Friday, December 5, 2008

Gospel Community in the Church

Reading: Colossians 3   

What picture does the New Testament paint of life in the community of God's people? I don't think we can overstate the value of Colossians 3 in forming in our churches the kind of community Christ has called us to. One of the keys sources of the life this chapter describes is described as:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
Here is the picture: the people of God instructing and admonishing one another with all wisdom and doing so in the context of lives filled with worship and gratitude.
This is really a glorious picture. This is body life. This is body ministry. Not absent of leadership as is sadly often what is falsely taught as body ministry, but growing from the example of servant leadership. This is community life. This is “accountability”. But how do we arrive at it? It is certainly not automatic. This is intended to produce the kind of life described in Colossians 3:5-14.
This happens when the word of Christ is dwelling in us richly. That being the case, it is important that we understand what this means. What does it mean for the word of Christ to dwell in us richly?
First, what is meant by the word of Christ? For years I have just assumed what appeared to be the obvious meaning without thinking about it. However, there are two possible meanings to that phrase: 1) the word of Christ as in the words which He taught; and 2) the word about Christ, or the word which extols the person of Christ. The first meaning would be saying, “Let the words of Jesus, the words which He taught dwell in you richly.” And certainly this would be good, and would be included in the second meaning. However, if the second meaning is intended, the first is not as instructive to us in how to reach the glorious goal described in the text.
The second meaning would be saying, “Let the word about Jesus, the accounts of His person, the Story of His Life, including what He taught, and accomplishment dwell in you richly.” This one is centered on the person of Christ, not merely the instruction or information He brings. So the big question is, “Which one did Paul intend?”
I believe we find the intended meaning by first looking at an earlier verse in Colossians that corresponds to this one.
27To them [the saints] God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. (Colossians 1:27-29)
I emphasized the particular phrases which show correspondence to Colossians 3:16. Paul describes the hope of glory, the goal of the Gospel as Christ being formed in His people, as Christ living in and through His people. That is a glorious goal: the church functionally living as the body of Christ. This is magnificent. And how did Paul spend his time and energy laboring toward that goal? He proclaimed the person of Jesus Christ, and through that message he was admonishing and teaching with all wisdom.
So when Paul tells the church, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom,” Paul is instructing us to do the same: Let that proclamation about Christ, the Person, dwell in you richly. Contemplate Him, think about Him, dwell on Him. Read of His life, dwell on His miracles, talk amongst yourselves about the Person Jesus Christ and His humbling self-sacrifice in the Gospel, bearing our humanity, His perfect life lived vicariously for us, His bearing our sin, bearing our punishment, and, as you are doing so, with this, teach and instruct one another in how to live. Warn one another, counsel one another. And from this will grow a community life of worship and thanksgiving. It is helpful to remember that when the apostles preached the Gospel, they were essentially preaching what we have as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—the accounts of Christ. And through the Person of Christ they were proclaiming the work of redemption.
What is dwelling in us richly? Is it a consuming passion for the Person Jesus Christ? What is the first thing to occupy your conversations? What is the first thing to occupy your free time? Are you talking about Jesus Christ? When you are your instructions and encouragements one to another will be filled with wisdom!
Let's grow together in our passion for the Savior, only then we will grow together in our experience of the community life which God intended for us.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

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