READ – Colossians 1:23-2:5
We’re in a series called F1RST on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Paul is writing to a group of Christians who are new to Christianity and asking the questions – “Is faith just one part of my life? Am I missing something? Is Jesus enough?” Paul is writing to say that Jesus is sufficient; He’s enough. That’s indicated by Paul’s frequent use of the language of “fullness.” It’s part of the overall message of Colossians: wherever Jesus is truly first, life is truly full.
But there’s a problem. The regular experience of most Christians and many who aren’t Christians is that life can be very fully with activity, work, recreation, leisure, family, but at the same time feel very empty. Most of us still struggle with a sense that something is missing, a nagging sense of incompleteness. Paul gets at this feeling many of us share by sharing his philosophy of ministry and service. Paul fill us in on the way he thought people, churches, and the world gets filled with Jesus.
1. HOW PAUL FILLED OTHERS
Paul filled others as a servant through gospel embodiment and gospel expression. First, Paul filled others as a “servant.” Some translations say “minister,” but that translation might give the wrong impression that Paul is only speaking about vocational ministry or clergy. Instead he uses the Greek word diakonos which wasn’t a title of respect or honor but signified a table waiter. That’s important because in Luke 22 at Jesus’ final meal with His followers, He described Himself and His ministry as one of table service. Paul didn’t consider himself someone who sat at the table to be served, but rather to serve as a waiter the ones at the table.
Next Paul makes a startling claim about gospel embodiment: he says in Colossians 1:24 that he is filling up what is lacking in Jesus’s affliction! What does he mean? It’s a complex idea to be sure. It certainly can’t mean that Paul is adding to the sufficiency of Christ’s once-for-all atoning death on the cross. The language Paul uses doesn’t allow for that idea – nor does it fit with what Paul and the New Testament says elsewhere. Paul is saying that what is lacking in Christ’s affliction is Jesus’ bodily presence. It’s a bold claim – that mysteriously Paul’s physical suffering as a member of Christ’s body (the church) represents Christ’s continuing suffering for the world through His followers. Paul is showing them through his life what he’s telling them about Jesus through his words. Paul is saying, “I’m willing to be afflicted if it means comfort for you; I’ll toil so you can rest; I’ll be poor so you can be rich; I’ll even die, if it means you know the life-giving news of the gospel.”
Paul filled others with gospel expression. In vv. 25-26, Paul unpacks this with language about making the word of God fully known and the mystery revealed now. Paul isn’t talking about a secret knowledge – something esoteric or for advanced philosophers. He’s saying, in part, that the mystery is about how what you already know about Jesus is enough. In other words, Christians don’t move beyond the gospel, but deeper into it. There’s no philosophy or program beyond the gospel, but a person who are coming to know better. That means that the gospel is something we continually need to be told. We need to hear it from others, speak it to others, and argue it into our hearts.
2. HOW WE FILL OTHERS
We fill others as servants through gospel embodiment and gospel expression. Same as Paul. Our identity in Jesus means we aren’t the ones reclining at table, waiting for others to fill us. We are the ones serving at table. We are to be the ones looking for who needs filling. How do we do that?
Filling others involves gospel embodiment – being the hands, feet, eyes of Jesus in the world. It involves being present. Part of Paul’s hardship is that he can’t meet face-to-face with the Colossians (2:1). Filling others happens best when we are bodily present with them. This is countercultural for us because most of our relationships happen through disembodied communication – telephone, text, email, social media. These things aren’t wrong. They’re just secondary to embodied presence. Filling others also entails embodying affliction, toil, and struggle that doesn't advantage us, but someone else. It’s relatively easy to be hard-working and sacrificial when we know the payoff is around the corner. But what about when we know that our work won’t reap any rewards directly for us?
We also fill others with gospel expression. The ministry of teaching and admonishing doesn’t just belong to pastors, but to all of us, Paul is saying. We need to involve ourselves in deeply committed relationships and friendships that are call-and-response. Friendships where we show and tell each other the good news of the gospel. We need our relationships to reflect a priority that asks, “How can I fill you as a servant?” Can you imagine the difference that would make?
3. HOW WE GET FILLED
Paul’s philosophy of service is good and all – but what do we do with the nagging sense that we are often running on empty (emotionally, relationally, physically). How do we get filled? Paul says there’s three things we need when we are empty and need filling. First, we need encouraged hearts (2:2). That implies that we can recognize when our hearts are discouraged and empty – we need to be able to communicate to God, ourselves, and others that we’re missing something. Second, we need a tight knit community (2:2). Inner emptiness often causes people to isolate themselves and distance themselves from others. Paul isn’t being insensitive to introverts – he’s merely stating the truth that we are social beings and need one another. When you’re empty you need to share with others, let them fill you with their caring presence and gospel truth. Third, we need to reach full assurance of God’s mystery which is Christ. What do we reach for when we are empty? Usually it’s either our performance or pleasure. The gospel is that assurance will come not when we reach for performance or pleasure, but a Person – Jesus. Being filled only comes through a connection to Jesus who always have enough fullness to meet our emptiness. You don’t need something different. You just need more of what is already yours in Christ.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?
2. Describe a recent experience where you felt empty or a sense of incompleteness. Can you relate to the Colossians’ feeling that maybe Jesus isn’t enough? In what ways?
3. In your own words, explain “gospel embodiment” and “gospel expression.” Of the two, which do you lean toward or feel strongest in? Why? Discuss.
4. What is an area of your work or family life that might change if you practiced Paul’s philosophy of ministry this week?
5. Gospel expression – speaking the truth of the gospel to others. Let’s put aside our ordinary thinking on “sharing the gospel with neighbors” for a moment and think about our homes and friendships. How often are we speaking the gospel to those closest to us? What does that even look like? Are there practices that might help facilitate gospel expression?
6. How do you react to inner emptiness? Do you feel discouraged? Isolate? Reach for performance or pleasure? How could you confess and repent this week? What would turning towards Jesus be like?
7. As a group, share with each other one place where God might be calling you to fill up someone else. Pray as a group over these relationships.