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, 25 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, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. – Colossians 1:24-29
Paul is the suffering-missionary suffering, not in a substitutionary way, but as a demonstration of the gospel trajectory; God reaching to us, God sent Paul to the Gentiles. Paul’s going to the Gentiles caused him much suffering. That suffering testified to the genuineness of the gospel. The Gentiles did not physically see the suffering of Christ on the cross for them, but they did see the suffering of Paul in his efforts to get the good news to them. This is the suffering that Paul was filling up. What was lacking was the ability of the Gentiles to see Christ’s suffering on their behalf. Suffering missionaries demonstrate the love-motivated-sufferings of Christ for those whom they serve.
This passage, “I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body,” has bewildered me for years. I must acknowledge that I have arrived at this understanding with the aid of one of my favorite Pastors, John Piper. We all learn from someone, and it is proper that, when we can, we acknowledge our source. So, thank you, John.
The suffering for the sake of the gospel that we in the West experience is quite mild compared to the sufferings of Paul and our brothers and sisters in the middle-east states that outlaw the gospel. If the West continues to be re-paganized, we will find our persecution becoming more pronounced. But rather than fearing it or running from it, consider that Paul rejoiced in his sufferings for those with whom he would share the gospel.
One thing has clearly not changed since Paul was preaching to the Gentiles, they still have not seen the suffering of Christ on the cross for them. They can, however, see our suffering for them when we are persecuted for believing and speaking the good news to the Gentiles around us.
Paul’s objective was to present everyone mature in Christ and Paul did encourage us to “follow me (Paul) as I follow Christ.” We shrink from any comparison to someone like Paul, but Paul called us to follow him as he followed Christ. Should we not then have the same objective in our life that we present everyone we can as mature in Christ? Obviously, we are not first century Apostles, but we do have a sphere of influence and influence it for Christ, we should.
Too much to ask?
Struggle with all Christ’s energy as he mightily works in you. Fill up what is missing.
“The glory of this mystery” is worth it.