If I were rewriting the Bible, there are some things I’d want to take out.
For one thing, I’d like to ditch all the confusing verses — the ones that puzzle me or don’t seem to fit. For another, I’d want to take out all the stuff about having joy in the middle of pain, because honestly, who wants to do that?
But in our next verse in The Colossians Project, we’ve happened upon both difficult things.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church… (Colossians 1:24)
The Apostle Paul, who has made beautiful sense so far in his letter to the Colossians, has suddenly changed paths, hit a wall, gone a little crazy. Just a few verses back, he was celebrating our deliverance from darkness and Jesus’ sacrifice as sufficient in all things, but suddenly we find him rejoicing in sufferings and filling up what is “lacking in Christ.”
These kinds of verses are challenge and confusion and contradiction all in one. We want to glide right on by — to find something more comfortable, more quotable.
Let’s stop and wrestle with that fear first.
Faith that never makes us uncomfortable — or that causes us to ask questions — or that we always understand — is not faith at all. If we never wrestle with doubt or feel challenged by what God asks us to trust or to do, we don’t follow God, we follow ourselves. We have decided that only what we are comfortable reading or believing or obeying is true.
We have edited ourselves into God.
But wishing away challenge is wishing away change. If we ever hope to become more like Christ, we don’t need to rid ourselves of confusion or doubt or hardship. We must face and fight them with the cry “let God be true, and every man a liar (Romans 3:4).”
We must allow His truth to cut and define and shape our hearts instead of allowing our hearts to run wild to attempt to shape His truth.
And now for the verse itself:
Paul, who has just finished one of the most beautiful hymns in the Bible about Christ’s power to save us and His preeminence of as Lord over all things, certainly does not doubt the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice in the verses that follow.
Instead, Paul knows that it has been granted that the people of God must suffer for a certain amount and time in addition to all that Christ suffered (I Thessalonians 3:2-4, Philippians 1:29-30). He knows that we must share in His sufferings to become like Him, to be refined and sanctified until that day we are glorified with Him (I Peter 4:12-14).
And so Paul rejoices that he is enduring so much hardship for the sake of the church — these people who are his friends and his joy and his passionate mission — so perhaps he can fill up a huge portion of the amount and time of suffering that is still to come.
He rejoices that he is hurting so that his friends, the Church, might not have to — at least not quite so much.
He rejoices because he knows that spiritual life is corporate, not personal, and that both our suffering and our joy should be shared (I Corinthians 12:26).
And he rejoices because he knows that friction builds faith, that sanding produces the shine, that dark reveals the light.
We, too, must not be afraid to let hard doubts or hard truth or hard verses or hard times form us into who He wants us to be.
Read the next post in The Colossians Project.
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