Strong Hearts (Col. 2:1-5)Written by admin on Apr 15, 2013 in - No Comments
I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to Colossians Chapter 2. Yes, we have made it into chapter 2! This morning we will be looking at the first five verses in Colossians 2. And in these five verses, Paul continues speaking about the struggles he has had “on behalf of” or “for the benefit of” the Colossians.
If you remember from our sermon last week, Paul said in verse 24 that he rejoices in his suffering for the sake of the Colossians. And in verse 29 he said that he is toiling and struggling to present everyone mature in Christ.
Well, Paul continues on with the theme of struggling as we make our way into Chapter 2. Remember Paul did not add these chapter divisions, they were added later to help us study. So for Paul, verses 1–5 in chapter 2 are just a new paragraph following on the heels of his explaining how he struggles with all Christ’s energy in verse 29. Sometimes if we are not careful the chapter divisions distract us from what has just been said.
So let’s turn now and read our passage for today. Follow along as I read Colossians 2:1–5.
1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. (Colossians 2:1–5 ESV)
Now remember, when Paul speaks about his struggles in verse 1, he is speaking about his struggles on behalf of people he has never met who are members of the church in Colossae and other churches in the region known as the Lycus Valley. These other churches included the Church at Laodicea and the Church at Hierapolis. Remember Paul is in prison in Rome and the news he has about these congregations came to him by way of Epaphras who is with him now as he writes.
Which might raise the question, if Paul is in prison, how is he struggling on behalf of the Colossians and these other congregations? Well remember, as we have said many times before, Paul is writing this letter to protect the Colossians from a specific false teaching that was creeping its way into the church and drawing away some of its members. Paul is upset by this. By upset I do not mean angry (though I am sure he was to some degree), but what I mean by upset is that it breaks his heart. It pains him to know that the church is being attacked in this way and that people are being led astray from the only source of salvation (and that he is in prison and he cannot confront it head on).
And so out of his concern for the Colossians, Paul works and struggles in the best way he can to put an end to this false teaching. But again what does this struggling involve? Well, obviously it involves his writing this letter from a prison. A letter of which we read in chapter 4, he plans to send by way of two men named Tychicus and Onesimus. Go ahead and turn over with me to Chapter 4:7–8 and let me read those for you. This will help me make a point.
7 Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, 9 and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here. (Colossians 4:7–9 ESV)
Notice the words at the end of 4:8: “encourage your hearts.” Paul was sending this letter with Tychicus and Onesimus for the purpose of encouraging the hearts the Colossians. Now I point this out because if you flip back over with me to chapter 2 verse 2 you see that Paul repeats these words in the phrase, “that their hearts might be encouraged.” You see what is going on here is that Paul is sending this letter along with these two individuals to give a report of Paul’s suffering for them. Paul knows that this will encourage or strengthen the hearts of these Christians who are in the crosshairs of the false teachers.
Just like you were encouraged and your hearts strengthened last week when I told the story about the brave, young Russian girl named Natasha who was beaten severely for her faith, Paul knows that stories of faithfulness like these emboldened the faith of those who hear them. The Blood of the Martyrs is the Seed of the Church. So Paul is struggling for their sake in this sense. And his struggling includes all the suffering he has endured in his efforts to spread the gospel. Of which, writing this letter from prison, is included. He has struggled a great deal both physically and emotionally to see the gospel spread.
But secondly, I think it is safe to say that Paul struggles for them in his prayers. Turn back to chapter 4 with me one more time. And Look with me at verse 12. It reads:
Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. (Colossians 4:12 ESV)
Do you see that? Paul says that Epaphras, the one who founded these churches and is now visiting Paul in Rome, struggles on behalf of the Colossians in his prayers. And so I think it is safe to assume that part of Paul’s struggles for the Colossians take place in his prayers.
Fervent prayer is hard work. Any of you who have prayed for someone who needs a miracle to live knows what I mean. Maybe you can think of a time where you needed a miracle and prayed night after night and day after day for it. Praying instead of sleeping. Praying instead of eating. If so you know what it means to struggle in prayer.
And perhaps the greatest thing the church needs today is more people who are willing to struggle in prayer for the sake of the gospel.
So, how does Paul struggle for the benefit of the Colossians? Well he does so by working to spread and protect the true gospel message (which includes writing and sending this letter) and by praying for them fervently. Praying that they would be protected against the false teaching they were being confronted with.
Now, based on what we see in the letter, so far the false teaching seems to be contained and the Colossians are remaining firm in their faith. But Paul remains diligent to build up defenses within the church that will protect it against the ongoing threats of this teaching. And if you turn back with me to our passage for today, you will see in verse 4 that everything Paul said in our passage last week and everything he says today, he says: “in order that no one may delude [the Colossians] with plausible arguments.” Therefore, all of the struggles Paul is undergoing is for the purpose that these believers know what genuine faith is. He wants them to know it so well that they are not fooled by a counterfeit faith posing as the real thing.
Because the reality is that we live in a world that entices us in all sorts of ways to embrace something other than the Christ-Centered Gospel. Whether that be a subtle idea that requires us to do something more than trust in Christ to be reconciled to God. Or whether it be the embrace of a belief system that abandons Christ all together for something more palatable or more sophisticated, Christians are enticed in all sorts of ways to relax their firm grip to the cross as the all-sufficient means of reconciliation to God. Sometimes we can even be led astray by those who are sincere in their attempts to understand and teach the Bible.
So how do we guard our faith in a world that is constantly bombarding us with add ons and alternatives to the Christ-Centered Gospel? Add ons and alternatives that Paul says in verse 4 might even sound reasonable or plausible?
Well the answer that Paul gives us in this passage is that we must be about the business of strengthening our hearts. And so what I hope to demonstrate from this passage is that…
Since we live in a world that assaults our faith, we must find strength for our hearts. And this passage gives us three suggestions for how to do that.
The first point I would like to make from this passage is that…
Since we live in a world that assaults our faith, we must find strength in loving Christian Relationships (v. 2b).
Look with me in verse 2. Paul says that one of the reasons he wants the Colossians to know about his struggles is so that “their hearts may be encouraged.” What Paul means by the word encouraged here is strengthened. If you remove the “E-N” from the beginning of the word “encourage,” what are you left with? That’s right, the word “courage.” Paul wants to strengthen their hearts and give them courage to withstand the false teaching and remain firm in their faith. In other words, he wants their hearts to be strong.
If you have ever seen the movie Braveheart, you know what it means to have a strong heart. You are bold and courageous. Willing to stand up for what you know is right no matter what the cost.
And so Paul wants the Colossians to have a strong heart. But he also wants them to be “knit together in love.” We see that in this verse as well. But what does Paul mean by that? Well, another way this could be translated is “united together in love” or “bound together in love.”
You have heard the phrase: “There is strength in numbers.” Paul knew that one of the best ways to combat this heresy, or any attack on the church, is for the people of the church to be bound tightly together in love. A tight knit community looks out for one another and goes after the lost sheep who wander off into the wilderness of false teaching. And so Paul knows that one of the best ways to strengthen the hearts of the Colossians is to know that you have other people standing by your side looking out for you. People who are engaged in a similar struggle and need your help too.
And the same is still true today. It is important for Christians to be a part of a church body. A part of a group of people who love them and care about them and want the best for them. That is why churches often refer to themselves as a family. And that is why churches often bicker like a family. It is because we love one another and want the best for each other.
You cannot be a healthy Christian apart from being part of a body of believers. Those who believe church membership is not important for their walk with Christ are mistaken. Christ founded the church. He is the head of it. And to refuse to be a part of it, is to reject something Jesus established for our benefit. If the church is of no benefit to us or something that is not necessary, why was it so important to Christ?
Jesus prayed in John 17 that all of his followers would be ONE, just as he and the Father are one. The writer of Hebrews warns us about “neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” He says, like Paul says here, that we are to meet together for the sake of encouraging or strengthening (same word in our passage for today) one another. And he says we are to do this more and more as the Day of Christ’s return draws nearer. And though we don’t know when that day is, we are certainly two thousand years closer to it than the original audience of that letter. So if it was important for them to be meeting together, it is even more important for us to be meeting together.
Christ established the church. It is his church and he wants you to be a part of it. Don’t neglect coming together with the church on Sundays.
So, a loving Christian community is the first ingredient for a strong heart. And part of the way it strengthens our hearts is by being a place that reminds us week after week of the Christ-Centered Gospel. In a church we hear the gospel preached and we also see it lived out. And so, the second point I would like to draw out of this text today is that…
Since we live in a world that assaults our faith, we must find strength in the Christ-Centered Gospel (v. 2c–3).
From the middle of verse 2 and into verse 3, Paul says that all the knowledge and wisdom the Colossians will ever need are found in this mystery of the crucified and risen Christ. In last week’s sermon we talked about the mystery of God hidden for ages and generations from verses 26 and 27 of the previous chapter. Regarding this mystery I said that:
The saving plan of God had for centuries been somewhat of a veiled mystery to God’s people. A mystery of God’s slowly unfolding plan of redemption for the world. A mystery that culminated in a way that was unimaginable—in the death of God himself on the cross. And though the Jewish people were looking for a Messiah, the fact that this Messiah would come and dwell with them and then, IN THEM, was a great mystery. A mystery that God is now revealing to them. And at the core of this mystery is Christ himself.
And that last sentence is reiterated by Paul at the end of verse 2 in our passage for today. Paul says as plainly and directly as he can, that God’s mystery is Jesus Christ. And though the false teachers in Colossae may talk about mysteries filled with wisdom and knowledge that would led the Colossians to a higher echelon of faith, Paul says very clearly Christ himself is God’s mystery. The mystery of God’s redemptive purpose for the world is revealed in Christ alone. And Paul’s desire is for the Colossians to fully know the details of this mystery and to find a settled assurance in it.
Having just come through the Easter season, I am reminded as we talk about having a settled assurance of the radical transformation that took place in the disciples’ lives after they became convinced that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion, all the disciples fled and hid not knowing what to do. They were afraid they would be the next ones hung on a cross.
But then Christ appeared to them. And they believed. A week later Thomas believed and called Jesus my Lord and my God. And then these men, who were once scared for their lives, walked out of their hiding places and became bold preachers of the gospel. And one by one, each of them died, no longer afraid, but with a settled assurance that Jesus Christ was who he said he was and did indeed take away the sin of the world.
Assurance is a wonderful thing. That is why Paul wants the Colossians to have the riches of full assurance that comes through understanding and knowledge of the Christ-Centered Gospel. The false teachers are aiming to lure men and women away from the true gospel with lies they are calling knowledge and wisdom, but Paul says here, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ.
Everything we need to know about God has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ. From his love to his power. From his wisdom to his compassion. From his patience to his justice. There is no need for us to look anywhere else. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ.
And so… Do you want a strong heart, one that can resist the assaults of this world? Drink deeply from the Christ-Centered Gospel. Plunge its depths and try to count the riches. Become so familiar with the true gospel, that no counterfeit gospel will do. And the best way to detect a counterfeit is to be intimately acquainted with the real thing.
Do you know how they train Federal Agents to recognize counterfeit bills? It is not in the way we might think which would be by studying and analyzing a variety of different counterfeits. No instead they become very familiar with genuine bills. They learn how they feel. They learn how to tilt them and look for the holograms. They learn all the distinctive characteristics about real money that is hard for a counterfeiter to reproduce. And then when they see a counterfeit, it is obvious to them.
So the best way for the Colossians to recognize a counterfeit gospel, or a gospel that even sounds plausible, is to know the real gospel inside and out. And the same is true for us. Though we don’t have to deal with false teachers in the same way that the Colossians did. We do have plenty of people today who want to alter the gospel in all sorts of creative ways.
There is the therapeutic gospel which tells us that the purpose of Jesus’ death is to make us fulfilled and happy. There is the prosperity gospel where the goal of Jesus’ death was to make us prosper on this earth, here and now. There is the “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves” gospel which tells us that our salvation comes through our working really hard at it with God’s help along the way. Friends, the gospel message is not that “God helps those who help themselves,” but that “God helps those who CANNOT help themselves!” If we could help ourselves, then Jesus would not have had to come and die.
The true gospel is that Jesus did what we could never do. He came to earth and paid a price we could never pay. And he calls us to believe that this is true. And in doing so we are reconciled to God. That my friends is the true gospel and that is the one we need to acquaint ourselves with if we want to have Strong Hearts. Don’t believe in a gospel that relies at all on yourself. Because if you do, then the first time you mess up really bad, you will find yourself without any hope. Place your hope in Jesus who never messes up.
Know the Christ-Centered Gospel and throw all the man-centered gospels out the window. Actually throw them in the trash because if you throw them out the window some other poor soul might find them and be led astray.
So far we have seen that Paul’s desire is that his suffering will encourage the Colossians to be united closely together by love. He is confident that their being united together in loving Christian Community will lead to their full understanding of the Christ-Centered Gospel as they hear it preached and see it lived out. And he knows that a full understanding of the Christ-Centered Gospel will result in a settled assurance that their salvation is found in Christ alone. And so with all this in mind, we will proceed to our final point, which teaches us that…
Since we live in a world that assaults our faith, we must find strength in battle-ready churches (v. 5).
Look with me in verse 5. This verse describes Paul’s care and concern for the Colossians and his happiness that they are resisting the false teachers by remaining in good order and firm in the faith.
Paul says that though he is not there with them physically because of his prison sentence, he is there with them in spirit. We know what that means, we say it all the time. While he cannot be there physically, he cares so much for the welfare of these people, and he is so interested in their remaining firm in the faith, that he feels as if he is there with them. And he wants them to be encouraged by it.
And what he has heard about them makes him happy. He has heard from Epaphras that in spite of the false teachers there remains “good order” within the Colossian church and that the believers there are remaining firm in their faith in Christ. And this makes Paul rejoice. He rejoices over these things because both of them will help them to continue to resist the false teachings that would otherwise destroy the church.
The terms “good order” and “firmness” at the end of verse 5 were military terms. The image is of a group of soldiers in a military formation ready for the attack of an enemy. They have built a solid defense system around themselves and that defense system is faith in Christ. So the picture Paul is describing is one of a well ordered army holding their ground in battle.
And I think this is a helpful picture for us as a church today. We need to be a battle-ready church, building up our defenses against the many enemies of our faith—both worldly enemies and supernatural enemies. Enemies who desire to wreck our faith in Christ. And when we are battle-ready and come under fire, and come through that as a church, our hearts are strengthened. When we hold firm to our faith, when it would be easier to just relax and have a good time, our hearts are strengthened. When we see others come to Christ because we have chosen at this church to not veil the gospel message in order to be more acceptable to our culture, our hearts are strengthened. When we remember that our faith is not an objectless faith, but that our faith is in Christ, our hearts are strengthened.
And when we have Strong Hearts, we are ready for anything that this world will throw at us. As I said earlier, the reality is that we live in a world that entices us in all sorts of ways to embrace something other than the Christ-Centered Gospel. And if we are going to resist those alternatives and add-ons to the true gospel message, we must be about the business of strengthening our hearts.
So let’s make it our aim to strengthen our hearts through developing loving Christian Relationships. And the best place to do that is right here.
And let’s make it our aim to strengthen our hearts through developing a deeper understanding of the Christ-Centered Gospel. And the best place to do that is right here.
And let’s make it our aim to strengthen our hearts by building a battle-ready church. And the best place to do that is right here. Right here gathered with other believers hearing the preaching of the gospel week in and week out.
If we do these things we will have Strong Hearts firmly established in the Christ-Centered Gospel and ready for any assault against us.