Sermon Notes: Surveying the Text: Lamentations
Colossae was a bit more than 100 miles from Ephesus, and the two letters to the respective churches were written about the same time—which would be approximately 60 or 61 A.D. The apostle Paul had heard a number of good things about the church there, but there was also a troubling problem with some false teaching that was circulating among them. Paul addresses that problem with a positive statement of the gospel, but from that positive statement we can gather some information about the heresy he was countering.
“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col. 3:15–17).
Summary of the Text
Paul urges them to allow the peace of God to rule in their hearts. They are to do this with gratitude. The word of Christ is to dwell in them richly, in all wisdom, and this would be manifested in the result, which would be psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all of them sung with grace. And do everything, he says, in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to the Father in the name of Jesus. As we shall see, the theme of this letter is the absolute supremacy of Jesus Christ over all things. And because of a true spiritual awareness of this, music from the heart is therefore essential.
The Colossian Heresy
What problem was Paul countering? There appear to have been three general aspects to it. First, it granted a lot of importance to various spiritual powers, angels and whatnot. Second, a strong emphasis was placed on outward religiosity—new moons, feasts, fasts, and so on. And then third, these false teachers claimed to have the magic decoder ring. They were possessors of an esoteric “knowledge.” All this indicates that it was some form of early Gnosticism.
Paul counters their empty philosophy with three profound answers. To the first, he answers Christ. To the second, he answers Christ. To the third, he answers Christ.
The Cosmic Christ
Confronted with a teaching that postulates a spiritual world crawling with various celestial dignitaries, Paul responses with the magnificent “Christ hymn” (Col. 1:15-20). Christ is the Creator of all things, and has dominion over everything, including thrones,
dominions, rulers or authorities. The second claim is also answered by Christ. When empty deceptions and philosophies are erected, Paul answers with Christ, in whom all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form (Col. 2:9). In the crucifixion of Christ, we see the circumcision of the world (Col. 2:11), and in that circumcision God has forever and finally removed the foreskin of vain religious observance. This is what true regeneration entails. And to the esoteric claims of “knowledge” (gnosis), Paul answers with the real thing, knowledge of Christ. Paul answers them with a battery of words like knowledge (gnosis and epignosis), wisdom (sophia), understanding (synesis) and mystery (mysterion), and all of it centered in Christ the absolute.
Christ is the very image of God. He is the agent of all God’s creative activity in the world. And He is the head of the church, the fullness of God Himself.
The Mathematics of Death
So what happens when death dies? It is like canceling something out in mathematics. Death is a negative, and when it has a negative value placed on it, the end result is positive. The death of death is life everlasting.
The Christian life is therefore not rule-keeping. These are of no value, Paul says, in dealing with the flesh (Col. 2:20-23). Rules—do this, don’t do the other, here eat this, make sure you never eat that, stay off the grass—are worthless in creating an ethical human being. Rules are just a bit and bridle for a stubborn mule, when God intends to transform the one who believes into a winged horse.
Your liberty from the old ways is found in one thing only, which is the fact that you have died. If you have died, then your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). If that is the case, then you have a foundation from which to put to death your earthly members. From the basic death that all believers have, you may apply more death to particular besetting sins.
Dead Men Singing
And so we come back to our text. We do not sing because we have formulated a new rule —thou shalt sing. Our life in Christ, hidden with God in the heavenly places, is not some sort of new super-law. It is not as though Moses had the law carved in earthly granite, but the new super-law is carved in celestial adamant, but still somehow outside us. We sing because Christ is Lord. We sing because of the absolute supremacy of Christ over everything. In Romans, when Paul finishes a particularly tough bit of theology (Rom. 11:32), his natural reaction is to burst into song (Rom. 11: 33-36). We should be the same way.
We are not Gnostics, but we do worship a cosmic Christ. We are not Gnostics, and so while we use earthly and material forms in our worship, we do not rely on them from the outside in. The Lord taught us that if you wash the inside of the cup, that takes care of the outside. But if you just tend the outside, then there are all sorts of ways to keep the cleansing power away from the inside. We are not Gnostics, but we do know. We know God through Christ.
And so it is that we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs as a matter if simple spiritual overflow. Music is a divinely-designed release valve, uniquely installed to keep us all from exploding with joy. If that is not how you are experiencing it, then revisit the central message of Colossians. In Ephesians, the music is the result of the filling by the Spirit. Here is the result of the word of Christ dwelling in us richly. Put it all together. Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion. And everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.
The occasion of this letter was tied in with the activity of Epaphroditus—whose name incidentally means “dedicated to Aphrodite.” He had brought news to Paul in prison about the church at Philippi, and he had delivered their gift to Paul (2:30; 4:18). Once he got to Paul he nearly died of a severe illness, but was now recovered and ready to return to Philippi (2:26-27).
“If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:1–5).
Summary of the Text
All Scripture reveals God to us, but this particular letter reveals a lot of Paul to us. This is a very personal letter, and a great deal of what makes Paul tick comes through to us in it. The two great themes in it are preparation for suffering, and avoidance of strife within the body. In both cases, the way to prepare is through cultivation of the mind of Christ, that which is found in our text. The mind of Christ is what enabled Him to take the form of a servant and to become obedient to the point of death. And the mind of Christ is that which enables us to defer to our brothers and sisters in the body, even when things are tense and awkward, angular and difficult. I mean, you know that look that Syntyche can get . . . she’s a handful. Or maybe it was Euodia. We don’t know (Phil. 4:2).
Background on Philippi
The city itself was founded by Caesar Augustus in Macedonia as a place to settle some of his veterans. Their loyalty to their emperor, their “lord and savior” was, not surprisingly, intense. The emperor cult was strong here in this city, and this brought them necessarily into conflict with the Christians, who confessed a greater Lord and Savior (Phil. 3:20). Try to imagine yourself at a pagan VFW meeting, saying the Apostles Creed instead of the Pledge.
The Philippian church was founded by Paul in the neighborhood of 48-49 A.D. This letter was written just over a decade later, somewhere around 62 A.D. The story of the church’s founding is recorded in the latter part of Acts 16. There we read about the conversion of Lydia and her household, the Philippian jailor and his household, and possibly the conversion of the girl who told fortunes by the power of the python (Acts 16:16).
The Right Kind of Like-mindedness
This letter from Paul is not about like-mindedness considered as an abstraction. It is not as though “agreement” is a good thing in itself. But we tend to lurch in the opposite direction, and think that “disagreement” is a good thing in itself. But what is good, the only thing that is good, is having the mind of Christ. If we have the mind of Christ, it is good to pursue like-mindedness with anyone who shares that mind of Christ. If someone else does not have the mind of Christ, then our goal should be to sharpen the disagreement.
Think about a board or a steering committee. Some people want to stack the board with people who all nod at the right times, usually in response to the prodding of a strong leader. What they get is not like-mindedness, but rather a pack of yes men. But others simply react in the opposite direction, with just as little reflection and thought. And they get disagreements just for the sake of disagreements. Agreement or disagreement by themselves are meaningless. What counts is the principle of agreement or disagreement.
When you take certain passages from this book, and line them up side by side, you can only come to two possible conclusions—either that Paul was a hypocrite, or that love and tender mercies are not the vats filled with sentimental goo. Take these for examples:
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3). “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision” (Phil. 3:2).
For another example, compare the highs and lows here:
“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:8–9).
The Kingdom Does Not Run On Air
The apostle had entered into a partnership with the Philippians, a partnership or fellowship that revolved around financial support.
“Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only” (Phil. 4:14–15).
The apostle did not believe in doing “all the Jesus stuff” on the one hand, and then later, in a completely different category, dealing with the mundane, board of trustee stuff. No, it was all a matter of fellowship, koinonia. Understood the right way, all of our lives together are a matter of fellowship. It is not an accident that after the offering is presented to God, our money, our checks, our donations, will be resting on the same table as the wine and bread. We partake together in all these ways.
If we believe in all of Christ for all of life, and we do, this extends to our bank accounts, and our participation in the ministry that our money makes possible elsewhere. Christ is present in all of it.