We Rejoice to Suffer for You

Pastoral Pain and the People’s Joy

Bethlehem Baptist Church | Minneapolis

Pastor Kenny focused last week especially on Colossians 1:22–23, where Paul says (verse 22) that Christ has reconciled us in his body of flesh by his death in order to present us holy and blameless and above reproach before him. So the aim of the death of Christ is that we be brought to holiness and blamelessness, so that someday we would be presented — like a bride being presented to the bridegroom — before Jesus with no condemnation, but instead with purity and fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.

So the entire bride of Christ, the church, and every one of us as believers will be presented to the risen Christ holy, blameless, eternally satisfied with the greatness and the beauty Jesus Christ, while he is eternally glorified in us. That’s what Jesus died to bring about.

Then Pastor Kenny dealt very sensitively with the weighty matter in verse 23, namely, that there is a condition for our being a part of that great destiny. You see the word “if” at beginning in verse 23 — we will be presented blameless and without condemnation before Christ, “if indeed we continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel.”

And Pastor Kenny emphasized that none of God’s elect, no true believer, will fail to meet that condition — none of the blood-bought people of God will fail to continue to the end in faith, because, we are “kept by the power of God” (1 Peter 1:5); and because “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:6); and because he who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

So you have three actors in Colossians 1:22–23. Jesus acted by doing the decisive reconciling work when he died. We act as we continue in faith, not shifting our hope from Christ to this world. And God acts in us to enable us to continue in faith and hope. Three actors, all aiming at the same goal, namely, (verse 22) that we be presented holy and blameless before Jesus at the last day — no sin, no guilt, no condemnation, no pain, no sickness, no sadness, everlasting happiness with Christ.

Salvation Every Sunday

Now what Paul does in verses 24–29 is to say this: There’s one more actor fully engaged to help you, Colossians — you, Bethlehem — reach that goal, namely, me, Paul himself. Look with me at Colossians 1:28–29:

Him [Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, [and here’s the purpose, and it’s the same purpose as in verse 22] that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Notice the word “present” in verse 28. It’s the same word as in verse 22 (same in English, same in Greek). Verse 22, Christ died “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Jesus.” Verse 28, Paul proclaims and warns and teaches and toils and struggles in order to present you mature and complete (holy, blameless!) in Christ.

So the goal has remained the same from verse 22 to 29 — namely, to make sure that believers (as verse 23 put it) “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel.” The goal remains the same: keep God’s elect from making shipwreck of their faith! To bring them to maturity, blameless on the day Christ’s coming. To put it simply, the goal is to get us home. The goal is to keep us saved.

“Salvation happens for the saints every Sunday, because eternal security is a community project.”

When I came to this church as pastor in 1980, after a while, someone asked me, “When are you going to preach a salvation sermon, pastor?” And I said, “That’s all I do. Every Sunday I am trying to save the saints, and the lost, and present us mature and holy before Christ at the last day. Salvation happens for the saints every Sunday, because eternal security is a community project.”

In last week’s text and today’s text,

  1. The goal of the death of Christ is to present us blameless to Christ.
  2. The goal of our continuing in faith is to stand blameless before Christ.
  3. The goal of God’s faithfulness in holding onto us is to present is blameless to Christ.
  4. And the goal of Paul’s proclamation and warning and teaching and toiling and struggling is to present us mature and blameless to Christ — holy and happy in him, glorifying him, forever.
  5. And the goal of faithful preachers is to make all of that plain for the sake of your getting safely home — your standing before Christ holy and blameless and joyful on the last day — that’s the goal.

Paul Focuses on Himself

So, the goal of verses 24–29 (today’s text) is the same as verses 22 and 23. What has changed is the actor. In verses 24–29 the pervasive focus is on Paul himself. He’s the one laboring to present the Colossians (and us) complete in Christ. Verse 24, “I rejoice in my sufferings. . . . “In my flesh I fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Verse 25, I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you.” Verse 28, “We proclaim, warn, teach; we present.” Verse 29, “I toil. I struggle with all the energy he works in me.

There’s a lot of Paul in these verses: Paul’s joy. Paul’s suffering. Paul’s ministry. Paul’s stewardship. Paul’s proclaiming. Paul’s warning. Paul’s teaching. Paul’s toil. Paul’s struggle. So one of my questions is this: Paul, if your goal is to present the Colossians mature and blameless in Christ at the last day, why are you talking about yourself so much? Why so much attention to your suffering in your ministry and your stewardship in your toil in your struggle?

I think Paul is very sensitive to that question. You can see how aware he is of what he’s doing in Colossians 2:1–2, “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you. . . .” Why, Paul? He answers that question powerfully and profoundly. In fact, his answer is so amazing that I’m going to save it for the end as the climax of this message. So, instead of first answering the question why is Paul speaking of himself and his ministry, let’s first seek to answer the question how is he speaking? And once we get in front of us how he’s doing it, then will be in a position to answer why he’s doing it.

Since I think verse 24 goes to the heart of why Paul is talking this way, I will save that until the end. So, first, let’s look more closely at verses 25–29.

Minister of God’s Plan and Mystery

Verse 25, “ . . . of which [i.e., of Christ’s body, the church] I became a minister [a servant] according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known. . . .”

That word “stewardship” means “household plan” or “the administration (stewarding) of the household plan.” The picture is that there is a household, and the head or owner of the household has a way that he wants the household to be managed or stewarded or administered. And Paul is saying that when he was converted on the Damascus road by the risen Christ and called into Christ’s service as an apostle to the Gentiles, he was made a minister (or servant) or steward of God’s household plan, which refers to the overarching purposes and plans of God for how he will achieve salvation and accomplish his mission in the world.

To give you a sense of the scope of this household plan, listen to Ephesians 3:8–10 where he uses the same language:

To me… grace was given… to bring to light for everyone what is the plan (the stewardship, Greek oikonomia) of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

This is a massive household plan reaching from eternity to eternity, embracing the entire universe, including all the demonic powers of heaven and hell, and putting the infinite wisdom of God on display.

Now Paul says here in Colossians 1:25 that he became a minister, a servant, of the church in accord with that plan. So he has his place in that plan for the sake of the Gentiles, or more specifically, for the sake of the Colossians at this point. Let’s read it again. Verse 25, “I became a minister according to the stewardship [household plan] from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known.”

In other words, God called me into my place in the plan “for you.” My job as an apostle to the Gentiles is to proclaim and warn and teach and toil and struggle so that you Gentiles, you Colossians, you saints at Bethlehem, find your glorious place in this plan — especially mature and blameless before Christ at the last day.

Mystery Made Known

Then he explains specifically how his particular administration of this plan is going to unfold. At the end of verse 25 he says this: my job is to “make the word of God fully known.” Then in verse 26 he lasers in on the specific dimension of God’s word that he has been specifically charged to make known. Namely (v. 26a), “the mystery hidden for ages and generations, but now revealed to his saints.” That’s what Paul is supposed to make known to the Colossians and to us.

The word “mystery” in the New Testament does not mean something incomprehensible to humans. It means something that has been more or less concealed by God, but is now being brought to light. So, Paul is saying that at the heart of his gospel proclamation is the making known — the revealing — of something that in the Old Testament had not been made fully plain.

In verse 27, he tells us what the mystery is, “To them [the saints he had just referred to, believers in Christ] God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles [the non-Jewish nations] are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ [the Jewish Messiah] in you [non-Jews], the hope of glory.” The reason I give it that twist — Jewish Messiah indwelling pork-eating, uncircumcised, Sabbath-ignoring Gentiles — is because that’s the way Paul meant it. And we can see this focus in Ephesians 3:4–6:

When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ (as here in verse 27), which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs [with true Israel!], members of the same body, and partakers of the promise [of Abraham] in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

In Colossians 1:27b, “Christ in you the hope of glory” is the mystery of the gospel because it means the divine Jewish Messiah is now indwelling non-Jewish Gentiles, and thus embodying and guaranteeing the hope of everything promised to God’s people in the Old Testament. This was almost too good to be true — that all the unclean, Gentile castaways, who believe are part of the people of God. You, a Gentile Christian, are grafted into the covenant with Abraham and by union with the Messiah Jesus you become an heir of all the promises to God’s people. This is the hope of glory. Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Riches of Glory

Notice in verse 27 that Paul does not just say that Christ in us is the hope of glory in the future. He also says that right now this mystery of Christ in you is richly glorious beyond measure. Verse 27, “God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery” right now. Look down a few verses at Colossians 2:2b–3, where Paul refers to “the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

“When we have Christ dwelling in us, we can’t be any richer.”

In other words, when we have Christ dwelling in us — Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge — we can’t be any richer. His presence in us is the guarantee of future glory greater than anything this world can offer. And it is the foretaste now of all the treasures of everything that can be known.

Presenting the Saints

Now Paul says that to make all of that plain, and to help the Colossians and us feel the wonder of our inclusion in the glory of God — to make all of that real to us, he (vv. 28–29) proclaims, and warns and teaches with all wisdom, and toils and struggles. Because if he can be used by God to wake us up to the wonder of Christ in us, the hope of glory, and the presence of glory, then he will be able to present to Christ. In other words, we’ll make it home. We will get to the glory.

How do you fall short? Remember the condition of verse 23: You will stand blameless before Christ in glory “if you do not shift from the hope of the gospel.” And now he has just called it “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (verse 27b).

“The way people make shipwreck of their lives is by turning away from the all-satisfying hope of glory.”

The way people fall short and make shipwreck of their lives is by turning away from the all-satisfying hope of glory with Christ and falling in love with this world. “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me” (2 Timothy 4:10). Will we hold fast to Christ in us, the hope of glory, or will we shift from the hope of the gospel and join Demas?

Why Say So Much About Himself?

Now I close where I said we would: why did Paul, in seeking to preserve the faith and hope of the Colossians — to get them home, bring them to glory — speak of himself and his ministry the way he did in this paragraph. Why not put all the focus on Christ, instead of speaking of his own suffering, his own ministry, his own stewardship, his proclaiming, his own warning, his own teaching, own toil and struggle? Why draw so much attention to your own suffering and toil?

I’ll give you Paul’s answer, and then show you two places where he says it. His answer is this: I speak of my sufferings for you Colossians, I speak of my toil for you, because what you see in my suffering and my toil is not merely mine but Christ’s suffering and Christ’s toil on your behalf. In other words, I want you to see my suffering and my toil as a flesh-and-blood embodiment of the invisible Christ suffering for you and toiling for you and loving you.

First, he says this in verse 24, “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.” To see what he means by “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions,” look with me at Philippians 2:29–30.

Epaphroditus had brought gifts to Paul from the Philippian church to where Paul was imprisoned in Rome — 800 miles by land and sea along bandit-infested roads. And after commending him to the church as he sends Epaphroditus back, Paul says (Philippians 2:29–30), “So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete [or fill up] what was lacking in your service to me.”

Now that’s the same language Paul used in Colossians 1:24 when he said that in his sufferings he is “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” So my suggestion is this: the Philippian church loved the apostle Paul, but their love was distant and unseen. Epaphroditus became the present, visible, flesh-and-blood embodiment of their love and service to Paul. He completes — he fills up — what was lacking, namely, a personal, flesh-and-blood presentation to Paul of their loving service.

And in the same way, Paul’s sufferings for the church are a personal, present, living, flesh-and-blood embodiment of Christ’s love and service to the Colossian believers, and to us, Bethlehem. Paul drew attention to himself and his sufferings because his sufferings were not merely his, they were actually the sufferings of Christ — the love of Christ in Paul. And Paul’s affections for the church were the very affections of Christ through Paul for the Colossians (cf. Philippians 1:8).

Christ Working Through Me

Finally, see this once more in verse 29. “For this I toil [to present you to Christ], struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” Do you think, dear Colossians, that my toil for you and my struggle for you are merely mine? Do you think that my drawing attention to them is drawing attention primarily to me? No. No, it’s not.

What’s happening when I toil and when I struggle for you is that Christ has done a miracle in me. Christ is working in me. Christ is working through me. This is Christ toiling. This is Christ struggling for you, in me. This is filling up what is lacking in Christ’s toil and struggle for you. Namely, present, living, flesh-and-blood embodiment of his toil and his struggle — his love for you.

Knowing Pastor Kenny and the Downtown elders the way I do, I do not hesitate to make this application: when they preach to you, and teach you, and pray for you, and lead you, and toil and suffer for you, know this: you are being loved by Jesus.

And, lest you think I overlooked the third word of our text (verse 24, “now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake”), I end with the word of exhortation to Pastor Kenny and all the pastors and elders: Embody the sufferings and the toil of Jesus for this church with joy. It is an amazing thing to be a steward of the mystery of Christ.