The apostle Paul’s great aim
‘Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ’ (Colossians 1:28).
Herein was the grand purpose and passion that motivated Paul’s apostolic life. The driving force behind all he did, wrote and taught, and the way he lived, was this single-minded ambition to make Jesus Christ known among the nations.
He was consumed with the desire to preach ‘Jesus Christ, and him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:2). His whole post-conversion life was poured out as a fragrant offering of love, obedience, suffering and service to his Saviour (2 Timothy 4:6).
Someone once said that, when Paul was blinded by the glory of Christ on the Damascus road, he remained blind for the rest of his life — blind to everything and everyone except Jesus Christ!
Paul was single eyed, ‘one eyed’. The glory of Christ filled his heart, and overflowed into all he did, said or wrote — ‘him [Christ Jesus] we proclaim’.
Christ’s commission to Paul as his apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 26:12-19) was not to change their culture, politics, laws, educational system, ethics or morals. It was to present the gospel of a crucified, dead, buried, resurrected, ascended and returning Saviour. That is still the church’s commission today (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:45-49).
Lasting spiritual and moral change comes only when people have heard and responded to the Christian gospel in repentance and faith, through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.
It is because of this that Paul’s life focus was: ‘him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ’ (Colossians 1:28).
The term ‘everyone’ here means that no one is to be left outside hearing the gospel proclaimed. It is not for Christians to judge that any culture, community or human being is outside the reach of God’s love and grace, unable to be reached by the gospel (Mark 16:15).
There is still a vast amount of work to be done in order that all may have the opportunity of hearing about the forgiveness and salvation which is found only in Christ.
‘Warning’ and ‘teaching’ are particular tasks for those men God has called to the offices of pastor and teaching elder. But that does not absolve all believers from the duty of making Christ known to others.
Paul went to extraordinary lengths and passed through many difficulties to proclaim the gospel and, through sound biblical teaching, see Spirit-born converts grow into spiritual maturity in Christ.
It should be our great motivation also to see the lost won to Jesus and growing into completeness in him; to see them knowing him intimately, loving him completely and serving him steadfastly. These are goals worthy of our greatest thoughts, daily prayers and best energies (1 Corinthians 3:10-13).
‘For this I am toiling and struggling by his active energy, which is mightily working in me’, says Charles B. Williams’ translation of Colossians 1:29. ‘For this’ relates back to verse 28, but also touches the deepest motive undergirding Paul’s life — the glorifying of the crucified, resurrected and ascended Christ.
The two verbs used, ‘toiling’ and ‘struggling’, translate the one Greek word agonidsomenos, from which comes our English word ‘agonise’.
It is a word that described the muscle-popping, tendon-straining, body-wrenching efforts of Greek wrestlers, as they sought to gain physical ascendency over their opponents. If you have ever watched amateur wrestlers in action, you have seen agonidsomai in the flesh!
Paul chose a word that at its simplest level means ‘doing one’s best’. But neither Paul’s life nor the context in which he was writing to the Colossian believers would allow for any other concept but that of ‘agonising’.
Agony of soul
Paul and Epaphras were in an agony of soul for the Colossian Christians. These two soldiers of Christ wrestled in prayer for the spiritual protection and continued faithfulness of the Colossian saints (Colossians 4:12).
Paul’s whole post-conversion life was marked by this toil and struggle. He laboured to make the gospel known, and laboured in prayer and teaching that converts would grow into the fulness of Christian maturity.
He wasn’t playing games! The honour of his Lord was at stake and the everlasting souls of men and women were the prize. And he laboured by God’s ‘active energy, which is mightily working in me’.
Paul’s natural God-given talents, education, life experiences, enthusiasm and zeal, all needed to be refined, directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, in order that he could accomplish the work to which his Lord had called him.
All that Paul was by nature must be empowered by the Holy Spirit before he could be a ‘vessel for honourable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work’ (2 Timothy 2:21).
His life demonstrates to us that God’s work cannot be carried out without the aid of the Holy Spirit. We can, and possibly do, execute a lot of Christian ministry through our natural talents and life experiences, but, in the deepest sense, spiritual work cannot be carried out successfully by these measures alone.
As Christians, we need the energising power of the indwelling Holy Spirit if we are to pray aright, grow in grace and wisdom, and take the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.
Paul, that zealous missionary, great thinker, erudite scholar, dynamic, determined man could only achieve what he did for the cause of Christ through the energising power of the Holy Spirit.
That same Spirit-given power, Paul earnestly sought in prayer for Christians everywhere (Ephesians 3:16). It is that same energy we must seek for our own lives, churches, Christian friends and ministries. There is no other way to fulfil the Great Commission.