“A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” This famous line from Shakespeare’s Richard III, has become a common phrase. The somewhat pathetic King Richard bellows these words after he was unhorsed at the peak of a battle. Basically, it means that while he was the king of an entire kingdom, none of that mattered more at that particular moment than a horse – without which he would soon no longer be alive to enjoy his kingdom anyway!
Have you every felt that way? Some people refer to this experience as the urgent outweighing the important. You really need to work on preparing your taxes, but instead your time is consumed by taking kids to and from sports practice; or you realize how important it is for you to continue your education, but the urgency of the bills leads you to join the workforce instead.
It could be that the urgent became so urgent due to our poor choices – or in my case, procrastination. It could very well be that we are in the difficult position of choosing between the urgent and the important because we didn’t deal with the important when we could or we didn’t address those things which can become urgent before they did so. And so we are forced to do that which is less important but more urgent as a consequence of poor planning, a lack of discipline or will power.
Sometimes there is no way around it, the urgent needs must be met – regardless of the cost to the important. Right? But at other times, could it be possible that we could choose not to be ruled by the urgent? Is it possible that the choice which appears out of our control or beyond our reach is actually attainable, just painful? Is it possible that the urgent things get addressed not because they are unavoidable but because it causes less pain in this moment to put off the important? In other words, sometimes we are forced to address the urgent immediately due to unforeseen or unavoidable circumstances, sometimes we do so because of poor planning, or lack of discipline, and then sometimes we do so because we lack the courage to do what needs to be done…
1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints- 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel 6 that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
What passionate words Paul uses to open this letter to his close friends. One of the urgent roles of an apostle or evangelist in the early days of the church (the same urgent role of preachers today) was to encourage the congregation or, often, congregations they were responsible for. Those churches that the evangelist planted or ones they had strengthened during a lengthy stay were in many ways seen as their responsibility. And so, Paul was definitely a busy individual. Writing letters such as this one was not something that one did every day. The prayer, care and thought that went into this process, not to mention the expense and time…it was definitely more involved than sending someone an email! Receiving such a letter was a great blessing that not every congregation would be blessed with. Many times there would be a short exhortation sent (like 1,2,3 John) or a verbal message sent via a trusted friend of the evangelist and the congregation.
So what was Paul’s relationship like with the church in Colossae? It must have been intimate and intense, right?
Well…actually they hadn’t met. No, this was not one of “Paul’s churches” – strictly speaking they weren’t his responsibility, they were Epaphras’.
But for Paul – “Kingdom first” was a battle cry. Paul would not give up the kingdom for a horse, in fact Paul would give up his horse – he would give up his HOUSE for the kingdom.
It is very easy to fall into the mindset of urgent over important. However, in our lucid moments we know how short-sighted this can be. Paul did not allow the urgency of life to detract him from the important work of ministering to this young congregation that was under threat from false teaching. His letter of encouragement to the churches in the region surrounding Collossae was vitally important and it emphasized God’s kingdom over our empire.
Strategically Paul could have focused solely on those churches he had direct influence on, thereby strengthening his “holdings” – making him less susceptible to attack from the “Judaizers” he often refers to. But Paul’s focus was not on protecting himself or strengthening his empire –his focus was solely on the very good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand and it is available for everyone!
So how does Paul model this in the text?
We’ve already noted that the letter itself is being written to a group he doesn’t know personally – which automatically should communicate something to them and us about the need to look beyond our own walls at what is happening or what needs to happen. As he writes, “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.” These words acknowledge that Paul is taking an interest in things beyond his small corner of the kingdom – and he is encouraging them to do so as well. “All over the world” is a bit of encouragement for Paul and the Colossians. Paul models the Kingdom First mentality through his excitement for those he’s not met – so what, practically speaking, does he want from these people?
Paul follows the thanksgiving with a prayer, implying that there is still work to be done.
The prayer in verses 9-14 calls the church to put into practice those things which Paul has been modeling. Living a life filled with fruit through a shared inheritance with all the saints; this was their calling and it is ours as well. We must not allow our decisions to be made out of fear, but rather faith. When the question arises, do we do what we know we should do or do we do what is safe – the answer is clear!
So many years ago Paul wrote a letter to a group of people that he did not know to praise them for their faithfulness and love. He spoke to them of expansion of the gospel, and it bearing fruit all over just as it had with them. He prayed that they would live in such a way as to please the Lord, bearing fruit for him. He prayed that they would be filled with praise and joy, as he was, for the greatness of God’s actions all over the world. And I am confident that Paul’s prayer would change very little were it uttered for us today.
I am confident that when we are faced with the question of being active in our community or paying for our building…the answer is clear. When the question is between becoming a place of healing for the poor or preserving a “healthy” bank account for the future…the answer is clear. When the question is between risking persecution and suffering for the sake of the weak and oppressed or remaining safe, warm and walled up in our compound…the answer is clear. When the question is between risking failure in the bold life of faith or preserving a long predictable life of doing absolutely nothing of value…the answer is very clear.
I acknowledge that rarely does the situation present itself in such simple, clear-cut options. Rarely do we see a simple choice between my empire or God’s Kingdom – if it were that simple we probably wouldn’t need to spend time discussing this. The discernment and subsequent decision are seldom simple and hardly ever easy, but constantly before us, consistently deserving of attention and prayer, and consequently require faithful action. Let us continue to walk worthy of the calling we have received.
The question we have before us today is this. How are we to now put the Kingdom first in our lives? This question is both personal and corporate. Will you choose each day to live for the greater good of God’s kingdom? Will we as a body make choices that benefit us or others? As the final words of our text encourage, let us pray that God will fill us with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that we may live in this way. It always comes back to the truth the God rescued us through Christ for this very reason.