90 Days With Jesus, Day 1: Colossians 1:1: A Task Not a Title

Day 1, Colossians 1:1: A Task Not a Title

Saint Paul Preaching on Mars Hill
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother…”

There are a lot of preachers who say things like this today. You have heard them: “I have been called by God to preach.” Paul makes such an audacious claim himself. How do we know who has been and who has not been called to be a preacher of the Gospel? I think the difference is found in the content of their message. Paul makes this claim of apostleship and we can verify if this is true or not by the content of his message. We can verify if he is specifically and apostle of Christ Jesus by the content of his Gospel. And that he claims to be an apostle of Jesus Christ in and of itself tells us much.

Jesus said in John that he only did what he saw the Father doing, he only spoke what he heard the Father saying, and he only (always) did what pleased the Father. If Jesus sent Paul, or made him an apostle, it is pleasing to the Father and the will of the Father that he do so. Jesus works in complete harmony withand not in antagonism to the will of the Father. But we can also say that if Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ then he is an apostle of no one else. He serves Jesus Christ and no one else. He does the will of Jesus, serves the mission of Jesus, preaches the Gospel of Jesus. Paul’s apostleship is about Jesus Christ. The work he does in the Name of and on behalf of Jesus Christ testifies to Jesus Christ alone. Paul is not about to be one of those double-talking snake-handlers. He remarks at the very beginning of this letter that he, and thus all that he will write, are working and writing about Jesus Christ. But also, we might say this: Ministry chooses us, or we are chosen for ministry. We who do it do not choose it. It is a course marked out for those who preach by God himself. This is where the authority comes from. (At least this is true in Paul’s case. There may be significant debate about who in the present church, if any, has such authority. That is, to be sure, another conversation.)

Paul as an apostle of Jesus Christ both belongs to (was sent from) and is about Jesus Christ. This happened by the will of God. Paul is very keen to understand the who, and what, and why of his apostleship. He places the blame squarely on God. The origin of Paul’s authority then is not in question. Like Jesus said in John’s Gospel, if they accept you, they will accept the one who sent you. Paul writes to the Colossians based on this authority alone. Paul demonstrates early in the letter that he is a servant of God’s will. Some might say this is rather convenient, I say it is rather comforting. Not too many people claimed said authority and those who did had their message scrutinized. The field was narrowed and only those who were truly chosen by the will of God remained authorities.

Thus Paul’s ambitions in writing are not self-centered or self-important. His ambitions are God’s ambitions—in the sense that he is doing the will of God. He is doing what the Father wills and teaching in accordance with that will. I think perhaps it is hard for us to get our heads around this at times, but these letters are not American greetings. These letters are imbued with the authority and power and wisdom of God. Paul in testifying to his apostleship being a matter not of his choice but of God’s will demonstrates that this letter, written under that authority, is binding for Christians who read it: it is God’s Word to us; not Paul’s. Further, Paul is acting under the authority of Jesus Christ to whom he belongs. If we happen to find it necessary to reject the letters of Paul, we are finding ourselves in opposition to the One who commissioned Paul and commanded him to write. We don’t have the right to challenge or abrogate the words of Paul any more than the we do the Words of Christ.

N. T. Wright wrote, “The supporting claim, that his apostleship came about by (literally, ‘through’) the will of God, is not merely an indication of the ultimate source of this authority, but a linking of Paul’s task to the over-arching divine plan of salvation which, prepared in the Old Testament and brought to a climax in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, was now being put into effect through the world-wide mission in which Paul had been allotted a key initiating role.”—(Tyndale Commentary on the New Testament, Colossians & Philemon, 46)

So what about us? What does all this mean for those of us who read now some 2,000 years later? Well, for one thing, it seems abundantly clear that Paul was called to a task and not to a title. Paul understood well the nature of his existence. He understood that he had a task before him—a task assigned him by God. Throughout the remainder of this letter we will see how seriously he took that task. He was called to proclaim Christ and he will do that well. We should remember that we may not be called to be apostles, but we too are called to the task of proclaiming Christ.

A second point is this, I haven’t mentioned Timothy’s name yet, but his role is important. Throughout this letter Paul will demonstrate that he was not the be all and end all. His task was shared by others, Timothy, Epaphras, Tychicus, Aristarchus and many more. Paul needed, and evidently desired, others to share in the task he had been assigned. We cannot go this alone. The task before us is too weighty for us to do by ourselves.

Finally, in being declared an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God he is to considered in a long line of prophets who have been specially designated by God to preach the Gospel. He is in line with Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Joshua, Jonah, David and more. This shows a continuity with and a continuation of the Work of God in Paul’s life. People were well advised to listen to the Prophets of old. I suspect we would be well advised to listen to this prophet of today (Paul) as He declares to us what was hidden from all the rest: Jesus the Christ, The Supreme One, The Sufficient One.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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  1. Carol Price

    Welcome back Jerry.




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