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Overview; The Sufficient Christ Changes Lives

 

Only the sufficient Jesus Christ changes lives. Paul's message is that the Jesus Christ of reality, the Jesus Christ of the Scriptures, is the only Christ that satisfies all of our needs. He is the only Christ that is sufficient for every need that the human being has. Only the biblical Jesus Christ can deal with every problem and difficulty in our lives, and the other christs/messiahs, other philosophical ideas and other religions, are found extremely wanting in comparison to a true understanding of the biblical Christ. And so this fits his structure in this epistle. The first two chapters are focusing on the superiority, the supremacy, the sufficiency of Jesus Christ: who He is as the one in whom the fullness of deity dwells bodily and that He is one with the eternal God, the creator of the universe.

So often we are focusing on the distinctiveness of the person of the Godhead that we struggle when it comes to the unity of the Trinity, the unity of the Godhead; and what we say of one person of the Trinity is true of all the persons of the Trinity. They are equally sovereign, equally love, equally just and righteous, equally eternal, equally omniscient, etc. They are, then, identical in their essence and what is true of one is true of the others.  When we talk about the Father as creator the Son also is creator, the Holy Spirit is creator. They had distinct roles but we can also speak of them as being part and parcel of what the other members did because of the unity concept within the Trinity. It is on the foundation of the eternality of Jesus Christ and the one who is the creator, preserver and sustainer of the universe that Paul is going to build his understanding of who Jesus Christ is. In the second chapter we focus then on what He did in terms of our reconciliation to God and the forgiveness and the wiping out and eradication of sin and of the sin penalty at the cross. And if we don't understand who Jesus is in chapter one we can't really comprehend the depth and breadth of what Jesus did on the cross in chapter two. If we don't understand those two we can't really get to the bottom line application in chapter three.

If you asked the apostle Paul to explain something, before he would start in the throne room of God. And he would make sure that you understood that the grain that made the flour that was necessary for the bun, and the cow that provided the meat that was ground up to be the burger patty, were all created by God. So for Christians the thought about the bun and the burger is not the same as the pagan. It is a different burger for the Christian than it is for the pagan. For the pagan it is a product of time plus chance, it just happened to be that way. But for the Christian it is by God's specific, directive, sovereign plan; He is the creator and the provider of everything that is there. Only then, after we made sure we understood that, would Paul then talk about how you process the beef, how you cook the beef, and how you bake the bun and put it all together. Most of us want to forget what would be called the theoretical thought, which is how philosophy categorizes that—the abstract ideas. We just want to get down to the nuts and bolts and that is because we are American pragmatists—the word Paul uses for that is "worldly." We want to leap to the application without understanding the why and the wherefores that lie behind the application. There is another word for that; it is called "legalism." Legalism says go do these ten things and you'll be fine, but the Scripture says it is not just the external observance of things that makes us spiritual, gives us a relationship with God and allows us to grow spiritually. We do the things that we are supposed to do because the internal thinking has changed. We don't want to be like the Pharisees and just be whitewashed tombstones with dead stuff inside, we need to change from the inside first and then that changes what we do on the outside. But we also don't have much patience with that. That is part of the thinking of our world as opposed to the thinking of the Greeks or the Romans at the time of Christ, and so we want to hurry up and get past the theoretical and get to the nuts and bolts so that we can figure out how to live our lives. We don't realize that to live our lives in service to God demands that we first change the way we think. That is what Paul says in Romans 12:1, 2. We are not to be conformed to the world, the spirit of the age, but we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It is our thinking that is at the core of our living.

The first two chapters of Colossians are going to focus on the supremacy, the superiority and the sufficiency of Jesus Christ. We learn who He is in the first chapter and we learn what He did for us in the second chapter, and why that is then superior to this false teaching that was being popularized in Colosse. It is contrary to the legalism that has come out of Judaizers, it is contrary to the mysticism that comes out of the culture, and it is also contrary to the asceticism that is part of that false religion as well. Having established that, then Paul goes into the second part of the epistle in chapter three where he talks about the fact that because Jesus is the sufficient, superior, supreme Lord of the universe we must submit to His authority. We must live a certain way. This is not some abstract doctrine, it changes the way we think and the way we live. It is at that point that we begin to see a series of imperatives, commands that are directed toward our volition, addressing believers that we should think, live or act a certain way.

The first imperative that we find is in 2:16, the second in 2:18: Let no one judge you; let no one cheat you. Those are the only two imperatives in the first section of the epistle and they come near the end as Paul is beginning to transition into application. But once we get into chapter three we start getting a series of imperatives. In verse 1 we are commanded to seek those things which are above; v. 2, Set your mind [think] on things above—again emphasizing thought first, action later; v. 5, Put to death your members which are on the earth; v. 8, Put of all of these, anger, wrath, etc.; v. 9, Do not lie to one another; v. 12, Put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; v. 14, Put on love. And that is not the end of the commands, there is command after command after command. This is where we get into the nuts and bolts. Legalism jumps to a series of commands and says let's focus on just doing these things without ever understanding the why, the wherefore, the thought frame that should life behind and motivate the actions. That is why it is legalism, because it just focuses on superficial action as opposed to the eternal thought shift.

In terms of looking at a person's life there is person A who doesn't lie, doesn't cheat, is very moral, and there is person B who doesn't lie, doesn't cheat and is very moral. One is doing it superficially (legalism); the other person is doing it out of an understanding of grace and biblical truth. Externally they might look the same but internally there is the difference between a person who is a vibrant, active believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and the other person who is just a dead man trying to look like he is alive, and he doesn't produce anything of spiritual value.

Going back and looking at the first half of the book we will pick some of the key things. In the first two verses we have the typical salutation from the apostle Paul where he identifies himself, says that he is accompanied by Timothy, and that he is addressing the believers in Christ who are in Colosse. He says, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father." Even though this is a typical salutation from the apostle Paul, when we look at this through the eyes of the Colossians who are being influenced by this heresy, who think of the Old Testament God as this God who is way, way, way out there, and that there is this series of emanations that have come forth from Him—the Old Testament God, Jesus, angels, prophets, the whole chain of being that is there and you really never know this God of gods—this just has a nuance to it that explodes that whole viewpoint. Because what Paul is saying is that it is God who directly gives us grace and peace. There is no ladder of emanations in between us and God. So he has these little statements like that that take on a different significance in this epistle in light of the thinking of those to whom he is writing.

Then in vv. 3-14 he focuses on prayer: what Paul is praying for and his thankfulness to God for what had been provided in the Colossians and their spiritual life, and then in 9-14 what he is specifically praying for in terms of these Colossian believers and their spiritual life. What we see in vv. 3-8 is a focus on thankfulness for something that is future. Colossians 1:3 NASB "We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you." "By praying" is an instrumental participle, "by praying always for you." Then the next verse is an explanation of the constant prayer for them. Verse 5 starts NASB "because of the hope laid up for you in heaven," and that completes the thought and explains the caused of his gratitude. The main clause reads, "We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because of the hope which is laid up for you." He has a future orientation here. He talks about their present faith, the application of that faith in their relationships in terms of their love for one another and that this is oriented towards a future destiny which is the hope that has been laid up for them in heaven. So we see that Paul's famous triad is evident in these verses: faith, hope, and love. But it is the hope that is future that is the cause of his thankfulness.

We will see also in this paragraph that this faith hope and love is based upon truth. Twice we have this emphasis on truth. That also would resonate against the thinking of those who hold to this false teaching in Colosse. They have this hope because of the word of truth of the gospel. In verse 6 he says that they are thankful because the gospel has brought forth fruit among them "since the day you heard {of it} and understood the grace of God in truth." So we have this emphasis on truth in various places, and again we have mention of bringing forth fruit, v. 6, and being fruitful is mentioned is v. 10, and several other times in the epistle. So a major focus for Paul is understanding that our salvation and the fullness of the gospel (in the biblical, not the charismatic sense) impacts every area of life and then produces spiritual growth and spiritual productivity.

In vv. 9-14 we see Paul's specific petition on behalf of the Colossians, and the focus of his prayer is that believers can be filled with knowledge so that they may live worthy of the Lord. He wants them to be filled with knowledge toward an end. His purpose is that we can walk or live (walking is always a metaphor for living) in a manner that is worthy of the Lord. In light of all that He is and all that He has done for us, then in gratitude we should live in a manner worthy of Him. He states in v. 9 that he is praying for them and his purpose is stated in v. 10, "that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord."

That end game walk is defined by four participles. These participles are best understood as instrumental of means. How do we walk worthy? We walk worthy by a) "being fruitful in every good work; b) "increasing in the knowledge of God." How do we increase in the knowledge of God? By studying His Word and making that a priority in our life so that nothing that we do is more important than our understanding of who God is and what He has done for us and our understanding of His Word; c) by being "strengthened with all power," and that relates to the Holy Spirit, a similar phrase to Ephesians 6:10-12 relating to the fact that God is the one who strengthens us in the angelic conflict and spiritual warfare; d) giving thanks. So gratitude is an essential part of our worthy walk with the Lord.

But that gratitude then is related to four reasons. We give thanks to the Father, first of all, because He "qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light." This is going to bring us into the whole doctrine of judgments and rewards. Second, because "He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and" third, "transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son." The kingdom hasn't been established yet, so this is generally understood as a proleptic view of the kingdom, i.e. this is our destiny. That fits within the context because he is talking about inheritance which is future; he talks about hope which is future, so the kingdom also is future. Hope is our position in the kingdom where we receive our inheritance. Fourth, "we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." Redemption is a price that pays off a debt. What we will see is that these two ideas of redemption and forgiveness are further expanded when we get into the second chapter, specifically in vv. 13-15 and that the forgiveness of sins has to do with the eradication of the certificate of debt that was against us and that we have objective forgiveness of the sin penalty which took place at the cross.

Then having focused on his prayer Paul transitions in verse 15 to the next major division of this first section the epistle. From v. 15 through 2:7 we learn that only the true Christ is sufficient because He is superior to all, He is sovereign over creation. We learn first of all in v. 15 that He is the image of the invisible God. That mean He is an exact replication of the invisible God the Father, who has not been seen but we know Him only through Jesus, according to John 1. Second, Jesus is the firstborn of all creation. We think of firstborn as first in order but firstborn in Greek has the idea of eminence, position, not order. So He is the pre-eminent one who is over all creation. Third, we learn that He is the creator: "by Him all things were created, {both} in the heavens and on earth." He is involved directly in creation but in terms of the unity of the Godhead He is just as much creator as the Father or the Holy Spirit; "visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities." That includes the material as well as the immaterial. Why is that important? Because of the dualism in this Colossian heresy that draws a distinction between matter and that which is spirit: that that which is matter is somehow tainted by sin and finitude and is not as significant as that which is spiritual. So what Paul is emphasizing here is that God is equally the creator of all that is immaterial as well as all that is material, all that is spirit as well as all that is physical, and you cannot draw this distinction saying that one is superior to the other. Fourth, we learn in v. 17 that He is the one who sustains and maintains the universe: "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." Man can't mess it up. We can mess up a few little things, a river here and this and that; but we can't do what the global warming people think we can do, because Jesus Christ is in control and He has built internal scrubbers into the warp and woof of physical reality so that man cannot destroy himself. He will come close to it but that is all under the sovereign control of God and we just have to wait for the Tribulation before it really gets bad. Fifth, v. 18, "He is also head of the body," and head as we will learn does not have to do with source (e.g. source of a river). The Greek is never used that way. Head has to do with authority, with the person who is in charge. Jesus is the authority of the body, i.e. the body of Christ, the church. "He is the beginning, the firstborn (in relationship to the resurrection) from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything."

Then that is related to reconciliation, v. 20 "and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself" in reference to not only Jesus but to the entire Trinity, "having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, {I say,} whether things on earth or things in heaven." Once again, it includes both the physical and the spiritual, the material and the immaterial. This is a direct attack on the teaching of the proto-gnostics, the teaching of the heresy in Colosse. Then in v. 21 "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, {engaged} in evil deeds, [22] yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body" – material, it wasn't just some apparent ghost that appeared on the cross, which was the teaching of Docetism.

In v. 24 he goes on to say that because of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done He is now a minister to all. "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions." Once again he is dealing with the contrast between the flesh and the spirit, the material and the immaterial, the physical and the spiritual. He is talking about the sufficiency of Christ in our day-to-day physical existence. On the basis of that [25] "Of {this church} I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the {preaching of} the word of God, [26] {that is,} the mystery which has been hidden from the {past} ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints." This is not the mystery of the Gnostics which was only for the spiritual elite but a new revelation, i.e. the New Testament, which has been revealed to the saints. It is for all the saints. [27] "to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."

Colossians 1:28 NASB "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ." Wisdom is an important code word in Gnosticism: it is only for the spiritually elite, that was their thinking. In Christianity the wisdom is for every believer.

Starting in chapter two he talks about the fact that there is complete knowledge in Christ. Verse 2, "…to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding," it is available to every believer, "{resulting} in a true knowledge of God's mystery, {that is,} Christ {Himself}" – both of the Father and of Christ. [3] "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." If you want to have real wisdom and knowledge, it is not in esoteric philosophy, not in New Age thinking; it is in the knowledge of the Scriptures and in Jesus Christ, and that is available to every believer.

Verse 6, "Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, {so} walk in Him," an imperative; "beware," v. 8 is an imperative; v. 16, Let no one judge you; v.18, "Let no one cheat you." Those are the four imperatives in chapter two. How did we receive Christ? By faith. We walk by faith and not by sight, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:7. That doesn't mean that walking by faith doesn't include certain procedures that are relevant and important to the Christian life. We are to confess our sins, we are to pray, we are to witness, we are to read the Scriptures, we are to study, and we are to worship. All of those are things are part of our walk in faith, we don't say well I am believing God will forgive me of my sin and then never think about it again. That means [7] having been firmly rooted {and now} being built up in Him and established in your faith [the body of doctrine], just as you were instructed, {and} overflowing with gratitude."

Then we are warned against philosophy. Colossians 2:8 NASB "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception…" And then the explanation, [9] For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, [10] and in Him you have been made complete [positionally]…" He goes on to refute legalism, mysticism and asceticism. Legalism is refuted in vv. 11-15 because on the cross Jesus Christ wiped out the certificate of debt against us. We have forgiveness because of what Christ did for us. That's legal forgiveness. The penalty of sin is forgiven and wiped out, so the issue for the unbeliever isn't sin, it is Christ. His sin has been paid for.

On the basis of this, [16] "Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day--; [18] Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize [reward]," again focusing on the future. If you are living on the basis of a pseudo-Christ and the pseudo spiritual life you'll end up with nothing at the judgment seat of Christ and you'll enter heaven as through fire, and there will be shame at the judgment seat of Christ.

In vv. 18, 19 he refutes the mystical idea of focusing on angels and things which we have not seen, i.e. the whole emanation ladder of emanations from God. And in vv. 22, 23 he refutes the asceticism which is the focus on just giving up externals because somehow in the giving up of things one becomes spiritual.

All of that is the doctrinal foundation for understanding the imperatives of chapter three. Chapter three shifts to the fact that because Jesus Christ is sufficient, superior and sovereign we are to live a certain way. We are to submit to His authority because He is the head of the church. In v. 1 we are to focus on the things above. We are to have the priorities that God has and not the priorities that our friends and neighbors have. Second, we are to set our minds on the things above, i.e. on eternal truth and not on relative truth. Third, we are to put to death the members on earth. This is a term related to Paul's discussion on sanctification in Romans chapter six, that when we trust in Christ we are identified with His death, burial and resurrection, and therefore at that point we are positionally free from the power of sin in our life. So we are to "reckon ourselves dead to sin." We do this by putting off sin, i.e. stop doing it.  He emphasizes putting off in verse 8 and putting on, i.e. the character qualities that should characterize us.

Then there are two present active imperatives in vv. 15, 16 and dictating that they should characterize our life all the time. Colossians 3:15 NASB "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. [16] Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you…" We do that through the filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit because the results of living these two commands are the same as the results of being filled by means of the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18. That involves, "and admonishing one another with psalms {and} hymns {and} spiritual songs…" We admonish each other not by getting in somebody else's face and saying you'd better straighten your life out, but by singing hymns and psalms and spiritual songs. So singing hymns isn't just something you tack on at the beginning of the service because that is what we do traditionally. According to Paul in both Ephesians 5:19 and here in Colossians 3:16 it is part of the indication that one is a growing, maturing believer. If you don't like singing hymns you need to have a little sit down with the Word of God and the Spirit of God because you are not growing as a believer.

Then it has application in the Christian home. All of these are present active imperatives, which indicates that they should be a continuous characteristic in our life.

Colossians 3:18 NASB "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. [19] Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. [20] Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. [21] Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. [22] Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who {merely} please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. [23] Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, [24] knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve."

Then in chapter four, "Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven." Implication: you will be held accountable for how you take care of your employees. In verse 2 is a return to the emphasis on prayer, "Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with {an attitude of} thanksgiving."

We are to walk in wisdom, and that is the last commend in reference to the spiritual life. Colossians 4:5 NASB "Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity." Time management is a reflection of your ability to walk in wisdom.

The conclusion to the epistle is in vv. 7-18 where Paul gives various greetings and short messages in relation to those who are with him to those who are in Colosse because they know one another.