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Colossians 1:23-25 BBE If you keep yourselves safely based in the faith, not moved from the hope of the good news which came to you, and which was given to every living being under heaven; of which I, Paul, was made a servant. (24) Now I have joy in my pain because of you, and in my flesh I undergo whatever is still needed to make the sorrows of Christ complete, for the salvation of his body, the church; (25) Of which I became a servant by the purpose of God which was given to me for you, to give effect to the word of God,
Paul says he was "made a servant" of the gospel and that he "became a servant" of the church. That this service was by the "purpose of God" and was "given to me" not for his own self-expression but "for you". Furthermore Paul says that his sufferings and imprisonment were "for the salvation of His body, the church". Paul was pouring himself out for the gospel and the church, right until death. Paul had apostolic authority - but it was an authority born out of suffering and service.
As Menno Simons, the founding father of the Mennonites said: "Spiritual authority is never to make the rebel conform; its only purpose is to enable the obedient person to live a holy life. Therefore it rests on obedience and submission freely given. Furthermore, spiritual authority has only spiritual means at its disposal; its only weapons are prayer, scripture, counsel and the power of a holy life."
Paul's spiritual authority was grounded, first of all, in his call. He knew that God had appointed him to the job and that this calling was serious, high and holy. In 1 Corinthians Paul even says: "1Cor. 9:16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; for woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.". There was no glory - it was a duty and a calling. It was an absolute necessity, and if he shirked it - there would be "woe".
On the BBC this evening there was an interview with an Israeli major who was a "refusnik" - that is he was refusing to serve in West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon or in the occupied territories. The BBC interviewer was quite insistent that this was a violation of army discipline. She was right. When you serve in the army, whether military or spiritual, you are a person under orders, a person with a "charge" that you must keep. You have many privileges but you also have no choice and at times you must go into places where you know you will suffer. Paul knew this, and believed this and served the gospel.
Serving as a missionary or a minister is not about "expressing your gifts", or some wonderful form of self actualization that leads to green pastures and great comfort and existential bliss. Its about serving the gospel and serving the church, at great cost, even to imprisonment and death. Jesus told Peter that at the end Peter would be imprisoned and executed. "John 21:18 BBE Truly I say to you, When you were young, you made yourself ready and went wherever you had a desire to go: but when you are old, you will put out your hands and another will make you ready, and you will be taken where you have no desire to go." Faithful ministry quite often takes us to places where we "have no desire to go". Its about serving God, even if we end up martyred, or poor, or in a small church or without much in the way of recognition.
Paul's authority came because he truly was "a servant of all" (Mar 10:44 And whoever has a desire to be first among you, let him be servant of all.) Paul did not refuse the hard yards, or sniff at suffering, or only go where he was admired, or only preach the gospel when it would be well received and suitably rewarded. Paul defined his entire life as a servant of the gospel and of the church. If we wish to be true servants of God, and have real spiritual authority, we must do the same.
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