…so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)

The hope of the Lord is shown here, that no matter where the individual believer came from, no matter his background, whether pagan or Jewish or Christian or non-religious, when he trusted in Christ the Lord could do a work in him that would re-make him into the mature image of Christ. These words of Paul mirror the words of Christ: “Lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35). 

The compassion, hope, and grace of God is seen in this statement. Paul could look back on his own life and realize how far he was from Christ at one time, as he called himself “the chief of sinners,” (1 Tim. 1:16), and know that if Christ saved him than Christ could save anyone. He saw others not in light of what they were without Christ, but in light of what they could become in Christ.

But does he take himself too seriously?

But where does the servant of Christ’s role end in this process? It might seem to some that Paul is guilty of taking himself too seriously here. Here is a case where, if we heard a ministry colleague speak like this, we would say that he is taking himself and his ministry far too seriously. “After all,” we would likely say, “God does the real work. Besides you cannot control the thoughts and actions of others, not even other Christians.” 

Well, that would be true, at least in part. The preacher is not God. He is not the Holy Spirit. Not even an apostle was. There are obvious limits to his ability and, thereby, to his responsibility. It is a common observation in ministry that churches often give a pastor a great responsibility but do not give him the authority to carry out the responsibility. Is this a case of the preacher taking the responsibility for something that he cannot be responsible for?

But, if we would give it more thought, we would realize that there can be no other goal, really, of the preacher or teacher. Should a school teacher, or any instructor, set a goal to half-way prepare his students? The obvious answer is that, despite the inability to control the thoughts and actions of others, the teacher instructs for perfection’s sake. Perfect knowledge is the only acceptable goal in the process of any proper instruction. And in the Christian context, we teach not just for knowledge alone, but for inner change of heart and outer change in actions. Christ commanded us: “Teaching them to obey all things, whatsoever, I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20).

“Present,” an interesting word

Paul wrote that his ministry was as if he were preparing to present his people to someone. The word is parastemi and it literally means “to stand beside.” It is the idea of bringing a pupil, or a disciple, before an evaluator and standing beside him his teacher and saying, “Go ahead, and test the quality of my work of teaching.” 

Who do we present our service for Christ to other than to Christ Himself? We may be conscious of the opinions of our fellow Christians, fellow believers, and fellow ministers and teachers. But ultimately the only one that matters is Christ Himself. And the goal is not to have presented the teaching material is an acceptable way — that is a presentation we make to the student, not to the Lord — nor to preach the perfect sermon, but to be able to present the believer we are training to the Lord Himself in an acceptable way. 

As we have already stressed in these studies, we do not preach or teach mere information, but we teach and show and present Christ Himself to the student or to the one we are discipling. He is the subject, the example, and the living instructor of the heart of each Christian. The best a pastor or teacher can do is to connect the believer to the Lord and aid in the process. This is what Paul was speaking of when he wrote:

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one must be careful how he builds. For no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, his workmanship will be evident, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will prove the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as if through the flames. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15 BSB)

Taking church leadership seriously

There is a tendency in today’s world to think of education as a group project and not as a process depending strictly on a single teacher. In the First Century world, however, most all instruction was done by one master teacher to his limited number of disciples. For centuries people were mentored into careers by one teacher and not instructed like we do today in universities.  So the teachers would take ownership of their disciples’ learning, they took their tasks seriously — a habit by which educational institutions in Eastern nations still abide.  

I am afraid we have adopted too cavalier an attitude toward church leadership in today’s world. All the leaders of every church should realize that they also (we also), like Paul are preparing disciples to present to the Lord as mature in their faith. Doubtless there are limitations of the Christian leader’s responsibilities, and even Christ taught His disciples to not tarry where they could not find the “son of peace” or where there was no response to their ministry (Luke 10:5-12). We teachers and leaders are responsible to teach the right truth in the right way, or to lead in the right direction in the right way, but we cannot control if people will follow us or not. 

But, I am afraid that we have often cast aside this responsibility too quickly, and too often shrugged our shoulders and said, “Oh well, I can’t control them.”  When we think like this we begin to place more value on our presentation than on the results of our presentation. We will soon be like the teacher who comforts himself that he spoke properly to the empty chairs in the hall, rather than found living pupils he could help. 

Paul wrote: “For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5). There is a great need in today’s world for Christian leaders who get their eyes off of themselves and their reputation and lovingly come alongside of believers to encourage them, to pray for them, to lift them up, to challenge them, to teach them, and to not let them easily ignore the instruction of the Lord. After all, it is them who we present to the Lord, and our goal should be to present them perfect in Christ. 

 

Questions:

  1. In your service for Christ do you present Christ first and foremost? Or do you present yourself?
  2. If you are a Christian pastor, teacher, or leader, have you considered that the goal of your position should be to present the average believer to the Lord as mature?
  3. Have you focused too much on your performance in ministry than on the outcome of your ministry’s impact in the lives of others?
  4. Where should prayer enter into ministry? 
  5. Do you blame the lack of faith of others for your lack of success, or do you take the responsibility for their lack of faith?
  6. How would you state in your own words where the line is properly drawn between the responsibility of the teacher and the responsibility of the disciple?
  7. Are Christian leaders today more likely to take too much responsibility for the immaturity of their people, or too little responsibility?

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