One of the reasons we ignore certain statements in Scripture is our misguided belief that they simply don’t apply to us. For example, when the apostle Paul introduces his epistles he typically describes himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (Col. 1:1a; cf. also Eph. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:1). I’m not an apostle and I doubt if you are either. So what possible relevance does a statement like that have for you and me? Before I answer that, let’s consider what Paul had in mind for himself.
In the first place, this was an expression of his entire theological perspective. He became a Christian “by the will of God.” His authority as an apostle is “by the will of God.” The power of his ministry, whether in teaching or healing the sick, is “by the will of God.” It is only “by God’s will” (Rom. 15:32) that he will eventually visit Rome. And whatever more he will achieve before he breathes his final breath is “by the will of God.”
Secondly, he needed to make clear to the Colossians (and to us) that they (and we) are obligated to listen to him. The Colossians were being led astray by false teachers, and we are certainly in no short supply of them in 2012. But it is Paul, not they, who speaks with divine authority and sanction. If it is “by the will of God” that Paul speaks in this letter then it is “the will of God” that we heed and embrace all he says in it. In sum, Paul didn’t aspire to, ask or apply for the job (after all, until captured by the grace of God on the road to Damascus he was evidently content with and proud of his status as a revered Pharisee; see Phil. 3:4-6). His ministry as an apostle did not come by human nomination nor did he look for human confirmation. It was by divine initiation, preparation, and authentication, which is to say, “by the will of God.”
So what does this have to do with you and me? Everything! Here is why. It isn’t simply Paul’s apostolic authority in the first century but all things in all our lives at every moment in the twenty-first century that must be attributed to the “will of God.” Paul himself made this clear in Ephesians 1:11 when he described God as the one “who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Did you see that: all things! Not just Paul’s ministry but yours as well. Paul was an apostle “by the will of God” whereas some of you are teachers “by the will of God.” Others are housewives “by the will of God” while many are nurses, physicians, lawyers, factory workers, salesmen, athletes, or missionaries “by the will of God.” God’s will extends to your life and calling and career no less so than to Paul’s. Yours may not entail the spiritual authority that his did, but it is no less an expression of God’s enablement and calling than Paul’s or Peter’s or John’s or anyone to whom we attribute greatness. Have you paused to ponder the fact that who you are is “by the will of God,” as well as what you do, where you live, how much you own, whatever you accomplish? Needless to say, this excludes your sinful deeds and rebellious attitude and failure to obey the Scriptures. For example, if Scripture declares that “this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thess. 4:3), then we dare not say that sexual immorality (or any other violation of the Word) is “by the will of God.”
We can glean at least two things from knowing that our lives and achievements and efforts and gifts and opportunities are “by the will of God.” First, there is an element of security in knowing this. The security is in the realization that my life cannot extend beyond God’s grace or capacity to redeem all things for His glory and my good. If all is “by the will of God” then I can celebrate His presence in my life and His hand on all that I seek to do in obedience to His Word. God’s “will” encompasses and permeates and infuses all that you and I will ever be or do or say or think. This experience of security especially extends to times of trial and hardship. Suffering for righteousness’ sake is also “by the will of God.” In fact, Paul declares that “it has been granted” (i.e., graciously given) to us to suffer for his name’s sake (Phil. 1:29). Knowing that such experiences are not serendipitous or chance happenings but are orchestrated “by the will of God” will alone sustain us in the hour of testing.
Second, knowing that God is working all things according to the counsel of his will imparts a dignity not only to Paul’s apostleship but also to your life and ministry, as well as mine. God values who we are and what we do because it is the fruit of His will working and orchestrating all things for the glory and praise of his grace in Christ Jesus. There is no second-rate job or inferior ministry or meaningless endeavour when all is “by the will of God.” It’s stunning to consider that mothers change the diapers of their children “by the will of God,” and that I’m typing these words “by the will of God,” and that you are reading them “by the will of God,” and that all of us are simultaneously breathing “by the will of God.”
So, don’t ever think that because you aren’t an apostle or a public figure with power and prestige that you are any less the product of God’s will or somehow on the outside looking in on what He is doing in the pursuit of His redemptive purpose. Lay your hand on your heart and your mind and the fruit of your labours, and above all your salvation in Jesus Christ, and rejoice that it is all “by the will of God.”