Lesson 8: The Goal: Maturity in Christ (Colossians 1:28-29)Related Media
December 27, 2015
In First Things First ([Simon & Schuster], p. 56) Stephen Covey and Roger and Rebecca Merrill make an obvious, yet provocative, statement: “The problems in life come when we’re sowing one thing and expecting to reap something entirely different.”
As we face a New Year, it’s a good time to ask yourself, “What kind of crop does God want me to reap?” And, then, “What do I need to sow to reap that crop?” As believers in Jesus Christ we want to be good stewards of the time, talents, and treasure that He has entrusted to us. We want to be fruitful, so that when we meet the Lord we will hear (Matt. 25:21, 23), “Well done, good and faithful slave!” If I want to reap a fruitful life before God in light of eternity, then what do I need to be sowing this year?
In our text, Paul shares the purpose for which he worked hard, namely, to present every person “complete” in Christ (NASB). Complete is translated as “mature” (ESV), or “perfect” (NIV, NKJV). Douglas Moo (The Letters to the Colossians and Philemon [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 161) argues that “perfect” is too strong, but “mature” is too relative, because we tend to think we’re “mature” as long as we’re doing better than some other Christians we know. But since Paul elsewhere (1 Cor. 14:20) contrasts this word with being infants or children, I think that “mature” is an adequate translation as long as we keep Dr. Moo’s caution in mind. We all should aim at becoming mature in Christ (as defined by the Bible). And we should help others grow to spiritual maturity also. How do we do that? Paul’s answer is:
To present every person mature in Christ, proclaim Him and work hard according to His power.
The goal is maturity in Christ. The means to that goal is proclaiming Christ and working hard as we depend on His power.
1. Our goal is to present every person mature in Christ.
In verse 25, Paul talked about “fulfilling the word of God.” Verse 28 elaborates on how he did this: “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” “To present” pictures a father giving away his bride (2 Cor. 11:2). Paul wanted to present the church as holy and blameless and beyond reproach to Christ as His bride at His second coming (Col. 1:22). What does this entail?
A. To present others mature in Christ, you’ve got to be growing to maturity in Him.
My seminary professor, Dr. Howard Hendricks, used to say, “You cannot impart what you do not possess!” If you’re not making a concerted effort to grow in Christ, then you can’t help someone else in that process. But the Lord wants all of His disciples to help in the cause of making other disciples. That’s at the heart of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19), “… make disciples of all the nations.” It’s implicit in Paul’s command to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:2): “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Paul exhorted the churches where he ministered (1 Cor. 11:1), “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (See, also, 1 Cor. 4:16; Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:6; 2 Thess. 3:9.)
You may be thinking, “That’s kind of intimidating! I don’t feel adequate to help others grow in Christ. I don’t think I’ll ever be at the point where I could tell others to be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” Well, I’ve got news for you: If you’ve got kids, they are learning from your example! You may be a good example to them of someone who is growing in Christ, or you may be a poor example. But you are an example!
Also, if you’ve only been a Christian for a month, you can impart the gospel that changed your life to someone who doesn’t yet know the Savior. If you’ve been walking with the Lord for five years, you’ve got five years of experience with the Lord that a newer believer doesn’t have. So wherever you’re at in the process, God can use you to help others grow to maturity in Christ. But to do that you’ve got to be growing to maturity in Christ yourself. You’ve got to be walking with the Lord each day. You cannot impart what you do not possess!
But, what does maturity in Christ look like?
B. Maturity in Christ means developing Christlike character and conduct.
To describe this, we could go through the entire Bible cataloging all the character traits and behaviors that are commanded and exemplified in the lives of godly saints. But the supreme example is Jesus Christ. He said that the two greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Mark. 12:29-31). These are relational commands. You can measure how mature in Christ you are by assessing your relationships with God and with others.
Love for God is more than just a warm, fuzzy feeling that you may get when you sit in a church service or listen to Christian music. Love for God, like love for any person, begins at a point in time when you enter a personal relationship with Him. But there’s a problem, namely, our sin. God is holy and cannot fellowship with any who are in their sins. That’s why He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the death penalty that we deserve for our sins. The good news is that if you will turn from your sins and trust in Christ’s sacrifice for you on the cross, God will forgive all your sins and give you eternal life as a free gift. Romans 6:23 states, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” At the point you put your trust in Christ, you begin a relationship with God.
But like all relationships, you have to spend time together if you want to grow in that relationship. As you spend time in God’s Word, you get to know Him more deeply. As you spend time in prayer, you draw near to Him and open your heart to Him. As you learn and obey His commandments, Jesus promises that He and His Father will come to you and make their home with you (John 14:23; see, also, Eph. 3:17). The little booklet (available online) by Robert Munger, “My Heart, Christ’s Home,” pictures this truth very well.
Through God’s Word and through His indwelling Holy Spirit, He transforms your mind to conform to His will. As Paul instructs (Rom. 12:2), “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Christlikeness at its core involves the transformation and renewing of your mind in conformity to God’s Word. Since all sin begins in the mind, we have to defeat it on that level. As Psalm 119:11 states, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.”
The root sin of just about every other sin that you’ve got to battle on the thought level is pride. “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). Selfishness, anger, jealousy, greed, lust, and many other sins stem from exalting self above God and others (contrary to the two Great Commandments). I recommend that you read Stuart Scott’s “From Pride to Humility” (a chapter from his book, The Exemplary Husband [Focus Publishing]) and C. J. Mahaney’s Humility [Multnomah]. If you want to be like Jesus, He described Himself as “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29).
God also grows Christlike character and conduct in us by refining us through trials. As James 1:2-4 commands, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (“Perfect” is the same word translated “complete” or “mature” in our text.) Psalm 119:67 puts it, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.”
Another helpful summary of Christlike character and conduct is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23): “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” I recommend that you commit those verses to memory. If they aren’t in your mind, you’re not likely to work on expressing them in your behavior. Each of those nine qualities has a relational dimension. If you violate them, you will damage your relationships with others.
The New Testament is filled with other lists of godly character qualities. For example, Ephesians 4:25-32 tells us to put aside lying and speak truth; not to sin with anger; to stop stealing and start working; to use our tongues to build up, not to tear down; to clean out all bitterness, wrath, anger, yelling, and slander, along with all malice; and, (Eph. 4:32), “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
So as you begin to put God’s Word into your heart or mind and learn to obey it, you will steadily be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. You will grow toward maturity in Him. While you’ll never arrive until you see Jesus (“perfect” doesn’t happen in this life), you should be making progress. To help others grow in Christ, you don’t have to be perfect, but you do need to be walking in the Spirit, growing to maturity in Him. Assuming that’s true, how do you help others grow to maturity in Christ?
2. To present every person mature in Christ, we proclaim Him.
Some of you may be thinking, “That word proclaim sounds like preacher stuff, and I’m not a preacher!” But, note:
A. Proclaiming Christ is not just a job for pastors or full-time Christian workers, but for all of God’s people.
There is a place for trained men who devote themselves to preach God’s Word (1 Tim. 5:17). But it’s also true that every believer is a priest with a ministry to fulfill, and Christ should be at the center of all ministry because He is what every person needs.
“Proclaim” means “to announce as a herald or messenger.” In the days before mass communication, if the king wanted to get a message to his people, he sent out heralds who would proclaim, “Thus says the king!” The herald was not free to make up his own message, but had to speak faithfully the word of the king.
As such, there is a note of authority when we as God’s heralds or messengers proclaim Christ. While we should listen to people’s point of view and dialogue with them about spiritual matters, we don’t ever want to present Jesus as just one option to consider. He is the only way, the only truth, and the only source of eternal life. He is the sum and substance of the Christian life. So He must be at the center both in evangelism and discipleship.
Kent Hughes (Preaching the Word: Colossians & Philemon [Crossway], p. 50) relates the story of a 70-year-old, blind, uneducated African woman who got saved. Filled with gratitude to the Savior, she wanted to do something for Christ. So she went to the missionary with her French Bible and asked him to underline John 3:16 in red. The missionary wondered what she was doing, but he watched as she took her Bible and sat in front of a boys’ school in the afternoon. When school dismissed, she would call a boy or two and ask them if they knew French. When they proudly said that they did, she would say, “Please read the passage underlined in red.” When they did, she would ask, “Do you know what this means?” And she would “proclaim Christ” to them. Over the years, 24 young men became pastors due to her work.
So the first thing to understand is that proclaiming Christ is a job for all of God’s people. You’ll have opportunities to proclaim Him to people who would never come to hear me preach.
B. Proclaiming Christ means that we do not proclaim human wisdom.
Our message centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Old and New Testaments. We should not veer from this message, supplement it, or mix it up with worldly wisdom. I emphasize this because the enemy subtly undermines the message of the cross that confronts sinners with their guilt with a more user-friendly message that doesn’t offend.
Sam Storms writes (samstorms.com), “If one were to look closely at many churches today and assess the shape and form of ministry, v. 28 would likely need to be rewritten as follows: ‘Him we mention only in passing, lest we offend seekers or sound excessively religious. [Rather than warning and teaching . . .] We seek to please and entertain everyone so that they might feel good about themselves and be reassured that all is well in the world.’”
In the mid-1950’s Norman Vincent Peale became popular by blending the message about Christ with the “power of positive thinking.” But in so doing, he did not truly proclaim Christ, because he did not mention sin and judgment, but only the “positive” aspects of the gospel. Robert Schuller was influenced by Peale, and promoted “possibility thinking” and self-esteem. But he denied the gospel because he did not proclaim Christ crucified as the only answer for our sin problem.
Worldly psychology has infiltrated the church in many ways, blending “insights” from godless men with Bible verses taken out of context or misinterpreted. For example, they tell us that to love God and others, we need first to learn to love ourselves. As a result, Christ and Him crucified is not proclaimed. (See my article, “Christians & Psychology: Some Common Questions Answered,” on fcfonline.org, for more on this point.) In short, Christ and worldly wisdom don’t mix.
C. Proclaiming Christ means that we do proclaim God’s wisdom centered on the person and work of Christ.
Paul contrasted human wisdom with God’s wisdom in Christ (1 Cor. 1:21-24),
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
The sole source of God’s wisdom is His Word, which reveals Jesus Christ to us. In Christ, we have all that we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3-4). God’s Word is adequate to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). When we walk in dependence on the indwelling Holy Spirit, He produces the fruit of the Spirit in us. Those qualities describe a psychologically whole or healthy person. To the extent that we lack these qualities, we’re not applying God’s wisdom as centered on the person and work of Christ. But as we learn to trust Christ to overcome our problems, He is exalted and gets the glory. Every believer needs to learn to trust Christ for every need and then to help others do the same.
D. Proclaiming Christ requires both admonishing and teaching every person.
Paul emphasizes “every man’ (or, “person”) three times. Probably he was countering the false teachers, who emphasized the exclusivity of their teaching for the elite insiders only. Paul is saying, “Every person and every type of person matters to Christ, and so we need to help every person apply the person and work of Christ to his or her unique situation.” Babies need milk, but the more mature can handle solid food (1 Cor. 3:1-2; Heb. 5:12-14).
“Admonishing” has the nuance of warning or correcting someone who is in sin or in error. Paul urges (1 Thess. 5:14), “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” “Unruly” refers to those who are out of step or undisciplined. To apply that verse, we need to discern whether the other person is unruly, fainthearted, or just weak. Not everyone needs admonishing, but some do! It’s the work of every member to admonish in love when you see a brother or sister straying from the Lord (Rom. 15:14).
“Teaching” is the positive side of imparting truth. While only some are gifted to teach publicly, every believer has a teaching role in some capacity. Parents must teach their children (Eph. 6:4; 2 Tim. 1:5). Older women are to teach younger women (Titus 2:3-5). More mature believers are to teach younger believers (Acts 18:24-26; Titus 1:9). Paul brings together both “admonishing” and “teaching” in Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” To be able to admonish and teach others, you must be growing in your knowledge of God’s Word as you let it admonish you.
Thus, our goal is to present every person mature in Christ. To do that, we must proclaim Him by helping every person see the all-sufficiency of the person and work of Christ for life and godliness. But there’s one more thing:
3. To present every person mature in Christ we must work hard as we rely on His power working in us.
Colossians 1:29: “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” Note the paradox and balance of that verse: Paul labors and strives, but he does it according to God’s power, which works mightily in him.
People tend to go to either extreme. Some kick back, and say, “Let go and let God.” They don’t get too worked up about reaching others for Christ or discipling younger believers in the faith. They won’t commit to teach Sunday school or work with our youth or call on church visitors or plug into a small group. To put it nicely, they’re “laid back.” To be more blunt, they’re just lazy when it comes to working for the Lord.
On the other hand, you have people who burn out because they’re laboring and striving, but not according to God’s power working in and through them. It’s almost a badge of honor to be able to say, “I suffered from burnout!” But often these people work so hard because they’re trying to earn God’s favor, rather than working hard through His grace and power (1 Cor. 15:10). I think that burning out means that I was laboring in my power, not in God’s mighty power, or I was out of balance.
“Labor” and “striving” describe hard work. “Striving” was used of athletes exerting all their strength to defeat their opponents. There’s no excuse for being lazy in the Lord’s work. But at the same time, we must do that work in His strength. As Paul said (Phil. 4:13), “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Paul did it, but he did it through Christ’s power (see Phil. 2:12-13).
Working hard in the Lord’s work does not mean that it’s wrong to take time off. Even God rested after the six days of creation. I don’t believe we’re under the Sabbath laws, but I do think there’s an important principle there that we neglect to our harm. Work hard for the Lord, but take time also to rest.
In the early 19th century Charles Simeon encouraged young men he discipled to go into missions. Henry Martyn went to India and then to Persia, where he died of tuberculosis at age 31. This was in the days before photography, but someone painted a portrait of Martyn before he died and it was sent back to Simeon. He was shocked at Martyn’s gaunt appearance. Simeon hung that portrait over the mantle in his study. He said that when he looked at it, it said to him, “Be in earnest! Don’t trifle!” Simeon added, “And I will not trifle!”
Could it be that you’re trifling (or “messing around”) in your walk with Christ or in His work? Make it your aim in the New Year to grow in Christ and to help someone else grow in Him. It’s hard work, but it’s never in vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58).
- Why is it important to measure maturity in Christ by biblical standards, rather than by comparing ourselves with others?
- Some argue that because the Bible does not address all the relational and emotional problems that we face, it’s necessary to add psychology’s insights. Agree/disagree? Why?
- Some Christian psychologists argue that it’s impractical, pat advice to tell someone struggling with a problem to “trust Christ.” Agree/disagree? Why?
- How can we know whether we’re balanced when it comes to working for the Lord versus other pursuits? Should we be “balanced” (1 Cor. 15:58)?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2015, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation