Lord, you have taught us that all our doings without love are worth nothing:
Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love, the true bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whoever lives is counted dead before you.
Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever Amen
Reading: Colossians 2 : 1 – 7
So, then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and over-flowing with thankfulness (Colossians 2:6-7).
“Keep on going! You’re doing well!” How often have we needed to say those words to others, to encourage them when they are tempted to give up? And how often have we needed to hear those words ourselves?!
During this extended season of lock-down, we all need to be on the receiving end of encouraging words. Our society as a whole is evidently riddled not just with sadness and bereavement, but also with frustration and anger (erupting visibly on our streets), and with despair and loss of hope. There are many things to discourage us. In our house-bound isolation we realise just how much we had previously been energised and motivated by meeting others. Now we’re stuck indoors and the days of the week blur into one another—giving our weeks a lack of structure, purpose and hope. It’s so easy to be de-motivated; in a word, dis-couraged.
St Paul is so aware of the power of discouragement. As you will know from previous weeks going through this wonderful letter to the Christian believers in Colossae, Paul is himself in ‘lock-down’—almost certainly under ‘house arrest’ in the capital city of Rome. In my book In the Steps of Saint Paul, I paint a picture of Paul arriving in Rome and feeling quite low: recently ship-wrecked, not getting any younger, he is very much a ‘small fish in a big pond’, virtually on his own in this vast capital city.
And, soon after his arrival, he writes the letter of 2 Timothy with a real sense of loneliness and discouragement: “everybody in Asia has deserted me”; “at my first defence, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me” (2 Timothy 1:15; 4:16). He wants to be joined by one of his most trusted companions and colleagues, so he beseeches Timothy: “do your best to come to me quickly!” (4:9). Paul evidently knew the ‘ups and downs’ of life, the need for companions—the power of discouragement.
But then Timothy arrives! What a difference that made! And so—probably 9 months or so after his first arriving in Rome, back in March AD 60—Paul sits down to write this letter to the Colossians. And he does so, sitting next to (and being ‘egged on’ and encouraged by!) young Timothy (see Colossians. 1:1). And why’s he doing this? “My goal,” he says in Colossians 2:2 about his overall ministry purpose, “is that people may be encouraged in heart.”
The whole letter is one long act of encouragement. “Keep on going! You’re doing well!” We can almost hear Paul cheering them on as he writes. “I’ve heard about your faith and love; I’m always giving thanks for you and praying for you” (see 1:3-14). “Keep going in the faith, unmoved from your first hope” (see Colossians 1:23). “Don’t be discouraged when you hear about ‘poor Paul’ and what I’m going through here in Rome—I’m still able to proclaim the riches of Christ to people near and far, and I’ve got his powerful energy working through me!” (1:24-29). “I’m working hard for you—and gladly so!” (2:1). “More importantly, in Jesus (right there in your home-town of Colossae!) you’ve got all you need—marvellous riches and endless resources of wisdom and strength!” (2:3-4). “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!” (2:4). “And even though we are sadly unable to be together at this time, please know that I’m really with you in spirit, standing alongside you, and I’m delighted with what I can see—your evident discipline and powerful faith in Jesus” (2:5). He’s saying in effect: “Keep on going! You’re doing well! In Jesus you have everything you need. Don’t be tempted to look elsewhere. YOU CAN DO IT!”
I hope each of us can truly hear these encouraging words from Paul, receiving them for ourselves and applying them to the week ahead. And, of course, these words—in contrast to so many ‘pep-talks’ we may hear today from ‘motivational speakers’ who have the ‘feel good’ factor—have the distinct advantage of being true! He’s not making this stuff up. He’s not merely passing on some ‘self-help’ tips that he’s found have worked for him over the years.
On the contrary, Paul is basing his encouragement on what the Living God of Israel has recently revealed in a surprising and unexpected act of history—unveiling his long-stored up ‘mystery’ card (his ‘secret weapon’) called Jesus. Just thirty-one years before (back in AD 30), this Jesus had been crucified on a Roman cross (1:22; 2:14) but had then been raised from the dead (3:1); and this Jesus can now be seen—truly and rightly—to be a cosmic figure, the Son of God who is the Head of the whole universe (1:15-20)!
This is the Jesus whom the Colossians have ‘received’ into their lives (2:6), whom they have come to know and love. This Jesus is far bigger than their problems. In their times of uncertainty, this Jesus can be safely trusted as a fixed-point. If they’re feeling lost, bewildered or in the dark, this Jesus has “all the treasures of wisdom and understanding” (2:3)—more than anybody could ever want. If they’re feeling on the margins of society, or unloved and unwanted, then so long as they keep close to this Jesus they can know that, because he is evidently located at the very centre of God’s purposes, so too are they.
Paul’s words of encouragement are rooted in reality—a reality itself rooted in actual historical events which show all the hallmarks of having been ‘engineered’ by a loving and faithful God. If we too are people who have—however falteringly—truly ‘received’ this Jesus into our lives, then these words of encouragement are for us!
So, as we close, we come to Paul’s words in verses 6 and 7:
So, then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and over-flowing with thankfulness.
These words are really the epicentre of this letter. They are the one ‘take home’ point he wants them to hear. He is saying, in effect, “keep on going!” “Don’t veer off the path.” “And the way to keep on going is not suddenly to depart from Jesus and go chasing after something else that is supposedly wiser, better or more true than him (because they don’t exist; they’re all ‘cul-de-sacs’ which will lead you precisely nowhere!). Instead the way to keep going is to go deeper and deeper in your relationship with the Jesus you have already come to know.”
There’s the trick! There’s the key insight! The Christian life is not one that begins by responding to the gospel of Jesus as the Lord, by ‘receiving’ him and coming to know him—but which then suddenly veers off in a different direction. If we came to know Jesus personally many years ago when we were a lot younger, we are not now supposed to dismiss that youthful commitment to Jesus as ‘immature’ or ‘foolish’ or made when we were so much more ignorant about life’s problems than we are now! No, it was not foolish but deeply wise. And we will never become ‘mature’ by dismissing it as a condescending adult. Instead the path to maturity is to go deeper and deeper in your relationship with the Jesus you have already come to know. And to keep on learning more about the truth of the faith which is in keeping with the teaching we first received—“just as you were taught”.
So we are not to chase after new things (thinking the ‘grass must be greener on the other side’), but rather to go deeper into the ‘same old’, the ‘same old story’. As the hymn says, “Tell me the old, old, story of Jesus and his love!” You can’t go ‘one better’ than Jesus. You can’t improve on his truth. You can’t outflank his brilliance. You can’t get supposedly ‘one step ahead’ of his reality. He is IT!
So let’s hear Paul’s words and be encouraged. What we already have in Jesus is everything we need. We already have in Jesus all that God wants us to know. Let’s not be tempted to look elsewhere—like dissatisfied children or an unfaithful spouse—but today be truly grateful for what we have already received in the gospel. We have “received” none other than “Jesus the Lord” and each day we should aim to “continue to live in him”, enjoying his presence, drawing down upon his wisdom, and “overflowing with thankfulness”.
Someone said to me in our local high street last week (from a distance of two metres!): “It’s hard enough getting through lock-down as a Christian. How people are coping without Jesus, I have no idea!” Nor do I. But let’s be people who during this lockdown come to realise and appreciate all the more what we do already have in Jesus and then when the opportunity comes, be ready to tell others: this Jesus is the Lord and he is everything! AMEN
1 How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
in a believer’s ear!
It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds,
and drives away our fear.
2 It makes the wounded spirit whole
and calms the troubled breast;
’tis manna to the hungry soul,
and to the weary, rest.
3 Dear name! the rock on which I build,
my shield and hiding place;
my never failing treasure, filled
with boundless stores of grace!
4 Jesus, my Shepherd, Brother, Friend,
my Prophet, Priest, and King.
my Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
Accept the praise I bring.
5 How weak the effort of my heart,
how cold my warmest thought;
but when I see you as you are,
I’ll praise you as I ought.
6 Till then I would your love proclaim
with every fleeting breath;
and may the music of your name
refresh my soul in death.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the encouragement we have from your word and the experience of those early Christians who remained faithful to you through many difficulties Help us, we pray, by the power of your Holy Spirit to persevere in these trying times finding joy in our relationships of love. In the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour, Amen
The Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen
Let nothing disturb you,
nothing frighten you;
All things are passing,
but God never changes!
Patient endurance achieves all things;
Those who belong to God want for nothing,
alone God is sufficient.
Prayers for 21st June 2020
Two weeks ago we celebrated what some regard as one of the forgotten festivals of the church, Trinity Sunday. A well-known hymn mentions three attributes of the three persons of the Trinity as “Wisdom” (Father), “Love” (Son) and “Might” (Holy Spirit).
- WISDOM – Let’s pray for God’s wisdom to be spread abroad in the hearts of the world’s leaders whose leadership is so vital during these difficult times. We thank you Lord for those leaders who have led well during the pandemic doing their utmost to protect their people from the virus, and we pray for those who have struggled. Give them all wisdom as they make decisions about when to loosen lockdown restrictions so that infections and deaths can be kept to a minimum.
Lord, in earth’s darkest place
Let there be Light!
- LOVE – We thank you Lord for the love and dedication shown by all those working in the NHS and care homes. Be with them and strengthen them in their difficult circumstances. We thank you for how your people have been able to show your love to their neighbours and local community during these troubled times. We thank you for the technology which has allowed us to keep in touch with one another, and we pray that you will help us and all Christian people to continue to witness to your saving love in new ways to a needy world.
We pray for those caught up in demonstrations for “Black lives matter” and the protection of statues. May your love inspire those who work towards equality between all races and turn away those who would make these uncertain times an excuse for violence and intimidation.
Lord, in earth’s darkest place
Let there be Light!
- MIGHT – We thank you Lord for the power of your Holy Spirit to change lives. Be with all missionaries and preachers of the Gospel at this time of crisis, that they may be steadfast in their witness and work for you through all the difficulties of lockdown. We thank you for the opportunity for them to spend more time with their families. We pray especially this month for Julian and Catherine and their family and Anya and Jacob in their work of Bible translation for the “Yakar” people of Southern Russia. We pray that their relationships may be strengthened even while they are unable to travel and meet.
Lord, in earth’s darkest place
Let there be Light!
May God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be close to all in our church family who are in any kind of trouble, those who are sick in body, mind or spirit. Amen.
Finally, may we pause and reflect after each of these phrases from “St Patrick’s Breastplate”:
Christ be with me……….Christ within me……… Christ behind me……..
Christ before me……. Christ beside me…….Christ to win me…….
Christ to comfort and restore me………..Christ beneath me………
Christ above me……Christ in quiet……..Christ in danger…….
Christ in hearts of all that love me…….. Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
Category: Prayers , Sermons , The Bridge