Col 1 vv 1-2 The Young Church’s Character
This week we continue our exposition of the book of Colossians. Last week I brought to you the main purpose for Paul’s writing. If you remember, the minister of the Colossians, Epaphras, traveled to Rome, where Paul was, in order to get an answer to what was going on in Colossae. From what Paul wrote we deduced that it was a self serving, man-made religion. The answer Paul gave was that this man made religion is fake, false, imagined, useless, and impractical against the real human condition, sin. The answer the Holy Spirit gave through Paul’s pen was that we are sinners who are morally and legally alienated from God. Therefore we are in need of a moral and legal reconciliation to God which is found in the work of Christ on our behalf. He died for the believer’s legal penalty and earned salvation for the believers.
So, last week was a broad look at the context, and this week we begin our verse by verse exposition of Colossians. This week we go all the way back to the beginning of the book.
Read Colossians 1:1-2
It has been said that “you cannot judge a book by its cover.” Actually, this is completely wrong. I always judge a book by its cover. The way something is packaged can give you an idea of what is inside. If the cover is simple, has a good author, and is from a good publisher, then it probably holds to certain standards.
To make things simpler, if you get a box of chocolates for your wife, the box usually has a heart shape, red wrapper, and comes in a certain unmistakeable size and shape. It is very difficult to hide what it is since the thing is so recognizable. If you cannot judge a book by its cover, you can certainly judge a heart shaped box. The point I am making is that the outside communicates what is on the inside.
The same thing is true with people. Action, dress, and attitudes betray what is going on inside. The book’s cover shows intentions, values, and various other visible manifestations of what they are. The questions here before us is: what does our church value? What should we look like as a congregation? What visible signs and vibes do we put out?
This can be answered partially by looking at the actions we take, and the character traits of the church. The Apostle Paul used three adjectives to describe and define the Church of Colossae. In Verse 2 he called them, “Saints and Faithful Brethren, in Christ” These are attributes, defining characteristics, and clear markers of a healthy church.
We are a young church, so many of these traits will take time to develop. I hope and long that one day fully the inside of the cup will match the outside. Here is the motivation. Christ has changed the inside of the cup by giving us a new nature, so the outside of the cup should be progressively conformed to show forth that new nature.
Think about this example: What would you think if you visited a church that was cold, no one looked at you, and no one greeted or even acknowledged you? I suppose there is the possibility that it could be your paranoia. Nevertheless, there is such a thing as a cold, unfriendly, un-hospitable church.
What if a church that had a several people living in flagrant sin? Imagine it were someone in leadership and prominent in the congregation. Yet these people were openly and ardently still allowed to carry on, even with the blessing of the church? What if someone was victimizing others in the church and the leadership did nothing to stop it? You could confidently say that there is a character problem in that church.
How about if the church did not confess the truth. Not only did they not confess it, but they hear it and they don’t live it. To make things worse, they don’t teach Biblical truth, but teach whatever comes to mind on Sunday mornings. Or, worse, what if they taught against the Bible, and even condemn it as backwards and antiquated?
In all of these scenarios we could confidently say that these churches suffer a serious lack of character. There is a lack of moral rightness, and absence of truth.
What is our character to be as the church? What traits ought we cultivate? What sort of culture should the people of God be? The Bible Answers: We are to be “Saints and Faithful Brethren in Christ” The Church’s Character is defined and energized by these words. Dive with me into the word as I bring the text to bear upon you.
Verse 1-14 of the letter is an introduction. It serves to highlight who is writing, who is being written to, and what results the letter should produce.
Who is writing? In verse 1 Paul introduced himself and Timothy in verse 1. Paul introduced Timothy because he was the Pastor in the nearby city of Ephesus.
To whom is it written? In verse 2 Paul greeted the Colossian church in this text by calling them by three traits which the apostle declares to be true of the Church in Colossae.
How does this introduce the letter? Paul described the church. These are the “Saints, and Faithful Brethren in Christ.” (v. 2). “Saints,” is the Greek word hagios which means holy. Faithful means trusting, i.e. continuing to trust in the Gospel. Finally, He calls them “brethren.” Brethren points out that they are a family.
The most important phrase in verse 2 is , “In Christ.” All of these are new traits the Christian takes on when the Holy Spirit re-generates, or recreates you. You become a new creation, and as a result of being “In Christ” you take on Christ’s character. The Word “in” means that by virtue of our relationship to Christ, we are “Saints and faithful brethren.” Christ gives us these traits, and so we are to grow up into them.
We take on Christ’s character as a result of being “in Christ.” He took on flesh and died in our place, and he earned new life for us. We take on his character, as we are progressively conformed to the image of the Jesus who loved us and died for us.
Two things are true of you at the same time. You are saved and are being saved. You were definitively transferred into the kingdom of the Son, yet now you are progressively brought into maturity. This is what it means to be “In Christ.” This is the great doctrine of Union with Christ. It is both present and future.
Notice in verse 1:28, we are going to be fully “conformed.” The question is: to what goal? The answer is to the character of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
A general principle in Scripture is that God’s definitive acts set in motion our lives. Christ’s work is the cause, and our works are the effect. The order can never be switched. We do not work to gain God’s favor. Jesus earned God’s favor. And, the effect can never be divorced from the cause.
Let me illustrate. If I were to kick a football, it is likely the football would respond in such a way that made sense with the kick. This is cause and effect. Salvation is the same way. The Holy Spirit creates new hearts in us. This results in the effect of our Christian life. It is never the other way around.
Many today want to divorce the cause from the effect and say that, “Faith alone saves,” which is good, true, and I would be one hundred percent with them accept they ignore that faith is the effect of God’s action upon us. Some preachers treat faith as a means of getting salvation. Faith, work, peace of mind and conscience, these are all results of the reconciliation made by Christ on our behalf, which was brought to bear upon us by the Holy Spirit.
With that said, now we know why these three traits are so important. If we are in Christ, we should live as those in Christ.
These character traits are true of all churches because they are gifts from God, in verses 2:6-7 Paul calls them to walk in a manner worthy of the gift of Christ. Faith and obedience are results of the gift. Not only is this true of the individual, it is true of the Church, it has to have certain traits, but they are traits that are gifts from Christ.
What does the Bible say about this? According to the Apostle Paul, the church is a beacon of holiness. It is a stronghold faith in the truth. It is a fortress of unity as a Covenant community. Let us therefore seek the word of the Lord with our first point.
Doctrinal Points and Applications
1. The Church is to be Devoted to the Lord’s Service
The root word in the Bible means “set apart.” This “setness,” is set apart from common use and devoted to a specific usage. In the Old Testament the term described things like animals set aside for the use in the temple. It is also used of people dedicated to serve the Lord. Holiness means not only set apart-ness, but in this context set apart for the service of God. This means devotion to the Lord’s service. It is an unswerving loyalty and obedience to his commands. It is not just set apartness, but set apart for the purpose of serving the Lord.
Ill: A good example of this in Biblical terms is David and Jonathan. Jonathan, though he was crowned prince, made a Covenant with David that he would serve David and be loyal to David’s rule. David was anointed to be king and so took Jonathan’s throne. But Jonathan remained loyal to that Covenant until the day he died. Why? Because that is the meaning of holiness in the Bible. It is total allegiance to the Covenant.
The same thing is true of all military, emergency, or law enforcement personnel. They must be willing to do whatever their orders are. This is a loyalty to the Covenant, something one has sworn to do.
God is the ultimate Covenant king, and he is totally faithful to his Covenant. So consistent is God that he had to punish sinners who rebelled against him. He was consistent to his promise to redeem his people. He did both in Jesus on the Cross. God punished sinners, and redeemed them at the same time on the Cross of Christ. God is totally and completely Holy.
Paul called the church “holy” when he called them saints in verse 2. The meaning of this for the church is that we must be devoted and totally, unreservedly loyal to our Covenant Lord. Perhaps to you holiness is off the table. Devotion to the Lord and his word are things of the past. It is legalism or Judaism.
Ill: I have often seen bumper stickers around town that read, “Christians aren’t Perfect, Just forgiven.” At first glance it seems perfectly innocent. Perhaps this is just the sinner in me, but I know how I would use that bumper sticker if it were on my car. I would use it to justify my bad driving. Now isn’t that positively evil. We can use the grace of God in order to justify bad actions.
Ill: Imagine a woman who leaves her husband and kids for another man and says, “Well, I know it is okay, because God will forgive me.” Forgiveness has become a license to sin.
When forgiveness becomes a license to sin, the Gospel is lost because you have rejected the results of the Gospel, namely the new allegiance to the Lord Jesus. The Lordship of Jesus is a result of saving faith.
Ill: A result can never be separated from the cause. For example, if you saw a football flying down out of heaven, you would not think, “Wow, it is reigning pigskin!” No you would assume that someone kicked it. The same thing is true of holiness. God transferred you into the Kingdom of Jesus, so you must obey him.
Colossians 1:13 reads, “For he delivered us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son” You citizenship is new, so holiness is your new native language. It is your new mother tongue, since you are in the kingdom of God. It is part of the new creation God is working in you. The inside of the cup was cleaned and the outside followed.
Application: For the well being of the church, we must cultivate holiness. The Bible gives us some practical steps to remain holy. One of them is church discipline. If someone is out of accord in their life, then it is proper and right to confront them in love in order that they may be restored.
We have many steps to prevent discipline from happening. These are fellowship, counseling, pastoral visitation, and even preaching! Take care to these things. Make use of them, because they are God’s gifts to you. These are all medicine for sin sick souls, and God’s mercy to you to help you along in your walk.
We just looked at the moral devotion the Lord requires, now let us look at the trust in his truth which he desires for us.
2. The Church Is To Be Doctrinally Faithful
The Word “Faith” in this context means believing in the truth. Paul used the term throughout the book to describe the belief in the truths of the Christian Faith. Christians fundamentally are people who believe things about God and man from the Bible. You need doctrine because this defines, in the most basic way, what you are. Christians are a believing people.
Notice in 1:23, Paul told them to continue in the faith, i.e. believing the gospel. In Chapter 1: verse 28 he states that belief in the truth results in the maturity of the Christian. 2:8 warns against being taken captive by disbelief. 3:16 calls the church to let the Word dwell in them richly and results in wisdom and admonishing.
Romans 12:2 reads, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” This verse means doctrine is God’s chosen means by which he transforms us. The mind is changed, and the life comes with it.
I center on this issue of truth because the general absence of truth is the central problem of our day. We don’t hear much truth, and when we do, we think “well that is sure nice” but then we leave it on the page and never apply it. As sinners, it is natural to us to be allergic to truth that changes us from one way of thinking or acting to another. Here is the rub, truth is always painful, irritating, and changing.
The temptation is to mix what we already know and like with what new things we hear. This really is not right because it is just coddling our complacency with sin. This mixture of God’s word into self serving ends is called syncretism. There was a danger of syncretism in Colossae. The danger was, and is today, to take the wisdom of the world and preach it from our pulpits.
This mixture may give us general, easily found, axiomatic truths; but they are not special. The word of God is special because it brings truth with a power. The Word is God’s chosen means through which he transforms hearts.
God’s answers the false teaching of the world by his Word. Preaching the Gospel truly creates saving faith. Preaching the law actually creates both conviction and earnestness to obey the Covenant lord. The word really creates this in you because the Holy Spirit speaks and by the word of his power creates new faith in you. The Word has Power from the Holy Spirit. This means, when I declare to you, “Jesus died for you sins and rose again for your justification.” The Gospel preached creates faith in your heart because the Holy Spirit speaks in Scripture, and works through Scripture.
So, attend to the word. Grab hold of it in the preached word, in daily family reading, in your private thoughts. Get it in you, for the Lord works in Scripture.
Imagine the danger of cutting this out of your life. Think about it. Would you continue to grow in Christ? Would you continue to bear fruit?
This is why hearing the Gospel week in and week out is so important. It is my duty to remind you that “Jesus died for the penalty of your sins.” Renew your trust this day, for if you truly recognize you are a sinner, and that Jesus died for your sins, then you shall be right and righteous before God.
I spoke about the 1. The Holiness; and, 2. The Faith of the church, but now we move to that final attribute marked by the word brethren.
3. The Church is To Be a Unified Family
The Word “Brethren” is an old way the Jews would refer to one another. They would greet each other “The Lord be with you Brother.” They would distinguish between their “brothers” and the “foreigner.” The brothers are those in the Covenant people. Similarly, all Christian are brothers and sisters (or brethren). This basically refers to us as a Family.
Look at Colossians 3:11. The renewal results in the new identity. Thus we are to live out that new creation. This means we are a family that has unity. Yes we may not be totally unified in every way. But we are unified in principle in Christ. The point of Paul saying this here is to note that the people of God are a united family. Other titles are used, “Household of God,” “Children of God,” “Christ’s brothers” etc…
This is why I try to call people “brother” or “sister,” since there is real Covenantal unity to the family of God. We are not blood relatives, but we are through the adoption into the kingdom. Like how you don’t choose your family, you don’t choose your Church family. God does. This means that we should treat our brothers as brothers, and sisters as sisters.
Paul called the church to “love the brethren” In 1Thess 4:9. John told us to “to lay down one’s life for his brothers” in 1John 3:16. We should treat them with respect and love, but also as Christ laid down his life for the church, we should manifest a love that lives for the sake of our brothers. “Laying down one’s life is an example of the extreme duty we have to one another. But this also leads to the general application. We should have an attitude of care for others above ourselves. Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; (4) do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
The Bible tells us some practical means of building this family trait. First, call each other brother and sister, and remember the point. We have been made children of God.
Second, practice hospitality. One of the best ways for the church to grow into this unity is fellowship around a family meal. We see this so often in the Bible. A dinner or lunch seasoned with the salt of Godly conversation is a wonderful way to both spend the Lord’s day, but also to prepare for that great day when the marriage feast of the Lamb comes about.
Point and Conclusion:
Can you judge a book by it cover? Well it seems that you can in general. The Church may be more or less pure in this age. Though, one thing is for certain, Paul set a trajectory for us. He calls us to be holy, faithful brethren. These three traits marked the Colossian church. Likewise, they mark all those, as Paul says, who are “in Christ.” So these are our character.
We are to be a beacon of holiness, a citadel of the truth, and stronghold of unity. Let us therefore pursue these attributes, for the Lord is for us and not against us, and has given us His Holy Spirit to help us on our way.
Let us Pray,
Heavenly Father, you guided us this far, and brought us into the kingdom of You beloved Son. So we ask that you would bring us into greater and greater conformity to the character of the Son of God. May we be delivered from the temptation to divorce the Gospel from its effects of creating us as a holy faithful family in your beloved Son. We pray, Father, help us in these way, for we need your grace and mercy. We pray, through the name and office of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Through the Power of the Holy Spirit, who mediates our prayers to you and utters words to deep for us. To you we pray, Father. Amen.