Colossians 1:24-29: Suffering, the Gospel, and Holiness – How to Identify a Faithful Christian Minister

Many of you all will have heard this verse and felt very warm and smug and contented inside. James 3:1 says:

‘Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, as you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness’

You may be breathing a big sigh of relief in your hearts as I often have, comforted by the thought that the church elders, those who preach here up the front, will be judged with a higher standard, and you may have thought that perhaps God will let those of us sitting in the pews off a little bit, He will be a bit more lenient, He will give us common lay Christians a little bit more slack. And there is no doubt truth to this, as one error of a shepherd can lead to great harm to many of his sheep – but God has designed his church so not to place the full weight of responsibility upon the elders alone. So have this thought in the forefront of your mind when you listen to this sermon this afternoon – you will be held accountable for the teaching and teachers you listen to and surround yourself with.

Many of you will know 2 Timothy, 4:3:

‘For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions’

That’s right, they – the people – will accumulate teachers who they want to hear. In this verse, it is not so much as the teacher is in the cross-hairs of judgment, but the people who willingly and eagerly submit themselves to the false teaching. Now, this is something we especially must keep in mind in our modern times, as we can get instant access to huge amount of different sources of spiritual input. Of course, the weekly preaching of the word in the church which you are a covenanted member of is the primary source of a Christian’s spiritual food, but you can access additional teaching through many different means, like podcasts, YouTube, radio, TV, internet sermons, on CDs, and of course by reading books. When it is said that one of the most dangerous, theologically anyway, places a Christian can go in the Western world is a Christian bookshop, the need for the average Christian to be able to identify a true minister of the gospel is an important task.

And the passage what we will be looking at this afternoon is talking about just that: how to identify a true minister of the gospel. And, as you heard read before, I will be narrowing down on the last five verses of Colossians 1, verses 24-29. Paul is writing this letter from in prison and has never been to Colossae. He has never met who he is writing to, and this portion of the letter is the first century way of Paul trying to give a reason why the Colossians should believe and trust what he has to say. Paul wants to make sure the new Christians in Colossae investigate and are satisfied to know what a genuine minster of the gospel looks like, and he wants to make sure that he is one them. With the warning that we heard earlier, there is a lot at stake here for the young Colossian church. They are probably asking these very questions as the letter arrives – Is Paul a true minister? He doesn’t look like one! He is in prison! He’s not one of the original 12 who walked with Jesus! Other groups say Paul is a false apostle. So here Paul will answer some of these anticipated objections, and from this we will make application to our lives today, and how you can identify what is true and false in the thousands of different avenues of ministry that vie for our attention today.

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