Christ in You, the Hope of Glory
Colossians 1:24–2:5 – Colossians: Made Alive in Christ
5th Sunday after Pentecost – June 24, 2018 (am)
Do you struggle with assurance of salvation? Ever? On any level? Paul speaks a word to the Colossians in our text today that is one of the richest expressions on assurance of salvation we’ll find in the NT. Even if you don’t struggle in this way, or ever have doubts, I still think you’ll be blessed by reviewing this passage. (Read it.)
Paul finished the paragraph we looked at last week with a statement I didn’t address. Speaking of the hope of the gospel that (the Colossians) heard and received, he added that this is the gospel which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven—meaning this is the same gospel that’s preached in all creation under heaven (Piper), not that the gospel had already spread to all creation under heaven—and of which I, Paul, became a minister (1:23). He now launches into a section where he talks more about his ministry, first in general terms (1:24-29), then with specific reference to the Colossians (2:1-5). He’s telling them what a (joy) it is to him that this (glorious) gospel he’s been celebrating has actually come to them. He’s explaining how committed he is to (knowing) they embrace it fully, and have come to a place of such unshakable confidence in its reliability that no one will be able to persuade them with any other deceitful truth-claims. Let’s track Paul’s thought under three headings.
The Challenging Work of a Messenger – 1:24-29
Paul explains that he’s on assignment from God to make known the mystery of the gospel among the Gentiles (25-27). And even though this assignment brings sufferings (24), he’s good with that (29) because of the (glorious) riches of this mystery (27) seen in the results it produces in the lives of its hearers (28). That’s the gist of Paul’s thought in vv.24-29. But his wording raises several question that really need to be addressed. I’ve identified three in particular.
Why was the mystery hidden for ages and generations? (26)
Because that was God’s eternal plan. We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory (1Co.2:7). Throughout the OT we hear hints, foreshadowings, even direct promises of its coming. But it was a plan so (rich) in glory (27) that until it actually happened it couldn’t be fully understood! That’s because this plan wasn’t just a bullet-point list or repair strategy. It was a Person, a Rescuer, a Savior Who had the capacity to absorb the death-sentence that was upon all people, yet also to rise again and rule as King over God’s new creation! So, this was a mystery not in the modern American sense—something merely puzzling or paradoxical (Wright 95), maybe even contradictory, like how do you find the corner of a circle? This was a mystery in the biblical, theological sense—something previous hidden now revealed, more like how can you know what’s in that big package under the Christmas tree? Answer: you wait until the appointed day and you unwrap it! You open it up on Christmas morning!
God’s plan was a mystery because there was just no way for us to understand Christ before He came: God-become-man, a Savior Who (suffered) even unto death for us, as our Substitute sin-Bearer, and yet Who arose from the dead to reign over us as King! We had to wait for Christmas morning to see what God had in store for us, and then until Easter to see how it all worked, and then until Pentecost to see how it takes root in us. Until then it was a mystery.
Why does Paul labor so hard (29) to make this mystery known? (27)
Why does he labor so hard (29), and (suffer), and even rejoice in (his) sufferings? (24) First, because this was a stewardship from God (25), an assignment entrusted to him by God, and he wanted to be found faithful to it (cf. 1Co.4:2), no matter the cost!
But second, this assignment was amazing! It was an (assignment) from God … to make the word of God fully known (25), to unleash it in all it’s power, to (allow) its full effect to be fulfilled (Wright 95) and felt!
And third, when that happens the people of God actually come to understand the mystery hidden for ages and generations (26). They taste of the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (27)—personal union by faith (4) with the One Who is the gospel, the glory of God revealed (Joh.1:14), the One in (Whom) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (19), and Who has reconciled us to God by his death, in order to present (us) holy and blameless and above reproach before him (22) when He returns in all His glory. Sufferings to share this message, says Paul, are a privilege, a (joy)!
Do you know this (joy)? We’ll come back to this one.
What does Paul mean when he says he’s filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? (24)
Surely there’s nothing lacking in the sacrifice Jesus provided for the sins of the world! Surely when He said: It is finished (Joh.19:30), He meant that the work of redemption was fully done! Nothing was left to do. And we’d say a hearty, Amen, to that. So, what does Paul mean here?
Commentators often point to the sufferings we know are part of this age until Christ returns. After all, Paul wrote to Timothy that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2Ti.3:12). And Peter steps it up a bit: Rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed (1Pe.4:13). And rejoice knowing that, if you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1Pe.4:14). And that reminds us of Jesus’ words: Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven… (Mat.5:11-12). But how does this (fill) up (anything that’s) lacking in Christ’s afflictions?
I think Paul gives us an answer right here. He became a minister (25) to the church (24) to make known to them this mystery—breathtaking in its scope, sufficient to reconcile to himself all things (20), sufficient not just for Jews but also for Gentiles (27), sufficient for the whole world! (6)—and it was Paul’s calling, his privilege, to make this mystery known, to proclaim it far and wide, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that (he) may present everyone mature in Christ! (28) I think that is what’s lacking (24): nothing in the message as such, but simply the spreading of the message itself. So, Paul finishes: 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. He’ll spend himself to proclaim this message, even it if brings sufferings! And God works powerfully within (him) to do it!
The Messenger Loving His Work – 2:1-5
Paul turns his attention to the Colossians as c.2 begins, and explains to them why he’s told them all this. For this I toil… (1:29), 2:1 for I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, he says. I want you to know this is personal, for you, and the churches near you (e.g. Laodicea), even though we don’t know each other (1b). Paul toils, struggling with all his energy (1:29), though he (has) not (met the Colossians) face to face. And he wants them to know this so 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love—and here’s the central aim—(knit together) to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ…. Christ in you, the hope of glory (1:27), we might say: all the riches of full assurance in Him that our promised hope will absolutely be realized! But now, even more: … which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. You need search in no other place to find any treasures of wisdom (or) knowledge that your heart desires! You surely don’t need to listen to those false teachers accumulating in Colossae who seek to 4 … delude you with plausible arguments otherwise.
Paul is pleased with how they’re doing in this battle. He wants to (encourage) them, to remind them of all they have in Christ, but he’s pleased with how they’re doing. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order—like disciplined, well-trained (troops) (Still 308), handling themselves nicely in the fray, not divided or discombobulated—and (I’m rejoicing to see) the firmness of your faith in Christ. They’re in good shape spiritually and Paul is rejoicing in that. He’ll continue on to instruct them to keep (walking) in Christ (6), rooted and built up in him and established in the faith (7), (seeing) to it that no one takes (them) captive by philosophy and empty deceit (8). But he’s still happy with where they are. In fact, he’s rejoicing (1:24; 2:5). He opens and closes this section with that affirmation, giving clear indication that, despite the sufferings involved, he loves his work, and he loves all those he’s working with.
Cultivating a Love of This Work
This is Paul’s heart for the Colossians. He so wants them to be knit together in love and know full assurance of faith (2:2) that he’s underscoring the value of this gospel fruit in them by telling them that, to him, it’s not only worth many sufferings to see it happen, but the (joy) of seeing it overshadows all those sufferings! And that’s just how the gospel, the mystery, does its (work) in us, (encourages) us, strengthens us in our faith in Christ. It works in the church, the collective people of God, to enable assurance at the very same time as it’s enabling love.
Yesterday, as I was pondering the beauty of this work among us, one of those news banners flashed at the top of my screen. I rarely even pay attention to them, but this one said: I’m a pastor and I want you to quit church. This statement stood in such stark contrast to the thoughts that were in my mind and the imagery of this passage that I just had to read it. Turns out it was an op ed piece on Fox News written by a southern California pastor who has written a new book titled, Quit Church. Let me read a few paragraphs from it:
At a time when church attendance is shrinking in America, I, a pastor, am encouraging people to quit church. Why? The answer is birthed out of conversations and research I’ve been a part of over the last several years.
Regularly, I meet and train pastors and church leaders from all over the country through my leadership platform, (he named his website). The conversations carry a common theme–a lot of people who attend church are passive towards serving, giving and community outreach.
In most churches, 80 percent of the work is being carried out by 20 percent or less of the people. We’ve become a church of spectators and the pastoral staff is getting burned out.
According to my own personal research, the problems are even bigger than the 80/20 principle.
Only 39 percent of active believers consider the Bible as the literal word of God. Less than 20 percent of professing believers follow the biblical principle of giving. Only 5 percent have shared their faith with a non-believer. More than half of all church members attend church once a month or less.
Something has to change.
Casual attendance and the belief that others will serve, give and share the Gospel are tearing down churches across our country brick by brick. As believers, it’s time that we are either all in or we get out. The solution is simple: quit!
That’s right – quit! If we quit the casual way we approach God’s principles can you imagine what would happen in our personal walks of faith and in our community of believers?
What if every believer exercised generosity? What if every Christian fought for loyalty in the local church? What if everyone served in their God-given purpose? What would happen if we stopped simply believing and started belonging?
If we would only quit the way we approach our relationship to Christ and our local church, the blessing, the reward, the joy, the fulfillment, the purpose, and the increase would radically transform our lives and the world. Together, we can revolutionize the church!
But the only way we can do this is if we quit. …
The article continued. I won’t.
Friends, I don’t want you to quit church. I don’t think that’s the answer at all: Just stop doing it wrong and start doing it right! Even if we grant that this pastor is making a quippy point—even if we resonate with some of his assessment—the church, the gospel, is not something we want to address in a quippy fashion. Let’s not quit church. Let’s just listen what Paul is saying to the Colossians. This is what the church needs to hear.
Let’s receive the (encouragement) he offers them and (joyfully) embrace it as the Word of God to us, and the work of God in us!
Let’s rejoice that the (glorious) mystery of God, hidden for ages and generations, has actually come to us—has been (made) known to us, and taken root in us by His grace!
Let’s rejoice that we know the blessing of Christ in you, the hope of glory, and that Paul, and many others since, have struggled with all (the) energy that (Christ) powerfully works within (them) to bring it to us!
Let’s rejoice that (our) hearts (have been) encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery!
Let rejoice not only that Christ in (us) is (our) hope of glory, but that in (Him we find) all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that our souls desire and delight in!
Let’s rejoice that, by God’s grace, even in this broken world we can live in good order and stand (firm) in (our) faith in Christ Jesus. He alone is (our) hope of glory!
In the words of Jesus, let’s not rejoice (in things that spotlight something of worth we perceive in ourselves), but let’s rejoice that (our) names are written in heaven! (Luk.10:20)
And now, let’s remember and rejoice in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ that has secured our salvation and grounded our assurance.