I realize the phrase, “Joyful Labour”, sounds like an oxymoron. And yet, as I read the apostle Paul’s description of his ministry in Colossians 1, I can’t think of a better description.
Ministry can be hard. Proclaiming the Gospel within a pluralistic society can get you into trouble. Paul knew this first hand. Paul was well acquainted with suffering for the Gospel (see 2 Corinthians 11:22ff), but instead of complaining he tells the Christians in Colossae,
I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of the body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24)
I don’t know about you, but I read that and I ask, ‘How did Paul do it?’ What enabled Paul’s joy? What was the basis for it? Because if we can answer these questions, we can begin to position ourselves on a similar track.
1. Suffering for the Gospel connects Paul to Jesus Christ and His suffering (see also Philippians 3:10)
2. Suffering for the Gospel will help the church to progress and mature
3. Suffering for the Gospel will help to advance the Gospel
4. Suffering for the Gospel connects Paul to Jesus Christ and His power
This 4th prong is described by Paul in 1:29, “To this end” (i.e. helping the church mature, and the Gospel to advance), “I labour, struggling (literally, ‘agonizing’) with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.”
This 4th prong might be the most immediately relevant for us. We want the church to grow, we want the Gospel to advance, but we think that now is not a good time for us to be leading the charge. We see all that Paul has endured, and all that Paul is doing, and many of us imagine that this is beyond us. We imagine our plate to be too full. We’re feeling as though our energy is spent.
But then along comes Paul who tells us that our energy is not the critical variable in this equation. When we labour for Christ and His church, we’re to do so with His energy.
As we think about serving the local church and engaging in Christ’s mission in this world, be encouraged to know that you are not simply giving, but you are also receiving.
We need not be worn out by ministering to others. It is God’s design for our kingdom labour to be accompanied by abundant resources and by great joy. I pray that will be your experience—today, and always!