Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Missions in Colossians

“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

What is Paul talking about in the above verse? And why is this the most important verse in Colossians related to world missions? (To read the first post in this series, please click here).

Paul writes this epistle to a church he has never met. The apostle is troubled because some false teachers have crept into the church, spreading teachings about Christ that attempt to lesson who he is. Paul pens Colossians in order to combat the false teachings by explaining the magnificence and preeminence of Jesus Christ (see for example 1:15-1:18).

Soon after reading 1:15-1:18 we come to 1:24. At first reading this verse may seem strange or even heretical. Is Paul claiming that Christ’s sufferings were somehow lacking in their saving power? Does the apostle believe that his own sufferings in some way add to what Jesus accomplished? The answers are a resounding No and No.

What, then, is Paul saying? Paul is emphasizing that through his own afflictions the Colossian believers can better understand what Jesus did for them. The Colossian church did not even exist at the time of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. They now know about what Jesus did on the cross, but they cannot sense it at an experiential level.

They do appear to know, however, of Paul’s sufferings. For example, at the time he wrote this letter, Paul was likely under house arrest in Rome. Through Paul’s willingness to suffer for the cause of Christ, the Colossian Christians both gain a better sense of Jesus’ sufferings and see that Jesus is worth suffering for.

Why is this important to world missions? It is important because those spreading the gospel are often called upon by God to suffer for the gospel. We see this in Paul’s life repeatedly. In Acts 9:15-16 we read of Paul, “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’” Later in Acts Paul even gets stoned for the cause of Christ.

Throughout history we have seen Christian missionaries suffer for the sake of the gospel. As we see in Colossians 1:24, this suffering on the part of the gospel herald helps the hearers better understand our Lord’s sufferings. It also gives the message that Jesus is worth dying for.

One of my modern heroes is Adoniram Judson. He and his wife Ann were some of the first American missionaries to the Far East. Judson suffered many years of terrible anguish in Burma to see the people there come to Christ. It is clear that this was God’s plan for him. (To read an excellent biography of Judson, click here).

The scriptures tell and show us over and over that those who are faithful in sharing the good news will probably end up suffering for the good news in one way or another. It’s all part of God’s providential way of making the gospel come to life for those in need of it.

We must understand that there is a cost to world missions. It is a worthwhile cost.

(To read any or all of this series, please click here).


Jeffrey said...

...And since we're all gifted differently, and all at different places in our walk, that mental and/or spiritual light bulb is probably clicking on at different times, within different people. If you look around the room, you can almost see it in people's eyes when it happens. By the way, don't become a poker player.


Eric said...

You know I don't have a poker face.