Summary: Like Paul, we must be prepared to suffer to present others perfect in Christ
Colossians 1:24 – 2:5
Richard Wurmbrand was a Christian pastor in Romania in the middle of the communist era. In 1945 there was great conference run by the communists where one by one the church leaders of Romania got up and pledged allegiance to Stalin and the communist system. Although the Soviet state was by definition atheistic, these pastors all got up and claimed that there was no contradiction between Christianity and communism.
It was Richard’s turn to speak. His wife encouraged him to speak the truth. He got up and preached the gospel. The government officials immediately said he no longer had the right to speak and they cut off the microphone. But in the loudest voice he could muster he kept preaching.
From then on he was a marked man. He kept on preaching truthfully and publicly because he knew that that was what his church needed. In 1948 when he was on his way to church, he was kidnapped by the secret police. For years he was kept in solitary confinement, subjected to brainwashing and torture with red hot irons, whipping and other things unimaginable. In 1956 he was released and immediately went back to pastoring the underground church, to looking after his flock and to preaching to the communists. He was again arrested in 1959 and imprisoned for another five years. When he was released in 1964 he was impressed upon by other Romanian pastors to escape to the USA and in 1967 he established a mission organization to the communist world, now known as Voice of the Martyrs.
He considered it his duty before God as a servant of the gospel and a servant of the body of Christ to suffer in his flesh for the cause of Jesus.
In that way, he was very much like the apostle Paul whose words we have just heard read. This is how Paul describes his own suffering in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28:
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
Now, 2 Corinthians was probably written five years before Colossians but his suffering hasn’t changed.
We begin in vs. 24: “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh was is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions”
It’s probably strange to think that Paul is rejoicing in that sort of suffering, but when I first you that verse, alarm bells might start ringing. There’s something lacking in what Christ has done for us? How can that be? What is Paul trying to suggest? Is there really something that Jesus failed to do and now Paul has to pick up his slack?
Well, to give us a bit of insight into this, think back to how Paul first became a Christian. Most of us are probably fairly familiar with conversion of Saul – or Paul – in Acts 9. It’s a famous, stunning, miraculous story. Paul is traveling to Damascus to arrest and probably execute more Christians and suddenly the Lord appears to him in a great flash of light from heaven. Paul falls to the ground and asks “Who are you, Lord?” and the Lord says “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” Paul goes blind for three days and he is met in Damascus by a Christian named Ananias.
Now God has also spoken to Ananias and told him to go and meet Saul to restore his sight. Ananias has heard about Paul and all the terrible things he has done to Christians so he says to the Lord – hasn’t he come to persecute us? But in response the Lord says these words to Ananias about Paul: "This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."