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I’m lacking creativity to write a catchy title for this one. But reading “Epaphras” so many times brings to mind how my friend says it. Epaphras was a friend of the apostle Paul, and you’ll read more about him in my talk. Blondie was writing and giving sermons on Colossians when I was, but instead of saying “Ee-paf-ras” like most normal people, she, in her soft-but-still-northern Yorkshire accent would go “Eeeeeh-paf-ras”, as in “Eeh-by-gum-paf-ras”. We both did a lot of Colossians, and every time I just couldn’t get over the “Eeeh-by-gum”. Sorry Blondie. At least I didn’t tell you while you were doing it.

I’m not gonna lie – this is one of my earliest sermons so it’s probably not my best. But no matter how badly wrapped the message may be, the truth of the Bible is the same. So please try to see past my clunky writing as we dive in…

Bungee jumping is ridiculous. To me, the idea of flinging yourself off a high ledge with nothing but a piece of rope to stop you becoming human porridge on the floor is insane. So much trust goes into that rope, and stories like the one last week don’t fill me with confidence about the sport. I remember last year there was a news story where a woman’s bungee cord failed whilst she was jumping over a crocodile-infested river. Thankfully, she managed to swim out of the river and was ok. But when something as important as the bungee rope fails, the jumper is in serious trouble, to put it mildly.

There are many things that we trust, to varying degrees. We trust the floor beneath our feet to hold us up, we trust our alarm clocks to wake us up in the morning; we rely on our friends and family and trust in their love. We also trust that what we are taught at school and university, and by our parents, is true. There are certain things that we trust which are fundamental to us, and like a failed bungee cord it’s terrifying when it seems like they aren’t true. What are the most important things we trust in? And how can we be confident that they are trustworthy?

I’m going to be talking on Colossians 1:1-8, and I hope that as we explore this passage we will see that we can be confident that the most important thing that we trust in, the Gospel, is true. Let’s have a read of the passage:

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.

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. 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. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow-servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

–  Colossians 1:1-8

As we can see from the first two verses, the apostle Paul is writing to the church in Colosse. Colosse was a small city in the Lycus Valley area of what is now Turkey. It was about 120 miles southwest of Ephesus. The church in Colosse began during a period of evangelism linked with Paul’s ministry in Ephesus in 52-55AD, and which is recorded in Acts 19. It was started by a man called Epaphras, who was from Colosse himself, and brought the Gospel back home as Paul’s associate/representative. Paul is writing to the Colossians probably in 60/61AD, during his time in Rome. Epaphras had visited Paul in Rome and told him about the churches in the Lycus valley such as Ephesus and Colosse. He must have mentioned the recent introduction of a false teaching at Colosse which could undermine the Gospel and prove dangerous for the Church. What we will see from the rest of Colossians is that this false teaching basically said that you had to obey certain rules to gain what they called “true knowledge”. To correct this, Paul wrote to the young Colossian church.

His greeting in verses 1-3 is fairly normal for the time; stating the author, the recipient, and a greeting. Paul states his credentials as an apostle (literally meaning “someone sent”) of Jesus, as he does in his other letters. He also mentions Timothy, probably because he was with him at the time. He then addresses the Christians at Colosse as being “holy and faithful brothers in Christ” (v3). He is affirming their faith throughout this first section, encouraging them that they can be confident in the Gospel they know.

After his greeting, Paul goes on to mention his thanks to God for the Colossians. He says that “we always thank God… when we pray for you” (v3). If you notice, he says “when we pray for you.” This implies frequent prayer for the Colossian church – even though he hasn’t met them. When he does pray for them, he thanks God for their faith in Jesus and the love they have for “all the saints” (v4). I’ll come back to this later; but if you notice, both the Colossians’ faith and love for their Christian family come from “the hope that is stored up… in heaven” (v5). This hope is the hope of salvation and right standing with God that they have in Jesus. This is something the Colossians can be confident in, because it is stored up for them in heaven, as Paul says in verse 5. It is kept safe where it cannot be touched by any that would seek to destroy it or take it away. And this is the same hope that we have! We believe that we are saved through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, and here we see that the inheritance that we will enjoy is safe.

Paul mentions that the Colossians had heard about this hope through the preaching of the Gospel. You see, the problem is not that they haven’t heard the Gospel properly – Paul describes Epaphras as a “faithful minister of Christ” in verse 7, so he would have given them a faithful and true account of how Jesus had saved them – no, the problem is that some dodgy new teaching had crept into the Colossian church. This teaching could have confused them and caused them to doubt whether they were saved at all, because it was saying that you needed more than just faith to receive all the blessings we have in Christ. But Paul is stating here that the Colossians already know the truth, because they have been taught it by Epaphras, and that they can be confident in it. Why? Because the Gospel was spreading around the known world, as Paul says in verse 6, bearing fruit and growing. And it was doing this in their church as well. This is something alive, something growing. Something that is obviously Spirit-empowered as shown by its progress, against all odds at times. Paul is saying, “look, you know this already and it is true.” He is showing them that they are saved, because of what can be seen in them. He is beginning to suggest that the truth which they have already been taught is worth trusting in, and Paul will pick up on this thread throughout the rest of the letter.

So, Paul has described how the Colossians can be confident in what they have been taught already about Jesus and their hope of salvation. And we know that this had a visible effect: Epaphras told Paul about the Colossians’ faith and love, which resulted from their hope. It makes sense that faith follows on from hope – we believe in this hope that we have. But I wonder whether we consider our love for fellow-Christians to come from the hope that we have? I know that I hadn’t really thought about it before studying this passage. Yet the hope stored up for us in heaven, the fact that by trusting in Jesus we are given right standing with God and become His children, should spark a love in us for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as well as, faith. We know that we are saved by grace, and we know the imperfect condition of our own hearts. God’s Holy Spirit lives in us, and He empowers us to love others; especially the eclectic bunch of other imperfect people that we now call our spiritual family! And since this love and faith “spring” from our hope, they are a sign that we are saved by God.

We have seen that Paul confirmed that the Colossians could be confident in the Gospel, and that their faith and love came from their hope. He confirms that he can see that they are saved, in preparation for his rebuff of false teaching in the rest of his letter. So, we can be confident in our trust of the same Gospel that we believe in. And we can encourage one another, if, or maybe when, we struggle with assurance – we can encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ, reminding them of the things we have seen in them that show their faith.

Football is a hugely popular game, with millions of supporters in the UK (it’s pretty much our national sport, whether it’s official or not), and everyone supports their own team. How can you tell which team someone supports? Well, they go to the matches, they wear their team’s shirt, and they follow them in sports news. My brother is an avid supporter of what was our local team, Oxford United. He asked for a new shirt for his birthday whenever the strip changed, he had a season ticket and went to all the home matches before he moved away to university – actually, he still makes trips home to watch important matches! He spends hours on their website, and watching them on the local sports news when he can. It is beyond me why he bothers with such devotion over a game – or of OUFC for that matter cos they’re no Premiership side at the moment, it has to be said – but he undeniably is a supporter of the ‘U’s through and through, because of how he lives. His motivation for his fanaticism is his love for his team; and in a similar way, we are called to reflect our status as children of God in how we live, because we love God:

Since, then, you 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 earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will appear with Him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in the knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favouritism.

Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

 – Colossians 3:;1-4:1

At first glance, it looks like the writer, Paul, is giving a list of rules to follow, just after he has said in the previous chapter that there is no need to follow rules for salvation. But we will see that here, his motivation for action is different – it isn’t “works for salvation”, but “works because of salvation”. We will see that our identity in Christ should motivate us to live in a way that reflects who we are.

So, what is our identity as Christians? We are raised with Christ to new life, as it says in verse 1. We are dead to sin and the rules of this world, and are hidden in Christ (v3). Christ Himself is our life, and we await the time when we will appear with Him in glory (v4). We are God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, as it says in verse 12. We are members of the body of Christ, with a promised inheritance. So, who are we? We are the chosen, beloved, people of God. We have been made holy by Jesus Christ, who is our very life now that we are hidden in Him. And we expect and hope for a heavenly inheritance and an eternal, perfect life with God Himself.

If you notice, throughout this chapter Paul gives this identity as being the reason for doing the things he encourages the Colossians to do. Since we have been raised to life with Christ, we should set our hearts and minds on heaven (v1). Verses 3-5 say that we should put to death our sinful nature because we are hidden in Christ and will appear with Him in glory. As God’s chosen people, we should clothe ourselves with such things as love, kindness, and peace (v12-15). And 3v18-4v1 give the Lord as a reason for their instructions – whether it’s for the sake of pleasing Him, worshipping Him, or remembering that He is our Master.

Let’s explore what Paul says it means to live in a way reflecting our identity in this passage. In verses 1-4, Paul says that we should set our hearts and minds on heaven, because we are dead to the world, have been raised with Christ, and our lives are hidden in Him. We will share in His glory in the future, so we should live lives that glorify Him now. Verse 5 says that we should put to death whatever belongs to the earthly nature. Here Paul lists two lots of five characteristics that we should put to death or rid ourselves of: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil practices and greed in verse 5; and anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language in verse 8. These are characteristics of the earthly nature – of how we used to live before we were saved. But now, we are God’s people, and so need to discard and put to death these aspects of our old nature and embrace the righteousness that we have been given. We still sin, granted, but sin’s power over us is broken, and now we desire to please God and live righteously. After he has described what we should get rid of, Paul describes what we should “put on” as God’s people. In contrast to the old self, we should clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, love and peace. Everything we do is to be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through Him,” as it says in verse 17.

Can you see what this means for us? We are called to live in a way which reflects our status as God’s redeemed people. We are God’s chosen people, all of us who are saved. He loves us greatly, and has made us holy. He has forgiven us for our sins. And so, we can show the same forgiveness and love to each other. Or should do, rather, because each and every Christian is God’s chosen, holy and dearly loved child (v12). The characteristics of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience that Paul lists are seen throughout the Bible in the character of God. So as God’s people, we are called to reflect who God is in how we live.

Paul gives some practical applications of what living like people of God looks like in 3v18-4v1. His applications are based on what households were like at the time, but we can still learn from what he says. Wives are asked to submit to their husbands, honouring and obeying them freely, and affirming their husbands’ leadership and supporting his role in the family. In parallel to this, husbands are called to love their wives and be gentle with them. In Ephesians [5:25-33] Paul gives Christ’s sacrificial love for His Church as an example to follow. Children are asked to obey their parents, and parents are asked not to provoke their children so that they don’t become discouraged. Why? Because this “pleases the Lord” (v20). The instructions to slaves and masters seem a bit removed from how our society works today, but a similar relationship does exist between employees and employers today. So, slaves, or employees, are called to obey their masters, or employers – not only in ways which their masters can see, but also in ways that go unnoticed. Their service should be wholehearted, and as if God Himself were asking them to do it, because they know that they have an inheritance in heaven and that God will reward them for their fruitful work (v24). Everything we do should serve God, and that implies serving those on earth who have authority over us, since God put them in that position. Paul’s address to masters in 4v1 is short, but contains a serious warning to masters to treat their slaves fairly.

All of these relationships share the motivation of pleasing God, or of having God as their Master. And ultimately, this should be our motivation for how we live as well. Yes, we should live as people of God, reflecting our identity in Christ, but what is our underlying motivation for this? Is it to keep God on our side so that He will be nice to us? Remember, we are already God’s dearly loved people because of our new status in Christ, so whether we do or don’t get it right as being Christians doesn’t change the fact that God loves us and wants the best for us. We should live the way we live in order to please God, not appease Him. We should act out of love for Him, as part of our worship to Him. And when we do this, when we live as compassionate, kind, gentle, patient people, this reflects who God is. It brings Him glory when people look at us and see Christ! If we were to live like God’s people fully, it would be a refreshing foretaste of heaven! Such love, respect and honour would glorify God to all who see.

Living in this way is part of setting our hearts and minds on heaven (v1). As we look forward to future glory, to meeting Jesus face-to-face, to everything being made right, we should reflect what we look forward to in what we do now. We live in the time between Jesus’ act of salvation and the time when He will return to take us home – the time of “now and not yet”, where we live in the now looking forward to what is to come. We cannot claim our righteousness for ourselves, because we know we’re not perfect, but we can point to Christ. We need God’s help to do this, to fight against our sinful nature and actively seek to act in a Christ-like way. So let’s wear the shirt, sing the songs, and walk the walk that honours God and isn’t ashamed to be His.

I wonder whether you’ve been in a situation where keeping going has been made easier by someone else helping you? When I was at school I used to do cross-country running. I’m not the fittest person in the world – my sprint is about the same speed as most people’s jog, so every week I would be swiftly left behind by the rest of the pack. At this point, it would have been very easy to give up and walk back to school, especially since it was only about 20 yards away, and if I were left on my own I probably would have thrown in the towel. But the PE teacher in charge stayed at the back with me. They encouraged me when I flagged and pushed me harder when I needed it; and because I had help, I managed to finish every week. It was because I knew that my teacher would help me round the course that I was able to persevere.

 Today we’re going to look at Colossians 1:15-23, and why it is that who Jesus is means that we can keep going in faith. Like my cross-county teacher at school who enabled me to finish my race, Jesus Christ enables us to persevere in our spiritual race. Let’s read:

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 firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all 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.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in our minds because of your evil behaviour. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the Gospel. This is the Gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Paul is talking about three aspects of who our Saviour is: that Jesus Christ is supreme as Lord of all, that He is supreme as our Saviour, and that because of His supremacy we can continue in faith.

Verse 15 says that “He is the image of the invisible God”. In Jesus, the invisible God is revealed, because Jesus is exactly like the Father in every way. In verses 16 to 17 Paul describes how Christ is the creator and sustainer of everything. “By Him all things were created” (v16). Paul leaves nothing out here. He mentions things on heaven and on earth, things we can and can’t see, and any form of authority we know of. Not only is this true, but Jesus also sustains everything. From the smallest atom to the vast expanse of the cosmos, the laws of science, the power of reason, the very breath in our lungs and beat of our hearts is all sustained by Him! And since our God can sustain the entire universe, how much more can He sustain us in our perseverance!

Just as Christ is Lord of this world, He is Lord of the next. As Paul says in verse 18, “He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.” Jesus was the first to be raised from the dead, beginning a new creation that is acceptable to God because they are in Christ. If you notice, there is a parallel between what Paul says here in verse 18 and what he says in verse 15: Jesus is the firstborn of this world and heaven, “so that in everything He might have the supremacy”. And in confirmation of Christ’s supremacy as our Saviour, Paul says in verses 19 and 20 that God’s fullness lived in Christ – meaning that Jesus is truly God. His act on the cross reconciled everything to Himself by providing a just way of forgiving sin. Can you see what this means? God, the Authority over all authority, the sustainer of the universe Himself, saved us! He is the one who guarantees our salvation, and He is the one who will get us into heaven.

So, how does this mean that we can persevere in faith? Because our salvation is secure. Look at verse 21; can you see how bad our situation before salvation was? “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your sinful behaviour.” We were alienated from God, this supreme creator and sustainer of everything, the most important person in the universe. How insolent it was of us to reject the holy God in our sin! How great His anger against us was! And this is how we would stand before Him now, but for the most profound act in history. Verse 22 says: “But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation”. Jesus, God Himself, died on the cross for our sake –God Himself, the One whom we had offended, made a way for us to be acceptable to Him. And not borderline acceptable, either, but “holy in His sight”. What a turn-around! The complete, unshakeable salvation brought about by the incredible, Sovereign God Himself is the same salvation that we have. We are reconciled with God, because God Himself has reconciled us. We can keep going through all seasons of life, because how God sees us will not change, and the bad times won’t destroy our heavenly inheritance. It’s easy to remember how great it is to be Christians when life is easy, but life isn’t always a bed of roses. Health fails, friends come and go, and long-running passion can fade. Yet this we can always take heart from: Nothing that we go through in our lives will change our salvation – when life is rough, we know our Saviour stands alongside us; when we’re weary, we have reason to keep going; when we’re having an awful day and think God would be ashamed to call us His own, He loves us still!

So then, we should persevere because Jesus is supreme and our salvation is secure because of it. Christ is supreme! He is God, everything was made by Him, and He sustains everything. God used Him to reconcile the world’s broken relationship with Himself. Our salvation is rock solid because it was done by God Himself! THEREFORE we should persevere, because our prize is sure, and our God is with us, the God who cannot be beaten. Like me in my cross-country running, if reaching our final destination depended on ourselves, we would be tempted to give up because we cannot get ourselves there. But we can persevere because we have Christ with us, bringing us through life and promising our final reward in heaven. Christ, the maker of the whole universe, is running alongside us. We know that it’ll be OK in the end and He will bring us through.

This is, my friends, what I feel may be described as an EPIC. WIN.

NB – these write-ups aren’t always exactly how the original sermons were. They’ve been tweaked a leetle bit to make them more readable online.

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