I really hate suffering. Anything even approaching suffering is just…so…painful. I go into whiney martyr-for-Christ mode if I have to unload my fancy dishwasher three times in one day or if I have to wait an extra hour to eat breakfast. (Go ahead and roll your eyes. I am.)
I am well aware of the fact that there are actual Christ-followers being martyred in the Middle East as I write this. I work for an organization that helps the poorest of the poor. So I know deep down that my experiences don’t even touch the fringe of suffering. Why doesn’t this knowledge change my spoilt child reaction to daily life?
I don’t know. Maybe because I’m an American comfort-addict.
But I’m supposed to write about Colossians 1:24. I volunteered, actually, in a moment of weakness.
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. (NRSV)
Rejoicing in suffering (sigh)…completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (hold the PHONE).
Hey, Paul, I’ve seen The Passion of Christ. Didn’t look like anything could have been lacking in those afflictions. Plus, Paul JUST finished saying, “…and through [Jesus], God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20). That sounds like a pretty completed work to me.
Paul goes on to explain what is “lacking in Christ’s afflictions,” what he’s willing to suffer for:
- to make the word of God fully known (Colossians 1: 25)
- so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28)
Christ paid it all. He completed His sacrifice. Death is defeated. The Kingdom of Heaven is here. The thing that’s lacking is, of course, all of us. Until Christ returns, we will always be lacking fully mature Christ-followers with full knowledge of God’s word. That’s the gap that Paul is doing whatever he can to fill. Even suffer.
Unfortunately for me, this isn’t the only verse in the New Testament that suggests I may have some suffering to…um…rejoice in. James 1:2, John 15:20 and Luke 9:23 jump to mind. There are so many more, but let’s just agree it’s in there and move on.
As I ponder this rather troubling verse, I believe the reason that Paul could say he rejoiced in suffering was because he was laser-beam focused on something else. He was so passionate about the kingdom of God that he could call imprisonment, beatings and shipwrecks “light and momentary troubles” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
I get it—I detest everything about how running makes me feel. But put a Frisbee in my line of vision, and I won’t even notice the tight lungs and muscle fatigue.
Then, finally, in verse 29, Paul gives us the key to it all: For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that [God] powerfully inspires within me. It’s God’s power, not his own.
I can’t read these verses without thinking about our TCT trainers in Asia. These men and women go from village to village to teach believers TCT lessons so that they can fully know the word of God and become fully mature in Christ. It is pretty common for them to travel the equivalent of hiking trails through jungles for hours or days to reach isolated churches. Our trainers have been hauled in for questioning by hostile authorities. They have escaped through back ways during police raids of trainings. They’ve been chased through the jungle, fallen off cliffs, spent nights in jail. Recently, teams of TCT leaders were visiting churches in a very hostile area to evaluate how the churches are maturing there. In light of incidents like what I just listed, Nam suggested that the evaluation was too dangerous for the female leaders. They told him he couldn’t make them stay home. That’s how passionate they are about the churches.
Man, just thinking about my Asian sisters in Christ makes my spine tingle. Lord, make me like that.
We need to get passionate about the Kingdom of God and about loving people into it. We CAN be more like the TCT trainers, more like Paul, more like Christ. We can brush off sufferings as minor annoyances as we experience major joy and Kingdom victories. And I believe that the straightest path to that is simply to start doing Kingdom stuff. As we take action in obedience to God’s word, we see God at work, and when we see Him at work, we get excited to see more. I challenge you to pick one (or, get crazy, two) things from this list and take action NOW, before you get busy with something else:
- Find your local branch of Lutheran Social Services or World Relief, call them, and ask how you can help refugees.
- Go to Family Compassion Focus and follow the blog. Then use FCF’s practical resources to get your whole family working together on behalf of people in need.
- Sponsor a church to receive training from one of those awesome TCT trainers I told you about.
- Call/e-mail/text your pastor and let him/her know about Reconciled World’s training opportunity for US churches. Together with your whole church, you can get inspired and equipped to go further in loving the vulnerable.
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