Colossians 1:24 by Robert Dean
In our continuation of the Sufficiency of Christ segment of this study, there is much Paul has to say about suffering, and includes some very interesting comments about joy and happiness. Many questions are raised.

What is the true meaning of joy and happiness? How can you rejoice in your sufferings, as the Bible instructs us to do? Can a believer actually have joy in the midst of adversity? These questions cause us to look back to the suffering and afflictions Christ endured. What did He rely upon? Our attitude should be one focused upon the sufficiency of Jesus Christ in all areas. He didn't leave anything out, did He? To have that joy we keep our eyes on the end game - on Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. And through that, we learn to love the battle!

Learn to Love the Battle. Colossians 1:24


The next section begins at verse 24 and moves down to about chapter two verse three. Here Paul from the focus on the sufficiency of Christ and he begins to develop the implications of that, using his own life and personal experience as an example. It is important to remember that he has been focused on the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, that Jesus Christ is sufficient not only in the fact that He has done everything necessary for our justification—paid in full for all of the sins in human history and nothing can be added to that—but He has supplied us with everything we need (Ephesians 1:3) to face, to encounter, to surmount any difficulty, challenge or adversity we might face in life. He begins to emphasize this in verse 15 as he develops the section focusing on who Jesus Christ is as the eternal second person of the Trinity who has created everything, who is omniscient and who oversees everything; and now he begins to bring that down to a more direct personal level.

In this next verse there are some significant aspects of translation that have to be addressed because when we read this on the surface it may lead us to a conclusion that something was left out by Jesus when He died on the cross. But Jesus didn't leave anything out, that is not what this indicates. What it does indicate is something that is vital and central for all of us to understand in relation to our own spiritual life and how we understand the adversity that we face and how we learn to surmount that adversity and face those challenges. 

Colossians 1:24 NASB "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions." When Paul uses the word "now" it has a temporal sense to it and he is emphasizing something that is true over the course of his life. The word for "rejoice" is the common word chairo [xairw], a present active indicative, and it is used in the sense that this characterizes the apostle's mental attitude in his Christian life. He faced numerous degrees of adversity and opposition but throughout it all he has a mental attitude of joy. What does it mean by "joy" and how can we have that?

The first word that is used here for suffering is the Greek word pathema [paqhma]. It is used sixteen times in the New Testament and it is a broad word. Sometimes it is used to refer to the passions of the soul in a negative sense, i.e. the negative or sinful emotions, those that are related to the sin nature. Sometimes the term refers just to the general sufferings, adversity that we all encounter in life, e.g. Romans 1:18, "the sufferings of this present age." In other passages it talks about the sufferings of Christ, not in terms of the redemptive suffering on the cross but in terms of His suffering during His life on the earth leading up to the crucifixion. Other times it refers specifically to the suffering that Christ endured when He died for our sins upon the cross. The word "suffering" when we look it up in English sometimes seems like a wimpy little word to use for what Jesus Christ endured upon the cross. Suffering as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary simply means the experience of being subjected to something bad or unpleasant. It is developed from the word pascho [pasxw] from which we get the idea of the passion of Christ.

Paul says that he personally rejoices in those sufferings and that those sufferings he sees as being for the Colossian believers. They are on "behalf of you all," a similar phrase as Christ dying for "you all." It is the preposition huper [u(per] which is a substitutionary preposition and it indicates that Paul sees that somehow his suffering, the way he handles adversity, is on behalf of those believers in Colosse. There is something relevant about his suffering to their situation that goes beyond the suffering of Christ on the cross. The question to be answered is how does it do that? In what sense does it do that? In the first clause, and this is the first thing that the apostle is saying, he is saying that the believer should also have joy in the midst of adversity. This first line, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake", is all governed by that first finite verb to rejoice. So this expresses the main thought that Paul has in this lengthy sentence which goes down through verse 27. 

The second thing Paul develops is the next main verb, the verb to fill up, a compound word from the root verb pleroo [plhrow] which is a word used in a number of different senses in the New Testament—in the sense of fulfillment of prophecy, in Ephesians 5:18 that we are to be filled by means of the Spirit, in some other passages to express the end result of spiritual growth and that we have reached a spiritual state. Paul then takes that verb and puts on the front of it two different Greek prepositions which intensifies the meaning—anti [a)nti] and ana [a)na]; he basically coins a word here that has the idea of filling up on one's part, to supplement something. So he sees that in his personal Christian life the suffering he is encountering has something to do with completing something that was begun by the Lord Jesus Christ in His suffering and is in relation to the body of Christ. He is filling up in his mortal body [flesh] what is lacking. The word "lacking" is husterema [u(sterhma] meaning a deficiency, a shortcoming, something that was left out. We understand that nothing was left out at the cross: that Jesus Christ paid a complete and full penalty for, He accomplished everything the Father gave to Him to accomplish, and just before He died He announced "It is finished." So there is nothing that Paul could add to the work of Christ on the cross for our justification. So again, what does He mean?

Looking at the next clause it says, "in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions." It is important to note that the word translated "afflictions" here is not the same word that is translated "sufferings," it is thlipsis [qliyij], a word that is often used in relation to the Tribulation period, a word that describes affliction; it is the word that was translated "affliction" and "persecution" 2 Corinthians 1:3ff, and it is the word that is used to describe the adversity that every one of us faces on a day-to-day basis in this life. This word is never used of the suffering of Christ on the cross, whereas the other word, pathema, is used with a broad sense, including both our day-to-day sufferings as well as specifically focusing on the redemptive suffering of Christ on the cross. But thlipsis is only used of the adversity we face on a day-to-day basis, never to the redemptive work of Christ on the cross.

So the second thing that Paul is saying here is that the adversity that is faced in a believer's life is an extension of the adversity, the hostility, the rejection, the opposition, that Jesus Christ experienced throughout His entire life. It is important for us to understand that as we look at the life of Christ there were two areas or categories of suffering that He faced. One category was the redemptive sufferings that He had on the cross when He paid the penalty for our sins, but there is a second category of suffering in the life of Christ and that is all of the adversity He faced as He grew up, as He lived and ministered and taught within a fallen world which is under the authority of the devil. The opposition that He faced both in terms of just living in the devil's world as well as the active opposition that He encountered from the religious leadership in Judea, the opposition that was really empowered as we know by the devil and his angels, is what relates and is comparable to the adversity that we face. We do not add anything to the suffering of Christ on the cross for our sins, that was complete; but in His individual spiritual life He grew to maturity, He had to surmount testing, He had to face challenges and opposition, and He had to do so on the basis of the Word of God that was in His soul, and as a pattern or model for us. He did so by depending upon God the Holy Spirit as the one who empowered Him in His humanity. Jesus didn't face any of the adversity in His life by relying on His deity. Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus faced His adversity in terms of His personal spiritual life by relying on the same things that we have: the empowerment of God the Holy Spirit and the promises and doctrines of the Word of God. Again and again when we observe how the Lord Jesus Christ handled problems and opposition we see that the way He did it was to quote from the Scriptures. When Paul talks about "filling up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ" he is focusing not on the redemptive suffering of Christ but on the pattern that Jesus Christ set in handling the day-to-day afflictions and tribulations in life.

He then says that this was done for the sake of his body. Again he uses this preposition huper indicating on behalf of or for your sake. It is in the plural so it is done for the sake of all of those in the congregation and he says it is for the sake of His body. When Jesus Christ lived on the earth in His physical body He encountered various levels and degrees of adversity and physical challenges and opposition. But when He ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father to await the distribution of the kingdom then His physical body on the earth is replaced by a spiritual body that is composed of all of those who put their faith and trust in Christ. We know from Scripture that we are identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection at the instant we believe in Him. That is called the baptism by means of God the Holy Spirit. When we are baptized by the Holy Spirit we are identified with Christ and we enter into His body so that there is the universal body of Christ which is composed of all church age believers, both living and dead. So the physical body of Christ during the incarnation has been replaced with the spiritual body of Christ during the church age. Just as His physical body faced ongoing opposition and affliction during His earthly life, so the body of Christ, all of the saints of the ages since Christ died for our sins, continue to experience that same affliction, opposition and persecution. This is what Paul is talking about. What is lacking in the afflictions of Christ continues through the church age as those who are members of His body, the church universal, is developed in the ongoing history of the church and is related to our spiritual growth. The third thing that we learn from this verse is that the shared suffering of Christ is inherent in being part of His body, the church. 

Paul's focal point at the beginning of this verse is on rejoicing in suffering. There are two different words that are used in Scripture that relate to this idea of joy. Paul uses the verb chairo [xairw] which is the verb form of the noun chara [xara]. There is another word that is sometimes used in the New Testament that also relates to joy and that is the word agalliasis [a)galliasij] which means gladness. When we come to the Scriptures and we see this term "joy" used in relation to encountering suffering and the statements we find in Scripture again and again about having joy in the midst of suffering we need to ask the question: what exactly is joy? what is happiness? Happiness is something that in our culture people seem to be obsessed about, trying to find happiness, something that will anaesthetize them from the pain and the horrors they see in life, and they seek to be happy through all manner of things—success, money, drugs, etc. It is a word that at times is used to relate to our response to circumstances, and that only makes sense. In John 16:20 is the Lord is about to go to the cross and is giving some last-minute instructions and teaching to His disciples, he says NASB "Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy…" He is speaking about what will take place the next day when He is crucified. The world in response to the circumstance of His death will rejoice, and they, the disciples, will be sorrowful. But their sorrow will be turned into joy after His resurrection. [22] "Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one {will} take your joy away from you." He is focusing on the fact that joy does come as a result of circumstances—sometimes with joy and sometimes with sorrow.

But there is another use of joy in the New Testament that does not reflect this sort of fleeting situation. John 15:11 NASB "These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and {that} your joy may be made full. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and {that} your joy may be made full." Here He makes a distinction between the kind of joy that every human being experiences as a result of positive circumstances to a joy that is given to His disciples, to Christians, to believers, that is distinct from the day-to-day common sense of joy. He says, "that My joy may [abide] be in you." The joy that is available to the Christian is a distinct type of joy that is Christ's own joy. The joy that Christ had was not a joy that was based on circumstances, it was a joy that was not diminished at any point in His life; it was a joy that He still had and stabilized Him even when He was going through the horrors of the cross. And no matter what the external circumstances may be, even if they produced sorrow, He was strengthened by a foundational joy that never changed. The joy that Jesus has is a joy that is immutable; it is there no matter what the circumstantial emotions might be at the time. Then Jesus uses this phrase, "that your joy may be made full." This word "full" is the Greek pleroo [plhrow], and again and again the verb that is most frequently associated with the word "joy" is this one. God wants us to have a full or complete joy—not the joy that the world has based on circumstances but the joy of Christ in us as a result of our learning how to face life from His vantage point and on the basis of the Word of God. This joy is produced in us not naturally but by the Holy Spirit.

Two verses emphasize this. Romans 15:13 NASB "Now may the God of hope fill you [pleroma] with all joy and peace in believing…" That should be understood as by believing.  It is a result of our ongoing use of the faith-rest drill, trusting in Christ on a day-to-day basis, a situation-by situation basis, that God the Holy Spirit fills us with all joy and peace. "… so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Galatians 5:22 NASB "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness." This is the production of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives; it is not something we can produce or manufacture. We can study the Word of God under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit in fellowship, and we can walk by the Spirit, but we cannot produce fruit. Joy is produced by the Holy Spirit; it is not something that is humanly manufactured. It is a supernatural mental attitude that is the result of spiritual growth.

Joy is also expressed as a mental attitude of the Lord Jesus Christ when He was at the cross. When He faced the most sever suffering, hardship, pain, sorrow that He ever faced in life as He was on the cross and God the Father imputed to Him all the sins of every human being, what enabled Him to endure and stay on the cross was that He had a mental attitude focus on the end game. The end game is expressed in this passage as joy. Hebrews 12:2 NASB "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." This tells us that joy is a means of handling and facing and surmounting whatever we may face in life. So what the writer of Hebrews is saying is that if we learn to have the kind of joy that Jesus had, and that that joy is produced in us, it gives us a forward focus in our lives as we focus on our ultimate destiny with Him, and that when we focus on that we have a joy that is beyond anything that we face in terms of our own circumstances.

This was part of the physical growth and life of the Lord Jesus Christ in terms of His humanity. He had to face suffering, just as we do, because that is what God uses to bring us to maturity. The pattern is described in Hebrews 2:9, 10 NASB "But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, {namely,} Jesus, because of the suffering [pathema] of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him [God the Father], for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation [Jesus Christ] through sufferings." This is the category of suffering that Paul is talking about in Colossians 1:14, and it is the same kind of suffering that James speaks of in James 1:2-4 NASB "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have {its} perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."

Once again we see that it is the process of facing adversity on the basis of the Word of God, Trusting in Him, walking by the Spirit, that God the Holy Spirit produces in us a joy. And as that joy crystallizes and grows and becomes fulfilled, reaching its maturity, it gives us the inner strength to face and handle any circumstance of life with contentment, with joy.

When we think about what it means to be happy it is suggested that we think about it a certain way: that it is not in terms of what we normally think of as being happy—something that ebbs and flows with circumstances—but it has the idea of realizing who we are in the Lord Jesus Christ living in light of God's plan and fulfilling that. One word that might describe that is "fulfillment." We understand God's plan and purpose and so as we live that out in our lives and as we grow to maturity, living the way God intended us to live, then we experience that sense of fulfillment because we are doing what we are supposed to do. 

Another word that can describe this is "flourishing." Just as a plant flourishes as it is properly fed and watered and it grows and produces fruit, this is a concept related to happiness; it is not emotional, it is a sense of being everything God intended us to be in the way God intended us to do it—by learning His Word, walking by the Spirit, and seeing this develop and mature or brought to fulfillment in our own lives.