The Order and Steadfastness of Your Faith
Absent But Present
A. Absent in the Flesh
1. The apostle Paul knew of the danger facing the church at Colossae. He knew of the false teachers seeking to beguile the saints with enticing words. (2:4)
2. He agonized over them… (2:1)
3. Evidently he was also a bit frustrated too.
a. He wanted to be there with them and confront the opposition face to face.
b. However, that was not possible for him to be there with them physically.
c. He was under house arrest in Rome and was hindered from coming to them.
• Paul had been confined for about 4 years at this point.
• Two years at Caesarea (Acts 24:27)
• 6 months on route to Rome (Acts 28:11)
• Nearly 2 more years confined in Rome (Acts 28:30)
• This must have been difficult for such an active, energetic, driven man like Paul!
4. Paul was absent in the flesh… bodily… physically.
a. Yet he was called of God to be the apostle to the Gentiles.
b. And here was a Gentile church, which was his ministry, his responsibility… and the church was under attack.
c. But he was chained in Rome and could do nothing about it.
d. This must have been a bit frustrating to him.
e. For a father, it would be like hearing that your innocent and vulnerable son was being attacked by evil men far away… and you were incapacitated, and could do nothing about it. You’d want to be there in person to stand up for him… and to confront those who are seeking him harm.
f. Paul was absent in the flesh; and this was completely out of his control. He was chained to a soldier in Rome.
g. Nevertheless, this was God’s will for his life at this time: chained… and seemingly unable to help… or was he?
B. Present in the Spirit
1. Paul had been confined and restricted for four years now.
2. Yet he did not give up. He did not have a defeatist attitude.
a. He was experiencing the frustration of being confined… and for trumped up charges!
b. It would have been easy for him to lose interest in the work of God. (poor me attitude)
c. He could easily have blamed God for his imprisonment… and his inability to DO anything to help the churches.
d. He could have put up with the frustration for a time, and then throw in the towel… realizing that (after 4 years) it was virtually hopeless for him to expect a soon release.
e. He was stuck in those awful circumstances for a long time.
f. Have you ever been in frustrating circumstances that seem to have no end? Did they make you feel like quitting… develop a “what’s the use” attitude… it’s all out of my control… there’s nothing I can do… and therefore, give up???
3. Consider the example of the apostle Paul:
a. After four years of unjust imprisonment, he did not grow bitter.
b. He accepted the fact that he could not be in Colossae in the flesh.
c. But he did not dwell on what he could NOT do.
d. Rather, he focused on what he COULD do.
e. He couldn’t be there in the flesh, but he COULD be there in spirit. (human spirit; as opposed to his human body, flesh)
f. Of course, this is figurative language. His spirit was actually with him in Rome… but in another sense, he could be there with the Colossians.
g. His mind was there with them. His heart was there with them. His soul and his feelings with there with them. He was there in spirit.
h. It was as if his inner man was there… even though his body could not be.
i. Please don’t confuse this for some “out of the body” experience. Not so! This was figurative language which describes how Paul’s thoughts, emotions, and heart were with the believers in Colossae, even though his body could not be.
4. Paul’s spirit was with them.
a. He agonized over the condition of the some of the churches. (Cf. Col. 2:2)
b. They were on his heart. (Cf. Phil. 1:7-8)
c. But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart. (I Thess. 2:17)
d. He spoke of the worst of his burdens – the care of all the churches… in II Cor. 11:28.
e. Though Paul was not physically present with the Colossian believers, he experienced all the fears, anxieties, concerns, and burdens for the well being of that assembly, just as if he were there!
5. Being absent physically limited what he could do, but it did not hinder him altogether! He DID what he could.
a. Paul was not present with the Corinthians either, but he was able to give advice and guidance “from a distance” (Cf. I Cor. 5:3-4)
b. Paul was not present with the Colossian believers either… but that did not prevent him from ministering to them.
c. 1:3 – he prayed for them continually.
d. 1:8 – he kept in touch with them through a messenger—not instant messenger, but a messenger nonetheless!
e. 1:9-12 – Again, Paul continually prayed for these folks… and what a prayer! What a ministry for these folks!
f. 2:2 – it is likely that this great conflict (agony) he had for them included much prayer!
g. Col. 4:7-8 – And what else did Paul do from Rome to demonstrate that he really WAS with them in spirit? He sent Tychicus.
h. In addition, Paul wrote them a letter!
• And in fact, this is much better (in the long run) than a personal visit there!
• Had Paul decided to visit and not write this letter, the churches would be much poorer!
• Paul would have been able to preach some stirring messages to confront the false teachers… and it would have exceedingly helpful locally… and for a short time—but would NOT have had the worldwide impact that the epistle to the Colossians has had for the past 2000 years!
• Very often, when God has us confined, restrained, restricted, and hindered—it is frustrating in the immediate… but GOOD in the long run. Don’t forget that!
6. We could apply this thought to many situations in our lives.
a. Consider the missionaries we know. We are absent in the flesh, but are we really PRESENT with them in the spirit? Do we keep up on what’s going on in their ministries and their families and lives? Do we pray? Write letters? Weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice?
b. Consider our young people away at college… or in the military… We are absent in the flesh, but are we with them in the spirit? Do we continue to have a concern for their spiritual well being… or is it, “out of sight; out of mind.”
c. Consider the folks who would LOVE to come to church more often, but for various reasons (unsaved spouse; work schedule; physical ailments; etc) are not able to.
• They may be absent in the flesh as we worship (in a nursing home; on a sick bed; etc.) but we can STILL show concern for them… as Paul did for the Colossians!
• Keep in touch! Call… write… email… send a card…
• Just because some folks are away from us physically, that does not mean we cannot be with them in spirit… especially in our high tech age.
• It is relatively easy to keep contact… for the purpose of edification and provoking to love and good works!
d. Anybody can SAY they are with you in spirit. Paul DID something to prove it! (kept in touch; prayed; sent Tychicus; wrote a letter) We should not only SAY but DO something to demonstrate that we are with other brethren in spirit.
Joying and beholding
1. Paul could not literally SEE them, but he could see them with his mind’s eye.
2. As he heard lengthy reports from Epaphras, he could envision what was taking place in Colossae.
3. He could not see them with his eyes, but he could PERCEIVE what was occurring there…
4. He could “see” two things there:
a. The danger of the false teachers
b. AND the steadfastness of their faith.
5. In fact, though from a distance, Paul had a pretty CLEAR vision of what was truly happening there… he perhaps had a clearer vision… more discerning perception – than some of the folks who were PRESENT in the flesh and could only SEE with their eyes.
6. Being filled with the Spirit and having spiritual discernment provides the believer with a kind of “vision”—perception—discernment—that others lack.
7. Though sitting in Rome under house arrest, Paul was “beholding” events in Colossae…
1. As Paul sat in Rome, and beheld the events in Colossae, he had cause for rejoicing.
2. This was not pure, unmitigated joy, however.
a. It was mingled with a taste of fear and anxiety.
b. 2:2 – he was also in great conflict (agony) over them.
c. He was genuinely concerned about the potential danger that the Gnostic like cult posed to them.
d. He “beheld” and saw a flock of sheep surrounded by a herd of blood thirsty wolves.
e. When he beheld that, it caused him great conflict.
3. But, he saw something else too that caused him great JOY.
a. In spite of the fact that the flock was surrounded by wolves, Paul saw a flock of sheep in Colossae that were all lined up in order… and were steadfast in their faith.
b. Paul seemed to have confidence that they would NOT be overcome by the attack, but that they would stand fast in the faith.
c. This was his cause for joy as he sat in prison in Rome.
d. Paul’s joy was the joy of the LORD… not a joy based on circumstances.
• He rejoiced over the faith of the Colossians… even though he was in chains.
• I Thess. 3:7-8 – we live IF ye stand fast! Paul’s enjoyment of life was linked to their walk with the Lord! (Like a father—whose joy is tied to the well being of his sons)
Causes for Paul’s Joy
A. Their Order
1. They had order among themselves.
2. Order Defined (taxis)
a. Strong’s: an arranging, arrangement; orderly condition; the post, rank, or position which one holds in civic or military affairs.
b. NAS Dict. = good discipline; orderly manner.
c. Greek English Lexicon: in military sense: the order or disposition of an army, battle array, order of battle, a single rank or line of soldiers, a body of soldiers.
d. It is used 9 times in the NT and in nearly every case it is used of the “order of Melchizedek” or the “order of Aaron.” It speaks of an order or RANK…
e. It speaks of order and rank as in a priesthood or an army.
f. It speaks of everyone being in their place… not chaos but order… not anarchy but order…
g. It speaks of everyone being in their place and submitting to authority… and FUNCTIONING in their place.
h. Paul uses this term to speak of the church as a disciplined army… soldiers of Christ… with everyone in their place… submitted to those in rank above them…
3. Paul spoke of the ORDER in the church.
a. They were knit together in love as a strong assembly of saints. (Col. 2:2)
b. They were compacted together as a strong body… (Eph. 4:16) …. With every member of the Body in its place and faithfully functioning for the good of the Body.
c. They were fitly framed together as a strong building (Eph. 2:21) Thus, when the stormy winds blow, they are solid.
d. Now Paul speaks of their ORDER… as a line of disciplined soldiers drawn up for battle… all in order… a strong army. And when the enemy attacks… they are disciplined and prepared.
e. There is to be ORDER in the church. (I Cor. 14:33, 40) (not confusion and chaos, but order).
4. There is STRENGTH in order.
a. An undisciplined army will easily be conquered.
b. An individual strand of yarn (before it is ever knit together) is easily broken.
c. A building that is not fitly framed together will easily be blown over.
• Consider a pile of building materials as hurricane Ivan strikes. (2x4s; sheetrock; glass; insulation; stacks of plywood; clapboards; etc.) When the hurricane strikes, that pile of building materials that was NOT fitly framed together doesn’t stand a chance!
• But if those same building materials WERE fitly framed together… in order… there is much strength.
• The 2x4s are all nailed in place; the joists have joist hangers holding them in place; the insulation is safely inside the walls; the plywood is all nailed in place… the roof is connected with hurricane clips.
• When the wind strikes against that building, a building fitly framed together, orderly, with everything in its place—that building will stand up to the storm much better than a pile of building materials.
5. Paul rejoiced in the ORDER of the Colossian believers.
a. He was not there, but he heard reports from Epaphras.
b. Paul had concerns about the ATTACK of the wolves.
c. However, he took courage and rejoiced when he heard of the ORDER of the sheep.
d. Paul heard how well organized they were… he heard of their discipline… he believed that it was the LORD who fitly framed them together…
e. Had Paul heard that chaos reigned in the church at Colossae… or that the believers were undisciplined… that they refused to submit to authority… that there was anarchy in the flock… THEN Paul would have no cause for rejoicing. THEN the wolves would find this flock easy prey.
f. But Paul could rejoice because of the good reports of their order… everyone in their place… in submission… all functioning as designed by God to function…
6. Application to the home:
a. There is spiritual strength in order in the local church.
b. There is spiritual strength in order in the home too.
• When the husband is functioning as head of the home… and the wife is in a helpmeet position… supporting and submitting… and the children are in obedience.
• When we violate the divine order of things… and roles are swapped… and the kids rule… we are rejecting divine order and are inviting chaos… That is not a position of strength, but weakness… fragile… and liable to be attacked… and suffer great damage.
• Order always makes for strength… a chaotic home is easily blown away.
• Just as the little foxes spoil the vine, so little details out of order can spoil the home.
• A home doesn’t go from order to chaos overnight. It is a gradual progression… of not paying attention to the little details of life…
7. Application to order in our lives as individuals
a. Paul rejoiced when he heard of the ORDER of the saints at Colossae… because he knew that it would keep them safe from the attacks of the enemy.
b. ORDER in our personal lives also has a strengthening effect…
c. When we do things decently and in order, paying attention to the little details of our Christian walk… then we too are safe from the attacks of the enemy.
d. When our devotion life is what it ought to be… when we are careful to confess sins daily… careful to forgive others… careful to watch our tongue… careful about what we read, watch, listen to… keeping our heart with all diligence… when that is the case… our lives are in order, then we are SAFE!
e. When things are NOT in order… and we become slack in these areas… then we become vulnerable, careless, disorder sets in and we are thus weakened, and therefore more susceptible to the attacks of the enemy.
f. Satan is no fool. He attacks the weak link. He attacks us when we are at a weak point.
g. When our spiritual lives are in order, and we are walking by faith—we too can rejoice as we face the attacks of the enemy, KNOWING that the shield of faith will quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.
B. The Steadfastness of Their Faith
1. Order among themselves, and steadfast FAITH in Christ.
2. The FAITH mentioned here is faith in the objective sense. (there is a definite article associated with faith here)
a. The term “faith” here does not refer to their personal confidence and trust.
b. The issue is DOCTRINE—THE faith… the objective body of Christian doctrine. THAT was the issue and concern.
c. THE FAITH was under attack by the false teachers.
d. The doctrine of the Person and work of Christ was under attack… nothing could be more central to our faith!
3. Their faith was under attack, but so far, they had not wavered
a. They were not halting between two opinions, but were steadfast!
b. They were STANDING solidly upon the Word of God.
c. This steadfastness indicates the SUBJECTIVE element.
d. Their personal faith (subjective) was firmly and steadfastly resting upon THE faith (objective).
4. This too resulted in STRENGTH for the flock at Colossae.
a. The fact that they were orderly—a well-disciplined army—fitly framed together—knit together—all indicated strength.
b. The fact that this orderly assembly was also firmly standing upon the objective word of God indicates strength too!
c. They had order among themselves, and a steadfast FAITH in Christ.
d. Paul explains that their strength against error lies in their CORPORATE stand against it!
• Phil. 1:27 – “Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”
• When the church stands together against the attacks of the enemy, there is great strength.
• Imagine if the enemy attacked on a doctrinal issue, and we were all divided… unsure… untaught… confused. Chaos would set in… and weakness.
• Jude 1:3 – earnestly contend TOGETHER for the faith.
a. Strong’s: that which furnishes a foundation on which a thing rests firmly, support. metaph. in a military sense: solid front.
b. Theological Dictionary of New Testament: suggests a military metaphor in the sense of a castle, fort, or bulwark.
c. Paul sees the Colossian believers as being steadfast in their faith…
• Col.1:23 – not moved away from the hope of the gospel!
• Col. 2:7 – rooted and built up in Him…
d. Paul sees the Colossians as a disciplined, orderly division of soldiers—and now drawn up into a solid front.
• This solid front is not easily penetrated by the enemy!
• Perhaps Paul had in mind a common practice of front line soldiers: they would lock their large shields together and face the foe.
• The false teachers may have surrounded this church, but Paul is encouraged because of news he heard in prison, that the assembly was STRONG.
• They were orderly, each man taking on his own rank, position, and function in the Body.
• And together, knit together—they formed a solid front—not easily penetrated by the adversary.
• Paul sees the assembly as orderly, knit together, and standing on an absolutely solid foundation: the faith once delivered unto the saints.
e. This is a picture of strength:
• An army of well disciplined individual soldiers, each in his place, in order…
• And corporately, the church Body formed a solid front line of defense against the foe.
• Strong individuals and a strong Body… standing on a solid foundation.
• Paul rejoiced, because he knew that as long as that was the case, Colossae Bible Church was safe indeed!
• Ecc. 4:9-12 – there is strength in unity. It isn’t just a cliché.
• This principle is true in the local church, as Paul reveals in our passage today.
• Salem Bible Church will be attacked by the devil and our adversaries. They seek to devour.
• Paul’s point is that an assembly of saints that are closely knit together… standing in good order… every man in his place… functioning as designed… and corporately forming a solid front line (shields locked one to another)—that kind of an assembly is not likely to be broken up!
• Soldiers watch out for their brother soldiers. Their lives could depend upon it. And they would want their fellow-soldiers to watch their backs too!
• When knit together like that—shields locked together, we are safe.
• A wolf won’t get through that line of defense!
• A wolf could easily devour a single sheep wandering off alone… outside the safety of the fold.
• But a sheep in the midst of the sheepfold… standing in good order… and knit together with other sheep… in submission to and under the care of the GOOD Shepherd, is safe indeed!
• Matt. 16:18 – “upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
• The Church at Colossae was standing steadfastly upon that rock… and Paul could rejoice—KNOWING that an orderly assembly, standing firmly on the solid rock would NOT be moved away from the hope of the gospel… no matter HOW enticing were the words of the enemy.
6. This caused Paul to REJOICE.
a. Paul knew of the danger they faced…
b. He also knew of their order and steadfastness of their faith.
c. Their behavior caused Paul to be encouraged and rejoice.
d. Paul’s epistle must have encouraged them to continue to stand firm… and must have caused them great joy!
e. This is how fellowship works… mutual edification… results in corporate strength… results in spiritual safety.
f. I have very little toleration for folks who want to upset the fellowship of the saints here… because a lot is riding upon the fellowship of the mystery:
• The spiritual lives of individuals… and families…
• The strength of this Body…
• The exaltation of our Head, the Lord Jesus.
1. Let’s be strong; stand together; strive together for the hope of the gospel.
2. If you are not born again… COME to Christ today!