Colossians – Foundations
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.” (Colossians 1:24–26 ESV)
When it comes to Biblical interpretation, these verses are a challenge! Many studies have debated what Paul is saying and not saying in these verses.
I have not a reason to doubt the authenticity of Paul’s sincerity as he wrote these words.
So, what do we have here:
- We have Paul speaking about his suffering.
- We have Paul talking about his own body,
- We have Paul saying that he is filling up in what is lacking in Christ afflictions.
- We have Paul speaking about the suffering of Christ
- We have Paul talking about the Church, the body of Christ
- We have Paul sharing why he is a minister of the Gospel
- We have Paul sharing about the gift of God upon him so that the Gospel is known
- We have Paul sharing about the Word of God to be fully know
- We have Paul speaking into hidden mystery
- We have Paul talking about this mystery that was hidden for ages
- We have Paul saying that this mystery is now revealed to the saints.
I hope you can now see that there is so much to unpack here!
So, what is Paul saying in verse 24?
Is he saying that Christ suffering isn’t enough?
What does he mean that he is filling up, supplementing, completing Christ afflictions?
Surely not! We know that Christ afflictions and sufferings do not need supplementing. Christ died and suffered once and for all.
What does he mean by “lacking”? What is lacking? Christ is complete, and Christ does not lack anything, and nothing can be added to him and his work of redemption.
Unfortunately, the NIV has the words “what is still”, which brings more confusion as it is not in the original text, so there is no “what is still lacking”, which can be interpreted as even now, present and future, Christ work is lacking something.
Unlike some interpreters of this passage, I don’t believe Paul speaks about the last days and the end of suffering. Something which was very much part of the church thinking at the time.
I don’t believe he is talking regarding the suffering of the church. Yes, indeed, there are passages in the NT and especially in the letters of Paul where he says that we in Christ also suffer, and suffering is very much part of Paul’s thinking. I do not see that these verses encourage to persevere in times of persecution and much suffering.
I do believe that he is talking about his suffering. That’s the reason why he is precise in mentioning his flesh: “in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church”.
What do we make about rejoicing in my suffering? Paul says this. It is a paradox! We don’t associate suffering with joy, and we associate suffering with pain, distress, sadness. I only have on one occasion heard someone telling me about his joy of dying as he had a vision of Jesus during a dream, that Jesus was waiting for him. This friend of mine died of aids. When he told me, his face was radiant, with a smile on his face, and I truly believed him.
Most of us cope with pain and suffering as much as we can, and this is biblical. It is called perseverance, steadfastness.
But we should not be surprised that Paul is speaking about rejoicing in our suffering, we have seen in this letter that when the mighty power of God comes upon us to strengthen us for “all endurance and patience with joy;”(Colossians 1:11 ESV)
What is Paul saying in verse 25?
What does he mean he has become a minister for the sake of the church? Was he not appointed by Jesus? But, first, let us remember that this Church was not planted by Paul, but by a group of men, under the leadership of Epaphras.
What is he trying to say? Why is Paul linking his suffering to becoming a servant of the Lord?
What is Paul saying in verse 26?
What does he mean when he speaks about what God has hidden for ages, and now it is revealed?
Is he pointing out the message of the Gospel that was hidden in the Old Testament, and not he is a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is no longer hidden?
Is he being clever as he chooses these words to send a message to the enemies of the Church?
Who are the enemies of this Church?
Finally, I want to point out that the Word hidden shares the same root word for initiation, meaning cultic, religious, and oaths belonging to certain exclusive societies. As we will see in chapter two, Paul will confront these ideologies, which he calls them out, describing them as belonging to the spirit of the world. In other words, they are demonic.
In Chapter two, there is a list of threats that the Church in Colossae faces, and I believe these threats were as accurate as they are today!
Let me give you the list that is found in chapter two:
- Hollow and deceptive philosophies
- Human traditions
- Principles of this world.
- Ceremonial food
- Religious festivals
- New moon celebrations
- Worship of angels
- Secret knowledge and wisdom = Gnosticism
Unlike the Churches in Galatia, Romans, even Corinthians, the threat to the Gospel did not come from the Juadaiser. Instead, they believed the Law of Moses needed to be added to the message of the Gospel.
Here in Colossians, it is different, the enemies of the Gospel were, and I believe still are, beliefs rooted in human wisdom and influenced by a demonic mindset.
So, let me pause here.
What is Paul trying to say here?
In these five verses of chapter one, vv24-26 and 27-29, I will be preaching next week, and with this, we will finish chapter one) Paul is introducing himself and his ministry.
These verses are Paul’s presentation to the Churches in Colossae and Laodicea. Paul is not trying to defend his ministry.
Here he is introducing his credentials to a community of Christians that mainly were gentiles and with whom he has great empathy with their sufferings and is new in the faith.
In chapter one, Paul sets out to lay the foundations of the Gospel so that in chapters two and three, he can address the issues that the Colossians were contending with.
There are three Hidden Mysteries that Paul shares in these verses:
- The mystery of his suffering
- The mystery of his calling
- The mystery of his message
I will take the mystery of his suffering and call together because they are very much united. You can’t separate them.
Paul’s calling to be an apostle of Christ will always be associated with suffering. Paul understood this from the beginning of his encounter with Jesus at the Damascus Road encounter.
We need to go to Acts chapter 9
“But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” So the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:13–16 ESV)
This is the mark of his apostleship and his credentials as a servant and minister of God.
Paul’s commission is one as Jesus said: He is his chosen instrument to carry his name to the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. That is a big call.
God’s hand upon Paul was before he was even born. Paul was a man versed in the Biblical narrative of his time, and from that place, he received a powerful encounter with Jesus and a commission from Jesus to become a servant.
Col. 1:24 says: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,” (Colossians 1:24 ESV)
The encounter with Jesus was a matter of great rejoicing! Encountering Jesus as Lord, Paul, met the Messiah. This Messiah is the very one that Paul studied, preached and waited for, and now he appeared to Him on the way to persecute the body of Christ.
The irony is that from inflicting suffering, he became the recipient of suffering for the sake of the Lord.
I agreed with Marianne Meye Thompson, who has written an excellent commentary on this letter. She says that “ A suffering church is not the point – that Paul is addressing here – rather, it is the apostle suffering for the church”.
It is totally impossible and even doctrinally incorrect if we believe that a Christian should not suffer. Christ never promised that. Yet, there is something mystical, powerful, and even loving about suffering.
Like Paul and the Colossians, we can endure hardships, persecutions, and sufferings; why? Because the same Christ that was in Paul and the Colossians is with us. He is with us in two ways: 1) He lives in us by his Spirit, and 2) He walks beside us; he is our companion. Therefore, by Christ living in us, we have become the body of Christ. So, when we suffer, Christ also suffers with us. This is why we are never alone.
Nothing is lacking in Christ afflictions, and it is the body of Christ, his people who make up Christ suffering through his body, the Church. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV)
So, how does it relate to us?
I believe that we have lost the awesomeness, the first love, that inspiration of our first encounter with Jesus. Instead, we have become accustomed to preventing suffering at all costs. However, when we realise the immensity of what it means to be saved and the work of Christ on our behalf, then we may embrace the Christian life in its fullness.
“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8–11 ESV)
Paul’s gift to the Church was to make the Word of God fully known! There is no other higher call and most effective way to serve the Church than the proclamation of the Word of God. “of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known” (Colossians 1:25 ESV)
I agree with Dick Lucas, who says: “It is precisely by the teaching of the Word of God that the Church of God is to be served. It is by the truth of the Gospel that the church is formed, sustained and equipped. On the contrary, without a satisfactory ministry of the Word of God, the church either wither and die, or assume more or less grotesque forms”.
I have seen churches wither and die when people do not treat the Word of God preached as sacred. I have witnessed some distortion, denying the very Gospel that they first believe by getting entangled with other forms of wordily wisdom and associations.
We must learn what God is saying through his Word, and we need to rediscover its wonder.
2. Hidden Mystery
“the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.” (Colossians 1:25–26 ESV)
This hidden mystery that for ages and generations has kept secret is now revealed. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The veil that the Gospel has now removed once separated man and God. I mentioned earlier the vital link of the Word hidden and the word initiation.
I want to make just two short points about this verse:
- I believe Paul is now beginning to address the false teaching that the Colossians were listening to. Paul is making the point that the Gospel is no longer hidden and is the initiation into a relationship with God.
- The hidden mystery has now been revealed to His saints! To all of us. It is no longer for the elected wise few. It is not a secret anymore, and all of us can have the Gospel. We are the saints.