Author: Ron Graham
When the Messiah gave a Mission to his disciples to preach his message to the world, he made them ministers of that message. It is important to understand the "ministry" of the gospel just as it is important to understand the other Ems we have studied so far (Messiah, mission, and message).
If we do not properly understand the ministry, we may not encourage, support, and respect it, nor participate in it as we should. Paul in Colossians tells us, directly and indirectly, some important things about this ministry.
The word "minister" in the Greek (the language Paul used to write to the Colossians) is which is a normal Greek word for "servant". Your translation may even use the word "servant" rather than "minister". When we talk of "ministers" in the church, we should always think of servants. When we talk of "ministry" we should be thinking of serving. The people of the church do not serve the ministers, the ministers serve the people.
In the same way, the message is not something that belongs to the minister, it is something that belongs to the world and which the minister must deliver to the world as the servant of Christ.
Paul twice says, "I was made a minister" (verses 23,25). We can better understand the true nature of the ministry by listening to what Paul says about his own ministry.
Paul calls himself "an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God". The word apostle means "one sent" and we have already examined the mission which Jesus gave his disciples. The mission and message of an apostle was the same mission and message given to every disciple. The choosing of the apostles for the ministry was special to be sure, and they were the vanguard of Christ's ministers. Their ministry, however, was the same ministry as any Christian’s, namely to proclaim the gospel, the word of Christ.
Paul's ministry was not characterised by luxury, but by hardship and struggle. He wore no fine robes, nor did he officiate in grand cathedrals. He speaks of his "sufferings for your sake" and "how great a struggle I have on your behalf" (Colossians 1:24, Colossians 2:1). He was dedicated in a sacrificial service to others. "Struggle" was the nature of Paul's ministry, and while his experiences may have been extreme, a true ministry will be characterised by service in suffering and struggle.
Although Paul’s ministry caused him much suffering, he was not miserable in the ministry but joyous in it. His labor gave him much satisfaction and personal fulfillment. Paul makes this personal comment to the Colossians. "Even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ" (Colossians 2:5, cf Colossians 1:3-4). Paul could see that his struggle was achieving and contributing to something of great value. That's the way the true minister feels about his ministry. It hurts, but he doesn’t want to stop.
Colossians 1:7, Colossians 4:7,17
Paul calls Tychicus "a faithful minister and fellow bond-slave in the Lord" (Colossians 4:7). He had used the same description of Epaphrus (Colossians 1:7). Paul charges Archippus, "Take heed to your ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may keep fulfilling it" (Colossians 4:17). Paul did not regard himself as alone in the ministry, nor as superior in it. He recognised that others had been given the same ministry by the Lord Jesus.
Paul names many other men in chapter four who are also apparently regarded by Paul as his fellows in the ministry. There is Onesimus, Aristarchus, Barnabas, Mark, Jesus, Luke, Demas, and Nymphas. We understand therefore that there is not one person who we call "the minister" but that the ministry is given to many.
Some use the term "mutual ministry" to refer to the practice of every baptized male taking his turn in the pulpit regardless of whether or not he is dedicated and competent. I disagree with that form of mutual ministry. There is however a characteristic of one-anotherness in the true ministry of the gospel. It is not meant to be a "one-man ministry" where one man is the Boss Preacher so to speak, and takes pre-eminence, but where those who preach are servants, serving together in mutual encouragement, respect, and love.
A shared ministry should not mean a lowered standard of ministry. We ought not to seek more ministers at the expense of quality. Paul’s remark to Archippus, "Take heed to your ministry..." (Colossians 4:17) hints that Archippus needed to lift his game. There is no place in the ministry of the gospel for the semi-dedicated. Every minister must be able to say, "I labor, striving according to His power which works mightily in me" (Colossians 1:29).
In Colossians Paul mentions many of the marks that characterise a true minister and his ministry. To be sure, some of these apply to all Christians in general, but then all Christians are ministers to some extent, and to whatever degree one is a minister of the gospel, one must attain to the high standard set by the Lord.