The Church is a very big thing. Very big. It’s hard for us to get a true handle on just how many people claim to follow Jesus. Think of a big crowd that you’ve been part of. One of the biggest for me was the crowd of 80,000 in the Olympic Stadium in London in 2012. That was an amazing experience – but, if current figures are roughly correct, the global Church is more than 25,000 times larger than that crowd!
25,000 London Stadia all joined together… that’s the true size of the Church in our time. It’s pretty hard to get your head around, isn’t it? And maybe a bit unsettling, too. I like being in big crowds, I find them energising. I’ve always loved the thrill of being part of something bigger, that sense of losing yourself in a collective experience. But the last phrase is suggestive: ‘losing yourself’ is also not necessarily something we like to feel too often. Does the size of the Church mean that we as individuals don’t matter any more?
In today’s passage, St. Paul speaks joyfully of the fact that, even in his day, just thirty years after the ‘Jesus movement’ began, it was ‘growing throughout the whole world’ (v6). And within the more limited understanding of the size of the world at that time, this was certainly true. Paul himself had travelled all round the Eastern Mediterranean, including Greece and Turkey. He had first met Jesus on the way to Syria. It had already spread to Rome without his direct influence. It was known to be in North Africa, and Paul no doubt knew of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian official, so was likely to be further south, too. ‘Throughout the world….’
At the time Paul wrote, the actual numbers would have been small: a few tens of thousands at most – they could have fitted comfortably into one London Stadium! But a movement had begun which would truly spread across the world. Today there is at least one follower of Christ in every country, and millions in most of them. How great is our God!
But – and this is our other encouragement for today – it is not an impersonal gospel. Or to put it another way – you matter. The amazing thing about God is that he still knows and loves each one of us. Each of us is precious. And each of us plays our part. The church in Colossae came to faith because of the work of one faithful follower – Epaphras – from whom this small group of believers learned about Jesus (v7). In turn, this small community of individuals now loved each other (v8).
Huge as it is, in the kingdom of God everyone matters. The mustard seeds that grow the great tree are still vital seeds in their own right.
If you get the chance today, find a mature tree or large shrub in bloom. Enjoy its magnificence – a glorious sight! Then choose just one leaf or petal, and look closely at it. It’s amazing. It’s beautiful in its own right. That’s you. Yes, there are tens of thousands like you on the same tree – but your leaf matters. Your small act of ‘bearing fruit and growing’ plays its part. Thanks be to God!