Serving the Preeminent Christ
Text: Colossians 1:24-29
Title: Serving the Preeminent Christ
Theme of the book of Colossians: Jesus Christ: The preeminent and all-sufficient Savior.
Theme of Text: Paul’s message to all in this passage is, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things” (Phil. 4:9).
Proposition: Because of Christ’s indwelling the believer, you have everything you need to serve him!
Illustration: Mystery Solved: Sherlock Holmes, Stonehenge, Atlantis. All these are unsolved mysteries. This text explains the greatest mystery: Christ in you.
The Apostle Paul is a famous individual. Many people know who the Apostle Paul is even if they are not Christians. Some could tell you that he was a follower of Christ, and that he was very influential in the early stages of Christianity. If you have been a Christian for a while, you should know quite a bit more about the apostle Paul. Paul’s writings are some the most important for the New Testament church. Every Christian should try to understand and learn about Paul and his writings. That is not too hard, because in almost every book that Paul wrote, he defended and explained his ministry or apostleship. Usually, he did this before or after a doctrinal section to give added authority to the passage. In this passage, Paul gives a description of his service for Christ. From this passage, we learn about Paul’s suffering, his proclamation of the Mystery, his method or process of preaching, his purpose for preaching, and the power behind his ministry.
1. The Personal Suffering for Christ v. 24
After the large section about the preeminence of Christ and the reconciliation through Christ, Paul begins talking about his ministry for Christ. He changes from the subject of Christ and the Gospel in verse 23 when he states that he is a minister of the Gospel. Paul then goes on to talk about the ministry in verses 24-29. He begins by mentioning his current condition- his suffering. Paul was in a Roman jail as he wrote these words. Paul makes it clear that even though he is in jail and going through suffering, he can rejoice.
a. Rejoice in Suffering
This was not the first time Paul had been in jail or had undergone persecution. Throughout his ministry, Paul endured persecution. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9; Romans 9:2; Philippians 1:18; Acts 16:25) Throughout these times of imprisonment or persecution, Paul rejoiced. He maintained a spirit of joy through every situation, even in the most unbearable circumstances. Paul was just following the example set for him by Christ (Hebrews 12:2-4). Even though the circumstances surrounded the crucifixion may have been discouraging, Christ never lost the joy of doing His Fathers will. Paul’s situation may have been discouraging or difficult, but it did not cause him to lose joy. He knew that God was in control of all of his circumstances; therefore, he had reason to rejoice.
Application: Do you rejoice in every circumstance that is brought into your life? You should because God is completely in control, so you can rest assured that He knows of your situation. There is no circumstance or situation to difficult for God to handle. You can rejoice in everything- even in suffering- because God is in control.
Note: A martyr is not a person that takes his own life for a cause; a martyr is a person that is killed by someone else for his cause. For instance, Muslims believe that they are martyrs for Allah and Mohammed. They strap bombs to themselves or their children, they drive cars into road stops, and they fly plains in to buildings all in the name of Allah. They call themselves martyrs for doing these things. These are not martyrs; they are committing murder and suicide. Many of the apostles suffered and were even martyred for Christ. Paul rejoiced that he was worthy to suffer for Christ.
b. The Purpose for Suffering
Paul says that he is suffering for “you” or the believers at Colossae. He is suffering for them since he is a minister of the Gospel that they have received from him. Because of Paul’s imprisonment, he could not visit Colossae; therefore, he was suffering since he could not visit them and take on the false teachers himself. He was also suffering for the body of Christ, which is the church. Paul was not just suffering for the church body at Colossae, but for the whole body of Christ or the universal church. Paul’s suffering was for the Colossians and for the whole church.
Paul then states, “Fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” This statement has been the source of a great deal of controversy. The Roman Catholics believe that this deals with the suffering of Christians in purgatory. They believe that Christians must fill up or continue suffering for Christ after death since his death was not powerful enough to atone for all their sins. Catholics are mistaken in their teaching and interpretation of this verse, for Paul just finished talking about the power of Christ’s reconciliation in the previous verses. In Col. 2:10, Paul says that Christians are “complete in Him.” This makes it clear that there is nothing lacking that we need to do for salvation. Christ death and resurrection has made it completely possible for us to have eternal life with him.
So what does this statement (“fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ”) mean? It is best to understand that Christ’s death does not lack anything; it is sufficient (John 19:30). The idea is that Paul is receiving some of the afflictions that were meant for Christ. Christ’s enemies wanted to inflict more persecution on Christ, but they could not. Therefore, followers of Christ were the new target. Paul, the former persecutor of Christians (Acts 9:4), was a new target of the enemies of Christ. God had preordained a certain amount of suffering for Paul to endure during his life, and during this time, Paul was filling up that preordained quota (Acts 9:15-16).
Illustration: Polycarp—On February 23, c. 155, a Roman military officer publicly demanded that Polycarp, disciple of the apostle John and the aged pastor of Smyrna, renounce Christ. The old pastor’s famous reply has echoed through history: “Eighty and six years have I served him and he has done me no wrong. Can I revile my King that saved me?”
“I’ll throw you to the beasts!” shouted the Roman. Polycarp told him to bring them on. “Then I’ll have you burned,” the man warned. Polycarp replied, “You try to frighten me with fire that burns for an hour and you forget the fire of hell that never goes out.” An hour later, his body was ashes, his soul with Christ.
2. The Public Proclamation of Christ v. 25-27
Paul was ordained by God to be a minister of the Gospel (v. 23). His ministry was to proclaim the message of God. Paul did not choose this job for himself, but it was directly given from God (Acts 9). Paul was given the role of a steward or servant especially to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16).
a. The Ministry v. 25
Paul was made a minister of God. He saw his role as a servant of God and the church. Paul was not one to promote his authority and dictatorship over the church; rather, he was the servant or even slave of the Lord. In verse 25, it is clear that Paul was given his role from God. God made him the “steward” over his household. His responsibility consisted of fulfilling and preaching the Word of God. In this passage, the usage of the Greek language helps one understand that Paul was especially the minister of the “mystery.” God made Paul the one to unveil the mystery of the prophecies about the Gentile mission. Paul’s commission was to proclaim God’s truths and especially the mystery.
b. The Mystery v. 26-27
What exactly is the content of this mystery? The word for “mystery” in the Greek world is a term that was used to indicate the secret rites of pagan cults, which were revealed only to the members. This idea of a pagan mystery was prevalent in Paul’s day. This is not the way that Pau was using the word. The New Testament calls something that was hidden in the Old Testament but revealed in the New Testament a mystery. This mystery was hidden to the Old Testament saints or past ages and generations. Such newly revealed truth includes the mystery of the incarnate God (Col. 2:2–3, 9); of Israel’s unbelief (Rom. 11:25); of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:7; Rev. 17:5, 7); of the unity of Jew and Gentile in the church (Eph. 3:3–6); and of the rapture (1 Cor. 15:51).
Now the mystery can be revealed...
The mystery that Paul is about to unveil in verse 27 is only revealed to believers. It is only for “saints.” A man without Christ cannot understand or know the power and true meaning of these mysteries. It is only though God that a person can know the mystery. This is not just your ordinary secret though, this is an amazing, glorious mystery with great riches attached to it. Paul reveals the mystery: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The idea here is that Christ actually dwells in the heart of the believer (Rom. 8:9- Spirit dwells in you; 1 Cor. 6:19, 20- Body is the temple of God; Eph. 2:22). This is the source of the “hope of glory.” The Old Testament predicted the Messiah, but those looking for the Messiah had no idea that he would permanently dwell in the hearts of the believers. Christ is dwelling in Gentile believers. There is no need for the Gentile believer to follow the sacrificial rites and customs of the Jewish system, but cause the Messiah dwells within them. Because Christ indwells believers, they can have the permanent, steadfast hope that they will see glory. Believers, both Jew and Gentile, now possess the surpassing riches of the indwelling Christ (John 14:23; Rom. 8:9–10; Gal. 2:20- Christ lives in me; Eph. 1:7, 17–18; 3:8–10, 16–19; Phil. 4:19). 
Because Christ dwelled in Paul, he could preach Christ!
3. The Process of Preaching Christ v. 28a
Paul just finished explaining the mystery of which he had been made the minister. He then goes on to talk about the current ministry that he and his fellow coworkers were involved in. Paul, Epaphras, and Timothy were all involved in the ministry of Christ. They had a process that they followed in the ministry. Their practice included proclaiming, warning, and teaching people.
This is almost a technical term for missionary preaching since it was used of the gospel itself or some element in the gospel.- O’Brien. This word is not talking about Christian instruction; rather, it is a word that speaks of the things that have been done through Christ. This is a proclamation of the Gospel, the mystery, and the whole idea of salvation. Paul’s ministry always started with a proclamation of the Gospel of Christ.
Through the warning, the proclamation of Christ is carried out. This word has the idea of admonishing someone regarding sin, judgment, and repentance. Warning every man is especially important in this context since Paul was warning the Colossians about the false teachers. One stern warning about the heresy surrounding the church can do as much as many teaching on Christian doctrine. (Acts 20:31; Colossians 3:16; Rom 15:14; 2 Thess 3:14-15)
Illustration: You warn a child not to touch fire, you don’t teach them the finer points of the chemistry and make up of the fire. You don’t teach them about the chemical reaction of being burned, you just give them a stern warning! A stern warning can go a long ways.
Application: If someone disobeys Gods Word or is getting close to disobeying, a warning or correction is what is needed. If someone is constantly falling into a moral sin, then preaching the mystery of Christ may not be what they need. That person probably needs warning or correction given to them. If you know that another brother or sister in Christ is being disobedient to God, then it is your responsibility to give them a warning. You will be held accountable for not confronting sin.
This has to do with the positive instruction in Christian truth: especially pertaining to Christ. As Colossians 3:16 says, all Christians are to teach and admonish each other in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:20, it tells believers to be teaching things about Christ. It is especially important that an overseer or pastor be able to teacher. ( 1 Tim. 3:2)
The proclaiming, warning, and teaching must be done in all wisdom. This phrase “in all wisdom” stands against the teachers of the Colossian heresy who boasted of superior wisdom. Their wisdom was speculative wisdom about the “higher worlds.” Their wisdom was only available to the select group of people that came into their mystery cult. He uses the words “every man” 3 times in verse 28. Paul says that God’s wisdom is available to all, and it is truly comes from God.
4. The Purpose for Preaching Christ v. 28b
The goal of Paul’s teaching and preaching was to present every man “perfect in Christ Jesus.” The goal of the ministry for Paul was not just to win souls to Christ, but to bring people to spiritual maturity. This verse is related to Colossians 1:22 talking about “presenting believers holy, blameless, and above reproach in His sight.” This is for “every man.” Paul’s desire was for every man to come to full maturity in Christ. Unfortunately, many reject Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13; Col 4:12; 2 Timothy 2:2)
5. The Power behind Preaching Christ v. 29
Paul was laboring for presenting every man fully mature or perfect in Christ. He was not just working through it own power though. Paul had a secret weapon that helped him endure suffering and hardships. God gave Paul the power! His labors were not futile because God was empowering him! Paul gladly acknowledges that the strength for his labor comes from above.
Illustration: I love BMW’s. They go fast! The problem is though, without fuel, they are just an expensive piece of metal. The fuel that makes the BMW go fast. Christ gives the believer the power to serve and obey him!
Have you ever had a secret that you did not want anyone to know about, but you wanted to tell everyone about it? Some women in the United States are like this when they are pregnant. They find out that they are pregnant, but then they don’t want to tell anyone. They want it to be a secret until they want everyone to know about it- then they want the whole world to know. This secret about the baby is so exciting that the soon to be mother can barely keep it to herself. Finally, she tells her mother. She doesn’t want anyone else to know, but soon she realizes her mother has told 10 people. The mother can’t keep it a secret for long! The pregnant woman then shares with her closest friends that she is pregnant. From that point, it spreads like wildfire, and the pregnant woman wants everybody she has ever known to know about the secret!
This is somewhat like Paul with the mystery of Christ. Paul is like the excited mother that hears the news of her daughter’s pregnancy. Paul wants the whole world to know this mystery or secret.
Christ in you does not make you magically do right and understand scripture, but it means you have the power within you to do right and understand scripture.
Robert J. Morgan, Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000), 763.
John MacArthur, Colossians (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996, c1992), 76.