A Hope that Holds

by | November 1, 2017

In his first words to the church of Colossae, Paul wants to encourage believers by reminding them that there is no better starting point for knowledge than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Scripture: Colossians 1:1-8

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What can we know?

What truths in life can we guarantee as absolutely true with great certainty? You are in college, so there you must have some sort of answer in your mind as to what it is that you can know about any given subject. Right? We even seem to qualify levels of what we can know in terms of how we categorize our studies. We have hard sciences and soft sciences.

In the 1800’s a scholar named Auguste Comte created a hierarchy of sciences based on their intellectual development and complexity of subject matter: at the top was astronomy followed by physics, chemistry, biology then sociology. But step even outside of the realms of science and we begin to have an even larger question of what it is that we can know with certainty. Sure, we can know that 2+2=4, but can we know which religion is true, can we know which world view is most accurate, can we know morality in any real sense.

To use a fancy word which is thrown around in the philosophy department, we have an epistemological problem. Epistemology is the study of knowledge and belief. The question is not only what can we know, the question is also how can we know? Who can say that this is true and this is not? All sciences take root in what is repeatable and observable, but what is the standard and scope of consistency and repetition? Are not even our findings of what is consistent, consistent only to the extent that we have a recorded history of it? Was there ever a point where it was not consistent? What is the measure of what it ought to be consistent in regards to? Consistent in regards to the physical matter and what is is that we can claim to know about it? Or is the measure of consistency something else? Like perhaps being consistent with the nature and character of the God who created the world?

All of this might sound a little bit like mental gymnastics, but the question becomes personal when I begin to ask you, "What do you know?," and "How can you know that for certain?" What about what you believe about life itself? Purpose? Meaning? Structure? Order?

The challenge of what we can know for certain is what has lead many people who sat in these chairs to walk away from Christianity entirely. But the challenge of what we can know for certain is also the question which has brought many people to the church. College is good in that it challenges what we know and asks us to think deeply on the subject. But we must then be able to ask, "What is your confidence?"

This is not a new dilemma, in fact nearly a couple thousand years ago, the apostle Paul wrote to a group of Christians in a town called Colossae. He wrote because what they knew, and how they thought they knew it was being called into question. This church thought they knew what they needed to know about God, but their culture was beginning to challenge them. It was forcing them to point to the center and certainty of their thought. Why are they Christian an not something else? What makes them Christian and not something else? And why is the debate always between what is Christian and something else?

In 2017 these questions are still echoing loudly in our culture: What gives you the right to say you are the true religion? Why do you act the way you act? Who are you to tell me I’m wrong? Why do you believe what you believe?

So what we want to do for the next while at GCF is look at this book of Colossians and see what Paul provides as our confidence for life. Our series is called, "All of Christ in All of Life" because this is the center of what Paul is going to encourage the church with. What we can know for certain is that who Jesus is and what Jesus has done is the starting point for all confidence and thought.

What we are going to learn today in Paul's opening remarks is this: What we know for certain is the fruit of knowing to gospel with certainty. Pray.

Let's look at Colossians 1:1-2. It's often typical and easy to skip past these portions of scripture, but I want you to look at the tone of certainty which Paul is providing even in his greeting: Paul, and apostle [sent one] of Christ Jesus, by the will of God [this is not by accident], and of Timothy our brother. To the saints [which is the ones who have been made holy] and faithful brothers [you are not faithless in your doctrine, but you are wonderfully faithful], grace to you and peace from God our Father [he is not distant or unknowable, he is known to his children].

Paul is already makings statements about what he knows to be true about himself, about the believers in Colossae, and about God himself. How is it that Paul would know this? Because Paul knew God.

And it is God who is the creator of the world. God is not a good observer. God is not a good scientist. God is the author. All of what we know is ultimately based on the God who made and governs all that there is to know.

Let’s compare briefly two world views. Take the atheistic or secular worldview. It claims to know what we know because it has faith that this world came to be at some point. At that point we didn’t see how it was make, we didn’t hear how it was made, but we can begin to make guesses as to how it was made based off our observations of what was made.

Then there is the Christian worldview. It also claims to have faith that this world came to be at some point. While we weren’t there to see it, the God who made the world wanted us to know he made it, so he spoke. Both worldviews are based on faith, but one has knowledge as the basis of what we know, the other has a guess based off our own observations.

You see when it comes to knowledge even in regards to science, it is a distinctly Christian worldview which begins with knowledge instead of nothing. Because we can know God the creator, we believe that we can know God's creation. Because we know how God works in relation to who he is, we can get glimpses into how God runs his world. Everything we encounter in this world is consistent not in comparison to the laws of science, but laws of science are consistent in their conformance to the God who created them. This is equally true in issues of science and theology. It is this theological certainty which Paul is wanting to give to the people of Colossae right now.

There are three things Paul says that we can know in this passage. And we want to look briefly at what it is we can know, and how it is we can know it.

First, We Can Know Hope. Let's read together: Colossians 1:3-5.

Paul points out two actions of this church in Colossae which leads him to gratitude and prayer. He is grateful for these two actions because these two actions are both signs of grace and gifts of grace. They are the fruit that these indeed are saints, that they are faithful brothers in the faith and those two signs are: faith in Christ and love for the brothers [those in the church].

Paul is saying that genuine confidence comes from having a faith not just in Jesus, but in Christ Jesus. That word Christ means "Messiah." Most of the time when the Biblical writers use Christ Jesus instead of Jesus Christ, they are really trying to emphasize Jesus as savior. It's a helpful distinction for us. And out of that faith there is a love for those who share the same faith.

Now a few weeks ago we talked about how the gospel changes the way we interact with those around us. If you consider yourself to be a believer in this room, one who has faith in Jesus Christ, how would you qualify your love for you fellow believers?

Do you love them by the world's standards? In that you love them like they are really good friends? Or do you love them in the way that the Bible calls you to love them? Do you lay down your life for them? Do you consider them as more worthy of honor than yourself? Are you loving them by caring for their own eternal health by encouraging and serving their faith in Jesus Christ? Are your words around them seasoned with grace, or are they thoughtless and trivial?

For some of you the answer in some areas is yes! And for some in others it is no. But whether your answer is yes or no, what is the reason for your success or for your lack? Look back at Col. 1:5. Why would we believe and love rightly? Only because we have a clear picture of the hope which is ours in heaven through the gospel.

If you have chosen to do any of these love-filled things to your fellow believers, take great confidence! Because Paul here says that you are only doing it because you see the eternal hope which is yours through the gospel which you have heard. That word "laid up" for you in heaven is one which communicates the idea of being stored away for later, saved up as a future.

This is distinct for two reasons, the first being that grammatically Paul links this hope which is laid up for us to the gospel. The gospel is a message of hope. Hope is always something which we only have through knowledge. When we call people to hope, we are calling them to consider what could be and make a commitment to it. We say there might be something wrong or lacking now, but because of such and such we can have hope. For instance, because you studied well, you should have hope that you will pass the exam. Because your team has the right players, you have hope that you can win. Because this politician has these values, you have hope that they will win.

Hope is always tied to what it is we know about what we hope for. If the gospel is hope, then the second thing we must understand is what is this hope? Paul comes back to this theme a little later in the book, look at Col. 3:2-4. The hope for the Christian is Christ himself.

There are many exciting and compelling truths about the gospel. The gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sins. The gospel is the good news that we will live eternally. The gospel is the promise that one day we live in a world where all the things sin broke will be fixed. But when you think of the hope you have in the gospel, when you think of what it is that Paul here ties to your ability to have deep faith and right love, do you think of Jesus himself? If we want to believe rightly, and if we want to act rightly, we must learn to hope rightly in Christ. If you look at your life and see faith and love, it is a sign that the gospel is clear to you! If you look at your life and see areas where growth is needed, it is a sign that we must look more closely at the hope we have in Jesus.

You may have heard the Proverb, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick," but the point Paul is making is that "Hope made clear makes the faith rich." This is because of the second truth Paul says we can know: We Can Know Power.

Look with me at the last part of verse five and the first part of verse 6: Col. 1:5b-6a. It is a bold statement to say that any growth we have is growth by the power of the gospel, and any lack we have is a problem of not understanding the gospel. But Paul says that this must be the case because the gospel of Jesus is the most powerful news the world has ever heard.

One thing we are always faced with is the ineffectiveness of humanity. We have our limits, we forget answers to tests, we fail to get the jobs we want, we wrestle to bring consistent order and structure into our life and all of these symptoms are signs of our lack of power and effectiveness. But did you see what Paul just said about the gospel. He said the gospel came to you. It came first in the person and work of Jesus Christ and it came second as men carried the message of Jesus to you. And as that gospel came and went, it bore much fruit. It was increasing.

Now the gospel wasn't increasing. We will talk more of this in a moment. It wasn't that there once was a gospel, and through oral tradition or church history the good news of the message of Jesus grew in size and scope. The word increasing here is the same word used in Mark 4:8. The fruit of the gospel was growing, that fruit was that people where being saved.

You may have heard that the only reason Christianity exists is because in the fourth century the church got lucky when Emperor Constantine was converted and he made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire. From then on out Christianity is typically the religion of any society which has authority. This narrative of history is that the power of Christianity is the power of man to make a Christian culture. But the Bible describes the opposite.

The power of the gospel isn't that important men were saved, the power of the gospel is that weak men were saved. You see the Bible [and we will talk more of this next week] says our biggest problem is that our hearts do not want to worship God and because of that we do not believe God is God and this unbelief is the root sin. It is the disease for which everything else is a symptom. So for the gospel to be believed by anyone isn't a stroke of luck by blind chance, but it is the power of God opening blinded eyes and reviving dead hearts.

Christianity doesn't exist because men made it happen. Christianity exists because the gospel is the power of God to save in our world. For two thousand years this gospel has been going across boarders, into foreign cultures, traversing multiple languages and saving souls along the way. No idea of man, not democracy, not progressive thought, not even western ideas of romance have seen such pervasive and world wide acceptance. But the gospel has, because God is the God of salvation. And while there is much work to be done among people who have never heard the gospel, we know that the gospel is able to save to the uttermost.

You may fear being on the wrong side of history, but I fear being on the wrong side of the God of history. Rom. 1:16. What can we know? The gospel will go forward as believers carry it onward and this we can know with certainty, Matt. 24:14.

And this brings me to our last point. We can know the gospel.

Returning to the question of "How can we know?" or "Who can say which way is right?" We can answer both questions with one word: God. Look with me again at Col. 1:6-8. How can we know anything? Because God exists. How can we know God? Because the gospel saves us and restores us to himself. How does the gospel restore us to God? Paul answered this: Col 1:6b. Hearing it and understanding it in truth. Actually the Greek is better translated: "as you heard it and understood fully the grace of God in truth." The word there is not mere understanding, but an understanding at a full and deep level.

If you are a person who wants a certain hope, a hope that what is wrong will one day be made right, a hope that what seems empty will one day be made full, a hope that when all is said and done your hope will not put you to shame, then you must not only hear, but hear and understand the gospel. And to do this is to experience the power of God.

At GCF we really try to help you understand the gospel, in fact there might be moments when you are so sick of us asking you what the gospel is, or preaching what seems like overly repeated clauses of the gospel. But that's because we believe this truth. There is nothing more important in your life than having a true and full understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now I love what Paul says immediately after this, Paul knows where our hearts will go. We wilt at the idea of having to understand something fully. The idea that the gospel is some archaic theological formulation or boring book of legal-ese makes us want to cringe. But then he says: you heard this gospel. It's the same gospel you were taught by Epaphras.

There is nothing more powerful than the gospel. And yet it is simple. There is nothing more broad than the implications of redemption, and yet it is a specific message. This gospel, this word which you hear on repeat in the church is the most significant piece of information you will ever have, and God has given it to us.

To assume the gospel is to leave yourself in danger of missing out on the power and hope of God himself. But to know the gospel, to see the gospel, to hear and understand the gospel is to set yourself in the middle of really the only thing we can know with certainty: That despite our brokenness, we know the good news that Jesus did everything required to save sinners from death and restore us to God forever. Do you know this gospel? Do you hope in this Jesus? Is this truth so known and so worn that it is what you turn to when meaning is questions and knowledge shrouded?

In Kentucky there is a cave system called Mammoth Cave. In it there are select caverns which are the typical huge halls of darkness, dripping water and stalactites. But this cave system is the largest cave system known to man. Man has already explored 405 miles of caverns, and they have no idea how much more there is to be discovered. That's a cave which would nearly stretch from Missoula to Seattle.

Now there is no contradiction when a scientist or spelunker stands in one of these great caverns and says two truths: 1. This is a cave, and 2. And I have no idea the depth of it.

To understand the gospel fully is not to understand the gospel exhaustively. For we will never understand the beauty and power of the gospel here on earth. It's reaches of glory go far beyond what we can comprehend for we cannot understand the weight of our sin before an perfect and infinite God. But to understand the gospel fully is to understand a cave when you see one.

We should be able to say with clarity what it is that God has given us to know: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures was buried and raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. And then we spend the rest of our life attempting to explore that simple and specific truth.

We can know truth because we know the gospel, and knowing the gospel is the sign that we are saved by the power of God. All of our knowledge comes from a knowledge of this truth for there is nothing more certain than our need, and there is nothing more powerful than the gospel. Do you believe this? For if you do, with that faith God has saved you.

So let us together move forward to understand more fully, to hope more certainly, to believe more sincerely and to love more actively through the gospel. I want to pray this passage from Ephesians 3:14-21.