Theodore Austin-Sparks said that the mere existence of epistles after the Gospels points out the fact that Christianity is not a single event that happens to you, but a lifetime of progression in knowledge, which should lead to further obedience. That underpins our discourse today and I hope we come to a “unity of the faith” on this matter.
The Apostle Paul was indisputably instrumental in the early church and it’s growth. Even as he went about doing his work, his heart’s desire was to see certain traits in the churches that he had either founded or at least had spent considerable time working in. This desire is expressed in his prayer of thanksgiving when he heard of two traits in these churches – Faith and Love.
“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers”(Eph 1:15-16)
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love you have for all the saints – the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth.” (Col 1:3-4)
“We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess 1:2-3)
“We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.” (2 Thes 1:3)
As you may have observed from these passages, he talks about “faith in Christ Jesus” and “love for the brethren”. One may ask what was so distinct about these that he continuously looked out for them in the members of these churches (and I believe wherever else he went). There are quite a number of reasons, but we will look at only a few.
Because faith is the foundation of our relationship with Christ. You see, when we love someone, we want to please them. Heb 6:11 says without faith it is impossible to please God. That means God himself has shown the way we may show love to him – by faith in Him. Christ’s atoning death on the cross achieves a certain double edged benefit for us.
In the negative sense, it sets us free from sin and it’s ultimate punishment, death.(Ro 6:3-14; Heb 2:9)
“The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the live he lives, he lives to God.” (Ro 6:10)
“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour, because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone”. (Heb 2:9)
In the positive sense, it brings us into fellowship with Christ himself and the Father, a fellowship that existed when God created man. (I Jn 1:3; 1 Cor 1:9; 1 Pe 2:9-10)
“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 Jn 1:3)
The first benefit had to come, to enable the second one. God could not have fellowship with sinful man, but since Christ has become the intermediary for us, we are able to approach God now and our fellowship with him is now restored. When the Scriptures say that Abraham walked with God, it does literally mean that. Simply put, he was a man of faith not in anything or anyone else, but God alone. We cannot clothe God when he’s naked because he never is. We cannot feed him when He is hungry, because he never is.
What determines our fellowship with God is faith. Even our ability to take advantage of Christ’s aforementioned work is again only by faith. Nothing else suffices. There is nothing else we can do for God besides that.
Because love is the basis of our relationship with each other. Note that we are talking about “love for the saints”, not the rest of the world. Many Christians today engage in some good deeds for their communities and those in need but who are not a part of the saints that they share fellowship with. Though this is commendable, their real first responsibility is to the saints (Gal 6:10). In fact, in Jn 13:34-35, Christ says the basis upon which the world and by extension Himself will identify his disciples is through the love the disciples have for one another.
The fellowship described previously is a fellowship akin to family. God becomes our Father, and we his sons. Check out what Jesus told Mary when she met the risen Christ on the third day:
“.. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God‘”.(Jn 20:17)
Now imagine I claim that God is my Father and you also claim that God is your Father. By simple logic, we are siblings, right? But I withhold the use of a spiritual gift which will build you up simply because of some personal problem I have with you. That is not a family in sync. That is hypocrisy, pure and simple. That’s why James had some strong words for those who saw their brother in need but only told them “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed” (Jas 2:16).
It is therefore not surprising that Paul is overjoyed to find these traits in them. These are the things that show growth, and signs that we should all look for in our lives, those of our fellow Christians and in our churches. Not growth in numbers, as wonderful as that may be.
Having thanked God for the exhibit of faith in Christ and love for the brethren that he had witnessed in these disciples, he goes on to pray for something additional, something which I believe is the source of these two traits in the first place – he prays that they may know Christ more. He believes that their faith and love will abound more not just in “gnosis” – knowledge – but in “epignosis” – what the Strong’s dictionary defines as “recognition, that is, (by implication) full discernment, acknowledgement: – (ac-) knowledge (-ing, -ment).”
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.” (Phil 1:9-10)
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints and his incomparably great power for us who believe”. (Eph 1:17-19)
“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” (Col 1:9)
When men have come to that discernment of Christ, then they can be deemed to have become mature in Christ. Until then, they are still babies. This same word “epignosis” is the basis again of the word “knowledge” used by Paul in describing the reason why God gives us the ministries of apostle, prophets, teachers etc.
“to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:12-13).
The new life experience as a result of repentance and faith in Christ was never the end in itself to the disciples of old. It was only the beginning of a process, the purpose of which is that we “attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”. And this can only be achieved through the discernment of Christ’s supremacy, His superiority and his position as the foremost of all things in heaven and on earth, God having purposed that everything be summed up in Him. This is what Paul describes as “the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” (Eph 1:9-10)
This is not just a knowledge that we have, it is knowledge that we experience. It is knowledge that moves us into a life of faith and love without limits. When you’ve caught this vision of Christ, you don’t need any motivational message or any other gospel. Christ himself and the attainment “of the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”, becomes your passion. Nothing on this earth holds you back any more.
Now this knowledge and the work that it does in our lives Christ can only be granted by the Holy Spirit working within us. That is why them that continue to walk according to the flesh are unable to discern Christ, and therefore are unable to please Him as Ro 8:7-8 tells us. This is why Paul yearned to see further increase of “epignosis” in the disciples, which will only make their “love to abound more” (Phil 1:10), and obviously their faith as well. His hope, his prayer, his mission was that by making this knowledge of Christ’s supremacy real to them and they accepting it, he may then be able to present fully rounded, mature and perfect men to God as the evidence of his work.
“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. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” (Col 1:27-28).
“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Th 2:19-20)
It is interesting to note that this yearning of Paul’s was consciously transferred to those who had close fellowship with him in the glorious burden of service to Christ. See what Epaphras, the elder from Colosse’s prayer day and night was for:
“Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured”.(Col 4:12)
2 Cor 10:4-5 is a very well known passage in the arsenal of the modern day Christian, and I’ll like us to draw the curtains by taking a very good second look at it. Note my emphasis in bold.
“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor 10:4-5)
Although the word “knowledge” here refers to “gnosis” – the simple form – and not “epignosis”, one cannot ignore the fact that the strongholds that we are fighting are not “devils”, “witches” and “enemies” as we Africans always postulate in our sermons. Though there is no doubt that these strongholds are from the devil, the strongholds themselves have to do with issues of the mind – arguments, things that stand against the knowledge of God, thoughts etc. The battlefield has always been in the mind, and until we are “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Ro 12:2) so that our minds and hearts are filled with the gnosis and epignosis of Christ, the devil will continue to hold sway over us. In fact, any preacher who spends most of his time teaching you more about the devil, witches and “enemies” than filling you with knowledge of Christ and his supremacy and sufficiency, and must be discounted as a false preacher. Trust me, in Ghana even our dailies are filled with such false doctrine from “great” men of God.
If we continuously bring men to Christ only so that they will fill the church seats and be utterly ignorant of Christ, we are only doing the devil a service. Because until men are “perfect in Christ” (not “perfect” by their own measure), they are useless to Him when he returns. If we want to see more faith and love in our churches, we must first see more knowledge of Christ in them. There is no short cut.