“The hope of the Gospel . . . whereof I Paul am made a minister, who now rejoices in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for the sake of His Body, the Church.” (Colossians 1:23-24)
Each one of us, as members of the Body of Christ, has the privilege of “filling up that which is lacking” of Christ’s afflictions “inour flesh”, and once we understand that, hurtful though it may be, it is on behalf of the His Body, the Church, we shall want to join with Paul in rejoicing. Paul was the forerunner in this respect. He was set apart by God to be a type for the rest of God’s children. “I desire that you faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory”, he told the Ephesians. (3:13) Peter’s message was essentially the same, even though the aspect of the Body of Christ was not emphasised. “If you are reproached for the name of Christ, happy are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is evil spoken of, but on your part He is glorified.” (1 Peter 4:14)
It is difficult to be joyful when we are reproached for righteousness sake. It is far from easy to rejoice when afflicted, either verbally or physically, as a result of faithfulness to our Lord and Saviour. But the early Apostles knew something that enabled them to rejoice. They saw the Body of Christ in their spiritual eye, and reckoned on its growth in terms of their afflictions. Nothing has changed. It is the same today. We should be encouraged to learn this lesson. It eases the pain.
Here is a little “hidden manna” for the spiritual gourmet who enjoys having his palate tickled by choice morsels of understanding from the Scriptures. Back in 1968 the Lord told us that Paul’s number was 202. At the time this meant little to us. It was an unexplained puzzle. But as time went by a few facts began to emerge. First of all we saw in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 a catalogue of Paul’s sufferings, and by adding up all the items he listed it came to 202. This ties in with what has been said above.
The next revelation came from reading Gray’s Anatomy, where we learned that the adult human body has exactly 202 bones. (Babies have 206, but some of these weld together, as in the cranium.) The message was clear. “We are members of His Body, of His flesh and His bones,” says Paul in Ephesians 5:30. [Some texts omit these words, but, we believe, on insufficient authority.] One remembers that Eve was created out of one of Adam’s bones, picture language for later times.
The third revelation came, by happy chance, by counting the words in the longest sentence in the Bible, (discounting mere lists of names etc.,) Ephesians 1:3-14. There are exactly 202 Greek words in this most profound statement of God’s great purposes. Paul was the forerunner of these things, but in this sentence he also spoke of the final great goal and achievement of God’s purposes, “to fill up, in the fullness of the seasons, all things in the Christ, in heaven and upon earth.” This is God’s reason for taking out His election, the Body of Christ, that He might use it as His corporate minister in accomplishing this great goal in the coming ages. Finally, it can be seen that 202 is composed of 153, the number of “the sons of God” and 49, 7 times 7, the epitome of spiritual perfection.