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Colossians – Paul’s service for the gospel

Posted by on Feb 9, 2011 in scripture | 9 comments

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I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:

The beginning of the study
Preliminary outline
Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
Prayer Part 1
Prayer Part 2
Jesus’ preeminence over creation
Jesus’ preeminence over the church

In the next section of the letter (Colossians 1:24-2:5) to the Colossians, Paul (specifically) transitions from the prayer into his own example of service for the gospel:

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, of 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, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 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. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. For 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, 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, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For 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. (Colossians 1:24-2:5 ESV)

Paul recognizes (and rejoices!) that his sufferings (probably directly referring to his imprisonment, although general sufferings and persecutions could be in view also) serves a purpose in the kingdom of God. Specifically, in this letter, he says that his sufferings benefit the Colossians because he is providing a physical example and thus making up what is lacking in Christ’s own sufferings. So, Paul sees his own sufferings and persecutions as being on behalf of the church (even for those who he has not met personally).

Paul sees himself as a servant of the church (Colossians 1:25) according to the stewardship of God (previously called “the will of God”). He describes his service as “to make the word of God fully known.” In the next few phrases, we learn more about what Paul means by “word of God.” He says “the word of God” is the mystery that had been hidden, but had now been revealed to God’s people (his saints). (Colossians 1:26) To the saints (his children) God has revealed this mystery – the word of God. Here, Paul tells us that the mystery – the word of God – is “Christ among you – the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)

Christ – the word of God – is the one that Paul proclaims (Colossians 1:28). Interestingly, Paul says that “we” (meaning himself and those with him) proclaim Christ through “admonishing” and “teaching.” He will use these same verbs later when he instructs the Colossians to “let the word of God dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another…” (Colossians 3:16). His purpose in proclaiming, admonishing, and teaching is to present everyone as mature in Christ. He does this by working hard with all the energy that God provides for him. (Notice the combination of Paul’s efforts and God’s provision of ability and power in Colossians 1:29.)

Again, Paul makes this part of his letter very personal. (Colossians 2:1) He says that he works hard (“toils”) even on behalf of the Colossians, and Laodiceans, and others who have never met him personally. (So, from this, we see that up until this point Paul had never visited Colossae or Laodicea.) Why does Paul work so hard for them? Previously he said it was to present them “mature in Christ.” Here, he describes this maturity as being encouraged. He says that are encouraged when they are knit together in love and in the assurance of the mystery – which he again describes as being Christ himself. (Colossians 2:2) Why does Paul want them knit together in the assurance that comes from Christ? Because he holds all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:3)

The fact that Christ can give them wisdom and knowledge becomes very important in the next section where Paul warns the Colossians against following human wisdom. Paul begins this warning by explaining the reason he wrote this: So that the Colossians would not be deceived by human wisdom. (Colossians 2:4) The, Paul encourages them again saying that he is with them in spirit, even if he cannot be present in person. (Colossians 2:5)

In this section, we begin to see part of the reason that Paul wrote this letter. He provides himself as an example of someone who is steadfastly following Christ. Because of his trust in Christ, he is serving him by being a servant and messenger of the gospel. For Paul, sufferings and persecutions are not a deterrent to his service, but the very channel through which his service flows. This is a direct challenge to the Colossians (and to all readers) that they must continue to serve Christ and the gospel in spite of any persecutions or sufferings that they may face.

Similarly, we see that Paul’s service to the gospel includes exhortation through admonishment and teaching. As I mentioned earlier, he will later instruct the Colossians to carry on this same type of service. They are just as responsible for living according to the word of Christ and admonishing and teaching one another.

Finally, in this section, Paul begins to warn his readers again turning toward human wisdom, even when that wisdom is backed up by persuasive arguments. Instead, he says to trust Jesus Christ, who alone holds and provides true wisdom and understanding.

What would you like to add to my study of this section of Colossians?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 2-9-2011


    I don’t have anything to add but I would like to ask a question. You made the point that Paul said that the word of God was Christ in (among) you, the hope of glory. Does this contrast with referring to the canon of scripture as the word of God? This is something I have been meditating alot on lately and I would like to have your input.

  2. 2-9-2011


    Well, “word of God” or “word of Christ” can never refer to “the canon of Scripture” as we understand it now. Could the phrases ever refer to the OT Scriptures? Perhaps. In this case, I think Paul specifies what in means. Of course, it would probably be better to translate the phrases as “message of God” and “word which is Christ” in Colossians at least.


  3. 2-10-2011


    it seems to me that Colossians 1:24 is a kind of “hot potatoe” for protestants/evangelicals (and I include myself in this)
    I’m beginning to think that maybe Paul was saying more than “I am the servant of God”, that actually he was truly believing that he was participating in Christ work.
    That sounds very heretical and “catholic” to our “reformed” ears, but this is what is written. (and we could relate it to Jesus’ words in John 17: “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”)
    Glenn Penner, the former leader of Voice of the Martyrs Canada wrote an article which carries the same idea.

  4. 2-10-2011

    I like the way your wording it in the 1st paragraph.

  5. 2-10-2011


    I do think that Paul thought of himself (and all other Christians) as participating in Christ’s work. Or, (perhaps a better way to say it) Paul recognized that Christ was continuing his work through Paul and all other Christians.


  6. 2-13-2011

    Your work with the text is helpful–thank you!

  7. 2-13-2011


    I’m glad it’s helpful! Thanks for the kind words.


  8. 2-13-2011


    In our study, I/we got in over my/our head(s) last week. Tonight, we’re going to take a step back and re-read the text in a large block or two. It was good for me to see your outline and to refresh via some of your comments based on the structures you see.

  9. 2-13-2011


    I like starting with the big picture… reading the entire letter at one time.



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