The Privilege of Evangelism
Passage: Colossians 1:24-29
Just a few moments ago, Fred shared what God is calling them to do in the coming years. I would imagine that just about all of us rejoiced to hear their plans. We’re excited to hear how God is directing.
But from a crass, humanistic perspective their plans are nuts. Fred and Karen have already given a large chunk of their adult lives to missions. And since they came home, God has blessed Fred with a good job. They have a beautiful home, and they get to go to church with us every week. As well, they are about to become empty nesters, which in our culture means it’s time to kick back and enjoy the fruits of your hard work.
So why in the world would they decide to give up their comfortable setting, leave their children on the other side of the world, and go to a 3rd world context to do ministry? Haven’t they given God enough? I’m sure that if we pressed Fred and Karen, they would admit that going back to Africa will involve some difficult sacrifices. But I am also confident that they would say that they are going back because they want to. They have a passion to participate in the spread of the gospel in Africa.
But again the outsider would ask, “Why would you want to leave the conveniences of the U.S. to live in a third world nation surrounded by poverty, corruption, and disease?” What could be worth so much that you would be willing to make that kind of sacrifice?
This question is significant for all of us who are Christians? Why should we be so passionate about the spread of the gospel that we are willing to make whatever sacrifice God requires to see it go forward?
The answer is found in v. 27 of our text. “God has willed to…” Folks, the reason the Vintons want to go to Africa, and the reason every Christian should be passionate about evangelism is because the gospel is a treasure of infinite worth. It has transformed our lives, and God wills that we make it known to all people. And so I pray that as we study this passage we will glory in what we have been given, that we will remember the infinite treasure of the gospel, and that we will be compelled to take the gospel to all people.
But before we get into the details of the text, we need to put them in context. Last week, we looked at vv. 21–23 where Paul described the significance of Jesus’ death for us. He provided reconciliation through the gospel. And Paul concludes v. 23 by noting that God called him to be a minister of this gospel.
Paul follows in 1:24–2:5 by defending his role as God’s apostle to the Gentiles. Sometimes sections like this can come across as arrogant. We wonder why Paul talks about himself so much. And we need to understand that Paul defends his credentials because they are the basis for the authority of his message. The Colossians needed to understand that Paul was speaking for God.
And Paul is about to make a significant theological argument about the nature of the gospel in 2:6–23, and the Colossians must understand that he is giving them God’s authoritative word, not just the opinions of a man. Therefore, this section is focused on Paul’s God-given mission to take the gospel to the nations.
It’s also important to note that 1:24–29 has a chiastic structure. You are probably wondering what that is so let me explain. The Greek x is called chi, and a chiasm is a common Greek literary device where two tracts of thought mirror each other and move toward a central idea in the middle. Probably the best way to explain a chiasm is to show it to you in our text.
A: Paul’s Sacrifice (v. 24)
B: Paul’s Preaching (v. 25)
C: Paul’s Message (v. 26)
C’: Paul’s Message (v. 27)
B’: Paul’s Preaching (v. 28)
A’: Paul’s Sacrifice (v. 29)
You can see that vv. 24, 29 both deal with the sacrifices Paul made for the ministry. And vv. 25, 28 both describe Paul’s calling to preach the Word. And then at the center of the passage are vv. 26–27, which describe the message Paul preached and that he preached at great cost.
Therefore, why was Paul willing to sacrifice everything for the spread of the gospel, why are the Vintons going to Africa, and why should every Christian be passionate about the work of the evangelism? It is because we have “The mystery…”I’d like to begin our study of this passage (we aren’t going to finish it) today with these two verses, which describe…
The Content of the Gospel (vv. 26–27)
First, we learn in v. 26 that…
The gospel is new and revolutionary revelation (v. 26).
I want to be clear that the gospel is not a new way of salvation that is disconnected from the OT. Sometimes people have the idea that OT saints were saved by offering sacrifices and obeying the Law. But now through Christ we are saved by grace alone. But Paul is clear in Romans 4 that Abraham, David, and all OT saints were saved by grace through faith based on the future work of Christ on the cross.
But they lived under a very different economy than we do. In light of v. 27, Paul seems to have in mind two especially great differences. First, under the OT Law God worked exclusively through the nation of Israel. That’s not to say that Gentiles couldn’t be saved. The OT is quite clear that God wanted Israel to be a light to the nations. But for a Gentile to come to God, he had to become a Jew, get circumcised, and adopt all the stipulations of the Law.
Folks, that’s no small demand. Imagine if to become a Christian, you had to radically alter your diet, change what you wear, and travel multiple times every year to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. Essentially, you would have to embrace an entirely different culture and way of life. For example, let’s imagine that God’s temple was in China. And to know God, you didn’t just have to move to China, you had to become Chinese. You had to wear Chinese clothes, eat only Chinese food, live in a Chinese house, and embrace Chinese entertainment, etc. And you had to entirely reject American culture.
We are talking about drastic changes, and folks before Christ, that’s what God demanded of the Gentiles. And so while any Gentile was welcome to make these changes, the Law practically created a wall that shut them off from God because very few people are willing to make such drastic commitments.
A second major difference is that OT saints did not enjoy union with Christ. Now it is clear in the OT that people like David must have enjoyed some form of new spiritual life because the natural man doesn’t love God’s law or feel conviction over sin the way David did.
But at the same time, the NT is clear that they did not enjoy the indwelling Spirit like we do, nor did Christ live in their hearts and give them the power for godliness that we enjoy. And so God had given them an incredibly difficult Law to obey but very little ability to do it.
Therefore, v. 26 states that vital blessings of our faith were hidden from the OT saints. They didn’t experience them, and they didn’t even know what was coming. But v. 26 concludes by saying that “now” in this age God has given new and revolutionary revelation to the church.
In particular, v. 27 follows by saying…
The gospel offers the indwelling Christ to a diverse, new community (v. 27).
This verse says that to the church, God has made known his incredible treasure in the gospel. In particular Paul tells us three characteristics of this grand revelation. First…
The gospel crosses normal social barriers.
Paul refers to this blessing when he says that God wills for the gospel to be made known “among the Gentiles.” It’s important to note that Paul must mean more than the fact that Gentiles can be saved, because that’s not new. Plenty of Gentiles were saved in the OT, such as Ruth and Rahab.
Rather, what is new is fact that Gentiles do not need to join the Jewish community in order to access God. Instead, he has created a new community in the church where the old lines no longer exist. Ephesians 2:15 states that Christ “abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.”
Therefore, normal cultural barriers do not define the church. We are not defined by a language, race, socio-economic status, a style of dress, or political loyalties. Rather, the gospel creates its own culture that is defined by love for Christ and genuine love for each other.
And I am so thankful for the evidences of this new culture at Life Point. We’ve got people here today who are relatively well off and relatively poor. We have people who have lived relatively clean lives and others whom God has saved out of terrible sin. We have young people and old people. We have country folks and city folks. And we can all love each other and live in unity because are defined as a community by the gospel, not by temporal culture.
And what a blessing it is to know that when we share the gospel, we can tell people that the gospel can reach them where they are at. And it is able to incorporate them into a fellowship of love and acceptance right now without demanding that they become something different. This is good news!
But it is also good news, which we need to be very careful to actually embrace and live. This is because is very easy to slip into our natural, selfish comforts. Old people just want to be with old people, and young people just want to be with young people. People with a rough past want to be with others like them, and people who have a clean past want to be with other tidy people. And if someone who is poor and rough around the edges comes into the church, we are a bit embarrassed, and we hope they go somewhere else.
Those tendencies are in all of us, because no one wants to stand out, and we want to be comfortable. But if we love the gospel, we will love all people, and we will pursue all people with good news that Jesus saves.
And so let’s rejoice in the diversity we have, and by the grace of God let’s pursue more. When someone comes into our services that looks or acts a bit different, let’s go after them and let them know we want them here because we are not about outward appearances. We are about the gospel.
And so the gospel crosses normal social barriers. Second…
The gospel promises union with Christ.
When we read “in you” in context, we need to remember what Paul just said about the gospel being among Gentiles. Therefore, it’s not just that Christ lives in his people. Christ indwells Gentiles.
And folks, the fact that Christ lives inside us is an incredible blessing of living in this age. Again, God regenerated the hearts of OT saints, but they had nowhere near the divine enablement that we enjoy. God gave Israel a complex and extensive law, but because of the sinfulness of their hearts, they always struggled to obey.
But Jeremiah 31:33 promises that a day would come when the Law would not just be an external standard to obey; rather, God says, “I will put My laws in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
And God has done this for us through our union with Christ. We are going to see in Colossians 2 that we enjoy the resurrection power of Jesus and this strength enables us to obey. And so we ought to rejoice today at the incredible reality that holy God has chosen to reside in us!
But v. 27 concludes by adding an important implication of our union with Christ when Paul says that our union with Christ is “the hope of glory.” Paul’s point is that the presence of Christ in my life serves as my guarantee that I will make it to glory someday. The Bible promises us many times that God will bring all of his children to heaven. But God hasn’t just told us to trust him. He has given us Christ and the Holy Spirit to assure us that God will do what he has said. You could say that they function as a deposit that assures us that we will receive our full inheritance.
Again, what a blessing it is to know that my eternity is secure. I don’t need to fear death, and I don’t need to wonder if God is going to make all my sacrifice worth it. Rather, every time I experience the power of Christ changing me, conforming me, and holding me, it’s a reminder that God is faithful, and he will be faithful. Union with Christ is a wonderful blessing of the gospel.
And a third characteristic of this wonderful new revelation in the gospel is simply that…
The gospel is full of God’s glory.
God tells us in v. 27 that in the gospel the “riches of the glory (of God)” are revealed. Again, this is an incredible statement. Let’s suppose that you happen to meet a billionaire at a restaurant. You have a nice little conversation with him, and he decides to pay your bill. That would be a generous act on his part, but he would only be allowing you to enjoy a very small portion of his massive wealth.
But that’s not what God has done for us. Through the gospel we enjoy the riches of the infinite glory of God. We stand in Christ’s righteousness, and we have at our fingertips his resurrection power for our struggle against sin. We are blessed.
And so I opened today by asking what do we have as Christians that would motivate the Vintons and other missionaries to move across the world? What do we have that ought to motivate us to speak of Christ no matter how people respond? The answer is that we have in our hearts the most precious treasure any man has ever enjoyed. We are forgiven, we are justified, we are empowered for godliness, and we are going to heaven.
And if you have never received the good news of the gospel, won’t you receive Jesus today? Maybe you came to church today hurting and broken and searching for answers. God tells us in his Word that Christ is the answer. And so turn from your sin today and receive Christ. If you have questions, please talk with us afterwards so that we can explain the full good news of the gospel.
But if you are saved, the rest of this passage makes it clear that God did not give you this treasure simply for your own pleasure. Verses 25 and 28 are clear that our joy in the gospel must drive us to preach the gospel. Verse 25 describes the gospel as a stewardship or a responsibility, and v. 28 states that we are responsible to “preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom.”
And vv. 24 and 29 are clear that we aren’t just to preach this message when it is convenient or easy. The gospel is such a great stewardship that v. 29 says we must “labor” for its advance, and v. 24 says we must “suffer” for its advance.
We’ll get deeper into the significance of all that after Easter, but the basic task is clear. God has given us a great treasure that is worth everything, and so this week we need to go out and share it boldly. This is the Passion Week, so what better opportunity could you have to talk with people about the gospel? And next Sunday is Easter Sunday, and the following Wednesday we begin our Christianity Explored study. Invite someone to come. Let’s be good stewards this week and “make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in your, the hope of glory.”