“I am glad to suffer on your behalf and to help complete the sufferings of Christ that still need to be endured for His sake on behalf of His body, the Church. I was made a minister by His divine commission which has been entrusted to me for your benefit in order to fully disclose God’s Word to you. This sacred message has kept hidden for centuries but has now been revealed to His people. God has chosen to make known to the Gentiles this glorious, priceless truth. The secret is simply this: Christ is now among you to give you hope concerning all the glorious things to come. So we proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone with all the wisdom we possess in order to present every man completely mature through their union with Christ Jesus. To this end I exert all my energy, earnestly laboring through His powerful enabling strength.” (1:24-29, paraphrased)
From the great themes of creation (vv. 15-18) and redemption (vv. 19-23), Paul now turns to his personal investment of time and energy, addressing his ministry (vv. 24-25), his message (vv. 26-27), and his mission (vv. 28-29). He does not refer to the call of God upon his life in order to boast but to stress the importance of the Gospel message. His sufferings are in the best interests of the Colossians and all the churches. He rejoices in the knowledge his trials dovetail perfectly with God’s plans for the propagation of the Gospel (Phil. 1:17-18).
Virtually every epistle Paul writes includes expressions of gratitude to God for the privilege of enduring affliction for Jesus’ sake (I Cor. 1:5-7). Those to whom he writes are dear to him because they suffer similar afflictions. He regards suffering as a gift from God, for it allows Believers to share in the reproach of Christ (I Tim. 4:10). This viewpoint is very different than the Gnostics who believe they must resign themselves to the fate of the gods.
By helping to “fill up” the quota of Christ’s sufferings, Paul does not infer Jesus’ atonement is inadequate. The apostle has already referred to the thoroughness of Christ’s expiation (vv. 19-20). He is not suggesting human suffering for sin is necessary to supplement Christ’s atonement. Nothing is lacking in His sacrifice that needs reinforcement by suffering saints. Paul simply means a great deal of trials and persecutions remain in order to “fill up” or compete (antanapleroo) the sum total of sufferings Believers must endure until the time of Christ’s return. Paul certainly does his part to add to these sufferings, but not in a vicarious sense. He tells the Galatians he bears in his own body the afflictions of Christ (Gal. 6:17). Christian sufferings are “filled up” as Believers in every generation add to the final total. No member of the Church is exempt from trials. Because of their unity with Christ, when one member of the Body suffers all members suffer as well (I Cor. 12:26). As Paul pens these words from his prison cell, he has in mind the opposition he has endured in his missional endeavors thus far. He continues to learn “what great things” he must suffer for Jesus’ sake (Acts 9:16).
Although the personal agony of Jesus has ended, the struggles of His followers continue. But we suffer persecution because we serve Him, not to atone for our sins. The word used here regarding “suffering” (pathema) is always used in reference to human suffering and never to describe Christ’s atoning death. On the Damascus road, Jesus asks Saul “Why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4-5). When the Head is injured, the rest of the body feels the pain.
The word Paul uses regarding human affliction is thelipsis, defined as “distress, persecution, oppression, burden, and anguish.” This term is never employed in the New Testament in reference to the sufferings of Christ. While Christ is our Redeemer, he is also the supreme example of a suffering servant (Isa. 53). Jesus endured the complete quota of agony necessary to redeem His Church. He informs His disciples that following Him will cost them dearly (Mk. 10:30).
Paul is aware of his unique calling and commission and reiterates the fact his ministry is a divine appointment (v. 23). The word “I” (ego) is emphatic in order to show that his divine commission directly benefits the Colossians. Paul regards his calling and ability to publically proclaim the Gospel as a sacred trust involving a special endowment of grace (Eph. 3:8). Paul sees himself as a minister or steward (diakonos) of the Church. He has already used this term twice in reference to both Epaphras and himself (vv. 7 & 23).
The “dispensation (oikonomos) of God” refers to stewardship, management, or administration. Oikonomos is a composite of two words, oikos is “house” and nomos is “law.” The combination of these terms refers to the law of a household and pictures an administrator of a home entrusted with specific assignments. Paul considers himself blessed to be allowed to plant and nurture churches (II Cor. 11:28). He views himself as a servant in God’s house commissioned to bring the Gentiles back home.
Tasked with the responsibility of preaching, Paul works tirelessly to please his master and act on His behalf (Lk. 17:9). He considers his work to be a privilege and acts accordingly as he manages missional efforts for the Master. He is a steward of the mysteries of God seeking to help fulfill God’s global plan of evangelism (I Cor. 4:1). “Fulfill” (anatanapleroo) is derived from the basic word (pleroo) used previously regarding completion (v. 24). Paul’s mission is successful because his message is reaching the Gentile world.
This mystery has been hidden since the ages. This refers to all time that has elapsed prior to creation. It continued to be shrouded from all the generations of men up to the time of Christ. Although the Gospel message was hidden since time immemorial, Christ’s incarnation begins the process of revealing the plan of salvation. But in contrast to the secretive mysteries of cultists, the mystery of redemption is now globally proclaimed. Because of its universal importance, it is given to the world rather than to a select few.
Paul borrows the term “mystery” (mysterion) from the esoteric cults and adapts it to make his point. Gnostics frequently use mysterion in reference to the cosmic mediators they believe control the gap separating God and man. The secret Paul refers to has been undisclosed since the dawn of time but is now divulged (Rom. 16:25). But this formerly hidden plan was only concealed in order to be revealed (Mt. 13:17). Paul emphatically tells the Ephesians this mystery is the inclusion of the Gentiles as equal “fellow heirs” of Christ’s redemptive plan (Eph. 3:3-9).
It was not an afterthought for God to extend His plan of salvation to Gentiles as well as Jews. It is His will that all people understand this previously hidden mystery. “Riches” (ploutos) is a word Paul often uses regarding that which has great value. The “glory” to which Paul refers is God’s true character manifested in Christ (Lk. 1:79). The rich and glorious benefits of this revelation are no longer mysterious to anyone who accepts Jesus as Savior.
As the world’s first missionary, Paul is keenly aware of both the obligation and the opportunity to communicate Christ’s redemptive plan to everyone. Writing to the church at Ephesus, Paul refers to the Gentiles as fellow citizens and fellow heirs (Eph. 2:19 & 3:6). The concept of Christ being “in you” is better translated “among you” and refers to all Gentiles throughout the world. Although the Jews expect a Messiah to come, that He would extend Himself to the rest of mankind is unexpected. Christ is “among” the Gentiles in general, but is also “in” them on a personal basis. He lives in, among, and through His people in order to unify them through the Spirit. Every person in whom He dwells has the hope of a glorious future with Him.
“We” is emphatic for Paul has many fellow ministers assisting his missional efforts. The use of “we” also distinguishes Paul and his coworkers from the Colossian heretics.
The method and manner in which Jesus is revealed to the world is another facet of this mystery. Armed with his glorious message, Paul proceeds to preach, warn and teach. “Preach” (kataggelo) means “to announce or proclaim” a message by one who is firmly convinced of its truth and effectiveness. To “warn” (nouthetein) is to exhort, counsel, or admonish. To “teach” (didaskontes) means to stimulate and encourage. Exhortation and instruction are the two foundational aspects of preaching. Both are performed effectively only when accompanied by godly wisdom. The preacher warns the unrepentant and instructs the repentant.
The word “every” (panta) is thrice repeated in this verse to emphasize the universality of the message. “Every man” reiterates the fact that the Gospel is not restricted to the intellectually elite but is available to everyone. Paul reminds Festus that the Gospel message is not whispered by cowards hiding in corners (Acts 26:26). God’s wisdom is universally available and is free from the rigid restrictions of cultic exclusivists.
Paul’s ministerial efforts focus on presenting “mature” (teleios) Believers to the Lord. Teleios means to be complete and fully initiated. This is Christ’s desire as well (Col. 1:22). Paul infers that the effectiveness of his ministry can be tested by the spiritual progress of his converts. The Holy Spirit teaches and motivates Believers to make them more Christlike. “Presenting every Christian mature in Christ” is a phrase that reminds us of the coming Judgment Day (I Th. 5:23).
Paul “labors” (kopio). This term envisions one who has worked to the point of exhaustion. Kopio is frequently used in reference to athletes who have exerted all their strength. The motivation to work hard in the ministry is necessary, but receiving strength from God’s Spirit is mandatory. Paul acknowledges the power essential for effectual ministry must be supernaturally provided.
“Striving” (agonizomenos) means “to labor fervently.” The ministerial striving Paul refers to is based on the Greek term agona, from which the word “agony” is derived. It is a word used in reference to the struggling and contending in the Olympic Games. Paul’s agonizing ministry is balanced by the power of God working within him. He compares his efforts to the athletic training and concentration necessary to win the race.
“Working” is energeia from whence we derive the word “energy.” This energy works in his life “mightily” (dunamis), a term referring to ability or power. Paul receives infusions of supernatural strength that energize and allow him to rise above human limitations. The Spirit of God is the powerful enabling energy that is indispensible for effective ministry.
Points to Ponder
1. What has God made known (Eph. 1:9)?
2. Paraphrase and explain what Paul means in Eph. 3:3-9.
3. According to I Peter 4:13-14, who must partake of Christ’s sufferings? Why do we suffer reproach? What should our attitude be?
4. According to James 5:10, what group of people is named as an example of suffering? List three Old Testament examples.
5. According to Romans 8:17-18, what it the end result of suffering for Christ? What is contrasted with suffering for Him?
6. From II Corinthians 11:23-28, list Paul’s litany of suffering.
7. Explain the “mystery of godliness” Paul describes in I Timothy 3:16.
8. According to Galatians 2:2 and Ephesians 3:8, what did Paul preach and to whom?
9. According to I Timothy 2:7 and II Timothy 1:11, what did Paul consider himself to be?