Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, who, when he was known as Saul, had been persecuting the true saints, was converted on the Road to Damascus. Christ commanded Ananias to baptize him, so that he could receive the Holy Spirit, telling Ananias: “I will show him [Paul] how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:16).
Paul, throughout his converted life, understood the fact that he had to go through much suffering and through many trials. At one time, God refused to heal him of a sickness, and Paul responded: “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Paul understood that he received the strength to continue in trials, through Jesus Christ Who lived in him through the Holy Spirit. He said in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…”
With this background, let us consider Paul’s statement in Colossians 1:24, where he said:
“I now rejoice in my sufferings FOR YOU, and FILL UP in my flesh what is LACKING in the AFFLICTIONS of Christ, for the SAKE OF HIS BODY, which is the CHURCH.”
Paul did not mean to convey that Christ had not suffered enough, while here on earth. Rather, he was pointing out that he, as well as all of Christ’s disciples, had to become PARTAKERS of Christ’s sufferings (compare 1 Peter 4:13; 2 Corinthians 1:7). We have to know or experience the FELLOWSHIP of His suffering (Philippians 3:10), in order to attain to the resurrection (verse 11). Only if we suffer with Him, will we be glorified (Romans 8:17). God GRANTS US as a special favor the GIFT of sufferings for Christ’s sake (Philippians 1:29; compare, too, Acts 5:41, where Christ’s apostles rejoiced because they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.)
The Nelson Study Bible states:
“Paul is not saying that Christ’s death was insufficient… [but] that a Christian will endure the sufferings that Christ would be enduring if He were still in the world [and which He DID endure when He WAS in the world]… Paul believed he was suffering the afflictions God wanted him to endure. Instead of facing his difficulties with dread, Paul saw his troubles as a time of joy… because they were producing an eternal reward…”
Christ was made perfect FOREVER (Hebrews 7:28) “through suffering” (Hebrews 2:10). Likewise, we must be growing in perfection through suffering. As Christ suffered, so must we. This is why Paul says that he must fill up in his flesh what is still lacking in his life in Christ’s afflictions, so that he can become more and more perfect.
We read in 1 Peter 5:9 that our brethren “experience” the same sufferings that we experience. In the Greek, the word for “experience” is “completed” or “ended.” As Christ became PERFECT or COMPLETE because of sufferings, so must we.
Suffering as a Christian or follower of Christ (1 Peter 4:16) motivates us to stop sinning; thereby growing in perfection. We read in 1 Peter 4:1-2:
“Therefore, since Christ suffered FOR US in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for HE WHO HAS SUFFERED IN THE FLESH HAS CEASED FROM SIN [Christ never sinned; so this is talking about us], that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.”
Notice that Peter said that Christ suffered FOR US. Notice, too, that Paul said in Colossians 1:24 that he had to experience Christ’s afflictions FOR THE CHURCH. The Ryrie Study Bible states: “Because of the union of believers with Christ, Paul’s sufferings for the sake of the church can be called Christ’s sufferings as well.”
Although true, this explanation is not sufficient. Rather, Paul makes clear, what he means by his statement that he had to suffer for the church, in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, 6:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, THAT WE MAY BE ABLE TO COMFORT THOSE WHO ARE IN ANY TROUBLE, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God… Now if we are afflicted, it is FOR YOUR CONSOLATION AND SALVATION, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for YOUR CONSOLATION AND SALVATION.”
Our suffering is, in the final analysis, for the purpose of helping others. Christ suffered FOR US. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:26: “And if one member suffers, ALL the members suffer WITH it.” Suffering makes us more sympathetic–fills us with empathy. We suffer to learn what it is like, so that we can FEEL the pain of those who are suffering. When we suffer, we receive comfort from God in many different ways, so that we can also comfort those who suffer, with the same comfort which we ourselves received from God. We learn more and more how God pities His children (compare Psalm 103:13), so that we can also pity our brethren. Christ became our MERCIFUL High Priest Who CAN sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).
Christ suffered for us, because He loved us. Love is outgoing concern for the welfare of others. We suffer, so that we can comfort others, when they suffer. Again, the driving force and motivation for our Christian life is love. Even our resurrection and membership in the God Family as born-again spirit beings are for the purpose of helping others to reach their potential of inheriting eternal life (For more information on this vital aspect of God’s plan for mankind, please read our free booklet, “God’s Commanded Holy Days.”)
John sums up God’s plan and purpose for us, including the reason WHY we must become partakers of Christ’s sufferings, in 1 John 3:16:
“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”