When writing to the Colossians, Paul said: "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" (Colossians 1:24). Christ Himself died for the sake of full redemption of our sins. He was certainly not lacking in afflictions. So, what did Paul mean by "what is lacking"?
Is something lacking in Christ's afflictions? What does Colossians 1:24 mean?
Paul did not mean that there was any deficiency in Christ's suffering. Rather, he meant that his own personal suffering had not even come close to the level of suffering that Christ had endured for him and for all of us. Paul's own suffering is what he considered to be "lacking." This is really saying something significant, because at the point he was writing this, Paul himself was imprisoned in Rome. Aside from being imprisoned, Paul was also beaten, stoned, and much more—all for the sake of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:23–28). When Jesus appeared to Paul, He commissioned him for the ministry and hinted at the suffering that Paul would experience (Acts 9:16). Paul viewed his sufferings as a way he could bear the burden of Christ: "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus" (Galatians 6:17). Paul considered his own suffering as nothing compared to Christ's sacrifice for us.
Before Paul was ever persecuted for his faith, and before any of us were, Jesus was hated first (John 15:18). Jesus guaranteed that, as His disciples, we would experience trials and tribulations as a result of our faith: "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). When we experience persecution for our faith in Christ, we are participating in Christ's suffering.
Paul used his sufferings to encourage others in their troubles. He rejoiced in his sufferings, knowing that they were causing him to become more like Jesus (Colossians 1:24; Philippians 2:17). He did not view them as a means to earn salvation or complement Jesus' sufferings, but rather as a way to partake in them. They helped him to conform into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). We too can anticipate suffering for the cause of Christ, which will serve to sanctify us and make us more like Christ until we join Him in glory.
Why did Jesus have to suffer so badly? What is the reason for Jesus' suffering?
Is there a particular meaning of the cross?
Jesus saves – What does this mean?
Is salvation by faith or works or both?
Christians and Persecution – How should we respond?
Truth about Jesus Christ