Pastor Ryan David Cochran
IN CHRIST . . . IN FT. WAYNE
“Mercy, mercy, graven on our hearts. Lord, we pray that we would know your mercy in our lives today. Lord, speak your word to us. It is life and it is light to us, so may receive what You have for us today. Amen.”
We are beginning this week by taking a look at the Book of Colossians. If you have your Bibles, please turn there. We are going to be looking at the Book of Colossians over the next few months and then after that we will be looking at the partner book of Colossians which is the Book of Philemon. Paul, most likely, wrote Colossians and Philemon at the same time and likely sent them off with the same people to the church in Colosse. We will be looking at the books of Colossians and Philemon throughout this summer and into the early fall.
Introduction to Colossians This morning I want to give you a short introduction to the Book of Colossians and then we will walk through the first eight verses of the letter. This book was written while Paul was in prison, most likely in Rome. It was written about the same time as the Book of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Philemon. Colosse was a city that Paul most likely had never visited himself. In fact, this city was a second generation church. Paul went around the Roman Empire planting churches in all of the major cities around the Roman Empire, but the church in Colosse was planted by one of Paul’s disciples named Epaphras. So this is a second generation church. Paul has been training and equipping young men like Timothy and Epaphras to do what he does—to go and to plant churches.
A few months ago, Pastor Rick and I preached a few sermons on discipleship and we talked about discipleship as passing on what we know how to do, passing on our knowledge as well as our abilities and our skills, onto someone else so that they can do the same thing.
We see here in the Book of Colossians, that Paul has done this for Epaphras. Epaphras has followed Paul. He has been with him for a certain time and he has watched Paul do what Paul does in planting these churches and Epaphras has planted this church in the city of Colosse. This is a second generation church. I can imagine that Paul was excited that this was happening! It wasn’t just him doing the work now. It is passed on to the next generation of disciples.
Epaphras has been in the city. He has been teaching the church for a while and it seems like there have been false teachers that started to come into the church and were starting to the tell the church in Colosse that Jesus wasn’t enough—that Jesus was Savior and Lord, but there had to be something else added to Jesus.
We see in Chapter 2 that there were new laws that you needed to adhere to if you wanted to follow Jesus. There were certain things that you had to abstain from, certain food and drink, if you wanted to experience salvation. There were these different heresies and these different teachings that were coming in and it seems like Epaphras didn’t really quite know what to do anymore. He goes to see Paul in prison and he tells him about the church in Colosse and about this teaching that is taking place in Colosse. So Paul writes this letter in order to correct things, in order to make sure that the church in Colosse stays on track and doesn’t follow this “Jesus-Plus” salvation.
The gospel in the Book of Colossians--Paul is very clear that Jesus is enough. Jesus is sufficient for their salvation. Jesus is sufficient to give them strength to endure suffering. Jesus is sufficient to give them power to live a holy life. Jesus is enough!
I want to read a few of the verses in Colossians that speak about this sufficiency and supremacy of Jesus. Colossians 1 verses 15-20: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together and he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” Jesus is enough! “For God was pleased to have all of his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.” I am going to spend a few weeks on verses 15 through 20. Such a rich hymn that Paul is proclaiming here.
Colossians Chapter 2, verses 1-4: Listen to the supremacy and the sufficiency of Jesus in this passage. “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. 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, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” The rest of Chapter 2 is really talking about these different teachings and people who are coming in and telling them that they need Jesus PLUS something else.
Chapter 2, verses 6-10: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.”
Chapter 3, verses 1-4: “So then, you who have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on early things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
The Gospel is the good news of Jesus PLUS nothing else. Jesus is sufficient.
Paul’s purpose for this letter is that the believers in Colosse—those who have been led to Christ and this church has been started by Epaphras—that they would grow deeper into this knowledge and more mature into understanding the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus in their lives.
In Christ, in Colosse Let’s walk through Colossians, beginning with Chapter 1, verses 1-2: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.” This is written to the faithful brothers in Colosse in Christ. Very literally in Greek, it’s translated that way—that it’s in Colosse in Christ. Paul’s letters most often identify the church as being both in Christ as well as in the particular city that they are located. That’s how Paul identifies them. If Paul were to write a letter to us today, he would write it by saying, “To the faithful in Christ Jesus in Ft. Wayne.” Our place—the location where God has placed us-- is part of our identity as a church.
There are many of you that know the story that I am about to tell but there are many of you who don’t, and it’s an important part of the history of this church. Pastor Bob Yawberg, about 40 years ago, was called by a church to plant another church in northeast Ft. Wayne. There was some property that was purchased and they began to make plans to build a church there, but at the last minute the bank pulled out the loan and everything fell through. So, pastor Bob and those who were going to be planting the church started to pray. They spent 40 days praying—beginning at 5:00 a.m. for a couple of hours every day for 40 days.
During that time, the mayor of Ft. Wayne called a group of church leaders together and said to them, “there are many people who are leaving the downtown core of Ft. Wayne. They are going out to other places in Ft. Wayne and that’s fine, but we really need a strong downtown in Ft. Wayne. You, as church leaders, I challenge you to invest in the downtown part of Ft. Wayne. Pastor Bob took that as a word from the Lord. He began searching for places downtown to plant a church and this church, right here, this building was available and it was purchased.
Our place here at Broadway and Wayne, has shaped our congregation’s life for the last 40+ years. The particular needs and problems and strengths and resources of this downtown location has shaped our congregation in some significant ways.
McDonalds is pretty amazing. It’s the same everywhere that you go. If you buy a hamburger in Ft. Wayne, New York or L.A. or Vancouver or Miami, it is exactly the same. The same wrapper, the same smell, the same taste, the same kind of shriveled pickle—it’s all exactly the same. The church across the world is not always the same. The church is not a franchise—or at least it shouldn’t be. The church is in Christ and it is in a particular place, and the strengths and weaknesses, the resources, the needs of that particular neighborhood, of that particular city that that particular church is in—it influences the church and the church influences it and seeks to connect its ministry with that place. We do not do our life in the church in a vacuum. We do it here in this place. As Broadway’s congregation has prayed and has sought God’s direction, it is the particular and unique needs of this place that has led us to be the church that we are.
We are the church of God for this place—Broadway. Our location is not simply a random place on the map. It defines and shapes who we are. One of the themes of the Book of Colossians is becoming mature in Christ. I think maturity—spiritual growth in a church and in us as individuals--comes when a church is interweaving this calling to first be in Christ and to seek faithfulness to what it means to follow Him. Secondly, what does faithfulness in this place look like? What is the Spirit of God doing in our neighborhood and in our city that’s calling us to live the gospel out in a particular way because of what we see around us. Christian maturity happens when these two things come together, when we are seeking to grow in maturity in Christ and be faithful to our Lord and to seek what that means to be lived out in a particular place. We are the church of God for this neighborhood, for this city. We do not exist for ourselves. We exist for Christ and for the world that He came to save and the world that He sends us into. In Christ, in Colosse. In Christ, in Ft. Wayne. This is our identity.
Hope…Faith and Love Chapter 1, verse 3-6: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints—the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.” Faith, hope and love. These are three of Paul’s favorite words and they come up over and over again in his letters and they also often come up together--kind of as a three-stranded cord. Faith, hope and love. These are the theological virtues that the Spirit is forming in our hearts. Faith and hope and love.
It’s interesting to see in Paul’s letters to discover the places where Paul brings these three virtues together. It’s interesting to see how he kind-of plays with these three virtues of faith, hope and love. We know I Corinthians Chapter 13 as that great chapter about love. Love takes the center stage as a bright spotlight shown on what love means and what love is all about and how faith and hope serve and promote love. Then in Romans 5 it’s faith that takes the center stage. Paul tells us that we have been justified before God through faith and because of that we have gained access into the presence of God through Christ by faith. Because of our faith, then, we have a great hope, and this hope will not disappoint us in our own lives. As we live out our faith and as we understand our hope, the character of Christ is formed in us and the Holy Spirit (Romans 5) is pouring his love into our hearts. Faith is at center stage and faith leads to hope and hope leads to the Holy Spirit pouring His love into our lives.
But here, at the beginning of Colossians, we find these theological triplets again—faith, hope and love, but here, hope is the focus. The faith that the Colossians have in Christ and the love that they have for one another, Paul says, springs from the hope that they have in heaven. Hope is the focus here. In Christ Jesus, our love for one another—our faith in Christ Jesus and our love for one another springs from this hope that we have in heaven.
We have a great hope in heaven, don’t we? Think about some of the images that the scriptures teach us about the hope that we have in heaven. A place where the lion and the lamb lie down together. A place where soldiers re-fashion their weapons into gardening tools, because weapons aren’t needed any more. The tools of war and death-making are shaped into tools that bring life. Heaven is a place of resurrected life. Death does not exist. The resurrection of Jesus was the first fruit of the resurrection of the whole world, including your life and my life, your body and my body, a place that all that is wrong in the world is made right.
Countries will be made whole again. The Book of Revelation gives visions of nation after nation and tribe after tribe and tongue after tongue gathered around the throne room of God giving right praise to our Creator. Revelation gives us another image of this wedding feast—a place of joy and laughter and good food and good wine and good friends and Jesus is at the head of the table. Revelation 21 tells us that heaven will be a place where God is so close that He wipes away every single tear from our eye and there will be no more mourning, no more crying and no more pain because God is so close that He will wipe every tear from our eye. Apparently, when He wipes it away, it doesn’t come back, because there is no more mourning or crying, or suffering, or pain. We have a great hope in our heavenly life!
It’s this hope, Paul says, this hope that is waiting for us in heaven, that enables us to be a people of faith in what Jesus has done for us on the cross, what He has accomplished in His resurrection, and also enables us to be a people of love, to know that we are moving toward a time when we will join together with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world, around the throne room praising God. Our hope is oriented toward this good future in heaven. It reminds us that whatever frustrations we have in life, whatever pain and suffering you are going through, whatever anger and disappointment you have in our present election cycle, whatever fears you may have about your children, whatever anxieties you may have about the direction of our country, our hope is a reminder that though the pain and the suffering and the fear and the anxiety, although that is very real—it will not have the last word in our life or in our world. We are called to be a people of hope.
Paul continues in verse 6. We are a people of hope and listen to this hopeful word: “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.” All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.
Culture: Inevitable Progress or Inevitable Decline? There are a couple of different stories that are told to us about our culture and about our culture’s future. One of those stories is the story of “inevitable progress.” This story is told that because of science and technology, because of human ingenuity, because of human cleverness, that we are going to be able to eventually bring peace or feed the whole world or cure every disease. This story tells us that we can trust in the social and political scientists who are figuring out the right form of government and getting all those things right so that we can be a people of peace. This is a story that has been told since the time of the Tower of Babel—that our own technology, our own cleverness, will enable us to build up a city that will reach to the heavens. Culture is inevitably moving forward. It’s getting better and better. It’s spiraling better and better, and while there may be hiccups like wars and famines and whatever else it might be, eventually progress is being made. That’s one story that’s told about our culture and about the future of our culture.
There is also another story that is told about our culture and this story is perhaps a bit more common among our particular tribe here as American evangelicals. This is one that seems to often be told. It’s the story of “inevitable decline.” The story says that the culture is getting worse and worse and is always getting worse and worse. Biblical interpreters tell us that the Bible tells us that it is going to get worse and worse and the culture is going to spiral downward and downward and downward and further and further and further away from God until Christ returns. Right now that story is confirmed and reinforced when we see political and cultural shifts in our own country.
I want to suggest to you that neither of those two cultural stories tell the whole story that the Bible tells us. The Bible does not tell a story of inevitable progress because of human work and human effort, nor does it tell a story of inevitable decline because of our own human sinfulness. The Bible tells a story about how wheat and weeds grow up together. That’s the Biblical image that Jesus gives us about the world—that the wheat—the good fruit of the gospel—is growing up at the same time as the weeds. They are both growing at the same time, and it is our call as the church to be a people here in our place who are sowing the gospel into the lives and the culture around us.
Verse 6: “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.” I want to tell you that that verse is more true right now than it was when Paul spoke it. As Christians, I think we are tempted to look backward at certain times in the past as a kind-of golden era of Christianity. Maybe the time of the early church when we read the Book of Acts and we think, “Man, wouldn’t it be great if the church was like that!” Or maybe it’s the time of the reformation and we read about Luther and Calvin and everything that happened back then or maybe for some of us in America we look back at the founding of our country as its hope for Christianity. Or we may look back at the 1950’s as this great cultural moment when everything was good!
Here is the truth: If there has been a gold era of Christianity in the world, we are living in it right now! In the world right now we are experiencing the growth of the Christian church in a way completely unparalleled at any other time in Christian history. The growth in the church throughout the world is not simply continuing—it is accelerating! In 1970, 45 years ago, 1 out of every 13 people in the world claimed to be Christians. Today, 45 years later, it is 1 in 3. In the last 100 years, the amount of Christian missionaries in the world has grown by 1,500 percent. In the year 1900 there were about 17,000 Christian missionaries and today there are 400,000, many of them being sent to our country.
The church in China is exploding and has been over the last 60 years. In 1949 there were 1 million Chinese Protestants. Today there are 60 million and counting. You know where the church is growing the fastest in the world right now by percentage? Iran. It is difficult to know how precise this research is, but even if it is half-right, we are experiencing the greatest growth of the Christian Church in 2,000 years. All over the world the Gospel is bearing fruit and growing just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard about it. This is more true now than it was even when Paul spoke it. God is at work in the world, friends. There is great reason for hope.
The narrative of ”inevitable progress” because of human cleverness and technology and science and the narrative of “inevitable decline”, both have elements of truth in them but neither of them tell the whole story. In our own place here in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, in American, or in Shanghai, or in Damascus, on this side of Jesus’ return, there will always be a mixture of the Gospel taking root and bearing fruit and weeds growing. Both of the narratives of “inevitable progress” and “inevitable decline,” ignore the work of the Holy Spirit in the world. As Christians in America at our present time, here in our place—let’s talk about our place for a moment—we are facing significant and real challenges. We can’t simply whistle in the dark and pretend that all is well—it’s not! For sure, in our own local place, we are in the midst of a cultural wave that is more hostile to our faith than it was 100, 50 or even 10 years ago.
We need the Gospel that tells us that God is at work right now, so that when we take a stand for what is right and true and good, the Spirit will be at work to put it into good effect. When we do the quiet work of caring for the poor and the widow and the orphan, that it will work like yeast in a batch of dough in our culture. I want to say to you as your pastor, as your friend, as your brother in Christ, do not believe the story of “inevitable decline.” That story has no power to help us stand. The true story is that the Gospel is bearing fruit and growing all over the world and as we are faithful as a church in our place, it will bear fruit and grow as well. If we continue to believe and even champion this story of “inevitable decline” of the culture, we will be a powerless and fruitless church. We will not be able to believe that the good work that we do, that the seeds that are being planted for the gospel will have real effect in our culture.
Hope in Christ The world does not need a pessimistic church, but in many ways, that’s what we are giving her. The world needs a church that knows and lives out our hope in Christ—our hope that says that we know that God is at work right now in our lives and in our neighborhood and in our city, because we know that He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. We know that by Him all things were created, things in heaven and things on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers of authority, and we know that all things were created by Him and for Him. We know that He is before all things and that in Him all things hold together and that He is the head of the body, the Church, that He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead so that in everything He might have the supremacy. We know that God was pleased to have all of his fullness dwell in Him. We know that through Him He is working to reconcile all things to Himself—whether things on earth or things in Heaven—by making peace through His blood shed on the cross.
God is at work right now, seeking to reconcile all things to Himself. He is seeking to reconcile you to Himself. Your sinful and broken heart. He is offering you forgiveness. He is offering you life. He is offering you a hope in heaven. He is seeking to reconcile your broken and hurting marriage. He is seeking to reconcile the racial divide that continues to run deep in our country. He is doing this now. Do you believe it, friends?
The Book of Colossians is going to call us to be a church who knows that Christ is the supreme and all sufficient One, that it is Jesus plus nothing else. The true story that we live by is that the Gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world and we are called now to be in Christ, in Ft. Wayne, to be a people who hope in Christ.
“Father in Heaven, we thank you for your work in our world. We thank you that the message of the Bible is so realistic. It does not ignore the reality of the weeds. It does not ignore the reality of sinfulness and war and brokenness and famine. It does not pretend that those things are somehow an illusion. They are very real. You tell us that through your death and your resurrection that you are bringing new life into the world. You have called your church and on this Pentecost Sunday we remember that You have filled Your church with Your spirit to go and to be salt and light and yeast in our culture. Lord, I pray that we would believe and that we would know that as we are faithful to this calling that you would be faithful to bear fruit through the work that you call us to do. Lord, we trust you and we love you. We pray that we would become mature in Christ as we seek to be faithful in you and faithful to the ministry that you call us to here in this place. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”