“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.” Colossians 1:24-25 NIV
“I want you to know how glad I am that it’s me sitting here in this jail and not you. There’s a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world — the kind of suffering Christ takes on. I welcome the chance to take my share in the church’s part of that suffering. When I became a servant in this church, I experienced this suffering as a sheer gift, God’s way of helping me serve you, laying out the whole truth.” Colossians 1:24-25 The Message
Over the course of the last few years I feel like I’ve become a tuning fork pitched to suffering. I have experienced pain and so many around me are in pain. Some suffer excruciating things that seem to have fallen from the sky, others suffer because of choices they have made. In any case there is a universe of hurt.
As I was praying for various of these hurting people this morning a verse came to me that has always intrigued me. Paul, in Colossians, says ‘… I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions …” I find that an astonishing statement. Something is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? Where else in scripture can I find that sentiment?
As I’ve processed this I really think scripture is replete with this thought. On one hand Jesus has taken all our sin, all our pain, all our sorrow and died with it on the cross. We get to share in this perfect work and enjoy an eternity without sin, pain or suffering! Hallelujah! BUT God has also chosen to make this glorious work known through US. In engineering circles today that would likely be considered a significant design flaw, but God delights to powerfully use the most improbable of us in ways that astound and defy reality.
We live in, and Jesus was killed by, a sin-tainted world. Sin by its very nature brings suffering – it is inescapable because sin brings death. God did not plan a redemption that somehow involved a pain-free sacrifice that washed away sin, rather He experienced the full measure of sin’s pain and suffering. How then can we who still live in a sin-tainted place expect anything different? We will know pain and suffering. For those of us who also know Jesus and follow Him even in our pain, there is a real truth that as we continue to love God, submit to His plan and purpose, glorify Him and cling to Him even when the suffering is near unbearable, in that surrendered, tenacious choice God’s redemptive plans and purposes win and death is once again defeated. Our lives testify to the Gospel truth that life wins, that with Christ we can bear suffering and look to the joy set before us. As we suffer with our broken beings turned toward God, partnering with Him, seeking His solace, He uses every ounce of our suffering to somehow establish His gospel truth in our lives and broadcast it to the lives of others.
I once thought Paul’s statement a wonderful sentiment for long-suffering missionaries to cling to and believe. Today I think it a sweet mystery for every Kingdom lover to grasp and live out. Through our broken jar-of-clay lives shines the great power of God and the piercing comfort of the truth of the gospel. Hang in there for the joy set before you!
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:2-3