The Ministry of Suffering
July 28th, 1957 @ 10:50 AM
THE MINISTRY OF SUFFERING
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-28-57 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning eleven o’clock message. In our preaching through the Bible, we are in the first chapter of the Book of Colossians, and the text is the twenty-fourth verse of the first chapter of Paul’s letter to Colosse. I shall read from the twenty-first verse and following – Colossians 1:21:
And you, that were sometimes alienated and enemies in your mind . . . yet now hath He reconciled
In the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight:
If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;
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:
Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the Word of God;
Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints:
To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:
That’s the text for tonight.
Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:
Whereunto I also labour, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily.
Now, the text is in Colossians 1:24: "I, Paul, your minister, 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" [from Colossians 1:23-24] – you – which is a very unusual passage, and as we look at it, you will see its unusualness.
He begins: "I Paul your minister, who now rejoice . . . " [from Colossians 1:23-24]. Sometimes "now" is used as an expletive – as just a transitional word just to fill up space. The Greeks did that. Their little word was de and when you read the Greek language, why, so many times you’ll have de – d-e – de in the sentence.
Well, that was just like this: "Now, as I was thinking." Well, "now" doesn’t mean a thing in the world – nothing, just an expletive, just filling up the space: "now." But sometimes "now" means something. "Now . . . behold, now is the day of salvation" [2 Corinthians 6:2]: thus and thus and thus and so, but now.
Well, in this sentence here, the emphasized word is "now." He begins it, nun [Colossians 1:24]: "Now I, Paul, your minister." Now, chairō, "I am rejoicing" – present tense. What he means by that is: "Now, even with this chain on my hand and placed in this dungeon, even now, I am rejoicing." Many repinings came to Paul as come to any true minister of the Gospel.
Do you remember John the Baptist? As fine and noble as John was, yet when he was in prison, he sent to the Lord to know whether He was that Christ or were they also to look for another one yet [Matthew 11:2-3].
Well, of the many repinings that came to Paul, and, I say, would come to any minister, yet he says: "Even now, chained to a Roman soldier in prison, yet even now, I am rejoicing." Present tense: "I am rejoicing in my sufferings for you" – glad in the Lord, rejoicing in the Lord; in his sufferings, even then rejoicing [from Colossians 1:23-24].
Then he says these unusual, unusual things: "I am filling up," present tense, antanaplērō. "I am filling up for my part. This is my part. I am filling up ta husterēmata – that which is lacking." Translated here "that which is behind" – which is all right, a good translation. Ta husterēmata: the things that are behind, the things that are lacking. "I am filling up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ" [Colossians 1:24].
Well, I say, that is a strange thing for an apostle to write: "That which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ" – that which is lacking in the afflictions of our Lord. Why, all my life have I been taught and heard preached that the atoning sacrifice of Christ was complete – no part unfinished. And yet, Paul refers here to the fact that he is filling up that which is lacking in the afflictions of Christ [Colossians 1:24].
Well, this is what he does not mean. He does not mean that there is any lack in the reconciliation in Christ. There is no incompleteness in the atonement of our Lord. Gethsemane and Calvary have not failed. Our Savior has not failed fully to pay the debt for our sins. He does not mean that there is anything lacking or falling behind in the atoning sacrifice of our Savior. No. He paid the full debt for our sins [Colossians 2:13-14]. There is nothing left to be done or to be paid [Galatians 2:21]. The atoning sacrifice of Christ is altogether complete. Jesus paid it all as we sang a moment ago. The atonement, the propitiation, the expiation for our sins: "It is finished" as He cried on the cross [John 19:30].
But what Paul means is this: He uses the word, "what is lacking," husterēmata, "what is behind of the afflictions," the thlipsis. That Greek word thlipsis, "afflictions, tribulations," is never used with reference to the atoning sacrifice of our Lord. But what he means is this. There are sufferings of Christ that He does not endure Himself, but they are sufferings, they are afflictions, they are tribulations that are endured by Christ’s followers.
For example, when Jesus stood in the way of the apostle Paul on his road to Damascus, there to hail into prison and to cast to death any he might find in this Christian way [Acts 9:1-2], the Lord Himself stood in the road and met the apostle Paul [Acts 9:3] breathing out threatening and slaughter against the church of Jesus. And He said to him: "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" [Acts 9:4]
There are afflictions of Christ – there are sufferings of Christ by which our sins are forgiven [1 Peter 2:24]. But there are also afflictions of Christ, sufferings of Christ, that are not filled up in Him Himself. And they are complete, they are filled up, in us [John 15:20; Colossians 1:24]. There are afflictions that we are to bear, tribulations that we are to sustain, sorrows that we are to know, and they are they which fill up that which is lacking in the afflictions of our Savior.
He uses the present tense here: "I am filling up" [Colossians 1:24]. It is still in progress – and it will continue to be in progress – the afflictions of the people of God, the sufferings of Christ’s church, the sacrifices of the Lord’s people. There are afflictions in progress that will continue to be in progress until that great hour in the seventh chapter of the Revelation when those final saints have come out of their great conflict.
The Bible, the Revelation 7, says: "And these are they who have come out of the great affliction, of the great tribulation" [Revelation 7:14] – and they use the present tense there. They are coming out of the great tribulation. They "washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." It’s a continuing thing the sacrifice, the affliction, the tribulation of the people of God filling up the measure of the sufferings of Christ.
In still another way to say it: the sufferings of Christ in Galilee and in Jerusalem and on Golgotha and in Gethsemane are to be reincarnated in Paul in Ephesus, in Macedonia, in Achaia, in Italy, in Rome, and wherever since God’s missionaries go [2 Corinthians 4:10-11]. The Gospel needs an evangelist. The story needs a teller [Romans 10:13-15]. The sorrows of our Lord needs a messenger [2 Corinthians 12:9-10]. The King needs an ambassador [2 Corinthians 5:20], and the sufferings of our Lord are filled up in the devotion and the sacrifice of God’s people, all of which – when I read and when I ponder the passage and think of the text – all of which brings to me and through me a characterization of all of us: such, such a lack, such a need, such an undevotedness on our part.
Could I illustrate it like this? I read in one of Dr. Jowett’s books there was a young missionary who had been invalid at home and eager and planning to return to the mission field. And Jowett asked him, "Why, invalid as you are, are you still planning to return to the field?"
And the young fellow replied, "Because I cannot sleep at night for thinking about them."
And Jowett added, "The trouble with me is I cannot think about them because I’m inclined to sleep at night."
That’s what I mean. When a modern Christian in America stands up and speaks and reads this book with all of the ease and the luxury of our lives – why, there are people in this church who do not even tithe, much less give all to God. There are people in this church that will stand up and violently and vigorously decry such gratuity and such liberality – oh, as soft as a pillow of down, as easily swayed as a reed in the wind, born in luxury, raised in ease.
I say all that to say that when I read the passage and when I study the Book, who of us is worthy to stand up and speak of filling up the afflictions of Christ when we hardly know the word and the meaning of sacrifice itself?
"I Paul your minister, who now rejoice in prison and with a chain on my arm, I am rejoicing in my sufferings for you for I am filling up that which is lacking in the afflictions of Christ" [from Colossians 1:23-24].
Now, for the moment, I want to take the life of Christ and the life of Paul filling up those afflictions of our Lord. Our Lord gave Himself to be killed. Then did He teach them saying, "The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinners, and be killed" [from Mark 9:31].
And the apostle Paul, the same thing: "I die daily [1 Corinthians 15:31]. I know not what awaits me save that the Holy Spirit witnesseth within every city, that bonds and afflictions abide me" [from Acts 20:22-23]. Our Lord, giving Himself to death; the apostle Paul offering himself up on the altar of our Lord.
No other way for children to be born but in travail and in pain. No other way for the extension of the Gospel of the kingdom of Christ except through the devotion and the offering of life unto death of Christ’s people. There is not any other way. And if there is in this world a violent, overwhelming and overflooding of our nations by Communism instead of the Christian message, it’s because the Communists can outthink us and outsacrifice us and outdie us and outgive us!
I don’t believe there’s a man of any reason at all who would stand up and say that they have a better Gospel than we; they have a greater Savior than ours; they have a greater message than we. The difference lies in that fanatical devotion. The Christian is soft and easy, and the Communist is hard and fanatical. There’s no other way, I repeat, that we’ll ever overwhelm this world with the Gospel of Christ save through a sacrifice that Paul knew which is strange to us today.
Again, our Lord Jesus Christ gave Himself to intercessions. The Book of Hebrews referred to it as this: "And He prayed with strong cryings and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death" [from Hebrews 5:7] – a reference to Gethsemane [Mark 14:32-41]. And as He poured out His heart, the very sweat became as it were drops of blood falling to the ground [Luke 22:44]. Here in this same passage in the Book of Colossians, in the second chapter in the first verse, Paul, the same way: "I would you know what great conflict," agōna, "what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for all who have not seen my face in the flesh" [Colossians 2:1] – agony, pouring out his heart unto God.
David Brainerd [1718-1747] died about two hundred – he died in 1747 – over two hundred years ago. He was an incomparable missionary to the savages in America. He was engaged to be married to Jonathan Edwards’ [1703-1758] daughter and died there in Jonathan Edwards’ home. He was in his twenties. And the girl he was engaged to marry died about four months after David Brainerd did.
He had an effect upon those savage tribes beyond anything ever seen in America. He’d sway a whole tribe in the Savior’s love. I have copied this from his journal. Listen to what David Brainerd wrote: "I think my soul has never been so drawn out in intercession for others, as it has been this night . . . I hardly ever so longed to live to God, and to be altogether devoted to Him; I wanted to wear out my life [for Him]" [David Brainerd, Diary of David Brainerd, entry from April 20, 1742].
I wrestled . . . for the ingathering of souls, for multitudes of poor souls . . . in many places. I was in such an agony, from sun half-an-hour high, till near dark, that I was wet all over with sweat; but O, my dear Lord did sweat blood for such poor souls! I long for more compassion . . .
[David Brainerd, Diary of David Brainerd, entry from April 11, 1742]
And I underscored that when I copied it: "I long for more compassion." Here this young man is, wrestling in prayer and in intercession for lost souls from half an hour above sunrise till near dark, and so agonizing that his sweat covered his body. And then he closes, "And I long for more compassion." Does that do anything to you? "Filling up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ" [from Colossians 1:24].
Again, our Lord steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem. "And His disciples said unto Him, ‘Master, the Jews of late sought to slay Thee; and goest Thou thither again?’" [John 11:8] Going up to Jerusalem to die – a like thing in the apostle Paul after they had stoned him and dragged him out for dead. The Book says that Paul arose and went back into the city, back to the stones [Acts 4:19-20]. He closes his letter to Corinth saying: "I will abide in Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries" [1 Corinthians 16:8-9]. "Filling up that which is behind in the afflictions of Christ" [Colossians 1:24].
And this did I copy from James Chalmers [1727-1806]. When these GIs bailed out in the South Sea Islands and fell into the arms of the natives, cannibals they were – cannibals. That is, they used to be cannibals. But when these GIs bailed out and were washed ashore in a life raft or fell down in a jungle, I’ve heard them describe it themselves in fear and wonder what the dark of the night or the dawn might bring: maybe maybe hear the singing of a song they heard back home in the church – "There’s a Fountain Filled With Blood" or "Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound" or "Jesus, Lover of My Soul." And there, instead of cannibals, there would be a little church with a spire pointing up to God and those black savages preaching the Gospel of the Son of God. I even talked to a boy who told me he was won to Christ in one of those little churches in one of those South Sea Islands.
All right, here’s the reason for it. This man, among others, James Chalmers, sent out by the London Missionary Society down there to New Guinea, down there to those South Sea Islands, and after long years of devoted suffering and faithful missionary work, upon one of his journeys, he was seized by those natives and slain – killed down there.
All right, here I copied from an address that he made coming back on a furlough and talking to his people. He said – now, I quote from James Chalmers: "Recall the twenty-one years. Give me back all of its experiences. Give me its shipwrecks. Give me its standings in the face of death. Give it me surrounded with savages with spears and clubs. Give it me back again with spears flying around me, with the club knocking me to the ground. Give it me back, and I will still be your missionary. If I had twenty-one more years," he says, "to go through those same agonies, I still would be your missionary." And when he returned that time, he was slain. Those savages destroyed his life – filling up, filling up: "I am filling up that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ" [Colossians 1:24].
Now, another comparison. Our Lord "who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and He sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" – "for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame" [Hebrews 12:2]. And the apostle Paul: "But none of these things move me if I may finish my course with joy" [Acts 20:24].
Robert Moffat [1795-1883], over fifty years God’s preacher in South Africa. David Livingstone [1813-1873] married his [Moffat’s] daughter. Robert Moffat, one of the great missionaries of all time, upon a furlough, was asked by a friend for his signature – wanted his autograph. So Robert Moffat wrote in the man’s Bible, wrote his autograph, but above it he wrote this little word:
My album is in savage breasts
Where passion reigns and darkness rests
Without one ray of light
But to write the name of Jesus there,
To point to worlds both bright and fair,
And see a pagan bow in prayer.
This is my soul’s delight.
"Filling up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ" [Colossians 1:24]: He, on the cross, and we His ambassadors and messengers and ministers and evangelists and representatives in the world [2 Corinthians 5:20].
Now, in just a little moment of time that I have – don’t you wonder where these thirty minutes go? – I want to say a thing that, to me, is the only answer that I know for the problem of suffering in the world. And if you have not suffered, you will. If you have not been bowed down with an insuperable burden, you will. If you have not cried in agony, you will. I want, in just the briefest little time that I can now, I want to give an answer to that problem. And if it isn’t true, if this isn’t so, this world is an enigma and a dark star – unsolvable riddle. The key of what we see in life and in our life – the plans and purposes of God – can only be explained in vicarious suffering. And there’s not any other way and there’s not any other key and there’s not any other answer that I have been able to find.
Now, that’s the reason why our passage was the fifth chapter of the book of the Revelation. It starts off nobody in heaven, nobody in earth, nobody in hell, nobody anywhere worthy [Revelation 5:1-4]. And while he’s weeping, one of them comes and says to him: "Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed" [Revelation 5:5].
I can just hear the announcement of that and what blowing of trumpets and what great rejoicing and exultation. "Weep not. Weep not. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah!" [Revelation 5:5] And he turns to see the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and what does he see? "And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne" – not a lion. He beholds a Lamb as it had been slain [Revelation 5:6]. Now, that’s it; that’s it: the Lion of the tribe of Judah roaring after victory and prevailing. John turns to see the Lion that prevails: "And I beheld, and, lo, I saw a Lamb as it had been slain" [from Revelation 5:6] And the slain Lamb alone is worthy to open the book and to interpret the will and the purposes of God in the universe [Revelation 5:7-10].
All right. This is our answer. The slain Lamb is the key to the whole revelation of the Bible with its tears and sobs and agonies and sufferings. They find their meanings – all of the Book. Every revelation, every type, and every prophecy, every pattern, every shadow finds its meaning in the Lamb of God. Were it not for that, this Book is nothing but the literature of a scattered, despised Syrian tribe. Without that key, this Book is nothing but a group of symbols and sacrifices and tabernacles that are subjects for an Oriental specialist. Without that, the heroes of that book are as alien as Persian stargazers, as Buddhist devotees. But with that key, I see it all.
What does Isaiah 53 mean? It meant the Lamb of God.
What does Psalm 22 mean? It meant the cross of Christ.
What does the Passover mean? [Exodus 12:1-13, 42-50] What does the sacrifice of the Lamb, what does the pouring out of the blood – what does all of it mean? I find it in the cross of Christ [1 Corinthians 5:7].
The Lamb of God: "I looked, and behold, and a Lamb as had been slain" [from Revelation 5:6] is the key to the understanding of the Word of God. The Lamb slain is the key to the understanding of all nature.
I’m going tomorrow – I begin tomorrow night preaching in the First Baptist Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Last week I received a letter from the pastor of the church, and he said, "We have been greatly hurt by that terrible hurricane." Nature is vicious. Nature is cruel and merciless, and what purpose can be found in it lies back of it. It is found in the redemptive purposes of God.
Whenever you read the Greek poets, all they do is lament in cringing fear before the mystery of life and of nature and death that they cannot understand, and their choruses are just instruments by which the poet cries before God. The most pitiful thing I have ever read is the death of Socrates [d. 399 BCE], greatest Greek, with his talk and his speech and the Socratic dialogues about facing the absolute unknown [Phaedo or On the Soul by Plato, 360 BCE].
But in Christ, I have a key. Out of death is life. Out of the cross is salvation. Out of the tears and tragedy and heartaches of life is heaven. It’s through gates of pearl that we enter into glory [Revelation 21:21]. It is the key to history.
Every generation has known its wars and its fears. In my lifetime, I have lived through two horrible holocausts, indescribable wars. And before I die, doubtless shall live through a third and a worse: the pale horseman, the black horseman, the red horseman, and the white horseman of the conquering antichrist [Revelation 6:1-8].
But the consummation lies in the great revelation. The kingdoms of this world become, through tears and blood and suffering and death, the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ [Revelation 11;15], and that is the key to our life, age and death, suffering and tears. "While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" [2 Corinthians 4:18].
"Filling up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ" [Colossians 1:24]. And that’s to be our commitment to the Lord.
I don’t know how – I can’t tell you except in the Spirit of God – but all I know is if you’re a great Christian, when you cry, you will be rejoicing in your sufferings for Christ’s sake [Romans 5:3; Colossians 1:24] – even in your tears, rejoicing. When you are ill and invalid, when you’re disappointed in despair, when life turns to sand – all of those things are but the instruments of God by which He fills up that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ [Colossians 1:24].
Now, we must close, and we sing our song. And while we sing it, while we make this appeal, somebody you, coming into the aisle and down here to the front – in this balcony around, down these stairwells. As the Lord shall say the word, lead the way, giving your heart to Jesus, coming into the fellowship of the church, one somebody you or a family you – while we sing this song, while we make the appeal, will you come? On the first note of the first stanza, while all of us tarry here in prayerful intercession for just this moment, God will give us a gracious harvest. He always does. If our people will tarry and pray, while the Spirit of the Lord says the word and leads the way, you come, confessing the Lord or putting your life in the church while we stand and sing.
THE MINISTRY OF SUFFERING
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. "Now I am rejoicing"(Colossians 1:24)
1. The "now" emphatic(2 Corinthians 6:2)
2. Even now, in chains in this dungeon, Paul rejoices
B. "I am filling up that which is lacking"(Colossian 1:24)
1. Not that the ministry of reconciliation is incomplete
2. Sufferings of Christ not endured by Him in person, but by His followers
a. There are afflictions of Christ we bear(Acts 9:4)
b. Present tense – it is still in progress(Revelation 7)
3. Christ presented in the ministry of Paul and God’s people since
a. If no willingness, dedication, then no Spirit of Christ, no message
b. We are so easily lulled into complacency
II. Christ and Paul
A. Christ gave Himself to be killed(Mark 9:31)
1. Pauloffered himself upon the altar of the Lord(1 Corinthians 15:31)
B. Christ gave Himself to intercessions (Hebrews 5:7)
1. Paul agonized in prayer(Colossians 2:1)
a. David Brainerd
C. Christ set His face toward Jerusalem, despite the risk(Luke 9:51, John 11:8)
1. Paul returned to Ephesus, back to stones(Acts 14:20, 1 Corinthians 16:8-9)
a. James Chalmers
D. Christ endured for the joy set before Him(Hebrews 12:2)
1. Paul sought to finish his course with joy(Acts 20:24)
a. Robert Moffat
III. God’s purposes wrought through vicarious suffering
A. The key that unlocks the dark, enigmatic mystery of the universe
B. Slain Lamb is the key to the whole revelation of the Bible(Revelation 5:5-6)
a. The sealed book of Scripture
b. The sealed book of nature
c. The sealed book of history