Living the Great Commission
Passage: Colossians 1:24-29
I’m sure all of us have at some point been responsible to carry something of great value or something that is very fragile. Maybe your wife has spent a long time decorating a beautiful cake, and you have the job to carry it from the car to the party. She looks you in the eye, and sternly reminds you, “Don’t drop it,” and so you take every step with great care.
Or maybe you are responsible to drive a van full of young kids to camp, and when you glance in the rearview mirror, you are sobered by the tremendous responsibility you have been given. As a result, you are extra alert to the other drivers on the road, and you are a much more defensive, less aggressive driver than normal.
We could give many other similar examples. We’ve all felt the weight of being responsible for an important job and carefully working to fulfill it. Three weeks ago, we began studying Colossians 1:24–29, where Paul describes his efforts to fulfill a very weighty and important task. The heart of this paragraph is the two verses right in the middle. God entrusted Paul with the revelation of a mystery, but this was no ordinary mystery. Verse 27 says Paul’s job was to “make known…”
And so vv. 26–27 are the heart of the paragraph; therefore, we spent most of our time 3 weeks ago working through all that they say about the content of Paul’s message. Maybe you recall that we said that the other four verses of this paragraph frame vv. 26–27 with a chiastic structure (slide). Verses 25, 28 describe Paul’s responsibility to preach the gospel God had given him (“fulfill the word of God,” “Him we preach”), and vv. 24, 29 describe Paul’s sacrifice for the sake of the gospel (“rejoice in my sufferings,” “I also labor, striving…”).
But it’s worth emphasizing that while the gospel is at the center of this passage, Paul is not only concerned with evangelism. Verse 28 describes Paul’s mission to grow mature disciples when it mentions “warning” and “teaching” and also says that Paul’s goal is to “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”
Of course, that’s what Jesus commanded us to in the Great Commission (read). Therefore, I’ve entitled my sermon today, “Living the Great Commission,” because while Paul is especially concerned with his apostolic mission, he also sets a tremendous example of how all Christians must give themselves to fulfilling Jesus’ last command to the church. Every Christian is required to labor for the Great Commission.
3 weeks ago, we studied the content of the gospel in vv. 26–27, which is our message. Let’s pick up today with the next ring of the chiasm in vv. 25 and 28, which describe…
The Obligation of the Gospel (vv. 25, 28)
First, v. 25 challenges us with the fact that…
We are obligated to take the gospel to all people (v. 25).
To understand v. 25, you have to recognize that Paul is especially talking about his God-given role to begin the spread of the gospel among the Gentile nations.
In particular vv. 26–27 state what Paul was responsible to declare that God has made salvation through Christ equally available to Jews and Gentiles. And in v. 25, Paul calls this message his “stewardship from God which was given to me for you,” speaking of the Gentile Colossians and all other Gentiles.
And then Paul ends v. 25 by expanding on this stewardship. God commissioned Paul “to fulfill the word of God.” You are probably wondering what in the world that means. We have to understand this phrase in light of another text where Paul more fully describes the Gentile mission God gave him (Rom 15:15–21).
In v. 16, Paul says that God had made Paul a special “minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.” Again, in v. 18 he says his task was to “make the Gentiles obedient.” And then notice in vv. 19–20 the geographical aspect of his mission. Paul can say at the close of his third missionary journey that he has “fully preached the gospel of Christ” “from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum” (map). Illyricum is a region west and north of Macedonia, some 1400 miles from Jerusalem. It’s a massive region.
Of course, Paul cannot mean that he had shared the gospel with every person in this area. Rather, he was satisfied that he had established churches throughout this entire region that would serve as gospel lights. And Paul goes on in v. 24 to say that next he planned to take the gospel to Rome and then to Spain. Paul clearly felt an obligation to establish gospel lights as far into the Gentile world as he possibly could.
And we should understand v. 25 of our text in this light. Fulfilling the word of God for Paul meant establishing new gospel lights throughout the Gentile world. Of course none of us have an apostolic mission, but the NT is very clear that all Christians have been commanded to participate in the global spread of the gospel. Life Point has a “stewardship from God” “to fulfill the word of God.” As a disciple of Christ, you have the same stewardship.
We must park here because many times we don’t take this responsibility as seriously as we should. A lot of American churches are just focused on getting as big as possible. And Christians view the church only as a goods and services organization that is all about serving me. The fact that Jesus obligates us to work together for the GC is just not a priority.
As a result, missions and evangelism are not that important to many Christians. They rarely share the gospel, and the Great Commission has little effect on their pocket books. Folks, we have to see that evangelism, disciple making, and church planting aren’t just a nice little badge of honor for when we have time and extra resources.
They must be a priority for our church and for you. How are you involved in the Great Commission? Are evangelism and discipleship priorities in your life? Are you actively participating in global missions by praying for our missionaries and giving to missions? Folks, we must appreciate the weighty obligation Jesus gave us to make disciples of all nations.
And then v. 28 describes in greater detail what this looks like.
We must call all people to believe and be transformed (v. 28).
This is a great preacher verse because it tells us how we preach and why we preach both when we evangelize the lost and disciple believers.
Regarding the how. First it tells us that…
We preach Christ.
Paul says “Him we preach,” which is Christ based on v. 27. Folks, when we go out to make disciples, we aren’t just calling people to a moral reformation. We aren’t just offering a psychological crutch to get through life. We preach Christ, who died for sin and rose again in victory. And he offers powerful grace that transforms life. Jesus is the heart of the gospel. Second…
We warn every man.
Folks, a preacher or even a friend who only tells you what you want to hear is not doing his job. If you leave out the bad news of the gospel that man is a sinner under God’s judgment, you no longer have the gospel. And if a preacher does not warn Christians about the danger of sin and confront our wickedness, he isn’t telling people what they need to hear.
If we really love people, we must be honest with them. We must tell our unbelieving friends and neighbors that they are sinners who desperately need a Savior. And we must have the courage to warn each other about the deceitfulness of sin and the consequences it brings. Do you love people like that, or do you hide the sharp edge of God’s truth because you fear the conflict it may bring? Third…
We teach every man.
I believe it is fair to say that more than any other religion, true Bible Christianity is a teaching religion. We don’t just call people to feel something. And unlike most religions, our primary motive isn’t fear or social pressure. Rather, Christian discipleship is based on renewing the mind as we learn who God is, what he has done for us through Christ, and how we are to live holy and wise lives in a fallen world.
Therefore, the Christian who says, “I don’t want to think; I just want to feel something or do something” is in the wrong place. Look at how big your Bible is and think about how complex it is. God didn’t write Christianity for Dummies. No, he gave us a big book full of complex ideas because we serve an infinite God and living for him in a complex world takes real discernment.
Therefore, if you want to be a disciple of Christ, you must be hungry to learn. You must work hard to understand what God has said, and you must come to church ready to be stretched and ready to think.
And if you want to make disciples, then you have to be a teacher. Work hard to teach your kids what God has said. Speak truth into each other’s lives. And look for people around you whose faith is immature and help them grow to know God, to know what he has said, and to live holy lives.
And so living the Great Commission means that we must preach Christ, “warning every man and teaching every man.”
And then v. 28 concludes by telling us why we do this.
Verse 22b clarifies what Paul means by this phrase. Both verses are ultimately looking forward to eternity. In v. 28 Paul pictures himself standing before God and presenting him with a fully mature disciple who is fully conformed to the image of Christ. He thinks like Christ, he walks like Christ, and his affections are like Christ.
And it’s worth emphasizing that within Paul’s theology, he is clearly assuming that this presentation of a fully mature disciple is very much tied to the discipleship process in this life. This is because Paul consistently teaches that our coming glorification is simply a completion of what we are working to become right now. We grow in holiness throughout life in hopes that someday Jesus will finish the process.
Therefore, Paul is clear in keeping with the GC that his mission and our mission are not done when someone accepts the gospel. Folks, we aren’t just in the business of keeping people out of hell. We are in the business of manifesting the glory of God to the world through mature disciples of Christ. Therefore, discipleship is at the center of our mission.
And notice that we aren’t just looking to make disciples of a few. Notice that 3 times in v. 28 Paul repeats the word “everyman.” Very likely, Paul emphasizes this point because the false teachers at Colossae taught a gospel of elitism where some Christians were superior to others and the rest were left in the dust.
But that should never happen in the church. Our goal is to see every believer grow into full maturity, where they reflect the character of our Savior and glorify him with their lives.
Folks, that means first of all that if you are a Christian, you are disobeying the will of God if you are content to dwell in immaturity. In fact, the NT teaches that if you are not interested in growing, you should question whether or not you are really saved. I really don’t know how someone could truly taste of the goodness of the Lord and be content on a diet of spiritual milk for the rest of his life. Every Christian ought to be striving to become a mature disciple.
And then we should also be working hard to make mature disciples of “everyman,” as Paul says. And I especially want to emphasize that disciple making is the responsibility of every Christian, not just a few. If you are a Christian, God gave you the GC. And Ephesians 4 says that my job is not to disciple every one but to equip you to do the ministry.
Therefore, what are you doing to make disciples? How are you investing in others to help them move toward maturity? When you sit in this room on Sundays, do you ever look around and think, “Who in this room could I help to grow in Christ?” Maybe you think, “I’m not equipped to help anyone.” And you may not be ready to take someone through a theology course, but if that’s true, then you ought to want to get there. But until then there are still multitudes of ways you can be a disciple maker. Just build relationships, share what God had done and is doing in your life. Maybe read the Bible and pray together. You can do it. And you must do it. God has commanded all of us to participate in the disciple making process.
And so in sum, vv. 25 and 28 teach that we have an obligation in the gospel to make disciples here and throughout the world. God has given us a wonderful treasure in the gospel, and we must be faithful to spread it as far and wide as possible.
And notice finally in vv. 24 and 29…
The Cost of the Gospel (vv. 24, 29)
First, we see in v. 24 that…
We must joyfully participate in Christ’s suffering (v. 24).
Paul makes the incredible statement here that he “rejoice(d)” in his “sufferings for you.” Of course, Paul is talking here about all of the sacrifice he made for the advance of the gospel. Paul is writing from prison, and we know from other places in the NT that Paul suffered immensely for the spread of the gospel (2 Cor 11:23–28). Paul knew what it was to suffer. The spread of the gospel cost Paul everything.
And yet Paul can say that he rejoiced in his sufferings. That’s truly incredible isn’t it? I don’t typically get excited about suffering. Now, I do think it’s important that we not picture Paul as living on some drunken high. He carried a lot of sorrow, and those beatings really hurt. Rather, the joy he describes is a settled thankfulness even in the midst pain for the wonderful privilege of participating in God’s work.
Specifically, Paul goes on to say his joy was tied to the fact that he had the opportunity to “fill up…” This statement ought to make you raise an eyebrow. How can Paul say that something is “lacking in the afflictions of Christ”? But unless Paul was schizophrenic, we know that he could not be saying that the atonement Jesus provided on the cross was somehow lacking.
This is because Paul repeatedly speaks of Christ as fully sufficient for salvation and for Christian living. Just notice for example 2:9–10. It’s also worth noting that Paul never uses this Greek word for suffering (thlipsis) for Christ’s atoning death.
Therefore, we ought to understand this statement as instead describing the suffering that is necessary for the fulfillment of the Great Commission in this age. Jesus warned us that being his disciples would bring the hatred of the world, and the apostles all understood that persecution was part of the gig. There are even indications in the NT that God has a predetermined amount of suffering that must take place in this age (Rev 6:11).
Therefore, Paul is saying that he rejoiced in the opportunity absorb a significant portion of this load of suffering so that he could serve “His body, which is the church.” Notice that Paul makes a similar statement in Philippians 2:17–18.
What a challenging testimony for Paul to give. Consider the fact that Paul wrote both Philippians and Colossians from a Roman prison as an older man. So often in our culture, people dream of using their last years to kick back and take it easy. I’ve heard older people say things like, “I’ve put in my time, and I’m not doing anymore ministry.” Of course, if they are physically incapable that’s one thing, but usually what is being said is that this is my time to live for myself. This is very different from what we see in Paul. Paul rejoiced that even as an older man, who had already given so much, he could be confined by the chains of prison for the sake of the gospel.
What about you? How much are you willing to give for the sake of the Great Commission? Is it at the center of your life goals, or is it not really a factor. For some of you as you look ahead to future decisions about your career, about where you want to live, or what hobbies you will pursue, how much does the Great Commission affect your plans? Have you seriously pondered where you could most strategically plant yourself for the sake of the gospel, or are all of your plans centered on temporal happiness?
Folks, Paul rejoiced in the opportunity to suffer for Christ’s mission, and we must also joyfully participate in Christ’s suffering.
And then notice in v. 29…
We must diligently labor in the strength Christ provides (v. 29).
Paul uses two closely related verbs to describe his effort. The verb for labor is kopiao, and it is a general term for work. The second verb comes from the athletic arena. It is the verb agonizomai, and we get our word agonize from it. Think of an athlete in the fourth quarter of the game. He’s been playing hard for a long time, and he’s tired. But there is no way he is quitting or letting up. He continues to compete hard to win the prize.
This is how Paul approached his ministry. He was all in with everything he had. Again, what a testimony, especially from an older man who had already given so much for the cause of Christ. And what a challenge for us to ponder. Again, v. 27 says that God has entrusted us with a most precious treasure. He has sent us to “make known…” Does my effort at spreading the gospel match the great value of this treasure? Am I “laboring” and “striving” to make the gospel known to my community and among the nations?
We all need to reflect on what Paul is saying, and maybe we need to make some specific commitments. Who is the unbeliever in your life that you need to go after this week? Who is the immature Christian that you need to disciple? How do you need to get more involved in helping Life Point reach our city and partner in missions? Get specific, and by the grace of God commit to do what he has called you to do.
But maybe you are sitting there thinking, “there’s no way I can do any of this.” “I’m too busy,” “I’m too weak,” “I don’t have any talents or training or resources.” “I’m not sufficient.”
If you feel that way, that’s actually a good thing because you aren’t alone. Even Paul was not sufficient for the work God had given him. That’s why he ends v. 29 by saying that he didn’t labor in his own strength; rather, he labored “according to His working…” In other words, Paul was fully aware of the fact that he was ultimately dependent on the strength of God’s grace just to keep going, let alone to see souls saved and lives changed.
Do you want to consider something incredible? If you are a Christian, you have the same mighty grace of God available to you that strengthened Paul. Now Paul was an apostle, and he was uniquely gifted by God for a very unique task, so we shouldn’t expect that we will have the same kind of ministry that Paul had. But still serve the same God. And God never asks us to do something that he doesn’t give us the ability to do. God has commanded you to be an evangelist and a disciple maker; therefore, you can be assured that he will give you the strength to do what he has commanded. Therefore, just take a step of faith and do what God has called you to do. Live the Great Commission. This is our responsibility, and this is our privilege because we have the greatest treasure in all the world.
But maybe there is someone among us who has never received this good news. You don’t know that your sins are forgiven and that Jesus is your Savior. I hope you will see in v. 27 that there is great hope for you in the gospel. Jesus died for your sin on the cross, and he rose again in victory. And if you put your faith in him, God says that he will come to live inside you, and you can have the hope that one day you will inherit the riches of his glory in eternity. If you have questions about how this treasure can be yours please let us share with you the wonderful gift of the gospel.