Everyone Fully Mature In Christ
Dearly loved people of God,
The authors of this letter see one task. They are inspired to see everyone grow mature in their faith in Christ - fully mature. How do they propose to do that?
As far as Paul and Timothy are concerned they have only one tool in their tool-belt. They reach for the gospel of Jesus Christ. They have been commissioned with a message from God. The mystery - kept hidden for ages - has been revealed. That mystery is “Christ in you.”
The idea of “Christ in you” might be confusing if you’re not used to the imagery. It sounds a little like insider’s talk. Here’s what it means: there’s an intimate connection between Christ and his followers. Through faith in him, we’re connected to Jesus. A few weeks ago, we found that connection described in a section of the 1st letter to the Christians in Corinth:
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
We find something very similar in the first chapter of this letter too:
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
In the letter to the believers in Colossae, there’s more emphasis on Jesus’ supremacy, but the same imagery is used: Christ is the head; the church is his body. So as members of the body of Jesus, believers are “in Christ” and Christ is in them.
This isn’t Hinduism or some New Age philosophy where every creature is filled with the divine. You only receive Christ through faith in him. This is the transformation by trusting the gospel. It’s the miracle of being united with Christ.
Effectively, what happens to Christ happens to his body. What happens to his body, happens to Christ. The connection runs so deeply, that Christ assumed the guilt and punishment of your sin. You died with Christ on the cross and rose to life in him when he rose from the grave the 1st Easter morning.
As an apostle, Paul feels this connection personally. He’s connected both to Christ and to the members of Christ’s body – incl. the church in Colossae. The connection is so close, that Paul is able to write:
Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.
The way Paul talks about suffering and his connection with Christ and the believers in Colossae is a little startling, a little confusing. This week daily readings are available again by email and in print - you can grab a copy by the door. The daily readings guide us through the whole letter to the church in Colossae this week. On Tuesday, I’ll pick up on Paul rejoicing in his suffering for the Colossian church.
For now, it’s enough to marvel at the connection between Christ and his followers. Through faith the connection has grown so deep between them, that God’s Word speaks of Jesus as our head and the church as his body. It’s a miracle wrought by believing the gospel. Earlier in the first chapter, Paul and Timothy give a outline of the gospel.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
This isn’t new news to the believers in Colossae. Epaphras brought this message. When Epaphras became a follower of Jesus’ and returned to his hometown, he told his family and friends the gospel. He brought the true message of salvation - and some of the people in Colossae believed.
The trouble is, their faith was a little shaky. Oh, their faith rests on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ, yet they didn’t know how to build on that foundation. They hadn’t grown mature in faith.
They were beginning to revert to their culture and traditions of their time and place. Humankind is hardwired to be self-reliant. We like to set ourselves benchmarks and accomplishments, even in our own salvation. It seems that’s what happened in Colossae.
It’s a risk to all believers. Our nature has been twisted by the fall into sin so that we find it difficult to rely completely on anyone - even our Creator and Redeemer. When we see progress in faith or in godliness, it’s difficult to attribute that progress to the miraculous work of God the Holy Spirit. We want credit for our hard work too. We take pride in our own efforts. If this goes on unchecked, we start to rely on our own efforts towards goodness.
That’s what happened in Colossae. It’s a risk to all believers. Our nature has been twisted so that we find it difficult to rely completely on anyone - not even our Creator and Redeemer. When we see progress in faith or in godliness, it’s difficult to attribute that progress to the miraculous work of God the Holy Spirit. We want credit for our hard work too. We take pride in our own efforts. If this goes on unchecked, we start to rely on our own efforts towards goodness.
On Wednesday, while many people are wrapped up in costumes and treats for Halloween, you might also remember the Reformation in the 1500s – in some places, Reformation Day is a civic holiday, marking a turning point in church history. . When the gospel of Jesus Christ became obscured by self-reliant religious practices and ignorance of many people in the church, God allowed the true message of the gospel to be rediscovered. As they studied the Bible, Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and many other men and women were used by God to proclaim the Gospel and bring reformation and renewal within the Body of Christ.
Reformation day commemorates how, on Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses - or points of dispute - to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, Germany. It was a way to challenge others to a debate his points. Luther’s 95 Theses ignited a debate has continued for 501 years.
This morning we’re worshipping as a congregation that includes the word “Reformed” in its name. It’s not just a reminder that our denomination has its roots in a Reformation 500+ years ago. Every generation of believers needs to encounter the true message and transforming power of the gospel. God’s Word and Spirit brings home to each of us the gospel of Jesus and invites us, challenges us to grow mature in our faith and in our reliance on the finished saving work of Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Why grow mature?
for your own comfort, growing secure in faith
for the benefit of the whole body
your gifts and faith are important to the whole body and to the mission. While Christ can use those who are weak and immature, better work is done by those who are growing and are mature in the faith.
The only way to encourage others is by telling and retelling what Jesus has done - not in a boring, repetitious way - telling the gospel story in ways that reveal its truth and power.
Using the gospel to assure others of Jesus’ finished work.
Using Scripture to encourage, admonish, and correct as necessary.
Those with mature faith make the best witnesses to the Gospel.
Don’t misunderstand; not everyone is called or gifted to be an evangelist. In this letter, Paul and Timothy are on mission. Epaphras is called and willing to plant a church in his hometown among his relatives and community. Not everyone is called or gifted to be an evangelist.
Not everyone is called or gifted to be an evangelist. But a mature believer ought to be able to clearly explain the gospel and answer the questions of a child or a coworker or a neighbour who wonders what faith in Jesus is all about.
But a mature believer ought to be able to clearly explain the gospel and answer the questions of a child or a coworker or a neighbour who wonders what faith in Jesus is all about.
Finally, there’s a note of encouragement for those who find telling and retelling the gospel draining. It’s the second part of the text, but less than half the sermon.
He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
We’re used to sports heroes who talk about giving 110%. We’ve elected new municipal Councillors who have said they’ll pour everything they’ve got into their new roles. Often in the church, we talk the same way about our roles or tasks: “I’ll work at it with all my energy.”
The reality of the gospel takes that burden off of our shoulders. Paul and Timothy describe their goal of presenting everyone fully mature in Christ, but they don’t do it in their own energy. Did you see what they said?
To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
Our work for the Kingdom of God - in all its manifestations - isn’t done in our own energy. You can work “with all the energy Christ powerfully works in you.”