Faithlife Sermons

A Struggle of Distance

Our Exalted Christ  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  28:19
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Distance can increase anxiety, but faithfulness brings joy.

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As I prepared to become a pastor, I was told that there are 2 skills essential for every good minister. Neither is more important than the other, as they are both essential. Skill A is that a pastor needs to understand his people and the world in which they live. Skill B is to know God and how to apply His Word to that World in which the people live.
One word that is used frequently to describe our world these days is distant. Distance seems especially challenging when a loved one requires medical attention, whether that is the joy of the delivery room or the concern of the ICU ward. Distance is hard when birthdays, activities like prom or Commencement, or Mother’s Day must be adjusted. Distance magnifies our anxiety when a loved one is in the isolation of a rehabilitation or convalescent facility.
The impact of distance is one that we acknowledge when a child goes to camp, the student goes to college, soldiers are deployed, an addict begins recovery, or an inmate is incarcerated. Some of this distance is voluntary, other forms of distance are mandatory.
A week ago I finally got around to watching the movie Hotel Rwanda that detailed the genocide of over 1 million Africans, and the resulting family separation and refugee resettlement as people were distanced from the only life they had ever known. It wasn’t long ago when every night our news carried stories of immigrants and refugees being separated.
I’m sure that every person in reach of my voice right now is acutely aware of the difficulties causes by separation.
Today we resume our study of the New Testament book of Colossians that is written in this very real setting of separation. Paul is in prison writing to a church that he had never visited. The church had been planted by one of Paul’s disciples, Epaphras, so in one way these are his spiritual grandchildren. There is not a grandparent listening who does not long to see his or her grandchildren and to see that they are doing well.
Transition: This grandparent distance sets the tone as we read…
Colossians 2:1–5 ESV:2016
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, 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, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 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.
Transition: The first reality that I observe in these verses is…

CONCERN from a Distance (vv.1-2c)

Paul’s mood is described as a struggle

1. The actual word used by Paul is the origin for our word agony. Agony may be a good word to describe your emotion as you are separated from your loved ones.
2. Some commentators connect the agony of this verse with the toil and struggling of the last verse of chapter 1. It pictures an athlete who trains and competes with determination that involves discomfort.
I don’t think you have to be a pastor or missionary to understand this agony. I’ve visited with educators who are concerned that their students will not be ready for the next level of their education. I’ve talked with supervisors and employers who are concerned for the families of their team. I’ve watched policy-makers explain their actions on behalf of patients or constituents.
3. The fear of this pandemic is not limited to hospitalization or physical death. A very real but relatively small ratio of our neighbors will ever find themselves in this situation. But emotional, developmental, financial and social threats can also create agony.
4. Verses 1 & 2 allude to 3 very real threats that caused agony for Paul

Discouragement (their hearts may be encouraged)

1. Distance can create discouragement as people feel as if they are not getting all the joy out of life that they have been led to believe they are entitled.
2. I have observed students and parents who are dismayed that memories and experiences are being denied.
3. I’ve read those who believe their constitutional or civil rights are being systemically eroded (especially their liberty and pursuit of happiness).
4. The best way to understand a person with whom you differ is to get close to him or her. Fear is cast out when you get close to a person whom you don’t know attempt to understand him or her.

Disunity (“being knit together in love”)

1. The stay at home order has generated both anxiety and joy for several parents.
2. The greatest stress I have observed is when each child is doing his own homework which is different from the rest of the family. Unlike a teacher of one subject, a parent may be proctoring one child’s English and a sibling’s math at the same time.
3. The greatest joy I have seen is when projects involve cooperation: reading together, working on one puzzle, or playing the same board game.

Doubts (“reach all the riches of full assurance”)

1. The assurance Paul desires would be the result of understanding and knowledge of God’s mystery.
2. Mystery is a key word to understand Paul’s theology. The word appears in 28 verses in the NT and 75% of these are in Paul’s writing.
· Is Paul speaking of something that only a few know?
· Is he speaking of something that is difficult to know?
· Is he referring to something was once hidden but is now disclosed to everyone?
3. Other religions in the Lycus valley promotes secret wisdom that only was obtained by limited people who received enlightenment.
A common plot in sports movies is how one team behaves when the opposing coach knows your plays. Each week of the season a coach in team sports prepares the team for what they might see on the court or field of play. In individual competitions a wrestler or tennis player rehearses the go-to moves of an opponent.
4. Paul’s struggle is that he desires that the Colossians would have the assurance of knowing what to expect when living for Christ in Colosse.
Let me set up my next point with a movie clip. In 1986 a movie was made about a community in Indiana about the same population as Chase County. A new coach comes to town and approaches the game as more than points on the scoreboard. Coach wants the players to stick to fundamentals, but the players want the applause of points. Let’s see what happens…

Play clip from Hoosiers - https://youtu.be/676TpKq_6Ok

The Distraction of CONFLICTING Paths (vv.2d-4)

Delight in Christ

· Paul wants the Colossians to focus upon Christ.
a. Christ was God’s mystery
b. Delight in Christ provides “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
c. Delight in Christ would provide the riches of full assurance
d. Delight in Christ would provide the path toward being knit together in love.
e. Delight in Christ would provide encouragement for their hearts.
Transition: While Christ was God’s mystery and Paul’s desire for the people of God, Paul knew the distraction of…

Diverted by Something Shiny

1. Plausible Arguments
2. Deceive (CSB,NIV), delude (ESV,NASB), beguile (KJV)
3. Only other place in NT for paralogidzomai is James 1:22 where James writes we deceive ourselves when we think simply hearing is the same as doing the Word.

Application

1. We like to add so much to the simple gospel of Jesus Christ.
a. Some add sacraments or liturgy
b. Some add following a particular preacher or author, or going to a certain seminar or event.
c. Some add refraining from “government schools”
d. Some add a form of hair and dress
e. Some add voting a particular candidate or party
f. Some add worshipping in a particular style
2. Anything that you require of another person in order to call her a follower of Christ is an indication that you may have been deluded by a plausible argument.
Transition: Today’s text concludes by reporting that even though Paul was separated by distance, He was still hopeful for his spiritual grandchildren.

Reasons for CONFIDENCE (v.5)

The Discipline of Good Order

1. There is something about bringing order out of chaos that makes us hopeful for the future.
Teenagers, I know you don’t get it why your parents seem to be so obsessed with cleaning your room. But just think how frustrating it is when your phone battery is almost dead and you can’t find a charging cord.
2. The need for good order can be seen in an event that almost forced Miss Ann and I into marital counseling.
We knew we had officially crossed over into middle-age when grocery shopping became a 2-person activity and qualified as a “date.” We have shopped at the grocer who only has 1 brand of each item. We shop frequently shopped at that store that adds 10% to the price on the shelves. We do business at the store up the street from the church 2-3 times each week. But this week I wanted to get all our essentials in one store, so we donned our masks and took on the challenge. The fruits and vegetables were not a problem because everyone was going whatever direction. The blood pressure began to rise when one of us wanted to follow the order of the list we had compiled over the last 2 weeks. The other wanted to shop department by department: get all the meat items, then get all the dairy items, etc. The store we were shopping had placed arrows on the ends of each aisle so that all the traffic on even aisles moved one way and all the odd aisles flowed the other way. It soon became clear that some shoppers skipped the One-way traffic lesson in driver’s education.
3. As we loaded the truck for the ride home I could not say with Paul, “I am rejoicing to see your good order.”
4. Commentator NT Wright describes v.5 with these words, “At the moment he is happy with what he sees. ‘Orderly’ and ‘firm’ are most probably military metaphors: the church is drawn up in proper battle array with a solid wall of defence, namely, its faith in Christ.[i]”

The Doctrine of firm faith

1. If I were distanced from a loved one in a facility, I believe I would take great comfort when told, “We have a diagnosis, the Doctors have a treatment plan, and my loved one is getting the best care available.”
2. Fear and panic ensued when we hear, “We don’t have enough gloves or masks to treat each patient according to protocol. We are facing a shortage of equipment. Or We really don’t know how best to treat this condition.”
3. In contrast, Paul writes that when he received report regarding this church, he pictures a fine military division all lined up and in full readiness.

Conclusion:

1. Let me be honest with you for a moment. When “stay at home orders” and limits on large gatherings began to emerge in March I had a certain level of anxiety about those who would fall out of the habit of gathering together or would falter spiritually due to less time in prayer and Bible input.
2. I have prayed and advised often to encourage one another and to stay focused on Christ.
3. And contrary to my experience at the big-box retailer, I can honestly say when I review your social media posts and testimonies of phone calls and interactions around town I can say “good job, church!” I am rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
I see that many of you have your affections set on Christ! As a reminder for you and an encouragement for others, Our final song is a familiar tune performed by a popular group, The Oak Ridge Boys
Song of Response ....... “I’d Rather Have Jesus
Benediction: Acts 20:32 (ESV) — And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
[i] N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 12, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 100.
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