The various options are:
Paul's sufferings serve to atone for the sins of the Church
Paul's sufferings serve to bring to mind the price paid by Christ, who suffered so that the Church would be reconciled to God.
Paul's sufferings serve to fill up the suffering that all apostles need to bear, Christ-like sufferings.
In this article
, Prof N T Wright suggests that these sufferings are a reminder of the price God paid for the Church's reconciliation, ie., Idea 2:
Third, this reading of 5:21 has tied it in quite tightly, I think, to the whole argument of chaps. 3-5. This suggests to me that, although of course the first half of chap. 6 grows organically out of just this conclusion, it is misleading to treat 5:19 as though it were the conclusion of the long preceding argument and 5:20 as though it were the start of the new one. When it is read in the way I have suggested, 5:20-21 forms the natural climax to the entire argument of the preceding three chapters, with 6:1 being the point where Paul turns to address a specific appeal to the Corinthians. They have, after all, already been reconciled to God (5:20);15 now they need to be urged not to receive this grace in vain (6:1). Moreover, they now have a significant new motive to heed this appeal: the one who speaks is not simply an odd, shabby, battle-scarred jailbird, but one who, however surprisingly, is a revelation in person of the covenant faithfulness of God.
If you read the full article, you will notice that the passage from the Book of Colossians has not been taken into account.
If we are to take up our cross just as Christ did, what happens?
Jesus said that unless a seed died, it could not grow. Picking up the cross is that dying: to self. Saying what God says is picking up the cross. Doing what God is doing is picking up the cross.
John 14:10 NET Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds.
What happens is that we grow, rise up, become alive, like the seed that has been buried.
But the ”we” is the Body of Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:11-12 NET For we who are alive are constantly being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our mortal body. As a result, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Maybe Wright is okay with Idea 1 as well:
What the whole passage involves, then, is the idea of the covenant ambassador, who represents the one for whom he speaks in such a full and thorough way that he actually becomes the living embodiment of his sovereign — or perhaps, in the light of 4:7-18 and 6:1-10, we should equally say the dying embodiment. Once this is grasped as the meaning of 5:21, it appears that this meaning fits very well with the graphic language of those other passages, especially 4:10-12. This in turn should play back into our understanding of chap. 3: the paradoxical boldness which Paul displays in addressing the Corinthians is organically related to his self-understanding as the “minister of the new covenant,” the one who has “become the righteousness of God.” Indeed, we can now suggest that those two phrases are mutually interpretative ways of saying substantially the same thing.