"We Preach Christ"
(Delivered Sunday, January 14, 2001 at Bethany Bible Church. This message is adapted from a chapel address delivered to Multnomah Biblical Seminary on October 17, 2000. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
As we continue our study from the New Testament book of Colossians this morning, I'm very excited about our text. We'll be focusing our attention on only two verses - the last two verses of the first chapter. But these two short verses have grown to be extremely important to me. I have embraced them as my own personal mission statement for ministry. If I ever have any question about what it is that I'm supposed to be doing in my ministry, these two verses give me the answer.
In fact, I've come to believe very strongly that these verses give us a mission statement from God for our church. If we, as a church, were to ask ourselves what we're supposed to be doing, or what the purpose of our church's ministry is, I've become convinced that the answer is found in these two verses. I believe that so strongly that the words from one of these verses is printed on our church business card. It sums-up what we're all about: "We proclaim Him ..." (Col. 1:28; taken from the NASB, updated edition).
My hope is that every believer in our church family will grow to draw their primary sense of vision and purpose for individual ministry from these two verses.
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Let's begin our look at these verses by seeing them in their proper context. Paul's main theme in this letter is the sufficiency of Jesus Christ alone to make us complete before God. His continual affirmation, throughout this letter, is that if we have Jesus Christ, we have everything we need.
In his letter, Paul explains that sinful men and women are reconciled to God through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross alone. As Paul says, "... it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell" (1:19). Paul affirmed to the Colossian believers that "in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the Head of all principality and power" (2:9-10).
And what's more, Paul shows that, being reconciled to God by that faith, redeemed men and women are made complete in Christ in every respect, as they walk day by day in an ongoing relationship with Him by faith. It's from our Lord Jesus Christ, he says, that "all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God" (2:19). As members of His body, the Church, we have everything we need in Him; because, as Paul says, "Christ is all and in all" (3:11).
Paul had a bold confidence in the complete sufficiency of Jesus Christ for everyone who placed their trust in Him. It was his conviction that, above all else, people needed Jesus -- and that, having Jesus, they needed nothing else. For Paul, there was no greater privilege than to introduce people to Christ, and to establish them in a relationship with Him. And so, he was eager to give himself -- completely and sacrificially -- to the work of proclaiming Jesus Christ. As we saw last week, he expressed his own enthusiasm for his ministry in this way;
I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (1:24-27).
Paul saw himself as entrusted by God with a "stewardship" or a "commission" -- "to fulfill the word of God" (or to "fully carry out the preaching of the word of God", as the NASB translates it). That "word from God" was described by Paul as a "mystery" -- something formerly hidden, but now fully revealed to the world. And that mystery is this: "Christ in you, the hope of glory."
To proclaim the full disclosure of that "mystery" -- that was what Paul was all about. That was what drove him in all that he did, and kept him going in spite of all that he suffered. And so, in verses 28-29, Paul sums it all up for us in what constitutes his own "mission statement". Speaking of Christ, he says,
Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily (vv. 28-29).
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A clear "mission statement" is a good thing to have - whether in terms of an individual ministry, or in terms of a local church's sense of purpose. Such a mission statement benefits us in many ways. For one thing, it helps keep us focused on the larger purpose of our ministry; so that we aren't becoming side-tracked by doing things God has never called us to be doing in the first place. It also helps us to direct our energies and resources to the right places and in the right ways, so that our efforts can be as effective as possible. A mission statement can be a powerfully motivational force in our ministry as well, because we're always much more eager to be 'about our business' when we're sure of what that 'business' is. And in terms of the leadership of a church, a mission statement also becomes a powerful force; because when we have a clear vision of what God wants us all to do, we can share the clarity of that vision with others and inspire them to join us in fulfilling our common commission.
But simply having a "mission statement" in ministry isn't enough. Many churches and individual ministries have "mission statements"; but simply having one doesn't mean that they're doing the work of God. It's absolutely essential that it be a clear expression of the mission that God Himself has given us; and one that guides us in fulfilling that mission in a way that God Himself has commanded that it be fulfilled. In other words, we need a "mission statement" that has God's own authority behind it -- and not one that originates from our own imagination, or one that's based on mere tradition, or one that's imposed upon us by the values and priorities of the culture in which we live.
That's why verses 28-29 are so important. They contain us the "mission statement" God gave to Paul. And what Paul says in these two verses constitutes the agenda God wants us to work toward in our own church and through our own individual ministries.
Now; to be perfectly honest, I personally fall terribly short of measuring up to the standard these two verses present. But because I've adopted them as my own "mission statement" of ministry, I hope that, by God's grace, I'm continually making progress and growing toward measuring up to their standard. These two verses serve as a constant "plumb-line" to me -- guiding me as I seek to fulfill and evaluate my own ministry. I recommend the content of these two verses to you as a good, authoritative, reliable, biblical standard by which all of us can objectify our sense of mission in our service to Jesus Christ as a church family.
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Notice, first of all, that God here gives us ...
1. OUR MESSAGE.
Paul said that the great mystery that is now revealed by God to the world is this: "Christ in you, the hope of glory". And so, Paul says, "Him we preach." We can certainly praise God that we don't have to come up with "the message" that will change the world. God has already given that message to us; and our task is simply to announce it. We "preach" or "proclaim" Christ.
Now, what do we say about Him? As you know, a lot of individuals and a lot of groups say that they preach Christ. Many proclaim Jesus to be a great moral teacher, or a great religious figure, or a great example of self-sacrifice and care for others. But if, in the process, such 'preachers' fail to proclaim what God Himself says to be true about Christ in the Bible, they really aren't preaching Christ at all.
So then; what is it that we should preach about Christ? Paul explained the content of a true proclamation of Christ in verses 15-20 of this chapter;
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He might have the preeminence.
For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross (1:15-20).
When Paul preached Christ, he proclaimed Him as the eternal, pre-existent Son of God -- the sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all things -- who condescended to be born into the human family, being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary. Paul preached Him as the One whose sinless life perfectly satisfied the requirements of God's law; who took our sins on His own Person and died on the cross in our place; and whose righteousness God imputed to our account. Paul preached Him as the crucified Son of God -- the One "in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins" (v. 14). And if we would preach Christ, then that's the Christ we must preach.
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Paul didn't preach this message as a 'solo act', by the way. He preached it as a part of a team effort. He speaks emphatically here in the plural: "Christ, whom we ourselves proclaim." Paul was in partnership with others of God's sent messengers -- with Timothy (1:1), and Epaphras (1:7), and Tychicus, and Onesimus, and Aristarchus, and John Mark, and Barnabus and Jesus who is called Justus (4:7-11). Together, they preached this same God-sent message -- "Christ in you, the hope of glory".
Their message is to be our message as well.
And what a privilege it is to proclaim such a message! We preach Christ, who alone provides the only way for men and women to be made right with God. As Jesus Himself said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). And as Paul said, "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). "Nor", as Peter has said, "is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:16). The apostle John shows us how crucial this simple message is when he wrote, "And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:11-12).
There are many interesting and helpful things we can proclaim to the world -- and the world would be very glad to hear about these things from us. But those other things are not the things God has called us to proclaim. Instead, we have been entrusted by God with the one message the people of the world need most to hear -- the only message by which God has pledged Himself to bless people with eternal life.
Let's make sure that whatever else we do in the various ministries of our church, it all points to and supports the proclamation of our God-appointed message: "Him we preach!"
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God not only tells us here what our message is, but also how it is that we're to get that message into people's hearts and lives. Notice that, second, we see ...
2. OUR METHOD.
"Him we preach," Paul says, "warning every man and teaching every man ..."
The method God gives us here involves two things. First, Paul mentions "warning" or (or "admonishing", as it is in some translations). What Paul is talking about, in this particular case, is the work of putting someone in the correct and proper frame of mind. And in this context, the idea is that of urging someone or exhorting someone, with personal, verbal, and passionate counsel, to trust Christ and follow Him faithfully. It's a word that implies an earnest appeal. Paul used this same word when he told the Ephesian elders, "... Remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears" (Acts 20:31).
And second, Paul mentions "teaching"; that is, to instruct someone and inform them of the facts about Jesus and what Jesus taught, so that the truth can be fully understood and accurately believed.
You might think of "teaching" as an act that instructs the mind, and "warning" or "admonition" as an act that instructs the will. We've all been in need of both at times, haven't we? We've all felt the frustration of wanting to do God's will in some particular situation in life; but we didn't know what it was God wanted until He sent someone into our lives to teach us. And then, we've also experienced times when we knew exactly what it is that God wants us to do; but we didn't get into action, and do what God commanded, until another brother or sister came to us and urged us to get into action. We've needed the ministries of both "teaching" and "warning" in our lives.
Both of the acts of "admonishing" and "teaching" are essential in our work of proclaiming Christ. It isn't enough for people to be informed of the truths of the Gospel; they must also be urged to place their trust in those truths and apply them in a practical way to their lives. And likewise, it isn't enough to simply warn people and admonish them to live for Christ; we must also teach and inform them in the truth of Who He is and what it means to live for Him. Teaching alone would only produce well-informed sinners; and admonition by itself would only produce very zealous heretics. Both "admonishing" and "teaching" are to be involved in our method.
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And note also, that we're to exclude no one from the benefit of these two methods. Paul said that he and his co-laborers proclaimed Christ, "warning every man and teaching every man". In fact, Paul's use of the phrase "every man" occurs three times in this verse alone. He doesn't say, "all men", but rather "every man" -- suggesting a ministry that was uniquely directed to individuals. No single man or woman is to be considered beyond the need of admonition and instruction in their walk with Christ.
Paul's proclamation of Christ was definitely a public one -- and he frequently preached Christ to great crowds. But he never forgot that the proclamation of Christ must, in the final analysis, be brought down to a disciple-making ministry on an individual and personal level -- admonishing and teaching each man and each woman that God placed in his sphere of influence. And if we, as a church, would fulfill our ministry as God would have us, we too must be bringing the message of Christ to bear -- in a personal, "one-on-one" sort of way -- in the lives of the individual men, women and children that God has brought under our care.
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So; God has appointed our message to us; and He has described the method by which we're to administer that message. This leads us, thirdly, to ...
3. OUR MANNER.
Paul said that he and his co-laborers proclaimed Christ, "admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom ..."
Someone has once defined wisdom as: "using the best means to accomplish the best ends." And that's an excellent definition, because it reminds us that wisdom -- as God means for us to understand it -- is always practical, and always leads to godly living. Many people think that wisdom is only supposed to result to a transformed head; but the Bible teaches that true wisdom is meant to transforms the heart and the life as well.
I believe that a good description of the sort of understanding Paul had of wisdom can be found in his and his co-workers' "prayer list" for the Colossian believers. He told the Colossians that he rejoiced to hear about their faith in Christ and love for all the saints (1:4), and said;
For this reason, we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding ... (1:9).
For Paul, true wisdom and spiritual understanding had its basis in a knowledge of God's will. And as such, it should always result in a transformed life. Paul prayed that they would be given such wisdom and spiritual understanding,
... that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy, giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light (vv. 10-12).
Doesn't sound like good, practical Christian living? It is! And such a life is the intended product of wisdom. True wisdom from God is never simply "head-knowledge". It's always practical. True wisdom always leads to holy living, because it's based on an knowledge of God's will for us in the situations and circumstances we face in daily life. As Paul told the Colossian believers, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs ..." (4:16).
And so, our church's ministry toward one another must be thoroughly biblical in manner. We must work to get each other into the word of God; and get the word of God into one another's life. It's the Scriptures alone which, as Paul told Timothy, "are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:15-17).
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Paul saw the word of God as crucial to making men and women of God complete -- both "fitted" and properly "outfitted" for every good work. And this leads us to the fourth thing these two verses give us ...
4. OUR MOTIVE.
Paul said that he and his co-laborers did all this, "that we may present every man perfect [or "complete"] in Christ Jesus."
Paul wasn't saying that his ministry involved actually making anyone's salvation "perfect" in Christ -- as though people who were "in Christ" were somehow 'imperfectly saved' until Paul and his partners ministered to them and made them 'perfect'. Being made positionally complete in Christ is a work of God that, for the believer, is already a "done-deal"; and human effort can neither bring this about or add anything to it. Paul already told the Colossians, "For in [Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him ..." (2:9-10). So, what exactly did Paul mean by saying that his goal was to present every man "perfect in Christ"?
For one thing, Paul wanted to show every man or woman who was in Christ that they are already positionally complete precisely because they're in Christ. He wanted them to know, as a theological certainty, that they stand completely justified before God -- completely forgiven of their sins, and made completely fit and ready for heavenly glory -- in Christ alone. He wanted them to believe this with all their hearts.
At the time that Paul wrote this letter to the Colossian believers, there were many who were creeping into the church, and teaching that a simple faith in Christ alone was not enough. They were advocating the idea that, in order to be a truly fulfilled and complete person in God's eyes, something "more" than a relationship with Christ that was needed. Paul warned these Christians to be on their guard, lest anyone "cheat" them, or "take them captive" through mere human philosophies (2:8), or put them under bondage to ceremonial rules and regulations (2:16, 20-22), or distract them into chasing after phony religions and visions and speculations (2:18) -- all of which stood in contradiction to the truth that they had already been made complete in Christ.
One of Paul's concerns in the fulfillment of his ministry, then, was to "present every man" or "render every man" to be "complete" in Christ as a matter of theological reality. As Paul said, "And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight" (1:21-22). It's not a mere potentiality; it's something that's true "now"!
But there's more. Another of Paul's concerns in his ministry was to urge everyone who was in Christ to become "in practice" what they were "in position". He wanted them to grow increasingly in Christ-likeness -- to "live" the life of someone who is truly complete in Christ. He told them, "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving" (2:6-7).
This needs to be our great motive in our church's ministry as well. We need to proclaim to people the great mystery of the Gospel message -- that their only hope of eternal glory is to have Christ in them. And we need to bring that message to bear in individual lives -- admonishing and teaching each man -- in such a way that we "present" them "complete in Christ".
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What a great responsibility we have! We deal with spiritual realities and eternal destinies! This work deserves our greatest efforts and personal sacrifices; and yet, it's one in which we're utterly and completely dependent upon divine resources. Who is sufficient for such things? How do we possibly go about getting such a thing done?
Praise God that, even in this, we aren't left on our own. God gives us a living example of how weak and frail people like us are to "flesh-out" this God-given "mission statement" - both corporately as a church, and personally as individual servants of Christ. God shows us, last of all ...
5. OUR MODEL.
Paul speaks in personal terms, and says, "To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily" (v. 28).
When I was a kid, I used to build models from a plastic model kit. And even though they came with detailed instructions, I'd bet that almost every other kid who built models did what I did. Once I laid all the pieces out on the work-surface, and even opened up the instruction sheet and laid it before me, I took the lid of the box -- the one that contains the picture of the finished model printed on it -- and set it before my eyes. Throughout the process of building the model, I'd constantly check my work to make sure that it looked just like the model in the picture.
I suggest to you that, when it comes to how we fulfill our individual ministries, Paul is meant to be our "picture on the box". We're to look to him as an example of how we are to labor in the fulfillment of our individual ministries of proclaiming Christ.
Look at why he did what he did. He said that "to this end" -- that is, to the end of presenting everyone complete in Christ -- he labored. He made everything that he did, ultimately, to be the servant of his chief calling: preaching Christ. But then, also look at how he did what he did. He "labored". The word he used means to labor and work to the point of weariness. And he labored with "striving"; a word in the Greek from which we get the English word "agony". It refers to the sort of strenuous, self-denying and concerted effort that someone would exert toward winning an athletic event.
We've see here why Paul did what he did, and how he did what he did. Now; considering all that Paul suffered and all that he accomplished, it's a pretty daunting thing to think of looking to him as our example. But please notice, finally the power in which he did all that he did. He said that he labored, "striving according to His working which works in me mightily".
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The great English pastor and preacher Charles Spurgeon was once asked how he -- a rather little and ordinarily looking man -- was able to do the work of so many. He said, "You have to remember -- there are two of us doing the work."
You and I may feel like we're far too weak and frail to labor and strive as Paul did. And we'd be right to feel this way. Paul, however, once said, "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us" (2 Cor. 4:7). We've been shown, through Paul's example, that we're called to labor and strive in our work of proclaiming Christ. But the wonderful marvel of our call to ministry is this: we are all to do so in the full confidence that the Spirit Christ Himself works mightily in us as we proclaim Him.
There's one thing that we can now say, having looked at this passage together: none of us can leave these two verses without knowing what it is that God wants us to be doing. God has given us our "mission statement" here. It may be that we must individually apply it to our unique calling to ministry within the church in different ways; but nevertheless, these two verses give us God's basic agenda for our church's mission.
And I'd suggest that God would want us to apply all this by regularly evaluating our church's ministry against what is said in these two verses:
Our message is Christ. Let's keep asking ourselves what we're we doing in our church's ministry to advance the proclamation of that message. Let's ask ourselves what we, as individual's, are doing to advance that message.
Our method is to admonish every man and teach every man. Let's keep asking ourselves how we're bringing the message of Christ down to the level of admonishing and teaching individuals.
Our manner is to be in all wisdom. Let's keep asking ourselves what we're doing - both as a church and as individuals - to bring God's precious word to bear in the lives of other people.
Our motive is to present every man complete in Christ. Let's keep before ourselves the goal of conforming God's people -- both in their beliefs, and in their practice -- to a sense of their completion Jesus Christ. Let's work to be a church filled with people who are presented as "perfect" in Him.
And finally, our model is Paul. Let's keep faithfully working and laboring together with complete and confident reliance on the Holy Spirit, who is able to work through us and make our church's ministry pleasing to our Lord.
(copyright 2001 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)
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