The apostolic process
1. The stewardship
2. The means
3. The goal
Christ we proclaim
On the previous web page, we looked briefly at the mystery religions of the ancient world and commented on how the apostle, by the terminology used, contrasted the secretive knowledge and experiences that they contained with the open proclamation of the truth of the Gospel.
This thought raises its head once more in this verse for Paul mentions ‘every man’ three times in connection with the declaration of the good news of the Kingdom, showing that the message isn’t limited to a select few, a chosen handful, but to each person (II Peter 3:9) so that each one might stand fully mature in Jesus Christ.
We should also note that the phrase isn’t ‘all people’ or ‘all men’ which would imply that the world is being lumped together as one group which has to be reached but, rather, ‘every man’ which hints at a very personal announcement of the Gospel. We might say that the apostle stood before great crowds on occasions and announced to them the message of the Gospel but, here in Col 1:28, we see him as picturing not a great mass of people but individuals who each need to hear and respond to what God has done in Jesus Christ.
Paul once more uses ‘we’ to describe the work and so, it would appear, is including the apostolic band who travelled with him and who did more than simply hold his tunic when he stood up to declare the message. In the following verse, he’ll return to a more personal observation but, for now, this detail concerning the bringing of the Gospel to every individual is the characteristic of the travelling group of believers.
The apostolic process
The entire process of the apostolic commission can be seen set out in the above diagram. Beginning with the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom (Paul’s words make the reader understand that the sum total of the message is Christ Himself rather than observations about the nature of God), Paul explains that it has two main components which go together to continue throughout following Jesus (though here the thought is primarily that of initial conversion) leading on to the believer’s maturity.
These three aspects - the stewardship, the means and the goal - will be looked at under their separate headers below but we should note that Paul sees it as a process of which he’s an initiator along with the rest of the apostolic band.
1. The stewardship
We’ve already commented on the stewardship of Paul and gone on to define it as being faithfulness in the declaration of the message of God concerning Jesus Christ. Therefore, when we read at the beginning of the verse (the Greek text actually continues with no full stop from Col 1:27) that it’s
‘[Jesus] we proclaim...’
then we have a declaration of the apostle once more as to the burden of his stewardship. Jesus, then, who’s central to the purposes of God for mankind and all Creation (Col 1:15-20) must be central in the proclamation by the Church of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Paul repeats himself in II Cor 4:5 where he emphasises that
‘...what we preach is not ourselves...’
- that is, a message which elevates the preacher to a position of devotion that men and women are expected to follow and serve -
‘...but Jesus Christ as Lord with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake’
so that the steward can be faithful to the commission with which he’s been entrusted. Too many of the Church’s ministers glory in themselves and elevate their own ministries for the sake of keeping the flock who listen to and follow after them, supporting their own ministry rather than that of Jesus’. Our eloquence in the formulation of words and in the craftiness of our speeches blind those listeners from being confronted with the person of Jesus Christ and they go away from the meetings remembering an anecdote or presentation which thrills rather than coming face to face with the Saviour who challenges.
But, in the early Church, the preachers were concerned solely with the message of the Gospel (Acts 8:5,35, 9:20, Rom 10:17) and in getting out the message to every individual worldwide. Colwright observes that the opening three words of the verse
‘...serve, for christian preachers and teachers, as a constant reminder of their central calling, not (first and foremost) to comment on current affairs or to alleviate human problems, good and necessary as those activities may be, but to announce that Jesus is Lord’
Even in the messages of those who know Jesus and want to follow after Him, there’s still a pulling away from the greatness of the Person towards a set of observations that tickle the ears rather than challenge our lives. Not that the Gospel must be presented in a harsh and judgmental way but that the necessity of lifting Jesus up for all the world to see must inevitably result in putting down those things that we might like to comment on as a society.
Although slavery was abolished in the nineteenth century after many thousands of years of abuse of men and women (even though the practice still continues openly in many areas of the world and in secret areas of the western societies, too), the early Church never once recorded a word against such an organisational structure. Indeed, they simply note the correct relationships to display in the situations from both sides (Col 4:1, Eph 6:5-9) and get on with proclaiming Jesus Christ.
The Church, then, isn’t a vessel through which political statements are made known to the world or through which cultural structures are reformed as the prime directive. Rather, the pronouncement of Jesus Christ in all the earth and to each and every person is the aim and charge so that, as men and women are changed, so, too, will be society. Colbruce notes that Jesus
‘...is the sum and substance of [the early Church’s] message...’
and the statement is worthy of full and final acceptance. Without a return to such a commitment, society will never be effectively changed because the root cause - the nature of man - goes undealt with and all that’s brought into the world is a tolerance or a temporary change of behaviour until the climate is conducive once more to doing that which is more pleasing to the inner man.
Whether it be the Law or the prophets, the poetry or history of the OT; whether through the earthly walk or the heavenly rule of Jesus; whether in word or in deed; whether by signs and wonders or by the Holy Spirit - in everything, Christ is to be proclaimed at the beginning, middle and end so that (Col 3:11)
‘...Christ is all and in all’
2. The means
Having looked at the stewardship and it’s content in the previous section, we can go on to look at the means which Paul declares has been given to the apostolic band. This is comprised of two elements - warning and teaching - which come together well by balancing one another to show two aspects of the one process.
The same two Greek words occur in Col 3:16 a little further on in the letter where they once more are used to speak of the way a believer is to grow up into Christ. In both these two verses also, the opening phrase points the reader towards the message of the Gospel (the later verse refers to the word of Christ dwelling in the believers which can be seen to be nothing less than the content of the proclamation of the Gospel in Col 1:28).
The Greek word translated ‘warning’ occurs as both a verb (Strongs Greek number 3560 - Acts 20:31, Rom 15:14, I Cor 4:14, Col 1:28, 3:16, I Thess 5:12,14, II Thess 3:15) and as a noun (Strongs Greek number 3559 - I Cor 10:11, Eph 6:4, Titus 3:10) in the NT and carries with it the same meaning in both cases. It can mean ‘to impart understanding’ when used on its own as Kittels observes but, by being contrasted with ‘teaching’, it seems to take on the negative aspect of growth where what’s in disharmony with Christ is challenged and corrected for the sake of growing into maturity. Colbrien defines it as meaning
‘...setting the mind of someone in proper order...’
and it’s quite true that, when a person initially comes to know Jesus as their Saviour, they come with a whole lot of baggage which has little or nothing to do with Him and which, in a great many ways, stands opposed to Him. A believer must always be concerned to allow the truth to change his mind and not try to assimilate what they receive into the framework of a life that they wish to continue to cling on to.
The word does mean instruction but only in the sense that it’s a correction of what’s wrong and is therefore a word that speaks of the tearing down of those things that are opposed to the revealed will of God in Jesus Christ. When read in context (for example, I Cor 10:11, Titus 3:10, I Thess 5:14, II Thess 3:15) it becomes evident that this is the correct interpretation of the word and its predominant meaning in the NT for it’s used as an action to be performed when something or someone needs correction.
One example from the four cited Scriptures should suffice to make the point. After having noted the disobedience of the children of Israel in the wilderness (I Cor 10:6-10), the apostle continues (I Cor 10:11) by noting that
‘...these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction...’
where the instruction being given is clearly what sort of person the believer isn’t meant to become.
The accompanying word translated ‘teaching’ speaks, in contrast, of the positive aspect of instruction - of showing what’s right to do, of what’s in harmony with the will of Jesus Christ. The two words compliment one another and demonstrate the need not to just tear down what’s wrong in one’s life but to replace it with what’s right. Vines comments here that
‘The difference between “admonish” and “teach” seems to be that, whereas the former has mainly in view the things that are wrong and call for warning, the latter has to do chiefly with the impartation of positive truth’
Perhaps such a definition might seem too harsh as we consider what actions might be suggested by the need for admonition. But Kittels notes that the response is not meant to be punitive but is
‘...a moral appeal that leads to amendment’
and a good teacher will, at the same time, show carefully that which is incompatible with service of God in Christ by tearing down that which stands opposed to Him, and raising up the positive and correct aspect which the disciple will perceive simply as being that which Jesus requires from them. This negativity, though, isn’t meant to be harsh but, in building the truth, one also has to undermine the lie.
It isn’t, then, excommunication from the Church but more akin to an exhortation to give up the way of living or attitude of heart that the fulness of the character of Jesus Christ might be seen demonstrated in the life of the individual concerned. Kittels also observes that it’s something (my italics) which
‘...will correct but not provoke’
a timely reminder to all believers that loud shouts of denunciation directed against a brother for forgetting to tie both shoelaces is hardly what’s being commanded here.
Simply, the contrast of the words means that Paul brings the message of the Gospel to both believers and unbelievers to demonstrate to them through the message as to what the Christ both is and isn’t, encouraging harmony in the things which are right and exhorting the correction of what’s wrong.
3. The goal
The ultimate end of all admonition and teaching is maturity in Christ.
The AV translates the word from which the RSV gets ‘mature’ (Strongs Greek number 5046) as ‘perfect’ but the word conjures up in the mind of the reader something which needn’t necessarily be there within the usage of the word.
It means, better, ‘complete’ or ‘whole’ and comes from another Greek word which means
‘the point aimed at as a limit’
therefore conveying the end or completion of a matter. The word doesn’t inevitably carry with it a sense of sinlessness but the idea of achieving the purpose to which something has been intended to fulfil.
In this sense it’s used of Jesus in Heb 2:10 (my italics) where it’s said that God made
‘...the Pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering’
and refers not to a state of sinlessness in which He found Himself but of completeness and conclusion. Jesus didn’t begin in a sinful state and achieve sinless perfection, but His earthly experience found perfection or completeness through the suffering of the cross.
In the same way, Col 1:28 doesn’t have to be pressed into meaning that a believer must attain a state of sinless perfection but, rather, that the completion of the purpose to which the believer is called - that is, to stand complete in Christ, having nothing of what Christ isn’t and everything of what Christ is.
Some may argue that, by my own definition, sinlessness must be what’s being meant here but there’s a calling to be fulfilled as well as a life which needs to be led and one can’t exist without the other. Even though a believer may arrive at that point where his will and purpose is consumed before that of the Father, there’s always the possibility while we live and breathe that sin might be committed and forgiveness needed.
Although the cross makes everything perfect and brings everything into conclusion in Jesus Christ, sinlessness is still assigned a future when a new Heaven and earth become the habitation of the redeemed people of God.
But, for now, it’s the admonition and teaching that’s the means whereby wholeness and completion is achieved in the life of the disciple.
It’s already been seen that it’s Jesus’ purpose to present the believer ‘perfect’ before the Father (Col 1:22) and Paul’s stewardship (Col 1:25) is to do likewise through the proclamation of Christ (Col 1:28).
Christ we proclaim
The word from which the RSV gets the translation ‘proclaim’ (Strongs Greek number 2605) is used seventeen times in the NT (Acts 4:2, 13:5,38, 15:36, 16:17,21, 17:3,13,23, 26:23, Rom 1:8, I Cor 2:1, 9:14, 11:26, Phil 1:16,18, Col 1:28) and comes from a group of words which denote pronouncements and proclamations. Barclay observes that
‘...the characteristic flavour of the word is that the announcement or the proclamation is made with authority’
and, though NIDNTT looks upon this word group as containing more correctly
‘...the character of an offer of information or encouragement...’
we’ll take Barclay’s observations as the starting point. Indeed, NIDNTT further observes that the word group
‘...always refer to the activity of the messenger [herald] who conveys a message which has been given to him either orally or in writing...’
and, therefore, the idea of the authority being present with the herald who’s sent out to dispatch the message which has been given can’t be far from it’s use. We should note, then, that Paul’s identification of himself as having a stewardship (Col 1:25) is tied up with the declaration of the message as we saw on a few of the earlier pages for the whole burden of his commission was to declare the mystery to all men and women.
This is also the burden of Col 1:28 as can easily be seen from a brief reading of the verse. Paul proclaims Christ which means, in effect, that he reaches out to declare the message to every man, that every man might come to full maturity in Him.
We should also note that the authority comes from the one who commissions and isn’t automatic upon adherence to the content of the message which has been entrusted to the herald. It must be remembered that the messenger is commissioned and given authority and that, because of that appointment, he or she can then move out in their master’s will and commanding the sender’s means at his disposal to fulfil the commission that’s been given.
For the believer, what that means is that one can be perfectly Scriptural in the words that are spoken - as many a preacher is - but the authority which releases bondage and brings conviction is something that’s brought by God through the person who’s fulfilling the stewardship and not by the words themselves. Through countless years, the Church has believed that being wholly true to the words of the Gospel means that there must automatically come an anointing from God as they’re being spoken.
In this case, provision for the proclamation of the Gospel would be inherent in the words which are being spoken rather than in the One who commissions His servants and who sends them out into the world. But, contrary to this opinion, authority comes through the individual commissioning of those sent who, when they declare the message which has been entrusted to them, find the authority of God Himself upon their words, bringing power into situations to bring about the purpose of His will.
So Paul can talk about the commission he’s been given and can observe the obligation that’s laid upon him to proclaim the Gospel wherever he goes, announcing to the Corinthians that he has no grounds for boasting in what he’s doing because he’s only responding to what’s been entrusted to him (I Cor 9:16-17), a herald who’s despatching the message which has been given to him.
Having said this, it’s still important that we assess the content of the proclamation that we might see a reflection and outworking of Paul’s stewardship that he sought to fulfil. But, primarily, anointing comes through a personal commission which is then outworked through the delivery of the message as a fulfilment of the call.
As we turn to the content of this proclamation, we should start by noting that there are generalisations or summations of the content of the proclamation which we’ve already commented on. In I Cor 9:14, Paul speaks about proclaiming the Gospel (see here) and in a few passages in Acts, the writer notes that the apostles proclaimed either the word of God (Acts 13:5, 17:13 - see here), the word of the Lord (Acts 15:36) or the testimony of God (I Cor 2:1). By looking at what these are referring to, one can see that the phrases can be used interchangeably.
But the specifics of what these labels mean is noted in various places. Acts 4:2 records that the Jewish religious leaders (notably the section of the Jews associated with the Sadducean belief that there was no resurrection from the grave) became annoyed with the disciples because they were
‘...proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead’
In Acts 13:38-39, the proclamation is tied in with the forgiveness of sins and the release from bondage that the Mosaic Law could not deal with and, in Acts 17:3, the pronouncements concerning Jesus are tied up with the need for
‘...the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead...’
which bring both previous aspects together into one message. Paul also speaks about the simplicity of the message which he brought to the Corinthians (I Cor 2:1-2), observing that the entirety of his message was
‘...Jesus Christ and him crucified’
Acts 26:23, after stating the work of Christ, goes on to observe that, having done all this, Jesus was to
‘...proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles’
which sees the Gospel being proclaimed throughout the earth through His messengers as being the necessary outworking of the completed work. The demon-possessed slave girl in Philippi also seems to have hit the nail on the head when she began shouting that Paul and the apostolic band (Acts 16:17) were announcing to them
‘...the way of salvation’
and, in so doing, was probably hindering them from making the message coherent over and above her exhortations. She may also have been bringing the message ill repute if, like me, you would have turned your back on such a scene and sought quieter pastures!
In some places, the message can be summated as being ‘Jesus Christ’ (Acts 17:3, I Cor 2:2, Phil 1:17-18, Col 1:28) where it’s not only the work which is in view but the work which was a part of His life. In other words, although the forgiveness of sins, deliverance and the resurrection from the grave are all foundational aspects of the declaration of the Gospel, it must go beyond this to announce to the hearers the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ in everything and for everything, just as Paul and Timothy have already dealt with His relationship to the first Creation and His work of restoration in bringing about the new (Col 1:15-20).
Very simply, then, the Person and work of Jesus Christ was the content of the proclamation of the herald or steward. The commission was on the basis of a message which carried with it the authority of the One who’d sent His messengers out into the world. Although the message was secondary to the commissioning, it was only the proclamation of the correct message which brought a fulfilment of the messengers’ commission and which found the authority of the King flowing freely into the situations in which the word was being declared.
Many commentators take Paul’s mention of the proclamation of Christ being done ‘in all wisdom’ as a comment on the false teachers who were raising themselves up in Colossae and who were putting others down by their pronouncements of a deeper wisdom than the believers possessed. Even that they considered themselves to be on a far higher spiritual plain because of their superior knowledge and perception, tempting those who didn’t possess what they had to move over to their way of thinking for deeper insight and understanding.
Whether this is true or not, hardly seems to be demonstrable from the text at hand and we should, rather, see the phrase as a comment of Paul as to how both ‘teaching’ and ‘admonition’ is brought to the men and women who hear the Gospel.
The concept of wisdom is a strange one which has often defied definition in the Church - or, perhaps better, has been ignored as needing one - and has been allied with both knowledge and understanding, both of which it isn’t, but both of which can be integral parts of its acquisition. Colcar is perfectly correct in his definition of the term as being
‘...the practical application of a divinely given knowledge...’
At the risk of causing the reader to baulk at the possibility of me being insane, I must include here an extract from my hamster stories on the web in which one of our past hamsters called Hakeem (a Russian) is trying to make me understand the difference between the concepts of ‘knowledge’, ‘understanding’ and ‘wisdom’. It seemed like a good vehicle by which to get across to the Church the need for clarification of the issue (the reader should also note that ‘Arlev’ was the name of the hamster’s brother which he shared the nest compartment with).
‘What is wisdom, Hakeem?’
He put down the walnut carefully by his side and fixed his gaze on a distant object that lay somewhere beyond his vision. Before he had a chance to reply, I added:
‘And what’s knowledge? And understanding? I’ve read so much literature with those words in but I don’t always realise just what the author is getting at. Are they very much different from each another?’
‘They can be’ Hakeem began ‘Yes, they usually are. But you must be careful - the words overlap in meaning. There’s no universal concept that applies to every occurrence. But there are definitions that hold true for the majority’
‘Let me begin with knowledge’ he continued ‘that seems just about the easiest to define. Knowledge is simply learning or information - facts about subjects and events’
‘Like me knowing about you?’ I offered ‘That you...’ I racked my brains for a relevant example and was surprised that little came to mind ‘that you...er...like sunflower seeds to eat?’
‘Precisely. But, though you have the knowledge, you don’t have any idea why we like them’
‘Why do you?’
‘Trade secret - besides, I could extol the virtues of all sorts of foods all night and you’d be none the wiser. But I only mention it because the question “why?” is the foundation of understanding - that’s the second concept you asked me about’
‘Sorry, I don’t follow you’
Hakeem sighed deeply but persevered.
‘Understanding has to do with the perception of an individual, the insight that’s gained from the knowledge that you have. For instance...’ it was Hakeem’s turn to try and think of an example - he didn’t rack his brains for too long ‘...the stories that Arlev and I have told you - we’ve given you knowledge but not everyone will perceive what they mean. Many will gain knowledge by reading them but they won’t achieve insight into the teaching they impart’
‘Yes, I think I see’ I smiled ‘that sounds really very simple. So knowledge isn’t as important as understanding?’
‘Precisely! But knowledge is the foundation stone of understanding, without which it can’t be obtained’
‘You know, we have “memory men” in the entertainment world, Hakeem, and their heads are filled with facts and figures that astound those who hear them - but you’re saying that knowledge doesn’t profit unless it yields understanding?’
‘Yes, that’s right’
Hakeem paused without having any intention of beginning another sentence. He was waiting for me to fix the definition in my mind until I was confident that I’d got a sure hold on the principle. I guess he was waiting for me to break the silence, to show him that I was ready to go on.
‘So where does wisdom fit into all this, then?’
‘Well, it doesn’t really fit in anywhere’
He wriggled about on the spot as if he was uneasy to lump the three words together as I’d done. His face showed me that he was contemplating just how to express the next concept.
‘Wisdom - very simply, you understand - is knowing what is right to do in a situation and carrying it out. I must mention that last bit - so many people think that just “knowing” is sufficient, but that’s foolishness. Now, wisdom - naturally speaking - is built upon experience...’
Again Hakeem paused to think of a good example.
‘...like I know that I shouldn’t wake Arlev when he’s asleep cos he’ll only squeak and scratch. That wisdom didn’t come overnight, you know, I have the scars to prove it. But it was an experience that imparted wisdom to me - though I would have been a fool if I hadn’t let experience be my teacher’
‘Is that why the old are supposed to be wiser than the young?’ I asked.
‘Yes. But many’s the youngster who’s wiser than his elders - wisdom is acquired by experience and some refuse to be taught!’
‘So it’s not sitting around looking wise that counts?’
‘No, no’ Hakeem squeaked with laughter and raised a paw to cover his eyes ‘wisdom is an action word, it can’t be passive’
‘Sorry, Hakeem, you seem to have lost me. What do you mean by “it can’t be passive”?’
‘It’s like your word “faith”...’
‘What does he know about our word “faith”?’ I thought ‘That’s a human concept’
‘...many think of it simply as a creed, a series of beliefs or even a warm feeling - and there are other strange interpretations - but faith makes you do things, it propels its possessor into action’
‘Yes!’ I half-shouted ‘That’s why it says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”!’
‘What’s that you’re quoting?’
‘Oh, just a verse from the Bible. I see now - you can’t “fear God” and not do anything about it, the attitude demands a response!’
In the context of what Paul’s writing here, then, the indication is that admonition and teaching are imparted with wisdom - that is, in knowing what’s right and proper for each occasion. The apostle doesn’t rush in to situations with a fixed agenda and content of his message but tailors the Gospel to fit the situation in which he finds himself and the people to whom he’s come.
This doesn’t mean that he waters it down in any way or pulls back from proclaiming to them the message of the Gospel but that he’s careful to let both his admonition and teaching be adapted to the recipients.
An alternative interpretation here is one that sees the admonition and teaching’s content as being, in itself, wisdom - that is, men and women are told what’s both correct and incorrect to do rather than what a lot of preachers bring to their hearers of what is and isn’t intellectually acceptable (which would have required the phrase ‘in all knowledge’ according to the definitions above). Therefore, Colbrien notes that
‘...Paul in the proclamation of Christ brings all wisdom within the reach of all’
Both appear to be equally possible and neither should be rejected at the expense of the other.
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