Teaching series from Colossians


Colossians 1:28-29

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We are in the fifth week of our study of Colossians – a letter from Paul (one of the leaders of the early Christian movement, now imprisoned in Rome) to the Christians in Colossae (a small town in south-western Turkey - MAP).

As we saw last week, Paul in 1:24-2:1 explains his ministry calling and the sufferings he experiences in it. Some aspects of Paul’s ministry are unique to him (e.g., cross-cultural missionary to 1st century Mediterranean Gentiles. But another aspect, as we will see, is not unique at all. This aspect is described in 1:28,29 (read). Let’s take a very close look at these two verses, by asking three questions: What is this ministry?, Who is to do it?, and How is it done?

What is this ministry?

Some people call this ministry “mentoring.” Some call it “developing.” For convenience’s sake, I’ll call it “disciple-making” since that’s what Jesus called it (Matt.28:19). The point is that it is helping individual Christians toward spiritual maturity.

“Complete” is teleios does not connote moral perfection (NLT)! It means reaching one’s intended goal, developing one’s potential, accomplishing one’s intended purpose. When Paul uses this term with reference to Christians, he means becoming spiritually mature (Eph.4:13) – able to view every major area of life from God’s perspective (Heb.5:13,14), and able to thrive on receiving God’s love and giving God’s love to others (see 1Jn.4:11,16).

Notice that Paul uses the phrase “every person” three times in 1:28. God wants each and every one of His children to grow to spiritual maturity! Of course, you can’t mature as God’s child until you first become God’s child – and you become God’s child by personally receiving Christ (read Jn.1:12). But once you become God’s child, it is His will for you to grow into a spiritual adult. You know what a tragedy it is when people remain immature in basic human development. It is also a tragedy when Christians remain spiritually immature their whole lives.

What does it take for Christians to become spiritually mature? According to Paul, it takes the intentional help of other Christians. That’s why he speaks of “presenting every person mature in Christ.” The idea here is that when Christ returns, we are to present to Him the other Christians we have helped to mature – not as a boast, but as a crucial part of our service for Him. This implies an answer to the second question...

Who is to do it?

Paul indicates that helping individual Christians toward spiritual maturity is the privilege and responsibility of each and every Christian.

In 1:25-27, Paul uses using the pronoun “I” to describe his unique personal ministry. Then in 1:28, he switches to “we” as he describes this ministry, saying in 1:29 “for this purpose also I labor.” Why this sudden switch to “we?” Because Paul wants to emphasize that he is one of many people (“we”) who do this ministry. The “we” may refer to Paul’s apostolic band, but more likely it refers to all Christians.

This is confirmed in 3:16 (read). Notice the similarity between 1:28 and 3:16. The content is the same (“Christ” & “the word of Christ”). The means of communication are the same (“teach and admonish/counsel with all wisdom”). Presumably, the goal (maturity) is the same. But notice that 3:16 calls all of the Christians in Colossae to help “one another” toward this goal. Disciple-making is for all Christians!

Here we have one what may be the most serious failure of the American evangelical church—its failure to persuade its members that each of them should be helping other members toward spiritual maturity. The researcher George Barna has documented that although many/most American evangelicals pay lip-service to this ministry, hardly any (including pastors) actually do it. This omission has resulted in the profound disfigurement of most American churches.

Instead of churches being like healthy families, in which all members take responsibility to help other members develop, they are more like perpetual day-care centers, in which a few exhausted professionals mass babysit people who remain in spiritual infancy.

When churches have a network of these relationships within small/home groups, the result is real, loving community that attracts lost people to Jesus (explain Jn.13:34,35 – Jesus loved His disciples in the way described above). Without these discipling relationships, most members stay isolated, lonely, far more vulnerable to temptation, and far less likely to attract lost people to Christ.

By contrast, Christian churches in the developing world (thousands of which are exploding quantitatively) embrace disciple-making ministry as biblical and normal – and wonder why western Christians don’t do it.

QUALIFICATION: The fact that all Christians should practice this ministry doesn’t mean that all Christians must practice it in exactly the same way. Within this uniform call, there is lots of room for personal diversity:

Some of us may primarily help much younger Christians, while some of us may primarily help spiritual peers. And younger Christians can help older Christians toward maturity.

Some of us will exclusively help people within our own home groups, while some of us will also help others beyond our home groups.

Some of us may do this as our primary ministry, while many of us (like myself) will do this along with many other ministries.

Some of us (because of opportunity, spiritual maturity &/or stage of life) will have the capacity to do this with many people, while some of us will have the capacity to do it with only one person.

What is vitally important is that (just like evangelism) each of us embrace this ministry calling from God, that we ask Him to show us who to help – and that we then take initiative to actually do it. This leads us to the third question...

How is it done?

Most of the content in these two verses addresses this question. In fact, Paul gives us the three most important answers right here.

Paul’s first answer to this question is that disciple-making requires focusing together on God’s Word – the Bible. “We proclaim Christ” here means: “We communicate the message about Jesus to one another.” You can see this same emphasis in 3:16 – “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” emphasizes that these relationships should be saturated with biblical truth. This should not surprise us, since 1Pet.2:2 says that regular intake of God’s Word is what enables us to grow spiritually.

How do we communicate God’s Word to one another? We “admonish and teach” one another. “Teach” is didasko, which means that we help one another to become familiar with the Bible and to understand its major doctrines. “Admonish” is neutheteo, which means to personally apply God’s Word to one another’s life-situations by way of counsel, warning, correction, or exhortation.

“With all wisdom” doesn’t mean “with all the wisdom in the universe;” it means “with all the wisdom we have.” Wisdom in the Bible is not about abstract or theoretical biblical knowledge; it is knowing how to apply God’s Word in everyday life.

This (along with the next point) implies meeting regularly with one another to read and discuss biblical truth for this purpose. You don’t have to be a biblical expert to do this! You can simply read aloud through a biblical book a small section at a time and discuss it in this way. Or you can read aloud through a quality Christian book a small section at a time and discuss it in this way. This leads us in a natural way to discuss the practical application of God’s Word, which enables us to mature.

Paul’s second answer to this question is that disciple-making requires long-term effort: “For this purpose I labor, striving...” “Labor” is kopaio, which was used to describe the day-after-day, all-day work that farmers performed. “Striving” is agonizomai (from which we get “agonize), was used to describe marathon runners. So both of these verbs connote consistent effort over a long period of time. Because spiritual maturity takes a long time, we make a commitment to stick with one another over the long haul – usually for years, not just for weeks or months.

A key part of this long-term effort is praying for one another. Paul makes this point later in this letter (read 4:12). Epaphras is helping the Colossian Christians to mature by “laboring earnestly” (agonizomai) in his prayers for them. Praying for one another, which includes praying with one another, is a key part of helping each other toward maturity – praying for one another’s encouragement during adversity, for motivation to love the people in our lives, for insight into God’s Word, for exposure of satanic lies, etc.

Americans tend to be impatient people who want quick fixes. But real spiritual maturity will never be a quick fix. It is in committed relationships built around God’s Word and prayer that God gradually transforms us to be more like Christ. It’s not fancy, it’s not dramatic, and it’s definitely not quick – but it is effective like nothing else!

About now you might be thinking: “Where will I get the energy and stamina to do this?” That’s precisely why Paul ends 1:29 the way he does: “... according to His power which mightily works within me.” “Power” and “works” are energeia, from which we get our words “energy” and “energize.” “Mightily” is dunamis, from which we get our words “dynamic” and “dynamism.” God’s Holy Spirit, who dwells within each of God’s children, will empower you to steadfastly and patiently (1:11) help one another along the long road toward spiritual maturity.

The question is: Do you regularly ask the Holy Spirit to empower you for this purpose (Lk.11:9,13)? Why do some Christians get burned out in this disciple-making ministry, while others thrive in it year after year? One key reason is that the latter have learned to regularly ask the Holy Spirit to empower them. Those who have aligned their lives to make disciples, and who regularly ask the Holy Spirit to empower them for this, receive divine energy for their work and live energized lives even as they grow older!


NEXT WEEK: Col.2:3-7 – Going Beyond Jesus vs. Going Deeper Into Jesus

DISCUSSION: There is a wealth of experience in this ministry in this room. Please share some of your experience by responding to these questions:

How is studying God’s Word in this context different from private Bible study or Bible teachings?

What benefits have you experienced from committing to do this with another person over a long time?

How have you experienced God’s power as you do this?

What deters you from doing in this?

“Regular personal appointments will help us minister to personal needs and help point to ways of dealing with issues (we) face in life... (and) ensure that we are taught the basics of Christianity and begin to feel at home with the Bible.” Ajith Fernando, The Call to Joy and Pain (Crossway, 2007), p.163.