Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 8:25 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As Paul encourages and exhorts the Christians at Colossae, he uses two significant words: endurance and patience. Those words seem closely related, but they aren’t synonyms. The word Paul uses for “endurance” is about here and now, about bearing up underneath something. It applies when something is pressing down on you, burdening you, weighing down on you, afflicting you. And you bear up underneath it for a period of time. The word for “patience,” however, is not about here and now, but about the future. It means to be tranquil and quiet while waiting for an outcome.
These are the two things that Paul encourages in the Colossians and for us, but they are exactly the things with which we want nothing to do. We do not want to endure under current difficulties and trouble. We don’t want to go through whatever it is. We want the trouble to go away. And we don’t want to be patient, waiting for some outcome however long in the future. We want everything now, immediately. We want nothing to do with endurance and patience. But those are precisely the characteristics that are needed for Christians in this world.
Because Christians are like trees. Twice in these verses Paul uses the words together for “bearing fruit” and “growing.” These are what trees do. In the first place, he applies it to the Gospel, to the word of the truth, which is bearing fruit and growing around and throughout the world; and not only throughout the world, but among the Colossians. They have come to know and believe and understand this truth, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for them. And then Paul uses the same words for the Colossians themselves, that as they walk worthy of the Lord, eager to please in all things, they bear fruit in every good work and grow in the knowledge of the Lord.
All of this—the growing, the bearing of fruit, the walking worthy, the endurance and the patience—all of this is because the Colossian Christians have been delivered from the authority of darkness and transferred—perhaps we could say, transplanted—into the kingdom of God. You have been uprooted from the soil of sin and death and transplanted into the good soil of Jesus and His Gospel. You have been called out of the darkness and into His marvelous light, as Peter puts it (1 Peter 2:9). You have been lifted up from the earth of your sin and death and joined to the death of Christ, which also means His resurrection. This is both the ground beneath you for your endurance, and it is the promise ahead of you for your patience. This is the word of the truth, the Gospel, which you have come to know and it is the hope that is laid up for you in heaven.
But we’re not there yet. We’re not yet to the outcome for which we are waiting, and so we must endure. But that’s where the difficulty comes in. That’s where the heavy weather hits, and we find it hard to see the promise, hard to hear the words, hard to believe what we’ve been told. Trees have to stand up under some harsh conditions sometimes. Wind, snow, rain, cold, heat. You’ve probably seen those trees clinging to a hillside, all hunched and bent and shriveled, but still alive because their roots go deep to the rock. The walking worthy, the bearing fruit in good works, the growing in the knowledge of God, the endurance and the patience, are all necessary because we are not there yet. And that is difficult, especially in the moment, especially inside the struggle and the affliction and the sickness and the pain.
It is especially difficult because no one here has ever seen a tree grow. You might be able to measure its growth after a year, so you know that it is growing. But you’ve never watched a tree grow. It is too slow, too steady. So is the work of the Spirit by the word of Jesus. Endurance and patience. Not only endurance in the midst of things and patience for the outcome, but patience with the Spirit’s work. We want to dictate how quickly the Spirit does the work that He’s promised. We want everything now, not later. We do not want to endure; we want the end of endurance. But growing and bearing fruit is not within your control. It is the work of God, by the word of truth, the Gospel of Jesus. It happens slowly, imperceptibly, as we go about every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.
Still the promise remains. And it is not simply for each of us as individual trees, but as the forest that God has planted in His Kingdom. Paul writes not only to individuals, but to the whole Church in Colossae. The trees that God has transplanted from the authority of darkness into the Kingship of Jesus are not alone, but they have been planted together, and their branches are intertwined. We are nourished together, fed together, grown together. Paul tells the Colossians that he has heard from Epaphras of their knowledge and love. They bear one another’s burdens, because they are members of each other. We have not been planted to grow like individual, small, shriveled trees clinging to a rock in the wilderness. Because we share in the same Christ, in the same bread, the same Body, we are one Body. We share together in Jesus, so we are together His Body. And not only do the stronger help the weaker, and then the weak become strong and help the strong when they are weak, but we are all together upheld by God in Jesus Christ.
If you’ve ever been in the desert Southwest, you have probably seen these heavy cacti, falling and breaking. But then you will see that people have set up supports underneath their arms, to keep them from being damaged. Here, together with your Lord and with all those who belong to Him, is your support. Together we endure; together we patiently await the outcome of our faith. Together we, transferred from darkness, await our inheritance with all the saints in light. Together we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.
And no matter how slow it seems, or how invisible, the promise remains that this endurance will give way to the freedom of the children of God; the patience will give way to full fruition; the walking and the growing will give way to the end and the full maturity. The visible Church under the cross will give way to the invisible Kingdom in the resurrection. And the one who endures to the end will be saved.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/9/22