Center of My Church

 

Week of February 12, 2012

 

Bible Verses:Colossians 1:24-2:7.

 

Lesson Focus:This lesson is about what makes a church Christ-centered.

 

What Is Our Message?: Colossians 1:24-27.

 

[24]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 his body, that is, the church, [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.[ESV]

 

[24-27]Having referred to himself as a servant of the gospel, Paul now goes on to elaborate the nature of that ministry and particularly its significance for the Colossians. Paul did not found the church at Colossae, nor has he visited the church. Yet in some manner the suffering that Paul undergoes in his gospel ministry has benefits for the Colossians. Paul never explains quite how this can be, but the rest of the verse suggests a possible answer. The second half of verse 24 is one of the more difficult passages in the letter. It likely functions to explain how it is that Paulís sufferings are for the sake of the Colossians. The end of the verse suggests a partial answer: Paulís sufferings as a servant of the gospel are for the sake of his body, that is, the church. The language is reminiscent of 1:18, where church refers not to a local assembly of believers (as is usually the case in the New Testament) but to the universal church. By referring to the church as Christís body, Paul highlights the corporate solidarity that Christís people enjoy with him. The Colossians, of course, are members of this worldwide assembly of believers, so they are among the beneficiaries of Paulís sufferings. But just how does Paulís suffering benefit the church at large? And how can Paul claim that his sufferings are filling up what is lacking in Christís afflictions? As a first step toward answering these questions, we need to determine the exact meaning of the verb translated filling up. Paul is not, of course, suggesting that the redemptive suffering of Christ requires any supplementation. As 1:19-20 and 2:15 in this letter make clear, Paul is convinced that Christís death on the cross is completely and finally capable of taking care of the human sin problem. It is not that there is anything lacking in the atoning suffering of Christ but that there is something lacking in regard to the tribulations that pertain to Christ as the Messiah as He is proclaimed in the world. The difference may even be suggested in the vocabulary that Paul uses, since he shifts from sufferings to afflictions, this latter word never being used in the New Testament for Christís redemptive sufferings. The early Christian consciousness, surely shared by Paul, that Christís coming had inaugurated the ďlast days,Ē is an important backdrop to what Paul is saying here. What is lacking, then, needing to be filled up, are the tribulations that are inevitable and necessary as Godís kingdom faces the opposition of the domain of darkness [1:13]. As members of Christís own body, His people participate in the sufferings of Christ Himself. God chose Paul before his birth to become an apostle, with particular responsibility to bring the good news to the Gentiles. This is the stewardship of which he speaks here: to make the word of God fully known. Godís word is not fully known when it is preached only, but when its preaching accomplishes the purpose God has for it: when it is heard and produces growth and fruit in the lives of those who respond. Paul defines the word of God as the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. Mystery is one of the most interesting words in Paulís theological vocabulary. It is particularly prominent in Ephesians and Colossians. Paul uses the word characteristically to denote truth about God and His plan of salvation that had remained hidden in the past but that had now been revealed. The coming of Christ and the accompanying gift of the Spirit, the climactic event in salvation history, reveal to his saints Godís ultimate purpose and plan. Paul emphasizes the point, of course, to remind the Colossians that it is by receiving [1:5] and holding fast [1:23] to the gospel that they have access to this ultimate knowledge Ė not via the program of the false teachers. Verse 27 explains the mystery mentioned in verse 26. What God chose to make known is the riches of the glory of this mystery. The strongly Christological orientation of Colossians is seen again in Paulís definition of the mystery: Christ in you, the hope of glory. Paulís focus here is on how Godís new covenant people are completely identified with their representative, Christ, and how that new identity gives hope for the future. Paul often speaks of Christians as those who are in Christ, but only rarely does he reverse the imagery and refer to Christ in us. But the point of both expressions is the same, stressing the intimate relationship between Christ and His people and the way in which, because of this relationship, Christ fully represents us. It is because of this that we can have the hope of glory, that is, the certainty that we will experience final glory. Paul here returns to a key theme in this opening chapter in order to remind us again that hope is tied to Christ, and to Christ alone.

 

Are We Growing Spiritually?: Colossians 1:28-2:3.

 

[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. [2:1]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, [2]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, [3]in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.[ESV]

 

[28-29]Paulís message was Christ. Clearly Paul conceived of the hope as Christians resting in a person. The gospel is not a system, hierarchy, or set of regulations. It is the person and work of Jesus, which is, indeed, the message. Paulís method is stated by two verbs in verse 28: warning Ö teaching. Warning or admonishing in Scripture has the connotation of confronting with the intent of changing oneís attitudes and actions. Here the term speaks to the task of calling to mind a correct course of action. It encourages people to get on with what they know to do. Teaching complements admonishing. Teaching is the orderly presentation of Christian truth for converts so that they may know how to grow. Paulís methods called for both confronting and instructing. Paulís purpose was to present everyone mature in Christ, Three emphases emerge in this purpose. First, three times in the Greek text of this verse Paul referred to everyone. Clearly he could not rest until all Christians lived up to what God expected. Second, Paul had an eschatological perspective. When he stated may present everyone, he thought in terms of the return of Jesus and the desire to see each Christian mature in the Lord. [29]Third, Paul willingly exerted himself toward that end. The term struggling which occurs here and in the next verse [2:1], was used of athletes who painfully pursued athletic glory. Paul claimed, however, that his struggle was accompanied by Godís energy which energized him. Paul looked forward to the day of the second coming, realizing his goal was to present mature Gentile Christians to the Lord at that time. If that were to be accomplished, it would be done through the power of Christ which effectively worked in him, in spite of the stresses of this life. Paulís ministry fulfilled Godís word in that way. The Old Testament predicted a Gentile response to the Lord. For generations few, if any, knew how this would be accomplished. God revealed it to Paul, however, who saw that the Gentiles could know Christ among them as their hope of participation in glory. Although there were struggles in the ministry, this revelation from Scripture motivated Paul to spread the message of salvation to the churches, a task which brought with it so many personal sufferings on their behalf.

 

[2:1-3]Paul struggled because he wanted to see the Colossian Christians. Paul wanted opportunity to know and encourage all Gentile believers personally. His emotional struggle, therefore, had spiritual dimensions. He desired to be faithful to his calling, and that could best be accomplished by a face-to-face meeting. [2]The purpose of Paulís concerns was that the Colossians might be encouraged in heart. The term encouraged might be translated equally well ďexhorted,Ē and the flow of the sentence suggests at least an element of exhortation is present. Their encouragement grew out of a genuine love which formed a tie stronger than a merely physical one. The love identified here is the love Christ had for them all. Surely that undergirded Paulís thoughts here as it did so often in other contexts. Christís love for them provided a basis for unity and formed a common bond between them. Christian growth is a group task. The individuals of the church needed each other. The intermediate goal develops the idea further. Paulís encouragement envisioned a full understanding. He called it the riches of full assurance of understanding. Here Paul spoke of the benefits of a full understanding. There were spiritual riches reserved for those who encourage each other and have a strong commitment to the body of Christ. The ultimate goal, for Paul, was the knowledge of Godís mystery, which is Christ in the fellowship of the church. The statement is comprehensive, involving a complete knowledge of Christ. [3]Paul naturally moved to an expression of the resources of God in Christ. Since Christ is God manifest, all real wisdom originates in Him. The false teachers focused on wisdom; Paul focused on Christ. God in Christ is the perfect storehouse of real knowledge, and that knowledge supremely appears in Christ. Paul knew that the Colossians had begun the pilgrimage which would lead to maturity. In light of Ephesians 3:14-19, this goal was a full understanding of the treasures of knowledge found in Christ. Thus, as the group interacted with each other in love, each and the whole would experience a deeper understanding of Christ. No doubt this understanding was a knowledge of how God works uniquely in the lives of each one so that they saw the application of Christís love in their lives. Sharing in the experiences of others enriches personal experience and deepens the corporate understanding. The people of Colosse were seeking knowledge. However, the heresy threatened to substitute a pseudo-knowledge for the riches of the treasures of wisdom found in Christ. If they were to find real knowledge, they had to find it in a commitment to Christ. Their common commitment to Christ and to each other would lead them in love to a more mature understanding of God and His ways in Christ.

 

Are We Walking the Walk?: Colossians 2:4-7.

 

[4]I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. [5]For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. [6]Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, [7]rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.[ESV]

 

[4-7]Paul expressed his reasons for concern in a twofold way. There are theological and personal perspectives. Theologically, he was concerned that the Colossians not be deceived by plausible arguments. The church had to learn to see beyond the fine-sounding language of the heretics to the empty and damning arguments they were presenting. Thus, it was to grow in the knowledge of Christ to avoid the deceitful traps of heretical arguments. These heretical arguments came in the appearance of deeper theology. In reality, they were subtle inroads of heresy. Paul also had a personal reason for his concern. He could not be with the Colossians in person, but he felt a strong spiritual tie to them. They were his spiritual children, though they were not directly his converts. Paul delighted in the nature of their Christian commitment. It was orderly and firm. The combination of terms reveals that the false teaching had not had good success to this point. Now Paul wanted to see their faith develop equally. In making specific application of these things to the Colossians, Paulís primary concern was that they continue to grow in Christ. Three statements provide understanding of the nature of the Christian experience of the Colossians. First, they had already received Christ Jesus. Paul reminded them of this basic truth but called them to continue. They were to reflect on how they had received Him, and that was to be a model for their present lives. They were to remember the nature and content of their faith at the time of their salvation, and that was to guide them throughout their Christian lives as well. The second statement in verse 7 describes the nature of their experience. Two metaphors combine to express their initial growth in Christ: rooted and built up in him. The one metaphor pictures sinking the roots of faith into the soil of Christian truth. The other calls to mind building on the foundation of faith. This church had a firm basis for its faith and had built well upon it. Paul continued the description with another participle in Greek, established. This points to the continued growth of the church, similar to built up in him, but with a distinct emphasis. The strength is related to its faith. Probably, as throughout this section, Paul did not mean the experience of faith, or personal faith, even though the Colossiansí personal faith was strong. The attack was against the faith, the system of Christian truth and its ramifications in life. The church was commended for its growing strength in Christian truth. The third statement describing Colossian Christians is that they were abounding in thanksgiving. Paul frequently employed thankfulness as one of the litmus tests of Christian health. He assumed that Christians would live in an attitude of thankfulness for the many blessings bestowed upon them. By contrast, one of the first indicators of departure from God is a lack of thanksgiving. The deep roots of the faith evidence themselvesin an attitude of gratitude for both the initial experience of salvation and the continued sustaining of life. Faith and the nature of a Christian foundation are often invisible, but thanksgiving is a visible response to the grace of God in their lives.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† How is the word of God made fully known? What can you do in order to fully know the Word of God? What does the term mystery mean in Paulís writings?

 

2.†††††††† In proclaiming the Gospel, Paul sought to warn and to teach everyone with all wisdom. What is the difference between warning and teaching? How do they complement each other? How does effective admonishing and instruction lead to spiritual maturity [1:28]?

 

3.†††††††† What was Paulís threefold desire for the Colossians (and for all believers) [2:2-3]? Note how these three desires define Paulís understanding of what it means to be mature in Christ [1:28]. How can you experience these three things in your life?

 

4.†††††††† In 2:6-7, Paul gives a command to the Colossians: walk in him. What does it mean to walk in Christ? What are the three statements that Paul makes to indicate what must be true of a believer before they can walk in Christ? Are these things true in your life?

 

References:

The Message of Colossians & Philemon, R.C. Lucas, Inter Varsity.

Colossians, Philemon, Richard Melick, Jr., NAC, Broadman.

The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, Douglas Moo, Pillar, Eerdmans.

Colossians, Todd Still, EBC, Zondervan.