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 churchSo I have been wanting to write a post on this for a while but have been restrained from doing so as a result of all the excite and frenzy that accompanies a graduating senior (more to come on my school of choice and the Lord's hand in that). The Well (college group) at Emmanuel Faith Community Church just started on Colossians 1:1-14 last Sunday which inspired me to finally complete this post! Unfortunately, I missed Pastor Ryan's explanation on this verse, but oh well...maybe I'll fair ok. uh...anyways...
John Piper briefly covers this verse in his sermon entitled "How Few There Are Who Die So Hard: Suffering and Success in the Life of Adoniram Judson." Adoniram Judson was an American Baptist missionary who labored in Burma for 33 years straight and left the field only due to the death of his first wife, later returning there with his second wife for 8 more years. But in that 33 years, he never once left the field; he didn't even leave for the typical modern missionary furlough, or break. The sermon emphasizes the verse John 12:24 which reads,
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.It emphasizes how Judson's life modeled that of Christ's. Over and over he died to himself until he went to be with the Lord, having left behind the fruits of his sowing: 100 Burmese churches, and over 8,000 Burmese believers; however, this is not the topic of my post! if you want to read or listen to the sermon, click here...I HIGHLY recommend it.
You may ask, "What does Judson have anything to do with Colossians 1:24, and what does Colossians 1:24 have anything to do with the Great Commission?" Well, my intent is to inform you.
I want to start off by reminding you of what our lives really are. James reminds us that we "...are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." (James 4:14) Why then should we not "Conduct [our]selves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time." (Colossians 4:5) If we have such little time to make any impact for Christ on this Earth, better do it with speed, efficiency, wisdom, and excellence for the Lord. We have little time to share the Gospel of Grace with unbelievers, so we must take advantage of the time Christ has allotted to us. This - the Great Commission that is - is what I am suggesting that this 24th verse of Colossians 1 is referring to.
"Rejoicing in Our Sufferings"
Sounds radical, no? (in this context, radical does not refer to "cool"). "Wow, I am so glad that when I try to speak up for Christ, people shoot me down, call me an ignorant unintelligent fool, and laugh at me." I'm not quite sure that's what Paul meant. Paul here is expressing an attitude of gratefulness. Christ suffered in ways that are unimaginable to any human being ever...FOR OUR SAKE! If Christ had not suffered and died in our place, so that we didn't have to...if he had not been OUR sacrificial lamb, a lamb that took not a nation's sins away, but rather a lamb that took the sins of the world away, we would not have a hope of salvation. Thanks to Christ's sufferings and God's power to raise him from the dead, we walk not as dead, but as living sacrifices (an interesting oxymoron).
Christ modeled a perfect "suffering servant." A model that Paul followed and mimicked, as should we. A commentary on this verse puts it this way: Against the biblical background and the memory of Jesus, Paul interprets his suffering as the cost of his servanthood (of the Gospel) and provides evidence of his devotion to God's call. This impression is intensified by the emphatic way Paul introduces himself here--ego Paulus, "I, Paul." Moreover, the ministry of the servant who suffers in obedience to God's call will eventually yield the fruit of God's salvation; that is, the suffering of the servant results in salvation.
Christ suffered and died and yielded an awesome harvest; the ultimate fruit bearing seed. Just as Christ suffered and yielded a harvest, so Paul suffered and yielded a harvest, so Adoniram Judson suffered and yielded a harvest. If you look back to John 12:24, it makes perfect sense and is a brilliant analogy. To further this argument, Christ calls us to be imitators of Him...I think the implication is understood.
In Romans, Paul says,
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.He goes on to say,
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness......therefore, we don't have anything to worry about, since the Lord supplies all that we need (mainly Himself).
It is interesting to examine all of the different references to sufferance that Paul makes in his letters to churches and friends:
- In Galations, Paul writes (in the context of bearing one another's burdens),
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
- In this verse, Paul speaks on long-suffering. Doing good that might be costly, in whatever way whether it be health, time, money, etc., to the sower.
In Philippians, Paul says,
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.THIS verse in Philippians when Paul is teaching what it means "to live is Christ, to die is gain," will grab your attention. It is very straight forward. If you want the context...well then I guess you'll have to look it up =)
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sakePretty straight forward, no?
- I need to read the book over a couple more times, but in 2 Timothy, I spotted three key verses referencing suffering, and, for no apparent reason, I will only list two.
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.
2 Timothy 1:4
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 1:3
Sweet and simple.
"Filling Up what is Lacking in Christ's Afflictions???"
Let's read Colossians 1:24 again:
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
In this verse, Paul sounds very heretical when speaks about filling up what is missing, or lacking in Christ's afflictions. We know what Christ's afflictions are. Jesus Christ suffered a beating such that we will never have to experience and the ultimate punishment that we would have faced had we not made a choice to follow Him. He experienced total separation from God, His Father, so that if we so choose, we might be spared from eternal separation in a far worse place than Heaven called Hell.
I'm going to cite a segment from one of my favorite books called The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel. Strobel was a skeptic of Christianity, and when his beloved wife made a choice to follow Christ, he became upset and pursued answers to all the questions and attacks that well known skeptics made against the Faith by seeking out some of the most intelligent and wise theologians of our day. On one occassion, he was testing the validity of Jesus' death...did Jesus Christ really die? If he hadn't, then there was REALLY no resurrection, right? Well, M.D. and PH.D. Alexander Metherell spelled it out for Strobel. There were three parts to Jesus' death that day: the torture, the cross, and the spear in his side. Bear with me...this section is really long, but I doubt that you will not be interested in reading it. It's very important for believers to understand what our Savior went through that day. This is not for the feint of heart (Stobel's questions are in red):
The Day Before His Death
It began after the Last Supper. Jesus went with his disciples to the Mount of Olives-specifically, to the Garden of Gethsemane. And there, if you remember, he prayed all night. Now, during that process he was anticipating the coming events of the next day. Since he knew the amount of suffering he was going to have to endure, he was quite naturally experiencing a great deal of psychological stress. (Strobel raises the objection that it must have been impossible for Jesus to sweat blood at this point). Not at all. This is a known medical condition called hematidrosis. It's not very common, but it is associated with a high degree of psychological stress. What happens is that severe anxiety causes the release of chemicals that break down the capillaries in the sweat glands. As a result, there's a small amount of bleeding into these glands, and the sweat comes out tinged with blood. We're not talking about a lot of blood; it's just a very, very small amount. What this [condition] did was set up the skin to be extremely fragile so that when Jesus was flogged by the Roman soldier the next day, his skin would be very, very sensitive.
The Roman Soldier Flogging
Roman floggings were known to be terribly brutal. They usually consisted of thirty-nine lashes but frequently were a lot more than that, depending on the mood of the soldier applying the blows. The soldier would use a whip of braided leather thongs with metal balls woven into them. When the whip would strike the flesh, these balls would cause deep bruises or contusions, which would break open with further blows. And the whip had pieces of sharp bone as well, which would cut the flesh severely. The back would be so shredded that part of the spine was sometimes exposed by the deep, deep cuts. The whipping would have gone all the way from the shoulders down to the back, the buttocks, and the back of the legs. It was just terrible. One physician who has studied Roman beatings said, 'As the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.' A third-century historian by the name of Eusebius described a flogging by saying, 'The sufferer's veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.' We know that many people would die from this kind of beating even before they could be crucified. At the least, the victim would experience tremendous pain and go into hypovolemic shock. This [hypovolemic shock] does four things. First, the heart races to try to pump blood that isn't there; second, the blood pressure drops, causing fainting or collapse; third, the kidneys stop producing urine to maintain what volume is left; and fourth, the person becomes very thirsty as the body craves fluids to replace the lost blood volume. Jesus was in hypovolemic shock as he staggered up the road to the execution site at Calvary, carrying the horizontal beam of the cross. Finally Jesus collapsed, and the Roman soldier ordered Simon to carry the cross for him. Later we read that Jesus said, 'I thirst,' at which point a sip of vinegar was offered to him. Because of the terrible effects of this beating, there's no question that Jesus was already in serious to critical condition even before the nails were driven through his hands and feet.
The Agony of the Cross
What happened when he arrived at the site of the Crucifixion? He would have been laid down, and his hands would have been nailed in the outstretched position to the horizontal beam. This crossbar was called the patibulum, and at this stage it was separate from the vertical beam, which was permanently set in the ground. The Romans used spikes that were five to seven inches long and tapered to a sharp point. They were driven through the wrists (not through the palms like many depictions show). Through the wrists. This was a solid position that would lock the hand; if the nails had been driven through the palms, his weight would have cause the skin to tear and he would have fallen off the cross. So the nails went through the wrists, although this was considered part of the hand in the language of the day. And it's important to understand the the nail would go through the place where the median nerve runs. This is the largest nerve going out to the hand, and it would be crushed by the nail that was being pounded in. What sort of pain would that have produced? Let me put it this way. Do you know the kind of pain you feel when you bang your elbow and hit your funny bone? That's actually another nerve, called the ulna nerve. It's extremely painful when you accidentally hit it. Well, picture taking a pair of pliers and squeezing that crushing that nerve. That effect would be similar to what Jesus experienced. The pain was absolutely unbearable. In fact, it was literally beyond words to describe; they had to invent a new word; excruciating. Literally, excruciating means 'out of the cross.' Think of that: they needed to create a new word, because there was nothing in the language that could describe the intense anguish caused during the crucifixion. At this point Jesus was hoisted as the crossbar was attached to the vertical stake, and then nails were driven through Jesus' feet. Again, the nerves in his feet would have been crushed, and there would have been a similar type of pain. What stresses would this have put on his body? First of all, his arms would have immediately been stretched, probably about six inches in length, and both shoulders would have become dislocated-you can determine this with simple mathematical equations. This fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy in Psalm 22, which foretold the Crucifixion hundreds of years before it took place and says, 'My bones are out of joint.'
The Cause of Death
Once a person is hanging in the vertical position, crucifixion is essentially an agonizingly slow death by asphyxiation. The reason is that the stresses on the muscles and diaphragm put the chest into the inhaled position; basically, in order to exhale, the individual must push up on his feet so the tension on the muscles would be eased for a moment. In doing so, the nail would tear through the foot, eventually locking up against the tarsal bones. After managing to exhale, the person would then be able to relax down and take another breath in. Again he'd have to push himself up to exhale, scraping his bloodied back against the coarse wood of the cross. This would go on and on until complete exhaustion would take over, and the person wouldn't be able to push up and breathe anymore. As the person slows down his breathing, he goes into what is called respiratory acidosis-the carbon dioxide in the blood is dissolved as carbonic acid, causing the acidity of the blood to increase. This eventually leads to an irregular heartbeat. In fact, with his heart beating erratically, Jesus would have known that he was at the moment of death, which is when he was able to say, 'Lord, into your hands I commit my spirit.' And then he died of cardiac arrest. Even before he died-and this is important too-the hypovolemic shock would have caused a sustained rapid heart rate the would have contributed to heart failure, resulting in the collection of fluid in the membrane around the heart, called a pericardial effusion, as well as around the lungs, which is called a pleural effusion. Why is that significant? Because of what happened when the Roman soldier came around and, being fairly certain that Jesus was dead, confirmed it by thrusting a spear into his right side. It was probably his right side; that's not certain, but from the description it was probably the right side, between the ribs. The spear apparently went through the right lung and into the heart, so when the spear was pulled out, some fluid-the pericaridal effusion that the pleural effusion-came out. This would have the appearance of a clear fluid, like water, followed by a large volume of blood, as the eyewitness John described in his gospel. Wait a minute, Doc. When you carefully read what John said, he saw 'blood and water' come out; he intentionally put the words in that order. but according to you, the clear fluid would have come out first. So there's a significant discrepancy here. I'm not a Greek scholar, but according to people who are, the order of words in ancient Greek was determined not necessarily by sequence but by prominence. This means that since there was a lot more blood than water, it would have made sense for John to mention the blood first. There was absolutely no doubt that Jesus was dead.
What, on this good earth, could EVER be lacking in Christ's afflictions. After reading this and realizing the sin of the world that Christ had to bear while he was struggling to fill his lungs with breath, it is pure heresy to say that ANYTHING is lacking in Christ's afflictions. How dare Paul say something like that. And to say that he is responsible to fill up that which is lacking. No, no, no. Think about it for a second. What lacks in Christ's death and resurrection? Why did he have to go through all of that pain and suffering? Why did he have to suffer separation from his Father? What is lacking in Christ's afflictions is the belief of this world!
If the nations don't turn to Him, then Christ has suffered for nothing. If the nations don't celebrate in Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, and experience the white-hot enjoyment of Christ's free gift of salvation and eternity with Him in Heaven, to the glory of God the Father, than God might as well have not sent his son, the first-ever missionary to the world, to suffer and die for the sin's of the world.
Paul wants to bring as many as he can reach, to Heaven with him. Although Paul has suffered many losses, and pain, and imprisonment, he counts them as nothing when up against the tremendous grace of God. He wants to experience this sufferance which he knows will reap a harvest in souls won for the Lord. 'In [Paul's] flesh [he is] filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.' In other words, Paul is evangelizing so that Christ did not die in vain. He does this in order to build up the 'body' of Christ, 'which is the church.'
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. And Jesus came to them and said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."