I am a camp girl through and through.
Starting as an eight-year-old, I marked my calendar for that one anticipated week each year. I began packing weeks in advance, planned out all my outfits for worship, and looked forward to nothing more than getting out of my hometown for five days to spend time with my friends, meet new people, play ridiculous games, and spend some quality time with Jesus.
When I aged out of the camp stage, what better option was there but to work at camp? Then when I couldn’t do that anymore, of course, I would be going with the high schoolers from my church.
Over the last thirteen years, there has been one year without a hint of camp: the summer after my freshman year.
That infamous summer was the worst.
In the mornings, I woke up early wishing I was in the old hotel room waking up next to my friends dreading the upbeat morning celebration. I missed the camp food–though it was never that good–at lunch time and longed to play the silly table games everyone hates but can’t seem to escape. Every night at 7:00 pm, my heart ached because I felt my brothers and sisters entering the solemn worship room, preparing their souls to become one with the Spirit.
All that longing sparked something in me, however, that no week at camp ever had before. It sparked a necessity to be on my knees in prayer for whatever was going on in the mountains of North Carolina where my favorite people resided. It made me enter my own place of worship with the souls of the saints on my heart.
More than ever, I understood the idea of “absent in body, yet…with you in spirit.”
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For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those in Laodicea and for those who have not seen me face-to-face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery which is Christ in whom we are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For although I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
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You see, Paul was missing out in a much greater, more heartbreaking way than my missing a single year of church camp. He was imprisoned for his faith. Shackled because he loved Jesus. He couldn’t walk alongside his fellow believers, and so, had to teach them from a dark cell through the frail ink of a pen. He had to use his words poignantly because he was not assured of even being able to finish the letter–much less get back to join them.
This small, yet flaming passage of God’s word gets straight to the point: we have to work toward firmness in faith.
Firmness in faith.
I am sure we would not find it hard to share a few reasons we have to be firm in our faith today, but let’s rewind to this time. Let’s consider the amount of firmness the Colossians had to build just to make it from one day to another with any kind of rejoicing.
First, they did not have the Bible. Yes, they had access to pieces of the Old Testament, but nothing close to the New. Further, most of them–assuredly the women–had no idea how to read, so another person reading this text, alongside word-of-mouth knowledge of Jesus Christ, was the basis of their belief.
To make matters more interesting, people were teaching one-hundred-and-fifty-two different things about who Jesus was in relation to God. Was He a profit? Was He crazy? Was He God? And how are we to know the difference?
The rhetoric was overwhelming. The argumentation was intense. All they had was faith. And faith Paul knew how to have, indeed.
1. Be knit together in love.
Oh, Church, why do we fall so short here? Why do I struggle so greatly to feel the brokenness of my neighbor? Why does my patience run short when someone needs to unload their sins onto my heart? Why am I slow to forgive and even slower to forget?
Two things about knitting: the entire piece comes from one place, and every square centimeter is intertwined.
When God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit began creating time, space, and humanity, they all came from one common denominator: the mouth of God. He spoke and breathed all things into existence. All things for His glory. Then we screwed up, and He gave us His son. One common denominator.
He is the one that knits us together! He is the love.
The reason we fall so short in showing love has got to come from somewhere deeper that simply, “we are sinners.” Think about it. If I truly allowed myself to be enveloped by the Savior’s love, if I meditated on it and asked Him to help me understand it, would I not desire only to relive it to the best of my earthly ability? We have a crisis of love on our hands. Not that we are not loved but that we refuse to take part in it ourselves. We refuse to acknowledge that if we have Jesus, we are all part of the same thread. We are bound by the same crown of thorns. Our sins were crushed by the same nails. If this is true, we are intertwined in every way.
We are to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
We won’t be able to help but to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” I Thessalonians 5:14
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25
2. Reach all the riches of assurance of understanding and knowledge.
Friends, Christians, I cannot help but ask myself, what excuse do we western-world Christians have to remain void of knowledge?
We have scripture free at the flick of a fingertip on the screens of our phone. We have commentary apps. We know more about the context of the time the Word was written than any time before. We have the ability to cross-check concepts against another in scripture.
How much more then can we be firm in our faith when we have the answers at our disposal?
If we do not know our Word, I mean know it, of course, arguements of the world will creep into our mind and try to destroy any confidence we have in our Savior? What more would the enemy want than to discredit the personhood and divinity of Christ through the misunderstanding His own children?
Because “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” James 3:18
And because “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Proverbs 9:10
And then, oh brothers and sisters, once we have become knit by the love of Jesus and into His eternal church, once we are full in assurance and knowledge, then will our faith be firm. Yes, it may exist without those things, but it will be flimsy, ready to fall down when even the slightest wind blows.
With His sovereignty and our obedience to participate in His will, our faiths will bind us in uncertainty. Our faiths will build us in years of destruction. They will restore confidence. They will demonstrate mercy. Our faith will be that which can move mountains. It will be used by God to draw the eyes and ears of the saints and the future saints.
So as Paul sat in his jail cell, as his stomach growled and his infected wounds burned and his broken limbs quaked, he prayed that the Christians in Colossae would do these things. He fell on his knees when the rest of his body was crumbling beneath him. He cried out to the Father for spiritual healing than his own healing. He pled that the Church would see God more clearly.
I hope we simultaneously become Paul in the cell and the Colossians in the throws of Christian persecution. I hope–I pray–our hearts are so drawn into the needs of the Church that our own pains are nothing in comparison to our longing for spiritual maturity among our fellow Christians. I pray that is the case because we are so knit together that we cannot separate our souls from one another. Because we understand the goodness and mercy and love of Christ that we are obsessed with communicating it beyond the walls of our own minds.