Suffering For The Church
Colossians 1:24-29
Rev. Bryn MacPhail

Assuming that you have looked at, and thought about, the sermon title for this morning, I wonder how many of you are perplexed by it. Everyone here is willing, of course, to attend church. And among you this morning are individuals who are willing to serve the church. But who would ever, in their right mind, want to suffer for the church?

In a society where pain and suffering are to be avoided at all costs, I expect this sermon title to strike a nerve within you. If your eye-brows have indeed been raised by what is implied by this title, I invite you to read again the first verse in our passage for this morning. Beginning at verse 24, Paul explains to the Colossians the nature of his ministry, "Now, I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions ".

Paul says that he "rejoice(s) in (his) sufferings ". This should seem strange to us. Elsewhere, Paul encourages us to "rejoice in the Lord " during anxious times(Phil. 4:4). Peter, in his first epistle, admonishes us to rejoice in our salvation during difficult times(1Pet. 1:3-6). And James, in his epistle, reminds us to rejoice in the work God is doing within us during various trials(Jas. 1:2-4). But Paul, in Colossians 1:24, does not say that he is rejoicing in the Lord; he does not say that he is rejoicing in his salvation; he does not say that he is rejoicing in the work God is doing within him--Paul says to the Colossians, in the clearest of terms, "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake ".

The question that I hope you are all asking right now is, "How can Paul say this? How can Paul take joy in suffering?". The Scripture is clear when it teaches that we should rejoice in the Lord in the midst of suffering, but to actually rejoice in the suffering itself . . . It just doesn't seem natural. Yet, as we take a closer look into Paul's reasoning for rejoicing in his sufferings, we see that his attitude towards suffering makes a great deal of sense.

It would be a mistake if we were to apply Paul's statement to all of our suffering. We should not rejoice in the fact that we have a terminal illness. We should not rejoice in the pain and suffering of someone we love. We should not rejoice in the fact that we live in a difficult marriage or have strained family relationships. It would be a gross misapplication of this text if we resolved this morning to enjoy all of our suffering.

So what is Paul getting at here? Paul enjoys hardship when he suffers on behalf of the Body of Christ . Paul is quite happy when his suffering is for the church. Paul begins by saying that he rejoices in his sufferings for the sake of the Colossians, but he qualifies what he means by that by specifying that his suffering is on behalf of the church of Jesus Christ.

Remember what Christ Himself has said regarding suffering for Him, "Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great "(Mt. 5:11, 12).

There is indeed suffering we rightly call tragic, but Jesus reminds us, and Paul reminds us, that there is also suffering that we should see as a blessing.

In the text we studied last week, Paul urged us to "continue in the faith firmly established " and to not be "moved away from the hope of the gospel "(1:23). Paul's admonition should now make perfect sense to us in the context of suffering for Christ. One could expect to be jolted in their faith when faced with persecution, but Paul encourages us, and models for us, standing firm in the midst of persecution .

What is amazing is the clear sense that Paul actually welcomes persecution. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul tells them of his desire to "know (Christ) " and to know "the fellowship of His sufferings "(Phil. 3:10). Paul, writing to Timothy, tells him to "suffer hardship . . . as a good soldier of Christ "(2Tim. 2:3).

Why is Paul so eager to suffer for Jesus Christ and His church? Paul's answer is "to fill up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions "(v.24). Let us be clear, first of all, what Paul is not saying here. Paul does not have in mind here the idea of supplementing the reconciliation accomplished by Christ on the cross. The Greek word translated "afflictions " is never used in the New Testament with reference to the cross(Wright, Colossians , 89; Bruce, Colossians , 83).

While the wording here is admittedly tricky, most commentators agree that Paul has in mind the idea that there is a fixed amount of suffering to be endured in the dawning of the Messianic age(Wright, Colossians , 89; Bruce, Colossians , 83). Paul, therefore, delights to take as much as he can in order to spare others. I realize how strange this sounds to our modern ears, but we must bear in mind that we are called the body of Christ--that is, we are the body of the crucified Christ. Neither Paul or Jesus ever promised that the Christian life would be easy. In fact, both of them promised suffering for the sake of the gospel.

Now after saying all of that, I wouldn't want any of you to get the impression that we are to go out looking for trouble. I have come across many who are ridiculed as Christians, not because their message was offensive, but because they were offensive. If we are persecuted for Christ's sake we must be sure that it is our message and not our personality that precipitates opposition.

Those of you familiar with the book of Acts know that what always preceded Paul being jailed or beaten was Paul preaching Jesus Christ or healing in His name. Here in Colossians, Paul tells us what he has been called to do, "of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God "(v.25).

What does that mean Paul? What does it mean to preach the word of God? Verses 26 and 27, "that is ", Paul preaches, "the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but now has been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory ".

Paul was called to preach Christ . Paul was firm in his faith and he was firm in his commitment to preach Christ, and was therefore, unwilling to be moved by any amount of persecution.

Paul is a model disciple of Christ. If you want to compare yourself to other Christians, compare yourself to Paul. Paul tells the Corinthians to do just that--he tells them, "imitate me, as I also imitate Christ "(1Cor. 11:1). Compare yourself to Paul and you will see how far you have yet to go to reach maturity. As a minister of the gospel, I find it easy to make that kind of comparison--Paul and I have the same calling. The difference is, whenever Paul went some place, he got beat up; whenever I go some place, I get served tea and cookies.

For Paul, the message is so precious, the message is so valuable, that Paul refuses to be deterred in his commitment. By contrast, most of us are easily deterred in our commitment to Christ. Some of us would sooner do yard work or play sports than serve Christ's church. For many of us, serving Christ is what we will do when we get everything else done. Our half-hearted commitment to Christ and His church makes a mockery of the gospel. It demonstrates that we have yet to understand the value of the gospel.

It should go without saying that the gospel of Christ is more important than household chores or your career. It should not be necessary to preach from the pulpit that belonging to the body of Christ is more important than belonging to any social club or sports team. Yet, from all appearances, we have not grasped what Paul has grasped.

The good news is that it is not too late. The reason Paul kept preaching is the reason I keep preaching--our goal is to "proclaim (Jesus Christ), admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone complete in Christ "(v.28). The work of attaining Christian maturity is never done. It is not too late to turn the ship around and to get headed in the right direction. The fact that the word "everyone " is repeated 3 times should also encourage us. The point of the emphatic "everyone " is to communicate that every single Christian is capable of the maturity that Paul is calling for . The commitment to serving Christ that Paul speaks of is not reserved for a spiritual elite. A lay person can be every bit as committed to Christ as a minister.

What keeps a minister accountable, of course, is that if my commitment were to fade you would notice. My sermons would become shallow and disjointed, and I would stumble through leading Bible studies. As I say that, there are signs for when other commitments begin to falter also.

If individual session members falter in their commitment, members of the congregation won't receive phone calls or visits. If board members falter in their commitment, the church building and property becomes a mess. If Sunday school teachers did not diligently prepare their classes, the Sunday school would turn into a 1hr day care centre.

I don't simply want to pick on committee members either. If members of the congregation neglect to serve the church, what inevitably happens is that the ones who are serving the church get burned out because they don't have enough support.

We must all heed Paul's example. Paul says that for the purpose of "present(ing) every complete in Christ ", he "labour(s), striving according to (Christ's) power, which mightily works within (him) "(v.29).

We do not labour alone. We labour according to the power of Christ that works within us. Because it is Christ's power, and not our own, our ability to serve the church--even suffer for the church--is greater than we can imagine.

"Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen "(Eph. 3:20).