24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering 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. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness
It is here that Paul reminds us of our call as Christians, starting with what comes as not just a surprise but a shock for many Christians. For it is here that Paul reminds us to suffer joyfully for the Gospel. While many are shocked that suffering is part of serving, verse 24 makes it clear that Paul saw suffering as part of the job description of a Believer: “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.” Paul is in prison as he is writing this letter to the church at Colossae, yet instead of talking about his problems he is preoccupied with praise because he is focused on the privilege of serving and not the pain. The reason Paul is rejoicing in his suffering is because he understands that service involves sacrifice. Paul willingly and joyfully suffered as he served on behalf of others for the sake of the gospel. He saw pain as a part of proclaiming the gospel. The little word “now” at the beginning of the verse does more than just provide a transition. Paul is rejoicing precisely because of what he has just written and he’s rejoicing now in the present while he is in prison. Most of us spend our lives trying to get rid of suffering when it comes our way. When we’re in pain, our focus becomes removing and relieving, but Paul was different, his focus was on rejoicing. He found joy in the midst of the junk, in 2 Corinthians 7:4 he declares, “…In all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.” For Paul suffering was not some small fleeting season in his life, no his life plagued with pain and problems, just read 2 Corinthians 11:24-29. Prior to Paul’s conversion, he inflicted suffering on God’s saints, but after his salvation he suffer for them. From the very moment of his conversion, in Acts 9:16, Paul was told that difficulty was going to be part of his discipleship when Jesus said: “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Today many believers have bought into the lie that after they are saved everything will be great, that suffering and pain will no longer be a part of their life. Yet what we really see is that serving the Savior involves an element of suffering. Why are so many Christians limited in their service to the Lord, because at the first sign of suffering they stop serving. Their focus is fixed on feeling good instead of on following God. Paul was focused on a life of faith not on feeding the flesh and feeling good. When our focus becomes centered around feeling good instead of following God we start pursuing a pain free life instead of pursuing the provider of life. We become more concerned with our circumstances than we do with Christ. Now when Paul speaks of “filling up in his flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions,” he is not implying that there is some insufficiency in what Christ accomplished on the cross. No, as Colossians 1:22 clearly states, we have been reconciled by “Christ’s physical body through death to present us holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” Christ’s death has brought us peace with God and there’s nothing left to be done, except to respond and receive what He has done on our behalf. You see the word “afflictions” is never used of the sufferings of Jesus on the cross, but instead refers to the “pressures” of life that Paul endured. Christ suffered in death to save the church, and now Paul suffered in life to spare it. John Piper says it this way “Christ’s cross was for propitiation; ours is for propagation. Christ suffered to accomplish salvation. We suffer to spread salvation.” Paul suffered for several reasons. First, he was suffering because of Jesus Christ and like the early believers in Acts 5:41, Paul rejoiced that he was “counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” Second, he suffered because of the Gentiles, those he sought to share the gospel with. Paul was committed to preach the gospel to all people, many of whom instead of responding with repentance responded in retaliation. In fact this is precisely why he was in prison, because he had taken the good news to the Gentiles, Acts 22:21-22. Unlike many believers today Paul had a proper perspective when it came to persecution, in Philippians 1:12 Paul wrote from prison: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” Third, he suffered for the sake of Christ’s body, the church. As the believers saw him suffer, it gave them courage to face persecution in their own lives. Because the church is Christ’s body today, when Paul suffered, Christ suffered. What Jesus began as suffering with his persecution and rejection on earth, believers complete in His continuing body on earth. As such, we should not be surprised by suffering. The truth is we are going to go through tough and trying times. Jesus stated in John 15:20, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” Today we want to share in the promises we just don’t want to share in the suffering and persecution. We want the good news we just don’t want the groaning. Paul’s perspective on persecution, difficulty, and suffering can help us when affliction visits our life. Verse 24 reminds us to suffer joyfully for the gospel. But in order to sing in the suffering we have to keep the following in mind: Suffering is part of serving, difficulties are part of discipleship. Christ followers are recognized by the trials they endure because they follow a suffering Savior. 1 Peter 4:12 says: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” We can come closer to Christ when we go through trials, Philippians 3:10: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in death.” Suffering is a privilege not a pain as 1 Peter 4:13 says: “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” Persecution is profitable because suffering deepens and develops us, Romans 5:3-4: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” So let me ask you how far are you willing to go in suffering for the gospel? Are you spending more time trying to avoid adversity than you are proclaiming the Almighty? The painful truth is that many of us would be better off if we faced some persecution.