Gaining What You Cannot Lose
Dr. Jim Denison
“The End of the Spear” is the current movie which retells the 20th century’s most powerful missionary story. Fifty years ago, on January 8, 1956, Nate Saint, Jim Elliott, and three other American missionaries were killed by spear-wielding tribesmen in the Ecuadorian jungle.
Nate Saint’s sister and Jim Elliott’s widow subsequently lived among the tribesmen, leading many to Christ. Nate Saint’s son Steve consulted on the movie; Steve’s son and his family presently live among the tribe. Then and now it is a stunning story: how five men would leave secure and prosperous careers, risking their lives to tell a tribe they had never met about God’s love in Christ.
We are a risk-averse culture. A recent Wall Street Journal reported on the growing cryogenics movement, where people arrange to have their bodies frozen in liquid nitrogen so they can be brought back to life in the future. The article profiled one man who has left $5 million to himself. Such “personal revival trusts” are becoming more and more common.
Most of us like to avoid risk and find security and comfort where we can. 2005 may have been the hottest year on record, but we have air-conditioned houses and cars, and even car seats. There may be a drought, but we have sprinkler systems; traffic may be a problem, but we have our car navigational systems; crime may be a threat, but we have our car and home security systems. No society in history has had it easier in terms of daily comfort and security than we do.
Today’s sermon in a sentence is therefore somewhat counter-cultural: we will experience God’s blessing and power to the precise degree that we sacrifice to obey him. No risk, no reward; great risk, great reward. When we’re done, I’ll ask you this one question: when last did it cost you something to serve Jesus? Why should you pay that price this week?
Saul of Tarsus had it made. The prize student of Gamaliel, he was a Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford valedictorian all in one. He was headed for a life of sheltered rabbinic study and prestige. Then he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and changed his loyalty to Christ.
But he could have kept his lifestyle. He could have been an unnamed and unknown scholar and scribe for the infant Christian movement, showing the Jewish authorities and scholars how Jesus fulfilled Scripture and warranted their faith. But that was not God’s call on his life. God wanted this former Pharisee and Gentile hater to be his “apostle to the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:7-8), to take his word to the Colossians and people like them around the world.
Now that’s a different story.
He would have to live in the pagan Gentile world, where his Jewish sensibilities had never allowed him to go before. Imagine a Civil War doctor in the KKK whose practice was now confined to African slaves.
He would have to take the gospel to the Roman Empire, confronting their emperor worship and military might. Imagine a call from God to evangelize the dictator and military leaders of the Communist party in North Korea.
He would have to take the gospel where it had never been before, speaking to people who had never heard of the Law or the name of “Jesus Christ,” planting churches where none existed. Imagine selling computers to a remote tribe which has never even known electricity.
The cost to Paul would be high: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move, I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
Which brings us to the Colossians.
Paul is continuing to share the afflictions of Christ on earth for the sake of his body, the church (v. 24). What Jesus had suffered, Paul now suffers.
He has been commissioned by God to present the word of God in its fullness, whatever the personal cost to Paul (v. 25). He has been instructed to explain to them “the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (v. 27).
He would “proclaim” (teach) and “admonish” (correct and confront sin) “everyone” to present “everyone” fully mature in Christ when he returns. He would not stop until everyone was ready to meet Jesus. None would be outside his work or burden.
To this end he would “labor” (to work to exhaustion) and “struggle” (strive and exert, like a runner trying to cross the finish line or a football player struggling to cross the goal line).
But here would be the good news, and the point of our conversation today: “struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (v. 29). As we work, God works. Only when we work, does God work. God empowers us to the exact degree that we are serving his purpose with our lives, in his fear, and for his glory.
He cannot empower that which does not glorify him, extend his Kingdom, or love his people, if he is holy and righteous.
He cannot fail to empower all that obey his purpose, if he is faithful and Father.