Colossians 1:24-2:5 ESV
24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
Introduction and Review:
Two messages ago we started looking at Colossians 1:24-2:5 and in this message we will finish looking at this section.
We have seen that this section functions to guard us from counterfeit and distorted ministry. Paul is placing his own ministry before us so that we will know what genuine Christian ministry is to look like. This section really serves to set the trajectory for us as we think about the ministry that goes on here.
Are we receiving and participating in genuine Christian ministry?
The first message we took up just one of the six features of Christian ministry and that was the Content of Christian ministry. Christian ministry is concerned to make the mystery which was hidden for ages and generations fully known. And the mystery is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Christian ministry is not content to leave Christ a mystery.
Last week we took up the next two features of Christian ministry and those were the Goal and the Means of Christian ministry. We saw that the great goal in ministry is to present everyone mature in Christ and as we cracked that open we saw that maturity in Paul’s mind has to do with possessing a rock solid knowledge of and confidence in and love for Christ which expresses itself in love and unity.
And we saw that the means to this maturity was proclamation, teaching, warning. We must speak the Word of Christ to one another if we are to grow toward maturity.
This week my hope is to examine the Strength for Christian ministry, the Motives for Christian ministry, and the Cost of Christian ministry. I may have bitten off more than we can chew this morning, but God is gracious and if he is pleased we will profit from time in His word.
1. The Strength for Christian Ministry: God!
So, we are going to read, starting in verse 24 and we will land on verse 29 as we consider first the strength for Christian ministry.
We need to catch the flow of Paul’s thought here. Genuine Christian ministry is fixed on making God’s final Word known – making the hope of glory known in order to see people from every tribe and every tongue come to posses a rock solid knowledge of confidence in and love for Christ – expressing itself in love and unity.
And so Paul is pouring himself into preaching and teaching and warning everyone in order to present everyone mature in Christ. He is fixed on that goal. And he says he is toiling and struggling to see this accomplished.
However, lest we think that this ministry is simply something we can manage and accomplish by our own strength, Paul is careful to make sure we know that genuine Christian ministry is not a thing that can be accomplished by human willing and running.
Very simply, what is the energy that Paul says powerfully works within him, which is the strength for ministry? Well, Paul makes plain that it is God’s energy that powerfully works within him.
The question for us is, “Why does this matter and how should this change the way we think about ministry?”
I believe there are at least two ways to fall off the horse as we think about the power for Christian ministry.
On the one side we might say, “We should wait for God to act. That is, we should just, ‘let go and let God.’ Ministry is a supernatural thing and God will do what he will do with or without us. We ought to sit by passively and let God work.”
But that way of thinking doesn’t seem to fit with Paul’s struggling and toiling in the ministry.
On the other side we might say, “God only helps those who help themselves. God will act when we get our act together. God is waiting for us to move before He will bless.”
This doesn’t seem to fit either, because Paul asserts that it is God’s energy powerfully at work within him that accounts for Paul’s toiling and struggling in ministry.
There are a few things that this passage brings to our attention that we need to recognize about the nature of ministry.
A. We need to recognize: you and I have been called to act! toil! struggle forward toward good and right goals in ministry. Work hard for the glory of Christ!
B. But, we must also recognize: you and I are 100% dependent upon God for every ounce of energy, every gift, every talent, and every fruitful outcome in ministry.
In the New Covenant God takes up residence in us! When the Word of Christ comes to a people and they hear, understand and embrace that gospel God has come among them. When Christ is in you, you become a different kind of person.
If these things are true then:
A. A ministry that is not straining forward with effort and energy and zeal toward making Christ known, but is waiting around for God to do something, is not reflecting true Christian ministry.
B. On the other hand, a ministry that is not saturated by faith-filled prayer, a heart of dependence, as we looking forward, and is not saturated by a thankful humility looking back (recounting what God has done) is not reflecting true Christian ministry.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
The salvation of people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation and the maturing of them is God’s work from beginning to end. We can never take credit even for our own toil or zeal nor the successes in ministry. God is pleased to use weak vessels, empowering them by His Spirit to speak the Word of Christ with effectiveness, to the glory of His grace.
Therefore let us be a thankful people!
Thankful that we have been made heirs with Christ by grace alone and thankful that we have been welcomed in, to be instruments in hands of the Almighty to bring about the obedience of faith among all peoples.
He has called us, He has equipped us, He has sent us out with a task and He will supply the power to see it done. Let us not loose heart nor, forget who deserves all the glory.
All the strength for Christian ministry comes from God. Therefore upon the foundation of God’s work in Christ, struggle and toil and give Him the glory!
2. The Motives for Christian Ministry: the heart posture of a servant
What does Paul tell us in this section are his underlying motivations? This is somewhat more subtle in the text, perhaps, than the other features we have looked at, but it is here if we take the time to see it.
Maybe asking what Paul’s motivations are is not the best way to ask the question. In this section, Paul reveals is heart posture as a Christian minister. How does Paul think about himself in his ministry? Who is Paul?
Look at verse 25 Paul says he became a minister of the church. Sometimes we hear the word minister and think pastor/teacher. And that is right, but what is a minister of the church? A minister is a servant. A minister is someone who serves others. Paul thinks of himself as a servant.
Paul tells us that his becoming a servant of the church accords with the stewardship that he was given from God for the church. So Paul has been given a commission from God. He is not acting or working by his own authority or for his own praise or for his own purposes. Paul is an ambassador from God, sent to serve the bride of Christ, which was purchased with Christ’s own blood. Paul is not the master or owner. Paul has no authority of his own, nor is he acting for the praise of his own name. Paul is a servant who has been given a stewardship from God for the Bride of Christ.
1. This means that Paul cannot lord his ministry over anyone.
2. This also means that Paul will answer to God for his ministry/service.
I just want to unpack some of the implications of those two statements.
First of all, if we are to follow the template Paul gives us for genuine Christian ministry, there is no place for pride among us. We cannot act as though he were superior to those we are serving. We cannot be looking down upon those we are caring for. We have been chosen to serve the church, to minister. Christian ministry is the act of serving. Ministry is the thing servants do.
And lest we have forgotten – Ephesians tells us that God gave the apostles, prophets, evangelism, pastor/teachers to equip the Saints to do the work of the ministry.
John 13:1-5 and 12-16
“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him….(12)When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Christian ministry has no room for selfish ambition or vain conceit, rather Christian ministry finds its shape from Jesus. Our minds, our hearts, must have the posture of a servant – following our Master as he served us, so we must serve one another – even unto death.
At the same time, what Paul says here in Colossians about receiving a stewardship from God means that ministry is radically Godward. It is the Lord who has given us this task and has given us the power to see it done and it is before our Lord that we will give an account for the service we render.
I fear that we are often more concerned with what people think of our ministry than with honoring the One who commissioned us. Let us not fear the approval and appraisal of people. We will all answer to God for how we have acted in ministry.
Christian ministry has a heart posture of a humble, lowly, servant who will give an answer for their ministry not to men, but to their master.
3. The Cost of Christian Ministry: sufferings, affliction, persecution, death
Finally, we come to the last feature of ministry, which Paul lays out to help us guard against counterfeit ministry and to pursue genuine ministry. And here it is: genuine Christian ministry will be accompanied by many sufferings.
Verse 24 –
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…”
We need to remember that Paul is most likely writing from prison and the historical record suggests that Paul was beheaded in Rome not too many years after this letter was written. But, Paul says here that he rejoices in his sufferings for your sake. Paul is suffering for the sake of the Body of Christ, the church, and so he rejoices.
But is it true that genuine Christian ministry will be accompanied by many sufferings? Couldn’t this just be a description of a difficult time in Paul’s life and not the pattern to expect from all faithful ministers?
Well, this verse has an interesting phrase in it, which we must account for. Paul says that he is filling up, in his flesh (in his own body), what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, the church.
What does that mean? Paul sees his own sufferings in this world as some how filling up, brining to fullness what he calls Christ’s afflictions. In fact, he says that there is yet something lacking in Christ’s afflictions that he, by his own suffering, is helping to bring to completion, fullness.
What is Paul talking about? Wasn’t Christ’s suffering and death in the place of sinners sufficient and complete for our salvation? What does Paul mean by saying that there is something lacking in Christ’s afflictions?
Well, it is important to see that Paul and the NT strongly affirm the perfection of Christ’s atoning work. Christ is the perfect propitiation (wrath absorber). We’re told in Colossians 2:13-16 that Christ’s cross work canceled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands and by his cross work he disarmed the rulers and authorities by triumphing over them.
No, there is nothing lacking in Christ’s work to take care of our sin problem. There is nothing Paul is doing, by his own suffering, which can add to the finished work of Christ to deal with sin.
Than what is Paul taking about?
Well, I think Acts 9:1-5 help to start us off in the right place:
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “ Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “ Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “ I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Saul was persecuting the church, the disciple of the Lord, and Jesus says you are persecuting me. That is important. Our risen Lord Jesus, claims the persecutions that his people experience as his own. Our persecutions are His persecutions.
So, this helps us begin to understand Paul’s language in Colossians 1:24. When we read:
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…”
We know that Christ so identifies with the sufferings of his people that He calls them his own. “Christ’s afflictions” here, I believe, refers to the afflictions experienced by His people.
But this does not yet clarify what Paul means by “filling up what is lacking” in the afflictions of Christ for the sake of the church. Paul seems to imply and assume that their is a measure of affliction that needs to be filled up. Is it true that there is a certain amount of affliction that must be experienced by the church in order to bring it to maturity?
Well, there is certainly evidence all over the NT to say that those who are in Christ should not be surprised that they are suffering in this life: Romans 5:3; 8:18-39; James 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:5-11; 2 Timothy 3:12 and more.
But let me place before you a few texts that say more than that. It is not just that Christians may experience suffering.
The evidence is that Christian suffering is part of God’s plan for New Covenant ministry.
There is suffering that God has planned for us in ministry. Part of the shape of genuine Christian ministry is the “filling up” of what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of the body. It seems that God has ordained that his people will be gathered in and built up toward maturity through a suffering church.
“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
There is something very profound going on in Christian ministry. It has been granted to us, for the sake of Christ, that we should believe! and not only that, but also suffer for his sake, so that others may believe! and Paul calls this in Philippians the very conflict he himself is engaged in.
Christian ministry has the smell of suffering. It has the smell of conflict, as we toil to make Christ known and see everyone mature in Christ.
“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”
The NT reveals that God has suffering planned for his people as they bear witness to the Word of Christ. Jesus our Lord descended from the Heavenly Throne and took the form of a servant and gave Himself for His bride, the church. He acted in perfect humility and submission to His Father and His church follows His example in making Him known. Just as our Lord suffered and died in the place of sinners and satisfied the wrath of God against sinners, so His Body in bringing this message to the nations and laboring to see everyone presented mature in Christ will follow their Lord on Calvary’s road.
We have been given the glorious ministry of making Christ known in this world and the shape of that ministry looks like Jesus.
Is this the kind of ministry we have received? Are we participating in the fellowship of His sufferings here? Are we aware that Christian ministry means entering into the sufferings of Christ? The cost of Christian ministry is to follow Christ to Calvary so that many may live.
Summary and Review:
The content of Christian ministry is Christ
The goal of Christian ministry is to present everyone mature in Christ
The means of Christian ministry is preaching, teaching, and warning
The strength for Christian ministry is God in us
The heart posture of Christian ministry is that of a humble, lowly, servant.
The cost of Christian ministry is taking up our cross and following our Lord
…so that others may live!
We are out of time. But allow me to emphasize that we have a treasure in Christ. If you are in Christ, by faith, your soul has been purchased by Christ and you are loved by God. If you know Christ you stand on the rock solid foundation of Christ’s perfect work. And every spiritual blessing is yours. God is for you, never to be against you. There is now no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus.
Christian ministry grows out of that foundation and out of no other. If we do not stand upon the grace found in the gospel what will grow up in our “ministry”, will be something other than Christian ministry.
And so the final word this week is to look to Jesus, our hope of glory, and to rejoice and be thankful in him. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.
Andrew “Andy” Murray was born and raised in New Hampshire. His father, pastor Loren Murray, served Fellowship Bible Church in Chester, NH. At six years of age Andy trusted in Jesus Christ and was baptized. He was brought up “acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” At the age of 12 his father was in a fatal car accident. Reflecting on the loss of his dad Andy writes; “I see now the wise and loving hand of Christ in my life, as He used this event to, shape, mold and press me toward Himself. It was this event that sparked in me an earnest desire to know God from His Word. By His grace, this desire has continued to grow.” Andy met his wife, Elizabeth, at Philadelphia Biblical University (now Cairn University). They have four wonderful boys.