Striving to Know Christ
Preached at Main Street Church on October 13th, 2019
Our Problem: We strive for spiritual knowledge outside of Christ
Proposition: Since Christ has been revealed to us, we must strive to know him completely
- Christ is revealed through suffering
- Christ is revealed through proclamation
- Christ is revealed through hard work
This is the fifth sermon in our series “The Supremacy of Christ,” which is a verse by verse look at the book of Colossians. Paul wrote this letter to the church in the city of Colossae in about 62 AD while he was imprisoned. He starts his letter with this short prayer of thanksgiving in v. 3-14, and then a beautiful description of Jesus Christ as supreme in all things in v. 15-23, and then moves into our text for today—1:24-2:5—in which Paul tells the Colossian church the goal of his ministry to them, which is for them to know Christ completely. In v. 28 he says “(We proclaim Christ)…that we may present everyone mature/complete in Christ.” His main point in this passage is: since Christ has been revealed to us, we must strive to know him completely.
Colossians 1:24-2:5 — 24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
2 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
During my first two years in college I was part of a music ministry group that travelled to different churches and lead the music portion of worship services or for special church events. I was also part of a campus ministry group that led outreach and discipleship events. Through those social groups I met a lot of Christians. You can imagine that many of the college students involved in intense ministry like that were not just your run of the mill Christians, but they were intensely spiritual Christians. They would be up into all hours of the night talking about Jesus. They might carry around guitars to spontaneously sing songs about Jesus. By all appearances, they seemed to be people who really liked Jesus. They would go to special worship gatherings, and camps, and mission trips and based around Jesus. But, almost none of them were part of a local church. In fact, most of them didn’t even go to church. It was almost like they were so busy doing spiritual things—intensely spiritual and meaningful things—that they didn’t have time to be tethered to the stale, conventional institution of the church.
Fast forward to today. Almost without exception, those people I knew in college are still not part of any church, and sadly, many of them (some whom I led worship with side by side) have rejected biblical Christianity in preference of some other form of pseudo-Christian spirituality. Many of them still claim Jesus, but their Jesus is a Jesus who has liberated them from the Bible, and rescued them from the conformity of the church. Their Jesus is a Jesus who proclaims “self-actualization” and disagrees with anyone who disagrees with them, and leads them on their journey to complete themselves. And they are staunch defenders of this Jesus. You might call them “Liberal Legalists.” They’ve followed the trend of our culture in which more and more people in western society identity themselves as “spiritual” but “non-religious.”
What went wrong? Why did my friends—who seemed to be such champions of Jesus—fall into such convoluted spirituality?
One of the reasons Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians was because the Colossian church was dealing with a similar problem based on false teaching that scholars call “the Colossian Heresy.” The Colossian Heresy was a mixture of forms of Jewish legalism along with forms of first-century spirituality. Ultimately the false teaching that was plaguing the church at Colossae said that just knowing Jesus was incomplete. Christians needed more for their salvation than what Jesus Christ had to offer. He was a good start, but Jesus wasn’t enough. Just knowing Jesus was incomplete. The Colossian Heresy basically said that Jesus was great, but you needed other things in your life to make you a complete Christian.
My friends who were so gung-ho about Jesus in college essentially fell into the same way of thinking, and it is a way of thinking that is prevalent in our time. Their problem is that they knew about Jesus, but they didn’t really know Jesus. As a result they began looking for answers outside of Christ.
But in this passage, Paul is saying since Christ has been revealed to us, we must strive to know him completely. The reason we struggle to live out the Christian life isn’t that we know Christ but Christ is incomplete. Our problem is that our knowledge of Christ is incomplete. We don’t know him enough. Our knowledge of him is not complete enough. But since Christ has been revealed to us, we must strive to know him completely.
In v. 26 Paul says that the mystery hidden for ages and generations God has now revealed to his saints, and the glory of that mystery is Christ in us, the hope of glory. And in v. 28 he says he proclaims Christ so that he may present everyone mature (or complete) in Christ. Paul’s goal here is that Christians might know this revealed Christ completely. And he goes on to say in 2:2 that he struggles towards this goal of the church knowing Christ completely “to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
In other words, Paul is saying to the Colossians, your problem isn’t that Christ is somehow incomplete, your problem is that you don’t know him completely. And what he’s telling the church is that since Christ has been revealed to us, we must strive to know him completely. And in 2:4 he says, “I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.” Just like those people I knew in college, a church that is not striving to know Christ completely will not be a church for long. We must strive to know Christ completely, since he has been revealed to us.
This passage shows us that Christ is revealed to us in three ways:
- Christ is revealed through suffering
- Christ is revealed through proclamation
- Christ is revealed through hard work
- Christ Is Revealed Through Suffering
In v. 24 Paul says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,” Since Christ is revealed through suffering, we must strive to know him completely.
When Paul says that he is “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” he doesn’t mean that Jesus’ suffering was somehow incomplete—that’s the exact opposite idea of the point he is trying to make in his letter, which is that Christ is sufficient and has supremacy in all things.
Paul is saying that in God’s grand plan of redemption, Christ’s suffering achieved reconciliation, but his own suffering as an apostle achieves the proclamation of that reconciliation. Which demonstrates that the mystery of Christ is revealed through suffering. The phrase “filling up” in the Greek, carries the idea of completion or fulfillment—Paul is saying that his suffering as an apostle fulfills, or completes the affliction of Jesus in the sense that his sufferings reveal the mystery of Christ to the church. Christ’s suffering redeemed people, Paul’s suffering reveals that redemption to people. He says something similar in Philippians 2:30 about the affliction of Epaphroditus, where he says Epathroditus suffered, “to complete what is lacking in your service to me.”
One scholar puts it like this: “Paul does not suffer in an atoning manner for the church as Christ did, but he suffers as an apostle like Christ in completing the task of reconciliation that Christ began…Both the sufferings of Christ and of Paul further the act and message of reconciliation.”
In Acts 9 God says Paul, “is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16). In other words, Paul’s apostolic calling by God was to reveal the mystery of Christ—for the sake of his body, that is, the church—and he would do it through suffering. Since Christ is revealed through suffering, we must strive to know him completely.
The mystery of Christ has been revealed through suffering from the very beginning. Even in the Old Testament the prophets who foretold the coming of Christ suffered. 11 out of the 12 apostles who were commissioned to proclaim Christ as the Messiah gave their lives to reveal the mystery of Christ as the Savior of the world. There is something about the believers in the crucible of suffering that reveals Christ in us, the hope of glory.
A woman once watched a silversmith. He held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities. The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot; then she thought again about the verse that says: ‘He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver.’ (Malachi 3:3) She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed. The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, ‘How do you know when the silver is fully refined?’ He smiled at her and answered, ‘Oh, that’s easy — when I see my image in it.’
Paul rejoiced in his suffering for the church because he knew that it would ultimately produce Christ in us, the hope of glory. Since Christ is revealed through suffering, we must strive to know him completely.
Many of you were here several weeks ago when we had our brother Joel from India speak to us. Recently he showed Doug a video that had been uploaded to Youtube by a Hindu political faction that showed them beating one of Joel’s fellow pastors to death. Youtube has removed the video since then. India’s government has just passed a non-conversion law that they are forcing Christian pastor’s and ministries to sign saying that they won’t convert anyone to Christianity. If they don’t sign it then they will be incapable of receiving any outside funding, and they will be persecuting, pressured, and marginalized.
Our brothers and sisters that we know and love and support in India are suffering. Why would they even put themselves in a position where they might experience that kind of suffering? They are doing it for the very same reason as Paul in Philippians 3:10, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” They have counted the cost, and they know that for the mystery of Christ to be revealed in India, they must suffer. 1 Peter 4:13 says, “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Rom. 8:17 says, “if (we are) children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Christ is revealed through suffering.
We may not yet be suffering from our government or political factions, but God uses all suffering to reveal the mystery of Christ. God can use the affliction of cancer. He can use the affliction of abuse. He can use the loss of a loved one in your life to reveal the mystery of Christ. He will not waste a single flame in the fires of suffering—He will use all of it to reveal the glory of Christ. So when you’re on that hospital bed you can say, “Christ is enough. He is sufficient.” So you can stand, like my friend did at his two week old baby’s funeral and say through tears, “The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Friends, God will not waste your suffering, the mystery of Christ is revealed through suffering, and Christ himself is the ultimate example. The greatest evil ever done in the history of the world—the murder of the Son of God—God used to reveal the mystery of Christ as Lord of all creation. Since Christ is revealed through suffering, we must strive to know him completely.
2. Christ Is Revealed Through Proclamation
In v. 25 Paul says God made him a minister of the church “according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. Since the mystery of Christ is revealed through proclamation, we must strive to know Christ completely.
Paul is saying that God gave him the task of revealing the mystery of Christ to the church through proclamation. The word ‘proclaim’ in v. 28 literally means “to declare.” It is synonymous with the word “preach.” All through the book of Acts this word is used to describe the work of the apostles. Proclamation is the announcement of a reality—the statement of a fact—and God has chosen in his providence that the mystery of Christ is revealed, not through cleverness or cunning, but through proclamation.
When Paul says in v. 25 that he was “to make the word of God fully known,” what he means is to make known where Jesus fits in the Bible and in cosmic history. Up until that point the Jews had the Old Testament, but they didn’t see how Jesus fit into it and fulfilled, and the job of the apostles was to proclaim and announce to the world that Jesus was in fact the Messiah, and they used the word of God—the OT Scriptures—to demonstrate it. Peter proclaimed through the OT that Jesus was the Christ, Stephen proclaimed through the OT that Jesus was the Christ, Paul proclaimed through the OT that Jesus was the Christ, and even Jesus himself on his walk to Emmaus with two disciples showed from the OT that he himself was the fulfillment of this mystery. In Luke 24 Jesus said to them, “‘Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:26-27).
We know that Christ is the revelation of the mystery because in v. 27 Paul says, “To (the church) God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” And then v. 28 he says, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” Since Christ is revealed through proclamation, we must strive to know him completely.
The greatest examples of the kind of proclamation that reveals the mystery of Christ are found in the book of Acts. If you read through the book of Acts you will find all throughout it various apostles and followers of Christ proclaiming the mystery of Christ, and showing that Jesus is the Christ. Acts 8:5 says, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.” The next chapter says Paul “proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’” But a pertinent example for us is in Acts 17 where Paul proclaimed Christ to the Greek Philosophers at the Areopagus.
In this passage that I’m about to read from Acts 17, Paul is not speaking to Jews with knowledge of the Old Testament, he is speaking to Greek Philosophers versed in Aristotle and Plato. I want you to notice the things that Paul proclaims to these cultured and sophisticated Greeks:
- First he proclaims to them that there is a God that we can know: “22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”
- Second, he proclaims that this God is the eternal, sovereign creator of all things: “24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” 29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.”
- Third, he proclaims that the resurrection and impending return of Jesus as the warrant for every person’s repentance and faith in him: “30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
There is something startling to us about this kind of proclamation. My fear is that many western pulpits are filled with more pandering than proclamation. But ministers appointed with the task of revealing the mystery of Christ to the church are not called to pander to their people, but to proclaim Christ as risen from the dead and imminent in his return to consummate the establishment of his kingdom.
We understand, don’t we, that Roman Caesars in the first century did not massacre Christians because they were giving ‘stimulating talks’ that said God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. They persecuted Christians for proclaiming a divine king named Jesus who possesses all authority and demands complete allegiance from everyone.
Look at what Paul says in v. 28, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone.” How many sermons have you heard of people warning you about Jesus? But if you look at the apostolic proclamation of Jesus, warning is exactly what they are doing. Even here in Acts 17 Paul is warning them that Christ has been appointed as the righteous judge by God.
The mystery of Christ is revealed through proclamation, not because our culture responds well to proclamation and that makes sense to us, but because God has appointed that to be the means of revealing the mystery of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 1:17 Paul says, Christ sent him, “to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom.” Since Christ is revealed through proclamation, we must strive to know Christ completely.
Proclaiming Christ doesn’t mean we just shout about Jesus. It doesn’t mean you should to go to your friend or family member and spontaneously announce the good news as if you were casting a magic spell. Proclamation isn’t primarily about our tone or the volume of our voice. Proclamation means that we keep the supremacy of Christ as the center of our message, and then rely on the Holy Spirit to help us know how we should proclaim Christ in our cultural moment.. In Ephesians 6 Paul asks the church to pray “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,” (Ephesians 6:19).
We need to do the hard work of understanding our cultural moment and people’s particular situations, as Paul did at the Areopagus with the Greeks, but we must resist the temptation to pander to worldly sensibilities that diminish Christ. The mystery of Christ is not revealed through pandering, but through proclamation of the truth.
One way we emphasize the proclamation of Christ at this church is by taking the Lord’s supper just about every single week. There is an announcement made when we take the Lord’s supper. It is invitational but it is also polarizing. And that is because it is a proclamation. 1 Cor. 11 says that when we take the Lord’s Supper “we “proclaim” (same word) his death until he comes.”
Our goal at this church is to proclaim the good news of Jesus. Our mission statement says we exist to experience and communicate the gospel in our communities and around the world. One way we try to reveal the mystery through our proclamation is in majoring on a preaching style called expository preaching, where we labor to make the word of God fully known. That’s where we pick a book of the Bible, and we systematically, verse by verse, try to explain it, because we believe all of God’s word is for all of God’s people, and it all hinges on the mystery that is revealed in Christ. Since Christ is revealed through proclamation, we must strive to know him completely.
3. Christ is Revealed Through Hard Work
Picking up in v. 29 Paul says, For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
2 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face.” Since Christ is revealed through hard work, we must strive to know him completely.
Paul’s use of the word’s toil, and then the word struggling two times right next to each other denotes intense, difficult labor. The picture is of worker doing heavy manual labor, straining as he does it. And Paul is saying that his desire for us to know Christ completely takes hard work. “For this I toil,” and “I have a great struggle for you.” But It’s God’s power working within him that enables him to do the hard work of helping the church know Christ completely. Since the Mystery of Christ is revealed through hard work, we must strive to know Christ completely.
In July of 2016 Eddie Hall of England set, by far, the world record for the deadlift by deadlifting 1,102 pounds. A news article chronicling the event said this: “Eddie Hall nearly died after completing his latest deadlift world record attempt…he immediately collapsed afterwards and revealed he had burst blood vessels in his head. “That nearly killed me,” Hall said in an interview afterwards. “The pressure on my body was surreal. I passed our after. I had nose bleeds. But I’ve done it, I’m sure it will be in the history books for a very long time.”
When someone asked Eddie how he energized himself for such a surreal lift, he revealed that he imagined that his wife and son were trapped under a car, and that unless he lifted it off of them they would die. Only that kind of powerful motivation could energize him for the struggle of lifting such a massive weight.
This is the kind of picture that Paul paints of his struggle for the church. Sweat dripping, veins bulging, every ounce of energy going into that singular effort, to strive for the church to know Christ completely. But instead of having to resort to grim motivation, Paul says it is God who energizes him and powerfully works in him to perform the task. God empowers him with his spirit to do the task of helping the church know Christ completely. Since Christ is revealed through hard work, we must strive to know him completely.
I recall once when I was in seminary a faction in our class were complaining to the professor that the books we were supposed to read were too hard to read, too hard to think about, and too hard to understand. After getting wind of some of these complaints the professor, who happened to be Mike Williams said, “We’re trying to know the infinite, eternal God; of course it’s hard!”
In 2 Timothy 2:7 Paul says to the new pastor Timothy: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” It’s through the Holy Spirit that we know Christ, but we are also commanded to do the hard work of thinking.
We also know Christ through the hard work of loving others. That seems to be what Paul is getting at in this text. He struggles for the church to know Christ in his prayers. He struggles for the church to know Christ in his preaching. He struggles for the church to know Christ in the giving of his time, and energy. Since Christ is revealed through hard work, we must strive to know him completely.
Ultimately, the hardest work involved in knowing Christ, is the fact that you can only get to know Christ completely in the context of of local church. Look at 2:2. Paul says he does hard work for the church “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery which is Christ.” You will never know Christ completely by yourself. Trying to do church at your house by yourself is a non-sequitur. You must go to the body to know the body. Christ is the head of the body, the church. How silly would it be for me to look for my wife’s head somewhere her body is not. That would be crazy! And, if I claim to be part of the body, but I’m not connected to the head, then what does that mean about me? It means I’m either dead, or in danger of dying. Christ is revealed through hard work, and that hard work takes place in the body of Christ. Hard work that stresses and strains and sweats as one body working together to achieve one monumental task: knowing Christ completely. Since Christ is revealed through hard work, we must strive to know him completely.
Christ is revealed to us through suffering, through proclamation, and through hard work, and we must strive to know him completely. There is no greater duty and no greater privilege than knowing Christ. Paul says the mystery hidden for ages and generations has now been revealed to us (Colossians 1:26). Peter says that the prophets of old inquired and search carefully to know the mystery of Christ, and that angles long to look into the mystery that has been proclaimed to us. Since Christ has been revealed to us, let us strive together, to know Christ completely.