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Colossians 1:28 by Robert Dean
Continuing our review of spiritual gifts, we are reminded that two of these gifts (apostle and prophet) ceased around 95 to 100 A.D. Yet it was primarily through Paul's gift as Apostle that God revealed the Mystery Doctrine. Emphasis is placed on a congregation reaching spiritual maturity, but how is that measured? We learn the steps: understanding, knowledge, and finally wisdom, which is a skillful application of the knowledge we've acquired, which begins and is based upon understanding.

The Apostle Paul refers to "the riches of Christ." How do we attain it, and how does it relate to the Mystery of God?
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:50 mins 8 secs

Ministry: Goals, Obstacles, Virtues. Colossians 1:28


The section from Colossians 1:25 through 2:5 is really one of the most personal sections in all of Paul's epistles. There are others that are similar to this but in each of these they express something of the apostle's own heart's desire for those to whom he ministers in these various congregations. In this passage we see the apostle expressing his heart's desire and the goal and objective that he sees that God has given him as an apostle. We also see something of the thinking that should characterize anyone operating in a ministry, not just as an apostle, or just a pastor, or just an evangelist; there are principles here that apply to every one of us in terms of that spiritual gift that God has given us. God has placed each one of us within the body of Christ with the responsibility to be a well-equipped servant or minister within the body of Christ.

At the end of Colossians chapter one Paul states his goal. The more clearly and precisely we define our goals and objectives the easier it is for us to make sure that we hit the target. If we have an ambiguous or nebulous goal or objective that can't be qualified or evaluated then we are never really sure if we hit the mark or accomplish the task. Paul makes it clear in verse 28 that there is a specific end or goal for his ministry. And this would apply to pastors as well as any of those leadership gifts mentioned in Ephesians chapter four. Colossians 1:28 NASB "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ." That is his statement of his end game. It was to present everyone mature in Christ. It is to this end that he labors.

Colossians 1:29 NASB "For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me." The word "labor" is the Greek word kapiao [kapiaw] which means to work hard, to work strenuously until the task is accomplished. It is a sad reality that one of the professions in the world that probably is peopled by some of the laziest and most irresponsible individuals is the pastorate. Most pastors are not that way but sadly there are exceptions. And this is also true on the mission field. This is not true of probably 80 or 90 per cent of those who are missionaries or pastors. They work hard and many pastors also work in secondary jobs because they don't have congregations large enough to support them. There are those out there who use the opportunity and the fact that they are not under any constant observation by anyone and are willing to fleece the sheep rather than encourage the sheep, but those are the exceptions. Those who wish to be biblical understand that it is a never-ending job. There are always thing that could have been done, should have been done, didn't quite have enough time to do, and that is one of the reasons it is important for men to go through seminary.

Then we have a present middle participle telling us how Paul is labouring, so it is a participle of means: by "striving according to His power…" The "His" there relates to God. "…which mightily works within me."  The participle, agonizomai [a)gonizomai] as the root means to strive or to struggle, to strain, to work hard, to exert one's self, to do everything possible to accomplish the task. So there is a recognition that there is work involved. It is not always easy; there are always obstacles to overcome in many different shapes and sizes.

We have to think in terms of the end result. The issue isn't striving and struggling, the issue is doing what we can to reach the goal. And what is that goal? The goal is clearly stated in Ephesians 4:11-13 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."

"for the equipping of the saints for the work of service [ministry]" can be likened to a coach. The coach doesn't get out on the field and play the game, he is the one who trains and equips the players. The players many times can exceed the coach in terms of their own talents, abilities and skills, but the coach is the man who has the ability to train, to motivate, to equip the players so that they can reach their full potential to accomplish their task.

"until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God…" This is a unity that is not at the expense of doctrine. We are not going to just join hands and rejoice that we are all Christians and just have a commonality. There is one faith, one body of doctrine for teaching, for instruction, a set of beliefs that we have as believers. Outside of that is operating on non-Christian ideas. This was important in the Colossian context because they were under pressure from various religious ideas and philosophies from their culture to not hold to their distinctiveness. There is a lot of similarity today in our culture. There is so much pressure upon Christians today to compromise, to go along with, not to make these lines of distinction between the beliefs of biblical orthodox Christianity and that which is outside of the framework of biblical truth. There is a unity of the faith and a knowledge of the Son of God. There is absolute truth that is non-negotiable.

It is the pastor's role to teach the truth of Scripture and this is how we reach the end, which is expressed by the Greek word teleios [teleioj], expressed in many translation as "perfect." The word "perfect" implies flawlessness, and that is not what the Greek word means at all. It really has the idea of reaching a determined or defined end, reaching a goal, and so it has more to do with maturity than it does flawlessness or sinless perfection. So the goal of the pastor is to equip saints, to do ministry, and the way to become equipped to do that ministry is in our spiritual life and spiritual growth. As that takes place then as we move toward maturity we become more effective in our area of ministry.

Working is done through divine power. How are we to understand that? The apostle works through the power of God which is working in him mightily. There is a mystical view out there that thinks, for example: "I have the gift of pastor-teacher so I can just open my Bible and know what it means." That is ludicrous, absurd. There is study involved. The Holy Spirit doesn't just inform the pastor of what the Word means. The Holy Spirit works in and through the natural abilities, spiritual gifts, and the hard work of the pastor who studies the Word. And we have to factor spiritual growth into the process. What Paul is simply stating here is that ultimately anything that is good and right and true that comes out of his ministry is not the result of his effort, it is the result of God who is working in him.

The word "wisdom" was introduced in verse 28 and is going to be picked up again in Colossians 2:2 where we also have the words "understanding" and knowledge." We need to summarize. First of all, we see that God defines the goal—spiritual maturity for everyone in the congregation. That is what the pastor's goal is: to equip. He can't make a person mature, he can only provide the opportunity, the teaching, the tools. A person has to exercise his volition to learn the Word and to apply is so that God the Holy Spirit working through that can bring him to maturity. But that is the objective of the pastoral ministry. We may ask how we measure that. It is an interesting question. There is no way to really quantify or measure it. But in 1 Corinthians 4:1-4 Paul uses the same vocabulary, stewardship and the mysteries of Christ: "What is required of a steward is that he be found faithful." A faithful pastor is one who is faithful to God in his study of the Word and is faithful to his congregation in doing all that he can within his spiritual gift to enable the congregation to grow and reach maturity. So the measuring stick for the pastor is that he is faithful, and we can tell that by how a pastor teaches and what he teaches. Secondly, maturity begins with understanding and knowledge of biblical truth. That is, understanding what the Bible teaches in terms of how we are to think and how we are to live. It is not just some magical thing but it is learning all that Scripture teaches about we are to think and how we are to live.

We have three words that come together. The first is "understanding," a word we find more in the Old Testament than in the New. The Old Testament Hebrew word is bin, which has to do with discernment between that which is human viewpoint and that which is divine viewpoint. So it is a biblical concept often related to how we put things together. When we are faced with a set of circumstances what goes on in our heads is that we immediately have to interpret that set of circumstances, and we put it is some sort of framework of thought so that it has some sort of meaning or understanding to us so that we can then take a certain course of action. That is what this word means in terms mof understanding. Biblically it is used of human viewpoint as well as divine viewpoint. Proverbs 3:5 NASB "Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding." There it is clear that our own understanding is a framework of thought that is based on our finite experience or human viewpoint thought versus God's way of thinking. So understanding relates to a framework of thought that is biblical. Knowledge, on the other hand, is information plus that framework of thought. Knowledge has to be incorporated within a framework. That is why we spend so much time dealing with everything within a biblical framework so that we can put the big picture together, and then the pieces of information that we have fit within that overall biblical framework. Then we have the word "wisdom" based on the Hebrew word chokmah which isn't the Greek idea of abstract wisdom—which is philosophical in nature—but in the Hebrew mind it is very practical application; it is the ability to make something that is beautiful and attractive. When Bezalel and Oholiab, the Jewish artisans who were crafting the furniture for the tabernacle, are given the Holy Spirit the Holy Spirit gave them skill (chokmah). It is not doctrinal wisdom there as we might think of it but it shows us what the core meaning of the word is. It is the skill at their craftsmanship, taking their natural talents of working with gold, silver and wood and giving them an enhancement to do it in such a way that brought about a remarkably artistic product.

We live in an age today that people have forgotten a basic principle: that information isn't knowledge. People think that because they have so much information that they have knowledge, but they don't; they just have data. Knowledge combines a framework of understanding with the information. Information isn't knowledge and knowledge isn't wisdom. Wisdom only comes through a lot of detailed study.   

Colossians 2:1 NASB "For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face." Obviously Paul had a lot of people who were reading his letters and corresponding with him he had never met. Here he uses a word related to the verb used in 1:29, "striving," agonizomai [a)gonizomai]. Here he uses the noun form, agon [a)gwn], related to the English word "agony." It has the idea of contention, it was a word that was used for any sort of contest or tough competition in a sports contest. It was something where you had to work hard in order to gain the victory or success. Paul had this great struggle, great conflict. It is not easy being an apostle; it is not easy being a pastor. There are two places in 2 Corinthians where he is defending his apostleship to the Corinthians and he reminds them of what he has gone through for them and for all those in the church.

2 Corinthians 6:4-10 NASB "but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity [hagnos/a(gnoj—related to sanctification, so by growing spiritually), in knowledge [studying the Word], in patience [patient endurance], in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; {regarded} as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things." He is expressing the fact that there are these two opposing responses to his ministry. For any pastor there are those who accept him and those who reject him, and there is the need to endure all of that: praise as well as the condemnation.

In chapter eleven he gives us another list of things he has gone through and here he is countering the charges related to some false apostles. 2 Corinthians 11:23 NASB "Are they servants of Christ? [No, they are not]—I speak as if insane—I more so [am a minister of Christ]; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. [24] Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine {lashes.} [25] Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. [26] {I have been} on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from {my} countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; [27] {I have been} in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. [28] Apart from {such} external things, there is the daily pressure on me {of} concern for all the churches."

So when  Paul states this and we look at what he says, for example, in Colossians 1:29 this is what he is talking about. He wants those in Colosse to know this great struggle he has, it wasn't easy for him to carry out the ministry. And the purpose for this is that it was for encouragement. Colossians 2:2 NASB "that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and {attaining} to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, {resulting} in a true knowledge of God's mystery, {that is,} Christ {Himself,}."

Being united ["knit"] together in love is a process, and that comes as a result of spiritual growth and the study of God's Word. Paul is saying we have to be strengthened through spiritual growth. It involves growth in love toward one another and growth in understanding and living in light of all of the riches that Jesus Christ has provided for us. The only way we are going to know that is through understanding and studying God's Word. The idea of the riches of Christ is found in a number of New Testament passages: Romans 11:33 NASB "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!"

But we have these riches in Christ. Ephesians 1:18 NASB "{I pray that} the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance [our rewards] in the saints."

Ephesians 2:7 NASB "so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."

Ephesians 3:8 NASB "To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ." The riches of Christ has to do with our spiritual growth and our spiritual life so that as we attain to all the riches that is a term for our spiritual growth to attain through understanding all that we have in Christ, all that we are in Christ, and living on the basis of that. That is described, then, as the mystery of God. It is not something that is hidden, it is this new revelation that God has given us in Christ about Himself. No one has seen God at any time but the Son explained Him to us. It is through Christ that we come to understand God and only on the basis of Christ and our relationship to Him can we really understand all that He has provided for us. When we do and we live in light of that, that is when we are beginning to reach our goal of spiritual maturity.