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. He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
Colossians 1:27-29 (NIV)
Some people say the Christian life is easy – no striving, no tiresome labour, just bask in God’s great love. The picture that Paul paints of his own life and ministry differs greatly from this picture of a luxurous easy Christian life. Granted Paul is an apostle, he isn’t just any run-of-the-mill Christian. In today’s context, you might see him as a church planter, missionary or senior pastor. One who puts His whole life forward to the call of Christ as a servant of the gospel. But wait, aren’t we all? Paul talks about “you” and “your” in verses 21-27 and then says that “He is the one we proclaim” verse 28. He gives the effect that “we” isn’t just Timothy and himself, but the readers as well! We are all commissioned to be disciple-makers and reconciliators (Matthew 28:16-20). We all lay down our lives to be used solely, purposefully and entirely for His glory and purpose as believers. We are not so different from Paul afterall.
Our goal, as is his, is to present ourselves and others “fully mature in Christ“. It is interesting that Paul doesn’t measure success in ministry as large conversion numbers or big church buildings or attendance. But what does it mean to be spiritually mature? It seems that everyone has different definitions of what being a mature christian means. Have a read of this article: http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/264-many-churchgoers-and-faith-leaders-struggle-to-define-spiritual-maturity.
Ephesians 4:13 tells us that maturity is “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Simply put, everything that Christ is, you are. It is much more complex than asking “What Would Jesus Do?” It is being at every moment what Jesus is. Think what Jesus thinks, love what Jesus loves, hate what Jesus hates, do what Jesus does. Everyone knows that this doesn’t necesssarily happen the minute someone accepts Christ, instead it is a process of working through our faith in our walk with God. When Paul says “fully mature in Christ“, he really does mean “in Christ“. Spiritual maturity is how deep we are “in Christ” or how reconciled we are in Christ (Colossians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21). The closest practical term to describe this is Christ-likeness.
To such an end, Paul labours. The words used in this passage to describe the nature of his labour are not easy words. NIV translates the meaning of the words as “strenuously contend with all the energy“, the ESV translates the words as “toil, struggling with all his energy“. The NKJV uses the words “labour” and “striving“, words that any modern preacher of grace would seldom (or never) say to their congregation. These words seem to have been given a negative connotation these days. But Paul uses them with confidence to describe the work required to bring people to maturity in Christ.
It would be a shame if the word had ended there, but it does not. Our labour is but a drop in the ocean compared to what Christ is doing in us, through us. All that Paul does is because of “the energy Christ so powerfully works in” him. Paul is only the channel, the real work happens elsewhere. Sure it isn’t easy for Paul or us, but the work is partnered and empowered. Becoming mature and bringing people to maturity in Christ is not something that we can do, but work that God does continuously in us and others (Philippians 1:6). We are not promised an easy ride in Christian life, but we are promised that persevering will produce maturity. James 1:2-4 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
What we need to do in life is to learn to be tenacious in our Christian faith. Be tenacious with discipling ourselves and others. Be tenacious with humbling ourselves before difficult leadership. Be tenacious with growing the fruit of the spirit. Be tenacious when life throws lemons at you. My youth pastor, Doc John once said “the key to a successful Christian life is… (pause for dramatic effect) perseverence”, and how true he is. Stay in the boat, get up when you fall and keep going.
We aren’t earning brownie points in heaven or earning our salvation by labouring, we are responding in the best way we know how to God’s gift – “the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” It isn’t easy, but Christ has already made it worth the labour.
Christ in us, the hope of glory
“In nihil ab nihilo quam cito recidimus”
It reads “How quickly we fall back from nothing to nothing”.
Nothing life to nothing death. No hope, no future. That is the outlook described in Ephesians 2:12, “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ… without hope and without God in the world.”
But we are not “like the rest, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13), we have Christ in us, “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Even death is filled with hope because He has risen (1 Corinthians 15:16-21)!
A meaningless life isn’t one that is filled with tiring strenuous labour, but one that is lacking hope in Christ.