Colossians 1:24–29
24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.


Taking steps closer to us

We see in the Old Testament a very interesting way in which the Lord reacts to the sin of man. The one thing we do when see filth, dirt or things that we cannot stand, we move as further away from it as possible.

  • Should we be looking to build a home and be offered to build it in an unclean area, what would we do? Move as far away from it as possible.
  • What do we see in the old testament as he looks to build himself a home, a kingdom?
    • God hates sin. He cannot stand it, it is like filth to him.
    • We’d expect him to move as far away from it as possible. But instead, he not only spares them, avoids annihilating them altogether, cleansing them completely and starting over, but in his mercy he lets them live.
    • Furthermore, the ones who were meant to be destroyed by the wrath of God, to them he decided to move closer.
    • He appears on top of Mount Saini, moves with them through the pillar of cloud, builds the tabernacle in the midst of the people and builds himself a grand glorious temple so that the people come, witness his Glory and worship him.
    • What we see here is God, rather than not, he is moving closer and closer to his people, who have sinned against him, to build himself a home.
    • Finally, in the new covenant, out of all the places where he could build himself a home, he builds it the closest to man, that is, he builds himself a home ‘in them’.

God builds himself a home

  • In short our God, although deserving more than all that man built for him on earth, deserving of a rich and glorious home not tainted by sin, he comes close to man despite his sin and encamps near him in a house built by him, man. You’d think that when he sees sin, he would be grossed out and go as far away from it. He would have been right in doing so. But the being that is being worshipped in the glories and riches of the heavens, desires to come closer to man and make a house for himself in the midst of a corrupt world.
  • He then, in his beautiful and glorious plan for the redemption of man, had it in his plans to look at the broken and weak vessel that is, man and continues his desire to make a house of himself by saying, ‘I will make a house for myself in this weak vessel’. He takes a decision to abide in us. To make us his home. Throughout the redemptive history, it was such that God did not look at the filth and sin of man and put down a tent to live in, that is far from him, but instead, he kept getting closer and closer till the point he chose live in the very body of the sinner.

2 Corinthians 4: 7
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not us.

  • We are called Jars of Clay in this passage. It talks of our nature, one that is depleting, passing away, and growing weak day by day. Weak vessels that are at risk of breaking at any time. One fall and it’s over. Given our sinful nature, this is not any jar of clay but it is one that is tainted, partially broken and barely holding it together. Our king and saviour look at it and says, with my righteousness, I will patch up every dent, every hole and every weak spot of this vessel and make it my home filling it with the riches and glories of my power, the power of Christ our God. What a beautiful and glorious God we have brothers and sisters.

United with Christ

  • It is key that we get the essence of that statement for it has great implications on how God has ordained salvation for us and how he has divinely planned to work in and through us.
  • In Christ, we have all the riches of the Glory of God available and when he abides in us, these riches are extended to us. When he says he has made a home in us, that he abides in us, the magnificence of that statement is in his magnificence.

Colossians 2:3
[Christ] in whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge

Paul relates something as fundamental as knowledge and wisdom to be riches that are only to be found in God, in Christ and he goes on to say a few verses after these riches are extended to us when we abide in him. Through the unity, we have in him.

Ephesians 3:17-19
17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith … [So that you] 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Or in other words, you cannot, absolutely cannot have a clue about the love of God, feel his love and any knowledge of it unless he abodes if you.

  • There is no amount of candles you can light at the cathedrals, no about rosaries you can pray, no penance you can pay, no legalistic laws or doctrines you can follow that will get you anywhere close to tasting the rich fruit of the love of Christ, this rich fruit that surpasses knowledge. Not unless Christ abides in us.

Even when if we were to move to the more radical of experiences, that is of us being born again, and look at it through the lens of ‘Unity in Christ’, we begin to see the astonishing amount of importance the word gives to Christ abiding in us.

  • But every stage of the application of redemption has great emphasis on it being made available to us “in Christ”.
  • It is “in Christ” that we are called to salvation (1 Cor. 7:22), It is “in Christ” that we are regenerated (Eph. 1:3; 2:10), and It is “in Christ” justified (Rom. 8:1; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 2:17; Eph. 1:7; Phil. 3:9; Col. 1:14). “In Christ” we die (1 Thess. 4:16; Rev. 14:13) and “in him” our bodies will be raised up again (1 Cor. 15:22)
  • From being called to salvation, to justification, regeneration, being dead to the old self and raised in the new, it is all made available for us in him.

But all our efforts to understand the beauty in this will be in vain if we are not able to, with clarity define what union with Christ is. For a large part of my early Christian life, I was just unable to define what it means to say that he abides in me. What does it mean to say he has made my body his home? Do I just keep my arm below my rib and look for that spot that he has chosen to stay?

  • Or is it this super spiritual experience, where were are left attributing everything to unity in Christ to the point it becomes a vague blanket statement?

We have a beautiful defection of the union in Christ in Romans 6, the whole chapter. I won’t read it all out but make an attempt to simplify it, with a few other passes as well, hoping to give justice to the definition Paul gives.

The union with Christ, the reality of us abiding in him and him in us can be defined as the holy spirit first blessing us with the gift of faith and through it, taking captive our heart, mind and soul to the point everything in our life becomes unspeakably about God. I can’t think the same anymore, I can’t talk the same anymore, I can’t go to work the same anymore, I can’t look at my parents the same anymore, I can’t look at my wife the same anymore, everything has radically changed because Christ has taken captive of me. This he did by first putting to death my old self, destroying it to the point where my old life of sin is no more, I cannot even recognise it, it is dead to me. Therefore, in his crucifixion and death, he crucified and put to death my sin so that I am no longer enslaved to it. And in him rising up from the dead he rose me up too, giving me a new life, a new conscience and a new self has been born through it. Like it says in Romans 6, a new self has been born so that we can walk in the newness of life, a life just as that Christ lives on to God we too may live on to God.

To summarise it, this union is first, the spiritual reality of him taking us with him through his death and resurrection and through it enabling us to live in him. Second, it is the practical reality of him abiding in us, such that our full self is taken captive by Chris such that everything in our lives becomes unspeakably about God. This is the union that we are gifted with brothers and sisters.

Furthermore, Paul in Romans 6 paints for us a picture of this practical reality that should be the result of our union with him. He does this by posing the question, ‘How can we who died to sin still live in it?’,Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions’. Paul takes it one step ahead, he says “You who are united with Christ, how can you even think about sin, how can we live in sin?” Furthermore, if you do not live to sin, it should be not merely something that exists in your mind, but it should reflect in your body, it is a physical reality in that our body will come nowhere close to sin and therefore will not obey its sinful passions.

  • The immediate question we then have Paul is this, “Brother Paul I get what you are saying, I believe I have a unity with Christ, but my life does not look like that, sadly. I do have the moments when I feel that Christ has held me captive, where all of me and all of my life is about him. But then there are those moments where I just feel too far away from him. Where I am held close by sin, and only see my desire to commit the sin. In the end, I feel like I live in sin as I have let my body obey its passions and not feel Christ in me, it is as though I have completely avoided him at that moment. Does this mean that I don’t have unity with him? ”
  • Paul answers this in verse 6 where he says: We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
    • Paul describes our old life in sin, to be one that was such we were slaves to sin, tied down by it, unable to fight it. No matter how amount years of academy training or sheer willpower you apply, you cannot walk away from it.
    • But now in our present state, when Christ makes us his home, when he unites himself with us, the effect of it is such that we are freed from that slavery, meaning we who did not have the ability to fight sin before, now have the ability to do it. We are no more addicted to it is what the bible says.
    • When this happens, it is not immediately become unfertile soil, that sin no more exists in our life, therefore we have unity with Christ. NO. It is that we increasingly becoming unfertile soil, that we are slowly and gradually growing in our inability to support sin. We are set free from be we still have the effects of it but yet got in his grace gave us the ability to sight it, such we grow to be completely unfertile to sin, alien to sin, in our resurrected bodies, when we the fullness of the Glory of God and we are able to present our bodies fully to him, blameless and unblemished.
    • That is the truth that Paul points to when he asks the question, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”, When we fall to temptation, when we give in to our desire to sin and go on to see the wretchedness of our flesh, repent and cry out to our Lord, we able to do that because we do not live in sin anymore, we are given the ability to fight it, to not be addicted to it. Therefore, we are empowered in this ability by the power and strength that God has given to us in his union with us. This is the effect of our unity, as we talked of earlier.

Their reason, brothers and sisters, that we spend much of our time this morning trying to understand this truth is because of how elementary it is to everything we learn and practice in the Christian life.

  • As we studied earlier, from predestination to our very knowledge of god, to salvation, to sanctification and life in glory, all of it is offered to us through this unity we have with him.
  • Should we miss this truth, or suppress the importance of this truth, we miss the entire point of everything that Jesus offers to us as believers.
  • It must be central to everything that we do in our lives. It should define our very outlook on life and everything we hope to do as a church and as families.
  • And that is exactly what Paul portrays to us through that introductory passage in Colossians chapter 1.


Paul a minister of God

I term these passages by Paul as an introduction not because he is at the salutation of his letter, no he is way past that. But rather this portion from Colossians 1 is written by Paul to introduce to him regarding him and his ministry. Because he is not the one who planted this church, nor has he ever visited this church. In fact, it was a man named Epaphras, who must have heard him preach during his missionary journey through Rome. In hearing him preached he was convicted of the truth of Christ and with that Zeal goes back to his hometown of Colossae and plants a tiny house church, much like the one we have gathered in this morning. Over a period of a few years, there came along false teaching bearing a false Gospel that was causing confusion and infecting the church. Paul upon receiving this news through Epaphras, writes a letter back to them saying ‘Give this to them, for this will be the word of God to them.’ And in it, he introduces to them he is a minister of God, Chosen by God and that is why he speaks with such authority, so listen to me O church of Colossae he says in a sense.

And through this introduction, we get a glimpse into the life of a man, who is so vividly impacted by this truth, such that everything he does for the Lord and his people, undoubtedly flows through the clear application of this truth into his life.

As Christians, should we have any doubt about how must our lives look like if we have truly applied this truth to our life? The best place we can go to in scripture is Paul talking about his life his and mission. He doesn’t even have to explicitly state it, we are able to see just in his nature of speaking how truly impacted he is by this truth.

A Primer on Paul’s Ministry

For instance in Colossians 1: 24-29:

  • Right of the back, he made it clear to them that he was called by God, that he is not in the position that he is in, an apostle stewarding over the people of God, evangelising and making his word known among the Jews and the Gentiles. He does all this because he was called by and given authority by God.
    • We know this to be true from Acts 9, one of the most supernatural calls to ministry. His only goal was to kill Christians at the time and there he was one fine day, got up in the morning thinking it was just another day, 9-5: kill Christians, have dinner and go back to sleep.
    • But God had other plans for him, for on the road to Damascus, he is struck blind, thrown to the ground, eats mud and gets up only to realise that a voice from the heavens had declared “That he is a chosen instrument of God to carry His name before the Gentiles and the Kings and the children of Israel”
    • Brothers and Sisters, as we read this passage from Colossians 1, we need to keep in mind the contrast in personalities that we see of Paul before and after his calling. It was not a simple conversion that happened on the road to Damascus that but it was a radical one, he was so deeply impacted that he went from one who desires to see Christians suffer to one that is willing to suffer for the sake of Christians for all his life.
    • So the question is, what caused Paul to behave in this manner, what was the root motivation that caused the application of the gospel to be such that he is so vividly living for the sake of God and his People?
  • As we read from verse 24, is talking about suffering for the sake of God, he is talking about being called to ministry and saying that his basic duty is to make the word of God fully known as it says in verses 25 and 26; then he gets to the root motivation in verse 27.

The premise of Paul’s ministry

Colossians 1: 27
27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you,  the hope of glory

There we have it brothers and sisters, it is the truth of his union with Christ that is the root motivation for all that he does. From a Christian Killer to one who isn’t shy to get killed for them, we see that conversation because of the work of Christ by abiding in Paul and Paul living his life with a desire to practice that reality that is, “I do it all because he abides in me”.

  • From Suffering for his namesake (v24) to proclaiming his name (v28) to toiling in his name (v29).

This is not a mystery anymore, it is truth. Truth that is not secluded to Paul alone but it is one that is revealed to all, from Jews to Gentiles.

  • It was vailed from the saints of the old testament, but now, the mystery of the messiah has been revealed. That the son of God will come down from heavens, out to death all our sins and rescue us once and for all (messiah) and count us as co-heirs with him, children of God.
    • This he reveals to us, that is, this knowledge he gives us by uniting himself with us as we saw in Ephesians 3:17-19.

These riches are not merely one that passes by a lifetime, but one that has eternal implications. It is the very hope of our life in glory, our life in heaven with our God. It is because our King abides in us, we have the hope that he will take us to heaven, to his dwelling place.

  • Moreover, the reason we can say our union with Christ is an eternal union is because it is not one that happens at the time our faith was established in Christ. If this faith was given to us now, it was planned for us before the foundations of the Earth.
  • This union was planned for us before the foundations of the earth, manifested in us through the faith that was given to us, ordained to us through the waters of Baptism and sustained in us through eternity.

Now we proclaim

Knowing and cherishing this truth is so beautiful, but what do we do with it? How must our lives be affected through the understanding of this truth? We see the answer through the life of Paul in these passages.

Colossians 1: 28
28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

  • Simple: What do you do when you have good news? Spread it with joy.
  • And therefore what must we do when we hear the best of the news, one that has not been revealed to us through the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles, us, and the Jews? Well, we do the same thing, SPREAD THE NEWS WITH JOY.
  • Paul’s first application after stating this truth is that, to PROCLAIM.
  • Him we proclaim – the Greek literally means, to celebrate, to celebrate out loud or to proclaim.
  • It has everything to do with how we obey the great commission – Matthew 28.
  • Moreover, the reason he states as to why he proclaims apart just the joy within his own heart is for the sake of those around him, his neighbours.
    • We see the full picture of the 2 types of relationships we are called to have on Earth. The vertical and horizontal relationships. The vertical is the relationship we are called to have with God, like Paul who cherishes and delights the unity that he has in Christ. And the Vertical, as he cherishes this union, he desires for others to know of this union, not simply that they may see it and give glory to God but that they too may grow in the likeness of God as he does. Therefore, it says, 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature (that they may grow in the likeness of Christ) in Christ.
  • Should Christ abide in us, we must, like Paul, have the chiefest of our desires (that is to follow God) be followed by a deep-seated desire to bless his people, the chiefest of the desires after our desire to glorify him. (Matthew 22: 34-40)

To be united in Christ is to suffer well

The reaction to proclamation of this sort more often than not, is rejection and abuse (persecution). Whether it is evangelising to the lost stranger or to the ones who you yearn to see saved.
The most natural outcome of our evangelism to an unbeliever or a supporting or labouring with a believer is suffering.

  • A heightened frustration, should it be the stranger who simply does not get the point.
  • A state of sorrow and despair that cannot be put into words, should it be the reaction of the ones you love.
  • Whichever way you look at it, suffering is inevitable in the business of proclamation to the world that does not know God, the intensity of which only increases as the stakes are raised.

Paul is no stranger to this, so let us see how he grapples with this issue.

Colossians 1: 24
24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,

I REJOICE. Absurd isn’t it?

To be able to say that looking at suffering. The absurdity is a result of our weakness and not a lack from his end, by no means. For are those who weep and look away from God upon being afflicted with suffering, ‘Why O God, have you not answered my prayers? I have done everything in my power to preach the Gospel, but it is not only that they don’t receive the gospel, but they don’t receive me either.’

Our reaction will be all the more animated and filled with a disconnected sense of agreement with the works of Paul when we see the reality of Paul’s life and the suffering that precedes that statement, ‘I rejoice’.

  • We get to see this in 2 Corinthians 11:23-38,
    23 far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
  • How does he look at all that pain and agony and say ‘I rejoice’?
    • Brothers and sisters, it is because, he not only has Christ abiding in him, able to see with full clarity the truth of that union in his life and desires to live it out, but he knows how to do it.
    • How he does it for the benefit of the body of Christ, his Church.
    • No matter the suffering that is being afflicted on him, he continues to rejoice and proclaim because he has the sure-found hope that the Christ who abides in him will use it for the Good of his body, one way or another. The name of the sovereign King who is in control of his suffering will use it for his glory.

Moreover, he adds another qualifier to this seemingly outrageous claim in verse 24.

  • He rejoices in his suffering because: “in my flesh, I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”
  • It is a tough pill to swallow, this verse, to make up for something that is lacking in the suffering of Christ.
  • Paul does not say here that there is something missing in the atonement of Christ, by no means.
    • We will be missing the point should we think if there is something in us that could be of more value than the life and work of Christ.
    • We end up in a dark and scary room, aptly titled Heresy should we think so.
    • Like the school of thought that the Catholic Church teaches. One where we can, through various acts of penance, we can attain forgiveness and holiness. That would eventually gain us enough ‘grace points’, if I may, that can reduce our time at purgatory, the eventual place we would go, no matter the amount of sin, to be disciplined and sent to heaven.
    • Should we check all the right boxes and sprinkle our lives with the right amount of penance, we would outdo that requirement. Our holiness then, since it is at this point overflowing the requirement, would result in ‘grace points’ that would be stored in the treasury of merit for the benefit of others.
    • Heresy is too deep to even read with a clear conscience. But these are the kinds of things one would end up proclaiming should they not get the point of verse 24.
  • The peace of mind we have is that scripture always interprets scripture, the word of God is sufficient for all teaching brothers and sisters. So, we look to Philippians 2: 30 to help us:
    Philippians 2: 30
    30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
    • He, meaning Epaphroditus, was a follower of Christ from the Philippian church that was sent to give gifts to Paul.
    • In his service, he nearly lost his life.
    • What was meant to be done by the people of that church was done by him. In his suffering he completed what was lacking in their service, meaning their inability to be there suffering for Paul at that time is being done by Epaphroditus.
    • The Greek translation of ‘complete what was lacking’ here and ‘fill up what is lacking’ in Colossians 1:24 have the same meaning and usage, to help or assist in place of.
  • In the same way, as Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God and not physically present here with us, like the people of the Philippian church that were not able to be with Paul, Christ sent representatives, his elect, his people to fill up what is lacking in his physical absence, just as the Philippian church sent Epaphroditus. Therefore when we suffer we not only represent the suffering that Christ already went through in his life and at the cross, but we all represent the suffering that he would have gone through should he have been here on earth, physically battling it out for, as he did more than 2000 years ago.
    • That is what Paul says when he writes, “in my flesh, I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”.
    • To sum up, when we suffer we don’t add any merit to the suffering that Christ could have gone through in his physical presence here on earth, for the merit only goes to him, but we in our suffering give a visible presentation of the suffering that Christ would have gone through for us.
  • Just to add a word of encouragement to this note, I bring up one of the comments by David Sitton:
    he could have appointed angels to complete what was lacking and they could have gone everywhere with photographs and videos and DVDs or proclamations or flannelgraph boards or whatever. They could have gone everywhere, but he didn’t do it that way.
    In fact, he chose to come into the world before there were DVDs or tapes or the internet and appoint people like Paul to fill up what is lacking, namely, to take the sufferings of Christ to the world, to take the afflictions to the world. The afflictions are there for someone but they don’t know it, and he means for them to be completed by being taken somewhere.

Therefore Paul sums up the disposition of his heart in the midst of suffering this way, “ Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church.”


We have just witnessed 6 verses, that represent the life of a man who so clearly sees the reality of the union with Christ and lives it out, lives it out to suffer for God and to joyfully proclaim his name to this people.

I want to go back to a statement that I made at the onset of this sermon, that is, Paul has not reached heights that are reachable nor does he live by standards that are unattainable for he is gifted with the same faith that we are and in him abides the same Christ that abides in us.

So we must notice the life of Paul and desire to follow it as he follows Christ. As we look at his life as must notice that in all senses is presenting to us the fact that without the notion of ‘union with Christ’, Christian living falls apart, none of it makes sense. It is central to all that we do. Through it, all the riches of life are extended to us.

  • I stress this also because of the lost notion of unity in Christ in the modern church. It is only thought of as ‘yet another teaching’, but not taught as central to Christian living.
  • This is exactly opposite to the way the early first-century Churches used to function.
  • Christian was a term that slowly emerged as a name to refer to those who believed in Christ. It is only used a handful of times in the bible and in fact, the origins of the words come in the form of mockery. It was used to refer to distinguish the people who believed in Christ as opposed to the Jewish people.
  • The name came to be because of vocal Christians were about their life in Christ, for they referred to each other as those that were ‘in Christ’ or ‘of Christ’.
  • “You see my friend over there, he is one that is united with Christ, he is of Christ.”

We must go back to that lost notion brothers and sisters, let that be the biggest outcome of our study this morning. Let us be renewed in the way we think about Christian living, that it is a life that is lived through the union that his people have with him.

  • As you into the next week and weeks after that, let that be the reason you wake up, to experience the union that you have with Christ.
  • Even before you adorn yourself with clothes pleasing to the eyes of others, adorn yourself with the crown that Christ has gifted you with, his union. Let that be the first and most pleasant thought of the day.

Therefore O church, let us all as one body, march forth as those united with him