The short answer:
We can rejoice in suffering even though it is hard to do so. Christ is still suffering now because there is so much sin. We can help stop the suffering in the world, and Christ’s sufferings, if we are willing to suffer as he did. That means suffering even though innocent; and suffering without any retribution of any kind. Others have suffered before us, now we can “take our turn” and suffer for Christ, and in so doing stop the “sin cycle” and keep the consequences of sins against us from continuing to afflict people and Jesus as well.
There is much sin in the world today, and the consequences of that sin are not all being covered by the sacrifice of Christ. Christ’s sacrifice is lacking covering many sins, which is why when someone sins against us we often end up paying for it ourselves in physical, mental, and emotional damage. We can cover those sin consequences that are lacking being covered by Christ’s sacrifice if we are willing to absorb them in our own flesh and pay the price for them. Or, we can simply pass the sin on by becoming angry, bitter, hateful, and vengeful—if we do that we just transfer the sins against us on to someone else. Even though Paul was in prison on false charges and not in comfortable circumstances, he rejoiced in his suffering and was willing to pay for the sins against him so the sin would not be passed on; and he did that for the Body of Christ, the church.
The longer explaination:
I want to bring forward a truth now that I have not heard taught publicly. I have listened to Christian radio and Christian T.V. for a long time and read Christian books. This is a truth that I have not really heard taught, maybe to some degree in bits and pieces. If this is new to you, please just kind of follow along with me as I talk about this. We are going to look at Colossians 1:24. The background here is that the book of Colossians was written when the Apostle Paul was in prison at Rome. He was still running the Gentile Church, what we now know as Turkey, Greece, and Rome. Even though he was in prison, he was still recognized as being the founder of a lot of those churches. From prison, he wrote letters to Ephesus, letters to Philippi, letters to Colossi, letters to Timothy, letters to Titus, and letters to Philemon. Those letters then went out to those churches and were copied and given to other churches. Paul, even though in prison, was quite an influence on the Christian world. He was in prison, and you certainly know that he had been whipped. He had been beaten. He had been thrown in jail. He had been very, very poorly treated for the cause of Christ.
Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you,
That is a tough thing. He is not bitter about it. He is not angry about it. He is not saying that I am rejoicing in being beaten. Do not hear that. He is not saying, “I am glad that I was beaten.” He is simply saying that under the circumstances that I was beaten I can rejoice in what I suffered for you. Now watch this.
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.
I can tell you that I did not have a clue what that verse meant for years; in fact, I actually was on a translating committee that translated that verse from the Greek and could bring the words over into English, but I still did not know what it meant. It has been a difficult verse because of what it is saying, “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.” What is this saying here? What could possibly be lacking in Christ’s afflictions? We have all heard the song, “It is not by works of righteousness but by his faith alone…Jesus paid it all.” We have been led to believe that Jesus Christ paid the price for all sin. I want to tell you that he paid the price for all sin as far as the redemption and the salvation of mankind is concerned. Nobody can commit any sin where they are not able to go to Jesus Christ and get forgiven and get saved. As I am sitting making this teaching, I can look out a window at a fallen world. Just take a look at the world around you, and you will understand that the redemptive process is still occurring. We are not redeemed yet. A day of redemption is coming when this world will come to an end, and justice will prevail, and the knowledge of God will cover the earth as the waters covers the sea. That is the prophecy in Isaiah 11:9. A day is coming when righteousness will reign. Right now, the redemption is not yet complete, for sin is still occurring.
I can guarantee you that today somebody will be raped or killed or beaten to a pulp or whatever. Evil is still happening, and when evil happens in the world someone pays for it. When the Apostle Paul was beaten, he paid for that. His back hurt. He paid for that. What does he say about that?
and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions…
I will venture to say that you are filling up in your flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s affliction. This has been a difficult verse for orthodox theologians because of the idea that Jesus Christ paid for every sin for all time and for every circumstance. In fact, I have a commentary here where the author writes “For interpreters this verse is a puzzle.” That is right. If you believe that you are not paying for any sin or that you do not in some way have the ability to participate in the redemptive process, then you will not understand this verse. It is pretty clear. Paul is saying that he is “filling up in his body.” How is he filling it up in his body? Take a look at his back, his wrists where he was chained to a Roman soldier, his legs where they had been in the stocks, for example, in Philippi, or where he was and what he had to eat. He said, “Do you know what I am doing right now? I am filling up in my flesh what is lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.”
This is what John Whitefoot, who is long dead, but a wonderful commentator said in his translation of this section of Colossians, starting in verse 24-27.
“Now when I see the full extent of God’s mercy, now when I ponder over His mighty work of reconciliation, I cannot choose but to rejoice in my sufferings. Yes, I Paul the persecutor. I Paul the feeble and sinful am permitted to supplement. I do not shrink from the word to supplement the afflictions of Christ despite all that he underwent. He, the master, has left something still for me the servant to undergo, and so my flesh is privilege to suffer for his body, his spiritual body, the church.”
I want to tell you that as I was studying this verse and praying about this verse and asking the Lord to show me what this verse meant, he gave me this picture. I am not saying that this picture is God breathed; it is just what I believe the Lord gave me to help understand this verse. Maybe it will help you, too. I played racquetball and squash in college and occasionally played handball. The Lord showed me a cement wall like you would see at the end of a racquetball or squash court. It had a super ball thrown against it. That super ball bounced off that cement wall and bounced all over the room. The Lord showed me that if we refuse to accept the sin that has been dealt to us, the unfairness, the abandonment, the lack of love, or the abuses, and they pile up as bitterness and hurt in our heart, then those hurts bounce off and go around hurting other people. That is pretty commonly known in our society in what we call hurting people, hurt people. One picture that the Lord gave to me was a cement wall and the super ball was thrown against it. The super ball bounced all over the place. He then showed me the same wall again with a lump of modeling clay that was thrown against it. It went “thud,” and it stuck right on the wall. That was as far as it went. The Lord just gave me the understanding that “John, you can get hit with sin and become angry, bitter, hurt, and all that will bounce out and hurt others, or you can simply take it and between you and me, deal with it.” Ladies and gentlemen, you can learn like Paul to rejoice in the midst of the sufferings, and you can be proud to participate in the redemptive process. Like Paul, you can fill up in your flesh what is lacking in regard to Christ’s affliction because sin is still out there. The world’s redemption is not complete. Sin is still there. Hurt is still there. Pain is still there. You have a choice. You are going to experience it, so you have a choice. You can stop it in you and learn to work it out with you and the Lord and just realize that it is part of the redemptive process, and the Lord will heal you. The other choice is to be all angry and bitter about the hurt, the pain, and the injustice of life and build that up in your heart. Eventually, it will bounce off and start hurting other people.
This verse in Colossians is not really a unique concept in the New Testament. Let’s look at a couple of other verses that are along the same vein.
Philippians 3:10 is another verse that I helped to translate but did not understand. I understood part of it. The Apostle Paul is writing about his relationship to Christ.
I want to know Christ…
The word “know” is ginosko in Greek and is “to know in a concrete way.” I was like, “Yes, yes, yes, I want to know Christ; I get that.”
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings,
The Greek is just simply the fellowship of his sufferings, koinonia. It is a full sharing. Paul says that he wants to have “a full sharing in his sufferings.” I am like, “I do not get that.” You can go to a Bible bookstore and read the commentaries and see that the commentators do not get it either. How do we share in the sufferings of Christ? If your theology is that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was a one time payment for every single sin that has ever been committed in the entire world, and no more sin occurs and no more payment at all, period, you then cannot figure this out. You cannot share in Christ’s sufferings if it is already done, completed, in the past — history.
However, if Christ is suffering now, and he is, then you can participate in that suffering. The Apostle Paul went around killing Christians, throwing them into jail, breaking up their families. When Paul (then Saul) met Christ on the road to Emmaus in a blinding light and Jesus said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting my people?” No, that is not what Jesus said?
What did the Lord Jesus Christ say?
He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
You see, you are part of the Body of Christ, and the redemptive process of Christ because the redemption of the world is still occurring. That is why the world around us is still fallen, and that is why people are in the world are still getting saved.
Back in Philippians 3:10, Paul is saying that he wants to know Christ, I get that. He wants to experience the power of his resurrection; I get that, but then Paul says, “Boy, I want to be a part of the full sharing in Christ’s sufferings.” What does that mean, and how do I do that? My contention would be that in one sense we are going to share in Christ’s sufferings whether we like it or not. As part of the Body of Christ, the Devil hates us, and we are going to be persecuted if we decide to live godly in Christ. Even if we do not decide to live godly in Christ, the Devil is so successful in making everybody on the planet a victim and destroying everybody’s life on the face of the earth. The Devil has a hundred million different ways to do it. Everyone on the planet has a story of suffering. As a part of the Body of Christ, we can understand that we have the privilege to take on the sufferings of Christ; instead of taking that suffering and being angry about it, being bitter, hurt, and holding it up in our hearts and using it as a reason to be guarded, suspicious, angry, and bitter, and using it as a reason to treat people around us with less than the love of Christ. Sadly, what happens to those things is that they become our buttons and “the world” can then push them by way of traffic jams, or push them if our boss comes in and makes unreasonable demands, or push them when our taxes go up. All of a sudden, we find ourselves awash with anger and bitterness and in a place that we did not even want to be, but we are stuck because we have these buttons.
We can get rid of those buttons, and we can learn to rejoice in what we suffer because it is part of the fallen world and the redemptive process. And, we know that we are going to get rewarded.
As I said, this concept of participating in the sufferings of Christ and filling up in our flesh what was lacking when Christ suffered on earth, this is in a number of places in the New Testament.
2 Corinthians 1:3 and 4
(3) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,
(4) who comforts us in all our troubles,
Do you want to know what to do with your pain and hurt? You can develop a relationship with the Lord Jesus where he will speak to you and work with you and comfort you in your pain and in your trouble so that it does not have to sit in your heart like a knot and be the cause of buttons. Which will then just bounce off onto other people and may even develop into a root of bitterness.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5
(3) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,
(4) who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
(5) For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
It is not just that we just stop in Colossians that “I fill up in my flesh what was lacking in regard to Christ’s sufferings.” It is not just that I have to suffer, and that is the end of it. In verse five it says, “The sufferings of Christ are going to over flow into our lives.” That is because the world is not fully redeemed yet, and Christ is still suffering, personally and through his Body. You and I as members of the Body of Christ are part of that suffering, and we are part of that redemptive process. You and I are filling up in our flesh what was lacking in Christ’s affliction.
Do you know what? That is not the end of the story. It is not that I am being beaten up and beaten up and beaten up. The end of the story is in verse five.
2 Corinthians 1:5
For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
That is beautiful, is it not? It is beautiful that God comforts us in our tribulation. It says in Peter to cast all our care upon him. You see all of these things we can give to God, and He will take them and deal with them. It helps us to know that we can give these things to God.
1 Corinthians 15:58
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you are a Christian, you have eternal life. You are going to live forever, and you are going to live forever in an out of this world wonderful place. Righteousness is going to exist, and we are going to know the Lord. We are all going to have perfect bodies. More food will be there than we can eat. All of the prophecies and promises of what the future life is going to be like are all going to be fulfilled. If we are willing to obey God now and walk in the revelation that he has given to us, we will be rewarded for that. Every bit of our labor is going to be rewarded.
I love what it says in this verse:
1 Corinthians 15:58
…you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
We have to know that. We have to know, for example, that if we go out and witness and somebody screams at us that it is not in vain. If we are mistreated in our job, that is not in vain. If we are experiencing pain because of the fallen nature of the world, whether it is or is not related to our Christian walk, that pain is a result of the unredeemed world, and you and I are privileged to get to be a part of the redemption process.
I would like to read Colossians 1:24 again, mainly because it has meant so much to me in my life, so I am going to read it again! This verse has helped me deal with the pain that I have had to deal with in my life on a personal level and within ministry work. People have said all kinds of horrible things about our ministry over the years. Do not think that does not hurt? Sure it hurts, but what do you do with the pain? What do you do with it when somebody hurts you? What you do not do with it is that you are not like that cement wall with the super ball that bounces all over the place hitting other people. You take it in yourself, and you hold it there, and then give it to the Lord.
Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you,
The Apostle Paul wrote that. We want to be able to rejoice in what we suffer for others in this life even though we are suffering from them. We do this because it is part of the redemptive process that we are suffering for them also.
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.
It will help us to get over anger and bitterness if we realize that taking it and giving it to the Lord, not harboring it and being upset about it, that we are actually participating in the redemptive process.
Let me recap just a little bit.
Our goal is to become like Christ. What stands in the way are things that are in our heart that keep us from being like Christ. Those things will try to work their way out of our heart. Those things that are in our heart will come out of our heart even if we do not like what we see, such as anger and bitterness. We want to change our heart. We want to purify it so that we can be like Christ. We are going to have to have confidence that the change will occur. We want to pray for God’s help and get God involved. We want to realize how serious the situation is, and we have to prepare to work hard, and even take drastic action if it is necessary to change our hearts.
Do not try and fight the whole battle at one time, rejoice in a small victory. Pay attention to what is coming out of your heart so that you know what you are dealing with, and get others to help you see it if you think that you might be blind to what is in your heart, if it is bad or good. Start obeying God. Remember, this is not a scrub brush. It is a process. We start obeying God and get closer and closer and closer to being like Christ by continued obedience over time. That is physically and mentally, by thinking about what is true, honest, and just and by capturing your thoughts and ruling your body and your mind with your will. Do not let your flesh run your life.
About the hurt and pain and abandonment and abuse that you have already suffered that has produced anger and bitterness, Ephesians 4:31 says to get rid of it. It is going to help you get rid of it if you understand it. You will understand it better if you understand that you are part of the redemptive process. You and I have the privilege of helping to redeem this world from its sin. An awesome privilege is it not?
God Bless You!