Summary: #5 in series. This is about doing God's work in our own strength, or in His.
Colossians 1:24-2:5 – Running on Empty
I have preached through Colossians before. The first time was in my first church, in northern Maine, and it was the first time I preached through a book verse by verse. It changed my preaching style forever, so I remember it fondly. The next time was in 2001, when I went to preach on the Miramichi. It was then I switched to preaching from manuscript instead of outline, being more careful to choose the exact words I wanted. That was a good thing too.
But in preparing for today, as I read my former sermons, I realized that I was missing something then. I was missing the refining experiences of burnout. A person goes through changes when he or she burns the candle at both ends for too long. They begin to look at God differently. They look at the church differently. And I want to show you, from this scripture in Colossians, what that means for us.
Let’s read Colossians 1:24-2:5.
In this section of the book, the writer Paul begins to speak somewhat autobiographically, writing about himself and his mission. He said he was a servant – God had spoken to him, and his life was changed. Paul, who had once persecuted the church, had become a servant to the church, to God’s people. The image used is that Christians are Christ’s body, and he is the Head. Like the brain for the physical body, Jesus tells His followers what to do.
And Paul’s mission was to help that body, by preaching and teaching, by helping people cross the line of faith, to receive Jesus as Saviour, to help people know what God was asking of them. Paul said that he was meant to present God’s word in its fullness, to proclaim God’s mystery.
That word “mystery” means several things. It means things that used to be hidden that have come to be seen and understood. It also means things difficult to understand. In the NT, Paul uses it to refer to several things: that God became flesh and blood, that saved Jews and saved Gentiles are actually one group of believers together, and that someday our bodies will be resurrected from the dead. The word “mystery” really refers to all of God’s wonderful plans for us: we understand better than we used to, but the best is yet to come!
And Paul didn’t so much make it his mission to tell people about this mystery, this good news, as he received that mission. When it says in v24 that something is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, it doesn’t mean that something is faulty. The thing lacking is that people need to hear about them, that Christ suffered and died for you, for me, to receive forgiveness.
That’s why Paul considered it so important to proclaim Him, v28, teaching others to live full lives. That’s why Paul wanted people encouraged in heart and united in love, 2:2, knowing the full riches of a life lived for Jesus. That’s why he delighted to see people with a firm faith, 2:5. Because he knew, from personal experience, that living a life to please Jesus is more satisfying than living it to please yourself. In a real way, you will have a more pleasing life if you try not to please yourself, but live to please Him.
And part of pleasing Him is giving your life away in service to others. Not necessarily in death, but in regular service to Him. A ministry, a service, providing a service, in church or not. We’ve been looking for a Sunday school teacher for ages, and it looks as if we may need another teacher as well. Your job is a ministry if you choose to treat it as one. Your daily duties like cooking, cleaning and yardwork are a ministry if you choose to think of it as serving God. Ephesians 6:7 tells us to “serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving God, not men.”
I think at least on some level, we all know this. We’ve all been told that we need to reach the world for Jesus. We’ve been told that each of us has a ministry, a way for each of us to serve God and serve others. We’ve been told we have a part to play. The problem is, for many of us, that’s now a been-there-done-that cliché. We’ve tried it, it didn’t really work out, we didn’t enjoy it, it was too hard, it didn’t satisfy, it wasn’t worth the effort, and so on.
I think that most of us know what to do. The problem is that we tend to do only what we can do. If we can’t do it, we don’t try harder. It’s like that old country song, “If it don’t come easy, better let it go.” If teaching isn’t easy, I’ll move on. If it’s too hard, I just won’t bother.