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.
(Colossians 1:24-27 NIV)
Today, Paul comes full circle and talks about his role in the Gospel. We will need to look at some historical context to understand today’s passage.
The first historical context we must review is Paul’s personal situation when he wrote this letter to the Colossian church. Paul was imprisoned in Rome when he wrote this letter. Paul mentions this in passing at the end of his letter to the Colossians when he says, “Remember my chains” (NIV) or “Remember my imprisonment” (NASB) in chapter 4, verse 18.
We can correlate Paul’s situation from his short letter to Philemon, where Paul refers several times to his imprisonment:
- “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus…” (v. 1)
- “… a prisoner of Christ Jesus…” (v. 9)
- “… in my imprisonment for the gospel…” (v. 13)
- “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus…” (v. 23)
Just a short aside – notice that Paul never plays the “victim” card here. Never does he say he is a prisoner of Rome, or of his Jewish or Gentile detractors. He sees himself as a willing prisoner of Jesus, as a servant of Christ.
Going back to the context, we see a second historical factor coming into focus. Paul had never been to Colossae, so he felt compelled to share a little bit about the role and responsibility God had told him to step into.
In verse 1 of chapter 1, Paul introduced himself as “… an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…”. In verse 18, Paul says, “This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” Note in both cases that Paul does not say that he volunteered for the joy or that he was elected by popular vote. In both cases, Paul says he is under orders from God and is obeying as a servant obeys his master.
Why is this context important? To understand what Paul is about to tell us.
In verse 24, Paul says, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you…”. Paul was referring to his current imprisonment as it benefitted the Colossian church. The Lord had told Paul that he would have to suffer for the sake of Christ (Acts 9:16); Paul was rejoicing because he knew he was in the center of God’s will, even as he sat in a Roman prison. Paul knew that as a follower of Christ, whatever happened to him in this life was the worst he would ever experience. He knew that he could endure a few inconveniences and discomforts in this life because the next life is heaven, where sin, pain, and death are no more.
The second phrase of verse 24 is a little harder to understand. Paul says, “… 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.”
What does Paul mean when he says “… I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions… “?
Paul is saying, “they came after Jesus, and they whipped him, mocked him, and killed him. Now they’re coming after me, as I am identified with Jesus. They have beat me up a little bit and thrown me into prison, but that is nothing compared to what they did to Jesus. I am happy to be associated with Christ, even if it means physical suffering.”
It is also important to state what Paul is NOT saying. Paul is not saying that Christ’s suffering for our sins was insufficient for our salvation. That would be undoing everything that Paul had been teaching.
Paul is also not saying that we must self-inflict our own suffering to become acceptable before God, as some denominations teach. Again, this would go against everything Jesus and Paul taught. Jesus said that we will experience suffering because of our association and relationship with Him (John 16:33). We don’t need to inflict it on ourselves as a way to please God.
In verse 25, Paul refers to his role as a servant of the Lord, under orders (commission) to share the Gospel.
In verses 26 and 27, Paul alludes to the fact that there is a mystery to be shared, but it’s not what the Eastern mystics in the Colossian church were trying to teach. The mystery was and is Christ, the only hope of reaching heaven (glory).
There is a lot to digest here today in these four verses. There are three basic takeaways in this section:
- We can experience joy when we endure suffering because of our relationship with Christ
- We have the fulness of God available to us in His Word (the Bible) and His example (Jesus)
- The mystery and hope of Messiah from ages past has been revealed to us in Jesus