Elements of a Fruitful Ministry (Colossians Sermon 4 of 21)
September 16, 2007 | Andrew Davis
Suffering, Ministry, Stewardship, The Church
We are looking this morning at Colossians 1:24-29: Elements of a Fruitful Ministry. I love history. I do. I especially love colorful figures from history, and I think there are few as colorful from the old American West as the snake oil salesmen. I am talking about individuals that would go from town to town in interestingly colored carts and wagons and set up shop in each place. They would have fascinating, bizarre remedies to cure whatever ailed you. If you bought their little vials of substances and oils and other remedies, and you took them they might do you some good. You might feel better, you might feel worse or you might feel the same. The snake oil salesman certainly made a good living, and often they would go to the next town, and you would probably never see them again, at least not that particular one. Another one might come in six months.
Every week, thereabouts, I get things in the mail that teach me how to grow this church, from church growth experts that tell me what I need to do to make this church a success. Success in a box: All you have to do is send your $139.95 (or whatever the amount it is) and it comes right out of the box and it will make this local church a success. Don't you want to? I want to be a success. Would you like to be a success? I would like this church to be a success.
You may wonder what the two of those illustrations have to do with each other, the snake oil salesmen and these experts, and their various remedies to cure what ails you. I think you can see the connection. I would rather hear from someone who can tell me the truth. How can we grow this church to be everything that God wants it to be? In the context of Colossians chapter one, I want to understand what kind of ministry will glorify Christ as He has been revealed in this chapter. Think about that. What kind of Christ have we seen? He is the image of the invisible God. He is the firstborn over all creation. By His Word, the Heavens and the Earth came to be, and have their being to this very moment. This is the glory of Christ. We learned last week that He is the one who shed His blood on the cross. It is by that blood shed on the cross that every man, woman, and child who will ever stand before God, blameless and unafraid, holy in His presence, will be escorted into the very presence of almighty God to live forever and ever. It is by the blood shed by Jesus on the cross that all of that will happen. It is by His blood that the world, the universe, will be reconciled to God. Now, what kind of ministry is worthy of that?
That is the question in front of us today. And the Apostle Paul, as he does so frequently, presents himself and his own ministry as an example for us to follow. He describes to the Colossians the nature of his ministry. He describes what it is like and what he does. And he does this, not to boast in himself, but in effect, to say, "Follow me as I follow Christ. This is the kind of ministry that is going to build the church. This is it." And so this morning, we're going to look at a pattern for fruitful ministry. I'm not saying that these eight elements that I find here in Colossians 1:24-29 exhaust the depths of everything that could be said about the elements of a fruitful ministry. And I am not even saying that they exhaust Colossians 1:24-29. But I think these eight things are helpful for me as a pastor, and to all of us as Christians who have a ministry (and that should be all of us) that we would look at these things and say, "Oh, God, work this in me." I was very convicted by this passage of Scripture, specifically in the area of tireless labor for Christ. That is very convicting for me. And I want you to be convicted as well. I want God to work in your heart.
I want God to work in your heart and to use Paul's example. And so as we look at the pattern of ministry here in Colossians 1:24-29 there are eight elements: Stewardship, joy and suffering, full proclamation of the Word of God, but with a focus on Christ in the midst of that full proclamation, a shepherding, nurturing heart, teaching and admonishing with all wisdom, and a clear focus on maturity in Christ and Christ-likeness. We're looking to see Christ formed in individuals, and then that aspect of laboring in the Lord by His power. These eight elements we are going to look at today.
Now, I want to just take a moment because Andy Winn is not here and I just want to talk about him. Okay? Is that all right? He usually sits right over there. You’ll notice he is not here; he is on vacation. And I know this is being taped, so he can listen to it later. But when I come to Colossians 1:29, for the rest of my life, I am going to remember Andy Winn. We needed a youth pastor, and we were interviewing, and Andy had been doing fruitful ministry here. He was almost done at Southeastern and so he was presented as a candidate, and I thought he was a good candidate. I wanted to ask him about it and talk to him, so we sat down, and the two of us talked together. And I asked him, I said, "Andy, what, in your mind, are the keys or the elements of a fruitful, successful youth ministry?" Without blinking an eye, without hesitating, he said this, "We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, in order that we might present everyone perfect in Christ." He got the job. That was it. First of all, he had it memorized. That was really good for me, all right?
He chose the right verse, and he has been doing that kind of ministry in our midst ever since, for seven plus years, and I think that is just a sweet thing. And so, if you see him, encourage him, because that is the kind of man that he has been in our midst. But this isn't just Andy Winn's verse; this is my verse too, and the verse of anyone who wants to be faithful in ministry, and I just thought that story would be encouraging to you. I'll never forget it. These are elements, not just of a fruitful or successful youth ministry, but of any ministry. As you hear these eight elements, don’t just think 'apostle,' and don't just think 'pastor,' or 'youth pastor.' Think 'yourself.' Because I believe that God has entrusted to each one of us a ministry, for which we are going to be held accountable, and these same elements will be helpful for all of us. Let's look at the first one and that is a perspective of stewardship. A stewardship perspective.
II. Stewardship Perspective (verses 23, 25)
In Verse 23, Paul speaks in the Gospel. He said, "This is the Gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under Heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant." A servant. And then in Verse 25, he says, "Of the church, I became a servant [or a minister], according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the Word of God fully known." Paul considered his ministry a stewardship to himself. It was something entrusted to him by Christ. Now, a steward is a servant who manages someone else's property, someone else's possessions, and seeks to manage them in a way that would honor the master, and be pleasing to the master. That is what a good steward does anyway. And Paul sought to be that kind of a servant, or a steward. A minister or a servant is like a table waiter. That is the word used here. And the idea there of being a table waiter, is that you are not the chef. You are not the chef, you are not the cook and you have no business getting involved in what is on the plate. It is your job, successfully, to take it from the master chef and present it unadulterated at the table. And that is the way Paul saw himself when it came to the ministry of the Word, and I see myself that way too.
It is not for me to mess with the doctrines, or to rearrange them, or to change the Word of God, but rather to present the Word of God in its fullness. Paul saw himself as a servant and as a steward. He believed that Christ had entrusted this ministry to him. Now, he says in 1 Corinthians 9:16 and 17, "For if I preach the Gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me, if I do not preach the Gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship that has been entrusted to me." He says again in 1 Corinthians 4:1 and 2, "So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those who have been entrusted with the secret things of God. Now, it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” Brothers and sisters, have you been given a trust? Has a ministry been entrusted to you? I would argue from Scripture, that every Christian must have a ministry. Every Christian must put forth labor and effort by the power of the Spirit to build the church of Jesus Christ.
What is your ministry? If nothing is popping into your mind, may the Lord awaken within you a yearning for an identifiable pattern of ministry in this local church, so that Christ might be glorified. But if you have a ministry, you are a steward of that ministry; it has been entrusted to you, and someday, you are going to have to give Christ an account of what you did with it. And so the first idea here of a fruitful or a successful ministry, is to consider that it has been entrusted to you by Jesus Christ Himself. For it says in 2 Corinthians 5:9 and 10, "So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." We have to give Him an account, and then, from Him, we will receive our rewards.
III. Sustaining Joy (verse 24)
Secondly, we see the issue of sustaining joy. In Verse 24, Paul says, "Now, I rejoice in what was suffered for you.” This is the commitment of the Apostle Paul. Paul had a commitment to joy in the ministry. What good is a ministry done by a miserable person? Think about that. Just picture it in your mind: "I'm a teacher." "What do you teach?" "I'm a teacher of the Word of God." You know, like Eeyore? Have you ever met an Eeyore kind of person? I'm not against Eeyore. I'm just saying, there must be a joy, a visible joy in ministry. And Paul says, "I rejoice." There is a commitment to joy and it is a realistic joy. He didn't have his eyes shut. He says in 2 Corinthians 6:10, "sorrowful, but always rejoicing." We are sorrowful because the more you get into ministry the more you are facing the wreck that sin leaves in people's lives, and it is really sad. It is really sad, so you sorrow, you weep. Jesus was a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering, and yet, He died for the joy set before Him. And so we have got to be buoyed up by joy in ministry all the time.
Just about all of the book of Philippians is given to addressing this issue of joy, the attitude of joy. "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice." Joy is the only proper response, I believe, to the greatness of the hope that Christ has won for us. Our future inheritance, brothers and sisters, in the new Heaven and the new Earth. Oh, how rich we are in Christ. How rich is our future and how great should be our joy. You ought to feed on that joy every single day. Now, I believe that joy is an indicator of spiritual health, and that a lack of joy is an indicator of spiritual sickness, or a problem.
It is similar to a canary in a coal mine. Back in the olden days, before we had the kind of technology that we have today, miners would take a canary, and put it in a little cage, and bring it down with them into the coal mines. The reason they would do this, is not because they were lonely, and wanted a pet. The reason they did this, is because the canaries were very sensitive to the presence of methane gas or carbon monoxide. Especially carbon monoxide, it is odorless and colorless. And so, if you were a coal miner and you were down there, you would just learn to talk to your bird, and listen to its singing and watch it as you worked. And if the bird was doing well, then you were fine. But if the bird started to look woozy and started to sway on its perch, you would know you needed to get out of there. You probably ought to take the bird with you. It would be just out of love for God's creation, but you need to get out.
That canary in the coal mine was a sensitive early warning system for difficulties, invisible difficulties, and so also is joy in the Christian life. It is sensitive, it is delicate, isn't it? Are you characterized by consistent Christian joy? And I do not think anybody, honestly, is going to say that. You catch me at every moment, 168 hours a week, well, minus the sleep time...but anyway-I would guess I'm joyful in sleeping. But if that is your only time of joy, you've got problems. Do people characterize you as a basically joyful person, connected to the joy of the Gospel or not? I think joy is a great early warning sign. You look at what Paul wrote in Galatians, as they were drinking in bad doctrine and legalism, and all that. He asked them in Galatians 4, "what has happened to all your joy?" That is a big problem and when you do not have joy in the Christian life, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:7, speaking of financial giving, he says, "God loves a cheerful giver." He doesn't just love a giver, friends. He loves a cheerful giver. He does not accept gifts given with irritability and given out of compulsion with a grumpy attitude.
Well, and that is not just about financial giving, it is any giving you do to the Lord, any aspect of your ministry, you need to do it cheerfully, you need to do it with joy. Any spiritual gift ministry, teaching with joy, giving with joy, praying with joy, serving with joy, and hospitality with joy. It says in 1 Peter 4: 9, "Offer hospitality without grumbling." Many of you are going to open your homes tonight to home fellowships. I just want to say thank you for your sacrifice. It is going to be hard work. You're going to work this afternoon to get your house clean. Or maybe your house is always beautiful and clean. Maybe I'm showing something of myself I don't need to show right now. We do have to labor to get our house looking that good. But that is hard work. It says, "Without grumbling." Instead, we do it joyfully. Your ministry has to be done with joy.
Now, Satan, I believe, attacks joy all the time, constantly sending joy thieves after you. Pride is a joy thief, isn't it? "I don't deserve what I'm getting. Don't they notice and don't they see all the good things I'm doing?" Pretty soon, your joy is gone. Or, "I don't deserve the trial I'm going through, the suffering I'm going through in my life. I don't deserve it." Pride is a joy thief. Selfishness is a joy thief. So also is a guilty conscience. A guilty conscience is a terrible joy thief. It's hard to be joyful, if you've got a guilty conscience. Unbelief is a joy thief, not trusting the promises of God. False doctrine and legalism are joy thieves, just understanding grace wrongly. The greatest joy thief of all is sin, wouldn't you say? If you are not joyful in Christ, that is probably because you've sinned and you need to confess something to God.
All of the ministry we do, we need to do with joy. And it is a commitment that we make, isn't it? We are going to make a commitment. We're going to rejoice in the Lord. We're going to be like Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail. We're going to sing, and praise, and worship. Paul and Silas, beaten publicly without a trial, put in stocks in the inner cell, a dark, nasty place, and they fill it with joyful singing to God. And do you know what God did? He sent an earthquake, and He shook the place, and the result was the Philippian jailer and his family coming to faith in Christ in the middle of the night. Does that happen if Paul and Silas are not joyful in their trial? I tell you, it doesn't. I’m saying God doesn't send that earthquake and I'm saying that Philippian jailer doesn't get saved that night, if they hadn't responded joyfully in the midst of their trial. He pulls them out trembling and says, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" He wants to know. I tell you, joy in evangelism and joy in ministry is so attractive; it's so engaging.
IV. Embracing Suffering (verse 24)
Thirdly, embracing suffering. You might think, the two of them, how do they go together? How do you go from joy to suffering, one after the other? But Paul openly embraces it, he says, "Now, I rejoice in what was suffered for you and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the church." Now, this is a fascinating verse. Fascinating; there are lot of things in this verse. First of all, I think that many translations have a different approach. It's more like, Paul is rejoicing in his own sufferings for the Colossians and he fills up in his body what is lacking. But I actually don’t think that is what the Greek says. I think the NIV has it right, in this case. Because Paul says, "I rejoice in what was suffered for you." He's never been to the Colossae. He doesn't know them personally. He hasn't suffered anything personally for them.
Now, he's lived a lifestyle of suffering and we'll get to that in a moment, but not for them. I think what is going on here is, he is saying, "I rejoice in the principle of suffering in what happened, what Epaphras, perhaps, or other servants have done to plant the church there in your community. I rejoice in it. I rejoice in what was suffered for you." That's a bigger issue, isn't it? What does it take to plant a church in a city like Colossae? What does it take to bring a single person to Christ? What does it take for us to finish the ministry God has entrusted to us? What does it take for us here at First Baptist Durham to reach out to this Triangle community with the Gospel? What does it take for those of you that are preparing for cross-cultural, unreached people group ministry? What is it going to take for you to bring your people group to Christ? I tell you, it's suffering, and without suffering, it will not happen.
Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself a single seed. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit." There is no progress made in the Kingdom of Heaven without sacrifice, without suffering. And so what Paul is saying here is, "I rejoice in the suffering that happened to bring you about. I rejoice in that." I think it is one of the most glorious things to consider, that we are part of a royal family of brothers and sisters in the Lord, who did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Revelation 12:11 says, "They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death." But they were willing, in the Roman era, to have their blood poured out in the sands of the Colosseum, to see the Roman Empire basically be converted. These are faceless, nameless people to us, but God knows each one of them. And Paul would say, "I rejoice in what was suffered to do that." Tertullian said, "The blood of martyrs is seed for the church.” I rejoice in that. I embrace it as a principle. It is the way Jesus saved our souls.
I rejoice in the principle of suffering. Jesus saved us by suffering and he set not just our atonement up, but the pattern by which the atonement would spread to the ends of the Earth. Polycarp, burned at the stake, said, "86 years, I've served Him, and He's never done me wrong. How can I betray my King, who saved me?" Glorious statements, one after the other. Adoniram Judson buries two wives and a daughter in an effort to take the Gospel to Burma. Even today, there are brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering and dying. You would not believe all of the incredible things that are happening in Iran. You hear about Iran, politically. You hear about Iran, in terms of the threat they are to world peace, in terms of atomic weapons, nuclear weapons, but below all of this, the church is exploding, people are coming to faith in Christ. It's an awesome thing, but they are doing so, sometimes, at the price of their own lives. Paul would say, "I rejoice in what was suffered for you."
We don't know those stories. Someday, we'll learn them though, when we are in Heaven and it's testimony time, and we are freed from time constraints, and we are freed from pride and selfishness. Notice that Paul is not rejoicing in his own suffering for the Colossian church. He is rejoicing in what Epaphras suffered, free from selfishness. It doesn't matter who did the suffering, that person is my brother or my sister in Christ. I rejoice in it. We will delight in those stories. We will delight in hearing about a brother or sister in Christ during the time of the bubonic plague, the Black Death, who took his or her life into their hands to bring nursing and the Gospel into a specific area. They were willing to die and maybe did die of the Black Plague, but they led some people to Christ before it happened. We'll rejoice in those stories and delight in them.
We're part of that royal heritage. But Paul goes deeper here. He actually gives us a theology of suffering. He says, "I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regards of the afflictions of Christ for the sake of His body, which is the church." This is very deep. It's a bit mysterious. What does Paul mean when he says, "I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking, in regard to the afflictions of Christ?" What could possibly be lacking in the suffering of Christ? Well, there are some things we can just reject, some ideas we can just get rid of here. Look back a few verses to verse 19 and 20. It says of Christ, "God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on Earth or things in Heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross." Is there anything lacking in that, brothers and sisters? Anything at all? When Jesus says in John 19, after receiving the drink and knowing that all was fulfilled, when He said, "It is finished," and then he pillowed His head down on His chest, and gave up His Spirit and died, was there anything lacking in the afflictions of Christ at that moment? I tell you, no. It's a perfect work of atonement.
But let's take what John Murray said in his great book "Redemption Accomplished and Applied," to understand this. There was suffering for Christ to get redemption accomplished, but then there is suffering for us to get it applied. Do you see? Jesus did His work. He ascended to Heaven. He sends forth His Spirit and He says, "I will give you power, and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the Earth, and you will suffer to do it. You need to take up your cross to do it." "And I fill up," Paul says, "In my flesh what's still lacking, in regard to Christ's afflictions." They are still Christ's afflictions. Now, how are they Christ's afflictions? Well, you remember Saul of Tarsus, breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples? He got letters from the synagogue leaders, and the high priest, and the officials, so that he could go to the synagogues in Damascus, and arrest any there who belonged to Christ. And on the way, he got knocked to the ground by the blinding, resurrected Christ, the light, the glory of Christ. And do you remember what Jesus said to him? "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “When you drag off men and women, and throw them in prison, I feel it. You're hurting me." When your hand hurts, it sends a signal to the brain. When your foot hurts, the brain knows about it immediately. And so also, all of the sufferings of Christians, the martyrs and the witnesses, all of that suffering is Christ's afflictions. And Paul says, "I'm filling them up in my body." Is there a call on you, in that regard? Are you called to suffer at all to advance the Gospel of Jesus? Are you suffering to advance the Gospel of Christ?
V. Full Proclamation (verse 25)
Fourth, full proclamation. In verse 25, Paul says, "I have become its servant [a servant of the Gospel] by the commission God gave me, to present to you the Word of God in its fullness." Verse 28 says, "We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ." The essence or the center, practically speaking, of Paul's ministry, was the proclamation of the Word of God. The proclamation, the teaching and the preaching of the Word of God. That was the center of what he did. Preaching was the center of God's plan for the salvation of the world. Now, the snake oil salesmen in the 21st century are telling us that preaching's day is over: "It's finished. We're in a different era now, of communication, and we need to compete with the computer graphics that are done with movies, and with all of the stuff that's done for ad campaigns, and everything that is done on the internet, and all of the ways that we're communicating now. We need to come up into that. Preaching is done. The simple communication of the Word of God through preaching is finished." It will never be finished. It will never be finished, because God has ordained the simplicity of the preaching of the Gospel, as the way that He will work. Now, I'm not saying that we can't be more sensational, more spectacular, that we can't entertain better, that we can't send people off with a bigger bang. We can do all of that, but that is not how the church will be built, not that way.
And so we proclaim. "I am to present the Word of God in its fullness," Paul says. That was his calling. And so he says to the elders in the Church at Ephesus, in Acts 20, he says, "You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you, but have taught you publicly and from house to house." He was there for three years, ministering to those people every day. And he said, "I didn't shrink back from proclaiming anything that would be helpful to you. I taught you publicly from house to house." Verse 27 of Acts 20, he says, "I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole counsel of God.” “All that was in God's mind to communicate to you, I preached that. I taught that to you." As a matter of fact, Paul yearned to hit the finish line having accomplished all of it, whatever God had entrusted to him.
Again, Acts 20, he says in verse 24, "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the Gospel of God's grace." He knew what he was about, and that was the clear proclamation, the teaching of the Word of God; that is what it was about. Now, the church is the steward of this ministry. And therefore, it is not just the pastor, but there are teachers who teach the Word of God in its fullness, and they need to be faithful to it. This church, First Baptist Church, must be fully committed to this kind of an expositional ministry, if we're going to continue to be healthy. We need to hear the Word of God in its fullness. Amen?
If the Lord were to take me tomorrow, get somebody else who will do it. You have to have this kind of clear teaching of the Word of God in its fullness, not shrinking back from anything in the Word, but just saying what it says, if you want to grow. And so also, the teachers in Bible for Life, and Acts, and Home Fellowship, teach the Word of God in its fullness. It is essential to the Great Commission. You know that, don't you? "Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit," and what? "Teaching them to obey... " What's the next word? "Everything I have taught you." That is the Word of God in its fullness. Tell it. What do I need to do, Lord? All of it. I don't just want part of it. Tell me all of my responsibilities. I want to be faithful to the whole counsel of God.
Too often these days we fall into pragmatism. The snake oil salesmen are telling you, "This is what works. We've got this little thing," and they're measuring it by human techniques. No, the Word of God is what will build the church from inside out. It will grow numerically and it will also grow into the image of Christ this way. And yet, for all of that, there is a focus to the preaching: the focus is on Christ. Yes, he preached the whole counsel of God. Yes, it was the Word of God in its fullness. But you know who the Word of God in its fullness is? It is Christ.
VI. Christ-Focus: “Christ in You, the Hope of Glory” (verse 26-27)
And so in the end, we need to teach the 66 books of the Bible. Yes, we need the stuff in Leviticus, but we need to find Christ in Leviticus. Amen? We need to know where He is in all of those offerings, and all of those washings, and all that cleanness and uncleanness. We need to know where Christ is in all of it. We proclaim Christ. Look what it says in verses 26, 27 and on. It says, "The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him." Yes, there is a breadth to a healthy preaching and teaching ministry in a local church, but there is a laser-like focus on Christ in all of it. We proclaim Him. And why? Because it is Christ in us, the hope of glory, and how mysterious is that, friends? This infinite God, this image of the invisible God, the one by whose word the cosmos existed and have their being, this one can live within our own hearts. He can dwell within us by faith.
We proclaim Him and the unveiling of a great mystery that Gentiles, we Gentiles, can actually be sharers together with the Jews in one great, new people called Christians. One new man, focused on Christ, trusting in Christ, forgiven. We are new creations, aren't we? And a new creation existing with Christ in our hearts. Oh, is that an awesome thing, that by Christ, the triune God would actually live within a human heart, would live within us. We are the temple of the living God. And it speaks there of the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Do you realize how wealthy you are? You may be a poor student. You may be struggling to make ends meet. You may be having trouble paying your bills. There may be some hidden aspects to your financial struggles that nobody knows about. God knows. But if you're a Christian, you are infinitely wealthy. The immense riches that are yours, Christ in you, the hope of glory. Do you know what that means? That you will see glory, you will see it with your own eyes. You will see God in the face and not be consumed. You will see the new Heaven and the new Earth; you will see it with your own eyes. You will walk the perfect streets and you will see things you can't even describe. I couldn't describe them. You will see glory, but more than that, you will be glory. And if you are not, you can't be there. You will be glorious. God will make you glorious. Christ in you is the hope of all of that, the hope of glory, and that's what we proclaim. We proclaim Him.
Now, what does that mean, "We proclaim Him?" Well, you know Spurgeon’s story when he was teaching young pastors about preaching? (And I keep this in front of me frequently.) He told the story of an old pastor who listened to a young man preaching one of his first sermons and the young man said, "How did you like it?" And he said, "I didn't like it at all." “Well, why don't you tell the truth?” But you need people that will tell you the truth. The young man said, "Well, why didn't you like it?" He said, "There wasn't any Christ in it." He said, "But I didn't find Christ in the passage." And he said, "Don't you know, my boy, that in every town, and village, and hamlet in England, there's a road that leads to London? Find it." In every text, there's a road that leads to Christ, find it. He said, "But what if Christ isn't even mentioned in the text? What if he's not there?" He said, "Then go over a hedge or ditch, but find Him. Get to Christ."
Now, friends, there'll be no point in me preaching a sermon like this, talking about ministry, about Jesus in general, and forget that there may be some that are here today, brought by the providence of God, who are not Christians yet. You are listening to me now in a Christ-less state; you are not ready for judgment day. The wrath of God is on you now, and if you were to die, you would know what that meant immediately. You are not ready to give an account for every careless word spoken and you are not ready for death. But you can be. It is this simple: You don't have to do any great good works. You just have to hear what I'm saying now, and believe that God sent His Son, and His Son shed His blood on the cross, and by that, the wrath of God can be fully atoned for, fully appeased, for anyone who simply trusts in Christ. Do you hear what I'm saying? Do you believe it? That God didn't leave Him dead on the cross, but He raised Him from the dead on the third day? And that if you believe all of that, you will be saved? Trust in Him now. I believe that every week God brings someone into this place who is not saved. Trust in Him. "We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone."
VII. A Shepherding Heart (verse 28)
And this brings us to a shepherding heart. "Admonishing, teaching everyone with all wisdom." God has done a wonderful work in this church in the last two years, in raising up the beginnings of a really wonderful counseling ministry. My yearning and my prayer, I've prayed a lot about this in the last two weeks, is that God would lead us to continue to grow, and that God would raise up more laborers for this abundant harvest field. Do you know how messed up non-Christian's lives are because of sin and how much they need the truth of the Word of God? Even Christians struggle with being messed up because of sin. And we need to hear the Word of God too, don't we? God has raised up a wonderful counseling ministry. We had Randy Patten in the summer; he's the President of NANC, National Association of Nouthetic Counseling. The word 'nouthetic,' comes from a Greek word 'noutheteos,' right in our text here today. "We proclaim Him, admonishing." Now, it was Jay Adams in Competent to Counsel, who taught us what this nouthetic counseling is. Basically, what it is, is taking the Word of God, and going to an individual who is struggling with sin, and warning, and admonishing, and working with him, so that they give up the sin, repent, and come to a healthy relationship with Christ. And it is done gently, it is done with humility. It is done taking the log out of your eye first. It is done with a recognition that the roles could be reversed in two or three months, but it needs to be done.
And so Paul says, "This is a shepherding ministry." We care about what's going on. We admonish with all wisdom, not in a coarse, crude, prideful, harsh way. How do you take something out of somebody's eye? Do you want somebody to take something out of your eye? There's a twitch mechanism. You have to come gently and you need to have built some trust. When I touch my little baby's face she doesn't flinch, she just knows. But if somebody she didn't know comes, she is going to pull back, and so there's a way to do it. But this is a shepherding ministry. "We proclaim Him, admonishing and also teaching everyone with all wisdom." The teaching aspect of the ministry, every precept, every little block of truth; you've heard a lot of them already today, not just in my sermon, but in Bible for Life. And every true statement, every true doctrine is like a brick of truth that God uses to erect a whole lavish city of truth inside your heart. It takes time, but this teaching ministry builds up a worldview of truth, out of which you will live your life. And that's a shepherding ministry that must continue. "We proclaim Him, admonishing." Dealing with people and their sin truthfully and teaching everyone with all wisdom, as they need it.
VIII. A Clear Goal: Maturity in Christ (verse 28)
And the clear goal of all of this is in verse 28, "So that we may present everyone perfect in Christ." Perfect in Christ. Now, I don't believe in perfectionism. Perfectionism is basically the idea that you can be sinless and perfect in this age, in this present age. I don't think it's true. I know it's not true. Romans 7 speaks of a deep and bitter struggle with sin, and we will not be perfect in this world. But we can walk in the light as He is in the light and at the same time the blood of Christ cleanses us in an ongoing way from all sin. But the goal here is, we're not satisfied with where we are. How many of you are satisfied? Don't raise your hands, but are you satisfied with where you are at in your Christian growth? You've arrived? You're done? Well, this isn't a good church for you, because we're all about the journey here, the infinite journey, the one you haven't reached yet. And what that means, is that you will not arrive at perfect Christ-likeness in this life. So the goal of ministry, the goal of this kind of a ministry, is to present everyone perfect in Christ. The idea is that, if you have a ministry, you are presenting your workmanship to God, saying, "This is what I did." And so you're presenting, in effect, people, and saying, "We want to present people perfect in Christ, and we're going to pray, and we're going to cry, and teach, and admonish, and we're going to do all of these things toward this end, that you might be perfect in Christ, and we're not going to stop until that happens." But only Christ will finish it. You know that. He is the only one that can. He is the only one that can glorify us, and so that's the completion of our ministry, but we labor toward it. And along the way, as we aim for perfection, we're going to hit maturity. Spiritually mature men and women, and they will be like rocks, like pillars, on which God builds an ongoing work. And so that's our goal. There's a focus, a clear goal.
IX. Sustainable Labor with Christ (verse 29)
Finally, Verse 29, "To this end, I labor, struggling with all His energy, that so powerfully works in me." I was thinking about the martyrs, the blood of martyrs, a seed for the church, thinking about suffering, reading martyrs stories and all that, and it seems somewhat removed from my life. Now, I think it is wonderful that God has brought to us, and continues to bring to us, people who have a missionary call. And they're going to follow and obey that call, and I may be talking to someone, a young man or a young woman, or maybe older and you may end up being slaughtered for Christ. You may die as a martyr for Jesus. It's possible. It doesn't happen a lot, but it is possible. It is good to know the theology of that kind of suffering, and know how Paul rejoices in it, and how God will honor it, and how it is a glorious thing to not love your life so much as to shrink from death. But I think most of us American Christians are called to a different kind of suffering of two types: Suffering for personal holiness and suffering to labor in Gospel ministry. Despite all the inducements to a self-serving, entertainment-soaked, selfish, lazy way of life, that we would, instead of that labor for Christ and for His Kingdom.
Labor like Paul. Look what he says, "To this end, I labor." 'Kopiao,' it means to work to the point of exhaustion. Struggling is 'agónizomai,' like in agony, wrestling against an opponent, "With all His energy, which so powerfully works in me." I think the reason we hold back from pouring ourselves out in labor, is we are afraid. We are afraid that there will not be a sustainable, renewable energy source to keep us going. We don't want to be exhausted. And that's so sad because people who lose that fear, and just go for it, find the power of Christ in them, like Paul did in him. "We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, in order that we might present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me."
Just look at the sun today. Just look at it. Now, there is a renewable, sustainable energy source for you. We're looking for one. I don't know how long petroleum's going to last, but there's the sun. I'm not talking here about solar energy. I'm just talking about the sun as an example of what God can do. Do you realize that, if you took the gross national product of the United States of America, (we heard this on a tape or a DVD, speaking about the greatness of God in the cosmos) if you took the gross national product of the United States of America and invested it completely in energy production for the next 100,000 years, it would be less than the energy put out by the sun in one second. Are you telling me God can't keep you going for the next 40 to 50 years of faithful service to Christ? He can. Test Him. Try it. Look at what the Apostle Paul did, hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger. I think his schedule was like this: When he was working as a tent maker, during the day, he preached to unbelievers. In the evening, he ministered to Christians, teaching them, and preparing them. In the late night, he sewed tents to support he and his fellow workers. That was his life.
And so he speaks frequently about his work. He says in Acts 20, "You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work, we must help the weak." 1 Corinthians 4:12, "We work hard with our own hands." 1 Thessalonians 2:9, "Surely, you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; We worked night and day, in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the Gospel of God to you." But here we are. We coddle ourselves, we comfort ourselves, and we entertain ourselves. We don't work hard for Christ. Now the quickest thing to do is to go find some solution ourselves and bring it to Christ. That's not it. Go to Christ and say, "This is who I am. This is the way I'm really living. I actually don't have a ministry, or if I do, I'm not really laboring at it to the point of exhaustion. I'm not really focused on ministry. I don't have a ministry. I'm not really laboring at it the way Paul did. Forgive me, Lord. And then work within me the kind of energy it will take to get my priorities straight, and to start living the kind of life you want me to live."
I've already done that. I'm going to keep doing it. Paul challenges me. And I feel like, "Oh, how sweet it will be when, five years from now, people say, 'You know, I don't know what it was, maybe around the time of Colossians, some other time, God worked in me and he gave me a ministry. And over the last five years, I've really felt poured out in that ministry. And look at the fruit.' " And I don't know what it's going to be. Evangelistic fruit? Wonderful. Let's see it happen. But it could be all kinds of spiritual gift ministries. This is the labor that Paul, that God is calling us to.
By way of application, can you begin just by praying that this kind of eightfold ministry would happen here at this church? Pray for me, that I would be this kind of a pastor. Pray for Andy Winn, for Eric. Pray also for our spiritual leaders, who are not vocational ministers, but are called to ministry, that they would minister like this. Keep going.
Pray for yourself, that you would minister like this. Pray that God would give you a ministry, an identifiable, clear ministry, and that you would labor in it like this. Pray that God would raise up fruit in your life.
Concerning suffering, you may be going through some great suffering right now, just know that there's a purpose in it. Know that there's no suffering that happens, that's not coming to you, except through the hands of God. And just know that God is, in effect, putting you on display. Suffer with great joy.
And I want to finish with joy. Canary in the coal mine, what an image. How's your joy? Is it where it needs to be? And if it's not, go to the Lord this afternoon in prayer, and say, "Lord, what is the joy thief in my life?" Maybe it's that you don't have a ministry and you're not serving Christ. You've tasted the world, and it's not satisfying to you, and you're not happy. It's because you've built your house on sand-or just a wing of your house anyway. Let God crush that wing, and get back to building on Christ, and on His words. Maybe there is sin in your life. Confess it to Him. Confess it. Let Him work in you. He is a gracious God. This is the kind of ministry, not only that God wants to work through you, but He wants to work to you. Let Him do it.