The message Paul taught was made fully known to the church in Colossae, however the seeds of heresy began to seep into this church body. Epaphrus, concerned for them, immediately ran over to Rome to visit Paul (who was in jai) to ask for a letter from the Apostle himself to combat Gnosticism.
In short, Gnostics believed there was a secret knowledge that could be obtained only by “spiritual elites” who could tap into God’s mysteries. They accomplished this through Judaized asceticism, avoiding certain foods, observing special days, or utter licensiousness and acquiescence to the evil that permeated the culture. But worst of all, they believed that Christ was simply an emanation or a de-evolutionized version of God. The worship of angels was prevalent, believing they were the creators of the world.
Christ’s Workers Teach a Counter-Cultural Message
Col. 1: 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…
Paul isn’t saying here that Christ’s work on the cross wasn’t enough or insufficient to achieve our salvation from the penalty, power, and eventually the presence of sin. That would contradict Hebrews 10:10 – “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” This word for affliction (thlipsis) is never used in NT in relation to Christ’s crucifixion on the cross. It means “distress,” “pressure,” or “trouble.”
No, what he’s saying here is that Jesus’ ministry in the flesh was short, 3 years to be exact, and he had suffered to the utmost. But his suffering isn’t finished. Those of us who have placed our faith in the atoning blood of Christ are so inimately united to Him, that when we suffer for the sake of the Gospel, Christ suffers as well. Jesus asked Saul on the Damascus Road, “Why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:4) Since the church is Christ’s body, He is affected when it is affected.
This flies in the face of all those gnostics that denied that Jesus was God at all (to them he was just a lesser, devolved version). If Jesus wasn’t fully God, there was no way he could be a spotless, acceptable sacrifice, while also bearing our infinitely evil sins against an infinitely Holy God on the cross.
This flies in the face of all those gnostic heretics infiltrating the church in Colossae who claimed that all matter, flesh included, was evil. If that were true, Jesus, who in His body all the fullness of God dwelt, couldn’t identify with us and live in us so closely as to be persecuted with redeemed humans. No wonder God is serious about judging those that persecute us: “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:1-5).”
Why? Not because we are intrinsically special. Only because we are united with Christ will our persecutors have to give an account to God for this.
Paul rejoiced because persecution was refining his faith, he was learning to live by drawing from Christ for all of his needs, and he was confident that he was walking in God’s revealed will. So any suffering would bring Him, as Romans 8:18 says, an eternal weight of glory. Suffering would last for a few years, His reward for suffering would last for eternity.
Paul wasn’t being persecuted because he was preaching about Star Wars episodes, or told really inspiring stories about himself and how he overcame great challenges, or because he was preaching about a recent vision or dream he had. He wasn’t persecuted because he was telling people God is a grandpa in the sky who wants the church to have their best life now. He wasn’t getting persecuted because of a 10-step plan for a great marriage, or a better financial strategy.
No, he was persecuted because of he was telling people that they were so evil, decrepit, and helpless that the perfect Son of God had to experience His Father’s rejection and wrath for the first time on the cross so that they could receive the Father’s acceptance and righteousness. He was telling people that the only man to meet God’s standard of righteosness – the only man to please God – on the cross had to become an adulterer, a liar, a thief, a rebel, a gossip, a boaster, a drunkard so we could be his choice ones.
Christ’s laborer’s must speak the truth about God with clarity. Our authority in teaching comes only from faithfully teaching God’s Word. We lose our authority given to us by God the moment we teach anything else. Christ’s laborers must be prepared to suffer, because when we teach Christ, the only way, truth, life, and portion of the church, we instantly become hated enemies of the world.