Suffering with Joy

24 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, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:24-29)

Paul as a pastor and a real man opens himself up to those to whom he writes. In many of his letters Paul will speak of himself, and do so for various reasons. I think it is good for us to hear from him about himself. We get to peer into his life and see who this man is who lived so long ago and yet still has such a lasting impact on us and all of the church. In this part of his letter to the Colossian church we get some insight into Paul as a man, how he views his life, his ministry, and the world around him. 

Many of these opportunities that we have in the Bible to learn about Paul the man can help us in applied theology, or practical theology. We can read what he has said, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and we can see how, in many ways, he lived what he says he believes.

My hope is that as we look into Paul’s life and how he views God, people, and the world around him, that we can be encouraged as his brothers and sisters in Christ as we also interact with our world today.

It was Paul himself who said in Philippians 3:17, as inspired by God, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Paul calls on us to imitate him. And so when we read about him and his walk, we should take notice.

I read that verse and think, “Okay Paul, do something easy! Do something easy that I can do, or that I am already doing!” But you know, at least in our passage for today, I’ll have to say I need some major change going on in me. I need God to do a work in me if I am going to imitate Paul consistently in what we are going to see today. 

24 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, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known (Colossians 1:24-25)

As we look at verses 24 and 25 this morning, there are three points that I would like for us to think about under the heading of rejoicing and suffering. How can rejoicing, or joy, and suffering go together, exist together? How can this be? But before I get to the three points that help us with this question of how joy and suffering can exist together, I want us to be sure and convinced that they really, truly can and should exist in us, simultaneously so. To do this we need to go to the Bible and see what God has told us about suffering, trials, struggles, and what our attitudes, thoughts, feelings, and emotions ought to be regarding suffering for Christ sake.

2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance (Romans 5:2-3)

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

This day by day renewal is something about which we should be joyful!

5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:5-7)

I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy. (2 Corinthians 7:4)

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:6)

The point of the Bible is that suffering should not for the believer be merely a grim, depressing, hopeless place, not for us. In our flesh that is how we probably think of suffering, but in the Bible it is described differently, with words like “joy” and “comfort.” I say this because I don’t want any of us to give ourselves a pass for being down all the time due to suffering. We can grieve over sin, we can lament over the world’s condition, we can agree with God that bad and evil exist and are opposed to Him, but we can do all of that while experiencing the joy of Christ and of Paul, and the comfort that Christ gives to us. But if we are to experience joy in trials and suffering then certain things must be in place in our minds. Let’s see what these things are for Paul and consider how we too can rejoice in hard times.

Ministry, whether in a pastoral full-time sense or simply in Christian living experiences that we all share, it is not supposed to be unbearably burdensome. Whatever God has called you to in your Christian life – caring for the weak, preaching to the lost, loving an enemy, supporting gospel truths in a world that hates them, encouraging sinners, rebuking believers – none of it is to be overwhelmingly burdensome. Have I described Christian suffering? Yes, but it should be mixed with joy.

2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:2-3)

Jesus never lost the joy in the work that the Father gave Him, in His life’s work for the Kingdom. Nor are we to lose our joy in the work God has given us.

How can Paul suffer with joy? How can we suffer with joy? We must do it with humility. Joy is lost when self and selfish desires become most important. If life is about me, and for you it is about you, then joy will slip away because self cannot be satisfied, if that is what we are pursuing. 

So as we look at Paul’s example, remember this truth of the importance of humility, of letting go of selfish, self-centered desires and instead of focusing on God’s will for each of us. We worship self because we want joy, but what we will see is the key to joy is to let go of self and embrace God’s way.

Look at Paul who suffered greatly, but with joy. Here are some ways the he was able to do this…

1. He remembered how the church would benefit from his suffering.
2. He thought of suffering as fellowship with Christ.
3. He was assured that his appointment to ministry, Christian work, was from God.

The first and very powerful phrase Paul states is that he is rejoicing in suffering, and more specifically he is rejoicing in suffering that is for their sake. And then later in the same verse he says, “for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”

Paul’s suffering had a direct relationship to the Christians in Colossae and to the church as a whole. He was rejoicing that others were benefiting from his suffering. It may seem like Paul got the short end of the deal here, because he suffers and others benefit, but for him that was cause for rejoicing! This is not self-centered thinking. Remember what he had said in Philippians 2…

17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:17-18)

How was he suffering for them, for their sake? He does not say directly, but we can draw some easy conclusions about this from the Bible. Paul’s life was ministry, gospel ministry. He spoke truth wherever he went. He was happy to be poured out as a sacrifice for the proclamation of the gospel. He was in jail for his service to them and others regarding the delivery of truth. He would not be in prison, he would not have been stoned, he would not have suffered as he had been suffering if it weren’t for Christ in him and his commitment to his Lord. So in this sense he was suffering for the church, for those who would know Christ in his day and beyond. And it was worth it!

If in pride Paul was all about Paul, he would be a miserable man. If Paul were about earthly comfort, then he would be majorly depressed. If Paul were about earthly prestige, he would be without hope. But in humility, he pressed on in service for the benefit of whom? The church, of whom the Colossians were a part.

When I get in a place where I am all about me – and I get there too often – I become a miserable man. But when God breaks down that pride and that desire for ease, joy returns. 

Paul rejoiced in suffering for others, for the Colossians and for the greater church, for the people of God.

Secondly, he thought of suffering as fellowship with Christ.

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)

This has been a phrase that has caused some confusion, “and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” What is meant by this, what does Paul mean? Was there something lacking in the ministry of Christ? Did Christ somehow not complete His work on earth? This cannot be what Paul means. There was nothing deficient in the work of Christ, He did all He came to do, He accomplished all that was needed to secure our salvation. We know this for many reasons, but one place we can go and see this is from Jesus’ own words from the cross.

In John 19:30, just before He breathed His last breath on the cross, He made a statement of victory for you and me when He said, “It is finished.” These words were words of completeness, of completion. They are words that mark an end to His work of redemption for which He came to the world. “It is finished” means “paid in full,” it is a done deal, all is complete, all is paid, it is finished.

With that declaration we are assured that God is satisfied with the sacrifice of His Son and we are freed, as believers, from the burden of paying for our own sins.

And so Paul’s suffering for the church is not in a redemptive sense, as if Christ’s work needs supplementing. There is nothing lacking in the atoning work of Christ. Paul himself makes this clear…

19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

So what does Paul mean by filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? He simply means that he is receiving in his flesh, in his body, the persecution that was intended for Christ. If Christ were still on the earth as Paul wrote this, then Christ would be the target of persecution. Paul was on the earth as an ambassador of Christ, and as such would suffer as Christ did. People were hostile toward Christ, now they are hostile toward His followers. This is what we should expect.

10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

Suffering for the cause of Christ, Paul views as a fellowship with Him. Our Lord suffered, and we have fellowship with Him when we suffer as He did in His name, for His glory and honor. It is to be rich fellowship, identifying with Him as we suffer in His name. Paul rejoiced in this type of suffering!

If we focus on Christ as we suffer in ministry, we can do so with joy. And 1 Peter 1:6-7 says it even proves the authenticity of our faith.

A final attitude regarding suffering and joy is found in verse 25…

of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known (Colossians 1:25)

Paul could suffer in his work with joy because he was confident that he was appointed to his work by God. He calls his work a stewardship which was given to him by God Himself.

Paul was convinced of God’s sovereignty over him. He had a mission, and his mission was to spread the truths of God, and His mission was appointed to him by God. It was not simply his thing, it was God’s. 

You know, as you read about Paul and his work, you really get the idea that he wasn’t really out to change the world so much as he was out to simply be faithful one step at a time as God gave him opportunity. We don’t see huge strategic plans of how Christianity will overtake the world as much as we see individuals like Paul just being faithful to the truths that they understood. Paul had a master, and His name was Christ. His aim was to please Christ. If it was from jail, okay, if it was in a city center, okay, if it was in a local church, good. Wherever God placed Him, that was his place, and he knew it was from God.

I spoke of humility a few minutes ago. This is humility. The place, the time, the audience, numbers of people affected, these things are small things for Paul, and should be for us. Contentment in our place is key, and it is key to joy. Just knowing that God gives us work, and that work is to make Him known, just knowing that should bring joy. It is not, “Oh no, I guess I need to help a friend today who is in trouble, or speak truth to someone who didn’t receive it well last time, or give to the poor, or witness to the lost.” It is not that, but instead it is, “I get to do these things as specific appointments from God Himself, who has chosen to put me into service for Him!” This is where Paul was in life, and this is where you and I can be as well. We can serve the Lord with joy, even while suffering, as we remember with humility that others – the church – will benefit from our suffering, that our suffering is fellowship with Christ Himself, and as we are assured that our appointment to ministry, to Christian work, is from God.

We have got to ask God to keep our selfishness out of this equation, selfishness which kills joy, kills joy and blinds us to God’s great glory.

24 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, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known (Colossians 1:24-25)