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, 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.
Often when we speak of riches and treasure in our culture today we mean something that is physical. It is something that can be touched, bought, spent, hoarded, etc… These are the things that most people think are important and they try to run after them like they are the most valuable treasures that this life has to offer. In that sense they become things that we worship; they become idols in our hearts.
However, Paul is talking about a different treasure. He is struggling for these believers wanting them to attain riches that are immaterial and in the heart, not physical. In fact we see from the way that Paul lived that earthly treasures meant nothing to him. They were used as a means to live and tell others about the greatest treasure of all.
His struggle is that they will grow and reach a place where they are grasping and understanding the mystery of God, which is Christ, who has saved both Jewish and Gentile lost sinners. This mystery is so magnificent that once they understand this truth it will bring complete assurance. This assurance will allow them to walk through this life with a joy and hope that is not found in the failing things of this world, but is found in Christ who is never-failing and always perfect.
This same message is for us today. As believers in Christ we are called, by God’s Word, to put our hope and trust in Christ. As a result, we seek the fullness of spiritual treasures instead of the fullness of earthly treasures. These spiritual treasures are never ending, never-failing, and will never fade away. Also, these spiritual treasures will be the foundation of our eternal hope, which, even in the face of immense trials, will never crumble and will sustain us.
So look not to the riches of this world for assurance and sustainment. Don’t look to money, your family, your church, your community, etc… (though these things can and do help us in our walk with Christ); they are but dim reflections of the one who brings true and ultimate hope, and they will always fail us in the trials of life. Instead, put your hope in the true and better treasure and be filled with the fullness of assurance that comes from knowing and growing in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our only solid foundation.
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?
This is my sermon manuscript from my grandfather’s memorial service on Friday, October 17th, 2014. My hope is that this remembrance will bless you as you read about a man who loved God, his friends, and his family well, and in so doing, left an impact on everyone that he came in contact with.
“My grandfather’s name was DeForest, but everyone called him Bob.”
I remember writing these words while taking a creative writing course in college. We were tasked with writing an opening line to a short story that would engage the reader immediately. This was the first thing that came to my mind as I poured over my life looking for something interesting to write about.
It came to mind, in part because it was funny, but more importantly because I deemed my grandfather someone who was and is important to write about. He was a man who spent his whole life working hard for what he earned while faithfully providing for his family, tithing to the church, loving God, and helping those who were in need.
But if you knew Bob well, you also know that he was a larger than life personality. When he walked into a room he commanded a presence like no other man I have ever met before. As he smiled and joked with people and talked of the war, politics, his years of working for the city, and the many stories of a life well lived, you couldn’t help but be drawn in by the aura of life and joy that radiated from him.
I remember times when we would go out to eat with him and grandma and we would be expecting a nice quiet dinner together as a family. However, we always ended up at a restaurant where grandpa mysteriously new 2-3 people that were there or he would make 2-3 new friends by the time we left. And he wasn’t just making casual conversation; it felt like he had truly gotten to know these people and they were now going to be lifelong friends. This was the mark of a man who loved life and who loved people.
But his true love was his wonderful and amazing wife, my grandmother, Mary Stewart; who was by his side for 71 years. However, I did find out recently that this was a relationship that almost didn’t make it off the starting line. The story goes like this:
According to my grandmother they met on a blind date, after which she had decided that she didn’t really like him. And what is even more intriguing is the fact that my grandfather told her that his name was Roger. He was thinking if she fell head over heels for him, and he didn’t like her, he didn’t want her to be able to look him up.
But God has a sense of humor. After that date my grandfather was hooked, and it just so happened that my grandmother accidentally left her scarf in his car. So this man whom she thought she would never talk to again calls her up and wants to return her scarf to her. She told him to keep it, he insisted on returning it, and the rest is history.
What is even funnier about the two of them is that they couldn’t have been farther apart politically. Now, if you know them both well you know that Bob was a diehard republican, and well let’s just say that my grandmother is not. And of course there would always be some bickering and light banter around the house during election time. My grandfather would lean over to me and say, “Hey Ry, we need to figure out how to get your grandmother on our side.” But despite their political differences you could not find two people who loved each other more.
And together as husband and wife for over 70 years, they had the privilege of raising four wonderful children, being called grandpa and grandma by twelve grandchildren, and then becoming great-grandpa and great-grandma to 32 great-grandchildren. All along this journey they loved one another and all of us in a way that has made us all better people for having known them. They truly had a long and full life together.
But today we are not just here to tell stories about Bob Stewart and the wonderful life he had with my grandmother. We are here to mourn his death, and to mourn the loss of a man whose impact on the lives of those around him will be told in stories and tales for years to come. And as we mourn his passing there is three things that I believe that he would want all of you to know.
One, I think that he would want you to know that mourning his death is a good thing. We often try to keep ourselves from feeling emotions when a loved one passes because we believe that we have to be strong, but we must remember that even Jesus himself wept and mourned. Upon hearing of the death of His dear friend Lazarus the Bible lets us know in John 11:35 that “Jesus wept.” And Jesus is weeping and mourning the loss of His friend who is about to bring back to life. This lets us know that it is okay and right for us to mourn the loss of a man who was a husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend.
Yet, the second thing that he would want you to know is that our mourning should be different. Our mourning should be different because we are here to mourn the loss of a man who knew where he was going to be spending his eternity. He was a man who understood the truth of what the Bible calls the gospel of Jesus Christ and so was confident that he would be in the presence of the Almighty God forever. And I am here to tell you today that this is exactly where he is right now. Grandpa is in the presence of God enjoying everlasting peace, everlasting joy, and everlasting life. This is a place that is greater than anything that we could imagine.
So yes, we mourn, but our mourning is different; our mourning is mixed with hope and with joy as we ponder the reality of where he is and what he is doing. This is why Kris read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 which says:
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”
Grandpa believed these truths with all his heart and so had a hope that was in and has always been in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that his eternity was fixed and that he would spend forever with Jesus. In fact, I remember sitting at his table eating lunch with him during a couple summers where I had the privilege to help him water lawns and he would constantly talk about the “Good Lord.” Even though this was before I really knew anything about God, I was convinced that if there was a “good God” Bob Stewart, my grandfather, knew Him, and He knew my grandfather.
Third, if he were here today he would probably say something like this, “Hey, Ry, give them that fire and brimstone preaching like pastor Hagee does, I like that guy, he’s a gospel preacher.” But he would want me to share with you the greatest news in the whole world the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
He would want you to know that there is a perfect and Holy God who created all things including us. He originally created us to worship Him and find our greatest joy in Him. But we as humans thought that our way was better than God’s and instead of worshipping Him we decided to worship other things besides Him.
This is what the Bible calls sin, which really means to miss the mark, because we have missed the mark of perfectly worshipping and obeying God. This is why Romans 3:23 says:
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
We all fall short of God’s perfect standard and as a result the scriptures also let us know that we are spiritually dead because of our sin. This means that we are eternally separated from God and our eternity is in a real place called hell apart from a miraculous work of God on our behalf.
But God in His mercy and love provided a way out for us. He sent his Son Jesus Christ to earth to live the perfect life that we could not, and to die upon the cross, and in doing so, he took the punishment for our sin upon himself. As Paul says in Romans 5:8:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
And he did not just take the punishment for our sin upon the cross, but He also rose again three days later to prove that He was the one and only one who could conquer sin and grant us eternal life forever with God.
This truth is not just something that we can intellectually agree with. In order to truly receive the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of eternal life you must admit that you need Jesus. You need to turn away from your old ways of living and you must turn in faith toward Jesus, believe that He is the one who saves you, and turn to Him in faith and obedience meaning that your life is spent in serving Him and finding your greatest joy in bringing Him glory and not yourself.
This is the glorious truth that my grandfather knew, and because He is forever in the presence of God He knows this truth better than any of us here today. He is at the end of the story where He truly knows that when we turn to Jesus Christ in faith and we follow Him that we receive the amazing gift of eternal life and we can be in His glorious and perfect presence forever.
And if you are here today and you don’t know Jesus personally as your Savior, I encourage you to take these truths seriously. You can know for sure today that you will experience the joy of the eternal life. These are truths that Bob knew both in this life and now in the presence of God forever.
So we mourn and celebrate Bob’s life.” But we mourn with hope. And though we will miss him, we will always carry with us the treasures and nuggets of experiences and truths that He imparted to each one of us. And we will always carry with us the confidence that he is in a better place and that his legacy will live on through those of us who were fortunate enough to be impacted by a life well lived for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Deforest B. Stewart, a man loved by many and, because of Jesus, a man loved by God.
“To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
There are things in life that we all struggle, fight and work hard to achieve. It might be a job, family, a relationship, or some other early treasure, but we all have things that we believe are important enough to run hard after. Yet, we often fail to run hard after and fight for the greatest treasure in all the universe; the treasure of Christ and His work in us and through us.
Paul is telling the church at Colossae that God has now revealed His wonderful mystery to the saints by making the gentiles part of His chosen people. This is the mystery that was hidden for ages past, and we as American Christian are benefactors of this wonderful mystery. He then says that it is Christ that we (Paul and Timothy) proclaim. They are making a statement about their message and its substance. The substance of and the center of their message is Christ, His life, death, burial, and resurrection.
Paul’s goal is to proclaim Christ and to present everyone mature in Christ. He is so sold out to this message and goal that he toils and struggles for it daily, and it is the central message and truth that he orients the rest of his life around. It is not just something that Paul decides to talk about on a Sunday, but it is his singular focus everyday of the week.
I will admit that this seems so hard and daunting. Everyday to have your singular focus be Christ seems like a chore of immense proportions. However, I think their are three reasons I feel this way. One, I often separate life into sacred and secular things. What I mean by this is that I often treat my time away from church, away from the Bible, and away from quote “Christian things” as secular time. I often forget that every situation in life is an opportunity to proclaim and worship Christ. Two, I am trying to live and toil for Christ in my own strength. Paul says in verse 29:
“For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
Paul is toiling; however, he is doing it with “ This means that Paul is toiling and struggling for the gospel with the power and energy that comes from God, through Christ. This is the power of the Holy Spirit that lives within him. Paul knows that he is incapable of proclaiming the gospel on his own. Also, apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, he will not see the fruit of the gospel in his life or in the lives of others. Ultimately he will wear himself out in trying to proclaim this message on his own.
Finally, I don’t think that I always treasure Christ above all other things. Matthew 13:44 says:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
Jesus is letting us know what our attitude toward His kingdom should be. We should treasure the kingdom of God more than anything else. This means that we need to treasure Christ (who is God) more than anything else in the whole world. He is the one who gives us life, and He is the one who gives us more joy and purpose than any other earthly treasure that we could ever run after.
So I am challenging you and myself to three things this morning. One, realize that all of life is worship. As 1 Corinthians 10:31 says:
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Two, realize that the ability and power to run hard after Christ everyday comes from God and not from ourselves. We are incapable of consistently and whole heartedly proclaiming Christ apart from His work and power within us. Three, we must treasure Christ above everything else. Realize that Christ is better than all other earthly pleasure and make Him your greatest treasure.
When we do this, all other earthly pleasures begin to pale in comparison with the pleasure of knowing and serving Christ. As we rely and the power of Christ within us we will begin to realize that He sustains us through every trial and struggle that come our way. And when we make Him our one true joy and treasure we will see all of life as an opportunity to know and worship Christ more. Then our desire will be to proclaim the gospel in all of life, and to present everyone mature in Christ.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.
Do you like to suffer? Do you think it is fun to go through hard times? I don’t either. When I read a passage like this, or other passages about suffering, I can intellectually agree that suffering is part of the Christian life. I say that I can intellectually agree because the reality is that I don’t want to go any farther than that. I don’t really want to suffer because I like life to be easy and I have a little comfortable box in which I want everything to fit.
But then there is Paul. A man who has been beaten, shipwrecked, and imprisoned for his faith, not shrinking away from suffering, but rejoicing in it. He is rejoicing because he understands that he is suffering for a purpose. There is an end goal in mind when he is beaten or imprisoned for the sake of the gospel. That goal is to make much of Christ and to see the gospel spread to the ends of the earth.
Paul also understood that his suffering was something that Christ had ordained for him and must happen. Back in Acts 9:15-16 Jesus came to Ananias and told him to go find Saul (Paul) and then told him that Saul (Paul) would suffer for His sake.
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
Paul would have known this and may have had an experience where God showed him the same thing. Either way Paul knew he was supposed to suffer and in his sufferings was bringing to completion, in his flesh, the sufferings that Christ had prepared for him. And Paul’s main driving motivation for this was to build up the body of Christ, that is the church, so that the gospel would be proclaimed. So Paul knew that he would suffer and it made him rejoice because he knew that the goal of his suffering would bear fruit for the kingdom as God used him to make His Word fully known among the saints.
Again, I can intellectually write this yet my heart is not fully invested in it. I don’t want to suffer because I am not living moment by moment in the reality of the glory of God. I am not living in the reality of what He has done for me or the eternity that is mine through Christ. I forget how amazing the end of this road is, and instead I turn and try to find a vain substitute in this world.
Its like someone telling me that if I drive 5 more miles down the road there is a great steakhouse; yet, I decide to stop at McDonalds instead because I am too lazy to drive the rest of the way. Our eternity is so good and the joy that comes from suffering for Christ is so great that we on some level should desire to suffer for Christ. We should desire to leave the worldly things behind so that we can freely give our lives in service to Christ.
However, at this point in my life this is just an intellectual concept and not one that my heart is ready to truly live out. My prayer is that God will forgive me for my apathy and for living for vain things. That by the power of His Holy Spirit He will begin to stir these godly desires within me. He would press into my heart an immense boldness to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and to suffer for His kingdom in a way that will truly make Him look great and will magnify His glorious name.
My prayer is that one day what I intellectually believe to be true of God will fully be lived out in application. May God make this your prayer as well.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
It is amazing to ponder the hope of the gospel that is mine because of the work of Jesus Christ. To know at one time I was alienated and hostile towards God, doing evil, but now He has reconciled me to Himself, in His body, through His death is so amazing it at times feels unfathomable. And He did all of this to present me to Himself blameless and holy so that I could experience the joy and life of His presence forever.
This is the hope of the gospel that is mine every single day. I get the privilege to live in the eternal presence of Jesus Christ who is the source of all life, joy, and peace. My eternity is secure and I don’t have to try to earn that on a daily basis because He earned it on my behalf.
However, there is still something that I am called to do. Just because I live with an understanding that it is God who saves me, reconciles me, and presents me blameless before Himself does not mean that I get to sit on my hands as if there is nothing that I am supposed to do. No! Paul goes on to say that I must continue in faith. I must be stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that was preached and applied to me.
But what do I do with these words? Do I now make the gospel contingent upon my works because Paul said that I need to persevere in faith? Must I put the whole weight of my eternity upon my shoulders because I am called to remain stable and steadfast? By no means is this what Paul is saying. If we look to other places in scripture we come to an understanding that the good works that are done in us and through us for Christ are something that God is working in us for His glory. As Philippians 2:13 says:
“for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
A great reminder that it is God who is working His purposes in me and through me. It is not something that I am doing on my own, but it is the power of God at work in my life. However, if we are going to apply this verse to our lives we also need to then take seriously what comes before it. Philippians 2:12 says:
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,”
There is a real and ever present need to continually seek to obey God by living in awe of Him and making sure that we are living a life that matches what we believe. This is what it means to work out our salvation. Not that we somehow make our salvation, but if we are believers saved by the grace of God, it is necessary for us to seek to grow in our understanding of who God is and to make sure that our lives match what believe.
Remember, however, that Philippians 2:12 comes before 2:13, and even though we are called to work and toil for Christ we always connect our work, its power, and its fruit back to Christ. In the same way, I can look to Colossians and see that it is Christ who reconciles me and presents me blameless before God and know that the power to remain steadfast in faith is something that is mine through Christ. He has imparted to me and it is something that He is working out in me.
Does this diminish my need to work and grow in Christ? Does this mean that I can sit on my hands not seeking to know, love, and follow God? Absolutely not, but what it does mean is that all of my efforts are seen through the lens of the gospel. Yes, I am called to remain in the hope of the gospel and their is work that God has called me to do, but the power and fruit of my efforts is something that is given by God through Christ. As Ephesians 2:10 says:
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.“
So walk in the confidence of the Lord. Work hard for Christ, and be working out and growing in your salvation which is applied to you by the work of Christ. However, know that God is the one who bears fruit in you and through you. He prepared these things before hand, from the beginning of time, and He is the one who allows you to walk in them from this day unto eternity.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
We just recently moved to La Crosse, WI, and it is a beautiful place surrounded on all sides by the massive bluffs. It is so breath taking at times that I need to pinch myself to be reminded that this is not just a dream, but we actually do live here. However, despite it being such a beautiful place I often forget to tie that beauty and grandeur back to the one who is the creator of it all.
This passage gives us that reminder. But instead of just telling us that God created everything, Paul is applying those truths to Christ as a way to show that He was and is also God. Jesus is the image of God made manifest to the world and He is the one who created all things in heaven and on earth. This means that Everything that we see and don’t see, the big and the small, the significant and the insignificant are created by Christ for a reason.
That reason is so Christ would be preeminent. That Christ would look and be distinguished above all other gods that would fight for our attention. That He would be revered and honored more than anything in this world because He is the creator of all things.
If this is not amazing enough, He is also the one who holds all things together. He is no just a creator who created everything and the took His hands off, but He is a creator who holds everything together. There are so many stresses and worries that come upon us as humans everyday as if the weight of the world is upon our shoulders, but the reality is that this weight is fully upon Christ. He sustains all things and is responsible for all things.
Again, we work so hard to try and sustain our own lives only to find ourselves in a place of joylessness and sorrow because of the overwhelming stress that comes from trying to make life exactly what we think it needs to be. We forget that Christ is the one who is forming our lives and instead of trying to form our own existence the call of Christ is to come to Him and find rest. He says, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” He can say this because He truly is the one who created and sustains everything that exists. He is the one who holds the whole world in His hands and is orchestrating the events of this world and universe for His glory and the good of His people.
And we see this goodness most clearly in what He did on the cross. Jesus, who is fully man and fully God, who is the one that sustains all things, enacted His plan to reconcile all things to Himself by shedding His blood on the cross and in doing so bringing peace to His people. This is a powerful and good God who truly is the creator and sustainer of all things. The one who orchestras all things from the cosmos to the tiniest little insignificant bug so that we would honor Him and remember that He is in control and we are not, and that we find our greatest rest and peace in Him.
“…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
What does it mean to be qualified to do something? If you were to look up the word in the dictionary you would come across this definition: “officially recognized as being trained to perform a particular job; certified.” The emphasis in this definition is on the training that someone may receive to perform a particular job. This may also be tied to someone’s natural talent that makes them able to complete a specific task.
But is that what these verses are trying to tell us? Have we been trained by God to share in the inheritance with the saints? Is it because of our hard work in training with Him that now we have progressed to a place where we are able to receive what the rest of God’s people had already received by their own efforts? Or is God saying something different through the apostle Paul?
I believe that God is trying to tell us something different. He is trying to tell us something important about what He has done for us. That being qualified by God is something that we have not earned but it is something that is freely given to us by God. In this way the idea of being qualified is something given to us, not earned. But how did this happen?
Verse 13-14 tell us that we are qualified by God because He delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son. The emphasis here is upon what God did through His Son Jesus Christ, and it down plays our need to work for or earn our qualification. Jesus is not only the one who qualifies us, delivers us, and transfers us, but He is the one who redeems us and brings forgiveness of sins. This reminds me of my two favorite verses in all of scripture, Ephesians 2:8-9:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
So salvation from beginning to end is a work of God so that non one can boast as if they have done something to earn their salvation. So what does this mean for us today? How will this help each of us as we walk, moment by moment, in the daily struggles of life?
We can answer this by first asking the question, “what are our struggles, and why do we struggle?” Now I realize that there are legitimate emotional and physical struggles that people are walking through, and my desire is not to diminish those things. Yet, when I look at my own life and at the lives of others I am confronted by a spiritual malady that, more often than not, seems to be at the root of our daily struggles. We are struggling to believe that God is the one who fully qualifies us.
We say that we believe that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, and that it is a complete work of God and not of man, yet we live in a way where we believe that somehow our works are what make us right in God’s eyes. When our works fail us and we fall into sin, we allow ourselves to wallow in the pit of despair as if the whole world has collapsed instead of living as if our redemption and forgiveness are fully purchased by Christ. Or when things are going well we get a sense of spiritual pride about us as if we have earned our good standing with God. This usually results in us looking down on others who may be struggling.
How prideful are we who say that we need grace yet live as if we don’t. But our only cure from the daily struggles of this life, and from the up and down rollercoaster of emotion that comes from the up and down nature of our relationship with Christ, is to live in the reality that we are purchased and qualified by Christ. To truly cry out to God and lay our works and our burdens down at the foot of the cross believing that we have nothing and that He gives us everything.
Until then, the daily struggles of life will result in despair. The daily victories will result in pride. And we will continue on a spiritual rollercoaster that we may one day decide to stop riding and turn away from Christ altogether. So live in the truth that it is God through Christ that qualifies you. He is the on who delivers you from darkness, and transfers you to light by His blood. Finally, experience the freedom that this truth brings to your life, and give all thanks and praise to your heavenly Father who allows you to share in the glorious inheritance of His saints.