This semester, the Ministry Formation Seminar is exploring the theme of disciple-making. As part of that seminar, teams of students are preparing and delivering sermons on the theme of discipleship from Colossians. Altogether, there will be eight sermons on aspects of discipleship based on the Fruitfulness on the Frontline sermon outlines. The sermons are entirely the work of the students in the ministry course at Union College. The first sermon seeks to present the big picture of our relationship to Christ as being foundational for our Christian discipleship. You can read the full text below the fold.
In 1990 a picture was taken of our solar system from 3.7 billion miles away. In it, earth is barely visible. The photo, renowned for its ability to communicate the sheer vastness of space and the smallness of earth, prompted the philosopher, author and astronomer Carl Sagan to say this:
“…Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. …every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
Jesus is responsible for creating all of what Mr. Sagan lists.
As we begin a new series on discipleship, it is amazing that we are discipled by the very same person, the one responsible for creating all things. He is the creator and sustainer of the universe and he is all we need. We are called to follow him and to be his disciple.
As we look at the passage in Colossians 1 we will see that being a disciple is about being ‘in Christ’, and that Jesus is the Creator of all, and the Sustainer of all. This tells us that we don’t need anything else to grow in Christian maturity except him. False religion would have us believe that Christ couldn’t possibly be all we need to both come to God and grow in God, but here Paul dispels that idea. He says that Christ is all we need.
When those who are disciples make disciples, the gospel spreads, and this is exactly how the church in Colossae had come into being. Paul previously spent three years in Ephesus during his third missionary journey, and while there he discipled Epaphras. And Epaphras then went on to plant the church in Colossae.
It would appear from some churches’ websites that they think they are the best churches in the world. We portray ourselves in the best possible light. We are selective about the truth. Whereas, when Epaphras returned to Paul with news of how the young church in Colossae was doing, he was honest. There were positives and negatives, just like there are in our congregations. Paul writes to address a dangerous teaching that had infiltrated the church, and was threatening to destroy them. He also writes to encourage the church to grow towards true Christian maturity.
It is in this context of a disciple-making ministry that we have a letter that emphasizes the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ. It is a rebuttal of the false teaching that was being peddled in the ancient world. Christ is supreme and sufficient, and he is all we need for salvation and the Christian life. Is it possible that many of our churches are guilty of relying on programmes and activities as the means of discipleship, instead of growing close to a Saviour who is supreme and sufficient?
In this passage Paul makes it clear that, first and foremost disciples are ‘in Christ’
The letter is addressed to ‘the saints’ reminding us that both the process and goal of discipleship is that we are being made holy – we are set apart by God. God is calling us to live as we were intended to be – His people. In discipleship we become progressively more and more like him, and naturally we benefit from this! But actually our discipleship, our becoming ‘holier’ is not for our benefit and glory, but for God’s glory. Whatever God is doing through us in changing us and transforming us, in calling us to be holy, it is so that others might be attracted to Him, not to us. This is our chief end, to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
Paul addresses the believers as brothers and sisters, emphasizing to them that they are part of the wider family of believers who are in Christ. Their status, their identity should not come from where they are, but should come from being in Christ. This is a crucial theme in the letter. Discipleship cannot be done in isolation. It involves us being part of God’s family through Christ. Paul knows they have been faithful, and that’s why he encourages them and thanks God for them. To be identified as a brother or sister is strong language from Paul. We can’t be any closer to one another than being called family. Family is where some of our greatest hurts occur, but it’s also the strongest bond that can exist. Do we really recognise each other as brothers and sisters? Are we sharing our lives with those in our church on this basis? Are we sharing meals with each other, giving up our time for one another, meeting each other’s needs? Are we praying for each other?
Discipleship, therefore, means: being holy, being in a family relationship, and being in Christ. All of these are significant for our understanding of discipleship.
And if we are ‘in Christ’ then, as 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, we are: “a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” Being in Christ is the primary identity for any disciple. If we are living in Christ we are moving towards what He has enabled us to be, which is a new creation freed from the old life and enabled to live for God. As Calvin said: “By imitating Christ we are drawn into a union with him, a union ‘which is a ‘sacred marriage by which we become bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh.’” Is this how you define yourself? Is this where your identity lies? Do you see yourself being in Christ, and growing into Him more each day?
My school reports regularly had comments like, “If Alan only had applied himself ….” But discipleship is not just about applying ourselves or trying harder to live better lives. Rather God has given us the gifts we need to become more like Christ: grace and peace.
Even in the opening verses of the letter, Paul has outlined some of the key elements of our discipleship. After encouraging them and thanking God for them, Paul now goes into greater detail on the person and work of Christ. Such a beautiful and moving description of Christ follows. In showing us who Christ is he tells us why we can trust Christ – and Christ alone – in our discipleship:
1) Christ Creates All things
Here Paul is aiming to correct and refute false teaching by affirming both the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ in all things. He is arguing that Christ is the Creator and Sustainer of All things. These are massive claims about Jesus. Notice how often the word ‘all’ occurs. Jesus is not just Lord of bits and pieces, Jesus is Lord of all. Paul doesn’t try to fit Jesus into our culture or keep Him within human boundaries, rather – Jesus is Lord of all!
If we try to limit Jesus from being Lord of all then we will struggle with discipleship. In Colossae there were people who denied this truth. As a result they wandered away from following Christ. If we are to be disciples, then our discipleship has, first and foremost, to do with Jesus. He must be our focus, our goal, for in Him we see the invisible God.
We read in verse 16 that ‘by Him all things were created’. It packs an incredible punch. Jesus is the one through whom God the Father carried out the work of Creation. Jesus created not just some things, but all things; everything was made through Him. Look again at verse16: ‘For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth… …all things were created through him…” Jesus made all things. As wonderful as the earth is, we’re just like a speck of dust floating in an unimaginably huge universe – and it’s a universe that Jesus made!!! Jesus, whom we know and worship, made it all. And He made it all out of nothing, such is His power.
If we’re honest with ourselves we limit Jesus, his power and his authority, because it means we can ignore him when we want to. We worship and obey Him on our terms. He is Lord over all creation – and as such is worthy of all of our worship, obedience, honour and respect.
There’s more! If we look again at verse16 we see that Jesus didn’t just make the physical universe that we can see and touch – he also made all the things that we can’t see.
‘For by Him all things were created, in heaven, on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him..’
The terms ‘thrones…dominions…rulers…authorities…’ can be understood in their Jewish context as four types of angelic power in the invisible, supernatural spirit world. The false teachers seem to have been obsessed with angels and demons. Encouraging Christians to look to spiritual powers to give them help, seeking some higher knowledge of God.
Paul says this is rubbish! Why look to the creation rather than the creator? And we all know people who turn to ‘spiritual’ type things, add-ons like horoscopes, mysticism, guardian angels, crystals, and lucky charms. But before we get distracted, let’s ask, Do we look to anything to add to Jesus? Are we in danger of thinking that it’s “Jesus plus…our good deeds;” or maybe it’s “Jesus plus … what I give to the Church or charity; or maybe it’s “Jesus plus … being respectable;” maybe it’s “Jesus plus … a middle class lifestyle.” If we strive for anything else as much as Jesus, then we are in danger of adding something to Him. But we don’t need to, for we have the Lord of all creation on our side. We can depend on Him fully. Jesus is sufficient for all our needs. We can be confident in Christ!
Who is Jesus? He’s the one who made all things. But that’s only the beginning of what Paul has to tell us! Who is Jesus? Next we see that He is the ‘Sustainer of All’
2) Christ Sustains All things
There are many people in our churches, without whom the place would fall apart. By their work and activity they just seem to hold everything together. However this is literally true of Jesus. We read in verse 17 that ‘in Him all things hold together.’ Without him continuously acting the world would fall apart!
Jesus is daily, hourly, minute by minute, second by second, sustaining the world. Without Him, literally, the world would fall apart. Christ sustains the existence of all of creation. It owes its existence and its continuation to Jesus. We’re here because He made us; we’re still here because He keeps us!
Discipleship is more than calling Him Lord of all; it is how we live. To say that Jesus is Lord of all, and to mean it, is to live in dependence upon the Sustainer. This world was made for, and by, Jesus, and is held together by Him. But how does our discipleship reflect this? Take prayer for instance: can we honestly say our prayer life reflects an utter dependence on Jesus, for everything. Or do we only turn to Him in a crisis?
Who is Jesus? He’s the one who made all things, He’s the one who sustains all things….next we read that he is…
3) Christ is the Reason for All things
One of the most striking phrases in this whole passage is ‘all things were created through Him and for Him.’ Jesus is the reason why everything was created. He is the Goal of creation. All of this – the entire world was created for Jesus!
It’s mind-blowing! One commentator puts it like this: “Jesus is the starting point of the universe and its end purpose. Everything in creation that has been or ever will be made has been made for him.” Discipleship means to live in dependence on the sustainer of the whole universe. We have received the gift of life for his Glory.
There is both challenge and comfort here – in Jesus we have all we need. In Him is all power and authority. He is in control of all things. This is truly Good News for those who aren’t yet disciples. Not only is Jesus the creator and sustainer of the universe, but He cares about us. When we come before Him in prayer – He is both willing and able to grant us whatever is best for us. If He can make and sustain the entire universe, then He is more than capable of looking after you and me. He is infinitely big enough to take care of even the greatest of our problems.
Jesus is the creator; everything was created by Him, through Him and for Him. That means that discipleship is living the way Jesus meant us to live – discipleship is to live life as it was designed to be by the creator.
Jesus is the first-born over all creation; Jesus is the one who rules over all of His creation. That means that discipleship is to live under the rule of King Jesus – but He’s not just any King, not some despot or tyrant. Discipleship is to live under the loving rule of the perfect King, our elder brother, the One who made it possible for us to be brothers and sisters in His family.
Jesus sustains all created things; his power and authority keep the universe working and hold it together. That means that discipleship is living in the power and grace that He offers to enable us to live as He wants us to.
Jesus is the image of the invisible God. That means that discipleship should be modelled on Him; if we want to see what God is like and how to be holy, then Jesus is the One we look to.
Jesus is the image of God that Adam failed to be. Jesus is the image of God that you and I fail to be. Jesus became the perfect image of God, so that you and I, in Him, could be perfect and accepted by God.
Discipleship is… to live in Christ, to follow Christ, to emulate Christ, to live under the rule of Christ, to live in the power of Christ, to become like Christ. Christian discipleship is to live like a true child of the living God.
Carl Sagan sought purpose and reason in the activities of humanity, and it led him to cherish earth because it was all we have. But you and I know there is much more to cherish than the created world. We know that the One who made it all, the One who rules over it all. We know that He has also made it possible for you and me to become children of the living God, and for us to be restored to the image of God. That process is called discipleship, and that process will be our focus over the coming weeks.