1) The authentic gospel minister serves God’s people.
“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.” (1:24–25a) Paul is not suggesting that there is anything lacking in the salvation achieved by the death of Christ. It is likely he has in mind some teaching hinted at in the Old Testament which suggested there would be a time of great suffering for God’s people before the Messiah finally put everything to right. Paul sees his own suffering as contributing to the total amount of sufffering that must be endured before Christ returns. He rejoices in his suffering, not because it was in any sense enjoyable, but because it was ushering in the new age of God’s rule.
No doubt Paul’s critics pointed to Paul’s hardships as signs that his message and ministry were not from God. He was in prison when he wrote this letter – hardly a sign of God’s blessing! Perhaps they pointed to their comfortable, prosperous lifestyle as evidence of the success of their teaching. They were fêted wherever they went. Crowds flocked to hear them and paid good money for the privilege. They could afford to fly first class and stay in top hotels on their speaking tours. What a contrast to Paul! But it was the Apostle who had got it right. He walked the way his Saviour trod – the way of suffering. And notice why he suffered: “for you… for the sake of his body, which is the church… I have become its servant”.
Paul was prepared to put himself out for others. There is a very good test to see if someone is an authentic gospel minister or not. Is he or she willing to be a servant of God’s people, whatever the cost? Would they still do it if it began to get difficult? Would they do it if people never thanked then for their troubles but instead just complained and criticsed all the time? Would they still do it if it meant “troubles, hardships, and distresses, beatings, imprisonments and riots, hard work, sleepless nights and hunger”? (2 Cor 6:4–5) Authentic gospel ministry is hard work; it’s about service, not self-fulfilment.
There is a very good test to see if someone is an authentic gospel minister or not. Is he or she willing to be a servant of God’s people, whatever the cost? Would I still do it if it began to get difficult?
Captain James Cook once commented about a particular south sea island that he visited on his travels: “No one would ever venture to introduce Christianity to Erromanga because neither fame nor profit would offer the requisite inducement.” Do we need an inducement to serve Christ? Would I still think of going to that country overseas or working in that church in this country if I knew that I would labour away for years, unnoticed and unthanked? Would I do it if I knew that I would never make a name for myself and then, instead of gaining great praise, I would either be scorned or ignored by most of those I worked amongst? That is the reality of Christian ministry in many situations. There is very little that is glamorous about it. But if I am a servant of God’s people I will keep at it even when it hurts. It would be so much easier not to bother to pray for the members of my Bible study group or church or to spend time preparing for teaching that Sunday School class: I’m tired and busy. But that would not have stopped Paul. The authentic gospel minister serves God’s people. But what did that mean in practice for Paul?
2) The authentic gospel minister presents God’s word.
“I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fulness – the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.”
Paul was not a religious genius who came up with his own great spiritual insights which he then pased on to others. He was not the originator of his message. It was revealed to him by God and his job was then to pass it on unchanged to others. He was not the source of the gospel; he was its servant (“the gospel… of which I, Paul, have become a servant” 1:23). He was called to serve God by serving the gospel.
How is it that people come to know God in the first place? By hearing God’s word and then responding to it by faith. And how is it that Christians grow in their knowledge and love of God? By that same word – as we hear it and then as the Spirit helps us to understand and obey it. No church can be established without the word of God and no church can grow without the word of God. That is why an authentic gospel ministry is always a ministry of the word.
That youth worker may be brilliant at relating to teenagers, a superb organiser of fun activities and an excellent listener to whom they pour out their problems. His clubs might be packed full every week. But if he’s making no effort to communicate God’s truth to those young people, then he’s not engaged in gospel ministry.
But what is that gospel? No doubt the false teachers in Colosse claimed to have a message from God and yet they said very different things from Paul. So what is the gospel?
3) The authentic gospel minister proclaims God’s son.
“God has chosen to make known among hte Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him…” (1:27–28a). The false teachers in Colosse suggested that the Colossians needed something more than Christ. But the Lord Jesus is right at the heart of the gospel message which was revealed to Paul. It is about a glorious hope for the future which is guaranteed by a great spiritual reality in the present: “Christ in you”. It was Christ on the cross who made our salvation possible in the past; it is Christ by his spirit who meditates that salvation to us in the present; and it is Christ glorified in heaven who is the fulfilment of that salvation in the future, when we will see him face-to-face and enjoy a perfect relationship with him. We proclaim him. You could not get a neater summary of the Christian message than that. John Wesley often wrote in his journal after he had preached in some place, “I offered them Christ”. Charles Spurgeon wrote these words to some young men training to be ministers: “Of all I would wish to say, this is the sum, my brethren, – preach Christ – always and evermore. He is the whole gospel.” And the great seventeenth-century Puritan, Richard Baxter, wrote in The Reformed Pastor: “If we can be teach Christ to our people, we teach them all”.
This article originally appeared in the May 2002 edition of 9:38’s Web News.