Why I Don’t Want To Suffer

Colossians 1:24-26

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.

Work Hard With An Eternal Confidence

Colossians 1:21-23

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 Holds It All Together

Colossians 1:15-20

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.

Stop Trying To Qualify Yourself

Colossians 1:12-14

“…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.

Let The Power Of God Produce What You Cannot

Colossians 1:11

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,

Would you consider yourself a patient person?  Would you consider yourself someone who has a lot of joy?  Are you someone who endures the trails of life well?  If you said no to these questions you are not alone.  These are all areas of my life that at times I struggle with as well.  It can be hard for me to be patient and wait on God, and it can also be hard for me to be full of joy when hard times come.

However, Paul is challenging you and me to something different within this verse.  If you remember my previous post God Is Our Highest End, I talked about how Paul was calling us and the Colossian church to seek God as their highest goal and how that naturally leads someone bear fruit and live in a manner worthy of the Lord.  Paul is now building off of this idea, and, in a prayer like fashion, is telling them that all power for endurance, patience, and joy in this life comes from God.

These are not attributes that we can produce in our own lives and when we try to we often fail.  I can think of many times in my life that I have tried to be patient or I have tried to convince myself to be full of joy when I am clearly not seeking God for my joy.  The result is utter failure, that leads to frustration, which leads to sorrow over my lack of victory in these areas.  But it is in these times that God is trying to show me that all my efforts are vain attempts to try and make my life better.  They are feeble attempts to produce a completeness within myself that only God and God alone can produce.

As I said before, our highest end as Christians is to seek God and God alone.  He should be the beginning and the end of all that we think and do.  And because of the finished work of Christ applied to us as Christians, we live with the hope that He is the one who works in us and through us to accomplish His purposes and to produce the fruits of the Spirit within our lives.

When we begin to understand this we will little by little give up control of our lives.  We will stop trying to produce within ourselves what only God can produce.  We will stop trying to be patient and joyful and we will cry out to God and say “Lord, fill me with an understanding of you, and produce within me by the power of your Holy Spirit what I cannot.”

As we lay down our man-made efforts two things will happen.  One we will stop being so hard on ourselves; beating ourselves up over every little thing, and we will begin to live under the grace of God.  And two, we will begin to see God producing within us the fruit that we tried so hard to manufacture on our own.  Does this mean that we don’t have any responsibility or that we shouldn’t work hard to follow God? No!  But what it does mean is that we live knowing that all of the endurance, joy, and patience that exists in our live is wholly wrought within us by the triune God who says that he will keep us and sustain us for eternity.

So lay down your strivings and your man-made efforts and lean on Christ who will produce within you what you cannot.  Trust in His finished work on your behalf and know that he will bring to completion what he has started within you.  Remember, He will give you all power, according to His glorious might for all endurance and patience with joy.

God Is Our Highest End

Colossians 1:9-10

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Do you ever wonder what the Christian life is all about?  If you ask people what the Christian life is supposed to be about they will give you a multitude of answers like missions, prayer, doing good, discipleship, etc…  All of these are good answers in some sense, because they are a part of the Christian life, but we must remember that they are not the whole.

However, there are times in scripture, and particularly in Paul’s epistles where he sums up a concept for us in a couple verses, and in a few words gives us keen insight into a particular topic.  I believe that these verses in Colossians 1 are doing just that.  They are giving us a condensed but complete look at what the Christian life is supposed to be about.  It’s about being filled with the knowledge of God that leads to wisdom and understanding, it is about walking in a manner worthy of the Lord and pleasing Him by the power of the Holy Spirit, and it is about bearing fruit in our good works.

If I were to condense this down even further I would say that it is about loving God, growing in our understanding of God, living for God, and doing good for kingdom purposes.  Now people might split hairs on my word choices as I have summed up these verses, but what strikes me about what Paul is saying is the Christian life is about God.  And, of course, we would all agree with that; yet, we will often shift our focus to something else like prayer, missions, discipleship, etc…  Again, not that these things are bad but they are not the main end of our Christian lives.  God is our highest end.

A robust love for, devotion to, understanding of, and experience of God is our highest end and our goal.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks the question, “What is the chief end of man?”  And it answers the questions this way, “To glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.”  So our goal as Christians is God; to glorify him as we grow in our knowledge of Him, and as we love Him more and put our full hope in Christ and in His finished work on our behalf.  This results in a life that is worthy of the Lord, because as we seek God, we live in a way that is pleasing to Him, and as a result we begin to bear fruit in every good work by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I realize that this is not new concept, but as a minister of the gospel I need to be reminded that my goal is God.  Too often I can make the good works my goal instead of realizing that they are a natural consequence of a life that is seeking hard after the Lord.  And when we look at what Paul says, he even concludes his talk on bearing fruit in our good works by calling us to increase in our knowledge of God.  Also, I am reminded that when I make my works the end of my Christian life I stop relying on the Holy Spirit to do good through me and I instead try to create my own good (even though I have no inherent good within me).

So my hope for myself and for all believers is that we will seek God for God.  That we will make Him our ultimate goal and will stop making the fruit of a life with God our ultimate god.  And when Paul calls us to bear fruit in every good work we can realize that this fruit will be as a result of a life lived in close fellowship with God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Beginning And End Of Our Fruit

Colossians 1:5b-8

Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

What an amazing truth it is that the gospel has gone forth and is going forth in the whole world bearing fruit and increasing.  It is exciting to think about how God is undoing the tragedy of the fall and how Christ is the one who is redeeming a people for Himself from every tribe tongue and nation.  This is the mighty God who deserves all glory honor and praise.

But as much as I would like to stop there and agree that it is amazing that God is redeeming people all over the world and that the gospel is bearing fruit in the nations, I am also confronted with the reality that it is this gospel that has saved me and is also bearing fruit within me.  It is the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified on my behalf; the One who bore the wrath of God so I wouldn’t have to; the One who gloriously rose again so I can live in the hope of an eternity with God.  It is the grace of God applied to me through Christ that by the power of the Holy Spirit is bearing fruit in me.

Yet, to say that the Holy Spirit is bearing fruit in me at times can be so hard because the reality is that there are times where it is seems like little to no fruit exists.  I wrote in previous post about how annoyed I was by my daughter ruining my desires for my morning only to realize how much I was putting my hope in my plans and desires and not in God.  Often, this can feel like the revolving door of sin that keeps pervading my heart.  Just when I think that I have found victory over something the revolving door smacks me in the face and my sin becomes so evident to the point where I at times ask, “am I really even a believer?”

Now it might seem to some like I am being too real and open in this post, or someone may read this and think, “somebody needs to confront him about his sin.”  But I am writing this for more than just mere confession.  I am writing this because the reality for many people is that they feel this way.  They feel like the reality of their sin and circumstances are so great that they don’t have a clue how they are going to overcome them.  But like Paul, we must all daily turn to the cross and remind ourselves of Romans 8:1-2 which says:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

There is now no condemnation because of Christ!  We are set free by Christ and we daily have freedom from this world because of Him.  Sure, it is a daily struggle to walk in the light of the gospel.  There are times that we will fall, and there will be times where we feel like complete failures.  In fact, you might even feel like this on a daily basis, but you must stand firm on the reality that you are set free by the gospel of Jesus Christ, and because you are set free you can proclaim from the roof tops the truth of Philippians 1:6 which says:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

And the good work that God is doing in you and me is that He is making us more like Christ.  In the same way that God was producing love in the lives of the Colossians by the power of the Holy Spirit, He is also working in us by the power of the Holy Spirit to produce love and to conform us to the image of Christ Jesus our Lord.  So take heart, don’t give up, fight the good fight of faith on a daily basis.  Know that you will fall and fail daily, but be assured that the gospel of Jesus Christ is producing fruit within you if you are a believer, and be assured that God will complete the work in you that he has started.

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