Now as has been said, we have, tonight, the great joy of celebrating with John and Kelley Beth as the presbytery of the Mississippi Valley ordains John into the Gospel ministry and sends him back to India to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ. If I can presume to speak for a moment on behalf of your church family here at First Pres, we want you to know, John and Kelley Beth, that we love you both and our hearts are full tonight as the call of God on your lives is confirmed visibly here among us. We rejoice to be partners with you in the Lord’s work and we want to assure you of our prayer and our support as you go about it all in His name.
Now as we think about what it means to serve the Lord in Gospel ministry, I want to invite you, if you would, to take a copy of God’s Word in your hands and to turn with me to the book of Colossians, chapter 1; Colossians chapter 1. We’ll be reading verses 24 through 29. If you have a church Bible, you will find that on page 983. Colossians chapter 1 at verse 24. Once you have the text of holy Scripture open before you, let’s bow our heads together as we pray. Let’s pray.
Lord, we bow before You and we pray that the Lord Jesus, the King and head of His Church, would rule in us and over us tonight by the royal scepter of His holy Word, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Colossians chapter 1 at verse 24. This is the Word of God:
“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. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
Amen, and we give thanks to God that He has spoken in His holy and inerrant Word.
This is a passage that John himself chose for the occasion because God has used it in his life in shaping his sense of call to the work of the ministry. And I'm glad to be preaching on it because it's also one of those texts that God has used in the same way in my own life and ministry. And it gives us a marvelous and balanced view of what it means to go and to serve Jesus as a preacher of His Word. And I want you to notice, unsurprisingly, three things here with me. First of all, I want you to notice the suffering of Gospel ministry. The suffering of Gospel ministry there in verse 24, and then suffering of another kind in verse 28. Then secondly, there’s the stewardship of Gospel ministry, verses 25 through the beginning of 28. The Gospel minister is a steward to whom a task has been entrusted by the Master that he must fulfill with diligence. Suffering, stewardship, then finally, strength for Gospel ministry there in verse 29. The suffering is real, sometimes overwhelming. The stewardship is weighty and will demand every ounce of your intellectual and emotional energy, John. But the good news is, God has the resources of strength to sustain you and to keep you and to hold you up and to make you useful in His service. Okay? So that’s where we’re going. Those are our three points. Suffering in the ministry, the stewardship of the ministry, and then strength for ministry.
Suffering of Gospel Ministry
Let's think about the suffering of the ministry first of all. Look at verse 24, please. Verse 24, "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." Paul is suffering and it's clear that the sufferings in view in verse 24 are physical. They are "in my flesh" he says. He has endured persecution, imprisonment. He's been beaten. There's pain in his limbs. He has the scars to show for it. For Paul, following Jesus and preaching His Word came sometimes at a terrible cost. And while it may be hard for most of us here in our relative comfort and luxury to conceive of something like that happening among us, John, you know very well don’t you, that it’s not so hard to conceive as you return to minister in your homeland. That ought to be, I think for all of us tonight, a somewhat sobering and weighty thing. What I think your church family here needs to keep in mind as we pray for you and for the team. Here, preaching Christ may earn you the contempt of liberal elites at worst. There, it may cost you very much more.
And notice why Paul endures these repeated rounds of suffering. Why does he keep walking into one wave after another of persecution and affliction like this? Well twice he says he does it – do you see this in the text? – he does it for the sake of the Church. “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,” he says. He does it for the sake of Christ’s body, that is, the Church. It is love to the people of God that drives him. It is a burden for the lost that animates him. It is the knowledge that he has been commissioned by the King of kings to go into harm’s way to rescue the perishing elect of God by announcing to them the good news about Jesus Christ.
And notice, too, the fascinating, difficult phrase there in the middle of verse 24. Did you spot it as we read it together? Here's how Paul thinks of the suffering that he endures. "In my flesh," he says, "I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions." That's a challenging phrase, isn't it? Of course, Paul doesn't mean that Jesus' suffering for the Church at the cross was somehow deficient. Here's what I think he means. The world hates the Church. The world is not done afflicting – sorry, the world hates Christ. It's not done afflicting Him. There are more afflictions for Jesus that the world has yet to mete out. But since they cannot get at Christ, what is left over in the afflictions of Christ now fall to His representatives and spokesmen, to His Church and to His servants and in particular to His ministers. So, Paul says, that the hatred of the world, the enmity that exists between Christ and the world is now turned towards him and the sufferings he endures is the suffering that is the response, the visceral response of a world living in rebellion to the claims of King Jesus. Every dart, every wound, every fist that afflicted Paul, he knows really has Jesus' name on it. It's all meant for Him but it lands on Paul. There's physical suffering here. Sometimes there's a cost, a very real cost, a physical cost for those who go in Christ's name. That's a sobering thing.
But there’s also suffering of another kind in our passage that belongs especially to the ministry of the Gospel. Look down at the other end of our text for a moment. Verse 29, “For this,” Paul says, “I toil, struggling,” he says. That is the character of faithful Gospel ministry. It’s marked by toil and struggle. There’s no place for coasting; no place for indolence. No way to be casual and offhand about spiritual things and eternal destinies. The Gospel ministry involves suffering. And so as we set apart our dear brother to this sacred task, he has a claim on our prayers in the light of the suffering that waits for him. Doesn’t he? He has a claim on our prayers, on our solidarity, and on our love.
Stewardship of Gospel Ministry
But then secondly, I want you to notice that Gospel ministry involves a stewardship. That’s Paul’s language in verse 25. “I became a minister according to the stewardship from God given to me for you.” The word for “minister” is the word for “servant” and the word for “stewardship” would have immediately conjured up images of a great house in which the servant, the minister, was entrusted with the wise management of the household’s resources. He was to ensure there was food and provision for the family. It’s the image of a Gospel minister. He is a servant, a household slave as it were; entrusted with the stewardship for the sake of the family of God. And notice the resources that he is wisely to dispense as a steward. What has he been given stewardship of, precisely? Verse 25, he has stewardship from God, “given to me,” he says, “for you the church to make the Word of God fully known.”
Some of you may know the name of Dr. Haddon Robinson who taught preaching for many years. He went to be with the Lord on July 22 of this year. When Dr. Robinson was studying for a doctorate in communication at the University of Illinois, because they had no one to be an advisor in preaching, which is what he wanted to study in particular, he was sent to the library to find a classic scholar by the name of Dr. Dieter instead. Here’s Robinson’s account of his first encounter with Dr. Dieter. “I went in and he said to me, ‘Well, what do you want?’ I said, ‘I want to preach.’ ‘Preach, huh? You believe you need the Holy Spirit to preach?’ ‘Yes, I do.’ ‘Well, you’re out of luck,’ said Dr. Dieter. ‘He hasn’t been on campus for fifty years.’ But on the long library table between them lay a pulpit Bible covered in dust and Dr. Dieter pointed to it and said, ‘You know how that book differs from Aristotle and Quintillion and Plato? I’ll tell you. That book’s alive. I don’t know anybody whose life has been changed by studying these books, but I do know some people whose lives have been changed by studying that book.’”
The message of the Word of God is the stewardship entrusted to Paul and to Gospel ministers to make the Word of God fully known, to preach the Word, to open the Book. And the message, Paul says in verse 26, is a once hidden, now revealed "mystery." Verse 27 says he is to preach it among the Gentiles. It is a message laden with the riches of glory, he says. But here's why it's life-altering. Here's what makes it richly glorious. At its heart is the good news about Jesus Christ. “Christ in you,” Paul says, “the hope of glory. Him we proclaim.” That is the heart of a steward’s work. To preach Christ in every place in holy Scripture. To show how these are they, the Scriptures, which speak of Him. Make Him known among the nations, the hope of glory. Proclaim Him. Never be sidetracked, John, from this one straight path. Never grow tired of plucking this one string on your banjo. Let it be said of your ministry in years to come, when somebody asks, “What marked out John Prabhakar’s ministry?” let it be said you preached Christ. You are being entrusted with a sacred stewardship in the household of God and you must give them Christ. Make the Word of God fully known. Explain the Scriptures. And show that these are they that speak of Him.
Strength for Gospel Ministry
The sufferings of the ministry. The stewardship of the ministry. Lastly, strength for ministry. How in the world are you going to do this? I have bad news for you, brother. You are not up to the task. Me neither. Neither was Paul, actually. So how is it that he was able to rejoice in the midst of sufferings as he says he does in verse 24? How could he persevere through toiling and struggling so mightily? How did he fulfill his sacred stewardship? How will you? How can any of us? Look at verse 29, please. "For this I toil, struggling, with all his energy which he so powerfully works within me." Your resources are meager and inadequate. You don't have the stamina that you will need. Your mental energy, your emotional intelligence won't get you very far. Neither will it me nor any of us in the service of Jesus. However, will we make it? Paul could toil and struggle; so can you, so can we all, as we serve the Lord together because of Christ's energy powerfully worked within us. There is a deep well from which to draw that will never run dry for you in Jesus Christ. He will keep you. He will sustain you. He is enough.
Paul uses three Greek words in verse 29 from which our English words “energy,” “agony,” and “dynamite” come. You need energy. You will endure agony. But Christ has the dynamite power of grace to bear you up and to carry you along and to keep you to the end. Some of us here tonight might find ourselves at the end of our rope wondering if we can carry on. Not in yourself, that’s for sure. You certainly can’t carry on in your own resources or strength. You were never really meant to. But the Lord Jesus Christ has energy to work powerfully in you. He will keep you. He will keep you. So the task of ministry is daunting. The enormity of the task facing you and your colleagues in India is, it is overwhelming. Remember, it was actually John Knox who first said that “One man plus Christ equals a majority.” Remember, dear brother, that the message you have to preach to others, “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” is the same message that will sustain and keep you even as you proclaim Him. So keep close to Christ. However sharply honed your gifts become, however proficient in the daily duties of ministry you may come to be, it’s only by the powerful working of Christ’s energy in you, you will endure it all with joy, fulfilling the stewardship He has entrusted to you to the praise of the glory of His grace.
So there’s suffering in ministry and there’s a glorious but demanding stewardship in ministry, but praise God there is also strength for ministry as we cling together to Jesus. Would you pray with me?
Our Father, we praise You that You are sufficient for us, that Christ is enough, enough for all of us as we serve You, enough for John as he fulfills the stewardship tonight being entrusted to Him. We pray for him and we pray for one another that You would help all of us to cling to Christ and that His mighty power and energy might strength us as we seek to serve You. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
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