We don’t think much about our afflictions as Christians or as a church. At least we don’t in America. We don’t tend to suffer much for our faith. The body of Christ, here, isn’t under stress.
Our family received a mailing the other day from the Voice of the Martyrs. That organization supports Christians in countries where the gospel remains under threat. With the mailing came a map showing the countries where Christians often face hostility today and countries where the Christian faith is outright “restricted.” Countries like China, Iran, Somalia, and Egypt fall into the “restricted” category. It is hard to be a Christian in places like that. You might wind up in jail, or worse, for your faith.
And Paul wrote to the church in Colossae, “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.”
Paul seemed to have the idea the body of Christ would go on suffering even after Jesus’ death on the cross. The body of Christ, of course, is the church.
This fits with Jesus’ own words about the persecution of his followers. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. … If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18-21).
And so Paul seemed to see all the trouble the world imposed upon him because of the gospel – read 2 Corinthians 11:24-29 – to be something that is in the natural course of the body of Christ. And the more he was persecuted, the better, it seemed to Paul. He rejoiced in it. Paul was doing it for the sake of the church.
Paul was carrying out the work of the body of Christ – work to which we all are called – to spread the gospel to the nations (Matthew 24:14). If persecution came as a result, it seemed to Paul, that was all the better – because that meant the work was being accomplished as it should be. And perhaps, Paul thought, the more he was being persecuted, the less the church would face such affliction. He was accepting the tribulations for the body’s sake.
It’s an interesting perspective. And, again, we don’t really face persecution for our faith in America. That time probably is coming. Will we accept it like Paul?
For now, we ought to pray for those who are persecuted for the gospel. And we might wonder whether we are sharing the gospel as we should – if we sense no pressure of persecution as a church.