Suffering and the Church

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Suffering will come. Just as Christ saved me by His sovereign grace, He has also called me to suffer (Phil. 1:29). Before suffering comes we need our theology in order. There are at least four convictions we need to endure trials: (1) why trials, (2) know Christ Jesus well, (3) obey His will, and (4) endure. For more details on these see here. Having these convictions will help us keep focus on Christ, trusting His sovereign will and plan, and longing for eternity with Him. Believers with a biblical perspective will affirm trials are “a momentary light affliction compared to the eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17).

images-2When thinking about a trial, a true trial where one is suffering from persecution, hardships, loss of job, or other trying circumstances (not my spouse and I are fighting and even though I’m rude to him, I’m suffering persecution because he is mean to me), we are called to endure faithfully by following God’s will. Now this can be extremely difficult especially since sometimes it seems we can vacate the trial if we just disobey God’s will. There is great news believer, for we are not called to endure the trial by ourself. In other words, we are not alone nor are we meant to be alone in the trial. Why? Because we have the church.

Now, I’m not saying, “We have Sunday morning program including worship with songs, hymns, sermons, donuts, coffee, and Sunday school emphasizing a Scripture.” Now, believers find encouragement in Sunday’s corporate worship gathering, but this is not the church per se, rather it is a function of the church. The church is a local body of believers. The church is people. So, believer, in your suffering, trial, persecution, and hardships, you have the body of Christ — a group of believers called to serve and suffer with you.

Please allow me to digress one moment. Please understand this article looks at the trial through the perspective of the one suffering, but let us also be equipped to come alongside those suffering too.

God places believers in the church for the purpose of building up the body. One of our primary functions is to serve and love one another. God graciously gives us other believers in our lives, as our community, to run the race with. They are family. So, how does the church help believers through trials?

images-1First, believers suffer together. “You endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property” (Heb 10:32-34). The author reminds the Hebrew audience of former trials. But notice, some did not suffer directly. Instead they helped those who did suffer. Imagine being imprisoned for your faith and your church joins you every day to minister to you. Those imprisoned found comfort, love, and aid from the church.

Lucian of Samosata (115-200AD), a pagan, was falsely imprisoned. He pretended to be a believer. He testifies, “First thing every morning you would see a crowd of old women, widows, and orphans waiting outside the prison [bringing him] all sorts of food. . . . [Christians] are always incredibly quick off the mark, when one of them gets into trouble like this — in fact they ignore their own interests completely.” The church is a center of love. [1]

This is God’s grace. I am not meant to suffer alone. Instead, I suffer with my community.

UnknownSecond, God’s church encourages biblical perspectiveThe greatest danger to me, regardless of situation, is my own heart. My heart will deceive me, lead me astray, and ultimately lead me away from God’s will. Trials increase this temptation. My church family helps keep God’s will in focus.

“Take care brethren, that there not be in any one of you and evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day . . . so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance until the end” (Heb 3:12-14).

Who is the one another? First, observe it is not the pastor (although he isn’t excluded). It is my church family. I need to know my church family so well that I can perceive when a brother deceives himself and buys into a lie. Close relationships within the church are important. If no one knows me well, then how can someone point out my blindspot? I need people to know me and encourage me to follow His will. I need them to point out my sinful thinking.

Whether there be trial or not, I need the church involved in my life.

imagesFinally, being involved in the church strengthens my hope. Enduring trials requires constant focus on Christ. Christ is my hope. He is my assurance. But how does the church relate? Answer, Hebrews 6:10-12,

“For God is not unjust as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

The author reminds the church to remain faithful in work and love. They direct their love and work to the church for God’s name. They are focused on the vertical relationship with the Lord, but it manifests in their horizontal relationships. The author wants then to remain faithful, diligently devoted to continue serving the church (saints). What happens when they diligently serve? They realize the full assurance of hope.

In other words, when trials come, do not back down from serving or loving the church. Do not crawl into a hole and disappear. Instead, continue with resolve to love and serve other people in the body of Christ. Stay faithful and follow God’s will.

God’s grace is manifest in the cross and continues to shine through Christ’s body — the church. What a joy and privilege we have in the church. We are so blessed for God to call us into the church and provide like-minded believers who encourage each other through love and hard work.

[1] Quote taken from, Rediscovering the Church Fathers by Michael Haykin, 61-2.

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