The Ministry God Entrusted to the Church
Copyright © 1997
Indian Hills Community Church
We return to the study of Colossians after having been out of it for a few weeks. We come into a section that is very crucial for what is taking place in the evangelical church today. It seems that we are adrift and that the church has lost its way There is confusion about its purpose, why it is here and what it is to be doing. What is the ministry of the church of Jesus Christ today? What Paul will be dealing with in the section before this in Colossians chapter 1 will focus on this subject.
In verses 17 and following of chapter 1, Paul has unfolded something of the greatness of the work of God in reconciliation through Jesus Christ, who is the sovereign Creator and Lord of everything. He created everything. All things hold together in Him. In Him as a human being all the fullness of deity dwelt in bodily form. And this One is the One who came and suffered and died that He might reconcile all things to God. Verse 20: "and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross, through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven." We noted in our earlier consideration of this that the emphasis on reconciliation of all things does not mean all things will be saved. But, ultimately, as the result of Christ, everything will be brought into the right relationship of submission to God. And there will be peace throughout all creation. Some of that creation will be in submission in the torment of hell, while other of that creation will be in submission in the blessing of God's very presence.
Paul goes on to speak of that in verse 22: "yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death..." God's intention was to reconcile all things, bring them into the right order relationship to Himself - a relationship of submissiveness. But there is the special work of reconciliation in the lives of those who experience God's redemption in Christ. They are cleansed and forgiven and made new as a result of Christ's death, their faith in Christ and His death for their salvation. And that reconciliation is so full and so final that its end goal, seen at the end of verse 22, is "...to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach." You, the ones who in verse 21, "...were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds," will be presented before Him - Almighty, Holy God - as those who are "...holy and blameless and beyond reproach." It is a salvation that is absolutely sufficient and totally transforming. And it is found in no one else or nowhere else than Jesus Christ, the son of God, who loved us and died for us.
The evidence that a person has experienced and entered into that reconciliation in the full salvation sense is verse 23: "if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard...." This is crucial in light of what Paul will address in chapter 2. False teachers and false teaching were making inroads among the Colossian believers, the church at Colossea. And here is a reminder. Those who have been truly brought to salvation in Christ manifest that by their stability in the faith. They are not swept away. They are not moved away from the gospel. We have muted this emphasis today because we do not like the impact of what is being said. If a person does not stand fast in the hope of the gospel but is moved away from the gospel by the false teaching, he is evidencing the fact that he never entered into that saving relationship with God. That's what verse 23 says: "He has reconciled you in His fleshly body through death if you indeed continue to stand firm." Now you don't become reconciled by trying to be faithful. But those who have been reconciled will stand firm. This is a word of warning to the Colossians. That is why Paul said in I Corinthians 11:19: "For there must also be factions..." - or divisions "...among you so that those who are approved may become evident among you." We see all this false teaching. It is confusing. But the elect stand firm and are not swept away by every wind of doctrine.
Paul says at the end of verse 23 that it is this gospel "...of which I, Paul, was made a minister." That word translated minister is the word from which we get the English word deacon. Paul is saying, "I was made a deacon; I was made a servant." That is what the word basically means. We will see it translated as servant a number of times through the Old Testament. A deacon is a servant. I was made a servant of this gospel, a minister in the sense of a servant. Paul mentions this a number times in his letters. This causes him to elaborate about his ministry as an apostle and preacher of the word of God. This isn't just a digression so that we get to know something more about Paul. But it is foundational with what he has to deal with in chapter 2 when he comes to the false teachers and their teaching. Where does Paul get the authority to condemn these teachers? Where does Paul get the authority to condemn what they are teaching and to declare it a heresy? He gets his authority from God. He has been placed in this position by God. He has been entrusted with a message by God, and it is a message that can not be altered or changed, added to or taken away from. As such, it will be the standard which will be imposed on the teaching that the false teachers are bringing.
This discussion of Paul's personal ministry begins with verse 24 in chapter 1 and goes down through chapter 2, verse 5. This is a great section on the ministry not only of Paul and other apostles but a ministry that has been entrusted to the church of Jesus Christ down to our very day. Here we will have an unfolding of what is genuine apostolic succession, being in the line of the apostles by being in the line of apostolic truth and faithfully conveying that truth to men, women and young people of our day and age. Note how he begins verse 24: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings..." Now, presently, right now, I rejoice in my sufferings. Paul's life was a life of suffering. He is writing this letter to the Colossians from prison in Rome. The suffering was ongoing. It was a characteristic of Paul's life as a servant of the gospel that he was always going through trials and hardships and suffering.
Back up to 2 Corinthians 11:23. This is Paul's fullest unfolding of his sufferings. And I want you to pick up on his use of the word servant or minister here. Again with the Corinthians Paul had to deal with false teachers. Satan's plan is always to bring in counterfeits to try to corrupt the truth of the word of God, to try to confuse the people of God, to try to corrupt and ultimately ruin the ministry of the church of Jesus Christ. It is only by God's grace that he is not successful. And in writing this second letter to the Corinthians, Paul is defending his apostleship. In defending his apostleship, he is defending his message. And he says: "Are they..." - these false teachers - "...servants of Christ? I speak as if insane. I more so..." Note that word servants. It is the same word we have translated minister in Colossians 1:23. It will appear again in Colossians a few verses later. "Are they servants of Christ?" It could be translated: "Are they ministers of Christ, these false teachers. They make that claim. Well, I more so." He adds that this is a foolish way to have to address the subject. He says it's as though he is insane because he even has to talk about it. But, he adds, he is much more a servant of Christ than they are.
Then note that Paul provides evidence that he is a genuine servant of Christ. He says he has suffered far more than they have. For him, suffering was an essential, identifying mark of one who was a faithful servant of Jesus Christ. So in conflict with these false teachers, he tells the Corinthians, "You want to know who the true, genuine servant is? Look at the suffering. I am far more a servant than they are because my sufferings are far greater."
Paul then unfolds his sufferings. "...in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews 39 lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." And those are just the externals. Paul also said in verse 28 that he also had the daily pressure because of his concern for all the churches and their well being, including the church at Corinth. Paul was a suffering servant of the gospel.
You must understand, however, that Paul is not a discouraged, depressed, gloomy servant who is suffering. "Now I rejoice in my sufferings..." he says in Colossians 1:24. And it is consistent with Paul that through his sufferings he is characterized by joy. In 2 Corinthians 7:4 he said, "...I am overflowing with joy in our affliction." Read the list of Paul's sufferings again to get some idea of what Paul's life was like. We then understand that he can say he is overflowing with joy because he had a proper perspective. He is going to write in Colossians why he was suffering and what purposes were being accomplished in his suffering. He kept everything in perspective. He was aware of what the sufferings were doing to him physically. He says in Corinthians 4:16, "...our outer man..." - this physical body - "...is decaying." It is in the process of dying. "...Yet our inner man is being renewed day by day." So he measured what was being done by God through him, not by what it was costing him in the physical realm.
In several passages Paul writes with the assumption that suffering and affliction are a necessary part of an apostolic ministry. But in other passages Paul does not limit suffering and affliction to apostolic ministries. He assumes that it is an essential part of the clear ministry of the word of God. This is the consistent emphasis of Scripture - that inseparably joined to a faithful ministry of the word of God are hardship, trial and difficulty, conflict and pain. Remember when Ananias in Acts 9:15 was sent to Paul after God had confronted Paul on the Damascus road? God told Ananias to go to see Paul "...for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel." And in the next verse God says, "for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake." Paul, humanly speaking, had perhaps the greatest ministry that any individual has ever had in the church of Jesus Christ. And inseparably joined is that he probably endured the greatest suffering of any individual down through church history as well.
Return to Colossians 1:24. "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake..." Now Paul had not personally visited the city of Colossea, but he realized his imprisonment in Rome, the trials he went through and all the persecution he suffered were for the benefit of the Colossian Christians. They actually were benefiting from his ministry because he even wrote a letter to them from the prison at Rome. We're benefiting from that ministry as well because we're studying the message that God gave to Paul while he was imprisoned at Rome. His suffering was, indeed, on behalf of others. Paul goes on to elaborate: "...and in my flesh..." - his physical body - "...I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church..." In Paul's flesh, he was acting on behalf of the church - the body of Christ.
In verse 18 of chapter 1, reference was made that He, Christ, is head of the body, the church. So we're talking about the spiritual body of Christ. Those who have come to know Christ have been brought into His family and are now spiritually identified with Him. He is the head over the body of which they are a part. Paul's sufferings were on behalf of the body of Christ, which is the church. Paul's ministry of the gospel to the world was within framework of salvation for the elect. He wrote to Timothy and said in 2 Timothy 2:10: "For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory." Paul's life was consumed with a focus on the body of Christ. His joy came in seeing others by God's grace become part of that body through faith in Christ and then being nurtured and nourished to maturity as God's people.
Now this next statement has caused much discussion, and much has been written about it - "...in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions." When you first read that statement, it sort of jars you, doesn't it? Catholics have taken this to mean that there is a treasury, a reservoir of the merits of the saints, that we can draw upon to make us more acceptable to God. That's been dealt with thoroughly in the preceding verses of chapter 1 in this letter. Reconciliation was fully accomplished and provided for in Jesus Christ. That is a finished, completed work. So what does Paul mean when he is filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions?
First, I want you to note that Paul sees his sufferings as Christ's sufferings. Paul saw the sufferings that he was bearing as the sufferings that were directed toward Christ. Jesus said to His disciples in John 15:18: "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you." That's the point. The hatred of the world toward the followers of Christ is because of the hatred of the world toward Christ. His followers are just experiencing what comes from being identified with Him. Verse 19: "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you." Now we get confused. "Oh, we must be doing something wrong. We must be too dogmatic; we must be too aggressive, we must be. . ." We must be identified with Christ. That is why the world hates us. Verse 20: "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also." See the connection? Those who have rejected Christ will reject His followers. Those who have received Christ will receive His followers. And verse 23: "He who hates Me hates My Father also." There is an inseparable link between Christ and His Father and between Christ and His followers.
So Paul readily took on the afflictions that were directed towards Christ. Remember when Christ confronted Paul on the Damascus road as Paul was in the process of persecuting the church? Did Christ say, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting the church?" No. Acts 9:4: "...Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" Because the church is the body of Christ, Saul - who became the Apostle Paul - was persecuting Christ while he was persecuting the church. There is an inseparable link. In 2 Corinthians 1:5 Paul says, "...the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance..." Paul didn't get mired down in the idea that his sufferings must be the result of his personality or his preaching. No. He said it is because of the attitude of unbelievers toward truth, toward Christ.
You know, we have a hard time with this. We always want to think people will really love us if they only get to know us. You understand people will really hate you if they get to know you. The disciples were confused by this. After Jesus addressed the Pharisees with truth, it seems the disciples thought He had been a little too blunt. Remember when they came to Him and said, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended by what you said?" Well, do you think Christ didn't know that what He was saying was offensive to the Pharisees? The disciples were saying, "You know, this probably is not the best plan. We are making more enemies than friends. Let's back up." That is what the church thinks today. We have to develop a new plan. We need a new method. The old-fashioned preaching of truth makes more enemies than friends. But you understand that is what happened to Jesus Christ, and there was no Plan B. So Paul saw his afflictions, his sufferings, as those that were directed toward Jesus Christ. Let's face it. If Paul hadn't been identified with Jesus Christ and the preaching of the gospel, he wouldn't be imprisoned in Rome, would he? He wouldn't have been beaten times without number. He wouldn't have been stoned. This all had to do with the fact that he was identified with Christ and the truth that Christ had entrusted to him.
Turn over to 2 Corinthians 4:8, where Paul again is talking about his suffering. Paul talks about his suffering often, but never in the context of "poor me," or "I need sympathy," or "you ought to feel sorry for me." This, incidentally, is in the context where he says he has the treasure of the word of God in an earthen vessel, in his physical body. Verse 7: "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels..." Verse 8: "we are afflicted..." Have you ever heard some people who believe in power evangelism. They think that since we have this treasure in earthen vessels, it means we ought to go around and dazzle people with the power we have. It is not God's plan; it is not the way God is working. Verses 8-9: "we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed."
Note this in verse 10: "always carrying about in the body..." - in this physical body - "...the dying of Jesus...." We are to carry the sufferings that were associated with the death of Christ. Paul said that was his constant companion. His body was constantly experiencing the sufferings like Christ experienced in connection with His death "...so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body." It goes together. I bear His sufferings, and I manifest the dynamic of the new life I have in Him. Verses 11-12: "For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you." Paul is saying that these Corinthians needed to realize that they had the life of Christ because he and the other apostles were willing to suffer in bringing it to them. Other Corinthians were happy. Now they wanted to kick back and enjoy the good life with salvation secure as though the kingdom had come. Not so. But you'll note here that Paul's sufferings are in the context of being identified with Christ.
Paul says in Galatians 6:17: "...I bear on my body the brand marks of Jesus." Paul could stand here today and we'd say, Boy, we have suffered, too, Paul. He'd say, "You have? Wonderful. I am glad to hear it. Let's compare scars." Oh, well, I mean, my friends left and I felt bad about that. "Okay," he'd say. "Go on." Some of my family don't speak to me. He'd look at us and say, "Well, go on." Really?. You want us to tell you more? "Yeah," he'd say. "I mean that is just preliminary. Those are sufferings, but I'm talking about when it really gets bad. How many times have you been in prison for preaching?" Well, none. "How many times have you been beaten?" Oh, none. "Well, uh, we have a different concept of suffering." The danger is we have become acclimated to a comfortable Christianity. But that is a Christianity devoid of the power of God.
You say it is a Christianity devoid of numbers, because we have developed a methodology that enables us to fill large halls, to gather thousands. But it is not the methodology of Jesus Christ. We have learned that the truth is offensive, and people don't want to hear it. So we have stifled the truth under the guise of creating an opportunity as though we are much wiser than Christ when He walked the earth. The Romans had their circus when Paul was preaching. We think this is a new day; the old method doesn't work. But we have failed to appreciate the message of the gospel is inseparably linked to a method. God is pleased by the foolishness of the message proclaimed to save those who believe. We delude ourselves when we say, "Oh, we don't change the message; we change the methods." But we have changed the message to make it fit the method. And we think that we have the power of God because we get great numbers. But the genuine power of God works in and through and only with His truth, be that in large or small numbers.
The preaching of the gospel, the message of the word of God, the connection with sufferings - that's God's method. We have had our conflicts and difficulties as a church. Some of you have come from other churches that had conflicts and difficulties. I want to give you a word of encouragement. If we are faithful, it can only get worse. You say, "I have lost friends because I come to this church. I have family members who don't speak to me." Praise God. Do you not count it a badge of honor to be identified with Jesus Christ, to suffer in the context of Him and His truth? Matthew 10:37: "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of Me." Where do we get this idea that everybody loves us once we become believers in Christ and have salvation secure? Jesus said in John 15:19: "...I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you." Sometimes that world includes friends who have been close to me, family that I have loved. I need to remain firm and to show endurance to the ministry that is true to the word of God.
Come back to Colossians, chapter 1. That is what it means "...in filling up what was lacking in Christ's afflictions. Number one, I am being identified with Christ. These are afflictions directed towards Him. Number two, this is part of the plan of God for Christ to bring the salvation that He provided to the world and to build up the church. In other words, Jesus Christ died on the cross, was raised from the dead and ascended to heaven. What is God's plan for the communicating of this truth in the world today so the elect might hear and believe and be saved? So that the saved might be nurtured and nourished to maturity in Christ? It is through the faithfulness of God's people. Therefore, we are filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions. It was God's plan that Christ would provide everything necessary for salvation through His death, burial and resurrection, but salvation wouldn't be finished then. Now don't get confused. Salvation is complete in Christ, but the work of salvation is not done because that message of salvation still has to be carried to the elect. That, too, is God's plan because Paul says in Romans 10:17 that "...faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." Humans are the instruments that God uses. That's why Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:10: "...I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus..."
How are believers nurtured and nourished? By "...the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation," according to 1 Peter 2:2. So we are filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions because His death on the cross does not in and of itself save someone. That person must also hear the message of the cross and by God's grace believe it. God has chosen to put the message in earthen vessels so that all the glory might go to God. He transforms lives through His power in the gospel. So our sufferings are directed towards Christ. And they are filling up what is lacking because God's plan is that the message of Christ be carried through human instruments, through suffering in that ministry.
Colossians 1:25 begins: "Of this church I was made a minister...." That refers back to verse 24, to the body - Christ's body - which is the church. It is of this church that Paul "...was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed upon me for your benefit...." The word translated stewardship comes from a Greek word. It is a compound word and includes the words for house and for law. It means house law. A steward was one who was entrusted with the oversight or care of a household. Remember Joseph in the Old Testament when he was sold into slavery in Egypt to Potiphar's house? Potiphar put him in charge of his whole household, which meant that Joseph had a stewardship. He had a household responsibility. The picture here is that Paul was entrusted with a position of service, ministry, deacon, in the household of God. Yet a stewardship was also entrusted to him by God. He was made a minister - a servant. He was responsible to carry out what God has entrusted to him as a servant. His ministry "...was bestowed upon me for your benefit..." God gave it to him for the benefit of the Colossians. When we study spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, we remember that all the gifts are given for the benefit of the body. Paul's gift was given to benefit other believers, not himself. Gifts are never given for selfish use. If we understood this basic truth of scripture, a lot of what is going on today under the guise of spiritual gifts would be dealt with properly.
Verse 25 concludes: "...so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God." That was Paul's stewardship as a servant. That was what was entrusted to him. He was to fulfill, literally, the word of God by preaching it faithfully. Isn't that amazing? The sum of Paul's stewardship entrusted to him is that he faithfully proclaim the word of God. It doesn't say a stewardship was given to him to build large churches everywhere or to see mass numbers brought into the church. He was to faithfully proclaim the word of God.
Back up to Acts 20. This connection is important. This is an apostolic responsibility that is passed on, and we'll get into the area of what is true biblical apostolic succession. Paul is meeting with the elders of the church at Ephesus for what he believes will be the last time. He tells them in verse 22 that he doesn't know what the future holds, but in verse 23 he says the Spirit has made clear to him "...that bonds and afflictions await me." Paul says he doesn't know for sure what is in the future, but one thing is certain. The Spirit of God has made it clear that he will suffer and be imprisoned. That didn't bother Paul. He continued in verse 24: "But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself...."
You see, that's the remarkable thing about the Apostle Paul's ministry. He threw himself into it with abandon. This physical body didn't matter to him. You know, we have to pamper our bodies today. You have to take care of yourself, you don't want to become a workaholic, and on and on we go. Well, Paul didn't understand that at all. He says suffering, afflictions and bondage await him, but, verse 24, he doesn't consider his life of importance "...so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus..." What is his ministry? "...to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God." This is the ministry that was entrusted to Paul. This is his service, and nothing is going to keep him from doing so, not even the prospect of death. All that matters is that he fulfills the ministry and fulfills the word of God. He solemnly testifies the gospel of God's grace, and he's going to do it whatever the price, whatever the cost. Verse 26: "Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men." Why? He went about preaching. Verse 27: "For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God." That's it. He doesn't say, "Look at how many people are in the church at Ephesus! That shows my faithfulness." No. What shows his faithfulness is that he proclaimed everything that God gave to him.
He doesn't think he will go back to Ephesus, so he tells these elders, verse 28: "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." Then he says false teachers will infiltrate the body, and he tells the elders in verse 31 to be on the alert. Verse 32: "Now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified." Paul tells them he is turning them over to the word of God. Now their responsibility with the word of God is the same as his was. They are not apostles but there is apostolic succession in the context that the truth entrusted to the apostles is now passed on to others. And these elders are to pass it on. I am not called to build a great and mighty church. I am not called to preach to many people. I am called to proclaim faithfully God's truth, whether it be to few or many. And when I forget that, I begin to look at the methods that are developed today for the purpose of filling auditoriums. But where does it say God has called me to fill auditoriums? He has called me to declare His truth in season and out of season. I don't mind doing it in season. I don't like doing it out of season. But the responsibility does not change.
Turn over to 2 Timothy 1:8. Paul writes his last letter to his young disciple or follower, a trainee named Timothy. What does he say? "Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me, His prisoner..." See the danger of suffering and hardship? You get embarrassed; you become ashamed. Paul had never lost sight. "My sufferings, my imprisonments, they are Christ's. I am Christ's prisoner. I am not Rome's prisoner. I am here because of Christ. Join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God." Paul knew no other kind of faithful ministry of the word of God but that which would stir opposition, conflict, trial and difficulty. He doesn't say, "Timothy, learn from me. I made too many enemies. I was too hard line. Lighten up. Soften up. You will reach more people." No. What does he say? "Get in the apostolic line." Timothy will not be an apostle. But he will be a successor to the apostles because apostolic truth is entrusted to him. Jump down to verse 13: "Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me..." Verse 14: "Guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you." Paul said to the Corinthians, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels." Now he tells Timothy: "I have passed this treasure on to you, and you guard this treasure."
Those who guard this treasure must pay a price. Paul reminds Timothy in verse 15: "You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me..." It is not easy to be faithful with the truth. What happened in Asia? I imagine some decided it was too costly to follow Paul. And some who thought they might follow Paul saw that friends were leaving. They thought they ought to go with their friends. Others couldn't take the family pressure any longer. They thought it was time to back off . "I mean, I want to serve the Lord, but there is no sense in being a fanatic. You end up like Paul." Praise God that we would all end up like Paul. But in Asia it was too costly. All who were in Asia abandoned Paul. What does he want Timothy to do? Learn a more effective way? Develop some different methods? No. Verse 2 of chapter 2: "The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." You see, the line will go on. "Timothy, I heard it from God. You got it from me. You give it to faithful men. They will give it to others."
The power of God works through His word, but we want to help Him out. I was reading an article that appeared in a secular magazine about a church that has developed tremendous methods. The auditorium seats almost 5,000, and they have four services. I believe 2,300 churches have identified with this group to multiply this kind of methodology. The only thing lacking was any kind of emphasis on truth. They wanted to reach more young people, so they did some studies to find out why young people don't come. The young people wanted a rock service, so the church started Saturday night rock services. Now 700 young people come to the rock concert. That's wonderful. If Paul had known, he could have started his own circus. Maybe he could have built some mini-Colosseums, traveled around with his circus, then given little devotionals at intermission. But that is just not the biblical way.
We want God to honor what we are doing, and we think vast numbers are an evidence of His blessing. I'll tell you what an evidence of His blessing is. It's the privilege we have to proclaim His truth in its purity. That is a unique honor. That is the treasure entrusted to us. God has privileged us to know His truth, to be a church that is entrusted with the truth of His word and to give it forth to others. What an honor. What a blessing. We had better guard the treasure. People from Paul down through history have suffered greatly for this treasure, and yet we treat it lightly. We think nothing of moving it to the back burner, of adjusting it to make it more acceptable, of doing frivolous things like trivializing it under the guise of attaching importance to the numbers of people that attend a church.
Paul said in Acts 20:26-27 that he is clean from the blood of all men for he has proclaimed the whole counsel of God. That is what God has raised up this church to be. Paul said to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:15: The church is "...the pillar and support of the truth." This is apostolic succession. We are proclaiming the truth that was given to the apostles and prophets and has been passed down by God's grace through history to us today. By God's grace, may we be faithful and guard the truth entrusted to us, to pass it on, if Jesus tarries, to the next generation. I don't care if we pass on a lot of buildings or if we pass on a large or small church. It will only matter if it was a faithful church - faithful with truth, the purity of God's word.
Come back to Colossians 1:26. Paul was to fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, "that is, the mystery which was hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints." The word which was entrusted to Paul was a mystery. We get the English word mystery from this Greek word musterion. We think of a mystery as something that is a puzzle, hard to figure out. But that is not what a mystery is in the Scripture. A mystery is something that was not known before, but now God has revealed it. And the revelation is clear. It is understandable. So the message that Paul has - the focus of his ministry - is a new revelation from God. It is manifested to His saints, the holy ones, those set apart by God for Himself. Verse 27: "to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles..."
Note here that Paul was in the line of God's eternal purpose. We are in that same line. This is what God willed to make known. Heaven forbid that we make adjustments to help God out of a predicament. Not that many people are interested in what You have to say today, God. But it's not my job to make adjustments for them. I am a servant, a steward in His household. I am to do what I am told. God is capable of taking care of His church. Jesus Christ is the head. We don't need the servants coming up with alternative plans to help God in the development of His body, the church, "to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles," This mystery, now revealed, unfolds the wealth, the riches, of the glory of God. You see what is at stake here. We move to other things. The wealth of God's glory is displayed in this revelation now given. This mystery has to do with the Gentiles. And it very simply is "...Christ in you, the hope of glory." That is a summary of the mystery. For you Gentiles, "Christ in you, the hope of glory." You know what is marvelous about this? It means that God is doing a new work. And this Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah of Israel, is in the Gentiles. And He being in the Gentiles is their hope of eternal glory.
Back up to Ephesians 3:2 where Paul unfolds in detail this mystery which he just summarized in Colossians chapter 1. "if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made know to me the mystery..." See, there the concept again. He was entrusted with a responsibility of God's grace. Paul says in verse 4, "Look, you can understand how I gained my insight into the mystery of Christ. God revealed it to me." What is the mystery? Verse 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; to be specific..." verse 6, here is the mystery: "...that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace which was given to me according to the work of His power." The mystery very simply is that Jew and Gentile are brought together now in one body called the church. The Old Testament spoke about Gentile salvation. The Old Testament spoke about Jewish salvation. The Old Testament never revealed that these two would be brought together in one body, the body of Christ, the church. This is new revelation. Gentiles are seen experiencing salvation in the Old Testament. It is always in the context of Israel. Now here we find God is going to bring Gentile and Jews together in a relationship of oneness in the body. This is something totally new.
That is the foolishness of people who believe that the church is Israel. They will talk about the church in the wilderness in the Old Testament. There was no church in the wilderness in the Old Testament in the sense they are talking about because the church didn't come into existence until Jesus Christ came and died on the cross and was raised. The Spirit of God came in Acts 2. When Peter went to the Gentiles and preached in the house of Cornelius in Acts 10, what did the Jewish leaders do? They called Peter on the carpet and demanded to know what he was doing preaching to Gentiles? See, they had no concept that this new work of God encompasses Gentiles. Paul was given the fullness of that revelation - Jew and Gentile were to be one body in this day called the church age.
Come back to Colossians 1:27. This provision has Christ in us. The person of the Holy Spirit, who is also called the Spirit of Christ in Romans, chapter 8, is the focus. And we are told if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him, so "...Christ in us, the hope of glory." Paul also talked about this hope in chapter 1, verse 5: "because of the hope laid up for you in heaven..." The ultimate realization of the completion of our salvation is our glorification in His presence. Paul says in Ephesians 1:13-14 that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is God's seal, God's down payment, of coming redemption. That is what Paul is saying here. Christ now is assuring Gentiles of the hope of eternal glory.
That's what Paul's ministry is about. And that is the ministry has been passed on from Paul to the Ephesian elders, to Timothy, down through the history of the church to our day. This is what the church is holding so lightly today. We're willing to give less time to the ministry of the word in order to do more of those things that will entertain and be attractive to the unregenerate world. We think God will be pleased because of how many people we attract. How sad. We are called to be in the line of apostolic succession. A truth has been communicated. It is contained in this word. Its focus is Christ and what He is doing in the church today. That is what this church is about. It is about truth.
We should be doing the same thing Paul would be doing if he were here. Or we should be doing what Jesus Christ would be doing if He were here today - offending people by the proclamation of truth, and by God's grace seeing the power of God work in dramatic, supernatural, mighty ways in the accomplishing of God's purposes. That means suffering. There is no way to get around it. You are going to lose more friends. You are going to have more division. You are going to have more conflict. Praise God if He gives us the privilege of being so openly identified with Him that it gets more difficult, not less difficult. God forbid that we should look for easy places to hide so that we are not used as much for Him as we might be. And this is the message of your salvation - Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection - that you must hear and believe. You may be a regular at Indian Hills Community Church and still be lost and on your way to hell. You need to come to grips with the reality of the gospel and your response to it. Sometimes the reason people are so uncomfortable is because they are not members of the family. Family life gets too intense, and they become uncomfortable. Be sure about your relationship with that Christ we are talking about so that you might have the hope of glory. Let's pray together.
Thank You, Lord, for grace that continues.
How we rejoice at the grace shown to
the Apostle Paul, the grace that was shown to Timothy, the grace that was
shown to many
faithful men and women down through the history of Your church. We are
today as one among many churches who have been called together by Your
grace and raised
up to be a pillar and support of the truth. Lord, may we have just as
understanding of our role and responsibility as Paul did. Lord, our
desire is that we would
be as faithful as he was, that we might imitate him as he imitated Jesus
Christ. May it all
be to Your honor and glory as Your power works through Your word in the
of Your purpose in these days. We pray in Christ's name, amen.
Bible Bulletin Board
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Online since 1986