What is meant by “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions?

Colossians 1:24
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… ESV[i]

The Lord Jesus left us with a commission.  He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV)

This is our job until He returns.  He left us His Holy Spirit to empower us for the work.  (Acts 1:8)  We are His ambassadors.  2 Corinthians 5:20 says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”  This is remarkable!  God is making His appeal through us.  The fact that God makes His appeal through us is part of the mystery of godliness that 1 Timothy 3:16 speaks of.  1 Timothy 3:15 describes the church as “the pillar and foundation of the truth.” 

The word translated “foundation” in this verse could be translated “base.”  The ESV translates it “buttress.” The actual meaning is the ground or base established to support the foundation.  The Church is established by Christ to support the truth, to proclaim the truth and to preserve the truth until He returns.  Another analogy used to describe the Church is the body.  We are His Body, His hands and feet on Earth. 

His work on the Cross is sufficient to the salvation of all, and it is complete and perfect.  What remains to be filled or is “lacking” in His work or suffering is the personal presentation of that work to each individual.  When we do our job of making disciples, we “fill up” what remains to be done in regard to the work of Christ.  There is nothing lacking or insufficient in the work that Jesus did.  However, He has given us a part, a part to “fill up.” 

Because of the tremendous honor and privilege God has given to us to participate with Him in this way, Paul says, “I am glad when I suffer for you in my body.” (Colossians 1:24, NLT)[ii] 

Peter also says:
So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too.  For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin.  You won’t spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God.  (1 Peter 4:1-2, NLT)

Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.  Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.  (1 Peter 4:12-13, NLT)

This “partnership with Christ” is what is meant by “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”

[i] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.
[ii] Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation.  Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation.  Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188.  All rights reserved.


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