In the recent terror events in London, with a policeman stabbed, we have seen news stories of how the one officer took the hit to save the heart of our democracy. This language and concept of suffering is one that Paul also had in mind. Paul rejoices in his sufferings, and oddly talks of filling up in what was lacking in Christ's sufferings. Now Paul understood that Jesus' death on a cross was once for all (see back in verse 20), so what did he mean in v24?
Paul understood that the world around him was convulsing. The world cannot easily accept Jesus' death to reconcile all and wants to rebel. Jesus predicted this - in John 14:17 and 15:18 onwards he makes it quite clear there will be an adverse reaction. Paul understood this only too well because he was once one of the persecutors. Yet when Jesus appeared to Paul he used the words 'Why do you persecute me?'. An attack on Christians is a direct attack on Jesus - on His body.
Paul knows that to follow Jesus is to identify with Jesus in His suffering, and when to suffer is to suffer for the whole church. Paul would rather suffer than others, so is happy to draw the enemy fire. Jesus' suffering was all sufficient for reconciling all, but suffering continues as an extension of the cross - this is the way of Jesus.
Many use the expression 'light at the end of the tunnel', and often with 'it will all turn out in the end'. To both of these Paul would say 'yes', but he would be very specific that the light is Jesus - in His risen glory. For Paul and any Christian they can know that glory now - Christ in us - it is no longer a mystery. Recall earlier in the chapter that to see God then look to Jesus - He reveals all.
We should realise that Paul lives as if he was already at the end of the tunnel. That sets his whole perspective, thinking and living. This is not living in denial - he still finds hardships painful. Nor is it the classic polar opposite of living miserably with no hope, i.e. head so much in the clouds that you are of no practice use! No, Paul lives as if in glory that enables his practical living and embracing of suffering.
This is rare for Western Christians. Can we discover the same glory perspective, anticipating the end of the tunnel? Perhaps if we do we too will discover a God-given endurance through hardship?
Paul is about proclaiming Jesus (v28). His whole life is now orientated to this. As my years pass I want to be about that too, with that 'end of tunnel' outlook. Anticipating a Kingdom place where discovering Jesus is not simply for people to make incremental improvements to their lives, but to be submerged in the glory of the risen Jesus. A place where the abundance of Jesus means that illnesses fall away, where addictions and hurt evaporate. A place where people impoverished of self-worth have their eyes lifted to His glorious presence. I want to live for a place where people are not forgotten, down-trodden or over-looked, but discover the abundance of God's Kingdom riches.
In short I want to live in that place at the end of the tunnel. Maybe by living with that perspective God may see fit that suffering should come my way too. If so, then I want to be a person who can rejoice, not in the bad things of themselves, but because of Christ who I live for, to whom I am going.
The only nagging question I have is ... will you join me?