Over the next few weeks, we are going to take a short journey through the New Testament book called Colossians. The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church in Colossae because he wanted to both congratulate them and teach them. Interestingly, we have no record of Paul ever visiting the city of Colossae. So how did he know about them?
It seems when he wrote this letter he was in prison. We aren’t sure which prison – it could have been in Rome or Caesarea or even Ephesus. We just know that he was in prison. While in prison he met a fellow prisoner named Epaphras. Apparently, it was Epaphras who introduced the Colossians to Jesus. It was Epaphras who started the church there and it was Epaphras who told Paul all about his brothers and sisters in Colossae. Which just goes to show that you never know what fascinating people you will meet in prison.
Paul, upon hearing about the church in Colossae from Epaphras, decided to write them in the hope that he could provide both encouragement and guidance. That’s what this letter to the Colossians is all about.
It opens with the traditional greeting that Paul uses in all of his letters. Colossians 1:1 (NIV) says, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother.” This identifies the author as the Apostle Paul. Timothy is Paul’s protégée who follows him on his journeys as a companion and helper. At this juncture, Timothy is probably acting as Paul’s scribe since his eyesight has become so bad he has difficulty writing. They are both followers of Jesus Christ.
Colossians 1:2 (NIV) then identifies the receiver of this letter: “To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.” In his verse, Paul not only identifies the intended audience, he also says something about them. They too are faithful followers of Christ. This is what they have in common. Paul and Timothy – as senders – and the Christians at Colossae – as receivers – share a common faith in Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul feels that he can write to them with authority. They are all brothers and sisters in the Lord.
It’s hard to imagine the impact that this letter will have had on the church of Colossae when it is received. Remember that these people have never met Paul but they almost certainly have heard of him as he has heard of them. Paul is the greatest evangelist of the early church and he is highly respected as a teacher and leader. For them to receive a letter from Paul is like us receiving a letter from the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury or someone else of that stature. It makes them sit up and take notice. And so they save this letter and copy it down in order to share it with fellow believers and even other churches in other cities. Eventually this letter it was translated into other languages and sent even farther afield. And that’s why we can read a copy of it today.
Following the introduction, Paul expressed his own joy in Colossians 1:3-8 (NIV):
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people – the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world – just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
This is Paul’s joy. It is his delight that these people have heard the Gospel and accept Christ as Saviour. No wonder he thanks God for them. Nothing can have made Paul happier than knowing that there are Christians in Colossae who have been washed by the blood of the Lamb. This fills him with a great and inexpressible joy.
Following his expression of his own joy with them, the rest of the passage that we read today contains Paul’s instructions to the Christians in Colossae about how they too can be truly happy. But before we read that, let’s talk about happiness. What is it?
I’m not sure that we really know in our day and age what true happiness is. If you watch TV commercials you would think that happiness comes from owning the right car or wearing the right clothes or eating at the right restaurant. If you pay attention to Hollywood celebrities you would think that happiness comes from having the right body shape with the right hair and makeup all wrapped up in the latest fashions. If you listen to the gambling industry you would think that happiness comes from winning Loto 649 or cashing in big at the casino. All kinds of people will tell you about happiness. But are any of these really reflective of true happiness?
Do you think you can be happy by owning the right things? I know a man who is very wealthy. He has everything he needs but when you walk into his house, you see that everything is locked up and he has an expensive security system to warn of intruders. He always has to be careful where he parks his car because he doesn’t want it to get scratched in the parking lot. He once told me that while he enjoys his stuff, he also worries about it and the more stuff he has, the more he worries. Is that happiness?
Are the Hollywood celebrities with their perfect bodies and perfect makeup, hair and fashions – are they happy in their gated communities surrounded by securities guards? If they are then why do so many of them have addictions problems? Why is it that they don’t seem to be able to commit themselves to long term relationships. And why is it that so many of them seem so messed up? Is that happiness?
Do you think you’d be happy if you won Loto 649? If you think you would then you’d be in the minority. Study after study shows that big lottery winners are no more happy then those who don’t play the lottery. In fact, they report being less happy and often end up with huge financial and relationship problems brought on by the advent of sudden wealth.
And if stuff and fashion and money could make us happy, then why is it that in North America where we have more stuff and fashion and money than any society in the history of the planet that we also have the highest usage of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication? And why is it that so many people seem to be so miserable.
I’ve never been to Africa but I know a number of people who have been. And what they tell me is that many of the people they meet in the poorer areas of Africa may not have had a lot of stuff or fashion or money but they tend to be very happy people. They are very courteous, kind and generous. And they always seem to be smiling.
Maybe those people have it right. Maybe happiness does not come from our things, from what we own or possess. Maybe, instead, true happiness comes from inside. I think that’s what Paul is getting at when he writes to the church in Colossae.
BEING CONTENT IN EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE
In the Bible, happiness is never defined from what you get that is outside of you. It always comes from what is inside. That’s because in the Bible, happiness is always associated with something else. That something else is contentment. To be happy, you need to be content. In Philippians 4:12 (NIV) Paul writes:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
It doesn’t matter to Paul what is happening to him. It doen’t matter what external influences there are on his life, he has learned to be content whatever his circumstances. Sometimes he struggles to make ends meet and sometimes he has more than he can use. But his attitude stays the same. He continues to be content. He continues to be happy.
He is able to do that because he does not rely upon stuff to make him happy. He doesn’t rely on money or food or clothes to satisfy his deepest needs. Material possessions come and go for him just as they do for us. What does he rely upon? Let’s read Philippians 4:13 (NIV) and find out. It simply says this: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Paul doesn’t have to rely upon external stuff to make him happy because he already has something far more satisfying. He has Jesus in his heart. That’s why he is content. That’s what makes him happy. Knowing Jesus Christ as his Saviour and living for him – that’s happiness.
HAPPINESS THROUGH HELPING OTHERS
That’s what Paul trying to tell the people of Colossae. This is how you can be truly happy. You can find it through your relationship with Jesus Christ. And then he gives them two specific ways in which to seek that happiness. Colossians 1:9 (NIV) says:
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,
How do you find happiness? The first thing you have to do is do what God wants you to do. Live the life he wants you to live. Fulfill the purpose for which he put you on this earth. We have said a hundred times or more that each and every one of us was put on earth for a purpose. You are not here by accident. But until you discover your purpose and begin to fulfill it, life will never make sense. And you can never be truly happy until life makes sense.
Too many people chase after the wrong things in life. They believe that the purpose in life is to get ahead, move up the ladder of success, build a bigger house, get that mortgage paid off, accumulate those RRSPs, buy a new car every three or four years and go on big vacations every now and then. And to be honest, there is nothing wrong with any of those things. If you have the money and you aren’t going into debt to do that stuff then go for it. If God has blessed you with wealth, then I couldn’t be happier for you. But understand this, your wealth will not buy you happiness because your purpose in life is not to accumulate wealth. That might happen but that is not your purpose. Paul said that he could be content whether he had lots or little. Our happiness has nothing to do with what we have. It has to do with our purpose.
So, what is God’s purpose for us? Each and everyone of us has our own unique purpose. But all of those individual unique purposes come together in a common purpose that we all share. Paul outlines that for the people in Colossians 1:10-11 (NIV) where he writes:
… so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,
The secret to the happiness that Paul outlines is to do good deeds for others. A huge part of finding true happiness is to stop worrying about yourself and your stuff and start to be concerned for someone else. There are all kinds of people out there who need a helping hand. There are all kinds of people who are in need. God has given you gifts and talents and resources so that you can make a difference in someone else’s life. Until you do that you will never be truly happy.
I can think of all kinds of examples of people who have verified that for me. I can even see it in my own life. When people feel down in the dumps – and all of us do from time to time – one of the best remedies is to do something for someone else. That’s because, when we are going through a down time in life, we tend to be focused on ourselves. We get concerned with our needs, our wants, our desires. We become very me-focused and the more me-focused we become, the more down we get because we realize how badly we feel. It can become a downward spiral that can lead into the pits of depression.
Doing things for other people protects us from that kind of myopic navel gazing. It gets our minds off of our own problems and gives us a sense of satisfaction for making life just a little bit easier for someone else.
If you want to be happy, seek the wisdom to know what God wants you to do and then use your resources to fulfill that calling by helping others. Note that Paul reminds us in verse 11 that we are not doing these things on our own. When we are walking in God’s way, doing his will, he will give us the power and patience to do that which he calls us to do. That’s the first thing that we need to be happy. We need to help others as God has called us to do.
HAPPINESS IN THE KINGDOM
The second thing that we need to do to find happiness is found in Colossians 1:12-14 (NIV) which says:
… and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
What this is says is that we can be grateful because we know that God has a place for us in his eternal kingdom. No matter what happens in this life, no matter whether we live with plenty or in need, no matter how hard or easy life is here on earth, we have God’s promise of eternity with him.
Do you think that should make us happy? I think so. Isn’t it nice to know that the day will come when all of the troubles of life will come to an end? Jesus lived to show us how to live and serve others. He died on the cross to pay the price of all of our sins for all time. And he ascended to heaven where he is preparing a place for all those who receive him as Lord and Saviour of their lives.
That’s good news and that should make us happy. Those who are young and healthy don’t often think of things in those terms. But it has been my experience that as the years slip by and people see themselves getting closer to the end of life the questions of eternity become more important. As a minister, I have watched many, many people in the last days of their lives. I have seen many friends pass from this life to the next. And I can tell you without a doubt that people of faith have a far easier time of it than those who don’t. Not only has Jesus enabled them to live with hope. They also die with hope.
I honestly don’t know how people face death when they have no faith. What comfort is there in believing that when you die you simply cease to exist? But those people who have put their faith in Jesus can die with the knowledge that they will be spending eternity with him and with all the saints in the kingdom. That doesn’t mean that they should have no anxiety about dying. There is often some concern when we embark on a journey we have never done before. That’s only to be expected. But knowing where the journey ends can offer us a great deal of contentment.
True happiness. It can be an elusive quality. It can’t be found possessions or wealth. But it can be found in helping others as God has called us to do and by knowing that God has place for us in his kingdom. These two things can make us truly happy.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you, Gracious God, on this day of worship to lift our prayers of thanks to you. You are a Great and Wondrous Spirit, the Creator of all that is, the only true and Living God. Our praise is on our lips. Our hope is in our hearts.
We give thanks for hot summer weather and clear skies. We that you for rain to water the earth and refresh the living things of creation. We would lift up in prayer those who are affected adversely by the amount of rain that we are receiving. We think of the farmers who need their fields to dry out and also of the people in various parts of North America who have experienced flooding this past month.
We lift up in prayers those who need you the most. We remember those who are sick at home or in hospital. We remember especially, Mark, Carol, Rachel, Ron and Hazel All of us need your Healing Spirit in our lives. Touch us in those places where we need you the most.
Lord of Love, you tell us that we should never be afraid or reluctant to ask you for the things we need or desire. You are good, and we know that you always desire to give good things to us. As we ask, we also thank you for the assurance that you will hear our prayers. You are always ready to welcome us back and so we have no need to fear rejection or harshness from you. We thank you in advance for all the good things that you are doing for your children no matter where we may live or what we may need. You are there.
Holy God, we are grateful for the opportunity to be born again by your Spirit and receive the gift of eternal life. You have made it possible for us to become your children, a part of you for all eternity. Enable us to grow more every day in our relationships with you and in knowledge and understanding of your amazing power and love. Direct us, O God, and show us what we can do to help others to know and love you. We lift these prayers to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
July 10, 2022 / Pentecost 5 / Proper 10
Psalm 82, 43; Amos 7:7-17; Luke 10:25-37; Colossians 1:1-14
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: God stands majestic in the halls of heaven
ALL: Come, Holy Spirit, fill us with your love.
ONE: God comes to us in power in midst of our worship.
ALL: Come, Holy Spirit, fill us with your strength.
ONE: God comes in justice to make us one in Christ Jesus our Lord.
ALL: Come, Holy Spirit, come.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Come to us, O God, in this time of worship. May our songs fill the air with joy. May our hearts be filled with gladness. We come from the busyness of the week to lift our prayers to you in faith, having the assurance that you will bless and inspire us for mission and ministry. The harvest is great and the workers are few. We, your people, seek your will. Strengthen us to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns now and forever. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Mercy, your peace is our desire. Your work is our will. But too often we stray and wander from your way. You have called us to walk by the narrow road of faith but we have chosen the wilderness of lust and greed. You desire justice but we fall to the temptation of consumerism. You desire mercy but we continually seek revenge when we have been wronged. Enable us to turn the other cheek as we seek to stand with the poor and needy of your world. Hear our heartfelt confessions. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The foundation of our faith is the one who lived and died and rose again. Jesus Christ gave himself as a sinless sacrifice so that we could stand before God as whole and forgiven people. Apart from his sacrifice, we would be lost. Praise be to God for this great and precious gift of life.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We offer our gifts and tithes, O God, in the knowledge that there are many people who have far less than we possess. There are those who have no food or housing, whose lives are filled with worry and fear. We give out of our abundance that others may also be able to live life to the fullest. Amen.
We came in faith seeking God’s presence. We go in faith with assurance that Jesus walks beside us. Touch the world gently and make a difference in your corner of creation.