Colossians 1:1-14 Sermon

I was grateful for an opportunity to preach yesterday. I used Col 1:1-14 as a text and tried to get people to go back in time and think about the significance of what Paul was saying to these believers. The main features I focused on were the chiasm in vv4-8, drawing attention to the middle of verse 6, the triad of faith, hope, love, with Paul’s emphasis on love, and the list of four participles in vv9-14, with the sub-list of three reasons to be thankful to God. Don’t worry, I did not use the words “chiasm” or “triad.” I called the participles “-ing words.”

Title: Deep, Dark Knowledge

(outline follows)

  •  Intro

    • Johnny Appleseed festival, historic medicine show with ventriloquist, magic act, tonic {This is a reference to a local event. One booth had an old-fashioned medicine show like was done a century ago. They would do a show with magic, ventriloquism, etc. before stumping their special cure-all tonic. }

    • Some people are always looking for something new, different, deeper, darker, the “inside story.” They attend conferences and buy books, always looking for the next thing that will be the inside track to quick results. If you want to sell a medical book or a diet plan or book about government, bill it as secret knowledge “they” don’t want you to know. It intrigues us, makes us want to be on the inside.

    • Tension: What does the NT really say?

    • Turn to Colossians

  • Body

    • Literary

      • Colossians is an epistle, which is a letter

        • Letters have an opening, body, closing

        • Read in one setting

        • Epistles were spoken and heard more than written and read

          • Paul would have dictated it to a secretary (amanuensis), who would write it down

          • It was carried to the recipients, then read aloud, then carried to a different group, then read there – read to the group

          • This means that often we find sections written in such a way as to help a hearer understand and remember what was said. Sometimes certain words are repeated over and over, or a main point is framed with an opening and closing comment and the main point is in the middle – kind of like a sandwich.

        • They were written to a situation. The Colossians would have known the beliefs and problems. We have to reconstruct. This is important because the letter is like an answer – but what was the question? We have to try to fill it in so we can understand what Paul is saying.

    • History

      • If we don’t try to get back in time to understand a little about the situation this is written to, we won’t understand it. It is like listening to half of a conversation and jumping to conclusions.

      • We need to go back in time, before email and Internet, before phones and TVs, before airplanes, cars, and trains, before the United States existed, before Medieval times. It is after the world was conquered by Alexander the Great, and Rome rules the earth.

      • Colosse was a small agrarian town near a mountain – scenic area. I have only seen pictures, but it looks very pretty. Fields and flowers, with an 8,000 mountain in the background.

      • It was on an important trade route, but wasn’t all that important of a city.

      • It was just a few miles away from Laodicea

      • It was pretty far inland, away from Jerusalem, the Jews’ hometown. How did they come to be in Colosse? Josephus has a passage that described Antiochus the Great relocating a couple thousand Jews to this region. Remember this concept of a powerful leader uprooting people and moving them.

      • Religions

        • Jews were there. There would be “folk Judaism” in addition to formal Judaism.

        • Gentiles were there. There would be many false religions. There were no secular humanists. Science was not yet the god it is today. They were animists, with many gods. It is hard for us to imagine that point of view.

          • It may sound strange, but Christians were considered to be atheists by some. It is hard to believe that we would only have one God, and reject everybody else’s. The Romans conquered a lot of people. As they conquered, they would honor the gods of the land, and ask that their gods be honored. It was patriotic and expected. They weren’t used to putting their eggs in one basket.

      • It seems there is something bugging Paul and Epaphras about Colosse. There is some philosophy that pushing Christ to the side. Someone seems to be claiming that they have the tonic, they have the secret sauce, they have the deep, dark insights.

      • Epaphras seems to be someone who was saved under Paul’s ministry, then went back home and led quite a few people to the Lord and established a church there. The church would have both Jews and Gentiles in it. The Church there would be at least one house church. No First Baptist, Methodist, Community Church on the corner. Others around would see them meeting at night, and hear about strange rituals. Christians had to live day-to-day in a pagan world.

    • Our text: Col 1:1-14. Paul introduces himself and Timothy, per normal, then gives thanks and prays. There is something interesting about epistles: you can often tell what they are going to be about by looking at the opening thanksgiving. This whole section lays the groundwork. This section opens the book, the rest of the letter are the pop-up pictures. Remember that they are letters, intended to be digested at one setting.

    • Letter’s Intro, vv1-2

    • Thanksgiving, vv3-8

      • I grew up in a church that encouraged various men to preach from time to time. As a young man, starting at about 16, I was give opportunity to preach. For one early sermon, I noticed that faith, hope, and love seemed to show up together a lot.

        • Of course, Paul mentioned them in 1 Cor 13: faith, hope, love – the greatest of these is love.

        • Paul told the Thessalonians: “As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

        • And he told the Galatians: “For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.”

        • Paul could tell that the Colossians were growing. How? Because their faith was expressing itself. It affected their actions.

      • The main emphasis of verses 4-8 is in verse 6. You can tell that Paul frames verse 6 if you look above and below it. This is one of those sandwiches I mentioned earlier.

      • verse 4 opens, “we heard of your faith and love” and verses 7 and 8 closes with hearing from Epaphras, a faithful minister about their love

      • verse 5 says that their faith and love spring from their hope. They heard about this hope in the word of truth, the gospel. The end of verse 6 says they heard the gospel and understood God’s grace in truth.

      • And the meat in the middle: the first part of verse 6: The gospel that came to you is the same gospel that is bearing fruit and growing all over the world.

        • {This was my attempt at explaining the chiasm in vv4-8. It seemed to work OK. I had tried once before to explain a chiasm from the pulpit and swore never to do it again. It’s a simple enough concept but somehow it gets complex trying to explain it in a sermon.}

      • Two points:

        • 1) Paul is emphasizing hope (says that faith and love spring from their hope) – why? (To guard against false philosophies cutting in on their hope) The hope of heaven, the hope that we have in Christ is a very important part of our Christian doctrine.

        • 2) Why does Paul emphasize that their gospel is the same gospel world-wide? What is this gospel doing? (bearing fruit)

          • Bearing fruit is not a deep dark mystery. It is a process that takes time and attention.

          • Fruit is an important concept to the Christian life. It doesn’t happen overnight. It isn’t something we squint and grunt and do in our own strength. We must, must, must rely on the Lord for fruit. It is an issue of the heart. It isn’t about outward appearances.

          • Don’t need a local mystery cult with a shaman or else Judaism with a local Rabbi. They need God’s mystery = Christ

    • Prayer, vv9-14

      • There were lots of philosophies and mystery cults that had secret knowledge – just like the tonic

      • Paul prays for gnosis for them

      • And that they will please the Lord with their lifestyle (their “walk”). He lists four actions:

        • bearing fruit in every good work

          • again this theme of bearing fruit. You must be connected to the head to bear fruit. You don’t bear fruit overnight. It is an issue of the heart,not so much outward appearance.

        • growing in the knowledge of God

          • Again, Paul will later address a heresy where people have deep, dark knowledge about angels and about God. They are selling their special tonic. But here he prays for their knowledge

        • being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience

          • This is almost like a play on words, “being energized with energy according to his glorious might…”

          • they need strength to endure and be patient

        • joyfully giving thanks to the Father

          • 1) because he qualified them to share the inheritance – goes to hope

          • 2) he rescued them from darkness

            • darkness vs. light is a common theme in the NT

            • the rescue reminds us of the Exodus – God’s people being rescued from slavery

          • 3) He transferred them to the kingdom of God’s son

            • Remember the transfer of Jews from home to Asia Minor that we mentioned? The people of Paul’s day knew about powerful leaders conquering and area and transferring the people to a new kingdom. Jesus conquered our death and slavery and transferred us into his kingdom. His kingdom is one where the last goes first and the lords serve.

    • So What?

      • We may not have the same mystery religions or Judaism today, but there is always something trying to take our eyes off of Christ

      • Pray for others. Look for the positive. Give thanks.

      • Build hope, faith, love.

        • As mothers of small children, as men who go to work, as grandparents who are involved with adult children and with their children, as retired people who have neighbors and family and friends, we all need to keep developing faith and love, springing from hope

        • Your faith should show itself in loving actions. Esther —–, the parsonage, the bus.


      • Bear fruit. How? show love, patience, gentleness, thankfulness as we deal with others. Don’t coast!

      • Grow in knowledge of God. Don’t be gullible. Don’t let your relationship go stale. Don’t just go to church – spend time with God.

      • Be strengthened in patience, endure. Endure as neighbors, family, coworkers push your buttons.

      • Give thanks. It is so easy to focus on the negative. Look for the positive – give thanks.

      • Notice – none of this requires a secret method and none of requires you to send money to anyone with special insight. All of it is a process. It takes time. It is a lifestyle. It is something you have to keep doing. In other words, “All I need to know, I learned in Sunday School” isn’t going to work. Keeping up appearances isn’t going to work. We need to walk, grow.

  • Conclusion

    • We talked about bearing fruit

    • We talked about faith hope and love

    • This was in the context of Paul’s opening his letter with thanksgiving and a prayer

    • We talked about Paul dictating a letter that was to be read to the group

    • We talked about the history of Colosse and its surrounding religions

    • Final thought: don’t let anyone give you a magic show and sell you their tonic. Stay connected to Christ. He is your cure-all.


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