Pastor Andrew Murray

Contours of Ministry – Part Two

 

Colossians 1:24-2:5 ESV

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

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Introduction and Review:

colossians - andy murrayPreviously we began a new section in the letter to the Colossians and we discovered that this section really functions to guard God’s people from being deluded by counterfeit ministry.

It is designed to protect us from being led away from Christ and His design for New Covenant ministry.

In this section, Paul is asking the Colossian believers and us to take the ministry we have received and hold it up against Paul’s ministry, that is genuine Christian ministry. Paul sees a real danger in distracted, distorted, counterfeit ministry and so he gives us the contours of true Christian ministry.

Last time we looked at the first of six features that Paul lays out regarding his own ministry. The first feature, we saw at last time, was the content of Christian ministry.

And we saw that Paul conceived of his own ministry as making the Word of God fully known and we saw then that what he had in mind was the bringing of the Word of God to its completed fullness in Christ.

The content of Christian ministry is Christ. In all our ministry efforts He must be the central feature. He is the mystery hidden for ages and generations, now revealed to the saints – the hope of glory for all peoples. That was last week.

Outline:

This week we are going to take up 2 more features of Christian ministry:

1. The Goal of Christian Ministry

2.The Means of Christian Ministry

Let’s dive right in and consider the Goal of Christian ministry.

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#1. The Goal of Christian Ministry

So, Let’s look to our text.

Starting in verse 24 we see that Paul is suffering for the sake of the body, that is the church (vs. 25) of which he became a minister (that is a servant). So Paul is a servant of the church and this accords with (it is in harmony with) the stewardship from God that was given to him for the church. And what was the stewardship he was given? “to make the word of God fully known.” But, why? What is the goal of this service to the church of making the word of God fully known?

Look at verse 28: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”

The goal for Christian ministry is to present everyone mature in Christ. I’d like to take some time to unpack what this mean? So, first, let’s take up the phrase ‘mature in Christ’ first:

A. Mature in Christ:

We talked about Paul’s vision for Christian maturity a number of weeks ago.

And now we come to Colossians 1:28 and we find that this maturity is in fact the great goal of Paul’s ministry and we know because of the way this section functions that it should be our goal in ministry as well.

 Now, in Colossians 2:1-5 Paul further unpacks what he has in mind when he is talking about maturity. Paul really cracks open what he meant in the opening verses of Colossians, so let’s read 2:1-3:

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

So there are two things Paul is thinking about when he is thinking about maturity in the body. He is thinking about 1. a certain type of knowledge 2. and the expression of love.

Now these are closely linked, so perhaps we should say there is one thing Paul is thinking about when he is thinking about maturity: a certain type of knowledge expressing itself in love. We are going to look at these two things one at a time so we can get a better understanding of them.

First, look at verse 2:

I. A Certain Type of Knowledge:

Paul is striving for this purpose: “that their hearts may be encouraged…”

I think it is important to recognize that “heart” in scripture often means much more than we may typically think. Paul is not just taking about the heart in terms of our emotions, but in terms of our whole person. Paul does not just want to make us feel good – he is not interested in simply giving people a warm fussy feeling or stirring up emotions or passions for a moment.

No, this idea of encouraging the heart has to do with the building up of every aspect of who we are in our inner person. Paul wants to strengthen our minds, our thinking. He wants to strengthen our rightly ordered affections – what we love, and he wants to strengthen our willingness and eagerness and zeal to act on those rightly ordered affections.

Paul further clarifies this “heart” strengthening at the end of this sentence, “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

So the great goal for Paul in all of his ministry is to see people reach, attain, possess full assurance of understanding. He is concerned to see people possess full assurance of the knowledge of God’s mystery, now revealed, which is Christ.

He wants to see people’s hearts encouraged, that is to see people own a rock solid knowledge of and confidence in Christ, the final word from God. But, Paul calls this full assurance “riches” or “wealth.” He wants people to come to understand how valuable Christ is – “in (Christ) are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

So, what does Paul want people to possess? The infinite treasure of knowing Christ. And not just a bare knowing about him, but a cherishing of Him and a full confidence in Him. That is the first thing Paul has in mind when he is thinking about maturity: a rock solid knowledge of and confidence in and love for the treasure of Christ.

The second thing Paul is thinking about maturity, is (at the beginning of verse 2)

II. The Expression of Love

“That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love…”

So, what is maturity in Paul’s mind? What is Paul striving for? hearts that are encouraged, being knit together in love.

Paul is striving to encourage the hearts of believers in the knowledge of Christ, resulting in expressions of genuine love toward one another, creating a bond and a meshing so that we truly are a body.

So if we step back and we consider that Paul is placing his ministry before us so that we can test the ministry we have received we see that the aim and goal of Paul’s ministry in verse 28 is to present everyone mature in Christ – and we have seen, now, that he brakes that open here in chapter 2 verse 1-3.

So, we can say that the great goal of Paul’s ministry is to see people possess a full knowledge of and confidence in and love for Christ and that expresses itself in unity and love for one another.

That is what Paul is thinking when he speaks of maturity.

So, now that we have cracked open a bit of what Paul is thinking regarding maturity, note that his goal (in verse 28) is to present everyone mature in Christ. What does Paul have in mind here?

B. Everyone:

Well, there certainly is warrant for thinking that Paul has kinds of people in mind here. In verse 27 Paul has just said, how great among the nations are the riches of the glory of … Christ.” It is natural to think that Paul means, at least in part, that his goal was to see every tribe tongue and nation gathered in and brought to maturity. And so, I believe that must be part of our vision for Christian ministry: bringing in the fullness of Christ’s Body. The goal is to see people redeemed from every nation.

The church must have a global aim of maturity. Do we have heart for the nations?

But, I think that global vision of maturity can only happen as individuals are brought to maturity. I believe that Paul has in mind as his great aim that every single person in each local assembly in every nation, be brought to maturity.

There is no elite group. Everyone: young, old, and in the middle – rich, poor, the talented, the strong, and the eloquent along with the inept, and weak, and fumbling, the shy, the outgoing, the serious and the clown, those who are attractive and those who repel. The goal is to present everyone mature in Christ.

Do we have a heart here to see every person in our body without exception brought to a full understanding of and to possess a rock solid confidence in and an unwavering love for Christ? Do we have a heart to see the young and old, rich and poor, impressive and average, strengthened in Christ and equipped for every good work and overflowing with love and unity?

If you are a member of the body of Christ than you are called to maturity. As we plan to minister in this body our great goal must be to see everyone brought to maturity in Christ.

If this is not our goal here, we have veered off course.

So we have seen that the goal of Christian ministry is to present everyone mature in Christ.

#2. The Means of Christian Ministry

Notice what it is that Paul says he is doing in order to see this maturity grow, in other words, what are the means Paul uses to see this happen: (28)Him we proclaim, warning, and teaching. Earlier he said, it was his aim as a servant of the church to make fully known the mystery which is Christ. Remember also that maturity involves (in verse 2 of chapter 2) full assurance of understanding and knowledge of Christ.

So catch this, when Paul thinks about his goal of maturity he is thinking about the way people think, understand, comprehend, and embrace the gospel. Maturity in the church will not happen apart from understanding and knowledge. And so the means that Paul lays out here for reaching that goal of maturity is proclamation, warning, and teaching.

It is because the content of ministry is the knowledge of Christ, and the goal is to present everyone mature in Christ, therefore the means to accomplishing this goal must involve words about Christ.

Christian ministry has not happened if the word of Christ has not been spoken, explained, made known and maturity will not happen if the word is not heard, understood, and learned and trusted.

St. Francis of Assisi said, “preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.”

I do not want to be over critical, but that statement can lead us to think wrongly about the means of Christian ministry. I don’t think Paul would say, “preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words.”

…because the gospel is not a thing that can understood apart from words.

Yes, the power and authenticity of the gospel will be demonstrated by your life, but the message of Christ needs to be articulated.

Yes, the gospel is powerful to change your life, yes the gospel has results in your life, yes, you testify to the power and truthfulness of the gospel with your life – but, the final word from God, must be taught, it must be announced so that it may be heard and understood and embraced.

No one will be saved if all they can see is your moral life. No one will come to maturity in Christ simply because they see your exemplary life. They need to be taught about Jesus. They need to hear about God’s final word.

They need to know what the reason is for the hope that you have? We need to tell them! Yes, let your life adorn that gospel message, but point people to Jesus.

Paul has told us that a mature Christian will be so confident in the message of the gospel and be so changed by it that their life will overflow in expressions of love and unity, but that love come from a heart satisfied in Christ and we must recognize that maturity only grows as the Word of Christ is heard, understood, embraced and so begins to change a person from the inside out.

Let’s get our categories right. The goal of Christian ministry is to present everyone mature in Christ – the means to that maturity comes by hearing about Jesus.

Ministry Question:

Now, here is a question: Does this mean that when we visit the sick or make a meal or care for the homeless or repair a roof or give time and resources to help the needs of the body that we are not doing ministry? No that is not what this means – but it does mean that if those things are divorced from the word of Christ they become powerless to accomplish the goal of ministry.

For example, if we are a community that loves to care for the poor, but we are a community content to keep the good news about Jesus Christ a mystery than we cease to be bringing people from every nation to the hope of glory and we cease to be bringing people to maturity and so we cease to be doing Christian ministry.

There are many communities and institutions that are doing wonderful things for people and I am sure that Christians should partner with many of these communities and institutions in order to help and love our neighbors. But we must remember that those institutions lack entirely what people really need – the hope of glory. There are institutions devoted to seeing people helped in this world and that is wonderful. But, let us not confuse that with the mission Paul is laying out for the Church. Christian ministry alone has the hope of glory.

The institution of the church alone has been entrusted with the final word from God. We alone possess the treasure that surpasses all other treasures – the hope of glory.

Yes, take care of the poor! Yes, serve each other in 10 thousand practical ways as an expression of your fullness in Christ, but do not think that in these things, by themselves, apart from the word of Christ, that they will bring progress toward maturity.

We must not leave Christ unspoken, undeclared, unknown. Making Him known is what Christian ministry is all about.

Yes, Christians should be examples of unity and love toward one another, a community eager to do justice and mercy toward each other and even to do good toward our enemies. Yes, that is the kind of people we are to be in the Body of Christ. In fact, that is a result of the gospel: the expression of love, flowing out of a rock solid knowledge of and confidence in and love for Christ – But what is the means to that goal? How will that be accomplished?

Live sacrificially and deliberately, and liberally pour out earthly blessings on those in your life. That is the fruit that grows out of a heart satisfied in Christ – but we must recognize how fleeting the things of this life are – and how deep and eternal are the needs of those around you – and how you and I as saints in the Body of Christ have been given infinite treasure – the hope of glory – Jesus Christ and His work on our behalf.

Christian ministry must speak of Jesus.

The New Testament speaks of various gifts. The whole body is not mouths. Some are feet and hands. And you may think, I am not gifted to speak. I am not gifted to teach. Everything you just said applies to the mouths in the Body, but I do not have that gift – and so this does not apply.

I agree that Christ gave his body a variety of gifts – and there are those who are especially gifted for certain types work. But, you are not off the hook. Allow me to place a one passage before you for your consideration.

Colossians 3:16-17

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Allow me to make one observation:

Notice that Paul is speaking to the church and he says – let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, and what is that word supposed to do? It is supposed to spill over into other people’s lives – teaching and admonishing one another.

You may be gifted to do behind the scenes kinds of things, to make a meal or to give generously but if that is an expression of the Word of Christ dwelling in you richly, than that same word that is dwelling in you – needs to be shared with others.

When I was in college there was janitor who loved Christ. How do I know he loved Christ? Well, he was a joyful guy much of the time but he also had days of deep deep struggle and sadness. How do I know he loved Christ?

One day he was walking past me and we had never spoken before, I had seen him but never spoken to him, and as he walked past me he paused and said, “have you ever thought about how blessed you are?” I said, “What do you mean?” He pulled out his bible and read Romans 4:7-8:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” 

And after he finished reading this passage this janitor simply say, “We are so blessed because of Christ.” And off he went. That word has stuck with me.

Will we not all be Pastors or Sunday school teachers or street corner evangelists, but take every opportunity to share the treasure you have.

Summary statement:

The content of Christian ministry is Christ. The goal of Christian ministry is to present everyone mature in Christ. The means of Christian ministry is speaking the word of Christ to one another.

Col 1:28: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” 

~ Andy

 

Andrew Murray

Andrew “Andy” Murray was born and raised in New Hampshire. His father, pastor Loren Murray, served Fellowship Bible Church in Chester, NH. At six years of age Andy trusted in Jesus Christ and was baptized. He was brought up “acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” At the age of 12 his father was in a fatal car accident. Reflecting on the loss of his dad Andy writes; “I see now the wise and loving hand of Christ in my life, as He used this event to, shape, mold and press me toward Himself. It was this event that sparked in me an earnest desire to know God from His Word. By His grace, this desire has continued to grow.” Andy met his wife, Elizabeth, at Philadelphia Biblical University (now Cairn University). They have four wonderful boys.