Wait a minute, Paul. In what way, exactly, are Christ’s afflictions lacking? Did Jesus not live a perfect life? Is his sacrifice on the cross not perfect – one sacrifice for all, whether for past, present, or future sins?

Here is the passage that I’m referring to:

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Colossians 1:24-27

You can see how this could pretty quickly become confusing. If Paul is saying that Christ’s afflictions are lacking in some way, then we have an imperfect sacrifice.

But scripture has already told us that Jesus is the perfect sacrifice – one sacrifice for all time, for all people, for all sin. Here is what the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us:

And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

“This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”
Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”

And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

Hebrews 10:10-18

We can see here that no other sacrifices are necessary. Jesus’s sacrifice was sufficient for all people, for all time. One sacrifice that was given by God himself, by Jesus our high priest, and no sacrifices are needed any longer.

If that is true, then, what in the world is Paul talking about? How can he say that there is something lacking in the sacrifice of Christ? Even further, how can he, although a great man, but just a man, make up for anything that is related to Christ’s sacrifice? He can’t, can he?

Let’s read what Paul is saying in context. He is referring to the presentation of the message. He is talking about the message that has been hidden but that has now been made known to the Gentiles. He is talking about the fact that the message now must be spread to the rest of the world.

The sacrifice of Christ isn’t automatically transmitted to everyone’s heart and mind. Instead, God has decided and seen fit that man would be the way that the message would be transported and taken to everyone everywhere. In this way, Paul is saying that he is taking on what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

Let’s take it one step further, however. Paul actually doesn’t just say that he is the bearer of the message. Instead, he says that he fills up in his flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Paul takes this message within him, within his flesh, and carries it to the whole world. Paul had taken beatings. Paul had been jailed. Like Christ, his flesh bore wounds, the wounds of the gospel, as he took the message. When you heard the message from Paul, you saw the wounds on his flesh. You saw the marks of Christ upon him. He was full, within his flesh, of the message of Christ. Not just words, but true marks of Christ.

So in this way, Paul fills up within him what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. He isn’t sacrificing himself for the people. He is giving himself to Christ, to Christ’s glory, so that the mystery of Christ would be revealed and the whole world may hear of the salvation that comes from God.

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