Together in Absence
Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It is my great privilege to share the Word of God with the saints of Durbin Memorial Baptist Church this morning.
Next Sunday Morning we are going to be having our Homecoming celebration and we will hopefully be welcoming some friends of the church that have not been able to be with us for some time.
I am thankful to be a small part of the 82 years of ministry God has blessed this church to have, celebrating my own two year anniversary here just last week. While still a relative newcomer, I know that many of you have longstanding memories of the great things God has done through this church.
When we celebrate homecoming, we will be reminded of those whom are no longer worshipping with us on a regular basis, and yet they are a part of the history of God’s providence in this church, and they remain our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are still tied together in the bonds of love by the blood of Jesus Christ.
It is important for us to remember that whether our active membership is in the thirties or upwards of 100, Are calling is to honor the Lord through faithfulness in response to the grace He bestowed upon us from the cross of Calvary. We can also be encouraged to remember that we are not in this Christian life alone!
It is a blessing to know that faithful churches exist across this city, this state, this country, and this world. It is a blessing to know that we are working together with the larger body of Christ for the profit of His Kingdom.
*Illustration* There is a show on the History Channel called Alone. The title is very appropriate. Here is the description of the show from Wikipedia. “It follows the self-documented daily struggles of 10 individuals as they survive alone in the wilderness for as long as possible using a limited amount of survival equipment. With the exception of medical check-ins, the participants are isolated from each other and all other humans. They may "tap out" at any time, or be removed due to failing a medical check-in. The contestant who remains the longest wins a grand prize of $500,000.”
So the basic point of the show is live as long you can with minimal supplies all on your own. One the contestants on the first season was a man by the name of Alan Kay.
I’ll let you watch the show if you want to know how he did, no spoilers this morning. Except I want to show what this same man looked like at the end of his period of isolation.
We can see the physical effects of his isolation.
But please know that the struggle the people go through on this show is not just related to the ability to gather food or find shelter. They are all seasoned survivalists. There is a deep emotional burden toll that takes place while in isolation.
Another contestant said this at the end of their time, "I try to tough things out but it was a slow brutal decline of just losing passion for this, wanting to be out, wanting to be home, taking care of my pregnant wife.” The article stated, “[this contestant] went from an enthusiastic adventurer to a shell of his former self by day 50.”
I bring up this show because it is a very visceral way to show us the effects of Isolation. We can look at the pictures and hear the stories and intuit that something is wrong with it! We know to our core that we are not designed for isolation, but rather we are a communal creature.
That is why it is such a blessing that God has graced us with the local church! It is a pleasure, a joy, a great encouragement, to gather together with this body on a regular basis to spur one another on to love and good works. We must not be isolated from other believers!
So today, as we continue to consider what “Living the Christian Life” looks like, we recognize that why our faith is personal, our practice and place are corporate. We thrive in connection with other believers. And not only are we connected with the local congregation God has placed us in, we are also connected with all believers all over and throughout history as well.
This is an important reality for the believer to understand because the enemy wishes us to believe we are isolated. Why? Because we wither when we are isolated.
If you would, open your Bibles to Colossians 2. Today we are going to start in the first verse. As you are turning there, I want to help set the context for what we are going to read. Paul is writing to this church in Colossae and they are going to share this letter with other churches in the area. This area had received the gospel, the church was formers, sinners were coming to Christ. But they had yet to meet Paul. It is most likely that Epaphras, their pastor was converted to Christianity at one of Paul’s missionary stops around Ephesus and then sent back home to spread the gospel in Colossae. So you have a whole group of Christians that received the Word through the ministry of Epaphras. Paul is writing to them encouragements and instructions. These were especially necessary because this group of faithful believers were on a spiritual island. They had each other, but everyone else around them was trying to pull them away from the truth, the gospel, that they had received. Paul is writing to this congregation to let them know that they are in fact not alone. Though Paul may be absence on a regular basis in person he is with them in spirit. We see the interconnected togetherness that exists in the body of Christ.
Read with me starting in verse 1.
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face,
Paul is telling the congregation that he is struggling and contending for their benefit. These are Christians that he has never seen in person, but the effort is worth it for their benefit.
In the rest of this chapter, which we will see in the weeks to come, Paul is address the false teaching that is running rampant in this area. Paul is showing a willingness to come along side these people as they reject the false teaching. That is the struggle, the fight that Paul is involved in. It is a fight for truth to be proclaimed so that the God of truth is given the glory and fallen man would see the truth of their condition and their Savior.
It is interesting for us to consider that while this letter was written to a particular group in a particular time, its message is clearly applicable to us today! Paul, in his humanity, may not have known what the scope of his ministry would be. Today, two millennia later, we are benefiting from Paul’s struggle for truth. How is that the case? Well, we are able to see what God had him write to the early churches. The early churches took the encouragement and pressed on in the faith. The gospel would continue to be spread. It made it through decades and distance to you thanks to God who worked through faithful messengers such as Paul and many others along the way to get it to us. How cool is that!
So we, like the Colossians, benefit from Paul’s struggle. That struggle was not in vain. Truth passed one through the generations.
Not only do we benefit from Paul’s struggle for the church at large, but this should also be seen as an encouragement for us to struggle for other believers. If we know the truth of what Jesus Christ has done for, that is reconciling us to the Father through the blood of the Son, then we should also struggle, strive, contend, to promote truth both domestically and abroad because it is a worthy use of our efforts! We glorify God as we cling to the truth and teach it to others.
On a very practical level, we may not have the teaching prowess of Paul, nor. The connections to go on exotic missionary trips to take the gospel where it has never been before. But all of us are capable for praying for both missionaries and people groups that are out there right. We are able to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ that are being persecuted for their beliefs. We are able to partner with missionaries! Right now this church has a direct relationship with three missionary families in two continents and through our participation in the cooperative program of the SBC we are financially supporting missionaries all over the world. As we participate in the annual conventions, we are given the opportunity to help shape where those efforts are going.
Church, it is important to know that Christendom extends beyond this bend of the Kentucky River. We steward our efforts to be faithful where God has called us while being reminded that we are apart of the body of Christ at large and support them in the ways we are able.
In our local context, it is my prayer that we are willing to struggle for one another. As the pastor of this congregation, I strives to fend off false beliefs and teach truth from this pulpit. We should all be striving to fend off falsities and teaching others to do same. May we continue to participate in gospel centered partnerships around the world and live gospel centered lives right here. All of which contending for the truth of Christ.
After telling the church that he is struggling for them, Paul lets them know what the intended result of that struggle is. Look at verse 2.
that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,
The results of righteous struggle, contending for the truth, are a body of believers that are encouraged, united, and settled in truth.
We’ll break these down one by one.
What does it mean for hearts to be encouraged?
Well let us first define the heart. This isn’t just talking about the abstract emotions, but also has implications to the physiological effects of strong emotions. You know when you’re nervous about something and you feel physically ill? Strong emotions illicit physical reactions. In the writing of this letter, “the abstract concept of emotions was viewed in terms of the concrete physical effects they produce. When Paul is not simply referring to small emotions nor simply the physical organ of the heart. Rather, he is talking about the very core of the believers being. That spot where biology, psychology, and spirituality meet.
Paul is expressing the intention for the hearts, the core of the people to be more than just occasionally lifted up, but truly strengthened for the long haul.
That word “encouraged” is parakaleo in the Greek. William Barclay notes that, "there was a Greek regiment which had lost heart and was utterly dejected. The general sent a leader to talk to it to such purpose that courage was reborn and a body of dispirited men became fit again for heroic action. That is what [parakaleo] means here. It is Paul's prayer that the Church may be filled with that courage which can cope with any situation."
Paul wants the church to spiritually fit, strong hearted. He wants them to know that there are people out there supporting them, but more than that, Christ is the preeminent Savior and they have the Holy Spirit as their guide through a world that would tell them they are the outcasts. Remember, as we saw last week, the power for this encouraging does not come from Paul himself, but rather the God who is working through Him.
Our hearts are encouraged as we look to the God of our encouragement. When we dwell on Christ, we should be encouraged. When we consider the richness of glory, we should be encouraged. We should take particular interest in guarding our hearts, to avoid becoming isolated and discouraged.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
We need to take note of the things we allow to influence us to the core of our being. We will see later on in Colossians the instruction to keep our eyes on the things that are above where Christ is. We are encouraged when we consider the greatness and glory of God. Fill your life and your heart with with heavenly things. Fill your life with heavenly places. Fill your life with heavenly people.
This leads us into the next result from faithfully contending for truth. Go back to verse 2
that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,
The second intended result from fixating on the truth of the gospel is being knit together in love. That is to be united.
It is amazing how God works through the studying of His Word. When I began preparing for this series I had read the book of Colossians multiple times. And I was thinking about teaching through it, I was doing so with the intention of showing you how you as an individual believer live out a life for God’s glory. Now there is still plenty of individual application to be had in this book, but through this deeper study I have been just floored by the how essential community is for the thriving life of the believer.
Believer, you cannot be knit together, united, with a group of believers if you are living your faith on an island! And you aren’t supposed to! Living the Christian Life is living a communal life as a part of God’s PEOPLE. For the believer to flourish in their faith, community must be an active part of their life.
One thing is very clear as you study the New Testament. Paul had a deep deep love for Christ’s church. This model for ministry, the local church, was established by Christ Himself. It is the model through which we see His kingdom grow. United, local groups. The groups are connected to other local groups and the members within each group are connected to each other through the same Jesus who saved them.
Paul is writing to these groups saying the intention is for them to be United! You cannot do that on your own. We miss out on the avenue of encouragement God graciously provided for us when we decide that we do not need to be a part of the local assembly. One pastor noted that “All believers possess the same eternal life, all come to Christ in the same way, and all were placed into the same body of Christ by the same Spirit.”
We are to be a part of the church and we are to be united in the church.
Francis Schaefer called the unity of the church “the final apologetic” to the watching world. He wrote “In John 13 the point was that, if an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he is not a Christian. [In John 17] Jesus is stating something else which is much more cutting, much more profound: We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians.”
For our time this morning, we wont be able to exposit John 13 and 17, but I do recommend doing so for your own personal study. The point of Schaefer’s quote is this: Unity in the church, being knit together is important. It is our calling from above and our witness here below. They will know we are Christians by our love. Not only does our unity identify us as Christians, but it also gives witness to the truth of Christ. As we struggle and contend for truth and fixate on Christ, we grow together, knit together in love.
There is still another intended result from contending for truth in Christendom, that is being settled in truth
that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
The focus and fight for truth leads to the knowing Christ and being assured in faith.
And let us dwell for a moment on that assurance. Notice that it is called “the riches of full assurance!” What a blessing it is that we can be assured in our faith! We can look forward to the blessing of heaven because we are assured of our place there, not by what we have done, but by the mighty work of Jesus Christ! We have assurance in tryin times knowing that while our circumstances change, God does not.
This assurance manifests in our lives when we are focussed on the truth of Jesus Christ. The understanding Paul refers to in this verse is getting at the application of assurance in Christ. When you experience spiritual truth by living it out, by employing the spiritual disciplines we’ve been talking about on Sunday nights, by putting thought into practice, it builds the assurance we have in our salvation. Truly “Living the Christian Life” is knowing the Lord and living in response to the grace you have received.
These three results of contending for truth flow together and feed off of one another. One pastor wrote, “Truth that finds solid footing in a strong heart and works itself out in love of fellow believers results in deEp conviction. That is the basis for assurance.”
All of this is centered around the truth of Jesus Christ. By the grace of God we have knowledge of His Mystery, that being Christ, God incarnate, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
One of the earliest Christian Hymns presents this truth as such:
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
Here we see the great revealed mystery of Jesus Christ. God in the flesh! Raised by the Spirit, known by God’s angels, Shouted from every corner of creation, believed on by faithful saints around the globe, and sitting at the right hand of the Father in glory at this very moment!
That is the glorious Jesus who is the Savior for all those believe in Him. That is the Jesus we preach each and every Sunday. That is the Jesus that permeates every one of our Bible Studies. That is the Jesus who encouraged our hearts. That is the Jesus who knits us together. That is the JEsus that is our blessed assurance.
Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh what a foretaste of glory divine!
That is the Jesus we strive to promote in everything we do. And that is the Jesus we must continue to have at the very core of our lives, exactly where He should be.
We must focus on Jesus. Our finite minds will never be able to fully grasp His greatness but the more we gaze upon Him the more we see the rich treasures of wisdom and knowledge contained therein.
We focus on this glorious Jesus so that we are not distracted by the lies of the world. Look at verse 4
I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.
We remember the greatness of Jesus so as to not be misled by those who stand against Him. There is plenty of historical evidence to confirm the person of Jesus living in Judea 2000 years ago. But those who cannot deny that Jesus was here in the flesh, seek to attack the deity of Christ. He was just a man. Just a good teacher. Just a political activist. Well He may well have been all of those things, but He was also the God manifested in Flesh, raised, seen, proclaimed, believed, and ascended into glory. For more on the deity of Jesus review Colossians 1.
When we are isolated in our faith and surrounded by spiritual Enemy forces, they seek to delude us by diminishing the glory of Jesus.
Paul here is warning the Colossians and us today that there are those out there who not only deny Christ, but will seek to render you impotent in your faith by causing you doubt.
We live in a world full of those who reject the world. The bad news here in the Book of Colossians is that believers are under attack! This hasn't stopped since the writing of this letter. But let’s finish looking at the good news:
For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
Paul reminds the group that he has been unable to be with them in person, but that they are united in Spirit. They share the bond of the Holy Spirit. He has heard the joyous reports from their elder Epaphras. Despite the challenges and naysayers around them, he rejoices because he has heard of the firmness of their faith in Christ. Good order and firm are military metaphors which paint the picture of the Colossians not breaking rank or defecting. When the enemy attacked, the Colossians maintained a solid front.
Here we see two forms of togetherness that should be applauded and give us encouragement as we are living the Christian life.
First we see that the Colossian church was united together in the truth of Christ. They were a healthy church working together for the glory of the Lord. May we be resolved to unite together as we gaze upon the glory of Christ.
The second form of togetherness is being together in absence. Paul was unable to be with them personally but they were connected. In many ways this holds true for us today. It was not God’s plan that the Apostle Paul would enter our doors and preach this morning. I apologize you have to deal with a second stringer. But God’s teaching through the pen of Paul is able to be with us for our benefit as we contend for the truth of Christ. Though we were unable to witness the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are blessed to see the faithful testimony passed from generation to generation. And we can also appreciate togetherness in absence as we are reminded of the distance between us and all those faithful brothers and sisters in Christ around the world struggling for the same edification and togetherness we are. We can support them through prayer, words of encouragement, and supporting missional endeavors with the understanding that we may be absent now, but we will be together forever in glory.
Once again, “All believers possess the same eternal life, all come to Christ in the same way, and all were placed into the body of Christ by the same Spirit.”
But notice that this unity is only shared by believers. Those who understand that Christ lived died and rose again to pay for our sins and bring us to glory. If you want to know more about what that means, come forward today.