Sunday, April 02, 2006

Moving on to Maturity

The following is from a Colossians Bible study I wrote a number of years ago. This is part of the introductory material. I start my studies with an exhortation to study the word and why we do so. So, this material is not so much an introduction to Colossians but an introduction to Bible study in general. If you are interested in me posting more of my Colossians material leave me a comment or email me.

Moving on to Maturity

One of the commentaries that I am using for this Bible study is written by N. T. Wright. He believes that maturity was a major theme of Colossians and I think that I agree with him. The church of Colossae was a fairly new church and Paul wanted to make sure that they were firmly rooted in the knowledge of the gospel so that they could withstand the temptation to fall away and follow after manmade religions and not continue in the freedom that they have in Christ. Paul’s message is one that resonates in our day and is something that we need as well. So I entitled this study “Moving on to Maturity” because every time we study the Bible we should be focused not only in learning but in understanding – understanding who we are in Christ and what it takes to serve a holy God. Bible study should not be head knowledge but action. Maturity comes when we understand who we are and allow that knowledge to affect our actions.
The goal for our study mirrors Paul’s prayer for the church at Colossae:

Col. 1:9-11 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, [10] so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. [11] May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,
It is my hope that you grow in your knowledge of God so that you may walk in a manner that pleases God.

Knowledge of God and Knowledge of Ourselves

When we study the Bible, what should be our focus? Do we focus on us and how we apply the Bible to our lives or do we focus on what God has done throughout time and space? Should the focus be us or God? As my Medieval Church Professor, Dr. Davis would say, “the answer to the question is ‘yes!’” Yes we should search the Bible to learn who we are and what is required to serve a holy God and we need to understand who God is to serve Him properly. But application becomes moralism when we are focused on the wrong thing.

When we study the Bible we need to understand the proper context in which to learn about who we are and what we are to do. If we don’t understand that we are who we are because of our union with Christ then we will always be studying the Bible out of context. We need to understand before we study the Bible that true knowledge, maturity and wisdom can only come to us when we read the Bible with the understanding that we are who we are because of what Christ did on the cross. As Christians we should be reading the Bible to find out who Christ is and what He did for us on the cross and in His work we will understand who we are and what we are called to do. As we study Colossians we will see how much Paul focuses on union with Christ to help the Colossians understand why they should not follow the false teachers.

To understand what I mean by union with Christ, let’s look at the following passages:
Col. 2:11-14 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, [12]having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. [13] And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, [14] by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

Romans 6:1-14 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? [2] By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? [3] Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? [4] We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. [5] For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. [6] We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. [7] For one who has died has been set free from sin. [8] Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. [9] We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. [10] For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. [11] So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. [12] Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. [13] Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. [14] For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.Every Christian is one together with Christ. And the unity that we share is the unity in Christ’s death and unity in the His resurrection. In death the old man was crucified and in Christ’s resurrection the new man was made alive in Christ.
Now we live our lives in that unity and with that understanding. Paul bases his argument against the false teachers on the fact that the Colossians have so much more than the false teachers were offering because they have wisdom, knowledge, and new life in Christ – why would they need anything else? In Christ we have every spiritual blessing:
Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
Understanding those blessings and our responsibility is one of the goals for Bible study.

But when we study the Bible we should not just be focused on who we are in Christ but we should focus on understanding the God that we love and serve. Looking outside ourselves to God, will in the long run lead to greater knowledge of ourselves because we will see His holiness and His goodness and will see the standard by which we are to live:
Matthew 5:48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
As we study the Bible we will understand the gift that God has given us through the sacrifice of His Son. God’s mercy and grace shines forth from each page of the Bible and when we see it, it can only lead to abundant thanksgiving and praise. As we understand Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf and all that entails, we will be filled with worship, love and gratitude to God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Knowledge of God leads to the very thing that we are striving for when we study Scripture: becoming obedient children of God. When we understand the holiness of God the mercy by which He saves us our only response can be love. Love and thanksgiving motivate us to serve Him in obedience and love. Not just an empty love filled with platitudes or an emotional love that is sound and fury and signifying nothing, but a love that is deep and rich and based on a true knowledge of the one that we love. This type of love leads us to greater desire for knowledge of the one that we love and the desire to please Him by doing His will.

Corporate Nature of Bible Study

When we study the Bible we should not just study it from an individualistic perspective but with the understanding that we are part of the body of Christ. Colossians was written to a church and not an individual and we should read it with that in mind. We have to have two aspects to our study of the word of God: individual and corporate. Today we are very good at individual Bible study but we have lost the corporate nature of not only Bible study but of our salvation and the responsibility that entails. Since we believe that our salvation is personal and it is about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we do not realize the responsibility that we have to each other. It is not about you, it is about us. We should study the Bible together, pray together, praise God together, weep together, and grow in grace together and that is only naming a few. If you are not doing this you are robbing the body.

This also means that we should not forget about what the great teachers, who have come before us throughout church history and what the great teachers of today have to say about Colossians. We should not ignore the teaching of the Holy Spirit that is found in their words. The Bible says that we have been given teachers to equip the saints and if we want to grow in maturity we should look to the church to help us to understand the word better:
Ephesians 4:11-16 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, [12] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, [13] until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, [14] so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. [15] Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, [16] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
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  1. Linda said...
    Hi Michele, I'd be interested in you either posting or letting me borrow a hard copy of your Colossians materials, since we just started studying Colossians in our CBS class!
    michele said...
    OK, I'll print it out. Email me because you know I'll forget.
    Moonshadow said...
    I took your study at your church from Ang that summer. And I have Wright's commentary -- he's wildly popular with us. I can't recall how good my attendance was ... things always come up in the summer! Like the surf! :-)

    Reading again the introduction, a couple of good points jump out, specifically:

    (1). "understand the gift that God has given us through the sacrifice of His Son. "

    I have Good Friday on my mind, alright?!

    And (2), oftentimes when reference is made to the Ephesians passage, the emphasis is deliberately placed on verse 14.

    In fact, usually the fuller context is omitted completely. Such that the "we" in verse 14 becomes "me and Paul" to the exclusion of "the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers."

    And we can disagree about the permanence of some of these posts without denying that the fuller context implies in some real way the church, the body of Christ.

    Gosh, reading the entire Ephesians pericope gets me so angry at those who quote only a snippet to prove their point ... because the entirety is so rich.
    michele said...
    I love that whole passage because it is really saying that the church is to build each other up using the gifts God gave to the whole church. I hate it when pastors think they have to do it all and leave nothing to the congregation. You are not the only one gifted, get over yourself.

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