“Encouraged in heart, United in love…”


“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.” (Col 2:2)

I’ve been a pastor and teacher for about thirty years now, but have yet to come across a better Biblical picture of what it is that I actually do (or try to do).

This verse is, of course, the prayer of Paul, sent to a group of young believers in a town that he would never visit. He had hopes and plans of all sorts –he really wanted to visit Spain, for example (which he might have seen as the “ends of the earth”), -but he had no way of knowing that his imprisonment would end abruptly with his execution just a short time after writing this letter.

So that makes me take this verse in three special ways. First, given its place in Paul’s own story, it reads as a last will, or even a legacy. The Word of God is always powerful and effective, but the Spirit always personalises it to me and locates God’s truth in real lives. The Bible is not a text-book, but it is “His story,” told through the lives of real people.

Second, because this verse emerges from Paul’s own story, it makes me regard it, somehow, as a General Approach to Pastoring. Since Paul doesn’t know these people personally, he’s telling them the sort of thing that should be happening in their church-community. It’s not hands-on problem-solving (like the letters to Corinth or Galatia certainly are).

So, thirdly, it becomes, by that token, more precious to me personally. If I find it tricky to relate to Paul’s battle with those who required believers to be circumcised (Galatians), or to refrain from certain foods (Corinthians) –these first-century problems seem very distant – this verse is clarity itself.

Whether or not I can see it all through in my own church is, of course, another thing entirely.

But, sure, it’s a goal –a destination- and not a present reality. Here’s where we are going:

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.”

The task before me is “that they may be encouraged.” The word has “-cour” in the middle which means “heart.” My job is to put heart into people who have maybe lost it.

So am I a cheerleader?

Or perhaps a stand-up comedian?

Not really, though I would never discount the value of laughter and shared pleasure. Wouldn’t you want to be where the fun is?

I have been reading some of the magazine articles of Donald Hankey, a young soldier who died in the bloodbath of the Somme one hundred years ago today. The article spoke movingly of his commanding officer in words that could almost said of Jesus.

Here it is:

“Somehow, gentle though he was, he was never familiar. He had a kind of innate nobility which marked him out as above us…. We knew that he would get killed. He was so amazingly unself-conscious. For that reason, we knew that he would be absolutely fearless. He would be so keen on the job in hand, and so anxious for his men, that he would forget about his own danger. So it proved. He was a Captain when we went out to the front. Whenever there was a tiresome job to be done, he was there, in charge. If ever there were a moment of danger, he was on the spot…”

There’s a Victorian hymn by Thomas Lynch, not much sung nowadays perhaps, that contains the lines:

“I have a Captain, and the heart
Of every private man
Has drunk in valour from His eyes,
Since first the war began.”

I’m sure that this was exactly Donald Hankey’s point. His essay was even called “The Beloved Captain.” Even in the worst possible situation, and anticipating the horrors ahead, I have “drunk in valour from his eyes.” I am en-couraged by his example – there’s an injection of courage! He is different to me (with an “innate nobility”) but completely alert to all that I am going through. He shares it with me and so shows me how to cope.

That’s the real gift of encouragement. That’s the heart of being a pastor.

There’s quite a bit more in this verse, but maybe that’s enough for this morning.

Of course, every believer has a calling to be like Jesus. And when I look at Jesus, smiling, with his arms full of sprawling children; or looking down at a humiliated woman and tenderly encouraging her to stand; when I see Jesus, stirred with compassion for a confused crowd, reaching to heal, to help, to restore… standing among the broken; then it fills me with courage to live that way.

And in that sense, Jesus calls us to pastor one another encouraged in heart and united in love so that we may completely understand our calling, to be like Jesus in a hurting world.

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