“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, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make know how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:24-29).
Who doesn’t like a good mystery? Whether your preferred genre involves the escapades of Hercules Poirot in an Agatha Christie novel, or the shenanigans of Scooby and the gang, there is something compelling about being carried along in the story. When you arrive at the “aha” moment, you begin to realize that the pieces to the puzzle had been given all along the way.
Paul is using the word “mystery” here in the same sense. It is not that it is a mystery because it can’t be understood, but that it was hidden in ages past, but now revealed to the saints. What was not revealed fully in past ages was that the Jewish Messiah — Jesus Christ — would be a Savior to non-Jewish nations and indwell non-Jewish people — that he would live in them and give them the promise of Abraham, the hope of glory in the kingdom of God with all the saints.
Paul is giving us his philosophy of ministry. We so often make ministry complicated and focus more on the method than the message. Paul will have none of that. Notice what he says in that last verse. Paul is striving and agonizing in ministry, but it is not his energy. It is the power of Christ working mightily within him.
And what is his aim in ministry? The previous verse gives us his purpose – to “present everyone mature in Christ.” Aha, now he is going to talk about the variety of programs and special events he has planned to accomplish the ministry of the church! But he doesn’t. In three simple words he sums up his pastoral ministry. “Him we proclaim!” What an astonishing statement. Paul has the utmost confidence in the gospel of Christ, and nothing else. Too often we are getting people “saved” to a program or a philosophy or an experience, and not to Christ. As Paul reminded the Corinthians, “But we preach Christ crucified…” (1 Cor. 1:23).
And by proclaiming Christ crucified, we are immediately struck with our desperate need of a Savior, for it was sinners Jesus came to save. The gospel of Christ Jesus reminds us at every turn that we are without hope in the world, ‘dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience…” (Eph. 2:1-2). It was for this that Christ “was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried…”
What a mystery this is! “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in coming age he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:4-7).
What do we gain in salvation? Certainly, eternal life and all the joys and benefits of heaven. But that is not the most significant thing. We gain Christ. It is our union with Christ that is most significant, most profound, and most important. If we gain Christ, all of the wondrous blessings of heaven accompany him.
Let me leave you with this wondrous thought from the Heidelberg Catechism, in answer to the question, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” Answer: “That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to Him, Christ, by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him.”
Rest in Christ Jesus today and know this eternal hope that He so wondrously gives!