Here is Sunday’s message. The audio can be downloaded here. You can get the PDF here. A friend sitting down the pew from you is about to walk away from his family. A sister in your MC is starting to read the works of a false teacher. A brother you’ve walked with for a long time is suffering with some big doubts. The leader you serve under is becoming more and more depressed each day. Does that concern you? Would it motivate you? Will you look out for them? Will you help them? Will you join them in their struggle?
We’re in the thick of a series through the book of Colossians here in Karis Church: “Jesus is Everything.” The apostle Paul details his struggle for his brothers and sisters in that church. It’s his deep desire that they won’t give up the struggle to live on mission for Jesus. I want to begin today with a couple of questions.
First, what’s your struggle? Where have your blood, sweat, and tears gone? How are you currently pouring them out? To run a half-marathon? To finish up that PhD? To get that business going? To train up your children? Maybe you have nothing you’re fighting to achieve. I’m going to give you something this morning. Others of you need something to be moved to the top of your list. There is a struggle here in chapter two of Colossians.
Here’s a second: how’s your struggle? If you are a Christian, living as one in this world isn’t easy. Trials and temptations are everywhere. False hopes and fake “gospels” assault us. Doubts plague us seemingly at every turn. Pursuing Christ is a struggle. It’s a struggle not to get off track. It’s a struggle to keep going down the road. There is hope for you here in today’s text, Colossians 2:1-5.
Here’s the big idea for today: let’s struggle together, for each other, that we would continue the struggle to make Jesus our everything. Let’s begin first with prayer. Let’s struggle for our struggle. I want us to look at two things in this passage – the labor and the danger.
First, the labor. Paul writes this in verse one,
Colossians 2:1 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.
We see in the apostle’s words here how we should struggle. He’s pouring himself out for these people. But in what way? What does this mean? It first refers to His praying. That’s what the word “struggle” refers to elsewhere in His writings. It’s struggling with God, on behalf of others, asking Him to work in the lives of these Christians. If you haven’t done much of it, prayer is a struggle. Hard work. Paul is putting in that work for his brothers and sisters.
It second refers to his preaching. Look back to verses 28-29. Paul speaks of proclaiming Christ, teaching and warning believers. He’s doing this for the Colossians here in this letter. He then says, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works in me.” He’s fighting to disciple these believers in the gospel. He wants their maturity desperately. He’s laboring in his preaching. That, along with prayer, is Paul’s struggle.
God wants us to do both of these things for our brothers and sisters. This isn’t just for Christian leaders – although your elders seek to do that here – but all members are called to this. Praying for those around you. Preaching Jesus to those beside you.
But this also includes doing this for brothers and sisters we haven’t met, who are in other churches, who might be on the other side of the earth. Paul didn’t plant this church. He hasn’t met them. Paul here speaks of the “Laodiceans,” of Christians just down the road from Colossae, as well as others who had not “seen [him] face to face.” He writes, in verse 5, that he may be absent in body, but He’s with them in spirit. He’s with them in his prayers. But he’s with them by virtue of their union in Christ.
That verse teaches us something else, also. Paul says he is “rejoicing to see [their] good order and the firmness of [their] faith in Jesus.” He’s using military imagery here. Their lives are in order, lined up with Jesus like soldiers ready to fight. They’re growing in discipline. They are growing in holiness. They’re also characterized by “firmness.” They are strong in the grace of Jesus. They’re standing up to the enemy. They won’t be moved. Paul sees this in them.
Therefore, he’s rejoicing. He’s struggling for things here that they’re already experiencing. He’s crying out, “More Lord! Grow them in You.” He’s telling them, “Keep going! Stay true to Him.” So, again, as I mentioned back in chapter one, we shouldn’t just call out to God on behalf of our friends when things are rough. We don’t just proclaim the truths of the gospel to our brothers and sisters when they’re down. We do it when things are pretty good, too. The key here is that we are called to a struggle for each other. How do we do it? What does it look like? Prayer and preaching.
This past week, my boy Billy was talking about the trip and in the process telling me how awesome he thinks Tyler Eads is. Billy, who has a bladder smaller than mine, had to go to the bathroom. He was pleading for a stop. People were giving him a hard time. Finally, the van pulled over to the side of the road. Billy thought or asked, “How does this help me? I just stand alongside the interstate in the middle of the day? With all these ladies here? With all these cars driving by?” That’s when Tyler said he’d go with him. He eased some of the awkwardness for Billy and maybe gave him a measure of cover. He stood beside him. He supported him. Friends, that’s what we must do for each other.
But support our brothers and sisters in what? We saw how we are to struggle – in prayer and preaching. For what do we struggle? What are we laboring for? Paul teaches us here in verses 2 and 3. Let’s look at that together again.
What’s the purpose of His preaching and praying? That “their hearts may be encouraged.” That’s what verse two says. That’s what we’re struggling to do – encourage our brothers and sisters around us. Beyond that, how? We see the three things here. We see it’s first through love. He struggles that their hearts would be encouraged, “being knit together in love.” This reminds us just how important community is in standing strong in Jesus. We need to be knit together with others. We need a loving family. We can’t do it on our own.
We second see this encouragement comes through assurance. Paul struggles that they would “reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding.” Our hearts are bolstered through assurance. Notice a couple of things about this. He acts like assurance regarding what we believe is possible. Not perfect assurance. We’ll always have doubts this side of heaven. But there is confidence to be found. Also, note how assurance is tied to understanding. If we want freedom from doubt, we have to feed our minds. How? With the truths of Scripture. There are riches there.
Related, we third see this encouragement comes through knowledge of the gospel. Paul wants them to experience “the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Where are “wisdom and knowledge” found? Where are these treasures? In this mystery, this gospel. They’re found in Him. Again, Jesus is everything!
Now this is what Paul fought for. It’s what he labored for. It’s meant to be our struggle, as well. We pray for our brothers and sisters. We proclaim Jesus to them that their hearts might be encouraged through the love of community, through the riches of assurance, through the treasures of the gospel. This is meant to be our struggle. But why? We’ll get to that in a second. But first I want to make sure we don’t blow past three important words here.
“Riches.” As we grow in the assurance of what we believe, there are riches there. Imagine researching your family line. The more you dig, the more you realize who you are, the more you see where you’ve come from. It greatly encourages you. But then you realize that you’re an heir of a fortune. That’s what happens as we dig deeper in the gospel and what it means to us and grow in assurance. Riches.
“Mystery.” Mystery? A secret has been revealed, and we’re in the know about it. Ever been on the receiving end of a surprise party? All of this work has taken place behind the scenes. You fling open the door and hear, “Surprise!” Now you look back and you can see what everyone was doing. Now it all makes sense. You’ll feel overwhelmed by love.
This word “mystery” doesn’t mean Christianity is beyond our understanding. The point of history was kept largely under wraps until Christ’s coming. Those who came before us didn’t know who this King would be and how everything would happen. Once He came, the secret was out. It’s accessible to all. We’re to spread it to all. We’re in on it, though, and we’re blessed.
“Treasures.” You find the map. You see the “X.” You search for that spot. You finally dig. The shovel hits a hard surface. You lift out a box. The hole’s full of treasures. In Christ is ultimate knowledge, ultimate wisdom. There are riches in Him. There are treasures in Him. He’s worth giving up everything for. There is a lifetime of digging ahead. The more we dig, the more treasure we find.
So what’s the struggle again? Going to God on behalf of our brothers and sisters in prayer and going to our brothers and sisters on behalf of God in proclamation. I witnessed my wife pour out her life, caring for me and my kids and many of you as we got Karis off the ground. I’ve witnessed our friend Paul give up his evenings and weekends to help make this Imago vision a reality. Those are pictures of how we’re to struggle. We’re to pour ourselves out for others’ spiritual good. Send encouraging texts to buddies who are struggling. Call out to God for them in prayer. And tell them you’re doing it. Paul says, “I want you to know” I’m struggling for you. Why? He’s not bragging. He wants them to be encouraged by the fact. That’s our struggle. That’s our labor of love to which we’ve been called.
But why is this so important? Why is it necessary? I think implicit here in this passage is another struggle. Why does Paul write these words in verses 1-3? Look at verse 4. He says, “I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.” Why must we struggle in this way? Well, the Christian life is a struggle. What do I mean? The danger is that in the trials and temptations of this life, our brothers and sisters will buy into a lie and go astray. There are people out there who will try to delude us. They’ll sound persuasive. Our enemy will use them to try to tear us from Jesus. Staying alive is a fight, friends. We must struggle for each other in that struggle.
We’re in an age where there we’re bombarded by arguments. We’re in a day when people are more persuasive than ever. There is so much I could say right now, but I want to just talk about two dangers I think we need to watch out for.
First, we need to be concerned about the gospel’s dilution. The dilution of the gospel is the biggest delusion we need to watch out for. There is an edge to the gospel that we don’t like. It’s hard for us to stomach. So we take that edge off. We water it down. We don’t like to call ourselves sinners who’ve offended God. We make the gospel into something more positive, something more happy clappy. We make our sin into something that’s not that big of a deal. But that makes Christ’s life and death for us not that important either. This comes from the left, where people say what God calls sin isn’t really that bad. It comes from the right, where positive preachers talk about how awesome we look in the mirror. Both water down this amazing gospel of Jesus we proclaim.
Sometimes we pour other things into this message. We mix in some of our works. If we can stay away from this or that activity and keep up with others, God will think we’re great. Maybe we mix in some other beliefs or practices. We add in some Buddha or Chopra or Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura with our Jesus. The Colossians were doing all these things. We do the same things today. But the Lord wants us to drink of the gospel, not water it down or mix other things into it. Robert Capon once put it like this:
The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace–bottle after bottle of pure distilate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the Gospel–after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps–suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started… Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, not the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case. (Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three, pg. 114-115)
Second, we need to be concerned about the gospel’s demolition. Today, perhaps more than ever, the Bible’s teaching isn’t popular. As its teachings get attacked, we can give up ground, reasoning that those things aren’t that big of a deal. But we’re cutting off the branch we’re sitting on.
For example, the Bible teaches that God made men and women equal in dignity and worth but different in role and function. If we blow that off as antiquated, if we write Paul off as a sexist, we’re taking a jackhammer to the authority of the Bible that teaches of these riches and treasures. Take another issue that’s more controversial than any today. The Lord arranged the first marriage between one between a man and a woman in Genesis 1, in creation. That’s marriage. We see the same thing in the New Testament. In fact, in Ephesians 5, that marriage between one man and one woman for one lifetime pictures the relationship between Christ and His Church, our redemption. That’s what marriage is. Period. Now society may call different things marriage. In fact, it will happen. But we can’t deny what the Bible itself teaches. If we do, we’re attacking the Bible that gives us hope.
True, neither of these issues are at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. They are not the main thing. That’s why we don’t harp about them all the time here. But they are taught in the same Bible that speaks all these words of hope. If we deny them, it’s like we’re taking a shovel and driving it into the roots of the tree. It’s going to topple eventually. It we give these up, it’s like we’re taking dynamite to the the foundation of our house. It’s all going to come crashing down. These issues ARE NOT everything, but they attack the Bible that gives us Jesus, who is our everything.
Friends, it’s easy for us to give in to fear and compromise what the Bible says. Doubts hammer us all the time, and we’re tempted to walk away. It’s easy for us add things to the message of Jesus or take things away. It’s easy to turn to other things instead of Jesus. It’s easy for us to look for quick fixes. Jesus gives us treasures. He offers us riches. But those take digging. And that takes a long time. And most of the time we feel so weak. We stray from the truth that He is everything. The Christian life is a struggle. That’s why we have to struggle.
But what do we need in that struggle? Let’s look back at verses 2 and 3 again. We need encouraged hearts. Our hearts get tired. They fill up with doubts. Or rather, they get emptied by them. We need them filled up again. We’re called again to pray for our brothers and sisters and proclaim to them good news that they might be encouraged. But how again are we encouraged?
Paul wants the Colossians to be “knit together in love.” Yarn isn’t very strong, right? Even a child can tear it right in half. But if Brittany or Janice or some of our ladies knits a bunch of strands together, the strongest guy here couldn’t punch through it. Together, we’re stronger. Together, we resist these delusions. But to fight them off, we’ve gotta be tight. We’ve got to work through internal conflict. We must work to be in unity with one another. And that’s a whole other struggle. But it’s essential for this struggle we’re talking about here. If we don’t, we won’t be tight when we are hit by conflict from the outside. Knit together, we can stand.
Paul also labored that these Christians would experience “assurance,” right? Over at our new Imago Center, our desire was to get the walls down to exposed brick. One one side, there had been some water damage, so the plaster chipped off easily. On the other side, though, it was rock solid. There was no way it was coming off. The brick was going to stay safe beneath it. That’s what assurance gives us. The more we fill our minds with the truth of God’s word, the more resistant we’ll be to these delusions. These riches will keep us from being bewitched by the voices shouting all around us. But it’ll take us shouting more loudly and more lovingly to our brothers and sisters the truths we affirm together so we won’t fall apart in the struggle.
Related, Paul also worked that they would grow in “knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.” He wants them to grow in the gospel. He wants them to plunge the depths of its treasures. Wisdom and knowledge are found there. Mining all of that will keep us busy for the rest of our years. But it will also keep us from falling for false gospels. The best defense, they say, is a good offense. If we want to be impervious to those things, we have to fill ourselves up with Jesus. We have to preach the gospel to each other continually, reminding our brothers and sisters of what’s true, what’s beautiful, and what’s good.
We must struggle for our brothers and sisters in the struggle. You and I have to commit ourselves to being that for those around us. Leader, member, whoever. This should be at the top of your list, to help your fellow Christians to fight off these temptations, to become more and more resistant to them.
But what about you? The other day, I was talking to my littlest down in my office. He helped me in some way. I think he brought me something. I said, “What a nice boy!” He then said, “I am nice.” He then followed it up by saying, “That was kinda prideful, dad.” I said, “Yes it was.” Pretty self-aware for someone 6, huh? Most of the time, we’re not so much, though.
It’s easy for us to think about other people needing their hearts encouraged. We might recognize that we need to be community for those around us, whether or not we will obey and provide it. But we can convince ourselves that we aren’t in that much of a need ourselves. We need those around us to pray to God for us. We need them to proclaim the gospel to us. We need other people to struggle for us. We need them now. We may really need them later.
Someday you may get behind the wheel after you’ve had too many drinks. But hopefully you’ll have solid people around you who’ll take the keys. Literally. But mainly here I mean metaphorically. Right now, you might feel like things are going pretty well. You feel solid in your faith. You’re sober. That’s today. But there may come a day when you’re drunk. You’re staggering around confused.
You’ll need help. Get that community now. This is why church membership is so huge. Have people who will help you. Give them permission to take the keys out of your hands or maybe to hold you down on the ground. Ask them to help you not get drunk in the first place. Recognize your need for community. You need it as much or more than the person next to you.
Maybe you’re a member. You’ve got that community around you. It’s still far easier in theory than it is in practice. You “like” a popular teacher on Facebook. A friend messages you and says, “Do you really know what that dude teaches? It’s not good.” How do you respond? You start dating someone, and your buddy says, “You sure she’s good for you? Is she really seeking after Jesus?” What do you say? What do you do? You start drifting away from your church community and a friend challenges you. Do you respond defensively? Do you receive her words? We’re all prideful. But we all need people who’ll struggle for us when things are good and really struggle for us when things are bad.
In Karis Church, we are not trying to build a service. We’re not some sort of Christian event. We’re a family. We want to share life together. We want to be there for each other. We know the Christian life is a struggle. We want to struggle for each other.
If you’re a believer, this struggle has been given to you. There are lots of other things worth struggling for. There’s nothing wrong with that marathon or promotion or advanced degree. But this struggle has to be at the top of your list – struggling for those around you.
But maybe the person who’s struggling is you. Maybe you’re about to walk away from the faith. Maybe you start watching a televangelist and you get confused. Perhaps you fall into doubts or depression. You’re on the verge of walking away from God’s grace. You can’t quite grasp that Jesus is everything. What’s your hope? Jesus, yes. But Jesus in others. He’s everything in our ministry to one another. We need Him for this struggle.
Let’s struggle together, for each other, that we would continue the struggle to make Jesus our everything.