Paul’s motives and reputation were frequently questioned. He was despised by many in the religious community. He had people fall asleep and die while he preached. Received a number of death threats. Constantly criticized. Then there were all the physical sufferings that Paul endured; 39 lashes, beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, falsely imprisoned, attacked by angry mobs, bitten by a viper, etc…
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. -Colossians 1:24
As we read Colossians 1:24, we are hit between the eyes with a gospel two-by-four. Paul is actually rejoicing in his sufferings! We truly need to stop and recognize how unique this type of response is when it comes to dealing with trials. How did Paul do it? How can Paul actually rejoice in being offended and suffering?
First of all, I believe Paul rejoiced in his sufferings because he knew they were a part of everyday Christian life. Many of us live in a culture of incredible comfort and have come to believe that life will always be easy. If life is not easy, we conclude, something must be wrong. Time to take a pill or have a drink. Or, perhaps, we just distance ourselves from others. Protect ourselves from future pain. Paul knew that hard times were a part of life and therefore his faith was not shaken when he experienced them. In fact, in Philippians Paul says that suffering is actually a gift that we receive from God. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” -Philippians 1:29
Second, Paul knew that being “in Christ” guaranteed suffering would never be far from his path. Dying on a daily basis is gonna hurt, it is part of having our life hidden in Christ. All too often we want people to say what we want to hear. Here is the truth. We simply can’t do ministry if we refuse to suffer or deal with being offended. We have to know that even the best of people will sometimes hurt us and we should be quick to forgive them (Ephesians 4:26-27). Another thing to consider, when we continually run from suffering we run from the redemptive work that God wants to do in us and through us.
Third, Paul was willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the church. In the second half of Colossians 1:24 we read, “I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church...” In an age where Christians talk about church being optional we could learn a lot from Paul’s willingness to die for the good of his brothers and sisters in Christ.
I’m not saying that it’s wrong to take a break or rest for a season. There have been plenty of times where I have needed both. But we do have to be on guard for the spiritual or emotional wound that never seems to get any better. This means that something is blocking the healing work the Spirit wants to do in our lives.
What are you doing with your anger? Bitterness? Fear? Pride? How long will you disengage from ministry because you have been offended?
How can God use the pain to help you minister to others in a new way? How can God grow you through the heartache?
Our inspiration ultimately comes from knowing that Jesus, although deeply offended by our sin, continued to pursue and love us. May we keep a soft heart as we continue to reach out to others with the love and grace of Jesus Christ.