Sunday, August 30, 2009

Colossians 1:24-29 - Serving Christ

Opening thoughtDuring the American Revolution a man in civilian clothes rode past a group of soldiers repairing a small defensive barrier. The officer was shouting instructions to the overworked men, but making no attempt to help them. The civilian rider asked why he wasn’t helping them, and the officer retorted with great dignity, "Sir, I am a corporal!"
The stranger apologized, dismounted, and proceeded himself to help the exhausted soldiers. The job done, he turned to the corporal and said, "Mr. Corporal, next time you have a job like this and not enough men to do it, go to your commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you again." The man in civilian clothes was General George Washington.[1]
The passage we have before us today is a lesson about serving Christ. It is about being a servant and not expecting to be served.

Pray and Read:  Colossians 1:24-29
Contextual Notes:  In our last passage, verses 21-23, we saw that the power of Jesus’ reconciliation on our behalf turned those of us who know Christ Jesus into friends. Today we will see how that reconciliation leads us to serving Christ.
Key Truth: Paul wrote Colossians 1:24-29 to teach the Colossian Christians to endure suffering, serve the church, and tell the good news for Christ’s sake.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about serving Christ. 
Sermon Points:
  1. Endure suffering for Christ’s sake (Col 1:24)
  2. Serve the church for Christ’s sake (Col 1:25-27)
  3. Tell the good news for Christ’s sake (Col 1:28-29)
Exposition:   Note well,
a.   When Paul was converted to Christ on the Damascus Road, Jesus told him two things: that he would be His chosen instrument to evangelize the Gentiles and it would involve suffering for Christ (Acts 9:4). The word Now refers either to his present imprisonment or the present era of suffering.
b.           Two words are used here for Suffering: First, παθημασιν  means that which is suffered or endured. Paul is enduring imprisonment, and he is happy to do that for Christ and in service to the Colossians. He knows that his case before Caesar’s court, the highest in the Empire, may help the cause of Christ and is bringing a high profile to the Gospel among the most powerful government and people on the planet at the time. θλίψεων: “of distress that is brought about by outward circumstances”[2] These are not afflictions related to the Passion and Redemption of Christ, but suffering which comes from being a servant of Christ.
c.           “I rejoice in the midst of” Notice that Paul is happy to endure the suffering of outward circumstances for Christ’s sake. This is not a platitude for Paul. It is one of his characteristics (Acts 16:25: Philippian jail. 2 Cor 11:16-33: Paul’s thorn; Rom 5:3; Phil 2:18).
d.           ILLUSTRATION: On Sunday (Aug. 9, 2009) two Christian women appeared before a judge who asked them if they would deny their newfound faith and return to Islam. Maryam Rostampour, 27, and Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad, 30, have been held in the notorious Evin prison since March 5 accused of “acting against state security” and “taking part in illegal gatherings.” In a short court session, the judge asked them if they were going to deny their faith and return to Islam, reported the Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN).
e.           As both women refused to recant their faith, the judge sent them back to their prison cells “to think about it,” according to a source who spoke with family members. “When they said, ‘Think about it,’ it means you are going back to jail,” said the source. “This is something we say in Iran. It means: ‘Since you’re not sorry, you’ll stay in jail for a long time, and maybe you’ll change your mind.’” The source said the first goal of judges in such cases is usually to make “apostates” deny their faith through threats or by sending them back to prison for a longer time.
f.            FCNN reported that in the last five months the women have been unwell and have lost much weight. Esmaeilabad suffers from spinal pain, an infected tooth and intense headaches and is in need of medical attention. None has been provided so far.[3]
g.   APPLICATION: As long as we live in this unrenewed world, there will be suffering. Suffering is part of this world because sin is in the world. Sin is in the world because we sin. Suffering is not God’s fault. It is our fault. Because we live in a fallen world, when we seek to serve Christ, we are serving a Lord who is an enemy to the world system. But Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Some of us suffer physically, and some other ways, but Paul reminds us that our suffering as a witness for Christ is a joy. Being part of the body of believers, the church, has its challenges. 

a.           “To fulfill the word of God” πληρωσαι τον λογον του θεου: 1st aorist active infinitive of purpose, to fill full or to give scope to the Word of God (2 Thess. 3:1).
b.           The mystery. The Gnostics talked a lot about mysteries, but Paul says that this mystery is not for only the special few, the sacred, the enlightened, the frozen chosen. It is for everyone. It is for whosoever will. Paul takes a word that had common use and uses it for the gospel. He doesn’t borrow it from the Greek mystery-religions. It is an OT term (Daniel 2:18ff). A mystery is a concealed truth which God reveals when the time is ripe. Thus what the prophets longed to understand in full was revealed to the disciples (Matt 13:11-17). This revelation now is that Gentiles and Jews are indwelt by Christ.
c.           Verse 27: Now God was pleased (willed) this change. Christ is our hope now (1 Tim 1:1) and our consummation (Rom 8:18).

d.           ILLUSTRATION: Unamuno, the Spanish philosopher, tells about the Roman aqueduct at Segovia, in his native Spain. It was built in 109 A.D. For eighteen hundred years, it carried cool water from the mountains to the hot and thirsty city. Nearly sixty generations of men drank from its flow. Then came another generation, a recent one, who said, "This aqueduct is so great a marvel that it ought to be preserved for our children, as a museum piece. We shall relieve it of its centuries-long labor."
They did; they laid modern iron pipes. They gave the ancient bricks and mortar a reverent rest. And the aqueduct began to fall apart. The sun beating on the dry mortar caused it to crumble. The bricks and stone sagged and threatened to fall. What ages of service could not destroy idleness disintegrated.[4]
e.           APPLICATION: Are you serving in Christ’s church? Do you know what your spiritual gifts are? Have you chosen to sit and become a pew potato? You don’t teach and preach or do children? We need folks to serve in more areas than that.
f.            Some of us think that we’ve done our part and the young people should take over now. Do you realize that most of the people in the Bible did not get very useful to the Lord until they were above retirement age? You say, yeah, and they lived a lot longer then. There are now nearly 100,000 people over age 100, in the US alone.[5]
g.           Some of us need to make a congregation our home. Many of us have forgotten the importance of church membership.

a.           Admonishing: to warn about practice
b.           Teaching: teaching about doctrine.
c.           With the goal of maturity in Christ. (teleion). Heb 5:14; Col 4:12; Eph 4:13
d.           For everyone. “every man” repeated three times. No exclusivity. No clergy/laity. No special, extra spiritual, enlightened.
e.           αγωνιζομενος Paul here uses the image of an athlete in the arena whose strength is the Lord’s working in him (1:29).
g.           APPLICATION: Is your life a decent testimony to the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ? Are you telling people about the free gift of eternal life in Him? Some people think that you should keep your religion to yourself, that it is a private matter. That is an anti-biblical idea. Not to mention plumb foolish. If you have anything going on in your life of any importance, the people in your circle of influence know about it. If you take a new job, they know it. If you meet the love of your life and get married, they all know it. If you like to play golf, they know it. Even if you buy a new vehicle, they know it. Some of us on facebook let our friends know when we go to Subway. How can we let our friends know all that about us and not let them know about what is supposed to be the most important part of our lives – whom we worship and to whom we trust our souls forever?
h.           Some of us don’t keep Christ hidden from other people. We are obnoxious about Jesus. There is so much self wrapped up in our testimony, that the only thing people hear when we talk to them about Christ is our own self-righteous drivel about what all we do for Jesus since He was so wise to save us in the first place. You’re so glad that Jesus woke up and saw the light and saved you (since you’re such a wonderful person that does so much for him in his kingdom). And by the way, you also know all the office gossip and steal time from your employer every day on the phone and in the break room keeping up with the sordid lives of those poor non-Christians who just wouldn’t be so if they would listen to you about how you can help them be good Christians like you are.
i.             Then some people have lives whose integrity and humility and wisdom invite and attract people to Jesus Christ. Their lives don’t point to themselves. Their lives point to Christ Jesus with gratitude for what He has done for them. And their mouths point to Jesus as well. They are not afraid to quietly say the blessing in front of their coworkers at lunchtime. They cannot help but allow other people to see the most important part of their lives. They are Christians who know that they have the privilege of the Great Commission to help accomplish. Their winsome attitude invites unbelievers to respect Christ. Their hands are quick to serve. Their feet are quick to get them where they can help. Their mouths speak the simple, clear message that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, including me. Are you like that? Do you know your next-door and across the road neighbors well enough to talk to them about Christ and invite them to worship with you? Are you looking for opportunities to serve your coworkers, not for your own self-image, but for Christ’s glorious name?

[1] Today in the Word, March 6, 1991;
[2] BDAG, 2nd ed., 362.                           
[4] Resource, Sept./ Oct., 1992, p. 4;