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 the Apostle Paul. When actualized, these purposes provide meaning to life regardless of one’s age or 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. 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 purpose? What am I as a Christian disciple supposed to be doing at this stage in my life?”
A careful reading of Colossians 1:24-2:3, may help answer that question. This passage contains six statements of purpose by which Paul explains his “purpose”; i.e., the thing that he feels called to accomplish in his life. These same six statements of purpose may help us find our calling as well. Each of us needs a sense of purpose, regardless of our skill level, preparation, professional occupation, mental and physical fitness, health, age, or life expectancy, and these few verses from Colossians point the way.
The first purpose that we as Christians might well see as our own is probably not particularly appealing, yet it is worth noting. Colossians 1:24 makes it clear that Paul saw suffering as part of his job description. 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 common to all people to which Paul is referring. I think he is referring to the sacrifice, rejection, humiliation, and persecution commonly experienced as result of our efforts to live as a follower of Jesus Christ. Remember the words of Jesus, “Take up your cross and follow” (Matthew 16:24), and “Blessed are you when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matthew 5:11). 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 kind of suffering that Paul is talking about. This type of suffering is part of every Christian’s job description, at least it should be.
Even though Paul suffered because of being a follower of Christ, he rejoiced because he knew that his suffering was the confirmation that he was in fact following Christ. Jesus had taught: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). In 2 Corinthians 7:4 Paul writes, “…In all our troubles my joy knows no bounds”.
Paul suffered much on account of the Gospel, and yet, for him it was a joy. Listen to what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28, “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.” It is unlikely that any of us will ever have this much “opportunity for rejoicing”, but as Christians we will all have at least some measure of the difficulty that results from being a Christian, or at least we should have. It’s part of our job description
And even if we do not experience a measure of suffering similar to that of the Apostle Paul on account of our Christian testimony, still, the manner in which we respond to the “garden variety” of suffering, the suffering shared by all humanity not just the Christian, can and should be a part of our Christian “job description”. In this case, it is not the suffering itself but rather the way in which we react to the suffering that is an important part of our job description.