June 23, 2010 David Balzer

Colossians 1:24-2:5: Portrait Of a Servant

Suffering and servanthood. They’re words that roll off the tongue pretty easily. We all know they’re jargon words for Christians.

But I wonder whether we REALLY know what they mean?

We say we want to do MINISTRY. And there’s a certain CREDIBILITY in Christian circles to say you’re in ministry. MINISTRY means a high profile job that gets lots of recognition. Ministers of the church are popular, and important, and appreciated and respected … Right?!

But minister just means SERVANT. And, when push comes to shove, when ministry calls for work that’s awkward or uncomfortable or scary or difficult. When it takes hours and hours of time. And nobody notices. Often our first reaction is to look around for someone ELSE to do the MINISTRY.

James Fraser knew what it meant to be A SERVANT. He began work as a missionary to the Lisu people in Burma in 1911. He was 25. He was an accomplished musician and a Science graduate of London University. His whole life in front of him. But he gave it all up for the sake of his Master.

And he worked among the Lisu people for 14 years before his first furlough. Fourteen years of back-breaking, lung-busting walks through high mountain passes to isolated villages. Sleeping on hard bamboo beds. Bouts of malaria or typhoid fever.

But he endured it all GLADLY. For the sake of his Saviour and his people. What spurred him on was the exhilaration of overwhelmingly warm welcomes, and generous gifts. Evening was time for God’s Word. The villagers would sit at his feet, and he would patiently teach them. And he’d teach them to sing.

He died in Yunnan Province in 1938 of cerebral malaria, leaving behind a wife and three children. He was 52.

Servanthood and suffering. James Fraser knew what those words meant.

And Paul knew what they meant too. At the start of v25, he calls himself a SERVANT of the church. And as he goes on to describe what that involves, there’s no glory and glamour and recognition. Paul describes how he SUFFERED for the sake of the church. A servant of the church who was prepared to struggle and labour and endure pain.

And it’s a portrait we need to take a close look at. Because SERVANTHOOD is what ministry IS ALL ABOUT.

A friend of mine used to be a youth worker. And one of his jobs was to train new youth leaders. He told me about a sophisticated new training technique he developed. It was a training weekend called something like, “Principles of Christ-centred Leadership!” (Sounds impressive doesn’t it?)

He’d take the young people, prospective new youth leaders, to a campsite maintained by the church. No doubt they expected a seminar, or series of lectures on the theory of youth leadership, or perhaps some planning sessions.

But for the whole weekend, this group of potential youth leaders DUG OUT THE NEW SEPTIC PIT.

“Principles of Christ-centred Leadership!”

The lesson they learned pretty quickly was that Christian leadership is about GETTING YOUR HANDS DIRTY. Often nobody notices. Christian leadership is primarily about working LONG, and working FAITHFULLY. It’s got nothing to do with fame or recognition or respect!

Leadership is SERVANTHOOD. That’s Paul’s message.

1. The servant’s lot (24)

And the reason is because Christian leaders follow JESUS, the SERVANT KING.

And because JESUS suffered. That’s the lot of Christian leaders, too. See how it worked for Paul? There in v24?

(Col 1:24 NIV)  Now I rejoice in WHAT WAS SUFFERED 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.

Notice there’s a sense in which Paul’s sufferings are CONNECTED to Jesus’ sufferings. He says his sufferings FILL UP what’s LACKING in Christ’s sufferings. They’re THE LOGICAL OUTWORKING. The END RESULT.

Jesus certainly PROMISED anyone who followed him would suffer. Jn 15:18.

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ IF THEY PERSECUTED ME, THEY WILL PERSECUTE YOU ALSO.

In fact, it’s what Jesus promised PAUL HIMSELF would receive. Jesus said to Ananias in Acts 9:15-16

“Go! This man (Paul) is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. {16} I WILL SHOW HIM HOW MUCH HE MUST SUFFER FOR MY NAME.”

So Paul expected it. He puts the connection a little differently over in 2 Cor 1:5.

For just as THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST FLOW OVER INTO OUR LIVES, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

That’s the way we should understand v24. Not that there’s something DEFICIENT in Christ’s death – that it doesn’t save us – and that Paul has to ADD something to his salvation.

But that servants of the SUFFERING servant will ALSO suffer. They CONTINUE Jesus’ sufferings. Or COMPLETE them. The logical consequence. Christ’s sufferings FLOW OVER into the lives of his followers.

That same passage in Acts 9 draws the connection between Christ’s sufferings and those of his followers even MORE tightly. Jesus says to Saul, who’s persecuting THE CHURCH, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute ME?”

The church is Jesus’ BODY. There’s a connection. When his BODY, the church, suffers, Jesus SUFFERS TOO. The persecution Paul and the other Christians experience is persecution that Jesus HIMSELF suffers. It’s COMPLETING Christ’s sufferings.

(pause) But Paul doesn’t just suffer. He REJOICES in suffering. Most of us men are terrible patients. We moan and groan when we get so much as a sore throat. But not Paul. He REJOICED!

Which doesn’t mean he ENJOYED it. But that he could see the PURPOSE in it. He could see it was FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHURCH. He says it twice.

Now I rejoice in what was suffered 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.

If you look down through the rest of the paragraph, you can see what that PURPOSE IS. His sufferings are in the process of TELLING THEM ABOUT Jesus. Paul REJOICES in suffering because it’s DURING HIS SUFFERING THAT THE GOSPEL HAS BEEN PROCLAIMED. Pain is a small price to pay for gospel fruit. And so he rejoices.

Like fruit pickers. By the end of a long day in the hot sun. Their backs ache, their hands are raw, they’re hot and exhausted. But they’ve got baskets and baskets of plump ripe fruit. It’s all WORTH IT! And they can CELEBRATE at the end of the season.

What’s OUR attitude to suffering for the gospel? Let me suggest it’s the wrong way of looking at things. Because Paul didn’t LIKE suffering. He wasn’t a MASOCHIST. But he rejoiced DESPITE suffering. He rejoiced BECAUSE OF HIS ATTITUDE TO THE CHURCH. It was because the gospel was producing such great fruit IN THE CHURCH, that Paul rejoiced.

So a better question is “What’s our attitude TO THE CHURCH?” Do we VALUE this group of God’s people enough to go through pain to live out the gospel?

Teaching Sunday School can be tough. You miss out on the second part of church. You miss out on catching up with people. But our kids are VALUABLE. Do you value God’s people enough?

Turning up to a mid-week Home Group can be a struggle. The week seems to fly past in a blur. And you’re TIRED. But meeting together to build each other up, and to pray – it’s IMPORTANT. For YOU, and for the others in your group. Do you VALUE God’s people ENOUGH?

Inviting people over for lunch or dinner can be difficult. There’s the inconvenience, and having to clean the bathroom. There’s knowing what to cook, and the awkward silences in conversation. But encouraging each other is IMPORTANT. Do you VALUE God’s people enough?

The Council Community Christmas Carols are coming up. And our Christmas Guest services. And helping out, or inviting someone, puts you WAY out of your comfort zone. Conversations about Jesus with people you’ve never met? Bunches of noisy kids? Awkward rejections to invitations?

MUCH EASIER to just stay home. But building bridges into our community is IMPORTANT. Do you VALUE God’s people enough? Paul did – enough to REJOICE in suffering for them.

2. The servant’s commission (25-27)

To proclaim the word of God

Next point. The servant’s COMMISSION. His job description. Paul could endure persecution for declaring the gospel because God’s COMMISSIONED him to DO it. See there in v25?

(Col 1:25-27 NIV)  I have become its servant by the COMMISSION GOD GAVE ME to present to you the word of God in its fullness.

The Word of God in its fullness: It could be teaching the Bible IN GENERAL. But remember they only had the Old Testament at that stage. What REALLY excited Paul was what God had MOST RECENTLY communicated. A message ALL ABOUT JESUS. See down there in v27?

(Col 1:25-28 NIV)  …to present to you the word of God in its fullness– {26} the mystery that has been kept hidden etc… THE GLORIOUS RICHES OF THIS MYSTERY, WHICH IS CHRIST IN YOU, the hope of glory. {28} WE PROCLAIM HIM, admonishing and teaching everyone

Paul’s job is to make the mystery known. To shout the secret from the rooftops. And the centre of that mystery is Jesus.

But Paul doesn’t just say to present the Word of God. His job is to present it IN ALL ITS FULNESS. A more literal way of translating the phrase is that Paul’s commission is “to FULFIL the word of God”. To make it COMPLETE. To FINISH it.

Because that’s what you do with a secret – a mystery. A secret is MADE to be revealed. A secret is fulfilled, or made complete, only when it’s exposed. And that’s what Paul’s job is.

And perhaps there’s a little dig at the false teaching Paul’s up against in Colossae. They talked about fullness TOO. And they said it wasn’t enough to JUST have Jesus. They said you needed to ADD to him to be REALLY spiritual. You needed to keep certain rules. Follow certain practices. Then you’d REALLY be full.

But Paul said back in v19 that all the FULLNESS OF GOD dwelt in Jesus. And HERE he says THE FULLNESS of God’s MESSAGE is JESUS. Nothing more, nothing less.

And a few verses on, in 2:2, Paul says his job is to make known the mystery of Christ, IN WHOM ARE HIDDEN ALL THE TREASURES OF WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE.

Fullness!

But Paul goes on. The mystery is not just Christ. But CHRIST IN YOU. So, what might THAT mean?

The mystery – something hidden in the Old Testament, but now revealed with Jesus’ ministry – was that God’s salvation plans were FOR THE WHOLE WORLD. For GENTILES like the Colossians/ as well as Jews. See it there in at the start of the verse? God’s used Paul

TO MAKE KNOWN AMONG THE GENTILES the glorious riches of this mystery

The Jews had always EXPECTED God to send the Messiah. A JEWISH Messiah. And they’d always expected that he’d send his Holy Spirit to fill every believer. Every Jewish believer. The prophets had promised those things. But what HADN’T been so obvious was that these promises were FOR GENTILES TOO!

The mystery revealed – that Christ would dwell in GENTILES, through his Holy Spirit! It was incredible news!

And look at the next phrase. “Christ in you- THE HOPE OF GLORY”. We get Jesus with us NOW. But it’s only a TASTE. An ENTRÉE. The main course is still coming. God promises that ETERNITY will be DWELLING AMONG HIS PEOPLE. In Rev 21 he promises

“NOW THE DWELLING OF GOD IS WITH MEN, AND HE WILL LIVE WITH THEM. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

And a bit further on he says (v6)

To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I WILL BE HIS GOD AND HE WILL BE MY SON.

None of the separation and frustration and disconnection we experience NOW with God. Christ in us, his Holy Spirit, is a TASTE of the connection we’ll have with God forever. But more than a TASTE, it’s a DOWN-PAYMENT. A GUARANTEE of God’s ownership of us, and that one day he’ll take us to himself.

That’s the hope of glory Paul was proclaiming to the GENTILES. The glorious riches FOR THEM TOO.

3. The servant’s effort (1:29)

What?

And a message like that. A Saviour like that. Is worth everything you can give. Paul proclaimed it with every breath he could muster. v 29. (next point, the servant’s EFFORT)

(Col 1:29 NIV)  To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

Paul was no super-Christian! Things weren’t EASY for him. He LABOURED and STRUGGLED. Which is an encouragement and a challenge. It ENCOURAGES me when I find the Christian life tough work. When I feel like I’d rather just pamper myself, rather just sit in a chair and read a book. Than be a servant to other people.

EVEN PAUL needed to keep struggling. So it’s okay for ME to admit that it’s HARD WORK. Struggling is just what SERVANTS DO.

But it’s also A CHALLENGE. Because often we take tough times as some sort of guidance that God wants us to move on.

  • “Home group’s not as easy as it used to be. God must want me to STOP.”
  • “I don’t get on with people at church. God must want me to move churches.”
  • Evangelism is too uncomfortable. It’s obviously not my gift. I’ll leave it to someone else.

But that’s the reality for anyone who follows Jesus. He was the servant who suffered. Who STRUGGLED. So we should expect the same.

And the amazing thing Paul found/ was that as he obediently and steadfastly stuck at it, even when he felt like giving up, God worked THROUGH his efforts. He BUILT ON Paul’s own struggles with HIS ENERGY and POWER.

To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me

I enjoy watching the Tour de France. And the best sprinter in the field for the last couple of years – the one with the most powerful legs – has been Peter Sagan. He somehow even manages to pull wheelies after riding up mountains in the French Alps.

How did he do it? Strong legs. And big gears. And incredible fitness. But it’s HIS TEAM MATES who lead him to the line. They act as a wind break for the final few kms. They EXHAUST themselves, with Sagan sitting at the back of the train of riders, taking it easy. First the front rider moves aside, and lets the riders behind come through, then another rider and another. Until finally, with 100m to go, the timing practiced to perfection, the second last rider peels out of the way, leaving Sagan with a clear run, a final lung-busting sprint to the finish line.

His team mates don’t GIVE Sagan any power. It takes all his own energy to cross the line. But it’s as he’s pedalling with all his might, that the effect of the wind break from his team becomes noticeable. The greater his speed, the more they cut through the air for him.

And it’s the same with the cooperation, the partnership between us and God. The more Paul strives, the greater God’s power empowers him.

There’s a terrible slogan out there among Christians, “Let go, and let God”. In other words, just relax and God will do his work through you. Like a limp rag doll. Or a marionette. It’s the Thunderbirds school of Christian discipleship!

But it’s utter nonsense!

WORK HARD at what God gives you to do, because your eyes are on the end. Your eyes are on serving Jesus. On serving His church.

Study hard. Use your brain. Persevere with patience. Keep giving when no one says thank you. Keep serving when no one notices. Keep praying when there seems to be no answer. Keep loving when there’s no love in return.

Keep LABOURING. And God’s strength will EMPOWER you.

It’s your hard work that’s EVIDENCE OF YOUR FAITH in God’s empowering strength.

4. The servant’s goal. 1:28b; 2:2-5

And as Paul labored, his eyes were ON THE END. Where he was headed with all his labouring. The servant’s GOAL. Look at the second half of v 28.

(Col 1:28 NIV)  We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, SO THAT WE MAY PRESENT EVERYONE PERFECT IN CHRIST.

Paul’s goal was to present EVERYONE PERFECT, or MATURE in Christ. It wasn’t about SELF-improvement, or promotion. It was all about THE MATURITY OF THOSE HE WAS TEACHING. And then in Ch 2 v 2, he describes what that looks like.

My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, {3} in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

a. Knit together by love

Lots there, but let me pick up two things.

Maturity is seen in people who are UNITED IN LOVE. The Greek has the sense of being “knit together by love”. It’s a servant-heart for other people. That puts them first. It’s LOVE which knits people together.

That’s a sign of maturity. And it’s the goal Paul was heading towards. How are WE going? Are we being knit together by love? Or are we UNRAVELLING?

How can YOU show love? In PRACTICAL ways? By actions and words. By thoughtfulness. By “wasting some time” with people. By writing a card. Or making a phone call. Or lending a helping hand. Or offering to pray.

That’s the way you can do your bit in knitting us all together.

b. Knowing Christ:

Secondly, maturity is seen by KNOWING CHRIST. (The end of v2). The full riches of complete understanding. Knowing the mystery of Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. That’s FULLNESS! Knowing his love, his mercy, his compassion, his justice, his righteousness, his lordship. Don’t settle for anything LESS. Don’t try to add anything MORE.

Read the Gospels over and over. Let the character of Jesus FILL you. Pray for his Spirit to give you a LOVE for him. A desire to be LIKE him. A SATISFACTION in loving and following him.

(pause) Be careful when you PRAY like that, though. When you pray for a greater experience of Christ. (A greater SATISFACTION in him). Because the way God often TEACHES us those things is to FORCE US TO LEAN ON HIM. To DEPEND on him when we can’t stand on our own.

He does it by removing OTHER things we take satisfaction in. Like health, or friends, or employment, or stability.

Or he can do it WHILE we SERVE THE CHURCH. Like Paul. SUFFERING for the sake of his church.

It’s during SUFFERING we can EXPERIENCE Christ’s love, his mercy, his compassion, his justice, his righteousness, and his lordship.

When we put ourselves out again and again in service for Christ and his church. That’s when we begin to EXPERIENCE his energy working powerfully within us. And the PEACE his Spirit gives. And the HOPE. The hope of glory.

That’s FULLNESS. That’s MATURITY. That’s the picture of the church that Paul’s aiming for. It’s a church like this that Paul is prepared to suffer for. In fact, that he REJOICES in suffering for.

Paul valued the church SO MUCH that he’d put up with almost anything. How much do YOU value the church? How much do YOU value these people that God’s joined you together with? How much will you give for them?

James Fraser, the Chinese missionary, VALUED his people. And he was willing to give up nearly EVERYTHING for their sake. And DID. But listen to how he described his people in his autobiography. And his experience of SERVING them. And see if his description matches your experience of God’s people.

“You who pity me, and think I’m losing father and mother and houses and lands, don’t know that I’ve already received the ‘hundred-fold’ in mothers, brothers and sisters. On those Lisu mountains, I had typhoid fever among them, and there I was, far away from medical aid, or even friends of my own colour.

 

I was delirious for a time, and in between delirium I would come to, and find my Lisu fathers and mothers kneeling on each side of me, holding my hands, and weeping and praying. For one mother’s love I have gained a hundred, for one brother or sister’s – many hundreds”.

No wonder James Fraser valued the people of God so highly. He valued them enough to suffer.

No wonder PAUL valued the people of God so much.

How much do YOU value God’s people?

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