Albert Einstein, from what hear, was often so focused on his scientific theories that often he neglected even the simplest things of life, such as personal appearance (as evidenced by his hair). One time, Einstein was taking a train out of town for a speaking engagement. As he sat in his seat, engrossed in his work, the conductor stopped by to punch his ticket. Looking up in shock, Einstein realized he didn’t know what he had done with his ticket. Frantically, he began to search his coat pockets, and then his briefcase. Gently, the conductor said, “We all know who you are, Dr. Einstein. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it.” But, as the conductor moved along, he looked back to see Einstein on his hands and knees searching under the seats for his ticket. The conductor walked back, “Dr. Einstein, please, don’t worry about it. I know who you are.” Exasperated, Einstein looked up and said, “I, too, know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going.”
Well, we’re studying the book of Colossians. And the Christians at Colossae had gotten to the point that they weren’t totally sure where they were going either. They heard this incredible message from a preacher named Epaphras about Jesus of Nazareth, His perfect life, His death for our sins, His resurrection, His exaltation, that He is Lord and Judge of all, that one day He’s coming back to end the world, raise the dead, punish the ungodly and bring His people to Himself and to God in a new world, and that if they will make Him Lord of their lives and be baptized in His name and stay faithful in following Him, they’re headed to glory, to eternal life with God in the world to come. Maybe Epaphras confirmed the message with some prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures, maybe he performed some miracles, or spoke of the eyewitnesses of Christ alive after His death. So they believed. They repented to follow Jesus. They were baptized. They’ve been living in accordance with the will of Jesus. But now they’ve been shaken up by certain teachers who are telling them that they’re probably not okay with God; they’re probably not headed there. It’s good that they obey Jesus, but God also wants people to be Jewish, to be circumcised and follow the Law He gave the Jews through Moses. And they’re being told that God wants to see severe treatment of your body, where you’re really hard on yourself; you fast often, don’t sleep on a soft bed, maybe whip yourself a little bit. And you should also give worship to some angels. You need to do all these other things besides just follow Jesus if you want to be accepted by God. So they’re not sure if what Epaphras taught them was exactly right. They’re not for sure where they’re going.
So in our text the apostle Paul tells these unsure Christians that the gospel Epaphras preached to them is the same message that he preaches that he received from God and he is absolutely confident that it’s the word of God, and if they just keep believing and keep living according to what they were taught they’ll be with God in eternity.
Let’s read it, Colossians 1:24-27…
The first thing we have in this passage is…
Confirmation of Paul’s gospel (v24-25)
I think that’s the primary reason that he brings up his sufferings in v24 and his response to them. It is to confirm that he is absolutely for sure that the gospel he preaches is the truth from God.
Let’s first get an idea of what Paul is talking about here when he says “my sufferings”. What does he mean “my sufferings”? Did he have a lot of stress at work? Did he have arthritis or back pain? I’m going read to you from II Corinthians 11 beginning with v23 where Paul feels compelled to list the things that he’d had to suffer for his service to Christ, the price that he had to pay for his preaching ministry. He feels compelled to speak of these things, because there are false teachers in Corinth who are claiming that they are more servants of Christ than Paul, trying to get to the Corinthians to let go of what they were taught by Paul and to take hold of what they teach. So Paul writes, “Are they servants of Christ? [He’s asking about the false teachers.] I speak as if insane [he feels insane boasting like this, but he feels he has to to keep the Corinthians from being deceived] – I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.” Have you ever seen a man beaten almost to death? Like once he’s already incapable of defending himself anymore they just continue to brutally kick and stomp and beat on him? I’ve only seen it in movies and sometimes on the news when they show you a video clip and they warn you just before it shows, “The footage you are about to see is disturbing and may not be suitable for all audiences.” It’s heart wrenching to watch somebody beaten almost to death. Paul had been a victim of that on many different occasions, because of what he was preaching. “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.” Can you imagine? Stripped of his clothing, skin laid bare, hands tied to two pillars at the synagogue so he can’t defend himself and they’d just shred the flesh of his back and chest. Paul suffered that horrible Jewish torture on 5 separate occasions. “Three times I was beaten with rods.” Which was just as bad as the Jewish 39 lashes. It was the more customary punishment that Romans would administer to criminals. “Once I was stoned.” Those stoning him were convinced that he was dead afterward (Acts 14:19). “Three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.” You know you shipwreck back in that day and there are no motor boats or helicopters to come get you. Usually you float around on debris until you die of thirst or hypothermia or something. “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 [People were always out for his life or to at least “teach him a lesson”.], dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship [Often Paul was not paid to preach. So he was laboring at a job like tent making and preaching with the rest of his time.], through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?” That’s the kind of things Paul is talking about when he says “my sufferings.”
When Paul writes Colossians it’s later than II Corinthians. It’s after he’d already been through all of that and more and he had the scars covering his body from head to toe to prove it, and he’s in prison in Rome when he wrote Colossians.
It was the common belief in the day that if a person suffers more than usual it’s because that person is especially sinful and God is against him. You may remember an occasion in John 9 when Jesus and His disciples came by a man who had been blind from birth. And Jesus’ disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” He was born that way for what Jesus was about to do for him. You remember people were saying as Jesus suffered on the cross, “He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him.” “If God is really pleased with this man God will save him from this suffering and this death.” They saw the cross as proof that God was against Him.
Well, Paul was concerned about people looking his abundant sufferings and thinking, “God must be against Paul. It must be that Paul’s preaching is not exactly right and God is trying to shut him up with all this suffering and locking him up in prison.” You can see that Paul was concerned about that in Ephesians 3, which is a very similar passage to the one we’re going to look at in Colossians 1. In Ephesians 3 Paul explains he is absolutely confident that his message is truth from God and his ministry is exactly what God wants him doing. And he concludes in Ephesians 3:13 saying, “Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.” He saying don’t doubt what I’ve preached to you and written to you, because I suffer like I do. Don’t lose heart at my tribulations. They’re no indication that God is against me. Rather Paul says “they are your glory.” They are an honor to you. They are something that God has allowed to happen to me for your benefit.
In Colossians 1:24 I think Paul is saying the same kind of thing. He says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings…” What an incredible statement. “I rejoice in my sufferings. I’m not discouraged by them. I’m not questioning what I preach and my relationship with God because of them. I am joyful in the midst of all my sufferings.” And the point for the Colossians is you should never question what I preach either because of my sufferings.
Then he says my sufferings are “for your sake.” Do you see that phrase? He says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.” I was wondering how could Paul’s sufferings be for the sake of these Colossian Christians? Paul didn’t bring the gospel to the Colossians. This other preacher named Epaphras did. It appears Paul had never even visited these Colossians before. So he didn’t suffer in order to preach to them. So how could he say his sufferings were for their sake, for their benefit? Well, I think in the same sense in which Paul’s sufferings are also for our sake. Do you realize that God has given us a tremendous blessing by having that man Paul suffer like he did, because not only does it give us an inspiring example of perseverance that helps us when we’re having a hard time, and not only does it comfort us to know that it doesn’t necessarily mean that God’s against us if we suffer in this life, but by having Paul suffer so much for his preaching God has given us proof that Paul knew for sure that his message was truly the word of God that saves the souls of men for eternity. He must have been totally confident that he had the truth. How could being beaten almost to death often, being flogged until his flesh was in ribbons, being beaten with rods, being stoned, all the dangers and trials he faced constantly, how could all of that not persuade him to quit preaching and find another hobby? That man knew he wasn’t preaching just some religious theories or interesting concepts. There’s no question Paul was absolutely convinced that he had a message from the God of heaven and earth and that is eternally important for people to hear.
So Paul’s joyful in his sufferings. He knows they’re for the benefit of the church. And notice the perspective he had of his sufferings in the rest of v24. He says, “… in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” That last statement “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” is a very misunderstood statement today. That are groups that use this to teach that the suffering and death of Christ on the cross was insufficient to totally pay for my sins and your sins. And so we must add some suffering of our own to the Christ’s suffering in order to complete the atonement for our sins. It’s the kind of thinking, it seems to me, behind the doctrine of purgatory, that the death of Christ only paid for so much toward our sins, and so some Christians who have the sacrifice of Christ may not have all their sin covered, and so in the afterlife they will suffer for a while in this place called purgatory to finish paying for their sins and then they can go to heaven after they have completed their atonement. But there’s no purgatory mentioned anywhere in the Bible. And I really don’t think that’s what Paul is saying, that the sufferings of Christ on the cross are not quite sufficient to pay for our sins. That idea I think would contradict passages like Hebrews 10:14, “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” That sounds like if we’re sanctified, which simply means set apart as one of God’s people, if we become Christians, then the one offering of Christ makes us totally complete and acceptable to God. What Paul is saying is that the afflications of Christ were not over when He left this earth. The world was not done afflicting Christ when He left this world. Christ is still being afflicted when His body, the church, His people are afflicted. Paul learned this principle in the very first words the Lord ever spoke to him. When he was still known as Saul of Tarsus and he was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians and the bright light appeared from heaven and the voice said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Why are you afflicting me? Why are you causing me pain? And Paul said, “Who are You, Lord?” “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting…” When he drug Christians off to prison, He was afflicting Christ. Remember the judgment day scene painted in Matthew 25 where Jesus says He will say to people “what you did to one of these brothers of mine, or did not do for one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did or did not do it for me.” So Paul knows that God is not angry with Him. He knows it’s not because he’s preaching wrong stuff. It hurts Christ when he suffers, but it’s to give the church proof that the gospel Paul preaches is the true gospel that saves.
v25 Paul states what he’s confident about. v25, “Of this church I was made a minister [He knew his work was what God equipped him for and commissioned him to do.] according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God” A stewardship means that you’ve been entrusted with something that belongs to another. Paul’s gospel was not something he arrived at through his own research and study, which he could be wrong about. It was not something he learned from some other man, who could be mistaken. It was entrusted to him by God. He knows he is preaching the word of God.
So what we have in v24-25 is confirmation of Paul’s gospel. Now, in v26-27 we have…
Content of Paul’s gospel (v26-27)
He wants the Colossians to know that what they heard from their preacher Epaphras is the same message that he preaches that he received from God.
In v26 he says that what he received from God is “the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested [has now been revealed] to His saints“. In other words it’s a new revelation that nobody in all the past ages and generations knew before. And so his gospel is not what the Jews preach. It is not what any other religion teaches. It is not what any wise man or philosopher has ever taught. It’s a new revelation that was kept secret from the past ages and generations.
In v27 Paul speaks of what’s involved in his gospel, what’s involved in the mystery that’s been revealed to him. He talks in v27 about what he calls, “what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles.” In other words what is the richly glorious truth contained in what God has revealed to Paul that has to do with you Gentiles. What awesome truth has Paul received from God regarding us, Gentiles? You know, for 2,000 years prior to Paul’s day back to the time of Abraham, God had had a special relationship with the Jewish people and privileged them in so many ways that He didn’t privilege any other people on earth. God intervened in their behalf when they were slaves in Egypt with the plagues and parting the Red Sea. He freed them. He let them hear His voice at Mt. Sinai and sustained them miraculously in the wilderness. God made covenants with them. And they had the Law that God gave them through Moses. They had all the Scriptures. They had the temple of God. The Messiah came from them. The prophecies said that the descendants of Abraham would be blessed (Is 44:3) and the Messiah would save His people. People assumed that that just meant the Jews. There is a great secret regarding us Gentiles.
And Paul tells us what it is. What is the riches of the glory of the mystery regarding Gentiles? Paul says it is this, “Christ in you [Gentiles], the hope of glory.” In other words it’s not just the Jews that can have the hope of glory. It’s not just Jews that get new bodies and eternal life with God in the world to come. It’s Gentiles too. The condition is “Christ in you.” If any person, Jew or Gentile, has Christ in them, they look forward to eternity with God.
Now, what does that mean, “Christ in you”? Most understand the phrase to mean the literal presence of Christ actually in or among His people. Certainly many passages say Christ is among His people to help and protect them (Matt 28:20; Acts 18:10; Eph 4:10; Phil 1:19; II Thess 3:16; II Timothy 4:17,22). But I think Paul uses this language of “Christ in you” as kind of a summarizing description of what it means to be a Christian. “Christ in you” is being a genuine Christian in a nutshell. I think it means basically being like Jesus. Replacing your misguided way of thinking with His way of thinking, your selfish character with His character, your priorities with His priorities, your heart with His heart. That’s Christ in you. It’s in other words being a disciple of Jesus. A disciple means a learner and follower and imitator of another. It’s one who is in the process becoming like another. We’re going to look at 2 other passages from Paul that use the same language where I think we can see that he’s talking about being a disciple of Jesus.
Galatians 2:20 Paul gives this summary of his life, this is the Christian life in a little bit bigger nut shell, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” That’s what it is to be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus. You remember Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). The cross was an instrument of execution. “Take up your cross” was an statement like us saying, “put your neck in the noose” or “put your head on the chopping block” or “take your seat in the electric chair” or “stand in the firing line.” Jesus is saying you need to kill self, who you are needs to die, and you’re going to need to keep on killing that old self daily, because the old self has the uncanny ability of resurrection and he keeps coming back up and trying to tell you what to do in your life. So daily you need to kill that old self. And follow Jesus, be like Jesus, imitate Jesus in your life. That’s a disciple. In Galatians 2:20 Paul saying that that’s the life he now lives in the flesh. He’s been crucified with Christ and it is no longer he who lives. The old Paul is dead. That old misguided mind, that old flawed way of thinking, that old stubborn heart, that old selfish character is gone. The old Paul is no longer who is in His body. Who’s in Paul’s body now? Whose mind is in there, whose heart and character is now controlling his body and running his life? He says “Christ is in me.” Paul has Christ in him. He did away with his old way of thinking and way of being, and took on the thinking and the character and the heart of Jesus. He is like Jesus now. And that life that he now lives in the flesh he says he lives by faith in the Son of God. In other words it’s because he so trusts Christ. That’s what it means to really trust Christ. It’s not just to acknowledge who He is and what He did for you. It’s to give Him your body and your life. It’s to let His thinking, His will, His character take up residence in you and rule your life. Why does Paul so trust Christ? He suggests 2 reasons. #1 He is the Son of God, which means He is the one exalted over all others, He has the power and authority to take care of us. And #2 He loved me and gave Himself up for me. So he’s not only able to take care of us as the Son of God, but He proved that He wants to more than anything, He proved that He loves us. So the language of Christ in a person in Galatians 2:20 is talking about being like Jesus, being a disciple of Jesus.
Look at another verse in Galatians, 4:19. These Galatian Christians are being deceived and led astray from where they need to be spiritually. Paul is trying to bring them back. And look at how he words it. Galatians 4:19, “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you…” Do you see what Paul’s ministry and his gospel was to bring about in people? Summed up it’s this. Christ formed in them. That’s what a genuine Christian is. It is somebody who has learned about Christ and decided to become like Christ and ever becoming more like Christ.
In Jesus God showed us what He wants of a human being. What did Jesus look like? We don’t know physically. We have no idea how tall He was or the color of his eyes or where he had crooked teeth or not we have no idea. But we know what His spirit looked like. We know He loved God. In His earthly ministry we see Him praying to the Father whenever He got the chance. Sometimes He’d wake up early to have time to pray. We see Him teaching God’s word to people. We see Him driving the money changes out of the temple. He had this zeal for God. And when it was the Father’s will that He bear the sins of man on a cross, He said, “Not My will, but Yours be done.” And we know He loved people. Nobody was unwelcome to Him. He was known as a friend of tax collectors and sinners. People could even bring their little children to Him, and He’d give them His attention and bless in some way. The people who were killing him and mocking as He suffering, He prayed for them, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.” He loved God with all His heart, soul, mind and strength and He loved His neighbor more than Himself.
When a person, Jew or Gentile, looks at who Jesus is and listens to His teaching and sees His mind, His way of thinking, and because of what He’s done for us and His promises, they’re motivated to change, to kill the old self and to be like Him, and though they’re not perfect, not exactly like Jesus, they’re committed to being like Him and they’re developing more and more into His likeness… that person has the hope of glory. When the mind and heart of Jesus is in you controlling your body and running your life, you look forward to resurrection in a new body and never ending life in a new world without any of the problems of this world. And Paul was absolutely for sure that that is the word of God, so sure that no amount of suffering in this life would ever persuade him to quit preaching it.
– James Williams