Colossians 1:24-2:5 Now I rejoice in what was suffered 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. 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 saints. 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. 28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29 To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2 My purpose 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 orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.
There’s a saying that’s out there among experienced pastors. It got stuck in my head this week. I’m telling it was a little unnerving. I stared at this Scripture. I thought about it - long and hard. And no sermon arrived. Or to be more accurate, there were too many sermons that arrived. I stared at it and saw about 100 different angles and truths worth talking about, but couldn’t settle on the one that was burning in my bones - the one I had to preach. So I had this saying in my head that went round and round like some sort of demonic merry-go-round. “There are 100 different sermons to preach here.”
In that process, I learned something. There are a number of sermons that are very tempting to preach on this section of Colossians. Or really it’s just one sermon that has variations to it. It’s a sermon that has been preached a whole bunch of times. At least, that’s what I found when I researched it. The sermon goes something like this, “Look at Paul. Do you see how giving and sacrificing he is? Do you see how he rejoices in his suffering and persecution? Do you see how much passion he has for the gospel? Just look at that. We need to be more like him.” That’s the sermon that basically everybody preaches on this section of Colossians.
But that’s actually not what this part of the Bible is about. Sure, there are true applications you can make from Paul’s life. You can see how committed he was, how passionate, how fill-in-the-blank with whatever adjective you’d like to point out and you can talk about how we should be more like that. And don’t get more wrong. There is truth there, but that’s not the truth that Paul is trying to deliver here. Paul is trying to deliver a gospel truth here, not a law one.
Have you ever heard anyone talk about the difference between the two? The gospel is what God does for you. It’s God outside of you. It’s God working for you. It’s God moving, arranging, and delivering for you and to you. The law is the exact opposite. It’s about you. The law is what you should, must, ought, be, or do for God. It’s about you following some example, mimicking some behavior, or achieving some life change. Law or gospel. Gospel or law. What’s this section of the Bible really about? Paul makes it clear. “Now I rejoice in what was suffered 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.” (v. 1:24) Listen carefully to what Paul said. He said, “I suffered for you.” And he said, “These afflictions are for the sake of his body, the church.” Paul’s not telling the Colossians to be something or do anything. He’s only telling them what’s being done for them.
And according to Paul this was being done for them to achieve in them some incredible, far flung goals. “... so that we may present everyone perfect (mature) in Christ… so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding.” (1:28, 2:2) Talk about BHAG’s. Ever heard that acronym before? It stands for big, hairy, audacious goal. Paul’s got a BHAG for the Colossians. He doesn’t want to present to God a few juvenile, half-baked Christians. He wants to present everyone to God as adult, mature Christians in Christ. He doesn’t want to give them only some leftover scraps of teaching. He wants them to be rich. He doesn’t want them to have a partial, incomplete, half understanding of the gospel. He wants them to get it - really get it in a comprehensive way. Mature Christians who have complete understanding: that’s nothing less than the Christian version of a BHAG.
And that’s what this whole section of Colossians is really about. It’s Paul telling the Colossians what God is up to through him. He’s telling them, “This is who I get to be for you. I get to be that guy who gives you a power that will mature you in Christ. I get to be that guy who delivers to you the full riches of complete understanding. I get to be that guy.” Or if you want to hear it exactly how Paul said it, “ I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness.” (v. 1:25)
Now, this may sound totally sacrilegious and wrong to say, but I’m going to say it anyway. Isn’t that kind of disappointing? Isn’t that sort of boring? Don’t you think that’s totally mundane? There’s a part of me that really does. There’s even a totally classic story from Acts about a kid who was sitting in a window listening to Paul teach who fell out a window because he had fallen asleep. A person talking to other people is a pretty mundane, boring, and disappointing divine, delivery system when you think of what the Holy Spirit could have designed. Wouldn’t you much rather have Jesus ride in on a lightning bolt? Wouldn’t you much rather do a spiritual download to your brain and immediately become Mr. or Mrs. Christian of 2015? Wouldn’t you much rather sit in your chair, have a moment of pure spiritual ecstasy, and then follow that up with angelic fireworks in the sky?
This is, honestly, one the more difficult and confusing things to understand about God. Why doesn’t he just go ahead and show himself to us in some sort of spectacular way? The prophet Isaiah wrote about this phenomenon in a pretty raw and vulnerable way once. He said, “Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel!” (Isaiah 45:15) He might as well said, “Lord, why don’t you ride in on a lightning bolt? Why don’t you light angelic fireworks in the sky? Lord, why don’t you give us more consistent moments of pure spiritual ecstasy? Lord, why don’t you show yourself to us?” What Paul is helping us see is that God is showing himself to us. Just not in the way we might expect. God doesn’t use divine looking things to do his divine work. God chooses to hide his divine work behind human agents.
That explains why this section is absolutely littered with personal pronouns. It is striking. It is so striking that some people have accused Paul of acting like a second messiah because of it. After a very quick count (hopefully not too haphazard!) I found that Paul said, “I,” “we,” or, “my” 15 different times in this section. Why does he do this? The answer is found in another statistic. Paul used the word, “you,” 8 times in this section. Paul is not only conscious of, but also working hard to communicate that God is delivering the gospel to the Colossians through him to them.
That’s not law. That’s gospel. That’s not us doing something for God. That’s God doing something for us. That’s not us working and doing to believe something. That’s God delivering his good news to us on a silver platter. Do you see it? God has used and is using some of the highest and best relationships in our lives to deliver Jesus to the center of our being. That’s mind-blowing power that God has put between us. God is right here saying that what was happening between Paul and the Colossians had the power to bring them complete understanding. Do you see what else that means? That means that a mother’s Bible bedtime stories can a wing a child into eternity. That means that a gospel word spoken from one friend to another over coffee can carry a broken person to spiritual safety. That means that a simple pastor can stand in front of people and bring them real joy and peace.
And understand something. Right now, God’s not telling you this so that you feel the weight of the law to go and do something. Right now, he’s telling you so you can feel the joy of the gospel. He’s telling you so that you can look around your life and say, “Wow, the Lord sure has put the right people at the right time in my life so here I sit in faith right now.” He’s telling you so that you can feel safe and you can say, “This is incredible. I can see in my life a divine plan. God has called people into my life who will deliver greater, gospel knowledge and push me along to maturity in Christ.”
My mom wouldn’t miss. Every night my mom would read to us. I still remember how my mom would be going along and suddenly she’d stop reading out loud. That’s when we knew that once again she had gotten so involved in a story that she had forgotten to read out loud. So my twin and I would say, “Mom, read!” I’m pretty sure that happened at least one a night. She was the worst at that when she’d read her favorite stories. There was one exception to that rule: when she’d read us Bible stories. She loved to read us those stories, but she never forgot to read them out loud. Never. There was never a time when my twin or I would have to say, “Mom, read!” I now understand why. She realized that that was the most important thing. She realized that God was in that moment. She realized that was when the divine sparks were flying and that was the moment God was using her to grow Jesus up in me. If I have faith … if I have a gospel voice… if I have a reliance on Christ… if I show any maturity at all it’s because of divine moments like that.
I like to think about that because it shows that this matters. Having Christian friends matters. Having a pastor who knows you and loves you matters. It’s when I sit down and think that all through that I’m no longer disappointed or bored with God’s plan in delivering the gospel. Sure, it would be exciting to have Jesus ride in a lightning bolt, but I think I’d be more excited about seeing that than about the forgiveness I find in his cross. Sure, it would be nice to download spiritual truths into my brain, but that information wouldn’t necessarily have the time or space to capture my heart. Yeah, I’d like to sit in a chair in great spiritual rapture and have that followed up with angelic fireworks in the sky, but I think we all know that we need something more stable and permanent than a passing feeling. We need people speaking objective, unchanging truth into our souls especially when we can’t feel it.
But I haven’t even talked about the biggie yet. God uses completely fallible, mundane humans to reach us so that it’s always about God’s truth and its power. When the person bringing Jesus - whether they sit with you, read to you, or preach a sermon for you - is just as broken and lost without the gospel as you are, then it becomes even more about the gospel. Do you see that? When the person you’re interacting with can’t save you, it becomes all about delivering the message that can. When the person who loves you can’t take away your guilty baggage or heal an emotional wound, then it becomes all about the Jesus who does. That’s the magic that happens when the gospel takes center stage in our relationships.
And that’s the future I’m so excited about at Peace. Do you realize that’s happening right before our eyes? Someone at one of our Peace 101 classes shared her experience of being told that she was going to hell and now she’s found a group of people who will love her and will tell her everything that Jesus is to her. I know people in this church are texting each other and having coffee with each other and talking late with each other about what grace means to them. That’s the church we are and that’s the church we get to be for each other.
I can tell you this from my standpoint. People are starting to call me, “Pastor.” That never gets old to me. Never. Just like I won’t get over Elliana calling me, “Daddy.” I won’t get over people calling me, “Pastor.” Because those titles mean something. And I want you to know something. I’m not going to quit. I won’t. I will bring you Jesus week after week after week after week and I won’t get tired of it. And I’ll tell you why. Because I need him just as badly as you do. And you know what? That’s when the magic happens. That’s when the divine sparks fly. It’s no pie in the sky dream that God will bring us to complete knowledge. Christian maturity is not just some big, hairy, audacious goal that’s way out there in some kind of unknowable, possible future. The truth is that by the power of the gospel, that future is arriving right before our eyes. Amen.