A Study of Colossians 1:23–29
…whereof I Paul am made a minister; who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sake, which is the church: whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: Whereunto I also labour, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily. (Colossians 1:23-29)
So now two studies that I have been working through and sharing are coming to a convergence. We left off in the apostolic commission series discussing Paul’s commission and the longsuffering of God of which Paul is the pattern (1 Timothy 1:16). We left off the Colossians study in verse 23 of chapter one where Paul urges the saints to continue in the faith “grounded and settled”, and “not moved away from the hope of the gospel…whereof I Paul am made a minister.”
We will now get a “parenthetical” explanation of Paul’s ministry and stewardship. Paul’s office was “ambassador of Christ”, and as we discussed in the past Colossians study, the world by nature is enemy of God, yet Paul is representing the ascended Christ in preaching grace and peace. That Paul is preaching the message of grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ from prison is no coincidence. He was Christ’s “ambassador in bonds” (Ephesians 6:20) because the world is still acting as enemy toward God.
It is quite interesting to note that suffering for Christ was an essential part of Paul’s commission. In Acts 9:16, the Lord told Ananias, “I will shew him how great things he must suffer for My Name’s sake.” That Paul received suffering from the world is beyond question from the record of Acts. He also received attacks from Satan which seem to have gone unhindered by the Lord. But the sufferings had their purpose, and the Lord would reveal to Paul how He would use them:
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
So now, as Paul ministers and works for the Lord from a Roman dungeon, he rejoices in his sufferings which are for the Lord, but also for the body, of which the Colossian saints were members. Indeed, all who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and His shed blood on their behalf are baptized into the body by the Spirit. To think, all that have suffered for the sake of the Lord and of His Body have suffered on your behalf. When we suffer for the sake of the Lord and of His Body, we have grounds of rejoicing too. I am reminded of when I played football in high school. We would often be bruised with helmet marks on our arms and welts and all such marks. These were marks taken for the team, and these often had pain, sore muscles and joints and all that went with it. But also, the injuries carried with them a sense of honor because they were the reminders of the struggle to win the game. They were the reminders of my contribution to the team. That is possibly a way to think of how Paul could rejoice in his sufferings for the saints. He was called to suffer, allowed to suffer, and learned to rejoice in his sufferings. As the Captain of Salvation was made perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10), so the messenger of the gospel of the grace of God would fill up in his body the sufferings that are allowed to him for the cause of Christ. Indeed, all who name the Name of Christ are called to suffering for His Name sake:
For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake… (Philippians 1:29)
So Paul was called, and given to suffer on behalf of Christ. Paul was also made a minister of the gospel “according to the dispensation of God” (vs. 25). Just what was this dispensation of God? A “dispensation” is the translation of the Greek word οἰκονομία (oikonomia), which is translated in Luke 16:2,3, & 4 “stewardship”. It essentially means the management, oversight, and administration of another’s affairs (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). It is house management. So with this definition, the management, oversight, and administration of God’s affairs were given to Paul. This is exactly what he said when he said “the dispensation of God which is given me for you”. He was given this dispensation so that he could with authority fulfill the word of God. Now remember that this is not my words. This is the word of God as Paul wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It was given to him to fulfill, or complete, the word of God. Just what was this completion of the word of God? It is stated in the very next verse: “the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints”. Interestingly enough, Paul calls himself and the ministers of God the “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1).
This mystery hid from ages and generations is what completes the word of God. It is what makes us understand why that the prophecies of scripture have not yet been fulfilled. Remember that we discussed previously that the Kingdom as promised where “the LORD shall be king over all the earth” (Zechariah 14:9) will still be fulfilled as it is written, but presently, God is dealing with mankind in grace. That is why Paul says:
If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward…(Ephesians 3:2)
Notice again—it is the dispensation given to Paul. It is his job, his calling, to steward the riches of God’s grace. Again, it is in reference to this mystery that was revealed to Paul to make it known to all the world:
How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power. (Ephesians 3:3-7)
Let us not water down this revelation. The revelation of the mystery was given to Paul to make known. It was not given to Peter, James, John, Jude, Luke, Mark, or Matthew. Paul’s gospel is “the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest” (Romans 16:25-26), which is something different than prophecy “which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21, c.f. Luke 1:70). By understanding the difference between these Scriptures, we are not “Bible-choppers”, but we are believing what God has said in His Word. The mystery given to Paul was “hid in God” (Ephesians 3:9). This is not because Paul was intrinsically superior to the other apostles in any way. As the passage in Ephesians goes on:
Unto me [Paul], who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him. (Ephesians 3:8-12)
It could easily be argued that Paul was given this special task regarding the out-calling of the body of Christ and the dispensation of the grace of God expressly because of his unworthiness and his former estate as chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). As stated in part 1 of this series, he goes on to say why he was called as he was:
Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting. (1 Timothy 1:16)
Yes, if the chief of sinners can be reconciled by the blood of the cross, so can all sinners. What a wonderful pattern! What a wonderful Savior! And this mystery of gentiles by nature (“dogs”—see Matthew 15:26) being not only allowed to partake of the blessings of the Covenant People (Israel), but being “fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel” is unheard of outside of Paul’s revelation of the mystery. Indeed, now Gentile believers are “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).
That is what the wording in this passage is referring to when it speaks of the riches of the glory of this mystery. The riches of the glory is referring to Christ in you, Gentiles. The promised Anointed Savior of Israel is in you Gentiles. Now Gentiles have a hope of glory. Our hope of glory is in Christ, and only in Him. Now Paul has been commissioned to preach Christ, to warn and to teach every man—all mankind and every person individually—the riches of Christ, and yes, warnings of what rejection of Christ will cost. The eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41) is also the last place for those not found written in the book of life (Revelation 20:15). But it does not have to be that way. Eternal life is found in Christ and He has reconciled the world unto Himself:
To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:19)
Only believing on the death of Christ for your sins is standing between life and death, and God wills that you would be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), and the reconciling work of Christ on the cross has made it possible. Why put off another day or minute accepting the gift of salvation and righteousness that God offers you?
Paul carried out his great commission with amazing energy to a world ripe for God’s judgment, and all Christians everywhere will do very well to follow in preaching Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery, which is no longer a mystery, but preached in the whole world, and warning every man and teaching every man the righteousness and grace of God, and God’s love toward sinners in sending His own Son to die for us. Amazing Grace!