Lately in my counseling ministry, I have been listening to missionaries who have endured suffering for the sake of Christ and the spreading of the gospel around the world. In order to find meaning in these experiences of suffering, we have pondered together Col 1:24 “I fill up in my physical body - for the sake of his body, the church - what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.”
I have often pondered this verse. How can Christ’s sufferings be “lacking” in any way? His death is sufficient to provide salvation to the whole world…or is it? Many verses talk about “sharing in Christ’s sufferings.” Taking the gospel to the whole world requires ongoing suffering, and this suffering is a necessary supplement to the sufferings of Christ.
Engaging the remaining unreached people groups is difficult work. These people groups have been historically resistant to the message of the gospel. They often live in areas that are difficult to access. These are the remaining strongholds of Satan and his deceptions. He will not give them up without a fight! Consider some of the sufferings that the missionaries we have served willingly bore to make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, to bring the gospel to the whole world before he returns:
A missionary lands in her new place of ministry only to feel the spiritual darkness around her so acutely, that she cannot sleep for months and feels overwhelming anxiety. Another missionary spends years building relationships with an unreached people group, but is isolated from Christian fellowship, feeling alone. Several were attacked by parasites which left them physically debilitated, requiring years of rehabilitation to regain their strength. Some have had stones thrown at them as they walk to the market, feeling rejection from the very community they came to reach. Others have seen their children die of fevers, far from reliable healthcare facilities.
Why would God ask his children to endure this kind of suffering? …for the same reason he asked his own Son to come and die, because it is
necessary in order to defeat the stranglehold that Satan has on humanity. This is the heart of Member Care, what we do at Compass Ministries. We walk with missionaries as they process their suffering, helping them discover meaning in that suffering. We carry each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ, the law of love (Gal. 6:2)
I am challenged by the lives of the missionaries that I serve. If you or I are not also participating in the sufferings of Christ, then perhaps we are not actively engaged in the Great Commission! If we are involved in the great work of Christ, then we will also find ourselves privileged to make up a small part of the necessary and yet still lacking sufferings of Christ for the sake of the world.