This Bible study series on Paul’s letter to the Colossians helps us understand the background of the Colossian Christians. These Christians lived in Asia Minor and had the Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Phrygian cultures, religions, and philosophical thoughts surrounding them. The teaching assaulting the Colossian believers most was the early Gnostic teaching about “advance Christianity.” The Gnostics considered all matter evil and spiritual good. For the Gnostics, salvation occurred through advanced thought. This so-called advanced religion caused confusion for the Colossian Christians. (see Background of Paul's Letter to the Church at Colossae)
Paul was a well-educated man. He was a Pharisee of the highest order and had credentials to prove his high-ranking position as a Jew who was well-educated. If Paul preached to Jews, those credentials would help his listeners identify with him. In Colossae, Paul spoke mostly with Gentiles, non-Jews, and so had to help his readers and listeners identify with him and Timothy, his student and helper. To help them identify with them, he said they were of the same faith and from the same geographic region as the Colossians (Colossians 1:1-2). By telling them this, Paul helped the Colossian believers in Jesus trust what he would tell them in his letter about Jesus, salvation, and God. Paul’s identifying with the Gentiles gave his words validity. (see Identification)
Paul prayed to God in Colossians 1:3-8 thanking Him for the Colossian Christians. He thanked Him for the growth in their faith and in their love for God and the saints. Paul said the believers in Colossae bore fruit and matured, which showed their faith. In this opening prayer, he made known to the Colossians he knew Epaphras, their founding pastor. Paul had discipled Epaphras at length. This let the Christians there understand they could trust what Epaphras taught them. Paul said, like himself, Epaphras was a “beloved fellow bond-servant” of Christ. (see Thanksgiving in Colossians)
Paul continued to pray after thanking God, as he interceded for the Colossian believers. In Colossians 1:9-12, he asked God to make the Colossian Christians grow in Christ so they would be well-pleasing to Him. Paul prayed for the knowledge of God to fill them. He asked God to give them His strength, power, steadfastness, and patience. At the end of the prayer, Paul asked God to give these Christians a sense of thankfulness for Him who qualified them to inherit eternal life with the saints and His Son. (see Glorious Might)
Paul spoke of the Father in verse twelve when he interceded to God for the Colossian Christians. In verses thirteen and fourteen, he explained who this Father is. The Father is the One who will give them the gifts for which he prayed for the Colossian Christians. He rescued them because they trusted in Jesus as the Son of God. Paul declared the Father rescued and transferred believers into His Son’s kingdom. With verses fourteen, he segued to teaching about the Son of God when he wrote this Son is the one who redeems. (see Snatched and Delivered)
With verses fifteen through twenty, Paul taught about who Jesus, the Son of God, is. He is the exact embodiment of God. They have the same mind. Paul said Jesus is preeminent over all created things. Jesus existed and created all things with the Father and Spirit ex nihilo, out of nothing. Paul taught that Jesus is greater than all created things, including angels. This teaching blatantly went against the Gnostics who believed angels, as spiritual beings, were superior to Jesus, who they considered just a man. The Gnostics did not consider Jesus equal to God. Paul continued by teaching Jesus holds all things together. He is the Head of the body, the Church. The Father shared His fullness, His superabundance, with the Son. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, enabled reconciliation of people to the Father through His life, death, and resurrection. By these, He redeems each person from the power of sin and death those who trust in Him. Jesus gave His life as a sacrifice for the sin penalty of each person. (see Superabundant Peace)
The last Bible study taught about Colossians 1:21-23. In these verses, Paul used a common teaching/writing technique, conditional clauses. He stated who the Colossian Christians were before they trusted in Jesus, then told them what He wants to do for them. That “then” clause is the apodosis clause. It explains what will happen if someone does something. The “if” clause, the protasis clause, tells what must occur to get the certain reward. In these three verses, Paul told the Colossian believers, if people will trust in Jesus as the Son of God and repent of their sins (protasis, the if), then Jesus will save them from their sins (apodosis, the then). The Father rescues people who desire Him to save them and transfers them to His Son. His Son redeems and reconciles them to God. Nothing else need happen for people to receive salvation from their sins and gain eternal life with God. The Gnostics taught otherwise. (see Attaining Hope)
Why did Paul become involved with people throughout the Roman empire? Why would a Jew care about the Gentiles? The answer to both those questions is one word: Jesus. Because of God’s saving love for one who considered himself most unworthy to receive forgiveness, mercy, and grace, Paul faithfully exercised Jesus’ call on his life. He felt responsible to proclaim the Gospel to unreached people, particularly the Gentiles. In Colossians 1:24-2:5, we will learn why Paul concerned himself with a Gentile church he did not found. This Bible study of Colossians 1:24-29 covers the first part of that reason. It, too, will help us understand how. Paul’s interest in the Colossian Christians occurred because of his call by Jesus. His call was to serve and proclaim.
“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 my filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Of this Church, I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit…” (Col. 1:24-25a [NASB])
Paul said he rejoiced in his sufferings. He did not mean he loved to suffer from afflictions, misfortune, and evil. A person rarely puts him/herself into afflicting situations without a reason. He/she does not experience suffering at the hands of someone else without cause either. A person allows suffering or puts him/herself through suffering to help other people or to grow in knowledge. In Paul’s case, he suffered afflictions at the call of Jesus to proclaim to the Gentiles of the salvation He offers.
Paul, as a redeemed child of God through the salvation Jesus gives, based everything he did on his relationship with Jesus. Paul stated why he allowed himself to suffer and how he could suffer. In the second part of verse twenty-five, he said he went through these afflictions for the sake of the Church of whom Jesus was the head. Paul endured afflictions so the Church could grow closer to Christ, its head, and be used to share the Gospel with other people. In the last phrase of the first sentence, he stated he suffered for Christ. Paul willingly suffered for Jesus and His purpose because of his love for Him and His call on his life. He suffered for the Church because of the love Jesus put into his heart for the Gentiles and His call on his life. Paul willingly suffered so the Gospel of Jesus Christ would spread, and more people would come to know Him as the Son of God, their Savior from sin and death. His agenda was not comfort.
Paul’s suffering afflicted his physical body, yet he rejoiced while going through them. Why was he able to rejoice while suffering? How could he rejoice while living through difficulties? Paul rejoiced while suffering because he kept his eyes on Jesus. He remembered Jesus’ love for him and his calling by Him. Paul rejoiced because of the hope set before him, the prize of the upward calling (Hebrews 12:2, Philippians 3:14). Paul kept his eyes on Jesus and the hope of his eternal reward of living with Him in His kingdom. He rejoiced while suffering because he understood the Gentiles would have this hope, too.
Without keeping his eyes on Jesus and His purpose for him, Paul may have become stuck in the quagmire of his afflictions and troubles. Jesus taught His disciples about keeping their eyes on Him and not the storm in Mark 4:35-41. Just as this explains why Christians can suffer and rejoice, it explains how to rejoice in suffering-by keeping your eyes on Jesus. How could Paul rejoice while living through difficulties? He rejoiced, he said, because he shared, on behalf of the body (the Church) and Christ, the persecution unbelievers wanted to afflict on Jesus. “Filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” does not mean Jesus’ sacrifice was not enough for the salvation of sinners. It means since Jesus was not on earth in bodily form then and the people wanted to persecute Him, they persecuted His disciples as an extension, “on behalf,” of Jesus. The suffering of Christians does not mean salvation is incomplete. It means the Church, the saints, are going toward completion. That completion will occur when Christ returns to earth. The suffering Paul experienced gave him more reason to rejoice because it produced his identification with Jesus (Philippians 3:8-14). When Paul said he was “being crucified with Christ” or for Christ, he meant he no longer lived for himself, but Christ lived in him (Galatians 2:20). Paul understood his afflictions as bearing the dying of Jesus. It meant dying to his right to himself, too. This enabled him to rejoice because of being in a closer relationship with Him and His suffering. Paul rejoiced to suffer, and he bore suffering because of his love for Jesus and because of Jesus’ strength in him. He could rejoice while suffering by keeping Jesus ever forefront in his mind. Paul could rejoice because he understood what reward believing Gentiles would receive. This allowed him to rejoice in his sufferings, to take the Gospel to the Gentiles.
The suffering of Christians does not mean salvation is incomplete. It means the Church, the saints, are going toward completion.
Would Paul have suffered for Gentiles had he not been a Christian? No. Jews considered Gentiles unclean. Paul, who had been a Pharisee, would have avoided them like he did the Samaritans. Being a Christian does not necessarily mean a person would suffer for others. Yet, being a Christian, one whom God called to be His steward, should mean he/she definitely would love others and would willingly suffer for them so they could hear the truth of the Gospel. Jesus taught each Christian is to love all people and share the Gospel. It is part of the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:34-40) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). Paul’s love for Jesus would make him willing to answer the call and suffer for the people whom He loves. Paul was a minister. The word “minister” comes from the Greek word diakonos meaning servant or steward. Paul was a servant to those for whom God sent him. His service included preaching and teaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, loving as Jesus loves, and willingly suffering so all people would come to hear the Gospel. Servanthood means putting one’s self and one’s plans after the love of Jesus and His plans for the people He loves. For Paul, being a minister with the duties given him by God meant doing “all things for the sake of the Gospel, so that I (he) may become a fellow partaker of it.” (1 Corinthians 9:22) Paul was a servant of God and loved Jesus Christ with his whole being. He loved the Gentiles because of Jesus. Since Paul was a Jesus-called minister according to the stewardship of God for the benefit of the Colossians, he rejoiced in his sufferings for their sake to share on behalf of Christ’s body, the Church, in filling up what was lacking in Christ’s afflictions. (Colossians 1:24) His love and obedience meant he rejoiced in his sufferings.
“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, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make know what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose, also, I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” (Colossians 1:25b-29 [NASB])
Paul’s interest in the welfare of the Gentile churches included teaching clearly the full word of God. He took seriously his calling from Jesus, as recorded in Acts 9:1-19. Paul was Jesus’ chosen instrument to take His name before the “Gentiles and kings and sons of Israel.” He realized from that time he was to suffer for Jesus’ name sake (Acts 9:16). How did Paul enact this calling with the Colossian Christians through this letter? He repeated for emphasis he was to “fully carry out the preaching of the word of God.” This means God called him to “minister (serve) according to the stewardship of God.” (Colossians 1:25a) Of what was Paul to preach? To whom was he to preach this message? What was the benefit of this message? To what end was Paul to preach? These are just a few questions Paul answers in these five verses.
Paul said he was to preach the “word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from past ages and generations.” He understood well Jesus made him His servant to tell the Gospel and suffer for it. Paul’s love for Jesus and the people whom Jesus loved compelled him to go forward despite hunger, beatings, and, perhaps, death. This preaching of the word of God, he said, was a mystery, which God hid from past ages and generations. What was this “mystery?” The Gnostics spoke of mystery in their advanced thought as if only they could receive the benefits of the mystery. They spoke as if they were the chosen ones. Only spiritual things were worthy of consideration. Material things were not. Paul probably used the word “mystery” to catch the attention of the Gnostics and the people the Gnostics confused. Even venerated scholars and men and women of faith in “past ages and generations” did not know this mystery of God, he said. By saying “past ages and generations,” Paul emphasized no person since the beginning of time knew this mystery, not even the Gnostics who proudly proclaimed they knew the mystery. He had the attention of most everyone who read and heard this letter in first century Colossae because he spoke of this mystery. Paul wrote to the Colossian Church to teach them clearly about the mystery of God.
In Colossians 1:26, Paul said, this mystery “has now been manifested to His saints.” Who are these saints? The word “saints” comes from the Greek word hagios, which means the set apart ones. The saints are people whom God makes holy and sacred. They are the followers of Jesus Christ, the people made righteous by Him. They are ones who believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The saints are the ones to whom God “willed to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles.” God gives faith to trust in Jesus Christ. These saints understand God’s purpose and plan is that each person believe in Jesus and receive salvation. John stated this in John 3:16 when he wrote, “for whoever will believe in Jesus Christ will be saved.” The saints of God include each person whom Jesus makes righteous by faith in Him.
To answer this question, we need to understand more of what Paul wrote. What mystery did he write about? Since Paul was a master orator and teacher and used lots of clauses, we must break out from the clauses what the mystery is. In verse twenty-five, Paul said he was to preach the word of God. The word of God is the Gospel, the good news of God’s plan for salvation from sin and death and reconciliation with Him. Notice after he wrote “the word of God” he put a comma and said in verse twenty-six, “that is, the mystery.” The mystery is the word of God, the Gospel. To make sure his readers and hearers understood exactly what he meant, Paul said in verse twenty-seven, after many more clauses, “this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The mystery is Jesus Christ’s presence among and for the Gentiles, too. The salvation Christ offers is not just for the Jews. Paul said this mystery, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was unknown by anyone before and is for everybody, Gentiles included. God did not exclude the non-Jews from His salvation and reconciliation plans. He wants all people to return to a righteous relationship with Him. He called Paul to preach and teach His word, the Gospel, to Gentiles and every person. Upon belief in Jesus Christ as Savior, Jesus’ Spirit lives in the believer. Christ’s indwelling a person is “Christ in you.” Christ is the hope of glory, so Christians have the hope of Christ living in them. As Christians, hope is only in Jesus–a certain hope of forgiveness of sins and eternal life with Him in His kingdom, heaven, after His return to earth. That hope of eternity with Christ in His kingdom is what Paul called “the riches of the glory of the mystery.” The riches people get for themselves rot or decay. Only the riches of God’s glory, the glory of the mystery, gives true hope and is eternal. This hope in believers of Christ strengthens them and keeps them until His return to earth. This hope is the hope of glory. Christ dwelling in them is the hope of glory, the hope of being in God’s glory and exhibiting God’s glory within them. Only when a person looks to what is eternal and has his/her hope in Jesus can he/she obey to the point of suffering for Christ’s sake and for the sake of unbelievers. That suffering for Christ shows love for Christ and the love of Christ to other people. Paul proclaimed the mystery of salvation available through belief in Jesus Christ for every person. Assured salvation and eternal life with God is what Paul proclaimed.
Obviously, Paul wanted to be obedient to Jesus’ call on his life, but another purpose for proclaiming the mystery existed. Paul said in Colossians 1:28, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man (person) and teaching every man (person) with all wisdom so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” Paul proclaimed the Gospel, but he did more. He admonished people and taught them with all wisdom. Our English word “admonish” comes from the Greek word noutheteo. Noutheteo means to warn, counsel and appeal positively to the mind of a person by supplying spiritual food while reasonably urging the person to turn to God’s best. Another way to define noutheteo is gentle persuasion of spiritual truths from God. Notice these truths are God’s truths, not human truths. God’s truths come from His character of being true. God’s character defines truth. Man’s truths vacillate depending on what is the intellectual fad of the time. Human persuasion is faulty. Godly persuasion is holy because He is holy. Godly persuasion comes because of God’s love for each person. Human persuasion comes from love of self and one’s thoughts. Paul arrived at this point of wisdom. His desire was to lead each person to accept the truths of God, His love, mercy, grace, and salvation. Because of that, he said he taught “with all wisdom.” This wisdom is the same wisdom Paul prayed for the Colossians in Colossians 1:9. This wisdom is spiritual wisdom coming from God. Believers can receive God’s wisdom if they ask. God gives it when we ask Him and labor for His will. Paul, as a man called by Jesus to tell the mystery to the Gentiles, had an abundance of knowledge of God, His will, and His wisdom. When he taught, he taught the wisdom of God. He would do nothing less because he was responsible to every person with whom he spoke to tell the truth of the Gospel. James 3:1 expresses this responsibility. In it, James, wrote, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” [NASB] Paul understood he bore the responsibility of teach God’s truth because, if he didn’t, God would hold him accountable for leading people away from Him.
Paul was accountable to each person to tell him/her the truth so he/she could be made “complete in Christ.” (vs. 28) Being “complete in Christ” means being perfect and mature because of completing the spiritual journey. Each of us knows we are not perfect. Christians grow toward perfection each day as they live the life God wants and as they grow closer to Him. When a Christian dies and goes to heaven, he/she attains perfection because of Jesus’ gift of salvation. When the mortal body passes away with its sinful passions, full maturity in Christ occurs for the Christian. The end to which Paul preached was to stand rightly accountable to God for teaching and preaching His truth with His wisdom. His other aim was to persuade people gently with God’s truth so they would come to have a personal relationship with Jesus and receive teaching that leads to growth in their spiritual life until God calls them home.
Paul labored because of: 1. the mystery from God, 2. the people who had not heard of the salvation Jesus offers, 3. the truth of the love of God and of salvation He offers to each person, 4. the perfection and maturity each believer gains in heaven, 5. his call from God to minister, 6. his love for God and the instilled love for each person, and 7. his accountability to God and to people to proclaim the truth of the mystery. He did not labor grudgingly for God and other people. That would lead to sadness, not rejoicing in suffering. Paul labored (strove) “according to His power, which mightily works within me.” (vs 29b) Laboring connotes toiling at work with one’s whole being until depleted and exhausted. Paul strove like an athlete or soldier who worked for One who commands him. To this One, Jesus, he gave total allegiance, servitude. Paul voluntarily submitted himself to God. He became His bond-servant. God, as his Lord, gave Paul His power to labor as a minister for Him to each person-Gentile, Jew, slave, free, male, and female (Galatians 3:28). This power of God is the superabundance of His energy that comes from His being. God made His power available to Paul through His indwelling Spirit. Paul could only do these works because of God’s power. He worked with God’s strength and might to do what God called him to do.
Paul was accountable to Jesus and to the people he taught. He was a steward, a servant, to God to minister to people. He labored to proclaim the Gospel by admonishing and teaching. People would understand the mystery of God. They would trust in Jesus as the Son of God. These believers would grow to maturity on their spiritual journey and receive the riches of the glory of this mystery, the hope of glory, life with the Son in His kingdom. Just as Paul identified with the people and Christ, he served both with all he had, even to the point of persecution, trials, and suffering. For him, these afflictions he endured he counted as gain in that he was doing his share to suffer as a follower of Jesus Christ. Paul rejoiced in his identification with Jesus in this way. He rejoiced to serve people, though he faced affliction, to mature the Church, Jesus’ body. Paul could only do these things with God’s superhuman strength and power/might. None of what Paul did would or could he have done and endured if not for His strength, commission, and might.
The Colossian heretics, the early Gnostics, challenged the Christians in Colossae with their philosophical thought on advanced religion. They strove to prove they were right by saying the Gospel Epaphras taught was not enough for salvation. The believers in Colossae were not yet mature enough in their faith to combat them on their own. Paul sought to teach them and admonish others about the mystery of God. The mystery is that salvation through Jesus Christ is enough for each person to have forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God in heaven. For the Gnostics, living with the far-off God was laughable. They found bodily resurrection disgusting.
Paul’s love and obedience meant he rejoiced in his sufferings.
Do you rejoice in your suffering for Jesus Christ?
What have you heard people say that sounds inconsistent with God’s Word? Has it caused you to wonder then waiver in your faith? Maybe you were the one who strove to disprove what a Christian believed by arguing unreasonably with them. Maybe you caused them to doubt their knowledge of God. Do you expect the doubt you instilled in the other will remove the Christian from the hand of God? Do you assume you will gain heaven by reasoning out about what good you can do to earn heaven? Whether you are the person who argued against God’s word or you are the person who listened to another person’s ideas about gaining eternal life, recognize only one way leads to eternal life in God’s heaven. God gives it freely to each person who trusts Jesus is His Son who lived a sinless life, died a sinner’s death, and rose victorious from death to forgive the sins of each person who believes, to cleanse them from the stain of sin, and to give them eternal life with Him in heaven.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son. This is the judgment, that Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” (John 3:16-19 [NASB])
No other way exists to have eternal life and to have the stains and guilt of sin removed from your heart, mind, and spirit. Because Jesus is God incarnate (in the flesh) and He lived a sinless life, only His sinless crucifixion can atone for your sinfulness. He died so you and each person would not have to pay the judgment penalty of death for your/their sins. God is holy and people are sinful. Holiness and godlessness cannot be in the same place. Similarly, light and dark cannot be in the same place.
“For everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:20-21 [NASB])
For next the next Bible study, read Colossians 1-2, especially Colossians 2:1-5.
“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf…” (Colossians 2:1a [NASB])