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A few months ago I stumbled across an entry in my journal from a day I spent praying and looking at the Bible. Every so often I go through cycles of just being fed up with myself and my own sinfulness, so when I had a day to spend time with God I read Romans 5-8 and prayed about it. I don’t think it’s unusual for Christians to go through times where we get really fed up of our own sin and worry that God isn’t all that far away from giving up on us because we’re so rubbish at being godly. Sin feels like this monster that won’t let us go, and we wonder whether we’ll ever be able to resist that temptation or be free from that weakness or know what it means for that thing to not be a struggle. The below post is based on what I wrote in my journal that day, and what God showed me about assurance through those chapters in Romans.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:8-9

… while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

Romans 5:6, 8-9

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Romans 8:1-2

Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1) – yet this so often is our struggle: when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law that dwells in my members… I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:21-25) We can be Christians, love God, and know we have been redeemed and forgiven but yet can’t seem to shake sin. It digs its claws in; our sinful old nature doesn’t want to let go. And so we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our full adoption as children of God, the complete redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). This is our fight of faith: we hate the sin we commit and the temptations we fall into. It sickens us.

Yet this groaning is a good thing. Our horror and disgust at our own sin is a good thing, because it is a result of the Spirit’s work to convict us of sin and drive us to Jesus. The Spirit of life has set us free in Christ from sin and death (Romans 8:2) and lives in us (v10-11), giving us life. Our old body of death keeps needing to be put to death and it distresses us to still be attached to it – because we are children of God (v15-17) – and so we moan and cry out and ache and long for the day when our sinful nature will finally fall away to be remembered no more.

Further still, sin does not have the final say by any means. In ourselves we may be helpless, but we are not “in” ourselves any more. We are in Christ. While we were unable to do anything to help ourselves, Jesus died for us (Romans 5:6). He took all this sinful nature from us upon Himself, and took it to the grave. So as much as we can’t yet get away from our sinful nature, it has no lasting hold on us because we are dead to it. Because of Jesus, sin has no power over us (Romans 6:14) because we are under grace now – just as death has no power over Jesus because He has been raised from the dead. Sin clings to us, but only as dead ivy clings to a wall because its roots stubbornly stick in. God is slowly removing those roots – because He has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

Pre. Destined. God has spoken this over us and commanded it over our life’s path so that whatever happens we are being pulled in a Christlike direction. We are being made to be like Jesus! Granted, this won’t happen passively and we need to actively work at growing in holiness so that we don’t fall away (Hebrews 6: 1-12) but God won’t deny that growth to those who want to know and love Him and honour Him.

Until the day He returns we must still put sin to death, but the overwhelming truth for Christians (although hidden for now – Romans 8:19) is:

  • We have peace with God (Romans 5:1)
  • God’s love has been poured into our hearts (Romans 5:5)
  • We are reconciled with God (Romans 5:11)
  • We have been given righteousness (Romans5:17)
  • We are dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11)
  • Sin has no power over us (Romans 6:14)
  • We are freed from sin, and a slave to righteousness which leads to sanctification and eternal life (Romans 6:22)
  • We are not condemned (Romans 8:1)
  • We are in the Spirit, who is life and through whom God will give life to our mortal bodies (Romans 8:9, 11)
  • By the Spirit we can kill off our sinful nature (Romans 8:13)
  • We have the Spirit of adoption as a son and heir of God with Christ (Romans 8:15-17)
  • We have a glory that will be given me in the future (Romans 8:19, 21)
  • The Spirit prays for us better than we can, and the Father knows His mind (Romans 8:26-27)
  • All things work together for our good (Romans 8:28)
  • We will become like Jesus in character (Romans 8:29)
  • God will give us all things (Romans 8:32)
  • We are justified by God – no charge can stand against the righteousness we have been given (Romans 8:33)
  • Jesus, who died for our sin, is alive and praying for us – I cannot be condemned for the sin He took to the grave (Romans 8:34)
  • We cannot be separated from Jesus’ love, and everything that would try to destroy us and take me from Him will be made to serve us (Romans 8:35-39).

The fact that we feel broken over our sin and hate it is evidence of the Spirit of life being at work in us. So God can use precisely what would discourage us for our good if we remember that this anguish over sin is the result of His active work in us, and not evidence of us irreversibly falling away.

Our problem is our hearts that are so riddled with sin we can’t get away from it. But God has and will change them. In Jeremiah 31:33-34 He promised to write His law on our hearts so that we’ll want to do what’s godly. It will take a lifetime to get there, but day by day God is making us to be more like Jesus, to “make our hearts beat with His love, mercy, and passion for His glory” as my pastor put it in his sermon this morning. One day we will be free of the sin we hate. For now, we must pray and trust that God will change us and work against the dead sinful nature that does cling to us, but that one day will be long forgotten.

Here’s what I read in my quiet time this morning:

“Jacob… I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again…”

Genesis 46:2-4

Some context: This comes at the end of what we’d call the story of Joseph (of technicolour dreamcoat fame) in Genesis. If you remember, Joseph was pretty irritating to his older brothers, a bit of a spoiled brat, and he annoyed them so much that one day they sold him into slavery in Egypt – and to further cut a long story short, Joseph ended up being in charge of all Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. He forgave his brothers, who came to Egypt from their home in Canaan in search of food in a time of famine, and invited his whole family to join him. This included his father Jacob.

Jacob was the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham. God had promised to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation and give them the land of Canaan…. the same land that Jacob’s son Joseph was inviting him to move out of. What was Jacob to do? He was delighted that Joseph, who for many years he thought was dead, was alive; but how could he leave the land that God had promised?

God’s plans are bigger than ours. We can’t always see where He’s leading us; and sometimes it can seem like we’re going in the wrong direction. But can you see what God’s doing here? If you read ahead through the next few books of the Bible you can see that God takes Jacob and his family to Goshen, a good part of Egypt where they flourish and become a nation. Exodus 1:7 says that they became a very strong nation there and filled the land. Could they have flourished that well back in Canaan? Personally, I don’t have the historical knowledge to comment but since God works in all things for the good of those who love Him I wouldn’t be surprised if He took Israel to Egypt so they could grow and flourish into a great nation before He led them to take Canaan some generations later.

God says to Jacob, “Go to Egypt” – in the opposite direction to the promised land – “for there I will fulfil the promise I gave to you, your father, and his father before him.” God has the power to send us in the opposite direction from where we think we should go, and it still be Him leading us in the right direction for His purposes. As He says in verse 4 above, He goes with us when He leads us. He will take us there, and He will lead us out again.

CHRISTMAS IS ALMOST HERE! Carols are being sung, the Christmas candlelight service has come and gone, and it might even be bleak-midwinter-y for Christmas Day. One more sleep left! But what’s far more exciting than the presents (ooh, in shiny paper) and epic roast dinner (mmm) and seeing family (ahhh) is what it is that we’re celebrating. It’s pretty obvious on a blog like mine, talking about all this Jesus stuff, but as I’ve looked at Isaiah 35 I’ve got more and more excited about it. I’m used to hearing about the baby in the manger that was God become human, and we can get so used to hearing about it that we forget the layers and layers of meaning, promise and hope behind God the Son becoming completely like us so that He could completely redeem us.

In the last Isaiah 35 post we saw an encouragement to be strong because of the hope that is coming, and these next verses open up what that hope looks like:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Isaiah 35:5-10

The land, once dry and desolated by judgment, will be full of life – the burning desert sand will be turned to cool springs and lush grass. A people afraid and surrounded by enemies and exiled in a foreign land will be brought home to a place of safety.

God will physically restore His people to their home, but more importantly He will also restore them spiritually. They will be led home along the highway of holiness – they will finally walk in God’s ways; a rebellious people blind and deaf to God’s Word made pure and given the ability to know Him again. Their focus won’t be beautiful cities or a powerful army or their own affluence, but walking with God Himself. Their home will be a place where there is no sin, and they won’t stray from holiness any more.

There’s a clue to how this will be brought about in verse 10 – the “ransomed of the LORD shall return” God would redeem His people from their exile. We know that this didn’t happen to Israel; otherwise, it would look like a far different country today! Instead, this hope is still yet to come. It’s a picture of heaven, the home that God has promised to His people, to us. And this is what Jesus began when He came to earth. When John the Baptist’s disciples asked Him whether He was the Messiah (Luke 7:18-23) He said “Look! The blind can see, the lame walk… all these things Isaiah promised are happening!” Jesus brought about this hope; He has redeemed us with His own blood on the cross and as the ransomed of God we can look forward to a day when we will have everlasting joy in a perfect home with our God.

So in all the things we go through in life, we have this encouragement: We can look forward to a glorious future in heaven now. When we are fed up of the struggle with sin, we can hope in the fact that one day we will walk in holiness with God and not fall off the road. When we struggle with illness or our bodies are breaking, we know that one day we will know perfect healing and health. When we feel surrounded and friendless, we know that one day we will live in a place without danger or threat. We will sing with joy round the throne with brothers and sisters from every tribe and nation. So let’s pray that God will use our future hope to strengthen us in life today, and that He’ll keep us close to Him as we wait for it to be fulfilled. And as we celebrate Jesus’ birth tomorrow let’s remember just what it is that He has done for us. The turning point of history began on the day God became man.

(Hey, that rhymes!)

 

There are many unknowns in life. Some aren’t all that important – for me, it makes no real difference whether or not I keep up with this year’s World Cup. I normally have an “I don’t know and I don’t care” view of football, so whether or not England get kicked out in the semi-finals on penalties yet again doesn’t affect me. But I’ve come to the stage in my Masters degree where unknowns are important. I’m doing my research project, and the point of research is to make unknowns known, to find out new things and ask what works, and why and how things are the way they are (and to spend plenty of time groaning “why-won’t-you-WORK?!?” when the experiment fails yet again).

But besides my research, a much bigger unknown is looming. Beyond the end of the next few months, little is certain; which means that answering the barrage of questions that naturally get asked when one comes to the end of a degree, like “what do you want to do next?”, “have you got a job yet?”, and (unspoken) “why haven’t you sorted your life out?” is a real nightmare! I’m someone that doesn’t get on well with uncertainty, either. I hate not knowing what I’m going to be doing at the weekend, let alone what direction my life is heading in. And with such a big thing like that, uncertainty is really scary. What if I can’t find a job? Or end up in one I hate because I’m desperate? Or can’t afford to live? Or end up moving somewhere else for work that’s far from everything and everyone I know and I’ll be so far away and DIE ALONE!?

Uncertainty is something that worry loves to latch on to because it means that, at least for a time, circumstances are out of our control. I know that when I get desperate, I can’t stand things being out of my control because it means I have to rely on something or someone other than myself, and because they aren’t me, they’re an unknown. And as worry grows, my perspective shrinks and I end up imploding in a dark little ball of stress.

But Jesus said “Do not worry.” (Matthew 6:25-34)

Why shouldn’t I worry? Don’t I have every right to be concerned about my life?

“… do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (v25)

Well, yes. But how am I going to earn? I need money. If I don’t have money, I don’t have a roof over my head and I’ll go hungry.

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?… And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith?” (v26-30)

God sustains the world. We have an ecosystem where every species has something to feed on. Granted, living things die of hunger or lack of other resources, and nothing on this world lives for ever. But the point isn’t about God not letting things die. The universe is still here, and it still works. When God created, and when He sustains creation now, there isn’t a gap where he missed something out like forgetting to make things edible or accidentally missing an important thing out of physics like a dodgy line in computer code so that the moon will randomly explode tomorrow or something like that (to you physicists out there, I’m so sorry if I got that wrong. I’m a microbiologist, physics is all a bit weird to me). The point is that God has created the world, with its complexity and beauty, and He has ensured that living things can live. And not just live, flourish. So if our Father can feed animals and make even grass beautiful, won’t He care for you, whom He cares about far more? Won’t He care for you, whom Jesus shed His blood for? For you, whom He has promised to be with and protect and keep safe until the day you see Him face to face?

Worry takes all of this and says “I’m not so sure that’s true.” Because worry is us trying to be in control, rather than trusting God to be in control. At the moment, it’s very easy for me to worry because it does seem like my life has to be in my control. In a sense, it is and will be: God loves me too much to hand me everything on a silver plate. He doesn’t promise that a job will fall into my lap, He doesn’t promise that life will be without hardship. As His child, He loves me too much to take away such opportunity to learn and grow to be more like Jesus, however hard the road is. Yet when nothing’s moving forward and my future is uncertain day after day I still doubt whether things will actually work out for my good in the end. Has God forgotten me?

God’s people Israel went through a lot in the Old Testament. They started out as an ethnic minority group in Egypt, made into slaves. They were rescued by God and brought to a new land. When they were established in the land, they had enemies to contend with at their borders. But the worst of it was that they turned away from the God who has rescued them and given them everything, and because of that God allowed them to be conquered and sent into exile in a foreign country. They were far from home, living among people who spoke a different language, who had different customs, and worshipped other gods. The symbols of their connection with God like the temple in Jerusalem had been removed from them. Where was God? Was He back in Israel? Had He abandoned them? Had He forgotten them?

To these people, God spoke prophetically through Isaiah:

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

Why do you complain, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no-one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint

– Isaiah 40:26-31

Look at the stars – who made them? Who makes sure they are all there? Who knows them by name? Who is it that created the earth, who has limitless power and understanding and strength? Isn’t it the Lord, your God? Your God? Don’t you know that He gives strength and power to the weak and tired? Don’t you think He would remember you, His people? Don’t you think He will give you all you need?

Don’t I believe that God will provide what I need? Don’t I believe that I can apply for jobs, and trust God for the outcome, and He will work for my good – wherever I end up?

To this worry has no answer, because it has no place in us who are God’s. We have a heavenly Father who loves us and never forgets us. We have no need to worry, because our God is the God who sustains the world and commands history to achieve His purposes.

OK, I promise I’ll post the Song of Songs stuff soon (hopefully!) – it’s just taking me ages to write it. In the meantime….

Humans are relational people. As the famous saying goes, “no man is an island”. And our friends are important to us – can you think of the people you couldn’t live without? On the internet someone has predicted that we meet on average about 100,000 people in our lifetime[1]. That’s a lot of people! But not all of them will be our friends. We have circles of friends, best friends, and acquaintances, with different levels of closeness with each person we know. We love different people differently, too. I wonder who your closest friend in the world is; the person, or people, who you love the most?

1 Samuel 20 focusses on the relationship between King Saul’s son, Jonathan, and the David who we know was later to become king of Israel. But first, let’s look at a bit of background.

Saul was Israel’s first king, and had failed in his duty to be faithful to God. So God rejected him as king, and instead chose David to be the next king of Israel. David was a nobody, a shepherd boy from the backwater of Bethlehem, but God chose him because of his heart after God. He blessed him with success – first in his defeat of Goliath, and then in victories as a commander of Israel’s army. But Saul became jealous of this upstart shepherd boy, and several times in the previous two chapters had tried to kill him. At the beginning of chapter 20, David has just fled from one of Saul’s attempts on his life. Jonathan’s response to David was much different to his father’s. He became close friends with David, and formalised their friendship in a covenant where he symbolically handed the kingdom over to David.

This passage is huge, so I won’t quote the whole thing here. But here’s the basic story:

At the beginning of this passage, Saul has once again tried to take David’s life, so David has run away. He goes up to Jonathan and asks why Saul wants him dead (v1). Jonathan won’t believe that his father wants to kill David, but David insists that Saul is trying to kill him and makes a plan to prove Saul’s hatred. The next day is the start of the New Moon festival, where, as a member of the court, David was expected to attend the feast. David plans to not go, and make an excuse about having to be elsewhere. If he is missed, he asks Jonathan to tell Saul that he had to go home. Saul’s reaction will show whether he really does hate David and want him dead. In case David and Jonathan can’t be seen speaking to each other, they invent a cunning way of communicating. The New Moon festival arrives, and, sure enough, David’s place at the feast is empty. To start with, Saul thinks nothing of this, since it wasn’t unusual for people to miss such an event because of accidentally becoming ceremonially unclean. But on the second day of David’s absence, Saul askes Jonathan why David isn’t there. Jonathan gives David’s excuse, and Saul explodes in anger – not just at David, but at Jonathan as well! He even tries to kill his own son in his anger! Jonathan now knows beyond a doubt that his father hates David, and the next day goes to tell David of this.

As we look at Jonathan and David’s friendship, we’re going to see what this passage shows us about God, what it shows about Jesus (or, rather, the correct response to Him), and what we can learn from it. Let’s start by looking at what this passage shows us about God.

There is no “God did this” or “God did that” explicitly in this text, but can you see how God is at work behind the scenes? To start with, God is keeping His servant safe. He has protected David thus far from Saul’s anger and now is using Jonathan to protect him. Not only is God providing safety for David, but He has given David a faithful friend in Jonathan. Because of Saul’s public statement that David must die in verse 31, he now has to leave his home and his place at court, and is on the run from the authorities. In all of this, God provides a friend for David who has promised love and protection. Thirdly, God is securing His sovereign plan. David was the man that God had chosen to be the next king of Israel. Where Saul had failed as God’s servant, David was intended to succeed. David wasn’t perfect, but he was a man after God’s heart and a foreshadowing of God’s true King, Jesus Christ. God used David as part of His promises to His people, and by keeping David safe, He was carrying out His own plan for salvation.

So that’s what we can see about God. Let’s now look at what we can see about Jesus here. There isn’t so much in this passage about Jesus explicitly. However, we can have a look at Jonathan’s relationship with David as God’s promised king, and see if this has any relevance for us since David was foreshadowing Christ. David wasn’t just Jonathan’s covenant close friend. Jonathan knew that God’s plan was to have David as the next king. And, where his father rejected God’s plan and hated David, Jonathan accepted what God was doing and loved David.

Saul knew that God had rejected him as king, and was jealous of David’s success and rise in popularity. He hated David so much that when talking with Jonathan at the feast he won’t even say David’s name! He treats David shamefully, as it says in v34, and his anger is uncontrollable to the point of trying to kill his own son for defending David (v33).

Jonathan, instead of hating David, loved him. He knew that God had chosen David to be the next king of Israel, which was why he symbolically handed over the kingdom to him in the covenant in chapter 18, and has promised to protect him now. Jonathan saw God’s plan and submitted to it, whereas Saul railed against it. Throughout the passage we see David and Jonathan’s close friendship – to start with, Jonathan says that if Saul wanted to kill David, he would tell him (and he has done so in the previous chapter). Although he doubts whether his father wants to kill David, he still agrees to follow through on David’s plan to test Saul’s motives. He also agrees to protect David, working out a way to communicate with him in case it is dangerous for David to be seen.  He was a loyal friend to David, defending him when Saul’s anger flared up against him; and Jonathan was livid at Saul’s treatment of his friend. And when David had to leave, the friends’ grief showed their affection for one another. So Jonathan not only submitted to God’s plan, but he also loved God’s king.

We’ve had a look at what we see of God in this passage, and we’ve seen Jonathan’s reaction to God’s new king. Now we come on to looking at what this means for us.

There are three applications that we can draw from what we’ve seen here. The first application here is from what we’ve seen about God preserving His plan in these events. Even the smaller details of the events here, which to David and Jonathan must have seemed very distant to God’s big picture at the time, were all part of God’s outworking for His Sovereign plan for salvation. You see, God works in the big picture, and He works in the details, and each these are never separate from other. God has the holy ingenuity to weave His plan and our lives together. Isn’t this great? And since God Himself is behind it all, we know that we can trust in what He is doing, no matter how dire life might seem at the time.

The second application here comes from Jonathan’s submission to God’s plan and love for God’s king, which made him willing to give everything up for him. His position as crown prince means a lot in the world – with wealth, power, and influence, it is one of the highest positions a person can have. Yet he gave it all over for the sake of God’s plan and God’s king. How readily do we give all we have to Jesus? I find it all too easy to say that I’ll give everything to God, but when it comes to that money, that dream for my future, or even that sin, I want to cling to them. If God wants it, He’ll have to prize it out of my hands. My life is relatively comfortable, and I may say that I’m willing to sacrifice what I have for the sake of the Gospel, but I know that when the rubber hits the road I’m more likely to walk away rather than stand up for Jesus. We can easily forget that God is carrying out His Sovereign plan today. And when we forget this, it’s easier to want to hold on to our own little kindgoms – maybe our reputation, or that job we want, or that relationship we hope for – instead of surrendering them to Jesus.

The third, and main, application, is this: Jonathan loved God’s promised king. He showed it formally in his covenants with David, but also personally in his relationship with him. There is obviously a close brotherly affection in how David and Jonathan interact – they trust each other, Jonathan defends David to his father, and Jonathan protects David’s life. Obviously, Jesus doesn’t need us like David needed his friend, but can you see the challenge to love, to trust, to devote ourselves to Jesus like Jonathan was devoted to David? How personal is our relationship with Jesus? Is it just a formal declaration of love that we give in our songs and prayers on a Sunday, or do we live like Jesus is actually a person, our Friend as well as our Redeemer and King, who is with us every day till the end of the age? How much do we talk to our King? How honest are we with Him? We can devote ourselves to Jesus in prayer, in trust, in standing firm in our faith and telling others the Gospel.

Jonathan had great love and devotion for God’s promised king, David. And this is a foreshadowing of how we should love God’s King, Jesus. We should be devoted to our King, who is also our Friend and Saviour. Jesus deserves our hearts and our lives, and there is no sweeter thing than giving everything to our King to gain eternity with Him.

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.

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