The Price of Ministry
This blog post is an excerpt from a sermon preached by Paul Tautges titled Faithfully Stewarding the Gift of Ministry from Colossians 1:24-29. This sermon was preached at Cornerstone Community Church on Sunday, October 22, 2023.
Paul believed that the price of authentic discipleship ministry is a willingness to endure suffering on behalf of others. And this requires an attachment to people. That’s what we’re going to see throughout here. That discipleship is an alongside one-another ministry.
The American Church is content to have classes and hold seminars, and when we’re done, we say we have discipled people. But that’s only one small piece of the discipleship puzzle. True discipleship involves getting involved in each other’s lives and walking through life together. Biblical disciple makers do life with other people. And this includes suffering. It involves suffering together in a sin-sick world. And that’s where we need to grow in transparency, honesty, and humility with one another as we suffer.
Some of us, when we suffer, are too proud to ask for help. We like to be the helpers, but never the ones being helped. And that pride hinders the body growth and function that is supposed to happen in the life of the church. Suffering is a common ground, you might say, that serves to make vital connections to one another, and it also opens doors to the comfort of Christ.
In Paul’s case, he is writing this letter from a prison in Rome. Epaphras has traveled there to visit him and to report on the progress that these believers are making in the territory of Asia Minor. And as we learned before, Paul was very encouraged by what he heard about these disciples that they were growing in faith and love and that they were walking with the Lord. But he was also very concerned because he was hearing about how heresy and bondage to man-made traditions and teaching were squelching the freshness of the newness of their life in Christ. And so, he writes this letter and has it delivered by his fellow bondservant in the Lord. Colossians 4:7 identifies this man as Tychicus.
Paul felt daily pressure upon his heart for the needs, the spiritual needs, of those in the churches that he served. And he rejoiced in suffering because he knew that suffering stimulates spiritual growth. Suffering is God’s primary tool for our sanctification. It is how He refines our faith. It is how He makes us aware of things we did not see in our hearts and our lives that we need to deal with. It is a mercy from God.
So, it’s important to recognize that Paul’s suffering here is all-encompassing, he says in Colossians 1:24 “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.” The mental, physical, and emotional suffering that Paul endured, which all falls under that category of pressure that he spoke of to the Corinthians, is driving him to depend upon Christ and then to show those he served how to depend upon Him as well.
I want you to notice that suffering empowers discipleship in at least three ways. I will illustrate this from other letters of Paul.
Suffering Leads to Deeper Growth
First notice that suffering leads to a deeper, more lasting growth. Paul says in Colossians 1:24 that he chose to find his joy amid suffering because he knew it would benefit those to whom he ministered. He says, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake” (Col. 1:24a). Not only because of what the suffering is doing in me and my sanctification, but how that then is going to have a spillover effect in your life.
Paul is committed to doing his share on behalf of Christ’s body, the church, despite his trials. Robert Gromacki says this: “Christ suffered in death to save the church, and now Paul suffered in life to spare it.”
Paul understood that real-life ministry to real-life sinners was not a simple career choice. It was the very calling of God upon his heart that he could not let go of. God grabbed his heart with the ministry and therefore, Paul couldn’t let go of the ministry because his heart grabbed it too. And it required his very life. It required everything in him because it’s what God appointed for him which includes suffering.
We are reminded of this in Acts 9:15-16 when we see how immediately following Paul’s conversion, Jesus says “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Paul knew from the get-go, like some of the Old Testament prophets, that your life calling is going to include suffering. And Paul embraced that. He didn’t fight against it. He embraced it because he knew what it would do for him in conforming him to Christ. Thus, being more able to help other people.
Notice it says in Colossians 1:24 that Paul’s joy and willingness to suffer for the sake of the church springs from his desire to fill up what is lacking in Christ’s affliction. Now the word lacking does not mean the sufferings of Christ are insufficient for salvation. That’s not what he’s talking about. But rather that there is much more suffering that has to take place on the part of followers of Christ so that the gospel can be taken to all, and that the Earth can see the mercy and kindness and grace of God through living witnesses.
I remember someone many years ago said, “Why didn’t God just write John 3:16 in the sky? You know that would just take care of it for all of us.” Well, because God is a personal God who works through persons to reach other persons. One of the ways he does it is through our suffering causing Christ to be magnified through our suffering.
John Piper explains it this way. “Christ’s afflictions are not lacking in their atoning sufficiency.” In other words, they are not lacking in their ability to atone for our sins. He continues, “They are lacking in that they are not known and felt by people who were not at the cross. “ Paul dedicates himself to not only carry the message of those sufferings to the nations but also to suffer with Christ and for Christ in such a way that what people see are Christ’s sufferings. In this way, he follows the pattern of Christ by laying down his life for the life of the church. So as servants of Christ suffer for his name, the message of the cross continues to be spread.
This was true in Philippi. You might remember that in the book of Philippians, it was through the imprisonment of Paul that the whole prison guard got saved! It was through his suffering that the gospel spread. So as servants of Christ suffer for His name and His sake and the message of the cross continues to be proclaimed.
Suffering Helps You to Become a More Authentic Comforter
I’m drawn to the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 where he says “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Paul rejoiced in his sufferings because he knew that God was using them to produce growth in his own life as a receiver of the comfort of God, which then made him a conduit of God’s comfort.
Please understand that when you are suffering, and God comforts you through his word and his people that comfort is not a cul-de-sac. It doesn’t end with you. It’s not a cul-de-sac, it’s a conduit. God is comforting you because he has other people for you to comfort with the same comfort that he comforted you with. So don’t be stingy with the comfort of God! If God has comforted you through certain trials, don’t keep that to yourself. Tell others that they might be comforted by the comfort of God. Thus, suffering enhances ministry because it produces this common ground by which we can relate to one another. We enter into each other’s troubles and together, we endure suffering.
So, suffering helps us to become more authentic comforters. Why? Because it shows others that we’ve been there.
Suffering Keeps You from Exalting Yourself
Suffering has a unique way of slaying our pride. The prideful ways that we think. The prideful ways of our hearts that are still hidden from us. Suffering has a way of exposing that to us so that we can repent and become humble. This is what Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 12:7. He says “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.”
God loved Paul and had a plan for his ministry, so much so that in his sovereignty He had the devil himself be the delivery boy of a thorn in the flesh in the form of suffering that Paul would have to endure for the rest of his life. He begged God to take it away. Three times, “Take it away, Lord!” God said no.
Like Jacob had the limp after meeting God, so Paul would have this limp. We don’t know what kind of limp it was. Physical, mental, or emotional it doesn’t matter and that’s what I love about that passage of Scripture because it can apply to any thorn in the flesh that we experience. Please understand that with the strength of Christ, He can accomplish more through us when we have a limp than when we have it all together.
And some of you think well, God can’t use me because I don’t have it all together. You’re thinking wrongly about that. One of the very reasons why he can use you and will use you is because of your limp. We are together, limping through the Christian life. So, stop pretending you have it all together. You know you don’t. And I know I don’t. So, let’s help one another. Let’s suffer together for the glory of God.
And through that suffering, God humbles us and therefore makes us more useful to him, Spurgeon said it this way, “Our God takes care always to have security, that if he works a great work by us, we shall not appropriate the glory of it to ourselves.” In other words, if God wants to do a great work through us, He’s going to also do something else so that we don’t take the glory for it.
Spurgeon continues, “He brings us down lower and lower in our own esteem. Some trumpets are so stuffed with self that God cannot blow through them. You may rest quite certain that if God honors a man in public, he takes him aside privately and flogs him well. Otherwise, he would get elevated and proud and God will not have that.”
So, if you want God to use you in ministry in greater and greater ways, you better be honestly prepared for suffering, because that’s how God humbles us and makes us more useful to him. That is the price of ministry. The price of ministry is suffering.