Read: Colossians 1:24-2:5
I love a good argument. Not so much a confrontational argument, but a well laid out and developed argument of reason that shows why a person believes, thinks, or acts in a particular way even if that way is contrary to my own beliefs. Pauline letters were always hard for me until I began to understand that Paul is building arguments. They are arguments with the longest sentences I have ever seen but arguments nonetheless!
For example, if we picked up with just these few verses from our passage this week where Paul talks about what he has done and is doing for the church, we might be mistaken and think he is self centered and has a glory seeking side. After all, he refers to himself quite often within these verses! Yet, when we follow his argument, we see he is doing it all for Christ and the church. I can’t help but wonder if too many Christians see these verses as permission to flaunt their own “struggles and hardships” as badges of pride instead of scars of honor. But that is a rabbit trail for another day. The point today is if we read these verses of Paul’s work in context, there is no way to draw the conclusion that Paul is seeking self centered glory. Instead he is walking out the natural consequences of a life lived for Christ.
Let’s look at three key pieces of the argument that Paul has laid before the readers of Colossae.
1. Paul begins with a declaration of who he is:
2. Paul expresses his love and desires for the church:
3. Paul declares the unquestionable majesty and wonder of Christ
- He is the image of the invisible God.
- He is the reason all things were created.
- He is reconciling all things.
- He is making peace by the blood of His cross.
- He has made it so “you” (the Colossians) are able to be a part of this beautiful reconciliation!
You might wonder why I find this progression vital to understand these verses. Paul isn’t suffering for no reason. He isn’t working for some random group of people that he heard about. He isn’t toiling to make his name known, nor is he concerned about his name or prestige or glory or even health. What he holds as his deepest concerns for the church is echoed in verses like these:
“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.” Colossians 2:1-3
Paul doesn’t jump straight to, “Look at all I have suffered for you.” If he did, that would make it sound like he wanted to be admired for his “sacrifice.” Instead, Paul has built an argument so that when he gets to this point in the letter, the readers know that Paul truly does rejoice in his sufferings, and nothing can persuade him away from the work that he is about- teaching Christ and building His church.
This Gentile, non-Israelite group of believers who, before Christ, stood on the outside, are now welcomed to be with Him and Him to be in them.
Look at the beautiful language Paul uses to describe who they are and what God can do with and in them.
- God chose them to make His greatness known.
- God chose them to have Christ in them.
- They can fully know the word of God.
- They can be encouraged no matter what circumstances prevail around them.
- They can be in a loving community with others.
- They can know and understand Christ with full assurance that He saved them.
- They can stand up to false teaching because Christ will fill them with wisdom and faith.
Paul has only just begun this letter, and I can’t help but imagine this ragtag group hearing these hopeful words. Did they weep? Did they sing? Did they rejoice with one another? They are being welcomed into something amazing, and it costs them nothing! And they aren’t in it alone.
We will suffer like Paul did, and we should be working and striving and praying for the church like Paul did. If we keep Paul’s perspective in mind, then we will keep going “and struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.(us)” Col. 1:29
When we want to lose heart and give up, what will keep us going? Is it our own glory, agenda, or goals? Or is it a deep abiding faith that Christ died for His church and that we are privileged to toil for her? Let us not forget Paul’s heart and words here so we can join in the work that he set about during his time:
“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” 1:25