Colossians 1: The Expansion of Christianity
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The increasing gospel
The thing that is amazing Paul is how fast and furiously the message of Jesus Christ is spreading. It had to be incredible to watch at the time. When had anything spread with such force as Christianity, and yet without a sword being raised.
Example: Hundreds of years later, Islam would spread like fire throughout much of this same region. But one very persuasive element of the Muslim religion at the time was that those who resisted its expansion were put to death.
And so it has been with many ideas, lifestyles and religions. They spread on the force of economics, they were enforced by powerful rulers, etc.
But not Christianity! In fact, you stood to lose a lot if you were a Christian in these days.
Example: Today, in America, it can be to your advantage to at least call yourself a Christian. Name one President of the United States who would not at least call himself a Christian? It would be suicide!
But not so in Paul’s day. You stood to lose a lot if you were a Christian. Here’s the reason:
The people of this culture actually considered the Christians to be “atheists”. That was the main charge against them! And the reason why is that the Christians considered the idols of the day and the various gods to be nothing. “What’s Zeus by a figment of your imagination.”
And while a lot of people thought that, the Christians openly stated it and acted on it. They had no regard for what the gods thought. They did the things that gods said weren’t supposed to be done. And they basically lived as if there were none of these gods, only the one supreme God.
Well, there was a serious practical problem with this. And that was that these gods were woven into the fabric of the state, the culture, the economy, everything.
Example: It should come as no surprise that when a new emporer was installed, that Jupiter, the biggest Roman god, would also issue and oracle endorsing the new emporer.
Example: It should be no surprise that silversmiths and crafstmen of all kinds made a substantial portion of their living from traficking in religious wares.
And so, with this system of gods so deeply wedded to the system, here Christianity comes along and says, “They’re really nothing, in fact they don’t even exist.” Some feathers were ruffled.
Example: In fact, one story that Luke tells in the book of Acts is that the craftsmen from one city were being driven out of business because no one was buying their little effigies any more . . .
So, it was in the face of this kind of opposition that Christianity spread like wildfire.
The power of the message
And I’ll tell you the reason Christianity spread so. It was because of the inate power of the message of Jesus Christ. When people were hearing about Jesus Christ for the first time, they couldn’t believe their ears! It was gripping, and the implications were enormous!
Example: In fact, Luke tells another story about when Paul went to Athens, and went directly to Mars Hill, which is just below the Parthenon. And here, Luke tells us, people gathered and did nothing all day but hear new ideas. So, the point is that these people had heard just about everything you could hear. Right? So you could imagine the cynicism in these men’s hearts. (That’s what always drove me crazy about the philosophy students down at OSU. They always thought they had heard everything before, and of course knew the 5 weaknesses with every positions. “Have you heard . . .?” “Of course, that’s simply a variation of the Aristotelean distinction between nature and form . . .”)
But the amazing thing is this: When Paul started into the message of Jesus Christ, the reaction from these guys was, “No way! That’s ridiculous!” And they were scoffing and laughing. Why? Because they had never heard anything like it before! And they concluded, we will hear more of this from you tommorow!
The message of Christ even ruffled the feathers of these old cynics.
And to the average person who heard about Christ, it was incredible.
Hardest audience is right here
You see, you might think that the people who are most resistant to Christianity are those who have never heard it before. But that’s not true at all. In fact, the people who are most dull to the message of Christianity are those who have heard about Christianity so much that they think they know what it’s all about.
That’s why places like Americal and Europe are the most dense and resistant to the message of Christianity. They’re “Christian countries,” meaning that they supposedly are predominantly Christianized. And when you mention Jesus Christ, or Christianity, then everyone thinks they know what it’s all about. Everybody has their own idea and now they see the message of Christ through their pre-conceived notions.
I have a lot of these myself. And it is real hard to get me to see things a different way once I have an image in my mind.
Example: I have an image of what musicals are all about. They’re stupid. No one will ever convince me that a musical is worth watching. Because it is stupid to be watching a couple people talking, and one of them breaks out into song about it! Or you’re watching a scene, and the camera pans over to someone singing and dancing about it! So, just when I was convinced about this, comes along MTV . . . But I’m still not going to watch any musicals.
Example: I have the same image about those romance novels at the grocery store. There is no way one of those could ever be worth reading. There is no way an author of any calibre could write one. Right? But let me tell you something else. I have never read one! I have never so much as picked one up to browse out of curiosity! Because they’re obviously stupid!
And this goes to show one very important thing about our impressions. They can be indellible. They can be immovable, while at the same time absolutely unfounded. We may know absolutely nothing about the actual substance of something, but if we have an impression, that’s it. We never will learn about the substance of that thing.
Now some folks consider themselves open-minded. But honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever met an open minded person. At this point, I’m not sure they even exist. Sure, everyone has a realm of ideas they’re open to. And yet, at the same time, everyone has a realm of ideas and experiences they are closed to.
Example: My neighbors are into country music. And now their little kid, who’s about 10 is blaring country music every day . . .
I consider myself to be open minded. In fact, I’ve always considered that to be a real strong point! But you already know how I feel about romance novels and country music. So, I guess I’m not completely open. My wife says I’m totally close minded . . . Only with things that are stupid.
But nowhere will you find more preconceived notions than with Christianity.
Example: I love asking people about their idea of Christianity. The reaction is always the same. It’s incredible. “What do you think about Christianity? What do you think is involved?” And people will look at you for a while. And then they’ll say something like this, “It’s OK, It’s a good thing for people to be into.” And translated, that means, “I know you’re into this stuff, so you wouldn’t like it if I told you what I really think.”
Because what people really think is:
1. It’s boring
2. It has no bearing on real life.
3. It’s particularly attractive to gullible, weak and foolish people.
4. It’s leaders take advantage of those gullible, weak and foolish people.
And, depending on your background, you may have a few more . . .
To get an impression of Christianity, all you have to do is drive down the street and see a church. It it a pompous structure. By that, I mean “grand.” So, you think, that’s what they must think they’re into, something grand. And they have steeples. What do steeples tell you? Some of them look like they could hurt you . . .
Think what a European must think about God and Christianity. Their churches are all old, real old . . . For them, Christianity is probably kind of like Paul Bunyan or some other fairy tale.
That’s why it is that in cultures where Christians have been present for a long time, that is where it is hardest to get a hearing for Christianity.
The good news is . . .
But the fact is, when people take the time to stop and listen, the reaction is still the same. When people take the time to actually hear . . .
Let me tell you in a nutshell what is so moving and amazing about the Christian message. And seriously, just take the next couple minutes and pretend you are hearing about a completely new religion, one that you’ve never heard before.
The Bible says that Christianity is actually not a religion at all. But that it is a personal relationship with God himself. And that we can meet the personal God, and get to know him just as we would another person. But, here is the part that people can’t really believe: God in the Bible, offers to begin that relationship by completely forgiving us and accepting us as we are, with no strings attached.
In other words, God does not call on anyone to improve themselves. God does not call on anyone to go to church. He doesn’t call on us to do one thing in order to have his forgiveness and a relationship with him.
Now I can guarentee, if you were listening, there were some of you here that heard something that you didn’t really know about Christianity. Let me extrapolate further for the true shock effect to set in.
What I’m saying is that God will forgive anyone, right now for the asking. Let’s suppose they are currently involved in sex, drugs and rock and roll. God will forgive that person right now. Let’s say a person is involved in a Satanist cult! God will forgive that person right now.
Let’s go further. Let’s say that person continues tomorrow to be involved in sex, drugs, and rock and roll? God’s forgiveness and acceptance does not change!
Now we’re getting a picture for just how amazing this message of Jesus Christ really is. And it is called the message of Jesus Christ because it is because of Jesus Christ that we can have God’s forgiveness and acceptance . . .
Still affective today
Well, this message had real impact in Paul’s day, when the religions of the day offered no hope at all to their believers. The gods weren’t even really interested in human affairs, except as they affected them. The gods were self-seeking, self-centered gods, much like the human rulers they endorsed.
And along comes this message that actually, God is immense enough to notice everyone. A God who is infinite, and gave rise to everything. But at the same time, is personal enough to be involed with your life and mine . . .
The net effect was, “If that’s true, it has to be the most awesome thing I’ve ever heard . . .”
Well, the fact is, wherever Christianity is given an ear today, it is still having the same effect. Here in America, where people are convinced, once they’ve seen one T.V. preacher, “I know what Christianity is about!” If they only give an ear for a little while to the message of Jesus Christ, their reaction is always the same: “No way! No way!”
That’s when I know I’ve hit home. That’s when I know someone has actually heard, when the have that reaction of, “No way!”
Knowledge of God’s will
It’s interesting then, that the first thing Paul mentions in v. 9 is this (read verse). You see? He begins to pray that these people will understand God’s will. That’s because he knows that a knowledge of God’s will is a powerful thing, if only people knew it.
It’s just like the message of Jesus Christ. Here is this awesome truth, the truth of God’s love and acceptance. And it’s waiting to effect people, if only they knew it!
That’s the way knowledge from God is. It’s powerful. It shakes things up. It changes things. But the problem is, people don’t know it.
Example: In Pro. 29, it says, “Where there is no revelation from God, the people lose it, but where God’s word is people are happy.”
So, Paul knows that what these people need is knowledge from God. If they have that, then a lot of other things will fall in place.
They were without
Now, one reason Paul had to really pray for this with these people was that they were really at a disadvantage. They did not have, usually, a written copy of God’s word. So, they were in the precarious position of having to wonder, “What is God’s will in this situation?”
Example: You would be thinking about getting married to someone, and you could only wonder, “What does God have to say about this?”
And these people would really have to seek out the Lord and look for guidance. They would have to seek the counsel of the older Christians to see what they knew about stuff . . .
A precious deposit
But today, we have God’s word right here in our hands. This is like no other time in history, when every person can have their own copy of God’s written wisdom. Most Christians in America have several.
Paul’s prayer to us would be a little different. Instead of “I pray you be filled with the knowledge of God’s will.” He would pray, “I pray you would read and apply that book you have in your hands.”
He knows that a knowledge of God’s will is the answer to the issues of life. A knowledge of God’s will is the stuff people are scratching for, but they can’t find it.
People don’t have it
In I Cor. 2, Paul says that the deposit of truth we have from God is so wonderful, that eyes have never seen it, ears have never heard it, and it has not even entered the imagination of man.
In other words, the truths we learn from God–God’s wisdom, the answers he provides for us, what Paul calls here, “God’s will”–are truths that are deeper than anything man has ever come up with on his own.
All our powers of observation haven’t turned up the real answer to life.
Example: In the area of science, we have turned up some amazing things. And I am impressed . . . But that same scientist, who could explain the structure of DNA, and I still wouldn’t understand it, will then turn around and go home to a marriage he can’t figure out. He can’t make it work.
Example: Historians and those who study people, they’ve found out some amazing things. But that same man, who researched . . . will go home and he will still be lonely. Because he doesn’t have the answer to that problem!
Example: And our imagination. Wow! What an amazing thing! What is there that human minds haven’t imagined?! I’ll tell you what. We have never been able to imagine the real answers to our problems. Because the same person who is so intensely creative with his imagination, will still die–and you cannot imagine your way out of that hole.
See? These are the real issues of life! We’ve gone so far on some of these peripheral issues, like how to transport ourselves faster and how to get more comfortable. But we haven’t made any progress at all on the real issues: How to get along with another person, how to escape lonliness and boredom, how to escape extinction.
We have the answers
But the power of God’s word is that it contains these very answers. God, the designer of human beings, has left us with insight into how they work.
That’s what God’s word is all about.
Example: What do you do when you’re wondering about how serious to get about a guy or a girl? God’s word has the answer to that question.
Example: What do you do when it seems like you can’t really get along with anone in your life? God’s word has the answer . . .
We need to learn how to apply
You know what the problem is though? You and I have to learn how to handle it. And that is no easy task. What it involves is learning how to take what God said to people back then, and distill from it a principle, which can then be applied today.
Example: We can go to Jesus’ teachings, which are truly amazing pieces of wisdom. And he taught on so many things. But one of my favorites is where Jesus teaches on anxiety. Here’s a problem that literally ruins people–people who know everything about their field, virtually killed by anxiety. So, Jesus comes along and says, “Look, God knows when a sparrow falls to the ground. God knows . . . and if God knows all this, then why are you anxious? Pray to God instead.” And then, as a kicker, he says, “Seek to serve God, and he will take care of you, and your anxieties will vanish!”
That’s a fascinating concept. And people are always turned on by that kind of thing. But it’s still not far enough. It’s still not going to help me. Because what does he mean when he says, “Seek to serve God?” How do you do that?
And so, someone who knows a little more of God’s word will know from passages like Gal. 6:10, and Hebrews 10:25 that a big part of seeking to serve God is seeking to love and serve other Christians.
But that still doesn’t go far enough. In order to truly benefit from God’s wisdom, I need to be able to practically apply it to my life, right now! I have to be sitting there at my house, and know, “Instead of sitting here and worrying, and getting into myself, I need to get up, go to a meeting or find some fellowship with Christians, and try to find a way to serve them.”
That’s the kind of brass-tacks, practical stuff that is involved in God’s wisdom.
It takes work
And if you have tried to apply God’s word to today, you know that it takes some work. It’s not exactly easy.
Example: I’m teaching a class right now on interpretation. And the reaction I get is always the same, “Hey! This is hard! Why is it so hard?”
I don’t know. Why is math hard? Why is learning how to use a computer hard? Why is learning a language, like the English language, hard? Why do we spend 12 years in school, just to begin to learn about stuff?
I don’t know why things are hard. But to get God’s word, and be able to apply it to your life is not exactly easy. I’ll be honest about that. But the end result is awesome.
I’ll make the statement I’ve made before. And it’s true to my experience. There is not an area of our lives, there is not an experience we go through, that God’s word does not address. That’s how much insight is there to be had.