A certain church found itself suddenly without a pastor, and a search committee was formed. In due course it received a letter from a man applying for the vacant position. The committee chairman read:
“I am considered to be a good preacher, and I have been a leader in most of the places I have served. I have also done some writing on the side. I am over 50 years old, and while my health is not the best, I still manage to get enough work done to please any parish. As for references, I am somewhat at a disadvantage. I have never preached anywhere for more than three years. And most of the churches I have preached in have been small, even though they were located in rather large cities. I had to leave some places because my ministry caused riots and disturbances. Even where I stayed, I did not get along too well with other religious leaders, which may influence the kind of references these places will supply. I have also been threatened and physically attacked. I have even gone to jail several times for my preaching. I am not particularly good at keeping records. I have to admit I don’t even remember all those whom I’ve baptized. However, if you can use me, I should be pleased to be considered. I feel sure I can bring vitality to your church.”
When the chairman finished reading the letter, the committee members were horrified. How could anyone think that their church would consider a man who was nothing but a trouble-making, absentminded, ex-jailbird? What was his name? “Well,” said the chairman, “the letter is signed Paul.”
Looks can be deceiving. The Apostle Paul was one of those whose looks could deceive. Matter of fact, in 2 Corinthians 10:10, it was said of Paul that his letters are weighty but his bodily presence is weak and his speaking skills are horrible. Paul's ministry is one that proves the saying that God uses the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty.
As we look at the greeting of this letter to the smallest and most insignificant church to which Paul ever wrote, we will look at these opening words under the theme that Paul proclaims God's provision for our spiritual growth.
Paul sums up very well the nature of authority in the Church of God when he says that he is the apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God. Apostolic authority has behind it the Important Provider - God. This letter is not something unimportant, for the will of God is not unimportant.
The office of pastor, like that of Apostle, is one that is given for the equipping of saints for the work of ministry and for the edification of the body of Christ. My reason for being sent here by God and received by you is very specific – it is to equip you as saints for labor in the Kingdom of God and also to build you up as the body of Christ. My calling as your pastor is to point you to Christ as your vision and goal for all you do.
Yet unlike apostolic instruction which came directly from the Holy Spirit, the authority of a pastor in preaching and teaching is limited to that which is found in Holy Scripture. While I do not have the authority nor the direct instruction from the Spirit of God as did the apostles, in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 we read, “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.” All preaching by pastors, when it is from Holy Scripture and consistent with Holy Scripture, is to be received as the Word of God.
One of the things that many of us fail to do is to put ourselves under the Word of God. We like the idea that every man should do what is right in his own eyes. If you look around you at the Church in America, how common is it for all sorts of pious-sounding but novel things to practiced and believed? One of the most seductive ideas is to believe that because something sounds good, therefore it must be good. Take, for example, the notion of equality. This cultural notion is used as a hammar to force acceptance of un-Biblical ideas upon the saints like the acceptance of homosexuality, the occupation of the pastoral office in violation of 1 Timothy 3, and harmful views of marriage and family relationships. The will of God is very clear about all these issues, yet many explain away very clear apostolic teaching to support their own opinions.
Paul prophesied to the young pastor, Timothy, that the time would come when sound doctrine would not be endured, but according to their own desires, people would heap up to themselves teachers, and they would turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. There are many fables preached in the pulpits across our country and people love them and flock to them in droves.
The Apostle Paul is very specific as to the important provider backing his own authority and that of this letter. It does not merely come from the man Paul but it was written in the inspiration of the Spirit and according to the will of God. Because of that, all that are here this morning are to submit themselves to this apostolic teaching as being not merely authoritative but also necessary to the good of your own soul.
One question that might be raised as to the letter's value to us this morning is to whom it was addressed...
It might appear that Paul's intended audience was just the members of the church that were in Colosse. In Colossians 4:16, though, Paul commands that there should be an exchange of this letter and one that he wrote to the Laodicians. We do the same thing today when an “open letter” is published that has a primary audience and a wider public audience. Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians is very specifically an “open letter” as we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:27.
And so, in the plan and design of God, this letter was intended also for you who are saints and faithful brethren gathered here today – that you might grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Saints are those who have been set apart by the Lord to glorify him. They are the consecrated ones, persons upon whom the Lord has bestowed a great favor and who have been entrusted with the weighty responsibility of being salt and light in the world. Believers are called saints, or holy ones, not because we are perfect and holy but because we are united by faith with Christ, the Holy and Sinless One.
It would be a mistake to think that being a saint and living faithfully do not go together. In one of the parables I preached on before Lent, our Lord taught that the good seed which falls into good ground bears fruit. All the farmers here understand that not all fields have the same yield. You could have two fields close to each other that have vastly different yields based on soil conditions, moisture, amount of fertilizer used, the terrain, etc. Lots of conditions surround the production of a good yield. This is the same way with the Christian life. The degree of faithfulness depends on the soil conditions in which you're planted, yet nonetheless, even in less-than-ideal soil conditions there is at least a small crop. So it is in the lives of the saints – those who believe in Christ.
And so this letter initially addressed to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ in the church of Colosse is also addressed to the saints and faithful children of God here this morning. To those of you who believe in Christ, the Spirit of God says this morning, “Listen up, this letter is for you to strengthen your faith, to encourage your life, and to instruct you in righteousness.”
Being a saint and faithful brother is also a prerequisite for understanding and applying the teaching of the Spirit through the Apostle Paul this morning. Romans 8 says, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit...you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.” This letter is from the Spirit and is for those in whom the Spirit of God dwells.
In the second portion of verse 2 we read “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” One of the facts about the Christian life is our indispensable need for the grace of God. We need the grace of God not only to come to faith in Christ but also for the preservation of our faith. Grace is God’s unmerited favor in action - His sovereign, freely bestowed loving kindness in operation. Peace, the companion of grace, is the assurance of reconciliation through the blood of the cross. True spiritual wholeness and prosperity are found in these two blessings that flow from “God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The two provisions that we need in life, grace and peace, are pronounced upon the saints by the Spirit of God speaking through the Apostle. This is God's intention for you and bestowal upon you this morning. The Apostle, speaking by the will of God and through the inspiration of the Spirit, does not say, “I wish grace and peace came to you.” He does not say, “I hope grace and peace come upon you.” Grace and peace is to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace is the unmerited favor of God, and this letter is a portion of God's grace to you.
It has been asked of me, “What does the grace of God look like?” In many respects the work of God's grace is invisible and mysterious, yet in other ways God's grace is very visible. Our churches believe and teach that the means through which God's grace is poured out is the Sacraments and the Word of God. It is especially through the preaching of the Word of God that the sanctifying and uplifting work of the Holy Spirit is performed.
The giving of the Word of God to you this morning is a sign to you of God's love, care, concern, and grace to you. The content of this letter is to assure you of God's peace with you through Christ. Verses 21-22 of the first chapter says, “21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.” The peace of God and the Lord Jesus Christ is found in reconciliation and forgiveness of sins.
As believers in Christ, you can go to sleep each night and get up each morning with the assurance of peace with God. A peace that is not based on your own success or failure, but upon the work of Christ through whom you have been reconciled to God. You can live your life in the assurance of God's grace for He has sent a letter to you through the Apostle Paul that you might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding and that you might walk worthy of the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, as we study the Apostle Paul's letter to the Colossians, rest assured that this is not an ancient letter that has no value to you. No, this is a letter that in the providence of God and in the inspiration of the Spirit was meant for each of you to listen to, understand, and apply. It is the power of God to you who believe.
God is the important provider of what you need and has given what you need in His word. The saints and faithful children of God seated here this morning are the intended recipients of this inspired letter from the pen of the Apostle Paul. This letter was not solely intended to go only to the saints in the insignificant town of Colosse in the Roman Empire, but is intended for all the holy brethren. And in the giving of this letter to you by the will of God be assured of His indispensible provision of grace and peace to you.
In the Word of God is found the provision for the growth in our spiritual life. May God pour out abundantly His grace upon us as we attend diligently to His will for us. AMEN.