Struggling Together in Christ

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, 2 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, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. (Colossians 2:1-5)

We live in a day and time where we are able to indulge ourselves in almost an endless amount of self-gratification. What I mean is that there are many ways, many channels in which to attempt to capture for ourselves pleasure of all kinds. We can be self-consumed, self-focused, self-satisfying people. 

Most of us don’t pursue all that we could pursue in this quest for ultimate satisfaction and pleasure. We, most of us, have a certain amount of restraint. But even if there are things that we would say, “I’m not going to do that, not that drug, I’ll not watch that inappropriate video, or have that illicit relationship,” even if we exercise some restraint, we can fall into daydreaming that we do those things. Many will spend days wishing for things they cannot have, things they perhaps wish they were more bold to pursue.

What I am talking about is human nature, sinful human nature. A nature that we inherited from Adam when he sinned and one that, even for the Christian, we have a remnant of still with us. As Christians it’s not a nature that we are still enslaved to, but one that still has influence.

Christ Jesus came to set us free from what I have described. He came to set us free from pursuits that promise happiness and peace but that instead deliver pain and suffering. Christ came to open our eyes to the lies we can so often believe. Lies like, “Money will give me peace,” “Relationships, even sinful ones, will maximize my joy,” “Alcohol or drugs will take away my anxieties,” “Prestige, respect, and power will satisfy my hunger for significance.” These lies are deadly, they are so wrong, and Christ came to say, ”My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27). He came to say, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Jesus came to say, through Paul in 1 Timothy 6:6, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”

Jesus came to set us free from lies that we tend to believe, so we don’t have to go through the back and forth process of seeking after things, dreams, lies for joy, peace, contentment, and getting to the end and being massively disappointed and disillusioned that whatever that thing was really could not give us what we wanted. Or perhaps worse, spending a lifetime pursuing what we think would be the greatest thing ever, and it always being just outside our reach. In that case we never experience the pain of actually getting what we want and being disappointed, what we experience instead is a disappointment that we just can’t quite get to it. Either way, it is hope misplaced. Hope in that which cannot deliver what we want.

Christ is to be our hope, our joy, our peace, and our satisfaction. 

Sometimes I think for most of us, we need to just take a deep breath and go back to pursuing Christ first, worshiping Him, and let go of anything that is standing in the way of such a pursuit. Jesus said to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and everything else will be added.

I say all of this as a backdrop to Colossians 2. If we don’t get the significance of living for another, living for Christ, and finding joy and peace in doing that, then Colossians 2 will fly right past us as an old writing that makes no sense. I don’t want that to happen for me or for you. Paul was a smart guy, a capable man. He could have been rich, well respected, very powerful, getting just about anything, any pleasure, earthly pleasure he wanted. He was not a prisoner nor a general outcast of society because he was dumb or ignorant or anything like that, he chose to be where he was because Christ chose Him, and that meant everything to Paul. Giving himself to Christ meant giving himself to others. Let me give you some examples of this…

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. (2 Corinthians 3:2)

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. (2 Corinthians 6:11)

I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? (2 Corinthians 12:15)

7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:7-8)

To live this way is to make a conscience effort, by our will, strengthened by Christ, to let go of self-centered, me-focused living. It is to let go of lies that say, “You must live for yourself in order to be happy.” And you know, it is not that we are then to live simply for others. No, it is to live for Christ, and in that love others.

Here is what it means to live for Christ…

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:19-21)

What is love? Love is giving from the heart.

For God so loved the world that He gave (John 3:16a)

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

When God chose to love, when Christ chose to love, He did so in that He gave. He gave sacrificially, not grudgingly, but with a compassionate heart. He gave to the point of suffering, of risking and being rejected, to the point of, for Christ, death of the most gruesome kind and rejection by His Father. This is love. The love that we have received and the love that we are to return to Him is often expressed as we love other people.

Paul opens up Colossians 2 with words that profoundly express his love for Christ by the way he speaks of God’s people and by the way he interacts with them. He is an example of one who willingly lays aside his own selfish interests in worldly pursuits to pursue God’s people from a sincere heart. 

Grace was so real for Paul that it overflowed to others. He describes himself as the chief of all sinners, and yet he also knows that He is intimately and infinitely loved by God. This realization affected him. It flowed through him to other people.

Let me show you how this is so from our text this morning…

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face (Colossians 2:1)

As we have talked about already, Paul is writing to those whom he has never met face to face. Presence isn’t always necessary in order to express love and concern for others. Let’s not forget that. We don’t see Christ, yet we love Him. No one has ever seen the Father, yet God has given us an ability to love even while not being physically present with others. People sometimes say, “I can’t love Jesus, I need flesh and blood to love someone,” and in saying this we may be putting too much priority on physical, visible presence. Are we saying that we cannot love our spouses when we are separated temporarily, or our children who are away at camp, or a good friend who has moved away?

Paul loved those who were, by God’s grace, a part of his spiritual family, even though they were separated geographically. We can do that too. It may take more focus, it may take more meditative thinking about them and their place with God and their needs and such, but the energy is worth it, and it is there for us as God gives it. “Out of sight out of mind” does not have to be true for us as believers as we think of other believers. 

Paul says, “For I want you to know.” He is using a phrase of intimacy here. It is like, “Look, this is important, there is something about me that I really want you to know.” It is like leaning into them, near their ear so to speak, and speaking something personal. Sometimes we can be formal with people and at some point, we let our guard down and say, “Look, here is what I am saying. I really want you to know this.”

He wants them to know of his struggle.

“Struggle” here is from a Greek word where we get our English word “agony.” Paul was personally affected by the lives of his fellow Christians. This was very personal for him. He was in a sense agonizing over their plight, or their coming plight.

Now remember that this letter was written because there were factions of people, false teachers who were spreading their false and destructive doctrines in the church. This was extremely troubling to Paul. Many may have been on the brink of trading in what truth they had embraced for lies that could shake their faith and wreck their walk and witness. Whether the Colossians realized it or not, Paul realized that they were either facing or were about to face a huge battle. And Paul did not take it lightly.

You could say that he was, Paul was trying to head off a spiritual rebellion among the church people for the sake of the Lord’s name. And the word he used to describe how their condition affected him was agony.

Sometimes people ask me, maybe someone new in the ministry or someone starting out in a counseling role in their church, they ask, “Lyndon, how do you keep from taking your work home with you?” I shake my head and think, “What do you mean by that?” I mean, I try not to sinfully worry over brothers’ and sisters’ problems or let fear rule in my heart over issues, but I don’t leave it all at the “office.” As believers we are tied together, spiritually intertwined. We ought not be warm during a conversation and then cold toward it when we go home. I don’t leave thoughts of my wife at home when I go out, my thoughts of her go with me.

I am glad that Paul is honest here. He struggled, agonized over their condition and the temptations they would face. This struggle was emotional rather than physical. Paul was totally involved with them on the inside, emotionally.

I had a two hour oral exam from the seminary staff at Faith Bible Seminary where I have been working on my M.A. in Biblical Counseling. Part of the exam was to talk through a fictional case study and for me to tell how I would handle some of the issues involved from a biblical perspective. The situation had to do with a man and a woman who had been on the mission field for about thirty years. And some things had happened. I’ll not go into all the detail, but some things had happened that had really shaken their faith so extensively that they really began to doubt whether they could continue on. They could not retire, could not afford to just retire, and they weren’t trained to do anything else. They became very anxious and fearful, and in some ways felt abandoned by God. 

My assignment was to help them. I began talking through this case and did so in a methodical, systematic way. One by one I described issues, and one by one I gave solutions. I handled it like an engineer would deal with a broken process.

Though I passed the exam, my professors were not shy about taking me to task on the lack of sympathy that I showed to this couple who had sacrificially given themselves for thirty years for the sake of the gospel. What I didn’t do was come alongside this couple with genuine agape, Christian love. This scenario provided an opportunity for me to love them, walk with them, weep with them, to give of myself emotionally to them, and then to gently point them to Christ as their only hope and to remind them of God’s truths from the Word. I was a problem solver, not a pastoral, compassionate servant leader to them in my exam responses.

When Paul says he struggles with the Christians in Colossae, he means that he feels for them, and it hurts. He was totally involved with them. 

Do we, you and me, do we get involved with each other regularly, to the point of agonizing with one another or agonizing over someone else? And I don’t mean just people that we have to get involved with, like a close family member. I mean with people like those sitting around you this morning. Do we even know each other well enough to struggle together in this Christian walk? Are our lives geared in such a way that we are looking for opportunities to walk with another person for the sake of Christ? 

In Paul’s struggle he goes on to discuss what he wants for his Christian brothers and sisters. We will look at those things, Lord willing, next time, but for today I just want us to think about our level of willingness to walk with another even if it means some emotional pain.

You may this morning be thinking, “Yes, I am ready for that. I am ready to be all in with people for the sake of Christ. I am ready to step out of what has been comfortable for me, and instead of simply concerning myself with me and my issues, I am willing to do that with others. I am ready, but I’m not sure how to do that, where to do that. I’m not sure with whom I can be involved.”

If that is you, and I hope it is, I want to this morning mention three different avenues that you can follow to begin significant involvement with other people for the glory of God. I want to get really practical. Three ways, and I’m only mentioning three ways out of about a million ways out there.

First of all, if you are here today and are a believer in Christ, if you are part of this body of Christ that we call Grace Bible Fellowship Church, then you have a responsibility to the very people who are sitting around you this morning. I know that we are sometimes tempted to think that no one around us at church has problems, but that is simply not true. You can, I can commit to getting to know people here on a deeper level, and let them know that we are willing to walk with them through whatever trial they may be facing. The process is simple: get to know people, and when opportunity arises, take it to help them in life. We get a prayer sheet each week, we hear people talk, we see troubled expressions on people’s faces, but what do we do with those things? Do we follow up, do we make a call, do we meet for coffee, do we send emails, do we ask questions, do we love on them, pray over them, let them know that we care and we are here? The first thing we can do is be involved right where we are, here in this church body. We can struggle with one another here.

Secondly, our church is involved in a very important and significant ministry locally, which is Hope Women’s Center. You should have gotten an email last week about an opportunity on November 11th to attend a function in which you can learn more about becoming a volunteer in that ministry. It is geared toward helping women who are in a crisis pregnancy situation. You may say, “I could never do that, I don’t think I can handle that emotionally!” Well, God can help you. To struggle and even agonize over people in the name of Christ is okay; Paul did it, and we should too. This would be meeting people that you would probably not meet otherwise, strangers whom you have never met, and investing in their lives for the glory of God. Might this be hard? Yes, I think so. Might it be challenging? Yes. Might it make us uncomfortable? Maybe so. Is that okay? Sure. God gives us strength to do what He calls us to do. Maybe He is calling you to this.

Lastly, another practical way that we can reach out to people, struggle with them in their pain and trials, can be through the counseling ministry that we have here at GBFC. Some of you have not been here long, and you may not know much about the counseling ministry that we have right here. Our counseling ministry exists for one main reason, and that is to glorify God. We do that by training people who are interested in ministering to people’s lives in whatever trial they face with solutions from God’s Word. In addition to this training, we also offer free biblical counseling to anyone who desires it, people in the community and people right here in our congregation. On Thursday evenings we have as many as seven people counseling and as many as 10-15 counseling sessions going on. This is a way to step out and struggle with other people, much like Paul describes in his ministry life. Each of you should have gotten an invitation to attend a banquet for next Friday night, a banquet where we will be describing this ministry to you and updating you on all that is going on regarding it. We will also be sharing how you can be involved in it. There are many ways to be involved using a variety of skills and gifts, all with a purpose of leading others to Christ and helping many grow in Christ. This is definitely a stepping out in faith to walk with others, to struggle with them, to love them as Christ loves us. You can attend this banquet to learn more, and I hope you will.

These are just three ways that we can serve our Lord, and love other people to the degree that we may even struggle with them as Paul describes in Colossians 2. Pray about how you can best apply this Word. Take opportunities that God gives you. We can be consumed with self, or we can be ambassadors for Christ.

John said, “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21).

What will that love for your brothers and sisters look like in you?

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face (Colossians 2:1)