(The following is a message delivered by Pastor Stam on Thursday evening, July 15, 1965, at the Grace Gospel Fellowship Convention in Cedar Lake, Indiana. This article appeared in the April, 1966 issue of Truth magazine, published by Milwaukee Bible Institute/Worldwide Grace Testimony, now the Grace Gospel Fellowship, but has never appeared in the Searchlight.)
“I Paul…now rejoice in my 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. 1:23,24).
Already I can almost hear some of you beginning to quote passages from Scripture which clearly indicate that our Lord suffered the full penalty for our sins at Calvary, that His vicarious sacrifice was a once for all matter. This is true, but it is not the whole truth.
A New York woman is supposed to have called Transworld Airlines one night to ask how long it would take to fly to Hawaii. When the young lady at the other end said, “Just a moment,” the woman said, “Thank you” and hung up! She didn’t listen long enough to get the true answer. Let’s not make this mistake here. Let us rather consider this passage thoughtfully and thoroughly so as to understand its true meaning.
WHAT IT DOES NOT MEAN
This passage certainly does not mean—it cannot mean—that Paul had to supply a lack in the vicarious suffering of Christ. This is clear, not only from Scripture as a whole, but from this very epistle of Paul. Verse 20 of this very chapter speaks of God’s “having made peace through the blood of His Cross,” and verses 21 and 22 add:
“And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled.
“In the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreprovable in His sight.”
Again in chapter 2, verses 10-13, the apostle declares that believers are “complete” in Christ, having been identified with Him in His death and resurrection.
These passages in this very epistle speak of the glorious all-sufficiency of Christ’s finished work of redemption.
Once hostile to God and the things of God, we have now been reconciled and have in turn been commissioned to proclaim “the word of reconciliation” to others (II Cor. 5:19). Of this glorious message the Apostle Paul was the first to be “made a minister,” as he says in Colossians 1:23. But what, then, does verse 24 mean, where the apostle refers to “that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ”?
WHAT IT DOES MEAN
There is an interesting connection between verses 22 and 24 of this chapter. In verse 22 the apostle refers to “the body of HIS [Christ’s] flesh,” while in verse 24 he speaks of filling up what is behind of the afflictions of Christ “in MY flesh, for His Body’s sake.”
To understand the significance of this latter passage let us consider the background.
Psalm 2 predicts the Father’s response to man’s rejection of His Son:
“He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision.
“Then shall He speak unto them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure” (Vers. 4,5).
Similarly, in Psalm 110:1, we find the Father saying to His rejected Son:
“Sit thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.”
Such predictions as these may be found throughout Old Testament prophecy, and nowhere is there any indication of any prolonged delay in the judgment, or of any period of grace between man’s rejection of Christ and the judgment to follow. This was a “mystery…hid from ages and from generations,” as the apostle points out in verse 26 of the passage we are considering.
It was when Jew had joined Gentile in declaring war on “the Lord” and “His anointed” (Psa. 2:1-3; 110:1), when the stage was fully set, as it were, for the outpouring of the bowls of God’s wrath, that God interrupted the prophetic program by saving the leader of the rebellion and sending him forth as an ambassador of grace and reconciliation.
Thus Christ was to remain a voluntary exile as the rebellion on earth continued, and Paul, along with others, was to bear whatever sufferings might still remain in connection with the continued rejection of Christ. And this is exactly what happened.
Paul had been persecuting Christ (Acts 9:4) as he inflicted suffering and sorrow upon His saints, but now that the persecutor was saved, the Lord said to Ananias:
“I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:16).
Thus Christ was to remain “rejected of men,” but who was to bear the sufferings associated with His rejection? Surely not the Lord Himself, for He is forever blessed in heaven. These sufferings were now to be borne by Paul—and us. “That which is behind,” or which still remains, “of the afflictions of Christ,” is to be borne, not by Christ, the Head, but by us, the members of His Body.
Such suffering was sweet to Paul. If the apostles of the kingdom could rejoice that they were “counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41), how much more could the apostle of grace rejoice in bearing the afflictions of Christ so that he might continue to carry on his “ministry of reconciliation” and so add members to Christ’s precious Body! This was nothing less than “the fellowship of His suffering” and the apostle longed to experience it more fully (Phil. 3:10).
We belong to a soft generation, in which most seem to think that living in ease and pleasure is man’s highest good. But those of us who are truly regenerated and have tasted of the riches of God’s grace in Christ should long, as Paul did, to experience, yes to enjoy, more fully, “the fellowship of His sufferings,” standing fast against all odds in the proclamation of the glorious message He has committed to us. The words of Paul to the Philippians on this subject are also God’s Word to us:
“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake;
“Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me” (Phil. 1:29,30).
Just as Paul, Christ’s “Ambassador in bonds,” was a living demonstration of God’s grace to a rebellious world, so believers today who stand true to their glorified Lord to suffer for Him, are thereby telling the world that “the dispensation of the grace of God” is still in effect. The present “afflictions of Christ,” however, are not the result only of witnessing to the lost; they are often also the lot of those who defend the message of the glorified Lord against the inroads of false doctrine and practice. When Paul referred to “my sufferings for you” and declared that he suffered the afflictions of Christ “for His Body’s sake,” he did not mean only that the Body might grow numerically, but also spiritually, through the teaching of the truth. It was his stand against false religion in defense of the truth that cost him the most suffering of all, but think of the far-reaching results!
It is true indeed that the sufferings of some believers are not exactly the sufferings of Christ but are due rather to their own failures. On the other hand, however, there is a growing feeling in more liberal circles today that those who witness tactfully to the world, as one with them, and stand diplomatically for the truth, will not be called upon to suffer for it, while in fact God’s Word declares:
“Yea, and ALL that will live godly in Christ Jesus SHALL suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3:12).
God helps us to faithfully “fill up that which is behind [still remains] of the afflictions of Christ… for His Body’s sake.” It is in this connection that the apostle declares:
“…God would make known [to His saints] what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you [Gentiles], the hope of glory:
“Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect [mature] in Christ Jesus:
“Whereunto I also labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily.
“For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh.
“That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all the riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement [full knowledge] of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ” (Col. 1:27-2:2).
WHAT THIS MEANS TO US TODAY
All the prayers of a hundred thousand saints for revival, all the record-breaking evangelistic-revival campaigns, and all the organized efforts to establish unity by compromise will fail to bring about a true spiritual revival, as they have failed through the past several decades.
Since the revelation of the glorified Lord through Paul has been committed to us to proclaim, there will be no revival until this message is recovered and proclaimed, unadulterated and unmixed.
How can there be a spiritual revival while the church continues to work under the wrong commission and practices a dozen different baptisms? How can the Church enjoy true unity without a practical recognition of the Scriptural fact that “there is one Body,” whose members have been united to Christ and to each other “by one baptism”?
To stand for these truths faithfully entails suffering—suffering for His Body’s sake. But this suffering is sweet, first because it is “the fellowship of His suffering,” and second because such a stand brings great blessing to the hearts and lives of those who take heed, “their hearts…being knit together in love, and [advancing] unto all the riches of the full assurance of understanding…” (Col. 2:2).
God give us pastors, teachers and laymen who are willing to suffer “the afflictions of Christ… for His Body’s sake,” who count position, popularity, and material gain as loss for Christ, whose one consuming passion is to know “the riches of the glory” of the mystery revealed by our ascended Lord and to dispense these riches to others that the lost may know the glory of His saving grace and the saved the glory of their calling as “one Body in Christ.”