What are you doing? Angry, surprised, interested, confused, sceptical, we ask that one question in so many ways, how many times have you said it this week? In how many ways?
I wonder if you’ve ever asked yourself that question about your Christian life - when you come to Church, what are you doing here? We do a lot of different things here, from setting out chairs to serving coffee, to singing, to morning tea/supper, to all things that happen up here when we’re preaching and behind the scenes, what’s it all for? What’s the heart of it all about?
Our passage answers that question for us today. Paul tells us what we’re doing, how to do it, and why we do it.
Firstly Paul tells us a bit about his own situation in Colossians 1:24
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. (NIV)
As Paul writes this letter, he’s in prison, he’s in chains, probably hungry and lonely. He’s been put in prison for spreading the word about Jesus everywhere he goes. And while he sits and prays and writes he says - what I’m suffering is for you Colossians, and others who will read this letter- that’s us!
When Paul was first called by Jesus he was given a particular role for the Church. Before he was converted, he was going around finding anyone who followed Jesus and he was dragging them out of their homes and throwing them in jail and even killing some of them. He was trying to make the Church suffer! When Jesus called Paul, he said – He’s going be my special instrument to take the gospel to the gentiles - us! I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. So Paul sees himself doing exactly what Jesus called him to do, he is suffering for others. But what does he mean by him filling up what was lacking in Jesus’ afflictions? Was Jesus’ sacrifice not enough? Well no, he doesn’t mean that! He clearly just said back in verse 22 that we’ve been reconciled to God completely by Christ’s physical sacrifice, fully accepted!
It is done, a once for all sacrifice, fully paid and no need for anything else - that’s why Jesus rose from the dead, to prove that the sacrifice was enough! What did Jesus say on the cross? - it is finished!
It’s not about Jesus’ sufferings for salvation, but it’s the oppression he faced from his enemies. It’s about his persecutions. Notice that it’s a different word, not suffering but affliction, it’s oppression, it’s the things people wanted to do to Jesus to stop his cause.
So Paul is saying here, I’m experiencing in my body what Jesus would have suffered in his own body, if he were still around. And it’s for your sake, the people of God are so connected with Christ, that what they do to us, they do to Him, and what they want to do to him, they do through us!
But did you notice what he said just before he talked about his suffering…. Verse 24… I rejoice in what I’m suffering. What a strange thing to say! how can Paul rejoice in what he suffers? he’s been beaten, stoned, whipped, starved, travelled long distances in the cold and dark, been shipwrecked, persecuted and betrayed by close friends, all for the church. Why’s he rejoicing?
I often whinge about having to drive half an hour to Church, and I complain when I miss out on coffee before the service, so how can Paul rejoice in all that? It’s because he knows why he exists! If you remember last week’s talk - in the section just before this one, verse 15-23 Paul laid out the reality that all of life exists through Jesus, and for Jesus Christ! He is the reason and the meaning of all of life!
Paul knows, whether he suffers, or is free, whether he’s living or dying, whatever’s happening, he rejoices, because his life is being lived in line with God’s purpose! Oh, how we need that attitude!!
When our lives are aligned with Jesus and his purpose for life, whatever the circumstance, we can rejoice! Let me say that again: When your life is aligned with Jesus and his purpose for your life, rejoicing is inevitable, despite our circumstances!
Paul knows who he lives for, and so he rejoices in his sufferings for the Church. Then he tells us what his role is for the Church. What does he actually do!?
This is what he does: He says in verse 25 - I have become the Church’s servant, by God’s commission, to do what? To present to them the word of God in its fullness. What is that word of God in its fullness. See Colossians 1:26 - 27
the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. All Christians. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles (that’s us) the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (NIV)
All of the scriptures have been pointing toward this point! This is what God wanted the world to know! This is the fullness of His word, the heart of God’s revelation. Since the beginning, after sin separated us from God, the big question the Jews and all the other people of the ancient world couldn’t work out was: How does one get to heaven to share the glory of God? That’s the question every religion is seeking an answer for, How do you get out of this world into the presence of God?
Paul says, the mystery’s revealed, the secret’s out, Jesus answered the question. Not by giving us a list of things to do to climb the ladder to get to God but by coming down to us, proving who He is, dying in our place for our sin and bringing us into a relationship with himself, by his own spirit. He connected us with God, by His Spirit, so now for everyone who believes:
Christ lives in you! Which has given us the sure hope of heaven. That’s how he revealed His mystery. We’re asking - how do we get to God? Well - God came to us! Now Christ is present with His people all over the world! Even here with us today! And Paul says, if Christ is in you, then your glory in heaven is inevitable! That glory we’re waiting for is spending eternity in the presence of the one who made all things, after he’s made all things right! No more sin, no more suffering, and that reality is for everyone who’s put their faith in Jesus, that glory is a sure hope! It’s not a maybe. It’s 100% because of Jesus! Praise God!
And then in verse 28 Paul tells us exactly what we’re doing, and how and why!
What - He is the one we proclaim,
How - admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
Why - so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.
Not only do we exist for Jesus, all creation is moving towards one thing to being presented to Jesus - who is the judge of all humanity. Every person, from every nation, will one day stand before God and be judged on how they’ve responded to God’s call on their lives. Whether they made friends with Jesus, or kept him as an enemy.
Paul says, in light of that day, we want to present as many people as possible, in fact he says, every person mature in Christ completely and fully. What he means is - in a right relationship with Christ.
Which leads us to the next thing here, if that’s where everything is moving, what does Paul say we do to get people ready? Look at the beginning of the verse – He is the one we proclaim! Now notice the change from the I to the WE, from what Paul does, to what WE do. We’re all involved in this work and we all have the privilege of sharing this message. Notice he says we proclaim HIM! Not a program, not a movement, not a set of do’s and don’ts, but a person! Christianity is about the person of Jesus Christ! The whole message of the Bible, from beginning to end, is about Jesus. And the reason God gave us that word, is so we’d declare it to others.
And that’s what Paul means here by proclaiming the word - in all its fullness:
It’s declaring the reason and the purpose God gave us His word. So that people can have a personal relationship with God through Jesus. The Bible’s not just about information, laws and history, but about proclamation - it’s about calling people to respond to what Jesus has done for them! The mystery has been revealed, it’s about Christ, and it comes to us in the form of his word, that’s why Paul says we proclaim him from the word. It’s the word that builds us up, brings us into a closer relationship with Jesus and prepares us to meet him in a right state when that day comes. While all people are moving towards being presented to Jesus, it’s the word about Him that gets us ready to meet Him.
Then, in the middle of the verse, Paul gives us an insight into how we go about it.
Teaching is pretty easy to understand, it’s helping others to understand clearly what the bible is saying. To admonish someone, that’s where most of us don’t like to be, or where some of us like to be too much. To admonish someone is to call them, to urge them to respond rightly to what’s being taught. It’s being willing to tell someone they’ve done wrong, that they need to change and that they should be doing something different, that they should be doing something more. It’s being willing to call someone to confess their sin and turn to Jesus in repentance and live for him. I don’t know many people who enjoy doing that, or having it done to us. Do you? It’s hard, and it’s hard to take.
My little son Micah is 10 months old, and he hates getting dressed, when I’m getting him ready he’s kicking and screaming, he doesn’t like his nappy changed, he hates getting his arms in the sleeves, it’s painful and I dread every time I’ve got to do it, but I’ve got to do it for him, I’ve got to get him ready and once he’s dressed and ready he’s happy.
We can often feel the same about getting each other ready for God, can’t we? It’s going to be painful. We can feel like, who am I to tell someone else when I don’t have it together. Or if I don’t tell them, maybe they’ll leave me alone. But it’s essential!! And it’s the purpose of the gospel. It’s not just for the Pastors, it’s the role of every Christian. Later in chapter 3 Paul says to the whole Church, let the word of Christ dwell richly among you as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom. Teaching and admonishing is the privilege of every believer!
But here’s the thing about admonishing each other, it can be done really well or really badly! I’m sure we’ve all been on the receiving end of someone who thought admonishing was giving us a piece of their mind… right?
So Paul both times adds in this little phrase - with all wisdom.What does this mean? Wisdom is the ability to think and act like God in the world, with his heart and with his purposes in mind. First of all we should say, praise God, he’s given us that wisdom!
The heart of what Paul means here is similar to a phrase he uses in Ephesians – to speak the truth in love to one another. Truth in love! Sometimes we want to love in spite of truth, and often we give truth without love, they’ve got to come as a package.
Paul Tripp in his book called “instruments in the redeemer’s hands” talks about how hard it often is to tell people the truth about sin or to discuss serious things with people. But he goes on to say, when we don’t speak that truth to them, it’s actually being unloving towards them, it’s usually because we’re loving ourselves instead.
Why wouldn’t I bring up a hard truth with you about something in your life, well because I want to spare myself the pain and the awkwardness, it’s not for your sake I don’t bring it up, but often for my sake. But truly loving another person means we will speak the truth to them, but in a way that benefits them because we love them and we love the truth!
Theodore Roosevelt once said,
No one cares about how much you know, until they know how much you care!
I think I’ve said this before, but when I first became a Christian, I was convinced people were going to face God one day, and they needed to hear the truth and so whatever it is, I’m going to let them know, because it’s not between me and them, it’s between them and God! I soon earned myself the nickname, "Rob the rebuker". Now, I was telling people the truth, but I wasn’t doing it with wisdom at all! I soon realised people don’t like being told to change, even I don’t. Especially when it feels like you think you’re better than them. After a while I started getting feedback from people that they felt like I didn’t actually care about them and their lives, but just wanted to jump on them when they did the wrong thing. I was like the sin police! Around that time another friend of mine, who’s a carpenter and knows me well, used to joke about me being Rob the rebuker. One day he said to me, “Hey Rob, I reckon you should try becoming Rob the encourager instead of Rob the rebuker” And those words have stayed with me for years. That was his way of admonishing me, it wasn’t harsh, it wasn’t pride-filled, it was forward moving and timely. I needed to hear that, and he knew I did. He’s not a pastor, he’s just a good friend, but his words have changed the way I relate with others, and his words have helped me prepare to meet Jesus in a better place. Our words can have eternal significance.
How might we also do the same for someone else? It’d be so easy and comfortable if we never had to say hard things to each other, but life’s messy and those times come and God’s told us it’s necessary in view of presenting each other mature in Christ on that last day!
So there’s the answer to the question I started with, what are we doing here? We’re speaking the word about Jesus to one another to present everyone mature in Him!
As Ray often puts it, we’re continually introducing people to Jesus, from the scriptures, in the context of loving relationships.
As Bridesmaids, make-up, flowers and the white dress get the bride ready to meet the groom, so God’s word on the lips of his people get us ready to meet him on that day.
The question for us is - Is that what we’re doing? When you were getting ready for Church today, is that what you thought you were coming here for? Are you helping people prepare to meet Jesus? Here and in every other part of your life? At work and at home? We all play our different parts, but at the heart, that’s what we’re doing!
I love the end of the movie Schindlers list. It’s based on a true story. The main guy Schindler has been helping Jews escape concentration camps by buying them out and giving them specific jobs in his own company. At the end of the movie the Nazi’s find out he’s been doing it and he has to flee the country, but just before he leaves, all the people he’s saved come out to meet him to thank him for what he’s done and there are about 1100 jews there. Even though he’s saved so many, he’d done so much, now that he can’t do anymore he realised all the things he should have done.
I know money can’t buy people, but the realisation that we had so much opportunity, I think if we truly understood what it will mean for every person to be presented to Jesus at the end, we’d feel the same as Schindler did wouldn’t we. My prayer from this passage is that we’d realise well before the last day!
Now because this is all in light of people being presented to God, look at how much effort Paul gives it. Colossians 1:29 Paul says:
To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (NIV)
I went on a bike ride once with a guy from my old church. We went from Marrickville to La Perouse and back, it’s about 50km, it was my first big ride in a very long time. On the way back I was dead! My legs were completely out of puff and I was pushing but there was nothing there. They all slowed down, waiting for me, but I was saying, just let me stop, I’ll be ok, I can get the bus home! Don’t worry! And the leader of the group, a lady, kept saying, nope, no-one gets left behind. They all grouped around me, so I’d get caught up in their wind, and they put me right up behind one guy and said, just keep your wheel right up close to his and keep those legs going. I was pushing as hard as I could and I had nothing left, but I wasn’t actually doing much, they were carrying me as a team and I was working with all the energy I had, with the energy they were working around me to keep me going. I’d never have made it on my own.
It’s the same for us in our labour in the Christian life. God is continually working within us to keep us going for his cause.
Now that won’t always look glorious, in Paul’s case it looked like sitting in jail after being persecuted and beaten, sitting in chains writing letters to the Churches and praying for them, but we can be sure that we’re never alone in our service of God and his people. God is always working within us, for our benefit and his glory!