Exhortation - November 14



Reading: Colossians ch. 2

In the opening verse of that chapter which we read from the letter to the Colossians there is a phrase which brings close to everyone of us the relevance and the significance of the things of which Paul is here writing. The chapter begins: "For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea," and then he continues, "and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh" (Col. 2.1). We are among that number who have never seen Paul's face; indeed, it may be that the great majority who read and heard this letter at its first appearing had never seen him, and there have been many thousands since who have not seen Paul's face, and who never will on this side of the Lord's appearing and the resurrection. Yet for all these Paul felt no small concern, earnest care, and no doubt such sentiments would be accompanied by fervent prayers to the Father expressive of that solicitude that he felt.

But for what was he so concerned? What was the point of it all? The following words in this chapter tell us something of that. For a more complete picture we must go back to the closing words of chapter 1, for here again we have yet another of the many instances where the division into chapters spoils somewhat the flow of the writer's argument. So going back to chap. 1.26, Paul refers to the hope of the gospel as a mystery previously hidden "but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily."

That was the basis of Paul's deep concern which we have noted in chap. 2.1, and then in verse 2 he continues: "That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Verse 6: "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving."

Here, surely, is concentrated exhortation. To fulfil all that is required of us, as it is expressed in these words, is something that embraces the whole scope of our present probation in the Lord, "the riches of the glory of this mystery. . . which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." The words present a picture that conveys hope and assurance, whatever may be our circumstances; and yet there is a strong element of caution and exhortation and warning. It was doubtless this aspect of the matter which to Paul was a cause of the "great conflict" of which he wrote.

The purpose of which Paul here speaks in all its glory is that in Christ we are called to become partakers of his image in the moral sense now, and in the physical sense partakers in full of the Divine nature when we are approved of him, if that be his mercy towards us. Paul's great conflict, his deep concern, was that those to whom he wrote, and all in Christ who had never seen his face, should not be wanting in making the effort necessary to the accomplishment of that plan and purpose of the Almighty so far as it related to themselves.

These words of Paul bring out something of the greatness of the destiny to which we have been called, and because of that greatness, because of the unspeakable privilege that it entails, and because, nonetheless, God has made every provision for our success, we shall be held fully accountable should we prove at the last not to have grasped, not to have taken firm hold upon, that which Christ has brought fully within our reach. The prospect conveyed by Paul in these words, "Christ in you," comprises both a precious hope and an implication of an obligation, the fulfilling of which will demand all our energies; and it is because comparatively few are prepared to take the matter quite so seriously as that—for such is human nature—that Paul had this awareness of great conflict, great concern lest these things that have been laid before us in Christ should be treated lightly.

That phrase "Christ in you" means that we are certainly not our own to please ourselves. It is written that "Christ pleased not himself." These memorial emblems speak of that fact, and we professedly have become by baptism one with him, dead with him, raised again to newness of life through the faith of the operation of God; and Paul again spoke of the consequent obligation: "The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." Such words as these bring home to us the more clearly what is involved in the phrase that Paul employs in this letter to the Colossians, "Christ in you." It is the object of probation to bring about this result in each one of us, and we can with profit take those words with us each day as a constant reminder of what it is to which we have been called, and what is the end to which, under the Father's guidance, our probation is intended surely to lead, if we will but submit ourselves entirely under His hand.

Weighty matters indeed are involved in our calling. It is not meant to be an easy-going child's play. Paul's words to the Colossians bring into stark clarity our obligations and the high privilege from which those obligations arise. God has proposed to take out from the sons of men a people to be partakers of His Holy Name and of His Divine nature, His sons and daughters; and He sees this—as with all His works—as an intelligent, purposeful operation of His hand. This epistle shows that He has provided all things needful for success. Both His mercy and His over-shadowing care are without limit, and it is only our own choice that can make that care ineffective. Hence, again, that great conflict, the anxiety and the solicitude of Paul towards the Colossians, and indeed to all who had not even seen his face, but who would be partakers of the gospel.

This epistle makes it abundantly clear that we are called to something better, and something more is demanded of us than that we should merely be people who have accepted a benefit from God, even though that may have been done with thankfulness. It is not sufficient that we should proceed through life to a large extent having the outlook and much of the ways of the present world, but with what is felt to be a sufficient veneer of the Truth's vocabulary and the Truth's recognized activities to sanctify such a life. Such was not the example of Paul nor of Christ. The gospel is meant not only to bring benefits to its recipients but—more important still—to bring glory to God in His excellence of working.

All this is both implicit and explicit in this letter to the Colossians. Yesterday the opening chapter was read, and Paul there speaks of "the word of the truth of the gospel; which . . . bringeth forth fruit," adding that it was his own prayer, or, as he puts it in today's chapter, his "conflict," that the Colossians and all in Christ "might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, bring fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God." That bringing forth of fruit, as Jesus himself said in the parable of the vine, can be accomplished only by abiding in Christ in the fullest sense, drawing strength and nourishment from him, just as the branches of the vine draw their nutriment from the main stem. Apart from that vital feeding process we are necessarily powerless. He said: "Without me ye can do nothing." Without him we should not even have the desire or the interest to do anything. James, in his epistle, spoke of the purposeful working of the Almighty in those who believe: "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of fristfruits of his creatures." Probation in Christ is not a long series of social events and the doing largely of that which we please. Sociability is certainly not to be despised and it has its rightful place, but social activity in itself, even within the circle of the Truth, does not provide the basis for this necessary bringing forth of fruit unto God. It is perhaps a good thing to consider as to whether the sometimes frequent flitting hither and thither within the circle of the Truth is always and in every instance a good thing. The Truth is meant to be a thing of joy. Paul spoke elsewhere of "the joy of faith"; and yet it is not to be an almost continual round of "doing our own thing," even though that be done exclusively within the circle of the Truth. There is the serious side to be considered and to be given a first place in the general picture, the pattern of our activities. Jesus said: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me." That is not the process of a moment. For most it involves the work of a lifetime, a work in which everything that can hinder it must be weeded out. Yet none of this is imposed as a work of drudgery or without help and care on the part of the Almighty. The whole spirit of this letter to the Colossians is one of joy and gladness and assurance. As always in the Word of God, assurance is linked necessarily with exhortation, and the fact is that we are without excuse if we neglect or fail to co-operate in the operations of the Almighty that fruit may be produced unto Him.

Currently we are reading in Hosea, and to some extent from Ezra too, of the shortcomings of Israel. Always in such readings there must come the self-examining question: Are we like that? "Ephraim," we have read in this book of Hosea, "is a silly dove." "Ephraim is a cake not turned," and in modern parlance that means the uncompli­mentary adjective "half-baked": no clear understanding of their position as the people of God, a people with whom God had a purpose, an intelligent purpose for the manifesting of His glory in the earth. That was the fruit required of them. But Hosea said: "Israelis an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself." They were confident enough—as perhaps we may be—of their own position as the people of God's calling and God's covenant, but oblivious of the fact that the calling as the people of the Lord was not purely for their own benefit, but that the glory of God might in them be manifested. That was the fruit for which God looked to them.

Yet, what of ourselves? Unto whom do we produce fruit? Merely to ourselves, is it? Yet another empty vine? Perish the thought! Is our association with the Truth to be merely a kind of instrument on which we express our perhaps unregenerate, unburied old man of the flesh? That can so easily be the case. Hence, once again, that great conflict of mind experienced by Paul and expressed here to the Colossians.

What, for instance, (among many instances that might be cited) what of our attendances here at the meetings, where the object is, to the extent of mortal ability, to edify one another, and truly to build ourselves up in appreciation and understanding of the Truth, particularly in its deeper aspects? This is a vital part of this letter to the Colossians. It was Paul's prayer, his earnest desire, that his readers might be filled in depth with this knowledge of Christ and the understanding of God's purpose in him. Paul's words to the Colossians show, as indeed these emblems upon the table proclaim, that we have been delivered by the hand of God from a wretched and a hopeless position, and have been given membership of the commonwealth of Israel on far better conditions than those that the Law of Moses brought to Israel. That Law could never have brought eternal life, but in Christ we have the sure hope of eternal life, deliverance from all the limitations, all the disabilities that go with this present life, the hope of becoming part of the Memorial Name of the Deity, partakers of the Divine nature. Yet in the absence of a lively appreciation of these things and the resultant bringing forth of fruit unto God and to His glory, we shall be no more estimable in the Lord's sight than were Israel. Apart from that vital bringing forth of fruit to God there can be nothing else whereby we may commend ourselves to Him.

So, then, we take to ourselves in self-examination those words of Paul that have been read this morning. His great conflict, his concern, was that, as he put it, their hearts, our hearts, "might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God." Do we show that same concern today? We read yesterday and today that Paul prayed about that very thing. Do such matters enter into our prayers, or are our prayers concerned with more mundane matters, our own daily personal needs? Do we not rather—as Paul obviously did here—think of the body, the ecclesia, the fellowship as a whole, praying earnestly, as he did, that these same things to which he alluded might be fulfilled in us generally as a body, and that we might indeed be "knit together in love."

So to pray, and to do it in sincerity, is to go a long way to having the incentive and the encouragement to do our own little part in the fulfilling of that purpose, namely, that we might indeed be knit together in sincere love and appreciation of the Truth.

So then, what of our demeanour and our activities? Are these calculated to forward the achievement of such a purpose as that which Paul outlines here in this letter to the Colossians? It is not for us even to think of, let alone to practise in the ecclesia, the devious ways of the outside world. Such things have no rightful place in an ecclesia with a hope of the kind that Paul is here talking about, and knit together in love. The world outside uses every trick and every ruse calculated to bring about their own particular ends, and we need to be careful, very careful. If we try to equate the spiritual needs of the ecclesia and its practical administration with our own particular opinions and prejudices, and using that as justification for striving to get our own way, it should scarcely need to be mentioned that none of us is Divinely inspired and our opinions are nothing more than opinions and can never command the force of HolyWrit. Yet do we always have the humility to accept that self-evident fact and its implications?

As Paul said elsewhere of another matter, "ye have not so learned Christ." On the contrary Paul wrote: "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him."

Later in this epistle Paul builds upon all these matters of deep spiritual import, showing what should be their practical outworking, showing what this matter of being "knit together in love" really entails. Let us look at chap. 3.12: "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved"—notice the implied exhortation in passing, all the time—"holy and beloved;" in other words, he gives them the benefit of the assumption that they are walking in holiness as they ought to be—"Put on. . . bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye."

So often it happens that the most telling, the most powerful and the most stirring exhortations in Scripture are couched in the simplest of words. Here we have it. Very often when there is a complaint against another of the household of the Lord, the complaint proves to be quite trivial or even completely unfounded; yet even when otherwise it can be as nothing by contrast with all that the Lord hath forgiven and still does forgive in ourselves. Paul continues with exhortations more numerous than can be considered here on any one occasion, but summarises all in the words: "And above all these things put on charity (or love), which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful."

Notice his words: "Let the peace of God rule in your hearts." This is something that the Almighty is desirous of giving to us. It is for us to let it rule, to allow it to rule, and if it is not ruling there, the implication is that it is because we ourselves are preventing it. Similar consideration applies to the words that follow: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom." If it is not dwelling richly in all wisdom it is because we ourselves are hindering and preventing that purpose.

So it remains for us so to arrange our lives and our affairs to give effect to all that Paul here enjoins upon the Colossians, and to as many as have not seen his face. None of us can dare to do less than this when we consider what God has done for us, and which is exhibited for our remembrance in these emblems:—W. Hilton