For tonight, we’re going to look at Colossians chapter 1, and we’ll kind of abbreviate it a little bit, so that we can still cover the same ground, and get you out in plenty of time for you to leave here and go home do nothing for a couple of hours. Colossians chapter – I just want to keep your perspective, that’s all. Colossians chapter 1, verse 24 to 29 is really what we’re studying at this particular point. And I think if there’s any one thing that continually comes through to me in the ministry that God has called me to or in the ministry that God has called any of us to, it is that there is never any effective presentation of divine truth without a struggle, never.
You’re constantly dealing with objects that want to make it difficult. If it isn’t the fact that people are deaf and they cannot hear, and you have to train people and work until you are able to communicate in that way, it is that you’re dealing with false doctrine, that you’re dealing with heresy, that you’re dealing with sinfulness. Or maybe it’s that you’re on the mission field and you’re dealing with a language barrier, or you’re struggling against your own ignorance. But always it seems, always it seems, to present God’s truth there is going to be a struggle.
The adversary always makes it difficult. And it is no less true as we look at the book of Colossians that Paul is in a struggle here. Even as he writes this letter to the Christians in the city of Colossae, he is writing from prison. The struggle in his own life has brought him to the place where he has been put in prison in Rome, because of his message, because of his preaching, because of his proclamation of the truth of Jesus Christ.
In addition to that, while he was a prisoner of Rome, a dear man of God by the name of Epaphras visits him. Epaphras is undoubtedly the founding pastor of the church in Colossae, and Epaphras tells him, “Paul, something tragic is occurring in our city. Our people are being exposed to terrible false truth. There are teachers that have come to Colossae, and they are saying that Jesus is not God. And they are saying that Jesus Christ cannot save a man, that Jesus Christ is unable to bring a man to God. He is neither God, nor the Savior. And they are teaching legalism, ritual. They are teaching mysticism. They are teaching asceticism. They are teaching all kinds of strange things, including the worship of angels.” And all of this heresy, Epaphras tells Paul, is attacking the church, the young church in Colossae.
And so Paul sits down and responds to Epaphras, writes this letter, and puts it back in the hand of Epaphras, and says, “Take it to your people. It is the Word of God to them.” And so in the book of Colossians Paul is clearing out heresy, heresy regarding the person of Jesus Christ and His total power to save. And that becomes the great heart of this letter, and that becomes the major theme in the first two chapters; and in the last two chapters, the behavior of the believers that should come in response to an understanding of who Christ is and what He has accomplished in salvation.
Now it is important that the apostle Paul, in sending this letter along, give the Colossian Christians some reason to believe him. It’s one thing to say something; it’s something else to have people accept what you say as the truth. And Paul, in writing to the Colossians, wanted them to believe and to hear and obey what he said. But since he was not the founding pastor of the church in Colossae as he had been in many other churches, and they perhaps did not know him that well – maybe some of them did not know him at all – it was important that somewhere in this letter he state his right to speak, and be heard, and be believed, and be obeyed. And that he does in 1:24 to 29. Now in these particular verses, Paul is saying, “Because of who I am, and what God has called me to do, I speak the way I speak with the anticipation that you shall hear and obey me.” Especially important.
Now in discussing his ministry and his identity as a minister of God, I told you last week that he gives eight general features of his ministry. He says, “If you want to know why I’m writing the way I’m writing, if you want to know that God has called me and how He has called me and what He has called me to do, if you want to know the gambit of my ministry and why I am dealing with you as I am, here it is.” Now last week we discussed the first four. Paul gives us eight features of the ministry. Now let’s begin by reviewing the first four rather rapidly.
Number one, I gave you the source of the ministry, the source of the ministry. Notice verse 23, right at the end: “I, Paul, am made a minister.” So the source is outside the man. “I didn’t make myself a minister, I was made a minister.” Verse 25: “Of which I am made a minister, according to the responsibility, as it were, given to me by God. God made me a minister.”
The source of any ministry, beloved, is God. It is God who calls us. It is God who grants us His Spirit. It is God who directs us into the ministry He wants for us. It is God who by His Spirit gives us the gifts of the Spirit in order that we might minister them – and we’ll get into that in a week or two from our 1 Corinthians 12 study that we’ll be moving into. It is God who equips us physiologically. It is God who gives us capacities and abilities, humanly speaking, to function in areas that He designs for us. It is God who calls us to a ministry. Therefore, any ministry that I have, any gifts that I have, any abilities that I have are a stewardship committed to me by God to be returned to Him in faithfulness.
We do not call ourselves into the ministry. I didn’t choose to be a minister; and you know I’ve shared my testimony with you on that. God just threw me out of the car and sent me skidding along the highway 110 yards, and said, “Kid, you’re in the ministry.” And I said, “That’s fine with me.” And that was it; God put me in the ministry.
It came to the place in my life when I was finished with my college days, and I had opportunity at that time for the privilege of trying out with the Los Angeles Angels, or with the opportunity – at that time they were in Los Angeles, now they’re in Anaheim – the opportunity to try out with a couple of pro football teams, and there wasn’t even a decision at that point in my life. It was clear-cut. And I remember saying to the coach, “Look, I appreciate all these things, but I’m not interested at all. God has called me to the ministry.” And that’s why I’m here. And God did enough things in my life to confirm that to me without question, without question. God called me into the ministry.
Now that’s how it is in the ministry. That’s how it ought to be. It ought to have that tremendous sense of commitment that “God has put His hand on my life.” And when God has put His hand on your life, and you feel a knowledge of His Spirit working in a certain dimension, and you sense the gifts of the Spirit God has given you, you realize that you have been given a trust which you are to pay back to God. You have been given a dispensation of God; and that means a responsibility, a stewardship, a divine calling to fulfill.
And I’ll tell you, sometimes people say to me, “Where would you like to retire?” And I always say, “Retire? From what? Retire from teaching the Bible? Retire from telling people about Christ? What would I do? I’d be a guilty wreck. I’d rather be dead than retire.” This is a dispensation of God that has been given to me.
When Paul got to the end, he said, “Lord, I’m done. I don’t want to retire, I want to be dead; because if it’s all over, I’d just as soon be with you as hang around some resort.”
Secondly, Paul not only talks about the source of the ministry – and we’re just picking up the pieces of last week – but he talks about the spirit of the ministry. Verse 24: “The spirit of the ministry who now rejoice.” The spirit of the ministry is joy. This was always Paul’s attitude. Paul always had the attitude of joy, and I told you why. Joy is a product of humility.
Now remember that: joy is a product of humility. If I really believe that I don’t deserve anything, anything I get makes me happy. And Paul says, “Hey, I was a blasphemer, I was a Christian killer; I was this, I was that. I was the chief of sinners, I was all of these things, but God counted me faithful. He put me in the ministry; He blessed me. He gave me this and this and this, and everything I’ve got is undeserved. What else can I be but happy? What else could I be but joyous? What else could I be but thankful?”
And you know something? I think in studying the Scripture you will find that whenever God calls His greatest servants, whenever God picked out His choice people, He always made them face their total unworthiness, so that anything they had they would realize as a cause for joy, because it was a gift of God’s grace.
For example, Moses at the burning bush could only see his imperfections. Remember that? He says, “Hey, what am I going to do? I stu-stu, I have a stu-stu. I, uh, I have a” –he couldn’t talk. And God says to him, “Look, you’re right. But I made your mouth, and I’m going to make it work.” And I know that every time that Moses got up and made a speech he knew the source of it. Whenever God called His choice servants He always made them face the reality of their unworthiness and their uselessness apart from Him.
Take, for example – well, God said to Moses, “Go and I’ll be with you and teach you what you shall say.” Take for example, Gideon, in Judges chapter 6. Gideon at the threshing floor, he says, “Oh, my Lord.” He says, “Wherewithal or how will I save Israel? You’re calling me to save Israel?” Gideon says. “Behold, my family is poor in Manasseh. In other words, I can’t even finance an army. How am I going to pull it off? And I am the least in my father’s house. I’m the lowest guy in the house, and we’re always poor as a church mouse. How am we going to finance a deal, and how am I going to get enough credibility to lead it?” And God said, “Good, you’re just where I want you. You know you’re useless.”
And so what does God say to him? I like it. He says, “Go, in this thy might.” You’re might is in you’re humility. You remember what? God got him an army – you know what? – 300 people. You say, “How could an army of 300 people knock off anybody?” They didn’t even have to fight. They just got in a big circle, blew horns, broke pitchers, and they killed each other – the other army.
Isaiah. Isaiah went to the temple, in Isaiah chapter 6, and he saw the glory of God, and he said, “I am a man of” – what? – “unclean lips, and I dwell amidst a people of unclean lips.” And an angel came off the fire and took a coal and touched his tongue, a symbol of purification, and all of a sudden he heard the voice of God, and he said what? “Here am I Lord, send me.” You see, God wanted to show him that he was nothing. And God wants everybody that He ever calls into any ministry to make that initial recognition that he’s useless apart from what God wants to do.
Peter, on the shore of Galilee. God had a lot of plans for Peter. And he on the shore of Galilee saw the glory of the Lord and the miracle of the fish, and when he saw Jesus display this divine creative power, he said, “Depart from me, for I am a” – what? – “sinful man, O Lord. Go away, Lord. I don’t even deserve to be in Your presence.” And Jesus looked at him and said, “That’s good, Peter. From now on you will catch men. You’re just the kind of person I can use.”
You see, in all of God’s choice servants, God has to bring them to a sense of unworthiness, a sense of sinfulness, a sense of inadequacy, and a sense of undeservedness, because that’s at the very heart of joy. And then everything that happens is a cause for rejoicing. And Paul, like the rest, didn’t deserve anything; but everything he got from God gave him cause for joy.
And I’ll tell you, in the ministry, as long as you maintain a humility, you can maintain a joy. But as soon as you get to thinking you’ve not getting what you deserve, you’re a better guy than what you’re getting, you’re in a lot of trouble. Then you get bitter, then you get to complaining, and you’ve lost the joy of the ministry.
I meet people who have lost the joy of the ministry, I do, Christians who are tired of serving the Lord. You know why? Because they think they should have better than they’ve got. And the truth of the matter is that we all deserve nothing.
The third thing we studied last time: the suffering of the ministry. Not only the source of it and the spirit of it – joy, but the suffering of it. He says in verse 24, “I rejoice in my suffering for you, and I fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sake, which is the church.” And he says, “Look, the suffering of the ministry, it’s this: I’m going to have to suffer, because the world isn’t through persecuting Christ. Since the world can’t get to Christ because He isn’t around, they’re going to persecute me. But that’s all right, because if I suffer getting the gospel to you, that’s good. I’m willing to suffer,” Paul says. “I’m willing to die, for the work of the Lord.” That’s what he wants.
I was reading an interesting story this week in an ancient edition of Harper’s Magazine. You want to know how ancient? September 1875. Interesting story. It said this: There’s a story told of Pusa, the Chinese potter, that being ordered to produce some great work for the emperor he tried long and hard to make it, but in vain. Finally, in total despair, he threw himself into his furnace on top of the pottery and burned to death. When the fire died down and the pottery was discovered, it was found that his burning flesh had marked the pottery so that it was considered the most beautiful porcelain ever known. That’s interesting.
What’s the application? In the ministry, it’s the same. It’s the self-sacrifice that brings it the beauty, see. It’s the self-sacrifice that brings it the beauty. It’s the self-sacrifice that distinguishes it from the commonplace.
The fourth thing – just reviewing – the fourth thing that we studied last time that Paul looked at in his ministry was the scope of the ministry, verse 25. What is the scope at the end of verse 25? “To fulfill” – what, what? – “the Word of God.” What is the scope of the ministry? It’s just to do what God has called you to do, to maximize your effort, to fulfill the Word of God.
“God has spoken to me,” – Paul says – “and God has told me what to do, and it is my responsibility to do it, to fulfill the Word of God.” What does that mean? It means to fulfill the Word of God to me in my call. It means to preach the Word of the gospel. It means to teach the whole counsel of God. It means to fulfill it all, to do what God wants me to do by proclaiming His truth. That’s to fulfill the Word of God.
Paul says, “The scope of my ministry is simple: I’m just going to do what God tells me to do. I’m just going to obey Him. I’m going to proclaim His word to the unsaved. I’m going to teach His Word to the believers only in the way that He wants me, and only in the place that He wants me to do it.” And Paul knew what his calling was, because God had said to him, “You shall go to the Gentiles, and be My apostle to the Gentiles.” And God designed where he was to go, and he went there, and he obeyed God; and when he died, he said, “I can tell you right now, I have fulfilled my ministry, I’ve finished my course.”
The great desire of the man of God, the great desire of the servant of God, the great desire of anybody in any ministry is to fulfill God’s will by proclaiming God’s Word in the place of God’s call. And Paul wouldn’t let anything stop him. Absolutely nothing would stop the apostle Paul from doing what he knew God wanted him to do.
That’s the scope of the ministry: fulfill it. Don’t do a half-baked job; don’t do a three-quarter job; don’t slough it off. Do the whole job in the place that God has called you to do it. And that, my people, takes tremendous commitment to do it.
That brings us to the next four, and I want to share them with you tonight. We’ve seen the source of the ministry is God. The spirit of the ministry is joy. Suffering of the ministry is on the behalf of Christ for the sake of the church. The scope of the ministry is to fulfill the whole Word of God.
Fifth, the subject of the ministry. Now what is it that we are saying? What is it that we are proclaiming? What is the subject? What is the message of the ministry? Verse 26: “Even the mystery which hath been hidden from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints.”
What is the subject of the ministry? The mystery which has been hidden from ages and generations. And, incidentally, ages means times, and generations means people. So it’s been hidden from times and people, but is now given in manifestation to the saints.
What is the message? The mystery. We are to teach people the mystery. You say, “Now wait a minute. What is this mystery thing all about?” All right, let me give you a little quick theology of the term “mystery.” This is very interesting.
First of all, God has always kept some secrets. Did you know God has always had some things that only He knows, and you never know them, no one ever knows them but God? Deuteronomy 29:29. It’s a great verse, don’t ever forget it. It’s the one I always use when I can’t answer a question. Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord.” It’s a handy one. Oh, the secret things belong to the Lord, see. So God has some secrets that He never tells anybody; and that’s where our intelligence ends and God’s begins.
Secondly, God has some secrets that He reveals to special people all through history. Not everybody knows them, just special people. You say, “Who are they?” Psalm 25:14, “The secret of the Lord is with them that hear Him.” Proverbs 3:32, “His secret is with the righteous.”
Listen, there are some things that only God knows. There are some things He reveals only to special people. Who are the special people? They are the righteous. They are the ones who believe in God. They are the ones who commit themselves to Him. They are the ones in whom the Holy Spirit dwells in this age. They are the children of God.
Now, thirdly, there are some secrets which God hid from everybody in the past, and He reveals to all the saints in the New Testament; those are the mysteries. So if you see the word “mystery” in the Bible, what is it? It’s something that was never revealed in the Old Testament to anybody, but is now revealed in the New Testament to everybody: everybody who is a Christian, everybody who is a saint.
Look at verse 26 now with that in mind: “Even the mystery” – that is the things hidden from the Old Testament saints – “which have been hidden from times and generations, but now are made manifest to His saints.” “What is it then, John? What is it?” The mystery is the New Testament, the revelation of Christ incarnate. The story of God becoming man, of God in human flesh; that’s the mystery, sacred secret. And that mystery is approached many ways.
There are other mysteries in the New Testament: the mystery of iniquity – did you read about that? – the mystery of the rapture; the mystery of Babylon in Revelation 17 – some form of evil that had never been revealed earlier; the mystery of the church – the church is not seen in the Old Testament; the mystery of the bride in Ephesians chapter 5 – the Old Testament never saw a new group as the new bride of the Messiah any other than the nation Israel; the mystery of Israel’s unbelief – the Old Testament never saw a time when Israel totally abandoned God; the mystery of Godliness; the mystery of the incarnation; the mysteries of the New Testament. That’s what Paul is saying.
What then is the subject of our ministry? It is the fullness of New Testament revelation. You say, “Aren’t we to teach the Old Testament?” Of course we are. That goes without saying. But the fullness of our message is all of the mysteries of the New Testament that make the Old Testament meaningful.
Do you know that if somebody today believed every word of the Old Testament and rejected the New Testament, they’d be doomed to hell, wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t they? That’s the point. What is our message? It is the message that the Old Testament promises have come true in the New Testament in Christ. This is mystery. This is that which was hidden and is now revealed.
So he doesn’t use the word “mystery” in the sense of some secret teaching, or some rite or ceremony hidden from the masses and revealed to exclusive, elite people; not some kind of thing like the Babylonian mystery religions; not a mystical thing. The mystery is merely something in the past that was hidden that is revealed in the New Testament. Whether it’s the mystery of iniquity – that is seeing iniquity in a massive form like it had never been seen in the past, or the mystery of the church – something not seen, or the mystery of God in human flesh, it’s all the mystery that we are to teach.
Now notice verse 27: “To whom God would make known,” – this is to the saints – “to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is” – and here is the mystery – “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Now there are many different things that are called a mystery in the New Testament. But the major one, the major one that Paul points out here is Christ in you.
In the Old Testament, the Jews knew Messiah was coming. They were told that. What they never really fully knew was that the Messiah would not only come, but that He would live in the very bodies of His people. What they didn’t know was that your body and my body would become the temple of the living God. They didn’t know that. That was a mystery. And that’s the message we have to announce to the world, that every man has a hope of glory, glory manifest now, and a hope of future glory with God by virtue of Christ in us.
He says – look at verse 27. He says, “God wants the saints to know the riches of the glory of the mystery.” I like the fact he uses those. He loves to talk about riches. If you want to do an interesting Bible study sometime just look up all the places where Paul talked about riches. You know, he thinks he’s so rich. He really didn’t have anything. He ran around making tents to earn his living, and yet he’s always talking about how rich he is. The riches. “The riches of what?” “Of the glory of this mystery which is Christ.” “What do you mean?” “I mean since I have Christ I am” – what? – “rich. I am rich.”
And, listen, here’s the fantastic thing that the Jews never saw in the Old Testament: the riches of the glory of this mystery among the – what? – Gentiles. That’s us, folks. They may have understood the Messiah related to Israel; they never understood the relationship of an indwelling Messiah to the Gentiles. This is the Church. This is Christ dwelling in us in His church. How rich we are. How rich we have become. This becomes a theme in Paul’s heart as he talks again and again and again about riches.
In Ephesians 1:18, “The eyes of your understanding should be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of His calling, and the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” Riches. In chapter 3 of Ephesians, verse 16, “that He would grant you according to the riches of His glory to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man.” We are rich. We are rich, because as Gentiles, because as the church, Christ is in us.
And this is the message. This is the subject of the ministry, to tell people, “Hey, did you know that the living God wants to come and dwell in your life?” What a fantastic reality. What a thrilling concept.
In Ephesians 3:4 Paul says, “You may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit,” – what is the mystery? – “that the Gentiles that should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, partakers of His promise by the gospel.” The mystery is that Jew and Gentile are made fellow heirs to receive and possess God within them.
That’s our message – and this was burning in my heart yesterday. I was thinking, “We’ve got to announce to the world that God can live in them.” And I knew that the first group of people I was going to talk to was going to get that message, because whenever I get something in me, that’s what comes out of me. And I had an unusual privilege last night to meet with the Dodger baseball team just before the game after they’d had batting practice, and talked to them. Guess what I talked to them about? “Did you know that the living God wants to dwell in you?” That was my message.
What an exciting truth! And I said, “If you’re looking for a divine resource for living, if you’re looking for a divine sympathy for failure, if you’re looking for power, if you’re looking for understanding, if you’re looking for salvation, if you’re looking for hope for the future, God wants to live in you. What else could you ask?”
This is the message; this is the subject of the ministry. I mean we’re not running around the world announcing, “Now all of you people, please try to do better,” you know, like my old coach used to say, “Ship up or shape out.” We’re not saying that. That’s right. That’s the way he always said it: backwards.
We’re not saying that. We’re not forcing on somebody some imposed ritual or some self-styled alteration of life. We’re not saying, “Please could you make your New Year’s resolution every month?” We’re not saying that. That’s not the message.
What we’re saying is, “God wants to come and live in you.” That’s what we’re saying. We are rich because Christ is in us. And that’s rich. That’s rich beyond imagination. Because if you’ll look at Colossians 2:3 it says, “in whom,” – and that refers to Christ in verse 2 – “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Listen to me: in Christ is all wisdom and all knowledge. And Christ lives – where? – in me. What a resource. What a resource.
In Romans, just a thought. In verse 23 of chapter 9 – is it? – “And that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He’s prepared unto glory.” God, by His mercy, made us rich now and forever. We are rich.
Romans 11:33, he says it again: “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God.” He is so rich in knowledge, so rich in wisdom, so rich in mercy, so rich in grace, so rich in love, so rich in everything; and He deposited it all in us. It’s an incredible reality when you stop to think about it.
I was talking to some of the guys: “Isn’t it amazing. They say you use one-tenth of one percent of your brain.” Think about spiritually to have the living God within you, and think about how some Christians live. They live like paupers with all that resource.
Paul prayed in Ephesians 3:19 that we would be filled with all the fullness of God, that all of that available resource and power would be used. That’s our message. That’s the subject of the ministry, that the hope for man’s honor now and the guarantee for man’s honor or glory in the future is the indwelling Christ. He is power now, and He is the guaranteer of future security with Him.
In Ephesians 3:17 it says, “Christ dwells in our hearts,” – the living God. I mean I can’t even fathom that principle. The longer I think about it, the more unbelievable it becomes.
Back in John chapter 6 – and our Lord was talking in 6:56, I think: “He that eats My flesh and drinks My blood” – now listen – “dwells in Me, and I in him.” Jesus said, “If you will partake” – and He was talking about spiritual partaking. “If you will partake in My death, if you will accept My death on the cross for you, and believe in My atoning blood, if you will accept the sacrifice for sin that I make on the cross, then I will come and live in you.” What a phenomenal reality. That’s our message, people. That’s what the world needs to hear.
In John 14:17, “Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world can’t receive, because it sees Him not, neither knows Him. But you know Him; for He dwells with you, and shall be in you.” The Holy Spirit is going to come and be in you.
In John, same chapter, the twenty-third verse, John 14:23, he says, “If a man loves Me, he will keep My words; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our abode with him.” “If you will accept My cross,” – in John 6 – “if you will love Me and obey Me in that act, then I will come and live in you, and dwell in you.” Fantastic reality.
In Romans chapter 8, it tells us, “You are not in the flesh,” – verse 9, Romans 8:9 – “but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” “If you’re a Christian,” – he says – “the Spirit of God is in you, the Spirit of Christ is in you, and Christ is in you.” Three different ways he says it. God lives in us. What an incomprehensible reality.
One other thought: 2 Corinthians 6:16. I can’t resist this; love it. He says, “You are the temple,” – 2 Corinthians 6:16 – “you are the temple of the living God.” Now listen: “You are the temple of the living God; as God has said, ‘I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people,’ – emphasis on the personal pronouns – ‘I will dwell in them, I will walk in them’” And so does Paul say, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives” – where? – “in me.” Just staggering. “That’s the subject of the ministry, and that is the hope of glory.”
“And what do you mean by the phrase ‘the hope of glory,’ Paul?” “I mean that all the glory that could ever be will only be yours when Christ is” – what? – “in you.” The only hope a man ever has for glory now, future, any time, under any condition, is when Christ dwells in him. God wants to live in you; that’s the message.
So we see the source of the ministry, the spirit of the ministry, the suffering of the ministry, the scope of the ministry, subject of the ministry. Verse 28, let’s look: the style of the ministry. And this is simple: the style of the ministry. Verse 28: “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom.” Stop there.
The style of the ministry. “What is it, Paul? What’s the style? I mean how do we do it? What’s the mode? What’s the method?” Here it is. He says, “Preach.” kataggellō literally means “to proclaim.” It is the language of mission. It refers to declaring a completed truth, a completed happening. And it is a general term for Paul’s proclaiming mission.
What is the style of our ministry? You say, “It’s just to sneak around, and don’t say anything, and just live the life.” No. No. It’s to open your mouth. It’s to proclaim. You’ve got to live the life too, I’m not denying; but you’ve got to open your mouth once in awhile.
You talk a lot about example, and example is important; but nobody’s going to follow you into the kingdom unless sooner or later you open your mouth. So the style of the ministry? Paul says, “We proclaim.” It isn’t formal preaching necessarily in this term, it is simply speaking the truth; and it has two components: it has a negative – warning, it has a positive – teaching. It has an end in mind: wisdom be imparted.
How do you impart wisdom? How do you proclaim wisdom? By negative – warning; by positive – teaching. Warning and teaching. What does it mean to warn? Admonish, noutheteō in the Greek. You know the word; we’ve discussed it many times.
What is warning? Let me give you the biblical definite of the Greek word here. It means “encouraging counsel in view of sin and coming punishment.” It’s just what you do with your kids: “Keep that up, kid, and you’re in real trouble.” That’s warning. It’s noutheteō. It is encouraging counsel in view of sin and impending punishment: admonishing.
We’ve discussed it from the standpoint of 2 Thessalonians 3:14 and 15. It’s to be done gently, but it’s to be done firmly. We see it use in many, many New Testament passages. Every Christian has the responsibility. I’m telling you, every Christian has the responsibility to admonish.
In Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” – in all of you – “in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another.” That’s just a responsibility all of us have, to warn each other if there is sin.
In Romans chapter 15, verse 14: “I myself am also persuaded of you all, brethren, that you are also full of goodness, filled with knowledge, able to admonish one another.” We are to warn each other. If there’s a sin in the life of a believer, we’re to warn him lovingly, gently. We have that responsibility.
Every pastor has that responsibility. That’s my responsibility. He says in 1 Thessalonians 5:12: “We beseech you, brethren, to know them who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you. We have to warn you. We have to warn you about your sin, about false doctrine, about the consequences of disobedience, about the consequences of spiritual laziness, about missing the will of God. We have to warn you as we would warn our children, if we love them.”
The second aspect on the positive side is teaching, imparting positive doctrine. Now we do both of these: we impart positive doctrine and we warn. We’re to teach the Word of God.
So what is the proclaiming that we do? It involves warning and teaching, whether it’s to an unbeliever – what do you say to an unbeliever? “You know, if you keep living the way you live, and you keep rejecting God and Christ, I want to warn you, my brother, of what’s going to happen.” And that’s warning. And then you need to say to that same unbeliever, “Let me teach you what you need to do.”
The same two things apply in the church. If you see a Christian sinning, you warn, and then you instruct. So those two things are part and parcel of the style of the ministry, which is to talk, to speak, to proclaim, to announce, to declare a mission; and that mission has two parts, and that is to warn and to teach. And notice what you’re to teach: all wisdom. Don’t leave anything out. Wisdom means spiritual principles. On the basis of spiritual principles, we warn men and we teach them.
And this was the style with Paul. He always did this; and he usually connected the two. He would usually teach solid doctrine; and then on the basis of solid doctrine, he’d warn them. He’d say, “Now that I’ve told you this truth, here’s the way you’d better act.” So for the man of God his lifestyle is dictated.
You know what all are, people? You ready for this? We are all proclaimers; that’s right. Some of us stand up here and proclaim this way, and talk to big crowds of people. Some of us go out there where we are in small little groups of friends and family, and we proclaim where we are. But we all proclaim. We all are mouths for the Lord, to warn and to teach. Very vital.
Taking it to my own heart, I know what God’s called me to do. He hasn’t called me to stand here and tell you my opinion. He hasn’t called me to tell you who to vote for, what you ought to do to protest the current economic situation, et cetera, et cetera. You know what He’s called me to do? To proclaim. That’s the style.
You say, “To proclaim what?” To proclaim the mystery of Christ in you, and all that that means, all that that means for your life. And in doing that, to warn you, and to teach you.
Now what’s so beautiful about this? He says, “Whom we preach,” – now listen – “warning” – whom? Who does it say? – “warning every man, teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present” – what? – “every man.” Who are we supposed to teach then? Only the elect. No. It’s really pretty obvious, isn’t it? Everybody. Everybody. Every man.
Listen, let’s get to be proclaimers. If everybody in this congregation just went out and said, “This is ‘Be a Proclaimer Week.’ I will open my mouth,” – not just leaving little tracks on the table and scurrying away – “I will speak for the Lord.” You know what would happen? Just this group right here would cause such a stir around this valley, it’d be incredible. Let’s make it “I will proclaim with my mouth week” this week. “And I will warn about negative behavior, and I will teach positive truth.”
Now I could go on from here and talk about a lot of things – that’s what the preacher always says when he’s out of material, right? – because in my heart, because in my heart, I would like to apply this to the pastor. But I’m going to set that aside and just leave it with the application to you. But, oh, does it have application to the man in the pulpit: to teach everybody the Word of God, and all of it, in all wisdom. We need to get all the Word of God; that’s why we should have an answer for every man who asks us, whatever the question might be.
Well, let’s go to the seventh point, the sum of the ministry, the sum of the ministry. When it’s all said and done, what does it add up to? What is the goal, the objective, the sum of it all? Verse 28, the end of the verse. Well, let’s read the whole verse: “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man” – here it is; what’s the next word? – “perfect” – or mature – “in Christ.”
What’s the goal of the ministry? The maturity of the saints, isn’t it? Ephesians chapter 4, “He gave to the church some apostles, and prophets, and evangelists, and teaching shepherds, for the perfecting of the saints,” – Ephesians 4:12 – “to bring people to maturity.” We want to build people up. We want to bring people to maturity. This is what the Holy Spirit is trying to do. Galatians 3:3, “Having begun in the Spirit, are you made perfect by the flesh?” Listen, let the Spirit do His work, and He’ll make you perfect. That indicates that that’s His ministry.
The end of the book of Hebrews in 13:21, he says, “The Lord Jesus make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight.” That is the objective of the ministry, not just to bring people to Christ, but to bring them in Christ to maturity, so that they also can reproduce, so that they also can proclaim in all wisdom, so they also know something they can tell somebody else. Very, very, very important.
In Philippians chapter 3 – and I’ll just give you a couple of verses, deleting some here – chapter 3, verse 12: “Not as though I already had attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after.” He says, “I haven’t arrived,” – Paul does – “but I’m sure going in that direction.”
What is perfection? Let me give you several definitions. What is maturity in the Christian life? What is the point of perfection? To be like – what? – Christ. Anybody there? Nope. Anybody going there? I’m in progress. I’m on the road; and the closer I get, the further away it seems.
You say, “John, how do you get there?” “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” – 2 Timothy 3:17 – “It is profitable for doctrine, instruction, correction, reproof that the man of God may be” – what? – “perfect.”
How do you get there? You get there because you take this Book and you make it a part of your life. This is it. This is your food. A child matures because he eats. A Christian matures because he feeds on the Word of God. That’s the goal. The goal is to bring people to maturity.
You know, this was what was on Epaphras’ heart. Go over to chapter 4, verse 12. This was the guy who brought Paul the message. Look what he was concerned about: “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” He says, “Epaphras has this great burden for you, that you would be complete. That’s what’s on his heart, and that’s what’s on my heart. And not just some people; that we may present every man perfect in Christ.”
Now think about it. Here is Christianity making an absolutely cross-cultural, cross-time statement that is staggering. And the statement is this, that in Jesus Christ there is the capacity for perfection for every man in every age in every society. Incredible.
Walter Lippmann said this: “As yet, no teacher has ever appeared who was wise enough to know how to teach his wisdom to all mankind. In fact, the great teachers have attempted nothing so Utopian. They were quite well aware how difficult for most men is wisdom, and they have confessedly stated that the perfect life was only for the select few.” End quote. Baloney.
Paul says, “We will preach, and warn every man, and teach every man in all wisdom, that we may present” – what? – “every man perfect in Christ.” Listen, the Lord Jesus Christ can perfect every man. Not every man can master every art, not every man can master every craft. There are those who are blind, there are those who are deaf, there are those who cannot speak, there are those who are retarded, there are those who are unlearned, there are those who are unskilled, there are those who are weak; and some of all of those make up the body of Jesus Christ. There is one reality for every man: Jesus Christ. And He, someday, will make them all like Himself. Incredible.
Lastly, we’ve seen the source, the spirit, the suffering, the scope, the subject, the style, and the sum of the ministry. And you say, “John, you mean to tell me I’ve got to do all that? That’s my ministry?” Yeah. You say, “How?” Number eight, the strength of the ministry.
How you going to do it? You think you can pull it off? The strength of the ministry. You say, “John, how am I going to do it?” Verse 29: “First for this I also labor.” Point one: If you’re going to do it, you’re going to have to – what? – work hard. You say, “Yeah, it kind of looks like it.”
The word “labor” means to toil to the point of exhaustion. Sometimes people will say to me, “John, you’re working too hard. You work too hard. You’re going to run into problems.” And my thought in the back of my mind is always the same: “Oh, no, I’m not probably working hard enough.”
You see, Paul says, “For this I also toil to the point of exhaustion.” I know a little about that; probably not like Paul. But I know what it is to be weary in well-doing. I know what it is to be dead-flat tired. And I know what it is to work. I also know what it is to not work. And I’ll tell you one thing: I would rather, like David Brainerd and Henry Martyn, I would rather burn my life out and be dead, having spent myself for the Lord, than try to pace myself and be unable to accomplish what God wanted me to accomplish. He’s in control of my life, and the ministry is work.
I remember – never forget – the lady who said to me on a golf course one time: “You’re a smart young man; you ought to go into ministry.” I said, “Really?” She said, “Yeah. You don’t have to do a thing; and you can make a lot of money.” I said to her, “It’s interesting you should say that. I am in the ministry. Let me tell you a few things.” Wow.
Paul said, “I work hard. I’ve got scars all over my body. I’ve been stoned, beaten with rods; shipwrecked, slept in the craziest places; been in prison, been in stocks. I fought against fornication among the Thessalonians. I fought contention, and more fornication, and fanaticism, and litigation among the Corinthians. I fought vice and heresy among the Colossians, I fight legalism among the Galatians, and I beat my body all the time to bring it into subjection. I work my fingers to the bone to earn my own living and the living of everybody who travels with me. This isn’t easy.”
And I’ll tell you something, folks. If you think that you can accomplish any ministry for God without working at it, you’re wrong. It takes work; it takes toil; it takes just plain effort. And you push, if you’re going to do anything.
Paul pushed his body. He taught hours and hours and hours during the day, every day, for three years in the school of Tyrannus from 1:00 to 5:00; and then they went back to work in the evening when it was cool. And after that, he went from house to house in the middle of the night; and then the rest of the night he stayed up crying about them, he says in Acts 20. He did it for three years.
Henry Martyn said when he went to India, “Now I’m here and I know what You want me to do. Now let me burn out for You, God.”
The word “striving” there, striving he says, “I labor striving”, is the word – the English transliteration is agōnizo, agonize. It’s an athletic word.
You can be a lazy Christian, you can be a lazy pastor, you can be a lazy missionary, you can be a lazy Sunday School teacher, you can be a lazy helper in the church, you can be a lazy anything; but I’ll tell you one thing, you’ll never fulfill the Word of God in your life, and you’ll never maximize your ministry. It takes a maximum effort for the years of your life to fulfill the Word of God in your life. So he says, “I labor.”
You say, “I’ll tell you something; it sounds a little bit self‑generated. It sounds a little humanistic to me.” Well, he didn’t get to the rest of the verse: “Striving according to” – what? – “His working, which” – what? – “works in me mightily.”
I’m not alone in this. Sure, I have to work hard; sure I do. But you know what? The only way I can work hard is in His energy, is in His power. And I find that, as Paul says – remember he said, “Every morning I am renewed with fresh strength”? Remember he said that?
I know day by day Christ’s power, by His Spirit, is at work in my life, and He gives me an almost supernatural energy. There are times when I don’t feel that I can do it, and yet I do it. And when it’s done, I know that the resource came from outside of myself, because God gave me the power.
I work hard, from the human viewpoint. But it would all be absolute ashes, it would all be burned out nothing if it wasn’t the energy of God energizing me; so that when anything is accomplished, it isn’t because I worked hard, it’s because He did it. He energized. He gave the power He gave the resource.
Now you can sum it all up in your own mind. There it is. He states his credentials as a minister, and calls the Colossians to hear and believe and obey what he says. And he gives us a tremendous look at the ministry. And all I can say to you is that you’ve heard it, and I trust you’ll apply it.
Father, thank You for our time tonight. The time is past gone, and we’re grateful. We’ve had such a rich night tonight; talk about rich. We just thank You. Thank You for our dear friends that are part of the Grace Church family. And we just thank You that You’ve sent them our way, and we want to minister to them. We thank You for those who faithfully signed to them, that they might be a part of us. Thank You for the ministry that they’re fulfilling in laboring to fulfill. And we pray, Lord, that we might be as faithful as those who set the pattern for us, as the apostle Paul and others, to fulfill all of the features of the ministry, that You might be pleased, that You might be glorified. Give us a continuing sense of our own unworthiness and uselessness, so that we always have joy in an thing that You do through us. We thank You in Christ’s Name. Amen.
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