Colossians 1:25–29 (ESV): 25 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, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 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. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Paul never visited Colossae. The church in this city was started after one of their own, Epaphras, had traveled to Ephesus, was converted under Paul’s ministry there, and then returned home.
The introduction of Paul’s letter, then, served to build bridges so that he could challenge the people in their faith and correct a concerning doctrinal fallacy. Paul began by expressing thanksgiving and prayer for the church, demonstrating his keen interest in their welfare. Paul followed that with the overarching theme of this letter which, if accepted, would correct the doctrinal fallacy being spread in their midst: Christ is preeminent and must occupy that place in our personal lives and in our church. Paul then explained his apostleship, suffering, and ministry to the church.
Why Paul was a Minister
25 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, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.
Why did Paul become a minister? He became a minister because he was called by God. His ministry was a “stewardship from God.” The Greek for “stewardship” is oikonomia which refers to the “administration (of a household or estate); specifically a (religious) “economy”: – dispensation, stewardship” (Strong’s).
To serve as a minister of the Gospel is to be given a huge responsibility before God. As James 3:1 notes, the teacher of God’s Word bears greater responsibility before God. Of course, a minister of the gospel may serve in a variety of ways including but not necessarily limited to, missionary, evangelist, pastor, and teacher.
The greater point is that such a person receives both authority to minister and is accountable for ministry… to God. Dangerous things happen when the minister either 1) forgets or neglects his stewardship responsibility before God, or 2) succumbs to the whims and dictates of the local flock of God, the wider church, or surrounding community.
It must be noted also that one receives this stewardship of God by accepting it, actively choosing to serve God as a minister. 1 Timothy 3:1 (ESV) says: 1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. There is a degree of aspiration on the part of the person who becomes a minister… to serve God in this noble occupation. Indeed, some looking on could fault such a person for their ambition, but such sanctified desire should be commended. I am reminded of the evangelist who stated that he had never received a “call” to ministry like so many have, yet he felt compelled to share the Gospel. God validated his ministry with great fruit.
Why did God call Paul to serve him in ministry?
to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.
As we consider what it means to make the word of God fully known, we remember Paul’s defense of his ministry: he preached the full counsel of God. Acts 20:27 (ESV): 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Paul preached till God’s Word was spread fully in the region where he was.
Paul preached God’s Word – both the parts of scripture that were easy for people to receive and those elements that were not acceptable to his audience. Is it no wonder that Paul was often received initially with fanfare, only to be cast out, beaten and persecuted later on?
Paul later charged his mentee, Timothy, to…
2 Timothy 4:2–5 (ESV): 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Often the phrase in verse 2 “in season and out of season” is interpreted to mean that a preacher needs to be ready to preach the gospel both for planned and unplanned preaching opportunities. In other words, an unreasonable burden is placed on the preacher if he or she is expected to have a sermon at all times whether the person adequately studied God’s Word and prayed… or not.
This is not to say that a preacher should not take advantage of such opportunities. Rather, it is to question if any other profession or calling would be held to a similar standard. Good exposition of God’s Word is the result of careful, faithful study.
Furthermore, the idea of “in season and out of season” may refer more accurately to “convenience” and “inconvenience”… NOT of the disposition of the preacher, but rather of the content of God’s Word.
Notice again the context of Paul’s instruction: 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
In other words, Paul was not telling Timothy to be ready to enter the pulpit whether he had three days of study prep or three minutes. No, Paul was Timothy to preach God’s Word regardless of how his audience would react to the Truth!
What Paul Sought to Accomplish as a Minister
26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 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. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
Paul described God’s plan of salvation – the gospel – as a mystery that had been hidden for ages and generations. Indeed, as we study the Old Testament we find God’s plan of salvation was revealed incrementally.
In Genesis 3 when God cursed the serpent, we find the first prophecy of Christ. In Genesis 3:15 (ESV) God said: “15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” At the time, the meaning of God’s word must have seemed vague. The prophecy is clear now only because of Christ’s fulfillment.
Throughout the Old Testament, we find images, types and figures that point to Christ – the serpent hung on the tree that provided healing for the Israelites’ sin when they looked upon it, the presence of God symbolized by the Ark, the Tabernacle and later the Temple.
We also see the priests who were the go-between God and the people, mediating God’s forgiveness and direction. Yet the priests demonstrated a woeful inability to be holy as God is.
We observe kings who were supposed to serve as delegates of God the king, but who repeatedly failed to administer justice and righteousness in the land.
Numerous prophecies gave great detail about the coming Messiah, but when the wise men from the east came searching, the religious leaders rightly indicated the place of the Savior’s birth (Bethlehem), but showed no interest in going there. Then, when Jesus made his claim to be God clear, most rejected him.
The idea of God’s plan of salvation being a mystery finally revealed is important for yet another reason. In the Greek and Roman world, mystery cults flourished. Indeed, from what we understand about the Colossians situation, Paul was trying to head off the false teaching of an influential person who was using a mix a Jewish traditions and mystery cultic ideas to mislead the people.
To those who sought to know the mystery of spirituality, Paul wrote here that God’s mystery had been revealed! God’s mystery was revealed to his saints. The object of God’s revelation could be glossed over, yet it is key. While God’s plan of salvation had been spread throughout the world, the mystery of God’s salvation was known truly by those who received his salvation. There is a difference between hearing the basic elements of the salvation message and actually comprehending and enjoying salvation; this is explicitly stated at the end of verse 27.
At the risk of being redundant, however, let us consider this again. You can explain to someone that…
- All have sinned and are separated from God,
- God is holy and just and will not tolerate sin, but also is loving and merciful and wants to provide us a way of redemption,
- God sent his son Jesus to become flesh and live a holy life among us and then to suffer, die for our sins, but be raised to life on the third day,
- Through Jesus’ death and life, we can now receive forgiveness of our sins as we place our faith in him.
These basic truths of the Gospel may be explained academically to one unbelieving person, but to their unenlightened heart, the words will seem like gibberish.
Yet, by the power of the Holy Spirit’s conviction, another sinner accepts the truth, repents of their sin and trusts in Christ. This latter person thus comprehends the mystery of the gospel, which is revealed to God’s saints – those made holy by the blood of Jesus.
Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, makes an even more explicit application of the revelation of the gospel mystery in Colossians 1:27. 27 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.
A huge factor in the mystery of the gospel is that Gentiles were included in God’s plan of salvation, along with Jews, the chosen people of God. Gentiles are not second class citizens in God’s kingdom, but rather share in the riches of the glory of this mystery.
As the Church has become predominantly Gentile for hundreds and thousands of years now, this factor may seem less important, yet it truly should amaze us, and cause us to bow our knees in gratitude to God. How wonderful it is that God has grafted Gentiles into the Vine of Jesus Christ.
Yet, as Paul wrote in Romans, this is not something we should boast about or take for granted, for if God would graft Gentiles into the Vine, how much more does God care for his chosen people, the Jews?
The way Colossians 1:27 is written, it would first suggest that the mystery of the gospel is that Christ is in the believer. However, when we compare this text with Ephesians 3:6 (ESV), the mystery, per se, is that Gentiles are fellow heirs with Jews, God’s chosen people.
This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Looking at Colossians 1:27 again, it would appear that Christ in you, the hope of glory is the riches of the glory of this mystery This phrase, I believe, is the key to the whole letter of Colossians.
Recall that Paul wrote this letter to address the false teaching of an individual(s) who apparently mixed Jewish mysticism and pagan beliefs to say that faith in Jesus Christ was not sufficient for salvation. Rather, there were days, rules, and regulations that must be observed.
Paul began his letter with a prayer for the Christians to be filled with the knowledge of God’s wisdom so that they could walk worthy of the Lord, being fruitful in everything they did and being strengthened with all power.
Paul then began the content proper of the letter by exalting the supremacy of Christ. After talking about his ministry to the church in Colossians 1:24-2:5, Paul challenged the people saying that as they had received Christ, they should walk in him, rooted, built up, and established in the faith (2:6-7). They had received the circumcision of Christ, buried with Christ in baptism and raised with him to new life, thus removing all guilt of the past life of sin (2:11-14).
Therefore, they must put off anything that remained of the old life of sin and put on the new life of Christ which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creators (Colossians 3:10), by which they could experience the peace of Christ [ruling] in your hearts (Colossians 1:14). They were to let the word of Christ dwell in them and do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Simply put, the glory of the gospel is not merely that God has chosen all to be saved from sin who will turn in repentance to him, that God would love and forgive us despite our transgressions, that Christ would not merely abide with us, but that Christ has chosen to live in us!
Looking at Ephesians again, we find this breathtaking prayer:
Ephesians 3:14–19 (ESV): 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
God wants to fully dwell in us!
No, this is not the same as the Near Eastern or New Age concepts that all is God or we are part of God. No, this is not to suggest the believer is or can be or should be some super spiritual person because they have “God running in their veins.”
Rather, this truth is mind-blowing because it presumes that God can take sinners who are lost without hope and so change them that they become His vessels, filled fully by God.
This truth is startling because we find that God does not merely want to clean us up and have us live a better, even a good, moral life. Rather, God desires to inhabit us.
This truth is humbling because we so often live below the level the riches of the gospel afford us, dabbling with temptation, fearful of full commitment.
Paul not only sought to make the word of God fully known, but also… Colossians 1:28 (ESV): 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
The purpose of preaching in the Church often seems to be misunderstood today. There is a massive drive for entertainment and motivation as the end result of gospel presentations.
That a sermon would entertain and motivate the congregation is not necessarily bad. I personally love to tell stories, whether illustrations to highlight the truth of God’s Word, or to tell the story of Scripture itself. Furthermore, if one finishes a gospel message and the people wonder, “What’s the point?”, one must wonder if they have missed the point of preaching!
However, entertainment and motivation are easily taken too far. A huge, necessary part of preaching is acting in the two roles Paul noted above: prophet and teacher. The prophet role of preaching is not so much about foretelling the future as it is forth-telling God’s Word, and the consequences of either accepting or rejecting God’s Truth. The teacher role of preaching is necessary also to adequately equip people for life and ministry as God’s servants.
As Ephesians 4:11-16 note, Christ gave the functions of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher to the church in order to equip believer for ministry so that the church would be built up in unity and maturity.
Thus, Paul’s role and purpose as a minister was not merely to get people saved or even to start churches. He sought the spiritual maturity of all those who chose to serve Christ.
How Paul Served as a Minister
Colossians 1:29 (ESV): 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
The grace of God is gloriously free, and could never be earned or repaid by our works. Yet God is not opposed to our good works, done out of gratitude and a desire to glorify his name. Indeed, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10 (ESV): 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Paul provides a powerful example of how a responsible, dedicated follower of Jesus should engage oneself in God’s work. Some might suggest his example is extreme. Paul recounted some of what he experienced in ministry in 2 Corinthians 11:24–28 (ESV):
24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
Yet Paul’s point was not that he was a super-spiritual Christian. Rather, he pointed to his weaknesses. 2 Corinthians 11:30 (ESV): 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
Note, then, that Paul toiled in ministry for God, but notice also that he was Colossians 1:29 (ESV): struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
The effectiveness of the Christian who serves for God’s glory is accomplished through Christ’s power. Yes, we must be disciplined, obedient, determined, and dedicated in service. Even so, we rely on the power of Christ surging in our veins to accomplish the tasks set out before us by the Holy Spirit.
Thus, we should at once strive to be laborer who works hard for Christ while also resting fully in the grace and power of God.
Paul presents the gospel minister as one who has been called by God. Our responsibility is to fulfill the charge God has given us, regardless of how people respond.
Our charge as ministers to reveal the mystery of the Gospel, which is that God has chosen each and every person to be saved from sin, who will turn in repentance and faith to him. The riches of this glorious mystery is that God takes up residence in us. This mystery we proclaim fully so that all those who receive Christ might become mature in the faith.
Our task as ministers is laborious. No one should enter ministry believing this calling is an easy job. But our confidence in the difficult labor of calling people to repentance and discipling them in the fight is that God works powerfully in and through us, changing lives by his amazing grace!
Heavenly Father, thank you for the calling to ministry. Help me to fulfill your charge, revealing your mystery to those who are confused and blinded by sin and Satan. Give me your strength to perform your task. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.