Colossians 1:24-29 — When the Bible, and Life, are Hard
There you are, trundling along, and you hit a speed bump—maybe you even smacked right into a wall—thump!
Ever happen to you? Happen this month? Maybe this week? Maybe today?
I am talking about when an area of your life is working, and lining up with how you think about that area of your life. Then it happens, some new information, or a new event appears. It feels like it just does not fit; like you have just hit a wall.
It is no fun. I don’t know about you, but I like to have all the answers. I have this crazy idea that if I have all the answers, then life will be easy. (I say this idea is crazy because many of the challenges of my life happened when I had all the information.)
And look, obtaining understanding, having answers—all good. Yet sometimes we only get part of the information, and it can stall us.
Why bring this up? Because if I am honest with you, there are days when I read the Bible and I hit a speed bump. I only partially understand it.
We read today, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions…”
“Rejoice in suffering” and “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Are you kidding?
Is it saying we should glorify suffering? Is this letter saying Jesus dying on the Cross is not enough?
I do not think it is saying either of those things. Some people do—I do not.
I tell you some people do, so that I am honest with you. Why don’t I? I believe those conclusions are in conflict with the full image of God we get in the Bible. I think they also undercut the Cross.
But can I, as an aside, just call out a principle for following Jesus? Here it is. When you hit that speed bump as you read the His Word, when you don’t understand or agree with part of the Bible, do not throw it out. Don’t ignore it. Try to “sit under ALL of God’s Word”. And that means even the parts you do not fully understand.
That is one of the things it means to follow someone we call Lord. We trust Him. Especially when, in our human minds, we do not 100% understand.
Back to the text. What do I think about these words regarding suffering?
I think Jesus’ death on the Cross is the full, sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world—there is nothing lacking. (John 1:29, Romans 5:12-21, 1 John 2:2, 1 Peter 3:18, Hebrews 9:11-14, Hebrews 9:24-26, Hebrews 10:10-14)
Suffering still happens in the world—it does not diminish the efficacy of Jesus’ work on the Cross. Suffering continues because we live in a fallen world, where Satan is roaming around, seeking to consume God’s creation.
I think suffering for the Gospel, is different than suffering due to disease or divorce or disaster.
I think Paul would rather suffer for Jesus, then capitulate the Gospel.
I think he would rather suffer than have others in the church, say in Colossae, suffer.
If you have children, would you rather suffer in their place? Would you even say you would be glad that you are suffering, and not them?
He has said he is thankful for them, he is said he is praying for them, he is now saying he is suffering for them, and that he is glad for it. Not that he welcomes suffering, or glorifies it, but that he knows that if suffering is what it takes for the cause, then so be it.
Would you suffer to advance the cause?
Why do I ask? Two reasons.
First, again: I am not glorifying suffering, nor am I talking about all suffering. No, I am talking about suffering for a cause. Would you?
Second, it is an important question because suffering is indeed the way the Gospel advances.
While Jesus suffered for all the sins of the world, past present and future, the entire world has not yet heard the gospel. It needs to. The way the Gospel goes forth is through its preaching, through God’s Church.
And that means the Jesus’ Body, the Church, you and me, if we are doing this Gospel work, will suffer for it.
Jesus modeled it.
So, what is lacking? It is not Jesus’ work on the Cross. It is the unfinished work of “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15).