Teaching series from Colossians

Four Insights Into the Gospel

Colossians 1:1-8

Teaching t23028


This morning we begin a study of Colossians. Let’s dive right in and read the first two verses (read 1:1,2). This is a letter from Paul (one of the leaders of the early Christian movement) to the Christians who lived in Colossae, a small town in southwestern Turkey (MAP). Here’s a little more information about the setting of this letter:

Paul was imprisoned in Rome when he wrote this letter (4:3), around 60 AD.

Paul had not actually visited Colossae (2:1). Rather, a Colossian named Epaphras (4:12), having been trained by Paul, came back to his hometown and started this church (1:7). (This may be part of what Luke refers to in Acts19:8-10.)

Epaphras recently visited Paul with concerns about the Colossian church, specifically that they were being influenced by pseudo-Christian teachers. Paul wrote this letter primarily to strengthen the Colossian Christians to resist these false teachers (2:4).

Paul begins by thanking God for this church and for how it got started (read 1:3-8). He says they are one example of Christian communities that were springing up all over the Roman Empire, like my tomato plants that germinate from seed, grow and bear fruit, whose seed then spreads and germinates other (“volunteer”) plants. What was the “seed” that caused this growth? Paul and Epaphras were agents (as we will see) but they were not “seeds.” The “seed” is what Paul calls “the gospel” (1:5,6). It spread (probably) from Paul to Epaphras, and from Epaphras to them (1:7), and since then it was spreading from them to others in their area.

What is this “gospel?” Paul uses this term 57 times in his letters. In our culture, “gospel” refers to several things vaguely related to Christianity—a style of music, a certain kind of preaching, a religious place (gospel tabernacle), etc. But the gospel exists independently from these things and is very different from them. Paul says elsewhere that it contains “unfathomable riches” (Eph.3:8) – but this paragraph provides us with four important insights into the gospel ...

The gospel is a definitive announcement

First of all, the gospel is a definitive announcement. Paul says the gospel is “the word of truth” (1:5), or “the message that is true.” It is not one of many messages, nor is it human speculation; it is the message revealed by God that announces the truth.

The Greek word here is euaggelion, which means “good message.” This word was already used by Roman rulers to describe certain official and definitive announcements. Specifically, a Roman “gospel” was the announcement of an objective and important event, and a summons to align one’s life to this event. For example, during Caesar Augustus’ reign (9 BC), heralds proclaimed the “gospel” of his uniquely peaceful reign and summoned all subjects to reckon time from a new calendar based on his birthday.

But while Caesar Augustus ended war within the Empire, he fell far short of “setting all things in order,” let alone bringing “life to the peak of perfection.” The Empire was still riddled with racial, socio-economic and gender divisions. And people lamented that true peace of mind and heart were as out of reach as ever (as much as they do today).

It is in this context that the early Christian movement announced a greater gospel. This gospel announced the coming of a much greater Ruler who has brought a much greater salvation.

The gospel declares that Jesus is the Christ

Who is this greater Ruler? It is Jesus, of course. The gospel must be centrally about Jesus, because Paul speaks of Jesus five times in the first eight verses. Elsewhere (2Thess.1:8), he calls the gospel “the gospel of (concerning) our Lord Jesus.”

Specifically, the gospel declares that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus refers to Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish carpenter who was born around 4 BC and was crucified by Roman rulers in 33 AD. Paul calls Him “Jesus Christ” (1:1), “Christ” (1:2), “our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3), “Christ Jesus” (1:4), and “Christ” (1:7). “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name, and more that “H” is His middle initial. “Christ” is His title – the Messiah predicted by the Old Testament prophets, the rightful Ruler of the whole world. That’s why Paul also calls Jesus “Lord.” Because the gospel declares that Jesus is the Christ and the Lord (not Caesar or any human ruler), it was (and is) an extremely counter-cultural message!

The gospel declares not that Jesus was the Christ, but that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus didn’t just die; He also rose from the dead and is forever alive. That’s why these verses speak of Jesus as a living Ruler who is personally accessible even though He had been crucified over 35 years earlier. Paul is an apostle (ambassador) of the living Jesus, and Epaphras is a servant of the living Christ. The gospel is not simply a historical record that preserves the memory of Jesus, but is an invitation to meet Him and serve Him.

The gospel offers the grace of God

What was the greater salvation that Jesus brought? Paul tells us by using another synonym for the gospel in 1:6 – “the grace of God in truth,” or “the truth about God’s grace.” “Grace” (charis) means “free and undeserved gift” (the root of our word “charity”). Elsewhere (Acts 20:24), Paul calls the gospel “the gospel of (concerning) God’s grace.”

Paul says in Col.1,2 that Jesus’ death on the cross made it possible for God to offer His grace to people like us who deserve His judgment. We’ll study how Jesus’ death accomplished this in coming weeks. But this passage identifies several aspects of this grace that God offers you through Jesus:

God’s grace offers you true peace (1:2b). Paul begins almost all of his letters with this salutation, and always in this order. This is because receiving God’s grace leads to peace – peace with God (Rom.5:1 – because it delivers you from His judgment and makes Him your loving Father), and peace within yourself (Phil.4:6,7 – because God’s fatherly care can now guard your heart and mind from anxiety).

God’s grace offers you hope (1:4,5). No longer do you have to fear the future and/or your death. The moment you put your faith in Jesus (1:4), God guarantees that you will spend eternity with Him. That’s why Paul says this hope (confident expectation) is “laid up for you in heaven.” Paul is simply restating what Jesus said in Jn.3:16 (quote).

God’s grace offers you the ability to love others for two reasons.

First, because the certainty of going to heaven provides you with a basis for spending this life giving to people instead of taking from them or protecting yourself from them (1:4,5; SCHLITZ JINGLE vs. “You’re going to live forever, so give all the love you can”).

Second, because God’s Spirit indwells you the moment you put your faith in Jesus (1:8). He enables you to experience Jesus’ love (Rom.15:13), and provides motivation and power to give His love to others (Phil.2:13).

We’re going to learn much more about the gospel of God’s grace in Colossians. But if these were its only provisions, this is an amazing offer! Who in this room does not want peace, hope, and the ability to really love others? You don’t have to wait until some distant time in the future to receive this gift; you can receive it today. You don’t have to clean yourself up first; you can receive this gift just the way as you are. The living Jesus is offering you God’s grace, and the only condition is that you entrust yourself to Him as your Savior and Lord (1:4; EXPLAIN).

The gospel spreads through people who have been changed by it

The final thing this passage tells about the gospel is that it spreads through people who have been changed by it (read 1:7). I know people who have learned about the gospel by reading the Bible alone. I know people who learned about the gospel from history professors who didn’t believe it. But this is the main way the gospel spreads.

The Colossians learned about the gospel through Epaphras, who had been changed by it. We don’t know how Epaphras learned about the gospel. Maybe he left small-town Colossae for the “big city” (Ephesus) to fulfill his dreams, but got bitterly disappointed. Then he probably met some Christians who had real peace and hope and love—and they explained the gospel to him. Maybe they also asked him to come hear Paul (who had been changed by the gospel) teach on it. However he heard the gospel, when he put his faith in Jesus, he too began to experience this same peace and hope and love. No wonder he came back to Colossae and shared the gospel with his friends and family. And when they heard the gospel and saw how it had changed him, some of them decided: “I want what Epaphras has!” And then they experienced the same peace, hope, and love, and then they started telling people they knew, and so on. That’s the main way the gospel spread all over the Roman Empire during the first century.

And this is the main way the gospel is still spreading today. How many of you received Christ because you heard the gospel from people who had been changed by it? I know I did. Two of my fellow drug-using friends met Jesus and experienced His transforming grace. They were knowledgeable in the Bible; they didn’t know sophisticated arguments for Christianity. They just told me that Jesus was real and that He had changed their lives – and they urged me to ask Him into my heart so I could experience the same change. I argued with them and mocked them, but when I hit a wall, what they said came forcefully to my mind. I thought, “I know there has been a change in them, and I want that change. If they say it comes from receiving Jesus, I’m going to find out if it’s true.” So I just called out silently and said, “Jesus, I want you to come into my life and show me that you are real. If you will do this, I will follow you.”

Have you met Jesus and been changed by His grace? Then you are fully qualified to spread this gospel to others! You don’t have to have lots of biblical knowledge. You don’t have to be free from all your sins and problems. You don’t have to be able to answer every question or objection. Your most powerful asset is your own story, and you are the world’s leading expert of your own story! So don’t worry about what you don’t know; share what you do know. Share how Jesus has changed your life whenever you get the opportunity. Just put it out there like my friends did, and invite them to find out for themselves. Why not also invite them to come here with you to hear about the gospel as we study Colossians?

NEXT WEEK: More on how the gospel transforms our lives

An announcement from a provincial assembly of Asia Minor: “Whereas the Providence... has brought our life to the peak of perfection in giving to us Augustus Caesar, whom it (Providence) filled with virtue for the welfare of mankind, and who, being sent to us and to our descendants as a savior, has put an end to war and has set all things in order; . . . ; and whereas... the birthday of the god (viz., Caesar Augustus) has been for the whole world the beginning of the gospel (euanggelion) concerning him,... therefore, let all reckon a new era beginning from the date of his birth.” (cited in http://www.deuceofclubs.com/books/228gospel_fictions.htm.)

Epictetus (55-135 AD) wrote: "While the emperor may give peace from war on land and sea, he is unable to give peace from passion, grief, and envy. He cannot give peace of heart, for which man yearns more than even for outward peace." (Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, p.112)

Paul also calls the gospel “the gospel of God’s Son” (Rom.1:9) and “the gospel of Christ” (Rom.15:19; 1Cor.9:12; 2 Cor.2:12; 9:13; 10:14; Gal.1:7; 1Thess.3:2).