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Being a Faithful Minister of Christ

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Being a Faithful Minister of Christ

Being a Faithful Minister of Christ

Colossians 1:7

Sermon transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill

The verse we’re on is Colossians 1:7. It runs, “As you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf.” Epaphras obviously was a Colossian, grew up in Colossae, and then became a sub-apostle in a way – not as high as that, but, as he says, “a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf.” He kind of ministered when the apostles weren’t there — ministered on their behalf. “As you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf.”

I thought it would be good to zero in on, “a faithful minister of Christ” – what that is — and tie it up with what you can actually do for people who respond to the ministry that God has given us through the Internet and through the websites.

I don’t know how much you’ve thought about that –“Now what are we meant to do? Are we to try to get them together in little house churches? Maybe then this would develop into a world house church — that they’d all come to service here every Sunday morning.”

I don’t think so. It seems to me that so often the churches are part of the problem. Or not so much the churches, but the preoccupation, as it were, with social media — the preoccupation with other people. This is very much “a world relating to itself” time in history. Everybody is anxious to be on social media, to get to know other people, and even find marriage partners through the Internet.

So everybody seems to be preoccupied with, “What is this person doing? What is that person doing, and what should I be doing?” So I don’t know if that is what God has raised us up for.

It seems to me that’s often part of the problem even with today’s churches. Everybody’s preoccupied with the rest of the congregation —whether they’re up waving their hands and singing, or whether they’re engaged in organizations together to look after the children, or to provide for the poor. There’s a strong drive to be working with other people and to be interested in what others are doing. It seems to me the whole battle is to get people to stop – to take their eyes off everybody around them and what everybody else is doing — and to get real with God! — and to start listening to him, and to having a real relationship with him.

It seems to me that’s the great difficulty today. There’s really very little understanding of how to get in touch with God, or how to allow him to run your life or to guide you. Every time anybody thinks of that, they tend to think of, “Well, what would you suggest I do?” or, “What does this person find useful in prayer?” or, “How does this person do Bible study?” or, “How do they do it in your church?” It tends to be a preoccupation with what other people are doing, and therefore you getting an idea yourself of what you could do. It seems to me there’s plenty of that.

What there is surprisingly little of is what really is the heart of what God did for us when we came to Jesus. It’s Galatians 4:6: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” “Because you are sons” – because God has made you inside his Son – “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”

But that’s the very heart of what happens when you become a Christian. God sends the Spirit of his Son into your heart.

We all know that verse. We all of course agree that that’s what happens. But there’s a tendency to say, “OK. We’ve got that organized! All right. That’s what happens! Now, let’s go on and be like him.” It’s as if – dare I say, at the risk of irreverence – a little baby is inside, saying, “I’m here. I’m here!”

It’s as if we accept the idea that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. “Now, let’s get expressing that to other people. And let’s find out how other people express that to other people.”

So instead of us ending up inimitable (in-“not”, imitable)-instead of us ending up “not imitable” children of God – that is, a child of God that is unique! A child of God that is not imitated by someone else, and cannot be imitated by anybody else – instead of us ending up inimitable children of God, in whom Christ’s Spirit lives and directs – we forget all that! and we forget that internal voice.

I would dare to say that the great majority of Christians operate that way. They operate as if Christ has not come into their hearts.

I think that what God wants us to do is to not necessarily get them all together in house churches — and not get them into some kind of Internet organization. I think God wants us to be faithful ministers of Christ who encourage them to listen to Christ within them, and pray for them that Christ will be formed in them. That’s what is talked about in Galatians 4:19: “My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!” The Greek actually means, “until Christ be fully formed in you.” My little children, with whom I am again in travail, until Christ be fully formed in you.

Why does he call them children? Because these Galatians had actually fallen back into being little children!

Somebody that you might keep in mind when you go onto the Internet is a man called Austin Sparks, whom I’ve mentioned to Irene at times, and I’ve always known through the years, but haven’t read much of his work. But Austin Sparks was a very organized, sensible, intelligent sharer of the reality of Christ in your inner life. He makes that point that the Galatians behaved like little children. That is, he says, with a little child, you have to say, “OK, lift that vase there and put it over there. No, not there! Over there. That’s right. OK.”

Then you come back, and they’re still little children, and they don’t know what to do, and you say the same thing over again. You have to tell them what to do, when to do it, why they’re doing it, in what way this instance is different from that, what they have to do here that wouldn’t work over there. You have to treat them as little children who really don’t use their minds at all – just do what you tell them to do, and are very forgetful.

He says, “Not so with an adult. An adult remembers what was done, works out why it was done that way, and how this next instance differs. So he has within him an ability to work out what to do.”

But the Galatians had fallen back into just being little children. They argued over this issue –

over abortion, or over whether you should treat this person this way, or who should do this, or what you should do in this situation — and they were preoccupied all the time with the things little children are preoccupied with. “Tell me everything. Tell me how to do each thing. I have no ability to work it out for myself. Tell me what I have to do. That’s all I need to know.”

Dare I say that that covers a lot of Christian literature these days? — that a lot of it is telling other people what we’re supposed to do as Christians. But somebody who is no longer a child, somebody in whom Christ is fully formed, has within them Christ himself and his mind. He is able to direct them in all the situations they come in to, so that they know what to do from within.

That’s what becoming a Christian is. It’s receiving Christ’s Spirit into you, so that he is able to tell you what to do, and you’re able to hear him speak. Of course what Paul was saying is, “I’m in travail again, because you’re falling back into the old ways! You’re arguing over what this person can do as a Jew, or what he can’t do as a Christian. You’re falling back into being a child, as if there’s no one within you who can explain it all to you.”

Of course it comes back to what we’ve said before, where Jesus says, “I do not call you servants – because a servant doesn’t know what his Lord is doing. I have called you friends, because I want you to understand how I think and how I feel, and then to respond on that basis.” So that’s what a minister of Christ does.

That’s your job. That you can carry on individually. By all means, if two or three people somewhere, in Korea or India or here in the States, want to get together and have a house church – that’s all right. But our job is not to build up groups. Our job is to build up Christ in each individual person, to pray for them, and to minister Christ to them.

So, a minister of Christ is one who enables them to experience more and more fully Christ in them. That requires prayer – to be in travail – and it requires wisdom as you talk with them. But it seems to me, that’s certainly what we can do.

It might help you when you’re communicating with people, or when people are communicating with you. I don’t think it needs to be just a one-off – give them an answer and that’s it – that’s the package done, and let them go. No, I think it’s good to have ongoing relationships. Obviously there’s a limit to how many ongoing relationships you can manage worldwide. That requires your wisdom too, and your honesty with the people you’re communicating with.

But it seems to me that’s what God wants us to do – to be as Epaphras was – a faithful minister of Christ. We’ve often talked about that in the past – the difference between ministering the truth to a person, and telling them a truth. Often ministering truth to certain people requires explaining it in a different way, and a softer way at times, and a quieter way. Even when you think of what we were talking about in regard to, “Will our unsaved brothers and sisters be with Christ? What will happen in that situation?” It seems to me there are many ways to minister the truth and heart of that in a way that is upbuilding and appropriate, and takes them on to the next step.

There are other ways where you minister it harshly and hardly, so it brings about what we have said – bleakness and coldness into the whole thought for them of what the future is about. So there’s a ministry that involves wisdom and light from God.

I would say that’s what our calling is – to minister individually. Not by any means to discourage if

two or three people want to get together in a home church, or somebody develops some huge church. That’s their business! But our own responsibility is to build up Christ in other people.

That’s a fine and very sensitive task. So when we think what our responsibility is to these people that we contact via the Internet, that’s an obvious base part of it – to be a minister of Christ to them. Someone who encourages them to listen to Jesus!

I’m sure you’ve been in this situation. It’s very easy to toss it off: “You just have to listen to Christ,” or, “Just ask Christ – what would he do?” You need to show in ways that it has worked with you, and explain to them what it means to you, so that they can catch on to that, and get some idea. And of course, pray for them.

Paul is in no doubt. It’s an extreme word. Ladies know it, and we men sympathize with you. But certainly everybody knows that when you talk about a person being in travail, you’re thinking of someone who is, let’s say, a little concerned! It’s something that touches their very selves. When a lady is in travail, it’s something that touches her whole being, and occupies and causes her much concern and much thought.

So it is for anything that we’re in travail for. “Travaille” is “work” in French – it’s being in work, and it’s a work. To be in travail is to be at work, to do some hard labor, to bring something forth that is miraculous. That’s really what you’re doing with another person – to bring forth Christ within them. That’s a miraculous event. That’s something the Holy Spirit can do. But you certainly can be at it — a midwife, as it were — someone who helps that process to become real.

Certainly you’re someone who can make it very clear what a Christian is. A Christian is one into whom God has sent the Spirit of his Son, whereby we cry “Abba, Father!” – so that you treat God as your loving father. So you can explain to a person that whole attitude.

That’s why at times I have tended to use the word “Father.” I have gone easy on “the Lord.” The Lord — I can see that it is very good, very Hebraic, very Old Testament — because “Yahweh” combined with “Adonai” becomes “Jehovah”, because they took the vowels of Adonai and put them into the consonants of Yahweh. That gets “Jehovah.” So it’s that idea of the Father creator. So you do everything you can to help people see that it’s not just that, “Oh, the Lord will do this and he’ll do that.” But our dear Father thinks this way and thinks that way.

It seems to me even as you talk about God, they catch it. “Oh, that’s different!” They may think you’re a little strange at first. But they catch it. “Oh, you seem to have some real affection for him. Oh! Could it be that he really has affection for me? Oh, surely not. He’s God!”

So you can do a great deal to help a person sense what it is for the Spirit of God’s Son to come into their hearts. Then it’s endless once they get that idea – once they catch on and begin to treat Christ as the Lord inside them. Then there is a whole life that opens to them. But they actually catch it first in a way from you. Not so much from the words you say, but by your own attitude. They sense you feel, “Oh, you really feel close. You really feel he is inside you. You really think he can tell you things.” This is especially so if you give little instances of when Christ has spoken to you.

So that’s what we have to do. We have to build up Christ within them – work with them until Christ is fully formed in them — be able to show them where he isn’t fully formed. I was thinking just

before we started today – you can see very living ways in which Christ is fully formed. “Yes, he’s fully formed exactly above here! This other part — is my own!”

Is Christ fully formed in your mind? Is Christ fully formed in your tummy? Is Christ fully formed in the way you speak? Have you given him your ears? Have you given him your face? Have you given him your smile? Have you given him your happiness? Have you given him your “get up in the morning dull and tired and worn attitude” – like some miserable people I know! {Referring to the way he often feels when he gets up.} Is Christ fully formed? It’s very real.

You can see it’s very real, very human, something that a person can catch right away — if you start talking with Christ being fully formed in you, and talk this way through the day. Is this Christ doing that? Is Christ reaching out his hand like that? It’s so obvious. I’ve so often said to myself, “Would Christ speak to Irene {Pastor O’Neill’s wife] like that?” It’s plain.

Let’s pray. Dear Lord, we thank you for your goodness to us. We thank you for all the way your hand has led us. We thank you, Lord Jesus, for the great privilege for being faithful ministers of Christ – men and women who minister you to others in the way that is real and true — in a way that enables them to turn around in a second and speak to you. Lord Jesus, we thank you. We pray now for your life for each one of us, and for the wisdom of your Spirit, so that we may do that with the dear hearts that communicate and respond to the Internet ministry.

We pray, Lord, that you will make us effective ministers of you to their spirits, and that you yourself, Lord Jesus, may rejoice as we pray for your upbuilding in their lives and their hearts. Lord, we would pray now for them, that you would be fully formed in the men and women that come on to our websites, and that you would begin to live in them, and to glorify yourself through them. Now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us, now and evermore. Amen.