Paul, part 3: In Christ
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Moira: We’re going to pray for Paul now as he comes to speak to us. Father, we do thank you for Paul. We thank for all the thoughts and the work he’s put in to what he’s going to say today. We thank you that we know that your Holy Spirit has already worked in him as he prepared his sermon. We just pray that you will open our hearts now to receive what you want us to from you. Bless Paul in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Paul W: As I said earlier, we’re going through a series on Paul. Not me, and not Paul Horton. The New Testament Paul. We’ll be reading through Colossians chapter 2 verses 1 to 15. I’m reading from the NIV. Colossians 2.
I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have no met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches and complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
For in Christ, all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Now, many of you will know that I am not a massive football plan, but as I was planning this message it became clear to me, and perhaps not for the first time, that we live near the two greatest footballing cities in the world. Chester and Northwich – no.
Although I don’t really have a local team to support, because I get in trouble with the Everton fans if I decide to side myself with Liverpool, and I’d never heard the end of it from my friends if I became a City or a ManU fan. That said, I must admit that I did apply for a job at Manchester City, before I applied here, as a kind of house parent kind of a job. The salary was very nice, but in the end I decided that I should settle for a job with a better work life balance and came to Frodsham instead. All this made me wonder, why is Manchester United united? United against who, or for what?
My cursory research told me that Man City is the oldest of the two, and that United became united after Newton Heath, Lancs and Yorks Railway Football Club, was bought out of going into liquidation by four local businessmen. Aside from the fact that they didn’t like the names Manchester Central or Manchester Celtic, I can find no real reason why it became Manchester United. I still don’t know why Manchester United was Manchester United, and what it was for and against. If you ask a football fan who they follow, they might say, “I’m a season ticket holder of Everton.” Or, “I support Gillingham” – fair weather.
It’s a similar sort of thing here, albeit much more important. When Paul writes in the New Testament about being in Christ, it is much more than merely being a supporter or being a season ticket holder. Being in Christ is a state of being. According to biblegateway.com there are 93 occurrences of the phrase, “In Christ,” in the New Testament. They are mostly written by Paul, and so it stands to reason that “In Christ” is quite an important piece of his message. When he writes to the various faithful communities from his prison, where he writes to the Colossians.
As we explored last week, Paul’s experience of Jesus on the road to Damascus was literally a turning point in his life. Instead of killing the Jesus as Messiah followers, he now joined them and had spent many years, before his mission, trying to figure out in his head what this actually meant for himself, for the Jewish people who thought that they had the monopoly on the one God, and also now for those beyond – the gentiles.
As Paul writes, this notion of being in Christ was one of the main tenets of his teaching, but what did it mean? What was Paul trying to do as he wrote to those in Colossae? Once Paul was studying the importance of how the Jewish God was zealously for His own people, and now his preaching took a different turn to talk about Jesus being the centre of all things, and that if anyone was in Christ, they were a new creation. Paul is writing as he continues to discover new and exciting things about the same God that he always knew, but with the added bonus of being in Christ.
He was now sharing that Jesus is Lord, and that everyone can choose to be in Christ. I’ve chosen Colossians 2 today, because following from last weeks message in Colossians 1, it only seems natural to pick up on examples of one of the many places that Paul was in touch with to encourage followers of Jesus, to ensure that their faith was rooted, and that their teaching was correcting, and that the lives they lived shared the love of Christ that they had received. It seems that a part of Paul’s writing at the church of Colossae and Laodicea here is to remind them that being in Christ is enough. That’s why he writes about the supremacy of Christ.
The creator God, the one God they served had sovereign power. Although we can only guess at what the heresies being banded around were, it seems likely that there were two sets of teaching being subsumed into the churches, as well as mainstream, what was early Christian teaching. Those two heresies were that of gnostic teaching and the continuation of various Jewish teachings, such as circumcision. Gnosticism, I think, taught a distortion of who Christ actually was, suggesting that he was a lesser deity than Father God, and that all created stuff or matter was on a lower plane than spiritual stuff. In essence, spiritual and physical were two different things, and that people needed to get more spiritual and involved in the less physical things of life.
When Paul writes to discourage them from taking part in their sins of earthly nature, as he speaks of in chapter 3 verse 5, he’s making this distinction that it is Jesus Christ, Jesus as Christ, who makes the difference in their lives. It’s the “in Christness” that we should take hold of. This “in Christness” is also worked out through moral behaviour and action, as well as faithful understanding. When Paul writes that their life is now hidden with Christ in God, again in chapter 3 verse 4, he’s saying that the spiritual and the physical aren’t actually two different entities.
As human beings we’re meant to be whole beings, physical and spiritual together, and it seems to be only the Greeks who have decided through their philosophies that physical is bad and spiritual is good. Cleverly, Paul also looks at the influence of Jewish teaching around circumcision here. Once the physical act was commanded to Abraham and to all his descendants, Paul says to the Colossians that the act was symbolic of something more important. William Barclay in his commentary on Colossians notes, only Christ can bring about that spiritual circumcision which means cutting away from a man’s life everything which keeps him from being God’s obedient servant.
Paul then cleverly goes on to say that the sacrament of baptism is the new symbol of being in Christ. By dying to one’s old self, one’s old life, one is put under the water and then rises out of the water to that new life. The symbolism goes further in that the water cleanses and washes us clean from sin. In one fell swoop here, Paul wants the followers in Colossae to know that being in Christ is so much more important than physical changes, and so much more than putting faith into boxes of spiritual and physical. Being in Christ unifies the whole person to God and to other believers.
The NIV uses “In Christ” or similar six times in this verses alone, and it seems to be at the very heart of Paul’s message. He believes that every follower of Jesus is now in Christ. Their position is that they are united to Christ, bonded to Him. Christ and us, glued together so that nothing can tear us apart. As you know, I like looking up Greek or Hebrew words just to find out what their meaning really is. I looked up the word “in”. In the Greek, it denotes a fixed position in place or time or state. If our fixed position is that we are in Christ, we are united in the same way that perhaps super glue puts back together bits of a smashed vase, perhaps even better than that, the fact that it’s not going to fall apart again.
We are connected to Jesus in a very close, deep way. We are in Him and He is in us. The theory is that we can’t see where we end and Jesus begins. What an encouragement that must be for anyone in Colossae who doubted their faith or who was struggling, because let’s face it, we all as humans don’t float through life without problems or hurts or pain. When we do experience awful things, we can often do without the platitudes that sometimes people say to us, no matter how well-meaning they might be.
Whilst it’s great to know that there is someone praying for us, sometimes it’s the actual presence of another with us, that person perhaps that we’ve known for years whose very being with us, often without words, is enough because we all need to be connected. At times we need to be by ourselves to reflect and to take stock, but the vast majority of people need others to bring out the best in them. Here in Colossians 2, Paul writes to bless and to encourage.
His message, in spite of the fact that he has never seen most of those who make up these communities is found in verse 2, that they may be encouraged. That they may be encouraged in heart and united in love. That they may have the full riches of complete understanding. That they may know the mystery of Christ, of God Christ. Everything in Paul’s teaching in the New Testament always points to Christ, even though we don’t get much of that life and teaching of Jesus through Paul, we receive the sense of Jesus living in and through him and those communities, because it is what it is meant to be, in Christ. In the good times and in the bad times.
That’s what it is to be a faithful church, to be united together. Paul goes on to explain in verses 14 and 15 the benefits of being in Christ. Any charge of sin and guilt is dealt with in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Being in Christ means that we are now alive with Him. Forgiveness from sin is done and dusted. How Jesus lives is how we can live. Somehow the Messiah, Jesus, that Paul is convinced he met on the road to Damascus, now converts the curse of crucifixion into the way that opens up into a relationship and a way back to God. There’s no additions, as knowing more about stuff or having an outward mark of circumcision. The only thing is to be united in Christ.
The spiritual fullness that Paul talks about in this passage means that Jesus is more than philosophical patter. The gnostic stuff that the Colossians have been taught was more stuff that they were being fed. Just as we have heard about some of the possible Brexit deals as Norway Plus or Canada Plus Plus Plus, the Colossians were being told it was Jesus Plus. Paul was writing to say, “No, it’s just Jesus. Simply, Jesus. This is God stepping up, this is God stepping into our world, making it right again. This is God reuniting heaven and earth. This is putting into practice the kingdom of God which Jesus preached and lived.”
Whether Manchester United was united for or against something, I wonder whether it was united for scoring goals and winning matches. Being united meant having literally a goal. When we speak about Paul’s message of being in Christ, we can indeed speak in the same way of being united in Christ, with Christ. We can say that being in Christ is also about Christ, whilst in the same breath acknowledging that all of this is possible because of Christ. These are all ways of Paul’s message being in Christ.
In John 17, Jesus prays for His disciples, and in verses 21 to 23, He prays this. “I pray … that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. May they may be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (NIV)
Jesus prays specifically for uniting, He prays that just as He and His father are one, that those who follow Him may be one. For me, it feels like a Russian doll, the big doll encompassing the smaller ones, interconnected yet separate, but still one. When we think about being in Christ, Jesus had that idea: replicating with us what He has with His father. That’s the kind of relationship that God wants with His creation, that we would be united together and in Him, that He would know us and that we would know Him. Something very reciprocal about that.
What does that mean for us? Why is it important that we are in Christ? I wonder whether that is because that’s how we were originally meant to be. We were always meant to be in perfect relationship with one another, and with God. We talk a lot sometimes about the shalom of God, which we often think of as peace, but it’s more than that. It’s to do with wholeness in every part. When we think of being united with Christ, or being in Christ, it’s to do with that perfect wholeness. Being whole in every part makes us the best versions of who we are created to be.
In the words of Paul in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (NIV) Paul’s message is that Christ died and rose again for the salvation of humanity. Being in Christ depends on the love of God. It is important that we live the best life of Christ because Jesus lives in us and we live in Him. If Jesus was the best example for living and for life, let’s follow that example, let’s be part of it.
Being in Christ is living the best life, knowing that the creator of all things has the best for His creation. Together, let us encourage one another. As a united group of people who follow Jesus, let us not stop meeting together. Let us develop our relationships and show the love of Jesus to one another, and particularly to those who don’t know Him. We may not know why Manchester United is united, but we do know that being united in Christ is the only way to live best. Let’s pray.
Lord God, I’m so reminded how Paul’s life was turned around by the message of being in Christ. How it was for Him, that he needed to be zealous for the God of the Jews, and how you met Him and turned His life around so that everybody could know Christ and be in Him. Lord God, would you help us in those difficult times, when we perhaps struggle with faith or life, whether we struggle with our feelings, or what the future might bring? Would you remind us that our life is hit with Christ on high? Would you remind us that we are safe in your hands because we are in Christ and Christ lives in us? Would you bless us this day? In Jesus’ name, amen.
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Scripture quotations marked NIV on this page and in the talk are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations marked NIVUK on this page and in the talk are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.