God on the Move: “The Dream” – Colossians 1

newborn1When a brand new baby is first placed into the arms of a new loving parent, a universe of dreams is ignited. This much I have seen: new parents handle the baby with such care, you can tell they believe the child is far more “breakable” than they really are – but that is fine. It is better that they learn to be gentle than they learn how resilient that little child truly is. The first days, new parents often share with me that their fears are NOT about the baby, but about their ability to be good parents. They want to do things the “right way”. Should their little boy be circumcised? The hospital asked and they never thought about that. In the coming months, should the child get vaccinations when the time is right? What is the safest car seat on the market? Are all the garments for the baby made from the right materials? Is the crib really put together properly and is it safe? The list goes on and on…

The first part of parental life is about protecting a child – and new parents are painfully aware of the pitfalls of neglecting in that stage. Yet, that isn’t all there is to parenting. The second task, the one that emerges as the child grows through the stages of development, is increasingly to prepare a child – to help them become a self-sufficient yet God-dependent individual. Part of that process is helping them understand the POINT of life. The real dream most parents have for their children is for the child to become a happy, fulfilled and positive contributor to society. To do that, they must come to understand what life is all about – they must learn the POINT of the whole human experience.

Money will help them on the journey, but money cannot be the object. Reputation is important, but they cannot make life all about “being known”. Becoming competent and empowered to care for self is very important, but life cannot become simply about how much you can do, what you can build or what you can create. Joyful experiences are wonderful, but life cannot become focused on a mere series of fun engagements without a balanced role of responsibilities that bring about the greater long-term goals. Teaching a young man or young woman the POINT of life is one of the greatest pursuits an older person can engage.

At this point we should entertain the notion of mentoring and discipleship – but our thoughts are not about physical parenting – rather we have in mind a spiritual form of growing people to maturity. In fact, the story of Paul’s life and journeys that we have been pursuing over these past lessons, is very much a story about mentoring and discipleship. We left off in our story with Paul stuck in Rome awaiting for two years for his hearing before Emperor Nero. During the long wait, he wrote letters, sent messengers and engaged young followers in Jesus. We have been following those letters – those we now call “Epistles” – t0 make one point very clear: The Bible is concerned with the POINT of life, and so is disciple making. Here is an important truth…

Key Principle: God gave us life and then exposed our goal for living. We must learn a practical love for Him that works its way into our daily life choices.

Let’s be honest: Even a lot of believers don’t seem to get the POINT of our Christian walk – and that becomes painfully obvious when you examine their lives. In fact, some who once could be found careening through the unmarked road of life with great zeal in the beginning of their walk, are now pulled over into the rest stop called “life compromise”, while others have clearly crashed into the guardrails of public sin and disgrace. Some have moved toward the goal, but many have not. Some have produced spiritual children and the fruits of righteousness. Others have run out of spiritual fuel and sit beside the road in well-dressed but concealed spiritual boredom, waving on the passers-by, as thought this were a mere “rest break” on their arduous journey. They are stuck and they know it. They have lost the clear direction. Some don’t get the POINT of this journey at all.

Paul was concerned about the young believers who felt they were praying only to the ceiling, weakly walking in the power of their flesh and feeling spiritually overwhelmed and depleted? That burden grew inside the Apostle, when he heard about the small community of believers following the teaching of Epaphras at Colossae. Because the letter offers such important words that can be confusing, we want to take a few lessons to untie what God used Paul to tell a church struggling to get back on track.

Before we study it together, it is worth recalling the first chapter of Colossians can be broken into two major ideas:

• The first idea is “What are God’s goals for His children?” The answers to this particularly question are obvious from Paul’s elegant prayer for the Colossians 1:9-12, where he shares the POINT of God’s work in and through a believer – one who has truly trusted Christ for salvation.

• The second idea is “Why God has a right to “impose” His goals on us?” The answers to this question are particularly found in 1:13-29, where God offered through Paul’s pen some basic reasons He has rights to us.

God unlocked, through the prayer of Paul for that small church by the Lycus River, some very practical goals for a believer we want to lay bare today. Before we do, let’s get there in a quick read of the beginning of the letter:

The letter reads:

Colossians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ [who are] at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. 3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel 6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as [it has been doing] in you also since the day you heard [of it] and understood the grace of God in truth; 7 just as you learned [it] from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, 8 and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit. 9 For this reason also, since the day we heard [of it], we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please [Him] in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.

Now squeeze the text to it’s essence. It may read something like this:

Paul and Tim to Colossian Saints (1,2):

We thank God for you in our prayers! We heard about your faith and your earnest expectation of Heaven that you accepted in the Gospel message. That message is growing and it is producing fruit in your lives. Epaphras shared that truth with you, and word of you with us. (3-8).

After he shared, we ceaselessly began praying for you:

• That you would be filled with knowledge of God’s will.
• That you would live according to that knowledge – pleasing Him in every way and bearing all the fruit that delights Him.
• That you would grow in strength by His power to become steady, patient and joyful givers of thanks.

Stop there and consider more closely the prayer of Paul for these believers. What does the Apostle’s prayer reveal about God’s GOALS for a believer? I read several important words concerning these goals…

God wants us to know His desires

First, God expressed through Paul that these young believers ought to seek to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. Note that he didn’t say “that you would know what God’s will is” – he said something far greater in Colossians 1:9. Let me offer a painfully literal but long sentence of what he said:

He prayed for “filling” (playrao) which is better translated “domination by” the knowledge (epi-gnosis) which is literally “to know around”, i.e. to ascertain the precise and correct knowledge of God’s will (theleyma) which is rightly God’s desires and pleasures with wisdom (sofia) or practical ability and understanding (sunesis) that which brings it all together. In plain words, Paul desired that the people would become “dominated by a precise knowledge of God’s true desires with an understanding of the truths that tie all things together.”

Let’s say it this way: God’s first goal is that He wants believers to be knowledgeable of what pleases Him and with that to work out practical ways to live that way. We weren’t made to fumble around about the will of God.

How exactly can we do that? It helps if we know His family well, but it is critical that we know the acts in His past that are found in His Word. Jesus said in John 17:17 “Set them apart by Your Truth; Your Word is Truth!”

The Savior identified that it is the Word of God that was to set apart believers – because they believed it, followed it and tried to make it their rule for faith and practice. Take a moment and consider how whole groups of Christians – denominations, churches and other groupings have so wildly changed their positions over the past few decades.

Let me encourage you: Christians must labor for a Biblical world view if we are to provide our communities with a true moral compass. Moral ideas formed apart from the revealed boundaries of God’s Word eventually lead to an “alternative” way of looking at the world – one that inevitably will oppose God’s ultimate goals. Let me draw a line:

There is a direct connection between churches, denominations and fellowships that lose a careful focus on clearly transmitting the Scriptures to and through their followers, and the “social justice” crowds that grow from that old Bible root but move forward in their own sense of “compassion” to tolerate and promote the opposite of God’s stated agenda. They began with the position that matched the text of Scripture, now they proudly stand against clear, black and white text, to show they are truly “loving”. How did they move so far, so fast?

Let me say clearly that they don’t do it because they are bad people, they do it because they honestly don’t know what God said about many things, because their circle hasn’t been teaching that for some time. After a while, they take their spotty knowledge of the text and “fill in the gaps” with their own sense of morality that was formed without keeping God’s specific cautions and directions in mind. This is how a church can move in one century from proclaiming one set of values from God’s Word to proclaiming “morality and justice” that is in direct opposition to the clear reading of the text some years later.

Here is what we must remember: We are not more compassionate than God. We do not have a greater sense of justice than He. We are not more knowledgeable of truth or equity than our Creator- and He wrote His Word. To form standards of justice, mercy or tolerance without a carefully fixed understanding of God’s Word is terribly dangerous – and that isn’t God’s goal for us. He wants a people who KNOW HIS DESIRES based on His revealed truths.

God wants our life to count

God has a second goal that was expressed in the first part of verse ten: “10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please [Him] in all respects…”

Look closer at those words. Literally it says that our walk (peripateo) lit. “about-tread” which refers to the “course of your life journey” is to be in a manner worthy (axios: “with proper weight”) of the Lord. In a word, God wants our life to be Impacting. He desires the course of our life to have the impact that He can bring to it!

Again, we should ask the timely question – how? How can God make my little life count for an eternal purpose? In essence, the method is for me to walk where He wants, be there when He wants, and act in that place how He wants. Let me explain:

Most of us probably haven’t heard of a woman named Henrietta Mears. Henrietta was an education director in a church in California. Through her influence many in her church, including two prominent Christian leaders were influenced for Christ. Henrietta was faithful in many small ways to God and God blessed her work. One of the men she influenced was Bill Bright. He was President and founder of a group called Campus Crusade for Christ. It is believed that that group is responsible for over 2 billion people hearing the gospel message. Another man was none other than Billy Graham. We all know who Billy Graham is. He’s probably witnessed to more people in more places than anyone alive. Who knows how many people Henrietta influenced over the years by her impact on those who men alone. She was faithful to the task God called her to and God used her in awesome ways. (Story taken from In Touch Magazine, “Our Circle of Impact”, November 2003, pgs.8-9)

Here is what Paul wanted the believers to know: Our walk should “please” the Lord, a term (areskeia) that means “to conform one’s desires to bring joy to another”. This term was used of musical slaves in the period. They were to play in such a way as to “soothe” or “please the ears” of the guests at the dinner party. We are to do this for God’s pleasure in all respects (pas), literally in every area. Let me say it plainly: If you and I live with a focus on God’s desires and joy through the deliberate obedience of our life – God will get a “soothing break” hanging out with us. Even clearer: You can live for your pleasure or you can live to bring God pleasure – but you cannot do both. If you focus on bringing Him delight – the byproduct is that He will offer you a depth of satisfaction you could NEVER find search apart from Him. Jesus said if we try to keep our own life, we will lose it.

God wants us to change our appetites

Because we have a relationship with God through Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, you and I are called to conform our desires to His in every area of life (1:10b). The terms in Colossians 1:10b are: “…bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

Let me make this plain. Did you ever go to a buffet and bring back a plate for someone else? The issue isn’t what YOU LIKE, but rather what THEY LIKE. Scripture teaches that we are to choose from the buffet of life as though we are bringing the plate back to the table for God’s enjoyment, not our own. How exactly are we to do that?

In well explored passages like Romans 12:2 we are reminded that we are not to be “conformed to this world…” In Colossians 1:10b, the believers were told to be busy bearing fruits (karpo-foreo) “deliberate outcomes” in every good work (ergon) performance or endeavor). We are to deliberately work toward things are productive. Let this be clear: God desires that your life produce something in each of your life endeavors (1:10b).

There are a number of ways we can do this. One that stands out is in the very famous “fruit bearing” passage found in John 15:4-8. Jesus presented a picture of a vine (Himself) and branches (His followers). He told them they could not produce fruit without “abiding” or “drawing life” from Him (15:4-5;8).

Look at the end of verse ten, where it says: “increasing in the knowledge of God.” Our life will be a rich, growing experience when it is increasing (auxano), literally “having a life deepened and augmented by” an intimate and thorough knowledge (epi-gnosis: lit. “to know around” precise and correct knowledge) of God Himself! When I know God, and I live to please His desires, I will naturally adjust my appetites to things that please Him.

God wants us to get stubborn about doing right

If you keep reading from Paul’s prayer in Colossian 1:11 he wrote…

Colossian 1:11 “…strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience…”

Paul wrote that God wanted their ability to be empowered (dunamoo) literally “strengthened or powered by” daily according to the measure of God’s great power (kratos: force), so that they would be immoveable and patient in the process. God doesn’t want believers to “tough it out” in their own will power. He has all the power we will ever need to accomplish a life that pleases Him. God’s desire is that we have an inexhaustible reserve of power drawn from Him! Our use of His power is specific: We are to become unmoved (hupomene) ability to remain under pressure) and able to endure trouble (makrothumeo: “long heat”). Our life will face pressures to buckle, but God desires to offer us a power that will help us endure and remain faithful.

I recently read an article that told this story, “The most sacred symbol in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is a tree: a sprawling, shade-bearing, 80-year-old American Elm. Tourists drive from miles around to see her. People pose for pictures beneath her. Arborists carefully protect her. She adorns posters and letterheads. Other trees grow larger, fuller — even greener. But not one is equally cherished. The city treasures the tree not because of her appearance, but her endurance. She endured the Oklahoma City bombing. Timothy McVeigh parked his death-laden truck only yards from her. His malice killed 168 people, wounded 850, destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, and buried the tree in rubble. No one expected it to survive. No one, in fact, gave any thought to the dusty, branch-stripped tree. But then she began to bud. Sprouts pressed through damaged bark; green leaves pushed away gray soot. Life was resurrected from an acre of death. People noticed. The tree modeled the resilience the victims desired. So they gave the elm a name: the Survivor Tree.”

God gave that tree more stability than that blast could take away – and He wants to do that to your life as well. Jesus rose from the rubble, brimming with life. He walked out of a graveyard a whole new man – because the Father possesses the power to do that to a lifeless body. God wants that power to be in your life.

God wants us to get our smile back on

Look at the end of the prayer…

Colossians 1:11b “…joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.”

Note that He wants to see us rejoice in all things, praising (eucharisto) saying thank you to the Father. He wants believers to learn to be thankful – vocally thankful – for the gift He gave us to be inheritors of new life! (1:12).

Cecil Conrad was a farm boy, tired of waking up at the crack of dawn to clean up after cows. He lied about his age, joined the Army and helped free Asia from the Axis. But it was in the next war, battling Communists in Korea, that Conrad might truly have regretted his change of career. In a too-shallow foxhole, somewhere north of Seoul, the 188th Airborne Division soldier held his gun close to his head, trying to shield himself from fast-flying ordinance that “whistled through the air like birds tweeting,” he said. Then the world exploded in his face. “It was like being smacked with a baseball bat. It knocked me backwards,” Conrad said. Dirt hit him, a chunk of sod flung up by a shell, Conrad thought, as he gradually accepted the fact that he was still alive. Then he touched his helmet, and felt the hole that a shell had torn out of the steel. “I knew a piece of sod couldn’t do that,” he said. By the laws of nature, that big bullet ought to have kept on going, making a fatal journey through his skull and brain. Instead, it struck the steel at such an angle that it cut through the metal and then deflected away. He had a bruise and a headache, but he lived to tell the story. Conrad still has that old helmet, with its tell-tale furrow in the brow. He is one Korean vet thankful for the helmet that saved his life. SOURCE: From “Korean Vet Thankful For The Helmet That Saved His Life” by Cliff Davis.

Here is the funny thing. Long after the engagement was over, he couldn’t put the dirty thing down! He CLUNG the helmet, because it saved him from certain death. I wonder if that isn’t what Paul had in mind when the Spirit nudged him to write how we would joy over the Father that gave us the one thing that saved us. We could never have breached the gulf of unrighteousness. We would surely have been lost.

Let me offer these simple words… God didn’t say life would be easy. That teaching isn’t growing spiritual people that press toward God’s real goals!

In the foreword of his book, Inside Out, Larry Crabb wrote: “Modern Christianity, in dramatic reversal of its biblical form, promises to relieve the pain of living in a fallen world. The message… is too often the same: The promise of bliss is for NOW! Complete satisfaction can be ours this side of heaven….. We are told, sometimes explicitly but more often by example, that it’s simply not necessary to feel the impact of family tensions, frightening possibilities, or discouraging news. [We are told that] life may have its rough spots, but the reality of Christ’s presence and blessing can so thrill our soul that pain is virtually unfelt. It simply isn’t necessary to wrestle with internal struggle and disorder. Just trust, surrender, persevere, obey. “The effect of such teaching,” continues Crabb, “is to blunt the painful reality of what it’s like to live as part of an imperfect, and sometimes evil, community. We learn to pretend that we feel now what we cannot feel until Heaven. But not all of us are good at playing the game. Those whose integrity makes such pretense difficult sometimes worry over their apparent lack of faith. “Why don’t I feel as happy and together as others? Something must be wrong with my spiritual life.” To make matters worse, these people of integrity often appear less mature and their lives less inviting than folks more skilled at denial. And churches tend to reward their members who more convincingly create the illusion of intactness by parading them as examples of what every Christian should be. [But] beneath the surface of everyone’s life, especially the more mature, is an ache that will not go away. It can be ignored, disguised, mislabeled, or submerged by a torrent of activity, but it will not disappear. And for good reason. We were designed to enjoy a better world than this. And until that better world comes along, we will groan for what we do not have. An aching soul is evidence not of neurosis or spiritual immaturity, but of realism.

It seems like so few get to the place that God desires, a place of fulfillment in Him and productivity in their spiritual walk. Yet the goals that Paul shared with Colossae so long ago tell us that the battleground is the WILL. We can shed our condemning past, trim off the expectations of those about us in the present and starve out the inner lusts that trip us up. Yet we can do NOTHING without allowing God to work in our WILL!

Paul argued that God could lay out His goals for us because of WHAT GOD DID FOR US (1:13-14). God orchestrated in Messiah three specific acts that are outlined by Paul:

Colossians 1:13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

• God entered the prison of darkness in Satan’s dominion and set me free (1:13a).

• God relocated me to a new Kingdom that was part of the estate of His much loved Son (1:13b).

• God set aside my guilt by considering payment in full through the work of Messiah for me (1:14).

Beyond what God did for us, a second reason is given to explain why God cold expect me to follow His plan for me: WHO OUR SAVIOR IS (1:15ff).

It is clear that God has the right to ask me to surrender my will because I follow the Incomparable Christ.

He is at the center of our worship – and that is as it should be. As we mature, we must recognize one of the greatest truths concerning the study of the Bible is this: Knowing the glory of Christ is an end in itself, not a means to something more. Christ is not glorious so that we get healthy, wealthy or famous – or even that His church is victorious. The glory of Jesus Christ is such that whether rich or poor, sick or sound, prosperous or persecuted – we are able to find total satisfaction in Him – and the Father Who sent Him. Let us be clear: Jesus is worthy of worship if He had never done any of the things the Gospels assure us He did.

In Colossians 1, Jesus is described in remarkable terms. Though not an exhaustive list of qualifications and qualities, it is an impressive list that should lead us to understand God’s right to our submission of will. That is the point of Paul’s sharing it!

Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, [both] in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Jesus possesses the privileged place of “first born” with all its rights and titles (1:15), He is the Creative agent of the Father (1:16a) who did His Father’s bidding in the creation of the world. He is the Owner of all things (1:16b). He has authority over creation because His Father has given Him ownership over all of it. He made it, but His Father said He could make it “for Himself!” If that is true, then I am made for Him. My life was initiated for His purpose. Knowing that gives my life meaning, purpose, focus and direction. God gave me life and then exposed my goals for living.

One of the greatest scientists of our time was Albert Einstein. He was a man who was so focused on his scientific theories. He was so focused, he often neglected even the simplest things of life, such as personal appearance (as evidenced by his hair). One time, Albert Einstein was taking a train out of town for a speaking engagement. As he sat in his seat engrossed in his work, the conductor stopped by to punch his ticket. Looking up in shock, Einstein realized he didn’t know what he had done with his ticket. Frantically, he began to search his coat pockets, and then his briefcase. Gently, the conductor said, “We all know who you are, Dr. Einstein. I’m sure you bought ticket. Don’t worry about it.” But, as the conductor moved along, he looked back to see Einstein on his hands and knees searching under the seats for his ticket. The conductor walked back, “Dr. Einstein, please, don’t worry about it. I know who you are.” Exasperated, Einstein looked up and said, “I, too, know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going.

Though Dr. Einstein was unsure, I am not – and you don’t have to be either. You can know why you are here, and where eternity will take you – because of Jesus.