Summary: All suffering that a believer endures in the path of obedience is suffering for Christ and with Christ.
Main emphasis: We should see all the hardship and suffering that comes to us in life as something that God brings to us to do us good, strengthening our trust in him and our obedience, and ultimately increasing our ability to glorify him. It seems to me that the suffering which God allows us to experience from time to time in this life may at times include physical illness, which God in his sovereign wisdom decides not to heal. There may be in fact be many cases when, for various reasons, we do not feel freedom to ask in faith for God to heal. Yet even these cases the heart of faith will take God’s Word as true and believe that this also has come into our lives “for good,” and that God will bring good to us from it. Therefore, God can bring increased sanctification to us through illness and suffering—just as he can bring sanctification and growth in faith through miraculous healing. But the emphasis of the New Testament, both in Jesus’ ministry and in the ministry of the disciples in Acts, seems to one that encourages us in most cases eagerly and earnestly to seek God for healing, and then to continue to trust him to bring good out of the situation, whether he grants the physical healing or not. The point is that in everything God should receive glory and our joy and trust in him should increase.
Please turn in your Bibles to Colossians chapter 1. Today we’ll read verses 24-26, and give our attention mainly to verse 24.
We have now arrived at the point in Paul’s letter where he is finished with his introduction. In most letters, even the ones that we write, a person begins by saying in effect, “Hello! How are you doing?” And that usually includes saying a few things about that person. “I’ve heard you are doing well in school. I hear you bought a new house. Your brother says you were in an accident. I hope you are feeling better.”
And after that introductory portion of the letter, typically it is followed with some information about you. “I’m doing OK. The kids are enjoying the snow. We’re thinking about going to the Grand Canyon next summer.”
Well, we’re at that point of Paul’s letter today. He first talked at length about the Colossian believers: how glad he is to hear of their love and faith in Christ, how great is the salvation that belongs to them in Christ, how amazing is the person of Christ, and how their perseverance in the faith is evidence of the work of Christ in them.
Now he says what’s happening with himself. His thoughts turn to his suffering for Christ.
Paul endured afflictions of many kinds for Christ, but he had God’s perspective on the trials he experienced, and he was able to rejoice in the midst of his suffering. He gives us that perspective in this text. He gives us a theology of Christian suffering that can help us embrace the afflictions in our lives with courage and with hope. And it applies to us whether that suffering is persecution for Christ, or illness or the many hardships that are part of living in this world.
You may be here this morning with relatively little suffering going on in your life. For you, this text is preparing you for what lies ahead. Or you may be here very aware of troubles that you are facing. For you, this is to give you strength for the journey.
Let’s read verses 24-26 and then I’ll pray for the Lord to bless his church through the preaching of his word.
READ COLOSSIANS 1:24-26
What I hope to show from the text and from Paul’s description of his suffering is that…
All suffering that a believer endures in the path of obedience is suffering for Christ and with Christ. (2x)
There is a suffering that believers experience because of their sin that is not suffering for Christ. But there is a suffering that honors Christ, that will be rewarded with eternal blessings, and in which Christ himself walks with you. And knowing that can make all the difference in whether we run from it or whether we embrace it with faith and hope.
We’ll start with a description of Paul’s sufferings. Next, we’ll see the purpose of his sufferings. Then, we’ll try to understand what he means by “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Finally, we’ll take an extended time to see how this applies to the average believer.
1. Paul’s sufferings
Paul said, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake…” What were his sufferings? Well, probably what was first on his mind was his current situation. He wrote this letter from prison. Later on in chapter 4, verse 3 he says