THE IMITATION OF JESUS – (Col.1:9-14 – Pete Bauer).
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on January 26, 2014. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Col 1B.
Last week, we began looking at this letter and we saw that Paul was writing to people who had recently come to believe the gospel. Paul wrote to tell them that the gospel that they had believed, and that was changing them, was part of a worldwide movement.
This week, Paul is going to say that, because the gospel is growing in you – because you have been changed and are in the process of being changed by believing the gospel – we are praying urgently and continually that you will live out the gospel in a particular way.
God’s Will is that We Imitate Jesus.
We are Praying You Will Grow in Understanding of How to Live in The Way that Pleases God: “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”
Paul starts out this next thought by saying, we are continually praying for you, in a way that sounds like there is some urgency. These people have already believed, but now, says Paul, there is an urgent matter that you would be filled with the Knowledge of his will.
That phrase is important because it ties the idea of knowledge, wisdom and understanding to something that God wants – his will. Paul, in essence, is saying – now that you have believed the gospel of Jesus, it is urgent that you know how God wants you to go about doing his will.
God’s Will for the Way We Live is That We Would Imitate Jesus: God’s will is not some hidden thing that is going to happen in the future – it is not some special knowledge that takes special revelation or years of study to figure out. God’s will is clearly taught and lived out, embodied, exemplified by Jesus. In Matthew 5-7 we have a whole sermon, from Jesus, on God’s will – the way God wants us to go about living and doing. In the gospels we have the example of the life of Jesus, the way he lived, spoke, treated people, to understand what it is that God wants – his will.
In other words, we can say that God’s will is knowing how (the method or mode of behavior by which) we are to honor God. This is one of the primary concerns of the New Testament. Jesus, Paul tells us in Philippians 2, took the form of a servant, having no reputation – in other words the way of Jesus means humility and service. Jesus laid down his life – Ephesians 5 tells us – and we are to have that same kind of laying down our lives/sacrificial love for others. Jesus, John 1 tells us, was full of Grace and Truth – and our conversation ought to be full of grace and truth.
Through The Wisdom and Understanding that the Spirit Provides: “through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives” So Paul is praying that they will be filled with the knowledge (or recognition) of God’s will – that they will recognize how to follow the example of Jesus – with all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit of God provides. He prays this way because this is the very point at which the church often falls short! It was no different in Paul’s day. As believers we need to be sensitive to convictions that come from the Bible, to the wisdom of other wiser believers. While we have the life of Jesus to look at in the Gospels, believers can and often do go astray. Christians have too often believed the gospel but then lived something other than the way or pattern of the life of Jesus. This is exactly what Paul goes on to talk about…
The Imitation of Jesus is What Changes Us and Others.
Understanding God’s Will Allows Us to Live a Life Worthy of Jesus: “so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way” This is quite a statement – and a little alarming because it sounds like Paul is saying – you can become a good enough person is you have the right understanding. But that is not what Paul means. Instead, Paul is saying here, there is a way – a right way – to understand the Christian life, and the implication is that there is a wrong way to understand. But Paul means to say, specifically, that if we understand God’s will, then we can live a life that honors the way Jesus lived – his pattern of life.
This means more than being a noble person or doing respectable things. That’s the point Paul is trying to make. God’s will for us is not respectability. Jesus wasn’t necessarily respectable to the people of his day, because he hung around with sinners. So, what does it mean, then, to live a life worthy? Paul says three things…
Bear Fruit in Every Good Work: First, “fruit” always refers to the result produced by something (fruit of the spirit – Gal.5:22, fruit of the light – Eph.5:9, the fruit of righteousness – Phil.1:11, Paul speaks of obtaining some fruit among the Romans – or conversions – Rom.1:13).
Now Paul is saying, you need to think about the fruit of your good works. In other words, you need to think about both what result and message your good works are producing. There are two things going on here at the same time. (1) Are your good works attempting to imitate Jesus? and (2) Are people going to see something about what Jesus is like in your good works?
This becomes a measuring tool for our good works. What we do is not measured merely by whether our intent is good – but whether our intent is to be like Jesus. Much of the New Testament is taken up with this way of thinking. So, in Philippians 4, Paul says to two church leaders who are quarreling, “Agree with one another”, but he does not just want them to agree. In Chapter 2 he gives them a model of how they need to behave – a picture of Jesus as a servant who made himself of no reputation in order to obey God to the point of death. This is what Paul is after – not just a cessation of conflict.It is the imitation of Jesus, then, that creates fruit – the kind of change in us that God desires – and true witness to the world.
Grow in the Knowledge of God: Secondly, paying attention to God’s will or desire regarding how to live, speak, act by imitating Jesus, will help us to understand and experience what God is like.
We are practically born with an understanding of God that is not good. Fearful, angry or depressive, or presumptuous/lawless. But John, in the first chapter of his gospel, tells us that Jesus’ glory (what he was known for), was the same thing that the Father is known for – he was “full of grace and truth.” This characteristic of what God is like – this inseparable balance of grace and truth – defined what Jesus was like.
So Paul is saying, the more that you understand Jesus, how he lived, taught, confronted people – the more you will grow in your understanding of what God is really like. You will experience grace and truth in your own life. Living like Jesus lived – speaking like he spoke to people, reinforces in us this awareness of how God expresses grace with truth and truth with grace – both of these things working together.
It has been said, “Obedience leads us to the truth” – that statement is true as far as it goes – but it does not go far enough. “The way of Jesus leads us to a clearer understanding and experience of God’s Grace and Truth.” (example of confrontation – all grace – all truth – grace and truth).
Be Strengthened with All Power According to His Glorious Might: The word power is confusing to us because there has been so much said about it and our minds tend to turn to “lightning bolt power.” But that is not at all what Paul is talking about. The Colossians live in a culture where there are all kinds of teachers going around claiming that they have power to do this or that (in regard to demons and healing).
Notice the connection that Paul has made here. He has said, if you know the will of God – what God wants (discipleship in the way of Jesus), then you will be strengthened with all power. In other words, Paul is saying that God’s power is present when we follow the example of Jesus. So, if we love our neighbor – share the gospel – live in humility – forgive and bless enemies – speak the truth to people in love – turn from evil to do good – Paul is saying, God will give you strength to do these things – and work powerfully through these things. But if we try to serve people without love – or speak without humility – God will not help us.
Endurance in the Imitation of Jesus is Founded on Joyful Hope.
Patient Endurance: Paul says these things, “so that you may have great endurance and patience.” Or, so that they will see the effect of the Gospel in their lives. The imitation of Jesus, in a sense, brings to life what we believe, and we see God at work in our lives and experience the reality of our faith.
Joyful Hope: “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.”
This practical experience of the imitation of Jesus also serves to confirm what they/we have already believed – that the grace of God has made us alive – that, ”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.” The grace and favor of God, through Jesus Christ (in whose work alone we put our hope), is confirmed – not earned – as we imitate Jesus. God’s favor and forgiveness are given to us up front because of the work of Jesus – even though we have been, and are, sinners. Our imitation is a response.
This morning we have the freedom to learn how to imitate Jesus, to fail, to learn, under the delight of a Father who has rescued us from darkness and who loves us completely through Jesus. We are free to learn, fail, be corrected, experiment in holiness, think, pray and grow without fear of condemnation –