Teaching series from Colossians

Three Keys to Victorious Suffering

Colossians 1:24-2:1

Teaching t23031

Introduction

We are in the fourth week of our study of Colossians – a letter from Paul (one of the leaders of the early Christian movement, now imprisoned in Rome) to the Christians in Colossae (a small town in south-western Turkey). Paul had never met these Christians, but he wrote this letter to deepen their understanding of who Jesus is (1:15-20) and what He has accomplished for them through Hid death on the cross (2:10-15).

But in the midst of his teaching, Paul suddenly digresses into talking about his current sufferings (read 1:24-2:1). Note “suffering” terms: suffering and afflictions refer to circumstantial adversity; labor, strive/struggle refer to painful self-initiated sacrifices.

Why does Paul digress? Not to get their pity, but to alleviate their distress. We know from another letter he wrote to them (and others in their vicinity) that they were so distressed about Paul’s sufferings that they were tempted to lose heart (Eph.3:13; “If following Jesus leads to this, what’s the use?”). Paul is saying: “There’s no need for you to lose heart. I haven’t lost heart; in fact, I am rejoicing in the midst of my sufferings.” This is what we could call victorious suffering.

What’s even better is that he also tells them what enables him to suffer victoriously – so they can suffer victoriously, too. And so that we can also! Let’s look at Paul’s three keys to victorious suffering. They aren’t the only keys, but they will take you a long way!

KEY #1: Understanding where history is headed

If you want to suffer victoriously, you must have a philosophy of history. This may sound abstract and initially irrelevant, but you have to start here. Human beings are hard-wired so that we need to know where history is headed in order to have an over-arching meaning for own lives and hope for the future. This is the foundation which motivates us to sacrifice and fortifies us to endure sufferings along the way.

Douglas Hyde was a leader in the British communist movement in the middle of the 20th century. Later, he realized that communism was false, and he became a committed Christian. In his book, Dedication and Leadership, he laments that communists were far more willing to suffer and sacrifice for their false cause than most Christians are willing to suffer and sacrifice for their true cause. Why? Because they believed that “there is a great battle going on all over the world which, in the final analysis is a struggle for men’s hearts and minds and souls... (and that) although we may not see the end of the battle, its outcome will most probably be decided in this period in which we are living.” It was their conviction that history was headed toward a classless worker state, and that they had a key part in this outcome.

This same perspective dominates Paul’s mind and burns in his heart. He knows where history is headed, and he knows what specific stage of history he lives in. This is what he is describing in 1:26,27 (re-read).

History is headed toward the rulership of “Christ.” “Christ” refers to Jesus, and is His title – the Messiah, God’s anointed Ruler who will one day rescue the world from evil and re-establish God’s righteous rule over all humanity (“the hope of glory”). During the Old Testament period, God worked through the nation of Israel to advance His plan. From their nation He promised the Messiah would be born, and through their prophets He gave specific predictions about the Messiah that would enable them to recognize Him when he came (e.g., lineage; time; birth-place; ministry; death).

Jesus fulfilled all these predictions, culminating in His death as a payment for humanity’s sins. But what the Old Testament did not clearly reveal was the next stage of God’s plan. This is what Paul calls “the mystery” (DEFINE). Instead of God continuing to work through the nation of Israel, Jesus now personally indwells each person who believes in Him regardless of their ethnicity (“Christ in you [Gentiles]”). This new multi-ethnic entity (“His Body, the church”) is to spread this good news to all of the other ethnic groups. Jesus told His followers that this work was the most important work in this period of history because its completion would bring His return to rule (Matt.24:14).

Paul was absolutely gripped by this understanding of history, and he felt a deep sense of privilege to live in this stage of God’s plan (language in 1:26,27). This was the foundation that fortified him during his sufferings and motivated him to sacrifice.

When I became a Christian in the 1970’s, people in our culture disagreed about where history was headed (EXAMPLES), but most people believed that it was headed somewhere. So new Christians already had this category, and could perhaps more easily adopt the biblical position. But today we live in a culture that, for many reasons, is cynical about any claim to know where history is headed. This cynicism is part of the philosophical “air” that we breathe. And this cynicism erodes any category for a cause greater than one’s self, and therefore erodes any reason to suffer and sacrifice.

I find that most Christians simply do not have deep convictions about this crucial issue, and therefore (like most non-Christians) they lack the resilience to suffering and the motivation to sacrifice that is their birthright.

How can you build this foundation? You familiarize yourself with fulfilled biblical prophecy (Discovering God). You can read books that focus on God’s plan for history, like God’s Incredible Plan or The Gospel of the Kingdom. You can take a course like “Introduction to the Bible” or “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.” You can peruse the Joshua Project (www.joshuaproject.net). This will not just inform you; it will fortify you to rejoice in the midst of your suffering!

KEY #2: Being given a unique role in God’s plan

See mother in labor, parents of new-borns. Viktor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, makes this same point. While a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, he noted that only those prisoners who had a meaning for their lives were able to endure their terrible sufferings with hope and dignity. Those who lacked this (who lived only for pleasure, comfort, etc.) soon wilted and died. Frankl went on to develop what he called logotherapy (meaning-oriented therapy)—a form of psychotherapy that emphasized (among other things) that the key to enduring suffering victoriously was having a meaning for your life that was bigger than temporal comfort and circumstantial happiness.

“People have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but no meaning... One of the central tenets of logotherapy (is) that man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition... that his suffering has a meaning... Once an individual’s search for... meaning is successful, it not only renders him happy but also gives him the capability to cope with suffering.”

Unfortunately (as an atheist/agnostic), the best Frankl could do was to urge people to invent their own meaning. But because God exists, and because God can speak to us through his Word and Spirit, we can discover the true meaning of our lives.

Paul suffered victoriously not only because he understood God’s plan, but also because he knew God had given him a unique role in His plan (read 1:25,28,29a). Although he deserved God’s condemnation because he had been a religious bigot who persecuted and killed Jesus’ followers, yet Jesus not only forgave him—He also gave him the ironic privilege of leading Gentiles to faith in Jesus and helping them to mature in their faith.

This is why Paul can say he doesn’t lose heart, but even rejoices, in spite of his sufferings. He sees that his sufferings have meaning, that they are worthwhile because they advance God’s plan to redeem other people (“for your sake;” “for your benefit;” “On your behalf”). This is what he means when he says that he does his part in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (1:24b). Jesus’ suffering on the cross was fully sufficient to pay for our sons (see Col.2:10-14), but in order for the world to benefit from what He did, His followers have to spread this news to the whole world. And in order to spread this news, each of us has some sufferings to be endured.

Paul says in Eph.2:10 (read) that this can be true of all of us. “Masterpiece” is poiema, from which we get “poem.” God is writing His grand Story of redemption, and He wants to write our lives as a poem in His Story. Before we were ever born, He prepared good things in His plan for each of us to accomplish.

You can play a unique role in helping other people come to faith in Christ. “There are hands out there that only you can hold. There are people out there that only you can reach. There are hearts breaking that only you can heal... God made you like a fingerprint, and there are certain people out there that He wants to touch through you, and they’re not going to be touched without you. So go...”

You can also play a unique role in helping other Christians to mature in their faith. We will explore this further NEXT WEEK.

When you catch this vision for your life, when you see God helping other people through you in these ways, then your sufferings and sacrifices will not crush you because the meaning of your life outweighs them!

KEY #3: Having access to God’s power

If you want to be able to suffer victoriously, you need to understand God’s plan, you need to know that God has given you a unique role in His plan – and you need access to God’s power. That’s what Paul has (read 1:29). He suffers in his service to help others mature in Christ – but because he serves by the power of God, he is not broken by his suffering. God’s power gives him the ability to be steadfast in the midst of his sufferings, and God’s power can give this same steadfastness to all of us (read 1:11).

The key question is: How do you gain access to the power of God? The Bible has much to say in answer to this question, but it distills to three main answers:

Receive Christ as your Savior. You can’t access God’s power until the Holy Spirit indwells you (Acts 1:8). And the Bible says that the Holy Spirit indwells you the moment you believe in the gospel (Eph.1:13,14). Some of you have come here this morning without any access to God’s power. You are living your life by your own power, and your sufferings are crushing you. But you can make one decision this morning that will change this. You can call out to Jesus in faith and receive Him as your Savior. In the moment you entrust yourself to Him, He will forgive you of all of your sins and send His Spirit to live permanently in your heart. And then you will have access to His power!

Once you have received Christ, you need to align yourself with God’s purpose. Many true Christians are indwelt by God’s Spirit, but do not experience His power. Why is this? The Holy Spirit is not a force that you can use for your own purposes. He is a Person who empowers you to accomplish God’s purpose – to draw people to faith in Jesus, and to help them to mature in Jesus. Is that your purpose? Have you ever given yourself to God to be His instrument for His purpose (Rom.6:13)?

If you are indwelt by God’s Spirit and you are aligned with His purpose, simply ask God for the power of His Spirit in each situation. In Lk.11:13, Jesus promises that God will give the Holy Spirit to empower His children when they ask Him. You may be indwelt by the Spirit, and be aligned with God’s purpose – but lack the power of the Holy Spirit simply because you don’t regularly ask Him! How often do you ask? Over the last week – when you were reaching out to people who don’t know Christ, or when you were trying to help other Christians to mature in Him – how often did you ask your Father for the power of His Holy Spirit? Ask this coming week, and see the difference!

Conclusion

SUMMARIZE: May God arrest your attention on what will help you to suffer victoriously!

NEXT WEEK: More on helping one another toward spiritual maturity

Walt Whitman

O me, O life of the questions of these recurring.

Of the endless trains of the faithless.

Of cities filled with the foolish.

What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here.

That life exists and identity.

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

What will your verse be?

Douglas Hyde, Dedication and Leadership (University of Notre Dame Press, 1966), p.10.

Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (New York: Washington Square Press, 1985), pp. 135,136,163,165.

Tim Keller in a teaching entitled “Witness”