Upward, Outward, Onward
By Werner van Rensburg
Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realise this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward. Henry Ford
Col. 4:2-18 NIV.
Introduction to The Book of Colossians
Paul had been imprisoned in Rome and received messages about heresies (a belief opposed to the official belief of a church and that is considered wrong) at the church in Colossae. Paul defended the faith by exalting the person of Jesus, and clarifying the true doctrine of Jesus Christ.
Summary of The Book of Colossians
Purpose- is to instruct the believers that salvation is only in Jesus Christ. The person of Jesus Christ must be understood accurately and that "He is the image of the invisible God
Contents. Colossians contains Paul's instruction about the new life in Christ. This new life produces a Christlike character. What is a Christlike character? brotherly affection, forgiveness, peace, worship and ministry, devotion to Christ, and thankfulness in everything.
You can also summarise the book and the outcome as follows:
Main Idea: Those with a complete view of Jesus as their foundation live lives of prayer and faithfulness, which results in holy actions toward both the family of God and unbelievers.
Head Change: To know what it means to be faithful to God in all circumstances and on a daily basis so that we can apply it to our lives today.
Heart Change: To feel devotion to God regardless of external situations.
Life Change: To practice faithfulness which is upward in prayer, outward to witness, and onward in practical obedience every day.
Have you ever rushed off to Game and bought a ceiling fan and left it unused in its box, bringing no light or moving no air? If you like me, then the installation is definitely more complicated than a heart operation. Leave it in its box till you can afford an expert ceiling fan putting-in man.
But God never meant for us to keep our relationship with Him in a box like the fan. Ou boere sê; Geloof is ‘n persoonlike ding. Jy praat nie daaroor nie. I asked my dad once if he had given his heart to the Lord. Oh my hat… I was made to sit on a couch. It’s like when they tell you about the birds and the bees. Dis privaat en persoonlik.
What we learn about God,
what we know about God,
what we believe about God,
needs to be deeper than just concepts to us.
They are meant to affect
the way we think,
the way we act,
the way we live.
As Paul wraps up this powerful letter, he urges the church in Colossae to take the truths in this letter out of the box and put them into action, action that will move us in three directions: upward, outward, and onward.
- Upward in prayer
- Outward in evangelism
- Onward in doing life and ministry together as a church family
Before we get to Upward, outward and onward:
You may notice there's one important direction missing:
The truth is that all of these actions flow out of the inner work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness
We need to be rooted and grounded in Christ.
1. Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Our minds and hearts (which comprises all that goes on inside of us - our inner thoughts and affections) are to be set on things above.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
The peace of Christ is to rule over our hearts.
We live our lives from inside out, and there's a lot in this letter that encourages us to pay attention to our inner connectedness to Christ.
The point is, our inner connectedness to Christ shouldn't stay inward - it should flow outward.
Faith leads to action - and Paul closes the letter with three directions these actions should take: upward, outward, and onward.
Let's consider these three directions one at a time.
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
Upward in prayer
Paul doesn't say, "throw up a prayer every now and then" or, "pray in emergencies or when you need something." He says devote yourselves to prayer.
Prayer is to be a constant part of our lives.
Paul reminds us of this because he knew that there are powerful currents in life that try to keep us from praying.
The busyness of life is one. Life gets busy and we just don't have time to pray.
Doubts that prayer actually does anything is another powerful current keeping us from prayer.
Does it really matter if I pray or not?
Isn't God going to do what He intends to do anyway?
And underneath all these currents are the fact that our flesh really doesn't like to pray.
Our minds wander, we have a hard time praying with focus for more than a minute or two.
Paul is urging us not to give in to these currents because he knows that prayer is essential to our living a fruitful life for Christ.
If we want our lives to make an impact for eternity, we need to pray. Paul was a guy who would literally go on to change the world in his day and for the rest of human history - but he was very aware that he couldn't do what he did without prayer being a big part of his life and prayer is essential in our lives as well if we want to see the Lord working in our lives and using our lives for His glory.
Prayer brings us to God, asking Him to do what only He can do.
It's so easy to get an earthbound perspective of all that's going on around us and either think that it all depends on us to change whatever needs to change, or get discouraged and give up.
Prayer lifts our eyes and hearts upward as we take the burdens and needs of this life to our Father in heaven.
In prayer we learn to depend on God to meet our needs, enable us to do what we must do, and trust God for the things that are beyond our control.
There is a sombre atmosphere in the beautiful Methodist Trinity Church in Caledon Street where farmers from Graaff-Reinet meet to discuss drought relief. Dave Stern, the chairman of the Sneeuberg Agricultural Association, makes notes. Nobody really talks. Farmers are sending their apologies. They cannot afford the diesel to come into town. Others are in a desperate battle to save their flocks.
“There is a type of grass on my farm known as suurpol or mountain wire grass. I never thought I would see the day that those plants are dying,” Stern said. “Even the thorn trees are dying.”
Where ewes have twins one inevitably dies or is stillborn.
Every farmer knows what it costs to provide additional feed for sheep. They don’t have to do the maths. They have done it 1,000 times before. The amounts are astronomical.
“First, the farmers asked for food for their animals. Next, they asked for food for their workers. Now, they are asking for food for themselves,” he said.
Hydrologist Gideon Groenewald walks into the meeting. He takes his battered leather hat off. “Let us pray,” he said somberly. “Almagtige God en hemelse Vader (almighty God and heavenly Father), he starts then switches to English and finishes his prayer.
“When I arrived here this morning, I didn’t know that the town was in such trouble.”
“This is the worst drought in 1,000 years,” he said. “The farmers in Sutherland had a collective 450,000 sheep. They now have 40,000. They sold them for no other reason but to stop the animals from dying of thirst. I looked at my records and the last time it was this dry was in 1820.”
The worst-affected part of the Western Cape during the drought has just got everything it has been praying for. The Karoo was soaked on Sunday.
Yes, there are still parts in serious need of rain.
The plea for prayer hits home. Let's continue to pray for the rest of the Karoo,
Prayer doesn't take the place of doing what we can to help, whether it be giving financial donations or, as so many have done. But doing what we can to help also doesn't take the place of prayer. Prayer brings us to God, asking Him to do what only He can do and asking Him to help us do what we can.
Prayer does more than asking God for things: it connects us relationally to God our Father. What Paul is describing here is more about a moment by moment connection with God. It's confessing our need, and calling on God to give us wisdom, to help us when we are in over our head, to give us strength when we're feeling weak, to give us courage when we feel afraid. It's praying for others who have needs that we can't meet, praying for God to reach hearts we can't seem to reach. The beauty of it is, devoting ourselves to prayer doesn't paralyze us from taking action, it reminds us that we are co-labourers with Christ. We need him, and He loves to use us. And, in fact, Paul's encouragement to look upward naturally leads him to encourage us to look outward:
Outward in evangelism
Col 4 verse 5- Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
I love what Paul does here. He tells them to be devoted to prayer. Then he asks them to pray for him to have the courage to evangelise boldly and then he tells them to evangelise boldly. Pray that I do it, but also you do it! Evangelism isn't just for the professionals, there's need and opportunity all around us, but a lot of us need to get a lot better at making the most of every opportunity. The opportunities are there, but opportunities are just that: opportunities. They are something we can make the most of, or they are something we can miss completely.
Verse 5 says, be wise in the way you act toward outsiders
(pay attention to how we live),
verse 6 says, let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone
(pay attention to how we talk).
Our lives should reinforce the Christian message, and that takes wisdom.
We should ask the question: how can my actions especially towards those who don't know Christ help them want to know Christ?
Seasoned with salt means that the way we talk should taste good to the listeners. Our words should taste like grace. How do we stand for biblical truths graciously when our culture looks at them as outdated? Paul knew what that was like as he entered cities that were completely pagan and had no belief in, or respect for, the Bible.
He says be wise and speak truth graciously.
Don't dump truth on people by the truckload, season your conversation with grace the way you season your food with salt.
Choose the opportunities carefully.
Share Christ in a way that makes people thirsty to hear more,
let them see in your life something that makes them want to learn more about Jesus. And pray. Only God can open people's eyes and hearts to believe.
God has left it to us to be witnesses for Christ.
Bold, wise, and gracious is how we make the most of every opportunity.
Onward in doing life and ministry together as a church family
Col 4 verse 12 and 18
12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.
18 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you
This last section might seem like Paul is just naming names of people that don't mean anything to us - a perfect section to skip over. But in these verses is a portrait of what life in the church looks like. What we do know is the people Paul mentions each embody different aspects of faithfulness to Christ.
God knits us in the church with other imperfect people to do life together and to make progress in Christ together.
To move forward, to press onward.
- There are dear brothers and sisters in Christ like Tychicus - solid, mature believers who are a blessing to our lives. God used his small faithful action of delivering the letter of Colossians for a greater purpose.
- There are people in the church with a redeemed past, like Onesimus who was a slave who had run away from his master but Paul had led him to Christ, and now Paul was sending him back to Colossae, no longer a slave, but now a dear brother. In Christ, we can seek reconciliation with other Christians. Our love for each other is a witness to the world of the One who loves us.
- There are those who have messed up and failed, like Mark, but who is now a valued partner with Paul in the gospel. Paul tells the Colossians to welcome Mark, showing there’s been a change in both Mark and in Paul. God redeemed and used Mark regardless of his past.
- There are those who labour with us and are a part of us and then feel the Lord calling them to another place of ministry, like Epaphras, who was from Colossae, still wrestles in prayer for the young church there, but has felt the Lord calling him to work with Paul in another location.
- And there are those who fellowship with us and become dear to us, and then walk out on the Lord and the church like Demas.
- As we do life together, some of us might grow weary or distracted and start to let our responsibilities slip, like Archippus apparently had, and we need to be reminded to be faithful to the ministry God has called us to.
Onward means having grit: a combination of passion and perseverance that keeps you locked in on a goal for a long period of time.
The trouble with not having a goal is you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score. - Bill Copeland
Therefor you have to have:
A never-give-up attitude.
I’m not there yet, BUT this one thing I do: I press on
Pressing on has two components for Paul
Forgetting is not an inability to call something to mind, but the discipline of mind to not dwell on the past.
He intentionally forgot.
Neither the awareness of his imperfections or the sense of accomplishment from the ‘good ol’ days’ stop Paul from straining toward the future.
Paul is determined to run the race all the way to the finish line.
Paul inspires grit: “passionate perseverance” in the life of faith.
“To be gritty is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times, and rise eight.”
Do you know what they tell you to do when you hit the wall in a marathon: keep going!
65-year marriages (real love has grit)
difficulties of aging (going to church takes grit)
grief, disease, heartache, spiritual desert (gritty faithfulness)
And there are probably a hundred other scenarios, but God calls us together as a community of brothers and sisters, so that we encourage one another to keep going, forward, onward. It's going to be messy at times. God's grace being with us doesn't mean that everything is easy. Or that we don't fail each other. It doesn't mean that we won't hit hard times or that we won't have relational challenges. But somehow God mixes it all together and brings good out of it.
It's not how fast we started the race that counts, but whether we break the tape and complete the race that counts.
Our faith is stretched.
We learn to love and we learn patience.
Following Jesus means going onward together.
Not giving up.
Not falling back.
Not turning away.
Think of it! If Paul, the man who, in the book of Acts, overcame every challenge that came against him (such as being shipwrecked three times, bitten by a fatally poisonous snake, even stoned with large rocks by the Jews to the point that all supposed him to be dead), were alive today, what would it take for him to list your name among those he considered “fellow workers for the kingdom of God”?
Upward, outward, and keep moving onward. And God's grace will be with us every step of the way.