This is a copy of a talk I gave at Saint Mary’s in Billericay High Street at midweek Communion on Wednesday 20 October 2021. The Bible Reading was Colossians 1:1-14.
1) Finding Our Identity, vs 1-2
When Paul wrote his letters, he always introduced himself as ‘Paul an apostle’ vs1. What Paul means by the term apostle is that he is someone who has seen the risen Lord – and he did so through his conversion on the Damascus Road. He is an apostle, by the ‘will of God’ vs1 and had been personally commissioned by Him. This is who he is. It is his identity.
A person’s occupation often defines who they are and where they fit in society. Jesus’ occupation created an identity for him and he was recognized by others because of this – he was known as the carpenter’s son. Work is an essential part of our identity as people. One of the first questions we ask someone when we meet them is: What do you do for a living? It’s true, isn’t it?
We don’t ask if they are a Christian or the names of their children – we ask about their employment and many of us make instant judgments about people based on their occupation! When I was a Prison Officer and people found out my occupation, they used to run a mile and now, when they learn I’m a vicar, they run even further.
But what else give us our identity? In my previous church we had 38 nationalities represented and I used to ask folk where they came from and they’d say: Chadwell Heath and I’d say, No, where is home? And they’d say Kenya or Jamaica or Sri Lanka or Nigeria or France – or Dagenham. But there are several factors which have a bearing on our identity: the genes we inherit; our family background; education; even our accent!
But as Christians, we are not to be so shallow. Our identity is in Christ, and, because of that, I am simply no longer the person I was, defined by where I come from; my upbringing, schooling, or former occupations – they just aren’t all that important. What gives me my identity is to whom I belong? We sing that song: I am a new creation (no more in condemnation) and that is taken from 2 Corinthians 5:17: If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.
And what God has planned for you and I, and where you are going is far more important than where you have come from! Our identity as a Christian is in Jesus Christ alone. Paul writes in 1:27: “… Christ (is) in you, the hope of glory.” which enables us to live distinctly different lives wherever God has called us to serve him (school; college; work; rest; play and at home).
Have you ever received a letter from a collecting agency to say you owe money and they’ve mistaken you for someone else? I have been the victim of identity confusion a few times over the years – usually to do with unpaid mobile telephone bills! I’ve received several demands and it seems as though I’ve been confused with a Paul Carr who lives in West Yorkshire, who just happens to have the same name and date-of-birth. And what a carry on it’s been.
However, when we follow Christ, there is no confusion! No-one and nothing can take that away from us – but it’s something the enemy constantly puts on our mind: Jesus doesn’t really love you; God doesn’t care. You can’t trust His word. You’re not good enough to be a Christian. Have you experienced those things?
Are you good enough? Are you good enough for all that Jesus did for you? Am I good enough? Am I good enough for all that Jesus did for me? The truth is, we were never good enough. Jesus died for us, not because he was following orders, but simply because he loved us. And our Identity in Christ is based, not on what we have done but on what Jesus did for us. And who we are is sealed in the heavenly realms for all eternity through the Blood Christ shed for us on the cross. Romans 8:38-39.
2) Our Fellowship In Christ, vs 3-4
Paul continues, ‘We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you’ vs3. Paul often begins his letters in this way. When you received a letter from Paul, you knew he was going to bring some painful truths to your attention! But he doesn’t always tell it like it is. He knows these Christians need encouragement, so he tells them why he is grateful to God for them.
I think we could learn from Paul’s example here. Next time you have a disagreement, why not (instead of just ‘shooting from the hip’) offer words of encouragement instead? Where do you start? Do, as Paul did, and give thanks for their faith in Christ, their personal trust and commitment to Jesus as Lord and Saviour. That’s not a bad place to start, is it? But what makes the church at Colosse distinctively different is this: they are gospel people.
Differences in practise and approach to life and worship are insignificant compared to proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Saviour. This created an unbreakable bond between them and so it should be between us.
3) Our Hope In Christ, vs 5
There’s no doubt we all struggle with the rigours of life – some of us on a daily basis: families; work; unemployment; ill health; and death. But how do we keep going in our faith year in and year out, beset with the problems of life which face us? There are no easy answers, but Paul writes, vs5, that it is: ‘the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven.’
These are some of the side-benefits when your Identity is in Christ. You get a sense of purpose, joy, peace, and happiness. Admittedly, you can also get a lot of these feelings by drinking too much or by taking drugs. But if God just wanted us to be happy, he wouldn’t have sent us a Saviour; he would have sent us a prescription for Prozac!
4) Our Growth In Christ, vs 6 – 8
Vs6 reminds us that ‘all over the world this Gospel is bearing fruit and growing’. There is an echo here of the ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ theme that harks back to the book of Genesis. Back then, mankind disobeyed and a curse and chaos were brought into God’s world. Now, through Jesus, God is reversing that curse which one-day will mean there will be a new heaven and a new earth.
Paul is confident that the Gospel of Christ is growing and increasing. How? It is increasing through hearing the ‘word of truth’ vs5 shared by those whose Identity is in Christ. Evangelism entails verbal proclamation, words. We have a responsibility, in Christ, to give people the opportunity to learn the gospel: Alpha, Home Groups etc. The Gospel is something we need to speak and hear. The Colossians heard it from Epaphras, vs7.
I learned the gospel from a succession of Sunday school teachers when I was growing up in the Independent Methodist Church. This continued when I joined the youth group. I heard the gospel many times during my life, and probably made a mental commitment to following Jesus, but I never gave him my heart.
If I had, I wouldn’t have strayed away from him when I left school and became involved in some of the people/things I did. However, during a crisis time in my life when my best friend committed suicide, it was my knowledge of what I had learned, over many years as a child and teenager, that enabled me to trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
Many more people have influenced me for the gospel over the years. I learned more of the gospel from my pastor, Frank Oliver, when I was one of seven involved in planting an evangelical ‘house’ church in Sunderland, who instilled in me a love for God’s word that I’ve never lost. Nigel Walker, the vicar at my home church; Paula’s dad; my tutors at Oak Hill Theological College; Peter Isherwood, my training incumbent … I praise God for men and women like Epaphras who faithfully teach the Word of God – and so should you, in whichever form they come into your lives.
Why not make a list of those who have had an influence on your Christian life and say a thank you pray to God for them. And, if they are still with us, why not drop them a line to say than you and tell them how much you appreciate all they have done to help you in your Christian walk?
5) Our Maturity In Christ, vs 9 – 14
If you had a spiritual gauge somewhere on your body, a bit like a barometer that folk have on their walls, how would it read? Hot, Cold Lukewarm? Would it change from day to day depending on your circumstances? Would it be constantly changing to suit your mood? Some people have described the Christian life as a rollercoaster ride. But I don’t think it was meant to be like that, yes, we have our highs and lows, of course we do – that’s life. I think our Christian life should be more like a Carousel, a few ups and downs, but, pretty much, staying on the same level.
Paul wants them to press on towards maturity. He prays for God: ‘To fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding’ vs9. The purpose? ‘That you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work … being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might’ vs10-11.
And that seems a great note on which to finish.