Listen: Simon Manchester presents Christian Growth
Simon Manchester presents a 4-part series of messages called ‘Colossal Christianity’. The title is a play on the word ‘Colossians’, as he teaches from the book of Colossians in the Bible – a letter written to the church in the ancient city of Colossae.
Part 1: ‘Signs of Life’ – Colossians 1:1-14
Would you reach for your Bibles and turn again to Page 1165 – we are beginning a series in this tremendous Letter of Colossians.
We have called the series “Colossal Christianity” and this is the little book a lot of leaders will recommend again and again to the Christian who says, ‘I’ve become a Christian, I am pretty familiar with the Gospels, what should I read to grow?’
Or the person who says, ‘I’d like to read the Bible with a friend, they are not very clear or strong – what little book should I read?’
And again and again, people would say, ‘Read Colossians’. It not only gives you a big, beautiful picture of Jesus Christ but it also deals with so many practical issues to do with home, and church and work. It’s a wonderful little letter.
Now Paul wrote the letter because he got a letter – or if he didn’t get a letter, he got a physical person coming to him – to tell him that there was a brand new church in Colossae and that he should be pleased and excited. This is a church in Colossae that Paul didn’t start. He didn’t know the people. He couldn’t visit the people because he was in prison himself. And it was possibly meeting in a home and therefore not a huge church – we might think 10 or 20 people, and it was in a town called “Colossae” which is in the middle of what is now Turkey, and it was a very ordinary town.
And yet when the Apostle Paul lying in prison in his chains with the shackles on his wrists and his ankles heard that this little church had begun – he was filled with gratitude, and he began to pray. So he is an unusual man, isn’t he? He is an unusual man.
How Is Your Church Going?
And one of the questions that I get asked again and again (you don’t get asked this question, but I do) is, “How is St Thomas’s?” And my reaction is when people ask “How is St. Thomas’s?” is to say – it’s great, it’s a great family, I love being part of St Thomas’s, and I think to myself of the leaders and the members and the staff and the opportunities we have and the resources we have and the provisions, and I think it is absolutely wonderful, and I have to be careful when I am answering this if I am being asked by a fellow clergyman not to depress him because he may be having a much tougher time.
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But here are two searching questions you know. that I ought to keep in the back of my mind when somebody says “How is St. Thomas’s?”
One is, “Could I respond with a lot of gratitude and prayer if I heard that there was another church going well?” Because if I were to hear that a little church on the other side of the city – just been planted – and was going well – would I have the grace to rejoice about that and to start praying for it? And if I heard that it was going well, could I stay joyful about it? Well, I hope so.
And the other question is – “Do I measure this church rightly?” In other words, why do I say St. Thomas’s is going well? Is it because people are nice and happy? Or would I take some of the marks that the Apostle Paul has in Colossians and say – “according to these tests the church at St. Thomas’s North Sydney is going well”? I think that’s a much more important question.
So let’s put our mind to what Paul says in his Thanksgiving and his Prayer and I have divided the verses 1-14 of chapter 1 into 2 points –
There is Thanksgiving for Gospel News, and then there is Prayer for Gospel Growth. It’s not very clever those two titles – another person could do a lot better, but that seems to cover what Paul is doing in these verses – thanking God for Gospel news and praying for Gospel growth.
Thanksgiving for Gospel News
So Thanksgiving for Gospel News.
What’s happened to these Colossians? You see this in verses 5 & 6 – the gospel has come to them, and we know that it came (verses 7-8) through a man called Epaphras. Epaphras may have heard the gospel from the Apostle Paul and possibly in the city of Ephesus, and then he took the gospel home to his little town of Colossae, and he started telling people, and God blessed his efforts, and people believed, and he formed a little church, possibly in the home of Philemon.
And now Epaphras has decided to travel from Colossae to the Apostle Paul and say to him, “You helped me believe, and I went home with the gospel and this is what God is doing in my hometown”. And the Apostle Paul begins to rejoice. Notice that the Apostle Paul (in verse 5) defines the gospel as the ‘Word of Truth’.
Now this is such a simple thing to say and yet you know you might pass over it very quickly, but he dares to call the gospel the ‘Word of Truth’. In other words, he believes there is something called ‘Truth’, and he believes there is something called ‘Truth’ because God is the God of Truth.
I don’t know if you watched a recent Q&A programme but the thing I think which torpedoed the programme and made it so frustrating and bad for our blood pressure as it tried to sort of put together religion and politics, is that they collected six people together around a sort of a table who called themselves “Christians” but only one of them seemed to believe in the Truth.
And the others, of course, kept the politically correct line and made themselves popular with the audience and the television audience by saying “Anything is truth, and everything is truth, and it doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as it makes you happy”, and then sadly they turned on the one guy who seemed to believe in the Truth.
So it’s if six people are sitting around a table and everybody has been given a tape measure, and five of the tape measures have got no marks on them whatsoever. And one guy has a tape measure with marks on it and he is saying – “No there is such a thing as a metre, there is such a thing as Truth.”
No wonder the conversation on that programme was so impossible!
God Has Given us Truth
Paul says God has given us Truth and the Truth is summarised most importantly in the Gospel. And when I am in the Gospel, I am in the message of Jesus – that he lived, and he died, and he rose.
And not only have these Colossians heard the message of Jesus – that he lived and died and rose – but they have (look at verse 6) understood it. In other words – they got it! The seed as we heard from Richard with the wedding ministry, went into good soil. The lights of these Colossian listeners went on. Their heads were illumined – they said ‘I’ve got it.’
Those of us who have taken [the course] ‘Christianity Explained’ have seen people over the years by the goodness of God, “get it”, and it’s so exciting to see people say “I’ve got it”. it’s a work of God. Suddenly the lights go on, and that’s what’s happened with these Colossians – they are illumined or converted or reborn.
So this word “understood” is a very interesting word because it means “to know in an intensive way.” In the original language, it means “to deeply know.” It means that the information gets into you, it’s gone in.
I will give you one famous example of this – again from Weddings. If you have ever been to a wedding you will know that the passage that gets chosen again and again is – 1 Corinthians 13 – “Love is patient, love is kind.”
And at the end of the chapter, the Apostle Paul says this: “Now I know in part”. “I know in part”. But he says, “Then when I am face to face with Jesus Christ I will know fully”. And that’s the word – “Understand”. It’s to move from just knowing partially to getting it where the information comes home.
And that’s what Paul says here about the grace of God. And when I talk about the grace of God I mean that God would give salvation as a gift, not a trophy to be won, not a prize to be performed for, but that God would give salvation as a gift – to be taken.
And the Colossians got it – they understood grace and that, of course, is what caused them to believe and live and be reborn.
So when somebody sits in church, they may sit in church for years and years and years and the message of the preacher is just “muzak” – it’s just lift music – it’s nothings that are happening. And then one day by the grace of God they understand the grace of God and the talk of the preacher becomes astonishingly significant – more significant than any other sentence they could be told.
It’s a little bit like me saying to you this morning, “You know a man has won Lotto this week”. Well, you could sleep through that, couldn’t you? But if I said “Richard, you’ve won Lotto this week” that’s an arresting sentence isn’t it? Well multiply that and that’s what God says to us in the message of the Gospel, and when it comes home to us, it comes homes to us.
So these Colossians got it, Epaphras must have been joyful to see them hear it and believe it, and he starts praying for them, and he tells the Apostle Paul and Paul the Apostle in prison starts rejoicing and praying as well.
And as he writes to them – (look at chapter 1 verses 1-2) he writes as an Apostle. That man lying in prison in jail is an Apostle. He is a ‘sent messenger of Jesus Christ’. And I think you and I have got to get over the idea that the Apostle Paul has opinions and that we like some of his opinions, and we don’t like some of his opinions which wreck the church.
We have got to recognize the Apostle Paul is not a man who says “you know I think of myself pretty special”. He is very special. Not because he is super-godly but because Jesus Christ has appointed him to be an emissary or a diplomat or an ambassador. So it isn’t as though he has sort of earned a ‘Rev’ on the front of his name or a ‘Dr’ on the front of his name – it’s because the King of Kings has sent him into the world as his original messenger to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the Gentile nations.
And when he writes to these Colossians, and he says to them in this first couple of verses, “you know you are holy (meaning chosen) and you are faithful (meaning you believe) and you are brothers (meaning you are in the family)”, that’s what those Colossians are.
When the Apostle Paul says it is not just his opinion, it’s a fact. Those Colossians by believing in Jesus Christ have become chosen. They have become believers. They have become the family of God. And when the Apostle Paul sits in the prison and looks like a complete nobody in his shackles – as he lies in the corner like any other prisoner – the fact of the matter is he is Jesus Christ’s Apostle.
Faith, Love and Hope
So see what makes Paul so thankful (verses 4 and following) – it is that the Colossians have faith, love, and hope. Those three things are miracles. These are not private hobbies.
- If I say to somebody “you know I have faith in Christ”, that is a work of God.
- If I say “I have a love for the believers”, I’m not like that – naturally, that’s not me at all – that’s a work of God.
- If I say to you “I have a hope of being in heaven”, not a guess or a wish but an expectation based on the resurrection of Jesus and the promises of Jesus, that’s a work of God. Those things are miracles.
We mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking these are just private hobbies.
I was reading not long ago about a little girl – an Iraqi refugee girl called Miriam aged 11 (you may have seen this or heard this) but she had to leave her home, her friends, her family and her school because Isis drove her out of her town. And when she was being put up in a shopping mall with a whole lot of other people – really cut off from everybody – some television network entering into the shopping mall asked her ‘what her wish was for the world?’ And of course the network was expecting her to say – ‘you know let’s all be peaceful.’
But this is what she said: “I would like the world to pray to Jesus. He is everything, and he shields you in the hard times”. And that went viral, and it’s a miraculous comment, isn’t it? You just don’t talk like that unless God is at work to make you a brand new person.
And so that’s what the grace of God has been doing in the Colossians – giving them faith in Christ, love for the believers and hope in heaven.
Let’s think about them very quickly.
Faith in Christ
Firstly “we have heard of your faith in Christ” – in other words, the Colossians heard about Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection. They realized that he had come to pay for their sins, they realized their terrible plight without him, they transferred their trust from self to him, and suddenly it became as clear as a bell that they had been reborn, and they were able to say ‘I have a Saviour – Jesus Christ”. And you will notice that their faith is in Christ. It’s not enough to say ‘I believe in God.’ God pretty well means nothing today. It means what the person wants it to mean. But when you have your faith in Jesus Christ who lived, died and rose, that’s a much more specific faith, and that’s a saving faith.
So it’s a good test for you dear friends this morning – if you are here today ask yourself whether your faith is in Christ. That’s what Paul rejoices in.
And then he rejoices that they love the saints, and he says it again in verse 8; verses 4 and 8: “you love the saints, you love the believers.” You don’t just have the privilege of belonging and coming and singing hymns and having coffee and having people being nice to you – that is all wonderful, but you love to serve the saints. You make some sacrifices for the saints.
And when this miracle takes place, you no longer need somebody who is a pastor to ring you on a regular basis and say “come back” because you want to come back. And you no longer say to your pastor or your friends “I’ll drop in when I can” because it’s your family and God has put a new love for the believers in your heart.
So it’s strange, and a wonderful miracle isn’t it? Because by nature we’d keep away from the church unless we were just religious and did the sort of ritual. But to come and love the believers and to be loved by the believers – that’s a work of God.
Jesus’ Command to Love One Another
When Jesus was sitting around The Last Supper, he said to the disciples some interesting things. First of all, he said “you are greatly loved” and then he said, “I want you to love one another.” And then he said this “when you love one another – it’s my command – don’t wait to be fearless – get in and do it”, “because love” said Jesus “is a sacrificial action like my love to you.”
So He says you are greatly loved. God has acted in sacrificial action by sending his Son. You and I are under a divine commission to love one another in sacrificial loving ways. That’s what these Colossians had obviously begun to do.
Our Hope in Heaven
And the third thing is that they had a hope in heaven. And this is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? Because you and I this morning, we’ve not seen into heaven. We’ve not been like John the Apostle who had the sort of roof taken away, and he got to see up into heaven. We haven’t seen that. Our hope is in heaven, and it’s based on the resurrection and the promises. And we do have a fear of death, and yet we have a hope of heaven.
And we fear being mocked by the world, but we keep hoping and expecting to be one day in glory. Not because it’s just a wish but because it’s based on God’s own Word to us.
So no wonder the Apostle Paul is convinced that these Colossians are believers because they have faith in Christ, they have a love for one another, and they have a hope in heaven.
One of the Commentators on Colossians written by Dick Lucas says, speaking of the gospel spreading everywhere (verse 6), that when the gospel got to Kenya and the Word of God was being preached to the animistic tribes there was a tremendous response from these tribes, and the Kenyan officials wrote and said ‘we would like to report that there has been startling growth of Christianity in our country, and the roots of Christianity have gone straight into the African soil and produced an African church which is not a Western Church and we are not pretending that this is a Western Church – the gospel of Jesus Christ has come to us and has made an African Church’.
Because this gospel changes people all around the world – that’s what the Apostle Paul rejoices in from his prison. And I suppose if the food is terrible in prison and the company is terrible, and the chains are terrible – it’s a very wise thing to turn your mind to the things that are wonderful.
Prayer for Gospel Growth
Now more quickly he Prays for Gospel Growth (verses 9-14). This is very humbling isn’t it that the Apostle Paul would hear of a church not his own and start praying for them?
We who struggle to know what to pray would do well to look at Paul’s prayers in the New Testament. You might like to take an hour one day when you have got nothing to do, flip through the New Testament, find the prayers of the Apostle Paul, write them out and you will find you’ve got about 15 new things to pray for: missionaries, and for people on the prayer diary, and your children and your parents and your friends.
And basically this is a prayer for three things:
- Patience (what I have called fortitude )
- Thanksgiving (what I have called Cheerfulness)
So I have a three-some for you – Knowledge, Fortitude, and Cheerfulness. The letters are K, F, C! I’ve tried to think of a way for you to remember this! I haven’t quite latched on to this, but I am working on it. My hope is that as you drive past KFC, you won’t necessarily go in but you will remember to pray for the believers around the world to have Knowledge, Fortitude, and Cheerfulness.
Pray for Knowledge of God’s Big Plan
See verse 9 – he asks God to give them “knowledge of his will.” Again it’s the word for information that comes home to them – information that penetrates. So you know there is a new believer or there is an old believer and they are tempted to see that Christianity has become just over-familiar; it’s now the icing on the cake of their life. And I am praying that they will see the will of God, the plan of God is the greatest thing in the world. That God is building a family of believers and that’s what Paul prays for.
And when people begin to see the big picture of God’s plan, they get excited because everything else fits into that:
- The way you raise your children has to do with the big plan of God.
- The way you think about your spending has to do with the big plan of God.
- When you plan your holidays, you think – could we do something that would strengthen the plan of God?
That’s what Paul is praying, and we need to gauge our priorities by the big plan of God. So it’s a great thing to pray, isn’t it?
When you get the plan of God,
- You don’t despair
- You know that God is at work
- You don’t go off into dopey paths
You don’t say to your children – “the most important thing in the world son is you be a very rich man, that you be a very successful man”. When you get the big plan of God, you say “the very important thing is that you be a godly man. Everything else can fit into that.”
When people go in opposite directions – I think of a family who have left the church a long time ago and gone interstate and started a business and the business is absolutely flourishing and they are making an absolute mint and they are intoxicated with this new business and they have of course left their church – they have left the fellowship.
And so Kathy and I have been praying – ‘How, O Lord, are you going to bring this couple back, is it going to be a good book, is it going to be a CD, is it going to be a blitzing sermon? What’s going to get them back? And the answer is that their business is imploding – that’s the answer to the prayer. And would you believe that they are now back reading the Word, back listening to the Word, because that’s the big plan and that’s what we get tempted away from and we need to be settled into it.
Paul says “I am praying this so that you will live a life worthy of God, pleasing him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. What a wonderful thing to pray.
Pray for Fortitude to Keep Going
And then fortitude, or patience (verse 11) – he prays that God’s power will help them to keep going. He wants them to endure, to last, and not to give up, not to be like shallow soil or thorny soil but he wants them to have fortitude.
It’s an unusual thing to pray for the power of God to help you to ‘stick’ – but that’s what he is praying. We often think, you know, “I am going to pray for the power of God to cause this person to have a dynamic ministry or to triumph really over their troubles”. The Apostle says “I am praying that God’s power would be at work in your life so you will keep going”.
And one of the things I give thanks for in this church almost more than anything else is that people in this church young and old who are sick and they keep testifying to God’s goodness – that is remarkable. They have patience, perseverance, and the fortitude is wonderful. And that’s what Apostle Paul is praying.
I have a list in my little prayer book at home, of all the clergy boys who have walked away from the Lord, and there is a fair list of them – all my friends who have got clergy kids who have walked away from the Lord. And every week these clergy are preaching on the importance of heaven and hell and are longing for their kids to return. No wonder we need to pray for our loved ones that they would ‘stick’, that their faith would last and that some of these young people would come forth.
Many who have started the Christian life and given it up and they say “O I have left all that behind; you know that was just a phase!” You have left behind freedom and gone into real darkness – we need to pray that our loved ones would ‘stick’.
Pray for Cheerfulness and Thankfulness
And the third thing is we need to pray that our believers, our brothers, and sisters would be cheerful or thankful (verse 12) and if you can’t think of anything to be thankful for, just take Colossians 1:13-14 and read those verses sometime and you will discover a list of things to be thankful for.
Look at verse 13 “In the past God has rescued you” – what a thing to be thankful for. He has transformed you or transferred you – what a thing to be thankful for. In the present, you stand fit before God, accepted standing in the righteousness of Christ and you are redeemed (verse 14) and forgiven. Your present position before God is wonderful.
And in the future (verses 12-13) there is an inheritance in the Kingdom of God, face to face with Jesus Christ. So the past, the present and the future – all the treasures in those verses are cause for thanks.
So as we finish this morning, the start of this little series, perhaps we could learn from the Apostle Paul and put our mind on the absolute treasure of having the Gospel come to us and to say ‘we are deeply thankful Lord that you have given me faith in Christ, love for the believers and hoped in glory. And perhaps we might take a leaf out of the Apostle’s book and pray for gospel growth that there would be a knowledge of God’s will, which there would be a fortitude and a perseverance and a cheerful thankfulness for all he has done.
Don Carson says in his little book on “Prayers of Paul.”
If God had perceived our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an Economist.
If he had perceived our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent a Comedian or an Artist.
If God had perceived our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a Politician.
If God had perceived our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a Doctor.
But God perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death – He sent us a Saviour.
Let’s pray together –
[Prayer]: Loving Father we thank you so much for speaking to us in your Word and telling us what’s important, and we pray that the words we have read today and thought about for these few minutes would have a good effect on us. That we would reflect on how the Gospel has come to us and give you great thanks – That we would remember your people around the world, some who are drifting and some who are going well and be praying for them.
So please work with us the wisdom that you gave to the Apostle Paul so we would be marked with thankfulness and prayer.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.