We cannot trace the Apostle Paul’s missionary career without being impressed with the fact that his whole life was marked by suffering. When the Lord Jesus called him to the apostolate He said —
“And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” – Acts 9:16
Although set free by the Lord Jesus, Paul knew that this freedom was only granted that he might take God’s love to all.
In our day we tend to think of ourselves as the “servants” of the Lord, in Paul’s day Christians saw themselves differently. Paul knew that if he was to be a co-labourer with the Lord, he was no less than —
Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
One cannot enter into the fabric of Paul’s thought and experience without becoming aware that all his letters (with the possible exception of Philemon) make reference to Satan, who constantly sought to thwart his plans.
Although they still sought to posture themselves as his all-powerful adversaries, Paul knew they had been wonderfully vanquished by Christ at the Cross. He knew these spiritual powers could be overcome by faith and love, by prayer and obedience – and by suffering. In this connection he wrote —
… and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through. But you know that we are destined for such troubles. – ! Thessalonians 3:3
This points to a cardinal principle: The gospel cannot be preached and the people of God cannot be gathered unto congregations within the nations without individuals “completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” in order to accomplish this task (Colossians 1:24).
By “Christ’s afflictions” Paul was not referring to His atoning sufferings on the Cross —
If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age[a]to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice. – Hebrews 9:26
His incomplete afflictions are related to all the He encountered physically, emotionally and spiritually that He might give Himself fully to all the demands of His public ministry. He experienced bodily weariness, much hostility and spiritual opposition —
He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. John 1:11
Such afflictions face all who deliberately involve themselves in active service for Christ, especially when they seek to bear public witness to the gospel. They are “incomplete” in the sense that each successive generation of the people of God must willingly embrace sufferings if the missionary task is to be completed. Only then will this privilege be forever ended. Today, however, it is automatically extended to all who —
… earnestly desire the most helpful gifts. But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all. 1 Corinthians 12:31
One cannot serve Christ effectively without paying this price!
Those who serve in His name will suffer. The cross is still the cross. It is not without reason that Paul exhorted fellow Christians to —
A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. – Ephesians 6:10-18
Putting on armor is the language of warfare.