Inviting Others to Trust in Christ Alone (Colossians 1:24-2:5)
When you believe in something, you commend it to other people and invite them to believe in it too.
There are certain products I have bought that I really believe in. If anyone talks to me about money or budgeting, I am immediately going to recommend a budgeting software called YNAB. If you talked to me about hiking, I would immediately recommend Keen boots as the best you can buy. When you find a product you really enjoy, you tell others about it excitedly, you say nothing else compares, and you invite them to try it out too. We not only do this with physical products, but with people as well. If you find a plumber or an electrician or handyman or mechanic that you really like, you will recommend them to other people wholeheartedly. As soon as someone brings up the topic of getting something repaired, you are ready to tell them about the great guy you have found for the job.
In Colossians 1:24-25, the apostle Paul talks about how he invites people to trust in Christ alone. Just like many of us would have a product or a mechanic or plumber that we would wholeheartedly invite others to use, Paul here shows us how he goes about wholeheartedly inviting others to trust in Christ alone for all their spiritual needs. In a world that points us to in many directions to find spiritual fullness, we need to hear the message of Colossians: “Look nowhere else! Christ is everything.”
The big question this passage answer is: how do we invite others to trust in Christ alone? This passage breaks down into two sections. Paul, the author, first talks about his work on behalf of all Christians as a servant of Jesus then he talks about his work on behalf of the Colossian Christians as a servant of Jesus. We are going to go over each section and then answer our big question afterwards.
Paul’s Work on Behalf of All Christians (Colossians 1:24-29)
In these verses, Paul describes his ministry to all Christians. Paul was given a task and responsibility by Jesus himself. Jesus commissioned him to make the good news about who he is and what he has done known to the non-Jewish world. He also told Paul that this task would come with much suffering. In these verses, we hear Paul describing exactly this commission. He has been made a minister (or servant) of the church - a stewardship given to him by God (1:25a). This stewardship or responsibility is to make the word of God fully known (1:25b). He is making known to the Gentiles how great are the riches of the glory of the gospel (1:27). And with this stewardship comes suffering.
But Paul does not go through this suffering with a grumpy attitude. He says that he rejoices in his sufferings. Why is this? He says that the sufferings benefit both the Colossians and the entire church of Jesus Christ. How? He says his sufferings benefit the church because in his flesh he is filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. At first glance, that is a very odd thing to say. What does he mean? What is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? And how does Paul fill up that lack? (There are two main interpretive options. I will cover one here. For more detail, see this article on our website.)
First, what is lacking in Christ's afflictions? Answer: not everyone saw them personally. At the time Paul is writing this letter, it has been about 30 years since Jesus died. The Colossians didn’t see Jesus suffer and die on a cross. But as Paul undergoes hardships, afflictions, and suffering to spread the message about Christ, the church is seeing a representation of Christ’s sufferings. The main point Paul is making is this: I rejoice in my sufferings because as I suffer in making Christ known, you are seeing a physical representation of Christ’s afflictions on your behalf. I rejoice in this because it is of benefit to Christ’s body, the church. As Paul tells people the message that Jesus so loved them that he suffered and died to save them, he is showing that he so loves Jesus and other people that he is willing to suffer and die in order to tell people this good news.
Paul calls the message he is spreading a "mystery." “Mystery” for Paul doesn’t mean something that can’t be figured out like when we say, “It’s a mystery how that works.” For Paul, “mystery” means something that was once hidden to humans but has now been revealed, which is how he defines it here in this verse. That mystery, Paul says at the end of verse 27, is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” In general, the “mystery” is God’s plan of salvation. It was not fully revealed in the Old Testament, but with the coming of Christ all became clear: Christ is the fulfillment of all God’s promises and the key to his plan of salvation. Paul sums it up in a specific way here: Christ in you, the hope of glory. The good news that is made a reality because of Christ is that he now dwells in those who trust in him. Our transference from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son occurs when we are united with Christ through his personal presence residing in us. And his presence in us guarantees our future glory, which is seeing God face to face.
Paul sums up his entire goal in verse 28: "Him [Christ] we proclaim, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ." Paul is running hard like an athlete struggling through a race to accomplish this goal and he does it with all the energy that Christ himself is working inside him (1:29). So Paul proclaims Christ. He tells people who Jesus is and what he has done. In that, he warns people about trusting in something else for spiritual fullness and he teaches people to trust in Christ alone. His goal is to present everyone "mature" in Christ. This word points toward undivided, complete, and wholehearted. He wants people to be undivided in their devotion to Christ. He wants them to trust in Christ alone.
Paul’s Work on Behalf of the Colossian Christians (Colossians 2:1-5)
Paul wants the Colossians, those in Laodicea, and all who have not seen him face to face to know how he is fighting like an athlete for them to have wholehearted devotion to Christ. Why? He gives two reasons. First, he wants them to be encouraged and knit together in love. "To encourage" means to impart courage to someone. In the face of adversity and pressure, they stand strong. Paul wants them to stand strong in the face of pressure to trust in something besides Christ alone. With this courage will come a mutual love for one another.
Second, he wants them to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and to reach the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ. There is spiritual richness and wealth that comes from having full assurance and certainty. Where does this full assurance and certainty come from? From understanding and knowledge. From understanding and knowing what? God's mystery, which is Christ. In other words, Paul wants them to experience the spiritual riches that come from knowing Christ - from understanding the good news about who he is and what he has done. In him, Paul says, are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. If you really want to make sense of the world, if you really want to know God, if you really want to know who you are and why you are here, then look to Christ. He is the treasure chest for understanding all things.
Why does Paul tell them that Christ is a treasure chest of wisdom and knowledge? "In order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments" (2:4). He identifies a threat to their wholehearted devotion to Christ. Here, “plausible arguments” means presenting something in a convincing way so that it seems true but is actually false. There are people in Colossae who are presenting persuasive arguments for why the Christians there need to add something to Jesus. “If you really want peace with God, if you really want to experience God, if you really want to know God...then you need to add this to your spiritual life.” Paul is saying, “No. Look nowhere else! Christ is everything. No matter how good these people sound, no matter how plausible and persuasive, what they are saying is ultimately false no matter how well thought out or convincing they are. If they are saying you need more than Christ, their teaching is to be rejected as counterfeit. Jesus needs no additives.”
He is exhorting them in this way because even though he is absent, he is with them in spirit. He is in this fight with them. He is struggling on their behalf. And he says that he rejoices because they are still standing firm in their faith and that their community is in good order because of it (2:5).
How do we invite others to trust in Christ alone?
Elsewhere, Paul gives us the same goal that he has: to invite others to trust in Christ alone. So we can look at Paul’s example and ask: how do we invite others to trust in Christ alone?
Let’s return to thinking about our favorite products we have purchased or our favorite mechanics or electricians. We commend to people what we believe in. Similarly, imagine you owned a business and you provided a service or a product. What you think about what you are offering people greatly affects how you will offer it to people.
You can tell when someone believes in their product because they stand behind it no matter what others say and will risk rejection in order to offer it to someone because they know if the person buys it, their life will be changed.
Jesus is not a product, he is a person. And you can tell by how Paul offered Jesus to people that he really believed in Jesus. He trusted him wholeheartedly. Paul’s life was changed! And he saw other people’s lives changed by Jesus before his very eyes. So in the face of ridicule, setbacks, rejection, hardship, and pain, he continued telling people about Jesus because he knew it was worth it.
And he wants us to have that same wholehearted, undivided devotion. He reminds people about who Jesus is because he wants them to trust in him alone and no one else.
So how do we invite others to trust in Christ alone? We learn three principles from Paul’s example in this passage.
First, we show that Christ is worth giving our lives for. Because Paul knows what Christ is worth, he is willing to give his life for him. He is willing to suffer and lay it all on the line. He risks his life, his reputation, and his relationships because he knows Christ is worth it.
Instead of us showing others that Christ is worth giving our lives for, we can treat Christ like someone we married for their money. We take all the benefits but ignore the person. We want what he has to offer but don’t want to change our lives for him. But it’s not even like we take advantage of his wealth. We marry him for what he has to offer, but then we stuff it away in a safe and continue to live like we are poor. Instead of living with love, joy, peace, and freedom that comes from knowing we have everything we need from him, we continue to live in survival mode. Instead of resting in the fact that in him we have peace with God, that he is making us new by his power, and that because of him we can look forward to our glorious hope of seeing him face to face, we continue to live like God is against us and we need to earn his love, and that if we want to see transformation in our lives it is going to have by our own power, and that if we want to have anything good for the future it is up to us to secure it.
Friends, if you aren’t showing that Christ is worth giving your life for, perhaps you don’t truly know what he is worth.
Second, we show that others knowing Christ is worth giving our lives for.
Paul envisions himself as one who is telling people about a treasure that they can have a share in (cf. 2:3). He is sharing something of immense value with them. He doesn’t see himself as offering to people an alternative spiritual pathway among many or a burdensome set of religious rules. He doesn’t see himself as inconveniencing people with his silly message about Jesus that they probably won’t have any interest in. Instead, he sees himself as offering people something of great worth and importance that will change their lives. What we think about what we are offering people greatly affects how we will offer it to people. Not telling people about Jesus is keeping from them news that would change the course of their life.
Not telling others about Jesus is like keeping the discovery of the cure for cancer from a cancer patient. It’s like thinking, “They’re too busy. I don’t want to inconvenience them. What if they don’t believe me? What if they get annoyed with me? What if they reject me and don’t like me? What if they aren’t interested? Even though the news would change their life, I don’t want to risk getting an unfavorable response so I’ll just keep it to myself.”
The bible tells us everyone has a sin problem and it has made us spiritually dead. We all have spiritual cancer. But Jesus has provided the cure in himself! But we don’t tell people the news because we might get an unfavorable response. We might inconvenience them or they might get annoyed or reject our offer.
The example we see from Paul is that others knowing Christ is so worth it that we can lovingly offer him to them no matter the cost to us. Again, if you aren’t showing that others knowing Christ is worth giving your life for, then perhaps you don’t truly know what he is worth.
Third, we tell others what Christ is worth. We show people what Christ is worth by how we live and we also tell them what Christ is worth with our words. Paul tells us that all of God’s plans center on Christ. God’s plans for the entire universe are being fulfilled in Jesus. Knowing Christ means you are spiritually rich. You have found the treasure chest of the universe in which all the riches of knowledge and wisdom are hidden. You can truly know God only by looking to Christ. You can truly know yourself only by looking to Christ - who you are and why you are here. Aren’t those the big questions we are asking? Is there a God? If so, what’s he like? Who am I? And why am I here? We get all those answers in Jesus.
The essence of the gospel is this: Our sin is so bad that it deserves death but Christ is so good that he died in our place to save us. We don’t tell others what Christ is worth because we don’t believe sin is that bad or that Jesus is that good. “Sin” is pushing God off the throne so we can climb on in his place. We don’t see how us trying to rule our lives in our own way actually destroys them. We don’t see how pride, anger, gossip, selfishness, complacency, jealousy, and greed bring death and darkness to ourselves, our relationships, and our world. If we don’t believe sin is that bad, why would we love someone who saved us from it?
We also don’t believe Jesus is that good. We think his love is conditional. We think his death paid for part of our sins but not all of them. We think a future with him will be boring and unsatisfying. We don’t believe he is good enough to satisfy our every spiritual need. We don’t believe he is good enough to love us so much he would die for us. We don’t believe his offer of salvation is truly a gift but rather something we have to earn. If we don’t believe Jesus is that good, we won’t think he is worth very much. If we don’t believe Jesus is so good he would die the death we deserve so we could have a relationship with God that we don’t deserve, we won’t see him as a treasure worth sharing.
So again, if you aren’t telling others what Christ is worth, perhaps you don’t truly know what he is worth.
When you aren’t sure what something is worth, you get it appraised. You have someone come to your house and appraise it. We need to constantly do an appraisal of Jesus. We do that by constantly reminding ourselves of who he is and what he has done. We need to constantly go back to the gospel to remind ourselves of what he is worth.
More in Sermon Recaps
June 21, 2017Just as You Received Christ (Colossians 1:1-2:5)
June 6, 2017Inviting Others to Trust in Christ Alone (Colossians 1:24-2:5)
June 5, 2017What does "filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions" mean? (Colossians 1:24)