Daily Update #348

Col 1:24-25 Reflection

24Now 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,

Today I am away competing in an archery event. It is shooting a distance a little longer than I am used to and I risk leaving my shots wayward or worse, short! Some of this passage may also seem beyond our range too, but here are some thoughts to help us stay on target.

Jewish thought has always included the idea of a corporate belonging. Christians are not on our own. We belong, to Christ and to one another. That is Paul’s direction when he writes, ‘for the sake of his [Christ’s] body, that is, the church.’ We are part of that and need to remember. Paul wrote for the church he knew was growing outside, often because of his suffering.

The really tricky bit is the phrase, ‘I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.’ It probably makes us think, did Christ leave something unfinished? Is there something I need to do to make up for this shortfall? Opponents of the cross have argued such things for years, a theology of works, or merit. But I don’t think that is Paul’s suggestion, people infer it, but it is not what he is actually stating. It appears he is talking about the church’s sufferings. Remember he is in prison (again!) so he is aware of his example to the rest of the church and of what faith in Christ can look like.

We all know that following Christ involves some degree of suffering. Tom Wright wrote (that’s easier to type than to say) that, ‘all Christians will suffer for their faith in one way or another: if not outwardly then inwardly, through the long slow battle with temptation or sickness, the agonising anxieties of Christian responsibilities for a family or a church…the constant doubts and uncertainties which accompany the obedience of faith, and the ‘thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.’ Christian lives are lives of affliction, in one way or another. The church should expect to suffer like this, until Jesus returns, (Rom 8:22).

Paul sees more of Jesus at work in his life each time he struggles. We sometimes need examples to help see us through. So what Paul offers as encouragement, is that his ministry, which included suffering, is cause for rejoicing. It has been exceptionally busy these last few weeks, but there have clearly been times when I have felt Jesus shoulder the load or find time and space for the tasks that need completing.

Many of us have had times of tremendous fear and disappointment, especially with Pete’s fall, but also over a year of COVID. Our reaction could be to grumble, or give into fear, that God lets things get that far. But actually we can give thanks because our present experience confirms he is with us in the little stuff as well as the big stuff. When under pressure, what comes out? Hope or despair? Our faith when things are not going well is witness to the church and the world, that only sees things in terms of success and failure, hit or miss.

Sovereign God,
the defence of those who trust in you
and the strength of those who suffer:
look with mercy on our affliction
and deliver us through our mighty Saviour Jesus Christ.

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Tomorrow’s Reading: Colossians 1:21-23