Colossian 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
This was one of Paul’s great poems…it was written to a church is what is now Turkey in a city called Colossae.
Paul didn’t plant the church there but a man named Epaphras did, he told Paul about the church.
Paul is praying for them to have wisdom to live a life pleasing to God…and in particular he wants to develop and encourage their practice of giving thanks.
A key component of wise living is being thankful…nurturing gratitude.
So, he gives them this poem…to help them in their practice of thanksgiving.
If you were to look for reasons to give thanks in the midst of the pandemic what do you think you would find on social media, in news stories and editorials?
Curve is flattening. (but thousands are dead)
Families are bonding. (some are disintegrating)
Gas prices way down (but so are jobs and incomes)
With all the normal reasons for giving thanks…there is often (maybe always) another side to the story.
What we often look to in order to be thankful or to feel thankful…are contingent things…things that depend on this or that becoming true or staying true.
What Paul gives the little church in Turkey as the focus of their mental practice of thanksgiving is the fixed reality of who Jesus is and what he has done.
Things that will not change…and yet the very thing that changes everything else.
It’s important to back up and understand a bit about Paul…his life and his circumstances in order to understand why he would write a poem like this to encourage their practice of thanksgiving.
We tend to read Paul’s letters as if they were written in a seminary Library…or a Starbucks…sipping coffee cranking out theology emails or posting thoughts on his “apostles blog”.
But Paul spent most of his waking hours doing hard physical work…that is when he wasn’t traveling in difficult circumstances, recovering from terrible injuries, or languishing in prison.
Paul was a man who had been imprisoned…multiple times and tortured multiple times, and rejected by people he had given his life away for.
What do you think all this does to a person?
Well it changes them…but it doesn’t always ruin them.
It didn’t ruin Paul.
But we must read his letters as those who have been written by a man who had lived in extraordinary difficulties and…
…who had learned in ways few ever have…of the sufficiency of Christ.
And so, he knew, personally…what it took to be “thankful always”…especially when that “always” included terrible circumstances.
In 2 Corinthians…Paul addresses the criticism of a church that was rejecting him in in favor of more polished and “successful” spiritual leaders…he just wasn’t that cool in Corinth.
In a prosperous Roman colony like Corinth, officials and people of importance were expected to celebrate their own achievements.
Often, they would have their list of achievements carved in stone and placed in public spaces.
In fact, at one point the Corinthians wanted “fresh letters of recommendation” for Paul…because he was just not impressive enough for them.
So, he gives them his own CV…curriculum (kur rick u lum) vita (vee tie) (course of life)…his resume.
But it was a strange one… in place of real, impressive accomplishments we get this…
I’ve been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
Paul was writing this as irony…they wanted impressive resumes…and he gave them this.
We might read this as impressive, “Look at what he did for the gospel!”
But that’s not reading it in context…
Think about it like this…
If you received a resume and it read “I’ve been in prison a lot…I’ve been punished by authorities a lot…been on the move, can’t seem to stay in one place…been homeless a lot…no one seems to like me…I often don’t eat or sleep…I feel weak and inwardly I’m in turmoil a lot.”
You going to hire them? Sound like an impressive person to you?
That’s how to read this.
Before I read the next verses let me give a bit of a back story:
For Roman soldiers there was the equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor (our nation’s highest military honor)…it was called the “Wall Crown” (in English).
This was given to the first solder to get over the city wall on ladder in a siege.
Think about that…you’ve seen the movies…what could possibly go wrong if you are the first guy up a ladder on a wall…into a city full of people trying to kill you?
As you could imagine…not many lived to claim that prize.
But this was the kind of heroic figure the Corinthians were looking for to be their representative in their celebrity culture.
“Look, if we are going reach more Corinthians, we need a cooler Apostle…maybe Apollos…he’s cool…good speaker…and great name…Apollos!”
So, Paul gave them this…not first up and over the wall…but the opposite.
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness…32 In Damascus the governor wanted to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.
He was not awarded a medal for being the first over the wall in combat…he was lowered in a basket over a wall to escape capture…he is showing his weakness.
A grown man…lowered out a window…to escape, at least that one time…torture.
The Corinthians…would have known what he was talking about…this was like the “un-resume”
He did have some amazing experiences…he mentions one in chapter 12…but he doesn’t tell us much about it…because again…he’s not going along with their celebrity culture.
As a result of his amazing (and largely undescribed experience)…he has to endure some great difficulty…that he doesn’t want…who would?
But listen to his conclusion.
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
He wasn’t crazy, or stupid…he didn’t love pain…this delight in weakness was a choice.
He loved seeing Christ’s strength revealed…and that meant…seeing his own weakness revealed.
So we get this great paradox… “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
He was not confused…this is perfect clarity…
It is a painful for me to contemplate what he is saying…and what it means in practice…I hate the thought of it.
So, when you read things like 2 Cor. 4:7-12 it is personal testimony…not just a theological speech.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Cor. 4:7-12
Now we see why Paul gave a poem of Jesus and the gospel in order to encourage thanksgiving…
…how else could a person learn to be thankful in every circumstance…unless they had a fixed point of reference for that thankfulness?
Jesus…not circumstances is our fixed point of reference.
This year we are in Proverbs/Wisdom
This month we have been looking at Jesus, the wisdom of God revealed.
Today, we are focused on Paul’s prayer for the church in Colossae…a prayer that leads to that great poem we read to begin.
We focus on Paul’s prayer because it gives us important clues for how to live a life of wisdom.
We can summarize his prayer like this…he prayed that they would “Know God’s will and have the power to do it.”
Watch for two things to connect his prayer with Proverbs.
- Paul is praying that they would have wisdom and understanding (the goal of Proverbs)
Proverbs 4:7 “Wisdom is supreme, therefore get wisdom. Though it cost you all you have get understanding.”
- With the purpose of (in order that) they would “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.”
Wisdom is to walk a path…that is…to live life in a certain way…and ultimate wisdom is walk in the way of Jesus.
Let’s read the prayer…and discuss it as we go.
9 And so, from the day we heard (heard of their faith from his friend Epaphras) 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,
Wisdom and understanding in the normal, secular usage would have been:
-Wisdom: mental excellence (being over all good thinker)
-Understanding: the ability to think through a subject clearly (a good problem solver)
Paul adds an important qualifier to these mere human attributes…
…He adds the adjective “spiritual” to the qualities of wisdom and knowledge.
By spiritual wisdom and understanding Paul is describing something that cannot be discovered by humans but has been revealed by God.
You can go out and “fill yourself” with all kinds of understanding about how the world is put together.
But here…the “fill” is passive…God is doing the filling…and the things he is filling them up with is “Spiritual wisdom and understanding”…meaning not merely originating in the human mind…but from God.
Then we see that there is a very definite purpose for this wisdom and understanding that he is praying for…verse 10
10 so as (purpose for this wisdom and understanding) to 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;
Notice the sequence:
First…there is a prayer for wisdom
Second…there is the purpose of gaining that wisdom…to live a life pleasing to the Lord
Third…there is an outcome for that lifestyle…fruit and increased knowledge of God.
Wisdom=life change=more wisdom
It’s not circular…like a merry go round…round and round going nowhere.
It is like a spiral staircase…up and up…going somewhere… “know…do…grow…know…do…grow”
This is a prayer for an increase in knowledge of what God wants for them
With the result that they would live as God wants them to live.
Leading to an increase in knowledge of what God wants for them and who God is
Information without application is a dead end…a merry go round.
Information with application leads to transformation…ongoing growth.
When he writes that we would be “fully pleasing to Him” this is not an impossible ideal (who could live that way?)
This is about a settled life direction…“walk after Jesus…mess up/fess up…move on.”
How does all this happen…knowledge turning into action…turning into fruit and more knowledge?
Look at verse 11…
11 being 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 you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light
So, he asks first that they would have the wisdom to know the will and ways of God…
…and here he asks that they would the power for ongoing application…to do it the will of God.
His power is manifest in those three important ways: endurance, patience, joyful thanksgiving.
Why these three?
Because this life is challenging…and it requires those three things to live well.
These are the weapons or abilities…we need to live in the world of crisis, panics, pandemics, and when all that goes away…the world of all the other problems we will face.
Circumstances will rarely be ideal…how do we live dependent on God and not on circumstances to live our lives well?
It’s there in that phrase the “power of God for endurance, patience, and thanksgiving.”
There is a bit of distinction between “endurance” and “patience”…at first glance they seem like synonyms.
Endurance: Is faith, hope, and love applied to an apparently impossible situation
Patience: Is faith, hope, and love applied to an apparently impossible relationship.
Both have the same basis…faith, hope, love…flowing from the power of God.
So, verse 11 helps us see that growth in the knowledge of God and a life lived to please him…
…is going an uphill battle….we will only endure because of God’s power.
And…we can and we will endure…if we stay plugged into God’s power.
Then there is the “joyfully giving thanks”
God’s strength empowers us to live in the world with endurance, patience and thanksgiving.
*Does anyone need…endurance for circumstances, patience with people, and thanksgiving in all of it?
Raise your hand if so?
Again…to live this way…is a good definition of wisdom itself.
And it looks a whole lot like the life of Jesus…doesn’t it?
And Jesus is, in fact, the reason for our Thanksgiving…
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.
Thanksgiving is based on specific knowledge…a set of fixed facts.
Not feelings, not circumstances…but the facts of the gospel.
Now keep in mind:
-Endurance…hope, faith, love applied to a difficult situation
-Patience…hope, faith, love applied to a difficult person
-Joyful thanksgiving…practicing thanks in all of it.
All three require “God’s strength”…this is not merely “try harder” “do better”
Now by all means…try hard and do your best…what else would we do if we loved God?
But this is about a life of the application of spiritual wisdom and power.
So, on the one hand you might think “I can’t do that” I can’t have endurance, patience and ongoing joyful thanks…and you would be correct.
On the other hand, you would be incorrect…because we access to God’s power to live this way.
So…back to Paul’s great poem.
He wrote this poem in the midst of the prose (normal speech)…because he wanted them to think deeply…to slow down…let some thoughts settle in their minds.
I told the kids…they can choose the thoughts they allow to stay…and they can “shoo” the breaky thought birds away.
God will love you and he will love me…even if we don’t focus our minds on thoughts that will empower increased endurance, patience, and thanksgiving.
But we are leaving a great benefit of the gift of our redemption laying on the floor when we don’t take full advantage of all that God is offering us.
We cannot control all of our circumstances…
….But God is giving us the power, the opportunity to become more independent of our circumstances in our endurance(response to circumstances), patience(response to others), and thanksgiving(joy in all of it).
This is a gift…it’s a sort of super-power side-effect of the gospel…so why don’t we take him up on it?
Because for us, like for Paul…to experience God’s power…we have to face our own great weakness.
Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
This is wisdom…the humility to face and to embrace our weakness…in order to reveal and experience Christ’s power.
I really struggle with this…I can read the words…but the truth behind those words….it’s really hard for me.
I don’t like weakness…I often despise it in myself and in others…and that makes me foolish and puts me outside the realm of God’s power in my life.
Pride makes us, makes me…foolish.
But the solution is not to merely to try and embrace weakness…meditate on our own failures.
We must acknowledge our limits, our weakness…but we must set our minds on Christ and the gospel.
Paul wrote… “When I am weak, then I am strong”
And he wrote this great poem…his central focus was on Christ not his own weakness.
Our limitations should be obvious…we must become people who increasingly understand that “when we are weak, then he is strong.”
Glance at your weakness…set your focus on Christ.
Let’s read it together…this will be our concluding prayer for today…then we will sing together.
Colossian 1:15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.