Some believers simply grow old in Jesus instead of growing up in Jesus. The epistles are intended to help us grow up in Christ. They function as the biblical and practical theology of the Gospels. The lessons of the recent past have come from two of the four prison epistles (Ephesians and Philippians). The next four lessons focus on Colossians, perhaps the most Christ-centered epistle of the New Testament.
Reading Colossians reminds me of a statement that has been attributed to Winston Churchill: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Something was terribly amiss in Colossae. One scholar traced 26 different nuances to the alleged heresy in the church. Whether or not we can tease out all of the particulars of the heresy, we know this. The answer lies in a full understanding of Jesus. The real test of maturity is Christlikeness.
Following the opening greeting (1:1, 2) and the typical giving of thanks and prayer (vv. 3-13), Paul wrote two of the most profound paragraphs in the New Testament about the person and work of Christ (vv. 15-23). Because Jesus is supreme and his atoning work so glorious, Paul was willing to “take his licks” for the gospel. He even counted it as joy (see James 1:2) to suffer in his flesh (here it means “physical body”) for Christ (Colossians 1:24). His use of words here may sound strange: I fill up. . . what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions. Did Jesus not suffer sufficiently on the cross (Romans 3:21-26; Hebrews 10:10-14)? Indeed he did. But Paul knew that part of maturing in Christ was suffering for him (Galatians 6:17; 2 Corinthians 6:4, 5; 11:23-28; 2 Timothy 3:11, 12).
Paul was filled to the full with sufferings for the gospel so that he could be a better servant (deacon) of the church. God had given Paul a commission (stewardship), and it was to get the word of God that dealt with the mystery of God to the people of God. Fullness was found in Christ (Colossians 2:9), not in some esoteric experience pushed by false teachers in Colossae. The mystery (three times in this passage and meaning “revealed secret”) that had been kept hidden was now fully disclosed (made manifest) in Jesus. In Colossians the mystery of God is mostly Jesus, just as in Ephesians the mystery of God is mostly the unity between Jews and Gentiles in the church.
People have different ideas about what maturity in Christ looks like. Growing up in Christ often gets defined by personal and cultural applications. Many times, believers are guilty of asking people to be conformed to the church as opposed to being transformed by the Spirit. Paul reminded the church that the real mystery of God and the key to maturity is Christ in you, which is the hope of glory (seeing his weighty presence and his shining brilliance).
The key to growing up in Jesus is Jesus. That is why Paul proclaimed (to declare plainly or openly) Jesus. Paul knew that if he admonished (counseled) and taught the church with all wisdom about Jesus he would be able to present (cause to stand) everyone fully mature in Christ. Christian maturity did not mean perfection. (The Greeks did not even have a word that meant “flawless.”) The word mature means complete or something reaching its goal and end. Paul so wanted to have the church grow up, that similar to taking his licks for Christ, he poured himself into that task with reckless abandon. In fact, Paul used four different Greek words (translated by five different words in English) to describe his efforts (work hard, agony, energy, power, and energy again) at maturing believers.
This is one of those unfortunate chapter divisions. Paul was willing to stand up against the false teaching taking place in Colossae. He “contended” (the word agony again) for the whole valley (Laodicea is seeable and within easy walking distance to Colossae). He encouraged the believers to be united (knit or brought together) in love with the goal of having complete understanding of God’s mystery, which was Jesus. As a side note, God’s treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found uniquely in Christ—not in some additional or subtracted view of Jesus.
Paul was a church planter and a pastor. He did not want anyone to deceive (reasoning falsely) the church with fine-sounding arguments (plausible or persuasive arguments—only used here in the New Testament). Paul desired that his epistle would function as a stand-in apostle (absent in body but present in spirit—2:5). Christian maturity is Jesus, Jesus, and Jesus—nothing more and nothing less.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.