Late one night, a man had gone to a party and had too much to drink. He decided to walk home. He took a shortcut through a dark cemetery and in the darkness, stumbled into an open grave. He tried to climb out but the walls were too slippery. He kept falling back into the grave. Finally, in exhaustion, he settled in a corner to wait for morning. A few minutes later, another man in the same condition, also cutting through the cemetery, fell into the same open grave. He tried desperately to claw his way out. As he was about to give up, he heard a voice from inside the grave: "Give up. You’ll never get out of here." But he did! All he needed was the right motivation.
When Hudson Taylor was director of the China Inland Mission, he often interviewed candidates for the mission field. On one occasion, he met with a group of applicants to discover their motivation for service. "And why do you wish to go as a foreign missionary?" he asked one. "I want to go because Christ has commanded us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." Another said, "I want to go because millions are perishing without Christ." Others gave similar answers. Then Hudson Taylor said, "All of these reasons, however good, will fail you in times of testings, trials, tribulations, and threat of possible death. There is but one motive that will sustain you always – the love of God compels me.”
Taylor knew these missionary candidates had reasons to go, but wrong motives. Difference between a reason and a motive. Reasons change, motives remain. Reasons can be manipulated, motives are pure. Reasons stand as long as they can be justified, motives hold us until we’re done.
An elderly couple was celebrating 70 years together. The wife asked her husband why he called her Sugar Pie and Honey and Baby Cakes but never used her real name any more. The man said. “I forgot your name about twelve years ago and I’ve been afraid to ask.”
The reason people marry will change in time. Her looks, his hair, their weight. When external things become the more important aspect of a relationship, the less chance that relationship has to succeed. There’s nothing wrong with what attracts us to each other. But most of that will diminish in time. What creates the power to sustain a relationship? Love. Because I love you, the changes in our life don’t affect me. Relationships are to be built on the foundation of love.
That’s why God established Christianity as a relationship and not a religion. In a religion people try to gain access, win favor, make their God accept them by following some set of obligations to manipulate Him toward them. Christianity is God reaching out to us, to draw us into the relationship with Him. He’s done the work. He’s paid the price. He’s obligated Himself to what it takes to preserve the relationship. He loved us first. Reasons fail us but love never does.
1Cor 13:1-8 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
Typical response: I will be patient with you as long as you are patient with me. I will be kind to you as long as you are kind to me. I will not act inappropriately as long as you do not act inappropriately with me.
That’s conditional love. It’s love based on the behavior of the other person. I’ll treat you well if you treat me well. That’s how you train a dog. No, love requires no response. It’s what flows out of my life to you without conditions or requirements.
I will remain consistent as long as my reason for consistency remains important to me. But I will be faithful to the end if driven by love.
That’s why: Pro 16:2 All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the LORD weighs the motives. God measures us by motives not actions.
Until loving God is our highest motivation for living the Christian life, we will always come up short. We will always see ourselves as failures before God. We will always be disappointed in our behavior and ashamed of our life before God. We will neglect the things important for a successful Christian life and that neglect will overshadow whatever progress we’ve made. But that is so unnecessary, because when we understand that love covers the multitude of our sins will we find ultimate fulfillment resting in the Father’s hands and obeying Him.
So, with that back in mind:
Col 1:1-2 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
Col 1:3-8 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel 6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth;
Grace is a hallmark of Paul’s teaching. Understanding Grace is vital to understanding the Gospel message – God doing for us what it is impossible to do for ourselves.
We are saved by grace through faith. My effort is in receiving not producing. As in feeding myself. It is my job to take in my food each day. I don’t make what I eat nourish me. That’s what the food does. It’s my responsibility to receive the work of God and allow it to do it’s work in my life.
7 just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, 8 and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.
Paul is saying, “This is what I know about you. And this is what I know about the word of God. Love and the Word – a great combination. Let’s start there and build.”
Paul knows he doesn’t have to produce the godly life within the Colossians. That’s God’s job. All he has to do is remind them what God has provided and appeal to them, on that basis, to let what God intends happen in them.
It is much easier to steer a car once it’s rolling than to try and get it rolling in order to turn it. The Colossians were already in love with the Lord and motivated to obey His word. They were already rolling.
Paul then can go on to explain the resources God will provide. He shows them what God has made available for them and trusts they will draw from them.
Col 1:9-10 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
The reason we go to school is to get filled with knowledge. I didn’t do as well in subjects at school that I didn’t care about. In my major and minor subjects, I did pretty well but not so much in the other stuff. Why? I wasn’t interested. I saw little to no value in them. I wasn’t hungry for what they offered. But in the subjects I did hunger for, I did great.
Paul knew, because of their love for God, they would be hungry for the things of God. He is catching them on the upswing of their excitement. So, he prays for God’s infilling, making them aware of what has provided for them to live successful Christian lives. And more importantly. They will experience reaching their goal.
10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.
Remember, pleasing God is the ultimate goal. The righteous ones will live by faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. But that pleasing is not left to only some isolated compartment in their lives reserved for Spiritual thoughts and actions. But in all respects. God expects total surrender, not partial obedience. It requires full participation of the heart, mind, body and will.
Benefits they will discover include: bearing fruit, expanding our knowledge, being strengthened so we may be steadfast and patient, the ability to stay the course. All of which develops a thankful heart toward God, who did the work to qualify and certify us as His Children which establishes who we are and what are the benefits He provides.
What does He fills us with? That that we cannot produce on our own. Grace.
Light – key word to Paul’s mission: Acts 26:18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.'
Paul could say of them, as he did to the Ephesians: Eph 5:8-10 for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
Paul consistently makes contrasts: light/dark, dead/alive, new/old, flesh/spirit, lost/saved. It helps people know on which side of the equation they live.
So, the ultimate question: having crossed from death into life, out of darkness into light, having love motivating their obedience, how does someone walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him? By drawing out of the bucket. Living from what He provides. The knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
Filling isn’t what we put into the bucket, but what God places into the bucket. Our job isn’t to fill but be filled.
Eph 5:18 Be filled with the Spirit, is actually be being continually filled with the Spirit.
How? By not interfering with the process of our filling. Which carries the image of us controlling the spicket. Keeping the valve open to receive God’s filling which will provide us with spiritual wisdom and understanding. This isn’t a one-time experience but a constant practice.
That will become the challenge to the Colossians. Letting their possession of the relationship be the practice of their life. Not just carrying around some collection of beliefs, but living those beliefs to please God. Paul saw the danger of them getting comfortable with what they know and settling for just enough to get by. Paul must help them understand that the things they know must override their desire to accept less than God’s best. So He reminds them:
13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Paul’s constant reminder: You are no longer who you were. This is who you are.
Miracle on Ice – movie based on the hockey game between Russia and the USA in the 1980 Olympics. The coach, Herb Brooks, would ask the boys who they played for. They’d answer their college team. Only after they realized they no longer played for that team but now played for the US, did they lose that old identity and become who they now were. The Coach had to take away that old identity for them to function as a new team. That’s who you were. This is who you are.
Don’t ever forget what God has done. He loved you enough to make you a new creation. Because the Colossians understood that, Paul’s job became much easier. Why? They had the right motivation to obey.
At a circus once, the clowns were particularly good and the last one of them was a little fellow wearing a broad and wildly decorated hat. In a dramatic bow to a woman in the front row, his hat went sailing across the ring and right under an elephant who quickly sat on it. The clown waved his arms to get the elephant to move, but he sat still. He shouted and pulled on the elephant’s ears but he didn’t budge. The clown went behind the elephant and kicked with all his strength, and hopped away as though he had broken his foot. Frantic with anger, the little clown turned back to the elephant and tried to lift him off the hat. Defeated and in complete despair, the clown sat down and started to eat peanuts. The elephant got up and ambled over, begging for a peanut.
Nobody can be forced to live a successful Christian life. No church can be made to become a spiritually vibrant fellowship. No Christian can be tricked into surrendering unwillingly to God. But with the right motivation, they will.
- The greatest way to rebuild or strengthen a relationship is to return to what established it in the first place.
- God knows that unless we understand how much He loves us and how important it is for us to love Him, we will live an inferior Christian life.
- We will remain consistent in our Christian lives as long as our reason for being consistent remains important to us. But we will be faithful to the end if driven by love.
- Everything we need to be able to live a successful Christian life is being constantly provided.
- Our job is to not interfere with the process of God’s filling, but to draw out that which He provides.