is our chief minister. He is the one that is working in us by his word. That we may live to produce fruit so that our Lord and Savior, shall be pleased with us. He above all, is working for our growth in maturity. He is equipping us with all that we need to do his will. That he would produce in us through his power, every good thing that is pleasing to him. And might he receive all glory because of that. 

Sermon Outline:
1. The Fruits that Cause Thankfulness 
A. His thankfulness
B. Their faith in Christ
C. Their love for Christians
D. Their hope for heaven
2. The Reason for Fruitfulness
A. The Gospel
B. The Grace of God
C. The Minister of God
Conversation for Change:
1. As you seek to bear fruit in Christ, how much does this trinity of virtues (faith, hope, love) feature in your growth? Or are you simply busy in Christian activities?
2. The gospel results in changed lives. How is it that a person can know the gospel and be genuinely saved and not exhibit that change? Or can't he?
3. How does the prospect of the gospel going forth in the world, changing lives, excite you?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Mark Chen

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