Preeminent in Our Calling

  • Text: Colossians 1:24—2:3, CSB
  • Series: Jesus above All (2019), Pt. 6
  • Date: Sunday, August 11, 2019 – AM service
  • Venue: Trinity Baptist Church – Seminole, Oklahoma
  • Speaker: Jared Byrns
  • Download Audio: mp3

Listen Online:

When each of my kids was born, there was a lot of hard work and preparation that went into finally getting them home. Of course, there was the hard work of the actual childbirth. My wife and her doctor did all the work there; my big job was to watch and not faint. Then there was the work of learning how to meet their needs so that we could take them home. Each child was different, and though the basic feeding and diapering were the same, there was a learning curve involved with each one that required some real effort every time. Three of the four spent some time in the NICU—anywhere from seven to thirty-six days. We had to learn all about medications, wires, and hoses. Even with Charlie, the odd man out who got to come home straight away when we did, there was a lot of work learning how to feed this baby who didn’t want to eat. That was hard because I can’t relate to that problem. After we had done all of this work and preparation to get things ready for them, there came a day for each of them when they got to go home. And on each of those big days, once the celebration had died down, the older siblings had gone to bed, and the relatives had gone home, we’d find ourselves sitting there in our home—just us and the baby—and we’d think, “Okay. What now?” Of course we know what comes next: actually taking care of the baby. It was time to move from theory to practice. All of our learning and preparation would be useless if we didn’t do something with it.

Our journey through the first chapter of Colossians is a little bit like that experience. We’ve done the hard work of studying and understanding what this chapter teaches about the preeminence of Christ. Now that we’ve come to the end of this study, it’s natural for us to think, “Okay. What now?” Having learned all of this information about the preeminence of Christ, what are we supposed to do with it? How does it make a difference for you on Monday morning?

The fact that Jesus Christ reigns supreme over this Universe and that His importance surpasses everything else in it absolutely should change the way that you and I live daily. If we truly understand the preeminence of Jesus, then we’ll see that He deserves the preeminent place in our lives. Those who have trusted Him as Savior need to realize that He is also our Lord. We belong to Him, and He has placed a calling on each of our lives.

If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, you belong to Him rather than to yourself. I Corinthians says, “You are not your own, for you were bought at a price” (I Corinthians 6:20, CSB). The price paid was the blood of Jesus. Acts 20 tells us that we were “purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28, CSB). As a result, we have the privilege—not merely an obligation, not a punishment, not a drudgery, but the privilege—of being subject to the call of Jesus Christ on our lives. And when we see Him for Who He is, our love for Him should lead obedience to His call to take precedence over everything else.

This week, I heard a podcast where they were discussing what this submission means for believers in Christ. Dr. Jason Allen, the president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of our Southern Baptist seminaries, said this: “We surrender our rights to self-determination, we surrender our sense of self-entitlement, and we surrender the great W questions—where we go, what we do, the message we preach, the people we serve, who we reach. We yield our lives to the Lord’s leadership.”1Thom Rainer, “Discerning Your Call to Ministry, Featuring Dr. Jason Allen,” Rainer on Leadership, podcast audio,23 September 2016, -your-call-to-ministry-featuring-dr-jasonallen/. He’s right. For believers, it’s not enough just to understand that He calls us; obedience requires that we give Him a blank check when it comes to our lives, and let Him fill out the check however He wants. 

Paul was a great example of this. If you’re not already there, would you please go with me to Colossians chapter 1? You’ll find it toward the end of your Bible, about three-quarters of the way through—right after Ephesians and Philippians and right before 1st and 2nd Thessalonians. We’ll start in Colossians chapter 1, looking at the last few verses, and follow the thought to where it ends in the first few verses of chapter 2.

Starting at Colossians 1:24, Paul wrote: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for his body, that is, the church.I have become its servant, according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.God wanted to make known among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.We proclaim him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.I labor for this, striving with his strength that works powerfully in me.For I want you to know how greatly I am struggling for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person.I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of complete understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery—Christ.In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 1:24—2:3, CSB). 

In this passage, Paul was talking about his willingness to submit to Jesus Christ’s calling on his life, even though doing so meant that he would suffer and struggle. His motivation for getting up in the morning was to obey this calling. He didn’t tell the Colossians that to brag or to say that he was somehow unique. He told them so he could provide an example. Paul understood that Jesus didn’t just call the apostles to follow Him. He doesn’t limit His calling to a small group of super-spiritual Christians. He calls every born-again believer into service, and it’s the privilege of every born-again believer to submit to that calling. So Paul’s story is given for the benefit of other believers so that we can see what this submission looks like. 

In submission to the calling of Christ on his life, Paul said he was willing to do anything for Jesus. A lot of us are willing to do some things for Jesus, but we’d stop short of agreeing to do anything. It’s easy to be agreeable when He leads us toward convenient or enjoyable things. But Paul was willing to serve even when it meant suffering. He was willing even to rejoice in his sufferings because nothing mattered more to the Apostle Paul than Jesus. So he told us in verse 24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you.” His calling to serve Christ resulted in him ministering to churches like the one at Colossae. That ministry resulted in suffering, yet he rejoiced. Why? Because he delighted not in his circumstances, but in serving Jesus.

In verse 24, he added, “I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for his body, that is, the church.” Honestly, this is a confusing piece of Scripture. I wrestled with it a lot this week to make sure I could explain to you correctly what God’s Word is saying. When Paul said his suffering was completing what was lacking in Christ’s sufferings, it doesn’t mean that Paul somehow suffered for our sins to finish the work of salvation. Jesus’ suffering was enough for that. On the cross, Jesus himself said, “It is finished” (John 19:30, CSB). His word there, tetelestai, was an accounting term that told us our sin debt had been paid in full. The book of Hebrews says, “Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins. But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:11-12, CSB). That means that in a single act of self-sacrifice, Jesus accomplished what all of man’s religious efforts never could. So we can immediately rule out the idea that Jesus wasn’t enough, so Paul was suffering to complete our salvation.

Instead, he expressed his willingness to suffer if that was the price of ministering to the church at Colossae. That was what he meant when he said his suffering was for the church. But when he mentioned something lacking from Christ’s sufferings, he meant that the world was incapable of inflicting on Christ all the afflictions it wanted Him to suffer. I like the way John MacArthur explained this. He said, “There are many in the world who still resent Jesus Christ and would persecute his name today.” Then he added, that these afflictions “were lashed out at Jesus. But Jesus wasn’t around, so they got Paul.”2John MacArthur, “Ministers: Servants of God,” Grace to You, podcast audio, 18 September 1977, https://www.gty.ory/library/sermons-library/1258/ministers-servants-of-god. Paul meant that the hateful world couldn’t persecute and afflict Jesus in His physical absence, so they lashed out at His servants instead. And Paul considered it an honor to be so identified with Christ that he could suffer for the sake of his Master.

If it meant serving Jesus, he was glad to suffer on behalf of Jesus and for the sake of the people he ministered to. Think about that. In a moment of intense suffering, how many of us could honestly say we felt privileged to suffer? Paul could only do that because Jesus had given him a radically different perspective on life. To Paul, there was nothing more important than Christ, so Paul’s priority was fulfilling his calling in Christ. 

Verses 25-27 tell us what this calling was. Paul wrote, “I have become its servant, according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. God wanted to make known among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Paul’s calling as a believer was to proclaim God’s Word so that others could know Jesus Christ and His salvation. 

When he described the Word of God as a newly-revealed mystery, he was talking about the Gospel. Throughout the Old Testament, God revealed the coming of the Messiah through prophecies, pictures, and promises. But the exact details of God’s plans remained a mystery until everything had been fulfilled. The world had to misunderstand and reject Jesus so that He could be crucified for our sins. That was God’s plan. For so long, God’s plan to save mankind by sending His Son to be the perfect sacrifice for sin had remained a mystery. But after the Gospel was out in the open, Paul was called to shout it from the rooftops. He was called to proclaim God’s Word so that others could know Jesus Christ and His salvation.

But this calling was not unique to Paul. This calling applies to every believer in Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, telling them, “We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: ‘Be reconciled to God’” (II Corinthians 5:20, CSB). Proclaiming God’s Word so that others can know Jesus Christ and His salvation: that wasn’t Paul’s calling because he was an apostle; it was his calling because he was a Christian.

As believers today, we share the same calling that Paul had. The particular ways that God leads us to carry out this calling can look very different from person to person, but it’s the same calling. For Paul, it involved traveling around the entire eastern Mediterranean. For me, it means pastoring a church in Seminole, Oklahoma. For some people in our congregation, it means working with children, leading others in worship, meeting the needs of the less fortunate, working through a business or civic involvement, or even using arts and crafts to open doors to share the Gospel. There are at least as many individual ministries as there are individual believers, but we all minister out of the same calling: to proclaim the Word of God so that other people can know Jesus and His salvation.

As Paul pursued this calling of helping people know Jesus and His salvation, their knowledge of Jesus was never meant to end with salvation. He sought to help them grow closer to Jesus after salvation. Ultimately, we want people to trust Jesus as their Savior, follow Jesus as their Lord, and grow to be more like Jesus as the Spirit works within them. The end goal for each person is spiritual maturity in Jesus Christ.

Paul explained this in verse 28. It says, “We proclaim him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” His aim wasn’t just to tell people about Jesus. He worked to see people trust Christ, follow Christ, and become more like Christ. He didn’t care what it cost him, how inconvenient it might have been, or how much suffering and struggle was involved. He kept his eyes on that goal. If his pain resulted in people trusting Christ, following Christ, and becoming more like Christ, then nothing else mattered. 

He explained this in verse 29 and verse 1 of the next chapter. He wrote, “I labor for this, striving with his strength that works powerfully in me. For I want you to know how greatly I am struggling for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person.” His ministry was difficult; any time you’re trying to make a real difference in people’s lives, there will be difficulties. And as his ministry became more significant, his challenges became more daunting. He faced threats, beatings, and even prison.

Nevertheless, he endured the trials and continued the work of the ministry with everything he had. He said he labored for those people. But the difficulty of ministry was beyond what even the great Apostle Paul could manage. It required the strength of God. Serving Him faithfully requires that we rely on His strength. That’s why Paul said he was striving with the strength of Jesus Christ. He wasn’t a useful servant because of his power and his talent. He was a useful servant because he surrendered himself to Jesus’ purposes and saw Jesus’ strength work powerfully in him.

He couldn’t accomplish God’s will on his own. First of all, he wasn’t strong enough—just as none of us are. Second of all, he couldn’t even see all the things God had planned for his ministry—just as we can’t. He had no idea how his service would be used. He told the Colossians that he was engaged in this struggle for their benefit, for the Laodiceans, and for other people he had never even met. Paul didn’t know all the people who would come to Christ or all the lives that God would touch through his ministry. He couldn’t see God’s entire plan, but he continued to serve Jesus anyway. He cared enough about people he didn’t even know that he was willing to suffer if it meant they’d have the opportunity to know Christ. What kind of person does that? A person who loves Jesus and lets the power of Christ and the love of Christ work through him.

He wrote in verses 2-3, “I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of complete understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery—Christ. In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” The people he knew in the churches, his acquaintances, even the people he didn’t know—his desire for them all was the same: that they would know Jesus, trust Jesus, follow Jesus, and become more like Jesus.

Throughout this passage, Paul is our example to follow—though not necessarily for the reason we might initially think. Paul was not holding himself up to the Colossians as an example to glorify himself. Paul was not holding himself up as an example to tell us just to try harder and be more committed. The message here is not, Be like Paul because Paul was a great man. The message of God’s Word is this: Serve Jesus like Paul because Jesus is worth serving.

We have spent six weeks studying this chapter on the preeminence of Christ. As we come to the end of this study, the last thing I want is for you just to walk out of here thinking, “That was an interesting series. I learned some new information,” but without it making a difference in your life. I also don’t want you to walk out of here thinking, “I just need to try harder. I need to be like Paul.”

Instead, we need to walk out of this study, thinking, “Isn’t Jesus incredible?” He’s our Creator; He participated with the Father in creating everything that was created. He’s the focus of the Father’s plans for us; He is the fulfillment of thousands of years of promises and prophecies. He’s the Savior Who came to Earth to die for our sins and rise again. He’s the Head of the church Who purchased us with the blood He shed on the cross. He’s the One Who brings us peace with God, reconciles us, and brings us into the Father’s family. He’s the One Who transforms us from being Hell-bound sinners to holy, faultless, blameless children of God.

Submitting to the call of Jesus on our lives is not about grudgingly agreeing to do what He wants and just trying harder. Submitting our lives to His calling happens when we fall so in love with Jesus, and we stand in such amazement of Who He is and all that He’s done that we realize He’s the only one worth serving. Paul wasn’t driven to serve Jesus by a mere obligation; he talked about how incredible Jesus is and how there was nothing more important to him than giving everyone he could the opportunity to know Him.

If you’re a believer, and you find yourself struggling to submit to His will and do the things that Jesus has called you to, the answer is not merely to try harder. The answer is to remember Who Jesus is. The answer is to let yourself stand amazed in His presence. The answer is to fall more deeply in love with Jesus and to bring your heart to the realization that nothing matters more than Him. If we—like Paul—can get to a place where our hearts are overwhelmed by and motivated by our love for Jesus, then living out our calling in Him to proclaim the Word of God so that others can know Jesus and His salvation will become almost second nature for us. We are privileged to serve Him because He’s worth serving. If you’ve never trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, we share in Paul’s desire for you to know Him and His salvation today. There’s no one more incredible than Jesus. He lived a perfect, sinless life so that He could be the ultimate sacrifice for your sins. He died on the cross to pay for your sins in full, and He rose from the dead three days later, demonstrating His victory over death, Hell, and the grave. You could never pay for your sins. You could never earn peace with God or eternal life with Him in Heaven—but Jesus died in your place on the cross and paid for your sins in full so that He could bring you forgiveness, peace with God, and a home in Heaven. This morning, forget about trying to earn your salvation. Instead, acknowledge your sin to God, believe that Jesus died and rose again as your one and only Savior, and ask God’s forgiveness. Trust Jesus today, and His incredible salvation will be yours.

Sermon audio and text, © 2019, Jared Byrns. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Biblical references are taken from The Christian Standard Bible. Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible®, and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers, all rights reserved.