“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, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints” (Col. 1:24-26). Paul begins this section of the Colossian Epistle with an odd statement. He says that he “rejoices in his sufferings” for the sake of the church.
It seems odd that anyone would consider suffering something to be happy about, but it shows Paul’s commitment to His fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul was in prison at the time of writing Colossians, but nothing would deter him from the mission given to him by Christ – to present the Good News to the Gentiles. It was an indication that Paul was not only willing to provide advice but would practice what he preached. In Col. 1:11-12, he wrote, “being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Far too many people are willing to offer advice, but when it comes to suffering the same hardships, they are unwilling to “walk the walk.”
Not many of us will have to endure imprisonment for the sake of the Gospel, but we would do well to remember the brave souls who suffered that and worse. Their dedication to the mission field is such that they are willing to do whatever it takes to convert those still lost in the darkness of sin. At the risk of being slandered, imprisoned, tortured, and even killed, they still face the day with optimism. Like Paul, they enthusiastically spread the message of the Savior God despite the real dangers they face. Most of us complain because we encounter someone who “hates” Christianity and slanders or tries to belittle us for our beliefs, but that is all we have to deal with. It does not make the experience pleasant, but again, we would do well to remember the people who face the threat of violent rejection.
In his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, Paul has something to say that always reminds me of missionaries. “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open” (2 Cor. 6:3-11).
It seems impossible to us as we live with our relative excesses that there are people in the world who have to endure unspeakable suffering for the same beliefs we have. It does not seem real because we have not seen or experienced it for ourselves, but the reality is that the vast majority of Christians around the world live in fear of their beliefs. Intolerance in America, at least presently, consists mainly of “vicious, verbal” attacks, but even here, we are seeing a shift towards more aggressive behavior from those who oppose Christianity. Still, we are not there yet and prayerfully never will be, but as you are needlessly attacked, spare a thought for those who rejoice in their suffering for the cause of Christ.
When you are called a fundamentalist, hateful, a bigot, and many other derogatory terms, spare a thought for those who would wish for that instead of the merciless beatings and other hardships. Spare a thought and then pray for their continued courage and safety. And, if safety escapes them, pray for them to withstand the suffering with courage and confidence in the knowledge that Christ’s resurrection assured their ultimate victory.