His Joy in Suffering for Them - Page 1 of 2 (series: Lessons on Colossians)
by John Lowe
Title: IIIA1― His Joy in Suffering for Them― (Colossians 1:24)
• “Special Notes” and “Scripture” follow associated verses.
• NIV Bible is used throughout unless noted otherwise.
Colossians 1:24 (NIV)
(Text) 1:24: 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.
Paul suffered persecution, hardship and imprisonment for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the congregations which were under his spiritual care in Asia Minor, Greece and Rome. He often mentions his sufferings and tribulations, but he always boasts of his difficulties and trials because they were inflicted on him for the sake of the Gospel of Christ, which had been entrusted to him.
Paul tells the Colossian Christians to rejoice in his sufferings, and not to grieve about his imprisonment and difficulties, because persecution and sufferings were bound to come. Jesus had warned his disciples of the trials which awaited them. Believers in the Gospel were to be like lambs among wolves. They would be imprisoned and persecuted (Matthew 10:17-19). Paul tells the Colossians to make up for the sufferings that he had escaped. That is to say, his sufferings were nothing compared to those of Jesus Christ, who had died the death of a criminal. Paul is humble in comparing his sufferings with those of His Master. He did not consider beatings, hunger and imprisonment as enough. Paul was ready even to die on the Cross or to be beheaded for the sake of the ministry which God had entrusted to him. The afflictions of Paul are identified with the afflictions of Christ but are of a different intensity. Paul’s afflictions could add nothing to the finished work of Christ.
(1:24) “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.”
Now I will give you my translation of the verse: “That which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ are filling up in my flesh, but I am delighted to suffer the afflictions of Christ for His body’s sake, that is, for you, His church.” Paul is saying that it was necessary for him to fill up in suffering that which was lacking in the suffering of Christ. Isn’t that an interesting statement? I am sure that after reading this someone will say, “Doesn’t that contradict what you have been teaching all along? You said Christ suffered for us and paid the penalty for our sins and there is nothing we can do for salvation.” That’s very true, and this verse does not contradict that at all.
Paul was suffering in his body for the sake of Christ’s body. That seems to imply that there was something missing in the sufferings of Christ. A second implication could be that it was necessary for Paul and I think in turn for all believers, to make up that which is missing. In other words, when Paul suffers for them, it completes the suffering of Christ. What a striking concept that Paul’s sufferings, born on behalf of the Colossians, complete what is lacking in Christ afflictions, however, that idea is not limited to this passage (see 2 Corinthians 1:5-7; 4:12; 13:4; Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 4:13; 5:9; Revelation 1:9).
There is still another conclusion which has been drawn from 1:24; “fill up . . . what is lacking.” Paul was experiencing the persecution intended for Christ. In spite of His death on the Cross, Christ’s enemies had not gotten their fill of inflicting injury on Him. So they turned their hatred on those who preached the Gospel (John 15:18, 24; 16:1-3). It was in that sense that Paul filled up what was lacking in Christ afflictions.
If Colossians was written, in part, to establish the authority of those who continued Paul’s ministry, this purpose is largely accomplished here. To “rejoice in sufferings” echoes Paul’s tendency to see suffering, and even death, as nothing in comparison with the joy of being in Christ (Romans 8:18; Philippians 1:19-23). The notion that somehow Christ’s death might be inadequate was anathema to Paul (Galatians 2:21); it is inconceivable that such a claim was intended here. In this case, it is not Christ’s own sufferings that might be lacking, but rather the sufferings of Paul for the sake of Christ and the church. Paul did not mean that Christ’s suffering on the Cross was in any way insufficient (Romans 3:21-26; Hebrews 10:10-14). He was not speaking of salvation but of service. Christ’s suffering alone procures salvation (1 Peter 1:11; 5:1; Hebrews 2:9). A Christian should never suffer as a thief or an evil doer, but it is a believers privilege to suffer for Christ (2 Timothy 3:11; 1 Peter 3:13-14; 5:9; Hebrews 10:32). The word “affliction”—never used in the New Testament when referring to Christ’s death—means “distress,” “pressure,” or “trouble” (which Paul had plenty of; 2 Corinthians 11:23-29). Ordinarily it refers to trials in life, not the pains of death.
Some interpret Colossians 1:24 to mean that in God’s purpose the corporate Christ, the Messianic community, is destined to suffer a quota of “birth pangs” in bringing in the Messianic age. Probably more central is the idea that union with Christ involves union with Christ’s sufferings: “If we suffer with Him, we shall be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17). The corporate “in Christ” reality (Galatians 2:20) is to be accomplished in individual Christians; thus Paul can speak even of his own death as a sacrifice (Philippians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6). It is to be noted, however, that in this context, as elsewhere, the sole redemptive course is in Christ and His atonement. Christians share Christ’s sufferings because they have been redeemed, not as an aide to their redemption.
All of this is somewhat startling because we have just called attention to the fact that this epistle teaches the fullness of Christ. “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). Everything is centered in Him. He is to have the preeminence in all things. Yet here it would seem that there is still something that needs to be done.
It needs to be pointed out that Paul is writing this epistle from a prison cell, and he said he has fulfilled all His sufferings. You may remember that be Lord Jesus revealed to Ananias the reason He had saved Paul and how He was going to use him. “But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’” (Acts 9:15-16). Now Paul writes from prison and says that he has fulfilled that. He was suffering because of the Gentiles. Paul was the chosen apostle to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:1-13). In fact, he was a prisoner in Rome because of his love for the Gentiles. He was arrested in Jerusalem on false charges, and the Jews listened to his defense until he used the word Gentiles (Acts 22:21). It was that word that infuriated them and drove them to ask for his execution. (The full account is given in Acts 21-28, and an exciting account it is.)
In our study of this verse there is something I need to make very, very clear; the sufferings of Paul were not redemptive. There was no merit in his suffering for others or even for him as far as redemption is concerned. Paul is very careful in his selection of words here. When Paul speaks of the redemption of Christ, he does not speak of suffering but of a Cross, a death, and His blood. His motivation for enduring suffering was to benefit and build Christ’s church. (Philippians 1:13, 29, 30).
I want to point out that there are two kinds of suffering. There is ministerial suffering and there is mediatorial suffering. Christ’s suffering for us was mediatorial. Actually, we can divide the sufferings of Christ into two further classifications. There is a sharp distinction between them. We will do that to clarify this passage of scripture.
1) There are the sufferings of Christ which He endured and in which we cannot share. HE SUFFERED AS A MAN. He endured human suffering. He bore the suffering that is common to humanity when He was born in Bethlehem at His incarnation over 2000 years ago. When He was born, did he cry like other little babies that come into the world? He did. He was wearing the garment of that frail flesh that you and I have. He could get hungry, become thirsty, experience loneliness, and suffer anguish and pain and sorrow. He could go to sleep in the boat because He was weary and tired. Those are human sufferings. We all have those.
There is a sorrow that comes that no one can share with us. We become sick, and no one can take our place. There will come a time when you and I will go down through the valley of the shadow of death. Humanly speaking, we will each die alone. That is the reason it is so wonderful to be a Christian and to know that Jesus is with us at that time when no one else can go through death with us. Jesus Christ suffered human suffering. That is a suffering which cannot be shared.
There was a second type of suffering which He could not share; it was His suffering as the Son of God. He is God, yet he identified Himself with mankind. No mortal has ever had to endure what He went through. He was made like unto His brethren, and He Himself suffered; but He suffered as the Son of God.