Last week, I was staying in a hotel on the beautiful cliff-side southern Italian town of Sorrento, overlooking the Bay of Naples. If you imagine it to be a beautiful place, you are only beginning to get slightly “warm”, for it is much more than that! In fact, it is almost a surreal setting. They routinely grow lemons the size of American footballs! I mention the visit, because when I am overlooking the cliffs, I cannot help but recall the origin of the name of the place.
The name “Sorrento” was taken from ancient Greek mythology, originating with the Homeric epics and eventually making their way, as tales do, into the Roman tales of the past found in the works of Vergil in his masterpiece, “The Aeneid” (written shortly before the time Jesus was born in Bethlehem). The ancient mariners told of three beautiful sirens that beckoned to sailors and distracted them from properly watching the rocky shoals. Distracted by their song and small glimpses of their beauty, the sailors would find themselves crashing into the rocks near to the shore, trying to get closer to the sun bathing sea nymphs that appeared once as birds, but now as beautiful women. In the stories of Jason and the Argonauts, the sailors had to get past the women or fall prey to their trap, which would have ended their journey and left them crashed below the cliffs. What the sailors learned was simple: distractions are dangerous… The beautiful women and their irresistible voices had to be avoided or the distracted men would drift from their labors, and they would turn their ships into broken wrecks, as many a crew did before them.
They are everywhere… distractions. Long before cellphones and televisions in restaurants, ions before the first “billboard” ever made its debut… people were finding themselves distracted by the enticements of this world. Paul knew very well that early believers in Jesus were facing that temptation… and some were drawn away by enticements that often resulted in destroying their walk and witness for the Savior.
Key Principle: The only way to accomplish God’s call is to recognize and avoid the distracting beckoning of the sirens, and build defenses to keep focused on the mission ahead.
In my life, I have seen many bright testimonies drawing near the hazardous rocky shoals of sin, and suffering the damages of the sharp danger lurking in the rocks beneath the surface of the rough tide. This isn’t new, it has always been the case. The enemy has always used the sounds of sirens to pull away God’s workers. Recognizing that, Paul wrote to a small group of believers in two tiny house churches in Colossae, in Western Asia Minor a letter that has circulated ever since among believers. It was not his easiest writing to grasp, and has been far less preached that his other works. In some ways, this writing is his most complex, with perhaps the exception of Galatians – which is so often misunderstood. Yet, the little letter of Colossians, written from near the Tiber River in Rome around the years 61-63 CE, is FULL of important warning and practical instruction that is needed for the easily distracted among us.
The temptations mentioned are significant, but Paul’s case began in the first chapter with something we must understand before we can launch into the controversial matter of what pulls believers away from their walk with Jesus. Paul opened the letter with an important foundational set of truths that laid the foundation of his warning. He spoke of seven truths, broken three ways:
• Two of the truths concerned the Savior.
• One concerned the recipients.
• The balance concerned Paul’s mission and problems.
Truths about the Savior
What Jesus Did
First, on his way to challenging them to pay attention to dangers, Paul made plain what Jesus did for them when He found them as lost captives to the enemy of God (1:13).
Tucked into the middle of a prayer for the Colossians, he mentioned in verse 1:13: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Jesus rescued them and moved them from the dungeon of the deceiver, while granting them a new place to live, within His Kingdom. The importance of that truth was they no longer needed to serve sin, because they were out from under the evil enemy’s grip, and were now free to follow their new Master. People that don’t understand the freedom they have in Christ are much more likely to live in perpetual defeat, because they do not understand the incredible power of the Master, and they don’t truly understand that the shackles that bound them to an endless cycle of sinful behaviors has been broken. Jesus was their RESCUER, so they could look at life differently, and no longer live as victims caught in a trap.
Who Jesus IS
Second, he reminded them of Who Jesus truly IS (1:15-20).
He continued in 1:15 “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers 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. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
Look at the list of qualifications Jesus has to do a work in us! We could spend all our time looking only at the depth of resume Jesus draws from in setting people free.
• He is the expressed image of God – He shows exactly what the character of His Father in Heaven is like – but He did it in HUMAN form, where we could see and touch it.
• He is the one with the double inheritance of a firstborn son, one who could speak for the Father and His Word was the bond of the whole family – just as His Father’s Word.
• He was the agent of all Creation – nothing as made apart from His specific action.
• His mind was before all creative events – nothing was, until He called it into being.
• He binds all the universe together, and is both the head of the church and the first fruits of the Resurrection – guaranteeing that we will be raised in the same pattern He was.
• He is the Supreme ruler of all throughout the ages – both in Heaven and on earth.
• He is the bridge to again reconcile things broken by the ravages of the Fall of man as well as the Fall in the Heavens.
He is the Highest, the Supreme, the Creator, the Sustainer, the Powerful, the Master, the King, the binding glue of both the physical universe and spiritual powers themselves!! Why did Paul explain so much of the Savior? There is a simple reason… Telling people they are free only helps if they grow to understand the incredible power the Savior has at his disposal. We are NOT simply dealing with a baby in a manger, nor the broken body of a man crucified on Calvary. He is no static symbol of the medieval past. He is ALIVE, POWERFUL and ACTING NOW. We are finding our solace in the Magnificent One, the Architect, the Sustainer of all that has EVER been created. He has the power to MAKE, the power to KEEP, the power to SAVE and the power to BIND. In fact, He invented the word POWER, along with every other word or idea ever brought into existence.
Truths about the Recipients of the Letter
Who believers WERE
A third foundational truth reminded the Colossians who they WERE before Jesus grabbed their lives (1:21-23).
Colossians 1:21 “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”
Paul made it clear that the Colossians did not live their lives in deep search of truth, kindness and God. They walked apart from God, and frankly, like us, many never even thought about it! Just like us, the Colossians of old lived in a dark and selfish rebellious state into which they were born. We must recognize something essential about ourselves: There must be an ingrained humility in sharing the Good News of Jesus… We didn’t get a relationship with God because WE brought so much to bridging the gap with God, but because God bridged the gap with us. Reminding ourselves of that will return our voices to humble tones… the gentleness of the “there but by the grace of God go I” sense of viewing sinful and rebellious people. When we become judgmental, it is so often because we have come to see ourselves as someone “GOOD” that reached out to touch God and earned His favor. Nothing could be less true – it is an absolute lie. Salvation is a privilege brought to us by a God that loved us while we walked about ignoring Him, pressing selfishly in the other direction. Those who walk in rebellion now are no different than we were in that state. It is Jesus Who did the work to reconcile us, and it is Jesus has a goal to present us spotless to His Father. We are the privileged, but not the more deserving… not at all.
Truths about the Writer
Where Paul WAS
With the fourth truth, Paul began a discussion about his own life, call and obstacles. He made clear WHERE he was (1:24) – the imprisonment was part of what he called experiencing in “my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions“. Here is a remarkable truth for our day… trouble was welcomed when it was unavoidably part of following Jesus! It is impossible to take this apart too carefully to a generation of believers that has been soaked with the notion that salvation is about producing comfort and peace this side of glory. That message may resonate with American Christians, but does little among the hurting Christians in Africa, the broken hearts of Syrian and Egyptian Christians, or any other group that has truly suffered for Jesus. We must recognize, especially as the days grow difficult that the Gospel’s promise of abundant life was not meant to be a “pile of cash” and an “ease of lifestyle”. That kind of preaching has left us an anemic church, unable and unwilling to stand up to the wall of persecution and trouble the enemy is working to bring against us. Paul counted it a privilege to fill up the lacking dimension of suffering in his day – and we may need to recognize that we deserve no better treatment in the lost world than he received, or our Savior before him. Was Paul chafing at his arrest, or wounded that God would allow him to pass through trials? Not at all! In Colossians 1:24 he thankfully shared: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” Carefully focus on that word: REJOICE. It is beyond most of us to grasp rejoicing in troubles – but Paul wasn’t raised to believe in Christ he would not face them.
What Paul WAS
As he continued, he made clear a fifth truth that concerned WHAT he was (1:25-27)- he was a man on a mission!
Colossians 1:25 “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Paul recognized that he was a minister of a revealed truth, and a steward of the teachings of Jesus from His Word. Oh that our churches of today would grasp this truth!!! We are not called to make people comfortable with their sins, or to find new counseling methods to ease their consciences. We are an organization the stewards carefully a great and precious treasure – the Words of our Creator! We explain the truths He has carefully uncovered in the revelation of His Word. It is our delight, and it is an entrusted stewardship of the Most High! Let the church hear this: We are called to steward the truth, not blend it with modern error that would make it more palatable to the taste buds of lost men and women. It is our call to hold fast the precious Word on every issue – sinful behavior, the high place of marriage, the careful handling of both the body of our own vessel and the Body of Christ, His church. We are to clearly stand against the selfish waves of consumerism sweeping the church, and the dulling effects of self-interest that has swelled the ranks of prosperity hungry Americans. We are to warn of trouble and warm from the cold of a dark world. We are not here to compromise truth, but to deliver it like warm and comforting care to those who have lost the arrogance of self hope.
What Paul WANTED
In the sixth important foundational truth of Colossian 1:28-29, we recognize that Paul had a GOAL.
Colossians 1:28 “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.”
Look at the verbs, the action words of these verses: proclaim, admonish, teach, present. Here is a great message of Paul’s simple but powerful vision. What began with a simple announcement of the truth of Jesus’ life and work, became a warning that response to the gift of God MUST come. After that response, the acceptance of Jesus, there followed the need to teach men and women of a walk with God. All of this work – the preaching, the teaching, the warning – had a single goal – to present those reached as followers that delighted Jesus, and completed the work in them! Do we really CARE if those in the body of Christ are getting ready to meet Him? Do we even think – with our culture so thoroughly soaked in the “It’s nobody else’s business but mine what I do” that we SHOULD care about whether our brothers and sisters are becoming stronger in their ability to live and work for Jesus? Individualism is the world’s way – body is the Bible’s way. Paul stood opposed to individualism that allowed people to name Jesus as their Savior without responsibility to the body of Christ in their daily walk. With so many churches – many built on the ego of men and women – people move about without any real accountability and think they have founded a new “individualist Christian way of life”. Paul would have clearly argued they were completely wrong. Only a believer who thinks himself or herself accountable comes under admonishing preaching and teaching. The others ignore it, and live a half-surrendered, self-made version of the original Christian message.
What Obstructed Paul
Finally, Paul made clear what stood in his way to accomplish his goal – so that the Colossian believers would be able to pray and recognize the issues behind the struggles of Paul (2:1-5).
Colossians 2:1 I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2 My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. 5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.
Paul was concerned for those who knew Jesus and followed the message, but Paul had not yet met face to face. He was forced to settle with being “with them in Spirit” but being entirely unable to dwell together with them. Paul craved the personal touch in ministry, not a long-distance ministry aided by secondary methods. I think he would have used electronic ministry methods, but as a disciple maker, I think he would have disdained the impersonal nature of them. He used writing, because it was the best option available to him at the time.
The foundation was clear:
o Jesus sought us and found us.
o He is the Sovereign Creator, and has the ability to change us and clean us.
o We did not seek Him, He grabbed us in our sinful rebellion.
o His servants are not exempt from the pains of life now if their participation in them will further the message of the Gospel.
o Paul therefore, was undistracted by his house arrest, and was a man focused on his vision – to persuade people of Jesus and present them as grown and functioning disciples to His Master.
o He frustrated over distance and delay – just as we all would – but he recognized the work was getting done in God’s way.
Here is where Paul focused the people of the church at Colossae. He wanted them to pause and focus on four very powerful distractions that could pull them from Jesus and effective living for the Truth:
Don’t get afraid this will go on too long. The foundation we built in the last few minutes was very strong, but the argument Paul made was actually quite simple and straightforward… He warned believers long ago of four very powerful enticements, and some who are participating in this lesson are no doubt feeling the tug of them even today… consider each carefully. They come in the form of the word “therefore” in the coming chapter…
Enticement One: The Deception of Something More (2:6-15)
Colossians 2:6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Paul took the believers back to where they began. They were taught to live IN CHRIST. They were told to find their rooted security IN HIM – not is their self-importance, their bank account or their political freedoms. They were strengthened by HIS WORD and built up in HIS SPIRIT – not trained to draw their significance from their peers, their children or their church. It was a live dependent on the Word of God, and the WORK of God in them… and it popped out of their mouths in thankful words. If you are grousing and complaining all the time – you need TIME OUT in the corner with God. You need a cleansing of the inside that comes when you are again worked from the inside out by Jesus.
The truth is, many people don’t want that. They want something more IMMEDIATE, something that meets the demands of their FLESHLY DESIRES in the here and now. Paul wrote:
Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
In a world where Romans greeted their departed ancestors daily in the atrium of their house, where they prayed for their spirit guidance and looked for assistance from the long dead for matters ranging from crop planting to child-rearing, ancient Romans were always tempted to look back into their traditions for answers. Philosophies abounded on the street in the multi-cultural polytheism of the Roman city. The temptation to hear of “something new” and “something more” abounded everywhere.
The sad part is that two thousand years later, many a believer has fallen prey to the same type of speculation. Instead of carefully studying God’s infallible Word on the issues of life after death, they scoop up the books on the market shelf about people’s speculative ventures into Heaven from an operating table, and think they can now prove the truth from some “slice of life” biography. Woefully ignorant of the context of many passages of Scripture, they swallow false prophetic visions and gleefully claim promises God never gave them – when the promises God HAS made for them are marvelous and rich. Still other believers are drawn into some arduous religious practice as a replacement for real prayer – a quiet, reflective time alone with Christ as the day dawns. Throngs seek ever more emotional worship settings to pour out in music with hands reaching aloft, but can barely spend moments in conversation with the Lord they are so desperate to sing to. Sunday troops will come prepared to work for Jesus, but find little time to talk WITH JESUS. We must never forget that religion is a cold imitation of a real and vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ. It is not WORK FOR HIM that we desperately need – it is Christ Himself, gently invited into our heart to share the pains, ponderings and plans of our life. Paul reminded them of all that Jesus truly is in the verses that followed (look at these words cut from the total paragraph):
• 9 Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,
• 10 In Christ you have been brought to fullness.
• 11 In him the flesh was put off
• 12 having been buried with him in baptism,
• 13 God made you alive with Christ.
• 14 [God] canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.
• 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
When you read the words, the point is clear – Jesus paid your debt, and you account is clear. STOP living as though your need to impress people with your body is important – that is short lived nonsense. Stop living for the next party – that won’t satisfy. Stop moving from one hunger to purchase something to another – your addiction only satisfies the people making the JUNK you are buying. Stuff is just stuff. Fortune, fame, power and pleasure in this life pale in comparison to following the call of God with your whole heart. WHAT a Christ you serve. Fully God! Fully Giving! Fully Satisfying – if we stop running around looking for another way to be made complete. Find your fullness in Him or be distracted into believing there is something more… but that is a desception.
Enticement Two: The Defrauding of False Judgment (2:16-23)
Colossians 2 continues with another enticement to feel right with God and accepted by others – the deception of living under the false judgment of controlling religionists. Don’t be distracted by those who are impressing rules on you that cannot be clearly and carefully shown from the Word of God itself:
Colossians 2:16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. 20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
Look at how quickly a walk with Jesus is torqued by some to become an issue of CONTROL. They want to tell you what to EAT, what to DRINK, when to CELEBRATE, how ANGELIC WORSHIP will bring you “good luck” or how some vision they have seen should change how YOU live! Keep reading, and it will come down to RULES: Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Paul said: “They look and sound wise!” but they will all be like a balloon suddenly popped.
Don’t misunderstand me. There are rules to relationships, even those with the Lord Jesus. He didn’t save you to empower your sinful rebellion. The problem is that too many people want you to live by THEIR RULES, and not by the Spirit-affirmed, Scripturally-mandated truths of life. Don’t ever believe me if you cannot see it in the text of Scripture. Don’t take it from the book by the latest author or the lyric of your favorite singer. Get into the Word and check EVERYTHING by that – or keep walking on. No one can disqualify you from the race but the Creator of it – and He sees everything you do. Please Him. Please Him. Please Him…. Not yourself… nor please those you wish to impress on this earth. Please Him!
Enticement Three: The Distraction of Temporary Values (3:1-4)
Colossians 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Some are content with Jesus, and can discern the Scripture in a way that they are not led into the controlling hands of the legalist… but they are still distracted. The siren that captured their heart is the focus on the PHYSICAL WORLD. For some it comes in the form of LUST. They gaze far too deeply and far too often at physical beauty devoid of reality and relationship. They crave constant good feeling. For others is it GREED. They want the next shiny toy. They dream of owning it, and can only feel complete when it is fully in their possession. The list of sin symptoms is long, but the disease is ONE – believers can be distracted to LIVE THE WRONG LIFE. They love the wrong things, because they crave the temporal over the things above.
• If I love Heaven more than earth – my life will be intentionally lived to please Christ.
• If I love Heaven more than earth – my possession will be less important than storing up treasure above.
• If I love Heaven more than earth – my lost neighbors will be more painful to contemplate than the new healthcare plan or government regulation.
What will it take for us to really understand that we are called to focus on things above and let that focus determine the priorities of the things below? We need a view of Heaven that helps us gain stability in the tossing about by the earth’s short term issues.
Enticement Four: The Dirtying of Mud Pulls (3:5-11)
Colossians 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Paul offered word of yet one more distraction… the hunger to satiate the flesh. In a way, it is a more exaggerated form of the distraction of temporary values we just talked about. In another way, a very personal way, it is the deep and driving appetite for many an addiction. As a Pastor and Bible teacher, I am not unaware that some who are encountering this lesson have as recently as the last twenty-four hours found themselves hiding from others and indulging in pornography. Perhaps you listen to this lesson as some strange form of Bible penance. Here is the truth: Your desires CAN be put away. You may need to confess to those who are a part of your daily life that you need their assistance – and that is terribly painful. At the heart of the problem is a single lie. You may be listening to the voice of the deceiver, who wants you to be these words: “YOU NEED THIS. YOU CANNOT STOP. YOU MUST HAVE THIS TO MAKE IT THROUGH THE DAY.” He is lying, and deep inside you know he is. If you were stuck on a desert island, you wouldn’t die from a lack of porn. The practices of the life lived for self-pleasures that bring enormous guilt must be put to death in Christ.
He applies that same word to bad mouthing, angry outbursts, filthy speech. Stop saying that Jesus has the power to take away your sin, but hasn’t the power to help you stand against the lie that you need dirt to fulfill your life. You don’t. There is a way of escape. He provides it.
Paul’s simple message was this: “When you are on the right path, avoid every temptation to turn aside to another direction – it won’t get you where you need to go!”
In the legend of the sirens, there were those who navigated successfully around their coasts. The Argonauts passed by unharmed with the help of Orpheus, the poet who was drowning out the Siren’s song with music of his own. Odysseus made it by bound tightly to the mast with his men blocking their ears with bee’s wax. The Sirens, according to the myth, were so distressed to see men hear their song and yet pass by, they threw themselves into the sea and drowned. That is just a myth. What isn’t is that when the Devil cannot draw you in – he will simply flee. Resist him, and he will walk away.