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Sermon by Joshua Dykes – Preached at Marquette coC on January 16th, 2022

Good morning! I am so glad to be here with you all this morning. I appreciate this congregation for allowing me to come up here to present the sermon this morning. I also appreciate the amazing servants of the Lord that came up here with me from the Swartz Creek congregation to help serve in some capacity. I am also thankful for Mark, an elder from the Swartz Creek congregation, who has come all this way to support Burnie, Kenny, and myself. Again, I just want to thank all of you. 

I’d like to make a claim that might come across as bold and arrogant. This claim not only comes from 10 years of experience, but it also comes with what I long held as a passion. My claim is this: there is no tougher sport mentally than running. Again, there is no tougher sport mentally than running. Now if you hold another sport to be more mentally tough, I want you to hear me out. Let’s say you hold basketball or football to be the toughest sports mentally speaking. I agree that those are some tough sports, the latter of which involving much contact. However, while practicing for those sports, what is often used as punishment for an error committed on the field or court? Running! Running is another sports punishment. 

Now why is running so mentally tough? Before we get into our lesson this morning, I will summarize the answer in this way – running requires endurance despite pain. A runner who runs long distances has to constantly convince himself to push the body through incredible amounts of stress and pain, and in addition, convince the body to move quickly so that he can reach the finish line with a good time. 

If you have your Bible with you this morning, I’d invite you to turn to Colossians 1:21, our focus scripture for this morning are verses 21-23 of Colossians 1. There are many passages in the Bible that talk about running and endurance, however, I believe this verse defines endurance and mental toughness as it pertains to the faith specifically. It is one thing for me to tell you from the pulpit that we all need to be Christians with endurance, but it would be far better to explain what endurance is that way we can take more practical application from the text. Again, Colossians 1 verse 21 beginning:

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. 

This lesson will be divided into three parts. In the first part of this lesson, we will have a thorough examination of the text. We must let the text and its surrounding context speak for itself. After we examine the text, then we will look at keywords located within the text. These keywords will not only tell us what it means to have endurance spiritually, but it will also help us find application. And that brings us to the third part of our lesson, making practical application from the text to our lives.

Now, I’d like for us to begin with an examination of the text. In verse 21, we see Paul use the send person singular “you.” Who is the “you” he is referring to? In Colossians 1:2, we read that Paul is writing “to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae.” So by this, we understand that he is writing to Christians in Colossae and that is who is referring to in verse 21. Since Paul is writing to those who are already Christians, we can conclude that Paul is writing to both instruct them and encourage them. The city of Colossae was a city located in Asia Minor, and according to David Lipscomb’s commentary on Colossians, “the city was located on the Lycus River, one of the head streams of the larger Maeander River. It stood at the head of a gorge where the two streams unite.” The city was one of geographical importance, though the neighboring city of Laodicea was often seen as better and more significant, Paul (guided by the Holy Spirit) saw value in ministering to the city and edifying the Church there. 

Because Colossae was a Greek city with heavy Roman and Greek influence, it was a Gentile community, meaning that they were not followers of the Law prior to the coming of Christ. That is why in Chapter 1:21, Paul writes that they were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds. Just some food for thought, were we at once alienated from God because of our sin? In Isaiah 59:2, the prophet writes that it is sin and iniquity that has separated the children of Israel from God, therefore alienating themselves from Him. If we have sin in our lives, then I’d like to think we are just as much of a stranger to Him as the gentiles were. In Ephesians 2, we read that the Christians in Ephesus were also alienated from God and were called “strangers to the covenant of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (v. 12). Could you imagine being so sin-sick, that you become a stranger to the One who made you in His image? 

In verse 22, we get a glimpse of good news after reading the hard statement made in verse 21. Those who were once alienated are now reconciled. Alienation and reconciliation are antonyms of one another, they are in complete contrast. They were once strangers to God and were far off. But now they have a relationship with God. In verse 22, we see the means of reconciliation being the death of Christ. Albert Barnes, in his commentary on Colossians, writes, “It (the death of Christ) removed the pbstancel to reconciliation (the obstacles being sin) on the part of God – vindicating his truth and justice, and maintaining the principles of his government as much as if the sinner had himself suffered the penalty of the law.” When one breaks the law of the land, how does one reconcile with the government? One reconciles with the government by paying for his own penalty by either going to jail or by paying a fine. However, we come to understand that it wasn’t us who had to reconcile ourselves to God, but it was God who reconciled us to Himself. Now, I don’t want us to misunderstand or misapply this, I am not promoting some kind of calvinistic doctrine by stating that He reconciled us. However, we must understand that no relationship with God would be possible if it wasn’t for His son that He sent into this world. 

Now why did God send His own Son into the world to reconcile us? Many use and give the answer that it was love or grace that sent His own Son into the world – and verses like John 3:16 confirm that; but in verse 22, we see another reason why Jesus was sent to reconcile us to God. The latter half of verse 22 states, “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” Why did Jesus come to die and reconcile us? Because we needed a new appearance. Our old appearance, which was stained and battered by sin, would continue to make us strangers to God. However, Christ covered us with His blood which was perfect and spotless (1 Peter 1:19) and therefore made us holy and blameless. God demands perfection, and the blood of Christ was the provided means for our perfection. And it must be mentioned that without holiness, we have no hope of ever seeing God. Hebrews 12:14 tells us, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Christ came into the world to make us holy, but we see from this passage that holiness is also something we strive for. 

Now as we move to verse 23, we see that there is a condition. My translation as well as the Greek has the word “if” preceding the following clause. This is an indication that the continued reconciliation provided by Christ mentioned in verse 22 requires something on our part. How does one stay reconciled to God? In verse 23, it states, “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard.” For our sermon this morning, our keywords as well as our application will come from this one verse. The Christians in Colossae are urged to “continue in the faith.” The Christians in Colossae did not have an easy battle to fight for their faith. Much like other Christians in Asia Minor, they were subject to persecution from Rome as well as difficulties fighting false doctrines from Jewish sects. 

Now that we have examined the text, as well as some of the context surrounding the passage, I want us to now look at some keywords from the text. As we have discussed earlier, the Colossians, much like ourselves, were once alienated and separate from God. However, Christ was sent from God to make reconciliation (or make a relationship right) between God and man. He sent His own Son in order to make us holy and blameless. In verse 23, however, there are some more keywords that I would like for us to spend time on, as they will make our application for this lesson. 

Continue. Some translations use the word ‘remain.’ At the start of the lesson, I mentioned that running was a sport of mental toughness because the runner must maintain endurance despite pain. There were a few times throughout my running career that I quit in the middle of a race that I had signed up to do because the pain was too difficult to bear. I recall a 8 mile race that I attempted in Birmingham, Alabama. It was a race that was done on a hill, and the first four miles of the race were done straight up. Everything was great for the first mile because we had not reached the hill yet. But once we got to the hill, everything changed. The race would not have another flat stretch or downhill until the 4 mile mark. Two miles into the race, my calves and my thighs were burning from pain. Three miles into the race, my arms could no longer move and I could not thrust my body forward, and I had quit the race. But you see, it was all mental. Most everyone else could take their bodies up the hill, even though they were going through probably just as much pain as I. But I did not continue to go up the hill. When we move to our application in a few minutes, I want you to have that image in your mind.

The second key word I want us to focus on is stable. Some translations use the word ‘established’ whereas some others use the word ‘grounded’. Our faith must stand on something, and it must stand on something that is solid in order to remain stable or grounded. For a runner, stability is important. If one wants to not slip and fall in the middle of the race, he or she has to be certain that where they place their feet is stable ground. In Matthew 7:24 and following, Jesus gives a parable of an individual that built their house on the rock. The one who made his house on the rock had a stable foundation and was therefore wise, whereas the foolish man made his house on the sand and had a shifting and fluid foundation. When the storms and trials come, whose house remained standing? The Colossians, therefore, are urged to have stability in their faith, because an unstable faith won’t last.

The third key word I’d like to call your attention to is steadfast. Other translations might render ‘settled’ or ‘firm’. My mind immediately thinks of the roots of trees or bushes. Most trees and bushes have some strong and firmly planted roots, and you just know that they are not going anywhere. A runner needs to be both physically and mentally steadfast. A runner might have some spikes on to ensure that he or she doesn’t slip and fall if they come across a slippery surface. The opposite of being steadfast is ‘moving’ or ‘shifting’. And Paul writes in Colossians that one should not shift from the hope of the gospel that was heard. The runner needs to be mentally steadfast. If the runner has no confidence in his or her abilities, or if the runner cannot get up if he or she falls and keeps on going, the race will not be finished. So one must be steadfast in their faith. 

The last part of our lesson for this morning is our application from the text. How does one continue in the faith? How does one remain stable or steadfast? This will be answered in this portion of our lesson. 

I’d like to read a poem, before I give specific practical applications. Poetry can express the thoughts on the hearts of man in vivid and creative ways. And in this poem, I would like for us to note what makes a strong tree.

The Tree that never had to fight

For sun and sky and air and light,

But stood out in the open plain

And always got its share of rain,

Never became a forest king

But lived and died a scrubby thing.

The man who never had to toil

To gain and farm his patch of soil,

Who never had to win his share

Of sun and sky and light and air,

Never became a manly man

But lived and died as he began.

Good timber does not grow with ease,

The stronger wind, the stronger trees,

The further sky, the greater length,

The more the storm, the more the strength,

By sun and cold, by rain and snow,

In trees and men good timbers grow.

Where thickest lies the forest growth

We find the patriarchs of both.

And they hold counsel with the stars

Whose broken branches show the scars

Of many winds and much strife.

This is the common law of life.

This was a poem called Good Timber by Douglas Malloch and I believe that it highlights what it means to continue and to endure. The one who continues in the faith grows in faith just as the one who continues a race grows in strength and ability. 

Continuing in the faith does not come easy. Just as a tree must endure many storms before it is fully grown, a mature Christian must fight many battles to remain strong in Christ. So how does one continue in the faith? The first thing one must do to continue in the faith is to look to Christ. If you have your Bibles open, I’d invite you to turn to Hebrews 12:1-2. It reads

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

To continue in the faith and run the race with endurance, the author of Hebrews suggests that we look unto Jesus. There are two reasons why we should look unto Jesus as we continue in the faith. 

  1. We should look unto Jesus because he set an example of what it means to endure conflict, struggles, and to have your faith tested. Jesus came into this world and had lived a perfect life free from sin. Jesus was tempted just as we are tempted. Hebrews 4:15 states, “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” At least three times in the wilderness, Satan tried to tempt Jesus. Satan tried to get Jesus to give up, but we see that Jesus didn’t give up. He knew his purpose and his goal, he knew that he had to be perfect in this life in order to reconcile man back to the Father. So Jesus did not give up. Jesus is the perfect example of a perfect man, yet he can still sympathize with our weaknesses. That is one reason why we need to look unto Jesus for us to continue in the faith.
  2. The second reason we should look unto Jesus is because of where He now sits. After Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame, we see in the latter part of Hebrews 12:2 that He is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God! If we look to man and the things that man says and does, how will we continue in the faith?! None of us are worthy! Turn with me if you will to Revelation 5. Again turn to Revelation 5, I want us to look at verses 1-5.

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

None was worthy, but Jesus was. If we are to continue in the faith, I’d suggest taking His words and His teachings to heart. Jesus had all authority given to Him (Matthew 28:18). So we need to allow His words to guide our thoughts and our actions. 

Continuing in the faith implies that we should be looking unto Jesus, maintaining our endurance just as Jesus did. As was mentioned earlier, there were a few times that I did not finish a race. And the eight mile race that I was talking about a while ago, the one with 4 miles of hill, I likely could have finished that race. Maybe if I had the confidence, I would have been able to finish. Sometimes, confidence is more important than self-discipline and strife. Why do I think that? I argue that without confidence, there can be no discipline and no endurance. Look at Hebrews 10:35 and 36. 

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

Continuing in the faith requires that we have our confidence. I don’t want us to be confused with pride. We need to have confidence in God and the abilities that God has given to us. God has given us the ability to go to Him in prayer, shouldn’t that give us confidence? In Colossians 1:9-11, Paul mentions that he did not cease praying for the Colossians. And one of the things he prayed for is mentioned in verse 11, “being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.” Prayer gave Paul confidence, and it should give us confidence too! Because with it, we can receive God’s help as we continue in the faith. 

To close out our lesson for this morning, I want to ask this question: are you continuing in the faith? Aside from coming to Church on Sunday and Wednesday, are you doing what it takes to keep your salvation secure?

Maybe there are some of you here this morning who are not confident in your salvation, and you’d like to receive the prayers of the saints to help build your confidence. Or maybe you have struggled to remain stable and steadfast, and that is crippling your ability to continue in the faith. We’d also be happy to pray for you this morning. If you aren’t a Christian, the death of Christ can make you a Christian and make you right with the Father. All you need to do is start the journey by putting on Christ in baptism. And we’d also be happy to do that for you this morning. If you have any need, any need at all, please come forward as we stand and as we sing.

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