Years ago, I served as a mountain guide for a Young Life ministry called Beyond Malibu, where we’d lead week long backpacking trips for high school students in the mountains of British Columbia. In fact, I think our very own Tammy Baker went on one of those trips once upon a time.
Before the summer started, we gathered for a few staff trainings and during one of these trainings sessions, one of the senior staff members said the following as a way of helping us mentally prepare for the demands and realities of the summer ahead, saying,
“At the end of the summer, I hope you leave this place with a smile on your face and a hobble in your step.”
“I hope you leave this place with a smile on your face and hobble in your step.”
For whatever reason, those words have always stuck with me as they vividly and succinctly captured both the joys and challenges of glorious and unglamorous camping ministry and pastoral ministry itself.
And those words, I think, also happen to capture the very spirit and tone of Paul’s words in our passage today, as he testifies to both the joy and hardship, both the labor and love that he has for the church in Colossae and for Christians everywhere.
This fall we’ve been studying Paul’s letter to the Colossians, a letter written to a young and growing church. It’s a letter of encouragement and instruction, reminding these new believers as he says in the letter’s signature verse in chapter 2, verse 6,
“just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught.”
The idea here is that Paul wants the Colossian church to see that Jesus is not simply someone that you put your faith in in the beginning of the Christian life, only to them set him aside and move onto bigger and better things. Rather, he wants them to see how Jesus’s lordship extends to every square inch of life, how they must continue in Christ, and for the Colossians to always be pressing further up and further into the truths of the gospel.
And today’s passage serves a bridge passage of sorts. Paul opened the letter with a prayer of thanksgiving and then intercession, and then last week we just barely scratched the surface of Paul’s magnificent hymn proclaiming the supremacy, the “wow” inspiring awesomeness of Christ. And next week we’ll really get into the heart of the letter and get a sense for some of Paul’s concerns for the church that in part inspired the letter in the first place.
And yet, before he gets into the tough stuff, Paul takes a moment here to build some relational capital, if you will. He is giving the Colossians a window into his own background and biography and current situation as a way of building trust, building rapport. And this is especially crucial given that very few of them have ever met Paul before. Paul highlights this in chapter 2, verse 1, where he says, “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.” And so here in this part of the letter Paul is saying, “I am suffering for you, struggling for you, contending for you, because I love you, because I want to see Christ in you.” Therefore, you can trust me, you can take me at my word, when I say hard things.
So all that said, let’s dive into our passage for today. Here’s the big idea. It’s short and sweet.
Contending for you to see Christ in you.
That’s probably simplifying this passage a little too far, but nevertheless it’ll help us cover a lot of ground in little time. We’ll break down that phrase into part 1 and part 2 and then 2 points of application before we go. First,
Part 1: Contending for you
Notice how Paul throughout this passage addresses the hardships he’s enduring and effort he’s exerting in serving the Lord and serving churches like the one in Colossae from afar.
Verse 24, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you …”
Verse 29, “To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.”
Chapter 2, verse 1, “I want you to know how hard I am contending for you … “
Of all these, the first verse, verse 24, is the most noteworthy and hands down the most perplexing, as Paul says,
“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”
That probably sounds a little strange, “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.” Is Paul saying that Christ’s death on the cross was somehow incomplete or insufficient? Well, no. Remember what Paul said last week, “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight …”
What Christ did on the cross was more than enough. Instead, what Paul seems to be getting at here is that he sees himself, and he sees his suffering, as a continuation of, as an extension of Christ’s ministry. That just as Christ suffered on our behalf that we might have life in him, Paul too suffers on Christ’s behalf, and on the church’s behalf that we might have life in Christ, so that he might see Christ in the Colossians, that he might see Christ in us.
In fact, when Jesus commissioned Paul to preach the gospel, he said to him, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Consider it prophecy fulfilled, for when Paul talks about his sufferings, he’s alluding to the fact that he writes this letter from prison, in Rome, in chains for the crime of sharing the gospel and professing that Jesus Christ is Lord.
And in the midst of it all, notice Paul’s attitude here. He’s neither miserable nor depressed, instead he says, “I rejoice in what I am suffering for you … for the sake of the body, which is the church.” He knows that his suffering is worth it, because he does it for Christ and His church.
In 1984, the National Dairy Board led a campaign with the slogan, “Milk does a body good.” Now, whether that’s actually true or not, I don’t really know. Feels like we’re continually going back and forth on the benefits of milk. But what I do know for sure, and what Paul knows for sure, is that “Suffering does a body, that is, the church, the body of Christ, good.”
For Paul’s attitude in the face of suffering is a testimony to the Colossians that in the midst of it all, Jesus is worth it. Jesus is worth suffering for and contending for. Jesus is worth serving. And Paul’s suffering can inform their suffering and even our own suffering, whether it be in the form of persecution or hardship or whatever else, and help them and us to persevere in the midst of it.
That’s Part 1. Contending for you, and here’s …
Part 2: To see Christ in you
Yes, Paul’s got a hobble in his step, but he’s also got a smile on his face, because there’s a greater purpose in his suffering. This isn’t some kind of masochistic mindset, some kind of “pain is just a form of weakness leaving the body,” no, no, this is redemptive, purposeful suffering, serving, contending.
Contending for you to see Christ in you. Notice how this theme also runs throughout our passage here:
Verse 25, “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present the word of God in its fullness”
Verse 28, “He (Jesus) is the one we proclaim … so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ”
Chapter 2, verse 2, “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ”
And once again, of all these verses, this time verse 27, is the most noteworthy and hands down the most perplexing, as Paul says,
“To them (that is, the Lord’s people) God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
All of a sudden Paul is talking about things once hidden and now disclosed, mysteries made known among the Gentiles, this promise of “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” There’s a lot happening here. But I think the idea is basically this:
That all of the Old Testament promises and prophecies and all of its mystery find their true fulfillment in Jesus, and how with Jesus, through repentance and faith, the people of God expand from Jews to now Gentiles, in other words all non-Jewish people, from the Colossians long ago in Western Turkey to Dillonites today in Western Montana.
Above all, just hold on to this: Christ in you. Friends, in that very moment when you turn from your sin and profess faith in Jesus Christ, Christ dwells in you. Jesus becomes the ultimate reality and guiding force in your life. And when you do, Jesus’s story becomes our story, that just as he died and rose again, we too die to sin and experience new life with Christ. And we share with him the hope of glory. The hope that we are freed from not only the penalty of sin and increasingly the power of sin, but even some day from the very presence of sin itself, in other words, glory.
This is why Paul rejoices in his suffering, this is why he serves, this is why he contends for them, to see Christ in them, and even more, to present them fully mature in Christ, to see them grow and grow and grow some more, to see them encouraged in heart, united in love, to have the full riches of complete understanding, to know Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Part 1 and Part 2. Contending for you to see Christ in you.
Let’s now move into some application. To do so, let’s consider our main idea from two different vantage points.
First, ask yourself this question, who in your life might you look at and say, “I am contending for you, I am joyfully suffering for you to see Christ in you.” Or who has God placed in your life that you could say that about?
Parents, maybe it’s your kids. Parents, I believe that God has commissioned you to be the primary discipling influence of your children. After all, you are on the front lines, with more face time than any other person in your kids life to help become fully mature in Christ. And my goodness, you will contend for them, suffer for them, as you do.
Pastor Andrew Ferguson has what I think is a fitting summary of parenting when he says, “You fulfill yourself by denying yourself, preparing those you can’t live without to live without you.” Yes and amen to that.
Married couples, maybe it’s your husband or wife. This past week at our men’s group, we were reminded of Paul’s words to all husbands, where he says, “husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church, who gave himself up for her … ” My goodness, talk about a model and calling towards sacrificial love! And in the chapter we read this last week, we were invited to reflect on this question, “Is my wife more like Christ because she is married to me or is she like Christ in spite of me?” How’s that for a powerful and piercing question. Friends, can you genuinely say that about your spouse? “I am contending for you to see Christ in you.”
Or maybe you can say that about your fellow church member sitting in the pew next to you. How can you help and encourage them to become more Christ-like, more encouraged in heart, more united in love, to have a greater knowledge of Christ, to see more of Christ in them? Maybe it’s in praying for them, or through a homemade meal, or calling them asking if they need a ride to church.
Even more, one of the things I want to continue to encourage all of us towards is to take part in a small group or bible study in some capacity. And that’s because what happens in those settings is not only personal growth, but even more, as you learn together, and pray together, and share life together, you become excited about and invested in other people’s growth as well.
Contending for you to see Christ in you.
That’s the first vantage point I want you to look from. Now here’s the second, ask yourself, “What would it look like, what would it take to see more of Christ in me? What would greater maturity in Christ look like for me?”
In other words, what’s the next step in your faith journey? Where do you want or where do you need to grow in greater maturity in Christ? No matter our age or stage, there’s always more, always a next step for us to take, and so, what’s yours?
The possibilities here are just about endless. Maybe you want to grow in the fruit of the Spirit, maybe say, in patience, or gentleness, or self-control. Maybe you want to grow in your ability in sharing your faith with others, or having spiritual, faith based conversations with non-Christians in ways that are inviting and less awkward. Maybe you want to reinvigorate and bolster your prayer life and practices. Maybe you want to be better equipped in providing biblically based words of comfort to those who are grieving. Maybe you want to grow in your understanding of scripture and in learning how to read the bible for yourself – there’s a Sunday morning bible study every Sunday at 8:45am that’s focused on just that.
If in any of those things I just mentioned you thought to yourself, yeah, I want to grow in that way, would you let me know? After all, this idea of contending for you to see Christ in you, well, that’s what I’m here for.
Friends, no matter our age or stage, there’s always more, always a next step for us to take, and so I ask you, what’s yours?
For all of us, may we desire to see more of Christ in ourselves and more of Christ in each other, that we might be fully mature in Christ. May we be a living sanctuary, the very place where God’s presence dwells.
And so, may we say with our words and may we sing with our hearts,
Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living
Sanctuary for You …. So let’s sing