Monday, May 16, 2011

Filling Up the Afflictions of Messiah

I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church. (Colossians 1:24)

Paul endured many afflictions for the sake of the gospel. “In my flesh,” he says, again affirming (against the Gnostic idea that matter is evil) the physical, this world nature of the gospel. Jesus the Messiah has a body, a physical presence in the world. The Church is that body and Paul is part of the Church, so when he is persecuted, the Church suffer affliction, and when the Church suffers affliction, Jesus suffers affliction in His body. In one of his letters to the believers at Corinth, Paul details some of the persecutions he experienced.

In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness — besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)
This came as no surprise. When Paul (then known as Saul) was converted on the road to Damascus, and was literally blinded by the experience, God spoke to another man, Ananias, to go and lay hands on him to restore his sight. Ananias was reluctant; it was still only very recently that Saul had been persecuting believers. But the Lord Jesus said, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).

When Paul speaks of “filling up” what was lacking in the “afflictions of Christ,” he is not referring to the passion of the cross and the work of atonement Jesus did for us there — that work was full and complete! Rather, he is talking about being persecuted for the sake of Jesus and the gospel. Paul suffered many afflictions, as did the other apostles, because of the message they preached. In Acts 5, for instance, we read about Peter and the apostles, when they were arrested and put in jail. The authorities were so enraged they wanted to kill them but released them instead, warning them not to preach about Jesus anymore. “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:41-42). Indeed, Jesus promised that this sort of thing would happen.
Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Paul and the other apostles did not just put up with these afflictions — they rejoiced in them! He explains why in his letter to the Jesus believers at Philippi, written from a prison cell (as indeed is this letter to the believers at Colosse).
But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.

For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith. (Philippians 1:12-25)
Persecution for the sake of the gospel has persisted throughout the history of the Church. Even today, there are many Christians around the world who are being cruelly treated and martyred for their faith in Jesus (for example, see The Voice of the Martyrs). They are “filling up” the “afflictions of Christ,” and yet, surprisingly — and supernaturally — they rejoice! Jesus is glorified in their physical bodies, whether by life or by death, and they are with Him.

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

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