Learning to Disciple

Genuine – Part 1 Colossians 1:1-8

By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett

April 11, 2021

            Today we are going to start a new series on the book of Colossians. I am going to call this series Genuine. Colossians is an incredible book that allows us to look at who Jesus is and who we are and it calls us into a genuine faith.

            Just like in our time there were people around the church in Colossae who were promoting a shallow faith. There were people who were promoting a different kind of faith. What Paul does is center the book of Colossians on Jesus. It is the most Jesus centered book that Paul wrote. In doing that, he then invites us in union with Jesus. What he describes in this book is amazing and transformational. So, for the next three months we are going to camp in the book of Colossians.


            Before we jump into the book, let me give you some background. The authors of this book are Paul and Timothy although it looks like Paul is the primary author.

            The book is written to the church in the city of Colossae. Here is an interesting factoid. Paul has never been to the city of Colossae. He only knows the people in the Colossians church through others. We are going to come back to that. But first let me tell you about the church.

            You can see on the map the redline is where Paul traveled on his third missionary journey. The journey started off in Antioch and lasted about two years. He passed close to Colossae which is where the blue arrow points to. He actually passes through Laodicea -which some of you might recognize as one of the 7 churches in the book of Revelation and is about 15 kilometers from Colossae.

            But he doesn’t stop in Laodicea. He stops 160 kilometers away in Ephesus which is pointed out by the black arrow. In Ephesus he starts a training school of sorts and then he sends his disciples out to plant churches all round the area.

            One of the people he trains is this guy called Epaphras. Colossae is Epaphras’ hometown. Epaphras goes back to his hometown and starts the church in Colossae and probably the church in Laodicea.

            After Paul spends a year in Ephesus he continues on his missionary journey. He follows the red line around and ends up in Jerusalem which is off the bottom right hand side of the map.

In Jerusalem he gets arrested and eventually sent to Rome as a prisoner. While he is in Rome Epaphras comes either to visit him, or possibly Epaphras is incarcerated with Paul. In Philemon vs. 23 Paul calls Epaphras his fellow prisoner. It is while Paul is in a Roman prison that he hears all about how the church in Colossae is doing from Epaphras and so he decides to write this letter to the Colossians.


            The church in Colossae was amazingly healthy. Listen to what Paul says about it.

Colossians 1:3–8 (NIV)

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 of the love you have for all God’s people—the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

            When Paul thinks about the church in Colossae his heart breaks out in praise because the gospel has taken firm root in them. The fruit of the gospel is evident in them. In these six verses he gives us five characteristics of a healthy church.

            In verse 4 he tells about their faith in Jesus. That of course is where everything starts. Over the course of the this book he is going to expand on what that means.

            In verse 4 and in 8 he talks about their love for God’s people. You remember that Jesus gave us a new commandment to love one another and that people would know that we are followers of Jesus if we love one another. So, this church has put their faith in Jesus and they love one another. That is two signs of a healthy church.

            The third sign of a healthy church is seen in verse 5. The faith and the love that they have comes from the hope that is stored up in heaven for them. This is a curious phrase. Their faith and love doesn’t come from the hope of heaven, but the hope that is stored in heaven. Jesus talks about storing up treasures in heaven.

            Suffice it to say that healthy followers of Jesus live their lives know that this life is not all that there is. They live their life knowing that faith and love not only have benefits for this life but also for the next one. They live their life understanding that sickness and hardship and even death cannot separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

            The fourth characteristic of a healthy church is that the good news of Jesus is bearing fruit and growing in the church.

Colossians 1:6 (NIV)

In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.

            When Paul talks about the fruit of the gospel, he is talking about things like the fruit of the spirit. – Love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. He is talking about the fruit of righteousness and holiness. The gospel was bearing fruit in their lives and it was growing.

            These people’s faith lives were not stagnant. They were deepening, growing, maturing.

            The fifth and last characteristic that Paul lists in this passage is that they truly understood the grace of God.

            People in Paul’s time and people in our time struggle with the concept of grace. Grace means that we cannot earn God’s favor. We cannot earn God’s love. Grace means that we get all the good things we don’t deserve. Paul says you really understand that.

            In fact, the grace of God is evident in your life, and Paul goes on to say that your learned God’s grace from Epaphras.

            There you have five characteristics of a healthy church.

Faith in Christ

Love their brothers and sisters in Christ.

They have hope stored in heaven.

The gospel is bearing fruit and they are growing in the Lord.

They truly understand grace.

            That my friends are five signs of a really healthy church. Those are five signs that the people in the Colossians church have been really well discipled.


            I have a lot of friends who are pastors. I see the church that they are pastoring through their eyes just as Paul is seeing the church through the Colossae church through Epaphras’ eyes. Many of the churches I hear about could not be classified as healthy.

            People have faith in Christ but it is not a strong faith. And some people have lost faith in Christ but keep on coming to church. Love for brothers and sisters in Christ has been dampened by fighting about politics or conspiracy theories, or past hurts that have not been forgiven.

            Many people take no thought of the hope stored up for them in heaven. They live as if this life is all there is.

            The gospel is not bearing fruit in these lives. People are not coming to Christ. People are not growing in their faith. They are not growing in the fruit of the Spirit. The testimony they have is ancient not current.

            When all that happens, we don’t really get grace. Grace gets substituted for our own religious practices.


            I am not telling you anything new. You have heard stories of people who are called Christians who are like that.

            But here is what you may not have thought through. The most common cause for unhealthy churches is unhealthy discipleship. Or maybe it would be better to say inadequate discipleship.

            It is especially true now. We are all being shaped by our culture in profound ways. The number one discipler in our times is our cell phones. Social media, the news, entertainment are subtlety but powerfully shaping us. A sermon a week cannot compete with that. For many people that is the only discipleship piece in their week.

            Even small groups -and I am a big fan of small groups won’t help if all they do is share ideas. Listen to this very familiar verse.

Matthew 28:19–20 (NIV)

19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

            You see that disciple don’t learn what Jesus said they do what Jesus commanded. They were to make disciples – teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Discipleship is about living out the commands of Jesus.


            So, the question is, how do you get a healthy church? How do you get a well discipled church?

            For that, I want to take you to the book of Acts and then back to our passage today. I want you to be able to see the discipleship process.


            Our story starts with a man named Joseph who the apostles renamed Barnabas – which means son of encouragement. Barnabas was a key person in the early church. You may remember that before Paul got saved he persecuted the church. When he was born anew the people in the church were skeptical of him.

Acts 9:26–27 (NIV)

26 When he (Paul) came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.

            Barnabas was key to Paul’s inclusion in the church. Now Paul started to preach in Jerusalem, and he was so persuasive that some people plotted to kill him. So, the church sent him back to his hometown of Tarsus.

             Now in the early church all the believers were initially Jewish but some of those believers moved Antioch. What happened was that many non-Jewish people followed Jesus and the church in Jerusalem was not sure what to think about this.

            So, they sent Barnabas to investigate and he saw that it was a true move of God. It became obvious that these new believers were going to have be instructed in the way of the Lord. 

Acts 11:25–26 (NIV)

25 (so) Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

            You will notice that Barnabas’ name is listed first as it is in Acts 13 when the Holy Spirit said to set aside Barnabas and Saul for the first missionary journey. Barnabas was the discipler and the leader. But soon Paul surpassed Barnabas and after that when they are mentioned it is Paul and Barnabas. By the way, a good discipler and good mentor, loves when he or she gets surpassed by their student. As someone once said, “A great leader is not the one in the spotlight. He’s the one leading the applause.”


            Now you are probably aware of much of Paul’s ministry. Paul had thirty-eight coworkers that are mentioned in the New Testament. Some would see him as having mentored or discipled them all.

            As I mentioned before, Paul travelled to Ephesus on his third missionary journey. He started to minister in the synagogue as was his pattern.

Acts 19:9 (NIV)

But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.

            We know that Timothy and Titus were discipled by Paul during this time. It seems like Epaphras was to. Let’s go back to Colossians 1

Colossians 1:7 (NIV)

You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf,

            The church was founded by Epaphras. There are a number of credible bible scholars who say that all of the seven churches of Revelation were founded by Paul or his disciples at this time. It seems that while Paul is ministering in Ephesus he is dispatching people to do ministry in the surrounding region. Colossae was about 160 kilometers from Ephesus and Epaphras’ hometown. So, he got the job.

            But now Epaphras is in Rome, and either he is a prisoner in Rome or shortly would become one. But the church carried on. The church was continuing to grow in fruit and grow in number. People were obviously continuing to be discipled which is seen in the health of the church.

            So, Barnabas disciples Paul, Paul Disciples Epaphras, Epaphras disciples the initial people who come the Lord in Colossae who are now discipling those who are coming to the Lord now. That is how a healthy church happens. That is how the great commission is fulfilled to make disciples. Disciples make disciples.

            That is multi-generational discipleship. That is the way that the church is meant to be. That is the way that Asbury is meant to be.


            Can I make a confession? I have been in ministry for about 36 years. I have discipled a lot of people. But I have not discipled many people who have discipled people. I haven’t been good at multi-generational discipleship. I have had to repent of that.

            Here is what I believe. God is calling us to be a healthy church. God is calling us to be a well discipled church. Part of what that means is that we need to become a people who disciple people who disciple people.

            One of the challenges of this is that many people in the church have not been discipled so they have no idea how to disciple others. For those of you who have been in the church for a while but have never been discipled – we want to correct that. We are going to give you an opportunity to be discipled. And we want to disciple you in such a way that you will be able to disciple others.

            But the question is this  – are you willing to make the commitment to become a healthy disciple. It takes time. It will take time to learn and time to practice and time to disciple others. But here is the thing, you won’t walk into all that God wants for you unless you are truly a disciple. Some people say – I want to be a Christian but I don’t want to be a disciple. That is not a distinction the bible makes.

            I am not asking you to do anything right now but I am praying that God will be at work in your heart so that when you are given the opportunity you are going to say yes.

Let’s pray.

Sermon Questions

Genuine Part 1 – Learning to Disciple

April 11, 2021 – Colossians 1:1-8


1. What are you thankful for today?

2. Has anyone ever discipled you?

Digging in

3. Read Colossians 1:1-8. What are the characteristics of the Colossians church that show it to be a healthy church? (vs 4-8)

4. Which characteristic do you see the most of and the least of in the churches that you are familiar with?

5. Does it make sense to you that unhealthy churches are the product of weak discipleship? Why/why not?

6. Read Matthew 28:19-20. There are two things that are to happen to disciples who are made. What are they? When you think of discipleship, is that what you think of?

7. Read Acts 11:25-26. According to scripture, what is the difference between being a disciple and being a Christian? Is that how we think of being a disciple today?

8. The sermon talked about how Barnabas discipled Paul, how Paul discipled Epaphras (and others), how Epaphras discipled the church and Colossae, and how the Colossae church discipled the new people coming into the church. That is multi-generational discipleship. Paul writes to his disciple Timothy. Ready 2 Timothy 2:2. What is he saying about discipleship? Have you seen this kind of discipleship take place?


9. What do you think are the biggest challenges to discipleship at Asbury?

10. Are you in a discipling relationship with someone, either being discipled or discipling? Are you willing to enter into that kind of relationship? Why, why not?