Struggling With All His Energy
It’s easy to grow weary of proclaiming Christ, especially if it doesn’t seem to be making a difference in the lives of those we teach. We are prone to think that our toil is in vain if our children or spiritual children don’t seem to be maturing in Christ. Yet Colossians 1:24-29 teaches us that Jesus is with us in our endeavors, no matter how feeble or frail our attempts to proclaim Christ.
God had set Paul apart from before his birth, and in His perfect timing called him by grace, revealing His Son to him on his way to Damascus, so that he might preach Christ among the Gentiles (Gal. 1:15-16). Paul had gone on to preach the gospel and plant churches in many different cities and regions on three different missionary journeys until he ended up under house arrest in Rome. It was during this time that he wrote his letter to the Colossians, testifying,
“I rejoice in my sufferings…for the sake of…the church” (Col. 1:24).
As an apostle and the Lord’s “chosen instrument,” Paul was “to carry” the name of Jesus “before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” which would involve great suffering (Acts 9:15-16). Paul’s suffering in no way completed Christ’s redemptive work, which was finished on the cross (Col. 1:19-20; 2:15), but as an apostle, who was chosen to carry Christ’s name to the Gentiles, he was “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (1:24).
That this is the case becomes clear when we compare the sufferings of Christ with the sufferings of Paul.
During Christ’s trials and crucifixion, “Many were astonished at Christ—his appearance was so marred” (Isa. 52:14). Likewise, Paul had “a bodily ailment” that was “a trial” to the Galatians (Gal. 4:14). Christ was “despised and rejected by men” and “acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). Likewise, Paul was “a spectacle to the world,” “fools for Christ’s sake,” “weak,” and “held in…disrepute,” “reviled,” “persecuted,” “slandered,” and “like the scum of the world” (1 Cor. 4:9-13). Christ “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isa. 53:4). Likewise, Paul carried around “a thorn…in the flesh” in order to display “the power of Christ” (2 Cor. 12:7, 9). Christ “was crushed for our iniquities” and “brought us peace” through His suffering (Isa. 53:5). Likewise, Paul received lashes from the Jews, was beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, in danger from Jews and Gentiles, and endured many toils and hardships for the sake of the gospel (2 Cor. 11:24-29).
While it is true that all Christians will “share Christ’s sufferings” (1 Pet. 4:12-19), Paul is telling the Colossians how he specifically and uniquely suffered as an apostle, who was called to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles, during this time of redemptive history. What Christ began in His ministry to the Jews, which began to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecies, the apostle Paul completed in his ministry to the Gentiles. Of course, Christ’s afflictions are superior to Paul’s. Christ is the perfect God-man who brought reconciliation through His death on the cross, whereas Paul is an apostle called by God to proclaim the gospel of reconciliation to the Gentiles. But Paul had a special commission by God at a specific point in redemptive history to be “a servant and witness” to the Gentiles “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light…that they may receive forgiveness of sins” (Acts 26:16, 18).
This gospel of which Paul became a minister contained “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints” (Col. 1:26). Although the Old Testament Scriptures were already known among the Jews, “this mystery…that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6), had just been revealed with the inauguration of Christ’s kingdom and the proclamation of the gospel by the apostles, making it plain that “Christ…the hope of glory” is for both Jews and Gentiles (Col. 1:27).
From the time Christ arrested Paul on the Damascus Road and appointed him to be a minister of the gospel to the Gentiles, Paul had proclaimed Christ, “warning everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). His “toil” and “struggling” was not by his own strength, but “with all his [Christ’s] energy that he powerfully works within me” (v. 29). No wonder Paul could rejoice in his sufferings. He knew that Christ’s power within Him would never fail, but would be a never-ending supply of strength, which he needed to carry on his work as a minister of the gospel. Though Paul had a unique mission, the same power of Christ is available to you and to me as we seek to proclaim His name among the nations, beginning with our own families.
Have you grown weary in proclaiming Christ because you wonder if you’re making a difference in the lives of those you teach? Remember, you never toil or struggle in vain when you aim to present your children or spiritual children mature in Christ. So don’t stop teaching truth. Keep giving wise warnings. And recognize, as you toil and struggle, that your source of energy is Christ.
Sarah Ivill (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a Reformed author, wife, homeschooling mom, Bible study teacher, and conference speaker who lives in Matthews, North Carolina, and is a member of Christ Covenant Church (PCA). To learn more, please visit www.sarahivill.com.
 G. K. Beale, Colossians and Philemon, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019), 141-142.
G. K. Beale, Colossians and Philemon, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019), 142.
 For a fuller discussion, see G. K. Beale, Colossians and Philemon, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019), 143.