Striving for the Saints (Colossians 1:24-29)

Striving for the Saints
Michael Hanson

 

The Message of Colossians: The Supremacy of Christ

 

Genre:  Epistle (Prison)

     From: The Apostle Paul

     To: The Saints at Colossae

     Subject:  The Supremacy of Christ and the Power of the Gospel

 

Structure:

  • Paul Greets the believers at Colossae (1:1-2)
  • Paul Thanks God for the believers and their faith (1:3-14)
  • Paul Reminds them about God - Who He is and What He has done (1:15-23)
  • Paul talks about his ministry to the Church (1:24-2:6)

 

Introduction

 

I was a teenager when I became a Christian. Before that time I had attended church from time to time but had no interest in what it meant to be a follower of Christ.  When I became a Christian, I was enthusiastic and thought that the Christian life would be simple and easy to master.  I assumed that if I just read through the Bible once or twice, if I started attending church regularly, then I would understand all I need to know and I would quickly be able to master the Christian life, and my life would be all sorted.  I would know all I needed to know, I would do all that God wanted me to do, and the rest of my life would be easy and straightforward.

But this was not the case - I discovered that this was not the way that God worked.

I have now realised that the Christian life is not like that.  On the one hand being a Christian is very simple and easy - but on the other hand, it is very complex and it involved hard work and challenges and it is something that takes a lifetime to master.

Today I want to focus on the last verses in Colossians chapter one as I believe that it gives us an insight into the way that the apostle Paul struggled to live the Christian life and to bring people to maturity in Christ.

 

Please turn with me in your Bibles and let’s looks at Colossians 1:24-29

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.

 

In this passage Paul talks about his desire to work hard on behalf of the believers at Colossae so that they understood the truth of the Gospel and that they were growing in their relationship with Christ.

 

Background

As we look at this passage, I want to give you a little of the background of this letter.

 

In verses 1 and 2 of chapter 1 we see Paul’s introduction to this letter

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

 

In the same way that you might write a letter or an email today, Paul is writing this letter.  He says who it is from, who it is to, and he gives a greeting to the recipients of this letter.

Paul was an apostle and along with Timothy, they travelled the world proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ and helping Christians to grow in their faith.

This epistle is written to the church at Colossae.  The ancient city of Colossae is located in modern day Turkey.  The letter was written by Paul, probably in the early 60s when he was in prison in Rome.  Paul had not visited the church at Colossae but has heard of it through his friend Epaphras who most likely started the church.

 

Paul wrote to these believers with the goal of showing the supremacy of Christ (1:18; 2:9). He also wanted to lead believers into spiritual maturity (1:28; 2:6–7). And lastly, he wanted to inform them about his state of affairs and elicited their prayers on his behalf (4:2–8).

 

Next in verses, 3-14, Paul thanks God for the believers and their faith. Paul is always thankful for those that have become followers of Christ and in each of his letters he rejoices at what God is doing in the lives of the believers and thanks God for them. In this letter Paul thanks God for the faith that these believers have, he thanks them for the way that they have understood and accepted the truth of the Gospel.  He also is thankful for their mutual friend Epaphrus who appears to be the one that brought the good news to the people in Colossae.

As I think about what Paul writes here, I wonder what someone would say about me if they were to write a letter. Would they be praising God for the faith that I have in Jesus Christ? Would they be thankful that I had heard the Word of God and was faithfully proclaiming the Good News to others?  What about this church?  If the men or women that had founded this church many years ago were to write a letter about this church today - would they praise God for the way that we have all accepted the truth of the Gospel?  Would they be thankful that we have transformed lives because of the power of the Word of God in our lives – or would they be sad and concerned because we had lost of love and passion for God and we were living lives that were not God honouring?

 

Thirdly, in the introduction to this letter, Paul reminds them about Jesus Christ – Who He is and What He has done (1:15-23).

 

So in the first part of this chapter, Paul introduces himself and his ministry.   Paul talks to the believers about his personal ministry endeavours and his concern for the believers.  Not all of the believers at the church at Colossae would have known Paul so he takes this opportunity to help them understand him better and his motivations for ministry.  Paul is a minister of the Gospel (1:23) and he wants the believers to know and understand the supremacy of God.  He wants them to know and understand all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that come from Christ.  His goal is to fill up and complete all that is missing in the lives of the believers and he is willing to suffer on their behalf.  Paul’s ultimate goal is that all the believes at Colossae will be mature in Christ

 

Let’s look in a little more detail at verses 24-29.

 

I. Paul Commission: To present the word of God (v 24-25)

     A. Suffering for the Gospel

In this section we see that Paul was suffering for the sake of the Gospel.    Paul, as an apostle, endured great suffering for the sake of the Gospel and he knew that in the same way that Christ had suffered, that he too was suffering for his faith.

In New Testament times, it was common to have to suffer for the Gospel.  If you remember in the book of Acts that the church was spread far and wide, largely because of he suffering and persecution the was occurring at the time.  The Romans and the Jews were anti-Christian and they would do whatever they could to stop it cause.   Christ does not promise that as believers we will avoid suffering - rather he warns us that we may suffer, and that we must stand firm in our suffering.

The apostle Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter but he stood firm in his faith and still used it as an opportunity to further the cause of the gospel.  -He also encourages us to stand firm - even in times of suffering.

As one author put it “In the biblical model in either testament, to be chosen by God is not to be protected from suffering. It is a call to suffer and to be delivered as one passes through it.” (Holmes Roston).

The history of the early church is characterised by suffering.  The church experiences growth where there is suffering.   However in Western society we do not generally have to suffer for our faith - in New Zealand we live in a society that is tolerant and gives us freedom to believe in Christ.  I am sure that in a congregation like we have some, some of you may come from parts of the world where have suffered for being a Christ follower - you have been punished by family and the government.  Even today you may have friends and family that are suffering for the cause of Christ.

I wish that I had better news - but we need to take heart and be encouraged by the Paul.  Each of us has to be prepared to suffer for Christ.  Christ may not rescue us physically from the suffering but he will strengthen us and sustain us as we go through the suffering.

     B. Servant of the Gospel

Paul was able to endure the suffering, so that he could make the Word of God fully known.  In verse 25 we see that Paul desired "to make the word of God fully known”.  His mandate was to present the word of God in it fulness.  He understood that it was critical that he proclaim the truth of the Gospel.  Proclaiming the good news of the Gospel was so critical that that he was prepared to suffer so that he could continue to proclaim the truth.

As I think about my own life, I wonder if I have the same passion and conviction that Paul had.   Do I love God and His Word so deeply, that I am prepared to do all that I can to ensure that His truth is fully known by others?

I think about men and women of the Christian faith who has stood firm on the Word of God - many have been prepared to suffer everything for the sake of the Word of God.  I was reminded of the example of John Wycliffe, the Christian reformer in English, who lived in the late 14th and early 15th Century and his commitment to God’s Word.  He was eventually declared a heretic because he had come to regard the scriptures as the only reliable guide to the truth about God and maintained that all Christians should rely on the Bible rather than the teachings of popes and clerics. He said that there was no scriptural justification for the papacy.  Because John Wycliffe believed this, he suffered much hardship and was eventually burnt at the stake for the sake of the Gospel.  Do you love God and his word so much that you Word be prepared to die for it?

 

II. Paul Message: The mystery of God (v. 26-27)

In verse 26 and 27, Paul talks about proclaiming a mystery - in verse 26 he talks about the “mystery hidden for ages” and in verse 27, “the riches of the glory of this ministry”. Paul’s task was to proclaim the mystery of God. 

But what is this mystery?  The idea of a mystery is ‘anything hidden or secret’ and was used particularly to refer to the sacred rites of the Greek mystery religions in which only the initiated shared. So ‘mystery’ does not mean a puzzle that cannot be solved, or secret for which no answer can be found, but rather it signifies a secret which is being revealed. 

So in this context the mystery being revealed here we see the key as being "Christ in you”.   The key element of the mystery that is stressed in this passage is that the riches of God’s glory are now available to all.  Christ is in you - whether you be Gentiles or Jew

As Christians today, we often take this for granted.  But look around the church today - how many Jews do we see here today?  Possibly there are one or two.  But what sort of people do you see - Japanese, Chinese, South African, Kiwis and probably even Australians - and no doubt many many more.  But all of us are Gentiles.  And before Christ came - the faith was for Jews NOT Gentiles.  In Old Testament times, if we as Gentiles had gone to the temple, we would not have been able to fully engage in the worship of God.    In Herod’s temple there was a Court of the Gentiles where we would have had to remain the. There were signs that instructed Gentiles NOT to go into the Inner courts.  We would not have been able to worship God as the Israelite men were able to do.  As Gentiles we were definitely second class citizens when it came to the worship of God.

And this is the mystery that is being revealed by Paul and the other apostles.  Christ has come for all people.  He has died on the cross for everyone.  Each one of us - whatever our religious or ethnic background can be a Christ follower.  There are NO EXCEPTIONs - the good news of the Gospel is for everyone!

So today - if you are male or female - the Good News of Jesus Christ is for you, if you are old or young - the Good News of Jesus Christ is for you, if you are Kiwi or Australian, Chinese or Korean - the Good News of Jesus Christ is for you.  If you are a good person, or a very bad person - the Good News of Jesus Christ is for you.

This was the mystery that most had missed - and this was what Paul was prepared to suffer for - this was what we are to proclaim.  Christ in you!

 

There is no greater message to be heard than that which we call the gospel.   The gospel is called the ‘good news’ because it addresses the most serious problem that you and I have as human beings, and that problem is simply this: God is holy and He is just, and I’m not. And at the end of my life, I’m going to stand before a just and holy God and I’ll be judged.

The central truth of the gospel is that God has provided a way of salvation for men through the gift of His son to the world. He suffered as a sacrifice for sin, overcame death, and now offers a share in His triumph to all who will accept it. The gospel is good news because it is a gift of God, not something that must be earned by penance or by self-improvement (John 3:16; Romans 5:8–11; II Corinthians 5:14–19; Titus 2:11–14).3

1 Corinthians 15:1-4  - Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

 

III. Paul Goal: Maturity in Christ (v. 28-29)

In verses 28 and 29 we see Paul’s ultimate goal of ministry – that “…we may present everyone mature in Christ”.  Paul wanted all believers to become mature in Christ.  His desire was to proclaim Christ, to warn and teach those at Colossae so that they would be mature in their faith.  The goal of his teaching, preaching and admonishing is so that everyone will be mature in Christ.

The idea of Maturity that Paul’s talks about in this passage is not about being without flaw or having some moral virtue that we never do anything wrong.  But rather maturity is about reaching a goal or attaining completion. That which is perfect or mature has fulfilled its intended goal.

Paul does not offer a ten step programme that leads to some kind of spiritual perfection but rather he is saying that whoever belongs to Christ and has unwavering trust in the Lord is doing what God intended - he or she has Christ in them and is growing towards maturity.   Maturity can only be found in our relationship with Christ and what Christ has done for us.

Spiritual maturity is simply Christlikeness. We are as mature as we are like Christ, and no more. He was the only fully mature man. His character was complete, well balanced, and perfectly integrated. All His qualities and capacities were perfectly attuned to the will of His Father, and this is the model, the standard God has set for us:

The supreme goal of the church is not evangelism, important and indispensable as that ministry is. The ultimate goal is stated by Paul here: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). God’s purpose is to produce disciples who reflect the perfect humanity of His Son, people who are able to react to the challenges and trials of life in an adult and not in a childish manner—meeting adult situations with adult reactions.

In short, God’s purpose is to produce people who fulfill their humanity and become what God designed for them

We gather here today so we can worship God together and learning together so that we can mature in our faith

We read the Word of God on it so that we can mature in our faith

We spend time in prayer so that we can understand God so that we can mature in our faith.

 

Conclusion

As I said when I began - as a new Christian, I thought that I would quickly master the Christian faith and be all the God wanted me to be.  I was wrong.  I have grown in my understanding of Christ and what he has done for me.  I know and believe that Christ is in me and He continues to transform my life.  But I understand now that there is still much growth to occur in my Christian life.

 

Like the apostle Paul, I desire to become more like Christ - and I desire that each of us here today will be more like Christ today, than we were yesterday, or last week, or last year.  Like Paul, I strive with this goal in mind.  If you are a believer today, then you have Christ in you, and day by day he is transforming you into His image.  At times there may be struggles in your Christian faith, but God is with you and He is working in you.  Continue to live your lives in a way that honours God.