Together in Christ
April 10, 2022 | In Christ Alone | Together in Christ| Colossians 1:24-2:5
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As we make our way through the book of Colossians, and we come to the section of scripture that we are looking at today, it’s almost like Paul takes a step back. After portraying a very high view of Christ and his work, he now tells them about himself. At first reading, it seems...anti-climactic.
But when we dig a little deeper, we realize that rather than being anti-climatic, Paul is still establishing the foundation of the point of this letter, the supremacy of Christ in all things, or as our series title suggests, the idea of ‘in Christ alone’. As a matter of fact our scripture today brings us right up to Paul’s first ‘therefore’
If you are familiar with the New Testament and especially the writings of the Apostle Paul, there is always a moment in his letter where he transitions from theological to practical, thought to action. With that in mind, we look at our text this morning, not as a step back, but as the culmination of his introductory teachings.
'This is who you are in Christ, this is my prayer for you to grow in Christ, and I want you to know that all reconciliation comes through Christ. He is supreme over creation, over redemption... and he should be supreme both in the leadership of the church and the congregation who makes up the church.'
In our text, we find two descriptions of being in Christ, a pastor in Christ and a congregation in Christ.
In giving these descriptions, Paul answers the following questions...
'What does a healthy pastor’s life in Christ look like?'
'What does a healthy congregation’s life in Christ look like?'
Paul presents these descriptions which don’t dive into every detail or possible explanation, but rather he provides a flyover, a 40,000-foot view where we can begin to truly understand what health in Christ looks like for a New Testament church, both her members and her leaders.
We will look at these two descriptions under the heading Together in Christ.
His first description is that of 'a pastor in Christ’. Paul, in sharing his heart and ministry on behalf of these believers does a great job of showing what a leader, a shepherd in the church, ought to look like.
A Pastor in Christ 1.24-29
Colossians 1:24-29 (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.
A Life lived for the sake of the body vs 24
Now, at this present time, I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake. Remember, Paul is writing from prison essentially because of his ministry to the gentiles. Paul says, if the results of my ministry efforts are that churches like you have been established, then I am filled with joy. If in my sufferings, Christ is glorified and you are encouraged, then even prison cannot dim my joy. Paul would gladly spend his life on behalf of the body, because of his love for Christ.
His next statement is a little less clear and more difficult to understand.
In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body
Some have wrongly attributed Paul as saying there is a deficiency in Christ’s sufferings and this has led to many heretical teachings, one of the most well-known is the dispensing of indulgences. Paul has made it clear in this letter and in many of his other writings that Christ’s work is completed, it has satisfied the law and provided atonement for anyone who would come to God. A more holistic view in light of scripture would be to interpret what Paul is saying as Paul is bearing his sufferings on behalf of the church.
Christ’s physical earthly sufferings are finished but the church will experience sufferings and persecutions, which Paul calls Christ’s sufferings.
A clue into what Paul means comes from his own supernatural experience with Christ on the road to Damascus.
Acts 9:1-5 (ESV) 1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Then God told Ananias this in reference to Paul “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
Christ suffered to establish the church, and he would suffer through Paul to build it and extend it to the gentiles.
God’s under shepherds must be willing to spend their lives in the advancement of the gospel and on behalf of the body, the church. Which means sacrifice and oftentimes suffering to do so. Jesus promised that his followers would experience suffering, and rather than be discouraged by that, Paul embraced it because he saw the work God was doing through it.
A Calling from God vs 25-27
…of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you
Leading, shepherding in the church is a calling. It is an assignment, it is a gift from God.
Paul says, I became a minister of the church. The word minister here is the same word we get deacon from, it can also be translated as servant.
The call to lead is the call to serve. Don’t trust a leader that won’t or doesn’t serve.
The call to lead is the call to serve. Don’t trust a leader that won’t or doesn’t serve.
Paul says he became a minister of the church according to the stewardship from God
God entrusted Paul with the responsibility and task to care for and serve the body on his behalf. Particularly to the gentiles, as we have already seen in his calling.
What service was Paul given? To make the word of God fully known
Paul’s task was to come alongside the church and labor so that the truth was received and falsehoods were rejected. Paul specifically uses the term mystery here because it was a term the false teachers were using to encourage the Colossian believers that they needed something beyond Christ. Paul says all the riches of the glory of this mystery are included in Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Paul’s calling was to ensure that the gentiles and the Jews understood that Christ died for all men, regardless of ethnicity or nationality.
Today, a pastor’s calling is different, but it is nonetheless a calling on his life to lead, guide, and protect the truth revealed by God through Christ.
A Ministry of Proclaiming Christ vs 28
Him we proclaim-declare or preach
Warning- non believers teaching- believers (expound, explain, instruct, doctrine)
That we may present mature (completeness, brought to its end, wholeness)
everyone-(three times) all-inclusive nature of the gospel
This is a pretty straightforward description Paul gives.
The ministry of proclamation is the pastor’s greatest ministry. If a pastor is proclaiming week after week anything other than Christ, so that non-believers will be warned and believers will be taught, his ministry is not in line with God’s will.
The ministry of prayer and the word is central to a Pastor who is healthy in Christ.
A Dependence on God’s power vs 29
For this, I toil- work hard struggling- contend(gymnastic games) with all his energy that he powerfully (dynamis- dynamite) inherent power) works (operates, same root word-energy) in me
After showing the supremacy of Christ in creation, and in redemption, now Paul says that Christ is supreme in his own ministry. Paul works hard, and contends for the faith, expending all his energy while simultaneously acknowledging that the energy comes from God working in and through him.
A Pastor who is working in his own ability, or giftedness, or talents, will soon find himself at the end of himself before the work is done. A Pastor in Christ understands that if he is to be fruitful and successful in his ministry, his calling, and his life it will be because he depends on the power of God to produce results.
Paul now transitions, when he says, 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,
Paul was concerned and in distress at the idea of these believers being seduced by false teachers and being led astray. His desire was that they would not stagnate, but that they would mature in their faith, and experience the fullness of God’s purposes in their lives, which is what he turns to now.
Verse 2- the word that is better understood as ‘in order that’
This is the aim of a pastor in Christ’s ministry, a congregation fully in Christ. Let’s look at how Paul describes that kind of people.
A Congregation in Christ 2:2-5
Strong in Christ vs 2a
Hearts be encouraged- strengthened through comfort in their inner person
The idea here is that the church would be spiritually strong.
Following Christ is hard, we are a people living behind enemy lines, beset on all sides by temptations, and bombarded with messages contrary to scripture. We battle the flesh, the world, and the enemy. Following Christ is not for the faint of heart.
A congregation that is in Christ will be able to stand despite the pressures from the world, they will hold fast to sound doctrine, they will not forsake the assembling of themselves together when it’s difficult, they will labor in prayer for one another.
COVID revealed that many of our churches were not as spiritually strong as we thought, but if it’s not COVID it will always be something else. To resist, to battle, to remain connected, to remain strong together.
United in Love vs 2b
Hearts encouraged, being knit together in love
Knit together- the idea here is compact, compressed together, so unified that it’s difficult to tell where one piece ends and another begins. That doesn't mean we should all look the same, act the same, talk the same, etc...
The beauty of a tapestry is not that all pieces are exact, but that all pieces are so well connected that it completes one singular image. Unity in the church is not uniformity.
Later Paul is going to say it this way Colossians 3:14 (ESV) 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
The church brings together all kinds of people from different backgrounds, different life stages, different ages, different ethnicities, different nationalities, and races. The potential for discord is great. But a church united in Christ will be a church united in love.
It’s worth mentioning that the word Paul uses for love is not just emotional love, not a feeling of love, but agape.
Love that seeks what is best for another. Love that serves.
How does a church become knit together in love? Mutual submission to one another in the name of Christ. It is not about getting your way or having your preferences. It is about serving one another in love towards the goal of growing together in Christ.
Maturing in Knowledge vs 2c
To reach (for the purpose) all the riches (abundance) of full assurance (most certain confidence) of understanding and knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.
Here Paul again emphasizes that those who are in Christ, who have been revealed the mystery of Christ should be growing in their understanding and knowledge of Christ. It is a drum he beat throughout this letter and throughout his ministry.
The church is not just a collection of people who have been saved and redeemed, it is a collection of people who are being sanctified, or growing in their knowledge of and relationship with Christ.
In whom are hidden (kept) all the treasures (treasury) of wisdom (right application of knowledge) and knowledge (gnōsis- spiritual knowledge)
Paul wonderfully states for these believers that the maturity and knowledge they were being promised by these false teachers were not found in their teachings, but rather in Christ. He uses the word knowledge, where we get the word Gnostics from. They taught there was a secret knowledge (gnōsis) that you had to be taught in order to fully experience and understand Christ.
Unfortunately, this idea has seduced many Christians throughout history and even today.
The idea that they need some kind of secret knowledge in order to better understand or know Christ.
So we read books that promise to unlock the meaning of the scriptures, we buy up the new bestseller that unlocks the meaning of Biblical prophecy and predicts when Jesus will come, even though the author has written four books before about the signs that Jesus will come. In 1984, in 1999, in 2008.
We make best bestsellers out of fictional accounts of people going to heaven and coming back to tell about it. We flock to teachers who claim to have a word from God.
This doesn’t produce maturity, it stunts it. This doesn’t make you wiser, it makes you duller. Paul says, all of the wisdom and knowledge we need is in Christ, and all that Christ revealed about himself is in here. Christ is the only way to know more of God, he is the only way to encounter and grow in your relationship with God.
Steadfast in Faith vs 4
I say this so that no one may delude you (come alongside you and cause you to miscount) with plausible arguments (enticing and persuasive arguments).
The world is good at persuasion, but many in the church are good at it too. False teachers are often some of the most engaging and persuasive speakers. Their soundbites sound good, their emotional pleas move you, and their stories draw you in.
But being able to speak or write well shouldn’t be the prerequisite for you to believe someone or not. The question should be, does it align with scripture, does it confess Jesus is the only way to God?
Paul concludes with a reminder that these four descriptions should be true of them whether he is with them in person or not. These should be true of you whether you are in the church building or not. Most often, the place you are going to have to stay strong in your faith is not going to be here, but out in the world. At your job, at the ball field, at the market.
Paul uses two words to describe steadfastness in faith.
Good order (orderly condition/orderly arranged) and firmness (steadfastness) both are borrowed from the military sense of a group of troops in rank with a solid front line.
The idea is that the congregation has ordered their life around their faith and stand ready to defend against any and all attacks against it.
Paul says, he rejoices to hear that this congregation is doing just that.
Two descriptions. A pastor who is living his life for the sake of the body, walking in his calling, proclaiming Christ, and dependent on God’s power, serving a body that is spiritually strong, united in love, maturing in Christ, and steadfast in their faith.
That is a beautiful picture of what it means to corporately be in Christ.
It also serves as a great measuring stick for your pastor and yourselves.