Colossians

1:24-29

3. A personal perspective on gospel ministry. 1:24-2:5

i] Paul's stewardship of the mystery

Argument

To those seeking fullness, Paul makes the point that the "fullness of God" dwells in Christ, and since we are in Christ and Christ is in us, we are already full. In the passage before us Paul speaks of his apostolic work. He has sought to make known God's great and wonderful mystery concerning Christ - "Christ in you, the hope of glory." Within an environment of suffering, Paul has worked to make known this secret, once hidden, but now revealed.

 
Issues

i] Context: See 1:1-2

 

ii] Background: See 1:1-2.

 

iii] Structure: This passage, Paul, the servant of the church, presents as follows:

suffering on behalf of the church, v24;

communicating the gospel, v25

the mystery - "Christ in you", v26/27

hidden, now revealed, v26

proclaiming, admonishing and teaching, v27

contending for the Lord, v28

 

iv] Interpretation:

Paul has so far given us a glimpse into God's plan for the reconciliation of lost humanity, and now he gives us an insight into the part he is playing in this plan. Paul "begins by speaking of his sufferings on behalf of the church, v24, and of the special work giving him by God, v25. His task is to proclaim God's Word, the secret which was kept hidden for a long time but which has now been made known, v26. The heart of this message, which is for all people, is Christ, v27, 28. Paul works hard, in the strength that God gives, to make this message known to everyone, v29", Pfitzner.

 

"The mystery, which is Christ in you the hope of glory." It is often argued that the mystery is that we are all one in Christ, Eph.3:6, but this is surely a consequence of the mystery. It seems more likely that Paul describes the mystery in Ephesians 3:8, namely, "the unsearchable riches of Christ" - the glorious blessings that are ours through our union with Christ, becoming one with Christ in his death, resurrection, ascension and eternal reign. The apostles were given the task of proclaiming the riches and the glories of this message (this "mystery") to the Gentiles. A summary of the content of the mystery is given in the second part of the verse - "Christ in you the hope of glory." Here we have the content of the gospel, of the mystery, of the Word of God in its fullness. The message is encapsulated in the simplest possible form.

Of course, its simplicity makes it extremely difficult to expound. It has prompted the writing of thousands of words. The false teachers (Jewish Christian nomists) taught, according to Paul, a vain "philosophy", a "tradition" of men. They claimed that "fullness" in the Christian life came through submission to the Torah. Not so says Paul, that path leads only to a curse. Israel's hope is "the hope of glory." It is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham of a community living in the presence of God, possessing his might, majesty, power and triumph. Israel, now under the curse of God, could never possess this hope. Yet, the "seed of Abraham", the messiah, Christ, has possessed this hope already. As for those who hold onto him through faith, they too possess the hope of glory. When a person believes in Christ they become one with Christ, they are in Christ and Christ is in them. Once a person is united with Christ, they receive the benefits of his death and resurrection. We are dead and buried with Christ. Our old life of sin is dead in that we are no longer subject to sin's condemnation, nor are we subject to its power (no longer under law therefore, no longer under its curse). Since we are raised with Christ, our new life, alive to God, is a life lived in Christ's resurrection power through the indwelling Spirit. Thus with "Christ in" us we possess the "hope of glory".

 

v] Comment:

In speaking of his apostolic ministry, Paul gives us some useful insights into Christian ministry. The function of a Christian minister/priest is a rather strange one these days. There was a time when the local minister not only dealt with the spiritual ills of his local community, but with matters of law and even medicine. Today we are not quite sure what the minister/priest is supposed to do. The job description is highly fluid, both in the church and the wider community. In the secular society the function of a clergyman is ever decreasing. People are even using celebrants to say the last words over their dead. This is surely a sign that the minister's public role in secular society is coming to an end.

Yet, the perceived function of a clergyman within the Christian fellowship is just as fluid. What is the role of a minister? Is it an administrator, counselor, teacher, public relations officer, press secretary, writer, actor, service convener, social worker, media personality, .......? Maybe it's all of the above. There is no doubt that many clergy see their role in these terms, but thankfully many still still see their role as a communicator of God's Word. The trouble is that there are many in the congregation who would claim the right to teach the Bible. So, even when it comes to the Word of God, the authority of the clergy is undermined. As a result, clergy are facing an identity crises. Many are quite lost and have left the ministry. Those that remain face the difficulty of struggling on in the face of a host of impossible expectations.

It is true that most ministers find themselves as public functionaries of an institutional religious organization - the church in the marketplace. In this role clergy perform a two-fold function - managing both the fishing-boat and the sheep-fold. In doing this we need to wear numerous hats. Yet, primarily we serve as evangelists / pastor-teachers - "messengers, watchmen, and stewards (servants) of the Lord." As evangelists, we cast out the net of the gospel, we communicate the gospel to our local community - "to make the word of God fully known", v25-26. As pastors, we care for Christ's sheep by teaching the Word of God so that we may "present every person mature in Christ", v28. The task has never been more complex and so, like Paul, we toil with God's help, v29, and this under a divine commission, v25.

 

vi] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the pew-level sermon notes Paul's Ministry to the Church

 
Text - 1:24

The apostolic ministry of Paul, v24-29. Paul tells us that he rejoices in his sufferings which he bears for "you" (the church). He rejoices because there is a sense where his troubles benefit the church. First, the troubles serve to build up God's people and gather in the lost. Second, the sufferings are diverted from the church to Paul and his team. God's messianic people must suffer and Paul is pleased to be the recipient of these sufferings on behalf of the church.

en + dat. "in" - The preposition may be causal, "I rejoice because of my sufferings on your behalf", but is more likely locative, expressing space/sphere; "I rejoice in the face of / in the midst of my sufferings on your behalf." As to whose sufferings are in mind, they could be Christ's sufferings, but given the context, they are more likely Paul's troubles as a minister of the gospel, so "my sufferings", NRSV; "I rejoice in what I am suffering", TNIV.

uJper + gen. "for [you]" - on behalf of [you]. Expressing advantage/benefit; "for your sake/benefit." Paul is referring to Gentiles in general, but could specifically have the Colossians in mind.

kai "and" - This common conjunction usually links matters of equal weight and so what follows adds to the opening clause, although here, it even explains Paul's statement that he rejoices in his sufferings on behalf of the Colossians, ie. epexegetic. A phrase like "in fact" would work well here.

antanaplhrw (antanaplhrow) pres. "I fill up" - fill up completely on behalf of someone else. "I help to complete ..."

en + dat. "in [my flesh]" - in [the flesh of me]. Probably local, expressing sphere, "in my body/person", but instrumental is possible, "by means of my sufferings." Take note that this phrase actually follows "Christ's afflictions" in the Gk. and so therefore can be read, "I help to complete what remains of Christ's sufferings in my person."

ta uJsterhmata (a atoV) "what is still lacking" - the things lacking, that which is lacking in what is essential or needed*. "What still remains" TEV.

twn qliyewn (qliyiV ewV) gen. "in regard to [Christ's] afflictions" - of the tribulations/troubles [of Christ]. The NIV has read this genitive as adverbial, of respect, although Campbell suggests that it is adjectival, partitive. Moule, O'Brien and others take the phrase "the afflictions of Christ/Messiah" to mean "the oppression and affliction of the people of Israel", a phrase similar to "the birth-pangs of the Messiah." As such, the phrase refers to the apocalyptic tribulations of the end days, tribulations which will be experienced by God's people through to the end. Paul is glad to take on more than his share for the sake of the church. This idea of topping up Christ's sufferings is a rather strange one. The Messiah and his people must suffer. Christ has suffered, a complete offering once and for all, but his suffering images the coming tribulations of the church, here called "Christ's afflictions" (the afflictions of the messianic community). Suffering is, as it were, part of the deal. The Christian fellowship will suffer, somewhere. So Paul sees himself bearing, in his own person, what the church must suffer, and in so doing, frees others from this burden. It's as if Paul pictures a certain amount of suffering, and he is taking the lions share. This frees others, and so therefore, Paul rejoices. The suffering itself may be his present imprisonment, but it is more likely the pain of apostolic ministry, "the care of all the churches".

tou Cristou gen. "Christ's" - of Christ. The genitive may be taken as adjectival, possessive, "I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions", NRSV / verbal, subjective. Some commentators try to sidestep the difficult notion of Paul somehow topping up the Messiah's afflictions by arguing that it is an objective genitive; Paul is suffering "for the sake of Christ." Other suggestions, with a long history, are that the genitive is either qualitative, "which resemble those of Christ", so NIV, or relational, "the afflictions which result from union with Christ." The trouble is, what do we do with "fill up" and "still lacking"?

uJper + gen. "for the sake of" - on behalf of [his body, which is the church]. Expressing advantage / benefit. Note this important description of the church as Christ's body, cf.1:18. The fellowship of believers is an integral part of the person of Christ. We are Christ to the world.

 
v25

Paul's suffering comes as a servant of the church. As a minister / servant he sees himself appointed by Christ to make God's gospel-plan, to make known the mystery, make it fully known.

hJV gen. pro. "[I have become] its" - of which [I became]. The genitive is usually taken to modify the verbal noun diakonoV, "servant, minister", so verbal, objective, or adverbial, reference / respect, or causal, "because of which." The antecedent is ekklhsia, "church".

diakonoV (oV) "servant" - "Minister".

kata + acc. "by" - according to. Possibly with the instrumental sense of "by means of / through", so the NIV, although properly expressing a standard, "according to", NRSV, but also possibly taking a consecutive sense, "as a result of", eg. NEB.

thn oikonomian (a) "the commission" - the stewardship, office / plan. A steward is someone with the responsibility to fulfill a particular task, or fill a particular office, and Paul has been set aside / appointed / entrusted by God to administer the office of apostle to the Gentiles. Note, Paul usually speaks of "the grace of God" given to him when speaking of his role as apostle to the Gentiles. cf. 1Cor.9:17. The word is also used by Paul for "God's administration of the world and salvation", O'Brien, Eph.1:10, 3:9. Paul is entrusted to make this "plan / mystery" known. Some commentators suggest both meanings are present here.

tou qeou gen. "of God" - of God. The genitive is usually taken as verbal, subjective, therefore, a commission / office "from God", as NIV, although ablative, expressing source / origin is probably a more accurate classification than verbal. The genitive is possibly adjectival, possessive, or better, attributive, limiting "commission", "by the divine commission which has been granted me", Moffatt.

thn doqeisan (didwmi) aor. pas. part. "gave" - having been given. The articular participle is adjectival, attributive, forming a relative clause limiting the commission/office to Paul, "which was given [to me]."

moi dat. pro. "me" - to me. Dative of indirect object.

eiV + acc. "to present to [you]" - to [you]. Probably here expressing advantage, "for your good/benefit", the "you" referring to the Gentiles.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "[the word] of God" - The genitive is probably ablative, expressing source / origin; "from God."

plhrwsai (plhrow) aor. inf. "in its fullness" - to complete [the word of God]. The infinitive may form a final clause expressing purpose in that Paul was appointed for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel, but it is probably an object clause, epexegetic, explaining the function of Paul's office / commission as apostle to the Gentiles and/or God's gospel-plan . The sense is of fully proclaiming the gospel message, fully making known the content of the gospel. This "fullness / completeness" may mean to make the gospel fully known to everyone, but more likely means, to proclaim the full content of God's message, to which end Paul is a servant / minister, v23. It is most likely that the phrase "word of God" stands for the gospel: God's important message to broken humanity which concerns the operation of divine grace in the faithfulness of Christ.

 
v26

Paul has made it his business to reveal a particular message from God. This message, "the mystery", is the gospel; it entails God's secret wisdom revealed to the "saints" (ie., the apostles) and in particular, revealed to Paul.

to musthrion (on) "the mystery" - the mystery, secret. An epexegetic accusative explaining something about ton logon, "the word." The gospel is a "mystery", once hidden, but now revealed to the "saints". This "mystery" is now revealed to the apostles that they may make it known to all mankind. The gospel, in the terms of a mystery, is God's secret plan of salvation. The term "mystery" does not mean mysterious, rather it means a secret, a secret once hidden, now revealed.

to apokekrummenon (apokruptw) perf. pas. part. "that has been kept hidden" - having been hidden. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "mystery", formed as a relative clause; "which has been kept secret".

apo + gen. "for [ages and generations]" - from. The basic sense of separation, "away from", is expressed in both uses of the preposition in this verse, although with a temporal purpose; the secret has been hidden from/throughout the former periods of time; "from ages and [from] generations past", NAB. Possibly, although unlikely, from persons, powers ..... "angels and men" RSV.

efanerwqh (fanerow) aor. pas. "[but is now] disclosed" - has made known/manifest. The sense of this aorist encompasses a package of repeated "disclosings" to "the saints." The presence of the "now" forces an English translation using a perfect tense, "has been", or a present tense, "is now".

toiV aJgioiV dat. adj. "to the saints / to the [Lord's] people" - to the holy [of him]. Dative of indirect object. This term, usually translated "the saints", refers to the apostles and sometimes to Jewish believers. Here most likely the apostles and not "the Lord's people", as TNIV. The "him" is God, not Christ = "the holy of God

 
v27

The content of the mystery can be summarized as "Christ in you the hope of glory." Here we have the content of the gospel, of the mystery, of the Word of God in its fullness. The false teachers claimed that "fullness" in the Christian life came through submission to God's law, the Torah; see "Background". Not so, says Paul. When a person believes in Christ, Christ enters into their being and they receive, as a gift, the full benefits of Christ's death and resurrection. Thus with "Christ in" us we possess the "hope of glory."

oiV dat. pro. "to them" - "To them" = to the saints = to the apostles. As it stands we have a dative of indirect object, but Bowers has this relative pronoun as accusative, inadvertently dative by attraction to the dative "the saints". He suggests that the translation would then be "who God willed should make known how rich is the splendor of this mystery among the Gentiles." Certainly worth considering.

hqelhsen (qelw) aor. "[God] has chosen" - willed. The aorist is most likely simple, constative, "God willed", it was his settled purpose to make known....

gnwrisai (gnwrizw) aor. inf. "to make known" - The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "[God] willed, wanted"; he chose to divulge, reveal, ..... the mystery

en + dat. "among [the Gentiles]" - Sometimes read as eiV, so "into/to" = "for the Gentiles", although local, space, or better association, "among", seems best. The NIV position of this phrase is probably not correct. In the Greek this prepositional phrase modifies "the glorious riches of this mystery" which is displayed "among the Gentiles." The realization of the mystery is evident among the Gentiles.

ti - Predicate nominative. Introducing an indirect question as to what has been made known to the Gentiles?

thV doxhV gen. "[the] glorious [riches]" - [the wealth/riches] of the glory. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "riches", as NIV; "the rich glory", JB. "Rich" is used in the sense of God's wondrous blessings, and this added to "glory" (divine splendor), serves to underline the divine nature of the mystery.

tou musthriou (on) gen. "of [this] mystery" - The genitive is probably adjectival, possessive; "the glorious wealth which this secret holds", Moffatt. Some argue for verbal: subjective, "the glory beyond price which this mystery brings", NAB, or objective, "the glorious revelation of this mystery", Lightfoot, or adverbial, of reference, so Campbell.

o{ estin "which is" - Commonly as an idiomatic phrase with the sense "that is to say"; BDF.132[2].

en + dat."[Christ] in [you]" - Local, expressing sphere, here incorporative union. Although "in you" is not very conceptual, it is profoundly theological and is one of the many Biblical terms that require explanation. So translations, "in our hearts", "among you", "in your midst" .... are not helpful.

 
v28

Paul and the apostles ("we") strive to proclaim the mystery, admonishing (warning) and teaching, so that as many people as possible may have the opportunity to stand perfect before God through their identification with Christ - by grace through faith.

oJn hJmeiV "we [proclaim] him / he is the one we proclaim" - whom we proclaim. "Whom" = Jesus, "we" = the apostles.

katannellomen (katannellw) pres. "proclaim" - announce. The present tense, being imperfective / durative, implies progressive / ongoing action. The word is virtually a technical term for the preaching of the gospel.

nouqetounteV (neuqetew) pres. part. "admonishing [and teaching everyone]" - warning [every man and teaching every man]. As with the participle didaskonteV, "teaching", this participle is adverbial, modal, describing the manner of the proclamation, or instrumental, expressing the means of the proclamation. Lightfoot suggested that the teaching is instruction for believers and the warning is a warning of repentance for unbelievers. Admonishing/warning and teaching the wisdom of God, does not mean teaching Christian ethics, but rather means making known the gospel, the mystery.

en + dat "with [all wisdom]" - in. Possibly instrumental, "by means of wisdom", but more likely adverbial, expressing manner, "wisely". The "all" means "extra wisely" rather than "every kind of wisdom."

iJna + subj. "so that" - Best taken as forming a final clause expressing purpose, so describing the intended end of the proclamation.

parasthswmen (paristhmi) aor. subj. "we may present" - Present before the throne of God in the day of glory.

teleion adj. "perfect" - complete, perfect, mature, whole. With the prepositional phrase, "in Christ", accusative complement of the object "[every] man", standing in a double accusative construction. The sense is of a person being mature in the faith, particularly in the knowledge of God's word.

en Cristw/ "in Christ" - The preposition en as in v27; "in union with Christ."

 
v29

Against the false teachers, Paul argues strongly for the gospel, since only by faith in the faithfulness of Christ can a believer stand perfect in God's sight. Yet, Paul's "struggling" (striving) is not in his own power. Since he is doing God's work, divine energy mightily enables him to accomplish his work for Christ

eiV o} kai "to this end" - for which also. The relative pronoun o}, "which (this)", probably refers to the whole business of proclaiming the mystery in order to present a people perfect before God. The particle kai, "also/and", serves here to specify, it is to this "very" end, and eiV indicates goal, the goal being "to this very end."

agwnizomenoV (agwnizomai) pres. part. "[I labor] struggling / I strenuously [contend]" - [I labor] striving, working. The participle is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of Paul's toiling. "I am toiling strenuously", NEB.

kata + acc. "with [all his energy] / with [all the energy]" - according to [his power of working]. Although followed by an accusative the sense of this preposition here seems to be one of means, Paul labors "relying upon", "depending on" the energy which Christ supplies, ie. his divine power.

en dunamei (iV ewV) dat. "[which] so powerfully / [Christ] so powerfully" - in/with/by power. The preposition en is best taken adverbally, "with power" = "powerfully."

thn energoumenhn (energew) pres. mid./pas. part. "which [so powerfully] works" - the thing working [in me in power]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting / describing "[his] energy", as NIV. A causal sense is proposed by Barth; "and for this I struggle and strive because his power works mightily in me." Yet, it seems more likely that Paul is identifying what enables him to strive in gospel ministry; "It is for this that I toil, and it is in his power working mightily in me which nerves me for the struggle", Barclay

en + dat. "in [me]" - Local, expressing space/sphere.

 

Colossians Introduction

Exposition

 

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