“Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church”
Back in July, my husband and I had our first child. While I had a relatively easy pregnancy, when it came time to deliver, I ended up having a really long, painful labor. There were definitely times where I just wanted to give up! But, keeping in mind what the end results would be, I was able to endure ’til our son was finally in my arms! The joy of finally holding Brayden made all the agony worth it, and (after a few weeks:), helped fade the memory of the labor. Though it would have been nice to have had it a bit easier, it was definitely worth it in the end! Even now, as I deal with the sleepless nights and the physical exhaustion that comes with being a new parent, I just have to stop and look at my son and be reminded that, for the sake of my son’s life, it is worth it!
I think this is the same way Paul felt about the beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, cold, hunger, weariness, and pain that came with his life as an apostle. He could have joy and endurance in all he suffered because it was for the “birth” of his spiritual children!
To be honest, the phrase “fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh” was really difficult for me to understand. I know it cannot mean that Christ is behind (lacking) in anything – for He said that “It is finished!”. I also know that we are called to partake of Christ’s sufferings. (Phil. 3:10) With that in mind, I believe what Paul is saying here is that he is completing in his flesh his part of that calling to suffer with Christ for the sake of the church. Through the hardships he endured, many were brought to Christ and many were also encouraged to keep the faith when they experienced their own hardships. Paul said in his letter to the church at Corinth, “And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.” (2 Cor. 1:6 )
If we can keep that perspective and look outside of ourselves to the work of Christ during hard times, we can, like Paul, find joy in our sufferings.
I think a great portion of scripture to close with is found in 1 Peter 4:12-13. “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”