I’ve been staying in David’s home and it has been a real joy for me to fellowship with him and his wife Karen. I have to take back something that I said at the start of my first talk. And that is that I’m disappointed that I’m coming as a speaker because I can’t come as a participant and receive. Well, I have gotten my fill of all sorts of blessings from God, so I thank God for the privilege of being ministered to even as I try to minister to you. We are continuing with Colossians 1:24–29, and I will read it again:
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.
A Servant to the Saints
We have looked at how Paul said he rejoices in his suffering and we looked at that combination. Then, he said one of the reasons why he rejoices is that he’s filling up in his body what he’s lacking in connection with Christ’s sufferings. We said that that brings him closer to Jesus and makes him more like Jesus. Then, this morning we said that he suffers on behalf of the church.
Now, in Colossians 1:25, he goes to expand what he means by saying that he suffers on behalf of the church. He says, “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 . . .”
He says he became minister of the church and a steward. He says later on these two words that I think are very significant. Minister is the word “servant”. NIV translates it as “servant”. It’s not the word “doulos”, it’s the word “diakonos”, which is translated as “minister”, “servant”, “helper”, or “deacon”. Primarily, it came from one who serves at tables, but it is a lowly term. It is one who serves, whose agenda is determined by the needs of the people that God has called that person to serve.
Of course, Paul also uses a stronger word, doulos. In 2 Corinthians 4:5 for example, he says, “We preach Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your servants . . .” Now that is the word doulos, which can also be translated as “slave”. It is a metaphor that talks of total dedication to the people. This morning we heard Michael talk about 1 Corinthians 9:19, which says, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all.” Now, that is the word douloō. The verb is used here, and he says it’s so that “I might win more of them.”
So we are servants. Our ambition is to serve the church that God puts us in, which of course would mean that God’s will for the church and God’s will for us would dovetail. When we do well, that means the church is doing well. When the church is doing well, we are doing well. For me, as a worker of Youth for Christ, what is best for me is what is going to be best for Youth for Christ. Yet of course, it’s not always what I think is best for me.
Needs come up in the organization or in the church, and I have to change my plans because I’m a servant of the organization, of the church. Of course, years later, I have found that these are some of the best things that ever happened to me. Some of the things that Youth for Christ has asked me to do, which I had no plan of doing, later on became wonderful things. God’s will for me, God’s best for me, and God’s best for the church dovetailed, though at that time I didn’t realize it.
An Overemphasis of Particular Gifts
Now, I think we are having a bit of a problem nowadays because there’s a lopsided teaching on gifts that is making it difficult for people to find joy in being servants. There seems to be an understanding of gifts that could be called over-specialization, where people are just doing their particular gift and that’s all, or they think that is what they should be doing. They might have huge output because they have so much time to specialize on their gift. The output may be big, but the impact may be minimal because the depth-producing frustration about which I spoke earlier is eliminated through their over-specialization.
We Christians use our gifts out of a generalist background. In other words, we do a little of a lot of things, and try to give as much time as we can to our gifts while we are doing all those other things. Because that’s the way the need of the church goes. If you look at those who really affected history they are people who wrote from the grassroots. These are people like Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and John Wesley.
Recently, I read an old biography of John Calvin, written originally in French and then translated into English, and I was surprised by the portrait of Calvin that I found in that biography. He was a person who was doing visits and people were coming to meet him. He was counseling and he was doing all of this other work, and that’s not the picture I had of Calvin. No wonder he became such a powerful expositor. I think he’s the greatest expository in history. He wrote some of these great commentaries because not only did he give his time to theology, he was also a person who was involved in the grassroots.
The Calling of Augustine to Ministry
But my favorite story is that of Augustine. Augustine wanted to be a monk. He wanted to be separated for the work of theologizing and of praying. He went to this place and he had this monastery where he had these people who would come, and together they would theologize and spend their life praying. Unfortunately, for Augustine, he was a very good preacher, so people would invite him to preach. But he was very wise in his eyes. He was wise in accepting invitations. He only went to churches that already had pastors. He was afraid that they might call him to be a pastor.
One day, he went to the town of Hippo, actually to counsel somebody, and on Sunday he went to church and Bishop Valerius, the pastor of the church in Hippo, saw Augustine in the congregation. Augustine was not afraid of coming to Hippo because there was this very famous pastor there. Bishop Valerius said, “I have all this work to do and I just can’t do it on my own. I need some help. There is Augustine. He’s the one I need.”
The congregation went to Augustine and they virtually dragged him to the altar. They knelt him down. I don’t know whether he knelt willingly, but they knelt him down. They laid hands on him, and they appointed him. They ordained him as a deacon. Augustine was weeping, and they thought he was weeping because he had been ordained as a deacon and not as an elder. But he was weeping because his great plans for his life had been destroyed and all the tranquility that he longed for was gone.
He stayed in Hippo for I think about 40 years. The long desire that he had to be alone with God, meditating and not meeting with people, he was able to have that during the last five days of his life or so, because he was so sick that he couldn’t do anything. He said, “Now, at least let me spend some time alone without anybody in the presence of God.” But what an influence he had in the church. People say that next to Paul, he was the most influential theologian in the history of the church.
Called Into Community
Now, some of his books took a long time to write. One about the Trinity took him about 17 years to write because he would get to work on the book and then some problem would come up in the church and they would tell Augustine, “Augustine, you have to write on this, there’s a problem.” So he had to give up his book on the Trinity and write on this problem. These things took a long time, but he was able to have penetrative depth because he was doing his theologizing out of a generalist framework.
God always calls us to community; therefore, we can never divorce our call from community. We serve our people, and in the process of serving our people, we exercise our gifts. Now, I must say that this is not very easy in a celebrity culture — a culture that has the way of putting people up as celebrities. For me, returning to Sri Lanka after a trip abroad can sometimes be a little traumatic. You see, when I’m abroad I’m a speaker, and speakers are treated well.
David Livingston has been babysitting me, and I have been so nicely looked after. Everything I want is brought to me, and I’m so well-looked after because a speaker is a celebrity of sorts. Then, I go home and at home I’m a leader. A leader is a servant. I’m a servant of my family, I’m a servant of Youth for Christ, and I’m a servant of the church that I worship in. The change is not a very easy thing sometimes to tolerate because when you are used to having all these people say, “Well, that was a nice talk,” and all that. Nobody says that at home. I go and I’m just a normal person, but that is leadership.
Leadership is that we are servants of people. The needs of the people we lead sometimes come up at the most inconvenient times. The Bible says that the husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her (Ephesians 5:25). In other words, Paul is telling the husbands, “You have to die for your wives.” I think most wives would tell their husbands, “I don’t want you to die for me. Just talk to me, that’s enough.” The husband comes back home, especially if he is a pastor, and he has been counseling, working with people, people, people, and he comes home and he doesn’t want to work with people anymore.
He walks into his house and he sees that his wife has a long face. She’s obviously in a bad mood. And he has been looking forward to watching this game on TV. He knows that if he asks his wife what is wrong, it is a two-hour conversation. It’s not in his calendar to have a two-hour conversation with his wife. In a sense, talking is the dying that we have to do sometimes. I think you understand what I’m trying to say.
The Model of a Christian Leader
We are servants and a servant is not bound by the calendar that they keep. The people we serve, our primary responsibility — you can’t do this for the whole world — their needs sometimes crop up at the most inconvenient times. Here is this model of a Christian leader.
Now, we have a huge problem sometimes when people go abroad and they come back to Sri Lanka with their higher degrees. They are not prepared for frustration. They’re looking for the best package where they can be fulfilled and their understanding of fulfillment is not from the word; it’s from the world. They are not coming to die; they are coming to use their gifts, and very soon they get very disillusioned. Some of them change, and others are very unhappy.
After some time they leave saying that they can’t exercise their gifts in this country. They want to go to a place that is more suited for their giftedness and their suitability. Some of them become consultants and freelance workers rather than having to work under a community. They go and give their expertise to different people in the country.
I think we need a fresh understanding of what fulfillment is. For the Christian, fulfillment is what we are going to talk about in a short while. It’s about fulfilling the call of God and walking with Jesus in his service. That is what gives us joy. Whether we can exercise our gifts or not is a secondary matter. God will give us the privilege of doing that, but that’s not primary. Primary is to be a servant of Jesus Christ and to live in the joy of that servanthood.
A Stewardship from God
Paul says he’s a diakonos. He’s a minister, a servant. And then he says in Colossians 1:25 that he became a minister “according to the stewardship from God”. He says he has a stewardship. Now, this is the word oikonomia, which is related to economy. It has the idea of apportioning a certain amount of work to do, a commission. The NIV describes it as a “commission”, the RSV says “divine office”, and the ESV says “stewardship”. You see, it’s like the boss handing over a business or a farm or a property or a house. It’s some job that you are to manage and you are to do well. There is an assigned task that has to be done faithfully.
Curtis Vaughan, in his commentary on Colossians, says:
Paul conceived the work to which God appointed him firstly as a high privilege. God had given him a job to do. Secondly, he viewed it as a sacred trust.
Stewardship involves a high privilege and a sacred trust. To me, this has become very, very special. I was a very shy person and not a very good student and not very good in sports either. My family members, all of them, were either good in sports or in studies or in both. I thought, “Well, every family has to have somebody who’s not so good.” And I was that person. I never opened my mouth in public. Consequently, I often used to get very depressed because my family are very ambitious people. They liked to do well in things, and I was not going to make it. Then, God called me to be a preacher. I thought, “I dare not tell anybody about it.”
In fact, the first person I told about it was a Buddhist boy who was next to me in my classroom. Buddhist priests are very quiet and all that, so I thought, “Well, I’ll tell him I want to be a priest.” God called me to be a preacher, and I had a friend who went out of the city of Colombo to another place. I started writing sermons every week. I wrote a sermon every week when I was about 15 or 16 years old. I used to mail it to him, and the desire to preach became so heavy that I began to go to the beach. I lived very close to the sea. I began to go to the beach at night, sit on the rocks, and preach.
I had such a desire to preach. And then, of course, people like Sam Sherrard took me under their wing, gave me opportunities to preach, and the body began to realize that maybe I have been called to be a preacher. When I think of this fact that God has called me — I never expected to do anything, and he called me to be a preacher — it just thrills the soul. That’s why 1 Timothy 1:17 is my favorite verse in the Bible, because of what precedes it. In what precedes it, Paul says:
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief . . . (1 Timothy 1:12–13).
Then he talks about how this saying is worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Then he says, “I’m the chief of sinners,” but he says, “In spite of the fact that I’m the chief of sinners, God showed me mercy so that I could be an example” (1 Timothy 1:16). If Paul can be saved, anybody can be saved. If God can use me, anyone can be used. The thrill of knowing that God has called me comes so strongly that this verse is the one that can give my appropriate response to that thrill:
To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen (1 Timothy 1:17).
Ambassadors of the King of Kings
This is a wonderful truth. God has called us to be his ambassadors. I remember I was preparing a series of talks once on 2 Corinthians 5, and around that time I had to apply to go to England for a conference. I got my visa, but the expiration date of the visa was before the day I was planning to enter England. So I wrote a letter to the British ambassador, and I said, “The high commissioner of the United Kingdom,” and all of that. And then I addressed it, “Your Excellency.” Around that time I had come to 2 Corinthians 5:19, which says that I’m an ambassador of Christ and Christ is making his appeal through me. Paul says that.
Then, I thought to myself, I called this guy “Your Excellency” because he’s an ambassador of the Queen of England, and I am an ambassador of the King of the Queen of England. If that doesn’t make us happy, what will? God has given us a job to do in spite of everything. It’s all because of mercy. Meditating on the mercy of God doesn’t make us depressed, it fills us with joy even though we don’t deserve it. We say, “Look at what he’s done for us. He’s given us this job to do. Praise God!” He has made us his stewards.
Making the Word of God Fully Known
Then, what is this stewardship? What is the job we have to do? What is this awesome task that the King of kings and the Lord of lords has entrusted to Paul? Look at what he says: “To make the word of God fully known” (Colossians 1:25). Fully is the word pleroō, which means “complete”. See, Paul had a job to do. He had to give the whole counsel of God to the people. In Acts 20:26–27, Paul says:
Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
That is our job. We have to give people all the counsel of God. The first theological conference I attended was a meeting of the Asia Theological Association, and the keynote speaker at that conference was Michael Griffiths, who at that time was general director of Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF).
He spoke at the opening meeting on this passage where Jesus says, “When a child asks for bread, will the father give a stone?” (Matthew 7:9). His topic was, “Are we theologians giving people stones when our children are asking for bread?” It really struck me. We have a responsibility. We have a responsibility to give people the whole counsel of God — in other words, the whole of the teaching of the Bible.
Too Sophisticated for the Bible
Now, sometimes we may feel that some of our people are a little too sophisticated to hear some of the things that the Bible talks about, like judgment. It’s very interesting how we can get more sophisticated than Jesus because it’s Jesus who talks most about hell. Paul, when he went to that sophisticated audience in Athens, he talked about judgment. Some of these things are difficult for us to talk about, so we don’t talk about those things even though the Bible talks more about hell than heaven, and more about the wrath of God than the love of God. These are things we have to take into reckoning.
When we had the tsunami in Sri Lanka, one of the things that people just kept saying over and over again was, “If only we had been warned,” but there was no early warning system. What if there is an early warning system and someone knows that a tsunami is coming and they do not warn the people? Wouldn’t that be criminal negligence? What if Jesus talked all the time about hell? I believe he talks so much about it because that’s one of the things we like to forget.
We have made hell into a swear word. We have trivialized it. We say. “I don’t care, what the hell. Go to hell.” We have just made it into something very trivial, typical of us, and Jesus knew that we do things like that. That’s why he talks so much about it. What if it’s true though? What if we know that this is true? How dare we make ourselves guilty of criminal negligence by not warning people? Yet it is not easy today, people are not excited about the truth anymore.
The Thrill of Teaching the Next Generation
I have seen this change in the 30 years that I have been in Youth for Christ. The leaders want me to speak at public events, which is because it gives good public relations for our organization, but I like to speak to the staff and the volunteers. I like to take the Bible and teach them the Bible, but they want me to do the public thing. I think it’s partly because they don’t want me to waste my time. They think teaching the Bible to these teenagers will be a waste of time. But for me, that’s one of the greatest thrills.
Imagine the privilege of teaching a person who has a whole life before them this great book, the Bible. But I can see little by little how people lose their sense of the importance of Scripture. It doesn’t seem to be relevant anymore to some people, so it is tough work today because people are not interested in this. Does it mean that we have to give up the fight? No, I think we have to work harder. If people are not interested in Scripture, then we better work harder so that they will become interested. We must faithfully give this until they become interested.
Today, we need top quality Bible teaching, not less but more, because the people today are less attuned to the Scriptures. And if they are less attuned to Scripture, they need more of it now than they did some time ago. We have, I think, a sixfold task today as we proclaim the Word of God in all its fullness.
First, we have to be accurate, in other words, we have to say what the Scriptures teach.
Second, we have to be persuasive. We have to think about how we can work with the mind of the people so that they change their mind and come to accept the scriptural position.
Third, we need to be relevant. They must know that this applies to their day-to-day life.
Fourth, we need to be attractive. They must want to listen to what we say.
Fifth, it must be memorable. We must present it in a way that they can take it home with them and not forget it.
Sixth, it must be practical.
It has to be accurate, persuasive, relevant, attractive, memorable, and practical.
Challenges of Our Day
We are living in a busy world and this is very difficult. I think there’s a huge battle that we have in order to get people to do that, but that is the battle that we have to wage. I’m really convinced that for us — I’m going to talk about this a little later on — our cross is the balanced life. Our cross is trying to teach, to study the Bible, and prepare good messages in a busy world. This is a busy world. This is not the type of world that our earlier generation lived in, and that is our challenge. But then, Christians are people who meet challenges without giving up.
In the first century, the proclaimers died in order that they may develop the Scriptures. They died to develop the Scriptures, to get us a Bible. That was the first century. Most of the apostles were martyred. In the second and third centuries, they died because they preached the Scriptures. In the Reformation, as we heard this afternoon, the Reformers were killed for bringing the Word into the ordinary layperson. Wycliffe and Tyndale and people like that died in order to do that. Then of course, sadly, those who read it also were killed.
People died to make Scripture, they died to proclaim Scripture, they died to translate Scripture, and some died just to read Scripture. At the end of the 19th century and until later in the 20th century, those defending the Word, those speaking up for the inerrancy of Scripture, were virtually committing hara-kiri. They were committing intellectual suicide in connection with the academy. The academy thought they were fools to have outmoded beliefs like that.
People died to make Scripture, they died to proclaim Scripture, they died to translate Scripture, they died to read Scripture, and they died to defend Scripture. In the 21st century, I believe that we preachers have to die just to expound Scripture because we live in a world that is not word-oriented. They can’t understand what it means to stop. We are so technological that it’s very difficult for us to stop and study the Bible.
We have all these study Bibles, how many study Bibles. The generation which reads the Bible the least has the most amount of study Bibles, because people are not used to studying the Scriptures. Our task as preachers is to do this, to bring the Scriptures alive to our people. I pray that God will raise up people who are going to commit themselves to this task to say, “We will teach the Scriptures whatever happens.”
The Riches of God’s Mystery
In Colossians 1:26–27, Paul goes on to tell us something more about what this word is all about. He says:
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.
This great word that we are to give to the world is a gospel. It is good news. It is a mystery that has now been revealed. Paul talks about the great riches of glory. It’s about Christ in us, the hope of glory. This is not some dour message. People who are committed to truth are not these dour people with no smile on their faces, watch dogs who are always fighting for the truth and just looking for somebody to make a mistake so that they can accuse them of being heretics. That’s not the person who’s committed to the truth.
Today, we heard about William Tyndale, a man who suffered. Because of his commitment to the Scriptures he had to live a difficult life. Listen to what he says regarding the gospel in the preface to the New Testament that he published. Listen to what he says:
The gospel signified good, merry, glad, and joyful tidings that make a person’s heart glad and make him sing and dance and leap for joy.
Did you ever think that William Tyndale was a charismatic? He wants to sing and dance and leap for joy because there is something glorious about this message, a glory that our people have lost. And we are given the great privilege of reminding the world of this glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Legacy of Carl F. H. Henry
I believe that one of the heroes of the 20th century church is a man called Carl F. H. Henry, and he’s a hero to me for a reason that I never see in all the evaluations of this great man. People considered him the greatest American evangelical theologian. For me, the great thing about Carl Henry was when he was at the peak of his ministry, when he was the top-notch theologian, three months of the year he spent in the Third World.
This was when the communist world was still very active. He would go to a little town in Eastern Europe, get himself checked into a hotel, get the pastors, and teach them. He would come to Sri Lanka. He would come to all these Third World countries. Actually, a lot of what he said we couldn’t even understand because his language was so high. But in the post-colonial era, when people were ashamed of the gospel because of the connection it had with the colonial masters, and people were saying those who still clinging to the Bible and to the gospel are people who have committed intellectual suicide, we had one of our own people coming and speaking with such brilliance that even some of our great theologians couldn’t understand what he was saying.
I know one of the great liberal theologians in Sri Lanka once heard him speak and said, “I would have liked to have that man as my guru.” Anyway, Carl Henry wrote his autobiography, and he talks about when he was at Wheaton College. He had a teacher, Gordon Haddon Clark, and this teacher used to talk often about the glory of truth.
This is one of the things that Gordon Haddon Clark said in class:
A satisfactory religion must satisfy, but satisfy what and why? The Greek mysteries satisfied the emotions, brute force can satisfy the will, but Christianity satisfies the intellect because it’s true. And truth is the only everlasting satisfaction.
My dear friends, the world doesn’t know this. The Bible talks about truth like that. It uses the language of desire when it talks of the Bible. In Psalm 19:10 it says that it is “more to be desired than gold, than much fine gold.” Then, it starts using romantic language, saying it is “sweeter also than honey and drippings from the honeycomb.” We must somehow, all of us, maintain this sense, especially because there is so much anti-gospel in the world today. We must never forget the romance, the wonder of the gospel.
Caught Up in the Glorious Gospel
This morning Sam talked about this comment that this great preacher, Rodney Smith, made. He had hardly any education and was born in a gypsy tent. He heard the gospel, responded to Christ, and started preaching when he was 17 years old. He went on preaching until he was 87. He traveled many times to America, and on one of those trips he died at 87. They asked him the secret of his freshness and vigor, and he said, “I never lost the wonder of the gospel.”
I know you and I get very discouraged in our ministry. Sometimes I get so discouraged I don’t want to preach, but that’s my job. If I don’t preach, I’ll lose my salary and give up my job, so I have to preach. If I have been told to preach, I have to preach. But I don’t feel like preaching. I open my notes and I start reading those notes and then I realize this is true. This is the word of the eternal God to creation, the one message that is going to solve the deepest problems that people are struggling with, and we have the privilege of sharing it. It doesn’t matter what’s around us, we have a message to give to the world. I can come up to the pulpit and preach my heart out with joy because we have a message to give.
Paul would go to raptures when he thought about this message. Do you remember what happened at the end of Romans 11? He had been talking about the mystery of election and all of that. Then, he brought himself to a climax. Before he went to the next point in chapter 12 with this therefore, what does he say?
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33–36).
Then, he goes back to his topic. This is typical of Paul. It’s the same thing he did in 1 Timothy 1. He’s talking about false doctrine, and he says it’s against this gospel. Then he says, “That’s the gospel that I have been called to preach.” Then, he reflects on that and he ends up by saying, “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible . . .” and all of that. His poor amanuensis must have been just struggling to keep up with him. Then in verse 1 Timothy 1:18 he goes back to his old topic that he had been originally talking about. It’s the thrill of contemplating that we have a gospel. May we never lose sense of the glory of the gospel.
Losing the Value of Words
Today, we have this great challenge. Here we are excited about the truth of the gospel, but we are living in a world that doesn’t think that truth is important anymore. People today have lost belief in the value of words, so there’s a much more basic task that we have ahead of us. Earlier, I talked about how we need to show the world the joy of joy because the world has lost the meaning of joy. We have to show them that joy is joyful.
Now, I’m saying that we need to show people the value of truth, of words. Carl Henry wrote this massive six volume thing on God, Revelation, and Authority. His first chapter in this book in this six volume systematic theology was called “The Crisis of Truth and Word”. What he says there is that people do not believe in words anymore. They have lost the value of words.
In the post-modern generation, of course, this is getting more and more popular. People are talking about the importance of subjective experience of whatever you may have rather than objective truths and all of that. Zen Buddhism is trying to liberate people from the bondage to words and from the rationality that lies behind the words. They have these koans that people are supposed to meditate on that are illogical.
For example, one of them says, “You have heard the sound of two hands clapping. Now, listen to the sound of one hand clapping.” It’s an illogical statement so that people will be liberated from the bondage to words. We, however, believe that there are some words that can be described as wonderful words of life. We don’t see them as bringing bondage to us, we see them as bringing freedom. The truth sets us free.
So we have a more basic task today. Not only do we need evangelists for the gospel, we need evangelists for truth because the gospel comes within the category of truth. People who are not so entrusted in hearing this word, we have been called to proclaim the word to them. We have, as I said, that sixfold task: to present it accurately, persuasively, relevantly, attractively, practically, and memorably.
Laying a Groundwork for Revival
Well, perhaps no one in the history of the church has studied revival as much as J. Edwin Orr. He’s written many books on revival. In one of his books, he talks about the things that preceded a revival. He says that revivals were always preceded by systematic teaching of the word. Now, when the revival phenomena were taking place, sometimes there wasn’t that much preaching because there was all this phenomena taking place. During that time there may not have been that much preaching. But the revival built upon the teaching of the word.
We will teach the word to the unrevived church and God will use the teaching of the word as an agent of revival. Then, when people are revived, they will flock to hear the word preached. Until they flock, we will faithfully do our task of proclaiming the word. We are people with our sights on eternity. As William Temple said, “The church that is married to one culture will become a widow in the next generation.” We are not married to our culture. We are people who are heading for eternity.
Our perspective is the perspective of a God who is working his purposes out until one day he’s going to come back to consummate this great work that he has started. What we are doing is just a building block. We are taking steps that are leading people towards that end. So we don’t get ourselves all that upset by what is happening here. We want to do our job to contribute to the growth of the kingdom that is eternal in its duration. Let us be faithful in proclaiming this Word in all its fullness.
A Gospel for the Nations
Then, Colossians 1:27 says:
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.
This message has to be told to the Gentiles, this gospel has to be shared. This is God’s heartbeat. Our God is a missionary God. William Temple said that the church is the only society in the world which exists for the benefit of its non-members. That is our task.
Once you become a Christian, you are looking for how we can bring the lost back to Christ. The great missionary to the Muslims, Henry Martin, once said, “The Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of missions, and the nearer we get to him the more intensely missionary we must become.” I tell our young people in Youth for Christ, “Remember, in our programs the outsider is king and queen. It’s the outsider who’s the king because our focus is that somehow we must bring them to Christ.” In history, some of the best minds went to the unreached.
What a shock the church in Antioch must have gotten when the Holy Spirit spoke to them in Acts 13:2 and told them, “Set apart Barnabas and Saul (who were their best people) to go and preach the gospel to those who have not heard, to the unreached.” That has been a tradition that has taken place right through the history of the church. It doesn’t mean that only the best minds need to go for missions, but some of the best minds in the church went to missions.
The Work of Henry Martin
I think of Henry Martin. He was a graduate from Cambridge University. Then and now Cambridge is well-known for its specialization in mathematics. The best mathematics student to graduate from Cambridge was given the Wrangler Award. And Henry Martin got that award, but he went to preach the gospel to the Muslims.
In our own part of the world in India, some of the great minds that the church had were missionaries. Think of Stanley Jones, Stephen Neal, and Lesslie Newbigin. In our country, we have some people like this as well. A man named W.J.T Small, who was a godly man, lived and died in our country. He was a great, brilliant person who gave himself to the work of going to the unreached.
Living in Obscurity for the Unreached
I had the great privilege of being in seminary when Stephen Neal came to speak to us and I generally went wherever he went. I had a good opportunity to listen to him, to talk to him. I think his mind is the most brilliant mind I have ever encountered in my life. He just had a brilliant mind. Stephen Neal spent most of his time in the villages. He was a village evangelist, and once in a while he would come to the city and give this deep theological lecture. Then, he would go back to the village and do his work of village evangelism. He wrote many books while doing this type of thing. He wrote books on the nature of missions. He wrote books on comparative religion. He wrote a well known book on the history of missions.
Then, he also wrote a book on the history of New Testament criticism which has been revised and is published again recently. Some of the greatest minds went to the unreached. Today, if there’s a class reunion of a seminary and all the graduates get together after 15 years of graduating, one person comes and they say, “Where are you?” He says, “I’m at this church.” And they say, “How many members do you have?” He says, “2,000 members.” And they think, “Wonderful. And you are the senior pastor? Wow, these people are really successful.”
Then, there is this guy who was the most brilliant student. He was a good preacher who could attract huge crowds, and God called him to work among the Muslims. He comes and they ask, “Where are you?” And he says, “I’m in this town working among the Muslims.” And they say, “How many people in your church?” He says, “Well, there’s my wife, there’s me, there’s my child. Then, I have my colleague who works with me, and sometimes we have about two or three others coming.” Sometimes we might think, “What a waste.”
When you come to these places and see these others doing so well, we might think, “What a waste of such a brilliant mind.” But that person is following a great train that has gone on right through history. I believe that today God is calling people to go to these different places. One of my heroes is a pastor in America living in a small farming town in Ohio. He has a very small church and he refused to leave the church even though he could have gone to much bigger churches because God called him to rural America where so many people are still living. He had a small church, and he stayed 30 years in this one church. I consider him a hero because he stayed where God had called him to be.
I don’t think it’s easy today because of this whole thing that the brilliant people must climb. It’s tragic to see how Christians are so unashamed to use earthly categories when they describe the success of an individual. How hard is it for those who have been called to those difficult places. Let’s not forget the unreached. There are still so many people without Christ.
In this country, there are people who are extremely rich who will not bother about Christianity, because usually Christians come to them only when they need a little money. Why do they need the help of God when they’re always helping God? Those people need the Savior. There are also the extremely poor people. They need the Savior. And there are many other lost people, and let’s hope that some of the greatest minds in the church, along with other normal people, will go and share the gospel to these people.
Laboring with All His Energy
I’m not going to look at Colossians 1:28 because I want to focus on the topic at hand, but verse 28 talks about three ways that we communicate this message: we proclaim him, we admonish people, and we teach. And it says we do all this to all people and the result is that they will be perfect, or complete, or mature as disciples of Christ. So the work is to see all Christians becoming mature believers. Now, we come to Colossians 1:29, which says:
For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
He uses two interesting words. He says, “I toil, struggling with all the energy that he powerfully works in me.” That is, so that people will grow and so that he may be able to give them the full word of God. He says that he toils. That word in the Greek is kopiaō, and it means “to work”, “to labor”, “to give effort”, “to become tired”, “to grow weary”, “to work to exhaustion”. Most English translations use either the word “toil” or the word “labor”.
You see, when you are serving people, sometimes there is so much inconvenience and in order to preach while we are serving the people and in order to prepare our messages while we are serving people, it may mean that we end up very tired. It is hard work to work at people’s weaknesses, to teach them, to study new topics because those are the questions that the people are asking. We sometimes wish that they would ask the questions they should be asking, but we find that they are asking questions that we think they shouldn’t be asking. But we have to do the hard work of applying the Scriptures to those questions. It’s difficult work. We have so many things to do as ministers of the gospel.
Tiredness in Ministry and Life
We study, we pray, we have to do our physical exercise, we visit people, we do other ministry tasks, we have administrative tasks to do, we care for our families, we have to meet those we are accountable to so that we can have proper fellowship with them, and we have to have some contact with society. And trying to do all these things is tough. I really believe that for us today our cross is the balanced life in today’s world because the world is moving so fast and it’s not used to things like contemplation and all of that. For us, our cross is the balanced life.
Before I go any further, let me say that I think there are some people whose schedule is just far too busy. If you have far too many things that you’re doing and you cannot remain healthy without it, you better do something about it. Talk to your leaders. Maybe you need to drop some things. In fact, I think the older we get we are divesting all the time. When we become older, we have to keep divesting ourselves of things. We have to say, “These are the things that I will do and I will do this well. I cannot do some of these things.” We do that so we can do what God has called us to do.
In the ministry, we are always divesting. In fact, I think we divest things that we have to give up so that we can do our work properly. Yet even with the divesting, very often we end up tired.
One of the best books I have read in the last few years is a book which I want to recommend to all of you. It’s by Kent Hughes and it’s called The Disciplines of a Godly Man. It’s a very good book on the personal life of a Christian man. In this book, in one chapter he says:
The world is run by tired people. Churches are run by tired people. Industry is run by tired people. Nations are run by tired people.
Leaders end up tired. What to do? That’s part of the cross of being a leader. Now, would this not lead to burnout? Well, I want to suggest to you that if you live a balanced life, you are not going to be burnt out, even though you may be tired.
The Balanced Life
Now what is this balanced life we are talking about? We are not talking about everything in moderation. That’s not what we mean by balanced life. What we mean is being obedient in every area of our lives. We are talking about being obedient to Christ in every area.
You come home wanting to watch the football game on TV and your wife has a long face. Now, you are going to have to talk to her and you know that the conversation is going to be a very long conversation. In fact, it goes on until 2:00 a.m. At the end of it, you’re so happy you have solved the problem after this four-hour battle with your spouse. The next day you go to work and you’re tired. People in the office look at you and say, “What happened?” You’ve been crying, and now you don’t know what to do because actually you have been crying. You don’t know what to say.
However, you have spent four hours grappling with your spouse and the problem has been solved after four hours. You’re tired, but you’re happy. You’re tired, but you’re free. You are able to do your ministry without the hindrance of always having in the back of your mind, “My wife is angry with me.” Now you can’t say, “I have to live the balanced life, so let’s do everything in moderation. We can’t talk for more than an hour.”
One of the biggest problems with television is that the episodes end in half an hour or one hour. We get used to thinking that the problems of life can be solved in one hour. They can’t. Most of them can’t. But the beauty of having to grapple is that you get deeper and deeper in love with the person that you are grappling with, if Christ has come in and you’re doing it in a Christian way.
The True Cause of Burnout
I am convinced that burnout is not caused by hard work; it is caused by insecurity. When we drive ourselves and work so hard we are never satisfied. We are driven to succeed. Such is the ambition that we have for success that it becomes an obsession. When something goes wrong, we shout at our workers and our colleagues during a tense time and then the warm fellowship leaves the group because we have shouted at them. And then we feel we don’t want to go and apologize to them.
The community life becomes a huge burden that we have to carry. Rather than friends helping each other, now friends are holding each other back. We are too dependent on success and applause for fulfillment. Therefore, when something goes wrong, we are so disappointed by the failure or by the rejection that sometimes failure will trigger depression. We drive and drive and drive ourselves until finally we drive ourselves to the ground, and we are burnt out.
Here is this hardworking pastor who’s trying to live the balanced life. I’m just taking an example of the other model. His son is running in a race at 2:00 p.m., and he has a very important meeting at 1:00 p.m. in church. He has tried to change it, but there is no way to change the meeting. He tells the people, “Let’s meet at 1:00 p.m., but I must somehow go for my son’s race.” They do this meeting quickly and finish it up at 1:45 p.m. It’s over. He runs to the car. Then, of course his balanced life means he has to follow the rules of the land also. He has to go at the speed limit, slowly he goes up to the school.
Then, once he parks the car there is no speed limit for running. He runs to the ground and just in time for the race, when the son runs, he hears the father shouting, “Go, son.” The son is encouraged by the voice of his father and he runs and he wins the race. The father goes to congratulate the son, and the father is panting more than the son. The son says, “I’m the one who ran the race, why are you panting?” And he says, “Son, I had to come. Somehow I had to come for the race, so I ran.”
That son is not going to be angry with God for taking that father away from the family because he sees the father trying to be a good father. He is messing up sometimes and blundering sometimes, but he sees him trying. And because of that effort, the anger of that son against God is going to be taken away.
Major Symptoms of Overly Driven Ministries
Now, I think there are two major symptoms of drivenness in ministry. One is the refusal to delegate. We are not messiahs. We are people whose lifestyle is a lifestyle of surrender. We are always surrendering. We are surrendering the things that we like, and so often we surrender our duties to other people. That’s one of the symptoms, the refusal to delegate.
The other one is the refusal to follow God’s pattern of work and rest. God has given us a pattern of 6 days of work and one day of rest. Following the Sabbath is being obedient to God. Not only are we having physical and emotional rest there, we are doing something spiritual because by taking a Sabbath rest, we are affirming that God is the one who is working and not us. This is God’s work. God can manage if we do not do one day of work in obedience to him.
In spite of all of this, you may be tired, but you are feeding on the word because you’re living the balanced life. You are preparing sermons to give to the people, which means you’re not only having your devotions. You are also grappling with Scripture. You are digging into the Word. You are discovering riches from the Word. There are few things in life that refresh a person as much as discovering glorious truth in the Bible. You discover these truths. What is the message of the Bible? God is great. God is sovereign. He’s going to rule. He’s going to look after us. These are the things that come over and over again.
You spend time in that Bible and you will become a secure person, because the truths of Scripture make you secure. The Bible talks of God’s greatness and the fact that this great God loves us. We spend time in the Scriptures and we are secure. Then, we spend unhurried times with the Lord in prayer. When we spend this time with God in prayer, whatever happens, that is part of obedience to Christ so I will do it.
It’s like a person who’s very busy goes to work by train, and at this time, there is a lot of work at home and a lot of work in the office. He works and works and works at home and runs to the train station. He has half an hour in the train, and then he gets off at the train and then runs to the office and starts working. What is he going to do during that half an hour? Is he going to run up and down because he’s so tense? No, he’ll just sit and relax on the train. However busy things are around us, we have to say, “This is my time with the Lord, and nothing is going to take that away.” That is going to be that time when God slows us down.
Here we are in the midst of the eternal God who is our refuge. We are in his presence, feeding on him, not running here, there, and everywhere. We are just in his presence and God refreshes us.
There was a person who left the ministry and he was so burnt out that he didn’t even take his books when he left. The new pastor went and looked at the library he had left behind. He found that most of the earlier books that he had in his library were on the Bible and theology. And most of the later books that he had were on how to do ministry. He had been learning the techniques of ministry, but he hadn’t been feeding his soul. Naturally, he got burnt out. We need to be fed. We need to find time to study. Now, it may be part of our cross to find that time, but by doing that, we are refreshed. As always, the cross is our gateway to life.
Agonizing for the Souls of People
Paul says, “We toil,” and then the next word is struggling. He says, “We struggle.” The word is agonizomai. That word means “to struggle”, “to wrestle”, “to fight”, “to do one’s best”, “to compete in athletics contests”. See, it’s a word that’s talking about a battle. We are in a battle for souls and we won’t give up when they fall. We battle for those souls. We meet them, we urge them, we encourage them, we rebuke them, and we teach the Scriptures. We are battling for the souls of people.
A little later in Colossians, Paul uses the same word (wrestle, agonizomai) regarding Epaphras, the one who started the church in Colossae. He says he’s struggling and he’s wrestling in prayer for them (Colossians 4:12). One of the most important ways in which we battle for the souls of people is to pray for them. We are engaging in warfare as we pray on their behalf. It’s from this word agonizomai that we get the word agonizing. It’s agonizing in prayer.
You have this wonderful example of Moses battling through prayer. As Joshua is down in the field, Moses is up on the mountain with Aaron and Hur in Exodus 17:8–13. While the nation was at war, Moses was praying and God was answering the prayers, and giving them victory.
Keeping Spiritually Fit
Now, I want to tell you that this struggle, this battle for the souls of people will also be a way of blessing to you, because when you are battling for the souls of people, you have to keep in spiritual trim. I remember once a boy who has now become like a son to me came and shared his life once in a while. He was talking about some of the temptations he was having. I realized, “My goodness, I’m having the same temptations. I better be careful.” It was a real challenge to me. What if I had failed in that area, and what if he was coming to me for help? When we battle for the souls of people, we are forced to remain on our toes, spiritually.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne has said, “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.” Struggling for the souls of people helps us because it keeps us spiritually trim. Then, battling in prayer for people becomes an amazing source of refreshment. Why? When we are battling in prayer, we are loving people. To pray for somebody is to love them. We are loving them but we are in touch with God, so love goes out because we are in touch with God and God’s love is an inexhaustible resource. As the love goes out the door, love is also coming in because we are in touch with him. Love goes out, love comes in, love goes out, love comes in. Soon, we begin to glow with the joy of the Lord because our hearts are filled with God’s love.
This is why intercession is one of the most refreshing things that we can do. If you’re tired, just sit in your bed or somewhere and spend a little time praying for people. It’s so refreshing, because God’s love has gone out and love has come in, because while it’s going out we are in touch with God.
Energized with his Energy
Paul says, “I am struggling,” but then he says something else. He says, “With all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” Now, there are some words repeated here. You get the verb and the noun — energeia and energeō — which has the meaning of “to work effectively”. Then, at the end of the verse, you get the word dynamis, which is power. The literal translation of that statement would be “according to the working of his working in me with power.” The NASB is fairly close when it says “struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works in me.”
Paul is trying to emphasize that the energy that is necessary for our work is not our energy. He’s working that energy into us. As God’s energy impacts us, it gives us the ability to do what we need to do.
You get a similar principle in 2 Corinthians 12:9. It says:
My grace is sufficient for you (why?), for my power (dynamis) is made perfect in weakness.”
Let me just give you two examples before I close of God’s provision, of God’s enabling, and how he gives us the energy to work effectively.
Supplies of Physical Strength
Firstly, God gives us the physical strength for the challenges we have. If we are sensitive to God and obedient to him, if we have crucified self and we want to truly please him to take the rest we have, we need to have and all of that. It’s sometimes difficult. Jesus wanted to have rest sometimes, and here the crowd comes. But he didn’t give up trying. You see, the crowd came, he taught them, he fed the 5,000, sent the disciples, and he went to the mountain and he prayed. Jesus never gave up trying to have his rest. We may miss one rest and we try another time, but God knows. And if you are obedient, he will give you the rest you need.
Just let me give you a little example that I have, which is the type of thing that God is in the habit of doing to his servants. I was coming to this country for the Urban Missionary Conference and it was Christmas time. I like to spend Christmas with my family. My plan was to leave at midnight on Christmas night. At that time, our church didn’t have a pastor, so I was doing the church work. I was very busy. I had been working, working, working, and I had to prepare for Christmas Day on Sunday. Christmas day is the biggest service in our country, in our churches.
I had to prepare my sermon. I went to bed at about 2:00 a.m. a little worried because I knew I was going to come to the States, I was going to have to battle jet lag, and I was going to speak to all these students. What sometimes happens is that my “he” becomes “she” and “she” becomes “he”. I was very worried. Anyway, I thought, “Well, at 2:00 a.m. I’ll get up. I’ll have a little sleep and get up and go to preach.”
God Looks After Us
I slept a little, I don’t know for how many minutes, and just a few minutes later there was a knock at our door. There was a Hindu family, very poor people, who lived near our house. They were about two doors from our house. They didn’t have electricity in their house. They just had an oil lamp. They had a child who was very sick and the child needed stomach medicine. They were going to give this stomach medicine for the child, but because it was so dark, they didn’t realize what they were giving. What they gave him was skin lotion.
They knocked at the door and said, “What shall we do?” I said, “Let’s go to the hospital. Let’s take the child to the hospital.” I put the child in the Youth for Christ van, which I use, and took the child to hospital. And because these are very poor people, sometimes they’re not looked after properly. I thought, “I’ll stay until everything is over.” I stayed and by the time I came back home, it was time to get ready to go to church. But I needed my sleep.
We don’t have air conditioning in our houses, so we open the windows. I thought, “We will put the van into the garage, close all the windows so that people will think nobody’s at home, and I’ll have a good sleep.” Well, I went to sleep, slept a few minutes, and there was a knock at the door. I went and talked to the person and then went back to sleep. After another few minutes, there was another knock at the door.
By now, of course, I was quite angry, but Christian workers can’t show their anger. Inside I was fuming, and on the outside I was smiling. I went and talked to this person and I thought, “Well, Christmas day is not the day for us to try to sleep.” We got the family together and we played some games, but I needed my sleep. I went to the airport at midnight and there were about 350 seats on this plane and we had about 50 passengers.
I had four seats to myself. I slept just after we left Colombo and got up just before we landed in Amsterdam. I have never slept like that before in my life on a flight, and I’ve never slept like that after. When God was sending those people to our house and I was getting all worried, he knew that the poor Sri Lankan airline was going to have a flight that was a dead loss, but that I was going to get the sleep that I needed. I was so excited when I got up to think that God had provided.
Supplies of Emotional Energy
He provides us with energy. We are faithful, we strive to get the sleep that we need, the rest that we need, and he will look after us. Not only does he provide us physical strength, but he also provides us the emotional strength to go on and do the work we have to do.
Sri Lanka has had a war and we sent a colleague from the south, his name is Suri Williams. We sent him from the south to the northern capital to the northernmost part of Sri Lanka where the war was raging. God used him very powerfully during this wartime. At one time, things got so bad we had no connection with them by phone because the people had bombed all the telephone exchanges. Sometimes we don’t even know whether a person is alive. Sometimes we hear three months after that a person has died. We asked my colleagues Suri and Shanti, and the two little children that they had, “You better come back, it’s not safe.”
He said, “What do you mean not safe? How can I leave the people now?” He said, “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will. I can’t leave.” So he stayed. Then the bombing came very close to his house. In fact, a bomb came to the house next to his place and partially destroyed that home and even damaged his own home. He had to go and stay in a refugee camp. It was in a school and there were about three families in the same classroom, so they divided the room.
In the evening, they would meet for prayer. My staff colleague, because he’s a Christian worker, would lead the devotions and he said, “Do you have any prayer requests?” My wife’s colleague Shanti said, “I would like an egg for my son.” They didn’t have any eggs. He was a small boy and he was not getting the proper nourishment, and my colleague was so embarrassed that nobody had eggs. He thought, “How can I ask for an egg for my son?”
The request was made in public, so he prayed in public. He said, “Lord, if it is your will, give my son an egg.” Well, that evening the bombing got very bad and bombs came very close to the refugee camp. In fact, one bomb hit a house that was next to the camp. It was the house of a Christian lawyer, and the lawyer’s wife kept chickens, and the bomb hit the chicken coop and all the birds had run away or died. All that was left was one egg.
This lady said, “We can’t have this egg. There is that Youth for Christ worker in the refugee camp who has a little boy. Why don’t I go and give it to that mother?” In the evening they prayed, “Lord, if it is your will, give our son an egg,” and in the morning, special delivery, the lady came and gave it. Shanti said that things like that gave them the strength to go on serving in that place amidst the war.
Serving in the Joy of the Lord
My dear friends, God is no one’s debtor. Paul does talk about his sufferings, but he talks about his sufferings not to complain, but to testify to God’s deliverance and to present them as evidence of his credibility. For Paul, his sufferings were a badge of honor.
I don’t know where you are going back to tomorrow, maybe it will be difficult work. There may be suffering and there may be hardships at home. Remember, God is able. He loves us, and he loves us enough to do what is best for us. However hard the task may be, however painful the wounds inflicted by people may be, God’s love is greater. God’s sovereignty will turn even that into good. Therefore, make it your priority to seek the joy of the Lord. With that joy, you will have the strength to serve him and do so faithfully.