Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His body, the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the Word of God in its fullness – the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. (Colossians 1:24-26).

What was Paul talking about? It almost seems as though he was telling the Colossians that Jesus’s suffering for their salvation was not complete – that he, Paul, had to complete His suffering for the salvation of the church. For Paul to mean that is unthinkable. He wrote a whole letter to disprove the teaching of the Judaizers that Gentiles needed to become Jews before they could become Christians. He contended vigorously for the sufficiency of Christ’s death for our salvation.

If that was not what he meant, what did he mean? I am indebted to John Piper for his explanation.

Jesus’s suffering on the cross was sufficient for the salvation of the world. There is nothing that needs to be added to what He has done to make us more acceptable to God than we are through Him. To try to add anything is to cancel out grace and put us back where the Jews were, trying to earn God’s salvation through good works or keeping the Law.

However, believers are called to suffer for Christ because, in that way His suffering becomes visible and real to the world. When people are willing to suffer joyfully and even to lay down their lives for Jesus, unbelievers begin to realise that they have a concrete reason for believing in Him. No one would go that far and suffer that much for a lie.

When a minister of the gospel is willing to lay aside his comforts and go to the remotest corners of the earth to carry the gospel to people who have never heard, to do without their comforts and live like they live, they are able to see the love that Jesus had for them, that He came from the Father to give His life for the world.

Paul recognised that Epaphroditus, as a representative of the Philippian church, had come to ‘complete what was lacking’ in their service to him (Philippians 2: 30). They could not all go to him in person, but they could send their representative to help Paul on their behalf. In the process, he became ill and almost died, but that was part of the expression of their love for Paul. Epaphroditus was not acting on his own – the Philippians were ‘in’ him, suffering for them as he ministered to Paul.

In the same way, Paul’s suffering was his way of showing people wherever he went that he was willing to forfeit his ease and comfort and suffer just as Jesus gave up His place and glory in heaven with the Father in order to show His love for them. Jesus’s death on the cross was much more than just a fact of history or a doctrine of the church. It was made real by those who laid down their lives to carry His message to the world.

‘His sufferings are completed in our sufferings because in ours the world sees His, and they have their appointed effect. The suffering love of Christ for sinners is seen in the suffering love of His people for sinners.’ (By John Piper © 2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: )    

Paul knew that suffering was to be part of his calling. Ananias was sent to restore his sight after his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road and to give him his commission:

. . . The Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’ Acts 9:15, 16.

Whatever form our suffering takes, if it comes to us in the course of our obedience to Jesus, and not the suffering that is part of the fallen world, we are also, in our place of witness, ‘completing what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.’

SCRIPTURE TAKEN FROM THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


Luella Campbell

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