Christ’s Insufficient Sufferings?

Previous ruminations on Colossians 1 have taken us through exercising faith while in Christ, believing as doing, Christ the image of God, and the need to participate in Jesus’ saving death through faith.

Jesus’ death reconciles all things. Which makes Paul’s statement at the end of the chapter all the more surprising:

Now I’m happy to be suffering for you. I’m completing what is missing from Christ’s sufferings with my body. I’m doing this for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Col 1:24, CEB)

Paul sees himself so intimately tied to God’s work of redeeming the world in Christ that his own sufferings are wrapped up into the saving death of Jesus. Later in this paragraph, he will say that he is completing the mystery of God by including the Gentiles in the people of God (Col 1:26). And in ch. 2 he will say that Christ himself is the mystery.

All of these pieces work together.

Christ is the mystery. His body is the global body of a reconciled humanity at one with God and purified in himself. The means by which this global mystery comes to revelation is Jesus’ own death and the subsequent ministry of Paul (and others).

Ministers are extensions of the saving work of Christ on the cross. The body of believers is an extension of the saving work of Christ on the cross. In the already/not yet eschatology of a world reconciled and being reconciled to God, the death of Jesus is both a one-off reconciling event and a saving reality that the church is called to extend in space and time.

Paul sees suffering as necessary because he sees a world that is not yet fully subject to the reigning Christ. The means of Christ’s attainment of glory must therefore be perpetuated among Christ’s ambassadors who are bringing that work to its culmination and fulfillment.

So long as there are people who do not know the message, so long as there are ministers taking it to new places, there will be people filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

5 thoughts on “Christ’s Insufficient Sufferings?”

  1. I like that explanation Daniel. It addresses one of my reoccurring questions in a simple, viable, and concise way.

  2. Seems to me that Col.1:24 has been problematic for commentators because it appears to suggest that Paul somehow thought that the sufferings of Christ were inadequate. It is made to appear like Paul is saying not only that he was imitating Christ’s sufferings but that he was making up what was LACKING in them. This is how most translations read, like the ESV, “I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions….”

    But maybe Paul does not locate the lack in Christ’s sufferings, but in his OWN, that he has not yet suffered to the degree Christ has. His desire, as stated in Phil.3 is that he’d imitate Christ somehow in his death and resurrection and then urge the church, as he first did with the Philippians, to “join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” and then to the church in Thessalonica saying, “you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in MUCH AFFLICTION, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1 Thess. 1:6-7).

    I wonder if the suffering of the early church, culminating potentially in a death like Jesus’, plays a much more important part in Paul’s theology than we usually allow for. 

  3. If I were to nuance Paul’s words I would say he means is referring to Christ’s sufferings in general ‘for’ his people and assumes we do not think he means Christ’s sufferings ‘instead of’ his people. Paul sees nothing atoning in his sufferings. For example, Christ’s sufferings through life were in the cause of his people and because of his saving mission but they were not atoning. He is only ‘made sin’ on the cross and in death.

    I’ve enjoyed the recent series of posts on both Colossians and the parallels between the professing Church and C1 Israel.

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