Colossians 1:24 by Robert Dean
Can believers truly find joy in the midst of adversity? Does the Bible spell out the mechanics of joy? As we continue to study this verse in Colossians, we learn that true joy is a process, a culmination of growth which is only fully realized when we reach spiritual maturity. Until then, our life is really sub-normal. Spiritual joy differs from the joy we think of coming from circumstances or our own personalities.

In this lesson, we learn the difference between Christ's sufferings on the cross and His afflictions. We learn that His afflictions, while not redemptive, did set a pattern of how we are to face adversity in our own lives. As we grow and apply learned doctrine and walk and abide in Him, spiritual joy results from the Holy Spirit producing character qualities above and beyond personality or circumstances, which is why believers can have joy in the midst of the adversities of life.

Sharing Christ's Afflictions. Colossians 1:24


We have a sufficient savior and a sufficient salvation. That means that God through the work of Christ on the cross has supplied everything we need in order to be saved, in order to have a relationship with God. Our sin has been paid for completely, there is nothing to add to it. But beyond that there is this new life where we are saved and God has given us everything we need for that new life. It is important for us to go through the growth process because only as we grow to spiritual maturity do we really begin to experience the fullness of the blessing that God has given us.

Looking at what the Scripture teaches about joy it is not so much that we can manufacture it. It doesn't fit with other concepts of happiness and joy, it is produced by God the Holy Spirit, but it is a culmination. Having the fullness of joy is a culmination of that growth process. Any believer can experience that joy incrementally as we grow but to fully experience it only comes when we are spiritually mature and we have all of our spiritual skills operational and as a normative pattern in our life. We always have to remember that whatever we are apart from Christ is not normal. When we are born we are spiritually dead; that is not how God created man to be at the beginning. When Adam and Eve sinned something was lost. It is regained potentially at regeneration, but it is only through spiritual growth that we come to realize the fullness of all that God intended us to be as human beings, so most of us are less than human in some sense. Those who are not believers are significantly less than human in terms of how God originally designed us.

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." What Paul is talking about here has to do with the non-redemptive suffering of Christ, and how he handles that adversity is given to us as a pattern for how we are to face and handle adversity—with the same joy and peace that he demonstrated.

We recognize that there are different levels and qualities of joy and happiness. Scripture uses different words, but even the word for joy is used in different senses. One has to do with the fleeting happiness or the pleasure of the moment. Then there is a more enduring natural joy, a normal joy that any human being can experience based on a number of different things. Some people who just because of their personality are naturally more optimistic and positive about life. That is not to be confused with any spiritual joy. Spiritual joy is the result—as Galatians 5 teaches—of the Holy Spirit who is producing certain character qualities in us that are distinct from personality or circumstance. It has to do with a mental attitude that goes beyond just simple circumstances or even volition. Joy is the consequence of knowledge and knowing certain things to be true. As we learn the Word of God and we understand God's plan and God's purposes and we live on the basis of that reality the result is joy. The more we live on the reality of God's Word, His promises and His plans the more joy we have.

Spiritual joy is produced by God the Holy Spirit as a result of the first two spiritual skills operating together. Confession, because if we are out of fellowship God the Holy Spirit is not working to produce anything in our life other than that we turn back toward God and confess our sins. Confession is the means of recovery and then the mandate that precedes Galatians 5:22, 23 is to walk by means of the Spirit. That is the foundational, basic level.

Then there is the joy that is the result of ongoing spiritual growth. That is a continuation of walking by means of the Spirit. Jesus used the term "abiding in Him" in John 15:1-11, and He used at the conclusion of that, "These things [doctrines and teachings] I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and {that} your joy may be made full." The joy is the result of abiding in the "these things" that Jesus has taught.

The kind of joy that Scripture promises is a robust joy and is independent of circumstances, emotions or people. Joy is also related to a spiritual peace, the second fruit of the Spirit. The first three spiritual skills are confession, walking by means of the Spirit, and the faith-rest drill. The faith-rest drill always works in tandem with the next two spiritual skills which are grace orientation and doctrinal orientation. Both relate to understanding God's Word and the grace of God.

Joy is also the result of an orientation to grace. As we come to understand that we don't merit God's favor we don't have to focus on always trying to gain God's blessing or make sure everything we are doing is right before God. If we are not working toward gaining God's approval all the time and we can just relax in Christ's finished work then that is an orientation to grace. So that is critical for understanding joy. Joy is the result of orientation to grace first at salvation and subsequently in terms of spiritual growth.

In Romans chapter five Paul has just finished two chapters focusing on God's plan of redemption or justification. Romans 5:1 NASB "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, [2] through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult [rejoice] in hope of the glory of God." The two main verbs in these two verses are "we have peace" and "we rejoice." They are connected together with the conjunction "and," so he is tying peace with rejoice. The word "rejoice" here is the Greek kauchaomai [kauxaomai] which is a broader term and has a little more punch to it. It brings in almost a level of enthusiasm or excitement to it, that there is something beyond just joy; it is something more exciting than that and a little more enthusiastic than that. [3] "And not only this, but we also exult [kauchaomai] in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance." There are two things going on here in relation to this idea of exulting in something. It is the idea of that enthusiastic joy in relation to the glory of God and also that helps us to understand how that affects our tribulation. The word for "tribulation" is thlipsis [qlipsij], and the best translation is "adversity." Then comes the word "knowing," the Greek word oida [o)ida], a perfect participle. A perfect tense indicates completed action, so he is saying we have come to know something—the present results of a completed past action. The reason we are able to exult, to have joy, is because we have to know something. Cf. James 1:2, 3. It is on the basis of knowledge. There is a set of facts, information, truth that we have to make part of our soul, part of our thinking, part of the way we respond and react to things in life that is the cause of our ability to have joy. It is not something that we just go out and be joyful; it is on the basis of knowing something. So it is an adverbial participle of cause and should be translated something like, "Not only that but we also rejoice [or, exult] in adversities because we know that adversity produces endurance [or perseverance]."

The only way you learn to hang in there when things are tough is to hang in there when things are tough. If every time that life gets a little difficult we have a pity party and whine about it then we don't learn the lesson, we just learn to fail. And the more we learn to fail the more it becomes our habit pattern and we have to take the mental self-discipline and say we are going to apply doctrine here, and that means we need to do this. It is like learning how to do anything new. We have to stop and think about it, it is not going to come easily, it is not going to come naturally, we have to stop and think about it. We do so many things in life out of just an automatic response because it is learned behavior that has become very comfortable to us. If we are going to learn a new skill, a new technique, we really have to think about it and think about the individual components of the activity until it becomes part of us. That is what we refer to when we talk about the mechanics of any particular skill. The same thing is true about spiritual skills. We have to stop and think about them, we can't just go with the normative sort of knee-jerk reaction that comes out of our soul because that's the default position of the sin nature. We have to relearn, rethink how we respond and react to life's situation so that we are applying God's Word. So we have to learn not to grouse about adversity but how to exalt in adversity. This comes on the basis of knowing something, and truly knowing it. The word oida here probably emphasizes having already come to a full knowledge or understanding of this, so they emphasize different aspects of the way we learn something and the way we come to know something. We learn to exalt in our adversities because we know that this is how God has designed life in terms of the spiritual life. The only way we can learn to see the grace of God and the power of God in our life is to depend upon Him in the midst of difficult circumstances. It is in that process that God the Holy Spirit works to develop joy in our souls.

From this we see that joy and peace are related to our personal sense of destiny. We are evaluated at the judgment seat of Christ. The result of that is that we are going to be delegated certain responsibilities and privileges that will be part of how we rule and reign with Christ in the Millennial kingdom and then on into eternity. That is our hope. It is from the Greek word elpis [e)lpij] which indicates not just that optimistic wish, like we keep hoping it will rain, but that is not the kind of hope that Scripture talks about. Scripture talks about hope as a confident expectation, a certain reality that will come to pass in the future. There is no sense of contingency to it, it is a certainty.

Romans 5:4 NASB "and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope." You don't get character if you don't start with endurance and exalting in adversity. Endurance produces character. That relates to the fruit of the Spirit, the character qualities of the Lord Jesus Christ. Character then produces hope. Hope is the result of a process of growth—learning to exalt in tribulation, learning to endure, to move forward, under and within that adversity, not getting rid of it but staying in there. That produces character, character produces hope. 

Romans 5:5 NASB "and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." The Holy Spirit is given to every believer at the instance that he believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. There are two aspects to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of every believer. The first is called indwelling. Every believer in the church age is indwelt by God the Holy Spirit and that never changes; it doesn't increase or decrease, you don't lose it or re-acquire it. Here we are not talking about fellowship but something that was given to us at the instant of salvation.  The phrase "love of God" could be translated "God's love for us" or "our love of God." The context here is talking about God's love for us and about what He has provided for us. The next few verses continue to explain His demonstration of love for us. For example, Romans 5:8 NASB "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

So the point made here is that joy is related to a personal sense of our eternal destiny. That is what we see here in terms of hope and the significance of that word in this verse. There is another verse, coming from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus ties this to our personal sense of destiny as well. He says, "Blessed are you." The word "blessing in Scripture isn't quite equated to happiness but it overlaps. The blessing of God upon us has to do with the spiritual benefits of His grace toward us, especially what we experience when we are applying God's Word in the midst of adversity. So the adversity here has to do with opposition based on our belief in Christ. In Matthew 5:11 Jesus said, "Blessed are you when {people} insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me"—specifically related to the fact that you are a Christian. 

In response to that Jesus says, "Rejoice and be glad…" He uses two different words here. The first has to do with joy in terms of that stability that comes as a result of the Spirit. Then "be glad" brings in an emotional element to it, that we can have an emotional uplift even in the midst of opposition. It is not just that foundation of joy but there is a positiveness that is also there as well. "… for your reward in heaven is great…" You have you thinking, your focus on the end game, where you are headed; not in this life but in the next life—what God is doing in preparing us for eternity. We can focus on that and that makes the current adversity that we face easier to bear and it enables us to have real joy in the midst of negative circumstances. Joy, then, is related to understanding the plan and the purpose of God. 

Only in a broad sense do we understand the plan of God. We understand how God works in our life today and where He is taking us but we don't know what God's plan is for us tomorrow or this afternoon. We are not informed of the specifics over the next few hours, days, weeks or years.

The five foundational spiritual skills: Confession of sin, being filled by means of the Holy Spirit, walking by means of the Holy Spirit, the faith-rest drill, grace orientation and doctrinal orientation. This is the foundation. To go to the next level of maturity in terms of spiritual adolescence, which John refers to as the "young man" believer (1 John 2:13), we have our personal sense of eternal destiny; we know where God is taking us. This is the process of spiritual growth as we master our foundational skills and then go to intermediate skill and ultimately to the mature skills related to our focus on God—personal love for God which we only come to know fully as a result of understanding His Word and knowing Him. Then we have as a result of our love for God the ability to love others—impersonal love, not because it is somehow not involved with personal connection but because we don't have to know the person—then our occupation with Christ. These three all work together. The result of getting all these in place is our happiness, our joy is full. That is sharing the happiness, the joy of Christ.

In terms of understanding the plan of God we do have a promise to claim: Romans 8:28. But we have to look at this within the context. NASB "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to {His} purpose. [29] For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined {to become} conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; [30] and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified."

There are a couple of things about the translation of this verse that we need to be aware of. The opening statement in verse 28 takes us to the whole principle of knowledge: "And we know." Paul uses the perfect tense of oida [o)ida], indicating something we have come to know, and emphasizing the present reality of something we have learned in the past, something we have come to know fully in the past and is a present reality in our life.

When we read this verse it looks as if Paul is saying that the all things that work together for good only work together for a group that loves God. But the context tells us who are those who love God. Is this talking about those who have reached a level of spiritual maturity, who have a mature love for God, or is this talking about every believer. There is an appositional phrase that comes after "those who love God" to explain it. This appositional phrase says that those who love God are those who are "called according to His purpose." Who are those who are called according to His purpose? Those who love God are the same group as those who are called according to His purpose.

The called are defined again in vv. 29, 30. NASB "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined {to become} conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." The called equals all those who are justified. Those who are glorified (every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ) are those who are justified (every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ) and every person who is justified are those who are called. Those who are called equal those who love God. We are looking at a basic definition of those who love God here, not those who have come to love Him in a mature way.

Jesus said those who love Him keep His commandments. What is the first basic commandment? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ that is the starting point. We start to love God at that point because we are recognizing that God has given us everything for salvation. Textually in terms of the grammar those who love God equal those who are called, those who are called equal those who are justified and those who are glorified. Therefore those who love God are the same group as those who are justified and those who will be glorified. It is not a sub-set of Christians; it is everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. The issue here isn't what we do to make things work together for good, it is what God does. God is the one who oversees all the details in human history and He is the one who works all things together for good in an absolute sense.

There is another critical thing to think through in terms of the translation of this verse and that has to do with the structure of this phrase, "All things work together for good." In the Greek the phrase "all things" translates an adjective form. Literally it is panta [panta] which can either be an accusative or a nominative. Accusative means it is the object of the verb—something works all things together for good; subject means that all things is what performs the action of the verb. The problem with saying that all things performs the action of the verb is that all things tends to be somewhat impersonal. The verb here is sunergeo [sunergew], present active indicative, but the important thing about it is that it is a third person singular. It is translated either "he works" or "it works." If "all things" is the subject then it would be translated "it works," the "all things" are doing something. And this is often understood by a lot of people who quote this that God is really the one who is working behind the scenes but the way it is translated it is understood that the all things here come together to ultimately produce something that is good. It implies God's sovereignty working behind the scenes but it is not emphasizing it. So the translation can take it as the subject of the verb, or it can take it as the object of the verb which is probably the best way to translate this. It would then be translated "He works all things together for good." The emphasis there would be on "He" which is embedded within the verb, third person singular, and that "He" then would be a reference to God, that He is the one working all things together for good.

That makes sense as the translation because as we read down through verses 29 and 30 there is a series, a chain, of four verbs—each verb is repeated again, so it is actually eight verbs in the text—those who He foreknew He predestined, those He predestined He called, those He called He justified, those who He justified He glorified. In each of those cases there is a third person singular verb, so each of those is translated "He did something." Contextually, just in how the section runs, it would be better to understand the verb in Romans 8:28, sunergeo, to be translated "He" rather than "it." The text then would read: "We have come to know that He who works all things together for good." 

There are a couple of ancient manuscripts where the scribe at some point or another decided that that was a little too ambiguous and wanted to make sure people would realize that it was talking about God, so he inserted God into the text. There are a couple of translations that insert God into the text and would translate is: "We know that God works all things together for good," but the word "God" (theos) does not appear in the vast majority of MSS, neither does it appear in all of the oldest. So the best way to translate this verse would be: "And we have come to know that He [God] works all things together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." 

So to have joy we have to be oriented to the plan and purpose of God. That means that we understand that God oversees everything. So no matter what we are facing, no matter what adversity, whatever difficulty, whatever the thlipsis may be in our life God is overseeing everything so that when we get through with our life we look back and see how God used everything to pull together something that was glorifying to Him and which was good in an absolute sense. It doesn't say everything is good but that God works to produce good out of things that are not as well as things that are.

One example of this. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:3 NASB "Blessed {be} the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…" And then he brings out one aspect of God's character. He is "the Father of mercies and God of all comfort." The two keys words that run through this section are the words "comfort," which is either a translation of parakaleo [parakalew], or the word for "tribulation" or "trouble" throughout this which is either the noun or verb form of thlipsis [qliyij]. So he is talking about one of the reasons we face difficulty and adversity in life. He says God is the one who comforts us in all of our adversities. We have to learn how to be comforted by God. That occurs through His Word and through the Holy Spirit. If we are not applying the promises of God to the adversity then we are not learning to be encouraged and strengthened and we are still at square one. [4] "who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."

So one of the things God is doing when He takes us through difficult times is teaching us to not be so self-centered and to put our focus on Him and let God comfort us, so that later on when we are with friends, family, others around us who go through tough times we are able to communicate to them on the basis of God's Word and our experience of God's comfort.

2 Corinthians 1:5 NASB "For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. [6] But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation [sanctification, ongoing spiritual growth]…" It is so that he can be more effective in his ministry and communication of God's grace to those to whom he is ministering. "… or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; [7] and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are {sharers} of our comfort." The focus of dealing with adversity is to teach us to rely upon God's grace, rely upon God's provision in terms of the Word of God and the Spirit of God, and then as we do that the Spirit of God strengthens our soul, producing perseverance, endurance, the character of Christ, all of these things in our lives with the long-term result that our joy increases even in the midst of difficulty. It is all grounded on the basic concept of walking by the Spirit, applying the Word of God, and the Spirit produces that joy in us.