"Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church: whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily." Colossians 1:24-29
Why was the Apostle Paul suffering? Why was he persecuted, imprisoned and facing death? And Paul, like the other apostles of our Lord Jesus, faced many hardships.
To the Corinthians he wrote (2 Cor. 11:24-28): "Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches."
Paul suffered all these things because he was a minister of the Gospel -- he preached Christ, and Him crucified, as the only way to heaven, as the only salvation for sinful mankind. The Apostle called on men everywhere to repent of their unbelief and sin and return to the only true God through faith in the crucified and risen Son of God. And for that, Paul suffered greatly in this world -- though he now wears a crown of righteousness in heaven with his Savior (cf. 2 Tim. 4:7-8).
Paul was a prisoner when he wrote this letter to the believers in Colosse. He was in bonds for preaching forgiveness of sins and life eternal in the crucified and risen Christ Jesus. Paul didn't hold back from setting forth the truth in order to preserve his own life or to avoid trouble from those who opposed the Word of God. Believers could and still can rejoice in the Apostle Paul's sufferings because he was suffering for his faithfulness to Messiah Jesus.
So, should we be surprised at trouble and even persecution here in this world? Should we be shocked when people speak evil of us for seeking to be faithful to God and His Word?
The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12).
Jesus said, "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:34-38).
Jesus Himself said, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you" (Matt. 5:11-12).
As Jesus said, and as His apostle Paul said, those who preach the truth of God's Word, pointing out sin as sin and proclaiming the redemption accomplished by Christ Jesus as the only source of forgiveness and life everlasting, will be hated and persecuted in this world. People will hate them and persecute them because they don't want their own sins exposed for what they are -- wickedness in God's eyes. And people will persecute them because they do not believe and trust in Jesus as God the Son and the Messiah and Savior of the world.
Jesus suffered and died upon the cross, paying in full for the sins of the whole world, and He rose again from the dead on the third day. Those who trust in Jesus for forgiveness and life and follow after Him will also suffer in this world. Because the world hated Christ Jesus, it will also hate those who follow Him and proclaim His Word.
For not shrinking back but being faithful to Jesus, Paul suffered and helped fill up that which was lacking in the sufferings of the church -- the true believers in Christ Jesus. For Paul's faithfulness to Jesus and His unashamed preaching of the gospel of forgiveness and life in the crucified and risen Christ we too rejoice.
Even though so many within the visible church today would hold back to avoid sharing in the reproach of Christ, when followers of Jesus do hold fast to their Head and unashamedly proclaim His Word of life, we can also rejoice, even in their sufferings for Christ Jesus; for all who follow Jesus and are unashamed to speak His Word will suffer persecution in this world, and great is their reward in heaven!
If we must suffer for our faith in Christ Jesus, if we must face trouble and persecution because we follow Christ and seek to uphold all that God's Word teaches, we too can rejoice for the privilege of sharing in the sufferings of our Savior. And the Scriptures assure us that a crown of righteousness awaits us with our Savior in heaven!
Dearest Jesus, our blessed Savior and Redeemer, embolden us to speak Your Word faithfully as we should and not hold back, calling upon people everywhere to repent of their sinful ways and trust in You for forgiveness and life. And, if we must suffer persecution -- even if that be prison or death -- let us rejoice that we were privileged to suffer for Your name's sake. Amen.
[Devotion by Randy Moll. Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible.]