Colossians 1:24 and suffering as redemptive?


It was put to me in my RCIA class that suffering is a redemptive force, and Colossians 1:24 was cited as evidence. I also found this passage quoted in paragraph 1508 of my Catechism.

Colossians 1:24
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,

Paragraph 1508

Now… On this, I check my catechism, and right there in the index, under redemption, it says “meaning only ascertainable in faith”, and points me to paragraph 573.

Paragraph 573

I’m having a hard time with interpretation of this Scripture… especially given it was misquoted as “in my suffering I complete what is lacking in the church”… which I don’t think was being said.

From my understanding, Colossians was written by Paul from a Roman jail with the perspective of “if it makes things better, then I’m glad to endure this hardship”. Now, the interesting concept is the use of the word “afflictions”, which I take to refer to the hardships Christ endured during his LIFE, rather than during his Passion… I think this passage can be paraphrased as

Colossians 1:24
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,

I am glad to endure the hardship of my current situation, and my resolve is only strengthened in the knowledge that I am carrying on Christ’s work.

Am I correct in this understanding that Col 1:24 reflects similar sentiment to 1 Peter 1:6-7, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Mark 4:24, etc? Basically that hardship is good in that it can serve to strengthen our faith and resolve? That it’s expected, because it’s not easy to do the right thing always…?

Basically like castor oil… hardship is good for you… but not redemptive, right?

Thanks, guys.



Martin Luther said the Christian is like snow-covered dung, who is made positionally righteous before God by the redemption of Christ, but is still unworthy in his inner being.

The Catholic Church has always taught that we are to be dung that transforms (through grace) into snow. We do that by following Christ to our own crosses and taking them up. Through that suffering, we participate with God’s grace in our own redemptions.

Through this co-operative work of mercy, we also may offer up our own sufferings so that grace may be extended to those who are not yet on the road to becoming worthy. We do this spiritually with Christ, just as we become Christ’s hands and feet on earth when we perform practical acts of mercy and love for those who are suffering.


Precisely - His suffering is redemptive, and as we are members of His Body, we join our suffering to His.

Everyone suffers - that’s the lot of humans in a fallen world. Whether that suffering yields good or strengthens evil depends on God.


Look at a crucifix. Suffering is not something extra or “added on” to the redemption that Jesus Christ earned for us; it is at the center of our salvation. Most of the rest of this post is a very abbreviated paraphrase/summary of the commentary from the Navarre Bible on Colossians 1:24. (Any mistakes are mine; the good parts are theirs.)
Paul is saying that he completes in his own flesh “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”. Our salvation is totally an act of God’s grace. Christ’s passion on the cross was totally sufficient to save all men; for whatever reason, God chose to permit each one of us participate in Jesus’s work for our salvation. For the merits of Christ’s passion to be applied to us we need to cooperate by bearing the sufferings that come to us, i.e., by taking up our own cross and following Christ. (Mat 10:38 “he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”) Salvation requires that we accept what Christ has merited for us and that means accepting the suffering that comes to us in the course of living our daily lives as Christians in the world, both the little things (minor annoyances) and the big things (cancer, loss of a loved one, economic disaster). For an extended modern view of what suffering is and what part suffering plays on our lives as Christians see Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering (Salvifici doloris). You can do a goggle search on the title to get it from the Vatican website.


Great. Thank you guys all so much.


Suffering, in and of itself, is not redemptive, but our suffering joined to the suffering of Christ is redemptive. It is not that Christ’s suffering “wasn’t enough”, but that he opened up human suffering to participation in his perfect suffering – thus, what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions is our participation in them.

If you have an hour or so free, I suggest you read Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Salvfici Doloris (“Salvific [Redemptive] Suffering”). The main point is that in suffering, we are conformed to Christ who suffered for our salvation, and our suffering gives others the opportunity to minister to Christ through us. He draws on the parable of the Good Samaritan and the parable of the sheep and the goats. It’s really good reading on this subject.


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