Summary: This is an adaptation of a sermon shared Oct. 2000 by Brian Bill that builds upon 6 statements of purpose that he identifies in the writings of Paul. When actualized, these purposes provide meaning to life regardless of age or difficulty of circumstances.
A truck driver was hauling a load of 100 penguins to the zoo. Unfortunately, his truck broke down. He eventually waved down another truck and offered the driver $500 to take the penguins to the zoo.
The next day the first truck driver got his truck fixed and drove into town and couldn’t believe his eyes! Just ahead of him he saw the second truck driver crossing the road with the 100 penguins waddling single file behind him. He jumped out of his truck, ran up to the guy and said, “What’s going on? I gave you $500 to take these penguins to the zoo!” To which the man responded, “I did take them to the zoo. But I had enough money left over so now we’re going to the movies.”
That man didn’t fully understand what he was supposed to be doing. Sometimes this is where we are Christians get into trouble. We don’t exactly know what we are supposed to be doing. And this can be frustrating. What is our calling? As Christians we may say to ourselves, “I know that Jesus loves me and I love him. I know that I am saved and that I should love others. But what exactly is my calling. What am I as a Christian disciple supposed to be doing at this stage in my life?”
A careful reading of today’s Epistle lesson from Colossians may answer that question. It gives us six statements that will help us discover what it is that we, as Christians, have been designed to do—in other words, our “purpose”. Even though we may not need a grand vocational calling at this stage in our life, still, each of us needs a sense of purpose, and these few verses from Colossians points the way.
The first purpose as a Christian which is pointed out to us in Colossians will probably not be particularly appealing, yet it is worth noting. Verse 24 of today’s Epistle lesson makes it clear that Paul saw suffering as part of the job description of a follower of Christ. Suffering is, of course, an inescapable part of life, and the Lord will always help us through it. But I don’t think it is the general type of suffering that is common to all people that Paul is speaking about here. He is talking about the type of rejection, humiliation, and even persecution that commonly comes about as the result of our effort to live as a follower of Christ. Remember the words of Jesus, “Take up your cross and follow”. There is a certain amount of difficulty and self-sacrifice that comes about as the result of our efforts to follow Christ. And it is this suffering the Paul is talking about in this instance. And this type of suffering is part of the Christian’s job description, at least it should be.
When Paul suffered because of being a follower of Christ he wrote that he rejoiced in that type of suffering because he knew that that was the result of following Jesus. He found joy and meaning even in the midst of this type of suffering. In 2 Corinthians 7:4 he writes, “…In all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.” And Paul suffered on account of the Gospel far more than most of us ever will. Listen to what he writes in 2 Corinthians 11:24-29: “Five times I received from the Jews … forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” In is unlikely that any of us will have this much opportunity for rejoicing, but as Christians we will all have at least some measure of difficulty that results from being a Christians, of at least we should have. It’s part of our job description.
And even if we do not experience a large measure of the kind of suffering that results from our efforts to share the gospel, the way that we handle the general kind of suffering shared by all whether Christian or not can be a part of our job description. In this case it is not the suffering itself but rather the way in which we react to the suffering that is part of our job description. The manner in which we handle the difficulties we experience in life is observed by non-Christians and plays a role in shaping their opinion not only of us as individuals but of Christianity in general. If we respond with faith, trust and hope, that becomes a testimony—maybe not in words but in what is sometimes even more influential—our actions. Therefore, let us turn to the Lord in all difficulties and perhaps even rejoice with Paul in all our difficulties for these difficulties become an opportunity to love more, to trust more, to hope more, and thus to witness more to others. And every difficult of every kind provides that exact same opportunity to witness. This is a part of our job description as Christians, and it can provide for us a sense of purpose if we are aware of it. I want you to be aware of it, and am telling you this today because I want each of us to know that we have purpose, regardless of how old or at what stage we may be in life. And maybe we can even rejoice a bit when difficulties come because these difficulties provide an opportunity to grow in faith and to witness to others.