Staying Faithful in Ministry
Topic: English Passage: Colossians 1:24–2:5
As I mentioned last week, we are pausing our study of Daniel’s prophecy because today is Mother’s Day. We were just ready to learn more about the end times and the Antichrist, but that is going to wait another week.
Our focus today isn’t going to be a false prophet empowered by Satan. We are going to look at the work of a true minister empowered by the Spirit of God.
If you have a Bible with you, I’d like you to turn with me to Colossians chapter 1. This is an excerpt from Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae, and it’s a passage that helps us understand the Apostle’s work and ministry. Look with me at Colossians chapter 1, verse 24. And I am going to read all the way to verse 5 of chapter 2. Colossians 1:24 – 2:5. Here’s what it says.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now 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. 28Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
2:1For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
This passage gives us an amazing insight into the heart and the ministry of the Apostle Paul. And I’ve chosen it for our study today because it’s going to help all of us as we try to faithfully serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, since today is Mother’s Day, I want to point out before we begin that understanding Paul’s ministry is important for all of us, but there is a special application here for mothers. I say that because on more than one occasion Paul compared his ministry to the work of a mother.
For example, shortly after ministering to the church in Thessalonica, Paul sent the church a letter which we now refer to as First Thessalonians. In that letter, Paul reminded the church about his initial ministry toward them. And here's what he writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:6.
He says, “[We did not] seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. ”
That’s a very vivid picture of Paul’s ministry. He compared it to the love and the compassion and the sacrifice and the gentleness of a nursing mother.
Later on, Paul wrote a letter to the Galatians trying to protect them from false teaching. And in Galatians 4:19, he calls them “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” When he ministered to them, bringing them the gospel for the first time, Paul says there was a pain like childbirth. And now, he says, there is that same kind of anxiety in his heart.
If the Apostle Paul, speaking under the direction of the Holy Spirit, compared his ministry to the work of a mother, I think it’s fair to take principles about his ministry and make application to the work of a mother.
So, whether you are a mother or not, the principles we see in God’s word today are going to help you be more faithful as you serve Jesus Christ. As we study God’s word together, I’d like to organize our time under four principles for faithful ministry. Or, if you prefer, four principles for being a faithful mom.
How can I be like Paul. Let’s begin with principle number 1. Here it is: Rejoice in your suffering. Rejoice in your suffering.
I don’t think I need to convince any of you that life is difficult. And I’m sure every mom knows that. Apart from the general pain in this world, life is especially hard when you want to minister in Jesus’ name. If you didn’t care about anything, maybe life would feel easier. But when you care about honoring Christ, and when you care about people coming to know Him and serve Him, that brings a certain kind of pain.
Jesus told His disciples about that pain. He said, “In the world you will have tribulation.” That’s not just because this world is cursed with sicknesses and diseases and bad weather. Jesus said that because He knew just the world would hate His disciples just like they hated Him. He knew persecution was coming.
Paul understood that pain because wherever he went, there were enemies try to silence him and, in some cases, kill him. Death threats were not a one-time thing for Paul. They were a regular occurrence.
Maybe you remember the story from Acts 9 of Paul’s conversion. He was blinded from his encounter with Jesus, and Jesus told him to meet a man named Ananias. Ananias was nervous about meeting with a man who was killing Christians, but Jesus said to him, “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
From the time of his conversion, Paul knew he had been called to suffer. And our passage for today is an expression of that. Paul doesn’t hide how difficult his ministry is. Verse 24 begins by saying, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.” Later in the same verse, he uses the word “afflictions.”
Down in verse 29, Paul says, “I toil… [I’m] struggling.” In verse 1 of chapter 2, Paul says it again, “I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you.”
Sounds to me like that might be a good Mother’s Day verse. “I work hard. I’m struggling. I’m afflicted. This isn’t easy, and it’s all because of my service for someone else.” Paul knew what it was like to suffer on behalf of someone else.
Yet, in that suffering, he rejoiced. Again, that’s the opening line of the passage: I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake. That joy is also the closing line of our passage. Chapter 2, verse 5 says: I am…rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
Despite how much pain we see scattered throughout this passage, it’s all bracketed by joy. Paul rejoices in the pain. He rejoices in the suffering.
Rejoicing in the pain doesn’t mean he enjoys it. If he enjoyed it, he wouldn’t have called it a struggle. But what is it that leads Paul to rejoice? And what is it that should lead us to rejoice in the suffering?
Verse 5 of chapter 2 talks about the joy of seeing fruit in the ministry. That makes sense to us. Verse 24, on the other hand, shows us a different kind of joy. Here’s the key to Paul’s joy. Paul says, “[I rejoice because] in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”
What does that mean? “I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Well, we need to do a little theology here to get a better understand. Paul says that something is lacking in Christ’s affliction, Christ’s suffering. Based on the rest of the New Testament, we know that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was enough to save any and every sinner who comes to Him, right? That’s why Hebrews says Jesus died once for all. That’s why Jesus said, “It is finished.”
If you’re here today, and you don’t know Christ, we want to tell you that forgiveness and salvation is possible only and fully in Jesus Christ, who died and rose from the dead. God is calling you to turn from your sin and trust in Him. And if you want to hear more about that and about what it means to trust in Him, you can talk to me or any of our church members after the service. We’d be glad to do that. We would be glad to talk to you about Jesus, who paid the full price of sin.
Back to our passage, though, if the price of sin is already paid for completely, Paul can’t be saying that his pain in ministering the gospel adds to the salvific effects of Jesus’ sacrifice. What Paul is saying is that his pain makes Christ’s sacrifice more visible. It lets the people see the love of Christ on display. That’s what he’s saying. What’s missing, or what’s lacking, is the people’s understanding of Christ’s suffering.
You and I can read about Jesus, and we can talk to others about Jesus, but something is still missing in that. That was a monumental and historic event, but it’s not something we got to see with our own eyes. What we do get to see, however, is the followers of Christ expressing that loving sacrifice when they serve one another. Does that make sense?
Paul is saying: When you see me suffer because I love you, you’re getting a picture of the love of Jesus Christ which was put on display as He was beaten and mocked and hanged on a cross to die. Because of Paul’s pain, the Colossian church had a better picture of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It was Paul’s pain that made their knowledge of Christ possible.
So, think about the implications of that in your own life and ministry, or in your own role as a mom or a dad or an elder.
If you want someone to know how much Christ loves them, you can do more than give them a coloring page of Jesus on the cross. You can do more than hang a photo of the crucifixion on the wall. You can do more that show them a movie about the crucifixion. You can choose to suffer for their good and give them a living, tangible expression of Christ’s love.
Moms, when you get that daily reminder that life is hard, you can rejoice in your suffering because you know that what you are doing to serve your husband and your children is providing a better picture of the love of Christ. You can rejoice because your pain is for their benefit, even if they don’t see it at the moment. Rejoice in your struggles.
And that applies to all of us, whether you are ministering at home, at work, at church, or in your neighborhood. Rejoice in the suffering. God is working through you, and He is using you to showcase the love of Jesus. People may hear about Christ through your words, but they will see Christ through your love and your painful sacrifices on their behalf. So, again, rejoice in the suffering.
Let’s move on now to our second principle for faithful service or faithful ministry. Principle number 1 was: Rejoice in your suffering. Here’s principle number 2: Remember your stewardship. Remember your stewardship.
Even if Paul wasn’t sure that his suffering was being effective, he was going to continue in his ministry because he understood that he had been given an assignment from God. He was there for the sake of the church. That’s what the end of verse 24 says, and Paul expands on that in verse 25.
Speaking of the church, Paul says, “of which [i.e., of the church] I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints
Paul recognized that he had been given a stewardship from God. That’s the word he uses in verse 25. What is a stewardship? It’s a delegated responsibility. It’s a mission given to you by someone else.
Paul understood that he wasn’t a self-made Apostle, and he didn’t get to write his own job description. Jesus Christ had chosen him for a special purpose, and that purpose, as verses 25 and 26 tell us, is to proclaim the word of God and, more specifically, the message of the New Covenant, to the church. Paul remembered that he had a stewardship. He had been given a responsibility, and he was supposed to be faithful to it.
You and I, as followers of Jesus Christ, also have a stewardship, don’t we? We are here to praise and to proclaim Jesus Christ. We are here to proclaim His truth to anyone who will hear. We are here to give others the word of God.
More specifically, if you are a member of this church, you have a responsibility to minister to your brothers and sisters. You encourage one another. You teach one another. You pray for one another. That’s not an option. That’s not extra credit. That is part of your God-given responsibility. That’s a stewardship. And the way you do that is with the word of God. That’s what equips you to serve, and that is what you give to others.
In the home, for those of you who are moms and dad, we have a special stewardship concerning our own children. For the few years they are with us, we parents have a responsibility. God has given us a job to do.
Paul’s letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians give us a nice summary of that job. Colossians 3:21 says, “Fathers [parents], do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
What’s our responsibility as parents? To be gentle, not domineering, and to show our children the discipline and instruction of the Lord. We are here to train our kids in the path of righteousness. And we find that in the word of God. Our stewardship is to teach God’s word.
Any parent who abandons that responsibility is rebelling against God. And the same is true for any Christian who doesn’t want to take part in the mission of Christ to make Him known throughout the world. Remember your stewardship. God has given you an assignment.
In the case of a mom and dad, He gave you those little ones. And for all of us, He placed us in our own family and in our own church, so that we would serve the Lord and make Him known.
This idea of stewardship brings us to our third principle for today. Principle number 3: Redefine your success. Redefine your success.
For the Apostle Paul, and for us as well, I’d say this is what makes all the difference. We need to define success correctly. What are we aiming for? What’s our objective? Paul knew exactly what the goal was.
The goal was to make Jesus Christ known with the hope that people would become more like Him. That’s the goal. That’s what success looks like as a minister. Jesus Christ is made known, and people look more like Him.
Look again at verse 27. Speaking of the church, the saints of God, Paul says, “To 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.”
How did Paul define success? He wasn’t interested in just giving Bible lesson. He knew that he preached the word of God with a specific goal in mind: That his hearers would see the riches of the glory of Jesus Christ.
That may not have happened every time, but that was Paul’s focus: Jesus Christ. He didn’t want people leaving a sermon being impressed with Paul as the messenger. He wanted people leaving their assembly glorifying Jesus Christ.
And that’s what you and I need to be aiming for as well. We don’t have ultimate control over how people or how our kids will respond, but we do need to make sure we’re coming with the right goal. We want people to know and value Jesus Christ.
That’s the goal of evangelism. That’s the goal of discipleship. That’s the goal of counseling. That’s the goal of friendship. We want people, more and more, to see the glory of Jesus Christ. He is the subject, the substance, and the goal of everything we do.
Look at how Paul says it in verse 28. Speaking of Jesus, Paul says, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”
Paul proclaimed Christ so that the people to whom He ministered would be more like Christ. That’s what spiritual maturity looks like.
And whether you’re a mom or a dad, or a brother or sister in the Lord, we need to keep this goal in mind. We need to define success using God’s word rather than the standards of the world.
More important than teaching your kids how to wash dishes, more important than teaching them how to change a tire, more important that teaching them how to throw a baseball or kick a soccer ball, more important than whether they become a doctor or a lawyer, more important than all of that is whether we teach our children to treasure Jesus Christ. That’s the goal.
If someone comes to you for help and advice, more important than solving their immediate problem is helping that person treasure Jesus Christ in their situation and demonstrated His holiness as well. That’s the goal.
Corporately, when is our church work going to be done? When will we know we’ve made it? Not when we have 500 members. Not when we buy all the properties all around us. Not when we have 50 people on staff. When is our work done? When we all look like Jesus Christ. That’s the goal.
Paul says, “I want to do my part in presenting everyone mature in Christ.” It’s almost as if Paul is picturing himself in heaven and someone who was under his care gets to come in. And when that person is there, fully mature in Christ, Paul thinks to himself, “I did some of that. I played a part in that.” It’s an amazing thought.
That’s why Paul referred to the Thessalonians as his joy and his crown. His joy was going to be seeing them conformed to the image of Christ one day.
You and I have the same opportunity with one another and with our children. What a joy it will be to know that God used us, by His grace, to help someone be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.
Seeing someone be conformed to the image of Christ has an eternal significance, but it also has a present effect. As we, the church, understand Christ more and treasure Christ more, our unity is going to be enjoyed more, and it’ll be more on display. That’s what Paul is pointing to in chapter 2, verses 2 and 3.
Here, again, is Paul’s goal. This is what he wants. This is what he’s working toward. Colossians 2:2—that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
It's easy to counsel someone and talk about your problems. And that's not wrong. Paul talked about his problems. But what we need most is not to get rid of the problems. What we need is to understand more fully the glory and the joy of Christ.
Imagine a child asking his parents at 7 in the morning for a piece of candy. And when the parents say, "No," the child has a fit. He spends the whole day upset and angry. It's Mother's Day, you're going to have all kinds of good food later today. As a parent, we see the ridiculousness of that tantrum. The child doesn't understand the bigger picture. He's upset because he's so focused on one piece of candy.
We do the same thing because we focus so much on our problems and our difficulties. But Paul says the problem is not the problem as you see it. What you need is not to remove the problem. What you need is to have your heart encouraged—not by removing the problem, but by growing in your assurance, understanding, and knowlege of God's mystery, which is Jesus Christ.
Paul knows that the more his people understand Christ, the more they see the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that are in Jesus Christ, the more their hearts will be encouraged and knit together in love, the more assurance they will have in their faith.
The heart to escape difficult, rather than to honor God in our difficulty is the same heart Peter had when he told Jesus, "You will never go to the cross." And what did Jesus say to him? "Get behind Me, Satan." How sad that we have the same approach many times. The work of Satan is to pull us away from Christ.
What a tremendous responsibility and opportunity all of us have, those of us who are members especially, to work for the health and the strength of our church. We proclaim Christ, we point people to Christ, so that, individually and corporately, we would look more like Jesus Christ. Don’t forget that. That is true success. That’s what we’re aiming for.
And in the principle we’re seeing today, we’ve already seen how everything comes from and points to Christ. Our suffering points to Jesus. Our stewardship, our mission, comes from Christ. And our objective is to proclaim Christ and see people be made more like Him. Everything is from, and through, and to, Christ.
We’ve got one final principle for today, and then we’ll wrap up our time today. It’s a briefer point, but it’s so important. If you want to be a faithful minister of Jesus Christ, as a mom or as a dad, or as a member of this church, you need to rejoice in your suffering. You need to remember your stewardship. You need to redefine your success, and now, number 4, you need to recharge your soul. Recharge your soul.
Where do I get that from? I get it from what Paul says in verse 29. Let’s look at it one more time. Colossians 1:29—For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Paul’s ministry was hard work. He faced enemies. He faced opponents. He faced his own physical and spiritual limitations. How was he able to persevere? It wasn’t because he had some innate power. He didn’t take any credit for that. He says, “[I struggle] with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
What was the source of Paul’s power? Or, more accurately, who was the source of Paul’s power? It was Jesus Christ. Paul understood the suffering that would come. He also understood the stewardship he had been given. But he also understood that the power to keep moving forward wasn’t in himself. It was in Jesus Christ.
Moms, dads, brothers and sisters, we need to live with the same understanding. When we feel weighed down by the struggles of life and the pain of ministry, God isn’t calling us to simply dig deep within ourselves. The pains of life are a reminder that we need to rely on Jesus Christ.
Every one of us with a phone knows the importance of charging your battery. We do it every day. We do it religiously. We're terrified of te prospect that we might run out of power during the day. That's how we need to live with Jesus Christ as our source of power. We need to regularly recharge our strength.
If you belong to Jesus, He has placed His Spirit inside you. And even if you can’t accomplish everything you think you should, His Spirit has given you the energy to accomplish everything God expects from you. Christ suffered for you as an example. Christ gave you the mission, and Christ gives you the strength to accomplish His mission. We need to learn to rely on Him. Remember what Jesus said: "Apart from Me, you can do nothing."
Practically speaking, what does that mean? What does it look like to rely on Jesus? It means you go to Him in prayer. As Peter says, you cast your cares on Him because He cares for you. You recognize your weaknesses and your inadequacies, and you go to Him in confession and in praise and in humble dependence.
I need Jesus Christ if I’m going to be a faithful dad, or a faithful husband, or a faithful minister. I need Jesus Christ in order not to be overwhelmed with the struggles and the pains of this life.
So, you go to Jesus in prayer, and you go to Him in His word. I’m so glad we are doing a class right now on quiet time and meeting with God. It’s probably not going to be some revolutionary new teaching in your life, but it’s a reminder we all need about a foundational component of the Christian life. You need to meet with and depend on Jesus Christ. That’s how you reinvigorate, refresh, and recharge your soul.
Moms need that. Dads need that. We all need that, because we are all called to serve Jesus Christ and to toil and work so that His kingdom and His righteousness might be put on display. In doing so, our prayer is that more people would know Him, serve Him, and be conformed to His image.