In the previous post Paul reminded us that we can learn to rejoice in the Lord, even amid difficult circumstances. But as we continue to trace his teaching in Colossians 1:24-2:5, Paul writes something that seems bizarre to me. In fact, it seems wrong.
Paul writes that he fills up in his body what is still lacking of Christ’s afflictions.
What do you think about that? I find it to be a very strange phrase. When I read that I get the image of some kind of burning hot painful liquid being poured down Paul’s throat. He is being filled up, but its very bad. On New Year’s Eve, our son and daughter-in-law had us over for a get-together, and they created a mini-Olympics that we did right there in their living room. One event was “Who can drink an ice-cold slushee the fastest?” We each had a small slushee, probably in an 8oz cup, with a spoon to help. I started shoveling it in, as I wanted to win this event! I knew brain freeze was on the way. Sure enough in no time the roof of my mouth was screaming in pain. What I didn’t expect was something that I call, because I don’t know how else to describe it, chest freeze. I had never experienced that before, and I wondered if I had seriously injured myself. The freezing slushee sliding down my gullet had me feeling affliction inside my body. Is that what Paul is talking about? No, not that he drank slushee too fast. Instead when Paul says he fills up his body with affliction, it’s just a symbolic way of saying that he went through many difficult times. I won that slushee event by the way… Yes, it was a “difficult time” for me, but nothing compared to what Paul endured. In the book of Acts, we heard that Paul suffered much physical persecution because he boldly shared the message of Jesus around the Roman Empire, and there were many people who attempted to brutally shut him down. All that to say, I understand this part of the phrase, the part about pain filling up his body.
It is the second part of the phrase that has me scratching my head. What could be lacking in Christ’s afflictions? Is Paul saying that the flogging and crucifixion and death that Jesus endured wasn’t enough? There’s no way that could be true, though, right? Jesus’ death was sufficient and complete, lacking nothing. He fully gave his life and rose again. There is nothing else needed for the forgiveness of sin and for the salvation of the world. Even Paul, himself, writes that Jesus completed his mission.
Look at what Paul wrote, just a few verses earlier, in Colossians 1:18-20. There Paul describes Jesus as 100% successful, accomplishing the task God set for him to do. Then look at verses 21-22. Very similar. Jesus’ work is fulfilled! There is nothing incomplete about Jesus’ suffering. So what does Paul mean when he says that there is still something lacking in Christ’s afflictions?
It seems best to understand Paul as saying that there is still something lacking when it comes to the cause of Christ. What is lacking? The many, many people who are not yet followers of Jesus. That’s what Paul refers to in his next phrase.
Paul says he has suffered “for the sake of his body, which is the church.”
So, to put it all together, Paul is saying that what is lacking is that there are still many people who are not yet a part of the church of Jesus, which he refers to using the figurative concept of Christ’s body.
Paul is willing to endure affliction in order to complete the mission that Jesus has given him. That’s an incredible example for us. Paul has made the mission of Jesus his priority. What will it look like for you to give the mission of Jesus more priority in your life?
The natural next step for Paul, then, is describe this role and mission.
Look at verse 25. Paul explains the mission by saying that he has become the servant of the church. Before he said he was servant of the Gospel. Now he says he is servant of the church. Well, he is both.
“Servant” in the Greek Paul wrote in is “diakonos,” where we get our English word “deacon.” Paul says he has become a deacon, one who serves, a helper. Paul saw himself as a servant of the larger church. He was never a pastor stationed at one church. While he did stay for a year or two in both Corinth and Ephesus, he did so not as a shepherd or pastor. Instead Paul was always in the role of apostle, evangelist and teacher. Most often he would be on the move, trying to push into new places to start new churches, or revisiting past places to strengthen churches.
He also served the church by his writing. He helped the churches solve problems and understand the good news about Jesus. That’s how he served the Gospel and the Church.
Furthermore, Paul says God commissioned Paul to this role as an apostolic servant. We studied the story in Acts last year. In Acts chapters 8 & 9 we learned that Paul had been a persecutor of the early Christians, but Jesus appeared to Paul and changed his life.
Ever since that moment, Paul had been a servant of the mission, with the purpose of presenting the word of God in fullness, he says in verse 25. Paul saw his mission as preaching the word God as fully as it could possible be preached. That could be geographically, meaning that Paul wanted the message about Jesus to be spread to every corned of the world. Paul could also be talking theologically, meaning that he wanted the true message of Jesus to be shared.
That idea of the true message of Jesus is especially important to Paul as he writes this specific letter to the Colossians because he has heard some troubling news about them. There is a controversy that he needs to address. He doesn’t address it just yet, not in these verses, but we’ll get to that controversy in the weeks to come.
Paul wants the true message of Jesus to be heard. What is that true message? If he is so concerned about making sure they know the true message about Jesus, you’d think he share it with them, at least as a reminder, right? Well, he does share it with them, and we’ll study that in the next post.