Riches of Christ
We continue with the second portion of Paul’s ministry, last week we looked at Paul’s relationship to gospel ministry (Col 1:24-29). This week we look at his ministry to the church in Lycus valley (Laodicea and Colossae). In verse 29 Paul explains that his gospel ministry is toil and a struggle. The word for struggle is similar to an athlete who struggles to victory, a foot race. Paul struggles in his ministry empowered by God who gives him strength. This struggle is also for the churches in Lycus Valley, even though he has not seen them face to face. Epaphras, the founding pastor of the Church is always struggling on their behalf in his prayers (Col 4:12). The struggle is not your regular struggle but one that is a ‘great struggle.’ Those who serve in the church should be encouraged that although ministry can be exhausting, it is the Lord who gives them strength. “Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 4:11).
I. ReassureD in Christ
Paul speaks of two small goals of his ministry to this group of churches. Firstly, that they would be encouraged. Interestingly, Paul struggles and toils so that they may be encouraged. That they may have their countenance lifted. Sometimes you need encouragement. Often when you are going through difficult times you need encouragement not for the mind but for the heart. In church life we know the simple truths of the bible, however our heart might not grasp those truths, our heart becomes overwhelmed. Encouragement is what can help us when we are stuck in the castle of despair. Paul is sending this letter to the church in Colossae to encourage them. He also is sending Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minster and fellow servant for the very purpose of encouraging their hearts (Col 4:7-8). The church had slipped into the slough of despond and needed help to come and lift them from it. Such is what happens when we forget the gospel, life can weigh us down and we need others to come and encourage our hearts.
Hebrews 10:25 says that we should meet together so that we may encourage one another. Encouraging oneself out of the slopes of discouragement is a difficult task. Christians need to encourage one another. This is Paul’s second point, that they would be ‘knit together in love.’ The word used here that we translate ‘knit’ is used in Ephesians 4:16, “The whole body, joined and held together by every joint…” Held together, ligaments that holds together bones, or cartilages, or a joint. Often in the bible the examples of the church are ones of united, a vine, a body, a temple/building or even a loaf (leaven). Even going back to the knitted image. A knitted blanket is one strand of yarn woven together, to remove a weave causes great damage to the blanket. Tearing a ligament can bring the strongest athlete to their knees. Paul wants to encourage them and also prays that they may be knit together in love. Not just any form of love, say as two friends, but ‘agape’ the love which is commonly used when speaking of the love God has for us. Paul will later explain that the church should put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Col 3:14). Even in two simple phrases Paul gives us a great challenge firstly to encourage one another, and to be knit together in love. What a prayer to pray for us and also the church.
II. Riches in Christ
Paul wants them to be encouraged and united for a purpose. We might think he wants them to be encouraged and united because then they can be a witness for Christ and his Church; or keep their leaders happy; or to not cause a split; or so we would be united in the church as a counter to the division outside the church. They would be great reasons but not the ultimate reason and not the reason that Paul gives in this letter. He wants them to be encouraged and united in order to reach the riches of Christ. When we, the church, are discouraged and divided we rob ourselves and others of the riches of Christ. We focus on the wrong prize and goal. This was the issue the church was facing back then, and we still face today. When we think that Christ is not sufficient and supreme, we begin focusing on other things and making them the priority. This does not then mean anything that is secondary is not important, but we need to have some level of priorities. It is often in the church (in my experience) people are upset over small things in comparison, hardly ever do members leave the church because of theological differences but due to what type of plate is used for fellowship meals.
Paul’s ministry seeks to point people to Christ and ALL of his riches. Not only a portion, but all of the riches. Christ is the valued treasure we all should seek to find, and the riches are inexhaustible. The author of Hebrews explains that Moses considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt (Heb 11:26). Even the rich in this present age, Paul writes to Timothy, is one placed in uncertainty (1 Tim 6:17). Paul, even considers himself to the least of the saints, considers it a grace of God to preach to all nations the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph 3:8). The riches of Christ are ones freely given to us, who are poor. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). Christ became poor, like us, so that we might become rich. The riches of Christ are like the man who sells all that he has so that he may buy the one field (Matt 13:44). Christ has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3). Jesus instructs us no to lay up treasures on earth but treasures in heaven. Treasures in heaven are not earthly treasures (gold, cars and houses) just located in another realm, but treasures are found in Christ himself (Matt 6:19-21). Once we know the worth of Christ, we are willing to sell all that we have to follow him (Luke 18:22).
Heidelberg Catechism Question One. What is thy only comfort in life and in death?
That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil…
III. Robbed by the World
The sad reality is that the letter to the Colossians is written because they had forgotten the riches found in Christ. They turned to worship angles, philosophies, traditions, and not according to Christ (Col 2:8). The sad reality is that not only Christians in the first century look to other riches, we do this today. Humans are like birds that like shinny objects with no value. We fill our houses and our hearts with trash, that we think has enormous value. The parable of the sower speaks of the seed that is sown and takes root but is choked by thorns. The thorns are the cares of the world, deceitfulness of the riches, and pleasures of life (Matt 13:22, Mark 4:19, Luke 8:14). The riches of Christ are eternal, but the deceitful riches of the world perish. Fool’s gold compared to the purest gold. Regularly, we are deluded by plausible arguments (Co 2:4). Hoodwinked thinking that pleasure is better than Christ. The author of Hebrews gives the great warning of drifting. “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Heb 2:1). We need to be reminded of the riches of Christ but also to be warned about the deceitfulness of the riches of the world. Thomas Brooks says, “Pirates make the fiercest assaults upon those vessels that are most richly laden; so does Satan upon those souls that are most richly laden with the treasures of grace, with the riches of glory.” We would be foolish to think that we will not be tempted into false riches. We are susceptible to plausible arguments. Sin is enticing and even logical to our fallen self. We explain that we need to do this because… We sell ourselves and Christ short, because maybe if I have Christ and power, or pleasure or people’s approval, then I can truly glorify him. Young boys and girls will have many things sold to them as plausible arguments that will sound convincing and even enticing. However, shiny objects are shinny to a corrupt heart no matter the age.
IV. Reserves of Christ
Paul rejoices to see the church see the worthiness of Christ. Even though he is absent in body, he is with them in spirit (Col 2:5). He rejoices to see them with good order (The presbyterian in me wants to write on this for a few pages), however more importantly he wanted to see them have a firm faith in Christ. Charles Hodge said, “To be in Christ is the source of the Christian’s life; to be like Christ is the sum of his excellence; to be with Christ is the fulness of his joy.” Christ is the riches that we find all of our inheritance. To have the firm foundation of Christ in their lives. To know in their minds and hearts that Christ is all that they need. Even if you have nothing to your name, besides Christ, you have everything. However, if you have everything minus Christ you have nothing.
John Newton, the author of ‘Amazing Grace,’ was a slave trader who lived the life of laying up treasures on earth. Given to alcoholism and other grievous sins. Over his mantle he had a plaque with Deuteronomy 15:15 above it, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you.” Late in his life he said, “My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner and Christ is my great savior.” John Newton knew the deceitful riches of this life, power, fame, money and pleasures, but once he found Christ, he knew the false riches which he had stored up and looked to Christ as the only treasure he needs. How frequently do we try and find and store up fool’s gold when the inexhaustible, endless, bottomless, and infinite true riches of Christ are ours?