Saturday, July 15, 2017

Qualified - Greater power in the Spirit and prayer

I will be preaching from Colossians 1:9-14. This is still being edited. I've already gone through 3 revisions as the Holy Spirit impresses me with different (all good) applications. Here is the latest of those revisions. Please forgive any current editorial errors, as those will be fixed by Sunday. I may or may not revise those on this page.

Sermon: Greater power in the Spirit and prayer
Scripture: II Chronicles 20:5-19, Colossians 1:9-14
CTW: Colossians 1:18-20
Title: “Qualified” 
Preaching: Jeff Sandberg

DEFINITION: vs. 15-pre-eminent from the 1828 Webster's: 1. Superior in excellence; distinguished for something commendable or honorable. In goodness and in power preeminent.

  • v. 9. Because of this… [referring to vs. 3-8, their faith in Jesus Christ through the preaching of Epaphras whom Paul later confirms]
    • we prayed for you from the day we heard about it [your faith]
      • asking
        • that you may be filled with
          • the knowledge of 
            • his will 
              • in all 
                • wisdom 
                • and spiritual insight
        • so that
          • you may live in a manner worth of the Lord, 
          • to please him in all respects
            • bearing fruit in every good deed
            • and increasing in the knowledge of God
            • enabled with all power
              • according to his glorious might
                • for all steadfastness 
                • and patience
                  • with joy
                • giving thanks to the Father,
                  • who has qualified you for a share of the inheritance of the saints in light
                  • who has rescued us from the domain of darkness and
                  • transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves
                  • in whom we have redemption, 
                    • the forgiveness of sins

In the fuller context, this letter is written to a fairly young church (no more than 12 years old) that has been recently infiltrated with false teaching. I hesitate to offer adjectives such as dangerous or destructive, as if there were any other kind of false teaching. “Oh, the false teaching they’ve taken to has really built up the church! or “Of, I know it’s heresy, but did you see how many people are showing up?!” or “But, Paul, we have given more to the poor than ever before!” I think you understand what I’m saying. Paul has written this letter as a confirmation of the gospel presented to them through Epaphras. This group of people, now a church, have heard the gospel and believed through one of their own, Epaphras, who “happened” to hear Paul preach and was saved. He takes the message of Paul’s gospel back to his city, people are converted, and they start a church. Paul goes to great pains to be as clear as possible in order to combat this false teaching, dangerous or otherwise. And, what does Paul begin with? The sufficiency of Christ as presented through the preaching of the word by Epaphras. This particular section outlines Paul and Timothy’s (and others, I’m sure) prayers for them as a young church swayed by a false gospel. Paul uses particular phrases which are to be used to battle false teachers. I would argue that we, as a church, SEPC, should stand in unity (to use a favorite word of some) especially against false teachers in our own valley - and there are; I have sat under such dangerous teaching - teachings that advocate new understandings, new revelations, new interpretations that mean differently than what was originally intended. Getting back to the text, one such phrase, “fully pleasing to him” in verse 10, suggests they have everything they need to please him. They are qualified to do so. Paul makes this clearer in 23, when he pronounces reconciliation to them if they do not shift “from the hope of the gospel, which you heard.” And again, in verses 25 and 26, when he states unambiguously that he “became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me [Paul] for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.” In our post-Christian, post-modern culture where absolute, definitive truth is abandoned, we are told the search is equal to or (more so lately) more important and enjoyable than the find. Confronting the same kinds of false teaching we hear in today’s church, Paul makes a final, audacious statement that he and Timothy “present everyone mature in Christ.” Why is this important? Let’s take, for example, the many and sundry so-called preachers who claim to have a word from the Lord. May I ask, who is now the authority in those cases? Do not be swayed, brothers and sisters; they are stepping into the place of the Apostles themselves when making a statement like that. Acts 2 tells us what the early church did - “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship.” In other words, they heard the word preached and they did so in the company of other believers. Paul and Peter both make it clear that there is a final authority - the written word of Christ, and we are to hold to it. As a side note to this, turn in your Bibles to 2 Peter 1:16-21. Peter is giving a defense of their witness to Christ’s transfiguration, which was seen by, at least, some to be of mythology. In fact, it’s a large enough issue that Peter mentions it. He responds to the accusation that he and the others with him “did not follow cleverly devised myths” but “were eye witnesses of His majesty.” That, right there, should be enough. If Peter was a witness in a court of law giving testimony to this, the testimony combined with James and John’s corroboration should have been enough. However, Peter goes on to say that, while experience is great at discrediting false accusations, “we have something more sure, the prophetic word.” Now, I know what you might be thinking - but my Bible says “a more sure word of prophecy,” or "And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed,” or "We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable.”  People will hang onto the word prophecy or prophetic as if it was referring to the spiritual gift of prophecy, or so as it is commonly understood today, forgetting the words confirmed or reliable following it. If you read just a verse later, Peter makes clear he is referring to the Scriptures, and even lumps Paul’s writings (and likely his own, as well) into the mix in Chapter 3. Starting in chapter 2, verse 20, "knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21For no prophecy (of Scripture) was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Do you see what he is saying? The written word is more sure than our experience! Do you catch the implications of such phraseology? Peter heard God, Yahweh, speak audibly. He saw Christ transfigured. Are you kidding me? And he has the audacity to claim the written Word is more sure than his experience? He is not discrediting his experience, don’t misunderstand me. Remember what the Scriptures say about Peter in that circumstance? He was uttering nonsense, he was so overcome with awe, being almost completely dumbfounded. He remembers that. So, how else can we understand phrases like “hold fast the confession of our faith” if we’re constantly getting “new words” and “new understandings” that cause the believer in Christ to shift, as Paul is warning us about? Again, a side note… what is more dangerous, if I can use the word? Is it more dangerous to be way off or almost right? Don’t we get off because almost right is closer to the truth, so it seems, than the glaringly-obvious heresy? To quote the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, "Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” So, with all that said as a sort of primer, what does this have to do with the prayer? You see it in Paul’s words. Let’s take them a phrase at a time.
“We also…” - the believer’s response to the hearing of the faith of others is to pray continually for them. This prayer is specifically directed at new believers. Though believers of all stripes would benefit from this prayer, this prayer is most helpful to those who are newest to the faith, since those who have been in the faith should already be growing in the faith.
  • Take health and fitness, for example. You all know the person who is very good at doling out advice, though you can clearly see that the individual soliciting said advice is in no place to be giving it. It’s one thing to hear it from someone who is unable to carry it out due to circumstances beyond his/her ability. It’s another to hear, “Well, ya know what you should’ve done?”
“Since we heard of it…” declares the urgency of the business at hand. It wasn’t “a few days later,” or “after the party died down,” or “when I felt like it.” It was “from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you.
  • I mean, if we applied our common response to prayer to health, fitness, or, to be more extreme, life or death situations, we’d all be dead. Take this, for example. “And so, from the day my child was born, I have not ceased to provide it nourishment and rest.” What if the story were more like this. “And so, from the day my child was born, I occasionally provided nourishment and rest.” That’s a recipe for disaster. Or, “And, so from the day you signed up for the gym membership at my gym, I ignored you completely and did not make you feel welcome, or provide you with the love and support you needed to carry out your fitness goals.
  • If we love our own bodies this much, should we not much more care for the souls of ourselves AND others?
  • Example of CrossFit Church.
    • CrossFit has exploded in popularity over the last 10 years, especially since it’s quiet start in Southern California in 2001. Yes, 2001. There is a reason the movement is so powerful.

Let’s begin with what he asks. First, he asks that they be filled with the knowledge of his will. His conclusion is that the result of knowing God’s will is that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will please God in our walk with him, bear fruit, know God better, and be strengthened for coming persecution, whether it be backlash from attacking false teaching or just being a Christian in a post-Christian society. Is this will of God’s some personal will for each individual person? Is this along the lines of “God has a wonderful plan for your life?” No. Here he is writing to one church with the intent to circulate this letter through other churches. Paul says that we will know about His will if we know about Him. That leaves only two places; nature and divine revelation. Paul is speaking here of divine revelation. Some of you may ask; what about those things which are personal? Paul does not address that. The reason he writes this letter is to address false teaching, to help the Colossian church to address the false teaching, and to stand firm when being persecuted for addressing said false teaching. This books is basically about suffering for Christ’s sake.

Let’s take a step back for a moment. So, if we’re talking about divine revelation, than the Bible must tell us what God’s will is and how to pray for it. And, if you said that, my response would be, ‘Precisely’. The problem comes when we read the Bible with the intent to find out what it means to me. You may say, ‘but wait a minute! There are times when I read a passage one day and it seems to imply one thing, and the next day it seems to mean something different.” Now, track with me for a moment - there is a difference between the Holy Spirit illuminating the Scriptures in such a way that we know how a certain passage applies to our life, and twisting the Scriptures to mean something it doesn’t in order to get something we want through sinful desire. The passage will always only have one major point to it; that much is true. However, the Spirit of Christ works in such a way that we can apply it myriads of ways. I must confess - I cannot remember the details of this story perfectly. I tried to find out which point of view Dr. Sprould writes from. However, the main conflict of the story is accurate. R.C. Sproul used to tell a story of being in seminary and his professor telling him to go home, read a text of Scripture and come up with 50 ways it can be applied to our lives. Again, I remind you, either RC is the recipient or the contributor of this assignment. So, the students in the class come return the next day and are asked once again to find 50 more applications. This happens for a total of 3 days, to the dismay of the students present. While I cannot remember the punchline, one thought, in particular, occur to me - how much must those students have meditated and begged God (I bet some rather vainly) to help them in their time of need to figure out that many application points? We are told that searching the scriptures is like digging for hidden treasure. Remember the movie, Holes? It’s hard work to dig. We want the soil to be soft, but is often hard. My hands blister easy. It’s no fun…in the moment. 

So, let’s dig a little. A simple word search for “will” and a close look at each in their appropriate context will tell us whether or not something is God’s will for us. So, here we go!

  • 1 Timothy 2:3-43 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
  • 1 These. 5:12-18 (and, I would argue, further through this passage). 12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.  14And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weakbe patient with them all15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone16 Rejoice always17 pray without ceasing18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
  • 1 These. 4:3. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: [AND THEN HE PERSONALLY, PRACTICALLY APPLIES IT] that you abstain from sexual immorality4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.
    • So, it’s not happiness. It’s not about pleasure. It’s about our sanctification, or our growing in holiness towards the Lord.
  • Let’s take a look at one that can easily be seen one way without an immediate context. 1 Peter 2:15. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.
    • This is the kind of stuff that gets Christians into big trouble. Have you been told to “live the Gospel”? What does that even mean? The gospel degenerates into life enhancement. As long as you look at people with a veneer of peace and hope (how can that be discerned?), people will just jump at the chance to ask about the hope that lies within you. The gospel is the good new that Jesus came to earth "to save a wretch like me.” He died according to the scriptures, was buried, and was raised according to the Scriptures. We are law breakers in the hands of a angry God - angry at sin AND sinners - but had such love and compassion that he sent his son to be punished for us in order to pay the penalty our sins deserve. If we repent of our sins and put our complete faith in Christ, we will be saved! Our death sentence will be commuted. We will have a place in heave with Jesus! Temporally speaking, the Holy Spirit will give us a new heart with new desires. The walk AND the talk must go hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other. One of Paul Pankey’s favorite pericopes is James 1:22, "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
    • Now, let’s move on to this oft-twisted passage. 1 Peter 2:13-25. 13 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
      • In short, we are to cooperate with our given governments, honor everyone, love the brotherhood (the church), fear God, honor those who run the government, be subject to our bosses (and not only to the good but also to the unjust), suffer and endure, and do this because Christ has offered us an example that we should walk in it, by exemplifying in our life Christ’s suffering on our behalf. And then, compares us to dumb sheep. Frankly, worse things could be said.
  • Next, 1 Timothy 2:1-7. 1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.
    • Again, we are to pray for kings and all those in authority. Why? Because it pleases God, who wants all people (better translated people groups) to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. And, this was the reason by Paul was appointed a herald (kind of like a trumpet fanfare - those aren’t quiet, by the way) and an apostle.
  • Lastly, Hebrews 10, focusing in on vs. 36. The first 18 verses summarize the use of the law and Christian freedom of exercising the law freely without being under compulsion by a king or emperor. The writer to the Hebrews says that the law does not take away sins, only, echoing the intent of Paul in Romans 7:25, “where there is forgiveness of these [sins], there is no longer any offering for sin.” Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, our Lord!”
    • Though we have assurance of our faith, God’s will is to be exercised to the end of life (vs. 19-31). Verses. 32-39 reminds us:
      • 32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, "Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him." 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
        • Again, this is clearly repeated to the Colossians in vs. 11 as he prays for the Colossians - and by extension, US - to “be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience … with joy. The apostles “counted it joy” to be able to suffer for Jesus.
  • While I pray that you are able to discern personal direction for your life, whether it be vocation, who to marry, what college to go to, and the like, I pray with equal and even more fervency that you understand God’s will for your place in the church, that we, like Paul, be a herald of the Gospel, that, despite persecution, people would hear of the Love of God and the Forgiveness of Sins in Christ, and be turned from God’s anger and be drawn toward God’s Love and Joy through the Holy Spirit. As our musicians come up to prepare for the last song, I would like to share, in closing, a 90-second video from my friends at “When We Understand the Text.”

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