Leaders Are Learners
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in [union with] Him [reflecting His character in the things you do and say—living lives that lead others away from sin], having been deeply rooted [in Him] and now being continually built up in Him and [becoming increasingly more] established in your faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing in it with gratitude.
Colossians 2: 6-7
One of the most attractive traits of a powerful leader is getting excited about learning a new skill or gaining fresh insights. Conversely, one of the most discouraging characteristics of some in leadership is a know-it-all mentality that walks them off from new ideas. Leaders who love to learn add enthusiasm and creativity to every meeting and every relationship and they are great examples to others in the organization.
Spiritual life, like all other aspects of life and leadership, requires a rigorous commitment to learning and growing. When we stop growing, our momentum quickly fades, and we start the process of atrophy. Paul used three metaphors to describe the importance of continuing to learn in our spiritual lives: walking, rooted, and being built up. The Christian life is often called a walk. A slow, steady consistent pursuit of God and His will characterizes our lives. And, like roots of a tree, we reach down deep into the truth and grace of God to find nourishment. Soaking up sustenance never stops and even in times of drought, we find sources of strength if we’ve gone deep enough. And finally, like a sturdy building, each choice we make to honor God is a block in the structure of our spiritual experience. We grow stronger with each God-honoring decision.
How much is enough? When can we coast? Don’t bother to ask for Paul’s answers to questions like these. He never quit his relentless pursuit of God, and he warned that we can never put our lives on cruise control. Learning was central in his life until the day he died. In his last letter to Timothy shortly before he was executed, Paul to,d him, “Bring me the books I left with you.(2 Timothy 4:13). He was probably reading them as the ax fell. Life is a classroom. Only those who are willing to be lifelong learners will rise to the head of the class.
The verbs Paul uses in Colossians 2 call our attention to the fact that our journey with God is not an event but a continuous process. Paul reminds us that we have “received Christ” but that not the end or a single event. Rather, it’s the beginning of the journey for he follows up with the instruction to “walk in union with Him.” The picture that Paul paints is that of two close friends walking on a journey together. Their pace is one of unison, neither walking ahead nor running behind each other. There is no tugging, no pushing, and no strain. Both parties are enjoying the other’s company.
In the Song of Solomon, the writer describes the relationship between two lovers. In the beginning we find the man pursuing the woman.
“I was asleep, but my heart was awake.A voice [in my dream]! My beloved was knocking:‘Open to me, my sister, my darling,My dove, my perfect one!For my head is drenched with the [heavy night] dew;My hair [is covered] with the dampness of the night.’
Song of Solomon
This verse tells us that the bridegroom has come and knocked on the door of the bride. She is in bed and asleep and his knocking seems as a dream. When she finally awakes, she responds that now isn’t a good time to be together.
“I had taken off my dress,How can I put it on again?I had washed my feet,How could I get them dirty again?
Song of Solomon
Finally she gets up and goes to the door, but it’s too late for he’s gone.
“I opened for my beloved,But my beloved had turned away and was gone.My heart went out to him when he spoke.I searched for him, but I could not find him;I called him, but he did not answer me.
Song of Solomon
After diligent search, she finds him again and now they walk together.
“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine,He who feeds his flock among the lilies.”
Song of Solomon
This is the picture Paul is drawing when he says that since we have received Christ we are to walk with Him reflecting His character. Most of us are aware that two people who spend copious amounts of time together often begin to take on each other’s character. So Paul says that our journey with Christ is so that we can better learn and apply more of the nature of Christ to our own lives. The idea of walking with Christ is that we are continuously drawing nearer to Him.
The next phrase, “living lives that leads others away from sin,” again gives the impression of something that is a continual process and not a single occasion. None of us are perfect or yet fully in the image of Christ, but as we walk with Him daily, our lives become transformed into His image.
“And we all, with unveiled face, continually seeing as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are progressively being transformed into His image from [one degree of] glory to [even more] glory, which comes from the Lord, [who is] the Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 3:18
So the more we walk with Christ, the more we learn of Him, the more our lives reflect His character, and the more our lives become witness to others leading them away from sin. As they watch the transformation in us, as more of Christ is manifested in us, the more drawn to Christ others are.
Paul continues with the phrase, “and now being continually built up in Him.” You see, there is no idea of a single event in the life of a believer nor even a series of events, but an unbroken moving constantly toward becoming more and more involved with Christ. And the more involved we are with Christ, the more we learn about Him and the more we want to know of Him. Those who have been given a glimpse of Christ have a deep desire to know Him better. One little encounter isn’t enough, for that encounter so stirs our hunger to know Him more and each subsequent encounter deepens that desire.
Paul, whose life was filled with God encounters, beginning on the road to Damascus comes to the end of his journey desiring to know even more of Christ than he had ever known before. When we consider his life and experiences, some of us might think that if we knew God even in a small way compared to Paul, that would be sufficient. But as Paul reminds us, each encounter only creates more desire to know Christ more fully.
“ But more than that, I count everything as loss compared to the priceless privilege and supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord [and of growing more deeply and thoroughly acquainted with Him—a joy unequaled]. For His sake I have lost everything, and I consider it all garbage, so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him [believing and relying on Him], not having any righteousness of my own derived from [my obedience to] the Law and its rituals, but [possessing] that [genuine righteousness] which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith. And this, so that I may know Him [experientially, becoming more thoroughly acquainted with Him, understanding the remarkable wonders of His Person more completely] and [in that same way experience] the power of His resurrection [which overflows and is active in believers], and [that I may share] the fellowship of His sufferings, by being continually conformed [inwardly into His likeness even] to His death [dying as He did]; so that I may attain to the resurrection [that will raise me] from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it [this goal of being Christlike] or have already been made perfect, but I actively press on so that I may take hold of that [perfection] for which Christ Jesus took hold of me and made me His own. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider that I have made it my own yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the [heavenly] prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature [pursuing spiritual perfection] should have this attitude. And if in any respect you have a different attitude, that too God will make clear to you.”
Philippians 3: 8-15
May each of us be a lifetime learner-especially learning more about Christ. It’s an exciting adventure!
Dr. John Thompson