God had an eternal purpose to establish the church based on the work and merit of Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:11). He knew that man would sin, sever his relationship with God, and instigate division with other people. So, He devised a plan to pay for all of mankind’s sins, restore their relationship with Him, and foster human unity. This plan was Christ and the church. Paul discusses this in detail in Ephesians chapters two and three. In Colossians 1:24-29 he summarizes this as He focuses on the central Person of that plan, Jesus Christ.
Paul was behind this plan one hundred percent and suffered because of it, but he rejoiced in those sufferings knowing that God’s eternal purpose was being fulfilled. Paul’s desire was to “fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” He was not suggesting that Christ’s afflictions lacked anything. Rather, it was he who lacked the level of sufferings that Christ experienced. As Christ suffered so that He might establish the church, Paul also sought to follow that example that he might know “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10).
For the church, Christ made Paul a minister (diakonos). This is the Greek word from which the English word deacon derives and correlates to the specific service to which God called Paul: to minister the word of God to the gentiles (Acts 9:15-16, Rom. 15:16). God wanted the gentiles to know the gospel so that they could be part of the church.
God’s purposes, however, were not always fully known. They were, at one time, a mystery that even the angels sought to understand (1 Pet. 1:12). This mystery was hidden for many years by God, veiled in prophecies that hinted at, but did not fully reveal, the gospel. God unveiled this message, however, to Paul and the other apostles through revelation, and they preached it plainly to those who would hear and obey (Rom. 16:25-26, 1 Cor. 2:10-13).
What is the central message of this revealed mystery? It is Christ in you, the hope of glory. To fully restore the broken relationship created by sin, God offered the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus Christ. He punished Him for the sins of the world so that He could be both just and the justifier of them that believe (Rom. 3:26). This sacrifice restored fellowship between God and mankind and provided the basis upon which every single person could come together in loving fellowship in the church. Christ Himself is the wealth of this mystery, and He dwells in the heart of every believer (Eph. 3:17). His Spirit treats every Christian as His holy temple (1 Cor. 6:19).
Only Christ gives the hope of glory guaranteed to the Christian by His indwelling Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22, Eph. 1:14). Just as Christ was glorified by resurrection, the Christian will be glorified with a resurrected body to dwell in eternity (1 Cor. 15:50-54). This hope is the anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, linked to Jesus (Heb. 6:19-20).
Having these great blessings in Jesus Christ, Paul let others know about it. “Him we preach!” This preaching involves both warning and teaching in all wisdom. This wisdom comes from above, not from below (Jas. 3:13-18). Only in Christ may one obtain “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). Philosophers have sought this for generations. The so-called great men of the world have never ceased to look for it, but without Christ, they are doomed to futility.
The purpose of communicating this truth is that everyone may be presented perfect in Christ Jesus. The word “perfect” comes from the Greek word teleios. It means to be brought to an end, completed, finished. In reference to people, it means that one is a full-grown adult, mature, capable of reproduction. God wants spiritual adults who may reproduce and fulfill His purposes—Christians who can produce more Christians—so that as many people as possible may come into the body of Christ. To this end, Paul worked, and it is the end to which Christians must work today.