24 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.
We encountered Colossians 1:24 in our scripture memory passage earlier this week, and that verse is particularly difficult to understand given the phrase, “I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body ….” On the surface, it appears Paul is saying the work of Christ was not sufficient for salvation, but that Paul himself must contribute something to finish the work of salvation for the people of God.
Well, let’s not look at this verse in a vacuum. Remember: we allow Scripture to interpret scripture. What do other parts of the Bible have to say about Jesus Christ and his work to secure our redemption?
1 Peter 3:18: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.”
Ephesians 1:7 tells us concerning Jesus: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace …”
Of Jesus, Hebrews 9:12 says: “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”
And Paul writes in Romans 3:24-25 that God’s people QUOTE “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”
Christ’s suffering of the punishment we deserved for our sins is sufficient to redeem a people for his own possession. Since Paul clearly is talking about something other than the effectiveness of Jesus Christ’s suffering and afflictions, it becomes a question of just what he does mean. Here’s what I believe is clear in the context, so bear in mind Paul finished his thought in the sentence in question by talking about his ministry:
Notice Paul uses here his favorite word picture to teach us about the church: the body. Paul says he’s filling up what is lacking QUOTE “for the sake of his body, that is, the church …” And remember that Paul told us explicitly just a few verses prior what Christ’s place is in the body: the head. So whatever Paul is talking about is for the sake of the church, but not its redemption. Thus, I believe it is about the building up of the church, or in other words, the growth of the church–God the Son’s Kingdom. Redemption came through the first cause, Jesus Christ. Expansion comes through the means God typically uses: people. People who minister.
Think about the mission of the church: to make disciples. In discipling, we have discipline–in our context, the spiritual disciplines. Our serving and suffering sanctifies us and can be used by God in the salvation and sanctification of others. It’s not that there is anything lacking in Christ’s afflictions unto salvation, but there are afflictions—there is suffering—to come to Paul, John, the martyrs, and in likely small ways to you and me, and these afflictions are for the sake of the church which grows every day because of the power of the Gospel ordinarily so through the means of its members. Listen to …
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
Paul writes in Romans 5 of Jesus and the fact that QUOTE “2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope …” verses, 2-4.
1 Peter 2:21: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.”
Finally, in Paul’s second letter to Timothy he beautifully ties together mission as a member of Christ’s body, suffering for the sake of Christ, and eternal hope found in Christ:
6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:6-8