I’ve tried to argue that God is on a mission to manifest his glory in creation and in all that he does. And I’ve tried to argue that joining him in his global cause of self-glorification is not loss but gain, so that God’s passion for his glory and your passion to be happy are not on a collision course, but in fact come to realization in harmony, as you take delight in him.
The way you glorify a fountain, [I said last night] — the way you glorify an inexhaustible, self-sufficient, all-satisfying fountain of life — is by lying down and putting your face in the water and drinking and enjoying and being satisfied, and then standing up, and in the strength that that fountain gives, pointing other people to it. That’s the way you glorify a fountain, and therefore, God’s pursuit of his glory in your life is the most loving thing he could possibly do.
That seems to be the hardest thing as I’ve listened to questions that students are having difficulty getting a handle on. If God is the most all-satisfying reality in the universe, the most loving thing he can do is point you to himself. I don’t know how to say it any simpler. I’ll say it again: if God is the most all-satisfying reality in the universe, the most loving thing he can do is point you to himself. God, you do the rest. I don’t know what else to say.
But I do know something else to say, and I’m going to say it for the next twenty minutes or so.
Last summer in Pretoria, South Africa, there was the second GCOWE, Global Congress On World Evangelization. Four thousand or so missions-minded people from around the world gathered to contemplate, strategize, and pray toward finishing the Great Commission and reaching all the remaining unreached peoples of the world. They took the Joshua Project list of 1,739 people groups, the most unreached peoples in the world, into that conference to pray over them and strategize over them.
These are people groups, these are ethnolinguistic entities of ten thousand or more people where there is not even a beginning of a church-planting strategy — no missionaries, nobody there doing anything to name Christ or gather the elect unto him, nobody. They came out of GCOWE with 579 yet to be targeted. That was a glorious thing God did there. At least, at the end of GCOWE ’97, there still remained 579 major — not minor, but major — unreached people groups with no mission agency even targeting them.
Now, the question we close with is: What will it cost to finish that? What will it cost for those all to be at least penetrated, the church planted, the gospel spread, and people directed to the all-satisfying God through Jesus Christ, who loved them and gave himself for them? What will that cost? That’s my question this morning.
Fill Up Christ’s Afflictions
We’re going to look at Colossians 1:24–27. And you should know that Paul’s a very strange person — I admit. If things that I have been saying sound strange, nothing is stranger than these words, alright? This is a strange book. This is a very strange book. This book is from heaven. Of course, it doesn’t fit the world. You are called to be heavenly-minded people who are aliens and exiles in Wheaton, Illinois; in Saudi Arabia; in Afghanistan; in India; in Uzbekistan; in Bangkok. You’re not called to fit in. Your gospel isn’t supposed to make sense. It takes the work of the Holy spirit to get people’s brains fixed from the fall.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles [the nations] are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
The message of the apostle Paul among the nations was that not just Jews but Gentiles can have Christ in them, the hope of the glory of God. That’s the gospel.
Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples! (Psalm 96:1–3)
That’s the gospel. That’s the message that we take, because the glory of God is the only thing that will satisfy the human soul, and therefore, the only loving thing you can do for the nations is to join God in directing them to the all-satisfying glory of God. That’s the only thing you can do. And since they’re all sinners, they will never ever be able to stand in the presence of the glory of God without being consumed, unless they know Jesus, who loved them and gave himself for them.
Now, the verse I want to focus on is verse 24: “ Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” What does that mean: “I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”? Well, I don’t think it means that the atoning worth of the sufferings of Christ are defective, and I must now make up the defect in the atoning merit and worth of the sufferings of Jesus. That’s heresy, of course. Well, what does it mean? I complete in my sufferings — in my sufferings to reach the nations — I am completing what is missing, lacking, in the afflictions that Jesus endured.
Well, now, here’s the way I go about answering a question like that: I look in my Greek text at the words antanaplēroō and husterēma, and I asked myself about this “completing what is lacking: husterēma, “lack” (a hapax legomenon; antanaplēroō, “complete” or “fill up.” Is there any place else there’s something like that in the Bible? So you type it into your computer and you look for these words. There’s only one other verse in the New Testament where those two words come together, or a form of the two words come together. If you want to look at it with me, I’m making a case for an interpretation of verse 24 now. It’s got huge implications for your life; you better check it out.
Philippians 2:30 is where the parallel is found. Let me give you the situation. You know this, but Philippi loved Paul; Paul Loved Philippa. He’s in Rome. They want to send him some money, and so they send it by Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus almost dies on his way to Rome and Paul tells them that when he comes back, they should receive him because he nobly and wonderfully “complete[d] what was lacking.” Does that sound familiar? This is Philippians 2:30: “He nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.” In Philippians 2:30, we have the Greek phrase anaplerōse humōn to husterēma, compared to antanaplēroō ta husterēmata in Colossians 1:24. Even if you don’t know Greek, you can see the parallel.
I’m trying to motivate you to learn Greek. Everybody at Wheaton, learn Greek. I mean, of all the schools in a nation, you ought to learn Greek. Every capable lay-person — and you’re not uncapable or you wouldn’t be here — can learn Greek. And what a golden opportunity to spend time at Wheaton, taking two or three semesters, so that you can do what I’m doing right now. You don’t have to get a PhD to do this thing. You just buy a computer program and type it in. This is the only other verse in the New Testament where a form of anapleroō and the word husterēma come together. This is very important.
One Missing Piece
So here’s the question: What did Paul mean when he said Epaphroditus completed what was lacking in the ministry of the Philippians to Paul? What was missing? They had money. They had love. Well, I’m going to read the answer from a hundred-year-old commentary, just so you know somebody else thinks what I think — namely, the commentary by Vincent on Philippians. This is an amazing statement, and he’s not even thinking of Colossians 1:24. He didn’t make the connection at all, but he made it in my mind.
The gift to Paul was the gift of the church as a body. It was a sacrificial offering of love. What was lacking, and what would have been grateful to Paul and to the church alike, was the church’s presentation of this offering in person. This was impossible, and Paul represents Epaphroditus as supplying this lack by his affectionate and zealous ministry. (Philippians and Philemon: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, 78)
So in Philippi, they had money, they had love, they had affection, they wanted to minister it to the apostle Paul. One thing was missing: connection — getting their love, getting their money, getting their sacrifice in person to Paul. And Epaphroditus supplied what was lacking.
That’s exactly what Colossians 1:24 means, I believe. “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body.” Christ died for the nations at a point in history, and he rose from the dead, and he is now at the Father’s right hand until he puts all of his enemies under his feet. One thing is missing in this great accomplishment of salvation: the connection with those for whom he died. And he has ordained that you do it.
The apostle Paul did it and he made in his own life a paradigm for us, and the paradigm is suffering. Don’t miss this now. “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh” — that is, my torn flesh, my beaten flesh, my tired flesh, my weary flesh, my discouraged flesh. I complete the sufferings of Christ by extending those sufferings in my sufferings to those for whom those sufferings were experienced. This is the way God means for the great commission to be done: the Great Commission will only be finished by suffering. That’s all. It will only be finished by suffering.
Now, you may ask, “Well, that does not sound like gain.” But most of you aren’t saying that right now because you remember the context of yesterday’s message: to live is Christ and to die is gain. To die is gain, and so is the suffering that leads up to death. “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). It’s all gain. This is a heavy message: to call students to suffer in the martyrdom. But I think his burden is light and his yoke is easy, even when he says, “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35). So this is not a contradiction from anything I’ve said. Paul says — note the word — “I rejoice in my sufferings.”
Bloodied for the Gospel
I was at Trinity Seminary when I was writing Let The Nations Be Glad, just holed up in a room. And I heard that J. Oswald Sanders was in chapel one day. He was 89 years old then. (He’s dead now; he went to be with Jesus.) I wanted to sneak in the back and listen to him, so I snuck in, and he was talking about missions. He was 89 years old and he said that he had written a book a year since he was 70. I said, “Wow, life begins at 70. Isn’t that great?”
Then he told a story about an evangelist in India, and I just appeal to him as my authority for this story because I wrote it down as I heard it. A poor, itinerate evangelist came to a village and he was tired. He had walked all day with bare feet. And he thought, “I could rest or I could go in and share the gospel.” And so, he went in and he stood in the little village square and he preached the gospel for all he was worth, and they mocked him. He went out of town discouraged. He was dog tired. He fell asleep under a tree.
At dusk, he woke up suddenly and the whole village, it looked like, were around him and the chief men of the village were standing over him. He didn’t know what was going to happen. The head man in the village said, “We came out to see what happened to you. When we saw your bloody feet, we assumed you must be a holy man, that you would care enough to come at that expense to share what you said. And we thought we better come ask you to tell us again.”
Now, that’s just an illustration of Colossians 1:24: “In my sufferings, I complete what is lacking in the afflictions of Jesus.” His suffering was bloody feet, a long day’s journey, a discouragement after the first attempt at evangelism. As he lay there, they saw the price, and what they saw was evidence. They saw some evidence in the suffering that something must be real here; there’s something going on here. This man is not just opting for worldly comforts to get us this message.
‘How Long, O Lord?’
Two weeks ago was the fifth anniversary of the kidnapping of Dave Mankins, Mark Rich, Rick Tenenoff. Their wives have been living for five years without their husbands. Their kids have been growing up without their dads for five years. I wrote to my senator a year ago and said, “Would you please check into this?” All the evidence is that they’re alive, but they may not stay alive. And these women give their testimony of strength and God’s grace. They look just like you. They look just like you: same kinds of haircuts, and collars and shirts.
Some of you are going to be in this situation in ten years: you’re going to be held captive somewhere. This is not an interruption in God’s purposes; this is a strategy. God has a strategy here. Don’t attribute these things to Satan alone. In Acts 9:16, God said to Ananias as he was to go and recruit Paul, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So my call to you this morning as you hear this — those of you who care about something important in your life: I will show you how much you must suffer. Revelation 6:10–11 says:
They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
Rest until the number of the martyrs is complete. God has a number, and some of you are in it. I thank you for listening to me and I want you to embrace this. The call to missions is a call to suffer. We complete the afflictions of Christ in our flesh by presenting the afflictions of Christ in our afflictions to those for whom he died; that’s the strategy for the Muslim world. There is no such thing as a “closed country” if you believe what I’m just saying.
Every January in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, there’s this awesome page of statistics. Line 27 says the “Average Christian martyrs per year — 1998: 163,000.” That’s how many martyrs the world will see this year: 163,000. If that sounds odd to you, it’s because Wheaton is a dream world; it’s Disneyland. This is an academic Disneyland. I went here. I’m glad I went here. I’m glad you’re here. In this place where, yeah, you’ve got your suffering; I hear it in your prayers. But there are 163,000 people this year who will die for Jesus.
Well, I’m going to close by reference to one of my heroes and I hope one of yours, all five of them, perhaps. I lived in Elliott Hall. I lived in Saint hall. I ran around on McCully field. Those names should mean something to you: Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, all died. They sat in Pierce Chapel. They sat where you sit. They heard messages like this, and they said, “Yes.” Just read what they’ve written. “Yes.”
Now, Steve Saint wrote an article in Christianity Today. Those of you who were here two years ago when I came remember me closing like this because I’m so moved by this; it’s almost overwhelming to me. Steve Saint lives in Minnesota where I live, and his father, Nate Saint, died — was killed when he was a boy. He’s gone back. He’s done the research to figure out: What happened? Did it have to happen? What went on? In this article, which you can read in CT, uncovers intrigue at that moment beyond what anybody knew was going on. So strange was the intrigue in the tribe that he concludes with this sentence; I underlined it in pink. Now this is the son of a martyr talking: he said,
As they described their recollections, it occurred to me how incredibly unlikely it was that the Palm Beach killing [that’s the name of the little sandy place where they all died with nine foot spears in their bodies] took place at all. It is an anomaly that I cannot explain outside the divine intervention of God.
In other words, “I cannot explain the death of my father apart from divine intervention. God killed my dad.” The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, and it’s a strategy. It’s a strategy to show the nations in your flesh what Jesus did for them. We don’t just say the gospel; we show the gospel.