“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).
When I set down to write this morning, to describe how I was feeling as blue would have been an understatement. I had been wrestling with some concerns, since sometime around 3:00 AM, when I woke up tossing and turning in bed. Thank God I finally came to my senses enough to pray and get into the Word. Some of my concerns turned out not to even be problems at all, while other concerns don’t seem quite as fierce as they once did. I feel much better now.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Like the Hebrew believers, our struggle against sin is ceaseless, yet we too have not resisted to the point of death, as Christ did. When we grow weary and discouraged, let us think of what scripture says the Lord endured. Just as important, if not more so, let us think of what scripture says the Lord accomplished on our behalf. The sin we struggle against is not limited to our sinful desires, but all the brokenness and opposition that comes with living in a fallen world. “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3). Hebrews was written to encourage believers facing bitter opposition and persecution for turning from Judaism to Christ. By submitting to the chastening of God, we permit His discipline to conform us into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). The Christian life is likened to a race that includes discipline and endurance.
“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24). Writing from prison, Paul tells the Colossians that he rejoices in his sufferings on their account. The apostle considered his sufferings as a privilege—the privilege of taking up his cross. “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24). Although the atoning sufferings of the Lord were finished, once and for all, on the cross, not that any man could endure in them, Paul recognizes that we are called to follow in the Lord’s footsteps all the way to Calvary. Jesus goes on to say, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done” (Matthew 16:25-27). Paul understood very well what it meant to take up his cross, to fill up in his flesh what was still lacking, and he also knew the One waiting for him at Calvary. “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18). No wonder Paul rejoiced! And, so should we! I am merely scratching the surface here.
In a world of self-care, let us, instead, deny self, which is quite different from self-denial, for this is what scripture is referring to in Hosea: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (6:6), and likewise in the Psalm: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings” (51:16). God delights in our love; the sacrifice He requires is not one of self—ritual or ceremony, but rather, one of faith—our broken, contrite hearts. Otherwise, the road to heaven would be paved in works; we would need only offer God burnt offerings, while maybe moving from town to town flaying ourselves, and consequently, both faith and Jesus would be irrelevant. No, the road to heaven is the road to Calvary! The suffering of a nonbeliever is nothing more than a small foretaste of the torment of hell to come, but the suffering of one who has taken up their cross, one redeemed in Jesus Christ, is not in vain, and the race marked out leads to joy and everlasting life.
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