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Gospel Growth in the Church

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“Gospel Growth in the Church”

Colossians 1.3-6

            Having concluded our study in Jude and launching into our year ahead, I thought it would be beneficial if we took a couple of weeks to anchor ourselves in some of the biblical expectations of the church and look at how Squamish Baptist Church plans on pursuing these practically. So, this week and next we will be looking into a topic identified as Gospel Growth. At the outset, it is worth noting that everything that we do needs to be rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is contained in the Word of God, the Bible. We believe firmly in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture and that it contains the truth by which we live.

            I took some time recently to try to unpack some of the core values of Squamish Baptist Church. You’re probably familiar with this terminology. We have often talked about the concepts of “worship, discipleship and evangelism.” These are the core values and I have altered the words slightly and opted for terms that communicate action. So, I’ve replaced the noun forms with verb forms. Here they are.

The first core value of Squamish Baptist Church is “exalt.”  “We exalt the One True God.” This is what we have previously identified with worship. Last week in our conclusion of Jude, we noted that in his doxology is a reference to the only God. And I indicated that despite political correctness, diversity and tolerance, we will worship and declare that there is only true God. And he alone is worthy of all worship. And it is to this God, we are committed to exalt regularly and fervently.

            We will do this with a couple of things in mind. Squamish Baptist Church is committed to regularly gather to exalt God corporately. And we are committed to individually exalt him in our actions and our speech. Paul says in Colossians that in whatever we do, we are to glorify God – even the things that appear to go unnoticed. Scripture everywhere calls believers to right action and right speech because they either portray God in a positive or negative light. Every circumstance in life, every conversation that we have is opportunity to bring glory to him or to defame him. As members of this church, we will strive to honor God when we meet together and when we are apart.

            The next thing we value is “equipping.” “We are committed to equip believers for the work of ministry.” I mentioned also last week, that it is not solely the pastor, elder board, leadership team, music team who are the ministers in the church. All believers are endowed with spiritual gifts to utilize for the edification of the body. We know this from Ephesians 4, Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12. The head, arms, legs, and even toes are needed. So, if you have been attending this church and are merely “spectating,” I want to challenge you to consider your contribution to the building up of the church. The church needs you and God expects it. I’ve been hammering on this “community project” that we are a part of. We are to strive together to make disciples and to encourage perseverance with one another. No sitting on the sidelines. If you have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation and have not yet been baptized, let’s get this done! If you’ve trusted in Jesus and have been baptized and you’re not yet a member, let’s get on with it! There’s too much work to be done in this world for the gospel to be lollygagging. Never thought I would use that word in a sermon… We’re going to be rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. We need you and would love to see you grow alongside the rest.

            The final core value is that SBC will “engage.” “We will engage the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” We will take seriously our responsibility and privilege to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ as the Saviour to the nations! Acts 1.8 speaks of being “witnesses” for Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth. We will continue to seek out ways to be invested locally and globally for the cause of Christ.

            I will now ask you to turn in your Bibles to Colossians 1. For the next couple of weeks we will be looking at Gospel Growth. Though there is a lot to understand with the first core value of “exaltation,” we will be looking primarily within the scope of the latter two values for the year ahead. To “exalt” God encompasses everything we do and so technically everything is a subset of exalting God.

            As you can tell from the sermon title, this week we will deal with Gospel Growth in the Church. Though there are not often clear distinctions between core values, this will deal primarily with “equipping.” And yet there are obvious implications regarding exalting and engaging. Next week, we will discuss Gospel Growth in the World. And I will try to articulate how we see our role and plan for the future in our “engaging” the world with the Gospel.

            So, as we consider Gospel Growth in the Church, let’s look at Colossians 1.3-6. READ.  

Within two short verses we come across three familiar characteristics: faith, hope, and love. The first point I would like to look at is Gospel Faith. This is probably the most obvious components of the gospel. Paul is writing to the church in Colossae. And what is readily apparent is the fact that they have embraced the gospel. He begins by thanking God in the prayers for them because they heard of their faith in Christ Jesus. From verse 7, it appears that Epaphras was responsible for bringing the gospel to town. He, too, had heard the good news of Jesus and had a burden to declare it in Colossae.

            Paul says also in verse 5 that the church has heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel. We need to trace some pronouns here in this passage. When you see “it” in verse 6, “it is bearing fruit and growing – as “it” also does among you, since the day you heard “it” and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned “it”.” This is the gospel.

            And just so we’re on the same page when we use the word, we should probably clarify what the “gospel” is. If you were to look for a summary in a verse, I would suggest 2 Corinthians 5.21. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This is what is known as “the great exchange.” Jesus took our sin and gave us his righteousness. And this was all made possible in the events surrounding the cross.

            If this is foreign to you, let me put it this way to get you up to speed. The Bible begins with the account of Creation wherein God spoke the universe into being. He created all things including the first human beings, Adam and Eve. Everything was perfect – including people. But God also gave Adam and Eve the ability to rebel. And they did. Despite the warnings, Adam and Eve disobeyed their Creator and sin and death entered the world at that point. From these very introductory accounts and all throughout history, God was communicating his plan to provide a payment for the sins of mankind so that the relationship between God and people could be restored. All of the Hebrew Scriptures anticipate Jesus and his death on the cross. In fact, all of history finds its significance in Jesus’ death on the cross. The New Testament includes the life and ministry of Jesus and the consequences of the cross. And, as you may know, speaks of the return of Jesus Christ to bring history to a close. The good news is that if you repent of your sins and trust completely in Jesus Christ, your relationship to God is reconciled. Romans 10:9 “9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.        

The Colossians embraced this message. Epaphras was the evangelist who told them, they heard and understood the grace of God in truth in verse 6. And this resulted in their great transformation that Paul is excited about. We will revisit how the gospel impacts outside these walls next week. But recognize that this is the foundation for all that happens amongst the church.

            Let’s look next at Gospel Hope. Beginning in verse 3, Paul says that they thank God because of their faith in Jesus, the love for the saints because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. We are going to see a circular dynamic taking place when we consider faith, hope, and love. Here’s where hope is foundational for the others. When we become Christians, those who have trusted completely in the provision of Jesus Christ, everything changes. This isn’t an understatement. Everything changes. For us, we now consider all of our thoughts, words and actions in light of eternity. Everything that we do has eternal significance.

            Here it is the hope of eternal life that motivates the believer to action. In other words, the Christian has a clearer understanding regarding their altered destiny. We will spend our entire existence exploring the depths of this truth that the gospel has brought. Apart from Jesus, we remain in our sins and must face eternal judgment. But because of his death on the cross and his grace toward those who believe, we now face an eternity in his presence with the angels. There will be no sin, sickness or tears. Only worship and joy.

            If our hope resides in this destiny, we live our lives on earth much differently. We are focused on God and his glory. For the one who has no regard for eternity (or no hope laid up in heaven), this existence is all there is. So if you don’t believe in God and you realize time on earth is short, you are mostly concerned with serving yourself – money, career, fame, sexual pursuits, etc. C. S. Lewis summed it up nicely when he wrote, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”

            In this case, their hope was not ungrounded. We know from Paul’s letter to Titus that demonstrates God’s commitment to his promises. He writes in Titus 1:1–3, “1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.”  And again in 1 Peter 1:3–5, “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Here is where heavenly hope resides. It rests in God’s promises and his power until we are joined with him. 

            This hope and realization of eternity is the cause of the next point, Gospel Love. Paul has heard reports about the love of the Colossian believers. The hope that was promised in eternity had begun to manifest itself in the present. They were radically altered. There was a recognizable change in their lives that reverberated to the apostle Paul. “Love” is the greatest of all the attributes of the Christian. Remember? Of faith, hope and love, “love” is the greatest of these.

            One of the unique things about the Christian church is the horizontal relationship. How else can so many people of different backgrounds, financial situations, ethnicities find so much joy in being around each other? It is because we have been changed by the gospel. We now have an eternal bond and eternal hope that unites us. People cannot unify the body of Christ. It is our focus on Jesus that unites us.

So one of the defining characteristics of the church is love for the saints. Perhaps you have heard this also from your friends or family. “I love Jesus just not the church.” Or perhaps you’ve seen this. This is when someone claims to be a Christian and does not gather to worship with the church. “I do my own thing.” “I watch a guy on tv or listen on the radio to…” What would Paul say about this thinking? Or how about John? 1 John 4:20–21 “20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” How do you do this through a television? How do you love Jesus and not the church that he loves so dearly and gave his life for? It’s bogus!

Look, I know it’s not always easy to get along. We don’t have it all together. We’re from the island of misfit toys. We come as a group of people who continue to fight sin on a daily basis. No one here has it all together. Nor should we portray ourselves as though we do. But because of Jesus, we have an obligation to get along and to encourage each other in our walk of faith. This is our community project.

Let’s look next at Gospel Growth. Much has been written in the past couple of decades on “church growth.” This was most notably pursued by the likes of Willow Creek Church and their pastor Bill Hybells. By their own admission, they saw flaws in the approach because of the neglect of spiritual growth. They increased quantitatively and noted the lack of spiritual growth among the masses.

I am certainly not opposed to numerical growth, but not at the expense of qualitative growth. I believe that the concept of “gospel growth” is more biblical. “Gospel growth” is about both an increase of those who come to faith in the gospel and a continued spiritual growth because of the gospel.

We see this concept introduced in verse 6. Actually, back up to verse 5. Paul says “of this you have heard before in the word of truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing – as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.” Remember, “it” refers to the gospel. And Paul reminds his readers that the gospel they trusted in is so powerful, that it is spreading throughout the known world – as it does among you. The gospel is powerful unto salvation and sanctification. I think the idea is that the gospel continues to impact the church – among you; bearing fruit and growing.

Contrary to much thinking today, the gospel is not a fear of hell that leads you to a simple prayer for fire insurance so that you continue to live for the pleasures of the world and service unto yourself. That is an extremely weak gospel that really isn’t the gospel at all. The true gospel leads to radical transformation.

The gospel is relevant to believers. It isn’t only for those who need to trust Christ for salvation. At its core, the gospel comes upon the realization that God is a holy God. And when we gaze at his holiness, we become entirely aware of how completely sinful we are in his presence. The Gospel shines ever so magnificently when we understand how the sacrifice of Jesus Christ can be our resolution to this great chasm between God and people.

Even as believers, we continue to marvel at God’s holiness. And we continue to remember how incapable we are to live our lives in holiness and we become more dependent on the Holy Spirit in our lives. When we continue to gaze upon God’s holiness, we are more aware of the sin that resides within us. And when we continue to gaze upon his holiness, we are less enamored with the temptations of the world. Grace saves us and grace sanctifies us.

And I think Paul spells it out a bit in the following verses. In verse 9 and following, Paul continues with his prayer requests for them. And I think this is an elaboration of the concept of gospel growth “among them.” Now watch this because I think that the structure of the request is really significant. He asks that they may “be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. Do you see a sandwich and bookends in those verses? Pastor, why are you talking about sandwiches and bookends?  The bookends are the knowledge of his will and the knowledge of God. That which is sandwiched in there is the fruit of the knowledge – walking in a manner worthy of the Lord and bearing fruit in every good work.

This is how it works. As I mentioned, those who trust in Jesus are not merely to say a prayer and go back to life as we know it. There is an expectation that believers are to continue to study the nature of God and his ways – knowledge of God and his will. The purpose (Paul uses “so as to”) is to live differently than before – walk in a manner worthy of the Lord and to bear fruit in every good work. There is a very close tie to these.

When a person embraces the gospel, we have a new inclination. Jonathan Edwards refers to this as a “religious affection.” Before coming to Christ, we are consumed with things other than God. When we are saved by him, suddenly our inclinations or “affections” are toward him and his Word.

A pursuit of understanding God’s character and his ways has to change our affections. And this should inevitably lead to a change of course in our lives. This is why Paul would often set up his letters as a theological lesson before the exhortation to action in the life of the believer. You often come across the “therefores” in his letters that indicate this.

You cannot walk in a manner worthy of the Lord until you know who he is and what he expects of us. You cannot bear fruit until you know what the fruit looks like that we are supposed to bear. Does this make sense? There is no pursuing knowledge without works, nor works without knowledge.

Ok. Now I am going to work this backwards to communicate how we will pursue this at Squamish Baptist Church. It’s one thing for me to convince you of the necessity of these things. But I hope to show you what this looks like practically for us. Like I mentioned, we will focus on the implications of the gospel for the world next week. But how will Gospel Growth happen at SBC in the year to come?

At the end of each year we try to evaluate how we are doing at making disciples of Jesus Christ. This is the mandate given to the church. And it includes both preaching the gospel to the lost and also bringing people to maturity in Christ. In the past several years, we have observed an insufficiency in this pursuit. We found that we were “busy” doing lots of things but failing at primary things. Church programs are evaluated on their effectiveness and not tradition. So we began to simplify last year in order to be intentional in the pursuit of qualitative growth. And this will be ratcheted up again this year. Many of you are aware that our TeamKID will be put on hold for the year ahead.

So, here’s what we’re after. The source of all we do is rooted in the truth of God’s word. It is God’s Word working through people that has promised results. So Epaphras shared the word of truth which led the people to embrace Jesus Christ and continues to lead to their spiritual development. This is what we’re about. This is not done exclusively through the pastor but through all the members of Jesus’ church. The role of the pastors and teachers is to equip the body for the work of ministry. We will be focused on activating each member in ministering to one another. But this cannot be haphazard. We need to be qualified for this work. We began a study this morning that is going to help equip us in this pursuit. The premise is that God’s word is powerful and is intended to be used by believers to one another. The health and future of the church is ultimately dependent on God, but also as we work together in ministering the Word.

We need to be rooted in God’s Word. I mentioned previously that as I (and many others) read through Dug Down Deep, the rich truths have an impact on our emotions and our will. We ponder the depths of our salvation. They affect us to the core and motivate our obedience. SBC will be committed to the preaching of the Word of God. The Spiritual Swordsmanship should reflect this value. We want to read, study, memorize and apply it to our lives. The music ministry reflects this in the songs that we sing. They prioritize the content of the songs that we sing that will bring glory to God. The songs should be a sermon put to music – like many of the psalms.

Growth Groups. For many of us, the extent of our involvement is an hour and a half Sunday mornings. This is good, but insufficient if you mean business. Our Growth Groups, as Karl mentioned, are an environment where we can explore unanswered questions, encourage one another in the fight of faith, pray for one another. This is where we roll up the sleeves in our community project.

And as the Journey class is advocating, we want to begin to see more one-on-one or one-on-two ministry. As each of us grows in our faith, we have more to offer another who may not be as knowledgeable or mature in the faith. One of the reasons we have cleared much of the calendar is to lessen formal ministry and to increase organic ministry. As we are asking for an increase in Sunday participation, the rest of the week is for the one another ministry. You can be more flexible in this pursuit.

Let me explain the role of prepositions in discipleship. When we want to get together with someone, we usually say something like “let’s go for a cup of coffee.” Right? This statement implies that coffee is the goal or purpose for meeting. I know. Bear with me. And what we mean is that we want to have a good conversation over a cup of coffee. I am going to suggest that we simply change the preposition. Instead of meeting for coffee, let’s meet with coffee or tea or whatever. And when we meet, we will meet with the intended purpose of encouraging the other person with the gospel – whether they are an unbeliever or believer. If you need some help with this, plan on coming 9:00 next Sunday morning. This is what we are doing.

So we’re not reinventing the wheel in the year ahead. We will be simply be immersing ourselves in the Word of God, living it out and encouraging one another to do the same. This is our community project.

And I am convinced that God will honor this pursuit. As we are rooted together, we will bear fruit, and we will notice the love that we have for all the saints. This is the circular dynamic we are after. As our faith is increased, so is our hope. And as we continually ponder our hope, the love will abound for all the saints. To God be the glory!

Let’s begin with our Fellowship Lunch, shall we?? Let’s pray.

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