What would have happened to the church if Paul had been easily offended?

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?

apostle paul
Rembrandt’s Painting of Paul

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.

Do you know the gospel and want to move into the deeper things of God’s Word?

If we look at the book of Colossians the Apostle Paul would seem to disagree. 

Paul was called as an apostle by Jesus (Colossians 1:1)

The good news of Jesus is bearing fruit throughout the world (Colossians 1:6)

The kingdom belongs to Jesus (Colossians 1:13)

Jesus is the image of God (Colossians 1:15). Another way of saying that Jesus is God.

All things were created by Jesus (Colossians 1:16)

Jesus  is the head of the church (Colossians 1:18)

All the fullness of God indwells Jesus (Colossians 1:19)

Jesus reconciled sinful man through his death (Colossians 1:22)

We grow spiritually as we remain steadfast in Jesus (Colossians 1:23)

The church is the body of Jesus Christ (1:24). Want to reform the church? Don’t fixate on what other churches are doing. Fix your eyes on Christ.

Maturity means becoming more like Jesus (Colossians 1:28)

We operate on a daily basis in the power of Jesus (Colossians 1:29)

All wisdom and knowledge are found in Jesus (Colossians 2:3)

Every day of our life we are to walk in Jesus (Colossians 2:6)

We have been filled in Jesus (Colossians 2:10)

We have been circumcised in Jesus (Colossians 2:11)

We have been buried in Jesus (Colossians 2:12)

We were raised in Jesus (Colossians 2:12)

Our debt was cancelled by Jesus (Colossians 2:14)

Jesus broke the power of sin and death on the cross (Colossians 2:14)

We need to daily set our minds on Jesus (Colossians 3:1-2)

Our life is hidden in Jesus (Colossians 3:3)

Peace comes to us only through Jesus (Colossians 3:15)

We need to let the Word of Christ dwell in us (Colossians 3:16)

Every single thing we do in life should be done in the name of Jesus (Colossians 3:17)

All of our work should be done as unto Jesus (Colossians 3:23)

The way we treat employees needs to be done in the light of the fact that Jesus is our Master in heaven (Colossians 4:1)

Complete in Christ

“We are a generation of lovers who long to be loved. We spend exorbitant amounts of money to compel others to delight in us. We construct our ideal life on Facebook because we are unsatisfied with our real life, which is tainted with boredom, loneliness, insecurity, and a lack of friends and followers . We do not enjoy the person God created us to be or the life God has gifted us with. We think we are overweight, underweight, too pale, too dark, too plain, or just plain boring. Yet we crave to be delighted in by a significant other. So we pursue misguided avenues to make ourselves delightful, to satisfy our craving to be loved. -Preston Sprinkle

It goes without saying that we spend most of our life looking for things that will give us a sense of fulfillment. To put it another way, we are looking for things, or people, who will make us feel complete. Stop for a moment and ask yourself this question, “when was the last time you truly felt complete or fulfilled”? As Preston mentioned in the above quote, many of us, unfortunately, will pursue fulfillment in relationships, professional titles, drugs, exercise, family, religion and the list goes on and on.

Lately I have been captivated by the book of Colossians. I am starting to believe that Colossians may be the most Christ-centered book in the New Testament. Take a look at 1:15-20 for proof. In Colossians 2:9-10 we read this…

“For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”

What caught my attention is that Paul is writing about being filled, about being made complete. I want this. We all want this. The questions we face when reading these two verses are rather obvious. What does it mean that we have been filled “in him”?  Filled with what? What difference does this filling make?

Two observations

First, as you carefully study this passage in its context you will notice that Paul is not exhorting the people at Colossae to work harder so that they will find fulfillment or a sense of completeness. No, Paul is writing to the Colossians to inform them that they are complete in Jesus Christ just as they are. One of the heresies floating around at Colossae was that there were “other” things, such as circumcision, that a person needed to do to be forgiven and to be pleasing to God. Paul will have none of it. There is nothing missing for the person who has embraced Jesus Christ by faith. We, like the Colossians, have “received Christ Jesus” (verse 6) and therefore have been made righteous, complete as children of God.

Second, when Paul says that we are filled he means that we are supernaturally filled with the life of Jesus Christ. Mysteries of all mysteries! You and I, human flesh, somehow have the Son of God indwelling us, making us whole, making us complete.

What difference does this make in everyday life?

What is missing from your life that is keeping you from experiencing a deep sense of fulfillment? Since we have been filled with the life of Jesus Christ and have been made perfect due to his atoning death on the cross what do we truly need that we do not already have? We have forgiveness. We have grace. We have eternal life. We have the very life of Jesus in us. We lack for nothing. What place does worry or anxiety have for a person who is complete in Jesus Christ?

Are you tired? Colossians is filled with good news for the weary and fatigued. Paul wants us to know that we can stop working so hard to please God. Let’s not twist this. The gospel does not mean that we can live anyway that we want, but it does mean that because of what Jesus did on the cross we have been made fully righteous. Take a deep breath and know that you are dearly loved by God the Father. Charles Spurgeon describes what it means to be “in Him”. Allow these words to ease the ache in your soul…

Let not your sins shake your faith in the all-sufficiency of Jesus. You are, with all your depravity, still in Him, and therefore complete. You have need of nothing beyond what there is in Him. In Him you are at this moment righteous, in Him entirely clean, in Him an object of divine approval and eternal love. Now, as you are, and where you are, you are still complete. Feeble, forgetful, frail, fearful, and fickle in yourself, yet in Him you are all that can be desired. Your unrighteousness is covered, your righteousness is accepted, your strength is perfected, your safety secured, and your heaven certain. Rejoice, then, that you are “complete in Him.”

Addictions (you may choose to use a safer, more socially acceptable word for it) that we pursue to fill us up, to take away our self-perceived emptiness, can be discarded because we are filled with the goodness of God himself. Everything else we pursue for fulfillment pales in comparison to the goodness and beauty of life found in Jesus Christ.

You and I will need to remind ourselves of these gospel truths each and every day of our lives. This world, and our adversary, will strive to make us forget who we are in Jesus Christ and all the blessings we have because of our union with him. Remind yourself of who you are in Christ and live each day in light of that truth.