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January 13, 2008
The Way to Encourage – Part 2
Series: Above All
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Colossians 1:1-2

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This series addresses the wealth and worth of knowing Jesus Christ. Paul reminds the church that all things consist and have cohesion in Christ. He is creator, mediator and redeemer. He is ultimate. Is your life turned into yourself, or out towards others for the sake of the Gospel? As a believer, where are you serving, who are you serving and at what cost are you serving? We are those who by God's grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, and have been set apart for God, to God. Therefore, you are either a saint or an ain't, but there's no in-between. This term doesn't deal with how you act as a saint, but by implication, when you understand that you have been set apart for God, that's got to impact how you think and the way you act.

More From This Series


Colossians chapter one, verse one. Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ Jesus who are in Colossae. I don’t know if you’ve been following a story today that’s been developing out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Attention has been focused on an absentee ballot that was sent in with the election that’s just passed. And the reason that a lot of attention is being shown to this absentee ballot is that some believe that the ballot had an Inverted Jenny stamp on it. Now, this is a very rare stamp. It was part of a run of stumps that were printed in 1918 by the postal services. It’s called an Inverted Jenny because it’s a 24 cent postage stamp with an airplane that turned upside down, because during the printing four sheets went in backwards.
The mistake was caught, the four sheets were pulled out. Three were destroyed, one survived, 100 stamps in all, and over time they have disappeared and for 88 years avid stamp collectors have been trying to get their hands on an Inverted Jenny. It seems that one of the election supervisors noticed the possibility that the stamp on the absentee ballot was an Inverted Jenny. The ballot went into a box, which by law now cannot be opened. And so there’s all sorts of legal shenanigans going to on to see whether this box can be opened and whether they can find out for sure and it can be authenticated as to whether this absentee ballot has an Inverted Jenny 24 cents stamp, dating 1918. If it is the authentic thing, it’s worth $200,000.
That’s what makes this story interesting because somebody didn’t know the wealth and the worth of what they possessed. Be interesting to see how this story develops, but it seems to me as I read that on the internet today, that it kind of sets us up to just come back for a few moments into the book of Colossians, because it seems to me that this letter, this epistle written by Paul, from Rome to Colossae, delivered by the hand of Tychicus to the church that met in Philemon’s house, that he wanted to remind the Colossians of something that they may have been forgetting.
And that was the worth and the wealth that they possessed in possessing and being possessed by the Lord Jesus Christ. If you were with us this morning, we looked at the city, we looked at the church ,and we looked at the controversy. This is a church that was being invaded by a heresy that taught that Jesus Christ was not God, that Jesus Christ was not the creator, but that Jesus Christ was an emanation. A little God, a spirit being created by God. That the Lord Jesus Christ was part of a chain of emanations from God. And while he was a means to knowing God, he certainly wasn’t an end. With regards to the means, he was only a starting point and you had to move past him and up the chain of emanations until you eventually came to a true experience, an encounter with God through gnostic insight, through the worship of angels, through these series of spiritual encounters that was part of the gnostic faith. And the implication of that heresy, should it be embraced by the churches, that they would be left with a diminished Christ.
Paul understood that if this heresy gained a foothold in the church at Colossi, the wealth and the worth of Jesus Christ would be diminished and undersold. And so he writes this letter to encourage them to be mindful of the fact that Jesus Christ was God come in bodily form, that Jesus Christ was the creator of all things. He is Creation’s center. In fact, in him, all things consist, all things find their cohesion. He is a mediator. He is a Redeemer. In fact, he’s the only mediator. He’s the only Redeemer. And so here is a letter that’s written to a church to remind them of the supremacy and the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a good letter for us in a day in which, in America, we’re being told that all faiths are equally right. That Christianity is not superior to Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism. That there are many roads to God. That Jesus Christ is good, but he’s not great. That Jesus Christ is penultimate, but he’s not ultimate.
And so we started to look at this letter and we started with the opening two verses, which is a classic greeting of the time. And I want to come back to it for the remainder of the time tonight. There are three things in these opening two verses. We started to look at the first one of them this morning. There’s their leaders, there’s their lives, and there’s their locations. Let’s move quickly. We started to look at their leaders. Paul and Timothy want to exercise a leadership over this church. They want to help them steer past the dangerous and deceptive road of gnosticism. They want them to stay on the main road, which is a clear understanding that Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh who give himself on the cross to make a payment for our sins so that mankind can be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and faith in him.
Paul and Timothy want to remind this church of those great truths. We looked at Paul the Apostle. We reminded ourselves that the Apostles were a unique group of men. And we saw that there are no Apostles today. And he claimed that the country is fallacious, is false, and contrary to God’s word. We’re now moving to look at Timothy the associate. Having looked at Paul the Apostle, we want to look at Timothy, the associate. Look at how the letter begins. Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother. Timothy was Paul’s son in the faith. He was a coworker in relation to the gospel and global missions. As we said this morning, Paul was probably in Rome. He was under house arrest. It was his first imprisonment according to Acts 28, verse 30 to 31. And we can tell from this letter, which is known as a Prison Epistle, and from the other Prison Epistles, i.e. Philippians, that Timothy must have been with Paul for part of his imprisonment.
We have no sense that Timothy was imprisoned with Paul, but he was there to help Paul, to serve Paul, to be a companion to Paul. We see this again in Philippians, chapter one, verse one, which again is a Prison Epistle written around the same time as Colossians. Paul and Timothy, bond servants of Jesus Christ. And I know that Paul certainly appreciated the presence and the partnership of Timothy, because look at how he describes him. Our brother. That’s a term of endearment. And so in the hostile environment of Rome, Paul was braced by the presence and partnership of Timothy. Although there may have been others that visited Paul, certainly Timothy had a special place in Paul’s heart. As I said this morning, I think Timothy served Paul in one particular way, in that he became Paul’s amanuensis. He became Paul’s scriber, secretary. He wrote down what Paul dictated to him, which became the contents of the book of Colossians.
We kind of saw this morning that at the end of this letter, Paul acknowledges that the salutation at the end, the final greeting at the end, he wrote with his own hand, implying that the aforementioned content of the letter was written by somebody else. And it would be a good assumption to believe it was Timothy since he mentions him particularly at the beginning of the letter. But here’s what I want us to see just by way of practical application. I want you to see Timothy’s mindset and heart. Timothy was there for Paul. He was willing to do whatever was necessary to help Paul and aid the churches and advance the gospel.
In fact, I can tell you what his mindset was. Did you hear what I said a few minutes ago? Philippians was written around the same time as Colossians, somewhere between AD 60 and AD 61. Look at what Paul writes about Timothy in Philippians, chapter two, verse 19. He’s with Paul while he writes the letter to the Colossians. But sometime around this time, he’s going to be sent to the Philippians. And we read here, Paul commanding him in Philippians chapter two verse 19, “But I trust in the Lord Jesus, to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state, for I have no one like-minded.” That’s a term that means equal souled. You know what Paul saying to the Philippians? I know you would like me to come by [inaudible 00:10:20] and Timothy, and he’s got as big a heart for you as I have.
He’s like-minded, he’s equal souled. I’m sending him to you. He sincerely cares for your state. Look at verse 21, “For all seek their own, not the things which are of Jesus Christ, but you know his proven character, that as a son with his father, he served with me in the gospel. Therefore, I hope to send him at once.” Do you see the mindset in the heart of Timothy? Timothy’s was a life patterned after the cross, not turned in on itself but turned out towards others for the sake of the gospel. Let me just make an application and move on. Where are you serving? Who are you serving? And I think there’s even a question beyond those two. It’s good to know you’re serving somewhere and you’re serving someone, but I may ask even a third question. And at what cost are you serving?
We can even serve the Lord Jesus Christ and hold things in reserve. But Timothy shows us as an associate to Paul the Apostle that the Christian ought to serve others where God places that Christian, and they ought to serve others with a heart that is selfless and sacrificial. And it’s got to be a challenge to us. We continue to need help. And it continues to baffle us as a staff at our meetings with a church this size, why can’t we not, in areas of our ministry, meet the demands of ministry? It’s because many of our people are not serving. They’re being served, but they’re not serving. Families are dropping their kids off on our children’s ministry, but never helping that ministry. People are coming and enjoying the worship and the music, but never helping in the music program. Folks, who are you serving? Where are you serving? And how are you serving? That’s the leaders. Number two, let’s look at their lives.
We move from the author to the audience. The audience is described for us, Colossians 1, Paul an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother. Colossians 1 verse two, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colossae. Paul describes their lives. He describes their testimony for Jesus Christ in the city of Colossae. And what’s interesting me, just by aside, is that Paul will challenge this church. There are things that need to be corrected, but as always, Paul does it with a gentle hand and a loving heart. Before he condemns them, he commends them. Before he challenges them he likes to celebrate them, which reminds us in regard to confronting people or counseling people, that the low road is to speak of nothing but a person’s fault while the high road is to first note that things they have done well. It’s a good benchmark if you’re a parent chastising your child, or if you’re in the middle of a confrontation or a counseling situation with someone else.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:7, that love believes all things. And if you remember back to our study in 1 Corinthians 13, that could be rendered “love believes the best.” And it seems to me when Paul writes these letters, although he knows their faults, he knows what needs to be fixed. He nevertheless believes the best about them. And he says that up front. There’s two things about their lives they want us to see: their holiness and their hardiness. Look at their lives and how Paul describes them. Beginning of verse two, “To the saints”. That line is a word that carries the idea of those who have been set apart.
Some translations will render it in the adjective form as “the holy ones.” It speaks of someone or something dedicated to God. And so Paul writes to this church and he recognizes their holiness. This is a word that speaks of our belonging to God. Fundamentally, it doesn’t speak of what we do. Fundamentally, it speaks of who we are. It speaks of our position, not our condition. We are saints. We are those who by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, have been set apart for God, to God. Therefore, you are either a saint or an ain’t, but there’s no in between. And so Paul writes to this church and he recognizes their holiness. He wants to remind them of their special position in Christ and their special place before God. I think that’s striking because you remember what we said this morning. He’s writing to a church in a city that’s on the wrong side of the hill.
A city that’s in decline. Recession had sat in, businesses were leaving Colossae, a new route had bypassed the city and had gone through Laodicea, switching the focus of investment to another city. And Colossae had lost its status and its prominence. But this little church nestling there amidst the busy streets of this mid-sized town was reminded that they were special, that their status hadn’t changed. They were the saints. Those who had been set apart for God. And I think that’s a tremendous truth for you and I to remind ourselves of every day. When we get up we need to remind ourselves we are the saints. We belong to God. As we’ll see in Colossians chapter one a little later on, God by his grace has transferred us, translated us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his dear son. Our position has changed.
Our status has changed. We once belonged to the world. Now we belong to the kingdom of God. We once belonged to Satan. Now we belong to God. We once belonged to ourself. Now we belong to Jesus Christ. Yet I would have to say this. That’s going to affect how you believe. This term doesn’t deal with how you act as a saint, but by implication, when you understand that you have been set apart for God, that’s got to impact how you think and the way you act. In fact, turn with me just for a moment to 2 Timothy chapter two, and we’ll just make an application concerning this. 2 Timothy two verse 20. Paul is going to use an illustration of utensils and dishes and cups and bowls that are used in a house. Some are used for this dishonorable ends and some are used for honorable ends.
Some have been dedicated to a particular use and others have been dedicated to another use. Some bowls or utensils in the house were used to collect waste or leftover food to be trashed. They were vessels of dishonor. There’s nothing about the pottery in and of itself, whether it was clay or wood, but it had been set apart for a dishonorable use. It was going to be used to carry out the rubbish, the [inaudible 00:18:03] the leftovers. And then there were other utensils in the house that were used to serve guests. They were the vessels of honor. It’s a bit like if you visit our home and June serves you a cup of tea or a cup of coffee, you might get one of those basic mugs that we all have in our cupboards. But on a special day, on a special occasion, the Royal Albert might come out.
The Brigadoon may come out, the fine china may come out. If you visit our home and you’ve never been served tea in her bone china, you haven’t made the cut. Okay? You haven’t made the cut. You have still work to do. Because that comes out for special people on special occasions. And Paul’s saying, you know what? Listen to me. In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wooden clay. Some for honor, and some for dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor. Sanctified. That’s a word that’s tied into our word saint. Set apart, holy, saintly, and useful for the master prepared for every good work. You and I need to remind ourselves that we are like vessels dedicated to honorable use. We’re the saints. I hope you remind yourself of that every day and that you don’t put your mind or your tongue or your hands to dishonorable ends. There’s not only their holiness, there’s their hardiness. Look at how he describes him to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colossae.
This is a word which means loyalty, steadfastness, being true to the original. So they were not only holy, set apart and dedicated to God. They were hardy. Now considering the context and the controversy of the letter, there seems to be a hint here of a warning. The phrase could be understood like this: some of you might not be faithful. I want to be sure I’m talking to the faithful ones, those who are standing true. Remember this church was being attacked by the gnostic heresy. And some were being drawn away from the hope of the gospel. They were being cheated and deceived. And so Paul is speaking to those who are remaining faithful and over their shoulder he’s telling the others, “you need to come back to faithfulness to Christ.” They were to be faithful to the gospel that was faithfully brought to them. Look at verse seven. Paul tells us in verse seven of chapter one, how he heard about what was going on in Colossae. He learned it from Epaphras, who was a fellow servant and a faintful minister of the gospel on their behalf.
We believe that Epaphras had originally brought the gospel to Colossae. He was a faithful minister. He had brought them to faith in Jesus Christ. He had told them who Christ was. He had told them what Christ had done. And he had told them what they need to do. Repent and put their faith in Christ. He was faithful. And now Paul says, “You need to be faithful to the gospel that was faithfully presented to you.” Folks, we’re not surprised that Paul would say that, are we? He’s confined, he’s imprisoned. Uppermost in his mind is the spread of the gospel. He wants to know that the churches he helped plant are doing well. He wants to know that those pastors and that people are showing fidelity and faithfulness to the gospel. And so Paul provokes and evokes a certain fidelity to the gospel, to the saints and faithful brethren.
May we be found faithful. As we said this morning, the times are a-changing, to quote Bob Dylan. It’s going to take a greater courage and a greater commitment to be a verbal and viable and visible witness for Jesus Christ in a pluralistic, postmodern American culture that says it’s okay for you to believe that Jesus Christ is God, but it’s not okay for you to tell others that he is God and they must submit to him. Because pluralism, as we said this morning, has come to mean not equal rights under the law, but that everybody is equally right. Which is patently illogical, dangerous, and un-Biblical. And the question for us as the church of Jesus Christ, will we have the guts to stand up in this culture and be faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, to the content of the gospel and to its offense when it calls me into repentance.
Where men are to strip every confidence in themselves. In a gospel that smashes our self-esteem, shatters our self image and brings us to the feet of a holy God, where we cry “We’re undone,” and God says, “You are undone, but I can fix you, put you together again and heal you through my son.” Brings us to the last thought. Not only their leaders and their lives, but briefly their locations. Did you notice their locations? And I used the word location in the plural. Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother to the saints and faithful brethren, to those who are holy and hardy, in Christ, in Colossae. In Christ, in Colossae. Did you notice that these Christians were living in two places at once? They were in Colossae and they were in Christ simultaneously.
By geography, they were in Colossae. By grace, they lived in Christ. Naturally they related to the world around them. Supernaturally they related to the world above them. Paul describes their relationship with God through Christ in a term that is rich in meaning: in Christ. He’ll use it 11 times in this letter. He will use it 164 times in all his other letters. This is a term that speaks of our union and communion with Christ. It speaks of the Christians’ position and provision through Christ. If any man is in Christ, he’s a new creature. All things are passed away. All things are become new. In and through Christ we are seated with him in the heavenly places. The gospel can be stated like this: Colossians 1:27, Christ in you, the hope of glory. This is a rich term that speaks of the fact that by faith, we have come into union with Jesus Christ, and his righteousness has been imputed to us.
Christ is our mediator. He’s praying for us. He’s supplying all our need through the spirit and answer to our prayers. Christ is all that we need and he will supply all that we require. This is a profound statement. And by it, Paul underscores the fact that the world above them should influence the world around them. While they are in Colossae, they’re also in Christ. And living in Christ and with Christ and through Christ, they should be different from anybody else in Colossae. Christ should affect how they speak. Christ should affect how they spend. Christ should affect how they talk, how they walk. Because they are in him while they are in Colossae. And you and I in closing tonight need to remind ourselves of that profound fact. You and I tonight are in Christ. Therefore, living in Christ should be the most significant influence in our life.
The culture should not be influencing us. We should be influencing the culture. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed through the renewing of your mind.” Why is it that Christians are being so influenced by worldly values and perspectives and pursuits? It’s because they have forgotten the profound reality that if they are truly Christ’s, they are in him, in union and communion with him on a daily basis, and wherever they are, he is there. And he should show up in what they do, where they are. These Christians were living in two locations at the same time, and you can live in two locations at the same time. Although you can live in two locations two different ways. You can live in two locations separately, or you can live in two locations simultaneously. Two illustrations of that were done. Some people have a town house in the city center for their weekdays, but they have a summer house by the coast for their weekends.
They live in two places. Monday through Friday you’ll find them in their town house downtown. That’s one location. But then they will throw off that suit. They’ll put on their jeans and their tennis shoes and they will head off to their summer house. They are living in two locations, but at two different times. It seems to me that some Christians live like that. They live in the church on Sunday. They sing, they may even serve, but then Monday through Saturday they live out in the world, but they don’t live for Christ in the world. They look like the world. They act like the world. And you can’t tell them apart from the world. They’re in two places, but at two different times. And as you can understand, that’s not the model that Paul’s talking about. Here’s the model Paul’s talking about. Last weekend I had to fly down to Nashville to speak at a men’s retreat. At 33,000 feet on Northwest flight out of Detroit to Nashville, I was in two places at the same time.
I was 33,000 feet up in the air, but simultaneously I was sitting inside, thankfully, the fuselage of a DC9. In the first class, by the way, it was nice. I got an upgrade. I got a muffin, I think, instead of a bag of pretzels, that was about it. But there I am in two places simultaneously. In the plane and in the air. And while there was an environment that I was in, it wasn’t affecting me because I was in another environment that was pressing out and protecting me against that environment that was pressing in. That’s the way the Christian ought to live. Not in the townhouse and the summer house, where their lives have a dichotomy of behavior, but they ought to be like someone inside a plane. In Christ and in Toledo simultaneously. The one preserving and protecting and affecting the other.