Now, Contending for the Faith. In this regular feature, Dave and Tom respond to questions from listeners and readers of The Berean Call. Here’s this week’s question:
“Dear Dave and T.A.,
What did the Apostle Paul mean when he said that he now rejoices in his ‘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’ (Col:1:24)?”
Tom: Dave, growing up Roman Catholic, which I did—I was a Roman Catholic for close to thirty years—this is a verse that I think is a cornerstone for the Catholic church, because we all believed that you expiated your sins. Your sins were taken away because of the suffering that you went through. The saints—according to the Catholic Church—the saints were esteemed the most, were those who suffered the most. So, again, what is Paul saying here? I’ll repeat the verse: “…sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ.” See, the church would teach, “See, Christ left some room. There’s suffering that needs to be done that He did not suffer Himself.”
Dave: Well, Tom, as a Catholic, you would remember there is a distinction between eternal punishment and temporal punishment…
Dave: …so that Christ did pay the penalty for the eternal, but we have to pay the penalty for temporal…
Tom: Well, that’s what purgatory’s for.
Dave: Right, that’s—exactly. Or this life, as you said, we suffer in this life. Well, it’s quite clear that if we have to suffer as well as Christ, then He didn’t suffer enough. Why didn’t He suffer enough? Was He incapable of suffering enough? Or was it because He couldn’t suffer in our place? Well, if He couldn’t suffer everything in our place, then He couldn’t suffer anything in our place. So, you’ve wiped out the whole idea of Christ paying the penalty for any of our sins if He couldn’t pay the penalty for everything. Furthermore, you don’t pay for your sins; you don’t somehow get purged by suffering in flames, and this is purgatory. “Flames are going to purify me”—now they get that from 1 Corinthians 3 where it says, “His works will be tried by fire.” Well, it’s not the man that’s being tested by fire; it’s the fire of God’s judgment—the fire of God’s standard will test what we have done to see whether it is of eternal value or whether it’s wood, hay, and stubble. So then, what is Paul talking about? Well, he said, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” He said, “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world was crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Jesus in John 15 said to His disciples, “The servant isn’t greater than his lord. If they persecuted Me, they’ll persecute you. I’ve called you out of this world; you’re not of this world. Because you’re not of this world but I’ve called you out of this world, therefore the world hates you.” So, there is an identification of the believer with Christ…
Dave: …and because of the world’s hatred against Christ, then if I am true to Him, Jesus said, “They’re going to hate you like they hated me.” This can only be what Paul is talking about, because otherwise there would be something lacking in Christ’s suffering, but Christ said on the cross, “Tetelestai.” That was a Greek term that meant, “Paid in full.” Christ said, “It is finished.” Does He mean, “Oh, well, I’ve finished my partial work, now it’s up to the rest of you to make up for what is lacking”? No, but you could say Paul is talking about to fill up that which is lacking would be what I am going to suffer for the sake of Christ, not for my sins.
Tom: Yeah. Dave, two things: first of all, and I know you’ve said it, this has nothing to do with salvation, this verse. If what Christ suffered physically paid for our sins, and then we have to go through and suffer physically, then physical suffering expiates sins. The Bible does not teach that. We’ve talked about this on programs before, Christ paid the penalty because He bore the wrath of God. He paid the full penalty—He paid the eternal, the infinite penalty for sins, and that doesn’t happen through physical suffering.
Dave: His soul was made an offering for sin. He was bruised by Yahweh for our sins.
Tom: The other thing about this, Dave, is, as believers, we’re the body of Christ. I think about Paul, actually Saul, was on his way to Damascus. Jesus appears to him. Now, what did He say? “Why do you…”
Dave: “Why persecutest thou me?” And Saul says, “Who are You, Lord?” [chuckles] Then He says, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.”
Tom: Okay, so there’s the body of Christ. Jesus wasn’t here on earth. Saul wasn’t going after Jesus personally, he was going after the body of Christ, the Christians.
Tom: So, that’s for all of us as we look ahead to the coming of our Lord, for Him to catch us up to Him. We’re going to go through trials and tribulations.
Tom: And Paul says he rejoiced in that.
Dave: He rejoiced that he was able to suffer for the sake of Christ, and you have the same thought in Acts:5:41—the apostles have been beaten, they’ve been imprisoned and so forth, and verse 41: “They departed from the presence of the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.” So here again, we have a further suffering, you could say, of Christ, only it is being poured out upon the apostles. They’re suffering because of their association with Christ, because they belong to Him. So, I’m sure this is what Paul was talking about.