- Psalm 119:129-136
- Colossians 1:9-14
Dear friends in the Lord, Jesus Christ,
Last week we commenced a series of sermons from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. This series goes under the title, United with Jesus Christ.
Last week the message was about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We looked at what the Gospel is about, how we hear the word through God’s messengers, and we heard about the effect of the Gospel on those who believe it. The Gospel is about Christ and the salvation He gives to those who hear and accept it. Faith comes by hearing the message, and we hear the message through the Word of Christ. The effect is that people are saved and changed to live for the glory of Christ by loving one another as He loved is.
We would be delighted if we know only this is happening in our congregation, and of course all over the world.
However, it seems as if Paul knows these things are the foundation and not the building. Faith in Christ, adhering to the Gospel, loving and caring for one another, and providing for God’s messengers to keep proclaiming the Gospel is essential, but it is not comprehensive. These things are the first steps for every Christian and church, but that’s only where the mission starts.
The basis of Paul’s prayer
Paul was repeatedly and steadfastly praying, for growth in the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because he had heard from Epaphras that the Colossians heard, received and understood the Gospel and that they grasped the basics of it by loving one another, Paul wanted them to know that he is praying for what is essential to advance in their faith as a congregation of Christ. This prayer we desperately need to pray for ourselves, for our fellow Christians, and for the church of Jesus Christ all over the world.
Too quickly do we stop interceding for others when we hear that they received Christ and the message of the Gospel. Seldomly do we make it our prayer for the church to grow in its knowledge of the Gospel. If this is not happening, if we stay immature Christian babies, we will be ineffective in our mission into the world.
A church might be teeming of new converts and might seem to be growing because of special programs for specialist groups, but if there is little emphasis on growth in the knowledge of the Gospel, it will remain a church with adolescent Christians. We know about adolescence, don’t we! It’s the time in life where there is no-one more important in the universe than yourself. It’s the phase when mood swings can be explosive; it’s time when everything is questioned, and nothing is believed. A church where there is not growth in the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is like that.
Paul writes in Ephesians that God gave pastors and teachers to equip the people of God for works of service, Christ gave those gifts to prepare God’s holy people for the work of serving,
…to make the body of Christ stronger. This work must continue until we are all joined together in the same faith and the same knowledge of the Son of God. We must become like a mature person, growing to the full measure of the fulness of Christ. Then we will no longer be babies. We will not be tossed about by the waves, carried one way and then another by every new teaching we hear from people who are trying to fool us. (Ephesians 4:12–14)
The content of Paul’s prayer
… we … do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; … that you may increase in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9-10, NKJV)
Just a bit of the cultural background of the prevailing philosophy at the time in Colossae. One of the most devastating philosophies floating around was that of Gnosticism. It is challenging to grasp the teachings of this philosophy because there is no single or sharply defined definition.
Gnosticism, the word comes from the Greek word knowledge was, and still is, about the search for true knowledge, how to find it, and how to be liberated by it. The agnostic on the other hand, says the only thing man can know is that he can’t know.
Bear with me; I’ll try to make sensible remarks out of the most chaotic system of thought known to mankind.
Gnosticism says there is only one ultimate being or group of divinities. The difference between the ultimate and the lower class exists as a result of an error in what is good. One has to point the finger to Sophia, the Greek term for wisdom.
Wisdom, Sophia, lusts for the Ultimate Depth. This ultimate god cannot tolerate distortion in the godhead, and exiles wisdom, or Sophia, to a lower heaven.
Sophia with the help of her lesser gods -often called fates – became the creator of the physical world where they parade as ultimate gods.
The upper godhead deviously manoeuvres the Lower Wisdom into creating human beings, which happens through the process of, not only passing on the breath of life but also divine light particles. But not all humans got these particles!
The upper god provided the tree of knowledge to awake humans to the state from which they have come. However, the lower god, the one who created the world and humans, opposed the upper god by providing a tree of life, only to trap humanity into bondage instead. The lower god, still at war with the upper god, forbids access to the tree of knowledge, gnosis.
Human beings, deprived of knowledge, only have wisdom, which holds their spirits captive in a human body. The upper godhead then sent a saviour, an alien messenger with gnosis, knowledge, to save humanity. This gnosis, knowledge, enabled the spirits of human beings to know even more than their lower god creator. With gnosis (knowledge) humanity can conquer the spiritual senselessness that had come upon him when the creator imprisoned its spirit in a physical body. However, only those human beings who have the light particles are capable of being received the gnosis.
The process of salvation in most gnostic myths is therefore very deterministic. Redemption indeed occurs at the end of the Gnostic’s life when he seeks to escape from the created world. Only then, the gnostic strips off the created elements of the body from his spirit, and climbs through the fates to the heavenly realm.
What is the most frustrating part is that gnosis—knowledge—can never be defined. It remains an esoteric, cryptic, and mysterious something. It remains something which is only understood by those with the particles of light in them.
In the verses, Colossians 2:9-10, Paul uses three words to cut through the possible influence of agnosticism upon the new believers in Colossae: knowledge, wisdom and understanding. More than that, he prayed that the believers in Colossae might grow in their knowledge and understanding.
The questions we now need to answer are:
- Is it possible to know God and where can we find wisdom and understanding?
- Why do we need this knowledge?
- Why do we need to grow in this knowledge?
Is it possible to know God?
When Paul prays that the church would grow in their knowledge about the will of God, he does not speak about God granting wisdom about the choice of cars or holiday destinations. Knowing God is not to know more about my future or my needs. Paul did not have this in mind.
There are at least three ways in which God reveals Himself. Firstly, by what He created. Psalm 19 proclaims,
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. (Psalm 19:1–2, NKJV)
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, (Romans 1:20, NKJV)
We need to understand that even nature is sin-stained, and cannot bring us into a personal relationship with God. Our hearts may be prompted to get to know Him better, but ultimately, nature is not the only revelation of God.
Secondly, God reveals Himself by his Word, the Bible. The Bible is God’s self-revelation; in it, He speaks and communicates with us, far more focussed and precisely than in his creation. We read Psalm 119 this morning,
Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:129–130).
It is in the Bible where we find this principle,
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10, NKJV)
Thirdly, God revealed Himself through Jesus Christ.
All things were made through Him, and without Him, nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:3-4; 14, NKJV)
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him. (John 14:6–7, NKJV)
In the previous verses of Colossians 1, Paul made it very clear: they heard the truth, which is the Gospel; in the Gospel God’s grace in Jesus Christ is revealed; the Gospel is the truth, and God’s messengers minister the Gospel. How much different is this to the teachings of Gnosticism, which spurs one on to seek knowledge, but it does not give knowledge. It teaches something about God, but it keeps mauling in mystical uncertainty. It teaches about a messenger of a so-called god, but it does not tell anything about the message.
Let’s add another element to the certainty about the truth. Paul talks about spiritual wisdom (Colossians 1:9); this is not esoteric wisdom. Instead, it is wisdom which comes from the Holy Spirit.
Our Lord said about the Holy Spirit,
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. (John 14:26, NKJV)
Paul makes it clear, God’s wisdom is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit (1Corinthians 2:10). He says,
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12, NKJV)
…no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20–21, NKJV)
Is it possible to know God? Yes, we only need to open our eyes to see Him in creation, we need to study the Bible, and we need to know Jesus Christ.
Why do we need this knowledge?
Without dwelling too long on this question, the plain answer is, without knowing God, we would not know Jesus Christ. Without knowing who Jesus Christ is and what He did to save us, we will live in misery, we will try to save ourselves and continually fail to do so, we will have no hope, and the devil will continue to accuse us, till he receives us in hell.
The grace of the Gospel is this,
He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13–14, NKJV)
Moreover, the truth to remember is this; we will never know any of this if we do not hear the Gospel, believe it, and worship the One who made it all possible.
Do we need this knowledge? Without a shadow of a doubt!
Why do we need to grow in this knowledge?
… that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; (Colossians 1:10, NKJV)
When we hear God’s call through the Gospel, when we understand the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and understand that it is by justification through Him alone that God declares us righteous in Him, we don’t need more to be saved. However, we have just given our first steps in the faith. We are babies and need to be nurtured to maturity.
When we grow in the knowledge of the Gospel we understand more and more of the will of God; we are guided by the Holy Spirit to gain wisdom and understanding of who God is, as well as his declared will which is recorded in the Bible. It is necessary to know because only through it will we know how to please God in our very conduct; it is by reading and studying the Bible that God trains us in his spiritual gymnasium: we become fit, become stronger in our faith, and we the stamina to endure the race joyfully. Unfit people struggle in a race, and they don’t do it joyfully. All along we run for the prize for which God qualified us: we have an inheritance in the kingdom of light.
Can we know God? Yes! From where do we get wisdom and knowledge? From the Bible. Do we need this knowledge? Without it, we live in the darkness of sin. Do we need to grow in this knowledge? Surely! However, Paul prays for more. Listen,
… we ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and endurance with joy. (Colossians 1:9–11, NKJV)
My friend, do not be satisfied with the minimum. Go for the full thing, and don’t miss out on any little part of it. Then you will be fruitful in the Lord. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 26 August 2018