There is a Scripture verse many people are probably familiar with, but it seems to have taken on a new significance in light of some of the recent trials we are facing in our modern society.
It is one you do not hear mentioned very often by ministers, perhaps because it is somewhat difficult to understand, and certainly very difficult to live by.
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions…” (Colossians 1:24)
The first challenge with this verse is that it appears to suggest that there is something lacking in Christ’s sacrifice. But we of course know there is nothing lacking in Christ’s sacrifice.
“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12-14)
The key clause above that explains Colossians 1:24 is, those who are being sanctified. This verse indicates something about the process we are all going through as we journey ever closer to God in this life; we are all in the process of being sanctified.
“You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
Now if we were already sanctified, if there was some simple phrase we merely had to recite to make ourselves sanctified, then Christ would not have used the phrase being sanctified. Nor would He have Instructed us to be perfect.
St. Paul later reiterated the verse from Hebrews above where we read that He (Christ) “has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” In other words, we are made perfect in Christ, but our sanctification is on-going—hence we are being sanctified.
Now if we return to the earlier verse from Colossians, we might discover we have another issue with this verse, and that is where Paul indicates that he rejoices in what he refers to as my sufferings. We might wonder how anyone could rejoice in their sufferings. But if we look at the very next part of that same sentence, where he (Paul) refers to “doing his share on behalf of His body,” the His is a clear reference to Christ Himself. Paul is not just suffering for himself, he recognizes that his own suffering is in fact contributing to the sanctification of the whole Church.
There are two important points to be made here.
First, Paul recognizes and acknowledges to his readers that he has been incorporated into Christ’s own body, which is the Church. This is the Church universal, the Church, as we read in Hebrews, that will stand for all time. There is no way Paul could be suffering for the Church unless he had been incorporated into it, literally as a member of its body. This is the great mystery that is also true for all those who believe in Jesus Christ.
“…that is, how the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6)
The second point to be made here is that Paul is not simply a member of the body of the Church, he has in fact become one with the body of Christ, as he himself makes clear in a separate letter to the Galatians.
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
There is something very important to be aware of here that goes beyond our individual sanctification. It is consoling and encouraging for us to understand the way in which our sufferings can potentially impact the entire Church. This point is perhaps particularly important in light of some of the recent, horrific revelations regarding abuses in the Church. There are many people, individuals within the Church, and those who have no association with any organized religion, who feel compelled to comment on these matters. It goes without saying that everyone has the right to speak his or her mind, and many of these commentators are genuinely seeking to bring about reconciliation and healing.
However, if we, as members of the body of Christ, want to have a real impact in helping to bring about healing within this body, the most important thing we can do is follow Paul’s lead and offer our own sufferings and the work of our own sanctification for this healing.
We all receive numerous requests for prayers for healing from people in various prayer communities or with whom we are familiar. Truly there is no shortage of suffering in the world. But suffering is not futile; it can be both redemptive to the individual and also serve as a source of healing for the larger body of Christ—the Church.
For this to be true however, each of us must be incorporated into the Body of Christ, He (Christ) must live in us. In addition, we must resolve, through our sufferings, to share in Christ’s work of sanctification for the Church. And we can contribute most significantly to the Church when we ourselves seek our own sanctification and strive “to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.”
So, we can speak out, we can write articles, we can post on various social media and offer our perspective on all the trials and difficulties that afflict our modern society. But if we want to do something about these trials, we must allow Christ to live in us by offering up our sufferings for these intentions. And we can simultaneously seek our own personal purification, sanctification, holiness and perfection as the real antidote to the infection of so many ills found in our world today.
Let us pray that we might all find the grace to join our sufferings with Christ’s, to both heal the Church and help bring about our own sanctification.
Copyright © 2019 by Mark Danis