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Filling in what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings

Posted by on Mar 15, 2011 in discipleship, missional, service | 8 comments

Filling in what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings

Often, when Paul was traveling from place to place, he found himself in need. He found that God would always supply his needs. (Yes, at times he had to learn to live with less. At other times, he had plenty. But, God always supplied what he needed.)

Often, God would supply his needs through other brothers and sisters in cities and towns that he had visited previously. (Interestingly – and not a point in this post – it seems that Paul never accepted support from the people of the city where he was currently working.) In many cases, these brothers and sisters would send that support via the hands of one of their own.

For example, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul recounts a time that the church in Philippi helped him. The Philippians had sent that support via Epaphroditus. This is part of what Paul says about Epaphroditus:

[Epaphroditus] nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. (Philippians 2:30 ESV)

While the Philippians wanted to serve Paul and while they sent support to him, that concern and support was lacking something: a personal, face-to-face touch. The fact that our care and concern is lacking without face-to-face contact and interaction is brought home even more clearly in this passage in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:

For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? (1 Thessalonians 3:9-10 ESV)

In this passage, we clearly see that “supply[ing] what is lacking” requires seeing someone face-to-face. Paul understood the importance of that type of personal interaction. Yes, he sent letters (and today he would probably use phone calls, and email, and maybe even Facebook), but something would always be lacking with the person, face-to-face interaction.

Similarly, consider the following passage in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth:

I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such men. (1 Corinthians 16:17-18 ESV)

Paul was happy because these three brothers “made up for [the Corinthians’] absence” (literally, “filled in what was lacking” as in the passage above). All of the Corinthians believers could not be with Paul. But, Stephanas, Fortunatas, and Achaicus traveled to meet Paul, and thus were able to spend face-to-face time with him. By their presence and their mutual service, they filled in what was lacking in the care and concern that the church in Corinth had for Paul.

This brings me to a very interesting passage in Colossians:

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… (Colossians 1:24 ESV)

Paul’s sufferings somehow filled in what was lacking in Christ’s own sufferings. And this “filling in” was on behalf of the church. Certainly, in some ways and in some aspects, Christ’s sufferings are completely sufficient – i.e., there is nothing lacking. However, in at least one aspect, something is lacking in Christ’s sufferings.

What’s lacking? By examining the passages above, it seems that it’s the personal, face-to-face interaction that is missing. While Jesus is still present and real and living, he is not physically present and the believers in the Colossae (and other places) did not see him face-to-face. In this context, Paul is talking about his service for Christ for the sake of the church. Paul’s own sufferings and afflictions and hard work (“toil”) were a personal, physical, face-to-face representation of the sufferings of Christ and, thus, “filled in what was lacking” in the sufferings of Christ.

The people around us also need a personal, physical, face-to-face representation of the love and service and sufferings of Christ. We are here to “fill in what is lacking” in Christ’s sufferings for them.


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  1. 3-15-2011

    Had to read this a few times to really get this. Igreat thoughts

  2. 3-15-2011


    I probably didn’t do a good job setting up this post or explaining the point. Thanks for being patient and working through it!


  3. 3-16-2011


    Can’t thank you enough for this post. No words. (and hey Doug!)


  4. 3-16-2011


    Thanks. My wife and I were talking about this last night again because we’re studying that passage in Colossians.


  5. 12-19-2012

    Another way I have understood this is that Paul was fulfilling his ministry which included suffering for Christ (for Christ’s sake, or in the name of Christ) which would benefit the church.

    This relates to Acts 9:16 and Saul’s (Paul’s) calling: “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

    “Christ’s afflictions” (or “the sufferings of Christ”) describes the various ways Paul suffered. These sufferings, in a sense, belonged to Christ and were bestowed by the Lord to Paul, for him to experience, for the benefit of the church, Christ’s body.

    Another way to say this is that the afflictions in view are not redemptive in a direct sense like Christ’s atonement. They are sanctifying afflictions connected with bearing witness of Christ. They bear indirectly upon the redemption (or salvation) of others as the gospel is both preached and modeled in the midst of suffering and folk come to faith in Christ, initially, and continue to be built up in Him by Paul’s perseverance.

  6. 12-20-2012


    So, what was it about Paul’s sufferings that were “lacking” in Christ’s suffering on behalf of the Philippians?


  7. 12-20-2012

    From the perspective I was suggesting, the emphasis would not fall on Christ’s sufferings, but Paul’s sufferings, which come to him from the calling and providential rule of Christ:

    GOD’S WORD Translation:

    “I am happy to suffer for you now. In my body I am completing whatever remains of Christ’s sufferings. I am doing this on behalf of his body, the church.”

    “Christ’s sufferings” means tribulation related to bearing witness for Christ. The focus here would be on “whatever remains” (or is lacking — i.e., yet to be fulfilled or accomplished) for Paul regarding his own Christ-related sufferings . . . all of which is done for the benefit of the church.

    Verses which might cross reference and clarify Paul’s meaning here (if my hunch is correct) regarding completing the suffering to which he was called might be as follows:

    Acts 20:24: However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.

    2 Corinthians 1:5: For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

    2 Corinthians 12:15: So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well.

    Philippians 2:17: But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.

    2 Timothy 1:8: So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God,

    2 Timothy 2:10: Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

    2 Timothy 4:7: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

    All Christians have been called to suffer in various ways. Some are severe like Paul and others include daily striving and groaning from living in a fallen world as one of God’s children.

    Romans 8:17: Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

    Philippians 1:29: For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.

  8. 12-21-2012

    You write, “it’s the personal, face-to-face interaction that is missing”. That gives me something to think about. It seems we are back to “one another” again.
    The more attention I give it, the bigger it gets. It is starting to hurt, in a longing kind of way.

    Is “filling in Christ’s suffering” related to “greater works than these shall you do”?
    Among humans, the head does all the creative work, conceives the complete project, plans all the logistics, etc. The various members of the body respond to specific directions from the head to make the concept tangible, so it can be a benefit. The head doesn’t merely think up a good idea, send a memo to all the members, and wait to see how well it turns out. Rather, each member is in constant, direct contact with the head to do the head’s will.
    Maybe that’s how we, as members of His body, “fill in” or “do greater works”.