Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. (Colossians 1:24–26)
The New Testament says that Paul sometimes says things “hard to be understood” and this is one of them. One commentary says there are at least nine different interpretations of what he means by filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.
As I read them, I picked one, discovering that the author of that commentary also focused on the same understanding. Here is a simple interpretation . . .
Jesus’ work is finished. He told His disciples that they would suffer the same things as He suffered, but in our case, we are not doing what Jesus did — as in dying to redeem lost souls. We suffer because many people do not like hearing the gospel. Paul was suffering because he preached the gospel, and because many thought the good news was not good news if they had to admit themselves as sinners.
However, not every Christian suffers as Paul did. Most of us hide in our safe places rather than risk the suffering that happens to those who are determined to make the Word of God fully known. Instead of revealing the mystery that has been made known to us, we are afraid of the hits we will take because of it.
Chambers uses the metaphor of wine-making to explain what God must do to squeeze the best out of us. He uses this passage to describe the necessity of being crushed before we are willing to fully serve God. However, I don’t think that is the suffering Paul is talking about. He had been crushed and was serving as a minister of the gospel. Instead, he suffered in order that the body of Christ, which is the church, might experience the benefits of more fully knowing the Word of God.
In my studies, I’m becoming more aware of the big picture of God’s plan. His story is remarkable. It begins with creation, then sin, then redemption, and will culminate in the return of Jesus Christ. Our part is to tell the story, to make known what God is doing in history. However, humanity has come up with theories and conclusions that run contrary to God’s story — it does not appeal to them or they are blinded by sin to its truth.
In that darkness, God’s light is uncomfortable to say the least. Many will try to shut it out or at least silence those who tell the story. For Paul, this meant suffering. All God’s messengers will suffer. It is part of the story. We suffer something like Jesus did, but it not fully like it. He suffered for our sin, but Christians suffer for the sake of the story.
Yet Paul also says “for your sake” and to “fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for his body.” I understand that to mean that not all Christians were on the same trajectory as Paul. The ‘what is lacking’ likely points to the failure of some to ‘get with the program.’ However, he was glad to suffer for their sake and in their place. What he did would make up for what they had failed to do. In this way, his suffering was like that of Jesus because Jesus also suffered to make up for what we could not do — be holy people.
Paul suffered out of a great love for the people of God. He was willing to experience all sorts of painful things if the Body of Christ could be made more fully aware of the riches of the glory of God and the marvelous good news of His story.
How can I make this practical? Obviously to have that same mind and love for God’s people, a love for God and for other Christians that goes beyond Sunday morning hugs. To follow Paul, I must be willing to take with joy any negative reactions from others in order to make the story and the glory of Jesus Christ more clearly known.