Christ’s Disciples 2 – expect He will succeed through you.

I am highlighting one aspect of discipleship that the Apostle mentions in response to what he has heard about the Colossians who need to know they are indeed true disciples.

The founder of the Baptist Missionary Society, William Carey (1761-1834) said these famous words in a sermon in 1792, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God!”

Expect and so attempt great things from and for God.

The Apostle says these words, “… bearing fruit in every good work …” (Colossians 1:10)

Today is your day of success and a day when you can thrive. You can do good and do it really well!

Paul has already mentioned there is a fruit of the gospel (1:6). I heard yesterday of a church having 47 new people attend its first Alpha course!

Last evening I was in a meeting where we honoured a colleague who is retiring this year. The tributes paid spoke of a fruitful life. This fruit was the impact in other people’s lives.

Success doesn’t lead to pride because anything good that comes from us comes from God.

Success doesn’t make us better people than anyone else, we are just still children, loved by Him whether we are successful or not.

Success doesn’t just come because God chooses to work through us. It takes work. We know we do not just automatically love or be kind, we have to choose to do so.

Success doesn’t come for a few. As a disciple with the Holy Spirit within then you are enabled to do so.

Your life was meant to be a battle. If you wake today and you are struggling once again, then that is how life is.

At the end of the Bible we read these words: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Revelation 22: 1-2

At the beginning of the Bible on the 3rd day of creation, we read these words:

“Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds… And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth” and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.’ … So God created mankind in his own image, God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number”

In between Genesis 1 and Revelation 22 that both speak of fruitfulness there is conflict, struggle and the need to overcome many challenges to either keep the fruit or produce it.

I try and focus on 3 aspects in order to be successful.

  1. Culture: If God is working through me He will do it through a good soil, a good heart and a good atmosphere within my life. There are simply 3 things that produce this type of great culture: Prayer, Bible reading and Faith.
  2. Surrender: I have learnt this sentence and I try to live it out every single day – “It is never about me.” Complete and total submission to Jesus.
  3. Fight: The good fight. The forces behind people. The voices of doubt and negativity. The constant onslaught. The fiery darts. Changing the ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me’.

Those who don’t know success have been defeated in one of the 3 areas above.

Christ’s Disciples 1 – make Him proud

What is a disciple of Christ? How do we become one? How do we make them?

The Apostle writes to a people he has never met in a place he has never visited and he shares his heart to them regarding who they are and how they should live. These Christians at Colossae were under threat from false teachers who were insisting that following Christ was not enough. They were confused as to whether or not their salvation experience was enough. Were they true disciples?

Over this next week I intend to be very brief but to highlight one aspect of discipleship that the Apostle mentions in response to what he has heard.

He has been praying that they may know the will of God for their lives through the lens of being confident in Christ, loving others and their hope of heaven. He now goes further “… so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way” (1 v 10)

Yesterday I made a call to my godson who is training to be a vicar and I ended the conversation with the same thing I say to my own children constantly, “I’m proud of you.”

Now apparently there are people who don’t like to hear this and are actually offended by it as if hearing it means they are less than the individual saying it. That it was some patronising remark. “I’m proud of you losing weight” meaning ‘”you really needed to.”

Why do we have to twist some of the most beautiful encouraging sayings into negative comments?

The Apostle says if you want to know you are a disciple of Christ then you are going to live your life in such a way that it pleases Him.

“I’m proud of you. I see myself in you. I am pleased to be connected to your life. I am honoured to be associated with you. My name is comfortably resting on you.”

No pressure then!

How do we live that kind of life?

The Apostle has already told them in the previous verse, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives so that …”

Here is the prayer that drives this thought home:

“Holy Spirit help me today to live my life in such a way that Jesus is proud of me. I cannot do it alone. I need you to do that work in me. Amen”

Christ’s will for your life

What does God want from me? What should I do? I am at a crossroads? He just needs to tell me and I will do it.

I saw a cartoon someone sent me. The question was: “Lord, have I eaten too much during lockdown?” And in the sky above the question was a cloud shaped as a pig.

If only God would speak to us through shaped clouds!

I don’t hold to a prescriptive will of God for my life. I used to but having children changed my thinking. I have never been all that bothered what they did but who they were. Their relationship with me when they got to being adults was always more important than what they did in life.

I do hold to a life of submission and surrender of laying my life down for Him and others.

But the will of God isn’t an itinerary to follow after spending years trying to discover it. It isn’t a blueprint of a plan which tells you what to do and where to go. If only God would tell me? Why doesn’t he tell me? He tells everyone else but me? These can be destructive thoughts.

Let’s see what the Apostle says to the Colossian Christians who are facing an onslaught of false teaching that would tempt them away from their faith.

The Apostle has been praying, in fact since he got the report from Epaphras he hasn’t stopped, “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives” (Colossians 1:9)

  1. There is a wisdom that comes from the Spirit. It is a wisdom regarding life and what God thinks about it. It is about who we are in that life.
  2. There is an understanding of that wisdom. Knowing how to apply that wisdom into life. For example, Christ loves so I love.

So what we see is this:

The Colossians had faith and love. They had hope of heaven. These were the Spirit’s work in their lives. The will of God stems from these 3 things:

I have confidence in Christ (faith)

I will love others (love)

I will see things from an eternal perspective (hope)

Who I am is more important than what I do.

I need to seek more about being the ‘who’ then the ‘what’ will flow from this person I am becoming.

Maybe God isn’t answering the ‘what’ prayers because He is waiting for us to acknowledge who we are first?

Maybe God isn’t that bothered about what we do but who we are becoming?

Maybe we have more freedom to do than be?

The Evidence of Christ

Already we are liking this group of believers that the Apostle is writing to. The Colossians are people who trust and love Christ and each other, they are gospel people with a sincere hope of heaven. Epaphras has brought a wonderful report “and who also told us of your love in the Spirit” (1:8)

The Spirit doesn’t divide.

The Spirit doesn’t give words to be spoken that destroys.

The Spirit doesn’t puff up the person speaking.

The Spirit doesn’t belittle a person who is hearing.

The Spirit doesn’t intimidate and sow fear into hearts.

The Spirit doesn’t ignore the preaching of the Word.

The Spirit doesn’t build apathy so only a few gather to pray.

The Spirit doesn’t remind others of their past failures.

The Spirit doesn’t make gurus or charismatic celebrities to be adored.

The Spirit doesn’t discourage ministers of the gospel.

The Spirit doesn’t abuse the people in the pew.

The Spirit doesn’t berate, humiliate or start arguments.

None of the above is the Spirit’s work.

When will we realise this? When will we be bothered?

When will the Church stop scoring own goals?

Epaphras had found evidence of the Spirit in Colossae. The Apostle had never visited. So the report was important.

Does Epaphras talk of the atmosphere of worship?

Does he speak of the sphere of prophecy and the other gifts?

Does he speak of miracles and the manifest presence of God?           

Does he even speak of how many people are in their Church buildings?

No.

He speaks of Agape.

The Spirit breeds love.

Give me a spiritual man or woman and I will be sitting in a place of love for people.

That’s the Church Christ desired. That’s the Church the Spirit dwells in. That is the evidence.

Christ’s Ministers

A Minister simply means Servant. So we are all ministers aren’t we?

They are also referred to as overseers and elders.

How do we know who are Christ’s ministers?

“You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant,who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf” Colossians 1 v 7

Let me use 2 other occasions Paul mentions Epaphras:

“Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.”  (4:12)

“Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings.”  (Philemon 23)

So Christ’s ministers are:

  1. Fellow servants. Epaphras is the servant of the central figure: Christ.
    1. They get down into the dirt and wash feet.
  2. Faithful ministers of Christ: Epaphras has proven his worth.
    1. They stay the course.
  3. Represent others: Epaphras has given a glowing reference of the Colossian community.
    1. They speak well of others.
  4. Intercessors: Epaphras wrestles in prayer for the Colossians.
    1. They lead and are known as people who pray
  5. Knows suffering: Epaphras is also in prison or house arrest with Paul.
    1. There is evidence of the sacrificial life.
  6. Are ordinary: Epaphras does not have any special title but appears to have begun the work.
    1. They don’t use their titles or credentials to lord it over people.

If you can’t spot any of the above then question the validity of what is before you.

Christ gives Hope for Heaven

What are you hoping for? A better life?

I’m not sure who said it but we can quote it: “Too heavenly-minded for earthly good.” I wish we couldn’t quote it. I don’t really believe it.

Being heavenly-minded will not hinder our lives or stop us from reaching out to others. But being worldly-minded will. Being caught up with the desires and passions this world can offer will. The Apostle says, “we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven” Colossians 1 v 4-5

In 1991 we were singing Graham Kendricks ‘Heaven is in my heart.’ Is it still?

Let us be people consumed with the hope of heaven. No matter what beautiful experiences and treasures you have gained on this earth they are just a taste, a small example of what is laid up for us in heaven. Our world needs to see heaven again. Eternity needs to be born into our conversations and our prayers and our work. We declare our faith because of heaven and we love because of heaven.

Hope of heaven causes us to love. Heaven bursts onto our earth with the inspiration we need to love all of God’s people.

There are many who are bound and stretched in a variety of ways across the world but they are so with hope of heaven. This world is smaller today than it has ever been. Every nation reachable within hours and yet those who are pressed down today they can feel like they are the furthest point from earth. But heaven is in their heart. All that they have and actually perhaps what has got them into their predicament in the first place is their citizenship in heaven. But this is the most important thing and not just for them but for all of us who are Christ followers.

The powerful truth of our eternal citizenship is effective when we know it and live our lives so the enemy knows it too.

What can the enemy do when you declare who you are in God and your security in Him? The persecuted have lost everything but they are not destroyed.

You always live. You always have the last word. You may die but you will live. Heaven is in your heart. Christ gives Hope for Heaven

Christ’s gospel

Let me ask this question: Near you, is the gospel growing?

It would seem that the Colossians were being led astray by people using a gospel which was Jesus plus or perhaps anything but Jesus. Certainly Christ is not central and Paul addresses this by reminding them that they are part of a world movement where the gospel is expanding. He says, “we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world” Colossians 1 v 4-6

Throughout the whole world!

“All over the world the Spirit is moving” so we sang when I was a child. It was true in The Apostle’s day reaching India maybe Spain and then the next generation into Europe and the UK growing fast and bearing fruit. It is still true today. There are more than 1050 church planting movements which have been reported in the world this year. The top 10 countries with the largest Christian populations include Brazil, Russia, India and China. Iraq is the fastest growing Evangelical population at 19.6% (ten years ago). There are 1,392 Christian groups in the 10/40 Window. The largest being the Yoruba of Nigeria (34,362,000). The Jesus Film has been shown in 11,421 people groups in the world to a total of 7,136,000,000!

There is still so much more to be done but we can rejoice that throughout the world the gospel is growing. Is it growing near you?

John Knox 1514 – 1572: When his wife pleaded with him to get some sleep, he answered, “How can I sleep when my land is not saved?” He would often pray all night in agonizing tones, “Lord, give me Scotland or I die!” God shook Scotland. God gave him Scotland.

John Wesley 1703-1791 said these words: “Let us all be of one business. We live only for this, to save our own souls and the souls of those who hear us.” God used John Wesley to bring revival and transform thousands.

George Whitfield 1714-1770: He prayed, “O Lord, give me souls or take my soul.” It is said his face shone like the face of Moses when he sobbed that prayer.

William Booth 1829-1912: The King of England asked Booth what the ruling force of his life was. Booth replied, “Sir, some men’s passion is for gold, other men’s passion is for fame, but my passion is for souls. On to Calvary! On to death for the world! Let us not refuse the smiters! No halting! No rest! On suffering, sorrowing, weeping, dying for God and men, till the hosts of hell fly from this last defence and we march on over a burning world into everlasting glory!”

G Campbell Morgan 1863-1945 Nothing is more needed among preachers today than that we should have the courage to shake ourselves free from the thousand and one trivialities in which we are asked to waste our time and strength, and resolutely return to the apostolic ideal which made necessary the office of the pastorate.

John Stott 1921 –  2011   “Mission” is an activity of God arising out of the very nature of God. The living God of the Bible is a sending God, which is what “mission” means. He sent the prophets to Israel. He sent his Son into the world. His Son sent out the apostles, and the seventy, and the church. He also sent the Spirit to the church and sends him into our hearts today.

Billy Graham 1918-2018 “”The message I preach hasn’t changed. Circumstances have changed. Problems have changed, but deep inside man has not changed, and the gospel hasn’t changed.”

In this pandemic a lot of what we held dear has been stripped back. Our buildings have been empty but the Church continues. The corporate singing has been stopped but the Church continues. The ‘drugs’ of ministry that fuel the feel-good experience of Pastors have not been available: there are not many Amens and Hallelujahs returning to the preacher from the lens of a camera! What remains? It is what is central to the church. Nothing else should ever take its place. The good that comes out of this bad pandemic is that the Church gets stripped back and re-aligned and all that matters are those who do not yet know Jesus. The Church politics and arguments pre-pandemic have been shown to be worthless compared to the gospel going to the whole world. May they never return. Mission remains.

The promises of the world are eclipsed by the promises of God offered to people who will simply listen. May the gospel work continue today, near you and me.

Christ’s love

Who do you love? That might be a personal question. But is it everybody? Probably not as only God does that right?!

Read again what the Apostle says:

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people” Colossians 1 v 4

He had never been to Colossae. He has not met these people and all he knows of them is from what he has heard. Yet he is already praying for them because of what he has heard. What he has heard has moved him. They love all God’s people. They don’t just love people who are their type of people they love all of God’s people.

There have probably been many of God’s people travelling through Colossae from many places. When they leave and tell of their travels they speak of the love of Christ shown to them by the Colossians.

This is Kingdom love. Christ’s Kingdom Love.

It has become public. It is not locked away in closets of opinion and interpretation of Scriptures. It is for all.

“We cannot all do great things” Mother Teresa once said, “but we can do small things with great love.”

The defining characteristic of any Christian is love. If you go to a gathered community of Christians and do not find love then Christ has been put to one side. Churches decline because they forget what they are meant to be fighting and choose to love themselves and not all of God’s people. When Kingdom love disappears so does the Kingdom. No Kingdom no Christ. Falling out over things that just do not matter does matter because when people witness it they don’t want anything to do with the Church.

When is the Church going to start to get uptight over poverty, racism, bigotry, persecution and hunger?

When will the Church get bloodied hands over those battles?

The day it does then the more troops will gather and the Church will rise to be the army of love it was always called to be.

Who do you love? What can you do?

Confidence in Christ

Where do you get your confidence from today?

Money? Relationships? Possessions? Self? Work?

The Apostle is thankful to God that the Colossians have confidence in Christ.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— Colossians 1: 3-4

I love how the Amplified helps us around the word faith: “how you lean on Him with absolute confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness”.

If there is one major threat upon the Church it is that they choose not to lean as much upon Christ.  Maybe through disappointment or failure and discouragement or perhaps through temptation of wanting what others seem to have there can be a tendency for our faith in Christ to take a back seat. We still believe but other things are what we talk about.

I found myself in the middle of a conversation with a group of seasoned Pastors the other day as they talked about some of their faith stories of their past. How refreshing it was to talk about what Christ did as they trusted him! I thought we need more of these faith stories being told today. Younger ministers need to know about the ancient paths of faith.

Last Saturday I conducted an induction of a Pastor which I am always privileged to do but especially this one seeing it was one of my church leaders of years gone by. The service only had a very few in attendance social distanced and everyone was watching it online. Towards the end of the service and as we were bringing things to close one of the leaders began to pray from where she was sitting. She had not been asked to do so and it wasn’t in the programme. But I felt stirred in my spirit and I grabbed the microphone so that those watching from their homes could listen. What stirred me was her confidence in Christ that He was going to do a new thing. He was going to build His church. He was going to move things forward. This Church doesn’t have much. Looking at them you wouldn’t expect anything naturally to happen there. But they have faith in Christ. Their confidence is in Christ Jesus and when I pray for them I do so thanking God for their confidence.

Today put your confidence in Christ.

Christ has sent me

You may feel unqualified to step into this new chapter of your life. Who am I to think I can do this new job? Do you ever have to pinch yourself because you think it must be a dream? Are you sitting with people around a table and wonder ‘why am I here, I don’t have anything to contribute?’ When people are going through a tough time and they say you wouldn’t understand because you have never gone through it, what do you say? Do we have to experience everything before we can speak in to the situation?

Paul had never been to Colossae but he writes to them as an apostle.

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father” Colossians 1 v 1-2

It is not where you are going but where you have been that counts.

It is not who you are speaking to but who has spoken to you that is important.

Where you have come from and who you have been with qualifies you.

Paul says I know who I am, I know who is with me and I know who I am writing to. However, more importantly than all that, I know whose I am.

Christ has sent me.

It matters not where Paul is writing this letter though he is obviously in prison and like his letter to the Ephesians, Tychicus, will deliver it (maybe he takes both letters on the journey). What does matter is who Paul writes about? That is Christ. The Colossians letter is very similar to the Ephesians one but perhaps the purpose is different. The Ephesians has the focus of the Church whereas Colossians has the focus of Christ.

This letter is still important today. Especially during this pandemic when we are restricted and locked down. When Church has become different than we have ever experienced. There is one constant. Jesus Christ. He is not first among equals He is supreme above and beyond all. He is not one of the ways to the Father He is the only way.

One of the most beautiful and well known paintings in the world is ‘The Last Supper’. But what is strikingly important in that picture is what is missing from it. In 1498 Leonardo Da Vinci sat back having completed the masterpiece. He invited a friend to comment on the work. The friend pointed out how the most beautiful part of the picture was the cup in the hand of Jesus. The friend believed the cup was truly worthy to touch the lips of Jesus. Da Vinci said goodbye to his friend and then painted out the cup and later responded by saying, “Nothing must distract from the figure of Christ.”

In the many voices of opinions and comments and there are many church guru’s offering help to get us through this pandemic. Experts telling us how things will be when we get back to ‘normal’. Further experts telling us what the new normal will be. Please let us not forget that however it looks like, whoever is with us and whatever the Church has become, it is not as important as making sure we have been with Christ.

Christ has sent me. I don’t know you but I know Christ. I am not that important. Timothy is not that important. I am writing to you because I want you to have every good thing from God. However, I write because of Christ. He is all in all.