Sunday, March 2, 2008

Does Jesus Need A Little Help?

Image Source

Redemptive Suffering: "Col 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church...

Paul states something here which passes almost unnoticed by many sola scriptura Christians - that there is a sense in which Christ's afflictions are lacking. While Christ's Passion superabundantly completed the salvation of all mankind, yet mankind must formally co-operate with the grace poured out on the Cross. Paul indicates this can be accomplished not through the sinner's prayer, but through suffering."

BigHugeThing appreciates the Catholic understanding (maybe position is a better word) on suffering. They tend to find a spiritual value in suffering that Protestants do not. But someone always takes things too far (many go much further than the position mentioned, which is close to what I see as the edge) and the "what is lacking in Christ's afflictions" can be taken out of context and distorted to our detriment. Christians should know the persistent theme of Christ's perfect and completed work through Christ's perfect life, suffering, death and resurrection. This grounding should not allow Christians to be led off into improving on Christ's work by anything the individual can do. So if any of us are trying to aid in our redemption (or anyone else's) by our suffering we should think again.

On the other hand we are told to work out our own salvation through fear and trembling, Philippians 2:12:. Here is a good exposé on this concept. I would call it working out your own salvation on a micro level after accepting Christ's perfect work on the macro level. Likewise we can view our suffering, when joined with and committed to Christ, as beneficial to us and our "redemption" on more of a micro level. We have been redeemed in the macro sense through Jesus' work. Our redemption on a micro level could use a little tweaking (or am I the only one?). It may help if we have some further context for the Col 1:24 passage. This may not even be what Paul was talking about in this passage.

This excerpt from provides some insight:
Full text link here

What, however, is the plain meaning of Paul's cryptic phrase that his suffering fill[s] up . . . what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions? In what sense does the suffering of Christ "lack" anything? And in what sense does Paul's suffering "fill up" what Christ's suffering lacks, if anything? I have argued that here Paul's emphasis is not on God's salvation, as before, but on Christ's church. To the point, Paul is surely not saying that the Lord Christ lacks anything as the messianic agent of God's salvation; nor does he mean that the redemptive results of his death need to be supplemented by Paul. His previous confession of Christ's lordship (1:15-20) and his subsequent assertion of God's forgiveness (2:13-14) testify to Paul's confidence in the sufficiency of Christ's work. Lohse is quite right, then, to object to any interpretation that renders this phrase as a reference to the community's "mystical union" with a suffering Christ, whereby the community is absorbed into and derives spiritual benefit from Christ's passion (1971:69). In fact, Paul rarely speaks in his writings of Christ's suffering (as distinguished from his death) and almost never of Christ's suffering in terms of God's salvation (as the writer of 1 Peter, for instance, does in 1 Pet 2:20-22). The images of a suffering Christ in Paul's writings are usually employed to illustrate and interpret his own suffering as a missionary. Here suffering is exemplary of servanthood, but not expiatory of sin. In this way Christ's suffering is logically parallel to his own; like Christ, Paul is God's "suffering servant"; and like Christ's, his suffering indicates obedience to God's commission.

Most scholars understand Paul's reference to Christ's afflictions as a catchphrase from Jewish apocalypticism. In this tradition, Jews understood Israel's suffering as a sign of the last days and a condition for the coming of the Messiah (see O'Brien 1982:76-80). Some even assigned a fixed amount of suffering which, when satisfied, would result in the apocalypse of God's salvation. Israel's suffering, then, was the "birthpangs" of the promised new covenant (compare Jer 31:31) about to become a reality. According to O'Brien, some early Christians, especially within the Jewish church, believed that Jesus' suffering had initiated the "last days" of ever-increasing trials and tribulations (see Mt 24:4-29), when the "true" Israel (the community of Christ's disciples) would suffer for his name (Mt 5:11-12) in order to fulfill this quota fixed by God. With this condition met, Messiah would return in triumph to usher heaven into earth (Mt 24:30-31). If Paul had this apocalyptic formula in mind, then his reference to sharing in Jesus' suffering would indicate that the "last days" of salvation's history have already commenced. In this light Paul's suffering "fills up" what is lacking from what God has assigned the church to suffer.

Paul's phrase, however, is to be taken metaphorically rather than literally. Speaking of completing requisite suffering is yet another way of calling attention to the importance of completing the Gentile mission. In Paul's conception of the Gentile mission, his evangelistic work brings into Israel's number the "fullness of the Gentiles" (Rom 11:1-24) that will trigger the Lord's return to earth and ethnic Israel's return to God (Rom 11:25-26). Even in this passage Paul repeats the root of to fill to stress that the aim of his personal sacrifice--I fill up [antanapleroo] in my flesh--is to complete his mission: to present to you the word of God in its fullness [plerosai].

Understanding the value of suffering is a BigHugeThing without taking it into territory not intended. I honestly think a trick of the devil (not to give too much credit) is employed once a truth is illuminated, we are pushed beyond the truth into extremes and therefore pushed away from understanding the fullness of the truth itself. The power lies in understanding and walking in the actual truth. Pushing any truth into unintended extremes, though zealous in feeling, only weakens that very truth.

I would remind us again of our human propensity to improve on the truth:

Genesis 2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

Genesis 3: 1Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? 2And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: 3But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

This is the first example of we humans improving on God's stated truth ... "neither shall ye touch it." We apparently need little help from the devil.

No comments: