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Monday, November 2, 2009

Seek the Things that are Above

Seek The Things That Are Above

"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, 1:28-29)

It's difficult for me to identify with this passage...I don't remember a time when I felt I was proclaiming Christ. I struggle daily with many things, but not with warning and teaching everyone about Jesus. How should a Christian tell others about Jesus? Is everyone a proclaimer like Paul was? Do we, do I, need to change things in our lives to make witnessing of Jesus a higher priority?

The word proclaim, translated from the Greek, means to make known by announcing in a public place. It comes from two words meaning "down" and "messenger". Messenger in the Greek is aggelos (ang'-el-os), which is often translated as angel. The focus of the word proclaim is importance. Public announcements imply warnings or opportunities that could affect many different people. The messenger has news that must be told to as many as possible.

Important news is often urgent: a major event will soon occur, or a major event has occurred and its effects will soon be felt. Do Paul's words imply urgency? Does the news of Christ's death, burial and resurrection require urgency? Should I, as a believer, urgently proclaim Christ as Savior and Lord?

The meaning of the Greek word for proclaim does not carry a sense of urgency. The message brought by the messenger was of tremendous importance, but not urgency.

Paul wrote to the believers in Colossae that proclaiming Christ involves warning and teaching. The word translated as warn means to put in mind. The word translated as teach means the same in English as in Greek: to make to know or show how. Again, neither word implies urgency...rather, they imply careful and thoughtful communication and guidance.

Paul wrote that he toiled, struggling with all Christ's energy, to present everyone mature in Christ. Toil in the Greek means to feel fatigue, literally "chopped" down by repeated pain or labor. The Greek word for struggle means the same in English: to put forth great efforts; literally, to compete in an athletic contest, such as the olympics.

Proclaiming, for Paul, meant tremendous effort and strain, but not necessarily urgency. From the beginning, the gospel was proclaimed carefully, almost slowly, rather than urgently broadcast.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a young girl named Mary...an angel appeared to a small band of shepherds out in the field...Jesus proclaimed his good news while walking...he taught in synagogues, on hillsides, and homes. (Luke 1:26-28, 2:8-9; Matthew 4:18, 5:1, 9:10)

Jesus was always in the right place at the right time, but he seemed never to rush or attempt to gather a crowd. Although crowds followed him, he often withdrew to be alone in desolate places and pray. (Luke 5:15-16)

With many people needing the gospel, Jesus still did not resort to urgency. Rather, Jesus asked God to raise up more messengers.

"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (Matthew 9:37-38)

Jesus told his disciples to be wise...he did not say hurry...he did not say be spectacular...he did not say act urgently.

"Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16)

Wolves rely upon strength and speed. Serpents move carefully but steadily. Serpents have no wasted motion, but they do not rush. They move fast only when striking, at the right time and place. Rather than urgency, Jesus desires wisdom and innocence.

CONVERSION: THE GOAL OF PROCLAIMING CHRIST?

Proclaiming Christ, then, is about warning and teaching others through wisdom. Proclaiming, or witnessing for Jesus, has the goal of maturity, rather than conversion. Conversion is the first step, but it is hardly the goal. Conversion, however, is often cited as the goal of witnessing.

"Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3)
"...whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." (James 5:20)

"Turn" and "brings back" are both from the same Greek word meaning to twist or reverse. The King James Version of the Bible often translated it as convert, and "convert" is a watchword of witnessing. Conversion has become the focus of many religions. It often is seen as the goal of witnessing, becoming almost a numbers game: “How many conversions can our church claim?”

Conversions, even baptisms, should be seen as the first essential step for a person's journey with the Lord. The first step...not the important goal. Paul did not even seem to count the number of conversions or baptisms that resulted from his ministry.

"I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else. For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel..." (1 Corinthians 1:16-17)

THE HIGHER GOAL OF PROCLAIMING CHRIST: MATURITY

Paul said that the goal of his preaching was maturity in his listeners. The Greek word translated as mature is teleios (tel'-i-os), meaning complete, from telos, meaning the point aimed at, or destination. It came from a word meaning to set out for a definite point or goal. We see the Greek influence in the English "telescope" or "telegraph". It's also related to the word, "toll", a tax paid for traveling over a bridge or road.

The Holy Bible often translates teleios as "perfect", which popularly implies no fault or error, entirely symetrical, or nothing lacking. Is that an appropriate translation?

"You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)

"Perfect" means having all the properties belonging to it, from a Latin word meaning to finish. "Mature" means full-grown, from a Latin word meaning ripe. Understood correctly, both "perfect" and "mature" are accurate translations for teleios. However, the image of ripening fruit seems much more fitting.

Maturity is a process that takes time. Each phase of a fruit's growth is carefully orchestrated by God's control of nature. In a sense, each day of a fruit's "conversion" to ripeness is perfect, even though the fruit is not yet mature. The budding flower, the tiny immature berry, and the fully ripe fruit are all seen at just the right time in the plant's life.

So with us. conversion begins the process, but Paul sees a point in the future when we will be finished in Christ. It is at this point that Paul is aiming when he warns and teaches. He is not satisfied with a person saying, "I accept Jesus as Lord and Savior." Paul continues to warn and teach, always with the goal of maturity in mind.

Perhaps an even better illustration of maturity is that of a journey. Imagine a young person setting off on a long journey, perhaps to find work and begin a family. The decision to begin walking is conversion, a turning away from the familiar and a turning toward a new destination. But the journey lasts for days, and each day brings new experiences. Each new experience brings a change in the young person. If the youth is seeking Jesus, the changes lead to maturity: strength, compassion, faith, and love.

We should not be satisfied with ourselves just being converted and baptized. We should awake each day with the goal of maturity in Christ in mind. "Lord, warn and teach me today, through your holy words and your God-directed circumstances I encounter today. I want to be ripened by you!"

If Jesus is your Captain, every day is perfect...perfectly designed to lead you to maturity.

UNDERSTANDING AND KNOWING CHRIST

We have seen that Paul proclaimed Christ by warning and teaching others, with the goal being maturity, being finished and complete. We have seen that “warn” means to put in mind, and “teach” means to make to know or show how. What do we put others in mind of? What do we show them?

"...to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Colossians 2:2-3)

Let's look at the essential phrase: "understanding and knowledge of Christ".

“Understanding” in the Greek means a mental putting together. The "together" part of the word is intimate, very close. Greek has at least three different prefixes that can be translated as "together": meta, meaning among or amid; para, meaning near; and sun, meaning union or joining. Paul implies intimate togetherness by using sun, literally meaning "joining together in the mind".

All that can be seen, described, and experienced of Christ is intended to become intimately joined together in our minds as our relationship matures. Christ becomes "systemic" in my mind, completely involved in everything I see, feel and experience. Nothing I encounter is separate from my relationship with Christ...He, and His concerns, becomes all I think and desire.

The word translated as “knowledge” means the same in Greek as in Anglo Saxon, from which we get the English word “know”...both the Greek and Anglo Saxon, in fact, appear similar: gnosis (Greek) and cnawan (Anglo Saxon). The words mean to perceive directly, recognize or discern. It is knowledge based upon direct experience. It is an intimate knowledge. A related word is used in reference to Joseph's relationship with Mary:

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son... Matthew 1:24-25)

WISDOM

One more word Paul used to describe Christ: wisdom.

The word translated as “wisdom” also means the same in Greek or English: the ability to judge soundly and deal rightly with the facts of life and conduct. It is from a word meaning practical skill, implying clearness. The Anglo Saxon word, "wise", means way of being or acting; "dom" means fact of being, from the same word as doom, meaning judgement.

Paul says that he proclaims Christ through wisdom, and wisdom, with intimate knowledge of Christ, describes the goal of maturity for every believer. The goal of listening to and reading and meditating upon Scripture is to develop clear, practical skill in dealing with the facts of life, and to join together intimately in our minds all that Christ is and desires.

REVIEW

  • Proclaim: to announce publicly, warning and teaching others
  • Proclaiming Christ is important, but not necessarily urgent.
  • Conversion: only the first step in our relationship with Christ
  • Goal of proclaiming Christ: maturity (fully grown or arrived at the finish)
  • Maturity includes understanding, knowledge and wisdom in Christ
  • Understanding: intimately putting together in the mind
  • Knowledge: direct, intimate experience
  • Wisdom: clear and practical ability to judge

Proclaiming Christ, warning and teaching others with wisdom, relying upon the power of God's Holy Spirit and striving to help others reach spiritual and social maturity all seem to spring naturally from hearts that are in love with Jesus. What do you feel you need to step to a deeper relationship with Jesus?

  • Prayer?
  • Confession?
  • Bible study?
  • A like-minded friend?
  • Alone-time?
  • Trials?