Sunday School Lesson for November 9, 2003


Focal Teaching Passage: Colossians 1:24-2:5


Suffering and Mystery (1:24-27)


Verse 24

In this section (vv. 24-27) of his epistle, Paul shared with his Colossian brothers and sisters some of the critical details of his calling and ministry. As his audience would have certainly realized, it was filled with instances of suffering and hardship. However, despite the presence of constant pain and tribulation, Paul chose to “rejoice in my sufferings.”  Richard Melick observes that the apostle actually suffered in two ways. Paul suffered “the attacks of those he sought to reach with the gospel, and he suffered at the hands of the Jews who sought to stop the advance of the gospel” [238].  Note that he was convinced that his painful tribulations benefited his Colossian friends—it was in some way for “your sake” that he endured such difficult experiences (cf. 2 Tim. 2:10).  That his sufferings ultimately served others gave Paul grounds for constantly rejoicing in the midst of personal hardship. As Herbert Carson explains, this is a critical point in this verse:


We may see here how far removed is the Christian attitude to suffering from the Stoic. The later may bear with calm resignation whatever fate may choose to send him.  But the Christian goes beyond mere endurance, and rejoices because he sees his sufferings as part of the divine purpose and so he gladly accepts them as a means of fulfilling his part in the eternal plan of God [50].


Paul’s determination to serve the church is further evidenced by his resolve to “do my share” in “filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Biblical scholars have variously interpreted this admittedly difficult phrase. However, it in no way suggests that Christ’s atoning death on the cross was incomplete or less than fully sufficient to accomplish the salvation of those who believe.  Rather, it seems to be a way of stressing at least two truths about Christian suffering:


  • First, though God was fully satisfied with Christ’s atoning death, the enemies of the gospel were not [see William Hendriksen, Colossians, 86-87].  In other words, since Jesus was no longer physically present, the violent hatred of His enemies was turned to His followers. It is, therefore, in this way that “all true believers are in [Christ’s] stead supplying what, as the enemies see it, is lacking in the afflictions which Jesus endured” [87].


  • Secondly, this verse highlights the fact that suffering will characterize the life of the church until the time of the Second Advent. That is, the suffering of God’s people has an eschatological purpose.  According to Jesus Himself (Matthew 24:1-14), tribulation and suffering will be the experience of believers right up until the time that He appears in victory. In this regard, Paul may have been indicating that as the tribulations and difficulties of God’s people escalated, it would be a clear sign that final redemption was near. 


Verses 25-27

In this section Paul explained how he came to be a “minister” or servant of the church. He was “made” a minister of Christ’s church and of the gospel by God Himself who “bestowed” on him a unique “stewardship.”  This description brings to mind Paul’s dramatic conversion and his special calling to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1-15). In other words, he was divinely appointed and called of God to this unique task—a task and role that specifically benefited his Gentile friends in Colossae.  The special focus of his work was to “fully carry out the preaching of the word of God” (v. 25).   In verses 26-27 Paul described in greater detail the message he was called to proclaim:


  • The gospel is a “mystery which has been hidden from past ages and generations” (v. 26).  For Paul the word “mystery” described a “truth which lay hidden in the pages of the Old Testament, and its explanation awaited another day” [Melick, 241], or “a person or a truth that would have remained unknown had not God revealed him or it” [Hendriksen, 88]. However, through the life and ministry of Christ and the preaching of the apostles this mystery—the gospel itself—“has now been manifested to His saints” (v. 26). That is, it is now clear that the Old Testament spoke of Christ and His work of redemption (cf. Luke 4:17-21; 24:27). 


  • Even more directly, the mystery specifically included “the Gentiles” who were among those “to whom God willed to make it known (v. 27). All of this indicates that the mystery is Jesus Christ Himself “in all his glorious riches actually dwelling through his Spirit in the hearts and lives of the Gentiles” [Hendriksen, 89].  The phrase “hope of glory” looks forward to the Second Advent when the “dawn of the new day [of salvation] will reach its zenith” [Carson, 53]. To summarize, Paul spoke of the presence of Christ in the hearts of Gentile believers as a divine mystery that had previously been hidden in the types and shadows of the Old Testament (for example see Gen. 22:18; 28:14; Ps. 72:8; Isa. 54:2; Mal. 1:11). However, following His resurrection and ascension, this mystery—that God would save men from all classes and tribes through His incarnate Son— had been fully exposed and triumphantly proclaimed.  



Admonishing and Teaching (1:28-29)


The methods Paul employed in serving his Lord as well as the message he preached are the subjects of these verses. Like the other apostles, Paul could declare that “we proclaim Him.” This demonstrates that the core of the apostolic preaching was Christ Himself—the preeminent Lord and King of the universe—the fully divine God-man who came to make peace through His cross (1:19-20).  His method involved both  admonishing every man”—meaning to encourage, warn, stimulate, or otherwise call believers to take the proper course of action—and “teaching every man”—meaning to make an “orderly presentation of Christian truth” [Melick, 242].  Additionally, Paul’s ministry of admonition and teaching was performed “with all wisdom.”  That is, he sought to lead his disciples to practically apply the content of his instruction in such a way that God was glorified.  Note the repeated emphasis upon “every man.”  This indicates Paul’s determination to involve every believer in the life and work of the church and to see that each follower of Christ reached full maturity.


In verse 29 Paul made it clear that it was “for this purpose I also labor, striving according to His power which mightily works within me.”  Thus, he took his God-ordained calling very seriously and, like an Olympic athlete in training, persistently carried out his mission with intense focus and concentration.  However, he did not rely upon his own strength or powers of endurance but, rather, depended fully upon the energy granted to him by the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Thess. 1:5). 


Ultimately (v. 28), Paul’s aim was to “present every man complete,” or fully mature, “in Christ” at the Second Advent when He would appear in glory and judgment.  William Hendriksen powerfully summarizes the key themes of this verse by observing that


there was no wide gulf between Paul’s admonishing and his teaching.  For him abstract doctrine did not exist. Neither did Christian ethics suspended in mid air.  On the contrary, Paul’s teaching was done with a view to admonishing; his admonishing was rooted in teaching. Accordingly, the apostle never proclaimed a Christ who was a Savior but not an Example, nor a Christ who was an Example but not a Savior. Christianity for Paul was, indeed, a life, but a life based on a doctrine [emphasis his, 92].



Struggling and Rejoicing (2:1-5)


Here we learn more about the profound love and concern Paul had for the Christians of the Lycus valley.  He spoke of how “great a struggle he had on their behalf as he prayed for them and reflected upon their growth as Christian disciples and their service of God’s kingdom. The scope and depth of his pastoral interest in them is even more impressive when we understand that many of whom he spoke had never even met Paul—“all those who have not personally seen my face” (v. 1).  In verse two, Paul stressed two specific concerns for his friends:


  • He desired that their “hearts may be encouraged” and “knit together in love.” This is essentially a prayer that the members of Christ’s body would be personally strengthened (against the destructive and divisive winds of false doctrine) and unified by the mutual experience and sharing of Christ’s love. Here, the self-sacrificing love that Christ has for His bride is seen as a great unifying force.


  • Secondly, the apostle wanted them to come to a deeper and fuller “knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself.”  In contrast to the false teachers who employed “persuasive argument” (2:4) and spoke eloquently about secret knowledge and mystical wisdom as a means to salvation, Paul located the source and fountain of all true “wisdom and knowledge” in Christ alone (v. 3).  This, then, was a prayer that his Christian friends would focus solely upon the Lord Jesus “in whom are hidden” all such “treasures” (v. 3).


The lesson passage ends in verse 5 with Paul’s joyful expression of confidence not only in God, but also in the spiritual “discipline” and “stability” of those in Colossae.  Note that there is an emphasis here upon both the power of God that strengthens and sustains believers in their faith and the discipline that must be exercised by believers (cf. 1:23).  




Major Themes for Application and Reflection



One:  The value of suffering and tribulationTypically we view suffering and tribulation as evils to avoid at all costs. However, the New Testament presents a radically different picture regarding the place and purpose of suffering in the divine economy. How do suffering and persecution serve God’s kingdom? How does it make us stronger Christians?  How does it energize our witness to the world?



Two: The mission of the church—Look at verse 28 once again and see if you can find any connection between Paul’s vision of the church’s ministry and that set forth by Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20. What do these passages have in common?



Three: Knowing Jesus more—Note once more the claim made by Paul in 2:3.  If Jesus is the exclusive source of all wisdom and knowledge, what does this mean for other religious and philosophical systems?  In light of this verse, what is the true pathway to wisdom and knowledge?



Four:  Standing guard over your faithLike their first century predecessors, disciples in today’s world are literally inundated with false and deceptive teachings. How can believers protect themselves? Hint: Take a clue from 2:2, 5.