Rooted & Built Up
I recently had the opportunity to go to the South for the first time in my life. My wife, Katie, and I went to Georgia to take a couple of classes on a quick three day trip, two days of which were eaten up by the travel and the middle day was used for the classes. It wasn’t a site-seeing adventure, but while there I learned of an attraction that I deeply wish I could have seen. Our classes were in the wonderful little town of Thomasville, about four hours drive from Atlanta. The city’s longest known living inhabitant is 330 years old and is known as “The Big Oak.”
The tree is actually over 330 years old, which means it sprouted somewhere around 1680. It is 68 feet tall and has a wing span of 162 feet. I really regret that I didn’t get to see it, but some people that we sat next to in the class did take it in and sent us a picture. In that first year that it sprouted from it’s acorn, the energy of the tree was focused on establishing a root structure, so that by the end of the first year, if it was like most oaks, it’s roots were a foot deep and it’s trunk already ½ inch thick.
As I read our sermon text while preparing, the idea of being rooted kept bringing this tree to mind. I tried to find information online that would describe the root structure of the tree, and I couldn’t find any, but I can only imagine how deep and wide the roots go. One of the interesting things about “The Big Oak” is that it’s a special and rare variety of oak tree, a live oak, which means unlike most oak trees, this tree is evergreen. “The Big Oak” has been rooted and has been growing ever bigger for 330 plus years and has been bearing beautiful green leaves the entire time. Like many things in God’s creation, it testifies of his glory. Amen?
We’re going to look more at being rooted, which is why this tree came to mind, but our text today is also rich with some other truths that are worth discussing.
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
I’m excited to talk about the roots we have as believers, but I’m going to work through these two verses in order, almost word by word. It’s not often that we only have a couple of verses for a sermon text, and I’m excited to try and get some marrow out of these.
Let’s start with that first word, “therefore”. Anytime we read “therefore” in a passage, it means that the context becomes important. These verses are following Paul’s encouragement “that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.” In fact, the verses are bookended by this sentiment, for in verse 8, he says, “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.” So our context to keep in mind is that these verses are the antidote to being duped into believing the lies of the world that turn our eyes from the Truth of the Gospel.
We have a smorgasbord of world views and philosophies in America from which to choose. People will try to convince you that there is no God, or that God created and then stands back and watches his creation like a complex ant farm. Others would try to persuade you that you can work hard to earn God’s favor. Maybe you should be super good and nice in order to come back in a next life in a cool new form. Sometimes the differences are more subtle, but equally far from the Truth, small tweaks to the gospel which take the focus off of Christ’s finished work and put it back on our own efforts. Paul is reminding the Colossians and us to keep a laser focus on Jesus Christ, reminding us of the life we have in Him.
So, with context in mind, let’s read how we can do this. “Therefore, as you received…” How do we receive something? When you receive a gift, or receive a meal, or receive a visitor, what does that look like? It’s passive. As the receiver, you don’t do anything, you simply accept the thing that was provided. The sender is active. So when we receive Christ Jesus the Lord, it’s not because we worked for Him, it’s not because we’re worthy of Him, it’s not because we deserve Him, it’s because we’re loved by Him. God is the active one in sending Christ; we’re the passive receiver.
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord…” We didn’t just receive Jesus, we received Christ Jesus the Lord. There are three distinct parts of this title. Christ, meaning the chosen one. He was the much anticipated messiah, the savior upon whom the world waited and hoped. The one who would redeem his people. This isn’t just a man; this is the one who has the power of God to walk on water, heal the blind, turn water into wine, feed a multitude with a meal fit for a few, cast out demons, and most importantly, forgive sins. The Christ is worthy of all praise and is all glorious because the title of Christ means he was sent by God to be king and deliverer.
The second piece of this title is Jesus, highlighting that he was fully man. We receive the historical person of Jesus, who was born of woman, grew up, knew hunger, temptation and trial, perseverance and victory. He walked among people and sat at a table and ate with them. People felt his clothing and gave him hugs. He had to wear sandals to protect his feet from cuts. His blood was red like yours and mine. He was a man, and when we receive Him, we recognize that He is a great high priest that can relate to our human condition. This man Jesus lived a perfect life and died after being tortured and crucified.
And now, the third part of this title is Lord. Christ Jesus the Lord. You see, it’s possible to recognize the first two parts of the title and not affirm that he is your Lord. We see in the Bible that demons recognize who Jesus is, but don’t submit to his Lordship, and we humans can as well. What changes a life is when we see Jesus Christ as Lord. This means submitting to Jesus in all things. It affects everything: How we are to talk, how we are to love, how we are to live sacrificially, how we’re to work, play, and prioritize. When you ask the Lord to take over as the head of your life, the believer must submit every desire, every plan, every hope for their future to Christ and trust that He is going to write the best story for your life.
So you see, this phrase that we have, “received Christ Jesus the Lord” carries a theological weight that is encouraging if we pause to consider what it means. It means that by God’s grace, you personally embraced the understanding that Jesus was the Christ and that you have submitted your life to His leadership.
On the heels of this, Paul gives us a command, “so walk in him, rooted and built up in him…” I had to enlist the help of the other pastors who are well educated in Greek and Hebrew. It seems that this commandment is written a bit backwards from how we read it in English. Another translation might be, “as you were rooted and as you were built up, so walk in him…”
It’s so very Paul-like to have a mixed metaphor. Are we walking, or are we rooted? Am I like a plant with roots, or am I like a brick building that is being built up? Paul, I’m not sure I get it!
Jeremiah 17:7–8 says,
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, who’s trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Roots have two important functions for a tree. The first is to provide nutrients. The roots, we all know, act like a straw, sucking up the water and food that the tree needs. The second purpose is to provide stability to the tree. Without roots, the tree won’t stand. It’s the support for the tree to ensure it doesn’t topple over in the lightest breeze. Paul’s picture of being rooted points to both of these features. We need to be rooted in order to gain both nourishment from God and to provide stability in our turbulent world.
I have a water feature in my backyard that I built a few years back. It’s a little stream with several small waterfalls that creates this beautiful and peaceful sound. The landscaping that my parents carefully planted before I owned our house surround it, and it’s one of my favorite things about my backyard. To make it work, I dug a hole at the end of the stream for a reservoir and sculpted the channel for the water to flow. Then I put a heavy vinyl liner all around the bottom and the sides of the stream. The water comes down, falls into the reservoir, and is then pumped back to the top of the falls. The trees and flowers and bushes around this peaceful little stream, however, gain zero nutrients or refreshment from the stream. Their roots are blocked by the vinyl liner. They can’t suck up the water to nourish themselves and grow. It’s a very selfish stream.
Praise God that this is not the picture of what we have when we’re rooted in Christ. There is no liner that blocks us, no selfishness that keeps the nutrients and refreshment for Himself. God puts our roots into the stream, which is Him, in order that we can use all of His resources to help us grow in our faith and become more like His son.
When God captures your attention and you make Jesus Christ the Lord of your life, He plants you next to the greatest kind of refreshing water that exists, Himself. When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well of the water He provides, He describes it as living water, of the variety that anyone who drinks it will never thirst again. With God’s water, the old has gone and the new has come. He transplants you from a desert sand into His life-giving stream, and that’s where He roots you.
And when we are rooted, we also get the benefit of a solid foundation so that we cannot be swayed. The winds may come, and the ground may shake, and the floods may swell, but our roots are strong enough to withstand any storm and keep us from being toppled. Being rooted in Christ means that you have the stronghold system to hold up to anything.
And He doesn’t just leave us as a baby plant. He builds us up! God’s sanctifying work in our lives builds us and establishes us in the faith. As we place our trust and confidence in Christ, He causes growth to happen. Just as the tree in Georgia has been rooted, it’s been growing into the magnificent tree we see today. It no longer has a ½ inch thick trunk. It has a trunk that is several feet in diameter. If you’re a follower of Christ, I pray that you can look back at your life, no matter how young or old you are, and see how He has been building you up.
There are times when this growth is small, like that of a 7–9 year old child. Another of my favorite places in my house is the backside of our garage door. On it, there are growth marks for my kids. We mark their height on their birthday each year, and I’m always amazed at how much they’ve grown right before my eyes, without me perceiving they are even growing. I can’t see them growing, but I see the evidence of the changes. When I stop and look at them, I see that they are indeed maturing. Other times it’s like pubescent growth, or the growth we see in infants, where the change is far more perceptible. While you can’t sit and watch and see the growth happen, you can note changes in a matter of weeks instead of a matter of a year.
This is how God builds us spiritually as well. We experience these bursts of growth. For instance, often right after becoming a follower of Christ, just like a baby, we see significant growth. At other times throughout our lives, God uses events and people to draw us closer to Himself. Sometimes, we feel stagnant in our growth. It’s at these times in particular that I encourage you to stop and look back at what God has been teaching you and how He’s been growing you. When we slow down and reflect, we can hopefully see our lives looking different because of His Spirit changing us and building us up.
One way that we’re built up and established is through godly and Biblical instruction. Paul, Timothy, and Epaphras had been teaching the Colossians what it looks like to place your trust in Christ. They’d been leading them and discipling them in how to live as a Christian. Paul was reminding them not to be deceived by other world views, other people who wanted to persuade them to place their trust in other gods. Paul wants them to be rooted and built up in Jesus, established in the faith, just as they were taught. This means nothing more than the gospel, and nothing less. It’s not the gospel plus doing good works that gets you into heaven. It’s not claiming to follow Jesus but ignoring His calling and instruction in your life. They are to be established in the faith as they’ve been instructed.
So as we were rooted and built up in Jesus, we are to walk in Him. I don’t think this is an overly complicated thing to understand but is such a challenging thing to apply. In our vernacular, we talk about walking in someone else’s shoes in order to understand where they’re coming from. And this is the same idea—walk in Jesus’ ways. Look at how He lived, where He drew His confidence from, what He found value in talking about, who He spent time with. If we want to walk in His ways, we need to know how He walked! The Bible provides us with details in how He walked, so we should read it!
And church, we cannot walk in Him if we’re always running, amen? To walk in the ways of Jesus requires that we slow down and drink deeply of His ways. Like many of you, I’m guilty of running far too much in my life—packing my schedule so full that I don’t make time to read my Bible and be fed. Too busy to block out time for prayer. Far too often I’m too preoccupied to sit with others and discuss how God is building me and in what ways I’m not relying on His resources. So take time to walk in His ways as we run this race with perseverance.
I also think it’s important to note that walking in Him is not easy. Christ’s footprints went through some hard places. That’s why we’re told to count the cost of following Christ. If you submit your life to Jesus, that may mean that your dreams as you have them are not going to happen. He may call you to difficult circumstances. He may be the reason there are wedges between you and others. He may ask things of you that you don’t want to do. You will face persecution of some sort. But His will for you is perfect. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. He will sustain you in every way and provide the firm soil for your roots. He will hold you in the storm if He calls you to that.
And finally, the last part of Paul’s command to walk in His ways is that we abound in thanksgiving. This is a mark of being a Christian—that we live our lives with a disposition of thankfulness. The amazing thing here is that there are no caveats to this. It doesn’t say, “abound in thanksgiving when times are good,” or “abound in thanksgiving whenever you feel like it.” “Abound in thanksgiving when the sun shines and everyone is treating you like a rockstar.” It also doesn’t say, “try to be a little more thankful, huh?” or “tend to be more thankful than grumpy.” It simply says that any of us that have received Christ Jesus the Lord are to live, “abounding in thanksgiving.”
It’s far easier to be thankful when our glass is full. But when our glass is empty and has been for some time, when we’re in the middle of an unfulfilled pursuit and feel like our desires are being ignored, or when the God that gives has taken away from us something or someone we love…what is there to be thankful for?
This takes perspective, and it comes back to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. To abound in thanksgiving, we need to have the ability to remember who we are in Christ because of what He has already accomplished. We have a hope that supersedes circumstance. We can abound in thanksgiving because the giver of life, the one who causes breath and knows every hair on our head, and every thought we think, He loves us deeply. We can abound in thanksgiving because He first loved us, enough to send his son to live in perfection, without sin, only to take on all of the sin from every single person, lay them on Himself, and then accept the penalty of that sin. We can abound in thanksgiving because His death was not the tragic end; it’s the triumphant beginning! He defeated death and offers life with Him where He will wipe away every tear. Where pain will be no more. Where all will be made right again, and He will restore everything to it’s proper order, just the way He designed it.
That perspective, this hope we have, should cause us to abound in thanksgiving no matter what is going on in our lives. From a worldly perspective, this is impossible. When things are bad, and I know they are for some of you in this room, it can be tough to just get out of bed in the morning and put one foot in front of the other.
Like “The Big Oak”, the Lord creates in you deep roots and builds in you a strong trunk and thick branches, so that you can weather the storm. And not just in the sense of, “I survived,” but weather it in the way that a live oak does. “The Big Oak” has made it through 52 hurricanes since 1930, not to mention the other 250 years it has been alive before hurricanes were tracked, and each time, when the storm passed, the leaves on the tree remained green.
This is why Paul can rejoice in the midst of his suffering. It’s why African American slaves could sing of their savior and have joy despite their horrific and unescapable circumstances. It’s why missionaries are able to say goodbye to their loving families to depart for a land they don’t know. We have this same hope in us that they had in them.
So, Table Rock Church, “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”