(Col 1:24-26 ESV) 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.
There is a strong element of Christian suffering in the gospel — and Paul celebrates his suffering because it’s for the cause of Christ. Compare —
(Rom 8:16-18 ESV) 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
(Phi 3:8-11 ESV) 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
(1Pe 4:13-16 ESV) 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
There is no value in suffering for suffering’s sake. Paul is not teaching asceticism. But he is teaching that the gospel is worth suffering for. Jesus didn’t die to take away all pain immediately. He died to give us something worth dying for. We die with Christ and so we suffer with Christ — if that’s our place in God’s scheme. And it’s worth it.
This is a lesson we rarely teach, because it’s really bad marketing. But it’s intensely scriptural. The gospel calls us into the life of Jesus.
When Paul speaks of the gospel as “mystery,” he doesn’t mean we can’t understand it. Rather, he means we can understand it, unlike those who came before Jesus.
(Col 1:27 ESV) 27 To them [the saints] 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.
Paul now revels in God’s extending the gospel to Gentiles. Paul therefore speaks of “glory.” Usually, “glory” refers to the presence of God. In heaven, God is surrounded by glory. When God dwelt with Israel in the tabernacle and, later, the temple, his glory (or Shekinah) was present. His glory is pictured as intensely bright light.
“Hope” does not mean “hope” as in “I hope I win the lottery,” where “hope” is uncertain, even desperately desired, but not assured. “Hope” in the New Testament is a confident expectation. It’s confidence that God will keep his promises.
Therefore, “hope of glory” is confidence that we will be in God’s glorious presence, not that maybe we’ll be honored.
Now, the emphasis is that the Gentiles now have these great riches of glory. No longer is it a mystery held by the Jews; it’s a revelation being shared with everyone!
(Col 1:28 ESV) Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
Paul describes his preaching as proclaiming Jesus. “Mature” could equally well be translated “complete.” The point is that the preaching of Jesus is sufficient not only to save but to present us as finished products, complete, and mature. We don’t graduate from Jesus to something higher. The proclamation of Jesus not only saves, it brings us to maturity.
(Col 1:29 ESV) For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
“Power” is used throughout the New Testament to refer to the working of the Spirit — sometimes in wonders and miracles, other times in less spectacular ways.
(Eph 3:20 ESV) 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,
It’s a mistake, I think, to consider this powerfully working energy as a uniquely apostolic gift when in Ephesians we’re told that we all have this gift (the word appears in this form only in these two places in the New Testament).
You see, we live in a humanistic age. We think man can do anything, and so we don’t pray for God’s powerful energizing. Indeed, we wouldn’t know how to act if we were to experience it! But it’s a promise. The way to experience it is to need it, and yet we constantly shield ourselves from having any such need, because the only power we have confidence in is our own.