Laboring for the Gospel
Scripture Text: Colossians 1:24-2:5
Today, we are continuing our look at Paul’s letter to the Colossians. While we do not know exactly to what Paul was responding in this letter, it seems that some false teachers were causing problems in the church, therefore, Paul took the opportunity to correct that false teaching. A couple of weeks ago, we looked at what many consider to be an early Christ hymn where Paul wrote about the majesty of Jesus Christ and his role in creation and redemption. It is because of Jesus as Creator that we all have life and it is through Jesus as Savior that we have abundant life – everlasting life. All people are born enemies of God and alienated from Him. Through Jesus Christ, however, we have peace and reconciliation to God, if we place our trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. At the end of the Christ hymn passage, chapter one verse twenty-three, Paul wrote that he became a minister of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, which has been proclaimed in all of creation.
Having reminded the Colossians of the supremacy of Jesus Christ and Jesus’s redemptive work in their own lives, Paul turned to his own role in God’s work and relationship with the Colossians. The focus of today’s passage is about that – Paul’s work for the church. Though Paul had not planted the church in Colossae or personally met the Colossians there, Paul labored to ensure the Colossians had sufficient knowledge of Jesus Christ and the Gospel in order to protect them from being deceived. Paul labored for the Gospel and the health of the church, even for a congregation he had not met. I mentioned previously that as we go through this letter, I am going to take every opportunity to point out the supremacy of Jesus Christ, the importance of the gospel, and our duty as God’s people to share the good news of Jesus Christ. We see in the passage today the importance of Christ and our duty to labor in the Gospel. Though Paul had not planted the church of the Colossians, he wanted them to know that his mission to the Gentiles included them.
In this passage he mentioned three main ideas that I would like to consider:
- Rejoicing while Suffering
- Sharing the Gospel
- Maturing in Christ
Rejoicing While Suffering
No one likes pain and suffering. Most, if not all of us, do our best to avoid it. Other than the fact that I am a specimen of physical fitness (that’s a joke, by the way!), pain and suffering is why I do not exercise. My motto is, “No pain…no pain.” We do not often think of pain and suffering as making us happy, but there are times when it does bring joy. I think of a mother who gives birth to a baby. Fortunately, I have not had to endure that hardship, but I have heard that seeing a newborn baby and holding that baby brings such joy to a mother that the pain she endured was worth it.
Paul wrote in this passage that he “rejoiced” in his sufferings for the sake of the church. Paul had endured his share of pain and suffering – beatings, shipwrecks, imprisonment, hunger. Paul most likely wrote this letter to the Colossians while imprisoned in Rome. During his mission to the Gentiles, Paul experienced all kinds of affliction but here he was most likely referring to his imprisonment. All of his suffering was worth it if it meant the gospel was shared with the nations, if people turned to Christ for salvation, and the church was built up. All of that made it worth any suffering. Paul was willing, and in fact rejoiced, to suffer for the sake of the gospel and the church. To the Romans, Paul wrote the following:
Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Paul’s encouragement to us is that the sufferings we endure for the sake of the gospel will be worth it when we see our Savior face to face and we see all those who heard the gospel and accepted Christ through our witness and testimony. What a wonderful, joyous day that will be! Paul also made an interesting statement regarding his suffering. He wrote the following:
Colossians 1:24 I am filling up in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church
At first glance, it appears that Paul was saying there was a deficiency in the atoning sacrifice of Christ. That, somehow, something was lacking in what Jesus did on the cross. I do not think that is Paul’s point here. Remember, Paul exalted the sufficiency and supremacy of Jesus Christ. Paul proclaimed that we are justified by faith in Jesus and not ourselves. It is more likely that Paul suffered afflictions because he was preaching the good news of Jesus’ atonement. Jesus suffered on the cross to atone for our sin, and Paul filled up Christ’s afflictions by experiencing the added sufferings necessary to carry the Gospel to the lost. All Christians should expect some measure of suffering and all the more as we approach the second coming of Jesus Christ. We are all called to bear a “cross” and should expect suffering, persecution, and hatred from the world. If the world hated Jesus, they will certainly hate us. Paul rejoiced in his opportunity to participate in suffering for the Gospel.
Sharing the Gospel
After writing about the joy of suffering for the sake of the Gospel, Paul told us about the responsibility God gave him in regards to the Gospel. Verse twenty-five is almost an exact repeat of verse twenty-three, where Paul mentioned that he was a minister. This time Paul qualified his becoming a minister by saying it was according to the stewardship given to him from God. Sometimes, this word is translated “minister” while other times it is “servant.” Also, the word used here in verse twenty-five is the same one that is used for the word “deacon” elsewhere in Scripture. After all, that is what a deacon is – a minister of the Gospel and a servant of the church. In this context, though, Paul was not referring to himself as an ordained minister or any other specific church office. He was referring to himself as a true servant of the church. He was speaking primarily about service.
Paul wrote that he became a servant according to the stewardship of God. Paul viewed himself as a divinely commissioned “steward” or “administrator” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God had entrusted Paul with the responsibility to make the Word of God fully known. He was saying that God had commissioned him to serve the church in a particular way, to proclaim the Word of God to the Gentiles. The New Living Translation renders verse twenty-five this way:
Colossians 1:25 (NLT) God has given me the responsibility of serving his church by proclaiming his entire message to you.
That was Paul’s responsibility – to work in God’s plan for the Gentiles to receive salvation and to share in the inheritance of God’s people. Paul’s role was to make this message fully known to them. God had given Paul the responsibility to serve the church by proclaiming God’s Word to the church. What is your responsibility in the church? What is God telling you to do? Whatever it is, we should be doing it to build up the church, help share the good news of Jesus Christ and make more disciples for the kingdom of God.
In describing his role of making God’s Word fully known, Paul referred to the Word of God as a “mystery” that was once hidden but is now revealed. Paul may have been refuting a false teaching that emphasized knowledge as the means of salvation. In the pagan religions of Paul’s time and the early church, these mysteries were secret insights that were given to a select few, almost as a mark of membership. It was a secret knowledge. Paul’s use of mystery here, however, is different. The Old Testament contained signs, hints, and shadows of what was to come. Now that Jesus has come and salvation is available to all nations, what was once hidden is now seen. What was once a mystery is now known. “Mystery” refers to something that was previously hidden in God’s plan but has now been revealed. It relates to the inclusion of the Gentiles into the people of God. Jesus Christ is the ultimate storehouse of divine wisdom and spiritual knowledge, not some secret pagan knowledge.
Mature in Christ, Firm of Faith
It was not enough for Paul to see people make a profession of faith in Christ, as important as that is. We want to see people come to faith in Christ. However, the purpose of Paul’s ongoing ministry to make the Word of God fully known was not just to see people accept Christ. That is important, but he wanted to see something else. Paul proclaimed God’s Word to the Colossians in order to present them all mature in Christ. Paul wanted the Colossians to be mature, or perfect, in their faith. In a way, our full perfection will only be attained when our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ returns to get His church and believers are fully transformed. Until that time, though, we are to work out our salvation, progressing in faithfulness and obedience to God through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We should all be working to build up the church, both in more believers and more faithful disciples. We should want to see everyone maturing in Christ and firm in his or her faith.
Our faith in Christ and work in the church ought to be constantly progressing. Is your relationship with God the same now as it was when you accepted Jesus Christ? Is your faith the same as it was the day you responded to the call of God on your life? I hope not. Part of our salvation is our sanctification, a process where the Holy Spirit makes us more like His Son Jesus Christ. We ought to be able to look at our lives and see a growth in our faith. Paul gave the Colossians three basic encouraging words at the end of this passage. He let them know that he struggled for them so that:
- Their hearts may be encouraged
- They would be knit together in love
- They would have full understanding and knowledge of Jesus Christ
That is helpful advice for us. In our labor for the Gospel, may we take every opportunity to encourage one another. May we always abound in love for one another. And may we increase in knowledge and understanding of Jesus Christ, growing in our relationship with Him. Those are good indications of our maturity in Christ, being firm in the faith.
There will be struggles. We will struggle at times with our faith. We will encounter difficult times in the church. We will struggle with ourselves and with each other. We must remain vigilant. One of Paul’s concerns was that some people would come into the church, deceive the members with “convincing arguments” and lead the church astray. Jesus Himself warned us of this in Matthew 7:15 when He said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Jesus said, “Beware!” It is a fact that not everyone in church is focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a fact that not everyone who comes to the church is focused on building up the Body of Christ. Some have and will come to destroy God’s work. We must remain vigilant to stay the course God has set for us. We must remain vigilant to abound in the work of God, making disciples and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with the world. We need to press on to the prize that awaits us regardless of what the enemy does.
What shall our response be to God’s Word? I would like to offer a few suggestions. One, we will face struggles as we live out our faith. The Christian life should be hard, but it is rewarding. When you feel discouraged, I encourage you to remember the great calling we all have, to work for the king and see more people added to His kingdom. It is worth the suffering. Two, remember that all of us are called to share the Gospel. That is the mission of the church, and each of you plays a part in it. We are the Body of Christ and no member of the Body is unimportant. I encourage you to find what God is calling you to do and then do it. Labor with us for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Lastly, remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. We are in this to finish the race. The Holy Spirit is working in each of you to make you mature in your faith and present you to the Father as an image of His Son, Jesus Christ. Encourage one another, love one another, and feed your faith through prayer, fellowship, and most importantly, God’s Word. May this year be a fruitful year as we labor together in the work of the Lord. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.