The essence of what Paul is saying in this passage is:
"Ministry is hard work if we are going to bring
all believers to maturity in Christ."
Suffering was a part of that, and he could rejoice in it.
By the way, in 1:24, Paul was not implying that there was anything lacking in Christ's affliction. In fact this statement has nothing to do with Christ's sacrificial sufferings on the cross (a different Greek word), but Paul was sharing in the "distress, pressure, trouble" (thlipsis) that the church of Christ experiences in persecution (John 15:18-21). "Paul's attitude is Jesus took the blows meant for me; I'll take the blows meant for him. Suffering brings about an identification with the Savior that nothing else can (see Phil. 3:10)" (Holman New Testament Commentary: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians, p. 285).
Paul had a "stewardship" committed to him by God to preach the Word of God, specifically the "mystery" that Gentiles are fellow heirs and members of the body (church) and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ. Christ has opened the door for everyone to be included in the church. It was hidden but now it is made known through the church (Ephesians 3:1-6). If you have been a regular Bible Book Club reader, you know I have tapped this drum since Genesis, all the nations of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3).
The last two verses of this chapter should be memorized. Paul labored (to work to the point of exhaustion) and agonized in fulfilling his ministry of bringing believers to "completion" (teleios, "brought to end, wanting nothing necessary to completeness, full grown, mature") in Christ. Only God's DYNAMITE power (dunamis) could allow him to do that.
I had to split Colossians 1 into small chunks because it is such a deep and rich chapter. I cannot emphasize enough how important discipleship is for the church. Perhaps memorizing Colossians 1:28-29 will help you get a vision for bringing someone to maturity in Christ.
I was frustrated that I was not quite done completing this post yesterday, despite getting up at 5 a.m. to do so because I had a 9 a.m. listening prayer session with a woman, another was Facebook messaging me asking when we were going to meet next, another was texting me from another state wanting to set up a phone session tomorrow, and one of the young guys both my husband and I invested in is getting married on Saturday and I was pressed up against the wall for ordering our rental car during our time in Southern California! All I wanted to do was finish this chapter, but I realized that I was applying these verses before I even finished writing it. I love it when God gives me the application. I may not have been "laboring" and "striving" in bringing people to maturity in Christ like Paul (He was amazing!), but you get the point. When I realized God was helping me to apply the verses, I chilled out!
Investing in people can sometimes be messy, time-consuming, and exhausting, but I would not have it any other way! It is what I have dedicated my life to since 1980, and I want to labor and strive like Paul (but will never come close to how much he did).
Last Sunday, I had a long talk with the first woman I discipled back in the fall of 1980. That was fun! She is doing well and is coming to my church now.
I have discipled women and encouraged them to disciple others (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Timothy 2:2, Titus 2:4), but I once had one say, after doing a super job leading a discipleship bible study, that it was just too much work to invest in people. She wanted me to do the hard work of investing in her, but she was not willing to pass it on. While I love people who want to grow, if they do not pass on what they know, I have failed in passing on a vision for disciplemaking. I now only invest in women who are willing to invest in others. It is a better use of my time and talents.
Now I make it clear from the onset of discipling relationships that it involves them investing in people outside of their family. Just like we have the capacity to reproduce in the physical realm, we were born to reproduce in the spiritual realm also.
I do understand that we disciple our children, and there are seasons of our life, when they are small, when we can only do that (depending on the number of kids, one can even do it when they are small); but I think it is very healthy for children to see us investing in others outside of the home too. It is part of their discipleship to see spiritual multiplication.)
I can tell you that discipleship is exhausting, and I have definitely learned that I need to have balance in my life when I do it, but it is so rewarding!
Memorize and meditate on Colossians 1:28-29. Where are you in the process of discipling another person? My favorite beginning book on discipleship is called Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman. If you have not read it, it is a MUST READ for every believer. Start there. There are more that I can recommend. If you are interested, please leave a request in the comment section.
Here is a PDF of the classic "Born to Reproduce" by Dawson Trotman. It is a challenging treatise on discipleship.
Here is a simple and reproducible way to do "discovery discipleship" with both followers and not-yet followers of Jesus:
DISCOVERY BIBLE STUDY WITH LISTS
(I adapted it from a handout from mobilizingstudents.com with their permission)
There are four lists in this handout with Bible studies for investing in four different groups:
1) Discovering God (for not yet believers)
2) Discovering Obedience (for establishing believers in obedience to Christ)
3) Discovering Reproduction (for equipping believers to reproduce)
4) Discovering Leadership (for developing leaders)
Lord, I pray that every single person who reads this post will get a vision for reproducing their life in another person. Amen.