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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: February 7, 2020
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
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“And you, that were sometime (once) alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:” If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;” (1:21-23).
Last week we learned the Colossian Believers had been reconciled to God through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ and therefore salvation is a work of God alone. What’s more there is no salvation in this dispensation outside of the Body of Christ. The Bible teaches both the Jew and Gentile who believe the gospel are baptized by one Spirit into one Body (I Corinthians 12:13); and “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:1-5).
Paul wasn’t a rambling buffoon and he wasn’t deluded (Acts 17:32-33). He was an earnestly dedicated, honest, and sincere servant of God. The risen Lord of glory had given him a distinctive, unique ministry, something entirely different from any program, ministry, or message which He had committed to the twelve under the Prophetic Program. Paul said he was made a minister by Christ Jesus and was striving by that divine power working within him, to preach the gospel of the grace of God, to finish the race set before him with joy; to make known the message of reconciliation; to fill up that which was behind of the afflictions of Christ in His flesh, for His body’s sake, to fulfill the Word of God with the mystery (secret), which God had never mentioned to any prophet, priest, or apostle until the glorified and risen Lord made it known to our Apostle Paul (Acts 20:24; Colossians 1:20-28).
God’s work of reconciliation is finished! Whatever needed to be done was done. So, when you read Colossians 1:23 please don’t overlook or ignore all that God has said in His Word to assure you salvation is His work alone and once done it cannot be undone. King Solomon said: “I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it…” (Ecclesiastes 3:14).
********Please open your Bible at Colossians 1:23.
“If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;”
We study our Bible, rightly divided, to establish what God said, dispensationaly speaking, but it’s also important to know what God did not say. Such is the case with 1:23. Paul is not saying your salvation hinges on whether or not ye continue in the faith grounded and settled and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel… He also isn’t saying “He is going to present you holy, unblameable, unreproveable in God’s sight “since” you continue in the faith, grounded and settled…” (1:22). These arguments are not valid and I offer two facts in defense of Paul’s statements:
1) Paul had never visited the converts in Colosse, so he would not assume they were grounded and settled in the faith. Bear in mind Epaphras made the lengthy journey to Rome where Paul was confined to a rental dwelling to seek his guidance re: the heresy’s circulating in Colosse and taking root. If anything, therefore, the situation in Colosse was disturbing and unsettled.
2) The idea that the Believer will be presented “holy and unblameable, unreproveable, if ye continue in the faith,” or you’re saved, but you’ll be presented in this manner before God only if you continue in the faith, etc., contradicts what Paul said in verses 1:21-22a. He told the Colossians (and us) about the finished work of Christ saying, “And you, that were sometime (once) alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled (past tense) in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, unblameable, and unreproveable in His sight.”
In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we read, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” The very moment you believe the gospel of grace (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) you are saved, made completely
new (Colossians 2:10), and you are positioned in Christ forever. There’s no if’s, ands, or but’s about it, God’s work of reconciliation is complete nothing more is to be added or taken away from it.
So then, the word “if” in 1:23 precedes Paul’s conditional statement. In the N.T. “if” either means, “if so be” or “if indeed.” Paul used this word to express either a positive or negative challenge in his writings. For example in 1 Corinthians 15:13 Paul presents the negative side of “if” saying, “If there is no resurrection…” Paul isn’t saying Christ’s resurrection might have occurred he knows He’s alive (See Acts 9), so he challenged the Believers faith in Corinth. We see the same negative challenge in verse 14, “if Christ be not risen, then there is no resurrection…,” verse 16, “if the dead rise not…,” and again in verse 17, “if Christ be not raised…”
In Colossians 1:23 and again in 2:20 Paul presents the positive side of “if.” Verse 2:20 reads, “If ye be dead with Christ…” Paul isn’t questioning if this be so for the Colossians had died with Christ and have been “raised with Christ” (See Romans 6):
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
I have a feeling this is as clear as mud to some of you, so I offer an illustration. A mother’s son had just turned 21 and he’s bragging about it saying, “I’m 21 so I can do whatever I want to do; I don’t need you to sign off on my decisions.” His mother’s answer to this was, “If you’re 21, then act like it.” The mother had no doubts about her son being 21, so with the word “if” she challenged him to behave as a responsible adult. In 1:23 Paul expressed a similar positive challenge saying, “Christ died to reconcile you to the Father, so “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” (Ephesians 4:1). The veiled implication is if some of the Colossians depart from the faith and go their own way it means they had never been saved in the first place; for God keeps His own:
“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son,” (Romans 8:29a).
“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (Philippians 1:6).
“In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11-14).
Now let’s look at verse 1:24.
The Knowledge of the Mystery
“Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church:
After you spend some time studying Paul’s writings, it soon becomes apparent his message and ministry stem from the revelation of the mystery (secret) “which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:” (1:26). From this we conclude what Paul ushered in is not the fulfillment of God’s Prophetic Program but an interruption of it (Romans 11, 16:25-27).
According to Paul’s declaration in Ephesians 2:11-13, the Gentile nations profited from Israel’s rejection of God’s Son, His servant Stephen, and the Holy Spirit (See Acts 7). Had the nation of Israel recognized and accepted Jesus Christ as their Messiah at Pentecost they would have become a nation of priests, the channel of God’s blessing to the Gentile nations (Exodus 19:6, Isaiah 61:6; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6); they would have witnessed the fulfillment of prophecy among the Gentiles (Zechariah 8:23). But the present blessing of the Gentiles by grace, through faith, because Israel has been set aside is called a mystery, an unprophesied work “among the Gentiles;” and the passage quoted above declares God would have all His saints know “what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles.”
In verse 1:23 Paul said he was made a minister (servant) of the gospel of grace, which had been a mystery (Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:26). Paul referred to himself as a servant of the Lord multiple times in his writings (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Titus 1:1). Servant differs from slave, as the servant's subjection to a master is voluntary, the slave's is not. Every slave is a servant, but every servant is not a slave. Paul used the term servant to mean he voluntarily served the risen Lord; he was His minister of the mystery. What’s more, Paul considered himself a life-long servant of the Lord.
The discussion of Paul's ministry begins with verse 1:24 and goes down to verse 2:5. It appears to fall into two sections. The first deals with Paul's unique ministry throughout the then known world (1:24-29), then he shows how it relates directly to the Believer’s life (2:1-5).
Because of this, you might begin to understand why he “magnified his office” as an apostle and preacher of the Word of God (Romans 11:13). Paul isn’t digressing so that the Colossians might know him better. His statements are foundational with what he is about to deal with in chapter two when he confronts the false teachers and their heresies. Some people might ask who does Paul think he is? Where does Paul get the authority to condemn what other people are teaching and declare it heretical? Paul’s authority comes directly from the risen Lord. He called Paul to be the apostle to the Gentiles and placed him in this position. Furthermore, he had been entrusted with God’s message of the mystery, and it is a message that cannot be altered or changed, added to or taken away from. As such, it will be the standard Paul is about to impose on the false teachers and their dissenting doctrine.
Our Sufferings for Christ
“Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church:” (1:24)
When you think of Christian persecution and suffering, what comes to mind? Do you think suffering for Christ is when someone calls you a Jesus freak? Do you think suffering for Christ is getting up and going to church? Perhaps you think persecution and suffering is something you only read about in the Bible as in Paul's day. Well, the following information might surprise some of you. The number of people who have lost their lives simply because they identified as Christians in the last century alone is greater than all the other centuries combined. Every year some 156,000 Christians are killed. Also, nearly two thirds of the world's population lives under governments which persecute Christians for their faith in Christ. Although some people think this anti-Christian mindset is only found abroad, I remind the group lethal attacks on people of faith while attending services occur frequently in America. Some church leaders are asking their congregants to bring a gun along with their Bible to church. What’s more, the news media and some politicians of the liberal left are on record saying Christianity stands in the way of this nation’s progress because of their support for President Trump and his administration. Therefore, suffering for one’s faith is an unavoidable reality no matter where you live, and this is especially true if you’re in the habit of sharing the mystery of God’s Grace with others:
“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
“Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me” (Philippians 2:17).
What cause? The cause of Christ. The cause of Christ refers to serving God’s purpose and plan in this dispensation (Romans 12:1-2). At the very heart of that purpose and plan is the revelation of the mystery, therefore, Paul’s work of the ministry was for the cause of Christ, and he suffered greatly for it (Acts 9:15-16). At the time of this writing Paul was Caesar’s prisoner at Rome, but in reality, he was the prisoner of Jesus Christ:
“For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,” (Ephesians 3:1).
The prisoner of Jesus Christ. For whom? For you Gentiles. I often wonder how many Christians, or rather how few, appreciate Paul’s sufferings for them. I believe you’d find that to be a very small number indeed, even though two-thirds of the N.T. is attributed to him (Romans thru Philemon) and his sufferings For you Gentiles are well documented. Please note his prayer request in Ephesians 6:19-20:
“And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak…”
Here we learn Paul was in bonds for preaching God’s divine truth and the possibility that he might be executed because of it him hung over him like a swinging pendulum. Yet, he opened his mouth and proclaimed that truth boldly. In Philippians Paul spoke of (his) bonds several times (See Philippians 1:7, 13, 14, and 16). Please take note of his statement in Philippians 1:12-13:
But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things (mistreatment and sufferings) which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel;
Both the Jews and Gentiles were determined to still Paul’s voice by any means necessary and Paul was aware, but in spite of their hostility he continued to preach the message of the mystery which the risen Lord had entrusted to him, and he has entrusted the same message to us Gentile Believers (2 Corinthians 5:19); and like him we can expect to experience persecution and suffering for the cause of Christ.
Let’s take a look at 1:24 once more.
“(I) now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind (or, still remains) of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His Body’s sake, which is the Church.”
Paul is not inferring the redemptive work of God through His Son is incomplete. This verse needs to read and understood in the context it was written. Paul’s subject matter here is the mystery (See 1:25-27), so bear that in mind as we go forward.
The stage had been set, as it were, for the return of Jesus Christ to judge and reign as Israel’s prophesied King, but that didn’t happen due to Israel’s unbelief. So the risen Lord revealed to Saul/Paul the mystery (secret) of His eternal purpose in Christ. According to this purpose the Lord would remain away for a time, and in grace offer reconciliation to all His enemies (Romans 5:8-9). He remains seated at God’s right hand (Psalm 110:1) today blasphemed, despised, and scorned by an unbelieving world. Now the question who bears the sufferings of His continued rejection arises? It’s not the Lord’s. Christ Jesus’ sufferings are over and He is forever blessed (2 Corinthians 11:31). So then, it is we Believers who like Paul stand before a Christ-hating world, bearing the Lord’s reproach, yet we continue to offer God’s free gift of grace and peace to all through His finished work. In doing so, “we (Christ’s ambassadors) fill up that which still remains of His afflictions.” Now, I find that some people of faith don’t believe rejoicing and suffering belong in the same sentence. But Paul held a different view. He said it is given to us, as a privilege, to suffer for His sake:
“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;” (Philippians 1:29).
It was, of course, also a privilege for the Messianic Believers (the little flock) to suffer for their rejected King, and they counted it so (Acts 5:41). Our situation in the dispensation of grace is much different because of the distinctive message of Paul re: the mystery.
(To be continued)
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