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Echo Chamber

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A sermon delivered by David Hughes, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, Nc., on July 11, 2010.

Colossians 1:3-14; 3:23-24

The Academy Award winning movie, Gladiator, features a character named Maximus played by Russell Crowe, who was a general in the Roman army during the reign of Marcus Aurelius in the second century A.D.  As the movie begins Maximus is preparing his troops to face the ever-present barbarians.  He is giving his troops a motivational talk, attempting to get them ready to march into battle and give of their best for Rome. 

           

He acknowledges that some of them will likely die for their country.  Then he adds, “What we do in life echoes in eternity.” 

           

I confess that before I watched this movie the first time ten years ago I had never thought about my life in this way.  If Maximus was right, eternity is a never-ending echo chamber in which all my actions—the good, the bad, the ugly—will reverberate   forever.  What I do and say today won’t just evaporate into thin air.  It will echo throughout eternity. 

           

A bit later in the movie we see Marcus Aurelius, now a weary and aged king, engaged in an intense, private conversation with his loyal general, Maximus.  “When a man sees his end,” says Marcus Aurelius, “he wants to know there is some purpose in his life.  How will the world speak my name in years to come?  Will I be known as the philosopher?  Warrior?  Tyrant?  Or will I be the emperor who gave Rome back her true self?”

           

Marcus Aurelius understands, you see, that what he’s done in life will forever reverberate in the echo chamber of eternity.

           

It’s not only a Roman general and his emperor who think this way.  So does the Bible.  Over and over again, the Bible affirms that this life is a precious gift, and it matters a great deal what we do with it. 

           

No one was clearer about this point than the Apostle Paul.  Paul lived his entire life as though every day counted.  His first thirty years on this earth, Paul gave himself fully to Judaism, and would likely have become the leader of the Jewish Sanhedrin Court had he not become a Christian.  In the latter half of his life, Paul gave himself completely to his Lord, and left behind a dazzling collection of church starts and sacred writings that have yet to be equaled to this day.

           

What drove Paul to make the most of his days?  For one thing, Paul believed he and everyone else would be held accountable before God.  In Romans 14 he writes that we will all stand before God’s judgment seat… and give an account of ourselves before God (vv. 10, 12).  In other words, what we do in life echoes in eternity.

           

For another thing, Paul was passionate about the idea of maximizing every hour of every day of our lives, or living a life worthy of the Lord.  Like Marcus Aurelius, Paul spent considerable time reflecting on his life, especially as he sat in a prison cell in Rome sensing that his life would soon come to an end. 

           

Many New Testament scholars believe that Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians from a prison cell in Rome.  In Ephesians 4:1 Paul writes, As a prisoner of the Lord…I urge you to life a life worthy of the calling you have received.  In Philippians 1:27 he says, Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.  And in Colossians 1:9-10, Paul writes, We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you might life a life worthy of the Lord. 

In other words, live as though you understand that what you do in life echoes in eternity.    

           

What does a life worthy of the Lord look like?  What does a life that produces a pleasing echo to God throughout eternity sound like?Paul offers several clues in Colossians 1.

           

For starters, Paul says a life worthy is saturated with prayer.  Listen again to how Paul opens his letter to the Colossian Christians:  We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.  We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will….

Prayer is so important to Paul that he never stops praying.  He’s praying always, continually.  More than likely this means that Paul is privately praying without ceasing deep in his spirit for  the Colossian Christians (who he’s never met, by the way).  And he’s following the Jewish practice of gathering to pray publicly with other believers in the morning, midday, and in the evening, participating in what today we’d call the “daily office”. 

           

Paul understood that if you want to lead a life worthy of the Lord, want to live a life that echoes with a pleasing reverberation for all eternity, you will incorporate the sacred rhythms of private and public prayer in your life. 

           

What’s interesting is that so many American Christians privately feel like prayer is a waste of time.  You’re not getting anything done while you are praying—you are just sitting there.  Funny thing—nobody got more done in three years than Jesus.  And nobody accomplished more in a lifetime than Paul.  And yet those two never quit praying.

           

Paul’s letter to the Colossians is actually one long intercessory prayer.  But Paul doesn’t just pray for the Colossians.  In virtually every letter he writes to other congregations he speaks of praying for the people. 

Why does Paul invest so much time in prayer?  Because he understands that prayer is the fuel that propels the church forward.  In Romans 1, Paul says that the very power of God is contained in the gospel.  In Colossians 1, Paul says the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world.  In other words, God’s power is ready and waiting to be launched through the gospel.  The trigger to launch this power is prayer.  In ways we struggle to understand, prayer is the key catalyst that propels the gospel and the church forward.  Before Paul planned or preached or evangelized or strategized, he always, always prayed. 

           

Oswald Chambers once wrote, “The real business of your life (as a Christian) is intercessory prayer.”  So…do we live as though we believe that?

           

Prayer undergirds a life lived worthily of the Lord. So, according to Paul, does the knowledge of God’s will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. 

One reason Paul puts so much emphasis on a proper understanding of God’s will is that the Colossian church is being bombarded with false information about God from a group of heretical “Gnostics”.  The Gnostics were teaching that Christians had to possess special wisdom and practice certain legalistic rituals to truly be Christian.  Because some of the Colossian Christians were still immature in their faith, they were falling for these false teachings.  And the result was a false life, a life that was anything but worthy of the Lord. 

           

Paul addresses this problem head on because he understood that a life built apart from the wisdom of the Lord cannot be lived in a manner worthy of the Lord.  That’s why Paul says that Christ-followers who are serious about maxing out on life, who understand that what they do in life echoes in eternity will cultivate the spiritual practice of discernment in their lives.  They will lean not on their own understanding, but on God’s understanding and wisdom revealed through the Spirit. 

           

In Romans 12, Paul reminds us of the basic prerequisite for the discernment of God’s will.  Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, writes Paul, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will (v.2).

           

Only a renewed mind can discern the will of God.  Only God can renew our minds.  And the way that happens is by the daily practice of spiritual disciplines like silence and solitude, prayer and scripture meditation.  If you want to live a life that counts, a life worthy of the Lord, a life that reverberates for the Kingdom throughout eternity, you will engage in the daily disciplines of the faith so God can renew your mind so that in turn you can know the will of God for your life. 

But of course Paul would have never made his mark had he stopped at knowing God’s will.  He took the critical next step of doing God’s will.  And we are called to do the same—to please God in every way. 

Later, in this same letter, when Paul is addressing slaves who are Christ-followers, he challenges them to go the extra mile and obey their masters not only when they are looking, but when they are not.  And then Paul adds, Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart (literally, “from the soul”), as working for the Lord, not for human masters.

There it is again!  There’s that notion that whether you are slave or free, Jew or Gentile, male or female, you are to live with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength for God, remembering that all you do and say echoes throughout God’s eternity. 

           

What does it mean to please God in every way?  Paul elaborates:  bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father… .

So what can we learn from this passage about a life worthy of our Lord?  People who are living a life worthy:

1)    Have developed a deep, ever-present prayer life;

2)    Have learned the art of discernment through a renewed mind that is being formed over time by the spiritual disciplines and practices of the faith;

3)    Have committed themselves to live out the will of God to the best of their understanding, counting on the Holy Spirit to help guide them and empower them;

4)    Have the fruit of ministry in their lives—people who have been led to Christ, or discipled, or fed, or clothed, or housed, or helped, or encouraged because of their ministry;

5)    Have patience for the long haul, and joy in all things;

6)    Have a passion for life, and live like there’s no tomorrow.

           

It was minutes before the last basketball game of Carol’s senior year and the news came that her father had just died.  When the coach found out, she decided to tell Carol before the game, knowing that Carol would probably elect not to play.  But instead of acting sorrowfully, Carol just took it all in stride and said, “I’ll leave right after the game.”

           

The coach had heard Carol speak highly of her father and expected her to be upset and begin sobbing out of control.  When she didn’t, the coach said, “Carol, you don’t have to play.  The game isn’t that important.”  Carol ignored the coach and played the game anyway.  And play she did; she was the star, scoring the most points of any game in her whole career.

           

In the locker room, the other players showered with Carol and offered some condolences, but were most were appalled at her apparent lack of sorrow.  The coach was mad and thought she had taught too much devotion to sports and not enough compassion.  She scolded Carol, “Why did you play the game?  Your father is dead.  I’m ashamed of you and of myself for not showing him due respect.”

           

Carol replied, “Coach, this was our last game.  I am a senior: I had to play.  This was the first time my dad has ever seen me play and I had to play like I have never played before.”

           

“But your father’s dead,” the coach replied.

           

Carol choked back the tears and smiled at the coach.  “I guess you didn’t know my father was blind, did you?”

           

Friends, whether we know it or not, our Heavenly Father is watching us play the game of life.  So, how’s your game going?

           

Remember, what we do in the game of life echoes in eternity.