Paul opened his letter to the Colossians with encouragement about who they were and who Christ was. Before he goes any further into the conflicts they were facing and the error they were embracing, Paul makes sure that they understand who he is, too. Gospel ministers, do not miss this. There is a direct correlation between effectiveness in correction and personal transparency. Who wants to listen to someone they do not know anything about? Crickets. Tell people who you are, what you’ve been through, where you fail, and how you’ve overcome.
In addition to his brief initial introduction, Paul now adds some important details. He tells the Colossians, whom he had never met, just what kind of minister he was. His speech coupled with his example indicated that he was a servant of God who was suffering, rejoicing, diligent, and concerned.
These were not matters of happenstance for Paul. These were all things he chose to do because of his love for the church. Choosing empowers. The one who chooses to embrace suffering escapes self-induced victimization. He chose to suffer. He could have compromised. He chose to rejoice. He could have despaired. He chose to work hard and spend himself fully. He could have done just enough to get by. He chose to concern himself deeply with others. He could have considered himself and his own needs far more often than theirs.
But, no. Paul, like Jesus, was exactly who he said he was. Thank God for gospel ministers who are willing to do whatever it takes to love and serve the church like Jesus Christ.
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
Paul suffered. The purpose was the growth of the church. Here, we learn that our personal suffering is not vain. Better still, we learn that it is necessary for church growth. Where Christians are persecuted, the body thrives. Perhaps someone should let the megachurch industry in on this little gem. It is our suffering, not our prosperity, that brings about authentic church growth.
How does it do so?
It does not “complete” Christ’s work by atoning for sin. He did that. It is done. But, when we suffer, the people to whom we are called to preach will see his suffering in ours. Our suffering displays his love fresh and in the flesh to the world – just as his did. In other words, when we suffer they see his suffering in real time. Live. Get your popcorn and pull up a chair live. Front row seats. You wanna know what it looks like to lay down you life? You wanna know what Jesus was willing to do for your sake? Watch. Watch me. Watch me not compromise. Watch me endure the scorn and shame of the gospel willingly. Watch me rejoice while I do it. Watch me work until I’m spent with no personal earthly benefit. Watch me get mistreated, punished, and unjustly rewarded for it. Watch me stumble. Watch me fall. Watch me not quit. Watch me care more about you as I hurt. Watch me cling to Christ when nothing makes any sense. Watch me persevere. Watch me die with peace.
That is how we “fill up” Christ’s afflictions. They are not lacking in efficacy; they are lacking in real time in the flesh on earth present-ness. Fortunately, we are here and now and we can display suffering like unto his for the sake of his church.
Paul rejoiced. He knew the value and purpose of what he suffered. He knew why he suffered. He didn’t need to concern himself with understanding the details or get depressed wondering why people mistreated him so fiercely everywhere he went. He relied on the truth and focused on the goal – the salvation of the world around him.
Paul attitude was full of Holy Spirit dispensed wisdom. It made him both diligent and concerned for the church. He used Christ’s energy because his was always completely spent. Paul spared no personal expense. Most of us never get to a place where we tap into Christ’s energy because we aren’t willing to use up all of our own for his sake.
But Paul did. He loved God’s people like Jesus loved them. He “struggled” greatly for the encouragement of men and women he’d never met. Notice he wasn’t struggling so that they would not suffer. He was struggling so that they might be encouraged and have unity when they suffered. Ministers, take note.
What must that say about the value of encouragement in the church? Paul tells us why encouragement and unity are so important.
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments ~Colossians 2:1-4
Here’s the progression: encouragement -> unity -> assurance -> truth
Assurance of what? God’s truth. Christ. Wisdom. Knowledge. Paul knows that the best safeguard against being deceived by the lies of the Enemy is to know the truth; understand the truth. His remedy? Encourage those who need better understanding.
Christians, do not be surprised when you are called to suffer – and suffer greatly. You have the unique opportunity to exemplify Christ in the flesh. Choose to lay down your life for the building up of others. Rejoicing in pain is a miraculous encouragement for those facing the same. Follow an encouraging leader. Be an encourager. Stay unified with your brothers and sisters. Study together. Pray together. Work together. Serve together.
“God really means for the body of Christ, the church, to experience some of the suffering He experienced so that when we proclaim the Cross as the way to life, people will see the marks of the Cross in us and feels the love of the Cross from us.” ~John Piper, Desiring God