23 the gospel… of which I, Paul, became a minister.
24 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, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.
There is much encouragement to be drawn from Paul’s own testimony of gospel ministry. The Lord has allowed Paul to partake in suffering, given him a unique ministry to the Gentiles, revealed deep truths to him, and empowered him to overcome trial and persecution.
It seems counter-intuitive to consider suffering a blessing. Yet, throughout the New Testament, Christians are given tremendous encouragement through suffering. Consider Acts 5, when Peter and John are beaten and expelled from the temple. They were beaten and yet it says that they were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41). Further, the epistles are rich with encouragement to consider suffering a joy and to think of trials as something that is good and God-ordained (c.f. James 1:2, 1 Peter 1:6-9). For Paul, suffering is a validation, joy, and commission given by Christ.
To be clear, Paul is not speaking of suffering a disease or calamity in one’s life. He is here addressing suffering that comes through persecution. Gospel ministry is validated for Paul when it is so strong and aggressive that it causes utter rejection. The fierce opposition of the gospel proves the strength of the message. Indeed, if the message were weak, it wouldn’t be opposed. When suffering comes as a result of calamity, we pray that God would be with us through it. When suffering comes as a result of our evangelistic zeal in the gospel ministry, we rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer.
The glorious ministry of suffering did not conclude with Christ. The Church continues the work of revealing God’s character on this earth. That is – the character of surrendering majesty and taking on humility for the sake of love. Christians are commissioned to surrender their own life for the sake of gaining God and, thereby, gaining real life (c.f. John 12:25). The joy of suffering for the gospel is found in the communion with God! When we share in suffering for His name, we share in His name!
Paul was given a special commission to be the apostle to the Gentiles. His mission was broad and yet reached specifically to the Colossians by God’s special providence. His mission? To make the gospel “fully known” to the Colossians. His work was to teach the complete gospel. He did not simply accept that easy message so common among the evangelical world in modern times. Paul’s message demanded complete surrender to Jesus as Lord and Savior. Jesus must be your master; He must be your righteousness. The gospel of Jesus Christ was hidden for ages past, though the prophets proclaimed it. The prophets of the Old Testament made prophecies through a veil that obscured some of the glory of God. With Jesus’ crucifixion, that veil was torn and the holiness of God was revealed in majestic forgiveness.