Series on Colossians, I The Mystery of Christ, B The Role of Paul, 1 The Contest, Text: 1:24-25, 29, 2:1, Title: The Christian Contest

Introduction

Recently talent shows have become very popular, “America’ Got Talent,” “Britain’s Got Talent,” “American Idol,” and in a totally different vein the “Survivor” series where groups of contestants are stranded in various remote locations with little more than the clothes on their back. The winner takes home a million dollars. Then there is also “The Amazing Race,” a game show in which teams of two people, who have some form of a preexisting personal relationship, race around the world in competition with other teams. Contestants strive to arrive first at the end of each leg of the race to win prizes and to avoid coming in last, which carries the possibility of elimination. Then there are athletic contests of which the leader in the United States is football. The National Football League is the largest live spectator sport in the world in terms of average attendance with well over 17 million people attending the games in 2010 and many more watching on TV with a 111 million watching a single game. In Europe Soccer is similar. Then there is Baseball, “America’s Pastime,” and horse racing, “The Sport of Kings.” So I ask you: Do you think that people like contests? People in the first century were no different and Paul’s letters abound with illustrations taken from athletic contests. I call this to your attention because for every player in the field there are millions of folks snacking and practicing being a couch potato in front of their TV, or gorging on hot dogs in the stands. They are being “entertained.” The Christian life is not about sitting on the sidelines or cheering in the stands, or relaxing in an easy chair. The Christian life is a contest and here Paul gives us his example serving, struggling, and suffering.

I Serving

In verse 25 Paul identifies himself not as an elder, or a missionary, or an apostle, but as a servant, I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness. We should see here the man, the mission and the message.

A The Man

The Greek of verse 25 identifies the man, Paul, as a steward in the household of God. He is the divinely appointed administrator of the treasure of the gospel. So he writes in 2 Corinthians 4:1–2, Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. It is required of a steward that he be open and honest as Paul claims. In 2 Corinthians 4:7 Paul states, But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. It is a treasure to be protected and if you had a treasure in your life you would have no hesitation in appointing Paul as steward to manage it.

B The Mission

The mission is authorized because it is a commission from God as we read again in verse 25, I have become its servant by the commission God gave me. After Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road, people are still fearful but a prophet Ananias is sent to him and we read in Acts 9:15 and 16, But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Elsewhere Paul denominates himself a servant of God in Titus 1:1, and a servant of Jesus Christ in Romans 1:1, but here he does not say he is a servant of the Lord, but a servant of the church which he once persecuted.

C The Message

Bill Hybels said, “ You don't get a well-fed church from serving fast food.” Paul’s message was “To present ...the word of God in its fullness.” In Acts 20 Paul is departing for the last time from the church at Ephesus and meeting with the elders he warns them to care for the flock because false teachers will come in like ravenous wolves to destroy the work of God. He says in verse 27, For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. This has become known as declaring the whole counsel of God because in the King James Version it says, I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God. That is what the Apostle means by the “Word of God in its fullness.” In that same chapter we read that Paul had taught them everything helpful, publicly and from house to house. I like the old language referring to the message of the Old Testament prophets as the "burden of the Lord." Paul carried that heavy burden with him and more than any other single writer he enabled us to understand the Scriptures. He did not preach up a storm, but he preached Christ and Him crucified. The old Indian came to the church service looking for real spiritual food, but instead he found a lot of shouting and pulpit pounding to cover up the lack of preparation.  His opinion of the message in six words was, “High wind.  Big thunder.  No rain." With Paul you got refreshing rain.

II Struggling

The struggle of Paul is well documented here in 1:29 and 2:1, To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me...I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. The word Paul uses translated “struggle” is our word for agony. Paul also uses this word to describe his mission in Romans 15:30 and Philippians 1:30 and to describe our struggle against sin in Hebrews 12:4. The Greeks used this same word to describe wrestling. We are in a wrestling match individually in life and collectively in the church. I know something about wrestling. I participated in collegiate wrestling at Swarthmore College years ago. I have dabbled in many sports, some of them violent like full contact football, but I have never come close to anything like wrestling. You train to the point of exhaustion over and over, and then come the nine minutes of engaging your opponent. Almost immediately you are compelled to strain with all your might against an opponent doing the same thing. There is skill, of course, but there is an unrelenting, unending pressure that leaves no room to catch your breath or relax for a second. Thus Paul says he is struggling with all his energy, but he is struggling to fulfill his mission in teaching God’s whole truth and in order to do this he must suffer both from privation he invites and from persecution he does not.

III Suffering

The first verse of our text, verse 24, speaks of suffering for the gospel, 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. The catalog of Paul’s sufferings in II Corinthians 11:23-28 is remarkable. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Our text reveals that Paul suffered these things both for the Church and for Christ.

A Church

So he says, “I rejoice in what was suffered for you.” Right at this moment Paul is not making missionary journeys nor by his presence ministering to the Colossians, as he hopes to do later. How can he say he is suffering for them? Along with Ephesians, Philippians and Philemon, Colossians was written from a prison cell. This is certainly one of Paul’s sufferings, but all of his sufferings combine to prove his faithful service to God, and the value of what he now writes. They confirm his apostleship and therefore the authoritative nature of his sentiments. Speaking of his mission in II Corinthians 4:10 and 11 Paul says, We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. Obviously his sufferings were for the Colossian Christians in the sense that they were for the whole church. His life was an offering to God on behalf of the Church.

B Christ

Paul adds that in his sufferings, 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. The apostle is undergoing these hardships in the place of Jesus, since Jesus himself is no longer here to endure them. Not as if Paul were doing this all by himself, but he is contributing his share. Other believers contribute theirs. Paul is also convinced of the fact that his afflictions are being borne for the benefit of Christ’s glorious body, the church. In Philippians 3:10 Paul writes, I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. It is not possible to share in the vicarious sufferings of Christ for His blood alone cleanses and His blood alone justifies and pays the price for our sin. He died for sin once as the author of Hebrews tells us. However, the Church is the body of Christ and as long as we are on earth we must share in the same sufferings that he did in His incarnation. In John 15:18–21 we read, If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘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. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. In Acts 14:22 we read that Paul and Barnabas strengthened and encouraged the disciples, to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. As Simon Kistemaker comments, “Since Jesus is no longer physically present on earth, the arrows, which are meant especially for him, strike his followers. It is in that sense that all true believers are in his stead supplying what, as the enemies see it, is lacking in the afflictions which Jesus endured." Paul has left us an example serving, struggling, suffering for the sake of Jesus and the gospel.