Text: Colossians 1:1-14
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.
It is always a good thing to hear that you are being prayed for, in good times and in bad, when you have plenty or when you are in need. St. Paul tells the Church at Colossae, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” Paul prays and rejoices in the Church, not because they’re fine, outstanding people. It’s not because they are the cream of the crop of the people located in Colossae. Paul prays and rejoices in the people because of the faith they have in Jesus.
What a thing for Paul to rejoice in – faith in Jesus! This was indeed a good and salutary thing, especially given what the Colossian Church was facing. On one hand, they were facing the error of Gnosticism, an idea that the flesh was bad and the spirit was good. This was to be seen in some sort of redemption from the material world into a world of freedom. On the other hand, they also had the Essenes to deal with. The Essenes, combined with rigid devotion to certain Jewish tenets, tried by means of allegory to subject the facts of the Old Testament to the forms of Greek philosophy. Both of these false teachings could have proven divisive to this small church, and yet they had remained faithful to the teachings of Jesus.
If only the Church today could be so lucky. We have things from all angles assaulting the Church, begging for her attention, telling us that they are just as good of an option or better than Jesus: self-help programs, multi-step programs, feel-good programs, and the list goes on. Each one comes with some truth to them, and then comes the false, misleading teachings. While these teachings pervert the true doctrine of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, they do even more – they damn. Whenever anything seeks to supplant or surpass the teaching of Jesus, it can only damn.
It is all the more important that the Church be ever faithful to what is taught, for while it might scratch our itching ears and make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, will the teaching save or will it damn?
For the Colossians, they remained faithful to the saving truth of Jesus Christ and were to be rightfully commended for doing so. They have heard the truth, that is, the Gospel, “which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing….” In spite of the imperfections and dangers at Colossae, the truth of the Gospel continued to prevail.
We, along with the Colossians, have something going for us: our faith. But what is it about our faith? Where did it come from? What is it in? The faith comes not from us but from the working of the Holy Spirit upon us. The faith is not in ourselves, our works, others, or anything else we can think to fill in the blank. True faith is faith in Jesus Christ and no one or nothing else. Fortunately for the Colossians, they had not given up on their faith in Jesus Christ while flirting with the false theology of salvation by works.
Because of all the confusing ideas that were being preached in Colossae, Paul prayed for them, asking that their faith would be increased, that God would fill them with the knowledge of His will. Paul prayed for them so that they would be able to discern between God’s Word and the false teachers. He prayed for them so that as they heard the Word of God, their faith in Christ would increase and be strengthened so that they would be able to withstand the attacks upon their faith from these false teachers.
What Paul writes to the Colossians can just as easily be written to the Church today, perhaps even our own congregation. We have before us the means of salvation, Jesus Christ, and we also have those things of the world which work counter to the Church’s teaching of salvation and promote other ways of salvation. On any given day, Christians are given the option of Jesus Christ for salvation or other means of salvation, and they get to choose what they want for salvation. That right there is our problem. There is no other means of salvation than Jesus Christ, but we are told contrary to that.
So, what do the Colossians do? What is the Church today to do? What happens when you feel as if you are too far gone for God to love you? What happens when you leave God behind and adopt the ways of the world? What happens when you just feel all the way around inadequate to be a believer in Christ? You do what the prophet Joel says: “Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” You see, even when we are far from God or have turned away from Him, He graciously invites us to return to Him. Even when we forsake God for the newest salvation fad, we can return to Him. That is what He did for the Colossians and that is what He does for you and me as well. God has called us by the Gospel and placed His name upon us in our Baptism, forever marking us as His beloved children. While at times that may not mean much to us, it greatly means something to God. He sees His name on you. He sees the love that Christ has for Him that He would lay down His life, only to take it up again in the resurrection, in order to win for us forgiveness and salvation. That isn’t something to take lightly and God does not take us lightly.
Paul is able to commend the Colossians for their love becauseit is notseparated from the rescue of Jesus, his love. His love has created faith in them and that faith works love. And not in the Colossians only. Paul can claim the Gospel’s deliverance in the whole world and the fruit it bears. The redemption won by Christ delivers all mankind in order that we walk in a manner worthy of the lord, in love.
But who loves first? Man or God? “We love because he first loved us” says John 1, and “by this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.” God’s love precedes our love. Faith precedes love. Faith loves the forgiveness of sin, wherever our Lord gives it. You have heard the Gospel. It has come to you. You have believed it. You are redeemed. You are baptized. You eat your Lord’s flesh and drink His blood, often, for your forgiveness. It is to strengthen your love. Not only is there life in the body and blood of Jesus unto forgiveness; there is strength for the love of God and our neighbor. Nevertheless, our love is not what it seems or what it ought to be. It needs bolstering, improvement. It receives strengthening from the faith given.
At the times in our lives where we think that we need to do something to earn our salvation or feel as if Jesus isn’t sufficient for salvation’s work, we turn to the closing words of Paul’s introduction to his letter: “He [Jesus] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” God’s formula is not Christ and the works of the Law for salvation, but it is Christ alone.
Our adequacy before God and man is not the result of our works but God’s alone. He alone brought us out of darkness into light. He alone cleansed us of all our sins. You and I are not qualified for salvation on our own. God does not call the qualified. Rather, it is Jesus who does the qualifying for us. He alone makes you called to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Rejoice in knowing that you have been qualified to share in the gifts that God has given you through Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.