I don't how long it took many of you to learn to drive - probably not as long as Mrs Betty Tudor from Exeter. At the last count she had clocked up 273 hours of driving lessons. In that time she has exhausted nine instructors, and has been banned from three driving schools. She has only taken the driving test seven times, but has failed them all. On the last occasion she went the wrong way round a roundabout, and the examiner was so terrified that he insisted on driving the vehicle back to the test centre himself. And some Christians grow old with their L - plates still attached. But God longs for us to mature.
His Word clearly tells us so. Romans 8:29 says that,
those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.
In other words God's eternal purpose for his people is that we should become like Jesus. The transformation process begins here and now in our character and conduct, through the work of the Holy Spirit, but will be brought to completion only when Christ comes and we see him, and our bodies become like the body of his glory (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Jn 3:2&1 Cor 15:49).
In the previous verse in Romans (Ro 8:28) Paul says,
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.
God works through the trials we face to mature us. As James 1:4 says:
Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
One of the greatest tasks of the church, of the body of Christ is to help each other mature in Christ. Ephesians 4: 11-15 tells us that,
It was Christ who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service – why? - so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
Certainly one of the greatest tasks facing the church today and one facing us as a church is that of adequately educating and training believers so that our faith may grow to maturity. Without the equipping function in place, the church runs the risk of becoming 'a mile wide and an inch deep'. As someone has written:
"Christian maturity does not happen through osmosis. People need to be taught and shown how to be Christian in thought, word and deed. One of the critical functions of the church is to provide exposure to God's Word and training in the application of the Word to daily circumstances."
While he was on earth Jesus was a living example of how to equip believers for effective ministry, by teaching and training his future leadership team. The Apostle Paul did a similar work with his fellow workers, some of whom are listed in Colossians 4: Tychicus, Aristarchus, Mark, Justus and Epaphras.
Paul was also concerned for the maturity of the church in Colossae. Colossians 1:28-29:
We proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.
We too are to make disciples not converts, as Jesus commanded in Matthew 28.
We may not all be teachers and pastors but we all have a part to play as we heard from Ephesians. We are, as Paul tells the church in Thessalonica,
to go on encouraging one another and building each other up (1 Thess. 5:11)…
praying for one another to mature as Paul does in Colossians 1& as Epaphras was doing according to Colossians 4:12.
And we have a part to play in our own maturing. We are to co-operate with God. We can so easily quench the Spirit and grieve the Spirit with laziness and a bad attitude (Eph 4:30). We need to repent and ask God to keep on filling us with his Spirit. How many of us here this evening have read the Bible in the last few days? If we're a believer and not in a Bible study group such as Focus, a Home Group or 20's & 30's, why not? We need to be reading God's Word. A reading Christian is a growing Christian, said John Wesley. We need to be hearing God's Word preached, making the most of every opportunity to learn and to witness about Christ. (Colossians 4:2-6) The recipients of the letter to the Hebrews were slow to learn. Have a look at Hebrews 5:12 –6:3.
12In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
[Chapter 6] 1Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3And God permitting, we will do so.
Some of us do not go on to maturity because we can lack assurance and have never sorted out the basics of our faith.
Certainly not everybody who grows old grows up. There is a difference between age and maturity. Just because someone has been a Christian for a while does not guarantee that he or she is mature in the Lord. Alan Redpath was a well-known Bible teacher who came from the North East and as part of his testimony he always used to say that for the first seven years of his Christian life he did not grow. He played at being a Christian but never got stuck in and he referred to that period of his life as 'Saved soul, wasted life'. Is that true of any of us? Maturity doesn't just happen. Read Philippians 2&3 when you get home tonight, ask God to work in your life, submit to Jesus as Lord and to the authority of his Word. If being part of a small Bible study group is genuinely impossible then get into a prayer partnership with someone or ask to read the Bible with someone, one to one. We all need encouragement.
So, as the writer to the Hebrews says,
let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity. (Heb 6:1-3)
As Epaphras was praying according to Colossians 4:12,
that we may stand firm in all the will of God, mature, and fully assured…
which are my 3 headings. So
First, STAND FIRM IN ALL THE WILL OF GOD
It is not that we should forget the elementary teachings about Christ but that we should go on to learn more of Christ, to know him and to serve him. Paul continually reminds us of the basics of the gospel and of the work of Christ on the cross and of what God has done for us. Turn back to Colossians 1:12-14. Paul writes:
joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
It is that we should stand firm in the truth of the gospel and in Christ and in the hope of glory and in all the will of God, in the whole of God's Word and what that means for our lives. It is living by faith, trusting that God's way is the best even though that may mean having to deny ourselves and be willing not to compromise. It is knowing that if we have repented and trusted in Christ then we have been forgiven and have peace with God through the Lord Jesus, that we have assurance of sins forgiven and eternal life. True assurance of sins forgiven and eternal life because it is not based on what we have done or on how we feel but on what God has done in Christ and on God's promises – a God who is faithful and who does not lie. (1 John 1:9 & Titus 1:2-3) From Colossians it is that we should understand and know the fullness and freedom that we have in Christ if we have put our faith in him as Saviour and Lord. It is that we go on to understand the supremacy of Christ and that God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him. (Col 1:19) It is that we should not be deceived by false teachers who offer a false hope and a fullness and freedom which is really emptiness and bondage.
The other week I had a visit from three young Mormons all dutifully doing their two years of missionary service. We talked about Jesus and his death on the cross and they said they believed in that but would not discuss it and instead kept on offering me false hope in the form of the Book of Mormon. And no when pushed they did not have assurance of sins forgiven and a place in heaven because it depended on what they had done and on their behaviour.
Listen to the contrast and certain hope for those in Christ in Colossians 1:21-23:
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.
Stand firm in all the will of God. It is to know..
the word of God in its fullness - the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.(Colossians 1:25-27)
It is knowing the risen Christ and making him known.
It is to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16). It is to become biblically literate. It is to have a biblical worldview and to stand firm in that and not to allow ourselves to be taken captive through hollow and deceptive philosophies, which depend on human traditions and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ (Col 2:8). Holding to that will have implications for the way we teach and run schools, for how we stand up for Christ as a doctor. It is to be
filled by God with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding (Colossians 1:9)
which is his will for daily living, for godly living. It is to dare to be different in the way we live.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is – his good pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
Yet surveys among Christians reveal worrying trends. For example, the average Christian spends more time watching TV in one evening than reading the Bible during the entire week. Two out of three born again believers in the USA assert there is no such thing as absolute moral truth. Many Christians today are not prepared to fight the good fight of faith in a culture that esteems achievement and comfort over sacrifice and suffering. As Paul writes in Col 3:
Since you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
It is forgiving others as the Lord forgave us and putting on love. It is knowing that true eternal happiness and blessedness does not come from following our earthly desires but from following Christ, by going the way of the cross and by being obedient to him. Have a look at the first part of Matthew 5. There will be a cost. Jesus said that,
if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Lk 9:23)
So how do we stand firm in all the will of God? Not by standing still. There is a wrong sort of maturity, which thinks we've arrived and which begins to rest on its history rather than being concerned with future growth. Paul in Philippians says this is how we should stand firm in the Lord and that all of us who are mature should take such a view of things:
Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:13-14)
Those who are mature know they haven't been made perfect yet. If a tree is to stand firm and grow and be fruitful then it has to have deep roots. Likewise if Christians are to stand firm, grow, mature and be fruitful then Col 2:6-7 applies:
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught and overflowing with thankfulness.
Which leads us on to my second heading, so…
Paul prays for the Colossians in chapter 1, as we've already heard, by asking God to fill them with the knowledge of his will. Why? Paul goes on to explain in v10:
We pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.
We learn at least three things here about being mature in Christ. First, as we've already said, it is that we are becoming more and more biblically literate, having a biblical world view which is knowing God's general will and growing in the knowledge of God.
Secondly it is putting God's Word into practice, which will not always be easy. Sometimes there will be a conflict between what we want to do and what God wants us to do in terms of both behaviour and service. For example, we might want to marry a non-Christian. Jesus said,
Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I say?' I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When the flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.
The wise man built his house on the rock. Is Jesus Lord of our lives? In the letter of James one mark of maturity is doing what the Word of God says. He writes:
Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)
And he continues in chapter 2:
"Faith without works is dead".
Now of course it's not that the good works save us but they are evidence that our faith in Christ is genuine. So how does a maturing believer react to an example that James gives, the example of the brother or sister in Christ who is genuinely without food and clothes? As James says what good is it if we say to him or her 'Go I wish you well; keep warm and well fed but does nothing about his or her physical needs'. A mature faith is not academic (although we do need mature Christians who are involved in biblical scholarship and teaching) it is practical and about a growing relationship – knowing, serving and obeying Christ as Lord.
Mature Christian ministry which helps others mature involves proclaiming Christ and teaching the whole counsel of God as we see in Col 1:25&28 and also hard work and faithfulness. Look at the examples Paul gives in Col 4. V7: Tychicus is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord who encourages. V12: Epaphras, a servant of Jesus Christ, (the mature are always humble) is always wrestling in prayer for you – prayer is hard work sometimes – a mature believer knows that and perseveres in prayer and does not give up and is concerned for everyone to grow and mature. Aristarchus and Paul are in prison for fighting the good fight of faith, which is another mark of Christian maturity. Many believers in the West don't seem to be prepared to do that. Our thinking is flabby and our life too comfortable. Perhaps Archippus, v17, was not so mature. Paul tells him: "See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord". Hard work and perseverance are important along with a dependence on the Lord - mature believers remain in Christ and bear fruit, realising that apart from him we can do nothing (Jn 15:5).
Thirdly, growing in maturity is "being strengthened by God so that we might have great endurance and patience" and not losing our joy in the Lord. How do we cope in the face of trials? James 1:2-4:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
And as we persevere and mature we are to
keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God…Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3)
Thirdly, FULLY ASSURED
Epaphras, records Paul, is always wrestling in prayer for the Colossians, "that they may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured". As I mentioned earlier one thing that holds believers back from maturity in the faith is lack of assurance. The New Testament makes it clear that it is possible for us to be sure that we are Christians and that we have eternal life. As we've already seen Paul assures the Colossians that those who have faith in Jesus Christ have been rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Son and have been redeemed. One of the evidences of the Colossians faith was their love for all the saints- the faith and love, writes Paul in Col 1:5,
that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven.
John in his first letter also wants his readers who have faith in Christ to have assurance. He writes:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 Jn 5:13)
Mormons do not and cannot have that assurance for there is only one way to the Father and to heaven and that is through Jesus Christ.
I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father except through me. (Jn 14:6)
Christians can be fully assured and go on to maturity.
Just as three legs support a camera tripod, our assurance of our relationship with God stands firmly based on the activity of all three members of the Trinity: the promises which the Father gives us in his word, the sacrifice of the Son for us on the cross and the assurance of the Spirit in our hearts: the word of God, the work of Jesus and the witness of the Spirit. (See Romans 8) So let's be praying for one another that we may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.