21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
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 for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 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, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
As the Nazi regime of Adolph Hitler was collapsing, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a group of other political prisoners were being transferred within the ever-shrinking area which remained under control of the Nazi government. They had been billeted in a schoolhouse when a car drove up, a tremendous thing as fuel was in critically short supply. They had come for Bonhoeffer. After a brief trial he was sentenced to death. The next day, in the morning of April 9, 1945, he was executed at the Flossenburg concentration camp. No one knows where he was buried.
Paul makes the powerful statement in his letter to Colossians that he rejoices in his sufferings. He justifies that strange joy by the fact that he is participating in God’s great plan to save the whole world, including the gentiles. Yes, this meant suffering for Paul, but he thought that suffering a small price to pay. If you want a catalogue of some of what he endured, read II Corinthians 11:22ff.
Bonhoeffer was one of many who refused to allow the evil screed of Hitler’s fascism have a place to rest in their lives. To the end, Bonhoeffer remained unbowed, unconquered, and uncompromised. He seemed to have died knowing that he too was participating in a great and important work in God’s kingdom. For that reason, he was willing to die. Today he is an inspiration to many. His books are read, and his brave suffering has given his ideas a moral authority which Hitler and his cronies have long since lost.
When that car drove up and the SS officers therein asked for Bonhoeffer, he turned to one of his fellow prisoners, an Englishman named Payne Best. He asked him to remember him to his friend, the bishop of Chichester in England and he said, “This is the end – for me the beginning of life.” God has made the same promises to you as he made to Bonhoeffer in a font. He has given all of us to be part of His work of saving the world. Do you suffer? Surely you do. But with Paul and Bonhoeffer you can frame those sufferings in joy, for you are one of God’s redeemed children.