The two ministries were given to Paul ‘according to the dispensation of God’, v. 25. He is a ‘minister’ of ‘the gospel’ and a ‘minister’ of ‘the church’, vv. 23, 25. Interestingly, there are two Epistles which have Paul as the sole author – the Epistle to the Romans and that to Ephesus.1 The subject of the first is the gospel and of the second, the Church. They expand on the summaries given here.
The two ministries can be outlined as follows:
The minister of the gospel, v. 23:
The minister of the church which is His body, vv. 24-29:
The hope it embraces
‘The hope of the gospel’ is a comprehensive term not only focusing on the future with the ‘hope’ as a time element, but incorporating the subject matter of the gospel, i.e., Christ. Certainly, He is the subject of apostolic preaching, as Paul makes clear in Romans chapter 1 verse 16, ‘the gospel of Christ’. He also calls it ‘the gospel of His Son’, Rom. 1. 9. Since Christ is the subject, the future is, of course, secure, but so also is the present! The apostle has already indicated that the Colossians’ faith and love is founded on ‘hope’, 1. 4, 5, and in this section, he expands on the fact that ‘Christ in you [is] the hope of glory’, v. 27.
The believer has been introduced to a world of hope; a ‘blessed hope’, ‘a better hope’, a ‘living hope’, a ‘good hope’, ‘the hope of His calling’, a ‘glorious hope’, a ‘steadfast hope’, a ‘hope’ that ‘we shall be like Him – righteous, pure, sinless. What hope; what a present and what a future!2
The extent of its dissemination
The gospel of which Paul was ‘a minister’ was ‘preached in all creation under heaven’, RV. While Paul had moved widely in disseminating the gospel, he had not touched ‘all creation’. There might be a prophetic element in the reference, but, perhaps, more likely it is a reference to Psalm 19 verses 1 to 6, also quoted in Romans chapter 10 verses 17 and 18, ‘So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world’. Israel was without excuse and so also is all of humanity!
The nature of Paul’s service<
Paul was a ‘minister’ of the gospel. The word ‘minister’ is diakonos, translated regularly as ‘deacon’. It is a general term used for a variety of service – e.g., for serving Christ, the church, and for preaching and teaching.3 Paul’s ministry in the gospel included all these aspects and specifically involved worship which, of course, is the highest form of service.4
My sufferings ‘for you’, v. 24
It is rather surprising in the scriptures how often joy and suffering are linked together, Rom. 5. 2, 3; 1 Pet. 1. 6, 7. Here, suffering is the source of rejoicing. Paul was happy to know sufferings personally, and to rejoice in them so that other believers knew less suffering! Note that the preposition ‘for’ means ‘instead of’. In doing this Paul was filling up – supplementing the afflictions of Christ. The verb to ‘fill up’ means ‘to supplement’ and is only found here in the New Testament. He was happy to follow the example of his Master and to share in His afflictions (never used of expiatory or vicarious sufferings but those due to circumstances of life and the antagonisms of men) for the advantage of others. It was effectively ‘the fellowship of his [Christ’s] sufferings’.5 Paul learned on the Damascus road that the Lord suffers now in His people, ‘why persecutest thou me’, Acts 9. 4.
The saints for whom the suffering is experienced are described as His body, the Church. In the fulfilment of their ministry they are exposed to sufferings for Christ’s sake, and these sufferings are their share in the afflictions of Christ. No doubt they are conscious that sufferings are followed with glory, 2 Cor. 4. 17!
My stewardship ‘for you’, vv. 25-29
Paul was made a minister of the church, according to the ‘dispensation [stewardship] of God’. He was aware that it was a gift given to him as a privilege but with corresponding responsibility, cp. 1 Cor. 9. 17; Eph. 3. 2, 8.
The purpose of it
It was to fulfil, to fill up, perfect the word of God; in effect to complete the revelation of the mystery. The comment of Vine is apposite, ‘the stewardship committed to him was “to fulfil the Word of God," the fulfilment being the unfolding of the completion of the divinely arranged and imparted cycle of truths which are consummated in the truth relating to the church as the body of Christ, Col. 1. 25’.6 It is, in effect, implementing the truth of 1 Corinthians chapter 13 verse 10, ‘when that which is perfect is come’, i.e., the completion of the revelation of the mystery described as ‘the mystery of [the JND] Christ’, Eph. 3. 4.
A mystery has been defined as not that ‘which is mysterious, but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His Spirit’.78
The details of the mystery
Here it is glorious in its revelation, ‘the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles’, v. 27. Its glorious wealth is seen in the equal incorporation of Gentiles with the Jews in the body of Christ; fellow-heirs of the same inheritance, fellow-members of the same body, fellow-partakers of the same promise, Eph. 3. 6.
There is more, however, with an unfolding of the threefold ‘riches’ – ‘Christ … hope … glory’ – ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’. In you – in your midst – but more; for you and within you as individuals, Rom 8. 10, 11. The truth of the indwelling Spirit and that of the indwelling together of the Father and Son is expounded elsewhere.9 Here it is specifically ‘Christ in you the hope of glory’. This indicates the necessary link with Christ in view of coming glory, 2 Tim. 2. 10, and parallels the divine purpose from creation to dwell with man, a truth to be realized in eternity, Rev. 21. 3.
Paul preached this Christ, ‘the hope of glory’. It was not a question of what he preached but ‘whom’ he preached. He did it in the gospel ‘warning every man’ (appealing to the heart) and in the ministry ‘teaching every man in all wisdom’ (appealing to the intellect). The objective was to ‘present every man perfect [mature] in Christ Jesus’. For Paul there was no spiritual elite; note ‘every man’ three times and, with each, progress was desired to effect a worthy presentation.
My strivings ‘for you’, 1. 29 - 2. 3
In this section the verb ‘striving’ and the noun ‘conflict’ come from a common root and indicate ‘agonizing’ or ‘striving’, 1. 29; 2. 1. The same word is used for the prayer of Epaphras, 4. 12. The apostle’s striving is thus seen in two spheres – in preaching and in praying. His praying came after his preaching and lent weight to it. He was following the example of the Master who prayed in John chapter 17 after His communication in John chapters 13 to 16. Paul’s agonizing in preaching and praying were no doubt the reason for his success and its absence the reason for our lack of success.
Striving in his preaching, v. 29
There are four words used in verse 29 (the first two of Paul, the second two of the Lord) that indicate the energy expended in Paul’s realization of his stewardship; ‘labour’ (to point of fatigue, weariness, exhaustion), ’striving’ (labour fervently), ‘working’ (be mighty in), ‘mightily’ (abundance) – little wonder his ministry was effective! He recognized his strength came from his enabling Lord.
Striving in his praying, 2. 1, 2<
In these verses the apostle is continuing his responsibility as a minister of the church in his prayers for the Colossian and Laodicean believers. For Paul, praying was a ‘great conflict’. The word has a background in athletic contest and indicates serious intent. It was also a selfless exercise for Paul since he was praying for those who had not seen his ‘face in the flesh’. What a challenge for our prayer meetings!
The apostle makes a plea that their hearts might be comforted and that there might be unity in affection. This provides a basis upon which divine revelation can be known, as indicated in Ephesians chapter 3 verses 17 and 18.
He desires also that they will come to a true ‘acknowledgement of the mystery of God’. This would lead to the recognition and full discernment, not only of the indwelling presence of Christ, but of the further understanding of the ‘mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ’ or ‘the mystery of God, even Christ’, RV. This is an affirmation of divine unity and absolute equality as also indicated elsewhere, ‘I and the Father are One’, John 10. 30; 17. 11, 22.
The prayer concludes by bringing together, once more, the three ideas of understanding, wisdom and knowledge which he has already developed in chapter 1 verse 9. In that case, it was ‘spiritual understanding’; here it is ‘full assurance of understanding’. The apostle desires that a true appreciation of ‘the mystery of God, even Christ’ will bring a settled assurance to the believers of the glory and power of the Son of God, to guard against the Colossian heresies. This is further affirmed by the fact that in Christ ‘all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ are hid. Having Him, they have all the resources necessary! However, treasure does not lie on the surface – it is necessary to dig to obtain it, but it is well worth the effort!
J. M. Davies, Prison Letters: The Epistles to Colossians and Philemon, Precious Seed Publications 2008,
Titus 2. 13; Heb. 7. 19; 1 Pet. 1. 3; 2 Thess. 2. 16; Eph. 1. 18; Heb. 3. 6 RV; 1. Pet 1. 13 JND.
Examples of its use are found in 1 Cor. 3. 5; 15. 9, 10; Eph. 3. 7, 8; 1 Tim. 1. 12-14.
Rom. 1. 9; 15. 16; Matt. 4. 10.
Phil. 3. 10; 2 Cor. 1. 5; Acts 9. 16.
W. E. Vine, Amplified expository dictionary of New Testament words.
W. E. Vine, New Testament Word Pictures, Thomas Nelson 2015.
Cp. Eph. 3. 5; Rom. 16. 25, 26.
Eph. 1. 13; John 14. 17, 23.