The Apostle Paul is writing to the church at Colossae while a prisoner in Rome. As he begins his letter, he writes a word of encouragement and thanks regarding the Colossians. This is an encouragement to them as they hear him give thanks to God for the work that He has done in their lives. This work that God has done is rooted in something unchanging, solid, reliable, and true - the gospel of Jesus Christ. We live in a day when any concept of something that is true and unchanging quickly evaporates. Many of the things that people believed and were confident about have now undergone a change and are no longer as they were once thought to be.
Take the speed of light for an example. When we walk into a dark room, flip a switch, and the light is instantly on. It seems that light has no speed but is somehow infinite - instantly there - and that was the majority opinion of scientists and philosophers until September 1676, when Danish astronomer, Olaf Roemer, announced to the Paris Academie des Sciences that the anomalous behavior of the eclipse times of Jupiter's inner moon, Io, could be accounted for by a finite speed of light. His work and his report split the scientific community in half, involving strong opinions and discussions for the next fifty years. It was Bradley's independent confirmation of the finite speed of light, published January 1, 1729, which finally ended the opposition. The speed of light was finite-incredibly fast, but finite.
The velocity of light is, in fact, a parameter which appears to affect almost every aspect of both cosmological physics on the large scale, as well as quantum physics in the particle scale. It is, of course, considered to be the fundamental constant of physics.
October, 1983 the speed of light was declared a universal constant of nature, defined as 299,792.458 kilometers per second, which is often rounded off to the measurement we are more familiar with in the West as 186,000 miles per second.
Over the past 300 years, the velocity of light has been measured 163 times by 16 different methods. Recently Australian physicist, Barry Setterfield, and mathematician, Trevor Norman, examined all of the available experimental measurements to date and have announced a discovery: the speed of light appears to have been slowing down over the years!
As you would expect, these findings are highly controversial, especially to the more traditional physicists. However, many who scoffed at the idea initially have subsequently begun to take a closer look at the possibilities.
Alan Montgomery, the Canadian mathematician, has also analyzed the data statistically and has concluded that the decay of c, the velocity of light, has followed a cosecant-squared curve with a correlation coefficient of better than 99%.
This curve would imply that the speed of light may have been 10-30% faster in the time of Christ; twice as fast in the days of Solomon; and four times as fast in the days of Abraham. It would imply that the velocity of light was more than 10 million times faster prior to 3000 b.c. This possibility would also totally alter our concepts of time and the age of the universe. The universe might actually be less than 10,000 years old!
Montgomery presented a public defense of his work at the 1994 International Creation Conference. His defense has never been refuted in any journal or conference.
The concept that truth is always undergoing change, that we can be sure of nothing, that nothing is ever settled, has taken over in areas that are of great consequence. For example, there's the area of morals - the concepts of right and wrong, good and evil. People are adrift in the world today.
The Apostle Paul addresses this subject very directly when he writes to the Colossians in Colossians chapter 1. He is writing from imprisonment in Rome. At the beginning of the letter, he is writing to express thanks to God for the greatness of His work in the lives of the Colossians. He has written about the marvelous hope in their lives that is an ongoing motivation for them to continue to place their faith in Christ and to show love for other believers. He refers to their faith in Christ in verse 4. This was not just initial faith that brought about their salvation, but an ongoing trust in Jesus Christ, who is their Savior. In addition to that faith, they have an ongoing love for fellow believers, which is characteristic of those who are disciples of Christ. This is because verse 5 says, "...of the hope laid up for you in heaven...." They have a hope that controls and shapes their lives. It is a hope laid up in heaven. It is a treasure God has prepared for those who love Him. It is a hope that centers in the person of Jesus Christ Himself. And this hope serves as an anchor for our souls and brings stability in times of turmoil. And this hope comes from the gospel:
Colossians 1:5 (NKJV) because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel,
The Gospel is a Message of Hope, apart from the gospel, we would have no hope:
Ephesians 2:12 (NKJV) that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
In the end of verse 5, Paul tells us that this hope comes from the gospel, "...of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel." Here we see the character and power of the gospel. Let's look at the nature of the gospel.
First, the gospel is good news. "Gospel" is the translation of the Greek noun euangelion, which means: "good news," and the Greek verb euangelizo which means: "to bring or announce good news." Both words are derived from the noun angelos, which means: "messenger." In Classical Greek, a euangelos was one who brought a message of victory or other political or personal news that caused joy. In addition, euangelizomai (the middle voice form of the verb) meant: "to speak as a messenger of gladness, to proclaim good news". Further, the noun euangelion became a technical term for the message of victory, though it was also used for a political or private message that brought joy.
Both the noun and the verb are used so extensively in the New Testament that it developed a distinctly Christian flavor. As the angel told the shepherds:
Luke 2:10-11 (NKJV) Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings [euaggelizo] of great joy which will be to all people. 11 "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
The gospel announces the only genuine salvation and victory over sin and death. This God offers to man through the person and accomplished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. But the good news doesn't stop there. Its power and eternal value are proven by Christ's resurrection, ascension, and return. In the New Testament, these two words, euangelion and euangelizo, became technical terms for this message of good news offered to all men through faith in Christ.
Second, the gospel is truth. The words at the end of verse 5, "...which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel" , reminds the Colossians that the means by which they came to this great hope was faith in "the truth, the gospel" as they heard it before they began to listen to false teachers. These teachers may have been denying the future hope of believers, but it is certain that they were distorting the grace character of the gospel itself (cf. vs. 6b with 2:6-23). Thus, verse 5b sets forth the essential nature of the gospel they heard; "it is the truth". Truth is the very essence of the gospel and is based on factual historical evidence in the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.
This is very relevant for us today, because we live in a day when people worship at the idol of an uncritical tolerance. This is the claim that all religions can be equally true. From the standpoint of religion, what is true for you may not be true for me, but that's okay since truth, especially religious truth, is strictly personal. Everyone can make up his or her own rules for what is true. But this is absurd and illogical.
When Christ claimed that truth exists, of necessity, He also implied that falsehood exists. Your personal opinions about religion may be true; but if so, they are also true for everyone else. If you meet a friend who says, "Christ is true for you, but not for me," tell him lovingly, "You are entitled to your own private opinion, but you are not entitled to your own private truth!"
Mathematics is transcultural; it is foolish to say that 2 + 2 = 4 is simply a Western idea. Science and technology also rely on universal principles that apply in every country, in every era. When an astronomer finds a new star, he has not changed the nature of the universe; he has only found something that was already there. And when they discover that the speed of light is not a constant, truth hasn't changed; we were wrong on what we thought truth was. Truth exists objectively outside ourselves. We do not create it; we can only discover it.
Does this objectivity also apply to religion, or is religion purely personal and subjective? Logic requires that if there is one God, then there are not two, three, or ten. If what Christ said was true, then what Buddha said was false. You may live next door to a fine Mormon family, but Mormonism and Christianity cannot both be true. Both may be false, but both cannot be true. And if one religion of the world is objectively true, it is true for everyone.
The New Testament emphatically presents Jesus Christ as not only the truth (John 14:6), but as the one and only Savior by whom people might be saved:
Acts 4:12 (NKJV) "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
Thus, The last phrase of verse five sets forth the essential nature of the gospel. It is the true word from God. Ultimate truth is not found in the sciences, or philosophy (such as had now penetrated Colosse). The truth of the gospel is the only truth able to span the grave and reveal the hope which lies beyond it.
In the beginning of verse 6, Paul says of the gospel, "which has come to you, as it has also in all the world". This gospel, which has come to the city of Colossae, is the same gospel going around the world. The gospel is universal in character. God has one message of good news for everyone wherever they are in the world. It is one message of salvation.
Eschatological note: Paul, writing to the Colossians about the year 62 A.D. in relation to the gospel says, "which has come to you, as it has also in all the world". Had the gospel been preached to all the world by 62 A.D.? Paul said it had! This is very important to eschatology, because in Matthew 24 Jesus said:
Matthew 24:14 (NKJV) "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.
Jesus said that the end would come when the gospel was preached to all the world. In this context, Jesus is answering the disciples' question, "What shall be the sign of your coming and, and of the end of the age?" What end are they talking about here? Unless we take this verse clear out of its setting, "the end" in view here is the end, or destruction, which was to come upon Jerusalem and the temple ending the Jewish age. Jerusalem would be destroyed, but "first" the gospel would be preached unto all nations.
Did this happen? Was the gospel preached in all the world before A.D. 70? Probably one of the most common beliefs among Christians is that once the gospel is preached to all the world, Christ will return, and the world will end. Most believers would say that Matthew 24:14 has not yet been fulfilled; the gospel has not yet been preached to all the world. How do we know if it has? Well, Jesus said the end would come once the gospel was preached to all the world. And the end that is in view in this context, is the end of Jerusalem, the end of the Old Covenant age. Since Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70, we can assume that the gospel was preached to all the world by then, or we would have to believe that Jesus was mistaken. Which one can you live with? How can we find out if the gospel was preached in all the world before A.D. 70? We can go the Scriptures and see if they give us any insight to this matter:
Matthew 24:9 (NKJV) "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake.
Why would the apostles be hated in all nations if they had not preached the gospel in all nations? They were hated by all nations, because they preached in all nations. Paul declares that by A.D. 62, the gospel was preached to every creature under heaven:
Colossians 1:23 (NKJV) if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.
In Matthew 24:14, the Greek word for preached is kerusso, it is in the future tense. But in Colossians 1:23, the same word kerusso is in the aorist tense (past). Jesus said that it is to be preached, and Paul says in A.D. 62, that it has been preached to every creature. Paul also said that the faith of the Romans was spoken of throughout the whole world:
Romans 1:8 (NKJV) First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
The Roman's faith was obviously in the gospel, and their faith in the gospel has been spoken of throughout the whole world. Paul said that the gospel was made known to all nations:
Romans 16:25-26 (NKJV) Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began 26 but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith;
We know that Paul traveled through Asia Minor, Greece, and Crete; that he was in Italy, and probably in Spain and Gaul (Romans 15:24-28). During this time, the other apostles weren't sitting around idle; and there is much proof that within thirty years after this prophecy was spoken, churches were established in all these regions.
Many today say that the gospel has not been preached to all the world, and Matthew 24:14 has not yet been fulfilled. The Bible says that all the nations of the world heard the gospel preached before A.D. 70. Who are you going to believe?
Third, the gospel is fruitful. The words "and is bringing forth fruit" stress that the gospel is alive and fruitful. It stresses the continuous activity of the gospel due to its inherent power. With the temporal indicator that follows, "since the day you heard", the construction here stresses the past as well as the present fruitfulness of the gospel. In addition, "bringing forth fruit" is in the middle voice (an intensive middle), which again stresses the inherent power of the gospel. "The Gospel is essentially a reproductive organism, a plant whose 'seed is in itself.'"
In the beginning of the foundation of the Church at Colossae, God spoke the word of the truth, the Gospel, through His servant Epaphras (Col 1:5-6a,7a), thus creating new life in the lives of all who received it (II Cor 5:17), bringing about fruit from the scattering of the seed of the message as men and women gave themselves over to it.
The word of God bears fruit when men and women come into a relationship with God in Jesus Christ (Rom 10:17) and increases as they become channels through whom the Holy Spirit can speak the same word of the truth, the Gospel. It amazes me. We take this book and, we read it. We share its truth, and a marvelous spiritual thing occurs when a person believes. They are transformed and made totally new on the inside. That's amazing! I don't understand - it's different than any other book. The greatest literature ever written is nothing compared to this. This is the only book anywhere that has life and power in it. So it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing.
Fourth, the gospel is a message of grace. The words, "knew the grace of God in truth," declares the fact that the gospel is a message of grace. Indeed, grace is nothing less than a synonym for the gospel. Any message that fails to proclaim the grace element of the gospel of the New Testament is not good news at all:
Acts 20:24 (NKJV) "But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
"Grace" refers to the free, unmerited favor of God; to the favor or kindness given to those who can never deserve or earn it by anything they do or refrain from doing. To know the gospel as the grace of God in truth is to trust in the Lord Jesus and His work on the cross for our sin, apart from human merit of any sort, and to live by virtue of that grace as the means of the sanctifying power of God.
Your salvation and mine depends only, and entirely, and exclusively upon the obedience of Christ. People responded to Paul's message of grace by saying:
Romans 6:1-2 (NKJV) What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
When you present the gospel, if it doesn't sound like you are preaching antinomianism, you are not presenting the true gospel. The gospel is God's free gift to guilty sinners.
This reference to the gospel as "the grace of God in truth" is naturally aimed at the false teachers who were seeking to add some form of religious works to the gospel in a meritorious sense. The apostle will deal with this in chapter two.
Salvation is a work of God designed to bring glory to Himself. And this is precisely why the gospel is "good news." It would not be very good news to hear that God would save us if . . . anything. We shudder to think of any condition laid upon us as a prerequisite for salvation. God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, has done for us everything that God has required of us.
A Christian is one who, among other things, recognizes that he is a sinner and that only Jesus can save him. Jesus, after all, is the only one who could live a perfect life according to God's demands. Only Jesus could offer a sacrifice for sin and thereby pay the penalty of our sin. In His life and death, He did all that God required of us, and thereby He is the only savior. A Christian recognizes this and so trusts Him accordingly. Jesus Christ is the only hope. Salvation is a work of God from beginning to end. God is the active giver; He chooses, He draws, He saves, and He keeps. It is all His doing. Anything less is not the gospel.
Throughout the centuries, many have confused this simple teaching. By adding ideas of human merit and the like, more and more of "us" has been added to the equation and less and less of "God." Most evangelical churches believe that man is the controlling party in salvation. His will is free to make the choice, and this is what determines the outcome. God leaves the matter with us.
This issue of "free will" was the main issue in the reformation. Martin Luther said that only Erasmus knew what was the real issue in the Reformation, and it was the issue of the bondage of the will. Erasmus was Europe's most famous philosopher, and he and Luther debated the question of whether or not the human creature has the freedom to accept or refuse divine grace. In the issue of salvation is man's will free?
This debate was not new; in the fifth century Augustine and Pelagius debated the same issue, and Pelagius' view was condemned at the Counsel of Ephesus in A.D. 431. Luther taught that man, because of the fall, was so bound by sin that he could not of himself do anything to avail himself to get out of the situation, but that God must do it. Salvation was of the Lord.
The Reformers were all united on these truths: God, and not man, is the determining cause of salvation. By the early seventeenth century, however, one Jacobus Arminus, a Dutch scholar, began to question it all; and his followers, called "Remonstrants" (protesters) or "Arminians," challenged the church with their new beliefs: 1) The freedom of the human will; 2) Conditional election by God, based upon His foreseen faith in men; 3) Christ's death was designed to save every man, and whatever it accomplished, it accomplished for all men equally; 4) Saving grace is resistible; it is generally given to all men equally and so may be refused; 5) Those who do exercise their will to be saved may later lose that faith and be lost.
In response, the Synod of Dort reaffirmed that: 1) Man is totally depraved; everything about him, including his will, is negatively affected by the fall of Adam. 2) God elects whom He will save unconditionally; He places no conditions upon those whom He chooses but acts sovereignly. 3) The death of Christ, while completely sufficient to save all men, was designed specifically to save the elect. 4) When God moves in a sinner's heart to bring him savingly to Christ, He succeeds infallibly; His saving grace proves irresistible. 5) All those who are saved will persevere in faith forever.
Since the reformation people have departed from the sovereignty of grace. Most professing Christians are liberal, but of those who really are Christians most have departed from the reformation in this way. All of the Reformers -- Luther, Calvin, Zwingly, Knox, Cramner - everyone of them believed not only in Grace but sovereign grace. The majority of believers today try to have the grace without the sovereignty of the grace. All the reformers believed that grace was not only provided but applied. Evangelical Christianity is trying to hold on to grace provided while rejecting grace applied. Grace proves irresistible just because it destroys the disposition to resist. I received Christ, because I wanted to! And I wanted to, because God gave me a new heart!
Our minds have been conditioned to think of the cross as a redemption which does less than redeem, and of Christ as a savior who does less than save, and of God's love as a weak affection which cannot keep anyone from hell without their help, and of faith as the human help which God needs for his purpose. This is not the gospel, the gospel is "God saves sinners."
GOD - the Triune Jehovah, Father, Son and Spirit; three Persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power, and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people. The Father elects, the Son fulfills the Father's will by redeeming, the Spirit executes the purpose of Father and Son by renewing.
SAVES - does everything, first to last, that is involved in bringing man from death in sin to life in glory; calls and keeps, justifies, sanctifies, glorifies.
SINNERS - men as God finds them; guilty, vile, helpless; powerless, unable to lift a finger to do God's will or better their spiritual condition.
This is the gospel: God saves sinners.
Listen to this quote from the famous Baptist preacher, C. H. Spurgeon:
I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ brought out upon the cross.
It is also my conviction that Calvinism is the true gospel. The church today is being flooded with a new gospel, a humanistic gospel.
The gospel is always and essentially a proclamation of Divine sovereignty in mercy and judgement. It is a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and grace. Its center of reference is God. But in the new gospel, the center of reference is man; you choose, you decide, you initiate salvation. The chief aim of the gospel was to teach men to worship God, but the concern of the new gospel seems limited to making them feel better. The gospel is - God Saves Sinners!
Fifth, the gospel must be humanly transmitted or proclaimed:
Colossians 1:6-7 (NKJV) which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; 7 as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf,
As Calvinists, we need to be reminded of this. God is sovereign in salvation, but in His sovereignty, He has ordained that the gospel be proclaimed by man. The reference to hearing the gospel (vs. 6) and to learning it from Epaphras (vs. 7) teaches us that the gospel is a message that God has chosen to be humanly communicated. It is a message that must be proclaimed by other believers in the body of Christ whether by personal testimony or the written word.
There must be a human channel through which the gospel can come to men. And this is where we come in. The possession of the good news of the gospel involves the obligation to share it. That which is divinely given must be humanly passed on. Jesus Christ needs us to be the hands and feet and lips which will bring His gospel to those who have never heard it.
Colossians 1:7-8 (NKJV) as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, 8 who also declared to us your love in the Spirit.
Verses 7-8 inform us how the Colossians heard the gospel. A faithful servant of the Lord, named Epaphras, brought the gospel to the City of Colossae. Paul had just spoken of the fruitfulness of the gospel, and here we have an example of the process involved in its fruitfulness. First, it touches the lives of men and brings them to God through Christ. Then, through fellowship with the Savior and the enabling work of the Spirit, the gospel changes those men or women by transforming them into willing servants who use their gifts and abilities for the Savior.
Literally, the Greek text has, "just as you learned it from Epaphras." "Just as" is a conjunction that, in this context, lays stress on the source where they learned "the grace of God in truth." This not only highlights the ministry of Epaphras and puts Paul's approval on his ministry, but also contrasts it against the destructive heresy that was being taught by the false teachers.
The name "Epaphras" is undoubtedly a shortened form of Epaphroditus and may be related to the word Aphrodite, which denoted charm and loveliness. His name is mentioned again in 4:12-13 and in Philemon 23. This Epaphras is probably not the one mentioned in Philippians who was apparently from Macedonia. The Epaphras of Colossians was not only a resident of Asia, but also a faithful minister of the gospel who had brought the gospel to the Lycus Valley (4:12-13).
Paul describes him in a three-fold way. First, he is called "our dear fellow servant." "Fellow servant " is the Greek sun-doulos. The prefix "sun" is a preposition that expressed "association, fellowship and inclusion." The inclusion of this prefix stresses the truth mentioned in Phil. 1:27; all believers in Christ are to be working together for the faith of the gospel, which lays stress on the community aspect of our lives together as believers in Christ. It reminds us that we need each other, that we are a team, and that the cause of Jesus Christ is sorely hampered when we do not act accordingly.
"Servant " is the word doulos and means not merely a servant, but a bondslave. A bondslave was one owned by another, and so completely that he was dependant upon his master for everything in life--for his daily supply of needs, where he lived and how, for his vocation or area of service, and for the supplies needed to do his work. It shows his submission, and who controlled his life. His life was not his own, he had been bought with a price. He was the Lord's possession!
But he was not just a "fellow slave," but "our dear fellow slave." This description not only demonstrated Paul and Timothy's love for this man, but also pointed to him as their approved and trusted representative.
Paul also says he is "a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf." "Faithful" is the Greek word pistos. The basic idea of Scripture is that the faithful person is a person who is also full of faith. That which makes a person faithful is his or her trust and faith in the Lord and His sovereignty, love, provision, and support. A man or woman of faith is faithful, because he or she is resting in God's sovereignty and knows their work is never fruitless (1 Cor. 15:58).
"Minister" is diakonos: "servant, attendant, helper." It is used technically of the office of "deacon" and generally of some form of service for the sake of others.
Paul has now given a third reason for thanksgiving. He first thanked God for the Colossians; for their faith, love, and hope. He then thanked God for the gospel, and its inherent power and fruitfulness. Now he thanks God for the faithful and trustworthy ministry of Epaphras.
Finally, with "who also told us of your love in (or by) the Spirit," Paul again called attention to the love of the Colossians, only now he linked it to the work of the Spirit. "In the Spirit" is probably best understood as: "love inspired or promoted by the Spirit. This is the only place in Colossians that mentions the Holy Spirit.
So, the gospel is the good news of God's provision for man's need. Are you afraid to share good news with someone? The gospel is the truth. What a travesty that the church gives less and less place to the word of God in its business. The church is to be "...the pillar and support of the truth," 1 Timothy 3:15 says. What are we about as a church? We are about the truth. What should be the outstanding characteristic of this church? The truth. What should be the outstanding characteristic of my life? Truth. The gospel is alive, and it bears fruit. The gospel is a message of grace! It is all about what God has done for us. God saves sinners! The gospel must be humanly proclaimed. If we know the gospel, we have a responsibility to proclaim it. May God help us to be faithful in doing so.
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