True ministry is joyful, agonizing, and full of Christ
Last week we ended with the sobering call to continue in the faith. Those who remain in the faith will be presented by the Son to the Father holy, blameless, and above reproach. If you don’t remain in the faith then you will not be presented to God holy, blameless, and above reproach. Those who live life with Christ are welcomed into the joys of our Father but the one who abandons Christ will be cast out into the darkness of a forever hell.
One of our priorities as the church is to encourage one another to keep believing and obeying the gospel. We want nothing less than the obedience of faith (Romans 16:26). We take the command of Hebrews 12:15 seriously, ‘See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.’ Your faith is a great concern to us and our faith must be a great concern to you. As your pastor, I am concerned about your faith.
The Apostle had a personal, at times uncomfortable and costly, love for his brothers and sisters. He understood he had been made a minister in order to help others remain steadfast in the gospel.
As Paul writes we can track his thinking. In Colossians 1:15-19 Paul teaches the truth concerning the magnificence of Jesus the beloved Son of God. In verses 20-22 Paul explains how we who were cut off from God can now be reconciled to God through the bloody cross of Christ. The power and reality of life in Christ produces the warning to remain steadfast in the gospel. Don’t forsake this glorious gospel! Only through the gospel can you have life.
All of this writing about the gospel caused the Apostle to think about what it means to be a minister of the gospel. If people must remain steadfast in the gospel then what is the minister’s role in helping others remain steadfast? What must a pastor be about if that pastor is going to be faithful? Let’s look at true ministry and let’s pray for even more faithfulness here among us.
Here is God’s Word. Read Colossians 1:21-2:3
I. True ministers are called by God
Ephesians 1:7-10 helps us understand God’s plan (read it).
God has a plan. God has a stewardship. God is not some distant ruler. He is overseeing the daily business of his creation. God’s plan, Ephesians 1:10, is the same word as God’s stewardship in Colossians 1:25. Here’s what I’m driving at
- God is in charge and gives his ministers a charge (25)
Paul opened this letter with the words, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (1:1). Now in verse 25 he writes, “I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you.”
Paul knew he had been made a minister by someone else for the good of someone else. He called himself a minister in verses 23 and 25. He was a servant, a diakonos. As such he was under the command of another and serving for the good of another. As Paul faithfully depended on Christ and fulfilled the ministry, God would be glorified and the church would be built up.
Every true minister understands his place as one under a commission. God has called and God will provide so that God’s purposes are fulfilled. It’s not about me or my plans it’s about God’s plan to unite all things in Christ. God’s charge on his ministers is plain: preach Christ.
- True ministers preach Christ (26-28a)
Paul defined his ministry when he wrote, “Him we proclaim.” To the Corinthians he wrote, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23). Paul wrote many things and said many more. In this massive volume of warning and teaching there was one central unifying theme- the mystery of Christ in you. Paul never got over the wonder of how God could forgive such hostile and filthy sinners such as himself. He never moved beyond the glory and goodness of not just being reconciled to God but being reconciled to God by being joined to Christ.
One of the brightest displays of the glory and mercy of God is in the overwhelming inclusion of the Gentiles in the people of God. God did not choose one or two Gentiles for the sake of his reputation. No, the massive number of Gentiles brought into the people of God shows the riches of his loving kindness. That non-Jews are included is a gracious mystery.
For ages and generations God had been progressively revealing more details concerning the coming Messiah. The Jews were listening to God and they heard him promise a coming king who would deliver them. The details were not all there but the promise that this Christ would be amazing beyond all comprehension was crystal clear. A savior is coming!
Peter wrote, “Concerning this salvation the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and enquired carefully, enquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Peter 1:10-11). For ages and generations the prophets had been looking for this suffering glorious Savior.
Who will the Messiah be? How will it all work out? It’s a mystery. Now the mystery has been revealed. God revealed it. God chose to make all the details known not by telling what will happen but by sending Christ and doing everything God had planned. God is working his redemption plan.
Verse 27, “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.”
It is simply breathtaking that God would forgive us. God’s plan is marvelous and rich. It is unthinkable that God would give himself to us. Think on this mystery- Christ in you.
Believer, reconciled to God through Christ, Christ is in you. You have the hope of glory. You have the greatest treasure; the thing of greatest value. You have the power of God. On your own life is impossible but with God, now that you are in Christ, all things are possible. Right now you have the hope of all eternity. You have life. You have forgiveness. You have God. God’s plan is to glorify his beloved Son through your salvation.
God’s plan is fulfilled through preaching the word of God. The word of God is the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ coming to live in you. You shouldn’t have this love, this forgiveness, and this life. We shouldn’t have it. But we do! We have Christ and because we have Christ we will continue steadfast. It is not our works that cause us to continue in the faith. It is Christ in us that causes us to continue in the faith. Those who do not continue in the faith prove they never had Christ.
The implication of this fact is true ministers do not tolerate quick fixes and false messiahs. The wisdom of man is foolishness compared to this glorious life transforming, hope giving, relationship reconciling gospel. True ministers preach Christ. The God who is in charge has given this charge: preach Christ. Preach Christ for the saving of souls. Preach Christ so the church remains steadfast in the gospel.
Bring the word of God to fulfillment. That’s the charge God gives. It reads like this in verse 25, “to make the word of God fully known.” That’s a fair translation but it’s wrong if you take it to mean all a minister does is teach. Literally, verse 25 says, “to bring the word of God to fulfillment.
God’s plan to glorify his Son through the redemption of a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation did not stop when Jesus ascended back into heaven. No, God is still working his plan and that plan involves you and me. It is the minister’s job to proclaim Christ in such a way that people understand their role in God’s plan. A true minister wants nothing less than every person fulfilling their God given role with the power only God can supply. So yes we must teach the full council of God. But teaching is not enough. We teach for your obedience- so that you find your place. This is work
II. True ministers labor like Christ
Christ is the example for all true ministers so
- True ministers warn and teach like Christ
Jesus had used the positive and negative- this is what you are to do and this is what you should not do. If you follow Jesus you gain the good but if you disobey Jesus you receive only wrath (Jn 3:36). Since it was Christ who commissioned Paul to be a minister it is no surprise that Paul’s ministry mirrored that of Christ.
Look with me at verse 28, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. The true minister’s goal is your maturity. We can settle for nothing less than Christ-likeness. It is not enough that you have been saved and are reading your bible and praying. God’s charge for me is your maturity.
I will stand before God one day and give an account for how I have ministered God’s word to you. I want to be found faithful on that day therefore I must, and the other pastors here must, toil and work for your maturity.
This work is a work of the word. It’s two pronged- warning and teaching. True ministers graciously and patiently warn. This is a ministry of correction. When you are wandering into sin you should expect to be warned. When you begin to dabble with something that will erode your gospel-stability you should expect a minister of this church to admonish you- to correct you. This is not pride this is love. Gracious firm correction according to the word of God is what God has charged his ministers to do.
Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
Many have misused this passage to give a pastor or group of pastor’s absolute authority. The point is not to dictate someone’s life, what they wear and how they spend their money. Even where they vacation! The point is to remember that pastors are to care for souls and lead them out of sin. Follow their lead into life.
By the way, admonishment is a ministry of every member. As the word of Christ dwells in us (Colossians 3:16) we are to teach and admonish one another in all wisdom. Because we believe God and care for one another we will admonish one another. You will engage in the ministry of correction if you love the church. Pastors will lead out in this and also in teaching.
As we proclaim Christ we warn everyone and teach everyone. Teaching is the positive side of formative instruction. It is easy to forget that all people need to be taught. We all need the help of another who will teach us to obey all that Jesus commanded.
This whole “Christ in you” is a mystery. You need to be taught. You need to be taught the difference between good and evil. You need to be taught how to love. Paul told Timothy to take what Paul had told him and entrust it to other faithful men who will be able to teach others (2 Tim 2:2). In Titus 2 older women are told to teach younger women what is good- how to love their husbands and children, how to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive. This active teaching by ministers and by the mature keeps the people of God moving forward fulfilling the word of God. The absence of teaching by pastors and mature men and women causes the word of God to be reviled.
The people who live and work around you can open a bible and read what God expects of you. They can read God’s expectations of you. Do you know God’s expectations of you? Do you know how to obey those expectations? Do you see that Christ can be trusted to work in you to fulfill those expectations? Expect your pastors and the other mature men and women in the church to be teaching you.
A healthy church will be filled with members who joyfully embrace the teaching and correcting ministry of its ministers. We will joyfully embrace this ministry for the stability of our own souls. True ministers warn and teach like Christ and
Concerning persecution Jesus said, “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Mt 10:25). If the world bad-mouthed, mocked, persecuted, and finally killed Jesus we should expect the same. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).
Look back at verse 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.”
While a true minister should expect suffering there is a distinction that should be made. Paul is talking about suffering, not because of sin or stupidity, but suffering because that minister is seeking to fulfill all that God’s word commands. When you seek to live a godly life and when you seek to warn and teach everyone you will be persecuted.
As an ambassador of Christ a true minister will take upon himself those persecutions meant for Christ. They are Christ’s afflictions. They are caused by Christ and his glorious gospel. For the sake of the church a true minister will suffer. There will be difficulties which arise which are caused by obeying God’s word.
Yet this suffering leads to rejoicing. Paul says something crazy to our modern ears, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings.” Why does he rejoice? Because he gets the pay off? No he rejoices in his sufferings because he sees how his sufferings benefit the church.
Listen to this explanation of joy in suffering from Philippians 1:12, “I want you to know brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
Paul’s faithfulness to the word of God produced suffering; he was persecuted for obeying God. Christ made him faithful and kept him faithful in suffering and the church reaped the benefit. Paul’s faithfulness to the word of God encouraged stability in the people of God.
What is lacking in the afflictions of Christ is not some deficiency in the atonement. What is lacking in the afflictions of Christ is the continuing persecution of Christ by the world. Since the world cannot hit and slander and kill Christ, the world will hit, slander, and kill the body of Christ. The afflictions meant for Christ will fall on us. As we faithfully embrace suffering according to the will of God we will make the power of the gospel evident. Faithfulness in suffering will produce stability in others. A true minister understands that the goal in life is the maturing of the church not the gaining of comfort.
In order to protect the church and mature the church the true minister will take it on the chin. Your progress and joy in the faith are worth suffering for. Christ suffered for you and so will a true minister.
III. Embrace true ministry
This application cuts both ways. First, as a minister who desires to be a true minister I must embrace true ministry. My goal must be your Christ-likeness, your maturity. This means I must give myself to prayer and study so that I can strive to warn you and teach you according to God’s plan not according to your desires, my desires, or the world’s desires. I need you to pray for me- pray that I will be a true minister who is able to rejoice in suffering for the benefit of the body.
The second application of the truth, embrace true ministry, is for you. Embrace true ministry for your own good. God’s will for your life is your sanctification (1 Thess 4:3). God’s plan is to make you look more and more like Jesus everyday. In order to accomplish that God has given you righteousness in Christ, the Spirit’s daily leadership, His inspired word, and ministers who keep watch over your soul. Embrace the benefit of godly men who labor with God’s energy to present you mature in Christ.
I want to highlight two aspects of this ministry here. First, we put a member or family in the bulletin every week so the body will pray for and encourage that member. We systematically work through the church membership in alphabetical order wanting every member to be cared for by the body. Second, a group of men meets monthly. Each man is given two names, again working alphabetically through the church membership in order to contact that member. We want to care for you and bear your burdens according to Galatians 6:2. We do this because we want you to remain steadfast in the gospel. When you get that visit or that phone call know that minister is there to help you follow Christ. Embrace his ministry as he seeks to warn and teach you and together let’s grow in Christ-likeness.