The Debt Collector is Calling (Colossians 2:6-15)

I’m going to throw off the normal flow of my sermons and we are going to immediately read this week’s passage from Colossians. No intro…well, other than the two sentences I just said. 🙂

Let’s turn to Colossians 2:6-15:

6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Bold words refer to Jesus…and there is the potential a couple other do too.)

My first reaction to those words can be summed up in a single word:

Amen!

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]

But the first more verbose thing I should mention is that as part for preparing for each one of these talks on Colossians I reread the entire book before digging into a week’s passage. Each time it becomes even more obvious that Paul weaves in certain things over-and-over-and-over…and these 10 verses are no different. As such, even though I am using an expository approach, some items have already been covered by a sermon or will be…

But we should remember that Paul repeats them, both in Colossians and in other letters, because they bear repeating. We should not react by saying, “I’ve heard that before…can we move on?” Instead we should bow our heads and ask, “Lord, what do you want us to learn from the repetition?”

And the biggest repetition in these verses, again is…?

Jesus! At least 14 proper nouns and pronouns refer to Him, and the whole passage points the reader and listener directly toward the one who triumphed over rulers and authorities…

Verse by Verse

Truth and Error

Now let’s chat a bit more about what else God reveals in those Christ-laden verses.

6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:6-8).

Do these words remind you of Paul earlier telling the Colossians to “not [shift] from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (Colossians 1:23) or to “give thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:12) or that he didn’t want them “[deluded] with plausible arguments” (Colossians 2:4)?

Christ…they mystery of the ages revealed in His birth, life, death, and resurrection…is what we should not shift from and should be thankful for. The next sermon in the series, “Don’t Be a Sucker,” will focus some on “elemental spirits” and not being deceived by false teachings…you’ll see why if you look at Colossians 2:16-23. Suffice it for now to say that Paul is worried about the “least important church” taking their eyes off “the word of truth, the gospel” (Colossians 1:5).

God Incarnate

Now for the next two verses, Colossians 2:9-10:

9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

Now, you’ve got to remember us talking about this before…right? You know, the previous sermon titled, “The Invisible Materializing”? 🙂

I realized after I preached that although I shared other verses in the Bible that showed Jesus was the image of God, I didn’t include this one. Duh! 🙂

But, at least this time I can remind you not to forget that back in Colossians 1:19-20 Paul already told us:

19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

At this point, one would hope the Colossians, and we, get the point :-)…and we can see that it is important not to allow people to pretend that Jesus is anything but divine.

Money Verses

Before we go through the rest of the passage…this week’s “money verses”…let’s chat about something else that has to do with money.

Debt.

More specifically, debt collectors.

When I first moved here I had three lines from TDS, a home line, a work line, and a fax line. (Luckily my employer paid for two of those. :-))

Either way, with reasonable frequency I would get a call on the work line asking for various members of a family, and each time I would say, “They don’t have this number anymore.” It wasn’t terrible, but I can’t say I enjoyed getting the calls any more than one enjoys answering a phone to only find out it was a wrong number.

A couple years later, while still getting them with decent frequency, I figured out who a couple of the individuals were…and I can’t say I really was happy to suddenly know that about those friends…and I felt pretty dopey that it took that long for things to click in my head.

Debt Collectors

Now, don’t raise your hands…or even nod…but has anyone here had money troubles that have led to them being chased by debt collectors?

The Lord has blessed Michelle and I and we haven’t been in that situation before, but I know from other’s experiences that it is a very uncomfortable circumstance. Suddenly that device which you used to use to communicate with friends and family is a weapon that often heartless people use to attack you all hours of the day. If the frequency isn’t enough, they can say everything from words that make you feel like you are the scum of the earth to things that, to any normal person, would sound like threats.

[ I should quickly note that I am not saying all debt collectors act this way. ]

And as we all know, you can screen your calls, let them all go to voice mail, change your phone number, get rid of your phones…but the debt collectors will not give up.

A debt does not magically disappear on its own. Someone has to pay it. If it’s not you, someone else.

Even if you say, “Alan, but sometimes they write it off.” Well, in that case they have paid it for you, haven’t they?

Colossians 2:11-15

With that in mind, let’s read through the rest of this week’s section:

11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (Colossians 2:11-15).

Notice especially verse 14. It’s not that the rest of the verses aren’t important, but when it comes us to having “a circumcision made without hands” or the fact we were “buried with him in baptism” and were “raised with him through faith” or that we have been “forgiven all our trespasses”…

Reality is that at one point there was a huge impediment.

There was a debt…one that was recorded against us…with all its legal demands.

So, trying to bridge the very biblical analogy of debt to my discussion of debt collectors, what would be the equivalent of the people whose living is made, to varying degrees, by berating you into paying their clients…by reminding you that you owe?

Although it would be great to read all that Romans 7:7-8:4 says about the law, let’s just look-up verse 7 in that selection:

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7)

And let’s throw in a bonus verse earlier in Romans:

They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them (Romans 2:15).

Unlike a debt collector, who someone could argue is just a nuisance (if you don’t have the money…ringing you a zillion times, calling you names, and threatening you isn’t going to suddenly cause your wallet or purse to be full of greenbacks)…

Unlike a debt collector, who might just be being a jerk at some point…this debt is something you really, really need to be reminded of. And short of you searing your conscience with a hot iron (see 1 Timothy 4:2)…God has done you a favor by having both the law and your conscience nagging you incessantly.

The debt will not go away. Someone must pay it.

And there is something else about your debt. When you create an earthly one there is a decent chance that, whether or not you can pay it right now, at some point you could pay it…or you wouldn’t have been the credit to accumulate the debt. But…

You cannot pay the spiritual “record of debt that [stands] against [you] with its legal demands.”

And…all the more reason for you to read Romans 7:7-8:4 after church…it shows you how the law may be an effective debt reminder, but it also shows you how you cannot use it to actually pay your debt. The law convicts you (see James 2:9), but it doesn’t release you from the debt.

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do (Romans 8:3a).

Now yes, debt is a very biblical analogy for the situation we are in…but all metaphors are limited…and we have to be cautious to make sure we don’t carry them too far.

For instance, we believe that Jesus paid our debt…we just read how God nailed the record of it to the cross…the cross where our Savior gave His life for us…

But the problem with the debt metaphor is not only does it says God paid God, but it implies that God set some arbitrary fine for our sins…and then…using a bit of a heavenly accounting gimick…paid it. If God established the punishment…and the debt…and paid it…then why not just wave His hand and make it all go away? And why make it only go away for those who believe in Jesus?

“Justice demands it!” you might say…

Well, who defines justice?

“Well, God defined justice that way…so that just is the way it is!” you might retort.

And ultimately, since God is God He does get to establish the rules…but is that really a satisfying explanation?

“Why is X wrong?”

“Because God said so!”

“So X wouldn’t be wrong if God didn’t say so?”

And, ultimately, if that’s the truth then I’ll believe it…but let me ask you this…looking at Jesus…you know, the One who Paul has twice told the Colossians that the fullness of deity dwells in bodily…

Looking at Jesus…did you ever see any “just because I told you” kind of stuff? Sure, he said if we love him we will keep his commandments (see John 14:15 and John 14:21), but he also said that He wants to call us friends because a servant does not understand his master’s business (see John 15:15).

That is, He prefers understanding over blind commandment keeping. Or, as our Lord spoke through the prophet Hosea:

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,

the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings (Hosea 6:6).

What if instead of God establishing some random set of rules, deciding on the price for breaking those rules, and then using some fancy trinitarian bookkeeping…

What if moral laws are no different than physical laws, and when He says through the Apostle Paul that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a)…He is just stating a fact.

Sin is a fatal disease that separates us from the source of life. As Isaiah says in Isaiah 59:2:

but your iniquities have made a separation

between you and your God,

and your sins have hidden his face from you

so that he does not hear.

And ultimately, if nothing is done to restore the trust…the faith…that we originally lost in the Garden, then that separation from God also means separation from the “spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

Yes, the debt collector is calling…but that debt is a natural consequence of our lack of faith in the Lord…and He can only pay it if trust is restored.

So, as painful as it may be, answer the phone…understand just how much you are in debt and how badly you need it paid…understand how you cannot pay it yourself…and then allow the Father to “[cancel] the record of debt that stood against [you] with its legal demands” by “nailing it to the cross.”

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

“Dear least important church, let’s talk about how we are going to take care of this debt of yours…”


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