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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
Title:The Preacher’s Priorities
Text:Colossians 1:24-29 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

TH 55 - To God Be the Glory
Psalter 29 - Immortality and Resurrection
TH 545 - When This Passing World Is Done
TH 539 - Jerusalem the Golden

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

When bad vines are transplanted from their diseased roots, and grafted onto healthy ones - only then can they survive and thrive. But they still need watering and pruning to bear fruit. When a vine has reached maturity, it should bear fruit. Grape vines are meant for wine. But they’re no use if they don’t grow grapes. So the owner of the vineyard sends workers to water and tend the vines, so they would bear fruit. Likewise, God is a God of love. He reconciles sinners to himself by Christ. They once hated him and lived in sin, but he takes them and grafts them onto Christ. Only then can we become holy and bear spiritual fruit. And God is concerned that we should bear fruit. That’s why he sends teachers of the Word to help people grow. Why?

Because when we’re distracted from the Gospel, we will not grow. When we think we’re strong, we stop relying on Christ, and we do things in our own strength. Because when we lose sight of Christ, we will live in sin. But when we know we’re weak, only then, will we live by the Spirit and be strengthened by Christ. When we know we need Christ like we need food, we will spend time with him. God sends teachers to remind us, to help us to look to Christ, and not ourselves. If the believer needs Christ like he needs food, what is the burden and work of the preacher? What does he delight to do?

I have preached from this passage to you in May 2020. And while there’s a different angle, there will be some similarities. But I will explore this passage in 3 points. We want to see firstly, the pain and the pleasure of the preacher of Christ; secondly, the privilege and priority of preaching Christ, and thirdly, the parts and purpose of the preacher’s empowered profession.

Firstly, the pain and the pleasure of the preacher of Christ. Paul never went to Colossae. But he knew the church. He heard about them and was impressed. And now he was concerned by what he heard - there were false teachers. So he wrote to them. So burdened was Paul, that he displayed urgency and selflessness. This caused him to suffer for the gospel cause on many occasions. He puts so many of us to shame - his concern for the gospel.

In verse 24 we see he suffered for his gospel work. It reads - “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church.”  So important was the gospel, he wanted the Colossians to be grounded in it and not to be moved. As a gospel minister, he spent his life preaching it. As a result, he suffered.

For the sake of the gospel, he was beaten and imprisoned. He was whipped 5 times with 39 stripes. He was beaten with sticks 3 times, stoned once, 3 times shipwrecked in his missionary journeys, and was also adrift in the sea for a night and a day. In his ministry, he faced dangers of drowning, robbers, persecution by the Jews and heathen, and also by false brethren. 1 Corinthians 2 says that the apostles were treated as the filth of the world - like scum. So why would a preacher put himself through this unless he truly believed that Christ was the answer?

And when Paul was in Asia, he saw how people turned to Christ. He was in Ephesus for 2 years in his third missionary journey. And all in the region - including Colossae - heard the gospel. Paul witnessed many conversions. In Acts 19, those that practiced magic burned their magic books and paraphernalia. They were worth 50,000 pieces of silver. If the piece of silver was a drachma, and a drachma was a day’s wages, that would be 138 years of wages or approximately $4-8 million today. Or if it was the minimum measurement, it would be worth $200,000. Whichever it was, it was a lot of money. As a result, there was persecution. Christianity was bad for pagan business. Those who profited from the worship of Diana rioted in Ephesus. They drummed up the public, went into the forum, and there, in the space of 2 hours kept chanting the slogan - Great is Diana of the Ephesians. It was a scary sight. It would’ve been dangerous for Christians to be there. And Paul, if he had not been stopped by the other disciples, was about to go into the midst of that riot to preach! So burdened was he, that he frequently found himself in such situations. Paul’s zeal resulted in persecution. He suffered and was willing to suffer for the gospel. 

Yes, there are times when the church needs to be wisely subdued, biding its time, being quietly and carefully evangelistic. One thinks of underground churches in North Korea. Or churches in certain Muslim countries. They are already persecuted - people need to be careful. Even Paul escaped Jerusalem by being lowered in basket. 

But there are times when we need to be like Paul in Asia. Far too often, we are not bold. CT Studd - a missionary in China - also faced persecution. What made him put himself in such danger? He once wrote - “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell.” That was Paul - and he suffered for it. There are not too many of us who are like that. Pray for us.

But despite his suffering, he rejoiced. And the reason why he rejoiced was because he experienced suffering for Christ. His sufferings were, in verse 24, an opportunity to “fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.” What does this mean? He suffered because he preached the gospel to grow the church, so the lost would be Christ’s people. So his suffering showed 2 things. Firstly, it showed that the gospel was having an effect. If people were persecuting him; people were also believing the gospel. Secondly, and according to the text, when he suffered, he experienced what Christ was no longer able to experience. Christ is now in heaven, and he can’t ever be hurt anymore. But his preachers can. So Paul was fulfilling what Christ was no longer able to. 

When Christ and sin are preached, people are angry. John 1 tells us that men love darkness more than the light. And because of that, they killed him. But the gospel is still preached. Since people can’t kill Christ anymore, they persecute Christians, reject preachers, kill missionaries. Jesus said in John 15, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.” And Paul understood that suffering is part and parcel of Christian ministry. He identified with Christ. And this was cause to rejoice. Furthermore, preaching would produce great good. Paul witnessed many being saved. So in the midst of pain, there was pleasure.

And Paul willingly suffered to bring the gospel because he was called to be a minister. Verse 25 says that in God’s order and way of doing things, he appointed Paul to be a preacher, to serve the church by fully giving her the word. Paul was making a point - what they received in the gospel was already enough. The Gnostics didn’t have something extra the people didn’t have - what the Colossians received was already full. As a minister, he didn’t hold back. They didn’t have any lack. God appointed him to teach them fully - and he did. This is why Paul was willing to go through pain for the church - it was his pleasure, because God had made him a preacher for them. But not only was it a pleasure for Paul, it was a privilege. That’s the second point. The privilege and priority of preaching Christ.

Paul did not find it a chore. Nor a great sadness. He found it a great privilege to be involved in such a mighty work. Would it have been a privilege for Neil Armstrong to be the first person on the moon? Yes. How about John Glenn - was he privileged to be the first American to orbit the earth? Yes. But what about all those in NASA who brought Friendship 7 into space? Would it have been a privilege for them? What kind of honor would it have been for Joseph Schooling to win Singapore’s first gold Olympic medal? How do you think his parents felt - being involved in his training? Why do you think there was a race to find a vaccine for COVID19? Yes, there’s money and glory - but there’s the privilege of being involved in something so groundbreaking. But to be sure, all these are far less glorious than Paul’s privilege.

Verse 26 says that this Word of God he was to preach fully was “the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints.” The gospel was once a mystery. It was hidden in all the ceremony of the temple - through sacrifices, and washings, and symbols. And this ceremony was not available to all. The people were not allowed to go into the temple - on the pain of death. The temple guardsmen would have prevented anyone from entering. They could only catch a glimpse of what was inside when the doors opened. And the Gentiles were worse - they couldn’t even enter into the outer court where the sacrifices were offered. In Herod’s temple, they could only go to the Court of the Gentiles. There was a wall of separation that prevented them from crossing over. And now, that it was revealed, it was a great privilege. It had been made revealed to the saints!

There’s no more secret. There’s no other secret knowledge. Everything they need for a full life has been manifested. As verse 27 says God has revealed it to his saints, and to them, he wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ were also for the Gentiles. And that open secret? Christ lives in all of you that believe in him. He is the hope of glory. 

In ancient Israel, when they were crossing the wilderness, the ark led the people. When they set up camp, the ark and the tabernacle were in the middle, with all of the tribes surrounding it. God’s glory descended in the pillar of fire. God was in their midst. But that picture, as glorious as it was, was nothing compared to what God intends for his church. He wants a people - not just Israel, but people from every tongue, tribe, and nation - and he wants to live in them by his Spirit. And one day, he will take them to heaven, where he will live in their midst, with thousands of thousands worshiping him. The gospel is taught that. Christ is already in you, he’s making you holy - you’re not there yet - but his presence in you is the promise that one day you will experience that glory.

That’s Paul’s priority. The Gnostic says - you’re not enough - you’re not deep enough in secret knowledge. The legalist says - you’re not good enough - you wear jeans, or you listen to secular music. The mystic says - you’re not spiritual enough, you don’t have God speaking to you. The church growth expert says - you’re not good enough, you don’t have this business model to grow the church. Satan is telling you - you see, you’ve sinned again - you’re never going to make it! But Paul’s priority was to tell them - God has made you enough. He has saved you. Christ is in you. The gospel is fully sufficient. He will help you to grow in holiness. There is hope of future glory. And he spends the rest of the book telling them this.

And this is something that many of us need to hear. I know you are struggling with your faith. Some of you are struggling with obeying God. You are not what you should be. But you know what? You are not what you once were. There is hope of glory.

“In his old age, when he could no longer see to read, John Newton heard someone recite the text from 1 Corinthians 15, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’  He remained silent a short time and then said: ‘I am not what I ought to be.  Ah, how imperfect and deficient!  I am not what I wish to be.  I abhor that which is evil, and I would cleave to that which is good.  I am not what I hope to be.  Soon, soon I shall put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection.  Though I am not what I ought to be, what I wish to be, and what I hope to be; yet I can truly say, I am not what I once was – a slave to sin and Satan!  I can heartily join with the apostle and acknowledge – By the grace of God I am what I am!’”  This gives us a lot of hope - we will be better than we are. This was Paul’s priority - this message that Christ is in us.

And that is why thirdly, Paul labored hard as a preacher. That was his profession - his calling. If they were destined for better things - for heaven, Paul’s role was to prepare them. They had to mature. They had to grow. They had to produce fruits of holiness. They were not merely saved to do nothing. They were saved to be fruitful and holy. But there was no secret. He would labor in the Word. No secret knowledge, no extra human wisdom, no formula. Just the Word of God.

So as God arranged it, Paul as a preacher would bring the Word. And he would also disciple them by preaching, warning, and teaching. Verse 28 - “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” Those are the parts or function of his profession. It’s not all that he does, but it’s his main function. The question now is - does he do all three - preaching, warning and teaching; or does he preach by warning and teaching? 

I don’t have a strong opinion either way - because all are described in the Bible. But the sentence structure seems to imply, that he preaches by warning and teaching. And what he preaches is Christ. He warns them to follow Christ, to love Christ, to be like Christ. He warns them not to sin against Christ who saved them. He warns them not to abandon Christ. He is the hope of glory.

And he teaches them. Teaching them how to follow Christ, how to be holier, what are the steps they can take to grow in holiness. Teaching complements warning. He presents to them in an orderly way, Christian truth needed to know how to grow. Paul’s methods called for both confronting them with their sin, and instructing them.

And this was his priority. It was to make everyone mature - to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. He use the word “every” 3 times in this verse. Warning every man, teaching every man, presenting every man. Meaning, he would not rest till all Christians understood that the hope of glory was Christ in them; that they would strive to love him more and grow in him. And according to verse 29, this is what he would strive towards. The word “strive” or agonize is used of athletes who painfully pursued athletic glory. He would agonize, laboring in the Word - even if it was painful - to warn and teach. 

But one thing that Paul knew - whatever his calling was, he had the power of God. This is what Paul wanted to stress to the Colossians. They thought they were insufficient; that they needed something else. But Paul said that Christ was already in them working in them. Even in his ministry, although he was working for the Lord, he was being energized by God working in him mightily.

What are some of the applications here? Dear brethren, we are weak. We were once bad vines. But in Christ, he helps us grow. How we grow depends on how much we remain in Christ. Yes, to read the Bible, to pray, to serve, to love. And the Bible is sufficient - it tells us how to grow. We don’t need any mystical, additional, business, human models. We need to have this hope - he will change us. There’s glory at the end. And that means that we must be patient.

But at the same time, pray for your preachers, your officers, your pastors. That we would be faithful to the gospel - to this idea and concept that Christ is enough. But also that we would have the skills, the understanding, the wisdom to wield the Word of God - to apply the Word of God to you. To preach by warning and teaching. Teaching is hard enough. Warning is even harder. And this is why we are not always bold in warning - imagine the suffering that comes from it. Some ministers have been bitten because of the work of warning - reaction against the Word of God. And as a result, they become mousy. Now, it’s good when overbearing ministers become meeker as a result - but let it never be said that we shy away from teaching and warning. But you must pray for us to rely on Christ - to be fearless, winsome, careful, wise, bold, and heartfelt - to see you deepen in Christ and Christ to be glorified in you.

Sermon Outline:

The Pain and Pleasure of the Preacher of Christ

    Paul suffered

    Paul rejoiced

    Paul was called

The Privilege and Priority of Preaching Christ

    The mystery is revealed

    The hope and glory is given

The Parts and Purpose of the Preacher’s Empowered Profession 

    Preaching, warning, and teaching

    To make Christians mature

    By the power of Christ

* 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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