Listen: Simon Manchester presents Christian Growth
In this series, Simon explores the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae.
The apostle Paul is writing from prison to a church, which he has never visited and maybe never did visit. And they’re very new believers. And he’s full of thanks because the message of Christ has come like a seed and is being planted in their hearts and is born a kind of a tree, which has begun to show the fruits of faith and hope and love.
Let’s bow heads and pray as we think of God’s word for a few minutes
Heavenly father, thank you that you have not left us in the dark, but have given us the light of your word. We pray that as we consider these few verses this morning, that you would help us in shed light on our path, that we would trust you and walk with you, that we would grow like the Lord Jesus, and that we would be your faithful servants in the place where you’ve put us. Please help us. We pray, in Jesus name, amen.
The traveling on the Sunday mornings through a new Testament letter, which is called the Colossian letter. And you all well know that if you write to somebody, whether it’s a letter or an email, you often have a main purpose for writing, built into the letter is the big point of the letter, which is, “Please come and visit me,” or, “Don’t marry the girl,” or, “Please send the money you owe to me,” or, “Can I borrow your holiday house,” or whatever it is.
And you wrap the letter around with a nice introduction and a nice finish. Well, today we come to what are probably the two key verses in the Letter of Colossians, that is the main point of the letter. And my friends, these verses will save you and me, from the view of Christianity, which is that Christianity is like a coat that you put on for about an hour on Sunday, and then you leave to go and be normal. That kind of thinking is very sad. The idea that Christianity is a class that you come to, or it’s a club that you belong to. That sort of thinking is very foreign to the New Testament. And it ends up making very sad and frail Christian people. We would never say to somebody who’s married, “I hope you have a good marriage hour this week.” We would never say to somebody who’s married, “How’s your marriage hobby going?”.
But we recognise when somebody gets married, they’ve joined a person for life. And when you become a Christian, you’ve joined a person, called Jesus Christ. So, Christianity is not a visit to the gym, like this, it’s not a club where we just get some lessons. It’s not a class where we just turn up every now and again. It’s belonging to a very great person. You might of course forget this, and I might forget this as well, but the fact of the matter is Jesus said, “I’m with you always.” And so, if you’re one of his disciples, he’s with you always, wherever you go. Watching television, going to the park, going to the beach, going to the shops, he is with you always. However, it’s not easy to remember this, that we walk with Christ. And we easily leave Sunday behind and we fall into the trap of thinking a sacred hour on Sunday, and then there is secular Monday to Saturday.
And we forget that when you become a Christian, you’ve got a sacred relationship, which is forever. Now, the apostle Paul, helps us to get this in the verses, which would just read for us from chapter two, and verses six and following. Paul, you remember, hasn’t met the Colossians, but he is writing to them from prison. He’s very joyful that they become Christians. He’s very prayerful for them that they keep going forward. Don’t give up. He’s very watchful because he doesn’t want them to fall for error. And he’s very faithful himself, as he struggles in prayer for them. And we come to the two key verses this morning, and I’ve got two points and they go like this. Grow your faith. Guide your faith. Grow your faith, guide your faith. I’ll test you after this, to see whether you can remember, grow your faith, Guide your faith.
I once preached at Christmas, and I decided to make things really simple, that I would just take two words from Mark’s gospel, not far. Where Jesus says to a young man, “You’re not far.” And after the service, I went up to a man who was very clever. He was a professor of medicine, but he was not a believer. And I said to him, “You must be able to remember those two words.” And he scratched his head and he said, “Was it far out? I can’t remember.” Anyway, that was a big disappointment. So, I’m hoping you’ll remember, grow your faith, guide your faith. First of all, grow your faith. Paul says in chapter two, verse six, as you received Christ, Jesus, the Lord, live in him. This is a great way of describing Christianity. Receiving Christ, Jesus, the Lord. So, the news comes in our ear, that Christ is the king and the saviour.
When we receive the news, the good news, we receive him as well. This is also the way John writes in his gospel. He says, Jesus came to his people, and to those who received him, he gave the right to become children of God. So, the gospel is not so much achieving great things, like a good life that you can boast of, Christianity is receiving a person called Jesus Christ. We receive him as the gift from God. Now, why do we end up receiving Jesus Christ when we do? Well, because God is at work, steering us to the point where we are receptive. And sometimes he uses great hardships to make us receptive. CS Lewis said once, that when God comes to the average person, he knocks on the front door and the person inside says, “Not today.” And so, CS Lewis says, “Well, what will God do? He won’t knock on the door again because people are not listening to the front door, and he won’t walk away because he’s committed to you. So what will he do?”
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CS Lewis says, “He may take out the back wall, and he’ll take out the back wall, not because he doesn’t love you, but because he does love you and he wants to move in and turn your little home into a palace.” So, we recognise that God helps us receive Christ. And one day, the person who receives Christ will be received by Christ. Christianity is very simple. Receive Christ, one day be received by Christ. Well, now Paul has his key instruction where he says, and it’s hard to grasp this, but he says, “I want you to live in Christ. Like a Limb in the body or a branch in the vine, I want you to live in Christ.”
And he says, “I want you to grow where you are, in Christ.” So, he uses two illustrations. He talks about a tree in the ground, and he talks about a building on its foundations. The Christian, like a tree planted in Christ, must grow. A Christian, like a building, in a great big hole in the ground, must go up. That’s the illustrations that Paul uses, and he’s borrowed them in a way, from Jesus, who says in the Sermon on the Mount, he talks about the true tree, the false tree, the strong building, the weak building, and here’s Paul using the same two illustrations. So, I’ve always been helped when I think of Colossians, to think of the false teachers coming along to this church and saying to the Colossian Christians something like this, “I hear you’ve believed in Jesus Christ. Well, that’s good. You now are like a little tree in a pot, but you don’t have enough. You need somebody to bring you some new ideas, some new supplies, some new resources, some new powers. And then you’ll really be big and strong like us.”
The apostle Paul, says that’s completely wrong. “You’ve been planted,” says Paul, “Like a little tree in the botanical gardens. Jesus Christ is like the botanical gardens. He has got everything that you need. You just need to put some roots down, and you will grow up and find that he has everything that you could possibly need. If you have him, you have everything.” I don’t know if you’ve heard this story before of the very wealthy tycoon who dies and leaves his huge art collection to be auctioned. And the day of the auction comes, and the auctioneer gets up and he says, “We’re going to auction all these massive paintings. Very expensive paintings. But the first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to auction this small portrait of the tycoon’s son, which he himself painted.”
And everybody of course, is expecting to buy something very expensive and special. Looks down their nose at this little portrait, and nobody bids. And then finally, the old Butler puts his hand up and he says, “I’ll bid.” And it’s sold to the Butler. And then the auctioneer suddenly says something very surprising, he says, “Now the auction is over, because it says in the will of the tycoon, that whoever gets the son, gets everything.” And all the paintings are given over to this Butler. And that’s the principle of the apostle, Paul is making, that when you have the son, you have everything. The treasure of Christianity is Christ. He’s a person, alive and well. Paul says, he’s the Messiah, the Christ. He’s Jesus, who lived and died and rose. And he’s the Lord. He’s on the throne. He’s the king of Kings. So, Paul says, “As you think in line with this, that you are planted in Christ, ready to grow, God will confirm and strengthen you.”
“And you,” he says, “Will be full of thankfulness. Why is it so important to be full of thankfulness? Because if you’re full of thankfulness, you’re not envious.” You’re not thinking, “Gee, I’ve missed out.” You’re not looking over at other people and thinking they’ve got more than I have, because you’ve got Christ. You have everything. Well, how do we grow our faith? I can’t think of anything better for growing faith than the way we grow normal relationships. A good listening is the key to a good relationship. You know those people who never listen? Very difficult, isn’t it, to get through to them. They’re always just waiting to say what they want to say. Now, good listening in the Christian life, means that we listen carefully to the scriptures, and you find a way of reading the scriptures, just a little portion every day.
And that’s how you listen to your saviour, and your king. I was talking with a lady this week and she became a Christian at the age of 65, having sat in church for decades. And she said, “In the church that I grew up in, there was no great interest in the Bible. So, none of us read it, and we didn’t know anything.” She said, “Now I’ve become a Christian, it gives me,” she said, “Everything that I need every day.” And she’s listening to God through the scriptures. The other thing of course, is good speaking to God in prayer. Admitting how you really are, telling him exactly what’s happened and what you’ve done and asking for his mercy and his grace, and showing that you’re dependent on him and committing to him your plans and your week and your friends and family, all of this is speaking to him.
And then thirdly, I think one of the things to really grow a relationship with Christ is to put away the things that wreck the relationship. The rivals, the idols, the compromises, just to put away the things that are getting in the way of good fellowship with Christ, and keep reminding yourself of his steadfast love, and seek to walk with him through the week. So, you’re not joined, you see, when you become a Christian to a coat that you put on and leave at the door of the church, you’re not joined to a club, you’re not joined to a class. You’re joined to a person. So, Paul says grow your faith. Second, he says, Guide your faith. Here is a poem of John Newton, the man who wrote Amazing Grace, who was a slave trader and became a Christian and wrote many hymns and many poems, and this is a poem where he talks about the traps of Christian faith.
And the poem goes like this. “What think ye of Christ, is the test. To try both your state and your scheme. You cannot be writing the rest, unless you think rightly of him. Some take him a creature to be, a man or an angel at most. But they have not feelings like me. Nor know themselves wretched and lost. Some call him a saviour in word, but mix their own works with his plan, and hope he, his help will provide when they have done all that they can. Some style him the Pearl of great price, and say he’s the fountain of joys, but feed upon folly and vice, and cleave to the world and its toys. If asked what of Jesus I think, though still my best thoughts are but poor. I say, he’s my meat and my drink, my life and my strength and my store, my shepherd, my trust, and my friend, my saviour from sin and the fall. My hope from beginning to end, my portion, my Lord, and my all.”
That’s a great principle, isn’t it? It’s a good view of Christ. So, the apostle says in chapter two, verse eight, don’t let anyone take you captive or kidnap you with empty and deceptive philosophy. There are people who come into churches, and I’ve seen them come into churches where I’ve worked. And they basically say to the people who are present, “You’re B-grade. But if you come and join our little circle, you’ll be A-grade,” and people fall for this. There are people in churches who think that it’s important to believe everything they’re told. They feel that if they don’t believe everything they’re told, that they’re not a good believer. I hope that you’ll not believe something things that you’re told. And you’ll test everything by the word of God.
And that’s why Paul is saying in these verses, “I don’t want you to believe what you’re being told. I want you to be alert and not be taken captive.” He talks about philosophy and empty deceit. He’s not criticising philosophy that you would study at university, that could be wholesome. Although Luther says, “What does a philosopher know about heaven, or how to be liberated from sin and death and hell?” And that’s a good question. Paul is really warning against empty philosophy, or deceptive philosophy, the sort of ideas that creep in and take you away from Christ. And he says, “These ideas come from human brains. They come from the world. They don’t come from Christ.” These are ideas that were creeping into Colossae, seemed to be promising extra freedom, and who wouldn’t like extra freedom? Well, Paul says, “How can you have greater freedom and fullness, if you belong to Christ?” You can’t be freer than being set free by Christ.
And you can’t have greater fullness if all the fullness of God dwelt in Jesus, and now you belong to Jesus. So, we don’t believe that Jesus had just a few sparks of divinity in him, as if he was a remarkable man, just a notch above everybody else. We believe that Jesus is God completely, as well as being man completely. One preacher said this, “If all the Earth were covered with helpers and all the angels were lovers of my soul, they could not do for me what I need. We need more than creature help. We need the whole fullness of God. And it’s found in Christ.” Well, in the rest of the letter, which we’ll come to in weeks to come, the apostle Paul, goes on to explain how the Christian faith, the Christian life will spill out into everything. It’ll spill out into walking through the normal world and relating to believers, and relating to unbelievers, and what it’s like behind the front door of your home, and how you do your work as a Christian, all these things will come as we finish the letter.
But I hope that we’ll remember this week, just this week in perhaps in weeks to come, that it is impossible to do better than having the resources of Jesus Christ. And when he says to his people, “I’m with you always,” you cannot be abandoned. When he says, “My grace is sufficient.” You cannot be neglected. And when he says, “Cast your cares on me, because I care for you.” You cannot be left that alone with your needs. It’s impossible. I’m not pretending everybody who comes to this church has received Christ. It’s quite possible, quite probable that some have not yet received Christ, but I hope you will receive Christ quickly. And if you have received Christ, the apostle says, “Grow your faith, and guide your faith.” The Indian Sikh, who became a Christian, Sundar Singh was asked after he became a Christian, “Why have you become a Christian? What have you found in Christianity that you didn’t find in your Sikhism?”
And Sundar Singh said this, he said, “I have found Christ.” And the person who was asking him the question said, quite irritated, “Yeah but what principle, what doctrine, what truth have you found?” And Sundar Singh said, “I have found Christ.”
Let’s pray. Let’s bow our heads.
Gracious God, thank you for giving to us, your son. And thank you for giving to us, the fullness and the freedom that comes through Christ. We pray that you would help us to grow in our faith. And we pray that you’d help us to guide our faith. May all who are gathered here this morning, be helped to know that you have given all that is needed for life and eternity in Jesus. We ask it in his name, amen.