Many people reckon church is irrelevant. Indeed, recent research indicates that the majority of people who call themselves Christians think church is unimportant. In fact, they often attend church because of family, because they like the preacher or the music, or because it is good for social networking.
But God doesn’t want us to ‘date’ church – attending when we feel like it. The Letters of Paul the Apostle show us that it was his constant ambition to be involved in the growth of vital churches.
Today and over the coming weeks, I plan to touch on key themes in Paul’s Letter to the Colossians with the title, ‘Life to the Full’. In the first section of chapter 1, Paul identifies features of a church that exemplifies his dream.
Thanksgiving. He begins by telling his Colossian readers how much he thanks God for them. Significantly he doesn’t thank God that they were ‘religious’. Rather, he speaks about them as being characterized by faith, love, and hope.
He writes of their faith in Christ Jesus. The order of the words is significant, Christ Jesus, or King Jesus, indicating that from the first, the followers of Jesus Christ acknowledged him as the Lord, God’s anointed king. People often say they believe in God, but true Christianity is Christ-centered.
Another mark was their love for all the saints. Their faith was not simply individualistic and personal but flowed over into relationships with everyone who shared a common confession in Christ Jesus. They not only knew one another’s names but were committed to serving one another’s spiritual and practical needs. They were God’s new society, bound together across the differences of racial and cultural backgrounds, slaves and free. Vital churches are God’s new society.
A third feature of the church in Colossae was hope. There is something unexpected about the way Paul writes of this; the Colossian’s faith and love spring out of the hope laid up for us in heaven. Furthermore, this hope is not a blind optimism, a leap in the dark. Faith and love spring from the certainty of the return of Jesus Christ, which is a central part of the gospel Paul goes on to write about. It suggests that we need to learn to live now in the light of the age to come.
The themes of truth and growth bubble through these verses. In an age where truth is denied, it is striking the way that Paul speaks of God’s good news (gospel) as the truth. The gospel, he says, is the word of the truth. He could have left out any reference to the words the truth, but he doesn’t. Here is something to challenge and encourage us. Significantly, Paul continues to comment that the gospel is expanding all over the world.
It’s worth pausing to consider the point that God’s gospel is true. As others have noted, the gospel is true in a counter-intuitive sense: the statements it makes about God and men and women are beyond human invention and imagination. Furthermore, it is true in an historical sense: the eye-witness accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were not a set of myths or lies. They are trustworthy facts. The Christian message is also true in the experiential sense: when we put our trust in Jesus Christ who is at the center of the gospel message, we discover that our faith is not a hoax but a genuine experience.
Growth. Because the gospel is the truth, the church in Colossae had formed and was growing. People had heard and responded to the message in all its truth, preached by pastor Epaphras. And we should also note that God’s Spirit was at work: He (Epaphras) is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit (Colossians 1:8). The work of God’s Spirit is essential if people are to hear and gladly respond to God’s gospel when it is verbalized to them. In 1 Corinthians 12:3b Paul writes: … no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.
So often we forget this necessary work of the Spirit of God in the miracle of conversion – yes, conversion is a miracle. It is the greater work that Jesus spoke about in John 14:12 when he told his disciples that they would be doing greater works than the miracles he performed.
Good churches develop where God’s Word is faithfully announced and lived out – churches where God’s Spirit of love is also at work. For, by God’s grace, the Spirit is at work drawing people of all ages to a genuine faith in Christ, a love for one another (not just their friends), inspired by the hope of the coming reign of Christ. Where lives are being transformed in this way, churches grow in maturity and in number, with their impact spilling over into the wider community and beyond.
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com