24 I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,
25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God,
26 the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.
now (v.24) — transitional (“therefore”) and temporal (Paul was writing of his current condition)
rejoice in (v.24) = “in the midst of” — not “because of”
sufferings (v.24) — Paul was in prison
for (v.24) = in the interest of
fill up (v.24) = in the process of filling up
“The afflictions of Christ” here do not refer to His expiatory sufferings on the Cross, but to His sufferings endured in His humiliation prior to that event, sufferings for righteousness’ sake, sufferings incurred through exhausting service, heart-sufferings due to the opposition of sinners, sufferings which were the result of persecution; and for two reasons, first, because the atonement was a finished work, and second, because the word for “sufferings” here, thlipsis, is never used of the vicarious sufferings of the Lord Jesus. These sufferings, incurred during His earthly ministry, were necessarily curtailed by reason of His limited life on earth, and needed to be continued in His servants if the work of preaching the Word was to be carried on. Thus, all the saints down the ages are partakers of these sufferings when they are faithful to the obligation they have of preaching the Word. — Ephesians and Colossians in the Greek New Testament, by Kenneth S. Wuest, pages 191-192.
We must remember the Spirit-inspired words of Paul: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29).
But what have our sufferings, great or small, to do with the Mystery revealed to Paul? Let us see. Paul wrote to the Colossians believers: “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which behind [or, still remains] of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His Body’s sake, which is the Church” (Colossians 1:24).
Surely the apostle did not mean to imply here that the redemptive work of Christ had not been completed. This passage can only be explained by the Mystery — which indeed is the subject here (See verses 25-27).
It was when the stage was all set, as it were, for the return of Christ to judge and reign, that the rejected Lord revealed to Paul the secret of His eternal purpose and grace. According to this purpose the Lord would remain away for a time, in grace offering reconciliation to His enemies.
Thus He remains to this day a Royal Exile, still despised and blasphemed in every city. But who bears the sufferings of His continued rejection? He is now forever blessed. His sufferings are over. It is we who, like Paul, stand before the world “in Christ’s stead,” bearing His reproach, yet offering men grace and peace through His finished work. We fill up that which still remains of His afflictions as the rejected Son of God.
Little wonder the apostle says it is given to us, as a privilege, to suffer for Him. It was, of course, also a privilege for the Messianic believers to suffer for their rejected King, and they counted it so (Acts 5:41), but ours is in a special sense His suffering and the spiritual believer in this dispensation of Grace will pray with Paul: “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death” (Philippians 3:10). — Commentary on Colossians, by C.R. Stam, pages 108-109.
minister (v.25) = one who serves
stewardship (v.25) = dispensation, management of a household
fulfill the word of God (v.25) — make it fully known (Romans 15:19)
mystery (v.26) — formerly hidden, now made known by, and only by, divine revelation — not “mysterious”