Two people sat in a forest, meditating on the mysteries of life. The name of one was Faith, the name of the other, Intellect. An angel came and offered to give them what they most desired. “What do you choose?” said the angel. “Give me knowledge of all that has been, all that is, and all that will be” said Intellect. “The gift is granted” said the angel. Immediately Intellect’s face became weary. “Why do you look sad when you know everything in the universe?” said Faith. “I am unhappy because there is no further goal toward which I strive” said Intellect. “Among other things I have learned that wisdom becomes folly when it seeks purely knowledge.” “And what do you crave, Faith” interrupted the angel. “Only that you shall guide me and give me, each day, that which is best for me” answered Faith. What do you crave most? What do you treasure above all things? Lets find out from the Apostle Paul what God would have us strive for.
1. The Burden of Ministry: Contending for the Church of Jesus Christ
I wonder if you have ever aspired to become a pastor or evangelist – full time? Most young believers do at some time or another. We are enthusiastic and thankful for Jesus and we want to serve him. We feel like giving up everything to serve him and become a missionary or pastor. If that is you right now, if you feel the Lord is asking you, then please come and talk to me.
Our apprentice scheme is designed to help test the call to full time ministry. Most believers, however, come to appreciate that they can and should serve Jesus full time in their home, or their community or in secular employment. They discern that as God’s calling in their life.
God has given each one of us a unique combination of personality, gifts, preferences and talents we should use to know him and make him known, to glorify him through the church in the world.
But what is your image or your expectation of a minister? Is it shaped by Dawn French in the ‘Vicar of Dibley’ or perhaps the exploits of Tom Hollander who plays the Rev Adam Smallbone in BBC 2’s ‘Rev’? For a reality check we see in Colossians 2, the Apostle Paul’s burden for the believers in Colossia. They would have had an image of this Apostle they had never met. They had expectations of him that may or may not have been realistic. So Paul writes,
“I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally… For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit” (Colossians 2:1, 4)
The Message translates the verse like this:
“I want you to realize that I continue to work as hard as I know how for you, and also for the Christians over at Laodicea. Not many of you have met me face-to-face, but that doesn’t make any difference. Know that I’m on your side, right alongside you. You’re not in this alone.” (Colossians 2:1, The Message)
Paul writes about his struggles on behalf of the churches in Colossia and Laodicea. As we know from his other letters he was burdened by the needs of many other churches too, but he does not mention them here. Without mobile phones, email, Skype, Facebook and Twitter, it would have been much harder for the Apostle to stay in touch with his friends and family and this must have led to occasional misunderstandings and frustrations. On occasions, as is implied here in Colossians 2, it revealed false assumptions or unrealistic expectations. Paul uses a strong word to describe his work on their behalf – ‘contending’. It is the same word used to describe the stress of an athlete in a race or competition. It speaks of his deep commitment and dedication. It sounds like they felt neglected or uninformed and were in danger of being deceived. Where was Paul? What was he doing? When he writes in verse 4, “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments” it suggests that they were in real danger of being deceived by false teaching. Which is why Paul emphasizes “For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit.” (Colossians 2:5). Paul was both an itinerant evangelist and also a church planter and pastor teacher. At times in his ministry he was settled for years, as in Ephesus, and at other times he was constantly on the move. Every pastor is different just as every church family is unique. And here lies the tension between roles and expectations.
Even though they had never met Paul, he wanted to them to know how hard he was working on their behalf. “I want you to know how hard I am contending for you.” And I want you to know that too, that I am contending for you, even when I am away occasionally. The first half of this year has been exceptional. In January I went to Uganda and Burundi to teach and train church leaders to use Christianity Explored; In March to Egypt to teach for the Anglican Church and to Palestine to help coordinate an international conference at Bethlehem Bible College; And in May, to New Zealand at the invitation of Tear Fund, and last week to Iran to serve the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches. Some of this is public and you can read about or watch videos about these projects on my website and blog. But some of what I have been doing is below the radar because the church in some of these countries is persecuted. At our First Wednesday mission and prayer meeting next week I will be able to give you more insights, in particular, into the situation in Iran. To paraphrase Paul, “Whether I am absent from you in body or not, I am present with you in spirit and also usually accessible by mobile phone, skype or email.” And like Paul, “I want you to know how hard I am contending for you.” The Burden of Ministry: Contending for the Church of Jesus Christ.
2. The Goal of Ministry: Growing in the Wisdom of Jesus Christ
“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding,
in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” (Colossians 2:2-4)
Three observations that take us to the core of being a Christian.
2.1 The Revelation of Jesus is our Priority
“in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ”
The gospel is not a secret but it is a mystery. The gospel, the good news of the saving work of Jesus is there for those with eyes to see, from the very beginning of God’s revelation in Scripture. As we saw in our recent sermon series “Christ in all the Scriptures”, the person and work of Jesus is revealed progressively in each book of the Bible.
Genesis: The Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22)
Exodus: The Passover Lamb (Exodus 12)
Leviticus: The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)
Numbers: The Bronze Serpent (Numbers 21)
Deuteronomy: Moses and the Prophet (Deuteronomy 18)
Joshua: Joshua and the Commander of the Lord’s Army (Joshua 5)
Judges and the Angel of the Lord (Judges 6)
Samuel: The Son and Lord of David (2 Samuel 9)
Kings: The Types of Christ in Solomon, Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 4)
Esther and the Providence of God (Esther 4)
In Scripture history, we find God progressively revealing more and more about the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, King of the Jews and Saviour of the world. This was certainly Jesus own understanding of the purpose of Scripture.
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.” (John 6:39)
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)
We will come back to our series, “Christ in all the Scriptures” in the Autumn with the next instalment, the book of Job. There is no substitute for the reading of Scripture every day. Jesus answered the devil, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4). We should read the Bible until we see the smiling face of Jesus on every page. For until we do, we have not understood it as God intends for the Bible is His story. The revelation of Jesus is our priority.
2.2 The Understanding of Jesus is our Goal
“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding”
Our goal is not simply to have read the whole Bible, or even to read it once a year. That is a good priority but it is not our goal. Paul’s goal was their encouragement and unity in Jesus. The expression he uses is the idea of being knit together in love. He clearly imagines a strong bond between these believers, even though he has not met them. His goal is their growth. And their growth will come as they understand more and more of Jesus and God’s will for their lives.
That is why our weekly bible study groups that meet in various homes or the Tuesday CBSI, the Thursday Women Alive and Saturday morning for the men are central to what we do as a church. Even our fun activities like the Rogation Walk round Virginia Water tomorrow leaving from St Ann’s School at 9:00am are intended to build relationships and unity in our church family. For that is what a church is – it’s a family, the local family of Jesus. If the goal of ministry is that we are growing in our understanding of Jesus, let me ask you, as you look back this year, do you feel you are growing? Lets make our goal the support and encourage one another in all we do together in Jesus name. The revelation of Jesus is our priority. The understanding of Jesus is our goal. Because, thirdly,
2.3 The Wisdom of Jesus is our Treasure
“Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. We live in a materialistic world that equates treasure with material wealth. God gave us people to love and things to use. But we have reversed his values and love things and use people to get them. It is uncommon to find wisdom valued more highly than wealth. Paul’s goal and ours is that we value knowing Jesus and his wisdom above all earthly treasure. When you think about giving a gift for a birthday or an anniversary, you inevitably make a decision on how much you can afford. Think about the value of the gift and what it can do for the one receiving it.
Then remember what you treasure most. The wisdom of Jesus is our greatest treasure. The irony is it is not diminished the more we give away. Quite the reverse. The more we give, the more will be blessed. The wisdom of Jesus is indeed our treasure. Lets recap:
The Burden of Ministry: Contending for the Church of Jesus Christ.
The Goal of Ministry: Growing in the Wisdom of Jesus Christ
3. The Delight of Ministry: Security in the Faith of Jesus Christ
“For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.” (Colossians 2:4-5)
Paul is rejoicing because of two things: Because of their discipline and their stability in the face of opposition. Paul is saying “I’m so glad you are hanging in there.” I was at a conference recently and saw a guy wearing a badge. It said “Anglicans do it decently and in order” Paul isn’t advocating a new liturgy or a slick organisation structure. He is using military terms. In their ‘discipline’ they resembled an army. Their common dedication to Jesus made them like a compact military unit. The word ‘discipline’ means holding position, serving in their appointed place, together as a team. That is what every church should look like. Last Sunday I spent the day with believers in Tehran. We worshiped together and then ate a meal together in the open air in the grounds of the evangelical church. I don’t remember meeting a group of believers who smiled so much, in whose faces I saw the radiance of Christ.
It takes discipline and strength to choose consciously, week after week, to meet with like-minded believers knowing you are being monitored, observed, your actions noted and your words recorded. Someone sent me this one liner to summarise the kind of dedication Paul speaks about here “Be the type of person that when you get out of bed in the morning, the devil says ‘Oh crap. They’re up.’” Has the devil noted you are up this morning? Does he see you as a threat to his cause? Are you dangerous enough to be on his radar? You will be if we take these words of Paul to heart, meditate on them, and live them.
The Burden of Ministry: Contending for the Church of Jesus Christ.
The Goal of Ministry: Growing in the Wisdom of Jesus Christ.
The Delight of Ministry: Security in the Faith of Jesus Christ.
The Revelation of Jesus is our Priority.
The Understanding of Jesus is our Goal.
The Wisdom of Jesus is our Treasure.
Lets pray. “Dear Lord Jesus, from your wisdom, please guide me and give me, each day, that which is best for me, for your glory, for the building of your church and the extension of your kingdom. In Jesus name. Amen”