Agonizing Over the Saints
Colossians 2:1–3 (NLT) — 1 I want you to know how much I have agonized for you and for the church at Laodicea, and for many other believers who have never met me personally. 2 I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. 3 In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
As I read this Scripture this morning, a word caught my attention…”agonized”. Paul said he agonized over the churches of Colosse and Laodicea and also other believers he had never met. I immediately thought of our culture today and how “agonizing” is not a word we often use, especially in the ecclesiastical sense. How often do we find ourselves agonizing over those we know or more importantly, those we have never met? What an incredible passion and compassion Paul had for the church of Jesus Christ.
I began to examine this word and found an interesting explanation in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. It carries five basic meanings, which all apply within the context of these verses of Scripture.
- The thought of a goal that can only be reached with the full expenditure all of our energies. Copying from the TDNT, “His work for the Gospel is more than the faithful daily fulfilment of duty; it is an ‘agony’ (1 Th. 2:2), a tense exertion, a passionate struggle, a constantly renewed concentration of forces on the attainment of the goal…”
- The reward does not only require extreme exertion but also rigid denial. Again from the TDNT, “The final goal is so high and glorious that all provisional ends must fade before it. If the ‘prize of conflict’ does not mean everything, nothing will be attained. If a man is not ready to set aside his egotistic needs and desires and claims and reservations, he is not fit for the arena…”
- Agonizing carries with it the thought of the understanding that there will be and are presently obstacles, dangers and catastrophes that the Christian must fight through.
- The concept of martyrdom is a reality for some and must be considered.
- The ultimate goal that we have as Christians is not just our own salvation, but the salvation of others. Again from the TDNT, “Again the form of battle is prayer. In prayer there is achieved unity between the will of God and that of man, between human struggling and action and effective divine operation. In prayer, too, there is fulfilled the fellowship of conflict and destiny between man and man. In prayer one man becomes the representative of the other, so that there is here opened up the possibility of one standing in the breach for all and all for one.”
Today, our culture promotes “self” above all else. We celebrate “self” and not others. Even in our churches, we want our song, our favorite message, our favorite seat and the perfect conditions or we grumble and complain. We promote what is in our best interest. Can we even understand this type of agony for others, and especially for those we don’t know yet?
I am thinking of a young couple I recently encountered and who came to our church. They wept at the altar. They wept as we spoke with them one on one. And they declared they wanted God. But the forces against them are strong. Their life has not been “pretty” and they are in a desperate situation today. Do we dare “agonize” over such a couple or do we mark them off because they don’t look and act like they should? Do we require from them as “babies” what only mature adults can do? Or do we run after them, agonizing over them in prayer and understanding that it might get really ugly before it gets pretty? Do we care?
Our motto at Impact is “OTHERS”. Jesus was about others. Jesus was patient, meek, and full of grace. I believe the hours that Jesus spent in prayer were many hours spent in agony over those He was leading. I believe he was praying that they would not fail when the trials and temptations came. We must do the same! Jesus said in Luke 22:31–32 (NLT) — 31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32 But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. Jesus pleaded (begged) in prayer that Peter would remain strong. How is our agony for others? How much are we willing to plead for others? Have we become so consumed with our empty activities that only satisfy our own desires and not that of God’s purpose in the world?
One final thought about our life today as Christians. We live in a time when our faith is being tested to the extreme. Jude tells us Jude 3 (NLT) Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. This word “defend” has as its primary root the same Greek word Paul used in Colossians 2:1 for agonize. I believe today we must ‘agonize’ over what we see happening to the glorious gospel and His church in our culture. We must defend the purity of the Word of God and His will for His church. The greatest attack of the gospel is occurring in the churches where many are compromising truth and denying the place of pre-eminence of Jesus Christ as Lord. Many are not hearing truth, but self-centered bless-me messages. Are we willing to agonize for God’s purposes in the earth? Are we willing to agonize for others? Can we do anything less when we see the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us? I think not!