[This sermon was preached in Rome on January 13th, 2019]
Good morning everyone. It is an immense blessing to be here with all of you this morning. My name is Clay Kannard. My family and I are members of the church Breccia di Roma, from whom I bring a warm greeting to all of you. This is my first time visiting your church. It is a joy because our church prays for all of you, and for your testimony in this part of the city. Although we come from different churches, we are united in Christ through the power of the Gospel.
As you know, today is the beginning of the Global Week of Prayer. Something that began with the European Evangelical Alliance in 1846 and that continues today as a global symbol of our unity in Christ and with evangelicals all over Europe. This unity is what we will be discussing this morning. In fact, it is the theme that hundreds of churches around the world will be discussing today.
So, let us open the Word of God this morning to the letter of Colossians. A letter that was written by the Apostle Paul while he was imprisoned here in our city. A letter that proclaims the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ and warns the Colossian believers about deceptions that were threatening their faith. So, let us open our Bibles to chapter 2 of Colossians and read the first 7 verses together.
- The Gospel unites
Have you ever noticed that absence makes the heart grow fonder? My wife, Lauren, just returned from America after being gone for an entire week. I love my wife very much, but I grew more and more aware of how much I love her during her absence. Now, it was not because I had to do all of the cleanings, washing all of the clothes, taking and picking up the kids from school, or all of the cooking. The fact that I had to do the cooking most certainly made my kids grow fonder of their mother during her absence. Those things made me appreciate her more. My heart longed for her more because she was not near me. I was concerned for her safety as she traveled. I prayed constantly, asking God to protect her and guide her. I gave her instructions to help her stay safe and to find her way to the places she needed to go.
Perhaps you experienced this when your husband or wife had to leave for a trip, or your child had to move to another city for work or to university. Their absence makes us reflect on how much we love them. We long to be with them. We hope that they are safe from harm. This is especially true with our kids! We write them messages with wisdom and warnings so that they might be aware of dangers and deceptions, hoping that they would make wise choices. Or just to let them know how much we love them. It is normal for us. Right?
What is not normal, however, is having those same affections and longings for people we do not really know or have never met. However, that is what we find here with Paul. In this section of the letter, Paul begins to describe his ministry to the Colossians, the majority of whom he really did not know. He had only heard of what God was doing in and through them and he was thankful to God for that. But he had also heard of the dangers that surrounded them in their culture, and he was concerned for them. Here is Paul, imprisoned and suffering for his faith in Jesus and for proclaiming the Gospel of God, taking the time to write a letter to spiritual family members, a letter that exalts Jesus Christ, reminds them of the loving truth of the Gospel, and warns them about the immediate dangers and deceptions that were surrounding them.
What we discover is that Paul had a great struggle for these people (v1). And his struggle was not just for a single local church, or even for a particular region, but for everyone who had not seen him face to face. He had an immense struggle for all Christians. Paul had a great desire for them that we see here in verse 2. It was a desire that they would be encouraged by the power of the Gospel that unites us. But how does it unite us? In love and in truth. These two things go together.
There are lots of people who are united in love and lies. There are also people united in hatred and truth. But the Gospel, the Gospel creates true unity because it unites us in both love and truth in the purest forms, the truth of God and the love of God that we see in Jesus Christ. Without truth and love, there is no true unity. Paul understood this and was constantly reminding our ancient brothers and sisters of the power of the Gospel, the Gospel that is power of salvation to all who believe it, no matter what race, gender, or social status.
It reminds me of the beautiful mosaics we find here in Rome. Perhaps you have seen a beautiful painting in this city, and while staring at it you come to realize that what you are looking at is not a painting, but a mosaic. And then, when you look closely you see all of the little pieces of stone. They are different colors and shapes of stones that have been gathered from different places. And the artist has masterfully pieced them all together. United they create this beautiful image that can leave us standing there amazed.
Brothers and Sisters, are you in need of encouragement this morning? Then think about this beautiful truth. That the power of the Gospel of God has united us in love and truth. The truth that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. The truth that we can rest in knowing that our works cannot save us, but that the work of Christ did. That through the one-time, perfect sacrifice of Jesus, THE TRUTH, and the power of the Holy Spirit, God has lovingly reconciled us to Himself. And not only to Himself, but to one another. You see the power of the Gospel creates a deep spiritual community. That fact should create within each of us a deep affection for one another, and not just for our brothers and sisters in our church, or in all of Rome, or in Italy, but in the entire world.
The power of the Gospel unites us. Be encouraged, that we are united in the truth and love of God. And let that encouragement lead us to love one another as we grow together in our relationships with Jesus Christ, which was Paul’s second desire. That the power of the Gospel would grow the Colossians’ faith…
- The Gospel grows us
You see, the power of the Gospel grows us. Paul knew that as the Colossians were united together in the love and truth of the Gospel, that they would also grow together in their knowledge of God. Paul tells us that all the hidden wisdom and knowledge of God is known in the Gospel of Jesus Christ (v 3). And that as a spiritual community, the church, we are to grow in that knowledge together.
You see, God does not reconcile sinners to Himself through Jesus and then leave us on our own, isolated in this world. When He saved us, we became His people, united in and under His Son and our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the reason the Colossians needed to cling to together. Because as they were united together in love for God and each other, they would continue to grow in the truth of the Gospel. If they were to experience a lack unity, and a lack of love, there would be a lack of growth in their knowledge of God in Christ Jesus. They would not be able to live as God’s people in front of a world lost in sin. It was crucial for their growth and for their testimony to Christ.
The same goes for all of us. As we grow together, we will be able to serve our Lord together in front of a broken community that needs to see the power of God’s grace at work in the context of loving and biblical community. As we remain committed to Christ and to one another, we will be led in love to a more mature understanding of God in Christ through His Word. The Word of God is sufficient. It is our authority. And if it is in Christ, who we know through God’s Word, that we find all assurance of knowledge and wisdom of God, why would we want to look anywhere else?
Friends, if you want to know God, look to Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God. The one through whom, and for whom the world was created. The one through whom reconciliation with God is possible because He shed his blood on the cross to wash away the sins of God’s people. So that all who would repent of both their good works and their bad works and look to Jesus Christ alone for salvation, would find it and become part of God’s loving family (Col. 1,15-23).
Brothers and Sisters, do you want to another reason to be encouraged this morning? Be encouraged, comforted, that you can know God because you can know His son, Jesus. The one to whom all of God’s Scriptures pointed. Through Him, we can grow together in our faith and live as a loving community, a testimony of how God’s Gospel changes every aspect of our lives and holds the power to change every aspect of our communities, our schools, our cities, and this nation.
The power of the Gospel unites us in love and truth. The Power of the Gospel grows us in love and truth and equips us to fulfill our calling as testimonies for Christ. And the power of the Gospel protects us.
- The Gospel protects us
The final point this morning is that the Gospel protects us. The reason Paul made the point that to know Jesus is to know God, and that there was no other place to look apart from Christ, is because the Colossians were in danger of looking to something or someone other than Christ to obtain knowledge and wisdom about, or approval from God. There were cultural pressures to follow what was a combination of mystical polytheism or instructions to obey various laws (v 4).
On one part, the culture believed that Jesus was just one of many ways to know God. Or even one of many gods. And one way to receive additional revelations about God or from God was through mystical experiences. On the other part, there were those who believed that Jesus was God, but that in order to draw near to Him, they needed to continue observing the Laws of the Torah. For example, various dietary laws, observance of the Sabbath, and circumcision.
In both cases, the very message of the Gospel was at stake. Both of these cultural pressures were seeking to add to the Gospel by taking away from the sufficiency and supremacy of Jesus Christ. Both were trying to say that faith in Jesus was good, but not faith alone in Jesus. And as soon as that happens, you have a different Gospel.
In this culture, we have many false Gospels. One of the most influential traditions we find in this culture has aspects of both of these cultural pressures that the Colossians were facing. It is a tradition that claims the name of Christ, but rejects that salvation comes through faith alone in the work of Christ alone. One that claims that the Holy Scriptures are true, but then points to other authorities for knowledge of God and the Gospel. It is one that heaps a burden upon its adherents, telling them that they must follow rules and customs for forgiveness, to trust in their own works and their own righteousness for forgiveness of sins and acceptance by God.
It is a tradition that desires unity, but at the sacrifice of the truth of the Gospel. It teaches that it ultimately doesn’t matter which god or path you follow, as long as you listen to your conscience. That, my friends, is idolatry. In his commentary on this passage, John Calvin wrote…”all that think that they know anything of God apart from Christ, contrive to themselves an idol in the place of God.”
But that is not the only false Gospel narrative we find in this culture. I think about La Dolce Vita. An idolatrous narrative claiming that the key to happiness is found in pursuing your own pleasure, material wealth, success and status. A narrative that leads to so much corruption, the manipulation and exploitation of people, and the destruction of families as people seek to acquire approval, control, and fulfillment.
These narratives are false Gospels, voices of the culture that relentlessly put pressure on the people of our city, and at times even the people within our churches.
Brothers and Sisters, God’s word is telling us today that our best defense against these cultural pressures is through our being united together in the love of Christ, and growing together in our knowledge of Him through His Word. Growth in the context of a loving community is our best defense against false Gospel narratives. A loving community that reminds one another of simple yet beautiful truths…Like that we need not fret in gaining God’s approval and acceptance because Christ already did everything necessary for us to be accepted and approved by God. Or, that we need not fear for lack of knowing God because we have His Son and His word which last for eternity. This is a loving unity in the truth that lasts.
Some of the longest lasting art you will find in this city are those mosaics I mentioned earlier. Paintings fade easily with the changes in the climate. The humidity, the heat, the air, and the light are all a threat to the painting’s integrity. But the mosaics last. The durable materials used to make them are able to withstand the humidity, heat and time because all of those different pieces have been firmly established on the canvas by their creators.
Brother and Sisters, as a spiritual family, we have been chosen to display the beautiful mosaic of God and His Son. To paint a picture of His loving grace and mercy towards sinners. A mosaic firmly established in the truth that Jesus is Lord and that we receive Him by Faith alone (v. 6-7). A mosaic that testifies to the beauty of Christ and brings our sovereign Creator all glory. It is a beautiful and lasting mosaic in a world full of fading “beauty”.
Brothers and Sisters, as we walk through this Global week of united prayer, we will learn more about Biblical Christian unity and what we need to do to protect it. I want to encourage you to take time every day to read the meditations and to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world. May our hearts be filled with affection for spiritual family members that we have never met. And as we pray for one another to experience the power of the Gospel, may we pray that our brothers and sisters around the world would be encouraged as they too experience the power of the Gospel, the power that unites us together in love, grows us together in the truth, and protects us from false gospels.