"REJOICE IN THE STRUGGLE"
(A Sermon from Colossians)
Westgate Chapel 7/25/04 Colossians 1:24-2:1
PROPOSITION: The call to pursue Christ was never intended to be trouble free, but rather a struggle with a purpose, a living hope, and inner power in Christ Jesus.
- HOW many of you have heard invitations to Christianity that sound something like this?
- COME to Jesus and find peace of mind!
- BECOME a Christian and be freed from all guilt!
- FIND your healing in Christ Jesus!
- BE fulfilled following Christ!
- FIND your purpose in life, come to Christ!
- LET Jesus heal your marriage!
- JESUS will put your broken life back together again!
- COME to Christ and you will prosper....you'll be happy.
- ALL of these statements are true, and based on promises in God's Word.
- BUT they are only part of what it means to follow Christ.
- UNFORTUNATELY, since we don't want to scare anyone off, and since we feel a responsibility to do God's PR work for Him......we tend to emphasize the benefits of being a disciple of Christ and we play down the struggle.
- ADD to that the consumer mentality of my generation today and you have, in America, what Chuck Colson calls "Hot Tub Religion."
- THE demand for a "feel better" religion is at an all-time high....."which is why" says a recent NEWSWEEK article, "the least demanding churches are now in the greatest demand."
- COLSON says, "Spiritual consumers today are interested not in what a church stands for but in the fulfillment it can deliver."
- SO, as churches compete for people's discretionary time, alongside TV, Sports, and Nintendo.....many are pressured into making the Gospel as attractive as possible....even if it means leaving out some of the costs, some of the struggle in following Jesus.
- THE Bible is full of examples where following Christ was costly, and a tough experience.
- LISTEN to Jesus' instructions when he sent a prophet named Ananias to the newly converted Paul, in Acts 915,
“This man is my chosen instrument . . . (16) I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." (Acts 9:15-16)
- I WONDER if the Lord knew that that was not a real good sales approach......."suffer for My name."
- I THOUGHT the Christian life was about getting my sins forgiven, finding happiness, getting healing for my body, and finding a good church that meets my needs?
- C.S. LEWIS wrote,
"I didn't go to religion to make me happy…If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity."
- IN Frederick Buechner’s book on Biblical character studies he says that Moses’ whole life is an example of the fact that when God calls your name your troubles have only just begun.
- WE have done the cause of Christ a great disservice by trying to sell Christianity as a quick and painless fix for all life's problems.
- CHUCK Colson writes,
"By responding to market pressures, the church forfeits its authority to proclaim truth and loses its ability to call its members to account. In other words, it can no longer disciple and discipline. But as alien and archaic as the idea may seem, the task of the church is not to make men and women happy; it is to make them holy."
- SO, turn with me in your Bibles to Colossians 1:24 please (page 1166).
ii. there is a purpose to the struggle
- IT is true, there is forgiveness, mercy, grace, freedom and peace that passes understanding in following Jesus....but it is also true that pursuing Christ is a struggle.
- HOW many of you here this morning have found that pursuing Christ is a struggle?
* You want to read God's Word. You know that the Holy Spirit will reveal Jesus to you through it....that you will be built in your faith by it.
* But it is a struggle to make the time for it. Seems that there are always other pressing things to be done.
* You want to be in God's house for the all church prayer meeting on Tuesday nights. God always meets with you when you are here. His Word says not to neglect coming together.
* But it seems that you are never more tired coming home than on Tuesdays. You have to fight the traffic all the way....and then supper's late.
* You want to share Christ with your friends and family.
* But it is never the right time. And you are afraid they will think you are super spiritual or something.
* You decide to give the Lord His tithe out of obedience to His Word, and thanksgiving for all that He has provided.
* But whenever you start, the car needs a new transmission and the washer and dryer go out....and where to find the money to tithe.
* You have been gifted by God for a ministry. You know you have and you want to use it for His kingdom.
* But there are so many other commitments in your life....so many other demands.
* You want to live a holy life, because you know that without holiness no man shall see God.
* But then the temptation comes and down you go......again.
* You want to pray.
* But you can't get out two thoughts without your mind wandering.
* You want to live at peace with all men....because that is what God's Word commands.
* But then your temper and your mouth run out ahead of you....and down you go in flames.
- IF the battle isn't on one front then it is on another....and sometimes the battle is on more than one front at a time.
- LISTEN! That is not abnormal for the Christian life!
- PAUL faced opposition more often than not in His pursuit of Christ . . . and realized there was also a personal struggle involved with following Christ.
- IN I Corinthians 9:26-27 He said,
"Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. (27) No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."
- HE wasn't weird. He didn't lack faith. He wasn't abnormal. He just knew that the Christian life was a struggle.
- SO, in Colossians 1:24, he writes,
"Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church."
- IN verse 29, he writes,
"To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy...."
- IN chapter 2, verse 1, he writes,
"I want you to know how much I am struggling for you...."
- WHAT were some of the elements of this struggle and why is it on behalf of the Church of Jesus?
- HE lists some of the struggles in II Corinthians 11:23-28,
"I have been in prison, been flogged severely, and been exposed to death again and again. (24) Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. (25) Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, (26) I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. (27) I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. (28) Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches." (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)
- WHAT a summary of one Christian's life!
- HOW bad are your struggles by comparison?
- HOW did Paul make it?
- DID he pack up and quit?
- DID he look for someone to blame?
- DID he pull back, give up, go hide?
- DID he throw in the towel and say, "I didn't sign up for this!"?
- IN Colossians 1:24, he says that he rejoices in the struggle.
- HOW can you rejoice in the struggle?
- BECAUSE IT IS A STRUGGLE WITH AN ETERNAL PURPOSE.
- VERSE 24 says that they are lacking as regards the afflictions of Christ.
- WHAT does that mean?
* We know that concerning Jesus death and resurrection for our salvation there is nothing lacking.
* And anyhow the word ‘afflictions’ means ‘pressures of life’ not death and resurrection.
* The literal translation of that phrase is ‘filling up in his turn (Paul’s) the left over parts of Christ’s pressures.’
- THAT means that the stuff of our lives has a divine intention and purpose…..personally yes, but in this context Paul is not even referring to the ‘harvest of righteousness’ Hebrews says comes from afflictions.
- PAUL says here in Colossians that the afflictions in his life are for the benefit, the building up of the other people called the church in Colosse.....the body of Christ.
- IT is not all about you or me! As a Christian you are part of a bigger picture, you are a member of a body….some local gathering of Christians called the church.
- THIS is how it worked.
* God used the struggles in Paul's life to shape Paul's life, change his attitude, shape his beliefs, enrich his character, enlarge his faith.
* To refine Paul’s faith, as by fire, so that it would come out like gold.
* In 2 Corinthians 12, to keep Paul from becoming conceited over the revelation that God had given him....he experienced some kind of the thorn of suffering that he asked three times to have taken from him.....and God said, "No, but my grace will be sufficient."
- SO, all the times he was beaten, heckled, thrown out of town......God was refining Paul, so that he could be a blessing to the church.
- IT was NOT some random struggle.
- IT was a struggle with an eternal purpose…and a purpose bigger than himself and his stuff.
- NO wonder in Romans 8:28 Paul writes,
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (29) For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son..."
- YOU can’t stop at verse 28. It is in verse 29 that God tells us the purpose.
- THE grand purpose of the Christian life is that you and I be conformed to the likeness of Jesus so that through you and me Jesus can build up the strength and encouragement of His body, the church called Westgate Chapel.
- EVERY struggle for the follower of Jesus has an eternal purpose bigger than you.
- NONE are accidental.
- THE struggles are so that Christ be formed in you and me….resulting in the maturity He intends for the church.
- THAT is why James writes,
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, (3) because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.(4) Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4)
- PETER writes,
"In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (7) These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." (1 Peter 1:6-7)
- WHEN you endure the trial and struggle through....you are also building up the church of Jesus.
- WHEN you hang in there....When you struggle through....When you come through the trial victoriously....we all are strengthened with you.
- YOUR perseverance strengthens our faith and together we are built up.
- SO, from Colossians 1:24 I want you to remember that there is an eternal purpose in your struggle.....something far bigger than "just another random trial."
iii. there is a hope during the struggle
- WELL, sometimes when you are the one in the middle of a struggle...it is hard to see far enough ahead to see any purpose, much less an eternal one.
- IF you are in that kind of a situation this morning, I want you to see that there is a hope during the struggle.
- LET'S go back to Colossians 1:25. Speaking of the church for which he is still suffering in prison, Paul writes,
"I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—(26) the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. (27) To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Colossians 1:25-27)