“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for His body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24-25 HCSB).
In considering this portion of Scripture, we can say that there is a sense in which Jesus suffers whenever His people suffer today. As the head of His body, the church, Jesus suffers in accordance with the sufferings of His people. We can turn to the New Testament book of Acts to illustrate this concept with an example from the life of Paul the Apostle.
Prior to his conversion to Christianity, Paul (then known as Saul) worked to eradicate those who professed faith in Christ. It was during that time that Jesus appeared to him with the following question: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). That simple question held a profound implication, for it indicated that Saul’s efforts to persecute Christians amounted to a persecution of Christ as well.
Following his conversion, Paul experienced an extension of Jesus’ sufferings in his effort to spread the gospel. Paul recognized this reality and shared the following insight with the New Testament-era church at Rome: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17 NIV). So in light of his relationship with Christ, Paul’s sufferings for the sake of the church can be called Christ’s afflictions as well. (1)
Jesus also provided us with another important reminder in this regard: “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters….” (Matthew 10:24-25 NIV). If Jesus was afflicted, those who follow Him should expect to share in a measure of His affliction as well.
One commentary concludes our look at this challenging passage with an important observation…
“Saul had not been consciously persecuting the Lord—he had only been persecuting the Christians. He learned, however, that in persecuting believers, he was persecuting their Savior. The Head in heaven feels the sufferings of His Body on earth.
Thus, the Apostle Paul looks on all the suffering that Christians are required to go through for the sake of the Lord Jesus as being part of the sufferings of Christ which still remain. They include suffering for righteousness’ sake, suffering for His sake (bearing His reproach), and for the gospel’s sake.” (1)
(1) See Ryrie, Charles Caldwell, Ryrie Study Notes [Colossians 1:24] © 1986, 1995 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Database © 2004 WORDsearch Corp
(2) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (p.2044) Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers