Moore’s newest students called to proclaim Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom

“Can I begin by saying what a delight it is to see you all here this morning? You really are the answer to many prayers. The faculty, the Governing Board and many others have been praying that God would continue send to us men and women he has claimed as his own, men and women gifted for ministry, faithful, teachable and committed to loving and sacrificially serving God’s people. And here you are. We’re thrilled you are, and every one of us, faculty, staff, your fellow students, want to help you make the very most out of your one, two, three or four years at Moore College. You are very welcome. I hope you feel that every day you’re here.

If you’ve brought your Bible here with you this morning, then would you turn with me to Colossians 1. I’d like to read with you and think for just a moment about six verses in this first chapter of Paul’s letter to a young church in the Lycos Valley. I think it’s a great introduction to what we are on about here at Moore College. 

People sometimes indulge all kinds of misconceptions about Moore College or theological colleges in general. Some think that coming to theological college is all about acquiring information — well, there’s a lot of information in whichever of our courses you are enrolling in this year. There is a body of knowledge to be handed on, ‘the faith once for all delivered to the saints’. But just acquiring information is not enough and it doesn’t take you to the heart of what we are all about. 

Others have suggested theological college is all about developing skills, learning how to analyse a text, translate from ancient Hebrew or Greek, mount a theological argument, preach powerfully persuasive sermons. I hope you will develop those skills while at Moore College, but if that’s what you think this is all about your vision is still too small.

Still others have seen theological college as a place where they can achieve academic success and begin to build a name for themselves. Well, like most educational institutions we assess work with marks and award degrees at the end of it all. But that’s not the main game. And impressing others by how brilliant you are? Not only is that empty and foolish, but it is entirely the opposite of what we are on about.

And that’s where Colossians 1 can help us keep our bearings. Let’s pick up what Christ’s apostle has to say from verse 24:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 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 1.24–29)

If we had been reading this letter from the beginning we would know that Paul has been talking about the advance of the gospel in all the world. The powerful gospel of God made an impact in this little city of Colossae and in the lives of those who gathered as the church there.

We could very easily have taken, as a text for this talk, verses earlier in this chapter. Indeed they’ve played an important part in previous Big Day Ins. Verses 9 and 10 spell out what Paul was praying for as he prayed for the Christians in this town. 

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, 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. (Colossians 1.9–10)

There is a very important sense in which everything we are doing here is about increasing in the knowledge of God. Knowledge of God — not in the abstract sense of information but knowledge that shapes the way we live, that results in walking in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him and bearing fruit in every good work. That knowledge of God. And the knowledge of God — the God who out of love has made us and redeemed us, the one who has knit us into the fellowship of his people and given us the hope of eternal life. We are all about knowing him. You have come to Moore College to increase in your knowledge of God.

But I do want to take us to the later passage I read earlier, because I think it helps us to sharpen our focus a little. The powerful gospel of God that has made such an impact in Colossae, and which Paul prays will continue to have an impact on the lives of those in Colossae, has been brought to them by a servant of God. And Paul explains what being a servant of God and his gospel entails.

Take a look again at the final two verses of this chapter and notice three things Paul says he does:

This servant of God proclaims Christ.

This servant of God warns and teaches with all wisdom.

This servant of God strives to present everyone mature in Christ.

1. We Proclaim Christ

‘Him we proclaim’ — It is very simple really. Despite the temptation to speak about everything else, Paul and those who follow the pattern of his ministry, proclaim Christ. It is all about him. I have no business preaching the beauty of the reformed faith, the glories of Anglicanism, or a Christianized version of our culture or its moral perspective. Our business is to preach Christ. Paul told the Corinthians – an audience used to getting the very best international speakers to grace their platforms and bring them up to date with the latest ideas — that he was determined to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

One of my favourite quotes about preaching, one I fear you will get tired of hearing if you spend four years with us, comes from a congregational  minister and head of a theological college from the early twentieth century. James Denney insisted, ‘No man can show at one and the same time that he is clever and Jesus Christ is mighty to save’. You have to make a decision — early on in your ministry — that it does not matter if you are entirely forgettable. What matters is that Christ is known. I’m going to be drawing attention to him or to myself. I can’t do both.

The apostle Paul knew the temptation of wanting people to endorse your ministry, wanting others to recognise how insightful, how effective a communicator you are. Yet he insisted to the Colossians, not me; ‘Him we proclaim’.  As you begin your time at Moore College, with so much exciting learning ahead of you (and it will be thrilling at points), will you commit yourself to precisely this — to proclaim him and not yourself or anyone else? ‘Him we proclaim’ — Paul said it. At the end of your ministry will you truthfully be able to say it too?

You have come to Moore College to be equipped to proclaim Christ. Stick close to that, won’t you.

2. We warn and teach with all wisdom

Have a look again with me at verse 28. The second thing Paul says here about what he does as a servant of God is ‘warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom’. He gave himself, night and day, throughout the year, when convenient and when inconvenient, whether he was housed and paid or left to find his own means of living, to the task of warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom.

In Acts 20 we find the record of Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders. He had spent around two years with the Christians in Ephesus and when it was clear he wouldn’t see them again he gathered the elders and gave them a final charge to carry on the work he had begun. And there, amid a variety of descriptions Paul gives of what he has done — serving the Lord with all humility, declaring anything that was profitable testifying to the gospel of the grace of God, proclaiming the kingdom and declaring the whole counsel of God — he says ‘I did not cease night and day to admonish everyone with tears’. The word admonish there is the same word for warning here in Colossians.

This servant of God was involved in a double action both in Ephesus and here in Colossae. He warned and he taught. He spoke of the dangerous situation of the world — rushing headlong towards the judgment of God and refusing to open their eyes to see it — and of the truth God speaks into the world, the gospel of God’s son which changes how you look at everything else. The ministry of the word of God always has this double edge of challenge and comfort, of warning and teaching.

We are unashamedly committed to a ministry of the word of God here at Moore College. We want to prepare you, in the best way we know how, to give yourself fully and sacrificially to this ministry of the word, of both warning and teaching. Of course this is accompanied by all sorts of other things, not least those things Paul spoke about in the earlier sentences from this chapter: ‘walking in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work’. But at its heart is warning of the judgement to come — and that’s a warning both the world and Christians need to hear again and again — and teaching what God has made known about his plan to rescue people from that judgement.

The theology we teach here at Moore College is not something abstract, not something just for improving your mind or giving you a sense of intellectual satisfaction. It is for teaching and preaching. It is for giving us, and all who will hear, the clearest possible view of the gospel of Christ which shines in its fullness when seen against the darkness of reality of sin and the inevitability of judgement.

And the third thing Paul, the servant of God mentions here? 

This servant of God strives to present everyone mature in Christ. Paul’s goal was not simply the multiplication of churches, though he was the most productive church planter in history. His goal was not just see people come to the point of decision about Christ, though was there ever an evangelist so insistent on the need for decision than Paul? He wanted to bring people to maturity, to strong, resilient adulthood in the faith, to that stability that meant they are not tossed around by every new idea that is publicised in the community or in the churches but are rather clear on what matters and where they are heading. 

I don’t know about you, but one of the things I’ve noticed and valued most in mature, older believers, those who have walked with the Lord and among his people for a lifetime, is the sense of perspective they often have. Where we can easily get thrown by new circumstances, new challenges, new heroes who insist that if only we’d do this or do that we’d have instant success in the Christian life or in ministry, they so often point to the unchangeable truths of the gospel in the midst of the flux of the world. There’ll be another new circumstance tomorrow or in a year’s time, another new challenge, another new guru who will be feted for a while and then disappear to be replaced by yet another one, but God is still God, Jesus is still reigning at the Father’s right hand, the gospel is still the powerful way God saves people and the Holy Spirit is the only one who can bring people from death to life, from foolishness to the wisdom of faith.

At Moore College we are interested in all of us growing to spiritual maturity and, just as importantly, in becoming useful in presenting those around us mature in Christ. Not just knowing things, not just skilled in doing things, but mature in Christ. In other words we are interested in Christian character as well as Christian conviction and Christian competence in ministry.

Paul as a servant of God was all about these three things: proclaiming Christ, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, and presenting everyone mature in Christ. It’s a completely other-person-centred agenda for ministry. It’s a completely other-person-centred agenda for theological education.

We’re thrilled you’re here this morning. We’re especially thrilled that your spouses and children are here as well. We want to get to know you all and want you all, not only to feel but to really be, part of this extraordinary Christian community. This is going to be a remarkable year or two or three or four for you. Make the very best of this opportunity God has given you, won’t you? And throughout it all let’s keep the priorities of the apostle as our own. Him we proclaim; warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom; presenting everyone mature in Christ.”

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