Lesson for Oct. 12
Who's No. 1?
By Joe McCammon
Truth is an essential part of any civilized society in our world. In order for a nation to hold together, it must have the strength of truth in government, economy, justice and foreign relations. From the most important supreme court decisions to legal disputes among neighbors, honesty backed up with law cannot be compromised. A witness in a court scene is required to stand before the judge and jury to pledge, “I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
The Apostle Paul's letter to the Colossians was written with the urgency of guarding the truth of the gospel against a per-version, a popular philosophy which was more dangerous than it seemed to be. Gnosticism, which comes from the word meaning “to know,” professed to set forth a higher knowledge and a more severely ascetic morality. Some of the thinking and prac-tices which tended to obscure and diminish the glory of Christ seemed to mix the laws of Judaism with certain Gentile and pagan philosophies. Paul's fear was that the resulting consequence would be the loss of evangelistic zeal among Christians to tell the good news of Jesus.
While Paul was in prison at Rome, he learned of the false teachings in some of the churches in the province of Asia. The churches at Colossae and Ephesus seem to have been deeply affected by this false teaching.
Suggestions have been given about the nature of what is sometimes called the “Colossian heresy.” Some may have insisted that keeping the Jewish laws and rituals was important and had thus drawn some Christians into, or back into, such practices. Paul desired for his fellow believers to make Christ first in thought and practice. He felt the best way to get this across was for the readers to learn again exactly what makes him No. 1 in their lives–their identity in Christ, faith backed up with love, good works and personal holiness through him.
Colossae was a city in the rich Lycus Valley, east of Ephesus. The church there grew up as a result of Paul's three-year ministry in Ephesus, the capital city of Asia. So far as we know, Paul never visited the church at Colossae though he was acquainted with its leaders and had a very vital interest in its welfare and progress.
Paul began the letter with his usual salutation. He identifies himself as an apostle, which to him was an honor and privilege. He humbly accepted the will of God in his life and the trials which went along with such a task set before him. He then points out his brother in Christ, Timothy, to be his companion and possibly one who helped him formulate some of the thoughts of the letter. It is possible that Timothy was well-known to the Colossians and was on their hearts as was Paul. Their identity as “brethren” drew them together to also identify with the gospel and their shared mission.
The apostle reminded them they themselves were saints, holy and faithful. They were to accept this honor with humility and gratitude just as he also had accepted his role in God's kingdom work. His first point was to establish the fact of who they were in Christ, and this in itself would continue the process of making him first in their lives. Paul knew that if they would acknowledge the proper place of Christ, the problems in their beliefs and practices would soon turn to that which brings glory to Christ.
Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I the Son of Man am?” After they listed the popular notions of their peers, Jesus got a little more specific: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus was not interested in the popularity of his name among the crowds. His concern was for their personal recognition of the Christ as supreme in their lives. Identity is a very important part of faith as it secures who we are in Christ.
Faith and love
Paul often emphasized two things which to him should be prominent in the lives of believers and clearly seen in the church (v. 4). Faith and love meant so much to Paul perhaps because of the absence of these in his life before Christ. The false teachings of which he was concerned among the Colossians was antagonistic toward faith and love.
The life of faith, on the other hand, is all dependent on the righteousness of Christ given over to each one who trusts in him. To Paul, the hope of any Christian is in the truth of the gospel, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Roman 5:8). The love we share in Christ is central to our walk to please God and to influence our world for him. Christ is No. 1 in a life which walks by faith and love.
Paul's “fellowservant,” Epaphras, had shared with Paul the condition of the church in Colossae. The acknowledgment of Paul's great joy in their faith and love also was filled with an expression of the real need for prayer in their spiritual situation. He wanted the Colossians to continue to grow in Christ and strive for a mature faith. Paul had hoped and prayed for the transforming power of the gospel to make a difference in their wavering ideas and practices. They must walk in a conduct that would reflect their spiritual relationship with the Lord because of their salvation experience (vv. 9-11). To be fruitful is never an option for Christians. Paul charged his readers with the mandate for every believer to produce fruit as the by-product of good works to the Father.
The spiritual power afforded the Colossians by Christ was to be displayed “with endurance and patience, with joy.” Conforming to the will of God would assure endurance in their journey as a Christian and patience through all of life's trials. The expression, “redemption through his blood” refers to his purchase of his people from slavery to freedom. The believer must share this freedom with all the world.
Texas Baptists have a very real challenge before them to announce the spiritual freedom from sin which they have experience to millions of people who are lost without hope. The involvement of every church and every believer is the only hope for them to hear the gospel and know the joy of salvation for themselves. Bearing fruit through good works for Christ makes it possible for him to be No. 1 to all.
Who he is makes him No. 1
Paul follows up his words of hope and prayer for the Colossians with a proclamation of those things which make Christ No. 1. Jesus Christ is the image of God, the firstborn of God, creator of all things and head of the body (vv. 15-18). Paul writes that he is “the visible likeness of the invisible God” (v. 15).
Some describe him as someone you can't ignore, while others believe Christ is just derived from our imaginations. A dictionary defines God as “a being with power above all human power.” Children may describe God as a very old gentleman who lives in heaven, often to be confused with the nice giver of gifts who lives at the North Pole.
The Bible teaches us that what we know about God is most sufficiently shown in what we know as the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul expressed the surety that only Christ could be mediator to God, and he freely brings us to God's presence: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Paul assumed the Colossians would continue in the faith. He encouraged them to remain fixed, however, in their allegiance to the truth of the gospel. His exhortation for believers to endure and persevere to the end takes into account the assumption that all Christians realize salvation as a gift from God is not retractable by him because of his supreme love and the sacrifice made for our righteousness. Any implication that the true child of God could lose such a gift actually denies the truth of God's grace.
The 1963 Baptist Faith & Message in section 5, titled “God's Purpose of Grace,” states: “All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by his Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, bring reproach on the cause of Christ, and temporal judgments on themselves, yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”
Who he is and who you have become in Christ mean you shall endure to the end. Do not lose heart. He will see you through this life and on to eternity.
Questions for discussion
Why were the beliefs and practices of the church at Colossae so important to Paul?
Describe the philosophy of gnosticism and how it affected many believers.
What was the name of Paul's “fellowservant” and why did he mean so much to Paul?
How can we be confident we will not lose God's salvation?