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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Rooted in Mystery, Resplendent in Maturity


“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 1:27

Some of you may have seen the Gospel Coalition article from a Christian in Ukraine explaining his reasons for remaining, with his wife and four daughters, in the capital Kyiv, when, at the time of writing, all the indications were that Russia were about to mount a full-scale invasion of his country.

In case you haven’t seen it, let me share some of it with you. In his own words, this is VASYL OSTRYI:

In recent weeks, nearly all the missionaries have been told to leave Ukraine. Western nations evacuated their embassies and citizens. Traffic in the capital of Kyiv is disappearing…

My wife and I have decided to remain in our city near Kyiv. We want to serve the people here along with Irpin Bible Church. In anticipation of coming disaster, we’ve bought a supply of food, medicine, and fuel so that, if necessary, we’ll be able to help those in need rather than burden them.Ours is a family of six. We’re raising four daughters…

We believe the church is a place of spiritual struggle. As tensions have risen, our church announced a week of fasting and prayer, gathering every night to bring our requests to God. For three days in a row, the lights were turned off in the city. We were forced to meet in the dark, adding a solemn atmosphere to our prayers for peace…

We have decided to stay, both as a family and as a church. When this is over, the citizens of Kyiv will remember how Christians have responded in their time of need.

And while the church may not fight like the nation, we still believe we have a role to play in this struggle.

The reason for sharing a chunk of that article with you this morning is because it ties in so well with the thrust of Paul’s words to the Colossian believers here at the end of chapter 1.

If we could summarise these verses in one pithy sentence it would be this, ‘maturity out of mystery’.

Or to expand it a little bit, ‘The more deeply rooted we are in the Christian mystery, the more Christian maturity we will display’.

What is at work, I ask, in a believer who is willing to risk his own life and the lives of his family for the sake of the eternal gospel? The answer is Christian maturity rooted in the Christian mystery.

Christian Mystery

But it’s not enough for me to tell you that’s the case, you need to see it for yourselves in the very words that Paul is using.

So, let’s begin by asking the question, what is the mystery that Paul is speaking of in verses 26 & 27, and which we need to be so rooted in?

I see at least 7 things here that Paul tells us about this mystery.

According to verse 26 the mystery was veiled in the past – ‘hidden for ages and generations’.

Also, according to verse 26, that mystery, which was previously veiled, ‘is now disclosed’ – that is to say, it is now made known or revealed.

Furthermore, it is now made known to a select group only – namely, to the ‘Lord’s people’.

Verse 27 goes on. The mystery has been made known to the Lord’s people, of which some are gentiles (not Jews). Paul needs to say that because, in the ages and generations past, ‘the Lord’s people’ was defined by Jewishness. Paul is saying that’s not the case any more. Gentiles are a part with Jews of the ‘Lord’s people’ – that old barrier has been torn down. And to gentile sons and daughters, the mystery has been revealed also.

This mystery is not only rich, it is ‘gloriously rich’ (verse 27). That means that to those to whom it has been revealed (given) – that is the Lord’s people (gentiles included) – glorious riches have been bestowed.

And now at the end of verse 27, we find out what it is that was hidden in the past, that is now revealed, that has been given to the Lord’s people – to us gentiles included – and which is gloriously rich.

It is, Christ in you.

And finally, number seven, that mystery is your ‘hope of glory’ (v.27).

This is the experience of every son and daughter of God. It is your experience if you belong to him – if you are one of his people. You have Christ in you and therefore you have the hope of glory.

So, I think ‘mystery’ here, means that in the ages past, Christ in some sense was hidden from God’s people. He chose for himself a nation – Israel - but that nation, en masse, did not receive him. They rejected him.

And not only the generation in Jesus’ day - I mean the whole nation, from the days of Moses to the days of Jesus - they rejected Christ.

According to 1 Corinthians 10, ‘[Israel] drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them’. Why? Because, as Deuteronomy 32 says, ‘they abandoned the God who made them and rejected the Rock their Saviour’.

So, ‘Christ in us’ remained a mystery even to God’s chosen people up until the day of Jesus. But something radically changed when Jesus came on the scene.

When he appeared, a new people of God was formulated – a people, Paul is telling us, that includes Gentiles. And the mystery of ‘Christ in us’ has been made known to that new people. It has become our living reality.

So, if you didn’t feel especially loved by God when you walked in here this morning, know that this gloriously rich mystery, which was kept hidden from almost the entirety of humanity until now, has been made known to you amongst billions of people to whom it remains an out-and-out mystery.

If you have ‘Christ in you’ you are especially loved of God.

Christ in you

Second question: what does ‘Christ in you’ mean? The apostle Paul uses the same phrase in Romans 8.

There he says, ‘You, however are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of Righteousness’.

And in 2 Corinthians 13 he tells the Corinthian believers to testthemselves to see if they are in the faith. Then he says, ‘Do you not realise that Christ Jesus is in you, unless, of course, you fail the test?’.

In other words, a person who does not have Christ in them is a person who is not ‘in the faith’ – they are a person who is not born again of the Spirit of Christ. That is to say they are not a Christian.

A person who is born again of the Spirit of Christ has Christ living in them and that fact is evident.

And because it is evident, it is testable. So, the most immediate question is, ‘is there evidence of Christ in me, the hope of glory?’

If not then I may not be what I think I am.

Christian Maturity

But it is possible, according Paul, for Christ to be in us but for that reality to have not reached maturity yet. God’s goal for our faith is that it does mature.

Like a baby; like a sapling, we start out immature, but we must grow. This is something we have to learn because, perhaps the most acceptable state of Christian existence in the affluent, peaceable, west is the state of immaturity.

We like to exist in a state of immaturity. We even like to admit we exist in a state of immaturity. We do not make it our single-minded goal to demonstrate mature faith, but we are very accustomed to Christian infancy.

Paul’s message is, ‘grow-up into Christ – become the fullness of what you are’.

When a child is born we say, ‘a new person has come into the world’. But the person we are hoping for is not yet realised. We watch, day after day, looking for evidence that this human being is growing - becoming what they were born to be.

So, it should be with Christians. But we tend to settle for stunted growth. We love plateau. We love the ease of immaturity.

And, frankly, we are in danger, if we do not grow up.

In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul says, ‘Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit [in other words, you have Christ in you – you don’t live by him] but as people who are still worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly’.

That is what Paul, here, wants the Colossians (and us) to avoid – a immature Christianity invested in the here and now.

For the Colossians, the implication of their immaturity is the inability to spot ‘hollow and deceptive philosophies’ that are infiltrating the church and encouraging them to worship angels and follow human traditions.

With that aim in mind Paul says, in verse 28, that he and Epaphras proclaim Christ, and admonish (that is, warn), and teach everyone with all wisdom. The reason they do that is ‘so that [they] may present everyone fully mature in Christ’.

So, there’s no doubt in Paul’s mind, the way in which Christians grow up and mature is by heeding the warnings found in the word of God, and by imbibing the teachings found in the word of God. Simply put, the word of God is indispensable to the development of every Christian.

The word serves to shape our attitudes and our minds. The word serves to form us into the likeness of Christ. And yet, there may be a dearth of the reading of the word of God amongst us. ‘Brothers and sisters 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! Solid food when constantly used, trains you to distinguish good from evil’. That’s Hebrews 5:12-14.

Jesus told us what stands full square in opposition to our maturity. He said, ‘the seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear [the word], but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature’.

Jesus takes maturity seriously, so does Paul. Do we? Jesus tells us maturity comes by the word of God, so does Paul. Do we believe that is true?

Jesus tells us, love of the world stands full square against maturity, so does Paul. Do we heed that warning?

If we see our need of maturity, let us attend to two things mainly: go to the word and abstain from the world.

Filling up Christ’s Afflictions

What about verse 24, we haven’t touched on that verse yet. Paul is telling them about his love for them, demonstrated in his suffering on their behalf. Remember he’s writing to them from his house arrest in Rome.

The reason he’s been arrested is for proclaiming the gospel and for teaching about Christ. Things which he had done on behalf of the church and which were the means by which the Colossians came to know Christ, and the means by which he knows they will become mature in their faith.

For those ends, Paul is willing to suffer at the hands of his enemies. For their sakes he says, he ‘fills up in his flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions’ which is simultaneously, both a profound and perplexing statement.

It’s profound because, like the Ukrainian Christian we heard from at the beginning, Paul is willing to suffer for the sake of Christ’s elect, which is no small thing.

And it’s perplexing, because of the reference to Christ’s own sufferings, being in some way ‘lacking’.

That might sound like Paul is saying that the suffering of Jesus wasn’t adequate to atone for our sins.

But that’s not what he saying at all.

Indeed, the writer to the Hebrews says, ‘it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered’.

So, insomuch as Jesus suffered, he became the pioneer of our salvation. That means there was nothing lacking in his suffering on our behalf in order to justify us and make us right with God.

But Paul does mean something. He means, Jesus is not here right now – and his suffering is not visible to people. He’s ascended into heaven and is seated at the right of God. Before he went he commissioned his disciples, and us, to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.

And what is the message we take to them?

It is the message that says, ‘Christ in you is the hope of glory’.

And the message comes back, ‘that’s all well and good, but what does that message look like when it’s stress-tested?’

What does that message look like in the face of war? What does that message look like in the face of ridicule? What does it look like in the face of cancer? What does it look like in the face of emotional or physical abuse?

In other words, isn’t that message nothing more than a nice cherry on the cake of a wealthy, healthy, prosperous life and, like a puff of smoke, when the grittiness of suffering comes, it will vanish into thin air?

The suffering that stress-tests the message of the gospel could be suffering that comes directly because of the gospel – a persecution type of testing.

Or it could be suffering that is more circumstantial – a Job type of testing.

Either way, the afflictions that we face as Christians are meant to be the stress-test of the gospel. If the message of ‘Christ in us, the hope of glory’ remains steadfast in the face of suffering, it commends itself to unbelievers.

That means that Christians are called to join Paul in filling up Christ’s affiliations, because he’s not here - so that the gospel will be shown to be authentic.

Therefore, we should expect suffering to come our way. God has decreed it for his people, in order that his body the church should be created, individual by individual.

Perseverance in Christ in the midst of suffering, commends Christ to the people of God who are yet to believe. And the mature Christian is able to live the kind of counter-cultural life that serves that purpose.

This is the difference between knowing we’re in a war – a war between the spiritual forces of darkness and light - and burying our heads in the ground, pretending that, all we can see here below, is all there really is.

Burying our heads in the ground, is an apathetic and immature approach to the Christian life.

But the knowledge and awareness that we are called to contend for the faith, is an intentional and mature approach.

Joy in Suffering

Any form of contention is likely to result in suffering. The Ukrainians are contending for their sovereignty and there is significant suffering as a result.

Contending for the gospel is accompanied by suffering for the gospel.

But according to Paul, there is joy in suffering for the gospel. He says, ‘I rejoice in what I am suffering for you’.

And he’s not the only one who talks like that. Peter talks like it, ‘But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed’.

The joy in the suffering is, that a participation in Christ’s sufferings works for us a participation in his glory, when he returns with all his angels at the end of the age.

The main challenge then, for us, is that we live relatively undisrupted lives. We live lives, where each day essentially looks the same. The pattern of normal life serves to lull us into a false sense of security and suggests to us, ‘there’s nothing to contend for’.

The Ukrainian Christian, sees the front line on his doorstep and he’s emboldened by it. He sees the opportunity for the gospel to look bright against the backdrop of war, and his roots, that sink deep down into the mystery of Christ, serve to bring about a mature Christian response:

‘in the face of life-threatening suffering we will fill up the afflictions of Christ in full view of a lost world, in order that some might taste and see that the Lord is good’.

But, when life is normal, hum-drum, pedestrian, we fail to see that the front line is on our door step also.

Not so visible, but just as real. That means, that we need to contend every single day to hold forth the gospel and when the suffering of cancer, or relational disaster, or redundancy, or gospel-persecution comes, we consider it ‘all joy’ to be counted ‘worthy of suffering’ (Acts 5) for the mystery of Christ in us, the hope of glory.

If we find that we are able to contend in that way, following the example of Paul and of Jesus, because of the maturity that the word of Christ has worked in us, then, along with Paul in verse 29, we need to be able to say, ‘the energy with which we so strenuously contended, was the energy that Christ so powerfully worked in us. It was not our own.’

So that in everything he might get the glory!


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