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The Supremacy Defended: Three Marks of a Mature Church (Col. 2:1-7)

Intro

It is good to be back with all of you once again. Thanks again to all of you who labored for the Lord at the retreat. To you I say, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be stable and steadfast, always abounding in the work of the Lord knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). The context there is the resurrection of Jesus Christ and Paul says, because our God is living today, we can be sure anything done for Him is not lost or forgotten or in vain. Amen!

Last time we talked about authentic ministry and what that looks like. Today we will continue along that similar vein and look at the marks of a mature church.  What does a healthy community of believers look like? What do you think the world would say are the distinguishing characteristics of a great church?

Here is my list:

1)    Lots of programs

2)   Lots of parking

3)   Lots of people

4)   Great music

Now what would Jesus say? What would the Apostle Paul say are the marks of a mature, growing, healthy body? Well, we have some idea because we have Colossians 2:1-7. This is probably the most personal part of the letter. Paul is defending the Supremacy of Jesus Christ in this chapter. He had declared in the first chapter, now he puts on war paint and is getting ready to stand up for truth. In verses 1-7, he tells us what a true church is all about.

Here’s the first thing:

I.  A mature church has a praying pastor (Col. 2:1).

Notice he starts out saying he is struggling for them. The same word is used in Col. 1:29; which is a word from which we get our English word, agony. Most scholars agree that his struggle here is not merely external, but internal. He is saying there is a great internal conflict within him; a great contest; an inner turmoil. The Greeks would assemble for Olympic games, a place where they agonized in wrestling and footraces, where they fought to win. Imagine running at the last leg of the race and pulling everything within you, digging deep within you to find the last drop of adrenaline to finish and pull through. He says he struggles in prayer like that for the church at Colossae, Laodicea (12 miles away) and probably Hierapolis, all founded by Epaphras, who was converted through Paul. What is amazing about this is that Paul had this heart for those he has never seen! This puts an end to a lot of our excuses for not praying for people, like: “Oh I don’t really know them, so how can I pray for them?” “They don’t know me!”

Flip over to Colossians 4:12. He says Epaphras, who is with him as he writes this letter, says he is “struggling” (same word) as well in prayer for them! It is a word used of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he was in agony, sweating like great drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44)

Perhaps the shoemaker William Carey learned from Paul, some eighteen centuries later, as he made a leather globe so he could pray for a world still unseen to him. Ultimately Carey’s “world-class” heart propelled him to India as he became the founder of modern missions.[1]

I wonder what the struggle was for Paul. Did he feel the Enemy, like a lion was so ready to devour them and was he crying out to God? Was he fighting his own flesh perhaps to give up? Was he struggling with his own body deteriorating in the prison cell? Was he wrestling with God? Was he struggling because of being distracted by his impending possible death?

We don’t really know. One thing we do know is that he with their pastor Epaphras, is on his knees constantly for this church! What a rebuke to my heart? I want a heart like that for this body. I want to agonize in prayer for all of you who I have seen face to face! I am not there yet, but long to be. Pray for me! I want to agonize in prayer for those who are lost today.

Illus: David Brainerd (1718-47), was a missionary to Native Americans. He was  good friends with the famous American theologian and revival preacher, Jonathan Edwards and even lived at his house for a while. Brainerd died when he was 29 of tuberculosis and Edwards later published Brainerd’s personal journal. Do you know what his journal was drenched with?  “wrestling” with God in prayer. For example, listen to part of the entry for Monday, April 19, 1742, which reads, “God enabled me so to agonize in prayer, that I was quite wet with sweat, though in the shade, and the wind cool. My soul was drawn out very much for the world; I grasped for multitudes of souls.”[2]

He wrote the following day: “I think my soul was never so drawn out in intercession for others as it has been this night. Had a most fervent wrestle with the Lord tonight for my enemies.”[3] Again, “[I] was enabled to cry to God with a child-like spirit, and to continue instant in prayer for some time. Was much enlarged in the sweet duty of intercession. Was enabled to remember great numbers of dear friends and precious souls, as well as Christ’s ministers. Continued in this frame, afraid of every idle thought, till I dropped asleep.”[4]

Oh for a heart like that! Though there are several important qualities of a minister like giftedness, leadership ability, education, and boldness, it is not worth anything if there is no prayer and love for the church in his life. A praying pastor is a mark of a mature church. Though I am preaching this point to myself, I would also like to extend this point to all of us here as well.

Here is the second mark:

II.   A mature church is made up of encouraged hearts based on entwined unity. (Col. 2:2-4)

Paul tells us the content of his struggling prayer. NIV correctly interprets the “that” by saying, “My purpose is that.” His purpose is that they would be encouraged in heart. Encouraged literally means “called alongside.” The KJV says, “comforted,” but really it should be strengthened in heart—which means your entire person, which consists of mind, will and emotions…your entire being.

I can imagine Paul walking into church this morning and sitting next to each of us, putting his arm around us, saying, “I just want to encourage you. I want your heart to be strong.” That is what he was always about. I pray people who walk in here are encouraged. There is only one way this will happen. We have to encourage one another. If all of us come in here saying, “Man, I want someone to encourage me today!” Guess what? No one will get encouraged. So many times we go to church as consumers wondering what we will get, rather than what we can give to someone. If there is encouragement anywhere in the world, it should be in the church of Jesus Christ. He tells us how to be encouraged in our hearts. We can be encouraged in our hearts by entwined unity. The phrase here, “knit together,” means “having been glued together” implying some outside power has put them together and are holding them together in love. We know it is Christ, in Him all things hold together (Col. 1:17). John Macarthur says:

“All of us are being knit together into an indivisible kind of oneness. The human body is a combination of billions of cells all knit together. The individual cells, however, aren’t distinguishable because they’re blended together to form a whole. So, just as the cells of the human body are indistinguishable as they are lost in the overall unity of the body, Christians should be indistinguishable as they are lost in the unity of love that exists among the brethren.” [5]

If I am a loose thread hanging out there somewhere, it will be pretty useless won’t it? It will also blow away in the wind. But if a bunch of loose threads are entwined and knit together, you can create a strong piece of fabric. Remember that certain people were teaching lies in the church. He is saying that the Lord is holding you all together. He has already unified you, but now live it out by banding together in love and that will help you have a strong heart individually and together as a whole. When unity is lost, the work of ministry stops. Everything will unravel. Let us have the conviction today that I will sacrifice personally for the sake of unity. 

If we do so, he then gives three results of an encouraged heart.

a)    Your life will be enriched (Col. 2:2). Notice “to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding.” Paul is saying as you work on being in community and entwined together, you will get more confidence about the truths of your faith. How? You see God at work in other’s lives. How often am I down about something or I have doubts only to be at church or small group or prayer meeting or have someone over for dinner where their story or something they pray for encourages me and I have more confidence again. You will be enriched!

 

b)   You will be entranced with Christ and His sufficiency (Col. 2:2-3).  Notice in the latter part of verse 2 and in 3, he also says, “and knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Being intertwined in community creates an encouraged heart leading to an enriched life in which you will grow to know Jesus Christ more and more. Paul uses the word, “mystery” again. A mystery is something hidden in the OT but is revealed in the NT. There are several mysteries in the NT, like we read last time about Gentile and Jewish believers able to have Christ live in them equally. Here, Paul is using this term again, because the false teachers always talked about mysterious ways to get to know God, which they only knew. Paul says, if you want to talk about mysteries…here it is: Jesus Christ! And Him alone! Is totally supreme and absolutely sufficient! Knowing Him is what life should be about and having Him is enough. As a poet once said:

He is a path, if any be misled;
He is a robe, if any naked be;
If any chance to hunger, He is bread;
If any be a bondman, He is free;
If any be but weak, how strong is He!
To dead men life He is; to sick souls health;
To blind men, sight, and to the needy, wealth;
A pleasure without loss, a treasure without stealth
              — Giles Fletcher, Jr. 1588–16

The story is told that in the days of the Roman Empire, a certain wealthy senator became estranged from his son. When he died unexpectedly, his will was opened. “Because my son does not appreciate what I’ve done, I leave all of my worldly possessions to my loyal slave, Marcellus,” the will read. “However, because I am a man of grace, I bequeath to my son one of my possessions of his choosing.”

“Sorry,” said the testator to the son. “You can only take one of your dad’s possessions. Which will it be?”

“I take Marcellus,” said the son.

Brilliant! That’s the idea. When you take Jesus Christ, you get all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. When you open your heart to Him, you find everything you need. It’s all in Him.[6]

But here is the shocker…this happens in community! I know Christ more in more when I am in contact with other brothers and sisters. You can grow in isolation, but God intends for you to grow in community. This is why you cannot be off on your own saying you don’t need to go to church or be in godly relationships. You can read all the books you want or listen to all the tapes you desire, but true growth happens when in community.

c)    You will not be enticed by false teaching (Col. 2:4). Paul says in verse four that he has said the previous three verses so that no one (especially the false teachers) will trick them to believing lies. The basic attack from all false teaching in history have been pretty much on the deity of Christ, His sufficiency to save or both. The false teachings usually go something like “you need Christ plus something else” or “Jesus is not God.” In community, it will be hard to be led astray by fancy rhetoric or eloquent speech that is not in the Word. Notice this all happens in community! It cannot happen online in a virtual chat room as most of our relationships are going that way. We need to be around skin.

Listen to Pastor Sam Storms: 

“It has never been nor will it ever be God’s design for you to pursue your relationship with him independently of other believers in the body of Christ. It is not only unbiblical to think otherwise, it is arrogant. A finger is effective only if it is united to a hand. An eye can see only if embedded in a head. A foot is good for movement only if attached to a leg. “For the body does not consist of one member but of many. . . . [Therefore] you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:14,27).”[7]

Illus: John Ortberg, in his book Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, talks about ‘The Porcupine’s Dilemma’. He says:

The North American Common Porcupine is a member of the rodent family that has 30,000 quills attached to its body. The porcupine is not generally regarded as a lovable animal. Each quill can be driven into an enemy, and the enemy’s body heat will cause the microscopic barb to expand and become more firmly embedded. The wounds can fester; the more dangerous ones, affecting vital organs, can be fatal.

The porcupine is not generally regarded as a lovable animal. The Latin name, erethizon dorsatum, means ‘the irritable back,” and they all have one. Books and movies celebrate almost every conceivable animal – not just dogs and cats and horses, but also pigs (Babe; Arnold Ziffel from the old TV show Green Acres), spiders (Charlotte’s Web), dolphins (Flipper), bears (Gentle Ben), and killer whales (Free Willy). Even skunks have Pepe Le Pew. I don’t know of any famous porcupines. I don’t know any child who has one for a pet.

As a general rule, porcupines have two methods for handling relationships: withdrawal and attack. They either head for a tree or stick out their quills. They are generally solitary animals. Wolves run in packs, sheep huddle in flocks; we speak of herds of elephants and gaggles of geese and even a murder of crows, but there is no special name for a group of porcupines. They travel alone.

Porcupines don’t always want to be alone. In the late autumn, a young porcupine’s thoughts turn to love. But love turns out to be a risky business when you’re a porcupine. Females are open to dinner and movie only once a year; the window of opportunity closes quickly. And a girl porcupine’s “no” is the most widely respected turndown in all the animal kingdom. Fear and anger make them dangerous little creatures to be around.

This is the Porcupine’s Dilemma: How do you get close without getting hurt?”

This is our dilemma, too. Every one of us carries our own little arsenal. Our barbs have names like rejection, condemnation, resentment, arrogance, selfishness, envy, contempt. Some people hid them better than others, but get close enough and you will find out they’re there. They burrow under the skin of our enemies; they can wound and fester and even kill. We, too, learn to survive through a combination of withdrawal and attack. We, too, find ourselves hurting (and being hurt by) those we long to be closest to.

Yet we, too, want to get close. We meet neighbors, go on dates, join churches, form friendships, get married, have children. We try to figure out how to get close without getting hurt. We wonder if there isn’t a softer, less-barbed creature out there – a mink or an otter perhaps.

And of course, we can usually think of a number of particularly prickly porcupines in our lives. But the problem is not just them. I’m somebody’s porcupine. So are you.

Miracle of miracles: Relationship does happen- even for porcupines. They learn to keep their barbs to themselves. They also figure out how to get long enough to make sure that another generation will come along. Males and females may remain together for some days before mating. They may touch paws and even walk on their hind feet in the so-called ‘dance of the porcupines.’ It turns out there really is an answer to the ancient question, how do porcupines make love? They pull in their quills and learn to dance.”[8]

Some of us may be scared to come close to get pricked, but even porcupines pull in their quills and learn to dance.

Here are some ways to pull in our quills and to prevent from our church from unraveling:

1.  We will share our true feelings (authenticity)

2.  We will encourage each other (mutuality)

3.  We will support each other (sympathy)

4.  We will forgive each other (mercy)

5.  We will speak the truth in love (honesty)

6.  We will admit our weaknesses (humility)

7.  We will respect our differences (courtesy)

8.  We will not gossip (confidentiality)

9.  We will make community a priority (frequency).

A mature church works on these things. It is not that we have all of these working properly, but we are growing in them. Here is the last mark of a mature church in this text:

III. A mature church will have her members flourishing in their faith (Col. 2:5-7).

 In Col.2: 5-7, Paul is overjoyed at the Colossians present stance and urges them to continue in their walk. He wants their faith to flourish. In these verses he is summing up what he wants to see in this church.

He uses five word pictures here in these three verses, which I am going to borrow from Warren Wiersbe[9], to help us understand what flourishing faith means:

First,

1)    An army (Col. 2:5):

Paul says in verse 5 that though he cannot be with them physically since he is probably tied to a Roman soldier at this point, he says he is happy to hear (probably from Epaphras) that many in the church have indeed banded together like an army. Both “good order” (NIV: orderly) and “steadfastness” are military terms. Imagine an army that is solidly united against the enemy. Wiersbe says,
Order describes the arrangement of the army in ranks, with each soldier in his proper place. Not everybody can be a five-star general, but the general could never fight the battle alone.”

John Macarthur: He’s saying, “You may be being attacked, but nobody has broken rank. Everybody is still in single file, and nobody has been shot down yet. That’s good and I’m happy.” You say, “What’s he so excited about?” Well, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right?

The second word “steadfastness” speaks of a solid front of soldiers, ready to stand the shock of attack. Not only were their ranks unbroken, but they were standing firm. So, when the shock of battle hit, they would be able to stop it.[10]

Illus: In The Good Fight, Mark Buchanan offers four spiritual disciplines to keep fights from scarring your soul. Buchanan uses a movie scene to describe the necessity of unity for the church.

General Maximus comes to Rome dirty and shackled. This is not the way it’s supposed to be. Where’s Rome’s legendary pageantry to greet one of her war heroes—the heraldry, the burnished armor, the laurel crown? Where’s the honor due him?

Maximus comes as a slave.

That’s the premise of the movie Gladiator. Through a maze of events, Maximus goes from celebrated warrior, favorite of one emperor, to despised traitor, nemesis of another. He becomes a fugitive, then caged slave, then unvanquished gladiator. His growing fame in the arena brings him to the sport’s pinnacle: Rome’s magnificent Coliseum to face her elite warriors.

The games open with a re-enactment of the battle of Carthage. The gladiators, all foot soldiers, are cast as the hapless Carthaginians. It is a stage for slaughter. They are marched out a dark passageway into brilliant sunlight and met with a roar of bloodlust.

Maximus, their leader, shouts to his men: “Stay together.” He assembles them in a tight circle in the center of the arena: back-to-back, shields aloft, spears outward. Again he shouts, “Whatever comes out that gate, stay together.”

What comes out that gate is swift and sleek and full of terror. Chariot upon chariot thunder forth. War horses pull, with deadly agility and earthshaking strength, wagons driven by master charioteers. Amazonian warrior princesses ride behind and with deadly precision hurl spears and volley arrows. One gladiator strays from the circle, ignoring Maximus’s order, and is cut down. Maximus shouts once more: “Stay together!”

The instinct to scatter is strong. But Maximus exerts his authority, and they resist that impulse. The chariots circle, closer, closer, closer. Spears and arrows rain down on the men’s wood shields. The chariots are about to cinch the knot. Right then Maximus shouts, “Now!”

The gladiators attack, and decimate the Romans. Commodus, the evil emperor, caustically remarks to the games organizer: “My memory of Roman history is rusty, but didn’t we beat Carthage the first time?”

Whatever comes out that gate, stay together.

That echoes what Jesus prayed for us: “May they be brought to complete unity” (John 17:23). And he promises that the gates of hell will not overcome his church.[11]

Will you commit yourself to the body to say, “whatever comes out of the gate, I will stay together?” Flourishing faith means standing firm together in the midst of attacks.

2)     The pilgrim (Col. 2:6)

The next image is found in verse 6. Paul says, “remember how you became believers? It was by faith. How do you continue and progress in your faith? By faith!”  Christian life is a walk, not a sprint or a marathon. It is your lifestyle. It is daily taking one step at a time through the grind of life. 1 John 2:6 says “walk as Jesus walked.” How did he walk? “trusting, in love, in wisdom and in truth, in the Spirit, etc.” Flourishing faith means our lifestyle is imitating His lifestyle.

Illus: The banks of certain rivers are lined with a substance called “near quicksand.” It’s almost quicksand—but not quite. If you keep walking on this near-quicksand, you don’t have a problem. But if you stop, you’ll start sinking, and you’ll eventually get sucked in completely.[12]

3)   The tree (Col. 2:7)

This is funny because we had a tree up not so long ago to describe the worthy walk. Remember? But “rooted” is an agricultural term. The tense is “having been rooted.” This means when you received the Lord, He planted you down. Like a tree with deep roots in rich soil drawing its nourishment, so the Christian is deep-rooted in Christ. He is the source of life, nourishment, growth, and fruit. Flourishing faith means getting nourished and bearing fruit in Christ.

4)   The building (Col. 2:7)

He uses architectural terms now: “built up and established in the faith.” It is in the present tense, meaning it is an ongoing process. Paul says as you walk in Christ, He is pulling you downward to strengthen your roots and he’s building you upward, but laying a good foundation for you and putting brick upon brick on you, helping you grow as you seek to obey and love Him more and more. Flourishing faith means being built up by obedience.

5)   The river (Col. 2:7)

Paul uses the word “abounding” (Paul uses this word 26x in the NT). This word is also in the present tense, meaning a continual attitude of gratitude. The picture here is over a river, overflowing in its banks. This is the response to everything: gratitude. If you are down in your walk with Christ or if you feel the pressures of life weighing you down, get down on your knees and think of 10 things to thank God for in your life. I can tell you that before you know it, your heart which was dry and barren, will be gushing with His presence and goodness, overwhelming you! Flourishing faith means overflowing gratitude for God’s work in your life.

We are a bunch of porcupines with a lot of quills. I am good at withdrawing on my own and pulling up my quills so that no one can come near me. Is that you? The Word would tell us this morning that we cannot grow this way or have all that is available to us in Christ by our individualism. We cannot have the encouraged heart or the entwined unity or any enrichment or entrancement that we can have if we stay that way. So my encouragement to you this week is to work on one of the areas of true biblical fellowship mentioned earlier. Perhaps you have not encouraged someone in a long time. Get alongside and do that. Perhaps you are not good about sharing your heart. Get alongside someone and share some honest issues of your heart. The Lord is looking for quality, not quantity. Let us have the marks of a mature church. May the Holy Spirit of God enable us to live out to what He called us.

 

 

—-

[1]Hughes, R. K. (1989). Colossians and Philemon : The Supremacy of Christ. Preaching the Word (52).

          Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books.

[2] The Life of David Brainerd, Yale, 162.

[3] Ibid.

[4] 260.

[5] From the sermon, “Paul’s Burden for the Church,” gty.org.

[6]Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (1314). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

[7] From the sermon, “Anatomy of a Prayer,” from enjoyinggodministries.org.

[8] Grand Rapids (2003):Zondervan, 21-25

[9] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible Exposition Commentary. “An Exposition of the New Testament

      comprising the entire ‘BE’ series”–Jkt. (Col 2:4). Wheaton,  Ill.: Victor Books.

[10] From the sermon, “Paul’s burden for the church,” gty.org.

[11] Mark Buchanan, “The Good Fight,” http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2004/004/23.52.html

      Leadership Journal, (Fall 2004).

[12]Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (1314). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

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