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To this end I labor

  • by LA UBF
  • Jan 18, 2004
  • 3245 reads

Question

   TO THIS END I LABOR


Colossians 1:24-2:5

Key Verse 1:29


1. Read v. 24a.  What does ‘rejoice’ mean?  Suffering is not a pleasant experience to go through, yet Paul says: “I rejoice in what was suffered for you.”  What does Paul’s example reveal about suffering for doing good in the Lord?  (Romans 5:3-5; 1Pe 1:6-7; 4:13)


2. Read v. 24b.  Paul says in present tense, “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions...”  What do you think Paul might have meant by: 1) “what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions” and 2) “for the sake of his body”?  What does “I fill up” reveal about Paul’s attitude towards suffering (or affliction)?  Why does he fill them up in his ‘flesh’?


3. Read 1:25-2:3 aloud.  What do the following show us about the efforts the members of the church need to make in serving God’s Word to all people on earth:


1) “the commission God gave me to present to you the Word of God in its fullness”; 

2) “the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory”; 

3) “we proclaim him admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom”; 

4) “so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ”; 

5) “I struggle with all his energy”; 

6) “that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love”; and 

7) “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”? 


4. Read v. 4.  How does one become deceived by someone?  What does “fine-sounding arguments” suggest about the way deceivers attempt to trick you? 


5. Read v. 5.  What does this passage teach us about the importance and purpose of spiritual letter writing among the saints?







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Message

To this end I labor

TO THIS END I LABOR


Colossians 1:24-2:5

Key Verse 1:29


“In this passage we would like to think about the blessedness of the life that labors for the glory of our Lord Jesus.” 


In the key verse the Apostle Paul uses the word “labor” saying, “To this end I labor.” But each time we think about the word “labor” we feel burdened. However, on closer examination of God’s servants (like the Apostle Peter or the Apostle Paul), we realize that, to them, labor is not a burden but a blessing, in that it gives them true joy in life. Obviously, they have mastered the art of labor for the Lord. What then do we mean by the “art” of labor for the Lord?   


First, laboring in his joy


Look at v. 24a. “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you.” Paul begins this passage with the word “Now.” Where was he “now”? He was in a “government hotel,” that is, he was under house arrest. How was he doing in this prison? He was doing just fine. And despite the adverse circumstances, he was filled with joy, for he says, “Now I rejoice.” Here the word “rejoice” means “to feel joy or to feel great delight.” Why was he so delighted? Was it because he received some good news, perhaps news that he would soon be released, so that he could participate in some exciting events like ocean fishing or voyaging on a Mediterranean cruise ship? No. He did not know when he would be released. 


Why then was Paul so joyful? Look at v. 24 again. “Now I rejoice in what was ‘suffered’ for you.” He was joyful because of what he was suffering. In other words, he was joyful because of all the sufferings he had thus far gone through for the Gentiles. The Lord God had established two shepherds, one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles. For the Jews, the Apostle Peter suffered a lot. But for the Gentiles, the Apostle Paul suffered a lot. Anyway, the Apostle Paul rejoices because of all the sufferings he had to undergo for his Gentile sheep. He was thus joyful for the pain and pressure he had to suffer for his sheep. 


Here, we can stop for a moment and think about the relationship between laboring for the Lord’s flock and the joy that comes with it. Obviously, suffering is an unpleasant experience (to say the least). The word “suffer” means “to feel or have pain or loss” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary). For his Gentile sheep, Paul was undergoing severe pain while stuck in a prison cell. For his sheep, he had lost a lot – his membership with his own people Israel, his membership with the Sanhedrin (according to some Bible scholars), the privilege of marriage (it is likely that his wife left him when he believed in Jesus), the possibility to make millions of dollars and live like Arnold Schwarzenegger (I mention this because last Tuesday, a guy came to “refill” the fire extinguishers, and he bragged about his contract with the new governor because he services the entire fire safety system at the governor’s three million dollar house in Brentwood). Whilst living in America for more than two decades, I have discovered that most Americans are after two M’s: marriage and money (or money and marriage). Some Americans work, work, and work for money, money, and more money, and then they labor, labor, and labor for the perfect marriage, marriage, marriage. Others do the exact same thing, the other way around. They labor, labor, and labor to solve their marriage problem. Then they try to make money, money, and more money. A reliable source informed me that these days young adults focus almost all of their energy in finding a mate (or several mates). (Please forgive the term I have chosen, particularly in the plural, and the implication that comes with it; but it is true.)  But you know what? The Bible says that it is not good for a man to be alone. So marriage is even ordained by God. As for the other “M,” and most certainly in American society (as in every other society), money talks. Thus the adage: “With money in your pocket, you are handsome and cool, and you can even sing well, too.” But the Apostle Paul lost all these things. 


Yet, what does Paul say? He says, “Now I rejoice for what was suffered for you!” When we stop and think about what he says, either of two possibilities is true. First, Paul is lying. That is, he is extremely unhappy, and yet in order to “put on a good face,” he says, “Now I rejoice.” The other possibility is that he is telling the truth and he is indeed extremely joyful. Now, we know that the first possibility is improbable. I think Paul is telling the truth. If this is the case, then we can deduce from Paul’s statement that suffering for the Lord is not all that bad. Moreover, it is in fact a source of great joy. Therefore, losing for the Lord’s sake is gaining true life, joy, love, etc. 


This truth has likewise been known by many ancient philosophers. For example, in his book Tao Te Ching, the ancient Chinese thinker Lao Tsu said, “In the pursuit of learning, every day something is learned; in the pursuit of the Tao, every day something is lost.” In Chinese, “Tao” means “the way.” The Bible says that Jesus is the Way. So in the place of the word “Tao” we can put “Jesus Christ,” and then read: “In the pursuit of Jesus Christ, every day something is lost.” So here is the truth: in Christ, losing is gaining. And the only way to gain Jesus Christ, the only lasting treasure of all treasures, is through losing what is less for what is best.  For the same reason, it has been said, “The enemy of the best is not the good but the better.” And one of the key messages of the book of Colossians is that it is not enough for you to pursue what is good for you, or even what is better for you, but you must pursue what is best for you. The question then is, “How can you know what is best for you?” and, more importantly, “How can you actually take possession of what is best for you?” We find a clue in what Paul says, “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you.” 


Second, laboring for his body


Specifically, what should we labor for? Look at v. 24a again. “[A]nd 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.” 


Here Paul uses the word “flesh.” By flesh, Paul means his body. According to Paul, a person’s body is dead because of sin, meaning that, because of sin, sooner or later our physical bodies will collapse and turn to dust. Upon being born again, however, we have been made alive “spiritually” although our body remains dead. Knowing this, Paul chooses to fill his body with Christ’s afflictions. 


At first glance it sounds like a losing proposition. But according to Paul, this is the only way to make the most use of the body. Why? According to Paul, there are two ways and two ways alone in which our body can be used: either as an instrument of righteousness or as an instrument of wickedness. There are no other possibilities. 


For this reason, Paul says in Romans 6:23, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” So while Paul’s body was wasting away, Paul chose to offer his body as an instrument of righteousness. This is why Paul says, “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.”


From this we learn that what Paul does is not something strange, but rather that which we are all called to do because it is the only blessed way to use our body. Suppose at one point or another you think otherwise, and choose not to offer your body to serve God’s purpose. What then does your choice amount to? You are automatically offering your body as an instrument of wickedness, even though you do not realize it. 


Let us then think about the purpose of labor. “I fill in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” Here Paul regards his body as a container. In John’s gospel we see Jesus attending a wedding banquet and ordering the servants to “fill the jars,” and then we see the servants at the wedding banquet working hard to fill the jars with water. Paul is working just like these servants. The only difference is that this time the jar is not made of stone, but of clay, that is, his body. And the stuff he is filling this jar of clay with is not H2O but “what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.” What is he talking about? We can find the answer to this question in many of his epistles, particularly in the epistle to the Romans. In Romans 11:25 Paul says, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” Here, Paul uses the expression “full number.” This phrase refers to the number of the Gentiles that will be saved. 


When we combine this passage with what Paul says here, we can see that what is “lacking” means that which is lacking in the “number” of the people (specifically the Gentiles) that are to be saved. 


Now let us connect this point with “Christ’s afflictions.” What does “affliction” mean? Affliction means “suffering or distress.” Christ died on the cross and rose again. And on the cross he said, “It is finished.” Here “finished” means finishing (the construction of) the way (or the bridge) for our salvation.   


It does not mean that Jesus is taking a long vacation in heaven, feeling no pain. Rather the opposite is true. How do we know that Christ is still suffering? Again, we find the answer to this question from what immediately follows in the expression “Christ’s afflictions,” that is, “for the sake of his body, which is the church.” In Ephesians 5:23, Paul directly says that Christ is the head of the church. Add to this fact that Paul calls the church his “body.” Now we are starting to get the picture. If any part of our body hurts, it is the head that realizes and feels the pain first. Likewise, if you as a member of Jesus’ body are hurt, Jesus hurts first. If you are in pain, Jesus is in pain first. The Apostle Paul learned this truth firsthand, especially when he was on his way to Damascus. At that time, he did not know Christ personally. So in his ignorance he persecuted Christians, those who were members of Jesus’ body. Then while he was on his way to Damascus the Risen Jesus appeared to him and said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” At that time Paul, whose former name was Saul, was persecuting Christians here on earth, but still Jesus who was up there says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” In other words, as Paul persecuted the church, Christians suffered terribly. But it was first Jesus Christ who was suffering terribly. This is so important that in the book of Acts, the expression “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me” is repeated in three different places (cf. Acts 9:4; 22:7; and 26:14). 


There is one more thing for us to consider. That is, Jesus’ afflictions will not end until “the full” number of saved souls come into his church and become members of his family. Figuratively speaking, Jesus is like a man who has ten fingers. If any of the ten fingers hurts, then the entire person hurts. And the pain never stops until the healing is complete. Likewise, Jesus who died and is now praying for all sinners, feels pain if any single soul out there remains lost. In order to look for that which is lost, Jesus calls his servants and sends them out to the four corners of the earth. To look for what was lost within the Roman Empire, the Lord Jesus sent Paul to the international city of Rome, so that from there the message of salvation would spread to the four corners of the earth via, for instance, the system of roads built by Roman engineers. 


“[A]nd 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.” From this we learn that in laboring as God’s servants, we must remember what Paul says: we must labor for the body of Jesus. And at the same time, we must remember that, before we ever suffer in serving the flock, Jesus suffers first. 


Third, laboring in his way


To labor for the body of Jesus is to set the purpose right. The next question then is how are we to labor? In serving the Lord, serving him the right way is as important as the purpose itself. One example is the man who designed the men’s room at the Downey Center. When I met him at the Downey City Hall, the first thing I asked him was whether or not he was an architect. He said, “No, but I can do the job, because I know a lot of architects working with me. Show me the plan.” I showed him the plan. Then he said, “Oh, this is a very simple job. I can certainly do it.” And the price he offered was pretty cheap. Because we were on a tight budget, I let him do the design work. Soon, however, it turned out that in many different areas he did not do things right. Of course, a lot of the errors he had made were corrected. But, to this day, we are stuck with the way he designed the men’s room, because a lot things in the men’s room are wrong. Shep. Abraham Michaud and Shep. Alex Jafari corrected some of the problems. But still, problems such as the location of the light switch are yet to be corrected. Every once in a while, when I visit the Downey City Hall, I am reminded of this, and thus hate to visit the Downey City Hall. 


But when you think about it, God’s servant is called to work not on a physical building like the Downey Center but to work on a human being – the most sophisticated creation of all. And we are called to build the finest product out of each broken soul. This job is the most difficult because, in the first place, a fallen man is quite difficult to fix. And we are called to not just “fix,” but in fact to restore a fallen man to God’s perfection. So this job is way beyond and above any human’s capabilities.  Does this then mean that we should stop trying to lead people to Christ? No. It does not mean that. Rather, we choose to learn to serve the Lord in his way, not in our own undisciplined way. What then is the right way? In Colossians 1:25-2:3, the Apostle Paul elaborates. Let us read this passage responsively. 


“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 saints. 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. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My purpose 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” (emphasis mine).


There are eight verses here. These eight verses serve as a complete manual for serving the Lord. They show us all the guidelines with which we are called to serve the Lord as his servants! Thus this passage deserves our full attention, day in and day out, all the days we serve the Lord. In study questions and notes, we covered this passage. And tons of books can be written about these points. But for our own purposes, let us briefly remember the following points: 


(1) We must serve the Bible in its fullness. Many think that as long as you can recite John 3:16, you are all set. But this is not true. We must remember that the Bible represents all the meals containing all the nutrients necessary for all broken men and women to become completely restored to the full glory of God. So we must pray that we would study the Bible (all 66 books) prayerfully, and serve the word to God’s flock in its entirety. This sounds like too much to do. But one way of doing it is to help each person to do the daily bread daily. This daily bread booklet is published four times a year. It is designed to cover the entire Bible in four years.  So let us encourage one another to do the daily bread faithfully and regularly. 


(2) We must remember that the main point of the Bible is Jesus Christ. To teach the Bible without remembering this point is dangerous. Figuratively speaking, a teacher leading a man through the Bible should be like a tour guide leading a tourist through the jungles of the Amazon. I have never been there, but I know what I would do if I were a tour guide: I would make sure to fly over the Amazon, giving the tourists a general layout of the entire region, and then take each of them and show them the fine details of every tree and branch and more; thus they would truly appreciate the Amazon in both its expansive fullness as well as in its delicate subtlety, the scope and spectrum of which it is beautiful to behold. 


(3) We must endeavor to reveal through God’s help the riches of his glory hidden in Jesus Christ. The Bible is the essence of God’s will. Jesus is the essence of the Bible. And “the riches of God’s glory” is the essence of Jesus Christ. To present Jesus as a mere suntanned son of a Galilean carpenter is not enough. We must ask God for help, so that through God’s help, we would be able to fully reveal the riches of God’s glory built inside of Jesus. 


(4) We must pray to present everyone perfect in Christ. The main theme of Colossians is the supremacy of Christ. But to just talk about his supremacy is not enough, for even his supremacy has a purpose, that is, to present each person to be as perfect as Jesus Christ. Paul expressed this purpose with the word “firstborn.” One of the meanings of the firstborn is couched in the phrase “first fruits.” One of the meanings of the term “first fruits” is the best of the best. Man is the crown of creation. But upon falling, man fell even below the level of the animals. But Paul wrote this epistle to let each of us know how to become a whole person again, as whole and as complete and as perfect as God originally intended us to be!


(5) We must pray to labor in his energy. God never asks anyone to do anything without first providing him with the means by which to do what he is called to do. And one of the means (or resources) includes “energy”! The fabulous thing is that, unlike our own energy, God’s energy is limitless! So if you think you are burnt out or worn out, or if you think serving the Lord’s mission (e.g., campus mission) is too much for you, consider what Paul says. The bottom line is that you are not to feed upon your own faithfulness to God; no, you are supposed to feed upon the Lord God – his faithfulness, his holiness, and his power. Otherwise, you will burn out sooner or later, say something bad about this ministry, and leave.


(6) We must help each person not only to be saved, but also to know how to love brothers and sisters in the Lord. This is very important, because after being born again, a person comes into the church fellowship. Then as they try to get along with fellow Christians, they see a lot of weaknesses, character flaws, and/or sin problems in the lives of their brethren in the Lord. Then they pass judgment on others, and leave the church fellowship. But this is not the right way. The cross of Jesus comes with two lines: one vertical, another horizontal. The vertical line represents our relationship with Jesus, but the horizontal line represents our relationship with our brethren in the Lord. So we must learn to love our neighbors despite their many problems. And we must do so knowing that the Lord God is still working on each of them. 


(7) We should never forget that, hidden in Christ Jesus, are the most valuable treasures in the entire universe, and that these treasures sit in and with him in the form of wisdom and knowledge. At first glance, wisdom and knowledge sound abstract and are of no practical value. But let us not forget that it is through his wisdom and knowledge that the Lord created the universe and everything in it. So by securing this wisdom and knowledge, we can indeed operate as the crown of God’s creation, called to rule over the universe and everything in it. Thus the purpose of our ministry for each person will be completed. 


In conclusion, let us read vs. 4-5. “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 orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.” Here, the deception concerns the true greatness of Jesus. If we do not present Jesus to the world according to the true fullness of his greatness, we are already committing malpractice. And there are tons of people who commit malpractice without even knowing what they are doing. So Paul warns us not to be deceived on this point. 


One word: “To this end, I labor.” 

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