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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
Title:The Necessary Concern We Must Have for Christian Maturity
Text:Colossians 1:9-14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Running the race

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

Psalter 170 - A Celebration of Divine Grace
TH 253 - There Is a Fountain
TH 538 - More About Jesus Would I Know

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Old school wine-making is a delicate process with many variables - terrain, climate, grapes. But when all these variables are right, a good vintage can potentially be produced. What is now needed is the process of aging, fermentation, and temperature control. Each winery has its own secret knowledge. And each winery has its own process - when to harvest, how much yeast, fermentation time, what kind of oak barrels to age the wine, etc. There are no shortcuts. On the other hand, new school wine making is technology oriented, new methods and knowledge. But not all new methods are good. Instead of aging wine in oak barrels to get the the oak flavor, wine makers add artificial oak flavor instead. It’s a shortcut. It’s their secret. But it’s not the real deal.

Spiritually, it’s similar. How does a Christian mature? You need the necessary knowledge and process. But there is no secret - the Bible tells us plainly that God is the one who matures us. Philippians 1:6 - “…he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” And how he matures us is through us knowing him. 2 Peter 1:3 says, “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.” All we need to grow and mature is found in knowing God deeply. It takes time. There are no shortcuts. But some people think there are.

In this passage, Paul prays for the Colossians to mature. This prayer is the first part of a 3 part prayer. In this first part, there are two petitions. Firstly, he prays that they should be controlled by the knowledge of God’s will. Secondly, he prays they should lived controlled by that knowledge.

Firstly, he prays that they would be controlled by the knowledge of God’s will. Verse 9 says - “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” Now, why did he pray this? I thought they were doing so well - in spite of all their difficulties, they were famous for their faith, hope, and love. But he says in verse 9 - “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you.” Why does he need to pray? One day, he heard something. And from that day, he prayed ceaselessly. In other words, there was a threat. This threat would affect their growth and godliness. What was that threat? In Colossians 2:8, Paul warned against a vain and deceitful teaching that would draw people away from Christ. There were false teachers who taught that in order to grow more deeply, Christians had to move beyond Christ. They needed a new doctrine, a secret knowledge, a special connection to God. These people were called Gnostics. And they were called this because they claimed to have an additional source of knowledge or insight that was superior and beyond the knowledge of Scripture. And so they taught that what the Scriptures taught about Christ was not enough. 

To them, true knowledge was mystical, direct, and immediate - secret knowledge from God. But there’s an associated danger with this. In seeking secret knowledge, spiritual growth is stunted. If I’m touched by God with special mystical atas knowledge, then that becomes my ticket to spirituality instead of  growing in holiness. Rather than growing in faith, hope in heaven, love for the brethren - practical holiness; I have a direct special connection to God. And we see this kind gnosticism displayed in some modern movements. I’m taking my example to the extreme. If I pray in tongues, and have a mystical direct connection with God, then I don’t ever have to learn how to pray. If my worship of God bypasses my understanding and I’m only concerned for my close and emotional connection to God, then I don’t ever have to work at praising God with understanding. And this led to Paul’s urgent concern for them. His prayers were ceaseless. If they believed this new way, they would not grow or mature. So Paul wrote to them. 

He told them he desired them to be filled with the knowledge of God. What does this mean? How’s it achieved? Perhaps for many of us, to be filled with knowledge means to study more. And that’s not wrong. After all, Paul wrote this letter to teach them. But that’s not the complete meaning. To be filled with knowledge doesn’t only mean to know facts. The word “filled” means to engulf. I love the kung fu tea. They serve it in those small teapots. And the way it’s done is to fill the tea pot with hot water to the brim. And when you put the lid on, the tea inside spills out. And to further warm the pot, more boiling water is poured over it. It is completely engulfed and dominated by hot tea.

Whatever fills you, controls you. When Jesus told his disciples he was leaving, their hearts filled with sorrow. When he died, they sorrowed. Sorrow controlled and dominated their lives, and made them hide out in the upper room. In Luke 6, when Jesus healed the shriveled hand man on the Sabbath, the Pharisees became enraged. Verse 11 says, “And they were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus.” Anger caused them to murder him. At Pentecost the disciples were filled with the Spirit. They preached boldly. They forgot they were unlearned men, they forgot their fear and the anger of the crowd - they just preached; filled with the Spirit.

So Paul prayed that the Colossians would not just have knowledge of God, but be controlled and dominated by it. Unless knowledge controls us, it does nothing but condemn us for our inaction. But when the knowledge of God’s will controls us, then we will mature, grow, and mellow.

And this knowledge wasn’t the mystical knowledge of the gnostics. This word for knowledge is a specialized word describing a precise and correct knowledge. Epignosko. Paul was drawing a comparison. They say they have mystical and secret, atas ginosko. I want you to have epignosko - a correct knowledge accompanied by wisdom and spiritual understanding. Not just airy fairy knowledge but one that leads to practical obedience. His use of the words wisdom and understanding reminds us of Proverbs 9:10 - “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” And we all know that Proverbs is practical instruction on how to live holy lives. Practical, precise, applicable - not mystical.

But what knowledge in particular? The knowledge that they were saved. Verses 12-14 - “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son, in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.”

Paul wanted them to know they were already saved and secure. Notice how these verbs are in the past or perfect tense. God has made us meet - meaning he has already qualified us to be saved. God has delivered us from the power of darkness. He has translated or transferred us into Christ’s kingdom. We’re already citizens of heaven! We already have redemption; we’ve been forgiven. He wanted them to know they were not deficient. There was no need for a strange new secret knowledge. 

And Paul made pains to emphasize Christ. You were saved through Christ, redeemed by his blood, transferred into Christ’s kingdom. The gnostics were saying they had to move beyond Christ. Paul was saying their knowledge had to be founded on Christ. The threat to maturity is countered by being controlled by a correct knowledge of God’s salvation.

His second prayer was that they should lived controlled by that knowledge. In verse 10, there is a purpose clause. You are filled with the knowledge of his will, in order that you may “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Being engulfed and controlled by God’s will must lead you to strive to live a certain way.

You will strive to live a worthy Christian life. Knowledge translates into practical Christian living. Walk worthy. And it is worthy or weighty to the Lord - God takes notice of it. A worthy life is a Christ-like life. 1 John 2:6 says, “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” It is a life worthy of God’s kingdom. 1 Thessalonians 2:12 says, “That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.” Paul spends the entire book on this theme. And here, he gives us a glimpse of what he would speak on more comprehensively in subsequent chapters.

So what characterizes a worthy Christian life of obedience? You will bear forth spiritual fruit - being fruitful in every good work. It will show. And in Colossians, Paul will spend many verses describing this fruit. Chapter 3 speaks about living a holy life - you will put away sin and put on righteousness. You will forsake lying, stealing, gossiping. You will be forgiving, loving, merciful. There will be family harmony. Why is there no family harmony? Because you’re not walking worthy of the Lord. You’re not letting that knowledge of your salvation to affect you. Merciless parents provoke their children to anger; rebellious children don’t obey their unloving parents. Wives can’t submit to their unloving husbands, and resentful husbands find it hard to love their stubborn wives. The Christian walk is not just about secret knowledge - it’s about the maturity, the real fruit, the life. And when we get to those verses in chapter 3, we will talk more about those fruit. How else can you walk worthy? 

Verse 10 says, by increasing in the knowledge of God. The word increasing means to grow. And it can refer to quantitative growth - how much knowledge we gain; but it also refers to qualitative growth - how that knowledge enables us to make right and holy decisions. What determines maturity? What’s the different between a kid and an adult? It’s not height - some young people are very tall. It’s not strength - some kids are very strong. But it has to do with mature decisions. We want to grow to the point where we are spiritual adults making good moral decisions. It’s like what Hebrews 5:14 says - “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Being a grown up, means making right moral decisions and being able to teach others too. This is what Paul deals with in Colossians 3:16 -  that we would let the word of Christ control us deeply that we can teach and admonish one another. Spiritual growth leads to accountability. And how else can we walk worthy?

By enduring trials with joy. Verse 11 says, “Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.” One of the marks of spiritual growth was to endure suffering and opposition. We won’t talk much on this today. Paul speaks of this in greater detail later in Colossians 1:24 - how he himself went through much suffering with joy - he said, “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you.” I’m sure that you agree that many of us Christians are not hardy - we take offense very easily. One cold blast of criticism, one harsh word, one snub, one stern look - and we go all to pieces. Spiritual maturity is characterized by strength and boldness. In the face of potential opposition to the church, even in our fair land, how will we humbly, compassionately, resolutely, maturely overcome our fears and win our detractors? And do it with joy, trusting in God?

Dearly beloved, this was Paul’s concern for Christian maturity. And he spends the book talking about how and why we should grow in maturity. But do you have the same concern? What are the applications from this passage?

Firstly, let us make sure we have the right pursuits. The gnostics pursued a secret knowledge that made them one up. They believed they had a special spirituality that the rest didn’t have. This kind of attitude can and does exist, even in non-gnostic, non-heretical groups. This happens all over Christianity. For some, it’s could be some mystical experience - and that makes us feel one up. Or, more realistically in our circles, it could be some nugget of truth. A good nugget of truth - but not secret. Something worth sharing. But how come others don’t know it? Why are they not doing it? How come there’s spiritual immaturity in the church? What are the leaders doing about it? Why aren’t the people listening to me, the pastor?! Dearly beloved, let the right pursuit for all of our quantitative growth in knowledge be, that we love others, and are patiently teaching others, and walking with them. That’s the maturity that our stronger and more knowledgeable brethren need to grow in.

Secondly, shall we not pray for and pursue after maturity? Paul prayed. Let us pray. That the knowledge we are saved, that Christ loves us, that he has delivered us from sin - would be a catalyst for our spiritual growth. Isn’t this what our catechism tells us? What is your only comfort in life and death? That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Today, we come to the Lord’s Table to remember our great salvation. It is also to remember our great Savior. Our Lord, though he was God, became a man. He was born. He had to mature. At the temple as a young boy, he grew in his understanding - and he astonished the doctors of the law. But as he grew in wisdom and stature, he grew in favor with all men. He was filled with the Spirit and bore every fruit. This is why he could tell us to abide in him, as branches to the vine, that we may bear fruit. And at the very end, he endured the cross and the shame. Why? It was for the joy that was set before him. Knowing that it is Christ that is the very foundation of our faith, let us renew our desire to live for Christ, and to grow. He has shed his blood to save us to live a victorious and holy life. So let us gain strength from our supper this morning - that lack of maturity you have - that you would resolve to live for Christ and grow.

Sermon Outline:

1. Be Controlled by the Knowledge of God’s Will

A. The threat to maturity is countered by

B. Being controlled by

C. A correct knowledge of

D. God’s salvation

2. Live Controlled by that Knowledge

A. Live a worthy Christian life by

B. Bearing forth spiritual fruit and

C. Increasing in the knowledge of God and

D. Enduring trials with joy


Conversation for Change:

1. What are the main threats to your and the church's maturity in your opinion? How can these be addressed and solved?

2. How does knowing you are saved spur you on to practical and obedient Christian living instead of burdening you with Christian living as a mere duty?

3. Why is it so much more attractive to have a "gnostic" experience compared to a biblical fruit-bearing journey?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Mark Chen

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