During my educational pilgrimage, I attended six different colleges, universities, and graduate schools and encountered a wide range of teachers.
I had one professor at Cal State Fullerton who announced on the first day of class, “I don’t care whether or not you come to class. I get paid the same amount whether you are here or someplace else on campus.”
One of my professors at Dallas Theological Seminary was Dr. John Reed. During my fourth year at DTS, Dr. Reed stopped me in the hallway one day and said, “Mark, you don’t smile as much as you used to. What’s going on?” We went into his office and I shared with him about my father who, during that semester, was dying of cancer.
My Cal State Fullerton professor taught World History. Dr. Reed taught students. My Fullerton professor cared about his material. Dr. Reed cared about people. Dr. Reed had an enlarged heart.
When it comes to our physical bodies, an enlarged heart is a sign of disease. It is a symptom of an underlying problem that is causing the heart to work harder than normal. When it comes to our spiritual health, an enlarged heart is a desirable condition. It is a sign of spiritual health.
In Colossians 2:1-5, the apostle Paul describes the symptoms of an enlarged heart. According to verse 1, a person with an enlarged heart cares passionately about people.
In mentioning his concern for the Colossian church, Paul uses the word struggle. The word originally was derived from the place where the Greeks assembled for their Olympic games, a place where they agonized in wrestling and footraces, where they fought to win. Paul had been agonizing, fighting for the Colossians with everything he had.
What makes this truly remarkable is that he had never once personally visited them or their neighboring churches. He had no idea what the people looked like, he knew nothing of their personalities; yet he agonized for them.
William Carey was a shoemaker in England in the 1780’s. He made a leather globe so he could pray for a world still unseen to him. Ultimately Carey’s “world-class” heart propelled him to India in 1793 as he became the founder of modern missions.
In the same way, Paul wrestled in prayer for the church in Colossae. Enlarged hearts always know the struggle. They have sleepless nights; they empathize; they struggle in prayer. But these big hearts also know the most joy.
Paul went on to say in verses 2-3 that a person with an enlarged heart works to strengthen the perplexed. He wanted the believers to be encouraged in heart, united in love, and have a complete understanding of who Jesus is. Throughout his letter, Paul explained that Jesus Christ is the Lord of creation and reconciliation, the fullness of deity, the forgiver of sins, the conqueror of satanic forces, the resurrected Lord, and the one worthy of devoted service.
If we want a healthy heart, we need to pay attention to the warning signs of heart disease. In verses 4-5, Paul pointed out two warning signs that lead to spiritual heart disease—the presence of false teaching and the absence of good teaching.
Paul was unable to be present at Colossae and to take a personal hand in refuting the error that was threatening the church. Though physically absent, Paul was concerned that they would stand firm in their faith. While Paul could not instruct the Colossian church in person, his epistle would be a worthy substitute.
W. E. Sangster was a leader of the Methodist Church in Great Britain in the 1940’s and 50’s. On one occasion, he was interviewing applicants for the Methodist ministry when an interesting young man presented himself before the committee. When it came his time to speak, the would-be preacher said he felt that he ought to explain that he was rather shy and not the sort of person who would set the Thames River on fire—that is, stir up the city. Dr. Sangster responded with consummate wisdom:
My dear young brother, I’m not interested to know if you could set the Thames on fire. What I want to know is this: if I picked you up by the scruff of your neck and dropped you into the Thames, would it sizzle?
Dr. Sangster was looking for something apostolic, something passionate, something Pauline in the young candidate.
Take the time to examine your own heart.
- Are you concerned about other people?
- Are you doing what you can to encourage others?
- Are you a catalyst for unity?
- Do you understand the riches available to you in Christ?
- Do you tolerate the presence of error?
- Do you know the truth so well that you can easily recognize error?
- Is your life well-ordered spiritually so that you can stand firm?
Ask God to help you develop a larger heart so that you can care passionately about other people. Ask God for the strength so that you can help encourage the perplexed. Ask God for the wisdom to be able to identify the warning signs of spiritual disease. Together, let’s pray that God will allow us to grow larger hearts for him.
This message was preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on November 25, 2012. To download a copy of the sermon outline, click on the link.