By Michael Cooper
At the beginning of 2019, I was drowning. I was experiencing the most challenging season of ministry I’d ever walked through after 14 years of serving the Lord.
I was broken mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, but it was in that Psalm 88 experience I saw a glimpse of the God of Psalm 89. The God who makes His name known in the darkness of the world, the God who’s jealous for His own fame.
As I prepare to begin my 7th year of pastoral ministry and 15th year of preaching the gospel, I find my heart stirred once again for our magnanimous God.
In light of this, here are four pastoral reminders I’ve drawn from Colossians 1:24-29.
1. As Pastors, We Suffer for the Sake of Others (v. 24).
The Apostle Paul highlights three aspects of his suffering in ministry. First, he finds joy in his suffering. Remember, Paul is writing from prison; he’s like a bird singing in a darkened cage.
Second, he’s suffering for the benefit of the church. He’s laboring in prayer and preaching for the church’s advantage.
Finally, he says he’s “completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Paul doesn’t mean Christ’s suffering was insufficient. On the contrary, Christ’s death was entirely sufficient to save sinners.
But because of his union with Christ, Paul does mean his suffering accomplishes something Christ suffering didn’t on earth.
Christ gave His ministry to His disciples so that they would carry on His mission to the nations. Paul’s earthly sufferings in the trenches of gospel ministry complete the sufferings of Christ that He can’t complete since He’s not here physically.
As John Piper says, “Paul sees his suffering as the visible reenactment of the sufferings of Christ so that they will see Christ’s love for them.”
So as pastors, we should seek to fulfill God’s calling on our lives so that our suffering for the sake of others is an extension of Christ’s suffering and a visible picture of Christ’s love for His people. This is a crucified ministry!
2. As Pastors, We Serve to Speak the Word (v. 25-27).
Paul says he’s been made a servant to make the Word known. Paul’s primary ministry was to make the Word of God fully known.
And this Word is the mystery of “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” It’s in the Word that we see the whole of the Christian life summarized in the words, “Christ in you.”
This mystery is that Christ would dwell in His people by the Spirit. Union with Christ is the real (personal/experiential), spiritual (not physical), and mysterious (mystery) covenantal relationship (unbreakable intimacy) a believer has with Christ by the Spirit.
As John Kitchen argues, “The unbounded Christ in whom all creation dwells and in whom all creation is held together now takes up his dwelling in us.”
As pastors, we should have one aim: we serve to speak the Word so that people may have a real relationship with Christ. We speak about this mystery in the Word that they may know Him, embrace Him, and that Christ would dwell within them.
3. As Pastors, We Share Christ to Shape Lives (v. 28).
Paul says, we proclaim Him. The primary responsibility of a pastor is that of proclamation, the public declaration of Christ.
In the Greek New Testament, the emphatic word is Him, the Lord Jesus. This proclamation is through the means of warning and teaching. The purpose of this proclamation, through warning and teaching, is the maturity of those who hear.
So brothers, as we serve Christ’s Bride this year, we must share Christ to shape lives. The spiritual maturity of the church’s members is a necessity to the life of a church.
Let’s commit to proclaiming the risen Christ through evangelism. We need to warn people of the results of living a life apart from Christ.
But we also must proclaim Christ in discipleship. We teach people how to live in Christ. We must labor in prayer for the maturity of His people.
4. As Pastors, We Strive With His Strength (v. 29).
Paul says he labors for this type of ministry by striving with His strength. Note the relationship here. Since Christ is in Paul, it’s Christ working within Paul to fulfill this ministry. Paul labors with intense effort in reliance upon the energy that the risen Christ supplies.
As pastors, we strive to fulfill the ministry Christ has given to us by His strength. This truth speaks about our human effort and Christ enabling power. We labor through the power of His might.
Serving Jesus is difficult. Doing ministry in your flesh is impossible. But ministry in a local church and community isn’t impossible if Christ in you is working His power through you.
We must rely entirely upon Christ, asking for His strength. By faith, we link to the One who provides us the power to rise above our natural limitations.
Let’s commit to suffer for Christ for the benefit of the local church. Let’s endeavor to serve since Christ is in us. I pray we share Christ since He’s the One who possesses the power to transform. But most importantly, let’s do it through His strength.