This past Sunday I preached from Colossians 1:24-29 and mentioned Paul’s theology of suffering. He says in v. 24, “I now rejoice in my suffering for you, and fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church.” There are two phrases that really stick out in this verse. First, Paul says that he rejoices in his suffering for the Gentiles. This is an amazing statement because it is so counter to human nature. I don’t know about you but I don’t like to suffer. If I feel the least bit of rejection or persecution I want to crawl up in a ball somewhere, but Paul is in prison and still says that he rejoices in suffering. How can this be? I think that the second phrase helps us to understand Paul’s attitude, “and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body.” Now obviously, we cannot take this to mean that Christ’s death on the cross was somehow lacking or ineffectual. That would be heresy. It would make the last words of Jesus, “It is finished,” a lie and end up making salvation man centered rather than God-centered. So what is Paul saying? Paul seems to have in mind here that his sufferings are a necessary part of the growth and development of the church. In other words, the spread of the gospel requires suffering. This then gives purpose to his suffering, it enables him to say, “I rejoice in my suffering for you,” because Paul knows that it has meaning and purpose.
In my own life I have encountered periods of suffering and hardship as a result of the gospel. So have you if you’ve been a Christian for very long. I find myself in need of being reminded that everything that happens in my life is part of God’s prupose and plan. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” This does not mean that life will be easy or that Christians will never have trouble. But it does remind us that God has a purpose behind everything. We can be assured that He is constantly working for our good and His glory. We can rejoice in suffering because in the economy of God suffering has a purpose.