Colossians 1:23b–29: Christ in You, the Hope of Glory

January 23, 2015

I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.
24I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions
for the sake of his body, that is, the church.
25I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you,
to make the word of God fully known,
26the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations
but has now been revealed to his saints.
27To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles
are the riches of the glory of this mystery,
which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
28It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone
and teaching everyone in all wisdom,
so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
29For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.

Chapter 1 of Paul’s letter to the Colossians culminates in a testimony by the author. He offers a glimpse of his motivation for a very difficult ministry, a tenure that has required tenacity, courage, wisdom, and spiritual power to conduct. There are three themes woven together in today’s passage: the gospel as mystery revealed, Paul’s call as servant of this gospel, and how the gospel has been made known.

The Gospel as Mystery Revealed: The word of God—the Word written and the Word Become Flesh in Jesus—is God’s way of making known his eternal purposes. The Jews certainly had a lengthy and complete corpus of Writings (we call the Old Testament) that demonstrated God’s relationship with his creation (and with them) from the very beginning of time. In these writings, the history of Israel was laid out, God’s expectations for a covenant relationship were made clear, the Commandments were issued, and leadership was instructed and appointed for service over at least two thousand years. All of this activity pointed to the anticipation of a Messiah, the Savior, who would save the people from their sins. Jesus is that Savior. He is announced as the Word Become Flesh, in whom the fullness of God resides. In previous verses, Paul has eloquently expressed the majesty and realism of Jesus Christ and the meaning of his life and death. And now, Paul announces that the same Christ—eternal, present at creation, fully God and fully man, preeminent over all creation—is in you.

By virtue of his indwelling, he imparts the hope of glory. We get a taste of what is to come because the One Who Is, God himself known to us as Jesus Christ, is installing eternal life in us. This is the great news in two parts: Christ’s presence within us, and the knowledge that gives us of our own eternal destiny in the light and life of God’s glory.

What was a mystery to those who came before Jesus is now made known. This is knowledge for everybody, not just an elite few as the Gnostics taught.

Paul’s Call as Servant of This Gospel: We gain some insight into Paul’s motivation for proclaiming this message of hope in Jesus Christ. Remember that he is writing toward the end of his life (as far as we can tell) while under house arrest in Rome. He has been through a lot over a period of at least twenty years, traveling around Asia Minor and Greece, primarily, spreading the gospel. He has counted himself a servant to Christ and his message, and suffering has been a major part of his experience as an evangelist. He sees his afflictions over the years as the natural follow-on to Christ’s sacrifice. If Jesus had ventured forth from Israel, he would have encountered the same resistance Paul was experiencing in his name. It’s Paul’s turn and Paul’s time to continue in Christ’s footsteps doing Christ’s work to establish the church, equip its leadership, and secure its future. It is only Jesus Christ that Paul is serving, no other, and Paul is all in and rejoicing in the fruit of his labor.

Paul’s task as servant of the gospel is “to make the word of God fully known.” By this Paul means the Word Become Flesh, Jesus, himself; but Paul also means the content of the gospel as in transmittable information, interpretation of the Scriptures, and doctrine that will carry the church forward. We have ample evidence that Paul’s task includes both the Word Incarnate and the Word Written in his understanding of his commissioned duty. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 15: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures . . .” and “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, . . .” (1 Corinthians 11:23). And one final example, in 2 Timothy 2: “Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” Jesus acknowledged his role as conveying the words of truth given to him by the Father to share with his followers (John 17:8-17). Yes, indeed, God has made know the mystery of the gospel, so that it is hidden no longer!

The Characteristics of the Gospel Servant: Often in Paul’s letters, he writes personally about what it has cost him to proclaim the gospel in a hostile environment. The road has not been easy for him. So perseverance is the first quality of an evangelist. Prophetic faithfulness is evident in Paul’s ministry too, as he is willing to tell things as they are and help people see their need for the Savior. He is a patient teacher. The Colossians know that he spent three years in Ephesus, until he was sure that he had accurately and completely conveyed the truth about God, humanity, and Jesus Christ in order to build a church there. Paul focused on God’s goals rather than any professional career path the world would dictate. He was a great example of downward mobility, demonstrated by his imprisonment at the time of this letter. And finally, Paul would be the first to tell you how necessary it was to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. All these characteristics came into play to fulfill Paul’s purpose. He was always pouring knowledge and wisdom and insight into those he hoped some day to present to God mature in Christ.

For those of us who may not have a clear, institutionally blessed, position in the church from which to minister are nevertheless challenged. Paul didn’t have one, either, but he sought to uncover the mysteries of the gospel to people otherwise wrapped in worldly points of view. We certainly can do that as we go about our business each day. We can believe that our presence in our homes and communities makes a difference. We can act as though what we say is as important as how we live the life, and that the two messages must meet. We must also be prepared for the reality that gospel witness can be costly. Paul had the moral support of the people who had previously received his message and embraced Christ. Do you?

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