Please explain Colossians 1:4. It seems to imply that the work of Christ was somehow incomplete, although I know this is not the case.
The verse reads, “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.”
It would indeed almost seem that the apostle Paul was saying the redemptive work of Christ wasn’t finished. However, we know that is not so, for Christ Himself announced on the cross, “It is finished,” referring to His redemptive work (John 19:30).
Further, the word for afflictions here is never used in connection with Jesus’ suffering on the cross. Thus the afflictions of Christ mentioned here must refer to His many afflictions during His earthly ministry prior to the cross. We remember that Jesus said the suffering for His sake would continue after His ascension because believers would take up the work He would be giving them until the end of this Age: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The apostle Paul recognized this fact in his own life and rejoiced in it just as the Lord had said we should. The Lord indeed had told Ananias concerning Paul, “For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16).
Paul also tried continuously to comfort and bolster believers everywhere in their suffering. He reminded the Roman believers that we “glory in tribulations” (Rom. 5:3) and that suffering “worketh patience.” To the Corinthian believers he proclaimed, “I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation” (2 Cor. 7:4). Later in that letter he enumerated the many types of sufferings he experienced.
Paul wrote the following to the Thessalonians: “For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know” (1 Thess. 3:4).
Paul saw suffering as a reality and also a privilege—even an occasion for “boasting.” He never put salvation into it, however. He did not think of suffering as having any saving merit. Instead, it was a matter of service to the Lord. He had the conviction that he had not attained the measure of suffering Christ had experienced. The sufferings were to “fill up” the measure of devotion set by the Lord Jesus; hence the words of this verse.
Though salvation doesn’t come from sufferings since Christ’s work on the cross is sufficient, Paul’s and every believer’s sufferings could be called Christ’s afflictions.
This happens because of the principle stated in Acts 9:4. On the Damascus Road, Christ asked Paul, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” And in Philippians 1:29 Paul wrote, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” Or in John 15:20 we read, “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.” These verses simply show the principle that Christians share in suffering for and with Christ because they have been redeemed, not the idea that suffering is a means of redemption or a part of redemption.
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