I want you to know how much I have agonized for you and for the church at Laodicea, and for many other believers who have never met me personally. I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. – Colossians 2:1-2 NLT
Suffering. Serving. Proclaiming. Telling. Warning. Teaching. Working. Struggling. Agonizing.
Look at all the present participles Paul uses in short passage. What it reveals to me is his undeniable commitment to the cause of Christ and the spiritual growth of those under his care – whether he has ever personally met them or not. Paul was actively involved in the spiritual well-being of others. His goal was their maturity or growth in Christ-likeness. So he was willing to suffer and serve, work and warn, struggle and agonize on their behalf, so that they might grow in love for God and for one another. He wanted them to increase in confidence and boldness, and live lives that were a testimony to the life-changing power of God.
I can’t help but read the words of Paul and reflect on just how much I care about the spiritual well-being of others. Too often, in the church today, we become focused on our own personal spiritual health, but fail to show much concern for those around us. Paul could have easily grown content with the state of his own growth in Christ, knowing that he was making significant progress in his own spiritual development. But he knew that his growth was directly tied to the body of Christ. His spiritual gifts were given to him for the benefit of the body, not himself. God had called him, not just so that he might have a personal relationship with Him, but so that he might tell others of the same Good News that had completely and radically changed his life for eternity. So Paul was not content just focusing on his own spiritual development. He was obsessed with helping others grow and mature. It was his calling. It was his reason for being. And he was willing to burn himself out on behalf of others, so that they might experience all that God had in store for them.
Paul was gladly willing to suffer if it meant that others could benefit. Keep in mind that he was more than likely writing this letter while under house arrest in Rome. Paul knew what it meant to suffer. He had been beaten, tried unjustly, flogged, stoned and left for dead, and constantly harassed for his association with Christ. But he wrote, “I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church” (Colossians 1:24 NLT). As the head of the body, Christ suffers when we suffer. He indwells each and every believer and, as a result, is intimately involved in all of our suffering. Jesus told us that we would undergo trials and suffer as a result of our association with Him. He warned us that the world would hate us. “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you” (John 15:18-19 NLT). And Paul knew first-hand the reality of this warning. But he willingly and gladly accepted it as a part of his calling as a minister of Jesus Christ.
What a model we have in this incredible man. Rather than put him on a pedestal and make him into some kind of unapproachable icon of virtue, we should imitate his actions and attitudes. We should model our lives after his. Paul did not see his salvation as a ticket to heaven or some kind of Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free card. He saw his calling as a privilege and responsibility that he took seriously. So he suffered, served, proclaimed, told, warned, taught, worked, struggled and agonized, so that others might grow. What about you? Are you actively seeking the spiritual well-being of others? Are you intimately and personally involved in helping those around you grow more Christ-like? What a difference it would make if each of us were to take personal responsibility for the spiritual health of the body of Christ just like Paul did. If I was willing to suffer physically so that others might prosper spiritually, the overall health and vitality of the body of Christ would increase exponentially.
Father, give me the same kind of zeal and determination Paul had. Don’t let me become so myopic and self-focused that I lose sight of the fact that You have placed me in the body of Christ for a reason. You have called each of us to minister to one another. You have designed this thing to be mutually beneficial, not selfishly individual. Help me see the needs all around me and meet them, even if it means that I have to suffer as a result. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men