Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

The Gospel we defend is our only defence

Bible Readings

  • Ephesians 1:15-23
  • Colossians 1:24-2:5

Introduction

When I grew up in South Africa we had a sort of war-game.  We called it kleilat. I’ll explain.  

We would go down to the creek and dig up some black clay.  We would also cut some green flexible sticks from a willow tree. The hard ones did not work.  We were looking for something almost like a light fishing rod.  We then divided into two groups—every war has enemies—and there was a line drawn on the ground.  The first team who had the guts to move forward and cross the line was declared the winner.

The clay was rolled in small balls and loaded onto the tip of the willow stick.  At first, it called for a bit of practice, but soon one developed the skill of launching your clay ammo with the swishing of the willow stick across to the enemy’s side, and actually aim to hit human targets.  I don’t think they would allow this game today!

One way to defend oneself was to go hide from the torpedoed clay balls.  But the more effective way was to use your clay, which in effect was the same as what your enemy used, to shoot back.  And with courage, keep your eye on the enemy, and keep moving towards the line.

The best defence was to attack.  The best weapon was the clay.  You just had to know how to use it.

As Christians, we defend ourselves with the pure Gospel of Christ, but our attack is with nothing else. We just need to know how to use it.  

The battle

Wherever the Word of God is preached, the enemy of the Word will try to destroy the work.  There is a constant battle for our minds and hearts.  The enemy is at work to try to dishearten those who preach the Gospel; he is also at work in the heart of those who hear the Gospel.  This struggle starts out as a struggle for ideas in the minds of those who both preach and hear the Gospel.

The apostle in Colossians twice says that he is struggling (battling) for the church. He was physically and spiritually engaged in this battle.  Did he not write the letter to the Colossians when he was under house arrest in Rome?  Up to that point in time he had suffered all sorts of assaults, of which he writes, 

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Colossians 1:24, NIV)

He knew what God called him for.  Remember the words of our Lord to Ananias when Paul was struck with blindness on the road to Damascus. 

This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. (Acts 9:15–16, NIV)

Paul understood that Christ who called him would give him the strength to sustain and overcome the battles.  Focussed on his calling for the sake of the body of Christ, the church (Colossians 1:24), he has one thing in mind: to present the Word of God in its fulness (Colossians 1:25).

The word battle in some ways reflect the words of the Apostle Paul in Colossians 1:29 and 2:1 where he says,

To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. (Colossians 1:29-2:1)

This struggle is from the word which means to be engaged in a conflict and is reflected in our word agony.  Under the sign of the cross, the fight of faithful Christians acquires a new seriousness.  Paul knew very well that he could only reach the goal of his ministry if he fully spent all his energies.  Therefore he says, 

To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (Colossians 1:29, NIV)

The struggle for the reward does not demand only full exertion but also a rigid denial of personal luxuries: 

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Corinthians 9:25, NIV)

This battle is beset of obstacles, dangers and catastrophes through which the Christian must fight his way, even martyrdom if it is what God planned. 

Why is this struggle important?

One might ask, why this struggle?  What is so important for Paul to defend with his life?  

The supreme goal for which Christians fight and work and suffer is not their own salvation only; it is for the salvation of many.  Paul writes, 

[Christ] is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28, NIV)

The struggle of the Gospel is important because it tells of Jesus Christ and his salvation.  

I trust you remember something about the Gnostics and their ideas of knowledge, wisdom and salvation. To them, salvation was a lifelong struggle to attain knowledge which would (perhaps) secure eternal life. The problem is just that they could not point to something definite, or even someone who would reveal that knowledge.  This knowledge was an ever-moving shadow, the forever chasing of the end of the rainbow.  When you die you just hoped that you have done enough.

But the Gospel of Paul is not about us trying our hardest.  Paul cleverly taps into the terminology of Gnosticism but turned it on its head.  He presented “the word of God in its fulness” which a mystery “disclosed to the saints.”  It is about “Jesus Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:26-27).  He says, 

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28, NIV)

Have you listened carefully?  To get to know God is not to embark on a road of uncertain mysteries; to know God is to know that He revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.  The Gospel about Christ is God’s full revelation; it does not come incrementally, with certain parts still hidden in a mist of uncertainty.  All of what was prophesied in the Old Testament was God’s “hidden mystery” because it waited for the revelation of Jesus Christ in the fulness of time.  But now it is undisclosed.  To know Christ is to know God, to have wisdom, and to have a glorious hope.  When we understand and receive this Gospel and believe in Christ who is the full revelation of God’s redemption, we—listen!—are perfect in Christ.  He is all we need to be saved. Anything less than knowing Him falls short, and everything more than knowing Him is blasphemy.  Knowing Him is to have it all.  The Gospel teaches us, that “all treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Christ (Colossians 2:3).

Paul had one drive in life:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10–11, NIV)

Paul put his life on the line to defend this Gospel because the Christ of the Gospel saved his life and completely changed him.  It is all about Christ; anything added to it is no Gospel at all.

After Epaphras went to Colossae to preach the Gospel and people came to faith in the Lord, Paul understood the struggle in which they found themselves because of their faith in the Gospel.  They needed encouragement, and that’s why he wrote them this letter.  

He assured them of his prayers for them.  They were not alone in this battle.  This encouragement in the Lord would knit them together to love one another more and more as believers of Jesus Christ; the encouragement has the purpose that they would care for one another as members of the same body of believers.  He also wanted to instruct them to resist the onslaught of philosophies that could easily rob them of their faith in the Lord.  He writes, 

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, (Colossians 2:2, NIV)

Ongoing battle

The battle is still on; the Devil is still prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  The tactics are still the same; it comes with good sounding arguments and so-called accepted theories to take our minds captive to not think God’s thoughts after Him, but man’s thought after man. This is why Paul defends the Gospel—knowing the Gospel is our only defence.

I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. (Colossians 2:4, NIV)

Paul’s ministry and struggle for the people living in Colossae and Laodicea were to prepare them and to equip them for this battle. Christ’s desire for his church is to be battle-prepared and ready to destroy the enemy.  A church doing nothing is a losing church; it is a church who is risking its lampstand in the place around the throne of God.  I am afraid, we need to be very concerned as a church!

The necessity for the full understanding of the Gospel

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, (Colossians 2:2, NIV)

To know Christ and his fullness and to have an understanding of who He is, is to be armed and equipped to the battle of the mind.  To know Christ is not only to have a date of your conversion, how important that may be (it is lamenting how the message of Christ is watered down and limited to the personal experience of Him as the personal Saviour of individuals.)  Knowledge of Christ is to really understand all the Bible declares about Him.  Let’s repeat a few things from the last two sermons.

The Gospel is about Jesus Christ – full stop!  Jesus Christ is the Gospel. He is our hope (1:5); He warrants the truth of the Gospel (1:6); He qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light (1:12); He rescued us from the dominion of darkness by conveying us into the kingdom of light (1:13); He redeemed us, and He forgave us our sins (1:14).  

That’s not all this chapter says about Christ:  He is the image of the invisible God (1:15); by Him all things were created and all things belong to Him (1:16); He is supreme over all rulers and powers (1:16); all things hold together in Him (1:17); He is the Head of his Church (1:18); all the fullness of God dwell in Him (1:19); we are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (1:21-22).

When we understand who Jesus Christ, the Son of God, really is, we begin to be ready for the battle.  Only then can we defeat the fine-sounding arguments of the enemy.  We can’t rely on ideas or feelings or airy-fairy experiences, but we can stand in the battle with the teachings of the Scripture about Person of Christ.  It calls for a pure doctrinal understanding of the Bible.

Conclusion

So, what is the Gospel about Jesus Christ?  It is God’s way of disclosing his Son to us as the only One through whom we have redemption, forgiveness of sins, and hope.  He is the image of the invisible God, through who all things were created, and in whom all things hold together.  He presents us to the Father as holy, without blemish and free of accusation (1:22).  Defend this Gospel with your life, because it is your only defence in the battle of your soul and others still lost in darkness.

Amen. 

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 September 2018

 

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