November 4, 2001

The Glorious Paradox of Pain

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Colossians Scripture: Colossians 1:24


The Glorious Paradox of Pain

Colossians 1:24
Sunday, November 4, 2001
Pastor Randy Smith

I praise the Lord for what He is doing in this church. He is drawing people to Himself. And in doing so, He is changing hearts, giving new desires and enabling people to see Him as their treasure chest of holy joy. The fruit of His Spirit is tangibly witnessed by changes in attitudes and actions. People are moving to greater degrees of Christlikeness all for the glory of God. God is their pursuit, desire and delight, and He is found to be sufficient for every longing of the human heart!

Much of what I say is in response to the many comments I received after last week's message. Welcome back to ground zero! The particular verse was Colossians 1:23. Beginning in verse 22, "Yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach - if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard." (Col. 1:23). The tomahawk missiles that came crashing through the perimeter of your hearts rocked many of you. On Wednesday night I sent out the ground troops for further clarification. But throughout this week, I was most encouraged by the particular individuals who found great encouragement in the message. Interestingly, they were primarily the folks who have encouraged me with the maturity of their walks. Could it be that one of the greatest signs of maturity is humility? Could it be that those who are most mature in Christ are able to better see the sinfulness of their own hearts? Could it be that those who are most mature have the clearest assessment on their own spiritual barometer?

On the other hand, possibly some of you might have said, "Why does he preach that stuff? Does he not know that we are the saints of God?" The reason I preach this stuff is because the biblical writers preach this stuff, and all of their letters were written to churches like us. And just as Paul confronted many of the Jews of His day in saying that not all Israel is Israel, preachers today are called to bring the church to examine the reality of their salvation, because not all the church is the church. Is that crude? Biting? Inappropriate? Hateful? No, it's the most loving thing preachers can do!

There is no greater deception than to believe you are saved when you are not. That is a very frightening thought. There is no doubt that I, as much as it is humanly possible, believe most of you have a sincere relationship with Jesus Christ. However, I don't assume that everyone who walks through these doors and sits in these pews knows Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Possibly you openly admit that you don't; but possibly you are deceived. It is my calling to preach the whole counsel of God as to the nature of true biblical salvation through self-examination. Just as the biblical writers spoke to the "gathered" church, I speak to the "gathered" church and allow the Holy Spirit to bring application where applicable.

The obvious goal is to see men and women and children turn to a true relationship with Jesus Christ. But, you ask, what about those who accurately know the gospel, believe in Jesus, and are bearing fruit as to the evidence of their calling? Are messages like last week damaging to the assurance of their faith? My answer is an emphatic "no". Last week's message should have brought to them greater assurance! Examining the validity of our salvation brings assurance! "And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end (Heb. 6:11).

Here's how it works for me. When I examine my life and see my heart continuing in the faith, firmly established in the gospel (Col 1:24), when I see a love for the Name of God and desire to minister to his people (Heb. 6:10), when I see conviction of sin and repentance (1 Thes. 1:5), when I see a desire to continue in the kindness of God (Rom. 11:22)… when I see these things in my life, my spirit is bearing witness with God's Spirit that I am a child of God. I realize that His Spirit gave me a desire to do these things, a strength to carry these things out and an ability to make an eternal impact on God's heavenly kingdom all for His glory. When I see these things I am assured that God is working in and through me. I am assured of my salvation and am able to give Him greater praise and glory. I am more cognizant of His powerful work in my life. Allow me to be clear. I am not saved by my deeds, but my deeds bear witness to the reality of my salvation.

No doubt that verses like Colossians 1:23 can be offensive, but they make us think! Unbelievers are convicted of their faithlessness and drawn to the cross for salvation. Believers are convinced of their faithfulness and drawn to God in greater assurance and praise. Remember, the greatest hallmark of the elect is perseverance to the end. And we have the great assurance that "He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:6). The God who predestined us from eternity past will perfect us for eternity future. God's children will not fall away or lose their salvation, because the Spirit who regenerates , is the Spirit who sanctifies , preserves and gives assurance.

If Colossians 1:23 was the right hook, here comes the left. Verse 24, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions." Most commentators agree that this verse is one of the most difficult to interpret in the book of Colossians. However, most Christians would agree that this verse is possibly the most difficult to accept in the book of Colossians. With the time I have remaining, I'd like to examine this verse alone in preparation for the table that is set before us this morning. The 3 points are listed on the back of your bulletin: Christ's Sufferings Experienced, Christ's Sufferings Continued, and Christ's Sufferings Demonstrated. Let's begin with our first point, Christ's Sufferings Experienced.

1. Christ's Sufferings Experienced

Maybe nothing caught the Jews by greater surprise than the fact that their Messiah would suffer on a cross. Matthew 16:21-23 says, "From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, 'God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.' (And we all know the response of Christ) But He turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's.'" In other words, "Peter, the path to glory must go through the cross! Suffering is part of the plan."

Jesus even warned His followers that they too will experience suffering if they chose to be identified with Him. "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (Jn. 15:19-20).

The news from Pakistan this past week reported that unidentified gunmen stormed into a Christian church during services Sunday morning and sprayed worshippers with bullets, killing 16 people. "Some of them lied down. Some begged for mercy. They didn't listen, said Ali Shah, a man in his early 20s who was in the front pew of St. Dominic's when the four masked gunmen burst in. Dr. Umar Farooq, said four of the dead were children under 12, four were women and eight were men. One witness said, 'They had no mercy for the children. They had no mercy for the women. They could see that small children were being hit by bullets, but they kept firing."

Statistics reveal that more believers have been martyred in the past century for the cause of Christ, than the first 19 hundred years put together. However, suffering for Christ is nothing new. The author of this verse, the apostle Paul, experienced great suffering throughout his ministry for Christ and much of it is recorded in the Scriptures. "Are they servants of Christ? (I speak as if insane) I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, and a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches" (2 Cor. 11:23-28).

Jesus knew it. Paul knew it. Any time the kingdom of darkness is intruded upon, a conflict is bound to occur. Suffering for Christ, "the light of the world" is inevitable. It was so predictable that Paul, like Jesus, even forewarned the converts: "For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know" (1 Thes. 3:4). Please don't misunderstand, we are not called to look for suffering, but we are called to accept it when it comes. Oswald Chambers summed it up well, "To choose to suffer means that there is something wrong; to choose God's will even if it means suffering is a very different thing. No healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he chooses God's will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not." We are simply called to follow God's will, while remembering "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12). The call is for an expectation and willful acceptance of suffering for being a Christian (Rom. 8:17). And to different degrees, I'm sure all of you would concur with that statement from experience.

Now let me wake you up! Beyond expectation and acceptance, the call is also for delight in the midst of our suffering. Look at Colossians 1:24 again, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake." That is amazing! When we consider all the apostle Paul went through, we would expect a spirit of resentment, or anger, or complaint, or bitterness, or blame shifting or self-pity. Rather Paul's attitude toward his suffering was delight!

Not only did Paul refuse to allow circumstances to steal his joy, he unbelievably found joy in the unfavorable circumstances themselves! Elsewhere Paul said, "I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction " (2 Cor. 7:4). "And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations " (Rom. 5:3).

Why? What good can come from suffering? Our nature teaches us to view suffering as a curse to be avoided at all costs. Maybe comfort and ease are not Paul's highest goals? But still, what is there to rejoice about, Paul, when the whip is coming across your back for the 39th time? How can you delight in the fact that you were left for dead on a garbage heap in Lystra after being pummeled with stones? Pardon me, Paul, but how can you rejoice in that?

Actually, the Bible gives many benefits of suffering: it brings us closer to Christ, assures the believer that he or she belongs to Christ, brings future reward, frustrates the plan of Satan, teaches humility, promotes God-ward dependence and demonstrates the power of God through our weaknesses.

But in the immediate context of verse 24, Paul rejoiced in his suffering not for what it did for him personally, but primarily for the sake of the Colossian church.

What gives? Please explain. How can Paul's sufferings benefit the Colossian church? Let's back up and take it one step at a time. Paul's calling as a Christian (especially an evangelist to the Gentiles) brought him great suffering. Paul rejoiced in that suffering, not because he was a masochist, but because of the results his suffering produced. The results in this case were for the betterment of the Colossian church. Now, how do Paul's sufferings benefit the Colossian church, which he has never attended, thousands of miles away from his current imprisonment in Rome?

I believe a preliminary answer is found in all we have discussed thus far. Remember, Paul was an apostle to whom? The Gentiles. The Colossians were a Gentile church. His sufferings were directly related to what? Preaching the Gospel. I believe Paul gauged the progress of the gospel as to the degree of his sufferings. Therefore directly related to Paul's sufferings was the success of the gospel. Who benefited due to Paul's sufferings? The Gentile churches.

2. Christ's Sufferings Continued

The middle section of verse 24 helps to clarify, as we move to the second point of the message. "…And in my flesh (Paul's physical body) I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church…" Think back a moment to the conversion of Paul on the Damascus road. Can you remember the initial words of Jesus? "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me ?" (Ac. 9:4). Jesus Christ takes attacks on His church as personal attacks on Himself. Why? Because the church is the body of Christ. Now in a remarkable turn of events, Paul welcomes the afflictions meant for Christ on himself. The one who once afflicted the body is ironically accepting affliction for the body.

Since people can't persecute Jesus Christ personally, they punish the next best thing, His followers. As a foe, Paul once persecuted the body. As a follower Paul is now accepting persecution for being associated with the body. He is accepting affliction on behalf of the body, and for the sake of the body. His attitude is similar to his Master, one which does not come to be served, but to serve and give his life for the betterment of many. The fruit behind Paul's sufferings was a heart that sought steadfast obedience to His Lord's calling and selfless devotion to His Lord's churches. Obedience to the Lord and edification of the churches were Paul's two greatest goals. They are a fulfillment of the Great Commandment, love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself. And success in either had to pass through the door of suffering. This is why Paul rejoiced in his suffering.

3. Christ's Sufferings Demonstrated

The final third of this verse is very unclear, but if I am interpreting it correctly, I believe helps to clarify the entire message. "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions " (Col. 1:24).

Books have been written on this section of verse 24 alone. What is Paul filling up in regards to a deficiency in Christ's afflictions? I reject many of the proposals that the commentators have suggested. I emphatically reject the apparent interpretation that Christ's redeeming work was in any way insufficient. Though the Catholics would like to believe this to support their doctrine of purgatory, the Scriptures mention nothing of the kind and resoundingly conclude that the sacrifice of Christ was complete, adequate and finished. If Christ's sacrifice was anything less, Paul's entire argument is undermined throughout this epistle and credence is given to his opponents' view.

If Christ's sufferings are complete, what can possibly be lacking? The Greek word for "lacking" (husterema) is found nine times in the New Testament. It speaks of a need, absence or poverty. For example, in Philippians 2:30, "because he (Epaphroditus) came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient (husterema) in your service to me." In this case what was lacking was not the money that Epaphroditus brought to the imprisoned Paul, from Philippi, but rather the ability for the entire Philippian church to visit Paul in prison. Epaphroditus served as a representative for the absent church.

I think this is Paul's intent in Colossians 1:24. It's not that Christ's afflictions are lacking in any way to achieve our redemption. What is lacking is the personal, visible demonstration of His sufferings. John Piper said, "We give a personal presentation of Christ's sufferings to the world of people who do not know about their infinite worth… the suffering love of Christ for sinners is seen in the suffering love of His people for sinners… the pathway of salvation is the pathway of losing one's life for the sake of the gospel."

Bottom line is this, we are told to be like Christ; therefore, we are called to follow Him in His sufferings. Suffering is a part of being identified with Christ. "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake " (Phil. 1:29). In Philippians 3:10 Paul said, "That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings , being conformed to His death." How do I do that when I wasn't at Calvary 2,000 years ago? Paul says, look at me! "From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus " (Gal. 6:17). In the same way Paul's sufferings benefited the Gentiles, may we also take up our cross and present Christ's sufferings to the world. Persecuted Romanian Pastor Joseph Tson said, "Christ's sufferings are for propitiation; ours are for propagation." That is, Christ suffered to accomplish salvation and we suffer to spread salvation. In that case, our sufferings too will benefit the church.

Suffering has many benefits, but suffering inextricably links us to Jesus Christ and shows that we are the children of God. Throughout biblical history, God used suffering amongst His children to accomplish his glorious purposes. Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel and the list continues well into the 21st century. Even God's own Son was not exempt. He had to pass through the cross to enter into His glory and bring many children to salvation. What was His motivation for suffering? It was the same as Paul's. The writer of Hebrews said He did it for the joy set before Him (Heb. 12:2). For the joy set before Him, He went to the cross, He suffered, and He died. And as you are well aware, apart from that sacrifice, none of us would have any hope of reconciliation with God. Jesus Christ found joy in His suffering, knowing that He was obedient to the will of the Father. May we too find great joy in the work of Christ and desire to emulate Him in all things, even if God calls us to suffer.

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For The Sake of The Name - Part Three

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For The Sake of The Name - Part Two

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Mar 10


For The Sake of The Name - Part One

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