Tuesday, 4 April 2017
I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, Colossians 1:24
The words of this verse have been misused by the Roman Catholic Church to indicate that the sufferings of Christ were not all sufficient for our redemption and atonement, and that Christ’s people must continue to earn their way into glory. This has nothing to do with what Paul is speaking about here.
He begins with “I now rejoice.” The Greek is more abrupt, beginning with the word “now.” The word “now” is temporal. He is saying, “I am bound with a chain, and in the midst of this captivity and suffering, I rejoice. This was the case even though he was appointed as an apostle by Christ and was doing that work as an apostle. The sufferings then are a part of that apostleship which is “for you,” meaning those in Colossae (and thus us!).
In these sufferings, he states, “and fill up in my flesh what is lacking the the afflictions of Christ.” The term, “the afflictions of Christ” is unique to this passage of Scripture and the intent is a fuller explanation of 2 Corinthians 1:5 which said –
“For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.”
The church is destined for suffering, just as it is destined for glory. Paul understood this, and he felt that as much as he suffered there was an abounding of consolation to be found at the same time. Nothing was lacking in the process of suffering. And the consolation which he felt was surety that he possessed the Spirit of God. In knowing this, he was thus comforted because the Spirit is a guarantee of future glory for the believer. Hence, he notes exactly this in Philippians 3:10 –
“…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”
In “being conformed to His death,” we shall also be raised as He was to eternal life through “the power of the resurrection.” There could be no shame in the suffering if there is the coming glory which that suffering leads to. Understanding this, believers are not to be ashamed of suffering, but instead are instructed to be willing to bear His reproach, knowing that we bear all of the honor and future glory that comes with it.
With this understanding, we can then see that the words, “and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” mean that suffering is a part of the human experience in a world filled with sin. Paul’s sufferings don’t add to the atonement which Christ alone provided, but they rather are a natural result of what is expected in the church as it takes on the challenge of bringing the gospel to the world. Missionaries have died, or have been tortured, for bringing the message of Christ to pagan lands. In this, they are filling up what is lacking. There is a need to be met (a lack), and they are the ones who are filling that need. This is, as he says, “for the sake of His body, which is the church.” If the message is going to go out as Christ commanded, there will be afflictions associated with it. Were it not so, He would not have told His followers to take up their cross. This continues even now as the message continuously finds those who wish to crush it and persecute those who proclaim it.
The physical body of Christ Jesus suffered for our sake so that we could become a part of the mystical body of Christ, the church. This body continues to suffer until the church is complete. This has nothing to do with atonement or earning our way into glory, but it is the natural result of carrying the message in a world which needs to hear the good news of Christ Jesus.
Life application: Not all will suffer as Paul speaks of here, but for those who do, they are filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for the sake of the church. This is not something to be ashamed of, but to glory in. Let us rejoice if we do suffer in the process of sharing the gospel. It means we are a step closer to the day when the church is complete.
Heavenly Father, thank You that everything necessary to bring us back to You has been accomplished by Christ Jesus. What He did on the cross has completed that need, once and for all. Now, it is our turn to continue on with the work of Christ in sharing what He has done for us. Should we suffer in the process, let us rejoice that we have shared in a small way in bringing the message to those in darkness. Any suffering is temporary, but the glory of what lies ahead is eternal. Help us to remember this as we head out to share this precious message. Amen.