Saturday, January 28, 2012

Suffering for the sake of His body

A curious statement is made by Paul concerning an aspect of his ministry: “I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church. God has given me the responsibility of serving his church by proclaiming his entire message to you. This message was kept secret for centuries and generations past, but now it has been revealed to God’s people. For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, [mature] in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.” (Colossians 1:24–29, NLT)

Let me quote the ESV Study Bible notes on the phrase “I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church”: “[This] does not imply that there is a deficiency in Christ’s atoning death and suffering on the cross, which would contradict the central message of this letter and all the rest of Scripture as well (cf. Heb. 9:12, 24–26; 10:14). Christ’s sufferings are in fact sufficient, and nothing of one’s own can be added to secure salvation. What was “lacking” in Christ’s afflictions was the future suffering of all who (like Paul) will experience great affliction for the sake of the gospel, as Paul described, e.g., in 2 Cor. 1:8–10” (The ESV Study Bible, 2008, p. 2295).

Paul certainly experienced sufferings in his ministry in the form of opposition, persecution, imprisonment, and rejection from those outside of the church. But remember he also named the daily pressure of his concern for all the churches (2 Cor. 11:28)! Read the whole list starting from verse 22 for a scary job description!

Could it be that suffering through conflicts, offences, and sin from other Christians is a part of “participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church”? Moreover, that these sufferings are a part of what it takes to present everyone mature in their relationship with Christ? How does this possible interpretation change how you view being hurt by the church? How would it change the way you engage in relationship with those you may be in conflict with or hurt by?

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