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Sun, Feb 06, 2011

3 - Paul, Apostle of Grace [b]

Colossians 1:1 by Robert Dean
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:57 mins 13 secs

Paul, Apostle of Grace. Colossians 1:1

 

Today there is little left of Colosse and though they once had glorious days they are gone. That should be a reminder to us that no matter what we invest ourselves into in terms of the temporal world—in terms of our businesses, our education, our finances—sooner or later it all goes back to dust and ashes. The only thing that counts is that which had eternal value, the production in our own spiritual life. That is a major emphasis in the epistle to the Colossians. Paul emphasizes fruitfulness in the opening prayer, vv. 3-8, 10. So fruitfulness, which is simply production in the spiritual life, is a major theme in the epistle. It is a great epistle for studying the spiritual life. But, like everything else that we study from Paul, the implications flow out of an understanding of who God is and what His plan is—specifically in this epistle, who Jesus Christ is. If we don't understand who Jesus Christ is and what He did then we can't really have a spiritual life that is grounded solidly on the teaching of God's Word.

The foundation for all sound doctrine is rally understanding grace. Understanding grace means we have an understanding of God's character because grace unmerited or undeserved favour from God and it is based on who God is, on His character, and what Jesus Christ did on the cross. We have to understand God's righteousness, His justice, His love, and we have to understand what Jesus Christ did on the cross in terms of paying the sin penalty for every single human being; that this was done not on the basis of what we do, any works that we do, but according to Titus 3:5, it is not on the basis of works of righteousness which we have done but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. So on the writing of Scripture Paul is uniquely the apostle of grace. It's not that the other apostles didn't emphasize grace but Paul more than any other explained grace to us so that we might have a better understanding of it.

As we hone in on the epistle to the Colossians we need to remember that it is in the first two chapters that Paul focuses on the fact that the worship of the true Christ means that He is supreme, sovereign and sufficient. "Supreme" means that just like God the Father He is sovereign, He is ruler over all. We see that in Colossians 1:16, 17 specifically in terms of the fact that is it by Him, the Lord Jesus Christ, all things were created and it is by Him that all things hang together. He is the one who holds the universe together and so the survival of the human race, the survival of planet earth, is not dependent upon human effort but is dependent solely upon the Lord Jesus Christ. As the one who is omnipotent He is the one who has that ability to preserve and maintain the creation.

Colossians 1:1 NASB "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, [2] To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ {who are} at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father."

Paul identifies himself as an apostle. That is, he recognizes that he is one of a group of apostles and that he is an apostle not by his own will (as he states in other epistles: not through men), but he was appointed an apostle directly by the Lord Jesus Christ. He includes those who are with him in the salutation because those in Colosse were familiar with Timothy. We know that Timothy was of those who were associated with Paul the closest. Timothy was very different from Paul in his personality. Paul was very strong and had tremendous confidence and was one of the most brilliant men in all of human history. He had one of the greatest educations of his time, or of any time.

Paul addresses the believers in Colosse as both saints and faithful brethren in Christ, and that relates to their position in Christ, that they are saints as every person who is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is. We are all saints. It means sanctified ones. The word means to be set apart to the service of something, set apart for a purpose. It has no ethical connotation. These believers are saints but that are also "faithful." That means they are practically applying the word, so they are growing in terms of their experiential sanctification.

In the first verse the emphasis is on the apostle Paul. His name, Paul or paulos [Pauloj]—Pauloj a)postoloj means "Paul an apostle." There is no article with the word "apostle" and this indicates that he sees himself as part of a group, a group that involves those who have been personally appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ for a particular task.

Summary of the life of the apostle Paul: Before he was saved Paul had been educated, possibly in Tarsus, but specifically we know that he was educated in Jerusalem. He was born to a Jewish family. His father was probably a fairly wealthy merchant in Tarsus, probably owned his own business which manufactured tents. We know that Paul was trained as a tent maker. That doesn't mean necessarily that he was the one who sat down with a needle and thread sewed tents together, but he very likely could do that because he would have learned the business from the ground up. He was also trained to be a rabbi. Regarding his time before salvation he says in Acts 22:3 NASB "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today." Gamaliel was the foremost rabbi at the time. The words "brought up" is an unfortunate translation because the word there in the Greek is anatrepho [a)natrefw] which has the idea of being educated. So he is speaking here of his religious education as a Pharisee in Jerusalem. That education emphasized the strictness of the Pharisaical code within Judaism at the time.

So Paul was brought up a Pharisee and he speaks of this in Philippians 3:4-6 NASB "although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless." In Judaism the righteousness came by obeying these various commandments that were added by the Pharisees—traditions of men. Also before salvation, Paul states in Galatians 1:13, 14 NASB "For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions."

But Paul realized in a significant event that nothing he did would ever give him points with God. What was it that Paul did; how much of a sinner was he? We learn in Acts 7 that he was a witness and participated (though somewhat passively) to the stoning of Stephen. Acts 7:58 NASB "When they had driven him out of the city, they {began} stoning {him;} and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul." In Acts 8:1 we see a comment of Saul who was witnessing this. NASB "Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles." Saul was one of those who was actively persecuting the Christians. Acts 9:1, 2 NASB "Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem." So he was not just focusing on Jerusalem but he wanted to go outside Israel to Damascus where there was a large Jewish community and begin to arrest and execute Christians there. The Sanhedrin had no authority outside Jerusalem and Judea but here they are giving him letters, so they are clearly violating the law and violating Roman law in giving him permission to do this. Acts 26:10 NASB "And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. [11] And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities."

Then on his way to Damascus he was confronted by the Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 9:3-5 NASB "As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He {said,} 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.'" In vv. 7-9 we learn that those who were with him heard the sound of the voice but they couldn't make out the specific words that were being said. They, too, saw the bright light. This is the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ appearing to Saul and fronting him with his sin against Jesus—not just against the Christians but they are viewed as the body of Christ.

Acts 9:6 NASB "but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do." Describing this, because it is at this time he is receiving his appointment as an apostle, he writes in Galatians 1:12 NASB "For I neither received it [The gospel] from man, nor was I taught it, but {I received it} through a revelation of Jesus Christ." So he received his understanding of the gospel directly from the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. Also regarding this the apostle states in Philippians 3:7-9 NASB "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from {the} Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which {comes} from God on the basis of faith." The focus is on knowing who Jesus Christ is. If we don't know who He is or what He did, and of we can't explain terms like "redemption, propitiation, reconciliation or atonement" then we can't really articulate what Jesus did, except in somewhat of a primary or elementary sense. We need to be able to think in terms of biblical vocabulary so that we are not forced to function and communicate at the level of the Children's Bible.

"… not having a righteousness of my own." He recognizes that all that we do to impress God just depresses God. God is not impressed with anything that we do, He is only impressed with what Christ did. He is only impressed with Christ's righteousness and if we don't have Christ's righteousness then God is not impressed at all and we are not saved. In this the apostle Paul understood grace: that is wasn't what he did, it was what Christ did and he simply trusted in Him alone. His understanding of grace is evident in 1 Corinthians 15:9, 10 NASB "For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me."

Then came his early Christian life. We are told in Galatians 1:17 that immediately after his salvation he left Damascus and went into Arabia. That is a rather loose geographical term of that time, it could include anything south of Syria. He just goes out into the desert for about three years just to study and reflect. He has to rethink his whole framework of thought that was so embedded in him by his study of the Pharisaical interpretation of the Law. He had to rethink his whole Old Testament understanding and re-evaluate everything. He came back to Damascus where he continued to argue and debate with those who were still promoting Judaism, then made his first trip down to Jerusalem and did the same thing there, challenging and debating his former allies, the Jewish leaders and Pharisees. He became extremely obnoxious—and that happens often with young believers. When he left Jerusalem and went back to Tarsus there was peace in the church in Jerusalem. He was there for eleven years where he labored in obscurity. It was not that he was doing nothing, it was that he needed that time of privacy out of the limelight to grow and mature as a believer and to implement what he had learned about grace in terms of his own life and humility, waiting on the Lord to call for him to use him.

This occurred, because when the church at Antioch needed some leadership there was one of those who was associated with the apostles by the name of Barnabas who said he knew just the man needed who was in Tarsus. He called on Paul to come and visit him. By this time Paul was going by his Latin name, Paulus, rather than his Hebrew name Saulus. He was given two names because when he was born he was Jewish but his father had Roman citizenship and that was passed on to Paul. His early Christian life was mostly in obscurity.

After he came out of obscurity he made four different journeys that we know of. The first three are referred to as his first three missionary journeys where he took the gospel first to Cyprus and to the south-eastern part of Turkey. On his second journey he revisited some of those churches, and then the Lord directed him to cross over into Europe—Thrace, Macedonia and areas of Greece—where he took the gospel. He came back to Ephesus for a while. At the end of his third missionary journey he decided he would go to Jerusalem. When he arrived he was recognized by the Jews there and this created quite a tumult. The Roman soldiers were called in, the Jews tried to blame Paul for stirring up the masses. Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship and they brought him out of Jerusalem for his own safety and took him to Caesarea where he was kept for two years. Then he appealed to Rome and was transported there. When he arrived in Rome he had various meetings with the leaders in the Roman church there and he spent two years in Rome under house arrest. Acts 28:30, 31 we are told he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters. During this time he was preaching the kingdom of God, always the message in Acts, related to the Old Testament prediction that the Messiah would come to offer the kingdom of God but that this message would also include the fact that because Jesus was crucified the kingdom was postponed. That is where the book of Acts closes, but what we know of him is that he was released. He travelled some more in Greece but he also probably also went to Spain, possibly he made it as far as Britain, and then as he came back to Rome he was arrested again, put on trial and executed.

His entire life was an expression of grace. That is why he penned Ephesians 2:8, 9 NASB "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, {it is} the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."