Summary: Exposition of Col. 1:24–29
Characteristics of Effective Ministers
“Now I rejoice in what was suffered 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. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 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. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col. 1:24–29).
How can we become effective ministers of Christ? How can we become an effective church?
When I was in seminary taking a homiletics class, I was told to pick a pastor I would like to model in his preaching. This is not only good practice for those studying preaching, but for any type of job or ministry. We learn by modeling others and we teach by example.
As far as ministry, there may be no better model to emulate than Paul. In many ways, Paul became Christ’s greatest apostle as he reached not only Jews but also much of the Gentile world.
In fact, God was so pleased with Paul’s ministry that he chose to set him as an example in the Scriptures of somebody to imitate. First Corinthians 11:1 says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Philippians 3:17 says, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”
Paul is a model, and his ministry should be our constant study. In this lesson, we will learn characteristics of effective ministers by studying Paul’s ministry to the Colossian church.
Big Question: What are characteristics of effective ministers as seen through the model of Paul in Colossians 1:24–29?
Effective Ministers Are Willing to Suffer for the Church
“Now I rejoice in what was suffered 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” (Col.1:24).
Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by “fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions”?
One of the things that must stand out is Paul’s willingness to suffer for Christ’s church. Now it should be noted that when Paul says that he will fill up in his flesh “what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions,” he is not talking about Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Christ’s work was perfect and complete. The writer of Hebrews said this:
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God (Heb. 10:11–12).
Christ offered one sacrifice for sins and then he sat down, showing his offering was sufficient, unlike the priests before him. However, one should be aware that some have used this passage to teach the need for us to work or make up for what was lacking in Christ’s death in order to earn salvation. Look at what John MacArthur said:
Roman Catholics have imagined here a reference to the suffering of Christians in purgatory. Christ’s suffering, they maintain, was not enough to purge us completely from our sins. Christians must make up what was lacking in Christ’s suffering on their behalf by their own suffering after death. That can hardly be Paul’s point, however. He has just finished demonstrating that Christ alone is sufficient to reconcile us to God (1:20–23).
What is Paul then referring to when he says filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? I think there may be two aspects to this.
(1) Here, Paul is essentially referring to suffering the afflictions Christ would suffer if he was still on the earth. Christ said this to his disciples in John 15:20: “‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”
Christians suffer the persecution that their master would if he was still on the earth. The more our life models his, the more we will receive the same animosity he did.
(2) Here, Paul also could be referring to how Christ suffers when any believer suffers. The body cannot feel pain that is not sensed by the head. Paul was very aware of this reality for he persecuted the church in his pre–conversion days. When Christ appeared to him, he said this in Acts 9:4–5: “’Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”