Sunday, August 12, 2018

Colossians Words Day 12: Mystery

Day 12 ~ Mystery

Our words for the first half of the challenge have led us through the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Colossians, with a few detours to other portions of the book as we have traced out their usage. In the first section of the letter (1:3-1:23) Paul has laid out the gospel: salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. He has done so by exalting the supremacy of Christ. Paul now shifts in his letter to share his personal mission commissioned by God.

"Now I rejoice in what I am suffering 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 Lord’s people. 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.
He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is." Colossians 1:24-2:5
So, how was Paul commissioned by God? For the answer to this we need to look at the book of Acts. Acts 9:1-31 describes Paul's journey along the road to Damascus. Paul had been a zealous member of the Pharisees, persecuting Jewish people who had become followers of Christ. On his journey to Damascus Paul has an encounter with Christ which will change the course of his life. It is in this encounter that the Lord speaks to a man named Ananias, revealing His call on Paul's life:
"The Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel." Acts 9:15
The rest of the story in Acts tells us that Paul was immediately baptized, began preaching about salvation through Christ, and the church grew as a result.

What does God's commission of Paul require of Him? Paul says that in order to carry out this commission he must become a servant of Christ's body here on earth, the church. And in doing so, he like Christ, will suffer. In fact, Paul writes this letter to the Colossians while imprisoned in Rome for preaching Christ as king, which broke the Roman laws that they would serve no other king but the Roman king. Verse 24 says, "I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions". This is a very difficult verse to understand and commentators have varying views in explaining it. I am not even going to try and figure out its meaning. I feel Pastor Gregory Brown,, has made the most sense of it in simple terms:
"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 (Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God." Hebrews 10:11-12. 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..." 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." 

What is God's commission of Paul? Verse 25 tells us: "to present the word of God in its fullness". This is the mystery that Paul refers to. So what is the full word of God? It's twofold. First, the mystery is that what was hidden for ages and generations has now been disclosed to the Lord's people: His plan of salvation is not for the Jews alone. It includes the Gentiles. When the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples, he gave them His Great Commission:
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations..." Matthew 28:18-19. In commissioning Paul to proclaim Christ's name to the Gentiles, the work of the Great Commission begins. Jews and Gentiles alike become God's holy people. Paul put it like this to the Ephesians:
"Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 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." Ephesians 3:2-6

The second part to this mystery is "Christ in you , the hope of glory." (1:27). Now, through Christ's death and resurrection and the gift of God's Holy Spirit, Christ dwells in His people. Although God's plan was hidden in the Scriptures, it was not fully revealed until the coming of Christ. "..That they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Colossians 2:3.

We continue Paul's commission today as well. Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians that the minds of unbelievers are blinded to the gospel of the glory of Christ.
"Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ." 2 Corinthians 4:1-6. Paul will go on to say in the next chapter that we - the followers of Christ - have been given the same ministry of reconciliation that he received. "And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God." 2 Corinthians 5:19-20. We are called to share our story, and the life of Christ in us, who is the hope of glory for all mankind. 

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