The following is a sermon I wrote a few years ago and have preached it in 3 or 4 different churches. I hope you enjoy it.
This passage means a lot to me, and if you want a glimpse into my heart please turns to Colossians 1:24-29. As you turn there, let me give you a little back ground on the book of Colossians. Paul had learned of two doctrinal heresies getting in the church and threatening it. One was a form of legalism, and the other a form of mysticism. It is believed that these were teachings from an early form of Gnosticism. To overcome these teachings, Paul writes exalting Christ in his personhood and work and the believers union with Christ.
1. The Sacrifice v24
Paul says that he rejoices in his sufferings for the Colossian church. What sufferings is he experiencing? This is one of his prison epistles it was written between sixty and sixty-three AD. That doesn’t mean he was in a dungeon. This was during his first imprisonment in Rome. Even that sounds bad. More than likely he was under house arrest awaiting to go before the Caesar, Nero. This was before the great persecution by Nero. Paul, at the end of Acts, claims his right as Roman citizen to plead his case before the Emperor himself. And the book of Acts closes on that journey to Rome.
Paul is in prison for preaching the Gospel. For preaching Christ crucified by the plot of the Jewish leaders, by the order of Pilate, and the execution of Roman soldiers. Paul was in prison for preaching that Jew and Gentile had the exact same opportunity to be saved by the God of the Jews through faith in Jesus, the Messiah. This is why he says, “my sufferings for you”. He is in prison because the Jewish leaders don’t like the idea of Gentiles able to worship their God and not have to follow the Law of Moses.
What does Paul mean here when he says that his sufferings are filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ? Was Christ’s sufferings on the cross not enough? That’s not what he is saying. The only to get to heaven is through faith in the death of Christ on the cross. Then what is Paul talking about? Those afflictions he is referring to, are Christ’s. When a believer is persecuted Christ knows it and feels it. In Acts 9 when Christ appears to, then, Saul He says, “Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting Me?” John Phillips explains it this way, “As just one member of the body of Christ, Paul was suffering. But no member of a body suffers alone; other members suffer with it. If I cut my finger, my whole body feels it, especially the head, where the nerves register and interpret the pain. Paul was in prison and in pain. The Lord Jesus, the Head of the mystical body, felt that pain. Paul was suffering, and Christ was suffering. They were suffering together. Paul, in his sufferings, was helping to fill up the measure of the sufferings of Christ (© 2002 Phillips, John. Exploring Colossians & Philemon: An Expository Commentary, p88)”. Think of it this way, as a parent I hurt when my children hurt. If you look at my son, you’ll notice that he is missing a tooth right in front. When he was about 9 months old, he hadn’t been walking long, he tripped and hit his tooth on the sippy cup he was carrying/drinking from and knocked that tooth clean out. My wife and I hurt as he was crying over the pain of the fall. This, in essence, is what we’re talking about with Paul’s pain and Christ’s pain. Everything Paul is doing and going through is for the sake of the body of Christ, the church.
2. The Stewardship vv25-26
Verse 25 starts where Paul makes his claim as a minister of the Church because of the stewardship or responsibility God gave him. Paul used the “minister” here and he used the same word in verse 23. This is the word where we get our word “deacon” which simply means “servant”. Paul viewed himself as a servant of God with a special commission and responsibility. What was that responsibility? Paul’s responsibility was to fully preach God’s Word. Verse 26 finished the thought started in verse 25. The “word of God” that Paul was charged with to fulfill was the mystery of God kept from mankind from ages past. Warren Wiersbe explains the term mystery this way, “To us today, a mystery is something eerie and perhaps frightening; but this was not the way the word was define in Paul’s day. The false teachers used this word to describe the inner secrets of their religions. A mystery is a “sacred secret,” hidden in the past and now revealed by the Holy Spirit” (© 1989. Wiersbe, Warren. The Bible Exposition Comentary: New Testament Vol 2. p121). The word “mystery” when used as a theological term from the New Testament, is a secret that has been hidden but is now revealed by God.
3. The Secret v27
Let’s look to verse 27 to see what the secret was that God and revealed. Did you catch it? The revealed secret was the Church and essence of salvation, “Christ in you”. “It is Christ’s dwelling in the heart of the individual believer in a vital, life-sharing union that provides ‘the hope of glory’” (©2006 Homer A. Kent Jr, Treasures of Wisdom: Studies in Colossians & Philemon: Revised Edition. p60). The Church is where Gentiles and Jews would share in the same spiritual blessings, same future glory. In Ephesians 3:3-9 Paul expounds on it, let’s turn there real quick, but keep your finger in Colossians. This was all new revelation to the Apostles and the early church. The new aspect was that the Gentiles did not have to practice Jewish rites and customs, all that needed to be done to be saved is by faith accept Christ’s work on the cross for your sins. “In Judaism opinion was settled that Gentiles could only be saved by becoming Jews. This idea persisted even in the early church among some of its Jewish members” (Kent, 60). We find that struggle recorded in the Book of Acts. At the time, for the Jews, being a Jew was a point of pride for them and even the proselytes weren’t quite good enough. So you can imagine the struggles in the local churches in Palestine.
The prophets of the Old Testament saw what God wanted them to see and they prophesied accurately, but the church wasn’t mentioned. Many of the prophecies have been fulfilled by Christ, but not all, not yet. Think of it this way: the prophet saw two different mountain tops, but they thought they were only seeing one mountain top. They saw the Messiah coming and setting up His earthly kingdom. What they couldn’t see was that there was a valley between those two mountain tops. That valley is the Church Age. That valley is now, where Christ has made way for Jew or Gentile to have a fellowship with God by grace through faith. That was the secret, the mystery of God from ages past.
4. The Service vv28-29
Now we come to the really important part of the passage. These last two verses I claim as some of my favorites. These verses are my battle cry for my service in ministry, for my service in the army of the Lord.
In verse 28 we see the phrase “every man” three times. In the Greek that is very important. That means Paul is really stressing, really emphasizing his point. He says that he and the other ministers of Christ preach. That verb used for preach there can mean to proclaim, like a herald. Paul says they warn that word “warn” can also mean to correct through instruction. They also teach, and they do that so they might “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus”. The word for “present” has an idea of a legal word, where a person is placed in a court of justice. The word “perfect” doesn’t mean sinless like Jesus was and is perfect, but it has the idea of being mature or complete in Christ. Think of it like this, we don’t send 5 year-olds out as college freshman, they aren’t mature enough.
Let’s look at verse 29. Let’s look at what some of these words mean. The word “labor” means to “work to exhaustion”. Also the word “striving” has the idea of exerting effort. One resource says this, “The athletic picture behind this word emphasizes Paul’s missionary work with all its attendant toil, tireless exertion, and struggles against all manner of setbacks and opposition” (©1998 Cleon L. Rogers Jr & Cleon L. Rogers III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, p463). Is Paul saying that all his missionary work is through his struggle and work? Of course not! Look at the second part of the verse. Essentially Paul is saying that the Word can only be preached through Christ’s strength. If you read the first few chapters of 1 Corinthians Paul makes it abundantly clear that the gospel is spread, souls saved, and growth happens only through the power of God.
My challenge today is more for myself, every pastor, and missionary and Christian worker who claims to proclaim the Word of God. My challenge is that I live up to these verses. Especially verses 28 and 29. But the application from these verses is for everyone who is not called into full time ministry. To the Deacons, Sunday school teachers, parents, and every born again believer. We must proclaim, warn, teach so that “we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus”. And we must do that in the Power of God.