A Suffering Servant
July 19, 2009
Pastor Sean Harris
Colossians 1: 23-25
If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;
This is quite a text. So I hope that God has given you ears to hear. The title of the sermon is “A Suffering Servant.” Those are two words that we probably don’t like much, “suffering servant,” and yet they are right there in our text.
This passage addresses two things that 21st century Post-Modernism despises: Serving others and suffering. In fact, I would suggest to you that we do everything we can to avoid these two things. I am going to tell you right now the entire American dream about earning all you can in a 401K Plan is all about making sure that you can be served and you don’t suffer. I want to make sure that I have the best medical insurance in the world and the biggest 401K Plan, so that I don’t have to suffer and everything is going to be good when I retire. We really see quite the opposite in the Word of God. The question is: Isn’t it the goal today to make enough money or to get to a position where others serve you? Isn’t that being encouraged in the world that we live in? And yet we have to ask ourselves is that biblical? Paul says I am a minister. Over and over again Paul reminds us of that. He reminds us over and over again “I am a servant.” I am here to tell you right now, if you are in a position of leadership anywhere, in a school, in a community, at work, on Ft. Bragg, you are in that position of leadership to serve, not to be served. Paul was the chief Apostle. Paul was the boss. Paul was given special revelation from Jesus Christ, and he actually set Peter straight on the grace of God. And yet he doesn’t describe himself as that—it’s just the opposite. Over and over again in the Word of God, he reminds us that he is a servant, a minister, the servant of the King. Christians, if we don’t get our head straight on that single issue we will never make it to what God has for us. If you are looking for a position of preeminence in this church you are not at the right place. If you are an adult Bible fellowship teacher in this church, if you are a deacon in this church, it is not so that you can call the shots. It’s so that you can serve the body of Christ. Paul as an Apostle strived to be the greatest servant of the church. He lived for others. How can I serve you is the issue?
Colossians 1:24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you,
He is writing to Christians at the church at Colossae, and he is saying I am suffering and he really meant that when he said it. We’ll look at that in just a moment. And he says, I am rejoicing in suffering. Now let me tell you right now, it takes a unique and special relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ to rejoice in suffering. That doesn’t come natural. The natural man does not rejoice in suffering. It is just the opposite. We avoid suffering with a passion. And yet he says, I am rejoicing in suffering for the body of Christ. Now this is not a new concept. Paul was not the originator of this. In Acts 5, the Apostles were called in and rebuked to their face; they were told to stop preaching Christ. You shut your mouths about Christ. We don’t want to hear any more about this. And after they had received this harsh rebuke, were confronted to their face, and called all kinds of names, look what it says, they were rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. Now that is a completely different perspective. They walked out of an oral thrashing rejoicing that they were able to take some abuse for the Savior. They were not popular. They weren’t being commended. They were being encouraged. And they came out of that rejoicing. I wonder if we are any where near that in the 21st century. When you take a hard stand for Jesus at work and you know that you are ridiculed and you are not part of the in group any more and you are not popular because you take a hard stand for Jesus, do you find yourself rejoicing? You know Paul was promised suffering.
Turn to Acts 9 in your Bibles please. Paul was promised suffering. I want you to see this. Paul’s conversion experience occurs here. The Lord Jesus Christ meets him on the road to Damascus, and really rebukes him to his face. He knocks him off his horse and gets him straight and focuses him on Who Jesus is. Then Ananias gets this mission in verse ten that he is not too fond about
Acts 9:10-16 And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. Then Ananias answered Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.
So here is the Gospel presentation, Hey, I’d love for you to receive Jesus, but in receiving Jesus you need to know that you are going to suffer. I’d love to tell you about the Gospel and reconciliation, I love to tell you about forgiveness of sins, I’d love to tell you about a home in heaven that God has prepared for you, I’d love to tell you about a God of mercy, grace and forgiveness, but I also need to tell you that you are going to suffer for Jesus. Preacher, I don’t know if that Gospel would go over too well in the 21st century. That is right. That is why what we have in the 21st century is kind of a half Gospel. When was the last time you heard the preacher talking about taking up your cross, denying yourself and following Him? Well, Preacher, I don’t know if any one will receive Christ. Oh, so we have a politically correct Gospel in the 21st century. Folks, we are killing ourselves in the body of Christ because we are not setting people for the future. I am here to tell you that we are living in a day and age in which you can expect persecution to increase and increase. It is not going to get any better. If you think that we are going to be able to turn back time and go back to the happy days of Leave it Beaver, it is not happening.
Let’s hear about Paul’s life. Let’s see how much we would like his description. You see, we all want to be the chief Apostle, but not too many of us want to suffer like the chief Apostle suffered. It is easy to say, Boy, I want that position of preeminence, but now when the suffering comes with the position of preeminence, how many of us want or are interested in that? Let’s look at Paul’s rendition of his life as he sums it up in a few verses.
2 Corinthians 11:23-27 Are they ministers of Christ?( I speak as a fool) I am more: in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
In the 21st century we are doing everything to make sure that we do not have that kind of suffering in our life. With a passion we want to make sure we have no suffering. If I have to take a stand for Christ, that might make me unpopular at work; I don’t want to make that stand. If I have to make a hard decision with my young people, with my teenager, with my daughter and I know that I am going to suffer abuse, emotional scars from her, then I don’t make that tough decision as a parent because I don’t want to deal with the suffering or repercussions of it. Paul suffered emotional, psychological and physical suffering in every shape, form or fashion. And suffering does not always mean that there is sin in your life. Sometimes you may suffer because of the passion for doing the right thing. You are a leader out at Ft. Bragg and taking a hard stand doesn’t make you too popular. When you go into these functions and you are the only one that doesn’t drink, you don’t fit in quite too well. And so you say you know what, I’m going to compromise my stand and I’ll walk around with something in my hands so that it looks like everyone else. Why? I don’t want to suffer.
Notice what he says, there. Looking in your Bibles we are going back to Colossians 1:24. He says, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.
Now listen. Christ suffered on the cross for the redemption and the reconciliation of the body of Christ. But wait a minute. Paul says, I am continuing in the suffering. Not to redeem anyone. Not to reconciliation. That is not why Paul was suffering. He wasn’t lacking or adding to what Christ did on the cross. That is not what the Word of God is teaching. But what the Word of God is teaching is that more suffering and tribulation must occur as a result of the ministry of the Gospel. Now listen to me very closely. If this side of the stage represents the cross, the time in which Christ was crucified, now we begin moving forward in time, 1st century, 2nd century, 3rd century, 4th century and eventually we are over here in the 21st century. The Word of God says someday the Lord Jesus is coming back to establish a kingdom on this earth. We call that the Millennial Kingdom. Between this point in which the Millennial Kingdom is established and going back to the cross in which Christ suffered, this entire period of time is characterized by suffering and tribulation. You see, I think that sometimes our theology gets a little off because we think about the Great Tribulation, which is true there will be 7 years of tribulation. But there is nothing in the Word of God that says God has the “traveler’s umbrella” over the church, and there is going to be no tribulation for the church. You know what I mean by the “traveler’s umbrella” right? That is that commercial where they walk around it blocks cars and nothing happens because you are under that umbrella. Well, we kind of feel like as a church, we are under this traveler’s umbrella. Well, Paul was in the church and Paul was a wreck. Why are you telling us this, Pastor? Because how am I going to equip you to get ready for the tribulation that is going to happen in America? Oh, are you one of those doom and gloom preachers? No. But please listen. You have to be stupid not to see what is going to happen to the church in America. You have to be living with your head in the sand. Hey, the ACL will let you pray in Muhammad’s name all day long. You can pray in Buddha’s name all you want. But now you pray in Christ’s name at a public function, and they are ready to issue a lawsuit against the city, the state and everyone they can sue. You don’t understand how much this is changing the world that we are living in. Hey, I have a question for you. When was the last time you heard someone hit their thumb hard and say, “Buddha!” I have never heard that. I was in the Army for 20 years, and I heard all kinds of colorful words. I have never heard someone get hurt and go, “Muhammad!!” We are living in an Anti-God, Anti-Christ era. And I am going to tell you right now, we can expect some suffering if the Lord tarries.
1 Corinthians 9:12 If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.
Now listen, very closely to what the Word is teaching us. If you refuse to suffer for Christ by saying, I’m not suffering for Christ; I am not taking a stand in the classroom. I’m not taking a stand in my neighborhood. I am not going to take a stand. I am afraid of the suffering that is going to occur with that—you are in fact, hindering the Gospel. You are personally hindering the Gospel. You take a platoon of soldiers out at Ft. Bragg; the leader is a Christian, but he won’t take a hard stand for Christ. He is hindering the Gospel witness in that platoon. Alright, you take a classroom. Praise God for all the teachers, but you take a teacher who refuses to take a hard stand for Christ because they don’t want to suffer the consequences. They know that they could be made fun of. They could not be in the “in” group. They might not get promoted so you know what? They are going to keep their Christianity on the down-low. You know kind of under wraps. You are hindering the Gospel in the classroom. Alright you take a neighborhood and you say, I don’t think I’d be too popular in my apartment complex or my neighborhood if I take a hard stand for Christ. Then, you personally, are hindering the Gospel in your apartment complex or your neighborhood.
Let me show you what I mean in the Word of God. John chapter 21 is the chapter in which He confronts Peter for his denial. Three times He asked him if he loves Him. Three times Peter says he loves Him. He tells him, feed my sheep. Feed my sheep. Save your place in John 21 and please turn to 2 Peter 1 because I want you to be able to turn to them quickly. I am going to read verse number John 21:18. Now Jesus has just asked him three times do you love Me, feed My lambs, feed My sheep.
John 21:18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither though wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. Now let’s make sure what we are talking about—death. Look at verse number 19. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow Me. Don’t miss this now. What did Peter understand this to be?
2 Peter 1:12-15 Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things. So the preacher that does not remind his people of these things is a negligent preacher. And be established in the present truth. Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; Knowing that shortly I must put off this tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me.
Now I want you to get this. This is so important. Please listen. How many in this room would say, Pastor I am about 25 years old, plus or minus a year or two? Imagine getting word at 28 or 25 or 30 years old that you are going to die the death of crucifixion. Don’t miss this. Please stay with me. Not terminal cancer and in a year, you are going to die. You are a young, healthy male about 30 years old, and you get word from the Lord Jesus Christ that you are not going to have a natural death. You are not going to die of a heart attack. You are going to die by being crucified. What do you think you would think about for the next 2 or 3 or 4 decades? Wow. The Lord Jesus Christ has prophesied that you are going to die by being nailed to a cross. You are going to die the same death that the Savior died. You see, because of how the 21st century culture has infiltrated our thinking, we think that God’s goal for my life is to have a boat on the lake and spend the rest of my life on the golf course. And everything is supposed to be awesome. What if you understood that the way you would glorify God is in death by being crucified? Wow. Preacher, are you kidding? No. I am not kidding. I am telling you right now that suffering like that can be God glorifying and God honoring.
Now, wait a minute, you say, Preacher that everyone didn’t get crucified. You’re right. In fact, there isn’t any equality in this. Because Peter says, I got that. Now what about John? And you know what Jesus said to Peter? Peter, mind your own business. That is exactly what He says in John 21; that is a small paraphrase. It is not quite like that in the King James Version but that is essentially what He says. In other words, within the body of Christ, this pew may suffer immensely, and this pew might not suffer a bit. Why does one family get a child that is healthy and naturally compliant, and another family gets a child that is in a wheel chair and struggling? That is not the same. Why does one child grow up in home with two wonderful and loving parents who show them Christ, and another child grows up in a home in which Mom and Dad hate each other and they have duplicity and hypocrisy in effect? That is not the same. Why is it that one child grows up in Afghanistan and doesn’t have an ounce of chance of hearing the Gospel except for God’s Sovereignty and providential intervention through a missionary or something and another grows up in America and hears the Gospel so much they are oblivious to it? It might be God’s will that you suffer for Jesus. It may very well be God’s will that you suffer for Jesus. Now, this isn’t a popular message. If you are a first time visitor, you might never come back to this church. You can hardly preach a message like this with a Joel Olsteen smile. You can’t. We are talking about a day and age in America where being a Christian is not a popular thing, and you work with a bunch of unsaved people who hate Christ and to take a hard stand for Christ may cause you to suffer emotional or psychological abuse. You might get turned over on a promotion. You might not get invited to the party. But you have to do it; you don’t have a choice.
There is an incredible preacher in Acts 6; his name is Stephen. This is the early church, now. I would like you to see it in your own Bibles even if you are familiar with the text.
Acts 6:8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. Then there arose certain people of the synagogue…And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.
So you have Stephen confronting Jews on the fact that they have crucified the Messiah. And because of his ability to call out the Old Testament and show then the truth, they cannot resist His wisdom. And so they paid off or they bribed men and this is what the bribe was: Say that this guy is blaspheming against Moses and against God. So wait a minute, you have a preacher who is filled with faith and power, doing a great work and men are lying against him. That is what is happening now. And God’s not intervening.
Acts 6:12 And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council, And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: People are going to lie about you if you take a hard stand for Christ. For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us. And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.
And then Stephen gets up in the beginning of Acts 7 and delivers an incredible sermon. There was no 12 o’clock deadline for this preacher. I mean he goes! And at the end of the sermon, he doesn’t go back and shake the people’s hands and get words like, “Great sermon, Preacher. See you tonight.” That is not what happens during this invitation time. And million of souls aren’t saved during this invitation time. And they don’t go out to Ryan’s and eat a big, huge meal after this preaching time. Instead, he stands there and gets stoned to death. And God Almighty did not keep it from happening. The Sovereign God of the Universe that has endless power to send down legions of angels and put a halt to it did not put an end to the suffering that was happening. We have hundreds, perhaps thousands of Christians in Fayetteville that are bitter against God because God did not answer their prayers to keep them from suffering. God, I was praying that the suffering would stop, and You didn’t answer my prayers. What kind of God are you? We have a God that permits suffering to glorify His name. Do you understand that Stephen glorified God in his death? Standing there getting stoned to death for the name of Jesus was a God-honoring, God-glorifying event. Taking the abuse, being railed upon, spit upon, wicked things said about you, calling you a blasphemer, lying against you, stone hitting you in the face and behind you. I cannot even imagine a more miserable way, other than crucifixion, to die than to be stoned to death. I am talking about one after another after another and then to get knocked unconscious and then you are bleeding and your bones are broken. I am telling you right now: we are not preparing ourselves for the future with our half Gospel. Listen, we are not trying to build a mega church here. If you are trying to build some massive mega church, you don’t tell them about suffering. What you tell them is that God is a cosmic Santa Claus standing by to deliver whatever you want like ebay. And I am here to tell you that it may be God’s will that you suffer for His names’ sake.
In theory, we would not have the Christian church today if the apostles and early church were not willing to suffer persecution for His name’s sake. So here is my question: Is today’s generation still willing to suffer for His name? Are we preparing our 4th graders, our 5th graders, and our teenagers, are we preparing today’s generation to suffer for His name sake? Are we getting them ready to suffer in the 21st or the 22nd century if the Lord tarries? Here is my answer. Consider the reality that most Christians will not even suffer with 10% less of their income for the proclamation of the Gospel. That is my proof in the pudding. I don’t mean to call anyone out today, and I am not going to, but half the church doesn’t tithe. Statistically, well over half the church does not tithe. Do you know why? They are not willing to suffer. No way, Preacher, I am not giving up that kind of money. Are you kidding me? That is a car payment. That is five trips to the movies. That is the GameBoy.
I am telling you right now, we are sick. There is a cancer in the body of Christ. I am going to stay here for just a minute. You walk into homes where they say I can’t afford to tithe. Of course you can’t afford to tithe; you have a flat screen television bigger than my arms, you have every Nintendo system in the world and 4,000 dollars worth of games. It’s no wonder you can’t afford to tithe. I am not kidding. You walk into the home of a typical Christian today and the television fits up there between those two black speakers. And you walk over here and there is this and this and this. Now let me tell you something, if you have that and you are being faithful and God has blessed you, then bless God He has blessed you with that business. I am talking to people who say, I can’t afford to tithe. Of course you can’t afford to tithe with two car payments and a mortgage that is over the top. Try driving a used car. I am not going to suffer with a used car. What will people think? That is your refusal to endure psychological and mental suffering. What will people think? And so when you say, what will people think, what you are saying is I am not willing to suffer. That is exactly what you are saying. Don’t try to ignore me right now. Don’t try to argue with me right now. There is no winning this argument. Every Christian who says, I am not giving up 10% of my income is saying, I am not willing to suffer for Jesus. Do you understand how many more missionaries we could send out of this church if all of you would tithe?
Do you understand that every single week we turn away missionaries? Do you understand that Camp Anchorage needs several thousands of dollars to do repairs down there so that they can keep the Gospel going forward? Did you know decisions were made every single night; souls were being saved and lives were being changed. Do you understand that there were counselors working down there for nothing? They don’t make any money all summer long. But they are doing it for Jesus. And we ought to be wrapping our arms around that ministry, but the reason we can’t is that we have families on top of families who say, I am saved, Glory to God, I’m going to Heaven, but don’t you dare ask me to give up a penny for the proclamation of the Gospel. Some of you have wills and you ought to take that and give it to the church, but instead you are going to give it to your young people. I am going to tell you right now, your descendants are going to burn through that money. They are going to fly through that money. You have unsaved sons and daughter that are adult heathens, and when you pass away, they can’t wait to sell your home and they are going to burn through the profits. I hope that is not too personal, but I know that is right on the money. And I am going to tell you right now that you would do a lot better for yourself to give that money to a Christian college, camp, missionary organization or your local church. Oh, boy, that preacher is only after money. No. It is not that way at all in this church. No one can say that about this church. I don’t make any more money when we have a big offering. It is nothing like that. We are trying to do everything we can and be as wise as we can with everything that God has provided through your faithfulness. No one is making outrageous salaries on our staff, driving used cars, serving Christ for His honor and His glory. I have a question. How is it that you can come out for Monday night basketball but you can’t ever come out for Monday night soul winning? Well, Pastor, I enjoy basketball. Ah. I got it. So it is all about you. How can we have a softball team, there is nothing wrong with having a softball team, but let’s make sure that softball team is a Gospel witness. Let’s make sure that that softball team has a purpose of seeing souls saved and Christians grow closer. We are not here to play softball for the sake of softball.
I am going to wrap it up on this point right here and then we will be done. I want you to follow me for the next two or three minutes, please. I am going to prove to you that the collective church, the body of Christ, cannot grow without suffering. And I am going to try to prove to you in the next 2 or 3 minutes that if we are not willing to suffer for Christ, the church will not grow. Now I am not talking about building mega churches where you pack the stadium, I am talking about real conversions. I am talking about authentic Christianity that radically changes lives. Here it is.
What is the biggest hindrance to the advancement of the Gospel in America? I am going to tell you what it is. I was counseling with a young lady on Monday night down at Camp Anchorage and this young lady was really struggling with salvation. Praise God she has been in our school for a while, and God is doing a tremendous work in her life. I am so thrilled to see God doing a work, but the reason she was struggling with Christianity and God was that, as she described it, there were two lives going on. My mom and dad went to church on Sunday, but I couldn’t see any correlation between Monday and Friday. This is what she was addressing right here: hypocrisy and duplicity. That is what she was addressing. She said, Preacher, what I see is a bunch of hypocrites. Is any one real? Does any one really believe it? I am here to tell you right now we have soldiers in this church that have two lives. They have a Sunday life, and they have a work life; and there is such a disconnection between the two, you can’t even tell it’s the same person other than the uniform and the name. Some of you men have some private lives that happen between 1 o’clock and 4 o’clock in the morning. It has to stop; our children are seeing the hypocrisy. Do you know why? We are not willing to be real with them. We are not willing to be transparent with them. They have to see us as sinners, saved by grace, who still sin and need the forgiveness that Christ provides who are struggling with living out the Gospel. We want to act this way on Sunday. We go to the church to check the box, and we act all so and so; and when we get home, the Bible gets put up, the prayer closet gets shut up, devotions never happen and we live a certain way over here.
Alright, Pastor, can you prove this? Yes, I can. Here is the proof text right here. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. Paul said that in 1Timothy 3:12. There is my proof. I rest my case. The Word of God says if you are going to be committed to living a godly life, you will at some point suffer some kind of persecution. So here is how it happens. It’s cut and dry, there is no arguing with this. This isn’t a situation where you can say, well I don’t agree with the preacher on that one. No, then what you don’t agree with is the Word of God. So just call it the way it is. Don’t disagree with me. Say, you know what, I don’t agree with the Word of God on that one. I think Paul was wrong. Because what Paul said was any family, any individual, any soldier, any college student, any husband, any wife, any mother, any father, or any teacher who strives to live a godly life at work will in fact, suffer some type of persecution. So here is what you have to decide. Am I willing to suffer persecution for His name’s sake? Or am I going to be a fraud? It is that simple. Am I willing to suffer persecution for His name’s sake? Am I willing to take hard stands for His name’s sake? What if I don’t get promoted? Is God Sovereign? What if they don’t like me? Is God your Friend? That is what it comes down to. Stop living the duplicitous life. Repent of the sin of duplicity and commit yourself that, by God’s grace, you are going to live a godly life in spite of persecution.