Knowing Christ Through Loving Community

Colossians 2:1-8

September 24, 2023

Lead Pastor Dr. Timothy Melton

Click here to watch the video

If you go online and type in “how to recognize when someone is lying” there are many websites that give you advice. Some will tell you how to read someone´s body language. Their eyes, their posture, their hand gestures, the position of their head, and so many more. One sight actually gave 34 behaviors to look for. Other websites will tell you which verbal/oral cues to watch for. Change in volume, change in voice tone, too many words, not enough words, repeated words, inconsistent details, too many details, not enough details, talking too much, talking too little, and on and on.  Others will even give you tips on how to ask questions that will catch people in their lies. 

It sounds quite complicated, but the question is the same that the Apostle Paul is writing in the book of Colossians. How do we recognize the truth? In today´s verses we will see that “The best way to recognize a lie is to know the truth.”

As we study Colossians 2:1-8 we must remember that the Apostle Paul is writing from a Roman prison cell to a young church in the city of Colossae which was located many miles away in what now is modern-day Turkey. The people in the church in Colossae were new in the faith and already false teachers had come into their church and were seeking to lead them away from a correct understanding of the Christian faith and Christ. These verses are part of Paul´s effort to help these young believers learn how to recognize the truth and guard against false teaching. We read in Colossians 2:1

1For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 

It is interesting that the Greek word for struggling is “γνα”, pronounced agōna. It is where we get the word agony. It was originally an athletic or military term of struggle, or conflict. It was using all your strength, consuming all your emotions and even your last breath to win the game or even the battle. This verse gives us a picture of Paul’s love for the church and God’s people. He had never met them but they were Christ’s so that meant they were family. The believers in Colossae were Paul´s spiritual grandchildren. They had been brought to Christ by Epaphras and Epaphras had been brought to Christ through the ministry of Paul. They were sheep among wolves, young believers among false teachers.  Paul was the one who could rush in and protect them yet he was in Rome, in prison. He must have felt helpless like he could do nothing. That was the source of his agonizing struggle.

We find this same Greek word, “agōna” in Colossians 4:12. This verse reveals how Paul was choosing to struggle on behalf of those in Colossae and Laodicea in the same way as Epaphras was in this verse.

“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”

Besides writing this letter, Paul´s inability to go in person now drove him to struggle and agonize on behalf of the Colossians, Laodiceans, and the others in prayer. It was through agonizing prayer that Paul now struggled on behalf of the people. It was not his last option, but his first option with which he was left.

We must remember, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:12, 

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Paul was wrestling in prayer because Paul´s ultimate battle was not against the false teachers in Colossae, it was against the spiritual forces of evil. We, too, must remember where the true battle is being waged, and who it is against. It is not against those who treat us badly or have drastically different beliefs and values than we do. If we are drawn into the lower conflicts of this world we will choose to wage war on those who are not our ultimate opponents. Yes, we are sinned against and we sin against others at times, but there is something greater happening in the unseen spiritual world. 

That is where Paul was waging battle and where we must wage battle as well. This is how we are to usher the kingdom of God into our lives and the situations around us. Prayer is our greatest tool in this spiritual battle. Prayer ushers in the work of the Holy Spirit and He alone can bring victory. So, whether the need is across the street or around the world, whether you can be there in person or not, prayer is where we start and where we end as we agonize and struggle on behalf of the needs of others. 

Paul was struggling for them, but why? Colossians 2:2-3 makes that clear.

2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 

In today’s culture when we think of the heart we think of emotion but the biblical idea of the heart is bigger. The heart is the center of who we are as people. It is the seat of our desire, our emotions, our will, and our worship. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” When asked about the greatest commandment Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Without God, our hearts are darkened and wicked but with Christ, our hearts are transformed for obedience and godliness. Whatever rules our heart will determine our words, thoughts, and actions. Because of this Paul agonizes in prayer that their hearts would be encouraged in the midst of their difficulties.

The Greek word for encourage is from the same root as “paracletos,” the word that is used to refer to the Holy Spirit who would come to be our Helper. It was also commonly used in the Roman Legal system. The idea of a defense lawyer, speaking on your behalf, came from this word. This word for “encouraged” means to comfort and to exhort. It was the idea of speaking to someone in such a way that even in the midst of difficulties they would be stirred to confidence and courage.

The story is told of a Greek regiment that had become fearful and lost heart. The general sent one of his officers to “paraklein” or encourage them. He spoke with such inspiration that when he was done their spirits were lifted and they were fit once again for heroic action. That is the meaning of this word. This is one of the purposes of Paul´s agonizing in prayer for the people in Colossae. That the Spirit would work in their hearts in such a way that they would gain the courage needed to face the difficulties that had come against them.

This encouragement of their hearts would come from the Holy Spirit. Similar to what we find in Ephesians 3:16, 

That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” 

As the Colossians continued to yield to the Spirit of God and the Word of God on a daily basis they would receive all that the Spirit had for them.

Paul also desired that their hearts would be knit together in love. 

2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 

In Paul´s writing, this idea is often symbolized by talking of the physical body. 

Ephesians 4:16 says, “From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

In 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 Paul writes, “That there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

Paul´s first desire is that individual hearts be encouraged. The second is that they be knit together in love. Both together lay the groundwork, set the stage, build the environment, and prepare the soil so that they will be ready to take hold of

all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God´s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” 

Assurance grows in the midst of hearts that have been encouraged by the Spirit and nurtured in a loving, Christ-like community. Here we become convinced of the truths of the unseen God as we see them displayed in the lives of our Christian brothers and sisters. We begin to understand grace as we receive it from others. We understand God’s long suffering as we experience it with others. We understand selfless sacrifice as we see it in the lives of others. It is the same idea that we are to instill in our children. We are to teach them about grace, hope, and love, but it is so much easier for them to grasp the ideas of God the Father when they have already seen them lived out by their earthly father or mother. In the midst of a loving community the truths of God begin to pour from our mind, to our heart, and be expressed in our hands. 

One first discovers the knowledge of God through study and Bible teaching as they learn with their mind, but they truly come to know Christ intimately through life experience in the community. They no longer are led away to doubt or heresy when a non-believer with persuasive arguments speaks. They no longer hesitate with obedience when faced with the teachings of scripture. Full assurance in the gospel brings freedom, simplicity, rest, and faster and deeper growth in one´s spiritual life. 

Without Christ all of this had been hidden. The prophecies and symbolism of the Old Testament were still hidden. The salvation of the Gentiles was hidden. The type of salvation that had come was hidden. It was available to all, but only those who came to Christ could see it. It was this revealed truth in the midst of community that would be their protection against false teachings. 

This is our response when one says, “I prefer worshipping God alone, fishing out on the lake, or I prefer worshipping by just watching the streaming service at home.” Fishing at home is not bad if it is an exception but it cannot be the ongoing way of faith. Living in a loving community is key as we seek to understand all that we have in the gospel. 

Paul continues Colossians 2:4-5

4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

Paul was writing to protect them from people with persuasive power who could seek to sway them from the truth. He just reminds them that they are not alone in their struggle. He rejoices that even in the midst of their struggles they remain in good order and firmness in the faith. Both of “order” and “firmness” were military words. 

The word for order referred to having every person in their appointed place. As those in the church played their God-given and God-gifted part in the life of the church they would be better prepared to fend off attacks of the evil one. 

A well-ordered congregation would result in the word “firmness” which referred to solid protection and brought to the readers´ mind a picture of an immovable phalanx prepared for the enemies´ attack. It was crucial that each person play their role. As the people of the church were united, “knit together in love” the church would be prepared to fend off attack. 

Colossians 2:6-7 continues. . . 

6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

The Colossians were to remember how they had received Christ and continue to walk in Him in the same way. 

At salvation the gospel introduced certain truths into our lives. These truths were not merely useful for salvation. They were also given to help them live the Christian life. 

In the same way that faith brought you into salvation, faith will carry you through your Christian life as you trust in God’s provision, promises, and faithfulness.

In the same way that God drew us to Himself in salvation, so will He continue to draw us to Himself as He grants conviction of sin, desire for God’s Word, compassion for other believers, and a heart that loves God and loves others. 

In the same way that one’s salvation depends solely on the work of Christ, so too, does one’s sanctification depend on the work of Christ in our lives.  In our weakness He is strong. Reliance on God’s grace, not our own works, will continue to empower our Christian life. 

In the same way that confession, repentance, and forgiveness ushered you into salvation, so too, does confession, repentance, and forgiveness guard your intimacy with Christ each day of your Christian life. 

In the same way that unconditional love laid the foundation for your salvation, so too, does unconditional love hold you securely throughout the ups and downs of your Christian life (Romans 8:31-39).

In the same way that dying-to-self brought you into salvation, so too, does dying-to-self lead you into submission to Christ and a continued love of neighbor. 

In the same way that your new identity ushered you into the family of Christ so will your new identity be your security and righteousness in your Christian life. It frees you from the need to fear man and allows you to walk in holiness in agreement with your new nature.

The same sovereign God of the gospel who coordinated the centuries, the events, the prophecies, and the details that led to Christ’s coming. . . The same sovereign God who coordinated the events that drew you to faith in Jesus Christ (John 6:44), is the same sovereign God who can be trusted as we face the challenges and decisions every day of our Christian lives. 

In faith, we are to be rooted in Christ like a tree that sends its roots deep into the ground for water, nutrients, and stability. We are also to be built up in him like a house that has been built on a strong foundation. After all we find in Christ, our attitude should be one of gratitude for all He has done. 

Paul goes on to say in Colossians 2:8,

8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Paul then returns to His main concern. Paul is exhorting them to be intentional, not accidental. Purposefully protect yourself, be attentive, and keep your guard up. Make sure that no one takes you captive, spiritually lures you away, and takes you where you do not want to go, by philosophy and empty deceit.  

The false teaching was appealing to the elemental spirits of the world that were in contradiction to the teachings of Christ. You might say the false teaching appealed to the base desires and human logic. We still see much of that today. Imagine you are listening to a sermon on YouTube. How do we know if it is trustworthy preaching? Here are several questions that will help you recognize false teaching when it is not. Is it using God to selfishly help you get what you want or is it teaching us to live our life for God´s purposes and God´s glory, even if that calls us to die to self and to sacrifice? Is it claiming that we can do it in our own power or is it leading us to rely fully on the work of God in our lives? Is it using scripture as its basis or is it relying more on the ideas of man? Is it moving us towards greater dependence on Christ or to rely on ourselves and our own religious works and willpower? Does it help us remember our sinfulness and His grace or does it teach that we are good and we just need to think more positively about ourselves?

Many who are not well-versed in the truths of the gospel and have not experienced strong Christian community are more likely to be led away when a convincing false religion comes and then seems to love them well. God has ordained that true belonging is a strong desire for us all. Because of that we can either love well and fortify each other against being drawn away, or be a church that does not love well. This will leave our members and attendees more vulnerable to being led away to false teaching. 

May that not be true of us. As the Spirit encourages us, let us study the scriptures, become convinced of them as we experience them with one another in Christian community, and be assured of the gospel so that we may be able to discern false teaching and be built up in Christ. In this way, we will be fortified against false teachers.