Nathaniel Stalling Jr is Pastor of Burning Bush Temple of Christ Church.
The Afflictions of Jesus Christ
Every now and then we should re-evaluate where we are in our professed faith. Are we growing? Are we bearing good fruit? Have we come to a place in our lives where we feel stuck? Are we beginning to doubt?
Those were the kind of questions I believe ‘afflicted’ Paul when he thought of the church at Colossae. Were they in danger of moving away from the faith? He had gotten a report, while he was in prison at Rome, that they were falling into serious error. False teachings and questionable practices were influencing the saints there. When his ‘afflicted’ soul could not bear it any longer he wrote this letter to them to help them gird up their faith. The letter, known as the book of ‘Colossians’, have this sort of obscure verse in it that reads: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I complete what is lacking in Christ afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church …”, Colossians 1:24 RSV
The meaning of this verse is not altogether plain at first glance. But it is imperative that we understand it. Paul makes it emphatically clear that it is something that we are obligated to do. So let’s deep dive into it.
The word ‘afflictions’ in Greek, which is what the original New Testament was written in, is the word, ‘thlipsis’, and primarily means “a pressing, pressure”.
The worldly forces pressing in on every side were hard at work while the embryonic church was still in the womb of the redemptive work of Christ. The church was not the target yet because there is no indication that Satan knew Jesus would be raised from the dead. The day Jesus rose and exited the tomb the enemy of our souls, Satan, knew he had lost. What would he do now?
To understand this enigmatic phrase we need to look at the larger picture. The scope of our search must include the background of Paul’s terminology in the Old Testament and in the apocalyptic literature of intertestamental Judaism. Our view from that background shows us several related concepts that parallel those in Colossians.
In the book ‘HARD SAYINGS of the BIBLE’, written by: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce and, Manfred T. Brauch, those parallel concepts are: -pp. 655-656.
- Israel’s experience of affliction throughout its history – particularly Egyptian slavery, the Babylonian exile, and subsequent oppression under the Syrian and Romans – is understood as part and parcel of God’s redemptive purposes.
- In the apocalyptic literature, beginning with Daniel 12:1, the time prior to the culmination of God’s redemptive work and the inauguration of the reign of God in the messianic age was depicted as a period of great affliction. These afflictions were known as “the woes of the Messiah”.
- Finally, the apocalyptic seers announced that this present age of suffering was limited, that the “age to come” would soon dawn, and that God had determined a definite measure for the afflictions that had to be experienced.
The ‘afflictions’, known as the ‘woes of the Messiah’, were addressed by Jesus himself in the book of Matthew. They are known as the ‘eight woes of Jesus’ (Matthew 23:13-29). After taking the afflictions of the Old Testament Church, the called-out ones, the nation of Israel, to the cross, Jesus rose again to establish a new nation. The new ‘called out ones, the New Testament Church succeeded the old with the mandate to ‘complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, the Church: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church...”. Colossians 1:24 RSV
Our lot, so to speak, as Christians, is to be an example of patience, love and, endurance in spite of the many pressures of the world as Paul states: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer”. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 RSV
Paul’s suffering in the service of Christ and his gospel does not add anything to the perfection of Christ’s atonement. They are, however, one of God’s instruments to extend that atonement into the lives of others. Only in that sense can it be said that Paul’s sufferings fill up what is lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions. HARD SAYINGS of the BIBLE p.656
© 2021 Nathaniel Stalling Jr