Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been discussing our mission as a church—to Know Christ, Grow in Christ and Show Christ to others. We’ve also begun discussing how we might accomplish the last piece of this mission more effectively—showing Christ. Last week we looked at how important it is to identify those around us who are in need of Jesus Christ. This week, we are going to delineate how we are to INVEST in those we’ve identified so as to bring them one step closer to a saving relationship with the Lord. Investments are an important topic. Whether it is a farmer investing in a crop, or a family investing in their future, investments require know-how and effort if they are to pay off. It takes the right people doing the right thing in order for something small to grow into something big. The kingdom of God is no different.
The church can stand to learn a lot about how to invest in God’s mission from 1 Corinthians 3:6-9. As an investor himself, Paul identifies much concerning how to make strategic investments and how to partner with God in the process that is already unfolding. In this passage we are going to ask and answer four questions concerning the investments that showing Christ adequately requires.
I. QUESTION #1: WHAT ARE THE ROLES?-3:6
Corinth was a city situated on the narrow neck of land between two bodies of water. This placement made this city an economic stronghold. Merchants and sailors frequented this area as major trade routes passed through this land. This also made the city diverse in its religious scope. However, to “Corinthianize” was a popular Greek idiom for “go to the devil.” Aside from the negative connotations that surround the people of this land, it was incredibly populous and wealthy. Paul had started the church at Corinth with many difficulties (1 Cor. 2:3). Originally, his preaching did not set well with the Jews and after his eighteen month tenure there, Paul established a Christian church. Sometime after Paul left Corinth and Apollos arrived. Although his message did not differ in substance from Paul’s, the teaching styles of these two were exceedingly different. The immediate occasion of this letter to Corinth was another letter Paul had received from the Corinthians Church, for which a reply was necessary. Paul was distressed because although Corinth was in the world, the world had entered the church. This is why he deals with grave evils and divisions for nearly half of the book. After dealing with these matters, Paul turns to the matters mentioned in the letter written to him, questions about marriage and celibacy, about food offered to idols, probably also about public worship and spiritual gifts. Paul’s purpose was three-fold. First, he wrote to set right the problems that the church was experiencing. Second, he wrote to answer questions from the church. Third, he wrote to give doctrinal teaching, particularly on the resurrection. Leading up to 3:6-8, Paul has greeted the church and begun to address the many problems this church faced. One of these problems was a failure to realize who does what in the evangelism process. In 3:6-9, Paul addresses this issues and answers the question “how do we invest wisely in the process of showing Christ to the world in need?”
The conduct of the Corinthians was unbecoming of Christians. They had, as Paul discusses in verse 1-5 of this chapter, proved themselves to be juvenile in their spiritual understanding and as ignorant as babies in their ways. This ignorance led to jealous rivalries and misplaced loyalties. Some pledged allegiance to Paul and others to Apollos. In response to this, Paul calls them “mere men.” So, in an effort to set them straight, Paul breaks down these divisions by addressing where loyalty should truly lie.
Paul begins this passage by first humbling himself and calling himself a “servant” (cf. 3:5). Then, Paul takes it a step further and likens himself to a plow boy. Immediately, Paul identifies with a humble character in this agricultural metaphor. In fact, this metaphor may have offended some of the listeners who held people in Paul’s position to high esteem. That said, Paul understood that even he served as a planter—someone who makes a small but important investment in the lives of those around him.
If Paul was the plow boy, Apollos was the water-boy. Again, Apollos was another teacher that had ministered both in Corinth and in Ephesus at the time of Paul. Although his message coincided with Paul’s, their respective styles of teaching were very different from each other. Even still, the image of a planter and waterer makes several key points that help the church in Corinth and our today understand how we ought to investing in the showing Christ process. First, the labor of one without the other would be useless. Planters need waterers and waterers have to have seed to water upon. Both are required for the one goal of yielding a crop. This means that showing Christ is not a solo endeavor—it is a team investment. Second, a rivalry between a planter and a waterer is absurd. No farmer ponders whose job is more important, they are simply concerned about receiving a harvest.
Two roles are exposed in the process of showing Christ (two ways to invest in an effort to show Christ)—a planter and a waterer. There are those who initially engage people with the truth of God (either through an act of service or word of encouragement or invitation for coffee, etc.) and there are those whom God uses pour into these investments with consistent installment of time, attention, and love.
However, the most important lesson from this simple metaphor is that God alone is responsible for producing the harvest. Planters merely scatter seed. Waterers simply keep the ground wet. But the miracle of growth is performed by God alone.
II. QUESTION #2: WHAT IS THE RESULT?-3:7
The next thing that Paul answers for his audience is “What is the result?” However, before he offers the answer to this inquiry, he reminds them that God is ultimately in control of the process—“So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything.” At the end of the day, it is about God, not who plants or who waters. Paul takes this to its extreme by saying that compared to what God does to cause the growth, the one who plants and the one who water is nothing!
I love to listen to good music. When we consider genius composers like Mozart and Beethoven, or modern composers like John Williams and others, do we ever concern ourselves with the paper they write the notes on or the ink with which they pen the beautiful harmonies and phrases of music that leave us breathless, NO! In the same way, planters and waterers are nothing compared to the miracle of seeing a plant grow. However, without Paper or ink, music would not be written and without planting and watering, the miracle of Evangelism will not take place.
Before we get lost in the metaphor here let me bring us back to the text. Paul is talking about the miracle of showing Christ well. Both Paul and Apollos played a role in God’s ministry and evangelism—they were tools in the process. But they weren’t anything compared to God who was the one who reaps the harvest of souls and grows His church. The same is true today. Paul’s desire is to show that in the process of investing in evangelism, we play an intricate role, and yet, at the end of the day, God is the winner of souls. For whatever reason, he has given us a piece of the action. We get to be plow boys and girls and water boys/girls in our world today!
III. QUESTION #3: HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?-3:8
In the face of the divisions that unfortunately plagued the church in Corinth, Paul speaks unity. While many sided with the Paul camp or the Apollos camp, Paul ruins the debate by saying, “you know, we are all equally invested in this process,” “now he who plants and he who waters are one” (3:8). They were one in several ways. One in purpose (showing Christ) one in rank (no one above another) and one in loyalty (to God). The same is true of the church today. We are one in our effort to reach this world for Christ.
While unity joins everyone together, Paul also states “but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor” (3:8). Laborers are paid for their backbreaking work in the field and so will those who are working to spread the seed of the gospel in this world. Also, according to this verse, you are not rewarded based on commission. God rewards based on faithfulness, “according to his own labor.” Unlike a stock broker who is paid to the degree that he earns or the farmer who is compensated for the yield of his crop, the believer is rewarded for the effort he/she puts to the task of investing in the process of showing Christ irrespective of results! Likewise, believers are not judged in comparison to others around you, “to his own labor.”
Sometimes, I struggle with comparing myself to others, even in the ministry. I find myself striving hard to be like so-and-so or as educated as this person/ successful in ministry as this or that church. This is wicked! Paul communicates here that God is concerned with you doing what you do faithfully. Not how much you have done compared to Billy Graham, Charles Spurgeon, or even the Apostle Paul.
IV. QUESTION #4: WHY IS THIS THE CASE?-3:9
In order to bring the concept of investing in evangelism home, Paul reminds them that they are fellow workers with God. The church at Corinth, Apollos, Paul, and all other believers were “fellow workers.” Often times the church fails to realize how profound this is. God has included us in the process of growing his church! He has placed a glorious responsibility upon us to be His planters, His waterers, His investors! The profundity of why God would include imperfect and selfish men in a process so great is mind-blowing.
However, it is less inconceivable when we realize that we are the product of this process. We too are a field that God has harvested sometime in the past. The field belongs to Him, He owns it. And at one point in time a man named troy McDaniel, a children’s pastor planted a seed. A couple of parents watered on that soil, and when the time was right, I was ripe for the picking. I don’t care if you’re John Piper, Charles Stanley, Adrian Rodgers, or sitting in this room today. You were a product of this process. And what is awesome is that after having been reaped as a harvest, we are now employed as workers in His field, doing our job to plant and water in order that God can supernaturally reap the next harvest of souls.
What about your investment? Are you fulfilling your role as a planter/waterer in God’s fields that are ripe for harvest? What is resulting from your life’s work? Are you even concerned about the field to which you were called? How about this question: if everyone invested in the process of showing Christ to the degree that you do, what could the church expect to yield? We have been given a high calling, not just to identify those who need the Lord, but to invest in their lives so as to introduce them to Him. We are God’s appointed workers, laboring in HIs field. We must no thwart our responsibility to be about the task at hand. However, we must also remember that God is the sovereign owner of the field, and we is the only one capable of saving anyone. He is the power behind the miracle, not us. We just get to be a part of the process. So how can you plant this week? How can you water on that which has already been planted? How might you chose to invest?
Friday, August 25, 2017
Over the last several weeks we have slowly delineated our mission statement—to KNOW CHRIST, GROW IN CHRIST, and SHOW CHRIST to others. Now that we understand the essence of the mission at hand, the question becomes “How do we do this?” As those who already KNOW Christ and are seeking to GROW in Him, I want to spend some attention the next couple of weeks discussing how we can SHOW Christ more effectively. Talking/preaching about showing Christ is one thing, but when it comes to actually doing it, people often find themselves either ignorant, ill-equipped, hesitant, and/or unwilling. These next few weeks will help us overcome these hurdles so that we might finish the mission that God has given us to accomplish. The first element that we must keep in mind when it comes to showing Christ can be summarized in one word—IDENTIFY. Knowing what to identify and why is provided for us by Paul in his comments at Mars Hill in Acts 17:26-27.
I. OUR SHARED HUMANITY-17:26a-c
In this passage Paul finds himself in Athens—a major metropolis of his day filled with all kinds of people from all walks of life. The Bible communicates that as Paul walked around the city “his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.” In this context, as was typical in any city that Paul visited, the apostle would first teach in the synagogue, hoping to enlighten the Jews concerning the revelation of Jesus Christ. Thereafter, Paul would branch out and engage the gentiles on their turf—anywhere they were assembled and would listen. Interestingly, Paul finds a receptive crowd as, according to verse 21 “all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.” Knowing how eager the people of Athens were to buy into any and every new philosophical/spiritual trend, Paul begins a diatribe in verse 22 that seeks to point these fickle idol-worshippers to the one true God.
To be sure, Athens is similar to contemporary America. Everywhere you look there is an idol—money, fame, power, fortune, family, etc.—and these endorsed in a variety of ways—agendas, bank statements, time/energy spent, social media, etc. Not only that, but as in Athens, many in our culture are all about what is new, trending, and edgy. People love to experiment with new things and endorse new ideas. Though these tendencies that Athens and America share give reason for concern, they also provide a window of opportunity. As we walk about the milieu of our day and age, pervasive idolatry ought to “provoke something within us”—an urgency to show Christ to this distracted and misinformed world. After all, many are listening and, in fact, seeking after something meaningful, life-giving, and real. Capitalizing on this in his context is what Paul was decided to do in his speech in Acts 17.
His speech begins with “’Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown God.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; not is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He himself gives to all people life and breath and all things,…’” (17:22ff)
This is one example of Paul seeking to Show Christ by making the most of an opportunity that has befallen him. He is in a highly religious context (people already concede the supernatural) and many around him are eager to entertain new ideas. After recognizing the opportunity, Paul speaks in a way that both makes sense and establishes a meaningful point of contact. They have an altar to an unknown God and Paul wants to fill in this gap for them with Jesus Christ. Thereafter, Paul begins explaining how his God is superior to all of these idols. If you want to know how to SHOW CHRIST, take a cue from this example.
The first thing Paul enumerates for those listening is that his God—the one true God—is a creator God and as such is in need of nothing. Paul also reveals that this great God created mankind. It is in these comments that we arrive at our passage—Acts 17:26-27—“and he made from one man every kind of nation.” This is a direct affirmation of the first historical man. Through Adam, God established the entire human race. This is important as it establishes another point of contact between Paul and his audience.
Both Paul and his audience were not only spiritual, they were also human. One has to remember that Paul is speaking as a Jewish foreigner in a largely Gentile metropolis. This was no small thing inasmuch as the Athenians prided themselves in being a superior people, calling others barbarians. In saying that “every nation of mankind” finds it source in the same person, Paul suggests that there is not much different between him and those assembled around him. In spite of cultural, geographic, and other differences, all are humans after the likes of Adam and created by God. Paul identifies first and foremost the humanity of those that he sought to engage. They, like him, were created by God and related to the first man—Adam.
Unfortunately, this realization is needed in our world today as many groups—alt right, alt left, BLM, KKK, etc.—attempt to make a case for their own superiority. In the cultural cornucopia that is America today, the church, as Paul demonstrates here, must first identify the shared humanity of all people. Then, and only then, will she be prepared to show Christ in compelling ways.
Also, by tracing the relationship humans share to Adam, Paul is indirectly conceding that all, including him, are limited, fallen, and needy creatures. Adam was not the greatest father figure. He failed to obey the Lord and as such, all are fallen and in desperate need for salvation. In this way the reference to Adam identify mankind’s shared need. We are all human, we all have a problem.
After revealing their shared humanity (and indirectly identifying their shared need and fallen state), Paul also observes that people are everywhere—“to live on all the face of the earth” (17:26c). The first thing that Paul identifies before the people at Mars Hill is their shared humanity—we are all human, we are all in trouble, and we are all over the place. Such claims are as simple as they are profound and foundational for the church as we seek to identify those who need the salvation that only Jesus can provide.
II. OUR DIVERSE CONTEXTS-17:26d-e
The next thing that Paul identifies is that we all occupy various contexts—both in time and in space. Speaking of time, Paul says “having determined their appointed times” (17:26d). According to Paul, God has not only created the universe and the people therein, He has placed every person in their historical localization. In other words, God’s sovereignty has designated every person to his own time. This not only serves as a point of fact, but a recognition of temporal diversity. If people live in a particular time period, might they need to be engaged in light of that particular sitz em leben? YES! Identifying the nature of the times is important. It was for Paul and it is for us in order to SHOW Christ well.
Paul’s day saw the reign of the Roman Empire. Jews and Christians were understood as fringe groups by many and in many cases were persecuted. Caesar was the authority that everyone believed held absolute power and polytheism was rampant. In order for Paul to SHOW CHRIST well in his context, he had to become first a student of his day and age and learn these things about the time in which he was born.
The same is true for us! Any cursory study of our culture today would betray the fact that Christianity is falling out of favor with the majority of the world and America in particular. Gone are the days in which Christianity possess a moderating role in the public discussion or consciousness. The faith community no longer carries much moral authority. Instead, our world is characterized by pervasive skeptical. Absolute truth has been traded for relativism and words no longer mean what they once did –(marriage, boy/girl, life, to name a few). Nearly 50% of people are raised in broken homes, God has become a curse word, and the loudest screamer has usurped the steady voice of reason and consistency. Our world is also an angry place of rampant division and acute unrest. These are the hallmarks of our day. It is, in some ways, a unique time to be alive and in order for us to be effective in showing Christ to others in this day and age, we have to know our day and age. The way one shared Christ 50 years ago, 100 years ago, 1000 years ago is not going to cut it in 2017.
However, there is another characteristic of the context that Paul identifies—place—“having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation” (17:26e). God has not only appointed people to particular times, he has given them appointed spaces to occupy. Paul found himself in all kinds of places—Jerusalem to Rome, comfortable dwellings and prison dungeons. In each of these contexts Paul SHOWED CHRIST to all kinds of people from all kinds of places. However, this he did only after he was sensitive to his whereabouts—his spatial context. I imagine Paul did not share Christ with people in Rome the same way he did in Jerusalem, nor did he witness to prison guards in the same way he did the priests in Jewish synagogues.
Have you ever stopped to consider that the people who live in South Roanoke have been placed there by God? What is unique about this context? What do we need to keep in mind about southern Virginia? Why do people live here? Where do they work? Where do they go to recreate? Where are people hanging out? In order to show Christ well, the church, like Paul must become a student of culture—paying close attention to the time and place. Then and only then will we be able to adequately engage that culture with the news of Jesus Christ.
III. OUR GRAND OPPORTUNITY-17:27a-b
The next thing that Paul identifies is the grand opportunity that makes the prep work (identifying our shared humanity and our unique contexts) worth it. All have an opportunity to seek God—“that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him” (17:27a).
Psalm 14:2-“The LORD looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.”
Though many do not make the most of their opportunity to seek the Lord, all human beings possess a void/need within them that only the Lord satisfies. Many pursue satisfaction for this need in self-indulgence, re-inventing themselves, substances, relationships, etc. This was true in Paul’s day and it remains true today. However, Paul identified and we must identify that people everywhere have an opportunity to seek the real answer to their problems.
What makes the opportunity of seeking God so great is that anytime people do seek Him earnestly, they also have the opportunity to find Him—“that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him” (17:27a-b). The verbs used in this verse (particularly “grope” and “find”) express this possibility of finding God. As it pertains to Paul immediate audience, he is describing the Greeks as humans seeking God in their own imperfect way (philosophizing, idol-worship, entertaining new ideas). It was Paul’s hope that those who seek God and the answers to their many unresolved questions would eventually find Him.
Matthew 7:7-8- "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
What would it look like if the church identified what Paul identifies here—that people who seek the Lord in earnest will find him? How might that change/inform the way that we show Christ to others? The church must identify the fact that all have an opportunity to seek the Lord and many will, in fact, find Him when they do.
IV. OUR CLOSE PROXIMITY TO GOD-17:27c-“…though He is not far from each one of us;…”
What makes seeking the Lord and the possibility of finding him even more exciting is our close proximity to God. Paul makes this final observation/identification in the last part of verse 27 when he says, “though He is not far from each one of us.” The Psalms are replete with comments concerning the immanence/nearness of God.
Psalm 34:18-“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”
Psalm 119:151-“You are near, O Lord, and all Your commandments are truth”
Psalm 145:18-“The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth”
The nearness of God toward those in need and those who seek him is confirmed also in James 4:8.
James 4:8-“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you,…”
Paul identifies God’s close proximity to those who are seeking Him. How exciting! The immanence of God no doubt galvanized Paul to show Christ to anyone and everyone around him and it ought to propel us to action also as we seek to accomplish our mission.
In this passage Paul identifies four important things that he kept in mind as he sought to Show Christ well wherever he went. He recognized everyone’s shared humanity (we are all human, all fallen, and all over the place), he paid attention to various contexts (time and places where people lived), acknowledged everyone’s grand opportunity (to seek God), and remembered God’s close proximity. All of these observations helped inform the way Paul showed Christ to the Athenians on Mars Hill and anyone else that he came into contact with. The church must also identify these important things if she is to SHOW Christ well in this world. We must remember that all are made in the image of God, fallen, and in need of Jesus. We must pay attention to our own unique context (the day and age in which we live and where we have chosen to set up camp). We also need to remember that everyone has an opportunity to seek the Lord and that the Lord is nearer than He may appear.
This week the challenge is simple. As you seek to SHOW CHRIST well, ask and answer the following questions:
Who do I know that needs the Lord today?
What kind of world (both generally and specifically) does this person occupy?
What opportunities has God given me to show this person the one worth seeking?
What do I plan to do to help them take one step closer to embracing Jesus?
IDENTIFYING people who need the Lord and understanding the world they live in is the first step in SHOWING CHRIST well.
Sunday, August 13, 2017
As we have observed over the last couple of weeks, knowing God and growing in Christ is essential to accomplishing the mission that has been handed down to us of sharing the good news of the Gospel. However, these two elements of our mission make very little difference to the world if/when people fail to keep the third and final part of the mission—Showing Christ to others.
Therefore, in an effort to demonstrate how we can successfully accomplish this third and final element of our ongoing movement, we are going to take a look at one of Paul’s many encouragements to the church of Colossae in Colossians 4:2-6.
Colossae was a thriving city 100 miles east of Ephesus. Although Colossae’s population was primarily Gentile, there was a large Jewish settlement there. Colossae’s mixed population of Jews and Gentiles manifested itself both in the composition of the church and in the heresy that plagued it, which contained elements of both Jewish legalism, pagan mysticism, and early Gnosticism. After Paul greets the church at the beginning of this letter, he thanks them for their service and prays that the church will grow in wisdom, especially concerning what they know about the person of Christ. Next, Paul begins to describe Christ as the head of the church, Redeemer, Reconciler, and Sacrifice. After defending Christ’s personhood, Paul delves into the implications that go along with a sophisticated Christology. He shows how believers ought to join His campaign over inferior movement connected to the flesh and this world. Finally, toward the end of this rally, Paul begins to give encouragements to the church. Three of these commands are presented in verses 2-6 of chapter 4. All of them, interestingly enough, identify how to campaign well for Jesus by showing Christ to a world that desperately needs him.
I. COMMAND #1: PRAY PURPOSEFULLY-4:2-4
As Paul draws his letter to a close, he calls upon the church in Colossae to first devote themselves to prayer (with consistent and constant intensity with the possible implication of difficulty), “devote yourselves to prayer” (4:2a). In light of all that Paul has taught in the beginning of his letter, Paul’s first encouragement to the church is to commit themselves to a life of fervent prayer. Why? Because showing Christ to others is predicated on one’s prayer life. One’s ability to demonstrate Christ to others is in direct proportion to his/her personal prayer life.
The Colossians were instructed to pray in a specific manner, with “alertness” or “watchfulness” and “with an attitude of thanksgiving,” (4:2b). Although prayers do require the individual to be awake, when Paul says “keeping alert,” he is talking about praying with an acute awareness of whatever affects the spread of the gospel. This becomes exceedingly obvious as Paul will soon provide specific requests. Informed prayer is likely to be more purposeful, personal, and powerful.
Notice also that prayer is supposed to take place in the context of thanksgiving (1 Thess. 5:17). Thankfulness provides the proper context for good praying. No one depended on this context of thanksgiving more than Paul whose own circumstances were often anything but something for which to be thankful—he was writing this from a prison cell for crying out loud! However, to ensure a proper perspective in the midst of tribulation, Paul both modeled and urged that prayer be offered in an attitude of thanks. This kind of prayer sees clearly the obstacles and difficulties but recognizes that in spite of all of them, God is able to work.
The construction of these two verses may suggest a three-fold pattern in prayer life. First, an individual prays fervently, second, an individual watches or waits for a response, “keeping alert in it,” and third, the individual responds with thanksgiving upon answered prayer. The first element (fervent prayer) requires obedience, as a believer takes on the command to pray. The second (waiting for a response) requires faith as the believer anxiously seeks the fulfillment of the answer. The third (thanksgiving) requires praise and adoration to God for having answered the prayer offered. While the world sleeps in their disbelief and ignorance, Paul calls Christians to keep awake and devoted to regular and steady prayer. Our kingdom-building mission cannot be caught without a strong connection to the king and this comes by praying in this way.
In repeating the word “prayer” in verse 3, Paul emphasizes its importance, “praying at the same time for us as well” (4:3). In the spirit of being specific in their prayer lives, Paul gives them some specific requests of his. Listen carefully to what he asks the church to keep in mind.
First, Paul requested that the church in Colossae pray for an open door for the gospel, “that God will open up to us a door for the word so that we may speak for the mystery of Christ for which I have been imprisoned…” (4:3). Paul always looked for ways to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ. No one had better skills to turn any situation into an opportunity for witnessing. His success was, in part, due to the many prayers offered on his behalf for wisdom and opportunities. You want an opportunity to spread the gospel successfully? Pray for it! That is what Paul did and look how God used him! Paul instructs the Colossians to pray that he would find an open door. The apostle lived for such opportunities and realized that God alone provided these divine appointments, often, in response to the prayers offered.
However, what is this “mystery” Paul wanted to share? The answer is found in Colossians 1:26-27 which says “ the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The substance of Paul’s message, the mystery that he longed more than anything to disclose for people, was that by grace through faith, anyone can have Christ in them, the hope of glory. This was the kernel of truth that Paul hoped to share with those who were lost. This is the campaign slogan of the mission of God!
Paul’s second request was that he may proclaim the gospel as he should, “That I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (4:4). Paul not only looked for new doors to walk through but he also looked for ways to make the gospel understandable. He did not pray for a specific method of spreading the gospel, but for the wisdom to know what to say in specific situations, all the while doing justice to the gospel.
In this first command given in this passage, Paul reveals that to show Christ adequately, one must adopt a dynamic prayer life which includes: praying for the lost, praying for opportunities to share Christ with the lost, and praying for wisdom so that the sharing done may be appropriate and winsome. However, prayers are only the first step in campaigning well for Jesus.
II. COMMAND #2: ACT ACCORDINGLY-4:5
Paul’s second command for the church is to live out the truth they are proclaiming, “conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders” (4:5a). The Colossians were to ensure that their lives, speech, and appearance reflected Christ in them (the hope of glory). To “conduct yourselves with wisdom” means to follow Christ as God’s pattern for full and authentic living. Paul knew all too well the importance of giving the world no reason to criticize the behavior of Christians. Blameless living alongside a dynamic prayer life are two cornerstones of a good witness.
2 Corinthians 6:1-3-And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain— 2 for He says, “At the acceptable time I listened to you, And on the day of salvation I helped you.” Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation”— 3 giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited.
A blameless walk naturally affords a believer the ability to make the most of every opportunity given to him/her to show Christ, “making the most of the opportunity” (4:5b). The word for “making the most” insinuates that every opportunity you have to spread the seed or water on planted ground needs to be snapped up, lest it be lost to something or someone else.
You may say to yourself, “Well, I have very little if any opportunities to share the gospel.” However, the very fact that you are left on this earth and here today suggests that your opportunities have not run out. (Perhaps you do not recognize the myriad of opportunities around you or aren’t being given more explicit opportunities because you have failed to pray for them). Time itself is an opportunity to seize for the kingdom of God. What are you going to do with it? Decide today to snap it up for all its worth for the glory of God. The time is near! Jesus could return at any moment!
Matthew 24:36ff- 36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. 37 For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.42 “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 43 But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.”
One way to be ready is to be about the mission we are called to by praying for an opportunity to share the gospel and seizing every opportunity to make the most of it by acting accordingly.
III. COMMAND #3: SPEAK SWEETLY-4:6
Paul’s final command in this passage involves both the content of words spoken and the manner of speaking them, “Let your speech always be with grace as though seasoned with salt…”(4:6a). Here, two statements illustrate the nature of Christian speech. The first is “in grace.” “In grace” may reflect an idiom used in that day which described charm or charisma. However, Paul wants it to mean more than just tactfulness. Ultimately, Paul is trying to get the Colossians to speak with grace as those who live in grace or speak in a distinctly Christian way. While the world slanders and bludgeon’s
people with their sharp rhetoric of negativity, division, and deception, a Christian’s words are to stand in contrast as a presentation given with grace.
1 Peter 3:15-“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
The second way Paul describes the speech of a believer is “with salt.” Salt was used in three different ways in the first century. It could preserve food, sterilize food, or season food. Here Paul is talking about the latter. Conversations are to be seasoned in such a way that they bring life and richness. Paul knew that a lengthy and laborious monologue is often useless in evangelism. Rather, Christians are to work at making their witness lively and colorful while at the same time making sure they stay true to the gospel.
This kind of speech is required “so that” as Paul says “you will know how you should respond to each person” (4:6c). Respond to what? If one obeys the first two commands (pray purposefully and act accordingly) are being carried out properly outsiders will begin to ask Christians about their new life and its source. As these opportunities present themselves and people are engaged, believers must respond to each person as an individual. One technique or approach may not be suitable to each and every person you meet. Instead, each outsider must be given special and customized attention.
In this passage we’ve observed the unmistakable priority of prayer, the need for an authentic lifestyle, and a proper and gracious presentation. This was Paul’s instructions for the church in Colossae as they endeavored to show Christ to their brave new world. We must also take on the charge in our own lives. We too must devote ourselves to prayer in eager anticipation of an answer for those we know and for this community. We too must strive to live blameless lives in order to provide the kind of example that will make people stop and ask us what is different about ourselves and make the most of every opportunity to share Jesus Christ. Thirdly, we must speak boldly and graciously with those around communicate the flavorful truths of God’s Word. These three commands of Paul are paramount if we are going to adequately show Christ to others around us as individuals and as a church. May we not be caught hesitant are unwilling to make that call, knock on that door, or engage those around us for Jesus. May we instead choose to live with open eyes and ears, aware of those in need around us and dive into their lives with the saving knowledge of Christ. Our mission depends on it! It is crunch time! His return is near!
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Any successful mission requires that each and every team member understand what his/her role is in the effort. Many on presidential campaigns grow into new roles as the campaign progresses while others are fired for missteps or proving unproductive on the campaign trail. We see this playing out in the news in the current political race on both sides. However, as we made the case last week, believers are involved in a far more important mission with far greater implications—God’s kingdom-building movement. Last week, we learned about the importance of knowing who Jesus is—and why He is a qualified Savior and Lord. This week, we are going to take a look at what ought to happen as a result of really knowing Christ—“to Know Christ, GROW in Christ, and Show Christ to the world.” Growth is essential to any movement and development or growth of any mission is contingent on the growth of its individual members. This is no different when it comes to our responsibility in our God-given mission. To this end, we are going to ask two questions that deal with the personal and corporate growth that are answered in Philippians 2:12b-13.
I. QUESTION #1: WHAT IS MAN’S ROLE IN SANCTIFICATION?-2:12b-d
When we pick up the statement in 12b, Paul says to the church in Philippi, “work out your salvation…”. The present tense of this verb suggests that what Paul is trying to communicate is not to be put off but should characterize the life of the Philippians now. In other words, it should be a consistent practice so that the church might be set apart from the world around them. The verb used here also suggests that it cannot be done for them but must be accomplished within their own ranks. In other words, they are to take an active role in seeing growth take place in their lives. The statement that Paul offers in the first part of this verse also reveals that this is not a suggestion or a recommendation of sorts. Rather, Paul is commanding his readers to do this and carry it out in their own Christian walk. It isn’t “I would suggest working out your salvation” but “work it out.” Chrysostom explains this imperative verb, “work,” as indicating “with great effort, with great care.” Another commentator (Bauer) states that this verb describes the idea of “achieving or accomplishing.” Therefore, it is impossible to tone down the force with which Paul here points to our conscious activity in sanctification.
These emphatic attitudes within the first part of Paul’s command are reiterated as the verse continues, “with fear and trembling” (2:12c). “Fear” describes a healthy anxiety of offending God by doing things against His will or nature. It is a respect for His holiness and purity that is in view. This is one motivating attitude behind the growth process. However, growth also takes effort, “…and trembling.”
No one wants to work nowadays. The very word “work” carries with it a negative connotation. Terms like “effort” and “sweat” and “difficulty” don’t really appeal to our fast, comfortable, spoon fed entitlement society. Sadly, this attitude has infiltrated the Christian faith and permeated the church. However, we aren’t given a picture here of something that is easy, or handed to us on a silver plate. Perhaps this is one reason why we are where we are today in Christian America: we are afraid of chipping our proverbial nails or skinning our knees in sanctification.
The success of any successful military mission is dependent on how hard the unit is willing to work and put in the long hours of training, rehearsing, studying, etc. Successful missions and the growth of movements do not happen by accident—they are the result hard work performed by a growing team. Just imagine what the church would look like if the majority of its members were willing to work as hard and with the same veracity!
You might ask, “What is to be done with fear and trembling?” The disciples answer this question in their activities performed in Acts 2:42.
Acts 2:42-“…They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship to the breaking of bread,…”
The first direction of this intense effort and focus is on the apostles teaching. For those in the book of Acts, these were the words preached and spoken of by the twelve who ministered with Jesus. However, for you and me, the teaching that God decided to preserve in the Bible is the primary source of information that leads to growth and development in Christ. The teaching of the apostles for these new believers provided the nourishment and nutrition these people needed to mature and grow in their understanding. Much like a code of conduct that informs the activities and directives of a comrade, the teaching of the apostles informed the behavior and direction of the early Christian movement. To this teaching believers “continually devoted themselves.” This literally means to do something with intense effort, with the possible implication of difficulty. The tense and form of this verb suggest that Luke is talking about a devotion that becomes a part of someone’s character and takes place continuously. This word does not describe a passive activity (i.e. sitting in a service of some kind and listening to what is being presented and leaving unchanged). Instead, it describes vigorous. activity that leads to growth. The growth of the church or the individual believer is not the responsibility of some third party like a pastor or priest, it is ultimately predicated on one’s personal devotion and familiarity with God’s talking points, policies, and agenda.
The second direction of intense devotion according to Acts 2:42 is toward fellowship. Fellowship is an association involving close mutual relations and involvement. We read about this type of association in the remainder of Acts 2.
Acts 2:43-47 –“Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
It is this type of fellowship that warms the heart of each believer and allows one to grow by association. Much as teamwork is vital to the success of the team, fellowship involves the cooperation of individuals who meet together to encourage, and love each other in a way that fosters growth and leads to success in the Christian life.
The breaking of bread and prayer that follows fellowship renames or defines what the fellowship is/consists of. It was customary for New Testament believers to gather together and eat a meal. This was their primary means of entertaining and experiencing life together. One thing that often accompanied such meetings was the sharing of the Lord’s Supper. Ultimately, fellowship meant doing life together in spiritual community. Association in such environments is crucial for proper spiritual growth.
Along with doing life together, prayer was understood to be an essential element to corporate meetings and integral to Spiritual growth (as Acts 2:42 suggests). If the Word is the policy agenda, and fellowship is the networking, then prayer involves the all important communication with the candidate. According to John Wesley, this (prayer) is “where the action is.” And as in any successful campaign, communication with the candidate so that everyone is on the same page is perhaps what is most important, “The most important thing a born again Christian can do is pray” (Chuck Colson).
In Acts 2:42, commitment to the word of God, community, and prayer, were seen as the only proper response to Knowing Christ. Also, the picture of growth portrayed in this passage is spiritual and relational. All of these considerations make up the second phase our mission of growing in Him.
However, us playing a part in the growing campaign, as Acts 2:42 suggests, should give us pause. Our salvation, which we confess to be God’s from beginning to end, is here described as something that we must bring about. However, as we will next see, our dependence on divine activity for growth is nowhere else mad more explicit as in the next verse.
II. QUESTION #2: WHAT IS GOD’S ROLE IN SANCTIFICATION?-2:13
Paul continues in his comments to the church in Philippi by saying, “For it is God who is at work in you” (2:13a). Just as the command in verse 12 is a present reality, so is the presence of God at work within the believer. God is presently within His children working within them. Likewise, it is He that is doing the work. He isn’t just within them; He is also working to continue the growing process. This process doesn’t slow down, take breaks, or finish until our ultimate end. However, for the time being, the work of God within the believer to make them more like Himself is a continuous action that is ongoing. Paul already mentioned this in Philippians 1:6.
Philippians 1:6- “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
No doubt, Paul was alluding to this idea and the concepts around it in this verse which involve the total work of salvation.
Some commentators believe that there is a play on words in this passage. Paul compels his audience to “work out” only because God “works in.” Both actions rely on God—who is emphasized in the passage.
What is God bringing out in this work?--“both to will and to work for His good pleasure…” (2:13b).
Good military generals get involved with their units. Often times they demonstrate what they hope to see from those they lead by example and/or prior experience. They are intimately aware and actively involved in the inner-workings of what goes on, leading their surrogates on to victory. It is ultimately the general’s will that decides what shape the mission will take and it is the hard work that the general puts in that ultimately leads the movement. In the same way, God is actively involved in the Christian life, in their personal growth. He is the one who calls the shots; He is the one who decides what is best for those on His team. However, it is only when the unit is submitted to the cause that they do their best. In the same way, it is only when believers submit to their God and His leadership that they are at their best.
The result is the joy of God, “…for His good pleasure.” This is also translated “His good purpose” and is a term that generally relates to the ultimate will of His own glory. In this turn of phrase, Paul reinforces the believer’s dependence on God’s sovereignty. If it is good for God it is good for His children. God, in fact is good, and the sanctification process is about Him working with us to make us good, like Him. In this, He finds delight.
Who is most important in any military victory, the general/leaders, or their units? I believe it is both the General’s leadership along with the full commitment of his team that wins any battle/war. In the same way, we’ve examined that both man and God play a part in this thing called sanctification or growth. In fact, in light of our salvation (which is totally by the grace of God) the Lord invites us to journey with him in order to become more like Him. While He is ultimately in control and it is His grace that allows for the growth, the efficiency of the process is in some ways dependent on man’s submission to God.
By way of application may I suggest that we not take a passive role in our own sanctification. May we be willing to work hard and get off our duffs to be men and women who take our spiritual lives seriously. May we adopt a fearful reverence for those activities that we see the disciples yielding themselves over to (meeting together, breaking bread, praying, etc.) while at the same time relying on the same grace that saved us to grow us. We cannot afford to be caught without the battle plan (God’s Word). We must study the Battle plan that is the Word of God, show up for meetings and debriefings in our small groups and prayer meetings, and communicate regularly with greatest of all generals through prayer. The growth and success of our mission depends on it.