Christ Over All: The Struggle of Ministry  

Each Monday (Tuesday this week!) I’ll be putting up my sermon notes and audio file for the sermon series from Forest Hills Baptist Church “Christ Over All: A Study from Colossians”. This is an edited copy of my sermon notes, not a transcript of the sermon. You can listen to the sermon audio above or directly for at the church’s website

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” (Colossians 1:24–2:5, ESV)

Have you ever worked a dead beat job? Reformation brought dignity to every human profession and endeavor. Luther overthrew the notion that clergy, monks, and nuns were engaged in holier work than the housewife and the shop keeper.

William Tyndall said, “There is difference between washing of dishes and preaching of the word of God; but as touching to please God; none at all.” They began to recognize the dignity of every human work from the garbage man to the neurosurgeon, From the McDonald’s employee to a Senator, From the grocer to a pastor, none of these positions where more sacred than another.

Though this is not a sermon about the dignity of all human work. However, what I want to set the stage for this morning is how this brought down the wall when it comes ministry. You see another doctrine that came alongside this collapse of the sacred/Secular divide was the priest hood of all believers.

What began to develop was the idea that every person is a minister. Sure there are those like myself that are especially set aside for ministry in the local church, but for the Puritans their aim was to integrate their daily work with their Religious devotion to God. Every Christian is a minister who does ministry.

Today we are going to see Paul talk about his struggles as a minister of the Gospel as an apostle. Yet, as we read this just don’t shut off your mind thinking he is talking only to pastors and missionaries. Rather, he has words here for all of us who are in Christ, because every Christian is a minister.

Paul rejoices in his sufferings as an apostle as he toils to proclaim Christ and to build up Jesus’ Church among the Gentiles. May we too rejoice in suffering to proclaim Christ to build up the Church.

1. The Posture of Our Ministry: Joyful Suffering

Americans tend to ignore or out right reject a key aspect of the Christian life: Suffering. Suffering doesn’t seem to fit into the way most of us think about Christianity. We don’t want to hear how Jesus tells us we will suffer if we follow him. That’s not the kind of Jesus we want to follow. So we create a Jesus that encourages us to have a comfortable life that includes lots of vacations and a big fat pay check and more stuff than we know what to do with.

So there are many churches and teachers that forsake the Bible’s teaching in order to scratch itching ears preaching a false Gospel of “health, wealth, and prosperity”. In a day and age where theological innovators are trying to market Christianity to Americans, a suffering savior and a suffering Christian life just doesn’t seem to sell very well. Yet, the Bible tells us that Christians are not to expect a life of ease, comfort, and worldly success, rather we are promised just the opposite.

To be a follower of Christ means that in differing ways we suffer for the cause of Christ. There is no one who lives this out better than the apostle Paul. In his task to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth he suffered greatly. In fact, as he writes this letter to the Colossians he is sitting in prison for proclaiming Jesus. Yet, for Paul suffering for Christ was joy! He tells us that he rejoices in his sufferings for the Colossians sake.

As we think about what it means to live and minister to others, suffering is part of the job description. We should not be surprised by trails and hardships, rather it is to be expected. Suffering is the norm of the Christian life. But Paul saw these sufferings not as something to be avoided, but something to rejoice over!

As Paul thinks about his suffering in advancing the Gospel and ministering to the nations, he tells the Colossians that in his suffering he is “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”. What does he mean by this strange phrase?

Well we know that Paul is not saying that there is anything lacking in Christ’s work on the cross. Paul has already been teaching us in Colossians that our reconciliation and salvation is accomplished only by the blood of Jesus. In the sufferings of Christ we are given salvation by faith. So Paul isn’t saying he is trying to finish up Jesus’ job in paying the penalty for our sins. Its not like Jesus started the job, and now Paul has to come and finish it.

So what is Paul saying here? Paul isn’t adding to the work of Christ, but he is extending the work of Christ to the world. In other words, Christ through Paul is appealing to a lost and dying world to be reconciled through Jesus. So Paul is filling up what is lacking in Christ’s affliction by taking the Gospel to the lost. As he suffers in his missionary task, he does so following in the footsteps of his savior.

Paul’s understanding of his sufferings is tied to his union with Christ. In other words, by faith Paul is sharing in Christ’s life. His life is permanently grafted to the true vine. So Paul, being united to Christ by faith both share in the victory and afflictions of his savior. Just as Paul would experience resurrected victory that Christ achieved, so too does he suffer in Christ. His life is wedded to Jesus himself. So Paul is suffering in Christ to extend the work of Christ to the world.

So what does the Christian suffer for? Well the Bible does tell us that all who seek to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. In other words, Christians endure suffering simply by being hated by the world. That’s to be expected, but that’s not what Paul has in mind here. The reason he is experiencing these sufferings is for the sake of the Colossians. He is suffering in his labor to take the Gospel where it has yet to be heard. Once he became a Christian, his whole life was devoted to this ministry. As he sought to take the good news of Jesus to the gentile people across the Roman Empire, it was incredibly challenging. He is suffering so that the name of Jesus may advance.

We do so by sacrificing our own wants, preferences, and needs so the Gospel can spread. So the question for us this morning is this – how are you denying yourself so the Gospel can go forth? What sacrifice are you making so that the Gospel is proclaimed?

Not everyone is called to sacrifice in the same way, like Paul. Yet, there are those who are called by God to sacrifice much more significantly by uprooting their families and moving to a foreign country to proclaim Christ. There are some who are called to incredible financial generosity giving away just about all they have for Christ’s mission. There are some who are even called to give up their lives so the Gospel advances.

But it is a mistake to say, well suffering to spread the good news of Jesus is only for full-time missionaries. Although we are called to suffer in differing ways, every Christian is called to suffer in some capacity for the Gospel.

Sacrifice Financially

This involves prayerfully seeking God asking what we could give up for his name sake. This might mean an incredible financial sacrifice. Putting vacations and luxury purchases aside to fund Gospel ministry. Perhaps God might be calling you to live like John Wesley who willingly lived on a fixed income and gave anything more than that away. I think most recently of the late Rich Mullins who wrote the song “Our God is an awesome God”. He told his financial manager to take his money and only pay him a small salary and then to give the rest away. As a successful Christian musician he had no idea how much he actually made. He gave the rest away for Gospel advancement.

For those of us in America who are among the wealthiest in the history of the world, perhaps it means putting to death our love for stuff and seeking to reduce our standard of living so that we can increase our standard of giving.

And I’m not just talking about giving to FHBC. Though I hope you do and that you give generously. We are seeking to partner together pulling our financial resources to spread the name of Christ. So yes, give generously to FHBC because we are seeking to steward that money so the Gospel can advance. But there are other ways to be generous in addition to giving to your local church.

Sacrifice in Time

There are ministries and avenues of service that take a great deal of time to do. There are always areas of service we need in our church. Serving In children’s ministry. Serving in a local church can be a great sacrifice of time, especially leading an area of ministry. In fact, in some areas its like working a part-time job on a volunteer basis. Serving in ministry takes commitment, it means you have to commit and be reliable, sacrificing your own leisure time for Gospel ministry. It might mean saying no to other activities and trips so that you can be committed in serving and advance the Gospel. It might mean prioritizing Sunday and giving the day to the Lord for worship and devotion to him.

There are many other ways to sacrifice for the cause of Christ, but the key thing we must understand is that to be a Christian is to suffer in some capacity for the cause of Christ. The Christian willingly lays down his life so that others can here about Jesus. It is what he or she lives for! Yet, the sacrifices I just shared with you are rather small compared to our brothers and sisters across the world who suffer daily for Jesus. Paul is not complaining about his sufferings here. Rather he is rejoicing in them! It his joy to suffer in this way, why? Because Christ is his all consuming treasure and joy. Jesus is the reason why he exists, so to sacrifice for his greatest treasure really is no sacrifice at all.

To understand what genuine sacrifice looks like we almost have to get out of the country and outside of our Americanized Christianity. We largely tend to be unimpressed by the widow who out of her poverty gave all that she had (Lk 21:4). Most would call her foolish, but it is this sort of generosity and sacrifice that garnered the attention of our savior.

• Stanford Kelly illustrates this from a story from Haiti

The church was having a Thanksgiving festival and each Christian was invited to bring a love offering. One envelope from a Haitian man named Edmund held $13 cash. That amount was three months’ income for a workingman there. Kelly was as surprised as those counting a Sunday offering in the United States might be to get a $6,000 cash gift. He looked around for Edmund, but couldn’t see him.

Later Kelly met him in the village and questioned him. He pressed him for an explanation and found that Edmund had sold his horse in order to give the $13 gift to God for the sake of the Gospel. But why hadn’t he come to the festival? He hesitated and didn’t want to answer.

Finally Edmund said, “I had no shirt to wear.” (Illustration cited here)

2. The Message of Our Ministry: The Mystery of Christ

Within this passage Paul talks a lot about this mystery. What is he talking about? He talks about this mystery hidden from ages, but now revealed to the saints in v. 26.

This mystery is the mystery of Jesus. It is a secret that has now been revealed. It was God’s intention from eternity past to redeem the world through Jesus. Jesus has always been God’s plan to bring glory to himself. But, for millennia God’s secret plan was unknown. As God created the man and woman, as he chose Abraham to bless and as he gave the law to his decedents, God’s full plan was hidden. But now, the curtain has been dropped. God has laid his cards down on the table. He has revealed his plan from the beginning, to save the world through Jesus Christ.

So when Paul says mystery, he is not saying that God’s plan is some sort of puzzle to be figured out. Rather, the secret and mysterious plan of God is revealed to all!

God’s plan was never to just save Israel but to save all people, Jew and Gentile alike. Jesus is the savior of all people. Through his death on the cross he provides salvation, redemption, and forgiveness to all who would believe in him! Jesus endured the sufferings of the cross so that our sin could be paid for and we could become reconciled children of God.

The mystery of this plan was a startling discovery that Jesus is not only the Messiah for the Jews, but for the whole world. This was the surprising twist to God’s plan. And Paul sees it as God’s calling on his life to take the good news of Jesus to the gentiles. Paul wants to share this revealed mystery to everyone!

As we seek to be ministers of the Gospel, we must always remember that our message is Jesus. “Him we proclaim” Paul says. As Christians we have one message, one hope, one story, and its the story of the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Jesus is the message of our ministry, and we proclaim Him alone. I’ll give you a little secret about Pastors and preaching. The best pastors and preachers have only one message: Jesus Christ. As a pastor I’m a one-trick pony. I’ve have one message and one message only: The good news of Jesus Christ.

So every sermon, teaching from the Bible, is a variation of infinite applications of one simple, single message: Jesus is Lord.

As we think about our task as ministers of the Gospel whether you are a pastor or a church member, Jesus must always be the center-point of all we do.

So the posture of our ministry should be in suffering, and the message of our ministry is Christ, but what is the end goal of our ministry? What are we hoping to accomplish?

3. The Goal of Our Ministry: Maturity in Christ

Col 1.28 - Proclaiming Christ, warning and teaching everyone, so that others might be presented mature in Christ.

Col 2.1–2 - Paul even though he has never met the colossians and others labors on their account writing his letters, teaching them, encouraging them so that they might be built up together. encouraged, unified, and confident in the truth of God’s mystery.

So one of the things we are passionate about here at FHBC is equipping one another with the Scripture and Christian Community. We understand that every member is called to serve one another in ministry so that each one of us is built up in maturity. One of the purposes we gather is so we can sharpen one another and push each other on towards godliness. So we prioritize the teaching of the Bible and the teaching of the Gospel. We encourage relationships to be formed among members that are for discipleship. Relationships that challenge one another, confront one another, pray for one another, and encourage one another towards maturity in Christ.

How are you helping others to become mature in Christ? How are you using the gifts God has given you to equip the saints for ministry?

The Labor of Church Teachers

Here I can’t help but make some application on the role of the pastors of our church and others in our church who particularly labor in the preaching and teaching ministry. As I make some personal application to my own ministry calling (the teaching of the Bible) I hope that you are also able to make some application to your own ministry calling. As we read Paul in this passage he emphasizes again and again his role of teaching and proclaiming.

The Teaching and Preaching ministry is vital to presenting one another mature in Christ. The Bible gives high honor to those who are gifted and labor to those ends, because they are so essential to the maturity of the church. When the teaching ministry of the church is replaced with a myriad of other concerns the church begins to flounder in immaturity. Paul labors here proclaiming Christ both warning everyone and teaching everyone to present them mature.

As the primary teaching pastor at our church you as a body have set me aside to labor and serve the church in this way. This is a huge calling and a huge labor. So like Paul I personally felt this week the labor and toil of the teaching ministry. I felt as I was studying this own passage the struggle of trying to faithfully feed the flock of God. Its a struggle and toil I feel each week. But, here I not only ask you to pray for me as I try to serve you through the teaching of Christ, I also want you to see what my motive should be as I teach. And this is not only for me, but for all who labor in teaching.

The motive of the teacher is not to impress others, its not to be liked by others, its not to entertain others. The purpose of teaching isn’t on the ego of the preacher. But, rather the goal is to present you mature in Christ. That’s my motive. This is my hearts desire, a motive I always want to keep in check – that as I stand up here to teach you that my desire is to one day present you to your savior mature in Christ! No matter the struggle or the toil in serving you as a pastor, I endure it with joy because Christ will be glorified as you are sanctified!

So may God bind our hearts together as we seek together to understand the assurance of this mystery of God. May you be firmly planted in Jesus through the faithful teaching of God’s word so that you will not be shaken by plausible arguments and false teachings.

Like Paul, my hearts longing is to see you firmness in faith in Christ Jesus. Its because I love you and because I love Jesus.

But equipping one another doesn’t only happen through teaching and not only through pastors. Every member should feel this weight and concern for one another. As we love one another, sacrifice for one another, and yes even suffer for one another, may we rejoice. In this bond of love may we serve one another and this world as faithful ministers.

Final Thoughts

  • So are you ministering in a posture of suffering?
  • Are you ministering proclaiming the message of Christ?
  • Are you ministering to others so that they can be presented mature in Christ?

Ministry is the calling of every Christian. It is hard, difficult, challenging, and painful – yet like Paul we rejoice in our suffering for one another – because Jesus is our all consuming treasure. Whatever your profession and whatever your calling you are there to be a minister of Jesus Christ in a posture of suffering with a message of the mystery of Christ with the goal of presenting others to God mature in Christ. Christian whatever our life’s work may we utilize it for this eternal work ministering together for the glory of God.