Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake…
"Now." This is the connecting word, and serves to bring down the time from the past (when he was made a minister) to the present when he contemplates his sufferings.
I. HE REJOICES IN HIS SUFFERINGS, BECAUSE THEY WERE FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE COLOSSIANS. "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake." He adopts a triumphant key with regard to his sufferings. He is not merely reconciled to them, but he finds them a sphere in which he has occasion for rejoicing. He does not rejoice in them as sufferings, for they wore no more pleasant to him than to others. Nor does he rejoice in them here because they were helpful to self-discipline. But he rejoices in them because they were beneficial to the Colossians. He was suffering as a witness to the gospel.
1. His sufferings may have been as prayers. The Lord looking down on them, in response to them, may have showered blessings on the Colossians.
2. His sufferings may have been as the sending of the gospel to them. Because he stood in the breach, others may have been left free to give them the gospel.
3. His sufferings may have been as a stimulus to them. Because he was courageous in enduring sufferings, their courage may have been strengthened.
II. HE REJOICES IN HIS SUFFERINGS BECAUSE THEY WERE CONNECTED WITH THE AFFLICTIONS OF CHRIST. "And fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake." The language employed is very remarkable. "That which is lacking" is properly "deficiencies." The word is distributive - one deficiency after another. The verb which governs "deficiencies" is a double compound. The simple verb would give this meaning, "I fill the deficiencies of the afflictions of Christ." The single compound would give this meaning, "I fill up the deficiencies of the afflictions of Christ" (stress being laid on the fact that what the apostle supplied in suffering after suffering met deficiency after deficiency in the afflictions of Christ). The double compound gives this meaning, "I on my part with suffering after suffering meet deficiency after deficiency on the part of Christ in his afflictions" (stress being laid on the opposition of persons). Protestant commentators (with the exception of Dr. Lightfoot) seem to have settled down into regarding the afflictions of Christ as those endured by Christ in the sufferings of his people. It is quite scriptural to identify Christ with the sufferings of his people (Matthew 25:31-46); but the bringing in of this identification (with nothing in the language to point to it) has the effect of obscuring the antithesis between the two persons to which the language gives prominence. It is more natural, then, with Dr. Lightfoot, to adopt the Roman Catholic exegesis, and to regard the afflictions of Christ, not as those which he endures mystically in the Church, but as those which he endured personally in his day. He did not complete these so as to preclude his people suffering after him; but Paul and others, with suffering after suffering, were meeting deficiency after deficiency in them. The Roman Catholic conclusion from this is that saints, by the merits of their sufferings, supplement the merits of the Saviour. But that is an utterly un-Pauline idea (coming in after Christ and making up the deficiencies of his merits), and certainly it is not borne out by the language which is employed here.
1. The sufferings of the apostle can be classed with the sufferings of Christ as afflictive (not meritorious). In 2 Corinthians 1:5 it is said that the sufferings of Christ abounded to the Corinthians (or overflowed on them). If our sufferings are the overflowings (or surplus) of the Master's sufferings, then they are in the same class, only, however, under the aspect in which they are presented in that passage as sufferings for which consolation is provided. The exclusion of meritoriousness is secured here by the use of the word "afflictions" (not. "cross," or "death," or "suffering of death"). It is true that in all his afflictions (and not merely in his death) he was accumulating merits for his people. But it is quite consistent with that to regard them separately (compared with ours) as providentially appointed.
2. The sufferings of the apostle can be classed with the sufferings of Christ as edifying (not meritorious). There is a generalization of the previous thought. The sufferings of the apostle were edifying, not merely to the Colossians, but to the body of Christ, which is the Church. They were as prayers, as the sending of the gospel, as stimulus for the whole body of the faithful. Even we at this day are sharing in the benefit. And, though Christ by the meritoriousness of his sufferings actually gave rise to the Church, yet we can separate (for the sake of comparison) the edifying aspects of them.
III. HE REJOICES IN HIS SUFFERINGS BECAUSE THEY WERE CONNECTED WITH HIS OFFICE,
1. He was a minister of the Church. "Whereof I was made a minister." It is consonant to a Christian to suffer loss that others may be advantaged. It is certainly consonant to a minister of the Church to be afflicted (in soul and in body) that others may rejoice. He is not so much the holder of a benefice as one who wears himself out for souls. It is said of the greatest Minister of the Church that he came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. And Paul, in the spirit of service, was closely assimilated to Christ. He was sowing that others might reap, labouring that others might enter on his labours.
2. He was charged with the mystery relating to the Gentiles. " According to the dispensation of God which was given me to you-ward, to fulfil the Word of God, even the mystery which hath been hid from all ages and generations: but now hath it been manifested to his saints." As a minister of the Church, he held an office of trust. He was a steward in the house of God. His office was of Divine appointment. It had reference to the Colossians, but not to them exclusively, only to them as representatives of the Gentile world. In this office he was charged to fulfil (to complete the round of) a Divine declaration. This was the mystery hid from the ages and from the generations (making up the ages), but manifested (brought into the clear light) to the saints of that day.
3. This mystery was a glorious manifestation. "To whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the Hope of glory." There is glory in nature; the sun is a glorious object. There was glory in the Mosaic economy (with all its limitations). But in this mystery God was pleased, and had it in view, to make known the riches (the highest form, the greatest affluence) of glory. This was a display such as was not given elsewhere. The sphere of this display was among the Gentiles. The darkness of the background, therefore, added to the glory; but it was a glorious thing in itself. It is here described as "Christ in you, the Hope of glory." Stress is not to be laid on "in you." The first meaning is "among you," and "in you" only comes in under that. The stress of the thought is to be laid on this - that to them, in the hopelessness of heathenism, Christ came as the great Hope-bringer. In Christ (not in his doctrine here, but in his Person) they had the forgiveness of sins, they had the beginning of redemption. But what they had of Christ was only the earnest of what they would yet have. What they looked forward to in the future with hope was glory (differing from the glory previously mentioned only in that it respects persons and not things). This glory is to be thought of as the highest efflorescence of our being, from the Christ within, which is synonymous with full redemption.
4. The breadth of his duties as charged with the mystery. "Whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ? There was the broadest of all subjects, viz. Christ, who has already been presented as the First, the Midst, the Last, in the universe and in the Church. This Christ they spoke of, not in a whisper (or only to the initiated), but proclaimed that men widely might hear. This bold presentation of Christ was not one sided. There was the preparing the way for Christ in admonishing (showing the need for repentance and urging to repentance), and then, as complementary to that, there was the building up in Christ in teaching (presenting Christ for faith in his qualifications and in his work). And in this they observed a universality; for it is said, with the emphasis of repetition, "admonishing every man and teaching every man." And having emphasized" every man," it is added (still having respect to universality)," with all wisdom." It was a point with the Gnostics that wisdom was to be kept back from the many. According to the apostle's teaching, there was no oligarchy of intellect (the few who had perception). There were no exclusive possessors of the Divine wisdom. There was universality in the Divine offer and intention. Another point with the Gnostics (as with others)was that only the few, the select spirits, could come to perfection; the many must be content with a lower attainment, a lower heaven. But the apostle did not go upon such principles. He saw perfection (the highest form of human existence)opened up for every man in Christ (the ideal Man), and therefore he sought to present (under God, to whom pre-eminently it belongs to present) every man perfect in Christ.
5. The spirit in which he discharged his duties. "Whereunto I labour also, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily." There is a recurrence from "we" to "I" (with individualizing effect). The apostle introduces a favourite metaphor of his. He painfully exercised himself in training for the conflict, and then he went down to the arena and engaged in the conflict. Thus he comes back to the sufferings with which he started. The proclamation of the gospel (so broad) was a proceeding with painful accompaniments. But, in the midst of all, he rejoiced because he was not left to his own strength, but was supernaturally supported. There was an unseen Master beside him, nerving him as he laboured (in training) and strove (in the lists); and so he laboured and strove, not according to his own poor working, but according to his (Christ's) working that worked in him mightily. - R. F.
Parallel VersesKJV: Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church: