What is the central ingredient of Christian Mission? (Colossians 1:1-8)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

May Missions month in September?

This week we officially start our ‘May Missions’ month. Well perhaps for this year we might just call it missions month as it is now September. Anyway as we have stated throughout the year, we decided to postpone our usual May missions month to September for the obvious reason of COVID-19 and the effect it was having on church and us at the time. So here we are today starting four weeks of specifically giving thanks to God for our mission partners around the world and indeed here in Australia. We will pray for them; we will hear from them and we will rightly remind ourselves to be generous and share what the Lord has given us with those who are working in his service further afield.  As we do this then it seems appropriate to remember what is central to Christian Mission at all times and in all places. For this doesn’t change and the Colossians passage today will show us just what the central ingredient is.

When is a chocolate milkshake a chocolate milkshake?

Now there are many things that have a central ingredient. What I mean by a central ingredient is that without it, it wouldn’t actually be the thing that you are talking about. Let me explain. If you wanted a chocolate milkshake, well you could have full cream milk, you could have skim milk, you could even have soy or almond milk. You could have it with ice cream, you could have it without ice cream. Those ingredients could be mixed and matched as you see fit. Yet what makes a chocolate milkshake, a chocolate milkshake is chocolate. For you see if you have milk, ice cream and caramel, it’s not a chocolate milkshake, it’s now a caramel milkshake. The same thing applies when making banana bread. Here’s a picture of one of my attempts to make Banana bread. There are a few different ingredients that you can swap in or out with Banana bread as well. You can use flour or rolled oats, sugar or not, eggs or no eggs, yet what ensures that it is banana bread is, yep you guessed it, the bananas.

The Central Ingredient of Christianity if the true message of the Gospel

In today’s passage Paul shows us that the central ingredient of Christianity is the true message of the Gospel. So as we start focussing in on our Gospel missionary partners over the next four weeks, it is great to remember why we support these brothers and sisters around the world. It is because together we are partnering in sharing the true message of the Gospel.

A strong and reassuring greeting

As we look at the introduction, these first eight verses of the letter to the Colossians, we do well to remember that Paul had purposes in writing and sending this letter. One of these purposes that is pertinent to us this morning is that it was written to reassure the believers in Colossae that the Gospel that Epaphras had shared with them is indeed the true Gospel and that there is nothing they are lacking. For it would seem that there were false teachers, or at the very least false philosophies and ideas that were been voiced in the church and this can be seen what Paul states in Chapter 2:4 and 2:8. So Paul helpfully articulates how and why God’s holy people in Colossae are in Christ.

Read with me these first two verses.

1”Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.”

Paul starts this letter by citing his authority as an Apostle of Christ, reminding the readers that his very authority comes from the Lord Jesus. Paul affirms that the recipients of this letter are true believers and he does this not just once, but twice. Paul is reassuring them of their status in Christ from the very beginning. He calls them God’s holy people in verse 2. That is they are saints, they are those set apart and then he assures them that they are faithful, that they are part of God’s family and they are true Christians as they are indeed brothers and sisters.

The hallmarks of Christianity

The Apostle Paul is known for having some pretty long sentences, most notably in the first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians. Now while these next three verses are nowhere near that long, we see that it is one long thought. It is beautifully crafted sentence that explains Christianity. The interesting thing is that in a sense Paul doesn’t start at the beginning. No, he actually starts with the outcome and then explains why this outcome has been achieved. The basic logic is this, Paul is thankful to God for the faith in Christ Jesus that the Colossian Christians have that is being shown in how they love each other. This faith and love have come about because they realise that they will be with Jesus forever, that is their hope, and this hope is on the basis that they have understood the good news that Jesus died to take away their sins and was raised again for their justification. And all of this happened because their missionary Epaphras shared this gospel message with them.

So that is what Paul does in verses 3-5a. Let’s read this together.

3We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love you have for all God’s people – 5the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven.”

As is Paul’s habit he prays. And we can see here that this prayer for the Colossian Christians isn’t a one off, perhaps it doesn’t read as well in the English as the Greek, however the idea here is of ongoing prayer, of continual prayer. This is reinforced in verse 9 where Paul states that “from the day we heard we have not ceased to pray for you..”

Faith in Christ Jesus

Paul, Timothy and those with them are giving thanks to God because of the faith that the Colossian Christians have in Christ Jesus which Epaphras has reported to Paul.

And straight away we see that the fruit of this faith is love. Faith and love go hand in glove. Believers are to love each other as Christ loved them for this is what Jesus commanded in John’s Gospel (13:34). In 1 John 4:7 we read “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” And these followers of Jesus were indeed doing this.

Hope

Paul then shows that this faith and love come about because of the hope that we have as Christians. What Paul calls here ‘the hope stored up for you in heaven’. What is this hope that Paul is talking about? Paul here is talking about Christian Hope, the hope of being with Christ for eternity. Paul explains this further in chapter 3 of this letter. Let’s look together at the beginning of chapter 3:1-4.

Colossians 3:1-4 “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” There is the hope. Verse 4 spells it out plainly. When Christ comes back those that believe in Jesus will go to be with Christ in Glory. This is the sure and certain hope. 1 Peter 1:13 likewise talks of the Christians hope being the fulness of our salvation when Christ Jesus returns.

What the beautiful hymn blessed assurance states so well.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.

Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!

Heir of salvation, purchase of God,

Born of His Spirit, Washed by His Blood.

 

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Saviour all the day long.

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Saviour all the day long.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1. This is what Paul is saying. From the sure and certain hope that we have in Christ, that is where our faith and love come from, or to use Paul’s words ‘spring from’.

Faith, Hope and Love

Faith, Hope and Love mark out a believer in Jesus. Paul uses this triad of terms in his first letter to the Corinthians and his first letter to the Thessalonian church a well. Dick Lucas helpfully states that when Paul uses Faith, Hope and Love together he does it “to provide a basic, and sufficient, description of a genuine Christian.”

The central ingredient is the Gospel

As I said earlier Paul starts at the outcome and then drills down to look at the cause. In the end Paul can reassure the Colossians that they are true Christians because they have heard and accepted the true Gospel.

Read with me Colossians 1:5b-8.

“and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world-just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who has told us of your love in the Spirit.”

Paul now reminds the Colossians and us here today that the reason we can have a sure and certain hope through faith in Jesus that leads to love for one another is because the Colossian Christians and indeed every follower of Jesus throughout the world has heard the Gospel. The word in New Testament Greek for gospel is εὐαγγελίοv, and this word is translated as both gospel and good news. So let’s be clear about what Paul is saying when he uses the words “true message of the Gospel” I think it would be hard to find a better summary of the Gospel than that which Paul himself writes in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5.

“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you have received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed onto you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.”

The fruit that the Gospel has brought is faith in Christ. Romans 1:16 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. As Paul states the Gospel is what bears fruit. It led the believers in Colossae to put their trust in Christ and the Gospel does this work all over the world.

The passage clearly shows that it is the Gospel, the Good news of Jesus that is the catalyst for everything else that is going on. This is the central ingredient of the Christian faith. Further as we spend the next four weeks especially praying for our mission partners. We are predominately praying that their efforts would enable the Gospel message to be taken to the ends of the earth. The Gospel is central in all we do here at Chatswood, and it is also central in all that our mission partners are doing around the world. This is why we support them.

Hearing the Gospel around the world

Ok, so back to my banana bread…. You can have all of the right ingredients in your cupboard and fridge to make banana bread. Yet if you don’t open the flour, crack the egg, peel the banana and mix them together, if you leave them in the packets, there will never be banana bread. What we see in this passage is that the Gospel needs to be heard. Of course, what ‘heard’ means is that it needs to be shared, that it needs to be proclaimed, preached, read. Remember that when this letter was written by Paul, people didn’t have a Bible in their hand or on their phone or the screen in front of them. No for someone to know the Gospel message, for someone to know that grace of God that come to them by faith in Jesus, they had to be told. This is exactly what we read that happened to the Colossians. The Gospel bears fruit when it is proclaimed. Verse 6 shows us that the Colossians heard the gospel and understood God’s grace to them in Christ. Verse 7 shows us that it was Epaphras who told them. They learned it from him. And that really is still the way that we hear about Jesus today. It is by someone telling us. Someone sharing the good news of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection with us. And this my friends is why we support our missionary partners throughout the world. Why we pray for them, read their email updates, why we partner with them financially. We do this because whether in the Philippines or Adelaide, whether in Bolivia or Asia, our missionary partners are sharing the Gospel with the world, and that Gospel is bearing fruit and through the Gospel message Jesus is bringing people to himself. Jesus told his disciples and I believe all Christians everywhere that we are to take the good news about him, the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Two great reminders from scripture for why we joyfully support our Gospel missionary partners:

  1. The Great Commission Matthew 28:18-20

Matthew 28:18-20 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

This is what Christians are to ensure happens. That the Gospel is told everywhere. Now God can give you a heart for going. In fact this is exactly what happened to Larissa, the kids and I in 2012. I don’t have time to tell you all about that today, suffice to say we had no doubt that God called us at that time to go to Belgium as Gospel workers and so we went. The point I am trying to make is that Gospel Mission is something that we Christians should pray for and support.

When Larissa, the kids and I were missionaries in Belgium for three years, one of the highlights every year was a bi-lingual French/English camp for 11-17 year old’s. This was a chance for kids from Belgium and England to come together and have a wonderful 9 days at a beautiful Chateau in Belgium hearing the Gospel message. Larissa and I were able to be the camp parents and encourage, pray and support the leaders and their families. Now each year we had a camp t-shirt and the bible passage that was on the t-shirt in French and English was Romans 10:17.

  1. Romans 10:14 & 10:17

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?…… 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

Someone once told me that I shouldn’t just talk about Jesus every week. But how can this be, when it is the Gospel message that bears fruit. It is the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that is growing throughout the world today as it was 2000 years ago. It is the Gospel that enables us to know God. It is the Gospel that bears fruit and grows throughout the whole world and this is done through it being shared, through it being proclaimed.

Banana bread is made with bananas. Christianity and Christian Mission is heard and accepted through the true message of the gospel.