In Col 1:28, we noted that the ‘we’ that the apostle uses is probably indicative of the apostolic band rather than it being representative of just Timothy and Paul who began as co-authors of the letter (Col 1:1).
However, Paul now turns back to a personal note after establishing the apostolic process or target in their proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world and notes that the purpose of those sent out is also his own by initially announcing that it’s for this very purpose that he also works hard - though why one could have missed the intention of the previous verse and how it must have applied to the apostle is difficult to imagine.
Nevertheless, he intends the recipients of his letter to note carefully that he takes it upon himself personally - and not just as part of the apostolic group - the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the believer until they reach maturity.
However, so focused is Paul on the work of God that he finds it impossible here to mention his own work without immediately being deflected in his thoughts towards the continuing work of God both in and through him and where he sees his own participation in the proclamation of the Gospel as fuelled by Divine power.
This is a clear indication that Paul didn’t think of his own ministry as being outworked independently of the Father but that it was sustained by Him. Just what this means for the present day believer’s own walk will be spelt out in the third of the headings below but, before we can attempt an interpretation, we need to at least consider these twin aspects of both man’s and God’s individual work in the transmission of the Gospel, both of which are necessary components for the successful advancement of the Kingdom.
Colcar begins a new section at this point which he takes to run to Col 2:5 and there’s indeed some semblance of wisdom in it seeing as Paul’s personal observations (the ‘I’ of the statements) run to their conclusion and don’t recur until much later in the letter.
There are two words here which Paul uses to describe his work in bringing men and women to maturity in Christ. Col 1:28 might have been misconstrued as a statement that was describing a pleasant stroll on a Sunday afternoon in some great park or other but the words employed in Col 1:29 emphasise the nature of the work that Paul’s performing.
The RSV translates the first word as ‘toil’ (Strongs Greek number 2872), Kittels observing that the definition is more akin to
‘...“to tire”, “to wear oneself out”. The LXX uses it for tiring in battle (II Sam 23:10), for exertion in work (Joshua 24:13) and for the groans of the afflicted (Ps 6:6)’
while Colwright summarises the word as meaning
‘...uncompromising hard work’
Colbrien defines it as the correct word for physical tiredness that was
‘...induced by work, exertion or heat...’
It’s obvious, then, that the apostle isn’t thinking of some pleasant pastime that he takes part in as and when he finds time available, but a continual struggle against his own bodily weaknesses and limitations to press on to complete the work to which he’s been called. There may also be a hint of suffering in the word which Paul means his readers not to miss for the word can also be used of a beating or the weariness that comes about from such. It could, therefore, be taken to represent not only the exertion in the work but also the tribulations which he experiences as he goes about his way.
The other word is translated ‘striving’ by the RSV (Strongs Greek number 75). Kittels notes that the word is frequently employed
‘...in relation to the stadium’
and to the exertion to which athletes give themselves over in order that they might win the prize - Colbrien sees it as a ‘stronger term’ than the preceding word probably because it could also be employed of
‘...a physical conflict in which weapons were used’
However, in the context of Col 1:29, Kittels interprets the word to be indicating
‘...a concentration of forces’
that Paul might achieve his objective of presenting each man or woman mature in Christ. Whether it be thought of as best coloured by the thought of games or of carrying on a military-type conflict, the idea is one of exertion and endeavour in the face of problems and struggles which seek to hinder the person from achieving their end. Colwright is correct, then, when he comments that
‘Paul does not go about his work half-heartedly, hoping vaguely that grace will fill in the gaps which he is too lazy to work at himself’
The two words are a double metaphor that speak of the apostle’s continued exertion in applying himself to fulfil his stewardship that every man may stand mature in Christ, something in which he summons up all his own bodily strength and puts down everything which doesn’t contribute towards his purpose in order that he might be solely concerned with the matter at hand.
One might have imagined that Paul would have at once gone on to speak of his hardships and frustrations as he sought to fulfil his target of presenting each man and woman as fully mature in Christ. Instead, he turns quickly away from his own role in the matter to that of God who supplies power that His purpose might be fulfilled. Now Paul announces to the Colossians that he’s
‘...striving in accordance with all the energy which He mightily inspires within me’
envisaging God as the worker who, by means of His own power, is moving in Paul and through Paul. The apostle is only the charge-hand who labours in accordance with the power that’s at work.
In this way, God’s work is seen as the primary force that Paul aligns himself with where Colbrien defines the word for ‘energy’ as meaning
‘...power to work effectively’
and hints at the sole purpose for which the power is being given to the apostle - that the outworking of God’s will might be brought about. Although his labours are energetic, nevertheless his work is secondary to the power of God that’s at work within him.
Colwright sees this idea as a matter of cause and effect, noting (my italics) that
‘It is because God is at work that Paul is at work’
and this is the bottom line. In contrast, we must also note the problem in the present day Church where many move in their own strength to bring about the perceived will of God throughout society but do so with little or no supply of the Father’s energising power to accomplish their purpose.
We saw on the previous web page that primary to all effective ministry is the necessity of the commissioning and, although we may also look upon this verse as indicating the need for empowering, we should, rather, see in the commissioning the equipping of the servant for every situation in which he might find himself.
Power from God, therefore, comes with the stewardship but the calling demands action and hard work that it might be accomplished rather than a decision to sit back and let it happen.
We’ve already noted that it’s not Paul who’s working diligently for the Lord or else he would burn out (as a great many believers who have gone before have done). Neither is God at work while Paul stands idly by watching.
Rather, God and man work together in a unity of will and purpose (John 5:19-20) so that what is in Heaven becomes a reality on earth (Mtw 6:10) and men and women find themselves maturing in Christ.
Throughout this active unity, it’s God’s power that’s primary and is the initiating force behind all that Paul does. Christ’s work (Col 1:22) is Paul’s work (Col 1:25,28) but God is primary (Col 1:17-18).
One might ask the question as to where God is working in the world and, if one considers carefully the ideas we’ve been discussing on the last couple of web pages, we would be troubled by the answer. For we would naturally have expected that wherever a group of believers is present in the world that they would be actively working alongside God the Father to fulfil the purpose of Christ both in themselves and out into the world.
However, this isn’t necessarily the case for God is primarily at work where His people have, firstly, received a stewardship and, secondly, are working hard to bring about its fulfilment. The calling of God is the most important initiator of a successful work but it does expect a committed response in the people to whom it’s given.
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