Sorry, due to a technical difficulty no audio recording of this message is available.  However, the sermon notes follow –

 

There are certainly people called to specific ministry roles, but at the same time it’s important to realise that when we are Christian we are ministers, we are servants of Christ and of the church, there’s no opt-out clause in this. In fact, the 5 verses we’ll look at today give us an overview – based on Paul’s own experience – of our approach to ministry; the Biblical reality of what a Christian committed to serving God looks like.

What Paul says in verses 24-29 is very personal, it’s unashamedly about him, it is his philosophy and approach, to all things about ministry.  But because we know Paul’s heart, we know he would not want the focus on himself, that’s not why he writes this.[1] He wanted to accurately model & convey the cost of Christian life and ministry when one’s life is fully committed to the cause, using himself as an example. Is that legitimate? Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1) Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters (Philippians 3:17).

Obviously our main focus is our Lord Jesus, but what better “mentor” could we have other than Paul.

 

Colossians 1:24-29

24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them, God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

 

Paul’s motivation was to build up the Colossians’ confidence in Christ and to encourage and equip them to withstand untruths and heresy. What is that in today’s terms? Any way of life, belief, attitude, philosophy or theology…[2]that opposes Christ or is not aligned with the word of God.

More specifically, he wanted the church to know what Christian ministry looked like; he didn’t want to leave the church thinking that serving Christ was anything less than giving their whole self to Jesus – “to present them fully mature in Christ” – and that, comes at a cost.

Therefore, this morning based on these verses I want us to look at the Definition of a Minister, Proclaiming Christ in Ministry, the Goal of our ministry and finally a Spirit of Joy in Ministry.

 

What does it mean to be a minister?

Answering that starts with Paul’s words at the end of v. 23 “This is the gospel[3]…of which I Paul have become a servant.[4] 

Paul is not talking about a title; he is talking about the function of his ministry. The word refers to menial service and more literally means that of a waiter. Paul was a common minister/servant.

If we look at 2 Corinthians 4:7, he saw himself as a jar of clay, breakable, disposable[5], but useful in the hands of God. Paul also referred to himself as a slave (Romans 1:1) (doulos), even stronger than that (1 Corinthians 4:1) an under-rower (hupéretés).

Slave ships of the Roman Empire had three banks of oars in three levels, one above another. The slaves who sat chained to the bottom oars were called, the “under-rowers”, they were the lowest of the lowest slaves [6]. He was a minister, a slave, for Christ. He had no right to become a minister, he didn’t earn it, he was a persecutor and killer of Christians, but he became a minister by grace (Acts 26:14-16)[7]

 

Put all this together and it gives us a Definition of Ministry. Glamorous?

Paul as a minister had his assigned role appointed by Christ[8]. Ministry though was/is not just Paul’s thing. I don’t see any reason why these verses should be peculiar just to Paul or to the Colossians. Ministry is what we as Christians are all called to[9]. When we are ministers/servants of Christ, we are lowly, humbled, submissive, we are doing a common service, we’re a “third level rower”.

When we understand ministry in this way it cuts across any glory-seeking for self, any promoting ourselves, any right I feel I have for certain positions, any thinking that suggests ministry is not for me. Not our own, yielded to him for him, for his service.

And so whatever our ‘ministry’ is, today’s encouragement is to look at what was true of Paul and his approach to ministry and apply that in our/your, ‘ministry’.[10]

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)

 

Christ Is Proclaimed In Our Ministry

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness…(v.26) He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom

We know Paul was given a very specific calling. Commissioned to present/explain this mystery to everyone. A mystery, hidden for generations, but now disclosed by Paul and others. What was/is that mystery?  Christ in you the hope of glory!

“Christ in you the hope of glory” is open to the public, anyone, irrespective of race, class, gender, intellect, past, or age. Anyone.  As far as Paul was concerned Christians were not to be picky about who could respond to God’s grace and were not to exclude anyone who repented and confessed Jesus as Lord: Christ accepts all who will bow the knee to him. Who should we then proclaim Jesus to, and accept?

Maybe you’re thinking boy I’m glad I’m not called to ministry. We’ve already established you have/are. Paul’s calling was to preach God’s word, however, whatever our gifts or callings, what we learn is that the gospel and speaking about Christ is what every one of us must have in common. You say I’m not a preacher, I’m not an evangelist, I can’t do evangelism…maybe, but the good news of Jesus is in each one of us.

I see nothing in scripture that gives Christians permission to not share the good news of Christ. Our responsibility is to take the word of God to others and offer them the hope of glory and call them to faith, the same faith we have and appreciate.

…how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?…“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”…faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (from: Romans 10:14-17)

We, as ministers of God, are carriers of the word of God bringing to those who don’t know Christ, yet, this message of truth and hope. Christ is proclaimed in our ministry. So it seems to me the key elements of ministry so far are: understanding ministry, bringing the good news of Jesus to those who don’t know him yet and (v.28) encouraging others in faith, that is presenting everyone fully mature in Christ – the goal of ministry…this is what we strive (strenuously contend) for, and that is what will make our ministry effective. Not glamorous, but is what ministry is…

 

Spirit of Joy in Ministry

“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you…” Paul says.

When we’re faithful to spirit-filled, biblical ministry, there will be suffering – different today to Paul. Paul says it is a result of committed ministry, I expect it, but my joy in Christ defines me, joy motivates me. In fact, it would be taking Paul’s approach out of context to separate rejoicing from suffering, because he rejoices in the suffering…he said what?  Joy coexists with suffering. Before I go on I want us to ponder these passages:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me (Matt. 16:24)

Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:21-22)

…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12)

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange was happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:12-13)

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him (Philippians 1:29)

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

Joy coexists with suffering…salvation itself is centred around the suffering and sacrifice of Christ. Paul rejoiced in suffering, he was a servant of suffering and understood completely that serving brings suffering. Read 2 Corinthians which chronicles Paul’s suffering.

How was Paul able to do this? Because the cause of the gospel was worth it, he KNEW suffering comes with the territory of being Christian, that the suffering was temporal and until his physical death or Jesus returned, his grace, literally, was sufficient for him.[11]

I find it interesting the word excruciating (unbearable) – what we feel our suffering is like sometimes – literally means out of the cross[12]

Let’s look at all of verse 24 again: Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

Was something lacking in Jesus’ death on the cross? No. The cross was not insufficient. What was lacking was Paul’s own experience of Christ’s afflictions, not something defective in Christ’s suffering. You know I think of Paul looking in the mirror and seeing a body full of scars from all the treatment/beatings he received, and I imagine him with a huge smile on his face as he recounts his stories and the testimonies of all those whose lives were changed by Jesus. (see Philippians 1:20-21)

Paul rejoiced in filling up in his flesh by receiving on himself the hatred of a world that doesn’t love Christ because Christ was, and is no longer physically present to suffer….and he did so “for the sake of the body”. So no it wasn’t about the cross, it is a willingness to walk through suffering because of the cross. Literally putting his flesh on the line – to see others won for Christ.

What Paul meant: “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions…”

 

How do we view pain and suffering?

Do we resent it and make every effort to keep it at bay? How many times have you turned on your TV and heard someone say “God wants to remove all of life’s difficulties so you can be happy”?[13] This is the seductive message of the world. Who doesn’t want the Jesus who makes life easy, where we’re never sick, never persecuted, have a trouble-free marriage, have plenty of money and always gives us the perfect car park? Seek happiness, self-first at any cost. No, that’s not the Jesus of the bible. God, wants you to die to self to live for him and that might bring you joy.

One of the challenges we have of course with trial and suffering is feeling that God should explain why? One of the great human dilemma’s. Why should God…explain himself? He is loving, he absolutely cares, but he is not subject, to me!

What’s abundantly clear in the New Testament, is that it’s anticipated, it’s expected. It’s a huge matter…for now, I’m curious that Job[14]when he cried out to God for answers, God responded by taking him back to creation: “where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?” (Job 38:4). We cannot comprehend suffering in human terms but only on Gods terms.

“I rejoice in what I am suffering for you” God calls us to live out this word. The story of Joseph is one of the best modern-day examples of what Paul says.

Joseph, an African warrior had attended a Conference in Amsterdam sponsored by the Billy Graham Association – his story was so compelling that Billy wanted to meet him personally. One-day while Joseph was walking along one of the hot, dirty African roads he met someone who shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with him. Then and there he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. The power of the Spirit began transforming his life; he was filled with such excitement and joy that the first thing he wanted to do was return to his own village and share that same Good News with the members of his local tribe.

Joseph went from door-to-door, telling everyone he met about the suffering of Jesus and the salvation he offered, expecting to see their faces light up the way his had. To his amazement the villagers not only didn’t care, they became violent. The men of the village grabbed him and held him to the ground while the women beat him with strands of barbed wire. He was dragged from the village and left to die alone in the bush. Joseph somehow managed to crawl to a water hole, and after days of passing in and out of consciousness found the strength to get up. He wondered about the hostile reception, these were people he had known all his life, thinking he’d left something out or told the story of Jesus incorrectly. So he goes over the message again and goes back to share his faith once more.

Joseph limped into the circle of huts and began to proclaim Jesus. “He died for you so that you might find forgiveness and come to know the living God” he pleaded. Again he was grabbed by the men of the village and held while the women beat him reopening wounds that had just begun to heal. Once more they dragged him unconscious from the village and left him to die.

To have survived the first beating was truly remarkable. To live through the second was a miracle. Again, days later, Joseph awoke in the wilderness, bruised, scarred — and determined to go back.

He returned to the small village and this time, they attacked him before he had a chance to open his mouth. As they flogged him for the third and probably the last time, he again spoke to them of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Before he passed out, the last thing he saw was that the women who were beating him began to weep.

This time he awoke in his own bed. The ones who had so severely beaten him were now trying to save his life and nurse him back to health. The entire village had come to Christ.[15] 

We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Corinthians 4:8-11)

Suffering, trials and hardship are different for all of us. Some of you have/are suffering terribly. For some it’s temporary, others permanent. Do we believe that suffering can coexist with joy? With freedom? With purpose even? If we can adopt a godly and biblical perspective on this, we can find the joy Paul speaks of.  How? By changing our thinking and our language.

We don’t invite Christ into our trial. In faith we know, he knows, we are in him already, in our trial. Our prayers are: “Lord I know you are with me, you know, strengthen me, help me see your grace is sufficient for me”.  In fact, it is only through the lens of suffering that we see Christ, and therefore ministry and mission most clearly, because we know him best when we’re able to share in deepest suffering.

Just one other quick comment: implicit in Paul’s teaching is that suffering is not to be something that’s done in isolation but within the body.[16] Paul wanted his suffering to benefit others and make the faith of others stronger. Paul believed in the solidarity and the mutuality of suffering and of comfort. Where do I get that from? 1 Corinthians 12:26.[17] When one of us suffers, we all suffer. Both suffering and joy spread from one member to the whole. So, perhaps there’s a point here that suggests that Christian life is most fulfilling when in the midst of suffering we’re able to reach out to others, focusing on others’ pain and distress.[18]

 

It is a spirit of joy we have even in any suffering because his grace is sufficient for us.

If you’re a Christian today Christ is in you, He is your hope of glory.  This morning you’re here at Fairfield Baptist Church Hamilton, but before too long you will be experiencing the wonders of the glory of heaven, you might have trials and suffering and worry and anxiety today but you can rejoice, because this life is like a mist and it won’t be long and there will be no more pain but only perfection forever in the presence of Almighty God, we might see darkly now but then we shall see face to face, in the meantime, there’s much to accomplish! Church today can we capture a renewed vision of the cross and how this act, impacts on how I live and what I think and what I commit to? Is my life being lived out as Paul describes, pointed toward Christ?[19] We’re all ministers, we’re all in ministry.

If you’re here today and none of what I’ve said makes sense, let me say this, I would love nothing more than to introduce you to Jesus. …small, narrow, wide, broad, I don’t want to see you on the road, Jesus died for you to secure for you hope in this life and life in eternity…

 

 

[1] We could say these verses point to what our priorities as minister’s look like.

[2] Some of us read and listen to stuff that we take for granted as being biblical truth when it’s not.  If it’s not aligned to the word its false teaching!

[3] Everything Paul has prayed – you’ve been qualified, you’ve received an inheritance, you have been rescued, brought into the kingdom of Jesus, redeemed, forgiven! This is the gospel and it is this same gospel of which we are ministers of as well.

[4] Other versions: “minister”= diákonos

[5] See 2 Timothy 2:20

[6] Adapted from: http://www.biblerays.com/uploads/8/0/4/2/8042023/the_under_rower.pdf

[7] Romans 15:15; 1 Timothy. 1:12-14

[8] “I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant”

[9] Check out Acts; Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12-14

[10] See also Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12-14; Colossians 3:23-24

[11] Christian service and ministry needs that sort of attitude and focus

[12] From “Why Suffering”. Zacharius, R and Vitale, V, pg 55

[13] Often a misinterpretation of Jeremiah 29:11

[14] Where we have the most comprehensive understanding of suffering

[15] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/to-finish-the-aim-of-christs-afflictions

[16] I see nothing in scripture to indicate suffering should be a private affair

[17] If one part suffers every part suffers with it (see also 2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

[18] Paul expresses this best in Romans 5:3–5: “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.”

[19] The answer is how you approach ministry