Colossians 1:24: Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sake, which is the church.
Paul’s statement on suffering is amazing on a number of levels.
First, it is amazing that Paul rejoices in suffering. Writing from a Roman prison cell with chains on his wrists, he rejoices. The first lesson in a theology of suffering is that rejoicing is a possibility, a duty, and a necessity, even in the midst of very grievous circumstances. While immersed in suffering, he also immerses himself in rejoicing. Paul could rejoice in his suffering because through it,
- Churches were established
- Bible books were written
- The Gospel is furthered (Philippians 1:12)
- Believers are emboldened (Philippians 1:13)
- A capacity for glory is enlarged (2 Cor.4:16-18)
Incredibly, Paul also states that he suffered for other believers.
While Paul’s suffering had no saving effect or atoning value, he suffered so as many people as possible could hear the Gospel. He uses similar language in Ephesians 3:13: Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.
This is amazing as Paul’s suffering benefited other believers and paved the way for them to hear of Christ and believe.
A third amazing statement Paul makes is that Jesus suffers with His people.
The suffering Paul endured as a servant of the Gospel is part of the afflictions of Christ. Notice carefully that Paul says that the sufferings were His own: “my sufferings … in my flesh.” Nevertheless, they were also the “afflictions of Christ” in his flesh, because he was in indissoluble union with Jesus. Jesus, living in Paul, suffers with Paul. Likewise, when the members of Christ’s body suffer, Jesus suffers with them. Jesus is in real union with His church and every member of His church.
Paul learned this even before he was saved while persecuting believers when Jesus asked him, “Why persecutest thou Me?” While Paul ransacked the church, he was in effect directly persecuting Christ, because Jesus dwells in and with His people.
Jesus was in the arena when lion’s roared and ripped apart God’s children. He has been at the stake as the flames leaped and licked the flesh of His beloved redeemed martyrs. He is with the brokenhearted today and throughout time. We know that Jesus suffered for our sins, but we must also know that Jesus suffers with us, for He never leaves or forsakes His own.
Finally, Paul challenges the Colossians that some believers are unwilling to suffer for Christ.
Paul says Christ’s sufferings are lacking or “behind,” but how? The word “behind” carries the meaning of “lacking” or deficient in other places of the New Testament. We are confident that Jesus’ sufferings are not lacking in the least in being totally sufficient to take all our sins away. His suffering fully satisfied the holiness and justice of God as He bore in His body all the sins of the world. His suffering is without deficiency, never need duplication, and no one can imitate it. So, how are they “lacking?”
They are lacking in that people do not comprehend the fullness of His suffering and therefore, many of His followers are unwilling to suffer for His sake. Paul states that he was willing to make up the difference that existed because of the unwillingness of some who claim His name to suffer so that others can hear the Gospel. This is sad but amazing that we are saved through Jesus’ infinite suffering but are often unwilling to suffer shame for His names’ sake.
We must not mistakenly think that His suffering means we do not have to suffer. In fact, it means the opposite. Many Scriptures tell us we should expect to suffer for His name.
John 15:20: If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
2 Timothy 2:12: If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.
2 Timothy 3:12: All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
The personal sufferings of Jesus are over, but His sufferings in His people continue, and His death for me enables me to suffer for Him, if that is what He calls us to do. His suffering leaves an example, which we should follow in His steps.
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
Matt Recker is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in New York City.