I’ll flesh this out further in a future post as part of an upcoming series on Colossians, but I wanted to share a few things from Colossians 1.24-29. In this passage Paul cracks a window and gives us a glimpse of how he understood his own calling and ministry. I see eight contours of Paul’s (co)mission. It is:
- Thoroughly centered on Christ. In keeping with the rest of the letter, nothing derails Paul from his singular focus on Christ. Here he is the word of God in its fulness, the content of God’s now-revealed-mystery and therefore of Paul’s proclamation, the hope of glory, and both the context and definition of maturity.
- Marked by a willingness to suffer for others. Whatever else we can say about Paul’s strange words about filling up what is lacking of Christ’s afflictions, this much is clear: Paul has no problem suffering on behalf of the people he’s serving. He may even believe that his suffering somehow lessens the chance that they’ll experience their own. This extreme selflessness puts me to shame!
- Accomplished by teaching and admonishing. Teaching is clearly articulating the truth about Jesus, and admonishing is the followup task of straightening out fuzzy thinking and setting things in proper order. Both are crucial.
- Oriented by apocalyptic imagination. This section drips with apocalyptic hints and clues, which (among other things) means that in Christ God has revealed the meaning of history and brought his story to its dramatic climactic moment. Speaking of which…
- Grounded in the (hi)story of God. Paul never loses sight of the ways in which Christ is the one in whom God has brought all his past action and promises to fulfillment. Yes this story has entered its universal stage where all of us are invited to become a part, but this must be intentionally remembered for us to know what becoming a part actually means and looks like.
- Aimed toward full maturity. Paul here shows no contentment for mere conversion, and while no one would doubt his “evangelistic passion,” here we see that Paul rises above our silly debates about evangelism vs discipleship. Paul wants everyone to come to maturity, and he won’t rest until he’s done everything he can to that end.
- Attentive to every individual. Paul is communal to the core, but his passion for community does not hinder his commitment to the individual parts that make up the body. No person gets forgotten or let off the hook; all are intended and expected to grow into maturity.
- Fueled by the energy of Christ. Paul works his tail off (that’s a loose translation), not by his own power but by the energy of Christ at work in him.
Does it need to be stated that these markers provide a wonderful grid for thinking about our own ministries? This may not be a definitive guide, but it’s a pretty good start!