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Colossians 1:24-29 (ESV)
24 Now 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, 25 of 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, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To 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. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Before we jump right into this passage, we need to make sure we understand what Paul’s burden is in the letter as a whole but also in this passage in particular.
There is a real danger of abusing Scripture and focusing upon one or two phrases as if they can be disconnected from the whole of the letter.
This is particularly dangerous given some difficult verses in this passage.
As we consider Colossians, it mirrors Paul’s ministry as a whole and his desire to see Christ formed in the Lord’s people.
The Christians at Colossae were tempted, as we are today, to take their eyes off the riches they had in Christ Jesus and exchange the Son of God for worldly wisdom or philosophy or mystical religion or any number of things of this world.
Paul is not content to see people who have been called out of the world to return to its ways.
He is not content to see children of the light acting as if they are still in the darkness.
Paul is not content to see Christians place anything above Christ.
How serious is Paul about the Gospel?
Verse 24 states that Paul rejoices in his sufferings for the sake of the church.
We might hear that phrase and we might read about that idea but very few of us really believe that suffering is good and, even if good, something we should rejoice over.
Suffering is a four-letter word for most of us.
I think we’ve forgotten that belief in Christ is supernatural.
We’ve forgotten that the world is in bondage to sin and death because we’ve forgotten that it takes the power of God to raise the spiritual dead to life.
Because we’ve forgotten that, we marvel at the foolishness, dare I say stupidity, of unbelievers.
We marvel that they are given over to a debased mind and figure that the only reason they do the things they do, and don’t see why being a Christian is a good thing, is because they lack good information.
If we can just give them the right information they would see that being a Christian is imminently practical.
Prayer is good for you. It reduces stress. Studies show this.
Christians build hospitals. People who care about people should become Christians, right?
Dare I say that what everyone really needs is a good worldview and then they’ll figure out that being a non-Christian makes no sense.
But we thank God that we are not like other men.
We have the correct information about life and the world.
But then, in spite of how we argue reasonably or tell others how meaningful it is or simply ask to be left alone, the world is not content to let us be.
Why it almost seems like they hate us!
Why it almost seems as if we might have to suffer for this eminently reasonable and practical worldview of ours!
“It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” (Matthew 10:25, ESV)
“And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Mark 13:13, ESV)
““If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” (John 15:18–21, ESV)
The Gospels and the entire New Testament repeatedly tell us that we will – we must suffer for the name of Christ.
In fact, one of the things that Peter makes abundantly clear in 1 Peter is that if we are unwilling to suffer with Christ it is pretty much a denial of the faith.
Why? Because to believe in Christ is to be united to Christ.
To be united to Christ is to suffer with Him.
To refuse to suffer is to refuse Christ.
But what is this thing that Paul is writing about in verse 24?
He writes that he is filling up in his flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.
Lacking in the sufferings of Christ?
There is nothing lacking in the sufferings of Christ, is there?
When Christ died on the Cross for the sins of His people He proclaimed “It is finished.”
He now lives ever to intercede for us as our Great High Priest never again to repeat that sacrifice but applies the benefits of that perfect once-for-all sacrifice to all His people.
So what is this about lack?
We have to realize that, while the wrath of God toward sin was satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice, it’s not as if the enemies of Christ are satisfied.
They still very much want to see Christ suffer.
Since they can’t make Christ suffer any more in His flesh, the enemies of God target His people.
Christ so identifies with His people that He calls their persecution and suffering His own.
Again, because we often forget that our faith in Christ is supernatural, we forget about the battle that is ongoing as principalities and powers are wont to destroy the Kingdom of God.
Paul rejoices in his sufferings because it is for the sake of the Church.
He’s suffering because he is in the fight and being in the fight is where he is called to be.
That’s because the battle is ongoing and to be in Christ is to be in the battle.
Paul’s calling is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This Gospel tears down strongholds.
It sets men, women, boys, and girls free from the bondage of sin and death.
It ushers them into the Kingdom of God.
And all Hell takes aim at the Gospel.
All Hell takes aim at those who believe the Gospel.
And it especially takes aim at those who have been entrusted with the ministry of the Gospel.
To be an instrument in the salvation of men’s souls by the preaching of the Word causes suffering for the preacher.
But, in this suffering, there is rejoicing because the Church is being up built.
Christ’s people are being converted.
The Book of Revelation can best be understood as playing out this cosmic struggle between the people who belong to Christ and the forces of darkness who are literally hell bent on destroying them.
It seems as if the Church is pitiful and weak with the forces of kings, rulers, governments, and culture all aligning to snuff out the Gospel and the Church it creates at any moment.
But then the scene focuses back on heaven with the saints magnifying the Son of God and reminding those of us still in the battle that we must still bear the banner to a lost and dying world no matter what suffering it brings upon us.
Rev 16:1-21 is particularly poignant.
There we read that God will fill all believers’ cup of blessing to overflowing only when the wicked have filled their bowl of cursing to overflowing.
The relief of the suffering church will finally come when the enemies of God have slaughtered the last martyr.
When the cup of the martyrs’ blood is full, God’s patience will wait no more.
The outpouring of seven bowls, brimful of the wrath of the ever-living God will bring the seven last plagues on people who are in love with this sin-cursed earth and think they have the upper hand.
These plagues are last because in them God’s wrath is completed, his unrivaled reign will be revealed, and his oppressed people will be avenged.
The destruction of all God’s enemies will be comprehensive as history’s end comes and God shows the utter folly of His enemies.
Paul can rejoice in his sufferings for the sake of the Church because he has his mind set on eternity.
The Church will endure to eternity while those who bring temporary suffering upon the Church and the ministers of the gospel will be destroyed.
Paul experienced great joy thinking about the stewardship he has been entrusted with.
Paul, once one who hunted down and killed Christ’s people, was given the stewardship of the Gospel to the Gentiles.
Have you ever heard a person thank you that they know the Gospel because you taught it to them?
It puts everything into perspective when you measure the worth of one human soul against the riches of this world.
Not only so but Paul was entrusted with the mystery that had been hidden for ages and generations but is now revealed.
You need to know that when Paul uses the word mystery his use is to note that something that once was hidden is now revealed.
God had hidden it not because true religion is a mystery religion.
No, our God is a revealing God. It was always His intention to reveal in the fullness of time. When the time was right.
False religion is marked by mystery that is never resolved or the solution to that mystery is that you, as a personal subject, will be absorbed into everything anyway so there’s no point in having real answers.
Paul’s ministry, in contrast, was to reveal a mystery that was hidden from his forebears.
This mystery, once hidden, and now revealed is that the Gospel would not be just for the Jews but for the gentiles as well.
The Kingdom of God would expand beyond Israel to the ends of the earth by the proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Christ in us.
Christ among us.
The hope of glory.
This is everything.
That the Father would send the Son into a world that was under His wrath…
That the Son would willingly lay down His life for His sheep…
That the Son would rise again on the third day…
That the Spirit would cause us to look to the Son and so be brought from death to life…
This is everything.
It’s worth giving up everything for.
That we would be called sons of God…
What are you living your life for if not in light of this glorious truth?
What are you staking your hopes on if not on the Son of God?
What gives you true happiness in this world if not the knowledge that you will one day reign with Him?
You see, it is all about what drives us.
It is all about what we understand about ourselves.
Complete these sentences as they apply to you:
“I should not look lustfully at a woman because…”
“I ought to dress modestly because…”
“I ought to obey mommy and daddy because…”
What you ultimately give as reasons says a lot about what you think and been taught about yourself and about the world.
“I ought to obey mommy and daddy because I don’t want my toys taken away.”
That’s certainly a motivation but is that all the child knows?
Is that all that will ultimately motivate behavior?
We are driven toward action by the things that ultimately motivate us.
So, in verse 28, Paul does what he does everywhere in His epistles.
This is important.
Paul wants us to be grounded in Christ.
Paul wants the riches of the Gospel – what Christ has done – to be the thinking and motivation that undergirds our action.
Paul everywhere is reminding us who we are in Christ and ON THE BASIS of that truth, we are admonished in how we ought to live in light of that.
It is the proper balance of teaching and admonishment.
Teaching is about imparting truth. You are forgiven in Christ. You are a new creation.
Admonishment is to urge us on to action on the basis of what we know. Be holy as I am holy. Do not put a stumbling block before another believe. Forgive as you have been forgiven.
We are forgetful so Paul constantly reminds us that we are Christ’s.
Because we are Christ’s we are not to live or think as if we’re still in bondage to sin and death.
Because, if we are Christ’s, we are not in bondage to sin and death.
Do you get it?
Why are we living as if we’re still in bondage if we’re free from it?
Set your minds on the things that are above is not just a pithy slogan.
It’s intended to remind you to set your minds on the things that are above!
Because when you set your minds on the things that are above, you act in accordance with the truth of who you really are!
If you really believe that Christ has set you free from the bondage to sin in His death and resurrection then maybe, just maybe, that would affect how you think about temptation.
If we are reminded that the people who still walk in darkness only set their minds on the things of the flesh then maybe, just maybe, we might think twice before we conform our actions and behavior to the pattern of this world.
Think about this admonishment from Paul: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Where is that in the Scripture?
Do you see the pattern?
In view of God’s mercy. Think. Be taught.
In light of everything that Christ has done.
Set you free from bondage to sin and death.
Given you everlasting life.
Given you adoption as sons.
Given you an imperishable inheritance.
Yes, all of that!
THEREFORE it motivates us to action and we are ADMONISHED:
DO NOT BE CONFORMED TO THIS WORLD.
Because you were set free from it.
Worship God by sacrificing your entire lives to Him.
Why? Because you do not belong to the world any more. You belong to Christ.
Did you forget, already, what Christ has done for you?
Do you understand?
This is what ministers of the Gospel are laboring for.
This is what they are about day in and day out.
It never ends.
We’ll all leave motivated to serve Christ and be reminded of who we are and then something will happen and we’ll act as if we are still in bondage to the world.
We’ll be forgetful.
But the minister of Christ, like Paul in verse 29, expends every bit of energy he has to remind us.
Because most of the stuff that we collectively spend our energy on is so much a huge, stinking pile of fecal matter!
The things that our hopes and dreams rise and fall upon are mostly vapor.
What do most of us want?
To be comfortable and to retire with a full barn so our souls can be happy.
We expend all our energy in traffic on the 95 corridor, in extracurricular activities for our kids, on social media, on decorating or improving our homes, on our physical fitness, obsessing about the inflation of footballs, in saving for a comfortable retirement.
We then have no energy for the Kingdom of God.
The truth is that we have expended ourselves on the Kingdom of this age.
That’s right, everything that we confess with our lips that will be burned up.
That’s what our energy is expended upon.
We come to Church and confess that Christ has risen from the dead and will come again to judge the living and the dead but then live our lives as if that would be the worst thing that could ever happen.
Our spirits rise and fall with a promotion at work convincing ourselves that a salary will make us happy.
Our spirits rise and fall with the victories and defeats of our favorite teams.
Our spirits rise and fall with each election cycle convincing ourselves that the destruction of civilization is the absolute worst thing that will ever happen.
No, beloved, it is not.
The worse thing that will happen is that you and I would spend eternity in Hell because the Gospel of Jesus Christ was proclaimed in our midst and we never believed it.
We were too busy, choked by the cares of this world, to give it any consideration.
It is the ministry of the Word, the Sacraments, and the fellowship of the Saints that Christ has given that you might be presented perfect in Him.
If there is any affection in Christ then I urge you to remember that Christ is everything.
It is for great sinners like you and like me that Christ came and died.
It is for His own that Christ prays so that, when they come to their senses, they turn again to Him and say: “You are everything. I don’t know why my affections wander. Keep me Lord!”
Beloved, Christ and His Church are worth your energy.
It is an energy He supplies.
He gives us the strength to do what we know we ought in light of eternity.
It is He who reminds us that the sufferings of this present age are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed in us.
Remember who you are and be reminded again what a treasure it is that you are part of a Church that proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ with ministers, elders, deacons, and members of the Church who are tireless, with the energy Christ supplies, to present you perfect!