Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong
Sermon Title: The Maturing Disciple will be maturing disciples
Scripture Text: Colossians 1:24 – 2:5
Paul tells us that Gospel is proclaimed in all creation under heaven. This means that the Gospel is universal in scope, and we are called to proclaim it. This week, we learn from Paul what it means to be a servant of the gospel, and how it relates to maturing disciples in Christ.
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.
2 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, 2 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, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
So how many of you patronised the latest restaurant in town? The Restaurant A380@Changi?
The idea is that you step on board an Airbus A-380, and for $642, you get to savour SIA’s first class in-flight lunch menu. $642 would feed some of us for a month. And so when I heard it, I went: “that’s insane, like, who’s going to eat it? I mean, at the end of the day, it’s pre-cooked, vacuum sealed, then re-heated meal you’re eating know right? There is no kitchen in Restaurant A380.”
So I didn’t believe this idea would get off the ground at all. There is no way this plan would fly. But, SIA got the last laugh when all of its 900 seats that where available on board Restaurant A380 were sold out within 30 minutes after they opened for bookings.
900 seats, sold out, within 30 mins. During the worst global economic recession since WWII, mind you. How does it make sense?
Well, never under-estimate the appeal, the allure of elitism. Because that’s what Restaurant A380 is offering. They’re not selling you a meal. They’re selling you an opportunity to feel special, to be part of an exclusive clientele who have sat in the first class cabin of an SIA plane, and partaken of a meal which appeal does not lie in its flavour. But in the fact that it is beyond the reach of so many others.
SIA’s first-class menu is not affordable to everyone, but that’s the point, it’s not meant for everyone. That is why you’ll want it. You’d want to be part of that premium experience; you’d want to be part of that exclusive club. It was never about the food. It was always about feeling special.
That’s what it is, sometimes, you join a club to feel special, to feel exclusive, to get special privileges. You get a frequent flyer membership, you get to wait for your flight in a fancy lounge eating smoked salmon with olives and sipping champagne (I’m guessing), instead hanging out at the kopitiam sipping Teh-O Peng with people like me.
You get an Amazon Prime membership, you get access to Black Friday sales before the rest of the world. You join the club to get exclusive privileges. It’s about you getting benefits unavailable to others .
But there are some groups, that when you join them, It’s eminently not about you. You get no exclusive privileges or benefits. No you join those groups so that you get to benefit others. For example. CCA’s like the St John’s brigade, humanitarian organisations like World Vision, services like the Army. You don’t join these groups to gain an advantage over others. You join them to serve, to sacrifice for the sake of others.
At some point, Old Testament Israel lost the plot. They lost the plot of God’s salvation plan. They thought that being chosen by God out of all the nations to be his people was about feeling exclusive and special, about enjoying the privileges of having God in their midst and thinking that it made them better than the Gentiles. They forgot that the very reason they were gathered as a nation was not to feel like they’re better, but to exist as a blessing to other nations.
It’s not about being special, its about being sacrificial. But as SIA’s marketing team has shown us, never underestimate the allure of elitism. Israel wore their election as an exclusive badge of pride, to the exclusion of the nations.
But the history of Israel is a really a story of human nature in action. The temptation to make things about us resides in every human heart, and even in the New Testament church. And to the extent that we conceive of salvation primarily in individualistic terms, we weaken the evangelistic motivation in us, and deny the universal reach of the gospel.
This gospel, Paul reminds us, the gospel that you heard, is a gospel which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
He didn’t tell us this to brag. He telling us this to remind us that we, like him and Epaphras, have a responsibility to this gospel. We are to be, like them, ministers – servants of the gospel. Because it is a gospel to be proclaimed in all creation under heaven.
The reason we are gathered as a church isn’t so that we can now commune as a holy huddle, an exclusive club, destined to enjoy the privileges heaven. The reason we are gathered as a church, is so that in and through our gathering we might bless the world with the gospel of salvation.
We are called to make disciples everywhere we go.
Now, perhaps you didn’t fully grasp the discipleship implications of the gospel when you first heard it. That’s okay, young children, toddlers all assume the world revolves around them. That’s the nature of immaturity, and it’s okay when you’re young. But the mark of maturity is realising that it isn’t about you, you have responsibilities towards others, there are social obligations you owe to others that cannot be ignored, there are sacrifices you have to make in for the sake of loving your neighbours.
So the mark of a mature disciple is gospel servanthood, it’s holding out the gospel to others. In other words, the maturing disciple will be maturing disciples. The maturing disciple will be maturing disciples. Because that is the nature of the gospel.
It will not be easy, but it is necessary, because the Gospel is about Christ, and Christ, as we have seen last week, is supreme. He is everything.
And in our text this week, we witness the maturing disciple doing three things:
This morning, we shall see that the maturing disciple will be maturing disciples.
The first thing we want to realise is that it is not easy to make and mature disciples. Proclaiming Christ will not come naturally, it will rarely be rewarded, and it will seldom be well-received. That is the nature of gospel proclamation. That is the shape of gospel ministry. It will be the struggle of gospel servants.
We would like to imagine that if we preached the word faithfully and regularly, then all will be well. If we proclaim the true gospel week in and week out at our pulpit, then the church will grow, the community will be vibrant, and our services will be filled with enthusiasm. We certainly pray for it, and hope for it, but that is not the guarantee of faithful gospel ministry.
Moses spoke the word of God and the people complained about him.
Elijah showed everyone who the true prophet was at Mt Carmel and in response the Queen of Israel sought to kill him.
Jeremiah was appointed as God’s prophet and as a result everyone around him hated him.
Jesus was the Word of God incarnate, and his people ended up crucifying him.
There is no straightforward correlation between faithful gospel ministry and fruitful gospel ministry.
Suffering and struggling are the only guarantees in gospel ministry. We have to be prepared to suffer for the faith of the church. We have to be prepared to struggle to mature disciples.
And the reason we know that this suffering and struggling is right and normal is because it is consistent with the life and ministry of Christ.
Paul says that he is rejoices in his sufferings for your sake, and in his flesh he am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.
Which is a difficult verse to interpret. But the point is clear. Paul sees himself as continuing suffering of Jesus for the sake of the church. The affliction of Christ is lacking not in the sense that it is inadequate, but in the sense that it is not yet finished.
His sacrifice on the Cross is perfectly sufficient for our salvation. But in the stream of salvation, from now till the consummation, the church will experience suffering, there will be trials and tribulations to come, before the glory of the eternal kingdom is made manifest.
In that sense, the suffering of Christ (via his body, the church) is not yet complete. And Paul says he is bearing some of that suffering in his flesh, and he rejoices in it, because he is suffering for the sake of the gospel, and the glory of the church.
This is the experience of Jesus, and as those who follow in his footsteps, it will be experience of the disciples. Suffering and struggling is the mark of gospel proclamation. It is the trademark of gospel servants.
Paul goes on to say, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. 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”. Why does he want them to know how great a struggle he has? So they’ll think he’s so heroic and praise him, or so they’ll think he’s so pathetic and pity him? No. Paul wants them to know about his struggle so that they will be under no illusion about what gospel servanthood entails. It’s not a bed a of roses. It’s a crown of thorns.
Servants of the gospel will struggle to proclaim. Maturing disciples will struggle to mature disciples. That is normal.
So when you prepare all week for your CG bible study, and no one shows up, or no one speaks up. Don’t be discouraged, gospel proclamation is a struggle.
When you work hard at your Sunday school lesson, and the youths just tune out over Zoom. Don’t feel too bad, count it part of the struggle.
When you try to reach out to someone to speak the truth in love into their lives, but they postpone the meeting time and time again. Maybe you’re doing everything right, it’s just the nature of the struggle.
It also means this. It means that your call to proclaim the gospel will cost you something. Don’t assume that discipling others it will be easy to do, or that you won’t be called to give up something dear to you in order to build up the church. If you decided to be a servant of the gospel, which everyone who has decided to follow Jesus have done, then recognise that it will cost you. It will be costly.
Ans so Paul wants you to know that he struggles too. He faces hardship and disappointment and persecution and rejection too. He has had to make great sacrifices too. But he rejoices, because this struggle is worth facing, this suffering is worth enduring, this sacrifice is worth offering, not only because it’s for the sake of the body of Christ, but because you are walking in the shoes of Christ himself.
And because we are following Christ, we can depend on him. This struggle is dependent on Christ.
29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Yes, the struggle is real, and yes you are the one struggling. But take heart. You are not alone. You do not struggle on your own, nor merely by your strength. The good news, as we shall see, is that Christ is in you.
So the power of Christ within you will energise your toil, and strengthen you for the struggle. You will feel it, but you can do it. And you can even rejoice in it.
To borrow Paul’s words in Philippians, you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. This is the assurance for gospel servants who struggle to proclaim Christ. Not that there won’t be struggles, but that your struggles will not overcome you. You will overcome by the power of Christ.
So, maturing disciples will struggle to proclaim. The struggle will be consistent with the life of Christ, and it will be conducted by the power of Christ.
But why do we struggle to proclaim? Because we want to present others mature in Christ.
We struggle to proclaim. We proclaim to mature.
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.
Paul says that his stewardship, his assignment is to make the gospel fully known. And to the Colossians, he distils the good news into the following statement “Christ is in us, which is our hope of glory.”
One of Paul’s favourite way to describe the Christian is that he is “in Christ”. He uses that phrase repeatedly in Ephesians, and in Col 3:3, he will express that idea, he says “your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
But v27, he frames the good news this way: not that we are in Christ, but that Christ is in us.
In verses 1:15-20, Paul describes Christ this way:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
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. 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.
He holds up for us a vision of a supreme, unsurpassable, incomparable, uncontainable Christ. It lifts up our hearts, so long as we are reconciled to this Christ, in faith, that is good news.
But Paul offers us more. He says, we are not just with him and in him, he is with us and in us.
So listen here, if the one in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, is now dwelling in us. Can you imagine how glorious we must be?
We bear in our souls, CS Lewis would say, a weight of glory that our thoughts can hardly sustain.
Whatever we are facing right now, whatever hardships, whatever disappointments, whatever struggles. It will not define our lives, nor the destiny of our being. We are glorious. However unimpressive your church may seem, however slowly the fruit of your ministry seems to grow, however feeble your faith may feel. There is good news to hold on to. The good news that we who have placed our faith in Christ through the gospel proclaimed in all creation, now enjoy the reality of Christ in us, and so we have hope. We have the hope of glory.
This is the Christ we proclaim: a divine Christ, a supreme Christ, a Christ that died for us for our reconciliation, and now dwells in us for our glory.
Him we proclaim.
And this is why we proclaim him. “28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”
We proclaim to present everyone mature in Christ.
But first, what does the proclamation of Christ sound like? Will it sound positive and encouraging all of the time, will it make you feel uplifted and reassured all of the time? Not at all. Sometimes, it sounds like warning. It may sound challenging and uncomfortable, as warning tend to be. Which means that if you aim to mature disciples, you cannot hope to always shy away from difficult conversations. It’s not possible. Warning is inherent in the proclamation of Christ.
Next. it sounds like teaching, not just facilitating. Teaching is meant to reveal to you things that you do not already know. And the reason we need teaching is because there is right and wrong, there is truth and falsehood, and so teaching is required to set them apart. So when Christ is proclaimed, it may challenge your current beliefs, it may call you to open your mind to new knowledge and it may demand that you discard dearly held ideas that turn out to be wrong.
And it is proclaimed with all wisdom, which means this proclamation is meant not merely to inform our way of thinking but to transform our way of living, for in the bible, wisdom is not abstract knowledge, it is applied knowledge.
And so we proclaim, but warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, with the goal of presenting everyone mature in Christ. The scope is absolute. Everyone of us in involved in his maturing process. We are all maturing disciples of Christ.
But what does maturity look like?
We go to 2:2-3 for the answer. Paul says he is struggling for this: “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”
Christian maturity is seen in unity, certainty. A mature Christian is one who loves the church so much, that they are knit together with them, they are united with fellow disciples. They share their lives with one another, they live their lives before each other.
A mature disciple is certain of his theology. He is convicted by his Christology. He knows the word, he knows his bible. He knows Christ in whom is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and understanding. The mature disciples has experienced the wealth of conviction that understanding brings.
Unity and Certainty. You see, is almost a paraphrase of the way Paul describes Christian maturity to the Ephesians: (Eph 4:13).
Unity with the saints and the certainty of the truth are two essential hallmarks of Christian maturity, and it is the purpose for which we struggle to proclaim Christ. To bring everyone to maturity in Christ.
We have so far seen how the maturing disciple struggles to proclaim; and how he proclaims to mature, and finally, we see that he matures to protect.
4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
The plausible arguments come from Christian preachers who sound persuasive and sound impressive but are ultimately proclaiming delusions and distortions of the gospel of Christ.
It appears that for all that Paul possesses in his ministry by way of zeal and intellect and faithfulness, he lacks showmanship, he lacks oratorical flair.
But the reason he lacks it, is because he rejects it.
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (2 Cor 2:1-5)
He saying in effect, I’m going to proclaim Christ to you. But I won’t try to impress you, nor attempt to attract you with my preaching. I’m determined to speak plainly about the plain truth of Jesus Christ. Because ultimately, the power is in the gospel, not in the delivery.
Now Paul has nothing against skilful oratory. Good preachers have been a blessing to the church through the ages. And certainly everyone should proclaim Christ as well as he can. But in a Corinthian culture where fine-sounding rhetorical is what wins an audience. Paul refuses to use those tactics. He wants to persuade them, not by human skill, but by the Spirits’ power, through the plain and simple proclamation of Christ.
This means what? This means that the type of preaching and teaching that you should seek after, in order to be mature, is the kind preaching that proclaims Christ faithfully and plainly, even if isn’t exciting or dynamic. The purpose of proclamation isn’t to entertain, it’s to save and sanctify.
You want to cut through the rhetoric and showmanship of popular preachers and discern if what is being preached is the Word of God. Are you being warned, are you being taught is there wisdom in his life? That’s the sort of preaching that builds up a church, that matures disciples. Even if it doesn’t seem impressive.
And we must all strive towards being able to proclaim Christ in such manner in our own lives. Because we are all servants of the gospel. The whole church is to bring the whole gospel to the whole world. We want to present everyone mature in Christ.
Even during COVID-19, mature disciples can continue to mature disciples.
For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
The faithful proclamation of the gospel is the only plan we have of ensuring that in our assembly, in our community, our faith is firm and our lives are ordered. And it takes all of us to proclaim Christ to everyone of us.
Because Christ made us members of his body, he brought us into this church, not for personal privilege but for sacrificial service. In this family, we exist for the other. And so the maturing disciple will be maturing disciples.