“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, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:24-29)
What does it mean to consummate? Webster defines consummate in this way: “To finish, complete, make perfect or achieve.” So the question that we have to ask ourselves is this: In what way, or in what sense, does God’s Mission need to be completed. What is lacking?
Paul is very delibarate in choosing to describe what he is doing in this way. As the reader, we have to consider very carefully what he is saying because if we are not careful we may assume something here that is not true or, worst case, could be blasphemous. What does Paul want the believers in Colossi to understand and participate in?
If we take a moment and consider the timeline of events up to this point it may help us. God sent Jesus into the world in human form as a baby. Jesus lives, ministers and ultimately is killed for what he is did. After three days in the grave, Jesus is resurrected and is gone from the Earth.
So here we begin to see the problem. If Jesus is no longer physically present on Earth, how is the Gospel going to be proclaimed to all the people who have not heard it? The answer lies in this interesting truth. Jesus is the head of the church, which is his body! We are the ones that have been left and specifically tasked with the responsibility to take the message that we have heard to those who have not. So what is “lacking in Christ’s afflictions?” Nothing from the stand point of salvation, but everything from the standpoint of evangelism.
If Paul does not become an active and intentional participant in the mission of God, the Gospel will not be spread. This is why, as followers of Christ, we must see our faith not merely as an internal and personal activity. If the Mission of God is going to be completed we, the church, must become the agents that will see that lack addressed.
Let me clarify what this does not mean. It does not mean that God needs us to fulfill and accomplish his mission. That would make us the center of God’s plan. The truth of the matter is that God has invited us to be participants into his plan so that we can see and enjoy the glorious benefits of souls being saved. And because we are witnesses to God’s saving power and grace God remains at the center of the story, right where he belongs.