I am currently preaching through the Epistle to the Colossians. The series of sermons is called The Supremacy of Christ. Here is the third in the series. I may well post the other two, but they are rather long so I’m trying to decide if I want to scale them back first. (The first sermon ended up being about 58 minutes long, the second was 43.) Anyhow, here’s the third in the series based on Colossians 1:24-2:5. I welcome all feedback. jerry
The Supremacy of Christ
Colossians 1:24-2:5: The Supremacy of the Riches of Christ
Sermon #3: March 30, 2008
To introduce today’s sermon, I would like to read the text of our selected verses from three different translations. But I have factored this into our time, and it will not add to our allotted 78 minutes we have reserved for the sermon by one second! Anyhow, to the work!
New International Version
24Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 27To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.
1I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. 5For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.
24-25I want you to know how glad I am that it’s me sitting here in this jail and not you. There’s a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world—the kind of suffering Christ takes on. I welcome the chance to take my share in the church’s part of that suffering. When I became a servant in this church, I experienced this suffering as a sheer gift, God’s way of helping me serve you, laying out the whole truth. 26-29This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That’s what I’m working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me.
1 I want you to realize that I continue to work as hard as I know how for you, and also for the Christians over at Laodicea. Not many of you have met me face-to-face, but that doesn’t make any difference. Know that I’m on your side, right alongside you. You’re not in this alone. 2-4I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God. Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery. All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and nowhere else. And we’ve been shown the mystery! I’m telling you this because I don’t want anyone leading you off on some wild-goose chase, after other so-called mysteries, or “the Secret.” 5I’m a long way off, true, and you may never lay eyes on me, but believe me, I’m on your side, right beside you. I am delighted to hear of the careful and orderly ways you conduct your affairs, and impressed with the solid substance of your faith in Christ.
New American Standard Version
24Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. 25Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, 27to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.
1For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. 5For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.
We are in danger on every side. Here’s a press announcement from a popular book and video that has been touted by everyone—including Oprah. According to a biographical sketch at the website, the book alone has sold 7.5 million copies. It’s author, Rhonda Byrne, was one of last year’s 100 most influential people in the May issue of Time magazine. Maybe you have heard of…The Secret:
The Secret reveals the most powerful law in the universe. The knowledge of this law has run like a golden thread through the lives and the teachings of all the prophets, seers, sages and saviors in the world’s history, and through the lives of all truly great men and women. All that they have ever accomplished or attained has been done in full accordance with this most powerful law.
Without exception, every human being has the ability to transform any weakness or suffering into strength, power, perfect peace, health, and abundance.
Rhonda Byrne’s discovery of The Secret began with a glimpse of the truth through a 100 year old book. She went back through centuries, tracing and uncovering a common truth that lay at the core of the most powerful philosophies, teachings and religions in the world.
What Rhonda discovered is now captured in The Secret, a film that has been viewed by millions around the world. The Secret has also been released as an audio-book and printed book with more than six million copies in print.
The Secret explains with simplicity the law that is governing all lives, and offers the knowledge of how to create – intentionally and effortlessly – a joyful life. This is the secret to everything – the secret to unlimited happiness, love, health and prosperity.
This is the secret to life.
Well, that sounds impressive doesn’t it? Sadly, many Christiansbuy into this sort of malarkey and in the process they shipwreck their faith or deny it altogether. Secrets abound in our world and everyone has them. The Secret is just one example and I’m sure if time permitted I could give you 10 or 15 more. We are in danger on every side from this sort of stuff. We have to be cautious (because a lot of these so-called versions of the Gospel purport to give you better life, better goals, peace, happiness, and much wealth.)
So what did the apostle do? Well, his times were no different from ours. There were teachers and preachers who sought the easy way of doing things: Mystery religions abounded, secret philosophies made the day, gnostic Christianity was most likely, at least, in its beginning stages. It was all around. Even Jesus warned that in the last days there would be all sorts of false prophets rising up to take us hostage, or worse, rising up to kill us: “…and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But my sheep will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Paul said it this way elsewhere in his Corinthian correspondence:
20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
Paul begins by noting that it is his responsibility, a charge and commission given to him by the Stewardship of God, to proclaim the fullness of God’s mystery: “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness.” Well, he doesn’t leave it at that. He gives several reasons why it is necessary to preach the fullness of God’s word, the mystery, which Paul says is Christ. God has revealed in the Gospel that it has been his intention all along to include you and me in the plan of salvation. Let’s examine the reasons why Paul says he must preach the Gospel in it’s fullness.
First, Paul preaches the fullness of the Gospel so that we might know the glorious riches of this mystery which is Christ in us, our hope of glory.
But how can we get along without Christ in us? Is He not our strength, our hope, our glory? Is His presence a mere good feeling or His presence the very hope that we cling to? And is His image not showing through in our lives? Christ in us is our hope. It means that we have been invaded. It means that not only have we been transferred from the dominion of darkness to the kingdom of the Son he loves, but it also means that the reign of darkness in us has ended and is being overtaken by Christ. He is taking back the ground that was given up to sin. Christ is reclaiming that which is His. It means that we are consumed outwardly (‘in his kingdom’) and inwardly (‘Christ in us’). It means that we are surrounded on all sides, and in all dimensions. It means that we are defined by Christ and not he by us. Christ in us! Imagine, he lives in us!
Second, Paul preaches the fullness of the Gospel so that we might be presented to Him perfect. Here is true wisdom and knowledge. Here is the goal of the proclamation of Christ, here is the goal of correction and teaching: That we might be presented perfect in Christ. Proclamation of Christ has this as it’s goal. Perfection here means ‘complete’ but it also can mean ‘without blemish.’ But again how is this accomplished? Paul says it in a word: We proclaim Him. Him! We preach Christ! Do you want to be perfect in Christ, ready for your presentation to him? Learn Christ. And he says it in Greek very uniquely by repeating the phrase ‘everyone’ three times so that verse 28 actually reads this way: “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” What else can we preach that will perfect us? I hear it all the time that we need to learn about this or that or study this teaching or that and Paul says: We proclaim Him! We proclaim Christ. I want you to be perfect in Christ on the day you stand before Him so I will not shortchange you or give you anything less than Him who is able to enable you to stand before him: Christ!
And Paul labors at this with the energy of Christ. He struggles not only for the church at Colossae, and the church at Laodicea, but also the all who have not met him: This includes us. This is why we teach, preach, study, learn, and proclaim Christ: So that even we will be able to stand before Christ in perfection.
Third, his purpose is stated again: That we may be encourage in our hearts and united in love. United in love here is poetically stated: Knitted together in love. We are like a fine fabric, carefully knit together in love. Well, how else can we have this unity of love? How else can we be knit together if not in Christ? So Paul preaches Christ, the fullness of the mystery of God’s Gospel so that you and I will be completely one in Him. He proclaims Christ so that we will be encouraged in our hearts to persevere in the midst of all sorts of destructive forces that still encroach upon the kingdom of God, hoping to take captives. But we will stay encouraged in our love for one another, and the unity we have in Christ.
Fourth, he preaches the fullness of the Gospel of Christ so that they will know the mystery of God, namely Christ. Paul wants us to know Christ! Dare I say that he wants to know Christ to the exclusion of all else? Here’s what Paul wrote elsewhere:
2Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. 3For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
John Calvin said this: “Knowledge of the sciences is so much smoke apart from the heavenly science of Christ.” Paul also wrote to the Corinthians: “I resolved to know nothing among you except Christ…” We have to seriously ask ourselves this question: Why do we study, learn, preach, teach? What is the ambition of our listening to sermon after sermon after sermon? To know Christ! Why do we keep on keeping on? To know Christ! What is the goal and ambition of life: To know Christ! What else could possibly be of value in this world save for knowing Christ? John Piper said it this way:
Therefore, all knowledge and all wisdom and all riches originate in him, and are held in existence by him, and are for the purpose of making him known. Therefore, Christ is the final and ultimate meaning of all reality. Which means that nothing can be fully or rightly known that is not known in relation to Jesus Christ.
I think this is yet another failure of the church and of much of the preaching that goes on in churches: People do not teach or learn for the sake of knowing Christ. Christ is not our ambition and I’m not talking any Christ, but the complete message of Christ contained in, and exemplified by, chapter 1:15-20. We should want to know nothing more or less than the full picture of Christ Paul writes of in those verse. One writer said it this way: “It is not surprising, therefore, that Christ embodies allGod’s wisdom and knowledge as well. There is no need for the Colossians to look beyond Christ; there is no purpose in pursuing other systems of thought; there is no value in secret initiations. Christ is all and in him are all things.”—47
Fifth, Paul preaches the fullness of the Gospel so that we will not be deceived by fine sounding arguments. Everything that we study must conform to the image of God in Christ. That is, he talked about Christ. Keep fixed on Jesus. Stay focused on Jesus. It is only when we keep ourselves fixed on Jesus that we are truly going to remain undeceived. The words matter, and the content matters. We must be careful people who weigh each and every syllable that comes from our teachers. We must be careful not to merely surround ourselves with teachers who have only their own interests in mind. This is why we preach the Gospel even to people who are saved. It is terribly easy for the word of God to be distorted to serve the ends and purposes of people.
But the Word of God does not serve our interests, but those of God. There are many, many dangerous teachers in the world now, and in the church, and we have to be careful of them. Scripture serves one end: To make known Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus said in John 5, and Luke 24. This is the point of the book of the Revelation, to make known Christ. This is the clear point of the Gospel: To teach us about Jesus Christ, the Mystery of God now revealed. And I do not mean: 15 helpful tips from Jesus the Great teacher of morality. I don’t mean that we study the stories of David or Moses in order to learn fine tips for a better psychological profile: I mean we study Christ Jesus and him Crucified.
Paul means this: We are only kidding ourselves if we think we need something more than Jesus or some teaching more than Christ. Paul here is pointing out the supremacy of the Riches and wealth that are found in Christ Jesus alone. I have argued this point with others at my blog. They tell me about the beauty of math, to symmetry of biology, the grandiose nature of chemistry. They tell me how wonderful people like Einstein and Darwin and Jefferson were. They tell me about all the great teachers of the world: And I laugh because apart from Christ Jesus those men and their teachings are worthless dead-ends unto themselves.
I’m telling you that if you want to succeed in life, if you really want to have a go at what matters: Learn Christ. Learn what was hidden from generations, and angels, and prophets. Learn the mystery of God which is Christ in you. Learn Christ! The full wealth of our Gospel, the completeness of the Gospel is Jesus Christ. Here’s what Lucas wrote:
“Here then Paul answers the demand for the richest experience of God that is permissible for human beings to have. When we have begun to grasp the greatness of Christ, and then grasp the closeness of the union we may have with him, he in us and we in him, we can ask of God no more.”—75 (Lucas)
Because what more could possibly be needed? You want to be sure? Learn Christ, live Him, breath him, commune with him. You want to understand the mysteries of this world, understand Christ in you, and you in Christ. You want to remain clear-minded, sober, in touch, relevant—free from the deception of false teachers whose only ambition is your harm: Stay with Christ Jesus and Him Crucified.
I think it is safe to say that because of this insistence on the proclamation of the full Gospel of Jesus Christ the church at Colossae remained steadfast in their faith. Their faith was orderly and it was firm. I read a sermon and the author said this:
“The resources of the Christian life, my friends, are simply—Jesus Christ.” Quoted in Greathouse.
Yet another author expresses it with a few more words than this:
“Obviously, if less than the Christ of 1:15-20 is believed among the churches, there will be no gospel to preach, no good news to offer. What is not quite so obvious, but is equally important, is that the united front so essential for convincing evangelism will be threatened when there are those in the churches teaching more than this Christ. We need to take very seriously Paul’s claim that all our spiritual treasures are found in Christ alone if the powerful witness of a united band of Christian churches is to be exercised in the world.”—85 (Lucas)
This is the richness and wealth we seek: Christ Jesus. Maybe you tire of hearing it, but what else do we have? What other claim can we make on this world? We are strangers, sojourners, pilgrims Peter said in his letter. We have no claim here, not stake. So there are hundreds of preachers who are going about saying things like, “God wants you to be rich! God wants you to have! God is not interested in his people living in poverty!” And you know what, I agree with them.
Mark this day on your calendars: Jerry preached the health and wealth Gospel. It is there, or here, in the Scripture I agree. The only difference there is is this: The nature of the riches and wealth He wants us to own and be owned by. Paul wrote:
2My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Here is your health and wealth Gospel! Paul wants you to be rich in Christ. And to make certain you are, he labors and toils and struggles, literally, he agonizes over this work of the Gospel. He agonizes over the church he serves. He said to the Galatian Church: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!”
Paul says this mystery of Christ has been revealed to us! TO us! TO us! We are the recipients of the greatest riches and wealth imaginable—and do we settle for less? Worldly treasures are less! Paul says the greatest treasure is Christ in Us, the hope of glory. The hope that we shall not remain unchanged, the hope that we shall not remain defeated, the hope that Christ indeed is our hope—the goal of all history, and creation, and life. The riches of Christ are far supreme over anything this world can offer—and do we settle for less? It think many preachers miss the mark on this very point: Why settle for paper and chains and things that break, when God has given us the fullness of his wealth in Jesus Christ?
So Paul says we can rejoice. He begins 1:24 with rejoicing and he ends 2:5 this way: Rejoicing. We can rejoice in sufferings, we can rejoice that the church is strong in faith even if the church is weak other areas. We can rejoice because we know that what we possess, and what (who) possesses us is beyond compare. We rejoice because of Christ! We rejoice in Christ! We rejoice because whatever else the world tells us we don’t have matters little to us: We have Christ, and Christ has us. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us: The Hope of Glory! The hope that this world will not have the last Word. The hope that our treasure is Christ and there will our hearts be.
Soli Deo Gloria!