“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, 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, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 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. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. 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.”
Some of you might recall the place in 2 Peter 3 when the apostle Peter talks about the letters of the apostle Paul. He begins by referring to Paul as “our beloved brother Paul” — which like saying “Paul, bless his heart.” And then he mentions that Paul has written letters, and he makes this comment, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:16). So Peter is talking about Paul’s letters and he says that yeah, some of it isn’t easy to read. Now some of you might recall the place where Peter says that, but whether you do or you don’t, you need to know that when Peter says that Paul’s letters are hard to understand, he is not talking about Colossians.
And the reason I say that is because the Book of Colossians is one of the clearest letters in the New Testament. Paul writes and says, This is what I do. This is the goal of what I do. And this is why I do what I do. He says this explicitly and then he begins to model how that actually looks in the letter itself, and we are to learn from him.
As a church, we need to know what it is we’re doing here. What are we about? Well, following Paul’s example, there are three things we’re going to look at this morning:
1) The work; 2) the goal; 3) the reason.
And as we look at these, I want us to put them together and let it shape the culture of our church because what we are going to see here goes for everyone. This is not just for the pastors or for the leader-types. This is for everyone in our church.
If you’re here as a guest, thanks so much for coming. It is our blessing to have you here, and you can think of this sermon as just us dreaming about the kind of church we want to become. If you are a Christian, please pray for us toward this. And if you are here to just check things out, hopefully this will be a good snapshot of what we are trying to do. Okay, so there’s the work, the goal, and the reason. The first thing to look at is the work.
1. The Work (Colossians 1:28a)
Straightforward, Paul says at the beginning of verse 28, speaking of Jesus: “Him we proclaim.” In verse 27, just before it, Paul explains what God has called him to do: Paul is called to make known—to show people—that the riches of God’s glory in Christ is great among the nations. Which means, the good news of Jesus is for everybody everywhere, and that good news, the truth once veiled but now clear, is this: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
This is how that goes: Jesus the Messiah is Lord of all. He is the King of the universe, the Savior of the world. When you put your faith in Jesus, when you trust him and embrace him in his death and resurrection for you, you then become united to him. His Spirit becomes a part of you and you are so joined to Jesus that all of his benefits as the Son of God become your benefits. It means that you are forgiven for all your sins, that you are declared righteous and guiltless before God; it means that you are cleansed from any defilements, and you are made a son or daughter of God with a future. You have the hope of glory, which means, you will be with God forever. This is what Jesus is about. And when Paul says he proclaims Jesus, Paul is saying that this is what he is about. This is what he’s going to talk about, this is what he does. This is Paul’s work, and this is our work.
But don’t get the wrong impression. Don’t think that when Paul says he proclaims Christ that he just walks around and says “Jesus!” Don’t try that at home, or at work, or anywhere. Look down at chapter 2, verses 2–3, you’ll see that Paul says in Jesus are hidden “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” There are amazing implications here. When we proclaim Jesus, we aren’t just dropping his name, but we are speaking about ultimate reality. Paul tells us more of how this looks in verse 28. He says, “Him we proclaim” and then follows with the short phrase: “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom.”
The word for warning in the New Testment is also translated “admonish.” In the original language the word is literally to “put in mind” and carries the idea to “put your mind in order.” It’s the negative side of Paul’s ministry when he needs to fix things, to organize complexity, to clear things up.
That is what it means to warn or admonish — it’s to clear things up — and we need this in our lives. Now, I know that right now, probably most of us sitting here are not thinking: “Yeah, I need to be warned. Maybe that person, but not me. I need teaching.” But see, that’s not how it works.
We shouldn’t think that the warning part here is for the really messed up people, and the teaching part is for the people who have it together and just want to grow. Don’t think of this as milk and meat. That’s not what it is. Warning and teaching is what we need and what we do because we all are messed up somewhere. We all need help in getting things righty, in seeing things truly, and that’s why we need each other. This is not for a certain type of person, it’s for everyone. It’s not a one-time thing, it’s always happening.
In Acts 20:31, Paul uses this same word for “warning” to describe his ministry to the Ephesians: “Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” Paul, over and over, helped the churches understand how the good news of Jesus changes everything. And even in this letter, in Colossians, he models that in chapter 2, and then he tells us verbatim to do that ourselves in Colossians 3:16. The same words he uses to describe what he does in 1:28 are the same words he uses in 3:16 to describe what it means for the word of Christ to dwell in us. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (3:16).
This is our work, this is what we do. We help one another understand the glory of Jesus. We help one another understand how Jesus changes our lives. I want us to think of this as part of the normal routines of our lives together. Don’t think that to speak Jesus to someone is some big, formal procedure. It is simple. In our relationships, we just keep coming back to him again and again, trying to understand together who he is and what he has done.
This is our work: We speak Jesus to one another.
But there’s more. We don’t just speak Jesus, and do this warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, but we speak Jesus with a goal in mind.
2. The Goal (Colossians 1:28b)
The goal for proclaiming Christ is that we may present everyone mature in Christ. Now the word for mature could also be “complete.” It means that our goal for everyone who comes into the sphere of our ministry is that they be complete in Christ, grown up in Christ, whole in Christ.
I think that Paul puts some flesh on what he means by “mature in Christ” in the rest of the letter. In fact, just a few verses later, in 2:2–3, Paul says that his struggle for the church is that we “reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.” To be mature in Christ is to really know Christ. Or to be mature in Christ, Paul might say, is to walk in Christ, to be rooted and built up in him and established in the faith (2:6). Or Paul might say that to be “mature in Christ” is to set our minds on Christ, to find our identity in Jesus in whom our lives are hidden (3:1–4), or being mature in Christ means we look like Jesus in our character (3:12–14), it is to let the peace of Jesus rule in our hearts (3:15), to let word of Jesus dwell in us richly (3:16). To be “mature in Christ” means that in whatever we do, whether in word or deed, that we do “everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:17). These all are ways that Paul exhorts the church in this letter, envisioning who he wants them to become. To be this is to be mature, complete, grown up in Christ. And this is really helpful I think in clarifying our mission as a church.
Our mission at Cities Church, straight from the mouth of Jesus, is to make disciples. And the way that we have described what a disciple is, from the Gospel of John, is a worshiper of Jesus, a servant like Jesus, and missionary with Jesus. This is who we want to be, and this is who we want to help others to become. And now Paul helps us qualify this a little more. We want to be this in a grown-up way.
A disciple of Jesus — a worshiper, servant, and missionary — is not just who we want to become in theory. We aren’t just saying, “Yeah, that sounds good.”
Being a disciple like this is also not just us doing things. We’re not going to become disciples of Jesus like this just by incorporating new events into our lives.
The goal is not just how we think or what we do, but this is about an all-consuming embrace of Jesus. Or maybe we should say, his all-consuming embrace of us. We don’t want to merely be something on paper, we want our lives to be overcome by him. I want the end of myself. I want Christ to be all. I want you to want that. I want us to want that together — to want what Paul says, that everything we do, whether in word or deed, we do in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (3:17). This is mature in Christ — when Jesus takes over everything, when we really know him. And this is the goal.
Paul is saying something else here, too.
It’s something he emphasizes. You probably noticed it in the verse — how he repeats the word “all.” We use the word “everyone” but it we were following Paul’s repetition literally, he is saying in verse 28: “Christ we proclaim, warning all men and teaching all men in all wisdom that we may present all men mature in Christ.”
Four times he says “all” — which means, it is important. The work and the goal is for everyone. What we are trying to do in these Cities applies to every single person who lives here. And what Paul is actually doing, what this “everyone” actually intends, is to say more about God’s grace than it does our ministry. God’s miracle-working grace in Jesus, his saving us and making us like Jesus, is so great, so expansive, so overflowing, that it is for every single kind of person. The fact that proclaiming Jesus and being complete in him is for everyone means, according to how we see the world, there is no one outside the possibility of this miracle happening in their lives.
And this corrects our messed up little perception of God’s work in the world and in our Cities. We look at people and we make judgments and we tend think we might know who has more potential to be a mature Christian, and while we are here doing that, one of the next pastors at Cities Church is selling cocaine down Lake Street. And ladies, the woman who is going to become your most faithful prayer partner in a few years, right now she is wearing a burka.
What we are doing (our work to proclaim Christ) and what we’re dreaming of (our goal that people be mature in Christ) is for everyone, because God’s grace is that great. And this can we our work and our goal only because it was God’s work and goal first.
This brings us to the last point, our reason. We’ve seen our work, our goal, and now the reason why. Paul starts the letter this way.
3. The Reason (1:13–23)
We should never forget that this amazing thing we get to do, this exalting Jesus, lifting him high and drawing people to him, this is a work we are invited into, not a work that we invented. Everything around us, creation and everything in it, exists because God the Father chose to show us his glory, which means, he chose to show us his Son.
In a phrase, we do what we do because Jesus is real. You guys have heard me say this before. Jesus is real. Sometimes I think we don’t have a clue how real he is. Jesus is so real.
Paul grounds everything that he says in Colossians in this fact. If we want to see it, we look at chapter 1. The point here, in the apostle’s mind, and hopefully ours, is that any talk or efforts in mission are inconceivable apart from the glory of Jesus. What we need (and will need) time and time again is not a better strategy or method, but just to see him.
There is so much ahead of us, so much we want to do together, but church, remember, this is not our burden — this is our miracle. That we are here, that we’ve been invited into this thing. . . just look at what Paul says . . .
Remember that we, that you, were once in darkness. But God delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of all our sins. And this Jesus, in whom we have redemption, this one in whom we trust and have been united to by faith, he is the image of the invisible God, he’s the firstborn of all creation.
For in him, in Jesus, all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things that were created were created through him and for him. Think about that: everything that there is exists because of Jesus. Which means, everything that we see, everything around us, is about him, in reference to him, pointing to him.
And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. In old creation and in new creation, past, present, and future, Jesus is king. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
So this Jesus who is behind everything and who rules everything, know that he died for you. He bled to bring you peace. I don’t mean theoretical peace, real peace. Jesus died in your place on the cross, he suffered the punishment we deserved for all our sins — all our sins, all your sins, all your past — Jesus took it and in exchange, he gives you his righteousness. He gives you a perfect standing before God. Jesus died and was buried and then was raised victorious over death, to bring you home, to make you his, to make you, no longer estranged from God, but to make you a son or a daughter of God forever. This is our reason.
See, we didn’t invent this, we have been invited into this by God’s grace.
Do you believe that?
If you’re here today, and you’ve never embraced Jesus like that, you can right now. Embrace him, trust him like that. And for us as a church, embrace him like that. Because our work and our goal is not a burden, it’s a miracle. We are only here because of who Jesus is and what he has done. Telling that good news to one another and to the Cities is not an assignment we’ve been given, it is a wonder that God has invited us into.
So, we saw our work, our goal, our reason.
If we were to put it all together, we might say it this way:
we speak Jesus to know Jesus because of Jesus.
Our work (to proclaim Christ) and goal (to be complete in Christ) and our reason (because of who Christ is) — this is what I pray becomes our culture at Cities Church. I want this to be thick in air. We speak Jesus to know Jesus because of Jesus.
This is his invitation, and he is saying to us: I’ll be with you forever.