The Commissioned Church

August 21st, 2019

I became its servant by the commission God gave me to fully proclaim to you the word of God, the mystery that was hidden for ages and generations but is now revealed to His 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. (Col. 1:25-27 BSB)

The text above does not directly teach the truth that the church is commissioned by Christ — we find that truth proclaimed elsewhere, such as in Matthew 28:19, “Teaching them to obey all things whatsoever I have commanded you,” which means the command to take the gospel to the ends of the world is a command for the whole church, as much as it was for the original apostles. But the text above does imply this truth, because of the words “to fully proclaim to you the word of God.” A full proclamation brings with it a full obligation to obey.

Christ in us

The truth that this proclaimed was still radical and difficult for the Jewish Christians to grasp. The Gentiles were included by grace in the church just as the Jewish believers were. Today this is commonly understood by most believers, but in the first century it was radical. The Jews assumed that they were accepted by (a) their race, just as many Western Christians had felt through the centuries that they were Christians by their race, not by their faith, and (b) by their good works, as those who were raised in the church have assumed as well. Good upbringing, proper genetic stock, good family background, mixed with good character and good works presented then and it presents now a strong argument for being worthy of heaven.

The gospel in Christ changed all of that — “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’ … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:9-23). Salvation is gained the same way by all — repentance and faith in Christ — and it rests not upon our good upbringing or our good works, but upon the standing and sacrificial work of Christ. And, thereby, both Jew and Gentile receive the same salvation of Christ’s righteousness and the same blessing of Christ’s presence.

Christ calls us first to repent and second to receive through faith – we receive freely our salvation. Yet there is a problem with this, and it reflects the human nature that was made in the image of God and is redeemed to become the image of Christ. That the new man in Christ wishes to earn his own way, and not to simply coast on the work of another. How can these two realities – the fact that we can only receive salvation through faith, coupled with the fact that the new person in Christ wishes to be responsible and to pay his own way – find agreement?

The solution of God is so brilliant, and so simple, that we are indwelled by Christ, individually as believers and corporately as the church, and the Christian life is now Christ at work in our lives in a fallen world living out His life. His struggles become our struggles, and our struggles become His struggles. Several years ago I wrote the following:

We are only saved by the grace of God, the merit that He bestows on us that we have not earned but freely receive through faith. And in this grace we progress in our spiritual life. We are not saved by grace only to mature by works – it is by grace through faith from first to last.

Yet there is a call to struggle in our faith. “The religion that costs us nothing is to us worth nothing” wrote Adam Clarke. Christ called us to daily pick up our cross and follow after Him, and this means nothing in the spiritual realm if it has not practical application in the physical realm. The nature of the faith-struggle is both physical and spiritual – for we remain very physical beings on this earth. A sickness, a difficulty, a misunderstanding, a betrayal, and suddenly we are transported into the realm of spiritual warfare. These physical world problems are not the only forms of spiritual warfare, or the main ones we have to deal with, but they are real. http://nighttimethoughts.org/?m=20140701

I believe I was right. There is something within the new man in Christ in each of us that does not wish to boast in our achievements, but neither wishes to appear before Christ empty-handed. And it is the reality of Christ living in us that makes this make sense. We do not go out brashly and proudly to do what we think we ought to do in God’s name. Christ in us, however, leads us into service and conflicts and witness and circumstances that require loving endurance, and hope against hope.

If Christ was not abiding in us, if He were not at work in us, then this would be simply our efforts, for our glory. But because He is resident and working, then He leads us to serve and to bear fruit by Him and for Him. It is still by faith, for we believe first and foremost and constantly, but, to paraphrase James, we show our faith by our works (James 2:18).

Christ through us

How different would our commissioning be if Christ did not reside in us. We would then be doing for Christ whatever came to mind, and feeling quite good about ourselves in the process. But because He does reside in us, then we are called to His mission. And like the apostles the whole church is commissioned in a permanent, binding, lifelong way, to bear eternal fruit. As Christ said:

I am the true vine, and My Father is the keeper of the vineyard. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes to make it even more fruitful. (John 15:1-2 BSB)

The idea of a fruitless Christian is a contradiction in biblical thought. If there is no fruit, then there has been no faith, for the very nature of Christ at work within us means to be re-oriented to think like Him. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act on behalf of His good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).

Here in this passage we have this incredible rich statement: “Christ in you, the hope of glory!” There is a thought that we can go to work on for centuries and not exhaust its meanings. We will examine this more tomorrow.

Consider:

  1. Do you feel superior to others based on your race or upbringing? Why is it wrong to feel this way?
  2. What is the difference between doing something good to gain salvation and doing something good because you are saved?
  3. When we see someone struggling in his faith and in his Christian walk, what should be our attitude toward him (or her)? How can we help them?

Colossians

Christ in Us

August 19th, 2019

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, which is the church. I became its servant by the commission God gave me to fully proclaim to you the word of God, the mystery that was hidden for ages and generations but is now revealed to His 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, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, striving with all His energy working powerfully within me. (Col. 1:24-29 BSB)

How can we understand the church’s existence and ministry? In many ways we cannot. There is a mystery to the entire matter — something that is beyond our fully grasping — something that has to do with the mysterious work of God in the world. 

However, this is not how Paul was using the word “mystery” here. Here he explained and proclaimed a mystery that God had revealed. The biblical understanding of the word “mystery” here is not something hard to figure out, but something that was hidden by God, but was revealed in God’s timing. 

Christ among His people who are saved by grace through faith is the gist of this mystery and the fundamental understanding of the church. Someone wrote that Christianity is truly “Christ-in-you-ity” and “Christ-in-me-ity.” 

Glorious riches 

This truth is not something to merely consider, or to merely take as a bit of encouragement. It is the astounding truth of God at work in the world, that Christ is at work in the church, and He is doing something God-sized in the heart of each believer and in the fellowship of each church. 

The Commissioned Steward

Paul claimed the title “apostle” at the beginning of the letter, but in verse 25 he explained how he became one. It was by the “commission” of God. This word is oikonomia in the Greek and is also translated “dispensation.” Its literal meaning is “household rule” and has been a word of significant importance in the New Testament.  The idea is to be entrusted with a responsibility, a certain task, a stewardship of responsibility. 

Paul’s most detailed discussion of this is found in Ephesians 3:2, but he also mentions this in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2:

So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and stewards (oikonomos) of the mysteries of God. Now it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.

The word “apostle” carries a similar meaning, apostolos or “sent out one.” The idea of a steward or of an apostle is not that one is merely sent one time with one message, but that this commissioning becomes a life-long calling and part and parcel of the person himself. It is a calling that one cannot fulfill in a single day or even in a typical career. Elsewhere Paul wrote: 

Yet when I preach the gospel, I have no reason to boast, because I am obligated to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If my preaching is voluntary, I have a reward. But if it is not voluntary, I am still entrusted with a responsibility. What then is my reward? That in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not use up my rights in preaching it. (1 Cor. 9:16-18 BSB)

This is the idea of a commissioning, a life-long calling and task wherein the messenger becomes the living message himself, a duty and an obligation which he cannot shirk, to which he is answerable entirely to God for. This sense of calling also applies to pastor-teachers, as the author Hebrews wrote: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they watch over your souls as those who must give an account” (Hebrews 13:17a).

The Commissioned Church

In the context we realize that the church itself is also commissioned by Christ. Matthew 28:18-20 affirms this. Too many Christians see the lifelong commission as belonging only to a certain class of Christians — to pastor-teachers, missionaries, evangelists. But it belongs to all. 

 But this is a subject we will explore later in this week.

Questions:

  1. What does it mean that preaching the gospel is a life-long calling?
  2. How does a preacher become a living example of his message?
  3. How would someone know if they were called?
  4. What part does the church play in the fulfillment of the calling of the pastor-teacher?
  5. Does the church only share his calling or does it have its own calling as well?
  6. How can the church be the living example of the calling of God? 

Colossians