Deep Suffering (Colossians 1:24-2:5)

Suffering.

No one enjoys it. It’s unnatural to who we are and what we’re supposed to do. As we read the Scriptures, we see that suffering was introduced at the beginning of history with the fall of Adam and Eve—God’s created order did not include suffering. We’re reminded that things are not the way they’re supposed to be when we experience hardship—waning health, death, loneliness, financial instability, you name it.

And as we read through Colossians, it seems that Paul is laughing in our faces: “Ha! You think your suffering is that bad? Wait until you hear about mine!” Of course, that’s not what’s really happening. But as we read Paul, we learn that as we experience suffering, there is a deeper meaning and a purpose behind it.

Let’s read the passage together:

Now I rejoice in suffering on your behalf. And I fill up in my flesh the lack of Christ’s affliction on behalf of his body, which is the church, which I became a servant according to the stewardship of God, who gave you to me to fulfill the word of God—the concealed mystery from the age and generation. But now he has revealed his saints, which God wanted to make known this mystery’s glorious riches to the Gentiles, that Christ is in you, the hope of glory; which we proclaimed admonishing and teaching in wisdom all men, so that we might present all men mature in Christ; for whom also I labor striving according to his working, the working in me in power.

For I desire you all to know how great I have struggled on behalf of you, those in Laodiceia, and as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, so their hearts may be encouraged, holding together in love, and in all riches of fullness of assurance for knowledge in God’s mystery—Christ—in whom are all treasures of wisdom and hidden knowledge. — Colossians 1:24-2:5

Rejoicing in Suffering

First we read that Paul rejoices in suffering on the Colossian church’s behalf. This is really an unusual statement: How many of us have really rejoiced when we have suffered? Even so, how many of us have rejoiced in suffering on someone’s behalf?

Paul’s reason for rejoicing in suffering is so that he could fill what Christ’s afflictions lacked for the sake of the church. This is also another unusual statement. We just learned about the awesome nature of Christ (Colossians 1:15-20), but now he’s no longer sufficient in suffering?

I think what Paul is expounding for this church is not that Christ’s suffering isn’t sufficient that we need to add on to his work in our suffering. Rather, as Christ has empowered us with his Spirit, we are to make the Word of God fully known so that all of God’s people may be mature in Christ.

Paul can rejoice in suffering because he is fulfilling what God has called him to do: be a minister. He is making known the full revelation of who God is, what he has done, and what he calls his people to do to the saints. In fact, this knowledge is a foretaste of the inheritance to come (Colossians 1:12). Instead of viewing suffering in isolation, Paul again reminds this church to look to glory—where suffering will no longer exist because Christ has banished sin, death, and suffering from this world because he reigns over all things.

Until then, we are to hold fast to the proclamation of Christ. We are to reject the false narratives from those who seek to lead the church astray. We must hold fast to the true proclamation of who Christ is. And it is in this sphere—suffering and teaching—that we are perfected. Not in the sense that we will achieve perfection in this life, but that we are growing to reflect the image of Christ more and more.

Encouragement, Community, Assurance

If we’ve learned anything so far, its that Paul’s suffering—and everyone’s suffering—has a point to it. That’s why he’s able to suffer not only for the Colossian church, but for the nearby Laodicean church. Think about this: Paul is so convinced of the Gospel that he will suffer on behalf of those he hasn’t even met yet so that they may be perfected.

Now, we may not always know the explicit purpose of why we go through what we do. But we can know that God is working all things together (Romans 8:28) and that he is intimately familiar and concerned with our situation.

While none of this negates the unpleasantness of suffering, knowing the purpose behind it provides us with encouragement, community, and assurance.

Knowing there is an ultimate purpose behind suffering offers encouragement. Knowing how someone is working on our behalf shows that they care about our well being, in this case, our maturity. Not only that, but we realize we are not alone in our suffering.

We have a community we can rely on to help. Knowing that there are others who suffer normalizes, for now, the suffering in this life. We are not called to endure this life alone, but to endure this life together—with each other and with God.

Suffering offers assurance. This seems strange to consider, but in this state we try to minimize, we find assurance. For the Christian, this assurance is knowing that suffering is unnatural in God’s creation and God is taking all the necessary steps to redeem all things—even our suffering.

However, lest we think there is room to boast about the difficulty of our suffering or how well we suffered, Paul is by no means boasting about how he’s suffered and who he has suffered for. He wants all of them to know so that they may know who Christ is and not be dissuaded by other false Christs.

Communal Suffering

Its important to recognize that we are not alone in our suffering. Paul, in prison, was not able to be with the saints in Colossae. And yet, by their union to the Holy Spirit, they were connected. They rejoiced together and suffered together, even though they were apart.

As we navigate this life, we are not doing it alone. As we suffer, we have the physical, tangible community of our local church body.

Not only that, but we also have all the church that exists today that we can empathize with in our suffering. The churches right down the street, across state lines, and across oceans.

Not only that, but we are not alone in our understanding of suffering because we have the saints who have gone before us, who were also intimately familiar with suffering.

One day, we will also be those examples of how to suffer well for the saints who come to faith.

Living as Exiles

In our exile, we suffer. We experience the effects and curses of the fall everyday. Whether we suffer physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually—you name it, we suffer.

However, as we expectantly await the King’s return to finally put an end to our suffering, we support each other and wait. We come along our brothers and sisters in Christ and support them in their suffering. We encourage them to persevere. We point them to Jesus, the ultimate sufferer, who suffered on our behalf to redeem us. For in his suffering and our suffering, we have assurance that through suffering, all things will be redeemed.

This does not mean it’s pleasant now and that it’s bearable. Suffering is unpleasant and crushing. But this is not the end, for Christ is inviting us through our suffering to come into his kingdom, where we will fully realize the peace he has for us.

May the Spirit, who comforts us in our suffering, strengthen and equip us as we journey through this life together, navigating to our final resting place in Jesus.


Further Resources

  • Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering—When COVID-19 came to the United States shores and lockdowns and quarantines commenced, I picked up and read through this book by Covenant College professor Kelly Kapic. (Shoutout to my sister-in-law for the gift two Christmases ago.) As someone who is familiar with extreme suffering, he sets forth in his book a meditation and reflection on the nature of pain and suffering and the Christian call and response to it.