Today we begin reading Paul and Timothy’s letter to the church at Colossae. As with most of Paul’s letters, he begins by telling the church how much he loves them. Verses 1-8 read,
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.”
Because Paul loved the church so much, he wanted them to grow into who they were meant to be. Who we are meant to be is the pinnacle of who we are created to be, that is the image of Christ. Man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). But the fall brought sin and death into the world and keeps humanity from living that image. When we come to Christ, The Holy Spirit comes in and begins working on us, changing us back to who we are supposed to be, the image of Christ. The more mature we are, the more we look and behave like Jesus. Maturity or looking like Jesus is the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love and love shows in walking like Jesus.
Paul encouraged the Colossians that he saw the fruit of maturity in them, he saw the love they had for all the saints. They didn’t love because they were good people. They loved because of the hope laid up in heaven. What hope is the hope laid up in Heaven? It is our ultimate glorification when we will be perfected in the image of Christ. Every bit of sin and flesh we hold onto now will be gone and we will finally be exactly who we are meant to be seamlessly united with Jesus Christ in New Jerusalem for eternity. 1 Corinthians 15:50-55 says,
“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
And the author of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 12:22-25,
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
When we read about hope in the Bible, it is not talking about wishing or yearning it is talking about confidence in God’s promise as already fulfilled, faith. Hope gives us the courage to keep going through all the muck and mire of life because we know what and who awaits us. Theses promises such as eternal life and perfection are so sure, that we can consider them already done. Hebrews 10:14 reads,
“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
Jesus perfected us, past tense! It is already done even though we are going through the process still. He perfected or completed us who are being sanctified or purified and made holy. Our love for Jesus causes us to love one another. Our love for one another causes us to want each other to become mature, to grow in the Spirit and be more like Jesus. Jesus’ image is the fruit we bear and Jesus’ image or His glory is what increases our faith and the church. Because of our love for one another we pray for each other to constantly and consistently grow. Verses 8-14 read,
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Paul’s prayer for the church in Colossae encourages us that we should be filled with knowing God’s will along with discernment and understanding. We do not just say, God’s will is that all people come to know Him (1 Timothy 2:4) or God’s will is all people glorify Him (Isaiah 43:7). We are filled with it, we act on it, we walk and we bear fruit in every good work. And doing so, increases our knowledge of God which is also God’s will (Hosea 6:6). It is not an easy walk. It takes strength, endurance and patience. But we have our hope and so we can walk that walk with persistence, fortitude, and joy! What is our hope? We are delivered, saved from the kingdom of darkness, ignorance and slavery to the prince of the world and now we are in the Kingdom of God. We belong to the King of kings, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Knowing God is His will for us. Knowing God results in obedience, faith, and maturity. Knowing God brings us into unity with Him and so conforms us to the Image of Jesus Christ. To know God we must know Jesus. Who is Jesus? Verses 15-20 tell us,
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Hebrews 1:3-4 reads,
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
The fullness of God, everything God is dwelled in Jesus. If we want to know who God is, we need to know Jesus. Jesus made it possible to know or unite with The Father because He, the perfect image of God paid the price of death on the cross for us. He resurrected to give us eternal life (John 11:25). He ascended to give us The Holy Spirit and so fully unite us with God (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit is the nature of God and He chooses to indwell us. He chooses to transform us into Jesus’ image. We can know God because we have His own Spirit in us. Verses 21-23 describe it this way,
“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”
If we love God, if Jesus is our King, if The Holy Spirit indwells us we will know Him and we will mature and want to know Him more. We want this for ourselves, for one another, and for the sake of the lost. But the transformation does not happen automatically. We walk with endurance, patience and joy through the suffering. It is suffering that teaches us obedience and it is suffering that develops the character of Jesus in us. Romans 5:2-5 reads,
“Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Remember what that hope is, it is us perfected to the image of Christ and living absolutely united with him eternally. That is how we go through the trials with endurance, patience and joy. Are we crazy to rejoice in suffering? No, we are wise to rejoice in suffering. We can take joy in suffering because we recognize God’s mercy through it. Verses 25-29 read,
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
What Paul is saying when he says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body” is that suffering is what is making him more like Jesus. As he became more mature and knew God more, he was responsible to teach others what he knew. As we grow to be more like Jesus, we have a responsibility to live it out and tell others who Jesus is and how wonderful He is. Unity with Jesus and His Body requires we all become the image of Christ. The more we know God, the more we become like Him, the more we want to know Him. It is a lovely cycle but not a circle an infinite spiral which brings us closer and closer to perfect Jesus. The more mature we are the more we love Jesus and one another. The more we love one another the more mature we want all of us to be. It is another infinite spiral which brings us closer to Jesus and more united with the body. Love and knowing God which leads to maturity form the double helix of the kingdom of God.