I am spending some time in Paul's Letter to the Colossians this summer. Just this week I came upon that perpetually perplexing verse: "Now I rejoice in what was suffered 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" (Col. 1:24).
For me, this is quite the Bible Brain Buster: a biblical text that becomes puzzling in light of central Christian affirmations. As with all Bible Brain Busters, it may say more about my assumptions that it does about the difficulty of the text itself. But in this case I think my perplexity is warranted.
The counterweight notion that renders this text puzzling is the affirmation that Christ's suffering is sufficient. Has he not died once for all? Is his suffering not perfect, lacking nothing? Certainly I can understand that our suffering for the gospel might participate in Christ's sufferings. But to think of our suffering as a supplement to something lacking in Christ's suffering seems odd to me.
Perhaps I am misunderstanding the sense in which Christ's suffering is sufficient. Perhaps I am misunderstanding the sense in which Paul is filling up what is lacking. Perhaps I am misunderstanding both. Perhaps this is just an unresolvable contradiction.
What do you think this text means?
Does it seem odd to you in light of the sufficiency of Christ's suffering?
Should we revise our talk of the sufficiency of Christ in light of this passage?
Should we allow our talk of the sufficiency of Christ to control our interpretation of this passage?