The Suffering Servant
We are continuing to look at Colossians today. And we find ourselves in Col. 1:24-29 as we close chapter 1. And what Paul puts forth here is the reality that in response to the gospel by which we have been saved, believers are servants of the gospel who are willing to suffer for the gospel in order to extend the gospel to others by seeing Christ’s love thru us and our willingness to suffer according to God’s plan.
As Paul contemplated His Savior more and more fully, it brought about in him new mindset that was that of a servant (v. 23 and 25 – do you see how these sections are connected by the same themes?). In seeing himself as a servant of Christ, this brought the attitude and conviction we see in v. 24. Again, all of this is grounded in an understanding of the gospel and what God accomplished on your behalf thru Christ. 1 Cor. 6:19-20 – we have been bought with a price thru Christ’s death – the response is to offer our bodies to Him as servants. Theme throughout the Bible. All rooted in the gospel.
Think about what Paul says here for a moment. What Paul is getting at here is how we as believers steward God’s grace rightly in our lives. The idea of being a minister, servant, steward on behalf of Christ and the effect that had on others. It was for Christ’s sake but also for “their sake” as we see in v. 24. Paul rejoiced in His sufferings because of what they accomplished on behalf of the gospel. Paul is not rejoicing just for the sake of rejoicing, but rather he is rejoicing because of what his sufferings are accomplishing in him and others with regards to the gospel. Again, all attached to the gospel.
This is the ultimate “why?” behind our suffering. This is what we are to see and grasp. What Paul is not doing here is belittling Christ’s work. Christ’s work alone is totally sufficient for our salvation. Clear in Scripture. Paul’s work is not completing the work of Christ in providing the means for sinners to be reconciled. He is not adding to its worth or sufficiency.
What Paul is saying here is that our sufferings as believers complete Christ’s afflictions not by adding anything to their worth, but by extending them to the people they were meant to save. What is lacking is not regarding worth or infinite value, but simply it being known in every part of the world. The mystery of the gospel is advanced thru our lives and specifically thru our afflictions. This is Phil. 1 – Paul’s circumstances have taken the gospel to people and places it hadn’t previously.
We have the privilege as believers of continuing Christ’s work on a historical plane, taking the gospel to new people and places. That is how we are to spend our lives as believers, advancing God’s kingdom thru whatever means necessary, even thru suffering.
We see this illustrated for us in the Scriptures thru the life of Epaphroditus in Philippians 2. There was a man named Epaphroditus in the church at Philippi. When the church gathered support for Paul, they decided to send it to Paul in Rome and Epaphroditus agreed to take it. In this effort, Epaphroditus nearly lost his life. He was sick to the point of death, but God spared him (Phil. 2:27). The gift was not lacking. What was lacking was delivery.
In response to this, Paul tells the church at Philippi to honor Epaphroditus when he returned (Phil. 2:29) and his reasoning is seen in Phil. 2:30. Look at Phil. 2:30.Almost the exact same wording as we see in Colossians 1:24. What this shows and teaches us is that we deliver Christ’s offering of salvation and display of love to the world just as Epaphroditus delivered Philippi’s offering and display of love to Paul. See it? See how we extend it?
And how Paul says this is done is thru our own sufferings. What Paul says here in v. 24 is that believers exhibit the sufferings of Christ by suffering for Christ and the gospel themselves. Verse 24 teaches us that God intends for the afflictions of Christ to be presented to the world through the afflictions of His people. God truly intends for the body of Christ, the church, you and me believer, to experience the same suffering he experienced so that when we proclaim the cross as the way of life, people will see the marks of the cross in us and feel the love of the cross from us.
The hard truth that this exposes for you and me is regarding the proper use of our lives as believers and how we are to fulfill what we see in Romans 12:1-2, that our lives are offerings to God in response to the gospel, that our lives are not to be spent on ourselves and pleasures but rather for God and His glory. Our calling as believers is to make the afflictions of Christ REAL for people by the afflictions we experience in bringing them the message of salvation.
Christ now lives in you and me believer, and He commands that His body, the church, reveal His sufferings thru its own suffering. We are extensions of Christ. Look at Gal. 6:17; 2 Cor. 4:10-12. Can you say that believer? Do you possess any gospel battle scars? Has the gospel and its proclamation and following Christ cost you anything? Do you bear any marks of our mission to make disciples?
We see this clearly in Paul’s life and calling. And again why we need discipleship and as we will see maturity in Christ and the gospel. Because our natural man flees from what we see here and suffering. We move to safe neighborhoods, we choose mild climates, we must have our AC, we avoid dark streets, purify our water, we only go to safe countries, and only if we know it won’t affect our lifestyle by costing us too much. And Paul in his flesh was no different. Until the gospel entered the picture and saved him and transformed him and he grasped the gospel.
The gospel and all that Christ accomplished on Paul’s behalf is what fueled Paul to “share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings (2 Cor. 1:5), and to be a “fool for Christ’s sake (1 Cor. 4:10). Why would Paul make choices that exposed him to being “hungry and thirsty…poorly clothed…roughly treated… homeless…reviled…persecuted…slandered…as the scum of the world, the dredge of all things” (1 Cor. 4:11-13?
The answer is found in the gospel, in simple obedience to Christ’s calling and the gospel. Look at Acts 9:15-16. Suffering was simply part of the calling as a believer. Phil. 1:29 – granted to suffer for his names sake – to all of us, not just Paul. This is not just a gift for the apostles. Suffering is a GIFT for all believers in order to know Christ, be conformed to His image, and advance the gospel.
Look at Luke 9:23-24to see the same thing. John 15:20 – Jesus said “if they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”
What we see is that our suffering is a visible re-enactment of the sufferings of Christ so that the world will see Christ’s love thru us. Christ has prepared a love offering for the world by suffering and dying for sinners, which is full and lacking nothing. Except a personal presentation to the world and the people in your life thru your willingness to bear the marks of Jesus on your life.
In this we fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ. We finish what they were designed to accomplish. That is what Paul says in vv. 25-29. To make this glorious gospel known everywhere. That is what our lives are to be spent on as believers. Not self and self glory, but God’s glory.
In this suffering we are able to rejoice because of what it accomplishes in us, maturity and intimacy in Christ, but also because of what it accomplishes in the world around us, proclamation and advancement of the gospel.
This is Mark 8:35-36– “whoever wished to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel shall save it.” We are to lose our lives for our King’s glory and mission. Taking the gospel to the world will require sacrifice and even suffering. Are you willing for either to come into your life that Christ and the gospel would be magnified?
To live this way is the pathway to true and lasting joy. But it is also the way to maturity.
Look at verses 28-29. What we see here in regards to maturity is not simply knowledge but knowledge that leads to Christian living. Again, to be who we are in Christ before a watching world and display our hope and joy in Him before a watching word by giving up our lives for His glory before a watching world.
Maturity brings us to the place where we are able to EMBRACE anything God brings or allows into our lives that advances the gospel. And it all goes back to the gospel. Mature in an understanding of who we are in Christ thru the gospel. To dig deep into God’s love for us in Christ, of what He accomplished for us thru Christ, to really grasp who we were without Christ and who we are now in Christ. And then that overflows into our living before a watching world.
Real maturity is living in the overflow of the gospel thru a deepening understanding of the gospel. It is seeking to live a holy and blameless life before a watching world because that is what we have been declared to be in Christ.
And all of this flows from our contentment in who God is and His work in the gospel. Look at 2 Cor. 1:8-9. Content in God and not self. Even Paul’s thorn in 2 Cor. 12 was purposed for him to boast in God and be content in God and not self.
And everything was and is grounded in the grace of God thru the gospel, in taking alienated sinners and making them sons and daughters thru the gospel. The gospel of Christ alone has this transforming power. Please see ourselves this way, in the broader context of what God is doing thru our adoption, kingdom oriented mindset, gospel oriented mindset, thru the wider salvation plan of God for the world.
Paul finds meaning and value and joy even in suffering solely in his participation in the unfolding plan of God in the advancement of the gospel throughout the world. His purpose centers on Christ and the gospel. Joy is found in leading a Christ-centered life, not a self-centered life. Our significance is measured in the gospel and its advancement, not in our own selfish accomplishments.
The gospel demands a total REORIENTATION of our lives in response to what God accomplished thru the cross. Our glory and joy gets wrapped up in Christ’s glory and joy. Suffering is only a joy when it is in the wider context of God’s salvation and glory. See this in Romans 8:17-18. We must maintain this wider perspective for our lives. Beyond just you and me.
Don’t become lazy believer. Remain alert. Even now in what we are walking thru. How are we advancing the gospel thru our willingness to suffer? To carry the beautiful gospel to its intended audience? Privilege even in suffering.
For the advancement of the gospel, let us labor and strive, according to the mighty power that works mightily within us, no matter the cost. Do not be tempted to look elsewhere for real fulfillment of joy. Christ alone is enough. Unrivalled.