Verse 24 of today’s reading contains one of the most debated phrases in the whole Bible. What does Paul mean when he writes, “… in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” What could possibly be lacing in Christ’s afflictions?!
Clearly, Paul is not talking about adding anything to Christ’s death once and for all for our sins (called the Atonement). That is the central theme of the book of Colossians; the complete sufficiency of Christ’s atoning work.
Equally clearly, this verse suggests there is a profound link between the suffering of the Church and the suffering of Christ. When the Church suffers, Jesus suffers. On this there is complete agreement.
And perhaps that is enough. When the Church is faithful to Jesus, it often finds itself at odds with the world. That causes suffering for the Church even as it did for Jesus. Sometime being faithful to Jesus means being willing to join the suffering of others, even as Jesus joined in our suffering.
The point is that the Church, the body of Christ, still has a lot of suffering to undergo until that day when Jesus comes again and establishes a new Heaven and a new Earth in which the Kingdom of God fully reigns. Paul is saying that he is not only willing but glad to do his part, to accept his share of the pain in working to bring Heaven to a world that too often is bent on going to Hell. He is glad not because he likes pain, but because he knows the good God will bring from it. And all of this only serves to draw him closer to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What about us? How are we doing entering into in the suffering that so marks our world--the kind of suffering Christ takes on? How are we doing at welcoming the chance to take our share in the church's part of that suffering? (These questions are a paraphrase of how the Message translates this verse.)
Whether it’s helping with Hurricane Katrina (a call to enter into Christ’s suffering if there ever was one) or helping the homeless; whether it’s delivering food through LINK (our local food pantry) or doing other acts of kindness; whether it’s teen moms or broken homes or struggling kids or whatever it is—what are we doing in the service of Christ that literally, in a very real way, links us to our Lord as we share with him his sufferings?