The Fruit Bearing Gospel

Original Date: 
Sunday, June 26, 2016

Colossians 1:1-14 Jesus is Better: The Fruit Bearing Gospel

Gifts of the Romans
Today we are beginning a new series on the book of Colossians. For the rest of the summer, we’re going to be in this little letter from Paul to a church located in what is today eastern Turkey. And the title I’ve chosen for this series is: Jesus is Better.

Now, I want to say a little about why I chose that title. And to do that, and to help us understand what we’re going to find in Colossians a little better, I need to talk a little about the Roman Empire.

You are aware, I’m guessing, that the events of the New Testament all take place within the geographic footprint of the Roman Empire. Rome was, and remains today, one of the most significant and influential empires in the history of the world.

I did a little digging around on the internet, and I have some stats for you. At its peak, the Roman Empire encompassed 1.699 million miles and stretched from Eastern India all the way to Great Britain. That’s about 2,800 miles. For comparison, the continental United States at its widest is only about 2,700 miles across. Today, the area once covered by the Roman Empire is taken up by 55 different nation states.

And, most impressive of all, the Roman Empire lasted for 1500 years. Now, think about that. Next week, our nation is going to turn 240. We’d like to think that we have some history. But Rome lasted for 1500 years! And because of that longevity, they have impacted the world in ways that are still felt today.

In particular, historians talk about three gifts, or three influences the Romans left for the world. Sometimes, these will be referred to as the “three Romanas”.

The first, is the pax romana. Or the Roman peace. This especially applies to the first 200 years or so of the empire when there was unprecedented stability and peace. I’m not sure how peaceful things were out on the edges, on the frontiers or for people who were not in the Empire or for the Roman soldiers who were protecting those borders; but for those who were within the Empire there was peace. They weren’t fighting civil wars. When one emperor died there was, by and large, peaceful transition to the next emperor. And so there was opportunity for economic growth, for advances in art and education and philosophy. It was a kind of peace that just wasn’t available for much of the world’s history and in most corners of the globe.

So, a big part of that peace was Roman Law. I read this week that of all of Rome’s contributions to civilization, Roman law is probably their greatest legacy. What Rome gave the world was a great respect for the rule of law. Instead of matters of right and wrong being at the whim of whomever was in charge, the Romans wrote their laws down and kept track of them and paid attention to precedent. And so, people living within the Empire knew they could count on justice.

And then, the third contribution of the Romans was the Roman roads. In the midst of this unprecedented peace and stability, the Romans built roads. Some 50,000 miles of roads. All of which, proverbially speaking, led back to Rome. They were able to unite their far flung empire with roads—some of which are still in use today, by the way—which improved trade and the exchange of ideas and just the ability to get from one place to the next.

And this was important, of course, because it was in the midst of this Roman peace and on these Roman roads that the message of Jesus was being spread. The Apostle Paul and the other early missionaries were able to take the story of Jesus all over the empire, and they were able to do so with relative ease. These roads had a way of making the world smaller. Of making it possible to travel to places where you could previously only go if you had great courage and great wealth.

But there is another sense in which these roads made the world bigger; because all these roads now granted access to ideas and cultures and religions that would have been otherwise unknown. I heard the Roman Road system compared to our internet. We call it the information superhighway. Well, in a sense, their highways helped carry information as well.

Think of it: for most of human history, in most parts of the globe, people could be born and live and die knowing little more than the village they lived in, maybe the next village over. But now it was possible to learn about all these cultures and ideas from India to England.

It was a great opportunity for the spread of the gospel. Because people who would have had no reason to be interested in the God of the Jews—or indeed, would never even have heard of Him—were now sharing new ideas.

At the same time, it was a very eclectic time. A time when there were a lot of different beliefs, and it was common for people to say: “I’m glad that religion works for you, this is the religion that works for me…” There was also a lot of syncretism—that is to say, there was a lot of borrowing of ideas from one religion and combining it with ideas from another religion and so on. There was a lot of what I call “designer religion”, where people would just sort of pick and choose what worked best for them.

In that sense, I think there is an apt comparison to our own day. With our world getting smaller in terms of access, and at the same time bigger with all the different ideas we have at our fingertips, there is a real tendency for us all to create our own religion. We pick and choose among the ideas that seem best to us, and we dismiss the convictions of others as being good for them—but having no bearing on us. So we’ll hear things like: “Don’t impose your truth on me” or “I’m glad Jesus rose from the dead—good for Him. But I don’t see how that has any bearing on my life.”

Here’s where the book of Colossians comes in, and here’s why I chose to call this series “Jesus is Better.” Because it is in that sort of environment that the Apostle Paul is writing, and that sort of mindset that he is speaking to. To people who want to shrug and say: “I don’t see how Jesus makes a difference in my life,” or “isn’t this system of belief just as good as that one?” Paul is writing to show that Jesus is Lord over all. Jesus is preeminent, and He stakes truth claims that cut across cultures and our own designer beliefs.
This letter is written to show that Jesus is Better.

The Text
Today, we are going to look at the first half of chapter 1. Paul is going to focus on the gospel, and specifically on the way the gospel claims us and changes us. My big idea today is this: the gospel of Jesus Christ has profound, life-changing implications for us.

If what the Bible says about Jesus is true, then Christianity is not one among a menu of equally good options . All roads may lead to Rome, but not all religions lead to salvation. If the gospel is true, then it has profound, life-changing implications for each of us.

Let’s read the text. Colossians 1:1-14:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 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.

This passage has two basic sections. In the first, Paul gives thanks to God for the Colossians. In the second, He prays for them. So we’ll divide our sermon up into two parts. The big idea, again, is that the gospel of Jesus Christ has profound, life-changing implications for us.

Heard, Learned and Understood
And the first part I’ll give this heading:

The gospel claims us. The gospel of Jesus comes to us and stakes its claim in our lives. Paul begins his letter by giving thanks to God for the Colossians because the gospel has taken root in their midst. Verses 1 through 3:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,

Allow me to give a little background on this letter. Obviously, it is written by the Apostle Paul, and it is directed to a church in the city of Colossae. As I said, Colossae is located in southeastern Turkey. At one time, Colossae was considered to be a big city, on the trade route between Ephesus and the Euphrates River. But by Roman times, it had been surpassed in importance by its neighbor, Laodicea, and was considered a small town. One commentator says: “Without doubt Colossae was the least important church to which any epistle of St. Paul is addressed.” (Lightfoot, quoted by Peter T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon p. xxvii)

Interestingly, we have no evidence that Paul ever visited Colossae. He took missionary journeys to Turkey, and spent considerable time in Ephesus. While there, people heard what Paul was saying about Jesus and took it to surrounding communities. One such example is a man named Epaphras, who was from Colossae. He came to Ephesus, met Paul, believed the message about Jesus, and became so excited about it that he took it back to his hometown and started a church.

Then Epaphras rejoined Paul, went on further journeys with him, and told him all about the thriving community of believers in his hometown. And that’s why Paul writes. So, Paul is grateful for the church and he prays for them often. And the reason he is grateful, he says in verse 4, is:

4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—

Even though Paul has not met them, he feels like he knows them. And what he knows about them is that they have faith in Christ Jesus and a deep love for God’s people. That is to say: they have put their trust in Jesus, and they are showing the proof of that trust by caring about God’s people.

In the New Testament there is an inseparable link between faith in Jesus and love for the church. First John says: “If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar.” (1 John 4:20) There is an old quote, maybe by Augustine, maybe older than that, that says: “No man can have God as his father who does not have the church as his mother.”

Trusting God and loving God’s people go together. People who say that they love Jesus but just don’t care for the church are expressing an un-Biblical idea. Part of what Paul is grateful for here is that the Colossians trust Jesus and love one another.

So, where does that come from? Verse 5:

5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you.

The faith and love that the Colossians have comes from the hope stored up for them in heaven. Because they have hope, they can have faith and love.

But notice, that hope in heaven comes from the “true message of the gospel.” Here’s why I say this section is about the gospel. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that has made these folks into people that Paul gives thanks for.

Now, let’s define terms here, real quick. “Gospel” is a word you’ll hear a lot in the church, and in the Bible, but it might not be all that clear what it means. Literally, it means “good news.” So, any good news could be “gospel.”

But, because the word is used so much in connection with Jesus; “gospel” has become a technical term for the story of Jesus. That’s why we call the first four books of the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—which are biographies of Jesus, “gospels.” The gospel is the good news that Jesus lived, that He died, and that He rose again.

More than just the story of Jesus, though, “gospel” has come to refer to the meaning of that story. The way Paul is using the word here, he’s talking about the claim that when Jesus died, He was doing so for you and for me. The gospel is the good news that Jesus has paid the penalty of our sins. In Paul’s words, from the end of our passage, the gospel is the good news that God “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (14)

So, verses 6-8:

In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

The thing about the gospel—Paul says—is that it is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world. Wherever it goes, Paul says, it is seeing results. People are hearing the good news of Jesus and they are putting their faith and trust in Him.

And that’s precisely what happened in Colossae. Epaphras came back all excited about what he had heard, he started sharing it with others, and they put their faith in Jesus. They believed the truth of this gospel. They said: “If we were all lost and without hope, if we were all destined to pay the penalty of our sins in Hell, but if Jesus came and paid that penalty for us, and triumphed over the grave; then Jesus deserves our faith and allegiance. If Jesus did that for us, then we owe it all to Him.” They saw that the gospel stakes claims on their lives.

There are three words in these verses that I want you to notice: heard, learned, and understood. I’m taking them out of order of how Paul has them, but you see how the gospel has taken root among them. They heard it. They learned it. And they understood it.

And when those three things happen, the gospel is going to bear fruit. When the gospel is heard, when it is learned, and when it is understood—then people cannot fail to put their faith and trust in Jesus. When you understand what Christ had done for you, then you understand that He has a claim on your life. When you understand the message—not just the story of Jesus dying and rising again, but when you understand the meaning of that message—then you will give your life to Him.

So, that’s the first question today: do you understand the claim that the gospel has on your life? Do you understand what Jesus has done for you? Have you heard it, learned it, and understood it? Because if you have, then you cannot shrug this story off as being good for some, but having no bearing on your life.

Live a Life Worthy of the Lord
Now, the second part of our passage. I’ll label it: The gospel changes us. The gospel, when rightly understood, changes our lives. In the next part of the letter Paul shares his prayer for the Colossians. Verse 9:

9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,

Again, Paul has not met these folks. But he has heard about them. He has heard about their faith and love. He knows that the gospel has taken root in their lives. And so: he prays. He has never stopped praying for them. He continually approaches God on their behalf.

There is a lesson for us. Prayer is not just an occasional thing. It’s not enough to say: “Oh, I prayed about that last Christmas.” The Bible tells us again and again to pray always, to pray without ceasing, to pray and never give up, to pray continually.

And what does Paul pray for? That God will fill the Colossians with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. He wants the Holy Spirit to deepen their understanding of God. But not as an end to itself. Verse 10 gives a “so that” clause:

10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way:

Would you like to live a life worthy of the Lord? Would you like to please Him? Clearly, Paul believes that if you understand the gospel, this is what you will want. And in the next two verses he gives an idea of what that looks like. How do you live a life worthy of the Lord? It means, the next part of verse 10:

bearing fruit in every good work,

Paul is talking here about actions. The fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. The evidence of our Christianity will be shown in our love.

Or, again, the next phrase:

growing in the knowledge of God,

We should never be content with what we know of God. We should always be hungry to know more. Reading our Bibles. Attending worship. Listening to sermons on line. Taking Digging Deeper classes. Those who truly understand the gospel will be eager to learn more and more about the God who saves us.

I had a professor in seminary—and I’ve probably said this before—who liked to say that there will always be more for us to discover in Christ. Even in heaven, when we have all of eternity stretched out before us, we will not have enough time to learn everything there is to learn about God. We’ll never get tired of growing in the knowledge of Him.

Or, again, verse 11:

11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,

Living a life worthy of the Lord means being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might. I love the way Paul phrases this. He’s using the Greek word that we get dynamite from, and he repeats a form of it three times. We need power, and we get our power for Christ, who has glorious power. Strengthened with His strength according to his glorious strength. Paul knows we cannot live the Christian life on our own.

But even as he prays for power for the Colossians, notice why he prays for it. Not that they will have power to perform miracles or tell the future. Not that they will have power to move mountains or have an easy life. But that they will have power for great endurance and patience. That Christ’s power will be poured out on them to endure the trials and tribulations that this life is certain to bring their way.

And then, one more thing necessary for living a life that pleases him in every way, the beginning of verse 12:

12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father,

When we understand the gospel and let it take root in our lives, then it is going to bear the fruit of thankfulness. Our lives will be marked by joyful gratitude.

And all of this, again, Paul is connecting to the gospel. This is why Jesus Christ matters. This is why Jesus is more than just another option on the menu of life. Paul doesn’t use the word gospel in this section, but there is no doubt that he is talking about it. Look at the rest of verse 12 through verse 14: (Giving joyful thanks to the Father)

who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 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.

Here is the gospel defined in this passage. Here is why Jesus is better. Look what He has done:

• He has qualified us. The Olympics are coming up. We’re going to find out who are the best athletes in the world. But you and I cannot just go and pick our event and compete. Athletes need to qualify. There are going to be swimming trials and track trials and gymnastics trials. Only those who qualify get in. But Jesus has already qualified us for a share in the inheritance. He’s done the work. We don’t need to qualify ourselves.
• Or, again, he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness. The word darkness there is the same word Jesus used in Luke 22 when the soldiers came to arrest Him in the garden. He said: “This is your hour—when darkness reigns.” Darkness is the worst kind of evil, the kind of God-denying, Christ-killing evil that would put Jesus on the Cross. But it was in that very act of darkness that Jesus won His greatest victory—transferring us from darkness to light.
• And, again, you see the word redemption. We just saw that word again and again in the book of Exodus. The Passover, the sacrificial lamb. From slavery to salvation. Christ has bought us back.

That’s the gospel. That’s the meaning behind the story of Jesus. And when you understand it, it changes you. It has to.

And so, the second question is: Are you living a life worthy of the Lord? Are you seeking to please Him in every way? Do you see what He has done for you, and are you responding by bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened by His strength, and joyfully giving thanks to Him every day?

Like the Colossians, we live in a world that is getting smaller and bigger. Smaller in that we have access to every corner of the globe, and bigger in the sense that we have more ideas and more information available to us. But Jesus is not just another option on the menu of life. Jesus—and His gospel—is better. Jesus claims us and changes us.