July 25, 2010

A Thankful Song - July 25, 2010

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Generally, our sermon readings come from different books of the Bible from one Sunday to the next. For example, our last four sermons readings came from: Ephesians, Galatians, Romans and Exodus.

Sometimes it’s helpful to stay in one book for a while, instead of jumping all over in the Bible from one Sunday to the next. One benefit is that you don’t have to study the context over and over, Sunday because you’re in that book on a regular basis! You know what happened in the last chapter, and you’ve read ahead into the next.

The books of the Bible were originally written as that, books that stood alone. If we study their entire contents together we make connections that are otherwise impossible to make. It’s kinda a no-brainer. If you study a whole book of the Bible you’re going to understand more than if you just get a snippet from chapter one during Christmas, and a chunk from chapter 5 in Lent, a piece of chapter 12 at Easter.

So, for the rest of the summer, we’re going to use the Sermon time during our Sunday worship to dig into the book of Colossians.

I’d like to ask you all a question. How’s your daily Bible time been going lately? You know, your quiet time, your devotion time?

Prayers don’t count. Singing along with that Christian song on the radio doesn’t count either.

How has your time with the Bible open been going lately? Daily? Not so daily?

What’s that you ask? How’s my time been going?

That’s not fair, I’m asking you.

Pastors get so much of the Word anyway, we really don’t need our own personal Bible time. Okay, so that’s not true. And my own daily devotion time hasn’t been going well lately. I haven’t been consistent at all. I’ll open up that Bible on the night stand and go, “Hmmm, which bookmark is the one I’m using?” That’s not a good sign.

Maybe you struggle with the same thing. It’s not surprising if you do. The Devil likes it when people let the Bible gather dust. He’d rather our conversations with God be one way: all talk TO God, no talk FROM God. Prayers are fine, great even, but we also need to hear what God has to say to us. And generally, He speaks through the Bible, not from the sky or in our heads.

Starting today, I’m going to be reading in Colossians. Since the sermon’s from chapter one, I’m gonna read chapter one - each day this next week. I suggest you try something similar, if you need to kick start the quiet time again too. Read Colossians chapter one tonight. And read it again Monday, and Tuesday. By the time you get to next Sunday, you’ll understand it a lot better and you’ll be able to see things there that you couldn’t before. I can guarantee that because the Holy Spirit is at work here.

For now, if you’ve got your own Bible, turn to Colossians1, verse 1.

The first verse reads…
“1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,” (Colossians 1:1 NIV).
Since I had a little time to read about Paul’s life this week, let me fill you in about where Paul is when he’s writing this. If you know everything about Paul already, just sit tight.

Paul’s father was Jewish born, from the Tribe of Benjamin. Somehow, Paul’s father was also an official citizen of Rome. This made Paul a citizen of Rome too. This was a very big deal. Back then, the Roman Empire took care of it’s citizens. In fact, you could be executed for claiming you were a citizen when you actually weren’t.

Anyway, little Paul grew up to be a member of the Pharisees, a super strict religious sect of the Jews. So, when the followers of Jesus started getting attention (after Jesus had risen from the dead), Paul looked into it.

He didn’t like it. He didn’t believe Jesus was God’s Son. And he set out to stamp out Christianity in it’s infancy.

Enter Jesus. While Paul was on his way to hunt down Christian in Damascus, the risen Jesus appeared to him, struck him blind and scared him half to death. Jesus told Paul that Paul was going to work for Him now, not against Him. Paul’s life was never the same.

He was baptized and almost immediately started to tell others the message sins forgiven through Jesus.

Okay. Skip forward a few years. By this time, Paul has gone on three mission trips, each longer and reaching farther into Asia Minor than the last. But when the last one ended in Jerusalem, Paul found himself in trouble. Some people wanted to kill Paul, and he was arrested. Paul would now have to face the authorities for preaching about Jesus.

That probably would have been alright. They probably would have let him go. But Paul appealed to Caesar instead.

You see, every Roman citizen could appeal to Caesar to judge their case instead of the local authorities. But if they did, then they’d have to go to Rome and wait in line for their case to be heard.

So, Paul went to Rome, preaching the message of Jesus to everyone he could along the way. When he got there, Paul waited. He had to wait under guard, but it was in a comfortable rented house, not some dungeon. He was free to have visitors and… …to write letters.

In the New Testament of the Bible, there are four letters in which Paul talks about being “in chains” while he wrote them. Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. These are sometimes called the captivity letters.

Okay. Look at Colossians 1, verse 2. It reads…
“2To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father” (Colossians 1:2 NIV).
The people Paul was writing to were Christians living in the city of Colosse. Interestingly enough, Paul had never been to Colosse. He had never met these people.

On his first mission trip, Paul hadn’t gone far enough to reach Colosse. On his second trip, Paul shot past Colosse to the north. Third trip, same thing.

You see, Colosse wasn’t a real big town. It was set in the Lycus valley, around 12 miles away from the more important cities of Hierapolis and Laodicea.

From Paul’s letter to the Colossians, it appears that a man named Epaphras had brought the Good News of Jesus to that town. Epaphras may have been the one who started the churches in Laodicea and Hierapolis also. Toward the end of Colossians we’re told that Epaphras was deeply concerned about the welfare of the congregations in these cities.

So, that’s the setting. Let’s hear what Paul has to say. Look at Colossians 1, verse 3.
3We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints—5the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel 6that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. 7You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8and who also told us of your love in the Spirit" (Colossians 1:3-8 NIV)

Ever since Jesus rose from the dead, the Gospel, the Good News about what His life means, has been spreading. If it wasn’t accepted in one town, Jesus’ followers moved on to another. And with each new congregation formed, more shoots grew out for the Message.

Each letter found in the New Testament has its own “tone”. The tone of Paul’s letter to the Colossians is “thankful”. At first, I thought it was “positive”, but I think “thankful” is a better description.

You can see the thankfulness in Paul’s first paragraph here. He’s thankful for the way God’s forgiveness has been spreading throughout the world, and especially in this case, he’s thankful that the Gospel has found a place in Colosse.

Paul says that Epaphras has informed him of how the Colossian Christians are full of faith (trust in God) and full of love for their fellow “saints” (in the Bible “saints” means “holy ones” – those declared holy by God through faith in His Son).

I’m curious. I wish we had some of the stories that Epaphras told Paul. How had the Colossians loved their fellow Christians? Had THEY brought the message to Laodicea and Hierapolis? Had THEY founded the churches there? What had they done to further encourage those churches?

Whatever they had done, Paul points out the source of their actions. Paul says right away that whenever he prays for the Colossian Christians He thanks God the Father (verse 3). Paul says that their faith and love was springing from the hope that they have in heaven because Jesus has erased their sins from God’s ledger (verse 5). Paul says that the Holy Spirit was the one moving them to do whatever good they had done (verse 7).

Through these Christians, the Triune God was bringing joy and support to other saints around them. So, Paul gives God the credit as he praises and encourages the Colossian Christians.

This must have been a pretty neat letter to get in the mail. Remember, Colosse wasn’t important to the world. It was just another small town. Their congregation didn’t have huge numbers to boast about. They weren’t like Jerusalem, where the church had first met. They weren’t like Antioch, where Jesus’ followers were first called “Christians”. But here comes a letter from the apostle Paul. For them! And he says, Hey guys, when I pray for you (Paul’s praying for us!) I thank God. I know all about what you’ve been doing for other Christians (Paul knows what we’re doing?!). It’s all part of God’s spreading Gospel, and it makes me thankful.

In verse 6 Paul wrote…
“…All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth” (Colossians 1:6b NIV).
Fruit trees reproduce by seeds. But those seeds are clothed in delicious fruit. That’s what we see when we look at the Colossian Christians. They were holding out the Good News of forgiveness and the seed of that message was wrapped in their love and faith.

Look at Colossians 1, verse 9.

The Holy Spirit sometimes compares God’s people to living things, like Sheep. You know the comparison there – Jesus leads, we follow. But God’s people are compared to a living PLANT that is spreading out, producing fruit and growing stronger.
“9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:9-12 NIV).
In this section, Paul gives a little preview of the things he’s going to talk about in this letter. When Paul prays for the Colossians, he asks for them to grow in knowledge of God’s will. He asks for them to learn how to live this knowledge. He asks for them to grow stronger and he asks for them to be thankful.

These things are going to come up in this letter. Knowledge of God’s will. The ability to live God’s way. Strengthening and thankfulness.

Closing up this section, Paul states reveal why the tone of Colossians is so thankful. Look at verse 12-13.
“12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:12-13 NIV).
You ever notice that you’re only thankful for things that are already done? Paul is thankful because through Jesus, His sins are already forgiven. He’s already part of the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Paul is thankful because God was at work in Colosse. God was there through His Son’s message, freeing sinners and bringing them out of the darkness and into God’s light.

Prayer: Father in heaven, thank you for communicating to us by your word. Thank you for bringing us to trust in Jesus. If we are down hearted and sad, open our eyes to all the blessings you bring to us even in a broken, sin darkened world. Open our eyes to all the people that know you. People we know and love. People we don’t know. People we’ve never met and never will in this world. Through our study of this letter to the Colossians, give us the same things Paul prayed for. Give us knowledge of your will, the ability to live holy and fruitful lives. Give us strength and endurance, and give us hearts that always sing a thankful song to you.


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