How the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Advances in a Disorderly World
Sermon on Colossians 1:3-8: Series of Expositions on Colossians
Dr Annang Asumang
The last time I was here, we started a series of expositions on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. We learnt that the theme of Colossians is Advancing the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus in a Disorderly World. In that case, Colossians is as much a letter for then as it is for now. Colossians 1 speaks about the Founding of the Kingdom, Col 2, the Fortification of the Kingdom, Col 3 the Flourishing of the Kingdom and Col 4, the Fellowship of the Kingdom.
The passage before us this morning, Col 1:3-8, is technically called a Thanksgiving Report.
Paul’s letters regularly start with four elements. The first element is a Self-introduction. So here in Col 1:1 he begins, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother” (1:1). The second element is the Address of the Recipients – 1:2a: “To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae”. The third is a Salutation which we find in 1:2b: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father”. The fourth element, which is the Thanksgiving-prayer Report, is lacking in Galatians and Titus, but we have it here in Col 1:3-12. Often the thanksgiving is brief and naturally leads him to the longer prayer report. But here in Colossians, the thanksgiving is long and complex, stretching from Col 1:3-8, and then followed by the prayer report in Col 1:9-12 which will be our focus when God willing I join you next time.
Look at what Paul thanks God for in Col 1:3-8, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit”.
Six items in this thanksgiving! And all six describe How the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Advances in a Disorderly World. Let me list them:
1. The Kingdom Advances Internally through Faith 1:4a – “we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus” (1:4a)
2. The Kingdom Advances Interpersonally through Love 1:4b – we heard “of the love that you have for all the saints” (1:4b)
3. The Kingdom Advances Interminably with Hope 1:5a – “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (1:5a)
4. The Kingdom Advances Instructionally by the Word of the Gospel 1:5b – “Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you” (1:5b)
5. The Kingdom Advances Internationally through Missions 1:6 – “the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing” (1:6)
6. The Kingdom Advances Intentionally by Ministry of Faithful Believers 1:7-8 – “as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit”
Before we look at them, let me make some three preliminary comments. First of all, notice that the first three items thank God for What He is doing to advance the kingdom, for What is happening. The next three items thank God for How the advancement happened.
Secondly notice how the triad of faith-love-hope serve as the three cardinal signs of the presence of the Kingdom. As I mentioned here some time ago, this triad is a common feature of the New Testament. But here in Col 1 it is used to describe the cardinal signs of the kingdom.
Spatially, Faith describes the vertical nature of the work of God. Love describes the horizontal nature of the work of God. And Hope describes the diagonal nature of the work of God. Faith occurs Internally and Inwardly in the heart of the believer. Love expresses itself Externally and Inter-personally between believers. And Hope expresses itself Forwardly and Interminably. Chronologically, the kingdom starts on the inside with faith. It grows on the outside with love. And it triumphs forward into the future with hope. The kingdom is Rooted in Faith, it Results in Love, and so Reverberates with hope. We shall see more of these signs as we go through Colossians.
The third comment I want to make is how the Trinity shapes this thanksgiving. It is common for prayers in the New Testament to be woven around the Trinity, with deliberate allusions to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. This thanksgiving does the same. Look at it again. In Col 1:3-4, the thanksgiving is directed to God the Father for what He has done in and through His Son Christ Jesus. And in Col 1:8, the thanksgiving is offered for the continuing work of the Spirit. That is often how the doctrine of the Trinity is expressed in the New Testament. So not only do we have the triad of faith-love-hope. We also have the Trinity of Father-Son-Holy Spirit. God the Father Implants Faith! God the Son Inspires Hope! And God the Spirit Infuses Love! Great stuff! Let’s now look at each of the six items of the thanksgiving.
The Kingdom Advances in a Disorderly World Internally through Faith (1:4a)
Paul says, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus” (1:3-4a). The Colossians, in other words, were exercising faith in a world of unbelief. And that was cause for thanksgiving. Like the Colossians, we also live in a sceptical world. I don’t know how many of you read or heard what the leader of the Labour Party is reported to have said last Friday. The Daily Mail yesterday quotes him as boasting that he does not believe that God exists, but he nevertheless has faith! What a load of rubbish, I said when I read that! Isn’t it typical of our politicians to redefine everything to suit their whims! Soon we will be told that a square is a circle! That is the kind of world we live in now! In fact it says something about our environment that of the leaders of the three main political parties, two publicly confess atheism! It is not surprising therefore that it has become trendy these days for people to abandon their Christian faith and boast about it.
Worse, is the situation whereby bible scholars openly deny the faith that they once professed. Of course it is not a new phenomenon for scholars to come out of the woodwork to deny the faith. We have seen it before. What is now new is the attempt to persuade the general public. Just last Christmas, here in England, one professor who used to be an evangelical and whose commentary on one of Paul’s letters still continues to be quite influential. Last Christmas he published a book for the general public aimed at denying the Virgin Birth. And he allowed the publishing house to choose Christmas to do that! In the last couple of weeks, coming up to Easter, one other world renowned former evangelical Professor of the New Testament has published a book again for the general public in which he denies the divinity of Christ, denies that Jesus was indeed buried in a tomb, denies that he was raised from the dead and so on. Holy month, yet this former brother in Christ is all over the media, on CNN, Washington Post and others publicizing his book aimed at subverting the faith of many. These were Christian brothers who trained pastors and teachers, and whose writings continue to influence how ministers are trained. Now they have turned their backs on the faith. But worse they are determined to go out there, convert people away from the truth of the Gospel and make money out of their desertion of the faith. We live in that kind of world in which it is becoming increasingly easy to abandon the faith! Our World is very much like the world of the Colossians. A world toxic with unbelief!
So, how did the Colossian Christians pull it off, we may ask? Well, see what Paul says again. He says, “We heard of your faith in Christ Jesus” (1:4a). Faith in Christ Jesus! That is how they pulled it off! Their faith was anchored in Christ Jesus. In other words, their Faith was Christocentric. Their faith triumphed in that toxic disbelieving world because it was anchored in Christ Jesus! Not in the professors of religion, of which there were many! Not in their writings! Not in the celebrity names! They anchored their faith in Christ Jesus. You too, living in this toxic world! Your faith will thrive if and only if you anchor it in Christ Jesus. Let His Name be the only Name that matters to you. Not my name! Not your Pastor’s name, though wonderful as John is! And surely not the name of these professors! Let all men be liars, I say! Anchor your faith in the Lord Jesus and you will see His kingdom advance!
The Kingdom Advances in a Disorderly World Inter-personally through Love (1:4b)
We have only recently spent a few months reflecting on love in 1 Cor 13, so I shall not dwell on it, except to make one comment on what exactly Paul says here about love as a cardinal sign of kingdom life. He says, he has heard about “the love that you have for all the saints”. Love for all the saints! Not just love for one another, but love for all the saints. They loved believers in their fold. But they also loved other believers not of their fold. They loved brothers and sisters in their city. But they also loved brothers and sisters in other cities, in Laodicea, Hierapolis, Ephesus where Epaphras used to be, Rome where Paul was, and in Jerusalem where the Church started. They loved all the saints! Whoever has nailed their mast to the Lord Jesus Christ, these Christians loved them! That is something!
What a challenge this is to you and me here in this corner of Scartho and Waltham! Love the saints. Love all the saints! Love those saints who are as charismatic as you are. But love those saints who are also not as charismatic as you are. Love all the saints. For when you do that, you are by this love advancing the kingdom of the Lord Jesus here and now!
The Kingdom Advances in a Disorderly World Interminably through Hope (1:5a)
Paul then says we always thank God “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven”. The
Apostle Peter says a similar thing in 1 Pet 1:3-5, and we have recently been looking at it at Wellowgate Chapel in our exposition through 1 Peter. He says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time”.
The kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ is a kingdom of hope. Hope because God has prepared an inheritance laid up for you in heaven. One which no eye has seen and no ear has heard! An inheritance which cannot decay, cannot be defiled, cannot be damaged! More than that, God the Father Himself keeps you safe and secure so that you will inherit this inheritance. It is for this reason that members of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus can have hope. Paul says we always thank God that we have heard that you have it! Amen!
But Paul in Col 1:4-5 says something else about this hope. Look at it again! He says we have heard “of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven”. That word “because” is very important, for it makes hope the basis for the faith and love of these brothers and sisters. Hope is the motivation, the inspiration and the energizing factor that feeds the continuous life of faith and love in the kingdom. So to make it clear, the NIV translates 1:5 as “the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven”. Hope then is as fundamental as faith and love. Friends, Christian hope is not pie in the sky. Hope is not sitting down on your hands, waiting and wishfully imagining something to turn up one day. No way! That is not Christian hope! Christian hope is an active living reality. It is a living reality which energizes and drives and motivates us. Christian hope does not just demolish despair. It empowers and releases us for living heaven’s life here on earth. It brings the future into the present. Hope causes us to believe and to stand strong in faithfulness, and to love and to love all the saints and to work and to strive for holiness and to yearn and to serve and to preach and to witness and to work! That is Christian hope! And that is what kingdom life is like! Hope energizing Faith and Love!
The Kingdom Advances in a Disorderly World Instructionally through the Word (1:5b)
Having thanked God for what was happening, Paul now thanks Him also for how it happened. How did the Colossians receive faith, love and hope? He says, “Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you” (1:5b). In other words, faith, love and hope occurred because these brothers and sisters heard “the word of the truth, the gospel”. That is the secret to the advancement of the kingdom. The hearing of the Gospel! Amen!
Colossians 1:5b-8 uses four auditory vocabularies to describe four contexts in which the Gospel may be heard. First he says, the Colossians “heard before” (1:5b). Perhaps here, he speaks about the Testified Word – the sharing of Testimonies of the great miracles of conversion. Then he mentions in 1:5b-6a, you have heard “the word of the truth, the gospel which has come to you”. In other words the Good News was delivered to you and you carefully listened to it and received it like the most precious gift. Perhaps here he speaks about the Preached Word. Then he says again in 1:6a: “since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth”. Perhaps here, he speaks about the Evangelized Word. Through one-on-one careful explanation, with questions posed and questions answered, so that the person does not just hear, but also understand! That is how the kingdom was advanced in Colossae. There is one more context by which the Gospel was heard, in 1:7a: “you learned it from Epaphras” he says. In other words they received the Taught Word.
So Celebration Church! This is how the Kingdom will be advanced here in Grimsby. Through the Word! The Word as you Testify of it, with conviction and joy of the Spirit. The Word as you Preach it in the Power of the Spirit. The Word as you Evangelize it on one-on-one basis with boldness of the Spirit. And the Word as you Teach it here in the gathering of the saints, with the clarity granted by the Spirit. Instruction of the word is the linchpin tool for producing the cardinal signs of the kingdom!
The Kingdom Advances in a Disorderly World Internationally through Missions (1:6)
Paul then says, we always thank God for “the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing” (1:6). Wow! The whole world, he says, is yielding to this Gospel. The gospel came to you and moved from place to place and bore fruit from street to street, town to town, and country to country. Now it has spread to the whole Roman world, and bearing fruit. In other words, the Kingdom Advances Internationally through Missions.
One of the things that give me so much cause for joy are the reports of how the Gospel is making headway in many countries. In South America, India, China and of course in many parts of Africa, this Gospel is bearing so much fruit. Even in parts of the Middle East, the work of Christian migrant workers there is beginning to bear fruit. The kingdom is advancing into territories that used to be closed to it. Even here in Europe, the media keeps churning out statistics upon statistics of how church attendances are poor and so forth. But put your ears to the ground, and Church planting has started picking up in many of our towns and cities. Of course there is more to do, but the Kingdom, my brothers and sisters, is unstoppable! Jesus said in Mk 4:31-32, the Kingdom is like “a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade”. Well this is what Paul describes here, and we are seeing it also today!
The Kingdom Advances Intentionally through Faithful Believers (1:7-8)
The final item of Paul’s thanksgiving is exactly how the Kingdom was founded in Colossae. He says in 1:7-8, “just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit”.
What a marvellous testimony! It took one man who loved the Lord! One man who loved his fellow countrymen and women! He loved them so much that he was willing to intentionally make the sacrifices, up his stakes and testify, and preach and evangelize and teach the Gospel to them. His name is Epaphras! And it is recorded here for our encouragement! You know what? You too can be the Epaphras of our town. The Epaphras of Scartho, of Springfield, of Waltham, and of Grimsby and Cleethorpes! Yes you are the men or women to advance the kingdom. It all starts with your intention to share the Gospel!
Today is Palm Sunday, and what a great day to reflect on the Advancement of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus! Mark says in Mk 11:9-10, as the Lord rode on that colt into Jerusalem, “those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” Blessed is the coming of the kingdom! Palm Sunday is a dramatization of the Advancement of the kingdom! From then on He went to the cross and died. On the third day, He rose from the dead. Through His blood shed on that cross, and through the power of His resurrection, He saves; He saves to the uttermost, and sets sinners free! This is the Gospel. This holy week, why shouldn’t we go out there, preach it, and so advance the kingdom!
May the Lord grant each one of us the determination and fortitude to do this! May He enthuse us and fill us with His energizing power to advance His kingdom here in our town! May He cause His Spirit to drape us with His anointing, so we will be the Epaphrases of our town!