What is the Apostle Paul so cheerful about?
Doesn’t he watch the news? Is he not aware of the state of the world? Why isn’t he depressed and cynical like everyone else?
It’s not like he’s in a comfortable situation. He’s under arrest, detained indefinitely at Rome, awaiting the decision of the infamously cruel emperor Nero. Not for the first or last time the most formidable military machine in the world is in the hands of a madman. Paul has already suffered and could be released or executed any day – that uncertainty would be enough to break many people! How does he stay so positive and motivated?
The answers can be found in the letters written while captive, these Spirit-inspired epistles of Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians we find carefully preserved in the New Testament. Here Paul writes he is willing to take his share and more of any suffering for the cause of Christ and His Church. Here is someone who knows who he is and why he’s here!
People of the world who approach life from a secular viewpoint have no such confidence. We find them frequently asking Who am I? What is life all about? They have to invent their own identity and purpose. They frequently become self-absorbed, self-obsessed. Some become egotists, others crumble under the pressure.
Christians don’t have this problem. We know who we are. We are God’s creation, children of a loving Father and followers of a wonderful Saviour. We live to please and gratefully serve the One Who has saved us by His grace. We live to be His Church and spread His Gospel worldwide. Our circumstances at any given time might be pleasant and happy or difficult and painful. Either way we can live with purpose for our purpose is to glorify God.
So not surprisingly we find Paul’s letters are full of information about Jesus and as we read Colossians 1 we quickly realise no other figure in history, however great their character or achievements, comes close to our Lord and Master.
We’re told He is divine, God the Son, eternal, without beginning or end. With the Father and Spirit, Jesus created all things, seen and unseen and has ultimate authority over them.
And yet at a point in history the Son of God ‘took on flesh’, He became part of His creation, a human being. He became one of us to deal with our greatest problem and minister to our deepest need. He suffered and actually died as a sacrifice, an offering to atone for our sin. He became the prototype of the resurrection age to come when He emerged from the tomb, alive again, never to die again.
When we go to a big concert and are somewhere near the back, well, even with the large screens they have these days, about the best we can hope for is to admire our heroes from a distance.
One of the most staggering things Paul says in Colossians 1 is that Christ is not just risen and ascended and seated at the right hand of the Father Almighty in heaven, He’s much closer than that. Paul calls it a mystery, a wonder but nevertheless assures his Christian readers that Christ is ‘in (us), the hope of glory’.
The risen Lord Jesus is not an object for distant admiration; by the Holy Spirit He is the constant Guest in the body, mind, heart and daily life of each and every follower. He is in us as individuals and among us as a fellowship of believers.
So what does that make us? It makes us people who are living with the hope of glory! To us have been given the promises of God, heaven, resurrection and eternal life in the future and His presence and powerful help in the present.
We have been reconciled to our Maker. Our sins alienated us from Him but the blood Jesus shed on the cross paid for our redemption. We are forgiven and released from the grip of all things evil and corrupt. Paul says we’re delivered from darkness and welcomed in God’s kingdom of light. We are and always will be part of a truly diverse and inclusive global family.
God has saved us by His grace and love therefore Christians have been given the greatest news to share with the world.
‘What gift of grace is Jesus my redeemer
There is no more for heaven now to give
He is my joy, my righteousness, and freedom
My steadfast love, my deep and boundless peace
To this I hold, my hope is only Jesus
For my life is wholly bound to His
Oh how strange and divine, I can sing, "All is mine"
Yet not I, but through Christ in me’
No other philosophy or religion can provide such hope and assurance. There is no other name given under heaven by which people can be saved. Our Lord Jesus is utterly unique and therefore His Church are a people uniquely gifted and authorised to proclaim this truth.
Here are identity and purpose and all the motivation we could ever want to live and serve! We are created, rescued, guided and equipped by the matchless Son of God to live fruitful lives for Him, bringing hope, healing and blessing to those around us, until He returns and God makes all things new. And that will indeed be glorious!