Monday, March 21, 2011

Colossians 02: You've Been Transferred

Scripture Text: Colossians 1:9-14

Last week, we talked about service and showed, in Paul’s report of his thanksgiving prayer, that loving Christian service flows from the overwhelming grace shown to us by God in the crucifixion of his Son for our sins. It is this love that flows down and into the heart of the believer, and it causes the believer to undertake acts of loving service for others as a result of the forgiveness granted by faith in Jesus.

This coming Wednesday, we are going to worship and sing and pray and talk about the next in our series of disciplines, which is prayer.  Our text this week is the report of another prayer, a prayer of intercession

What is a prayer of intercession? This is a prayer that is made for the sake of someone else. Intercessory prayer is what we do each service of worship, when we bring our petitions before God on behalf of the world, our leaders, those who are ill, those who are dying, those who have specific needs that only God can fill. Especially at this time we life up prayers of intercession for the nation of Japan, which is still in the middle of this disaster that has befallen it, and for Libya, now the center of growing warfare.

With the sermons over the last two weeks, it should be clear that prayer is an essential component of the spiritual lives of Christians. Some of the most basic prayers we pray are prayers of thanksgiving.  This week, Paul reports on a second kind of prayer that he and those with him have been praying; prayers of intercession for others.

In verses 3-8, Paul reports that he and Timothy and Epaphras and others “always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.”  Wouldn’t it just be awesome to receive any kind of word, a note, a phone call, an e-mail message, a text message, telling you that someone was thanking God for you, for your faith, and how that faith has been seen in your life? I have been very blessed to receive messages like that from many of you, and I thank God for you all to, for your faith and how your faith has been made known to others through loving acts of service: The food shelf, Noah’s room, sponsorship of children through WorldVision, worship leadership, teaching leadership, mission support and giving through our denomination, a willingness to witness to others publicly in places like the Farm and Home show just yesterday, all for the glory of Christ.

Paul then moves to this section, where he reports the intercessory prayers that he and his associates have undertaken on behalf of the Colossians. I love how Paul does this. He very clearly shows that his intercessory prayers are joined with his prayers of thanksgiving to God. I want you to notice first of all that there is a premise behind Paul’s reports. In the previous set of verses (3-8), Paul tells the Galatians that he had given thanks to God for them because he had heard of their love for the saints which was the result of the hope they had laid up in heaven for them as a result of the Gospel they had received by faith in Jesus Christ. The largely Gentile Colossian Christians were different people because of this message they received first from Epaphras, their friend and native Colossian. Their faith had meat on it, the meat of love for others, because of the love shown to them by Christ.

In today’s text, the prayers of intercession made on behalf of the Colossians are also premised on this new reality: The reality that the Colossians had been transferred from the kingdom of this world into the kingdom of Christ:
[13] He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, [14] in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
The Colossians no longer lived as those condemned in their sin because of Jesus, God’s beloved Son. Notice the “us” in verse 13. Here, Paul identifies himself with his brothers and sisters in Colossae.

This is a huge truth that should give us some pause as we consider the rest of this text. Do we live as a people who are living in a new kingdom reality? Do we live as subject of the divine King Jesus? If we do, what do our lives look like? Do they look the same? Or will they be fundamentally, radically altered?

If you have received the gospel – the word of truth – about Jesus by faith, your life will ultimately be very, very different from the way it is today. Before you were in Christ, you lived in the domain of darkness. What is this? This is the domain of the world, the world to which so many people are tragically attached. The domain of the world includes the things of the world and the morality of the world. The things of the world are detached from God, which is why Paul describes it as a domain of darkness. If you’re in the world, you live in the dark. You cannot understand or see the truth for what it is. Those who are in the world live for the stuff of the world and live the way the world says life should be lived. So if you live in the world, you will have unhealthy worldly attachments. Those unhealthy attachments could be things, like money, possessions, fame, and the like. They could also consist of adopting the behaviors or moral code of the world, like unlimited, unbounded sex, the willingness to run over others to seal a business deal, the astonishing betrayals of rumor mongering and gossip, of sin of wishing the worst on others instead of the best, demeaning others publicly in the church or in letters to the editor in the paper. The world is the domain of darkness because the world suits our native desire and natural orientation to sin. And we are all stuck in that world until God delivers us from it through Christ. You may be here today and stuck on why the worldly ways never seem to result in deep, abiding, true happiness. You may be here today as one who knows too well the murderous effects of gossip or rumor mongering. You may be here today wondering if anything or anyone can pull you away from that. There is a way. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” If in your heart you seek to be transferred into the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of which Paul writes about today, you need to repent of the worldly ways and receive by faith the means by which you can be transferred out of it, by faith in Jesus Christ.

Once you’re transferred in, there is some growing and maturing that needs to take place. If you’ve been picked up from the grimy ways of the world and cleansed by the precious blood of Jesus, and then plopped down into the kingdom of Christ, a kingdom of holiness, and love, and purity, and righteousness, you will initially feel out of sorts. You’ll be glad to be there, but now there’s a new way of life to be lived. You need a new kind of knowledge so that you can live into the new, glorious reality that you’ve been so graciously given. This is the way conversion so often works. There is an initial disruption of sorts, when you throw off the heavy yolk of the world and all of its legalisms, when your old life dies with Christ. There’s the initial groan of relief and praise and thanksgiving for new life, but then there’s the need for basic knowledge, a basic vocabulary, so that you can live fully into this new reality. When he writes to the 1 Corinthians, Paul tells them that he is giving them spiritual milk, because they’re not yet mature enough to handle the solid food. That’s the way Christian life begins and that’s the way Christian life is lived. You work your way deeper and deeper into the grace of the gospel. To do this, you need a knowledge that can only come from God, because it’s God’s wisdom and knowledge we’re after, not the wisdom and knowledge of the world. We want to know and to do and to be what our adopting Father would have us know, do, and be.

The rest of this passage is a description of Paul’s prayer that does just that for the new believers in Colossae. And it’s especially important to them because they are already under assault by something other than gospel knowledge.

Here’s what Paul, Timothy, and the others with Paul prayed:
[9] And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
Here’s Paul’s prayer for the Colossians that they would receive spiritual wisdom and understanding, and be filled with knowledge, but not just knowledge, the knowledge of God’s will.
 [10] so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him,
This is the intercession Paul’s makes so that the Colossians would know what to do, which is to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.  And then finally, Paul’s prays that for the Colossians to walk this way
bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
This is who they are called by God to be in Christ, a fruit-bearing people in whatever it is they are called to do. It matters not what your vocation happens to be, if you are in Christ, the result will be spiritual fruit. What are those? We talked about them repeatedly during our series in Galatians, and Paul writes of them in other places to.  Galatians 5:22 (mark these down):
[22] But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [23] gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
"Colossians," Paul is saying, "You live in a new reality as a member of the very body of Christ, and I’m praying to almighty God that you will be filled up with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding." Notice the terms. Paul writes of a spiritual wisdom and understanding, not worldly. Because it’s spiritual, it comes from God. If it were worldly, Paul would refer them to nature or some other source of knowledge. Worldly knowledge comes from the textbook and from the internet. But the knowledge of God isn’t gained by worldly methods, it’s revealed by God to the believer. If you want to grow in spiritual wisdom and understanding, you must receive it from God. How do we receive it? By receiving his Word, the Bible, in worship, where the Holy Spirit applies the preached word to the heart of the believer, shaping that believer into a person of holiness for the glory of God. That is the source of the special revelation of God. It is found nowhere else. It isn’t found in the popular teaching of prosperity gospel mega-church preachers. It isn’t found in your favorite self-help book. Spiritual wisdom and knowledge is received from God through the preaching of the Christ, the Word-made-flesh.

So many people claim to come to Christ, claim to believe in his name, and claim to live in this new kingdom of Christ.  The veneer is put on, but beyond that there is not much depth. They show no evidence of possessing a new knowledge given by the Spirit through the Word of God.  One time a pastor told the story of a young woman who wanted to find ways of explaining the meaning of Christmas to her children. “If you want to know the true meaning of Christmas, come to church.” That wasn’t the answer the person was looking for. The person wanted the worldly answer, a way to make the story “relevant” to her children, with all the worldly trappings of entertainment, bright engaging pop music, and the like.  It never occurred to her that the source of kingdom knowledge is God’s Word, applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit when it is preached.

The church today is awash with attempts to bring believers back to the old worldly ways, to ignore Godly knowledge and wisdom. But we are called to be the type of person Paul is praying will be formed and shaped in Colossae. As you pastor, I’m called upon to pray be in prayer on behalf of all of you so that you will receive the knowledge and wisdom of God! This word convicts me because I know how my day-to-day schedule tends to quash prayer. I’m sure the same holds true for many of you. And you, too, are called to pray this way on behalf of your pastor and on behalf of each others.

Our prayers are so far from this example given by Paul, Timothy, Epaphras and others. I get prayer requests all the time from people, especially young people, for stuff. My own prayers so often devolve into a laundry list of to-dos for God. Listening in silence? What about the time? Praying for godly knowledge and wisdom? That seems so churchy. But that is the only way we grow as disciples. Let me challenge you now with this question: When was the last time you prayed on behalf of someone else in this church, or in other church, the way Paul has prayed for the people in Colossians? How about on behalf of our confirmation students, some of whom, if they confess Christ, will be newly transferred into the kingdom of God and in desperate need of Godly wisdom and knowledge, so that they will
[10] walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
So that they
[11] May ... be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, [12] giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified ... [them] to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
We know from John's gospel that Jesus intercedes for us. Therefore, beloved, pray for one other, that we all may receive the wisdom and knowledge of God. Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
March 20, 2010
2nd Sunday in Lent
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew

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