Working Hard for the Gospel

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Colossians 1:24 – 2:5

INTRODUCTION: We are working our way through the book of Colossians and we are learning what it means to live the Christ-centered life. One of the ways we keep Christ at the center is to keep the gospel front and center in all that we do. Last week we looked at Christ’s work of reconciliation as revealed in the gospel. This week we continue with the theme of the gospel and what it means to work hard for the gospel. (Read Colossians 1:24-27 and pray.)

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We all know the value of hard work, but we also know the frustration when we work hard at something that doesn’t pay off. There are many things we can devote our energies to in this life. Some are worth it, and others we discover are really not worth it in the long run.

But one thing that is always worthy of our best efforts is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the culmination of God’s plan for the ages. The gospel is the reason we are all here this morning. Nothing is more important than sharing Christ with people, and therefore the gospel is worthy of our greatest efforts.

It’s easy for us to get lazy, selfish or distracted. We constantly need to be reminded of the importance of the gospel so that we will be motivated to work hard, to sacrifice and even be willing to suffer so that the gospel of Christ may go forth.

We finished up last week with verse 23 where Paul declared himself a servant of the gospel. Now he describes what that means as far as his labor for the church. Paul worked hard for the gospel, and he takes great care to share that with the Colossians in this next portion of the letter.

What can we learn from Paul’s example? Simply this. That no sacrifice is too great for the gospel, and therefore we should work hard for the gospel as well.

We are going to look at three aspects of working hard for the gospel that Paul shares in these verses: 1) presenting God’s word in its fullness, 2) proclaiming Christ to each person, and 3) protecting God’s people from false teachers.

I. Presenting God’s word in its fullness (1:24-27)

So first of all, let’s look at presenting God’s word in its fullness.

   A. Being willing to suffer for the body of Christ (24)
      – 2 Corinthians 11:23-28; Philippians 3:10; Hebrews 10:12-14

Paul begins here by talking about suffering for the body of Christ. If no sacrifice is too great for the gospel, then we must be willing even to suffer so that the gospel may go forth. Look at verse 24: “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24)

Paul is so committed to presenting God’s word he is willing to suffer for it. And notice he is not only willing to suffer; he rejoices in his sufferings for the gospel. No sacrifice is too great for the gospel, and if anyone ever sacrificed for the gospel, it was the apostle Paul. We find his resume of suffering in 2 Corinthians 11 where Paul writes:

“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)

What sacrifices have you made for the gospel lately? Have you been shipwrecked, stoned, flogged? I didn’t think so. Me neither by the way. Paul was amazing, wasn’t he?

Paul tells the Colossians he is not only suffering for the gospel but he is suffering for them. You might wonder how Paul suffered for the Colossians when he had never even met them. Paul is thinking of all the suffering he has endured to preach the gospel. If Paul had dodged the suffering, the Colossians would never have heard the gospel from Paul through Epaphras.

And then Paul makes this remarkable statement. He says: “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24) It is very important to understand what Paul means here and what he does not mean. First of all, he does not mean that there was anything lacking in Christ’s death on the cross to pay for sins. The Bible is clear that Christ’s death was sufficient to pay for all the sins of mankind. We read in Hebrews 10: “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God … by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:12-14) There was nothing lacking in Christ’s death that Paul had to complete with his own sufferings.

Paul is not speaking about suffering for sin here, but rather the inevitable suffering that accompanies those who preach the gospel to an unbelieving world, what Paul calls in Philippians “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.” (Philippians 3:10) Although Jesus did all the suffering necessary to pay for sin, that did not mean there was no suffering left for those who follow him. Jesus said, “If they hated me, they will hate you.” (John 15:18) Working hard for the gospel means presenting God’s word in its fullness, and people will not always like it when you share God’s word with them. So we must be willing to suffer for the body of Christ.

   B. Explaining God’s plan (25-26)
      – Acts 20:27; Ephesians 3:3

Presenting God’s word in its fullness also means explaining God’s plan. Look at verses 25-26: “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness – the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.” (Colossians 1:25-26)

Back in verse 23 Paul called himself a servant of the gospel, but here he calls himself a servant of the church. And he has become a servant of the church by God’s commission in his life to present the word of God in its fullness. The word translated “present in its fullness” is a word that means “to fulfill or complete.” It carries the sense here of presenting God’s word fully or carrying it to completion. We find a similar idea in Acts 20 where Paul says: “I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.” (Acts 20:27)

Paul goes on to describe this word of God as a mystery. Now when you hear the word “mystery” in this context I don’t want you to think Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes. In using this word Paul means something more along the line of a secret. A mystery means something that was hidden and undiscoverable by human means. It is something secret that can only be known when God chooses to reveal it. Paul said something similar about the gospel in Ephesians 3when he called it: “the mystery made known to me by revelation.” (Ephesians 3:3) It was something that God revealed.

Paul says this mystery is one that had been kept hidden for ages and generations but it has now been revealed through Christ. Notice that is disclosed or made known to the saints – that is, this particular mystery is made clear to all believers in Jesus Christ. And so the message is a mystery, but it is a mystery that has been revealed. Now the false teachers at Colosse had their own secret knowledge and mysteries that they kept hidden from the people, but the mystery of the gospel is meant for all believers. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then God has shared a secret with you that nonbelievers simply do not understand.

Part of presenting God’s word in its fullness is explaining God’s plan, sharing the whole counsel of God with others. You may not be called to be a preacher, but we are all called to support the preaching of God’s word. And one of the most important things you can do as a Christian is to join a church that preaches the whole counsel of God and support the preaching there.

   C. Christ in you, the hope of glory (27)
      – Romans 8:10-11

So what exactly is this mystery, this secret that has been revealed to believers in Jesus Christ? Look at verse 27: “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27) Paul sums this mystery up with these amazing words: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Notice the focus on the Gentiles in this verse. Part of the mystery of God’s plan is that salvation has gone out to all people. Jesus came as the Messiah for the Jewish people, but the gospel is for Jews and Gentiles alike. But the truly amazing part is found in these words: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” That is the true mystery of the gospel – Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, living in you and in me. Last week we saw that all the fullness of God dwells within Jesus. (Colossians 1:19) And now we learn that Jesus dwells within the believer. And so we move from God in Christ to Christ in you.

We will be focusing more on what that means next week, but even now this truth should drop you to your knees daily in worship. Christ is God, and Christ dwells in you through the Holy Spirit. Nothing can compare with that. And therefore no sacrifice is too great to share this truth with others.

Christ in you is the hope of glory. If Christ is within you, then you can be assured of your future resurrection to glory. As we read Romans 8: “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Romans 8:10-11)

What is the first part of working hard for the gospel? We present the word of God in its fullness. We are willing to suffer for the body of Christ. We explain God’s plan. We point people to the ultimate mystery of the gospel which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Working hard for the gospel means presenting the word of God in its fullness.

II. Proclaiming Christ to each person (1:28-29)

Secondly, working hard for the gospel means proclaiming Christ to each person. Paul writes in Colossians 1:28: “We proclaim him.” Once again Christ is central. Yes, there are many things we can learn from God’s word but we primarily proclaim a person – the person of Jesus Christ.

   A. Admonishing and teaching with all wisdom (28a)

Part of proclaiming Christ includes admonishing and teaching. Paul continues in verse 28: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom.” (Colossians 1:28) To admonish means to warn or correct. It’s something that we don’t like to do because that can be uncomfortable. And yet we are called to warn people that there is a coming judgment, that they will be condemned for their sins. We are called to correct people – to tell them what the Bible says is sin and to call them to faith and repentance in Jesus Christ. So we admonish, and then we also teach. Teaching focuses on positive instruction. These are the two roles of every pastor – to correct and to teach – but they are also the roles of every believer in Christ. We are to warn others, and we are to teach others. Notice Paul says we are to do this with all wisdom. It takes great sensitivity and discernment to admonish and teach people about Christ.

   B. No one left behind (28b)
      – Colossians 4:12

Secondly, as we proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching with all wisdom, we should take the attitude of no one left behind. This is the attitude of the military and the Marines – no one left behind. Paul continues in verse 28: “… so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28) The emphasis in verse 28 is on every person. In the original language the word “all” or “every” appears four times in this verse: “admonishing everyone, teaching everyone with all wisdom to present everyone.”

This was Paul’s ultimate goal or purpose. This was his mission statement in life: to present “everyone” perfect in Christ. The word translated “perfect” in this verse means “mature or complete.” Our goal should be not just to bring people to Christ but to maturity in Christ.

And we should leave no one behind. Once again the false teachers at Colosse taught that their special wisdom was just for the few or the elite. But Paul wants to bring every believer to maturity in Christ. As F.F. Bruce writes: “There is no part of Christian teaching that is to be reserved for a spiritual elite. All the truth of God is for all the people of God.”

Notice the continued emphasis on completion and fulfilling in these verses. What is Paul’s goal? To present every person complete in Christ. What is his method? The complete teaching of God’s word. What is the price? Completing the sufferings of Christ in his own body. Paul aims to warn every one, to teach everyone, and to present everyone perfect in Christ.

   C. Relying on God’s power (29)
      – 2 Corinthians 4:7-9; Philippians 4:13

That is an amazing purpose statement. That is a magnificent vision for life, and completely beyond anything we could ever do on our own. And that’s why Paul speaks next of relying on God’s power. Look at verse 29: “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” (Colossians 1:29)

Now don’t get me wrong. Paul worked hard to accomplish this goal. The word translated “labor” in this verse means “to grow weary or tired, to work hard to the point of exhaustion.” The word translated “struggling” means “to agonize or struggle as in an athletic contest,” whether you are training or competing. It is the same word used of Jesus agonizing in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44). It is a picture of tireless exertion, struggling against all obstacles and opposition along the way.

You cannot disciple people, you cannot bring people to maturity in Christ without a lot of hard work. It can’t be done by merely sitting in a pew. Paul was willing to work hard to the point of exhaustion because he had a grand vision of what he wanted to accomplish. Remember, people have worked hard to exhaustion for much lesser causes.

So how did Paul do this? How did he keep going? He worked hard, but he relied on God’s power, not his own. “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” (Colossians 1:29)

We are just weak human vessels, and so we must rely on God to do God’s work. As we read in 2 Corinthians 4: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)

Ministry is hard work. It includes preaching, teaching, praying and counseling. So what’s the prevention or cure to burnout? Doing things in God’s power, not our own. Someone once said, “If you’re burning the candle at both ends, you better ask God for more wax.” And if you’re doing the hard work of ministry – admonishing and teaching, making sure that no one is left behind – you had better rely on God’s power, not your own. As Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

III. Protecting God’s people from false teachers (2:1-5)

Working hard for the gospel means: 1) presenting God’s word in its fullness, 2) proclaiming Christ to each person, and 3) protecting God’s people from false teachers.

   A. Promoting unity (1-2a)

First, we protect God’s people by promoting unity in the body of Christ. Look at Colossians 2:1-2 where Paul writes: “I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding.” (Colossians 2:1-2)

Paul gets personal with the Colossians here and tells them how much he is struggling and sacrificing for them. And why is Paul struggling so hard for these believers? So that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love. The word translated “united” in this verse is a word that means “knit together.” This unity will help them to grow spiritually so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding which will protect them from false teaching and false teachers. Notice the continued emphasis on fullness and completion once again.

Unity is essential to the church’s health and witness. Satan’s strategy is to divide and conquer, and so the first step in protecting God’s people is to promote unity in the body of Christ.

   B. Keeping Christ at the center (2b-4)

Paul also works hard at protecting God’s people by keeping Christ at the center. Look at verses 2-4: “… in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” (Colossians 2:2-4)

The purpose of the unity is to help them grow in their understanding of God’s word, and the purpose of their growing in understanding is so that they may know Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The false teachers spoke of hidden wisdom and knowledge but they looked for this wisdom outside of Christ. Paul keeps Christ at the center. He tells the Colossians don’t go looking anywhere else for wisdom and knowledge because all the treasures are found in Christ.

Christ is central, and keeping Christ at the center will protect you from false teachers. That’s what Paul says in verse 4: “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” If you don’t want to be fooled, then keep Christ at the center.

There’s an old song that goes like this: “You can go to your church, you can go to your school, but if you ain’t got Jesus you’re an educated fool.” Everything you need to live for God is found in Christ. He has all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. An essential part of protecting God’s people is keeping Christ at the center.

   C. Staying spiritually connected (5)
      – 1 Corinthians 5:3

We protect God’s people by promoting unity, by keeping Christ at the center, and then finally by staying spiritually connected. Look at verse 5 where Paul writes: “For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.” (Colossians 2:5)

Paul is not physically there with the Colossians. Physically he is over a thousand miles away in prison at Rome. And yet he is still spiritually connected with them. The same Christ who lives in the Colossians by the Holy Spirit also lives in Paul by the Holy Spirit. Paul recognizes this spiritual connection, and as he prays for them he senses this connection in a deep way. Epaphras has brought him a good report of the church, and as Paul prays it is almost as if he can actually see them standing strong in the faith. If we are going to work hard to protect God’s people, we must stay spiritually connected with each other in prayer. (See 1 Corinthians 5:3 for a similar statement – “Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit.”) All of this is part of working hard for the gospel.

CONCLUSION: What things do you work hard for in life? For what things are you willing to expend your energy, to sacrifice, perhaps even to suffer? Once again, there are many things we can work hard for in life, but the one thing you will never regret is working hard for the gospel. The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. The gospel has eternal value because the gospel brings eternal life. The gospel brings glory to God through Jesus because the gospel puts Christ at the center.

Let me give you three applications from our word now as we close.

1) Don’t get distracted. It’s so easy to get distracted in life. There’s so much going on around us all the time. It’s easy to get caught up in the news and lose focus on what’s really important. Don’t get distracted. Keep Christ at the center and keep working hard for the gospel.

2) Don’t get discouraged. It’s easy to get discouraged because ministry is hard work. Well, it’s supposed to be hard work. Nobody said it was going to be easy. And so you work hard for the gospel and you keep going forward. I recently read an article about a man who did door-to-door evangelism for two and half years before someone finally prayed to receive Christ. He was so excited! Don’t get discouraged. The gospel is worth all the sacrifice, all the suffering, all the hard work.

3) Don’t give up. Because if you give up, you will not see the fruit. Don’t give up, because it’s worth it. You’re work will be richly rewarded.

The gospel is bigger than your dreams, bigger than your plans, more important than your life. Living the Christ-centered life means putting Christ and the gospel first. No sacrifice is too great for the gospel. If the apostle Paul were here, he would tell you that. Talk to any of our missionaries. They will tell you no sacrifice is too great. Talk to some of the people in our church who have been working hard for the gospel for decades, giving so much of their time and energy and getting tired at the end of the day and at the end of the week. If you ask them, “Is it worth it?” and they’ll tell you, “Yes! No sacrifice is too great for the gospel.” Are you willing to work hard for the gospel in your life? Let us pray.

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