By Derick Parfan | February 8, 2009
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:28-29 ESV)
Since last Sunday, when I was formally installed as your pastor, people begin calling me “pastor” more frequently and with a different tone. I can see the sense of respect from some when they call me pastor. Some of my friends are teasing me when they call me pastor. Whatever the case, it made me think what it really means to be a pastor. And although it may be a cause for boasting for others, I feel humbled by the marvelous goodness of God in letting me lead his church. Sometimes I fear that I won’t be as successful as other pastors. But I learned that the question I must ask is not, “How can I be successful?” but, “How can I be faithful?”
That’s how Mother Theresa viewed her ministry to the poor in Calcutta, India. A senator asked her while touring her work in that place, “How can you bear the load without being crushed by it?” She replied, “My dear senator, I am not called to be successful, but faithful.”
God wants us all to be faithful ministers. Like Paul who introduced himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” (1:1). Like the Christians in Colossae who are “the saints and faithful brothers in Christ” (1:2). Like Epaphras, who was probably their pastor and who preached to them the gospel. He was a “beloved fellow servant” and a “faithful minister of Christ” (1:7). Like Tychicus who is a “beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord” (4:7). Like Onesimus, a “faithful and beloved brother” (4:9). And like what Paul reminded the Colossian Christians to say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord” (4:17). Like these faithful men, we must aim not for success but for faithfulness in whatever ministry we have received from God. We must fear not failing other people’s expectations but failing God’s.
How can I, your leading pastor, be a faithful pastor? How can we all be faithful ministers of God? How can we take good care of what God has placed in our hands, whether it be big or small in our eyes? Based on Paul’s example in Colossians 1:28-29, let me give you five things we need to keep in mind so that we will be faithful servants and ministers of God.
A Faithful Minister’s PURPOSE: Christian Maturity
The purpose of Christian ministry is to help other believers reach Christ-like maturity. Paul’s goal or mission in proclaiming Christ by teaching and warning them is “that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (v. 28). Epaphras joins Paul in this goal for the Colossian believers, “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (4:12). God gave the church pastors “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13).
To be “mature” is to reach one’s end, that is, to be complete. Like a parent raising up a child, his goal is to raise up to child to maturity, to adulthood. Christ died so that Christians will be more like him in all aspects of life – in humility, service, love, and devotion to God. Christian maturity is to move toward Christ-likeness.
Maturity is for every believer. “Everyone” is used three times in this verse to emphasize that this is an all-encompassing goal. We don’t exclude anyone in our goal. A pastor must make sure that everyone in the church is being brought to maturity. All kids in this church must be brought to maturity. All young people, all men, all women, all couples, all singles, all widows, all senior citizens – all!
This goal reminds us that it is not enough to bring unbelievers to this church and lead them to Christ. We must help them grow in their faith. As your pastor, I will commit to lead you toward Christian maturity – all of you! That seems to be a big task, isn’t it? But I am not alone. We have other elders in this church, and small group leaders and all members must join me in this purpose.
This is the purpose of my pastoral ministry – to bring everyone of you to Christ-like maturity, knowing and doing God’s will in all areas of your life. How about you? Do you have different goals in your ministry? You need to ask, “Is what I am doing right now helping other Christians grow in their faith?” If not, maybe you need to rethink how you are doing ministry.
A Minister’s PLAN: Application of the Word
A pastor must have a plan to accomplish that purpose. If you want to erect a 40-storey building, you need an engineering plan. The plan must be what God intends. The plan God had in mind in bringing believers to maturity is by the application of the Word. Pastors help people apply God’s Word in their life. Paul proclaims Christ by “warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom” (v. 28).
To warn is to admonish or counsel someone in view of sin or coming punishment. Pastors are like fathers who discipline their children when what they are doing is wrong (1 Cor. 4:14-15). This is especially the responsibility of church leaders (1 Thess. 5:12). That is why we impose discipline in this church, to warn everyone that sin has consequences. We commit ourselves as pastors to warn those who are sinning to turn from their sins and repent. If you are living a sexually immoral life, we will confront you. When you are failing in your commitments as Christians, we will warn you. When you are seeking to divide the church by your actions, we will take the necessary steps to discipline you. It’s hard but it must be done, so that we will all be mature.
Aside from warning from sin, we need to teach biblical truths. To teach is to impart truths that will help people live with discernment concerning what is sin and what is pleasing to God. That is why teaching must be “with all wisdom.” Teaching is not just for intellectual exercise. It must be practical. Teaching is part of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:20) and is a very important part in making disciples mature in their faith. That is why I place a high value in the place of Scriptures in my ministry. Preaching and teaching the Word must be a pastoral priority. Every other work must be subordinated to this ministry. Because of its divine origin and its usefulness in bring Christians to maturity, I must preach it in season and out of season (2 Tim. 3:16-17, 4:1-2). I must be faithful in teaching it.
Both warning and teaching are not just the responsibilities of pastors and leaders. It is every Christian’s responsibility. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (3:16). Can you now think of someone you have to warn or to teach? Pray for him but don’t stop there. Go to him and instruct him in the way he should go. Let us all be faithful in helping other Christians apply God’s Word to their lives.
A Faithful Minister’s PASSION: Making Christ Known
Faithfulness in helping other Christian apply God’s Word in their lives so that they will be mature will be difficult if we do not have the passion to do it by making Christ known to them. A faithful minister, then, must be passionate to proclaim Christ. Warning and teaching are both subordinated under one activity, and that is proclaiming Christ. Paul’s passion, together with all other faithful ministers of God, is to proclaim Christ. Knowing Christ and making him known is his passion, and must be ours, too.
To proclaim is to announce publicly. The specific subject of this proclamation is none other than Christ. Generally, it also refers to the stewardship given to Paul: “to make the word of God fully known” (1:25). To know Christ (1 Cor. 2:2) and make him known through the preaching of the Word is Paul’s passion. It must be my passion, too. No Christian can reach true maturity in faith without knowing Christ through the Word. No Christian can be warned of sin and be taught in wisdom without the knowledge of Christ. The preaching of the Word must be central in how we do ministry in our church.
Who is this Jesus that every minister must be passionate about? He is the Head Pastor of the Church, not me. “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (1:18). He is in us who believe, our “hope of glory” (1:27). In him are “hidden all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3). He is our life, who will come again to take us with him in glory (3:4).
People need to know Jesus Christ, with all his glory and supremacy. We must labor to proclaim it. This is not just my duty. It is also yours. The word Paul used is a general term and cannot just refer to preaching in the pulpit. You can proclaim Christ in small groups, to your friends and family members.
What are you passionate about? What is it that keeps you going toward reaching your goal? For some of you it may be your job, which is robbing you of many hours and hindering you from proclaiming Christ. Or it may be a hobby that has nothing to do with our calling to make mature disciples of Christ. I am not saying that you need to change your job or your hobby. But you must make sure that you are being faithful to the calling you have from God. And if you are not, maybe changing jobs or hobbies is the best course to take.
A Faithful Minister’s PAIN: Working Hard
Christian ministry is not easy. There is pain. A pastor needs to work hard, really really hard in order to be faithful. He must not give up. Paul said, “For this I toil, struggling…” The word “toil” came from the Greek word used to refer to “a beating,” “weariness” (as though one had been beaten) and “exertion,” and was the proper word for physical tiredness induced by work, exertion or heat. So it means to exert oneself physically, mentally, or spiritually.
Struggling is from agonizomai, a word used for one engaging in an athletic contest or for someone engaged in battle. This is where we get our English word “agony.” Faithfulness in the ministry requires that one must work hard as an athlete or a soldier pour out all his energy in order to win an athletic contest or a war.
Again, Epaphras was described by Paul as a pastor really working hard even when his labors were not seen by many. He was working hard on his knees, “always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis” (4:12-13).
When John MacArthur was still a young pastor, a lady who did not know he was a pastor advised him to go into the ministry. He asked her why. She replied that ministers did not have to do anything and could make lots of money. What! He said concerning Paul’s statement that “no one can successfully serve Jesus Christ without working hard. Lazy pastors, Christian leaders, or laymen will never fulfill the ministry the Lord has called them to.”
We are not called to be lazy, but to work hard. Even if it takes physical, emotional or mental pain, we will endure it for the sake of the people God entrusted to us. How’s your commitment to the ministry? Are you working hard? Or are you just relaxing and involving yourself in ministry during your spare time, when there is nothing much to do? During the coming days, think of something God is calling you to do to help others in their faith or even lead non-Christians to Christ. How will you work hard to be faithful to what God calls you to do? Faithfulness is never equal to laziness.
A Faithful Minister’s POWER: The Grace of God
There’s pain and exhaustion in serving the Lord, but it is not a cause for discouragement. There is no retirement in the ministry. Why? Because God did not leave us to our own strength to be faithful. He has given us power to endure. Let us complete Paul’s statement in verse 28, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” That power that keeps him going is none other than the grace of God. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).
Paul prayed for the Colossians, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (1:11). He urged Timothy, the young pastor of the Ephesian church, “Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1). He said that before his instruction in the next verse to teach faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Faithfulness in the ministry is empowered by the grace of God.
That is why as we work hard we need to be in a spirit of prayer, depending on God for strength and wisdom and his power to change people. An electric appliance won’t be useful when it is not plugged to the power source. A pastor will not be effective without the power from God that comes through prayer. I think it is Martin Luther who said that there is so much that needs to be done for the day that he needs to spend three hours in prayer. Most of us would rather spend three minutes in prayer because we are so busy. Brothers and sisters, how is your prayer life? How can we be faithful if we are neglecting it?
Yesterday, our team from seminary went to meet the pastor of the church where we will serve this summer. Last year was difficult for them because of some members who left to start another church nearby. I can see the pain in him as he tells the story. Yet he continues reaching out to them for reconciliation even if they are still not willing. He continues because he has a clear purpose in mind and a plan that God has given in his Word. I can sense the passion in him to make Christ known. And even when there is pain, he wants to remain faithful because of the power of the grace of God. That is a portrait of a faithful minister.
That is what I want to commit to you today based on what I learned on Paul’s philosophy of doing ministry: “By God’s grace and for his glory, I will work with all my might to make Christ known in and outside this church by helping you apply the Word of God in all aspects of life so that you will reach Christ-like maturity.”
While reading Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, I ran across this statement about being faithful to the Lord’s work by doing it his way.
Stick with your work. Do not flinch because the lion roars; do not stop to stone the devil’s dogs; do not fool away your time chasing the devil’s rabbits. Do your work. Let liars lie, let sectarians quarrel, let critics malign, let enemies accuse, let the devil do his worst; but see to it nothing hinders you from fulfilling with joy the work God has given you.
He has not commanded you to be admired or esteemed. He has never bidden you defend your character. He has not set you at work to contradict falsehood (about yourself) which Satan’s or God’s servants may start to peddle, or to track down every rumor that threatens your reputation. If you do these things, you will do nothing else; you will be at work for yourself and not for the Lord.
Keep at your work. Let your aim be as steady as a star. You may be assaulted, wronged, insulted, slandered, wounded and rejected, misunderstood, or assigned impure motives; you may be abused by foes, forsaken by friends, and despised and rejected of men. But see to it with steadfast determination, with unfaltering zeal, that you pursue the great purpose of your life and object of your being until at last you can say, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do.”
This word is not only for pastors like me. We also need to stick to the work that God has given us to do – big or small. John Oxenham captures it in his poem:
Is your place a small place? / Tend it with care! / He set you there. / Is your place a large place? / Guard it with care! / He set you there. / Whate’er your place, it is / Not yours alone, but His / Who set you there.
Be faithful. Be faithful. This is God’s will for us. Let us all pray.
John MacArthur, Colossians (Chicago: Moody, 1996), 78.
Peter T. O’Brien, vol. 44, Word Biblical Commentary : Colossians-Philemon, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 2002), 90.
William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 558.
John MacArthur, Colossians (Chicago: Moody, 1996), 80.
John MacArthur, F., Jr, Richard Mayhue and Robert Thomas, L., Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry : Shaping Contemporary Ministry With Biblical Mandates (Dallas: Word, 1995), 17-18.
Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 292.