"We Preach Christ"
(This is the text of a message Pastor Greg Allen of Bethany Bible Church delivered on November 10, 2001, during the annual banquet for Cornerstone Fellowship, Portland, Oregon. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)
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 (Col. 1:28-29).
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An annual banquet such as this is a very good time become recommitted to the mission God has given His church. It's a good time to get back to the basics. These two verses constitute a "mission statement" - an affirmation of some of the basic things God wants us to be doing.
A clear "mission statement" benefits us in many ways. For one thing, it keeps us focused on the larger purpose of ministry; so that we aren't doing things God has never called us to be doing. It directs our energies and resources to the right places and in the right ways; so that our efforts can be as effective as possible. When a church's leaders have a clear vision of what God wants that church to do, then they can share that vision with all the church members, and inspire them to work together toward doing the work the Lord gave them. And a clear mission statement can be a powerfully motivational force in the church family itself, because we're always much more eager to do our work when we're sure of what our work is supposed to be.
But simply having a "mission statement" isn't enough. It needs to be one from God - one that has the full authority of God Himself behind it. That's why I love these two verses. I believe they constitute the mission statement God gave to Paul for his own ministry. I have felt led to embrace it as my own. And I commend it to you as well.
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." 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" a wonderful Person - Jesus 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.
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.
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 Cornerstone Fellowship could proclaim to the world - and the world would be very glad to hear about these things. But those other things are not the things God has called us to proclaim. 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.
Whatever Cornerstone Fellowship does in its various ministries in the coming year, may those things all point to and support the proclamation of its God-appointed message: "Him we preach!"
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Now how are we to do this? God not only tells us here what the message is to be, but also how this message is to get 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 is the work of putting someone in the correct and proper frame of mind. 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.
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 of these things 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 us to do 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 wanted, 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.
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 Cornerstone Fellowship, as a church, would fulfill its ministry as God would want, it too must be bringing the message of Christ to bear in the lives of individual men and women in a loving, personal, "one-on-one" sort of way.
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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 as the head.
I believe that a good description of the sort of understanding Paul had of wisdom can be found in his "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 that 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, Cornerstone Fellowship's ministry toward people must be thoroughly biblical in manner. All the people of God in this church must work to get each other into the word of God; and get the word of God into one another's life.
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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.
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 the great motive in Cornerstone's ministry as well. She needs 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 she needs 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 Cornerstone Fellowship has! As a church family, you deal with spiritual realities and eternal destinies! This work deserves your greatest efforts and personal sacrifices; and yet who is sufficient for such things? How do you 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 small boy, 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".
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.
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And so, I'd like to suggest that an annual banquet such as this is a good time to regain a sense of focus as to Cornerstone Fellowship's ministry for the coming year. It's a good time for each individual member to evaluate his or her personal contribution to the great mission God has given us. So; let's break it down to a personal level:
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