Before you wave your red heresy flag and warn all your friends to never read the Radical blog again, let me be clear where I’m coming from with “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” I’m not saying anything should be added to the gospel; it lacks nothing. But in Colossians 1:24, Paul says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”
It’s a striking phrase, one which, if read wrongly, may seem to contradict verses like Hebrews 10:10, which speak of the finished work of Christ on the cross. If Christ’s blood is completely sufficient to save sinners, and it is, then how can there be anything lacking in his suffering for them? John Piper has a helpful explanation:
In his sufferings Paul is “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for… the church.” What does that mean? It means that Paul’s sufferings fill up Christ’s afflictions not by adding anything to their worth, but by extending them to the people they were meant to save.
What is lacking in the afflictions of Christ is not that they are deficient in worth, as though they could not sufficiently cover the sins of all who believe. What is lacking is that the infinite value of Christ’s afflictions is not known and trusted in the world. These afflictions and what they mean are still hidden to most peoples. And God’s intention is that the mystery be revealed to all the nations. So the afflictions of Christ are “lacking” in the sense that they are not seen and known and loved among the nations. They must be carried by missionaries. And those missionaries “complete” what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ by extending them to others. (Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ, 22)
- Christ suffered to accomplish salvation.
- We suffer to spread salvation.
- God’s strategy for redeeming the world to Himself has always been a suffering servant. that strategy has not changed.
- So we gladly embrace the cross of Christ so that others might eternally enjoy the Christ of the cross.
“Christ’s cross was for propitiation; ours is for propagation.” – Josef Tson