The Normal Christian Life

Do you ever read the names at the end of a movie? I usually only do so when the film has left me in a state of shock and I’m regaining my composure, like Woman in Black which I thought was safe because its rated a 12… I might watch the scrolling credits if there’s some neat music I want to listen to, or they have interspersed the credits with humorous out-takes that never made it into the film.  Whoever reads the credits for the fun of it or to learn something significant? Doesn’t it ever amaze you that so many people’s names are listed? Are they real? And what’s a ‘Dolly Grip’ and ‘Best Boy’ anyway? Scrolling too fast to read any way there are hundreds of names of people who never made it in front of the cameras but who played an essential role and made the film possible. When you get to the end of one of Paul’s Epistles, it’s a bit like watching the credits at the end of a movie. Paul added them for a purpose. They are literally the credits for the movie of the Early Church. In Colossians 4:7-18 we meet an unusually long list of Christians who lived in Colossae. They may never have got to be in front of the cameras, an Apostle or perform miraculous signs, or write scripture or preach before kings and governors. So why do they get a mention? Because they played an essential role in the growth of the Church and Paul appreciated them. Paul holds them up as an inspiration to others. Listed here are ordinary Christians like you and me. They nevertheless played a vital role in the spread of the gospel.

 

In these closing verses, I want to draw out three popular misconceptions about the ‘Normal Christian Life”  based on the experience of the believers Paul commends and addresses.

1. The Normal Christian Life Involves Suffering for Jesus

“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you… My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings… I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains.” (Colossians 1:24; 4:10, 18)

Remember the context of Paul’s letter.

•        Paul was in prison awaiting trial.
•        Most of his disciples had deserted.
•        False teachers were disturbing the flock.

Paul was a prisoner because in the gospel he proclaimed he challenged and threatened the absolute power of Rome. He served another Emperor, another King. It was therefore very, very dangerous to be a friend and associate of such a prisoner. It took courage to visit him in prison, to bring him food and clothes. It was dangerous to associate with him. Very likely you might share his fate. In these closing credits, Aristarchus is mentioned as a fellow prisoner. We first meet Aristarchus in Acts 19 when in the midst of a riot in the city of Ephesus, Aristarchus is one of the companions of Paul who is seized by the mob, his life in danger. In Acts 20, Aristarchus is traveling with Paul on his mission to Greece but by Acts 27, he is traveling with Paul toward a Roman prison and is shipwrecked en route.

As Acts closes, Aristarchus is with Paul, under arrest. Aristarchus proved himself faithful in suffering. The normal Christian life involves suffering for Jesus. In does in most countries in the world. For the majority of Christ followers in the world, it is costly and even dangerous to follow Jesus publically.  God willing, I will be travelling to Jordan on Wednesday. I’ve been invited by the Anglican Church in Jordan to teach on the biblical basis for justice, peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. On Sunday I will be preaching in the Church of the Redeemer. The Church in Jordan is very ethnically diverse just like we are – with one exception. The majority of Jordanians are refugees. 50% are Palestinian refugees, then 14% Iraqi refugees with the prospect of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in the weeks to come. A high proportion of them are Christians fleeing the violence, fleeing the persecution. In Time this week there is an article on Syria’s Risky Arms Race,. Simon Shuster concludes with this pessimistic quote.

“Abu Saddam, the Lebanese arms dealer, says his clients in Syria are stockpiling weapons, not as much to overthrow Assad as to prepare for the carnage that his downfall would initiate. “The Free Syrian Army (FSA) will want to take control, the Salafists will want to take control, the Muslim Brotherhood will want to take control, and the CIA, the Saudis [Iran] and the KGB will want a say in what happens. Libya and Iraq? They will be nothing compared to what will happen in Syria once Bashar falls.”

If you want to know more about the suffering church in Syria and the wider Muslim world, visit the website of Open Doors and get on their mailing list. If you want to listen to the hopes and fears of Syrian Christian leaders check out some interviews here.

The normal Christian life involves suffering for Jesus. We in the West are largely insulated against this kind of suffering and its tempting to imagine that a faithful Christian will leave a peaceful, secure and even successful materially prosperous life if God is blessing them. We can therefore so easily become complacent and compromise with the values around us. We don’t tend to associate blessing with suffering and yet Jesus does.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)

Perhaps our evangelistic literature should carry a health warning. “Following Jesus may seriously shorten your life.” A suffering church will not necessarily be popular or large but it will be pure. A suffering church is a purified church. Paul’s reference in verse 18 to “his chains” should remind us that as he wrote this letter for you, the chains would have moved across the very paper on which he wrote. “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains.” (Colossians 4:18).  This sentence is not a plea for sympathy but a claim to authority. His chains are guarantees of his right to speak as an Apostle. As a follower of Jesus, Paul led by example. The normal Christian life involves suffering for Jesus.

2. The Normal Christian Life Involves Sharing about Jesus

“Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.  I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.” (Colossians 4:7-9)

Among those who laboured alongside Paul and proved themselves faithful were Tychicus and Onesimus. Tychicus is described as “a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.”
Onesimus as a “faithful and dear brother”. They were prepared to travel long distances and risk their health and life to deliver news of the apostles and the scriptures they wrote between the churches. Can you imagine taking a letter to Greece without planes, boats and trains? Today we can use the telephone, skype, email or text to stay in touch with believers in other parts of the world, but we often don’t bother except perhaps at Christmas. Paul had no choice. Many Christians today dare not use the telephone or write letters or send emails to communicate with each other. A friend in another country emailed me today, “Assume nothing is secure.” Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s when I used to travel to Communist Eastern Europe incognito, we would only pass on news when we met sisters and brothers personally. Such news is very precious and joyfully received. I wonder how much of what we share is not good news but gossip?

We all disapprove but so easily join in. Our sharing must be to encourage and build others up not tear them down. It would do us no harm at the end of the day to prayerfully consider how much of what we have share din the day has been good news and how much has been gossip. While Onesimus only gets a brief mention here, he is the subject of a letter Paul wrote to Philemon a slave owner. Onesimus had run away from his master, had come to Paul and, in the process, had found a new Master in Jesus Christ. The name Onesimus means “useful”. Paul told Philemon, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.” A runaway slave had become a servant of Christ and had proven himself to be faithful in service to the Lord and his church.

Do you see yourself like Onesimus? Useful to Jesus? Do you see yourself as former run-away slave to sin who has been redeemed, and gratefully brought back into useful service? All of us who call ourselves Christians, who share the name of our Saviour, are called to serve him and share in the work of His Kingdom. That is why we expect every Christ follower who regards themselves as a member of Christ Church to give an hour a week minimum to serving Jesus. If you would like to explore opportunities here at Christ Church, according to your circumstances and abilities, please talk to Paul or Lesley.

The normal Christian life involves suffering for Jesus.
The normal Christian life involves sharing about Jesus.

3. The Normal Christian Life Involves Praying through Jesus

“Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” (Colossians 4:12)

Do you ever watch wrestling? As a child I used to visit my grandparents on Saturdays and often found them watching wrestling. My grandfather would get quite animated in his chair shadow wrestling… I confess that when I am in the gym working out, to distract myself, I sometimes watch the WWE RAW matches. Paul uses the word ‘wrestling’ to describe the way Epaphras prayed. Epaphras, a native of Colossae, had founded the church in Colossae while Paul was living in Ephesus. Paul commends him because, “He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” Isn’t that great? He is kneeling for you so you can stand for God. Epaphras had a passion for intercession. Prayer isn’t something passive. Its hard work. Prayer isn’t just for professionals either. It is the vital breath of every believer. Charles Spurgeon once said, “If I wish to humble anyone, I should question him about his prayers. I know of nothing to compare with this topic for its sorrowful self confessions.”  John Calvin said, “Oh what deep seated malice, against God is this, that I will do anything and everything but go to him, and remain in him in secret prayer.” What does it mean to ‘wrestle in prayer?

As I mentioned last week, Richard Trench, the 19th Century archbishop of Dublin once said, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance but laying hold of His willingness.” It is for our benefit that we wrestle not his. May God give us a heart like Epaphras willing to wrestle with God in prayer, kneeling before God so that others can stand before God. Prayer is simply talking to God. It is like using the telephone. And the Bible shows us who and what to pray for.  Prayer is our throne right as children of God. We have access to our heavenly Father in Jesus’ name 24/7 so that we can “stand form in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.”

Do you feel you are maturing? Are you fully assured of all that God has done for you in Jesus Christ? Do you have peace of mind that when Jesus returns your name will appear in the scrolling credits? If not, then consider joining our Christianity Explored Course in the Autumn on Thursday nights. And if you are believer, but don’t feel you are maturing, then join one of our weekly or fortnightly Bible study groups meeting in and around Virginia Water. This is the normal Christian life.

The normal Christian life involves suffering for Jesus.
The normal Christian life involves sharing about Jesus.
The normal Christian life involves praying through Jesus.

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