Thank You For Suffering So That I Don’t Have To?
I know from personal experience as do you that we all suffer at one time or another and in various ways. Not only do we suffer personally, but we suffer as we watch those whom we love endure pain. Sometimes God intervenes and removes suffering miraculously and supernaturally. Yet many times, He does not. Of course, God has purposes in suffering, using it to build up our character, develop in us perseverance, and purify our hearts and motives as we learn that He is all that we ever needed and that He can be trusted even during the storm, whether He calms it or not. Christ suffered deeply. All of the apostles were severely persecuted, and eleven out of twelve were brutally executed. Suffering is a reality, yet strangely we do not understand it well, let alone handle it properly. I want to show us one verse that will give us an entirely new perspective on suffering.
Paul says in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” First of all, notice Paul’s perspective in and during his suffering. Unlike most of us, who get caught up with ourselves and our pain and problems when we are suffering, Paul is thanking God and rejoicing in the fact that he is suffering. He doesn’t get bitter toward God, but he praises Him. One of the reasons that he can do this is because he understands that somehow his suffering benefits others. Not only does he keep his focus on others and handle suffering with a joyful heart, but he rejoices because of what his suffering does for others. We’ll come back to this in a moment.
In his flesh, that is, in his mortal body which feels pain and endures suffering, he is doing his share (and more) on behalf of the corporate body of Christ, the church, in filling up the sufferings of Christ. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is undoubtedly sufficient, finished, and complete, yet interestingly His suffering is not. He bore God’s wrath on the cross, suffering in the body and in His spirit. Yet even after the resurrection of Christ, God has ordained suffering for Christ. But how does Christ suffer if He is seated at the right hand of God in heaven, where there are no more tears? Simply put, He suffers when we suffer. Yes, He hurts when we hurt just as we sympathize for those whom we love, but this is speaking of something much deeper and profound. Not only does Christ have the ability to empathize with us, having walked this earth before us, but He actually literally goes through our suffering with us. Think of it. If we are His body and we suffer, must not He also suffer? The church is His body, and He is the head of the church. Since we are in Him and He is in us, His sufferings are accomplished as we suffer.
The implications of this are far-reaching. First of all, we ought never to get frustrated or annoyed at that individual whom we pray for every week, but they never seem to overcome their horrific circumstances, illness, or whatever. When we encounter somebody who is doing more than their fair share of suffering, we ought to rather thank them for suffering so that, by God’s grace, we don’t have to. In other words, God has allotted and ordained a set amount of suffering for Christ to endure through His body, which is us, His church. If somebody suffers a great deal, somebody else may get through life with very little suffering. The irony of this is that many times it is the healthy and blessed folks who insult the oppressed and hurting folks for not having enough faith or not wanting to get well. Yet they ought to rather thank those to whom ill has befallen because they are doing their share of filling up Christ’s sufferings. In other words, what we are saying is that suffering is a ministry. In fact, it is a privilege, an honor, and a means to intimacy with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Paul spoke of desiring to know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings (Philippians 3:10). This can only be a reality when suffering actually occurs. Paul then had great intimacy with God because he suffered greatly. When we go through trials understanding that life is a co-journey with Christ, we can keep from becoming bitter, asking God why, and deducing that we have been treated unfairly. It is no mystery that suffering doesn’t go around to everybody in equal partitions. Some get an undue slice of the suffering pie while others hardly seem to suffer at all. In that respect, things are not fair. But in God’s perspective of suffering, which should be ours as well, all is fair because those who suffer more are accomplishing ministry simply because of their suffering. They don’t have to get healed to have value. They ought to suffer well, but even that is a bonus. Suffering is in and of itself a ministry because it means that somebody else might not have to suffer. It is time that we hold those who are suffering in high regard, rather than criticizing them, judging them, and pushing them aside. Their suffering is their ministry to us, so may we minister to them in return through love, compassion, and other God-ordained means.
Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” How foolish it is for us to curse God when we suffer as if He has abandoned us. God never promised to make heaven out of this life. Heaven is coming; in that we can be sure. Yet in the meantime, there is suffering allotted. Christ will endure it, and we will endure it on His behalf. When we suffer, let us remember that we are accomplishing a ministry of Christ, that we are co-suffering with Him as His body, and that we are never abandoned in our suffering. Like a Good Shepherd, Jesus is there. He has ordained the valleys and the darkness for our good and refinement, and the beautiful thing is that He goes through them with us, prodding us on and keeping us on the right path.
Next time you suffer, do it first of all for God’s glory, rejoicing in it. Secondly, remember that you are suffering on the behalf of others. Don’t expect them to thank you, but know that you have value even in your darkest hour. Finally, be mindful that Christ is suffering with you as He leads you through the trials that He has ordained for you in His overarching beautiful, wonderful, and perfect plan for your life. Lean onto Him like you never have before so that you can find a rest and peace that you may have never known up to this point. He will carry you through. When you suffer, don’t turn from Him, run to Him. He will lead you home.