7. The Struggle Of Effective Ministers (Colossians 2:1-7)Related Media
“I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine–sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:1–7).
What are the goals that each of us should be struggling for in our own lives and in the church?
Often, when pastors are trained for ministry, they are instructed to develop a philosophy of ministry statement, a vision statement for a church, and other ministry goals and guidelines. It’s the same for people who take leadership classes in school. Having a vision and goals is very important.
This is what Solomon, the wisest man on earth, said: “Without vision people perish” (Prov. 29:18 KJV). Everybody needs goals, especially those who minister in the church.
I heard the story of one child who often got in trouble both in school and youth group. One day during youth group, the youth pastor began to talk about God as the Creator and how he had a wonderful plan for each of the students’ lives. With that he challenged them to begin to pray about God’s plan. The student who normally was a problem kid and was failing many of his classes happened to be there that day. However, this time he was paying attention and took the youth pastor’s challenge to heart by beginning to pray. That following week the student kept having dreams at night, and in his dreams he saw himself as a medical doctor. He came back to youth group that next Sunday and told his youth pastor about his dreams and how he felt that God was calling him to be a doctor. From that point on, the student who was getting in trouble at school and failing classes became a “straight-A student” through junior high, high school, and college. He got into medical school and eventually became a doctor.
The problem with this student was that he had no vision; he had no knowledge of God’s plans for him and for that reason he cast off restraint (Prov. 29:18 NIV). He just did whatever he wanted and it led to destruction and failure.
This is true not only for individuals but also for local churches. Paul was writing to the Colossians, Laodiceans, and others who had not seen him (Col. 2:1), and he was sharing the goals he had for them—the goals he struggled to see manifest in their lives.
What is a biblical vision for the church? What are the type of goals each church member should have for themselves and those they minister to? We learn something of this as we look at Colossians 2:1–5. Consider what Paul says:
I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.
Paul tells us the “purpose” behind his struggles for those he was writing to (v. 2). This is a text about a biblical vision for the church, for each small group, and for each individual. We learn something about Paul’s apostolic struggle, and therefore what we as a church should be struggling and aiming for.
It should be noted that this struggle is not only for pastors or those with a public ministry. As we know, Paul had never been to the church of Colosse (Col. 2:1). He was imprisoned in Rome and yet he still was struggling for them. The word “struggle” in the original language is agon, from which we get the word “agony.” It was used of athletes in the Olympic games agonizing and fighting to win the prize.1
In the same way, each member of the church must agonize for these goals to be actualized in God’s church. This agony is not only for our individual churches, but for all churches because we can agonize and struggle like Paul, even for congregations we have never been to (cf. Eph. 6:18). We can do this by prayer as Paul mentioned in Chapter 1 (vv. 9–13). We can do this by suffering for the gospel (1:24). We can do this by teaching God’s Word with the intention of making mature disciples in Christ (1:28–29).
Like Paul, we must agonize and struggle so that the church may become what God has called it to be. What are biblical goals for our individual lives, small groups, ministries, and churches? In this text we will learn about the goals that each Christian should be struggling for in God’s house.
Big Question: What are Paul’s goals for the churches in Colossians 2:1–5, and how should we apply them to our individual lives, ministries, and local churches?
Effective Ministers Struggle For The Church To Have Strong And Encouraged Hearts
“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart” (Col. 2:2).
Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by his desire for the Colossians to be “encouraged in heart”?
What does it mean for these Christians to be “encouraged in heart” or “strong in heart” 2 as it can be translated? In this context, a heretical cult had attacked the Colossian church. This cult had been so effective that no doubt some had left the church and others were being tempted to. This prompted Epaphras to seek Paul’s help. The Colossians were being tempted to doubt the deity of Christ and ultimately the gospel. Paul writes this letter to discouraged and doubting Christians.
The word “encourage” comes from the Greek word parakaleo, which means “to call alongside.”3 It is similar to the word Jesus called the Holy Spirit in John 14:6. He told the disciples he would send a “counselor” (paraclete)—the Holy Spirit—who would come alongside them and encourage them.
We should not minimize this. An encouraged heart or strong heart is very important for Christians. Listen to what Nehemiah said to the Jews who were weeping during a spiritual revival. He said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh. 8:10).
The joy of the Lord is the strength of both an individual Christian and the church community. Scripture constantly commands for believers to have joy or to be encouraged. Look at what Paul said to the Philippians: “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you” (3:1).
Paul says, “I don’t mind telling you to rejoice over and over again because this is a protection for you.” Whatever is most important, we repeat. In fact, we repeat it often. At the end of the book, Paul says this again to the Philippians who were facing many attacks. In chapter 1, they were going through persecution (v. 29). In chapter 3, false teachers were calling the congregations back to the law, and specifically circumcision (v. 2). In chapter 4, two women were arguing and fighting in the church (v. 2). Paul commands them again to be encouraged by having joy in the Lord in Philippians 4:4. Listen to what he says: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
Paul repeats it twice in one verse: “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again. Rejoice.” Why is it so important for us as individuals and as a church to have joy in the Lord—to have encouraged and strong hearts?
This is the reason: a Christian who is discouraged and depressed is a Christian who is not good for much. They can’t serve, they can’t fight for themselves spiritually, and they are often prone to all types of sin. The discouraged person is prone to addictions to drugs, alcohol, or relationships. If Satan can get you down, many times he can pull you into a hole that will be very hard to get yourself out of.
That’s why God, through Scripture, works very hard to encourage you to control your emotions. Your emotions—your heart—should not control you. It is deceitful, sick, and beyond cure. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Because of this, the believer must control his heart.
When Scripture refers to the heart, it refers not only to one’s emotions but also to one’s mind. The Psalmist said, “The fool says in his heart there is no God” (Ps. 14:1). Our mind, will, and emotions must be submitted to and controlled by God’s will.
It is imperative for the Christian to have a strong mind for the mind is the focus of Satan’s attacks. Listen to what Paul said about the believer’s warfare:
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:4–5).
To not have a strong mind means to be susceptible to being led away from Christ and into all types of strongholds and false doctrines. Satan is always attacking the heart and mind, and therefore the believer must protect it. It must be strong and encouraged to do the things God has called us to do. Therefore, Paul struggled for the church to have a strong heart and mind.
Application Question: How can believers develop encouraged hearts and minds?
1. Christians Develop A Strong Heart And Mind Through The Study Of The Scripture.
The believer’s mind finds encouragement and strength through the study of the Word of God. Listen to these texts:
The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart (Ps. 19:8).
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom. 12:2)
Do you want to have a strong heart? Do you want to have a heart free of the worries, discouragements, and the weights of this world? You must have a heart and mind that is full of Scripture. The Word of God gives joy to the heart; it renews the mind.
How else do we develop a strong heart and mind?
2. Christians Develop A Strong Heart And Mind By Being Encouraged By Other Believers.
Listen to what Paul said: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Rom. 1:11–12).
When Paul talks about imparting a spiritual gift, many commentators believe he is talking about the whole book of Romans. He wanted to teach them the Word of God. Moreover, they would be encouraged not only by the Word but by their relationship with one another. They would find mutual encouragement.
Similarly, Paul also says this about seeing Timothy: “Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy” (2 Tim. 1:4).
Many Christians lack strong hearts and minds simply because they lack intimate fellowship with the body of Christ. They try to walk by themselves. When they get depressed, they lock themselves in their rooms, listen to sad music, watch movies, and eat ice cream. One of the ways we find encouragement is by being around the body of Christ.
What’s another way we develop a strong heart and mind?
3. Christians Develop A Strong Heart And Mind By Recognizing And Getting Rid Of Bad Thoughts.
Again, we see this when Paul talks about the Christian’s warfare. Look at what he says again:
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:4–5)
Paul says every Christian fights this warfare. They break strongholds of the mind by the power of God. Many Christian women have body image issues that need to be destroyed and removed. They need to take captive those thoughts and avoid anything that would encourage negative thoughts and insecurities.
Others have strongholds with fears or anxieties. “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression” (Prov. 12:25). Believers must choose to “be anxious for nothing” (Phil. 4:6) by practicing biblical principles. Personally, I often picture myself coming before the throne of Christ with my thoughts, confessing them, and asking Christ to take them away. “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
With others it might be lust. Job said he made a covenant with his eyes to not lust after a young lady (Job 31:1). We must stay away from movies, books, music, etc., that would seek to conform our mind to the lustful pattern of this world.
In order to have a strong and encouraged mind, believers must wage war on their thought processes. They must put in good things (Phil. 4:8–9) such as the Word of God and reject all things that do not agree with Christ’s revelation.
4. Christians Develop A Strong Heart And Mind Through Prayer.
Listen to Paul’s prayer: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Eph. 3:16). Similar to the Colossians, Paul prayed for the Ephesians to be strengthened in the inner being by the Holy Spirit.
Do we want to have a strong church that can stand against the attack of Satan and the temptations we go through in life? We must be a church that prays. Lord, strengthen and encourage the hearts of every believer in the church. Satan has trapped too many Christians. They are walking around depressed and discouraged and they have lost the joy of the Lord. Fill them with your joy which brings strength.
Let us pray that today God would strengthen his church in the inner being. Let’s pray that he would encourage their hearts through the Word and through genuine fellowship. Let us pray that he would break every stronghold and take every thought captive. This must be a goal for the church and our individual lives.
Application Question: In what ways does the enemy commonly discourage your heart or mind? How do you typically react toward discouragement? How is God calling you to strengthen your heart and mind or help somebody else?
Effective Ministers Struggle For The Church To Be United In Love
“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love” (Col. 2:2).
Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by the Colossian church being united in love, and what applications can we draw from this?
What does Paul mean by the church being “united in love,” which can also be translated as “knit together in love” (ESV)? Essentially, Paul’s second goal for the church was for it to be unified. With the false cult attacking the church, not only were they discouraged, but there was division in the church. Paul was struggling and agonizing for the unity of this church.
Jesus prayed for the unity of the church in his high priestly prayer in John 17. Listen to what he said:
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:20–21).
Not only was it Paul’s goal for the church to be unified, but it was also Christ’s. This prayer was answered at Pentecost when the church was formed through the baptism of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). The church became one body of Christ.
However, this unity of the body must still be worked out practically in every church. Paul said something similar to the Philippian church. Look at what he says:
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel (Phil. 1:27).
The Philippian church was being persecuted; they were being attacked by legalistic false teachers, and some of the members were divided. He commanded them to stand firm in “one spirit” as “one man.”
This must be the goal of every church, but it is not something that comes easily. It is something that must be worked for and labored for in every congregation. Satan works hard to bring disunity in the ministries of the church, in small groups, and even among the leadership.
Application Question: What must we do to have unity in the church and in our relationships?
Ephesians 4:3 says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” He commands them to “make every effort” to keep the unity. This would include forgiving one another (Eph. 4:32). It would include being a peacemaker and helping others be unified (Phil. 4:2–3). It also includes being humble and considering others’ interests over our own (Phil. 2:3).
I heard a story about two rams that were both on a bridge coming from different directions at the same time. The bridge was too narrow for them both to cross. At first, they just looked at one another, and it seemed as though a fight was about to break out to see who was going to cross the bridge. However, one of the rams did something peculiar. He lay down on the ground and allowed the other ram to pass over him. Sometimes animals have more wisdom than humans. Many times to have peace, we must lay down our pride and be humble.
Paul makes the same argument to those in the Corinthian church who were suing one another in 1 Corinthians 6:7. He says, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” Why are you still angry, suing one another and going to court? Sometimes, in the midst of seeking to preserve the unity, we must even accept being wronged. Sometimes we must turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39). We must make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3).
What are some benefits to walking in unity in the church? Being “united in love” affords many benefits to the church and that is why Satan works so hard against unity.
Application Question: What are some of the benefits of unity in the church?
1. A Benefit Of Church Unity Is Evangelism.
We read this previously, but one benefit of unity is evangelism, as Christ said in his high priestly prayer.
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:20–23).
Jesus said the purpose of the church being “one” was “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” When the church is not unified, evangelism is stifled.
If we surveyed the consequences of church splits, we would find many members who stopped attending church and some children who stopped practicing their faith or believing in God altogether. No doubt, unbelievers look on in disbelief. Church unity is essential to evangelism and that is why the enemy works so hard to bring division.
2. A Benefit Of Church Unity Is God’s Blessing Seen In Empowerment And Fruitfulness.
Listen to what the Psalmist said in Psalm 133:
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore (Ps. 133:1–3).
David said when the people of God are living in unity, God’s blessing is present. He compares this blessing with the oil on Aaron’s beard. Anointing with oil was a picture of empowerment by the Holy Spirit. When the church is walking together there is empowerment to serve God. Churches that do not have unity are churches without power.
He also compares God’s blessing on unity to the dew on Mount Zion. Dew is moisture that often waters plants and trees so they will produce fruit. Where there is no unity, there is no fruitfulness. The Holy Spirit does not produce fruit where there is division.
3. A Benefit Of Church Unity Is Protection From The Evil One.
Another benefit is protection against Satan. Listen to what Paul said about harboring anger in our hearts: “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:26–27).
Disunity opens the door for Satan to have a foothold in the church, a marriage, or our individual lives. A “foothold” is war terminology. Division opens the door for Satan and his demons to wage war in the house of God, whether on a small group, a ministry, or a family. Therefore, unity is very important.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced division in the church? What were some of the negative effects from this division?
Effective Ministers Struggle For The Church To Be Protected By Having A Full Understanding Of Christ
“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine–sounding arguments” (Col. 2:2–4).
Here we must notice another one of Paul’s goals. He desired the church to have a “complete understanding” of Christ. This was the very thing that the Gnostic cult was attacking. It was attacking the deity of Christ, the sufficiency of Christ, and therefore the gospel itself.
Paul calls Christ the “mystery of God” (v. 2). It seems this truth had become part of an early church hymn in 2 Timothy 3:16. Listen to the hymn:
Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.
Christ is the only way to godliness. He came to earth and died. He was raised by the Spirit from the dead, seen by angels at his tomb, preached among the nations, and believed on by people in these nations. He ascended to heaven and now sits at the right hand of the Father. This is the mystery that the Colossian church must come to fully understand. They must know who Christ is and his sufficiency. Paul struggles for this so that they would not be deceived by the cults (v. 4).
When he says “fine–sounding arguments,” he was using language common of lawyers.4 These cults would produce case after case to say that Christ was not God, and therefore not sufficient. These believers needed to have a full understanding so they would not be tossed to and fro by all types of false doctrines (Eph. 4:14).
It must be noted that with many cults today this is exactly where they attack. They attack the deity or humanity of Christ. This is seen in Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, Mormons, etc. They declare that Christ is not God. In fact, the apostle John taught that a correct doctrine of Christ was a test of salvation to the church of Ephesus (cf. 1 John 5:13), who was also being attacked by a cult.
This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world (1 John 4:2–3).
He essentially says that you can identify a cult by what they believe about Jesus. Did Jesus Christ come in the flesh? It is obviously implied in this question that Jesus was God who came in the flesh. If they do not have a right doctrine about Jesus, they are not of God. It is the spirit of the antichrist.
Paul wants this church to come to a full understanding of the mystery of Christ so they can be protected.
Interpretation Question: How do we come to a complete understanding of the mystery of Christ as seen in Colossians 2:2?
My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ (Col. 2:2).
1. Believers Come To A Complete Understanding Of Christ Through Developing A “Strong Mind” Through Scripture.
It must be noticed that coming to a complete understanding of Christ is a result of both having an encouraged heart and being united in love. Paul uses a purpose clause in Colossians 2:2 with the phrase “so that.” This means having both an encouraged heart and being united in love lead to right understanding.
As mentioned before, when Scripture refers to the heart it is not just referring to the emotions but to the mind also. The Psalmist says, “The fool says in his heart there is no God” (14:1). Therefore, the principal way that a believer has an encouraged heart, and therefore comes to a complete understanding of Christ, is through the Word of God. They must strengthen their mind, will, and emotions through the Word. Listen to what Paul said about the purpose of pastors and teachers in Ephesians 4:11–14:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
God has given us pastors and teachers to help us reach “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God” so that we will no longer be infants tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. Our hearts and minds must be strengthened by the Word.
A weak mind, one not trained in doctrine, is a mind open to deception. In this epistle, Paul is essentially giving them proper doctrine so they will not be led astray.
What else must we do to come to a complete understanding of Christ?
2. Believers Come To A Complete Understanding Of Christ Through Being “United” In Proper Relationships With The Saints.
Again, the result of both a strong heart and a unified love is complete understanding of Christ (2:2). See, it is impossible to come to a proper understanding of who Christ is apart from the church and right relationships within it.
In Scripture there is no place for lone-ranger Christians. This life cannot be walked alone; we need one another. It is often the lone sheep who has become angry at the church, or was slighted by a member of the church, who begins to drift away and is drawn into cults or other false teachings.
Most cults are not gathering new converts; they steal converts from God’s church. They are the wolves stealing the sheep, and the sheep who are most prone to be led astray are those who no longer are walking in a “united love.” They are angry, scarred, and disillusioned, and therefore prone to deception.
Not only must we know the Scripture through sound teaching, but we must be in right relationships with our brothers and sisters. It is impossible to come to a complete understanding of Christ, the head, apart from knowing his body. We get to know Christ through one another.
God does some things in the midst of fellowship that he doesn’t do when we are by ourselves. He shows up in a special way during a service or small group. When two or three are gathered in his name, he is in the midst of them (Matt. 18:20).
Application Question: Have you ever seen or experienced a member of the body of Christ being drawn into a cult or false teaching? Can you describe what happened and maybe what might have precipitated the event?
Effective Ministers Struggle For The Church To Develop Military Discipline
“For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is” (Col. 2:5).
The next goal of Paul for the church is military discipline. He uses two military words in this passage: “orderly” and “firm.” Listen to what Warren Wiersbe says about these words:
The words order and steadfastness are military terms. They describe an army that is solidly united against the enemy. Order describes the arrangement of the army in ranks, with each soldier in his proper place. Not everybody can be a five–star general, but the general could never fight the battle alone. Steadfastness pictures the soldiers in battle formation, presenting a solid front to the enemy. Christians ought to make progress in discipline and obedience, just as soldiers on the battlefield.5
This analogy was very appropriate for them as Satan was strategically trying to attack and destroy the church. They needed military discipline to withstand the attack.
This is a common analogy Scripture uses for Christians. Not only are we the bride of Christ, but we are also Christian soldiers. We are a warring bride. In Ephesians 5:22–33, we see the analogy of the bride, but very soon after in Chapter 6 we see the imagery of the church being a soldier, putting on the armor of God. Listen to what Paul says:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:10–12).
As one who has served in the military for many years, I can relate to this illustration. In fact, Paul speaks as though he is a high-ranking officer inspecting the formation of an army, and he says he is pleased.
Would God be pleased with our church as he inspects our military discipline? Would he be pleased with our conduct in the formation? Would we stand against an “all–out” assault of the enemy both individually and corporately?
Application Question: What are some implications we can take from the military words “order” and “firm” in referring to our preparedness for the attacks of the enemy?
1. An Implication Of The Word “Order” Is Knowing Our Place In God’s Army.
Order represents an army being in formation or ranks. Everybody in formation has a specific role. The people in the front of the formation lead and those behind must follow. One of the ways the enemy can get an open door into the church is through disgruntled people who do not submit to their leaders and people who are negligent in doing their jobs, or in using their gifts. If we saw this in a company—no leadership and nobody doing their job—we would say this company lacked “order.”
Again, in an army formation, each person lines up behind certain leaders in the formation. When the formation marches, those who are behind the leaders must step in the exact place as the leader. They follow step by step, and this is how a proper formation marches. Each person knows exactly who is in front of them and behind them.
When each person does their job, the formation looks dynamic. But when each person is not doing their job and not paying attention to the leaders, then it looks like utter chaos. Instead of being called a formation, it is often called “a gaggle.”
What is your role in the church? Are you doing your part to help maintain order?
Who are the leaders that God has called you to model and imitate? Are you submitting to them, following and imitating their lives, and stepping in their steps?
These people may be small group leaders, pastors, or mature women or men whom God has called you to follow in order to grow in Christ. Listen to what Paul told the Philippians: “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (3:17).
Paul essentially says, “Imitate my life and imitate others who follow my example.” Each church includes people with the gift of evangelism, and we need to watch and get in step with them. Others have the gift of mercy, and by watching and following them, we will be better at giving mercy to others, serving the poor, and serving those who are hurting. If we are going to have order, we need to get in step.
We must know what our specific job is and our specific role is so we can honor our commanding officer, the Lord.
2. An Implication Of “Firm,” Or It Can Be Translated “Steadfastness,” Is The Ability To Persevere Through Attack And Hardship In Following Christ.
Paul said he took delight in seeing how “firm” their faith in Christ was. I re–watched the movie Gladiator (2000), the one with Russell Crowe in it, not too long ago. In the movie, a bunch of gladiators were put into a stadium to essentially be slaughtered by a small army in chariots. They were at a great disadvantage.
I remember Russell Crowe, the leader of the gladiators, said to all them, “Whatever comes out of that door, we have a better chance of surviving if we all stick together.” When the chariots came out, he called them into formation, where they put up their shields to withstand the attacks of the chariots. He kept saying this as they attacked: “Hold! Hold! Hold the line together!” They held until it was time to attack.
This is similar to the picture given by Paul. The enemy was attacking, seeking to make them doubt Christ’s sufficiency for salvation. Paul says they must hold the line. They must stand and persevere in these attacks instead of giving up and succumbing.
That is the type of discipline we must have, not only as individuals but also corporately in the church. Observe how many people who, when trials come into their life, like difficulties at work or difficulties with relationships at church, instead of standing firm, start to fall away. They get mad at God. They stop coming to small group. They stop attending church. They don’t stand firm.
Steadfastness is necessary for any army. In battle there will be times when things are very difficult and you are tempted to give up. But it is then that you must stand. I think we get some idea of why this is necessary again in Ephesians 6. Listen to what Paul says: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (v. 13).
What is the “day of evil”? The “day of evil” is when the enemy brings an “all–out” attack in order to make you break the line and eventually give up. We probably get a picture of this with Job. In one day, most of his servants were killed by raiders, fire from God came down and destroyed his sheep, raiders stole his camels, and worst of all a storm killed his sons and daughters. The enemy threw all his fire at Job to break him, to make him not stand firm.
Have you experienced the day of evil—the evil season—when everything just seemed to go wrong? This is when God, your General, is calling you to “stand,” to just stand firm. Just hold your ground in Christ. Don’t let go of him; don’t fall away from him. Continue to seek Christ among the body of believers. This is what it means to stand firm.
No doubt, when the day of evil came, some in Colosse fell away from Christ and the army God had placed them in, the church. God wants you to stand firm with a military discipline. Remember what James said: “But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:4 KJV).
By persevering under trial, God is completing you, making you perfect so you can better serve him. This is a characteristic of a healthy church with military discipline.
3. An Implication Of Both Military Words Is A Willingness To Die For The Church.
Any person who has served in the military understands the symbolism. Paul uses military terms in part because to have order and steadfastness against the attack of the enemy takes a willingness to die for one another. Not only do we persevere, but we persevere even to the point of being willing to die for the members of our congregation.
This may seem radical, but this is exactly what Christ taught. Listen to what he said: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
How did Christ love the disciples? He gave his life for them. This is the type of love we must have for one another. Jesus said the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep (John 10:11). For many Christians, their church history is full of stories of being hurt in the church and leaving for another. Most Christians have no comprehension of this type of discipline. This is especially needed when we are under attack and when the church is under attack. One of the goals for our lives and our churches must be to have military discipline so that we can stand in the day of evil.
Application Question: Whom do you feel God has called you specifically to follow in the church so you can grow and be more effective? In what ways has he gifted you to serve? In what ways have you seen individuals or churches suffer because they lacked both military order and steadfastness?
Effective Ministers Struggle For The Church To Continue In Christ
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:6–7).
As Paul is giving his goals and desires for the church, he finally challenges them to “continue to live in him,” or it can be translated as “walk in him” (v. 6). Their salvation was just the beginning of their faith; they must continue in this same dependency upon Christ. They must not be shaken by the false teachers, persecution, or the worldly culture of the day.
Listen, Satan’s purpose in getting you discouraged, in bringing division, and in bringing disorder is more than separating the church or bringing fights. He ultimately wants every Christian to fall away from Christ. He wants you to doubt God’s goodness. He wants you to focus on the hypocrisy in the church and therefore to judge Christ based on it. He wants you to fall away.
I have served and ministered to many youth who, after seeing a church split and the lack of order in the church, fell away from the faith, even if just for a brief period of time. That’s what Satan is after. He wants people to not continue in following God.
This is true for us as well. There are many things that would seek to shake us from a continued relationship with Christ, and we must labor to stay with him. We must struggle to continue to follow Christ and struggle to help others to continue to follow him as well. In verse 7, Paul describes how we continue in him.
Observation Question: How do we continue to live in Christ so that we will not fall away (Col. 2:6–7)?
1. The Believer Must Continue In Christ By First Recognizing That They Are Truly Saved.
“Rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:7).
When Paul used the word “rooted,” the tense of the Greek word means, “once and for all having been rooted.”6 It is also passive, meaning that God does all the work. He roots believers, and they will stay with Christ forever, for they were rooted in the past and will continue to be. This is the tense of the word, and therefore to continue in him, we must first be sure of our roots—our salvation.
In describing those with spurious faith in the parable of the soils, Jesus described a believer who was on shallow, rocky ground and lacked strong roots. This is what he said:
The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away (Matt. 13:20–21).
This person had received the gospel but did not have an appropriate root system. Therefore, when trials came into this person’s life, he fell away from God. He was not “once and for all” rooted in Christ. He was not genuinely saved.
Knowing our root system is so important that Scripture tells us to test our faith or to prove that it is real. Look at a few of these passages: “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20).
Paul said that he taught people to repent, which essentially means to accept the gospel, but he also preached that they must prove their repentance by their deeds. He said that they should prove their salvation. Resting our eternal destiny on saying a prayer or mental assent to a creed or doctrine is not very wise. It must be proved by our works. It’s the same thing John the Baptist taught:
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire (Luke 3:8–9).
John the Baptist calls the nation of Israel to repent, but he also calls them to prove their repentance by their fruit. He says, “Prove your root by your fruit.” It seems that Paul and John both taught this together with their presentation of the gospel. Repent and prove your salvation; produce fruits proving that your confession is genuine. No doubt they did this because they believed there were many false confessions among the people of God.
We see this need to confirm the genuineness of one’s faith in many other places. Second Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” Paul says examine yourself; see if you are in the faith. See if your faith is truly genuine.
Peter utters the same challenge: “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10). Peter says make sure you are elect, make sure you are saved. If we look at the previous verses to that passage, he tells us how to do that, how to know we are elect. Look at what he says:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self–control; and to self–control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love (2 Peter 1:5–7).
How do we make our election sure and prove our salvation? Peter essentially says it is by growing. “Add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self–control.” The way we know if we have been rooted “once and for all” is by growing. If a person shows no growth—no fruit—then he might not be elect.
I often tell people I don’t remember my natural birth. Though I was there, I was too small to remember it. The way I know I am my father’s child is because we both have big ears and big thighs. We have many of the same characteristics. This assures me that my father is my father, and it’s the same with God. As we grow in him, we will develop many of his characteristics, which will help assure us of our salvation.
How do we continue in him?
We must be sure that we have been rooted “once and for all.” If a person has truly been rooted in Christ, they will never fall away. But if they have shallow roots on rocky ground they will not persevere. The storms of life will pull them away from Christ (Matt. 7:24–27).
How else can we continue in him?
2. The Believer Must Continue In Christ By Growing In Him.
“Rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:7).
Rooted” is an agricultural term, but “built” is an architectural term. Paul says, “built up” in Christ. It pictures Christ as the foundation of our life (cf. Eph. 2:20), and from this foundation we continue to grow upward. Similar to making our election sure, one of the ways we continue in Christ is by growing in him.
To not grow is a dangerous place to be. A Christian who is not growing is a Christian who is in danger of being pulled away from Christ.
Application Question: How are Christians built up in Christ?
- Christians are built up by being trained by mature spiritual leadership.
Listen to what Paul says:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (Eph. 4:11–12).
The way a Christian grows up is by being trained. In this context, Paul says God has given the church gifted people to help the body of Christ grow. We must attach to these people who are particularly gifted in teaching in order to be built up. That is the reason God gave them.
For some people this is very hard. I come from the West where we are very independent. To need somebody or to submit to someone is a very hard thing. But according to this text, God gave these people for this very purpose so that we may grow. Christians who are always walking in rebellion to the leadership of the church and their teaching will be Christians who are not growing.
Yes, we must test their teaching because teachers are not infallible (cf. Acts 17:11; 1 John 5:1). Nevertheless, these leaders will be one of the primary means God uses for our growth.
How else are we built up?
- Christians are built up by practicing the spiritual disciplines.
Paul said this to Timothy: “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly” (1 Tim. 4:7). “Train” can be translated “exercise.” It’s the Greek word we get “gymnasium” from. We become more godly by practicing godly exercises—spiritual disciplines. These include prayer, studying the Scriptures, obeying the Scriptures, going to church, serving, solitude, giving, etc. These are spiritual exercises that help us to be built up into what God has called us to be.
How else are Christians built up?
- Christians are built up by submitting to God in trials.
Listen to what James says: “But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:4 KJV). The word “patience” can be translated “perseverance,” which means to “bear up under a heavy load.” God allows Christians to go through trials and difficulties in order for them to grow, in order for them to develop spiritual muscle so they can better serve God and others.
But James says in order for us to mature (be perfect), we must “let patience have her perfect work.” Not everyone grows when they go through trials. Some people turn away from God, get angry with God or others, find an addiction to satisfy them during the trial, etc. To “let” patience have its perfect work means we must draw near to God in the trial, draw near his Word, and draw near the fellowship of the saints; we must be willing to persevere. It is in the good ground of a trial that God develops our faith and helps us grow, if we are willing to “let” him.
How else do we continue in Christ?
3. The Believer Must Continue In Christ By Being Strengthened In Their Understanding Of Doctrine.
“Rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:7).
How else do Christians continue in Christ? They continue in Christ through knowing and understanding doctrine. Paul calls this being “strengthened in the faith.” Now the word “faith” is often used in two ways: it can mean to simply “believe or trust” in God, or it can be used to refer to Christianity and its body of beliefs or doctrines.
In this context, being strengthened in the faith means to grow in the doctrines of the Word of God. The Colossians were attacked at the very core of their faith. The Gnostic cult was attacking Christ’s deity, and therefore attacking the gospel.
It must be noted that the doctrines in Christianity make it virtually unique among world religions. God is not looking for a blind faith; he wants a thinking people. He says, “Come, let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18). He calls to his people and says, “Come think with me.”
In Christianity, we have the doctrine of Christology, Pneumatology (the study of the Holy Spirit), Theology Proper (the study of the Father), Soteriology (the study of salvation), Eschatology (the study of end times), etc. These may seem like useless theological terms, but they all represent doctrines that God has called us to know and understand. “Let us reason together,” God says.
He has called for us to be a thinking people. In fact, this is what Paul said to Timothy about persevering in the faith. “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). Timothy, persevere in your doctrine so you can persevere in Christ—so you can stay in him.
Paul also told Timothy,
What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us (2 Tim. 1:13–14).
Keep the teachings; guard the teachings because God has called you to be a steward over them. Satan realizes that if he can attack and steal the teachings of God’s Word then he can eventually steal us from Christ (cf. Matt. 13:19).
Satan is always attacking doctrines such as the inerrancy of the Word of God. Is it really true? He is attacking the deity of Christ. Is he really God? And he does this to encourage people to fall away. We must be strengthened in what we have already learned and grow in what we have not. We must persevere in them so we will not fall away from Christ.
4. The Believer Must Continue In Christ By Developing The Discipline Of Thankfulness.
The final way this church would continue in Christ was by developing the discipline of thankfulness. This should go without saying, but one of the ways that Satan tries to pull Christians away from Christ is by destroying their joy. He wants to make it seem like God is the ultimate “kill–joy,” someone who wants to take the pleasure out of life. We get a picture of this in his temptation of Eve. Consider what he said to her: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (Gen. 3:1).
What was Satan trying to do? He knew very well that Adam and Eve could eat of every tree in the garden except one. Satan was trying to make God seem burdensome, unfair, and unkind. In a sense, he was trying to attack the character of God by making him out to be someone who is strict and controlling.
Satan realizes that if we lose our thankfulness and joy in following Christ, he can easily tempt us to look elsewhere for joy and happiness, including sin, rebellion, or ultimately apostasy.
If you are content and happy in your relationship with God, then you are not going to fall into alcoholism or pornography. You are not going to fall into any other addiction. Why? Because you are too satisfied in Christ, and you won’t let anything come between you and him.
Satan wants to steal your thankfulness so he can pull you into something else to find satisfaction and ultimately away from Christ altogether. When you are thankful and satisfied in Christ, you will not go looking for other wells to drink from because you are too content with God.
First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” If we are going to continue in Christ, we must have a thankful spirit. Satan realizes that it is the malcontents, the ones who are mad at God, the ones who are mad at the church or mad at their bosses, who are prone to fall away from their high calling in Christ.
How do we continue in Christ?
- We continue in Christ by knowing we are truly saved—rooted in Christ.
- We continue in Christ by growing in him—being built up in Christ.
- We continue in Christ by being strengthened in the body of faith.
- We continue in Christ by developing the discipline of thankfulness.
What are goals of effective ministers of the church?
These goals represent what Paul agonized over in the lives of the Colossians though he had never met them personally. He agonized through his prayer life, his sufferings, his writing, etc., in order that these goals would be realized in them.
It is these goals that must be ours as well, both individually and as a church community. They must be our prayers for our local church and the church universal. There should be an element of struggle and agony even for people we have not seen. This is how effective ministers labor for Christ’s church. May the Lord sow and reap these in us and in his body throughout the world.
- Effective ministers struggle for the church to have a strong mind and heart—strong through his Word and his people.
- Effective ministers struggle for the church to be united in love, a unified people walking in the blessings and favor of God.
- Effective ministers struggle for the church to be protected through having a complete understanding of Christ.
- Effective ministers struggle for the church to have military discipline, being orderly and standing firm as the body.
- Effective ministers struggle for the church to continue in Christ.
Application Question: In what ways has God challenged you by Paul’s apostolic goals for the church? In what ways is God calling you to struggle for a specific goal for yourself or others?
Copyright © 2015 Gregory Brown
1 R. K. Hughes, Colossians and Philemon: The Supremacy of Christ. (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989), 52.
2 J. F. MacArthur Jr., MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 83.
3 J. F. MacArthur Jr., MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 83.
4 W. W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary. (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 2:4.
5 W. W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary. (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 2:4.
6 W. W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary. (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996).
Related Topics: Christian Life