The following is a sermon I wrote a few years ago and have preached it in 3 or 4 different churches. I hope you enjoy it.
This passage means a lot to me, and if you want a glimpse into my heart please turns to Colossians 1:24-29. As you turn there, let me give you a little back ground on the book of Colossians. Paul had learned of two doctrinal heresies getting in the church and threatening it. One was a form of legalism, and the other a form of mysticism. It is believed that these were teachings from an early form of Gnosticism. To overcome these teachings, Paul writes exalting Christ in his personhood and work and the believers union with Christ.
1. The Sacrifice v24
Paul says that he rejoices in his sufferings for the Colossian church. What sufferings is he experiencing? This is one of his prison epistles it was written between sixty and sixty-three AD. That doesn’t mean he was in a dungeon. This was during his first imprisonment in Rome. Even that sounds bad. More than likely he was under house arrest awaiting to go before the Caesar, Nero. This was before the great persecution by Nero. Paul, at the end of Acts, claims his right as Roman citizen to plead his case before the Emperor himself. And the book of Acts closes on that journey to Rome.
Paul is in prison for preaching the Gospel. For preaching Christ crucified by the plot of the Jewish leaders, by the order of Pilate, and the execution of Roman soldiers. Paul was in prison for preaching that Jew and Gentile had the exact same opportunity to be saved by the God of the Jews through faith in Jesus, the Messiah. This is why he says, “my sufferings for you”. He is in prison because the Jewish leaders don’t like the idea of Gentiles able to worship their God and not have to follow the Law of Moses.
What does Paul mean here when he says that his sufferings are filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ? Was Christ’s sufferings on the cross not enough? That’s not what he is saying. The only to get to heaven is through faith in the death of Christ on the cross. Then what is Paul talking about? Those afflictions he is referring to, are Christ’s. When a believer is persecuted Christ knows it and feels it. In Acts 9 when Christ appears to, then, Saul He says, “Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting Me?” John Phillips explains it this way, “As just one member of the body of Christ, Paul was suffering. But no member of a body suffers alone; other members suffer with it. If I cut my finger, my whole body feels it, especially the head, where the nerves register and interpret the pain. Paul was in prison and in pain. The Lord Jesus, the Head of the mystical body, felt that pain. Paul was suffering, and Christ was suffering. They were suffering together. Paul, in his sufferings, was helping to fill up the measure of the sufferings of Christ (© 2002 Phillips, John. Exploring Colossians & Philemon: An Expository Commentary, p88)”. Think of it this way, as a parent I hurt when my children hurt. If you look at my son, you’ll notice that he is missing a tooth right in front. When he was about 9 months old, he hadn’t been walking long, he tripped and hit his tooth on the sippy cup he was carrying/drinking from and knocked that tooth clean out. My wife and I hurt as he was crying over the pain of the fall. This, in essence, is what we’re talking about with Paul’s pain and Christ’s pain. Everything Paul is doing and going through is for the sake of the body of Christ, the church.
2. The Stewardship vv25-26
Verse 25 starts where Paul makes his claim as a minister of the Church because of the stewardship or responsibility God gave him. Paul used the “minister” here and he used the same word in verse 23. This is the word where we get our word “deacon” which simply means “servant”. Paul viewed himself as a servant of God with a special commission and responsibility. What was that responsibility? Paul’s responsibility was to fully preach God’s Word. Verse 26 finished the thought started in verse 25. The “word of God” that Paul was charged with to fulfill was the mystery of God kept from mankind from ages past. Warren Wiersbe explains the term mystery this way, “To us today, a mystery is something eerie and perhaps frightening; but this was not the way the word was define in Paul’s day. The false teachers used this word to describe the inner secrets of their religions. A mystery is a “sacred secret,” hidden in the past and now revealed by the Holy Spirit” (© 1989. Wiersbe, Warren. The Bible Exposition Comentary: New Testament Vol 2. p121). The word “mystery” when used as a theological term from the New Testament, is a secret that has been hidden but is now revealed by God.
3. The Secret v27
Let’s look to verse 27 to see what the secret was that God and revealed. Did you catch it? The revealed secret was the Church and essence of salvation, “Christ in you”. “It is Christ’s dwelling in the heart of the individual believer in a vital, life-sharing union that provides ‘the hope of glory’” (©2006 Homer A. Kent Jr, Treasures of Wisdom: Studies in Colossians & Philemon: Revised Edition. p60). The Church is where Gentiles and Jews would share in the same spiritual blessings, same future glory. In Ephesians 3:3-9 Paul expounds on it, let’s turn there real quick, but keep your finger in Colossians. This was all new revelation to the Apostles and the early church. The new aspect was that the Gentiles did not have to practice Jewish rites and customs, all that needed to be done to be saved is by faith accept Christ’s work on the cross for your sins. “In Judaism opinion was settled that Gentiles could only be saved by becoming Jews. This idea persisted even in the early church among some of its Jewish members” (Kent, 60). We find that struggle recorded in the Book of Acts. At the time, for the Jews, being a Jew was a point of pride for them and even the proselytes weren’t quite good enough. So you can imagine the struggles in the local churches in Palestine.
The prophets of the Old Testament saw what God wanted them to see and they prophesied accurately, but the church wasn’t mentioned. Many of the prophecies have been fulfilled by Christ, but not all, not yet. Think of it this way: the prophet saw two different mountain tops, but they thought they were only seeing one mountain top. They saw the Messiah coming and setting up His earthly kingdom. What they couldn’t see was that there was a valley between those two mountain tops. That valley is the Church Age. That valley is now, where Christ has made way for Jew or Gentile to have a fellowship with God by grace through faith. That was the secret, the mystery of God from ages past.
4. The Service vv28-29
Now we come to the really important part of the passage. These last two verses I claim as some of my favorites. These verses are my battle cry for my service in ministry, for my service in the army of the Lord.
In verse 28 we see the phrase “every man” three times. In the Greek that is very important. That means Paul is really stressing, really emphasizing his point. He says that he and the other ministers of Christ preach. That verb used for preach there can mean to proclaim, like a herald. Paul says they warn that word “warn” can also mean to correct through instruction. They also teach, and they do that so they might “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus”. The word for “present” has an idea of a legal word, where a person is placed in a court of justice. The word “perfect” doesn’t mean sinless like Jesus was and is perfect, but it has the idea of being mature or complete in Christ. Think of it like this, we don’t send 5 year-olds out as college freshman, they aren’t mature enough.
Let’s look at verse 29. Let’s look at what some of these words mean. The word “labor” means to “work to exhaustion”. Also the word “striving” has the idea of exerting effort. One resource says this, “The athletic picture behind this word emphasizes Paul’s missionary work with all its attendant toil, tireless exertion, and struggles against all manner of setbacks and opposition” (©1998 Cleon L. Rogers Jr & Cleon L. Rogers III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, p463). Is Paul saying that all his missionary work is through his struggle and work? Of course not! Look at the second part of the verse. Essentially Paul is saying that the Word can only be preached through Christ’s strength. If you read the first few chapters of 1 Corinthians Paul makes it abundantly clear that the gospel is spread, souls saved, and growth happens only through the power of God.
My challenge today is more for myself, every pastor, and missionary and Christian worker who claims to proclaim the Word of God. My challenge is that I live up to these verses. Especially verses 28 and 29. But the application from these verses is for everyone who is not called into full time ministry. To the Deacons, Sunday school teachers, parents, and every born again believer. We must proclaim, warn, teach so that “we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus”. And we must do that in the Power of God.
The following is the manuscript of a sermon I preached in a local church in October this past year. I hope you enjoy it and that it challenges you.
“O Lord. Show me yourself within your Word. Show me myself and show me my Savior, and make the book live to me.” – Hudson Pope
I work for Home Depot and last week I was in Iowa for some work training for my new position.I was down there on a Wednesday night and as I was walking down the main aisle with a coworker we were stopped by a dad and his 3 kids, they had obviously just come from an AWANA CLub nearby as 1 of the kids was in a SPARKS vest and another was in a Cubbies vest. While my coworker was helping the dad find what he needed, I asked the Sparky if he knew what his key verse was, if you don’t know John 3:16 is the SPARKS key verse. He nodded. I then asked “what is your key verse?” to which he replied, “John 3:16”. He then started to quote the verse, and he did alright until the end where he changed the end of John 3:16 to the end of 1 John 4:14. If you are unfamiliar with the SPARKS verses 1 John 4:14 is, “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.” This verse corresponds to the first “S” in SPARKS, which stands for Savior. I smiled and gave him a high-five and told him, “close enough.”
As I was thinking about what I was going to speak on today, I was driving back from Iowa, the incident with the Sparky came to mind, I smiled again thinking about it and knowing I had caught him off guard, I knew he did well. Then the Lord brought to mind “always be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in you.” I knew then where I needed to start from.
1. Our Duty
1 Peter 3:15b “and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you,”
The theme of 1 Peter is “living victoriously in the midst of suffering”. The suffering Peter discusses in his book is not necessarily trials in life given by God, or the effects of sin cursed world; but suffering from persecution because of Christ. Early in the book Peter tells his readers that Christians are a peculiar people, not of this world. Think about it, what would your friends or neighbors think if you said that you are not of this world? They’d agree with you and walk away thinking there’s something wrong with you. But then as the watch you and see you’re not getting drunk every weekend, your family goes to church every Sunday (a church that dunks people in water when they make a public profession of faith), and you start talking about this guy who came back from the dead who claims to be God. They’re going to think you are weird. You know what, being “weird” that way, living for Christ weird, is OK. Peter’s point here is that sometimes this will lead the unsaved around us to hate us, laugh at us, hopefully become curious and ask us about it. Remember what Christ told Peter and the others in John 15:18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” I know I’m not make being a follower of Christ sound like a good thing. You’re probably thinking “I didn’t sign up to mocked and persecuted.” I have to tell you, yes you did. The Church has always faced persecution from the world. Splits in the Church throughout time over doctrine, true or false, has led to persecution in the name of Christ. Persecution is embedded in the history of the church. There are churches and believers around the world that are being persecuted for the name Christ still today. The Church in the US has had it easy for a very long time, and the Church has gotten lazy letting the world influence to many churches and believers.
Now you’re asking, “Okay, so what’s your point?” I say all that to remind you that being a Christian isn’t really supposed to be easy or popular. Yes, Christ said His yoke is easy and that He would give the “weary and heavy laden rest”, but the yoke, the labour Christ has given to us is easy because He has already done the heavy lifting. Christ went to cross and defeated sin and death. But He has charged us with telling the world that salvation is here and waiting. So what does this have to do with 1 Peter 3 and giving a defense? Peter started his letter calling his readers to live a holy life before the world, we are all called to do that. And if we are successfully living a holy life or a life set apart to Christ, people are going to ask us about it. Hopefully we are investing in the lives of the unsaved around us so that these conversations will naturally happen.
You know I’ve been surprised over the last couple of years to find Peter’s teachings and Paul’s teachings running parallel to each other. I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised since they serve the same Lord we do and sought the same thing: that of Christ proclaimed and glorified. Paul reminded the Corinthian believers of the charge to spread the gospel in 2 Corinthians 5. 2 Cor 5:19-20 – “19 That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” HCSB Paul reminds the Corinthians what he and the other Apostles, and by extension every Christian, is charged with. We are ambassadors of the message of reconciliation to God. The language of verse 19 is so that it shows that God has done the reconciling and all the sinner has to do is enter into it, not that we must do anything else to reconcile with God. As Christians we are Christ’s ambassadors in this world. We need to live in such a way that the unsaved around us want to know more. The word translated “defense” is the word that gives us “apology”. Apology in the sense is not what we normally think of today, it has the sense making a defense. This is why people like Ken Ham and Ravi Zacharias are known as “apologists”, they are defending the faith. But you should know that while we are grateful to the Lord for raising up men Ravi Zacharias it is the duty of every Christian. You should hear it from Ravi himself,
“… During a conversation at a major apologetics event recently held in a large church, an attendee asked me what “apologetics” meant. I explained to her that apologetics is the branch of Christian theology that seeks to address the intellectual obstacles that keep people from taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ seriously. I gave her some examples of questions that are important in the context of apologetics. For example, why does evil exist if the world was created by an all-good, all-powerful God? How do we know Christianity is true in light of the numerous religions that exist in the world? I finished my answer to her by quoting 1 Peter 3:15, which instructs us to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks for the reason for the hope that is within us. Her reaction was surprising. “Are you sure the Bible says that?” she asked. I assured her that it does…She had been a faithful member of a prominent evangelical church for most of her life, and yet she did not understand the meaning or importance of apologetics in the life of the local church. Sadly, I have seen such scenarios repeat themselves so frequently that I have now come to expect them whenever I go to a new place to speak. Even among those who do understand what apologetics is and why it is important, there are some who suspect that it is reserved for a select minority among the elect—perhaps just for those with a questioning mind, or for an intellectual elite.” (http://rzim.org/just-thinking/apologetics-why-your-church-needs-it/ posted 12/2009; Accessed 10/5/17)
This word was used in reference to a formal and public self-defense, as a trial before a magistrate or judge. But the use here has the meaning of conversational and informal discussion. Peter’s charge was the we as Christians we are able to have a rational, reasoned, logical conversation with those who would ask us why we believe and act differently, because we are on trial before the world everyday. How are you doing?
2. Our Reason
1 Peter 3:15a “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts,”
Some of you may be wondering why. Why do we have this duty, this charge? Do we really need to do this? Let’s look at the first part of verse, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts”. I think a better reading of this verse is “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts”. The verb here for “sanctify” is not intending to that we make Christ holy like in we are made holy/set apart at our salvation, as Peter mentions in chapter 1, but we set Christ apart as the Holy One. Peter is taking from Isaiah 8:13 where the Lord is speaking to Israel and reminding them that He will protect them, they must honor Him and any fear they have should be of God and not their looming enemy.
We must elevate Christ above everything in our lives. This is not unique to Peter’s teaching. Christ told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and to give it away then to follow Him. Paul urges his readers to live a sacrificial life everyday in Romans 12. Even in the Old Testament God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice Isaac, the son of promise. God always wants His followers’ hearts. He always seeks to have the highest position in our lives. And why not? He is the God of the universe, He created us. He has offered redemption from sin and death to all who will believe. And, for those who have believed, what more can we do for Christ than live everyday honoring Him and obeying His commands? The fourth verse of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” states it like this: “Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
If we have made Christ the Lord of lives, then we will do as bidding. Otherwise the songs of service we sing is just lip service. We are told in John 15 that followers of Christ will follow His commands and bear fruit for Christ. And the last command Christ gave before ascending the Father is found in Matthew 28. Matthew 28:19-20a, “19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…”. If you don’t already know, there is only one command in those verses. “Go”. “Make disciples”, “baptizing”, “teaching” are part of the command we are given. We are commanded to go. So, yes. We are supposed to go, we are supposed to be able to answer or defend our hope to any who ask if of us. How are you doing? Is Christ truly Lord in your life? Does He have the preeminence in your life? Your heart? What idol is keeping you from following Christ?
3. Our Hope
1 Peter 3:15b – “ and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you,”
Because Peter’s theme in his first letter is “living victoriously in the midst of suffering”, he is apt to remind his readers that there is something better for the believer. Part of Peter’s greeting in this letter is reminding his readers of the glories of salvation and the hope believers have in Christ. Look at chapter 1 of 1 Peter. Throughout the book Peter keeps referring back to the hope and inheritance he describes here in chapter 1. In verse 4 we see part of the living hope we are have, an inheritance that will never fade away, will never be corrupted. Our inheritance is eternal life with our Savior. Verse 5 tells us that we do not need to fear the losing of this inheritance, because it is being protected by God Himself. This is the final outcome. This is why he reminds his readers that no matter what trials, persecution, or life events that came at them this was coming as well.
We do need to remember that sometimes we go through tough times in our lives because we live in a sin cursed world. Some schoolmates of ours that were expecting their 4th child, a little girl. She was diagnosed with Turner’s Syndrome. This sometimes affects baby girls in the womb. In this instance it developed into a heart condition and this little girl passed into the presence of the Lord while still in the womb. They named her Aletheia (uh-lay-Thea-uh) Hope. Aletheia is Greek for truth. The named her for the true hope they have in Christ and that they will see her again. Even during this time this family has the hope of their salvation. When we go through these difficult times our hope in our future of being with Christ helps us to keep faith and to keep moving forward. This is Peter’s point in verses 6-9 of chapter 1. “6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.”
At this point you’re thinking what does this hope have to do with sharing the gospel? Well let’s look at 1 Pet 3:15 again. Hiebert put it this way: “It is significant that the inquiry concerning the readers’ Christianity is designated as ‘the hope’ rather than the ‘the faith,’ as we might have expected. An inquirer would naturally be interested in the doctrinal aspects of Christianity, but the term suggests that in an age of widespread frustration and uncertainty, it was the distinctive element of hope that in the lives of the believers that aroused special interest. Though the questioner doubtless had but a vague understanding of the true nature of that hope, and perhaps considered it one of the most absurd features of the new religion, he recognized its dynamic power in the lives of those believers amid their trials and afflictions. It is the living hope [found in 1:3] to which we have been begotten by God, a hope centered in the God who has revealed Himself in Christ, imparting present salvation and the hope of future glory [found in 1:20-21]. The experience of present salvation brings with it an assured hope concerning the future: the blessed return of our Savior and Lord.” (Hiebert: 1 Peter p228) His point is that in time of Peter’s writing, the unbelievers should see something different in the believers hope.
The hope of Christianity sounds absurd to the unbelievers, that during the times of unrest and trials our hope should cause them to ask us about our hope. So what is troubling in your life right now? What difficulty are you going through? Are you living victoriously with the hope you have in Christ? Does it show so that your unbelieving friends, neighbors, co-workers are asking you about it?
So in closing, let me remind you that we have a Duty to answer questions of our hope, are you ready? Our Reason is that Christ should be Lord over all parts of our lives, is He Lord in your heart? And our Hope is the future salvation from the presence of sin and eternity spent with our Savior. How’s your hope? Be Ready! Let’s pray.