And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. Col. 4:16
That is the voice of the father – a spiritual father. There are many more instances in the apostolic epistles of a spiritual father addressing his children. And here we see the Apostle Paul addressing the same thing to two different churches simultaneously: “When you read this letter, cause it to be read by the Laodeceans; and you likewise read my letter to the Laodiceans.”
How could this be? Was Paul addressing his denomination, or his ministry? By no means. A denomination is a dead thing because it is man-made; but Paul was addressing the church of the Living God. Paul was addressing a living Body. And this Body was one. Whichever church Paul had a relationship with was similar to the other for the simple reason that they were being conformed to the image of Christ. They were not being conformed to the image of Paul, but of Christ, who died and rose again.
One of the gravest dangers in the church today is conformationism. The church is being conformed all right, but to whom is it being conformed? Even in churches that confess the revelation of the cross, the question must be asked, to whom are they being conformed? Yes, they are being conformed to their pastor, but is the pastor conformed after Christ?
You cannot have a church in Tanzania that carries its own peculiar image (read its pastor’s image) and one in Europe that carries a different image (its pastor’s). If it is so, then this speaks of churches that are not under the ministry of an apostle, for there cannot be two different images of Christ. There is only one image of Christ, which the apostle brings into the church. Where the apostle is ministering, throughout, you will find only one image amongst the people:
“Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2)
That is so simple and clear. And it ought to be very, very clear to the church. The church cannot be said to be like Christ because it worships in a certain way or prays in certain manner.
This is the reason for God bringing the apostle to the church. A true apostle is a man who has died, that Christ may live in him. In this way, he reveals the crucified Christ. Therefore, wherever and whatever he touches or ministers, it is no longer him, but Christ who will be seen and known. And there is no other Christ that can be revealed to the church apart from
“Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”
The issue of Christ being formed in the church is no light thing. It is something that requires a total death to the body of the one chosen by God to carry this ministry. Recall what God told Ananias about Paul:
“15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: 16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” Acts 9:15-16
Paul would suffer. He would suffer just as Christ suffered, until he put away his carnal body.
An apostle who has suffered in the body will reveal the cross; he will reveal the crucified Christ. Hence the Apostle Paul writes:
“From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” (Gal. 6:17)
The Body of Christ. It must be one. The church cannot be like So-and-So. It must be like Christ. It must have the image of Christ, not the image of a man. Throughout the entire world. Through conforming to the image of the crucified Christ, who it is who rose again.
Then the church will be one, showing off the character and riches of Christ in the Spirit.
My final thought is that the church should be extremely wary of anyone who calls themselves an apostle. This is not someone you can invite lightly into your life or church. He must be someone whose life you have examined in the light of Christ and found to fulfill the criteria that the early apostles carried. And we can find them only if we have a heart for God in truth and in the Spirit.
[The great Mara River bridge]