Growing Mature, Ministering Disciples

Seventh in a Series on Central’s Core Values,
Delivered March 7, 1999 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates

Sermon Text:
Colossians 1:24-29
24 Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still
lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the
church.
25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you
the word of God in its fullness–
26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now
disclosed to the saints.
27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious
riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so
that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.
29 To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in
me.

If you tuned into the Grammys a couple of weeks ago, you know that Celine Deon’s heroic song “My Heart Goes On” grabbed two of the top awards, which made everybody’s thoughts drift back to that epic movie “Titanic”. I’m here this morning to tell you the story about the real hero of the real Titanic.

His name was Jack, but not the Jack from the movie. Ironically John Harper almost drowned three times in his life. When he was two and a half years old, he fell into a well, but his mother rescued and resuscitated him. Twenty six years later he was swept out to sea by a riptide, but managed to survive. And then after that he was actually on a ship that began to sink and he had to be rescued off that ship. But on April 14, 1912, John Harper found himself and his six-year-old daughter Nanna, booked on passage on the ill-fated Titanic. And at 11:40 p.m. on that evening, the Titanic grazed an iceberg and that iceberg ripped open six of the watertight compartments on the ship. And according to official documents, when it became apparent that the Titanic was going to go under, John Harper took his daughter Nanna and placed her in a lifeboat. He could’ve gotten in with her, but instead he said to her, with tears in his eyes, “I’ll see you again one day.” And then he kissed her.

And then as the hull of the ship began to go upward it was reported that John Harper became to climb the deck of the ship, screaming at the top of his lungs “Women and children and unsaved into the lifeboats” and then with deafening explosive sounds the Titanic broke apart and sunk. And John Harper found himself plunged into the frigid waters. He spent most of his time swimming from person to person, leading many of those people to faith in Jesus Christ. He saw one young man clinging to a pile of debris and swam over to him and said “Young man, are you saved?” And the young man said no, and so John Harper tried to lead him to Christ, but the young man rejected him and so John Harper took off his life vest, tossed it to the young man and said, “Here then, you need this more than I do.” A few minutes later John Harper swam back to that same young man and this time was able to lead him to faith in the Lord.

And of the 1,528 people who went into the water that night, only six were rescued and one of those six was that young man. Four years later, at a Titanic survivors meeting that young man stood up and with tears rolling down his cheeks, told the story of how John Harper had saved his life. How John Harper had led him to Christ and how John Harper’s last words before hyperthermia got to him and caused him to drown were: “Believe on the name of the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” All of those people trying to buy their way, force their way, into lifeboats. Selfishly looking out for only their own lives and here was John Harper who willingly gave up his life that others might be saved. You think you’ll ever see a movie put out by Hollywood on John Harper? I doubt it.

But the important question before us here this morning is this: What kind of church produced a man like John Harper? That’s the kind of church Central Pres. aspires to be. That’s why our seventh core value is Growing mature, ministering disciples and the Biblical mandate for that comes to us in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. I would invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, as this morning we look at verses 24-29.

This is the Word of God. Paul writes:

Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness – the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect (and the Greek there can be also read “mature”, in fact I think that’s a better translation — mature) in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

Join me as we pray: And now Father, as my words are true to your Word may they be taken to heart. But as my words should stray from your Word may they be quickly forgotten. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Is Paul a heretic? Reverend Moon of the Unification Church says that Jesus failed in the mission that God gave him to do here on earth. He blew it. And so of course God has raised up Rev. Moon to be the new messiah. To fill in the gaps, to complete what was lacking in Jesus’ ministry. Is Paul some kind of forerunner of the Moonies? Look at his language in verse 24 where he talks about his sufferings fulfilling what was lacking in Christ’s affliction. Does Paul think that Jesus blew it on the cross? No! What Jesus did on the cross, was the once-for-all, perfect, completely sufficient sacrifice for your sin and mine and our eternal salvation. There’s nothing we can add to that. There’s nothing we can take away from that. It’s fully sufficient.

But what Paul is saying here is that even though Christ’s death on the cross and his bodily resurrection has purchased our salvation, the suffering of Christ here on earth is not over yet. The body of Christ – the Church – of which Paul, and you and I, are a part, continues to suffer. Paul is saying here that there is a certain amount of martyrdom, a certain amount of suffering that must take place between Calvary and the Second Coming. And Paul knows that he’s a part of that suffering. He’s sitting in a Roman jail cell. But ironically Paul says – strangely Paul says, that he rejoices in this suffering. What is he, some kind of sadomasochist? No. Paul rejoices in his suffering because he knows. He knows that his suffering for Jesus Christ, and your suffering and my suffering, when it’s out of standing for Christ, is not meaningless. In some way beyond our human comprehension, in the mystery of God’s grace it is tied into the very suffering and passion of Jesus Christ upon the cross. And so Paul is able to say “I rejoice in having this privilege of suffering in the name of Christ” and he’s not alone. Listen to these words, first from a Roman Catholic priest, Father Kentinitch, who was imprisoned in Dachau for four years during World War II. He writes:

“Dachau was not hell for us. But heaven. How often we said that to each other then. For what is heaven but the deep fellowship of love with a Triune God and those who love him.”

Then listen to these words from Richard Wurbrand, Lutheran pastor, 14 years tortured in a communist prison camp in his native Romania:

“Alone in my cell, cold, hungry, and in rags I danced for joy every night.”

These guys are nuts! This is revolting what they have written here – isn’t it? Unless, unless you’re a disciple of Jesus Christ. Then you know, don’t you, what they are talking about.

In verses 25-27 of our text, Paul says that he is a servant of the body of Christ, and that involves suffering. He’s been commissioned by God and through Paul’s preaching and through his suffering, God is doing nothing less than revealing to the Gentiles there in Colossi the mystery of the gospel of grace. The mystery. A mystery that no human ingenuity or profundity could dream up or figure out on its own. It’s a mystery that’s finally revealed. It’s been hidden for ages, Paul says.

And what’s the mystery? He gives it to us there in verse 27: Christ in you, the hope of glory. What Paul is doing there in verse 27 is really giving you and me a definition of discipleship. It’s having Christ within you. Are you a disciple? Have you invited Christ into your heart? Have you allowed him to come into your life and take center stage? Have you offered yourself to be a temple of the Holy Spirit, where Christ promises to come in and take up residence? Note that Paul does not say “Christ the hope of glory,” but “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” You’re not a disciple unless Christ is in you.

Are you a disciple? I’m not asking you if you’re a church member. You can join a church and not have Christ within you. I’m not asking you if you attend worship and throw money in the offering plate. You can do those things and not have Christ within you. I’m not asking you if you’re an elder or if you have Rev. in front of your name. You can be either of those things and not have Christ in you. Are you a disciple? Have you invited him in? If you haven’t, then you have no hope of glory. If you haven’t, then you’re not a disciple. If you haven’t, then, well, your suffering is pretty much meaningless.

Paul goes on in verse 28 of our text to tell the Colossians – and you and me – what his primary goal in all of his preaching and teaching is. It is a goal that goes far beyond the great commission of just making disciples. Paul in verse 28 says his goal is to present everyone there in Colossi perfect or mature in Christ. He’s about the business, not just of making disciples, but of making mature disciples. And there is a difference.

What’s a mature disciple look like? We’re interested in that here at Central. Have you ever seen people walking around with that “WWJD?” jewelry on, wristbands and everything. That has its origin in Charles Sheldon’s classic Christian novel In His Steps. That’s about a somewhat complacent congregation of Christians who are goaded into taking discipleship seriously by, of all people, a tramp. And the tramp dies and the congregation is so moved, moved to the point of actually committing themselves to ordering their lives around that question: What would Jesus do? And they find that that’s not an easy task. And it isn’t. But they continue to struggle and through their suffering, through their struggle, they make an awesome impact on the world around them.

What is a disciple? It’s someone who asks that question: What would Jesus do? But a mature, ministering disciple asks a deeper question. And it is this: What would Jesus do through me, since he is living inside of me? One answer to that question is you get a John Harper. John Harper was a man tremendously committed to Christ. The word disciple is a high-commitment word. Discipline comes from the same root. It implies an intentionality about learning and following and surrendering and obeying and ordering one’s life around the reality that Jesus Christ is at the center of your being. It implies a passion for Jesus Christ and for the Word of God and for worship and prayer and for the lost and in discovering and then living out your gifts in ministry. Those ministries that God is calling you to. Paul’s goal for that church back in Colossi is to produce a church of mature, ministering disciples. People mature in Christ. What he wants when Christ returns is for Jesus to find a church full of high-commitment folks. That’s why we are committed in one of our goals, to being a high-commitment church. To present you mature in Christ. Central Pres. is a high-commitment church. We’re interested in producing mature, ministering disciples. Not tag alongs, not observers, not attenders, not pew potatoes. If you’re looking for a congregation where you can be comfortable, just sort of blending in, being invisible, playing at church, dabbling in religion, keeping Jesus at arm’s length, we want you here. But we’re going to love you too much to leave you there. Because God loves you too much to leave you there. We want to produce mature, ministering disciples.

In reality we’re not a church looking to add more members. Why? Because God’s not interested in members. God’s interested in mature, ministering disciples. That’s what we’re about here at Central church. And so we’re a high-commitment church. God calls Christians to high-commitment, not to dabble in the faith. Christ, we believe here at Central, is calling us to focus on producing mature, ministering disciples.

And your Session, the elders, have flagged four ways that we’re going to concentrate on doing that. And one of those ways is through small groups. There’s no other way – especially in a church as large as Central – no better way to move toward maturity in your faith and to discover what your ministry is than to be involved in a small group, where you’re investing your life intimately in the lives of some other people. Where you create a safe place where you can be open and honest and wrestle with the Word of God and with your faith – both its joys and its doubts and tragedies – and where you can be undergirded with prayer. That’s why our Small Groups Task Force is committed to strengthening the small groups that are already going on and spinning off new ones. And if you’re not in a small group, I would encourage you to go by the information center and pick up one of these “Central Communities in Christ” brochures, which will tell you what small groups are all about and how you can get in one and have your life changed.

The second commitment we have made to producing mature, ministering disciples is in our Sunday School. Did you know that every one of our Sunday School classes is designed toward three particular ends? The first one is it’s designed toward knowledge. We want you to be equipped with knowledge. Not esoteric knowledge so that you can go out and tell your friends about all the flowers in the Old Testament. The essential stuff. The basics, so that you can come out of this place knowing what you believe and why you believe it. Secondly, all of our Sunday School classes are oriented toward building community. That’s why we’ve redesigned our whole Adult Christian Ed. thing, instead of having all these electives that dump the apple cart over every seven weeks. And now we have long-term, ongoing classes. The boomers, the busters, and all the other ones. So you can get together long-term with a number of people and really get to know them and encourage each other in fellowship to grow in maturity. And thirdly, every one of our Sunday School classes is oriented toward application. Where you take what you know and you put it into operation in your life seven days a week. What would Jesus do?

The third way we’re committed to producing mature, ministering disciples is through being intentional about mentoring and discipling people. Twelve youth stood up here just a little while ago, making their professions of faith. They haven’t finished the Christian walk. They’re just beginning it. They’re not totally discipled. Who’s going to disciple them? Chris Ritchie – that’s why we hired him as youth minister (laughs). Chris is going to do some of that. What would it mean if 12 adults went to Chris and said “I’ll take one of those youth. For three months I’ll meet with them one day a week, for an hour, and together we’ll read a Christian classic, maybe Sheldon’s In His Steps, and just talk about it.” What do you think would happen to that youth as they got to know one of you, a mature Christian, as they began to see Christ in you? The hope of glory. What would that mean? It would mean a whole heck of a lot, wouldn’t it? Lives changed for Jesus Christ. That hope of glory would come alive in them.

The fourth way we’re committed to growing mature, ministering disciples is to help people discover their spiritual gifts and then put those gifts into action in ministry. That’s why our Moving Toward Christ class has an element in it where we help you discover your spiritual gifts. And expose you to some ministries. If you’ve been a member of Central Church for 10 years, but you don’t know what your spiritual gift is, you’re out on the battlefield unarmed. I hope I’ll see you this afternoon in the Moving Toward Christ class. That class will transform your life. We’re committed to growing mature, ministering disciples.

And on the spectrum of discipleship you’ve got John Harper over here and you’ve to Patty Pew Potato over here. And my life and yours probably falls somewhere in between. But you know what? It doesn’t make any difference in one sense, where you are on that spectrum. That’s not important. What’s important is which direction you and I are headed in. Are you and I willing to be intentional about saying “Yes God, I know you want me to move past where I am and to step out and grow toward maturity.” Are you and I willing to be intentional about saying “Yes God, I know that you’ve got a ministry for me out there that no one else can do like you have designed me to do it and I’m willing to step forward and find that ministry.”

A good place to make that kind of decision is here at this table this morning. To come forward and not only recognize the presence of Christ, the real presence of Christ here in our midst, but even on top of that to recognize the real presence of Christ in you. The hope of glory. And to grab onto verse 29 of our text, where Paul reminds us that it’s Christ’s power working in us that enables us to grow and enables us to minister in the first place. If you had been on the Titanic on April 14, 1912 would your life have made any difference? That’s not an abstract question. Because friends, you and I are on the Titanic, you and I live amidst a society today that has cut itself loose from its theological moorings. That has chopped itself off from its moral anchor. That is adrift, that is taking on water and sinking and sinking fast. That’s why this congregation’s committed to equipping you to make a difference in the lives of people now and into eternity.

Join me as we pray:
Heavenly Father, what a gracious loving God you are. That you have disclosed to us the mystery that has been hidden for the ages. Christ in us. The hope of glory. That you would take up residence in our lives Lord, baffles us, amazes us, humbles us. O Lord, if there’s anyone here this morning that’s never taken you up on your invitation to come in and dwell within their hearts, may they do so this morning. And may all of us, Lord, move forward with a humble boldness to grow in maturity and minister as ambassadors for Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.