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Jun 19, 2016

3H Anatomy

3H Anatomy

Passage: Colossians 1:1-8

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Anatomy of a Savior

Keywords: actions, feelings, good news, gospel, thoughts, spiritual anatomy

Summary:

This short series deals with the incomparable Christ we serve--his nature, work and person. This message deals with Paul's opening teaching on the nature of the Gospel that transforms us--head, heart and hands.

Detail:

3-H Anatomy

Colossians 1:1-8

Series: The Anatomy of a Savior

June 19, 2016

Garrison Keillor has made a career out of his monologues about the fictitious Minnesota town, Lake Wobegon, “the little town that time forgot and the decades can’t improve.” It’s the town where “all of the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average.” He says that in Lake Wobegon, people lock their cars in the summer, not because they’re afraid of theft, but because they’re afraid that someone will throw a lot of unwanted zucchini from their garden into the car.

I’ve read a few other characteristics of small towns.  Maybe you can identify.  “It’s a small town when…

  • “… you don’t have to use your turn signal, because everyone knows where you’re going.”
  • “…you have to name six surrounding towns to explain to people where you're from.
  • “… people know the news before the paper comes out, but they take the paper anyway to see whether the editor got the stories right.”

Well, we can’t rightly call Spokane a small town.  But we’re surrounded by small towns, like Colfax, Reardon, Elk, Deer Park, Freeman and, my favorite, WILBER!

I mention small towns because we’re taking the next four weeks to study one chapter of a letter the Apostle Paul wrote to a God’s people in a small town named Colossae.  Colossae was a minor town, about 100 miles east of Ephesus in western Asia Minor (modern Turkey). It was about 10 miles from Laodicea and 13 miles from Hieropolis.

Colossae had once been a fairly important town, but the trade route had shifted to go through Laodicea so that by Paul’s day, its importance had dwindled. The population was mostly Gentile, but a sizeable minority Jewish population had settled there several centuries before (Douglas Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and Philemon [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 27). Bishop Lightfoot (Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon [Zondervan], p. 16) wrote, “Without doubt Colossae was the least important church to which any epistle of St. Paul was addressed.” It would be as if in our day Paul wrote an inspired letter to the church, say, in WILBER. (Well, maybe not that unimportant!)

            Though a small town, the church of Colossae had some big theological problems.  We're not totally sure what they were but much of it revolved around who Jesus was.  Get that foundational truth wrong and you will got a whole lot of very important and life-changing truth wrong. 

But Paul did not write Colossians as a theological treatise to be analyzed by scholars. He wrote it rather as a pastoral letter to be read and embraced by common, small town people who were relatively young in their Christian faith. The most mature of these people were probably no more than five years old in the Lord! And since they were mostly Gentile believers (Col. 1:21, 27; 2:13; 3:5-7), they weren’t coming from a biblical background. In many ways, they were like the majority in our non-religious culture of today.

[Parts of the preceding were excerpted from a message by Stephen J. Cole found at https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-1-christ-flagstaff-colossians-11-2]

            Today’s message from Colossians 1 forms a bridge from our recent series on prayer that looked at the prayers of Jesus and this new series in Colossians that looks at the person and work of Jesus on our behalf.  We’ve entitled this series, The Anatomy of a Savior, not because I love the scientific study of Anatomy & Physiology.  Rather, over the years, I’ve gained a growing appreciation for "looking unto Jesus” as the “author and finisher of our faith,” (Heb. 12:2).  Being a Christian is all about being a Christ-follower.  The more our minds and hearts are captivated and filled with a true vision of Jesus, the better the rest of our journey in eternal life will be on this earth.

So let’s dive into this paragraph of the word of God today.  (Using the ESV.)

Colossians 1:1-2--Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

            This is a pretty standard introduction to a group letter from Paul.  Just notice a couple of things here.

First, this is one of four of Paul’s letters written from prison (along with Ephesians, Philippians and Philemon).  Hence scholars refer to these epistles as the “Prison Epistles.”  Makes sense, no? 

Paul’s not going through that rather isolating experience alone, however.  Timothy has taken up residence with him where he is under house arrest!

APP:  Anyone here ready to go “do time” with a brother or sister in prison right now?  Ready to move out of your house and into the slammer?  Better yet, are you ready to move out of Spokane and go join some brother or sister in some prison in, say, Iran…or Syria…or Iraq…or China…or Vietnam…or Pakistan???  Kind of puts the love of Christian believers in the 1st century in a new light, doesn’t it?  Too many who claim to be followers of Jesus today won’t even go spend time with Christians living in a different part of town let alone do time with them.  Living the life of Christ in a hostile world is definitely a team sport.  We need each other!  And it’s worth listening to brothers and sisters who love God and people enough to endure suffering together.

            Secondly, the recipients of this letter were called the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae.”  The NIV translates “saints as “holy people” and “faithful brothers” as “faithful brothers and sisters.”  Both translations are correct.  Paul was writing to female believers in Colossae just as much as male believers.  And believers are “holy people” in God’s eyes because we are “in Christ.” 

            There can be some confusion in our culture when you say someone is a “saint.”  If you come from the Orthodox or Roman Catholic or even Anglican traditions, the “saints” refer to those who have been officially venerated, then canonized and beatified and eventually granted sainthood by the church authorities after a rigorous investigation. Martyrs and those who demonstrated profound love and heroism towards others are possible candidates.  But after their death, their writings are examined to insure they agree with sound church doctrine and usually there must be one or two miracles that have been verified as a result of appeal to and apparent intercession of the saint. 

            For example, Mother Teresa, whom I referenced last week talking about praying in suffering, is scheduled to be declared a saint this September 4th by Pope Francis.  He has given final clearance for Mother Teresa — called “the saint of the gutters” for her work with the poor in India — to become an official saint of the church. 

APP:  That’s quite different from how God sees and refers to each of us, young in the faith and immature as we may be.  From the moment we believe in Jesus and take our stand in Him, we are, only IN Christ, saints…holy as He is holy positionally before the father. 

Ill: If you’ve ever adopted or been adopted, you know that from the moment the judge declares you part of your adoptive family, you have all the legal rights as any other son or daughter of that family. You may not sound like or look like or behave like or even understand your adoptive family very well.  But before the law, you are no different than a natural born, biological son or daughter of those parents.  Pretty soon you’ll answer to that family name as well as carry the reputation of that family name.  And hopefully, as the years go by, you really bond to and embrace that family, adopting their values, their philosophy of life, and hopefully everything good about that family. 

            That’s how God treats each of us.  We carry the family name “saints”…”Christians”….”Christ-followers.” And over time, if you really want to be a son or daughter of the Father, you’ll begin to act more like Him, love more like Him, see people more like him and live up to the name of being “holy”—set apart for God’s purposes and plans. 

Vss. 3-8 in the original Greek are actually one long sentence (starting in vs. 1).  It’s Paul’s favorite way starting a letter to any of the churches—with THANKSGIVING.  Every one of Paul’s letters, with the exception of the letter to the Galatian churches, begins with a prayer of thanksgiving for the very people he is writing to. 

            I find that interesting:  even when Paul hasn’t met a church such as here with the Colossian church, he still starts out with a heart of gratitude to God and thanksgiving for those people. 

APP:  Is this how we think about God’s people in Spokane…or Seattle…or Life Center…or City Gate?  It’s how God feels about us.  Despite all our weaknesses and wickedness, God rejoices over us.  He isn’t blind to our faults but he chooses to look at the commendable and grow us out of the immaturity and sin.    

As Paul starts his letter here, he points to 3 qualities of genuine disciples.  They are the famous Pauline triad of faith, hope and love.  But for today, I’d like you to think of them as 3 parts of a disciple’s spiritual anatomy:  head, heart and hands.  Let’s read what Paul has to say about our spiritual anatomy and see how it reflects the anatomy of Christ’s work in us.

Vs. 3ff-- We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. 

            There you have the triad of faith, love and hope.  But before we talk about what that can look like in our experience, let’s take a look at what those three parts of our spiritual anatomy grow out of.  We keep reading in vs. 5.

Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant.

            Paul is telling them that, at the very least, the true Gospel, also called “the word of the truth”, is THE thing that has given them a future hope that has also produced both faith in Jesus and love for His church.  [Tree diagram?]

Let’s talk for a moment about “the gospel”, this “word of the truth” which Paul tells us is responsible to lead to so much of our life in Jesus.  But before I do that, I want YOU to do some Bible study.  I want you to take these 3 verses and find out as many characteristics of the Gospel as you can.  These verses basically describe critical components or characteristics of the true Gospel.

            There is a LOT of confusion today about what really is “the Gospel” of Jesus Christ.  IF you were sitting next to someone on an airplane and they found out you were a Christ-follower and they asked you, “Can you tell me what is really such good news about knowing Christ…about His gospel,” would you be able to do it?  Would you be able to say, “Let me tell you why Jesus is such good news and what you absolutely need to understand in order for it to be good news in your life”? 

            So I’ll give you a little head start by telling you that the term “Gospel” simply meansgood news.”  Think of it as a newspaper from God that has really, really good news in it.  Just what will be the content of that “good news”?

            So here is that passage.  You discover in the next 2 minutes WHAT Paul refers or alludes to as CHARACTERISTICS of THE GOSPEL.  Then we’ll unpack that a bit.

What are the Gospel’s characteristics? If this passage was all you knew about the Gospel of Christ, what would you be able to say about it?  [Clue: what do the underlined words and phrases tell us about the Gospel?]

Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant.

Characteristics:

  1. “Heard”…”the day you heard it”--It is a message, something heard (2 x)
  2. “Word of the truth”…”in truth”--It is Truthabsolute truth (2 x). It involves a verbal message.
  3. “Gospel”--It is good news.
  4. “Has come to you”--It is something that can be given away and received/embraced.
  5. “In the whole world”--It is for every people in every culture. It is trans-cultural.
  6. “Is bearing fruit”--It produces good things, blessing
  7. “Increasing”--It isn’t stagnant or static but grows, changes lives, brings a fuller, more abundant life.
  8. “Understood”…”learned it from Epaphras”—it is something that requires mental and spiritual understanding.
  9. “the grace of God”—it is by grace (blessings that are not earned or deserved in any way).
  10. “Learned from Epaphras”—comes to us because someone else chooses to share it with us.

Now, go back to vss. 3ff-- We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. 

Remember the head…heart…hands part of anatomy. That’s our 3-Hs of spiritual anatomy.  The Gospel must impact all three components of our life:

  • Our HEAD: what we think, process, view as truth, reason, understand. This is the “faith” Paul speaks of in 4.  To have faith, it must be in something or someone.  It requires and understanding that moves us to trust.
  • Our HEART: what motivates us, our values, our emotions, our will, our drive, passions, etc. This would be the “hope” laid up for us in heaven.  It is that hope, that belief and yearning God places in our hearts for a better future that moves us to embrace the truth of God that targets our head as well as commands and moves our hands to…
  • LOVE--Our HANDS: how we act, speak, what we do and don’t do that displays the nature of Christ in us.

So for a moment, let’s work down those 10 characteristics of the Gospel here and ask, “Which characteristic involves our head…or heart…or hands?”

  1. “Heard”…”the day you heard it”--It is a message, something heard (2 x) Head
  2. “Word of the truth”…”in truth”--It is Truth…absolute truth (2 x). It involves a verbal message. Head
  3. “Gospel”--It is good news. Heart (and head)
  4. “Has come to you”--It is something that can be given away and received/embraced. Heart & Hands
  5. “In the whole world”--It is for every people in every culture. It is trans-cultural.  Head & Heart
  6. “Is bearing fruit”--It produces good things, blessing Hands
  7. “Increasing”--It isn’t stagnant or static but grows, changes lives, brings a fuller, more abundant life. Heart & Hands
  8. “Understood”…”learned it from Epaphras”—it is something that requires mental and spiritual understanding. Head & Heart
  9. “the grace of God”—it is by grace (blessings that are not earned or deserved in any way). Heart
  10. “Learned from Epaphras”—comes to us because someone else chooses to share it with us. Head

If the Gospel of Christ is not changing all three of those levels of a person’s life, it is legitimate to ask, “Did I really embrace the Gospel?  Do I really have Christ?  Or have I just adopted a religion, a ritual, a set of beliefs but not God in Christ himself?”

            Embracing the true Gospel of Christ will impact ALL 3 areas of our lives.  When it doesn’t, we end up with phony substitutes:

  • Head without heart is intellectualism…mere doctrine… knowledge without the God of knowledge. Lots of people have a “faith” like that.  They’ve not allowed Christ to invade anything more than their mind.  Christianity is a set of beliefs to be held, nothing more.
  • Heart without head is emotionalism. SO much of modern American Christianity is built on this.  Just give me a great show when I come to this building we label “church.”  Give me some wonderful music that moves me, some great preaching that entertains me, and some little rituals that make me feel closer to God—maybe communion or prayer that makes me feel spiritual, maybe freely giving away some of my wealth that makes me feel like a generous person.  Give that to me 2 or 3 times a month and I’ll be fine. 
  • Hands without head is humanism. Doing a host of good things that make us feel like better human beings and may even cause us to feel that we’re gaining God’s favor by our good deeds is humanism.  Humanism puts humans at the center of the universe and tries to make the individual the savior of their own soul.  So we have lots of religious and spiritual people giving lots of time and energy to make the world a better place, thinking that, in the process, they are becoming better people.  But it’s done in dependence on God, in the power of the Spirit, out of gratitude for God’s grace.  It’s a self-help salvation which in the end is not the Gospel of grace, the Good News of being at peace with God, accepted because of God’s love and sacrifice for us, It is a false Gospel of our love and sacrifice for God which is really not good news for anyone.

So in the last part of this morning, let’s look at some of the ways all this, this Gospel, is meant to change us.  First, let’s look at how this Gospel affects our HEADS.  This would be characteristics 1, 2, 5, 8 & 10.

  1. “Heard”…”the day you heard it”--It is a message, something heard (2 x) Head
  2. “Word of the truth”…”in truth”--It is Truth…absolute truth (2 x). It involves a verbal message. Head
  3. “In the whole world”--It is for every people in every culture. It is trans-cultural.  Head & Heart
  4. “Understood”…”learned it from Epaphras”—it is something that requires mental and spiritual understanding. Head & Heart
  5. “Learned from Epaphras”—comes to us because someone else chooses to share it with us. Head

The Gospel is something that must have content.  It must have “word” for it IS the “Word of the truth.”  And as such, it demands that someone with the Gospel it share with someone without the Gospel. Even a great life, lived for and as Christ would live, is not the Gospel.  The Gospel involves the Word of God, absolute truth and revelation from God, about our need and God’s provision must collide in a heart-changing salvation experience.  

This is SO relevant for us today because we live in a day when people worship at the idol of an uncritical tolerance. This is the claim that all religions can be equally true. From the standpoint of religion, what is true for you may not be true for me, but that’s okay since truth, especially religious truth, is strictly personal. According to the prevailing culture of today, everyone can make up his or her own rules about what is true. Unfortunately, this is absurdly illogical.

When Christ claimed that truth exists, of necessity He also implied that falsehood exists. Your personal opinions about religion may be true; but if so, they are also true for everyone else. If you meet a friend who says, “Christ is true for you, but not for me,” tell him lovingly, ‘You are entitled to your own private opinion, but you are not entitled to your own private truth!

Truth is transcultural (characteristic #5).  It’s true for everyone!

ILL: Mathematics is transcultural; it is foolish to say that 2 + 2 = 4 is simply a Western idea. Science and technology also rely on universal principles that apply in every country, in every era. Hence the International Space Station.  If truth in science were relative, diverse nations could never have agreed upon how to build let alone man such a scientific endeavor. 

When an astronomer finds a new star, he has not changed the nature of the universe; he has only found something that was already there. Truth exists objectively outside ourselves. We do not create it; we can only discover it.

Does this objectivity also apply to religion, or is religion purely personal and subjective? Logic requires that if there is only 1 true God then there cannot be 2, 3, or 10 true Gods. If what Christ said was true, then what Bahia or Hinduism said is false. You may live next door to a fine Muslim family, but Islam and Christianity cannot both be true. Both may be false, but both cannot be true. And if one religion of the world is objectively true, it is true for everyone. The issue is whether we have committed ourselves to a religion that accurately reflects the way things are in the universe—morally, spiritually, physically, relationally, etc.

We must resist the modern notion that there is a sharp distinction between the world of objective facts (mathematics, science, etc.) and the realm of religion, which many believe should be relegated to the private world of personal opinion and individual preferences.

Religion, if it is worth the name, claims to make factual statements about spiritual reality. This means that every religion has the responsibility of giving evidence for its truth claims. Such evidence should be accessible to believers and nonbelievers alike.  [Taken from Erwin W. Lutzer, Christ Among Other gods, A Defense of Christ in an Age of Tolerance (Moody Press, Chicago, 1994) and a study by J. Hampton Keathley, III at https://bible.org/seriespage/paul%E2%80%99s-gratitude-colossians-col-13-8]

So what does the Bible teach are the foundational, absolutely necessary ‘truth claims’ of the Gospel?

  • PROBLEM: That every human being (but Jesus) is a sinner in need of being reconciled to their Creator, God. (Romans 3:23)
  • SOLUTION: That Jesus Christ, God-in-human-flesh/nature, is the only solution to this problem and has provided that solution through his sinless life and redeeming death and resurrection (I Cor. 15:3,4; Hebrews 4:15; 2 Cor. 5:21; I Peter 1:18, 19.)
  • CHOICE: That each person is responsible for either accepting Jesus and His work for us (faith) resulting in eternal salvation OR rejecting Jesus and his truth claims that results in eternal separation from God. (John 1:12; 3:16; Romans 6:23)

This is the HEAD/FAITH part of our spiritual anatomy in Christ.

Now to the HEART—the hope laid up for us in heaven.

  1. “Gospel”--It is good news. Heart
    4. “Has come to you”--It is something that can be given away and received/embraced.  Heart & Hands
    5. “In the whole world”--It is for every people in every culture.  It is trans-cultural.  Head & Heart
    7. “Increasing”--It isn’t stagnant or static but grows, changes lives, brings a fuller, more abundant life. Heart & Hands
    8. Understood”…”learned it from Epaphras”—it is something that requires mental and spiritual             understanding.  Head & Heart
    9. “the grace of God”—it is by grace (blessings that are        not earned or deserved in any way).  Heart

There is an inseparable union between the truth of the Gospel and hope.  So much of the battle for joy and peace and hope in life comes from knowing, believing and embracing truth.  When we believe lies about life or God or people, it robs us of right choices, of positive emotions and of hope for a better future. 

ILL:  I learned this personally and especially powerfully when recovering from about 4 years of depression in my late 20s.  I had seen depression modeled in my home as a normal emotional response to a perceived hopeless situation.  The result was, as an adult who began to encounter discouraging or disappointing experiences in life, I began to believe the lie that a.) I was trapped in a life I couldn’t change, and b.) that depression was the proper response to that belief.  I needed to come to grips personally with the fact that both those beliefs were wrong.

            On our first furlough, a wise, godly Christian counselor in Oregon simply helped me begin to recognize truth I could bring to bear on both those false beliefs.  To the lie a.) that I was trapped in a life I couldn’t change, he helped me see that all of life has choices…even if all of the choices may look bad.  I still can take steps to change my response to life if not life itself. 

And to the lie that depression was the right response to negative experiences, he would always run me to the “worst case result scenario”.  The worst result from making some decisions always ran me smack dab back into God himself. 

For instance, what if I made a choice that left my family in poverty for the rest of our lives?  Would God be there in poverty?  Sure.  Poverty hasn’t stopped God from working with people.  In fact, He seems to step into our experience more directly when we’re poor than when we’re rich. 

What about if I ended up in a mental institution?  Would God be there?  Sure.  God meets people in mental confusion and anguish in ways He doesn’t with supposedly “sane” people. 

What if one of my decisions resulted in unintentional death?  Talk about where God will be!  The presence of God is what I’m longing for in all eternity!  Even the “worst case scenario” will result in the best-case outcome for the child of God! 

            The “Gospel” truly is THE BEST News for every human being in every culture from every part of the world…every day of life…and the day of our death.  Add to that the reality that it is simple faith in God’s amazing grace that is HOW we get that “Good News” and you have something that changes people at THE deepest levels of their souls. 

Just “the grace of God” is a spiritual reality that can leave us grateful, thankful, at peace, resting, joyful and utterly contented in life and in death.  Unlike every other relationship we know in life, God relates to us based on His grace, not our performance or morality or goodness or work.  GRACE is God giving us all the blessings of himself…for free instead of all the judgments and punishments we deserve…forever. 

Which brings us to the spiritual anatomy of the HANDS.  When we choose to believe and embrace God and His Truth, that changes our HEARTS to such a degree that our ACTIONS/ HANDS will live love towards those around us be they believers or God-rejecters. 

            Though Paul had never met any of the Colossian church believers, he had heard aboutlove [they had] for all the saints” (vs. 4).  He doesn’t describe exactly how that looked in their case, so let me just go straight to the application for us. 

APP:  Is Spokane hearing about the love we have for people…for God’s people first and then for all people? If we have embraced the true Gospel, we will be loving each other in ways that could actually be reported to other believers and other cities. 

            So I’d like to close this message by asking us to share with each other HOW we’re seeing/experiencing the love of Christ lived out among us. 

[SHARE.]

Truth embraced changes our hearts and leads us to love.

CLOSE:

  • Have you embraced the Gospel of Christ (problem…solution…decision) by receiving Jesus Christ?
  • How deeply is that decision affecting your head, heart and hands—your belief about God’s truth, your heart passions/values/will and the way you love people?
  • Time to make some changes about what you embrace as truth and the place God’s true Word has in your life? About what your heart hopes and longs for?  About how you spend life and energy loving people?