When we last left our hero he was contemplating his own ministry as filling up what’s missing from Christ’s sufferings (Col 1:24). As striking as this articulation of his ministry is, I suggested that its significance was intrinsic to his two-fold conviction that Christ’s death reconciles all things and that this reconciliation is not yet complete. Thus the suffering, as much as the reconciliation, must be extended.
In the latter half of the paragraph about Paul’s own ministry, the formation of Christ in the Gentiles is the goal. Paul extends Christ’s death by going to the Gentiles, and the goal is that Christ Himself is formed in them. This is the hope of glory.
The story Paul tells is one in which there is a sure and certain line to be drawn between the cross of Christ and the eternal hope that lies ahead. “Hope” is Christological, and begun by participation “in him.” Paul’s own work intends to “present each person mature in Christ” (1:28).
The transformation that lies ahead is begun now. It begins with the cross, is reenacted in the community’s cruciform life together, plays out in acts of faithful obedience and love, and resolves with hope being realized in glory.
The trick, it seems, is to hold onto all these things simultaneously: to be of sure hope, possessing Christ, while not embracing a triumphalism that neglects the cross; to be confident that we are a reconciled people, while still recognizing our need for transformation; to see the cross of Christ saving us, but not to leave it behind as we seek out how to best love and serve the world in which we find ourselves. There is no hope without the cross, but there is no maturity or love without it, either.