Monday, May 1, 2017

"Paul's Love and Concern for the Church" (Colossians 2:1-7)

A distinguished stranger once had the opportunity to hear Thomas Chalmers, the leader of the Free Church in Scotland in the 1800s. One of Chalmers’ admirers asked the man afterwards, “What do you think of Dr. Chalmers?” 
The stranger replied, “Think of him? Why, he has made me think so much of JESUS that I had no time to think of him!
You know, when we think of the Apostle Paul, he was a man just like that. He lived, breathed, preached, and even survived by the Lord Jesus Christ. So I hope it will be the case that even as we considered LAST WEEK — Paul’s view of the ministry — and THIS WEEK — “Paul’s Love and Concern for the Church” — which is the title and subject of today’s message.

You see, Paul’s love for Jesus Christ had an overwhelming effect upon Paul’s love towards the church. Paul had a deep love for the church and gave his life in service to it. In fact, Paul frequently expressed his love in his epistles. To the Corinthians he wrote, “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men” (2 Cor. 3:2); “Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide” (2 Cor. 6:11); “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls” (2 Cor. 12:15). He told the Philippians, “I have you in my heart” (Phil. 1:7).

Paul loved the church because he loved Christ. He knew well the truth expressed in 1 John 4:21, “This commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.” It was Paul’s love for Christ and His church that enabled Paul to endure the physical suffering he went through (cf. 2 Cor. 11:23–27). It also allowed him to bear “the daily pressure… of concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). Because of that love he could endure defections, false teachers, and personal abuse. Indeed, he could “endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). 

I hope that you will love Jesus Christ and His Church more and more. Now, the first thing I want us to see is Paul’s supreme concern for the church, which he describes in Colossians 2:1-5. Of everything we’ve seen so far in the Colossian letter, this is by far the most personal part of Paul’s writing. And in expressing his concerns, Paul models for us WHAT and HOW or hearts ought to feel for our church and the church universal. Let’s consider together Paul’s concern for the church…


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…” (Colossians 2:1; ESV)

I want you to notice that Paul’s labor for the church is described here by the Greek word AGON from which he get our English word “agony.” AGON is translated here as “struggle” — and its an important indication of how Paul felt for the universal church. Remember, Paul had never met these Christians personally. In other words, his love was not limited to those he personally knew; it extended to all those churches that had been planted in Christ’s name.

You know, someone might ask you for the most important qualities a minister can possess; and you might argue for intelligence, leadership ability, or personal holiness, etc. Now, although these are essential components, perhaps one of the most necessary ingredients in the life of any minister of Jesus is love for the church. Paul had a deep, abiding love for the church.

Dear friend, do you love the church as Paul did? As Christ died - our Savior who died for the church? Do you pray for the church? Do you struggle and have concern for the church? Paul did. 

Let us pray that we would have great hearts for the Church like Paul. You see, enlarged hearts always know the AGON - the struggle. They have sleepless nights, they empathize, they struggle in prayer. But to have a BIG heart is to also know the most joy. It is the kind of heart to which all of us are called: a heart that is willing to agonize not only over our own little circle, but the Church universal. 

Now, speaking of Paul’s concern, let’s consider secondly…


“…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. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 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.” (Colossians 2:2-5)

How was it that Paul’s labors were for the benefit of these people whom he had never met? Look here at the bold purpose of his toil:

I am proclaiming Christ, he says (no matter how much effort it takes), and I am praying (with all the energy God gives me) to see a deep and profound outcome in your lives. What was the outcome that Paul wanted for us?

First, an outcome in our hearts: that our hearts may be encouraged. At the centre of our personal lives, Paul was struggling that so we would know the comfort and courage that knowing Christ brings.

Second, Paul was struggling that we would know the powerful bond of love that knowing Christ gives: being knit together in love. This is an important message for you to have a living faithy. No intellectual process will lead you to a full grasp of the mystery of Christ unless it is also accompanied by a love for Jesus AND for others Christians. In other words, you cannot pursue knowledge of God in willful, unloving isolation, rejecting fellowship with others and forsaking the church. Some have tried though, and as all men who try - there is no “Lone Ranger” Chrsitianity. If you would know Christ fully, you must love your brothers and sisters in Christ.  “Complete” understanding of the mystery of Christ comes in loving community.

Third, Paul worked that we might reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery. How precious it is to understand and know God’s glorious purpose for the nations of the whole world! What deep confidence understanding Christ confers.

Dear friends, the heart of Paul’s concern is that we will grow ever more toward Christ. He is concerned for our minds, and that is why the bulk of the first chapter presents such a heady picture of Christ. But he is also concerned for our hearts. Can you say this morning with the hymnist:

I love Thy Kingdom, Lord,
The House of Thine abode,
The Church our blest Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.

For her my tears shall fall;
For her my prayers ascend,
For her my cares and toils be giv’n,
Till toils and cares shall end

If you can say these words to God, you are on your way to a deeper knowledge of Christ. OF COURSE, Paul was motivated to say all of this because he was concerned that the Colossians were being led astray. In verse 4 we read, “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” For the Colossians the false teacher’s clever arguments could easily lead astray those who were NOT knit together in brotherly love and thus were NOT fully enjoying the treasures of Christ’s wisdom and knowledge. It was an important warning in Paul’s day.

But what about you today? What about you in a day when persuading you not to love Christ fully are so highly developed. Be warned friends, all of us are are subject to a cornucopia of space-age subtleties which the apostle could never have imagined. For our souls’ sake, there must be a deep, growing knowledge of Christ and a love among us!

That was part of Paul’s motivation. The other part, the positive part, is seen in verse 5, and here we come full circle:

"For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is." 

The Spirit of God had united both Paul and the Colossians to Christ. Because they all lived in Christ, Paul was present in spirit with them, “struggling” on their behalf. Paul ’s great heart sizzled! Paul’s passion was that the Church might be “united in love” so that it would attain the mystery of God—namely, Christ. This ought to be our passion.

Thou, O Christ, art all I want;
More than all in Thee I find.
Let us journey toward the Son until he fills the whole sky

Robert Murray McCheyne said a long time ago in reflecting on his own growth: “I am persuaded that nothing is thriving in my soul unless it is growing.” Dear friend, are you growing? Are you concerned for spiritual growth? Are you doing business with God? Are you doing self-examination? Are you asking yourselves if the signs of spiritual growth are in you? The Apostle Paul expects them. Paul expects us to be growing.


Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.(Colossians 2:6-7; ESV)

Here we come to the heart of the matter. We have received Christ Jesus the Lord, we have settled convictions about Jesus’ deity and sufficiency, and we are standing firm against the attacks of false teachers, so now we must continue to walk in Him. Dear friends, we must continue believing the truth about Christ, not allowing our focus on Christ to waver.

A Christian should be a striking likeness of Jesus Christ.… We should be pictures of Christ.… Oh! My brethren, there is nothing that can so advantage you, nothing can so prosper you, so assist you, so make you walk towards heaven rapidly, so keep your head upwards towards the sky, and your eyes radiant with glory, like the imitation of Jesus Christ.—Charles Spurgeon

In Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Yet, we so often seek guidance for life outside of Christ. Whether it be self-help tips or the latest marketing fad, we can be tempted to find quick solutions to life’s problems outside of Christ. Dear friends, give yourself, by grace, to a perpetual pursuit of experiencing Christ and living in the enjoyment of being united to Him.
During Vacation Bible School one year, a minister’s wife had an experience with her primary class that can teach us all a great lesson. About an hour before dismissal one evening, a new student was brought into the room. The little boy had one arm missing, and since the class was almost over, the teacher had no opportunity to learn the details of his situation, but she was nervous that one of the other children would say something insensitive to him, so she preceded cautiously with the lesson. 
As the class time came to a close, she asked the children to join her in their usual closing ceremony. “Let’s make our churches,” she said, putting her hands together to form the “church.” 
“Here’s the church and here’s the steeple, open the doors and …” Suddenly the awful truth struck her. The very thing she had feared that the children would do, she had done.
As she stood there speechless, the little girl sitting next to the boy reached over with her left hand and placed it up to his right hand and said, “Josh, let’s make the church together.”

Dear friends, let’s make church together. And let us love the Church with all our hearts as Paul did. Let us struggle for it. Let us experience the AGON as Paul did. Let us pray for the Church. Let us celebrate the Church’s victories and help her on her feet again when she falls. Above all else, let us keep our eyes of Christ Jesus, the author and perfecter our faith.