Colossians 1:24-2:5 | Ministers of the Mystery
24Now 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,
- Paul is writing to Colossians from prison (Col 4:10), which would be his ‘sufferings’. He had not met the Colossians personally, but they had come to faith through Epaphras’ ministry (Col 1:7). So Paul is suffering for them as he is doing for all Gentile converts, since they are the fruit of his ministry whether directly or indirectly.
- in my flesh – Paul had just made clear that Christ suffered in his body of flesh (Col 1:22) to reconcile us. So if Christ endured suffering in his flesh for his church, then we should embrace suffering in our flesh for him too. Note that ‘flesh’ refers to our human nature, physical, emotional, mental, anything other than spiritual.
- filling up what is lacking – this does not mean that Christ’s afflictions were not good enough but that there are afflictions still remaining from the world, to be borne by the church. These afflictions are not the wrath of God in account of our sins, there is nothing lacking there. But these are afflictions from the world and its animosity towards Christ. Christ did not soak up all these afflictions but has invited his body, the church, to suffer with him amongst them.
25of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.
- minister – this is the Greek word diákonos which simply means a servant. It properly translates to ‘kick up dust’ as one running errands. So to be a minister is not a privileged and honoured position, it is simply to work as a servant
- make the word of God fully known – this is better translated as ‘complete/fulfil the word of God’. The same Greek word πληρῶσαι (plērōsai) as used in Matt 5:17 where Jesus says “I did not come to abolish the law and prophets, but to fulfil them”. In the same way as Jesus fulfilled the law and prophets, so Paul’s stewardship was to fulfil the word of God, bringing it to completion by making Christ known throughout the world. The word of God is not fulfilled until it produces the fruit of faith in people, it will ‘not return void’ (Isaiah 55:11)
- Paul shows that the mystery which has been hidden for ages and generations is the word of God. God is spirit and is an unseen God, but has made himself known through his word. His word was communicated in part through his prophets, but now fully revealed in his son (Heb 1:1-2)
27To 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.
- Since the Israelites rejected God and did not ‘consider themselves worthy of eternal life’ (Acts 13:46), God chose to make his mystery known amongst the Gentiles.
- Paul now reveals that this mystery is not just the word of God, but is Christ in us. So the mystery is both the word of God and Christ himself, dwelling inside of us. John reveals in both his gospel and epistle that Christ is the true Word of God, the living word who is the very image of the invisible God.
- Christ in you – the Bible raises (and answers) the question of ‘how can a sinful humanity live with a holy God’? This is the reason why Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden and why the Israelites were exiled from Canaan. The only solution was for God to cross the divide and transform us – put simply, Christ in us. His presence within us is not only for peace and comfort in life, but so that we possess his righteousness to gain eternal life, our hope of glory. Because of Christ in us, we have the hope of eternal glory.
28Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
- Him we proclaim – Paul’s stewardship was to proclaim and fulfil the word of God, but this was not some abstract theology, for he says here that he proclaimed Christ himself. This further shows that Christ is the very Word of God, when we proclaim the word we proclaim we Christ. This must be the central purpose and goal of every church, ‘to proclaim Christ’. All other teaching which misses this mark is not the gospel
- warning and teaching – these terms appear as separate and distinct functions here. It literally reads ‘admonishing every man and teaching every man’. Warning/admonishing means to reason with and persuade someone, which is most often accomplished through preaching, Then there is teaching which is to impart knowledge and understanding. So here we see the functions of preaching (persuading) and teaching alongside each-other as elsewhere in the scriptures
- present everyone mature in Christ – the very purpose of Paul’s ministry is to present saints before God, for we are God’s own inheritance. When we are presented we will be mature (perfect, complete) in Christ. Maturity here does not speak of Christian maturity and our ongoing sanctification, but rather our perfect state of righteousness before God
- Paul toils and strives towards this end, to see the lost won to Christ, as should be the attitude of all churches. He struggles and strives towards this goal not by his own power but with the powerful energy and working of God. This is the same power that works in us all, persuading and motivating us towards Christ and his mission.
1For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face,
- Paul is not only struggling and striving to see the lost won to Christ, but for the edification of the church too. The struggle he expresses here is likely in prayer since he is a prisoner.
- We also see here that even though Paul had never met the Colossian church, or the Laodicean church or indeed other churches, it did not prevent his ministry towards them. This should serve as an encouragement and challenge to us, that we do not need to be physically present or local to be an encouragement to others.
- The Laodicean church was to whom God said in Revelation, ‘you are neither hot nor cold’ and that ‘I stand at the door and knock…’. It seems their love for Christ grew cold and that they needed more encouragement.
2that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
- One of the most simple acts of ministry we can do is to encourage one another’s heart. Many may feel they do not have a lot to offer in the church but to provide encouragement is a crucial act of service
- being knit together in love – this is past tense and refers to our bondage and unity in Christ, that in Him we are knit together into a loving family where we all share a common love for Christ
- riches of full assurance – one of the reasons why we need much encouragement in our Christian walks is that we often lack assurance. But what riches we have when we have a full assurance and conviction in our knowledge of God’s great mystery, which is Christ.
- treasures of wisdom and knowledge – this is not to say that in following Christ we have access to special wisdom and knowledge for our self-centred gain, but simply that because the world was created in, through and for Christ, He holds all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
4I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
- We need full assurance and understanding so that we will not be deluded (paralogízomai which means to “deceive close-beside”). We can easily be deluded by plausible arguments which have the appearance of truth but later show themselves to be empty and void. This is why our assurance needs to be based upon our knowledge and understanding of Christ.
- with you in spirit – to say he is with them in spirit carries more than just an encouraging sentiment, but that his prayers for the Colossians are effective through the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, he really is ‘with them’ in spirit for the Holy Spirit may administer the encouragements and petitions Paul has offered in intercession.
- good order and firmness of faith – the good order likely refers to the full assurance and understanding of the Colossians, that their theology and understanding in Christ was well ordered/thought-out. But that order was not without strength, it was also firm and deeply rooted. So our theology needs to be well ordered but also with simple conviction.