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, of which I am a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 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. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Colossians 1:24-29 ESV
Previously, Paul has described for us the essence of the gospel. He has described through the Holy Spirit the glorious preeminence of Christ and our reconciliation with God through the blood of Jesus. Now the apostle gives a brief description of his ministry, the work of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. However, before diving into the text, it is important for us to remember that this work of ministry is not simply for ministers, as we think of them; rather, every follower of Christ is called to be a minister of the gospel. Therefore, the truths that Paul describes in these verses are not merely for the first century apostles but for all believers at all times.
THE BENEFITS OF SUFFERING // VERSE 24
Without a proper understanding of the New Testament’s view of suffering, this statement makes absolutely no sense. How can anyone possibly rejoice in suffering? Romans 5:3-5 give us an idea of the positive nature of suffering: “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Suffering is a means by which we go in endurance, character, and hope. Peter goes so far as to say that we are blessed in suffering because we are sharing in the suffering of Christ (1 Pet. 4:12-19). Paul further writes in Philippians that suffering is a gift, a grace granted to us by God along with belief (Phil. 1:29). Thus, because suffering is a sanctifying work of making us more like Christ, Paul rejoices in his sufferings.
We must carefully consider what Paul means by the second clause of this verse. What does he mean by Christ’s afflictions being lacking? Does this imply that the Jesus’ death was not entirely sufficient and that Paul needed to suffer to complete the work? In a short response, no. The death and resurrection of Jesus is wholly sufficient for the forgiveness of sins for all who believe by faith. What then is being said? First, we must understand that the afflictions of Christ established the church. The death and resurrection of Christ created the body of believers called Christians. His death paid the penalty for our sins, and His resurrection ensures our future resurrection to be with Him. Thus, we are only Christians because of the work of Christ as the mediator and reconciler between us and God. The suffering and subsequent triumph of Christ is the gospel. Paul’s suffering served to advance the gospel. Continuously, Acts gives us examples of the apostle’s trials and how they led to the proclamation of the gospel.
Of course, this is not simply a trait of Paul. In Acts 8, we learn that the death of Stephen caused the believers in Jerusalem to scatter across Judea and Samaria, spreading the gospel in the process. About this principle of suffering leading to growth of the church, Tertullian claimed of Christians: “We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed” (50). Thus, Christ’s suffering is the gospel that has come to humanity, but the suffering of the saints propels its proclamation.
A MINISTER OF THE WORD // VERSES 25-26
Here Paul emphasizes that he is a minister of the body of Christ, which is the church. In case we tend to overlook the word “minister” thinking that it applies only to those who serve the church vocationally, we should note that a minister is a servant. Because all of Christ’s followers are called to be like Christ (who came to earth as a servant), all Christians are servants and, therefore, ministers. This text, then, applies to us all. We are each ministers to the body of Christ, the church, in stewardship from God. What does it mean to be a minister by the stewardship from God? Stewardship is essentially the act of caring for something that belongs to someone else. If someone leaves me to care for their dog while they are on vacation, I am caring for it in stewardship. It is not my dog, but I have been entrusted with its care. Thus, our ability to serve the church is according to the stewardship from God. Peter offers how this pertains each believers: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet. 4:10). Each of us has been given a gift by the grace of God, and it has been given in stewardship from God for the benefit of the church. Thus, we must each ask two questions. First, what are my gifts? Second, how am I using them to serve the body of Christ? Not serving fellow believers is simply poor stewardship of the gifts that God has given to us.
Additionally, when thinking about stewardship, it is important to consider the lasting impact of your ministry. Parenthood is one of the greatest gift of stewardship in the world. All children are gifts of God to the father and mother, and parents must steward well by properly caring for their child. Given this responsibility, many parents have life insurance policies or leave inheritances to their children, so that they can continue to care for them even in death. Church ministries ought to be handled in much the same way. We never know when the LORD will call us away to another place or call us home with Him; therefore, we would do well to ensure that our ministries are cared for in our absence. Planning for how the church can survive without us is not morbid but rather loving and practical. It also helps that the easiest way to do this is by discipling someone who can replace you.
The ultimate goal of all gifts within the church is to make the word of God known.If the Bible truly is the word of God, it is then the greatest source of authority in all creation because it reveals to us the character and nature of God. Therefore, it must be the goal of the church to make the word of God fully known. Does this mean that every Christian will be gifted in teaching or preaching the Bible? No, every believer ought to be able to present the gospel and explain the Bible, but not all believers are called to teach. Instead, think of many gifts in terms of volleyball. The goal of volleyball is the knock the ball over the net and onto the ground of the other team’s side. The person who is able to spike the ball scores the point, but this does not mean that the other team members were inactive. Instead, a proper spike is only effective if the player is set up by his or her team. In similar manner, each ministry of the church centers upon the proclamation of the Word of God.
Here Paul describes the Word of God as a mystery hidden for ages and generations. A simple, but incredibly profound, truth is that we, as Christians, are far better off than any of the Old Testament saints. For all the faith of Abraham, we are more faithful in Christ. For all the glory that Moses beheld, we have seen the fullness of the glory of God in Christ. For all the grace given to David, we have received more in Christ. Because of the work of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we are today in a place of greater privilege than anyone of the Old Testament. The fullness of the Word of God has been revealed to us! Incomplete does not mean incorrect. The Old Testament was truly the Word of God, but it was not complete.
THE WORD PROCLAIMED // VERSES 27-29
Within these final three verses, further expounds his ministry of toiling to proclaim the Word of God, especially to the Gentiles.
At times, it is difficult for us to understand today the significance of the gospel going to the Gentiles. However, for the first generation church, the full inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God was a massive (and controversial) matter. For much of the Old Testament history, Gentiles were considered by Jews to be a lesser people because the glory of God was revealed to the Jewish people. Yet by the grace of Christ, the good news of Jesus Christ went out to the Gentiles and brought them fully into the church.In fact, their inclusion was so complete that in Christ there was no longer Jew or Gentile. Instead, we are all one because Christ is in us.
To be clear, the indwelling Christ is not synonymous with how many people treat “asking Jesus into your heart”; rather, this refers to the Spirit of Christ, who dwells within every believer, allowing us to call God our Father. This is the very essence of what makes us Christians. The Holy Spirit invades our spirit, changes our hearts, and gives us the ability to walk with God as our Father.
Paul continues in verse 28 to emphasize the nature of his and our proclamation. We proclaim a person. The entire goal of the Christian is to make Jesus Christ known. Therefore, we proclaim Him to anyone that will listen.
Paul explains our proclamation of Jesus as warning and teaching. We warn people because of the bad news that proceeds the good news of the gospel.We are utterly sinful, while God is completely good. Thus, for offending an eternal God, we deserve an eternal punishment. This is bad news. This is information that is worth warning people about. In another country’s culture, we pray that someone will be kind enough to warn against offending the nationals. Likewise, it is only loving for us to warn others about the wrath of God. Second, we teach everyone with all wisdom. If there is any subject worth studying and knowing, it is the glory of God. In fact, we will continue to learn more and more of the greatness of God throughout all eternity.
However, as verse 29 shows, each of us must toil to present one another mature in Christ. Notice the great paradox within this verse. We work mightily, struggling as if in a brutal fight. We should give everything we have to the ministry of Christ. Yet whose energy do we use to struggle? With all His energy, it is not our energy that fuels our work. This is a glorious truth of the gospel. It is the difference between working for the favor of God and working from the favor of God. As we work with His energy, we fix our eyes upon the completed work of Christ upon the cross, knowing that He will then strengthen us to follow Him.