Him We Proclaim
Up to this point in the letter to the Colossians, Paul has said very little about himself and his ministry. Paul had not met many of the members of the church in Colossae face to face (Col 2:1). Paul had only instructed them that he was an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (Col 1:1). Paul had told them that he had been praying for them, but besides that, Paul speaks very little of himself. In the following section, the end of verse 23 to 2:5, Paul speaks of his ministry in the Gospel and then also his relationship to the Colossians. This week we will be looking at Paul and the Gospel, especially his life in the ministry of the Gospel.
I. The Malady of the Gospel
Paul begins in what might seem to be a paradoxical statement, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings.” If anyone knows the pains of ministry, it is Paul who received lashings, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, placed in dangerous situations, and often without food (2 Cor 11:23-27). Even as the letter is being written, Paul is in prison for preaching the Gospel. Also, as Paul writes to Timothy, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2Tim 3:12). Paul says that he rejoices in his sufferings. Why? Because they are sufferings for the sake of the Gospel, the church in Colossae. At our previous church the ministry verse was “Serving others for Jesus Sake” (2 Cor 4:5). I always thought 2 Corinthians 4:11 might be a real ministry verse, although not as catchy on a website. “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake…” “Dying for Jesus Sake.” Ministry and the life of a Christian can be tough, but before Paul mentioning serving and dying, he tells the Corinthians, “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart” (2 Cor 4:1).
Paul continues in Colossians, explaining that he rejoices in his sufferings because of the Church of Christ. Now, many pages of paper have been used to explain the comment about filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. I do not have time to go into the different views here. I think John Calvin explains it well, “Christ has suffered once in his own person, so he suffers daily in his members, and in this way, there are filled up those sufferings which the Father hath appointed for his body by his decree.” Christ’s afflictions continue today because of the church, as pointed out when Paul is converted on the road to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Paul was not persecuting the person of Jesus Christ, who ascended to heaven but Christians. The church has not seen the last of her afflictions or persecution. The Christian life is not always one set on the delectable mountains, but sometimes it places us in the castle of despair. We rejoice not in the suffering but the cause of the suffering, the Gospel.
II. The Mystery of the Gospel.
I have hinted and pointed to the mystery of the Gospel a couple of times in this study. We finally come to the passage that explains this mystery. To us, it is not a mystery. Some people interpret these ‘mystery’ passages as some hidden secrets that can only be given to a particular group of people who have specific giftings of the Spirit. However, the mystery is this; the God of Abraham is the God of all nations and tribes. Christianity is not limited to the physical descendants of Abraham. You do not need to become a Jew to become a Christian. To us, this is simple. However, this issue was the discussion of the first general assembly in the church (Acts 15). We read the Bible and understand that the covenant of grace made with Abraham is the same covenant that the church is a part of. The Old Testament points forward to Christ. As the saying goes, “The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.” We know the blessing was always for the nations (Gen 12:1-3; 2 Sam 7:11-16, Ezek 36:23-24; Is 60:1-3; Eph 3:4-6).
The word ‘mystery’ is found in Daniel, chapter two (Greek LXX). Daniel 2 speaks of the mystery revealed to Daniel from God (Dan 2:19-23). King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream about a statue made of five different materials. This statue gets crushed by a rock. The materials are kingdoms, but the crushing rock is the Kingdom of God. The King responds that Daniel’s God is a ‘revealer of mysteries.’ The mystery speaks of the eschatological King who will be established forever, speaking of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The mystery is that Christ is in the Colossians, gentiles, which can also be translated into nations. Christianity is not a national religion, but it is a kingdom of heaven, where our citizenship can be found. When the whole church becomes the church triumphant with every tribe, nation, and tongue (Rev 7:9), but sometimes we can forget this, the church today should look similar to the church at the end of the age. The mystery of the Gospel is no longer a mystery. The church should be filled with people from every tribe, nation, and tongue.
III. The Ministry of maturity of the Gospel.
Paul’s ministry and our ministry are pretty simple, “Him we proclaim.” We proclaim Christ; the same Christ Paul writes about in verses 15-20. Christ, who has transferred us from the domain of darkness into the inheritance of the saints of life, in whom we have redemption and forgiveness of sins. We proclaim the simple hope of Christ. This proclamation has two sides of the same coin; warning and teaching. The word of God is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (1 Tim 3:16). This is discipleship, warning, and teaching. John Calvin has a famous quote, “The pastor ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep; and another, for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves. The Scripture supplies him with the means of doing both.” The ministry of the Gospel is to make disciples, not solely converts and move on to the next but to have disciples mature. Going from milk to solid food (Heb 5:12-14). This is Epaphras’ prayer in Colossians 4:12 that the church would stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. The ministry still exists today; we proclaim the Gospel and aim to do that frequently. But we also have many ministries in the church to help everyone mature in Christ. Two Lord’s day services, Sunday School, Wednesday night Bible study, Women in the Church and Men’s Breakfasts. All of these ministries aim to help faithful Christians mature in Christ.
IV. The Might of the Gospel.
Paul concludes this section about the Gospel with a profound understanding of how he can continue. He repeats that ministry can and is hard labor and toil. However, he does so only through the work of God within him. The word for ‘struggle’ is also translated fight (1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7). Again, some of us might not define ministry or Christian life as a fight. The Christian life is one of weakness. However, it is incredible to consider that God works within us. A glorious thought when we feel inadequate because we are, however, God works within us. God uses broken vessels for his Glory. I am constantly reminded and refreshed by this thought as a minister of the Gospel; I a sinner; however, God uses me and my weaknesses. Yet, Paul does not only write that God works in him, but he says God works in him powerfully (ESV) and mightily (NKJV). What a delightful thing to consider, even at our weakest point, God works within us, powerfully. Let us pray that he mightily use us for His Glory!