The Mold of a Minister (Col. 1:24-29)

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Introduction

There is a lot of confusion today about what makes a good minister? Does he need to be a CEO type leader who runs the church like a fortune 500 company? Does he need to be a marketing genius? Does he need to be an entertaining speaker? And with all this confusion today about what a minister is supposed to be, it is often a great struggle for a minister to measure the effectiveness of his ministry. Do we measure it in attendance numbers? Do we measure it with dollars? Do we measure it by building programs? How do we know if he is doing a good job?

Well, to answer that question we would be wise to turn to the Bible. So I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to Colossians 1:24–29. In this passage we will be presented with what I am calling The Mold of a Minister.

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. 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. (Colossians 1:24–29 ESV)

You know what a mold is. And I am not talking about the stuff that grows in damp houses. A mold is something that allows us to produce exact replicas. Whether it is a jello mold that many of you ladies have likely used before when cooking to produce wonderful looking deserts. Or whether it be a mold that liquid metal is poured into to form a part for our cars, they work pretty much the same way. You pour some raw material into them and a little while later, out out comes a finished product that has taken the exact form of the mold.

Well, if we could make a mold of a minister, Paul would be the form for that mold. And in this passage Paul is describing for us the characteristics of a faithful minister to the church. So when we ask the question: “What are the marks of a good minister?”, this passage points us in the right direction.

Now before we begin, let me point out that I am preaching this message only because it is the next passage that comes in the book of Colossians. That is the beauty of expository preaching that works through a book verse by verse from beginning to end. I really don’t have a choice in what I preach each week. I say this because I want to be clear that I have no reason to preach this other than the fact that our sermon last week ended with verse 23 and so I need to pick up in verse 24 today.

Now with that disclaimer out of the way. Let’s look at the Mold of a Minister. I will make four points about this Mold from our text today. There are certainly more characteristics of a faithful minister, but we will stick with what we have in our passage.

The first thing we see from this passage is that…

A Minister participates in Christ’s Sufferings (24)

Look with me in verse 24 again. Paul says:

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, (Colossians 1:24 ESV)

There are a few things to notice about this verse. First of all a faithful minister is someone who is willing to suffer for the sake of the body of Christ. We see here in the last part of this verse that Paul says he is suffering for the sake of Christ’s body the church.

And how does he do this? Well, Paul says at the beginning of this verse that he rejoices in his sufferings. And that is an odd concept. But it is a concept we find throughout Paul’s writings. Romans 5:3 also says:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance (Romans 5:3 ESV)

But how does one rejoice in suffering? Well to answer that question we need to understand what it is that suffering accomplishes for us as Christians. First of all, for Paul personally, he knew that though suffering was not something to be enjoyed, that God did use suffering to transform him more and more into the image of Christ.

One of my favorite hymns, How Firm a Foundation, says this beautifully in two of its verses. Let me read them to you.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go, The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow; For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless, And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply; The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

It is often the trials and sufferings of life that God takes us through that are used by him to remove the dross or the imperfections from the finished product of gold he is working on. So Paul knew that his sufferings were doing a work in him and he could rejoice in that.

But also, the second thing his suffering was accomplishing, was not for him personally, but for the church and its people. And actually this is specifically what he is talking about here, because he says he rejoices in his sufferings that are for “your” sake, or for the sake of the Colossians.

Paul knows that his suffering benefits the church. It is because of his suffering that so many people have come to believe in Jesus Christ. He also knew that by enduring suffering and persecution for the sake of others, he was participating in some way with the sufferings of Christ which were also for the sake of the church.

And that is what Paul means by the difficult phrase, “I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions,” in this verse. But those words are difficult to understand and really should, on the surface, be troubling to us. We should ask the question, “Is Paul saying there was something lacking from the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ that reconciled sinners to God?”

And so, I will say it again, this is why we have to interpret Scripture with Scripture. Because if we know our Bibles, we know that is absolutely not what Paul is saying. Hebrews 10:14 says it best:

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14 ESV)

What is lacking then in Christ’s afflictions has nothing to do with their ability to redeem us and reconcile us to God. What was lacking is the fact that there yet remains more suffering for the body of Christ to endure. And who is the body of Christ? We see it right here, the church. That is why when Paul was still Saul, the greatest persecutor of the church, and was on his way to Damascus to persecute more Christians, that Jesus knocked him off his horse and said to him:

Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? (Acts 9:4 ESV)

You see, there is a real way that when the church of Christ is persecuted, it is Jesus himself that is being persecuted. And so Paul is able to rejoice in the fact that he is united with Christ and his body in his suffering.

And additionally, Paul knows that it is the public display of being willing to suffer for what you believe in, that God often uses to as an instrument for bringing about faith in the hearts of those who witness it.

Let me tell you a story that illustrates this.

When preparing this sermon, a Russian man named Sergei Kourdakov came to my mind. I first heard his story in John Piper’s book Desiring God (one of my personal favorites). I have a copy of his book in my office if you would like to borrow it—but be warned, I will hunt you down if I don’t get it back.

Anyway, Piper mentions the story of Sergei Kourdakov who was a KGB agent who carried out more than 150 raids of underground Christian communities in the Soviet Union during the 1960s. Sergei persecuted Christian believers with extreme brutality. In his later years, he wrote 2 books (which were actually published after his death) detailing the accounts of these brutal raids and the effects that one Christian, a young lady named Natasha, had on his life. Sergei explains that through his encounters with Natasha the Lord opened his heart to the glorious good news of Jesus Christ.

You see, Sergei participated in and witnessed Natasha being severely beaten. He witnessed this not once, or twice, but three times at different prayer meetings. Beaten to the point where he and his comrades were certain they had “beaten God out of her head.” But yet she continued to attend prayer meetings and they would continue to beat her.

But Sergei explains in his books that her faithfulness to her God made an impact on him and other officers. So much so, that one of Sergei’s books is entitled Forgive Me, Natasha and concludes with the following words to the young girl he never saw again:

And, finally, to Natasha, whom I beat terribly and who was willing to be beaten a third time for her faith, I want to say, Natasha, largely because of you, my life is now changed and I am a fellow Believer in Christ with you. I have a new life before me. God has forgiven me; I hope you can also.

Thank you, Natasha, wherever you are. I will never, ever forget you!

Sergei and his comrades knew Natasha had something they did not have. Suffice it to say Natasha’s sufferings made a contribution to the spread of the gospel—which is the good news about Christ’s suffering and what they accomplished. And so, Paul sees it as a privilege to share Christ’s sufferings.

And this is why the second and third century church father, Tertullian was able to say: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The sufferings of Christ’s followers plant the seed for new church growth.

And so, it is important to note that it is not only ministers who suffer for the church and the gospel. All of us do. Jesus tells us, “if they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” Friends the truth is, as it says in Acts 14, it is “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” So all of Christ’s followers will suffer in some way for their faith. This is why the prosperity gospel makes no sense from a biblical perspective.

So we have seen in these verses that Paul suffers as he goes about sharing the gospel from place to place. And he does this willingly and joyfully because he knew that he was strengthening the church in the process. But there was another reason Paul was willing to suffer in this way. That is because he had a divine commission. Our second point this morning is that…

A Minister performs a Divine Commission (25)

Look with me in verse 25. I am able to say this is a divine commission because Paul says, “I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you.” A steward was a common title in Paul’s day for someone responsible for a large household. They were entrusted by the master of the house to care for it. And Paul had been appointed as a steward responsible for making “the word of God fully known.” That was his commission. And once again, the beneficiaries of this commission were the people within church. Paul says that this stewardship was given to by him by God “for you” or for the Colossians.

So Paul had a commission from God. And that is part of the mold for every minister. They have been called by God to the gospel ministry and to deny that call or ignore it is almost impossible. It is impossible because God gives them a compulsion they cannot deny. A fire in their bones to preach the gospel and make it known to those who are lost. The thing that qualifies a man for ministry is not his preparation, not his schooling, not his family, it is the call of God on his life that he cannot ignore.

The Apostle Peter and the other disciples when they were commanded by the Jewish High Priest to quit teaching in the name of Jesus, answered him by saying, “We must obey God rather than men.” That is because they, like Paul, had a divine commission. They could no more deny that commission than we can deny ourselves oxygen. To deny it was to die. They were like the prophet Jeremiah who had a fire in his bones to preach and trying to contain it was impossible. Paul said elsewhere, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” And he said this because he had a divine commission.

Paul had a divine commission from God to “make the word of God fully known” and thus fully fulfill the responsibilities and obligations of this divine commission. And so Paul’s obligation was to make God’s word fully known to fulfill his responsibility to declare God’s message. And in verse 26, he calls this message, a mystery. And so the third point I want to make about the mold of a minister is that…

A Minister proclaims a Mysterious Message (26–27)

Look with me in verse 26, this is not a new sentence, it is a continuation of verses 24 and 25. The mystery Paul is talking about here is the Word of God which he is to make fully known. In verse 26 Paul defines the word of God as “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.” And in verse 27 he further says that this mystery can be summed up as “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The saving plan of God had for centuries, or as Paul says here, “for ages and generations,” been somewhat of a veiled mystery to God’s people. By mystery he means God’s slowly unfolding plan of redemption for the world. A mystery that culminated in a way that was unimaginable in the death of God himself on the cross. And though the Jewish people were looking for a Messiah, the fact that this Messiah would come and dwell with them and then, IN THEM, was a great mystery. A mystery that God is now revealing to them. And at the core of this mystery is Christ himself.

So Paul calls it a mystery because the manner in which God’s redemptive plan would be carried out was unknown for ages and generations and is now being revealed. It is being revealed to the world through the preaching of men like Paul who were stewards of this mystery. Paul’s responsibility as a minister to the church was to unfold the wonder of it all to them. And one of the most wonderful things about it for the readers of this letter, is that this plan of redemption is not only for the Jews but for them as well.

Verse 27 says that “God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles (i.e. You the Colossians) are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” In other words, the biggest part of this mystery, is that Jesus Christ dwells not only in believing Jews, but in any person who believes. And for the Colossians, this is the “hope of glory,” or the hope of a future, eternal life with Jesus Christ in God’s heavenly kingdom. And that is also a part of this mystery, that God would make one church out of two groups of people, Jews and Gentiles, who had been divided and separated for so long.

And friends, this is the gospel. Through Jesus Christ, God has made a way for all men and women to be reconciled with him. The mystery that had been veiled for centuries was now being made clear for all. And today, we bear the same responsibility to share it with the world. The tomb is still empty. Jesus is still king. And he is still the savior of the world. Let us not keep that veiled and a mystery to the world around us.

But making converts is not our only objective, as important as that is. Part of the great commission to go and make disciples, but that includes baptizing them and then teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded. So in verses 28 and 29 we see that…

A Minister produces Mature Disciples (28–29)

And how does a minister do this? How does he produce mature disciples? By proclaiming Christ. Paul says in verses 28, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom.” One commentator puts it like this:

[Christ] is the sum and substance of their message, whether in the saving news which they announce in the world to bring men and women to faith, or in the teaching which they impart to those who have believed (Bruce, Colossians, 86).

Preaching Christ is the main calling for any pastor. There are a lot of things someone can stand in a pulpit and talk about, but their calling is to proclaim Christ. And in this verse we see the purpose for this is: “that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” That my friends is the end goal of a minister of the church.

Paul further describes this proclamation of Christ with the words “warning” and “teaching.” In other words, we are to correct people who are in grave error regarding their eternal security. And then to teach them once they have believed so that they mature in their faith and in their walk with Christ.

And though, the false teachers in Colossae were purporting to have and teach a wisdom beyond what Paul and Epaphras were teaching, Paul refutes that here saying he and Epaphras are teaching everyone with all wisdom. And notice that emphatic “everyone” three times in this verse. Warning everyone, Teaching everyone, that we might present everyone mature in Christ. This is not a teaching and a wisdom for an elite intellectual group in the church who could attain this high level of spiritual knowledge. Though the depths of the truths about Christ can never be fully mined, even by the greatest intellects, this wisdom is for everyone. And it leads to mature disciples who will be presented to God on the last day.

But this is no easy work. Paul says so in verse 29. But notice that while Paul says he toils over this work to produce mature disciples, that his struggling is with energy given to him by Christ. There is a unique tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility in the Bible.

Charles Spurgeon is widely recognized as the Prince of Preachers. He may have been one of the greatest preachers of all time. But I believe the thing that made Spurgeon’s preaching so powerful is his reliance on the Holy Spirit. The story is told that as Charles Spurgeon climbed the steps into his pulpit every week he would walk slowly and fearfully saying, “I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Sprit.” And woe is me (and really woe is you), because you may not have realized this yet, but I am no Charles Spurgeon. And if the Prince of Preachers, had to convince himself of this every week, I better be convinced of it too.

So yes, Paul works at this, he toils over it, but God is the one who gives him the strength and the energy and the power to do this ministry.

And this is really the whole crux of the sermon today. Paul’s goal in ministry is to produce mature Christians, which requires willingness to suffer as one divinely appointed to reveal God’s mysterious message of redemption through the hard work of proclaiming of Jesus Christ to everyone. And he does this with divinely bestowed strength.

Conclusion

As I said earlier, one of the great struggles for a minister is to measure the effectiveness of his ministry. Do we measure it in attendance numbers? Do we measure it with dollars? Do we measure it by building programs? Well Paul would say no to all of those. He would say if we are going to measure it by anything we can count, measure it by whether or not the minister is being used by God to produce mature followers of Christ. All those other things can be false indicators of a successful ministry. High attendance may just mean he is an entertaining speaker. The same with a big budget and building programs. But you can’t fake mature disciples. And ultimately that is what God is going to measure a minister by. That and faithfulness to his call—particularly if God has placed him somewhere where he will make very few disciples.

So the goal of a minister is first of all to be faithful to his call and to his God. And second of all to do the things that lead to mature disciples. And those things may not be fun. They may not grow the attendance. They may not increase the budget, but hopefully they will increase the kingdom.

And maybe this morning, you may have been thinking, well today he is preaching to himself. This passage is talking primarily about the role of a pastor and doesn’t have much to say to me. But I have two very specific applications for you.

First, pray for me. Pray that I will be prepared and able to suffer for the sake of the church as necessary. Pray that I will remain committed to my calling which is to make the word of God fully known among you and to first and foremost proclaim Christ week after week. And pray that Christ will give me the energy and the stamina necessary for a long ministry here. And pray that I will be smart enough to not try and do this in my own strength which will be an utter failure. I want to be as close as I can to the mold of a minister presented in this passage today. And for that I will need your prayers.

Second, much of what Paul tells about his work as a minister also applies to us as a church. We are God’s instrument of ministry in this community. And so we need to be united in what our calling and purpose is. And I submit to you this morning that our calling is to proclaim Christ. To point people to the truth of the gospel. And to be committed in this church to teaching and making disciples who grow into full maturity, ready to be presented to God.

And this is not only work for me. It is also work for you. It requires a commitment from all of us that we will be a place where the word of God is rightly taught. And a place where Jesus Christ is proclaimed week in and week out as the hope of glory. So pray for this church as well, that God will guide us and lead us as we seek to be good stewards of this mysterious message about Christ.