The Nature of Christian Ministry
By Dr. Gary Munson
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 known 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. (Colossians 1:24-28 ESV)
This passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians explains the nature of Christian ministry. Here are some of the main points:
- There is sacrifice involved: Christ suffered for the sake of His body and as ministers, we will also participate in that suffering. Does that mean there was something lacking in the work of Christ? Not at all, only that He left a portion of His work to be completed by the church, His body.
- Paul describes ministry as “stewardship” which means we don’t own our ministry or calling, God is the owner. We are called to faithful participation with Christ in fulfilling that calling.
- Ministry is given by God: I don’t choose ministry, God chooses us and our part is to respond to His choosing.
- Ministry is not for me, it is for others.
- Our ministry is to make God’s word fully know. Ministers are to teach and preach the whole counsel of God, not just the popular verses that get a lot of “Amens” from the crowd.
- Making God’s word fully known involves revealing a mystery that was hidden by God but revealed through Christ. That mystery is revealed to His holy ones, not generally, and they in turn make the mystery known among the Gentiles. The meaning of the mystery is found in Christ.
- The mystery is very valuable, in fact I would suggest, the most valuable thing anywhere, anytime.
- The mystery is the meaning of “Christ in you.” Ministry is not about me, it is about Christ in me (us). (see John 15 about abiding in the vine)
- The hope of glory: from the human point of view this glory is often understood as heaven, or the return of Christ, His millennial kingdom, or the new heaven and new earth promised in the Apocalypse. But this passage is talking about God’s purpose and His mystery, so if we ask, “what is the hoped-for glory from God’s perspective?” I suggest that it is the fulness of Christ in us. The character of Christ, the dedication of Christ to God’s purpose, the absolute surrender to the will of God, the power of God that reveals His kingdom, and the full manifestation of what it means to be a child of God.
- How will this purpose come about? Through our proclamation (preaching), warning (prophecy), and teaching.
- The final statement in this passage points to God’s purpose indicated in Greek by “ ἵνα παραστήσωμεν πάντα ἄνθρωπον τέλειον ἐν Χριστῷ. In order to present all people mature in Christ. Present to whom? God at the end of the age. Present whom? All peoples of all nations. What is meant by “mature?” this comes from the word τέλειον in Greek which means to attain one’s purpose.
My purpose is God’s purpose for me. All living things are intended to reach maturity but in this case, we need to ask what would God mean by that as opposed to a human understanding of “maturity.” Ephesians 4:11-13 explains God’s purpose as ministry working until all come to “maturity” which is then defined as, “attaining the fullness of Christ.”
I suggest that this purpose of God remains largely a mystery today. The church has most often translated God’s message, His purpose, into human terms and it has come out as “me going to heaven”, or “me being blessed,” or “me being powerful.” Those things can be good and God certainly does bless us, followers of Christ are certainly going to heaven and we absolutely can participate in His power. But if those concepts are viewed from within a purely human paradigm, they become selfish, ambitious, and lack the character of Christ revealed through suffering and sacrifice.
As Christian ministers it is our role to proclaim, warn and teach these things until all come to the fullness of Christ that is found in Him and is the meaning of the mystery, “Christ in you.” We have received a responsibility (stewardship) from God and He has chosen to fulfill His purpose through us.