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How is Your Faith? (2:4-5)

How would you describe your faith? What characteristics would you attribute to it?

Would you use adjectives like "passionate," "orthodox," "vibrant," "creative," or something similar? Or would you employ a theological or denominational tag to identify the nature of your relationship with Jesus? Perhaps you would describe yourself as being of the "Reformed" faith or as having "traditional" faith or maybe even "Word of Faith".

Some, in a more vulnerable and honest moment, might describe their faith as "half-hearted" or "hesitant" or even "faltering."

I ask this question because of something Paul wrote in Colossians 2:4-5. After describing the way he prays for them, he writes: "I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though 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."

The phrase, "I say this," is retrospective and looks back to what he has just written in vv. 1-3 (and perhaps even to what he wrote in the closing verses of chapter one). The point is that Paul willingly suffers and preaches and teaches and agonizes in prayer so that these believers will not be led astray or deluded by "plausible arguments," by which he means clever and impressive speech that gives the appearance of being sophisticated and substantive but ultimately proves false and destructive. If you want an example of this sort of thing in our day, turn on religious TV and wait. You are sure to run across several frightening examples in the course of a few hours.

In what sense was Paul "present" with them? You may recall that he used similar language in writing to the Corinthians concerning the discipline of a wayward church member – "For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, . . ." (1 Cor. 5:3-5). In both instances, Paul was truly present, although not physically so. I don't think he means "I am present in your thoughts and prayers," but rather that he was present by virtue of his union with them in Christ. He was in Christ and they were in Christ and thus, wherever Christ was, they were together in him.

But my primary concern is the way Paul describes their "faith" or the depth and quality of their commitment to Jesus. He uses two words in v. 5 that I suspect few would employ today. Such words just aren't exciting enough for 21st century Christians. There's not enough glitz and bling to them. People like the Colossians could never raise enough money to subsidize a national television program. And if you're into building a mega-church, I suspect you'll need something more than "good order" and "firmness" in your faith. But such are the words of praise from the apostle.

The word translated "good order" points to the well-ordered behavior of the Colossians. He has in mind lives that are aligned with biblical revelation, daily habits of life that reflect the values of Jesus, unwavering obedience to the will of God, no matter how unpopular or "unsuccessful" that may prove to be.

The word rendered "firmness," used here to describe their faith, means steadfast, stable, resolute, solid, not given to flights of fancy or open to the influence of flashy, fleshly preachers whose "ministries" are built on novelty, bizarre and sensational experiences, or some new revelatory "word" that is strangely absent from Scripture and, upon closer examination, in direct conflict with it.

There wasn't much to set apart these believers except for their commitment to good order in godly living and resolute solidarity in their commitment to Jesus Christ. But isn't that enough? Where did the church ever get the notion that God is more impressed with "new and unprecedented insights," or scintillating discernment on "the signs of the times," or perhaps the latest sure-fire strategy for financial prosperity?

Here is what brings a smile of approval to the face of our heavenly Father: faithful Christians who set their personal and corporate spiritual experience in that "order" set forth in Scripture. Here is what evokes a heartfelt, "Well done!" from our great and glorious God: people whose lives are fixed and riveted on Christ alone, whose faith does not bend with every blast of new doctrinal wind, whose commitment is not compromised by threat or fear of persecution or loss of personal convenience and comfort.

No, it's not very exciting, at least not as the world measures excitement. It may not draw huge crowds or bring in massive offerings or lead to lucrative book contracts. But whose favor are we seeking, anyway: God's or man's? If the latter, "good order and firmness of faith in Christ" won't get you very far. But if it's the favor and pleasure and joy of your heavenly Father that you most desire, commit yourself in the power of his Spirit to put all things in "good order" and stand "firm" and resolute and unwavering in your single-minded, whole-hearted, world-denying, devotion to Jesus.

As though with you in spirit,