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TEXT: Colossians 1:24-2:3
SUBJECT: Colossians #5: Servant of the Gospel, Servant of the Church
Colossians and Ephesians are usually thought of as 'Twin Epistles', and properly so because they touch on many of the same issues, and in some cases, in nearly the same words. If these two are twins, Colossians and Galatians might be called 'cousins', for they also similar matters of the gravest danger to the churches of that time, our time, and every time.
What is it? False teaching. In the churches of Galatia, heretics were making salvation depend on both the Law of Moses and the Gospel of Christ. As a devout Jew, Paul, of course, knew and admired and loved the Law, but he would not allow it to become a co-savior with Christ. Because the teaching there had made real headway in the churches, Paul vehemently attacked it, calling the Galatians 'fools' for believing it, wondering if they had been 'bewitched' and so on. Galatians is Paul at his most worried and angry.
He's also worried about the saints in Colossae, but not to the same degree. There was false teaching there, too, but and it was affecting the church, but not much, not yet.
And so, he writes to them in a gentler spirit-just as firm against heresy as ever, but softer on the people who were, it seems, just starting to lean that way.
The false teachings were not exactly the same, but they were similar. Both in Galatia and Colossae, men were saying that Jesus is.not.quite.enough. If you want to live a good Christian life, you've got to add a little something to Him-observe the holidays of Israel, fasting, wearing a hair shirt, and other things, which, while not bad in themselves, become bad when they're added to Christ, as a way of making yourself acceptable to God, or more acceptable than you'd be if you had nothing but Jesus! If you have Jesus, you have everything! This is the big idea and what Paul and the Holy Spirit want you to take away from Colossians.
False teachers are seldom stupid, often dynamic, and since they were physically in Colossae-and Paul wasn't-it would have been easier to go along with them instead of Paul. 'You mustn't do this', he says-and here's why: He is a-
To us, minister, is a dignified title, a man worthy of our respect. Paul is this sort of man, of course, but the word itself was used more flexibly then than it is now. It simply meant 'servant', high or low, from Prime Minister to field hand.
You have to wonder what just Paul meant by the term. Personally, I think he meant 'all of the above'. Looked at from one angle, he is an Apostle, the man, other than Christ, most responsible for the founding of the Gentile Church. On the other hand, he's a slave, sweating in the fields of the Lord, willing to work without respect and for next to no money!
Whom does he serve? Jesus, obviously, but he narrows it down a bit, specifying what branch of the Lord's service he is in. Paul serves the Gospel!
How does he do this?
You'd think he would serve the Gospel by study, preaching, teaching, and applying it, along with correcting people who were getting it wrong and encouraging all believers to keep on believing it. A bit later, he'll mention some of these things, and if you study his whole life, you'll see that Paul did all them all with great dedication, but in v.24, he puts another 'ministerial work' at the top of his list-
This doesn't refer to the pains common to all, such as sickness, disappointment, the loss of friends, bereavement, etc. No, the kind of suffering Paul has in mind here is specific: It is suffering for Christ, or to be a little finer: Suffering for the Gospel of Christ.
On this point, he stood in stark contrast to the false teachers, who were teaching falsely, it appears to me, to avoid suffering! By adding Sabbaths and Kosher Laws to the Gospel, they were placating the Jews; by putting the Gospel in the framework of mythology, they were making it acceptable to the Pagans. But Paul would not serve the wishes of men! He would serve Christ by 'serving up' the Gospel-as is!
This then, there, here, now, always everywhere, leads to suffering. Some of the pains are milder than others, but they're always there. Until the world is made right, the Gospel will provoke contempt, hostility, persecution, and sometimes worse: torture, banishment, and death.
From the start of his ministry, Paul knew what he was in for, for the Lord showed him-
How many great things he must suffer for my Name's sake.
But the Gospel was so wonderful to Paul, that he'd take the suffering it ever brings.
Did you catch my mistake? I said Paul would 'take it'-take it like a man. But this is not what he said. He said that he would-
Rejoice in his sufferings.
My beloved JB Phillips translates it-
I am far from sorry about it. Indeed I am glad.
What? Not sorry about being whipped, stoned, and shipwrecked? Glad for being treated like filth and the offscouring of all things?
It seems that Paul is either a liar or a madman. He is neither. This is the way he should have felt about his severe suffering and the way you and I ought to feel about our rather mild discomforts for Christ.
He explains himself in the middle part of v.24. Speaking of his sufferings, he says they-
Fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.
This is the most disputed line in Colossians, and no two scholars (that I read) agreed on its interpretation. Here's my take, two in fact.
I know it does not mean that there was any deficiency in the sufferings of Christ for our salvation. This is not only terrible theology, but it undercuts the whole argument of Colossians. If Christ atones for most of our and Paul (or somebody else) does the rest, then Christ is not enough! The error of the false teachers is only in the details, not the substance. This interpretation is impossible.
Here's what I think it means: The key words are in the last part of v.24-
For the sake of His body, the Church.
Paul rejoices in his sufferings, therefore, because-in some way or other-they benefit the Church. How? By showing us-up close and personal-that the Gospel is worth suffering for! If others praise the Gospel with their words, Paul praises it with his-
Blood, sweat, toil, and tears.
Paul's dedication was not the result of his personal 'wiring'; I believe he was an enthusiast, a natural born 'fanatic', you might say. But his commitment to the Gospel was built on something sturdier than that adrenaline!
He preached and suffered for the Gospel because he was called by God to the office. He didn't see the ministry as a career or even an adventure: he saw it as a stewardship that the Lord had entrusted to him. Paul broke this out every time someone challenged his credentials. His ministry was hinted at as early as Genesis 12:3, developed in Exodus 19:6, and spelled out in Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6. Paul was not a self made Apostle or a man made Apostle, he was an Apostle made by God Himself! Called, equipped, and preserved.
What God entrusted to Paul, in a special way, was the Gospel. What is the Gospel? You'd be amazed at how few Christians-and Christian preachers!-can answer that. Paul could, I Corinthians 15-
Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture, He was buried, on the third day He rose from the dead, according to the Scripture.
The main thing you ought to take notice of here is this: The Gospel is not about what you do, not about you keeping the Law or you trusting Christ or you being born again or you believing the Bible or anything else you do or don't do. The Gospel is not about what you ought to do for Christ, but what Christ did for you!
In that same passage, Paul says this understanding of the Gospel is of-
The first importance.
There is only one Gospel and this means everyone who preaches the Gospel preaches the same thing. This makes you wonder why Paul took his call to the Gospel ministry as something special-something Peter didn't have, or that I don't have.
The truth is; there is something special about Paul's stewardship, something the other Apostles and evangelists did not have. Vv.26-27 say it has something to do with the Gentiles fit into the plan of God.
Was Paul the first man to know that Gentiles could be saved? Of course not! Abraham himself was saved when he was a Gentile!
Was he the first man to know that the Gentiles could be incorporated into the people of God? No. Every Jew had proselyte friends, Gentiles circumcised, bathed, and by other rites brought into Israel.
This is what Paul was the first man to know (other than Jesus): Under the New Covenant, there would be no more distinction between believing Jews and Gentiles, for God would be present in every church, the obscure gathering in Colossae every bit as much as the famous church in Jerusalem!
Wherever the Lord's People meet, Jesus is in the midst of us! He is not here physically, He is present in the Holy Spirit who is the true Vicar of Christ on earth.
This boggled the minds of the first Christians; even Peter, Barnabas, and other good men had a hard time getting their brains around it-and no wonder! It was in the Old Testament and in the teaching of Christ Himself, but in a veiled fashion. Paul pulled back the veil so that the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham could be seen by all-
In you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Not 'first class blessings' for some believers in Christ and 'second class' for others, but an equal and infinite share of God's favor and the certain hope it produces in all who have it!
By the Holy Spirit, Christ is in all who trust Him, and His presence here and now guarantees our share in His eternal glory! Ephesians calls it-
The earnest of our inheritance,
God's down payment that secures our final salvation-or God is liar, crook, and deadbeat!
Moderately good news is easy enough to believe. If I tell my wife, 'I just a five dollar bill', she won't look askance at me. Infinitely Good News is hard to believe, and no News is harder to believe than the Gospel-and not just because miracles are incredible, but because we simply imagine the depths of God's Love for us. Sure, we can believe He loves us enough to give us a sunny day to go to the beach! But to send His Son to the Cross for us? To abide us with in all our sin? To guarantee our Final Salvation, knowing good and well how often we're going to fail in the future? That's hard to believe, and so, Paul leans into it-
Preaching, warning, teaching, laboring and striving.to Present every man perfect in Christ.
This perfection is not sinlessness, but something almost as rare: maturity in Christ. The mature believer in Christ takes his own sins and failures seriously. But he also takes Christ seriously! Like John Newton, he says-
I am a great sinner; Christ is a great Savior.
But the greatness of Christ is not equal to our sin; it is far greater. Your salvation is not secure because you 'hardly ever sin', but because Christ never sins! It's not because you 'succeed', but because Christ succeeded! And you won't be saved because God came to you in your sufferings, but because He forsook Christ in His!
WHAT MATURITY IN CHRIST LOOKS LIKE
In the first three verses of Chapter 2, Paul gives us a hint of what being perfect in Christ Jesus looks like.
It certainly does not look like an untouchable peace of mind, for Paul himself was in a great conflict, which means a struggle, an agony of effort.
What it looks like is brotherly love and a growing appreciation for Christ. We love one another because we're all 'swell fellows': Wrong! We love one another because we are loved by loved. And this love of Christ for us deepens our appreciation for Him, and gets in through our thick skulls that since-
In Him are hidden are the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
.Jesus is enough! Amen.
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