Part 4 of our Sunday Night Study Series in Colossians
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, 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, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 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. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Suffering with joy is not something that is within the natural man’s capacity. He can suffer for glory, or he can suffer for the greater good, after all these are the story lines of about 50% of Hollywood scripts. But to suffer for the good of one, or just a few, without glory, is generally not an accepted theme in the World, especially if it is joyfully done. The world would view that as waste. Yet the apostle Paul says he rejoices to suffer for the body of Christ in Colossians 1:24
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
Paul, having been stoned at least once, beaten and imprisoned unjustly another time, is now sitting in a Roman prison awaiting a hearing with Caesar. One that will eventually cost him his life. While waiting in chains, instead of feeling sorry for himself he takes up pen and paper and begins a letter writing campaign to encourage the churches that “have not seen” his face. Rejoicing in his sufferings for them………but what does he mean by that?
Paul rightly understands that his faithfulness to Christ in suffering will have an impact. If he sets a faithful example, following Christ in suffering, if he practices what he has preached so well, for so long, then the church will be strengthened to endurance. If he falters at the end having run the race almost to completion, all that Christ has done through him would be in jeopardy, humanly speaking. With all eyes in the early Gentile Church fixed on the imprisonment of their spiritual father, Paul, relying on the Lord, is ready to finish well. He is ready to follow the Gospel example of Jesus, who suffered for His body because of the joy set before him. He is ready to leave a permanent example of faithfulness for believer’s, right along side His Lord’s.
Paul will mention the mystery of Christ several times in the book of Colossians. It is one of, if not, the key theme of his letter to them. For Paul, the term mystery doesn’t mean something that is hidden, but he is talking about something that was hidden. Jesus, the glorious Son of God was hidden through out the Old Testament. All the sacrifices, all the feasts, the organization of the tribes of Israel, some of the battles, actually the ordering of all of redemptive history, was to reveal the only Begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ to Israel and then to the World. What was God the Father’s intent in sending Jesus to us? So that He could be born, do only good, suffer and die, rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven. Why? So that Jesus could be re-born again in us. Listen to Jesus himself.
John 14:15-20; 23 ESV
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
Paul’s calling and mission in life is to reveal the unbelievable glory of the mystery of Christ to the Gentiles. Paul says, this is why
“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, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 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”
Our second birth, the receiving of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, is the ultimate intent of the Gospel. Jesus came not just to satisfy divine justice for our crimes, but to transform our hearts and lives as well. This is the hope, that we would be with Him in the future and that we would be made like Him as well. The apostle John will tells us in 1 John 3:1-3,
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
Christ in us, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, provides for us the hope of glory, which is the hope of being with him and made like Him in the future.
But I want to back up just a second before I leave this wonderful passage and touch on something I left un-commented on earlier. It is a confusing passage without viewing it through the lens of the mystery of Christ. Paul says,
“in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church”
What does he mean by this? Well, he doesn’t mean that Christ’s suffering and death was in some way incomplete. The Gospel is complete and perfect in every way. It supplies for us everything we need for life and faith, for how we are to live and what we are to believe. What Paul is saying is this, that because of the mystery of Christ, Christ in us, we have become, by faith, so unified with the Son of God, that when we suffer, He suffers. When we suffer for His Church, He enters into our suffering for His church. His afflictions were not lacking anything, but until we, the body, are taken into glory to be with Him, He will still suffer because we still suffer. His suffering will lack completion until all things become complete upon His return.
Our suffering will contribute to the uncovering of His glory in the World as well.
2 Corinthians 4:7-10 ESV
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
The hope of the Gospel, Christ in us, here is demonstrated as a “treasure in jars of clay”. Our transformation, meaning our ability for instance to suffer (i.e. being afflicted, crushed, persecuted, struck down, etc) with joy, our ability to be an unstoppable force of forgiveness, kindness, and gentleness in the face of betrayal and brutality “shows that the surpassing power belongs to God” and is a glorious manifestation of the life of Christ in physical form, in our bodies, with our hands and our feet.
So go bring glory God, do good, obey the Gospel, manifest the life of Christ in the flesh and enjoy the peace and stability of the indwelling Spirit of Christ. Only know this, suffering for the body is part of the call, in fact, I would urge you to remember this the next time you are betrayed by another Christian, or have a serious disagreement with another believer, or are misunderstood and mistreated by a pastor or someone in spiritual authority. The power of God and the glory of Christ will be found in your ability to be struck down and not destroyed by bitterness, un-forgiveness, and division. That is the miracle of the Gospel, suffering with joy.
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Don’t expect to come to maturity by any other road than the one that Jesus, the prophets, the apostles, and the early disciples walked, the one the Scriptures clearly lay out for us. It is narrow, there are few, but it leads to the New Jerusalem, that Celestial City whose maker and foundation is God. That’s the end goal, the joy set before us. So go struggle and suffer with joy, like Paul, with all the energy that “Christ in you” powerfully provides for every believer. Go live the mystery!