2018-5-27 Blessings from the Beginning

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          May 27, 2018

“Blessings from the Beginning”
Colossians 1:1-2

I am becoming more convinced, over an increasingly long life and preaching ministry, that sermon series through books, or significant section thereof, is the best way to preach the whole counsel of God.  We had a sermon series through the whole of Philippians here five to six years ago, and we did the same thing through Ephesians two years ago.  This summer, perhaps into fall, God willing, we shall have a sermon series through Colossians.

Once we complete this series—sometime later this year—we will have completed three-fourths of the prison epistles of the Apostle Paul.  Only Paul’s brief letter to Philemon would remain to complete the entire set.  In each of these prison epistles, God has for us, through Paul, significant doctrinal and ethical teaching—and Colossians is no exception.  We learn from this letter, as from Paul’s letters generally, both what to believe and how to act in concert with what we believe.  Let’s begin Colossians today with the Spirit’s opening blessings, as conveyed through the Apostle Paul’s pen.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

Paul first words conform to standard convention in the ancient Greco-Roman world.  He introduces himself in what appears to us to be a florid manner, but this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the Colossian church is not as well-known to him as churches of his human founding—such as Philippi and Thessalonica—and he likely is not as well-known to them personally as other Christian workers are.  He calls himself—and rightly at that—an apostle of Christ Jesus.  Hence, Paul is one sent by God with a special commission, viz., to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles (non-Jews) in previously unreached areas.  He also is one sent by God with special qualification, namely, one who saw the risen Christ—in his case on the Damascus Road in a special vision (Acts 9:1-19).  Paul, the apostle, endures house arrest in Rome at the time he wrote this letter (ca. A. D. 60-62) for his faith in and testimony unto Jesus Christ.  It grows late in Paul’s life and ministry when he writes Colossians.  He is between his mid-fifties and mid-sixties by this time, and he has been in Christ for twenty-five to thirty years—and he was ministering almost from the time of his conversion.  This is he who writes by the Spirit’s leading to the church at Colosse.

Now we need to know a bit about the original recipients of this letter: the church at Colosse.  The city of Colosse is in modern-day southern Turkey—about 100 miles from the western seacoast.  Though Paul founded many New Testament churches, he did not found the Colossian church; that honor belongs to Epaphras.  This fact explains certain phrasing in the letter—phrasing that we shall examine in weeks to come.  Colosse stood quite near to Laodicea, one of Revelation’s seven churches (Revelation 3:14-22), and that fact will matter especially toward the end of this letter.  The Colossian church is a church—like ours—that stands to benefit in from the instruction and encouragement contained in this letter.  Let’s turn now to just a bit of that encouragement, namely, the two blessings contained in verse two.

First, the Lord through Paul extends grace to the readers—or hearers—of the letter.  By grace (Greek charis [cariV]) we mean simply the unmerited favor of God.[1]  The Newsboys, an Australian contemporary Christian group, explain grace in a twofold way: we get what we don’t deserve (mercy, forgiveness), and we don’t get what we deserve (judgment, condemnation).[2]  Consider, similarly, the double imputation of Christ: our sins were imputed to him, and His righteousness is imputed to us (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).  The foregoing demonstrates what the word grace implies: both generosity and lavishness on the one hand, and good will from God toward us on the other hand.  This not only is Paul’s Spirit-led benediction to the Colossian church, but also it is the Lord’s good word to us.

Second, the Lord through Paul extends peace to those receiving this letter.  The word peace (Greek eirene [eirhnh]) has several nuances that we need note.  Peace, according to Scripture, involves cessation of hostilities: both between God and us and increasingly between persons and groups.  Peace also involves freedom from worry and anxiety.  This squares with what Scripture says elsewhere.  Paul writes to the Roman Christians, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).  The prophet Isaiah declares to God, as his audience overheard, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed upon Thee, because He trusteth in Thee” (Isaiah 26:3).  Paul wrote the Philippian Christians about this near the time of the letter to the Colossians, saying, “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).  Not only does peace involved cessation of hostilities and freedom from worry, but it also involves supernatural tranquility and calm.  This is well expressed by the contemporary Christian group 4Him in their song “Where There Is Faith,” which says, in part, “Where there is faith, there is a peace like a child sleeping.”[3]  Now that is peace that passes all understanding.

Paul, obviously, will have much more to say to the Colossian Christian households, and to us, in the balance of this letter.  Yet the Lord said plenty to us through Paul today.  Grace to you, each and all, and all it entails.  Peace to you, each and all, and all it entails.  May God, through Christ, indeed give you these in deep plenty by the sweet, secret work of the Holy Spirit.

AMEN.

[1] I learned this succinct definition of grace from Dr. Joe Renfro many years ago at youth group at the Lavonia (GA) Presbyterian Church (PCUSA).

 

[2] From a song entitled “Real Good Thing,” performed by Newsboys on their 1994 album Going Public.

[3] “Where There Is Faith,” recorded by 4Him on their 1990 album 4Him.

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