Passions of a Godly Life
I am pretty sure that everyone is moved by the sacrifice made by men and women who serve our nation. Knowing that a person is willing to give their life for our freedom, the defense of our nation, or other causes for the American people is beyond amazing. I am reminded of something Jesus said in John 15:13 (ESV):
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Thus, our hearts are moved to think that there are those who are willing to put their lives on the line to serve us. Of course, Jesus said this to illustrate His tremendous love for us. He laid down His life for His friends. His friends are those who have entered into this relationship with Him through their faith and trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. In other words, the love of God is shown to us through Jesus’ death and it speaks powerfully.
We have probably all heard the saying that “Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you: Jesus Christ and the American soldier. One died for your soul, the other for your freedom.” It seems that the author of this is unknown. But Dennis Edward O’Brien. Sergeant in the USMC used this in a speech and followed with this: “It is the soldier, not the reporter who gives us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet who gives us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer who gives us freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.” ~ Dennis Edward O'Brien, Sergeant, USMC
The idea He trying to convey to us is that all the freedoms we enjoy in this nation were brought to life and are sustained by the sacrifice of those willing to die for that freedom. Certainly, honor is to be given to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice of their lives to make our lives better and in many cases, a freer life. But for the believer, none of those freedoms we enjoy really mean anything without freedom from eternal punishment for sin. As believers, our hearts should be even moved to a greater intensity for the death of the One who became our Lord and Savior. In fact, it should move all of us to give of our heart and lives for Him.
The beginning of the church, recorded for us in Acts, demonstrates that many clearly understood what it meant that Jesus gave His life for us because they spread the news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection even at the risk of their own lives. Stephen became the first martyr for Jesus, willing to put his life on the line to tell others about the saving power of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Before the Apostle Paul was saved, he had many Christians put in prison and killed because of their faith in Jesus Christ. The suffering and persecution were intense at times.
Probably many of the twelve disciples were killed for their faith, but we know that Peter and Andrew died proclaiming the gospel message, crucified for their faith. People were willing to lay down their lives for their faith in Jesus Christ. It is a terrible thing that anyone has to die for their faith in Christ or even my freedom in America, but when they do, we should understand the love and commitment for the cause that is being put vividly on display in our world today. They died for the greater good of many people.
As Christians today in America, we do not understand what it means to suffer or die for our faith. The most we might receive is some mocking words, a loss of friendship, or kicked out of group. In our country, the vast majority of Christians do not fear for their life because their stand for Jesus. Part of the reason for that may be that we don’t share the gospel as much as we should. But as we look around the world, we find a different story going on.
Open Doors Ministry conducts what they call a world watch list for Christian persecution. What they record for us calls our attention to the reality of opposition to the Christian faith. There are 245 million Christians in the last year who experience high levels of persecution in the countries that on the World Watch List. That means that 1 in 9 Christians experience high levels of persecution.
Open Doors Ministry says that every month 345 Christians are killed for faith-related reasons, that is 11 people every day die because they are Christians, 4,136 over the last year. 105 Churches and Christian buildings are burned or attacked every month. 219 Christians are detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned every month (www.opendoorsusa.org). As I contemplate these numbers, I realize that there are Christians in our world who have willingly given the ultimate sacrifice for their Lord everyday since the church began.
As we began talking about the passions of a godly life last week, we saw the importance of a faith that is passionate and a prayer life that is passionate. That our faith should not be dry and lifeless. I think it is appropriate to understand the suffering and sacrifice of believers as evidence of a passionate faith. These Christians worldwide are willing to die for what they believe, how can anyone have a deeper passion for the Lord than that? We often talk about suffering, but almost never talk about dying for Jesus. Even when we talk about suffering, it is so minor in comparison to the suffering many people in our world endure.
Last week we talked about:
Faith with Passion
Prayer with Passion
Suffering with Passion
Turn with me to Colossians again. We looked at a passionate faith and a passionate prayer life, but I think we also see a passionate suffering for the cause of Christ.
Colossians 1:24-29 (ESV)
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
~ Rejoicing (v. 24a)
One of the evidences of a passionate life for the Lord is that we rejoice in suffering. For some of us that do not endure much, if any, suffering for the cause of Christ may seem bit odd. Then even more so, why would we rejoice to suffer? Notice that the rejoicing is for two different things that take place when we suffer for the cause of Christ. First, Paul tells the Colossians that he is suffering for their sake. How is he suffering for the church in Colossae? Paul is in prison in Rome at the time he wrote to the Colossians, but I think he is referring to all the suffering he went through to spread the gospel and establish churches including the church in Colossae. What kind of suffering did Paul endure?
2 Corinthians 11:24-28 (ESV)
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
Paul rejoiced that he could suffer for the sake of the people in Colossae and all the others where people turned to Christ and churches were established through his preaching. He rejoiced in his suffering for the sake of the church.
~ Lacking (v. 24b)
Second, Paul says he rejoices in his suffering because it fills up something that is lacking. Look at the second half of verse 24. “In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” What does that mean? Is something lacking or insufficient in the sufferings of Christ? No! Jesus’ suffering and death was full and complete in atoning for the sins of the world. The lack that Paul is referring to is his own lack. When he suffers, he participates in Christ’s suffering.
1 Peter 4:12-14 (ESV)
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
Suffering is a part of our conforming to Christ. As we participate in His sufferings as we become more like Him. I believe that Paul is telling us that he is still lacking in his conformity to the image of Christ through his suffering for the sake of the body of Christ, His church. Thus, Paul is rejoicing in his suffering for the church of Christ because as he suffers, he fills what is lacking in his own life in conformity to Christ. Listen to Philippians 3:13 (ESV):
That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.
Paul did not suffer to merit God’s grace or to make Christ’s suffering somehow more complete. Paul saw his suffering as a continuing work of God in his life that filled up what was lacking in his being more like Jesus. Through his suffering, Paul became more of the kind of man God wanted him to be. Thus, suffering was something that drove his passion for the Lord. It is almost like, the more he suffered, the more passionate he became.
I sometimes have wondered if the current spiritual condition of our nation is due to a lack of suffering or persecution. We have a negative view of persecution and suffering, but we are told to rejoice in it because it makes us more like we should be, because through suffering for our testimony of Christ, the message of salvation is spread. Thus, when we avoid telling others out of fear of suffering, the salvation message is not spread and our nation grows more evil day by day. We should rejoice when we suffer for the cause of Christ.
~ Proclaiming (vv. 25-29)
Verses 25-29 tell us a little bit about Paul’s driving passion. Paul’s passion for Christ drove him to be a minister of the Gospel. He refers to it as a stewardship. Every Christian has responsibility for sharing the saving message of Jesus Christ. We are to be stewards of it, dispensing it well to those around us. We have been given the managing responsibility of the salvation message. We are responsible to God about how we handle the saving message of the gospel.
Paul goes on to say that under this stewardship that he has, this responsibility to make the Word of God fully known, to reveal the mystery that Jesus Christ is the Messiah who came to fulfill the message of the prophets, is his passion for a godly life. That this mystery of the Christ our hope of glory is to be proclaimed to the Gentiles. Paul says in verse 28:
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ
This is his passion. He wants to present people who are mature in Christ, people who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior and have grown to maturity in their relationship with Him. Thus, Paul rejoices in suffering for the testimony of the Lord because not only does he become more like Christ, but others he is testifying to also become like Christ. Thus, his passion is to continue to proclaim Christ!
I don’t know how many of you took on my challenge or dare concerning spending an hour in Colossians, but I don’t think anyone can come away from this particular passage without seeing the godly passion of the Apostle Paul. A passion that seems to be driven more intensely by suffering. If there were no suffering, the impact of the gospel message would be lessened. There will always be opposition to the truth of God’s saving grace. Opposition when we tell others about Jesus.
Look at verse 29 in closing this morning.
For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Toil and struggling on Paul’s part, divine energy on God’s part, and His power working through a life lived passionately for the Lord.
With Memorial Day tomorrow, we will honor those who have given their lives for their belief in the cause of freedom in our land. And they should be honored with great fanfare for their passion and love of this country and its people. But those who have given their lives for the cause of Christ, those 11 people today and every day that have died for their faith, there will be great honor given to them by the God of Heaven. They will receive the reward for a passionate life lived for Him. And they should.
Every Christian will stand before the Father and give account for the stewardship that is entrusted to us concerning the gospel message.
2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV)
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
Remember when we studied the Sermon on the Mount what Jesus said about persecution?
Matthew 5:10-12 (ESV)
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Listen, I don’t know of anyone who likes to be made fun of, persecuted, or even die for what they believe. But when that happens, we can rejoice. Not just because we receive a reward, not just because others get saved, and not just because we become more like Christ. But I think we can rejoice because it reveals the passion of our heart for the Lord Jesus Christ.
We said last week that one of the things we can do to begin developing a passionate faith in our lives is to begin passionately praying, communicating with God. I believe that telling others about Jesus is another step to developing a passionate faith in our lives.
~ Are you rooted, built up, established, and abounding in Christ?
~ Do you pray with steadfastness, watchfulness in intercession for others?
~ Do you suffer for the sake of the Gospel message?
These are the signs of a life lived passionately for the Savior.