As we come to the closing section of this first chapter of Colossians, we see two ministries of the apostle Paul. In verse 23 he is revealed as a minister of the Gospel and, in verse 25, he is set forth as a minister of the mystery regarding the Church. This twofold ministry is unique to Paul, and is confirmed in the two epistles in which he stands alone, there being no other servant associated with him: these are the letters to the Romans and the Ephesians. In the former he is fulfilling his ministry as a minister of the Gospel, whilst in Ephesians he is writing as a minister of the mystery of Christ.
Verse 23: The Service of Paul
Paul begins by testing the profession of those to whom he is writing. He is looking for genuine conversions to the faith, evidenced by the continuance of those who have truly trusted in the Lord Jesus. Therefore, he writes “if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard …”. With false teachers in the area, and doctrines far removed from the truth of God, if any were led astray by such teaching it could be an evidence that they were not saved in the first place. This is possibly the reason for the warning in verse 23. The Gospel which the Colossians had heard, “and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven”, had already had a great impact upon the world as it was carried throughout the Roman empire by those who travelled. Even where apostles do not seem to have laboured, in a city such as Rome, there were assemblies established, as indicated in the epistle to the Romans. When Paul calls himself a minister, he uses the word diakonos, meaning ‘servant’; a word used four times in this letter of those who were setting forth the truth to the saints of God. The word carries the idea of the servant in activity, and in official capacity. Paul’s Gospel was a labouring Gospel, and most definitely not a lazy Gospel.
Verse 24: The Sufferings of Paul
Writing from a prison cell in Rome, Paul speaks of the joy he feels as he contemplates the ministry that has been given to him. In the epistle to the Philippians he also rejoices in his imprisonment, because of those who, through it, were being reached by the Gospel. Chains could not shut his mouth, and the very soldiers he was fastened to carried the Gospel with them when they had finished their duties. He views his sufferings as for the believers, for it was through suffering that the Church came into being. Paul also recognises that suffering will continue to be required to bring to birth those who will be saved. These sufferings of Paul were not expiatory sufferings, but the outcome of physical trial. He had been forewarned of this by Ananias when he received his sight and was baptised: “for I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9.16). Paul sees the saints in a twofold way: first as the body of Christ, that is, a living organism united to the Lord Himself; and second, as the Church, that is, a gathered-out company distinct from the world.
Verses 25-27: The Stewardship of Paul
Paul was thankful for the opportunity to unfold the wonder of this dispensation through his writing of the ‘prison epistles’. His purpose in writing was to fill up the Word of God, because the one thing still needed in the revelation of the truth of God was the setting forth of “the mystery”. A direct dispensation (stewardship) had been given to Paul, and he counted it an honour to be chosen for such a purpose (Eph 3.7-8). That which had been hidden from all men in past days (ages), and unknown to any in former times (generations), since it had been “hid in God” (Eph 3.9), was now to be made manifest through his writings.
Verse 27 unfolds the desires of God toward those of this present age. That which was kept from all the worthies of Old Testament days is no longer locked in the council chambers of Heaven, but is freely explained to those who are found in Christ. What Abraham, Isaac and Jacob could never appreciate, because their promise was related to the earth alone, was also hidden from David, although the throne was his. Even the majestic revelations entrusted to Moses could not compare with what is now given to Paul to reveal. This great truth is only unveiled to those who are Christ’s, and revealed only to faith. Here there are riches of glory into which those of prior dispensations could not enter. What is this mystery of which Paul speaks so highly? First, it refers to blessing “among the Gentiles”, and Abraham, to whom was given the rite of circumcision to separate the family of Israel from the Gentile world, could never have envisaged such Gentiles being brought by God into special blessing alongside, and in equality with, the Jew. The special blessing particularly seen here is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Can we understand the wonder of what this means, as we are now associated with the Lord Jesus in a unique way that those of former ages will never be able to enter into?
Moreover, the saints are also called to share in all that the Lord Jesus will have in the future, when He returns to establish His Kingdom and to set up His throne. In Ephesians 1.10-14 we are brought to understand something of the place that will belong to the Lord in the coming millennial Kingdom but, thanks be to God, He will not come into it alone. Rather, as verses 11-14 proclaim, we shall obtain an inheritance along with Him. How wondrous it is that, since we have come into God’s family by birth, we are also heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ (Rom 8.16-18). The day will dawn when we will be glorified together with the Lord Jesus, and the words used in these verses indicate that we will be one with Christ in that future day of glory. Well might Paul, when speaking to the Colossians of this mystery, refer to it not only as “Christ in you”, but also as “the hope of glory”. We would do well to ponder the blessedness of this present age, where we are brought into so much in, and through, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Verses 28-29: The Strivings of Paul
The apostle states that it is the Lord Jesus whom he sets before the people for, since there is such glory to be found in Him, what point is there in teaching anything else? His preaching is by teaching, for it is through the setting forth of divine truth that souls are strengthened and encouraged to continue in the faith. Today we see that much that appeals only to the senses of men is used to try to keep for God those who profess salvation. However, the only thing that will truly preserve believers, so that they walk in the ways of the Lord, is to teach the Word. As one has said, “You must tether the sheep by their teeth.” Paul’s ministry was a warning ministry; to expose error and counter it. All teaching is not divine in origin, and saints need to be guarded against the kind of false doctrine that was circulating in the Lycus valley at that time. The warning would convince of error, and the teaching would instruct in truth. The warning was given in wisdom, for Paul desired to see the believers being presented perfect in Christ Jesus. This servant of God looked to the end of the dispensation, and desired to see the saints standing, in accordance with the mind of God, at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Finally, the toilsome training and agonising that went into Paul’s ministry is brought before us in verse 29. He thought of both the preparation for his ministry, as well as of the agony involved in discharging it, as if in a contest such as the wrestling ring. His desire to present the saints perfect was, to him, not an easy accomplishment, but serious work. He is, therefore, thankful that this is not done in his own energy, but “according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.”
(To be continued …)