Maturity: Church Leadership’s Role in the Church’s Maturity

Colossians 1:24-29

When it comes to preaching about Christian maturity, the Bible has to be our sourcebook because no human being is a case study in maturity. 

I’m a frequent flyer on “I messed up airlines”. 

Theological education is not alone Christian maturity. Being able to speak or lead is not alone Christian maturity. Having wisdom alone is not Christian maturity. Name your favorite thing or strength, and none of them alone equates to maturity in Christ. 

The Christian life is not a static existence. We are moving from strength to strength and from one degree of glory to another as we look to Jesus. 

Psalms 84:4-7 (CSB) 4 How happy are those who reside in your house, who praise you continually. 5 Happy are the people whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. 6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a source of spring water;

even the autumn rain will cover it with blessings. 7 They go from strength to strength; each appears before God in Zion.

Paul says at the end of Colossians 1 that his labor and striving is to present everyone mature in Christ.

This is our aim. 

We will see the theme of “maturity” throughout 2022 in everything we are preaching. 

Key question: What is maturity? 

Ephesians 4:13 answers that question for us. Maturity is measured by the fullness of Jesus. 

That means that Jesus is our standard of maturity. Jesus, (Colossians 1:15-20) the Creator God, in whose image we are created, is who we are striving to be like. We are created in his image. 

Sin damaged that image, and by faith in Jesus, God begins to repair his image in us.

We, then, have to get to know Jesus really well to know the standard of maturity we are striving for.

We will fail at growing into maturity in Christ if we want to be like our favorite Christian leader or favorite president or favorite athlete. There is nothing wrong with imitating some good healthy habits of good people, yet they are not our goal. Jesus is our goal. 

Colossians 2:2-3 (CSB) I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of complete understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery—Christ. 3 In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

The extent to which anyone helps us grow into Jesus, they are worth imitating. But they are not the standard. Jesus is the standard. 

Imitate me as I imitate Christ, Paul will say. 

Having a hero other than Jesus that we want to be like would be like wanting to climb Mount Everest and using Clock Tower Hill as our standard for training. 

Today, our text begins with church leadership and their command to help the church get to maturity together. 

What is the role of “church leadership” in the church’s maturity?

DEFENSE OF USING “CHURCH LEADERSHIP”: Paul, the apostolic leader, who helped in founding the churches writes to the whole church about his role as a leader, and in this instance it is as an apostle from Antioch who helps in the founding of the church. As a result, this scripture must apply to all those who are leaders in any way. 

Paul does not specifically address elders and overseers, they must be included, but it is not just that group. Since he is talking about himself and his apostolic role and he is addressing this to the whole church, we must see that he has in mind anyone who leads in any capacity in the church. 

So, rather than assume he means the ecclesiological system a church has chosen, it is more accurate to say that Paul is addressing anyone who leads in the local church. 

This is why I am choosing the words “church leadership” when speaking from Colossians 1:24-29 rather than isolating it to a single role of leadership.

  1. Church leadership suffers in a substitutionary way for the church, not in atonement for sin, but in absorbing some amount of suffering designed by God for the church so that the church can flourish through suffering. These sufferings are appointed for the church as his physical body on earth, to be carried by church leadership, and meant as a witness to the world to the suffering of Jesus for their salvation. V. 24
    1. Church leaders represent Jesus, and in that role, they suffer sometimes, and when they do, it is for the whole church, part of whose purpose is to display in a physical way the sufferings of Jesus. 
    2. Church leaders can learn to rejoice in this kind of suffering because it is not without purpose. 
      1. It is full of eternal and weighty and glorious purpose. 
    3. What is Paul saying here?
      1. Paul uses this language about “completing what is lacking” in suffering in Philippians 2:30.  
        1. Paul uses almost the exact same phrase when talking about Epaphroditus’ suffering in bringing the Philippian’s gift to Paul.
        2. Epaphroditus represented the Philippian church’s love for Paul as he suffered to bring that love in person through their support, and his personal suffering filled up what was lacking in their service to Paul. 
        3. In that sense, Epaphroditus’ suffering is on behalf of the whole church in order for their love for Paul to be put on full display. 
      2. We don’t “improve on Jesus’ suffering”. There is nothing lacking in Jesus’ atonement for us. 
      3. What is missing for those who did not witness Jesus firsthand is the live display of the suffering of the cross for the sake of God’s love for sinners. 
        1. What is missing is the in-person presentation of Jesus’ sufferings to the people he died to save. 
        2. Not everyone was able to see Jesus in person. None of us witnessed the sufferings of Jesus in person. 
      4. The sufferings of Jesus are lacking in that they are not witnessed in person among the nations or among God’s people who were not present to witness them. 
      5. The sufferings of Jesus are somehow carried by the people of God who minister the gospel when they suffer.
        1. And those ministers of the gospel fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of the church so that those who did not witness Jesus’ suffering in person, can see his sufferings in his servants who represent him through the church on whose behalf they are suffering. 
      6. So, those who take on a mantle of leadership take on a role of suffering at times as Jesus’ ambassadors of his love for the nations and his people. 
    4. Let’s be clear. This is NOT a call to unnecessarily take a beating at the hands of people by not exercising wisdom and clear boundaries. 
      1. No one is called to be a victim of people who do wrong. 
      2. This is not a call to be unwise or foolish. 
    5. This is a call to preach God’s word and obey it, and when we get roughed up for this, we strive to rejoice, forgive, heal, set boundaries (“Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm, watch out for him yourself.” – Paul), and continue on in the work of the Lord. 
      1. And we trust that God will use those sufferings to witness to Jesus’ suffering for his people. 
      2. We also trust that by receiving this suffering, God spares others suffering in order that they might be strong to carry on the work. 
    6. In this sense, church leadership gets the weighty honor of suffering on behalf of the church. 
  1. By God’s commission, Church leadership is the church’s servant to make God’s word fully known.  V. 25-27
    1. God’s “commission” is the oikonomian”, the household order. This means that the commission from God is the order of his household. 
      1. This role of making God’s word known is a prescribed reality. It’s not just a good idea or a made-up job to avoid other jobs. 
      2. This is the household order. 
        1. This order is dictated by God himself in existence. 
        2. He is head over all things. 
        3. He is a proclaiming God who oversees his people
        4. He equips his church to look like him, as his body. 
        5. Leadership’s role is to look like the God who they represent in function. 
    2. Church leadership’s commission by God is the word and prayer. 
      1. Acts 6:4 (CSB) 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
        1. Why did the apostles say this when having to deal with the issue with the widows?
        2. Because God does his kingdom transforming work through proclaiming his word and overseeing his order. 
    3. Leadership is to shepherd, and their primary version of shepherding is done through teaching, preaching, leading, oversight, all through the power of prayer.
    4. Shepherding is a whole-body gift not just for elders/overseers. 
      1. Daily care for one another is a work of the ascension gifts that Jesus has given to his whole church. 
    5. Church leadership is to proclaim God’s word and pray in faith as their primary ministry. 
      1. What is the primary focus of this prayerful ministry of the word? V. 25-27
        1.  We are to make sure God’s people fully know that Jesus dwells in the fellowship and is actively leading and gifting the whole church.
          1. Proclaim the infinitely deep riches of Jesus Christ and him crucified.
          2. This truth is rich and full of depth to be mined. 
          3. Truths like this are like finding a gold deposit. It’s awesome, and yet there is work to be done to dig out all the gold, process it, and enjoy it together. 
  1. Church leadership is to proclaim Jesus in all his glory and all the implications from his word to everyone who will hear with all the strength the Lord gives. V. 28-29
    1. Preaching and teaching is not just a function of Sunday morning worship. This is one of God’s primary means of transmitting his word. 
      1. God uses other means for leadership to preach/teach.
        1. Personal conversations: This is where leadership instructs from God’s word and sound oversight. 
        2. Smaller group settings: This is a less formal environment where leadership instructs from the Scriptures to a group of people or a group of leaders. 
          1. Church leadership should always be instructing from God’s word and oversight.
    2. How are we to proclaim Jesus in all these settings?
      1. Leadership is to warn everyone with all wisdom.
      2. Leadership is to teach everyone with all wisdom.
      3. Leadership is to laborkopiao – to be worn out to the point of fainting. It’s synonym is athleo – to strive or wrestle
        1. Striving (agonidzomai) – this participle modifies “labor”.
          1. Agonidzomai – means to strain with every nerve to the place of agony.
          2. The primary task is to labor at keeping Jesus in front of everyone through preaching and teaching in every opportunity. 
  1. Church Leadership’s goal in the ministry of preaching and teaching is to present everyone mature who will pursue maturity in Jesus together. V. 28
    1. We are to present God’s people back to God as faithful managers who used the Master’s resources to produce mature results for his glory and kingdom advance. 
    2. Our aim in everything we do must be maturity so that we can present God’s people back to him having been faithful. 
    3. “To present” is in the subjunctive mood and that is the mood of possibility. 
      1. This means that not everyone will get to maturity no matter how hard we strive.
      2. It is possible for all in Christ to strive toward maturity, but not everyone will. 
      3. Leadership is to toil at a work that not everyone will want. 
        1. Jesus won’t hold church leadership accountable for those who refuse to grow up into Christ. 
        2. He will hold us accountable for what we do with his word. 

Application

  1. Church leadership: elders, ministry directors, ministry leaders, feel the holy and joyous weight of  Colossians 1:24-29. 
    1. We have to soberly and joyously embrace God’s word and the oversight of it and realize it will call us to suffer sometimes so that the rest will not suffer and Jesus fame will be made known. 
      1. There is an old story about a missionary to a tribe. This missionary walked far and worked hard to reach this isolated people. He labored to get to this people for many years to tell them the good news of Jesus. He had learned the language and was prepared to share. 
        1. When he entered the village, he began to share Jesus with some that he thought were friendly. 
        2. They beat him, drug him out of the village, and left him for dead. 
        3. When he came to himself, he was surrounded by the village, and figured they had gathered to finish the job of killing him. 
        4. The village chief said to him, we came out to kill you, and saw your ragged feet and realized you had suffered greatly and come a long way to tell us something that must be important, so we decided we needed to hear what you have to say. 
        5. He preached the good news of the suffering Messsiah and the entire village repented and believed. 
        6. HIs suffering led to the joy of a whole village. 
        7. Take heart that suffering is not without purpose, but is full of divine ends. 
  2. Chruch leadership: Toil to restrict your work to the word, prayer, and oversight. 
    1. There will be thousands of distractions to take you from going deep on mission that will spread you thin and make you ineffective. 
    2. Resist it. 
      1. Work against this as gently and violently as you can.
      2. Work to multiply yourself so you can have help to do all the “tasks” created from preaching and teaching God’s word. 
        1. This is obedience to 2 Timothy 2:2 and it creates a pipeline for future leadership.  
    3. God has chosen the declaration of his word as the means by which he will bring transformation to people, the world and nations. 
      1. We are in a time that, for some reason, wants to minimize the importance of preaching/teaching God’s word, and it’s an error. 
      2. Providing “things” for people will never transform anyone. 
      3. Putting God’s word to hearts will change the world and hold the world accountable. Some will listen and some will not. 
        1. Ezekiel 2:5 (CSB) 5 Whether they listen or refuse to listen—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them.
  3. Church: lean into your ascension gifts. 
    1. Serve one another. You don’t need permission to call, text, get together with, or visit anyone in the fellowship. 
      1. If you need contact information, you can download the “people” app for planning center, log in using your information, and be in contact with any active TRC member you want. 
    2. Church, preach the gospel and teach God’s word. Invite the outsider to the kingdom on the inside of the kingdom through repentance and faith in Jesus. Yes, this is your job also.
      1. Acts 8:1-4 (CSB) 1 Saul agreed with putting him to death. On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and mourned deeply over him. 3 Saul, however, was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison. 4 So those who were scattered went on their way preaching the word.
    3. Make disciples. You have already been sent by the Lord. 
    4. Keep God’s word front and center not the philosphies of the age. 
    5. Keep an eye on the horizon of the vision of the nations. 
  4. Worship!

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