Now we go from the christological summary in verses 15-23, which speak of Christ’s full and complete sufficiency for us and the church as a whole to these next 11 verses, which speak of Paul’s labor for the church. It is interesting that Paul would organize this letter in such a way. That is, the sufficiency of Christ followed by Paul’s labors. If Christ is sufficient aren’t Paul’s labors in vain? Why labor and toil so hard if Christ is sufficient? Verse 24 may have a clue to answering this question.
24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.
There are two clues to answer why Paul labors so hard while at the same time having all sufficiency in Christ. The answer is in his suffering and filling up what is lacking. Suffering for the church’s sake produced great joy in Paul, which allowed him to rejoice while still incarcerated. This rejoicing furthered his maturity in Christ.
In fact, in Philippians we will dive deep into this idea of joy from suffering. But how do we go from suffering to joy? 2 Corinthians 1:5 has the answer:
5For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.
Not only has Christ called us to suffering in abundance, which is a mark of a Christian and the church, but in whatever suffering we may endure Christ’s comfort is given to us in abundance. We can rejoice alongside Paul, sharing in the same comfort that was given him in abundance through his sufferings.
The second reason why Paul (and us) should labor so hard is that we, like Paul, are filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. In other words, we as Christians are taking on the sufferings and persecutions that were intended for Christ after He completed His work on the cross.
When Christ died on the cross He finished His work. However, we still have work to do in continuing the building of His church and keeping it spotless. We have a duty, given to us by Christ Himself, to go into all the world making disciples and baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But in doing so we will suffer and be persecuted. Fortunately, we do not do this alone without any help. We have the full sufficiency of Christ in us to complete this work!
25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
This is the mission Christ gave Paul, to preach the mystery of God namely to the Gentiles. Like in Ephesians, Paul also speaks here of the mystery, which is Christ in you. Remember back when we studied these verses in Ephesians 3:3–6:
3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. 4 By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,
This is the NT church and as such is built on the revealing of who Christ is. He is sufficient in everything, especially the working of the Gentiles’ salvation. This of course was a difficult thing for the Jews, who were steeped in religious tradition, to accept. Here, Paul is gently leading the readers to the sufficiency of Christ, not traditions or animal sacrifices or anything else…just Christ.
29 For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.
I wanted to focus quickly on this one verse. Notice that nowhere in this verse does Paul say that he labors in his own strength. This is so important for us and especially our church leaders at Crossings Church to live out. And I say this with all the love and care possible. To do Christ’s work in the flesh only is to invite overload, burnout, and problems. Since we are called to suffer for Christ we should not place additional burdens on our own shoulders. Rather, we need to labor and strive (some translations use toil and struggle here) only within the power that Christ provides. He is our sufficiency after all. That means that if we follow Paul’s example, we too can work to exhaustion, giving our all to minister to others without the added burnout, overload, and problems that we would inevitably face if we do this all on our own.
Working within Christ’s sufficient and mighty power leads ultimately to joy, which allows us to rejoice and grow as opposed to becoming burnt-out and stagnant.
1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Paul wasn’t just talking about his great struggles in ministering to the church to make himself look like a superhero. He was writing this for a more selfless reason. He wanted the church body to know about his struggles so that they would be encouraged to boldly continue to follow Christ and not the people who were bringing extra-Biblical messages into the church. Continuing to follow Christ and only Christ can be a struggle when faced with opposition and persecution as the Colossian church was. But Paul led by example and wanted the Colossians to follow his lead.
We see again in verses 2-3 the word “all” used to describe the wealth and treasures of knowing Christ. All wealth that comes from understanding the full gospel that results in salvation. But notice that this salvation (our wealth) only comes from understanding the gospel. Not from understanding some extra-Biblical knowledge.
Continuing into verse 3 we see that all wisdom and knowledge is hidden within Christ. This wisdom and knowledge are described as treasures (plural). That is, both wisdom and knowledge are each their own treasure. In fact we see that over and over again in the book of Proverbs. But these treasures are found only in Christ, as it says they are “hidden” in Christ. These treasures are only for the Christian believer. Those introducing extra-Biblical knowledge certainly were not gaining that knowledge from Christ but from human ideas/thoughts.
Through all of this persecution Paul wanted to encourage this church. Paul’s joy in the face of difficult work, persecutions, and suffering was a light of hope for the believers at Colossae…an encouragement. Paul’s struggle to present the church spotless to the Bride-groom was intended to encourage the believers to keep walking in the faith towards Christ only.
4I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. 5 For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.
Here in verse 4 is where Paul explains that everything he has previously said about Christ’s sufficiency and supremacy over all is the answer to the extra-Biblical arguments that others were bringing into the church. Also notice that Paul describes these extra-Biblical arguments as persuasive. These ideas that Christ was not sufficient and not supreme may have taken hold in some of the Christians in this church and needed to be confronted and corrected before the entire church was persuaded. Isn’t it usually the case that when extra-Biblical ideas are introduced to the church that they are introduced with persuasive speech. And as we know, a little leven spreads quickly throughout the entire loaf.
But there is hope in Paul’s words in verse 5. He says that he is rejoicing in their discipline and stability of faith even though he cannot be with them. While it could be possible that some in that church were led astray or were close to being led astray, it seems that the majority of believers in Colossae were standing firm in their faith. They truly were putting on the armor of God every day (Eph 6:10-20).