“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. 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. 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. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col. 1:24–29).
How can we become effective ministers of Christ? How can we become an effective church?
When I was in seminary taking a homiletics class, I was told to pick a pastor I would like to model in his preaching. This is not only good practice for those studying preaching, but for any type of job or ministry. We learn by modeling others and we teach by example.
As far as ministry, there may be no better model to emulate than Paul. In many ways, Paul became Christ’s greatest apostle as he reached not only Jews but also much of the Gentile world.
In fact, God was so pleased with Paul’s ministry that he chose to set him as an example in the Scriptures of somebody to imitate. First Corinthians 11:1 says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Philippians 3:17 says, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”
Paul is a model, and his ministry should be our constant study. In this lesson, we will learn characteristics of effective ministers by studying Paul’s ministry to the Colossian church.
Big Question: What are characteristics of effective ministers as seen through the model of Paul in Colossians 1:24–29?
Effective Ministers Are Willing To Suffer For The Church
“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” (Col.1:24).
Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by “fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions”?
One of the things that must stand out is Paul’s willingness to suffer for Christ’s church. Now it should be noted, when Paul says he will fill up in his flesh “what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions,” he is not talking about Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Christ’s work was perfect and complete. The writer of Hebrews said this:
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offeredfor all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God (Heb. 10:11–12).
Christ offered one sacrifice for sins and then he sat down, showing his offering was sufficient, unlike the priests before him. However, one should be aware that some have used this passage to teach the need for us to work or make up for what was lacking in Christ’s death to earn salvation. Look at what John MacArthur said:
Roman Catholics have imagined here a reference to the suffering of Christians in purgatory.Christ’s suffering, they maintain, was not enough to purge us completely from our sins. Christians must make up what was lacking in Christ’s suffering on their behalf by their own suffering after death. That can hardly be Paul’s point, however. He has just finished demonstrating that Christ alone is sufficient to reconcile us to God (1:20–23).1
What is Paul then referring to when he says filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? There are two aspects to this.
(1) Paul is referring to suffering the afflictions Christ would suffer if he was still on the earth.Christ said this to his disciples in John 15:20: “‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”
Christians suffer the persecution that their master would if he was still on the earth. The more our life models his, the more we will receive the same animosity he did.
(2) Or, Paul is referring to how Christ suffers when any believer suffers. The body cannot feel pain that is not sensed by the head. Paul was very aware of this reality for he persecuted the church in his pre–conversion days. When Christ appeared to him, he said this in Acts 9:4–5: “‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”
Though Paul was persecuting the church, Christ suffered when the church suffered since he is the head of the body. While the church awaits the coming of Christ and his kingdom, we will, by necessity, be filling up what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings.
Believers Are Called To Suffer
This should be the attitude of every minister. He knows he must drink a cup of suffering until the time of Christ’s return, and he drinks it willingly. He doesn’t desire it or ask for it, but he submits to the will of the Father. Remember Christ’s words before he went to the cross: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
In speaking about suffering, Paul said to Timothy, “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:3). Each Christian, like a good soldier, has been called to suffer for Christ. In fact, Christ did not hide this truth when he called us to follow him. He said,
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone whodoes not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26–27).
This is an attitude every Christian must foster as we each will suffer as disciples of Christ in some way or another. Colossians is a prison epistle; therefore, when Paul writes this letter he is under house arrest in Rome, chained next to a Roman guard twenty–four hours a day. He willingly suffered for Christ and his church as he sought to spread the gospel to every part of the ancient world. An effective minister of Christ is willing to suffer for Christ’s body. Suffering will always be present, and those who choose to avoid suffering will not be effective forChrist.
Jesus taught something similar about his death. He said: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).
If Christ had not died, he would have enjoyed the riches of heaven by himself. But through his death he brought many people to heaven. Certainly, this is true of us as well in some sense. Listen to this quote from The Believers Bible Commentary:
If we refuse to be corns of wheat—falling into the ground, and dying; if we will neither sacrifice prospects, nor risk character, and property, and health; nor, when we are called, relinquish home, and break family ties, for Christ’s sake; then we shall abide alone. But if we wish to be fruitful, we must follow our Blessed Lord Himself, by becoming a corn of wheat, and dying, then we shall bring forth much fruit. 2
A Christian can choose to live a life avoiding all sacrifice and suffering. They can choose to not get involved with others’ problems. They can choose to not bear the weight of serving or the scorn from being bold for Christ, and yes, they may go to heaven, but they will go to heaven alone without producing much fruit.
All effective ministers of Christ are willing to suffer for the body. Are you willing to suffer?
Application Questions: Why is suffering necessary to truly have a transformational ministry?
Effective Ministers Are Servants Of The Church
“I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness” (Col. 1:25).
Paul said he had become the church’s servant by the commission of God. This is true of all ministers who are effective. In fact, the word minister means servant. This is what Jesus said about himself: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Every effective minister must be a servant. This would seem to be fundamental to ministry; however, we should be aware that not all ministers are truly servants. It is very possible for ministers to seek to be served in the church instead of serving. In fact, we see this with most people who attend church. When a person starts going to a church, typically the first thing on their mind is, “How can this church serve me? How is the worship? How is the preaching? How is the youth ministry? What can I get out of this church?”
Most Christians are consumer-minded. They are thinking about what they can get and not what they can give. This can also happen with those who are serving in ministry in the church. It is very easy for ministry to become about us.
In Luke 22, the disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest in the kingdom. This consumer mindset had started to creep into Christ’s apostles as well. They were starting to serve Christ primarily for what they could get. Look at how Christ rebuked his disciples. He said,
The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves (Luke 22:25–27).
Jesus said, even though the world’s model of leadership is about ruling and being served, it will not be that way with his disciples. The greatest among them should be like the youngest. In that culture, the older person was more exalted than the younger. The younger person would do all the dirty work and serve everybody in the house. Christ said that’s not how it would be with his disciples. They would be servants.
A fitting story about the American Revolution teaches this same principle.
During the American Revolution, a man in civilian clothes rode past a group of soldiers repairing a small defensive barrier. Their leader was shouting instructions at them but making no other attempt to help them. Asked why by the rider, the leader said with great dignity, ‘Sir, I’m a corporal!’
The stranger apologized, dismounted, and proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers. The job done, he turned to the corporal and said, ‘If you need some more help, son, call me.’ With that, the Commander–In–Chief, George Washington, remounted his horse and rode on.3
In this scenario, the corporal used his rank to order people around without being willing to get dirty and do some work. However, George Washington, the President of the United States at that time, chose to use his leadership to set the example by serving others. This is what Christian ministers do. They set the example by serving.
Listen to what Peter said to the elders of the churches in his epistle:
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:2–3).
After learning this lesson from Christ, Peter told the elders to not lord over those God had given them. In this passage, Peter actually gives three vices common to leadership. Leadership can commonly fall into the vice of being lazy instead of willingly serving. They commonly fall into the vice of being greedy for money instead of eager to serve, and they commonly fall into the trap of lording over people instead of being examples to the flock. Peter had learned his lesson, and so must each of us as ministers of Christ, if we are going to be effective. We must be servants of the church instead of seeking for the church to serve us.
How are you serving the church? How has God called you to serve the church?
Application Question: What are characteristics of a good servant?
1. A Good Servant Is Always Seeking The Interests Of Others Before His Own.
Listen to what Paul said: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). Our questions should not be, “What do I want or need?” and “How can I fulfill my needs?” but “What does the church need?” and “How can I help fulfill those needs?”
2. A Good Servant Is Willing To Perform The Menial Or Despised Tasks.
Some people always seek to do great things but are never willing to do the little things. God finds the shepherd doing his best to honor God in the menial task of taking care of sheep, and he exalts him to do the great task of shepherding his kingdom as seen in the story of David. Look at what Christ will say to the servants who were faithful with their talents at his second coming: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness’” (Matt. 25:23).
Those who are faithful with a few things, even in what seem like very small tasks, God will put in charge of many things. Certainly, we have a great example of this in Christ. When there was no one to wash his disciples’ feet, he got down on his knees and did the chore of a slave as he washed the feet of his disciples (John 13). Good servants are willing to do the small tasks.
3. A Good Servant Is Willing To Serve In Secret Without Applause.
“Jesus said this: ‘But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you’” (Matt. 6:3–4).
Christ called for his disciples to practice serving in secret. They should only care about the applause of heaven and not of men. Are you commonly seeking the applause of others? Or, is the applause of God enough (cf. 1 Cor. 4:5)? This is a servant mentality—caring exclusively about the master. Listen again to Christ’s instructions to the disciples: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).
4. A Good Servant Knows And Uses His Gifts.
Listen to Peter’s instructions:
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administeringGod’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:10–11).
Each of us has at least one spiritual gift. We must know our gifts and employ them in service to Christ and his church. Certainly, at times God will call us to serve outside of our gifts, and when he does, he provides grace. But we must know our specific gifts so that we can faithfully use them as we see the need. In what ways is God calling you to be more of a servant?
Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to become more of a servant of Christ’s church?
Effective Ministers Are Faithful Stewards Of The Word Of God
“I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of Godin its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 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” (Col. 1:25–27).
Paul declared in this text that he was a faithful steward of the Word of God. The word “commission” used in verse 25 can also be translated “stewardship” as in the English Standard Version. Listen to what it says: “Of which I became a minister according to thestewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known.”
Paul was a faithful steward of God’s Word. A steward was a servant placed over the house of a master. While the master was gone he would oversee everything in the house. Paul declares himself and the other apostles as stewards of the Word of God in 1 Corinthians 4. Listen to what it says: “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:1–2 KJV).
While Christ is away from the earth, he has called us, just as he did the apostles, to be stewards of his words and his mysteries. And one day when the master returns, we will give an account of our faithfulness in studying and teaching the mysteries of God. We learn about this in 2 Timothy 2:15. It says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
Who will be the stewards who are approved? It is those who have done their best in studying and correctly handling the Word of God.
Are you being a faithful steward of God’s Word? This is a quality of effective ministers.
Observation Question: According to Colossians 1:25–27, what are characteristics of a faithful steward of the Word of God?
1. Faithful Stewards Of God’s Word Seek To Present Its Fullness.
“To present to you the word of God in its fullness” (Col. 1:25).
This was something Paul had previously mentioned. In speaking to the Ephesian elders in the book of Acts, he said, “Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” (Acts 20:26–27).
When Paul said he was free of the blood of all men, he saw himself with the same responsibility of an Old Testament prophet. God once told Ezekiel that if he was called to speak to a man in error and Ezekiel refused, the blood of that man would go on Ezekiel’s head (Ezek. 33:1–11).
Paul realized the same was true for him. If he did not teach the whole counsel of God, or if he hid certain doctrines for fear of anger or being rejected by men, God would place their blood on his hands because he did not speak. It is the same for us. If we do not speak the whole counsel of God to those around us, their blood will be held against us.
Now some might say, “Certainly this responsibility to teach the whole counsel of God only applies to preachers and teachers, right?” Absolutely not. This is the responsibility of every Christian. Look at what Christ told his disciples, and by extension us, in the Great Commission:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I havecommanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matt. 28:19–20).
When Christ calls his disciples to “teach them to obey everything” he had commanded, it includes the revelation of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Christ was the fulfillment of the law and his apostles continued his teaching.
KNOW AND TEACH
- This puts a burden on every Christian to know the whole Word of God and not just the Psalms when they get depressed, and not just the gospel, but the entire revelation of the Word of God through in–depth study. This means we must all have continual training. This training may be informal through personal devotions, the church, and small groups, or formal training through Bible schools and seminaries. We must be trained to be prepared to teach.
- It also puts a burden on every Christian to teach the whole counsel as they make disciples for Christ. Each Christian must be a teacher, whether that be from the pulpit, in small groups, or in one–on–one situations.
Faithful stewards of God’s Word teach the Word in its fullness. Therefore, they must study to know its fullness, and they must seek opportunities to teach it.
What else does the faithful steward do?
2. Faithful Stewards Of God’s Word Share The Mystery With Everybody.
The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to thesaints. 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 (Col. 1:26–27).
One of the responsibilities of faithful stewards of God’s Word is sharing the mystery with everybody. The word “mystery” used in the New Testament has the connotation of something previously unrevealed or not fully revealed in the Old Testament.
The mystery Paul was focusing on was the gospel coming to the Gentiles and Christ living in them. He said the riches of this mystery is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (v. 27).
In the Old Testament, nobody knew that the messiah would come and indwell people, and, even more so, they never thought this would happen to the Gentiles specifically. Paul talks about this in Ephesians 3:6. “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”
The Gentiles could be saved in the Old Testament, but they never had the same privileges as the Jew. The Jews were called to be ministers who won Gentiles to God, but as God’s chosen people they had greater privileges. Only a Jewish priest specifically could enter the holy place, and only the Jewish high priest could enter the Holy of Holies where God dwelled.
These divisions made the Jews proud, and therefore created a great animosity between Jews and Gentiles. However, in the New Covenant these divisions have been removed. Jews and Gentiles are fellow heirs of the promise in Christ.
Now, this gives us the other aspect of being a faithful steward. For Paul, a Jew, to give his life reaching the Gentiles was phenomenal. They were separated by ethnicity, culture, and religion, and there was a heated racism that divided them. However, he was given a stewardship to reach not only Jews, but also those who were far away from God—the Gentiles.
It’s the same for us. Faithful stewards of the Word of God share it with everybody, no matter the race, culture, or socio–economic status. It was said of Christ that he was the friend of sinners (Matt. 16:19). He went to areas and to people who were not accepted. He was a faithful steward of the Word.
This seems to be a common pattern among Christians: after salvation, we are zealous and on fire to share the mystery of the gospel, but later, as time passes, we lose the desire to evangelize. Most don’t share the gospel at all, and those who do only do so with those they are comfortable with.
Unlike Paul, most are not willing to stretch themselves out of their comfort zone to reach even those who would seem unreachable. He reached out to people of a different culture than him and had antagonism towards him.
Who is God calling you to share the fullness of the Word of God with? Effective ministers are faithful stewards of the mysteries of God. If Christ came back now, would you have been a faithful steward of the mysteries of God?
Application Question: Who are your “Gentiles,” the people who you might not likely share the Word of God with? How can you be more effective at this?
Effective Ministers Have The Goal Of Presenting Everyone Mature In Christ
“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we maypresent everyone perfect in Christ” (Col. 1:28).
We see here that Paul’s goal in ministering was to present everyone perfect in Christ. However, we must ask the question, “Can anyone be perfect?” Certainly, no one can ever get to the point where he never sins. When Paul uses this word he is talking about being mature in Christ. We see this as the very ministry God calls pastors and teachers to do in the church. Listen to what Ephesians 4 says:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming (Eph. 4:11–14).
Paul describes the church as infants tossed to and fro by every wind of teaching. Being an infant is not bad. Infants are beautiful and they are gifts to rejoice in. They symbolize life and the new birth.
However, in using the illustration of a natural infant, if a person continues to act like an infant even as an adult, something is wrong. They are still using the bathroom on themselves, still crying any time they don’t get their way, still fighting over every little thing, they have no self–discipline, and they won’t sleep at night. Something is wrong with that. If they need to be cared for and comforted every time they go through a difficulty or a trial, something is wrong.
My baby daughter, Saiyah, is beautiful, but we fully hope in a year or so that she will develop more self–control and start sleeping consistently at night. We expect one day she will be able to feed herself, start helping around the house, start serving the church, start making an income, and even have a family of her own.
See, most of the church never gets out of the infant stage. They do not grow into maturity. They are not disciplined with getting into the Word of God and prayer. They are up and down with every trial in their life—mad at God and mad at others when they don’t get their way. They don’t serve and are not consistently doing the things God has called them to do.
This is one of the jobs of a minister. The minister sees all the potential in a young Christian, no matter how long they have been saved. They see the calling that God has on their lives and the things God wants them to do through them. And, they begin to invest in them so that they start to mature in the Word of God; they start to do the works of service they were called to do. This is what every minister of God does: they help people mature.
Stages Of The Christian Life
Listen to the stages of the Christian life according to the apostle John. He says in 1 John 2:13–14:
I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
John describes the three stages as the following:
Children: They have known God. They have a young and vibrant relationship with God, but they lack much else.
Young Men: They are strong in the Word of God and are now conquering the devil because of it. They are breaking strongholds of lust, depression in their own lives, and are also starting to help others. They are the front line of the church. They are out of the pews and now helping people to walk as God has called them to.
Fathers: They have known God. Unlike the children, the father’s knowledge of God is vastly deeper. They have a history with God. God has carried them through trials, worked greatly in their lives, and like most good fathers they are always sharing their story with others. They help others through the testimony that God has developed in their lives. Another characteristic of the father is that they are giving birth. They have spiritual children in the Lord and they are given to mentorship.
This is the pathway that God has for every Christian. Sadly, we have infants who stay infants for twenty years. They are in the pew and not going anywhere. They are not helping anyone. They don’t have spiritual children, and they can’t even discipline their own spiritual lives. That is not God’s plan for the church.
In fact, if the leadership of the church does not labor in maturing these young Christians, the church will eventually have many problems. Listen to how Paul described the church of Corinth:
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? (1 Cor. 3:1–3).
In describing the Corinthian church as infants, he said they could not eat solid food yet. They were living on basic doctrines of Scripture. They were worldly, which means one couldn’t really tell the difference between them and the world. They were doing much of the same things as the world and probably at many of the same places. This immaturity led to jealousy and quarreling. Immaturity often leads to church division, church fights, and church splits. The members of God’s church must be developed into maturity or it will lead to the demise of the church.
Observation Question: In verse 28, what were Paul’s primary methods of developing the church to maturity?
1. The Church Is Matured By Ministers Preaching Christ.
“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ” (Col. 1:28).
Paul said he proclaimed him, referring to Christ, in order to mature the congregation. He also said this to the Corinthians. “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5).
This no doubt refers to preaching the gospel and leading people to Christ. But, it also refers to the continual proclaiming of Christ to believers as the model of our faith. Hebrews 12:2 says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
We must continually point people to Christ and his example. He is the example of how to handle persecutions. He is our example of how to pray. He is our example of how to live a life of faith and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. If we are to help people mature, we must continually point them to the example and teachings of Christ.
2. The Church Is Matured By Ministers Admonishing Others.
A crucial part of Paul’s ministry was warning the church about sin. This is often the very area at which ministers fail in seeking to develop mature saints. Admonishment and warnings are needed. Look at what God told Isaiah to do: “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins” (Isa. 58:1).
He called Isaiah to shout it aloud and to not hold back. He was supposed to declare to Israel their sins. This is difficult because confronting other believers about sin can mean making them angry, causing them to hate us, or even result in persecution. But this is necessary in order for all of us to grow.
It should be said that the manner in which we admonish and confront sin is very important. Paul said this in Ephesians 4:15: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”
By speaking the truth in love, the church grows up and is made mature. We must tell our brothers in love:
- “It is not God’s will for you to be living with your girlfriend.”
- “Sister, it is not God’s will for you to use that type of language. You are the fragrance of God.”
- “Brother, God has called you to be the spiritual leader of your home. How are you developing your wife and children in the Word?”
These things must be said in order for the church to become mature. Solomon said this: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Prov. 27:6).
It can also be translated “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” If your friend never wounds you, never challenges you about reading your Bible, going to church, or living holy, then you need new friends. We must be friends who really care and not enemies who multiply kisses. True ministers practice admonishment.
3. The Church Is Matured By Ministers Teaching Practically.
“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ” (Col. 1:28).
Paul said he taught everyone with all wisdom. Wisdom is the application of knowledge. Wisdom is the “So what?” to the Bible study or the sermon. It answers the question, “What should I do with what the Scripture says?”
Effective ministers must apply the Bible to depression, lust, decision–making, dating, marriage, etc. Listen to 2 Timothy 3:16–17: “All Scripture is God–breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
The doctrines of Scripture are useful for “training in righteousness” and “for every good work.” The minister must use wisdom in applying the Word of God to every situation. By doing this, the minister helps the church become mature.
Application Question: Have you experienced churches, ministries, or ministers that neglect these disciplines in their teaching of the Word of God (preaching Christ, admonishment, and/or wisdom)? What are the consequences of this?
Effective Ministers Are Willing To Work Hard
“To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col. 1:29).
The word “labor” means to “work to exhaustion.” There is a holy labor that every Christian must take part in. Paul pressed or labored “for others to reach perfection.” That was Christ’s call on his life. Listen to how Paul described his ministry: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).
Did he rely on grace? Certainly, it was this grace that enabled him to work hard. God has given everybody grace, but the question is, “Do we use it?” Paul worked hard using the grace that God had given him. Listen to Philippians 2:12–13: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and do of his good pleasure.”
The goal of “salvation” is not only being saved, it is the completion of it, looking more and more like Christ. Effective ministers work hard even as God works in them. Listen to this commentary about the work ethic of great saints from the past:
Martin Luther worked so hard that many days, according to his biographers, he fell into bed. Moody’s bedtime prayer on one occasion, as he rolled his bulk into bed, was, ‘Lord, I’m tired! Amen.’ John Wesley rode sixty to seventy miles many days of his life and preached an average of three sermons a day, whether he was riding or not.
Paul’s ministerial drive is a model for us all. We will never have an authentic, apostolic ministry unless we are willing to work to the point of exhaustion.
R. C. Sproul is right: the ministry of the gospel is a glorious thing. But we do not have to be an apostle or a reformer or a preacher to do it. Some years ago a woman in Africa became a Christian. Being filled with gratitude, she decided to do something for Christ. She was blind, uneducated, and seventy years of age. She came to her missionary with her French Bible and asked her to underline John 3:16 in red ink. Mystified, the missionary watched her as she took her Bible and sat in front of a boys’ school in the afternoon. When school dismissed, she would call a boy or two and ask them if they knew French. When they proudly responded that they did, she would say, ‘Please read the passage underlined in red.’ When they did, she would ask, ‘Do you know what this means?’ And she would tell them about Christ. The missionary says that over the years twenty–four young men became pastors due to her work.4
We must be challenged by Paul’s apostolic labor and the labor of other effective ministers. We must decide to work hard in serving God as well.
Application Question: What are some areas at which Christian ministers should work hard?
1. Ministers Should Work Hard In Studying And Teaching God’s Word.
Paul uses the same word for “labor to exhaustion” about the preaching of God’s Word in 1 Timothy 5:17. He says, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.”
The word “work” means to “labor to exhaustion.” In this text, Paul makes the argument that these elders should be paid because of their labor. However, we all should work hard in the study and teaching of God’s Word. Again, Scripture says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
2. Ministers Should Work Hard In Disciplining The Body.
“No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Cor. 9:27).
What does Paul mean when he says that he “beat” his body? What it means literally in Greek is “to hit under the eye.”5 Paul figuratively gave his body a black eye to control it. One of the things I was taught as an athlete was that we should control our body and make it do what we want it to do.
An athlete says, “Body, wake up in the morning and we will run,” even though the body says it wants to sleep. An athlete says, “Body, we are going to stop eating now because I need to stay in shape.” An athlete even learns how to control his mind to think positive thoughts in order to be successful. They are often trained to visualize being down or losing in a contest and to also visualize winning all for the purpose of not giving up. They visualize hitting the winning shot. They discipline their mind to be great.
Paul says that the rigors and disciplines of an athlete are needed to be a strong Christian.Listen, many Christians are ineffective in their spiritual life because they have never learnedhow to control their body and make it their slave. They don’t work hard at disciplining boththeir body and their mind to honor and serve God.
3. Ministers Must Work Hard In Prayer.
“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” (Col. 2:1).
When Paul said he struggled for the Colossians, he probably meant that he was struggling in prayer for them. He had never met them personally as he was in prison in Rome (Col. 2:1). In Colossians 1:9–14, he describes his prayers for this congregation whom he had never seen.
In the same way, we must struggle and labor in prayer for others to become mature in Christ. Most Christians never push their prayer life. But it needs to be pushed. Christ made the disciples pray for one hour, then another hour, then another hour (Matt. 26:38–45). He challenged them to work hard in prayer. We must do the same to be effective ministers.
4. Ministers Must Work Hard At Everything They Do.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Col. 3:23–24).
Too many Christians compartmentalize their faith. These are spiritual acts of worship: fasting, praying, and going to church. But work, family, eating, drinking, and hobbies are not spiritual. In reality, everything is spiritual and can bring honor to God. Paul said, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
Paul worked hard at all things in order to honor Christ. Does how you perform your regular, daily tasks bring glory to God? Even these things can bring glory to God and can be a testimony to those watching.
Application Question: In what way is God calling you to work hard to build yourself up and ultimately Christ’s body?
Effective Ministers Rely On God’s Power
“To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col. 1:29).
One of the characteristics of effective ministers is that they rely on the power of God. This would seem to be something that doesn’t need to be said; however, many ministers fail in this area. It is very easy to be consumed with ministry and yet do it in our own power and many times for our own glory.
Interpretation Question: How can ministers labor in Christ’s power in ministry? Why do so many ministers lack power in their ministry?
1. Many Ministers Lack Power Because They Are No Longer Intimate With Christ.
Listen to what Christ said to the disciples in John 15:4–5:
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me youcan do nothing.’
All true ministry and true power flows out of an intimate relationship with God. Like the story of Mary and Martha, it is very easy for the disciple to focus entirely on ministry and forget to stay at the Lord’s feet (Luke 10:38–42). Many Christians are like that: they are doing many good things, but their many good things are keeping them from the best thing—sitting at Jesus’ feet.
All power comes from an intimate relationship with God, abiding in his Word and prayer. In fact, one time the disciples tried to cast out a demon but could not, even though Christ had given them power (cf. Luke 9:1). They asked Christ why and he said, “This kind can come out only by prayer” (Mark 9:29b).
Had the disciples forgotten to pray in the midst of casting out this demon? Probably not. In fact, after seeking to cast him out and failing, I have no doubt that they started asking God for power and grace. It seems that they had lacked a living, abiding relationship with God through prayer.
Earlier in Chapter 9, Christ had taken three disciples up on the mountain where he was transfigured. Maybe, while Christ was on the mountain, the nine other disciples didn’t want to wake up in the morning to do their devotions. No one pushed them to pray and be disciplined, and therefore their lives lacked power. When it was time to conquer the devil, they could not. Why? It was because they had not been tapping into the power of God through prayer.
Many Christians are like that. They walk around every day in their own power, lacking the power and resources of God. This power comes through intimacy.
2. Many Ministers Lack Power Because They Have No Faith.
In the previous account of the disciples casting out the demon and failing, Christ said they could not cast out the demon because they had not been in prayer. It seems from parallel accounts there was more to their failure than this. Look at the reason Christ gave them in Matthew 17:20:
Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
He said they could not cast the demon out because they had so little faith in God. When they saw how badly demon-possessed the child was, they started to doubt God’s power to deliver the boy. They probably started shaking in their boots.
In fact, their lack of faith was so bad Christ gave them a very harsh rebuke. He said, “O unbelieving and perverse generation . . . how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me” (Matt. 17:17). He said they were an unbelieving and perverse generation. He seems to lump the disciples with all the unbelievers around them. Many Christians are like that. They believe God for their salvation, which is the greatest gift they could ever need, but they lack faith for their daily bread. They don’t trust God when tests and trials come their way. In the trials they doubt God.
It is for this very reason that many Christians lack power. Faith is a channel for seeing God’s grace work through us and in us. Consider what Scripture says about Christ’s hometown during his ministry: “And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (Matt. 13:58).
He didn’t do many miracles in his hometown because of their lack of faith. How many Christians don’t have God’s power working in them mightily simply because they don’t believe? They are not believing God for any great work. They read the Bible about a God who split the Red Sea, stopped the rain, multiplied bread, raised the dead, etc., and yet believe God for nothing—at least nothing that uses his mighty power.
Are we believing in God to use our church to reach many lost people? Are we believing in God to use us to stir a revival in our work place? What are we really believing God for?
With the church of Ephesus, it seems they were so powerless Paul had to pray for them to even know there was power available. Look at how Paul prays:
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength (Eph. 1:18–19).
I pray that your eyes may be enlightened to know the incomparable great power for us who believe. Some churches seem to have no power. Nobody is being changed, nobody is growing, and nobody is hungry for God. Paul says, “They need to see; they need to understand that there is power available.” In Chapter 3, he prays for the power to be turned on in Ephesus: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Eph. 3:16).
He prays for God to strengthen them with power through his Spirit. Too many Christians are walking around being defeated by lust, being defeated by anxieties, and the Scripture says power is already at work in them to conquer that situation. But, we need to appropriate this power working in us. God provides the power—we just have to act on it. The reason many Christians are not tapping into God’s power is lack of faith.
Application Question: How do we grow in our faith and appropriate God’s power?
- Faith comes through hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). A lack of time in the Word and believing what the Word of God says will severely limit your faith.
- Faith comes through prayer. After hearing they must forgive someone seven times seventy, the apostles prayed, “Lord increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). They knew they couldn’t forgive unless God helped them. If you struggle with believing God and trusting God, then a great prayer is to ask God to increase your faith.
- Faith comes by being in and around the faith community. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.”
The wise trust God because that is the wisest thing a person can do (cf. Ps. 14:1). When you hang around wise, godly people, your faith will increase as well.
Application Question: Do you feel that you often lack God’s power in your life and ministry? How is God calling you to rely more on his power?
What are characteristics of effective ministers?
- Effective ministers are willing to suffer for the church.
- Effective ministers are servants of the church.
- Effective ministers are faithful stewards of God’s Word.
- Effective ministers have the goal of presenting everyone mature in Christ.
- Effective ministers are willing to work hard.
- Effective ministers rely on God’s power.
Application Question: Which characteristic is God challenging you to work on most in order to be a more effective minister?
Copyright © 2015 Gregory Brown
1 J. F. MacArthur Jr., MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 74.
2 W. MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. A. Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995).
3 Steve Brown, JumpingHurdles,HittingGlitches,OvercomingSetbacks.164.
4 R. K. Hughes, Colossians and Philemon: The Supremacy of Christ. (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989), 49.
5 J. F. MacArthur Jr., 1 Corinthians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 19
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Greg Brown earned his MA in religion and MA in teaching from Trinity International University, a MRE from Liberty University, and a PhD in theology from Louisiana Baptist University. He has served over fifteen years in pastoral ministry, and currently serves as chaplain and professor at Handong Glob… More