Colossians 1:24 says, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church” (NKJV). Let’s take a close look at this precious verse, for it reveals the servant-heart of the apostle Paul, a heart that made him willing to suffer in fellowship with Christ for the good of His people, the church.

“I now rejoice in my sufferings for you”: At the time of his conversion to Christ, it was made known that he would be called upon to suffer greatly in the cause of Christ. In Acts 9:15-16 the Lord Jesus said this of the apostle Paul, “He is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him HOW MANY THINGS HE MUST SUFFER FOR MY NAME’S SAKE.” As one reads the book of Acts and the New Testament epistles, we see that Paul did indeed suffer like no other. Yet Paul was not only willing to suffer, but HE REJOICED IN SUFFERINGS! He counted it a privilege to suffer for the people of God in order to minister the truth of God’s Word to them.

“and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church”: This is, admittedly, a difficult passage. Paul seems to be saying that he was willing to suffer bodily afflictions to fill up (which means “complete”) the afflictions of Christ. We know this can’t be referring to “Christ’s ATONING sufferings,” for they were completed on the cross when He endured God’s wrath because of our sins. After exhausting God’s wrath He cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30). So what were the “afflictions of Christ” that Paul is speaking of? We believe Paul is referring to the sufferings that Christ STILL experiences when His people suffer. To illustrate this, let’s consider again the passage dealing with Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road. Acts 9:3-5 states, “As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’.” The words of the Lord Jesus teach us that He suffers whenever His people suffer. Saul of Tarsus was persecuting Christians and in doing so he was persecuting Christ! All Christians are members of the body of Christ, the church, and when they are afflicted, the Lord Jesus, Who is the “Head of the body,” is afflicted. In our verse Paul is basically telling us that all that he suffered (in his service to other believers) was in fellowship with Christ Who suffered along with him. Paul was willing to suffer trials of every kind “for the sake of His body, which is the church” (so they could be edified and established in the truth) and in all of those trials he knew he was having fellowship with Christ’s sufferings. He had even prayed for this very thing in Philippians 3:10: “That I may know Him…and the fellowship of His sufferings.” Are we, dear fellow-believer, willing to experience “the fellowship of His sufferings” by suffering “for the sake of His body, which is the church?”  (220.3)  (DO)