Saturday, March 22, 2008

That Which is Lacking in the Afflictions of Christ?

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His Body’s sake, which is the Church.” Colossians 1:24

WHAT? Is Christ's suffering on our behalf in any way insufficient or lacking?

The Greek perhaps ought better be translated, "...and fill up on my part the remainer of the afflictions of Christ..." but that still could leave a person very puzzled!

Here is what St. John Chrysostom had to say about this verse. As I understand what St. John is saying, it does NOT mean Christ's suffering and death were actually deficient for what they set out to accomplish! But that, in spreading the Gospel and establishing the Church, more suffering is encountered, and it is St. Paul's intent to show that the suffering occurring in his flesh is not his own, but Christ's. He is both humbly giving the glory to Christ and pointing out how much Christ loves His Church, to be willing STILL to suffer, in St. Paul's flesh, for her sake. (It's a beautiful example of what Orthodox call synergy.)

“And fill up,” he saith, “that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh.” It seems indeed to be a great thing he has said; but it is not of arrogancy, far be it, but even of much tender love towards Christ; for he will not have the sufferings to be his own, but His, through desire of conciliating these persons to Him. And what things I suffer, I suffer, he saith, on His account: not to me, therefore, express your gratitude, but to him, for it is He Himself who suffers. Just as if one, when sent to a person, should make request to another, saying, I beseech thee, go for me to this person, then the other should say, “it is on his account I am doing it.” So that He is not ashamed to call these sufferings also his own. For He did not only die for us, but even after His death He is ready to be afflicted for your sakes. He is eagerly and vehemently set upon showing that He is even now exposed to peril in His own Body for the Church’s sake, and he aims at this point, namely, ye are not brought unto God by us, but by Him, even though we do these things, for we have not undertaken a work of our own, but His. And it is the same as if there were a band which had its allotted leader to protect it, and it should stand in battle, and then when he was gone, his lieutenant should succeed to his wounds until the battle were brought to a close.

Next, that for His sake also he doeth these things, hearken: “For His Body’s sake,” he saith, assuredly meaning to say this: “I pleasure not you, but Christ: for what things He should have suffered, I suffer instead of Him.” See how many things he establishes. Great, he shows, is the claim upon their love. As in his second Epistle to the Corinthians, he wrote, saying, “he committed unto us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. v. 20.); and again, “We are ambassadors on behalf of Christ; as though God were entreating by us.” So also here he saith, “For his sake I suffer,” that he may the more draw them to Him. That is, though He who is your debtor is gone away, yet I repay. For, on this account he also said, “that which is lacking,” to show that not even yet does he consider Him to have suffered all. “For your sake,” he saith, and even after His death He suffers; seeing that still there remains a deficiency. The same thing he doeth in another way in the Epistle to the Romans, saying, “Who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom. viii. 34.), showing that He was not satisfied with His death alone, but even afterwards He doeth countless things.

He does not then say this to exalt himself, but through a desire to show that Christ is even yet caring for them. And he shows what he says to be credible, by adding, “for His Body’s sake.” For that so it is, and that there is no unlikelihood in it, is plain from these things being done for His body’s sake. Look how He hath knitted us unto Himself.

(My emphasis at the end.)