Passionate Truth audio (4MB)
Do you see yourself as one of God’s ministers? Are you excited by the thought that God might have some ministry for you to exercise in his church, or would you rather just sit back and let others do the work? Perhaps the idea of being a minister frightens you? Is ministry the task of those more spiritually able, those of a more godly character? Well let me encourage you, as we look at how Paul describes his ministry, to put yourself in the picture, to see how what he says about himself might also be a statement about you.
He begins on a note of rejoicing. Mind you it isn’t the thing you expect someone to rejoice in is it? He says “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake.” Most of us avoid suffering if we can, don’t we? It’s pretty rare that anyone rejoices when they suffer. I guess we all know that sometimes serving God will lead to opposition and suffering persecution for Christ’s sake. But we normally think we’ll just put up with it, persevere despite it. But Paul says he rejoices in his sufferings. Then he adds this strange statement: “I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” Does he mean that Christ’s death on the cross was insufficient? That more was needed? No, of course not. He makes it quite clear elsewhere that Christ’s death was all that was needed for our salvation. No, I think what he’s saying is that in this fallen world, the suffering that Christ endured hasn’t finished. If the church is to be served with the gospel then there is more suffering to be endured by those who represent Christ. As parts of the body of Christ we will continue to experience the suffering that he endured on our behalf.
So when that suffering comes how will we treat it? As something to be endured? As an imposition? Or will we think of it as binding us more closely to Christ himself? Perhaps that’s what’s in his mind as he think about his suffering.
But let me suggest that there’s even more than that. We’ll see in a moment that the reason for his suffering makes it all worthwhile.
But first listen to what he says about his role as a minister of the gospel. He says “I became the church’s servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known.”
Kim Beasley was wheeled into Barack Obama’s Oval Office last week in a wheelchair. I guess it was a fairly humiliating way to come before the US President for the first time, but despite that I’m pretty sure that he was feeling very proud of his role as he did so. He was there as the representative of the Australian people. The Prime Minister had given him a commission to speak on our behalf to the President of the United States. That’s a great honour isn’t it?
Well Paul is saying the same thing here, but for us the honour is even greater. God has commissioned us to speak to people on his behalf, to bring them the great good news of the gospel. No wonder he rejoices. It’s a great honour.
Do you understand the honour that you’ve been given as one of Christ’s ambassadors to the world? God has entrusted his message to you and me. He’s relying on us to pass that message on. If you think of it like that then you might find yourself willing to undergo all sorts of suffering and hard work to see the task completed.
But it doesn’t stop there. As they say in the classics “But wait, there’s more.”
He begins to expand on how he sees his role as an apostle of Jesus Christ. In fact as we go through you’ll see he actually says most of this twice, just to make sure we get the point.
The mystery hidden but now revealed
He says he’s become a servant of the church so he can make known a mystery. In fact this is the greatest mystery in history. This is a mystery that was hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. (v26)
This idea of a mystery was something well known in religions of Paul’s day. There were certain religions where the novice would be told some of the inner workings of the religion but other information was kept secret until they advanced to a higher level. This still happens today with religions like scientology and especially masonry. The point of these secrets, these mysteries, was that only those in the inner circle knew all the ins and outs of worship and that gave them great power.
But now, Paul says, the mystery that was known only to the inner few, in fact only to God himself, has been revealed. And it’s been revealed not just to the priests and hierarchy, it’s been revealed to the saints; that is to every Christian. It’s a mystery no more. It’s now an open message.
Hope and Glory
Is that good news? Can you see just how good it is? First, notice what the mystery is: it’s “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” I’m reminded of the last day of the Proms when the final performance is always Land of Hope and Glory. Sadly the nation of England hasn’t been able to live up to intent of the words because the hope and glory of the song rest on the ability of the nation to grow and expand it’s power and influence. That’s so often the case with people who strive for glory isn’t it?
We were talking to our son in law the other day and he said “you what this year is don’t you?” “2010?” I said. “No, it’s the year of the doggies”. Apparently this is the year the Western Bulldogs are going to win the premiership. Of course every year around now football fans begin to dream, to hope, for glory for their team. But is that the sort of hope we have? The sort of forlorn hope that depends entirely on the bounce of an oval ball; that relies on everyone staying fit and healthy for the next 9 months and the other teams making mistakes?
No, ours is a sure hope, sealed by the presence of Christ within us. Christ’s Holy Spirit assures us that this hope is fixed and certain.
A message of great riches
That’s why he can say God has chosen “to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery.” How many people waste their money each week buying lottery tickets in the hope of winning a rich prize. How many people have dreamt of getting a letter in the post saying some long lost aunt or uncle has died and left them a fortune? Yet how many of us ever stop to think about the enormous riches that God has poured out on us in making us his heirs.
Paul is overwhelmed by the excitement of his task, of taking this message to the Gentiles so they can share in the (what does he say?) the riches of the glory of this mystery.
And look at ch 2. He says it again in v3: “Christ, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Everyone loves a treasure hunt don’t they? Well, here’s a treasure hunt for you. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ Jesus. If you know Christ you know God himself. If you have his Holy Spirit living within you he will reveal all things to you; he’ll show you how to live, he’ll guide you in right pathways for his names sake. What a treasure!
A message worth the toil and struggle
So you can see why Paul rejoices even as he struggles. He says it again in v1 of ch2: “I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face” This is a message that’s worth the struggle isn’t it? All he wants is to see people grow in their faith; to grow to maturity. Last Tuesday at our communion service we were commenting on the fact that we’re all still learning, still growing in our faith. “None of us is perfect” we’re all a work in progress. Even those of us who have been Christians for years still have some way to go. Again Paul repeats himself: “28It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” Then he says it in a different way in v5: “5For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” The struggle is worth it when you see people growing strong in their faith, holding firm to the truth of the gospel. Maintaining good morale in the midst of the struggle.
God gives him the energy
But finally, notice that this isn’t just a pep talk he’s giving to rally us along. It isn’t dependant on our positive thinking. No the reason he can rejoice, in the end, comes down to this: God gives him the energy to keep going. See what he says in v29: “29For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.” There are times when the struggle gets too hard, when you feel that all you want to do is stay in bed and avoid the real world. I feel like that on my day off sometimes (or is that most times?). There are times when you’re just plain worn out. I’m sure Paul must have felt like that often. Imagine how he felt when he’d been beaten and thrown into some smelly gaol, or stoned by a crowd, or so threatened that he had to be lowered over the city wall in a basket. Imagine how he felt when he had to leave a new church like that in Philippi and he didn’t know whether they’d survived or not. How did he keep going? Well, he tells us doesn’t he? He keeps going through the energy that God supplies. In fact through the energy that God supplies so powerfully within him. There’s no half measures here. The energy and the passion that Paul exhibits is the direct result of God at work within him.
This experience could be yours as well. No matter how old you are or how busy you are or how inadequate you feel, God’s power can be yours as well. He can provide you with the same powerful energy that he gave Paul. You too can exercise ministry in God’s church with passion and energy if you’ll let God lead you.
Ministers of the gospel?
I began by asking whether you saw yourself as one of God’s ministers. Well, let me tell you that if you’re a follower of Jesus then you’re one of his minister’s already. He already has work prepared for you to do. And it’s exciting work because whatever it is, it will lead to the same outcomes as Paul is so excited about here: the riches of glory, and a sure and certain hope; the treasures of knowledge and wisdom; people coming to maturity in Christ; and hearts being encouraged and united in love.
I hope you’re as excited about that prospect as I am.