. . . if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. 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.
The first sentence of this passage, Colossians 1:23, is a continuation from verse 22. This paragraph focuses upon our root system, being well established and firm in our faith, continuing in our faith through all life situations, including sufferings and afflictions.
. . . if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. Paul writes to churches in his letters to encourage them to persevere. The early Church was a very small movement, a minority spiritual community among many strong forces that could easily have wiped out these tiny seedlings. Paul has already encouraged the people of Colossae to be “strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,” (Col 1:11). Here Paul encourages them to continue (Greek: epimeno, to “continue or remain upon”) in their faith. Paul wants the followers of Jesus in Colossae to be established (Greek is a word for “foundation”), and firm (Greek word is for being “seated, well-fixed, stable”). I imagine the root system under a fruitful tree. We see very few of these roots. But they offer the stability, endurance, nourishment, and underlying structure for the tree to be able to become fruitful. Part of our endurance as followers of Jesus is that we hold onto the hope we have in the gospel. The gospel (Greek: Euangelio) of Jesus Christ, the “good news,” or “good message” has been held out to us. We take hold of this good news, and find hope and purpose for our lives. The gospel involves our past, present and future. All our past sins are forgiven by God by Jesus Christ’s on the cross. Our present is secure as we continue to live in Christ and allow God’s Spirit to pour God’s love into our lives in this very moment. Our future is secure, unwavering, fixed eternally in heaven. We hold on and “do not move from the hope held out for us” in the gospel.
This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven: Paul has already celebrated that the Colossian church received this gospel in Col 1:5-6. He told the Church in Colossae, “you have already heard the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.” Here in verse 23, Paul reminds them of the gospel they have heard. As followers of Jesus, we are called to live our lives as gospel witnesses of Jesus Christ, and in our words to share the story of the gospel with others we meet. The gospel thus is seen in our lives and heard in our words. Our walk matches our talk. People have the opportunity to hear the gospel, a gospel that is still being proclaimed to “every creature under heaven,” around the world today.
and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. Paul describes himself a “servant” (Greek: diakonos, servant, where we get our word “deacon”) of the gospel.
Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you: Paul celebrates (Greek: xairo, rejoice, gladness for God’s grace “xara”) that he is allowed by God to enter into suffering (Greek: pathema) for the church in Colossae, suffering for the sake of the gospel. Paul celebrates suffering not because he is a masochist and loves to feel pain, but because when he suffers, he identifies intimately with Jesus who suffered and died to bring us the good news of God’s love.
and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions: this phrase may cause many to squirm and ask, “What in the world was lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions?” When Jesus declared on the cross, “It is finished!” he was declaring the completion of God’s holy work for all people in all time, completion of God’s plan to rescue lost humanity by sending God’s Son to rescue us from the dominion of darkness, and bring us into the kingdom of God’s son by this act of redemption and forgiveness of our sins on the cross. What was still lacking is people to willingly receive this gift and enter into this new life. God’s grace can be refused. When we open our ears, our hands, our hearts and receive God’s grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we open our lives to follow Jesus where Jesus will lead us, including being led daily to carry our own cross, die daily and enter into Christ’s afflictions for the sake of the gospel. In a mysterious way, this sharing in Christ’s sufferings for the sake of the gospel, is a completion and filling up in our bodies what was offered to us in Christ when he suffered for us on the cross.
for the sake of his body, which is the church: Paul is willing to suffer, to face many afflictions for the sake of Christ’s body, the church. Paul planted dozens of churches all across the Mediterranean region, from Israel to Italy. Though the Church in Colossae was not directly planted by Paul, he writes this letter to this young Church, encouraging the people of that congregation in that town to remain faithful to Christ, well-rooted in their faith, established, and continuing to grow in their faith, being strengthened inwardly even as they outwardly may encounter persecutions and afflictions for the sake of following Jesus.