This is a series of brief comments on Paul’s New Testament Epistle to the Colossians. I hope it encourages you to study the Epistle – and all of the Bible – with great care. The more we dwell in Scripture, the richer it gets. Take the time and the rewards will be deep and refreshing.
Continuing his discussion of the nature of his own ministry, Paul says he proclaims Jesus Christ and breaks that down into two halves: Warning and teaching.
He must be warning people of the awful consequences of ignoring or demeaning the Gospel Secret (“Christ in you, the hope of glory”). And the teaching must be instructing people in what God expects of us and promises to us. It is safe to say that if we want a sample of this two-part proclamation, we need look no further than this very epistle to the Colossians.
More than a few terrible preachers, I fear, practice the warning and the teaching without noticing that this is to be done “in all wisdom.” For some, preaching is little more than passing along some very old cliches developed in the 19th century. There is no wisdom in that.
And I’ve noticed over the years that in evangelical churches we tend to remind each other often that we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom of God. The Bible, however, places much more emphasis upon us growing up, not remaining little children. That part of the biblical message seems to have been lost on us.
Notice what Paul says is his purpose in proclaiming Christ: “that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” The word translated “mature” (Greek teleios) is not uncommon in the New Testament but it is somewhat obscured by the fact that it is translated sometimes as “mature” and more often as “perfect.”
Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:48 that we must be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect. Paul tells the Corinthians (I Cor. 14:20) that they are to be infants in evil but mature in their thinking. Perfect, mature: same word.
The word means fulfillment of all we have been intended by God to be. We are to become the persons God has intended us to be. That is perfection, maturity.
And notice that simple prepositional phrase: “in Christ.” Maturity is not something we achieve on our own. That possibility was closed to us ‘way back in the Garden. We become mature as we are drawn ever-closer to Christ and walk in communion with him.
What does maturity look like? The simplest description is that maturity is Christlikeness of character. We are mature to the degree that we resemble Christ in character. Our personalities may vary greatly from one person to the next but the core of our character is to reflect, to be the image of Jesus Christ.
To be a bit more psychological about it, we may say that maturity means being responsible to God for ourselves. Both halves are essential. We are responsible for our own decisions and our own character but it is crucial that we understand we are responsible to God for these things.
We cannot say, “It’s my life and I can do what I want with it.” No, we must answer to our Lord. Nor can we say, “I did so and so because God told me to do it.” While that may be true, it is really just our own business. In talking with others, we have to take responsibility for our decisions. What if some very godly Christian believes you have made a mistake? That person is in an awkward position, too awkward to correct or question you, if you’ve already declared God has directed you. You’ve made it seem as if disagreeing with you means opposing the will of God. That may or may not be true but it is graceless to frame a conversation that way. No matter how convinced we are that the Lord has directed us this way or that, we must take responsibility for our own decisions.
I still laugh when I think of the young man who had a real crush on a college girl. Shortly after she went off to school, he showed up saying he had moved to town. It was obvious that his decision was dominated by his desire to be near her but, when asked why he had moved, he replied, “God led me.” A more accurate answer would have been, “I just couldn’t stay away from her.” No shame in that, no need to make it seem somehow a holy decision.
We take responsibility for our decisions if we are mature in Christ.