Two Empires

The following ‘address’ was delivered by Rev. Paul Dalzell on Sunday 14th July 2019 at Groomsport Presbyterian Church.

Colossians 1:3-8

Some years ago there was a Canadian advert for the world communications giant AT&T.  Their ad is of course repeated with variations by others – here’s the AT&T ad:

Your world without limits.  It’s not about phones, or faxes, or world wide web.  They are just the tools for you to do what you want, be what you want, get what you want from life.  Life?  You get out of it what you put into it.  Introducing AT&T Canada True choice… A world of communication tools for the only world that matters.  Yours.

That only world that matters… yours.   


We live in a generation when people take what they think they will like and leave the rest, and no one dare make any judgement on another person’s choices. 

Back in the first century, the Christians who lived at Colossae lived under the Roman Empire, but today we also live under a kind of world empire, an empire that denies absolute truth, an empire that is suspicious of authority, an empire that thinks science will provide all the answers, an empire that encourages us to consume.

But this secular empire is struggling, we only have to look at the election by the Conservative party of their next party leader, or the anti-Semitism that is claimed to plague the Labour party.  To say nothing of the EU and the on-going Brexit nightmare.

Just as this secular empire is struggling so we as Presbyterians are struggling because our minds have been moulded by this secular empire. 

We have recognised the decline numerically in our Presbyterian churches and many different plans, mission plans have been drawn up, but those subconsciously are framed by this secular empire under which we live. The world of consumerism, the world of giving people what they think they want, providing choices, rather than giving them what they need.

Now here’s the big question:  What do people need? 

At the base of it all, we need hope!

In the first chapter of Colossians Paul talks about Hope.

We all need hope.  For the Christian, ours is an eternal hope.  In Colossians 1:5 Paul speaks of this hope as being stored up for you in heaven.

Now to use the word hope is, of course, open to misunderstanding. Some might think of it in the sense of “I hope so”.  However, the New Testament hope refers to the confident expectation that God will fulfil all his promises to us, and in this hope we will not be disappointed.

Now Colossians doesn’t fully explain what this hope is in heaven, but be in no doubt that it is far more than we can imagine.  It is not just some dream of pie in the sky when we die, but Paul asserts in Colossians that it is grounded in truth, in reality.

That is one major point on which the Kingdom of Christ, his Empire differs from the secular, consumerism 21st century Empire that we live in.  For we believe in the absolute truth of a person. Not a philosophy, not man-made rules and regulations, not traditions, but a person, Jesus Christ, whom we believe lived and died and rose again.

As Christians, we don’t search for the truth, but we start with the truth, the Lord Jesus Christ.

So the Christian hope, a future hope, comes about because of the message of truth that is Jesus Christ.

Because of this hope, we place our faith in Jesus Christ.

Listen to Paul.

Colossians 1:4-5  writing about the Christians who lived at Colossae:

we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people — 5  the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel. 

Where does faith and love come from?  They spring from hope.  Our hope produces on-going faith in Christ Jesus.  Not just intellectual belief, believing facts in our heads, but faith, in that we trust Jesus in the midst of suffering and even plaguing doubts.  We trust him even when we are struggling with why the world is the way it is. We trust him as we struggle with why church is the way it is.  Yes, it’s important to plan and have various activities and events and so forth in the church, but our faith is not in our programs or our mission plans but in Jesus Christ.

This eternal hope produces faith, but it also produces love.

There is no doubt that we all are influenced by the secular, consumerism empire in which we all live. We are all ‘influenced’ but by how much are we ‘controlled’ by this empire?  Remember part of the thinking of this empire is, ‘the only world that matters, is yours’. If that’s what controls us, then it will be impossible to love as Christ calls us to love.

Paul had been told of the Colossians love in the Spirit (1:7).  The love the Colossians had for each other was truly a miraculous love; it was the produce of hope worked in their lives by the Holy Spirit.  They lived in the Roman Empire, but they lived under the control of King Jesus by his Spirit and so they had love for all God’s people.  However imperfect they thought other Christians were, they may have deemed some of their fellow Christians to be worse sinners; nevertheless, they had love for each other.

To love is not a choice for the Christian; it is a command.  This love is not about emotions for you cannot command emotions, but it’s about how we act.  It’s about how we treat each other, how we relate to each other.  Love does not despise, love does not ignore, love does not slander another or gossip about them; love does not look down upon someone.

O the empire in which we live, this worldly Empire will tell us to do those things but what if our lives are under the control of King Jesus?

We are to love in that we act in a manner that promotes the good of others, seeks the better welfare of others, even those who naturally are not very lovable.

David Garland, in his commentary on Colossians, commenting on these verses writes this:

“Until Christians act like Christians, following their Lord and imbued with his Spirit, they will have little or no impact on their world.”

Just as the people who lived in Colossae in the first century lived in a very real Roman Empire and came under pressures from it to conform, so also we live in a secular, consumerism, self absorbed empire that daily pressurises us through advertising, through television, through the internet to conform to its world view, to live up to its image.

But who is King of your life?  And I ask myself, who is King of mine?

Which Empire holds sway. Which Empire has the ultimate say.  O we profess with our lips ‘Jesus is Lord’, we sing in our hymns, ‘Jesus is Lord’ but do you live in the world with Jesus as Lord.  Does he determine your morals, your attitudes, your actions and your reactions? 

The World Empire that we live in today daily pressurises us to conform.  But what of this other Empire, this other Lord, the one who loved his enemies, the one who forgave people, the one who touched those whom the world considered untouchable, the one who gave time to the scum of society, the one who said the meek and the poor, those are the people who count.  The one who said don’t store up for yourself treasure on earth but treasure in heaven.  Is he really Lord of our lives? Or is it just a nice idea?

May God grant his grace and Spirit to help us live the life that has an eternal hope, a life of faith in King Jesus, a life of love that makes a real difference in the Church and in the World.

And to our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be all glory and praise.