There’s this great scene from the Avenger’s movie. Two police officers are talking about the alien invasion that is devastating Manhattan (you have to see the movie). Suddenly Captain America appears and starts barking out orders: “I need you to station men in the surrounding buildings. There are civilians that could wander into the line of fire…” The old sergeant fires back: “Why should I take orders from you?” About that time two Chitauri warriors (the alien guys) show up and are quickly dispatched by Cap. The sergeant then turns to his young partner: “We need to get men in the surrounding buildings…” It seems that even Captain America has to show his “credentials” before he was listened to. In the same way, Paul after talking about the magnificence of Jesus in both creation and redemption, pauses to give his credentials to the Colossian church in Colossians 1.24-29.
Paul writes the book of Colossians to a group of believers he likely never met. This church was predominantly made up of Gentiles. Paul writes to address a heresy that had cropped up in the church and in the process gives us one of the most Christologically dense expositions Jesus in the Bible. It is an amazing book.
And in Colossians 1.24-29 Paul gives his readers three reasons to listen to him: 1) He’s suffered on their behalf so that they might receive the gospel; 2) He was called to complete the revelation of the mystery of Christ; and 3) His purpose in life was the progress of his hearers to maturity – that they would not only hear the gospel, but also that they would grow up in the faith.
Lots of great stuff in this passage, but two things I want to share. The first is the mystery that Paul mentions. The term mystery shows up twenty-two times in the NT and four times in Colossians (pretty significant in a four chapter book). It shows up six times in Ephesians. The two books are companion letters written by Paul about the same time to churches in close proximity – both predominantly Gentile.
As we think about this mystery, it’s probably best to start with what the mystery is not. The mystery is not that the Gentiles would be saved by Jesus, that they would experience spiritual blessing through Him. Since Genesis 12 and the call of Abraham, the nations where to be beneficiaries of the blessings to Abraham (and by extension Israel). Anytime in the OT that the Gentiles attached themselves to (or blessed) an Israelite, they were also blessed. The mystery wasn’t that Gentiles could be saved. The mystery was that the Gentiles could be co-heirs with the Jews, that they would be on the same spiritual footing with Israel. That seemed to fly in the face of Abraham/Israel as the conduit of blessing to the nations (Genesis 12). But Paul is thinking back to Genesis 3:15. The promise to Adam that a Seed of the Woman would crush the head of the serpent was a promise of restoration for all humankind. Not just Jews. And not primarily through Jews to Gentiles. But all those who would believe could be reconciled to God through Jesus and be made children of God. And for Paul, that was amazing news – it truly was the gospel for the Gentiles.
The second thing, which is really the point that Paul is driving to: Presenting everyone complete in Christ. Paul’s driving passion was the maturity of every believer. It reminds me of what I like to call the Tae Kwon Do method of discipleship. It’s not enough that a few cross the line to spiritual maturity. The goal is for everyone to become a black belt in following Jesus. Paul says that this is the reason he labors striving about to the Spirit’s work within him. It’s the thing that kept him awake at night and got him up early in the morning. It was his driving passion.
The lesson for us: all believers are called to serve the body, some are called to suffer for it; all are called to serve in their area of gifting/calling; and all are called to make maturing disciples.
Until next…stay salty.