what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions

On Sunday I had the privilege of participating in the ordination service of two good friends, Michael McBride and Travis Vaclavik. (Yes, that Travis Vaclavik.) It was an honor, and honestly quite humbling, to come alongside the other pastors and elders here at Washington Avenue as we recognized God’s work in calling, consecrating, and commissioning Travis and Michael for vocational ministry.

I was given about ten minutes in the service (audio from the service is available online here, by the way) to share the biblical context of the task of ministry. Realizing that the big picture would be impossible to paint in the few minutes I had, I chose to focus on Paul’s description of his own ministry in Colossians 1:24ff. Even then, I didn’t really have the time I needed to articulate everything I had hoped, so I thought I’d do that here. While these thoughts were intended to pertain primarily to pastors, they hold broader significance for any and all that serve God’s kingdom (which, of course, should be all of us!).

Colossians 1:24-29:

24 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, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

I’ll make four observations. First, Paul suffers – with joy! – for the sake of the Colossian church, and his suffering, in some way, fills up “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of…the church” (1:24). Certainly Christ’s suffering and affliction on the cross were wholly sufficient to atone for our sins (see Col 1:19-20; 2:13-14), so what, then, can Paul mean? At the least, he means that our suffering – as ministers of the gospel – is a necessary means to the presentation of the gospel. People are persuaded of the glory in Christ’s suffering when they see our willingness to follow him in suffering, even to the point of death. As pastors, we are to suffer well, with joy, for the sake of our people and their understanding of the gospel.

Second, God appoints our ministries, like Paul’s, according to his stewardship and plan (1:25). As pastors, we should be encouraged in our moments of discouragement and frustration by the knowledge that God has apportioned even those moments to us in his grace. Furthermore, we should see the purpose of that stewardship and plan – we are to make the word of God fully known. We are not appointed to service in God’s kingdom to proclaim our wisdom, or the wisdom of other admired authors or speakers; rather we are appointed to proclaim God’s truth through his word.

Third, Paul’s desire – and our aim – is to present believers “mature in Christ” (1:28), a goal fulfilled by proclaiming Christ and Christ alone. Too often the Church is content to dispense good advice to believers, when we are called to herald to all people the good news that God has reconciled us to himself through the blood of Jesus, his Son. May our lives, ministries, and teaching be centered on the gospel, and may our proclamation of Christ’s work for us transcend any exhortation describing what we should or ought to do for Christ.

Finally, Paul toils for the Colossians, not by his own strength or power, but by that of Christ. Let us remember that it is the gospel, rather than our efforts and labors, that bears fruit in our ministry (Col 1:5-6). Our God is most glorified by his work – and our satisfaction in his work – rather than our own, insufficient strivings. May he be supreme in all our labor for the kingdom.

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