Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Object of Our Faith--Colossians 1:4a

This is the first sermon of my series on The Measure of a Church.

If we are to measure the church and therefore its people by faith, hope, and love it is important to understand what faith is and what is to be its object. For faith, by its very nature, cannot exist by itself, but must have an object to rest upon. Faith must have a target to aim at, a bulls eye to fix itself upon. So let's see what faith is for us as a people of God and then what the object of this faith is to be so that we can be truly saved.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen. Martin Luther describes faith as a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times. The Greek word for faith is pistis and means a firm persuasion, a strong conviction, a belief in the truth. It is not the outcome of imagination, but is based on fact. It is a strong and welcome conviction that leaves no room for doubt. It is to be fully and completely persuaded beyond a shadow of any doubt.

Colossians 1:4a Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus...

Before we get to the object of our faith, Christ Jesus, it is interesting to note what Paul did not include as the object of our faith. It is not faith in our faith, faith in a prayer we prayed or a decision we made, because this would be having faith in ourselves. It is not faith in walking the aisle, faith in our baptism, our tithing, or the good things we do, for that would be having faith in our works or faith in our obedience. Which, again, is nothing more than having faith in ourselves.

Here Paul gives us only one object for our faith to rest upon, that is Christ Jesus. There is a dual component to having faith in Christ. It is having faith in the person of Christ, which is represented by His name and having faith in the work of Christ, which is what He did to accomplish our salvation.

What is in a name? Well, in this case quite a lot. The name Jesus means Jehovah is salvation, God is salvation, or Savior. The name Christ is the Greek word for Messiah, the anointed One, King of Israel. To be anointed was to be appointed or set apart for a specific task or duty. So in the very name of Christ Himself we see that He was the appointed One, the One set apart to achieve our salvation. Let's see how this is pictured in the Scriptures.

Acts 4:12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel (God with us).

Matthew 1:20-21...the angel appeared to Joseph and said, 21...She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

Luke 2:11 (When the angels appeared to the sheppards) For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

John 1:41 (Andrew) He found first his own brother Simon and said to Him, "We have found the Messiah" (Which translated means Christ).

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

John 6:69 We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.

John 8:24...for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.

John 10:30 I and the Father are one.

John 20:31...but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

Acts 10:43 Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.

I Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.

Matthew 16:13-16, 13...Who do people say that I am? 15...But who do you say that I am? 16. Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

So the question for us today is not any different. Who do you believe that Christ is, and who do you say that He is?

Okay, what did Christ do to accomplish our salvation? What work did Christ finish to make our salvation complete? Again, let's take a look at what the Scriptures have to say. For to understand His work is to understand why He took on flesh and came to earth.

Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Hmm, notice who the seeker is here. Compare this with John 4:23 and Romans 3:10-11. It shoots a big hole in the notion behind all the seeker churches.)

I Corinthians 15;3-8, 3. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4. and that he was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5-8 then He appeared....

II Corinthians 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 7:26-27 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27. who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because He did once for all when He offered up Himself.

Hebrews 9:11-12 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12. and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, he entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

Hebrews 10:10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:12 But He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God.

Hebrews 10:14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

Hebrews 7:25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who drew near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Hebrews 5:9 And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.

Hebrews 12:2 Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

Wow, think about all that we have seen here. Isn't God good to base our faith on facts, truth, real events that transpired around a real person. God did not decree that our faith should be based on whims or notions or meditations. He did not leave it up to each person to find their own path to heaven or to figure out how to have eternal security. God Himself has done everything necessary for our salvation in and through Christ, and that is why it is necessary for us to believe in Him and Him alone for our eternal salvation.

Lets' consider some of the facts behind other Scriptures:

Matthew was written by a disciple who walked with Jesus, an eyewitness.
John was written by a disciple, an eyewitness who laid on Jesus bosom, and beheld His glory as the only begotten of the Father.
Mark was discipled by Peter, a disciple and eyewitness.
Luke traveled with Paul and interviewed eyewitnesses.
In I John, John talks about what we beheld and our hands handled.
In II Peter, Peter says, "We were eyewitnesses to His majesty."
James was written by Jesus brother who was an eye witness to His resurrection.
Paul saw the resurrected Christ and was taken up into the third heaven.

We have the infinite and eternal God who broke into time and space by becoming flesh and blood. He lived a real life, died a real death, was raised and ascended to heaven--all real events that happened in real time with eyewitnesses. God did not leave us with fables, or tales, or our own vain imaginings, but provided a real person and a real work upon which our faith can rest; and by which we have a sufficient security for our eternal state. To paraphrase A.W. Pink, the work of Christ did not make our salvation possible, it made it certain. The thing we must do then, according to John 6:29, is to believe in Christ whom God has sent.

So, my friend, are you trusting in His person and on His work for your eternal state? Do you believe the words of Scripture to be true? Is Christ Jesus alone the object of your faith? This is indeed the starting point and resting place for all those who are truly Christians!

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Direction of Our Love--Colossians 1:4b

As I mentioned in my last post the best way to measure a church is by the three eternal spiritual qualities mentioned by Paul in I Corinthians 13. They are faith, hope, and love. This post is from a sermon I recently preached on Colossians 1:4b which was the second in a series on the measure of a church.

In I Corinthans 13 Paul tells us that is faith, hope, and love that abide. These three spiritual qualities are mentioned in nearly every book in the New Testament, but of particular note there are only two churches that are singled out as reflecting all three of them, the church in Thessalonica and the one at Colossae.

In I Thessalonians 1:3 we see these qualities manifested in the work of their faith, the labor of their love, and the steadfastness of their hope; and in the rest of the letter to the Thessalonians you see these qualities reflected in the life and work of this exemplary church. Here in Colossians we see these attributes manifested in the object of their faith--Christ Jesus, the direction of their love--all the saints, and the place of their hope--in heaven. Remember that for these qualities to be present and manifested in a church they must be present and manifested in the lives of its people. So with this in mind I want to talk about the direction of the Colossians love, which is towards all the saints, and as it was for the church at Colossae, it should be for the church today.

So as we consider the direction of their love and therefore the direction of our love in the church today we want to look at four things:

1. What is this love they have?
2. Where does this love originate?
3. Why is this love directed towards all the saints?
4. How is this love manifested?

What is this love they have? Well, the Greek word for love used here is agape. It is one of four words the Greeks use for love. The four Greek words for love are storge, eros, phileo, and agape. Storge means natural affection, like the kind you automatically have for a pet (unless you are a pet tolerater like me), but better yet the natural affection the parent has for their child. Storge is not used in the New Testament except twice in its negative form in Romans 1:31 and II Timothy 3:3 to describe how far man has fallen without God. Eros, is a passionate, sensual, physical love. It is a love based on infatuation and sensual attraction. It is often used to describe romantic love. It is the kind of love portrayed in most of our music, television, and movies. Interestingly, it is never used in the Scriptures. Then there is phileo, brotherly love. Phileo is a warm and tender affection. It can be deep and intense. It is used to describe the love of those near and dear to one's heart. It is a love that cherishes. It is a love that is reciprocal in nature and a love that is shared. It is used throughout the New Testament. Finally, there is agape, the predominant word used for love in the New Testament. It is a love of the will and the mind. It is a love of choice and commitment. It is not devoid of emotion, but overrules and overrides emotion. It acts in spite of how one feels. It is a selfless love, an unselfish love, a sacrificial love. It is not motivated by the self, but by others. It loves even if the person who is the object of the love is undeserving, unworthy, and unloving in return. It puts what is best for the other person first and foremost. It is a love that compels one to action. It is used to describe the love of God, the love of Christ and how we are to love. This type of love was thought unattainable by the Greeks and is only used in Greek writing two or three times. Therefore what we see in the Scriptures is not "being in love," but the act of loving.

Where does this love originate? As you can see the Greeks were right in thinking this type of love was unattainable, from a human perspective. The heights this love operates in are unassailable for us mere mortals. So where do we go to find this love, where are the headwaters from whence this love flows? I John 4:7, 16 As we see in these two verses, God is love. Note that it does not say that God has love, or that God is a loving being, but that God is love. By saying that God is love John is saying that love is intrinsic to who God is, it is part of His nature, and is therefore inseparable from who He is, and, consequently, present in all that He does. Love is as much as part of Him as your eye color is of you. This love that is part and parcel of who God is, is agape. God is agape. This love of the will, of choice and commitment, this love that compels one to action, this love that is selfless, unselfish, and sacrificial, this love that loves despite the unloveliness of the object loved, that loves despite its unworthiness, in spite of the hatefulness it receives in return, this love that comes from a predetermined state of mind; this is the love that is part of the core of His being. This the the love that is described in I Corinthians 13 as patient, kind, never jealous, never bragging, is never arrogant, never acts unbecomingly, is never self seeking, is not provoked, never takes into account a wrong suffered, it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and it never fails. This is the the love that God is.

This love is also the love that we are to direct toward all the saints, so how do we get this love? Let's look again at I John 4:7. We are to love (agape) one another, for love (agape) is from God and everyone who loves (agape) is born of God and knows God. So we see that agape is from God and only those that are born of God (born again) and know God have this kind of love. So this love, this agape, is not something that an unregenerate person, the unsaved person, the person that the Scriptures call a natural man possesses. It is unique to the believer. Now let's look look at Romans 5:5. Here we see that the love of God (not just any love, but God's love, agape) has been poured out within our heart through His Holy Spirit who was given to us. Poured out is in the perfect tense here which means that it is a completed event with continuing results or effects. So we see that God has given us His love, His agape, in our heart through His Holy Spirit who indwells us, and we received this love, the full amount of this love, the minute the Holy Spirit came and took up residence in our heart. Now let's look at Ephesians 3:17. This verse tells us that we are rooted and grounded in love, this agape. What a beautiful picture these words paint of our secure position in, and reservoir of, the love, the agape of God. We are fixed into and draw from the infinite love (agape) of God. This is where this love we are to have for all the saints originates and how we have come to posses it.

Why is this love directed toward the saints? Most of us who have been Christians for any length of time are familiar with the two greatest commandments in all of Scripture. The greatest is to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind; and the second is like it, it is to love your neighbor as yourself. We all know that when Jesus came He fulfilled all of the law, so He fulfilled these two commandments. But what He also did was to raise the bar. John 13:34-35 Here Jesus gives a new command, and this command is to love (agapao) one another, which would be fellow believers ( the saints), not as ourselves, but as He has loved us. This is what John is referring to in I John 4:7 when he says "Beloved let us love one another, for love is from God." So we are to have the same love toward all the saints that Christ Jesus has for us. This is why Paul is commending the Colossian saints, for following the command of Christ to love one another as He has loved us. According to John 13:35 our love for all the saints will prove to all men that we are His disciples, His followers. If you think about what we have seen about agape, you can understand how this would be a witness to all men that we are His disciples, because only Christ or someone who has Christ living within them can love like this. We also see that this is a particular love; it is Christ's love, and His love for His own, being lived out through His saints for one another. This is a powerful witness to all men, both saved and unsaved, of the reality of the power and love of Christ. And when we follow His command to love one another we prove our love for Him as He said in John 14:15 "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments," and we know His commandments are not burdensome. Christ Jesus wants us to love one another as He loves us. He wants us, His own, to share and experience His love for us with and through each other. Oh, what a glorious thing this ought to be in the church, to never be without the love of Christ. What a wonderful provision He has given us to never be without His love. This is the reason behind the gifts and the gifted given to the church in Ephesians chapter four, to attain to the stature of the fullness of Christ, and in doing so the church will build itself up in love, agape, Christ's love.

How is this love manifested? When something is manifested it means that it is revealed. As believers we reveal the love of Christ in how we live it out, and from the context here in Colossians it is lived out in relation to other believers. Let's look at some practical examples from Scripture:

We are to be angry and yet, not sin.
We are to let no unwholesome word proceed from our mouth, but only that which edifies.
We are to let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander be put away from us.
We are to be kind to one another , tender-hearted, forgiving each other.
We are to bear one anothers' burdens.
We are to bear one anothers' weaknesses.
We are to be on the alert and pray for one another with all prayer and petition.
We are not to be arrogant toward one another.
We are not to be partial.
We are to treat each other the way we would want to be treated.
We are to please others instead of ourselves.
We are to defer to others by considering one another as more important than ourselves.
We are to do no wrong to one another.
We are to accept one another.
We are to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.
We are not to be provoked.
We are not to act unbecomingly toward one another.
We are to be patient with one another.
We are to not to gossip about one another.
We are to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.
We are to provide for one anothers' needs.
We are to reconcile with one another.
We are to gently restore those who sin.
We are to be subject to one another.
Our love is to cover a multitude of sins against us and still keep on loving.
No matter how much and how well we love we are to excel still more.

This is the essence of love, the love and God and Christ, that has been given to us; the love in which we are rooted and by which we are grounded.

You know we hear so often today that we are to love ourselves or that we must learn to love ourselves. Some would even tell us that we must love ourselves before we can love others. This is the mantra behind all the self-help books and seminars. It is what under girds the new hot seller "The Secret" and unfortunately is what is being taught in so many churches. This is the eternal lie! It is what Satan was really telling Eve to do in the garden, and what Satan was tempting Christ to do in the wilderness. Isn't it interesting that there is not one place in Scripture that says God loves Himself, nor is there any place where we are told to love ourselves. If self love was that important to our well being don't you think that God would have told us, nay, would have commanded us to do just that? What Scripture says is that God loves us, that God loves His Son, that God so loved us that He gave His Son, His only Son whom He loved, for us; that we might have eternal life with Him and enjoy His presence forever. We are not commanded in Scripture to love ourselves, but to love God, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and to love one another as He has loved us. The focus of our love is to be on God and therefore on His saints, our brothers and sisters in Christ. My friends don't fall prey to the siren song of self love, but follow the command of Christ, and the example of Christ by loving one another as He has loved us. Greater love has no man than this, that He would lay down His life for His friends. My friends, my fellow saints, let us love like this today.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Measure of a Church

The measure of a church is the measure of its people. As its people go, so goes the church. What is it that we as a people of God must possess and practice to be spiritually healthy, vibrant, and effective, so that our church(s) can therefore be the same way? In I Corinthians 13 Paul gives us three eternal spiritual qualities that I believe we must be strong and growing in as individuals so that the church we belong to will be strong and growing as well. These are faith, hope, and love. As believers we have these attributes, yet we may be weak in one or more of them. For example, the church at Corinth was spiritually immature and was especially weak in love (I Corinthians 13), and you can see the many problems it had as a result. The believers written to in II Peter needed to be diligent in developing their faith (II Peter 1:5-11) so that they would not be susceptible to the cleverly devised tales of the false teachers. The believers in Hebrews needed to press on to maturity leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ to anchor their hope more securely, so that they would persevere under their trials. James told the twelve dispersed tribes what real faith was all about.

Faith, hope, and love are mentioned in almost every New Testament book. And out of all the churches and groups written to there are only two that are commended for all three of these qualities. They are the churches at Colossae and Thessalonica. In the first chapter of both epistles Paul says that he is thankful for them and praying for them. He commends the Colossians on their faith in Christ Jesus, the love which they had for all the saints, and their hope laid up in heaven. He commends the Thessalonians for the work of their faith, the labor of their love, and the steadfastness of their hope. Also, in the first chapter of both epistles, he talks about the reception and power of the gospel, which is the tool God uses to develop faith, hope, and love in His children, and as His children are, so is the church.

Even though these attributes are spiritual and intangible, they are not inconspicuous. They are evident in the life, the attitude and actions of the people of God. They are the ground of our motivation, the core of our spiritual life, the evidence of our salvation. So we in the church must look to make sure these qualities are ours and are increasing, and those of us who preach, teach, and lead the flock must be diligent to develop these qualities in the flock that God has assigned to us, so that the flock will be spiritually healthy and vibrant.

More on this later.