Filling Up What Is Lacking in Christ’s Afflictions

Reverend Anthony R. Locke March 27th, 2011 at the First Presbyterian Church of Tucker Colossians 1:24-29 English Standard Version

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.[1]

How can there be anything lacking in Christ afflictions?

This passage is not implying that the work of Jesus on the Cross was insufficient. Jesus hung on the cross on Good Friday for six hours before He proclaimed with a loud voice, Te-Teles-Tai, meaning, It is Finished. Jesus then bowed His head and dismissed His own spirit.

At that moment the earth shook. Old Testament prophets of God rose from the dead to explain the implications of Jesus’ death. The temple curtain which separated God from man was torn from top to bottom. The Roman Soldier at the foot of the cross said, “surely this man was the Son of God.”

The suffering of Jesus paid our debt to the Great Judge of the earth. We broke His laws and there was a curse upon us. But Jesus took that curse on Himself while hanging on the cross.

No suffering from us will add to the value of the shed blood of Jesus.

No suffering from us will redeem a soul from Hell or cause a sinner to be set free.

Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe, sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.

And yet the Apostle Paul under the anointing of the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit says that we are called to fill up that which is lacking in the afflictions of Jesus.

There is an open door, an astonishing invitation, to suffer and take the ball forward for the Kingdom of God.

We see this illustrated in the service of Epaphroditus to the Apostle Paul.

Epaphras held no public office. He was not a pastor or a teacher. He didn’t planted churches, preach sermons or write epistles. He was a servant in the little church of Philippi.

Paul was in a Roman prison which was nothing like today’s modern prisons. They didn’t provide food or clean clothes. The conditions were unsanitary and hopeless.

But it was permitted for a prisoner to be attended by a friend. So the small church of Philippi raised some money to meet Paul’s needs.

However, they now found themselves in a quandary. Their gift was in Philippi and Paul was in Rome.

That’s 800 miles. Roman couriers traveled 15-20 miles a day. So a professional could make the journey in about 50 days on land and two or three days on the sea if the weather was good.

Would you travel 800 miles by foot to deliver a love gift to a man in prison? Our family drives our car to get a gallon of milk a mile away from our house. We don’t risk it.

Dallas Texas is 800 miles. Milwaukee, Wisconsin is 800 miles. Would any spouse here offer their partner to travel 800 miles to make a delivery for the church? I hope not. =)

But Epaphroditus offered to suffer what was necessary to deliver the gift from the Philippi Church to Paul.

The Bible tells us that this man Epaphroditus became very sick, to the point of death, attempting to deliver this love gift to Paul.

Philippians 2:30 Epaphroditus nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

That is the same Greek wording and phrase that Paul used in Colossians 1:24, 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,

We enter into the sufferings of Jesus when we act like a courier for the Gospel message. (verse 26) If we help make the word of God fully known, then we will suffer like Epaphras.

I was at a dinner party last night in my neighborhood. I was sitting with half a dozen people at the kitchen table. We were discussing anything under the sun until someone told the rest at the table that I was a minister. I wasn’t trying to keep my faith a secret, but I hadn’t spoken of my faith within the conversation up until that point. I was amazed how quickly the atmosphere changed.

Certain people began including a moral element into every conversation. It was as though they wanted me to know how good they were. They falsely assumed that I would be judging them, so they gave a defense of their character every chance they got.

This world will ostracized you for being a witness to the message of God.

People squirm when thinking about the holiness of God and they will take it out on you. Your relationships with people who are your friends will suffer as a result of your standing with Jesus. Your career might suffer. Your dating opportunities might be limited.

Everything about your life will be impacted when you expend your energy to expand the kingdom of our Lord. You might say that it will make you feel like an alien – like a pilgrim.

John the Baptist paid this price.

He prayed that he would decrease and that Christ would increase. This is not a formula to get ahead in this life. It is the secret to laying up treasures in heaven. We must die to self and take up a cross.

Paul said in Philippians 3:10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.

When we suffer with Jesus by dying to self, we live in His resurrection joy.

There is nothing noble about striving to get what’s yours. There is no reserved praise for selfish living. But great glory is reserved for the person who will die to self and live for God’s agenda.

1 Peter 4:13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

When we consider sharing the Gospel as more important than our own reputation, then we have fellowship with the sufferings of Jesus and we become the delivery mechanism of God’s love to a soul in need.

We are afforded an opportunity to join in something bigger than ourselves.

26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.

We must be willing to suffer like Epaphras. We must become God’s couriers of the good news. This is our stewardship: to fully make known the word of God.

Romans 10:14 says, How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

Indeed, how can the world receive the love of God unless people of faith speak of God’s love? We must look for opportunities to speak about God’s love, so great that He sent His only Begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

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.

Paul is saying that the gift of salvation, achieved by the vicarious sufferings of Christ, requires the suffering of a delivery person, a courier, if it is to reach the ones for whom it was intended.

That’s what’s lacking. We must enter into the suffering of Jesus and finish the work to deliver this message of the Gospel to its intended audience.

John Piper said of this passage that “Christ has prepared a love offering for the world by suffering and dying for sinners. It is full and lacking in nothing—except one thing, a personal presentation by Christ himself to the nations of the world. God’s answer to this lack is to call the people of Christ to make a personal presentation of the afflictions of Christ to the world.”

We are the hands of Jesus to the world in need of God’s helping hands. We are the feet to share God’s love through hospitality. We are the voice the discouraged will hear from Jesus when we speak a word of encouragement. We are their angel of mercy to speak peace to hearts separated from the love of God.

There is no other plan from God to deliver the message of the Gospel to the nations.

Did Jesus know that this work would bring us into suffering?

Matthew 10:16-18, 22 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

People who deliver the message of salvation suffer in this life and are rewarded in the next.

Only Jesus could suffer to remove the guilt of our sin. Our suffering adds nothing to the finished work of Jesus on the cross, but our suffering brings this message to souls in need.

In just a few minutes we are going to go downstairs and eat a wonderful meal. I already have my plate and brought it up here to show you how clean it is.

The food we will eat is in the serving bowls. Individual people don’t eat out of the serving bowls. We each get a plate from which we eat our meal.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a spiritual meal. Those who eat of these doctrines will become whole and live forever. Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is the water of life.

And Jesus did all the work to make the meal available. Jesus suffered to earn our salvation. The meal is provided by Jesus.

The church is the serving bowl. As an organization we hold this message of salvation within the community in which we live.

And as individuals we are like the paper plates. Look how nice the paper plate looks. This plate hasn’t served anyone any food yet. It is clean. There aren’t any knife marks on it. It hasn’t suffered at all.

But if we are to become the delivery system of the Gospel meal to a world in need then we are going to have to risk our own sense of well being. We are going to have to get dirty.

People who witness for Christ get cut up. They get messy. They become soiled in the act of service. Like Epaphras who suffered to deliver the gift, we too will suffer delivering God’s gift to the world.

And in the end we will look worthless. The world will consider us of little value.

But Jesus suffered too. Our suffering will make us look like Jesus. There will be a fellowship between us. Jesus was slandered and killed for His kingdom work. We should be so lucky.

Romans 8:17 we are co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Jesus is eager to share His glory with those who fill up that which is lacking in His afflictions.

Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God

May God give us the strength to toil, struggling with all his energy that powerfully works within us.  Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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