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Enduring through faith: Paul’s suffering and Corrie ten Boom’s legacy (June 2, 2024)

Amanda Shanks reflects on Colossians, suffering and hope.

Outlook Standard Lesson for June 2, 2024
Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: ​​​​Colossians 1:19–2:5 

Corrie ten Boom, a watchmaker and Christian writer, lived in the Netherlands during World War II. Heavily influenced by the Dutch Reformed Church, ten Boom believed that all people are created equal. This conviction led her and her sister, Betsie, to become a part of the Dutch underground, opening their home to Jewish refugees, people with disabilities and members of the Dutch resistance. The family never sought to convert any of the Jews who stayed with them. Rather, they sought to show God’s love by providing food, shelter, money and safe transport.

In 1944, Corrie and Betsie were arrested for providing aid to refugees and were sent to a concentration camp. At the end of each workday, the pair held worship services, and, even when resources were scarce, offered generosity and charity to other laborers at the camp.

Betsie’s health eventually deteriorated, and she died in the concentration camp 12 days before Corrie’s release. After the war, Corrie’s ministry continued and she established a rehabilitation center for concentration camp survivors, later, embarking on a worldwide tour which took her to more than 60 countries.

Corrie’s story draws a striking parallel to that of Paul in Colossians 1:24-2:3. It is likely Paul writes to the church in Colossae from prison (Colossians 4:3), where he rejoices in his sufferings (v. 24). Although Paul writes much of suffering in his letters, here, Paul speaks specifically of suffering which occurs for the benefit of others in his missionary efforts.

Paul describes his suffering as “completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24). This phrase has raised many theological questions and scholarly debate. Is Christ’s suffering somehow incomplete? And in what way could Paul’s suffering complete it?

The phrase unlikely indicates Christ’s suffering was somehow lacking or deficient. The Book of Colossians and other letters from Paul make clear that God, through Christ, removed all sins and reconciled humankind to God through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 1:20-21). A possible interpretation for Colossians 1:24b could be found in Jewish apocalyptic literature referencing the “woes of the Messiah,” where suffering would accompany the last days before the coming of the Messiah (Matthew 24:8; Mark 13:8).

After describing his suffering on behalf of the church, Paul shares his call, mission, and the perceived impact of that mission on the world. He identifies himself as a minister, or servant, to the church universal in which his mission is to make known the word of God (v.26) and the “mystery,” that was once hidden but is now revealed (v. 26). The mystery now revealed is that of “Christ in you (plural), the hope of glory” (v. 27). As the mystery of God in Christ becomes known to others, their hope in Christ transforms their lives.

It is because of hope, inspired by and fueled by Christ, that Paul continues to teach, toil, and strive (v. 29). The hope Paul speaks of is not only a personal hope brought about by his own transforming encounter with Christ, but a hope that he sees take root throughout the community as they grow in a deeper relationship with Christ.

It is wise to issue a word of caution here against toxic positivity, which seeks to silence those who lament. Lament is an important spiritual practice that leads us through our sorrows into a deeper relationship with, and trust in, God.

Because of hope, in Christ, Paul can rejoice in and endure sufferings, for he sees the immense, life-changing, and transforming power of the mystery of Christ as it is revealed. Hope in Christ is inclusive of and available to all, as evidenced by the repetition of the word “everyone” in verse 28.

As we look around at a struggling, and often violent world, it can be difficult to find hope. Hope seems elusive – a mystery. Paul encourages us to look to Christ for our hope, and that in knowing Christ, we are changed, becoming a part of the mystery that has been and is so often hidden in our broken and hurting world.

In providing a haven for those most at risk of persecution during World War II, the ten Boom family, bolstered by their faith, provided more than food, shelter, and clothing…they provided hope. How might we do the same in our communities?

“No pit is so deep that He is not deeper still; with Jesus even in our darkest moments, the best remains and the very best is yet to be.” — Betsie ten Boom’s words, recorded for us by her sister, Corrie, in The Hiding Place

Questions for discussion

  1. What does it mean to have “Christ in you”? What does Christ’s suffering have to do with our own?
  2. Think of a time when you or your community have endured suffering. How did that event impact you? In what ways did you or your community experience hope?
  3. How do we find hope in suffering without glorifying the suffering?

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