Servant of the Church – 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 had never met the Colossians, but he saw his present imprisonment and consequent sufferings as being on their behalf. He understood his ongoing trials as a participation in the suffering of Christ. When he uses the term “lacking” in reference to “Christ’s afflictions,” he does not in any way diminish the salvific effect of the cross. As Wiersbe notes, “The word afflictions refers to the ‘pressures’ of life, the persecutions Paul endured. This word is never used in the New Testament for the sacrificial sufferings of Jesus Christ.”[i] Paul’s imprisonment does not work salvation for the Colossians (or Paul, for that matter); instead it serves as the fulfillment of Jesus’ own prophecy: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. …If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”[ii] Paul is continuing the work of Jesus. In fact, Paul clearly understood that it was Jesus himself accomplishing his work through Paul. In this sense, Christ’s afflictions were not finished. The Lord must continue to suffer through the suffering of his people, all for the sake of his church. Suffering, in fact, is fundamental to the vocation of the church. “Just as the Messiah was to be known by the path of suffering he freely chose – and is recognized in his risen body by the mark of the nails – so his people are to be recognized by the sufferings they endure.”[iii] In imitation of Christ, the Church is called to suffer and die at the hands of the world for the sake of the world.


In imitation of Christ, the Church is called to suffer and die at the hands of the world for the sake of the world.
Suffering on account of Jesus is, paradoxically, of tremendous benefit to the Church. Insofar as the suffering is endured with faithfulness, the one who suffers well is a great encouragement to the faith of those who are watching. Throughout the history of the Church, martyrdom has always strengthened the faith of others and caused the body of Christ to flourish wherever it has been resisted with violence and bloodshed. Indeed, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. The power of the Gospel is displayed not when life is easy, but when the storms of suffering, persecution, and hardship rage and roll. “All Christians will suffer for their faith in one way or another: if not outwardly, then inwardly, through the long, slow battle with temptation or sickness, the agonizing anxieties of Christian responsibilities for a family or a church, [or] the constant doubts and uncertainties which accompany the obedience of faith. …All of these, properly understood, are things to rejoice in – not casually, flippantly or superficially, but because they are signs that the present age is passing away, that the people of Jesus, the Messiah, are the children of the new age, and that the birthpangs of this new age are being worked out in them.”[iv]

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In 2010, the world watched anxiously as 33 Chilean miners were trapped over 2,000 feet below the surface of the earth. As you can imagine, the men faced overwhelming challenges living that far underground. But one of the most dangerous aspects of their plight was the complete lack of daylight. According to this Newsweek article, “the physical and psychological toll of the darkness” could have dramatic effects well after the miners are rescued. According to this BBC report, many of the miners are struggling to move on. Living in darkness wreaks havoc on both the mind and the body.

Darkness-and-Light-WebFor those of us who watched, the images of the dramatic rescue of the miners will stay with us forever. It is remarkable to see someone delivered out of darkness.

It’s no wonder that, in the Bible and many other religious texts, darkness is used as a metaphor for evil. In Colossians 1:13, Paul writes that God “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,” what he calls earlier the “kingdom of light.”

Just like the prolonged absence of sunlight, spiritual darkness takes a toll on our minds and bodies. Satan, the ruler of the dominion of darkness, seeks to enslave us through temptation and deception. Prolonged exposure to, and participation in, evil makes us less than human. The lies of the devil distort our minds and cause us to commit evil (sin) with our bodies.

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Our Reconciliation – 1:21-23


21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

In opening up his explanation on the hymn, Paul writes about the unredeemed state in which we find ourselves before putting our faith in Christ. Like all of us, the Colossian Christians were once at odds with God, alienated from him, and even enemies with him. Our minds are the battleground for our souls, and it is here that we wage war against the wisdom and understanding of God. Evil behavior stems from a mind at enmity with God. “People are not inwardly hostile vs. God because of their outward acts of sins; they commit sins because they are inwardly hostile.”[i] Sinful actions and behaviors are the evidence of an internal hostility toward God and a rejection of the “wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.” This rejection in the mind results in ignorance of God’s will, and thus we find ourselves not only spiritually adrift, but applauding and encouraging evil. Such is our condition apart from Christ.

But in Christ, we are reconciled, made holy by Christ’s physical body in his death. Just as the hymn proclaims that Jesus has made peace between us and God through his blood, Paul here reaffirms that sentiment in proclaiming our reconciliation with God in Jesus. The scope of the hymn is universal, proclaiming peace for all things. Here, Paul boils down that universality to the specificity of the Colossian Christians. You have been reconciled.

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Do you have that one, favorite worship song that just seems to get you every time? The opening chords ring out and tears puddle in your eyes as you involuntarily lift your hands. You can’t help but sing it loud and you don’t really care if you’re on key or not. I’ve had several of them throughout my life, and no doubt will have several more.


Jesus made things good so that we can have a trust-filled, love-soaked relationship with God.
The older I get, though, the more I appreciate the rich theology of the church’s great hymns. Words matter, and the words we sing to God matter most of all.

Many scholars believe that, in Colossians 1:15-20, Paul is quoting an ancient Christian hymn. This is the kind of hymn I would like to sing with my church. In it, we would sing of Jesus as the Creator and Reconciler of all things.

All things!

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We often think that God is angry or exasperated with us. In our minds we imagine him a gray-bearded, toga-wearing, lightning-bolt wielding deity bent on dispensing cosmic justice through divine wrath. Is this the picture of God that you see when you worship, pray, or even sin?

Jesus-Replaces-WebWhat we imagine when we think about God is important. The image of God we construct in our minds is vital for determining what kind of relationship we have with him. Whether we have a relationship with God founded on love or terror, grace or law, depends in large part on the picture of God we live with in our inner being.

So what does God look like? Is he a baptized Zeus, full of righteous anger and quick to dispense divine punishment? Or does he look like someone else?

In Colossians 1:15, Paul quotes an ancient hymn, the first line of which is this: The Son is the image of the invisible God. The hymn, of course, is about Jesus, and it boldly proclaims that Jesus is the image of God. When we imagine what God is like, therefore, the picture that ought to come to our minds is Jesus.

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