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.
2 For 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, 2 that 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, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For 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. i
Have you ever thanked God for some frustration in your life, some failure of your plans? “Thank you, Lord, that I am stuck in traffic and I’m going to be late to my appointment.” Yeah. Me neither. Imagine rejoicing for being stuck in jail thousands of miles from home, awaiting trial on false accusations. Imagine thanking God while jailed for three years waiting for your day in court!
What would your concerns be in that situation? Would you be thinking about a tiny little church in the Lycus Valley of Phrygia you had never even visited? Would you care about their search for a more exciting Christian life through self-exploration and self-fulfillment? Would you care that false teachers are appealing to their egos to sell them books, programs, and conferences almost entirely void of Christ and His glory? Me neither.
But you and I were not called to be an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Paul was. And so, God has built into Paul (as he does into all the ministers of his gospel) a willingness to agonize for the sake of the Body of Christ. We find, in this section, several hallmarks of a genuine servant of Christ that sets him apart from the Phrygian gurus of Paul’s day and the false teachers of our day.
NO PAIN, NO GAIN (1:24-25)
Paul sees the fruitfulness of his suffering (see also: Col. 4:10, 18; Eph. 3:1; 4:1; Philem. 1, 9, 23):
“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….”ii
Instead of complaining that he’s jailed over false charges, Paul rejoices because his sufferings (plural) confirm his apostleship. Jesus said of Paul in Acts 9:16, “I will show him how much he must for my name’s sake.”
Is Paul saying that Jesus didn’t suffer enough for the Colossians’ salvation when he writes, “I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions…”? No! He understands that Christ’s substitutionary sufferings at Calvary were absolutely sufficient for all believers everywhere for all time and eternity. He’s NOT writing about good works, or self-punishment, or meritorious additions to Jesus’ completed cross work (see: Col. 2:14; John 19:30; Heb. 10:11–14; and 1 John 1:9).iii
Union and communion with Christ in his sufferings will go on and on with Paul, and on and on in the Church until the Consummation of All Things when Jesus returns and brings down the New Jerusalem. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.… But all these things will they do to you for my name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent me” (John 15:18–21; Matt. 10:25; Mk. 13:13).
Paul doesn’t think it’s terrible he is suffering for Christ’s sake. Only modern Western believers seem to think it’s terrible for Christians to participate in the fellowship of Christ’s afflictions. Hasn’t Satan heard of the Magna Carta or the Bill of Rights? Paul rejoices over his suffering for the gospel of Christ because it means unbelievers can see Christ in him.
God-haters can never begin to expend all their hatred upon Christ and his Body, the Church. In that sense, Paul is filling up the lack of Christ’s sufferings. Remember when Jesus arrested Saul Paulus of Tarsus on the Damascus Road? Jesus said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? … I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4, 5).iv Jesus IS his Church, and the world and the devil will never stop expressing their hatred of the Lord Jesus Christ and filling up Christ’s afflictions.
Paul is content with suffering if it means that he can share in Christ’s fruitful, useful ministry to His Church (2 Cor. 1:5, 10; Gal. 6:17; Phil. 3:10; Rev. 12:13). Paul writes in 2 Cor. 4:8-12:
8 We are …10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you. v
In his letter to Ephesus, written in the same time frame as this letter, he told the Ephesians in 3:13, “So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.” vi In our culture, we expend so much energy trying to avoid suffering. Paul welcomed it as something that reflected gospel fruitfulness. Paul doesn’t enjoy pain, but he rejoices that his suffering is evidence of the gospel bearing fruit in the lives of believers because of his ministry. Jesus’ glory is far more important to Paul than Paul’s comfort.
Paul writes, “…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….”vii His calling was to take the gospel of Messiah Jesus to the Gentiles (Acts 13:47; 22:21; Rom. 11:13; 15:16; Gal. 2:8, 9; Eph. 3:1, 2, 8; 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 4:17). Note the use of the word fully known. Paul has withheld nothing from them. There is no secret to the full life that Christ has not revealed in himself, no divine mystery that Christ has not made known.
NO MYSTERY BUT CHRIST (1:26-27)
In fact, says Paul, Christ IS the mystery. Secrets and mysteries were a large part of the pagan cults of Phrygia. Gurus promised the secret knowledge leading to fuller experiences and a higher life. So, I tend to think that Paul’s use of the word mystery is an “earworm” for these Gentiles from a pagan background. “Paul uses the term “mystery,” but not as indicating a secret teaching, rite, or ceremony, having something to do with religion but hidden from the masses and revealed to an exclusive group, the sense in which the term (generally in the plural: mysteries) was at that time being employed outside of the circles of true Christianity. On the contrary, in the Pauline literature, a mystery is a person or a truth that would have remained unknown had not God revealed him or it.”viii
The Pauline mystery was truth not fully realized in the promises and prophecies of the OT but completely revealed in the incarnation, person, and work of Christ. More specifically, the outworking of the mystery was God’s plan to include Gentiles among God’s chosen people by means of trust into the perfect law-keeping life and substitutionary death of the resurrected Messiah Jesus (1 Tim. 3:16; Eph. 3:3, 4, 9). The mystery Christ in all his glorious riches, dwelling through his Spirit in the hearts and minds of Gentiles completely apart from the requirements of the Mosaic Code or fuller-life gurus.
The “secret” to the full Christian life isn’t organic produce, specialized diets, Ezekiel 19 bread, “Christian” karate or CrossFit, essential oils, home-based multi-level marketing businesses, or “hedonistic” emotional experiences. Jesus is the mystery made known at the right time:
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God (Gal. 4:4-7). ix
Remember, Paul is imprisoned in Rome for causing a riot in the Jerusalem temple. He was falsely accused of bringing Gentiles into a part of the Jewish temple reserved for Jews (Acts 21:27 ff.). Paul’s message that Gentiles could have rightness with the God of Abraham by simply trusting into the crucified and resurrected Jesus as Messiah is why Paul was under arrest. So, the mystery of God indwelling Gentiles is that for which Paul is willing to suffer to see the fruit of their salvation.
CHRIST IN YOU ALL (27)
Paul wrote, “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 (all), the hope of glory.”x This was the promise we read recently in Joel where God promised to dwell among his people. God no longer lives in a mountaintop temple in the city of Jerusalem. He lives among his people by means of Christ living IN them. And God’s people are now not only Messiah-trusting Jews but also Messiah-trusting Gentiles not bound to Israel’s code. “In all the preceding ages this had never been seen, but now every child of God (“saint”) could bear witness to it. The Colossians themselves offered proof.”xi
VISION AND MISSION STATEMENTS (1:28-29)
Paul’s willingness to suffer for the Church, the body of Christ, is intimately and inseparably related to the greatness of the glory of Christ in making salvation available to both Jew AND Gentile. Remember our passage last Sunday where Paul spoke of the absolute “everythingness” of Jesus Christ? Now, he says to the Colossians that all of Jesus’ everythingness is for even THEM as Gentiles, who were once without hope in the world. Now, the Creator-Lord of the universe not only dwells among them as a Church but also in each one of them as individuals by means of the Holy Spirit.xii
This is the great secret for which Paul is willing to suffer to share! It completely consumes him. Prison, beatings, stoning, assassination attempts, rank hatred cannot deter him. So, what deters you? Is it perhaps a failure to see how amazing this secret is? Is it the distraction of all the other higher life products and methods competing for your attention? Is it the fear of losing your status with friends, neighbors, and co-workers? If so, then it’s not really “all about Jesus” for us, is it?
Sometimes people ask me what the “vision” for Faith Presbyterian Church is. What’s our plan? We want you to be all about Rule Number One: “It’s ALL about Jesus!” Here’s our elders’ “vision.” We would rather see a congregation of 50 people sold out to the incomparable greatness of Christ than a congregation of 5,000 who come to be entertained by hearing about being the best “self” they can be or soothed by whatever style of music and worship floats the boat of their preferences, or even feel entertained by a sermon they mostly agree with! And that’s all the “vision casting” Paul does.
What is Paul’s “Mission Statement”?
“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.” xiii
If we have a tiny Christ, then the painful consequences of sharing the mystery with others are simply not worth your time and trouble no matter how much Bible or systematic theology you feed yourself. A tiny Christ is not worth “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom.”xiv Paul’s Christ wasn’t little; he was EVERYTHING. So, he wrote the Corinthians (2 Cor. 4:16-18):
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. xv
Paul’s mission statement is to teach everyone about the gospel. Not only does he teach them, but he warns them of how fundamental is the gospel to life, the universe, and everything. He does this “that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”xvi That word mature has an end-time flavor to it. It means complete, whole, final. Paul is pointing them back to 1:22. Christ, “has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” xvii
What does Paul mean by the phrase mature in Christ? Does he mean that he wants them all to memorize the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger Catechism? There are far worse things to do, after all. Does he want them to spend their days reading and snarking on theology blogs or religious “news” websites? Maybe he wants them to attend three or four group Bible studies a week. Maybe he wants them to bring shalom to their city. Those are all great things – except for the snarking part, of course.
But those things are NOT the measure of maturity in Christ. No, he’s already told us what he means by mature in Christ. He means that we understand not only that Christ is preeminent in all the universe, but that he is preeminent in MY thoughts. When MY heart says, “It’s all about Jesus and nothing about me,” then I will be mature in Christ. The sign of Christian maturity is not your age, not the length of your church membership, not the amount of scripture you know, not your ability to teach the Bible, not your leadership role, not the possession of some official title or office.
The sign of Christian maturity is that there is no doubt whatsoever that to you the Lord Jesus Christ is preeminent in all things – all things in the universe and all things in your life. See Rule Number One. You could be 18 years old and mature in this sense. You can be 70+ years old and spiritually immature in this sense. Your Old Adam demands glory. Jesus is alone worthy of all glory. Who’s winning? What are you living for? Who are you living for?
NO COST, NO PROFIT OR PROPHET (2:1-5)
Finally, Paul gives us the ultimate mark of anyone called to any kind of ministry in the Christian faith. “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you….”xviii If you don’t struggle over the hearts of those to whom you minister, you are NOT truly called to minister. Period. We derive our English word “agony” from this word Paul uses [ἀγών]. It means to engage in the intense struggle against strong opposition, to agonize. If you just like telling people what to do or what to think, you are NOT called to any kind of Christian ministry and certainly not to a position of deacon or elder. Christian ministry is an agonizing struggle that (2:2-3), “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, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”xix
If you begin to understand that ALL the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Messiah Jesus, your hearts will begin to overflow with love and encouragement. The treasures are only hidden in the sense that Jesus is the secret, the mystery revealed. They are hidden from the Old Adam, the flesh. And the flesh loves to pursue its own glory and own sense of self-worth. It loves to “delude you with plausible arguments” xx that anything and everything are more important than Jesus’ glory. The flesh loves gurus who teach that Jesus is “something” but not “everything” – Jesus plus essential oils, Ezekiel 19 bread, the secret realm of angels, and vision-casting.
Christ loved the church and gave himself for the church. Paul loved the church and gave himself for the church to know the everythingness of Christ. You love the church; you wouldn’t come at least semi-regularly regularly if you didn’t. Will you give yourself for Jesus’ church? Will you share in suffering for the sake of the everythingness of Messiah Jesus?
I hate to tell you this, but if you belong to Jesus, he provides what he requires. You WILL become mature in him. You WILL agonize over the hearts of the saints and the lost.
But in Christ, you will find enduring joy, even in suffering, over the glorious fruit that comes from trusting into Jesus as everything.
i The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:24–2:5.
ii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:24–25.
iii William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of Colossians and Philemon, vol. 6, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 87.
v The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 2 Co 4:8–12.
vi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Eph 3:13.
vii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:25.
viii Hendriksen and Kistemaker, 88. Emphasis original.
ix The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ga 4:4–7.
x The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:27.
xi Hendriksen and Kistemaker, 89.
xii Sinclair Ferguson, The Rising Cost of Caring. Col. 1:25-2:5. Accessed 11/5/16 at: http://mp3.sa-media.com/filearea/fpc-082006am/fpc-082006am.mp3
xiii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:28–29.
xiv Ferguson, op. cit.
xv The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 2 Co 4:16–18.
xvi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:28.
xvii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 1:22.
xviii The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 2:1.
xix The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 2:2–3.
xx The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Col 2:4.