In Colossians 1: 24 the apostle Paul makes a statement that contains two words that most folks would argue should never be found in the same sentence. Paul says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake”.
Now, by nature, nobody in their right mind would ever use the word rejoice anywhere near the word suffering. If I took a little survey and asked people what words came to their mind when I say the word suffering, I’d be willing to bet that “rejoicing” wouldn’t be on anybody’s list. That would be the exact opposite of what you would think. I’d probably get words like “STOP” and “OUCH”…not “rejoicing”.
But Paul says to the Colossian, ”…I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake”. Crazy!
Now what on earth would possess a man to rejoice in the face of suffering the way that Paul did? Well, I think we learn a couple of things from Colossians 1:24. Notice that Paul says he rejoices in his suffering “for your sake” that is, for the sake of the Colossian believers, and then he says that he is “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” There are two things that enable Paul to have joy in suffering: 1) He knows that his suffering is for the benefit of other believers & 2) He knows that is suffering is because of his Union with Christ.
Paul’s was able to rejoice because he knew that his suffering was not in vain. His suffering was for the good of other believers and his suffering was evidence of his union with Christ. Because Paul knew well what it meant to suffer for the sake of the gospel, he was better able to sympathize with other Christians who suffered. And not only that, but he was also able to comfort them. In 2 Corinthians 1 Paul writes,
“For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same suffering we suffer (2 Corinthians 1:5-6)
Paul saw his suffering as a way of strengthening and encouraging the faith of other Christians. And on top of that, he saw his suffering as evidence of his union with Christ. Paul saw himself as “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church.” What is he saying? What does he mean…he’s filling up what’s lacking in Christ’s suffering?
Well, let’s start with what we know he doesn’t mean. We know he can’t mean that Christ’s sacrifice is somehow insufficient (not good enough) and that his suffering somehow adds to what Christ has already done. The Bible is very clear about the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross.
“Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” 1 Peter 3:18
In other words, Christ’s ONE sacrifice was sufficient, it was good enough.
Hebrews 1:3 says of Jesus, “ after He had made purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the majesty of high.”
He sat down because His work was complete. It was finished. There was nothing left to be done.
Hebrews 10:11-12 says, “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices which can never take away sins. but when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice, he sat down at the right hand of God.”
Paul is not saying that his suffering adds anything to the sacrifice of Christ. Christ and his work are sufficient. You can’t add anything to them. Paul is simply saying that he’s doing his share as a follower of Jesus. Anyone who is united to Christ by faith will suffer. The Bible is clear about that. 2 Tim. 3:12 says,
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
Part of being a follower of Christ…being united to him is sharing in His sufferings. When you follow Christ, that’s part of what you sign up for. Suffering for being a follower of Christ is to be expected. And when you suffer for being a Christian, don’t look at it as an indication that the LORD has abandoned you. Suffering is part of what Jesus himself promised to those who belong to him! So…be encouraged. Be like Paul…and rejoice!