SCRIPTURE – Colossians 1:1-14 – Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit. For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[f] to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
A Cornucopia of Faith
Nov. 24, 2013
What’s your favorite day of the week? For mine, I know I’m supposed to say Sunday, and that’s a close second, but Friday is my favorite day because it’s my day off. For some, their favorite day is Wednesday because it’s Hump Day, or Saturday because of the weekend. On the flip side, most people would agree that their least favorite day is Monday because…well, because it’s Monday. Some don’t like Thursday because it gets in the way of Friday’s arrival. And some people I know don’t like Sundays, not because they have to listen to my sermons, but because it’s the last day of the weekend. At least, that’s the reason they tell me to my face.
But what about Tuesday? I don’t know anyone who would say their favorite day is Tuesday or their least favorite day is Tuesday. Tuesday is just there. Nothing to love. Nothing to hate. Just another day. In that case, Colossians is the Tuesday of the New Testament. There are New Testament books that people love, like the gospels or the letter to the Romans, and there are books that people strongly dislike…Revalation, anyone? But most people don’t have a strong opinion of Colossians, if they even know it’s there. In seminary, I had to learn a pneumonic device to remember some of Paul’s smaller letters. GE Power Company – Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians. There it is, tucked at the back of the bus. Colossians.
The unspectacularness of Colossians mirrors the unspectacularness of the city of Colossae. It wasn’t a cosmopolitan coastal town, like Corinth or Ephesus. It wasn’t a bustling capital city, like Rome. In fact, if Rome was the New York City of the ancient world, then Colossae was Lexington. Small city. Nice people. Good churches. But for many folks, it was more of a rest stop on the way to somewhere else than it was a destination. “Colossae? Yeah, I think I passed through there once.” Just a few years after this letter was written, Colossae was destroyed by an earthquake. Had that happened to Rome, we’d be reading about it in history books. But not Colossae. Solid but unextraordinary.
That probably describes the people who were in the Colossian church, as well. There were no rock stars or influential politicians in the congregation, just a group of people who went about their daily lives, trying to do the best they could to live out their faith, putting one foot in front of the other in order to pay the bills, raise the kids, put food on the table. They faithfully attended on Sunday, took an Angel from the Angel Tree every year, always brought a nice casserole to the potluck. Solid but unextraordinary. And yet, Paul calls them “saints.”
You could probably argue that this letter to the Colossians doesn’t really belong in the New Testament. There are no verses in its four chapters that are worthy enough to be crocheted on a throw pillow. Paul doesn’t make any profound theological statements or offer any unique spiritual insights. The message of Colossians is as simple as the town to which it was written: “Keep the faith. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Don’t let the turkeys drag you down.” Fairly run-of-the-mill stuff here.
The turkeys to which Paul was referring were false teachers who had infiltrated the Colossian church and were preaching a message different from that of Epaphras, the church’s founder. These false teachers were saying that the gospel he had preached to them was good but inadequate. It was a nice introduction, but if the people wanted to really know Jesus, they needed to invest in the deluxe package, which included observing more special holy days and worshipping the celestial powers as a way to gain special access to God’s wisdom. Epaphras did a decent job, they said, but it was not enough. The Colossians’ faith was not enough. They were not enough.
Paul’s reply is simple: “Jesus is enough.” Paul says in v. 6, “Just as the gospel is bearing fruit in other places, it is bearing fruit in you. You don’t need anything more than what Epaphras gave you. You just need to work that soil and plant those seeds, nothing else. The people around you are telling you that you don’t have enough. But that’s not true.”
Is that a message we hear today? “You don’t have enough. You’re not good enough. You aren’t enough.” We’re about to enter into a season when the false teachers of our consumer society will jackhammer that message into our consciences. You may think you have enough, but then you see what the folks on TV or the internet have, and all of a sudden you start to feel like a simple Lexingtonian in big, bad New York City. You didn’t know how little you had until you were shown how much more there was! Why stay ordinary when, for the right price, you can be extraordinary? Yes, we’re about to enter a season when it’s just not cool to be ordinary.
And yet, here we are, a bunch of ordinary folks. I don’t mean that in a demeaning way. There’s nothing wrong with being ordinary. We do the best we can to live out our faith, putting one foot in front of the other in order to pay the bills, raise the kids, put food on the table. Nothing spectacular. And yet, if Paul were to write us a letter, I bet he would address it to “the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ at Crestwood.” He would do that, not in spite of of our ordinariness, but because of it.
Paul knew that the people in Colossae were the epitome of what it meant to be faithful. The gospel was not going to spread and take hold through the efforts of one charismatic evangelist; it was going to happen one Christian at a time living out their faith in their daily life, multiplied thousands and thousands of times over. We may think that in order to leave our mark we have to make a difference to the world, when in reality we only have to make a difference to one other person. Christianity was built by ordinary people. The gospel was spread by ordinary people. Lives are changed by ordinary people. The world tells us, “You’re not enough. You’re not pretty enough. You’re not rich enough.” But Jesus says, “You’re enough.”
Paul says to the Colossians that, contrary to what the false teachers are saying, they already have everything they need. He writes, “For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”
You hear that? They were already enabled by God. Like a computer, they had already been booted up. Now all they had to do was live out the commands they have received. I like the subtle way Paul encourages the Colossians to keep the faith. He uses the same technique I use when I say to my girls, “I’m so proud of you all for cleaning your rooms later today.” That is the epitome of hope! Even though the Colossians might be going through a crisis, Paul trusts that they will do what they have been called to do. They will keep the faith.
There’s a natural progression Paul lists here for living out our faith: first, you bear fruit through doing good works; then, you grow in your knowledge of God. Wait! Isn’t that backwards? Don’t we first have to understanding everything about God before we can live out our faith? Don’t we need to feel adequate and equipped before we can teach a kids’ Sunday School class or participate in a small group? That’s not what Paul says here. Do the good work, and in the course of doing that, we grow in our knowledge of God. In other words, God is not some static subject about which to read and learn; God is a dynamic presence to be experienced as we serve others. Don’t worry about being good enough to serve; just serve.
As we serve and grow, then Paul says we are strengthened with all strength, an appropriate redundancy in there ever was one. Paul knows that an ordinary life of faith is no easy thing and it requires strength far beyond our human reserves. Every life matters to God because every life includes moments of great exhilaration and heartbreaking sadness. Even the most ordinary person matters to God, so God strengthens us so that we are prepared to endure everything with patience, whether it’s the onslaught of false teachers or a room full of pre-schoolers.
And then, as we bear fruit, as we grow in knowledge of God, as we are strengthened with all strength, we respond by joyfully giving thanks to God. Thanksgiving is not just a holiday in November, but it is a posture we choose to take. As we recognize God’s blessings in our lives, our joy wells up in us and overflows like a cornucopia, erupting in a flood of gratitude. Giving thanks with joy is our response to God’s presence in our ordinary lives; it’s our way of acknowledging that Jesus is indeed enough for us. A few weeks ago when I was preaching on the importance of singing I said, “We start with praise.” What Paul tells us in Colossians is, “We end with thanksgiving.” Praise and thanksgiving are the bookends to an ordinary life of faith lived extraordinarily well.
As we approach Thanksgiving and the start of Advent, I wonder what ordinary thing can you do this holiday season to make a difference to another person? There are a couple trees full of angels who need to know they are remembered by God. We have several display racks of greeting cards waiting to be sent to someone who feels disconnected or lonely. The simple, ordinary acts of buying a gift or writing a card can make a world of difference to someone. An important part of accepting that we have enough is recognizing that not all our brothers and sisters can say the same thing.
As we do this, living out our ordinary lives of faith, we remember that we are not just Lexingtonians; we are also citizens of God’s kingdom. And because we are citizens of God’s kingdom, each new day is not just another ordinary day – even if it’s a Tuesday! Each day is a chance to grow closer to God by bearing witness to God’s love and bearing fruit for the sake of others. Each day is a chance for us to be ordinary for God’s sake, trusting that through us, God can do extraordinary things. You are enough. Thanks be to God!