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.
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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