Four Passions of a Committed Discipler

Colossians 1:24-29 ESV
 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,  26the 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.
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When people truly encounter and respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ, a number of transformations happen:

First, they become aware that they are sinners, totally incapable of solving their sin problem.

Secondly, they realize that the only person who can do anything about their sin problem is Jesus, and that he has already solved their problem by dying on the cross.

Thirdly, a profound gratitude emerges in their lives.  They are so grateful for having been set free from the penalty of sin, that they naturally seek to worship their Savior forever.

Fourthly, they have a strong desire to please Christ, and be transformed into his image as it is reflected in their daily walk.  This is the desire to be discipled.

Fifthly, their hope is now firmly placed not in this age, but in the age to come.  They now have the blessed hope: the hope of the glorious appearing of Christ – the expectation of his second coming.
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All of these transformations are the natural result of the atoning work of Christ on the cross, and the Holy Spirit who indwells believers.  Yet, for some people that is not enough.  The apostle Paul was one of those who wanted more, and God called him to be and do more.  He was not content to be a mere disciple.  The LORD called him to be a committed discipler.
I want to be that kind of a believer too.  I want my life to make a difference in the lives of others, helping them to come to Christ, grow in Christ, and be more than conquerors for Christ.  I do not think that this kind of life will require a second blessing, or second touch of the Holy Spirit.  I think it comes to those who are willing to make discipling a priority in their lives.  It comes when people embrace the passions that governed the lives of the great apostles and evangelists.  Today’s passage reflects some of those passions.
proclaiming Christ
Let me draw your attention to today’s text, and three words which are found in verse 28:  “Him we proclaim.”  A committed discipler makes witnessing a priority.  It does not say “ourselves we proclaim.”  The gospel is not about us, our church, our denomination, our goals, our families, our programs, our methods, or even our doctrines or our choices or our lifestyles.  The gospel is about him. Him we proclaim. 
You can do a lot of things for your church that do not by themselves proclaim Christ.  You can do a lot of religious things that never convey the fact of Christ’s existence.  You can even say a lot of religious things without communicating the reality of Jesus Christ.  A committed discipler understands that it’s not about me, it’s about him.  When the apostle Paul entered a new mission field, he brought the message of Christ with him.  Committed disciplers do that. 
In order to capture the passion of proclaiming Christ, we need to really believe in the sufficiency of Christ.  I think this is the reason  there are so many Christians who fail to live up to this standard.  They trust Christ for their eternal salvation, but they trust the doctors to heal them, and the lawyers to take care of their interpersonal problems, and the politicians to change their society.  Those who have a passion for proclaiming Christ understand that he is not just one of the answers, he is the answer.

making God’s word known
Another passion we see reflected in Paul’s words here is in verse 25.  A committed discipler sees his ministry as a “stewardship from God.” The purpose of the stewardship is “to make the word of God fully known.”  I like that translation which uses the word “stewardship” because it implies that the word of God is a valuable treasure.
But there is a difference between the stewardship from God and other kinds of stewardship.  Usually stewards are hired to protect a treasure, but stewards of God’s word are called to give it away.
Also, notice that Paul’s passion was not just to preach some of God’s word, but to make it “fully known.”  Lots of preachers today are experts at proclaiming some of God’s word – usually the positive parts.  But Paul made it his ambition to give people the whole message.  His confidence was in the whole word, not just the parts that are easily digested.
The full word of God is not a simple message, and it defies our attempts to put it in a nutshell.  Read your Bible.  Read the whole Bible.  Some parts you will cheer and proclaim with confidence.  Other parts will confuse you.  Some might even anger you.  But if you are really going to make a difference in the lives of others, you will have to embrace and declare those parts too.  The word of God is not a buffet table where people are free to pick and choose what appeals to them.  It is a full meal, because it is a balanced meal.

laboring to produce mature Christians
A third passion revealed in this passage is seen in verses 28-29.  Paul says “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” He worked hard to produce mature Christians.  He was not just about bodies in the pews.  He wanted to prepare disciples of Christ.
One of the means that Paul used to make mature believers was the systematic instruction in the word of God.  In some of the places where he planted churches, he spend long periods of time training them.  In others, he send other missionaries like Timothy and Titus to do that.  But he never dunked people and dropped them.  He was a believer in intensive systematic training in the word of God.  My challenge to you is that if you are serious about producing mature Christians, get all the training you can get, from whatever source you can get it.

suffering to build the church
My last inference from this passage is perhaps going to be the hardest to accept.  I am convinced that there is a missing element in much discipling today.  Paul says in verse 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.”  I think that in some way suffering has a role to play in the process of disciple-making.
Now, I do not think that Paul is saying that it is necessary for disciplers to suffer for the same reason that Christ suffered.  He suffered and died on the cross to atone for the sins of the world.  There is not a one of us who is qualified to do that.  Besides, Jesus has already paid the price for every sin of every sinner.  When he said “it is finished” on the cross, God stamped the bill with the words “paid in full.”
So, what could Paul have been implying when he spoke of “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”?   I think the key to interpreting this challenging text is seeing it in the light of the question we have been asking in this message.  Just as Christ suffered in order to save us, he calls disciplers to suffer in order to build up the body.
If that is the right way to read his words here, it means that if we want to make a difference in people’s lives, we need to be prepared to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations for their sake.  We need to cross boundaries that exist outside our comfort zones.  Discipling is a messy business.  Nobody comes gift wrapped in appropriate clothes, proper attitudes, and in complete agreement with our theology. If you are looking for people like that to disciple, you will never be a discipler.
In fact, I think it can get worse.  Discipling means daring to represent Christ.  As such the discipler will be praised by those who praised him, and quite possibly crucified by those who crucified him.  Disciplers suffer at the hands of unbelievers because we represent a message that unbelievers reject, and a master that unbelievers have rebelled against.  In one of Jesus’ parables, a master sent his servants among his people to collect his tribute, and they beat them, wounded them, and sent them away empty-handed. 
Suffering, then, does not mean that we have failed at our job.  It means that we are doing our job correctly.  Fortunately, we do not always suffer. Sometimes by God’s grace, the rebellious repent and return to their master.  But if we are serious about being disciplers, we will have to endure many hardships. 
In fact, some of those hardships will be at the hands of those within the church, not outside it. Paul himself is an example of that fact.  He wrote some of his epistles to churches which he had founded who were beginning to reject his ministry and criticize his methods.  But some of the most profound and life-changing words in scripture are found in those epistles.  By Paul’s suffering, the body was built.
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I want my life to make a difference in the lives of others, helping them to come to Christ, grow in Christ, and be more than conquerors for Christ.  If you examine your heart closely, I think you will find that you want that too.  Will you join me in praying that the Holy Spirit will make us more than just disciples?  Will you dare to be a discipler?
Jefferson Vann
Maranatha Bible Church
Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines

Sunday, June 9th, 2013.
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