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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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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The Redeemer’s Hymn – 1:15-20


15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Many scholars believe that these verses constitute, at least in part, an ancient Christological hymn. Whether or not Paul is the author of the hymn is uncertain, though there does appear to be a poetic pattern and rhythm in the original Greek. While there is not consensus on how the hymn is divided (if at all), in general it is broken up this way:

  • Section One: Verses 15-16
  • Section Two: Verses 17-18a
  • Section Three: Verses 18b-20

There seem to be two larger sections, each containing the word “firstborn” in the opening line. These larger sections are broken up by one smaller section. This shorter strophe (a chorus, perhaps?) contains sweeping theological statements that link the two larger sections together. While the structure of the hymn may be confusing, the theological themes it contains are quite clear. “[The First] section presents Christ’s relation to the created world. Paul answered basic questions about the origin and purposes of creation. The [second] section presents Jesus’ relationship to the redemption of what he created. Paul reminded the readers of the redemptive purposes of God in and through Christ.”[i]

The theology of the hymn is expansive, presenting themes found throughout the rest of the letter. It is fundamentally about the power and sovereignty of Jesus Christ. It presents him first as Creator, and secondly as Re-Creator. As N.T. Wright says, the hymn presents “the parallel between creation and new creation; hence the emphasis that is placed on the fact that each was accomplished by means of the same agent. The Lord through whom you are redeemed…is none other than the one through whom you (and all the world) were created.”[ii] The hymn is rich and dense with Christology, cosmic in scope, sweeping in nature. The word “all” appears seven times, and the phrase “all things” appears five times. The repetition of this vocabulary tells us that there is nothing that lies outside of the supremacy of Christ. Would that every song in our Sunday morning worship hour was bursting with such high theology!

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Pleasing the Lord – 1:10b-14


…bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

There are four ways by which we please Jesus:

  1. Bearing fruit in good works;
  2. Growing in our knowledge of God;
  3. Being strengthened by God so that we can have endurance and patience;
  4. Giving joyful thanks to God the Father.

The four qualities could be summed up by these words: Faithfulness, Wisdom, Perseverance, and Gratitude. Certainly these are not the only ways that we can please Jesus, but they are among the most important.

We please the Lord when we do good works that bear kingdom fruit. This is not to be confused with the vain attempt to earn your salvation. Instead, good works honor the Good King. Jesus is pleased when we testify to the goodness of his kingdom by serving others in a sacrificial way. His kingdom goes forth in power as we lay down our lives for others, taking up our crosses and following him.

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Paul’s Prayer – 1:9-10a


9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way…

Paul and Timothy are in constant prayer for the Colossians even though they do not know them personally. They are linked to the church through Epaphras, the disciple of Paul who took the Gospel to Colossae and the surrounding area. Despite the distance, relational as well as geographical, Paul sees himself as pastorally responsible for the young congregation – responsible enough to pray for them often (not just once or twice as he happens to think of them, but with intentionality and regularity). In this, Paul is setting a pastoral example for ministers everywhere. Our prayers should encompass those under our direct spiritual care, as well as those who are under the care of our own disciples and friends. By example, Paul commands us to pray for those in our disciples’ flocks. By doing this, we are honoring those we have raised up in the faith.


To know God’s will is to want God’s will.
The content of Paul’s prayer for Epaphras’ church was that God would fill them with the knowledge of his will through the Spirit’s wisdom and understanding. This is a beautiful prayer, and one that is needful for all believers. (If you are a pastor, how much would it mean to you to know that the person who raised you up in the faith was praying this prayer for the people in your church?) While it is heady, (notice the words knowledge, wisdom, and understanding) it is not neglectful of the heart. To be filled with the knowledge of God’s will also means to be filled with the desire to participate in, and help bring about, God’s will. To know God’s will is to want God’s will. But the heart’s desires must be guided by the mind. Knowledge, wisdom, and understanding help to shape what we desire and will. The Spirit gives wisdom and understanding to those who seek it, and the more wisdom and understanding we are given, the more we will seek both. The Spirit’s wisdom and understanding, then, fill us with the knowledge we need to discern and enact God’s will.

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