walk in the word
Category: Relying on God
I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ (Colossians 1:24).
Do you believe anything is lacking in the afflictions of Christ? My guess is that you would say “Nothing is lacking. Jesus did it all.” But notice what this text says. Paul says, I am filling up(or finishing or completing) what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ. Does that trouble you?
Much false doctrine is based on this verse. It is this very verse of Scripture that is used to teach the doctrine of penance—the idea that what Jesus accomplished on the cross was not enough. This idea teaches that we must suffer for our own sins, and that if we’re going to be really forgiven, we have to punish ourselves. You could read back through some dark pages in church history to find people who cut themselves with stones or walked a mile over broken glass, somehow believing that their own suffering would purge their sin. They would say, “I’m filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” Wrong!
This phrase has also been used to teach the false doctrine of purgatory, the idea that when someone dies who is not really ready to meet their Creator, they get a second chance. They go to some dark place and suffer for their own sins, and when they’ve suffered enough to pay for their sins, God receives them into heaven. That is a horrific doctrine, and completely false!
God’s Word teaches that when Jesus Christ died on the cross of Calvary, His payment for our sin was complete. Jesus’ lasts words on the cross were, It is finished (John 19:30). That means paid in full. He didn’t say, “It is almost finished” or “It is sort of finished” or “It is finished for now.” He said, “It is finished, period.” He paid for our sins in full. That’s the message of the Book of Hebrews when it says over and over that Jesus died once for all(Hebrews 7:27). Once for all! If we have put our faith in Christ, we don’t need to suffer for our sins; Jesus has already suffered for us.
So what does Paul mean then by filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ? Paul understood that while Christ’s suffering provided the gospel, it does not preach the gospel. We are the ones who are sent out into the world to preach the gospel, and when we preach it, we suffer for it. Sometimes when we share our faith, people say, “I don’t want to hear that.” Sometimes they get angry and outraged and vent their anger at us. Sometimes they ridicule and reject us.
We have to step away from this modern, arrogant notion that the gospel—when rightly shared—makes people comfortable. If Jesus Christ Himself could not escape the ridicule and the ultimate condemnation of those who heard His message, will we? If the Apostle Paul suffered and was beaten and shipwrecked and imprisoned and ultimately killed for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, can we expect any less? Paul says, “Hey this is getting crazy. I share this message, and I’m in prison. I get beaten. People turn on me.”
Christ suffered to provide the gospel, and we suffer to the proclaim it. Let us never think that the gospel can be preached according to the principles of Dale Carnegie. In Matthew 10:34 Jesus said, I came to bring not peace, but a sword. The gospel divides the sheep from the goats; the wheat from the tares. It divides families and businesses and churches and neighborhoods.
So the next time you share the gospel at work or across the fence, don’t expect people to be happy about it—at least not right away. You might have to suffer a bit first. But if you suffer, you can take comfort in the knowledge that, like Paul, you are filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.
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