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Cling to Christ

April 22, 2018 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Colossians

Passage: Colossians 2:1-5

Introduction

This summer I will reach 12 years in pastoral ministry, and as a pastor, I get a unique window into how people live—how they pursue a career, how they relate to a spouse, how they parent, and how they participate in church. 

I also get to watch how people respond to tragedy or hardship. In particular I’ve watched some people display the grace of God as their faith shines in the midst of terrible darkness. They have joy and peace even while life is falling apart around them. 

But not everyone responds so well. Some people just fall apart. They become angry and bitter, and they alienate the people who love them most. It’s hard to see. But maybe even more troubling is that when tragedy strikes, many people become wandering souls so to speak. They don’t like their pain, and so they start trying different things hoping to make their pain go away. They move to a different city or take up some random hobby. And when they still hurt, they try something else. 

Or longstanding relationships and life in the church bring back painful memories, and so they abandon the friendships they so desperately need in their time of grief. Instead, they start bouncing around to new friends, new hobbies, and different churches hoping to land in a sudden state of peace. 

And sadly all of this wandering is often the manifestation of a heart that has wandered from Christ. The hurting soul doesn’t really believe that Jesus is enough, and so he or she is searching for something more. Of course, it’s not just people who are mourning who don’t believe in the sufficiency of Christ. Many Christians are guilty of looking for quick fixes to all sorts of problems. All of us occasionally struggle with wandering if there is something bigger and better out there that will bring more happiness and peace. 

And if that’s where you are today, can I point your attention to v. 3? Jesus is all you need; therefore, my challenge today is very simple. No matter if you are on top of the world and life is going smoothly or if you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death or if you are somewhere in between, cling to Christ. This was Paul’s challenge to the Colossians, and it is a challenge that each of needs to hear regularly.

Paul especially drives home this point in vv. 1–3, which I’d like to summarize with the simple challenge…

We must cling to Christ (vv. 1–3). 

Notice in v. 1…

The Heart of a Minister (v. 1).

It’s good to remember occasionally that the chapter and verse divisions in our Bibles were added long after the Bible was written, so they aren’t inspired. As such, our text is closely connected with the paragraph we studied last week. Again, 1:24–29 described Paul’s labor to take the gospel to the Gentiles. 

And here in 2:1 Paul narrows the focus to his labor for the Colossians. The word translated “conflict” is the same Greek word translated “striving” in 1:29. It’s the word agonizomai, and again we get our word agonize from it.  Therefore, Paul says that he labored hard, not just for the church in general, but specifically for the Colossian church, the Laodicean church (which was about 12 miles from Colossae), and for all the other churches he hadn’t been able to visit. 

Of course, the question that arises, is how could Paul actually labor for people he had never met? He already told us in 1:9 that he prayed unceasingly for them. He also wrote Colossians. But Paul is probably also thinking generally of all his work and sacrifice to establish the Gentile church. 

Again, we gain a window into Paul’s heart that is very important for understanding the remainder of this paragraph. Even though Paul had never met this church, he loved them, he prayed for them, and we are going to see that he was very concerned that they stay grounded in Christ and go forward in their discipleship. 

Paul then follows in vv. 2–3 by laying out his passion for the Colossian church with three discipleship goals. First…

We need strong hearts.

Paul’s desire is that “their hearts may be encouraged.” The verb translated “encouraged” is parakaleo. It’s a pretty flexible verb that can mean anything from comfort in the face of pain to strength or resolve to endure. I believe the idea in this context is more one of spiritual strength or resolve to not be moved off the foundation of Christ. 

This is because Paul is addressing the false teaching that threatened the church. He makes this explicit in v. 4. Again, false teachers were trying to influence the church to believe that they had something more to offer than these Christians already had in Christ. 

They claimed to have a higher knowledge based on philosophy and mystical communion with angels. And they claimed a higher righteousness based on obedience to certain aspects of the law. And apparently these guys were good salesmen. Verse 4 warns about their “persuasive words.”

Therefore, Paul prayed that the Colossians would have strong hearts that would resist the evil influence of the false teachers. And folks, we also need strong hearts that resist falsehood. This is because Satan is the master deceiver. He has spent thousands of years studying the weaknesses of the human heart, and he knows how to attack us with false views of spirituality. 

He knows how to attack our pride through legalistic religions that exalt our self-righteousness or through mystical religions that claim an ability to know more than God has revealed in the Bible. He knows how to attack our laziness through antinomian religions that don’t push us to be holy or to obey God’s commands. You can look at any false religion or even the American Dream and see Satan’s cunning handprints all over them. 

Therefore, we need strength from God to not be deceived and to not lose sight of the truth about Christ and all that we have in him. Christian, stay strong. Don’t be deceived.

Then with the second discipleship goal, Paul gives us one way we can remain strong. 

We need unity in love.

This verb could sometimes be used of the joints and ligaments that hold our bodies together. Therefore, Paul is not merely praying that the Colossian church would put up with each other; rather, he wanted to see them enjoy an deep bond that was rooted in Christian love and (based on what is to follow) a common dependence on Christ. 

In contrast, the false teachers were not interested in the uniting church but in fragmenting it. They loved divisive arguments, and they claimed a sort of elitism that supposedly made them better than those who hadn’t achieved their level of knowledge. In contrast, Paul says that division and cliques should not mark the church. Rather, we are equal before Christ. Therefore, we love each other, and we are bound together like a body. 

I am so thankful for the bond that we have here at Life Point. God has blessed us with great unity in spite of a lot of diversity. This is only because of the grace of God. But we must never take it for granted. It is very easy to let selfishness begin to drive our relationships. Or our focus can shift from Christ to something far less powerful. We get along because we all have the same political views or we like the same music or we have the same hobbies. We must make sure that Christ and the gospel stand above every other uniting force in our church. 

And Paul’s particular concern is that we must guard this kind of unity because it is essential to remaining strong in the face of Satan’s attacks. This is because we are much stronger together than we could possibly ever be individually. You need the church, and the church needs you. We need each other’s encouragement. We need to hear each other sing to God with conviction and confidence. We need to feel each other’s love. 

This is why it is always dangerous when a Christian begins to wander from the church. If you are struggling, your natural tendency will almost always be to pull away from God’s people. Resist the urge. Stay sheltered in the strength that comes with Christian community.

The third discipleship goal is…

We must appreciate all we possess (vv. 2b–3).

This statement is the heart of the paragraph and powerful description of what we possess in the gospel. Paul speaks of the incredible blessings of the gospel, which he describes twice in monetary terms. In v. 2, he describes the gospel of Christ as “riches” or “wealth,” and in v. 3 he speaks of the “treasure” we have in Christ. 

Paul is obviously making a point. The Christian possesses a treasure of incredible worth. In particular, in Christ are “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Of course, Paul is not claiming that we can learn everything there is to know about everything in the gospel. The gospel doesn’t teach us mathematics or biology. Rather, Paul is saying that all spiritual understanding is rooted in Christ. 

And we need to take time and tease this out because it is very important not only for understanding this text but Paul’s overall point in Colossians. Again, the false teachers claimed to offer two things above what was available in the gospel. They claimed to offer a higher knowledge of God and a higher righteousness through obedience to certain laws.

In contrast Paul is saying that through Christ in the gospel we have a complete foundation for the Christian life. First, through Christ, we gain a right understanding of our standing with God. In particular, we understand that it’s not up to us to earn God’s favor because we never could. Instead, we already have God’s favor, because are united with Christ and his perfect righteousness.

Second, through Christ we gain a right understanding of the only strength by which we can live the Christian life. False religions always come up with some list of extra duties that they claim will make you righteous. But the great irony in all of these lists is that they are very good at giving people a sense of superiority, but they are worthless in changing the heart. They produce people who talk big but often are quite ungodly. 

But the gospel is different because it unites me with the mighty power of Christ who changes my heart and gives me the strength to pursue genuine holiness. Therefore, Christ gives a treasure of knowledge in the fact that he opens up a brand new path toward real holiness, not a hypocritical phony.

Third, through Christ we gain a whole new perspective on life that is the foundation for practical knowledge and wisdom. Proverbs 9:10 states, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the  knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” 

Folks, you can’t live a wise life in this world if you don’t appreciate the fact that it is headed toward destruction and that every man will be held accountable to God. As well, the Bible is filled with practical wisdom, and Christ causes us to love God’s law and love the wisdom it offers.  

In light of these three blessings, Paul can say that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are “hidden” in Christ, which doesn’t mean they are kept secret but that they are found or stored up in him. Folks everything you need to please God and to have joy, peace, and contentment are in Christ. 

Therefore, when Christians are hurting or sad or lonely, their most basic problem is not that they need new friends or a new church or a new hobby, or new furniture. They already have everything they need to overcome; they just need to run to Christ. 

This is why Paul’s prayer in v. 2 is that we would “attain to all the riches of the full assurance of understanding.” The problem is not that we need to get something more; rather we need to understand with full assurance or conviction what we already have. If you are Christian, you are already loved more than you could possibly imagine, you already have more than enough power to be godly, and you have all the wisdom you could ever need to live wisely in this world. 

And yet so often we don’t see it, and we just piddle along slowly. For example, if you ever go to a go-cart track, the owners probably have governors on the engines of their go-carts. A governor is a device that regulates how much gas you can give the engine and as a result how fast you can go. When most of us ride go-carts, we are really looking for is the cart that has the governor turned down the least. We want the cart that is going to give us the fullest experience of the engine’s power. But it seems like there is always one that has that governor really turned down. And whoever gets that cart is going to be frustrated, because he is running half-throttle.

Sadly, a lot of Christians are running half-throttle, and they have no idea what kind of power is sitting underneath them, and they are just piddling along. 

Now, I want to be clear that there isn’t some magic bullet out there that opens up your governor, so to speak. There’s a lot of bad stuff out there that claims the answer for unlocking the Spirit or some other such nonsense. Paul doesn’t talk about any such thing. Rather, he is talking about an awareness and confidence that comes as the Spirit works through the normal disciplines of the Christian life. 

Therefore, this isn’t something super complex. God is simply urging us to recognize what the Bible tells us over and over. Everything we need is in Christ, and rather than running to quick fixes or worldly solutions to our problems, we must run to Christ.

And so cling to Christ. The second challenge of our text is…

We must not be moved away from Christ (vv. 4–5).

First, v. 4 urges us to…

Be discerning (v. 4).

When Paul says “this I say,” he is looking back on what he just said in vv. 2–3. Paul is urging them to appreciate what they have in the gospel so that no one will “deceive you with persuasive words.” 

I said earlier that Satan is the master deceiver. If he were a door-to-door salesman, he could get you to buy just about anything because he knows all the tricks to pry open the human heart. And folks, he has done a masterful job of imbedding all of these tricks into our culture and into the world’s false religions.

And the Colossians were feeling Satan’s cunning in the “persuasive arguments” of the false teachers because they were selling what appeared to be a really good bill of goods. But compared to what they already had in Christ, it nothing but snake oil with no real value. 

And folks, there’s a lot of people selling snake oil in our day too. Many of them even claim to be Christian. They’ll tell you all sorts of things that you want to hear. Some will preach the prosperity gospel and tell you that Jesus came to make you rich or to fulfill your selfish dreams. Others will tell you that God just wants you to be happy, and they spend their whole time pumping your ego and telling feel-good stories. Others will tell you don’t worry about obeying God. That’s just legalism.

Others will appeal to your pride and lay before you a path of self-righteousness that will make you better than everyone else because by obeying their rules. Others appeal to our intellectual pride by just speaking brashly and mocking everyone who doesn’t know as much as they do. 

And of course, there are all sorts of ways that the world is trying to deceive you. Just about every T.V. commercial, internet add, or billboard is there to offer you a happiness that is ultimately shallow and unfulfilling.

Folks, there is so much deception out there; therefore, Paul urges us to practice discernment because Proverbs gives some strong warnings to the simple-minded and the fool who don’t practice think.

Then v. 5 urges us to…

Stay anchored (v. 5).

Paul opens v. 5 by reminding the Colossians of his camaraderie with them. He had never met them, but he shared a deep bond with them. He is saying much more than, “You are in my thoughts.” No, Christ by the Spirit binds his people together. Paul loved these Christians as brothers in Christ. 

Therefore, after giving a strong appeal to recognize all they have in Christ and to cling to him and to not be moved by persuasive arguments, he closes the paragraph with a word of encouragement. 

This verse tells us that even though false teachers were trying to make inroads with this church, they had largely failed because Paul could rejoice that the church was marked by “good order” and “steadfast faith in Christ.” In other words, they were clinging to Christ, and it was showing by their orderly, well-balanced Christian lives. 

And this affirmation by Paul ought to encourage our hearts because we do live in a dark world, and Satan is the master deceiver. But, 1 John 4:4 says that we can and we will overcome because “He who is in you (speaking of Christ) is greater than he who is in the world (speaking of Satan).” 

And so should we be sobered by Satan’s cunning? Yes. Should we leave today discouraged and defeated? No. Again, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are ours through Christ. We have everything we need, and we should be confident. Christian, you can overcome, and Jesus promises that by his grace you will overcome. 

And so cling to Christ. As this verse says, stay “steadfast in your faith.” The way you do that is that you read your Bible and meditate on your Bible a lot. You live with other Christians who can speak truth into your life and encourage you. And you pray for grace. And you trust Christ to answer your prayers, because he said he would. Christian, cling to Christ because in him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 

But I must close by saying that in order to cling to Christ, you must first be united with Christ by being born again. I’ve talked a lot today about the gospel, and you must understand the gospel is not just some God-talk to get you through hard times. Rather, the gospel begins with the fact that I am a sinner who deserves the judgment of God, my creator. But Jesus took the judgment I deserve in his body when he died on the cross for sin. But then he rose again from the dead, and offers his righteousness and his eternal life to all who repent of their sin and believe on Jesus for salvation. 

If you have never received his gift of salvation, I pray that you will today. Because if you do, you can leave today with your sins forgiven, and you can leave with the most precious treasure ever offered. You can leave knowing Christ in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

More in Colossians

July 2, 2018

A New Person in a New Community

June 24, 2018

Put It to Death

June 10, 2018

Heavenly Minded for Earthly Good