We are greatly blessed to live today, for medicine and other technologies have eliminated much of the suffering previous generations endured. At least in the West, childbirth no longer carries with it a high probability of death for the mother. Infections and diseases that almost certainly would have killed those who contracted them centuries ago are now manageable, if not curable. Better nutrition makes for longer life spans, and conveniences such as electricity, refrigeration, air conditioning, and automobiles make life physically easier for us than for our ancestors.
As wonderful as such advances are, however, suffering has not been eliminated entirely from our experience. This is especially true for the disciples of Christ Jesus, for we must endure scorn and, in many places, even death on account of our confession of faith. Of course, none of this should surprise us, since our Lord Himself suffered at the hands of evil men, even promising that we would follow in His footsteps (John 15:20). Moreover, He pledged that we would be greatly blessed when we faithfully endure suffering for the sake of His name (Matt. 5:10–12).
Paul understood this call to suffer well; thus, verses like Ephesians 3:13 are not uncommon in his epistles. There was no real ground for the Ephesians to be discouraged at the apostle’s imprisonment, for he suffered according to God’s eternal plan (vv. 11–12). His time in jail would not strike a crushing blow to the Lord’s purposes; in fact, it would advance them, giving believers cause to rejoice. Paul’s suffering, like the suffering of all believers, helped fill up “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col. 1:24) — it added to the messianic woes that must precede the consummation, thereby bringing the church closer to that final day, as we saw in our study of Colossians a few months ago. Every act of suffering for the sake of Christ brings us nearer to the point when the set number of woes will be reached and completed, and we should rejoice and not be discouraged because this proves that the end draws ever closer.
The apostle’s suffering was for the Ephesians’ glory (Eph. 3:13), for not only did it play a pivotal role in their salvation, it brought the final day of glory closer. So it is with our sufferings for Jesus. First we endure pain for His sake, but then we, His faithful sufferers, finally enjoy glory for all eternity (Rom. 8:18–30).