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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Just Jesus


Imagine that you were on a high cliff-side path with a small child. Imagine the path had no barrier and, in places, veered very close to the edge. And imagine that you alone had responsibility to guide your young companion safely beyond the cliff edge, what would you do?

Well, I imagine you would take the little one by the hand and place him or her on the safe side of your own body.

And I suppose you would hold that hand fast for as long as it took to get out of danger’s way.

And I suppose you would explain why it was important to hold their hand so tightly and so persistently.

You would point out that a fall at this point on the path would mean certain death.

You would say the safest place to be is on this side of me, not the other.

You be serious; you wouldn’t fool around.

And afterwards, when you had safely past the peril and were recounting the story to someone, you might say, ‘I had to be so focussed; concentrating every fibre of my being to make sure we got through safely’.

That’s the kind of thing the Apostle Paul is doing for the Colossians here at the beginning of chapter 2. He is, by his own admission ‘contending’(v.1) for them.

He perceives they are in danger and he wants them to walk the narrow cliff-top path safely and not fall.

We’ll come back to what that contending – that earnest straining – looks like, at the end. But it won’t have its impact unless we know why Paul’s contending. What is it that he can see endangers the lives of these young believers in Colossae?

The answer is in verse 4 – it is that they are in danger of ‘being deceived by fine sounding arguments’. He picks up the point again in verse 8 and expands. What Paul has in mind is, ‘taken captive [prisoner] by hollowand deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ’.

Some kind of captivating voice had got a foothold in their congregation it would seem, and this voice was pushing forward a philosophy of life that had, at its root and centre, not Christ – that is to say, not Jesus – but human traditions and elemental spiritual forces.

Where Paul was expecting to find Jesus up front and central, he’s received a disturbing report that they are turning their gaze away from Jesus and starting to fixate on things that look impressive – in that sense they are deceptive; they have the appearance of something they are not - but which are actually hollow. Drill down into them and you find a life lived on the basis of that philosophy is ultimately empty, and useless for gaining anything of lasting significance.

For the Colossians this is a departure from what they had come to believe at the start of their faith. What they had been taught and had come to believe (verse 7) was something like this:

In this life, all philosophies of purpose, and existence and destiny are ultimately empty. This world from age to age has the same intrinsic message and it this:

‘eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die’.

That message can be spoken, or it can be lived, but, one way or another, it is always being communicated.

Think of your own life, how are those around you living? What motivates the people you encounter? Is it not this, ‘eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die’?

Expressions of that philosophy will vary, but the underpinning idea is the same. Even if you say to yourself, ‘I will live the best version of me, I can’. Is not the destiny of your life still death and who knows what thereafter? That means that the philosophy that says, ‘eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die’ is the same philosophy with or without religion. It means that atheists and theists alike have the same root philosophy.

Jesus branded the person who subscribes to this philosophy a ‘fool’ when he told his parable of the rich fool in Luke 12, ‘this very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

That philosophy is the one that the Colossians came to accept as emptyand hollow and fruitless.

The faith that they were taught and came to believe says something altogether different. It says that the God who made us, made us for a high a glorious purpose. It says that we have fallen short of that purpose. And it says that God has sent his own dear Son - Jesus - into the world to rescue us from an empty way of life and restore in us that divine and eternal purpose.

It says, that Jesus has done it freely and he applies it powerfully, by his own life transforming means, to the life of anybody who wholly and unreservedly places their trust in him.

This is not an idea you get on board with, this a gift you receive, and power you experience, and relationship you enjoy, that has everlastingbenefits. And it’s all rooted in Jesus.

If you take Jesus out of this scheme of life, you don’t have it. All you have then is a hollow and deceptive philosophy and nothing else. You are left with ‘eat and drink and be merry because tomorrow you die’.

The Colossians had started well. They had believed whole heartedly that Jesus was the answer to life’s meaning and purpose and destiny.

They had believed that he alone could bring them to God, and into an inheritance which could never perish, spoil or fade. But it’s one thing to start well, it’s another to continue in that faith when you live in a world of competing interests that all serve one competing philosophy – a philosophy that everyone is convinced of it.

Now the Colossians were being encouraged to rely on religious observance – festivals, holy days, and the eating of certain foods; and on religious experiences like encounters with heavenly beings, to pin their hopes on.

And we encounter those kinds of persuasive voices today as well. It’s just that we live in a much less religious age. We live in an age of science and technology. So, the persuasive voices we hear tend to be less religious and tend to be more scientific and technological.

They tend to be voices that encourage us to pin our hopes on medical prowess; or on technological innovation for example.

If you have an unwanted pregnancy, here’s a pill.

If you have a gender preference that doesn’t align with your own, here’s a surgery.

If you have boring life, here’s a virtual world.

If you have an unsettled mind, here’s some music.

If you have cancer, here’s a cure.

We look for our comforts in the philosophy of the age.

That’s what the Colossians were reverting to.

And Paul was worried for them.

Paul’s worried for them because that kind of reorientation of their attention away from Christ is a potentially disqualifying re-orientation. Paul’s aim, therefore, is to guide them along this cliff-top path by bringing their gaze back so that it rests squarely on Christ.

Which is why in this one chapter alone he uses phrases that unify them with Christ no less than 13 times.

Now, in verse 2, Paul says he has a ‘goal’ and the highest expression of that goal is in verse 3. He calls it, ‘all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’. In other words, whatever this age of science and technology can offer – and it can offer a lot – is as nothing compared with the wisdom and knowledge that are contained in the God who made the universe.

And, all that knowledge of God is ours, if we remain rooted in the source of it. Verse 3, Paul says Christ – who is the mystery of God.

[Why is he mystery? Because the whole world is floundering looking for the answer to the existence and purpose and destiny questions and the answer is Christ and he is a mystery to them].

Paul says, Christ – the mystery - is the source of all wisdom and knowledge.

He wants them to completely understand Christ. Why? This gets at the root of the Colossian’s problem.

Because, what is ultimately at the root of their drift is one thing: unbelief. It is a lack of assurance that Christ is all and in all. It’s a lack of assurance that Jesus alone is really enough. They are wondering, ‘is it really possible to be content, hopeful and fully satisfied with just Jesus’.

They’re entertaining the thought of ‘Jesus plus’. Jesus plus religious observance. Jesus plus religious experience.

‘If we have these other things too, then we’ll be confident of eternal life’. Paul is saying ‘Jesus plus’ is no Jesus at all. If you try to do ‘Jesus plus’, you disqualify yourself from Jesus altogether. ‘Jesus plus’ is a turning of your gaze away from Jesus altogether.

They were comforting themselves with the add-ons, all the time subtly removing themselves from the very comfort they had come to enjoy – Jesus himself.

Beware of that! This is so insidious and it is real for our own lives. Do not put your hope in ‘Jesus plus’. Jesus alone is the comfort of our souls, otherwise we have nothing; we have hollow and deceptive philosophies.

So, Paul’s goal for the Colossians in guiding them along this cliff-top path is all wisdom and knowledge. It’s wisdom and knowledge that flow out of Christ as the source. And its assurance in Christ – that is, complete understanding about him and complete confidence in him. That is what is necessary to enjoy the fulness of wisdom and knowledge.

So how is it that assurance going to be achieved? How will their assurance in Jesus-alone grow? The answer is in verse 2 – ‘encouraged in heart and united in love’.

Paul, I think, expands on these two phrases in verse 7. And because his whole emphasis in the passage is to re-focus their attention on Christ, I think he has in mind faith in Christ and love for Christ.

Here’s Ephesians 3:16-19 to give us a pointer in that direction: ‘I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love may have power…to grasp how long and high and deep is the love of Christ…which surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God’.

I think these verses are virtually synonymous with the ones here in Colossians 2. Verse 7, Paul says, ‘rooted and built up in him’ which I think is what he’s saying in verse 2 when he says, ‘united in love’. And in verse 7, he says, ‘strengthened in the faith as you were taught’ which I think corresponds with verse 2, when he says, ‘encouraged in heart’. We could say, ‘rooted and built up in the love of Jesus’ and ‘encouraged in faith in Jesus’.

That way of saying those two things is virtually identical to the way Paul says them in Ephesians 3, so I think we’re on the right tracks.

What is he saying? He’s saying, ‘my goal is that your faith in Jesus alone – without anything added – as your enduring hope will be strengthened. It’s been weakened by these competing philosophies, you need it to be strengthened again.

And that, your love for Jesus may be rooted deep and established and knit together – not fragmented by competing interests.

So how will this be achieved? How will Paul be the mature believer who walks them along this cliff-top path? How will he take their hands and lead them safely forward? How will he contend for them (verse 1)?

I think he will do three main things. And these are things that we can emulate. So, let’s see what he does and know that we can do these things for each other also.

The first thing is, he takes an interest in their spiritual walk and wellbeing.

We know he does that because this letter is a response to the condition he finds them in. And what is interesting is that he hasn’t arrived at an understanding of their wellbeing by being with them – we know he had never met them from what he says in verse 1.

His knowledge of their spiritual welfare is by virtue of a report he’s received – probably from Epaphras. And there’s a useful parallel here.

Having a cup of tea with a brother or sister, in and of itself may tell you very little of their spiritual vitality. If we are going to be sure of how a brother or sister is progressing, we will need a report. That report will be obtained as we spend time knowing them and as we care to ask each other what our experience of walking with Christ is like.

In my Christian life, I have found that very few Christians have had the courage or inclination to ask me those kinds of questions. We are altogether too English for our own good. We need to avail ourselves of an accurate spiritual report. That’s what Paul had done and that enables him to do two other things.

The second thing he does is pray for them earnestly and consistently. In chapter 1, verse 9 he already told them how he and Timothy were contending for them: ‘For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you’.

So, Paul’s first response to the report he received is surely to contend for them earnestly in prayer. Prayer is effective and powerful to produce change in people’s lives because God delights to answer prayer.

The third thing, and his second response to the report, is to speak intotheir situation. He wants to spur them on and encourage them to better things. And that’s what we need to be like.

It’s so tempting to be a closed book when people are trying to obtain an honest report because that report exposes our weaknesses. But then, on top of that, to take offence when fellow Christians are keen to spur us on to better things.

We need to humble ourselves and receive instruction like little children and accept that there are things that need to be highlighted in our Christian lives, and that God may be using this instrument – my brother or sister – to accomplish.

Here’s are the kinds of things Paul specifically says to them to re-direct the Colossian’s attention to Christ.

Where are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden? – In Christ.

And where did you first place your faith? – you placed it in Christ.

And where do these competing philosophies have their root? – In the world, not in Christ.

And where does all the fullness of deity dwell? – In Christ.

Where was your old life buried? – In Christ.

Where were you raised in newness of life? – In Christ.

All the shadows of ritual have found their fulfilment where? – In Christ.

Since you died with Christ, then, to all those elemental spiritual forces, where should your attention be focused now? – On Christ.

So, you see how he encourages their faith in Christ and builds up their love for Christ? He does it by redirecting their attention to solid truthsabout Christ found in the testimony about Christ.

That’s what we need to be like. We need to bring meaty, weighty, glorious truths about Jesus to one another’s attention from the length and breadth of his Word to help one another navigate this cliff-top path of peril.

If we do this, the church will be much healthier. Conversely, if we assume everyone is going along swimmingly, uninfluenced by the world we’re living in, then we’re deceived.

If you love Christ and you love his people, love them enough to get a report, and then to pray for them and to point out to them.

Lastly, how should we live so as to remain rooted in Christ - with him firmly fixed at the centre of our worlds?

In verse 6, Paul encourages them to live their lives in Jesus. And in verse 5 he notes that to some extent they were doing that. He says, he’s ‘delighted to see how disciplined’ they are. And then in verse 7 he calls on them to ‘overflow in thankfulness’.

So, firstly, live a disciplined kind of life. I think that the majority of our spiritual waywardness could be boiled down to a failure to be disciplinedin our pursuit of Christ. Christ and more of him comes to us via conduits. He is conveyed to our hearts and minds by means. If we are sporadic with those means, we should expect Christ to be off-centre in our sights.

Here’s how Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 9: ‘Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a wayas to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize’.

So, let’s be disciplined in our pursuit of Christ. Paul endorses that.

And secondly, ‘overflow in thankfulness’. In every way that you see more of Christ – more of his qualities, more of his goodness, more of his perfect work – then overflow in thankfulness. Let thankfulness completethe joy of being made steadfast in faith and being rooted in love.

As you enjoy deeper experiences of his love and greater assurance that he loves you, don’t forget to thank him. Overflow with thanksgiving. That kind of thankfulness serves to deepen your appreciation of him and so becomes a means in itself by which you guard your soul against competing philosophies.

So, as a church lets care for each other; knowing how each other are walking – close to Jesus or not? Then let’s pray for each other and point out to each other the surpassing worth of Jesus.

And as individuals let us attend to the means of grace in a disciplined way, so that we work to keep Jesus constantly in view.

And let us overflow in thanksgiving for every way in which our love for Jesus is deepened and our faith in Jesus is strengthened.


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