"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. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God," (Colossians 1:24-25)Most of us are comfortable speaking about the finished work of Christ. When Jesus hung on the cross, He Himself said, "It is finished!" (John 19:30) However, Paul intimates that there was a part of His work that was not finished on the cross; a part of His work that still remained to be completed; a part of His work that Paul, and others, were called to finish. Though Jesus' life on this earth was short, He accomplished so much in the few brief years of His ministry. He preached the Gospel throughout Judea, He healed the sick and raised the dead, He took twelve men and taught them His message that they might preach it also, and He surrendered His life a ransom for our own. Of all that Jesus did, what more could He have left behind as unfinished work?
Jesus came bringing salvation to all, but there was more the Father wanted to do. He wanted to establish a body of believers, joined together by their common life and love for His Son, a community of those who loved God and loved one another. This church required the leadership of the invisible Holy Spirit rather than a visible Son of God. To this end, Jesus departed that the Spirit might come upon all who believed. However, just as the work of salvation required the suffering of one in the flesh, so the work of the Spirit requires those who are willing to suffer in their flesh to accomplish His work.
The Greek term for "afflictions" come from the root word that means to "crowd." It speaks of the pressing nature of the work to be done and its abundance for those who will accept its call. Jesus' work was done on the cross, but the work of God continues till today. There is work that still needs to be done and God is still looking for those who are willing to do it; those who are willing to give up their own work to accomplish the work of Christ.
Paul understood several things regarding his call that are important for us to learn and understand. First was that he was called by God, not by man. Those who are called by man find it easy to bolt when times get difficult, but those who are called by God find in Him the grace and strength to accomplish their task. Speaking of those who went forth on their own calling, Jesus said, "Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted." (Matthew 15:13) It is important to understand our calling and who it is who is calling us. Secondly, Paul understands that he had been called to a specific work. The word "minister" means a table waiter, steward, or errand boy. It speaks of many servants in a large house, each with their own specifically assigned task. Paul understood the importance of doing what he was called to do and not what others were called to do. Thirdly, he understood that he was called to work for others rather than himself. His suffering was not for his own benefit but for the benefit of those whom he served. Sometimes we suffer because of ourselves, sometimes we suffer for the cause of Christ, but sometimes we suffer for others; to benefit them rather than ourselves through our suffering. There are some who view the work of God as to how it will benefit them more so than how it will benefit others. Paul was not such a man.
Today it's our turn; to hear the call of God, to understand what He is calling us to do, and to do it for the benefit of others. In this was, we too, will be filling up what remains of the sufferings of Christ.