In the opening section of Paul's letter to the Colossians, 1:3-2:23, Paul opposes the false teaching presently affecting the church at Colossae. To those seeking fullness, he makes the point that the "fullness of God" dwells in Christ, and as Christ is in us we are already full. In the section before us, 1:24-29, 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 a secret, once hidden, but now revealed.
v24. 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.
v25. Paul's suffering comes as a servant of the church. As a minister (this word means servant) he sees himself appointed by Christ to make God's gospel-plan, to make known the mystery, make it fully known.
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.
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. These heretics in Colossae were believers who held that law-obedience both restrains sin, thus maintaining a believer's standing / approval before God, and promotes holiness, thus progressing a believer's standing / approval before God so enabling the full appropriation of God's promised blessings. 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."
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.
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 Paul to accomplish his work for Christ.
In our passage for study, Paul the apostle speaks about his presbyter role in the church for which he functions as an apostle. In speaking of his role he gives us a job-description for a Christian minister:
First, ministers are servants of the body of Christ. That's what we mean by the word minister; it means servant. This is actually a very positive way for all of us to see our service to the church, whether it is our offertory, or in brass cleaning, flowers, choir, gardening,...... This service is not just for a building or organization, but for the people of God, the congregation. If to the congregation, then it is to Christ.
Second, a minister's service to the church brings suffering. Actually it's painful trying to do anything for any group of people and the church is not immune from this difficulty. We foolishly believe that Christians won't act sinfully. In truth, the Christian fellowship can be terribly destructive, terribly hurtful. The most hurtful things that have ever been done to me have been done by church people. And I have to admit, I've done my fair share of hurting as well. The more we serve, the more vulnerable we are, the more we will be hurt.
Third, ministers are commissioned to serve. Commissioned is a far better word than our usual called. One of the most misused words in Christian piety is called. Jesus calls on all people to trust him as saviour and follow him as Lord. Those who accept the call are commissioned to serve Christ in a way that effectively employs their gifts. In this sense, we are all commissioned. The presbyter is commissioned to authoritatively proclaim the word. The commissioning is from God because the teaching-gift is His. In response, the congregation recognizes that gift.
Fourth, a minister's apostolic (presbyter) role is to proclaim the word of God in its fullness. This word is the gospel, it centers on "Christ in us, the hope of glory" - the possession of all the consequences of Christ's death and resurrection. This truth is central to the Christian life and must be the prime subject of Biblical exposition. Sadly, sometimes it isn't. In fact, much preaching tends to focus on doing rather than receiving. It's as if a good sermon is meant to make us feel guilty, when it should actually make us feel free. Notice also how Paul proclaims the gospel. He admonishes his hearers. No softly, softly here.
Finally, a minister's service in the gospel is empowered. When Christ commissions us to serve him, he supplies the wherewithal to get the job done.
Here then is the center of Christian ministry, preaching and teaching the divinely empowered Word of God. Let us always affirm that ministry.
1. In what sense does Paul's sufferings "fill up what is still lacking" in Christ's suffering?
2. Explain what it means by "perfect in Christ."
3. Discuss the place of the ordained ministry in the modern church. What is it's function and is there a better way to get the job done?