Last month we saw that to ‘preach Christ’ faithfully we must preach him ‘thoroughly’. That is the significance of the Greek word katangello, one of the three major terms translated ‘preach’ in our English New Testament.
To preach nothing ‘except Christ and him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2:2) might at first seem restrictive, but our text (above) proves otherwise. Were we to preach Christ for a million years we would never exhaust the subject, for his riches are unsearchable – too vast to be fully explored.
Some are afraid that such preaching will demand too much from our hearers. Unless we keep it simple, they warn, we shall frighten off those who are theologically untrained.
But such fears are groundless. To whom did Paul preach Christ’s unsearchable riches? To the theologically illiterate Gentiles! Did he share the fellowship of the mystery (the ‘gospel secret’) only with some spiritual elite? No, he shared it with ‘all people’!
The message of Christ’s inexhaustible riches should be proclaimed to everyone, even though all will not receive it (see 2 Corinthians 2:14-16).
Every spiritual blessing
What, then, are these unsearchable treasures, and where are they found, that we might preach them? In reply, I want to cite two New Testament passages where Christ’s riches are set before us.
I do not mean that these riches reside only in selected Scriptures. That is not so. Wherever Christ is found in Scripture, there also lie his riches. But certain passages are particularly helpful because they read almost like inventories of his wealth. They therefore show us what to look for as we seek this wealth ‘in all the Scriptures’.
Let us begin where we finished last month, in Ephesians 1:1-14. Paul whets our appetite in verse 3 when he writes, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ’.
These spiritual blessings form a substantial part of Christ’s riches. What are they?
The first is election: ‘[The Father] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world’ (v. 4). How does this enrich us?
Romans 8:28-29 explains. God’s choice or foreknowledge of his people is the foundation of all we possess and hope for in Christ. It undergirds our assurance of salvation (since we have a pre-ordained destination), our calling, our justification and our eventual glorification.
Moreover, it is the basis of our present comfort and confidence, knowing that ‘all things work together for good to those who love God … who are called according to his purpose’.
Predestined in love
But Ephesians 1:4-5 does not stop there. Paul tells us the purpose for which we were chosen – ‘that we should be holy and without blame before him in love, [God] having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to himself’. God chose us that he might adopt us as his children. That is the destination he has purposed for redeemed sinners.
Notice that Scripture never uses the verb ‘predestine’ without specifying the intended ‘destination’ – in this case, the new-covenant status of sons and daughters of God (Hebrews 2:10; 8:9-12). Looked at in this light, predestination ceases to be a ‘bogey’ word and becomes the glorious guarantee that God will fulfil his loving purpose towards us.
Furthermore, to fit us for this purpose – as a means to this end – he has made us ‘holy and without blame’ through the atoning work of Christ. And all this he carries out ‘in love’, for love is the wellspring of everything God does for his people.
What riches we have here! Loved with everlasting love, chosen in undeserved grace, robed in the righteousness of Christ, adopted and endowed as God’s children, and destined for eternal glory! Here are themes to fill our mouths and engage our hearts.
Riches of grace
The following verses (Ephesians 1:6-14) spread before us ‘the riches of his grace’ – according to which we are ‘accepted in the beloved’, redeemed through Christ’s blood, and forgiven our sins.
This grace is not only extended to us, but lavished upon us – God made it ‘abound towards us in all wisdom and prudence’. Furthermore, through this same grace, God reveals to us his ultimate purpose, namely, ‘to gather together in one all things in Christ’ (v. 10).
Have you finished, Paul? Not at all! For the culmination of this cascade of glory is now revealed – God’s children ‘have obtained an inheritance, being predestined [to this inheritance] according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his own will’ (v. 11).
And to cap it all, we have been ‘sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance…’ (v. 14).
It seems to the present writer that these verses in Ephesians define the riches of Christ in a manner that invites the preacher to delve deeper into them and his hearers to bask in their warmth and light. Some thirteen blessings are here recorded, each of which offers limitless scope for worship, exploration and delight – ‘to the praise of the glory of [God’s] grace’.
All the fulness
A second passage that delineates the riches of Christ is Colossians 1:9-23. Once again we can only sketch the good things here displayed. The passage begins in a practical mode, as Paul prays for his readers to be ‘filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding’ (v. 1).
Believers share their Master’s wealth in knowing the Father’s will – in all its fulness, wisdom and spiritual awareness. ‘Receive my instruction and not silver’, declares Solomon, ‘and knowledge rather than choice gold. For wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her’ (Proverbs 8:10-11).
In Christ, we are told, ‘are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Colossians 2:3). We do well to search out these riches in our preaching, for quite apart from their intrinsic worth they will enable us to ‘live a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God’ (v. 10).
Read on to see how these riches of knowledge give rise to strength (according to God’s glorious power), patience, joy and thanksgiving (vv. 11-12).
Head of the church
Yet Paul has only just begun! In verse 12 we discover that ‘the Father … has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light’. Verse 13 tells us that we have been ‘delivered … from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom’ of Christ, where ‘we have redemption through his blood’. What wealth is here!
But then, in a sense-shattering passage, from verses 14-20, the full glories of Christ’s person and work burst upon us. He is ‘the image of the invisible God’, the ‘first-born over all creation’. He is the one through whom and for whom all things were created, and in whom all things consist.
At the same time, Paul continues, he is ‘the head of the body, the church’ and ‘the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he might have the pre-eminence – for it pleased the Father that in him all the fulness should dwell’ (vv. 18-19). The ‘fulness’ referred to is nothing less than that of the Godhead itself (2:9). You cannot get richer than that!
Accessing the riches
A third passage we could have turned to is Hebrews 1:1-4, but space forbids. We shall, however, look at Hebrews 1 when we come to consider preaching Christ from the Old Testament.
The point I want to reiterate in closing is that passages such as these should not be regarded as the treasure casket itself (though they are part of it), but rather as the key to the casket.
We can take any of the numerous themes broached in these passages and explore them throughout the Scriptures using nothing more complicated than our memory, our concordance or our Bible software.
For example, the very words ‘riches’ or ‘treasures’ will yield dozens of references, including such Scriptures as Proverbs 8:18: ‘Riches and honour are with me; yea, durable riches and righteousness’; and Isaiah 45:3: ‘I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I, the Lord, who call you by your name, am the God of Israel’.
Both texts provide a fruitful starting point for preaching Christ, in whom alone true riches and honour are found, and in whom the treasures of the gospel await our discovery.