Wouldn’t it be fascinating to sit down with the apostle Paul as he reminisces about his life? We’ll have to wait for the New Earth for that. Best we can do now is to find those here-and- there spots in his letters where he writes almost “sit-down”. Today’s text (Colossians 1:24-29) is one of those.
“Now I rejoice in what was suffered 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” (1:24).
Paul never visited Colosse, but he did suffer in nearby Ephesus (Paul refers to it in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11). Among the listeners in Ephesus was a convert named Epaphras , who eventually carried the gospel to Colosse.
What’s surprising is Paul didn’t complain about suffering. He says he rejoices. Why? Two reasons. One, it was for the sake of Christ’s body, the church. Paul honored Christ and loved his church. Two, his suffering “[filled] up in [his] flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions”.
John Piper has an interesting interpretation . . .
“What’s [lacking in Christ’s afflictions] is the in-person presentation of Christ’s sufferings to the people for whom he died. The afflictions are lacking in the sense that they are not seen and known among the nations. They must be carried by ministers of the gospel. And those ministers of the gospel fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ by extending them to others” (desiringgod.org).
“I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness–the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:25-27).
Paul sees himself as a servant of the church. Once he was the church’s chief persecutor. But Christ appeared to him on the Damascus road, blinded him for days. In the road’s dirt, Paul began to become the church’s servant.
He received, he believed, a commission from God. The Greek word is oikonomia–a term referring to household administration. It became more broadly translated as ” responsibility, trust”. Paul traveled from city to city, carrying the conviction that God had entrusted him with the responsibility to fully present his word.
He was, he realized, actually revealing a mystery “kept hidden for ages and generations, but . . . now disclosed to the saints”. The mystery was staggering. It was Christ, not just alive from the dead, not just with his people, but in them. And Christ in believers brought “the hope of glory”. Of that hope Sam Storms (pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) quotes Paul . . .
“I am confident that ‘this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison’ (2 Corinthians 4:17). I have hope. I am confident that ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us’ (Romans 8:18). I have hope. I am confident that when Christ who is my life appears, I ‘also will appear with him in glory'” (Colossians 3:4).
Amazingly, this hope includes Gentiles. Not as tag-alongs, but as part of one new humanity in Christ (Ephesians 2:15). The “hope of glory” made suffering now worth it. And one new humanity in Christ offered hate-filled mankind oneness in new life and love..
“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (1:28,29).
Two heresies threatened the Colossian church’s faith. One, an early strain of Gnosticism–which promised spiritual knowledge can be apprehended intuitively by the initiated. Two, extreme Judaism which promised good conduct merits God’s blessing, bad his curse. If life seems cursed, you’re full of sin. If it’s filled with blessing, you must be pleasing God. Paul’s answer to both is a Person–Christ.
His intent wasn’t just to refute error or even make converts. He wanted to “present everyone mature (or complete) in Christ.” He was anticipating standing before the Lord surrounded by the fruit of his ministry.
That meant “labor”. The Greek is energeo. Energy. ” . . . struggling” translates the Greek agnoizimy–to engage in an intense struggle against strong opposition. Agonizing.
How could he keep going–and with joy? He believed he had divine resource–Christ’s power (dunamis) which “powerfully (dunamis) works (energeo) within me.”
Paul is convinced that his ministry, while it requires his own labor and resembles a struggling athlete, is empowered by the Holy Spirit at work in him.
* * *
I want more “sit-down”. This one’s over too quickly. I’ve got questions. How, Paul, could you continue to rejoice in sufferings? How did the conviction that you were filling up Christ’s afflictions spur you on? A ministry of the “mystery” to Gentiles added to your sufferings. Where did your faith to endure come from? As I ask that question, I know your answer.
Christ’s energy, powerfully working in your work.
I want that. Writing’s becoming a chore as my eyesight worsens. Doubts about my blog’s effectiveness and who it reaches nag me. Weakness in my body wearies my mind.
“Jesus, in my struggles, in my labor which is far less important than Paul’s, would you powerfully work your energy in my work?”