There's simply no restrained or measured way of saying it: Colossians 1:29 is a stunning passage of Scripture! The ESV renders it this way: "For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me." The NASB reads, "For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me."
There are several reasons why I'm excited about this text. Let me begin with Paul's description of his ministry. But don't disengage. Don't think this passage is irrelevant to you simply because you are neither an apostle nor in vocational ministry. Remember what we saw in the previous lesson: the very words Paul uses in Colossians 1:28 to describe his apostolic ministry on behalf of all men ("teach", "admonish", "in all wisdom") are used in Colossians 3:16 to describe your responsibility in ministry on behalf of others in the body of Christ.
So how does Paul envision ministry? Put simply, it's really hard work! Look at his words: "For this I toil, struggling . . ." By "this" Paul probably has in mind the full scope of ministry described in v. 28 – proclamation of the gospel of Christ, admonition concerning sin and repentance, instruction in the truths of the faith, all with a view to presenting every person complete in Christ.
The reason it requires "toil" (the focus of this word is not on mere labor but on the exhaustion and weariness that it induces) and "struggling" is not hard to understand. On the one hand, there are our own fleshly desires and bodily weaknesses to contend with. The physical demands of ministry are obvious. For people like Paul, one must also include persecution and pain and imprisonment (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:22-29).
There is also the instinctive tendency toward laziness and self-indulgence. We are prone to quit when times get tough. It's so much easier to just give up. The frustration and discouragement and disillusionment of dealing with human sin on a daily basis make it all too easy to rationalize abandoning the hard work of ministry.
We shouldn't forget the obstacles to ministry posed by those to whom we minister. Notwithstanding our best and most compassionate efforts to be of help, they often want nothing more than to argue and to dispute our doctrine. When you expend yourself in service of another and all you receive in return is either ingratitude or the misinterpretation of your motives and the slander it so often brings, it's hard to stay the course. To use Paul's words, it's a struggle!
As if that weren't enough, we also have to do battle with the devil. The daily barrage of accusation, temptation, and multiple efforts to undermine what we have accomplished weigh heavily on the human soul.
These and countless other expressions of resistance and opposition are undoubtedly what Paul had in mind. So, yes, there is toil and struggle and strain and effort in ministry that can so easily discourage and dishearten those who are not reliant on the power that God supplies.
"You're laying a pretty heavy burden on us Sam. Consistently proclaiming Christ, especially in the face of ridicule, resistance, and worldly opposition, not to mention demonic assault, is a tall order. Then telling us we are responsible, as Paul was, to admonish and instruct one another. I can barely find strength and incentive to get through the day. What makes you think I can pull this off?"
Needless to say, some don't. We hear all too often of "burn out," of those who run dry, whose disillusionment is greater than their determination. The prospect of facing another day of pouring out oneself for the sake of those who couldn't care less can take its toll on the human soul. I can't tell you how many times I've heard pastors say, "I'm fed up, beat up, worn out, done in. Enough's enough. I'm out'a here."
So how did Paul pull it off? Far from being exempt from the trials we face, he endured more than any of us ever will. So what accounts for his endurance? What was the secret to his perseverance?
The answer is two-fold. In the first place, HE RETAINED AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE. "We do not lose heart," said Paul, "as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:16,18).
But second, as stated in our passage in Colossians 1, HE RELIED ON AN ETERNAL POWER. Look again at v. 29. Paul toils and struggles "with all his [God's] energy that he powerfully works within me." The ultimate antidote to the burning out of the human spirit is the burning in of the divine! That is our focus in the next lesson.
Toiling and struggling with you and for you,