In Colossians 1:24-29, Paul changes his focus from the reconciliation ministry of Christ to the ministry that God called Paul to do. This ministry involved both suffering and a stewardship.
Paul’s suffering was “his share”, so to speak, of the sufferings that were going to fall on those who proclaimed Jesus as the genuine Messiah. It is true, of course, that many other servants of God since the earthly ministry of Jesus have also suffered in his service. Thus, for Paul, his suffering was simply part of his calling. We could ponder that for a moment. If suffering is a part of God’s calling on your life, are you responding like Paul? Have you done the opposite and become angry at God for allowing you to suffer again? A willingness to joyfully accept suffering cannot be done without the grace of God, so let me encourage you to ask God for the grace if you are hurting today.
The text also makes it clear that Paul had a stewardship. His task was to preach the gospel to the gentiles … that is, all non-Jews. We should also think about how we are doing at fulfilling the stewardship that God has given to us. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best, how are you doing at fulfilling God’s stewardship for your life?
While these two points are significant in the text, I would like the focus of this article to rest on vv. 28-29. It is here that we see the end result of patient suffering and godly stewardship: helping people become mature. This goal of helping others mature – the purpose – serves as a motivating force to be a steward and to endure suffering. Paul prayed in Collosians 1:10 that the folks would learn to please God by the way they lived. In order to accomplish a God-pleasing life, they needed a maturity that would help them make decisions on a daily basis that would please Christ. Isn’t that what you want? Wouldn’t you like your kids not to be simply getting bigger but actually maturing? Wouldn’t you like your neighbors to understand the truth of Scripture? Wouldn’t you want your ministry at the church to result in the maturing of the believers? If you would answer “yes” to these questions and questions like them, then please notice in this passage that maturity does not automatically happen.
Here are a few observations from the passage about maturing others.
Observation #1: We need to open our mouths
There is, of course, a place for servant evangelism. There is a place for seeking to meet needs of people. There is, of course, a place for a lot of different ministries. However, at some point along the path, there actually needs to be a “proclamation.” This proclamation does not necessarily have to occur from the pulpit; Paul’s ministry was often very personal rather than public (e.g. his years under house arrest). However, some form of “proclamation” must still be given. Romans 10:9-10 makes it clear that unbelievers need to hear the message of Christ. Believers, equally, need to be challenged and encouraged to live out the revealed truth found in the Bible. Your family, your co-workers, your spiritual friends, and your neighbors will not mature without some form of proclamation. In Deuteronomy 6, God challenged parents to teach their children all the time. Teachable moments are not simply family devotions, but they are also moments in the car, moments before school, moments watching the news, and moments of great rejoicing.
Observation #2: Maturing involves both admonition and teaching
Admonition, or warning, is a term that most appropriately deals with the negative consequences associated with sin. Those who wish to help others mature will give an appropriate amount of attention to the “warning” aspect of living for Christ. When I was little, I was keenly aware of the “warnings.” It seemed to me that a paddling was never far away. However, as I grew, my dad reminded me that with my new freedom (especially after I had a driver’s license) came a much greater opportunity for me to do things that my spiritual mentors would not know about. Thus, he reminded me that sinful choices are always seen by the Lord, whether the Lord brings immediate discipline or not. That was admonition. My dad was warning me that, while my freedom would give me more frequent and secretive opportunities to sin, God always knew and He was always there.
Teaching, on the other hand, is helping the people in your life comprehend a truth from Scripture that they did not previously understand. For example, as a younger man, I enjoyed debates. The topic was not particularly important. All that mattered was an opportunity to voice my opinion about a matter and attempt to show why my opinion was better than anyone else’s. I did not realize at the time that I was actually violating Ephesians 4:29. I simply thought of debating the same way some people viewed playing the piano or being on a sports team – they just enjoyed it. However, my dear wife became my teacher. She helped me connect the dots between my behavior and my violation of Scripture. Without her kind and gentle instruction, I am not sure how long it would have taken me to understand that connection.
Observation #3: Being involved in the maturing process takes effort
According to v. 29, Paul labored and strived in order to accomplish this task. Being involved in the maturing process is a lot of work. It is hard to balance grace with judgment. It is hard to teach and/or admonish when you want to relax. It is hard to invest the kind of time it takes to study and understand the Bible so that you are in a position to teach it. It is hard to spot teachable moments in the midst of everyday life. However, just because something is hard does not make it bad. Hard is just hard.
In this great passage, Paul reminds us of one of his purposes: to be involved in the maturing of people. I trust that is your heart as well – you want to see people mature in Christ. If that is going to happen, it means you need to respond well to your suffering; it means that you will take your stewardship seriously; it means that you will admonish and teach; and it means you are willing to invest some sweat equity into this process. Let’s work together this week to do all we can to help our family, our friends, and those in our circle of influence to become mature in Christ.