Colossians 1:24-2:5 ESV
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. 2:1 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.
This is the 6th message in our trek through Colossians. We’ve been moving along fairly slowly through chapter one. The last three messages only tackled three verses each. This was intentional. The verses we have just finished in the past few weeks were foundational to Paul’s aim in this letter.
Today we are beginning a larger section of the letter. We will take up the next eleven verses for consideration (1:24-2:5). And we will be in this section for two or three weeks.
In this section Paul lays out for the Colossians the contours, the shape, of Christian ministry in the Body of Christ. What is Christian ministry all about?
Paul is going to give us 6 features of his own ministry. But really, this section provides for us a kind of template, which serves to guide us in our ministry goals and pursuits. What Paul does here serves as an important baseline in our thinking about what we are to be doing and how we are to be doing it in the Body of Christ.
This passage is not exhaustive, by any means, but it serves to set a trajectory for us and to guard us from abandoning the very heart and center of God’s plan to build His church. If we find ourselves veering away from what Paul says here we are abandoning the heart of biblical Christian ministry.
The Danger of Disfigured, Distracted, & Counterfeit Ministry
So, as we begin, let me read you this section, where Paul describes his own ministry in the Body of Christ, and be listening for why it is that Paul includes this section in this letter. Why is Paul even telling the Colossian church about his own ministry? What is his goal here?
Why does Paul spends the time in this short letter to give the contours of his own ministry in the Body of Christ? He tells the Colossians about the content of his ministry, the goal of his ministry, the means to that goal of his ministry, his motivations in ministry, the strength for ministry, and the costly nature of doing ministry. And we will look at each one of these things. But the question here is: why does Paul unpack all these things for the Colossians?
Well, Paul tells us why he does this at the end of the section. In chapter 2 verses 4 and 5 Paul tells us, “I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 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.”
Paul believes that in telling the Colossians believers about the shape of true ministry that he will guard them from being deluded with false ministry. He will guard them from false teachers who are leading them into error. Paul believes that if he can show them what genuine ministry is all about they will be less likely to be duped by counterfeit ministry.
Paul is telling these Christians about the contours of Christian ministry to guard them from error. Paul sees that they may be tempted to slip away from Christ, distracted by some so-called wisdom. But Paul is trying to draw them back. It is like Paul is saying, brothers and sisters, you have been exposed to teaching and practices that look good, that look helpful, that look religious and wise, but those teachings and practices you have been receiving are serving to delude you and distract you from true Christian ministry.
Paul is saying, let me show you what ministry is really about –
1. Let me show you the sum of its content (here is what I am concerned to make known).
2. Let me show you the goal of my ministry (here is what I am straining toward).
3. Let me show you the means that God has given to accomplish this goal (here is what I do with my time).
4. Let me show you what motivates me in this ministry (here is what drives me).
5. Let me show you where the strength for ministry comes (here is the power that sustains me).
6. Let me show you the cost of my ministry (here are the sufferings I am willing to endure).
In doing this Paul really is asking if what the Colossians have received lines up with Paul’s ministry. Have you received this kind of content, with this aim, using these means, and with these motivations, requiring this kind supernatural power, and with this kind of willingness to suffer?
Place the ministry that you have received up against true Christian ministry and do not settle for a counterfeit.
That is why Paul writes this section. To protect God’s people from distorted, distracted, counterfeit ministry.
Is there a danger for us, in our day, and in our culture, and in this body? Could we be tempted away from true ministry and become deluded by counterfeit ministry? Might we be in danger of being distracted from God’s design for ministry in His church?
Michael Horton has written a book entitled, “Christless Christianity” in which he documents a growing trend in America toward a version of Christianity that does not really care about Christ.
Horton references a sermon preached half a century ago by a pastor named Donald Grey Barnhouse. In the sermon, Horton says,
“Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be not swearing. The children would say, ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, ma’am,’ and the churches would be full every Sunday . . . where Christ is not preached.”
Many people call themselves Christians – many people even call themselves evangelical – many people would even be able to affirm true doctrines, but many of these same people are focused on things other than Christ and his design for ministry. Ministry in the church, for these people is about something else. Do we know what true Christian ministry is about and is that what we are about here?
How is this Applicable?
Now, I could see someone objecting to the application I am making and ask, “How can you take what Paul describes here about his own ministry as an apostle and apply it to Christian ministry in general? Aren’t there all sorts of ministry? We are not all apostles.” I want to wrestle with that objection for a moment.
First of all, what Paul is describing here in Colossians we find him unpacking a bit more in Ephesians. So for example he says in Ephesians 2:20-21 that the household of God (of which we are members) is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”
So first of all, the apostles and prophets, Paul says, formed the foundation for all others in the Body of Christ. It is on their ministry that we stand.
Listen also, to how closely Paul tied the apostles’ ministry to the pastors’ ministry and then how closely those are tied to the ministry of the body in general:
And he (Jesus) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine. . .
So, notice that Paul closely tied the ministry of the apostles, to the ministry of the prophets, and the evangelists, and the shepherd/teachers. These gifts are given to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry in the body so that the body is built up and attains unity in the faith and maturity in Christ.
Here in Colossians, Paul is describing his own apostolic ministry, and the apostles certainly had a unique role in laying the foundation in the New Testament, but what we carry on in the Body of Christ is the extension of that same ministry, built upon that foundation.
Paul’s goals inform our goals.
Paul’s understanding of the contour of his own ministry ought to inform our understanding of our own ministries. And so, if we find ourselves veering away from what Paul says here, we are losing our grip on the biblical vision of Christian ministry.
This section forms for us a wonderful description of what our ministry here at Windham Bible Chapel should be aiming toward.
God is up to something specific in His Church, which no other earthly institution can replace. It was begun by the apostles and is carried on by us. So, as we move through this section let’s be thinking about how this should shape us and change us so that we become more conformed to true Christian ministry and not deluded or distracted or derailed by counterfeit models of ministry.
This is really why Paul wrote this section in the first place, to put the ministry we are receiving up against true Christian ministry.
As I said, we will be in this passage for two or three weeks. This week we will look at just one feature of true Christian ministry and the goal is that next time we will finish this section looking at five more features of Christian ministry.
For this message we will look at, #1. The Content of Ministry.
#1. The Content of Christian Ministry
So, what should be the content of Christian ministry?
Well in verse 24 Paul says that he is suffering for the sake of the body, the church and then in verse 25 he says, “of which I became a minister (or servant) according to the stewardship from God that was given to me (that is Paul was entrusted with something that belonged to God, Paul was a steward of God’s possession) for you (Colossians, the church. And what was it that God entrusted to Paul for the church?), to make the word of God fully known…”
What is it that Paul has, not to keep for himself, but to give to the body? God has entrusted this thing to Paul for the church – here we are told it is the word of God. What a treasure!
And Paul says his commission was to make the word of God fully known. That is what he has been asked by God to do.
So the content of Paul ministry is the Word of God. Not the word of man. Not the wisdom of a pastor nor the wisdom of a community. The content of true Christian ministry is the word of God.
But Paul goes on to clarity what he is talking about.
(starting in verse 25) “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,(vs.26) the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.”
So Paul has further defined what he means by, making the word of God fully known. He does not simply mean making “biblical principles” known, nor simply making known “teachings from the bible”, although that is part of this work.
Instead, he means bringing people to understand the bible, the word of God, in fullness. “Making the word of God fully known” means bringing people to understand the full and completed word from God.
Paul is not saying that the content of his ministry is simply to make portions of the word of God known – the content of Christian ministry always has the telos in view – the end – the goal – the completion.
So Paul sees his ministry as bringing the word of God in its completed fullness to the church.
And so the word of God in the OT serves as preparation – driving us forward toward the completion, the fulfillment. But, Paul is not satisfied to simply teach from the Old Testament scriptures as an end in themselves. He is not satisfied until he has made the word of God fully known, bringing in the fullness of God’s revelation in the New Covenant.
There was something not yet fully known in the Old Testament scriptures, now revealed.
The Old Testament contained what Paul calls “the mystery.” There was something hidden in types and shadows and pictures for ages and generations. There was something not yet made fully known – which Paul says is exactly the thing he is all about making fully known now in his ministry. There was a mystery that was hidden but now Paul says it is revealed to his saints.
Well, what is this mystery?
(27)To them (that is the saints) God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles (the nations) are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
So what is the mystery?
This is the mystery: that the hope of glory, that is the hope of restored communion with God, lost in the garden, the hope of being with God as his people, the hope of being in His presence blameless and above reproach, the hope of forgiveness and peace and joy evermore, the hope of glory is Christ in you. That is the mystery once hidden now revealed to his saints. Christ in you is the hope of glory.
And Paul takes pains here to show that God has been pleased to make this known, not just to the Jew, but to all nations. God has revealed that this hope of glory is not the hope for the Jews only, “how great among the (nations) are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
This is what Paul is concerned to make known in his ministry: The fullness of God’s Word. Paul is concerned to make the word of God fully known, namely to take the OT “mystery” about the hope of glory and break it open for all for all the nations to see. Paul wants to make known how rich and significant is this hope of glory for both Jews and Gentiles, which is Christ in you.
Paul conceives of his own ministry and by extension what God is up to in all of Christian ministry as the proclamation of the word of God in its climactic fullness in Christ. God has now made known in the church the hope of glory for all peoples.
Paul sees himself as a servant of God, having received at treasure which is this final word from God, once a mystery, now revealed, and he sees his task as making known this crowing Jew which completes the word from God.
And so we ask Paul, what is the content of your ministry? What are you concerned to make known? and He answers in verse 28:
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
So, Christian ministry is concerned to make Christ known. That is, it is concerned to make the gospel known – the good news about Jesus Christ and His work to redeem sinners from every nation! If that is not the central feature of our ministry here, (whether that is the pulpit ministry, the small group ministry, the Sunday School ministry, the one on one ministry, every ministry that goes on here), than we have veered off course.
A Question About the OT and Concluding Thoughts:
Now, I want to tease out a few things here. What does this mean for how we understand and use the OT in ministry? Is it appropriate to study the proverbs? Does this mean we don’t study the history of the patriarchs in the OT? Does this mean that the OT takes a back seat in the church?
No. But what it does mean is that the proverbs, the patriarchs, the OT must be understood in light of the coming of Christ. These scriptures served to bring the people of God under the Old Covenant forward to Christ, and we as New Covenant people must rightly understand that Christ completes and fills up the Old Testament hope of glory. We need to understand that the OT functions to bring us to Christ. It means that when we do those studies in the OT they are not ends in themselves – they have always served as pointers forward toward God’s final word in His Son.
The goal of Christian ministry is not just to take portions of the word of God and study them as ends in themselves – Yes we must learn each portion of God’s word, but we must recognize that we have not reached the goal of making the God’s word fully known until we reach Christ – the hope of glory. In fact, rightly understood each portion of the Old Testament drives us to Christ.
If we are teaching the OT and we are content to leave Christ a mystery, Paul would say, you’ve missed the content of Christian ministry! Bring people to Christ – He is the mystery now revealed – the hope of glory – He is the content of Christian ministry.
I will go so far as to say that the word of God itself can be used in such a way as to distract us from the true content of Christian ministry.
What do I mean? Well, Jesus told the Jews, who were offended by Him (in John 5:39-47);
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people (think “hope of glory”). But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father ‘s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For, if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?
There is so much in this passage that we will not unpack, but notice that the Jews searched the scriptures, they knew the scriptures, but they misused the scriptures. They were setting their hope of glory in the wrong place. People can know and teach the bible and miss what the bible is driving us toward, they can miss what the scriptures are bearing witness to, which is Christ the hope of glory.
Just because we are teaching the bible does not mean we have made the word of God fully known.
There are lots of people who use the bible and call themselves Christian teachers and who know nothing of Christ. You can run all over the bible and miss the end, the goal, the point.
Paul shows us here that Christian ministry seeks to make the word of God fully known – bringing each part of the bible into right relation as every part bears witness to the fullness of God’s revelation – the hope of glory – once mysterious, now revealed – which is Christ in you.
And so as we make plans to minister in the Body of Christ let’s make sure that we are keeping the content of true Christian ministry at the center. As we plan and act to help one another grow toward maturity let’s make sure we understand what true Christian ministry is all about.
Have we searched the scriptures and used them for our own ends or do we search the scriptures and recognize that they are bearing witness to the final word from God – the hope of glory which is Christ in you – in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
The content of true Christian ministry is Christ.
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.