Everywhere you go there are strange variations of Christianity… When I went to the North of Scotland I learned that it was scandalous for us to cook on a Sunday – & even worse to wash clothes. There was a Christian fellowship in town who had just allowed their members to have a television – this was 1991 – but not a colour one, only a black & white one. I’ve met some people who tell me that being a Christian has nothing to do with what you believe; it’s all to do with what you do: do you help yr neighbour? Do you give money to charity? Do you do volunteer work? & so on. Everywhere there are variations of Christianity – people who tell you that you must do this & believe that.
And in the apostle Paul’s day it was no different: as we saw 3 weeks ago, in Galatia there were people who said that if you wanted to become a Christian, you had to become a Jew first – get circumcised, obey jewish laws on eating & drinking & so on. In the Greek city of Corinth there were people w. all sorts of strange ideas, because of the Greek influence. Corinth had something of a reputation for wild living & for wild, loopy religions.
Colosse was in what is nowadays SW Turkey & there were folk – probably Greeks – who argued that to get to heaven you needed special knowledge, secrets, codes & rituals. You know, like you have a password to access your emails or your phone? There were like 5, 6 or more stages you needed to work your way through and for each one you needed to have a password, a secret piece of knowledge that only certain people knew. What made this teaching so attractive was that they also claimed that all that mattered was in your head. Your body was kind of irrelevant; it didn’t matter, so the net result was that they claimed you could do what you wanted with your body: you could get drunk, mess around with girls & boys – they said it didn’t matter so long as you had the secret knowledge, the secret passwords that would get you through to heaven.
Not surprisingly, the apostle Paul said that this was nonsense, dangerous nonsense. & we shall come back to this dangerous nonsense next week & the week after. But to understand what Paul is saying here, it’s important that you keep that as background & that will do for now.
So here at the start of his letter there are two main points he has to make, so we’ll deal with them separately. One has to do with fruit & the second is to do with light and dark.
We’ve seen how Paul was looking for the fruit of the Spirit in Christians in Galatia; & he comes back to the subject again here – in fact the word occurs no less than three times in this wee passage, so it must be important. But the word gets another meaning now: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience & so on acc’ to Galatians 5:22. Now, Pl’s saying the Gospel itself, not just the Holy Spirit, but also God’s word of truth, produces fruit of a different kind – actions, deeds, people becoming Christians; lives being turned round to God – results that can be seen. Hence we have in v5&6: the gospel… is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world…it has been bearing fruit among yourselves.
John Wesley, who led a revival & renewal movement within the Church of England and ended up founding the Methodist Church, used to ask of potential ministers & evangelists “has he got fruit?” He believed that if you were genuine, you’d have something to show for it – for instance, someone who had become a Christian, or who had grown in faith, or even who had found food to eat as a result of your impact on their life.
Applied to us today, the key question is this: Has being a Christian made a difference to your life – or to someone else’s? What is the fruit? Perhaps you have had an impact on the Church fellowship itself; or perhaps that’s the fruit which God is looking to produce through you…
I was speaking with the leader of a local church the other day & he was saying how he & his colleagues considered St Andrew’s Scots Kirk to be a blessed Church – “Many, many people are blessed through the work of this Church,”he said. & from what I’ve seen these past 3 weeks, I agree with him completely. This Church impacts the community – the grounds are a car park, the church is used for dozens of weddings every year, a hundred or more local workers receive a free lunch on a Thursday, Ward 8 at the psychiatric hospital is blessed with visitors & Netherlee Cottage performs a wonderful service to needy people with mental illnesses; Helping Hands supports some v. vulnerable & needy people. This Church has fruit; there’s no doubt about that!
The question is: what is the fruit of your faith? What impact do you personally have on the Church or your workplace, or your community? I believe it was President Jimmy Carter of the US who used to ask: “If being a Christian was a criminal offense, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Good thought!
Well, Paul asked that kind of question of the Colosse Christians & his conclusion was clear, v4: we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints. Once again, as we saw last week, the key question for Paul was: do these Christians love each other? Do they support each other – rich and poor, highly educated and not-so-educated, upper class, middle class or lower class: do they love each other? Everything that St Andrew’s Scots Kirk does is wonderful, a real blessing, but as the apostle, Paul told the Corinthians – Chapter 13 – you can do all sorts of wonderful things, but if you don’t have love, it’s worthless, pointless, empty.
But bearing fruit like this in Colosse doesn’t just happen; as any farmer or gardener will tell you, it requires work. The soil needs to be prepared, seeds need to be sown; weeds need to be cleared out; plants like vines & trees need to be pruned. Without the discipline of a routine, regular commitment & hard work, a garden or farm can quickly become overrun with weeds & plants, bushes & trees dry out & stop producing fruit.
The same is true of your Christian life: if you’re not disciplined about it, you won’t produce fruit; your walk with God will become nothing more than an occasional meeting; & if you’re only an occasional visitor to the Church service then faith becomes little more than a small, dark corner of your life. I think that God is calling all of us to be more committed, more organised, more disciplined in our Christian walk; he wants each of us to be producing the fruit that comes from that commitment & discipline.
The second image he uses is that of light and dark: v12-13: the Father…has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.
I first lived in Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, 45 years ago. Edinburgh is a very handsome old city built on a number of hills, & so you can find yourself walking along a road & suddenly you’ll realize it’s a bridge that goes over a valley with a road built below you… The Grassmarket is one such street: it sits on the dark side of the Castle, down the bottom of a hill and on either side there are tall buildings, so it’s often really dark. In the winter, when the days are short (sometimes only 6-7 hrs of daylight), it can feel like sunlight hardly reaches it. & back in the 1970’s you didn’t go down to the Grassmarket after dark; it was damp & dirty & smelly & a bit scary. There were hostels for homeless & workless people; there were pubs that, frankly, I was too frightened to venture into even during the day. There were people who probably lived their whole lives down there…
On the other hand, there are bright, wide streets in Edinburgh like George Street & Shandwick Place where the buildings have tall, wide windows & everything seems to be light & clean.
Paul writes: He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. It’s like before we were Christians we lived our lives down in the Grassmarket, in the darkness & damp & fear. But now, we have been brought up into the light; we see clearly; we don’t need to live in fear anymore. & we mustn’t go back to that place of darkness…
The challenge, then & also now, is to lead lives in the light when we are surrounded by so many who are in the dark. There are many dark influences in the world – the obsessive drive to get more & better & more expensive things; the politics of fear & revenge; selfishness of so many people; indifference to the needy; envy, pride & discrimination. There’s a lot of darkness in the world & it’s all too easy for us to be tempted to compromise just so that we fit in, to tell that little half-truth or white lie so that we can get that new job or hide something we’re embarrassed about…
My final point then is this: we vary in this regard – your weakness, your darkness may well not be mine, but we all have a weakness; each of us can be tempted by something; there is a dark place in each of us. & Jesus wants to bring His light to that darkness. Which is why it’s so important, 1st of all to be honest with ourselves & recognise what that weak spot is; & 2ndly to keep bringing it into the light, through prayer, through discipline, through allowing God’s Spirit to change us; through fellowship with other people who are also in the light. When it comes to the Christian walk, none of us has reached the final destination; yes, we walk in the light of God’s love but daily we find ourselves drawn back towards the darkness of unbelief, pride & selfishness. We need God’s blessing, God’s strength & God’s light every moment of each day. To produce fruit you need to be organised & disciplined, & also to stay in the light, you need to be committed & determined. Being part-time or half-hearted about this will achieve very little.
So my prayer for us all is the one we find in vv10-12: may you grow in the knowledge of God…may you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience…
First, I want you to put your hands together in front of you as if you are praying. Keep your eyes open so that you can see your hands. You will notice that the closest finger to you is the thumb. Since it is the closest to you, the thumb reminds you to pray for those that are closest to you. Pray for your parents and your brothers or sisters.
The next finger is called your index finger. It is used for pointing. Let this finger remind you to pray for those that point you in the right direction. Pray for your teachers at school, your Sunday School teacher, and your pastor.
The next finger is the tallest finger. This finger reminds us to pray for our leaders. Pray for the president and other leaders in our government and those who are leaders in our town.
The fourth finger is called the ring finger. Did you know that this is the weakest of all the fingers? Just ask anyone who plays the piano and they will tell you that is true. Let this finger remind you to pray for those who are weak & sick.
The next finger is the smallest finger. The Bible says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” Let the little finger remind you to pray for yourself.