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Colossians 1:25 by Robert Dean
As we continue in our study of the doctrine of the Church, we learn that the role of the local Church is a manifestation of the universal Church. We learn that a believer's responsibility with the spiritual gift/s delegated to him is to serve something greater than ourselves. But what is Christian service? What is your ministry? We learn that every believer is accountable to Christ for the use of his spiritual gift/s. If we minister to our local body of believers, we serve one another. This in turn serves Christ and is a result of our spiritual growth and spiritual maturity.
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:45 mins 10 secs

Finding Your Ministry in the Local Church. Colossians 1:25

 

What is important about acquiring national service for everyone is that it teaches several things other than the initial objective which is to have bodies in the military. It teaches character because you are serving something outside of yourself. At the age of eighteen when most of us are about as self-absorbed as we can possibly be they are put in a position where that self-absorption is knocked out of them and they have to learn to serve an ideal that is greater than any of them; and that is the ideal of their nation and serving their nation. It teaches a quality of life that is related to humility, and that is service. When we are serving a cause, something greater than ourselves, then it is in that context that character is developed and built because we are not living for our own desires and pleasure; we are doing something for others. 

That principle that we see in a broad almost establishment sense is true especially in the Christian life; it is true in the body of Christ. We are called in the body of Christ as believers in Jesus Christ and members of the body to serve one another. Christian service is often not emphasized in some circles because in other circles Christian service has been wrongly emphasized as a means toward spirituality where it becomes a legalistic, superficial kind of thing. That is true in a lot of churches. Christian service within the body of Christ is something which should flow and develop out of, and as a result of, a person's individual spiritual growth and their capacity to love the Lord Jesus Christ, to love God and to serve Him. Serving Christ is ultimately the result of our spiritual growth and spiritual maturity.

Just because some churches misuse and abuse the emphasis on Christian service doesn't mean we throw the baby out with the bath water and go to the other extreme and deemphasize Christian service. Christian service, just as service to the nation through the armed services or in some other way builds character, Christian service even more so. Christian service teaches us to think in terms of the body of Christ and why Jesus Christ has called us and gifted each one of us to serve the body of Christ. Every one of us has a spiritual gift. We don't have to know what that spiritual gift is to use it.

As we grow in life and mature our strengths and talents begin to be obvious as a result of our growth, we don't have to go out and discover our strengths, talents, interests before we can grow. The same thing is true of the Christian life. There are many mature and maturing believers who have no idea what their spiritual gift is but they serve the Lord Jesus Christ in numerous ways, and that is a manifestation of their spiritual gifts. We don't have to know the gift in order to utilize the gift but as a maturing believer we are expected and have been given various responsibilities to serve one another, to pray for one another, to admonish one another, teach one another; all these commands are there. We are all expected to give, to witness, but only a few are gifted in these areas, and those who are gifted in these areas help those of us who aren't how to be more effective in those areas wherein we are not gifted.

As we look at Colossians 1:25 we ought to think in terms of fulfilling our ministry in the local church. In this passage the apostle Paul is focusing upon his ministry, which means of course he is an apostle. We are not apostles. The gift of apostleship died out at the end of the first century. To pick up the context, in 1:24 Paul says, NASB "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions." He is talking about the fact that by serving the Lord Jesus Christ by serving the local church he goes through an additional layer of adversities and suffering in life. But he can rejoice. He has a mental attitude of joy in the midst of that suffering and can endure the suffering because he understands the ultimate goal. The "afflictions" here doesn't deal with the afflictions on the cross; it has to do with the non-redemptive suffering in the life of Christ for spiritual growth. And he does this for the sake of His body, which is the church. It is important to understand the church as a body of believers, and the thing that is important about the metaphor that Paul uses when talking about the church as a body of believers is that he speaks in both Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 12 of how we are members of one another. It is not this individualistic idea that there is just a whole lot of different individuals and we are all pursuing spiritual growth separate from one another, and are all on the same path facing forward serving the Lord Jesus Christ, growing spiritually; but there is an interdependency on each member of the local church.           

Colossians 1:25 NASB "Of {this church} I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the {preaching of} the word of God." Notice the focus on serving the body of Christ. It is not about Paul, it is about the body of Christ, about the Lord Jesus Christ and His mission. There are three words that we see in this context (two in v. 25 and one in v. 26) that we are going to need to focus on a little: minister, stewardship and mystery. In verse 26 he says, NASB "{that is,} the mystery which has been hidden from the {past} ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints."

The word translated "minister" is the word diakonos [diakonoj]. It was originally used of waiters, those who served tables. Later it came to mean anyone who was in some sort of service capacity, serving someone. This is the idea that the apostle Paul is emphasizing here: that he is made a servant of this church, which is identified in the previous verse as the body of Christ. So there are two aspects to this. One is that he is serving Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ met him on the road to Damascus and called him into this ministry to serve Him, to take the Word of God as a light to the Gentiles. So he is to serve Christ. Secondly, in a secondary sense he is serving Christ by serving the body of Christ which is the church. Both of these ideas are present here.

It is according to a certain standard, we have, and that standard is represented by the word oikonomos [o)ikonomoj], translated "stewardship." oikonomos can be broken down into its two root components: oikos means house; nomos means law, house law. It came to refer to an administrator, and administration. So when you are living in someone's home you are under their rule. They are the ones responsible for that home; they set the rules; that is the idea. It was used, though, to refer to someone who was a steward, someone who was a manager of a household or a large estate. They oversaw the finances, the budget, the work; they made sure that the work was accomplished in a timely manner; and so this was a position of great responsibility. It is a word that is used by the apostle Paul in parallel to another word that he uses: doulos [douloj], which means a bond slave or a servant; and He frequently uses that to describe the role of an apostle. An apostle is a bond slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. An apostle has been given a stewardship or delegated a responsibility of oversight within the body of Christ.   

The third word is "mystery." Paul uses it a number of times and it refers to previously unrevealed Scripture. So "mystery" is essentially a term that is part of understanding revelation. That which has not yet been revealed is called a mystery: Colossians 1:26.

These three words are also found in another important passage: 1 Corinthians 4:1, 2 NASB "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy." The context for what Paul says in the first part of 1 Corinthians chapter four is that his authority is being questioned and challenged by those in Corinth. He gives a short defence of his apostleship, and in doing so he identifies the primary responsibility of an apostle. This also applies to a pastor. The way it applies to a pastor is that a pastor is, we might say, similar to an apostle in that he has a similar job description. But whereas an apostle was to take the Word of God to a broad number of churches and had authority over pastors and over a number of local churches, a pastor is simply the leader and the shepherd of one single congregation. But there are certain similarities in the job responsibilities that God has given to pastors as well as to apostles. So it also helps to understand what the accountability basis is for pastors. Here Paul uses a different word for "servant," he doesn't use the word diakonos; he uses a close synonym, huperetes [u(phrethj], which refers to a person who is a servant, a helper or an assistant. Originally it was a word that described a rower in a boat, so it carries a connotation of teamwork, a member of a team; not someone who was out on their own. Paul is emphasizing that he is not serving his own end but is serving Jesus Christ. In the word "stewards" we have the word oikonomos; this is a delegated responsibility that has been given to him to handle the mysteries of God. So the primary focus of the ministry of an apostle—and in a similar way the primary focus in the ministry of a pastor—is in relation to the mysteries of God or divine revelation. That means the Bible. It was the responsibility of apostles to record Scripture and it is the responsibility of pastors to take that revelation which has been recorded and to teach and explain it to a congregation so that they can utilize it for spiritual growth. The pastor does not exercise the same level of authority as an apostle but he has a limited realm of authority within a local church which comes from and is based on the Word of God. He has a delegated responsibility to properly handle the revelation of God, the mysteries of God. 

"… moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy [faithful]." The only way you can measure or quantify in terms of what God is looking at for a pastor is that he is faithful—faithful in serving God in terms of his study of God's Word and his teaching of God's Word. We live in a world 2000 years separated from the New Testament where a lot of different traditions have developed in different denominations related to what a pastor is supposed to do. In many churches everything is put on the pastor to do all the work and all the ministry, and to have the time to spend eighty or ninety per cent of his time to study the Word just cuts completely across the grain of denominational expectations. The expectation, though, of the Word of God is that a pastor, like an apostle, is to be faithful in how he handles the responsibility of the Word of God in teaching the Word of God and in studying so that he is properly prepared. The requirement is to be faithful to God.

Observations:

1.  Take the application of this beyond the pastor because this applies to every believer in terms of their spiritual gift. The believer is accountable to Christ for the use of his spiritual gift. At the judgment seat of Christ one of the things to be evaluated is our use of our spiritual gift.

2.  The pastor is evaluated on the basis of his faithfulness to God's Word. Faithfulness is defined in two directions: faithful to God in how you study the Word and faithful to the congregation in teaching the Word. There are different ways in which this needs to be applied. One of them is the daily schedule of the pastor in terms of how he spends his time and being freed from other distractions so that he can focus on a study of the Word. There is to be a belief in the pastor having a trained ministry; the pastor should go to seminary. Sadly there are people in churches where they don't really care whether a pastor has a formal education. It used to be that pastors were expected to have a good education and to know Greek and Hebrew and Latin. In fact, in the colonial period in the USA nearly everyone had to learn Greek and many boys as they came up through school had to learn Latin and Hebrew because there was the expectation that even if you were not going to be a pastor it would still be important as a non-pastor sitting in the pew to know these in order to get more out of the sermons. There were times in this country when half the men and women in the congregation would know at least enough Greek to be able to follow along with the pastor in a Greek text. So we need to be challenged to go to a higher level of expectation.

Ephesians 4:11-16 NASB "And He gave some {as} apostles, and some {as} prophets, and some {as} evangelists, and some {as} pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all {aspects} into Him who is the head, {even} Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love."

This passage defines the role and the purpose of those four gifted men that are mentioned—apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers. Apostles and prophets are off the scene; they were temporary gifts. So it is talking about the role and function of the gift of pastor-teacher and the evangelist. And it is for equipping the saints to do the work of service, of ministry. That is their job description. Part of the goal objective is the pastor teaches the Word to the congregation the congregation learns to serve Christ within the local body. That doesn't mean there aren't areas of service outside the body but the focus here, as in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 12, is that the spiritual gifts are given to believers for serving within the body of Christ.

We need to look at the ultimate objective as it is described in the last few verses: v. 13, "…until we all attain to the unity of the faith [doctrine] (unity not at the expense of doctrine, ecumenicalism) and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature [maturity]…" So the ultimate goal is spiritual maturity for each individual and that maturity is equated to the fullness of Christ. So we can define maturity as Christ-likeness in character and in service. It is depicted negatively in v. 14 as not being like children who are confused by every different thing that is taught. They know the truth and they stick with the truth and are not blown off course by false doctrine and deceitful planning. It works itself out in terms of the interaction of the body. "…but speaking the truth in love." This is a participle of the word for "truth" and in a raw translation sense it would be "truthing in love," but sometimes the word for "truth," as in the Old Testament, has the idea of faithfulness—being faithful to truth and being true to one another in love. That we grow up in all things into Christ who is the head. Then v. 16, "from whom [Christ] the whole body [of Christ], being fitted and held together…" That is talking about the interdependency of every individual member of the body of Christ. "…by what every joint supplies." It doesn't say 'by what the pastor supplies, what the evangelist supplies, by what the apostles or prophets supply; it is by what every joint supplies. Every believer has a vital role within the team of the body of Christ. Every joint supplies something in terms of the whole. "…according to the proper working of each individual part" doing its share. So every individual believer by virtue of the fact that he is given a spiritual gift means that with that spiritual gift he has been delegated a responsibility within the body of Christ.

We are to understand that the spiritual gift is a responsibility God gave us so that by growing to maturity we will use that for the benefit of the entire body of Christ, and it is in that dynamic of the body of Christ as every part does its share that growth for the body—not the individual spiritual growth—as individuals grow spiritually and then are involved in serving one another that is how the body, the local church, matures together and develops as a whole. So it is not about me and my spiritual life. Our spiritual growth is designed to prepare and equip us to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, and we serve the Lord Jesus Christ by serving the body of Christ, just like the apostle Paul was saying in Colossians 1:25.

Ephesians 4:11 says that the purpose for these gifts (pastor-teacher and evangelist) is "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service [ministry]." Who does the ministry? Not the pastor, but the people. It is the congregation that does the ministry as a result of spiritual growth. The word translated "equipping" is the Greek word katartismos [katartismoj] which means to equip, prepare somebody for service. This is the focal point. And how are we trained? It is through the Word of God. We train by understanding what the Word of God teaches, what our priorities should be. The root of that word is made up of kata, a preposition that intensifies it, and artizo [a)rtizw] which shows up again in 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 NASB "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." Reproof means that we come to church with a lot of wrong ideas from human viewpoint. We are going to hear the Word of God and it is going to stomp on our toes, and we are going to exchange our opinions for the truth of God's Word—that's correction, it straightens us out. Instruction in righteousness is for a purpose: "that the man of God [maturing believer] may be adequate/complete, equipped for every good work." The word translated "complete" is the adjective artios [a)rtioj], but the word translated "equipped" is also built off the same verb, artizo [a)rtizw] (from exartizo/ e)cartizw) and the double use of this word here indicates that it is through Scripture that we are completely and totally and thoroughly equipped.

The Word of God is sufficient to train all of us whatever our spiritual gifts are to minister to one another, and it is through that interaction of our ministry as we grow to maturity that the body of believers within a local church grows to maturity because all the parts are functioning in terms of the whole. This is the same idea that Paul is emphasizing here in terms of his stewardship in Colossians 1:25, that he was give this stewardship from God to fulfil the Word of God, to fully carry it out. His gift was different from ours but the principle still applies that we have been given a responsibility. And as we fulfil that responsibility in terms of our spiritual gift it fulfils or brings to completion the Word of God in terms of our own spiritual life and focus. For the apostle Paul this was related to his communication of the mystery doctrines which relate to this church age.