I Labor, Yet Not I
Paul’s Work For God
A. The Goal: Presenting Men Perfect in Christ.
a. This refers back to verse 28, where Paul speaks the purpose of his ministry.
b. The purpose of his ministry was to “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”
c. Whereunto… (eis) = unto this goal… in this direction… toward this end… Paul labored.
d. Paul’s entire life’s work was directed toward that end… to see men, women, and children come to know Christ, grow in Him, mature, and become fruitful… and thus READY to be presented before the Judgment Seat.
e. In vs. 28 Paul tells us the purpose of his ministry.
f. In vs. 29 he tells us that this goal was that for which he labored diligently… and strove to accomplish.
g. The perfection of the saints was the purpose of his ministry. It was also the goal of all his labors and efforts… to present believers perfect before the Bema.
B. The Labor:
1. The term defined: (kopiw)
a. Strong’s: to grow weary, tired, exhausted (with toil or burdens or grief), to labour with wearisome effort.
b. Wuest: “to grow weary, exhausted, to labor with wearisome effort, to labor to the point of exhaustion.”
c. Lightfoot; “This word is used especially of the labor undergone by the athlete in his training.”
2. The verb: present active indicative.
a. Present: Paul worked continually… without ceasing… with this goal in mind.
b. Active: Paul was the subject of the action… HE did the work. There was nothing passive about Paul’s ministry.
c. This verb does NOT indicate God working in Paul. Rather, it speaks of Paul himself doing the work.
d. Paul worked in the ministry… and he worked hard… continually.
3. The ministry OUGHT to be hard work… in spite of all the jokes to the contrary… and I’ve heard them all!
4. Sometimes the ministry is hard work physically.
a. John 4:6 – Jesus labored to the point of exhaustion in the ministry.
• Jesus sat on the well… all alone… wearied (same word). He wasn’t pretending to be weary. He WAS weary!
• He had gone way out of His way to meet with this woman at the well, so that He might minister to her.
• He sat there all alone on the well… his disciples had gone into town; Christ was there alone… waiting for a private meeting with the Samaritan woman: a sinful, immoral woman who was presently living in sin…
• He had a long conversation with her about Living Water… and her soul’s need.
• Jesus labored hard. He walked many miles to get there.
• He broke the taboos of the people by speaking to a Samaritan woman. But His toil and labor paid off: she got saved and brought other men to Christ!
• But this work left Christ weary… exhausted.
4. Sometimes the ministry is hard work spiritually.
a. I Cor. 9:25 – striving for the mastery.
• There is agony and struggle involved in keeping oneself pure… fit for the Master’s use.
• Just as athletes exert much effort, energy, and sacrifice into their endeavors, the servant of the Lord is to do no less in a far more important race: the Christian life!
• This requires effort, battles to face, foes to face, and dealing with our sin nature on a daily basis…
• There is the struggle of trusting God moment by moment… (when the tendency is to trust in self)
• There is the struggle of trusting in God’s Word… rather than leaning on our own understanding…
• There is the struggle of keeping our old man on the cross by faith…
• There is the struggle of dealing with pride, anger, lust, greed, selfishness, worldliness, etc… facing the enemy within!
• This is fighting the good fight (the good struggle) of the faith…
• To do it well requires all the effort, dedication, and sacrifice of an Olympic athlete.
b. I Thess. 5:12 – there are men in the local church who LABOR over the flock… and their work is very rarely seen.
• This refers to the elders and their oversight. It is hard work… meeting with believers, discussing issues, problems, agonizing over the best way to treat delicate subjects; dealing with matters of discipline, studying the Word and teaching. It is hard work.
• Often the decisions are misunderstood by the flock because they are not privy to all the information that went into making the decision. Then there is hard work dealing with the aftermath.
• We might apply this to the deacons too. They sacrifice precious time too to meet and discuss the Lord’s work… keep the books… keep track of the building… fixing broken things… etc.
• There is much LABOR involved in serving God by ministering to the needs of His people.
6. The Bible is crystal clear on this point: those who serve the Lord are to work hard… diligently…
a. Ecc. 12:12 – “much study is a weariness of the flesh.”
b. I Tim. 5:17 – some elders labor in the Word and doctrine.
c. II Tim. 2:15 – studying and rightly dividing the word is work… it requires a workman… a laborer… and one who labors thus need not be ashamed (in spite of all the jokes!)
d. In I Cor. 15:10, Paul stated that he “labored more abundantly than them all!” He wasn’t boasting (as we’ll see later). He was simply stating a fact.
7. Hard work applies not only to the pastor and the missionary but it applies to ALL the servants of God in His work!
a. The Sunday school teacher, deacon, elder, nursery worker, clean up crew, and every other ministry in the local church…
b. But especially so with those who labor in the Word of God.
c. Rom. 16:12 – God honors those who labor in the work of the Lord. There is a long list of men and women who worked together in the things of Christ… and worked hard. God praises their labors here.
d. Perhaps some folks here are relatively new… and have no idea of how much work is involved, and how many members it takes laboring together for the services on the Lord’s Day to function smoothly. (nursery; clean up crew; Sunday school teachers; officers meetings; making bulletins; ushering; checking the parking lot; setting up chairs; preparing for the Lord’s Table; fellowship night; clean up; preparing piano pieces; choir rehearsal; taking out the trash; mowing the lawn; etc…)
e. Have you any idea of how much work is involved in putting on a church dinner? A musical program? Building maintenance? Landscaping? A ladies’ banquet? A VBS program? Mission trip? Awana?
f. Somebody has to DO all that work. It doesn’t get done by itself.
g. That’s the way God designed the Body to function—like our human body. Lots of functions and operations are going on inside quietly and unnoticed… but they are absolutely necessary.
h. I Cor. 15:58 – “Therefore my beloved brethren, be YE steadfast, unmovable, always ABOUNDING in the work of the Lord… forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
8. Resting in the Lord does not mean that we are absolved from all responsibility to WORK for the Lord.
a. One man put it this way: “Truly to rest in God is to yield oneself up to the highest activity.”
b. When we by faith enter into God’s rest, this kind of toil and labor… while it may be physically and spiritually exhausting… it does not wear us out or burn us out. It is in fact a delight!
c. We may be physically tired in the Lord’s work… we may be emotionally drained… but at perfect peace and rest in our mind, heart, and conscience!
d. That’s God’s rest. And His rest does not mean inactivity. It means powerful service for His glory!
C. The Striving:
1. The term: agonizomai:
a. Strong’s: to enter a contest: contend in the gymnastic games. 2 to contend with adversaries, fight. 3 metaph. to contend, struggle, with difficulties and dangers. 4 to endeavor with strenuous zeal, strive: to obtain something.
b. Wuest: To agonize, a favorite metaphor with Paul who is now a prisoner.
c. Lightfoot: to contend in athletic games.
d. I Tim. 6:12 – “fight the good fight of faith.” (same word)
e. II Tim. 4:7 – “I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course…”
f. A noun form of this term is used of the Lord in Gethsemane when He agonized over facing the cross. (Luke 22:44)
• Agonia: a struggle for victory. 1a gymnastic exercise, wrestling. 2 of severe mental struggles and emotions, agony, anguish.
• Fulfilling the will of God caused the Lord Jesus to experience great agony… but He submitted to it… and said, “Not my will but thine be done.”
• That is the spiritual struggle… (Contest or battle) we all face: learning to submit to “not my will but thine be done.”
2. Paul seemed to have SPIRITUAL toil and agony in mind.
a. Agonizing in prayer. (Col. 4:12)
b. Agonizing over souls.
c. The spiritual care (burden) of the churches on the heart of a minister. (II Cor. 11:28)
d. Agonizing over believers who are not getting along.
e. Agonizing over divisive issues that arise among the saints.
f. Agonizing over the influence of the world in the lives of believers.
g. Agonizing over the incredibly slow growth of the church… and of what seems like such little visible fruit…
h. If a pastor or missionary thinks of his ministry just as a “job”… and isn’t involved in the lives of the people… isn’t burdened for them… then the “job” is relatively easy… burden free. But when there IS a deep love for the sheep… and concern for them, for their families, for their growth… then the ministry is agonizing.
3. The ministry can be agonizing… on many different levels.
a. Gal. 4:11 – Paul poured his heart and soul into those folks… and then agonized over the fact that all his labor might be in vain… IF they listen to the false teachers.
b. It can be agonizing… discouraging to put so much effort into an individual, a family, a couple… and then see them wander away… turn sour over the local church… reject counsel…
c. It can be agonizingly discouraging to put much time and effort into witnessing to a loved one… and to see him reject it all lightly.
d. But we fight on… fighting the good fight… and we never, never, never give up!
God’s Work Through Paul
A. Paul’s Striving was God Working
1. This indicates that the work in which Paul was engaged was a work that was beyond his ability to perform!
a. He needed a power beyond himself… he needed supernatural power.
b. As a hunk of clay, Paul had no power to transform lives and to prepare men for the Judgment Seat of Christ.
c. Paul acknowledges that in carrying out this great work, it required CHRIST working in him… and through him.
d. And this is exactly what God has supplied: Christ in us the hope of glory!
e. I Cor. 15:10 – it was by God’s grace that Paul was able to labor for His name.
2. Paul’s striving was in reality GOD working in him.
a. The apostle is acknowledging his utter weakness.
b. In fact, it is only when we acknowledge our utter weakness that God’s power is free to operate in and through us!
c. Thus, Paul states that he labored and strove with great intensity in order to accomplish a task that was completely beyond his ability to perform. (saving souls; bringing men to perfection)
d. And the reason he is able to accomplish the impossible is because of the God of the impossible dwells within him… empowers him… and God accomplishes HIS perfect will through a weak, but surrendered vessel.
e. That’s all God needs… and that is the only vessel He will empower and use! He doesn’t need great talents and human strength…
f. God delights in manifesting HIS power and glory through old clay pots like us!
g. As Paul strove, he FELT weak and powerless.
• I Cor. 2:1-5 – Paul approached the Corinthians in his own weakness.
• He did not come with excellency of speech. He wasn’t trying to dazzle them with his skills in oratory.
• Vs. 2 – in fact, he avoided the “heady” issues and stuck to the basics: Christ and the cross!
• He came to them acknowledging his weakness; in fear and trembling.
• He KNEW that the task before him was entirely beyond his ability to perform: he can’t save souls!
• He was not going to argue folks into salvation; or persuade them to believe by his airtight arguments;
• Instead Paul came to them fearful… painfully aware of his own frailty… and the power of the enemy… and how easily he could revert to the flesh… trust in his own wisdom or his own strength… and thus nullify God’s power in him.
• Vs. 4 – Paul came to labor for the Lord conscious of his utter helplessness, and yielded himself to God so that THROUGH that clay pot might be demonstrated the POWER of the indwelling Spirit of God.
• Powerful things occurred as a result of Paul’s labors there: souls were saved; a church was established; believers grew into the image of Christ;
• But this was NOT a demonstration of Paul’s skills or wisdom. It was a demonstration of GOD working in him!
• So don’t be discouraged if you FEEL inadequate to teach Sunday school or serve in Awana or some other ministry. That fear is spiritually healthy… and will cause you to lean on the Lord and His strength…
• The end result of that kind of ministry is a demonstration of God’s power… unto God’s glory.
• God doesn’t need smart people; rich people; talented people; He needs and uses yielded and surrendered people… like a little boy with a lunch to offer Jesus!
h. I Pet. 4:10-11 – we labor and serve according to “the ability which God giveth.” Hence, when the work is done, God gets all the glory. It is HIS work in and through us. We are a mere vessel.
3. All of Paul’s efforts (or my efforts or yours!) in serving the Lord are absolutely useless apart from God working in us.
a. Whether we preach a sermon, sing in the choir, share the gospel, admonish a brother, or serve in a host of other ways… unless it is Christ working in us… it is wood, hay, and stubble.
b. Whatever we do on our own… in our own power, strength, in our own wisdom, according to our own “leading”… is of no value whatsoever in the Lord’s service… regardless of how humanly talented we are… or how much energy and effort we put into it.
c. It is nothing but a demonstration of the flesh… and every manifestation of the flesh is nauseous in God’s sight… for in our flesh dwells NO good thing.
B. God Worked in Paul
1. This made Paul’s ministry to people personal.
2. God works in the local in a very personal way too.
a. God works IN the shepherd of each individual flock and He leads the shepherd to preach, warn, and teach according to what that particular flock needs to hear!
b. I pray each morning that the Lord would lead me IN His Word to the passages and truths that I and the rest of the sheep at Salem Bible Church need to hear… so that the messages will be directed of the Spirit of God towards this particular body of believers.
c. Christ is the HEAD of the Body and He directs the Body from heaven… by using Spirit filled and Spirit led men.
d. Christ is IN us… and WORKS in us… to accomplish HIS will and to perform HIS works on earth.
e. This makes Body life exceptionally personal… intimate… a demonstration of God’s power… and the indwelling LIFE of Christ.
3. Hence, while there are much better preachers and Bible teachers on the radio, they are NOT led by the Spirit to feed THIS flock.
a. They can give food that is good in a generic sense… good for all sheep.
b. However, they cannot provide specific teaching that this flock needs to hear at this particular time.
c. There is an army of “Home Baptists” who don’t go to church, but stay home and listen to the good preachers on the radio.
d. And while they are able to hear some excellent messages, they are missing out on the personal element of the local church… something GOD ordained…
4. Christianity is PERSONAL… Christianity is Christ in you the hope of glory.
a. Hence, Paul not only taught the Colossians about this wonderful mystery truth. He also LIVED it… and practiced it as he conducted his ministry for the Lord.
b. Eph. 3:20-21 – according to the power that worketh in us. Hence, GOD gets all the glory for all the good that is accomplished. It was His power operating in us.
c. Eph. 3:7 – God gives us a gift and effectually works in us to use that gift.
d. He was no different than they were: Christ lived and worked in him too!
C. God Worked in Paul Mightily
1. Paul was able to accomplish whatever God wanted to accomplish through him.
2. Paul had omnipotence working in him. Whatever God led him to do, he was ABLE to perform!
3. If Paul failed to accomplish what God led him to do, it was not because of a lack of power. It was because of a lack of faith.
4. Paul never resorted to ministerial tricks and gimmicks in the Lord’s work. (I Thess. 2:3-6)
a. He didn’t HAVE to. By faith, reckoning self to be dead, he relied solely upon the power of God working in him.
b. And he found God’s power and grace to be sufficient for all. He had omnipotence on his side.
c. Why resort to trusting in that which is infinitely weaker? (flesh; human reasoning; tricks).
d. The neo-evangelicals of today resort to such tricks in the Lord’s work… because they are lacking the power of God.
e. We don’t have to rely on rock music to attract young people to church. We don’t have to rely upon polls and surveys to determine what people want in a church.
f. All we have to do is the WORK of the Lord… work diligently at what the BIBLE says to do. (Go into the world and preach)… and trust God for the outcome.
g. We do our part. We plant and water, but God gives the increase. Plant and water in faith… trusting and believing that it is God working in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure… and trust Him for the outcome.
h. We do the work… but it is truly God’s work in us.
5. I Cor. 3:9 – we are laborers together with God.
6. ILLUSTRATION: Fighting the battles of the Lord.
a. Ps. 33:16-22 – no king is saved by his army!
b. Ps. 44:6-8 – don’t trust in your human or earthly abilities.
c. Prov. 21:31 – The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety? is of the LORD.
d. Joshua 10
• Vs. 28- Joshua and his army fought against the city of Makkedah and smote it with their swords. It was a real battle…
• Vs. 29-30 – Joshua then fought against Libnah… and God gave them a great victory. But Joshua had to fight the battle.
• Vs. 31-32 – Then Joshua and his army came to Lachish and fought against. They engaged in a real struggle… a fight to the end. God gave them victory.
• Vs. 34-35 – Joshua then fought against Eglon… and God gave them victory.
• Vs. 38 – then Joshua fought against Debir and won a great victory.
• Vs. 40-42 – Joshua fought throughout the whole land… battle after battle. They were COMMANDED and led of the Lord in each case. And they were guaranteed victory too. They won victory because the LORD fought for them!
• God did not fight INSTEAD of them… but for them AS they took out their sword and engaged in the battle.
• As Joshua and his men OBEYED the clear command of God and walked by faith in obedience to His Word… God gave them victory after victory.
• Walking by faith… and engaging in spiritual conflicts with our enemies is God’s means of victory for us too.
• God won’t fight the battle instead of us. II Tim. 4:7-8 – Paul said, “I” have fought a good fight… Paul did not say that God fought the good fight for him. Rather, he says, “I” fought a good fight.
• WE have to fight… and we may be fearful… we may FEEL powerless… it might SEEM hopeless…
• But by faith, we BELIEVE that AS we struggle, it is really God working in us… and through us… and as we TRUST in Him, He will empower us to have victory over our spiritual foes too.
D. God Will Work in Us Mightily
1. Paul noted that as he labored, God worked in him mightily.
2. When we engage in our spiritual battles by faith, God not only works in us. He works MIGHTILY!
a. Eph .3:16 – That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.”
b. Eph. 3:20: Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.”
c. Eph. 6:10 – Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.”
d. Col. 1:11 – Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power.
e. All the power and might – the omnipotence of Almighty God is available to us as we face our foes and our spiritual battles. And NOTHING is too hard for the Lord.
f. There is no foe too big for the Lord to handle… THROUGH us.
g. Consider little David against Goliath. (I Sam. 17:45-47)
• David still had to fight against the giant.
• David had to gather stones; shoot his sling; and give it his all.
• And to David it probably FELT like he was fighting the battle all by himself.
• But he was trusting in God.
• Trusting in God means we are relying upon HIM to work through us… and trusting in HIM to give us the victory.
• The battle really IS the Lord’s. Oh that we might learn that lesson!
h. Victory is always attainable… IF we acknowledge our utter weakness, reject all confidence in the flesh, and walk by faith… trusting God to work in us… through us… and to give the increase!
i. If you are struggling with anger, pride, pornography, smoking, tongue, bitterness, covetousness… whatever spiritual foe you face – KEEP ON FIGHTING!
j. Agonize in the battle… and trust God. Nothing is too hard for the lord.
k. And if you lose a few skirmishes, just keep on fighting… and never, never, never give up. God can use even our times of defeat to teach us how utterly helpless we are… and to teach us to trust in Him more!
3. Are we willing to LET God work in others mightily?
a. What should our response be to a young girl who visits the church and is dressed inappropriately?
b. What should our response be to a young man who visits the church… and his body is covered in tattoos, with shrapnel hanging off his face, and has green hair?
c. What do we do when someone like that visits our church?
d. We should look them right in the eye and in the warmest, kindest, friendliest manner possible, say WELCOME friend! We’re glad you’re here! And have we got some good news for you!
e. Some would have us chase them out… ridicule their appearance… and speak disparagingly about them… and let them know that someone in those clothes is not welcome here.
f. And they will oblige us in that too… and we will never see them again… nor again have opportunity to tell them about the Savior. They may never step foot in a Bible believing church again.
g. But that’s NOT the way God would have us treat someone made in His image and someone for whom Christ died.
h. The last thing we want to convey to a person is that in order to come to God you have to clean up your life. That’s what Lordship salvation folks teach… and it is virtually the same as salvation by works.
i. Rather, we want to convey to folks that they are to come to God “just as they are”… and let GOD work in them mightily to clean up the cup. Cleaning up the cup is the RESULT or FRUIT of salvation… not a prerequisite.
j. Do we really believe that God is able to work in lives mightily?
k. And if a young girl comes dressed immodestly, ask God for grace and strength to overlook the skimpy clothing and warmly greet the PERSON…
l. And if a young man comes looking like a Hell’s Angel… or an anarchist… as God for the grace to overlook his appearance, and show concern for his soul!
m. Those people have souls too you know! God is able to save their souls… and give them new life… and turn their lives around for His glory.
n. I know because I was one… who visited a Bible preaching church back in 1972… and came dressed extremely inappropriately… and yet was warmly welcomed.
4. Are we willing to LET God change us in a mighty way?
1.) Consider the importance of this expression “through Jesus Christ” with respect to God’s plan for victory in our lives.
a.) I Cor. 15:57 – thanks be to God which giveth us the victory THROUGH our Lord Jesus Christ.
b.) Rom. 8:37 – we are more than conquerors THROUGH him that loved us.+
c.) Phil. 4:7 – the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds THROUGH Christ Jesus.
d.) Phil. 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
e.) I Pet. 2:5 – Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God BY Jesus Christ. (BY = dia – same as through in Heb.13:21)
Let Us Go On to Perfection – our responsibility – the will of man
May God Make You Perfect – God’s responsibility – the will of God