Filling Up Christ’s Afflictions
Suffering is a necessary part of discipleship. The Apostle Paul knew this all too well. Indeed, he desired it, not in any sort of pathological way but as one who wanted to know more fully the Messiah he loved: “… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). We must understand that as aliens in a fallen world, we are even meant to undergo suffering: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). In other words, it is to be expected. The Anabaptists of the sixteenth century even considered it an essential mark of the Church of Jesus Christ. But if such suffering is to be endured, it must be linked with the passion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ if it is to have any redemptive meaning and bear fruit for the kingdom. We do not preach suffering for suffering’s sake but for the Church’s sake and Christ’s sake.
Paul indicates this when he says, “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, the church.” Now Paul is not saying that our Lord’s suffering on our behalf on the cross was somehow insufficient as if there were yet more sins to atone for and which must be accomplished by his Church. What the Apostle is saying is that we as God’s people and as followers of Christ must share our Lord’s sufferings as we die daily to the flesh and the world. And though we in America have experienced little of this compared to our brothers and sisters in other places of the world, it is soon to come and indeed has already arrived. Decisions will have to be made as to how to work and live among our neighbors in an increasingly intolerant and pagan society that by nature must hate and persecute us as what we believe and the way we live our lives convicts and condemns them for what they believe and how they live their lives. There can be no fellowship between light and darkness (2 Corinthians 6:14-18), and so the sons born according to the flesh have persecuted the sons born according to the Spirit from the beginning (Galatians 4:29).
But the Christian does not shrink back from this; he has been given a stewardship, a task, to live and witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, to make the word of God known concerning His grace to all who may believe. Our Lord “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2). Pagans will shame us for our beliefs and our morals. We must learn to despise the shame and embrace the cross, for that is the only way to resurrection.