Text: Colossians 1:24-29
In Colossae, Epaphras, a servant of the gospel, had served the church well. He was an elder there, by the call and grace of Christ Jesus. It would appear that he had been raised up as a preacher from amongst the people who believed there. He did this in the apparent absence of the Apostle Paul, or any other apostle. He labored fervently for those under his care, pressing them onward and upward have as his goal that they might stand perfect and complete in all the blessing of the gospel, in the whole will of God! In simpler terms, Epaphras aimed at growing his people up—his efforts were aimed at producing greater maturity and deeper spirituality. We may infer that his ministry was energetic, spiritual and characterized by love. And he gave good report of them to the apostle.
Thus we read:
For this cause we also, since the day we heard of it, do not cease to
pray for you, and to desire for you that you might be filled with the
knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that
you might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every
good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; . . . (vv. 9-10)
What a powerful way to come along side a local pastor! Paul gathers up this local pastor’s holy ambition, elevates it, and draws everyone’s attention to it by adding his prayers to Epaphras’ purpose. Verses 9-10 are part of a tremendously long and complex sentence, it runs through verse 17. This exultation is held together by Paul’s tone. It is marked by the highest praising. And wonderfully, in the midst of that, Paul draws the pastor’s goal of his people’s maturation into relationship with some of the highest of truths: that Christ is the supreme center of all things—that all things cohere in Him alone. So, the mundane is colored with the sublime, and the temporal is connected with the eternal. What we do for today is also done for eternity! What we tend to treat and commonplace, and taken-for-granted is charged with significance, and is full of consequence. And because that is truth, it is also our reality. We live and move and have our being in such a world as this. No wonder Paul is able to encourage us with such declarations of faith as we find in 2 Corinthians 4: 14-18:
Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also
by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, and
that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to
the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man
perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction,
which is but for a moment, worketh in us a far more exceeding and eternal
weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at
things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal, but the
things that are not seen are eternal.
Today, we come together to commission Pastor Michael Panosian as associate pastor at EWBC. To be sure we have some excitement about this and that excitement lends to the sense of occasion, on a visible plane, but on the invisible plane what occurs here today has eternal import. We will lay hands on him, and we shall invoke the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. We shall consecrate him to the task of coming alongside to help us mature and grow, but then the power of the Holy Spirit will take over. Great things will occur as the dynamite of God is released in and through him. Yes, we can prayerfully place the charges, and we should, we can even effect the timing. We can ask God to pour out upon us the Miracle-Grow of His presence, if you prefer a less violent metaphor, and so accelerate our personal and corporate growth. We can hope that his filling will lead to our filling and in holy expectation we can dare to believe God for transformation, revival and renewal. We pray on earth and in heaven there is shaking and quaking as our future begins to tumble out of eternity and into our present! That’s what scripture says. We have authority to start stuff . . . to provoke the Father who loves us into acts of mighty deliverance. Glory be to His wondrous Name.
The aim of ministry is to produce greater maturity and deeper spirituality.
Our text today alludes to that maturity and deepening spirituality in several ways. First, of course, and obviously we have the repeated use of superlatives and verbs in the continuous sense: being filled with knowledge and all wisdom (v.9), being strengthened with all might and all patience (v.11). Or, again, in the structure of thoughts presented here, we read: “you were sometime alienated and enemies in your minds” . . . yet now He hath reconciled (v.21) and “to present you holy and unblameable and unreprovable in His sight” (v. 22) and “if you continue in the faith grounded and settled” (v.23). What is Paul driving at here? He is remarking on the spiritual progress that we ought to expect in a Christian’s life: a detectable movement from “wicked works” that have their origin in twisted minds to righteous works that have their origin in a renewed, or sanctified minds. This word “alienated” is interesting. It suggests that at one time we were thinking about other things than our God, His Glory, moral perfection and desirability! We were given over to many gods, and to many things that exercised dominion over us through mental preoccupation, false worship such as idolatry. We were godless because God was absent from our worldview, and absent from our spiritual landscape. This condition of utter darkness prevailed because what might be known of God through general revelation, or common grace had been obscured by the mind clutter of many gods, many lords, obsessions etc. The mind that is preoccupied with false objects is known as “carnal” and the carnal mind because it loves the world, and occupies itself with the things of this world, is exclusionary towards, and hateful of God. The word “mind” here is to be taken as more than our capacity for thought and reasoning; it refers to all the soul, heart, affections, will, passions and so forth. It signifies the total person.
A Christian who carelessly exposes himself to such clutter and distraction runs the real risk of becoming a carnal Christian, and if a carnal Christian then through regression, no Christian at all. That’s why continuance is vital and perseverance necessary. See v. 23.
In verse 22 Paul brings the crucifixion of Jesus Christ into view. Christ assumed a human body, and by dying as a man, for mankind, he made a complete work of atoning for our sin. This tremendous sacrifice is the costly means by which we are reconciled. By His death the alienation is removed and we, having been bought out of bondage to the world, the flesh and the devil, are rendered redeemable. We are now presentable as holy—totally separated from that sin by His blood—and unblameable. This latter means that we have been filled with His Spirit, and we are now a good tree from the inside out, producing only good fruit. His love shed into our hearts makes us loving as the principle and motive of every action. And we are made unreprovable in His sight because we are filled with love, joy, peace, meekness, gentleness and goodness. Against these, we read in scripture, there is no law. At the final Judgment, we shall be sorted into the sheep category. This is the hope and earnest expectation of the gospel—we can all attain this stature, this future if we continue in the faith.
Verse 24 brings us to the sufferings of Paul which Paul invites them, and us, to rejoice in. And these, he declares, “are for you.” Why exactly does Paul suffer persecution? He suffers persecution for the same reasons that you must suffer persecution—if you are doing your job!—because the purposes of God are actively, spiritually opposed in this world. For example, Paul announced that Jews and Gentiles were acceptable together before God. That ancient animosity, rooted in a presumption of privilege by the Jews and resentment by the Gentiles as well as mutual suspicion and contempt, expressed pride of flesh; it is opposed to true religion everywhere, always. That animosity is also still with us with Jews being joined by humanists, conservative libertarians, neo-Marxists, Islamic fanatics, Hindu’s, Buddhists, some global socialists, environmentalists and the parasitically negative, radical left. The hostility between religions, friends, truly pales in comparison to antagonism of the worldviews represented by these groups, all forms of proud carnality opposed to the purposes of God. Jewish zealots sought Paul’s life then, so set were they in the habits of racial and religious hatred and their modern counterparts may also seek your life. Expect persecution for proclaiming the gospel. Few Christians get persecuted for being Christian, it’s only if they do something about their Christianity that they get persecuted. Conversion is viewed by some misguided folks as the ultimate crime against humanity. They are misguided because they think conversion is something we, as mere humans, can do to each other. Genuine conversion, as ample evidence demonstrates, is an act of God that no man can cause, or prevent. But most basically, the world despises Christians because the world hates God. But remember, when the persecution comes, that it’s on His body that the blows fall if you should be struck. So rejoice that you are counted worthy to suffer alongside so wonderful as Master and divine friend!
The doctrine of God (v.25) is what I just explained to you. God acted in Jesus Christ to bring near those who were far off and to reconcile in one body, the church, all who would believe. This (v.26) is the “mystery” which was hidden until the time for its revealing. The scope of God’s mercy, the inconceivable breadth and depth of His mercy is what’s in view here.
In verses 27-28 we find the sum and substance of Paul’s apostolic preaching:
1. Jesus Christ is presented as the only Savior of sinners.
2. This same Christ indwells all believers—empowering, sanctifying, and securing them.
3. This same Christ is the hope of glory
4. He, Paul, warned everyone of his or her danger from being under sin and God’s wrath.
5. He instructed all people in wisdom because they were in a state of ignorance and spiritual darkness. They were indeed perishing and in need of a Savior. How sad that we often do not feel compelled to rescue those who are drowning, or to offer direction to those who are lost (here’s food, water, clothing, light, a spiritual home).
6. Their ambition was to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. That is:
They should be thoroughly instructed in the doctrines of Christ and so know the truth as it is in Jesus Christ.
They should be saved from all their sins and filled with His fullness. And thus they express Christian perfection and live lives of obedience as His disciples and friends.
7. They were inclusive in intent and practice. And they pursued these ends energetically and with diligence.
So we have a comprehensive view of what the servant of God is expected to do: strive for greater maturity and deeper spirituality. We have some particulars of what that will entail. I believe that Michael understands his part and my earnest hope is that you, the congregation, and you, friends and family, will come alongside us now as we form a ministry team, a spiritual partnership. If the spiritual opposition is anything to gauge the correctness of our decision by, we have most certainly done the right thing. Isn’t it curious that the enemies of God seem to forget that we are the ones who will remain, and they are the ones who have to go. And go they shall, and must. May God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit bless, empower and direct our efforts to glorify His Name and to bring near His Kingdom rule in the rich anticipation of our Lord’s return!