Frustrated? Disappointed? Angry? I’ll bet you know what it’s like to want to do the right thing but then find that the right path is seldom the easy or problem-free path. This message is about finding reason to keep going despite setbacks.
Colossians 1:24–2:5 (NIV)
Paul’s Labor for the Church
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—26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 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.
28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
2 I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2 My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. 5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.
Now, however, he provides against the honour of his apostleship being detracted from by the bonds and persecutions, which he endured for the sake of the gospel. For Satan, also, perversely turns these things into occasions of rendering the servants of God the more contemptible. Farther, he encourages them by his example not to be intimidated by persecutions, and he sets forth to their view his zeal, that he may have greater weight. – John Calvin
Every individual Christian, in fact, has this hope within his or her own self. The reason is simple: Jesus the Messiah, the king, lives by his spirit within each one. He has already entered into the new state of ‘glory’, God’s full intention for his human creatures. Because his own life is given to all his people, they can be confident in their hope of sharing this glory as well.
That’s why Paul can’t stop talking about King Jesus. The church in Colossae has never met Paul, but he says in verses 28–29 that if they want to know what he spends most of his time doing, it is this: he announces Jesus as king and Lord. And he does it with the aim of bringing as many as possible to mature Christian living ‘in the king’, ‘in Christ’.
It is possible to be ‘in Christ’ and be immature, not understanding fully what it means, not grasping the new possibilities and responsibilities set before us. The road to maturity is through teaching and instruction. What you need for that is teachers with boundless energy; and what you need for that is the life-giving power of the king himself, working within Paul then and Christian teachers ever since. Great demands will be made on them. But the energy which Jesus inspires within them is always more than equal to the task. – N.T. Wright
How then did Paul fill up “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (v. 24)? No one knows for sure. Many top scholars… believe that Paul’s words have reference to the common Jewish understanding that the Messianic Age was to be preceded by a definite amount of suffering (1 Enoch 47:14; 2 Baruch 30:2). Thus the sufferings are the sufferings of God’s people, but they are ultimately Christ’s sufferings because of his identity with his people. So Paul in his sufferings helped fulfill Christ’s and thus hastened the Messianic Age. If this is the correct interpretation, Paul was rejoicing because his sufferings (which are Christ’s sufferings) were bringing the total nearer the ultimate goal and hastening the day of the kingdom.
However that may be, one thing is clear: Paul knew his sufferings were good for the Church and that they brought to him a special closeness with Christ. Every blow that fell on him fell on his Master and thus bound them even closer together in mutual suffering. Paul’s experience was like that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who in the fiery furnace were joined by a fourth person: the Lord (Daniel 3:25). That is why Paul could pray from a Roman jail: [I want to] know him and the power of his resurrection, and . . . share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. (Philippians 3:10) Paul knew sufferings are miserable, but the resulting sense of union with Christ is wonderful. R. Kent Hughes