Sunday School Lesson for November 9, 2003
Suffering and Mystery (1:24-27)
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” . 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 .
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:
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
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:
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
One: The value of suffering and tribulation—Typically 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 faith—Like 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.