Growing Toward Maturity in Christ

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:24-29, ESV)

Leading a Bible study is sometimes an energizing experience for me, while other times it can be a bit draining. Often, I don’t realize how much it has taken out of me until the study group session is over. Additionally, preparing to lead a study group takes time, prayer, and a lot of hard work. Sometimes, when I’m feeling a bit discouraged, I find myself asking “Why do I put myself through this experience over and over again?”

Paul’s teaching was not just physically draining; it sometimes resulted in real suffering. He faced persecution, beatings, stonings, imprisonment—all taking their toll on him—yet he rejoiced in suffering for the sake of the church, the body of Christ. Here was a man who at one time had persecuted the church, causing it much suffering, but God in His grace forgave him, making Paul a minister of the church, an apostle to the Gentiles. He had experienced God’s grace personally, and was amazed at how that same grace reached into the lives of Gentile believers, uniting them with Christ. He rejoiced in his sufferings for their sake, seeing even more of the glory of God in His saving grace toward them.

Paul’s motivation for his teaching ministry centered around the Christ’s greatness and His indwelling work within believers. He proclaimed the gospel of Christ, which carries a combination of bad news about God’s judgment on sin (“warning everyone”), and good news (“teaching everyone with all wisdom”), that God can use to transform them through their union with Christ (“Christ in you, the hope of glory”). It is this confidence in the power of the gospel to bring about reconciliation with God and transformation into Christ’s image that drives Paul.

Part of why Paul wrote this letter to the church in Colossae was to warn them of the danger of false teachers, people who would make spiritual growth and maturity something exclusive that only a few people could ever hope to attain. Paul knew better, understanding that with “Christ in us,” everyone can grow in maturity – into Christ’s likeness as God works within us. “Christ in you, the hope of glory” is the grounding of hope we all have for growth. It is God’s work in us, through the Holy Spirit, that gives us hope of transformation, of being mature in Christ. Paul teaches because he wants to help present everyone, not just some “elite disciples,” mature in Christ. He knows this is possible because of God’s gracious and powerful work within himself, and in all who come to faith in Christ, Jew and Gentile. He desires this fruit of maturity in Christ so strongly, that he is willing to “toil” (think hard, ongoing, unrelenting labor) with all the energy God gives him as He powerfully works within Paul. I have much to learn here from Paul. I suspect that much of the time, I’m “toiling” with all the energy I can muster up myself, rather than drawing on the energy God desires to give me.

Why do you teach? Do you recognize the work God is doing in the lives of those you teach, and is your hope grounded in His power to bring about greater maturity in Christ? The power for transformation is Christ in them. If you have been focusing on lesser goals, ask God to help you regain His vision for what He wants to do through you.

What energizes you as you teach? Do you draw on God’s strength through the Holy Spirit to help you through the hard work of preparing and teaching? Do you sense His presence and strength sustaining you as you “toil?” If you have been trying to do everything in your own strength, ask God to be your strength for all He calls you to do, including your teaching. He can and will sustain you.

Father, thank you for taking someone like Paul, a persecutor of your church, and using him to spread the good news of the gospel of Christ, and to teach to help others grow in maturity in Christ. Thank you for sustaining him through all he suffered for the sake of your gospel. I pray that you would help me pursue these same goals in my teaching, and that you would be my strength, renewing me as the challenges of teaching wear me down. Be my source of comfort, strength, and insight as I seek to help others respond to your transforming work within them. Amen.

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