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Colossians 1:28-2:5

We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. (1:28-2:1)


Perfect? Really?

Paul says that’s his aim in ministry – presenting “everyone perfect in Christ.” What an incredibly high goal!

But what does it actually mean?

The root behind this word has the meaning “appointed end,” and therefore refers to something coming to completeness, not lacking anything, and so in that sense being perfect.

Sometimes the word is used in its full, undiminished sense, as when James speaks of “the perfect law that gives freedom” (James 1:25), or of “every good and perfect gift” which comes from the Father (James 1:17). These usages reverberate with the perfection of God himself.

But Paul often uses the same word to refer to maturity in Christ, as when he speaks of “all of us … who are mature” (Philippians 3:15). He’s referring to a state of discipleship which he longs to see people step into right now, during this lifetime. Used in this sense, it’s not a final goal, as if those who are “mature” have fully arrived. Paul himself claimed, “not that I have already … arrived at my goal, but I press on” (Philippians 3:12). Maturity is a work in progress. But even then, Paul’s long-range sights are firmly set on the completion of the process, on that time when God’s work will be brought to its fully appointed end, on the day of Christ (Philippians 1:6). Perfect.

No wonder, then, that Paul says this goal requires him to “labour, struggling.”These are two intense words. “Labour” implies growing weary and exhausted in the effort, toiling with physical engagement. “Struggling” is a word that comes from the gymnastic games, contending with opponents, indeed fighting with strenuous zeal, encountering difficulties and sometimes danger. The two words together imply great effort and engagement on the part of the Apostle.

Two things stand out:

(1) Although it’s his “labour,” Paul says it only happens with the Lord’s power. In fact, he piles one word on top of another to make the point clear. Literally, Paul says his labour is “according to his working which works in me in power.” What an amazing insight. Paul engages, strenuously, but it’s not about him. All along it’s the Lord’s “working,” working in Paul, fueled by the Lord’s own “power.” Paul isn’t passive, hanging back, disengaged. But he fully realizes that when he himself actively engages in ministry, it’s all about the Lord.

(2) This struggling labour that Paul carries out for the Colossians and Laodiceans is different than what we might first imagine. Likely Paul has never met them face to face and he clearly isn’t physically with them at the moment. What, then, is the nature of his work? Certainly it includes the letter he is currently writing. But I wonder if Paul has something even more foundational in mind. At the end of this letter, he uses the very same word (“struggling”) to describe the activity of Epaphras for the Colossians, even at a distance. Paul says, “he is always wrestling in prayer for you” (Colossians 4:12). I think this, too, is the hard, labouring work that Paul himself is carrying out for the Colossians – he’s wrestling in prayer. It’s good work, but strenuous and intense.

Maturity – that’s the goal. Indeed, to be perfect in Christ – that’s where we’re headed. It can only happen by the powerful working of the Lord himself. Yet, he chooses to work through his servants – people like Paul and Epaphras – to labour strenuously to see that work accomplished. And so much of it happens simply in prayer.

He wants to use us, too. Labour. Struggle. Wrestle. Pray.


Lord, I offer myself to you afresh to labour for your kingdom. It only happens by your powerful working within me. Fulfill your purposes. Fuel my prayer. Here I am.


Reflect: What work does the Lord have for you in prayer? Submit to his powerful working. Welcome his power. Engage.


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