When I was at Letourneau University, I was asked to host the yearly comedy show on campus. It was attended by a thousand or more college students who were eager to laugh. I had to do a handful of comedy sketches, which was both exhilarating and frightening.
The comedy sketches all relied heavily on the backstage crew. In the opening act, I had one of the stagehands role a huge box out. They were to unlock it. The crew rolled the box out but forgot to unlock it. That wouldn't have mattered, except that I was inside the box waiting to pop out. Another member of the crew realized it and shot on stage to undo the latch. It tickled the crowd when my blue shoed foot shot straight up out of the box on opening. I know it sounds dumb and a little bit dangerous, but it was low budget comedy. Laughter was easy to find after that.
Next, I had the idea that we could get some laughs if, instead of doing invisible wardrobe changes backstage, we had a few crew members change my costume right there on stage in front of everyone. It's odd to have your clothes changed by strangers in front of a thousand people, which is why it was funny. We kept it G rated, obviously, but we got a lot of laughs from the ridiculous scenario.
I had another bit in which I told a story while wearing a really nice three-piece suit. The gag at the end was that I would turn around to reveal that the entire back of the suit was gone. I would then exit the stage through the center stage door. I had to have the crew open the door at precisely the right time, or the bit would not work.
Being my first time to work with a well-trained stage crew, I was enamored by their selfless effort to make the show go off without a hitch. They were so generous and committed to teamwork. I was doing the biggest presentation of my life, and I couldn't have done it without the stage crew.
If you are a Christian, someday you will take the stage… metaphorically. One day you will give the most significant presentation of your life. You'll be required to give an account of your mortal time on earth, standing before Christ's judgment seat. You'll make a presentation before the Lord, accounting for how you spent your life. When that time comes, it's going to matter that you had a good stage crew behind the scenes.
Some of us will finally stand before the Lord, and what we have to present will be shameful. The completed Christian life we will account for will be sloppy, full of embarrassments, conflicts, and ultimately imperfect.
Why do so many Christians not prepare for the life-presentation they will have to give one day before the Lord? Why do so many believers persist in sloppy living?
One of the biggest reasons so many of us will face a shameful presentation before Christ is our isolation. The world is more connected than it's ever been, but it's as fractured and divided as ever. I see a kind of toxic tribalism growing. We draw battle lines in smaller and smaller spaces where even Christians of the same faith tradition are fighting against one another. It's like having a stage crew that can't get along. The show will suffer.
In the politically correct world we live in; we are afraid to get out of step with social etiquette. Even among believers, we've become scared to talk about Biblical instructions for Godly living. This has badly hurt our ability to bear one another's burdens. It blocks us from giving lifestyle wisdom to other believers who badly need it. The so-called virtue of tolerance is prioritized above our duty to help other Christians find a way out of the sin trap. Sinning Christians are allowed to stay sinners, and saints are expected to stay silent. It's like having a stage crew that isn't allowed to do their job. The result is going to be a bad performance.
Each of us needs fellowship with other motivated believers who are working for our good. If any of us ends up having an excellent presentation at the judgment seat of Christ, it will be because we've had dozens of mentors, disciplers, and friends who have worked hard to help us arrive where we are. In many cases, it costs those spiritual allies a lot to help us grow. We need a motivated stage-crew to prepare us for our big presentation. Let's take a look at how Paul played the role of stage-crew for other believers.
Paul ran headlong into harm's way. He headed toward the hurt. Why didn't he chase that pain-free existence that we all seem to be enamored with? What got him up in the morning? What was Paul trying to accomplish with his life and ministry? We have a simple answer to that question in the passage we're exploring. He says:
“Him [Christ] we preach… that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” (Col 1:28 NKJV)
Paul's goal was to present people perfected before the Lord. When I first read this, I was stunned. Even as Christians, we focus a lot on ourselves. If you were to ask me what my goal is, and if I were in a really spiritual mood, I'd probably say that my goal is to try and present MYSELF blameless before Christ.
Of course, Paul thought about his own coming presentation before the Lord. We know that because he mentions the judgment seat of Christ several times in the New Testament. However, he wasn't only thinking of how his own reception might go. He was also thinking of those who were under his care. He was considering how they would be received on that day as well. Paul shows a kind of selfless resolve.
Would you say that it’s your goal to present people perfect in Christ? I'm kind of ashamed to admit, even though I'm a pastor and Bible teacher, that until I read this verse, I had not given much of my thought commodity to my responsibility to other Christians. I hadn't considered how I might be partially responsible for how you are presented to Christ.
I've heard Christians often give up on other Christians. We might get frustrated and say, "She's going to do what she wants to do; I'll just let go and let God." Some might say, "I can't force him to love Jesus; I'll just leave it in God's hands." Others might say, "He's just determined to live in sin; all I can do is pray." Obviously, there are times when there's nothing more we can do. However, much of the time, we give up on troubled people because we don't want the trouble that comes with presenting people perfect in Christ.
We are such isolated individualists that we rarely consider the Christian life to be a shared responsibility. Often we only focus on our personal relationship with the Lord. However, we have a joint relationship with Him, as well. It's one in which we share the burden. We have a duty to help each other arrive perfected at the judgment seat of Christ.
Now, you may be getting a little nervous. All this talk about a perfect presentation may scare you. It probably sounds like an unattainable task, right? Well, just remember, if you've believed in Jesus for eternal life, then you already have it. (John 3:16, 36, 5:24, 6:47, 11:25-26) Eternal life can't be earned, returned, or lost. In that sense, you've already been legally forgiven in the courts of heaven. If you've believed, you are saved.
So, why is there an extra requirement that he calls "perfect?" Does he mean we all must be perfectly sinless? To answer that question, let's look at the same verse according to another translation. Paul says:
We are trying to bring everyone before God as people who have grown to be spiritually mature in Christ. (Col 1:28 ERV)
Being a perfect disciple of Christ doesn't mean being perfectly sinless; it means constantly growing. It doesn't mean we never sin; it means when we sin, we confess and return to fellowship. Each time we do, we grow through the process. Perfection, in this sense, is all about being as mature as we possibly can.
My kids are perfect. Not because they never spill the milk, but because when they spill the milk, they also mop it up. A perfect student isn't the one that starts the year knowing everything; they're the one who ends the year knowing more than they started with. The perfect disciple isn't one who needs no teacher, but the one who listens to his teacher and takes the advice to heart.
So, Paul badly wants to present people perfect in Christ. He wants to prepare people for the day in which they will stand before the Lord and give an account of their Christian life. He wants them to be perfect disciples so that they can approach Christ with confidence. What does it take for Paul to do this? What would it take for Paul to bring people to maturity? The answer might surprise you. Recall what God said about Paul when he called him into ministry:
“I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts. 9:16 NKJV)
What would it take for Paul to bring people to maturity? Suffering! Paul had to suffer to accomplish this huge goal. He was going to have to embrace the pain. He had to head to the hurt. It seems strange to us. Even though he had miraculous powers, incredible faith, and an open telephone line to God, he still had to suffer. He wasn't excused from the pain. In fact, to accomplish his work, he had to face agony over and over. His most indispensable tool was his ability to suffer. He could not accomplish his goal without his relentless willingness to head into the hurt.
How did Paul respond to the suffering he faced?
I am happy in my sufferings for you. There is much that Christ must still suffer. And I gladly accept my part of those sufferings in my body for the good of his body, the church. (Col 1:24 ERV)
He happily accepted his suffering because he knew what it was good for. To accomplish his goal of presenting people perfected in Christ, he had to suffer. He saw this as a trade. He was happy about it. Each time he took a punch, was shipwrecked, or left for dead, he rejoiced.
Christ didn’t suffer so that we could hide from suffering. He had to suffer to bring people to himself. We must suffer to bring people to Christ. We must suffer more to bring people to Christ perfected.
Do you want to be able to present your loved ones perfect in Christ? I know I do, but I also see that it isn't going to be painless. If you want to bring others to maturity, it will include suffering. It will probably be the hardest thing you ever do. Though, I can promise you it will be the most rewarding.
What should we expect if we want to bring others to maturity? Paul gives us a good idea in the next verse:
I became a servant of the church because God gave me a special work to do. This work helps you. My work is to tell the complete message of God. (Col 1:25)
Notice the words servant and work. Not only does presenting people perfected in Christ involve suffering, but it involves hard work. Hard Work sometimes Hurts. Some jobs we like and some are more trouble than they're worth. The beauty of this hard work is that it will always be worth it in the end. In another letter to some of his friends in Rome, he said, "our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Rom 8:18) There have certainly been times that I've decided not to accept the job, though.
When I was in high school, I took a drummer friend to an evangelistic event. He became a believer that night. I knew I should do it, but I resisted discipling him after that. He had some habits that I didn't know how to fix, and I knew it would be awkward to bring them up. I wasn't willing to accept the demanding, inconvenient, time consuming, and painful process of discipling him. I caught a fish but left him floundering on the beach. I didn't do what Paul is talking about here. I wish I had.
Jesus was our greatest example. He often talked of the work His Father had given Him. He accomplished that work. Christ didn't do the work so that we could do nothing. He did His work to make way for us to continue working. Notice how Paul says, “God gave me a special work to do.” My guess is that you have some unfinished work around you. Maybe neighbors, friends, or even family.
I know this may feel like a lot of pressure. After all, are we solely responsible for the development and maturity of fellow believers? Does it all depend on us? The answer to that comes in the next verse. Paul says that his goal is to give the complete message of God, which is:
…the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. God wanted to make known among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1:26-27)
What is the only hope of anyone being presented perfect in Christ? It's "Christ in you, the hope of glory." When you are discipling a believer, you are not working alone. You are doing teamwork with The Almighty. In addition to you, Christ lives in the believer you're trying to disciple, and He also lives in you. That's three on one—pretty good odds if you ask me.
What makes maturity possible? It's possible because Christ lives in them. The discipleship process is when a believer nudges another believer closer to Christ, who already lives in them. If discipleship relied on human effort alone, then all the suffering and pain wouldn't make any difference. Our role is to help them get their conditions right so that God's Spirit can transform them into growing and mature disciples.
What should we focus on in our attempts to present people perfected in Christ? Let's see what Paul focused on:
Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. (Col 1:28)
How does Paul prepare them for a perfect presentation in Christ? He doesn't deliver a list of rules to achieve maturity. He doesn't bark about their bad behavior. He focuses on their mindset. He warns, which touches the person's emotions. He teaches, which gives them Godly knowledge. He offers wisdom, which is practical advice. He focuses on their mindset; that is how they think. If you want to be a disciple-maker, that's what you must do too. The requirement for a person's perfect presentation connects to what's in their mind.
I want us to see one more thing about this verse before we move on. Who is it that Paul is trying to bring to maturity?
Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. (Col 1:28)
Paul is doing his best to warn every man and teach every man that he may present every man. He mentions it three times. He's not just trying to disciple only those close to him; he is working on perfecting as many as possible. He's trying to mature everyone he comes in contact with.
I have a friend who I'm with a lot. He has helped me grow, and I believe I've helped him grow. We've played a valuable role in presenting each other mature in the Lord. I can honestly say that we haven't suffered in our interactions. There's been no pain in our friendship, even though we've helped each other grow. It's been easy and effortless. We fit together pretty well. Sometimes this is how it is. I want to acknowledge that some mature easier than others.
However, several men have asked me to mentor them. For various reasons like distance, personality differences, some bad habits, it has been incredibly hard. I've struggled to bring about any more maturity than they already had. I'm embarrassed to admit that I've failed to follow through on most.
Paul’s thrice repeat of every man reminds us that he isn’t just going after the easy ones. He’s going after every man. He is trying for the big win. It's incredible to think that with every person Paul met, he tried to inch them closer to perfection in the Lord. Is that how we live? I feel inspired to be more like Paul in this. I have a lot of work to do; I bet you do too.
All of this is making me tired. When is break time? When can we just take a rest? Look at how Paul wraps up this chapter:
To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily. (Col 1:29)
When do we get to stop suffering, struggling, to present people perfected in Christ? Paul didn't quit. He worked until the end. It was the goal of his ministry; the pursuit of his life.
Think of your loved ones. Do you want to present them perfect in Christ? Wouldn't you like to help prepare them for Christ's judgment seat? Now expand that. What if every Christian you came in contact with moved closer to maturity because you influenced their life? Wouldn't that be a fantastic achievement? I want that for us. I hope you do too. We should pray that God would bring us opportunities to help mature the people around us. Not just the easy ones, but everyone.
Many Christians will be presented to Christ unperfected because not many endure the pain it takes to become mature. Painful persistence is the price to present people perfect in Christ. Just remember the pain will always be worth it.