I became its servant by the commission God gave me to fully proclaim to you the word of God,
I. THE APOSTLE'S SUFFERINGS FOR THE CHURCH "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the Church."
1. The nature of his sufferings. These are to be understood by his frequent reference to the afflictions of Christ.
(1) The afflictions of Christ are not
(a) afflictions borne on account of Christ;
(b) nor afflictions imposed by Christ;
(c) nor afflictions which resemble those of Christ;
(d) nor the afflictions which the apostle endures instead of Christ, as supplementing his afflictions; but the afflictions which Christ endures in his suffering Church. The Messiah was "to be afflicted in all their afflictions" (Isaiah 63:9).
(2) How the apostle filled up that which was lacking of Christ's afflictions. Not as if Christ did not suffer all that was necessary to the salvation of men, but left something to be suffered by members like the apostle as a means contributory to their own salvation. Roman Catholics base upon this passage their doctrine of supererogatory merit and indulgences. Some Protestant divines think this position is to be met by distinguishing part of Christ's sufferings as vicariously satisfactory and part as merely edifying by way of example, and represent the apostle as supplementing, not the first, but the last kind of suffering. This view is subject to the grave objection that there were no sufferings of Christ that were not vicariously satisfactory, as there were none that were not likewise designed for edification, comfort, and example. The Roman Catholic view is unsound,
(b) because it is absurd, for if the apostle supplied in his suffering what Christ failed to supply, nothing remains for other saints to supply by their sufferings.
(3) The apostle shows in the context that his work was not to redeem, but to edify the Church. What, then, is the meaning of the apostle's statement? That the sufferings of the members of Christ are the sufferings of Christ; for the Church is his body, in which he exists, lives, and therefore suffers. All the tribulations of the body are Christ's tribulations.
2. The design or intent of the apostle's sufferings. "For his body's sake, which is the Church." It was for the extension and edification of the Church. He suffers in his natural body - "in my flesh" - for the mystical body. He teaches us:
(1) That we are to seek the advancement of the cause of Christ above our own personal comfort.
(2) That we ought to endure sufferings because they concern the good of others more than ourselves.
3. The spirit in which the apostle bore his varied sufferings, "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you."
(1) Because they were the means of unspeakable blessing to the Gentiles;
(2) because they would confirm the faith of the Colossians and encourage them to bear suffering with like patience;
II. THE SPECIAL DISPENSATION ASSIGNED TO THE APOSTLE FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE GENTILES. "Whereof I was made a minister according to the dispensation of God which was given me to you-ward, to fulfil the Word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from all ages and generations, but now hath it been manifested to his saints, to whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the Hope of glory."
1. The apostle's peculiar mission to the Gentiles. He calls himself here "a minister of the Church," as he has just called himself "a minister of Christ." His commission is from God himself. "A dispensation of God is given to me." God is the Dispenser of all good things to his Church. Hence we infer
(a) that the efficacy of the Word depends much upon God's appointment of his servants;
(b) that his servants ought to be regarded with confidence and love, because they are God's ambassadors and make the Word of God their supreme rule in dispensing the things of God;
2. The design of the dispensation given to the apostle. "To fulfil the Word of God." That is, to give its complete development to the Word of God - "to give its fullest amplitude to, to fill up the measures of, its foreordained universality." Every minister is bound "to fulfil the Word of God" in his ministry,
(1) by preaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27);
(2) by rightly dividing the Word of truth according to the wants of the hearers;
(3) by the application of the promises of the Word (Luke 4:21);
(4) by bringing men to fulfil it in a gospel obedience (Romans 15:18).
3. The long hid but now revealed mystery of the gospel.
(1) It is "Christ in you, the Hope of glory." Here is the true mystery of godliness. It is not Christ, but Christ freely given to the Gentiles.
(a) Christianity is Christ in the heart. "He dwells in our hearts by faith" (Ephesians 3:18). He lives in us (Galatians 2:20). He is in us (2 Corinthians 13:5) if we are not reprobates. If he is in us, then
) we must continue to live by faith (Galatians 2:20);
) we may expect to receive "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" that are "hid in him" (Colossians 2:3);
) we may look for larger measures of his love (Ephesians 3:18);
) we must keep holy hearts, for he will not dwell in an "evil heart of unbelief" - "The heart is Christ's chamber of presence: shall we not, therefore, keep it with all diligence?"
) the grace of Christ will be efficacious against all temptations (2 Corinthians 12:9).
(b) Christ in the heart is the Hope of glory.
) He is the Hope of glory because he has, as our Forerunner, carried the anchor of our hope within the veil, and fastened it to the two immutable things - the oath and the promise of God - in which it was impossible that he should lie.
) The resurrection of Christ establishes this hope (1 Corinthians 15:19), We should be of "all men most miserable" without it.
) We should read the Word, that "through patience and comfort of the Scriptures we may have hope" (Romans 15:4), seeing Christ therein as the ground of our hope for eternity.
) There is no hope. for man apart from Christ.
(2) The mystery was long hid from the world. Hid from ages and from generations."
(b) But the mystery was that the Gentiles should be admitted to the blessings of salvation on equal terms with the Jews.
(3) The mystery was at last made known to the saints
(a) by revelation to the apostle (Ephesians 3:5);
(c) by prophetic exposition (Romans 16:26); and
(d) by the actual conversion of the Gentiles themselves without their conformity to Jewish usages. - T. C.
Whereof I am made a minister.I. THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY IS A DIVINE INSTITUTION.
1. The Christian minister is divinely commissioned. "Dispensation" involves the idea of stewardship.
2. The true minister is charged with the most complete proclamation of the Divine Word.
II. THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY DEALS WITH A THEME OF PROFOUND SIGNIFICANCE AND INEFFABLE WORTH.
1. It is designated a mystery. The gospel is still a mystery to the unconverted.
2. It is a mystery unveiled to those who are morally fitted to understand it. "To His saints." God chose His own time for making it known. Like all the Divine procedures, the development was gradual, increasing in clearness and completeness as the fulness of time approached. It is an axiom in optics that the eye only sees what it brings with it the power to see: and in spiritual things the soul comprehends the revelation of God only as it is fitted by she Spirit.
3. The revelation of the mystery was an act of the Divine will. "To whom God would make known." There was nothing impelling Him to unfold it but His own good pleasure.
4. The revelation of the mystery endowed humanity with a vast inheritance of moral wealth. "What is the riches of the glory of this mystery."(1) This inheritance enriched the most needy. It was exhibited "among the Gentiles."(2) This inheritance includes the hope inspired by the indwelling Christ. "Which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."Lessons —
1. The Christian ministry involves solemn responsibilities.
2. The transcendent theme of the Christian ministry is divinely revealed.
3. Personal experience of the grace of God endows man with the clearest insight into its mystery and the most satisfying possession of its spiritual riches.
(H. W. Beecher.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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