What does Paul mean when he says that he “completes what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col 1:24-25)? I thought Jesus’ work on the Cross was perfect! What could anyone do that Jesus hasn’t already done for us?
This is a very good question, and I think, one of the great mysteries of Scripture. What you have to ask yourself is this: What could still be lacking in the sufferings of Christ? He suffered to the fullest extent, and for all mankind. This work is called the “objective redemption,” and the degree, or quality, or completeness of it has no imperfection.
But, there is still something lacking. What is still required is the application of the grace of the Cross upon us. He won all the grace through his perfect suffering, but this grace must still be applied to us. This application is called the “subjective redemption.” We know that it is necessary because if it wasn’t, then everyone would have been instantly saved as soon as Jesus said, “It is finished.” But, we’re not.
So, we have thus far established what is lacking. The grace of the Cross must still be applied to us. Now, Paul tells us in the passage you are quoting that one way to make up for what is lacking is by suffering, by taking up our Cross just as Jesus Christ took up His. Suffering for the Body is meritorious. It is a good deed, and all good deeds done in grace serve to build up the Body of Christ.
This explains why Paul would rejoice in his sufferings, and see this as something that he did for their sake (cf. Col 1:24). He knows that when he suffers for the Gospel, to fulfill the duties of the “divine office” given to him (cf. Col 1:25), he builds up the Body of Christ and becomes a minister of the grace that flows from the Cross. Elsewhere, Paul says, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory” (2 Tim 2:10).
Everything that Paul says in his letters about the redeeming value of suffering affirms this understanding of Col 1:24-25. May we all follow his example and do our own part to complete what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.
Peace of Christ to you,
Nicholas Hardesty, WIMM Board Member
Director of Religious Education, Blessed Mother Catholic Church
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