Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
We are very accustomed in Christianity to talk about how Jesus’ work in his perfect life, death, resurrection, and ascension is absolutely complete, that Jesus has done all that is necessary for our life and salvation. This is good and true. As we read in Colossians 1:22, Jesus has reconciled his people and presents them to God the Father.
What’s going on with Paul’s commentary in verse 24, about completing something that is lacking? Is it, as some would say, a statement that Christians must suffer persecution or they are not really Christians? Is it a hint that there is something left unfinished? We can’t concede that. To do so would say that Jesus didn’t really complete the work of salvation. It would imply that Jesus alone is not the savior and that we, or those who would persecute us, need to endure suffering or salvation isn’t complete. And what if your life is really good and you have very little suffering? Would this suggest that you cannot be a Christian and must put yourself into a situation that will be more difficult? If we are responsible for the suffering to bring our salvation, then we don’t need the Christ described in Scripture. We can’t say that there is anything left unfinished.
So what is the apostle getting at here? He says that he is suffering for the sake of the Colossians, filling up the suffering that Christ may not have done for them. After all, when Paul is writing to the Colossians, Christ has finished suffering. He is seated at the right hand of the Father and, though he is constantly working for his people, he is no longer suffering for them.
The apostle, unlike Jesus, suffers while he works. Though it is Christ working in him and through him, Paul is the one who is sweating in the heat, sleeping badly in uncomfortable settings at night, suffering from the pains of his journeys, declining in his health due to rough treatment, beatings, and imprisonments. For the benefit of Christ’s people, the servants of God endure hardship. Like a parent of a small child, a pastor cares for the health of the congregation, makes sure they have the teaching and worship that they need, sees to it that the people are well nourished from the Word of God. The pastor attends to the sick and the weak, including those being born and those dying. Like the apostle Paul, all of God’s “full-time” servants work hard and suffer hardship for the good of the congregation. It is a joy to see the Lord’s people encouraged and strengthened. Yet it is not without its trials.
We pray the Lord would work through His people to build up His body in strength and grace, to present everyone to the Father mature in Christ.
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