"The Good News That Changes Lives"
1: 3 - 8
(Delivered at Bethany Bible Church on Sunday, November 5, 2000. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
Not long ago, I was sitting in a large room in the basement of the Washington County Courthouse -- waiting with about another hundred and twenty other folks who were filling out forms, sipping coffee, and awaiting instructions. Like they, I had been summoned to serve on jury duty.
For me, this was my first appearance for this jury duty; and I'm sorry to say that I wasn't especially looking forward to it. I -- like many of the other folks in courthouse that day -- felt inconvenienced by the whole thing. We all accepted the idea that it was our civic duty to be there; but even so, we all felt that it was a regrettable imposition on our schedules. We would gladly have gotten out of it if we could.
But as the morning progressed, and we were all being briefed on what our service on jury duty would involve, I began to be ashamed of my attitude. I came to realize the importance of what it was that I was doing. It became clear that I had the potential that day of being part of a decision that would dramatically impacting the life of another man or woman and his or her family -- perhaps for the rest of their lives. I began to wonder how I'd feel if I were in their place; and this all caused me to appreciate the effect my involvement in this duty would have on them.
As it turned out, the defendant in the case for which my jury pool was selected chose to wave the right to a jury; and so, I was sent home -- never having had the chance to actually be on a jury. But the events of that day reminded me of how my faithfulness in some duty I'm called to perform -- perhaps even a duty that I didn't really want to perform, or hadn't thought of as very important at first -- could so significantly change the life of someone else for good or ill. I was sobered by the thought that someone else's destiny could, to some degree, be in my hands.
We're often called upon in life to fulfill tasks or perform duties that have the potential of changing the life of someone else in some way. But this morning, I'd like to draw your attention to a particular duty that you and I are called upon by God to perform -- a duty that has the potential to change other people in immeasurably powerful ways, and to bring about infinite good for them. When this duty is faithfully performed by us toward others, God Himself steps in and brings about His desired impact in their lives. The impact of our faithfulness in this duty is, in fact, so great that it exceeds any other duty in importance.
This morning, I'd like us to consider together the privilege we have of sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ with others.
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The apostle Paul certainly had a sense of the value of sharing the gospel. He was so aware of the life-changing potential of the gospel that he wrote to the Roman believers and told them;
I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; just as it is written, "The just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:14-17).
Paul knew that the gospel of Jesus is despised and rejected by the people of this world. And yet, he also knew that the proclamation of the gospel was God's appointed way of saving such people. And so, Paul was confident that, when he shared the message of the gospel, some that God had appointed to salvation would hear and believe. He wrote to the Corinthian believers and told them;
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).
And so, even though it was a rejected and despised message, Paul was eager to proclaim it wherever and to whomever he could. He affirmed it as "the power of God". He knew that the Holy Spirit empowered the faithful proclamation of the gospel message -- confirming the truth of it to the hearts of those God had appointed for salvation, giving them the faith to believe it, and enabling their lives to be transformed by it.
As a missionary, Paul loved to talk about what happened when he proclaimed the gospel to the people of Thessalonica. He pointed to their experience as a vivid example of the gospel's power. He once wrote to the Thessalonian believers and told them;
For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:5-10).
Only the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ can change people that much! It's "the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes", because God Himself stands ready to empower it whenever we are faithful to share it. Nothing else that we can ever do has the potential to bring about as much good for so many people in so many eternal ways as does the simple faithful proclamation the gospel to the people God has put in our lives.
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We live in a world that militates against the whole idea of sharing our faith in Jesus with others. Increasingly, in many parts of the world -- even in nations where, like our own, the Christian faith formerly had a safe home -- laws are being passed that make it a crime to share the love of Jesus with others and invite them to trust Him. Many of our brothers and sisters, in many parts of the world, are suffering and being put to death -- even as we speak -- for holding to and sharing that faith; and we need to keep praying for them.
But the awesome potential of the gospel makes it very much worth sharing -- no matter what the cost. Its power to change lives is what motives those who have been transformed by it to share it confidently with others.
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What about you? When was the last time you shared the good news of Jesus with someone else? How long has it been since you've told someone else about the love that God has displayed to them in the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross? How long has it been since you've invited someone else to get to know Jesus, and to place their trust in Him?
Personally, I think the worst possible reason to share the good news with others is because you feel guilty and pressured into doing so. But by contrast, I believe that the best reason to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others is because you're grateful for how God has transformed your own life through it -- because you love other people and are confident in the gospel's power to transform their lives as well. As we come to the beginning portion of the book of Colossians, we are given reason for such confidence in the life-changing power of the gospel; and are further motivated to share it with others.
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Paul wrote these introductory words to the believers in Colosse, because he wanted them to know how thankful he was for the news of their faith in Christ and how much he was praying for them. In verses 9-14, he wrote to them and told them how he was praying for them; but in verses 3-8, he begins by telling them how thankful to God he was for the way the Gospel has come to them and has transformed them. He wrote;
We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the gospel, 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; as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us our love in the Spirit (Col. 1:3-8).
In our look at these introductory words, I'd like you to notice (1) what it was that Paul said had come to them, (2) how it was that it came to them, and (3) the effect that its coming had on them. And in doing so, my sincere hope and prayer is that we'll be encouraged that we can wonderfully impact the lives of others when we share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them.
First of all, then, let's consider ...
1. WHAT IT WAS THAT CAME TO THEM.
First, notice how Paul described what it was that came to them in verse 5. He said he was thankful to God "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 ..."
He called it the gospel -- using the Greek word "euangelion", which means "good news". That's what the thing that came to them is -- "good news" or "good tidings". But notice that it isn't just any ol' "good news". He specifies this "good news" by also defining it in terms of its nature -- calling it "the truth of the gospel". What he means for us to understand by this is that what came to them is "the truth" -- that is to say, "the gospel". And notice that he also defines it in terms of the form in which it was delivered -- calling it "the word" or "the message" of the truth of the gospel.
The gospel is the truth from God; and the truth comes to us in the form of a "word" or "message". This reminds us that the proclamation of the gospel involves one person telling another the truth -- which is the good news -- in the form of a clear, propositional message.
Sometimes, Christians believe that they can communicate the good news of Jesus in subjective ways. They believe they can "witness" for Christ by simply living a good life -- without saying a single word. I even remember hearing a Christian musician say once that he didn't proclaim the gospel message overtly to people; but rather that he shared the gospel "through his guitar".
I'd never want to go on record as saying that those other things aren't important. They're certainly supportive of the message of the gospel. But let's not forget that what transforms lives is the hearing of a clear, verbal, propositional declaration of the truth. Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers and said, "In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation ..." (Eph. 1:13)." The saving truth of the gospel is not something that God means for people to merely "pick-up on" in the form of subjective feelings or through obscure impressions. He means for it to be something that gets 'told' to people, plainly, through an understandable 'message'. It's something that must be clearly heard and understood in such a way that it persuades people intelligently, and encourages them to place a willing faith in Jesus.
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Second, notice how Paul describes the content of that message in verse 6 -- that its content is the message of God's grace. He told the Colossians that this word of the truth of the gospel came to them and had brought forth fruit in them, " since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth".
The word "grace" here refers to God's full and complete favor, given to undeserving sinners as a free gift. Paul eludes to God's free gift of grace elsewhere in his letter. He prays, for example, that his readers would be characterized by "giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love" (1:12-14). Or He reminds them of the sacrifice of Jesus for them and says, "And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight --" (1:21-22). Or he tells them about how God the Father has united them to Jesus His Son, and reminds them, "And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses" (2:13).
The message of the gospel is the "good news" about salvation as a free gift of God's grace. That's its main point. It's true that an essential part of the gospel message is the truth about the damning effects of sin. We would be 'watering down' the gospel message if we didn't tell people that God is a holy God who is wrathful toward sin, and who must judge it. But Paul's description here of the gospel as "the grace of God in truth" reminds us that the main content of its message is not one of judgment and wrath and damnation; but rather one of the gift of God's free grace for any guilty sinner who will receive it. It proclaims that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).
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Finally, this leads us to how Paul describes the object of that message. He says, in verses 3-4, "We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus ..."
When we share the good news with someone, we're sharing the good news about a Person who loves them and has died for them. The great object of the gospel is Jesus; and when we share the gospel with someone, we're inviting them to come and get to know Him, and to place their faith in Him. Our message is the good news about a wonderful Person.
It's important that we remember, however, that we're not simply asking people to "believe" in Jesus and "fall in love with Him". We're certainly asking that; but we're asking much more than just that. If we simply urge people to place their faith in Jesus, without telling them the full truth of who it is that we're asking them to trust, we're not really telling them the full gospel.
"Believing on Jesus" will not save someone, if they believe Him to be nothing more than a great moral teacher, or a wise and kind religious leader, or a wonderful example of godliness and love. We need to remember, and always make it clear to people, that having faith in Jesus involves believing the truth about Jesus upon which the gospel message rests: that He is the eternal, pre-existent Son of God -- the sovereign and almighty Creator and Sustainer of all things -- who, in love, condescended to be born into the human family, being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary; whose sinless life perfectly satisfied the requirements of God's law; who took our sins upon Himself and died in our place on the cross; and whose righteousness God has imputed to our account. We need to remember that believing the gospel message involves trusting in Jesus alone as the One "in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins" (v. 14).
But let's not forget that, in all of it, it's our joy and privilege to be pointing people to a wonderful Person as the object of the gospel -- a wonderful Person who we love, and who loves us infinitely!
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That's what it was that came to the Colossian believers. It was "the word of the gospel of truth"; a clear, verbal presentation of the free grace of God given to whoever places their trust in Jesus Christ as the wonderful Savior from sin.
Next, then, let's consider ...
2. HOW IT WAS THAT IT CAME TO THEM.
Notice that it had come to the Colossian believers as a message meant for the whole world. Paul told them, in verse 6, that this gospel message "has come to you as it has also in all the world." Just before He ascended to the Father, Jesus told His disciples,
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).
Jesus' Great Commission -- His order to spread the "good news" about Him -- spans all dimensions. He sent His disciples out to make other disciples "of all nations" -- extending His commission beyond the boundaries of lands and people groups. And He sent them out with the promise to be with them always, "even to the end of the age" -- extending His commission throughout the centuries. There is, then, no place -- and no time -- in which the gospel of Jesus Christ is not to be proclaimed. The gospel is good news for everyone, everywhere, in every age.
Paul wrote to the Colossians to tell them that the gospel had come even to them, and was bearing fruit in them "as it has also in all the world". They were not alone. They were a part of a great work of God's redeeming grace that spans around the globe, and even to this day. When it comes to sharing the gospel, we should always remember that it's God's only way of salvation for men and women throughout the ages and all over the world.
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Second, we notice that this message came to them through a human instrument. He said, in verse 7, that it came to them as also in all the world, "as you also learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf".
Have you ever wondered why God doesn't simply open the heavens up and proclaim the gospel Himself? He certainly could! Wouldn't it be more effective if He did?
Well; what if the almighty God -- "the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power" (1 Tim. 6:15-16) -- what if He were to open the heavens and, from His glorious throne, proclaim His great plan of redemption to sinful mankind. Would sinful men and women be able to understand it? Could they even bear to hear it? Could they do anything else but what the great and mighty men, described in Revelation 6:16, did? -- who "hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!'"
Or what if God had made it His regular practice to send angels to preach the gospel. He certainly could have commissioned mighty, glorious angels to suddenly appear among men to announce the good news of salvation -- just as He had sent them to announce the Savior's birth (Luke 2:8-14). But each time men and women see these mighty angels, they fall on their faces in utter terror of their glory and majesty. If God had appointed glorious angelic beings to be the ambassadors of His saving grace to sinful human beings, would sinners like us be able to relate to their message?
No; that's not God's method. Rather, it has always been God's wise plan to send His life-giving, life-changing message of the truth of the gospel to needy men and women by the agency of other men and women. He does this so that the great plan of His redemption can be "heard" and "understood" by men and women.
The gospel came to Colosse through a redeemed human instrument -- in their case, Epaphras. The gospel came to you and me through redeemed human instruments too. And God wants the gospel to be taken to our friends, neighbors, family members and associates through redeemed people like you and me as well. In his letter to the Romans, Paul asks;
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!" (Rom. 10:14-15).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; our Lord and Master has made no other provision for the spread of the gospel than through human instruments -- people like you and me, sharing it with others. Are you sharing it?
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Finally, we notice that the message of the gospel came to the Colossians in such a way as to be "heard" and "understood". Paul rejoiced in the fact that the gospel came to them and bore fruit among them, as he said -- "since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned it from Epaphras ..." (vv. 6-7).
This reminds us that, in sharing the good news with others, we need to work to make it sink into the hearts and minds of the people around us. We need to labor to make it understood. We shouldn't share the gospel in a vague, unclear way; because God Himself sent it to people as a plain and clear message -- using men and women to make it understandable to other men and women. Paul himself said that he labored and strove in "warning every man and teaching every man" the truths of the gospel (Co. 1:28).
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So far then, we've seen that what came to the Colossians was a verbal presentation of the grace of God through Jesus Christ. And then, we've seen how it came to them -- as a world-wide message, delivered through human instruments, in such a way as to be heard and understood. This leads us, at last, to ...
3. THE EFFECT THAT ITS COMING HAD ON THEM.
First, we see that the impact of the faithful proclamation of the gospel brought forth fruit. Paul said that it came to the Colossians, as it had in all the world, "and is bringing forth fruit" (or "producing fruit and growing", as it is in the NIV).
Jesus once told a parable about this. He told the story of a man who went out sowing seeds. Some seeds fell by the wayside; but were snatched up by the birds, and so failed to even take root. Some seeds took root; but because they were in shallow and rocky ground, they were easily scorched by the sun and failed to grow. Other seeds grew; but became choked out by the weeds and sticker bushes, and so failed to produce fruit. But other seeds fell in good soil, took root, grew and produced a bountiful crop. Jesus explained this parable this way:
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received the seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who receives seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who receives seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces; some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty (Matthew 13:18-23).
We may share the gospel with many; and many may hear it. But Jesus says that only those who "hear" and "understand" it have the potential of being fruitful in it. The tell-tale sign that the gospel has been understood and has borne fruit is that it results in a transformed life. And in the case of the Colossians, it did.
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This leads us, secondly, to consider what this tell-tail "fruit", borne among the Colossian believers, looked like.
Paul said, in verse 4, that he rejoiced and thanked God for the Colossian Christians, "since we heard of your faith in Jesus". This is one of the fruits that is produced by the proclamation of the gospel -- a faith in Jesus Christ. It's by that faith that people are saved and made right with God. People aren't saved by simply hearing the gospel. They are saved by it when they place their faith in the Jesus that it proclaims. Such faith is one of the fruits of the gospel.
Paul also said, in verse 4, that he rejoiced over "your love for all the saints". Later, in verse 8, he spoke of Epaphras, "who also declared to us your love in the Spirit". This, too, is another one of the fruits that was produced by the sharing of the gospel with them -- that they not only loved Jesus, but also loved others who loved Jesus and trusted Him as a result of the gospel. As John wrote, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God" (1 John 4:7).
Finally, Paul said, in verse 5, that he was thankful to God "because of the hope which is laid up for you in haven, of which you heard before in the word of the gospel ..." This again, is yet another of the fruits of the hearing of the gospel -- that they could now rejoiced in the glorious prospect of eternal glory in heaven -- even through times of trial and testing. Peter wrote, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ ..." (1 Peter 1:6-7).
Here, you can see the three great Christian virtues of "faith", "hope", and "love". There are no greater blessings than these three; and we bless people with them when we share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. Just think of what a privilege we have in sharing it!
When I was called to serve on jury duty, I was being called upon to impact the live of some other man or woman like me. And I began to take my duty seriously when I asked myself how I'd feel if I were in there place.
As sinners who have been redeemed by God's grace and blessed through the hearing of the gospel, we of all people should appreciate the need of lost and dying sinners around us. They need to hear that saving message too, and be blessed by it just as we have been blessed. There are lots of ways that we can impact peoples lives -- some for good, and some for ill. But there's nothing we could ever do that could compare with the impact we can bring about in someone's life when we share the good news of Jesus Christ with them. How can we -- of all people -- not take our duty seriously?
Are you, like Paul, "ready" to proclaim this message? There are people all around you who need to hear it. Let me offer some suggestions implied by this passage.
(1) This passage tells us what it was that came to the Colossian believers and transformed their lives. Do you know that message well? You're not really motivated to share something that you don't fully understand. Why not pray and ask God to help you to learn the truths of the gospel so that you can share it with others clearly and plainly? Study the Bible regularly -- particularly the books of Romans and Galatians, which clearly teach the gospel message. Read a book on sharing your faith. Ask for God's help in understanding the message; and He will help you.
(2) This passage also tells us that God uses human instruments to deliver this message. Are you alert to the people that God has brought into your life who need to hear it? Pray and ask God to bring people into your life that He has prepared for the hearing of the gospel. Ask God to help you develop a relationship with them; and ask God for an opportunity to speak. Pray that God will give you boldness and clarity when they are needed. Then, be ready; because God will answer that prayer.
(3) Finally, this passage teaches us that it's God who empowers the message of the gospel as it's shared through fallible human instruments like us. He's the one that makes it fruitful. It's never dependent on our ability or skill, or great insight. It's only by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit that the gospel saves people. If He needed it done perfectly, He would have done it Himself. So, don't worry about how good you are at it. Simply love people in Jesus' name, and share the gospel with them as faithfully as you can. Pray about it and trust the results to God. He is even able to use our mistakes and failures. Pray that He will cause His good news to bear fruit in the lives of others; and just rest assured that He will.
(copyright 2000 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)