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Filling the Hysterema

• Greg Boyd

In our culture, showing vulnerability or neediness is often seen as a weakness. Since God is all-powerful (not weak), he must not be vulnerable or need others, right? Greg suggests that if we step back from our cultural assumptions about power and weakness we may see that God’s vulnerability is actually one of his greatest displays of power.

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Hysterema is a Greek word that means a shortcoming or need. Paul, in this Colossians passage, uses this term to describe Jesus’ sufferings. He is saying that there is something lacking in Christ’s sufferings, and that we fill that lack through our own suffering.

This is not something that we are used to hearing. In fact, we are used to hearing that God is self-sufficient and nothing we do could add or subtract from what he does. We often hear that God can say and do anything and doesn’t need us to accomplish anything. Yet, this passage is saying the opposite. It is saying that through our suffering we fill up the lack of Christ’s suffering.

Some people prefer the Macho god who doesn’t need anything or anyone. They prefer this type of god because they themselves see needing someone else as a weakness. Particularly, we see that men want to be self-sufficient and not need anyone else. While not all men do this and some women do this, it’s much more of a “guy thing” to be tough and self-sufficient, and since most people that taught and wrote about theology were guys, it makes sense that this philosophy of a Macho god is what we hear about most. But when we compare this “un-moved mover” theology to the person of Jesus, we begin to see that it is simply not the case that our God is caught up in the ideals of being Macho.

It is important to note that this passage is not talking about the salvation aspect of Christ’s suffering. The New Testament repeatedly says that no one can be saved except by Christ’s sacrifice and suffering. We don’t add anything to the saving grace from God. We play a role in advancing that grace in this world, but we add nothing to it. Christ’s work on the cross was complete in his sacrifice.

When we suffer for Christ, we fill up some of the lack in Christ’s sufferings. This is not just any type of suffering however. When we look at Jesus’ ministry, we see that Jesus repeatedly came against suffering that was simply evil. Whether sickness, violence, or rape, we know that some evil is to be resisted and fought against as Jesus fought against it. In fact, the type of suffering that Paul is talking about is the suffering that we choose when we choose to follow Christ, and we wouldn’t suffer if we didn’t choose it.

Let’s break this down a little bit. When we choose to volunteer our time and help those less fortunate, we are suffering because we no longer spend that time on our own wants and desires. Instead of watching that new TV show, we might be spending time helping another person. When we choose to not spend money on luxuries, and instead put that money towards the ministries of helping the poor and homeless, we suffer. Yet, when we suffer in these ways, we fill up some of the lack in Christ’s afflictions.

The key role that we play in filling up Christ’s afflictions is furthering the Kingdom through our sufferings. We are the body of Christ. If the body doesn’t move or function as it should, then the work of Christ doesn’t happen. God needs us to step up and follow Christ in order to spread the Kingdom here on Earth. We aren’t adding anything to the grace, but we are ambassadors of the grace, and if the ambassadors don’t spread the message then no message will be spread.

By suffering and sacrificing for Jesus, we spread the Kingdom. This is how we fill up what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings. By filling this hysterema, we join in God’s work here on Earth. We don’t suffer simply to suffer. Rather, we suffer so that we can be co-workers with Christ in his Kingdom here on Earth. And when His Kingdom comes in fullness, we can look back and say that we had a part in it.

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Topics: Kingdom of God, Power, Sacrifice

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Focus Scripture:

  • Colossians 1:24-29

    Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
    We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

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3 thoughts on “Filling the Hysterema

  1. The t-shirt can be bought at warevolution.spreadshirt.com. All surplus go to The Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation.

  2. David Paul says:

    Some (N.T. Wright, Morna Hooker) have argued that when Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that we might become the righteousness of God what he means is that we (Paul and co-workers?) are God’s ambassadors and that this is done by implementing God’s righteousness seen as God’s covenantal faithfulness.

  3. Ted says:

    I’m going through Colossians with Greg and Woodland Hills. I love that Greg, Paul Eddy and other WH teachers combine in-depth theology with pastoral care, intellect with vulnerable emotion. This came out in the August 2013 Q and A (http://whchurch.org/sermons-media/sermon/summer-qa2) when Greg and Paul answered the question about suicide.

    Regarding “Filling the Hysterema,” it’s wonderful that God needs me, yes — me, to carry out his work of extending the Kingdom, of loving people and speaking truth and praying for good to overcome violence.

    Thank you for making these sermons available to the Body of Christ!

    Member of The Meeting House, Ontario, Canada

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