Lesson from February 1, 2009
We know Jesus best when we share his deepest humiliation with him. It is the glass through which we see God most clearly
-David E. Garland
The opening verse in this passage can throw us off a bit if we imagine that Paul is referring to the sufferings of Christ. His reference is to his own sufferings on Christ’s behalf, which he incurred in the process of spreading the gospel and in particular in bringing it to the gentiles. He was in prison as he wrote this letter, and had and would experience many hardships. About five years earlier in his second letter to the Corinthians he wrote:
Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. … Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this). I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move, I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger at sea, and in danger from false brothers. …. (2 Corinthians 11: 18, 23-26)
For Paul, suffering was a natural part of the Christian life, as we share in Christ’s resurrection, we also share in his suffering and crucifixion (Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 1:5-6; 4:7 -12; Philippians 1:29; 3:10). And so, in saying “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking,” he is referring to himself. Paul saw himself as a servant of Christ in preaching the word of truth. As R.C. Lucas has noted, Paul emphasizes this by noting that he had not chosen this task (v. 25), had not imagined the message himself (v. 25), and had not concealed anything from anyone (v. 26-28).
There are several references to the Colossian heresy in this passage, and we can see that it has similarities with other so-called mystery religions and early forms of Gnosticism of the day. These would include references in verses 26, 28, and 2:2. These religions typically emphasized special and secret knowledge that the initiated possessed:
Mystery religions were secret cults that flourished during the Greco-Roman period and involved the worship of deities from Greece, Egypt and the Near East. Unlike official religions (such as the imperial cult), which involved little more than pledges of loyalty, these religions offered personal salvation and a sense of belonging to a community. Members participated in rituals and were expected to keep both the rites and the teachings secret; hence the designation “mystery religions.” Famous examples are the Greek Eleusinian and Dionysian mysteries, the Mithras mysteries and the Egyptian cult of Isis and Osiris. (Archaeological Study Bible, p.
Paul emphasizes here that true knowledge and maturity is found in Christ, and this is available to all. He also emphasizes his credibility as a minister of the gospel, in part by describing his shared sufferings with Christ in preaching the gospel.
“This universal publication of the mystery makes Christianity disagreeable to anyone who wants to be part of an elite group with exclusive prerogatives – whether as a special, holy people that excludes Gentiles or as exceptional individuals with unique knowledge kept hidden from the vulgar herd” (Garland, Colossians, p. 129).
- The Christian mystery – formerly not know, but now known and available to all, is in its inclusiveness rather than its exclusiveness. This mystery is the gospel of Christ . and broutht by public proclaimation, not secret rites
- Roday we commonly view suffering as a curse and something to be avoided. We resent it. We seek to solve it. But for Paul, it was part of this world and speading the gospel and being a Christian and he rejoiced “IN” it, not even just after it.