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Colossians: Paul’s Labor for the Church (1:24-2:5)

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Labor for the Church

Preceding this passage, Paul had described himself as a servant of the gospel. He goes on here to describe that service and his labor for the church.

Suffering for the Sake of the Church

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

Colossians 1:24 NIV

Paul rejoiced in the suffering he experienced for the Colossian church. That might seem strange since he had never met them. But as he went on, you see that his suffering was on behalf of the church as a whole. And since the church at Colossae was a part of Christ’s Church, Paul’s labor and suffering did benefit the church at Colossae. But how?

What Is Lacking in Christ’s Afflictions

This is a challenging expression here. Paul surely did not mean to imply that somehow Christ’s atoning work on the cross was incomplete and his suffering was helping to finish it. Christ’s work on the cross was complete. And nothing we can possibly do can add to it. So this must mean something else.

The word translated in the NIV as afflictions can also be translated as tribulations. So it is likely that Paul was referring to tribulation, or suffering, that he was going through as he took the gospel out into the Gentile world. He was going as an apostle, or emissary, for Christ. That task was not yet complete, but Paul was laboring hard at opening the gospel to the Gentiles, including the Colossian church.

For the Sake of His Body

Paul was not suffering because he enjoyed it. Nor was he suffering because of any reward he might have expected, although surely he was rewarded. Instead, his suffering was for the sake of the church, the body of Christ.

Paul traveled extensively, fearlessly proclaimed the gospel, and did all he could to protect, encourage, and develop the Gentile churches he or his associates had started. And he did that at the cost of extreme personal suffering (2 Cor. 11:22-33). It was through that suffering that the gospel came to them.

The Hidden Mystery

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 

Colossians 1:25-26 NIV

Paul identified himself as a servant of the church. Paul, an apostle and one of the most influential men in the history of the church, considered himself a servant. His commission by God was not to rule the church but to serve it. He sets a good example for many who thirst for power and prestige in the church. The greatest in the kingdom is the one who is a servant of all. And that was Paul’s mindset.

His commission was to present the word of God, in its fullness, to the church. The Old Testament revealed God and his purpose to us. But it did so very dimly. But, with the coming of Christ, a new light shone. And that light revealed to us the mystery kept hidden for ages and generations.

Jesus came as the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets. And with that fulfillment, and the help of the Holy Spirit, Paul, and the other apostles, were able to see their Scripture in a whole new light. And with that insight, they were able to serve the church by making the mystery known to them.

What is the mystery? Paul tells us in the verse that follows.

Christ in You, the Hope of Glory

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Colossians 1:27 NIV

A part of this revealed mystery is that it was not just for the Jews. The Gentiles were included as fellow participants in this mystery. Jew and Gentile alike can experience life as the body of Christ (Eph. 2:11-21).

What is this mystery that has been revealed? It is Christ in us, the hope of glory. The mystery deals with our current condition, Christ in us. But even more, it looks forward to our future, the hope of glory.

There is no promise that life as a believer will be easy. In fact, we are told just the opposite. If we are seeking to live a godly life, we are promised that we will suffer (2 Tim. 3:12). Life as a believer will be hard. But what we do have is “Christ in us.” We are not left to do this on our own. We have Christ’s presence, in the person of the Holy Spirit, within us. He gives us the strength to live for him. And assures us with his presence.

But even better is what awaits us. In 1 Corinthians 15:19, Paul tells us “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” But, as he goes on to say, our hope is in the resurrection of Jesus, and of our own resurrection when Jesus returns for us. And, when that happens, we will be transformed and will be able to experience the life of Christ and his glory.

To Present Everyone Fully Mature in Christ

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

Colossians 1:28-29 NIV

Paul was not introducing a new religion, although Jesus was at the center of the Christian faith. And he was not proclaiming an ethical system of behavior, although, in Christ, we are called to live a life of love. Instead, Paul was proclaiming Jesus and the new life we can have in him.

Paul admonished and taught everyone, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. He gave us instructions concerning life in Christ and admonished us to live up to that life.

His goal was to present everyone fully mature in Christ. This looks forward to our Lord’s return when we will give an account of our stewardship to him (Matt. 25:14-30). Paul wanted to be able to point to those he had taught and admonished, and to find them fully mature as believers.

And this desire on Paul’s part was not just an idle wish. He was working toward it with all the strength he had. And that was considerable since it was Christ working through him. That power is available to all believers. But most of us fail to use it to the extent that Paul did. He held nothing back.

Working Hard

I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 

Colossians 2:1 NIV

Paul wants it to be clear to the Colossian church that he was laboring just as hard for them as he is for the churches that he has spent time with. And not just the church at Colossae. He is also working for the churches at Laodicea and Hierapolis (Col. 4:13) and for all believers. And that includes us today. His labor in establishing churches, and especially the letters he wrote to them, continues to have value to us today.

But Paul was not just working hard. He was contending for them. The word “contending” carries with it the idea of struggling, fighting, or involvement in an athletic competition. He was engaged in a spiritual conflict for them, praying that they might stand strong against our adversary. And providing them with the encouragement and instruction they would need to grow in the faith.

The Full Riches of Complete Understanding

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 

Colossians 2:2-3 NIV

Why was Paul contending so hard for the church at Colossae, Laodicea, and others who had not met him? He expresses his multipart goal as a series of steps. The first is that they might be encouraged in heart and united in love. He wanted to encourage them to remain true to their faith in spite of the challenges they faced. And he wanted them to be unified in love. With each part supporting and helping the others.

Being committed to the faith, and growing together in love will enable them to go on to the next step. To have the full riches of complete understanding. Our faith is something that we have to be living, through all the struggles of life. As we do, we will gain a better understanding of who our Lord is, what he is doing in our lives, and what he is preparing us for. Our understanding grows as we live out our faith.

As we delve into the riches of complete understanding, we are more able to know the mystery of God. That mystery is Christ. And in him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. If you want to know what God is doing in the world, you need to look no further than Jesus.

A Firm Faith in Christ

I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

Colossians 2:4-5 NIV

Many arguments and philosophies have been developed over the years that sound good, but are actually deceptive. How can you possibly sort through them all to distinguish truth from falsehood? The most effective way is to have a good understanding of the truth. When you do, you can compare what you hear against it. And, if it is at odds with the truth, you can safely reject it.

This is especially true for believers. What is our truth? It is Jesus. He is the truth (John 14:6). Who he is and what he came to do are the mystery of God revealed. Learn what the Bible has to say about him and his work. When you do, you will be able to spot false teachings about him, both his person and his work.

Paul’s goal was to bring the Colossians, and other churches, to the place where they would easily be able to distinguish false teachings and would be able to stand firm in their faith. That was why he labored so hard for all the churches. And he was happy to see that they were standing firm in Christ, that so far, no one had been able to move them away from the truth.

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Ed Jarrett

Just an old clay jar that God continues to see fit to use in his kingdom's work. I am retired, married with 2 children, and 4 grandchildren. I have followed Jesus for many years. And I love to share what He has given me from His word.

A Note to Readers

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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