Here is the next sermon in the Colossians series, showing how we as Christians find our strength in God alone.
Again, this is the raw copy, please forgive any typos, grammos, or contentos.
September 2nd, 2007
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Let me ask you a question: What do you hope to get out of being here at church today? Ok, I know that’s probably not the best way to start out a sermon and I hope I don’t start a stampede out the door, but this is something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. What is the purpose of being a part of a congregation? What are we trying to accomplish by gathering together on Sunday morning worship time? How will your life be any better as a result of you being here today, singing these songs, taking communion, visiting with your Christian family, and of course, from listening to this here sermon?
After all, if there is no point in being here than you really have to wonder why we bother getting up early on a weekend, putting on uncomfortable clothes and spending a couple of hours with people that you might not normally see in a typical week to listen to a sermon that will go on longer than you would like. If your life is not changed for the better because you were here then this is just a couple of hours that you’ll never get back in your life. And worst of all, if you can’t think of any good that comes out of our time of worship then I have to wonder what your motivation for being here is. Guilt? Habit? Tradition? Somebody made you come?
I hope that you are thinking, “Preacher, you’re being silly, of course there are plenty of good reasons to be here.” We come to church in order to worship God through songs, and that worship draws us closer to God. It’s like our spiritual batteries get recharged by singing of our Lord. We come to church to see our brothers and sisters in Christ, to be a part of their lives, to help one another and to be helped when we are down. We come to church to take communion because we need to be reminded each and every week about the price that Jesus paid to rescue us from our sins. We might be tempted to lose our first love if it were not for that reminder. And finally, we come to hear a sermon so that we can grow in the Lord by having the bible explained to us in such a way that we can apply the principles of God’s word to our daily life.
In a nutshell, we come to church to find the strength that we need to live as Christians in a world that is very complicated. And we need strength to be Christians. It’s not easy to have faith when we have so many questions. It’s not easy to be holy when there are so many temptations to lure us into a life of sin. It’s not easy to give God the time he deserves when there are so many other distractions in the world.
We need strength to keep our marriages together in a country where the divorce rate is over 50%. We need strength to find our purpose in a culture where value is placed on all the wrong things. We need strength to know how to be a good Christian in our workplace, the place where many of us spend more time in our week than we do at home. We need strength to be good parents to our children, knowing that much is at stake as we strive to bring them up in the Lord.
That’s what church is for, that’s why we’re here today, to find the strength to live as Christians in our daily life. It’s easy to be a Christian on Sunday for an hour, it’s much harder Monday through Friday. My question for you today, then, is how do we find strength to live the Christian life?
We find a key to answering this question in our scripture today from the book of Colossians. If you’ve been keeping up with where we are… and I’ve not been moving fast enough to lose you… you’ll remember that Paul is praying for the church in Colosse. He has heard that they have a deep faith and a visible love and he’s bragging on them for this. He then goes on to lift up a prayer for them. The last time I preached I showed you that the first thing he prays for is that they will know the will of God for their lives. Not some secret destination that he has picked out for them, but that they would put God first in their lives and live for him: because that is truly God’s will for every Christian.
But there is more to his prayer, much more. He wants their faith to be meaningful for them, he wants them to get more out of their walk with God than just theology, he wants them to be able to apply their Christian faith to their every day life: he wants them to have strength for living. Look at verse 11, which is the key verse for this sermon: 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might. Paul’s prayer is that the Colossians would be strengthened with all power. Not their own power, not the power of a motivational speaker, not the power of human wisdom, but the power of God’s glorious might.
To me this is a major discovery from the book of Colossians. When an apostle has a prayer for you, you listen up. And since this letter is not only written to those in Colossians but also to us, this is a prayer for us. Paul wants us to have strength in our Christian walk that can only come from the glorious might of God. In a matter of speaking, church is like a gym where we come to build up our spiritual muscles so that we will have the strength to live for God. This section of Paul’s letter is filled with energy and excitement: since it’s part of a prayer it is no longer Paul writing to men about God, but writing to God for men and you can tell that it is his desire that they get the strength they need to people the Christians that they ought to be. Just like I don’t want you to leave here unchanged: Paul doesn’t want the Colossians to finish reading his letter without being changed for the better.
But, we need to be clear: The first question we have to answer is “What do we need strength for?”
You’ll notice that many preachers and many churches are trying to directly appeal to the need of people in the pews to find strength to make it in the world. In preacher-talk this is called “meeting felt needs”. In other words, the sermons are crafted in order to try to answer the practical questions that people might have about their life. You have the preacher who promises you “Your Best Life Now” and has a new book out that will show you how to be the best you that you can be. There has been a trend lately of churches telling you how to have a better sex life, a better outlook on life, or a better earning potential. The rule is that sermons are not supposed to talk about the Gospel or theology or doctrine but only practical things like marriage, happiness, jobs, and daily living.
Turn on some religious television and you will find all kinds of preachers promising to give you strength. Strength to be richer. Strength to be more influential. Strength to be happier. Strength to have your territory expanded. If you did not know the Gospel you would think that Christianity is little more than a self-help program that will help you have a more fulfilled life here on earth. But Christ didn’t just come here to earth in order to help us pay our bills off or to get us a bigger car. If Jesus came just to make our life here on earth then his death was the biggest waste of all time: the Son of God died to give us a few decades of health and prosperity? No, of course not. Sure, having a good life while we’re on this earth is something that we all desire, but Jesus came for so much more than that. As John MacArthur says, “Jesus did not die on a cross so that we can have a nice day.”
The strength that we get from the glorious might of God is so much more than more money, better health, a better sex life, or a feeling of happiness. Instead, God gives us strength so that we can know and be in God’s will for our lives. We talked about this a lot a few weeks ago, so I won’t go into a lot of detail, but remember: God’s will for us is not some roadmap that tells us where to live, who to marry, and what job to work at. Instead, it is God’s desire for our lives: that we get saved, that we live for Jesus, that we grow in holiness, that we glorify God in everything we do. God wants us to know His will for our life so that we will know what he wants us to do to serve him best. Once we know his will we will need strength to live it.
Let’s face it, it’s not easy to live the Christian life. I think this is why the “health and wealth” preachers do so well. They teach you that if you just wish hard enough, believe that you will succeed, and send them a suggested donation that your life will be wonderful; you will be richer, happier, and better looking. It’s hard to argue with that kind of promise! It’s pretty easy to think happy thoughts and to send a check into the preacher with the big smile and the beautiful hair.
But when we discover God’s will from his Word we will find that the Christian life is not the easy path that those guys make it. In fact, Jesus tells us that the road to destruction—the non-Christian road, will be wide and easy and many people will follow it. That is, the easy way, the popular way, is not always the right way. He goes on to say that the road to eternal life is narrow and only a few will find it; the gate to that road is so narrow that we will have to drop everything the world offers to squeeze through it. Hard as it might be, though, it is the way that leads to eternal life.
So that’s why we need strength. Once we realize the life of holiness that God calls us to we will need strength to stay on that road.
Look at how his prayer begins: 9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way:
He prays that we will know God’s will. Why? So that we will know the future? No, because as Christians our first and only thought would be that we do what He wants. His prayer is that we will know God’s will so that you maylive a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way. When you love someone you find out what they want and you try to do it. If you love your spouse you will try to figure out what makes them happy and then do everything that you can to make them happy. If you love your children you will find out what they need and do all you can to provide for them. So, if you love God, you will want to know what his will is for your life and then do whatever you can to be in that will. Paul is basically saying, “My prayer is that you find out what God wants you to do so that you will live like God wants you to.” That’s what “We pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way.”
So, let me ask you Christians a hard question: “Do you desire to do what God wants you to do in every way?” Come on, do you really? Test yourself on this. If you really wanted to do what God wants you to do then you would be in His word every day so that you would KNOW what he wants. And you would be in prayer every day asking for the strength to be able to DO what he wants. You would be repenting of every sin that keeps you from being perfectly in his will. You would be dying to your self so that there would be nothing in you that keeps you from following him perfectly. You would want your speech, your dress, your giving, your time, your thoughts, your actions… everything to be in his will. If you desired to do what God wants you to do in every way then you would be asking for the strength to get your life in his will in every aspect of your life.
I’m guessing that most of us, and I’m talking to myself in this, are not really desiring to please God in every way. Why? Because we know that if this was our prayer that there would be sins that we would have to give up. We know that we would have to make sacrifices with our time and money. We know that there are things that we have been avoiding doing that we would have to start doing.
And yet, this is Paul’s prayer for us: that we would know God’s will and that we would do it. When you think about it, doing God’s will will require a LOT more strength. We need strength to do God’s will a lot more than we need strength to be happy people or to have better marriages. Later on I’ll get to how being a Christian will help you with your marriage, your job, your children and all that, but before you can tap into your strength as a Christian you have to have the strength you need to know and to do God’s will. So, we need strength from God in order to know and to do the will of God for our life.
That leads us to the next question: how does God’s strength help us?
There is no real mystery to this, Paul tells us exactly how God will help us to know and to do his will. What is it that we need to do in order to be in God’s will? He tells us in the rest of the prayer: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, Let’s break that down a little.
· Bearing fruit in every good work.
o Bearing fruit is a metaphor that is used a lot in the bible to describe the Christian life. Jesus said: Luke 6:43-45 No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
o What this means is that you can tell a lot about a tree by the fruit that it produces. First, you can tell what kind of tree it is. An apple tree will not grow lemons. Second, you can tell how healthy a tree is by its fruit. If the tree is not growing fruit it is dead. If the fruit is small it is undernourished. If the fruit tastes bad then it’s diseased.
o The same principle applies to us as Christians: you can tell a lot about us by the fruit we produce: our deeds. If we are doing evil things then we don’t belong to God but the devil. If we are not doing anything for God then we are spiritually dead. If we are working for the Lord, but not very much, it shows that we are not getting the strength and nourishment that we need to grow. If we are doing good deeds but we are teaching false doctrine then we are diseased.
o Let’s just be honest: good works do not save you, only Jesus can save you. But, if you are not doing good works then there is a good chance that you are not saved. If Jesus is not your Lord then he is not your Savior; if you are not doing what he says then you can not claim that you know him as a savior. We are saved by grace, not works, but the works are the fruit that is evidence of God’s saving grace working in us.
o But, it’s not easy to do the things that we know we should. It’s hard to be holy, it’s hard to forgive, it’s hard to resist temptation, it’s hard to sacrificially care for others. That’s why we need to pray for strength, only God can give us the strength to bear fruit in every good work.
· Growing in the knowledge of God.
o A child is not an adult, right? A child is an adult who has yet to grow to full maturity. Growth is normal and natural for a child. In fact, if a child does not show normal growth we get very concerned and rush to a doctor to find out what the problem is. A healthy child will eventually grow up to become a healthy adult.
o Well, when we get saved we are a child of God. Hopefully we know enough about the Gospel to make an intelligent decision to make Jesus our savior and Lord. We know enough about God to know that we have sinned against him, deserve hell, and need a way to have our sins forgiven.
o But most of us don’t know much about God beyond that. There are many aspects of theology that are still unknown to us. There are mysteries about God that remain cloudy to our young minds. We have to drink spiritual milk—the basics of the faith—before we can move on to the more complicated things of our faith.
o The writer of Hebrews speaks of this, complaining that his readers had not matured to the point where they could understand the more complicated aspects of the faith: Hebrews 5:11-14 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. He urged them to grow in knowledge so that they could distinguish good from evil.
o But, let’s be honest, it’s hard to grow in knowledge of God. God is not an easy entity to figure out. The bible is a very complex and complicated book and theology is a subject that you can never truly master. Just when you think you understand some aspect of God something new comes up that will get you thinking. You can read the bible 100 times and you will still find something new the 101st time you read it. I’ve known some very old saints who have been believers for decades and who have read the bible numerous times, listened to countless sermons and lessons, and pondered the things of God all their lives. Yet not one of them claimed to have God all figured out.
o That’s why we need the strength of God, to understand him and his ways and to constantly be growing in knowledge and wisdom of him and his word. Peter says 1 Peter 2:2-3 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
· Having great endurance and patience.
o How many folks here would consider themselves very patient? I know that I’m not. Now, I know that some of you are patient to a point: you do alright standing in line, you suffer fools well, you don’t mind traffic. There seems to be a line between people like me who get impatient when they have to wait for their coffee to brew and those who only get impatient when they are dealing with taxes.
o But even the most patient person tends to lose it when faced with hardship. We can be calm, cool and collected, but let some pretty rough stuff happen to us and we tend to lose it. You always hear people talking about the “patience of Job” but go and read Job and you will see that he was far from patient after the 3rd chapter of the book. After he loses his children, his wealth and then finally his health he becomes pretty irritated, even to the point of questioning God and wishing that he were dead. We’re all like that. Even the most serene and calm person out there is probably going to lose their patience if they were to come home one day and find out that everything they treasured was gone.
o I knew a man at the Georgia Regional Mental Hospital where I worked for a summer who was the nicest guy you’d ever meet. The kind of guy who would greet people at the door of the church, who would give candy to children, who would never raise his voice or say an unkind word. He was the kind of guy that you think of when you say deacon, just a nice guy. One day he took his wife to the doctor and they found out that she had inoperable cancer and would not live very long. His whole world was falling down around him. As they were pulling into a parking space at a grocery store on the way off someone cut him off and took his spot, showing him the middle finger and cussing at him. He very calmly reached into his glove box, pulled out a pistol and shot the man dead. Even people with a long measure of patience have their breaking point.
o When we face trials and tribulations it’s hard to be patient. It’s hard to keep the faith when God seems to be silent. It’s hard to keep on keeping on when everything seems to be going wrong.
o Yet, we are commanded to be patient and to show endurance, no matter what. I’ve always had a hard time with the first command in the book of James: James 1:2-3 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. James isn’t just saying to be strong and brave when we face trials, he says that we should consider it pure joy when we face trials since those trials will lead to the kind of patience and endurance that Paul is praying for.
o How do we get to that point? We can’t get there on our own. Most people will break down when faced with trials. But, if you look at the “fruits of the spirit” listed in Galatians 5:22 you will see that patience is a fruit of the Spirit. In other words, we can’t develop Godly patience and endurance on our own, we can only get it from God. We need the strength that comes from God that will allow us to consider it joy when we face trials.
· Joyfully giving thanks to the Father.
o Finally, Paul says that as we live our Christian life we should be joyfully giving thanks to the Father. The bible is very clear on this: thankfulness is a sign of a committed Christian. Only the Christian can fully understand how much we have to be thankful for.
o Not just for the stuff we have, though we should be thankful for that; our clothes, our food, our houses, our toys. Not just for the life that we have either; our health, our days, our years, the fact that we are even alive in the first place. No, we Christians have so much more to be thankful for: we can be thankful that God looked down on us, saw our sinful state and did something about it. He sent his son to take our place on the cross so that we could live forever and have a more abundant life now.
o But sadly, most of us are not as thankful as we ought to be. Oh sure, we usually return thanks when we sit down to eat, but how often do we return thanks in other times. Truth be told, we should be in a constant state of thanks, we should be thanking God when we wake up, as we go about the day, and when we lay down at night—not to mention all points in between. We know our Creator so we know that every good and perfect gift is from our Father above. God pours an ocean of blessings out on us and we return but a mere trickle of thanks.
o And our thankfulness should be based on God alone, not on our circumstances. We might think that we might not have anything to be thankful for if we were caught up in a hurricane and lost everything. We might think that there is nothing to be thankful for from a hospital bed or from a funeral home. But we can see heaven all the better when the leaves are gone from the tree. It’s when life is at its worst that we should be glad that God has promised us so much more than this life.
o But that’s not easy. It’s hard to live in such a way that we find something to be thankful for in every circumstance. That’s why Paul prays that we find the strength of God that we need.
I hope you get the point here: we need strength from God if we are going to be able to live the Christian life. It’s going to take a good healthy dose of the Holy Spirit if we are going to be able to know and do the will of God. Being an obedient Christian is not easy and it’s not natural, in fact, the bible is very clear that being a Christian very much goes against our human nature. We’re not going to be able to be the Christians that we are called to be if we are relying on our own strength.
Paul illustrated the battle within us that keeps us from being good Christians in Romans 7:15-23: 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.
Now, if Paul, one of the greatest Christians who ever lived admits that it’s hard to be a Christian, we can believe it. Let’s be honest here, it’s not easy to do good deeds, to grow in the knowledge of God, to endure hardship with patience and endurance, or to be thankful in all things. But, the fact is, that’s what we’re called to do as Christians, we can’t settle for anything less.
Therefore, and here is the point of the sermon, this is why we need to be seeking the strength of God. Not for stronger marriages, a better love life, more money, increased happiness, or any other worldly thing. Those things are nice and we all want them, and I will talk in a few weeks about how we are to address those things.
But our goal in life, our purpose if you will, is not just to be more fulfilled in this life, it’s to know and to obey the will of God. And we do that by tapping into God’s strength through prayer and discipline so that we can do the things that Paul has outlined in this passage: the good deeds, knowledge, patience and thankfulness that are the fruits of the Christian life.
And here’s a little secret: when we do these things, when we lean on God’s strength to live the Christian life that we are called to, we will find that all the other things will be easier as well. Jesus promised this in the Sermon on the Mount.
First, he told us not to worry about the things that most people worry about, the earthly stuff, what we will wear, what we will eat, what our marriage is like, and so on:
Matt 6:25-34 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
Jesus is very clear: don’t worry about these things. These are the kinds of things that pagans worry about: those who don’t know God. Sadly, a lot of churches only preach on these things with sermon after sermon on how to get the things that the pagans want. When we only focus on people’s “felt needs” we are focusing on the worst part of human nature: to get the things that our selfish hearts desire. But God doesn’t want us to please ourselves, but to please Him!
Jesus wants our priorities to be on knowing and doing God’s will first. He concludes the passage I just quoted by saying, 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. In other words, the first thing that we ought to be getting out of church is how to live the Christian life: doing good deeds, growing in knowledge of the Lord, showing patience and endurance and always giving thanks to God. Once we get that figured out all the other things will fall into place.
· We may not be rich in money, but we will look at money in a whole new light and find our wealth in other places.
· We may not always have perfect health, but we will know that we are preparing for a body that will never die.
· We may not always be in circumstances that will make us happy, but we will have joy and peace that passes all understanding.
· We will find that our marriages, children, and jobs will be all the better because we are better.
Why are you here at church today? It should be obvious now. Hopefully by now you see that it’s all about gaining the strength that we need to be the Christians that we are called to be. Every aspect of our worship is meant to strengthen us to be the Christians that we are called to be:
· The sermon will teach us how to bear fruit in every good work.
· The scripture that we read will help us to grow in knowledge of the Lord.
· The fellowship we have with our Christian brothers and sisters will enable us to endure hardship with patience and endurance.
· The worship and the communion ought to help us to joyfully give thanks to God.
Our time here this morning should be a fulfillment of the prayer that Paul had for each of us that we would be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might.
Where do you need strength today?
· Are there sins that are keeping you from bearing good fruit?
· Are you lacking in some aspect of knowledge of God?
· Are you going through trials that are testing your patience and endurance?
· Have you lost the joy of your first love and are therefore lacking in joyful thankfulness?
If so then you know that this is a place where you can find strength, through prayer, Godly fellowship, God’s Word, and the power of His Holy Spirit. Don’t leave here today until you find the strength to be the Christian that God has called you to be.