Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.
The book of Colossians is one of Paul’s 4 prison epistles, as he writes to the Church of Colosse to address the issues they faced in combating paganism and heresy, and to redirect their focus back to Christ Jesus again. In Colossians 1:24 there lies a seemingly controversial and confusing verse, as Paul boldly declares to the Church of Colosse that he is suffering for them, joyfully. The idea that the Christian lifestyle would be one filled with trials and pain was not one that Paul kept to himself – he has long been talking about it. However, in this short mention in Colossians, Paul elaborates more. Three main points – why he could rejoice in suffering; our suffering versus Christ’s suffering, the reason why Christ suffered. In today’s study we will examine the afflictions of Christ and how the Christian’s suffering is able to present the suffering of Christ to the world.
Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you – Did Paul suffer? Oh, yes, he did. He didn’t keep it to himself, he shared about his sufferings freely. He famously noted the extent of his sufferings in his second letter to the Church of Corinth:
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. [2 Cor 11:23-28].
Yet Paul also pointed out that all apostles suffer in equal measure – To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands.When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly [1 Cor 4:11-13].
Yet Paul boasts in his weaknesses – If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness [2 Cor 11:30]; But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you [Phil 2:17]. He is glad. He rejoices in what he was suffering for his breathen.
I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions – we can find the reason from the verse itself. Think of it this way – the people rejected Christ when he was still living, during his 3 and a half years of ministry. Now that Christ has ascended, they had no figure to direct their hatred against. Where does all their displeasure go to? Does it disappear? No. It goes to the apostles. It goes to the Christians. Persecution of Christ transformed into persecution of the followers of Christ. If you suffer as a result of your faith, take heart, because in your suffering, Christ’s afflictions is magnified. In our suffering, people can see the suffering of Christ. Was Christ’s afflictions lacking? No – Paul didn’t mean that. What was lacking, was the satisfaction of the enemies and oppressors of Christ. They haven’t had enough oppressing and rejecting Christ! Now that Christ has left, their satisfaction in that perversion was lacking. And Paul declares – he fill up in his flesh, his measure of that rejection and oppression and suffering that Christ had faced.
And hence Paul rejoiced – this was an opportunity to glorify God. In suffering for Christ, Christ’s suffering was magnified, and hence, God is glorified. To Paul, things are simple. As long as Christ is preached, everything else does not matter [Phil 1:18], and he gets to rejoice in it. This is not a masochistic ideology, where Paul twistedly enjoy pain and suffering. No. We’re not asked to self-harm or inflict pain on ourselves or on others, and to enjoy that. I think that’s a huge perversion of Paul’s words. No, Paul simply makes the assumption that if you live your life as a Christian should, there is absolutely no way that you will not face any sufferings or trials in your life. That is impossible. Persecution of the world will catch up with you. Struggle with the word will cause you pain. The assumption stands. Recall that this is a prison epistle. Remember what Paul and Silas once did in prison? They rejoiced and praised God in worship [Acts 16:25]. They found joy in adversity. They had faith and they had hope. And the ground shook [Acts 16:26].
for the sake of his body, which is the church – But why did Christ suffer? Why was it all necessary? Earlier we talked about his suffering at the hands of those who rejected and oppressed him. But why? In a few words, Paul explains everything. Christ suffered for the sake of his church. He chose to suffer in order to magnify the Salvation plan of God. Why was it necessary that Christ had to be crucified? The salvation plan of God. His blood, for ours. His sacrifice, for our eternal lives. By dying on the cross for us, Christ delivered the greatest gift that God has prepared for us.
Paul identified that there is a great connection between the suffering of Christ and our suffering today. In our suffering (for our faith of course), we magnify the suffering of Christ – and hence we present the message of the cross to others.
We don’t have to pray for God to send us trials and pain – God bless you if you do – but we don’t have to. These things will come. Let us learn and imitate Paul, to suffer not just for Christ, but also for our brothers and sisters – in – Christ. If we would see them as true brothers and sisters, and if we are willing to shed time, effort, blood, money, resources and sweat for them, joyfully and willingly. To grow together in Christ, to pull one another along in this race of life. To encourage one another when we fall or stumble, to grieve with one another in tragic moments. To love them, even if they are unlovely, to forgive them, even if they offend.
Suffering and pain are often most hard to bear when they were caused by people you trust, people close to you, people whom you care about. Persecution from external forces will always be there, but to some extent we can always shrug them off. But if it’s our own breathen? Let us remember why is it that we suffer, and let us remember why was it that Christ had suffered. In this remembrance, let us cling on to God and encourage one another.
It isn’t easy. But if Paul can rejoice through his numerous physical and emotional pains, so can we.