Colossians 1:23-28 – The mystery that was hidden

Paul in chains
Paul in Prison

SUMMARY: As prisoner, Paul rejoices in his suffering because it was “the stewardship from God bestowed on” him for our benefit (Col 1:25).  God gave Paul the task to proclaim a mystery that has been hidden in past ages, namely that believing Gentiles are also descendants of Abraham—and share in the glory of the age to come. 

Col 1:23

If indeed you continue in the faith
firmly established and steadfast,
and not moved away from the hope of the gospel
that you have heard,
which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven,
and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.

Moved away – Some teach that God decides who should live eternally and who should go to hell, irrespective of what they are or do.  Such teachers consequently have to promote the ‘once saved, always saved’ concept, but the current verse implies that people are able to move away from God.  God does keep people.  Romans 14:4 says “and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand”, but people are able to resist God’s keeping power and move away “from the hope of the gospel” (Col 1:23).

Warning – Against the background of the deception threatening the Colossians (Col 2:8), Paul here warns the predominantly Gentile Colossian Christians (Col 1:27, 21) to remain on the firm and sure foundation of the message preached to them (Col 1:23).  This warning will be repeated four times in chapter 2 with growing seriousness.

HopeHope of the gospel – This is the “inheritance of the saints” (Col 1:12), “the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Col 1:5), and “the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).  “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col 3:3-4).

Col 1:24

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body,
which is the church,
in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

Sacrificed Himself

My sufferings – Paul wrote this letter from prison (Col 4:3).  When Paul served, being in ministry was the greatest sacrifice that one could make.  The Lord said to Ananias:

Go, for he (Paul) is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).

Paul’s message also reflects the greatest sacrifice that was ever made—the cross.  For that reason, God gave him strength, and Paul could claim that he labored, “striving according to His power, which mightily works within me” (Col 1:29).

Today, however, being in ministry, in general, no longer requires that level of sacrifice. But the lack of sacrifice is also reflected in our lives.  Most of our own decisions are based mainly on what would get us further, not on a consideration of the will of the Lord. This even includes the decision to enter God’s kingdom. Even in our desire to allow God to show us our own faults, we are motivated by what would help us to victory without suffering loss. We are still living for ourselves, not for Him. We are walking much more in self-centeredness than in Christ-centeredness.

This is also reflected in our message. We today have so little power to transform the minds and hearts of people because we do not live, and do not preach the immense sacrifice of the cross. Consequently, it is difficult today to see much difference between church and non-church people. Although it is many, many times larger, the church is now but a phantom of what it was even in Paul’s time,

The cross is the power of God, and it is the center of all we are called to live by. The cross is the gospel and the salvation with which the church was entrusted.  We must return to the cross.

Col 1:25-29

Col 1:25 Of this church I was made a minister
according to the stewardship from God
bestowed on me for your benefit,
so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God,
1:26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden
from the past ages and generations,
but has now been manifested to His saints,
1:27 to whom God willed to make known
what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles,
which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
1:28 We proclaim Him,
admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom,
so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
1:29 For this purpose also I labor,
striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.

These verses may be analyzed into two concepts:

The first “the stewardship from God bestowed on” Paul (1:25), “admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom” (Col 1:28), “striving according to His power, which mightily works within” Paul (Col 1:29).

The second is the purpose of his ministry, which is “for your benefit” (Col 1:25), to establish “Christ in you” (Col 1:27), “that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Col 1:28).

Christ in you (Col 1:27) – This indicates the close relationship between Christ and the believer.  We must be “complete in Christ” (Col 1:28) but the mystery among the Gentiles isChrist in you” (Col 1:27).   Christ explained that everyone is in everyone; “the Spirit of truth … abides with you and will be in you”, “I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:16-20).

Mystery Fellow HeirsMystery – The “mystery … has been hidden from the past ages and generations” – In Ephesians 3:1-6 Paul similarly wrote:

… by revelation there was made known to me the mystery … which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel …

Mystery GentilesWhat this mystery is, is clearly stated in Ephesians and less clearly so in Colossians, but it does seem clear that it is the same mystery, because Colossians also relates the mystery to the Gentiles, and indicates that the mystery is “Christ in you” (Col 1:27), which means to be a child of God.  The mystery that is now revealed is therefore that non-Jews believers “are fellow heirs” (Eph 3:6) of the promises made to Abraham (Gal 3:29; Rom 4:13).  Today this principle is generally accepted, but in Paul’s day, it was a novel idea and a new message that God gave Paul to preach, resulting in severe controversy in the church. For the Jewish Christians, who were, in the beginning, the majority of the church, this was contrary to everything they were told as Jews.  In their view, to be saved, one had to become a Jew through circumcision.

Colossians Table of Contents

Next: Col 2:1-4


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