El Shaddai: The Colossians Study (No. 3)
Words by Lexy Sauvé // Images by Candice Hackett
In the beginning of the book of Colossians, Paul writes about Jesus’ sufficient Gospel, and the ability of Jesus to perfectly display the image of God and be the Creator of all things. These truths about Jesus’ nature should birth much rest in the Christian’s heart and life as we learn that every aspect and atom of the universe rests on Christ, not on ourselves. Jesus alone is able to carry the weight of glory. We can literally take a load off at the cross.
In the next section of verses we will see how Christ is sufficient to help equip and encourage one another into maturity, toiling even, as Paul calls it, and how Christ is able to cause the growth. Jesus is our only hope for sharing and teaching his truths with others, and our only hope that the seeds will bear much fruit, giving birth to new life and sanctification.
“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 the 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 firmness of your faith in Christ.” (Colossians 1:24–2:5)
Not even the bars of prison were enough to stop Paul’s insistence on equipping others to follow Jesus. In verse 25, we see Paul acknowledge that he “became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you.” Paul’s desire to make the word of God fully known and to see these Christians firm in their faith was not an idea he came up with on his own. This was a God-implanted aspiration. If it was Paul’s own idea his pen would have ceased for fear when he was thrown in prison, but divinely inspired goals such as those are not smothered by hard circumstances. Paul was not giving up. He knew that Jesus was continuing to work and suffer in the flesh through the body of believers. This is what he meant when he said, “I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” And, like Jesus, Paul set his eyes on Christ and was willing to suffer because of the joy set before him in winning souls for the Kingdom of Light (Heb. 12:2).
I see this same eagerness present in my husband’s heart towards the flock he shepherds in Utah. I watch him become crestfallen when he hears of marriages falling under the pressures of unforgiveness, and I see the God-inspired frustration when he learns of more brothers and sisters not willing to turn from sexual immorality and run to Christ. He has a heavenly desire to see the body of believers at Refuge Church stand strong in Christ alone, and anything less disturbs his heart in such a way that he is willing to give time, energy, and prayer pouring into believers so that they might look more like Jesus. In the Great Commission Jesus said to his disciples, “‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’” (Matt. 28:18–19). This command still applies to believers today. We are given a heavenly calling to make disciples and teach others, believers and unbelievers, in such a way that may require suffering, and that we may present others as mature in Christ (1: 28).
Again, this is a supernatural, other-earthly sort of resolve to suffer for this specific cause. Paul says honestly that he indeed toiled (1:29), which means to be exhausted from laboring, to work extremely hard at something. He endured the torture of Roman prison life in order that these believers may gain wisdom and knowledge in Jesus. But Paul knew the sustaining life source of this ability was not found in himself, but in Christ: “his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
So, as we go about cultivating this same teacher’s heart that loves others and desires to see them grow in godliness, we are sent out with sufficient power to work hard at doing so. God supplies the strength to encourage, the power to save, and the ability to teach others with his Gospel message.
As we act on this mutual encouragement among believers, the awesome thing is that God has chosen this as a means to actually bring about growth in others. But again, as 1 Corinthians 3:7 says quite plainly, “God gives the growth.” This is what Paul meant when he said, “ . . . Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27). This is the good news of the Gospel! Our hope for becoming mature believers, respectful, adoring wives, and wise, patient mothers does not rest on our ability. Our hope of ever reaching the glorious character traits God desires us to achieve rests on him alone. Philippians 2:13 shares this same encouragement: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
But why was Paul so worried about the firmness of faith in these Christians in Colossae? He says why: “I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments” (2:4). There were a few groups vying for the affections of these believers. Of the more prominent groups were the Gnostics and the Jewish mystics. These groups taught that there was a secret wisdom and knowledge that was only fully realized by a select few who had ascended to such heights that they apparently conversed with angelic beings. They possessed a self-righteous, prideful attitude that essentially taught salvation by works, saying they could not be saved unless they gained this hidden knowledge. Paul desperately wanted the Colossians to know they were fully equipped with all the knowledge needed for salvation through Jesus. This is why he said he desired they would “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” (2:2–3). There isn’t another, higher knowledge apart from God. Jesus’ divine power has already granted us all things needed for life, godliness, and salvation (2 Peter 1:3).
John chapter six reveals a little more about this total sufficiency of Jesus through the mouth of one of his disciples. Common to the human heart, a lot of them were grumbling about his teachings. Verse 66 even says that, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” Jesus turns to the twelve remaining and questions: “Well, are you guys going to leave as well?” May we all respond as Simon Peter on our pilgrimage for truth, life, and godliness!
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (6:68–69)
Questions to consider: