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Fresh and Clean

Sunday August 4th 2019

Pastor Galen Zook

Colossians 3:1-11

Fresh and Clean

As I’ve been growing older, I’ve been learning to appreciate the simple, everyday pleasures in life. One of life’s simple pleasures is stepping out of a nice hot shower and drying off with a brand new, freshly laundered fluffy warm towel, and then slipping on your favorite shirt or pair of jeans that have come right out of the washer and dryer. You feel like a brand new person, like a Tide or Downy commercial, or like that Outkast song from the early 2000’s, “So fresh, so clean.”

But what if every time you got dressed, instead of peeling off your smelly, sweaty, dirty old clothing, you just pulled on your brand new clean clothing right over top of your old clothes? What if, rather than taking off your old clothes and bathing or showering you just kept piling on new clothes on top of the old? That would rather defeat the purpose of putting on new clean clothes, wouldn’t it? Not to mention it would be incredibly uncomfortable and unbearable to wear all those layers of clothing in this hot summer weather!

Before we can put on new clothes, we have to take our old clothes off and cast them aside, or there’s no point in putting on new clean clothes.

Out with the Old, In with the New

In Colossians 3, Paul and Timothy exhort the church in Colossae to cast aside all their dirty laundry — the evil deeds that were associated with their former lives, all those destructive tendencies they were inclined towards before they came to Christ — so they can put on the new clothing, the new life that Jesus has given them. 

In verse 5, Paul and Timothy tell the Colossians to “put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desires, and greed” Col. 3:5), and in verse 8 they tell them to “get rid of all such things — anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language” (Col. 3:8) and “do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices” (Col. 3:9). 

You see, when the Colossians chose to put their faith and hope and trust in Christ, they  were made new. Paul and Timothy remind the Colossians that they “have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator” (Col. 3:9b-10). 

The Colossians have been given brand new clean clothing to wear. They have been cleansed and forgiven of their past sins, and Jesus has made them so fresh and so clean.

But it seems like the Colossians are trying to put their dirty old smelly clothes back on! They’re trying to wear the new clean clothes that Jesus has given them on top of their old clothes. Maybe they think that the Christian life fits them pretty well, that praying to Jesus or going to church makes them look pretty good on the outside, and so they want to wear their new clothes. But the problem is that they haven’t really truly given up their old way of living — they haven’t been ready to cast aside their old clothing just yet.

Paul and Timothy want them to know that their new clothing — the new life that Jesus has given to them — is not meant to just cover up their old lives, to make them look better on the outside. No! Jesus wants to change them through and through, to make them completely over anew.

As one commentator has said, “For too long, we’ve called unbelievers to ‘invite Jesus into your life.’ [But] Jesus doesn’t want to be in your life. Your life’s a wreck. Jesus calls you into his life. And his life isn’t boring or purposeless or static. It’s wild and exhilarating and unpredictable.”

Paul and Timothy remind the Colossians that they haven’t just invited Jesus into their lives — instead, their lives are now in Christ! Their lives have been made completely new, they have died to their former selves, they have now been “raised with Christ (Col. 3:), and their lives are now “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).

And so Paul and Timothy challenge the Colossians to live like people who have been transformed by Christ, people whose lives are now in Christ. They challenge the Colossians to put to death everything that was associated with their former selves, everything that was unrighteous, all the bad patterns of behavior, all the practices they did that were destructive to themselves or to other people, all the wrong thoughts or evil words that caused others harm. They are to put all of that away, cast it all aside, and live into the new life that Jesus has given to them.

God’s Wrath

And just in case the Colossians don’t quite understand the severity of continuing down the path they were on, Paul and Timothy remind them that it is on “account of these [things] the wrath of God is coming” (Col. 3:6).

Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like to think very much about the wrath of God. I’d prefer to think of God as a kindly older gentleman with a perpetual twinkle in his eye, someone who winks at my mischievousness, or who looks the other way when I tell a little lie or think a bad thought.

But Paul and Timothy don’t sugarcoat things for the Colossians. The things that the Colossians used to do were flat out wrong. They used to do things that were harmful to themselves and to other people. 

Malice? That’s not an accident. Malice is doing something evil with the intention of causing harm. Slander? That’s specifically trying to ruin someone’s reputation. Abusive language? That’s language that’s obviously intended to hurt someone else.

But that’s how the Colossians used to live! And Paul and Timothy don’t want to see them go back to that way of living, so they use this shocking language of God’s wrath to wake them up to the reality of the path that they had been on.

Now, I don’t believe that Paul and Timothy want the Colossians to live in constant fear of God’s judgment. The Colossians have already been cleansed and forgiven of their sins, so they have nothing to worry about.

I think Paul and Timothy talk about God’s wrath because they want the Colossians to understand and remember the gravity of their situation before Christ, to remember what it was that they were rescued from. Paul and Timothy want the Colossians to remember this so they can completely get rid of and turn away from their old way of living, and live into the new life that God has for them.

New Clothes

A few verses further down in the chapter (in verse 12 and following), we see the new clothing that Paul and Timothy want the Colossians to put on. They tell them to put on the new clothes of “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Col. 3:12), to forgive each other (Col. 3:13), and “above all, clothe yourselves with love” (Col. 3:14).

Paul and Timothy don’t want the Colossians to just try to sprinkle a little compassion on top of their malice, or to do a little bit of kindness to balance out their slander or abusive language. 

In fact, adding these godly traits to their former lives might make things even worse! Adding patience on top of greed? That brings up images of an evil mastermind waiting in his lair to take over the world. Evil villains can be patient, but that doesn’t make their greed any less problematic.

And so Paul and Timothy want the Colossians to completely toss aside their old destructive patterns in favor of these godly, Christlike traits. They want the Colossians to be people of peace, rather than people who bring harm. They want them to be people who speak words of life, rather than death, people who treat one another with love, rather than greed or evil desire.

The Colossians were at one time deserving of God’s anger, but now they have been forgiven, and so therefore they ought to treat everyone with kindness and love and compassion, rather than operating out of anger or wrath, or with malice. They have no right to look down on anyone else, nor should they let anyone else look down on them, because in Christ they have been made new. 

As Paul and Timothy remind the Colossians, in the renewal that Jesus is bringing about, “there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free. But Christ is all and in all!” (Col. 3:11). What an amazing thought!

Conclusion

This morning as we wrap up our 4-part series on the book of Colossians, I want to encourage us to remember that, like the Colossians, we too have been “raised with Christ.” Our old self has been stripped away, in Christ we have been offered new life. 

Like the Colossians, it might be tempting to just try to slip the Christian life onto our old selves, to try to fit a little bit of Jesus into our lives or try to sprinkle a few kind words into our vocabulary every now and then, but go on living the way we’ve always lived.

But I want to encourage us to remember that in Christ we have been made new. We’ve been given brand new fresh clean clothing to wear. 

So let’s toss aside the old clothing, the harmful behavior and destructive tendencies that we used to have. And let’s ask God to cleanse us anew. Let’s set our minds and hearts on things above, not on things of this earth (Col. 3:2), and let’s clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with each other and forgiving each other, just as the Lord has forgiven us. 

And above all, let’s be a church that clothes ourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony, and let’s allow the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts (Col. 3:12-15). Amen!

Rooted

Sunday July 28th 2019

Pastor Galen Zook

Colossians 2:6-19

The Year of Living Biblically

Several years ago, New York Times Bestselling author A.J. Jacobs wrote a book entitled The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, in which he humorously documents his year-long experiment at trying to follow every single commandment in the Bible literally, even the most obscure and seemingly outlandish commandments tucked away in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

Jacobs, who grew up in a secular Jewish household and doesn’t necessarily believe in God (but doesn’t discount the possibility of a higher power), wanted to highlight the reality that even the most diehard fanatical followers of the Bible who say they take the Bible literally don’t usually follow the whole Bible, nor do they apply every single commandment in the Bible literally.

I’m only halfway through reading the book so I can’t tell you how it ends, but I can tell you that Jacobs’ quest brings him into contact with a wide range of people, from passionate and religious fundamentalists on the one hand who share his almost obsessively-compulsive approach to Biblical interpretation, to people who readily explain away most or all of the commands in the Bible (or even the whole Bible itself) on the other hand.

One gentleman, for example, offered to come to Jacobs’ house with a microscope and tweezers to examine every piece of clothing in his house in search of any hidden fibers that might violate the prohibition against mixing linen and wool found in Leviticus 19:19. Someone else taught him how to blow a shofar, a ram’s horn, in keeping with the commandment to blow a horn on the first day of every month, found in Lev. 23:24.

Other people, of course, scoffed at his experiment, and random passersby often called him Gandalf (from Lord of the Rings), since his experiment involved not trimming the corners of his beard (as instructed in Leviticus 19:27) and since he took to wearing long white flowing robes, in accordance with the encouragement to “always be clothed in white” found in Ecclesiastes 9:8.

Religious Extremism vs. Pluralism

Although A.J. Jacobs’ book falls under the category of humor, his book does raise the serious topic of the danger of religious fundamentalism. Even well-intentioned religious fervor, when taken to the extreme, can cause a lot of harm and violence.

On the other hand, does that mean that we should toss aside every commandment in the Bible and let anything go, as if it doesn’t matter?

The Situation in Colossae

Such is the situation that we encounter here in Colossians 2. 

As we saw in Chapter 1, the people of Colossae were new believers in Christ. They had come from a wide variety of religious backgrounds, most of them non-Jewish. Paul and Timothy, the authors of this letter, have never met the Colossians in person, but they have heard that there are people who are trying to take them “captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).

These religious fundamentalists are trying to get the Colossians to follow every single letter of the law, from becoming circumcised and keeping the Jewish cultural dietary restrictions, to even following the man-made customs and traditions that had been added to the law, often called “the tradition of the elders.”  On the other extreme, it seems that there are people who are trying to get them to worship angels and obsess over visions (Col. 2:18), and I’m sure others who were trying to tell them to disregard the law altogether.

In the midst of this whirlwind of religious fanaticism, what are the young Christians in Colossae to do? How can they sort out the truth from the falsehood, and how can they possibly determine how they are supposed to live their lives? How can they know which commands they have to follow, and which ones they can ignore? How can they stay balanced in the midst of all the craziness and conflicting opinions swirling around them?

Rooted and Established in Christ

Paul and Timothy cut straight through all of the chaos by encouraging the Colossians to stay rooted and established in Christ (Col. 2:7), to make Jesus Christ the center of their attention, their focus, their worship, and their devotion.

Paul and Timothy remind the Colossians that it is in Christ that “the whole fullness of the deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9), harkening back to their statement in chapter 1 that Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15).

Paul and Timothy remind the Colossians that in Christ they received a “spiritual circumcision” (Col. 2:11), which is even better than a physical circumcision.

And when they put their faith and trust in Christ, they were “buried with him in baptism, [and they] were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12). 

Whereas they used to be “dead in trespasses” and sins, now they have been made “alive together with [Christ]” and they have been forgiven of all of their trespasses and sins (Col. 2:13).

Not only have their sins been forgiven, but the whole record of their wrongdoing and all of the demands of the law has been nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14). Jesus has “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them” (Col. 2:15). 

In other words, they shouldn’t let anyone condemn them or disqualify them for not keeping every single law and custom, because their hope, their identity, the assurance of their salvation is not in keeping every single aspect of the law, but in the love and the grace and the mercy of God, expressed ultimately through Christ’s death on the cross.

Rather than living their lives in constant fear on the one hand, trying to make sure that they are checking off all the right boxes, dotting all of their “i’s” and crossing all of their “t’s”, and rather than getting swept away by empty philosophies such as the worshiping of angels and obsessing over dreams and visions on the other hand, Paul and Timothy want the Colossians to focus their time and energy and attention on following and worshipping and being like Jesus, continuing to live their lives in him, being rooted and established in Christ.

Because in the end, Jesus is the best guide that we have, the best example that we have to follow. Jesus shows us not only who God is, but also who we are supposed to be. 

Model, Method, Means

I like to say that Jesus is the Model, the Method, and the Means for how we ought to live our lives and for making this world a better place.

Model

First of all, the Model. Imagine with me for a minute that everyone in the world sought to live their lives like Christ. Imagine that every religious fanatic and extremist out there, every religious fundamentalist, were to shift their time and attention to living like Christ. Imagine if they were kind to the marginalized and vulnerable. Imagine if they were nice to children. Imagine if they stood up for those who are oppressed and if they helped those who were in need. 

And on the other hand, imagine if those in our society who have very few moral standards began to try to imitate Christ, if they gave up their loose living and sought to do good in this world? Imagine if those who were selfish began to live lives that were less focused on themselves and more focused on others, if those who commit crimes of violence stopped hurting others and began to help others instead?

Imagine how your workplace, your neighborhood, this community would be different if everyone was trying to follow Christ’s example and live like Jesus?

Method

And now imagine with me that everyone in the world began to live out Jesus’s teachings, if we followed the Method that Jesus gave us in how we ought to live our lives. Imagine if each of us loved our enemies, and did good to those who harmed us. Imagine that we all treated others the way we want to be treated, and loved our neighbor (of every cultural background and ethnicity) as much as we love ourselves?  

That would be the kind of world that I would want to live in, how about you? 

Means

But the reality is that trying to be good all on our own will only get us so far. And that’s why I say that Jesus is also the Means by which we should live our lives and seek to make the world a better place.

We need the power of the Holy Spirit, the love and the grace and the mercy of God expressed through Christ’s death on the cross. We need the healing and forgiveness that Jesus offers, we need our trespasses and sins to be put to death and we need to be made alive in Christ if we are to live lives that are pleasing and acceptable to God. We cannot do it on our own strength. We need Jesus himself in order to live the method he taught us and in order to follow the model he left for us.

Rooted and Established in Christ

And so this morning, like the Colossians, I want to invite us to stay rooted and established in Christ. Not to get swept away by the latest spiritual fads and philosophies on the one hand, nor to find our identity in how perfect or fastidiously we keep the law. Instead, let us look to Jesus as the Model, the Method, and the Means for how we live our lives. Let us continue to live our lives in him, and to hold fast to Christ, even in the midst of the chaos and confusion and all of the various thoughts and opinions swirling around us.

We who were dead in trespasses and sins, have been made alive together with him! And so let us stay rooted and established in him, and let’s allow everything else to fall into it’s proper perspective.  

Mirror Image

Sunday July 21st 2019

Pastor Galen Zook

Colossians 1:15-28

Looking Just Like Mom

How many of you have ever been told that you look like your mom or dad or grandparent or another relative? I have a brother who is 5 years older than me, and when we were growing up, everywhere we went, people would point at him and say, “you look just like your dad.” My brother would grin and smile, and then they would look at me, and they would say, “and you look just like your mom!”

As a young boy who was trying to be tough and masculine, it was really frustrating that everyone thought I looked like my mom.  I would have much preferred that people thought I looked like my dad! But still to this day, people say that I look just like my mom.

Some of you may not know one or both of your biological parents, but the reality is that even if you’ve never met them, you probably bear some resemblance to them. It’s part of what it means to be a child. 

And it’s not just physical resemblance either. How many have caught yourself saying things to your children or grandchildren that your parents used to say to you? Perhaps there were words or phrases that your parents used to say that you swore you would never say to your children, but in a moment of frustration or anger, the words just came out of you. Our parents and grandparents and those who raised us live on through us whether we like it or not.

Jesus, the Image of The Invisible God

In Colossians 1:15, Paul and Timothy say that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” Jesus, the Son of God, looks just like God.  In fact, Paul and Timothy say that in Christ, “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col. 1:19). What an amazing statement! All the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Christ.

Now, this doesn’t mean that Jesus physically resembled God, that if we could somehow discover what Jesus looked like, then we would physically know what God looks like.  When Paul and Timothy say that Jesus was the “image of the invisible God,” they’re referring to Jesus’s character, his actions, his entire being, which shows us who God is. 

Jesus, the Son of God, was and is God. In Jesus God took on flesh, and came down to dwell and to live among us, to show us who God is.

In John 14:9 Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Therefore, if we want to know what God looks like, all we have to do is look at Jesus.  Jesus is the clearest picture that we have of God.

Jesus not only tells us who God is. Jesus also helps us understand who we are.

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has said, 

If you want to know who God is, look at Jesus. If you want to know what it means to be human, look at Jesus. If you want to know what love is, look at Jesus. And go on looking until you’re not just a spectator, but part of the drama that has him as the central character. — N.T. Wright

Looking For God

You see, all throughout human history, people have been stumbling around trying to understand who God is, how the world was created, and the meaning and purpose of life.  

As humans, we have come up with elaborate rituals and practices to try to connect with or appease the gods, to try to get the gods to bend to our will or to give us what we want. People thought that maybe if we offer this sacrifice, or maybe if we say these words, then perhaps God will be happy with us and will give us what we want.

Part of our attempt to get to know God is also an attempt to try to know ourselves as well, to try to make sense of the world, to try to figure out why we’re here.

There are a lot of things in the world that just don’t seem to make sense.  Life seems so arbitrary sometimes. Some people do horrendous things yet live to a ripe old age, while innocent children die young.

Some people have so much money that they don’t know what to do with it, while other people starve to death.

Some people seem to always have good luck, while for other people, no matter what they do, it seems like the universe is against them.

And so throughout human history, people all throughout the world have used religion, science, and philosophy to try to make sense of the world, to figure out who God is, and who we are, and how we’re supposed to live in the world.

Then Came Jesus

And into the midst of this world that feels so arbitrary, where people are struggling to make sense of the world, to try to figure out who God is and how we’re supposed to live, into the midst of this world, God sent Jesus. Jesus, the image of the invisible God.

Jesus is the mirror image of God.  Jesus is like an angled mirror, reflecting God to us.   When we look at Jesus’s life, his teachings, his character, the way we lived his life, we see a direct reflection of God.

Not only that, but when we look at Jesus, when we truly see Jesus for who he is and was, everything else in this world makes more sense. 

Paul and Timothy say that “in him all things in heaven and earth were created, things visible and invisible…all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17).

In other words, Jesus is the missing piece of the puzzle that helps us see the whole picture. Jesus is that one Christmas bulb that makes all of the other bulbs light up. He’s the piece of computer code that makes the rest of the program work. Jesus is the key or legend on the map that helps us understand what everything is and why it’s there. 

We can look around at the pain and the injustice in this world, and we wonder “does God care?” But when we see Jesus hanging on the cross, we see that God does indeed care. On the cross, God’s perfect love and justice come together. On the cross God exposes the evil and injustice of the world and brings it all to a head. On the cross God deals with injustice by sacrificing himself for the sins of the whole world. 

As Paul and Timothy say in verse 20, “through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20).

Friends, the mystery of God has been revealed to us through Jesus Christ! We no longer have to wander to and fro, trying to understand who God is, living in fear that God might be angry with us, trying to appease God or win God’s favor. 

When we look at Jesus hanging on the cross, we see God’s unconditional love for us, and we see God’s mercy and grace that is freely offered to all. 

We see that God knows our pain, that God understands our suffering. We can rest assured God is not content to sit back and watch injustices occur.  Through the cross, Jesus demonstrates God’s ultimate love and justice and that God is actively working for good in our world, to bring an ultimate end to all pain and suffering and injustice. This is what we see when we look at Jesus.

Proclaiming Jesus

But unfortunately, even a lot of Christians don’t know that much about Jesus. And many people in our world don’t know that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. 

I end with this story:

Arthur Burns, a Jewish economist of great influence in Washington during the tenure of several Presidents, was once asked to pray at a gathering of evangelical politicians. Stunning his hosts, he prayed thus: “Lord, I pray that Jews would come to know Jesus Christ. And I pray that Buddhists would come to know Jesus Christ. And I pray that Muslims would come to know Jesus Christ.” And then, most stunning of all: “And Lord, I pray that Christians would come to know Jesus Christ.”

So let us get to know Jesus more deeply! Let us learn more about Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God. And then let us go out and proclaim the love and grace of God demonstrated through Jesus on the cross to a world that is desperately trying to make sense of it all.

Inheritance

Sunday July 14th 2019

Pastor Galen Zook

Colossians 1:1-14

Feeling like a Billion Bucks

Imagine with me that all of a sudden you received a call out of nowhere letting you know that some long-lost relative whom you’ve never met has just died, leaving you with an inheritance of a billion dollars.

It sounds crazy, but let’s say that you find out it’s not a hoax, it’s really happening. You absolutely will be inheriting a billion dollars, the only thing is that you don’t know when you’ll actually be receiving the money. It could take weeks, months, or maybe even years to actually have access to the money.

How do you live in the meantime? How does the knowledge that you will someday be a billionaire change your perspective on life?

For some us, maybe we would go out and spend as much money as possible, racking up tons of credit card debt, buying cars and multi-million-dollar mansions, knowing that in when we get our inheritance money we’ll be able to pay it all off.

Maybe some of us would give all of our money away to charity, knowing that don’t need to save any money for retirement because someday we’ll have all the money we’ll ever need.

Maybe some of us might drop out of school or quit our jobs because, after all, who needs a college degree or a job when you have a billion dollars?

I’m sure that some of the more cautious among us may not change anything about our current lifestyle. You’d continue to pinch your pennies and live simply and save money, just in case the whole deal falls through and you don’t receive the money after all. 

But probably for all of us, the knowledge that we are set to one day inherit a billion dollars would drastically change the way we think about ourselves and live our lives.

Most likely we would start to stand a little straighter, walk a little bit more confidently, maybe even strut a little bit. Even if we don’t spend all the money we don’t have yet, we would probably begin to dream about the things that we will someday be able to afford. We’d probably start thinking more about the future, and less about the past.

In Christ

In their letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul and Timothy commend the church in Colossae for their “faith in Christ Jesus” and their love “for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for [them] in heaven”(Col. 1:4). In verse 12, Paul and Timothy tell the Colossians that they “share in the inheritance of the saints in the light” (Col. 1:12). 

Now, what was it that prompted Paul and Timothy to write this letter to the Colossian Church – a church that they had never pastored or even visited, a church full of people who had never even met them? Why did Paul and Timothy want to remind the Colossians of the inheritance that they had in Christ Jesus, and of the hope laid up for them in heaven?

The people of Colossae were Gentiles, meaning that they didn’t come from a Jewish religious background like Jesus’s first disciples and like many of the members of the early church. The Colossians came from a diversity of religious and cultural backgrounds, but they had all chosen to put their faith and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. In fact, Paul and Timothy state that they have been “rescued…from the power of darkness and transferred …into the kingdom of [God’s] beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). So although they were Gentiles, the Colossians have been transformed by the redemptive love of Jesus. 

But as we’ll find out in a few weeks when we look at chapter 2 of the book of Colossians, it seems that there were some who were trying to take the Colossian church “captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition” (Col. 2:8). These would-be deceivers seemed to be telling the Colossians that their salvation wasn’t really secure, that in addition to putting their faith and trust in Christ, they needed to observe certain cultural practices, certain dietary restrictions, and observe particular festivals and holidays in order to truly be followers of Christ (see Col. 2:16).

But Paul and Timothy want the Colossians to know that there are no second-class citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. Even though the Colossians are Gentiles, even though they weren’t born into a religious household, even though they didn’t grow up going to church or have a lot of Bible knowledge, and even though they haven’t adopted all of the super-uber religious rituals and practices that others were telling them they should do, their salvation and redemption is secure.

Why? Because they are “in Christ”! In fact, this is how Paul and Timothy address this letter. Right in the beginning of this letter, they say, “Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae” (Col. 1:1-2). 

So the primary social location of the Colossians, more than the fact that they are Gentiles living in Colossae, is that they are in Christ. And so Paul and Timothy want the Colossian church to know that they can stand with their heads held high, they can walk in confidence and boldness as children of God because they are in Christ. They are citizens of the Kingdom of God, and they share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.

What was the Colossians’ Inheritance?

Now what exactly is this “inheritance” that the Colossians share in? And what is the hope that has been laid up for them in heaven? This inheritance and hope is not just the reality that we will someday spend eternity with Jesus in heaven — although that is indeed part of it. It’s all the promises of God throughout Scripture. It’s the promise that God is with us, it’s the promise of eternal life which starts here and now. It’s the promise of the Holy Spirit living inside of us, the assurance that we have been set free from captivity to sin, and the promise that we are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus. 

Yes, we will someday go to be with Jesus and live with him for all of eternity.  But our inheritance is already assured, already secured, and that should change the way we live here and now.

It’s Not About Avoiding Pain and Suffering

Paul and Timothy go on to pray for the Colossian church. They pray that the Colossians would be “filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,” that they would “lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10). They pray that the Colossians would be “made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power and may be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father” (Col. 1:11-12a). 

Notice that Paul and Timothy do not pray that the Colossians would be free from pain and suffering, or that they would live lives of comfort and ease. They don’t pray that no bad things would ever happen to the Colossians. Instead they pray that, whatever comes their way, the Colossians would be able to endure it with patience and even given thanks to the Father, “who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light” (Col. 1:12b).

Paul and Timothy understand that suffering and pain are realities of life. These things are unavoidable. No matter how many resources we have, no matter our standing in society, the reality of living in this world is that we will face troubles. 

The promise of God all throughout Scripture is not that we will have material prosperity or blessing or that we will be able to avoid pain and suffering. The promise is that God is with us, that we have access to the power and grace of God, and that there is hope beyond the grave.

And so Paul and Timothy want the Colossians to know that they have access to these same promises, they are recipients of that same inheritance. And Paul and Timothy long for the Colossians to be filled with the knowledge and grace of God so that they can withstand whatever comes their way.

Our Inheritance

There are some of us here today who may need this reminder. Maybe for whatever reason you have been made to feel less-than. Maybe because of your cultural or religious background, your social standing, your age, gender, race or ethnicity, your wealth or lack there-of, or some other sort of arbitrary designation, you have been made to feel like you’re not good enough or that you don’t belong. 

But this morning I want to remind us that there are no second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. If you are in Christ, then you have a hope laid up for you in heaven, and you share in the inheritance of the saints in the light! You have been rescued from the power of darkness and you have been transferred into the kingdom of the beloved Son.

So you can stand with head held high, you can walk in confidence and boldness because you are a child of the Most High God. 

That means when someone cuts you off in traffic, when someone ignores you or looks right past you, when someone slights you or disrespects you, when someone looks down on you or derides you, you can say to yourself, “They don’t know who they just disrespected! They don’t know that I am a child of the King, I have an inheritance that is out of this world. They don’t know who it is that they just slandered or persecuted, because I am in Christ.”

Lives Worthy of the Lord

The knowledge that we are in Christ, that we have a hope laid up for us in heaven and that we share in the inheritance with the saints should completely and utterly transform our lives. And it should also transform the way we think about others as well. Because if our inheritance, the hope that we have in Christ, and our relationship with God is not dependent on our wealth or power or social standing, then neither is anyone else’s. 

And so as Christians, if we really grasp ahold of the fact that our identity is in Christ and it’s not based upon these external factors, then we should be the most loving, others-oriented, justice-minded, grace-filled, welcoming and inclusive people in the world. Just as the Colossians were known for their love “for all the saints” (Col. 1:4), may that be true of us here at Hampden Church as well! 

As Paul and Timothy prayed for the church in Colossae, I want to pray for us — that as we grow in the knowledge of God’s will for our lives and as we grow in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, that we too would lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, and that we would bear fruit in every good work! (Col. 1:10).

God, fill us with the knowledge of your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, that we may lead lives worthy of you, fully pleasing to you.

May we bear fruit in every good work as we grow in the knowledge of God. 

May we be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may we be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to you, 

Thank you for enabling us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light, for rescuing us from the power of darkness and transferring us into the kingdom of your beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.      

In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Working for the Good of All

Sunday July 7th 2019

Pastor Galen Zook

Galatians 6:7-10; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Working for the Good of All

The apostle Paul says in Galatians 6, “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith” (Galatians 6:10 NRSV).

Whenever I think about doing good works, I’m reminded of the story of the boy scout who came home all banged up and bruised, with his clothes all torn and tattered. His mother asked him what happened, and he responded by saying, “I was trying to earn my merit badge by helping an old lady cross the street.”

“So why are you all banged up then?” his mother asked.

“Well, the old lady didn’t really want to cross the street!” he replied.

You know, it may have sounded like a good thing to help an old lady across the street, but if she didn’t want to go across the street then it wasn’t actually a good work.

Perhaps this is why Paul doesn’t say to “go out and do good deeds for other people,” but instead he encourages us to “work for the good of all.” It’s subtle, but I think it’s a significant difference.

You see, so often we do good things for other people because it makes us feel good (or look good). When we do this, we’re not really thinking about the other person and what they need or want. We’re merely thinking of ourselves. When we do this, we often end up hurting the other person, and sometimes (like the boy scout) we get hurt in the process too.

In contrast to this, the good works that the Apostle Paul would have us do are works that flow out of our relationship with Christ, because the Holy Spirit lives inside us. In the previous passage in Galatians, Paul lists the 9 “Fruits of the Spirit” — “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22b-23a). When the good works that we do flow out of the work that the Holy Spirit is doing inside of us, then they truly are works that are good “for the good of all” rather than just simply good works that makes us feel good.

…especially for those of the family of faith

And then Paul also goes on to say that we should “work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family [or household] of faith” (Galatians 6:9b).

Do you wonder why Paul adds this part? If we’re supposed to do good for all people, wouldn’t that obviously include other people who are Christians? Why does Paul emphasize that we should especially do good for those who are in our church (faith family)?

I think one reason is that when we think about trying to do good for all people, it can feel like such an enormous task that we can feel paralyzed. In our day and age when we have news from all around the world literally at our fingertips via our mobile devices, we can so often feel inundated with needs around the world that are crying out for our attention. It can feel so overwhelming that we don’t know where to start and so we don’t do anything.

By telling us to do good, especially to those of the family of faith, the Apostle Paul is giving us a starting point. He’s saying — start right here in the church! Do good whenever you have the opportunity, but start right where you are.

As the saying goes, “If you want to change the world, start by making your bed!” 

We may not be able to help everyone in the world who has need, but as Paul said, we should work for the good of all whenever we have the opportunity. And we can start right here where we are, right here in the church.

20/80

Statistically speaking, however, it has often been pointed out that in most churches, 20% of the congregation does 80% of the work. Most of the work of the church is done by only a few select people.

But Paul isn’t just speaking to the leaders or the inner circle of the church in Galatia. Paul wrote this letter to be read in front of the whole congregation. And he encourages each and every one of them to work for the good of everyone in the church. 

Jesus was also interested in seeing everyone get involved in the work of the Church. Jesus sent out all 12 of his apostles in pairs to proclaim the Kingdom in every town and village where he intended to go. And then as more and more people followed him, he sent out 70 disciples in pairs to go into every town and village to proclaim the Kingdom. And he told them to pray to the Lord of the harvest, that God would raise up even more workers into the harvest! (Luke 10:2).

The harvest truly is plentiful, as Jesus said, but the laborers are few. Jesus wanted everyone to get involved in the mission of the church.

And so this morning, I want to invite each and every one of us to get involved in doing the work of the church.  I know that sometimes the needs in this world can seem so great and we can feel so overwhelmed that we don’t know where to start. But I’d encourage you to start right here, right where you are. There’s plenty of work to go around, plenty of good things to do.

Maybe you’re one of those people who do 80% of the work of the church. If that’s you, I’m not going to ask you to do more. But what I am going to ask you to do is to try to find someone to share the load with you, someone who you can train to do what you do, someone you could someday pass your responsibilities on to. None of us will live on this earth forever. So let’s train and pour into the next generation, so that the work of the church will continue on even after we’re gone.

But maybe you’re one of the 80% who don’t really have much to do around the church. Maybe you’ve been wanting to get involved, but you’re not really sure what to do. Maybe it seems like everything is already taken care of, and you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Or maybe you just have a lot going on in your life, and you don’t have the capacity to take on any more responsibilities. 

I understand. I know that there are seasons in our lives when we may have more capacity to do more than at other times. I think that’s why Paul says “…whenever you have the opportunity.” The goal is not for anyone to burn out or take on more responsibility than you can bear. The goal is that everyone would flourish, that everyone would have the opportunity to operate in their gifts and passions, and that we would be able to find joy in serving the Lord together.

If you’re sick or homebound, or can’t make it out to church, please know that there are ways that you can be a blessing to those around you. Even just a smile or a kind word can brighten someone’s day. A handwritten note of encouragement, a card, or a phone call to a friend or family member can turn someone’s day around. So think of someone that you can bless today, and “whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all!”