Stephen Caswell © 1999
Praying and Working
A scholar at a boarding school near London was commended for repeating her lessons well. A school companion, who was always idly inclined, said to her one day, "How is it that you always say your lessons perfectly?" She replied, "I always pray that I may say my lessons well." "Do you?" replied the other. "Then I'll pray, too." But the next morning she could not repeat one word of her lesson. Very much confounded she ran to her friend. "I prayed," said she, "but I could not repeat a word of my lesson." "Perhaps," rejoined the other, "you took no pains to learn it." "Learn it! Learn it!" answered the first. "I did not learn it at all. I didn't know I needed to learn it, when I prayed that I might say it." She loved her idleness, poor girl. And her praying was but a mockery. God answers prayer faithfully but also expects us to be faithful.
Last time we looked at the Book of Colossians we saw how Paul prayed for the Church there. Although he hadn't started this church, Paul had a genuine concern for these saints, as he did for all God's people. Today we will see three characteristics that identify Paul as a good servant of Jesus Christ. He laboured faithfully for the Lord all the while depending on God for strength. Would you like to be a more faithful servant for Jesus Christ? Paul was an apostle, but we can all learn from his example. A good servant of God, centers his ficus on Jesus Christ. He displays three qualities.
I. He Rejoices In Christ's Suffering
II. He Reveals God's Secrets
III. He Relies On God's Strength
Firstly He Rejoiced In Christ's Suffering
Colossians 1:24 I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,
a. He Suffers For Christ
Paul told Timothy that a good soldier of Christ endures hardship. Part of this inevitably leads to suffering. Paul knew what it meant to suffer for his faith. Not only that, he rejoiced in it. But how could he rejoice in suffering? Because he knew that he was suffering for Jesus Christ who was worthy. Paul says that he is filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions. Wasn't Christ's suffering on the cross sufficient? Yes they were! That is not what Paul is referring to here. The word afflictions thlipsis is never used to describe Christ's suffering on the cross. Paul is saying that because of our identity in Christ, when believers suffer Christ suffers with them. He learnt this on the Damascus Road where Christ said to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Therefore Paul rejoiced because he was counted worthy to suffer for Christ. Peter and John rejoiced in suffering too. In Acts 5:41 we read:
So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.
b. He Suffers For The Church
Paul suffered for Christ but he also suffered for the church. Paul instructed the Philippians in this very thing. Philippians 1:29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. In fact, the church at Philippi started as a result of the sufferings of Paul and Silas. They rejoiced in prison after they were shamefully treated and the jailor and his family came to put their faith in Christ. God's power is evidenced most mightily through suffering saints who rejoice. When believers suffer patiently for their faith, God is able to accomplish much through them.
Paul said that he suffered on behalf of the church. If Paul hadn't preached the Gospel he would not have suffered. But then you and I might not be here today either. When Christians suffer they rely more heavily on the Lord than they do normally. Then God is able to strengthen and comfort them in their tribulations. Paul says that God had comforted him in his sufferings that he might comfort others also. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Hallelujah from the Depths
When Handel wrote the "Hallelujah Chorus," his health and his fortunes had reached the lowest possible ebb. His right side had become paralyzed, and all his money was gone. He was heavily in debt and threatened with imprisonment. He was tempted to give up the fight. The odds seemed entirely too great. And it was then he composed his greatest work--Messiah. Could we not say of Handel that the Spirit entered into him and set him upon his feet?
Paul rejoiced in suffering for Christ. How do you respond to suffering for Christ? Do you become despondent or want to give up? Or do you rejoice that you have been counted worthy to suffer for His name? In Australia believers lives are not put at risk like they are in some countries. People may laugh at us but that is about a far as it goes. Do you suffer for Christ? Do people at work and in your neighbourhood know that you are a Christian? Do you share the Gospel with them? Or have you become a secret disciple to avoid persecution? Christ calls us to both believe in Him and to suffer for Him! I trust you are faithful. Paul rejoiced in suffering:
He Also Revealed God's Secrets
a. The Minister Colossians 1:25 Of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God,
Paul became a minister after receiving God's call. God gave him a stewardship to preach the Gospel. A steward was someone placed in charge of a household. The master of the house appointed a servant to run the household affairs for him. Paul knew he must be faithful to the Lord's call. He must fulfill his responsibility.
b. The Message
Colossians 1:26-27 The mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. God made Paul a minister. He also gave Paul the message to preach. The message was a mystery that had been hidden from past generations. Paul along with the other Apostles was given the responsibility to declare this mystery. Now that God's plan of salvation had been completed God wanted to share it. The mystery was that Jesus Christ lived in His people. God was no longer removed behind the temple veil. He now lived in His people.
And what is more there was no distinction between Jew and Gentile. All of God's people were on equal footing in Christ. Jesus Christ, God, lives inside His people that we might be partakers of the divine nature.This message was wonderful news now and also the cause of great hope for the future. For one day Christ would share His glory with His people. They would see Him in glory and revel in it. They themselves would receive new glorified bodies. 1 John 3:2 Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
c. The Method
God sent His Son to bring the message to mankind. He revealed this wonderful mystery to the apostles. But how did they make it known to the world? They used three methods to do this. Colossians 1:28 a Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom,
1. Preaching 2. Warning 3. Teaching
1. Preach Christ
The word preach means to announce, to declare as a herald, to proclaim. Paul preached with the authority he had been given. And he preached Christ, the One who desired to dwell in His people. Today too much preaching is taken from the news papers or philosophy. This is not new, for in Colossae the Gnostics preached special knowledge other than the word. How did Paul respond to their heresy? 1 Corinthians 1:21-24 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. You cannot preach the gospel unless you preach Jesus Christ. Only Christ provides salvation. There's only one way to heaven and Jesus Christ is that Way. Paul showed people the right road.
2. Warning Every Man
Paul not only preached, he also warned every man. The word warn means to put in mind. To tell people of the pitfalls along the way. Some people feel that this is negative, we should just concentrate on the truth. But warning and correction are an important part of the word of God. God declares the truth about salvation, but He also warns people of the dangers of disobedience.
Driving To Sydney
When you drive to a town far away you need to follow the road signs and a map. If you don't you will end up getting lost. The road signs tell you a number of things. They tell you where the road is going. They tell you how fast you can drive and when bends are approaching. They warn you to slow down in wet weather. If you don't follow the signs you get lost and perhaps even hurt. This is what Paul did. Firstly he lead them to salvation through Jesus Christ. He got them on the Right Way. But then he warned believers about the pitfalls along the way. He warned them so that they would stay on the right path and not be lead astray by false teachers.
3. Teaching Every Man
There was a third ministry Paul exercised. He also taught Christians how to live. The word teach means to direct, to admonish, to teach. Paul directed and instructed about the Christian life. This is an important part of the ministry. Paul's teaching was centered in Jesus Christ. Shortly we will see in Paul's prayer for them that He desired that they should know the mysteries about God the Father and the Son. In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Last year I had the opportunity to read Pilgrim's Progress. Pilgrim was so convicted about his sin that he left the city of destruction for the celestial city. Along the way were many dangers and it was important for him to stay on the right path. Christian lodged at many places along the way for the night. These lodgings were provided by the King and the hosts shared news of the journey ahead with him. They warned him of the pitfalls and taught him of the Kings provision for the journey. Christian was helped a great deal by these servants of the Lord. In fact he couldn't have completed his journey without their help.
It is important that ministers exercise all three forms of instruction to people. Every man needs this. Paul uses the words every man three times in this verse. All men need to hear the Gospel message and obey. All men require warning and teaching after they believe. This is so that they can stay on the right path for their journey.
d. The Motive
But what is Paul's motive in doing all of this? What is the purpose for preaching, warning and teaching every man? Colossians 1:28 b that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. Paul wanted to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. When Christ returns for His people, He will evaluate our service. He will examine how we used the talents that He gave to us. Paul's desire is that every man will stand before Christ perfect. The word perfect doesn't mean sinless. But means fully developed or mature. It has the idea of completion. Is this achievable? Yes it is.
Sandy and myself waited 8 years for Lauren's arrival. When she first came home we thought she was wonderful. We still do. But Lauren was a baby. As cute as she was she was not perfect. She needed to fed often and this often meant late at night. She messed her napies and cried in the afternoon each day for no reason. But that's what babies do. But they don't stay that way, they have to grow. As they grow they learn to look after themselves. For a start they are toilet trained. They can feed themselves and before you know it they bring you breakfast in bed and go to work so that you can retire and let them care for you. Maybe it's not that good. But they do grow and mature. And that's what they are supposed to do. But it takes time.
In the Christian life we start as babies. We feed on the sincere milk of the word and this nourishes us and helps the growth process. But we can't stay on milk forever, we must go on to the deeper things of the word. The Corinthians stayed on milk and failed to grow. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?
It is only as we apply God's word in our lives that we develop our spiritual muscles. Obedience to God's word enables the Spirit to conform us into Christ's image. The sad thing is many Christians remain like babies. Babies cry and scream to get their own way. Some Christians behave this way all their life and after fifty or sixty years they are still crying and screaming. Their is little evidence of God's grace in their lives since they only winge and complain about every one else. But Paul's goal for teaching and warning every man is that they might become mature, complete Christians.
Have you grown in the Lord through obedience to His word? Are you applying the teaching and warnings of Scripture in your life? Or are you still a baby that requires milk when you should have grown? God's desire for His children is that they grow into maturity. It is very sad to see older believers who behave like babies, always crying and screaming. Not only did Paul Rejoice in suffering and Reveal God's mysteries he also knew the secret of the Christian life:
He Relied On God's Strength
a. Power Colossians 1:29 To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily. But where did Paul draw his strength from? God's working worked mightily in Paul. Paul uses three words here to describe God's power. God was the One giving Paul the strength and energy that he needed. Paul recognized the operation of the Holy Spirit in his life. In fact he relied on it. Paul on his own could do nothing. John 15:5 b says, For without Me you can do nothing. But God enabled him to accomplish much. Paul evangelized much of the Roman empire and Spain in his lifetime. He said this in Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
The Plodders Are Christ
When William Carey began thinking of going to India as a pioneer missionary, his father pointed out to him that he possessed no academic qualifications that would fit him for such a task. But Carey answered, "I can plod." How true it is that God accomplishes mighty things for his kingdom through those who are willing to persevere, who are willing to plod faithfully through one difficulty after another in the power of the Spirit. William Carey translated the New Testmanet into 45 different languages.
To this end I also labor, striving. There is a good balance in this verse between reliance upon on the Lord and faithfulness to God's call. Paul begins by saying that he labored. The word labor here means to toil, to become weary through hard work, to faint from weariness, to feel fatigue. Paul worked hard for Jesus Christ. He applied himself with all the vigor he could muster. The next word striving agonizomai from which we get agonize. This word means to fight, contend, or to earnestly strive. This word was used of the Greek athletes who strove to reach the finishing line first. Paul was not slack in his service. He didn't pray and than sit around waiting for God to do it all.
But how could Paul minister to the Church at Colossae when he had never been there? Good question. But he did, through prayer. Paul prayed for them often. He prayed for them earnestly. In chapter 1 verses 3 and 9 we are told that Paul prayed for them. Further evidence of this is found in verses 29 to 2:3. Colossians 1:29-2:3 To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily. For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Paul strove for them in prayer. This same word is used in Colossians 4:12 where Epaphras labored fervently in prayer. Fervent prayer takes effort. Prayer in the Spirit involves toil and labor since we are wrestling against the forces of darkness. Paul says here that he had a great conflict for them. The word conflict comes from that same word agonize or striving in verse 29 and 4:12. Paul was concerned for them because Satan was trying to lead them astray through false teaching. So he prayed against Satan's work. He prayed earnestly and specifically. Paul taught these things when he was present, but when he was absent he prayed for their fulfilment. The purpose in both cases is spiritual maturity. He prayed for four things.
1. Encouragement - Paul prayed that their hearts might be encouraged. The English word encourage means with heart. This word is related to word paraclete or comforter which the Holy Spirit is called. We all need comfort and encouragement along the way. Paul prayed for God to encourage them.
2. Endearment - Paul prayed that their hearts might be knit together in love. God's love unites people together. Envy and strife separate. Mature believers are peacemakers not troublemakers. Colossians 3:14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
3. Enrichment - Paul prayed that they might attain to all the riches of full assurance of understanding. In verse 27 Paul talked about the riches of the glory revealed to the church. God has given us so much, we just need to draw on this and be thankful. Mature Christians don't complain about what they don't have. Rather they make use of the vast resources that they do have in Christ.
4. Enlightenment - Paul also prayed for the full assurance of understanding to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Mature believers have assurance that they are children of God. The spiritual knowledge that they have in Christ constantly enlightens them and directs them daily. They have grown in their knowledge of God, the Father and the Son. Wisdom, understanding and knowledge of God are found in the word. Those who study and apply the word will not lack assurance. Jude 20 Build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.
God Hears the Intercession of Saints
Some tourists saw in Venice a picture of St. Mark and other holy champions delivering the fair city from the devil, who had resolved to raise a great storm in the Adriatic, flood the lagoons, and drown the inhabitants of the "bride of the sea." The whole story is merely a legend, but even so the picture is capable of mirroring the truth that the intercession of saints and God's peculiar regard for them have oftentimes delivered the church.
Paul tells us another reason why he prayed this way and why he wrote these things in Colossians 2:4. Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words. Paul didn't want the Colossians to be lead astray by these Gnostic teachers. They were smooth talkers who claimed to have something more. He wanted them to know that all they needed for the Christian life was to be found in Jesus Christ. They only needed to grow in their relationship with Him. They only needed to draw on His strength. Jesus Christ is the complete revelation of God. Colossians 2:9-10 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him,
The Christian life is only possible when we draw on the Holy Spirit's power. Paul relied on Him continualy and was therefore very fruitful. Paul worked to the point of exhaustion for the Lord. He was not slack in his service for the Church. And this involved earnest prayer for the saints. He knew that God can do far more when we pray than when we work on our own.
What is needed to be a faithful servant of Jesus Christ? Three things that focus on Jesus Christ.
I. He Rejoices In Christ's Suffering
Paul rejoiced that he could suffer for Christ. He knew that God was glorified in this. He also knew that the Lord used suffering for opportunities to reach the lost. Do you suffer for Christ? Do people at work and in your neighbourhood know that you are a Christian? Do you share the Gospel with them? Or have you become a secret disciple to avoid persecution? How do you respond to suffering for Christ? Do you become despondent or want to give up? Or do you rejoice that you have been counted worthy to suffer for His name?
II. He Reveals God's Secrets
Paul knew the importance of a balanced ministry. He preached, warned and taught every man. Have you grown in the Lord through obedience to His word? Are you applying the teaching and warnings of Scripture in your life? Or are you still a baby that requires milk when you should have grown? God wants us to become mature believers. This requires obedience to the word.
III. He Relies On God's Strength
Are you drawing on the Spirit's power for the Christain life? Are you praying for yourself, your fellow Christians and the lost? Are you praying earnestly and specifically in the Holy Spirit? Are you labouring with vigour in the Lord's service?
2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.