“Now I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”
· This verse will be easier to understand if we look at it when we look at verse 29. So we will skip it for right now and then come back.
· Just note that He says “I do my share on behalf of the church.”
· Literally “Of that” I was made a servant. Of what? Primarily (as all the translations take it) of the church that he just mentioned in verse 24. Paul says “I am a servant of the church – of you, Christians in Colossae.
· “Of the church I was made a servant according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me.” If you are looking at the King James you have the word dispensation; the NIV has the word commission. I think the clearest way to say it is stewardship – a steward is someone who is entrusted with something.
EX: if you and your spouse want to get away for dinner you may get a baby sitter to stay with your children. That baby sitter is a steward of your children; they have a stewardship while you are gone.
· Paul says “I am a servant of the church according to a stewardship from God”
· But how is serving a stewardship? We’ll get that answer in a second.
· “the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit.” So whatever this stewardship is, it is from God to Paul for them.
· What is the stewardship that He serves with? Let me read the next phrase to you from 4 translations:
1. “to fulfill the word of God
2. “to fully carry out the preaching of the word of God”
3. “to present to you the word of God in its fullness”
4. “to make the Word of God fully known among you”
· Paul is a servant of the church with a stewardship from God – to fully present to them the Word of God. That is the main way that Paul serves the church – presenting to them the Word of God in its fullness.
· Now He is going to explain what is the very essence of the Word of God. He’s going to boil down the message of the Word to one thing.
· “that is the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations but has now been manifested to His saints” A mystery as the word is used in the NT is something that God’s people did not clearly understand for a long time but now God has made it clear to them. The essence of the Word of God was hidden for many ages but has now been made clear.
· “to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles” The essence of the Word of God is glorious and like rich treasure. Part of the reason it is so amazing is because it applies to the Gentiles too (like us), not just Israel.
· “which is Christ in you” God has come in the flesh; now sinful mankind can be saved from their sin, restored to God; and even have the very presence of Christ in them.
· “the hope of glory” as a result all people, whether a Jew or not, can have hope (absolute confidence based on the Word of God) that they will taste and see and enjoy the glory of God in Christ forever!
· This is the very essence of the Word – that sinful rebellious non-jews like us can be forgiven because of Christ and actually have the presence of God in Christ in us and have absolute confidence of eternal glory. To put all of that very simply, the essence of the Word is Christ.
· Transition: So Paul is a servant of the church; responsible before God to be a faithful steward of the Word of God. The essence of the Word is Christ. So what does Paul do? How does he faithfully serve the church and be a faithful steward for God?
· “And we proclaim Him” – who? Christ!
· “admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom” – Here’s what Paul’s service really looks like. It is ministry to people, both publicly and privately proclaiming Christ in the word, admonishing (exhorting) and teaching.
· “that we may present every man complete in Christ.” – Some versions use the word “perfect.” The word means complete or mature or grown up. There’s the goal of Paul’s service. That every person would reach the maturity of being grown up, complete in Christ. That every person would be Christ-like.
· “And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”
This word “labor” is a word that means to work to exhaustion, to wear yourself out with hard work. He says I work to exhaustion for the purpose of proclaiming Christ and presenting every man complete in Christ.
· Then He affirms the great power of God’s grace and Sovereign control. “according to His power, which mightily works within me.”
Many times in Paul’s writings we see this perspective about life. I work very hard, labor to the point of exhaustion. Yet realize that when you have done that any good that was accomplished for God’s glory through you happened because He blessed. He gave power, He worked mightily. Even when you labor to exhaustion the credit goes to Him because we cannot change hearts. We can’t make people Christ-like. We must work as hard as we can, and at the same time depend completely on God’s powerful working.
· Not only does he labor to exhaustion to see them complete in Christ but He also suffers to see them complete in Christ. “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” He rejoices in his sufferings, because He sees them as “doing His share to fulfill that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” This is a difficult phrase. How could there possibly be something lacking in Christ’s afflictions? This word “afflictions” is never used in the New Testament to refer to Christ’s saving sufferings on the cross. This does not mean that there is something lacking in Christ’s saving work on the cross. That work is finished, done, complete and sin is completely paid for. This word does not refer to that. It does refer to the hostility and hatred and opposition that He faced as He headed toward the cross. There was great opposition against this work of making people faithful followers of Christ. Since Christ’s time there has been much more opposition. You might remember that an early church Father named Tertullian said that the “blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church.” The church spread and grew through great suffering. Today millions of Christians around the globe face great hostility for their faith. And it is coming rapidly in America. And Paul sees that the advance of the gospel and the cause of Christ will involve a lot of suffering. It is as if he sees a great amount of suffering that must happen before the end of this age. That amount hasn’t been filled up yet. He sees his sufferings for the sake of Christ as part of that great reservoir of sufferings that must be filled up. Starting with Christ and going to the end of the age, the church of Christ will advance through suffering. And Paul sees his suffering as “doing his part” in that. Contrary to what is taught at many churches in Southern California, Christian living is not all about health and wealth and prosperity, and if you just had enough faith you’d be rich and comfortable too. God usually advances His glory and Christ’s kingdom through suffering.
· Isn’t it striking that God seldom works like we would. We would have the church march to glorious triumph through glorious victories. God has the church march to triumph through suffering. But no surprise – God brought salvation to the world by sending His son as a man to be hated and rejected and killed. God’s thoughts and plans are infinitely higher than ours.
READ vv. 24-29
This is one of those sections of Scripture that is defining. It provides direction and purpose and definition for many areas of life, far more than we can touch on this morning. But let me mention a few.
Notice that in verse 28 Paul suddenly shifts from “I” to “we.” This isn’t just something that God called Paul to do. This is the service and stewardship of each of us. To proclaim Christ and labor and suffer to present every man complete in Christ. We see again why the mission of Grace Bible Church is to make faithful followers of Christ. We see why we say we are a “Christ-centered” church. And we emphasize that we can’t just say that but it has to actually happen in what we do. Christ has to be all! It doesn’t matter what other good things a church may be accomplishing, if a church does not exalt Christ and make faithful followers of Him it is failing its mission.
Pastors and preaching
(see The Pastor: His Life and Work p.33)
The main way that Paul served the church was by presenting the Word of God to them. The pastor has a broad role and serves the church in many ways but the priority always has to go to the Word. Presenting the Word in its fullness must be the priority.
And he must labor to exhaustion and even suffer to proclaim Christ to His people. Both publicly and privately He wisely challenges people with Christ so that they may grow up to maturity in Christ-likeness. He must be a Christ-like man with a Christ-centered ministry to people that is full of Christ-centered labor. He must know how to exalt Christ as he preaches and teaches the Word. That is the kind of pastor that this text calls for.
Our goal is not to raise “good kids.” Well-behaved kids. Successful kids. Even kids who say “yeah, I’m saved.” Our goal is to raise kids who know about Jesus Christ and think He is the greatest superhero there ever was. Kids who think Jesus is the greatest friend anyone could every have. Kids who love Jesus and talk about Jesus. Kids who delight to trust Jesus and know they are forgiven in Jesus. Kids who are becoming more like Jesus and growing toward maturity not just in general character but growing toward maturity in Christ-likeness. Christ-centered, Christ-like kids. That’s quite a goal. Certainly that intimidates me. But that has to be the goal. You have to have a Christ-centered family. But also remember that when you labor you strive according to His power that mightily works in you. (I speak as a fool, but) Parenting is a great opportunity to labor to exhaustion and see God at work in a special way. Go for the goal of being a Christ-centered, Christ-like family.
Our own lives
If we are supposed to labor to the point of exhaustion to help present other people complete in Christ, what should we be doing with ourselves? How aggressive is your pursuit of personal Christ-likeness. If someone could observe your life for a week, could they say that you actually “labor” for Christ-likeness in your own life?
I Tim. 4:7 “Exercise yourself for godliness.” This word refers to vigorous training and careful discipline. During the off season many athletes hire a personal trainer to help them stay in top shape. During pre-season or training camp athletes go through rigorous hours of physical training and preparation and drills. Even little kids little league and basketball and soccer teams practice multiple times each week. But for many Christians there is nothing like that for their own Christ-likeness. They do not labor to exhaustion to be like Christ. They do not vigorously train themselves for godliness. Yet that is exactly what we are called to do.
From our personal discipline to our families to the church, Colossians shows us again that Christ is everything. We begin with this book, and with this magnificent first chapter because it pounds into us that Christ is all. It is all for Him – we are all for Him. May Grace Bible Church be a Christ-centered church, and may you and I be Christ-centered and Christ-like faithful followers of Him. And for this purpose also we labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within us.