Listen: Simon Manchester presents Christian Growth
In this series, Simon explores the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae.
The apostle Paul is writing from prison to a church, which he has never visited and maybe never did visit. And they’re very new believers. And he’s full of thanks because the message of Christ has come like a seed and is being planted in their hearts and is born a kind of a tree, which has begun to show the fruits of faith and hope and love.
Asking God’s blessing on listening to His Word
Well, friends, let’s bow our heads for a moment and ask God’s blessing. Father, we thank you for recording for us your word and pray that as we consider it for these few minutes, you would help us to receive it and to live it and to rejoice in it. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, friends, we’re following the very wonderful letter, which is called Colossians on this Sunday mornings’. It was written by the Apostle Paul as we know to some new believers, he writes very joyfully. He writes prayerfully and he writes watchfully. I once had the American preacher, Tim Keller, say, that he had very small views of Jesus Christ until he went on a youth retreat. And at the youth retreat, the speaker said, “I want you to imagine that you’ve got to make a model of the galaxy in which we live.” And the speaker said, “The scale of the model is that the distance from the earth to the sun will be the thickness of a piece of paper.”
So that’s your scale. You’re building a model of the galaxy. And your scale is that earth to sun is the thickness of a piece of paper. Well said, the speaker, “How big a box will you need to make a model of the galaxy?” And the answer is you need a box about 700kms by 700kms by 500kms, which is about the size of Victoria to make a model of the galaxy in which we live. And the speaker went on to say, “If the Lord Jesus Christ has made and governs billions of galaxies, we don’t get to put him into our back pockets.” That’s a good way of describing the greatness of Christ. And Paul has been describing Christ in his greatness in this letter. And now, in chapter 1:24 to 25, he describes his own ministry and he does this because he doesn’t want the readers to be following the wolves who’ve come into the church.
You can see how important this is. The Apostle Paul has not met the Colossians. They don’t know him, but he is the apostle and he is their spiritual grandfather. And so, it’s very important that he explains himself to them. Now, I don’t know how you would describe a good minister. I wonder whether you’d say, “Well, we certainly want somebody who’s nice, we want somebody who’s kind. We want somebody who’s humble. We want somebody who’s fun. We’d like somebody who’s clever. We’d like somebody who’s brief when he speaks, I hope you’ll be looking for more than that. I hope you’ll be looking for more.” Ministry is one of those jobs where you can be incredibly busy or incredibly lazy. You remember that famous comment about the minister that six days invisible, one day incomprehensible. And it’s one of those things about ministry that you can be really helpful or really unhelpful.
Mark Twain’s book, Huckleberry Finn has Huckleberry Finn explaining to one of his friends, that in his village, there’s a lot of clergy. And the little friend says to Huckleberry Finn, “What do they do?” And Huckleberry Finn says, “Well, they do nothing much. They lull around. They pass the plate, mostly nothing.” So the friend says, “Well, what are they for?” And Huckleberry Finn says, “There’re for style.” Well, you can’t do much worse than that. Really, can you? And the Apostle Paul is going in these verses to describe his true ministry. And this is, of course, the pattern for all ministry, and it’s also a reflection of the way the Lord Jesus shepherds us. How does Jesus shepherd us? Well, the Apostle Paul is a reflection of what the Lord Jesus does. And there are three quick things this morning. The first he’s a teacher of God’s truth in chapter one, verse 23, he says, he’s a servant of the gospel.
And in verse 25, he says, he’s a servant of the church. Servant of the gospel means that your life is devoted to getting the gospel out and into people. I don’t know if you saw during the week that our Lithuanian sailor fell overboard from his ship. In the Pacific Ocean, 800kms from land at four o’clock in the morning. Just imagine landing in the ocean, pitch black. And he managed to tread water until the morning, and then he saw a speck on the horizon and he swam towards it. And it was an old fishing boy that had been thrown over the side of a ship, and he clung onto this for 16 hours until he was rescued. Now, the Bible says that the world is basically thrown into the ocean of mortality, sin and one day, judgment. And there is a person in the Lord Jesus, who’s come to whom we might cling and be saved.
And that’s the gospel, we want to get the gospel out. Now, God does his work with the words. He made the world with his words, he sustains the world with his words. He made the church with his word, he sustains the church with his word. And so, a good minister is going to try and get the word right and across, that’s the mark of a good minister. And although unbelievers don’t appreciate the preaching and just long for it to be over. The sheep hear Christ’s voice in the word of God. And of course, God blesses his word. What does it mean to be a servant of the church? As the apostle says in verse 25, he says, I’ve become the church’s servant. And then he goes on to say, “To present to you the word of God in fullness.” So the mark of a minister who serves the church well is that he presents the word to the church. You can’t serve the church without the word, and you can’t serve the word without the church.
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Well, just as I was putting these thoughts down on a piece of paper during the week, I got an email from a person not too far from here to say, “We’re starting a new church. We’d like you to publicise the new church.” And the marks of the new church, and I quote are music, performance and theatre. Well, you would hope, wouldn’t you? That in the midst of that new church will be the word of God, because that’s what is going to feed the flock and sustain the work. So a local church, if it is to be healthy is not going to grow without the word of God. And if we promise on big signs outside the church, that you can come here and get healed or entertained, or have your pets blessed, or have a garden party or a performance of some kind or theater. It seems to me those are signs of desperation and confusion.
What is the word? The word which Paul is talking about. In a nutshell, he says in verse 26, he calls it a mystery, which, of course, now has been revealed or unveiled. And the mystery is seven words, Christ in you, the hope of glory. Christ in you, the hope of glory. Christ in you, the hope of glory. If you’ve watched the Netflix series, The Crown, you may know that in one of the episodes, the evangelist, Billy Graham makes an appearance and he greatly impressed the queen. She was a great admirer of Billy Graham. And there’s a moment in the program where Billy Graham preachers in the chapel in front of the Royal family and he stands up and he says in the pulpit, “Well, of all the things I could say to you, I’m going to go to the very heart of Christianity.” And he says, “This is my text. Christ in you, the hope of glory.” And he picks this very verse that we’re looking at this morning, Colossians one, verse 27.
It’s a wonderful text, Christ in you by his holy spirit, giving you a brand new and eternal life that will never finish. It begins today. It’s not so much that you’re spiritual. To be spiritual doesn’t really mean anything. It just means that you’re conscious of more, that you wish you had more, but Christ in you, the holy spirit in you, the spirit of God in you. That’s the great privilege for the Christian and the hope of glory, heaven to come. Being with Jesus tomorrow and forever. You’ll not be caput, the hope of glory. So that’s why he says in verse 28, “Him, we proclaim, of course, we proclaim him. We warn people not to avoid him, and we teach people how to believe and how to grow.” You see, Paul is a teacher of the truth. That’s the first. Second thing, he’s a servant who struggles. You might think the Apostle Paul in prison, he’s not really doing much. You might think that when he gets out of prison, he just goes to study and doesn’t do much.
But he says in verse 24, that he’s suffering for his faith, and he is. He says in verse 29, he’s struggling for the flock, and he is. And he says in chapter two, verse one, he’s struggling for their growth. And he is, if I could illustrate this for you this morning, friends, just let me ask you this. Imagine you’re a parent or a grandparent. Have you ever agonised for your children or your grandchildren? What does it cost you to see your children and your grandchildren? Maybe your great grandchildren. What does it cost you to see them happy and well? It costs a lot. Sometimes it costs everything you’ve got. Ask yourself, how easy is it to get my children and my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren believing in Jesus Christ, following Jesus Christ, serving Jesus Christ? It’s an incredible task. It’s beyond us. It costs us everything. We lose sleep over these things. Now, just multiply that by hundreds and thousands, and you can see what the Apostle Paul is saying, “I struggle.”
“I’m struggling to see people believe.” Says Paul. “I’m struggling to see them grow. I’m struggling to see them stay safe.” I know that our builders and laborers and farmers work up a big sweat, but nothing compares with the energy and the effort and the toil of raising people. And especially to be mature followers of Jesus Christ. It’s completely beyond me. And I think it’s beyond you as well. And we who take up the job of being pastors, believe it or not, we do lose sleep over people. We lose sleep over lost people. We lose sleep over absent people, drifting people, disobedient people, hurting people. Now, why does Paul say in verse 24, that he fills up what’s lacking in Christ’s afflictions? That just sounds all wrong. I fill up what’s lacking in Christ’s affliction. He cannot mean that he’s talking about Christ’s work on the cross. He can mean that the work of Christ on the cross was only half done, and he’s going to fill up what’s left.
That’s impossible. Jesus called out, remember on the cross, “It’s finished.” The job is done. The new Testament tells that not only did he die, but he then sat down at the right hand of God. And our prayer book says that he made a full, perfect, sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. We don’t have to contribute anything to his work on the cross. Well, the answer to the question is you need to know that Jesus has two bodies. He has his flesh and blood body, which suffered on the cross and finished the work of salvation. But he also has his church body, all his people. And it’s Christ’s church body that still suffers today. Christ, if you might put it like this suffers when you, his people suffer for being his people, he suffers.
And when we seek to obey, there’s a cost. And when we seek to witness, there’s a cost. And when we get persecuted, there’s a cost. So Paul had a great deal to suffer. As an apostle, the Lord told him when he was calling him, you’ll suffer a lot, and he did. Paul suffers for his ministry, he’s thrown in prison. He struggles for Christ’s people because he’s a pastor and different you in your earthly life will face a whole lot of things that everybody faces. Some sadness, some confusion, bewilderment, perplexity, illness, loneliness, grief, all these sorts of things. You will experience them, but you may also suffer for being a Christian. You may pay a price for your faithfulness. You may struggle in your desire to see people believe and grow, but you’ll see in verse 29, it’s not just you who suffers, your sufferings are felt by Christ.
And he gives strength, verse 29. He gives energy so that we might keep doing what he’s called us to do. So, Paul, the Apostle, he’s a teacher of the truth. He’s a servant who struggles. Thirdly, and finally, he’s a pastor who prays. Chapter two, verse one. He says, he’s struggling for them. He must be talking about prayer. He’s struggling in prayer, it’s a wonderful prayer. He prays, “I want you to be confident. I want you to have love in the fellowship. I want you to be sure about where you stand with Jesus Christ. I can’t think of anything better for me to pray for you or me for you, that this morning you would have comfort in your heart, that we would have unity in the fellowship and that you would be sure about Christ and where you stand. I can’t think of anything that I’d want for you more as you leave the building today, than you’d go out of here comforted in your heart. Glad of the fellowship. Sure of where you stand with Jesus Christ.”
Because when heresy comes into the church and heresy has obviously come in to the Colossian church, the peace of Christ disappears. Splits begin in the church and you lose your confidence in Christ. And so, Paul writes and prays for these Christian readers to tell them you haven’t missed out on anything now that you’ve come to Jesus Christ. You don’t need to win his love over towards you, buy some great performance, he loves you. And he’s brought you to safety by dying for you. His death on the cross, when he was abandoned, has opened the door into the family of God, into which you walk. So friends, don’t give your doubts a chance to annoy you, see your doubts like mosquitoes, bath them away. Then Paul prays to help the Christians enjoy the fellowship of being in God’s family. He says, “If you’ve placed your faith in Christ and you belong to Christ, there’s nobody in the whole fellowship who’s got more than you. There’s no one who’s got less than you. You can’t be closer to God than to be in Christ.”
And we’re United in our fellowship because we belong to Christ. That’s the great person who you’re not just together. We may agree on sport. We may agree on weather. We may agree on music, but it’s Christ who unites the church and then Paul prays and he writes to help God’s people have confidence in Jesus that he’s big and he’s good. And that having trusted him with your life and your soul, you’re going to walk through this world with him. You’re going to meet him safely. On Monday, I went to visit a friend, a Christian friend, who’s having his third big battle with cancer. And I asked him how he was in his hospital bed talking about his kidneys, he said, “The future’s not good.” And I said, “Roger, the future is tremendous.” And he looked out that window and this great smile came over his face.
As a believer, he just thought, “My future is tremendous.” Well, that was Monday, and he died on the Wednesday and his funeral is this coming Saturday. But the promise of God you say to him, having put his trust in Christ is that he belongs, that he’s safe. That he’ll always be safe. So the Apostle Paul writes this section to the readers so that they will know that Jesus Christ is the treasure chest of the universe who makes all the palaces of the world look like dust. He doesn’t want the readers to be deceived or tricked into going in another direction. And he wants them to stand firm. You may be tempted to think that your Christian life is just an option like breakfast cereal. But I want you to remember dear friends that there’s nobody like Jesus Christ. There’s nobody who has a birth like Christ. There’s no one who has a life like Christ. There’s no one who has a message like Christ. There’s no one who has a death like Christ. There’s no one who has a resurrection like Christ.
He is the hope of the world. You haven’t just picked a breakfast cereal. You’ve been brought by God into the fellowship of his son, which is forever. The Apostle Paul writes to say, not only don’t be tricked, but I’m praying for you that you’ll appreciate this more and more.
Let’s thank God together
Let’s bow our heads. Gracious God, we thank you. Not only for the gift of your son, but we thank you for the gift of your word that sets us free and fills us with hope and peace and joy. We pray that you would help us to stand firm on your word and rejoice in the way we live for you. This week, we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.