Now look at our lesson for today in Colossians 1:24-29, 2:1:
BRETHREN, now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ. For this I toil, striving with all the energy which he mightily inspires within me. For I want you to know how greatly I strive for you.
It takes a huge leap of faith for us to move from a constant state of avoiding suffering at all costs to a more eternally minded attitude on suffering that causes me to “rejoice” in my suffering. And yet, this is exactly how St. Paul describes his attitude toward his suffering in the Colossian parish. Of course, this suffering he is enduring is all because he is living a purposeful, focused, and unwavering life of a Christian, and he is being persecuted for this life. There is a huge difference between the suffering imposed on us from the outside world that hates the Faith we live and the self-inflicted suffering of selfish choices and short-sighted decisions.
But even the suffering resulting from my bad choices and foolish priorities CAN be helpful to me IF I learn from them!
However, this isn’t what floored me in this passage. No. It was when St. Paul said that his sufferings “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…”
Hold on a second, did Paul say what I thought he said? Yes, he did. And this insight is the key to the absolute transformation of your attitude toward paying the price to be a faithful Orthodox Christian, even when modern society calls you crazy for holding to these timeless truths. And it begins with the revelation that the Church IS the Body of Christ. The Church is the continuation of the miracle of the Incarnation to all of humanity. And the Church continues the sufferings of Jesus in this present, fallen, the world as a continual witness of God’s love for His creation. The Church completes what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions by continuing to be present in a world still turned upside down by sin and the fear of death.
While in this present life, we will suffer the negative attitudes and responses of a society that has rejected Jesus as Lord. We will also suffer the struggles of our own hearts rebelling against the hard work of faithfulness and consistency. We will suffer the misunderstandings of others who don’t get why we Orthodox are so “different” than them. We will suffer even the broken relationships of folks who simply can’t stand the message of the Faith. We may even suffer as Paul suffered, and as many of our brothers and sisters have suffered even in this age, the actual physical dangers and death at the hands of a twisted ideology that believes they are serving God by killing Christians!
Today, are you willing to participate in the Body of Christ, His Church, in the ministry of completing the suffering of Jesus for His world. Are you ready to love others that much? Know beyond any shadow of a doubt that an active practice of the wisdom of the Faith will cost you, but the price is worth it to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, You save us all from meaningless suffering. In fact, You fill up all suffering with the power of Your own suffering. Your suffering, as temporary as it is, reveals the truth that all suffering is temporary. When we confront our own suffering, help us to remember You invite me to add my suffering to Your own suffering, You grant me the joy of knowing my suffering is never meaningless and is always powerless to destroy me because Your suffering didn’t destroy You. Amen!